The Olympic Games Bleeding The People Dry

Well it’s nearly Olympics time again and, as usual, the hype goes into overdrive. As usual it strikes me as a MASSIVE WASTE OF MONEY, particularly when most of the world is still suffering the effects of the financial crises.

The typical argument is that hosting an Olympics, while massively expensive and disruptive, drives long-term economic benefits so it’s a worthwhile exercise. Of course, you’ll see very little analysis of this argument in the media, because it wouldn’t be in their interests to actually ask hard questions about this particular topic. Why not? Because they benefit from the whole charade.

Even papers such as The Guardian are claiming that London will derive an economic benefit from hosting the Games. But how much of this is media hype to justify yet-another waste of public funds and how much of it stands up to a Cost/Benefit analysis?

Obviously many large corporations benefit from having an open faucet from the public Treasury, for example:

  • Construction companies get big dose of public funds;
  • Media companies get a bump in their advertising from an increase in viewership / circulation (hence their reluctance to criticise the whole affair);
  • and Tourism-related businesses, hospitality, etc, get a short-term bump.
Politicians from the host country get to hobnob with the sporting elite and various political, entertainment and corporate elite who visit (for example, even I got to attend a private dinner with Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates when they visited Sydney for the 2000 Olympics).
Now of course some of this translates into trickle down economics, with more employment opportunities for a few years for some people. But we can look at countries that have hosted the Olympics in past years and ask whether or not they have benefited economically or if it has been run at a loss and the funds could have been better spent on public infrastructure, education, and healthcare.

According to this report from Monash University, the Sydney Olympics Games actually cost the Australian public $2.1 billion.

According to Time.com, the Greek Olympics blew out big time:

It cost Greece about $11 billion, at least double what the Greek government had initially budgeted — and that doesn’t include the money the country has spent trying to maintain its rarely used Olympic facilities over the past eight years. It was forced — mainly by the U.S. and the U.K. — to spend $1.2 billion on security alone because of fears over terrorism, and in the months leading up to the opening ceremonies, Athens had to rush its schedule just to get construction projects completed on time.

For years, studies have shown that holding the Olympics often has severe negative economic effects on host cities, despite the temporary burst of tourism and global attention.

In 2005, Andrew Zimbalist, Robert Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College, wrote in Sports Business Daily:

Montreal’s 1976 Olympics left the city with $2.7 billion of debt that it is still paying off. The financing of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 is opaque.

The Los Angeles Games in 1984 left the organizing committee (LAOC) with a modest surplus of $335 million, but the LAOC got 67 percent of the TV money and spent little on infrastructure or new facilities. The physical legacy of the 1984 Games is close to nil.

The Barcelona Organizing Committee in 1992 broke even, but the public debt incurred rose to $6.1 billion.

Similarly, the Atlanta Organizing Committee in 1996 broke even, but the bottom line there is not encouraging. An econometric study using monthly data found that there was insignificant change in retail sales, hotel occupancy and airport traffic during the Games. The only variable that increased was hotel rates — and most of this money went to headquarters of chain hotels located in other cities.

In his paper “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of an Olympic Games”, Darren McHugh concludes that the “bottom line will be negative by hundreds of millions of dollars” (he analysed the Calgary and the Vancouver Games).

In their paper “Should Cities Go for the Gold? The Long-Term Impacts of Hosting the Olympics“, Stephen B. Billings and James Scott Holladay conclude:

Insignificant impacts for measures of population, real GDP per capita and openness is consistent with the theory that host cities bid away potential benefits in an effort to win the right to host the Games.  

I think the whole exercise is about corporations having yet another excuse to legally stick their snouts into the public trough and inhale deeply.  Instead of politicians spending those billions of dollars on education or healthcare, it goes into the pockets of the elite.

And don’t give me any nonsense about the actual sporting competition. That could be accomplished for a LOT less money and fuss, quietly, over the course of four years, in places with existing infrastructure (as many sporting events already do).

The whole exercise is another corporate capitalist scam, bleeding the 99% dry for the benefit of the 1%.

Does Believing In Spirits Make You Mentally Incompetent?

A woman in South Australia who murdered her two-year-old son because she believed he was “possessed by evil spirits” was found “not guilty of his murder due to mental incompetence” and has now been released. I can only assume she no longer believes in evil spirits. The media have conveniently omitted what religion she belongs to.

My question is this: what made her mentally incompetent?

Is it the believing in evil spirits or the murdering of her son?

It can’t be the murder aspect. If you believe in evil spirits and you are convinced that your son is possessed by them, wouldn’t murdering him be a rational response? That would make you competent.

I can only conclude that the court found that the mental incompetence was regarding the believing in evil spirits in the first place. And if believing in evil spirits makes you mentally incompetent, surely believing in good spirits holds equal stead?

Personally I agree – believing in spirits makes you kooky.

I meet people all the time who believe in evil spirits and are walking around in the community.

Not just Christians, either – Hindus, New Agers, Mahayana Buddhists, etc.

Now if all of these people living in society are mentally incompetent – for the same reasons as the woman from South Australia – what is to be done? I’m being serious. What should we do when, say, 80% of the population is defined (by the legal system, no less) as mentally incompetent? Should we mandate psychiatric help for them? I realise that not all of them are dangerous – but some obviously are and as a direct result of this belief in evil spirits.

What about politicians who believe, such as Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey? Should people who are mentally incompetent be allowed to work in politics? Should they allowed to be CEOs of companies? Should they be allowed to be parents?

These questions will keep me up at night.

Indonesians Seek Justice – Yeah Good Luck With That.

