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On the Future of the Olympic Games July 28, 2016

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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Athens2004ruins1

One example of the ruins of the Olympic venues in Athens from the 2004 Summer Games.  This is what happens when the hosting of the Olympics are awarded to countries that are not First World/commerce-oriented.

The train wreck in Rio de Janeiro that continues to unfold as the Summer Olympics are but days away has exposed two large, systemic problems.  The obvious one is with Brazil itself.  Its economy may have been on the rise in 2009 to the point where it gave enough people the impression that it was becoming part of the developed world.  Not long afterwards, political corruption, lack of infrastructure, and a glaring lack of sanitation exposed Brazil as still being Third World and still having a long way to go before it deserves to sit at the grownups table of world affairs (along with the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Canada, Israel, Australia, possibly France, and the like).

The other systemic issue at play is with the Olympic Games themselves.  Simply put, they are huge, and very expensive to stage.  Even 40 years ago, things almost reached a tipping point.  The city of Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics, only to be $1.5 Billion in debt afterwards. It took that city almost 30 years to pay it off.  Indeed, few cities wanted to host the Games after that.  Sure, Moscow jumped at the chance four years later, because to a Communist nation, money is no object when it comes to propaganda.

Peter Ueberroth and the Los Angeles organizing committee for 1984 revolutionized how the Games were financed when he persuaded the International Olympic Committee to allow corporate sponsorship.  It saved the Games for another 30 years.

Now, the Games have grown even bigger still, to the point where they are too expensive for new cities to host the Games.  Sure, Putin and the Russian government seemed more than willing to turn Sochi into a $51 Billion (with a ‘B’) boondoggle, because, again, at what price propaganda?

Beijing was the only viable city that wanted to host the Winter Olympics for 2022.  The IOC was certainly were not going to give the Winter Games to Kazakhstan, for goodness sake.  It is a sad commentary on the susceptibility of the IOC to a bribe that so few viable countries and cities thereof even put in bids for the 2022 Winter Games in the first place.

That aside, one thing is for certain:  the Olympics are so huge and such a big deal that only commerce-oriented (read:  First World, developed) countries are built and, indeed, fit to host the Games.

Yet, there is this politically-correct mantra out there, saying that everyone deserves a chance, but grownups will tell you that is pure poppycock.  The truth is, most nations and even whole continents are not built to handle and host the Olympics.  That includes Africa (with the possible exception of Johannesburg), South America (as we are currently seeing now), the Middle East (outside of Israel), and central and Southeast Asia.

Even some countries in otherwise developed regions are more than suspect.  Remember Athens in 2004?  The Greeks built all those state-of-the-art facilities only to let them go to ruin a decade later.  Yes, it sounded wonderful for the Olympics to be hosted in the ancient birthplace of the Games themselves, but the huge problem was that Greece is anything but commerce-oriented, which speaks to a culturally systemic problem in Greece itself.

One aspect of this systemic issue is that a city that wants to host the Games for the first time has to spend billions of dollars to build new facilities from scratch.  In this day and age, even with corporate sponsorship and in some cases, state-supported funding, that is no longer economically viable.

The solution is to start cycling the Games around to cities that meet certain criteria.  They are:

1.) Be situated in a commerce-oriented country (i.e., one of the aforementioned “grownup” countries).  Not all cultures are equal.  Some cultures are superior to others.  A hallmark of this cultural supremacy is a culture that itself is commerce-oriented, that respects the rule of law and property rights of the individual, that frowns on black markets, and puts a premium on democratic governments and transparency within.  Not to mention, superior cultures minimize corruption in government, at least compared to more corrupt Third World nations.  These sorts of countries also have free presses (to varying extents; France is suspect in this regard) that can call wayward politicians into account for any malfeasance.

Commerce-oriented countries also have the necessary infrastructure for such massive undertakings as the Games.  This includes transportation (e.g., airports and expressways), not to mention a sufficient amount of clean, comfortable, available hotel rooms to handle the crush of spectators attending said Games.

