Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 15 May 15

The Empire State Manufacturing survey for May pulled out of negative territory, but only to a soft 3.09 from -1.19.

Industrial production fell for the 5th straight month in April, down -0.3%, while capacity utilization in the nation’s factory’s fell -0.2% to 78.2.

The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index plunged from 95.9 to 88.6 in May.

E-Commerce retail sales rose 3.5% in the 1st Quarter of 2015, with year-on-year growth of 14.5%.

Foreign demand for long-term US securities rose $17.6 billion in March. China reclaimed the top spot from Japan as holders of US bonds.


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What do people use their brains for today?!

A less sensational title would be “what the heck ever happened to critical thinking”?

Example:

The University of Colorado-Boulder would like students to inform on each other when they witness “bias incidents,” by reporting the perpetrators and turning over all relevant information—including names, phone numbers, addresses, and university ID or Social Security Numbers—to the administration.

What counts as a bias incident is, as always, entirely subjective. An official who spoke with The College Fixclarified that “this in no way is meant to curtail free speech.”

Say what?  “This is in no way meant to curtail free speech”?  I can’t think of anything which would tend to chill it more than reporting something as arbitrary and subjective as a “bias incident” with name, phone number, address and SSAN to the administration, can you?

For the purposes of this protocol, a “bias-motivated incident” is any of the following:

  • Discrimination — Occurs when an individual suffers an adverse consequence, on the basis of one or more of their protected classes.
  • Harassment — Verbal or physical conduct that unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work or academic performance or creates an intimidating or hostile work or educational or living environment.  Examples may include, but are not limited to, epithets, images, slurs, jokes; electronic communication or other verbal, graphic or physical conduct.
  • Acts of Intolerance — Conduct motivated by discriminatory bias or hatred toward other individuals or groups based on perceived or actual characteristics of race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation, or political philosophy or other attribute.

Good grief … why not spend your entire collegiate career pretending you’re mute?!

But … and there is always a “but”:

Nevertheless, the university’s website encourages students to report each other for engaging in a broad range of constitutionally protected speech.

What a load.

What in the world do these people who “administer” colleges these days use for critical thinking.  They may as well feed their brains to zombies for all the good they do them.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 14 May 15

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 1,000 to 264,000. The 4-week average fell 7,750 to 271,750. Continuing claims were unchanged at 2.229 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.2 points to 43.5 in the latest week.

Producer Prices for Final Demand fell -0.4% in April. PPI-FD less food and energy fell -0.2%, but rose 0.1% less food, energy and trade services. Goods prices fell -0.7%, and Services prices fell -0.1%. On a year over year basis:

PPI-FD: -1.3%
Less Food and Energy: 0.8%
Less Food, Energy, Trade Services: 0.7%
Goods: -5.5%
Services: 0.9%

 The Fed’s balance sheet rose $28.5 billion last week, with total assets of $4.501 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $6.3 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $27.6 billion in the latest week.


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Politicizing the Amtrak incident

One of the favorite ploys of Democrats is to claim the GOP has a tendency to “politicize” tragedies.

Well, there’s politicizing a problem and then there pretending there is a problem in order to politicize it.   This recent Amtrak tragedy is the latter.

What do I mean?  Well, they hadn’t even cleared the bodies from the wreckage before former Governor Ed Rendell was on “Morning Joe” talking about how it was due to a lack of infrastructure spending.

Meanwhile, the NTSB is putting out stuff like this:

screenshot 2

Oh … 100 mph in a 50 mph curve?  That’s an obvious problem with “infrastructure spending”, isn’t it?

But that didn’t stop the Democrats talking point from continuing to roll, did it?  Nope, the good old reliable media pitches in as well.  Phillip Bump in the Washington Post:

As The Post’s Colby Itkowitz noted, Congress has delayed passing legislation to fund Amtrak since 2013. The last time it did so, in 2008, the vote passed only after a rail disaster. Which, of course, happened again Tuesday night.

The constant struggle of Amtrak to get funding derives largely from the fact that not very many Americans use the rail system. Ridership is heavily centered in the Northeast, in the corridor between Boston and Washington where Tuesday’s accident occurred. But more than that, ridership is unevenly distributed politically. Data from the National Association of Railroad Passengers shows the number of passengers that get on or off the train in any given congressional district, and reveals an obvious reason why Republicans might not be too concerned about funding the system.

