Another excellent editorial by Thomas Friedman.
January 2, 2002 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Another excellent editorial by Thomas Friedman. "I have no problem with nation- building in Afghanistan, but what I'm really interested in is nation- building in America — using the power of Sept. 11 to make our country stronger, safer and a better global citizen in the world of Sept. 12, beginning with how we use energy." ( Member ID: metafi, password: metafi)
posted by homunculus (27 comments total)
And speaking of driving "a narrow, right-wing agenda from Sept. 10 into a Sept. 12 world," here is a complimentary editorial by David Broder.
posted by homunculus at 11:07 AM on January 2, 2002

He's written this column, with different words and sentences and whatnot, before. But I like the sentiment all the same. Heard a zillion tributes to the nation's armed forces over the holidays, mostly while watching football and parades. Nice, but the armed forces should only be used as a last resort, right? Also, if freedom isn't free, as viewers are constantly reminded in these tributes, then why isn't the public being asked to do anything at all, besides be conspicuous about their support of the all volunteer army? Freedom sounds pretty darned free, unless you count the money Americans pay for defense contracts and salaries of soldiers and officers. It's a shame, really.
posted by raysmj at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2002

I'd love for us to be energy independent. Nothing would make me happier than the ability to tell the middle-east to "stick it" because we're taking our money elsewhere.

Let's say we completely eliminate our use of middle-eastern oil. Are there not serious repercusions to that as well? Didn't we just destroy the economy (as such as it is) in that whole region? Wasn't I told a few short months ago that we need to eliminate poverty in the middle east to thwart the breeding ground of terrorism? Wouldn't this be a disaster as far as that is concerned?

(A republican with a right wing agenda!? Say it isn't so. I hope that Democrats have an agenda or they are wasting their time as well as ours.

Bush is a partisan!? It's a damn good thing there aren't any other partisan politicians out there! America can't afford any politicians who stand up for what they believe in. You prefer politicians who have no ideological foundation and rule by public whim.

I don't care for Daschle's views but I admire him for sticking to his beliefs. We need people who are willing to compromise for sure, but they should stick to their guns, even when I think they are dead wrong.

This could be an interesting conversation aside from the politics though...)
posted by revbrian at 11:24 AM on January 2, 2002

While, as I've said here before, it would be nice to be asked by our President, he's too frightened of the political and fundraising implications of his becoming the champion of energy independence to exercise any real leadership on this issue.

However, I'll say it, if that means anything: Reduce your dependence on fossil fuels! Ride a bike! Walk! Take public transportation! Carpool!

There, we won't have Friedman criticizing me at least.
posted by luser at 11:36 AM on January 2, 2002

I dont think that America's independence from Middle East oil would harm the economies of that region. For once, it will decrease the production of the natural wealth. This should in theory, make the freakin arabs get up from their collective asses and do some real work.

When applied gradually, this economic shift should in theory make life better for the people of middle east, bring the House of Saud down, and allow more role of the general public in the way the country is run.

While on the home front, hopefully there will be less trucks and SUV's on the road. I live in Houston, which is the most polluted city in the US of A. Dubya should have even more incentive to do this, but you know what, I can bet that this is just a dream. Dubya would never do it. His last name is Bush !!!
posted by adnanbwp at 12:01 PM on January 2, 2002

It's not like profits from middle east oil are helping the rank and file poor over there. When America becomes energy self-sufficient, it will force the oil barons to seek out other industries, probably helping the rank and file members of their society.
posted by owillis at 12:05 PM on January 2, 2002

Let's say we completely eliminate our use of middle-eastern oil. Are there not serious repercusions to that as well? Didn't we just destroy the economy (as such as it is) in that whole region?

Yup. Islamic fundamentalist revolutions, wars, you name it. If you wanted to stick it to the Middle East, an oil boycott is about the best way to do it.

The best (and probably only) way for the US to reduce gasoline usage is to make gas more expensive. The simplest and most effective way to decrease our gas usage would be for the feds to slap a large (buck-a-gallon) tax on it. To reduce the overall adverse economic impact, you could even have the feds return 75% of the revenues from said tax to the general public at the end of each month, divided evenly amongst all taxpayers.

Even so, it'd never fly politically. The American public cares about cheap gas more than they care about the environment, and they're the ones who vote.
posted by jaek at 12:07 PM on January 2, 2002

Friedman is smart enough to know that, even if we did reduce our dependance on mideast oil, we would still have to maintain a military presence in the area to ensure the flow for Japan and other allies, as part of continued U.S. strategy to prevent our allies from having to do it for themselves, and thus growing too powerful. It's our way of making sure we are the "indispensable nation".

