Friday, May 29, 2015

U.S. actions against FIFA only effects corruption on our side of the world, but then who really cares?

What does it mean when the U.S.’ major sports conduit—ESPN—treats the arrest of a dozen or so current and former associates of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) on bribery and corruption charges about as consequential as women’s basketball, and certainly rather less a noteworthy event than the news media considers it? Or the international scene, for that matter, where the UK’s Telegraph has been running a “live” webpage for the latest reactions to the scandal?

It of course reflects the interest in—or lack thereof—of the American sporting fan public in soccer. To be certain, there exists an insular class of white people for whom soccer (like golf remains today) is as it was over a century ago before the emergence of soccer clubs outside of Europe: A “discriminating” country club affair for the portentous of mind, but for the rest soccer is just one big snore for most in this country. Sure, there was some interest in the most recent World Cup, but this was more out of curiosity than genuine fandom. In what other sport is “scoring” dependent more on the vagaries of chance? How do you make kids dream about a sport where being a “star” is how well you contort your leg? How do you define being a “star” without impressive statistics to measure against competitors?

In any case, the European soccer community pretends to welcome the fact that country that has no particular fascination with soccer has actually taken upon itself the task of “cleaning up” soccer—mainly because Europeans were not its targets, but the “outliers.” But the problem with soccer is that it has become such a gigantic business entity unto itself that it cannot be controlled. Sure, some voting member of FIFA who determine World Cup site don’t mind selling their votes to the highest bidder, but representatives of nations are quite generous in their willingness to pay. Hundreds of millions of dollars are in the kitty to whoever asks. 

I skimmed through the U.S. District Court indictment of the FIFA associates, and while the amount of money being transacted and hidden away in secret slush funds and front companies is indeed mind boggling on the surface, we are again talking about money that is likely coming from governmental organizations. You think that Putin’s Russia, the “winner” of the 2018 Cup sweepstakes, isn’t corrupt to the core? What is most fascinating about the indictment is that it targeted only those persons within the U.S.’ supposed “sphere” of influence—that is to say, the Western  Hemisphere. Left untouched are any of the undoubtedly just as corrupt FIFA figures in Europe, Africa and Asia. 

The reason is obvious enough. If the U.S. had indicted a European, it would certainly raise hackles about Yankee arrogance (although it would be “fair play” given European attacks on Microsoft and Apple). The U.S would also be very unlikely to receive extradition rights from African or Asian nations. Corruption in FIFA is such a widespread and accepted mode of business that the original investigation that led to the indictments was pretty much ignored, and only resurfaced because U.S. attorneys with no love of soccer felt slighted by European haughtiness. It was a matter of personal (more than national) “pride.” How dare those snooty people.

But there is no doubt only the surface of corruption was scratched, and FIFA president Sepp Blatter has survived scandal-after-scandal on his watch, mainly because he appears to be personally “uncorrupted,” at least in as much as it cannot be proven that he has actually accepted bribes himself. However, Blatter’s tenure been nothing if not controversial, and soccer has become so enmeshed in a multitude of competing interests that ‘regulating” it has become more of a farce than the NCAA. To make matters worse, there are separate “continental” leagues that seem to be largely autonomous of FIFA, with their own rules governing the activity of players, agents, sponsors and even clubs. Billions of dollars are in the pot to divvy-up, and everyone wants their “fair share,” whether or legally or under-the-table. 

The surprise, then, is not that corruption is occurring, or even that the U.S. is flouting the “rules” of the game. It was, after all, the zealots of the U.S. anti-doping commission that gleefully brought down seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, not the Europeans.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Is it “sexist” to challenge Clinton in 2016? CNN thinks so

One of Seattle’s weekly publications has a regular column that lists some “news” item from each day the previous week, and it seems that whoever compiles it has a preference for gender “victim” stories. If facts are lacking or in question, “opinion” will always suffice. Last week, Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders was the subject of a rare “positive”—sort of—characterization—of a male. That is to say, when he was given the opportunity on CNN, he didn’t say anything “bad”—meaning “sexist”—about Hillary Clinton, even though he will eventually have to say something opposed to her cliché-ridden sound bites if he expects to win the Democratic presidential nomination. This refusal to engage in the “sexist” politics of daring to criticize Clinton was deemed as laudatory by the weekly. Sen. Sanders might even get the writer’s vote—if Hillary doesn’t “need it.”

Reverse-sexism, anyone? Or as Obi-Wan  Kenobi said: "Who is the more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him"--or her?

Sen. Sanders should “excite” the liberal base far more than Clinton; when I was listening to Thom Hartmann’s radio show (before it was replaced by yet another sports talk station), Sanders would come on every Friday and elucidate the issues of the day in a common sense, factual way, in a way you never hear politicians do. While Sanders typically votes with the Democrats, he is largely ignored by the leadership; nevertheless, since he doesn’t answer to anyone but his constituency, he is free to talk truth, and the fact that he has been repeatedly re-elected shows that his constituency finds his non-nonsense discourse refreshing. Unlike Clinton, Sanders actually has qualities  that she is decidedly lacking in: Credibility, integrity and the courage of his convictions. 

The conventional “wisdom” would say that Sanders has no chance even if nominated; he just too “liberal.” While the right stupidly accuses the president of being a “socialist” and a “communist,” one wonders how they would characterize the senator’s positions. But I think that Sen. Sanders could pose a real danger to Clinton if his cogent elucidation of the issues and how to fix the nation’s problems are permitted to be heard in contrast to Clinton’s banalities, however “forcefully” spoken. In a general election, it is very well possible that “independent” voters would see in Sanders a true kindred spirit. 

Unfortunately for Sanders, he has only a miniscule fraction of the campaign cash the Clinton machine has been extorting from people who feel they “owe” her something for their support of Obama, even groups for whom the only qualification that Clinton offers their progressive agenda is that she is a woman, and because she is, she is “entitled” to their support.

Still, that some Clinton promoters in the media consider Sanders a threat to her in the primaries was demonstrated recently on CNN’s State of the Union, where Sanders appearing to answer “tough” questions for daring to challenge the Clinton News Network’s chosen one. After  Sanders made an effort to define and offer solutions to address growing income inequality in this country, CNN’s White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, attempted to suggested that Sen. Sanders would be “forced” into an implied “sexist” personal attack on Clinton in order to make any “headway” against her.:  

KEILAR:  I just wonder is this going to be a civil debate with Hillary Clinton?  Even if you're talking about issues and not personality or the fact that she's establishment, you have to go after a leading candidate with a hard edge.  Are you prepared to do that?

This of course assumes that by the time of the first primaries that Clinton actually will be the prohibitive frontrunner; one may recall that this time eight years ago she occupied a similar position, mainly because the media wasn’t even talking about an alternative. Sanders, however, refused to take the bait:

SANDERS:  Well, Brianna, let me turn it around to you, OK. I've never run a negative political ad in my life.  People in Vermont know that I run in many, many campaigns.  I don't believe in ugly 30-second ads.  I believe in serious debates on serious issues.  I've known Hillary Clinton for 25 years.  Maybe I shouldn't say this.  I like Hillary Clinton.  I respect Hillary Clinton.  Will the media, among others, allow us to have a civil debate on civil issues?  Or is the only way to get media attention by ripping apart someone else?  I certainly hope that’s not the case.

Keilar, flummoxed that Sanders had the audacity to question the media’s interest (or lack thereof) in issues of public concern, and accusing said media of being more interested in manufactured “scandals,” continued to channel Jerry Springer’s sewer-dredging:

KEILAR:  Overall, I don't hear a lot of forcefulness from you; a lot of people who observe politics say this is a contact sport.  You have to have sharp elbows.  Even if it's not going fully negative in character assassination and there may be somewhere in between - are you -

Yes, there you have it. Here is a confession that the media is not interested in the issues, but food fights and mud wrestling between parties and candidates—especially if it gives media feminists red meat to make accusations of “sexism.” Sanders, himself by now exasperated by the direction of the “interview,” responded to Keilar’s lack of knowledge of his long time positions on issues:

SANDERS:  - Brianna, Brianna, you are looking at the most progressive member of the United States Senate.  I have led the effort in taking on Wall Street.  I have led the effort in taking on disastrous trade agreements.  I have led the effort in fighting for universal health care.  I have led the effort in terms of trying to reverse our approach toward climate change and move away from a fossil fuel society. I've led the effort on many of those issues.  I've taken on every powerful special -

Keilar, not interested in having her ignorance of his positions exposed, interrupted him with a demand to know if he intended to “sharply point out” where his Democratic opponents have failed—meaning if he was going to go on “attack” mode, which of course means against Clinton. Again,  Sanders saw right through the mendacious smokescreen, accusing CNN and the rest of the media’s utter failure to expose how Republican policy positions only serve the rich and harm the middle class and poor:

SANDERS:  Of course I am prepared to engage in serious debate.  But let me throw it back to you.  I'll tell you something else.  The American people want to hear serious discussions on why they're working longer hours for low wages.  They want to know about why year after year we have these disastrous trade agreements, why the rich get richer and everybody else gets poorer.  Are you in the media prepared to allow us to engage in that serious debate?  Or do I have to get media attention by simply making reckless attacks on Hillary Clinton or anybody else?  I don't believe in that.  I believe in serious debates on serious issues.

Rather than discuss the “state of union,” Keilar only sought to paint Sanders as at best a dangerous “spoiler” to Clinton’s quest for the presidency, and at worst a male candidate out to deprive Clinton of what is rightfully “hers.” Reading between the lines, what is being implied here is that any discussion of the issues must necessarily be a personal attack on Clinton, since it would expose the vacuity of her policy positions. After all, when Clinton was on the ropes in 2008, did she fall back on her “superior” policy ideas? No, because they didn’t exist; instead, she resorted to racist code words and bizarre statements about assassinations. 

Of course, what is implied in all of this is that anyone who poses a “threat” to Clinton can only do so by making attacks that are automatically assumed to be “sexist” in nature. That is what our society has become. You cannot have a civil discussion with the female candidate without her or the media accusing you of being misogynist for having the audacity of forcing a logical or specific answer out of her. It is “ungentlemanly” to force a woman to play by the rules of give-and-take, even if she is running for the highest office in the land. CNN, of course, is perfectly happy to run with her clichés and sound bites, and forget about what people need to hear from her.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Emperor" Goodell and his totalitarian "personal conduct" witchhunting

I have questioned in the past whether the NFL’s “personal conduct” policy is politically-motivated and a reaction of fear of the bad publicity generated by hypocritical and self-serving media and gender advocates.  While he didn’t necessarily use those terms, Clay Travis posted on Fox Sports’ website a few weeks ago an article which attacked Roger Goodell’s fear-induced efforts to “please” fanatics, ignore the rulings of civil courts and impose additional punishments on targeted star players (all of them black) by all but destroying their careers by completely disregarding the protections of due process that are the right of every citizen. 

Who cares if Adrian Peterson is merely one of millions of parents every year who punishes a child the way many millions like him as children were, and that corporal punishment by parents is legal in every state, only one of which prohibits such punishment from being “painful.” Or that if he was guilty, then our court system should easily make room for a few hundred thousand “model” parents, outraged that they are suddenly deemed criminals. But Peterson is a star football player, and he needs to be made an “example.” He is to be a “feather” in the cap of a prosecutor looking for his or her 15 minutes of “fame.” And who cares if a judge found that Goodell acted without regard to due process in the Ray Rice case, and ruled that his own wife’s admitted violent actions were contributing factors leading up to that slo-mo millisecond clip of Rice’s response to those actions; he needed to be banned for life to “satisfy” the fanatics. If the civil courts didn’t punish these players to the delight of gender advocates, then the NFL must “finish” the “job.”

In his article, Travis pointed out that “Goodell announced the NFL's new personal conduct policy and everything in pro sports changed. Up until Goodell's announced policy in April of 2007 for the entire history of American sports pro sports leagues had never punished players for actions that had nothing whatsoever to do with competition” that reflected “poorly” on the NFL “brand”—that itself was based on violent action on the field. 

