Friday, September 09, 2005

"New Orleans and Baghdad" (September 9, 2005)

Memo to: Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times columnist

From: Moderate Iraqi Sunnis

Dear Mr. Friedman:

I recently received your letter, entitled "New Orleans and Baghdad", and I would like to humbly convey to you the following reply -- fuck off. No seriously, fuck off.

You accuse us moderate Sunnis of being unwilling to accept that we "are a minority that can no longer rule all of a fascist Iraq, but can get its fair share of power and oil in a free Iraq".

Nevermind that the current constitution is a possible recipe for a new fascist theorcratic Iraq.

Nevermind that in the proposed federal structure, our "fair share" of oil could be as small as a measly 5%.

You accuse some of us Sunnis of "posturing for elections" or "acting in bad faith".

Nevermind that two of the members of our delegation were killed by insurgents and that we are scared for our lives.

Nevermind that the United States invited us into negotiations over the constitution only to almost exclusively back the proposals of radical shiite parties (many of which have strong ties to Iran).

Nevermind that it was the Kurds and Shiites who broke off negotiations and that the United States backed the incomplete and problematic constitution not because it promised to be a workable document but because of pressure to meet arbitrary political deadlines.

You say that the U.S. military is equivalent to a levee holding back the flood of violence in Iraq.

Nevermind that this last summer was the most violent summer on record in Iraq.

Nevermind that hundreds brave Sunni police-officers continue to loose their lives to daily insurgent attacks.

Nevermind that the U.S. military's strategy of violently occupying towns then abandoning them to insurgents might be fueling resentment in the Sunni triangle rather than bolstering our faith in the process.

It seems that now that the war in Iraq, a policy you supported, has turned out to be a political disaster, you need to find a political scapegoat.

And for some strange reason, you have picked moderate Sunnis rather than autonomous-hungry Kurds, radical-Islamic shiites, bloodthirsty insurgents, or bungling American proconsuls.

So I repeat, as your humble and faithful servant -- fuck off. May peace be with you.

For more on this column, see Huffington Post (Hooman Majd), Broken Windows, Bob's Rants, The Fulcrum, and Alternet.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Watching the Friedman...the Oops I Started a War Edition

Harold Meyerson has an interesting article in The American Prospect in which he identifies the five pundits most responsible for selling the Iraq war to the American people. Included on the list -- Bill Kristol, Charlie Krauthammer, Vic Hanson, Chris Hitchens and....drumroll......Thomas Friedman!

According to Meyerson, Friedman was "was a vital -- perhaps the vital -- enabler of the war, because from his Times perch, he convinced many a reader (elite and layperson alike) who never would have been persuaded by the likes of Kristol that the war needed to be fought."

Altough he recongized the dangers of the Bush administration's strategy, "Friedman persisted in arguing for war, his war, though it was increasingly clear that when war came, it would hardly resemble the war he desired"

Meyerson concludes: "Friedman’s foolishness seems rooted in an almost willed ignorance of the figures in the Bush administration and the worldviews that defined them...Was it too much to ask the nation’s most important foreign-policy journalist to focus on Bush’s war -- particularly because, well, it was Bush, and not Friedman, who was president?"

Putting Friedman in the same category as the tanned slimeball and the drunk windbag is a bit much. But given Friedman's pro-war writings and then his unacknowledged volte face when things got tough, maybe he is the worst of the bunch.

At least until one adds the Douchebag Diva to the list.

The bad news? The World Is Flat remains number two on the Times bestseller list.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"Osama and Katrina" (September 7th, 2005)

"If only we had a gasoline tax..."

In a column in today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman returns from his lengthy vacation and argues that President Bush royally screwed up the handling of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy.

What a shocker! I hope Tom Friedman takes another three week vacation so that he can return to tell us that you can't get AIDS from tears, that John Roberts seems like such a nice boy, and that Adam wasn't touched by his noodly appendage.

