Thomas Friedman, quoted in 2006:
“I don’t know whether I’m successful or not—depends on your metric—but I’m sure having fun. Never had a bad day. Shame on me if I did.”
Thomas Friedman, columnist for the Gray Lady of New York, who pontificates twice weekly in the Times “opinion pages,” is, by any accounting, almost always wrong. He lives in the above pictured Bethesda, Maryland McMansion of a mere 11,000 sq. feet. Perpetual wrongness is a stance he shares with his co-columnist Bill Kristol, whose smiling face peers out inanely each week as he spills forth some form of mental excrement for which he is surely equally well recompensed. Doubtless Mr Kristol also lives in a house of similar proportions. Why the Times gives these two people the dignity and “authority” of space to publish their alleged thoughts is beyond me, though it smacks of establishment corruption. Mr Friedman, who, like Kristol, is taken as some kind of “expert,” never admits to his errors – rather he scurries to attempt to cover them, taking tactical distance each time a brilliant idea he has advocated turns to shit. Friedman was an ardent supporter of the Iraq invasion and illegal war, pounding the drums as loud as anyone. When the WMD failed to materialize, and the flower-strewn welcome to America’s Democracy-at-the-point-of-a-gun did not happen, Friedman, as is his style, did a little foot shuffle, blamed his hero Bush for mismanagement, and went on as if he had nothing to do with the Iraq fiasco. He previously waxed lyrical about the wonders of out-sourced globalized labor published an inane book, The World is Flat, until the US economy tanked in part thanks to the decimation of US labor which globalization incurred. This is his MO, ever-wrong and ever moving on to new enlightenments. A recent one is that now that “the surge” has allegedly worked, Iraq will indeed morph into the beacon of democracy in the nasty middle-east, which was, at some juncture, said to be the raison d’etre of the attack, and that hence Bush will in the long run be proven right. Never mind a little unprovoked illegal war of aggression, torture, and rape of a country of 23 million, half of whom were children, which could hardly ever have posed a threat to the US, but did sit on top of a very sizable pool of oil. Never mind the global blow-back from the ugliness of American actions there. I’ve written any number of Letters to the Editor of the Gray Lady, taking Mr. Friedman to task for his hypocrisies and errors. Naturally none were ever published.
The other day Mr Friedman turned his pen and his imagined intelligence to the matter of America’s fiscal disorder:
“This financial meltdown involved a broad national breakdown in personal responsibility, government regulation and financial ethics…. So many people were in on it: People who had no business buying a home, with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years; people who had no business pushing such mortgages, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business bundling those loans into securities and selling them to third parties, as if they were AAA bonds, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business rating those loans as AAA, but made a fortunes doing so; and people who had no business buying those bonds and putting them on their balance sheets so they could earn a little better yield, but made fortunes doing so.”
“That’s how we got here — a near total breakdown of responsibility at every link in our financial chain, and now we either bail out the people who brought us here or risk a total systemic crash. These are the wages of our sins.”
