Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 14 May 13

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

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rose 2.6 points to 92.1 in April.

April export prices fell -0.7% and import prices fell -0.5%. On a year-over-year basis, export prices fell 0.9% while import prices fell -2.6%.

ICSC Goldman reports weekly retail sales fell -2.0%, and are up only 1.2% from a year ago. Redbook’s year-over-year sales growth reading improved to 2.8%.

~
Dale Franks
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So is the media finally being forced to pay attention to this administration’s scandals?

I found this to be very interesting.  From ABC News (email):

THE ROUNDTABLE

ABC’s JEFF ZELENY: The troubles are mounting for the White House – Benghazi, IRS, AP phone records – leading one administration official to ask yesterday: “Is it really still only Monday?” It’s safe to say all three topics are moving into scandal territory, but it’s a mistake to view them together. Of all of the controversies, the IRS seems to be the most troubling because it further erodes trust in government and institutions – from a point that is already distressingly low. At least three Congressional committees are digging in. Even though the president said he didn’t know about the IRS matter until the news broke last week, it happened on his watch. Democrats could have a hard time winning this one. It bolsters the case for Republicans, just in time for the midterm campaign to begin.

ABC’s RICK KLEIN: It comes fast and intense in a second term. And the confluence of events – Benghazi talking points, the IRS scandal, sweeping subpoenas of Associated Press records – leave plenty of reasons to mistrust the government President Obama is leading. Knowing that Congress can’t walk and chew gum very well – it can’t walk all that well without the gum, and this flavor is particularly tasty to the president’s opponents – this is a recipe for stalling and worse for just about anything the White House wants to do. The president’s powers of public persuasion, meanwhile, could ebb in the whiff of scandals. If there’s a White House strategy to turn this all around, we’re not seeing signs of it, not yet.

ABC’s DEVIN DWYER: The talking points coming out of the State Department on Monday were astonishing for their attempted revisionism. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki repeated four times in four minutes that the Obama administration’s early public characterization of the 2012 Benghazi terror attack was dictated by the CIA. “These were CIA points. They were CIA edited. They were CIA finalized,” she said. Nevermind that trove of emails, obtained by ABC News, that shows it was in fact the State Department that sought to edit out the CIA’s references to al Qaeda and to security warnings in Benghazi prior to the attack. “These started and ended as CIA talking points,” Psaki said. Technically, maybe so. But it would be disingenuous to ignore or deny the apparent influence of State during the talking-point sausage-making that occurred in between.

ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: The Tea Party groups who say they were unfairly targeted by the IRS showed ABC News questionnaires and documents received from the Internal Revenue Service. They had to answer questions about their donors, views on issues, and one member said she was even asked to show her personal Facebook account, all they say, because of their political views. The agency apologized last week, but these groups don’t feel like they were directly apologized to. All want an investigation, but for Jennifer Stefano who was trying to set up a group called The Loyal Opposition, but finally gave up, she compares this scandal to Watergate: “It became very frightening, the IRS has the power to target the political opposition of a sitting president.”

It’s amazing it has taken these events and this long for these people to actually do their jobs.  And there’s no guarantee they will.  But it can’t be denied any longer — it is on “the” radar screen.  Benghazi, IRS, AP, you name it.  Even the sycophants credulity is being tested.

Maybe it took this administration’s messing with AP to finally make them figure out that for the most part they’ve simply been the media arm of the administration and the administration feels some “ownership” rights.  Thus it was checking on them … or something.

It’ll be interesting to watch this all unfold — or disappear.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 12 May 13

This week, Michael and Dale discuss Benghazi, the IRs and loony David Kokesh.

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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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

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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.

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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

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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.”

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