Friday, August 05, 2005

The Friedman conundrum

I find myself compulsively unable to not read the three stooges of the New York Times op-ed page, Friedman, Brooks, and Tierney, but I always regret my compulsion. They aren't funny stooges--I use the word stooge the way the Marxists did, back in the day, who applied it as a term of abuse, usually deserved, to dim, self-satisfied, often unaware, and always completely predictable tools of larger and presumably malevolent interests.

So, Friedman, after a spectacularly lame lede, even for a man who thinks the world is flat, ("Wow, I am so relieved that Congress has finally agreed on an energy bill," he says, "now that's out of the way, maybe Congress will focus on solving our energy problem" ), he gets down to his point, which is that we don't have a strategy to deal with "the new world", i.e., the flat one with implacably opposed forces arrayed against one another.

Now it turns out Friedman is actually trying write a column on the failure of our energy policy to even rein in, much less reduce, our energy use. I will give him credit for this. A for effort. And who can disagree with the concept, except the people who run the country? But he just can't stop himself from bringing in all his obsessions: his apocalyptic and manichean worldview wherein "Islamo-fascism" is engaged in a war to the death with "open societies." "Open societies" in case you are wondering, is us. Islamo-fascism is--well, that's hard to define. See my earlier blog enry on "Islamo-fascism" for an inadequate but I-couldn't-help-myself attempt to put this absurd concept out of its misery.

But I digress, as usual. To get back to the matter at hand, Friedman then switches to his loopy, happy-face social Darwinist mode, wherein dog-eat-dog race-to-the-bottom Satanic-mill sweatshop economics is portrayed as a really exciting wave of the future, (but we gotta be prepared to _compete_ in the race to the bottom, is a fair summary of the flat-earth message), he starts tossing out helpful ideas like a drunk throwing beads off a mardi-gras float, the ideas, of course, as practical as the beads.

For example, he suggests a gasoline tax of $2.00 a gallon (not a bad idea--but not strong in the realism department--he needs to clear this kind of thing with his neocon mentors), fuel-efficient cars (a suggestion delivered with the solemnity appropriate to such a novel new idea), and switching to more ethanol. Yeah, ethanol. Like Brazil.

He wants to make us more energy independent, right? He says so himself. But he is opposed to corn-based home-grown ethanol--he wants to import sugar from Brazil to make it. Um, OK. So on a flat earth we achieve energy independence by importing sugar instead of oil--importing sugar from a country which is flexing its muscles, like China, and which has a fairly anti-American government and considerable popular potential for being a lot more anti-American.

Now, sadly, at the end of his column, he has noticed that the White House, which is very concordant with Tom's own views on War-to-the-Death with whatever it is that terrorism is being called today, is not waking up to Tom's other big obsession, the race to the bottom, at least not fast enough. He calls the Administration to task for this, making him sound, momentarily, like he is not an apologist for the American right wing, until you realize that his economic ideas are even _more_ right-wing than your average Republican banker.

In closing, he remarks that it took 9/11 to wake him up to the need for us to change our energy usage, but it was not enough for the rest of Americans, and asks ominously "Do we really have to wait for something bigger in order to get smarter?"

Since I read a lot of political writing, I have gotten to be quite a connoisseur of the non-sequitur, but that one was outstanding. Like, lemme get this right, here, 9/11 should have clued us in that we need higher mileage cars running on Brazilian sugar-cane, but that our failure to have gotten smarter yet is an invitation to a bigger attack? Or that, when that attack comes, we will then get smarter about alcohol and car mileage?

You can start getting crazy when you try to figure out what Friedman could possibly mean.

Stop me before I read this man again.

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