[Video] As Plutocrats Greedily Eye Public Spaces, NYC Demands Affordable Housing and Good Jobs

Moyers & Company recently aired a fantastic show titled “The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy.” The show featured many clips from a rally and march I attended and photographed which drew hundreds of people to the streets of Harlem this past August.

Selected quotes

[A]mong our largest, richest 20 metro areas, less than 50 percent of the homes are affordable. Less than 50 percent. Bill Moyers

We Deserve Equal Respect!

The real estate industry here in New York City is like the oil industry in Texas. They outspend everybody. They often have a much better relationship with elected officials than everyday New Yorkers do. While there was affordable housing built in the last 12 years under Mayor Bloomberg, that affordable housing was not built for certain [regular working] people. Jaron Benjamin, Metropolitan Council on Housing

I think Central Park is the thing that Frederick Law Olmsted hoped it would be. It is a great democratic meeting place, where people from every walk of life are welcome, where they mingle together, where people relax, where people get exercise, where people play sports together, where people read books and paint and wander and think and unwind. Warren St. John, park user

The super-rich who buy those opulent apartments and live in New York City less than half the year will pay no city income tax at all. Which means the fabulously rich, high above the city, will be contributing no income taxes to support the public servants who make it work far below: transit workers and teachers, or the firemen and police who rushed to One57 when Hurricane Sandy tipped its construction crane and set it dangling dangerously over Midtown — shutting down one of the busiest streets in the city for a week.

The owners of One57’s apartments will not be paying their full share of property taxes, either — thanks to a dodgy deal slipped into a housing bill by State Senator Martin Golden and other legislators in Albany. Bill Moyers

[A] $90 million, 13,554 square foot penthouse and with 421a exemption allowed in this bill, their taxes per year would be $20,000. If they were not rolled into this legislation their taxes would be $230,000. New York State Senator Liz Krueger

Bill Moyers pointed out that this $210,000 tax break is per year and is four times NYC’s median income!

The internationalization of New York once meant something actually kind of exotic and exciting and enhanced our diversity. Today, internationalization at least on West 57th Street and East 57th Street, and all around Midtown Manhattan seems to symbolize not diversity but a kind of exclusivity.

And an end to the sense that we’re all in it together, which is the key urban idea. We all meet each other on the sidewalk, we all meet each other in public places, and the urban environment is the common ground that we all share. Paul Goldberger, architectural critic

I believe that the key urban idea raised by Mr. Goldberger is the same one that allows us to live in a functioning democracy and a decent society. Continue reading

Who Holds Power in the U.S.?

The authors of this study used multivariate analysis to conclude that two sets of actors – economic elites and business interest groups – have substantial influence over public policy in the United States, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little to none.

The authors’ findings add support to two large theoretical traditions concerning U.S. political power, Economic-Elite Domination and Biased Pluralism. What both theories have in common is the view that the rich, whether individuals or corporate entities or industry trade groups, are the drivers of public policy.

I will let others explore the assumptions, methods, and limitations of the study, but I think it is important for progressives to view the authors’ conclusion as a challenge rather than as prophecy or a law of nature. Continue reading

How much are anti-gun control groups spending on state politics?

Using data made available by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, I downloaded and compiled a history of political spending in state politics by anti-gun control interests like the NRA. I did this for all 50 states and for the years 2006-2012. My goal was to be able to answer a simple question: how much have anti-gun control groups been spending in each state? It is my hope that groups who are working to reduce gun violence find and are able to make use of this data.


They have already won

The gun industry and their allies have seen to it that any gun control laws that might be passed in the wake of the shootings in Sandy Hook are severely watered down.

“How?” you may ask. It is not unlike the beginning of the Godfather movie. A funeral director begs Vito Corleone for help in seeking vengeance against the man who assaulted his daughter. Vito answers something to the effect of:

“Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. But uh, until that day – accept this (political donation) as a gift.”

