Big change or big business as usual? We'll see. | OPINION: Peter Eichenberger | Indy Week
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Big change or big business as usual? We'll see. 

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY V.C. ROGERS

What do I make of this "dramatic" polar shift of the politik? I remain expectant and hopeful. But as any differences in the "parties" are incremental, illusory and contextual, I remain realistic, tempered. We'll see.

One way to predict how things will go is to study the past. Locally, ever since I began paying attention in those antediluvian times even before North Hills, I've detected a pattern. In the Triangle, Raleigh especially, it was simple—subdivisions and shopping centers connected by ever-widening roads replaced a winding grid of cross-streets through neighborhoods tied together by wide, tree-lined boulevards and punctuated with small shopping districts. Some are so deluded as to think the change was caused by market forces. I'll concede it was, to an extent. Most Americans put their comfort and convenience ahead of being part of the larger community. (Never mind that the longterm result is uncomfortable and inconvenient.) But there also are external forces—including a diabolical chimera I call Negrophobia, a card mightily played by politicians and the media in the '60s that led to the abandonment of whole downtowns for the burbs. Typical ways to create urban flight were to curtail or cease inspections downtown, highlight the blight, and play the fear card.

Development patterns also were steered by changes in tax law that enabled developers to depreciate buildings and materials, first in 40 years, then reduced to 15 years. That allowed investors to profit from a money-losing property, part of the reason so many empty buildings litter the cities. It's why downtowns and whole cities were abandoned. It's also why there's now a coast-to-coast mania for downtown condos as the cycle begins again. I do hope none of us are so deluded as to think this condo fling has anything to do with something besides the cold-hard.

So there's money to be made writing off new stuff. It may be useful to reflect that the Urban Land Institute, the people who have slithered into the Dix issue, were one of the engines behind this pattern of development, starting with Cameron Village, the first "planned" shopping center in the universe, or at least in the Southeast. Expect more of the same at Dix. Meanwhile, the land for Dix was granted to the state in perpetuity, but the state is attempting to sell it to the city. Is that counter to the desires of the executors of the will? In a case concerning Pullen Park, a road across it would cause the property to revert to the family. What is going to happen there? Does it matter whom we elect?

History lesson over. My point is that I've never seen local elections have any effect on what goes where, and I don't expect this round of perfunctory ball dancing to suddenly change that. On the way back from Charlottesville last weekend, a Sunday, we hit the wall on I-40, the result of a botched paving job. We lost heart at N.C. 751, a road I know well from the Petey's wild years. I got lost. The landscape in South Durham was so utterly altered as to be another state. Mile after mile of former habitat for wildlife, whole watersheds cheek to jowl with anonymous subdivisions promising luxury lifestyles antiseptic and indistinguishable from each other.

Then there's the school bond issue. The importance of the school bond wasn't mainly to meet our children's needs—it was to accommodate profits for builders and keep the area's credit ratings healthy so we can borrow more money to create more infrastructure, and so forth. You can take comprehensive plans for environmental and watershed protection for what they are—PR, pure and simple. Of course, now that the area is getting close to the line demarking declining profit for exploiting the land to absorb our extravagant, selfish lifestyles on a coast-to-coast basis, here comes ULI to save us from a problem they helped create and make gigabucks for the development industry in the process.

After the city "lost" the recent impact fee scuffle, I inquired of a city official about suing developers for the expense of increased infrastructure and environmental degradation. The man, a lawyer, looked me in the eye, said blandly he didn't think it would work, and almost ran from me.

So? Expect more of the same. I think consultants for the City Council and county commissioners should determine the cost of having the entire county paved now and avoid the increased cost of diminishing oil supplies.

On to the national scene. While I am delighted to see Bush, Cheney, et al., have their faces rubbed in doo-doo, the more important thought springing to mind can be summed in one word: justice. I demand justice for the American people and for the citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq and New Orleans, the two former being victims of what on the streets of Raleigh would be called assault, the latter of, at a minimum, criminal negligence.

House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has scotched any notion of impeaching the Chimp Faced Wonder Boy, saying that she doesn't want to put the kibosh on the healing or be accused of "getting even." Rep. Pelosi, with all due respect, do you honestly equate lying about a blow-job with the destruction of two innocent nations with preemptive strikes justified by a pack of proven lies?

"Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together, constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined. The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action."—Vice President Dick Cheney, Aug. 27, 2002. And utter horseshit, as the attentive knew before the war, facts carefully kept from you.

No news here. A lying intel cherry picker/manipulator is replaced by another, a spy at that.

So, here is a chance to show the world that the American people are willing to do something about the excesses of a criminal cabal, to attempt to ameliorate the damage these scoundrels have done to their names, to the reputation of the United States, as well as the personal risk they have presented to average Americans. To not address these "high crimes and misdemeanors," to allow the Bush administration to get off scot-free is the equivalent of a Highway Patrol trooper presenting a speeder with a check equal to the fine and court costs. For what they (and we—representative system, remember?) have done to have no repercussions is as bad as what they did. The rest of the world, I guarantee, views the lack of consequences as worse than what "we" did in Vietnam. I don't vote anymore—and do not intend to ever again until I see actual changes.

This is a deal exemplified by Maureen Dowd, that dishy New York Times columnist.

She thinks it's funny that Poppy (funny name for an ex-president, huh?) is stepping in to take the reins, making light of the change-up of Dummy, oops, Rummy for Robert Gates, a man who, if the Times were telling you everything, would have told you that Rummy was fired to give the cattle an impression that things are all better now. He tried to manage an illegal invasion—mass murder—as a business, failed, and slithered away from court, replaced by an Iran-Contra figure. From the Independent Counsel's report: "Other evidence proves, however, that Gates received a report on the diversion [of proceeds from arms sales to Iran to the Nicaraguan Contras] during the summer of 1986 from DDI Richard Kerr. The issue was whether Independent Counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gates was deliberately not telling the truth when he later claimed not to have remembered any reference to the diversion before meeting with Allen in October."

I don't want to tell anyone what to do. If you are happy with this mythical and murderous Punch and Judy show of U.S. politics, rave on. Until we confront what we have become, there will be no chance of forward movement. We are imprisoned by an illusory world of vertical orientation, tricked into hating whomever we aren't. This is a system brilliantly perfected by the Brits, who armed the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, threw them at each other under the guise of nationhood, and reaped the fruits of the "failure" of the people of Mesopotamia, oops, Iraq to accept nationhood—a concept as alien to them as our version of democracy (demonstrated by the '00 and '04 "elections," the first determined in a court, the second, well, we simply don't know).

You see, the world is divided not vertically but horizontally. You sitting at your day job have more in common with a soldier over dar than you do with an elite leader of your political party. The sooner we, all of us, come to understand that and behave accordingly, the sooner we can begin to counter the sham. Ordinary people, Republicans and Democrats, have more in common with each other than you could imagine if your sole information diet comes via the major media.

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