From warblogger to wartblogger!

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 13 2006 6:10 AM

From Warblogger to Wartblogger!

Plus--kf's nominee for a Dem theme.

(Continued from Page 7)

Why We Are Willing to Pay $2 for the New York Post in Los Angeles: They give us the  Death Cheese Bus.

Why We Are Still Not Willing to Pay 50 cents for the Los Angeles Times in Los Angeles: The director of the James Bond movie "Die Another Day,"--as well as "XXX: State of the Union,"  "Mulholland Falls," and "Once Were Warriors"--is arrested "after allegedly dressing as a woman and offering sex to an undercover Los Angeles police officer in exchange for money." (Apparently he's selling, not buying!) The mighty local monopoly paper gives it ... two sentences buried in a news roundup on page B4. Too interesting! People might talk about it.**

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P.S.: The New York Daily News, operating on an East Coast deadline, managed to generate a whole page on the busted director.  But then they had a genetic advantage--lack of the LAT's twittish, slow, respectable, self-satisfied news-averse corporate DNA! ... [Alert reader G. tipped me off to this stark contrast.] ...

**--Alternative explanation: The Times is not that twittish. Calls were made and they're actively protecting somebody. ... Cover-up or clueless? It's hard to assess these competing theories--the results are indistinguishable. ... 4:40 P.M.

Ending Oil As We Know It: Thomas Friedman argues [$]  for "breaking America's addiction to oil," but not because it will take away a strategic weapon (the threat of oil cutoffs) from Middle East autocrats. Instead, he claims easy oil dollars have prevented Arab countries from developing the middle class industries (and resultant power centers) that would support democracy. Without oil,

[w]hoever ruled [would have to] nuture a society that would empower its men and women to get educated and start companies to compete globally, because that was the only way they could thrive. ... [snip]

The only way [new leaders put in place by elections] will allow for real political parties, institutions, free press, competitive free markets and proper education --a civil society--is if we also bring down the price of oil and make internal reform the only way for these societies to sustain themselves. People change when they have to, not when we tell them to. [Emphasis added]

I can't help noticing that Friedman's logic is more or less identical to the logic of welfare reform. Welfare reformers argued that without easy cash welfare, single mothers would have to organize their lives more purposefully around work. Hortatory efforts were ineffective--people would change their lives when they had to change their lives to sustain themselves. Friedman is simply applying this same (to my mind, powerful) materialist logic at the level of nations rather than individuals.

The difference is that vigorous welfare reform threatens a complete cutoff of welfare--or at least a cutoff that would put individuals who refuse to work into an unsustainable economic position. But there is little chance of an analogous, near-complete cutoff of oil revenues to Arab-Muslim autocracies. Even if we were to magically develop alternative competing fuel sources overnight, oil is still going to be useful and valuable. Oil producing nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia will still generate billions and billions in easy revenue for many, many years, no? Will a mere price cut (Friedman throws out the highly optimistic goal of $20 a barrel oil) be enough to actually force unwilling regimes to "nurture" the productive middle class that they find so threatening? Or will they just cancel extravagant oil-funded projects and contain whatever discontent results from straitened economic circumstances the way they always have?

Before the 1996 welfare reform, remember, the typical Republican approach was to reduce welfare benefits, not end them. But it turned out merely reducing benefits wasn't enough to force the change--indeed, benefit reductions arguably offered the worst of both worlds. Welfare mothers were still trapped in a dysfunctional welfare-based culture--they were just poorer welfare mothers trapped in a dysfunctional welfare-based culture. Similarly, Bush's Friedmanesque efforts to reduce the price of oil might just produce poorer, angrier autocracies. The real equivalent of welfare reform--an actual end to oil revenues--seems outside the realm of possibility. ... Update: Alert reader D.J. notes "the price of a barrel of oil was $22 in 2002" and it didn't produce "real political parties, institutions, free press, competitive free markets" and the other wonderful aspects of the "internal reform" Friedman envisions.  In fact, the price hovered roughly around the $15-20 level  from about 1986 to 2000. Why would $20/barrel do the trick today? ... Rich Lowry makes a similar point toward the end of this column.. ...

The  cruder, strategic argument for alternative fuels--that they would simply take the retaliatory oil weapon out of Middle East autocrats' hands--seems stronger than Friedman's more complex, appealing quasi-Marxist argument. ...

P.S.: I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't realistically hope for the growth of middle class economies in nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran. I just wouldn't count on Friedmanesque oil shock treatment--as opposed to Internet-publicized, envy-producing national prosperity stories (Iraq, in the theoretical future)--to produce them. ...