Retail Sales Made Unexpected Jump in August     

U.S. economic news has been mixed in recent months. What has appeared to be strong fundamentals have been undercut repeatedly by concerns related to the Delta variant. For instance, retail sales had jumped in June before returning back to earth in July.  

However, this week the government’s Department of Commerce released figures showing that retail sales were stronger in August than analysts had predicted.

Retail sales in the United States rose 0.7 percent in August, compared to the projected number of a loss of 0.8 percent, according to CNBC.

Online stores jumped 5.3 percent, while the electronics and appliances category saw a drop of 3.1 percent. The furniture and home furnishing category rose 3.7 percent. Sales at car dealerships, meanwhile, dropped 3.6 percent.

The increase in sales in August was “likely boosted by back-to-school shopping and child tax credit payments from the government, which could temper expectations for a sharp slowdown in economic growth in the third quarter,” according to Reuters.

At the same time, July figures were adjusted downward. The August figures were up 15.1 percent year-over-year, as sales were very low last year during the heights of the pandemic.

“U.S. consumption is not slowing as quickly as it appeared a month ago despite the fading stimulus, and the Delta variant did not much affect the industries feeding into retail sales,” said Chris Low, chief economist at FHN Financial in New York, told Reuters about the retail sales performance. “The economy continued to hum in August.” 

“There is no evidence here that the surge in COVID cases related to the Delta variant is forcing a retrenchment in the economy,” Conrad DeQuadros, senior economic advisor at Brean Capital in New York, told Reuters. 

The trade group the National Retail Federation, meanwhile, commented on the retail performance. The group also released its own number, which had retail sales up “2.3 percent seasonally adjusted from July and up 12 percent unadjusted year-over-year.”

“The increase in August retail sales reflects the continued strength of the American consumer and the resilience of our nation’s retailers,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in the NRF’s statement.

“In spite of the ongoing challenges of the global pandemic, concerns about the delta variant, and supply chain and workforce constraints, the retail industry continues to do what it does best—serve customers and support communities while keeping team members and associates safe and healthy,” Shay said. “We maintain our confidence in the historic strength of consumers and fully expect a record year for retail sales and a strong holiday season for retailers.”  

At the same time, the Labor Department announced that initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 20,000 to 332,000, for the first week of September.  

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver. 

Image: Reuters

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‘They Sat On It For Months!’: Mark Levin Flames Woodward And Costa For Hiding Milley Actions Until They Needed Book Sales

Radio Host and Author Mark Levin appeared on “Hannity” Friday night to give his thoughts on the new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, and he blasted the two for withholding information for book sales.

Levin referenced “Peril,” and the claims it made against Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley — namely that he went outside the chain of command to reassure the Chinese that the United States was not planning an attack — and noted that Milley was expected to appear in congressional hearings in the near future.

“The Democrat Party will do everything they can to run interference for Milley. They’re running interference for Milley because they’re running interference for Nancy Pelosi,” Levin said, “Nancy Pelosi has a key role in this,” Levin said before calling her “absolutely nuts.” (RELATED: Gen. Milley Allegedly Took Secret Action To Prevent Trump From Using Nuclear Weapons)


Woodward and Costa’s book, “Peril,” threw even more explosive allegations at Milley, claiming he usurped the civilian chain of command by calling his Chinese counterpart — without then President Donald Trump’s knowledge — and promised to warn the Chinese if an attack were imminent. This quickly prompted accusations of treason from conservatives.

“He calls in his subordinates and they talk about, what is our process and let’s go over it for using nuclear weapons,” Levin said, “President Trump never hinted ever about using nuclear weapons, there’s no basis for this whatsoever.”

“I might add, in a footnote,” Levin continued, “I don’t know who’s more loathsome, Milley, who is loathsome, or Woodward and Costa.”

“They sat on it for months and months when the American people should have known, when congress should have known, and of course the people in the military should have known that we have a rogue general,” Levin said referring to Woodward and Costa.

