Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: May 2013


Does the government understand how the internet works?

You’ve all read about the first “3D gun” being made?  Well here’s some of the fallout:

Defense Distributed, the Texas-based nonprofit that wants to empower people to 3D print their own guns, has hit a bit of a legal snag. According to founder Cody Wilson, DEFCAD, the open source weapon-printing project powered by Defense Distributed, received a letter (embedded below) from the State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Compliance, telling him to remove the blueprints of the Liberator, his 3D printed gun, from the web so that they may be reviewed by the department.

The group’s website currently has a red banner appended to the top that reads, “DEFCAD files are being removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls.  Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information.”

“We got an official letter from the Secretary of State, telling me who they were, what their authority was under U.S. law and telling me they want to review these files to see if they’re class one munitions,” Mr. Wilson told Betabeat by phone. “That includes blueprints.”

So anyone want to guess how many times those blueprints were downloaded before this order came along?  I know there are many other aspects of this case to discuss such as this:

In the letter … the State Department says that Defense Distributed may have released data that is controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulation without getting prior authorization. This would put the company’s actions in conflict with … the Arms Export Control Act.

“Please note that disclosing (including oral or visual disclosure) or transferring technical data to a foreign person, whether in the United States or abroad, is considered an export,” reads the letter. It also says that until Defense Distributed has received the legal all-clear, the company “should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled. This means that all such data should be removed from public access immediately.”

But other than a basis to prosecute, the letter accomplishes nothing. Same with the “law”. Add the internet and, well, whoosh, it’s around the world before the government even knows about it.

A perfect example of why, and you can see rumblings of it happening now here (and, of course, it is a top priority in other countries), government is growing more and more interested in controlling the internet.  Again, the excuse du jour will be what?  “It’s for your own safety and security that we clamp down on these things and take away some of your freedoms”.  It has no choice if it is going to enforce it’s laws does it?

And we all remember what Ben Franklin said about trading freedom for security, don’t we?

Don’t we?

~McQ


More Quickscript Stuff

If you are interested in some more geeky constructed language/font stuff, I have a new article up at Medium on a revision I made to the Quickscript alphabet. Frankly, the Quickscript alphabet is a bit of a mess, despite Kingsley read working on it for years. In just a few short weeks, however, I have created a revision of it that is vastly superior to the alphabet that Kingsley Read made his life’s work.

Because I am a genius in things that don’t matter.

Anyway, read it if you like, and please don’t forget to hit the "recommend" button at the bottom.

~
Dale Franks
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Economic Statistics for 9 May 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

Chain stores are reporting April sales that are at the high end of guidance, and with stronger year-on-year sales growth rates than in March.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell slightly to -29.5, but remains at the highest level since early 2008.

Wholesale inventories rose 0.4% in March, while a 1.6% plunge in sales drove the stock-to-sales ratio to a recovery high of 1.21.

Jobless claims fell 4,000 to 323,000, and the 4-week average fell 6,250 to 336,750. Continuing claims fell 27,000 to 3.005 million.

~
Dale Franks
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Contradictions? See the US Government

Well apparently the ultimate RINO is restless and looking for a nail on which he can use his legislative hammer.

John McCain is going to release a bill that would dismantle cable as it’s currently constructed, Brenden Sasso at The Hill reports.

The legislation would force cable companies and satellite TV providers to give consumers an option to pick and choose which channels they get. This is called “à la carte programming,” and it’s long been a dream of consumers who only want a handful of channels.

While I’d certainly be fine with a la carte programming, it is none of the government’s business.  When someone finds a way to offer that, consumers will reward them.

Speaking of the government, you’d think another thing that they and McCain would be for would be a la carte health insurance.  You know, a dream of health care consumers.  Instead we get bundled health care with 300 things we don’t want but have to pay for because the government says so.

You’d think people like McCain, et al, would want to do something abou that wouldn’t you … instead of worrying about TV channels.

~McQ


Liberals Don’t Understand How Agricultural Subsidies Work

To be fair, they don’t understand how most things work, especially when there’s math involved, but this particular quirk is quite annoying.

