Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cabinet of curiosities

"I would dearly love to see Arne Duncan explain to Bibi Netanyahu that Israel's foreign aid is now cut off because they filled out the forms incorrectly". (Jersey Jazzman)

Madame Tussaud's spare heads. From
The project of shuffling Obama's cabinet around just got a lot easier, now that Thomas P. Friedman, also known as Thomas L. Friedman, or by the Linnaean handle of Moustaccium intellectionis, has laid down the criteria for doing it well: you just have to pick people Friedman knows, not that he knows all the best people for all the jobs, though that is probably also true, but because only if he knows them can we be sure that they'll work out:
Kerry is an excellent choice for defense. I don’t know Rice at all, so I have no opinion on her fitness for the job, but I think the contrived flap over her Libya comments certainly shouldn’t disqualify her. That said, my own nominee for secretary of state would be the current education secretary, Arne Duncan.... because I think this is an important time to ask the question of not just who should be secretary of state, but what should the secretary of state be in the 21st century?
This is not the first time Friedman has proposed Arne Duncan as diplomat; my response is here. What I'd like to do now is look at some possibilities for filling out the rest of the cabinet by Friedmannian rules.

For instance, the Secretary of Energy should be Michael Mandelbaum, not just because of who he is (a political scientist and Friedman's co-author for That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, 2011), but because of what he is, capable of duplicating Friedman's literary style to the comma:
“The biggest issue in the world today is growth, and the world is divided into two groups — those who get it and those who don’t,” said Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert. “If you’re dealing with the Middle East, it might actually be helpful to have someone who can tell some of the parties why they are going in the wrong direction and how their problems are not what they think they are, nor are their solutions.”
As such, Mandelbaum would undoubtedly be able to convince Congress to increase the gas tax. The current incumbent, Steven Chu, certainly knows that the gas tax ought to be increased, but he carries baggage—notably that Nobel Prize—that makes him seem rabidly partisan. Whereas Mandelbaum can make it sound stupid enough to be non-threatening:
A gasoline tax “is not just win-win; it’s win, win, win, win, win,” says the Johns Hopkins author and foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum. “A gasoline tax would do more for American prosperity and strength than any other measure Obama could propose.”
You can practically hear Eric Cantor leaping on that and agreeing to pass it right away.

Similarly, to replace Duncan at Education you could do worse than picking Bevil Hogg, South African CEO of EndoStim, a company making a kind of pacemaker for your esophagus, which is supposed to regulate acid reflux,
inspired by Cuban and Indian immigrants to America and funded by St. Louis venture capitalists. Its prototype is being manufactured in Uruguay, with the help of Israeli engineers and constant feedback from doctors in India and Chile.
Hogg may not know much about education specifically, but what he knows in general is what he needs to know, which is that everything from now on has to be cheaper, flatter, and run out of a Blackberry:
“In the aftermath of the banking crisis, access to public markets is off-limits to start-ups,” explained Hogg, so start-ups now have to be “much leaner, much more capital-efficient, much smarter in accessing worldwide talent and quicker to market in order to do more with less.” He added, “$20 million is the new $100 million.”
Finally, for secretary of the Treasury why not go for Friedman's multitasking Paris taxi driver of 2006?
After the car started to roll, I saw he had a movie playing on the screen in the dashboard -- on the flat panel that usually displays the G.P.S. road map. I noticed this because between his talking on the phone and the movie, I could barely concentrate. I, alas, was in the back seat trying to finish a column on my laptop. When I wrote all that I could, I got out my iPod and listened to a Stevie Nicks album, while he went on talking, driving and watching the movie.
No special reason, except that this is the only Friedman column I can find in which a taxi driver plays a prominent role, and he doesn't even say anything! As far as I can tell from the research (as David Brooks would call it) for this post, Friedman never talks to taxi drivers at all; we've been lying about him all this time. Who knew?
From Lianhe Wanbao, Singapore, via Sammy Boy.

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