Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why are we surprised by Donald Sterling?

Oh, yeah, I know what you are going to say..."He owns an NBA team with a majority of players who are black.  Most of the people who make money for him are black..."  Okay, so exactly HOW does that make it surprising that this man is a racist?  

In the 1860s, in the deep South, black men made white men very rich - but those white men called the black men "animals" and perpetuated myths about him that still haunt and stereotype. Those stereotypes and myths are still at work in the mind of men like Donald Sterling. It doesn't make a man less racist just because he owns a multi-billion dollar professional basketball team and pays his players fairly well. He still can see them as property, and will use them until they are used up. 

I love basketball.  Actually, I love all sports, but I played basketball in my younger days and so I have a special understanding of the sport. Until 1995 (when the babies were put on the court), I watched the NBA religiously - and I followed coaches more than players or teams.  The reason is because a good coach can take a group of people who have many differences and personalities, and who might dislike one another intensely - and he or she can give those players a common goal and purpose that will unite them and overcome those barriers. A good coach knows his players, and he sees them as individuals with strengths to bring to the team. You won't find a good coach who cares whether his players are black, white, brown, purple or polka-dotted.  If they can play, and they can unite behind a shared goal of winning, then he wants them on his team.  

Team owners...well, that's different. First and foremost in most of their minds is the money that will be made from the team - the ticket sales, the merchandise sales and the nice little perks that come from location in a particular city. Now, if you look at the owners of the NBA teams, you will see that these men are already rich - but with these teams, they get filty rich.  Let's consider, for a moment, the Maloof family - who until last year owned the Sacramento Kings. This is from the Wages of Wins website:

                                The Maloofs bought the Kings from Jim Thomas in January 1999 for $156                           million. Adjusted for inflation, this would be about $215 million. If the Kings are valued at $525 million, and the Maloof family owns a53% share, then the Maloofs stand to earn about $278.3 million from this sale, a tidy profit of about $63.3 million. Add it all up, and the Maloofs have made around $109 million during the period of their 14-year majority ownership. On a yearly basis, this amounts to $7.8 million a year.
As a point of comparison, the average salary of an NBA player is somewhere around $5 million a year ($2006362672 in NBA salaries divided by 445 players gives us $4.5 million, actually, but we’ll be generous). This figure is highly skewed by a few highly-compensated players; the median salary for an NBA player is more like $2 million a year. So the Maloof family made about four times the salary of a typical NBA player over their 14-year ownership.
This is the amount a family made by owning a team that is not considered one of the most valuable in the NBA.  Can you imagine what is made by the owners of more successful teams? Think about the fact that the profit is AFTER paying those million dollar salaries to players. Those players' salaries are just a drop in the bucket to the big money that is in the reservoir.  So, why would the owners really be interested in what happens to their money-generating employee when they can find another one? And in the NBA, the talent pool is all emcompassing, because a kid only needs to be 19 before he can earn millions by showing off his talent - so who cares if he is immature, unready to face responsibility for his money and actions? Hey, it's all about talent, right?  Shouldn't the owners get the "best" to play, even if they are still just children? And that is what the owners bank on - and take to the bank.  They want the newest, the best and the most controversial...why?  Because that puts butts in seats, fills arenas and puts more money in their wallets. 
Look at this statistic - from a 2012 report - 60% of NBA players file for bankruptcy within 5 years of retirement. The average career of an NBA player is 4.8 years. I know that we can all point to the careers of the greats - Kareem Abdul Jabbar, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller - that lasted for decades.  But for the average player, that doesn't happen. Once their newness wears off, their tirades get too unmanageable, their talent gets outshined by a new prospect, or their body just can't take the punishment - then they are cast aside. They are left with pretty much nothing - because most of them have not gotten to the "top" by themselves.  They have carried family, friends, friends of friends, agents, girlfriends, mothers of their children and even strangers along with them.  The millions that they have been paid have been given to others who "depend" on them. And...for some of them, this comes at 30...35...40. So, how do they make money? What career do they pursue? But whose problem is that?
The owners don't see it as their problem.  If they did, then they would find a way to educate the players about the problems and pressures of being a professional athlete.  They would invest in the player to bring about a better understanding of how to conduct business, behavior and...basketball.  But this isn't about the game...as sad as that is to realize.  It is about having a product...and a market.  It is about love of the sport, but more love of money.  And, ultimately, it is about one person seeing another as property.
Okay, so I am NOT saying that professional basketball is as horrible as the social cancer of slavery. And I am definitely NOT saying that all NBA owners are racists.  What I am saying is that it shouldn't be surprising that there is one in the bunch. Because once you get passed the love of the game...it is about money, and about how another person can do the work while they get rich.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Fat Girl Turns 50

     In a little over a month, I will turn 50.  Yep...the big 5-0...a half century...closer to the end than to the beginning. If I am honest, I must say that this birthday has hit me a bit harder than 30 or 40.  With both of those milestones, I gaily danced through the day and never looked back.  This one, though, has made me stop and take a breath.  It has made me look a little more closely at my life - where I have been, what I have done and where I am going. I know that there is one thing that has followed me around for 28 years of my life - I am fat.  Yep, I can call it "cuddly", "well upholstered" or even "fluffy", but the truth is that I am a size 14 on a 5'1" package. But this is not some "oh, woe is me, I am unloved and unworthy" rant.  Nope, that is definitely not me.  Let me begin my story.

