Timeline/Stages for Collapse of our Way of Life
With our political system now completely financialized, the plebs were mined for cash in a Hollywood “sweepstakes” lottery whereby the star-struck winner dined with the stars and political elite. NPR called this recent gimmick the “latest innovation in political fundraising.” If you don’t play you can’t win, even if that means missing out on a chance to rub shoulders with a vacuous Hollywood star and a corrupt, self-serving sock-puppet politician portraying the part of a populist leader.
Here are some more staggering numbers from Thursday’s dinner:
- The $15 million Obama raised is a new fundraising record. The previous record was $11 million, set back in 2008.
- Dinner cost $40,000 a plate. As Mark Knoller of CBS News points out, that’s well over the average U.S. per capita income, which is $27,334.
- Of the $15 million raised that night, $6 million came from the roughly 150 guests in attendance. Guests included Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire, Salma Hayek, Jack Black, and Barbara Streisand.
- The remaining $9 million came thanks to a sweepstake through which supporters could win a chance to dine with Obama and Clooney. Participants could donate as little as $3.
- This dinner marks the 133rd fundraiser Obama has attended since announcing his reelection campaign 13 months ago, the most by any presidential candidate in history.
Controlling public opinion has become so much easier after decades of consumer culture indoctrination and the subjugation of the masses into atomized and passive debt slaves. Obama’s 2012 election campaign is doing it quite successfully… once again. With his opponent being a poster child for vulture capitalism, Obama can spread more populist rhetoric and co-opt the message of OWS despite the fact that the actions of his administration have proven to be very Wall Street friendly. Edward Bernays would be proud.
Matt Taibbi has an excellent post on the 2012 presidential election, focusing on how boring and apathy-producing it is, particularly compared to the 2008 election, and how this threatens to undermine one of the prime purposes of American elections — distracting citizens’ attention from what is actually being done:
Meanwhile, Obama has turned out to represent continuity with the Bush administration on a range of key issues, from torture to rendition to economic deregulation. Obama is doing things with extralegal drone strikes that would have liberals marching in the streets if they’d been done by Bush. . . .
In other words, Obama versus McCain actually felt like a clash of ideological opposites. But Obama and Romney feels like a contest between two calculating centrists, fighting for the right to serve as figurehead atop a bloated state apparatus that will operate according to the same demented imperial logic irrespective of who wins the White House.
Then there’s one more thing – Obama versus Romney is the worst reality show on TV since the Tila Tequila days. The characters are terrible, there’s no suspense, and the biggest thing is, it lacks both spontaneity and a gross-out factor. In Reality TV, if you don’t have really sexy half-naked young people scheming against each other over campfires in the Cook Islands, you need to have grown men eating millipedes or chicks in bikinis drinking donkey semen. And if you don’t have that, you really need Sarah Palin.
This race has none of that. . . . The presidential race is always a great illusion, designed to distract people from the more hardcore politics in this country, the minutiae of trade and tax and monetary policy that’s too boring to cover. When the presidential race is a bad show, people might not have any choice but to pay attention to those other things. And this year’s version is the worst show in memory. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.
Digby dissents from that last point on the ground that political strategists and media mavens are adept at keeping interest levels high by manufacturing the appearance of meaningful conflicts: “It’s like one of those Housewife reality shows where everyone is obscenely wealthy and they create phony feuds and stage screaming fights and then magically become bffs the next season. It’s kind of a trainwreck that you can’t keep your eyes off of at first, but then you just end up falling asleep in front of the TV.”
I think I side more with Digby on this specific question. No matter how trivial are most of the differences between the two candidates and no matter how much each of them is a banal, status-quo-perpetuating imperial manager, the power of political manipulation is potent indeed. Recall that the Obama campaign was namedAdvertising Age‘s Marketer of the Year for 2008 for its excellence in brand management (the brand being Obama), and the campaign also “claimed two top awards at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Awards.”
To see how vulnerable people are to this advertising manipulation, one need look only a few posts down from the one by Digby which I just quoted, to one on her blog written by Democratic Party door-to-door canvasser David Atkins. He posted a super-trite one-minute video from the Obama campaign that begins by blaming Bush for America’s woes while sad villain music plays in the background. Then, when 2009 arrives, the ad suddenly shifts to happy, majestic, uplifting muzak — the kind played on an ABC after-school special when a boy and his lost dog are finally re-united – as we see images of the Democratic Commander-in-Chief boldly exiting his presidential helicopter as he stiffly salutes Marines, followed by a grainy-green video feed of U.S. military helicopters dispatched on a dangerous mission under his strong command. We are told that, under Obama, “our greatest enemy [cue bin Laden’s face] was brought to justice by our greatest heroes [U.S. soldiers using night-cam helmets and automatic rifles]” and that “He believed in us, fought for us,” and that the American middle class is returning to its greatness, and that “you don’t quit, and neither does he.”
After viewing this mundane, vapid jingoistic tripe, Atkins gushed:
It’s beautiful. Brilliant. . . . It’s hopeful. Inspiring. . . . As a political observer, watching the ad gives me a rush of endorphins, not least because I know that the team that puts out ads like this is probably going to defeat Mitt Romney’s more hapless crew.
Watching that ad literally causes a chemical change to his brain: it triggers “a rush of endorphins.” It makes him feel pleasure, and powerful, and purposeful. And remember, this is someone who writes on (and thus presumably reads) the blog of a very astute political commentator, one who on a virtually daily basis documents the cynicism, deceit and deficiencies at the heart of the Obama presidency (and was also one of the earliest and most vocal skeptics of the notion that Obama the Candidate was some sort of grand, transformational figure), so just imagine how ads like this affect someone less exposed to those facts than he. Indeed, Atkins himself expressly acknowledges that the imagery injected into his brain bears little resemblance to reality, but that rational awareness is no match for the emotional and psychological manipulation. He stands helpless before it, and is grateful for that (just as those who feel thrills “running up their legs” or “starbursts” in their groins when watching their favorite political leader are grateful for those chemical sensations).
