December 21, 2014

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Seduced by the food on your plate: Exploring the poetics and politics of food

For Robert Burns (haggis), Virginia Woolf (sausage, haddock), and Emily Dickinson (Black Cake), appetite was important to art. From the recipe novel to the celebrity chef, renowned scholar Sandra M. Gilbert explores the poetics and politics of food.

Seduced by the food on your plate
Patricia Storace The New York Review of Books USA December 18, 2014

The Culinary Imagination: From Myth to Modernity by Sandra M. Gilbert. Published by W. W. Norton & Company, August 2014. ISBN-10: 0393067653; ISBN-13: 978-0393067651


Boris Kustodiev: The Merchant’s Wife’s Tea, 1918. Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg

In the seventeenth century, as the Ming dynasty was falling, its great historian and memoirist Zhang Dai revised his grandfather Zhang Rulin’s History of Cooked Food and renamed it The Old Glutton’s Collection. In his preface, which is all that remains of this lost work, he cites many Chinese classics of gastronomy and he describes Confucius’s refined appetite and way of eating as a kind of incarnate philosophy of how to live. He justifies his presumption in editing his grandfather’s work:

I have been blessed with the ability to distinguish between the taste of the water of the Sheng and of the Zi rivers, to tell when the flesh of the goose is that of a black or a white one, know whether the chicken has perched in the open air or when the meat has been cooked over firewood that is already worn-out….1

The exquisite acuteness and depth of Zhang Dai’s ability to taste is an expression of developed knowledge: not only his own, but also his ancestors’ accumulated knowledge of geography, botany, biology, animal husbandry, techniques of cookery, nature, tradition, and the passing of time. Eating with disciplined excellence is a search for wisdom. The practice of eating philosophically can also be seen as a microcosm of ideal government, as the roots of the word “gastronomy” itself invoke, meaning the legislation of the stomach, of the appetite.

This passage embeds, too, an oblique and unspoken elegy. Zhang Dai is conscious of the political threat that will destroy the world in which these tastes existed. When the Manchu conquered the Ming dynasty, Zhang Dai fled to the mountains, where he ended his days a starving refugee, writing his “dream memories” of that lost world and an inscription for his tomb, “For the people, food is Heaven/A greedy Dongpo/Starving at Solitary Bamboo.”2

There is nothing resembling this attitude toward gastronomic experience in Sandra Gilbert’s warmly enthusiastic and engaging exploration of largely American and sporadically European ways of approaching food in modern literature, film, and art, despite the book’s leisurely ramble along many culinary byways. The Culinary Imagination never earns its ambitious, definitive title. It is instead a much more partial work: an imaginative culinary survey, a kind of personal and intellectual cabinet of treasures, that shifts between literary analysis and personal recollection, even including a poignant, bittersweet gastronomic self-portrait of Gilbert herself.

The book moves panoramically through a great variety of culinary scenery; we view in passage a range of funeral foods and customs, sacramental feasts in both Greek and Roman antiquity and monotheism, the history of table manners and utensils, a select group of television chefs (Julia Child, but not Martha Stewart; Anthony Bourdain, but not Jamie Oliver), vignettes of cannibalism and of the radically utopian, Jain-like vegetarian diet imposed by the Transcendentalist Bronson Alcott on his Fruitlands commune. Alcott refused all “corrupting” animal food, and forbade the planting of such vegetables and roots as “grow downward instead of upward into the air.”

Gilbert takes us inside Emily Dickinson’s kitchen, which the poet envisioned as an exotic spice island called “Domingo.” She shares the poet’s recipe for Black Cake, in a lovely evocation of how magically the flavors of a dish can seem to bring the dead to momentary life in our presence.

We catch a glimpse of a Renaissance banquet centerpiece designed by Andrea del Sarto to resemble the Baptistery of Florence:

The pavement was made of jelly and resembled a variously colored mosaic; the columns, which looked like porphyry, were large sausages; the bases and capitals parmesan cheese…. In the center was a choir-stall made of cold veal…. The singers were roast thrushes with open beaks, wearing surplices of pig’s caul….

I wish Gilbert had told us the occasion for this display, which would have helped us to understand its underlying political meanings; we would then know better how del Sarto managed to keep a straight face as he worked hard for that Medici money.

A particularly strong section deals with modern children’s books with culinary themes. Through the works of writers like Roald Dahl and Maurice Sendak, Gilbert shows how terror—being swallowed up, poisoned, baked into pies, left to starve—is as prevalent a theme in children’s books as dreams of idyllic family life. These writers explore through fantasy, as fairy tales do, the unending reality of danger in children’s lives. The great early-nineteenth-century chef Carême, whose work was instrumental in Talleyrand’s diplomatic maneuvers at the Congress of Vienna in 1814–1815, was himself abandoned by his parents on a Paris street. It seems more than coincidence that he first made his reputation as a pastry cook who specialized in building elaborate, nearly indestructible pastries such as fantasy castles and temples out of sugar.

Both male and female writers described food in their work, but for male writers, making use of food in writing could enact an artistic possession of life in its full reality; for women, such writing became a stigma, an instant literary depreciation. Now, as Gilbert points out with palpable excitement, writers can permit themselves to think about food increasingly beyond the confines of literary class distinction.

What makes the new range and possibility of writing about food—by women and men—exciting is that we are witnessing a rare tectonic shifting of a deeply rooted aesthetic and moral hierarchy that extended to the visual arts as well as literature, in which, from the Greeks through Joshua Reynolds, still life was “relegated to the lowest rank,” as the art historian Norman Bryson wrote. Still life was a genre suitable for women painters and less talented male artists, representations of motionless and dying matter, a reminder of the sinful and contemptible mortality of the human body, its appetites and extinction the visible evidence of sin.

