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.