Amtrak has never had a profitable year since its inception.  In fact it is a totally subsidized rail system that would fail if not subsidized.  And as Bump mentions, it is “heavily centered” in a northeastern corridor.  So essentially, given the fact that the “elites” want Americans in mass transit and this fits the description, plus it is very handy for said elites to use if they so choose, they’re fine with a wealth transfer from the rest of the country to support their desires.

Powerline picks up on the media bias as well:

There is a certain irony in these three stories perching one above the other on Politico’s main page: House panel votes to cut Amtrak budget hours after deadly crashAnalysis: GOP cuts to transportation, housing draw fire; and Derailed Amtrak was likely traveling at twice recommended speed.

Politico is a mouthpiece for the Washington establishment, where all spending is good spending. But the anti-Republican theme was picked up by many other news outlets, like Reuters: “Amtrak crash throws spotlight on funding disputes; Republicans back cuts.” And the New York Daily News: “Deadly malfeasance: Amtrak passengers paid with their lives for Washington’s neglect of transportation.”

But funding is not the problem.  Amtrak has gotten over 30 billion dollars in subsidies since its founding in 1970.  30 billion.  For a small railroad.  The WaPo’s Bump also claimed that “Republicans” hadn’t funded Amtrak since 2013.

In fact, they gave Amtrak nearly $1.4 billion less than five months ago.

One of those anti-narrative facts that keep ruining their righteous rant.

Oh, and as for “infrastructure spending?”  You remember the stimulus don’t you?  Wasn’t that for “infrastructure?” And who was in charge of doling out the loot then?

Yeah, certainly not Republicans.

Meanwhile, the union associated with Amtrak decides it too needs to score political points on the back of the 7 dead and many injured:

The Teamsters-affiliated Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Lodge 3014(BMWE) published a blog post on Tuesday attributing the deadly crash to new safety standards proposed by management of the government-partnered railroad.

“The new ‘One Amtrak Way’, along with the new inexperienced Amtrak senior management (after the old experienced senior managers were fired) has lead to this massive derailment,” the union said.

[…]

Reuters reported that the train was not equipped with the latest U.S. safety controls that are supposed to prevent high-speed derailments.

The Pennsylvania-based BMWE failed to mention the actions of the operator on its website, instead focusing on the union dispute with management. The crash, the post said, came as “senior management has declared war on safety with it’s [sic] unions.” Union membership unanimously approved a resolution in April giving union leadership permission to call a strike. Lodge 3014 had about 240 members in 2014, according to its most recent federal labor filings.

“The unions [sic] struggle to maintain safe working conditions is hampered by Amtrak senior management’s lust for complete control and railroad inexperience,” the blog post said.

Amazing.

Why does Amtrak continue to be such a fiscal wreck?  The usual reasons:

In its current form, Amtrak is less a for-profit passenger rail corporation and more a union jobs program (its ridiculous labor contracts are a major reason why the company is perpetually swimming in red ink).

Despite all the disingenuous chatter about a lack of infrastructure funding for Amtrak, the company’s salary costs absolutely dwarf its infrastructure depreciation expenses. In 2013, for example, Amtrak spent $2.1 billion on salaries, while it recorded $687 million in annual depreciation costs. Amtrak’s pension losses alone in 2013 totaled $425 million.

The numbers are pretty easy to compute.  Nothing is going to change here.  Amtrak will continue to be a money pit that benefits only a relative few in the country.

However, again, funding and spending wasn’t the reason this train crashed and killed, is it?  At least no according to witnesses and a preliminary finding by the NTSB.

But since the politicizing has begun by the left, why not jump in.  Powerline asks the pertinent questions:

The real question is, why is the federal government in the railroad business at all? Far more people are killed in automobile accidents than train crashes, but no one says the problem is that the federal government doesn’t pay enough money to car companies. If Amtrak can’t operate safely–reasonably safely, since nothing is absolutely safe–based on the revenue it gets from customers, it should go out of business, like any other company.

Here is another question: why should businessmen, journalists, lobbyists and politicians who commute between Washington and points north have their travel costs subsidized by taxpayers? Train travel costs what it costs. Those who ride the trains should pay those costs, just like those who fly in airplanes. It is absurd that the richest and most powerful companies in the United States have their employees’ travel costs subsidized by you and me. This is cronyism at its worst. Amtrak should be a wholly private enterprise. Having ridden that Northeastern line that goes to Washington a number of times, I think it has great advantages over air travel and could easily charge enough money to be profitable in competent hands.