That’s what effective political oratory accomplishes: it overrides rational thought and imposes a false reality from the outside. Recall what Ezra Klein wrote in 2008 after listening to Obama, inan article appropriately entitled “Obama’s Gift”:
Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. His speeches are so big as to expose the smallness of the pretty prejudices and mundane considerations that might interrupt the march of his words, so big that they inspire his listeners to rise to meet their challenge. The other great leaders I’ve heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our best selves, to the place where America exists as a ideal, and wherewe, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence.
That’s virtually biblical in its praise. And while Klein himself, after watching Obama up close for several years, has become more measured and grounded, Obama is still a highly effective politician capable of this level of exploitation: exploiting people’s hopes and desires. When you combine that with the desire to believe — to feel once again that he will uplift people’s lives and that the hope one placed in him was justified and not misguided: nobody wants to feel like they were successfully defrauded — it’s an easy trick to repeat. There will probably be lowered levels of enthusiasm this time around. There will be some 2008 supporters who refuse to vote for him at all. But political operatives on each side will spend the next six months using every available form of brand management and advertising manipulation to continuously impart the message that Everything is At Stake — that it’s a grand Manichean battle between Our Great Leader and Their Evil Villain — and there will be plenty of endorphins pumping through people’s brains. There will be enough to drown a large country.
A quote by Jumblies, the subject of which deserves further expansion, highlights another cultural event which has been taken over and corrupted by those wielding the power and the capital:
My personaly belief is that London will begin to fall after the Olympic games are done and dusted. Then people will be faced with the harsh reality of a large bill that needs paying (both financially and socially).
Host cities routinely underestimate the costs and overstate the benefits of the Games. London is no exception. The city’s bid proclaimed: “Every sector of the economy will benefit from the staging of the Olympic Games.” Originally slated to cost about £2.4bn, Olympic costs jumped to £9.3bn by 2007. […] A Sky Sports investigation included public transport upgrade costs,catapulting the five-ring price tag to £24bn.
£24bn and rising.
London’s Olympic Village has been sold to the Qatari ruling family’s property company in a deal that leaves UK taxpayers £275m out of pocket.
Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, hailed the sale as a “fantastic deal that will give taxpayers a great return and shows how we are securing a legacy from London’s Games”.
We’ve just lost £275m and Jeremy Hunt says this is a fantastic return?…
I first heard about a process call “gentrification”, which occurs wherever the capital-wielding developers of the latest Olympic Games decide to set foot, in an interview with Dave Zirin. I love this quote from him:
Obama is writing checks with his mouth that the facts do not cash.
…And I have to speak about the irony of Michelle Obama, who is from the South Side of Chicago, talking about what a gift the Olympics would be, given the fact that the people of the South Side of Chicago will be at absolute ground zero of Olympic construction, police repression, gentrification, and graft which will accompany the Olympic Games….
These facilities get built that have no real use after the cameras have gone and the people have gone home, and what these places are left with is debt.
Chicago lost the bid to host the 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro, with predictable results thus far in that Brazilian city.
Getting back to London and the 2012 Summer Olympics, we see the same thing play out as has happened to countless cities before:
As London prepares to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, startlingly little critique has surfaced in the mainstream press. With the exception of the trivial issue of ticket prices, most of the city remains transfixed, internalising the dominant narrative. This process precedes each Olympic games, one that is written and distributed by and for the real Olympic profiteers; a nexus of powerful interests that sees both short and long term gains in each host city.
The Olympics take billions of pounds, yen, dollars of their host countries’ tax revenue to build magnificent stadiums and housing facilities, militarise the city, trample civil liberties and construct elaborate installations with shelf lives of a few weeks.
London 2012, originally expected to cost £2.4bn, is now projected at £24bn, with contracts going to some of the world’s most egregious employers and global human rights violators. Some on the left have been critical of the massive transfer from public to private at a time of austerity. The London overspend has been portrayed by officials as a one-off, but a glance at the history of the Olympics shows that underestimating the cost is a consistent part of the Olympic experience.
The 1976 Montreal Olympics took over 30 years to pay off the debt it accumulated as a result of its overspend; the 2004 Athens Olympics went almost one thousand percent over budget from €123m (£100m) to €11.5bn (£9.5bn) in costs significantly contributing to Greece’s deficit, and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics ended up spending six times the original projection of $1bn. In fact, barring the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics – where bottom-up pressure meant zero public dollars were expended on the games, thus securing a $233 million surplus for the city – the Olympic games always exceed their projected expense, saddling cities with years of debt – often paid back through cuts in services, regressive taxes and increased fares.
But the real gains for the rich can be witnessed in the long-term implications, once the crowds have gone home. Contrary to popular belief, the devastation inflicted on the poorest and historically marginalised communities is not simply an adverse side-effect, but goes to the very essence of why cities battle to host the Games.
The Olympics have always been utilised as a means to pursue what David Harvey calls ‘accumulation by dispossession,’ from visible policies of forced evictions to veiled ones such as gentrification. This violent process is intimately connected to reconfiguring the landscape for capital accumulation and, indeed, is a prime motivation for the very purpose of the Olympics itself.
The Games are not simply hosted to ‘clean up’ the city, but to fundamentally reconfigure it, to ‘cleanse’ it of its poor and undesirable; to not only make way for a city by and for the rich, but to expand the terrain of profitable activity.
Sanitising the City
In order to understand where London is headed it’s important to understand the history of Olympic games and the ways in which they have restructured the economic landscapes of their respective host cities.
In 2007, the UN-funded Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) released a report detailing the effects of the Olympics between 1988 and 2008. It concluded that the Olympic games, having evicted more then two million people in the past twenty years, are one of the top causes of displacement and real-estate inflation in the world.
