Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 3 Jun 13

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

Auto sales rose in May, and the Big 3 Automakers all report sales increases: GM 3.1%, Ford 14%; Chrysler 11%. Total us auto sales rose 8% from last year, to an annual pace of 15.2 million vehicles.

The PMI Manufacturing Index for May rose 0.2 to 52.3.

ISM Manufacturing Index fell -1.7 to 49.0, with all major components showing weakness.

Construction spending rose a less-than-expected 0.4% in April, which is up 4.3% on a year-over-year basis.

~
Dale Franks
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What would it take to get us off our rear ends in this country?

I assume you’re aware of the riots in Turkey.  The people of Turkey, or at least a unhappy group of them, are making themselves and their feelings known in a very direct way.  According to the WSJ, it began over a park in Istanbul that was going to be replaced by a housing development and shopping center (since the Turkish government controls the media, this “cause” could be as flaky as the anti-Islamic video causing Benghazi).  The natives, or at least some of them, are not happy about that.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not happy about the situation either.  Why, how dare these people question his government and its motives. They’re pure as the driven snow:

“If you can call someone who is a servant of the country a dictator, then it leaves me speechless,” he said in a televised speech. “I have no aim other than serving the nation.”

The siren song of every dictator I’ve ever heard of or read about.  My guess he borrowed the words from Mr. Assad in Syria, who, may have gotten them from Saddam Hussein, who … well you get the picture.  And add a little “Bolivarian revolution” to the statement and the dead but unlamented Hugo Chavez or his mentor Fidel Castro could have said them.

Perhaps the most interesting statement, however, came from someone in the street:

People are angry because the government is interfering in everything, be it the alcohol restriction, building of the third bridge, or the new Taksim Square. Everything has piled up, and that’s why people protest,” said Erdal Bozyayla, a 29-year-old restaurant worker who supported the protesters and condemned the violence.

I’d like to believe that’s the real sentiment behind those riots and protests.  It may not be.  But it got me to thinking what it would take in this country for people to actually take that sort of direct action (and no I’m not condoning or calling for violence … direct action doesn’t have to be violent – witness the civil rights movement).  Oh, sure, we’ve had the “Tea Party” rallies and the like, but what is happening in Turkey is obviously much different than that.  And if they sentiment expressed is the true cause, why is it that a country like Turkey, with only a short history of freedom (now under concentraged attack by the latest “servant of the country”) apparently have the gumption to say “enough”, when we simply roll over each time another of our freedoms is taken or pared down.

Now, I recognize there could be all sorts of other factions, to include extremist Islamist factions who don’t think Erdogan is moving far or fast enough, could now be trying to co-opt the protests and turn them into something else.  But still, was the spark really “the government is interfering in everything” and if so, when, if ever, will that spark be struck here?

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 02 Jun 13

This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss Seminar a US Attorney is giving about how you might violate someone’s civil rights by posting to Facebook.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

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The problems of a post-modern legal system

A columnist at the Washington Post (via Insty) looks at the Rosen case, and finds some problems with the logic at the Justice Department.

The essential question is the definition of criminal conduct. It’s against federal law for authorities to “search a newsroom for the purpose of obtaining work product or documentary materials relating to a criminal investigation.” This presumably applies to reporters’ emails as well.

The law makes an exception if a reporter is suspected of criminal behavior. That’s why Rosen was named a co-conspirator – that’s the only way the Justice Department could get a judge to go along with their fishing expedition. In the Post column, the columnist Erik Wemple says:

It [the Justice Department] told a judge that Rosen may well have committed a violation of the Espionage Act as it pursued its e-mail search warrant.

But it turns out that the Justice Department apparently has no tangible evidence of any criminal behavior by Rosen. They’ve already said they have no intention of prosecuting him.

David Schultz, a lawyer for the AP it it’s own Justice Department scandal, spots the contradiction in that:

”They’ve done the expedient thing that allows them to get what they want without giving the press an opportunity to object,” says Schulz. “If they did not believe Rosen was committing a crime, they shouldn’t have been invoking that part of the PPA. Either they were really accusing him of a crime or they weren’t. I mean, you can’t have it both ways.”

Clearly, Mr. Schultz does not understand post-modern reasoning. For today’s leftists, there are no contradictions when someone is defending the left. That’s because they merely change definitions as necessary to eliminate the contradiction.

