Today: Corruption in the Beautiful Game

Hello. I'm Davan Maharaj, editor of the Los Angeles Times. Fourteen people, including high-ranking officials at soccer's international governing body, FIFA, have been accused of corruption by U.S. prosecutors, and scientists are seeing signs of an El Niño brewing. Here are some story lines I don't want you to miss today.



Rocking the World’s Game

The charge shocked soccer fans everywhere: more than $150 million in bribes paid to officials of FIFA, the international body responsible for selecting World Cup host countries. Votes bought and sold. Kickbacks solicited and paid. As U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch put it, officials enriched themselves "over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament." In all, federal racketeering charges were leveled against 14 people, including nine current and former FIFA executives. The scope of the allegations was breathtaking. In one case, a $10-million bribe by South Africa to host the World Cup was transferred from Switzerland to New York, with more than a million skimmed off by one defendant for his personal use. In another, envelopes stuffed with $40,000 in cash were passed out for a candidate running for the FIFA presidency. "There are some people here who think they are more pious than thou," the man who handed out the envelopes said, according to the indictment. "If you’re pious, open a church, friends. Our business is our business." 

Pope’s New Path

Is Pope Francis steering his church to the left, or merely toward the less fortunate?  Two moves -- the pope’s meeting with the Peruvian founder of "liberation theology" and last weekend’s beatification of an assassinated Salvadoran archbishop -- have stirred up questions about where Roman Catholicism is heading. Previous Vatican inhabitants had discredited liberation theology as a Marxist conspiracy; now the taboo is lifted. Oscar Romero, gunned down by a right-wing death squad, was a populist hero; now he's a Christian martyr too. But the Cold War is over. In 2015, many Catholics say, Francis' moves are not so much political as progressive, putting the church’s focus back where it belongs: on the poor, the suffering, and the marginalized.

Hello, El Niño? Is That You?

Deadly storms and flooding in Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico, and a cooler, wetter May across Southern California, have some scientists wondering whether that elusive weather phenomenon El Niño could be gaining strength. El Niños have been responsible for two of California’s wettest rainy seasons: the winters of 1982-83 and 1997-98. Now, experts say, the prospect of a powerful El Niño next winter could spell the beginning of the end of the drought. We might be careful what we wish for: Those two epic El Niños were destructive. And in a warmer world, there’s no reason to believe that a wet year wouldn’t be followed by another arid one.


Hot-Button Issue in the Slow Lanes

If you’ve found yourself stuck in traffic, fantasizing about ditching your car and escaping by motorcycle, you’ve been mentally bending the law. That could change soon, as a bill nearing a vote in the Legislature would make California the first state to sanction the traffic-evading tactic known as lane-splitting. The measure would allow motorcycles to move between cars at speeds up to 15 mph faster than the flow of traffic, up to 50 mph. Supporters cite studies showing that the practice is safer than leaving bikers trapped behind cars, where they are vulnerable to rear-end collisions. As proponents and detractors debate, a codified law would at least clarify the matter: California has never expressly forbidden or allowed lane-splitting.

A Dark Art No More

Not so long ago, the masters of opposition research hid in the crevices of political campaigns, firing missiles at candidates anonymously and living in fear of being exposed. Oh my, how times have changed. This election cycle, “oppo-research” has become a garish, multimillion-dollar enterprise -- with logos, marketing strategies and a look-at-me approach to news cycle domination. So what turned once-secretive campaign trackers and data miners into public pugilists? Changes in the way voters consume information, a numbness to negative politicking and a lot more PAC money looking for a place to be spent, the experts say.


-- Remember when the Space Shuttle Endeavour shut down a chunk of Los Angeles for a slow-motion crawl to Exposition Park from LAX? Get ready for the sequel

-- A new push is underway to end solitary confinement for juveniles in California.

-- Labor leaders are advocating a last-minute exception to L.A.'s plan to raise the minimum wage.

-- Federal officials have ordered Plains All American Pipeline to clean up the Santa Barbara County coastline.


-- The Army mistakenly sent live anthrax samples from a testing facility in Utah to commercial laboratories across the country.

-- Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, reportedly frustrated by a lack of progress in peace talks, may leave his post as U.N. special Middle East envoy.

-- "At your service, Iraq" is the new name, after the original caused controversy, of a push to retake Ramadi from Islamic State.

-- Another effect of El Niño could be a slower-than-normal hurricane season.


-- President Obama's landmark trade deal, a key to his agenda, is testing his ability to persuade lawmakers.

-- The FCC has moved to make it easier for consumers to stop unwanted robocalls and spam text messages.

-- Uber, once banned in Nevada, will be allowed to operate in the Silver State.


-- The Chicago Blackhawks force the Anaheim Ducks into an NHL playoffs Game 7 with a 5-2 win.

 -- Chris Erskine is worried about baseball and what bloated TV deals will mean for the sport.

-- The latest scores and stats.


-- David Duchovny is busy: an album, a novel, an "X-Files" reboot. Plus he stars in "Aquarius," a crime drama set in 1960s L.A. with a Charles Manson twist.

-- U2 opens its series of Los Angeles concerts with an inarguable show of force.

-- Passings: Dennis Sheehan, 68, U2's longtime tour manager, is found dead in his West Hollywood hotel.


-- Growing cotton in the Arizona desert is part of a water crisis in the West, ProPublica writes in the first part of a series called "Killing the Colorado."

-- The number of reporters assigned to cover statehouses is in decline. (Pew Research Center)

-- Grantland has an exhaustive guide to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The final rounds will be broadcast today.


Celebrities have opinions too, and two have recently weighed in on the drought. William Shatner's Seattle-to-California pipeline might be far-fetched, but L.A.-based musician Moby has a policy proposal: He wants to "stop corporate agribusiness from tapping out" California's water. 

Please send comments and ideas to Davan Maharaj.