By most accounts, the 159-nation World Trade Organization conference that ended Saturday, in Bali, Indonesia, hasn’t accomplished much. And that ignites yet another round of scrutiny about the WTO’s own relevance as a moderator with regulatory power over international commerce.
For despite approving measures that will lower even more barriers and potentially increase global trade in some $1 trillion dollars in the near future, the crucial issue of agricultural subsidies failed to gain traction and was all but disavowed by the wealthiest and biggest food exporting nations.
At its core, the issue boils down to whether big multinational corporate farms, which produce close to 50% of the food the world consumes and control much of the land where it’s produced, regardless of country, deserve to continue receiving multimillion dollar government aid packages.
On the other side of this equation, sits a myriad of small farms, still crucial to local economies throughout the developing world, which are being squeezed out of global trade, plagued by unfair competition from the big boys, and diminishing resources for a viable model of subsistence.
Thus the ‘Bali Package’ is more like a workable primer of the state of current global trade, as it prioritizes the lowering of trade barriers, so countries with the muscle to increase food exports can also optimize profits, while leaving intact the issue of fairness of competition for small farmers.
The hopes of anti-poverty groups and food sovereign advocates were dashed when the WTO meeting chose not to press on steps that would increase environmental protections, improve farm labor regulations, and reaccess the organ’s role in boosting measures to reduce global hunger.
In the end, it was a victory for big corporations such as Monsanto and Tyson, and government policies of food-producing countries that focus on their agricultural goods-dependent economies and trade policies, regardless of the miserable conditions on the ground where they’re produced.
The irony of it, and believe us, there’s always some kind of cruel irony to be added whenever these expensive multi-country bodies gather, is that the meeting took place in Indonesia, a notorious ground of some of the world’s worst labor violations, including child labor e other abuses.
Just as Southeast Asia’s largest economy continues to contract (it reached its slowest pace of growth in four years, partly on its misguided protectionism policies), population growth in and around it is not expected to slowdown any time soon from its current over a billion people.
That obviously means more mouths to feed, and more pressure on the region’s assortment of fragile democracies, semi-restrictive regimes, and generally tumultuous politics, with strong undercurrents of religious fundamentalism and the threat of military radicalism still reeling from its recent past.
Such explosive mix keeps busy both environmental and human rights organizations, as well as a not negligible continent of geopolitical hawks that use the argument to successfully lobby for more armaments and inflated military defense budgets everywhere (specially, of course, in the U.S.).
There were, however, modest advances arduously pushed through during the WTO meeting, such as some temporary protections for food Continue reading →
World Cup Groups Set, a Weary Brazil Braces for the June Kickoff
The last regulation act before the start of next summer’s World Cup in Brazil took place yesterday: the tournament’s group drawing and first round schedule. It was pretty much one of the few things that happened on schedule. All else is far from running as smooth. In fact, all six stadiums being built or redone for the games will miss the December deadline, despite staggering costs (and so far, two casualties). Thus, if one could name a single thing that, for sure, will be doing its part, even if all else fails, that’d be the ball. But apart from that, an engineering feat named Brazuca, Brazilians remain weary about this tournament, despite their now proverbial, and much manipulated, passion for ‘futebol,’ and of course, that it’s taking place in their land. Not many more reasons to celebrate, otherwise. In June, dissatisfied with the way billions of dollars were being spent with the cup, while a decrepit network of hospitals and chronically underfunded schools were left to rot, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in mass rallies not seen since the 1980s, when similar crowds effectively ended 20-plus years of military dictatorship. Such dissatisfaction continues to brew, and by the time the ball starts to roll, pent up anger may be virtually impossible to contain. Some expect that a Brazil win could quell such feelings. Others are not so sure. In fact, while many think a win would be great, nice and all that, there seems to be a better sense of proportion this time around. READY FOR AN UPSET? Feeling they’ve been taken for a ride, which is reflected in every aspect of FIFA’s fingers on the setup of the games, from the way the competition is being sold to big wig sponsors to ticket prices, prohibitive to most locals, organizers may not have a clear idea what’s coming on their way. The case of last month’s spectacular collapse in São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, of the multi-million dollar, overbudget stadium that’s to host the cup opener, which killed two workers and caused significant Continue reading →
Among the terrible things that have been assailing that now all but unattainable American dream, starvation by retail, by which the industry’s been quickly getting to be known for, is arguably one of the stingiest and most cruel. Specially at this time of the year.