The idea that death is above all a punishment for sin, and that appetite is demeaning, has altered. It seems apropos that in 2004, the famous French bread baker Lionel Poilane joined with Paul Bocuse and a number of other French cultural figures in writing a charming, playful, but sincere plea to the Pope to remove gluttony from the list of mortal sins.

For centuries, the image of Eve and her apple served as a memento mori and an emblem of sin. As Nina Simone sang in her joyous and bitter song “Forbidden Fruit,” “You went ahead and et it, now you’re gonna get it.” We seem to have arrived at a moment when we are able to see the apple as a source less of sin than of knowledge. Instead of cursing Eve for tasting the apple, now we are beginning to ask, What did she find out?

Posted at: December 21, 2014 - 3:10 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman: Using their brains and wit to shine lights into the dark places that give the NFL a bad name

Jim comment: I’m not a football fan—baseball and soccer are my sports enthusiasms. But I am a huge Seattle Seahawks fan. I never miss a game. Current champions of the American game, they are a class act all the way from the owner’s box to the coaches and players on the field.

I know it seems weird for someone who knows nothing – and cares even less – about football to go on and on about football players. But here’s the thing: this is a country in which we elevate our sports heroes to become national heroes of a sort. I don’t get it, but it is what it is. And here we have three men (one of whom I adore beyond all reason) who are using their fame in ways that are smart, powerful, intelligent, peaceful and, really hysterical.

They’re doing so in a league beleaguered by racism, misogyny, violence and a disregard for human welfare that people like me can’t ignore.

These guys are setting great examples for the people who look up to them.

- - Alyssa Royse, a freelance writer, speaker, fitness trainer and personal coach living in Seattle with her husband and their 3 daughters

I Wuv You Wichard Sherman. You Too Marshawn Lynch. (And Also Doug Baldwin.)
Alyssa Royse The Good Men Project USA November 26, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links and videos.

I know nothing about football. And I live in Seattle. So that takes a certain amount of willful obstinance on my part.

If I’m being honest about it, what I do know about football, I don’t especially like. The league’s seemingly callous disregard for player safety enrages me. Oh, and that’s not to mention a callous disregard for the welfare of anyone associated with the league who isn’t a star player. Like, the cheerleaders, for instance. And I’m not even going to bring up the whole domestic violence mess, because….well.

I’m out of the PR game, have been for a while, but I hope the NFL is paying attention to these guys. They are using their brains and wit to shine lights into the dark places that give the NFL a bad name. If I were running your PR, I’d tell you not to silence them or punish them, but to give them a bigger platform. They are making you better. They are making you more approachable, less reprehensible to those of us with a social conscience.

Posted at: December 21, 2014 - 3:07 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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Fact-checking five “crazy” things Stephen Harper said to Peter Mansbridge

The Broadbent Institute is an independent, non-partisan organization championing progressive change through the promotion of democracy, equality, and sustainability and the training of a new generation of leaders. Press Progress is a project of the Broadbent Institute.

VIDEO: Fact-checking five “crazy” things Stephen Harper said to Peter Mansbridge
Press Progress Canada December 18, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links. The video excerpts from the interview run 2:26.

We thought Stephen Harper hit peak “crazy” last week.

But the prime minister may have reached a new plateau Wednesday night, rattling off the word “crazy” a handful of times during an exchange about oil and the environment with Peter Mansbridge on CBC. Our musical “fact check” video covers some of his most outrageous statements, followed by a five-point breakdown.

The breakdown:

Posted at: December 21, 2014 - 3:03 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

December 20, 2014

Weekly Headlines

Click on a headline below to go to that news item

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Commentary

Trying to tame a nation: Obama and Cuba, doing a good thing for the wrong reasons?

World News

Rebuilding a nation: Putin addresses the bears & Detaching Russia’s economy from that of the Western Axis: The trade in diamonds, hydrocarbon-based energy and currencies

Commentary

ISIS—the new Israel & In response to our scary world: Nation building by Israel; Islamic State; Iran

Commentary

They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps: Breitbart praises Stephen Harper as the true leader of ‘North American values’

National News

Peering behind the facade: Gap between rich and poor greater than most Canadians think

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Commentary

Turmoil in Hong Kong, terrorism in Xinjiang: America’s covert war on China

Commentary

Economic warfare the main Western Axis weapon. A former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and the head of Russia’s external intelligence agency agree Western Axis responsible for ruble, oil price collapse. Dispatches from the war

Commentary

Western Axis war on its own people: How much longer will people allow themselves to be scammed or, worse, robbed? Trickle-down economics? It’s a scam, confirms OECD & The global bankers’ coup: Bail-in and the shadowy Financial Stability Board

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Living

Hanukkah: Bringing light into a dark time

World News

Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown. Social science is being militarized to develop ‘operational tools’ to target peaceful activists and protest movements

Commentary

The government most Japanese don’t want. Abe liquidating the three basic charters on which post-war Japan rests

Environment

Civil society—angry, frightened, restless. Immigration and terrorism will increase with climate change, says military leader & Level of opposition to the dangers of transporting explosive oil in DOT-111 rail cars continues to grow

National News

Not just falling oil prices and fierce British Columbia civil society protests challenging Harper’s petrostate dreams: EU effort to label tarsands dirty not dead yet & Liberals, following NDP, create distance from Energy East

Monday, December 15, 2014

World News

Venice Commission (European Commission for Democracy through Law) faults Ukraine’s law on government cleansing & Russia: Lavrov says Russia wants east Ukraine to stay with Kiev under reformed constitution; Medvedev says the planned economic cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union looks very much like neo-colonialism

Commentary

How Ayn Rand helped turn the U.S. into a selfish, greedy nation

Commentary

There are lies, damn lies, and Stephen Harper & Voters ready to embrace coalition to remove Harper from PMO

