Monday, May 7, 2012

Today's links

1--Downer Cow USA, counterpunch

Excerpt:  In 2008, an undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States of a dairy cow slaughterplant in California showing that downers were being dragged to slaughter for school lunch hamburgers prompted California to strengthen its laws to keep downer livestock out of the food supply. The meat industry, represented by the National Meat Association and the American Meat Institute, responded by successfully suing the state of California to keep meat from downed animals on people’s plates on the grounds that only USDA had the authority to determine which animals should not be forced to the kill floor for humane or public health reasons.

Sick animals can lead to sick people. An unequivocal ban on the slaughter of any farm animal unable even to stand may reduce the public health risk of myriad threats from anthrax and E. coli to swine flu andSalmonella. Spongiform encephalopathies are a special case, though, as they are caused by infectious agents that cannot be eliminated by cooking, pasteurization, or the rendering process used to make pet food. In fact, infection can survive even incineration at temperatures hot enough to melt lead. It is therefore the meat industry’s responsibility to prevent sick animals from entering the food chain in the first place, by instituting a “bright line” ban on the slaughter of all downed livestock. In the California case, the animal was killed before she could be slaughtered. Next time we might not be so lucky.

2--Hollande vs Sarkozy; Not a dime's bit of difference, counterpunch

Excerpt: The choice of François Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy was an extreme case of the lesser of two evils. Seldom has a winning candidate inspired so little enthusiasm. Considering how unpopular Sarkozy was, according to polls, the final vote of 51.6% for Hollande to 48.4% for Sarkozy was surprisingly close. Voting for the bland and inoffensive Hollande was finally the only way to get rid of the agitated Sarkozy, aggressively pretending to be President of France.

There is no more real President of France. The leader who is elected to occupy the Elysée Palace no longer lays down the policy direction to be taken by the nation. That role has been largely taken over by the European Union Commission in Brussels....

Little by little, the EU Commission is taking on the role of legal guardian of the economic affairs of the member states....
France is under specific orders to deepen pension reform (meaning pension reduction, one way or another), reduce or eliminate job security, limit minimum wage increases, shift taxes from income to consumption and further deregulate professional and commercial activities. These anti-egalitarian, pro-capital, anti-labor measures leave virtually no leeway for the “Socialist” president to do anything significant in favor of economically disadvantaged segments of the population....

The common currency was conceived by many pro-European ideologues above all as a mechanism to force a European political unity....

He says he will propose to EU partners a pact of “responsibility, governance and growth” to emerge from the crisis and the austerity spiral which makes it worse. He says he will renegotiate the European treaty in order to reorient the role of the European Central Bank toward favoring growth and employment. He will propose a new Franco-German treaty. He will ask, he will propose…

And what if they say no, or to be more precise, “nein”?

And what of the contradiction between many of Hollande’s minor economic proposals and the imperatives of the European stability pact to make drastic budget cuts?...

On the left, the ideal of a non-existent “social Europe” is still stronger than perception of the real existing European Union as an institutional mechanism enabling finance capital to destroy the famous “European social model”.

3--Somnambulant in Cartagena, counterpunch

Excerpt:  And, as if to drive the point home, the summit had barely closed when General Douglas Fraser, chief of the US Southern Command, (Was there a democratic vote among the peoples of the region to include themselves in a US military zone?) made it clear that what Obama doesn’t like, the United States doesn’t like. The general called for greater cooperation from the region on planning for the naval side of the war on drugs. It seems that Operation Hammer, which will cover the Caribbean coast of Central America and the Pacific coast of South America, is about to begin and he wants “the naval forces of all the region” to get with the plan. [7]

If Obama’s views on legalization were not clearly spelled out in Cartagena, they are in his 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, which “rejects the false choice between an enforcement-centric ‘war on drugs’ and the extreme notion of drug legalization.” [8]

His 2012 budget to pay for that strategy authorizes $15.1 billion for traditional enforcement methods and $10.1 billion for prevention and treatment. The Marijuana News and Information blog notes that the percentage for enforcement is the same or higher than what Bush proposed spending. [...

Obama’s election-year intransigence on the issues at Cartagena has badly damaged and probably sunk the Americas summitry and with it maybe even the OAS. The best thing for Obama is to let the summits die and blame it on Fidel and Raul Castro (also on Santos, Rouseff, Morales, Rafael Correa, among many others).