In this litany of finger-pointing Mr Friedman, seemingly like everyone else involved, fails to point a finger at himself, or at the 5th Estate for which he works. Nope, Thomas is not doubting, and as usual he knows best. Just how he secured the funds for his 7 acre spread and 11 thousand square feet of posh property surely has nothing to do with our financial problems. Getting paid obscene fees for lectures based on the sinppets of wisdom one has had printed in the national press, however consistently wrong that wisdom has proven to be, cannot be cited as a moral failure, nor painted as an example of what has gone so woefully wrong with America (lack of accountability?) – after all it’s made a handsome living for the man. In his column Mr Friedman never utters the word most applicable to the machinations of Wall Street honchos who were instrumental in cooking this stew, one of whom is presently our Secretary of the Treasury and another of which is scheduled to be so come confirmation after January 20th 2009. The word is “corrupt.” Perhaps he cannot coax this word from his lips since it would apply equally well to him and his behavior. Another is doubtless “criminal,” though that would require proof in court. That the practices of Wall Street have been corrupt is transparent, even to those who lack any particular education in the finer fiscal arts. Taking away the veil of fashionable costly men’s wear, the suits and ties, the elegant cars, the multiple houses and condos, what we have is a mess of scheming thieves who lathered their deals with impenetrable mumbo-jumbo, and sold massive amounts of debt as value. Mr Ponzi would be proud, just as would any street-corner shell gamester. And, like the guy down on the corner who probably cut a deal with the local cops on the beat, the Wall Street con artists long ago cut a deal with their police – the Federal Government. In fact they didn’t cut a deal, they bought the whole joint: Mr Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury, arm of the US Government which is alleged to oversee and regulate the securities industry, meet Mr Paulson, recent CEO of the now beleagured too-big-to-fail Goldman Sachs, who was deeply involved in cooking up all those debt-is-value hot tamales which were sold to pension funds, 401(k) holders, and others, and all of whom have now discovered that debt is not a high-interest cash-cow, but in fact a hole in your wallet. Meanwhile for his expertise in this innovative turn on Ponzi’s schemes, Mr Paulson waltzed home with a mere $700,000,000 in pay, not to mention the bonus he got on top of that. So, while the shadows seem to be closing in on this brilliant wizard of Wall Street, one imagines at least his retirement will not exactly be onerous. If, in due time, it proves not to be honorable.
Friedman has built a comfortable life, even leaving aside his wife’s family fortune. His speaking fee recently passed $50,000; with his Times salary, syndication rights, and royalties from his bestselling books, his annual income easily reaches seven figures. When he’s not on the road, he is a regular fixture in Aspen where his in-laws have a house, and at his country clubs. Locally he belongs to Bethesda Country Club and Caves Valley near Baltimore.
Mr Henry Paulson, US Secretary of the Treasury, former CEO of Goldman Sachs
However, did Mr Friedman, or his fellow pundits ever utter a word about the revolving door of corporate-government cosiness, the blatant conflicts of interest, and the transparent corruption which had become the Wall Street-K Street norm? Not on your life. After all don’t you imagine the next door neighbors there in Bethesda are likely the lobbyists who played bagmen for this whole culture? Is Mr Friedman, like George Will and a host of others, himself not little more than a fig-leaf of intellectual camouflage for the entire scam? To say “the system” has long since gone rotten to the core, including the 5th estate and the myriad talking heads of Sunday’s corporate TV, each long ago bought and sold, like General McCaffrey, a military-industrial shill passed off as “expert” and duly paid to mouth the arms dealer’s latest line, are all symptomatic of the illness. Each day brings new perfectly consistent revelations of the corruption which is, in their favored phrase, bottom-line, the truth of our country and its culture: corruption, top down to bottom.
Now, as the hollowed-out, “globalized,” off-shored, out-sourced, derivative-laden American ship of debt sinks, these same people clamor that unseemly as it is, we must now bail out the guilty in order to save the innocent, since the entire system, like each of its major components (AIG, Goldman Sachs, GM, etc.) is “too big to fail.” It was all our faults (except Thomas’), so they insist, and in order to save the innocent worthy we must save the system – which after all is the only system we’ve got or can imagine having, and which, in point of fact, is manned and run almost exclusively by the devious, the unethical, the unworthy. The mantra goes, we’re all in this boat together. It joins the previous one which was repeated by our RightRadio, that we mustn’t have any class warfare as the concentration of wealth exponentially narrowed and the middle and bottom got squeezed out of the national accounts. Nope, mustn’t have any of that class warfare.
While Mr Friedman and his country-club friends will certainly be far more unscathed by the slide into depression than will the “Joe the Plumbers,” even they will perhaps begin to feel the chill as their drives to and from their Aspen or Bethesda enclaves require an armed escort as so many of the soon-to-be-very-pissed-off lumpen proletariat, unemployed and headed down, whacked on meth, are, especially out in the rural realms favored as retreats for the rich, well-armed and potentially very dangerous. Perhaps it is time to invest in companies specializing in Kevlar lined helicopters and Blackwater can take up domestic “security” instead of rampaging around Iraq.