Look at their recent attempted re-definition of the word “scandal”. If you ask a typical English speaker what a scandal is, they’ll describe a situation where a person or organization got caught doing something they were not supposed to do – often illegal, usually unethical, and typically embarrassing. The IRS targeting of conservative groups, the Benghazi debacle and subsequent cover-up, and the Justice Department abuses of the AP and Fox News obviously fit that definition.

To the left, though, the word “scandal” means whatever they need it to mean to further the leftist cause. So they have taken up the mantra that these things are not “real scandals”, with the implication that they are not scandals at all. They want to own the terminology in every discussion, and bend it to whatever suits their present argument. That’s why I’ve stopped arguing with them. By the fundamentals of their own philosophy, it’s impossible for them to lose an argument because the objective standards of logic, reason, and reality don’t apply to them. To them, the only thing left is “narrative”, and they reserve the right to hold onto their own narrative no matter how obviously nonsensical it might be.

The narrative rules all for a post-modernist because it’s fundamental to post-modernism that words have no objective meaning. Just as there is no objective reality to them, there is no objective meaning either. A word means whatever a leftist can convince the present listener that it means, and the leftist reserves the right to redefine the word for another listener tomorrow if that helps promote tomorrow’s narrative.

The problem is that a legal system depends upon reliable meaning of words. If words can be redefined to suit the whims of someone in power, then no one can ever know whether they are obeying a law or not.

The Obama administration is so steeped in post-modern leftism that they don’t get this, or don’t care. So we see Holder’s Justice Department adapting the word “co-conspirator” and claiming criminal behavior to justify it, all out of pure expedience. They needed to accuse Rosen of being a co-conspirator to get what they wanted, so they simply told a judge that he was one. Hey, it’s just a word! It has no objective meaning, so we can redefine it to mean whatever we want!

As always, when they do that, they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. They feel no shame or remorse over it. They get legitimately confused when a contradiction is pointed out, because in their world-view, there is no contradiction.

To a leftist, “co-conspirator” can mean one thing when leftists are in power, and something quite different when they are not. If Bush/Ashcroft had done exactly what they did, the very same people in the Justice Department who named Rosen a co-conspirator would be howling about it 24/7. They would be hectoring anyone who would listen that a journalist with no evidence of criminal behavior can’t possibly be named a ‘”co-conspirator”, and probably beating the drum for impeachment for anyone involved. But since they’re the ones doing it, the reaction among the left has been muted and mostly apathetic.

It is obvious to we Enlightenment types that it’s not possible to have a functioning legal system for a free society based on expedient re-definition of the terms used in laws. That’s why the Right has been opposing this folderol all the way back to FDR’s flouting of clear Constitutional language. It’s clear to anyone who understands plain English that a person growing wheat in their backyard for their own use has no relationship to “interstate commerce” as anyone before 1930 understood it. But it was expedient to simply pretend the term meant something else, to rationalize giving the government more power.

So this problem isn’t new. The difference today is that it used to be rare. Now it’s business as usual. Clinton’s defense against everything questionable that he ever did depended on re-defining words such as “sex” and “is”. Holder’s Justice Department clearly thinks they can simply dictate what words like “co-conspirator” mean.

A legal system allowing such re-definition to suit those in power is built on sand, awaiting the first strong shake to liquefy and bring it down.

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Economic Statistics

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy. And yesterday’s too, since a family emergency kept me from posting them.

1st Quarter GDP was revised downwards to a 2.4% annualized growth rate. The GDP Price index also dropped to a 1.1% annual rate.

Initial jobless claims rose 10,000 to 354,000. The 4-week average rose 6,750 to 347,250. Continuing claims rose 63,000 to 2.986 million.

Corporate profits in the first quarter fell -4.0% to $1.738 trillion annualized.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index held at a near 5-year high at -29.7.

The Pending Home Sales Index rose a worse-than-expected 0.3% to 106.0 due to supply constraints.

The Fed reports the weekly M@ money supply fell -11.9 billion.

Personal income was unchanged in April, while spending fell -0.2%. The PCE price index fell -0.3% while the core rate was unchanged. On a year-over-year basis, income and spending were up 2.8%, while the PCE price index rose 0.7% at the headline level, and 1.1% at the core.

The Chicago Purchasing managers index rose sharply to 58.7 in May.

The Reuters/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index improved to 84.5 in May.

~
Dale Franks
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I get email…

I get a lot of email from that link over on the left side of this site. Interesting conversations, offers to review books, and the like are welcome and worthwhile. 

