Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Steroids, Baseball, Bonds, and Clemens

Our national pastime of baseball is no longer past tense, passe, or living in the past. Steroids and HGH deserve the credit. These performance-enhancing drugs have provided Major League Baseball with some marketing juice. This enlightened point of view is a matter of perspective. It's partly sunny, not partly cloudy. The glass is half-full, not half-empty.

There is no such thing as bad publicity. Sports entertainment is about marketing. The Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds steroid calamities provided baseball with an off-season presence. This issue was the hot topic for news media, sports media, bloggers, Internet social sites, and various web-based organizations. Congress even got in on the act with the Clemens congressional committee hearing. Gavel to gavel coverage was provided by every major news outlet. Baseball's "hot stove" season was sizzling.

Who knew a sport layered in traditions would be at the forefront of pharmaceutical muscle and tissue advancement? Major League Baseball has had its share of drug abuses and allegations. Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry, Dock "LSD" Ellis, Ken Caminiti, Dwight Gooden, Wally Joyner, and Jason Giambi are a few of the names that come to mind. Baseball's past has also included rumors about widespread amphetamine use. None of these situations have ever sparked the amount of off-season media attention that anabolic steroids received. Usually, the only thing ever heard about after the World Series, are manager terminations, the winter meetings, and possible trades.

MLB needs to promote year around. However, the main focus should be on the off-season. Baseball needs to become the leader of self-promotion. Take a tip from Fox, ESPN, and HBO. Energize beyond the core audience and think outside the diamond. Have some television and radio commercials produced to promote the excitement. Action packed video and audio collages of player home runs, spectacular defensive plays, and great pitching moments. Target the spots at the 18-34 demo and have them narrated by current lifestyle leaders in music, movies, and fashion. Buy time on TV networks other than ESPN and Fox. Place ads on shows that appeal to the demo. Also, embrace more of the new media that technology has created. Go beyond the XM broadcasts and MLB.com to sign partnerships with YouTube, Myspace, Facebook, and any other social networks to advertise the sport. Currently, MLB.com offers inexpensive packages of live game audio and live game video and audio of any team regular season game. The use of this technology probably appeals to sports junkies and the developing younger 12-30-year-old demo that view movies and TV on their computer screens. However, baseball does a poor job of promoting these options.

Devise something for the winter months at a destination location to create some buzz. Pro-football and basketball have turned their drafts into events. Baseball owners annually hold winter meetings during the second week of December. This would be a perfect time to host an event to showcase MLB and its relationship with the fans. On Opening Day, start promoting the venture so people make plans. At the event, get the players involved in an All-Star softball game and other types of non-contact activities. Set up player autograph booths. It is very important to make this extravaganza free. In attendance, have big named musicians, TV celebrities and movie stars that love baseball. Showcase these entertainment icons. Insure that there is something for every age bracket. The objective is to generate excitement and spotlight the sport in the off-season. Sports TV and sports talk radio will love it. Make it an annual event.

Attendance continues to rise and yet there are still some pundits that act as if baseball is a step away from a glue factory. It's believed that baseball's lack of growth among youth and African Americans is a direct reflection of societies flaws and the game itself. Some experts have suggested that increases of single parent households are partly to blame. The premise being that the lack of fathers playing catch with their sons has created a potential future crisis for MLB. Another myth for baseball's problems are the deliberate pace and length of games. Both theories are absurd.

Americans of all ages will buy anything packaged and advertised correctly. Lest we forget the Pet Rock, Cabbage Patch Dolls, $150 Air Jordan gym shoes, Beanie Babies, paid cable TV, and bottled water. MLB just needs to blend old traditions with new ones and market to the masses.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Vladimir Putin's Plan For Iraq and Iran

The Iraq war resembles the movie, “Pulp Fiction.” Each situation is a segment of the whole picture. You have to examine the next episode to figure out the previous one. No one is saying it, but historical facts and current events point to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

The Soviet Union lost the Afghan War thanks to the partnership of the United States, Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and Congressman Charlie Wilson. Former President George H. Bush once called the Taliban, “freedom fighters.” He advocated funding Bin Laden in the mid 80's. The U.S.S.R’s loss of the war, caused financial ruin, dismantled Communist Party rule, and broke up the Soviet Bloc. President Putin, the former head of the KGB, resurrected himself and recreated communism disguised as free enterprise. Putin’s master plan combined the best of capitalism, socialism, communism, and fascism. On the surface, you see a free Russia with a head of state for each country that was once part of the Soviet Union. Don’t be fooled, step out of line and Putin will crush you. Just ask Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. During his successful bid for office in 2004, he almost died of dioxin poisoning. There had been long standing disputes over borders and Russian naval bases in Ukrainian territory. During the election, Putin quietly backed Yushchenko’s pro- Russian opponent, then, in 2006; there was the mysterious poisoning of ex- Russian spy and Kremlin critic Colonel Alexander Litvenko. He died from a radioactive substance. He had fled Russia in 2000. Both poison cases were reminiscent of the Cold War and how the KGB silenced opposition. As far as Putin goes, it is hard to teach a former KGB Chief new tricks.

Russia’s new look economy and government have flourished. Petroleum and oil are a large part of the success. Godfather Putin and his Russian “Dons” actually have won bids against U.S oil companies for the right to have gas pumped into American tanks.

Now, fast forward to 2003 and the U.S liberation of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein and disposal of his weapons of mass destruction. Post Desert Storm, Putin, had a great business relationship with Hussein. Iraq has the world’s third largest oil reserve. When the U.S took over, all monies and contracts with other countries were frozen. In February 2008, Russia wrote off 12 billion (93%) of Iraq’s 12.9 billion-dollar debt. America’s exploits of the last 30 years have gravely affected Russia. What President George W. Bush actually saw in Putin’s eyes was “revenge is a dish best served cold”. Mr. Putin is playing all ends against the middle.

Russia is openly an ally of Iran and anyone else who has a beef with America. Iran needs Russian support to offset all the export embargoes against them. Many believe that Iranians provide funding, training, and arms for many of the Iraqi Shiite insurgents. Logic dictates that Putin would probably funnel money and weapons through Iran to the Iraqi insurgents. This would replace the loss of revenue. From 1981-2001, the former Soviet Union supplied Iraq with 50 percent of its arms. Why do the majority of the Shiite and Sunni insurgents fight? For food and necessities. Our own military admits that the insurgents consist largely of diplaced solders and workers caused by the invasion of Iraq. In fact, 1,300 Iraqi policeman and soldiers were just fired for reluctance to fight the Shiite militias in Basra. It’s natural to assume that the discharged will now get paid to fight for al-Sadr’s army or some other disgruntled group.

The surge has worked because we determined that paying Shiite and Sunni to police their own neighborhoods would be a good thing. The U.S paid insurgents are called militia and Iraqi Security Volunteers. It is about putting food on the table and not jihadist ideology. Not to say that is not the case for some insurgents. All the disruption is financially beneficial to Russia. One of the main jobs for the insurgents is hijacking oil tankers. The Pentagon has estimated that 70% of Bajaii refinery production winds up on the black market. Meanwhile, Putin is actively pursing the Iraqi government for a share of contracts to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure, especially in the crude oil and the gasoline sector. Another fact, The Shiite radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has extended his militia’s six-month cease-fire. Translation, he and his people probably renegotiated a new deal with the U.S. His army helps police Shiite Basra and other neighborhoods. However, Iran, Russia, and certain groups in Saudi Arabia want to keep the confusion going. It is conceivable the reason for the current uprising is coming from disgruntled factions within al-Sadr’s militia that are tired of the Iraqi government promising to reconstruct basic services. Many neighborhoods still have trash piled in the streets, no electricity, sewage problems, and a lack of clean water. Al-Sadr’s way of building support through the delivery of aid and services are probably too slow for some.

In order to keep control of his own militia military and reputation, al- Sadr has to give the appearance of agreeing with the current in- fighting in Basra. He’s probably behind the arrest of those in his own employ. It would be the best solution for getting rid of his detractors. Iraq Prime Minister Nouri-al Malik was once an ally of al-Sadr. The Bush administration discouraged this relationship. Publicly they oppose each other. But do they really? Al- Malik’s tough guy act was suppose to demonstrate his ability to police Shiite militias. How was it that al-Malik undermanned his own plan? It has come to light that he implemented the operation without consulting the Iraqi Council of Representatives or the U.S until it was underway. This failed affair has reinforced al-Sadr’s power. Meanwhile, the same Iran that recently loaned Iraq one billion dollars brokered a brief cease-fire between al-Sadr’s militia and the Iraqi government. It makes you wonder what were the real intentions? How ironic it happened just prior to the NATO summit in Bucharest and the Bush-Putin talks in Southern Russia. Keep your friends close and your enemies’ closer. This ordeal is embarrassing for a U.S that has refused to hold talks with Iran. Vladimir Putin’ fingerprints are all over this one. What a murder mystery, militia’s, the military, oil hijackings, racketeering, in-fighting, the black market, religious conflict, manipulation, private contract armies, insurgents, criminals, numerous Shiite and Sunni tribes, and politics. It all adds up to a complete disembowelment of a once thriving country.

There is another twist to the saga. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni, and Sunni’s controlled the Iraqi government throughout his rein. Many of the current Iraqi Shiite inner government voluntarily exiled to Iran during the Iraqi-Iranian war. Those in control of Iran are also Shiite.

All the misdirection works for Putin. He stays just friendly enough with all the central Asian and Middle Eastern countries to take advantage of economic opportunities. It is a win- win for Russia. The real “evil doer” lives in Moscow with a self-created non-elected title and a hand picked president. Free Elections in Russia? Right, wink, wink.

Russia is one of the world’s major oil and energy players. It’s the largest exporter of natural gas and the second largest oil exporter. The top five oil exporters are: Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates. Putin would probably stop at nothing to ensure that America becomes even more dependent on oil from the former Soviet Union. Negotiations are currently underway involving American companies to develop Russian portions of the Arctic shelf.

Then there is the other Iraqi war going on in the Sunni regions of Baquba and Ramadi. The conservative majorities do not like the extremists. For those keeping a scorecard, it’s The Sunni establishment and paid U.S backed Sunni militia’s versus Al Qaeda, unnamed Sunni insurgents, gangs and armed groups. Since President Putin is now in the “good guy” business, there is probably some Russian seed money being funneled to the Sunni anti-establishment factions

At least with the Cold War you knew who your enemies were.