Wednesday, January 21, 2015

No, of course I didn't watch the SOTU, but here's how I prepared for it -- and for the political-crackpot times ahead


Is the Vanderbilt Corridor the Future of East Midtown?
Tonight! Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 6:30 pm

To ensure East Midtown maintains its global dominance as a business center, the Department of City Planning is proposing a bold new suite of zoning changes. Join a panel of insiders to discuss the proposed vision for the Vanderbilt Corridor and the One Vanderbilt building. Co-presented with the AIA New York Chapter | Center for Architecture and the Municipal Art Society.

by Ken

If you think I watched the president's SOTU last night, you're probably new here. I don't do that sort of thing. (My working principle is that sooner rather than later I can't avoid finding out more than I wanted to know about what was said.) And I certainly didn't watch any stinking GOP rebuttals. Oh wait, there was only one this time, wasn't there? I was thinking that, based on recent precedent, the right to dump on the raving-socialist America-hating Kenyan Obama was open to anyone who raised his/her claw. But this time it was just that Joni crackpot who showed that in 2014, unlike 2012, it was still possible to elect crazy Republicans to the Senate provided that they stayed just on this side of the too-crazy-for-prime-time line.

Nevertheless, it occurred to me as I was trudging my way last night to a bus stop I hardly ever use, following an exercise in seemingly utter futility, that in an all-too-real way this was my way of preparing for the SOTU. The theme for the night, in case you haven't guessed, would have been "Utter Futility, with a Heapin' Helpin' of Insult-Added Rage."

Ironically, only minutes before the abrupt about-face that had sent me back out into the January cold, I had been congratulating myself on overcoming the odds and making it to a panel discussion at the Museum of the City of New York which I'd signed up for goodness-knows-how-many-weeks ago, called "Is the Vanderbilt Corridor the Future of East Midtown?" (This refers to the unfolding horror of mega-overbuilding taking shape on the west side of Grand Central Terminal, with assorted bits of rezoning pushed through by our late Mayor Mike gradually kicking in to make it overwhelmingly likely that yes indeed, this is the future not just of East Midtown but of every other chunk of turf the Money People can get their clutches into.)

The trip from work to MCNY had involved a seemingly straight-shot trip up the Lexington Avenue subway lines, with the single complication of a change at some point from an express to a local train. Translation: The actual rail-travel time is in theory fairly brief. However, the possible associated time-killers can be, well, trip-killers, in part because the Lexington Avenue lines are so hideously overused, having been since the tearing down of the Second and Third Avenue els in the '30s and '40s the only mass-transit trains east of Sixth Avenue.

And sure enough, when I made way to the suspiciously crowed Wall Street platform, I discovered that there were what were officially listed on the station's "countdown clocks" as "delays" on uptown No. 4 and 5 trains. I had left myself a small time cushion for the uptown trip, but not one that would offset any serious delay, and for this particular journey there are no transportation alternatives. The only question was how long I could afford to wait before bagging the panel and heading straight for home (or as straight as I could from the No. 4 and 6 platform, trains that wouldn't really take me an in especially homeward-bound direction). Miraculously, though, the countdown clock suddenly showed a train due in "2 minutes," and in less than that, there it was. Apparently train service was resuming now after the delay caused by who-knows-what, and eventually we made our way uptown, and I made my transfer to a local train at 96th Street, and arrived at 103rd Street in time to make the walk over to Fifth Avenue with a good three minutes to spare.

Which was just in time to get myself checked in for the panel. Then I advanced into the museum lobby where the impromptu lectern and acre of foldng chairs were set up, and saw the packed house and the remote outpost down a side hallway where I would have to squeeze into a cramped chair and not only not see anything but probably spend the whole entombed time straining to hear anything. And almost without breaking stride I headed right back out of the building and back into the Great Outdoors.

As it happens, having lived in NYC for more than a few years, and made the trip between MCNY and my home way the hell uptown on the other side of town in Washington Heights, I knew that my best transit alternative was one of the five buses that run uptown on Madison Avenue. Heading east to Madison, I had the foresight to stop in a deli for a large coffee and something to nibble on for the long trip, and then just as I was entering the "limited" bus stop two blocks north, what should be pulling in but an M4, the best of all five possible routes for my purposes? It's not a quick trip, mind you, but the M4 gets me within convenient walking distance of home without any transferring, and a mere hour and a quarter later (okay, an hour and a quarter and change) I was home.

I considered it a fortuitous escape. I lucked into a nice seat in an uncrowded corner of the bus and, sipping my coffee, counted myself way more comfortable than I would have been if I were sitting out the panel discussion, and I didn't consider myself significantly deprived of illumination. After all, if the massive overbuilding of the Vanderbilt Corridor -- part of the legacy of our former Mayor Mike -- is not the future of NYC, the Money People will do whatever they have to do to make sure that something equally horrible is. Back to the days when our city was founded as the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, it has been a locale whose first and always-overriding purpose has been the making of money.

Which is pretty much the same thing that can be said about the Movers 'n' Shakers who stand behind, or rather above, our official government down in the D of C. And especially given the gridlock into which that government has settled for the immediate future, does it matter what the president has to say in the SOTU? After six years of doing everything in their power -- which turned out to be quite a lot -- to prevent the raving-socialist America-hating Kenyan Obama from doing much of anything to deal with the country's humongous problems, and undoing as much as they could of what he nevertheless managed to do in spite of their best efforts, does anyone think congressional Republicans are suddenly going to warm to the task of actual governance?

I know we keep hearing of this need supposedly felt by congressional Republicans to show that they can govern, that they can engage in productive collaboration with others, and that they are motivated by fear of punishment by the electorate if they, well, if they continue to behave the way they have behaved the last six years.

But what price have they paid for their human degradation and criminally irresponsible crusade against America of these last six years, following upon the eight years of psychotic mayhem of the Bush regime? And when you consider the electoral triumph they scored in 2014 by, essentially standing up and saying, "Yes, we are degraded filth, the vilest scum on Planet Earth, and we dare you to vote for us, you self-hating, doody-sucking parasites of an electorate," what incentive do they really have to do otherwise?

I admit that my crystal ball is old and scratched, but I don't see in it anything in it for the life of the Wacky 114th Congress these next two years or less, really, when you consider how soon we'll be officially in the 2016 Election Grinder as our overriding political reality but even more pernicious gridlock than we saw in the 113th. Yes, there are going to be fiscal hurdles that have to be surmounted somehow. But they'll continue to be gotten through the way we've grown accustomed to them being gotten through: by selling out another chunk of what's left of the country and the economy to the Money People, just the way we watched Dodd-Frank be eviscerated. After all, hardly any Money People cared about making Dodd-Frank work, and lots of them cared quite a lot about eviscerating it. Ergo, done deal.

And as long as Democrats see no alternative to the Republican sellout of the country except for Dem pols to insist on their cut, it's hard to see where things are going to change, at least in the life of the Crackpøt 114th.

I'm not saying it doesn't matter at all what the president had to say last night. But of course we had been pre-tipped to most of it. And while it's nice to see some of those initiatives on behalf of non-rich Americans, and they will certainly have some impact in shaping the yammering agenda of the next year or two. Oh, we'll be hearing plenty of yammering, if only because there's so much media time and space to fill. But it's hard to imagine that much of this talk is going to be translated into, you know, law or anything.

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