Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some of My Best Friends Are Deroy Murdock

Move over Rosa Parks and James Meredith! There's a new civil rights trailblazer in town. Meet Deroy Murdock, the first black* speaker on the prestigious National Review Cruise! (OK, it's possible he's not the first, but there wasn't one last year which was the only other year I've tracked it.)

And while all the credit in the world goes to Murdock and the Cruise organizers, I can't help but think that last year's Fire Tom Friedman exposé played a small part. In that post, I pointed out that the speakers were 91% male, 94% white and their average age was 58.

I'm happy to say that progress goes well beyond Deroy Murdock. This year, males only make up 85% of the speakers and whites only 90%. And Ramesh Ponnuru won't be so lonely when the Asian Caucus holds its meetings at this year's cruise, not with John Yoo on board!

And who says all the young kids are busy Occupying Wall Street? The
average age of a 2011 National Review speaker is a frisky 55 -- 3 years younger than last year! It's amazing what happens when you replace octogenarian Phyllis Schafley with America's Sassiest Randian, S.E. Cupp.

Below is a complete speaker list so you can see what progress looks like.

Speaker White? Male? Age
Bernard Lewis White Male 95
James Q. Wilson White Male 80
Cal Thomas White Male 79
John Sunununu White Male 72
Fred Thompson White Male 69
John Derbyshire White Male 66
Tony Blankley White Male 63
Elliot Abrams White Male 63
John Bolton White Male 63
Michael Walsh White Male 62
Victor Davis Hanson White Male 58
Andrew Klaven White Male 57
Mona Cheran White Female!!! 54
Charles Kesler White Male 54
John Fund White Male 54
James Lileks White Male 53
Mark Steyn White Male 52
Ralph Reed White Male 50
Tim Pawlenty White Male 50
Kevin Hassett White Male 49
Jay Nordlinger White Male 48
Charmaine Yoest White Female!!! 48
Greg Gutfeld White Male 47
Deroy Murdock Black!!!!!!!!!!!! Male 47
John Yoo Asian!!! Male 44
Rich Lowry White Male 43
Jonah Goldberg White Male 42
John J. Miller White Male 41
Roman Genn White Male 39
Ramesh Ponnuru Asian!!! Male 36
Kathryn Lopez Hispanic!!! Female!!! 35
S.E. Cupp White Female!!! 32
Tracie Sharp White Female!!! ????
Sally Pipes White Female!!! ????
Andrew McCarthy White Male ???
Jim Geraghty White Male ???
Rob Long White Male ???
Robert Costa White Male ???
Kevin Williamson White Male ???   

* The original post referred to Deroy Murdock as the "first African-American speaker." On October 5, 2012, Mr. Murdock emailed a correction request (a FTF first!), asking that "African-American" be changed to "black."  The post has been updated to reflect Mr. Murdock's wishes.**

** The original correction contained two embarrassing mistakes: Mr. Murdock's first name was wrongly listed as "Delroy" and the last sentence read, "The post has been be updated to reflect Mr. Murdock's wishes" (emphasis added).  Those mistakes have now been corrected thanks, once again, to the diligence of Mr. Murdock.  I apologize to Mr. Murdock, who has been nothing but delightfully gracious  throughout this whole correction ordeal.  So much so that I'm tempted to make another mistake in hopes of hearing from him again . . . 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Imperial Messenger: Part 2 of FTF’s Interview with Belén Fernández

Belén Fernández is the author of the brand-new The Imperial Messenger: Tom Friedman at Work. Below is part 2 of my interview with her. If you missed part 1 (how dare you!), it’s here. To learn more about the book, please visit This excerpt at Al Jazeera is also highly recommended. ”

Did you come away with a lower opinion of Friedman or of the people and institutions that continually give him platforms to spew his idiotic, loathsome views? I find it so telling that, when Friedman did his “suck on this” performance on Charlie Rose, Rose just nods and leans in for the next question instead of calling Friedman out for saying one of the most offensive things ever said on television. Or to put it another way: Do you think the New York Times would allow one of their columnists to consistently dehumanize entire groups of people – to the point of openly calling for civilian deaths in Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq – if those people weren’t Arab/Muslim?

Unfortunately, Orientalist dehumanization is institutionalized in US media discourse, the result being that there is no overwhelming public concern when over a million Iraq lives are lost thanks to America’s bellicose projects or when 1400 Palestinians perish in a matter of 22 days at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces.

It is utterly appalling that neither Charlie Rose nor anyone else in the US establishment media took issue with Friedman’s obscene proclamation, and that he was never required by his employer to apologize for it in the interest of maintaining a pretense of objectivity. One can imagine the uproar that would have ensued—and over which Friedman himself would have presided—had, for example, Yasser Arafat instructed Israelis to suck on things, or had Osama bin Laden justified 9/11 with similar terminology. Friedman, on the other hand, is permitted to continue blissfully peddling his contemptuous analyses of the Arab/Muslim world, such as his 2007 assessment—with regard to the US military—that Iraqis “don’t deserve such good people… if they continue to hate each other more than they love their own kids.”

Of course, it is safe to assume that most Iraqis exhibit normal human affection for their offspring, including for those millions of offspring that have been killed, maimed, displaced or otherwise made to suffer as a result of a US military-inflicted sucking, and that the half a million Iraqi children previously killed by US-championed sanctions were probably also loved by their parents.