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Commentary

USA framing China as the great betrayer of peace and security in the South China Sea. On the folly of the American “strategists” in South China Sea: From “assuring freedom of navigation” to “drill, baby, drill” in the South China Sea

Commentary

Japan: Election result ensures rip-roaring asset prices and a continued shift of income and wealth to the rich, restarting of nuclear reactors and strengthening the nation’s military, all of which a majority of Japanese oppose

Commentary

Harper got it right: The UN’s so-called plan to fight climate change is a socialist, money-sucking scheme & Lima climate conference tensions may bring storm clouds to Paris

Posted at: December 20, 2014 - 7:01 am -- Posted by: SSNews -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

December 19, 2014

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Delegates to UN conference struggle over weak proposal: World climate deal further away after disappointing Peru talks

Nick Fillmore is a Canadian freelance journalist who specializes in covering climate change issues and financial matters. He worked as an investigative journalist, documentary maker and producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for nearly 30 years. He blogs at A Different Point of View.

World climate deal further away after disappointing Peru talks
Nick Fillmore December 18, 2014

With yet another United Nations-hosted climate change conference making very little real progress, a near miracle will be required if countries are to reach a meaningful and binding global agreement on carbon emissions in Paris next December.

The ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’ document, agreed to on Sunday by 194 countries, is not a new “deal” for the climate. It is a 12-month work plan leading to COP21 a year from now.

The major change – a victory for rich countries – expects countries with rising economies, such as China, India and South Africa, to take action on climate change in much the same way rich countries will contribute.

In another setback, developing countries gave up on a 20-year feud that caused considerable animosity between South and North. Rich countries will no longer be expected to carry the burden of cutting carbon emissions in the South with contributions of $10-billion a year to underdeveloped countries.

One of the very moves forward was a promise that countries already seriously threated by climate change – such as small islands being swallowed up by rising seas – will receive special compensation for their losses.

Following the meetings, which had to be extended by two days to reach any sort of an agreement, the European Union said “we are on track to agree to a global deal” at the Paris summit. Even so, officials admitted that decisions put off concerning a great many issues will lead to difficult discussions next year.

Many NGOs are angry over what they see as a lack of progress. A frustrated Sam Smith of the World Wildlife Fund said that “the text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.”

Rising temperatures still a threat

NGOs warned the plan was not nearly strong enough to limit warming to the internationally agreed limit of 2C above pre-industrial levels. Already more than seven-million people, mostly in developing countries, are dying prematurely yearly from pollution. 

If the world is to have a meaningful climate change agreement 12 months from now, countries will need to overcome some enormous challenges.  

First of all, the UN has been facilitating these negotiations for 20 years with barely any success. This is because the UN has no power in the process to make any country implement anything. In the developed world, powerful multi-national corporations that are responsible for a great deal of the damage have pressured governments into making hardly any concessions.  

Developing countries face greater challenges now. Concessionsmade in Peru mean they face a larger share of responsibility for fighting climate change. The South had been hoping to receive $10-billion a year from the North for 10 years to a total of $100-billion, but the issue was pretty well removed from the table in Peru. The $10-million amount was raised for this initial year, with the U.S. contributing the most, $3-billion.

Now the new Peru document says only that wealthy nations will help developing countries fight climate change by investing in energy technology or offering climate aid.

Twenty or 30 years ago, the United States and European countries likely would have been willing to provide several billions a year to poor countries, but now practically every so-called rich country is broke.

Pressure on South major emitters

Northern countries reiterated in Peru they expect the South’s major emitters to begin cutting back on carbon emissions. But this is unlikely to happen any time soon. China and India, the two biggest polluters in the South, say they will need to burn millions of tonnes of coal in the coming years so they can develop their economies.

The public interest group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) says that powerful multi-national corporations played a big role in making sure that the conference did not meet the expectations of many people present. They say that companies and their lobby organizations convinced western governments that if stronger emission controls were introduced many thousands of jobs would be lost.

To the shock of many participants, Shell Oil was permitted to speak at the main session about its preferred way of fighting carbon emissions – carbon capture and storage (CCS), a still unproven technology. Another oil giant, Chevron, was permitted to sponsor side events inside the negotiations.

No wonder the energy giants want to block emission regulations. A well-researched study released in September 2013 found that just 50 corporations were responsible for 73 per cent of the greenhouse gas emitted by the world’s 500 largest companies. Of the carbon-polluting corporations the most egregious offenders were within the energy sector and, as a whole, these companies were doing little to change their ways.

NGOs kept on the sidelines

Eighty-two NGOs and one International NGO were accredited as observers at the conference. The various drafts of the agreement were negotiated in secret, and any party making a statement was kept to three minutes.

NGOs had so little status in Lima that they had to get approval from the UN for the slogans placed on their protest banners. Neither countries nor corporations were allowed to be named on the banners. A march by 10,000 protesters had no impact on the proceedings.

Looking ahead to next year, the Peru agreement calls on countries to show by March how they will cut carbon emissions, but there’s no penalty if they fail to do so. If they receive enough detailed information, the UN will then see if the pledges will be enough to limit climate warming to 2C. But scientists are already saying projections will be above the 2C target.

Given the track record of most countries of holding back on climate change commitments, it’s likely the UN and all 194 countries will be operating in crisis mode again next year.

For now, the delegates are returning home to get some well-deserved rest. But they can be expected to be back working hard within a few days in their effort to try and pull off a miracle 12 months from now.

Posted at: December 19, 2014 - 3:02 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

December 18, 2014

Trying to tame a nation: Obama and Cuba, doing a good thing for the wrong reasons?

