Saturday, September 29, 2012

Report: How The Times Expunged Its Own First Draft Of History On “Barclays” Center Opening To Replace It With The Pro-Ratner Narrative It Favors

You can Google up the story the Times published, “Barclays Center's Opening Is Met With Protests” (see image above): Google will tell you the story is available on the web but because the Times removed its first draft of history from the Times web site you won't find it there.  The Times expunged a narrative that was relatively favorable, by Times standards, to those opposing Ratner’s Atlantic Yards to replace it with an article representing the pro-Ratner narrative the Times has been favoring, one complimentary about the opening of the “Barclays” Center arena and snarkily dismissive of the opposition to the Ratner/Prokhorov megadevelopment.

Here is the first description of protests against the arena, focusing on the morning press conference, now consigned to the dustbin by the Times:
    The M.C. was Candace Carponter, a spokeswoman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, one of the groups representing residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. She called the arena “a monument to crony capitalism,” saying that “the vast majority of Brooklyn will not benefit” from the 22-acre, $4.9 billion project, which includes the arena and more than a dozen housing towers. She said that a commercial tower that was supposed to deliver the thousands of promised jobs had not been built and that only a few full-time jobs would result from the arena itself.

    “Ratner has not fulfilled any of his promises, not a single one,” she said.

    Kathleen Noriega told the assembled protesters that she once had been a supporter of Mr. Ratner’s project because he had promised hundreds of construction jobs through an apprenticeship program. But those in the program did not get training in construction, she said, but instead performed difficult demolition work for no pay. Ms. Noriega is involved in a lawsuit against Forest City Ratner.

    As she spoke, protesters held up signs saying “Brooklyn Swindled” while one of the “billionaires” waved a sign reading “We Don’t Pay Taxes. Only Little People Pay Taxes.”

    Daniel Goldstein, another spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, who lost his home to eminent domain, said the project was advertised as an attempt to “stem the tide of gentrification” but instead, he said, “this is a gentrification machine.”

    Umar Jordan, a community organizer from Bedford Stuyvesant who also once supported the project, addressed himself to Jay-Z and told him that he should have made the arena “affordable for young children who grew up in the projects like you did.”

    “We’ve been robbed; Brooklyn’s been robbed,” he told the crowd. “I’ve seen people go to jail for less.”

    The protest news conference began on the outdoor plaza, but when the rain became stronger, the protesters moved under the shelter of a canopy at the entrance to the arena built by Mr. Ratner’s company.
Replacing it on the web and in the print version of the Times is a new depiction of the protests, worked over by the Times editors, much more in line with what the Ratner publicity crew might themselves have published.  (See: For Brooklyn’s New Arena, Day 1 Brings Hip-Hop Fans and Protests, September 28, 2012.)

Ironically, (see image below) the half page of pretty color pictures* that accompany the pro-arena story appearing in the Times print edition ran opposite a large black and white photo of Richard J. Lipsky, a former Ratner lobbyist, coming out of a courthouse accompanying a story about his sentencing for political corruption.  There is a very intriguing possibility that Lipsky, who has recently been spilling more beans to federal prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence, may be implicating Ratner and/or others in the Atlantic Yards circle of players, many of whom are morally sketchy enough to have already met comeuppances in a variety of ways.
 (* There are even more pretty pictures and elaborate diagrams of the arena’s interior where the Times carries over to devote another full page to the arena hype two pages later.  See below.) 
Should the Times have deleted a story?  The Times often covers unfolding events with evolving web versions of their stories.  Normally, the earlier stories get updated and added to with the original content remaining.  Sometimes entirely new versions of stories are written but that doesn’t mean that the old versions get removed or replaced by different stories written with completely different by-lines.  Google, attempting to take you to the story about protest that you googled (or provided to someone else as a link) now takes you to an entirely different story with a new by-line.  Joe Berger's by-line was on the original story.  The rewriting of history came courtesy of the by-line of N. R. Klienfield, who is noted to have been assisted in his writing by five other Times writers (Howard Beck, Joseph Berger, Sam Dolnick, Matt Flegenheimer and Michael M. Grynbaum.) for a total of six reporters contributing the content the editors could arrange to their liking.

Here is what the Times substituted for the above description of the protesting press conference:
    After so much queasiness and competing prophecies of just what it will mean to put a big arena on this Brooklyn plot, the concert was the first chance to see how it works. Would the traffic be impossible? Would the food satisfy the borough’s increasingly exacting standards? Would drunken fans wake up sleeping families and their dogs? Would enough people come?
     But before any of those questions could be answered, the protests — a staple of the construction zone for years — went on.
    The protests outside the center throughout Friday were, for the most part, modest in size and often included farce as a means of expression. They involved a news conference beneath the entrance canopy, sermons, bits of street theater and coordinated Twitter posts.
    The demonstrators, some of whom slept on the street the night before, rarely numbered more than 50.

    Several women, done up in outlandish wigs, rhinestone jewelry and garish sunglasses, wore sandwich boards that said: “Billionaires for Barclays. Who’s in Your Pocket?”

    The activist performer Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping appeared in a white suit, white boots and clerical collar and lamented that “Bruce Ratner figures” are destroying neighborhoods around the world.

    About 6:30, a small group of protesters spied Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, heading toward a side entrance. They chased him down the block shouting, “You can’t negotiate with a monopolist!”

    In reaction to the protesters, Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for Mr. Ratner, said, “We are 100 percent committed to the affordable housing, jobs and other benefits of Atlantic Yards and welcome those who were against them at the start to work with us to achieve them going forward.”
Maybe I should be flattered that, near the end of this section the Times chose to quote me.  I was the one who said, “You can’t negotiate with a monopolist!”  It was not all I said.  When Markowitz stopped for what he evidently intended to be a pro-arena photo-op and hobnob with the press I was among those who intervened and I shouted the following:
    Take the monopoly away from Ratner!

    Take the mega-monopoly away from Ratner!

    You can’t negotiate with a monopolist!

    The “Barclays” LIBOR Center Pays no taxes!
I repeated these lines in rotation more than once.  I think I know Borough President Markowitz well enough to know that if he thought he could have provided a credible response he would have tried one.  Instead, he fled fast into the arena, flustered and apparently shaken.

My remark actually referred back to the Times' own cover story from two days prior, written by Charles V. Bagli and Joseph Berger (Mr. Berger, you'll note, was the reporter whose byline was on the expunged story).

In that front cover Bagli/Berger Times story the paper informed the public how, at the mega-project's inception, New York government officials did us all the immense disservice of awarding what amounted to a 30+ acre monopoly to a developer who had a reputation (only "solidified" by Atlantic Yards) for not honoring promises.

In the words of that article developer and subsidy collector Bruce Ratner had a:
reputation for promising anything to get a deal, only to renegotiate relentlessly for more favorable terms.
(See: Nets Helped Clear Path for Builder in Brooklyn, September 26, 2012, and the Atlantic Yards Report review of it, Thursday, September 27, 2012, Front-page New York Times profile of Bruce Ratner buries the lead: "promising anything to get a deal, only to renegotiate relentlessly for more favorable terms".)

The favor the Times editors may have done me of including my remark about not being able to negotiate with someone having a monopoly might have been granted with the thought it would not be readily comprehended, without the benefit of context, by someone skimming fast through a rave about the arena.

It really shouldn’t be so hard to understand.

Here are the remarks I offered to all comers from the press yesterday:
I think the message is getting out that Ratner’s promises don’t get honored and people should have paid attention that this was his reputation.

More important to remember is that Ratner’s promises were all insanely tailored for his benefit at community expense: stealing, shutting down streets and avenues for absurd density, deep subsidies diverted from competing developers and so-called “affordable” housing that would be pretty much what the market, tax code and subsidy programs would bring anyway . . . Then there’s the notion that Ratner gets exclusive development rights over 30+ acres for 25, perhaps 40 years . . .

