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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

5 Signs FIFA Was Always Corrupt

Is this the end of FIFA?

Probably not. The game is too popular and has too much money in reserves.

Besides, this isn’t really FIFA’s fault — as FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter said, he “cannot monitor everyone all of the time.” But he did promise to address these issues when he said, “It has to stop here and now.”

In total, 14 FIFA officials and sports marketing executives have been arrested and face extradition to the U.S. to stand trial. Meanwhile, Blatter is up for re-election Friday and is still the odds-on favorite to win.

Here are five reminders that we already knew FIFA, the largest sports organization governing the world’s most popular sport, was corrupt.

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1. Loretta Lynch was on the case back in Brooklyn.

Before she was attorney general, Loretta Lynch was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District. Seven years ago, alongside the FBI, Lynch and her team began to peel back the layers of the corrupt practices of the global sports organization. The 47-count indictment she nailed to FIFA’s door included racketeering, wire fraud, and money-laundering conspiracies—all of which occurred over two decades and “used the banking and the wire facilities of the U.S. to distribute their bribe payments,” she said in a recent press conference.

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2. Grantland called it.

In 2011, Grantland published a thorough review of FIFA’s history, focusing on the organization’s ability to blindside the masses with its irresistible product: soccer.

Should it matter to soccer fans if FIFA is corrupt? By almost any measure the game is thriving, with more fans in more corners of the world, every day. If the combined audience for just the final two rounds of the 2010 World Cup were a country, it would be, by far, the most populous nation on Earth. Most of these fans seem to be enjoying themselves, so if a cabal of scheming old men in Zurich happens to be pulling strings behind the scenes, why should the rest of us worry?”

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3. John Oliver already gave FIFA a red card.

“Just think about it. Its leader is infallible. It compels South American countries to spend money they don’t have building opulent cathedrals, and it may ultimately be responsible for shocking numbers of deaths of people in the Middle East.”

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4. There’s an Italian movie about this. And it’s hilariously accurate.

A hotshot referee is relegated to a low-tier league in Sardinia after caught taking bribes on a high-stakes game. He finds himself among the soccer-obsessed world of these small-town footballers, where daily life seems to depend on the outcome of the game. L’arbitro is a parable about the beautiful game. The lesson: Money corrupts.

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5. The Simpsons foreshadowed these arrests last season.

Of course, with almost preternatural social awareness, the hit television series The Simpsons had already ribbed FIFA for its history of corrupt practices. This clip is from a March 2014 episode entitled, “You Don’t Have To Live Like A Referee.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIj4c7dJsQ8

 

Photo: PAN photo via Flickr

 

Google To Deploy Drones With Internet-Emitting Payloads

Last April, Google and Facebook engaged in a bidding tussle over the aerospace manufacturer Titan.

Google eventually won the battle, stating they would top all of the social media giant’s bids. (What they officially paid has not been publicly disclosed, although Facebook’s last offer was $60 million.)

As Ben Popper recently reported for The Verge, Google will begin conducting test flights of drones produced by Titan.

Invested in connecting people worldwide, whether in rural areas or in third-world population centers, Google looks to employ a “super-lightweight solar-powered airplane that would be capable of hovering in one area of the stratosphere,” writes Popper.

The drones are a counterpart to Google’s Project Loon — a program that develops high-altitude balloons that emit Internet-streaming signals. The extra bandwidth provided by the drones and balloons would deliver Internet access to underserved or disaster-struck areas on demand.

Google’s senior vice president, Sundar Pichai, sees the Loon program and Titan drones complementing one another “as a mesh of flying cell towers circling overhead,” according to The Verge.

Although it will take at least a few years of development and testing before the drones get off the ground, Google’s hope to bring the world’s four billion people under its umbra of “connectivity,” looms just beyond the horizon.

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According to a CNET report, the Federal Aviation Administration is looking into industry partnerships with drone operators. If the FAA loosens regulations — which currently prohibit the use of drone flights beyond the pilot’s line of sight — big businesses and entrepreneurs are expected to flock to the opportunity.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) supports the opportunities the technology presents for crop monitoring, railroad inspections, real estate scouting, and delivery services that airworthy drones would usher in.

Any changes in regulations would take at least two years to finalize, according to Forbes. But that isn’t stopping businesses from trying to streamline the process.

