Pretending to say no to austerity

French declare end to “austerity dogma.” Reuters: “The European Commission on Friday gave France two more years to meet its budget deficit target because of the country’s poor economic outlook within the recession-hit euro zone. ‘This is decisive, it’s a turn in the history of the European project since the start of the euro,’ Moscovici told French radio Europe 1 in an interview. ‘We have witnessed the ending of a certain form of financial austerity and the end of the austerity dogma.'”

Europe is only pretending to give up austerity, warns FT’s Wolfgang Münchau: “A good example of the new PR-based anti-austerity strategy came in speeches last week by Enrico Letta, Italy’s new prime minister. He railed against austerity, but at the same time emphasised his commitments to Italy’s fiscal targets, as if the two were somehow unrelated … If the eurozone were serious about a U-turn on austerity, the only effective way to accomplish this would be for the creditor countries to expand their fiscal positions during the recession. The opposite is happening.”

Britain’s austerity plan makes even less sense than before, finds Paul Krugman: “…even if you believe that markets would be unnerved by some relaxation of short-term fiscal austerity … how is this spike in long-term rates supposed to happen? … Osborne’s case for keeping on the path of harsh austerity isn’t just empirically implausible, it appears to be a complete conceptual muddle; they just haven’t thought this thing through.”

The political roots of American obesity

Interesting piece from Doug Kihn in Truthout. Absolutely, stress has a lot to do with it. When I got a divorce, bam! Dropped the weight. Hooked up with bad boyfriend? Put it right back on. Now in state of chronic money worry? Losing weight, but at an absolute crawl. I can tell you that the more money I made, the less I weighed. Hmm.

As social fear and insecurity rise, mental health declines.

Apparently, so does physical health. According to a new study from Rice University and the University Colorado at Boulder in Social Science Quarterly, despite modest gains in lifespan over the past century, the United States still trails many of the world’s countries when it comes to life expectancy, and its poorest citizens live approximately five years less than more affluent people. The United States, which spends far more money on medical care than other advanced industrialized countries, has the sickest residents in every category of unwellness.

The result of all of this hysteria and whip-cracking on the backs of the American workforce is that we feel harried and harassed, with little reward to show for it. Mental health has been worsening for a long time in the United States, and this mental decline has been the culprit behind so many – probably the majority – of physical health problems as well. One of them, as we shall see later, is obesity.

Chinese medicine can help to make sense of most mental and physical problems in the United States and organize them into three main categories: those of chronic tension, excessive interior heat and excess weight. Together, they form a super-syndrome some would call the American Syndrome, since it seems to be a universal phenomenon.

Chronic tension is caused by worrying, and all its avatars – anxiety, fear, guilt, remorse, dread. Excessive interior heat results from the friction caused by it hurrying and worrying, while excess weight – which can manifest as obesity – is the result of habitual overeating.

These three inappropriate and harmful activities – worrying, hurrying, and overeating – are daily choices that Americans make, and these choices are driving them crazy. Mental health in the country is going to hell in a hand basket.

Go read the rest.

Wage theft, sushi style

I think any employer who can get away with it is practicing some form of wage theft at this point, whether it’s stealing tips or misclassifying workers as independent contractor to avoid paying their taxes:

On May 1, International Worker’s Day, a half circle of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) members and supporters surrounded the entrance to Fat Salmon, a high-end sushi restaurant in Philadelphia. They watched as Diana A. (she asked her last name not be used) walked into the restaurant to deliver a prepared statement denouncing, among other things, what some workers have described as an intricate system for stealing their tips.

Diana and two other workers have been “on strike” since last April 15, when they confronted the restaurant’s owner, Jack Yoo, with a similar statement listing their grievances. The May Day document included the names of four other employees who are still working but signed on in support. (Fat Salmon workers are not unionized, but the National Labor Relations Act protects any worker, union or not, who “engage in…concerted activities for the purpose of… mutual aid or protection.”)
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Valley fever

As the climate changes so dramatically, we’re seeing all kinds of new health threats as a result.

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — California and federal public health officials say valley fever, a potentially lethal but often misdiagnosed disease infecting more and more people around the nation, has been on the rise as warming climates and drought have kicked up the dust that spreads it.

The fever has hit California’s agricultural heartland particularly hard in recent years, with incidence dramatically increasing in 2010 and 2011. The disease — which is prevalent in arid regions of the United States, Mexico, Central and South America — can be contracted by simply breathing in fungus-laced spores from dust disturbed by wind as well as human or animal activity.
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What a brave new world

Yep. I have to admit, my friends were right about the dangers of GMO food. I didn’t want to believe it, because I’m 1) lazy and 2) poor, and didn’t want to have to search out special food, but I do it as much as possible now:

Biotech giant Syngenta has been criminally charged with denying knowledge that its genetically modified (GM) Bt corn kills livestock during a civil court case that ended in 2007 [1].

Syngenta’s Bt 176 corn variety expresses an insecticidal Bt toxin (Cry1Ab) derived from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and a gene conferring resistance to glufosinate herbicides. EU cultivation of Bt 176 was discontinued in 2007. Similar varieties however, including Bt 11 sweet corn are currently cultivated for human and animal consumption in the EU.

The charges follow a long struggle for justice by a German farmer whose dairy cattle suffered mysterious illnesses and deaths after eating Bt 176. They were grown on his farm as part of authorised field tests during 1997 to 2002. By 2000, his cows were fed exclusively on Bt 176, and soon illnesses started to emerge. He was paid 40 000 euros by Syngenta as partial compensation for 5 dead cows, decreased milk yields, and vet costs (see [2] Cows ate GM Maize and DiedSiS 21). During a civil lawsuit brought against the company by the farmer however, Syngenta refused to admit that its GM corn was the cause, claiming no knowledge of harm. The case was dismissed and Gloeckner remained thousands of euros in debt.

Cheaper

It doesn’t do the job, but it’s cheaper for employers and that’s really all that counts! Gin and Tacos:

Children born since the year ~1995 will need to have the concept of a pension explained to them. It will be about as relevant to their lives as the carburetor, the telephone switchboard operator, and the Victrola. And we will have to explain that after St. Ronnie descended from heaven and a lot of people in expensive suits spent ten years doing blow, corporate America came up with this great idea: rather than having a defined benefit, why not have defined contribution retirement plans? It would cost employers far less, sure, but it would benefit the working stiff, too! Why be saddled to a defined benefit when you can invest your money in Mutual Funds (remember when those were all the rage? Gosh, I Love the 90s!tm) and watch it grow, like, 10-15% per year! Hell, maybe 20%.

The internet came along at just the right time to make this seem plausible. Look! Websites! E-Trade! You can be your own stockbroker! Sure, nobody really understands any of this shit, but… Mutual Funds! A trained monkey could pick those, and our Investment Professionals take care of the rest. You just get a drink with an umbrella in it, sit back, and watch your money grow.

Now that this new era of capitalism is mature – if any aspect of such a scheme can be so labeled – it turns out that the estimates of future gains may have been slightly exaggerated. Maybe we all were a tad optimistic. So maybe it has been more like 5% annualized, if you’re lucky. And then there’s the Investment Professionals. Boy, we should maybe have screened them a little more carefully, or supervised them a little, or maybe not incentivised gambling with your money for short-term gains. And then there was that whole real estate thing, which no one could have foreseen. Everyone knows that real estate is a good investment! OK, OK. Lessons learned.
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