The research details that the levels of forced displacement have increased in each successive city. The 1988 Seoul games witnessed the eviction of 720,000 people, where it was used by the military dictatorship to turn Seoul from a city maintained by and for its people into a corporate city owned by the privileged. The 2008 Beijing Olympics oversaw the eviction of 1.25 million residents to make way for the games.
Predictably, the report shows that the evictions disproportionally affect the homeless, the poor and ethnic minorities. Beyond forced displacement, the Olympics succeed in longer-term economic displacement of working class areas of host cities. The COHRE report shows that the Olympics significantly accelerate the process of inflating real-estate prices. For instance, in Sydney, host to the 2000 games, rents increased by an astounding 40%, between 1993, the year it was selected, and 1998. Whereas in the same period, neighboring city Melbourne saw only a 10% rise.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympics resulted in the demolishing of 2,000 public housing units – evicting 6,000 residents, in addition to the 30,000 residents who were displaced as a direct result of gentrification brought on by the Olympic ‘development’. Indeed, as if to say that the poor and black of Atlanta had not suffered enough, the city issued over 9,000 arrest citations for the city’s homeless population as part of a concerted ‘clean up’ effort, a kind of ‘two-week face lift’.
At the time, the New York Times reported that the Atlanta urban renewal projects saw ‘virtually every aspect of Atlanta’s civic life transformed’. In the Summerhill neighborhood adjacent to the Olympic stadium, for example, 200 slum houses had been levelled, while “clean, colorful subdivisions have risen in their place”. As one business owner candidly explained, speaking of the poor and homeless “even if it means busing these poor guys to Augusta for three weeks and feeding them, we ought to do it. It sounds very brutal for me to say it, but they can’t stay here for the Olympics.”
A similar trend is found in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in which the COHRE study found that, in addition to the 2,500 evictions, housing prices rose 139% for sale and 145% for rentals in the period from 1986, the year it was selected to 1993. The same period saw a 76% decrease in public housing availability. In addition, the areas surrounding the Olympic Village site witnessed the displacement of over 90% of its Roma population.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics saw the forced displacement of 1.5 million residents, impacting the poorest rural migrants living in the city’s outskirts, with watchdog groups claiming that the relocation saw declines in living conditions by as much as 20%. The 2010 Vancouver Games targeted the homeless, indigenous, and women with eviction notices, criminalising begging and sleeping outdoors, and introducing a law banning placards, banners or posters that do not ‘celebrate’ the Olympics or ‘create or enhance a festive environment and atmosphere’.
Policies of ‘cleansing’ have already begun in the favelas that encircle the city of Rio de Janeiro. Already 6,000 poor residents have been forcibly evicted at gun-point, as part of the government policy of ‘pacification’ involving over 3,000 military personal invading to ‘take control’ of the slum areas. This has resulted in street battles and the death of more than 30 residents. The Associated Press has shown that in 2010 alone, 170,000 people were facing housing loss due to the double threat of the 2016 Olympics and 2014 World Cup.
The Right To the City
Harvey (2008) sees the right to the city as more than the liberty of individuals to access the resources of the city. It is the collective right to exercise power to shape, transform and remake the process of urbanisation. To Harvey “the freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”
Some tepid liberals have spoken in hushed tones about the billions bilked from the public purse, and Citizens UK, the country’s largest community organisation, has astonishingly traded the plunder of areas where many of its members reside for a few crumbs to entrench its trademark ‘living wage Olympics’. Few in the mainstream have taken issue with the crises of housing prices and evictions.
Harvey (2008) argues that the development of capitalism is intimately connected to the emergence of cities, which require a concentration and endless search of profitable terrains for capital-surplus product with a cycle of compounded extraction, reinvestment, and expansion, hence “the history of capital accumulation paralleled by the growth path of urbanization under capitalism.”
The border of the London Olympic Park crosses some of the most working class areas in the country, and it is by no coincidence that every Olympic city chooses to situate its site in its poorest neighbourhoods. The targeted areas, such as London’s East End, LA’s South Central or Chicago’s South Side are not only the poorest but also have the highest concentrations of non-white people in each city.
In London’s case the borough of Newham, home of the Olympic Village, is the most ethnically diverse district in the country. In London’s East End, the process of forced evictions began immediately after the bid was announced with the demolishing of Clays Lane Housing Co-op and the eviction of 450 residents. Red Pepper Magazine quotes one of the residents at the time, Julian Cheyne, who spoke of how ‘Compulsory purchase is a brutal process and from day one the Clays Lane community was lied to while promises were made and broken without a second thought.’
Short-term evictions and long-term gentrification go hand-in-hand. In some parts of the city, closer to the Olympic site, poor residents are being forced from their homes while beautification ‘development’ and ‘regeneration’ projects in areas as far out as Dalston Junction or Hackney’s Broadway Market have demolished a squatted social centre and theatre, whilst Council-appointed agents sell-off public land to be converted into luxury flats by developer cartels.
As with previous host cities, the displacement of residents is not limited to direct government policy. In some East London boroughs landlords have begun evicting tenants in places where rents are fetching fifteen times their standard rates, flats are now being advertised as “Olympic lets” and imposing hefty “penalty” clauses for tenants who refuse to leave.
Recently campaigners camped out in the Leyton Marshes refused attempts by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to convert the public space into an Olympic training facility. Indeed, in the past some campaigns against the Games have succeeded in their resistance. A notable example is the broad-based coalition of housing and labor activists of No Games Chicago, largely credited for foiling the city’s attempt to host the 2016 Olympics, even after pleas from Barack and Michelle Obama.
Anti-Olympics organisers in Chicago had been so successful, despite a multi-million dollar barrage of pro-Olympic propaganda to ‘cleanse’ the working-class South Side, that days before the Olympic Committee vote the Chicago Tribune found that a majority of the city opposed the bid and 84% opposed using public money to support the games.
