Mother, May I Sleep With Knee-Jerk Ideological Orthodoxy?

Alyssa Rosenberg writes for Think Progress and The Atlantic. Today she was mad. Why? Because Brooke Shields is going to be in a movie about a famous abuse of eminent domain.

That abuse was at the heart of the case Kelo v. New London, in which SCOTUS famously and disgustingly ruled that the state can take your property and give it to another private party if it can come up with some theory about how that transfer will benefit the public. In New London, the issue is whether the city could force homeowners to sell their homes and turn land over to private developers in order to remove "blight" and promote "development." That concept made SCOTUS positively giddy:

Those who govern the City were not confronted with the need to remove blight in the Fort Trumbull area, but their determination that the area was sufficiently distressed to justify a program of economic rejuvenation is entitled to our deference. The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including–but by no means limited to–new jobs and increased tax revenue. As with other exercises in urban planning and development, the City is endeavoring to coordinate a variety of commercial, residential, and recreational uses of land, with the hope that they will form a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Well, back in 2009 I wrote about how that turned out by quoting a WSJ story:

Now, four years after that decision gave Susette Kelo’s land to private developers for a project including a hotel and offices intended to enhance Pfizer Inc.’s nearby corporate facility, the pharmaceutical giant has announced it will close its research and development headquarters in New London, Connecticut.

The aftermath of Kelo is the latest example of the futility of using eminent domain as corporate welfare. While Ms. Kelo and her neighbors lost their homes, the city and the state spent some $78 million to bulldoze private property for high-end condos and other “desirable” elements. Instead, the wrecked and condemned neighborhood still stands vacant, without any of the touted tax benefits or job creation.

But in all fairness, I have to point out that there has been an important update since 2009, when I suggested that the city and the state had wasted $78 million and forced citizens out of their homes to facilitate a phantom development and had not produced any jobs or anything of value. The condemned land has recently started providing value and jobs. I apologize for suggesting that it never would. Specifically, the condemned land is producing jobs and value in the Post-Hurricaine-Vegetation-And-Debris-Disposal-Industry.

Now, we learn from the local newspaper, The Day, that following the hurricane Irene, the city has designated the Fort Trumbull redevelopment site as a place to dump vegetation debris. For a video of locals dumping that stuff on the site, click here.

Anyway, that's the subject of Brooke Shields' new movie, apparently. The prospect of such a movie on the Lifetime Channel irritated Alyssa Rosenberg, who said the movie would be "anti-eminent-domain" and described it thusly:

I’d had the vague sense that Brooke Shields’ career wasn’t in the best place (as Entourage tells me, if she’s involved in a project with Johnny Drama, that’s not a good sign), but I’m sort of depressed, both because of what it means for her talent and what it means for her politics, that she’s starring in an anti-eminent domain movie on Lifetime about the Kelo case. Speaking out about postpartum depression and the idea that seeking treatment for it isn’t shameful is really useful and important. Sparking fears that the government’s going to take your property is a lot less useful.

Challenged on this, she tried to clarify that sure, there are occasional abuses, but that's only because corporations SUCK:

Apparently, this post has given people the impression that I think the Kelo ruling was good. I don’t think it’s good that corporations can manipulate eminent domain for their own benefit. But I don’t think a Lifetime movie is going to differentiate between Kelo and eminent domain as it ought to function. Instead, I think it is likely to take a conservative, totally anti-eminent domain tack that will not further the conversation. I should have made the connection between those two points stronger.

Hence, Alysse Rosenberg's reaction to an impending movie about a grotesque injustice and abuse of government power is to be angry because it might imply conclusions that do not suit her ideological biases. This is roughly the equivalent of Ann Coulter getting in a snit that someone is making a movie about Cameron Todd Willingham because it will just be a way for liberals to make the death penalty look bad.

E.D. Kain reacts by asking, not unreasonably, why aren't progressives upset by Kelo in particular and eminent domain abuse in general?

Progressives should be deeply bothered by a case like this, and should celebrate the fact that at least a television movie is being made about Kelo. Government should not be in the business of cronyism and theft, and liberals should be up in arms when government enriches private corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens.

And I should be 175 pounds with abs of steel and all my hair. But blogger's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? The truth is that too often we react based not on the merits of a particular story or case, but based on the political and cultural baggage the case carries. That's how a crowd can cheer 234 executions in Texas even when there are Cameron Todd Willinghams. That's how Rosenberg can get upset that someone is telling Kelo's story even though it's so clear that Kelo was wronged.

If we discovered that PeopleEnergyCom had used money and influence to convince elected officials to detain citizens so PeopleEnergyCom could use them as human batteries to provide cheap power, progressives like Rosenberg would be saying "corporations are so awful!," and Rosenberg's conservative equivalents would be saying "government is so awful!" [Libertarians would be saying "PeopleEnergyCom should only be able to do that if they negotiate arms-length revocable contracts at market rate with their human batteries!"]

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Mad Rocket Scientist says

    Quite often, as I read the Intertubes, I come across an essay or post that I knee jerk react to, and I start to write a hurried rebuttal. Usually, in the process of writing said rebuttal, as I turn my arguments in my head while deciding on the best way to present my crushing rejoinder, I begin to trip over the logical holes in my argument. Usually, within a few minutes, I've decided that I am full of shit, have no idea what I am blathering on about, delete the post, and go play with my dogs (who still love me, even though I was almost wrong on the internet).

    I wish more professional writers did that.

  2. says

    If we discovered that PeopleEnergyCom had used money and influence to convince elected officials to detain citizens so PeopleEnergyCom could use them as human batteries to provide cheap power, progressives like Rosenberg would be saying “corporations are so awful!,”

    Yes, they would, as they do today when they point out how a few large businesses have us all by the gonads, all the while failing to realize that without government help, these businesses could never have gotten so powerful in the first place.

    and Rosenberg’s conservative equivalents would be saying “government is so awful!”

    Yes, they would, all the while defending these quasi-governmental organizations hiding under a thin veneer of corporation and for-profit enterprise, as if that makes their use of the violence and coercive abilities of government okay.

    [Libertarians would be saying "PeopleEnergyCom should only be able to do that if they negotiate arms-length revocable contracts at market rate with their human batteries!"]

    Yes, they probably would, and to me this is the only just way that something like this could ever happen – making an uncoerced, free-will contract with the INDIVIDUAL to make this happen. So funny to me how people can see injustice being done to a class of people rather than to individuals, themselves. A perfect example of this is the Kelo decision. Kelo was not a pro- or anti-emminent domain case. It was a case that determined whether a private individual should be able to use the government's power of emminent domain to take another private indivudual's property. It puts the government in the chair of picking winners and losers, and creates things like solyndra. They shouldn't be doing this.

  3. Ariel says

    I have to agree with Goober about the Libertarians, it's a hell of a lot better to make a deal, or not, with the Devil than to just be grabbed and tortured (I watch way to much "Supernatural")

    I have a feeling that Goober's arguments about conservatives and progressives has something about them wearing the Emperor's new clothes, but I never understood that story much.

  4. says

    Nuance and seeing different angles of the same problem is a fine thing. But please, please don't tell me your conclusion is that there's no truth at the bottom of any dispute and everyone will see what they are predisposed to see based upon their ideological predilections.

    You don't mean that exactly, do you?

  5. marco73 says

    So dear, dear Alyssa is upset that some has-been actress is going to make a Lifetime movie about Kelo and eminent domain?
    Oh boo-freakedy-hoo.
    Ask anybody who has ever worn a uniform how they feel about the total crap that has been generated by Hollywood in the last 10 years, major productions mind you, not lame cable fare, that portray all members of the miliary as moronic psycho-killer child-rapists.
    Of course dear, dear Alyssa probably doesn't know anyone who knows which end of a gun goes boom.

  6. Mel says

    I've been following tirades about the MERS implosion at . With bad enough luck, the eminent domain abuse can just be one part of a trend. The problem is that sloppy procedures have destroyed records of ownership for the notes for a huge number of securitized mortgages. There's been strong pressure to change legal standards so that the problem goes away.

    I see a wost-case progression:
    * This morning, niceties are waived to help an unfortunate mortgage servicer whose dog really did eat the paperwork
    * This afternoon, foreclosures without documents are being done by mistake
    * Tomorrow morning made-up foreclosures are a new growth industry.

  7. Mike says

    I have nothing to add on eminent domain.

    I am impressed with your reference to a terrible, terrible 1990s movie. If any of your other readers have ever seen it, I will be duly impressed.

  8. says

    It was mostly a Lifetime movie reference.

    There used to be a hilarious Lifetime Movie Title generator on the net, but it seems to have vanished.

  9. says

    [Mel: "Tomorrow morning made-up foreclosures are a new growth industry."]

    You're behind the times on this. While DOCX has collapsed, their fraudulent paperwork pollutes many court files today. Many judges pretend to believe that it is legitimate. And there is no indication that the Palm Harbor cabal has stopped producing similarly fraudulent paperwork; neither is there any indication that judges are becoming sceptical about it.

    I'm seeing not only summary judgments, but bench verdicts, where the judges are acting as though the made-up paperwork is perfectly fine. Of course you do not get a jury trial in FC because it is supposed to be equitable. The judge's natural bias is toward clearing his docket.

    Maybe a few years ago, you would have been a prophet. Now you are merely a reporter of stale news.