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Ethics, schmethics


"If FIFA were run by child molesters, mass murderers, and - I don't know, some other heinous folks - it would have zero effect on my soccer watching. Zero. And I'm not the exception."

That was University of Michigan professor Andrei Markovits, discussing the arrest last week of seven officials of FIFA, the world soccer governing body, on corruption charges.

"Everyone knows these organizations are crooked," Markovits said on NPR's Morning Edition. "This is known. This is how you procure votes. This is totally not news."

This is what we've come to, in too many areas of sports, and, lord knows, in too many areas of politics and government. Corruption? Shrug.

Markovits, who teaches a class on "sports, politics, and society," certainly wasn't endorsing the actions FIFA officials are accused of. But he won't stop watching a sport he loves, whether it's run by corrupt officials or not. And the scandal didn't stop FIFA from electing Sepp Blatter, FIFA's president for the past 17 years, to his fifth term last week.

Scandals in the NCAA haven't put a dent in the viewership of college games, either, or in the financial health of that organization.

As for the corruption in politics: holy cow. I had planned to pull some past examples from my "Corruption in Politics" file late last week, but real-time events made that unnecessary. On Thursday alone:

• A grand jury indicted former New York Senate majority leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam, who are charged with extortion, wire fraud, conspiracy, and soliciting bribes.

• State and federal investigators searched the homes of Christopher Grant, chief of staff for Western New York Representative Chris Collins; Steven Casey, former first deputy mayor of Buffalo; and Steven Pigeon, former Erie County Democratic Party chair and a perpetual political operative. The Buffalo News reported that a source said the investigations deal with "political campaigns and fundraising."

• A US attorney announced the indictment of Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the US House of Representatives, for lying to the FBI and for withdrawing cash from banks in a way that let him hide payments of $3.5 million to an unnamed person for "misconduct" against that person.

And, of course, there's the corruption of the political system by big money, abetted magnificently by the Supreme Court. Detailing examples in a recent New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof passed on advice from Clinton labor secretary and liberal activist Robert Reich. To get rid of the corruption, Reich had told Kristof, "voters need to reach a point of revulsion."

"Hey, folks," Kristof wrote, "that time has come."

Actually, I think that time has come and gone. I think all of us have gagged and heaved and thrown up all the revulsion we can muster. Now we're at a worse stage: resigned to corruption as a fact of life that we can't do anything about.

In sports, the result of that resignation is that we keep watching and enjoying the games and rewarding the corrupters. In politics, the result is that increasingly, we don't vote because we don't think it matters.

Corruption is eating away at the foundation of government at all levels, not only driving people away from the polls but also making all of us so cynical that we don't trust anyone in government and don't even try to understand complex issues. It is making it impossible to attract honorable people into politics. And our abdication of civic responsibility is leaving the field open for the corrupt and the wealthy to fashion government for their own ends.

Politicians have a responsibility, to us and to the future of the nation, to face up to the harm that their corrupt brethren are doing, and to root out the evil in their midst. To line up behind real ethics and campaign finance reform.

In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is pushing a broad, state-government reform bill, and good-government groups have lined up behind it. But the chances are close to zero that it'll pass.

I, too, am losing faith.