In Rio de Janeiro, the thousands of slum dwellers who have been given eviction notices are refusing to go quietly; instead the poor have long prepared to fight and are now putting up a historic resistance in the courts and the streets. With unions holding strikes in at least eight host cities of the 2014 World Cup, and a nation-wide movement of 25,000 World Cup workers have threatened prolonged strike action. In a New York Times report, a resident, Cenira dos Santos, said of the Games, “the authorities think progress is demolishing our community just as they can host the Olympics for a few weeks, but we’ve shocked them by resisting.”
The story in each city remains almost identical. Once selected, a city expends vast amounts of public resource to begin a program of forced displacement, rental speculation, urban renewal projects, demolition of public housing and gentrification. In fact, if there is one thread that runs through almost every Olympic event it is that the poor of each Games subsidise their own violent dispossession.
As money is pumped in to develop, regenerate and ‘clean’ the city, the ‘community’ is forced to flee, transforming an urban collective identity into an individualised consumer one, defined by a narrow homogenised racial, economic and ethnic suburban ego ideal. This process of gentrification and suburbanisation results in deep political and cultural insulation, alienation and detachment; detachment of families from one another and detachment from the commons.
Detachment shapes the way individuals are exposed to and think about themselves in relation to the world, living a life of separation protected from ‘difference’. Passive acceptance of inequality is now actively espoused. The gentrification of the Olympic host city, the withering away of an urban working class, social atomisation and the subsequent erosion of political consciousness is a planned outgrowth of a city seemingly waiting to be cleansed.
Any reading of Olympic history reveals the true motives of each host city. It is the necessity to shock, to fast track the dispossession of the poor and marginalised as part of the larger machinations of capital accumulation. The architects of this plan need a spectacular show; a hegemonic device to reconfigure the rights, spatial relations and self-determination of the city’s working class, to reconstitute for whom and for what purpose the city exists. Unlike any other event, the Olympics provide just that kind of opportunity.
You can also check out: Special Report | #London2012: an Olympian exercise in corporate greenwashing
SATURDAY, MAY 12, 2012
Point of order. If I go to the supermarket with a budget of fifty quid, but then proceed to spend three hundred, I am by any definition over-budget. This still applies if half way round I suddenly decide to increase my budget to four hundred pounds. To think otherwise would be to incur the wrath of my bank, my partner, and logic itself. To constantly revise the estimate each and every time you run out of money means you haven’t set a budget, you’ve picked a number at random. You could spend nine, ten, or eleven billion pounds, and it wouldn’t matter. Sebastian Coe may as well have said, “We originally set out with an Olympic budget of a fiver, but have managed to remain within our budget since we have spent less than £25 billion.”So it is that we survey the costs of London 2012 with a heavy sigh. Although we haven’t had word of an increase in the Olympic budget for what seems like days now, the unveiling of Anish Kapoor’s Olympic Orbit tower/sculpture brought the whole sorry saga back to my attention. The 115m structure, which has set us back £22.7 million, looks like a crazy roller coaster where the sky’s the limit, reaching ever higher as it spirals out of control. Which, to my mind, makes it the single most expensive Olympics budget metaphor in history. In fairness to Kapoor, he has come out and said that the £15 entrance fee is a “hell of a lot of money”.…
The last time the games came to London they were held amid the rubble of a city still devastated by World War II. As we enter a double dip recession, politicians are increasingly fond of referencing those “Austerity Olympics”. They are put on display as a proud symbol of what a cash-strapped nation can achieve, a reminder that the collective high spirits of the nation are more important than money. They are the promise of a successful, prosperous London 2012. Blah. Blah. Blah. What the politicians fail to tell us when invoking the spirit of 1948 is that the government of the day refused to contribute any public money to the games. When there was no money in the coffers, Clem Atlee decided not to cough up.
A better comparison would be to examine the Olympiads of recent times where all bar one of the host cities (Los Angeles in 1984) exceeded their budget. Both the Beijing and Athens games saw their eventual costs double from the intial estimates. The hosts of the 1976 games, Montreal, were eventually saddled with debts of $2 billion. Before the games got under way the mayor of the city, Jean Drapeau, claimed, “the Olympics could no more produce a deficit, than a man a baby”. Montreal finally finished paying off their debt in 2006, thirty years after they held the games.
With the costs of the games nationalised and the profits privatised, the people making money out of the games will be the IOC and their loyal band of corporate cohorts. No doubt the ConDem coalition will continue to throw money at a budget that, history suggests, has not yet finished increasing. Only people with more money than sense would spend time trying to book Keith Moon for the Olympic Ceremony. The trouble is that it’s our money they’re throwing around. Like a shop-a-holic on a spending binge, there’s no cost too small, no lavish step too far. It’s an addiction. A disease. Won’t somebody, please, cut up their credit cards?
An article just came out by the journalist and sports writer I mentioned in the previous post, David Zirin, on the shockingly massive militarization of the 2012 Olympics in London. He nails the reason behind this slide into an ever more Orwellian State:
“But the Olympics aren’t about sports any more than the Iraq War was about democracy. The Olympics are not about athletes. And they’re definitely not about bringing together “the community of nations.” They are a neoliberal Trojan Horse aimed at bringing in business and rolling back the most basic civil liberties.
…But in the post-9/11 world, the stakes are even higher to expose this for what it is. The Olympics have become the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, and the medicine is that our elected leaders have seen the enemy, and it is all of us.” – David Zirin
First published at TheNation.org.
AS MANY as 48,000 security forces. Thirteen thousand five hundred troops. Surface-to-air missiles stationed on top of residential apartment buildings. A sonic weapon that disperses crowds by creating “head splitting pain.” Unmanned drones peering down from the skies. A safe zone, cordoned off by an 11-mile electrified fence, ringed with trained agents and 55 teams of attack dogs.
One would be forgiven for thinking that these were the counterinsurgency tactics used by U.S. army bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, or perhaps the military methods taught to Third World despots at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. But instead of being used in a war zone or the theater of occupation, they in fact make up the very visible security apparatus in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
London, which has the most street cameras per capita of any city on earth, has, for the seven years since the terror attacks of July 7, 2005, been a city whose political leaders would spare no expense to monitor its own citizens.