But spammers are everywhere, so 98%+ of it is an amazing variety of worthless trash. Perhaps even more amazing (and frustrating) is that much of it slips right through even the best spam filters, probably because it’s about politics instead of bobbydangler enlargement.

A warning if you’re ever considering doing political blogging and exposing your email address: the CAN-SPAM act has an exemption for certain political purposes. In particular, if Senator Bigslush ever gets your email address, he is free to send you whatever he likes until the end of time, or until he gets pushed out of office, whichever comes first. He probably won’t include an opt-out link. He has about as much consideration for your time as you would expect a DC politician to have. He probably thinks you get a charge from getting an email headed with "From the Office of Senator Ben Dover Bigslush".

Many political lobbying groups construe themselves to be exempted from CAN-SPAN as well. On top of that they pass email lists around like addicts sharing needles. Like true spammers everywhere, they don’t really give a damn whether you have any interest in their message. So when the crack whore next to them passes on your email address, you’ll start getting "press releases" about "sustainable wind farms" or other science fiction, whether you like it or not.

Media sites also engage in the spamming game. Politico is one of the worst; I’ve blocked them more times than I can count, and noticed a new round from them just this week. It starts “Good Morning! Here are today’s top POLITICO stories. Thanks, Stacy”, with no unsubscribe link of course.

Fortunately, gmail allows various ways to block such messages. For the politicians, I use easily constructed filters. I have 85 of those filters at last count. The science fiction “press releases” get marked as spam.

Then there are the PR flacks. A few are borderline acceptable. I’m not interested in an interview with the Director of Mining Affairs for Outer Framistan, but I could see where others might be.

Moving further into bottom-feeding territory, there are the search engine optimization (SEO) sharks. The people running these companies are some of the most contemptible in the Internet industry.

One of their annoying techniques is to pretend they’re doing me a favor. Their usual form is offering a "guest post", which strikes me as a strange way to say "unpaid advertisement".

Many of their messages are bot-generated, which does open up some humor possibilities. The blog Popehat often takes on these parasites, and recounts some of the nonsensical results. Here’s a small sample:

I would like to inquire re: your interest in blog post submissions. My associates and I have wide range of experience in many areas. I believe we can offer you web traffic driving articles of interest to your readers, on topics such as PONY , _INSURANCE , and FIRST AMENDMENT OPPONENT. Also of interest may be PONY VICTIM COUNSELING , MENTAL HEALTH , CRAZY FUCK!NG LAWYER, and BRONY PSYCHOLOGY .

These clumsy online marketing efforts typically offer slavish, insincere praise on what a great blog we have. Well, yeah, ours really is. But they don’t know us from a blog about knitting mittens for cats, because the only reason anyone connected with them ever visited the site was to harvest our email addresses.

These link whores also have another annoying characteristic. They usually send a helpful follow up spam message a few days later to make sure I saw their first spam message.

In some respects, that makes them worse than spammers for fake embiggening pills. Those guys rarely send messages that read "I wanted to make sure you got my last message about how much you must need a bigger bobbydangler."

Another SEO ploy is offering to purchase ad space – at rates so low that the time spent on paperwork won’t be recovered until sometime in 2025. The real bottom feeding vermin offer link exchanges: "I’m sure you are eager to link your site, which attracts thousands of page views a day, to my site, which gets five views a week, all from deceptive search results on Google." I completely understand and even appreciate such a request from another political blog, but not from people with the morals of a snapping turtle.

I love political blogging and wish I had more time for it. Dealing with various sorts of spammer is a small price to pay, and good email tools handle a lot of the load.

It does bother me, though, to realize that there is an entire range of people out there, from pompous politicians to media sites like Politico to SEO con artists, who have no compunction whatsoever about wasting the time of anyone they can find to annoy.

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Suggested title for a book on the current scandals: “We told you so, you f@(%!ng fools!”

In the book In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage, a great story is told about historian Robert Conquest. He wrote a book in the 1980s about the abuses of Stalinism, and got the usual roasting from Soviet apologists in academia. They accused him of cherry-picking data, failing to see Stalin’s supposed good points – the usual blather of Marxist-friendly social science academics.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, opened archives showed that Conquest not only had it right, but was actually a bit conservative is his assertions. His publisher suggested an updated edition of the book incorporating that information, and asked Conquest if he wanted to change the title.