   . . .  That doesn’t just wipe out Ratner’s competition; it's intended to knock out the public’s negotiating power.  Until Ratner’s monopoly is taken away from him nobody has the power to enforce promises, to demand quality, keep costs in check, or to get back our public streets and sidewalks.
The Times, however, perhaps remembering its business relationship with Ratner, likes to play along with Ratner’s narrative and the idea that he should keep his mega-monopoly.

* * * *

 PS: (Added 09/30/’12) Here is Norman Oder’s Atlantic Yards Report take on the Times revisionism, presented in the form of an open letter to the Times Public Editor, that points out how the Times’ deletion of the earlier story from the Times web site violates what the Times Public Editor says the stated the policy of the Times should be: Saturday, September 29, 2012, An open letter to the New York Times Public Editor: Why not retain both versions of Barclays Center opening coverage? (The changes were dramatic and dismissive).

And Mr. Oder notes another paragraph from the article that the Times banished to the void of oblivion.
While the concert went on, there was a free screening of a documentary, “Battle For Brooklyn,” near the arena. The movie chronicles the long fight waged over the project, focusing on Daniel Goldstein, who was displaced from his apartment and has been the leader of the opposition.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Two Competing Messages, Differently Illuminated: Announcement of Opening of Jay-Z 40-40 Club And Candles Walked Around “Barclays” Arena In Protest

The above image (click to enlarge) is a photograph taken at tonight’s Candle Light Vigil led by local politicians and clergy: A mega-bright Barclays “oculus” promotion for the opening of the Jay-Z 40-40 Club, the mega-wattage illuminating it paid for by the tax bills Jay-Z and the “Barclays” Center don’t pay . . .  and candles walked counterclockwise twice around the arena in community protest illuminating the alternative message for the evening.

The community events protesting the arena's opening continue tomorrow and Saturday.

Noticing New York Public Comment At Today’s MTA Board Meeting On the Subject Of MTA’s Devoting Public Assets To Advertising

Following up on three Noticing New York articles on the subject (Thursday, September  20, 2012, Embroiled In Embarrassment of Hosting Controversial Advertisement MTA Considers Banning “Issue Advertising”: What About Barclays LIBOR Scandal?, Saturday, September 22, 2012, Clarification From MTA: Despite Furnishing Assets, Subsidy And Subway Station Renaming Transportation Agency Disavows Promotion of Barclays Bank, and Wednesday, September 26, 2012, Promoting Obfuscation of What Government Does and Doesn’t Do To Give The Private Sector (Including Ratner) More Credit) I appeared at today’s MTA board meeting and gave comment about revisions reportedly under consideration by the MTA to revise its policies about how freely its public assets are used to promote or promulgate questionable or embarrassing messages the MTA might not want to be seen as implicitly endorsing.

I was the first of nine speakers this morning, eight of which spoke about the subject of advertising.  The other, in a wheelchair, spoke about accessibility of the system to the wheelchair-bound. The subject of the use of the MTA system’s assets for undesirable advertising had been brought to the fore and covered in the press because Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative won a case against the MTA wherein the MTA was recently judicially ordered to run ads from her organization that include anti-Arab slurs and tell subway riders to “Support Israel” in the Middle East conflict.  I have made the point in Noticing New York that the MTA’s very costly devotion of assets in the promotion of “Barclays” is comparably, and in several ways more, embarrassing.

The MTA is more intricately involved in the Barclays promotion and, given the record, its complicity is easier to argue and seem to have been more premeditated.

My own comments this morning focused on the MTA’s promotion of Barclays.  The general focus of most of the other speakers was on objection to the anti-Arab slur ads now in the subway.  (The ads essentially call those in conflict with Israel “savages.”)

Aside from me, the third speaker also brought up the subject of Barclays, as well as the fourth speaker who, yelling, also mentioned it.  Another speaker got into the effects on the MTA’s budget of the LIBOR rate-fixing manipulations with which the Barclays name is automatically associated.  Throughout the remarks, and in signs brandished, the 99% mantra was championed.  The woman in the wheelchair who spoke similarly had Occupy Wall Street messages stuck to the back of her chair.  If I’d had time I might have referred to the fact that the misdeeds of Barclays are considered symbolic of abuses by the 1%.

The last speaker was Pam Geller herself defending her ads which seem designed to garner publicity with provocation.  She was drowned out twice with an OWS-style “mic-check” attack.

* * * *

Here are my Noticing New York comments from this morning: 
    •    You have difficult decisions before you: when government gets enmeshed in lending out public assets for corporate advertising and corporate promotion it creates confusion about:
    •        what government really does and doesn’t do, and
    •        what government is or is not endorsing.
    •    One easy answer is to cut back on advertising.  Anyone who thinks that advertising is bringing in significant sums to support the MTA budget has lost track of their decimal points.  Should the subway hubs be named after corporations, all odds with respect to their continued respectability be damned?
    •    Your new policy will have to consider whether there will be grandfathering: Will your policy mean that MTA resources that have been devoted to ill-advised, unseemly promotions (Barclays Back being an example) be terminated?  Or will such ill-advised arrangements nevertheless be honored, treated as automatically immune from revocation because of grandfathering, or as existing contracts that you deem cannot be voided?

    •    Forewarned is forearmed.  As you are able to envision such awkwardness in the future (given your experience with Barclays), what standards will you invoke so that MTA contracts can be revoked?  In the future you would not want to have New York subway stations continue to be conspicuously named after a bank like Barclays that, for example, the MTA may need to sue for losses it has incurred through the LIBOR scandal.

    •    You may think that the answer is to distinguish between running “issue advertisements” and advertisements that are simply promotions of corporate names and products.  I suggest that this would be unfair. It would just result in an inherent bias toward support of corporatism.  It would mean, for example, that despite Barclays misdeeds that bank could still advertise, presumably implying that its name remains respectable.  The sole restriction?: Maybe you wouldn’t permit overt arguments in MTA ads that Barclays misdeeds constituted no wrong.  But the implication of respectability would remain.- meanwhile, balancing ads that argue that the faults of Barclays should be observed would be banned as issue advertisements.  Would this be fair?    

    •    Perhaps the answer is for the MTA to be theoretically neutral, accepting ads  from any and all comers provided fair value is paid to run them.  But by these standards the MTA should be in trouble for its Barclays promotions because the compensation it received when it agreed to rename subway hubs after “Barclays” was only a mere fraction of true value; at the time it was 1/100th of what the developer was believed to be getting for putting the bank’s name on the Ratner/Prokhorov arena.
Below is a final point I could not speak fast enough to squeeze into the two minutes we were allotted to speak. As it was, I was tripping over my words to get out as much as I could. With only two minutes it is a challenge to think whether to sacrifice: 1.) Comprehensiveness, 2.) coherence and cogent points, or 3.) speech that is slow enough for good effect and emphasis.
    •    These concerns are part of a much bigger problem: What kind of world is it when the government acts as if its own interests (and those of the public) are inherently subservient to burnishing the image of big private sector corporations over less flattering realities?- In that regard I refer you to the MTA’s collaboration in a Daily News promotional article for the “Barclays” Center selling to the public the absurd notion that Forest City Ratner provided construction of a new subway entrance to the public gratis and at no taxpayer expense.
When I left the meeting the MTA board had gone into executive session without yet discussing the advertising policy and from the agenda available at the meeting it is not clear that they intended to get to it today.  I will have to rely on other reporting and update this post if I hear that they said anything with respect to it after the executive session.

Much of the interesting discussion before the board went into executive session concerned upcoming changes in board meetings.  There will be fewer board meetings: It was discussed whether that would be closer to 20% or 30% fewer with ex-governor David Paterson doing the math in his head that it will be closer to the latter. It was argued that, for transparency sake, more information would be going out to the public sooner in more readily accessible form.  Most interesting though is that the MTA board process will start including special sessions where the public will be able to ask questions that will be answered there and then by MTA staffers or board members.