And while I agree with Friedman that the Bush administration deserves serious criticism for its handling of Katrina (and Friedman's choice words for Grover Norquist are particularly appropriate), I don't agree with Friedman's kitchen sink approach.

It seems like Friedman is just listing off every Bush policy that he dislikes, as if they all have some tenuous connection to the Hurricane tragedy.

Friedman heaps blame on Bush's polices on taxes, energy policy, stem cells, education policy, health care, fuel-efficient cars, Saddam, and even Osama. Damn you, Osama, you Islamo-fascist weather controlling, levee breaking bastard!

Its amazing that in a column bashing Bush for his handling of Katrina disaster that Friedman can't even point out the obvious failings in Bush's policy -- such as the decision to integrate FEMA into the DHS or to appoint an inexperienced horse whisperer as head of FEMA.

Instead, we get the usual Friedman bugaboos. We need energy conservation! A Gasoline Tax! National health insurance!

Nevermind that a gasoline tax would have been an unprogressive measure that would have disproportionately punished the same poor people who bore the brunt of the Katrina aftermath.

Or that national health insurance would require the creation of a large, sprawling, and sluggish bureaucracy. You know, kind of like the Department of Homeland Security.

In the wake of the Katrina disaster, it would have been nice for someone to set aside the shrill tone of the blame game and actually demonstrate with facts and evidence how specific Administration policies contributed to the disaster.

Because someone -- Chertoff, Brown, Bush -- someone has to be held accountable for this tragedy in which a lack of political imagination, planning, and empathy led an unspeakble number of Americans to needlessly lose their lives.

But our Tom Friedman, fresh off his vacation, gives us the usual dose of tilting at windmills and strings of non sequiturs.

Welcome back, Tom. What a jackass.

For more on this column, see Limbo, Liberal Are Cool, Scaramouche, Newton's Complex Systems and Kvetch This!.

Friday, August 19, 2005

"Learning From Lance" (July 27, 2005)

"Suck on my metaphor, you lazy Americans!"

Friedman is still on vacation, so its time to jump back in the time-machine and relive Thomas Friedman's July 27th column "Learning From Lance"...

Lance Armstrong is an amazing human being. He beats cancer then goes on, year after year, to pedal a bike long distances over steep mountains faster than any other human being alive.

But like Rosa Parks (who as Sarah Vowell humorously pointed out, people like Ted Nugent and Katherine Harris can't stop comparing themselves to), Lance Armstrong the Man is much less interesting than Lance the Metaphor™.

In the wake of his latest tour victory, for example, Lance has been compared to a North Carolinian "speed-drummer", a rabbit breeder at the Illinois state fair, a professor of music at the University of Montana, Google, and now, courtesy of Thomas Friedman, America itself.

According to Friedman, America has lost its ability to "meld strength and strategy." Our leaders lack vision and imagination. Americans "just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong."

China, on the other hand, is like Lance. Its politicians are not "a bunch of lawyers looking for a sound bite" but problem solving engineers (and communist authoritarians, but er, nevermind).

The Irish are also like Lance. "They have a plan. They are focused". Watch out world, the Irish are going to totally dominate the climbs in the Pyrenees.

Look, first off, Lance Armstrong is an American, so how in the world can he be the metaphoric representative of America's fading work ethic?

Moreover, the specific policy failures Tom is so riled up about -- energy dependence, outsourcing, the war in Iraq -- are not the consequence of America's "fading virtues" but of political preference.

Members of Congress did not pass energy independent policies not because of some vague Jan Ulrich-esque lack of vision, but because their major donors and constituents are automakers and the energy industry who oppose such policies.

Given his recent statements, I'm sure that President Bush is perfectly convinced that his decisions in Iraq, like those of the Postal Service Team, show a perfect combination of strength and strategery.

And exactly what recommendations would Lance the Metaphor™ have for America? America needs to beat cancer, bag Sheryl Crow, and recruit an experienced team of sprinters?

