Stadium Building: Welfare for Billionaires

City of Champions StadiumThere are big happenings down in southern California. The Los Angeles Rams are demanding the local area people build them the City of Champions Stadium. Oh my! Here we go again. A big sports team owned by billionaires is demanding that the people pay for their luxury accommodations and acting like it is a grand favor. Oh the money that the team will bring in! Oh the jobs that will be created! A city would have to be a fool to pass up such a great opportunity!

We know about this con from David Cay Johnson’s wonderful book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill). These deals never make monetary sense. Localities spend a whole lot more than they get back. The local economy is not improved. It works like this. They build a big stadium. They build a big parking lot. People drive to the stadium. They spend money at the stadium. And then they drive home. Stadiums are often surrounded by squalor. But they do create jobs inside the stadium, right? Well, a little bit.

But remember: this is a zero sum game. Teams roam around from town to town looking for the best deal. So the jobs are going to be created somewhere. These are not new jobs. So the teams will go where the taxes are low, where the locality will pay for their stadiums, and where the minimum wage is low. Hooray! It’s the perfect environment for the billionaire who doesn’t feel that he is getting enough attention.

Michael Hiltzik wrote a good article last week, The Truth About Football Stadiums: Those Supposed Great New Jobs Are Bogus. In proposing the new stadium, its proponents claimed that it would created “10,465 full- and part-time jobs.” It sounds impressive, but those last three words create a semantic loophole so large you could push Aristotle’s Organon through it.

Most of the article deals with the fact that even those who get to work at stadiums are usually screwed out of their pay. For example, they aren’t able to park near the game, so by contract, they must take shuttles, but are not paid for this part of their jobs that clearly (and legally) should be paid. And the pay? Well, we don’t know if workers at the City of Champions Stadium will be paid beyond the going rate, but at this year’s Super Bowl, a typical worker was paid just $12.25 per hour. For one day. Think about that: one day!

Things are obviously different for baseball and basketball, but for football, there are a total of 8 games regular season played at any given stadium. Sure, there are occasionally other events, but they wouldn’t employ as many people and anyway, how many people are we talking about? Well, at Levi’s Stadium, there are a total of roughly 4,500 people employed on any day when the San Francisco 49ers are playing there. As Hiltzik noted: “mostly low-wage cooks, waiters, janitors, security guards, parking attendants, and ticket takers.” As for the high wage jobs, “Permanent stadium jobs in departments such as marketing and sales number only about 60.”

Where does the 10,465 number come from? It’s just a fantasy. But then it all is. Football (or any other form of entertainment) is a fungible — easily replaced by another commodity. Sure, if football were taken away, people would miss it. But they would find other ways to entertain themselves. I have a lot of ideas for how to improve professional sports. But the first step we should take should be one we make for all businesses. No locality in the United States should be allowed to give any business any incentive whatsoever. It is unfair. It gives billionaires advantages that the rest of us have to pay for. It’s an outrage.

Hilary Clinton Vs Donald Trump

Hillary ClintonIt looks like this election is going to be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In general, I’ve thought that Bernie Sanders would have been the better candidate against Trump. Now I don’t especially think that. For one thing, I’ve noted of late that Sanders doesn’t have the greatest campaign. He is right to say that he’s just the figurehead of a movement. And that movement is made up of people like me — people who feel the the Democratic Party has moved way too far to the right. And in that way, Sanders is a supporter of me, not the other way around.

But now, I’m thinking that Hillary Clinton really will be hard for any Republican to beat. I was very impressed with both Clinton and Sanders Thursday night. But I have to admit, every time I see Clinton she makes me think what I thought of Bill Clinton: there’s someone who the American people can think of as a president. She’s extremely good at all this. She walks a fine line that wouldn’t be necessary if she weren’t a woman, and she does it brilliantly. As I’ve stated from the beginning, she’s not my first choice, but she’s a fine choice.

Meanwhile, last week, BuzzFeed reported, In 2002, Donald Trump Said He Supported Invading Iraq. In September 2002, Howard Stern asked if he was in favor of the Iraq War, and Trump said, “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.” This isn’t a surprise at all. The vast majority of people supported the war at that time. What’s more, a vast number of people today who did support the war back then claim that they didn’t. And you can say a lot of things about Trump, but the truth is that he is a typical American:

Iraq War Support Then and Now

I don’t think this is much going to hurt Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Nothing seems to hurt him in the Republican primary. But the opposition research on Donald Trump has to be so ridiculously extensive that he would be dead meat in the general election if he weren’t already deeply disliked. I understand that he was deeply disliked in the Republican Party before he started winning. But the truth is that he is still still deeply disliked in the Republican Party. Of course, they will all fall in line behind him eventually. But the only reason he is popular is because he willing to be deeply offensive to the one demographic group that the Republicans absolutely must get 30% to 40% of the vote from : Latinos.

