Archive for the ‘Comments and analysis’ Category

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National Victory March turned into National Camping Out Day.

July 5, 2008

According to some estimates, 400,000 to 500,000 citizens turned up in central Seoul on Saturday to attend a peaceful National Victory March. That itself is a great achievement for the movement against the Lee Myung-bak government, given the fact that just a week ago protesters were seriously considering taking self-defensive measures (read: steel pipes and bats) in response to police violence and brutality.

Saturday reminded many people of the early days of protest in May: there was no violence on either side. Police didn’t provoke protesters, and protesters didn’t attempt to march to the presidential Blue House. Instead, various cultural and protest activities took place all over the major streets of central Seoul.

And as the night deepened, a substantial number of people simply camped out on the streets:

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Unless the Lee Myung-bak government drastically changes its course of action and chooses to renegotiate over U.S. beef and give up on its privatization plans for national infrastructure industries, every Saturday will likely turn into a National Camping Out Day.

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International Herald Tribune publishes a false report on the June 28th protest.

June 29, 2008

Choe Sang-hun, a South Korea correspondent of International Heread Tribune (IHT), writes today that “The demonstrators hurled rocks and swung steel pipes while the police beat them back with plastic shields.” But it was police that hurled rocks and kindred things, as we reported yesterday. And the claim that protesters used steel pipes is a complete lie, a lie that even radical right-wing propagandist daily newspapers in Korea would dare not publish. Choe’s report intentionally misleads the readers into thinking that police violence was a result of responding to prostesters’ violence, which only exists in Choe’s imagination.

New York Times, which owns IHT and regularly publishes Choe’s articles in their entirety, has wisely published Choe’s report on the June 28th protest with that false claim edited out. Choe’s reports on Korea have always been skewed to the right. If, as is reported by Reuters, “The New York Times is developing plans to merge the Web site of the International Herald Tribune with that of The New York Times, in a bid to expand their global reach and deepen their appeal to advertisers“, it’d be wise of NY Times to reconsider publishing articles on Korea by an unreliable reporter like Choe.

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Police violence escalates into madness.

June 28, 2008

June 28, the fourth day of the National Action Week against the South Korean government’s publication of guidelines on U.S. beef imports, might turn out to be a turning point in political struggles of Korean people for health and human rights.

In phase with his decision to put into effect the April 18th beef imports agreement with the U.S., Lee Myung-bak made a decisive break from his previous apologetic tone this week, and the police returned to full-scale violence. However, June 28 marked a new height in police violence.

Here’s a video showing a female student being attacked by riot police last night:

Police threw various items including a fire extinguisher at protesters:

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This video shows police throwing nuts and bolts at protesters, injuring a middle-aged woman:

So many Korean people shed blood last night. But police’s violence didn’t discriminate between Koreans and non-Koreans, or between citizens and journalists. Reportedly a German journalist was injured by police. And an American young man had the upper left part of his lip cut by an inch by a sharp-edged police shield:

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As police violence escalates, citizens are now seriously considering some possible self-defense measures. We might be entering a new phase in civil protest in Korea.

[Update: June 28, 21:20]

Here’s another video showing police acting like rabid beasts.

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KCTU (Korean Confederation of Trade Unions) announces a plan for a total strike.

June 25, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, the first day of the National Action Week, was marked by police’s violence against the protesters.

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More than a hundred protesters including one grade schooler and two young moms carrying baby carts were forcibly arrested. Many more were attacked by the police who seemed quite willing to use sharp-edged shields against peacefully protesting citizens. Also, a rather surreal thing happened: a man in his fifties (shown below) had one of his fingers bitten off by a policeman:

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Lee Myung-bak may have calculated that if the police aggressively respond to protesters on Wednesday, not too many people will take to the streets on this weekend.

That’s a mistake.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the most powerful labor organization in Korea, has issued a notice of a set of guidelines for a total strike against the government’s decision to put into effect the April 18th beef import deal with the U.S.

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Kim Jong-hoon’s shameless lies exposed.