Personally, I can't wait for future Tom Friedman celebrity metaphor inspired columns. Just imagine: "France is the Frank Stallone of Europe, Ireland is the Sylvester."

"The neoconservatives brainwashed President Bush more effectively than Tom Cruise did Katie Holmes."

"Unless we follow the example of India, economic growth in the United States economy will be as unstable as Russell Crowe after two gin and tonics."

What a jackass.

For more on this column, see The Stopped Clock, Below the Beltway, It Shines for All, Kodachrome Quixote, Delusions of Grandeur, and AnalPhilosopher (he he, its not what you think).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"Calling All Luddites" (August 3rd, 2005)

"No bars! Where is Tom Friedman when I need him?"

Unlike President Bush, I'm not fighting a global war on terror (or is it a global struggle against violent extremism? I get confused sometimes). So I actually got to enjoy my recent vacation. Mine lacked all those pesky war widows and protesters and other guilt inducing distractions.

Unfortunately, it appears that Tom Friedman is also on vacation! So despite the fact that it is Wednesday, I have no new column to, I mean...subject to constructive criticism.

Luckily, some enterprising individual has used the power of the internets to magically reproduce (read: copy and paste) our resident jackass's columns into blogger postings.

So let's enter the time-machine and relive Tom's August 3rd column entitled "Calling All Luddites" where our man revealed his dramatic and groundbreaking new political platform -- New Yorkers should have cell phone coverage on the subway!

Why is Tom pimping the Sprint Guy? Cell phones, he claims, enhance "wealth and productivity". Thus, in order to trasnform New York from an economic backwater, it is vital that we allow people to gab away in noisy, underground echo-chambers.

On my own subway commute, by the way, I've never noticed any globetrotting uber-nerd CEOs burning to use their Treos. Instead, I see lots of grunts and office drones ingesting copious amounts of coffee and Page Six on their way to their dead end jobs where some Lumbergh clone will rip them about their TPS reports.

Also, who actually uses their phone or P.D.A. to generate wealth? Using our time-machine, here is a sampling of text messages I sent on or around August 3rd with my cell phone:

Just Manny being Manny.
Laguna Beach is soooo fake.
Alien Loves Predator rules.

Sure, I was on vacation and none of my friends are internet multibillionaires, but I'm betting that even Steve Jobs and Paul Otellini spend more time emailing each other links to high-res versions of that Jessica Simpson video than they do chatting about the new Intel PowerBook specs.

But most importantly, out of all the issues facing mass transit -- rising costs, poor service, and that small issue called terrorism -- Tom Friedman chooses to focus on cell phone coverage?!?

New York City is currently having problems accounting for some some $600 million it was slated to spend on mass-transit security and Tom is wasting space on wifi access?

What a jackass.

For more on the column see Artois, Corante, Preoccupations, BuzzMachine, and (in a post full of humble pie) Advocates for Rasiej.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"The Revolt of Israel's Center" (July 13th, 2005)

Tom: "The chutzpah of this mensch, Arik, with the withdrawal and the settlements!"
Other guy: "You really are a toochis!"

Starting tomorrow, my family and I are going on vacation for a couple weeks to a place far far away from the New York Times op-ed page.

This trip will help with my blood pressure, because the page has been especially craptastic recently - John Tierney is busy ripping off Slate columns, but with the addition of bad geek jokes (to punish hackers, we should force them to watch the Star Wars prequels on a Microtel machine running Red Hat 1.2, he he huh huh.).

Meanwhile, Nicky Kristof seems to think that riding the subway in North Korea counts as reporting (New Yorkers also seem quiet and reserved on the subways; perhaps they are entranced by their own dear leader).

Doing his part, in today's Times, Thomas Friedman predicts that with the withdrawal from Gaza, the center has finally gained ascendancy in Israel.

Ahh, the Israel Center, the Godot of the Middle East, when will you show up? Following the Oslo Accords? Maybe next time. After the assassination of popular Prime MInister Yitzhak Rabin? Try again. After the completion of the security wall? After withdrawal from Gaza? Hello, is this thing on?