Even if Charlie Rose et al. fail to comprehend that sucking orders do not qualify as proper journalistic etiquette, they should at least be able to comprehend that Friedman’s argument for why the sucking should occur is in complete defiance of logic. According to Friedman, Iraqis must be made to suck so that the US can effectively combat the “terrorism bubble” that has developed in “that part of the world” and that poses a “fundamental threat to our open society,” something Americans discovered on 9/11. However, this very same Friedman also explains that the real threat to “open, Western, liberal societies today” consists not of “the deterrables, like Saddam, but the undeterrables – the boys who did 9/11.” The resulting argument—made by someone who himself criticizes the Bush administration for implying a link between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein—is that war against deterrables whose weapons are not the problem will solve the problem of undeterrables who are the weapons and who by definition cannot be deterred anyway.

Regarding your question of whether I have a lower opinion of Friedman or of those who encourage and promote him, they are all part of the same system that rewards the willful subversion of human empathy on behalf of empire and capital. The system would naturally exist without Friedman; he just does his part to sustain it.

As for whether Friedman will ever be made to atone for his crimes, I’ve personally found that one effective means of stress relief is to ponder reincarnation options for him, an activity that he himself actually used to engage in on occasion in order to highlight what he deemed to be unethical behavior by certain sectors of the US citizenry. In a 2004 column entitled “In My Next Life,” for example, Friedman sarcastically described his desire for reincarnation as a college or professional athlete:

For a mere dunk of the basketball or first-down run, I want to be able to dance a jig, as if I’d just broken every record by Michael Jordan or Johnny Unitas. For the smallest, most routine bit of success in my sport, I want to be able to get in your face – I want to know who’s your daddy, I want to be able to high-five, low-five, thump my chest and dance on your grave. You talkin’ to me?

Why athletic grave-dancing is more offensive than telling entire populations to “suck. On. This” is unclear.

I would meanwhile suggest Friedman contemplate reincarnation as an Afghan civilian, an aspiration that might merit the following description (as well as sudden re-reincarnation):

“Yes, in my next life I want to be an Afghan civilian. I want to meet my demise by American B-52, and, when I do, I want the foreign affairs columnist of the US newspaper of record to place the ‘civilian’ portion of my identity inside quotation marks. I want him to take time out of his busy schedule of complaining about his own horrific experiences and the tendency of other diners to interrupt his restaurant meals with their cell phone conversations, and I want him to debunk the blasphemous idea espoused by the European and Arab media, according to which I had not actually been ‘praying for another dose of B-52’s to liberate [me] from the Taliban.

Did you find that Friedman tries to rewrite his own role in history, even though it’s quite easy to fact-check these days? For instance, I’ve noticed he often claims that he called for a $1/gallon “Patriot Tax” on gas on 9/12/01 when, in fact, he didn’t call for one until more than two years later – after both wars he had cheerled for were well under way.

Yeah, it’s not clear whether Friedman intentionally rewrites his own history or whether the rewriting is just a byproduct of the fact that he is employed in a position that does not require him to understand or keep track of what he himself thinks about things.

To give a very simple example of self-contradiction, Friedman announces 200 pages into his book The World Is Flat that Globalization 1.0 was the era in which he was required to physically visit an airline ticket office in order to make his travel arrangements. According to the definition provided at the start of the book, however, Globalization 1.0 ended around the year 1800.

On the subject of India, Friedman goes from arguing that “Indian democracy” and “economic liberalization” have enabled the high-tech industry in Bangalore to flourish, to arguing two years later that Bangalore high-tech firms “thrive by defying their political-economic environment, not by emerging from it.” Indian “democracy” is meanwhile additionally credited with the fact that “rioting didn’t spread anywhere” after the 2002 pogrom incited by the Hindu nationalist government of the state of Gujarat, in which several thousand Muslims were massacred. The article is perplexingly titled “Where Freedom Reigns,” in spite of the massacre of Muslims.

A month after declaring the war-based democracy experiment in Iraq “the most important task worth doing,” Friedman announces that he doesn’t “want to hear another word about Iraq” given that there is a sniper on the loose in Montgomery County, Maryland, who is forcing him to become well-acquainted with the delivery man from California Pizza Kitchen and to “duck… behind a pillar” while filling up his car with gas. He fails to add this to the list of reasons America must cease its dependence on oil, though he does subsequently go from insisting that George W. Bush renounce his limousine and set a “geo-green” example to exulting the following year over the fact that he himself is being chauffeured around Budapest in one. (Friedman goes as far as to provide his driver’s website——so that everyone can witness the capitalist evolution and integration into the global economy of a “Communist-era-engineer-turned-limo-proprietor,” but refrains from mentioning that none other than Bush is listed as a reference on the company’s website.)

A few more quick examples of Friedman’s historical revisions:

In 2005 Friedman declares the need for “a proper civil war” in Iraq. In 2011 he miraculously displaces the blame for civil war-mongering: “For all of the murderous efforts by Al Qaeda to trigger a full-scale civil war in Iraq, it never happened.”

In 2002 Friedman informs Saudi crown prince Abdullah that “the Jews of the Clinton administration are gone” and that their replacement “WASPs” of the Bush administration “couldn’t care less about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. It is not an issue that resonates with them at all.” In 2003 Friedman announces that the Bush team “has fallen so deep into the pocket of Ariel Sharon you can’t even find it any more” and that Bush may “be remembered as the president who got so wrapped around the finger of Ariel Sharon that he indulged Israel into thinking it really could have it all—settlements, prosperity, peace and democracy.”

And so on.

One of the more intriguing things about Friedman’s rewriting of history is that he relentlessly plugs his friend Dov Seidman’s book How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything … in Business (and in Life), according to which the centrality of blogs, Facebook, and YouTube to modern life ensures that “more and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased.” Friedman provides the following illustrative anecdote in 2007:

Three years ago, I was catching a plane at Boston’s Logan airport and went to buy some magazines for the flight. As I approached the cash register, a woman coming from another direction got there just behind me — I thought. But when I put my money down to pay, the woman said in a very loud voice: ‘Excuse me! I was here first!’ And then she fixed me with a piercing stare that said: ‘I know who you are.’ I said I was very sorry, but I was clearly there first.

