A Call to Arms, or Not

Yesterday's piece was as depressed and depressing a piece as I've allowed myself to publish here. As I set it to be published, I wondered if I would feel differently and reach a different conclusion after a good night's sleep. "Maybe I'm just down today," I said to myself.

My friend Rafe sent me a link to this video about FIFA's corruption from John Oliver's Last Week Tonight. I watched it when I was done writing yesterday, wondering if John Oliver's smiling outrage could help me rediscover just what I was so pissed off about.

But I tested my feelings on the matter when I woke up this morning and found them still consonant with yesterday's piece. I find it all pretty disgusting, the kickbacks and bribes and financial shenanigans that have been FIFA's bread and butter for so long. It's all pretty awful, but it's awful in a way that's so typical, I'm no longer certain of the value of putting energy into even being angry about it.

And I have to be honest with myself. FIFA's been essentially synonymous with corruption for years and years, and yes, it troubles me, but what have I done about it? They have one product to sell, the World Cup. Have I stopped buying? Have I said, "I'm sorry, I just can't support an organization like that. Count me as one pair of eyeballs not watching. You've lost me, advertisers."

Are you kidding? Of the 64 matches in the 2014 World Cup, I probably watched 50 of them. Take that, FIFA!

I can try to pardon myself by saying that one person's lone protest isn't going to make any difference, which is true enough, but I don't think it absolves me of anything. Facing this kind of corruption and wagging my finger while lapping up the entertainment on offer may feel good--nothing in the world feels quite like righteous indignation--but it's a waste of energy and hypocritical to boot. Better to just admit that the shenanigans of the world are too deeply ingrained to do anything about, allow our plutocratic overlords their fun, and accept the bonbons they allow us in return. Did I mention how great a World Cup it was? It was really great.

The kind of thing FIFA does is so typical of powerful organizations, and so minor league in comparison to others, that fretting about it is a waste of time.

Want some examples?

Watch the part at 7:50 in the John Oliver piece, when the Al Jazeera journalist questions Sepp Blatter about their non-profit status and then mentions their billion dollars in the bank. Gross, right? You know what else is a non-profit? The National Football League. The NFL, the most popular sport in America, brings in an estimated $9.2 billion in revenue every year, but gets to keep the tax benefits afforded to a non-profit.

More NFL: With the exception of the publicly held Green Bay Packers, the owners of the NFL franchises are all billionaires. Yet the owners manage, again and again and again, to demand public money to finance their stadiums. It's welfare for the richest, and it's astonishing and disgusting, and no one cares. (Oh, and by the way: I watch a lot of pro football too.)

Let's get even bigger picture. The injustices of the financial industry are beyond myriad. I'll pick one that makes me want to be like Rumpelstiltskin and stomp my foot furiously into the ground again and again and again until I dig a hole so deep that it fills up with water and I drown. The financial industry fought like hell to keep financial derivatives from being regulated in any way, arguing that the industry could police itself. But then in 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and what happened with the credit default swaps Lehman had sold against their failure? Were they treated as the worthless pieces of paper they were? No, not at all. The government stepped in and paid the fucking things out at par. That's right: a bunch of really, really rich people made a bunch of bad bets, and when their gambling bill came due, the government bailed them out. And by government, of course I mean, "the taxpayers of the United States." We paid the bill for the financial industry's hubris.

Interestingly, the prevailing narrative around the bailouts has become that they were a big win for the American people. Check out this article. Here's a quote: "[T]axpayers ended up earning a $22.7 billion profit on their investment in AIG." Um, no. That the government sold its stake in AIG for a paper profit doesn't change that the collapse of the financial industry caused a fierce recession that cost millions of people their jobs, and has led to stagnant incomes for the vast majority of the American people ever since. It cost the American people trillions. That little part of the story gets left out.

One more example: a lot is being written right now about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Supporters of the TPP fill the opinion pages with op-eds that argue for both the benefits and the inevitability of free trade in tones that sound like someone trying to explain something obvious to a not very intelligent child. Free trade will benefit all the American people, they say. Progress is unstoppable. Why are you in denial? To which I can only respond: if the TPP is going to be so good for the American people, why won't they let us read it?

It will pass, of course.

What's my point with all of this? Essentially, that a well-connected, powerful elite will always vanquish any opposition that requires the organization of large groups of people without an obvious financial or personal stake in the outcome. The NFL stadium deals are corporate welfare of the most egregious sort, but any opposition sounds distinctly fringe: What, don't you like football? And the cost of it, spread around a city, never feels concrete. It's not like they collect an obvious tax on the rest of us to support our billionaires. The Wall Street bailouts were complicated enough that almost no one really understood what was happening. It was easy for a self-justifying narrative to take root, when all most people understood was, "The economy was on fire, and we had to put it out."

So coming back full circle: Until people like me would rather turn our back on the World Cup than give ugly people millions of dollars, nothing substantial will change.

Old men will enrich themselves on their backs and blood of slave labor in Qatar and 2022 will roll around and the World Cup will be a great spectacle, and nothing will change.

It's time for me to come to grips with that fact, or else devoting some of my energy to changing it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *