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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mark Steel: I love the Olympics – but not here



"A global festival is taking place in our city and we're told to stay at home."

What an ideal opportunity that was, to at last engage the local residents with the Olympics. When it turned out there weren't enough security staff, they should have employed east London's famous criminal community. They'd have loved the chance to stand over people at the entrance gates, growling "Now listen. I said LISTEN. Any misbehaving, and you're going to make me upset. And you don't wanna see me, not when I'm upset. So don't even THINK abaht taking in non-sponsored foodstuffs or you'll be sucking all your dinners through a straw. ALL RIGHT? Now go and enjoy yer mixed doubles quarter-finals in yer badminton."

This would be more pleasant than armed soldiers patrolling the event, and other security measures such as placing surface-to-air missiles on council estate roofs. If the Palestinians do that they get screamed at for using civilians as a "human shield", but we're doing it to protect the 200 metres backstroke.

There's now a bigger military presence in London than at any time since the Blitz. By the time the Games start, there'll be a sniper on the diving board and swimmers in lane five of the pool will have to go round the periscope of a nuclear sub.

It's been suggested that spectators should allow three hours to get into the site, which fits with the sense most Londoners have that we're not wanted there. Even the route of the marathon has been changed to avoid images that might suggest that London has grubby bits.

A global festival is taking place in our city and we're told every day to stay at home, work at home, and not even use the word Olympic unless we're an official sponsor. By next week, London will have become like the queue for a prestigious nightclub, with bouncers patrolling the streets telling anyone who isn't good-looking or famous to go home, so we don't damage London's global brand image by revealing our unsightly people.

It ought to be fantastic, but many sports fans say they've never looked forward to an Olympic Games with less enthusiasm than the one in their own town. Maybe that's because when it's nearby you can see the greed and sinister snobbery close up. So people are cynical about the Olympics not because they hate sport but because they love it, just as the more you love music, the more you'll dislike One Direction and Justin Bieber.

So I wonder if it's too late to have a fantastic Olympics, by handing them over to France or Argentina, and as part of the deal they can have Sebastian sodding Coe for nothing as well.


July 18 2012 The Independent

Friday, July 20, 2012

John Pilger:Blair, Olympic deals and the glimpse of a another Britain


This is a story of two letters and two Britains. The first letter was written by Sebastian Coe, the former athlete who chairs the London Olympics Organising Committee. He is now called Lord Coe. In the New Statesman of 21 June, I reported an urgent appeal to Coe by the Vietnam Women's Union that he and his IOC colleagues reconsider their decision to accept sponsorship from Dow Chemical, one of the companies that manufactured dioxin, a poison used against the population of Vietnam.

Code-named Agent Orange, this weapon of mass destruction was "dumped" on Vietnam, according to a US Senate report in 1970, in what was called Operation Hades. The letter to Coe estimates that today 4.8 million victims of Agent Orange are children, all of them shockingly deformed.

In his reply, Coe describes Agent Orange as "a highly emotional issue" whose development and use "was made by the US government [which] has rightly led the process of addressing the many issues that have resulted". He refers to a "constructive dialogue" between the US and Vietnamese governments "to resolve issues". They are "best placed to manage the reconciliation of these two countries." When I read this, I was reminded of the weasel letters that are a specialty of the Foreign Office in London in denying the evidence of crimes of state and corporate power, such as the lucrative export of terrible weapons. The former Iraq Desk Officer, Mark Higson, called this sophistry "a culture of lying".

I sent Coe's letter to a number of authorities on Agent Orange. The reactions were unerring. "There has been no initiative at all by the US government to address the health and economic effects on the people of Vietnam affected by dioxin," wrote the respected US attorney Constantine Kokkoris, who led an action against Dow Chemical. He noted that "manufacturers like Dow were aware of the presence and harmfulness of dioxin in their product but failed to inform the government in an effort to avoid regulation." According to the War legacies League, none of the health, environmental and economic problems caused by the world's most enduring chemical warfare has been addressed by the US. Non-government agencies have helped "only a small number of those in need". A "clean up" in a "dioxin hot spot" in the city of Da Nang, to which Coe refers, is a sham; none of the money allocated by the US Congress has gone directly to the Vietnamese or has reached those most severely disabled from the cancers associated with Agent Orange.

For this reason, Coe's mention of "reconciliation" is profane, as if there were an equivalence between an invading superpower and its victims. His letter exemplifies the London Olympics' razor-wired, PR and money-fuelled totalitarian state within a state, which you enter, appropriately, through a Westfield mega shopping mall. How dare you complain about the missiles on the roof of your flats, hectored a magistrate to 86 residents of London's East End. How dare any of you protest at the "Zil car lanes", reminiscent of Moscow in the Soviet era, for Olympic apparatchiks and the boys from Dow and Coke. With the media in charge of Olympics excitement, as it was for 'Shock and Awe' in Iraq in 2003, now enter the man who played a starring role in making both spectacles possible. 

On 11 July, a so-called Olympics evening - "a coming together of the Labour tribe", declared the Labour Party leader Ed Milliband - celebrated its "star guest" Tony Blair and his 2005 "gift" of the Games and "provided the perfect opportunity for Blair's return to frontline politics", reported the Guardian. The organiser of this contrivance was Alistair Campbell, chief spinner of the bloodbath Blair and he gifted to the Iraqi people. And just as the victims of Dow Chemical are of no interest to the Olympic elite, so the epic criminality of Labour's star guest was unmentionable. 