“Our constitutional construct’s under attack, our traditions and adherence to laws are under attack, comity, c-o-m-i-t-y, is under attack,” Levin said, “because we have this doofus as President of the United States.

“The media in the country is contributing to its destruction and turning it inside out. This is a battle between liberty and tyranny,” Levin concluded.

So far, President Joe Biden has stood by Milley despite calls for his resignation, saying that he still has confidence in him.

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Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board Will Ration Booze Sales Because It Won’t Admit That Prices Work –

Liquor stores in Pennsylvania will begin rationing limited supplies of dozens of varieties of booze this weekend—leaving not only consumers but also bars and restaurants hung out to dry.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), which has monopoly control over the wholesale and retail of liquor in the state, announced Friday that it would impose a two-bottle-per-day limit on 43 varieties of alcohol—mostly champagnes, whiskeys, and bourbons. In a message to license holders, the PLCB blamed “sustained supply chain disruptions and product shortages” beyond the agency’s control for the new rationing rules, which will remain in place “for the foreseeable future,” according to Lehigh Valley Live.

It’s true that high demand and ongoing pandemic-related supply chain issues have crimped the availability of some brands of alcohol in ways that are not unique to Pennsylvania. But the real culprit here is the PLCB itself, which sets prices for products via an arcane and bureaucratic process that does not allow for abrupt changes when the market shifts in unexpected ways.

One of the amazing things about prices is that they ration goods all by themselves in response to rising demand and limited supply. In New Jersey, for example, where independent liquor stores are reporting similar supply issues, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that “some buyers are flipping their purchases [of alcohol] at high markups.”

Good! Those higher prices will deter some buyers, leaving supplies available for those who are willing to pay.

Back in Pennsylvania, however, the state’s top-down pricing schemes leave no room for such adjustments. As a result, buyers are rushing to buy as much as they can at relatively lower prices. “Some places are over-ordering bottles, which leaves us with none to purchase,” Teddy Sourias, who owns a company that runs six Philadelphia bars, tells the Inquirer. Without being able to rely on prices to fix this mess, the PLCB is left with few alternatives but to ration purchases.

With almost any other product, this sort of bureaucrat-controlled pricing structure would be obviously absurd. Imagine if the state decided how much retailers must charge for groceries. (Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, since there are plenty of examples for how that turns out.)

There’s nothing magical about alcohol that makes it immune to the basic system of supply and demand that determines the price for any other product. But until states relinquish control, you can expect to see these same problems cropping up elsewhere.

Like in North Carolina, where a similar situation unfolded in July. Liquor stores there are run at the county level, but state laws impose “a uniform pricing structure to protect against price gouging and untimely price hikes,” The Charlotte Observer reported at the time. State officials in charge of the monopolistic system once again blamed supply chain issues and surging demand in the months after COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants were lifted. “We all are experiencing the supply and demand shortage,” Zander Guy Jr., chairman of the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, told the paper.

But across the border in South Carolina, where liquor stores are privately owned and free to adjust prices as necessary to keep their shelves stocked, the Observer found products that weren’t available at the time in North Carolina. And, unsurprisingly, liquor store owners said they saw an uptick in buyers coming in from out of state.

In Pennsylvania, leaving the state to buy booze is a time-honored tradition—there’s a massive Total Wine within spitting distance of the Pennsylvania-Delaware border in the Philadelphia suburbs. That’s because the PLCB has never been particularly good at serving customers. Indeed, the governor who created the agency in the wake of Prohibition once claimed its mission was to make it “as inconvenient and expensive as possible” to buy liquor. Mission accomplished, I guess?

Alcohol rationing in Pennsylvania is bad news for bars, restaurants, and consumers in the state—but the power of markets transcends state lines, and that’s probably good news for anyone who owns a liquor store just beyond the PLCB’s reach.