If that happened today, I would have had a very different reaction. I would have said: ‘Miss, I’m so sorry. I am entirely in the wrong. Please, go ahead. And can I buy your magazines for you? May I buy your lunch? Can I shine your shoes?’

Why? Because I’d be thinking there is some chance this woman has a blog or a camera in her cellphone and could, if she so chose, tell the whole world about our encounter — entirely from her perspective — and my utterly rude, boorish, arrogant, thinks-he-can-butt-in-line behavior. Yikes!”

It goes without saying that defending Israel’s strategy of inflicting mass civilian casualties in Lebanon in 2006, for example, does not in Friedman’s world qualify as rude, boorish, or arrogant behavior. This item from 2010 meanwhile suggests that Friedman is not overly preoccupied with the prospect of domestic cell phone cameras and blogs.

Punditry, like banking, seems to be a profession free of accountability. The more Friedman is wrong, the more Sunday morning shows he gets invited on. Is it time to Occupy Tom Friedman’s house? (He certainly has the room.)

It is definitely time to occupy Friedman’s house. I would advise incorporating an Arab and/or Muslim military into the endeavor and referring to the “occupation” only in quotation marks, as Friedman does following the US invasion of Iraq.

Incidentally, given the schizophrenic nature of his discourse, Friedman could conceivably be persuaded to advocate for the occupation of his own house if he were assured that in doing so he would somehow remain relevant to the effort to recuperate US glory.

Despite marrying into one of the one hundred richest families in the US, Friedman recently attempted to co-opt Occupy Wall Street by classifying it as an “effective” movement (in an interview with MTV, no less). Perhaps as a next step he should consider channeling his affection for Google Earth and the role it allegedly played in sparking the Arab uprisings—by alerting Bahrainis to the dimensions of the ruling family’s palaces—into an investigation of what his own 11,400-square-foot house looks like from the air.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Imperial Messenger: Tom Friedman at Work - an Interview with Belén Fernández

Great news, Friedman haters! Tomorrow is the official release of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work by Belén Fernández. It's the book I was born to read (or write, if I was smarter and not so lazy). Get this: Ms. Fernández actually read every Tom Friedman column since 1995 -- 3 times each! I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy so I fanboyed Ms. Fernández a slew of questions and she was gracious enough to answer. Part 1 of our interview is below. I'll post part 2 in the next day or two. To learn more about the book, please visit:

Why Tom Friedman? And can you talk a little about how the book is organized?

My decision to write the book was not the product of any sort of long-standing obsession with Thomas Friedman, whose journalistic exploits I remained mercifully immune to for most of my existence up until 2009.

Then, about midway through that year, the idea came to me suddenly when I noticed the $125 “Russian breakfast” option on the room-service menu at my five-star Havana hotel.

Kidding. In 2009 I watched with simultaneous fascination and horror as Friedman flitted on pedagogical missions from Lebanon to Iraq to Afghanistan to Palestine to Africa, where he discovered the root cause of oppression in Zimbabwe by going on safari in Botswana.

Later that same year, Friedman’s decades-long lecture to the Arab/Muslim world on how to behave reached new levels of absurdity with his pronouncement according to which:

A corrosive mind-set has taken hold since 9/11. It says that Arabs and Muslims are only objects, never responsible for anything in their world, and we are the only subjects, responsible for everything that happens in their world. We infantilize them.

Arab and Muslims are not just objects. They are subjects. They aspire to, are able to and must be challenged to take responsibility for their world.

Arab/Muslim subjectivity was of course called into question not only by the fact that Friedman in this very same article instructed the Islamic world to engage in a civil war equal in ferocity to the US civil war, but also by the fact that—approximately 10 days prior to criticizing the infantilizing of Arabs and Muslims—he had remarked to an amused Fareed Zakaria of CNN that Afghanistan was like a “special needs baby” adopted by the US. (Friedman had refrained in this case from throwing in his regular complaint that the US was “baby-sitting a civil war” in Iraq—a complaint he apparently felt was not irreconcilable with his own declaration of the need for an Iraqi civil war.)

Anyway, it was this imperialist hubris and unabashed Orientalism that originally motivated me to write the book, which stars Friedman as mascot for the degenerate mainstream media in the US. Friedman’s treatment of the Arab/Muslim world is the subject of the book’s second section; the first deals with his views on the need for US dominance in the world and the third deals with his special relationship with Israel.

Did you really read every Friedman column since 1995? For me, getting through two a week is challenging enough. What was that like? Were there surprises? Was there a point when you were like, “What did I get myself into?”

Yes, I really did read every Friedman column since 1995—three times, in fact. Ialso read a number of his articles from 1981 to 1995, primarily the ones that the New York Times did not require me to pay for.

“What did I get myself into?” is a conservative way of phrasing the existential questions that plagued me throughout this project. My notes are largely composed of expletives, except for the occasional expression of joy whenever Friedman would go on book leave or be otherwise absent from his column for an extended period of time. Vacuuming and other such activities suddenly became really fun.

