TIME Race

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Bruce Levenson Isn’t a Racist; He’s a Businessman

Bruce Levenson
Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson Dave Tulis—AP

Sure, there are assumptions he makes that are cringeworthy—but the questions about how to attract more white fans were entirely reasonable.

Well, the pitchforks are already sharpened and the torches lit anyway, so rather than let them go to waste, why not drag another so-called racist before the court of public opinion and see how much ratings-grabbing, head-shaking and race-shaming we can squeeze out of it? After all, the media got so much gleeful, hand-wringing mileage out of Don Sterling and Michael Brown.

The only problem is that Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson is no Donald Sterling. Nor is his email racist. In fact, his worst crime is misguided white guilt.

I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats. In the email, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations) the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90% blacks, kiss cams focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans.

From left: Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Dominique Wilkins Courtesy of Iconomy, LLC

Seems reasonable to ask those questions. If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders? Don’t you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?

Back when the original Law & Order first launched, there was a cast shake-up that added more women, reportedly in an effort to attract more female viewers. MTV shows like Finding Carter and Teen Wolf can’t get through an emotional scene without a pop song coming in to sing to the viewer what they should be feeling, because that’s what their demographic wants. Car companies hire specialized advertising agencies to create ads to appeal specifically to women, blacks and Latinos. That’s business.

Sure, there are a few assumptions he makes that make me cringe a little. For example: “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base.” On the other hand, I have no evidence that he’s wrong on either count. Even if he is, the question still needed to be raised, because racism is a realistic possibility as to why whites in Atlanta may not be coming.

To Levenson’s credit, in that same paragraph, he dismisses fans who complained about the arena’s site as code for racist fear that “there are too many blacks at the games.” He further decries the white perception that even though the percentage of blacks in attendance had lessened, they still feel it’s higher and therefore somehow threatening. His outrage seems authentic.

Businesspeople should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business. They should even be able to make minor insensitive gaffes if there is no obvious animosity or racist intent. This is a business email that is pretty harmless in terms of insulting anyone — and pretty fascinating in terms of seeing how the business of running a team really works.

The thing that makes me mad is that Levenson was too quick to rend his clothing and shout mea culpa. In his apology, he wrote, “By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.” But that’s not the message in the email at all. If the seats had been filled, even if by all blacks, the email wouldn’t have been written. He wasn’t valuing white fans over blacks; he was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could sell more tickets. That’s his job.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). He also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME georgia

The U.S. Will Help Georgia Join NATO in Face of Putin’s ‘Dangerous Actions’

Georgia's Defence Minister Alasania and U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi
Georgia's Defence Minister Irakly Alasania (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi on September 7, 2014. David Mdzinarishvili —Reuters

The Kremlin's incursions in Ukraine have brought the U.S. and Georgia "closer together,” says Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Georgia over the weekend to beef up military ties and help the country join NATO.

Hagel’s visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, follows on the heels of the NATO summit in the U.K. last week, where Georgia was made a “NATO enhanced-opportunities partner,” according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement.

At a press conference in the Georgian capital on Sunday, Hagel said the country’s new standing will allow for more participation in more joint training exercises with NATO and boost cooperation.

“The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin,” said Hagel.

During a round of talks with the Georgian Minister of Defense, Irakli Alasania, Hagel also laid down conditions that would pave the way for the sale of Blackhawk choppers to Georgia.

The Secretary of Defense’s arrival in Georgia comes days after a tenuous cease-fire was signed in Belarus between Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Moscow of sending armored columns into Ukraine to reinforce the rebels, forcing the U.S. and its allies in Eastern Europe to close ranks.

“Russia’s actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” said Hagel. “But President Putin’s actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”

During a joint press conference in Tbilisi, the Georgian Defense Minister warned that his country’s experience with Russia led to concerns that the Ukraine cease-fire would not last.

“We have bitter experience in Georgia trusting Russian cease-fires, so we better prepare for the contingencies,” Alasania told reporters.

In 2008, Georgian forces were routed during a five-day war against Russia — resulting in what Tbilisi says is the continued military occupation of the separatist territory of South Ossetia by Moscow.

While the uneasy truce appears to be largely holding in Ukraine, there were reports of scattered fighting in the war-weary southeast over the weekend.

TIME Crime

Georgia Murder Case Brings Unprecedented Attention to Hot-Car Deaths

Justin Ross Harris sits in Cobb County Magistrate Court in Marietta, Georgia in this July 3, 2014 file photo.
Justin Ross Harris sits in Cobb County Magistrate Court in Marietta, Ga., on July 3, 2014 Reuters

Whether that attention will help decrease the number of children who die in hot cars remains to be seen

The Georgia father whose 22-month-old son died of heat stroke in June after being left in the backseat of a car was indicted on three murder charges by a Georgia grand jury Thursday.

