Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Friedman rant: why isn't the U.S. like Lance?

From a Tom Friedman NY Times column:
There is no doubt that Lance Armstrong's seventh straight victory in the Tour de France, which has prompted sportswriters to rename the race the Tour de Lance, makes him one of the greatest U.S. athletes of all time. What I find most impressive about Armstrong, besides his sheer willpower to triumph over cancer, is the strategic focus he brings to his work, from his prerace training regimen to the meticulous way he and his cycling team plot out every leg of the race. It is a sight to behold. I have been thinking about them lately because their abilities to meld strength and strategy - to thoughtfully plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow - seem to be such fading virtues in American life.

Sadly, those are the virtues we now associate with China, Chinese athletes and Chinese leaders. Talk to U.S. business executives and they'll often comment on how many of China's leaders are engineers, people who can talk to you about numbers, long-term problem-solving and the national interest - not a bunch of lawyers looking for a sound bite to get through the evening news. America's most serious deficit today is a deficit of such leaders in politics and business.

John Mack, the new C.E.O. at Morgan Stanley, initially demanded in the contract he signed June 30 that his total pay for the next two years would be no less than the average pay package received by the C.E.O.'s at Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. If that average turned out to be more than $25 million, Mr. Mack was to be paid at least that much. He eventually backed off that demand after a howl of protest, but it struck me as the epitome of what is wrong in America today.

We are now playing defense. A top C.E.O. wants to be paid not based on his performance, but based on the average of his four main rivals! That is like Lance Armstrong's saying he will race only if he is guaranteed to come in first or second, no matter what his cycling times are on each leg.

I recently spent time in Ireland, which has quietly become the second-richest country in the E.U., first by going through some severe belt-tightening in which everyone had to sacrifice, then by following that with a plan to upgrade the education of its entire work force, and a strategy to recruit and induce as many global high-tech companies and researchers as possible to locate in Ireland. The Irish have a plan. They are focused. They have mobilized business, labor and government around a common agenda. They are playing offense.

Wouldn't you think that if you were president, after you had read the umpteenth story about premier U.S. companies, such as Intel and Apple, building their newest factories, and even research facilities, in China, India or Ireland, that you would summon the country's top business leaders to Washington to ask them just one question: "What do we have to do so you will keep your best jobs here? Make me a list and I will not rest until I get it enacted."

And if you were president, and you had just seen more suicide bombs in London, wouldn't you say to your aides: "We have got to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil. We have to do it for our national security. We have to do it because only if we bring down the price of crude will these countries be forced to reform. And we should want to do it because it is clear that green energy solutions are the wave of the future, and the more quickly we impose a stringent green agenda on ourselves, the more our companies will lead innovation in these technologies."

Instead, we are about to pass an energy bill that, while it does contain some good provisions, will make no real dent in our gasoline consumption, largely because no one wants to demand that Detroit build cars that get much better mileage. We are just feeding Detroit the rope to hang itself. It's assisted suicide. I thought people went to jail for that?

Oh, well, maybe we have the leaders we deserve. Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that's the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.

WANNA KNOW what Lance himself thinks? Did you know he actually has political ideas and knows Bush? Read this:

Live Strong or Live Wrong? Why Lance Must Break With Bush by David Zirin

"Lance is an incredible inspiration to people from all walks of life, and he has lifted the spirits of those who face life's challenges," President Bush said about the fellow Texan and "old friend". "He is a true champion."

The praise struck an odd note considering Armstrong's comments after winning his seventh yellow jersey. They weren't about the Alps, the cobbled Paris streets, or the new bell on his handlebars. They were about Iraq. "The biggest downside to a war in Iraq is what you could do with that money," Armstrong said through gritted teeth. "What does a war in Iraq cost a week? A billion? Maybe a billion a day? The budget for the National Cancer Institute is four billion. That has to change. Polls say people are much more afraid of cancer than of a plane flying into their house or a bomb or any other form of terrorism." His timing was fortuitous. A report came out of the Congressional Budget Office the next day that indicated the war in Iraq will cost more - adjusted for 2005 dollars - than any war since the Second World War, with a price tag that may near 800 billion dollars.

Armstrong's statement is significant because it represents a sharp turn from his previous statements against the Iraq invasion. When the war was launched out in 2003, Lance's soft anti-war views sounded more James Baker than Ella Baker: "I know George Bush well, having met him about 20 times, and I support him, but going ahead with this war without the support of Europe would be dangerous ... it would be a mistake to engage in war without the backing of the United Nations and Europe," he said. "If there's going to be a war then we'll be up against a billion Muslims - so it would be unreasonable for the United States to go it alone against such a huge part of the world."

Armstrong took great pains at the time to compliment Bush with every statement, saying that Dubya sometimes appeared "brash," but that he was "more intelligent than people give him credit for." He added, "Bush isn't a banker from New York, or a tycoon from California. He's a cowboy from Texas."

In 2004, Armstrong's anxiety about the war was rising, perhaps affected by the French protests during that year's Tour. But despite his stronger objections, Armstrong still reserved praise for his "friend" in the Oval Office. "I don't like what the war has done to our country, to our economy," he said. "My kids will be paying for this war for some time to come. George Bush is a friend of mine and just as I say it to you, I'd say to him, 'Mr. President, I'm not sure this war was such a good idea', and the good thing about him is he could take that."

Now in 2005, Armstrong has taken a much harder stance. This could be attributed to possible aspirations for political office. Armstrong in a recent interview laid out his views on a number of issues, describing himself as "against mixing up state and Church, not keen on guns, pro women's right to choose. And very anti war in Iraq," - which may lead some of us to wonder exactly what political party in our glorious duopoly would even allow him to stand as a candidate. Others have said that he is simply under the sway of his rock star partner Sheryl Crow - she of the "War is Not the Answer" t-shirts, the group Musicians Win Without War, and singer of searing anti-war anthems like "Soak up the Sun."

But the real reason for Armstrong's recent statements most likely stems from simple frustration. Armstrong sees his life's work, cancer funding and research, being undercut by this war. He takes this position even though it could lose him his Oval Office access. He speaks out "on foreign soil" even though it could mean derision when he returns. He will assuredly face words such as those from one internet blogger who wrote "Lance Armstrong should be detained the moment he steps back on American soil, and then he should have a bicycle tire pump shoved so far up his ass that he whistles Dixie when he breathes." If the cancer that spread to his lungs and abdomen, not to mention the Pyrenees, didn't deter Armstrong, a pustule armed with a laptop and fried cheese probably won't keep him up nights. Especially when the priorities of medical research or "generational war" hang in the balance.

Armstrong has devoted countless hours to the fight against cancer. There is not more money for cancer research because of the war. It's that simple. It's also not just cancer. In my hometown of Washington, DC, this $800 billion price tag means high rates of infant mortality, shuttered public hospitals, and schools in a constant and eternal state of crisis. This is a battle for priorities. If Lance wants to see victory, chuckling it up with his "fellow Texan" is no way to lead this movement forward. Instead Armstrong should ride among the critical mass bikers and anti-war couriers at the national anti-war protests on September 24th in Washington, DC. Consider this an invite, Lance. Consider this a way to continue to "live strong."

2 Comments:

At 7/28/2005 2:02 PM, Anonymous bennett said...

This one's fucking great too, did you post it at BC?

Keep it up man, you're one of my heros.

Bennett

 
At 7/28/2005 4:57 PM, Blogger Adam said...

Hey Bennett, much appreciated, man. I work hard at this stuff -- really touched when someone responds.

 

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