Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Thomas Friedman continues to be China's useful idiot

Thomas Friedman continues his weird obsession with the superiority of China to the United States. He takes the gimmick of imagining what a Chinese diplomat's cable home about the United States would read like if Wikileaks put their cables on the web. Here's a taste of Friedman's Chinese-filtered observations.
The ambassador recently took what the Americans call a fast train — the Acela — from Washington to New York City. Our bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin would have made the trip in 90 minutes. His took three hours — and it was on time! Along the way the ambassador used his cellphone to call his embassy office, and in one hour he experienced 12 dropped calls — again, we are not making this up. We have a joke in the embassy: “When someone calls you from China today it sounds like they are next door. And when someone calls you from next door in America, it sounds like they are calling from China!” Those of us who worked in China’s embassy in Zambia often note that Africa’s cellphone service was better than America’s.

But the Americans are oblivious. They travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind. Which is why we at the embassy find it funny that Americans are now fighting over how “exceptional” they are. Once again, we are not making this up. On the front page of The Washington Post on Monday there was an article noting that Republicans Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are denouncing Obama for denying “American exceptionalism.” The Americans have replaced working to be exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t declare yourself “exceptional,” only others can bestow that adjective upon you.
This follows Friedman's column from a year ago wishing that we could have the same sort of one-party autocracy that China has for just a day so that that government could impose health care and climate reform as China has supposedly done. Of course, Friedman ignores the reality of Chinese pollution.

If Friedman thinks that China is some clean-air paradise, he should get out more. Or perhaps just read something besides Chinese PR announcements. Take, for example, this Australian news report from this summer.
In recent decades, China has seen unparalleled economic growth and this country’s environment has faced an unprecedented assault. Rivers which can only be described as toxic, are everywhere to be seen. If you chose a random city or town here and go looking for a waterway, you’ll be very lucky if it’s fit for any human use. We saw people growing vegetables next to a river which has turned black. They’re either oblivious the state of this water, are ignoring the dangers of using it or have no other choice.

Then there’s the air quality. China’s air pollution problem is enormous. The impact of coal fired power stations and heavy industry is felt right across the country - and when it comes to industrial pollution of all types, factory employees are at the front line.
Or even Friedman's own New York Times from a few years ago.
Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party. And it is not clear that China can rein in its own economic juggernaut.

Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.

Chinese cities often seem wrapped in a toxic gray shroud. Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Beijing is frantically searching for a magic formula, a meteorological deus ex machina, to clear its skies for the 2008 Olympics.

Environmental woes that might be considered catastrophic in some countries can seem commonplace in China: industrial cities where people rarely see the sun; children killed or sickened by lead poisoning or other types of local pollution; a coastline so swamped by algal red tides that large sections of the ocean no longer sustain marine life.
Despite the ridicule that Friedman's 2009 column received, he still just hasn't gotten over his admiration for the Chinese system. I guess he just prefers tanks putting down protests, slave-labor camps, forced organ donation, the crushing of religious dissent to any of our messy, inefficient democratic government.

Perhaps in his spare times, he relaxes by reading some of Walter Duranty's old NYT columns praising Stalin's Russia.

5 comments:

V the K said...

The real irony ... or idiocy ... of this situation is that America isn't being held back from developing infrastructure by Luddite right-wingers, but primarily by the environmental, anti-development left; the very same people Thomas Freidman invariably sides with.

pumping-irony said...

The NYT has always had a love for dictatorial regimes. In addition to their 30s crush on Stalin, they were also quite fond of Hitler until he became "unfashionable" by causing that ruckus in the 40s. And I remember they thought pretty highly of Fidel Castro in the 60s. I guess to paraphrase Will Rogers, they never met a despot they didn't like.

On the Simpsons TV show, there is an episode where feckless anchorman Kent Brockman mistakenly believes the earth is being invaded by large alien insects. After reading the news report, he looks up at the camera and says "I, for one, WELCOME our new insect overlords!" Kent, there's a slot at the NYT waiting for you if you want it.

equitus said...

Is it willful blindness? Is it some kind psychological disorder that Friedman is unable to see the gross depredations and injustices still pervasive in his Chinese paradise? Or is he trying to deceive his readers?

I honestly can't tell.

David said...

Friedman, and many others on the Left, frequently obsess about high-speed *passenger* trains. I've rarely heard any of them mention America's very productive *freight* rail system. It may be that many of these people are so disconnected from the productive sector of the economy that they have no real consciousness that such an industry even exists.

There is a section of Chinese highway that has a continuous 70-mile-long traffic jam....because the road is occupied with trucks carrying *coal*. The inefficiency of transporting coal by road is one of the primary reasons railroads were developed in the first place, almost 200 years ago.

Class factotum said...

He needs to read the book, "Gang of One," by Fan Shen, a Chinese man who grew up in revolutionary China and escaped to the US. But even reading about what life is really like in China - forced labor, teeth rotting because of the water, exposure to chemicals in the factory that causes suicide, no choice about where you work or live - probably won't change his mind.