Jim comment: For what its worth, I think this stems from a desperate desire to bring Cuba firmly back into America’s sphere of influence and to impose all that that implies. The US is losing the control it used to have over Latin America and it is not happy. This is the start of an attempt to prevent further Cuba’s growing ties to China and Russia (more extensive every day) and to blunt Venezuela’s influence, not only economically but also ideologically, i.e., the Bolivarian Revolution (popular democracy, economic independence, equitable distribution of revenues, and an end to political corruption).

U.S. and Cuba: Is it the start of a new relationship?
Amy Goodman rabble.ca Canada December 18, 2014

The failed United States policy against Cuba, which has for more than half a century stifled relations between these neighbouring countries and inflicted generations of harm upon the Cuban people, may finally be collapsing. On Wednesday morning, we learned that Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor convicted in Cuba for spying, had been released after five years in prison. Another person, an unnamed Cuban imprisoned in Cuba for 20 years for spying for the U.S., was also released. This has made global headlines. Less well explained in the U.S. media are the three Cubans released from U.S. prisons. They are the three remaining jailed members of the Cuban Five. The Cuban Five were arrested in the late 1990s on espionage charges. But they were not spying on the United States government. They were in Miami, infiltrating Cuban-American paramilitary groups based there that were dedicated to the violent overthrow of the Cuban government.

By noon Wednesday, President Barack Obama made it official — this was not just a simple prisoner exchange: “Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba. … I’ve instructed Secretary [of State John] Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.”

It was President Dwight Eisenhower who severed relations with Cuba, on Jan. 3, 1961, two years after Fidel Castro took power. President John F. Kennedy then expanded the embargo. Months after Kennedy took office, the CIA invasion of the Bay of Pigs, intending to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro, went awry. It is universally considered one of the greatest military fiascos of the modern era. Scores were killed, and Cuba imprisoned more than 1,200 CIA mercenaries.

Cuba became a flash point, most notably as the Soviet Union attempted to place short-range nuclear missiles on the island, precipitating the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. This episode is widely considered the closest that nations have come to all-out nuclear war. The U.S. also tried to assassinate Castro. While the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee identified eight such attempts, Fabian Escalante, the former head of Cuban counterintelligence, uncovered at least 638 assassination attempts.

The Cuban revolution has its critics, but the transformation of daily life there can’t be denied. Throughout the 1950s, under dictator Fulgencio Batista, most Cubans suffered in dire poverty, with scant access to education, health care or decent-paying jobs. The Batista regime was brutal, engaging in arbitrary arrests, torture and executions. Batista allied himself with the U.S. Mafia, personally profiting from widespread corruption, especially from the opulent hotels and casinos in Havana. Today, Cubans enjoy the same life expectancy as their neighbors in the U.S. and experience less infant mortality. Cuba has among the highest literacy rates in the world, surpassed only by Finland, Denmark, New Zealand and Australia, according to the United Nations Development Program, which ranks the U.S. as 21st globally, two notches above Kazakhstan.

Cuba, often battered by hurricanes, has developed one of the best disaster-response medical systems in the world. They recently deployed 250 doctors to West Africa to combat Ebola. Then-President Fidel Castro offered to send 1,500 doctors to the U.S. in 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The administration of George W. Bush did not respond.

The embargo has long been central to national electoral politics, as the Cuban community in Miami, many of whom have long been staunchly anti-Castro, has been considered crucial to winning Florida in a presidential election. Miami also has served as the haven for anti-Castro terrorist groups. One of the Cuban Five, Rene Gonzalez, was released in 2011 after 13 years in prison. I spoke to him from Cuba in 2013. He told me, “It was part of our development or common experience to have seen people coming from Miami raiding our shores, shooting at hotels, killing people here in Cuba, blowing up airplanes.”

In 1976, an Air Cubana flight was blown up by terrorists. It exploded in midair, killing all 73 people on board. In 1997, hotels across Havana were bombed, with one Italian tourist killed. Former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles took responsibility for the hotel bombings, and evidence strongly links him to the bombing of the airliner. The Cuban Five were guilty of investigating the terrorist activities of these men, and the non-profit front groups that supported them, like the Cuban American National Foundation and Brothers to the Rescue. Posada Carriles currently lives in Florida, a free man.

The Cold War is over. Cuba’s government is communist, but so are the governments of China and Vietnam, both of which have deep ties to the U.S. The 11 million people of Cuba, as well as all of us in the U.S., deserve an open connection as neighbours, based on equality, grounded in peace.

Posted at: December 18, 2014 - 3:54 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Rebuilding a nation: Putin addresses the bears & Detaching Russia’s economy from that of the Western Axis: The trade in diamonds, hydrocarbon-based energy and currencies

At least 80% of the Russian population stands solidly behind Vladimir Putin. He has brought them universal education, health care and fixed infrastructure that was decaying after the fall of the Soviet Union. The range of answers at Vladimir Putin’s annual meeting with the media varied from purely practical to practically poetic and even personal.

Western nations want to chain ‘the Russian bear’ – Putin
RT Russia December 18, 2014


Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference in Moscow on December 18, 2014. Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP. Visit this page for its audio links.

Western nations want to chain “the Russian bear,” pull out its teeth and ultimately have it stuffed, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned. He said anti-Russian sanctions are the cost of being an independent nation.

Putin used the vivid metaphor of a “chained bear” during his annual Q&A session with the media in Moscow in response to a question about whether he believed that the troubles of the Russian economy were payback for the reunification with Crimea.

“It’s not payback for Crimea. It’s the cost of our natural desire to preserve Russia as a nation, a civilization and a state,” Putin said.

The president said that even if “the Russian bear” started “sitting tight… and eating berries and honey,” this would not stop pressure being applied against the country.

“They won’t leave us alone. They will always seek to chain us. And once we are chain, they’ll rip out our teeth and claws. Our nuclear deterrence, speaking in present-day terms,” Putin said.