Waiting to take its place is the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), inaugurated in Caracas last December as an OAS without the United States and Canada.

Behind it is ALBA, which held its own, little noticed meeting in Caracas just before the Cartagena summit. It was the summit that most of the Cartagena delegates most likely would have preferred. Its final declaration supported Argentina on the Malvinas, condemned the blockade of Cuba and called the exclusion of Cuba from the Americas summits “unacceptable.” [12]

“Perhaps,” wrote Fidel, “CELAC will become what it should be, a hemispheric political organization without the United States and Canada. The decadent and unsustainable empire has earned the right to rest in peace

4--America’s Mad Cow Crisis---Fed on Blood and the Fat of Dead Cattle, counterpunch
Excerpt:  might remember that when the first mad cow was confirmed in the United States in December, 2003, it was major news. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been petitioned for years by lawyers from farm and consumer groups I worked with to stop the cannibal feeding practices that transmit this horrible, always fatal, human and animal dementia. When the first cow was found in Washington state, the government said it would stop such feeding, and the media went away. But once the cameras were off and the reporters were gone nothing substantial changed.

In the United States, dairy calves are still taken from their mothers and fed the blood and fat of dead cattle. This is no doubt a way to infect them with the mad cow disease that has now been incubating here for decades, spread through such animal feeding practices. No one knows how the latest dairy cow was infected, the fourth confirmed in the United States. Maybe it was nursed on cow’s blood. Perhaps it was fed feed containing cattle fat with traces of cattle protein. Or perhaps there is a mad cow disease in pigs in the United States, which simply has not been found yet, because pigs are not tested for it at all, even though pigs are fed both pig and cattle byproducts, and then the blood, fat and other waste parts of these pigs are fed to cattle.

All these U.S. cattle feeding methods are long banned and illegal in other countries that suffered through but eventually dealt properly with mad cow disease. Here, rather than stopping the transmission of the disease by stopping the cannibal feeding, mad cow is simply covered up with inadequate testing and very adequate public relations. US cattle are still fed mammalian blood, fat and protein, risking human deaths and threatening the long term safety of human blood products, simply to provide the U.S. livestock industry with a cheap protein source and a cheap way to get rid of dead animal waste....

Today only about 40,000 cattle a year are tested, out of tens of millions slaughtered. It’s amazing that the California cow was even detected given this pathetic testing program that seems well designed to hide rather than find mad cows....
Once mad cow disease moves into the human population of a country, all bets are off as to what could happen next....

Despite their dedicated work,  there is no indication that anything is going to change here in America.  The U.S. government refuses to implement the feed ban and the animal testing necessary.   It doesn’t matter if the President is named Clinton, Bush or Obama because their bureaucrats in the USDA and FDA stay the course and keep the cover up going

5--Russian Opposition Caught Filing into US Embassy in Moscow, Global Research

Excerpt:  Present at the US Embassy confab were regular mainstays of the Western media's coverage of anti-Vladimir Putin protests, including Boris Nemtsov, Yevgeniya Chirikova of the US State Department's National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funded "Strategy 31," Lev Ponomarev of the NED, Ford Foundation, Open Society, and USAID-funded Moscow Helsinki Group, and Liliya Shibanova of NED-funded GOLOS, an allegedly "independent" election monitoring group that served as the primary source of accusations of voting fraud against Putin's United Russia party. Clearly, this wasn't the first time both words and cash had been exchanged between the Russian opposition and the US State Department, but is perhaps the most overt example of such flagrant conspiring yet....

US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul himself, is a card carrying member of both Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), two organizations notorious for extraterritorial meddling in the foreign affairs of sovereign nations and demonstratively funding, supporting, and directing Russia's so-called opposition. It was accurately predicted in October 2011's, "Agitator Nominated for Next US “Ambassador” to Russia," that McFaul's primary goal would be to continue with America's "disingenuous front of “resetting” with Russia, while simultaneously subverting the Russian government with US-funded political unrest." It appears that McFaul has begun his work in earnest.