As for surprises, persons familiar only with Friedman’s post-95 incarnation as foreign affairs columnist—in his words, “tourist with an attitude”—might be surprised to learn that in previous years he was not licensed to pontificate about the “collective madness” of Palestinians or to prescribe the mass extermination of Arab/Muslim civilians, and that he even used to pen articles with titles like “Israeli Troops Shoot Arab Student Dead at Protest.” His 1984 piece “What’s Doing in Jerusalem,” in which he observed that “One of the most enjoyable ways to see some of Jerusalem's cultural offerings is to eat your way around them,” meanwhile underscores how much better off the world might be if Friedman’s musings on the Middle East had been restricted to the relatively innocuous realm of cuisine:

“Israeli duckling in a champagne and orange sauce is the house specialty at Jerusalem's premier French restaurant, the Mishkenot Sha'ananim on Yemin Moshe Street (225110), overlooking the Old City from the west. Dinner for two with wine approaches $100.”

Less surprising, but nonetheless revealing, is Friedman’s admission in his book Longitudes and Attitudes that, as “tourist with an attitude,” he has “total freedom, and an almost unlimited budget, to explore.” This only renders all the more distressing the fact that he does not utilize said budget or freedom to conduct any meaningful human interaction or to report international reality beyond the confines of the mentality espoused by proponents of US dominance and corporate globalization.

In the same book he boasts that the “only person who sees my two columns each week before they show up in the newspaper is a copy editor who edits them for grammar and spelling,” and that for the duration of his columnist career up to this point he has “never had a conversation with the publisher of The New York Times about any opinion I’ve adopted— before or after any column I’ve written.” Though it may come as no surprise that the Times does not feel the need to prohibit its employees from advocating for things prohibited by international law, such as collective punishment, the publisher might consider at least subjecting copy editors to a lesson in rectifying metaphorical incoherence.

Do you come away with a better understanding of Friedman’s popularity? He doesn’t write well, he’s not an original thinker, he’s not smart (watching him try to talk about anything besides his own columns is painful), he’s not entertaining. For me, it’s far easier to understand why people like Rush Limbaugh than Friedman. Did your research give you any insight into the Friedman phenomenon?

I think Mike Whitney explained the phenomenon well in a 2005 article for CounterPunch, written in response to Friedman’s approval of US-inflicted carnage in Iraq:

Friedman offers these outrageously callous judgments using his ‘trademark’ affable tenor that oozes familiarity and hauteur. The normal Friedman article assumes the tone of a friendly stranger, plopped on a neighboring barstool, pontificating on the world’s many intricacies to a less-knowledgeable companion. Isn’t that Friedman?

‘Let me explain the world to you in terms that even you can understand.’

And is he good at it? You bet. American liberals love Friedman; his folksy lingo, his home-spun humor, his engaging anecdotes. Beneath the surface, of course, is the hard-right ethos that pervades his every thought and word but, ‘what the heck’, no one’s perfect.

Indeed, Friedman sells the Iraq war as “the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the U.S. has ever launched” despite making subsequent assessments such as “The neocon strategy may have been necessary to trigger reform in Iraq and the wider Arab world, but it will not be sufficient unless it is followed up by what I call a ‘geo-green’ strategy.” As I point out in my book, it is difficult to determine how many true “geo-greens” would advocate for the tactical contamination of the earth’s soil with depleted uranium munitions; why not introduce a doctrine of neoconservationism?

Other examples of Friedman’s hard-right ethos masquerading as liberal include his claim to support social safety nets, which in the wake of the 2008 financial recession quickly mutates into a campaign to slash entitlements worldwide. Friedman announces that, although it’s “really sweet” that elderly Brits enjoy subsidized heating and can ride local buses for free, Britain can no longer afford such excesses. Of course, Britain has somehow historically been able to afford other excesses, and Friedman lauded Tony Blair in 2005 as "one of the most important British prime ministers ever" based on the fact that he had gotten the Labour Party “to firmly embrace the free market and globalization—sometimes kicking and screaming” and that he had chosen to promote democracy abroad by anti-democratically taking his country to war: "In deciding to throw in Britain's lot with President Bush on the Iraq war, Mr. Blair not only defied the overwhelming antiwar sentiment of his own party, but public opinion in Britain generally."

As for Friedman’s endearing “affable tenor” and “folksy lingo” referenced by Whitney, other examples include the 2001 assessment that an American victory in Afghanistan is possible as long as the US recognizes that “Dorothy, this ain’t Kansas.” Folksy lingo like “God bless America” and “suck. On. This”—the latter being what US soldiers are supposed to tell Iraqis via a “big stick”—meanwhile presumably finds resonance among audiences seeking to defy feelings of individual and/or national inadequacy.

Tune in tomorrow (or the day after that) when Belén and I discuss reincarnation, Charlie Rose, and Occupying Tom Friedman's House. But don't wait until then to order your copy of the book!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tommy the Robot

That explains everything, I thought, when I read the headline in Tommy's lastest: "How Did the Robot End Up With My Job?" The tone-deafness, the endless repetition ("the next six months will be critical"), the mangled metaphors, the difficulty mastering syntax, the callousness about human life. Tommy is a robot!*

Alas. The headline was a cruel tease. It's turns out its your job that's been outsourced, not Friedman's:

I’VE done a lot of television book interviews lately, and I continue to be struck at what a difference there is in the technology in just a few years’ time.

Here is a typical evening at a major cable TV network: arrive at Washington studio and be asked to sign in by a contract security guard. Be met by either a young employee who appears to still be in college or an older person who seems to have hung on with tenure. Have your nose powdered by that person. Have your microphone attached by that person. Be positioned in the studio chair by that person, and then look directly into a robotic camera being manipulated by someone in a control room in New York and speak to whoever the host is wherever he or she is. That’s it: one employee, a robot and you.