But the Olympic operation goes above and beyond anything we’ve ever seen when a Western democracy hosts the Games. Not even China in 2008 used drone planes or ringed the proceedings with a massive, high-voltage fence. But here is London, preparing a counterinsurgency, and parking an aircraft carrier right in the Thames. Here is London adding “scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control centers and checkpoints.”
Stephen Graham at the Guardian refers to the entire state of affairs as “Lockdown London” as well as “the UK’s biggest mobilization of military and security forces since the Second World War.” He is not exaggerating in the slightest. The number of troops will exceed the forces the UK has had in Afghanistan.
It’s not just the costs or the incredible invasion into people’s privacy. It’s the powers being given to police under the 2006 “London Olympic Games Act,” which empowers not only the army and police, but also private security forces to deal with “security issues” using physical force. These “security issues” have been broadly defined to include everything from “terrorism” to peaceful protesters, to labor unions, to people selling bootleg Olympic products on the streets.
Any corporate presence that doesn’t have the Olympic seal of approval will be removed. To help them with the last part, “brand protection teams” will be set loose around the city. These “teams” will also operate inside Olympic venues to make sure no one “wears clothes or accessories with commercial messages other than the manufacturers” who are official sponsors.
The security operation also means the kind of street harassment of working-class youth that will sound familiar here in the United States. As the Guardian reported, “Officers have powers to move on anyone considered to be engaged in antisocial behavior, whether they are hanging around the train station, begging, soliciting, loitering in hoodies or deemed in any way to be causing a nuisance.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
NOT TO shock anyone, but there are no signs that any of the security apparatus will be dismantled once the Olympics are over. Local police forces have just been given an inordinate number of new toys, and the boxes have been opened, the receipts tossed away.
London will be left with a high-tech police force, terrible debt, higher taxes and a camera around every corner. The only people who will leave this party enriched will be the private security industry, which will tout “the peace” as their personal accomplishment, encouraging more of the global 1 percent to get more guards, more walls and more separation from the great unwashed.
There is no reason that the Olympics have to be this way. There is no reason that an international celebration of sports–particularly sports more diverse than our typical high-carb diet of football, baseball, basketball and more football–can’t take place without drones and aircraft carriers. There is no reason athletes from across the globe can’t join together and showcase their physical potential.
But the Olympics aren’t about sports any more than the Iraq War was about democracy. The Olympics are not about athletes. And they’re definitely not about bringing together “the community of nations.” They are a neoliberal Trojan Horse aimed at bringing in business and rolling back the most basic civil liberties.
In many ways, this is what the Games have always been. From Hitler’s Berlin Olympics in 1936, to the slaughter of students in 1968 in Mexico City, to the gang sweeps in Los Angeles in 1984, to Beijing’s mass displacement of citizens in 2008, the “crackdown” has always been a part of the Olympic Games.
But in the post-9/11 world, the stakes are even higher to expose this for what it is. The Olympics have become the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, and the medicine is that our elected leaders have seen the enemy, and it is all of us.
Until further notice* your freedom of speech** is now restricted to NSA monitored telecommunications services, FBI probed internet web sites and Homeland Security designated free speech cages.
A federal judge Wednesday issued an injunction against a National Defense Authorization Act provision that grants the military the right to detain anyone it suspects of involvement in terrorism. U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled in favor of a group of plaintiffs, including Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, who filed a lawsuit against the legislation within weeks of President Obama signing it.
Hedges was joined in the suit by linguist, author and dissident Noam Chomsky, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg and other high-profile activists, scholars and politicians.
Hedges argued in his testimony that his work as a journalist would bring him into contact with terrorist organizations that would, given the scope of the law, qualify him for indefinite detention. The plaintiffs argued that the threat of detention alone would be an unconstitutional encroachment on their First Amendment rights to free expression and association, as well as a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to due process.
Government lawyers and Obama had previously said the provision merely reaffirmed an existing law recognizing the military’s right to perform certain routine duties. Forrest found language in the NDAA regarding the treatment of suspected terrorists to be vague, and that contrary to the government’s claims of redundancy it expanded military powers. —ARK
Thanks for the good news Xray.
AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Afran, talk about the significance of the extent to which she struck down this statute.
BRUCE AFRAN: Well, it’s quite incredible, in a sense, because it’s rare that statutes are struck down completely. Judge Forrest struck down the entire provision of the NDAA governing indefinite detention of civilians and U.S. citizens. She said this provision is overbroad. She said it clearly embraces speech, even if it doesn’t intend to. And she criticized the government severely, because it refused to acknowledge in court that First Amendment activities would not bring someone into a state of indefinite detention. And five times, Judge Forrest asked the U.S. attorney, “Will you agree that First Amendment activities will not bring someone under the scope of this law?” And the government five times said, “We can’t answer that question.”
AMY GOODMAN: Now, President Obama signed it, but he was opposed by key members of his administration—for example, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta—
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
CHRIS HEDGES: That’s what’s so interesting. None of the Pentagon, the FBI, as you—Mueller and everyone else, as you pointed out—none of them supported the bill, even to the extent where Mueller and others were testifying before Congress that it would make their work more difficult. And yet it passes anyway. And it is a kind of—I think it’s a kind of mystery to the rest of us as to what are the forces that—when you have the security establishment publicly opposing it, what are the forces that are putting it in place? And I can only suppose that what they’re doing is setting up a kind of legal mechanism to criminalize any kind of dissent. And Bruce can speak to this a little more. But in the course of the trial, with Alexa O’Brien, US Day of Rage, that WikiLeaks dump of five million emails of the public security firm Stratfor, we saw in those email correspondence an attempt to link US Day of Rage with al-Qaeda. Once they link you with a terrorist group, then these draconian forms of control can be used against legitimate forms of protest, and particularly the Occupy movement.