Look folks, the federal government has proven its incompetence for decades when it comes to running or managing anything in a efficient and cost-effective way.  Why?  Because there are no penalties for it not doing so.  It just takes more of your money to cover its incompetence or goes into debt in your name.

These questions deserve answers. The incompetence involved, the fiscal waste, is simply staggering.  And 7 people paid with their lives because of it.

Will we get any answer to those questions?  Oh, no.  The elites are fine with you subsidizing their travel expenses.  And since, it seems, most of our “leadership” comes out of that area anymore, you’re not going to see that change anytime soon.

Divestment of Amtrak is the answer, but then, passengers would have to pay real costs wouldn’t they?  And the leaching elites, who will condemn you in a NY minuted for not paying your “fair share” aren’t about to see this bit of subsidized cronyism pass by the way side are they?

I mean how would Joe Biden get home?

~McQ

 

 

 

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What I learned reading this morning’s USA Today

I don’t read newspapers much, and of course, I’m not the only one. But I’m travelling today, with most of my work for the week behind me. So I browsed through a USA Today while having breakfast in my hotel.

Here’s what I learned from it.

I learned that the driver of the crashed train in Philadelphia was going over a hundred miles an hour. I also learned that the way to respond to a government employee going double the speed limit around a curve on a government-run train is to raise taxes and spend more on infrastructure

I learned that Jeb Bush is raising scads of money. I learned that he knows exactly how to game the system of complex campaign finance regulations to raise the most money. I learned that one such technique is to delay a formal announcement. So he can talk incessantly about what he will do as president, but he is wise to delay the day he actually says (or tweets) “I’m running for president.”

I didn’t learn anything of consequence about what Jeb would do if he were elected president. The reporter seemed completely uninterested in that, possibly because said reporter is about as likely to vote for Jeb Bush or any other Republican for president as she is to vote for SpongeBob Squarepants.

I did learn from this reporter that GOP insider named Fergus Cullen said “Somebody like Jeb Bush doesn’t need to be worried that his poll numbers are mediocre right now.” Just as Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Bob Dole didn’t have to worry about their vote totals being mediocre on election day, I suppose.

I learned that there is a breakthrough in medical research between the US and Cuba. That’s because an early trial found that Cuban doctors have this incredible vaccine that, on a modest sample, let lung cancer victims live two to four months longer. Having watched my dad die of lung cancer, I didn’t exactly see this as something to get joyous about – extending the pain and suffering of cancer for a few months doesn’t strike me as a huge breakthrough. But the reporters sure seemed excited about it. They talked about a “quantum leap” of breakthroughs. I have the feeling that if it had been, say, New Zealand instead of Cuba, their enthusiasm would have been a bit more muted.

They didn’t seem interested in the possibility that this modest trial in a Communist country might have some fudged data either. Because, as we know from the client science debate, leftists just don’t do that. So Castroite communists certainly would not.

I learned that the Senate really, really wants to give Obama more power, specifically to fix up a trade deal with Asia, but he doesn’t want it because there’s one minor thing in the bill he doesn’t like. Something about currency manipulation by China. The bill has large bipartisan support, according to the article, which I interpret to mean that both Democrats and establishment Republicans are for it. But that famous compromiser Obama somehow just can’t give in a bit to get a whole bunch of other stuff he wants. Odd, that.

I learned that Rubio has a doctrine of defense. I learned that if it’s a Republican, the headline needs to put “doctrine” in scare quotes. (The web article moves the scare quotes from the headline to the article. Nice try, USA Today. But I’ve got a photo of the print copy.)

On the casual side, I learned that Saturday Night Live’s newest, hottest cast member is breaking new ground with fart jokes. (Web article again sanitizes things. Print copy’s subhead is “With farts, weed, and sex his forte (for jokes, that is) the new kid slays”.)

I learned that the average CEO makes 373 times more than the average worker. That doesn’t mesh with the CEOsc of mid-size companies that I happen to know, but the data is from an AFL-CIO database, and, given how close American labor leaders are to Castroite communists, you can be sure it’s reliable. (This article was apparently too hot for the web. I can’t even find it on their site.)

I learned that economic growth is sputtering. Nothing in that article about how much more politicians make than unemployed people, but I guess they can’t cover everything.

I learned that USA Today has a reporter named Gregg Zoroya who “covers the impact of war on troops and their families for USA Today”. I didn’t notice that they had any reporter who “covers the impact of government policies on workers and their families”, but perhaps I just missed it.

