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  Yes, they have rescinded the offer.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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Please stop blaming Obama for Ukraine

 

President George W. Bush and Russia's Presiden...

President George W. Bush and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin take a sunset walk on a pier along the Black Sea during a visit by President and Mrs. Bush Saturday, April 5, 2008, to President Putin’s summer retreat, Bocharov Ruchey, in Sochi, Russia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To many on the right, all bad things that happen are President Obama’s fault.  More than a few see what happened in Benghazi has the cause of anything that happens anywhere in the world. In that context, it is surprising the missing Malaysian plane hasn’t been blamed (yet) on Benghazi.   The theory is that Obama’s weak foreign policy has emboldened Vladimir Putin to the point where he thinks he can do whatever he wants, wherever he wants.  How do they know this?  Because when their guy was in office, they say Putin backed off.

The theory of this comes from the US response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008.  The theories I have heard are that after Russia sent troops to the area, George W. Bush sent war ships to the Black Sea, trained the Georgian military to fight Russia and airlifted troops from Afghanistan home to fend off the invaders.  What really happened? Georgia is part of the international coalition that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  As such, the US did train their forces and agree to get them home in the case of an emergency.  The invasion was viewed as a qualifying emergency and the US transported Georgian troops from Iraq to Georgia but not to areas where the fighting was occurring and the administration made it very clear that was part of the agreement we had with all members of the coalition, not a response to the crisis.  As for the US ships in the Black Sea, they were full of humanitarian supplies and again, the White House went to great lengths to show they were not there to engage Russia in a fight that everyone thought could lead to a nasty conflict between the two nations.  US military action was never an option.

What did President Bush do?  Here is his official response: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1Men9v2tNg

Oh, the (W) Bush administration also levied sanctions on Russia.  Sounds pretty similar to what Obama is doing now. Putin did not take over Crimea because of anything Obama has done.  This move is very popular inside of Russia and the leader clearly wants to re-litigate  the end of the Cold War.     The US needs to be a part of any action to end the takeover of Ukraine but to assume it caused the situation or that it alone can end it is naive and misguided.  This world we now inhabit is far more complex and integrated than the one we lived in during the Cold War.  We are all better served by not applying simplistic causality (Obama is weak therefore …) to complicated situations.

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Memo to Democrats: Embrace Obamacare

Although it is only March, the post mortem has already been written for the Democratic performance in November’s term elections.  CNN’s John King said the situation is “bleaker than bleak.”  A Democratic strategist said the numbers portend a “tsunami sized loss” for the party.  Whichever party controls the White House usually does poorly in off year elections and this president approval rating is at an all time low.  Having said all of that, things can get better for the party and embracing Obamacare may be the way to do that.

Thus far, the GOP strategy on the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare has been pretty effective and was helped by the disastrous rollout last fall.  When David Jolly defeated Alex Sink in this month’s special election, the GOP claimed this was because the anti-Obamacare message works.  The Democrats have been trying to spin this as not a loss but a near win as Sink got so close in a swing district that been held by a Republican for more than four decades.  Both sides are partially correct.

First of all, voter turnout won the day in Florida.  This was a special election in an off year and fewer people vote in these types of elections.  Moreover, the people who tend to show up at the polls are older, whiter and more conservative.  Also, anger is a big motivator for most people.  So, yes, running against Obamacare helped the GOP here because it got more people to the polls.  And yes, their message works in places like this because it is simple: you don’t like Obamacare and neither do we, vote for us.

The takeaways from this are pretty clear and the Democrats can turn this around if they really want to.

Own Obamacare.  Running away from the health care law helps no one.  So far the GOP has won on this issue because supporters of the law have let opponents define it and set the rules for how we talk about it.  This has to stop.  The trick is to start talking up the law NOW.  The best time to talk about the benefits of Obamacare is not during a campaign or on a 30 second ad, people need to hear about how it helps them NOW.

Obamacare will be more popular in the fall.  The law is very unpopular now.  A recent USA Today/Pew Research Center poll put its approval rating at 42 percent.  Having said that, Gallup did a poll earlier this year that showed that 56 percent of uninsured Americans plan to use a government exchange to get coverage.  So far, five million people have enrolled through the plan.  As more people use (and like) the new system and as memory of the horrible rollout fades (it will have been over a year since implementation), people’s anger will dissipate.  One reason the GOP was so opposed to implementing the law was that once it is in place, it will be impossible to repeal.

Obamacare will not end our way of life.  The GOP is fond of saying that this is going to end our freedom.  Well, they said the same thing of Medicare.  Ronald Reagan once said, of the now popular program, “We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”  That didn’t work out that way and neither will this.

Obamacare is not socialism.  If anything, it is forced capitalism as it mandates people buy something from a private company.  The idea of the individual mandate came from the Heritage Foundation.  This is from their 1989 report:

Mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance. Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seatbelts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement. This mandate is based on two important principles. First, that health care protection is a responsibility of individuals, not businesses. Thus to the extent that anybody should be required to provide coverage to a family, the household mandate assumes that it is the family that carries the first responsibility. Second, it assumes that there is an implicit contract between households and society, based on the notion that health insurance is not like other forms of insurance protection. If a young man wrecks his Pors c he and has not had the foresight to obtain insurance, we may commiserate but society feels no obligation to repair his car. But health care is different. If a man is struck down by a heart attack in the street, Americans will care for him whether or not h e has insurance. If we find that he has spent his money on other things rather than insurance, we may be angry but we will not deny him services – even if that means more prudent citizens end up paying the tab. A mandate on individuals recognizes this impl i cit contract. Society does feel a moral obligation to insure that its citizens do not suffer from the unavailability of health care. But on the other hand, each household has the obligation, to the extent it is able, to avoid placing demands on society by protecting itself.

Obamacare is not a “job killer” nor will it “discourage work.”  This are common themes among opponents of the law.  Congressman Paul Ryan told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that Obamacare will discourage people from finding jobs and there are too many quotes from his party about how it will hurt the US economy and job creation.  None of that is true.  In 2011, the Rand corporation did a study on the impact of health insurance on job creation.  They found the high cost of health insurance is a deterrent to entrepreneurship and small business creation: people stay in jobs rather than strike out on their own to keep employer offered coverage.

Obamacare is not perfect but it is a real step forward.  Our businesses have long been hurt by the requirement that they provide health insurance and have to compete globally against companies who do not.  Our citizens have been hurt by a system that is costly and ineffective. Some 45,000 people die each year in the United States because they lack access to health care.  It’s time for Democrats to stop running from the president’s signature law and start embracing it.

 

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