Friday, July 20, 2012

Irony of Priorities

Irony of Priorities
Tony E Hansen
10 July 2012

There is nothing more telling about political priorities than seeing a new stadium being built for a professional sports team. When Major League Baseball began its season this year, another team opened with a brand new ball park in Miami. The new stadiums, or renovations, are dazzling displays and bring the “experience” of the game to a whole new dimension. There is an awful, if not, uncanny irony in the priorities that were considered around the new stadiums. This grand experience comes with a rise in tickets prices, and this comes while critical public services are being defunded.

One irony is, in the particular example of Miami, how the city is still facing major foreclosure problems and unemployment. Consider the massive investments that private and public institutions made in the new ball park while public schools are facing budgetary shortfalls. Consider that billion dollar investment while roads go unrepaired, cops cannot get gear, or teachers get salaries cut. This was a point made by former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura when reporters asked if he would support new stadiums for the Twin Cities professional teams. The logic of the question seemed consistent with the fact that Mr. Ventura was a professional athlete before being governor, but Mr. Ventura had the good sense to realize that there are more critical things to consider in the budget than entertainment venues.

Another irony is the price of tickets does not go down after this major investment in a larger venue (despite having more available seating), but instead, the price to watch these games also rises (both the ticket as well as the concessions). A family of four can easily wind up spending over $200 per game and still have to use binoculars to watch the game. If you want to watch at field level, the price rises exponentially (New York Yankees price some of these seats around $2000 each). If you are a family of means, this may not be an issue, but with a game that is supposedly considered the “national pastime”, it is clear that many Americans are not able to afford the experience. If one thinks about this a bit, this may imply and reveal that the owners of the teams are completely disconnected from what is available to the many Americans. Maybe this reflects an interest, by the wealthier among us, to segregate society between those who have and those who do not.

We see yet another irony in these cases where the investment for ballparks involves the limited time of the sports season where supposed tourism will be concentrated. For NFL football, there are 10 home games (MLB has 81 home games) not including any playoffs, and we are to justify the civic expense because of the estimated tourism and revenues brought in because of these few games. Thus, commercial interests can plan on having business related to the games at least 10 to 81 days out of 365 days. There must be some serious business that is accumulated during those days that the rest of the year is not considered.

In parallel, we see significant donations from private donors to political campaigns that waste considerable money on a limited time political campaign in order to keep these same people from paying their fair share in taxes that would benefit the whole public (far beyond the campaign season). Interestingly though, the masses have been willing to approve tax supported measures to improve these big arenas or build new ones while they reject tax measures for schools, prisons or revitalization projects. For example, Jackson County Missouri approved beautiful upgrades to Kansas City’s stadiums but balked at sales tax increase to improve Kansas City public schools. All the while, the owners still need the masses in order to profit from the tickets and concessions at the stadiums, regardless of how smart the masses are.

In these cases, the wealthy owners are looking for financial support from the community to off-load some of the costs. This is little different than Wal-Mart requiring the city to provide new infrastructure to be built in order for a new store to be built. However, Wal-Mart will be open more than 10 or 81 days. Here, the wealthy puts some money forward, receives public assistance, and then pockets the profits. This shows why when people like Mitt Romney put money in non-taxable offshore accounts, that method of profit should not be a surprise to people. He was able to profit off his communities here, reduced his tax burden and still pocketed the profits. As one reporter suggested, if you have the means to avoid paying taxes and yet reap the rewards, why would you not? Of course, one has to have the means to set up these ventures and then, convince the public to accept this arrangement. All the while, that person can still whine about the taxes (even if the taxed amount is only a small fraction of the whole).

As someone who has enjoyed going to sports games, I am being hypocritical in arguing against these public arenas due to the personal benefit I have had. Yet, one has to consider that Roman emperors would build large coliseums, hold brutal games, and stage massive orgies in order to appease the masses to help the citizens forget that food supplies were short. Thus, this type of investment gives what the public wants instead of what the public needs. The most logical aim of this line of priority suggests that those with means are all too willing to help appease the masses in order to hide that they are actually taking more from the masses. Perhaps Karl Marx was wrong that the working classes will stop being appeased by the scraps from the bourgeois and realize the worth of the labor is powerful.