Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A few thoughts on the cranky old racist

Donald Sterling has long been, for good  reason, a pariah among owners of professional sports teams. Not only were his Clippers among the worst run franchises in sports, he seemed to mix his incompetence with multiple layers of distastefulness such as that recently on display.

So there's really no point in commenting on his philosophy of race and the single girl. It's too weird. Here's a guy carrying on with a woman who is young enough to be his granddaughter. (He has obviously forgotten the controversial - but time honored and scientifically validated - rule for these things.)

Although she is apparently of black parentage, he doesn't want her to be seen with black people (who he, nevertheless, says are "wonderful") because ... well, I don't know. Apparently because he "has to live in" some kind of "culture" that doesn't  .... what ... want black people at NBA games? Or maybe "the culture"  just doesn't want black people at NBA games with a woman that Donald Sterling is trying to pretend isn't black - one who, he says,  is supposed to be a "delicate white or Latina"?

You figure it out. I can't. This is serious psycho-scrapple. But panic over African American men being around white women is an historic and ugly manifestation of racism. I suspect that had somehing to do with it.

But it's also a no-brainer to condemn, so let's consider four additional points.

First, Christian Schneider thinks we should quit excusing old people from being racists. I hadn't noticed that we did. But let me endorse the sentiment and add an observation or two.

The March on Washington took place over 50 years ago. Donald Sterling, according to the authorities at Wikipedia, was 30 years old then. The civil rights movement was not something that happened after he was a crusty old fart set in his ways. Maybe we could excuse those people - say Strom Thurmond or George Wallace - who were "too old" to adjust (and, actually, Thurmond and Wallace did change; at least a little), but those old people are mostly dead now.

More fundamentally, you don't get to be a crusty old fart set in your ways. You can think that older ways of thinking were better - often they were (albeit not on this issue) - but you have to keep making the case for the good old days.  Getting older doesn't mean you get to stop thinking. In fact, doing that will make it harder for you to keep getting older.

So, just as I wouldn't excuse Henry Aaron for not understanding the modern world, Sterling gets no pass. (And, no, the fact that I won't allow either to use the "stuck in the past" excuse does not "equate" their remarks.)

Besides, if he wants to run with a 21st century hottie, he needs to act his pretend age. Suck in your gut and let Lolita bring Magic Johnson into the luxury box.

Second, what should the NBA do? As I write this, he has been fined and banned for life. Adam Silver, Commissioner of the NBA, intends to try to force him to sell the team. This seems about right to me -although I'm a little unclear as to how you ban him from the league and still collect the fine.

I am not suggesting that everyone with views we disapprove of or that are unpopular should be driven from public life. I am very critical of Mozilla for firing its CEO because he differs with Silicon Valley's regnant view on the purpose and meaning of marriage. Civility requires that we learn to live, do business and sometimes even play with people we disagree with.

But all disagreements aren't the same. Saying that you don't want black people at your games - or don't want them there with certain kinds of people - is a delusion too far.

I detest our contemporary habit of condemning people based on an isolated remark. But this was an entire and rather belabored conversation. More fundamentally, it is consistent with some of Sterling's behavior in the past.

It is certainly true that publicizing private conversations is icky. In some states and under some circumstances, it is even illegal. But that's a different issue for another day.

Third, we shouldn't try to make this into a proxy for something that it isn't. In the wake of Sterling's comments, some conservatives inappropriately tried to make hay of his donations to Democratic candidates. Liberals tried to spike the football over the fact that he is a registered Republicans. In a truly silly column, Jeffrey Toobin seems to think that the remarks of this addle-brained and long standing creep (along with those of the crank Cliven Bundy) mean that we can't really ban discrimination on the basis of race. (More on that later.)

Donald Sterling's racism and his odd panic over his black and Hispanic girlfriend are about Donald Sterling.

Finally, what does this mean for us? Before a whole slew of new baseball palaces were built in the late nineties and oughts, MLB used Florida as a threat to get cities with existing franchises to come over with public money. Don't want to build a stadium? Tampa would love to have your team. (Ironically, when Florida did get baseball, it turned out that it wasn't a great location.)

