Protests in Burundi and neoliberal plunder

Burundi protester (Goran Tomasevic:Reuters) June 2 2015

This is a Burundi protester against the regime of president Pierre Nkurunziza who is attempting to run for a third term of office in the election this month. The dispute is likely less over the illegalities of his campaign so much as what his tenure in office represents. One could be confused & think the protester just got off work at the cassava mill & didn’t have time to wash up but the state of democracy is so volatile in Burundi that protesters show up in disguise, including under foliage headdress, to avoid identification by the regime police.

Burundi has been in a state of acute social crisis since the country became independent in 1962, including a 12-year civil war that ended in 2005–not because the people are belligerent & can’t get along but because colonialism left a hell of a mess & aggravated class divisions. They were still reeling from that misery when neoliberalism moved in to implement the updated form of colonialism.

Nkurunziza is a guy who plays ball with the IMF & they want to see him re-installed. Which is probably why they gave him a nearly $7 million loan in April & have promised $14 million more next year. They’re given Burundi nearly $42 million over the past three years. The country, considered one of the poorest in the world, appears to be living on the dole, with nearly half of the 2015 national budget of $966 million (1.5 trillion franc) funded by “international donors.” Whoever the hell they are, we can be certain they aren’t doing it in a spirit of largesse but to facilitate plunder.

The IMF reports their “economic reform program” for the country is moving a little slow but all-in-all the outlook for plunder is positive: coffee plantations are exporting; infrastructure projects including fiber optics, hydropower, & roads to serve the plantations are proceeding; healthcare & education are in a shambles. Eighty-percent of 10 million Burundians live below the poverty line & the country has the miserable distinction of being the hungriest in the world. Things couldn’t be better from the IMF point of view.

Protests against Nkurunziza’s regime have been going on for weeks. Media reports about 20 protesters have been killed. This is almost certainly an underestimate & doesn’t include the number of those injured & arrested. They are also reporting 90,000 people have fled to neighboring countries, including many leaders of the protests.

Rebellion against neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism, may take on what seem inchoate political forms. But to paraphrase Black prisoners from the 1971 Attica prison rebellion in New York, ’tis but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed.’

(Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Cassava production in Africa: the neoliberal form of “let them eat cake.”

Cassava worker in Bujumbura, Burundi (Bujumbura, Burundi ) June 2 2015

This extraordinary photo is a young man working in a cassava processing plant in the town of Bujumbura, Burundi in central Africa. Media coverage (what there is of it) of civil conflict there focus on disputes over undemocratic elections. You don’t have to investigate the history but only view this image to know the causes of massive protests go much deeper than which politicians are administrating tyranny.

Cassava was a staple food for pre-Columbian peoples in the Americas, particularly the region now Brazil. It was taken to Africa along with maize culture by Portuguese traders in the 16th century. Under the whip of neoliberal agribusiness, called the Green Revolution, African farming is now switching from maize growing to cassava production. Nearly half is intended for industrial use, including animal feed, glue, bio-fuel, & glucose syrup; the other half is used as a food staple in several African countries. This may be one of the worst cases of “let them eat cake” that human history has ever seen because it’s unlikely Bill & Melinda Gates, whose foundation is promoting cassava production in Africa, consider cassava edible in any form. After all they’re not livestock but the elite.

Ostensibly cassava production is being promoted because it’s a hearty plant that will grow almost anywhere–which doesn’t particularly speak to its nutritional value. The chief problem is its high toxicity in cyanide. In food preparation, people use several different detoxification processes including drying, boiling, fermenting, & elaborate cooking methods. Because if they don’t, they’re subject to any number of catastrophic health problems; acute cyanide poisoning can bring death within hours. Among the health consequences are endemic goiter; neurological disorders, including spasms & loss of control over bodily movements; cognitive disability; & in pregnant women, toxicity can cross the placental barrier & affect the fetus. All of these health problems are showing up among people in African countries where cassava has become a staple food & at a time when neoliberalism in agriculture is accompanied by neoliberalism in health care–the kind of health care systems that facilitate such things as the Ebola epidemic.

