Friday, December 29, 2006

BUSH, RATNER, AND THE VISIONS OF FOOLS

This November we saw the beginning of the end of the Neo-Conservative movement in the United States. Whether Neo-Conservatism is proto-fascist is well worth considering. That is because Fascism regards the aims and policies of a power as superior to the system of law and order. Far more important is that many people in this country are no longer offended by fascist modes of thinking. They are either venal enough to think they can exploit it, or foolish enough to find it comforting. If it is true that vice tends to catch up with itself, folly does it faster. In some cases we have vice in the name of folly, a pursuit that starts with its own tail in its mouth. Good examples are the War in Iraq and the Atlantic Yards.

The sheer, clumsy dishonesty of the Bush II Administration is revealing the grotesque folly of Neo-Conservatism, a fact that has been obvious since the fiscal policies of Ronald Reagan for which we are still paying as a large chunk of the National Debt. Who exactly has been fooled, and who has been the fool is not at all clear as yet. What is certain is that Neo-Conservatism has thrown at least a quarter of the world’s population into bloody, mindless, and pointless chaos. As proof, the Taliban seem plausibly able to retake Afghanistan. We are back where we started except for those who died in the process.

Bruce Ratner rides the same breed of horse as the Neo-Conservatives though he would no doubt vehemently deny it. It is not so much that the ends justify the means with Forest City Ratner, as it is an article of faith that some people are imbued by providence with the ability to plan, decide, and seal the fate of those they regard as less able beings. It is not that Bruce Ratner believes he rules public finance by Divine Right. It is that for him, like George Bush, the law is a secular impediment to his role as the conduit for the divine will. The law just gets in his way.

To Mr. Ratner, the Atlantic Yards Project is more than the law, the state, the nation, and its people. We mortals here below are not able to grasp that fact, and so when the high trinity of New York State politics gathered in Albany this month, they “sanctified” Mr. Ratner’s mission in spite of the evidence. Apparently they agree that he is gifted with the angelic visionary ability to create for us what we cannot see we ought to do for ourselves. Like the Archangel Michael, Mr. Ratner wrestles with secular law to beat it into cooperating for the higher – though as yet unseen -- good. To him, those of us who see this as a mass mugging of the public treasure simply have feet of clay. We need indoctrination, not honest dispute.

The gangsterism that both Bush and Ratner have employed to circumvent the law does more than get them to their own privatized historical destinations. It leaves a wake of misery and destruction that they themselves cannot repair, and so they refuse to see that it is there They both speak in curiously, reductive homilies about, “Nobody likes change,” as though our regrettable genetic inferiority is what prevents us from embracing the Edens they would each set before us.

Mr. Ratner and President Bush see themselves as placing toys of endless, shining wonder before na├»ve, and unwisely timid children. In Ratner’s case, people both above and below him can see that he is bending the truth, if not the law, entirely out of shape on a daily basis. Apparently that no longer bothers them. Let us hope that the courts can see the moted flaws in FCR’s divine vision. Apparently Mr. Bush will be allowed to wait on the judgment of history, which in his case can never be harsh enough.

Eden was a place that proved uninhabitable to humans. Both the Bush and Ratner Edens are apocalyptic. They lead to scorched, polluted deserts. One cannot blame them entirely for their flawed vision, given that in both cases, their glaring folly unfolded long before either the current crusade in Iraq or the Atlantic Yards were begun. In both cases, the question is whether we Americans can adjust our thinking in time to pull back from the heinous acts and blatant idiocies that have brought us this far.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

FCR AT THE TROUGH

If anyone is still under the delusion that Forest City Ratner is not already well and truly on corporate welfare, I note this item from Crain’s New York Business.com. In the three brief paragraphs that appear at the end of this article, we learn that the Bank of New York is being subsidized to cover 9/11 losses by giving FCR 113.9 million of your public dollars to build the Atlantic Terminal and provide them with office space.

