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Détente as a new Winter Olympic Event?

The United States is not going to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Neither is any other participating country for that matter. Russia’s new hard-line anti-LGBT laws, unconditional support of the Assad regime in Syria nor the granting of asylum for Edward Snowden will slow down, let alone halt, the games in Sochi.

This brings up an important question: How did poor Vancouver get dragged into this? The Canadians don’t want it back there. The Vancouver Sun doesn’t even have the attempt by some to relocate the Games there as a main story on the front page today. The online version of the paper, however, does have a report several headlines above the Change.org’s petition story that reads: “Miami Beach teen caught spraying graffiti dies after shock from police Taser”. This is the level of excitement that British Columbians have when considering the prospect of hosting their 2nd Olympic Games in 4 years.

When you do find the report, it does quote Vancouver City Councilman Geoff Meggs as saying a 7 month lead time to get Vancouver ready as an Olympic Plan B is “not like putting fresh sheets on the guest bed.” The story continues: “I can understand the intention, but practically I don’t see how it could happen,” he said Wednesday, noting Vancouver had seven years to plan the 2010 Games. “I think lots of people in Vancouver would love to have the Games again, but it’s a question of who would pay for it and how it could possibly be done, and I don’t think we know the answer to either of those questions,” he said. Clearly It would seem in some quarters that if American celebrities want Russia to be put on notice that their government is doing unfair, cruel and inhumane things to innocent people (which it has been doing since the days of the czars), then maybe those same celebrities better starting writing some big checks to the City of Vancouver. Fast.

Many people, especially activists on the left, are under the delusion the Olympics are about competition, athletic spirit and national pride. They’re not. They’re about money. Lindsey Vonn made $2.5 million after the 2010 Winter Games. Apolo Ohno made $1.5 million, Bode Miller made $1.3 million and all three of these individuals are still earning huge sums years after the flame was extinguished over Vancouver. Truly these are the lives that will be in tatters if they can’t participate in Sochi next February. Make no mistake, the decision of whether to boycott the Olympic Games is absolutely not about salvaging the egos of athletes who have “trained their whole lives for this moment”. Neither Moscow nor Washington nor any other government honestly gives a damn about the training amateur athletes do in order to excel in their sport at Olympic levels. If by some bizarre twist of fate the games are boycotted or cancelled, I’m quite certain the thrill of having the chance, just the chance, to compete in world championships, endorse breakfast cereals and pose in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue will make these young people quite content.

Nobody despises the actions of the Kremlin lately more than I do. Russia’s record on human rights has been abysmal for generations and Vladimir Putin shows no sign of wanting to buck the trend. So if anyone wants the Winter Games in 2014 moved out of Russia, don’t listen to people like Stephen Fry, George Takei or disgruntled NSA and State Department officials who are still fuming over the fact that they couldn’t get Snowden in handcuffs. Also, enough with the whole 1936 Berlin Olympics comparison either. Jacques Rogge and his bunch at the IOC aren’t buying what the media is selling so let’s drop that one, shall we? Petitions to the White House will be completely and utterly useless. The U.S. Government will do what it feels is in the best interest of the country and wondering whether or not to participate in a Russian Olympics isn’t high on the list. You want to send petitions? Send them to the boards of directors of Nike, McDonald’s, GE, Coca-Cola, Reebok, Omega, Dow Chemicals, P&G, Samsung, British Petroleum, Rolex, Verizon, Gatorade and Adidas. If anyone has a say on the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the Olympic Games, they do…

Edward Snowden on Mars

“There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Ka-boom!”

The lament of Marvin the Martian as his attempt to blow up the Earth is foiled by the accidental astrorabbit Bugs Bunny stealing the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator is a witty reminder of something that is, shall we say, less apocalyptic than an alien destroying the world to clear his view of Venus. It is nevertheless curiously and somewhat disturbingly also the story of something of immense power stolen by the most unlikely of protagonists with the ability, ostensibly anyway, to blow up the world. There have lately been some important questions that have gone completely missing from the collective American political consciousness:

Where is Edward Snowden? What happened to his reported treasure trove of U.S. government secrets that was supposed to have caused so much hand wringing in the halls of power from Washington to Warsaw to Wellington? More importantly, where is this great national discussion that we were supposed to be having about government surveillance and the questions regarding individual privacy versus public safety?

Since the Zimmerman verdict, the birth of Royal Baby, and the continuing scandals of Anthony Weiner (aka The Man Who Would Be Mayor), we have completely lost sight of Mr. Snowden, now holed up for a month inside the international transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. We can only assume that he still has possession of his four laptop computers containing not only specific information about NSA surveillance of American citizens and foreign governments but also reportedly a “blueprint” outlining NSA infrastructure and operations. But that’s only an assumption.

We can also assume that there have been no great efforts on the part of any of the countries that have offered him asylum to actually get him out of Russia. Little news or commentary has come from the governments in Bolivia, Nicaragua or Venezuela regarding their desire to give succor to Mr. Snowden. Nor has there been any confirmation that he will be allowed to emigrate to Russia, as has been widely reported. Vladimir Putin’s stated requirements that if Mr. Snowden wished to remain in Russia that he no longer release any more classified information that might damage the United States or its intelligence networks may prove too stringent for him to abide by, leaving Mr. Snowden still marooned at Sheremetyevo. But that’s also only an assumption.

Save for the occasional brief statement by an intelligence official, there has been strangely little in the news at all lately about the man who once had the attention of the world riveted to his every move. Ironically, another domestic issue of great importance has taken the place of the discussions we as a nation were supposed to have about the implications of Snowden’s revelations and eclipsed once again our view of what’s going on inside Fort Meade. In the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, race relations and gun violence in America have once again rushed to capture center stage. I do not wish to imply even for a moment that this is not a debate we should be having. Indeed, this is an issue that we as a nation must tackle head on. But I think something important to America got lost in the din of angry voices, somewhere between Sanford, Washington, New York, London and Moscow.

It has been said that the American news media, particularly on the left, missed a golden opportunity to initiate a truly vigorous debate about the NSA and its activities at home and abroad. Instead, they dropped the ball with an obsession to cover the man and not the message. Mr. Snowden’s flight across the world became our dirty little national pastime. It was a soap opera better than any on daytime television ever could hope to be.  The somewhat ridiculous and banal national polling of the “hero or traitor” question also clouded what Mr. Snowden was trying to achieve. We focused on the person of Edward Snowden and his endless search for a place to hang his hat and failed to stop and think about what our intelligence services are up to in our own backyards. I should think that would qualify as a major intelligence scoop all by itself.

It may be too late. We as Americans have the attention span of a school of halibut and get distracted so easily by the agony and the ecstasy that hits our headlines every morning. We may not even care if he ever gets asylum, or is captured by U.S. authorities or just simply disappears one day from our memory. Tragic death occurs and protesters fill the streets. A baby is born and we can all share in a little joy, pomp and circumstance. Tomorrow will have new things to worry and wonder at. In the meantime, a young man stays trapped inside an airport terminal far from home. However carefully calculated or misguided his original intentions may have been, I for one have no doubt he was trying to change the world for the better. Who mourns for Marvin with his view of Venus still obstructed by that annoying planet filling his telescope?