With salacious details that led to an unusual murder charge, the legal drama has brought unprecedented attention to the issue of hot-car deaths. But whether that attention will help decrease the number of children who die in hot cars remains to be seen.

Janette Fennell, a safety advocate who runs the organization KidsAndCars.org, said that awareness of the issue has risen to its highest point in her years of advocacy the issue thanks to the case. That perception is bolstered by survey results released last week suggesting that more than 85% of people have heard about the issue, compared with 69% in April.

“Before this case, there were 12 tragedies this year, and when this happened everything was lit on fire,” Fennell said. “There has never been a case that has gotten this much media attention.”

The case began as a typical, if tragic, case of a father planning to drop of his child off at day care and forgetting. Groups rallied to support a man who seemed to be a grieving father.

But shocking details emerged and transformed public perception. Police say Justin Ross Harris, the father, had searched the Internet for information about animals dying in hot cars and researched living without a child. While his child withered away in the car, Harris allegedly sent sexually explicit photos to women.

While many parents have been charged for negligence or even manslaughter after the deaths of their children in hot cars, experts say they’re not aware of cases where there has been intent. Jan Null, a meteorologist who researches the issue, said more than 50% of deaths were caused by parents who accidentally forget their child, with the rest caused by children who accidentally trapped themselves in a car without parental supervision.

The alleged intent in this case was at least an element of what led authorities to pursue murder charges. The first count, malice murder, explicitly alleges that Harris killed his son with “malice aforethought.” He also faces seven other charges, including cruelty to children and dissemination of harmful material to minors.

Fennel said the Harris case has led some in the public to believe that any heat-stroke death must have been intentional. In one case, she said, a father from Ohio whose child had died accidentally in the back of a car was confused with Harris and accused of murdering his child.

“We’re on this teeter-totter,” she said. “If it turns out there was intent, then you’re going to have this one case that everybody can refer to and take that idea and apply it to any of these cases.”

TIME 2014 elections

Michelle Nunn Grabs Zell Miller Endorsement

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller gives a boost to the Nunn campaign

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller endorsed Senate Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn Thursday, calling her a “bridge-builder” that could end Washington partisanship.

Miller, an 82 year-old conservative Democrat, has a history of working with and endorsing Republicans. He endorsed President George W. Bush in 2004, Sen. Saxby Chambilss (R-Ga.) in 2008 and Gov. Sonny Perdue, the cousin of Nunn Republican opponent David Perdue, in 2006. This cycle Miller is also supporting Republican Gov. Nathan Deal over Democrat Jason Carter, the grandson of the former president.

The Miller endorsement caps a whirlwind week for the Nunn-Perdue race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s dropped its $2.5 million ad campaign calling Nunn “Obama’s senator,” Nunn released her first negative ad ripping Perdue’s business record, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a piece the Perdue campaign has labeled Nunn’s “DC Insider Land Deal.” The New York Times Senate forecaster moved its rankings of the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Republican” on Thursday.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bb8D3UPaLz4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTREGpKHHKQ#t=20

But Nunn’s camp is hoping the endorsement from Miller, who worked with her father, former senator Sam Nunn in the 1990s, will generate momentum for her campaign.

“I have great respect for her dedication to public service, and her dedication to bipartisan results,” Miller told the Journal-Constitution, citing Nunn’s leadership of the service organization Points of Light, which was created by former President George H.W. Bush. “I think she shares a lot of characteristics with her father.”

“I’ve known her since she was born,” he added.

TIME 2014 elections

Republican Bashes Michelle Nunn Over ‘DC Insider Land Deal’ With Lobbyists

Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after winning the Democratic primary for Georgia Senate on May 20, 2014. Akili-Casundria Ramsess—AP

David Perdue, the Georgia Republican businessman running for Senate, criticized his Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn over a land deal she struck with two Washington lobbyists four years ago.

The deal protected from future development large portions of 850 acres in Glynn County, which projects out into the Atlantic Ocean. Nunn and the lobbyists—one-time aides to her father, Sam, the former Senator—secured a $2 million loan in 2004 to buy the land in the hopes of building new houses and condominiums, but the idea fell through during the recession, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 2010 land deal gave back “tens of thousands of dollars” in tax benefits, the newspaper reported.

Perdue called it a “DC insider land deal” on Twitter Wednesday night, shortly after the new broke. A campaign spokesman told the Journal-Constitution that the deal was evidence that Nunn isn’t the Washington outsider she claims to be.

“Michelle Nunn’s cozy relationships with Washington insiders undercut everything she is saying in her TV ads,” Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey told the Journal-Constitution. “They are not only funding her campaign to mislead Georgians about who she really is, but they are apparently funding her personal business deals as well.”