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Retail Sales Surprisingly Increased Last Month After Plummeting In July

Retail sales unexpectedly increased last month despite continued challenges facing the economy as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Sales ticked up 0.7% in August relative to July and totaled $618.7 billion, according to a Census Bureau report published Thursday. E-commerce, furniture, general merchandise, building materials and energy purchases drove last month’s sales increase.

Dow Jones economists had expected sales to decline 0.8%, CNBC reported. In July retail sales posted a sharp 1.8% decline as coronavirus cases surged, the Census report said Thursday. (RELATED: Democrats Block Bills Prohibiting Tax Increases Until Unemployment Rate, Inflation Return To Pre-Pandemic Levels)

“We really got a head fake and this happens a lot. A couple of weeks ago it looked very disappointing,” National Securities Corporation Chief Market Strategist Art Hogan told Yahoo Finance. “It’s a classic example of consumers actually saying one thing and doing something else.”

People purchase tickets at the reopened box office for Broadway shows in Times Square on Tuesday in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

While the overall sales figure increased, the volatile automobile category saw a significant decline of 3.6%, according to the Census Bureau. Excluding car sales, total retail sales increased 1.8% in August compared to July.

Non-store retail sales, which mainly include online shopping, increased 5.3% month-over-month, the largest uptick of any category. E-commerce prices, though, have skyrocketed over the last year as a result of economy-wide inflationary pressures.

In addition, furniture sales increased 3.7%, general merchandise store sales rose 3.5%, food sales increased 1.8%, building materials sales grew 0.9% and gasoline sales ticked up 0.2%. Electronics and sporting goods sales declined by 3.1% and 2.7% respectively.

Inflation, meanwhile, has continued to rise to new multi-decade highs. Consumer prices rose an annual rate of 5.3% in August compared to their pre-pandemic average increase of 2.5%.

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Malaysia’s AirAsia reports smaller Q2 loss, lockdown slowed sales

FILE PHOTO: Airasia planes are seen parked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sepang, Malaysia October 6, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo

September 8, 2021

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s flagship budget carrier AirAsia Group Bhd posted a smaller loss in the second quarter amid a jump in revenue, even as an enhanced lockdown dampened sales during an ongoing slump in travel, a bourse filing showed on Wednesday.

Revenue was 160% higher at 370 million ringgit, boosted by cargo revenues. Under its digital arm, revenue from its logistics business tripled while the fintech unit revenue was 56% higher.

Net loss for April-June was 41.6% lower at 580 million ringgit ($139.66 million), compared with a loss of 992 million ringgit a year ago when the airline hibernated its fleet at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Passengers carried for the quarter surged 272% to 758,746 while load factor – which measures how full a plane is – rose nine percentage points to 68%.

AirAsia said it continued with cost containment measures, including cutting headcount and salaries while managing its capacity to match demand.

The group is in negotiations with lessors to restructure lease terms, it said.

“By the end of the third quarter of 2021, we will have completed two batches of lease restructuring and expect to complete the full exercise by the end of 2021,” Group CEO Tony Fernandes said in a separate statement.

Fernandes said AirAsia has sufficient liquidity for the rest of the year and throughout 2022. The group plans to raise up to 1 billion ringgit through a rights issue by the end of this year.

The group expects all its airline entities – Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia – to see a gradual pickup in domestic operations in the fourth quarter, following the easing of travel restrictions in line with the increase in vaccination rates.

($1 = 4.1530 ringgit)

(Reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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House needs probe of Hunter Biden art sales, Rep. Comer says

The top Republican on the House Oversight Committee ​wants the panel to investigate the sale of Hunter Biden’s artwork — which could earn President Biden’s son millions — and he has contacted the gallery owner to divulge details of the ethics deal he reached with the White House.

