After thousands have had their water shut off in Detroit, people plan to converge downtown in the city to protest the human rights violation, demand democracy and inveigh against the privatization that has ensued since the Wall Street-engineered financial crisis.
Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain’t livin’, this ain’t livin’
No, no baby, this ain’t livin’
No, no, no, no
Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues
On July 18, thousands of activists and dozens of organizations will converge in downtown Detroit to protest the privatization of the city’s assets, and the disconnection of water to tens of thousands of low-income residents – what the UN has called a human rights violation. Demonstrators from around the country will come to rally in Hart Plaza at 1 PM to link arms with the citizens of Detroit to protest the hostile corporate takeover by Wall Street banks and their radical ALEC-led political allies in the Michigan Statehouse.
The activist community of Detroit put out this call for help:
We call on activists everywhere to come to Detroit on Friday, July 18 for a rally and march to fight the dictatorship of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, appointed by millionaire Republican Governor Rick Snyder, and backed by Wall Street bankers and the 1%. Under a state-imposed bankruptcy, the City of Detroit workers face severe cuts to their pensions and tens of thousand people face water shut-offs.
The banks who have destroyed Detroit’s neighborhoods through racist predatory subprime mortgages and saddled the city of Detroit with fraudulent subprime financing continue to loot the people of Detroit.
Detroiters have lost their democratic rights – “elected” officials serve at the pleasure of the unelected Emergency Manager – and may be fired at any time.
On that very week, starting July 15, the Federal Bankruptcy Court in downtown Detroit will be holding hearings, and the people of Detroit will be speaking out against the emergency manager’s economic “Plan of Adjustment.”
The people of Detroit – 83 percent African-American – know that their crisis was fabricated to force bankruptcy and corporate “emergency management.” In 2012, they fought to get a public initiative on the Michigan ballot, and then overwhelmingly defeated Public Act 4, the anti-democratic law that granted the emergency manager complete authority over local officials, the power to nullify public rulings and bodies, and to abrogate collective bargaining contracts.
But so intent was the right-wing legislature and Governor Snyder to subvert the will of the people that in a lame duck session immediately following the referendum, the legislature issued a newer version of the law, Public Act 436, which they attached to an appropriation bill – a parliamentary trick that eliminated the possibility of another referendum.
The suspension of democratic government that is embedded in PA 436 enabled a “hostile takeover” of Detroit that facilitates the financial industry’s ongoing brutal attack on the working poor, city workers and the elderly. Many Detroiters believe that the aggressive foreclosures and water shut-offs are a deliberate scheme to shock the population, drive long-time residents out of the city center, seize property and gentrify downtown Detroit and the waterfront. This game plan was already perpetrated in Benton Harbor, Michigan, when that city was forced into emergency management. Corporate vultures have already begun grabbing chunks of Benton Harbor’s waterfront.
Detroit was no more “bankrupt” than many American cities suffering post-2008 losses of their real estate tax base, a crisis caused directly by Wall Street’s derivatives “bubble” and real estate manipulations. However, Motor City was particularly devastated by the banks’ subprime mortgage schemes, which targeted African-Americans who the banks knew could not afford the loans they promoted. Detroit had the largest percentage of subprime victims per capita of any city in the United States. Foreclosures in the city now continue at one of the highest rates in the country, according to a Haas Institute report.
The 2008 Ponzi scheme market collapse also led to $1.5 billion in budget-fix loans foisted on the city by a bank consortium led by Bank of America, loans connected to the LIBOR interest rate manipulation crimes, for which the banks were indicted and fined. According to Bloomberg News, these faulty loans were coupled with unnecessary default insurance schemes sold by disreputable brokers to a corrupt Detroit mayor, who saddled the city with over $474 million in unnecessary default swap costs. The mayor was later convicted and jailed on charges of racketeering and bribery.
But the banks were given a free ride. Many cities with almost the same financial red ink as Detroit – cities like Chicago, for example – renegotiated bad loans with help from their state capitals. But Michigan’s state government and the banks are holding Detroit hostage. After the takeover of Michigan’s legislature by the right-wing in 2010, and the election of Tea Party darling Governor Snyder, the Republican legislature manipulated the business taxes so that the state lost over a billion dollars in revenue in 2013 alone, and backed out of previously allocated revenue-sharing funds to the city.