Nunn’s campaign predicted the attack as early as December, writing in a memo to the candidate that it would prepare “complex and lengthy” pushback documents relating to “Michelle’s conservation easements.” That memo, leaked by National Review last month, listed “Nunn is not a ‘real’ Georgian” as one potential attack to combat. Nunn has lived in Georgia since 1989, but grew up in Maryland.

Nunn’s campaign told the Journal-Constitution that preserving land for environmental reasons is a widespread practice used by Democrats and Republicans, including Perdue’s cousin, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue.

“It’s the highest hypocrisy for David Perdue to criticize a conservation program championed by his cousin and business partner, Governor Sonny Perdue,” Nunn spokesman Nathan Click told the Journal-Constitution.

“Michelle, her husband, Senator Nunn and Colleen Nunn were able to protect beautiful land in Glynn County for future generations through a program supported not just by Governor Perdue but a broad swath of Georgia leaders including Senators Chambliss and Isakson,” he added.

The Times Senate forecaster moved its rankings of the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Republican” on Thursday. Nunn released her first negative ad attacking Perdue’s business record earlier this week.

TIME justice

Two Killed in Georgia Rampage, Including Shooter

Authorities are still trying to piece together why a man shot up a house before stealing and car

A man in northwest Georgia went on a shooting rampage, killing two people including himself.

The man, whose name has not been released by police, is accused of shooting three people at a house in Cartersville, about 40 miles outside Atlanta. One victim was declared dead at the scene and the other two were transported to a nearby hospital. Police say the shooter then fled in a car, which he crashed into a house, the Associated Press reports.

He then broke into the house, shot occupant in the hand, carjacked a vehicle from an elderly man and his grandson and crashed into a truck, police said. The collision caused a fire, whereupon police say the shooter turned the gun on himself. Neither the elderly man nor his grandson were injured in the incident.

Bartow County Sherriff Clark Millsap said the shooter knew his victims and police are investigating the cause of the shootings.

[AP]

MONEY Shopping

WATCH: Shop This Weekend and Escape the Sales Tax

Several states are suspending sales taxes to encourage shoppers to hit the stores.

TIME States

Family of Georgia Teen Found Dead at School Files New Lawsuit

Kendrick Johnson rally in Atlanta, Georgia
Jacquelyn Johnson, center, and her husband Kenneth, right, speak at a rally on behalf of their dead son Kendrick Johnson at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 11, 2013 Erik S. Lesser—EPA

They insist that the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was murder, and that its aftermath has been a comprehensive cover-up

The family of a Georgia teenager found dead in his high school gymnasium last year has sued school officials, accusing them of ignoring patterns of harassment that some believe culminated in his murder.

On Jan. 11, 2013, a group of students at Lowndes High School in the south Georgia town of Valdosta discovered the body of Kendrick Johnson rolled up in an exercise mat in the school gymnasium. His death, local police investigators determined, was an accident — he had climbed into the center of the mat to fetch a shoe and got stuck — but his parents, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, were not convinced.

They have filed two lawsuits against the school system in the past three months, CNN reports, both claiming that the relevant authorities willfully ignored a string of incidents in which white students antagonized Kendrick, who was black. The most recent, filed this week, points directly at Lowndes High School’s principal, Jay Floyd, as well as Lowndes County’s Board of Education and its superintendent.

Because of their indifference, the suit says, Kendrick was “violently assaulted, severely injured, suffered great physical pain and mental anguish, and subjected to insult and loss of life.”

His parents insist that his death was a homicide, and its aftermath a conspiratorial cover-up. After local authorities officially dismissed this claim, Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson solicited the services of an independent pathologist, who identified “unexplained apparent nonaccidental blunt force trauma” to their son’s neck. When that pathologist, Dr. Bill Anderson, opened up Kendrick’s body for a second autopsy, he discovered its organs were missing, and it had been stuffed with newspaper.

Coroners typically remove organs during the initial autopsy but are expected to replace them; Kendrick’s parents complained they were not consulted.

Federal agencies launched an official investigation last fall, but the process of justice has been torpid. An anonymous email sent in January listing four students responsible for Kendrick’s death is not credible, authorities say.

[CNN]

TIME 2014 Election

Michelle Nunn’s Leaked Memos Offer Rare Glimpse of Campaign Calculation

Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after winning the Democratic primary for Georgia Senate on May 20, 2014. Akili-Casundria Ramsess—AP

The leaked documents offer a rare inside look at campaign strategy

As a Democrat in a Southern state, Senate candidate Michelle Nunn has a tough path to victory. The road became a little bumpier Monday, when a conservative magazine published a series of internal strategy memos outlining the Nunn campaign’s perceptions of the candidate’s weaknesses.