Tommy's math is a little telling here. He actually describes 4 jobs -- the security guard, the nose powderer/microphone attacher, the robotic camera operator, and the host -- but I'm guessing Friedman only counts his fellow bloviator, the host, as working. But regardless, it's a little touching that Tommy seems to miss his old makeup artist from the last time he made the talk show rounds. Maybe he's even a little concerned about all those Americans who don't have cushy pundit jobs?


It has never been harder to find a job and never been easier — for those prepared for this world — to invent a job or find a customer. Anyone with the spark of an idea can start a company overnight, using a credit card, while accessing brains, brawn and customers anywhere.

Tommy goes on to point out that, thanks to sites like, you can make $268 designing a functioning dune buggy! By my calculations, all you need to make $50 K/year is 200 clients who want dune buggy designs. (Where's the Manson family when you need them?).

And dune buggy design isn't the only opportunity out there. If you can come up with 6 formulations of chewing gum for the Australian market, you could make $375. That's $63 - enough to feed your family for literally days! -- per gum formulation.

The point is that if you're struggling, you're not really trying. And that you're getting what you deserve since, more than ever, we live in a global meritocracy.
The term “outsourcing” is also out of date. There is no more “out” anymore. Firms can and will seek the best leaders and talent to achieve their goals anywhere in the world.
So cheer up, jobless! Your job hasn't moved overseas because companies are exploiting a cheaper version of you. It's actually because they've found a better version of you. Isn't it more comforting to know that the system works?

Of course, Tommy's been singing the flat world/technology "wow"/free trade song for years, but there's something about the present moment that makes even off-key. It's telling that on the same day that Friedman filed this piece of crap, his fellow op-eders Kristoff and Blow wrote about the exhilarating Occupy Wall Street movement. But maybe I'm being too hard on Tommy. A robot can only do what it's been programmed to.*

Fire Tom Friedman

*My view of robots is based primarily on bad fifties sci-fi. My apologies to today's robots who are undoubtedly much smarter, kinder, and better writers than Tom Friedman.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tom Friedman's Finest Hour

Do you remember September 12, 2001? We were all in a daze, trying to make sense of the unthinkable. We were glued to our TV screens watching the same footage over and over and hoping to hear about successful rescue efforts. We were angry. We were scared. We were traumatized. And amidst the chaos and anguish, one clear-headed rational voice rose above the din and pointed the way forward: Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman.

While others sobbed uncontrollably or called for Muslim blood, Tommy urged America to respond rationally and use the attacks to dramatically alter some of our most disastrous policies. Who can forget when Tommy, with the towers still smoldering, called for a $1/gallon gas tax?

Tommy certainly can't. In yesterday's column, he repeats his assertion that America and Bush botched the response to 9/11 because they didn't listen to him!
[Bush] used 9/11 as an excuse to lower taxes, to start two wars that — for the first time in our history — were not paid for by tax increases, and to create a costly new entitlement in Medicare prescription drugs. Imagine where we’d be today if on the morning of 9/12 Bush had announced (as some of us advocated) a “Patriot Tax” of $1 per gallon of gas to pay for education, infrastructure and government research, to help finance our wars and to slash our dependence on Middle East oil.
I wanted to relive Tommy's most glorious moment so I went back and read his post 9-11 columns.

On 9/13/01, Tommy's first column after the attacks, he urged America to fight "World War Three."

Not exactly a gas tax, but maybe he didn't literally mean that he said that on September 12. Let's see what else he wrote.

The next day, he wrote that the U.S. must "retaliate ferociously."

OK. Even Tom Friedman deserves a couple of days to blow off some steam. Let's see what Tommy wrote on September 25, 2001:

I went to the ballgame Friday night, took in Dvorak's ''New World'' Symphony at the Kennedy Center Saturday, took my girls out to breakfast in Washington Sunday morning, and then flew to the University of Michigan. Heck, I even went out yesterday and bought some stock. What a great country.

I wonder what Osama bin Laden did in his cave in Afghanistan yesterday?

Wow. Childishly taunting bin Laden from Bethesda. If only Bush had listened to Tommy! Still, I'll keep reading. Gotta be a Patriot Tax in here somewhere.

Hmmm, nothing in 2001. Let's try 2002. There's the columns urging an attack on Iraq but no Patriot Tax. Wow, this is nothing like Tommy and I remember it.

Wait - Here it is! On October 5, 2003! Two years later. With Tommy's wars in full swing. What courage!

Shouldn't Tommy's editors refuse to print his lies about himself? Shouldn't one of the hosts of the endless talk shows that Tommy appears on point out that the US did exactly what Tommy wanted -- attack Afghanistan and Iraq -- and that's one reason we're fucked right now? Is there a profession that's more free from accountability that punditry?

Fire Tom Friedman

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When Tommy met Tommy

Tommy is justifiably catching a lot of shit for today's train wreck of a column, but it's one of my favorites. For years, a standard Tommy column gimmick has been to pen a letter from some world leader like President Bush or the Chinese Ministry of State Security. The point of these columns, like his recent calls for a third party made of Tom Friedmans, is that if the world leaders thought (shudder) and wrote (triple shudder!) exactly like Tommy does, all of our problems would disappear.

Today, Tommy ups the ante, envisioning a fantasy press conference in which the roles of Obama, Boehner, McConnoll, Reid and Pelosi are all played by Tom Friedman. Both Boehner and Obama give long-winded speeches where they promise to be more like Tom Friedman (including by never mentioning those icky wars that Tommy doesn't like to talk about any more.) At one point, Tommy Obama and Tommy Boehner even hug. And as a result of all this Tommy-on-Tommy love, the stock market surges like never before!

It's a bold column -- not in its ideas which are boring, conventional, and wrong -- but in Tommy's openness about the fact that he dreams (a la Buster Keaton in The Playhouse) about a world inhabited by no one but himself. Which is almost enough to make you feel a little better about the world we actually live in now.

