Friday 6 January 2012

Government exposed as mouthpiece for pro-motorist lobby group over motorway speed limit consultation

Consultations are meant to be open processes where multiple experts submit their knowledge to an open-minded government department who will make a sensible policy decision based on all the facts. Or are they a way of showing us that the government is democratic when in fact they have already made up their minds.


In October 2011, Phillip Hammond announced the government’s intention to ‘consult on raising the national speed limit on motorways from 70 to 80 mph.’ The press release informed us of the economic benefits of faster journey times; technological improvements which make for out-of-date speed limits, and how thousands of habitual law-breaking drivers will no longer need to worry because the law will be changed for them.

I disagree but at least they have their own mind, or do they?


Back in December 2005, the Association of British Drivers (ABD) produced a press release titled ‘Forty Years on, Time for a Higher Speed Limit on Motorways.’ In it they informed us how they had ‘called on the government to increase the speed limit to 80 mph on most parts of the network.’ The article boasted of a ‘comprehensive study’ carried out by the ABD, which was submitted to the Department for Transport (Dft) earlier that year.

The ‘comprehensive’ study they were referring to was published on their website on the 28th of May 2005, six months before their press release.  The document detail is for the most part poorly researched, for which I have separate analysis. However, it is remarkable for the exact comparison one can make between their submission and the wording used by Phillip Hammond in his justifications. So obvious in fact, that upon reading there can only be one conclusion; the DfT are speaking on behalf of the ABD.

You be the judge.

To start with we have Philip Hammond letting us know how there has been ‘huge advances in safety and motoring technology.’ The ABD 2005 submission, which has since been touched up last year in time for a Road Safety Framework review states; ‘there have been significant improvements in…vehicle engineering.’

The following agreement continues on the subject of varying speed limits. The DfT tells us, ‘some stretches of motorway would be likely to retain a 70mph limit because of their engineering and environment.’  Quite right said the ABD in their final conclusions: ‘There will be certain locations…where retention of the existing speed limit would be appropriate.’

On the economy the free-thinking Mr Hammond declared: ‘Increasing the motorway speed limit to 80mph would generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of pounds through shorter journey times.’ Couldn’t agree more say the ABD five years earlier: ‘Increasing the motorway speed limit would result in significant economic benefits from time savings’

And Finally.

‘We all know that many, many motorists who are otherwise law-abiding citizens routinely ignore the 70 miles per hour limit.’  
That’s our line say the ABD ‘… an increase in the UK motorway speed limit, or even its removal altogether would lead…to a substantial reduction in the proportion of drivers who habitually break the law.

I’ll leave you to work out who said what in that last one, but I’m not sure it actually matters, because on this issue at least, they are clearly one and the same.

As it turns out in more ways than one.

Not only is Mr Hammond reciting the words of the ABD before the consultation has even started, but the ABD has the dubious honour of having four Conservative MPs who act as their patrons. According to their website Steve Baker, Karl McCartney, David Morris,  Sammy Wilson and recently Westminster Conservative Cllr Glenys Roberts, who all make up the ABD’s existing patronage. No wonder then Phillip Hammond is so willing and able to speak on behalf of the motorist group.

Beware! They aren’t about to stop there. One of the recommendations at the bottom of the ABD’s submission reads: ‘After a period of time of acclimatisation to a higher speed limit, say three years, the possibility of raising it further or removing it altogether should be reviewed.’

Well there we go, we can expect an announcement from the DfT say in about three years informing us about how they think it will be a good idea to remove the speed limit altogether.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Dow: London's 2012 Perfect Olympic Sponsor

Campaigners against Dow
A recent sponsorship deal has seen the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games accept money from Dow Chemical. Dow will provide a fabric "wrap" which will be placed around London's Olympic stadium. By Mike Wells.

According to Britain's Guardian newspaper the wrap's purpose is to reduce wind inside the stadium.  But, as the metaphor says ... it is an ill wind that blows no one any good.