Here is a starter question: The MTA went to court to test its legal right not to run the anti-Arab advertisements from Pamela Geller’s organization- Why hasn’t the MTA thought about similarly testing is legal right not to keep the “Barclays” name on its subway hubs?

Here is a brief WNYC report on the hearing that is also taking comments: Protest Breaks Out at NY MTA Meeting Over Ad Policy, by Transportation Nation,  09/27/2012.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Promoting Obfuscation of What Government Does and Doesn’t Do To Give The Private Sector (Including Ratner) More Credit

This is a necessary follow-up to two earlier Noticing New York articles about the trouble the MTA has gotten into with corporate advertising and branding, something the MTA is scheduled to evaluate and take public comment about tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM (details below).

Confusion When the Government Is Enmeshed In Corporate Advertising

The main problem when government gets enmeshed in advertising, lending out public assets as vehicles for corporate advertising and corporate promotion, is that it obfuscates what government does and doesn’t do.

Notwithstanding how promotional advertising images are seemingly plastered everywhere in the transit system these days, anyone who thinks that corporate advertising and promotions pay for any substantial portion of government services isn’t keeping track of their decimal points.  The public pays for virtually all of what government provides; in the MTA’s case that's more than 99%.

And then there are the questions about whether government is endorsing any of these ubiquitous messages that appear rampantly on the public's property. . .

. . .   Does the MTA endorse the Anti-Arab slurs or the “Support Israel” in the Middle East conflict advertisements appearing in subway stations, run by Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative?   No! The MTA disavows the messages in those ads.  (See: Thursday, September 20, 2012, Embroiled In Embarrassment of Hosting Controversial Advertisement MTA Considers Banning “Issue Advertising”: What About Barclays LIBOR Scandal?)

. . .   Does the MTA endorse promotion of the Barclays Bank, virtually synonymous with the LIBOR scandal in connection with which the MTA, amongst other New York government entities, may be suing Barclays for losses?  The MTA has deeply subsidized the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” Center basketball arena that promotes that bank’s name and the MTA has named two subway hub stations in Brooklyn after the bank.   No! The MTA says that it similarly disavows such promotion of the bank. . . .

. . . But, if that’s so, why does MTA Chairman Joe Lhota show up at the heavily promotional hoopla event celebrating the opening of that “Barclays” Center arena?  (See: Saturday, September 22, 2012, Clarification From MTA: Despite Furnishing Assets, Subsidy And Subway Station Renaming Transportation Agency Disavows Promotion of Barclays Bank.)

The Tracy Collins photograph (below) captures Mr. Lhota’s arrival at the ribbon-cutting festivities.
MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota: Photo by Tracy Collins
Lack of Government Self-Respect

As I have made the point before, (also here), government’s surrender to advertising evidences a lack of self-respect, particularly when it means that appropriate credit is not given to government for what it does.  When government surrenders to messages and promotions that clearly need to be disavowed, such as promotion of Barclays Bank, then the abject lack of self-respect stands out in even starker relief.

But the willingness of government to prostrate itself in making the corporate sector look good at government’s expense may be even more pervasively ingrained.  It appears to extend beyond just awkward images that result when handing over public assets for an advertising fee.

Daily News Runs Exclusive: Promotional Article On "Barclays" Center Plaza Subway Station Entrance

I am writing this follow-up because after I wrote the article about how the MTA was formally disavowing “promotion” of the “Barclays” Bank while at the same time sending Mr. Lhota, its chairman, to the highly promotional ribbon-cutting event for the “Barclays” Center a reader observed that Mr. Lhota had already been promoting the “Barclays” opening, featured in a Daily News article just eight days before Mr. Lhota’s attendance at that ribbon-cutting.  (See: First look at the $76 million Barclays Center subway station, by Jason Sheftell, Thursday, September 13, 2012, and the Atlantic Yards Report take on that Daily News story, Friday, September 14, 2012, Daily News gets first look at new subway entrance opening Monday, accepts Forest City's claims about budget and timing; exec claims they don't want anyone driving to arena.)

The Daily News article, which was an exclusive, appeared before the newspaper announced (on the day of the ribbon-cutting) that it had entered into a sponsoring partnership with the developer/subsidy collector so that the plaza outside the “Barclays” arena will be called the “Daily News Plaza.”  Examining how so-called “news” organizations prostrate themselves and become unquestioningly complicit in the promotion of real estate developer schemes is a subject for other articles.  This article is about the disrespect government shows itself with such prostration.

The September 13th Daily News article featuring Mr. Lhota was essentially about that just-mentioned plaza outside the arena in that it focused on the completion of the subway entrance in the center of the plaza.

Daily News' Astounding Claim

The article prominently made an astounding claim lauding Forest City Ratner, the developer/subsidy collector (see the screen-shot below- click to enlarge).  It’s a statement about the new subway entrance that shortchanges the government:
It cost $76 million. No, it’s not paved in gold. But not a cent of it came from taxpayers’ pockets.

“It cost $76 million” and “not a cent of it came from taxpayers’ pockets”?  That sounds absolutely too good to be true, and it is.  As we are all supposed to know by now, when you hear something that is `too good to be true’ you are almost certainly on the other end of a con.  The government has paid plenty to Forest City Ratner, far more than the value of the supposedly “free” $76 million subway entrance.  The developer has collected all sorts of subsidies: Hundreds of millions in direct cash, write-downs on the value of land it’s getting from the MTA, donation of free streets, avenues and sidewalks, being excused from real estate taxes, . . . the list goes on and it amounts to a substantial net loss for the public.  All told, Forest City Ratner is looking to walk away with subsidies totaling $2 - $3 billion.  And construction of a subway entrance in all of this is somehow counted by the Daily News as a free gift from the developer?

But shifting credit due to government to the private sector is the very theme of the article in which Mr. Lhota was collaborating to produce.  Below, see the article’s picture of Mr. Lhota at the site.
(Daily News caption: Forest City's MaryAnne Gilmartin and MTA's Joseph Lhota outside the station, opening Monday at 8 a.m.)
Promoting Ratner

Mr. Lhota’s words in the article extol the benefit of private-public partnerships, with Mr. Lhota using the opportunity to promotionally “give Ratner credit” for what government paid for.
The reporter writes:
From the MTA’s perspective, the station marks the kind of public and private dealmaking that attempts to place the city and its people first.
This is followed by Mr. Lhota’s words:
“There is a real disconnect in this country between real estate and mass transit,” says Joseph J. Lhota, chairman and CEO of the MTA. “In Asia, the mass transit companies are real estate companies. They build mass transit around big developments in order to enhance the value in the area. I give Ratner credit. This is part of a 30-year vision for downtown Brooklyn — MetroTech, Atlantic Yards and now Barclays. The job growth in downtown Brooklyn leads the entire city. How long are people going to criticize this project before they realize this is good for New York City?”
So that means Mr. Lhota is backing Ratner’s government-assisted mega-monpoly over Brooklyn’s key subway lines, more than 50 acres of monopoly, with 30+ contiguous acres extending out from the arena site!  And one way he is promotionally backing it even more is through the article's denial of the resources the government committed in bringing this about.

Altering Public Opinion?

While the article indicates that there is unfavorable public opinion of the Ratner mega-mopoly it credits Mr. Lhota with knowing how to use the tactics of private-public partnerships to alter public opinion in Mr. Ratner’s favor.  It says Mr. Lhota:
. .  knows the only way to change public opinion is with repeated successes.
. . . repeated successes that are paid for by the government without acknowledgment.

Private-Public Partnerships As Morally Suspect

In contradistinction to Mr. Lhota, renowned urbanest and thinker Jane Jacobs viewed private-public partnerships as suspect arrangements.  Her 1992 book, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics,” has probably not gotten the attention it deserves.  In it she argues that mixing of government and business tends to result in a degradation of fundamental moral systems and principles. With such intermixtures, government officials reorienting themselves to serve business interests are prone to forget that they are supposed to perform an essential guardian role protecting the public interest first, foremost, and above all else.