The NFL uses Los Angeles in he same way. The NBA uses Seattle. If, as I suspect, the Clippers get sold, it's not clear to me that someone paying a market price would want to keep it as a second LA team. It may well be that the Clippers go to Seattle. I don't think that means the Bucks can stay in the Bradley Center, but it might change the dynamic.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Let's succeed and not secede

Both political parties have to deal with purists whose enthusiasm overcomes their common sense. Political activists have more passion than most and passion is not always well informed.

So let me say it. The resolution passed by one of the state Republican Congressional District conventions asserting Wisconsin's right to secede from the Union was dumb. It was dumb from a political perspective and on the merits. We fought a civil war to resolve that question. While I suppose, given the breadth of human evil, that you can imagine circumstances in which a state would justifiably wish to secede - say Nazi or Communist totalitarians established a police state in Washington - that remote and theoretical possibility does not warrant revisiting the nature of the United States.

On the other hand, my friends on the left - and on the editorial board of this paper - might want to be careful about treating this as a Republican or "right wing" issue. After George Bush was re-elected, it was fringe Democrats who discussed the secession of the blue states

There has been a left wing secessionist movement in Vermont that has attracted the support of as much as 13% of the population there. Back in the sixties, radicals, including the widow of Malcolm X, proposed creating a black majority Republic of New Afrika in the deep South.

There has even been prior movements for secession involving Wisconsin. Some proposals to create a new state called Superior have included the northern counties of Wisconsin. Less seriously, Winneconne seceded from Wisconsin for one day in 1967 and still celebrates the event.

Nor is it right - and this is why the Sixth Congressional District action really frosts me - to use the support of a few extremists to tar legitimate concerns about federalism. The Tenth Amendment does matter. Our framers did envision a limited role for the federal government and the states do have rights - although secession is not, under almost all circumstances, one of them.

I spend a lot time fighting for federalism and I don't appreciate it when people who are supposed to be on my side run down the brand.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

Monday, April 14, 2014

What if McDonald's slashed its CEO's pay?

My fellow Purple Wisconsin blogger Jennifer Epps-Addison, in advocating for an increase in the minimum wage, suggests the following:

Here's an idea. McDonald's shareholders could pay their CEO $1,000 or $2,000 an hour instead of the $9,200 an hour he currently makes, and use that money to increase the middle class and boost our economy.

How would that work? Would it really "increase the middle class?" Would it even noticeably impact the salaries of McDonald's workers?

Let's find out.

McDonald's CEO Donald Thompson made $13,751,919 in total compensation for 2012. Not all of that was cash compensation available to be "re-directed" to other employees - his salary and bonus was $ 9,560,311. The rest were stock options but let's put that aside and assume that one could either grant options to the employees or sell stock and redistribute the money. Both are dubious assumptions but let's grab as much of Mr. Thompson's pay as we can.

Ms. Epps-Addison seems to want to take around 80-90% of his compensation. To do so, we would have to suspend reality. If McDonald's reduced CEO compensation by that amount, it'd be looking for a new CEO and, like it or not, the candidate pool would be seriously affected. You can't hire Aaron Rodgers for what you pay Matt Flynn. We understand that for sports and entertainment, but the same rules apply to the market for rare executive talent.

But let's wish that problem away and redistribute most of Mr. Thompson's pay to line workers. Here the analysis gets a little tricky.

Most people who work at McDonald's don't work for McDonald's. They work for franchisees who own and operate over 80% of the chain's stores. But McDonald's exercises a great deal of control over those stores and promoting the brand and business practices that make them successful is part of Mr. Thompson's responsibilities. In any event, I am sure that Ms. Epps-Addison does not want to limit this building of the middle class and improving of the economy to less than 20% of McDonalds' employees. (People who own franchises don't make Thompson money so there would be no honey pot for them.) Let's include all folks who work at franchisees.

