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Monthly Archives: February 2012

In search of the 'Islamic menace' in Bolivia

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

Were I transcribing the wet dream of US Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – self-appointed bulwark against the alleged Islamo-Bolivarian threat to homeland security – I might describe my arrival to La Paz two weeks ago as follows:

Descending from the city of El Alto into the Bolivian capital, my bus was stopped by a battalion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

All passengers were required to pledge simultaneous allegiance to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Adolf Hitler, and Evo Morales. Once the Iranians had verified that there were no Jewish businesspeople on board available for kidnapping, the vehicle was allowed to pass.

Our progress was once again interrupted, however, by a parade of Iranian diplomats, whose infestation of Bolivia began when the Islamic Republic made the alarming decision to open embassies in Latin America – something no other country in the world has done. Augmenting the infestation are the more than two dozen Iranian diplomatic offspring who have reportedly been enrolled in the international school in La Paz.

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Revealed: Corporation-Courting Imperialist Thomas Friedman

The following is an excerpt of my interview with Aaron Leonard for Truthout, which is currently featuring The Imperial Messenger as its Progressive Pick of the Week.

AL: Why does The New York Times, arguably the most influential newspaper in the world, have a Thomas Friedman?

BF: Friedman is far from alone when it comes to providing a veneer of independent validation to state and corporate hegemonic endeavors – ones in which they are entirely complicit. He just happens to enjoy a special symbiosis with centers of power. He is sought out by Barack Obama to explain phenomena like the Arab Spring (which Friedman obligingly determines was in fact propelled by five “not-so-obvious forces,” among them Obama himself). He receives awards from Goldman Sachs for writing about how important corporate globalization is for human progress. He boasts of plugging the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) without perusing its contents beyond the two words “free trade.” He emits grating corporate-military slogans like: “Attention Kmart shoppers: Without America on duty, there will be no America Online.” The New York Times itself is nothing but a mouthpiece for empire and capital. When considered from that perspective, it makes perfect sense that the Times would have a Friedman. And as long as there is no overwhelming uproar over his stupidity, there’s no reason they should dismiss him; it’s a winning partnership.

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The Emperor's Messenger Has No Clothes: Belén Fernández Dresses Down Thomas Friedman

Robert Jensen

The following is an excerpt from a review for Truthout by Robert Jensen, journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, of my book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. Also included in the review is an interview with me.

The Imperial Messenger is currently the Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week.

How does a journalist with a track record of bad predictions and a penchant for superficial analysis – a person paid to reflect about the world yet who seems to lack the capacity for critical self-reflection – end up being treated as an oracle?

The answer is simple: Friedman tells the privileged, and those who aspire to privilege, what they want to hear in a way that makes them feel smart; his trumpeting of US affluence and power are sprinkled with pithy-though-empty anecdotes, padded with glib turns of phrases. He’s the perfect oracle for a management-focused, advertising-saturated, dumbed-down, imperial culture that doesn’t want to come to terms with the systemic and structural reasons for its decline. In Friedman’s world, we’re always one clichéd big idea away from the grand plan that will allow us to continue to pretend to be the shining city upon the hill that we have always imagined we were/are/will be again.

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Burning the dregs of Honduran society

(Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera:

On February 14, over 350 inmates at La Granja penitentiary in Comayagua, Honduras perished in a fire – the latest in a series of obstacles to existence among the Honduran prison population, which has over the years been subjected to various incinerations and massacres as well as to floodwaters from Hurricane Mitch.

On February 17, the prominent Honduran newspaper El Heraldo, mouthpiece of the elite and champion of the 2009 coup d’état against President Manuel Zelaya, announced that there were innumerable hypotheses as to the origins of the blaze, among them conspiracy theories and material worthy of “crime novels”. After reviewing such possibilities as that the “delinquents” had set the fire to facilitate a prison break or to register their distaste with a new law permitting the extradition of persons affiliated with organised crime, the author of the article observed:

“Meanwhile, extremist persons have dared to accuse the government of being behind events like Comayagua, with the aim of ‘eliminating’ ‘undesirable’ gang members. This group of people is referring to [the circumstances of] two prison fires in 2003 and 2004”. [quotation marks in original]

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The many faces of human rights terrorism

Despite Fujimori’s efforts to preserve the human rights of Grupo Colina affiliates by passing an amnesty law, both the massacres contributed to his own eventual conviction and imprisonment in 2009 (Gallo/Getty)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

In September 1992, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori accused Angelica Mendoza– a septuagenarian resident of the town of Ayacucho – of being the “ambassador to France for Senderista terrorism”.