​”It is the Oversight Committee’s responsibly to scrutinize Mr. Biden’s business activities because he chooses to conduct them in the most murky and corrupt corners of international affairs,” ​Rep. ​James Comer ​(R-Ky.) wrote in the letter sent Tuesday and obtained by The Post.​

Comer pointed out that Hunter Biden’s New York art dealer, George Berges, is attaching hefty price tags to the works — far beyond even what Hunter believes they will fetch. ​

“The prices your gallery has set for these pieces by a new, untrained, celebrity artist are unprecedented,” ​Comer’s letter says. “One New York art adviser said such prices are ‘sort of insulting to the art ecosystem, as if anyone could do it.​

​”It is the Oversight Committee’s responsibly to scrutinize Mr. Biden’s business activities,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) wrote.
Alex Slitz/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP

“Moreover, he has chosen​ — ​in the latest iteration of his career​ — ​to sell commodities of fluid and opaque value to anonymous benefactors,” ​Comer wrote, noting that Biden knows it’s likely buyers will pay inflated prices for his paintings because he is the president’s son. 

Berges​, who once said he aspired to be the art world’s leader in China,​ is selling the fledgling artist Biden’s works with prices ranging from $75,000 to $500,000.

The congressman said the deal Berges worked out with the White House to keep purchasers anonymous – even from Hunter – gives “more obscurity for the buyers of Mr. Biden’s compositions.”

Comer also questioned Hunter’s desire to embark on a new career by selling his painting at Berges’ SoHo gallery in October.

Hunter Biden painting
Biden’s art ranges in price from $75,000 to $500,000.
Georges Berges Gallery

Noting Hunter’s “previous roles as lawyer, lobbyist, and ill-defined executive for an international fossil fuel corporation, the latest chapter in – as you describe it – his ‘heroic journey’ is subject to skepticism.”

The Post last October published a series of exposes on Hunter’s lucrative work for Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm, less than a year before his father, then vice president in the Obama administration – pressed government officials to fire a prosecutor investigating corruption, including Burisma.

Hunter Biden painting
A report said Hunter Biden planned to meet with potential buyers.
Georges Berges Gallery

The reports also revealed emails found on a laptop Hunter left at a Delaware computer repair shop that raised questions about the younger Biden’s dealings in China. 

The arrangement between Berges and the White House to keep Hunter from meeting prospective buyers raised ethical eyebrows when a CBS News report in July said the president’s son would meet with buyers at art shows in Los Angeles and the Big Apple.

The report led to White House press secretary Jen Psaki getting grilled at a daily briefing about whether the agreement had been dumped.  

“He’s not going to have any conversations related to the selling of art. That will be left to the gallerist, as was outlined in the agreement that we announced just a few weeks ago,” Psaki told reporters.

“We won’t know who the buyers are​.​ Hunter Biden won’t know who the buyers are​. So I think this line of questioning, which is understandable​,​ is about whether this would​ ​provide a situation for undue influence but we won’t know who they are​,” she said. “​So there’s no scenario where they could provide influence​.”

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Major U.S. insurers jump on distribution platforms to gain customers, sales

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Travelers Companies is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

September 7, 2021

By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Major U.S. insurers are joining new digital exchanges to sell not only their own policies but also those of rivals, a fresh twist in an industry known for fierce competition.

The powerful new platforms, including Semsee, bolttech, Bold Penguin and Uncharted, pull data from many carriers, allowing agents to see multiple quotes for policies, much the way travel agents see competing air fares.

Chubb Ltd, Travelers Companies Inc and Liberty Mutual have signed on recently as have agencies that also sell policies, executives said.

“The eyeballs are enormous and important to them,” said Philip Charles-Pierre, New York-based co-founder and chief executive officer of Semsee, which focuses on commercial policies. Many insurers have recognized that “if a large agency is using the platform, you need to be on that platform.”

The growth of digital distribution represents a shift in how insurers compete in markets for auto and homeowner coverage as well as business and commercial lines worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually, experts said.

Carriers also benefit from being able to meet more of a customer’s needs, even if they are not selling their own policy.

“It’s all about who owns the customer relationship,” said Mark Breading, a partner at Strategy Meets Action, a management consulting firm in New York.

The industry has been moving away from “captive” agents who sell only one firm’s policies, but digital exchanges are accelerating the trend, said Matt Leonard, an Oliver Wyman partner who works on insurance.