But McDonald's is a global company and Thompson runs the whole thing. If we are going to scoop up his pay and dole it out to others, it seems a bit chauvinistic to limit the largess to American employees. But let's indulge our inner Ugly American and ignore that problem. Let's look at only US employees.

The National Employment Law Project estimated that McDonald's and its franchisees employed 859,978 people in 2011. That's the best number I can find quickly. If we reduce the CEO's salary by 90 % and give it to each of these employees, their average annual salary increase would be ... $ 14.40.

For a full time worker, the increase in these folk's hourly wage would be about three quarters of a penny.

A few caveats.

Not all 859,978 are low wage workers; much less employed at the minimum wage. But given the nature of McDonald's business, it is fair to assume that the overwhelming majority are. And even if they aren't - even if only half have sufficiently low incomes to be entitled to a chunk of Mr. Thompson's pay - the average hourly increase would be less than two cents per hour.

Nor do all McDonald's employees work full time. There is no way to figure out the average work week, but taking into account the part time nature of the work force would increase value of the hourly increase even if it wouldn't vault these part time workers into the middle class. For example, if the average worker works half time, the hourly increase - if allocated among half of McDonald's and franchisees' total employment, might reach about three cents per hour.

I'm sure there are some other tweaks and ways in which the data can be refined. But I think you get the idea.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Some random thoughts on a new arena

First, it is extremely difficult to make a strong arguments that taxpayers should subsidize an arena. While studies go all over the place, my sense is that it is very difficult to show that subsidized arenas generate enough measurable economic activity to yield a positive ROI. Mostly, they shift entertainment dollars that would be spend on other things.

Second, it is possible to argue that there is a net gain to the locale where a facility is located. A downtown arena may shift entertainment dollars downtown and that leaves the downtown commercially stronger than it otherwise would be. If that's so, then the reluctance of suburban counties to contribute to the cost of an arena makes sense. While people throughout the region may use the arena (and pay the price of admission when they do), the economic benefits aren't felt throughout the region. If one of the purposes of a new arena is to attract suburban dollars to downtown Milwaukee, it's hard to make a case that suburban communities should be compelled to pay for the privilege.

Third, the analysis is complicated by the fact that an arena - and the professional sports team it attracts - can result in benefits that are difficult to measure. If the primary benefits of an arena are the jobs that a facility and the events that it hosts directly benefit, then the case for compelling people to pay for it (because, after all, that's what taxation is - a compulsory taking of people's money) is weak.

But it could be that there are intangible benefits to being a "major league" city and having a vibrant downtown that go beyond the direct benefits associated with sporting events and concerts. Maybe these things make a city a more attractive location for businesses and talented people. If that's true, then the argument that this is a regional responsibility becomes more compelling.

Fourth, if an arena is indeed a powerful generator of economic benefits, we should ask ourselves why any tax money should be needed in order to make it happen. At the very least, one might want to ask why the benefited businesses should not be expected to repay the cost of public contributions to private profit.

Finally, Common Ground's announcement that it "will not support" the new arena is, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, tone deaf. It may be irrelevant because, really, who cares what Common Ground is a fairly standard left wing organization and its constituency may not be critical to the arena decision. It's not apparent to me that they have the political clout to be a player in this.

It may be tone deaf - and a mistake - because many of the people inclined to support more funding for youth athletic facilities will resent Common Ground trying to hold an arena hostage by insisting on a "poison pill" of $ 150-250 million in additional taxation to benefit part of the region. If an arena can't happen without spending on youth facilities in that amount, there will probably be no arena.

I don't know if a case can be made for that level of spending on youth athletic facilities in Milwaukee County or not. My guess is that there are more compelling uses for that money.

I understand that Common Ground believes that better youth athletic facilities are a more compelling need than an arena, although comparing the cost of an arena to a demand for a particular amount for youth facilities seems to be comparing apples to oranges. I also appreciate why it may believe that they may be more able to block funding for an arena than they would be able to obtain funding for youth athletic facilities. They are trying to leverage what they may be able to do into something that they otherwise could not.