2.) Be a city big enough that it already has the aforementioned infrastructure in place.  This applies to cities that have never hosted a previous Olympics.

3.) This is the big one:  ideally, be a city that has already hosted the Games, and has proven to do so exceptionally well.

Indeed, for the Olympics to remain doable in the future, the way to go is to starting cycling them around to cities (and, by extension, their countries) that have proven capable of hosting the Olympics well.  The IOC seems to be inching towards this already, however gradually.  London just hosted its Olympic Games for the third time, most recently in 2012.  Tokyo — another excellent choice on the part of the IOC — will host the 2020 Summer Games.  Los Angeles is currently bidding to host the Summer Games for 2024.

For these cities, the venues/facilities are already built.  Maybe a little renovation or generally sprucing up might be in place, but such expenditures pale in comparison to building everything from scratch.  Los Angeles, for example, has but one additional facility to build (for rowing and kayaking) and it’s all set.

Think about it from the Winter Games perspective.  Sure, a nearby, mountainous ski resort town can handle the alpine skiing events (Salt Lake had Park City, Vancouver had Whistler), but you still need to build a sliding sports track.  That alone costs between $50-100 Million, and then there is the necessary ski jumping tower, etc., etc.  Economically, it makes sense to host the Games in cities have already hosted them, and hosted them well.

One could cycle the Winter Games from Salt Lake City to, say, Munich (they have a sliding sports track at nearby Koenigssee), then Calgary and/or Vancouver.  What’s not to love?

Similarly, a Summer Games cycle of Los Angeles, London, Sydney, Atlanta, Tokyo, and Munich/Berlin would work just fine.  Seoul would be a viable cycle candidate as well.

Either we start doing this, or we encourage cities to continue to engage in multi-billion-dollar boondoggles to build athletic venues that rarely get used again, like those in Athens (indeed, what shall become of Rio’s many facilities after these upcoming Games are concluded?).

So, which is it going to be?  Cycling the Games around to proven cities/countries, or more wasteful boondoggles?

‘Sochi Da’? More Like ‘Sochi, Nyet!’! February 5, 2014

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics, Sports.
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sochi-russia-palmtrees

Does this look like a winter sports destination to you? Can one think of anything more antithetical to the Winter Olympics than palm trees? Yet this only scratches the surface regarding all the things wrong with Sochi, and it calls the collective judgment of the IOC into serious question.

As a life-long fan of the Olympics, I must concede that I am very excited for the Winter Games to commence this Friday evening.  But this time I am excited with reservations, namely on the very choice of the city and country to host these Games.  It is painfully clear to me that the judgement of the leadership of the International Olympic Committee (henceforth the IOC) was, to put it mildly, severely compromised.

What’s wrong with Sochi?  Let us count the ways.  Start with the fact that it is out-of-the-way.  For the previous three Winter Olympics in a row (Salt Lake City, Torino, and Vancouver), the IOC got it mostly right.  The United States and Canada are commerce-oriented, and have first-rate infrastructures, not to mention the population bases in the bookend cities dictate the size and quantity of hotel rooms to accommodate massive influxes of spectators for gigantic events, like, say, the Olympics.  Torino was not a terrible choice in that they had a solid population base to handle the Games and the many myriads of people.  It’s just that Italy is not exactly commerce-oriented, not when compared to the Anglosphere or even Germany, for that matter.

Another huge problem with Sochi is the geography itself, and in more ways than one.  The most obvious problem is that fact that Sochi is a subtropical resort, hardly the ideal spot for the designated hub of winter sports championship events.  At least the nearby mountains are snowy, though.  The size of the town is not quite up to what is needed for the Winter Games of this modern size.  Gone are the days when a tiny ski resort town like Lake Placid (population:  less than 4,000) could handle the Winter Olympics.  It was fine when you had only 19 countries competing, with a total of about 200 total athletes (as was the case in 1932), and they barely, just barely pulled it off in 1980.  Calgary turned out to be a great choice in 1988, but then small town problems persisted again with Albertville (whose 1992 population was only about 35,000), and also with Nagano (1998:  just too far out of the way), which brings us back to Sochi.  At only about 340,000, it’s not as big as metro Salt Lake City, let alone Calgary, Torino or Vancouver.