June 24, 2008

As noted earlier, Kim Jong-hoon, the top South Korean trade envoy to Washington, held talks with Susan Schwab, the U.S. Trade Representative, over some controversial elements of the April 18th U.S. beef import agreement. Upon return to Korea, Kim held a press conference on the talks and claimed that the U.S. government agreed to verify that the beef from cattle older than 30 months will not be shipped to Korea for consumption. But as Schwab makes it clear in her statement quoted below, that’s only “a transitional measure, to improve Korean consumer confidence in U.S. beef”. More importantly, the Quality System Assessment (QSA) program is not enforced by the U.S. government but is an entirely voluntary measure that can be canceled at will by the U.S. beef exporters. All bold emphases mine:

USTR NEWS
UNITED STATES TRADE REPRESENTATIVE
http://www.ustr.gov Washington, D.C. 20508 202-395-3230
For Immediate Release: Contact:
June 21, 2008 Sean Spicer/Gretchen Hamel (202) 395-3230

USTR Confirms Korea’s Announcement on U.S. Beef Washington, DC — United States Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab made the following statement in response to the announcement by the South Korean government today regarding U.S. beef trade. The government announced that, as a result of recent discussions in Washington, Korea will put into effect the April 18th beef import protocol agreed to by the two governments and pave the way for U.S. beef to flow into the Korean market.

“I welcome the South Korean government’s announcement that it will shortly put the April 18 protocol into effect.
“Korean beef importers and U.S. exporters have reached a commercial understanding that only U.S. beef from cattle under 30-months of age will be shipped to Korea, as a transitional measure, to improve Korean consumer confidence in U.S. beef.
“At the request of U.S. exporters, once the protocol goes into effect, the U.S. government will facilitate this transitional private sector arrangement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will set up a voluntary Quality System Assessment (QSA) Program once the protocol goes into effect. This program will verify that beef from participating plants will be from cattle less than 30 months of age.
“We have also agreed on a few additional clarifications to the April 18th protocol that we will implement once the protocol is in effect in an effort to increase the confidence of Korean consumers in U.S. beef.
“We look forward to safe, affordable, high-quality American beef – the same beef enjoyed by hundreds of millions of U.S. consumers and people in countries around the world – soon arriving on Korean tables.
“The resumption of U.S. beef exports to Korea is further evidence of our growing trade relationship with Korea, and the Administration will continue to work hard to obtain Congressional approval of the United States-Korea FTA this year.”

Background:

The June 13-19 discussions in Washington, led by Ambassador Schwab and Trade Minister Kim, focused on ways to facilitate the commercial, private-sector agreement between Korean importers and U.S. exporters to ship U.S. beef from animals less than 30-months for a transitional period until consumer confidence in South Korea improves. To support these voluntary commitments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will establish, once the import protocol is in force, the “Less than 30 Month Age-Verification Quality System Assessment (QSA) Program for Korea” administered by the U.S. government under the Agricultural Marketing Act. This program will verify that all beef shipped to Korea under the program is from cattle less than 30 months of age.
In addition, both sides have agreed that certain products (brains, skulls, eyes and spinal cords), which are not specified risk materials in cattle less than 30 months of age, have not been traded between the two countries in the past. Once the import protocol is in effect, both sides will confirm their expectation that until there is market demand in Korea for such products, such commercial practice will continue.
The two governments will also clarify, once the import protocol is in effect, that Korea can take certain actions under the protocol if it finds serious non-compliance during its audits of U.S. beef processing plants, as well as actions it could take at the border upon detection of food safety hazards. All of these actions will be limited to the product or plant in question.
Finally, Korea confirmed that it will publish its import health requirements for U.S. beef and beef products, putting the April 18 protocol into effect shortly.
The April 18 protocol defines conditions for importation of U.S. beef to South Korea and provides for a full reopening of the market. It is fully consistent with OIE guidelines and will permit all U.S. beef and beef products from cattle of all ages to be exported to Korea, with appropriate Specified Risk Materials (SRMs), as defined by the OIE, removed, while guaranteeing commercial viability for U.S. industry. Both Korean importers and U.S. exporters reaffirmed the safety of all U.S. beef, regardless of age, in their statement and letter on June 20.

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A comment from a reader of this blog