“The whole process is now supercharged by technology and a broader marketplace of players,” he said.

Partnerships with the exchanges have grown over the past five years. Despite digital revolutions in other industries, many insurance customers – especially small businesses – prefer to work with agents who can explain policies and find the best prices. As a result, the online tools insurers created on their own did not take off as expected.

The exchanges now allow agents to offer customers better prices and satisfy a wider range of needs without necessarily harming profits, executives and experts said.

“Chubb is actively engaged with a number of partners in this channel including bolttech and Bold Penguin,” said Sean Ringsted, chief digital officer at Chubb.

Rob Schimek, bolttech’s CEO, offered an example: A company that writes policies for autos but not homes can use bolttech to offer homeowner coverage from other carriers. That keeps customers from shopping elsewhere. The auto-policy company earns a sales commission on the homeowners policy while the other insurer gets the premium revenue.

“Carriers are dying for access to distribution,” Schimek said. If insurers don’t want to offer policies through the exchange, they will not have access to the customers of other insurers on the exchange, he said.

Bolttech, backed in part by Chinese billionaire Richard Li, recently closed on a $180 million funding round and expanded its reach to 26 countries from 14.

While exchanges bring more customers, they pose a threat by allowing smaller insurers with specialized policies to reach a large market, said Matteo Carbone, founder and director of IoT Insurance Observatory, a research group.

“This, for me, is the biggest risk” to big insurers, he said.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Howard Goller)

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How Snake Oil Got A Bad Name

During the pandemic, the pejorative term “snake-oil salesman” has been bandied about a lot. It’s been used, perhaps with a tinge of 1980s nostalgia, to describe convicted fraudster and serial opportunist Jim Bakker, whose colloidal Silver Solution required only some deft rebranding to become a specific curative for COVID-19. For this, the televangelist found himself on the receiving end of multiple cease-and-desist letters, followed by lawsuits, from several US states. This past June, at least one suit was settled when Bakker agreed to return the “donations” his ministry had collected in exchange for his product.

Then there are the “Snake-Oil Salesmen of the Senate”, as a New York Times opinion piece labelled them. This referred to a collection of Republican senators and the medical experts they had invited to a hearing about hydroxychloroquine, a drug hyped early in the pandemic by Donald Trump as something he had a “really good feeling” about.

The opinion piece’s author, Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, had warned at the hearing against deploying the drug against COVID. Dr Peter McCullough, a cardiologist at Baylor University Medical Center, described Jha’s testimony as “reckless and dangerous for the nation”.

Just to confuse matters, Floridian reptile squalene – actual snake oil – has been credibly proposed by scientists for use in COVID vaccines. Its use would serve double duty: it would help to boost the immune system response, while also helping control the population of invasive Burmese pythons ravaging wildlife populations in Florida’s everglades.

The origins of snake oil

Each of these cases quite aptly recalls the long, fraught history of snake oil. This therapy changed in reputation over several centuries from the tried and true (especially for ailments like rheumatism) to the dark and dangerous; from a symbol of the unregulated populism of American medicine in the late 19th century, to a barb in the early 20th century that people in the medical business used to ridicule the competition.

Until the late 19th century, snake oil actually led a decidedly uncontroversial existence. Across many cultures and countries and over several centuries, its qualities – among which are an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids – made it the go-to medicine for many ailments. Though medical journals of the late 19th century denounced the stuff as one of the “ancient medical delusions” imported from Europe, a more common attribution was to Native Americans, who had purportedly passed on therapeutic knowledge of snake oil to early European settlers.

There are other origin stories. One wildly popular and oft republished late-19th-century newspaper article credited “African voodoo doctors” as snake oil’s source. Another version had Chinese migrants bringing it with them in the 1840s, spreading it across the country as they laid the tracks of the transcontinental railroad and used it to ease the pain in their aching joints.