But the real problem was this: “A central tenet of Goodell's new policy was that punishments wouldn't be governed entirely by guilt or innocence in the eyes of the criminal justice system, Goodell would have the right to suspend players even in the absence of convictions or, amazingly, even in the absence of charges themselves. What's more, Goodell would act entirely on his own as both judge, jury and executioner. He would also hear all appeals to his punishments…With one fell swoop Roger Goodell replaced the protections of the American judicial system and installed a new system of punishment entirely predicated on the personal decision-making of one man. Meet Roger Goodell, dictator of football. It was a sweeping power grab without parallel in the history of professional sports.”

Travis goes on to say that this “power grab” received wide support by public, which I think may be a slight exaggeration. I think it is obvious that this “wide” support is an impression given by  media reporting and the power it gives gender advocacy groups with a grudge against any organization (a pro sports league, for example) dominated by males. If the civil courts were too “lenient” even given the actual facts of a case, then the NFL is expected to ignore the evidence and mete out the “proper” punishment. But he does note that when these new rules and punishments were instituted, players at first meekly submitted to them rather challenge them as an affront to their own due process rights, and now it is difficult if not impossible for even Goodell to backtrack from them. Even with Peterson and Rice winning their appeals against the NFL’s sanctions, “Emperor Goodell” reigns supreme against even court rulings. Why hasn’t he been held in contempt of court for his arrogance? Why isn’t he in jail himself, like any other citizen would be? Why does the self-righteous media--including the sports media--pander to hypocrites with an agenda that doesn't take into account reality?

Travis points out the NFL is not in the law and order business anyways; it is in the entertainment business. If an film actor was accused of the same, would that stop a movie producer from employing him, especially if he was a “star”? Probably not. “And how in the world did the player unions all roll over and play dead when these issues were being debated? Can you imagine what would happen if Tom Cruise got investigated for sexual assault, wasn't charged, and someone in Hollywood tried to ban him from making movies for a year? What about if Taylor Swift got popped for a tour bus full of psychedelic mushrooms and someone in the music industry announced that her albums wouldn't be released until she'd served a music suspension of six months?”

But sports leagues and their athletes—especially their best athletes—are held to a different standard.  “As a result,” Travis says, “we've somehow turned our pro sports leagues into pseudo-judicial bodies, required to investigate alleged criminal wrongdoings and render justice. And no one even thinks that's the least bit strange? Have you ever heard anyone question whether this idea makes sense? What in the bloody hell is going on here? Am I totally crazy for thinking that if you're not in jail you should be eligible to play pro sports in America? Now, individual teams can make their own decisions about whether they want people with criminal issues in their past to represent them -- just like every other business in the country can -- but why in the world should we allow pro sports leagues to punish players more severely than the actual criminal justice system?”

Travis criticizes the false “morality” of fans, and he has a point. Do fans care about off-the-field antics of the Seattle Seahawks, besides the Seattle Times and its gender politics game? They have gone to two Super Bowls, and Pete Carroll has received only accolades for turning would-be felons and social delinquents into a championship-caliber team. The NFL isn’t in the business of being a law court; it isn’t trained to be so. It is owned by businessperson who would expect to receive the benefit of the due process as any other person in this country, and that includes their own players. Let the courts do their business, whether some like it or not (especially the media); let the NFL conduct what it does best—play football.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Foolish hands and foolish plans

One thing about the on-going crisis that is the Middle East is the lack of discussion of what will happen if the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) actually succeeds in establishing itself as the “government” in Syria as well as Iraq. What threat could it pose to half-Christian Lebanon and eventually Israel? ISIS is obviously more dangerous and fanatical than Hezbollah and perhaps even Hamas. Human life to these “people” is cheaper than dirt—even that of their own people. 

Did it have to be this way? No. We were constantly told what a threat that Saddam Hussein was to the U.S., yet there was no evidence that he was that stupid; most of the bad press about him had to do with his heavy-handed efforts to maintain control over Iraq, in which he was accused of mass murder in some circumstances. But everything is “relative” in the Middle East—between “bad” to much worse, and it seems in retrospect that Saddam was merely “bad.”  The Bush administration had planned the Iraq war from the very beginning, to avenge “family honor” for the fake war that was the Gulf War.  George W. Bush and his puppetmasters, Cheney and Rumsfeld,  just needed an excuse, which is why they ignored warnings of a planned Al-Qaeda attack on U.S. soil, and why the FBI apparently ignored reports that suspicions persons were learning to fly airborne planes on simulators, but not how to takeoff or land them. That is why Bush looked so “surprised” when it was whispered in his ear what had happened while he was in that classroom patronizing minority children. Of course, Saddam had nothing to do with 9-11, but that was just a minor detail.  