Fire Tom Friedman

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wondering why we're fucked?

Ryan Lizza, in this week's New Yorker, describing how then-Senator Obama got himself up to speed on foreign policy:
Obama had always read widely, and now he was determined to get a deeper education. He read popular books on foreign affairs by Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman.

Almost makes you nostalgic for Bush reading My Pet Goat.

Fire Tom Friedman (and those who read him for a "deeper education").

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Revolution Will Have Room Service!

Today's Tommy column starts off with what might be his greatest opening paragraph ever:
When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: “Do you have a corporate rate?” I said, “I don’t know. I work for The New York Times.” There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: “ Can I ask you something?” Sure. “Are we going to be O.K.? I’m worried.”
There's so much great stuff in here, starting with the fact that there is no fucking way this conversation actually took place. I'm pretty sure Tommy cribbed the first part from an ad in an in-flight magazine: "Marriott -- when you want to be closer to the action" (or "Some revolutions are too historic for the Hilton!"). There's the fact that in Tommy's fantasies, worried (female!) Egyptians were asking the great pundit how things were going to turn out. And then there are the brilliant little touches like the irrelevant banter about a corporate rate and the pregnant pause before her first question.

But if you think that paragraph was hilarious the first time you read it, try this exercise: Re-read, only this time picture it as a black and white movie. The "Egyptian" hotel receptionist is played by an American actress who can do ethnic. Her "Do you have a corporate rate" is sultry, but when she asks if she's going to be OK, she's a vulnerable little girl. And Tommy? He's as hard-boiled as they come.

I think the rest of the column was about how Arabs countries are full of tribalistic savages who don't take naturally to democracy like Europeans do. But to be honest, I haven't really got that far. I just keep watching Tommy's movie.

Fire Tom Friedman

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Answer the Question!

We have our marching orders.

Jacob Weisberg:
[M]ore than anyone else in politics, Rep. Ryan has made a serious attempt to grapple with the long-term fiscal issue the country faces. He has a largely coherent, workable set of answers. If you don't like them, now you need to come up with something better.
David Brooks:
Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, has his budget. Where’s yours?
Andrew Sullivan:
And the Democrats and Obama now have to offer a response. The question I'll be asking is quite simply: how would they save $5.8 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade? Tell us, please.
It's hilarious how the guardians of seriousness who claim that they want a serious adult conversation more than anything resort to patronizing goading to try to get that discussion going. But Fire Tom Friedman is a tad emotionally stunted and thus rarely backs away from a patronizing goad. So despite the fact that I'm neither Obama nor a Democrat, I'm going to take the Sullivan challenge: 5.8 trillion, here I come!

I must admit I was a little intimidated -- 5.8 trillion! -- until I saw this chart:

The key line there is the one at the bottom. Total revenue changes = -4.2 trillion. So while Ryan may be proposing 5.8 trillion in spending cuts, he's also proposing 4.2 trillion in tax cuts. Now I've never subtracted trillions before but I'm pretty sure that 5.8 trillion in spending cuts - 4.2 trillion in lost revenue means that the savings of this plan is only 1.6 trillion. So if we don't hand out any tax cuts, we only need to come up with 1.6 trillion in cuts.

Still, 1.6 trillion. But wait: 1 trillion of Ryan's "spending cuts" comes from ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. God let's fucking hope so. But if the wars end, all of us who are designing budgets -- serious policy wonk geniuses like Paul Ryan and Internet cranks like myself -- get to count that "savings" the same. So if Ryan is taking credit for 1 trillion spending cut if the wars end, so am I. This isn't so hard.

Still, 600 billion. But wait. That's over ten years! Politicians like to present their spending cuts over ten-year periods because it makes the #'s sound much more impressive. (They also measure their penises in centimeters). So I just need to cut $60 billion a year and I've matched Ryan. I reckon $60 billion out of the that $550 billion annual defense budget wouldn't even be missed.

I did it! I saved the U.S. the same amount of money over ten years as super genius Paul Ryan. And it took me 43 seconds. Granted, I didn't get specific about the defense cuts but I'm pretty sure if I had another 68 seconds I could bang that out, too.

And you know what? I could keep going. I could raise taxes on the wealthy. End corporate welfare. End the wars a lot faster than Ryan wants to. Make GE pay something, anything, in taxes. And now I'm kicking Ryan's ass in reducing the debt. Look at me, mom- I'm serious! And I haven't thrown Grandma out of her nursing home or kicked anyone's kid off dialysis. (Oh wait, I think that means I'm not serious.)

Of course, it's not that hard. Take away the bullshit trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan, (and you really should; taking credit for savings for wars you think someone else might end one day is beyond pathetic; now if Ryan actually threatened to cut off funding for the wars, I'd not only give him his trillion back, I'd retract all the means thing I've written about him) , and only 12.5% of Paul's courageous cuts (600 billion) goes to reducing the debt. The other 87.5 % goes to the rich and corporations. Pretty serious stuff.

Now if Sullivan issues a challenge to come up with a better illustration of Shock Doctrine economics than Paul Ryan's budget, I think I'll sit that one out.

You Cannot Be Serious

Yesterday, Paul Ryan released his budget plan and, in case you haven't heard, it's serious.

David Brooks:
[Ryan's] proposal will set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion.
Mitch Daniels:
The House budget resolution is the first serious proposal produced by either party to deal with the overriding issue of our time.
The Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Ryan's budget rollout is an important political and policy moment because it is the most serious attempt to reform government in at least a generation.
Jacob Weisberg:
[M]ore than anyone else in politics, Rep. Ryan has made a serious attempt to grapple with the long-term fiscal issue the country faces.
The Dallas Morning News:

Paul Ryan isn’t always right, and he may not be right about everything now.