6--Memorandum    of UnderstandingonSpecific Economic Policy Conditionality
Excerpt:  Austerity measures, debt consolidation, structural adjustment etc
7--Greek elections reflect mass opposition to austerity, WSWS

Excerpt:  The parties that verbally opposed this policy registered strong electoral gains. The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) was able to triple its vote from 4.6 percent to 16.8 percent. It has overtaken PASOK as second largest party in parliament. During its campaign, SYRIZA declared its intention to renegotiate austerity measures. It promised substantial investment in infrastructure, education and other social programs.

The Democratic Left, which split off from SYRIZA in 2010 in order to take a more pro-PASOK orientation, also criticized the austerity measures during its election campaign. In its first ever election it received 5 percent.

Both SYRIZA and the Democratic Left, which speak for better off sections of the middle class, are well practiced in a politics that is aimed at keeping mass discontent shackled to the trade unions and PASOK....

At the same time there would be nothing progressive in the formation of a coalition government involving nominally left-wing parties. Both SYRIZA and the Democratic Left have repeatedly made clear that they are determined to remain in the EU and would merely seek to re-negotiate the austerity measures. Such a government would follow the example of PASOK and work together with the trade unions and various petty-bourgeois groups to enforce the cuts against the working population.

Such a formation would also receive the backing of the KKE. The KKE will assume the role of stewarding and disciplining protests in order to render them harmless for the new government. It already has a track record in this respect with regard to the outgoing government.

The Greek election result is indicative of a swing to the left by broad sections of the electorate and working masses. At the same time, the pseudo-left organizations that have profited from this swing have made clear that they are intent on maintaining and defending the existing order

8--Greek Parties to Start Coalition Talks, WSJ

Excerpt:  Mr. Samaras invited pro-European parties to join him in forming a coalition government that would seek to change reforms agreed under Greece's second bailout and shift focus on how to generate growth in the country, which is now in its fifth year of recession.

"We will take on the responsibility of forming a national salvation government with strictly two goals: keeping the country in the euro and modifying the memorandum [of understanding with Greece's creditors] policies so that there can be growth and relief in society," Mr. Samaras said in a televised address.

Left-wing leaders were quick to reject the call for a coalition government while reaffirming their opposition to the bailout policies.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said he would stick by his commitment to annul the austerity package. "The parties that signed the memorandum now form a minority. Their signatures have been delegitimized by the people," he said in a televised statement

9--A Death Sentence for Greece, counterpunch

“We are facing destruction. Our country, our home, has become ripe for burning. The centre of Athens is in flames.” – Costis Hatzidakis, conservative parliamentarian

On Sunday, the Greek parliament approved a new round of austerity measures that will further deepen the 5-year depression and sever the last fraying threads of social cohesion. In order to secure a 130 billion euro loan, Greek political leaders agreed to comply with a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) that will not only intensify the sacrifices of ordinary working people, but also effectively hand the control of the nation’s economy over to foreign banks and corporations....

The Government will neither propose nor implement measures which may infringe the rules on the free movement of capital. Neither the State nor other public bodies will conclude shareholder agreements with the intention or effect of hindering the free movement of capital or influence the management or control of companies. The Government will neither initiate nor introduce any voting or acquisition caps, and it will not establish any disproportionate and non-justifiable veto rights or any other form of special rights in privatised companies.”

10--The European elections and the struggle against austerity, WSWS

Excerpt:  broad sections of the working class and the middle classes have shown that they are looking for a left-wing alternative to the political and economic dictatorship of the financial elite. However, the parties that have made gains on the basis of the leftward shift in mass sentiment have no intention whatever of implementing any significant economic reforms, let alone a radical socialist restructuring of the existing set-up.

In France, Hollande repeatedly said he would slash budgets to comply with the EU fiscal pact. While proclaiming himself “not dangerous” to London bankers and making vague references to a pro-business “growth” policy to subsidize favored banks and industries, he praised the “German model” of lower wages and more labor “flexibility” for the workers. The financial markets seem to be taking Hollande at his word. On the first day after Hollande’s election, France’s CAC-40 stock market index ended up 1.6 percent.

In this situation, a layer of “left” parties—including some claiming to be “socialist,” “anti-capitalist,” or “communist”— is playing a treacherous role. Their posturing as critics of the banks’ policies is a conscious fraud. Drawn from and representing the affluent sections of the middle class that, in terms of their economic interests and cultural affinities, identify with the ruling elites, they set out to block any real challenge to the EU, the euro, and other institutions of European capitalism.