Conversely, according to Jacobs, businesses acting with the force of government behind them become less honest, less collaborative, less respectful of contracts, a whole host of problems.  Jacobs’ book includes an entire chapter on what she refers to as the “monstrous hybrids” of morality that evolve when the properly separate moral systems of government and business get improperly mixed.  (If the proof is in the pudding, Atlantic Yards does seem to have collected a complement of people of very sketchy morals.)

Falsification of Costs With Subsidies

Another point that interrelates in a key way: Jacobs was also wary of subsidies.  She expressed this in her 2000 book, The Nature of Economies.”  That book was written as a follow-up to “Systems of Survival” and, like it, is in the form of a Platonic dialogue between characters that explores ideas that are clearly Jacobs’ own, including the following:
 . . . subsidies falsify both costs and prices. . .And as I indicated earlier, lies of that sort warp development.

 . . . . An oddity of the Soviet System was that the costs of most production and services were unknown.  Really unknown.  Managers of factories, offices, farms, mines, hospitals, Theaters, whatever— they literally did not know the costs of what they were producing.  Budgets existed, to be sure— allocations of expenses— but these were so infused and confused by subsidies that they bore little or no relation to actual costs.  Cost accounting didn’t matter in any case, because prices were fixed by edict.
So, although Mr. Lhota may be waving the banner of free enterprise when he extols private-public partnerships, as Jane Jacobs would see it he is really promoting a system that has more in common with the Communism of the old Soviet Union.

Russian Problems Persist

In Jacobs’ estimation post-Soviet Russia doesn’t handle things any better.  The country is:
    . .  as cavalier about costs and prices for quite different reasons . . . Russian enterprises still ignore cost accounting.  Their people don’t know how to do it, and they don’t seem to learn, because they evidently don’t understand its importance as guidance to what they are doing well and what they’re doing badly.  Monopolies, established by cronyism and strong-arm methods, along with pervasive extortion and corruption, falsify actual cost anyhow; racketeering enterprises prefer eliminating competitors to competing with them on prices, quality and services.
No wonder Bruce Ratner and Russian Oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov feel comfortable with each other as partners.
What About Falsification of Benefits?  Like Jobs?

Jacobs mentions that costs are falsified when they are fixed by “edict.”  She might also have said that benefits in these situations are similarly likely to be false or “pretend” figures.  It sort of parallels the symmetry of the Soviet era joke Jacobs quotes in “The Nature of Economies”: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

Ratner development in New York City is promoted because it ostensibly will create jobs.  Lhota (before he says people need to realize the benefit of the Atlantic Yards megadevelopment) says, “The job growth in downtown Brooklyn leads the entire city,”  but the job figures for the Atlantic Yards mega-project itself are simply falsified and unreal.  See: Thursday, July 12, 2012, Do Forest City Ratner's part-time arena job numbers add up? If a maximum of 800 people work an event, it seems doubtful.

When Charles Bagli, the principal real estate reporter for New York Times, was asked Monday on the Brian Lehrer show about how the Atlantic Yards mega-project was doing in terms of creating jobs he began by saying:
First of all, when I cover these kinds of developments I try to avoid using the numbers because they can be very misleading or very concocted. . . 
Notwithstanding that the numbers are so misleading and concocted that the New York Times reporter, who is probably best qualified to know, doesn’t think they should even be reported, there are all sorts of extraordinary numerically stated exaggerations “thrown about” by all sorts of people, including politicians like Senator Charles Schumer, as the reason mega-projects like these should proceed.  Based on the theory of these benefits that couldn’t be quantified in real numbers Ratner was allowed to wipe out his competitors with eminent domain.

In “The Nature of Economies” Jacobs argues that instead of clearing the deck with eminent domain abuse to benefit the likes of monopolist Bruce Ratner, real economic development is based on fostering economic ecosystems of complex, naturally evolving, diverse ensembles, which she sees as being at the root of real qualitative development:
 . . . the richest— which means the most expanded— economies are diverse economies.  The practical link between economic development and economic expansion is economic diversity. 
  In Jane Jacobs’ last completed book, Dark Age Ahead (2005), she envisioned a future where our civilization might not have survived and wondered what advice people looking back from ten thousand years in the future might be able to offer, with hindsight, as to what “could have forestalled fatal deterioration of the wonderful North American culture.”  She suspects that the advice would be this:
    “Let things grow.  Don’t let currently powerful government or commercial enterprises strangle new departures, or alternatively gobble them as soon as they show indications of being economic successes.  Stop trying to cram too many eggs into too few baskets under the keeping of too few supermen (who don’t actually exist except in our mythos).”   If people of the distant future care sufficiently and have sufficiently good documentation, they might note that an American president named Theodore Roosevelt, who portrait likeness they could still see, carved into Mount Rushmore, had staved off destructive corporate cannibalism for about a crucial half century before it was loosed in the 1960s and intensified in the 1980s.   
Back To Private Sector Promotions On The Government's Dime

In getting into a description of why monopolies are bad in general (and they are), I have let this article stray a trifle from what is intended to be its main point: That government acts with a demeaning lack of self-respect when it is willing to prostrate itself to make its corporate sector private partners look good at government expense.  The false accountings one sees in Mr. Lhota’s Daily News article also intentionally confuse the issues of how much is lost and how little gained with these mega-projects.

I started by describing the problem the MTA is scheduled to evaluate and take public comment about at tomorrow morning's meeting: The difficulties presented when government gets enmeshed in lending out public assets as vehicles for corporate advertising and corporate promotion, and how that creates confusion about what government really does and doesn’t do, and the difficulty in making clear what government is or is not endorsing.  But these concerns are part of a bigger problem: What kind of world are we confronting when the government consistently acts as if its own interests and those of the public are inherently subservient to promoting the image of big private sector corporations over less flattering realities?

The MTA may have stated that despite the very substantial resources it has committed behind the “Barclays” campaign it doesn’t, in fact, endorse the Atlantic Yards promotions of Barclays Bank. But what about the bigger picture: The MTA’s participation in a Daily News article that promotes Forest City Ratner with the howler that the construction company is handing out subway station construction projects at zero cost to the taxpayers?  That's an interpretation that is only possible when government collaborates in a public relations charade about the real numbers.

Keeping track of the real bottom line, the real cost of things, is essential. Mr. Lhota was once the Budget Director for the City of New York.  Presumably he knows exactly how to keep track of the bottom line . . .  and he ought to do that.
MTA Board Meeting To Evaluate MTA Involvement Supporting Corporate Promotions

The issue of MTA advertising and promotions are to be considered at its board meeting tomorrow morning, where the public will be permitted to address the MTA directors on the subject:
Thursday, September 27th
Board Mtg. – 9:30 a.m.
MTA Headquarters
347 Madison Avenue, 5th Floor Board Room
New York, NY 10017

Public Speaking Procedures
•    Registration opens 15 minutes before scheduled start of committee meetings and 30 minutes before the start of each board meeting.
•    Registration must be done in person.
•    Statements must be about agenda items only.
•    Two minute speaking limit.
•    Speaking time may not be transferred.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ten Little Indians Style: Wings Aflame, Moths Around The Flame of Eminent Domain Abuse Find Themselves Crashing Out Of The Picture In Succession

(Above, a bobble-head Bruce Ratner indian joins those of the 1965 film: "Ten Little Indians."  Why?  Keep reading.)

. . .  It is happening in real life: They are dropping like flies!  Remember the many Ten Little Indians films . . . quite a few remakes were made of the beloved yarn, derived from the Agatha Christie’s classic mystery tale?  You remember the plot: A select little club of invitees (enticed for a frolic to a mysterious island) get picked off one by one and swiftly the ominousness and inevitable direction the scheme unfolding is understood by everyone, audience together with the crew of characters in the story itself: Pretty soon the group’s population is going to be brought to zero by the death-dispensing machinations of an unseen hand.  Hence the other well known title for the story, “And Then There Were None.”

Spoiler Alert!: A key feature of the plot is that all of the doomed visitors had it coming, they all had previously been complicit in the deaths of others but escaped notice or punishment.

So it is with the cast of Atlantic Yards perpetrators.  In real life they seem close to replicating what, although it was fun, seemed like a preposterously contrived plot!

I alluded to this march into the abyss of the disgraced, in July, when I wrote about the fall from reputational grace of Mayor Bloomber's friend Bob Diamond, the former the chief executive of Barclays Bank, forced to resign (abruptly) at that time in disgrace over the rate-rigging scandal for which Barclays has been fined £290m ($450m) for manipulating LIBOR rates. (See:Tuesday,  July 24, 2012, No Sparkle In Barclays’ Bob Diamond: Societal Mores Unmoored, What And Who We Honor Today- That Which We Used To Shun.)

(Above: Barclay's Bob Diamond as one of the symbolically toppling Indian statuettes losing its head in “And Then There Were None” made in 1945.)

I promised back then that I would revisit to write another Noticing New York article about how a growing list of Atlantic Yards supporters and perpetrators have been falling ignominiously by the wayside.  Here is what I said:
Add Mr. Diamond’s name, Robert E. Diamond Jr., to the lengthy roster of individuals involved in bringing into existence the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards and the Ratner/Prokhorov basketball stadium who have exited the scene in ignominy. Mr. Diamond is by no means the only individual involved in the perpetration of Atlantic Yards to wind up besmirched but we’ll save going into an enumeration of that long list for another day and another Noticing New York article.
Well, attending the alternative ribbon-cutting orchestrated by community opponents of the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena last week reminded me that I still needed to come back and fulfill presentation of the enumeration I earlier promised.

The alternative ribbon-cutting ceremony (as can be seen and heard in the video above) began with these remarks of Daniel Goldstein:
    Before we start we’d like to have a quick moment of silence for all of those who weren’t able to make it to the Broken Promise Land:
        •    Former Atlantic Yards executive Jim Stuckey, who last we heard is being sued for sexual harassment.

        •    Atlantic Yards cheerleader Sen. Carl Kruger, convicted and sentenced to nine years for corruption.

        •    Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Lobbyist Richard Lipsky, convicted of bribery.

        •    Atlantic Yards cheerleader and head of the Carpenters Union Local Sal Zarzana, indicted for extortion.

        •    Too many MTA & ESDC executives to count.

        •    The world’s most talked about starchitect, Frank Gehry.

        •    Former Forest City Ratner Executive and Political Fixer Bruce Bender, who left the firm and can’t be here today to F*[ck] The Bridge.

        •    And of course Barclays former Chief Officer Bob Diamond, forced to resign because of Barclays LIBOR interest rate-fixing scandal. Although there is no doubt he got his wish to USE Brooklyn to spread the bank’s global brand.

    Welcome Members of the Press. It is an honor to have you with us. We are lucky today to have for you local theater troop, The Land Grab Players. And what is even luckier for you, is that their ribbon cutting will only take about ten minutes, before you gotta go inside that building and spend 3 hours in hot air.

    This array of cronies present: the LIBOR FIXER CENTER RIBBON CUTTING Take it away Land Grabbers!
Goldstein’s list could obviously have been longer: In his willingness to keep things short Mr. Goldstein left out two other prominent non-attending politicians who were driven out of office after sullying themselves, perhaps because those politcians did stand right behind him at that moment in bobble-head effigy form: former governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson (see photo below and video above).
My July promise of an article with a roll-call of those departed in disgrace preceded the Vito Lopez/Shelly Silver sexual misconduct cover-up scandal that has now caused Atlantic Yards-supporting Lopez to resign his postion as Chair of the Kings County Democratic Party.  That scandal has so far not yet taken down Assemblyman Silver from his postion of speaker of the New York State Assembly but it gives some inkling of how Mr. Silver's political demise might come to pass.  (See this latest episode in the unfolding story about how one of Silver's staffers went into blogging drag to defend Silver's role in the coverup: Assembly Staffer Defends Speaker Silver By Posting Web Comments as a Woman, Monday, September 24, 2012.)

If Sheldon Silver left his office in ignominy it would knock out the last elected politician of a very short list of politicians who gave Atlantic Yards the only official approval it received from any elected officials: The approval came from only four elected individuals and the other three have already left in disgrace.

This sole approval to which I refer was the approval of Atlantic Yards by the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB).  The approval was required by a vote of three individuals, the aforementioned Governor Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver together with senate leader Joe Bruno.  The approval then had to be accepted by State Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

We all know about the hypocritical scandal involving use of prostitutes (a crime Attorney General Spitzer once prosecuted) that forced Spitzer out of office.  Spitzer did not comport himself admirably with respect to Atlantic Yards.   Joe Bruno was convicted of corruption although he will need to be retried because the federal “honest-services” law he was found to have violated (which law makes it a crime “to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services”) was ruled to be insufficiently specific.  Alan Hevesi was forced out in scandal two days after he reviewed and accepted the PACB’s approval of Atlantic Yards.

The recital of names could be sounded out to a melody as a calumnically cynical Leonard Cohen-style march.  Instead of “Everybody Knows”* the refrains might be: . . . “Everybody gets . . . In- . .  dited;  Everybody gets . . . Be-- . .  Smirched.”
(* In part because of Everybody Knows Mr. Cohen has been asked why he has agreed to perform at the “Barclays” Center.)
What is it that draws such individuals, like moths, to the flame of eminent domain abuse?  One thing to remember is that eminent domain abuse is basically a subset of a bigger category of abuse: Crony capitalism.  So we are really looking at the question of what draws these moths to the flame of crony capitalism.  That being understood it is probably not so surprising that their wings ultimately wind up aflame for one kind of selfish conduct or another.

How absurd it is that politicians thought it was justifiable to abuse eminent domain to give Forest City Ratner a mega-monopoly over 30+ acres of Brooklyn sitting astride its most important subway lines?  The purpose of the mega-monopoly was to wipe out competition for Ratner and also, perhaps more important, to ensure that government officials would never have any negotiating power with the developer/subsidy collector to enforce promises, to demand quality of product or to keep costs in check.  In other words no ability to procure for the public any of the things that negotiating leverage can produce.

Atlantic Yards could not have happened had the Kelo v. New London, Connecticut case not paved the way for such abuse.   Kelo is the case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court that made eminent domain abuse legal.  Bad as the Kelo case was, the New York State courts have gone even further in legalizing such abuse in Kelo's wake.

The abuse of eminent domain didn’t work out in New London (it was focused on benefitting pharmaceutical firm Pfizer).  And it didn’t work out for for those perpetrating the New London scheme either.  I wrote about it here: Monday, December 21, 2009, Eminent Domain Abuse: The Gifts That Keep On Giving and the Gifts That Don’t.  Where once there were homes and a neighborhood there is now an expanse of empty lots.  Pfizer, the firm being catered to when the scheme was concocted, left town without any envisioned benefits materializing.

(Above, 36 Franklin Street, in New London, Connecticut, the bulldozed site where Susette Kelo's Little Pink House no longer stands.)

Meanwhile, as I wrote back then, cribbing from and quoting Jeff Benedict, the author of  “Little Pink House,” a book about the Kelo case, this is what happened to folks that brought the world the Kelo case ememinent domain abuse:
    • Former Governor John Rowland of Connecticut “pled guilty to felony conspiracy and was sentenced to one year and a day in federal prison.” (Rowland was charged with an extensive array of schemes to get kickbacks from contractors doing business with the state. After prison he was thrown a lifeline by a political pal and became the city of Waterbury’s economic development coordinator.)