More importantly we learn that the newly merged New York Mellon Corporation will have assets of 16.6 trillion dollars and be the largest asset manager in the world. That would hardly seem to make the new banking entity one of New York’s neediest. The 9/11 losses were I guess sustainable.

In other words we are subsidizing banks with trillions (trillions!) of dollars in assets with our tax dollars by plumping up FCR so they could build the architecturally dubious Atlantic Terminal.

I invite you to think about that because we are about to give FCR billions of dollars from our pockets to create the Atlantic Yards enterprise. One wonders why those with trillions of dollars could not simply lend Bruce the dough instead of weaseling it out of the public in the form of property taxes, income taxes, and sales tax subsidies?

If the new Democratic Congress is to be any different than the old Republicans, this is the sort of scraping and grinding from the public coffers that has to stop. To hell with bridges to nowhere, and other piddling earmarks, we need to shut off the conduit of the nation’s wealth set up from our pockets into the corporate world’s “venture capital.” In fact this is the sort of bold entrepreneurial spirit that only Karl Marx could possibly support.

The material from the Crain’s Website is below.


“Bank of New York was hard hit by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The state and city helped keep bank jobs in the city by issuing $113.9 million in Liberty Bonds to Forest City Ratner Cos., which developed a tower over Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal. Bank of New York became the anchor tenant, moving about 1,500 jobs there. The bank currently occupies 320,000 square feet in the building, Forest City says. Bank of New York received the grant as part of the same economic development package. The merged company, to be called Bank of New York Mellon Corp. will create the world's leading asset servicer, with $16.6 trillion of assets under custody. It will also rank among the top 10 global asset managers with more than $1.1 trillion of assets under management.”

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

AS THE TIDE SHIFTS

Today we will have an election. We will either favor the rule of law and liberty or endorse again the rule of power and advantage. Those are the choices.

No one should imagine that a Democratic victory will guarantee a victory for democracy unless that also involves a new vision from that side of the aisle. Thus far the Democrats, Howard Dean aside, have offered in a crafty whisper to do nothing differently, or better still, to do nothing at all.

That will not restore public order. It will not bring foreign and domestic war criminals to trial. It will not restore habeas corpus which is the basis for our Constitution. It will not bring balance and equity back to our tax system. It will not insure the use of eminent domain only when it is essential to the public well-being. It will not guarantee the liberty of half the population to do what they think best with their bodies. It will not take a nation of fat, illiterate children and make them fit or cognizant of their language, history, or culture. It will not insure your right to say what you think no matter who you annoy in doing so.

It may well, however, be better than those currently in power. If the Democrats follow the model of Hilary Clinton, we can only depend on the personal loathing between politicians and political factions to retard the rising tide of chaos. We need to speak up for order and liberty in our votes. For twenty-six years we have pursued the opposite through two hazy goals.

First, we have sought to centralize authority in the hands of those who are beyond the reach of the fickle and unpredictable populace. We have done that by eliminating public education and replacing it with basic industrial training. We call that, “no child left behind.” That says, “don’t think, just read and follow the directions if you can” to children.

Critical thought (PC for skepticism) has been eradicated by an institutional enmity to intellectual distance. Uncritical acceptance has insured an ever-widening division between those with the power to make decisions through their wealth, and those who serve the wealthy at their pleasure.

Second, we have sought to lay claim to a wide assortment of dubious successes to which we have no claim in any case. Reagan’s Star Wars did not bring down the Soviet Union. In many ways Stalin’s five-year plans did. He created guaranteed obsolescence through central planning. That was not the fault of socialism which was never really implemented in the USSR. It was the fault of too much power in too few hands. They were not very clean hands at that.

But history is not that orderly. One could also say it was Brezhnev’s soporific acceptance of corruption. Perhaps it was the fact that Russian culture has a much longer history of corruption dating from the Boyars than of public order. Perhaps it was that the Soviet establishment could never connect the nature of culture with how people respond to government.

