Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Getting Personal: LeBron James, George W. Bush and the Perhaps Not-So-Propitious Mix Bruce Ratner Is Seeking

LeBron James, superstar player for the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, was on our mind recently because just days ago he was mentioned on WNYC’s Financial 411 by the ever-so-eager- to-snidely-personalize Greg David, the Crain's New York Business editorial director now departing for the CUNY Journalism School. (See: Friday, December 18, 2009, Crain's Greg David: "Daniel Goldstein... had better start packing his bags".)

In the WNYC broadcast Mr. David was inclined to see the mega-issues and mega-destruction associated with the proposed Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly in terms of only two individuals: Daniel Goldstein whom he singled out of the countless community groups, elected officials and other plaintiffs beseeching the courts to block Atlantic Yards, and Mr. James. The way he saw it everything pretty much boiled down to Daniel Goldstein needing to “pack his bags” so that LeBron James could move in if James is possibly acquired for Bruce Ratner’s Nets basketball team.

In personal terms, however, Mr. LeBron James may not be such a good personal fit for Mr. Bruce Ratner.

Perusing Texas Monthly’s 2010 Bum Steer Awards feature (just out) we read this:
In response to a question from Maxim, the men’s magazine about whom he’d like to dunk on, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron james said, “if it doesn’t have to be a basketball player, George W. Bush. I would dunk on his ass, break the rim and shatter the glass.”
(Here is the original Maxim story: ICON: LeBron James, Friday 10/16/2009.)

If Mr. LeBron has such personally negative feelings for George W. Bush that could turn into a problem for Mr. Ratner. We have commented before about how Bruce Ratner seems to have taken much of his Atlantic Yards play book from the disreputable sports-orientated eminent domain abuse land-grabbing schemes that launched the young Mr. Bush into full crony capitalism mode:
. . this misdirection of public funds . . . it is not unique to New York State; it looks as if we caught some bad habits from George Bush's exploits in Texas.

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Johnston's book [David Cay Johnston's Book Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill).] catalogues multiple ways we are being fleeced to make the super-rich richer. He tells of phantom taxes that wealthy individuals and corporations don't really pay and the tale of the Texas Rangers stadium whereby public taxes transformed George W. Bush's 2% $600,000 sporting investment into a $17 million capital gain.

And for those of us who don't live in Texas? Well, in Brooklyn, New York, where I live, Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner Enterprises has taken his cue from George W. Bush and surpassed him; he's planning a sports arena for his recently purchased basketball team as a key part of his proposed mega-development known as Atlantic Yards. New York government officials are committing New York's public to pay subsidies of more than a billion dollars covering all of the escalating costs of a basketball arena that the politically connected Ratner and company will own. The subsidies were awarded on a no-bid basis and the developer is even being promised that after an initial 30-40 year lease term accompanied by tax exemption, Ratner can extend his lease up to a total of 99 years with continued tax exemption.

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Bush needed 17 acres to build his Texas stadium. 200 acres were condemned. Ratner has similarly gone after gratuitous condemnations with a peculiar project footprint that would be inexplicable were it not for eminent domain's attractive windfall.
(See: Huffington Post: More Money for the Very Rich: An Unsporting Pursuit? By Michael D. D. White, March 17, 2008.)

Maybe someone like Crain's departing Mr. David who seems to reflexively promote big development “churns” benefitting the political class and the likes of George W. Bush at the expense of the public, might argue that Mr. LeBron selectively dislikes Mr. Bush for reasons other than those sort of things that are objectionable about Atlantic Yards, but we consider Bush’s propensity for cronyistic misconduct as all of a piece. We would hope that if LeBron James has a high level of intolerance for nefarious conduct by public officials that he would also have a high level of intolerance for the misconduct and political manipulations being engaged in by Bruce Ratner, the man who wants to capture Mr. James as his employee and who is already using his name to promote unsavory schemes.

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