Or in this case trying to keep wind out of London’s Olympic stadium is creating a foul smelling ill wind of its own. 

The foul smelling story begins in 1984, in Bhopal, a previously little known Indian city where Union Carbide, an American pesticide manufacturer, chasing cheap labour, set up a shoddily constructed and poorly maintained chemical plant. On the night of 3rd December it exploded.  A deadly cloud of toxic dioxin gas killed thousands. According to witness accounts in the chaos that followed, the dead and dying were thrown one on top of the other in heaps.  Since that time thousands more have died, are ill, and have been born with physical and mental disabilities.

Since the accident Union Carbide (UC) paid compensation to survivors in the order of a mere few hundred dollars each.  Later, in what looks like an effort at rebranding, hiding liabilities, and obstructing legal action, Union Carbide was taken over by Dow.  Dow have also formed other holding companies behind which they have sought protection from legal action.

According to The Bhopal Medical Appeal, Dow claims the Indian Courts have no jurisdiction over them, because they are an American company.  Dow also claim US courts have no jurisdiction, because the incident occurred in India.

Decades later UC/Dow has failed to clean up contamination at their old chemical plant in India, and because of this ground water continues to be contaminated, and locals who drink the water are still blighted with health problems. Thousands are still suffering.

But Dow's reach of doom is not limited to India. They were also busy facilitating death, and the maiming of many thousands of people during the Vietnam War, by way of the manufacture of and supply of Napalm and Agent Orange.

American generals were concerned that their communist enemy were able to hide from their aircraft beneath the forest canopy, and also that they could sustain themselves from food crops grown by Vietnamese peasants.  Solution: remove the canopy, kill the food crops.  Enter Dow Chemical, defense suppliers, and manufacturers of Agent Orange - a liquid which could be sprayed from aircraft and would kill crops and forest.

Apart from the famine caused to non combatants, the other problem is Agent Orange is highly toxic to human beings.

Wikipedia entries estimate the Agent Orange death toll to be 400,000 and the number of birth defects 500,000.  As in Bhopal, birth defects are still occurring in Vietnam.

In Britain petitions have been launched against the 2012/Dow deal, while MPs and The Bhopal Medical Appeal are demanding London sever ties with Dow.

In India outrage at London's acceptance of Dow's sponsorship has led to protests which, according to a report from Ted Jeory in The Sunday Express, have been put down by the battening of peacefully protesting women.

Dow are the perfect sponsor for the London Olympics.  Reason? Synergy. The connection is contamination.

The land the London Olympic Park is built on was, for more than a century, home to all sorts of filthy industries.

Some 5,000 people were employed in the chemical industry in the area.  The land is heavily contaminated by paint factories, explosive manufacture, oil refiners, arsenic manufacture,  pesticide manufacture, and many more polluting activities.

In a bizarre coincidence one of the companies evicted from within what is now the Olympic Zone was Banner Chemicals.  Their business?  The import and wholesaling of chemicals.

But the site's pollution problems aren't limited to chemicals - they also include radioactive contamination, another inconvenience to which Dow is no stranger. They operated the notorious Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in the USA, and were fined $750m in 2008 in a plutonium contamination class action by nearby landowners, but as expert legal escapologists they subsequently wriggled out on appeal.

Dow is a perfect sponsor because both Dow and London have shown themselves to be willfully negligent when it comes to dealing with issues of radioactive and chemical contamination and its actual and potential health implications. Also they are both expert at hiding behind walls of misinformation and spin.

Around a third of the site for London Olympics had been used historically as landfill, taking industrial and domestic waste.  While it is clear the remaining two thirds of the site is also contaminated from previous industrial activity.

Various government documents warn that precautions against radioactive contamination should be taken during excavation work on such landfills.  Yet initially on the 2012 site no such precautions were taken, no surveys were done, and no radioactive remediation planned for: an inexcusable failure.

