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Seriously... Really? Just When You Thought You Had Heard it All.

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 09:00

Okay, it's China and adulterated food products - yada, yada, yada.  Yawn.  Tell us something new.

How about something old instead?  40-years old in fact.  But don't worry, most of that time it's been frozen - or so we're told... by someone who heard it from someone who heard it....

Chinese customs have seized around 3 billion yuan ($625 million) worth of smuggled meat, some more than 40 years old and rotting, the official China Daily said on Wednesday, the latest in a grim series of food safety scares.

Beijing toughened food safety rules in April to shake off a reputation for safety scandals that range from donkey meat tainted with fox DNA to milk contaminated with industrial chemical melamine that killed at least six infants in 2008.

Chinese authorities have launched a crackdown on beef and frozen meat smuggling, in addition to a campaign last year to stamp out the smuggling of farm products.

Authorities had busted 21 criminal gangs by June, leading to seizures of more than 100,000 tonnes of smuggled meat, including chicken wings, beef and pork, state news agency Xinhua said. In one bust, police in southern Hunan province arrested 20 people.

Customs officials found some of the meat was more than 40 years old, meaning it dated back to the 1970s. Other parts were rotten and decomposing, the China Daily newspaper said. It was not clear if the seized meat had been destroyed.

Industry sources say hundreds of thousands of tonnes of beef is being smuggled into China via neighbouring Hong Kong and Vietnam, from countries such as Brazil and India, to sidestep Beijing's import curbs.

Meat can last for a long time if continuously frozen, but smuggled meat is often moved under poor storage conditions that lead to repeated thawing, making it eventually go bad.

"To save costs, smugglers often hire ordinary vehicles instead of refrigerated ones. So the meat has often thawed out several times before reaching customers," Yang Bo, an anti-smuggling official in Changsha told the paper.

And there, kids, is your little culinary horror story for the day.

Austerity's Silver Lining - Arms Race Update

The Disaffected Lib - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 08:44

A couple of headlines this morning got me thinking that the West's embrace of austerity might not be all bad.  Of course it's probably just wishful thinking.

The first article concerns a refreshingly nuanced and balanced lecture delivered by former US ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock.

In a lecture at King's College London, Jack Matlock said that the crisis in Ukraine is increasingly comparable to what he saw during his time as ambassador during the turbulent end of the Cold War. "We see increasingly implicit military confrontations and I'm beginning to wonder, could this result in something which is almost the functional equivalent of the Cold War," he said.

According to Matlock, an explanation for the crisis in Ukraine and worsening relationship between Russia and the West does not simply lie with the actions of Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

"Is it just a matter of Russia violating international norms and law, is there more to this story? There is no question that Russia has violated international law, that the way they conducted the referendum of the Crimea and then annexed it, was a violation of a number of agreements.

"However, all of us should recognise that as brutal and aggressive as Russian policy is, ultimately it is prompted by…feeling…that US and West in general…are trying to encircle and strangle them," he said.

Following a decision made at the recent G7 summit to continue imposing sanctions on Russia, and the steadily increasing popularity within Russia of its President, Matlock argues that the West needs to reconsider its own policies to "bring the results that we want."

The second headline concerns the newly minted NATO sec-gen Jens Stoltenberg claiming that the alliance will not get dragged into an arms race with Moscow.  I suspect Stoltenberg's comforting assurance is really code for the obvious.  With most of the peoples of the Western nations already under the heel of brutal austerity policies, their governing classes are keenly aware of what might befall them should they try to pump up their defence spending to 3 or 4% GDP to play the arms race game with Vlad Putin.  After all, you can't have defence and the ultra low, corporate tax cuts demanded by your corporate masters.

A silver lining?  Maybe, maybe not.  Well, we're plenty ready to sacrifice the environment and our grandkids future to the whims of corporatism.  Surely defence spending is a paltry bauble in the greater scheme of commercial morality.

Wednesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 07:43
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Sheila Block points out the problems with the spread of low-paying, precarious jobs. And PressProgress fact-checks the CFIB's attempt to make as many workers' lives as precarious as possible by suppressing minimum wages and standards.

- But Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports that Ontario's provincial government is making matters worse by handing millions of dollars to the same temp agencies who are most aggressively flouting employment standards laws. And the Star warns of the need to ensure that Toronto's plan to fight poverty actually leads to action.

- Meanwhile, Ezra Klein points out the importance of how we label life without stable work in discussing the radically different perception of involuntary unemployment compared to early retirement:
Saying "I'm unemployed" is very different than saying "I retired at 32, and it's amazing." The question is, can someone who doesn't start with much social status — Ferriss is a Princeton graduate, Mr. Money Mustache an ex-software engineer — manage the same trick?

This is one of the questions that will decide whether a post-work world becomes a dystopia. Does whatever replaces work get branded more like unemployment or more like extreme retirement? What happens when you tell someone you just met on Tinder that you don't have a full-time job, but you really love hiking?

I am not worried that a post-work world can't be a good world. I am just worried that it won't be — that guilt-free early retirement will be a luxury reserved for people who can get good jobs, and denied to people who can't.- Finally, Heather Mallick writes that we should all learn from Harry Leslie Smith's experience about the importance of a functioning society. And Duncan Cameron reminds us that it's only a tiny group of financial elites who stand to profit from the austerity that does so much damage to the vast majority of citizens.