Wherever it had come from originally, snake oil was all the rage over the mid-19th century, boosted by American “medicine shows” and the salespeople who worked them. It was the “cure for Rheumatism, Deafness, Catarrh, Hay Fever, Cramps, Pain and Sore Throat of any nature”, ran one typical advertisement. One company promised to pay US$1,000 to anyone whose rheumatism was not “cured or helped” by its Rattle Snake Oil. Another, selling Dr White Eagle’s Indian Rattle Snake Oil, offered to send anyone with 50 cents (plus 10c for postage) a trial bottle containing enough oil to prove its worth as the cure to “any ordinary case of rheumatism or catarrh”.

To be sure, many who hawked their wares at these travelling medicine-shows rivalled Jim Bakker in their audacious manipulation of audiences, most of whom were enticed there by the highly acclaimed free entertainment (Harry Houdini got his start on the medicine-show circuit).

But medicine-show audiences were likely far cannier than they have been given credit for – they knew they had to wait through the ads to get to the good stuff. And while they understood that what was on offer might not be especially effective, the bottled snake oil also wasn’t much less effective than something an orthodox medical practitioner might have on offer. And it was far, far cheaper.

For their part, hucksters at these shows knew they’d see these same audiences again the next time through, so their aspiration was not the quick grift but, in fact, something more like brand loyalty. If theirs was a con, it was a very long con that was hardly distinguishable at the time from the way other medical practitioners operated.

Shifting fortunes

What really sealed the fate of snake oil salespeople as the scammers and fraudsters we now take them to be, was not new information about the effectiveness of their wares, but rather the shifting fortunes of the medical marketplace. The 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act threw up new barriers to exactly the kind of unregulated interstate commerce that drove the medicine shows.

At the same time, professional medical organisations like the American Medical Association (AMA) began a powerful marketing campaign to discredit the competition, regardless of its ability to address and treat illness. Those who had been equal players in the 19th-century medical marketplace suddenly found themselves standing on the wrong side of history in the early 20th.

Given the contempt shown for the medicine show by groups like the AMA, it was somewhat ironic that another powerful medical association, the American College of Surgeons, adopted much the same format to hawk its own product: the standardised hospital. Sandwiching sermons of medical orthodoxy within a lineup of entertaining films, music and other exciting events, the college worked to convert the crowd from patent medicines to the care offered by their local hospital.

If the audience was sceptical and impatient for the show to go on, they had a right to be, since hospitals had long been notorious deathtraps. But both the familiarity of the format and the demonstrable improvements made to hospitals over this period made the travelling shows a raging success. Yesterday’s snake-oil sales tactics had become good medical practice.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Caitjan Gainty is a Senior Lecturer in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, King’s College London

Image: Reuters

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Mexican imports cost Florida farmers up to $4B in annual ‘lost’ sales: Report

Congressional representatives and state officials are stepping up efforts to shield Florida’s $12 billion seasonal crop industry from “unfair trade practices” after revelations that Mexican imports cost state farmers 10-20% in annual “lost” sales.

The Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (FDACS) this week released an 84-page report that documents how expanded Mexican imports annually cost Florida farmers up to $4 billion in “lost” sales, which “equates to between 17,870 to 35,741 Florida jobs lost.”

Imports of Mexican crops grew by 580% the last two decades, according to the report, which claims Florida’s market share for six crops – bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, sweet corn, watermelon – have diminished up to 75% while Mexico’s share more than doubled.

“With agriculture as Florida’s second-largest industry, these unfair foreign trade practices and their devastating economic impact should be of grave concern to every single Floridian,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Monday.

Fried said the state’s $137 billion agriculture industry and “Florida farmers are used to weathering challenges – from hurricanes to invasive species – and they are used to competition but they need timely and effective relief from the federal government to level the playing field, because right now, we know Mexico and others are not fighting fair.”

Mexican imports have been growing exponentially under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed into law by former President Bill Clinton nearly a quarter century ago.

That pattern has continued, if not accelerated, under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement signed by President Donald Trump in January 2020, Fried said, adding Florida loses up to $88 million yearly in tax revenues from “lost” produce sales.