Nearly fifty years ago, the Australian, British and U.S. governments supported Indonesian President Suharto’s seizure of power and subsequent anti-communist purges. The families of the victims are still waiting for justice.

Of course, most Aussies are still completely ignorant about our role in Suharto’s crimes.

One of Suharto’s greatest crimes was the invasion and annexation of East Timor, also backed by Western governments — especially Australia. Up to 200,000 people — around one third of the population — died in East Timor as a result Indonesian occupation.

Australian ambassador to Indonesia at the time of the invasion, Richard Woolcott, recommended that Canberra back the invasion, because Australia could “more readily” negotiate a deal with the Suharto to give Australia access to the oil and gas in the Timor Sea than with an independent East Timor.

In 1985, Australia became the first country to formally recognise Indonesia’s illegal annexation of East Timor. The Timor Gap Treaty, signed by Australia and Indonesia in 1989, secured the division East Timor’s gas and oil deposits between the two countries.

As usual, the deal with Suharto was all about plundering the resources of developing nations.

The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had called “the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia”. In November 1967 the greatest prize was handed out at a remarkable three-day conference sponsored by the Time-Life Corporation in Geneva. Led by David Rockefeller, all the corporate giants were represented: the major oil companies and banks, General Motors, Imperial Chemical Industries, British American Tobacco, Siemens, US Steel and many others. Across the table sat Suharto’s US-trained economists who agreed to the corporate takeover of their country, sector by sector. The Freeport company got a mountain of copper in West Papua. A US/European consortium got the nickel. The giant Alcoa company got the biggest slice of Indonesia’s bauxite. America, Japanese and French companies got the tropical forests of Sumatra. When the plunder was complete, President Lyndon Johnson sent his congratulations on “a magnificent story of opportunity seen and promise awakened”. Thirty years later, with the genocide in East Timor also complete, the World Bank described the Suharto dictatorship as a “model pupil”.

(Pilger, The Guardian)

So this is how it works in a corporatocracy – when someone else has something you want, you either send in your country’s army on a false pretext to take control of the land, or you support an indigenous general to engineer a coup d’état (the preferred model during the 60s through to 9/11, after a series of disasters such as Vietnam and the Bay Of Pigs made it difficult for Americans to just invade where and when they please).

What do you think the chances of the Indonesians getting justice are when it would probably require exposure of the role of the U.S. and Australia? Good luck with that.

Chomsky: It’s Hard To Look Into The Mirror.

Yesterday I spent some time transcribing the podcast interview I did with Noam Chomsky way back in 2005 for the book I’m working on. If you haven’t heard that episode, I highly recommend having a listen, even through the audio quality leaves a lot to be desired. I hadn’t listened to the full thing myself in many years and it blew me away. It’s as relevant now as it was back then (if not more so).

Anyway, here’s just one of the profound snippets from the show. I suggested to Noam that people often find it hard, after a lifetime of corporate and nationalist propaganda, to accept his view of the world. I asked him what people can do to realign their worldview. Here’s a segment of his answer:

Look into the facts. This isn’t quantum physics, the evidence is easily available if you want to look at it.

Actually one of the hardest things to do, whether in personal life or in thinking about international affairs, is just to look into the mirror. We all know this in personal life. It’s much more convenient to have illusions about yourself than to look into the mirror and see yourself honestly. Anyone who doesn’t know that is just lying to themselves. We all know it. We create an image and picture of ourselves which fits our need to believe that what we are doing is basically benign and helpful and forthcoming and sympathetic and sometimes it’s true but often it isn’t and when it isn’t we typically finds ways of explaining it away.

But if we are honest we will look into the mirror and see what the truth is and do something about it. And the same is true when you look at international affairs.

Now there’s a difference in this case. When it’s a matter of just yourself, when it’s just a matter of how you deal with it, when you try to look honestly at your own society, its history and actions and so on, you’re facing a massive deluge of propaganda and indoctrination that is trying to create a delusionary picture. So power systems are naturally conspiratorial, naturally they are going to dedicate enormous efforts to try to get the population to view the exercise of power and hierarchy and authority as if its benign and full of benign intentions. I don’t know an exception to that in history. If you read the pronouncements of even the worst monsters, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Hirohito, they are all full of the most eloquent rhetoric about their noble intentions and how they are sacrificing themselves for the benefit of the people and so on and so forth, and yes major institutions are developed to try to promulgate those ideas and in fact its true that in the countries most people believe them. So for example in Nazi Germany, until it began suffering serious military defeats, Hitler was very popular, maybe the most popular leader in German history and his conception of the nobility of their engagement in the world and domestically, that was widely accepted. Same in fascist Japan, same in Stalinist Russia. That happens and it also happens in more free societies. Furthermore, there is nothing novel about it. Centuries ago, David Hume had an important work on political philosophy called “Foundations of The Theory of Government”. His first principle of the foundation of government he pointed out that power is actually in any society, he said, power is in the hands of those who are governed. They don’t know it, but power is actually in their hands. And therefore to maintain authority it is necessary to impose consent, it is necessary to compel the general population to consent to the authority of the masters. And he said that’s true in every society, from the most free to the most despotic. And that’s basically correct. And anyone with any degree of authority knows it, whether it’s in a family or school or corporation or government or World Bank, you know that, you have to compel consent somehow and to do that we now have massive institutions, huge institutions, media, educational systems, huge public relations industries, which are, to a large extent, devoted to this. If you want to discover the truth about your own society, its history and workings and so on, you do have to overcome barriers, barriers which are erected to prevent such understanding, but it’s not very difficult, again, it’s not quantum physics.