Isolation is another issue.  It is located on the eastern end of the Black Sea, way too out-of-the-way compared to major population centers of countries with a sufficient degree of commerce-orientation.  That isolation makes it unduly taxing on the kind of nations that will make the most substantial contributions athletically and in terms of medal counts.

This does not even take into consideration the issue of sticker shock for families trying to make it to Sochi to cheer on their sons or daughters in person as they compete.  Unlike commerce-oriented locales like Calgary, Salt Lake or Vancouver, which have plenty of hotel rooms all over their respective metro areas, Sochi has yet to build up the hotel space designed to handle the major crush of people about to descend on it.   Combine high demand for hotel rooms and low supply thereof, and out-of-the-way air travel, and you have a prohibitively expensive combination that will keep the vast majority of families away, period.

For those who do have hotel rooms, particularly those in the media, there are plenty of issues to contend with that are non-issues in more civilized parts of the world.  The Russian government has had seven, count ’em, seven years to prepare for these games, yet look at the laundry list of issues that members of the media have to contend with regarding their lodging while covering these Games.

There have been twitter-fed reports from journalists of having to climb out of their windows just to leave their hotels.  Also, there are reports of hotel lobbies have no floors; of having to contend with stray dogs in hotels — you know, the stray dogs that the Russian government is not murdering with typical Bolshevik brutality.  Then there is the glaring lack of water at some hotels, and where there is water, that people are advised not to drink it.

Seven years and 51 Billion (with a ‘B’) dollars later, and this is the best they could do?  Actually, why are we not surprised?  This is, after all, Russia, whose people had to make multiple botched attempts to bump off Rasputin.  Never underestimate the power of Russian incompetence — or corruption, for that matter.

Remember, folks, one thing that separates the developed First World from every place else is a more open, transparent government, and relatively minimized corruption.  It is clear that with $51 Billion wasted in Sochi, somebody got paid off.

Now let us consider the not-so-small issue of athlete and spectator safety.  Did the IOC consider Sochi’s close proximity to Chechnya and the fact that that spot of the world is a hotbed for Moslem terror?  Or did that just slip the IOC’s collective mind as they awarded the hosting of the 2014 Winter Games to Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy?

The term ‘kleptocrat’ is not used lightly, either.  During a formal reception, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft happened to bump into Putin.  The latter asked to see Kraft’s Super Bowl ring, and Kraft, ever the gentleman, obliged without hesitation in the interests of both classy conduct and international relations.  If only Putin were as much of a gentleman.  Instead of doing the right thing and returning the ring to Mr. Kraft, after the Pats’ owner so kindly handed over such a precious article of jewelry to the despot for his own close inspection and presumed admiration, Putin just put the ring in his suit pocket and immediately surrounded himself with three KGB agents before leaving the party without delay.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the leader of the nation that is about to host the Winter Olympics.

I ask yet again:  did the IOC consider that?  Did they consider anything?  If current hindsight is any indication, they did not.  They did not consider the relative lack of commerce-orientation and the necessary infrastructure that it inevitably entails.  They, apparently, did not consider basic geography, be it climate (remember, the whole subtropical resort deal), nor the human side of geography (Chechnya, Islamic terrorism, etc.) and its obvious security risks that imperil athletes and spectators alike.  Neither did the IOC consider geography in terms of fundamental location, and the fact that it is out-of-the-way compared to many other sites in more civilized locales.  Need we mention the IOC’s lack of consideration regarding the human rights violations and the increased authoritarianism of Putin’s regime?  This is to say nothing of the rampant corruption that has left everybody outside of the teams themselves lacking for basic living necessities in their lodging.

