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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”.



Italy battles Islamic caliphate

Oppressed populations around the world acquired a new rival on Wednesday with the announcement by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of his campaign to “Free Lampedusa” within 48-60 hours.

What the Sicilian island requires freeing from: thousands of migrants, primarily arriving from North Africa.

Why it requires freeing: residents are not pleased, and Berlusconi sympathizes. (So much so that he has spontaneously purchased a villa on the island.)

The migrants are being transferred to refugee camps on the Italian mainland, which has generated unrest among certain sectors of population of south Italy who feel that the freedom of Lampedusa will occur at their expense.

In this video below, for example, from minute 1.22-1.34 the south Italian gentleman in the red hat explains that “since the state doesn’t do shit” he has taken it upon himself to capture refugees who have escaped from the makeshift camps—in this case, the two darker men being herded in front of him.


A successor for Mussolini?

Image of "Chavuzconi" concocted by a certain Diario El Peso of Argentina

Back in February I attended a rally in Caracas of the Venezuelan anti-government opposition, where various protesters took it upon themselves to educate me as to President Hugo Chávez’ latest transgressions. These included consulting Cuban assassins on the issue of the electricity shortage in Venezuela and emulating Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Given that other world leaders have likened themselves to Mussolini, I thought it might be interesting to briefly compare Chávez and current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, only one of whom is considered a “great friend” of Barack Obama despite repeated references to the U.S. president’s suntan.

A few basic areas for comparison:

Media control: Chávez is accused of dominating the media despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of outlets are in control of the opposition and, as Mark Weisbrot and Tara Ruttenberg of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. point out, “as of September 2010, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share.” Berlusconi meanwhile owns Italy’s three largest television channels and a publishing house, and has a history of violating broadcasting laws.

The War on Terror: Chávez opposed the War on Terror and famously announced that “you can’t fight terror with terror” in response to photographs of Afghan children slaughtered by the U.S.-led coalition. Berlusconi opposed the War on Terror-inspired tactic of domestic wiretapping only because wiretap transcripts implicated him and his colleagues in criminal and other dubious behavior.


Illegal Africans prepare to party in Israel


Today’s report on the Al Jazeera website entitled “Israel to build migrant centre” quotes Eyal Gabai, director-general of the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as declaring:

Israel is trying to fight a situation in which the state, its citizens, are vulnerable to infiltrators who enter with economic motives”.

The economically-motivated infiltrators threatening the Israeli state and its citizens might be more succinctly described as illegal immigrants. Arriving primarily from Africa, they now have a detention facility to look forward to, which according to Al Jazeera “is expected to be built at or near the site of a former prison camp for Palestinians”.


Ethiopian Jews imperil Israel yet again by potentially resembling Al Qaeda operatives

Al Qaeda disguise selves as Ethiopians disguised as Israelis.

An April Haaretz article entitled ‘Al-Qaida terrorists may pose as Ethiopians to sneak into Israel’ bears the sub-headline: “In letter to Haaretz, Yemen Islamists say they may send terrorists to Israel disguised as Ethiopian Jews.” The question of whether Al Qaeda always notifies Israeli newspapers of its tactical options is answered in the second paragraph of the article, which specifies that the letter is not in fact from the organization itself but rather from “[Yemeni] Shi’ite rebels” who simply quote from another letter allegedly sent by Al Qaeda to a Salafist group in Gaza. The rebel missive highlighting Al Qaeda’s grasp of the general interchangeability of dark-skinned persons is meanwhile explained as having been submitted with the belief that the “publication in Haaretz [of the Al Qaeda scheme] could influence U.S. policy toward the Shi’ites in Yemen”; no speculation is made as to what sort of effect said publication might have on Israeli policy toward its own Ethiopian population, which until now has merely been subjected to things like housing discrimination and injection with controversial birth control drugs.


LIVE FROM HONDURAS: Thomas Friedman connects with Africa

At an internet café in Tegucigalpa the other day, I came across Thomas Friedman’s August 15 article in the New York Times Online, entitled “The Land of ‘No Service,’” which I assumed would be about a poorly functioning McDonald’s in one of the post-Soviet states. When I discovered it was instead about Friedman’s visit to Botswana, I decided it was not any less relevant for me to write about Thomas Friedman in the midst of a Honduran military coup than for Thomas Friedman to write about Africa.

Robert Mugabe: mentioned when Friedman briefly remembers that he is supposed to be a foreign affairs columnist.

Robert Mugabe: mentioned when Friedman briefly remembers that he is supposed to be a foreign affairs columnist.

From Chief’s Island, Botswana, Friedman begins:

If you travel long enough and far enough — like by jet to Johannesburg, by prop plane to northern Botswana and then by bush plane deep into the Okavango Delta — you can still find it. It is that special place that on medieval maps would have been shaded black and labeled: ‘Here there be Dragons!’ But in the postmodern age, it is the place where my BlackBerry, my wireless laptop and even my satellite phone all gave me the same message: ‘No Service.’”


Gypsies triumph in Spain, are now only second-most hated ethnic group

Moroccans in Spain improvise Muslim holiday on patio. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Moroccans in Spain improvise Muslim holiday on patio. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

A May 23 article appearing in the online version of the Spanish periodical El País posits that schools are a reflection of society and proceeds to cite a survey conducted by an NGO in Valencia, according to which 34% of high school students are in favor of expelling north Africans not only from their classrooms but from Spain, as well. It is not established whether the 34% applies to high school students in Valencia or the country as a whole, but the percentage drops to 28 when it comes to expelling central African immigrants, to 22 for Chinese, and to 12 for Latin Americans. One analysis of the survey results is offered by a representative of an organization devoted to combating racism in schools, who argues that “[e]l problema de la escuela está en las calles, en las familias.”

My friend Amelia and I had experienced problems of a different nature emanating from the Spanish street, and cross-country hitchhiking trips had confirmed the inadvisability of north African expulsion from Spain given that Moroccans were the only demographic group that picked us up aside from drunks and the Guardia Civil. An added advantage of Moroccan presence in the area was that Amelia and I were granted free accommodations in 2003 and 2004 in a town called Frigiliana, at the house of a construction worker named Abdul who also procured employment for us at the local avocado packing facility.

Located in the hills of Andalucía, Frigiliana was home to a few thousand inhabitants who possessed a view of the Mediterranean and a tendency to refer to resident Moroccans as moros. Other atavistic propensities included the insistence on calculating prices in pre-EU currencies and the insistence on employing fascist rhetoric in the workplace, where our avocado packing bosses commanded Amelia and me to work “como una máquina.”