   I guess that the "fat" part of my life started when I was 22 and I gained 40 pounds within a 3 month period. I won't go into the whole story about doctor visits, so the short version is that I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I was told that 1) it can be treated, but not cured; and 2) I was going to be a "big girl" pretty much forever. Now, let's put this into where my life was at 22.  I was born and raised in Mississippi, and the other girls in my social set were obssessed with pretty hair, pretty clothes and pretty bodies. Even as children, we all knew that Mary Anne Mobley,  Lynda Lee Mead and Cheryl Prewitt were Miss Americas from Mississippi, and we knew all about them. Our mothers taught us that being Miss Mississippi was the pinnacle of all that was Southern womanhood. We also knew that in order to "catch a husband", we had to look like Miss America. We spent summers tanning on the roofs with Crisco spread all over us, and the winters religiously putting lotion on our sacred temples of God. A Southern woman is not ever supposed to be bigger than "a minute", which I estimate is between a size 0 and a 1. Our hair was bigger than our hips, and if we were lucky, our breasts were the only things bigger than our hair.

     With that background, can you imagine the reaction of my mother and  friends to the 150 pound version of me? To put it delicately, there were a few stares at every bite I put in my mouth at parties.  I am certain that there were phone calls discussing "Lisa, bless her heart" and although I have no hard proof, I still believe that there was a prayer circle and a healing service. At that point, I could have hidden myself away and taken the oath of non-offensive fathood - dedicating myself to being the church lady who bakes all the time and keeps the calendar of everyone's birthday. Instead, I went off to college and made some new friends. (The story of why I was a 22 year old college freshman is one for another day.) I didn't much worry about what people thought about my figure, because I was having too much fun doing stupid things. I made memories that will make me laugh when I am approaching my 100th birthday, and friends who I will probably be sitting next to me.  Then, a strange thing happened.  I started to have guy friends who wanted to be more than friends.  I dated several (without sex), until I met the man who became my husband.  

    He was 22 to my 29, and built like a brick shit house. (For those of you not from the South, that means that he had a beautifully sculpted body of Greek proportions.) This beautiful artist boy and I started talking one day and found out that both of us are nerdy nerdsters - so we bonded immediately. At the time, my weight had ballooned to an all time high of 187, and I was wearing a size 20.  So, although I wasn't ashamed, I didn't think that this god of a man would ever be interested in me - I know, but all I could hear in my head was my Mother saying "You would be so pretty if you would lose weight." One night, after spending hours talking about the use of lighting in Bladerunner, he leaned over and kissed me to the lust inspiring sound of Trent Reznor singing, "Head Like A Hole".  It was a perfect romantic evening. Two weeks later, we made love for the first time. I, honestly, was afraid that he would take one look at the naked me and either 1) laugh; or 2) run. He did neither.  What he did, and what I love him for to this day, was to run his hands over my body (including the belly) and call me beautiful.  He compared my body to a painting by Botticelli, and he looked into my eyes when he made love with me.  For the next 8 years, we were together.  Yes, it ended pretty badly, but it was the cruel joke of life that separated us more than not loving one another. He gave me so much in that time, and for it he was subjected to a lot of jokes and comments from his friends. He loved me, and to him I was worthy.

Of course, there have been the assholes.  Like the guy who told me that he was in love with me, but he couldn't be with me because his father would disown him "if he took a fat girl home".  Or the times that I have thought that someone was interested, only to find out that they "just" wanted to be friends because I "wasn't their type".  This usually happened after spending huge amounts of time with each other over a three month period. But, you know what?  I see my body type as sort of an "asshole repellent".  Because of it, I never have to worry about someone loving me only because I am a "hot chick". I never have to worry about someone not having the intellect to interact with me on a basis other than physical. There is not that uncomfortable moment, as some of my friends have had, when they realize that a guy was too busy looking at their cleavage to listen to what they said. 