Then, in a prime example of a “cure seeking a disease,” long-term solvency of the city pension obligations was deliberately confused with short-term cash flow to accentuate the appearance of a financial crisis, according to Tom Barrow, mayoral candidate, CPA and former head of the Michigan Licensing Board of Accountancy.
Jones Day, a Wall Street-connected law firm specializing in bankruptcy, filed a subjective and biased report: Unlike most routine municipal budget statements that are straightforward listings of liabilities and assets, the Jones Day report was rife with editorializing subheads like “UNSUSTAINABLE RETIREE BENEFITS” and the obviously subjective, “HIGH LABOR COSTS AND RESTRICTIVE EMPLOYMENT TERMS.” Bond market expert Kate Long, after running the numbers (Reuters, June 2013), indicated that the Detroit pension fund was actually “reasonably well-funded according to national standards.”
In fact, the financial “emergency” was a fabrication as blatant a public deception as the WMDs, the weapons of mass “distraction” contrived as the rationale for the privatized invasion of Iraq. And with the water shut-off, Detroiters are witnessing the same “shock” strategy used internationally by right-wing ideologues who employ corrupt political, military and police power to advance the so-called “free market reform” agenda of the Milton Friedman Chicago School of Economics, while in fact fully engaged in aggressive asset seizure.
In her seminal book Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein explains how historically a “softening up” process of collective shocks have been employed by Chicago School acolytes in third world countries to stun the populace, paralyze their democratic process and force austerity and mass-privatization down their throats through Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) that literally sap the lifeblood and wealth of nations. Klein writes:
The traumatic episodes that have served this “softening up” purpose have not always been overtly violent. In Latin America and Africa in the ’80s, it was debt crisis that forced countries to be “privatized or die,” as one former IMF official put it. Coming unraveled by hyperinflation, and too indebted to say no to demands that came bundled with foreign loans, governments accepted “shock treatment” on the promise that it would save them from deeper disaster.
On July 15, the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Detroit will begin to hear testimony from retirees on the emergency manager’s economic “Plan of Adjustment,” a plan that is supposed to save them from a worse disaster, similar to the SAPs employed in Latin America and Africa by international bankers.
Vulture capitalist attacks were perpetrated in Chile and Argentina with the aid of corrupt dictators. In Russia and China, political suppression “shocks” – such as the tank attacks on Russia’s parliament building and on Tiananmen Square – preceded a privatization of public assets by Russian oligarchs and Chinese Communist Party “princelings.” In all these countries, after the austerity and privatizations, average citizens inevitably found themselves poorer and more lacking in public services.
Now “shock doctrine” has come home to the United States. Detroit has become ground zero for a massive, new wave of asset seizures, repression and corporate exploitation that is beginning to sweep US communities and states, privatizing our schools, water assets and government services. With the end of the privatized Iraq war, and as Latin American democracies reject bank induced debt and austerity, the finance industry’s parasites who prey on civil society have finally turned their full attention from neocolonialist exploitation in the third world to cannibalism at home.
In the case of Detroit, the aim is clearly to drive the African-American community out by cutting off water and stripping city workers of their pensions, deliberately undermining their financial stability and health, and forcing tens of thousands of retirees and city workers into giving up their homes or be forced into foreclosure.
This is a travesty!
Detroit is the quintessential American city. For most us born in the post-WWII decades, it is Motown, home of the music shared by generations. It was also the car industry’s central hub, headquarters to the “big three” automakers who once made the United States the envy of the industrialized world. But now, due to white flight and globalization, Detroit has lost over half its population, reduced from 1.5 million at its apex in the 1950s, to just over 700,000 today. Detroit has become a community of refugees, as half the housing stock is abandoned or set on fire and looted, while city services operate at a fraction of past accommodations – further crippling citizens’ ability to function, work and care for their children.
Many in Michigan believe the city could have pulled out of its financial troubles on its own, but Motown was defamed and derided by the upstate right as profligate and promiscuous financially, and Detroit’s citizens were stripped of their rights to political representation. In the mayor’s race last year there were a number of blatant anomalies, and it featured a white candidate connected to the state’s powerbrokers: Mike Duggan, who was disqualified from the race due to residency ineligibility, but won with 40 percent of the vote by running a write-in campaign. The election was marred by overwhelming evidence of fraud, including duplication of ballots, and breaking of a number of ballot boxes’ chain of custody seals – issues that led to an investigation that was quickly dropped.