But I suspect that they are overreaching.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Shorewood hates freedom of the press

Here’s a story that you’d think the mainstream media would take more interest in.

A number of Wisconsin communities just voted to pull your freedom of speech.

I have often heard that, if the Bill of Rights was ever put to a vote, it would never pass. We’ve just seen an example of that.

Last week, the enlightened citizens of Shorewood, Whitefish Bay and several other communities voted to repeal the freedom of the press and of the free speech rights of organizations ranging from the NAACP to the National Rifle Association,

They passed an resolution calling for the Constitution to be amended to make clear that only “natural persons” have constitutional rights.

But associations of natural persons who have incorporated to form entities such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Planned Parenthood are ACLU are not themselves natural persons. The amendment would , as a practical matter, repeal the First Amendment right of all of these groups. It would repeal the free exercise rights of organized churches.

Quite frankly, the resolution was as deep bone silly as any resolution regarding creationism or human sexuality passed by the most fundamentalist county in the deepest corner of the benighted south.

You may object that they did not mean to do this. But wouldn’t it be better not to vote for what you did not understand?

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Johnson respects victim’s desire for confidentiality

So here’s a non-story. 

“Johnson did not tell police of assault allegations three years ago.” 

While I have a great deal of respect for the reporters who worked on the story – I think they are professional and ethical – this story was not handled well. By choosing that headline (I understand that the reporters do not write the headlines) and putting this at the top of the website, the newspaper seems to have intentionally implied that Johnson did something wrong – that he knew about something that he was obligated to disclose and did not. 

That implication is flat out false. Before I explain why, let me disclose that Sen. Johnson is a client of mine in the case of Johnson v. OPM. I have nothing to do with this matter.

The facts are as follows. Ron Johnson employed a woman, who claims that she was touched indecently - sexually assaulted - by Rep. Bill Kramer. At the time, she was working in Johnson’s office and shared her experience with Johnson’s chief of staff – who subsequently shared what she had told him with the Senator. 

Having hired a lawyer, the victim decided that she did not want to press charges. She decided that she preferred to have her lawyer send a warning letter to Kramer making clear that she would come forward if he did not reform his behavior. When recent allegations against Kramer – apparently witnessed by a roomful of people – came to light, she made good on that warning. 

Johnson and his office respected this woman’s decision about how to handle the matter. They did not go to the authorities and repeat what she had told them. For those of you who aren’t lawyers, doing so could not result in charges against Kramer. What the victim told Johnson’s staffers was hearsay. It would be inadmissible in court. 

So the implication of the headline is that Johnson and his staff should have betrayed this young woman’s confidence and done what she did not want to do. 

To be sure, some might criticize her for not coming forward earlier, but I wouldn’t and no one who wasn’t there should do so either.  I am sure that she made the best judgment that she could – taking into account what happened, the likely effect of her testimony and concern for other women. 

She is an individual who was entitled to decide how she wanted to handle what happened to her without need to have the men in whom she confided try to correct her judgment and “make” her do what she did not want to do. She had to take into account a number of things that no one else could fully appreciate. Respecting her as an individual means respecting her decision. 

The article  quotes a Madison lawyer(and Democratic donor) named Fred Gants stating that employers “have a duty to  follow up” on such situations. Again, the way in which Gants’ comments were reported implies that Johnson may have some legal litigation to report this as an assault even if the victim did not want to. 

I hope that Mr. Gants did not intend to imply that. 

I spent over ten years as general counsel to an employer and had to understand what our obligations were in situations like this. I would be interested to see how any lawyer might argue that an employer has a legal duty to go to police and allege that an adult has been sexually assaulted outside of that employer’s work place by someone who does not work for the employer – particularly where the employer has no information about the assault other than the testimony of the victim and the victim won’t testify. 

In the comments to a post by Purple Wisconsin blogger Jay Miller who argues that the headline on the story is misleading, someone asked what headline would be more accurate. 

Here’s one. 

“Johnson respects victim’s desire for confidentiality.”

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin