Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Reflections On the Little Pink House.

Word has reached the Dougloid Towers that Pfizer-you know, those wild and crazy guys who gave us dirty old men with hardons courtesy of Viagra-are in the process of a retrenchment or maybe some re-engineering or maybe rightsizing their operations in mesne places, including Groton, Connecticut.

It seems that Pfizer has shed around 40,000 jobs in the past six years or so, and many of Groton's jobs are on the chopping block.

And thereby hangs a tale.

The Little Pink House is the story of Suzette Kelo and her battle with Pfizer to keep her home in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Connecticut-a hardscrabble town like a lot of other ones along the coast of New England.

The city, it seems, had taken an extra large swig of koolaid and determined that if they could assemble a large enough parcel of land in New London, right along the waterfront with all those nice views, you understand, that the folks at Pfizer would see fit to locate a research center right on that spot.

Along with this would come fancy condominiums, restaurants, and other amenities for the kind of folks who extend their pinkie when sipping their tea, don't you know.

The problem was, of course, that there were all these pesky people like Suzette Kelo and others of modest means with small houses in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood who liked the water views just as well as the folks who, the city was assured by Pfizer, would be coming to spend oodles of cash and thereby bulk up the coffers of New London.

The city instituted the process of eminent domain condemnation against the homeowners, and in a hard fought battle, prevailed against the pesky people.

The struggle made it all the way to the Supremes in Washington, and to his everlasting credit Mr. Justice Clarence Thomas said this in his dissent to the majority opinion:

"The consequences of today’s decision are not difficult to predict, and promise to be harmful. So-called “urban renewal” programs provide some compensation for the properties they take, but no compensation is possible for the subjective value of these lands to the individuals displaced and the indignity inflicted by uprooting them from their homes. Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities. Those communities are not only systematically less likely to put their lands to the highest and best social use, but are also the least politically powerful. If ever there were justification for intrusive judicial review of constitutional provisions that protect discrete and insular minorities, surely that principle would apply with great force to the powerless groups and individuals the Public Use Clause protects.

The deferential standard this Court has adopted for the Public Use Clause is therefore deeply perverse. It encourages “those citizens with dis-proportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms” to victimize the weak."

To her credit, Madam Justice O'Connor had this to say:
Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. “[T]hat alone is a just government,” wrote James Madison, “which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

After all was said and done and the modest homes had been bulldozed, the Pfizer caravan abandoned New London, to place its money in Groton-a much tonier zip code for folks who probably didn't want to move to a shot and a beer sailor's town like New London anyway.

In the end, it was vain to have imagined they would. It is never a wise idea to rise too far above your station in life, and that's as true for cities as it is for people.

The Fort Trumbull neighborhood at last report was still a bunch of vacant lots alongside the water treatment plant, and Pfizer has itself a new chief executive who brings with him a whiff of a fellow whimsically called "Chainsaw Al".

Ian Read has promised to slash the budget and to close their research facility in Sandwich, England among other things.

If there's a moral to the story it is this, and the city fathers of New London and a thousand other wide spots in the road ought to heed it well: When you lie down with dogs, you'll get up with fleas.


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