Tag: NPR

“Government Motors”: NPR’s Gaffe?

NPR’s 9:00 a.m. newscast this morning included this accidentally accurate line:

Government, rather General Motors is expected to announce plans for an initial public offering of stock this week.

The comment can be heard here at about 3:10, but I assume the online hourly report is updated throughout the day.

For more on Government Motors, click here.

Deflation

I was listening to NPR in the car yesterday, when a report came on about the implications of deflation — which apparently is the latest concern regarding financial markets. The report nearly made me fall out of my seat from bewilderment and frustration.

Adam Davidson, the NPR reporter, waxed eloquent about how deflation turns normal economic and investment calculus on its head.  But his explanation was so poor that he ended up saying exactly the opposite of what he should have said.

Here’s how it went for me:

Davidson: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have an amazing investment opportunity for you. Give me $100, just a hundred, and in one year I promise it will be worth 93 bucks. We call it the deflation special.”

My reaction: No, sir! Under deflation, $100 today would increase in value to $107 (assuming your implicit rate of deflation).  Help! Stop the car! …Wait, I’m the one driving…what just happened?

Davidson: “All right, seriously, nobody is giving anybody a hundred bucks just so they can lose seven.”

My reaction: No, no, please, please take my money! I’d give you a million dollars if I had that amount. I really would!

Davidson: “That’s the opposite of an investment opportunity, which is precisely why economists and central bankers get terrified when they hear the word deflation.”

My reaction: Well, a small amount of deflation can be consistent with flexible prices. It’s only rapid spiraling deflation that we should worry about.  But the same is true about rapid spiraling inflation.

Davidson: “Technically, deflation means that the prices of all kinds of goods and services keep falling, rather than what they normally do, which is rise. And deflation means that not just one investment but all investments are worth less next year because the currency they are based on — like the U.S. dollar — is going to be worth less next year.”

My reaction: That word “technically” should be banned from his vocabulary.  Again, the confusion here arises from using the word “currency.” Deflation means lower prices tomorrow compared to today and, therefore, a higher value of each dollar.  Indeed, all debts appreciate in value in a deflationary environment.

Davidson: “Why pay money to build a new factory or buy a house or hire an employee or go to school if the payoff will be worth (less) than the money you put in?”

My reaction: Lenders would be happy to lend money for investment projects because deflation implies a higher rate of return on them. It’s the borrowers and entrepreneurs who would not want to borrow funds because deflation escalates the real value of debtors’ liabilities.

Davidson: “Deflation, once it starts, is extremely hard to stop. Which is why the Federal Reserve is doing everything it can to prevent it.  Although, all the tools used to prevent deflation, like increasing the money supply and keeping interest rates incredibly low, can cause another problem: inflation.”

My reaction: What is it that you want, man? Make up your mind!

Davidson: “Now, central bankers tend to think that they can stop inflation more easily than deflation. So given the choice, they’ll inflate.”

My reaction: Those horrible Fed officials! I always suspected they were up to no good — always ginning up inflation. Now I know why!

I wonder which economics school Davidson (and his editor) attended. My guess: none. Let’s see … what’s on the next radio channel?

Kilcullen Joins the ‘To Hell with Karzai’ Faction?

“No, really—tell him that. ‘Hanging from a lamppost!’”

Three weeks ago I observed that Stephen Biddle, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar who previously had emphasized the centrality of Hamid Karzai to the prospects for success in Afghanistan, had coauthored an article in Foreign Affairs on Afghanistan that hardly mentioned Karzai.

Now one of the archbishops of counterinsurgency and close Petraeus confidante David Kilcullen appears to have joined the “To Hell with Karzai” caucus as well.  First, in an interview with Doyle McManus of the LA Times, Kilcullen lamented that Karzai “has been treating us as if he’s got us over a barrel,” and suggested that we might want to remind the Afghan president that “he’s a guy who will be hanging from a lamppost a month after we leave if we don’t protect him.”  Tough stuff!

Today Kilcullen piles on some more in a NPR interview, advising a strategy of bypassing the central government and “empowering” local constituencies to fight the Taliban themselves.  Kilcullen says that the Afghan National Police have been “raping people’s children” at checkpoints and “shaking people down.”  By contrast, Kilcullen says, the Afghan National Army is better but is far too small to take the reins from the Americans any time soon.

The most vexing thing about all this is Kilcullen’s caveat that there must be “safeguards in place so that it doesn’t lead to the creation of alternative power structures that suck the oxygen away from a legitimate government.”  But how is that supposed to work?  It seems like “empowering” local forces to police their own territory and fight the Taliban is a zero-sum diffusion of power away from the central government and into the provinces.  In the LA Times interview, Kilcullen said that “the absolutely critical thing we haven’t done very well is come up with a political strategy to take an illegitimate government and turn it into a legitimate one.”  But it’s hard to see how doing an end-run around Karzai by training (and arming?) local constituencies to fight the Taliban helps achieve this “absolutely critical thing.”  Presumably this is why Karzai reportedly hates the idea.  It seems to me that this reflects an important strategic confusion: Is our strategy to build a viable national state in Afghanistan, or to embrace the diffuse and non-national existing power structures in Afghanistan at the expense of the central government?  If it’s the latter, why do we need a counterinsurgency campaign?  If it’s to do both, I think we’ve got problems.

Alternatively, is this all a big bluff to get Karzai to believe that America may leave if he doesn’t start doing what we tell him?  If so, Karzai should probably call the bluff.  American government officials have made Afghanistan out to be a vital national interest and would have a hard time turning a 180 on that judgment.  Meanwhile, Republican sharks have already begun circling Obama, and a searing and humiliating meltdown in Afghanistan probably isn’t on David Axelrod or Rahm Emanuel’s agenda right now.

Now, I’m no counterinsurgency guru, but I don’t see how you square this center-versus-periphery circle.  Maybe one of my COIN guru pals like Spencer Ackerman or Andrew Exum could help me out here.

The Horror of It!

Today Politico Arena asks:

Will Reid be able to portray Angle as an extremist?

With an air of wonder, POLITICO reports this morning that Sharron Angle, facing Senate majority leader Harry Reid in the fall elections, “has previously made eyebrow-raising statements about withdrawing the U.S. from the United Nations, eliminating the departments of Energy and Education, and privatizing Social Security.” Eyebrow-raising? As in “who could stand for such things”?

Beyond the Beltway (and even in pockets within the Beltway), there actually are people who believe that American taxpayers should not be subsidizing the play things of such human-rights-respecting exemplars as Cuba, China, Russia, and their ilk, all of whom sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council. And for some reason, we actually did have both energy and education in this country before the Departments of Energy and Education were created, hard as it may be to believe, just as we had art, philosophy, and radio before the NEA, NEH, and NPR were created. And people retired, on their own savings, before the Social Security system was invented. Speaking of which, it might be useful to note that that Ponzi scheme is now operating in the red, six years earlier than expected. Now there’s a reason to raise one’s eyebrows.

Cato Pledge Drive

Public radio talk show host Diane Rehm said during WAMU’s pledge drive yesterday:

“Whenever I meet someone who says, ‘Diane, I love your show, I love what you do,’ the first thing I ask them is, ‘Are you a member?’”

“Member” means financial contributor, of course, and she went on to make the point that if you value public radio, you should contribute. Of course, every taxpayer is a contributor to public radio, whether he values it or not.

But that’s not true for the Cato Institute. We don’t accept government money. Indeed, a few years ago, we rejected a large contribution from Fannie Mae when that entity announced that it was going to add Cato to the vast list of Washington organizations and politicians on whom it showered its ill-gotten gains. We also, as it happens, got only 2 percent of our funding from corporations last year. The money that enables Cato to do its work comes overwhelmingly from 15,000 individual contributors.

So Diane Rehm’s question is much more valid in our case: Do you visit the Cato website or enjoy seeing our scholars on television and in the newspapers? Do you value the work we do on behalf of liberty and limited government? Are you a Sponsor? If not, shouldn’t you become a Sponsor and help make sure we can continue and expand that work?

And if you are a Sponsor, thank you!

Is Environmentalism a Religion?

Is environmentalism a religion? At NPR it isyet again. I thought the latest story started off oddly – talking about “the uneasy relationship between religion and science” and saying that lefty novelist Margaret Atwood thinks that ”in the future we could see a religion that combines religion and science.” But it’s not the case that all religions have problems with all science, is it? So I was dubious about the premise of the story.

And then – what new kind of religion does Margaret Atwood envision? Well, you could write it yourself:

KLEFFEL: Armstrong sees the role of religion as a guiding force for ethical behavior. Margaret Atwood brings that notion to life in her newest novel, “The Year of the Flood.” It’s set in a dystopian near future where genetic engineering has ravaged much of the planet. The survivors have created a new religion.

Ms. ATWOOD: This group, which is called God’s Gardeners, has taken it possibly to an extreme that not everybody will be able to do. They live on rooftops in slums on which they have vegetable gardens. And they keep bees. And they are strictly vegetarian, unless you get really, really hungry, in which case you have to start at the bottom of the food chain and work up. And they make everything out of recycled castoffs and junk. So they’re quite strict.

KLEFFEL: Atwood points out that the beginnings of her religion of the future have already appeared in the present.

Ms. ATWOOD: Indeed, we now have the Green Bible among us, which I did not know when I was writing this book, which has tasteful linen covers, ecologically correct paper, the green parts in green. Introduction by Archbishop Tutu. And a list at the end of useful things you can do to be a more worthy green person.

KLEFFEL: Atwood created a new pantheon of saints, including Rachel Carson, Al Gore and Dian Fossey, the murdered conservationist, as well as hymns, which have been brought to life by Orville Stoeber.

(Soundbite of song, “Today We Praise Our St. Dian”)

Mr. ORVILLE STOEBER (Singer): (Singing) Today we praise our Saint Dian, whose blood for bounteous life was spilled. Although she interposed her faith, one species more was killed.

Novelist Michael Crichton said that environmentalism had all the trappings of a religion: “Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday.” Atwood is filling it out with saints and hymns.

Red Team, Blue Team

In a report on Attorney General Eric Holder’s approach to seeking the death penalty, NPR reports:

A few months after Holder made that statement, he authorized a capital prosecution in Vermont, a state that does not have the death penalty. When Ashcroft brought a federal death penalty case in Vermont seven years ago, the mayor of Burlington called it “an affront to states’ rights” and “not consistent with the values of a majority of Vermonters.” But this time, there was hardly any outcry.

So the former antiwar movement doesn’t complain about President Obama’s expansion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And opponents of capital punishment don’t protest the Obama administration’s seeking the death penalty in liberal Vermont. It’s beginning to look a lot like the Bush years, when conservatives put up with a great deal from a Republican administration that would have sent them into apoplexy if it had been done by Democrats.