The real problem with Donald Sterling

This was originally published on Liberaland.

The normal reaction to Donald Sterling’s racist comments is outrage and disgust;  but my issue isn’t with what he told his mistress but rather how he treated people before, and how he was allowed to get away with it.  Like Cliven Bundy last week, there is so much wrong with what Sterling said that it is hard to know where to begin.  Remember he told his multi-racial mistress that he was ok with her having sex with African-Americans, he just didn’t want to see their

West's silhouette serves as the current NBA logo.

West’s silhouette serves as the current NBA logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

photos on Instagram. From soup to nuts, that is a crazy rant, but what’s even crazier is that not only were people not surprised by his racism but the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was scheduled to give the NBA team owner a lifetime achievement award this Saturday.  Yes, they have rescinded the offer. but why did they make it to begin with? In fact this would have been his second NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award.

Donald Sterling is a very rich man.  He has made a lot of his money in real estate and his history of racism and discrimination is well known.  The Department of Justice (DoJ) sued him in 2006 for refusing to rent to non-Koreans in Koreatown to African-Americans elsewhere in Los Angeles.  In 2009, he paid $2.73 million because he discriminated against African-Americans, Latinos and families with children.  That same year, Clippers Elgin Baylor sued him for wrongful termination and alleged Sterling wanted a “team full of poor, black boys with a white coach from the south.”

The chapter of the NAACP that was poised to award Sterling claims they asked him about the lawsuits and comments and took him at his word when he denied allegations of racism.  They are also revisiting how they vet candidates for awards and returning donations he gave.  And President Obama’s comment, “When people — when ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. And that’s what happened here,” was perfect but still misses the point.  Sterling’s comments and attitude are not the real problem.

The real problem is not that the owner of a basketball team is racist, though that is unacceptable.  Donald Sperling’s racist comments and actions were condoned and he was celebrated after they were well documented; that is the problem.

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Labor, Athletes and Sherpas

Nawang Sherpa

Nepali sherpas guiding climbers up Mount Everest may not seem to have much in common with Northwestern University football players, but both were in the news this week due to labor issues.  As different as they seem, both form elite groups whose work is exploited by others for profit.   That profit is large.

Nepal is one of the poorest, least developed countries on the planet.  The term sherpa refers to a small, ethnic minority, but has come to be synonymous with the elite climbing guides who work throughout the Himalayas.  The job of sherpa pays well.  In a country where most people live on under $300/year, the prospect of making $6,000 or more for a season is very enticing.  The Nepali government also makes millions from climbers.  They actively encourage men to take this on as a career.  So, the climbers get a great experience, the touring companies charge a fortune and the government rakes in the fees.  Sherpa deserve a bigger share of profits from an industry that they make possible.

Likewise, college athletes work and take risks for others’ amusement and profit.  Like the sherpas, they are equally celebrated, and the risk football players take is considerable.  Football is a dangerous sport.  The NFL recognizes this and takes care of its retired players, maybe it’s time universities do the same.  This is a multi-billion dollar business.  Fans have a great time, television networks make a huge profit and universities gain prestige and make money.  Everyone involved seems to profit more than the people on the field.

When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summited Everest in 1953, Hillary said he “didn’t think the world would care too much about a simple bee keeper from New Zealand.”  He spawned a multimillion dollar industry.  The world of college sports has grown in the same way.  The time has come to recognize how these sports have become businesses, and treat the people who make them happen accordingly.

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We deserve better

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Conventional Republican wisdom is that the fewer taxes people pay and the simpler the tax code is, the happier and wealthier we all would be.  In fact, our economy would soar and it would be utopia. Thomas Piketty’s recent book, Capital in the 21st Century  claims the opposite.

Piketty, a French economist known for studying inequality, argues that progressive taxation reduces it.  Psychologists find that people are most satisfied, not when they have the most of something (like money), though some probably are, but when they don’t see a huge difference between themselves and the people around them.  The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) puts out a yearly list rating the quality of life around the world.  They rank: 1. Australia, 2.Sweeden, 3. Canada, 4. Norway, 5. Switzerland, 6.the United States, 7. Denmark, 8. the Netherlands, 9, Iceland and 10. the UK.  Of the countries on the chart, only the UK follows us.  Everyone on the list pays higher taxes.

The 2011 paper , Progressive Taxation and the the Subjective Well-being of Nations (Dr. Shigehiro Oishi from the University of Virginia) found, “Respondents living in a nation with more-progressive taxation evaluated their lives as closer to the best possible life and reported having more positive and less negative daily experiences than did respondents living in a nation with less-progressive taxation.”

When Bill Clinton was president, some on the right claimed that he was destroying our way of life because he was making “taxation acceptable.”  His argument was that people would start getting something good in return for their taxes and not mind paying them.  According to the right, this would lead to the apocalypse.

The right doesn’t hate President Obama just because of the Affordable Care Act, they hated him long before that, but it is one reason.  Obamacare is a tangible way people can see their taxes in action.  In the same vein, they aren’t trying to cut education funding for just that reason, they just think the only things our tax dollars should go to is the military and investigations into the Obama administration.

Republican Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”  Maybe we need to stop demonizing taxes and wonder why making things essential to life such as health care, an education, shelter, etc. is so bad.  The citizens of such a great county as this one deserve better.

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