“As soon as this [chaining the bear] happens, nobody will need it anymore. They’ll stuff it. And start to put their hands on his Taiga [Siberian forest belt] after it. We’ve heard statements from Western officials that Russia’s owning Siberia was not fair,” he exclaimed.

“Stealing Texas from Mexico – was that fair? And us having control over our own land is not fair. We should hand it out!”

The West had an anti-Russian stance long before the current crisis started, Putin said. The evidence is there, he said, ranging from“direct support of terrorism in the North Caucasus,” to the expansion of NATO and the creation of its anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe, and the way the western media covered the Olympic Games in Sochi, Putin said.

Related: Below: Cutting out the Western Axis middle men?

Russia’s Alrosa to sell more diamonds direct to India
The Economic Times India December 10, 2014

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Russia’s state-controlled diamond monopoly Alrosa will sign a dozen deals with Indian buyers on Thursday to increase direct deliveries to Asia’s third-largest economy, as financial capital Mumbai aspires to expand as a trading hub.

Alrosa earns half of its revenue, or around $2.5 billion, from Indian-funded clients. Most of its sales go via trading centres like Antwerp, Dubai or Tel Aviv, with $700 million coming from direct sales of rough diamonds to India-based companies.

The direct deals, to be signed during a visit to India by President Vladimir Putin, would reduce the cut taken by middlemen in the secretive precious gems trade.

“A lot of our Indian customers buy rough diamonds through Antwerp or Dubai. For them it will be more comfortable to deal directly,” Alrosa Vice President Andrey Polyakov told Reuters in New Delhi.

Putin and his host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are expected to preside over the signing of the contracts at a diamond industry conference during the Kremlin chief’s one-day visit to New Delhi.

India does not produce any of its own rough diamonds but cuts and polishes around 80 per cent of the world’s output, its Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) estimates.

“Only a few big diamond players are purchasing directly, otherwise most of the stones come through middlemen,” said Sabyasachi Ray, executive director at the GJEPC. “That increases the transaction costs and adds (to) the burden on the industry.”

While a direct sales route to India might reduce risks linked to Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for an uprising in eastern Ukraine, India will also need to streamline its tax and import rules if direct trade is to take off.

“India will have to simplify procedures and relax taxation for direct diamond trade,” said Ray. His industry group has proposed allowing diamond imports by consignment and assessing taxes based on the presumed value of shipments.

Alrosa is the world’s leading diamond miner, accounting for 27 per cent of global production by carats. Output totalled 36.9 million carats last year, the company says.

Below: Peter Koenig is an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also a former World Bank staffer and worked extensively around the world in the fields of environment and water resources. He writes regularly for a number of publications. Peter Koenig travels widely giving seminars on money and is the author of 30 Lies About Money. He is also the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed – fiction based on facts and on 30 years of World Bank experience around the globe.

Free fall of the Ruble – A brilliant ploy of Russian economic Wizards? Who’s chess game?
Peter Koenig Vineyard of the Saker International December 18, 2014

The world is still hell-bent for hydrocarbon-based energy. Russia is the world’s largest producer of energy. Russia has recently announced that in the future she will no longer trade energy in US dollars, but in rubles and currencies of the trading partners. In fact, this rule will apply to all trading. Russia and China are detaching their economies from that of the West. To confirm this decision, in July 2014 Russia’s Gazprom concluded a 400 billion gas deal with China, and in November this year they signed an additional slightly smaller contract – all to be nominated in rubles and yuan.

The remaining BRICS – Brazil, India and South Africa – plus the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kirgizstan, Uzbekistan and considered for membership since September 2014 are also India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Mongolia, with Turkey also waiting in the wings – will also trade in their local currencies, detached from the dollar-based western casino scheme. A host of other nations increasingly weary of the decay of the western financial system which they are locked into are just waiting for a new monetary scheme to emerge. So far their governments may have been afraid of the emperor’s wrath – but gradually they are seeing the light. They are sensing the sham and weakness behind Obama’s boisterous noise. They don’t want to be sucked into the black hole, when the casino goes down the drain.

To punish Russia for Ukraine, Obama is about to sign into law major new sanctions against Russia, following Congress’s unanimous passing of a recent motion to this effect. – That is what the MSM would like you to believe. It is amazing that ten months after the Washington instigated Maidan slaughter and coup where a Washington selected Nazi Government was put in place, the MSM still lies high about the origins of this government and the massacres it is committing in the eastern Ukraine Donbass area.

Congress’s unanimity – what Congress and what unanimity? – Out of 425 lawmakers, only 3 were present for the vote http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article40489.htm. The others may have already taken off for their year-end recess, or simply were ‘ashamed’ or rather afraid to object to the bill. As a matter of fact, of the three who were present to vote, two at first objected. Only after a bit of arm-twisting and what not, they were willing to say yes. This is how the ‘unanimous’ vote came to be, as trumpeted by the MSM – unanimous by three votes! The public at large is duped again into believing what is not.

What new sanctions does this repeatedly propagated bill entail? – It addresses mostly Russian energy companies and defense industry with regard to sales to Syria, as well more anti-Russia propaganda and ‘democratization’ programs in Ukraine – and Russia; all countries with the objective for regime change.

How do these sanctions affect Russia, especially since all Russian energy sales are no longer dollar denominated? – Sheer propaganda. The naked emperor once more is calling an unsubstantiated bluff. To show his western stooges who is in power. It’s an ever weaker showoff.

Now – as a consequence of declining oil prices and of western ‘sanctions’ – of course, what else? – Russia’s economy is suffering and the ruble is in free fall. Since the beginning of the year it lost about 60%; last week alone 20%. As a result and after serious consideration, says MSM, the Russian Central Bank decided a few days ago to increase the interest of reference from 10.5% to 17% to make the ruble more attractive for foreign investors. It worked only for a few hours. Raising the interbank interest was Putin’s reply to Obama’s bluff – feeding at the same time western illusion about Russia’s decline.