There are really only a small handful of countries that are capable of competently handling the Olympics, given the size to which the Games have grown.  And remember, the words ‘competence’ and ‘Russia’ hardly go together!  Again, the importance of the commerce-orientation in a country is that it has the infrastructure (transportation, hotel accommodations, sanitation/cleanliness, etc.) that can handle such an astronomically massive set of events.  But moreover, this same small handful of governments that are sufficiently free/democratic, and have a free press that can call wayward politicians and government officials into proper account (barring left-wing media malpractice, anyway).  Such openness is a symptom of the proper commitment towards first-world living standards and infrastructure in the first place.  The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Australia and Japan — to an extent — can all pull it off well.  Why roll the dice with some place so isolated, in a dangerous part of the world, with a non-winter sports climate, in a country with an increasingly dictatorial government?

Of course, one plausible explanation for this gross lack of judgment on the part of the IOC is that maybe part the $51 Billion spent on these Games in Russia was dangled in front of the faces of key IOC members to cast the vote in favor of Putin’s regime.  This is Europe, after all, where such corruption is more commonplace than in the Anglosphere, by and large.

The truth of the matter is, as mentioned before, the vast majority  of countries are not built to handle the Olympics.  Contrary to the feel-good, politically-correct mantra, not everybody deserves a chance to host something so huge.  Not all cultures are equal, hence not all countries are properly equipped to handle such a massive undertaking.  The wise approach would be to cycle the Games around in a handful of cities/countries that have proven that they can handle such events without a hitch.  Why not cycle it from Salt Lake to Munich to Vancouver (or Calgary) and repeat the cycle?  Don’t out-think the room, IOC.

What is Federalism? August 21, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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What is Federalism?  It is, quite simply, a system of government that involves shared and divided power between a governing central authority and constituent political units — in this case, individual states.  In other words, the Federalist system requires that some defined, limited powers be delegated to the central government while the rest be delegated to the states.  This concept was central to our nation’s founding during the Federal Convention of 1787, and is just as crucial today, as a critical mass of our fellow citizens have forgotten this key concept, thus leading to our country’s existential crisis.

In the beginning, America’s government on a national level consisted only of the Congress, then a differently-composed body from the Congress that became part of the federal government that was later to be designed.  From 1777 through 1788, the guiding document for the Congress was the Articles of Confederation, whose very title shows that America was a confederacy at that time, not a federal republic.  But the Articles failed because they were too weak.  The 13 states that declared independence from Great Britain had to be brought together very quickly in order to keep an army in the field and to keep it fed and clothed.  At this they almost merited a failing grade, since General George Washington constantly found his army to be under-fed, his soldiers’ payments chronically late, and horribly clothed.

After the war, even bigger problems arose, since the Articles of Confederation brought the states together too loosely, particularly when it came to settling states’ debts or having a stable currency, to say nothing of lack of uniform commercial regulation from state to state.  It therefore comes as no wonder that the “several states” were in economic chaos by the 1780s, some 150 years before the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Enough key people realized the problems with the Articles had to be corrected, first at Annapolis, Md., in 1786, and a year later at Philadelphia in 1787.

One myth that pervades some people on the right side of the political spectrum is that the Framers convened in Philadelphia in 1787 to cut government down and make it weaker.  The opposite is actually true:  they got together in that city and year to strengthen government.  That said, it would rankle those on the other side of the political spectrum that they did not strengthen it for the sake of amassing more power or control for themselves, let alone create a modern European-style welfare state, but rather, they saw it was a means of creating a more stable system that would encourage a stronger economy.  A stronger government meant the ability to regulate interstate commerce and have the only power to coin money — two powers absent from the previous government (Reference Article I, Section 8).  Basically, the Constitution — pre-1791, at least — was originally meant to be a blueprint that would allow for more people to secure for themselves the blessings of liberty by being able to earn their own money more easily than before.

Through much rigorous debate during the Federal Convention of 1787, a federal system of government was decided upon, where there would be a government at the highest level with a relatively few defined powers, and the broader powers would be deferred to the “several states.”

