Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Public Hearings For Big Real Estate Projects: Refining Your Sense of the Absurd

What’s the difference between “surreal” and “Kafkaesque”?

This is the kind of distinction you will find yourself making if you want to become a connoisseur of the flavors that public hearing futility comes in.

I just wrote about public hearings held where it is a forgone conclusion that those testifying are going to be ignored by those holding the hearing. And I wrote about a famous incident where, at one hearing, Jane Jacobs was arrested for protesting such absurdity. (See: Wednesday, November 2, 2011, Big Politically-Connected Real Estate Projects: Ignoring The Public Majority With Futile “Participatory Democracy” Hearing Process.)

Jane Jacobs suggested the intent of the hearing she was attending might have been considered simply as a steam valve by those holding it to help abate public indignation and wrath. And that gets into something else discussed, whether when attending such a hearing you should address yourself to those holding the hearing who won’t listen to you or, to make yourself feel better, to an audience of other members of the public who feel as you do. That assumes you are let into the hearing at all.

To describe the hearing when she was arrested, Jacobs invoked `surreal’ and `eerie.’

But `surreal’ and `eerie’ just won’t do as adjectives to describe some hearing where the machinations to ignore the public are ratcheted up steps further. After I wrote about the hearings that a club of politically connected “plutocrats” have complacent faith they can ignore I started thinking about a brilliant animation of a real hearing transcript done this summer by Norman Oder that appeared on his Atlantic Yards Report site. It appears below:

To appreciate it fully you should go to the post where it first appeared that also includes 13 links to prior articles about how absurd the hearing was. One of those posts makes a reference to “Theatre of the Absurd” writer Samuel Beckett, so you will have to chose between your authors in evaluating the situation: Kafka or Beckett? (See: Tuesday, August 23, 2011, Five years ago... there was a big public hearing--some retrospectives, and a new video.)

Basically, as Mr. Oder describes and his animation vivifies for you, over five years ago on an 88-degree August day thousands of Brooklynites tried to attend the first hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement. As the hearing officer says, it was to be the only hearing but many of those wanting to testify were denied admittance to Klitgord Auditorium due to its lack of capacity. There was then the odd spectacle (chose your additional adjective) of people being called to testify by the hearing officer who were not being admitted into the building.

Webster’s defines Kafkaesque as “suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially : having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality.” Kafka’s world is one where everything seems bureaucratically engineered to thwart those in the stories standing in for the Kafka persona. There isn’t anyone in particular to blame or to whom to attribute the futility that is felt but the tantalizing inexorability of the hopelessness becomes in his books and stories almost a personality unto itself.

If in the Kafka books there were individuals who to whom the engineered futility could be attributed then the adjective that would apply wouldn’t be `Kafkaesque,’ it would be `Machiavellian’ or it would be some sort of conspiratorial political thriller. . . Is there an adjective for this genre? Maybe we need one.

Maybe we need one because here is something else I was thinking about in connection with the absurdity of all the legal bells and whistles that surround these hearings and also the way that the courts have jettisoned eminent domain protection from the state and federal constitutions for the sake of the plutocratic class: There is a theory, a rather frightening one, that there is now a club, a political and financial class, that is above the law. I heard this theory propounded by Glenn Greenwald, the author of “With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful” on a Leonard Lopate show segment yesterday.

Mr. Greenwald theorizes that we have been on a downward slope since the pardon of Richard Nixon and that there is now a elite club that expects to behave with impunity. He was utterly too convincing in the case he made. I hope it’s not true.

Here is a link and WNYC summary of the segment and you may click below to listen to it:
Glenn Greenwald on Our Justice System
Monday, November 07, 2011

Glenn Greenwald argues that, over the past four decades, the principle of equality before the law has been replaced with a two-tiered system of justice—the country's political and financial class is virtually immune from prosecution, while the politically powerless are imprisoned with greater ease and in greater numbers than in any other country in the world. With Liberty and Justice for Some reveals the mechanisms that have come to shield the elite from accountability. He shows how the media, both political parties, and the courts have abetted a process that has produced torture, war crimes, domestic spying, and financial fraud.

Yeah, maybe we are in a world where we need some new adjectives if the background to the stories being written will be such a world as Mr. Greenwald describes. Suggestions anyone?

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