You know centrism is in bad shape if you have to rely on Ariel Sharon. This guy is about as centrist as David Duke; maybe less so, seeing as David Duke never provided assistance to groups of Klan militias as they massacred African Americans in refugee camps.

Friedman thinks that with the disengagement from Gaza, the Israel center if finally triumphant. Hooey. Withdrawing from Gaza, a poor and peripheral strip of territory, is just a warm up for the real challenge of settling the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Even the withdrawal from Gaza has put Sharon in a very tenuous position. From within his own party, a group of Likud "rebels" fights his plans. Netanyahu waits in the wings. So much for Tom's robust center.

Not to mention, the emergence of a moderate coalition of centrist parties in Israel is predicated not just on withdrawal but on the reaction from the Palestinian side. Watch Sharon's center evaporate if Palestinian splinter groups continue to effectively launch suicide bombings, like the one yesterday in Netanya.

But the biggest barrier to the emergence of an Israeli center is not political will but the political system. Most people are aware that in elections for Irsrael's parliament, the Knesset, a candidate must only win 1.2% of the vote. The result is an odd assortment of extremist parties.

Imagine if the U.S. Senate were elected in the same way and a Senator could be elected simply by earning approximately 2 million votes. Say goodbye to Senator Max Baucus of Montana, whose state lacks the 2 million people to reach the threshold. But if record album sales were votes, say hello to Senator 50 Cent, who would earn two seats for his centrist "Die Tryin' Party".

Imagine a world with Senator Rush Limbaugh and Senator Michael Moore. With Senator Powerline and Senator Arianna Huffington. Welcome to Israeli politics.

The Gaza withdrawal and the moderation of Sharon is an interesting development, but don't expect it to be as durable or transformative as Friedman describes. But in an effort to infuse his staid columns with a sense of drama, Tom loves to oversell political developments. Every positive step is a revolution, every setback a catastrophe.

What a jackass.

For more on this column, see Preoccupied Territory, Doubting Thomas, DHP, New Jew, Israelpundit, and Broken Windows.

Friday, July 08, 2005

"If It's a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution" (July 8th, 2005)

"Shame on you, you naughty terrorists!"

In today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman argues that blame for the tragic terror attacks in London lies with moderate Muslim leaders who refuse to condemn terror.

The "greatest restraint" on human behavior, says Tom the psychologist, is shame. If Muslim leaders shame terrorists, they will stop. Speaking of shame, shame on you Tom for writing such crap in the wake of such a tragic event.

Terrorists don't feel shame or guilt over their actions. And they don't care about the moderate proclamations of reformist Muslim elites. Terrorists kill people who disagree with their ideology. So forget shame and guilt. The base of effective counter-terrorism is precisely the policeman and border guards (not to mention intelligence agencies and militaries) Tom seems to think are so ineffective.

Tom claims that "no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa" condemning Bin Laden.

Complete and utter bullshit. Spain's Islamic Commission issued a fatwa condemning Bin-Laden shortly after 3/11. And in 2004, Saudi Arabia's top cleric, Sheik Abdul Aziz al-Sheik, condemned terrorism in a sermon at the Namira Mosque in front of 2 million pilgrims. Maybe Tom was on vacation in Bangalore.

As the killing of the top Egyptian diplomat in Iraq demonstrates, if moderate Muslims condemn their ideology, then terrorists simply kill them.

Radical Islamic terrorists reject moderates. They reject reform. In other words, Tom, they reject the existing village and seek to rebuild it in their own image.

Shame might not work with terrorists, but it might work with Friedman. So shame on you Tom for spouting inaccuracies and absurd theories. Shame, shame, shame.

For more on this column, see Beirut Spring, Juan Cole, Counterpunch, Views from the Occident, and Dignified Rant.

UPDATE: For more links to statements by major Muslim leaders condemning terrorism, see Muhajabah.