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Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer

Photo Source James N. Mattis | CC BY 2.0

When was the last time you bought a vibrator, lubricant or specialty outfit?

For decades, shoppers for sex-related products and services were mostly men, often dubbed the “raincoat crowd,” who slinked into XXX-rated shops in a down-market part of town to purchase a risqué magazine, porn flick, a vibrator, a special costume or hookup with a sex worker.

Those days are over!

The commercial sex industry is now mainstream. Old-time sex toys have been rebranded “sex-wellness products” and are available at specialty outlets like Gotham’s Pleasure Chest, San Francisco’s Good Vibration and Seattle’s Babeland as well as major retailers, ranging from high-end specialty chains like Nordstrom and Brookstone, to mass-market outlets like Walgreens and Target, and even crusty down-market Wal-Mart.

But the big one is Amazon!  It’s the nation’s largest retailer of sex-wellness products offering around 60,000 items.

And its sex-toys business will become even bigger with the support of the New York taxpayer.

On Tuesday, November 13th, two New York “progressive” pols, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced the deal of the century – Amazon will place one of its two new corporate “headquarters” in the Big Apple; the other will be near Arlington, VA.  More than 230 cities competed to secure the Amazon deal.

Media reports reveal that Amazon will get about $3 billion – the state offered $1.525 billion and the city is giving $1.28 billion – in tax-payer bribes to locate its “HQ2” in Long Island City, a rapidly gentrifying Queens neighborhood across the East River from Manhattan.  The state and city bribes include tax breaks, construction grantsand even a private helipad for Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, America’s richest person.

Chortling like two college students at a frat party drunk on their scam, Cuomo proclaimed that the deal “costs us nothing.” “This is a big money-maker for us — costs us nothing, nada, niente,” he added. “We make money doing this.”  de Blasio boasted, “It’s an extraordinary day for Queens. It’s something that everyone should be very proud of.” Amazon’s presence, he added, “is a giant step on our path to building an economy in New York City that leaves no one behind.”

The deal involves city land totaling up to 8 million square feet. Amazon will be required to provide space on its campus for a technology incubator, an artist space and a site for a city school. It calls for the state, city and Amazon to invest $5 million each for job-training programs.

The New York pols are singing the oldest chants of the bait-and-switch corporate love song – the bribe will deliver jobs and tax revenues.  Cuomo assured New Yorkers that the state and city will gain $27.5 billion in taxes over the next two decades — with $14 billion going to the state and $13.5 billion to the city. He assured state taxpayers that the deal will bring the city 25,000 permanent jobs with an average $150,000 salary.  He also claimed that the state will make $9 for every $1 in taxes forgone.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Queens Democrats whose districts include Amazon’s new site, both appeared in support of the Amazon deal at Cuomo’s news conference Tuesday.

In response to the official press conference announcing the deal, 100 politicians, union organizers and community members gathered at the Gordan Triangle, a Long Island City park located down the block from Amazon’s future campus, to protest the proposed deal.  NY State Sen. Michael Gianaris raised a serious warning. “Think about how crazy this is: a private company forced the government to sign a secrecy agreement and not tell its own people what it’s doing with this money,” he said.

“We should be investing in academics, not Amazon,” said NY State Assembly member Michael Blake, who represents several Bronx neighborhoods and is the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. “We were open to a conversation, but this wasn’t a conversation — this was a secret deal. If you can find the money for tax breaks and incentives, why can’t we find it for the kids? This was done in secrecy to evade the [review] process by the city council.”

Jimmy Van Bramer, a Democrat and a NY City Council member from the 26th District, which includes Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside, called the deal “unfathomable.” “We are witness to a cynical game in which Amazon duped New York into offering unprecedented amounts of tax dollars to one of the wealthiest companies on Earth for a promise of jobs that would represent less than 3 percent of the jobs typically created in our city over a 10 year period,” he noted.

In a Tweet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Representative-elect from the 14th Congressional district covering parts of Queens and the Bronx, warned, “The idea that [Amazon] will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”

One observer noted, “Since each job will pay about $150,000 a year, you can think of the subsidy package as roughly equivalent to forgoing nearly all the personal income tax that would be collected on Amazon workers’ salaries over the subsidy period — an expensive proposition.”

Hamilton Beach patented the first electric vibrator in 1902, about a decade before it introduced the electric iron and vacuum cleaner.

Nearly a century later, in 1998, the “Rabbit,” a vibrator, made its guest appearance on HBO’s series, Sex and the City, a show popular with young, sophisticated women. One of the show’s characters, Miranda, lends her Rabbit to Charlotte – and Charlotte gets hooked!  The show propelled the vibrator from the TV screen into the bedrooms of many hip, young women throughout the country.  The folks at HBO discoveredthe Rabbit at New York’s Pleasure Chest, a Greenwich Village sex-toy emporium serving mostly gay men and women.

Today Americans – especially women — have easy, unprecedented access to products and services that purport to fulfill their every sexual fantasy and are taking full advantage of these opportunities.  A 2010 Adam & Eve study found that 82 percent of adults use toys and that 44 percent of women 18 to 60 years have used a sex-enhancement product; in addition, 78 percent of those women were in a relationship when they used the product.

Armed with the relative anonymity of a credit card, a PC or smartphone and the Internet, sex has been mainstreamed.  Sex toys are a big business with U.S. revenues in 2016 estimated at $15 billion and projected to grow to $50 billion by 2020.

The generous brides by New York pols will bring Amazon to the city and, thanks to taxpayers, further the company’s control of the sex-toy market.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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