This is much worse than a case of “let them eat cake.” This is unspeakable, cynical, treacherous. The people of these countries understand what cassava is doing to them & their children but, given the state of neoliberal isolationism, they often have no alternative for survival. In one instance of drought in Mozambique, all food crops were lost except the most toxic variety of cassava. Due to urgency, processing was curtailed & there was insufficient detoxification. Many died within a few hours with symptoms of nausea, vertigo, & confusion.

So if cassava has to be processed before it is non-toxic, why is this worker in a cassava mill not wearing protective gear? He’s sucking it into his lungs, swallowing it in his saliva & the Gates Foundation didn’t consider safety protection for these young workers an essential part of cassava production? The mind reels before neoliberal barbarism.

The neoliberal agencies promoting this misery are rooted in the US & Europe & the greatest solidarity we can render to our brothers & sisters is to rout them out, not just from Africa, but out of the US & Europe. They’re entirely incompatible with human life.

(Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

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)

Betty Windsor’s minions: the judges’ gallery in parliament

British judges at Betty's speech (Alastair Grant:WPA Pool: Getty Images) May 29 2015

This is the British judges’ gallery at Betty’s parliament speech. Thank heavens they aren’t handling the big questions like human & democratic rights wearing those silly wigs. Such a courtroom is no place for levity. These are the traffic & small claims court guys. The judicial hotshots get to sit right up close & personal to Betty. All the better to kiss her butt.

It must have been about parliament that Shakespeare wrote: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

(Photo by Alastair Grant/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Betty Windsor’s 2015 speech to parliament: more cutbacks, same sour puss

Betty May 2015 (Getty) May 29 2015

Betty’s gunning for somebody. She’s making her way here through all the toadies & minions that serve the Commonwealth to parrot a speech dictated by the Conservative government. You need a legal eagle to figure out what they proposed–except the part where there’ll be cutbacks for working people.

So if you total up the cost of the 2012 London Olympic games, the spectacle of the Diamond Jubilee with that flotilla up the Thames, & the pomp of this speech alone, it’s quite a bundle. The payroll costs must have been staggering–even though Betty is a notorious cheapskate. Reportedly the people she hires to brush her teeth & wipe her butt earn less than minimum wage. For the speech there were soldiers, yeomen, parliament staff, carriage drivers, a cavalry & horses, train bearers, & all that lost time for the parliament when they could have gone straight to slashing social services.

If Betty merely functions as a ventriloquist dummy for the oligarchy (to which she belongs), if she ostensibly can’t play a political role, what exactly is her function? Royalists believe that blue-blood stuff. Let them have their feudal fantasies. They’re not all there. But what’s with the liberals who say she’s worth her weight in tourist revenue? They could just as well hire re-enactment performers–thereby eliminating the flatulence problems of Phil, the personal scandals of that hapless lot, & they could come up with a Betty-double who would smile once in a while.

It’s so easy to be smug when you’re sitting in a post-feudal society but it’s getting harder all the time. Curtsying, kiss-ass, & other feudal practices have been brought back here big-time–led by our movie stars & politicians. Though for other countries the US regime seems to prefer skipping the regression to feudalism & going straight to slavery.

Speculations for why Betty is scowling here include the ching-ching of lost time she thinks better spent on her dole allowance.

(Photo from Getty)

Urban slums and the myth of overpopulation in Manila

Philippines Baseco district (Dennis M. Sebangan:EPA) May 29 2015

Manila, Philippines isn’t the most populous but it is considered the most densely populated city in the world based on the number of residents per land area. It has an estimated 15 million residents. Four to seven million Manila residents live in filthy, squalid slums often built in disaster zones vulnerable to tropical storms & typhoons.

Some observers look at the squalor & conclude Manila has an overpopulation problem. In their jeremiads they explain that megacities (those with over 10 million people) are springing up all over the globe in “developing countries.” In 1985, there were only nine & today there are at least 26.