What he is, though, is serious.
Andrew Sullivan
Ryan's proposal, whatever you think of it, is serious.
Ross Douthat
You do not have to like the long-term budget that Paul Ryan and the House Republicans have released this morning. There’s plenty in the plan for liberals to hate, moderates to doubt, and conservatives to question. But you do have to respect it.
Hmmm. When Russ Douthat orders me to do something, I snap to it. So, with the utmost respect, I set out to find what made the plan so serious. And what I discovered is that the Ryan plan is serious because it doesn't sugarcoat the fact that we need to sacrifice. Here's Sullivan:
[T]he good news is that we finally have a political party being honest about what it takes to avoid falling off a fiscal cliff. It means sacrifice. [His emphasis this time.]
I get it. This isn't one of those have-your-cake-and-it-eat-it-too budgets that the unwashed masses love so much. It's a tell-it-like-it-is budget. It's time for all us -- the oil companies, the banker who wipes his ass with TARP money, the defense contractors, the guy who's been unemployed for two years, the public sector workers with Swiss bank accounts, the seniors paying for elective cancer surgeries with their grandchildren's college funds -- to realize that the party is over.

Ryan's budget is serious because it spreads the pain across all of the above. Well, almost. The oil companies, the defense contractors, and the banker who wipes his ass with TARP money won't actually have to sacrifice anything, unless you consider the embarrassment of getting yet another tax cut while the empire crumbles a sacrifice. (Have you heard the awful things people have been saying about GE lately?) Ryan's plan to address healthcare isn't exactly equitable either, with the elderly and poor getting much worse care and private insurers getting a juicy piece out of the Medicare pie.

And some of our serious pundits are a little uncomfortable about the way the actual sacrifice get divvied up. Sullivan whispers his concern that the plan imposes "major sacrifices for the poor and elderly, while exempting the wealthy from any sacrifice at all." Weisberg wishes Ryan hadn't included those darn tax cuts.

But doesn't damper their enthusiasm for the plan. Nor does the fact that Ryan somehow forgot to include the defense cuts that both Sullivan and Ryan think should be in the mix. Because who's fucking whom, who gets invited to the party, and whose belt is actually going to get tightened -- these are juvenile questions. And right now we're having a serious adult conversation. Doesn't that make you feel better?

Friday, March 25, 2011

David Brooks Call Out the Kettle

If you're like me and you've wondering, when is David Brooks going to review Qaddafi's book of teachings so that I can truly understand what's going on in Libya, wait no longer! Actually, the review is as vapid as one would expect. (If Qaddafi would review Brook's new book The Social Animal (Die, yuppie scum!) , that might be pretty entertaining). But it does include this gem:
Along the way he offers banal observations as if nobody had ever thought of them before.
Wait, isn't that Brooks' entire schtick? What's next, is he going to criticize Qadaffi for beginning every passage, "There are two schools of thought when it comes to . . . "?

I look forward to Friedman critiquing the Madman for using mixed and mangled metaphors and Dowd calling him out for reducing every issue, no matter how serious, as schoolyard gossip as well Qadaffi's annoying tendency to rely way too much on cloying nicknames.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Last Days of Disco in Libya?

The weapon of choice for our chickenhawks is the public letter. Nothing demonstrates your resolve to spend taxpayer money to send other people's kids to kill in other countries then putting your name on a letter written by someone else.

So it comes as no surprise to find that this letter from the Foreign Policy Initiative urging Obama to institute a "no-fly zone" and "explore the option of targeted strikes against regime assets" is signed by the usual suspects. Robert Kagan. Marty Peretz. Max Boot. William Taft!?!? Paul Bremer. Bill Kristol. And of course, the loathsome Michael O'Hanlon who long ago discovered the best way to get your name in the New York Times is to advocate for Muslim deaths from the "liberal-leaning" Brookings Institute.

But one signatory stands out among the usual cast of Cheneys and Podhoretzez: Whit Stillman. Remember Whit, the film director who burst on the scene with Metropolitan in 1990, followed it up with Barcelona in 1994, and finished his Manhattan trilogy in 1998 with The Last Days of Disco before vanishing from film-making without a trace? (Maybe there was a trace; I didn't really look.)

Apparently, Whit's "sly depictions of the "urban haute bourgeosie" (thanks, Wikipedia!) qualify him as a "foreign policy expert." Because I'm looking at the press release from the Foreign Policy Institute and its entitled "Foreign Policy Experts Urge President to Take Action to Halt Violence in Libya."

OK. I'm not being fair. I actually really like (or liked -- I wonder if they hold up) the trilogy. And, in reality, old Whit is almost certainly no less of an "expert" than the rest of the horrible signers. Not to mention, having celebrities like Tim Robbins or Elmo sign your public letters has always been a tactic that activists use to draw attention to their cause.

But that's kinda the point. Whit Stillman is not exactly a household name. Back when he made movies, how many people knew who Whit was outside of my clique of Chris Eigeman-quoting friends? The Last Days of Disco grossed less than $3 million in the US. At 1998 ticket prices, that's 500,000 people tops. And that was 13 years ago!