I remember the first time I came across this general ignorance (see the comments), in a West Wing episode:

Actual dialog from a recent West Wing rerun:

Josh: What do I say to people who ask why we subsidize farmers when we don’t subsidize plumbers?
Farmer’s daughter 1: Tell ’em they can pay seven dollars for a potato.

Yes, I know it’s a TV show, but do people actually think like this? I always assumed that the reason we couldn’t get rid of farm subsidies was rent seeking by the farmers, but if people actually believe this, that could be part of the problem.

Yes, people actually do believe this. Indeed, here is David Sirota spouting the same ignorance:

GOP meat eaters aren’t free market – they want everyone to subsidize their eating via taxes that fund meat subsidies.

Among best ways to reduce meat consumption is to end ag subsidies so that the cost of meat is a true free market price – think: $9 burgers

David also makes the correct point that some GOP congressmen vote to keep these subsidies in place (particularly those in states with farms that benefit the most from them), but that doesn’t alleviate the complete misunderstanding of what these subsidies do.

In short: agricultural subsidies don’t reduce consumer prices, but instead raise them.

In fact, the entire point of these subsidies is to set minimum price levels (often called “price supports”) or trade barriers that create an artificial monopoly. The entire milk industry, as an example, is propped up with such subsidies. Why else do you think it costs about as much for a gallon of milk as does for a gallon of gas?

Although there had been several different forms of subsidies in the U.S. prior to the 1930′s, most were simple tariffs. When the Great Depression began, the Roosevelt Administration sought to prop up the nation’s farmers by raising their incomes. How did they propose to do that? Mainly by setting minimum prices and production quotas (remember Wickard v. Filburn?):

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated president in 1933, he called Congress into special session to introduce a record number of legislative proposals under what he dubbed the New Deal. One of the first to be introduced and enacted was the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The intent of the AAA was to restore the purchasing power of American farmers to pre-World War I levels. The money to pay the farmers for cutting back production by about 30 percent was raised by a tax on companies that bought farm products and processed them into food and clothing.

The AAA evened the balance of supply and demand for farm commodities so that prices would support a decent purchasing power for farmers. This concept was known as “parity.”

AAA controlled the supply of seven “basic crops” — corn, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, tobacco, and milk — by offering payments to farmers in return for farmers not planting those crops.

The AAA also became involved in assisting farmers ruined by the advent of the Dust Bowl in 1934.

In 1936 the Supreme Court, ruling in United States v. Butler, declared the AAA unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Owen Roberts stated that by regulating agriculture, the federal government was invading areas of jurisdiction reserved by the constitution to the states, and thus violated the Tenth Amendment. Judge Harlan Stone responded for the minority that, “Courts are not the only agency of government that must be assumed to have capacity to govern.”

Further legislation by Congress restored some of the act`s provisions, encouraging conservation, maintaining balanced prices, and establishing food reserves for periods of shortages.

Congress also adopted the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, which encouraged conservation by paying benefits for planting soil-building crops instead of staple crops. The rewritten statutes were declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in Mulford v. Smith (1939) and Wickard v. Filburn (1942).

During World War II, the AAA turned its attention to increasing food production to meet war needs. The AAA did not end the Great Depression and drought, but the legislation remained the basis for all farm programs in the following 70 years.

The entire point of these subsidies is to increase the incomes of farmers. It has never had anything to do with making the price of a potato or a hamburger cheaper for consumers. By design, these programs intend to raise the price for agricultural products, as well as to transfer dollars from taxpayers to farmers.

How liberals like David Sirota and Aaron Sorkin came to think the exact opposite is puzzling. As Ronald Reagan said: “It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.”


The danger of guns. Dangerous, dangerous guns. Assault guns, even.

So, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has released their new report (PDF) on crimey, violency things. The key takeaway on homicide, is that it’s declined sharply over the last 20 years.

