Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’

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.

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[originally published by OpEd News]
Actually, there is no pat meaning or definition for the phrase “family values.” Like obscenity, I guess you just know it when you see it. 

Often used by social conservatives to conjure up a mythical America of yesteryear, the phrase evokes an era when everyone’s lawn was green, thick and well manicured, kids were obedient, and “Lassie” had no genitalia—long before liberals turned us into gay, pot-smoking abortionists, before minorities and women got so noisy and before movie stars said naughty words on screen.

Today many Republicans use the term as a weapon against same-sex marriage, legal abortion, the decriminalization of marijuana and a zillion other issues they find unacceptable.

To clarify our terms, I suggest we define “family values” as “valuing the American family.” “Republicans” will mean “the movers and shakers of today’s dynamic GOP.”

Valuing the Family… the Republican Way

To be fair, I think Republicans do value families — but only their own. Everybody else’s family is either trying to stay in the country illegally, getting rich and lazy on welfare, undeserving of a living wage, a terrorist cell, or immorally trying to become a family while being gay.

Though many Democratic leaders share the blame in the Great Stacking of the Deck Against American Families, these Democrats tend to be of the sneaky, corporate shill variety who are often at odds with American families’ wishes and their own party’s positions (see Public Option). Republicans, however, are very open about their willingness to throw the American family under the bus in the name of big business, bigotry, big business, bad judgment and big business.

There is really no reason—or enough room on my hard drive—to go into all of the sordid, headline-grabbing family values hypocrisies of such Republican pillars of wholesomeness as Sen. David “Escort Service” Vitter and Sen. Larry “Strokin’ in the Boys Room” Craigs. Though these indiscretions do highlight the dilemma of a party that professes to love America but can’t tolerate how Americans live, they are not the result of official party policy, as far as I know. Rather, it’s the official, loudly-touted policies of today’s lockstep GOP leadership that amply demonstrate the party’s disregard for the majority of American families.

With the possible exception of a proposed Wendell Willkie postage stamp, every major item on the GOP wish list would either be disadvantageous to most American families or devastating if put into effect.

Here are a few:

Deregulation

As homeless shelters burst at the seams with newly impoverished families, and old folks wonder how on earth they’re going to get through their golden years now that their 401(k)s are in tatters and their homes are worth borscht, Republicans are clamoring to let the Wall Street robber-barons who drove our economy into a ditch continue to speed along with even fewer rules of the road.

Rather than offering to commit public seppuku for creating the Reagan-Gramm deregulation free-for-all that made the Wall Street greed orgy and collapse possible, Republican enablers like Sen. Mitch McConnell and others call Obama a socialist for wanting more governmental oversight of the industry, whining in chorus that such intrusion into the private sector would kill jobs and stifle innovation.

Yeah, we saw the kind of “innovation” Wall Street is capable of.

By the way, whenever you hear a sentence containing any form of the words “job” and “kill” spoken by a Republican, remember who was steering the ship of state when the jobs began to die. You’ve got to admire Republican testicular strength, though—if nothing else—for even mentioning “deregulation” and “jobs” in the same sentence.

Anti-Unionism

For the last thirty years Americans have watched their wages shrivel while CEOs have increasingly taken home salaries and bonuses that would make the Sultan of Brunei blush. According to a University of California Santa Cruz study, the top 20% of households owned 85% of all privately held wealth in 2007—leaving the rest of us 80% to divvy up the remaining 15%.

Oddly enough, it was also during this time that Republican policies, votes and propaganda made it more difficult for workers to unionize. Organized labor has gone from representing one-third of America’s workforce in 1950 to just 11.9% in 2010. In the private sector, union membership is down to a feeble 6.9%. It’s no coincidence that Americans’ earning power accompanied that decline. Where did America’s middle class go? It committed suicide in the voting booth.

Yet Republicans continue to paint unions as enormously powerful bogeymen and have even ramped up their union bashing. Why? As organizations of and for working Americans, unions tend to favor Democrats. Republicans know if they can get rid of unions completely Democrats will lose the financial support and organizational strengths unions have historically given to Democratic politicians and issues. In the end, Republicans would have the support of Big Business and all the votes corporate money can buy while Democrats would be out on the street with a hurdy-gurdy and a monkey.

Incredibly, Republicans have managed to get a surprising number of American workers—low skilled through professional—to swallow this anti-union codswallop. Somehow the right has transformed the image of organized labor from Woody Guthrie rousing a room with his guitar into Vito Corleone spraying the room with a sub-machine gun.

Apparently, relentless Republican attacks on unions made some workers forget where living wages, worker safety, tolerable conditions and decent hours came from in the first place. Those who think these advances for American workers and their families came from the goodness of corporate hearts should be made to write “British Petroleum” 100 times on the blackboard, or at the very least, read this little heart-warmer about two high-level Massey Energy executives and their descent into the Upper Big Branch coalmine immediately after the mine’s deadly explosion. Heroic rescue attempt or an attempt to destroy evidence and rescue themselves from criminal indictments and billions in fines and civil judgments?

Anti-Same-Sex Marriage

By attempting to end these families before they’ve even begun, this Republican position affecting a large number of our countrymen and women may be the hands-down champ of blatant, Republican anti-family-ness. Good lord, fellas, I know this issue whips your Tea Party pals into a white-hot lather, but sometimes, reason, fairness and the U.S. Constitution must win over political expedience…mustn’t it…sometimes?

I really don’t think anyone with the power to reason still believes that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, a  naughty experiment or juicy flaunting of our moral code. No one really thinks that teenagers choose to be slammed into lockers by lettermen clubs, or look happily forward to the day they will tell their parents to “forget about grandchildren from me.”

So, what we have here is a major political party attempting to punish and marginalize a large segment of the American population by trying to prohibit them from doing what comes naturally: fall in love and get married. As gays and lesbians try to lead their lives despite cruel prejudice and religious dogma that holds approximately the same modern relevance as stoning your son to death for being a gluttonous drunkard (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), the Grand Old Party does its level best to keep anti-gay bigotry loud and alive by demanding prior restraint on would-be families with its Marriage Protection Amendment to the Constitution.

Lifting the Assault Weapon Ban

What can anyone say about this Republican wish and its potential effect on American families, other than “Lift the assault weapon ban?

Come November

The Republican Party’s long tradition of siding with big business over the American family continues to chip away at the average American’s earning power and standard of living. However, the damage a Republican controlled Washington could further inflict on American families isn’t limited to economics. When you toss in other family-unfriendly Republican positions on global warming, preemptive and continual war, education, reproductive rights and family planning, and their new jaw-dropper regarding unemployment insurance creating  “lazy” Americans, it’s not too difficult to figure out which party’s policies and worldview promote “family values.”

The truth is, until special interest money is removed from our electoral system, neither party will truly be the champion of the American family. Sadly though, with the Republican majority of the Supreme Court opening the corporate spigots wide with its Citizens United ruling, that heavenly day is likely to be a long, long way down the line.

Forced to choose between the two parties, however, the American family would be wise to go with the Democrats. The Grand Old Party is too darned busy trying to keep people from voting, selling American families to the highest corporate bidders, undermining the Obama presidency at the country’s expense and coming up with new and better ways of converting Americans’ lesser angels of fear and bigotry into political power to even care about how American families are doing.

For a scary trip down the Republican rabbit hole:
2012 Texas Republican Platform: A Frightening Look Inside the New Republican Brai

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The “Murray Hill Inc. for Congress” campaign was ready to hit the trail running, armed with a dynamic strategy and catchy slogans like “Corporations are People Too!” “Privatize Gain…Socialize Risk,” and the surefire vote-getter, “The People Should Always Come 2nd …or 3rd!”

But, a by-the-book state elections official has rejected the corporation’s voter registration application, effectively ending the campaign before it had begun.

Murray Hill Inc., the first American corporation to openly run for Congress (as opposed to the more traditional “candidate-as-corporate-proxy” model) has had its hopes of corporate candidacy dashed by the Maryland State Board of Elections on a technicality. Even though Murray Hill Inc. did have a “Designated Human”(DH) representative, the Board rejected the corporation’s application on the specious grounds that it was “not a human being.”

Judging by the candidates elected to the 112th Congress, Maryland’s “human being” standard must be one of the toughest in the nation.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections informed the corporation of the rejection after receiving the following instructions from the State Board of Elections:

To the Montgomery Board of Elections:

I am in receipt of a copy of the recently filed voter registration application from the abovementioned corporation attempting to register to vote.  Since it is a corporation that is attempting to register and not a human being, this application should be rejected and not entered into the statewide voter registration database.  A corporation “designating” a human being does not meet the qualifications to register.

Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Regards,

Mary Cramer Wagner, Voter Registration Division, Maryland State Board of Elections

Murray Hill Inc.’s Response

In a press release posted yesterday at the “Murray Hill Inc. for Congress” website,  the would-be corporate candidate makes it clear that it considers the Board’s decision nothing more than a speed-bump on the road to corporate freedom.

“But this is only the first step in our stand for corporate civil rights.,” says Murray Hill’s Designated Human, Eric Hensel. “We are sure you agree, our campaign is at the forefront of an historic movement that will eventually win all the rights our founding fathers meant for corporations to have.” Murray Hill Inc. is weighing its legal options.

Corporations are People Too!

The inspired—though perhaps short-lived—campaign was one-part publicity stunt for Murray Hill Inc., a 5-year-old Murray Hill, Maryland public relations firm—and three-parts pointed and hilarious response to the Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The Court’s January decision overturned 63 years of precedent, giving corporations and unions the same 1st Amendment status as human citizens regarding political free speech and campaign contributions.  In other words, while individuals send whatever they can afford to candidates of their choosing, Exxon Mobil will be free to send whatever it can afford to its favorite candidate or policy initiative.

In a KCRW interview
, Hensel noted that dissenting Associate Justice Stevens’ reference to corporations being barred from voting or running for office was the spark that ignited Murray Hill Inc.’s campaign. Hensel explained how corporations holding office would have the extra benefit of cutting out greedy politicians who have been “eating up” money from corporations in more subtle and devious ways. “We say, eliminate the middle man!”

The “Murray Hill for Congress” campaign has captured the attention (and laughs) of many who find this to be the perfectly outrageous response to the Court’s perfectly outrageous decision. With 10,000 Facebook fans and over 200,000 views of its YouTube presentation so far, Murray Hill Inc. has only just begun its campaign for Congress and Corporate Rights.

Go, Murray Hill!  Bring transparency back to the best government money can buy.

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