But, there is one thing that I do know, after 28 years with this body.  After beating back the feelings of inadequacy, after exploring what makes it feel good, after deciding that exercise is evil and is a form of demon possession, and after realizing that food is good and the eating of it makes me happy...I realize that I like my body. It is a part of who I am, and it is a part of what has made me stronger in the past 50 years. We are friends, my body and I.  When I turn 100, we will still be friends.  And I can promise you that we won't be on a damned hamster wheel or a walk to nowhere...we will probably be eating creme brulee or making love to a youngster of 70. :) 

Friday, October 12, 2012

"In Polite Company"

I was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi.  Because of that, I have an accent, I have a spine of steel and I have an aversion to mosquitoes. But, there is something that I do not have - and it is something that many people, including family and friends, assume without question.  It is the feeling that in some way, my race makes me smarter, better or more hard working than anyone else. I have held my own feelings about racism since I was a small child.  I trace it back to the day in February, 1969, when my elementary school was desegregated.  I was in the first grade, and all I can remember about the day is the people screaming at a busload of children.  We got off the bus and were led through this angry protest as quickly as possible, but I still remember being afraid of these people. A few weeks later, I received my first spanking in school - for sharing a soda with a first grader.  The problem?  Her skin was black and the teacher told me, "She's not like you. You don't know where she's been." I've been a fighter for equality and justice since that experience.

Some people believe that race has become less and less important since the 1960s. These people are not wrong, because there are no longer Jim Crow laws.  However, race is still a strong motivator when it comes to certain issues - politics among them. From 1948 when the Dixiecrats walked out of the Senate chamber because of the Democrats' party platform that called for civil rights, race has been a factor in national politics. When the Dixiecrats joined with the Republicans in the mid to late 1960s, the Republican party became the party of "states' rights" in the cause of racial equality. Now, we have Republican state lawmakers who defend slavery as "good for the black people", and voter registration laws as "ending special privileges for the blacks." The people who continue to vote into office politicians with these opinions do share those opinions.  And they were dealt their harshest blow in November, 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected. The idea of a black man in the Oval Office sent these people into the same panic that consumed plantation owners when they found out that some of their slaves could read. How do I know this?  Well, as I mentioned before, some of my family and friends in the South just assume that I feel the way that they do.  Because of this, they tend to share things that aren't said "in polite company".

In December, 2008, I went to Mississippi for Christmas.  I had been in a relative's home for no more than 10 minutes when she said, "Well, your n***** President is gonna let those n****** kill us in their beds." I was confused, and I guess it showed on my face. "You know all those n***** men want to do is to break into our houses, rape us and steal everything we got." No, I am not joking, and yes, that is exactly what she said. I suppose that my retort was not very well taken, because I said, "Well, I didn't know that, but I am so glad that you told me." Her husband said, "You're just a n***** lover and a traitor to your kind." Luckily, the mother of the family broke in and reminded everyone that it was Christmas and we needed to stop talking about politics.

Shortly after his inauguration, another friend from the South began sending emails about how President Obama was a Muslim, not born in the United States, and he wanted to bring Sharia law to the United States. Of course, I couldn't stop myself and I painstakingly put together links and research to prove her wrong. After a while, she stopped emailing.  I haven't heard from her in over two years. Another friend told me on the phone, "That n***** is going to completely bankrupt this country with his free handouts to all the other n******." I asked her what she was talking about, and she said that "everyone" knew that President Obama was stealing money from the government to give his "friends" drug money. Okay, so I laughed so hard that she got offended and now we don't talk anymore. 

These are just a few examples of what I have heard from people in the Deep South.  Many of them have a hatred of President Obama that goes much deeper than his politics. This is the gut-wrenching kind of hatred, the deep seated feeling that somehow, "those" people are going to take over.  This is the same feeling the plantation owners felt when they first started to spread the rumor that all black men wanted to rape the white plantation owner's wife and daughter. The same dismissal of  humanity of Byron de la Beckwith when he shot Medgar Evers in front of his children. The same hatred that led to the killing of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Cheney for trying to register blacks to vote. But the problem is that today, these people can't proclaim their racism to the world.  They can't put on the white robes and march in the streets to protest the visit of Martin Luther King, Jr. to Birmingham, Alabama.  When their white superiority is questioned, now they must resort to finding other "reasons" for their hatred of the first black President of the United States.  And so...they call him a Muslim...they say that he wasn't born here...they say that he isn't smart enough to be President...they attack his wife as "too flashy"...they question how he got into the country's most prestigious school. They attack his policies, when they really know nothing about them. They listen to all of the right wing pundits, who they cannot see are using them for their racism. Yes, some right wing pundits know exactly where to hit these people to make them fearful of President Obama - and to get their vote for Mitt Romney.  Give them a reason...any reason...so that they can deny the truth of how they feel.

That thing that isn't talked about "in polite company".

