Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I've Got a Bridge to Sell You...

The glorious Brooklyn Bridge, not, however, for sale.

It's March and with the sun being a bit higher in the sky and the snow mountains melting down into smaller snow hills it seems a good time for a bit of a rant, no?

Let me say at the outset that I am an utter non-believer when it comes to most any of the positive spin put out about corporate America. I think they'd sell just about anything to just about anyone if there was buck to be made and if they could simply indenture their workforces so as not to have to pay them a wage at all, they probably would. Cynical? Yes. But I know what often happens when stockholders--who rightfully have expectations of a return on their investment--start to demand a higher rate of return. Jobs are shed, product quality often suffers, and the remaining workers are, in many cases, left to do their own jobs in addition to taking on the responsibilities of their former colleagues. Bottom line, corporate America rarely (if ever) has the best interests of average Americans on their radar.

This isn't news, I know. And it isn't even new, but I am consistently surprised at how willingly we cede our actual best interests and real needs to corporations. A couple of examples...

The budget-repair bill that is--what I understand to be--at the heart of the protests in Wisconsin contains many disturbing clauses, but one of them that stood out to me pertains to, wait for it...Koch Industries. Yes, *those* Koch brothers, the ones who were major donors to Governor Walker's campaign. The part of this bill that I'm referring to deals with the no-bid sales of several Wisconsin power plants. No-bid? How do you offset a budget deficit with non-competitive no-bid sales? Now Koch Industries denies any interest in any of these plants, but (and here's where my bridge sale offer comes in) that seems somewhat implausible. Lobbyists for Koch Industries consistently try to lower, if not completely do away with any restrictions on the emissions from their various plants. They are NO friend to any environment. There are many other things at stake in the Wisconsin budget-repair bill, but I was struck at the level of deviousness that seemed to be inherent within this particular section. Here's a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article that offers a little background on this particular provision http://www.jsonline.com/business/116965798.html.

Honestly, when Big Coal or Big Oil (or Koch Industries) tell you that you have nothing to fear from them, they are beyond disingenuous. Witness any mining disaster that has occurred over the past 50 years--how many times do we hear of all the safety violations that are dismissed (or worse) by management and the corporations running the mines? And if the whole of the mining industry doesn't make your heart ache a little, then I'd humbly suggest you aren't paying enough attention. Ken Ward, Jr., whose work I started reading during the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, has a fantastic blog called Coal Tattoo on the Charleston Gazette website...http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/. Read a little of his work, you'll be hooked.

And if coal doesn't resonate with you, maybe natural gas does. You've no doubt seen advertisements on television about clean natural gas, often fronted by one T. Boone Pickens. (I've commented on Mr. Pickens and water rights/issues before...you can read it HERE.) There's little if anything that seems to be clean about the process necessary to retrieve natural gas from the Marcellus Shale fields. If you haven't seen Josh Fox's documentary, Gasland, I can't recommend it highly enough. Not only is the damage to groundwater rather frightening to contemplate, the sheer amount of water they use is incredible. Once again, the "bridge" we're being sold is not one of a clean energy future (as is often suggested) but rather yet another energy source that is often very difficult to retrieve and severely damages the environment (including ground and drinking water) during the retrieval process. Here is Gasland's website, have a look around...http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking/.

Finally, a little moment on historic preservation. In the event that you aren't as angered, in general, as I am by corporate America, perhaps you'll identify with this instead. Over the course of the research I've been doing for a book project I've stumbled across several interesting documents (I've got a lot more to sift through, mind you) regarding zoning and land use as they pertain to a specific historic property. Between the newspaper accounts, the paperwork of the association that formed to fight the development and the actual zoning meeting comments, it's all rather sad. At the time, the land in question wasn't an island surrounded by commercial development, but it was definitely a piece of land that developers were willing to pay top dollar for. There are telling quotes by an attorney for the developers stating that the neighborhood homeowners have "nothing to fear from the change of zone because damage there has already been done..." as if to say, look, we've ruined most of this area already, so really, why would you care if we ruin the rest? Calm down and take the money we're offering. The individual who was attempting to quietly offload the land to the developers had the nerve to comment that indeed the place in question would be much missed by local residents, but that this was "a beautiful example of ugly progress." The neighbors fought valiantly and won many rounds. In a July 1967 newspaper article their spokesman said, "Frankly, we expect further attempts by a few people--by their own admission 'selfish' --to continue their harassing applications for commercial zoning, either immediately or on a prolonged 'hit and run' basis." Further to that he commented, "We shall have to be vigilant and we shall have to meet them head-on every time." In the end, ugly progress--and I must take issue with that word, "progress"--won out. I've seen this scenario, or ones very similar to it, play out more times than I can count and it's heartbreaking every time. So often neighbors or proponents of a site or structure are either lulled into a false sense of security or they are finally overwhelmed by the deep pockets and the scale of the challenges posed by the developers.

So in summary:

1. Take the time to read the fine print and follow the money--whether it's in regard to industry, energy, or land use and preservation. If a corporation stands to benefit monetarily from a loop-hole or deregulation, they will lobby hard to make it happen.

2. When the land developers tell you that you have no reason to worry about a little ol' zoning change, be on your guard. Keeping a weather eye on zoning and planning meetings in your community is always a good idea.

3. If you think that big business (in general) is really worried about much more than profits, I've still got that lovely bridge for sale...the pretty one that joins Manhattan and Brooklyn and offers spectacular views of both.

Thus endeth my rant. I yield my spot atop the soapbox. For now.

1 comment:

Ann Marie Gamble said...

Go Tyger, go. Rant on.