Now we Americans (who have no unified culture) are trying to make bits of the Middle East over in our own image through the unscrupulous and often ridiculous efforts of bargain basement imperialism. The trouble is the efforts are no bargain because, like the central planning of Stalin, they were ill-conceived, vainglorious, and executed by fanatics. That is yet another project that is all but over, like Viet Nam, long before it is near to being finished. What is more, it is likely the criminals who perpetrated the war will get away with it. But the US, and even the Iraqi’s, can survive all that.

What we have lost is the fundamental understanding that people can reason even when they are not very good at it, and when the problem is hard to grasp. That is what the founders did see. People reason best when they do it slowly, deliberately, and collectively because none of us is very good at it on our own.

Societies survive by implementing and upholding laws based on principles of fair play and equity if not equality under the law. The founders’ model, like ours, may have been imperfect, but that was their fundamental idea. It was based on the two basic virtues: honor and courage. Now we aspire to pride and guile. It’s not only the US that has gone that way, but we lead the pack.

If you do not vote, you should shut up. That does not mean you have to vote for either major party and their bozos. You can write in candidates. Write in yourself. Vote an independent party so that point of view gets noticed and a place in the discussion. Whatever way you vote, remember this is the first time in several decades that you, the voter, are back in the race. Don’t fall to the sidelines just because you have surrendered to apathy. Apathy is a five-dollar word for lazy, and lazy is for bums.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

“ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL,” as The Man Said.

“ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL,” as The Man Said.

As you read this, there are two key issues that are directly in the path of your future.

The first is the current eminent domain legislation to curb government seizure of private property in order to hand it over to private developers and create a revenue stream for local government. Bill Frist and his GOP cronies have adopted a stalwart Stalinist centrist approach to this issue. They are stonewalling the bill in the senate and they are fighting for the 1 percent of the citizenry that our government now represents.

The second issue is the walkathon being sponsored by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. Even if you are a paragon of boosterism for development and the Atlantic Yards Project, it is in your interest to test the validity of FCRC’s legal tactics and procedures in the courts. DDDB has never opposed development and won’t in the future. However, anything that has a major impact on the public should be under fair and reliable open public scrutiny. Cronyism may get things done, but it may also get things done to you that you had no idea were on the agenda until its too late.

An envelope from the Democratic Party sits on my desk for the money I pledged to send them. If, however, the current bill opposing he abuse of eminent domain cannot be got past Frist and the gang, then I pledge here and now to double that sum and send it all to DDDB to fight the case.

Why is the use of pounding sand down a rat hole? And that is exactly what you are doing if you support the Democrats if they cannot find ways to differ from the Republican agenda on these two key issues. Go with the people who actually care about our community and the nation, DDDB. “All politics IS local,” as the man said, and now you can see why.

Steve Hart

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A TALE OF TWO PAPERS

This is a tale of two local publishers and their curiously different grasp of what Ratner will do to the area and how to respond. Slowly, some of our local journalists are waking to what the Atlantic Yards Project will do to the social makeup of the surrounding communities. Witness the following from the Park Slope Courier.

“Renters in unregulated buildings in Bedford Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene and Gowanus may be forced to search for new digs if the controversial project comes to pass, the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for Forest City Ratner’s plan reveals.’ (9/1/06, p. 1)

The Park Slope Courier announces that affordable housing will naturally decrease with the influx of gentrification (not to mention traffic and sewage) that will come with the AY project. It has taken a very long time to soak in, but anyone who lives in NYC should easily see that whatever promises are made about affordable housing, will not hold water. That is primarily because none of this housing will be subject to stabilization much less control.

If anyone doubts this they need only watch the surrounding neighborhoods now as the long time residents who rent are forced out to make way for more prosperous ones who will pay more. Some of that may be the inevitable flow of economics. What we generally value starts to cost more because the supply is short, and the demand is rising.