The propaganda drums tell you Russia is helpless because the world has lost the last bit of confidence in President Putin – of course. Regime change is on the agenda. Mr. Putin must be blamed as the culprit, hoping to discredit him with his people. He is leading Russia into a deep recession; the worst since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The mainstream media show you interviews with average mainstreet Russians saying they have lost all their savings, their salaries and pensions are worth nothing anymore and they don’t know how to survive this coming calamity.

In reality, at least 80% of the Russian population stands solidly behind Vladimir Putin. He has brought them universal education, health care and fixed infrastructure that was decaying after the fall of the Soviet Union. President Putin is literally revered as a hero by the vast majority of Russians – including the country’s oligarchy.

In fact, nobody in the western economic system these days is dealing in rubles. In short-sighted connivance with Washington, the treasuries of the western vassals are releasing their ruble reserves – which Russia does not buy, thereby flooding the market. Russia not only has large dollar reserves, plus the ruble is backed by gold, a fact consistently omitted in the MSM. For now, Russia prefers to let the ruble plummet.

Under another ‘arrangement’ by bully Obama, Middle Eastern oil producing puppets like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are overproducing and flooding the market with petrol and gas, thereby driving the price down to the ostensible detriment of Russia and Venezuela, both countries where Washington vies for regime change. A double whammy thinks Washington, buying kudos with the stooges. The sheiks that control their energy output apparently have been promised enough goodies from Washington to bite the bullet and take their own losses.

Russia needs rubles. That’s her currency. That is the currency Russia needs for future trading – detached from the western monetary system.

When Russia deems that her currency has reached rock-bottom, she will buy back cheap rubles in the market with massive amounts of dollars. Russia may then flood the western market – with dollars, and by now we know what that does to a currency – and simultaneously buy back rubles from the West. A brilliant move to reestablish Russia’s currency in a new emerging monetary system – which Europe would be welcome to join, but willingly, no by Washington style arm-twisting.

Is this another precursor to war? A nuclear confrontation or Cold War II? – Precursor to a false flag attempting Moscow to fall into the trap? – Not necessarily. Russia is playing a clever chess game, diplomacy at its best. Instead of sabre rattling – Russia is coin rattling. It might lead to a western financial fiasco early in 2015 for the dollar and euro denominated economies. And the winner is…?

Below: Jim comment: Offered for consideration only. This often ‘tin-hatty’ site is highly suspect. It appears to be a stage for extreme American-style libertarian propaganda. Its About section begins, “European Union Times is an international newspaper based in Europe with operational branches in America and Canada. Our online edition of The European Union Times (also known as The EU Times) is constantly updated to bring you the top news stories from around the world. It is produced by a dedicated staff from the European Union and by contributors from all around the world.” I haven’t been able to verify any of that. For what its worth, WHOIS results indicate the site is registered in Panama. In the following item, the source is said to be WhatDoesItMean.com, (see Sorcha Faal). Most of its imbedded links are to Cato Institute essays. The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Ed Crane, Murray Rothbard, and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries. In July 1976, the name was changed to the Cato Institute. Cato was established to have a focus on public advocacy, media exposure and societal influence. The Institute’s website states, “The mission of the Cato Institute is to originate, disseminate, and increase understanding of public policies based on the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.” You have been warned. I’m posting it here because it contains enough verifiable information to be of relevant interest.

Putin orders feared “Samson Defense” to collapse US-EU economies
EU Times ? December 17, 2014

Visit this page for its embedded links.

A chilling report published today by the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) is warning of potentially “catastrophic unknown consequences” relating to President Putin’s issuance to the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) of orders to initiate what is commonly known within the Kremlin as the “Samson Defense” designed to crash the Russian ruble, while at the same time insuring the economic collapse of both the United States and European Union.

The CBR’s “Samson Defense” is a Russian monetary strategy designed to economically mirror Israel’s feared “Samson Option” deterrence strategy of massive retaliation with nuclear weapons as a “last resort” if military attacks threaten its existence.

In Putin’s action against the US-EU, this report says, the CBR’s stunning move earlier today in raising the interest rate to 17% from 10.5% has had its desired consequence as the ruble plunged more than 20% and to date and has now lost about 57% of its value versus the US dollar since the start of the year, which exceeds the 36% plunge related to the 2008 global economic crisis.

Most importantly to note about this currency plunge, however, this report notes, are that Russia’s fiscal domestic accounts are denominated in depreciating rubles and its oil exports are invoiced in an appreciating US dollar, meaning that the fiscal blow from lower oil prices will be cushioned by a weak ruble, and was a strategy that Putin warned about earlier when he stated that the Federation was braced for a “catastrophic” slump in oil prices.

Equally as important to note, MED analysts in this report say, the CBR agreed to lend money this week against 625 billion rubles (over $10 billion) of bonds freshly printed by oil giant Rosneft allowing it to hoard its export dollars and meet a $10 billion loan repayment later this month, and another $4 billion in February.

As to how catastrophically low oil prices can fall, this report continues, it notes that OPEC has already stated that they are willing to push prices as low as $40 a barrel in their bid to take on Russia and US shale, a stance which began this past September when the Obama regime reached a secret deal with Saudi Arabia in order to flood the world with oil to collapse the Russian economy, but which has now backfired on them as the Saudis seek to bankrupt US shale producers too.

With 15% of US shale gas producers are already losing money because of the Obama regimes secret deal with Saudi Arabia, this report warns, up to half of all of Americas shale operations will face financial ruin if oil prices slip below $55 a barrel leaving millions without jobs in an already collapsing economy.