Mendoza’s 19-year-old son Arquimedes Ascarza, rumoured to be collaborating with the Maoist guerrilla organisation Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), had been disappeared by the Peruvian army in 1983. In addition to being his mother, Mendoza’s terrorist credentials also included helping to found the National Association of Families of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (ANFASEP) as well as travelling briefly to Europe, in conjunction with other terrorist outfits such as Amnesty International, to publicise human rights abuses in the South American nation.

The year 1992 – the year of Fujimori’s accusation – also happened to be the year in which a professor and nine students from Lima’s National University of Education were abducted from campus and murdered by the Grupo Colina death squad, which included members of the Peruvian armed forces. In 1991, the same group assassinated an eight-year-old child and 14 other people at a social gathering in the neighbourhood of Barrios Altos.

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In Ayacucho

Scene at the public prosecutor's office (Photo: Belén Fernández)

The following is my latest post for the London Review of Books blog; click here to read the original.

Last week I carried a very small white coffin down the street in Ayacucho, Peru, birthplace of the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso. It contained the remains of Alejandro Aguilar Yapo, killed along with an estimated 105 others in a day-long massacre in 1984. Aguilar’s bones had been arranged in the coffin that morning by employees of the public prosecutor’s office in Ayacucho, who unpacked them, along with the bones of three other victims exhumed last year from a mass grave, from the Motta panettone boxes in which they had been stored after seven months of forensic analysis. After a service in the cathedral, the victims’ families prepared to take their remains on the lengthy bus ride back home to Sicuani, 740 km away.

In the early 1980s, the residents of Soras, 200 km south-east of Ayacucho, had refused to join Sendero Luminoso. On the morning of 16 July 1984, a group of Senderista militants dressed as policemen boarded a bus – thereafter known as the ‘Expreso de la muerte’ – from Ayacucho to Soras. They killed the passengers and people in the villages the bus stopped at along the way. Aguilar and the others from Sicuani, wool traders unaffiliated with the opposition to Sendero Luminoso in Soras, were beaten to death when the bus stopped in Doce Corrales.
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A convergence of convergences: Friedman vs Parenti

Christian Parenti

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

When I started reading Christian Parenti’s latest book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, it was not with the intention of evaluating his work against that of bumbling New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman.

In fact, after spending the last two years of my life thinking about Friedman, my aim as of late has been to not think about him. In the case of Tropic of Chaos I succeeded until page 7, on which Parenti summarises the book’s premise:

Climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis. The current and impending dislocations of climate change intersect with the already-existing crises of poverty and violence. I call this collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters the catastrophic convergence. By catastrophic convergence, I do not merely mean that several disasters happen simultaneously, one problem atop another. Rather, I argue that problems compound and amplify each other, one expressing itself through another.

Reading this, the first thing that occurred to me was that Friedman is also the author of a convergence involving three elements. Conveniently branded “the triple convergence”, it debuted in Friedman’s 660-page advertisement for US-directed corporate globalisation, The World Is Flat.

Friedman explains the triple convergence by recounting one of his “favourite television commercials” about the Konica Minolta bizhub as well as a tragic tale about ending up in the “B” rather than “A” boarding group on Southwest Airlines due to unawareness of at-home boarding pass-printing capabilities. The theory is too long-winded to delve into here – suffice it to say that the first of the three convergences is that of the “ten forces that flattened the world”, among them “Flattener #5: Outsourcing” and “Flattener #10: The Steroids”, which are new technologies that have acquired this moniker “because they are amplifying and turbocharging all the other flatteners”.

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