• Economic Disparity and COVID in New York City

    August 23, 2020 // 2 Comments »

    The separateness in this city, New York, and by extension much of the nation curled around it from America’s eastern edge, stands out. There are the hyper-wealthy and there are the multi-generational permanent poor. New York has more of each than any other city in America. In writing about them it has been easy to stress how far apart they live, even though the mansions of the Upper West Side are less than a mile from the crack dealers uptown. The rich don’t ride public transportation, they don’t send their kids to public schools, they shop and dine in very different places with private security to ensure everything stays just far enough apart to keep it all together.

    But that misses the dependencies that until now have simply been a given in the ecosystem. The traditional view of this applied to New York has been the rich need the poor to exploit as cheap labor, textbook economic inequality. But with COVID as the spark, the bomb of economic inequality may soon Beruit America’s greatest city. Things are changing and New York needs to ask itself what it wants to be when it grows up.

    It’s simple. New York is populated by the incredibly wealthy and the incredibly poor. The wealthy and the companies they work for pay most of the taxes. The poor do not work, or are underemployed, and consume most of the taxes through social programs. COVID is driving the wealthy and their offices out of the city. No one will be left to pay for the poor, who are stuck here, and the city will collapse in the transition. A classic failed state scenario. The new social contract.

    New York City is home to 118 billionaires, more than any other American city. New York City is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world. Among those millionaires some 8,865 are classified as “high net worth,” with more than $30 million each.

    They pay the taxes. The top one percent of NYC taxpayers pay nearly 50 percent of all personal income taxes collected in New York. Personal income tax in the New York Metro-Region accounts for 59 percent of all revenues. Property taxes property taxes amount to more than billion dollars a year in revenue, about half of that from office space.

    Now for how the other half lives. Below those wealthy people in every sense of the word city has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis, to include 114,000 children. The number of New Yorkers living below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. More than 400,000 New Yorkers reside in public housing. Another 235,000 receive rent assistance. The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City is North America’s largest housing project with 3,142 apartments.

    That all costs a lot of money. The New York City Housing Authority says it needs $24 billion over the next decade just for vital repairs. That’s on top of a standing cost approaching $4 billion a year just to keep current housing operating. A lot of the money used to come from the Federal government before a multibillion-dollar decline in federal Section 9 funds. Today there is a shortfall and repairs, including lead removal, are being put off.

    NYC also has a $34 billion budget for public schools, many of which function as distribution points for child food aid, medical care, day care, and a range of social services. Costs for unemployment payouts are up dramatically because of COVID. The budget for a city as complex as New York is huge, a mess of federal, state, and local funding sources, multi-year grants. It can be sliced and diced many ways, but the one that matters is the simplest: the people and companies who pay for New York’s poor are leaving. The city is already facing a $7.4 billion tax revenue hit from the initial effects of the coronavirus. The money is there; New York’s wealthiest individuals have increased their net worth by $44.9 billion during the pandemic. It’s just not here.

    New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has seen a bit of the iceberg in the distance. He recently took to MSNBC to beg the city’s wealthy, who fled the coronavirus outbreak, to return. Cuomo said he was extremely worried about New York City weathering COVID if too many of the well-heeled taxpayers who fled decide there is no need to move back. “They are in their Hamptons homes, or Hudson Valley or Connecticut. I talk to them literally every day. I say. ‘When are you coming back? I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll cook. But they’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking, if I stay there, they pay a lower income tax because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge. So, that would be a bad place if we had to go there.”

    Included in the surcharge are not only NYC’s notoriously high taxes. The recent repeal of the federal allowance for state and local tax deductions (SALT) costs New York’s high earner tax filers some $15 billion in additional federal taxes annually.

    “They don’t want to come back to the city,” Partnership for NYC President Kathryn Wylde warned. “It’s hard to move a company… but it’s much easier for individuals to move,” she said, noting that most offices plan to allow remote work indefinitely. “It’s a big concern that we’re going to lose more of our tax base then we’ve already lost.”

    While overall only 5 percent of residents left the city as of May, in the city’s very wealthiest blocks residential population decreased by 40 percent or more. Across the city the higher-earning a neighborhood is, the more likely it is to have emptied out. Even the amount of trash collected in wealthy neighborhoods has dropped, a tell-tale sign no one is home. A real estate agent told me she estimates about a third of the apartments in my mid-range 300 unit building are empty. The ones for sale or rent attract few customers. She says it’s worse than post-9/11 because at least then the mood was “How do we get NYC back?” instead of now, when we just stand over the body and tsk tsk through our masks.

    Enough New Yorkers are running toward the exits that it has shaken up the area’s housing market. Another real estate agent describes the frantic, hypercompetitive bidding in the nearby New Jersey suburbs as a “blood sport.” “We are seeing 20 offers on houses. We are seeing things going 30 percent over the asking price. It’s kind of insane.”

    Fewer than one-tenth of Manhattan office workers have returned to the workplace a month after New York gave businesses the green light to return to the buildings they ran from in March. Having had several months to notice what not paying Manhattan office rents might do for their bottom line, large companies are virtually leaving. Despite the folky image of New York as a paradise of Mom and Pop restaurants and quaint shops, about 50 percent of those who pay most of the taxes work for large firms. More Fortune 500 companies, 71, have their headquarters in NYC, than any other city in America. They are keeping their employees working from home. Conde Nast, the publishing company and majority client in the signature new World Trade Center, is moving out. Since the coronavirus hit the office has largely been vacant anyway and the publisher has given no indication when workers will return.