So if he's not an expert and he's not a celebrity, why is he listed on the letter? Two very uneducated guesses:
  • The Chuck Norris wasn't available theory. I've always been pretty skeptical of the idea that Hollywood was a bastion of the left. After all, as David Sirota recently noted in Salon, Hollywood has a long history of working with the Pentagon to produce movies that are remarkably similar to chickenhawks wildest fantasies. But this Whit incident has me wondering if the top 3 million people in show business aren't actually all Pinkos. "We really need a celebrity on this letter. Bieber won't take our calls? Crap. Chuck said no? Darn. What about that guy who made a movie about prep school kids on vacation twenty years ago?"
  • The Whit Stillman has a really bad PR team theory. Is it a coincidence that Whit signed the letter at the same time that his first movie in 13 years is coming out? How could it be? "Whit, 99.5% of the population has never heard of you and the other .5% find your movies about the insufferable navel gazing of the privileged to be incredibly cloying. I've got three words for how we solve both these problems: Paul "Fuckin" Bremer."
Other theories?

P.S. Fire Tom Friedman

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Good Stuff

A friend of Jonathan Chait's edit this Friedman column down to nothing but mixed metaphors and cliches:

And even better: My new hero Sarah Carr joins the Pantheon of all-time great Friedman takedowns (next to Taibbi and the pieing): Makes yesterday's FTF on the same column look rather lame, I know, but it's always been about the movement.

Fire Tom Friedman.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

These Are A Few Of Tom Friedman's Favorite Things

My inbox has been flooded with emails asking for my take on today’s Tommy column. (OK – I got one email but that’s a record), in which everyone’s favorite mustachioed, graying (new pic!) gas bag speculates on the “not so obvious” causes of the uprisings in the Middle East.

Before we get to the what, let’s start with the why. Why he would write a column that my emailer succinctly described as “so bad it's like he parodying himself. Or like Taibbi is ventriloquisting him.”

Egypt, Tunisia, et al should have been Tommy’s Charlie Sheen moment, shuttling from studio to studio so he could explain to us what was really going on. (Sorry – every blog post I’ve read this week has had an awkward Charlie Sheen reference and I’m pretty much a follower). After all, for years he’s been our Middle East expert, the one we turn to for Gladwellesque oversimplifications and fact-free meta-narratives so we can sound cocktail party literate and give our racist impulses a nice pseudo-intellectual veneer.

But it didn’t happen. First, Kristof beat Tommy to the punch. Badly. While Kristof was writing riveting accounts from Tunisia, Tommy was taking his annual 6-week X-mas vacation. Tommy didn’t reach Cairo until a full two-weeks after January 25, when everyone who was anyone was already there; hell, Anderson Cooper had already been beaten up by the time Tommy finally filed from Tahrir Square. (Tellingly, Kristof went on to Bahrain and Tripoli while Tommy retreated to Bethesda).

More damaging than being late was the fact that suddenly he had a lot of competition. Who needs Thomas L. Friedman when our pundit class, after locating Tunisia on a map (or not), was instantly transformed into experts on Arab history & culture, regional political parties, etc . . . ? Or when the Brookings Institute alone has 9,000 on-call Middle East experts to remind to stop being so enthralled with the exhilarating images because what really matters is how this will affect the U.S. and Israel. (Less cynically, the sheer volume of time spent on events, not to mention our access these days to all sorts of delicious media, meant that lots of us were having our eyes opened by lots of brilliant people we’d never heard of before.)

So if I had to guess about today’s column, it’s Tommy’s attempt to put his unique stamp on the events of 2011. And give credit where credit is due. It is, um, unique. Tommy’s list of not-so-obvious factors begins with:

THE OBAMA FACTOR Americans have never fully appreciated what a radical thing we did — in the eyes of the rest of the world — in electing an African-American with the middle name Hussein as president. I’m convinced that listening to Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — not the words, but the man — were more than a few young Arabs who were saying to themselves: “Hmmm, let’s see. He’s young. I’m young. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. His middle name is Hussein. My name is Hussein. His grandfather is a Muslim. My grandfather is a Muslim. He is president of the United States. And I’m an unemployed young Arab with no vote and no voice in my future.” I’d put that in my mix of forces fueling these revolts.
There’s something almost touching about the fact that Friedman thinks everyone thinks the way he does: Meaningless observation about two things sorta having something in common (“Obama has a penis . . . )” leads to light bulb moment! Never mind that Friedman’s fictional young Arab actually has nothing in common with President Obama besides the fact that Tommy named him Hussein. After all, Obama is not actually a Muslim and (h/t Fire Tom Friedman’s Sister) in Egypt, where the median age is 24, our 49-year-old President is almost certainly not considered young.

But this puzzling paragraph becomes clearer as Tommy lists the rest of his “factors”: Obama. Google Earth. Israel. The Beijing Olympics. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. It’s not Five Not So Obvious Factors. It’s Five Things Tommy Really Likes! (If Egypt have revolted 10 years earlier, it would have been golf, Taco Bell, Wikipedia, and the Amazing Race). Write about your passion – isn’t that what they say? Even if it doesn’t have a fuckin’ thing to do with what you’re ostensibly writing about.

And besides, have you used Google Earth? You can find your own house on it! And no matter what you think of the Chinese, you gotta admit they throw one helluva an Olympics. Surely there was at least one Egyptian kid out there who said, “Holy shit! Look at those fireworks. Time to get rid of my U.S. backed torture regime!” As for Prime Minister Fayyad – Tommy’s already invested several columns in predicting that he would be the change agent in the Arab/Muslim world. It’s really important for the Friedman brand that he keep peddling that one, even though no matter how laughable people who actually know something about the region may find it. And while its true that Fire Tom Friedman's research team was unable to find a single instance of a young Egyptian citing Fayyad as inspiration, it's also true that we don't have access to the thoughts of the young Arabs Tommy invents for supporting evidence.

With all the breathtaking changes going on in the world right now, isn’t it comforting to know that some things, some people, stay absolutely the same?

Fire Tom Friedman