Daily Archives: July 11, 2014

LeBron James and the pursuit of happiness

It was only yesterday that I was taking Art Woolf, Vermont’s Loudest Economist, to task for belittling the financial impact of agriculture in Vermont. And, on top of that, closing his column with a cutting reference to farmers who “do it as much for their own enjoyment as for the monetary benefits it brings them.”

Of course. And as I said in response, almost everyone makes major life choices for non-financial reasons. They do things for family, for the mind, heart, and soul. Sure, money has its place; but if all of us made our decisions solely (or primarily) for the money, this world would be a sad, desperate place. That’s why our founders invoked “the pursuit of happiness” instead of “the pursuit of maximum profit.”

And now we have LeBron James ignoring all the pundits and the ass-kissers and the main-chancers, and going home to Cleveland.

Cleveland!

He could have gone back to South Beach, or taken his talents to Madison Square Garden, Chicago, or Los Angeles. He could have had his pick of major media markets, warm-weather destinations, and/or tax havens.

He chose Cleveland. The Mistake By The Lake. The place where the river caught fire. The place whose most famous celebrity, until now, was Drew Carey. (All due respect to Pere Ubu.) Inspiration for the Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video. 

Why? The title of his as-told-to essay for Sports Illustrated says it all: “I’m coming home.” And went on to explain that life is bigger than sport:

I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio… to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

He made his decision because trying to win in Cleveland will be more rewarding than just plain winning anywhere else. Because he feels a deeper obligation to the place he grew up.

As a guy who comes from southeast Michigan, I can empathize. If I had the opportunity to do something special for Detroit, I’d pack up and move in a heartbeat.

Hardly anybody gets to make such a choice. I’m pretty sure I never will. But reading LeBron’s words made me happy inside. It affirmed my belief that, Art Woolf notwithstanding, there’s more to life than money.

Postscript. Yes, I know LeBron will be richly rewarded for playing in Cleveland. But he would have gotten just as much anywhere else — and he could have reaped far greater indirect rewards (sponsorships, endorsements, connections, post-sports opportunities) in a larger, more important city. But home was more important.

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Nanobrew wishes and maple syrup dreams

Ah, Vermont. Home of picturesque farms, covered bridges, general stores, and…

…private estates with their own tennis courts.

Vermont had the largest percentage of single-family home listings boasting a residential tennis court on the real-estate website Trulia.com as of May 30.

… The percentages in every state were small: In Vermont, 0.77% of single-family home listings mentioned a tennis court. In New Mexico, it was only 0.17%. And only 0.23% of the combined listings in the 50 states included a court.

So, Vermont, yay?

This is the Other Vermont, the one concealed at the end of long private driveways behind locked gates and groves of mature trees. The one that, according to Governor Shumlin, pays more than its share of our tax burden. It was only a little more than a year ago that Shumlin was hell-bent on cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, while insisting that the wealthiest Vermonters were ’bout ready to flee the state if they had to pay a penny more in taxes.

You could take this surprising tennis-court factoid two ways: On the one hand, it’d be awfully hard to pack up a tennis court and take it with you. On the other, hey, if there are a lot of tennis court-laden properties on the market, perhaps the Great And Good Of Vermont are already on their way out the door. Hard to tell.

Anyway, as I reported during last spring’s tax kerfuffle, Vermont imposes a relatively high 8.95% tax rate on top earners — but because of the way we calculate taxable income, wealthy Vermonters actually pay only 5.2%. Which explains why they can afford to maintain all those expanses of carefully-manicured lawn.

That “unconventional” Milne campaign is beginning to look awfully typical

When Scott “Mr. Bunny” Milne first announced his candidacy for Governor, I had some hope that he could be a different kind of candidate: exemplifying the new, more inclusive VTGOP, and also just providing a breath of fresh air in the stale provinces of same-ol’, same-ol’ campaign tactics and rhetoric.

Welp,things aren’t looking so good.

First of all, he dipped into the VTGOP’s “talent pool” — more like a puddle, really — for his campaign manager. Brent Burns, who barely managed to last a year on the party staff, will head the Milne campaign for a reported fee of $5,000 per month. It’s cheap by Darcie Johnston standards, anyway.

And if this week’s public statements are any indication, Milne is being dragged back into a standard-issue, kneejerk negative kind of campaign. He keeps this up for a few weeks, we won’t be able to tell him from Randy Brock. Blergh.

Today, VTDigger posted an opinion piece by Milne, outlining the rationale for his candidacy. It’s full of Republican blather about restoring balance to government, even as he fires wild volleys at the Democrats which, if true, ought to disqualify them from any leadership role whatsoever. He talks of the Dems’ “headling march into the unknown,” their effort to make Vermont “the most radical state in the union every day,” and their “wild dreams” as opposed to Milne’s level-headed, “common sense” approach. “Common sense” being a patented dog whistle for Vermont Republicans, basically meaning “let’s not do anything, and let’s do it slowly.”

And then he pines for the days when he “could comfortably sleep at night, knowing that the ship of state was stable.” So, we’re supposed to believe that Shumlin’s irresponsibility has turned Milne into an insomniac, like a passenger on the Titanic whose slumber is shattered by visions of giant icebergs? That kind of rhetoric might warm the cockles of Jack Lindley’s tiny heart, but it won’t do anything to win moderates and independents to Milne’s cause.

Milne also promises that most ancient of conservative canards, “a business approach to government.” As I’ve written before, over and over again, business and government are two different things. Every time a conservative, or rich man turned politician, tries to run government like a business, he discovers that it’s impossible. Businesses are responsible to shareholders and/or customers; governments are responsible to everybody, and have to do a lot of things the private sector would never do. So please, put that tired bit of rhetoric to bed.

Today also brought another installment of the Burlington Free Press’ breathless coverage of What Will IBM Do? The Freeploid gave plenty of space to Milne’s off-the-rack criticism of Governor Shumlin for allegedly chasing Big Blue away. Milne claimed that Shumlin was a big meanie who once dared confront an IBM executive over Vermont Yankee — in 2008! But that wasn’t enough exhumation for Mr. Bunny; he also dug up the dead horse of the Circumferential Highway, for God’s sake, and beat it around some more.

He also slammed the Governor for spending his time on the GMO bill “while thousands of families’ livelihoods are at risk.” As if the Governor can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I’m just surprised Milne didn’t bring up Shumlin’s recent four-day vacation.

It’s all typical Republican nonsense; IBM’s decisions are being made on a global level with an eye toward maximizing profit. No amount of deal-cutting or road-building or smiley faces will have the least effect on the future of the Essex Junction facility.

And of course, Milne isn’t offering any solutions profounder than a smiley face: “My tone would have been a more business-friendly tone.”

Ah yes. A friendlier tone. That’d make all the difference.