11--Elections in Greece and France herald fresh social conflicts, WSWS

Excerpt:  Hollande is an experienced bourgeois politician whose program differs only in nuances from that of Sarkozy. He owes his election victory primarily to the support of supposedly left-wing organisations. These repeatedly sought to encourage the illusion that an alternative to the austerity policies of the EU was possible with Hollande...

The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) emerged as the real winner of the election and was able to triple the number of its voters from 315,000 to more than 1.1 million. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is working closely on an international basis with Mélenchon’s Left Front and the German Left Party. Like them, he uses anti-capitalist rhetoric while supporting and defending the existing bourgeois institutions, including the European Union. During the campaign, he had always stressed: “We are not against the euro but we are opposed to the policies being pursued in the name of the euro.”...

Handelsblatt wrote: “Together with the financial disaster Greece also threatens to unleash political chaos... This election was above all a vote based on anger.” The paper warns: “The political earthquake expressed in this election is perhaps the harbinger of a social eruption that could quickly spread from Greece to other countries in crisis.”

There is little doubt in these circles that Hollande, Mélenchon, Tsipras, etc., will bow to the dictates of financial markets. A comment in Handelsblatt noted “Francois Hollande, the Socialist who enthuses about the great growth packages will end up on the hard ground of reality in the first year of his term of office… It is the markets which will impose their will on the new president. And it will not be the president who tames the markets. “...

Merkel has signaled her willingness to cooperate: She has also made clear what is meant by a growth pact: structural reforms to improve competitiveness at the expense of workers and the redistribution of existing EU-handouts to boost the profits of some branches of industry. At the same time the austerity programs are to continue unabated. Hollande and Gabriel are also in agreement. Mélenchon and Tsipras will find the necessary “left” phrases to cloak their own consent.

In the coming period everything will depend on workers breaking with these organisations and their false promises and taking up an independent, united struggle for a socialist program.

12--The European "growth pact" fraud, Nick Beams, WSWS

Excerpt:   On the eve of the French elections, the EU commissioner for economic and financial affairs, Olli Rehn, declared that while “fiscal consolidation” was necessary it had to be done in a “growth-friendly” way.

Incoming French president Francois Hollande, who has said he wants to revise the European fiscal treaty, told his supporters that his election signalled hope for Europe and that “austerity does not have to be inevitable.”

No doubt others will add their voices in the coming days to what has become a growing chorus. But no one should be fooled into thinking that these calls represent a reversal on the part of the financial and political elites and an abandonment of the austerity programs that are bringing social devastation. Any so-called “growth pact” would not be aimed at restoring jobs and social conditions. Rather, it would have as its central goal the creation of more profitable conditions for business, above all by lowering real wages and initiating deeper attacks on working conditions.

The calls for a growth pact are not motivated by concerns over the social impact of the austerity programs but by the recognition that the continued stagnation of the eurozone means it is falling behind its rivals. The latest economic statistics point to the intensification of the crisis as it spreads from the so-called peripheral countries into Europe’s stronger economies...

The recent statement by European Central Bank president Mario Draghi on the need to put growth at the centre of eurozone policies is not aimed at reversing the austerity drive. Rather it amounts to a call for an offensive of wages and working conditions to make Europe more internationally competitive.

Draghi reflects the position of European policy makers who look to the US and the “restructuring” carried out by the Obama administration, especially in the auto industry. This has produced such a downward shift in wages and conditions across manufacturing that the US has now become competitive with some of the world’s cheap labour regions. While real wages in the US have declined, productivity has increased to such an extent that the same gross domestic product reached in December 2007, officially the start of the recession, is now being achieved with 5 million fewer workers.

Draghi’s “growth compact” proposal is aimed at trying to emulate the US “model.” It points to the need for “structural reforms” across the eurozone along with “labour reforms” to boost “flexibility” and “mobility”—all code words for scrapping previous working conditions and doing away with restrictions on employers’ ability to hire and fire at will or introduce two-tier wage systems such as those operating in the US.

Any “growth pact” will not open a way out of the economic and social crisis but will signify a further “restructuring” of economic and social relations aimed at driving down the social position of the working class.


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