Friday, November 11, 2005

Condemning Bush

Few recent Supreme Court opinions have aroused as much public outrage as the June ruling in Kelo v New London, which affirmed the use of eminent domain to promote economic development.

The decision was especially unpopular with Conservatives who envision a very limited role for government, and hold a reverential attitude towards private property. For example: a Committee for the Protection of Natural Rights sprung up in New Hampshire “To protect our National Righs as granted by our Creator …” Their website reports:

“To that end we are currently encouraging the legislative body (the voters of Weare) to apply the logic found in the Kelo v. New London , CT decision and take by eminent domain the Property of US Supreme Court Judge David Souter who owns property in Weare NH.”

On November 4th the NEW YORK TIMES reported that:

“The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday [11/03/05] to discourage the seizure of private property for private development by denying federal economic development money to local governments for two years if they take such a step.

“The bill, similar to one being considered in the Senate, would bar the federal government, states and localities from using their power of eminent domain to seize property for projects like shopping centers or condominiums.”

The bill will be passed into law with speed that would make Terry Schiavo's head spin, if she hadn't been brain dead for several years.

The Associated Press reported that, "Several lawmakers who opposed the House bill said eminent domain has long been used by local governments for economic development projects such as the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and the cleaning up of Times Square in New York. The District of Columbia is expected to use eminent domain to secure land for a new baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals."

The Bush administration, backing the House bill, said in a statement that "private property rights are the bedrock of the nation's economy and enjoy constitutionally protected status. They should also receive an appropriate level of protection by the federal government." This is nothing new for W. When he ran for Governor of Texas, he promised in campaign speeches, "I will do everything I can to defend the power of private property and private property rights when I am the governor of this state."

Clearly, the President is on the side of private property, and against taking private property for public development such as Baseball Stadiums. But how long has he felt this way? You might want to ask Horace Kelton.

Kelton owned land that the Texas Rangers, led by George W. Bush, wanted. The owners got Arlington to seize it, with the city paying less than $1.50 per square foot even though it had previously paid $10 a square foot for other land nearby. "It was an extremely low price, and that's why we had a court case that lasted seven years," Mr. Kelton recalled. Eventually, his family got $11 a square foot.

Essentially, Mr. Bush and the owners' group he led bullied and misled the city into raising taxes to build a $200 million stadium that in effect would be handed over to the Rangers. As part of the deal, the city would even confiscate land from private owners so that the Rangers owners could engage in real estate speculation.

Bush was given 1.8% of the team for $600,000 of borrowed money on the strength of a resume that included several years working at failing oil companies, and his political connections through his father. The investors, including W, tripled their money. But the partnership decided to give W a little bonus, namely 10% of the company.

The main value of the team was the new stadium and 300 acres of vacant land the team acquired between the stadium and 5 Flags of Texas, which is next door. How did the Rangers acquire this very valuable property which the owners didn’t want to sell? Bush and his partners gave them only a lowball offer, and when it was rejected they arranged for a new government agency (the Arlington Sports Facility Development Authority, or ASFDA) to condemn it for them.

The agency foreclosed the land and paid the owners a very low price, later judged by a jury to be only 1/6th of its actual value. The agency also floated bonds, guaranteed and repaid by taxpayers, to finance the purchase. This amounted to a $135 million subsidy for Bush and partners, compared with the $80 million they paid for the franchise. When they sold the entire franchise for $250 million, Bush and friends walked of with a tidy chunk of taxpayer's cha-ching.

The saddest part of this story is that this small fortune, more than most of us will ever see, financed one of the most tragic events in American history: the entry of George W. Bush into politics.

This sorry tale raises a lot of troubling questions. Here are some of the most obvious:

  • Since when do Conservatives favor Federal intervention into local issues of zoning, economic development, and land use?

  • When Bush and his partners got the Arlington to raise taxes to pay off bonds that benefitted the narrow business interests of his partnership, was he being a hypocrite, or had he not yet had his "all taxes are bad" epiphany?

  • How the hell did this guy get elected on a platform of ethics? Was it a cruel joke?

  • Is there no right wingnut group too extreme for the bozos in this administration to pander to?

  • Still think Bush was stupid for letting the Rangers trade Sammy Sosa?

  • ... tell 'em Big Mitch sent ya!

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