Thursday, July 28, 2005

Friedman not learning from Lance

Of the New York Times' liberal opiners Thomas Friedman is by far the least objectionable. He's usually thoughtful and serious and from time to time is on the side of the angels. Occasionally though he does join the ranks of Krugman/Dowd/Herbert, i.e., write dross. Today is one of his bad days.

In his column "Learning From Lance", Friedman extols Lance Armstrong's incredible drive to succeed.

What I find most impressive about Armstrong, besides his sheer willpower to triumph over cancer, is the strategic focus he brings to his work, from his prerace training regimen to the meticulous way he and his cycling team plot out every leg of the race. It is a sight to behold. I have been thinking about them lately because their abilities to meld strength and strategy - to thoughtfully plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow - seem to be such fading virtues in American life.

Certainly nothing to quibble with there. He then prattles on about how these virtues are now associated with China, Chinese engineers and athletes. [No mention of problems with endemic corruption and laughable individual or property rights but fine.] He complains rightly about how we are a nation of lawyers and short-sighted CEOs using the example of the Restored John Mack who wanted to be paid no less than the average of the CEOs of his bulge bracket competitors. [A bit cheeky but not unusual. His package instead now probably pays on him based on stock price which is even worse and actually contributes to the short-sightedness that Friedman just finished complaining about.]

So far reasonable but now Friedman tries to apply his Lance lesson to what's wrong with Bush.

Wouldn't you think that if you were president, after you'd read the umpteenth story about premier U.S. companies, like Intel and Apple, building their newest factories, and even research facilities, in China, India or Ireland, that you'd summon the top U.S. business leaders to Washington to ask them just one question: "What do we have to do so you will keep your best jobs here? Make me a list and I will not rest until I get it enacted."

Cute but what if the answer from Steve Jobs is: "I need to be able to hire a good Java programmer for $20,000." Or what if the answer is "Slap a 40% tariff on all Chinese exports." Pretty realistic and not doable. Fact is the best jobs probably do stay here but the more fungible bits are going to go overseas and that helps the US parent stay viable and competitive.

And if you were president, and you had just seen more suicide bombs in London, wouldn't you say to your aides: "We have got to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil. We have to do it for our national security. We have to do it because only if we bring down the price of crude will these countries be forced to reform. And we should want to do it because it is clear that green energy solutions are the wave of the future, and the more quickly we impose a stringent green agenda on ourselves, the more our companies will lead innovation in these technologies."

Bringing down the price of crude, reducing our dependence on Mideast oil and innovating in green technologies are all good things but Friedman needs to be more careful when linking it to national security. Especially if folks reading it will believe that less US dependence on oil from the Mideast will lessen the likelihood of terrorist attacks. Why the Islamists are attacking has very little to do with the price of oil.

He then closes with the obligatory Iraq potshot:

Because it is clear we are not winning, and we are not winning because we have never made Iraq a secure place where normal politics could emerge.

Well that's certainly the impression you'd get if you read the NY Times religiously. Ever heard of Arthur Chrenkoff? He's got an ongoing Good News from Iraq series, part 23 and counting.

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