To the ability of the Federation withstanding a “Samson Defense” economic war against the US and EU, this report says, it should be noted that the current debt of the US stands at a staggering $18 trillion [an amount so large it is now mathematically impossible to ever pay back] while the EU is, likewise, at a equally staggering amount of €12 trillion ($15 trillion).

Compared to the combined US-EU debt of $30 trillion, this report notes, Russia has only $678 billion in foreign debt, has very little outstanding debt and its public debt to gross domestic product ratio is 10% – an excellent figure compared to the EU’s dismal average ratio of 90.9 and the US’s 71.8%.

Likewise to note, MED analysts in this report say, is that while Russia’s debt to GDP is roughly 14%, the EU currently stands at 90.9%, the US at 80.2%, and Japan’s at 227%, meaning, simply, that the Federation can withstand any economic hardship the Western alliance puts against it.

Also, and as independent analysts confirm, Moscow‘s coffers are well-filled, giving Russia the durability to weather a double external shock – tanking oil prices and Western sanctions.

The Finance Ministry controls two sovereign wealth funds, which contained some $172 billion as of December. The money, held in foreign currency, has been accumulated during the past 15 years of high oil and gas revenues and has been earmarked as a piggy bank, primarily for the pension system.

Additionally, the CBR’s overall foreign currency reserves stood at a healthy $416.2 billion dollars in early December.

And most critical to note about the “Samson Defense”, this report concludes, is that Russia will not cut its oil production against the headwinds of collapsing prices, and may, indeed, increase its amount as the plunging ruble, combined with a rising US dollar, actually makes Federation oil the most affordable in the world.

Posted at: December 18, 2014 - 3:30 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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ISIS—the new Israel & In response to our scary world: Nation building by Israel; Islamic State; Iran

Canada has joined the vast multi-national war effort against ISIS, but the group’s origins and motivations remain only sketchily understood by most Canadians… even as “know your enemy” remains the most important adage in the fight against terrorism.

ISIS—the new Israel
Chris Hedges Truthdig USA December 15, 2014


Demonstrators chant Islamic State slogans last June as they carry the group’s flag in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul in Iraq. Photo: AP. Visit this page for its embedded links.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is our Frankenstein. The United States after a decade of war in Iraq pieced together its body parts. We jolted it into life. We bathed it in blood and trauma. And we gave it its intelligence. Its dark and vicious heart of vengeance and war is our heart. It kills as we kill. It tortures as we torture. It carries out conquest as we carry out conquest. It is building a state driven by hatred for American occupation, a product of the death, horror and destruction we visited on the Middle East. ISIS now controls an area the size of Texas. It is erasing the borders established by French and British colonial powers through the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. There is little we can do to stop it.

ISIS, ironically, is perhaps the only example of successful nation-building in the contemporary Middle East, despite the billions of dollars we have squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its quest for an ethnically pure Sunni state mirrors the quest for a Jewish state eventually carved out of Palestine in 1948. Its tactics are much like those of the Jewish guerrillas who used violence, terrorism, foreign fighters, clandestine arms shipments and foreign money, along with horrific ethnic cleansing and the massacre of hundreds of Arab civilians, to create Israel. Antagonistic ISIS and Israeli states, infected by religious fundamentalism, would be irreconcilable neighbors. This is a recipe for apocalyptic warfare. We provided the ingredients.

I and Loretta Napoleoni, the author of the book The Islamic Phoenix, spoke at a Dec. 2 event in Manhattan at the headquarters of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Napoleoni pointed out that the message imparted to Muslims by ISIS is radically different from that of other jihadist groups, especially al-Qaida. ISIS does not call for martyrdom and self-immolation. It has launched a jihad against secular and discredited regimes in the Middle East rather than against Western targets abroad. It is seeking to establish, as the Zionists did in Palestine, a utopian, religious state. It holds up the ancient Caliphate—which united Muslims throughout the Middle East in the seventh century and whose time is considered the golden age of Islam—as an ideal, much as Jews held up the biblical kingdoms chronicled in the Hebrew Bible. ISIS, to build its state, has called on engineers, doctors and technicians to immigrate to the area it controls. And ISIS, although devoted to a fundamentalist form of Salafist Islam, is thoroughly modern. It has mastered sophisticated forms of electronic communication and delivers its messages through social media. And unlike groups such as al-Qaida, which bans television sets and radios, it views the technical advances of modern society as an asset. The mixture of fundamentalist religion with modernity is a potent and intoxicating brew for disenfranchised Muslims. And ISIS has attained what peaceful uprisings in the Middle East have not—liberation from detested regimes, at least for now.

From the archives: In response to our scary world: Nation building by Israel; Islamic State; Iran
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada December 4, 2014

Three links. Most in the Western Axis characterize ISIS and the nation of Iran as gangs of brutal thugs, whereas Israel is a brave and stalwart democratic nation of heroic descendants of an oppressed, persecuted people. Would that the world were so black and white.

Posted at: December 18, 2014 - 1:50 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps: Breitbart praises Stephen Harper as the true leader of ‘North American values’

As Obama wavers, Canada’s Harper is the true leader of North American values
Michael Coren Breitbart London USA/UK December 18, 2014

Just a few weeks ago Canada suffered its first terrorist attacks in more than two generations. In one incident a young convert to Islam ran down two soldiers in Quebec, killing one of them. When he was shot dead by the police he was carrying a large knife and was presumably intent on slaughtering his victims as Lee Rigby was slaughtered in Woolwich.

In the second attack, another Muslim convert killed a soldier in Ottawa and then ran into the House of Commons and was only yards away from a group of MPs when he too was shot dead. Amongst those MPs was Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Conservative leader has been in office for more than eight years now and his response to the terror attacks was entirely typical. Firm, resolute, controlled, slightly boring but utterly uncompromising.