“I don’t know what triggered it. They’re talking to us and we’re collaborating,” said Google executive Dave Vos, talking about the government’s possible change of heart toward drones. It could be that the U.S. has more restrictions on unmanned flights compared to Canadian, Australian, or British policies, where commercial drone operators are permitted to practice long-range flights.

Yet even this amount of government cooperation pales in comparison to its expansive military use of drone technology. The feds are at once advocates of their own drone use abroad and opponents of the aircrafts’ non-violent uses domestically.

Apart from death tolls we hear on the news and John Oliver’s memorable jeremiad against the military use of drones, many of the notions of unmanned aircraft we receive come from car commercials, films, or short stories, preparing us for perhaps not-so-distant realities.

Screenshot via FlightBots/YouTube

Shelter From The Storm: Homelessness At Its Worst Since The Depression

The scale of the homeless population is so massive, it’s difficult to visualize. But Ian Frazier, writing in The New Yorker, comes close when he illustrates it: “Yankee Stadium seats 50,287. If all the homeless people who live in New York City used the stadium for a gathering, several thousand of them would have to stand.”

From coast to coast, homelessness in America is rising.

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s biennial report, which was published Monday, the homeless population in Los Angeles County increased 12 percent over the last two years. Encampments—such as tents, makeshift residences, and people living in vehicles—increased 85 percent to 9,535, the report notes.

The Los Angeles Times blames the rising homeless population — 44,369 since January — in part on gentrification. With rents increasing and new luxury residences replacing the cheap hotels, motels, and single-room apartments that offered sanctuary to the poor, housing for the transient is growing scarce.

The increase in homelessness is exacerbated by the changes wrought by gentrification, but is rooted in a lack of funding for shelters and other services, once handled by the city, which have now largely fallen on the shoulders of religious not-for-profit groups. High unemployment rates and a void of legal protections has hindered progress further.

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti has pledged to eliminate homelessness among veterans in the area, offering to house all homeless vets by the end of the year. Though Garcetti said that this project was more than halfway done, the number of homeless veterans remains at about 4,400, only 6 percent lower than it was two years ago.

This news comes after the Obama administration offered $30 million in grants and services to Los Angeles County, which has the largest homeless-veteran population in the nation.

New York City maintains a legal right to shelter for its homeless, but it has more than its share of issues when handling its homeless population. Homelessness in New York is the highest it has been since the Great Depression—60,167 people are homeless, meaning about 1 in every 152 New Yorkers lives on the street.

Homelessness “is both the problem and the symptom,” says the Bowery Mission, an organization that has provided services to help New York City’s homeless for over 130 years. According to its mission statement, homelessness is both the result and cause of “chronic substance abuse, financial instability caused by unemployment or underemployment, mental illness, domestic violence, sexual victimization, and more.”

However, as in L.A., it’s not all terrible news. The homeless population has dropped 5 percent since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office. The record decrease — 92 percent in the borough of Queens, for instance — does not diminish the fact that the majority of the homeless are situated in the city’s center. “Nearly 60 percent of New York City’s unsheltered homeless population is in [midtown] Manhattan,” according to prominent advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless.

City officials announced that they will commit $100 million in annual spending to measures aimed at ameliorating the homeless crisis. The money will be directed toward more affordable housing, legal assistance, and job training, according to a recent New York Times article.

But one problem stands out from the reports on the Los Angeles and New York City homeless populations: The statistics are underreported, reflecting how difficult it is to accurately record the total number of people living without permanent shelter.

Furthermore, many of the unsheltered homeless reject help. “Normally they will not accept service unless it’s on their own terms,” reports the Times.

Recovery for the homeless is a multitudinous process. The Bowery Mission’s stance is that any effective solution will need to take into account the individual’s spiritual, physical, and emotional needs, and that the homeless should not be pushed to the fringes of our cities.

Photo: J J via Flickr

And The O’s Played On

Soon after the Monday funeral service for Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody, riots erupted in the city of Baltimore. The violence, fires, and chaos consumed the city and sparked a conflagration that the national media flocked to and fed.

For those news outlets that cover professional games and sports, such as ESPN, the overall view was a solemn declaration that Monday night’s Baltimore Orioles vs. Chicago White Sox game was postponed.

