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Monday, February 27, 2012

Thread Stopper

Facebook threads have become part of my day.  The general opening page of FB is an amalgam of what people are doing, reading, watching, thinking or just randomly typing.  Unfortunately this allows us an inside view of the Decline of American Civilization as the posts are mostly superficial babble.  "Can you believe (insert celebrity name here) is choosing that guy to date"?  "I never liked the green M&M's".   "I can't wait for summer - I hate the cold".  Or my personal favorite "I can't see (fictional male TV character on fictional TV show) getting together with (fictional female TV character on fictional TV show) at all!!! SMH!".  This is what we think about?  These are the things that are most pertinent?  I'm all for entertainment and some down time, but (conservatively) 80% of the 'posts' I see are simply babble - impulsive 'thoughts' devoid of any point or meaning.

The exception to this seems to be some of the more thoughtful FB friends, who use FB as I do - to post historical, literary, economic or political thoughts and ideas.  These people see, as I do, that FB can become a repository of ideas - a place to learn, to have a discussion, so to speak, on a viable topic at hand.  What is interesting to see is how entrenched mainstream ideas have locked in even some of the 'thoughtful' people.  One might expect that a great amount of learning takes place, and folks can exercise different thoughts.  Sometimes this happens.  More often, however, when people are confronted with facts that refute their worldview, instead of allowing some flexibility, the thread simply stops.  There is no more to discuss.  I have found this to be almost totally the case with my friends over 30.  The younger FB friends are much more flexible, and thankfully realize that they still have things to learn.  My older friends seem to know everything, and when thoughtful refutation takes place, well, that is something to ignore, if not deride.


The United States is $15 trillion in debt.  We are running a deficit of over a trillion dollars a year.  The unfunded liabilities known as Medicare and Social Security totals $111 trillion.  Now I see this as a reflection of bad economics and poor government monetary policy.  Many things have happened throughout the past 150 years to make this so.  The bigger culprits are Keynesian policy, misguided Marxist anger toward Entrepreneurs, the messianic view of government, and the Moneyed Interests taking control of the Education and Media Establishments.  To "fix" these problems I see people discussing MORE taxes, more programs like 'Obamacare', and chatter like: "If only those pesky Republicans would lose/win more elections we'd be better off".  I often, as an amateur reader of history and economics, offer a free market - libertarian view of how to fix these problems.  I use sourced material from Tom Wood's site, Gary North's site, and, with greatest effect,  The response is usually 1 of 2 things.  The less common reaction is to use the logical fallacy of an ad hominem attack.  I'm called a "right wingnut" or some other epithet denoting a slavish devotion to the Republican Party.  Because most of my friends know that I'm no such thing, and they see that I've fallen into the libertarian free market camp, they avoid this.  Even more interestingly, because I was an Establishment Democrat for so many years, I'm the recipient of Internet Snark such as "I see you've bought into the (fill in the blank GOP stooge) rhetoric". 

What happens more commonly however, was in a small economic discussion with one of my left leaning friends.  The country's awful economic situation was the topic, and I mentioned that government intrusion is always bad, as central planning has always failed.  With the United States' absurdly awful financial predicament, one would have to assume that there is no real defense of Centralized Economic Power.  Especially since December 26th, 1991 when the Soviet Communist Party voted itself out of existence and gave the USSR over to the Russian Oligarchal Quasi Legitimate Power Elite to control.  Notwithstanding the aforementioned situations, my FB friend pointed out that governments and markets MUST exist together, for are there any markets without government interference?  Besides the begging the question (circular logic) fallacy inherent in this, I pointed out that the Coinage Act of 1792 was a mininmally invasive, government setting of the Gold Price.  All other interventions after that that centralized power - usually the gov't or the Big Banks the beneficiaries - were economically negative.  Not a bad argument on my part I thought.  Point out the small amount of government interference during the 1800's, show that the government limiting Gold Standard generally brought about a 125 year economic boom.  What was the response?  Nothing.  Thread over.

Politics and War

Most of my FB friends were staunchly against former Pres. Bush and the two wars in the Middle East.  I was too.  Now we're in a situation that is quite the same.  Pres. Obama has sent troops into Southern Sudan, Uganda, and partaken in a NATO war in Libya.  We are still in Afghanistan, and despite the narrative that "Obama ended the war in Iraq", we have a huge base there and around 15,000 permanent troops in Iraq.  This doesn't sound like change at all to me.  When I see posts by people who were vitriolically against  Bush, pushing the 'good' Obama adminstration, I confront them on the hypocrisy.  Recently there have been FB posts on the good things that 'Obamacare' has done for needy people.  These are silly posts because they don't ask the question "at what cost", nor do they factor in that 'Obamacare' hasn't taken hold yet.  We're only in the tax gathering stage.  When I bring up the non change of this administration - Bush war = Obama war or Bush Medicare part D = Obamacare, this ends the thread.  No more discussion.  Move on.