Fried, Florida’s only statewide-elected Democrat and among candidates seeking to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022, said the state’s Congressional delegation is doing its part to get the issue federal attention.

“The good news is we are seeing growing support among federal lawmakers demanding effective and timely relief,” she said. “In addition to unanimous, bipartisan support from Florida’s congressional delegation, we have seen senators and members from Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington also join this fight.”

Florida’s 16 Congressional Republicans and 11 Congressional Democrats – including the late-U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings who passed away in April – have written separate letters calling on U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) Secretary Lisa Barton to investigate how Mexico’s trade policies hurt Florida strawberry and bell pepper growers.

In June, Florida’s delegation and two Republican U.S. Sens., Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, reintroduced a languishing bill to protect specialty domestic crop growers.

The Defending Domestic Produce Production Act seeks to “combat unfair trade practices by countries like Mexico” and “ensure U.S. trade law is applicable to seasonal fruit and vegetable growers.”

Rubio is sponsoring the Senate bill, which is before the Senate Finance Committee.

“We must ensure the viability of Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers, who for years have struggled to compete with dumped and unfairly priced Mexican imports,” Rubio said. “I firmly believe that food security is national security, and that to ensure our nation’s food security we must defend our food producers from malicious trade practices that are intended to undermine our self-reliance.”

U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, and Al Lawson, D-Jacksonville, are co-sponsoring the House version, which has been forwarded to the House Ways & Means Committee.

“Illegal seasonal dumping and unfair Mexican trade practices are crippling Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers,” Buchanan said. “It’s time to level the playing field and protect hardworking Florida farmers. Our bill would do just that.”

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August Gun Sales Below 2020 But Second-Highest Figure for That Month on Record

Gun sales in the United States continue to outpace pre-pandemic levels, with a trade group estimating that just over 1.3 million firearms were purchased in August 2021, the second strongest number for that month on record, surpassed only by August 2020, when pandemic fears inflated demand.

“Retail firearm sales remain steady and are still above historic norms. August 2021’s figures rose slightly over July 2021’s figures and this indicates that there is a continued strong and steady demand from Americans choosing to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Mark Oliva, public affairs director at the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.

NSSF, the industry group that provided the gun sales estimates, derived the data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which showed 2.7 million checks in August 2021. NSSF arrived at its estimate by subtracting out NICS checks and rechecks used by states when reviewing concealed carry permits. While background checks do not correspond to firearms sales exactly, they’re a widely used proxy.

The August 2021 figures were the second strongest for that month on record, exceeded only by August 2020, when 1.68 million background checks were carried out, according to NSSF-adjusted data.

“So far in 2021, there have been over 12.4 million background checks for the sale of a firearm,” Oliva said. “That is within striking distance of 2019’s full year totals, when 13.2 million background checks were conducted for a gun sale. Four months remain, during which firearm sales historically rise.”

Gun sales in the United States set a record in 2020, a year scarred by the pandemic and marked by social and political tensions. In a study conducted ahead of the November 2020 election, researchers found that concerns about the pandemic drove a surge in gun sales in California, with buyers citing concerns over lawlessness, prisoner releases, the government going too far, government collapse, and gun stores closing.

Chart showing firearms background checks in the United States

The continued robust demand for firearms comes at a time when the Biden administration has moved to tighten restrictions on gun ownership and, according to Oliva, it “sends a clear signal that Americans are choosing their gun rights over the Biden administration’s gun control.”

In June, President Joe Biden unveiled new measures that he said would address gun violence and violent crime. As part of the policy, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) will seek to revoke the licenses of gun dealers who are found to violate federal law by willfully transferring a firearm to a person prohibited from owning one, failing to run a required background check, falsifying records such as a transaction form, failing to respond to a tracing request from the ATF, or refusing to let the ATF conduct an inspection.

Tom Ozimek

Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he’s ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: ‘Hit your target’ and ‘leave the best for last.’

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