    • Peter Ellef, former chief of staff to Gov. John Rowland, “was sentenced to thirty months in prison for his part in the scandal” (Mr. Ellef’s involvement with Rowland’s scandal involved taking some of his own kickbacks from contractors in the form of gold coins).

    • “The head of Pfizer who was behind this project is out.” The head of Pfizer from January 2001 was Hank McKinnell, who is not mentioned in Mr. Benedict’s book so Mr. Benedict was likely referring to George M. Milne (see below), president of Pfizer’s central reaserch who was very much involved. Mr. McKinnell, having come up through the Pfizer ranks where he was involved in strategic planning for the corporation, resigned in 2006 after an unpopular tenure presiding over declining stock prices that were attributed to an expansionist agenda where Pfizer acquired and merged into itself smaller companies unwisely bought for too much. Ultimately it was the board that was dissatisfied but “Yank Hank” was a refrain with employees. Ironically, while Pfizer trampled property rights in New London, Mr. McKinnell was reputedly a very aggressive defender of Pfizer’s own patents and intellectual property rights.

    • “The woman who ran the development agency that directed the bulldozers to knock the houses down [Claire L. Gaudiani]: Over 70% of the faculty members at Connecticut college signed a petition to have her lose her job as president, and she did.” (The New York Times ran a puff piece upon her departure full of praise, including from a Pfizer representative involved in pushing for the benefits Pfizer walked away from: “George M. Milne Jr., a college trustee who is also senior vice president at Pfizer Inc. and a member of the New London Development Corporation, of which Dr. Gaudiani is also president.” According to “Little Pink House” Mr. Milne is now a “venture capitalist and adjunct lecturer at Harvard and MIT.”

    • As Mr. Benedict makes the point, “So all the power brokers behind this case are out by the time the Supreme Court decision comes down.” He noted that the new governor of Connecticut, Jodi Rell, who replaced Rowland when he was forced to resign ultimately “takes the policy of open-checkbook” to clean up after her predecessor and reach a settlement with the homeowners . Not included in Mr. Benedict’s formal epilogue is information Tom Blumer provides about why that the 2006 deal was brokered:
    • “. . . infuriated city residents mounted what from all appearances was a successful petition drive to put the question of the city property takeover of the Kelo and Cristofaro properties on the ballot in just three weeks.”

    • “. . . a new party, One New London, whose express purpose was to prevent the New London Development Corporation from carrying out its Supreme Court-sanctioned actions, came out of nowhere and won two seats on the seven-seat City Council, losing out on a third seat by 19 votes”
    • At Columbia Mr. Benedict did make this related point: “But perhaps the most important thing in all of this is that if they hadn’t have stood up and lost the case you wouldn’t have the situation you have today which is that 44 states have either passed legislation or constitutional amendments to ban the kind of taking that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. Now if that’s not victory, I don’t know what is. If they had won the case that wouldn’t happen. . . . That’s what happens when one person stands up.”

    • “Every plaintiff from the eminent-domain lawsuit has left New London, vowing not to return.”

    • “Their houses get knocked down all except for the Pink House which is saved, is taken down board by board, and moved to another part of the city and rebuilt. It sits there today as a landmark and a testament to the case.”

    • Mr. Benedict ends where we began: “The former Fort Trumbull neighborhood is a barren wasteland of weeds, litter, and rubble.”
It should be noted that eminent domain abuse is considered to be technically legal.  Were that not the case the takings of property it permits would simply be considered abject examples of theft.

Daniel Goldstein’s list of  ne'er-do-wells to whom good riddance has now been said probably evolved from this earlier Develop Don’t’ Destroy Brooklyn-supplied starter list of seven indicted, disgraced, sued, or criminally guilty perps (politicians, political fixers, and political gamesmen) that includes supporting links to the relevant background stories of anti-social behaviors coming home to roust: A Ratner's Gallery of Cronies, Friends, Partners, Fixers and Shrill Supporters.

When I wrote the above referred to December 2009 Noticing New York article about the Kelo eminent domain case I included a longer list of those who have left the Atlantic Yards scene without giving a good account of themselves, (that started with a list DDDB had put out six months before).  Since 2009 the list has grown.  The list I have set forth below reprises names already mentioned in this article.  It also fills in the names of some of the government public authority officials that Mr. Goldstein referred to at the alternative ribbon-cutting as being too numerous to count.  It isn’t expanded to include the names of the Westchester politicians who were federally prosecuted for their interactions with Forest City Ratner in connection with the Ratner Ridge Hill project.

To be fair and clear, the list below is only the extensive list of those whom the eminent domain-abusing Atlantic Yards mega-project did not embrace very long or lovingly.  It is not necessarily or exclusively comprised of individuals who got their comeuppance or departed in disgrace for unseemly behavior although it does include such individuals of that character focused on at the beginning of this article.   . .  Still, it includes such people as Starchitect Frank Gehry: He was not forced from the scene for misdeeds but his reputation suffered in connection with his shilling association with Atlantic Yards and the cavalierly ignorant arrogance he displayed proclaiming that he viewed himself as “building a neighborhood practically from scratch.”  It also includes such people as ESDC head Marisa Lago, who seemed to think it was just fine and dandy that she believed that Atlantic Yards could easily take forty years to build even though her agency's environmental assessment documents represented that it would take no more than ten years to build.  Virtually by definition no one on this list came away from their dealings with the Atlantic Yards mega-project with clean hands.

Here is the long list:
    •    Starchitect Frank Gehry
    •    Landscape architect Laurie Olin

    •    Governors:
    •        George Pataki
    •        Eliot Spitzer
    •        David Paterson
    •    ESDC Heads:
    •        Charles Gargano
    •        Patrick Foye
    •        Avi Schick
    •        Marisa Lago
    •        Bob Wilmers
    •        Dennis M. Mullen

    •    MTA heads:
    •        Peter Kalikow
    •        Katherine Lapp
    •        Eliot Sander
    •        H. Dale Hemmerdinger (shortly after an ignominious Atlantic Yards approval)
    •        Jay Walder

    •    PACB Approvers in addition to Eliot Spitzer (Sheldon Silver is the only one not yet booted):
    •        PACB Approval member Joe Bruno.
    •        State Comptroller Alan Hevesi       

    •    Other culpable elected supporters:
    •        Kings County Democratic Party Chair Senator Vito Lopez
    •        Assemblyman Roger Green
    •        Senator Carl Kruger

    •    Team Ratner:
    •        Jim Stuckey
    •        Loren Riegelhaupt
    •        Randall Toure
    •        Richard Lipsky
    •        Bruce Bender
    •        Sal Zarzana

    •    “Team Nets”:
    •        Vince Carter
    •        Jason Kidd
    •        Richard Jefferson

    •    And, of course, the sparkling Mr. Robert J. Diamond, the former the chief executive of Barclays Bank, the LIBORously scandalous bank after which, thanks to our politicians, subway hubs and a city block with an arena have been named.
(I am not even sure this list is complete.  I am particularly not sure about the “Team Nets” list as I am not much of a sports fan.) 

I do not think that the answer in explaining why so many on this list have crashed and burned is simply to believe that all politicians and developers are corrupt.  I think the answer is that the ones attracted to eminent domain abuse and crony capitalism are.
(From the 1964 "Ten Little Indians" film: The diminishing group of specially privileged invitees unhappily contemplate the ominous information from the Judge that they are to be held accountable for crimes the law itself would blithely overlook.)

In the “Ten Little Indians” story the unseen hand of the murderer (a judge) was dealing out his version of justice to guilty individuals he deemed to have escaped their just desserts, those he proclaims “to be guilty of certain crimes which the law cannot touch.”   In real life, the eminent domain abuse theft at the core of Atlantic Yards went unpunished, treated as if it were legal. While there is no sentence-dispensing judge contriving it as in the Agatha Christie plot, it does seem as if comeuppances have a way of coming up for those individuals complicit in that land grab which, but for treating eminent domain abuse as legal (notwithstanding all its faux pretext), is the grandest of recent civic crimes.

Without the plot device of an unseen judge contriving the result these individuals seem to get lured to their justice-delivered fates by their own character: What drew them to eminent domain abuse and crony capitalism draws them also to the other selfish improprieties and illegal maneuvers for which they were ultimately punished.  This suggests a simple shortcut: What if theft by eminent domain abuse were made illegal again?  The way it should be.  Then we would not have to sit around, as if in a suspense novel, waiting for the unseen hand of fate to deliver fitting justice!

As for the suspense of who might be next little indian to meet comeuppance read the breaking story about about how as an extension of the Senator Kruger persecution, Richard Lipsky, former lobbyist for Bruce Ratner, is “spilling his guts about `numerous other persons’ under investigation by the feds ” with the prediction that his revelations will “send tremors through City Hall and the Albany statehouse.”  (See: September 25, 2012, Crooked Kruger lobbyist names names for feds: Court docs.)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Clarification From MTA: Despite Furnishing Assets, Subsidy And Subway Station Renaming Transportation Agency Disavows Promotion of Barclays Bank

This will follow up on my earlier Noticing New York article about how the MTA board will be meeting on Thursday morning to consider corrective of controls to avoid being faced with the embarrassment of the MTA getting associated with controversial or undesirable messages and promotions when its system’s assets are used as publicity springboards for them.   In other words the MTA wants to avoid  the mortification of big, ugly uh-ohs!.  (See: Thursday, September 20, 2012, Embroiled In Embarrassment of Hosting Controversial Advertisement MTA Considers Banning “Issue Advertising”: What About Barclays LIBOR Scandal?)

Thursday’s MTA board meeting consideration of this matter is a response to the MTA’s being judicially ordered to run advertisements in the subways that polemically equate Arab nations with savages while instructing New York subway riders to support Israel.  The MTA didn’t want to run the ads and its refusal was what landed it in court.  I wrote about how, in another equivalent situation, the MTA also probably ought not to want its assets to promote the LIBOR scandalous Barclays Bank, which the MTA itself (together with other New York government agencies) may wind up suing over losses it has suffered by reason of the bank’s interest rate-fixing.

The MTA assets committed to promote the “Barclays” Center (the Ratner/Prokhorov basketball arena) and thus Barclays Bank are far more substantial than the MTA assets committed to the ads telling people to support Israel in the Middle East conflict.  The controversial Middle East conflict ads will run in ten MTA subway stations for one month.  The Barclays promotion involves renaming, for twenty years, two subway hub stations in Brooklyn after Barclays Bank (for instance, putting the name of the bank on zillions of subway pillars, on maps and in subway announcements).  It also involves very deep subsidy from the transportation agency to the Ratner/Prokhorov basketball arena that is to promote the “Barclays” name over that two-decade period.  The arena constitutes a financial net loss to the public calculated in multiple hundreds of millions of dollars.

In my prior article I noted that the MTA had issued a statement that included in a disavowal of the Middle East ads and noted that the MTA had not yet issued a comparable disavowal of the Barclays promotion.  Well, I contacted the MTA’s press office about this and the MTA has now issued such a disavowal of the Barclays Bank promotion.

I contacted MTA Media Liaison Aaron Donovan and pointed out that I was aware that the MTA had issued a statement that included a disavowal of the American Freedom Defense Initiative advertisements promoting support for Israel in the Middle East conflict.

I observed that the most pertinent part of that disavowal in the statement issued by the MTA was worded as follows:
MTA does not decide whether to allow a proposed advertisement based upon its viewpoint and the MTA does not endorse the viewpoint in this or any other paid advertisement. MTA is currently reviewing its policy of accepting [such] . . . advertisements.
I noted that the MTA has, in a similar fashion, been commercially promoting Barclays Bank, with its deep subsidies to the financing of the about-to-open “Barclays” Center basketball arena and, perhaps most conspicuously, with its renaming of New York City subway stations “Barclays,” which renaming has been publicly represented by the MTA to be the result of a commercial exchange.  (Mr. Donovan reminded me that the MTA is being paid $200,000 a year for this and I observed that, on a present value basis, that’s very little: With inflation, the actual adjusted value of the $200,000 MTA is getting will go down each year, and, in any event is already way below market value.)

I asked whether the MTA was willing to issue a statement that it does not “endorse the viewpoint” in the Barclays Bank promotion similar to the statement it issued  in connection with the support Israel ads.  I pointed out that, in the absence of the MTA’s issuance of such a statement it might be inferred that the MTA endorses promotion of Barclays Bank, the name of which has gotten a great deal of attention with respect to the bank’s admitted interest rate-fixing in the LIBOR scandal.

Mr. Donovan furnished me with this MTA disavowal of the ongoing media-saturating promotion of Barclays Bank resulting from the MTA’s furnishing of is resources:
The MTA does not endorse the viewpoints expressed in any of the advertisements posted in the system. That applies to issue-oriented advertisements such as the one you mentioned, and it applies to advertisements that propose commercial transactions.
So the promotion of the LIBOR scandalous bank is not endorsed by the MTA, even though the huge amount of promotion the bank is getting is greatly facilitated by the substantial assets the MTA furnished, some would say carelessly, for this purpose.

What I didn’t realize was that at almost the very moment that I was exchanging my communications with Mr. Donovan concerning the MTA’s disavowal of the promotion, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota was arriving that the “Barclays” Center ribbon-cutting event where Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov were piratically (Arrgh!) gloating over the glitz of all their stolen treasure. As DDDB noted (except maybe for incarnation as performing bobble-heads) local political official turnout in support of the arena was pretty pathetic.  Mr. Lhota was apparently serving as a fill-in for the scarce higher level officials like Andrew Cuomo, who need to be concerned about reelection by the voters.

I attended the earlier alternative protesting bobble-head ribbon-cutting ceremony but in very short order a quick subway ride had landed me back at NNY headquarters where I was discussing the MTA’s disavowal of the Barclays Bank promotion with Mr. Donovan.  His e-mail confirmatory of that discussed disavowal arrived at 9:47 AM.  The Tracy Collins photograph that captures Mr. Lhota’s arrival at the ribbon-cutting (below) was taken at 9:01 AM.
MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota: Photo by Tracy Collins
So, let's be clear: Non-endorsement of the Barclays promotion doesn’t mean not furnishing the assets utilized for it and it apparently also doesn’t mean disassociating from the accompanying promotional festivities.  Is that clear enough for everybody?

This issue is to be considered by the MTA at its board meeting next week where the public will be permitted to address the MTA directors on the subject:
Thursday, September 27th
Board Mtg. – 9:30 a.m.
MTA Headquarters
347 Madison Avenue, 5th Floor Board Room
New York, NY 10017

Public Speaking Procedures
•    Registration opens 15 minutes before scheduled start of committee meetings and 30 minutes before the start of each board meeting.
•    Registration must be done in person.
•    Statements must be about agenda items only.
•    Two minute speaking limit.
•    Speaking time may not be transferred.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Isn’t That Cute?: Cover of Brooklyn Paper Special Section Fawning Over Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” Arena Feints At Mention of LIBOR Scandal

Isn’t that so cute!#?[:( . . .  

. . .  The cover of a “special 24-page section” the Rupert Murdoch-owned Brooklyn Paper issued today to fawn appreciatively over the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” basketball arena feints at mention of, and almost seems to refer to, the LIBOR interest rate-fixing scandal for which the Barclays Bank name is a virtual synonym.- And then it actually doesn’t- Just the reverse in fact.

The plastered headline “Banking on Barclays” punningly/cunningly (?) evokes the presumed reliability of the banking practices behind the “Barclays” name.  It does that notwithstanding that most people who actually read real news should think of LIBOR instead.