The scenario above should be a caricature, but unhappily it is not. It is a realistic portrait of a culture gone to seed, corroded and auto-deluded. It is the culture America has been living in for some decades now, increasingly lost in a sequence of escalating delusions, while ever patting itself on the back about American exceptionalism. These delusions materialize in a generation or two of young people – and older, too – who cannot spell, write, or speak coherently – not just your local yokal, but nice middle-class and better college educated kids. Our soon to depart President exemplifies this – and he has degrees from Yale and Harvard. And just how did he get them? Where does the corruption begin?
These delusions materialize in the assumption of many that wealth is simply one’s due, and on graduation from a university, where one failed to learn how to spell, write or read, an annual paycheck of $70,000 or more is a given. Or on winning American Idol, or a visit to Vegas. It materializes when a parent shells out $50,000 or $70,000 a year in university tuition fees, and expects an A in turn, and the college professor in order to retain their job, shrugs and gives the required stamp of approval: they bought it. It materializes when a business executive flies first class, hotels the same, wines and dines, sluts, all on the company tab. “Expenses.” It materializes when the CEO of a corporation pays himself in collusion with his boardroom friends obscene fees to drive his company into bankruptcy, which he eludes with an insider dump of his stocks just before the fall, and departs with a pre-arranged golden parachute. “Business.”
Another fake cowboy
In a corrupted society it materializes almost anywhere, and is taken as natural and normal. Americans, carefully trained to believe in their own exceptionalism and innate goodness, tend to think corruption is always somewhere else: in Mexico, in Argentina, in Pakistan, in Italy or Turkey, or maybe in the precinct station in a bad part of town. It is our peculiar corruption to so paint ourselves, ever the guys in the white hats, while we have historically charged San Juan hill, the shores of Tripoli, and anywhere else where it seemed useful, profitable, and necessary to our ruling oligarchy. But we did it, and we’re Americans, so naturally whatever we did, it was, bottom-line, for the good of the other party: “We had to destroy the village to save it.”
Or, Wars R Us.
Our real exceptionalism lies in our endless capacity for self-dealing and denial.
To place all this in perspective, the below are crystals that were around on earth 3.5 billion years ago, and from which, so they say, our scientists get information indicating that some form of life on this planet may have been kicking by then:
Dec. 13 2008
I feel the need to post this addendum, as Mr Friedman, as is his way, just keeps on keeping on. Here, today, is the lead-off of his NYT column:
If there is anything I’ve learned as a reporter, it’s that when you get away from “the thing itself” — the core truth about a situation — you get into trouble.
The fundamental thing about Mr Friedman is that he seems unable to apply this little maxim to the most fundamental thing at hand: himself. In the same column he excoriates the banks and financial system, Detroit, and Kabul. Along the way he pats himself on the back for Iraq, though events in Iraq were inextricably attached to the Iraq story: blatant corruption and the original sin that the grounds for the war, alleged WMD, was a lie. Just like the mystical cash-cow of derivatives was a lie, and just like the logic of Detroit was a lie. As ever, little Tommy frantically wriggles away from is own bad bets, just like his once-hero Mr George Walker Bush does. The biggest cheer-leader for the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq; a hyped-up proponent of globalization and somewhere if I recall properly a big supporter of the war in Afghanistan – now, without a hint of his previous positions, Mr Friedman reverses himself, passing on his new little nuggets of wisdom.
Does he ever admit he “married up” to a real estate heiress? Does he ever mention his mega-footage McMansion? Does he ever look in the mirror and manage one honest thought?
Are you kidding?
While Mr Friedman laments the pathetic corruption and dishonesty of America, circa 2008, he fails to notice that he himself is a perfect example of what’s wrong with America.