Plans to resume play were put on hold, as Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a weeklong 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for the city, apparently canceling or postponing the remainder of the Orioles’ night home games through Sunday. Yet Monday night’s game was scheduled to take place as usual long after it should have been called off.

The Baltimore Sun reported on the surreal event of fans making their way to the ballpark, entering through Babe Ruth Plaza, as both police in riot gear and ticket hawkers greeted them:

It was obvious that many fans were deterred by the violence occurring throughout the city… As the Orioles took batting practice, police and news helicopters circled the downtown area and faint police sirens could be heard in the background.

Playing a game while violent rioting occurs nearby might diminish the gravity of the events bringing Baltimore to its knees, to say nothing of the perverse feeling one might get from watching a typically quiet game like baseball while a loud uprising occurs outside the stadium.

John Angelos, executive vice president of the Orioles, struck the right tone when he tweeted a series of condemnations in response to the riots, upbraiding American society for ignoring the poor and disenfranchised. The violence consuming the city “…makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”

Undoubtedly, there will be diehard baseball fans out there who will disagree with the postponement of the ballgames. To such people, no amount of money lost or nights out at the ballpark cut short could make the cult of sport less relevant than the anger of a marginalized community.

When Chris Rock went viral last week with his monologue about African-Americans’ lack of interest in baseball, he pointed out that the (overwhelmingly white) fans of the sport tend to get more worked up about baseball games than about police brutality in their cities. The crowds at St. Louis Cardinals games, he remarked, “were over 90 percent white — that’s like the Ferguson police department.”

Nor should it escape notice that the media coverage of the unrest in Baltimore is strikingly different from that of the (mostly white) sports fans who rioted after games in Vancouver, Boston, and Lexington, Kentucky.

The MLB’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, has naively suggested that the games “could be played elsewhere” at a nearby field, perhaps, where it would be undisturbed by police sirens and looting. But such moves would be problematic, as Joe DiMaggio knew when he said, “When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game.”

Though Manfred’s push for relocating the Orioles-White Sox games at a different field is uncouth, it would not be the first time the league has grappled with a similar question of whether to play ball or not. In 1992, the Dodgers had four games postponed in L.A. during the Rodney King riots and, hauntingly, two 1967 Orioles-Tigers games were moved to Baltimore following riots in Detroit.

Major League Baseball is a for-profit organization that puts on a great show. One that may be seen by nobody but the athletes themselves and people viewing at home, as the Orioles organization came to an agreement with city officials and the league on what to do about the postponed games. Wednesday’s scheduled game “will begin at 2:05 p.m. ET and will be closed to the public.”

So don’t worry, folks… MLB still plays ball. But for now, with a state of emergency in effect for the city, Camden Yards will remain sealed, as Baltimore battles itself just outside the gates.

Photo: jpellgen via Flickr

Pennsylvania Company Fights Wage Gap By Charging Women What They Earn

Yesterday was National Equal Pay Day. And it was yesterday in Pittsburgh that a striking event took place to bring awareness to the wage gap between men and women. Less Than 100, otherwise known as <100, set up the 76<100 pop-up shop, which will be selling goods through April at a lower price for women or those who identify as female.

Established by graphic designer and Gratuitous Type art director Elana Schlenker, and supported by Planned Parenthood, among others, the organization is a grassroots project that seeks to rectify pay inequality across the nation. <100 dramatically addresses the wage gap by providing a discount for women. The specific rate depends on the locale. For instance, at the initial Pittsburgh shop, women pay 76 cents to the dollar, while men pay the full buck. As the project moves across the country, future pop-ups will be priced according to the state’s median wage gap, as none of the states have an average salary that is equal between the sexes.

“Even though the shop is based on a negative statistic, I wanted it to be a positive space,” says Schlenker.

The organization is not-for-profit, with most of the proceeds going directly to the artists and makers whose goods are purchased in their shop. (Five percent of the total revenue goes to shop upkeep.) <100 participants describe themselves as purveyors of art prints, stationery, publications, textiles, ceramics, and “other exceptional goods created by women artists and makers from across the U.S.”