It seems like Friedman is dumbing it down for the proles.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:08 PM on January 2, 2002

Take public transportation!I rode public transportation everyday of my life for nineteen years -- including Saturday and Sunday. Now I have a great big beautiful new car, with a CD player, and I drive to work in blissful privacy, listening to my favorite music or books on tape. I feel like I am at the very acme of civilization. This is what our ancestors struggled and suffered and died for, this incredible privilege I enjoy, this splendid privacy, this miraculous, joyous sensation of speeding down the highway in absolute comfort, with music playing, scenery passing by, and a cup of coffee throbbing in my medulla. Think what Mozart, Emerson, DaVinci would have made of this -- what they would have thought if they knew we not only had this privilege, but that we took it for granted -- No, that we had so little regard for it that, in a fit of fancy pants political posturing, we would advise other people to throw it away. History has given us this wonderful lifestyle as a gift. Let's enjoy it, and let the geopolitical chips fall where they may.
posted by Faze at 12:24 PM on January 2, 2002

And now, I wish Al Gore were president.

I'm not sure I understand this. Is he saying this because Al Gore would have handled this better, or because Al Gore was the other choice for president?
posted by milnak at 12:27 PM on January 2, 2002

[The simplest and most effective way to decrease our gas usage would be for the feds to slap a large (buck-a-gallon) tax on it.]

I wouldn't mind horribly if they took that $1/gallon and subsidised biodiesel or corn-alcohol.
posted by revbrian at 12:30 PM on January 2, 2002

The simplest and most effective way to decrease our gas usage would be for the feds to slap a large (buck-a-gallon) tax on it.

At which point every politician in America who supported such a thing would have their entire constituency screaming for their heads. They certainly wouldn't have to worry about something so prosaic as getting re-elected.

What about shunting a good deal of oilfield development funds and equipment subsidies to the Russians? There's a lot of oil (along with a lot of other stuff) underneath Siberia, it's just a bitch to get out. We still get oil, only from pals instead of enemies; Russia gets a much needed shot in the economic arm, and we can buy ourselves more time to work on realistic alt-energy policy.
posted by UncleFes at 1:01 PM on January 2, 2002

The Russians are already helping us: That's why oil prices have come down so far even during the present war.
To date, the Russians have refused to go along with OPEC production cuts, to our great benefit.
posted by agaffin at 1:45 PM on January 2, 2002

i don't think there are any more state-controlled russian oil companies, so it's not really russia's decision. and i don't think the private companies (like yukos and sibneft) really care all that much about helping us or OPEC. cuz i mean they're just like any other company with their own interests at heart.
posted by kliuless at 2:04 PM on January 2, 2002

i don't think there are any more state-controlled russian oil companies, so it's not really russia's decision.

While Russia's oil companies are in theory not state-controlled, in practice they pretty much are. Rule of law is still a pretty tenuous concept over there, so pissing off the government is something to be avoided. Putin says keep the oil flowing, so that's what the oil companies do.

UncleFes: The US government is traditionally very very loath to spend cash in other countries. Congress would rather spend a billion dollars in the US for aircraft carriers and such to police the Middle East than a couple hundred million in Russia. Misguided? Probably. But that's the way it is.

And any realistic alt-energy policy is going to have to include gasoline getting more expensive. We know how to make fuel-efficient cars; the problem is that people prefer big fast cars. We can try to mandate better fuel efficiency (a la CAFE) or lower pollution (California's ZEV nonsense) but as long as gas is fundamentally cheap people and corporations will continue to find ways to work around these policies (see the current popularity of light trucks). If you want people to use less gas, make gas more expensive. Get the free market to work for you, not against you.
posted by jaek at 2:32 PM on January 2, 2002

Mr. Friedman is not always a person well-liked in the foreign press. Here is an article that may be of some interest:
An Arab writer wonders why Arabs hate Friedman
posted by Postroad at 3:08 PM on January 2, 2002

Boys and girls: these are not editorials; they're Op-Ed pieces.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:13 PM on January 2, 2002

I'm not the most politically aware guy in town, but didn't Dubya have his hands in the oil industry before he became Prez? I always thought that was why we had no prayer of seeing tax relief for electric cars, alternative fuels, etc. I hope I'm safe in assuming that most oil barons are hardcore Republicans, but I thought Bush himself was pretty much owned by the oil industry as well. Anyone know more?
posted by zekinskia at 3:51 PM on January 2, 2002

Here's the thing. For 3/4 of a century, the middle east has been able to sell us one of the most precious commodities of the modern age, a money train like no other. How have they invested that wealth? Mostly by building mosques around the world and keeping their 50 new princes a month (no, that is not a misprint) in their US$0.5M trust fund clover, while their population has expanded 20-50 fold above what those lands supported a few generations ago.