After radioactive material started being detected across the 2012 site, a shambolic and inadequate strategy for its 'management' led to regulations being bypassed and thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste ended up dumped back under a bridge in the middle of the Olympic Park. The Main Stadium squats in the remains of a radium-contaminated waste tip, preventing any uncontrolled disturbance of the land under and around it.

Like UC and Dow, the Olympic Delivery Authority's (ODA) principle concern over this contamination, rather than the well being of workers and public, appears to have been avoiding bad publicity.  Which is why when widespread radioactive contamination was eventually found to exist on the site, a press release playing down the situation was immediately hatched.

The fact that excavation works had been carried out for months before any precautions were taken is worrying.  When people from the surrounding communities complained about dust coming from the contaminated site, the ODA's response was to threaten them with legal action.  This demonstrates the priorities of Olympic bosses: to get the job done and to deliver an Olympic venue on time, regardless of the risk to human health.

On first appearances it may seem surprising that London 2012 would accept money from what many of Dow’s victims would consider to be a global doomsday machine.

But like Dow London 2012 is expert in churning out misleading statements and untruths. In the case of London, Olympic chiefs have needed to persuade British taxpayers that a 17 day sporting event is really worth £10 billion. Olympic bosses have become so accustomed to misrepresenting the truth, and have such an effective means of doing so in their communications department, that they have lost their ability to judge where the limits of public tolerance lie.

Terminological inexactitudes started poring out London's Olympic machine at the bid phase, when we were told the budget for the Olympics would be £2.35 billion. The current estimate is over £9 billion.  The initial estimate was not credible as it was known that the Athens Games had cost the Greeks £9 billion. Other untruths include promises about housing, jobs, training, and the clean-up of the site etc.  

The statement promulgated by Olympic Chiefs that the "Olympic Park will be the largest new park in Europe for 150 years” is also untrue. The phrase “Olympic Park” is also misleading. Less open space is to be returned after the Games than existed in the area previously. 

Olympic officials are also exaggerating the size of the television audience for the Opening ceremony, which they claim will be 4 billion.  The true figure is more like 250 million.

"The Greenest Olympics Ever" is another statement behind which London has tried to hide a reality that is very far from Green. Crimes against our planet include:

1) at least 500,000 tones of highly contaminated waste from "soil washing machines" trucked to landfill sites around the country (not checked for radioactive contamination),

2) failure to fit all machines on site with catalytic converters,

3) failure to use clean fuels,

4)failure to use waterways to carry freight in and out of Olympic zone,

5)gassing to death hundreds, or thousands, of small mammals,

6)burial of thousands of tones of radioactive material in Olympic zone,

7)failure to adequately monitor the site for radioactive contamination,

8) providing misleading or false information to elected officials regarding environmental matters,

9)failure to comply with the Radio Active Substances Act,

10)failure to provide (and illegally changing) documents under the Environmental Information Regulations,

11) attempting to intimidate those who have criticized works in relation to dust and contamination issues.

Quite apart from the broken promises on environmental issues, building a 2.5 square kilometer sporting venue, involving the excavation of millions of tonnes of contaminated soil, just for a 17 day sporting event is inherently damaging to the environment. The "Greenest Olympics Ever" slogan is therefore just Green-wash.

But the ODA and Dow are masters of Green-wash. They also share an ability to manipulate situations and information to their advantage while others bear the cost. One example of this occurred on June 23rd 2011 when the ODA’s Director of Infrastructure and Utilities, Simon Wright, stood before the Greater London Assembly’s Environment Committee. In answering questions from GLA member Andrew Boff concerning issues of contamination, Mr Wright told many untruths to elected members of the GLA. 

During this session Wright misled the committee on the following matters.

1)Wright claimed that works on contaminated land were carried out before official permission was granted only once, and only in one location. In fact this was the norm rather than an exception as he claimed.