Marinated in the ethos of capitalism, they see humanity engaged in a competition for land, food, water, & fuel & they attribute environmental disaster & endemic disease to all those babies.
They’re not particularly insightful observers or they would question: Why did this problem become so massive in the eighties? How did the population of Manila grow from 1.6 million in 1950 to 7 million in 1985 & now to 15 million? Are the Filipinos having that much sex?
Nor does it ever dawn on some of these observers that it is absolutely outrageous for privileged white people to take a tour of slums anywhere & conclude there are just too many black & brown babies.

Of course all that alarmism takes them nowhere. What could they possibly propose to solve the overpopulation of poor people? Do we need another “modest proposal” like that of Jonathan Swift to get rid of too many poor Irish babies by plumping them up as livestock to serve on the tables of English aristos? He meant it sarcastically, of course; they took it for good coin & thought it a worthy proposal.
The growth of cities is a problem. The dispossession of farmers & rural working people & scorched earth policies of neoliberal economics are a bigger problem–at least for the poor. Manila also has one of the highest slum eviction programs in the world because the oligarchs are trying to gentrify the place to put in swanky resorts & mega-malls. The real estate developers are making a killing–at the expense of all those babies.

Of course the Catholic church’s proscription of birth control is a problem among Catholic Filipinos. It’s a problem everywhere. Because, just like the population control freaks, it cuts across women’s right to control their own reproductive lives. But to endorse population control programs rooted in racist eugenics rather than in women’s rights (involving prenatal care, postnatal care, pediatric care, women’s health care, etc.) is putting yourself in the camp of neoliberal racism & misogyny & siding with the filthy rich against the poor.

These little kids are from the Baseco district near the Manila Bay. As charming as the little snot-nosed boy is, he likely has health problems. It’s a particularly squalid slum with high rates of infectious disease like TB & pneumonia, cholera, dengue fever. It’s frequently targeted for evictions & torching & often hit by typhoons. If you look at their lives & cry “overpopulation” rather than demand a program of public housing or an end to dispossession, ‘you might be a redneck’ & not a progressive at all.

The kids are mugging for the camera while demolition crews move in to dismantle their homes.

(Photo from December 2012 by Dennis M. Sabangan/EPA)

Once again on the militarization of the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean

Afghan refugee in Greece (AP Photo:Thanassis Stavrakis) May 29 2015

This is an Afghan refugee trying to hide on a truck bound from Greece to Italy. The caption to the photo read that the EU “wants to launch a security operation in the Mediterranean to eliminate the trafficking operations.” They, of course, will not be torpedoing African immigrants in the western part of the Mediterranean while leaving Afghan, Syrian, & others get into Europe through Greece. The crackdown & militarization of this crisis will include the eastern Mediterranean.

Truth of the matter is, there is no resolution to this tsunami of human suffering & dislocation as long as the US & European countries are bombing & occupying several countries, arming tyrannical regimes, imposing draconian economic, social, & political policies that make life unbearable for millions of people. It’s not possible to simply manage this situation which is exactly why the EU is resorting to the insanity of a military operation. It’s why they allowed thousands of immigrants to simply drown without lifting a damn finger.

There are arguments up the wazoo explaining why European countries are unable to handle & integrate the massive numbers of immigrants–beginning with the strain it will put on social services. Well that’s just too damn bad. Because if European regimes hadn’t cooperated in US wars, meddled to undermine the Arab uprisings, & if European corporations weren’t milking African countries dry of their natural resources, there wouldn’t be this massive dislocation.

But let’s get real here. As we know from Betty Windsor’s recent speech to the British parliament & from protests all over Europe now going back nearly a decade, austerity for all working people is the neoliberal gestalt of the day. It’s a replay of that “let ’em eat cake” thing. Only worse. Refugees can’t strain social services that just barely exist.

The problem isn’t refugees. The problem is neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism, where oligarchs finally have us where they want us–fighting over crumbs, treated like trash, working like slaves.

The great problem for humanity is figuring out the most effective strategies to end this tyranny before this tyranny ends us.
In the meanwhile, immigration is a human right. Open the damn borders.

(Photo by Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)