Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Now we are not only a nation of torturers who openly advocate the practice in war, we are again a nation of killers whether we are shocking and awing people en masse, or we are executing them to demonstrate that we are either superior to, or as dehumanized as, those we would eliminate. I am at a loss to understand what this solves or whom this pleases. Prisons have been demonstrated to be excessively costly and pointless as a social corrective. With privatization, they have become lucrative local sources of tax income even when they are obsolete, brutal, or past their usefulness. As a private prison is subject to little or no public scrutiny, we are telling their operators that anything goes as long as they stay in the black.

Capital punishment costs more than life imprisonment, and it is profoundly divisive. When we kill someone in this process by mistake, it is, or should be, a heinous blight on the nation. Even as some of our leaders have tried to pull away from the dangers of this practice, the courts, influenced by the Republican right, have recently exacerbated the problem by deciding that the risk of causing suffering in the condemned is in the public interest. Such a decision may possibly cause an inmate to die in agony, but it will most definitely insure that we as a nation slide deeper into our acceptance of torture as an acceptable social device. The inmate will at least have the release of death. We are left with the knowledge of what we have become.

As the last eight years have shown us, becoming more brutal will not increase our national or international strength. It just inures us to more of the suffering we create and further reduces us among other cultures around the world. We are no longer trustworthy members of the civilized world. Worse still we have begun to lose important parts of the fabric or our republic.

Over the past seven years we have watched the steady erosion of the right of free expression partly as a function of the administration’s threat against habeas corpus. Those who object to the national agenda feel a growing threat to their right this administration’s self-destructive weaknesses and follies. They have cause for alarm because in the absence of the right to a speedy, open trial, people can be effectively disappeared into the federal system.

This Administration uses fear as both threat and persuasion because it can think of nothing constructive to replace it. Threats, bribery, propaganda, graft, intimidation, and harassment have become their tools. At the same time, the pursuit of happiness is open to an ever smaller group of people as real wages decline and the economy is devastated by inept and corrupt administration practices.

The United States continues to decline as an economic power in part because there is no longer any incentive for the average person to work hard if his wages decline in value and he/she is working to ship his employment abroad to cheaper labor under abusive conditions. Citizens realize that no matter how hard they work, government policy insures that their buying power will continue to be reduced. The problem is not taxation, but rather a policy that openly discourages organized labor while at the same time encourages the centralization of wealth.

That is not to say that either of these political or economic conditions need be as they are. We must be careful that the whoever takes over the White House and thus the Judiciary, does not sneer at the Constitution as an inconvenience to his/her will as does Mr. Bush. Much of our economic woes could be ameliorated with a national push to improve the environment around the world by the use of recycling and new energy sources other than those that are carbon based. As important would be compelling corporate manufacturers to pay to clean up the environmental damage they create including the cost of recycling and/or disposing of packaging as well as their products.

The labor of ordinary citizens goes to enrich a select group of corporations and wealthy individuals, who, it is increasingly clear, have no commitment to the fate of our nation. They simply pick up and leave the ruinous conditions and the tyranny they create. They trade in other currencies as the dollar declines in value, and they are provided with unique investment instruments such as hedge funds in which only they are allowed to participate.
The current Undersecretary of the Treasury openly endorses this state of affairs.

It is no wonder then that we are a nation divided by deep mistrust, cultural animosity, and greed. The pursuit of happiness has been subverted along with our liberty, and now we are the agents of a policy that denies the significance of life itself.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


I think it is significant that as major issues concerning development are being decided in Carroll Gardens and Gowanus, Mr. Deblasio has gone on a campaign against plastic plates in schools. Plastic is a genuine hazard, but it has been in use in schools without any proven fatalities for some time. Development is in the process of trying to change the character of the whole area now.

Those of us who live near the inlet are rightfully concerned about the Toll Project, which seems just plain nuts as a residence until the waterway can be seriously detoxified. That will not be an easy task as I gather it is full of carcinogenic toxins like heavy metals. Business as usual has every possibility of creating a major, long lasting health hazard, not to mention a profound environmental threat.

When you add in that the sewer and storm system is already under visible stress each time it rains, the developer may build safe housing for residents. At the same time the rest of us will start wrestling with substances that are forced into the water table, our basements, and simply into the street. That does not take into account the corrosive effect of such stuff on the footings of buildings that are 160 years old.