The memos are a guide to practically everything the Nunn campaign worried about last winter—except how to run damage control on the memos themselves.

Obtained by reporter Eliana Johnson of National Review, the documents detail the challenges Nunn must surmount to win election as a moderate Democrat in conservative Georgia. Among the vulnerabilities identified are the perception that Nunn is “too liberal,” that she is “not a real Georgian” and that Republicans will tie her to national Democratic leaders who are deeply unpopular in the Peach State.

The documents warn of weak spots stemming from Nunn’s role as CEO of a nonprofit foundation. They reveal the campaign’s clinic assessment of how it must mobilize traditional liberal constituencies, like African-Americans, Jews and Asians. And they expose the campaign’s plan to sell Nunn with “rural” imagery that might soften up Georgia voters skeptical of a candidate reared partly in the suburbs of Washington, where her father served as a Georgia senator.

According to National Review, the documents were briefly posted online in December.

Beyond the potentially damaging aspects, the memos offer a rare, unvarnished glimpse into the mechanics of running a campaign. They cover everything from scrubbing a voter file to modeling turnout (1.4 million votes is Nunn’s magic number, according to a memo from Democratic strategist Diane Feldman). The documents map the architecture of Nunn’s outreach machine and detail which constituencies to target. Much of the information will reinforce negative impressions of how campaigns work, including suggestions for how to drive a message week-by-week and the ways it can whack Republican opponents.

In short, the memos are a classic example of what is known in Washington as a Kinsley gaffe: when a politician errs by accidentally revealing the truth. (The phenomenon is named after the journalist Michael Kinsley, who coined the phenomenon.) The existence of the memos is not a surprise; any campaign worth its salt undertakes a study of its perceived weaknesses. The Nunn memos are remarkable less for their judgments than for the fact that a hapless adviser apparently posted them on the Internet.

“Like all good plans, they change. But what hasn’t changed and is all the more clear today is that Michelle’s opponents are going to mischaracterize her work and her positions, and part of what we’ve always done is to prepare for the false things that are going to be said,” Nunn campaign manager Jeff DeSantis told The Hill.

From time to time, these leaks happen. In 2007, internal strategy memos from Mitt Romney’s first presidential campaign were obtained by the Boston Globe, including a 77-page PowerPoint presentation dotted with analyses of both Romney’s weaknesses and those of his GOP rivals. Around the same time, Rudy Giuliani’s strategy blueprint materialized online after a leak. The Atlantic nabbed similar documents from Hillary Clinton’s team the following year, revealing her campaign’s concerns about “frontrunner-itis” and its strategy for exploiting Barack Obama’s “lack of American roots.”

Recent polls have shown the Democrat in a tight race with Republican nominee David Perdue, who edged Rep. Jack Kingston in a Republican Senate runoff last week. A Democratic Senate Campaign Committee memo released (intentionally) last week assails the GOP businessman’s “record of putting himself first,” a signal that Nunn’s campaign will borrow a page from the populist playbook President Obama’s advisers deployed against Romney. As they fight to hold control of the Senate, Democrats view the race as a rare pickup opportunity on an unforgiving electoral map.

How much will the leak hurt Nunn’s prospects? It’s tough to say. But when you’re trying to sell a candidate as authentic, a long look at the careful packaging can’t help.

TIME Campaign Finance

Hank Aaron Swings for Democrat Michelle Nunn in Fundraising Plea

MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves
Former Atlanta Brave Hank Aaron speaks during a ceremony honoring the 40th anniversary of his 715th home run at Turner Field, Atlanta, on Apr 8, 2014 Daniel Shirey—USA Today Sports

Hank Aaron calls the fundraising push a “money bomb”

Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron has stepped up to the plate for Michelle Nunn, a Democratic candidate running for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat.

Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s home-run record in 1974, emailed Nunn’s supporters urging them to contribute more money to the campaign. The email, unsurprisingly, was laced with baseball references from the 80-year-old.

The Huffington Post had some of the details from the message:

The 755 home runs I hit in my time mean a lot to me, but there’s another record that I’m proud to hold, the all-time record for runs batted in (RBI).

You see, games aren’t won or lost on the efforts of one person, they rest on the shoulders of team. And every RBI is a result of teammates working together to achieve one common goal — victory.

If each one of us steps up to the plate and contributes during this 24-hour fundraising effort called a “money bomb,” I know we can bring home the single-biggest fundraising day of Michelle’s campaign.

Now that’s an RBI, I’d like to add to my records. Will you help me do it?

Aaron joins Vice President Joe Biden as another high-profile supporter of Nunn. A political newcomer, Nunn will vie for the open Senate seat with new Republican nominee and businessman David Perdue in November. The result of the Georgia race could have a bearing on control of the Senate, which currently comprises 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two independents.

[Huffington Post]

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