Chris Hedges’ intellectual gift has been marvelously applied to providing us an insightful and comprehensive overview of our current socio/economic environment. Listen to this interview.
“The elite within the Corporate State understand, far better perhaps than we do, the political turmoil and dislocation that we are about to enter with the collapse of globalization and the reconfiguration of not only American society but the global society into a form of neofeudalism with a rapacious, tiny, totally empowered oligarchic elite ruling over a vast underclass…. and they [the elite] have put into place the security and surveillance state to essentially permit these corporate forces to continue to disembowel the nation.
… They anticipate turmoil and unrest. The kind of lifestyle, the kind of consumption that we have carried out is just not sustainable and they now it. So how far will they go [with authoritarianism]? There are two ways that they do it. They control us through fear. As Randolph Bourne said, “War is the health of the State.” This era of perpetual war justifies the kind of intrusiveness from the State that we have seen recently…
Harbingers of what’s to come…
The purpose of bread and circuses is… to distract, to divert emotional energy towards the absurd and the trivial and the spectacle while you are ruthlessly stripped of power.
I used to wonder, is Huxley right or is Orwell right? It turns out they’re both right. First you get the new world state and endless diversions and hedonism and the cult of the self as you are disempowered. And then, as we are watching, credit dries up, the cheap manufactured goods of the consumer society are no longer cheap. Then you get the iron fist of Oceania, of Orwell’s 1984. That’s precisely the process that’s happened. We have been very effectively pacified by the pernicious ideology of a consumer society, which is centered around the cult of the self, kind of undiluted hedonism and narcissism. That became a very effective way to divert our attention while the country was reconfigured into a kind of neofeudalism, with a rapacious oligarchic elite and an anemic government that no longer was able to intercede on behalf of citizens but now cravenly serves the interests of the oligarchy itself.
Imperial power is a disease, because the techniques of imperial power, which is all about not only control through force but the looting of natural resources, not about democracy, the techniques that imperium uses abroad it soon uses at home. That’s what Thucydides wrote, that the tyranny that ancient Athens or the Athenian empire imposed on others, it finally imposed on itself. That’s what destroyed Athenian democracy; it was destroyed from within. That’s precisely what’s happening. What is Homeland Security? It’s the most intrusive government institution in the history of America. And yet we accept it. We accept it because we’re made afraid of terrorism.
So I think we’d better grow up. You strive towards a dream. You live within an illusion. We are the most illusioned society on the planet. We have to become adults. And it’s hard, it’s painful. I struggle with despair all the time. But I’m not going to let it win. I don’t have any false illusion that I’m going to build some great populist movement or be part of some great populist movement that’s going to overthrow the corporate state and impose light and goodness. Yet, I think it is incumbent upon all of us that at the same time we recognize how dark the future is, we also recognize the absolute imperative of resistance in every form possible.
— Chris Hedges in interview “Empire abroad, tyranny at home“
It’s been a while since I posted something from DOTE.
The environment will continue to go down the tube because the economy is all that matters. And what is the economy?… CAPITALISM. Capital and the accumulation of it are all that we strive for. This means anything and everything will be commercialized, commodified, and harvested until the fields are barren, the forests are denuded, and the oceans trawled empty. Our ethos is based on this never-ending exploitation, not the health of the environment. We don’t appreciate and respect the fact that the very foundation of life is based on having a healthy ecosystem, rather we base it on the growth of profit and a healthy balance sheet. $$$ is our God and from it all else springs.
A while back I made the comparison that species extinction and mankind’s indifference to the 6th Mass Extinction was analogous to the residents of a 100 story building randomly removing the bricks from the 1st floor without knowing what effect each removed brick may have on the stability and integrity of the entire structure. Here is a new study which answers some questions in regards to that analogy:
The journal Nature recently published a paper with the unwieldy title A Global Synthesis Reveals Biodiversity Loss As A Driver Of Ecosystem Change (pdf). Here’s the story—
Loss of biodiversity appears to impact ecosystems as much as climate change, pollution and other major forms of environmental stress, according to a new study from an international research team…
“Loss of biological diversity due to species extinctions is going to have major impacts on our planet, and we better prepare ourselves to deal with them,” says University of Michigan ecologist Bradley Cardinale, one of the authors. The study was published online May 2 in the journal Nature.
Prepare ourselves? I’ll have more to say about this at the end.
“These extinctions may well rank as one of the top five drivers of global change,” says Cardinale, assistant professor of natural resources at the [University of Michigan] School of Natural Resoures and Environment, and assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, LSA.
Studies over the last two decades have demonstrated that more biologically diverse ecosystems are more productive. As a result, there has been growing concern that the very high rates of modern extinctions — due to habitat loss, overharvesting and other human-caused environmental changes — could reduce nature’s ability to provide goods and services like food, clean water and a stable climate.
But until now, it’s been unclear how biodiversity losses stack up against other human-caused environmental changes that affect ecosystem health and productivity.
“Some people have assumed that biodiversity effects are relatively minor compared to other environmental stressors,” says biologist David Hooper of Western Washington University, the lead author of the Nature paper. “Our new results show that future loss of species has the potential to reduce plant production just as much as global warming and pollution.”
And the abstract.
Evidence is mounting that extinctions are altering key processes important to the productivity and sustainability of Earth’s ecosystems. Further species loss will accelerate change in ecosystem processes, but it is unclear how these effects compare to the direct effects of other forms of environmental change that are both driving diversity loss and altering ecosystem function. Here we use a suite of meta-analyses of published data to show that the effects of species loss on productivity and decomposition—two processes important in all ecosystems—are of comparable magnitude to the effects of many other global environmental changes.
In experiments, intermediate levels of species loss (21–40%) reduced plant production by 5–10%, comparable to previously documented effects of ultraviolet radiation and climate warming.
[My note: Ozone depletion causes increased levels of ultraviolet radiation. Below, nutrient pollution (eutrophication) comes from excessive nutrients in the environment e.g. nitrogen-driven algal blooms in the oceans.]