Building near the Gowanus Inlet can be great, but it needs serious government regulation, oversight, and a concrete program to control the environmental toxicity that is already there. For that to be the case, we need a serious government. That hope is at least a year away in Washington and perhaps nearly that long in Albany.

The charade of public oversight in the Atlantic Yards project shows that at present government will sanction and even pay for construction that is potentially devastating without any serious thought to infrastructure, the environment, or human beings. In the case of any plans for the Gowanus Inlet, it always seems that these concerns are afterthoughts. That is not a great idea with a river of toxic waste that is only nominally under control at present.

Through all that, many here love the inlet and it does have great potential. The first priority for change around the Inlet should always be the well-being of those who are here. Prudent choices should be made with environmental conditions governing architecture and engineering, not the reverse.

Each of the proposals to date privatizes and obscures the inlet from the public to make the waterway an exclusionary property; thus in theory raising its value. That idea is at best comic when you stand near the inlet at low tide as of now. Yachting on the Inlet seems a most unlikely amusement.

The warehouses and businesses in the area have no use for the inlet and it could be made into a viable space. Scale, however, and public access should prevail in any determination of what to build there so that the waterway does not continue its long tradition as a reeking, poisonous industrial trench.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


One serious casualty of the Republican agenda is public art. Nowhere is that more evident than in the fete that is now planned for Bruce Ratner at the Brooklyn Museum. It is impossible for the museum, and should be for us, to ignore the steady decline of public funding for the arts. More importantly as the funds went down, an ever greater level of political coercion has gone up so that a kind of public orthodoxy pressures for ‘family values” in art. This from a party that day after day faces yet another indictment for corruption like the departing Secretary of HUD.

When you link that with religiously driven sexual hysteria, the landscape of our culture becomes ever more distorted. That is finally perverted beyond recognition by the subtle infusion of free market propaganda, which is promoted by free marketeers who do not believe in a free market. Nowhere is that more evident than with Bruce Ratner who has regularly sought to use the public treasure for his private gain. He sought and still seeks tax abatements no one else in NYC could hope to get. Now he has apparently bought himself a place as a cultural icon at the Brooklyn Museum. But, you may ask, what else are they to do? They need the money.

Yes they do, but there comes a time when an institution abandons the public good to such an extent that its downfall is not necessarily a loss. For more than a generation we have watched the NEA and NEH become the spokesmen for Republican ideas. As such they have moved further and further away from the real experiences of Americans. When you add in that their real buying power is so reduced as to be inconsequential, they have become the equivalent of Soviet puppet ministries of culture. At that point, I have long wondered if it might not be better to let them die.

The same may well apply to the Brooklyn Museum. Mr. Ratner has created nothing in Brooklyn that is not antithetical to the aims of art. He understands only blunt rectangles and lumpy distortions of them. His color sense involves fashioning new structures to mimic the grime of the ones they replace. Nothing he has built here – even though ALL of it was on the public cuff – has proven to be profitable as most of his large tenants are city or state agencies. No one else wants these spaces. Worse still, Mr. Ratner has arrogantly sidestepped every single form of public review and community involvement since the Atlantic Yards project was announced in August of 2003.

For the Brooklyn Museum to honor him is at best grotesque. It is obvious that Brooklyn needs and deserves a great international museum of fine arts. Does it, however, need a badly run one that, as a public institution, shows no interest in the public good. Every single person who works in the Museum does so at the public expense. Every single calorie of heat that fills the building is the product of public expenditure. Every single exhibit is the result of public investment in the public good.

I do not support the idea that the Museum should define its role by public consensus. Their function is to be cultural leaders, not a mirror of Brooklyn’s lowest common denominator. By the same token, however, as a public institution they have an obligation to do more than follow the money. Mr. Ratner’s effect on this borough thus far has been a minor disaster. I would not object if President Bush gave him a medal of freedom, which would be in keeping with the administration’s policy of honoring the inept. I do not see why the Brooklyn Museum should exhibit the same shortsighted enthusiasm for a man who is a tasteless opportunist and a profiteer.

I have donated money to the Museum off and on for some time. I fear that is at an end under its current policies. No doubt they will hardly care, but if a large part of Brooklyn turns its back on these policies, a new leadership may show more sense of common purpose.