In what is a bitter irony, whilst reaping the PR benefits of association with the 2012 Paralympics, the Dow Chemical Corporation is directly responsible for wave after wave of disability in faraway lands.
Today begin London’s 2012 Paralympics, set to be opened by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. For another two weeks, we will hear Lord Sebastian Coe and other LOCOG officials’ lofty statements not just about the games’ alleged spirit of inclusiveness but also about their role in the empowerment of disabled people and the challenging of misconceptions around disability. Such pomp and pageantry however, is disingenuous to its core, something recognised by many disability rights campaigners.
Dogging the games for several months now has been controversy relating to corporate sponsorship from a variety of the world’s murkiest companies. The Paralympic games allow for what The Nation’s Dave Zirin has termed ‘corporate sin washing’ more than any other athletic spectacle.
As many have noted, from McDonalds and Coca-Cola, partly responsible for obesity epidemics worldwide, to British Petroleum, notorious for off-shore drilling and funding climate change denial, the list of sponsors leaves one bewildered.
Updated with a postscript noting Robert Fisk’s obscene pro-regime propaganda while embedded with the regime army in Darayya, and the response of the LCCs to Fisk’s nonsense.
The Syrian regime is now perpetrating crimes against humanity at a pace to match its crimes in Hama in 1982 and at the Tel Za’atar Palestinian camp in 1976. All of Syria is a burning hell. Savage aerial bombardment (such as that causing the apocalypse here in Kafranbel, which held such beautifully creative demonstrations) and continuous massacres have raised the average daily death toll to well above two hundred, most of them in Damascus and its suburbs. The other day 440 people were murdered in twenty four hours.
The worst hit area has been the working class suburb of Darayya. I visited people in Darayya some years ago, and once bought a bedroom set for a friend’s wedding in the town. I remember it as a lively, friendly, youthful place. Last year Darayya became a cultural centre of the revolution. Ghiath Matar and others developed wonderful methods of non-violent protest there. When security forces arrived to repress demonstrations, Darayya’s residents handed the soldiers flowers and glasses of water. But Matar was murdered, and Darayya has been repeatedly raided, its young men detained and tortured, its women and children shot and bombed. Nevertheless, for some months the regime was kept out of Darayya. The town ruled itself in a civilised manner, successfully keeping a lid on crime and sectarianism.
The recent pattern is already well established (remember the massacre at Houla), but this time has played out on a larger scale. The regime bombed Darayya for days, mainly from artillery stationed on the mountains overlooking Damascus. Once any armed resistance had retreated, soldiers and shabeeha militia moved in, with knives and guns. This stage reminds one of Sabra and Shatila. It seems there was a list of suspected activists and resistance sympathisers, but the field executions included old men, women and children. About three hundred bodies have been counted so far, found in the street or in basements or in family homes.
In this month’s TaxCast: Capital flight in Africa and now in Europe, Olympian Usain Bolt fails to champion his tax affairs and the Spirit Level writers Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson on tax and inequality.
TaxCast, a Tax Justice Network production, is hosted by Naomi Fowler; each 15 minute podcast follows the latest news relating to tax evasion, tax avoidance and the shadow banking system. The show features discussions with experts in the field to help analyse the top stories each month.
Last month, Stuart Jeffries writing in the Guardian, observed, “Capitalism is in crisis across the globe – but what on earth is the alternative?” In 1840, Orestes Brownson in his essay “The Laboring Classes,” asked the same question, “…what shall government do? … Its first doing must be an undoing. … We want first the legislation which shall free the government, whether State of Federal, from the control of the Banks. … a banking system like ours, if sustained, necessarily and inevitably becomes the real and efficient government of the country.” How ironic that 172 years ago, only 49 years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, Brownson notes, “… at the end of ten years (of) constant hostility, (we know) all too well the power of the Banks, and their fatal influence on the political action of the community.” He declares further that “uncompromising hostility” against the banking system should be the motto of every working man, and of “every friend of humanity.”
Brownson’s “Laboring Classes” is a call to action, virtually at the inception of the country, to put the control of the government back in the hands of the people. “The system must be destroyed….The system is at war with the rights and interest of labor, and it must go.” How ironic Jeffries’ observation of the current state of affairs when contrasted to that of Brownson.
“Today, 164 years after Marx and Engels wrote about grave-diggers, the truth is almost the exact opposite. The proletariat, far from burying capitalism, are keeping it on life support. Overworked, underpaid workers ostensibly liberated by the largest socialist revolution in history (China’s) are driven to the brink of suicide to keep those in the west playing with their iPads. Chinese money bankrolls an otherwise bankrupt America.”