BuzzFeed reports that Schlenker wants “to try to get a number of permanent businesses involved in this pricing structure,” and hosts free events such as Negation Workshops and other activities with participating artists in order to engage local leaders and women-run businesses.

The <100 strategy joins a surge of similarly progressive, attention-grabbing projects. It is a sister movement to “Fight for $15,” which argues for a higher living wage for workers, as well as the “No Catcall Zones” initiative, which earlier this week distributed posters in Manhattan and Brooklyn that were designed by Feminist Apparel to protest street harassment.

In the fall, <100 will be heading to New Orleans, where the wage gap is 66 cents to $1.00 — much worse than the national average of a 22 percent disparity between the salaries of women and men.

Photo: Elana Schlenker via Facebook

Nantucket Balloon Ban Is Up In The Air

On the second night of the first Town Meeting of the year, residents of Nantucket, Massachusetts deliberated for over four hours on issues ranging from zoning laws to the allocation of park land for health care use. There was one point of discussion, however, that should have quietly blown over. By a count of 314-103, Nantucketers voted to prohibit the sale or use of any type of balloon that can be inflated with helium or any other “lighter-than-air gas.” But now the winds of change have brought this bit of local news to the broader media, who have only inflated the matter.

The island is on the front lines of a battle with detritus from balloons, which washes up on its shores and is slow to degrade. The Nantucket balloon ban, which covers Mylar, latex, and plastic balloons, is intended to protect the delicate marine ecosystem and picturesque beaches. (The name Nantucket designates both the island and the town.)

Local environmental advocate Sarah Otkay considers the island “as the final resting place” for the thousands of balloons that must be cleaned off the island’s many beaches. Balloons get carried by winds and tides from Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard functions and land on the island — that is, if they don’t get eaten up first by marine life mistaking the balloons for food.

Materials to inform the public and visitors to the island are in the works, and the Boston Globe reports that anyone caught importing balloons to Nantucket will have to throw them away in plastic trash bags, dump them in the town landfill, and pay a $50 fine. Of course, residents will be prohibited from using the single-use plastic bags that, along with polystyrene foam, are already banned from the island.

The Nantucket Marine Mammal Conservation Program, which submitted an unsuccessful petition to ban helium balloons three years ago, helped to draft the balloon ban proposal.

As a popular vacation and party destination, Nantucket’s entertainment industry would surely suffer from such a ban. For some, such as Bobby “The Balloon Wizard” Lamb, the ban is an infringement that evokes the debate over gun rights. “Guns don’t kill people; it’s the people using the gun,” the Wizard said.

Yes, it is a stretch to compare murdering someone with a gun to a kid letting go of a helium balloon. If that were not a fallacy, what would come next? The Real Cape wonders if perhaps a balloon Brady Bill is in order: “Make little kids apply for a balloon permit seven days before their birthday parties. Make them get a BID card to be able to buy the balloon and a permit to carry…” and so on.

Though things may appear somewhat out of hand with the balloon ban, the state attorney general’s office still needs to approve the Town Meeting’s proposed bylaw before it can go into effect. For the moment at least, a balloon-free world for Nantucket is still in the wind.

Photo: Ruud Raats via Flickr

Ex-Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Nominated To NHL’s Hall Of Fame Board

In Canada, hockey is on the five-dollar bill. In America, it is known as another of ex-Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s vices.

In case you missed it, something of a media scrum occurred over the weekend. The Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF), the Toronto-based institution that venerates the sport’s greatest players and contributors, announced that Rob Ford had been selected as one of three Toronto politicians the city appoints to the HHOF board.

The nomination of Ford, who admitted to smoking crack cocaine while in office and once half-tackled a city councilwoman on live television, among other unprofessional acts, has now upset many hockey red bloods, who see it as a pratfall by the Hall and a slight to the good conscience of the hockey world.

Sportsnet broadcaster Damien Cox tweeted a slew of incendiary responses to the nomination, including “So Toronto Catholic school board won’t let Rob Ford coach football. But Hockey Hall of Fame embraces him. Someone should be fired.”

Yet, and this is to the Canadian media’s credit, the overall response to this news has been amused skepticism. And perhaps that’s because the former mayor has recently undergone cancer surgery. Or, it could be a matter of distance making the heart grow fonder and the press is happy to see the Great White Ford back on the social scene. And after all, as the Toronto Star points out, it could be worse. Ford, who is still involved in politics as a city councilor, could have been appointed to a board with some actual power such as the Affordable Housing Committee or the Budget Committee.