I know the myth runs counter to that and it works if you are selling computer chips. You just make more as the demand rises, making them becomes cheaper, and the price goes down. But only so many people can live in UES Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights, or the Hamptons. To even get onto the edge of desirable territory, you have to pay more, or homestead a less attractive zone and hope the value rises. Thus we now have Carroll Gardens West and other such flummery that seeks to simple squeeze bits of other neighborhoods into a premium area.

The problem here is that the scam is definitely going to work. Gowanus is rapidly going from ratty to recycled chic despite the state of the inlet. What is important here is that the developers have learned how to make a silk purse out of almost anything, and that, in a more reasonable economic arrangement, would benefit everyone. But developers are pigs about it. Bruce is the porker extraordinaire.

He has no interest in Brooklyn as it is. Worse still he has no interest in Brooklyn as it will be when he is done with it as the current AY area shopping centers show. Apart from being ugly and shoddy, they present a walled citadel to the community on virtually all sides, and they are surrounded by moats of impassable traffic. Otherwise the surrounding area has been rising steadily in value for years. What Bruce wants is a lion’s share of the profit that he can extract quickly and easily as the AY is being built and thereafter.

Money is already flowing to him and cost overruns are already widening the channel through which it flows. That is happening and yet we have not one blue print or actual design to discuss other than the fanciful image of Miss Brooklyn, that tubby bride replete with new age cellulite and decidedly tipsy stance.

Now it seems that “The Brooklyn Papers” have found it in their hearts to endorse David Yassky for Congress, our City Councilman who never met a potential high rise pile of bricks he didn’t like. It is sheer hypocrisy to claim that Yassky will somehow oversee the project from Washington. He will be running for re election the moment he gets there, and true to his record, working his way into the more “liquid” echelons of Washington insiders.

Yassky has never done anything to curb or control development, if in fact he has ever done anything at all. Why the Brooklyn Papers would characterize him as a can-do fellow over Chris Owens is hard to grasp, even as the papers admit that they are not at all sure that his district ought not to remain in the hands of a person of color.

So if at last some of us are beginning to see the logical outcomes of the AY Project, others are stuffing their heads further into the sand.

Steve Hart

See, “Views From the Bridge”
http://viewsfromthebridge.blogspot.com/

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ratner Nefaria

The Brooklyn Papers, as have other publications, have been running articles about the various means by which Mr. Ratner is buying influence and his place in the spectrum of Brooklyn's political firmament. Though apparently a sore loser in some deal with Ratner, even developer Henry Weinstein is pointing out the web of collusion that Ratner and FCRC are creating to smother local opposition.

Some might say, "Well, that's politics NYCstyle, and only the strong survive, so fuggedaboudit." They would have a point. The Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, and sundry other projects on that scale were all done by the well-heeled leaning that heel on the opposition until it shut up. The lucky small fry were bribed to stay that way and things have not changed in this century.

On the other hand, the very things that clear the way for this greedy behavior are the things that at this time should be the primary cause for concern. It's NOT eminent domain that is wrong. We need that to conduct society. What is wrong is its use for something between a landgrab, a boondoggle and tax evasion, all of which we have here being presented with a boyish grin of self-satisfaction by the perpetrators.

When organizations like BUILD and ACORN get on board for these adventures in creative accounting with the public funds, it is depressing for they are the people who should be protecting the interests of those who are otherwise voiceless. They should not be getting on the gravy train.

When political leaders either take no position are paint the whole affair as a sort of vague economic benefit about which we should not ask questions, one asks, "Well then who is supposed to ask because I thought that was your job?" Worse still when you get the Pataki smirk, or the Markowitz two-step, you cannot even tell which party is supposed to be watching. That is because party politics is irrelevant here as the parties now exist.

Ratner is engaged in public graft. He hides it by doing it in the open on such a grand scale that his audacity dumbfounds the rational. Each time he gets caught, he simply goes, "Aw shucks" and one of his minions comes up with some preposterous unrelated argument as an explanation. Everyone nods and goes home.

