Nancy and me

Nancy and me

This is my 1962 high school year book photo on the left. I just came across it googling an old friend. My sister Nancy, who was a junior, is on the right. We had moved from northern Minnesota to Fargo, North Dakota because of my dad’s job for a pipe line company. We detested the move, detested Fargo, & detested being put in a Catholic high school.

Fargo is like tundra & winds howl down from Canada without mercy. They were good years for my mother since she stopped having babies & had a decent house for the first time. We lived across the street from the Mormon temple & our neighbors were quirky Mormons who ran an old folks home & evangelized for health foods–believe it or not, in advance of the times. In US history, healthful practices & preoccupations often associated with religion.

I skipped town for St. Paul, MN as soon as I graduated & never looked back. Nancy stayed to graduate & became a nurse. She began to develop eating disorders that at that time had no name. It was years before they were identified as anorexia & bulimia. She suffered from them for nearly 40 years & died from them in 2001.

We called each other “honey” as kids but grew in very different directions–she becoming quite conservative & me the opposite. It can be said she was not understood & suffered for that. Sometimes you wish you could bring back the past & redo it. You can’t but you can learn from it. May she RIP.

The 2015 UN report on world hunger: another lesson in statistical snow jobs

China senior looking for veggies fallen off truck (Getty) May 31 2015

The UN just issued its annual world hunger report titled “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015” (SOFI 2015). The report claims the number of starving people in the world dropped to just under 800 million—216 million fewer than reported in 1990-92. They posit that this means fewer people in the world are hungry. How do they know more people aren’t just dropping dead from starvation?

The UN report has a giant methodology problem, even though it elaborates the most up-to-date statistical approach, because their data relies on official statistics reported from each country. Hilaire Belloc once said “statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method.” Indeed they are often more likely to be the triumph of the obscurantist method, negating political methods of analysis.

The report is replete with euphemisms, beginning with the term “food insecurity” & continuing with the distinction between “developed” & “developing” nations. Since each country reports for itself, is there a uniform definition of what constitutes “food insecurity”? Is there an agreed income standard? Does it mean you’re hungry most of the time & don’t eat every day? Or does it mean you & your kids are starving to death? At what US dollar level do you stop being food insecure: $2.00 a day, $2.50 a day, $4.00 a day? Because in most places that won’t get you a junior burger at McDonald’s.

Are they required to count those in refugee camps & undocumented immigrants? Or does no country have to claim them? What about the millions immigrating around the world? Which country claims them? And what about people like the Rohingya, denied citizenship in Myanmar & considered stateless? Are they counted in Myanmar, or in Bangladesh refugee camps where they live on stingy UN aid, or in Indonesian refugee camps—or still adrift in the Andaman Sea, starving to death? The SOFI 2015 report claimed Myanmar went from 27 million hungry in 1992 to 8 million in 2015. That’s nearly miraculous & they need to share their secrets for eliminating starvation with the rest of the world—though ethnic cleansing isn’t something every country will want to employ.

As for that distinction between developed & developing nations, it should be rejected with contempt as a colonial distinction signifying white supremacy. Neoliberal capitalism has no intention of allowing countries to develop while multinationals strip them of their natural resources.

The report doesn’t itemize country by country for “developed” countries, as it does for the “developing” countries. An interesting omission since we can’t see how much starvation there is in any European or North American country. Instead it tells us there are just less than 15 million starving people in the “developed” countries. How do they account for the contradictory estimates in 2013 from hunger NGOs that over 49 million Americans live in “food insecure” households, including 16 million children & 5 million seniors? It’s the end of the school term coming up now & without free school lunch programs, thousands of children (mostly Black & Latino) will be scouring dumpsters & food kitchens begging for food.

There are other notable problems in estimates from some of the “developing” countries—all of which highlight the methodology problems of letting countries do their own accounting. China reported a reduction from 289 million hungry in 1992 to 133 million in 2015. Now that beats even the miracle of Myanmar. In fact, it’s almost unbelievable. Especially when you read that the chief economist of the Asian Development Bank says the number of Chinese living under the poverty line of US $1.25 a day is more than 400 million people, or 30% of the population. Added to the confusion are the Chinese writers—call them friends of the regime—who claim in prestigious journals that “Hunger as a social problem has largely disappeared after being prevalent in China for several thousand years with the rise & decline of dynasties” (Jianhua Zhang in Oxford Journal of Experimental Botany). It’s a toss-up between the apologist & the regime over who’s more ridiculous.

The report says the greatest concentration of hunger in the world is in Southern Asia with about 281 million starving people. Accordingly, India reported 210 million starving in 1992, now down to 194 million. Curious, because the World Bank in 2011 reported about 276 million Indians lived below $1.25 a day. So is the discrepancy between the World Bank & Indian officials because you can eat real well on $1.25 a day in India? Or at least not starve to death? Or are we looking at another statistical miracle?