In some ways his appointment to the HHOF board is not such a bad decision. Whether anyone cares to admit it or not, Ford does more or less embody the spirit of hockey. He’s a Toronto Maple Leafs fanatic known for his loud, crass, incredible candor. Outspoken, patriotic, indulgent, and brazen, Ford is not the face that hockey needs, but the mug it is going to deal with.

Ford’s role on the board will not be to nominate anyone for the Hall. He will be a part of the process that chooses the selection committee — the group of 18 journalists and Hall of Fame members — who vote on the nominees. Similarly, as it was Toronto that nominated Ford for the board, it is up to the city to remove him.

The Hall, for its part, was quick to distance itself from Ford and the controversy his nomination has stirred up. A couple of snarky tweets and a statement made it clear that the city of Toronto has the right to nominate and elect up to three individuals to the 18-member board. They added, somewhat cheekily, that the HHOF doesn’t get to decide whom the city of Toronto chooses as its representative to the board any more than it decides who gets to be the mayor of said city.

Promising to do everything within his power to promote the sport to children, Ford said, “I like rolling up my sleeves and showing up to meetings and getting it done.” (Ford’s appointment occurred in December; he has attended one meeting so far.)

A Hall of Fame, by its nature, stokes controversies. But Ford’s appointment is not an injudicious snub. After all, the controversy appears to be a good distraction for a sport that would rather avoid questions of drug abuse to self-medicate concussions, racist behavior towards black players, and of course, the perennial question of whether fighting should be condoned or not.

As the sixth most popular sport in the States, Rob Ford’s nomination to the HHOF board may just be the kind of publicity the sport needs. Just in time for the playoffs.

Photo: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford via Facebook

Ted Cruz’s Climate Change Denial Poses A Big Threat To NASA

Among the most worrying aspects of the GOP’s new Senate majority is the elevation of climate change deniers to oversight of federal scientific agencies.

While Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) monitors the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) runs the committee which oversees NASA — and that’s bad news for the agency’s study of the planet.

On Monday, astronomer Phil Plait explained the danger facing NASA in Slate. Making a case for why NASA needs to study Earth as well as space, Plait pointed to Senator Cruz’s attempt at “refocusing” the agency.

Last week, the senator held a hearing regarding NASA’s funding, and called the agency’s administrator Charles Bolden as a witness. As Cruz urged him to redirect NASA’s core mission away from Earth and its environment, Bolden firmly replied, “We can’t go anywhere if the Kennedy Space Center goes underwater…”

Clearly, the agencies tasked with protecting our environment are now operating in a toxic atmosphere. The upside is that for Senator Cruz and the Republican majority to cut funding for NASA, they would have to get signed approval from the president, which would never happen. But with a Republican in the White House, the consequences for NASA, NOAA, and the EPA could be dire.

Photo: NASA HQ Photo via Flickr

Report Challenges New York City To Respond To Climate Change

Is New York City prepared for the challenges posed by climate change? Writing in WiredNeel V. Patel suggests that the answer is “no.”

In a report published last week, the New York City Panel on Climate Change found that the city’s weather and temperatures will become more extreme over the next century. This poses obvious risks for the city’s sprawling infrastructure.

The report cautions that Mayor Bill de Blasio must seek to reconcile a flat city bordered by rivers and the Atlantic Ocean with the increasing likelihood of superstorms and rising water levels. With annual rainfall projected to increase by 5 to 13 percent in the near future, the basement and ground floors of buildings throughout the city may no longer be habitable. Easily breached infrastructure such as boilers and electrical meters must move to higher ground as well.

Likewise, the mayor and the City Council will have to amend building codes to keep spaces cooler in response to projected increases in heatwaves and power outages.

In short, the city is vulnerable. But there has been some progress. Flood and storm bulwarks are set to be built or reinforced for the city’s most susceptible areas, including Staten Island and the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. Yet, as construction costs and insurance rates rise in response to proposed coding changes, Patel cautions: “In the end, though, each of those adjustments is just a Band-Aid.”

Read Patel’s full article here.

Photo: David Shankbone via Flickr