Higher levels of extinction (41–60%) had effects rivalling those of ozone, acidification, elevated CO2 and nutrient pollution. At intermediate levels, species loss generally had equal or greater effects on decomposition than did elevated CO2 and nitrogen addition.
The identity of species lost also had a large effect on changes in productivity and decomposition, generating a wide range of plausible outcomes for extinction. Despite the need for more studies on interactive effects of diversity loss and environmental changes, our analyses clearly show that the ecosystem consequences of local species loss are as quantitatively significant as the direct effects of several global change stressors that have mobilized major international concern and remediation efforts.
Figure 1 — “Changes in primary production as a function of per cent local species loss. Effects of species loss on primary production from 62 studies (379 observations). Thick red line, lower productivity as species richness decreases; grey bands and black error bars, 95% confidence intervals. The thin red line shows the inverse of the thick red line to allow comparison of effect magnitudes with environmental changes with positive effects.” Note that the effects on productivity of some ecosystem changes are actually positive (light blue text).
It comes as no surprise that extinctions will directly affect productivity (e.g. photosynthesis in plants) and decomposition (rot, decay) in ecosystems, which also directly affects the Earth’s carbon cycle. Everybody knows that ecosystems must be regarded holistically, and when they become impoverished relative to their “original” state, they are not nearly as robust as they were formerly. This text from the study provides some necessary context.
A variety of global changes are driving rates of species extinction that greatly outpace background rates in the fossil record10,11. If these trends continue, projections suggest that within 240 years Earth may face the sixth mass extinction. Such projections have prompted hundreds of experiments examining how different components of biodiversity affect ecosystem processes that sustain the provisioning of goods and services to society.
[My note: Saying we will enter the 6th mass extinction 240 years from now seems a tad optimistic, but I don’t want to get into that today.]
Syntheses of these experiments have made it clear that plant biodiversity loss will reduce plant production and alter decomposition. However, it is uncertain how the sizes of these effects compare with the direct effects of other types of environmental change, such as changing atmospheric composition, climate warming and nutrient pollution, that also threaten ecosystem functioning. This uncertainty has generated wide-ranging speculation about how strongly biodiversity loss might affect humanity.
Perhaps it would be better to ask the plants & animals about their uncertainty regarding how human activities are affecting them instead of trying to resolve the wide-ranging opinions humans hold about just how badly it will affect them if they continue fucking up the Earth’s natural systems. Unfortunately, the plants & animals are merely victims here and have no strong opinion on the matter
Thus the main result of this paper has been to reduce uncertainty regarding the effects of biodiversity loss on ecosystems. The effects rival those of ozone depletion and anthropogenic climate change.
What can we say about this less than felicitous finding? This revealing text is from the University of Michigan press release quoted above.
“Within the range of expected species losses, we saw average declines in plant growth that were as large as changes seen in experiments simulating several other major environmental changes caused by humans,” Hooper says. “I think several of us working on this study were surprised by the comparative strength of those effects.”
The strength of the observed biodiversity effects suggests that policymakers searching for solutions to other pressing environmental problems should be aware of potential adverse effects on biodiversity, as well, the researchers say.
I love shit like this. Why is it important that policymakers be thus aware? Should policymakers be aware of the potential adverse effects on ecosystems brought about by species extinctions because they will be willing and able to do something about the problem if they know about it? Is that the point here?
Suppose this study didn’t exist and nobody carries out a similar study in the future. It’s not as if policymakers will wake up in 50 years, notice that species extinctions are having adverse effects on productivity and decomposition, and then ask why didn’t somebody tell us about this? We might have done something about it if we had known!
So it doesn’t matter whether policymakers know about this extinction disaster or don’t know about it. This study, like every other similar study in this and other research areas, will be ignored by policymakers. Yes, it will be cited by researchers doing future studies along these lines, which will also be ignored by policymakers.
This science is serious stuff, and that’s why I’m reporting it, but I’m sorry—when people start talking about making policymakers aware of the problem in the expectation that something will actually be done about it, I can’t take that seriously at all.
Have a nice weekend.
The real issue facing the so-called “advanced” nations and now China, India and the Asian tigers is that cheap oil is running out. Extracting oil will become ever more difficult and expensive and at some future point will be so costly that it will cause essentially a collapse of globalism with real depression here in the US. The fact that oil commerce is denominated in dollars while the value of the dollar steadily declines also presages a future in which the dollar may be toppled as the world currency, thus leading to widespread inflation and certain critical shortages of basics.
Widespread suffering will be endemic, unless an alternative source of energy is found able to sustain our way of life. But that is extremely unlikely. Coal and natural gas can compensate to some degree but since our luxurious and wasteful way of life is based on oil and since we see our many profligate luxuries as necessities, the industries that support them will fail, and that will lead to mass unemployment, cold winters indoors and the absence of air-conditioning in summer, not to mention starvation in what we like to think of as the “backward” nations, and hunger here since our supermarket cornucopia requires hydrocarbon for fertilizers and pesticides. Miracle cures like bio-fuels and hydrogen are wishful thinking. Nuclear power could maintain the electrical grid but the recent meltdown in Japan may make that hope insurmountable despite Obama’s continuing support for a nuclear renaissance. Green technologies are unlikely to fill the void on time to avert the falling economic and political dominoes, if ever.
The US government’s real energy policy up to now has been to support energy corporations to exploit oil as usual and gain control over such reservoirs still existing. Congress is the creature of oil and other hydrocarbon corporations and their financiers…largely to protect their profit margins, and there is no plan for the day when the Age of Oil ends with a crash. Again natural gas and coal can maintain some of the richer nations at a much lower standard of living but this will result in widespread social upheaval leading to more international tension…not to mention an intensification of global warming.
