Streetwise Professor

December 19, 2012

Could Tom Friedman Be Any More Stoopid?

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:01 am

The Smart Set’s favorite idiot heaves up a chin puller about Russia. It starts out oh-so-pretentiously, with a reference to Chekhov.  (Note to Friedman: we don’t care.)

It then goes on at nauseating length expressing his befuddlement at Putin’s failure to transform Russia from the poster country for the resource curse and his zero sum, oppositionist foreign policy.  What’s so befuddling?  It’s like being befuddled at the fact that fish swim, rather than peddle bicycles.

The best-or worst, depending on how you look at it-comes at the end when Tool Time Tom describes his sit-down with Vladislav Surkov, the ominous political technician:

I am wrong to be so pessimistic, says Vladislav Y. Surkov, the deputy prime minister for modernization. I was in Surkov’s office in the Russian White House here a few days ago. As I was interviewing him, it was impossible to ignore the two posters on his wall. One showed the Google co-founder Sergey Brin and the other Vladimir Zworykin, who served as director of the RCA Laboratories in Princeton in the 1950s and helped to pioneer television. “O.K.,” I asked Surkov, “why are those two on your wall?”

“I want to send the message to the visitors to this office that Russia gave the world such geniuses,” said Surkov. “Their inventions have entered every household in the world, and the fact that these people, of our kin and our blood, managed to give such gifts to the world should fill our hearts with faith that Russia has a future as an innovative power.”

Uhm, does Tom immediately jump on the fact that both of these geniuses left Russia?  Did he ask Surkov what that says about Russia, in the 50s and today?  This oversight (or was it cowardice?) is particularly amazing given that one of the few sensible things that Friedman says in his column is that smart people can leave, and that this is a threat to the country’s future.

Then Friedman gingerly raises Pussy Riot, drawing this retort from Surkov:

But I couldn’t resist noting that innovative cultures don’t do things like throw the punk band Pussy Riot into prison for two years for performing a “punk prayer” in a cathedral. That sends a bad signal to all freethinkers. Surkov, who also keeps a picture of the American rapper Tupac Shakur behind his desk, pushes back. “Tupac Shakur is a genius, and the fact that he was in prison did not interrupt either his creative juices or the innovative development of the United States.” Pussy Riot is no Tupac Shakur, he added. “Being orthodox myself, I feel really sorry for the girls from Pussy Riot, but [their situation] has no implications for the innovative developments of Russia.”

Talk about a target rich environment-but again, Friedman doesn’t pull the trigger.  Is Surkov saying that jailing people for years for expressing political dissent is equivalent to jailing them for sexual assault (which is what Tupac went to jail for)?  Or is he just engaging in typical Russian whataboutism bullshit, insinuating that Tupac was some kind of political prisoner?  Even more offensively, what did Friedman say in response to Surkov’s dismissive remark that it’s no big deal to throw creative people in prison, because it won’t “interrupt their creative juices”.  Hell, maybe he even thinks it is a spur to creativity.

How much does this guy get paid?  Friedman, I mean.  And why exactly is he considered some kind of deep thinker?  You can read a lot about Russia, and come across a lot of truly superficial and silly analysis.  But it’s a rare day when you come across something as utterly clueless as what passes for Tom Friedman’s Deep Thoughts on Putin’s Russia.

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  1. I tried to figure out precisely what they went to jail for and failed.

    On the one hand, you clearly can’t go into a church and hold an impromptu concert, even if it is not blasphemous. It could be a wonderful concert, but you still couldn’t do it. It is a property right issue. The church would need to give permission to perform there. If they wanted to hold it outside… that is a totally separate thing.

    That said, it isn’t really clear that is what they went to jail for.

    Comment by ThomasL — December 19, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  2. Does anyone think that labeling Russia the Ottoman Empire of the 21st century would be too rash?

    Did you guys see this?

    It’s amazing how brazen the nationalists are getting, imagine the bloodshed once they really start to seize power as Putin wanes.

    Comment by paul — December 19, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

  3. Putin has a “big press conerence” scheduled tomorrow at noon Moscow time. Must be a guest speaker.

    Comment by pahoben — December 19, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

  4. @pahoben He wants to make sure everyone tunes in before the world ends.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

  5. This is absolutely hilarious –

    The Kremlin’s doomed new attempt to promote российский identity in textbooks. The table of contents is priceless. Civilizing mission? Putin isn’t just taking Russia back to the future, he’s taking them back to the 19th century.

    Comment by paul — December 19, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

  6. @paul. Re 19th century-See my Back to the Future post. I agree completely.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  7. They went to jail for offending the orthodox clergy (minor reason) and for giving Putin a great Russian Chauvinist bat he could beat the ground with. As far as tomtom getting stupider, of course he can – he breathesthe air in the Times news room.

    Comment by Sotos — December 19, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  8. Yes, NATO expansion was a huge mistake, and it got America and Putin off on the wrong foot –I suppose that as a much-acclaimed nationally syndicated columnist,, Tom Friedman can’t exhibit any self-doubt or admit to any uncertainties about his basic foreign policy assumptions. Exhibit # 1; ” Yes, NATO expansion was a hugh mistake, and it got America and Putin off on the wrong foot.”

    How does Friendman know that? What knowledge or powers of analysis that mere mortals lack drives him to that conclusion? What is there, specifically, in Putin’s KGB background or in his record as leader of Russian that leads Friedman to such a cavalier and absolutist conclusion (“yes” not even “perhaps” or “could be”). The smarter and more likely/logical analysis is that if the former captive nations which joined NATO had not done so, Putin would have done everything possible and exerted every pressure – short of re-invasion (perhaps) – to force those countries back into the Soviet orbit.