Remember, now, these people are not biased. Just ask them, they’ll tell you.

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Economic Statistics for 13 May 15

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -3.5% last week, with purchases down -0.2% and refis down -6.0%.

Retail sales were unchanged in April, while sales less autos rose 0.1% and sales less auto and gas were up 0.2%. All of these numbers were, obviously, below expectations.

April export prices fell -0.6%, while import prices fell -0.3%. On a year-over-year basis, prices are down -6.3% for exports, and -10.7% for imports.

The Atlanta Fed’s Business Inflation Expectations survey shows yearly inflation expected at 1.9% in May, up from 1.7% in April.

Business Inventories rose 0.1% in March, while a 0.4% increase in sales lowered the stock-to-sales ratio a tick to 1.37.


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Economic Statistics for 12 May 15

The Fed’s Labor Market Conditions Index fell from -0.3 to -1.9 in April, remaining in negative territory for two consecutive months.

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales rose to a better, but still-soft 2.1% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 1.6%.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rose solidly in April, up 1.7 points to a higher-than-expected 96.9.

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) softened unexpectedly to 4.994 million in March from 5.133 million in February.

The Treasury’s budget for April showed a higher-than-expected surplus of $156.7 billion. Individual income taxes are up a year-on-year 12.9%. Corporate taxes, which make up only 9.3% of receipts, are up 11.8%. Total receipts are up 8.9%. Spending, meanwhile, increased 6.4%, led by an 8.2% increase in Medicare. Defense spending is down 3.0% from last year.


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In case it was ever in question …

Something we’ve discussed for quite some time has been validated.  It, of course, concerns the climate alarmist zealots.  We’ve pointed out, along with many of you, that climate alarmism isn’t so much about science as it is about power.  It also seems to be a secular religion. And it’s a religion that rejects all that we’ve seen make us a prosperous and relatively free people.

Or, said another way, the commie true believers are back and they have leadership positions.  For instance, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change.

She’s quite clear about her feelings concerning her mission:

“This is the first time” in history, she said earlier this year, that there’s a chance “to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution.”

[…]

He also notes that Figueres “is on record saying democracy is a poor political system for fighting global warming. Communist China, she says, is the best model.”

[…]

Newman could have mentioned, as well, that while many who are aligned with Figueres are motivated, as she is, by a raging desire to quash capitalism, the fight against man-made global warming and climate change has become a religious crusade for more than a few.

So, let’s recap:

She doesn’t like democracy because democracy doesn’t give the “elite” the power they need to force the benighted of the world to their agenda.  Much prefers the Communist China model. She’s ready to throw over capitalism (or the semblance we have in this world) to an obviously authoritarian model of a state or world government driven command economy.  Because, you know, that’s worked so well in the past.

Bottom line: she apparently pines for the good old days of the gulag when recalcitrant deniers could have been banished to labor camps forthwith to do penitent work healing Gaia.  And if the masses starve under collectivization and incompetence, just as long as Gaia thrives, it’s all good.  Turn the clock back a century and we’re there.

It never changes does it?  The only answer most of those who consider themselves “elites” -such as this woman – is total control.

Because, you know, if they gave you a tax refund you might not spend it right.  And yeah, the wife of the guy who said that is running for president and is no less a control freak than this woman.  She’s just smart enough to know that we’re not as stupid as some of these people think we are … but trust me, if she could throw over “democracy” and have herself crowned queen, she’d do it in an NY minute.  Instead, she’s committed to the incremental diminution of our rights and the incremental increase in the power of the state.

~McQ

 

 

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Equality: the wrong perspective

I’m always intrigued when I find this sort of nonsense about “equality” being trotted out as anything but stupidity on a stick.  But here we go:

‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.

‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’

Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations.

So, what to do?

According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.

‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’

Instrumental position?  I’m not sure what that means, but in the larger sense, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a philosopher got it wrong because everything was based on a false premise.  That somehow the “family” is at the root of inequality of opportunity. In reality, as you’ll see, he’s not at all interested in equality of opportunity.  He’s more interested in equality of outcome.  To make that happen, you have to control the variables.

But there’s more to this examination by philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse.  The premise is nonsense as history has proven.  To their credit, Swift and Brighouse sort of get it, but they have a goal in mind, so they really don’t.  They just hide the goal in a bunch of blathering about families and “equality” and attempt to convince you they’re pushing “equality of opportunity”.