2) He denied that there was any “ risk to any party” caused by the uncontrolled excavation of radioactively contaminated material. Independent expert opinion differs on this matter.

3) He inferred that the contamination was limited to “a number of aircraft dials”. This is not true.

4) He claimed that all radioactive material buried on the site was “exempt from regulation”. This is not true.

5) He claimed that the location in which the radioactive waste is buried would not be disturbed. This is not true, plans now show a block of flats will be built on top of it.

6) He claimed radioactive gas is 'highly unlikely' to be produced by the burial of this radioactive material. This is untrue, the ODA's own technical reports identify this as a certainty.

The truth is that when the ODA finally put radiation protection advisors onto the site after many months of uncontrolled excavation work, the first day onsite they began finding radioactive contamination. The contamination was widespread. Eventually 7,300 tones of it was buried in a hole in the ground near the centre of the Olympic Park, while more remains embedded in the matrix of the soils on the site. 

Radioactive contamination of the venue created serious practical and public relations problems. A trick of averaging down the radioactivity of the waste (dilution) was carried out - with the express intention of making it all appear exempt from control. The full chemical and radiological details of the buried waste remain unknown. The ODA, and its contractor Atkins, took every effort to ensure that this “material” remained outside regulation and therefore out of external oversight.

Due to the less than honest “management” of contamination, grandiose promises made for the “clean-up” of the site are void, which raise questions over plans for the legacy phase, and land values for the site. Liabilities over contamination also remain unclear.

Unlike UC in relation to Bhopal, who morphed into Dow Chemical as a means of avoiding liability, London’s ODA goes one step further: after 2012 it ceases to exist, raising questions over the liability of its directors. Ex-Chief David Higgins has already left, after denying the evidence of the ODA's own documents regarding mismanagement of radioactive contamination and refusing to authorise an independent investigation.

The ODA’s response to Freedom of Information Requests on the issue of radioactive contamination have been obstructive leading to complaints to the Information Commissioners Office, and a likely tribunal hearing on the matter.

The fact that so many untruths have been told with little or no comeback must have emboldened our friends at the Olympic Communications Department, and made them imagine they could handle any situation. It would also explain why they imagined they could get away with accepting money from Dow. But in choosing to flaunt Dow's sponsorship in such an iconic location they may have gone one step beyond what the public in India, in Vietnam, and in Britain are able to stomach.

In many ways Dow and 2012 may be ideologically aligned but, not withstanding this, London may have made a serious public relations blunder in milking the cash cow that is Dow. It now looks as though not only are the London Olympics set to financially bankrupt the UK, they are also morally bankrupting and shaming themselves and the nation.

Lord Sebastian Coe, like the London Olympic project in general is a fraud.  Coe promotes an Olympic ideal that is in reality just empty noise. This is clearly demonstrated by the acceptance of money from Dow, the way radioactive contamination has been managed on the London Olympic site, and by a multitude of broken promises on a wide range of other issues.

By way of demonstrating the deluded psychotic mentality of the Olympic industry Denis Oswald, of the International Olympic Committee, recently commented on the placement of advertising in and around Olympic venues ...

“There must be no advertising at all, inside or out. We cannot be bought”.

What does Mr Oswald think accepting money from Dow and other dubious Olympic sponsors is, if it is not being bought?

It has just been announced that "Dow have agreed to remove their logo on the outside of the wrap". However this is aanother misleading statement. The original plan was that Dow was only ever going to be allowed to have a discrete logo on the wrap for a short period of time before the Games began. This therefore looks like an attempt by London and Dow to limit public relations damage and is not a victory for campaigners in Bhopal, Vietnam, Rocky Flats (USA), or in London.

Link to Simon Wrights appearance before the Environment Committee 23rd June 2011 at the GLA, page 24 to 27.

Link to Amnesty International comments on Dow/2012 sponsorship

Link to Greenpeace on Dow

Link to Bhopal medical appeal