November 26, 2007

When you're lonely and tired of the city
Remember it's a flower made out of clay

Melanie Schiff, Emergency, 2006

* You're Eating That?. excerpt:

"Food safety, like toy safety, is part of a growing national concern that government agencies that are supposed to protect consumers have been whittled down to incompetence. The Bush administration insists it is focusing on import safety — finally. Congress must keep pressing for a complete overhaul of the consumer protection system. Each day there is news of another dangerous hole in the consumer safety net.

"USA Today pointed out a particularly glaring problem last week. The private laboratories that test foods from companies on the government’s 'import alert list' cannot automatically report tainted food to the Food and Drug Administration. Instead, they must give their reports to the importer who is paying for the test. If a shipment fails one laboratory’s test, some importers have switched to a less-reputable laboratory to get the tainted foodstuff through. That cannot be allowed. When labs find a batch of food with too much pesticide or salmonella or worse, they should be required to alert the F.D.A., not hope the companies will come clean for them.

"The F.D.A. needs to follow through on promises to determine which companies abroad are more trustworthy and which require closer scrutiny. One quick solution would be to immediately require accreditation of private laboratories through the International Standards Organization. The best labs would welcome that certification."
"After years of mollycoddling the industry, the Bush administration needs to start protecting America’s consumers. Many members of the food industry now understand that they are losing their customers’ confidence, which means they’re in danger of losing their business.

"The Food Marketing Institute — with 1,500 members, including major grocery chains and wholesalers — is calling for new rules that would allow the government to recall any food shipment if the producer or importer hesitates. That makes sense to us. Americans need to be a lot more confident that what is on sale at the corner grocery is safe enough to eat."

* Clusterfuck Nation. excerpt:

"The great debate among those of us on the Economy Deathwatch seems to be whether the debacle we observe around us will resolve as a crash or a slow-motion financial train wreck. It seems to me that at every layer of the system, we're susceptible to both -- in tradable paper, institutional legitimacy, individual solvency, productive activity, real employment, 'consumer' behavior, and energy resources. Some things are crashing as I write.

"The dollar is losing about a cent every three weeks against other currencies. A penny doesn't seem like much, but keep that pace up for another year and the world's 'reserve currency' becomes the world's reserve toilet paper. Oil prices are poised to enter the triple-digit realm, the psychological effect of which may be jarring to 200 million not-so-happy motorists. The value of chipboard-and-vinyl houses is tanking beyond question. Of course, the government's consumer price inflation figures and employment numbers are dismissed broadly as lacking credence. But anybody who has bought a bag of onions and a jar of jam lately knows that things are way up in the supermarket aisles, and so many illegal Mexican migrants were employed in the Sunbelt housing boom, that their absence in the bust won't register on any chart.

"It's hard to describe what constitutes the bulk of the stuff moving through the world's financial markets for the simple reason that it was purposely-designed to be so abstruse and provisional that traders would be too intimidated to ask what it represents -- and the growing terrified suspicion is that it's mostly worthless. By this I refer to the global freak show of derivatives, concocted 'plays' on hypothetical 'positions,' credit default swaps, arbitrages in imagined 'differentials,' nifty equations, hedges, promises, algorithms executed by robots, and 'off-book' wishes chartered in the Cayman Islands. Probably all of them, in one way or another, are just scams, since they are unaffiliated with productive activity."
"To some extent, the speed and severity of the financial train wreck will occur in a mutually reinforcing relation to what happens in the oil markets. The rise in price is only the mildest symptom of growing instability for the system that allocates the world's most critical resource. Even in the face of 'demand destruction,' weird changes are occurring in the way that the oil producers do business. The decline in export rates and the new spirit of 'oil nationalism' will take center stage now, even if the US economy seizes up. These phenomena will represent a new cycle in world affairs: the global contest for remaining fossil fuel resources.

"Sooner rather than later, the next symptom will appear: spot shortages around the US and hoarding behavior. This is what will finally wake the American public out of its long sleepwalk (and Matthew Simmons said this first, by the way) -- when the lines form at the gas stations and the tempers flare and the handguns come out of the glove compartments.

"In the financial markets and the economies of nations, it's not a case of either/or. It's a matter of either/and."

* Bonnie Prince Billy Live At Lunch, recorded at WFPK in June 2007.

* History of Billie Holliday's Washington, D.C. days.

* "A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say." -- Italo Calvino


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