This topic is particularly irksome.  It's easy to decry the collapse of the American Public Education system.  We see around us the stumbling and (literally) bumbling American teenagers.  They dress like slobs, they're too loud, they honor crass behavior and they personify the unholy alliance of someone both stupid and arrogant.  How dare anyone criticise them?  Don't you realize that you're not supposed to judge?  That wearing pants below the crack and being a spewer of profanity and mysogyny is just "the style"?  I realize that the mores of the young have always upset the elders, but things seem worse to me now, for some reason.  Maybe it's the media, but much of it is the school system itself.  How could an institution set up to teach and instruct go so wrong?  When you look at the founding and motivation behind the cumpulsory school movement, 'teaching' and 'instructing' is part of the plan, but not teaching or instructing anything having to do with independent thought.  Creating a quasi caste system, and guarding against industrial overproduction were the main motivations, as well as dumbing down citizens so they will do nothing except spend unthinkingly.  The early libertarian American experiment yielded high literacy and fierce independence - as well as business entrepreneurship.  That the Power Elite would wish to stifle competition isn't too far a stretch, yet when I bring this up in conversation it is dismissed as a 'conspiracy theory'.  You guessed it - end of conversation.  That's all it takes. When the oldest fallacy in the book, calling someone a bad name, works to stifle the debate, the dumbing down of American is complete.  Thread over.

Luckily for us, we can learn about how to offset ingrained ignorance - at low or no cost.  Here's a good place to start:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Power of the Big Name

A post on, of all things, pro basketball.  I had backed away from sports because of all of the nonsense going on in the country. I figured sports should be relegated to the 'nonsense' file, along with just about everything on TV, and the vast majority of the US Congress.  After reading movie and book reviews by Murray Rothbard, and seeing that many of the great minds have followed aspects of various frivolities, I figured I could go back to some of my earlier passions.  What I've found isn't pretty.  The Knicks and the Carmelo Anthony trade is exhibit A.

"February 22, 2011: As part of a 3-team trade, traded by the Denver Nuggets with Renaldo Balkman, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams to theNew York Knicks; the Denver Nuggets traded a 2015 2nd round draft pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves; the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Kosta Koufos to theDenver Nuggets; the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Corey Brewer to the New York Knicks; the New York Knicks traded Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, cash, a 2012 2nd round draft pick, a 2013 2nd round draft pick and a 2014 1st round draft pick to the Denver Nuggets; and the New York Knicks traded Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph and cash to the Minnesota Timberwolves."

Both Henry Hazlitt and Frederic Bastiat, when writing about economics, famously said "look for what is seen and what is not seen."  What isn't seen as part of this trade explanation is the timing.  The NBA was running up to the end of the labor contract, and there was going to be a lockout.  Carmelo Anthony wanted to sign a deal under the (at the time) current labor contract, predicting that the new deal was going to be less player / dollar friendly.  At the time Carmelo was eking out an existence with a paltry $15.7 million per year.  In looking out for his wallet, he wanted to get out from under his contract and sign a new one,  but Denver wasn't going to rewrite the deal.  Let's pause for a moment and analyze this: Carmelo and his agent have to peddle his services to teams in the NBA because he wanted 'out of Denver' and a new deal because they were afraid of the new labor agreement.  What kind of leverage is that?  One would think that every team would understand that the labor rulebook was going to be rewritten after the lockout, so let's wait before making a deal, right?  What team would feel obligated to acquiesce to those terms?  Turns out there was a team that felt it hadn't been snookered in a long time, and needed to undo its spectacular 2 years of building a team the right way - the NY Knicks.

At the time the Knick franchise had done the "thing you cannot do", which was rebuild in NY.  The shibboleth is that in NY, the fans are so demanding, that a GM cannot rebuild the team as the fans will lose patience and not show up.  There is no evidence to support this.  As a matter of fact, Isaiah Thomas had disemboweled the franchise over the previous years, and people still showed up.  Why they wanted to watch a team that played no defense, picked up such notorious ball movement stoppers as Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, Tim Thomas, Jerome James, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, Zach Randolph... fingers... getting... tired... remains a mystery.

Apparently, what fans did tire of was a salary cap busting roster that couldn't play, and wasn't even fun to watch.  So the Knicks began to clean house.  Donnie Walsh was brought in to right the ship, and he did.  Showing patience and planning, he hired a run and gun coach, Mike D'Antoni, and carefully assembled a roster via the draft and trades to land a young, vibrant, and fun to watch roster.  The roster and the coach fit in style and temperament.  The playoffs were finally in the picture, the young versatile small forward was in place, and the young ball distributing point guard was there.  It was working.  Then it happened.  The NY media machine, in search of news and a big name, fed the mouth breathing NY fan base the "we can get 'Melo!!" meme.  Knick fandom, somehow talked about in reverential tones as "the NBA's most knowledgeable fan base", bit on the fake, and completely removed all self-legitimacy by blabbering about the farcical "maybe this will also lure Chris Paul because he and 'Melo are friends".  Compounding this wretched narrative, Knick management somehow felt moved by this and forced a trade they did not have to make.  Young dynamic players - gone.  Big name - in.  Salary cap flexibility - gone.  Winning record - gone.  This brings to mind the Bill Parcells quote: "You are what your record says you are".  Well, as of this writing (Feb 4th, 2012), the Knicks are 8-15, and the Denver Nuggets are 15-8.  

The Sports Fates are laughing at what they have wrought.  Be careful what you wish for.