So I have to provide my standard disclaimer: if the economy tanks, the Republicans have a really good shot at giving the Republicans the White House. But barring that, I don’t see them winning the election. Their only hope on that front would be to make this election on national security. (That would be ridiculous given how safe we are here at home, but stranger things have happened.) On that front, Bernie Sanders might be vulnerable. But Clinton wouldn’t be. If this is a national security election, Clinton is the best candidate there is. (That’s one of my biggest concerns about her!)

So the election is shaping up to be one that the Democrats win by default. If they don’t, it is because they screwed it up. But assuming Clinton is the candidate, I just want to say a word to my fellow Sanders supporters: you have to vote for Clinton. There never was going to be a political revolution. If you want to see real change in this country, then you have to fight for it, not this election cycle, but for the next four, five, six election cycles. Imagine how different things would have been in young people showed up at the polls in 2010 and Obama had had another two, four, or six years with a Democratic Congress? Whether Clinton or Sanders, or even Trump or Cruz, wins on 8 November 2016, the work doesn’t stop. It continues on and on until some things like universal healthcare and guaranteed income are truly taken for granted.

Morning Music: Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry

Ode to Billie JoeI’m still not feeling 100%. Not to mention, my day job just greatly increased my workflow. I really don’t know what I’m going to do about that. I’m feeling very anxious. And as a result, I can’t come up with a theme for the morning music posts this week. So I’m just going to do some songs I like. Or hate. Or whatever comes into my mind. Today, I’m doing Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.”

I liked this song well enough when I was a kid. I remember seeing the film based upon it, made by Max Baer Jr, or as you probably know him Jethro Bodine. But the song didn’t really hit me in all its brilliance until I was well into my thirties. There was a magazine, perhaps Harper’s, that had a short story on the last page of every issue. They described it as a novel in a single page — a story that was so powerful that it would have as great an effect on you as a novel. Well, that’s the way I feel about “Ode to Billie Joe.” It’s a novel in five verses.

The beauty of “Ode to Billie Joe” is that we don’t know the backstory. This is why the film fails as a piece of art — and could not have done anything but fail. A novel would do the same thing. But I think a great novel could be written based upon the ending: two women of different generations, living together, having just lost the loves of their lives.

There are dangerous questions in great literature. The most dangerous is, “What happened?” You don’t want to know. It’s the mystery that we love — the not knowing. Once it is concrete, there is nothing special about it. Billie Joe and the narrator could have been dropping anything off that bridge. Billie Joe could have killed himself for any number of reasons. In the film, the answers are: a teddy bear and because of a drunken homosexual encounter. Feel better? Of course not! Those are pathetic answers. I could provide ten better ones for you this evening.

One thing is for certain, Bobbie Gentry didn’t know what the answers to these questions were. There was some kind of relationship. And her family was clueless about it. Except for her mother, who I think the song indicates knows something. But maybe not. Does anyone know our secret thoughts and feelings? Probably not.

Anniversary Post: Malcolm X’s Assassination

Malcolm XOn this day in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. I don’t know that much about him. Some day I really should read Alex Haley’s book. But I want to talk briefly about what he seems to have represented to White America: the dangerous black man. I’ve often thought that what progress we’ve made regarding racial politics are thanks to Malcolm X. Because when I was growing up, it seemed to me that people were terrified of him. And note: he died just days after my first birthday. So they were terrified of a dead man.

Malcolm X vs MLK

That’s not to say that America’s Gandhi, Martin Luther King, didn’t terrify White America too. That is the true white man’s burden: fear of everything, but most especially that they will lose their preferred status, which is based a centuries old asymmetry of weapons technology. Of course, the White Man doesn’t exactly think in those terms. But I think he knows. I think we all know that in a fair fight, the white man would not come out on top. It would just be a mess — a diverse mess.

But if you have to negotiate a peace, you want to do it with King and his commitment to nonviolence rather than with Malcolm X and his commitment to “any means necessary.” None of this is to say that racism of any form is acceptable. But I’m much more of the separatist mentality myself. And I can’t believe there are many white men who have grown up with the privilege that we are given in his country deciding that turning the other cheek was a reasonable approach to the oppression that African Americans lived under then and continue to live under to this day.

A lot of people wonder what King might have accomplished had he lived longer. I think that Malcolm X might have had a much greater effect. As we’ve seen in this country, the times are rare when being polite and asking nicely get much accomplished.