But, in truth, the Brooklyn Paper is probably not thinking in this vein: The Brooklyn Paper has never devoted one jot of ink, or even a few electrons of its web edition articles, to spelling out the acronym LIBOR and that includes the nine new feature articles inside the “special section” all of which mention “Barclays” repeatedly. . . 

. .  One of them is appallingly titled: “The People’s Arena!”     

That pretty much leaves it so that the headline of the Brooklyn Paper cover (it was wrapped around the entire “news” of this paper this week) was pretty much intended to elicit, with absolutely no tongue in cheek, exactly the impression Barclays bank would like to instill into public folklore: That it’s a bank with reliable, sound and solid banking practices.  Pshaw!

Of course the Brooklyn Paper has less of a dilemma in this regard than the New York Times, which actually does report about the LIBOR scandal as a major story while at the same time running similar PR stenography for the developer/subsidy collector.  The Times then has to figure out just how often and when to mention that, given the scandal, public promotion of “Barclays” is an incongruous embarrassment.  So far: Three such mentions in the Times to the Murdoch Brooklyn Paper's zero.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Embroiled In Embarrassment of Hosting Controversial Advertisement MTA Considers Banning “Issue Advertising”: What About Barclays LIBOR Scandal?

There is of course the very basic underlying question of how civically healthy it is for the MTA to permit the bedecking of virtually every surface, nook and cranny under its control with adverting.   The extent of the prevailing corporatist pander-moanium communicates a lack of self-respect on the MTA’s part and a lack of respect for governmentally controlled assets that have been almost entirely paid for by the public’s taxes and user fees.  I’ve semi-joked once before that, despite all the corporate branding of the public assets that’s allowed, the public is paying 99 and 44/100% of the costs of these assets without the assistance of such corporate branding.  That 99.44% figure is actually right on the money: When it comes to the MTA the 99.04% of its budget revenues comes from sources other than advertising: $12.38 billion out of $12.5 billion.  Advertising pulls in only the remaining $120 million (not billion). . . .  (See: Monday, September 17, 2012, NY Times Runs 3rd Article Mentioning That, Given Scandal, Promotionally Naming Subway Stations & Arena “Barclays” Is Problematic.)

You would hardly guess that ads pull so little financial weight when surveying the clamorous melee of advertising cluttering the MTA environment.

Now it turns out that playing prostrate host to advertising can be a headache that’s more than it's worth to the MTA in multiple ways: After objecting and losing in court the MTA has been ordered, on freedom of speech grounds, to run extremely controversial advertisements that, paraphrasing Ayn Rand (of all the gosh-darn times to do so!), equate Arab nations with savages and (of all the gash-darn times to do so!) instructs New York subway riders to “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

(See: Court Rules That NY MTA Must Run Anti-Jihad Ad, By Jim O'Grady, 09/19/2012, WNYC News Blog, Subways to Display Controversial 'Jihad' Ad, Wednesday, September 19, 2012, by The Associated Press, New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority to Run an Anti-Islam Ad Campaign it Finds ‘Demeaning’, by Adeline Sire, September, 19, 2012.)

Faced with the dilemma of being between this hard-to-stomach place and the court ruling the MTA accedes it must follow, the MTA is now considering having its board adopt a total ban on future issue advertisingInteresting!  What does that mean for the MTA’s advertising promoting the Barclays Bank with the “Barclays” Center and the “Barclays” subway stations?  Will the MTA now adopt a policy that would have prohibited its current promotion of the LIBOR scandalous British bank?  It will at least have to mull over whether whatever policy it adopts should naturally entail such implications.

When it comes to the top issues now in the news, the LIBOR interest rate-fixing scandal (for which key participant Barclays Bank's name has become a synonym) and the news of the opening of the Ratner/Prokhorov basketball arena prominently promoting the Barclays Bank name with taxpayer dollars rank pretty high.  At this exact moment those combined issues may not be getting quite as much ink as the concocted turmoil over the infamous designed-to-provoke and insult-to-Mohamed movie trailer (with which the “support Israel” ad has some common characteristics) but the Barclays issues are a very strong runner-up in terms of the attention they are getting.  (They at least got front page coverage on a New York Times Magazine supplement.)

More important, the Barclays issues directly concern the MTA itself.  The MTA has been intimately involved in producing the “Barclays” Center arena.  The MTA is part of the reason the arena is a huge net loss to taxpayers.  The MTA tossed in additional financial benefit to the developer by giving it the ability to name key subway hub stations “Barclays” virtually for free.  Last but not least, the MTA is now, itself, looking at suing Barclays Bank for losses it suffred in connection with the LIBOR rate-fixing.

All of this presents some pretty big issues front and center.  If the MTA is going to start exercising control over advertising that concerns controversial issues the Barclays/MTA issues above are certainly big enough to deserve such attention.  In a better world oughtn’t the MTA be reserving to itself the ability to terminate promotions that provocatively and questionably favor one side of high-profile and controversial issues?  That should, by rights, include termination of favorable promotion for a bank like Barclays at a time like this.

The pro-Israel, anti-Arab ads the MTA will have to allow in subway stations (they will go into ten of its stations) were created by the Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative (which fought against Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero).  It's an organization that intentionally seeks to take controversial sides.   The same ads ran in the San Francisco’s transportation system and the transit authority there accompanied them with huge disclaimers appearing alongside stating that the transit authority disavowed the message promoted in the advertisements the system was hosting.           

Now wouldn’t it be interesting if New York’s MTA were to decide to utilize disclaimers in connection with the opening of the “Barclays” Center to say that despite its vast subsidies to the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly and its “Barclays” Center arena, and despite renaming subways hubs by the name of “Barclays” at virtually no charge to either the developer or the bank, that the MTA disavows and does not endorse Barclays Bank or the bank’s banking improprieties.  To be effective the disavowals would have to be as large as the “Barclays” logos on the arena's sides and roof, and would have to be as ubiquitously placed as the “Barclays” name now appearing on innumerable subway pillars.

For now we’ll probably have to settle for the balance created by guerrilla political street artists who are stealthily modifying the MTA’s Barclays branded subway pillars to say things like: “Barclays always has the best fixed rates” and other interesting variations of criticism the bank probably deserves. The MTA is reportedly not, like the San Francisco TA,  going to adopt a strategy of disclaiming counter-advertising with respect to the Middle East conflict ads.

The MTA has, however, issued a statement that includes in it this disavowal of the Middle East ad:

MTA does not decide whether to allow a proposed advertisement based upon its viewpoint and the MTA does not endorse the viewpoint in this or any other paid advertisement. MTA is currently reviewing its policy of accepting non-commercial viewpoint advertisements.
There’s been no comparable MTA disavowal the Barclays promotion yet.

The MTA may attempt to define its controversial promotion of Barclays Bank as something other than issue advertising by defining issue ads as synonymous with “non-commercial ads,” a term its spokespersons have begun using in discussing these matters.  Doing so would give commercialism free reign in the MTA environment while only restricting others.  So, for instance, a corporatist promotion of Barclays bank would be protected as a “commercial ad” while an ad promoting the thought that Barclays’ rate-fixing conduct was improper would be banned under the MTA's new policy as a “non-commercial ad.”

Should such a distinction be permitted: “Barclays Bank Bad” = prohibited “non-commercial ad” speech while “Barclays Bank Good” = permitted “commercial speech”?

This issue is supposed to be considered by the MTA at its board meeting next week where the public will be permitted to address the MTA Directors on the subject:
Thursday, September 27th
Board Mtg. – 9:30 a.m.
MTA Headquarters
347 Madison Avenue, 5th Floor Board Room
New York, NY 10017

Public Speaking Procedures
•    Registration opens 15 minutes before scheduled start of committee meetings and 30 minutes before the start of each board meeting.
•    Registration must be done in person.
•    Statements must be about agenda items only.
•    Two minute speaking limit.
•    Speaking time may not be transferred.