There were 11,101 firearm homicides in 2011, down by 39% from a high of 18,253 in 1993.

homicide

This actually understates the drop, however, because if you jump back to 1991, the FBI reports that there were 24,703 homicides that year. So, while homicides have declined by 39% from 1992, they’ve declined by 55% from 1991.

It’s not just homicide. In general gun crime is just…less.

Nonfatal firearm-related violent victimizations against persons age 12 or older declined 70%, from 1.5 million in 1993 to 456,500 in 2004. The number then fluctuated between about 400,000 to 600,000 through 2011.

guncrime

So, despite the fact that we have more guns in private hands than at any other time in living memory, we simply aren’t using them against each other anywhere near as much as we were just 20 years ago.

Maybe part of that is the profusion of concealed carry laws. Maybe part is because of things like 3 strikes laws, where we just lock people up for a really long time, and we have really a lot of people in prison. But what is clear is that violent gun crime has dropped precipitously since 1991.

~
Dale Franks
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Personal stuff

A couple of years ago my wife was told she needed a hip replacement.  To say it shocked her would be an understatement.  After finally accepting it, she got on Google.  And she did research.  She found there were two types of hip replacement surgeries – a posterior approach and an anterior approach.  She also found out the difference was like night and day in terms of recovery.

The anterior approach is by far the superior.  But, since it is a fairly new approach and requires a very expensive table, most doctors who do hip replacement surgery use the posterior approach.  Unfortunately, in the Atlanta area there were only two groups who do the anterior approach and neither of them take our insurance.   So she had a dilemma.  She could get the hip replaced but she was stuck with the posterior approach which required the cutting through a number of muscles in the hip area.

However, we’re talking my wife, Ms. “Never say never”.  She got on the phone with our insurance carrier and started pitching the anterior approach, telling them how superior it was to the other approach and how it would save them money, etc.  Finally, the insurance provider told her to widen her search to a 100 mile radius and she found a doctor in Gainsville, GA, about 40 minutes from where we live who does the anterior approach.  After consultation with him, she made her decision and surgery was today.

I’m amazed.  She went into surgery at 7:30am, was out at 9, in her room at 12, and here’s the amazing part, walking down the hallway of the patient floor at 1pm.  She made an entire circuit.  Not only that, they took her by the physical therapy room and she went up and down stairs.  With her new hip.

Phenomenal.  She leaves tomorrow to go home.  Had she had the other approach she’d be facing 2 weeks in a rehab hospital and months of rehab afterward.

Well, maybe not her, but you get the picture.  She’s a trooper, but her experience isn’t at all uncommon with this approach.  Hip surgery was a huge and painful ordeal that took you out of circulation for a while.  With the anterior approach, it doesn’t have to be anymore.  I don’t know if you or a loved one may have that in their future but if so, insist on finding a doctor that uses the anterior approach.

It is well worth the search.

~McQ


$3.4 billion for new DHS headquarters

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is governments at all levels building expensive monuments to itself.  From local city halls and county administration buildings to Washington DC, governments spare no expense in ensuring they have the very best in terms of buildings to house them. And, it appears, the Department of Homeland Security is not to be denied either:

Washington notables broke ground on the future home of the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, symbolically starting construction on the biggest federal building project in the Washington area since the Pentagon 68 years ago.

The project will bring together more than 15,000 employees now scattered in 35 offices in the region, placing them on a 176-acre campus strewn with historic buildings in a long-neglected corner of Washington, five miles from the Capitol building.

Department leaders hope the $3.4 billion consolidation will help the department fulfill its core mission — protecting the homeland — in ways big and small.

“It will help us hold meetings,” Secretary Janet Napolitano said. “It will help us build that culture of ‘One DHS.’”

“It will help us hold meetings.” That’s the best she can come up with (I mean, with today’s technology, I guess virtual meetings are just too much work)? And when I read about her hope of building a culture of “One DHS”, I saw an image of my freedoms flitting out the window while a band play “Deutschland Uber Alles”.

By the way, the site on which this building will be built is the former site of an insane asylum.

I love irony.

~McQ