    It is no better in other sectors. A third of NYC’s small businesses are closing. On Madison Avenue in the ultra-rich 60s and 70s blocks most lux stores are closed. Retail foot traffic is down 85 percent from a year ago. The former customers are in Connecticut and the Hamptons, and so major art galleries have shuttered their city locations to open branches where the rich have relocated. Neiman Marcus is closing its flagship store in Hudson Yards. Tourism, once worth $70 billion a year, has fallen to near zero.

    Meanwhile, progressive Mayor De Blasio has lost touch with his city. After years of failing to address economic inequality by simply throwing free money to the poor and limiting the ability of the police to protect them, and us, from rising crime, his COVID focus has been on shutting down schools and converting 139 luxury hotels to filthy homeless shelters. Alongside AOC, he has called for higher taxes and more federal funds, neither of which is coming. As for the wealthy who have paid for his social justice experiments to date, he says “We don’t make decisions based on a wealthy few. Some may be fair-weathered friends, but they will be replaced by others.”

    What others? The concentration of major corporations once pulled talent to the city from across the globe; if you wanted to work for JP Morgan on Wall Street, you had to live here. That’s why NYC has skyscrapers; a lot of people once needed to live and especially work in the same place. Not any more. Technology and work-at-home changes have eliminated geography.

    For the super wealthy, New York once topped the global list of desirable places to live based on four factors: wealth, investment, lifestyle and future. The first meant a desire to live among other wealthy people (we know where that’s headed), investment returns on real estate (not looking great, if you can even find a buyer), lifestyle (now destroyed with bars, restaurants, shopping, museums, and theatres closed indefinitely, coupled with rising crime) and…

    The future. New York pre-COVID had the highest projected GDP growth of any city. Now we’re left with the question if COVID continues to hollow out the city, who will be left to pay for New York? As one commentator said, NYC risks leading America into becoming “Brazil with Nukes,” a future of constant political and social chaos, with a ruling class content to wall itself off from the greater society’s problems.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in #99Percent, Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Proud Moments in Diplomacy: Prostitution

    May 1, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    Another victory for “smart power” as a Brazilian prostitute sues the American Embassy in her country. Our diplomats and staff abroad truly due represent America, so let’s all get behind this action.

    CNN interviewed Romila Aparacida Ferreira, who claims an Embassy van ran her over after the Embassy Marines and an unnamed diplomatic person threw her out of the vehicle after negotiating a price for sex.

    The official State Department version of events reflects much, much better on the United States:

    “My understanding is that she (Ferreira) was initially in the car, she was asked to leave the car, she got out of the car, the doors were closed, as the Pentagon guy said, the vehicle was at rest, and then, as they started to drive away, she chased after the car, tried to get back in and that’s when she was hurt,” said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “I do not have that she was run over by the car.”

    Well, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

    Now Brazil is an important country for the US, a huge source of tourism (their economy is not in shambles like ours and it is Brazilian tourists who are basically keeping Disney World afloat at present). The US has already enhanced tourism by raising the price of a visa to America to $160 a pop. Brazilian tourists are also required to make an appointment, fill in an application online that, among other things, asks them if they are a terrorist or a prostitute, stand in line at the Embassy, have their fingerprints taken for freedom and be photographed and interviewed. After that, their money is welcome in America. Ms. Romila Aparacida Ferreira is unlikely to qualify as a former prostitute, so any money she gets from the Embassy is not going to be spent in the US of A.

    It is not like whoring around abroad is limited to Brazil. Ace blog Diplopundit wins the day with a post on all things prostitution over at the State Department, including a sampling of diplomats disciplined for whoring around, one apparently with a 13 year old paid for sexy time fun fun fun.

    Please note that these State Department prostitution cases are wholly separate from any State Department employee sex tapes, or any State Department employee Playboy pictures or any State Department employee pedophile cases or any Secret Service prostitution cases you’ve read about in Columbia and El Salvador.

    It is also safe to say that no prostitutes anywhere look or act like Julia Roberts in the movie “Pretty Woman,” nor do any of the Foreign Service buyers resemble Richard Gere.



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    Diplomat Loses Top Secret Clearance for Link to WikiLeaks

    October 20, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Wired.com has the story about State taking away my security clearance as a tit-for-tat for my book documenting their silly failures in Iraq.

    The reporter really captured the 1984 meets Brazil world this is all taking place in:

    In December 2010 the White House issued a directive warning federal employees not to access the government documents WikiLeaks published online.

    “Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites or disclosed to the media, remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors, until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. Government authority,” the directive said.

    Ironically, Van Buren had worked across the hallway from Manning for about six months in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 at Forward Operating Base Hammer, he told Wired in a phone interview Wednesday.

    That’s where Manning allegedly downloaded the cables to a CD-Rom while pretending to lip-sync to Lady Gaga music that was supposedly on the disc. Now Van Buren is being punished for linking to something that Manning allegedly downloaded from the Army’s classified network and leaked to WikiLeaks.

    “I literally had my office across the hall from where he worked,” Van Buren said. “I don’t think I actually ever met the guy. The last time I had access to U.S. government secrets was on the Army system that Bradley Manning used.”

    Van Buren said State Department security staff who informed him of his suspension this week didn’t even know who Manning was when he mentioned the name. The security guys, Van Buren said, thought he was trying to brag about his Department connections.

    “Don’t try to impress me with the people you know,” he says one of the staffers told him. “You could work for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; the rules are the same.”



    Read the whole story at Wired.com.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in #99Percent, Democracy, Post-Constitution America