Today, there are one or two on the Republican side who in an effort to distance themselves from the current crop of presidential hopefuls who admit that the Iraq adventure was a mistake. One is  Sen. Rand Paul, who claims that the taking down of Saddam only served to strengthen Iran by removing Iraq’s secular/Sunni-regime, destabilizing the country to the extent that blood-thirsty Islamic fanatics who give their religion a bad name, and with distinctly anti-West inclinations threaten the entire region; note that ISIS doesn’t even bother with a media “spokesperson” who attempts  to “explain” the extremist’s actions and ideology to the international community. 

The Obama administration has been accused of failure to act swiftly and with force to support opposition groups Syria, but Western support for anti-regime elements has been nothing if not self-destructive, given that Libya received the blanket air attack treatment leading to swift regime “change”—and to similarly disastrous effect on the ground. The West has absolutely no sense of the Middle East and its internal religious and ethnic divisions, or how they are kept in check, regardless if by dictatorship either secular or religious fundamentalist in nature. Death as a means of control is “glorified” either in the taking of or being the victim of. 

It is clear that whatever was the ultimate objective of the Bush administration was of toppling the Saddam regime, the situation on the ground has not only become worse, but the U.S.’ strategic interests in the region have become far worse. Only a permanent occupation of Iraq would have “stabilized” a situation that U.S. forces only succeeded in destabilizing, in which the cost in American lives would only have become a daily event.  The current Shiite regime has become little more than a puppet of Iran even as the Saudi Arabia and other countries “friendly” to the U.S.  “secretly” bankroll ISIS that seeks to topple the U.S.—supported regime. What sense does this make? 

The U.S. and the West should have kept their foolish hands out of Middle East “nation-building” adventures. Egypt is a case in point of what happens when you let countries figure out their own messes. Being the only organized opposition “party” in the country, the previously banned “Muslim Brotherhood” won the presidency and a majority in the national legislature. But the “constitution” they wrote appeared to contain wording that opened the way to an Iranian-style Islamic republic, in which the ultimate arbiter of law was the opinion of religious leaders. In a “revolution” that had largely been instigated by urban secularists but had seen religious fanatics take advantage of their influence with the less sophisticated rural majority to “hijack” it, it is not surprising that a second “revolution” was soon underway. With the increased attacks on the Christian minority and increased violence overall that seemed to be tacitly supported by the newly-elected president who was of the Muslim Brotherhood “party,” inevitably brought the still independent military and courts back into the picture to essentially launch a popularly-supported coup. There followed the election of a secularist president with ties to the Mubarak regime. For the interests of the West, it was essentially mission accomplish without involving themselves at all.

Ultimately for the U.S., the question is why did more than 4,000 American soldiers have to die, and many thousands more maimed either physically or emotionally for life? Personally, I’m not into this “hero” business. I was in the Army for seven years, and there was a reason you received free room and board and a little spending money on the side; it was in the contract: You had to do what Uncle Sam told you to do, even if you didn’t like or expect ever to do it. Looking at the Iraq War, these soldiers deserve more pity than worship; they were used by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to play out their own little game of revenge against Saddam, and it could be said they were just pawns in the war games of generals itching to have an opportunity to be big shots in the history books. 

That it all was a tremendous failure in the end only illuminates the arrogance and conceit of our leaders for human life, not just American life, but that of hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of civilian lives caught in the quagmire of sectarian violence. We might not have liked the dictators of Iraq, Libya and Syria, but were the alternatives better for either the West or their own people? Certainly the argument can be made that matters have been made far worse, given the utter failure of our “intelligence” to understand the reality on the ground—particularly the continued ignorance of the role that Islam plays in the lives of people for whom there is apparently nothing else, and use it to rationalize their own thirst for vengeance on the world by the “promise” of “paradise” in the next world.