An Open Letter to Mitt Romney



Mr. Romney,

Over the past two weeks, you have stated twice that "we don't have people who die because they lack insurance."  This shows how far you are removed from the difficult choices of everyday American citizens.

Your wife, Ann, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. You have my sympathy, because I understand how difficult it is when someone you love has an uncurable illness. However, you should consider how your journey with this horrible disease is different from many other Americans who aren't blessed with your wealth. 

Doctors agree that the most important part of health care for the multiple sclerosis patient is maintenance care - including prescription drugs, regular doctor visits, rehabilitation for weakened muscles and medical testing to confirm progression of the disease. 

The prescription drugs in use for keeping multiple sclerosis symptoms in check cost $3,000 each per month, per drug.  The fact that two or more of these drugs could be used in tandem can run the cost up to $10,000 per month.  A recent article in the medical journal Neurology states that the cost of prescription drugs for each multiple sclerosis patient from diagnosis to death is at approximately $700,000.  The study also goes on to explain:
                         
 Avonex, for example, cost Americans with MS about $34,000 for the year in 2010. The price in the UK was equivalent to about $12,000 -- because that's all the National Health Service will pay for the drug. And costs are only going up. Makers of the DMDs have raised their prices since last year, in response to the approval of the first oral MS drug -- Gilenya, made by Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG.The annual cost of that medication in the U.S. will be about $48,000. But since it's a pill, the medication is expected to cut significantly into sales of the other DMDs. (Reuters, July 20, 2011)
As the website "Global Health Safety" reports:

Due to the excessive costs of MS drugs and therapy, there are a significant number of people who can’t afford their treatment. For these individuals, their only option is to do nothing and go without therapy that would improve their quality of life or the length of the life that they have to live. Individuals not being able to get protection from this illness is kind of sad, and once people have arrived at a point where they qualify for disability insurance coverage and SSI, it’s most likely too late to reverse the damage that has been done.

So, Mr. Romney, while you can most definitely pay for any prescription drugs, rehabilitation, hospitalization or tests that your wife may need in order to keep the disease at bay, there are a "significant" number of others who can't.  Some of them have insurance, but as C Steven Tucker writes on his website:

Because there are no HIPAA portability protections for individual policy holders , this uninsurable status can last for many years and sometimes for life depending on the specific pre-existing condition you have been diagnosed with. Some of the pre-existing medical conditions that  render an applicant uninsurable on an individual policy are: Heart Attack, Stroke, Diabetes, Cancer,  Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Degenerative Arthritis and a host of other pre existing conditions. In addition, there are applicants who have a combination of controlled pre existing conditions but since they have more than three “ratable conditions” they are also labeled uninsurable.

So, once again, this is directly relational to your position on healthcare coverage.  You say that you will:


Let me ask you a question, Mr. Romney - would you feel the same if you didn't have $250 billion to pay for Mrs. Romney to have the best care for her multiple sclerosis?  If you had to work three and four jobs just to pay for her healthcare costs, and to make up for the cut in income because she couldn't work - would you still feel that it is acceptable to allow insurance companies to exclude those with pre-existing conditions if they haven't maintained continuous coverage?  What if you only had one house, one car and five kids to support?  What if you wanted to send your kids to college - but every single penny you made went to keep your wife from dying of a SYMPTOM to a nonfatal disease?

Mr. Romney - the truth is that people in the United States die every day because they don't have health insurance.  The truth, a bit closer to home for you is this:  THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DIE FROM THE VERY DISEASE YOUR WIFE HAS -BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE.  You, sir, with all due respect, have no respect for the people in this country who are fighting a losing battle against diseases for which there is no cure - but who can't get the help they need.  You have no respect for those who give their lives to make the lives of their sick loved ones better - even a little bit better - with all of the sacrifice in their heart.  Please understand, I believe in the love that you and Mrs. Romney share and I see how devoted you two are to each other and your family.  However, neither of you have had to choose between paying the electric bill and buying the medicine that will keep your wife from suffering with the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis. You haven't stood beside your children's beds and wondered how you would keep them in clothes - when you have to pay a $25,000 bill from a hospital the last time your wife had an episode of respiratory failure.

This is why you are not qualified to be our President, Mr. Romney.  Because you have time and time again shared your dismissal of the people on whom this country was founded - the people who work hard, pay their bills, love their families and will do without to keep them strong. By not understanding this principle, you do not understand this country. When you have never had to suffer, then you do not know what it means to pull yourself up and work your hardest to make it.  When you have never had to face financial problems, you have no respect for those who do, and it is easy to dismiss them as "lazy" or "unwilling to change their lives". They are neither, and you should be ashamed for even thinking it so.  If not for a change in your birth, you could be any one of them...and it might have been better for you if you had.