Detroit is in fact the “canary in the mine” warning us of a looming democratic crisis and assets grab in many US cities targeted by banks and vulture capitalists. But it is not the first predominantly African-American city subjected to such onslaught. The impoverished residents of post-Katrina New Orleans (60 percent African-American) were also abandoned by the political class and exploited. Birmingham, Alabama (74 percent minority) also suffered a similar fate when banks and local officials conspired to defraud the public. JP Morgan was convicted of bribing local powerbrokers and extracted millions in fees that turned a $250 million sewer project into a $3 billion debacle for Jefferson County where Birmingham is located. JP Morgan was to later settle this fraud in court for $1.6 billion. But while Jefferson County slashed services and laid off almost a thousand workers, JP Morgan’s profits soared, and its municipal-debt underwriting business – over $64 billion, including Detroit – has remained mostly unscathed by the Jefferson County scandal.
We must see that “emergency management” is just another term for “hostile corporate takeover” of Detroit. Their major targets are the assets most prized by Wall Street banks and their crony-enablers:
- The tens of billions of dollars in value that are represented by the city’s huge infrastructure of its fresh water supply system, which supplies 40 percent of Michigan, and sits on 25 percent of the fresh water supply of the United States.
- The billions of dollars in downtown and central Detroit property that could be gentrified and developed once it is cleansed of its African-American residents.
- An art museum with a collection valued at billions of dollars.
- The hundreds of billions of invested capital that are promised to the city pension plans.
The pawns in this crisis, the impoverished residents of Detroit, have already suffered the globalization of this rust belt region, as corporations took their production south, and then abroad. They are underemployed and struggling just to feed their families. The last thing they need is to be viciously set upon by the governor and his Darth Vader-like “manager” who now threaten their health by shutting off the water, the essential basis of civilized life. This attack would never see the light of day in an all-white community. The water shut-off preys most viciously on the poor and sick, elderly, children and pregnant women.
While they are being cut off, millions of dollars are still owed to the city water department by a golf course, corporations, businesses and by thousand of homes foreclosed and now owned by banks or corporations. All of these have not been subjected to shut off, even when their bills are months or years overdue. It is obvious that the African-American community is disproportionately targeted by the governor’s emergency manager, who has hired a private company (a wrecking crew) to perform the shut-offs, often without notice, of any resident who is overdue 60 days, on as little as $75.
“Blaming the victims” for this financial morass is a tactic employed liberally by the extremist political class in a campaign verging on genocidal tactics. In an Orwellian but now familiar twisting of reality, the city workers, who worked hard all their lives driving buses, maintaining streets and putting out fires, are cast as the “greedy bastards,” while bankers who committed fraud get millions in bonuses. And while elderly retirees are losing their water and pensions, the Wall Street financial community, which caused the crisis and trillions of dollars in lost American assets, has demanded full payment on the shady loans they dealt out like drug pushers, yet not one banker has been indicted for the massive fraud they perpetrated.
Of all the cities in our country, Detroit and its people have the most right to declare they have not given their “consent” to be governed as they are now, by a vicious corporatist regime foisted on them by an imperialist governor. They would be well within the bounds of justice to demand their “God-given” “unalienable rights,” starting with water for their families, justice in the courts and a change in the form of government that is oppressing them.
Detroit is our city, America’s city; it is part of the heart and soul of the United States. Its path should be decided not by vultures, but by the people of Detroit themselves, who deserve basic respect, human dignity and enough water to plant and grow the seeds of their future.
We must all stand up for the people of Detroit, who helped build our nation, who gave us our cars and much of our iconic culture. They deserve better than this racist exploitation and abuse. Motown has given its sweat and blood for our country just like any other city, and even provided the soundtrack to the civil rights movement, including the recording of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
All of you out there in the American heartland, in Michigan and the Midwest, in Chicago and Madison, in Toledo, we implore you to “Do The Right Thing!”
For Detroit’s sake, and for your own sake, get in your cars, on buses and trains.
Come to Detroit on July 18, 2014.