One example of shared power is, alas, no more.  The original way in which the new Congress was composed was one of the most sterling examples of Federalism, and how power separated was indeed power checked.  The method of people directly electing their representatives in the lower chamber has been in place since 1788.  But the way United States Senators were elected was quite different.  The original method of their appointment was election via state legislatures.  Such election was predicated on the idea that once elected, the members of the Senate would respect state sovereignty, and not allow for the federal government to usurp power from the states.  The 17th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1913, made it so that senators were elected to Congress directly by the individual voters instead of the state legislators.  Effectively, this turned Senators into “supercongressmen,” and were no longer operating under any constraints to respect state sovereignty with their pieces of legislation, unless the voters stipulated such, yet they never did until a critical mass of voters in some states have made that a priorty in very recent years.  An archived article by Bruce Bartlett goes further into this important issue.

Federalism is not without its occasional peculiarities, to be sure.  To ensure that states would be given equal representation on one hand and given proportional representation on another, the Congressional make-up as we know was fashioned whereby the lower chamber would satisfy the latter concern, and the upper chamber of Congress (the Senate) would satisfy the former.  Article I is very explicit in that each state, no matter how big or small, shall be represented in the upper chamber by two senators; no more, no less.  Today, the average Congressional district represents a little over 700,000 people, yet the state of Wyoming, just slightly over half a million in population, has two senators.

True, some delegates initially did call for a national government, not a federal government, but after the requisite debate, that particular proposal for overhauling the central authority of government in the U.S. was quickly rejected.  Much debate and compromise took place before it was agreed upon by the majority of delegates that powers between a central government and state governments should be shared.  Such a mutual conclusion was the happy median between those who wanted a stronger central authority and those who wanted to preserve more vestiges of the older confederacy.

When the Federal Convention concluded on Sept. 17, 1787, two opposing camps sprang up, practically overnight — the Federalists (those in favor of the Constitution’s ratification) and the Anti-Federalists (those who opposed the Constitution’s ratification on the grounds that it gave too much power to the central government).  A large majority of states had to ratify the document to make it the supreme law of the land (effectively, this meant nine states out of 12, since Rhode Island did not send any delegates at all to the convention).

Many prominent patriots such as George Mason, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Samuel Adams were Anti-Federalists, fearing that their efforts to secure independence would come to naught if the central government were delegated such a degree of power.  The Anti-Federalists were understandably concerned that without additional built-in checks on Congressional power, their worst fears of a central government amassing more and more power at the expense of everyone’s liberty would come to pass.  The solution proposed by prominent Federalists such as James Madison — the acknowledged “father” of the Constitution and one of its key authors — was to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution to ensure that rapacious politicians would be prohibited from passing laws that would infringe on our God-given liberties.  The Bill of Rights, of course, consists of the first 10 amendments to the Constititution, and was ratified in December of 1791, during George Washington’s first term as president.  In it, one particular amendment — the Tenth — stands out as an enduring testament to the principle of Federalism and to the importance of shared powers and the respect of state sovereignty.  It simply reads:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Translation, for those of you who went to public school (or graduated from IU):  If it doesn’t specifically say that the central government has the power to do something, then the central government lacks the power to do that one thing, and if that one thing is to be done, it is up to the states (or even the counties) to take care if it in their own way.

The Tenth Amendment reminds us of something implicit though crucial to Federalism.  Given that it is predicated on shared powers between the central government and the states, it compels its citizens to prioritize as to what government can effectively do nationally vs. locally.  Since one of the most basic jobs of government is to protect its citizens from theft and violence, that job on a state and county level amounts to “law and order,” while on the national level, it means providing for the national defense.  When it comes to “establish Post Offices and Post Roads” as is enumerated in Article I, Section 8, that means that it’s quite alright for the federal government to build national roads (interstates, anyone?) and post offices, but the states can build their own roads on their own dime, too.

If ever We the People are to solve America’s current existential crisis of whether we are to perpetuate America as we know it, or to degenerate into another bloated welfare state like western Europe, the former cannot be achieved without the explicit acknowledgement of what Federalism is and why our Founding Fathers intended for the central government to remain strong enough to provide economic and military stability on a national level, but to leave the rest of the minutiae to the states.  It worked before, and shall work again.  As we are witnessing today, there can be no substitute.