At some point the money train stops. Now you've got not hundreds of thousands of desert-adapted bedouins, but millions of money-train adapted urban intellectuals who cannot find jobs in the suddenly-broke Gulf economy. (To a certain extent, this is already happening; SA has horrendous unemployment among its college grads.) The money train stops. Everyone's broke. There's no way they can feed themselves. What now?

We need to avert this disaster, and we need to make sure people there know it's coming and can deal with it. Some of them know this, in their bones. Many have the education and background to be able to get past it. But they don't, as of now, have the national leadership and national will.

zekinskia, thank you for adding your "puppet" theory of politics. At last we can talk about who's a puppet of whom in this thread, rather than boring old real issues.
posted by dhartung at 4:28 PM on January 2, 2002

I am looking forward to the oil running out. Said individuals can go back to being bedouins. And we'll all have cleaner air.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:32 PM on January 2, 2002

republicans did propose tax credits for energy efficient homes and cars, but i don't know if it ever passed.
posted by kliuless at 4:34 PM on January 2, 2002

Dependence on fossil fuel needs to end, period. Gore would have been just as unwilling to back the changes that are really needed. Friedman paints with the same brush the very different matters of 'weaning America off dependence on Middle Eastern oil' and of 'developing renewable resources ... and energy efficiency'. And his focus is on political expedience: what would he have us do if the Middle East were suddenly to become a safe source of oil?

I'm not sure what to make of the Republican energy proposal cited by Kliuless. It doesn't seem consistent with what I know of the American right, big business, and environmental preservation. Can anyone dispute that the Republican party is one of the greatest obstacles to sustainable ecological policy? Seriously I'd like to know more about the context of this proposal.
posted by maniabug at 5:12 PM on January 2, 2002

While we're on the subject of energy independence... Time Magazine reports that members of Congress who support drilling in ANWR have made some pretty shady representations to try and win votes: they said drilling would be limited to just 2,000 of the 1.5 million acres, but it turns out that the 2,000 acres don't have to be contiguous and only the space of the equipment touching the ground is counted!
posted by pmurray63 at 6:05 PM on January 2, 2002

It doesn't seem consistent with what I know of the American right, big business, and environmental preservation. Can anyone dispute that the Republican party is one of the greatest obstacles to sustainable ecological policy?

i think there's a big misconception that big business and environmental preservation are mutually exclusive. i work in venture capital and i've seen a lot of fuel-cell hype over the last couple of years. fuel-cell and other alt-energy companies generally have greater economies of scale than oil companies, making them better long-term investments, so don't be surprised if said 'evil oil companies' start diversifying in this direction in the near future. Several already are. Saving the environment may not be at the top of their agendas, but self-preservation is, and they know that the oil will run out one day.
posted by lizs at 8:58 PM on January 2, 2002

There is a lot that can be done with public transport to reduce fuel consumption in USA even before alt-fuel become commercially viable.

In many fairly busy urban centers a good public transport network simply doesnt exist. e.g. I live in San Francisco Bay area. Most people hate to drive into the morning traffic in 680/880/101 and would probably prefer to commute by train/bus to their work place. But a network that would allow people to do in many cases simply doesnt exist. I would suspect that the same goes for the beltway in DC/VA/MD. From 6 am to 11 am the beltway is a horror show. No sane person can enjoy driving into that traffic.

The cost of using public transport also works against it. e.g. It is simply not cost effective to take the train from MD/PA to NY if you are travelling for leisure (assuming you have parking). Same goes for using BART to travel to San Francisco from further off places in East Bay.

I am sure that there are many examples through out the country where the use of public transport as an alt. has not been thought out.

America appears to be (from an outsider's perspective) a car-happy nation. What car a guy drives seems to be as much a statement about himself/herself as it is an utility. Probably a corrolary of that is public transport has never been taken very seriously by the government. A well thought out public transport network would at least reduce the national consumption of gas a lot.

Having said that, I it is unrealistic to expect USA disengage from the middle-east, even if USA were to become completely fuel-independent. I think the US strategic interests in that region is way too high. Also The cultural, moral and educational orientation of the masses in the middle-east are antagonistic to USA and would probably take 2 generations of western education and orientation (that is strictly MY opinion) for it to become favourable to the West. That would be incredibly difficult to administer in the current world scenario. Therefore, I think US prefers to have the House of Saud running SA than an unknown new entity. They were quite happy with the king in Egypt and the Shah in Iran.

Friedman's proposal to disengage from middle-east is probably unrealistic for America. But serious rethink about how to reduce consumption of oil in this country would not be a bad thing.
posted by justlooking at 10:22 PM on January 2, 2002

is this part of the answer.......??

heard on talk of the nation today.
posted by specialk420 at 3:28 PM on January 3, 2002

hey cool, thanks specialk420! hypercars are gonna save the world someday :)
posted by kliuless at 4:00 PM on January 3, 2002

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