Things We Are Not Supposed To Know Or Think About

Politics and its Discontents - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 06:39
While The Star's David Olive recently wrote an article extolling the economic benefits of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, others strongly suggest the need for extreme caution, not just because of potential job losses, but also due to the very real losses in national sovereignty that will ensue if the agreement is ever finalized.

Consider the following from The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur, who argues that the secrecy behind the negotiations is understandable, given that its benefits will redound not to the people, but to the multinational corporations. While speaking from an American perspective, his observations are equally applicable to Canada:

As well, Star readers sound these notes of caution about free trade agreements:

Trade pact coming, despite opposition, June 19
David Olive’s championing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is so wrong-headed, I hardly know where to begin. In suggesting that state authority and power in developing countries should rather give way to corporate power, he is doubling down on the proven dysfunction of such corporate hegemony, in terms of income inequality, and the impact on workers and the environmental.

To suggest that countries will be better off in a corporate-dominated world is naive at best. His assertion that Canada has really done fine as a result of free trade so far is also an amazingly blinkered view of reality.

Even measured in that narrowest of measures, GDP, we have not done as well in the last 20 years as we did in the “protectionist” era of the 1950s through 1970s. When you look at distribution of this GDP, it is obvious that middle class families have not benefited at all.

John Simke, Toronto

Free-trade agreements are based on the premise that if every country exports what it makes most efficiently and if governments clear the way for market forces to engage in transactions, then everyone will be better off. However, in practice, only multi-national corporations have benefited from free-trade agreements as national interests are undermined.

Taxes are lowered, public services are cut, wages are downgraded, environmental protection is weakened, and regulations are abolished. In short, economic activities have taken precedent over other considerations, such as social justice and national democratic mandates.

The European and North American experiences have shown how, under free trade, governments lose the ability to be responsive to the national needs. Under NAFTA, the Chapter 11 clause has allowed investors to launch successful legal challenges against governments, undermining their efforts to enforce environmental, health or safety standards.

The free trade arrangements worked for the West in the follow up to World War II. However, in the complex 21st century world, they are no longer working. We should come up with a way to regulate the damage done by free trade without undermining its advantages.

Ali Orang, Richmond Hill
Trade deals a big threat to Medicare, Letter June 21
I sincerely hope that the Star is mustering its considerable investigative talents to check out the alarming allegations in Professor Meyer Brownstone’s letter. He claims that the new Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) “includes health among services to be shifted to the corporate sector in a wholesale global privatization process that includes education, prisons and other public services.” He also claims that “all participants are sworn to secrecy for five years even if the negotiations fail.”

Thanks in advance for your excellent service in this and so many other secretive and complex matters.

Jean Gower, KingstonAnd so the world moves on, not always for the better, while we sleep.Recommend this Post

Another Name For Financial Madness

Northern Reflections - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 05:23

Last Saturday, 250,000 Britons marched against Austerity -- something the newly re-elected David Cameron believes is good for the UK. Which raises the question, Who is austerity good for? Duncan Campbell writes:

Both social democratic and neoliberal market economists defend austerity, but the reasoning (do not spend more than you receive in taxes) behind the policy is not strong enough to explain why the doctrinaire approach was adopted.

Big capitalists support austerity, but cutting public spending is bad for business. Mainstream media sell austerity as if it were new and true, even while it undermines audiences and readership, and drives away advertisers.

The remarkable willingness to pursue austerity, despite its destructive consequences, originates in the people who run the bond market: investment bankers, hedge-fund operators, pension-fund managers, and wealthy rentier capitalists of all stripes.

The people who profit from austerity are behind it.

We live in a world where bond dealers are king:

The game for the bond-market dealers is to make money selling corporate debt, since that is where the bankers' fees add up the fastest.

The more government bonds dealers have to sell, the less the need for pension funds and investors to load up on corporate debt, and the lower the profits for the investment houses that sell corporate bonds.
Government deficits create the need for borrowing so the financial market "austerians" rant about the need to balance government budgets, so as to maintain the value of existing government debt, and leave room for new corporate debt.

Private companies rely on selling bonds to finance business expansion. The bond market overshadows the stock market. Stock markets, where money is raised through selling ownership shares, is limited to well-established companies with a record of profit-making.

The international bond market is huge; outstanding securities amount to a whopping $20.89 trillion; and that does not include domestic bonds.
Bond used to be the name of a man who had a license to kill. It has since become a name for financial madness.

The Ghastly Hypocrisy of the Shameless Stephen Harper

Montreal Simon - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 02:44

Stephen Harper has so many monstrous human flaws, I think my fingers would fall off before I finished typing all of them.

But one of the worst is his ghastly hypocrisy.

For he is the leader who promised transparency when he came to power only to turn his filthy regime into the most secretive government ever. The leader who promised to clean up government only to turn it into a pig sty.

The one who talks about "freedom" all the time while passing Bill C-51 that would turn us into a police state.

And this banquet last night is only the latest example. 
Read more »


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