Africa is the second region with the most world starvation with at least 220 million hungry in 2015, showing an increase of 44 million since 1992. That would more than explain the tsunami of immigration to Europe. Gambia, where immigrants are fleeing by the thousands, reports no change between 1992 & 2015 in their 0.1 million hungry people out of its population of 2 million. Somebody needs to explain how that’s possible in a country where nearly 50% live under the poverty line. Nigeria reported 13 million hungry people out of a population just under 179 million–but again that’s at odds with the estimate that 70 percent live below the poverty line. Again, can somebody explain the discrepancy?

And last but not least, South Africa reports that from 1992 through 2015 hunger is “not significant.” Really? Because other statistical reports estimate from 10 million to 23 million South Africans are hungry. The CIA World Fact Book reported in 2012 that 50% of the 54 million South Africans were living in extreme poverty. Can those in extreme poverty still eat well in South Africa? Or are statistics all around just all messed up? Are we looking at another example of statistical miracles?

The UN needs to coordinate better between its different agencies. UN-Habitat claimed last year that 863 million people in the world live in slum conditions, an increase of 210 million since 1990. That would suggest world hunger is increasing. That would explain predictions that by 2030, 2 billion people will live in slums, primarily in Africa & Asia, lacking access to clean water, working toilets, employment, & food.

That would also suggest most of the SOFI 2015 report is statistical baloney. But even if it doesn’t rise above the level of baloney 800 million hungry people is massive. That is nearly three times the size of the entire US population.

The picture is a senior in China scrounging for vegetables that may have fallen off a delivery truck. Dumpster diving, food kitchens, scrounging: none of this will improve under neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism. Humanity has some hard choices to make.

(Photo from Getty)

The sarcasm of the FBI cleaning up FIFA

There’s a  political sarcasm in the FBI coming in like G-men in an old movie to save the day with FIFA. It’s an even toss between FIFA & the FBI which one is more corrupt. FIFA’s victims are the immigrant laborers they work to death & those they make homeless; the FBI prefers assassination, like Black power activists.

Most of us are being snooped on by the FBI as if the Bill of Rights did not exist. I have my own beefs with them since they flagged my criminal record for using a WMD & I’m unable to get many jobs or adopt a child. I don’t even know how to take a selfie for heavens sake; how the hell would I handle an anti-tank missile or a grenade?

FIFA is going down! Just not fast enough.

Sepp Blatter (Fabrice Coffrini:AFP:Getty Images) May 29 2015

This is FIFA president Sepp Blatter. No one knows how this master criminal described by one commentator as a “wedding singer-turned-sports industrialist” escaped indictment by the US Justice Department in their sweep of 14 FIFA officials on 47 counts of racketeering, wire fraud, & money laundering. The US has jurisdiction because those crimes were committed here. And “those crimes” because the actual rap sheet against FIFA is ten miles long involving dozens of countries & corporations.

Sports commentators are unable to contain their gloating over the exposure of FIFA & the accusation that it is a criminal enterprise run like a feudal fiefdom & employing the politics of colonialism. The US indictments say the officials took over $150 million in bribes & kickbacks in return for media & marketing rights. Reportedly, there were bags of cash involved. It was that venal & sounds like the CIA in Afghanistan. All that of course implicates corporate sponsors who were doling out the bribes.

Sepp Blatter might be another one of those teflon characters because he orchestrated the whole enterprise, called the “world cup of fraud” by the head of the IRS criminal investigation division. And yet he wasn’t indicted. It would be good to hear the Justice Department explain such a notable exemption. He can’t be prosecuted for his misogyny & Islamophobia perhaps but he can certainly be held contemptible.

In fact, he was re-elected today as president of FIFA. When commentators were asked how that could happen they responded with comparisons to the patronage system of Boss Tweed (a 19th century mayor of NYC notorious for corruption) & Richard Daley (a former mayor of Chicago also renowned for corruption). He had a lot of chits out & he called them in.

FIFA was scheduled to vote today on a motion from the Palestinian Football Association to exclude Israel from membership for preventing Palestinian players from freely crossing the border between Israel & Palestinian territories, hampering their ability to train & compete. There’s no news yet if that vote took place. Palestinians should certainly pursue that exclusion–but then again, they might want to cut their losses & get the hell out of FIFA.

One could write a book on FIFA misconduct, not just in allocating contracts & choosing venues but in making demands like in Brazil that cost millions of dollars for temporary infrastructure like stadia & roads that drained public services. Their demands also involved gentrifying areas surrounding the venues, dislocating slum dwellers & squatters.

Hopefully this expose is the beginning of the end for FIFA. Blatter-ass wasn’t taken out but everybody knows for sure now what a contemptible, corrupt lowlife he is.

(Photo is our man Blatter-ass by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)