The source of the Olympics' chaotic security is also unmentionable. As established studies in Britain have long conceded, it was the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the rest of the "war on terror" that served to recruit new jihadists and bolster other forms of resistance that led directly to the London bombs of 7/7. These were Blair's bombs. In his current rehabilitation, courtesy of his Olympics "legacy", there is the additional spin that Blair's huge post-Downing Street wealth is concentrated on charities.

The second letter I mentioned was sent to me by Josh Richards who lives in Bristol. In March 2003, Josh and four others set out to disable an American B-52 bomber based at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, before it could bomb Iraq. So did four other people. It was a non-violent action faithful to the Nuremberg principles that a war of aggression was the "paramount war crime". Josh was arrested and charged with planning to lay explosives. "This was based on the ludicrous idea," he wrote, "that some peanut butter I had on me was actually a bomb component. The charge was later abandoned after the Ministry of Defence performed extensive tests on my Tesco crunchy nut peanut butter."

During two trials and two hung juries, Josh was finally acquitted. It was a landmark case in which he spoke in open court about the genocidal embargo imposed upon Iraq by the British and US governments prior to their invasion and the false justifications of the "war on terror".  His acquittal meant that he had acted in the name of the law and his intention had been to save lives. 

The letter Josh wrote to me included a copy of my book, The New Rulers of the World, which, he pointed out, had provided him with the facts he needed for his defence. Meticulously page-marked and highlighted, it had accompanied Josh on a three-year journey through courtrooms and prison cells. Of all the letters I have received, Josh's epitomises a decency, modesty and determination of moral purpose that represent another Britain and antidotes to poisonous Olympic sponsors and rehabilitated warmongers. During these extraordinary times, such an example ought to give others heart and inspiration to reclaim this receding democracy.

19 July 2012

Sunday, July 08, 2012

John Pilger:Murdoch may be a convenient demon, but the media is a junta

  Australia is the world's first murdochracy. US citizen Rupert Murdoch controls 70 per cent of the metropolitan press. He has monopolies in state capitals and provincial centres. The only national newspaper is his. He is a dominant force online and in pay-TV and publishing. Known fearfully as "Rupert", he is the Chief Mate.

But Murdoch's dominance is not as it is often presented. Although he is now one of the West's accredited demons, thanks to his phone-hackers, he is but part of a media system that will not change when his empire is broken up. The political extremism that is the concentration of the world's wealth in few hands and the accelerating impoverishment of the majority will ensure this. A Melbourne journalist, Paul Chadwick, one of the few to rebel against Murdoch, described this as "akin to a small group of generals who sit above the main institutions... a junta in all but name".

Consider the junta's rise. In the US, at the end of the second world war, 80 per cent of newspapers were independently owned. By 1987, most were controlled by 15 corporations, of which six dominate today. Their ideological message is a mantra. They promote global and domestic economic piracy and the cult of "perpetual war". This is currently served by a "liberal" president who pursues whistleblowers, dispatches drones and selects from his personal "kill list" every Tuesday. In Britain, where the propaganda of big capital also dominates, the historic convergence of the two main political parties is rarely news. Tony Blair, a conspirator in the greatest crime of this century, is promoted as "a wasted talent". In all these agendas, notably the promotion of war, the Murdoch press often plays a supporting role to the reputable BBC. The Leveson inquiry has shown not the slightest interest in this.

In Australia, there is the Order of Mates. A struggle for the mantle of Chief Mate is currently under way. From out of a vast Aladdin's Cave of mineral wealth, comes Gina Rinehart, said to be the richest woman in the world. The daughter of iron ore billionaire Lang Hancock, Rinehart and her fellow mining oligarchs all but got rid of Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2010 when he proposed a modest tax on their huge profits. Rinehart believes Australia's media is basically communist, especially the Fairfax group of which she has now acquired almost a fifth of the stock.

Fairfax publishes the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and this week announced the sacking of 1900 employees, including senior editors. The papers are to be shrunk in size. Such a "bloodbath", it is said, will deny Australia the last of its "independent press". In fact, like the Murdoch press, both titles have long been the voice of deeply conservative colonial and bourgeois power in a country whose rapacious past, inequities and racism are routinely suppressed, along with any sustained critique of a glorified militarism that has made Australia, in effect, a US mercenary.

"Give me tits, tots and pistol shots," declared long-gone Sydney newspaper proprietor Ezra Norton. Although Norton's guidelines remain intact today, the "independent" press prefers a set menu of "free market" journalism: personality politics and its skulduggery, shopping, the joys of private education, the vagaries of real estate and war-patriotism. There are honourable exceptions, of course, but going against the media/political cronyism requires not only courage but a publisher.

As in Britain and the US, the most insidious power is public relations. Leading Australian journalists travel to countries such as Israel on sponsored freebies. The day Fairfax announced it was sacking a fifth of its workforce, an executive of a PR firm whose accounts include McDonald's, wrote, "I believe these evolutions will result in improved PR campaigns, with stories running across multiple platforms... Great news for our clients." Described as "insensitive" and "harsh", her honesty had touched upon the transformation of western societies by the "invisible" power of PR and lobbying. In 2003, Fairfax senior executive Mark Scott, said, "Smart clever people are not the answer. What you want are people who can execute your strategy and Fairfax's strategy to create editorial to support maximising revenues from display advertising."  Rupert or Gina could not have put it better.

30 June 2012