The problem with Ratner is that we are in a period of unfettered license that enables criminality to call itself enterprise if the perpetrator has enough money, dresses right, and hangs out at the right golf course. Voters are partly responsible for this in helping to foster the craziness of deregulation even as they were being fleeced by Enron, Verizon, and others. The majority of the blame lies with the fact that we have abandoned the idea that wealth created in the nation is partly the nation's wealth, and hence the graduated tax system which maintained a balanced constraint on how much money wound up in a very limited number of hands.

The Bush Administration has pressed to fill those hands further on an annual basis and the Democratic Party has done absolutely nothing whatever to maintain balance. So Mr. Ratner is a problem. He is a big, fat, hungry problem about to be left on our doorstep to solve, but he is not THE problem. The problem is that we need to restore a balance between public and private interests, or between the public at large and the rich. First, however, we have to get general agreement that the pursuit of happiness is not exclusively the pursuit of wealth, and that the moral standard of the nation should not be set by ranking highest those who can get the most rich by any means they can imagine and pursue in the dark of the night.

If Mr. Ratner is just "a smart business man protecting his interests," we should not just follow his lead. We should see to it that he is not the precedent against which the standards of the nation are set be they ethical, economic, or social.

The Lieberman Leap

The front page of the NY Times notes that Senator Lieberman -- having lost the primary to Mr. Lamont on the basis of his war footing -- is now being embraced by the GOP while they ditch their own candidate for the US Senate seat from Connecticut. It would seem that Mr. Lieberman wishes to go the odd way of Mussolini, playing second buffoon to a larger monster clown. He has decided to go down fighting for a war that cannot be won largely because no one can agree on what victory would look like. Furthermore, the enemy will accept a wide range of situations and call them victory. They already have. Perhaps its in the mind of the beholder.

The good part about that choice is that Joe Lieberman has finally joined, as a sort of unseen pariah, his party of choice. He will still be a Democrat he says, if he wins, but he will be on the side of his particular angels. Such a victory in the short term may have little to do with victory on some larger more permanent scale. The other good thing about this event is that Mr. Lieberman will not have the trust of either party or their regard either. He shouldn't because he has betrayed freedom in the name of his particular brand of security, and liberty in favor of order.

Those are the choices we are making this fall locally, regionally and nationally. The conflict that began with the election of Ronald region's election in 1980 boils down to this issue. Are we to be governed by a coterie of the rich who steer government and public policy. Are they the best judge of our destiny since they have the widest view and the most clout from the top? The GOP has served the interests of wealth both private and corporate by institutionalizing deregulation as a moral shibboleth. Mr. Lieberman essentially agrees that the people in charge know best even if we down here have no idea what they know if they in fact know anything at all. Mr. Bush often seems to be waiting in his bunker for a miracle weapon, the moral equivalent of the V2 which was supposed to save the Reich even as the Red Army entered Berlin.

The bad part about this situation is that the democrats ever trusted Mr. Lieberman at all. How moderate can you be until finally you are just one of them? And what if they don't want you either. Mr. Lieberman is about to find out whether he wins as an independent or not.

The best thing that could come of this separation is that the Democratic Party will do something democratic and support the other national position which is that we are a government by and for the people of our nation. They may come to realize that taking no position is not just a clever dodge, it is a conspicuous choice. Mr. Lieberman is to be credited for understanding that even if he could not get his party affiliations straight.

There can be little doubt that with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the American Right saw the door open to yanking the country in their direction. Who remained on the left to oppose them? Labor unions had been gutted. The rest could be dismissed for drinking latte. The people they forgot, as did Mr. Lieberman, were the rest of us, the tireless, voting, enterprising taxpayers who retain a sense of fair play and justice. Those are the people who since the Depression have held faith in the viability of our Constitution and the concept that government is not evil because it is large. It only becomes evil when its power is disproportionately out of control or in the hands of an unelected minority.

Even if re-elected, which I would regard as a fluke, Mr. Lieberman's career is at an end. He did us one great service which is to make clear where the real political division lies with the power of disproportionate wealth on one side and the natural and civil rights of citizens on the other.