Posts Tagged ‘corporate greed’

Gensler’s planned headquarters in the “Jewel Box”

It goes something like this: You are a large property management corporation that owns and manages zillions of properties throughout the country, including prime commercial real estate in Los Angeles.

Recently, the huge architectural firm, Gensler, has agreed to pack up their T-squares and move from their swanky Santa Monica location to your even swankier property at Flower and Fourth, known as the “Jewel Box.” Even though Gensler has already agreed to become your tenant, you’d like to up the good will quotient and sweeten the deal a bit — you know, a gesture more meaningful than a dozen roses, but less meaningful than a reduction in rent.

What do you do?

You get the City of Los Angeles to give — that’s give, mind you — $1 million of taxpayer money to Gensler to remodel their new digs.

Anatomy of a Hustle

Thanks to an investigation by the Legal Aid Foundation and solid reporting by Steve Lopez at the Times, emails between Thomas Properties exec Ayahlushim Getachew and Marie Rumsey, an aide to councilwoman Jan Perry, have surfaced, offering a bird’s eye view of corporate/government collusion in all its perfectly legal repulsiveness.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the exchange began last November with an email from Getachew.

“Do you have any available block grant available at CDD [Community Development Department] for a really great opportunity in the 9th [District]?” he asked. “What do you think?” 

“It is a bit of a long-shot but possible,” replied Rumsey. “What do you have in mind?”

“Confidentially, Gensler just agreed to move their corporate headquarters to our building. We are quickly and quietly working to make this a good move for everyone. I need about $1 million or more for tenant improvements…. Do you think that is doable? Can we work together on this?”

A Done Deal

I hate to ruin the suspense, but Rumsey’s answer was, “Yes.” In fact, Thomas Properties and Perry’s office worked so well together that the deal was virtually sealed that evening. Technically, they still needed the approval of Mayor Villaraigosa — which they received soon after — but essentially, with a few clicks of the mouse that night Los Angeles agreed to spend one million of its federal dollars to remodel Gensler’s headquarters.

For the moment, forget that the million bucks was supposed to be used for economic development and housing in low-income areas. Forget the asymmetry of the deal that got Los Angeles a promise of a whopping one job per $35,000. Pay no attention to the fact that the mayor of Santa Monica — Gensler’s former location — is ready to declare war on Los Angeles for headhunting its businesses. Even forget that both companies involved contributed to Councilwoman Perry’s campaign for mayor.

Focus instead on the money-grubbing mentality of these corporations. Thomas Properties owns and manages 12.6 million sq. ft. of Class A commercial property throughout America, including City National Plaza downtown, and Gensler takes in hundreds of millions per year, building everything from the City Center in Las Vegas to China’s Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest building. You’d think Gensler would be able to remodel one of its 38 locations with its own dough — or if it’s so darned important, Thomas Properties could give Gensler the remodeling as a house warming present.

But no, they are perfectly happy to let federal dollars earmarked for L.A.’s poor do the job.

Captains of Industry

This is the grubby behavior we’ve come to expect from large corporations. If it’s not B of A dreaming up a new $5 fee in the middle of a crippling recession, ARCO charging a fee for the privelege of buying its gas with an ATM card or Halliburton wiring American fighting troops’ living quarters on the cheap and dangerous, it’s two thriving corporations in Los Angeles hustling dollars out of a broke government for Persian rugs and Armani desks.

Corporate hustles big and small, relentless advertising and the blatant commodification of everything — from erectile dysfunction to religion — has increased the level of blatant corporate avarice to a point that makes top execs seem more like dime store shoplifters than captains of industry. In other words, if corporations really are people, they’re not people you want in your house.

Occupy Wall Street

It is exactly this “whatever we can get away with” corporate credo and its influence on government that has created the fox-guarding-the-henhouse madness nibbling away at our middle class and exactly what the protesters are railing against at “Occupy” demonstrations throughout the country and beyond.

Getting Big Money out of politics will not be an easy fight. It is so deeply entrenched in our system (and protected by the Constitution and the Roberts Court as freedom of expression) that we will need a constitutional amendment and a really big crowbar to pry it out. But, look at it this way; two months ago the issue of campaign finance reform was dead. Today, it’s all everybody talks about. Who knows — Occupy Wall Street just might become a really big crowbar.