While opposition leaders and liberal newspapers were reluctant to even describe the crimes as terrorism, Harper used the word repeatedly and spoke of the need to combat this darkness internationally as well as domestically. Indeed, along with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot, Harper has led the world in candour concerning Islamist aspirations and the need to affirm western values.

In September 2011 in an interview with the CBC, the country’s public broadcaster, Harper said that, “The major threat is still Islamicism.” He continued, “There are other threats out there, but that is the one that I can tell you occupies the security apparatus most regularly in terms of actual terrorist threats. When people think of Islamic terrorism, they think of Afghanistan, or maybe they think of some place in the Middle East, but the truth is that threat exists all over the world.”

The CBC along with the country’s chattering classes is notoriously liberal and this did not go down at all well. Mind you, Harper’s views on the Middle East, Islamist terror, Canada’s need to be close to the United States and its western allies and his refusal to join the climate change train all alienate him from the country’s establishment.

Whatever the motivation, Harper is regarded by many as the loudest and purest political voice defending North American values and North America’s allies, the alternative of course being Barack Obama. While the US President plays around in the relativist playground and insists that ISIS and the myriad others Islamist terror groups have nothing to do with Islam, Harper implicitly responds that perhaps millions of Muslims who disagree with the President know just a little better than the Chicago community organizer.

He is also the only world leader to have resisted the repeated and insistent calls to buy into conventional thinking, funding and joining around global warming. It’s deeply ironic, and entirely delightful, that a country obsessed with ice hockey should be the only member of the club of the big economies to have eschewed the hockey stick theory.

Harper is hardly what the left insultingly described as a “denier” but he argues quite rightly that while the great dictatorship China is also the great polluter and while is genuine dispute around climate science, responsible democracies such as Canada should not have to pay fines and be punished for their environmental policies. He is a stand out concerning climate change and this had made him a champion among critics of the green obsession but a pariah, a public enemy, within eco-fanatic circles.

Harper has also led the free trade charge, removed some of the convoluted and draconian regulations restricting free speech in Canada, withdrawn public funding from various local immigrant groups that have supported extremism abroad and taken a firm stand in defence of Ukraine against Russian expansion and invasion.

As Harper’s former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and possible successor once told me, “We are on the side of democracy and freedom, and against terrorism and oppression. It’s pretty straightforward really.” Straightforward perhaps, but breathtakingly refreshing. In Canada of all places. Who knew?

Related: Transcript: Harper explains why he still wants to be prime minister
Steven Chase Globe and Mail Canada December 17, 2014

Visit this page for its related links.

Ottawa – Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spent the last year balancing the budget in preparation for an expected 2015 election campaign, a fight which Canada’s sixth longest-serving prime minster is already waging by announcing massive tax cuts for families. He’s condemned Russia for invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea, sent Canadians on a new combat mission to Iraq and accused the Chinese of hacking into government computers just months before he made a much-watched journey to Beijing. A former Conservative MP, who has since resigned, has been convicted of election act breaches and two Conservative Senate appointees face charges related to their expenses.

Mr. Harper’s message to voters is that only he can be trusted to helm the Canadian government right now, with the balanced budget and resulting tax cuts the evidence he points to as proof he’s getting the job done.

Mr. Harper sat down with The Globe and Mail’s Steven Chase for a wide-ranging interview on Dec. 15 in Ottawa.

Posted at: December 18, 2014 - 9:26 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Peering behind the facade: Gap between rich and poor greater than most Canadians think

Jim comment: The global political economy devised and orchestrated by Western Axis nations is a Potemkin village, a construction built solely to deceive the masses into thinking that their economic situation is better than it really is. Canada is a neighborhood in the village.

The Broadbent Institute is an independent, non-partisan organization championing progressive change through the promotion of democracy, equality, and sustainability and the training of a new generation of leaders.

Gap between rich and poor greater than most Canadians think
Sara Mojtehedzadeh Toronto Star Ontario Canada December 16, 2014

Visit this page for its graphic, “Who Controls Canada’s Wealth?”

Canadians drastically underestimate the country’s wealth gap but still show broad support for policies such as higher income taxes to address the problem, according to new research by an Ottawa-based think tank.

The study, published Tuesday by the Broadbent Institute, drew its results from an online poll of 3,000 people. The findings said that Canadians believe the richest fifth of the country own about 55 per cent of wealth, and thought the poorest fifth held about 6 per cent.

In reality, the gap is much starker. The richest segment of Canada’s population controls close to 70 per cent of the country’s wealth. Its very poorest segment has no share at all.

“This is the first time this question has been looked at in Canada, namely people’s perception of the wealth gap versus the reality,” the Broadbent Institute’s executive director, Rich Smith, told the Star.

“There’s a huge discrepancy between the kind of Canada that people want and the kind of Canada that actually exists.”

The research showed a strong appetite for government intervention to alleviate income inequality, with over 85 per cent of the country agreeing that the wealth gap was a problem.

“In public policy terms, that’s nearing unanimity,” said Smith.

Canadians agreed on specific measures to address inequality, too. Eighty per cent of those polled by the Institute supported higher federal income tax rates for the richest Canadians. Almost the same proportion were in favour of introducing higher corporate taxes. Canada’s general corporate tax rate has dropped from around 22 per cent to 15 per cent under the Stephen Harper government.

An earlier report from the Broadbent Institute issued in September used Statistics Canada data to show that the top 10 per cent of Canadians saw their median net worth grow by 42 per cent between 2005 and 2012. Meanwhile, the bottom 10 per cent of the country saw their median net worth shrink by 150 per cent.

Posted at: December 18, 2014 - 9:24 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post