As the week kicked off, the story on every front page was the urgent breaking news that President Obama was picking Chuck Hagel to be his Secretary of Defence. Generally speaking, at Via Meadia we think presidents should be allowed to work with the team they want. We also think that important policy isn’t settled in the Pentagon—or anywhere but at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for that matter. So while there is a certain insider beltway logic to the press frenzy, we don’t think it’s worth paying much attention to:
…the controversy over Hagel is the kind of story the media likes. There’s a huge competition to try to scoop the competition, and everyone loves to pontificate portentously on the consequences of A or B getting the job. Twitter and the blogosphere are analyzing every twist and turn of Hagel’s career, looking for signs of anti-Semitism or other disqualifying blemishes.
Fair enough. That’s how the system works, and the American people have a right to check into the histories of those who aspire to lead them. But for people who want to follow news seriously, episodes like this are a great opportunity to save time by skipping the froth and the frenzy. This is the kind of coverage that serious observers (who aren’t hunting for jobs in DC) can and should tune out as much as possible. The press is like a pack of greyhounds, and stories like this are exactly the kind of mechanical rabbit that sets everyone off on a noisy but essentially meaningless chase.
So what else was going on this week? If you were too closely glued to the DC press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the the United States was on the verge of minting a $1 trillion platinum coin in a bid to raise its debt ceiling. Though the plan had been circulating among wonkish circles since the last debt ceiling standoff, it had gotten mainstream enough that even Paul Krugman was seen stroking his beard approvingly at it. By mid-week, however, it looked like Congressional Dems were getting cold feet over the stunt, and by the end of the week, the coin gambit was dead. As a eulogy, we wrote:
The grownups understand what the kids don’t; money is serious business and playing silly mind games with the public and the markets that undermine faith in the monetary system is a Very Bad Idea.
The abolition of the gold standard means that the power of money is based on faith. A dollar is only worth what people think it is; the platinum coin wheeze would have undermined the faith of Americans and foreigners both in the value of our money and of the sobriety and wisdom of those called on to manage it.
That faith is particularly important at moments like this one, when the world’s central banks (the Fed not excluded) continue to strain the limits of credulity with unorthodox monetary policies following the financial crisis.
Other, more important stories you might’ve missed while caught up in the miasma of DC triviality:
- India and Pakistan skirmished along their disputed Kashmiri border. This stuff going on for too long is bad, bad news, especialy if it encourages the Pakistani Taliban to get involved in a bid to bring Sharia law to India.
- Speaking of Pakistani fanatics, they managed to kill more than 100 Shiites in the restive Baluchistan province this week. At what point does Pakistan qualify for full-fledged failed state status?
- Speaking of border disputes heating up, China and Japan look to be doing their utmost to not stand down over their disputes in the China Sea. Next up the ladder of escalation: drones.
- The new Chinese leadership is having trouble managing its increasingly unruly press. As protests spread to a second city and the editor of a prominent paper resigned in solidarity, Xi Jinping needs to figure out how to improve the party’s long-running balancing act
- America’s energy independence is coming on fast, with oil imports forecast to drop to a 25-year low by 2014. Our neighbors to the north are already feeling the pinch, with the Canadian Harper government pushing hard against environmentalists for a northern pipeline meant to deliver the vast Alberta oil sands bounty to a hungry Asia Pacific region. Good luck with that, Prime Minister. Your opponents are jumpy.
- Append this to the Malthusians’ long list of mispredictions: it looks like the world’s population growth may already be slowing. Maybe our future won’t be as unsustainable as they’ve breathlessly claimed?
- In Africa, France finally sent in the troops to Mali to halt the jihadists’ blitz. Will the Obama administration “lead from behind” again, in yet another African intervention?