No longer working long and hard hours, in two, sometimes three jobs, with hardly any sleep to reboot and, underneath it all, a growling empty stomach, is enough to sustain oneself, feed the family, and protect the kids, even without getting into health care.
As once again depressing hordes of bargain hunters have trampled each other on Black Friday, in an annual crass display of consumerism, a couple of things became ever clearer across America, none of which is the irony that these ‘little people’ are the ones footing the bill of economic recovery.
What all this rush to mass purchase goods, mainly done by children in China and Bangladesh, have brought to the fore with particular intensity is that many of those standing from dawn to dusk, ready to serve, are depending on social programs and even on the charity of other employees to eat.
Also, that no matter how many piles of low quality inventory they help push out of the stores, their meager salary won’t be compounded by any archaic notion of a merit bonus system, or even a reliable contract that would include benefits. After the sale is over, so will be their extra hours.
But the biggest stain in the labor contract workers have been stuck with in present day U.S. of A. is the staggering, widening, obscenely humongous gap between what the big chiefs of the retail industry are making and what millions of peons who work for them see on their paychecks.
And no other company reflects more acutely such a divide as Wal-Mart, the country’s largest retailer, and the world’s second biggest company, which is still synonymous with the opulence and callous lack of empathy routinely sported by the children and family of its founder.
Even though the Waltons have only one of its own in the board, there should be no doubt about who controls it, and where does such Continue reading →
It happened before and, if you’re not in a hurry, it’ll happen again. Good luck with that, though. And good luck with one of the most loaded of the American holidays, both celebrated and vilified for its special brand of family time, the kind that often verges on murder. Thanksgiving, which after Thursday, will only conflate with Hanukka again in the year 79811, is being called Thanksgivukkah this time around, in what Wikipedia insists is a portmanteau but that’s not for reasons we’re sure our illustrious readership knows so well.
As if eating overfed, extra-hormone stuffed, hardly a bird at this point at all, turkey were not enough, we’re already feeling lazy and not up to the task to add yet another exquisite commentary to the joyous occasion (for some, naturally, not the turkeys).
After some three years, we did accumulate a nice share of posts on the subject, which we’ll proceed to lay on your plate, as you try to ignore the grand debate on healthcare and how ‘that Kenyan is ruining this country,’ while at the same time trying not to call attention to your text messaging.
Feel free to jump in with congratulatory asides and additional servings of praise for our foresight, which will only require a few tweaks, perhaps a dollop of the salsa du jour for flavor, and a few minutes in the microwave. Just like the leftovers you’re sentenced to have for the next several days.
For there’s little about this holiday that’s new and fresh, and this year particularly, the pickings are indeed slim. You have your White House sanctioned turkey pardons, the appalling conditions consumer-bound poultry is handled in this country and the need to raise them more humanely, and the multitude of well-intentioned souls who decide to go vegan at this time of the year out of sheer disgust.
But there’s something else going on, that may be important for astrophysics and scientists: a comet is about to zip by, head and tail, the sun. ISON, as it’s known, has been so far a disappointment all on its own, though. Earlier reports that it’d offer a stunning sky show have been greatly downgraded since.
Thus there’s little hope for you but to dive yourself among your family and friends, and hey, it doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, you should Continue reading →
A Bird With Multiple Names, Two Countries & Some Holiday Mash
This was supposed to be the definitive post on why turkeys are called turkeys, what they have to do with Turkey and Peru, and why would anyone care about it. Instead, it turned out to be just another holiday stupor, a tipsy search on the Internet and a million half-funny comments on why no one seems to have a clear idea.
So, risking making the article almost shorter than its headline, let’s just cover the highlights, while we check the oven and get properly loaded before the guests have parked at the curb.
Americans (including William Burroughs) hold Thanksgiving very dear to their hearts because the holiday is based on a historical folktale and, to this day, it’s still a family gathering by excellence in ways religious dates could never be.
Granted, at this point in time, it’s no longer all about the turkey. Aunts have various dietary needs. Some care only for the sweet potatoes and cranberry jam. And children became vegan and will have their own Tofurkey.
The cooking frenzy that used to animate families of yore have since lost much of its luster with the advent of live football and the Macy’s Parade on TV.
Besides, arguments usually ensue even before all relatives have arrived Continue reading →