    Friedman owes his readers an explanation because his columns are influenctial; because his benign view of the non-democratic leader of one of the world’s most powerful totalitarian (OK, maybe semi-totalitarian) nations on earth, must necessarily flavor all his commentary on many of the world’s most important developments; and, because I have never seen anyone take him on in any public or media forum that I’ve witnessed (admittedly, I haven’t seen most of them).

    Comment by Peter — December 19, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

  9. It’s nice to know that Surkov is still trotting out the same old tired lines. He used the Zworkin example back in 2010 when discussing Skolkovo:

    Comment by NinaIvanovna — December 19, 2012 @ 9:00 pm

  10. @Peter-Friedman’s benign view of authoritarians/totalitarians not limited to Putin. He positively fawns over the Chinese leadership.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

  11. This is absolutely hilarious –
    And the alternative is what? Howard Zinn style self-loathing?

    Comment by So? — December 20, 2012 @ 12:09 am

  12. “And the alternative is what?”

    Admitting that your policies in the Caucasus are a hopelessly doomed waste of blood and treasure and give them independence instead of this “we civilized you savages” crap. And good luck integrating the hundreds of thousands of new Central Asians who barely speak that will be arriving each year to save your shrinking workforce with your “we are all российский Narod” “Mission to Civilize” lines, I’m sure that’ll work out as well as the “Sovetskii Narod” ideology. As in, not at all.

    Comment by paul — December 20, 2012 @ 4:40 am

  13. Thank Yeltsin for that. It’s 20 years too late to fix the borders anyway (absurdities like “Ukraine”, “Belarus”, “Kazakhstan”). France cut Algeria free, and all the Algerians moved to France.

    Comment by So? — December 20, 2012 @ 6:32 am

  14. @paul-i read this as only part of United Russia’s strategy to combat the rising Nationalist parties.

    Funny how school benches looks so similar to school scams. Also funny that the main proponent is Ramazan Abdultypova. What an interesting and telling central asian family name.

    Comment by pahoben — December 20, 2012 @ 7:23 am

  15. Don’t forget that Stalin was Commissar of Nationalities at one time

    Comment by pahoben — December 20, 2012 @ 7:51 am

  16. “@paul-i read this as only part of United Russia’s strategy to combat the rising Nationalist parties”

    Absolutely, and it’s hopelessly doomed to fail.

    ” It’s 20 years too late to fix the borders anyway”

    That argument will really convince the nationalists once they really start to take power.

    This poll under-represents the number of Muslims in Russia, as they live in more peripheral areas, but the fact that the number of Muslims within polling range have doubled and the number of Orthodox has declined 7% is a grim sign of where things are headed.

    And quite frankly, I think Moscow’s dismal skyline could use a few more (or twice as many it appears) minarets to lighten things up. What’s so worrying about the minarets, Muscovites?

    Comment by paul — December 20, 2012 @ 8:50 am

  17. +++ Howard Zinn style self-loathing?+++

    Absolutely. For Russia that would only be the truth – and pretty mild at that.

    Comment by LL — December 20, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

  18. It’d be pretty funny to have Russian children reading Pipes’ Russia Under the Old Regime, and see once again how true his central thesis is.

    Comment by paul — December 20, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

  19. @paul. That will never happen, precisely because his central thesis is so true. I’m surprised the book isn’t banned in Russia. I know he’s despised in Russia, and by Russophiles.

    Needless to say, it’s one of my favorite books about Russia. I remember reading it the first time and thinking: What is old is new again.

    Reading Gaidar’s Russia: A Long View now. It starts slowly, but I have high expectations.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 20, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

  20. @Prof While enjoying your reading, keep in mind that Andrei Illarionov has carefully documented over the last few years a mind-boggling amount of unfounded claims and outright falsifications in Gaidar’s oevre. Gaidar’s overarching purpose and main achievement in life appears to have been preservation of the nomenklatura’s control over the Russian state. Facts and figures were the least significant victims of this noble endeavour.

    Comment by Ivan — December 20, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

  21. @Ivan. Thanks for the heads up. Have any links to what Illarianov has documented?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 20, 2012 @ 6:26 pm

  22. @LL,

    Lead by example. Surrender your property to the first minority you come across as compensation for all the wrongs your ancestors did unto him and head for the nearest cliff.

    Comment by So? — December 20, 2012 @ 11:58 pm

  23. @Prof This would be a good place to start: . Andrei has been doing an amazing job digging up the facts about what really happened during and since the collapse of the Sovok. Another topic he has researched recently is how Russia has been systematically preparing a military attack against Georgia for years. Gaidar’s clique has recently dedicated a whole book to attempts at discrediting Illarionov personally. Needles to say, it’s again those stubborn things called facts that stand in their way.

    Comment by Ivan — December 21, 2012 @ 2:06 am

  24. […] does anyone listen to Thomas Friedman?  Been wrong as much as most […]

    Pingback by Christmas Eve Breakfast Links - Points and Figures | Points and Figures — December 24, 2012 @ 4:49 am

  25. Recall Friedman’s absolutely wrong prognostications about the last Iraq war. The guy is a total bozo. I have always wondered who he is blowing to get so many appearances.

    Comment by blurtman — December 25, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

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