Nestled amongst the leafy streets of Cambridge is the University’s Economics faculty. This, unassuming, 1960s building, plays host to one of the world’s leading development economists: Ha-Joon Chang. An international best selling author, Chang is no stranger to controversy, he is known for his critical analysis of economic orthodoxy and draws upon economic history in much of his work. His most recent book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism gallantly contributes to the ongoing critique surrounding our global economic system. In 2005 the South Korean born economist was awarded the Wassily Leontief prize for Advancing the Frontier of Economic Thought for his book “Kicking Away the Ladder”. I enter his office, quaint and amassed with books. His manner, affable and upbeat, we begin.
You co-wrote a paper entitled “Industrial Policy and the Role of the State in Egypt” which outlined an alternative development policy, comparing Egypt to the East Asian experience, can you tell us a little about your vision at the time?
“We wrote it in 1995/4, it was a time when they [the IMF] were accelerating liberalization and privatization. We felt that in a relatively closed economy like what Egypt was before, liberalizing and opening can bring some benefits because you have more competition and foreign exchanges and so on. But we were worried that this brought, at best, short-term benefits. You really need a long-term strategy to take your country to another level. Back in the early 60s Korea and Egypt had similar levels of income, two of the poorest countries in the world. Today Egypt still is a poor country, with a per capita income of $2000 compared to South Korea’s $20,000. So, what happened during those 50 years that made such a huge a difference is an important question. Of course, there were problems with the earlier economic strategy under Nasser. In my view, it was too closed – but, liberalising everything without any strategy and privatising, without any clear view of what should be done was not a very promising strategy. Unfortunately we have been proven right in that sense because they’ve done a lot of things since the 90s, but where did it end up?”
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has an important report up by Dahlia El Zein. The attacks on media personnel affiliated with the Syrian regime has been rightly condemned. But not enough is said about the regime’s more systematic policy to co-opt and in some cases deliberately trap journalists for propaganda purposes. Most shocking however is the role of Sister Agnes-Mariam, the regime-affiliated nun who has been feted both by the far left and the Christian right. The nun has already been condemned by Father Paolo Dell’Oglio, who was expelled by the regime for his criticisms after spending 30 years of his life in the country. The following story is further indictment.
Evidence of government targeting in the deaths of the international journalists is circumstantial, although the journalists on the ground perceived that they were under attack. CPJ spoke with Sid Ahmed Hammouche, a reporter with the Swiss daily La Liberté who participated in the government-sponsored trip that ended in Jacquier’s death. He said he believes the government laid a trap for the reporters.
Hammouche and Jacquier were among a group of 15 journalists allowed into Syria on government-issued visas facilitated bySister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, a Lebanese nun of Palestinian origin with close relations to the Assad regime. Sister Agnes had helped arrange a reporting trip to Homs on January 11, although she declined to accompany the group, saying her absence would help them move freely. Jacquier resisted the Homs trip, believing it unsafe, but Sister Agnes urged him to go or risk losing the opportunity to renew his visa beyond the initial four-day period, Hammouche told CPJ in an account consistent with news reports.
Once they arrived in Homs, the journalists divided into two groups, one with journalists from CNN, CBS, and BBC who were led by the Ministry of Information to visit a local hospital. The other contingent included Hammouche, three French journalists, including Jacquier, his wife, Caroline Poiron, Jacquier’s cameraman, Christophe Kenck; and Swiss and Belgian journalists. That group was escorted by 20 Syrian soldiers dressed in military fatigues and in plainclothes. This group was also supposed to visit the hospital but they were detoured without explanation to a pro-Assad neighborhood, Hammouche said, where they interviewed residents. As they left the area, the group encountered a pro-Assad march and heard an explosion.
To his surprise, Hammouche said, the soldiers took no evident action to protect the journalists or respond to the explosion; instead, most of the soldiers dispersed without explanation, leaving four escorts who appeared relaxed and dismissed the noise as a “sound explosion.” Hammouche said the soldiers urged the journalists to go toward the explosions to investigate. Hammouche said he and a Swiss colleague refused, remaining in one of two government vehicles, but Jacquier and the others traveled toward the source of the initial explosion.
More explosions followed, Hammouche recounted: “There were four explosions total in a 10-minute period. And that’s it. We didn’t hear a sound after that.”
George Orwell’s ‘The Road To Wigan Pier‘ was a classic expose of poverty in 1930s Britain. 75 years later, journalistStephen Armstrong travelled the same route and encountered levels of inequality and social injustice that Orwell would have recognised.
In a special event at the RSA, Stephen Armstrong is joined in conversation by Danny Dorling, professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield, to discuss why inequality persists in the UK today and where we might find grounds for optimism about the future.