June 23, 2008

Terry S. Singeltary Sr. left this comment:

well, so the U.S. slams the mad cow door on Korea and it’s people, due to the bungled beef deal the USDA shoved down Lee’s throat. sadly, Lee signed the deal oblivious to what really has been going on behind closed doors for years here in the USA, and the USDA et al knew they had a fish on the line. my God, this guy was totally ignorant of what they were doing. now the kind honorable people of Korea will be force fed USDA certified beef. beef that has been highly suspect of mad cow disease since the USDA shut down testing, this after finding two cases of the atypical BSE in Alabama and Texas. remember, atypical BSE is more virulent than the UK BSE strain. Also, it seems the O.I.E. has sealed the deal on trading all strains of TSE i.e. mad cow disease strains globally, all for a buck, commodities and futures, to hell with human health. it’s business as usual folks, eat up, and die old and demented, if your lucky. I must apologize to the kind honorable citizens of Korea for what my Government has done. I tried. But as the USDA certified beef starts to flood Korean markets, remember one thing Korea, you don’t have to buy it. let it rot, until the USDA et al gets there head out of their pockets, and start to test all food producing cattle and all livestock for BSE and all TSE. CJD is a slow death while incubating. so you will not see the body bags all at once. as in the past here, it will be labeled as dementia, misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s and other dementia ailments. it will become an acceptable death as here in the USA due to the push by the industries and your Government due to the financial aspect of it. The OIE and my Government sold their souls to the devil, and if you don’t believe me, just read the history. let it all be sporadic and or spontaneous they say, and make them eat it, and like it. that’s their motto. to hell with the consumer. Every American and Korean consumer should be demanding 100% BSE/TSE mad cow testing on all livestock food producing animals, for humans and animals. This should be a no-brainer, but instead, it’s a brain eater.

Terry thinks that Koreans shouldn’t buy U.S. beef and then they’ll all be fine. I wish the problem was as simple and convenient as that. The reason that the U.S. beef issue has caused such an uproar among Koreans is that some groups of people including school children will inevitably be exposed to the risks of eating U.S. beef unbeknown to them. The private companies that run school lunch programs and some low-end restaurant owners will use U.S. beef so as to increase profit margins at the expense of the health of their customers. And as we noted earlier, the South Korean government doesn’t have enough resources to make sure that American beef will not be sold as domestic beef or hanwoo.

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“Stop the madness”

June 22, 2008

In his op-ed contribution to NY Times, Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, writes about the so-called “rapid test” for mad cow disease that “Between 2001 and 2006, the European Union used the test to turn up 1,117 cases of mad cow disease in seemingly healthy cattle approved for slaughter.”

June 20, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
Stop the Madness
By MICHAEL HANSEN

THE Korean beef market, once the third-largest importer of American beef, has shut its doors to the United States. Why? Because Koreans are worried about eating meat tainted with mad cow disease, which can be fatal to humans. Recent attempts by Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, to reopen the market have brought tens of thousands of demonstrators to the streets in protest.

American beef producers could easily allay those fears by subjecting every cow at slaughter to the so-called rapid test, which costs about $20 per carcass and screens for this brain-wasting disease in a few hours rather than days. But the United States Department of Agriculture won’t allow that.

In 2004, Creekstone Farms in Arkansas City, Kan., wanted to test the cattle it slaughters to comply with the wishes of its Korean and Japanese customers. But the department ruled that the rapid test could only be used as part of its own mad cow surveillance program, which randomly checks about 1 in 1,000 dead and slaughtered cattle in the United States every year. The sale of the kits to private companies is prohibited under an obscure 1913 law that allows the department to prohibit veterinary products that it considers “worthless.”

Creekstone sued the government in 2006, arguing in court that the Agriculture Department could not deem worthless a test that it used in its own surveillance program. The court agreed, but the department appealed. A decision is expected soon.

It is hard to understand why the Agriculture Department wants to stand in the way. Yes, the test has limitations: it can miss a case of mad cow disease, also called bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in the very early stages of incubation. But it can catch the disease in later stages, before animals show symptoms. Between 2001 and 2006, the European Union used the test to turn up 1,117 cases of mad cow disease in seemingly healthy cattle approved for slaughter.

Ideally, the Agriculture Department would follow the rules set up in Europe and Japan that require every cow over a certain age to be tested before being slaughtered. At the very least the department should not prevent private companies from testing.

Companies that use the rapid test should also be allowed to label their meat as having been “tested for mad cow” for American consumers who would like this extra level of protection. A Consumers Union national survey done in January 2004 found that 71 percent of adults who eat beef would pay more to support testing, and of those, 95 percent were willing to spend 10 cents more per pound for tested meat.

In the Creekstone case, the Agriculture Department argued that the tests should be prohibited because if one company started using them, consumer demand would drive all companies to use them, and that would add to the price of beef. But would that be such a bad thing? Isn’t this how the laws of supply and demand are supposed to work?

Most Americans, like Koreans, understand that testing for mad cow could save lives — and they’d like to have that option.

Michael Hansen is a senior scientist at Consumers Union.