Conquest responded “How about ‘I told you so, you f*cking fools’”? *

I’m feeling that same impulse after reviewing the cascade of scandals over the last few weeks.** Anyone who wasn’t mesmerized by Obama and actually paying attention already knew that:

1. Benghazi was not just a tragedy. It was one of the most massive screw-ups ever perpetrated by the State Department, and there was clearly a cover-up to keep the rest of us from finding out the what, where, when, how, and why.

2. The IRS was targeting and harassing limited government groups.

3. Fast and Furious was a botched effort to engineer evidence in favor of gun control.

4. Fox News was being targeted by the administration from its earliest days.

Various folks on the right could see all this, yet our supposed smart media pundits at major organizations are still expressing surprise at every new revelation. In other words, we told you so, you f*cking fools. And we were ignored, or even ridiculed as paranoid and obsessive.

I learned a valuable lesson in my first job out of graduate school. The software company I worked for was acquired by a giant corporation. The executives from that giant corporation came down for meetings after the acquisition. After listening to them for a day, I concluded that they were incompetent fools.

But I had some doubt. How could they have reached such a position of authority and still be such fools?

Yet, in the ensuing years, under their leadership, the giant corporation lost tens of millions of dollars running that small software company into the ground. They ended up selling it after five years for about five percent of what they paid for it. So yeah, those guys really were the incompetent fools I thought they were.

I now assume that if I have good reasons to believe something, the assertions of powerful or influential people don’t change my mind. I assume they are simply ignorant, willfully blind, or actively deceptive. This round of scandalous outrages by the Obama administration is just another confirmation of that assumption. If media types and establishment politicians didn’t realize these problems existed before last month, then they are f*cking fools, no matter how high they have risen in the political class.

On the other hand, if they knew the problems existed and did nothing, they are despicable villains and not fit to be in the job they hold. Not in their own eyes, of course. As Robert Conquest found out, to those on the left, even Josef Stalin isn’t really a villain.

* I first saw the anecdote about Conquest in a review of the book in Reason Magazine, Fools for Communism. I got the book, which is a concise, good read. If you want examples of willful blindness by lefties, In Denial is a great source.

** Many writers predicted Obama scandals early in his term. I’m pretty sure they feel the same lack of surprise, even if they don’t express it in such a vulgar way.

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Economic Statistics for 29 May 13

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

The MBA reports mortgage applications fell by -8.8%. Purchases rose 3.0%, but re-fis fell -12.0%.

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports a slightly better 2.7% year-over-year sales growth rate. ICSC-Goldman’s sales report is bumpy, with a weak -0.9% sales drop for the week, but a better 2.8% annual rate.

~
Dale Franks
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Higher ups in the IRS knew about targeting Tea Parties? You don’t say

I mean really, did you honestly believe that a couple of rogue agents in Cincinnati did this on their own … for over two years?  Yeah, about as much as you believed the YouTube video caused Benghazi, huh?

Additional scrutiny of conservative organizations’ activities by the IRS did not solely originate in the agency’s Cincinnati office, with requests for information coming from other offices and often bearing the signatures of higher-ups at the agency, according to attorneys representing some of the targeted groups. At least one letter requesting information about one of the groups bears the signature of Lois Lerner, the suspended director of the IRS Exempt Organizations department in Washington.

Lois Lerner … the IRS official who “knows nothing” and refuses to talk about any of it?

Huh.

Among the letters were several that bore return IRS addresses other than Cincinnati, including “Department of the Treasury / Internal Revenue Service / Washington, D.C.,” and the signatures of IRS officials higher up the chain. Two letters with “Department of the Treasury / Internal Revenue Service / Washington, D.C.” letterhead were signed by “Tax Law Specialist(s)” from Exempt Organizations Technical Group 1 and Technical Group 2. Lerner’s signature, which appeared to be a stamp rather than an actual signature, appeared on a letter requesting additional information from the Ohio Liberty Council Corp.

Imagine that.  We have an administration full of “Sgt. Shultz’s” (see Hogan’s Heroes if you’re too young to know what that references).  They see nothing.  They know nothing.

But apparently, they’ll sign anything.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 28 May 13

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

The Dallas Fed Manufacturing Survey was mixed, with Production jumping from -0.5 to 11.2, but the overall index up only 5 to a still-negative -10.5.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index rose 1.1% in March, up 10.9% over last year.

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence index rose sharply from 68.1 to 76.2.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index rose 4 points to -2 in May.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index rose 1.2 points to 94.8 in May.

~
Dale Franks
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