The gun industry and its allies have done the same thing. How? By spreading over $3.8 million in 49 states over the course of a few election seasons to ensure they get access, if not services, from state lawmakers when they come calling in the future. While the media typically focuses on gun control issues at the federal level, state capitals and ballot measures play a large part in shaping access to firearms.

“Those Republicans are so evil” you may think. But it’s not just one party. It’s about money. And influence. And anonymity. The Democrats are co-opted as well. Gun interests donate to both parties. They may not be quite in lockstep against any and all gun control, but they are certainly scared. The money donated by groups such as Gun Owners of America can just as easily be donated to a political opponent if they vote the “wrong” way.

What’s the problem?

This is the trouble with money in politics – while some transactions happen in plain sight, the negative impacts associated with such corruption are legion and hard to untangle. Super PACs. Lobbying. Hosting political fundraisers on behalf of a candidate you want to own, er, support. The influence of money in politics is not always so obvious – some of it is not reported on at all. One thing is clear. There will never be meaningful gun control so long as we allow the gun industry to assert so much influence in an area where few of us pay attention – state politics.

The Data

Again, this data is painstakingly gathered and made available by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. I include links when possible so curious users can retrieve more data if they are interested. Please comment below if you have questions or comments about the data. If you are with a group that is trying to reduce gun violence and you have found this helpful – let me know!

Spending by Gun Manufacturers and their Allies in State Politics, 2006-2012
State 2006-2010 2011-12* TOTAL Rank
AL $15,500 $- $15,500 35
AR $11,825 $- $11,825 41
AZ $205,607 $2,798 $208,405 6
CA $31,100 $6,000 $37,100 23
CO $20,575 $11,700 $32,275 26
CT $10,595 $195 $10,790 42
DE $31,635 $100 $31,735 27
FL $85,500 $- $85,500 16
GA $61,100 $6,800 $67,900 18
HI $13,350 $1,900 $15,250 37
IA $208,140 $91,503 $299,643 4
ID $11,500 $475 $11,975 40
IL $71,700 $25,500 $97,200 12
IN $18,450 $2,050 $20,500 29
KS $97,800 $24,000 $121,800 10
KY $3,450 $- $3,450 46
LA $12,655 $2,796 $15,451 36
MA $280 $- $280 49
MD $76,420 $4,315 $80,735 17
ME $31,300 $4,700 $36,000 24
MI $304,900 $800 $305,700 3
MN $950 $- $950 48
MO $66,731 $19,000 $85,731 15
MS $22,678 $13,000 $35,678 25
MT $14,255 $3,194 $17,449 32
NC $19,300 $1,200 $20,500 29
ND $25,300 $- $25,300 28
NE $16,250 $- $16,250 34
NH $13,225 $- $13,225 39
NJ $20,400 $- $20,400 31
NM $33,750 $5,750 $39,500 22
NV $26,250 $14,250 $40,500 21
NY $308,918 $105,133 $414,051 1
OH $158,391 $37,161 $195,552 7
OK $11,850 $1,500 $13,350 38
OR $138,500 $1,500 $140,000 9
PA $142,440 $13,462 $155,902 8
RI $78,800 $12,375 $91,175 13
SC $16,750 $500 $17,250 33
SD $2,645 $- $2,645 47
TN $83,710 $24,346 $108,056 11
TX $229,902 $48,600 $278,502 5
UT $31,600 $12,500 $44,100 20
VA $78,220 $11,500 $89,720 14
VT $3,500 $3,500 $7,000 44
WA $265,250 $142,475 $407,725 2
WI $40,025 $21,465 $61,490 19
WV $5,250 $1,500 $6,750 45
WY $8,750 $1,500 $10,250 43
TOTAL $3,186,972 $681,043 $3,868,015

* Data for 2011 is largely complete, except that Connecticut is considered to be only ~70% accounted for. Data 2012 is very incomplete as of the date this was posted: December 21, 2012.