Thursday, August 2, 2012

Olympian Hype - ALEC - Assange

Olympian Hype

Once again the Olympics are upon us and this time it’s London’s turn to hold an extravaganza, to show off, to say to the world, Look at us, aren’t we great? The actual sports seem secondary to the desire to inspire one and all to go and spend their money there. Of course, not all Londoners are smitten by the great propaganda value of being host city, in fact, about 2/3rds think that holding the games was a mistake and that they’re all about big business. To enforce that image, London has deployed 300 ‘brand’ police who roam around the city to stop people from using the Olympic symbol for personal gain and to prevent a stray Pepsi from getting too close to the Coke-sponsored official venues. An athlete was reprimanded and forced to remove a picture of his shoes, which weren’t the official brand, which he had posted on Facebook.
And all it cost the UK was about $16 bn. Relative to economic size that’d be roughly equivalent to the US spending $90 bn. This at a time when the UK is brutally cutting back on basic services and reducing already meager social security benefits because of a huge budget deficit. While it’s true that London made its bid during boom times, it’s still one of those events which always come in way over budget and leave a mixed legacy. Yes, it’s great promotion for a city - as if London needed it - but 16 billion dollars worth?
Some of that money went to infrastructure improvements which are long-lasting and beneficial. A lot went to build sports facilities which are used once and then either torn down or left to decay. London has been smart in constructing some venues as temporary, designed to be dismantled at the end of the games. Holding the games inevitably results in displacing people who need to make way for the new construction and disrupting people’s lives as the sites are being developed as well as when the events are taking place.
Maybe there are other better ways for a country to show off, to advertise itself, if it really thinks that that’s important. Maybe instead of regular betting wars between prospective Olympic venues (and the corruption that has sometimes happened in the choosing process) and the great losses, or shall we say the great costs, the games always entail to the host country, the games should be returned to Mount Olympus or somewhere in Greece and held there permanently. That way, once the facilities are built they will be used on a regular basis until they’re worn out and need to be replaced.
The games also need to be trimmed back: Why is there a football (soccer) competition at the Olympics such a short time after the World Cup? That’s just duplication. Personally, I don’t think much of Olympic sports like beach volleyball, air rifle shooting and badminton; nonetheless there are international organizations which set rules for those games and advocate for every olympic sport. In this new permanently located Olympics each sport can be responsible for coming up with the money to build and maintain the necessary facilities for its sport. If they can’t get it together, they can’t compete. If world football wants to be represented at the Olympics let them pay for the stadiums required.
If the games are held at Mount Olympus or in or near a similar small town area then city life won’t be totally disrupted, the cost of building facilities will be far less and attendees won’t have to pay the high costs of big city accommodations. A rural location would also allow for campsites to be set up for those spectators and athletes who prefer to sleep outdoors. Initial costs for basic infrastructure would be substantial, but with each sport covering the cost of its own venues, the total cost for permanent infrastructure would be a small fraction of the cost of holding a single games.
Let the Olympic Games be for sport and not commercialism and hype.  

The above acronym stands for American Legislative Exchange Council, an extreme right wing lobbying organization funded by large corporations. Its purpose is to write model wingnut state-level legislation and then lobby for enactment in state legislatures. Along with the standard pro-business, anti-people goals, they’ve been pushing voter ID laws, the main purpose of which is to suppress the vote; the thinking being that people who lack ID’s tend to vote Democratic. Leave it to god, country and US constitution-loving conservatives to want to prevent people from voting, the essence of democracy.
There’s a case of a woman in her nineties, who’s voted in every election for her entire lifetime, who’s no longer eligible to vote because of quirks written into the law which make it difficult for her to get an ID. A poll worker who’d known a voter for decades couldn’t allow her friend to vote because she lacked an approved ID. In one case in another of the 19 states that have enacted these laws, people in one jurisdiction could only apply for ID on the fifth Wednesday of any month, which happens about 4 times a year. In some cases the ID has to be current, as if a driver’s license that’s a month out of date is any less valid for identifying a person.
These laws are promoted as preventing fraud, when actual cases of fraud are extremely rare. As part of a legal challenge against the law that was recently enacted in Pennsylvania, public officials there admitted they’d never come across an instance of voter fraud. A state legislator there has publicly and unabashedly stated that he expected the impact of the law, in which hundreds of thousands of voters will be disqualified from voting, will be to give the state to Romney. It’s a mystery how supposedly god-fearing conservatives can reconcile blatant thievery with their oft-stated hard-wired religious beliefs.
Republicans are running scared because they know that demographics are against them; they’re trying every dirty trick in the book to hold on to power as long as possible. The old, the white, the narrow-minded, the conservative are being replace by the young, the minorities, the hip and the forward-looking. There also is a vast gender gap in party preference in this election cycle with women going for Democrats by nearly 20 percentage points. Voter ID laws make it more difficult for women who’ve changed their names upon marriage to obtain ID.
ALEC has tried to stay in the shadows but recent revelations about its activities have prompted many of its corporate sponsors to back out; the damage however has already been done; if Obama loses by a small margin then voter ID laws will have had there intended effect. When Republican vote counting fraud and other types of voter suppression efforts are added, Romney’s chances are much improved. Other types of voter suppression include shorting voting machines in Demo districts while having plenty in Repug ones. That happened in Ohio in 2004 when voters in inner city districts that tend to vote Demo had to wait up to 8 hours to vote while voters in suburban, Repug-leaning districts in the same county sailed through in a few minutes.

Julian Assange

The Julian Assange/Wikileaks saga continues. He’s now holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London seeking political asylum. Sweden has been trying to get him extradited for nearly two years during which time he’s been under some form of house arrest or judicial oversight while fighting extradition. He skipped out on a very large bond, but his backers probably won’t mind since he and they (and myself also) think that once in Sweden, the US will demand his further extradition to stand trial for espionage and treason which would involve as much as life in prison or the death penalty.
Obama, who campaigned on promising a more open and transparent government and protection of whistleblowers, has been far worse in that regard than his predecessor, the Bushman. Despite the great government hype about how Assange endangered many people, not a single actual case of his leaks causing personal harm has been documented. They have, on the other hand, caused deep embarrassment to the political establishment and cries for revenge and even assassination among some American lawmakers.
Meanwhile no-one so far has charged him with any crime; he’s wanted by Sweden for questioning in a case of alleged sexual abuse. He’s willing to be interrogated in England but Sweden is adamant that he answer questions in Sweden. What is the great need to have him in their clutches, rather than question him in the UK? And what is the great crime he’s alleged to have committed which warrants nearly two years of harassment? He didn’t want to use a condom in an otherwise consensual sexual encounter. How many other people would face the same level of persecution over such a relatively small matter?
Though I’ve read a lot about the case, the details are murky, just like the case itself. Regardless, one doesn’t need to know the details to understand he’s being pursued relentlessly for baring the details of America’s often duplicitous foreign policy and nefarious motives. In some ways I was disappointed in his seeking asylum: Too bad he couldn’t be a Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi and be willing to subject himself to incarceration for a just cause. He’d be a cause celebre from prison as a clear case of injustice in the justice system. However, having spend a relatively short time behind bars, I don’t blame him a bit for trying to take the easy way out. It’s a hell I don’t wish on the worst people even when I recognize they deserve it and can’t be allowed to be loose in society.