‘Nearly everyone who has thought about this would conclude that it is a really bad idea to be raised by state institutions, unless something has gone wrong,’ he says.

Intuitively it doesn’t feel right, but for a philosopher, solutions require more than an initial reaction. So Swift and his college Brighouse set to work on a respectable analytical defence of the family, asking themselves the deceptively simple question: ‘Why are families a good thing exactly?’

Not surprisingly, it begins with kids and ends with parents.

‘It’s the children’s interest in family life that is the most important,’ says Swift. ‘From all we now know, it is in the child’s interest to be parented, and to be parented well. Meanwhile, from the adult point of view it looks as if there is something very valuable in being a parent.’

He concedes parenting might not be for everyone and for some it can go badly wrong, but in general it is an irreplaceable relationship.

‘Parenting a child makes for what we call a distinctive and special contribution to the flourishing and wellbeing of adults.’

It seems that from both the child’s and adult’s point of view there is something to be said about living in a family way. This doesn’t exactly parry the criticism that families exacerbate social inequality.

Here comes the “but” however.  And it leads to the very same place it always does:

Swift and Brighouse needed to sort out those activities that contribute to unnecessary inequality from those that don’t.

‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.

The test they devised was based on what they term ‘familial relationship goods’; those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.

Got that?  In case you missed it they said “what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children.”  Control in the name of “equality” as defined by … who?

My next question was “who is ‘we'” and by what right do ‘we’ pretend to have the power to allow or disallow activities that parents determine might help their children and are within their power to give them?  Certainly not me?  You?  Who?

I think we all know.

Now we arrive at “equality” crap.  Equality has somehow become the standard by which you must live your life.  In the US, equality has always meant equality of opportunity, equality before the law, etc.  The leftist view has always been “equality of outcome” and has spawned such monstrosities as socialism and communism in its name.  Where these two are headed is toward the latter.  And how do that do that? By the fact that they’re interested in restricting parents in what they can do for their children so the outcome is more likely to be “equal”.

For Swift, there’s one particular choice that fails the test.

‘Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,’ he says. ‘It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.’

We’ve now pretty arbitrarily defined “familial relationship good” and we’ve decided that certain things don’t really contribute that to which we’ve now restricted parents – producing familial relationship goods.  And while research points to bedtime stories as being much more of an advantage to those who get them than private schooling, the intimacy of such a “product” and the trouble enforcing their ban (and its unpopularity) see them wave it off … for now.

‘The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t—the difference in their life chances—is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,’ he says.

This devilish twist of evidence surely leads to a further conclusion—that perhaps in the interests of levelling the playing field, bedtime stories should also be restricted. In Swift’s mind this is where the evaluation of familial relationship goods goes up a notch.

‘You have to allow parents to engage in bedtime stories activities, in fact we encourage them because those are the kinds of interactions between parents and children that do indeed foster and produce these [desired] familial relationship goods.’

But, as they finally admit,  it isn’t really just about fostering and producing familial relationship goods so much as “leveling the playing field”.  So out of necessity, the family goods list must be short and universal, or they’re a “no-go”. They just can’t seem to find a way to make the family unit regressive enough to go after it, so they’re reduced to going after things that may provide an advantage to some children over others – like private schools.

Now these two have taken a ration of grief based on click bait headlines which have claimed they’re for the abolition of the family.  Well, they’re not, really.  But they are for “leveling the playing field” – i.e. that is the goal of this exercise.  So they’re not at all above finding ways to restrict families who might be able to provide activities and events that they feel (see the arbitrariness creeping in) provide advantages to their children that others don’t enjoy.

It’s certainly not a stretch to believe they’d be fine with doing away with family vacations – after all, not all children can afford to go on vacations and the advantages they would provide to those who can would lead to “inequality”.  And besides, they’re not necessary to produce “these desired familial relationship goods”, are they?  Special summer camps?  Yeah, no, sorry.  A voice coach?  Really? You have to ask?

You get the point.  Everyone hates the word “elite” so load your discussion with those type trigger words.  Imply that you don’t want to hurt the family, but you do want the “children” to have equal opportunity.  And ease them into these restrictions you propose with one that is viscerally easy for the vast majority who don’t have children who attend “elite” private schools.  A little class warfare always helps.

Folks, this isn’t “philosophy”, this is socialist snake oil in a new package.  Once you’ve seen it, you never forget what it is regardless of how they dress it up or pitch it.

~McQ

 

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