Add your name to the 214,562 so far at Get Money Out

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Americans don’t watch TV shows anymore. We watch TV commercials and promos with 5- to 8-minute segments of the actual show thrown in every now and then for entertainment value.

If you happen to miss any of the commercials, don’t worry; the networks have reserved the lower third of the screen for advertisers and the networks themselves to hawk products and coming attractions in “embedded crawls” while the actual TV show is in progress. There’s nothing quite so enjoyable and conducive to the television viewing experience as some damned thing wiggling and waving at you beneath the TV show you’re trying to watch.

If TV Guide were honest, its listing for “CSI: NY” would read:
Thursday, 8:00-9:00 PM on ABC:
Geico
Ford
Cheerios
Target
Addiction Centers of America
And bits of “CSI: NY” squeezed into the top two-thirds of your screen every seven minutes.

By the time you get back to the program—after 5, 6, 7 commercials crammed into one single break—you’ve forgotten the plot line and the characters’ names. But it doesn’t matter anymore because you are now deaf from the hair-blowing volume of the ads. As you try to read the actors’ lips in a futile attempt to rejoin the story, your mind begins to wander back to the days when the viewer was considered a valued customer–not just a mark.

The Good Old Days

Commercial TV hasn’t always been this way. From the 1950s to the early ’70s, viewers, advertisers and the networks lived together in harmony. The implied message from the viewer: If you program good shows, we will watch them and we will tolerate a reasonable number of commercial breaks so you can earn enough money to program the shows and make a profit.

In a way, the arrangement represented a kind of mutual respect among all parties.

Back then, a typical hour-long TV show consisted of 52 minutes of actual show with eight minutes reserved for ads and promos. Generally, they would run two minutes of ads every 15 minutes or so. Quaintly, the show had the entire screen to itself.

Occasionally, the networks would cheat a little by cramming one or two extra ads into the hour. But that was OK because viewers frequently violated the unwritten agreement by leaving the TV to go to the bathroom (my dad) or by going to the kitchen to make something to eat during one or two of the commercials.

For the most part, however, it was a win-win-win situation.  We got to see our shows, companies got to sell us stuff, and for a few dollars and an almost-solemn promise to “serve the public interest,” broadcasters got to use the people’s airwaves and make piles of cash.

Fast-Forward

Today, with the average hour-long show containing 16-21 minutes of ads, the odds are 1-in-3 that you’ll be watching something other than “CSI: NY” when you’re watching “CSI: NY.”

Hell, you could build a bathroom during one of today’s commercial breaks.

This is television: the major interface between corporations and the public, where you’d think media conglomerates and advertisers would at least try to show their best, least mercenary face. But no, by the time you’ve watched a couple TV shows (including the end credits which have been squashed over to one side, or run at mach 3 to make room for even more commercials), you feel like you’ve been walking down a carnival midway with the loudest, most obnoxious carnies in the world hollering at you about low insurance rates, full-bodied beer and erectile dysfunction.

*

Update: It seems our legislature is actually trying to do something about the loudness factor with its Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM). According to the Washington Post, the Senate recently voted “to require television stations and cable companies to keep commercials at the same volume as the programs they interrupt.” Democratic Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Charles Schumer co-sponsored the Senate bill. Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo was the champion of our ears and sanity in the House.

Of course, there are still “a few problems” to be worked out before this becomes law. TV bigwigs have been saying for years that keeping commercials at a decent level is a difficult technical problem.

Bullshit.

If broadcasters are able to turn up the volume of commercials, they can certainly turn it down, I betcha. Anyone who has spent two minutes around audio gear knows that a little, inexpensive  device called a “limiter” or a somewhat more aggressive version called a “compressor” can keep any audio signal within a set volume range. I have both of these gizmos in my ancient-but-operational home studio, for Pete’s sake. There are also a number of fancier loudness mitigators on the market.  Britain has been using them to regulate the loudness of TV commercials in the UK for a while now; so can we.

Now that it looks like we’re about to take care of the volume problem, let’s take care of the volume problem. While Congress is in a frisky mood, it should escalate this people’s uprising by demanding a sensible limit on the number of TV ads. Something along the lines of the European Union’s 12 minutes per-hour limit would be a good starting point.

Hey, Americans might even start watching television again.

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