American foreign policy is premised today on garnering as much control over shrinking energy resources as possible…and to protect this access strategically. The various military commands are deployed primarily for this reason. Note that a new military command with responsibility for Africa has been created. The opportunity to create new military bases for AFRICOM is one of the prime reasons the U.S. is now in Libya. Note the recent incursion of American “advisors’ into Uganda and Sudan. Nigeria now provides a third of American needs, and Angola and other smaller nations have reservoirs that are targets for U.S. control. Obviously our attempt to gain control of the lion’s share of Middle East oil and especially of oil and natural gas in the Caspian and Central Asian regions will bring us into serious conflict with those nations that see these as their back yard – namely China and Russia and India and Pakistan. Imagine our response if China were to inject 150,000 troops into Mexico, the number two supplier of our domestic needs, or Venezuela, with the clear intention of siphoning these reserves to themselves?
Mexico crude production peaked in 2004 at 3.7 million barrels a day, and is now down to 2.5 million, and falling fast. Their super giant Cantarell has been declining by 30 percent per annum. Mexico used to be our second largest supplier, but is now no.5, supplying only 8 percent of imports. Mexico will soon be a net oil importer bidding against us for declining net exports.
Al Qaeda does not constitute an “existential threat” to the US and most real terrorist threats can be dealt with by police methods as the last decade has shown. It is well known in Washington but not among the public that the Taliban told al Qaeda not to attack the US from Afghanistan before 9-11. The fact that al Qaeda did so created a break between the two groups. The Afghan Taliban itself cannot threaten the US, and has never declared any intention to do so. But when Americans kill Muslims in Muslim lands we do far more to create terrorists than anything al Qaeda could do on its own. Meanwhile, attacks on Pakistan have promoted a separate Pakistani Taliban, and that faction has vowed to wreak vengeance on America, though its capacity to do so remains limited. The Pakistani Taliban, coupled with American air assaults, could destabilize Pakistan, and perhaps foster a takeover by Islamic fundamentalist junior officers. Recall that Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, the public is frightened and off balance and paying through the nose for endless deployments. None of this four trillion dollar war (as Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes now estimate) has been paid. Our children, and grandchildren, if they are lucky to have a future worthy of the name, will spend their working lives paying off these debts at jobs that won’t reflect degrees in higher education. Meanwhile, the various elements of the secret team are currently reaping the benefits of deficit spending and the national debt and they feel sure that eventually the real price will be paid by those who sacrifice their lives and by taxpayers forced ever more into bankruptcy, foreclosure and unemployment.
The current wars will fail to achieve their goals. Premised as they are on lies they are in fact crimes against the peoples of the region, crimes intended to take advantage of their weaknesses and reward American energy and financial corporations and secondarily we citizens of the empire who insist on maintaining a failing way of life. It is the same ancient game of beggar our neighbors to advantage ourselves. In neither Iraq nor Afghanistan will the US achieve control of shrinking energy reserves for essentially the same reason it could not control Vietnam, the very war waged upon their peoples ostensibly to “liberate” them recruits more opponents. Moreover, the attempt to do so will result ever more tensions with the Muslim world and the other nations that need energy too.
In other words, the global climate is heating up in more ways than one. The conditions for another global war are present, and let us not ignore the fact that the last one was waged with toys compared to the present.
President Obama has said that he wants to see a “nuclear free Middle East. That would require the nuclear disarmament of Israel. Yet Obama goes along with the pretense of all his predecessors and refuses to acknowledge that Israel has these Weapons of Mass Destruction. If, indeed Iran is building nuclear weapons why wouldn’t it given the fear of Israel’s, or of America’s in the Persian Gulf, of Russia’s to the north, of Pakistan’s to the east? A world in which some nations declare their entitlement to such horrific weapons is a world in which many others tremble and come to reason that their only protection lies in possessing such themselves. As international tensions rise over shrinking resources, and the ravages of climate change, the more likely a hair trigger mentality will arise. Hiroshima was the handwriting on the wall. As these demonic weapons increase sooner or later they will be used.
That is, unless the American people force our policies toward sanity, and come to focus on what our rhetoric has claimed we stand for all along.
Congressman Barney Frank has stated that the current economic crisis could be resolved by simply reducing the size and mission of the military. To be sure, the U.S. could defend itself against any existential threat with a tenth of our current military budget,. But the real threats perceived by elites are to their control of resources and markets. Such a redirection of resources could ameliorate economic crisis significantly but only for a time. The issue still remains the energy future, especially depletion and the effects of discharging hydrocarbon effluents into the atmosphere in the first place, and the growing likelihood of spreading violence. By all measures the American government and the public appear intent to hang on to our way of life no matter the consequences. That way of life is inherently profligate and unsustainable. We have altered the climate to the extent that ravaging events like the recent floods in Pakistan, vast forest fires in Russia, Hurricane Katrina, water shortages, and desertification are mere warnings. The worse all such conditions become the more social and political instability with severe danger of armed violence.
Our policies in the future must center on a crash program of conservation of energy, even if this means draconian limits imposed by law such as smaller more fuel efficient vehicles, and heating devices, and restrictions on air-conditioning and banning plastic containers etc. Both the nuclear power and coal industries are ramping up pressure since they know that natural gas, which at present provides most electricity, is also depleting and we need to educate people to be aware of what will happen without secure electricity. Simultaneously we need a Manhattan Project “cubed” and focused on alternative energy. Above all the crying need is for international cooperation in conservation, for cooperation into research into alternative energy sources, and mutual disarmament treaties and agreements to avoid conflict over shrinking resources. The alternative is the worsening probability of a third global war. Yet at present we have only Plan A: Armed intervention.
Alternatives can occur ONLY if the public awakens to the coming storm. We cannot depend on the corporate media to educate us; they are allied with their major clients, not the public, and they are deliberately withholding bad news for fear of stampeding the stock markets into panic. We must get the word out ourselves and make it clear that we will not accept or cooperate with business as usual from Congress or the presidency. That will have to mean more militancy throughout this nation than seen since the 1960s, or really even the 1930s. Unfortunately I fear this will require even deeper crisis before we begin to awaken to the danger ahead.