- Susie Talbot. Senior Legal Officer (ESCR-Net) stalbot@escr-net.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Monday, January 19, 2015
The following statement is from Rev. Edward Pinkney, January 18, 2015:
The Berrien County Court system has undermined the respect and confidence of the community in its application of the law and the takeover of the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Monday, November 17, 2014
THEY PULLED IT OFF!By Curt Guyette
Special to The Michigan Citizen
The grins stretched from ear to ear, and the hugs and back-patting were plentiful.
Gov. Rick Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan celebrated Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes’ acceptance of their Plan of Adjustment that cuts workers’ and retirees’ pensions and healthcare, and takes back earlier annuity payments from the city over the last decade. CURT GUYETTE PHOTO
Newspaper headlines announced the city had been “reborn,” and the final words of the ruling read from the bench by Judge Rhodes echoed triumphantly: “It is now time to restore democracy to the people of the city of Detroit. I urge you to participate in it. And I hope that you will soon realize its full potential.”
The irony, of course, is that it was the hijacking of democracy that brought Detroit to this place.
It began in early 2012, when lawyers from the Jones Day law firm, in conjunction with the investment banking firm Miller Buckfire, began secretly meeting with Gov. Snyder’s office and other state officials to figure out how to thwart the will of Michigan voters.
The concern was that a grassroots-effort to repeal a new state law giving unprecedented powers to appointed emergency managers would succeed. And so they devised their response, and were ready to act when voters went to the polls in November 2012 and rejected the law by a significant margin.
Within a month, the state’s Republican-led Legislature crafted a new law containing many of the same provisions as the one Michigan’s citizens — engaging in the democratic process hailed by Judge Rhodes — had just voted to repeal. Only this time, an appropriation would be attached to the statute, making it “referendum proof.”
So much for a commitment to the democratic process.
As a result, instead of having elected officials deciding Detroit’s fate, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and his former partners at Jones Day began calling the shots, as the city was shoved into bankruptcy.
From the outset, the primary target of debt-cutting was clear: The city’s retirees would be the ones facing the most severe sacrifices.
Again, Jones Day, which had some of the city’s biggest creditors as its clients, would play a key role. The firm’s lawyers laid the legal groundwork for using bankruptcy to go after retiree benefits in bankruptcy — even in a state like Michigan, which has the protection of pensions written into its constitution.
Casual observers of this drama will have heard that, as a result of the much-hailed “grand bargain” — an $816 million cash infusion from the state, private foundations and the Detroit Institute of Arts — the cut to general retiree pensions would be just 4.5 percent, and that police and firefighter retirees won’t get nicked at all.
What tends to get lost in the reporting is the true extent of the hit being taken by retirees.
Kevyn Orr is all smiles at the press conference announcing Judge Rhodes’ acceptance of his Plan of Adjustment. CURT GUYETTE PHOTO
Both civilian and uniformed retirees will absorb massive losses thanks to deep cuts in future cost of living increases. For the general retirees, those yearly raises are being eliminated completely. Taken together, the two groups will give up a total of more than $1.3 billion in the coming years.
Cuts to healthcare benefits only compound the problem. Instead of being on a plan where the city covers 80 percent of healthcare costs, retirees are receiving a monthly stipend. For most, the amount is $125, leaving them to pick up the additional costs of insurance, which can be hundreds of dollars a month.
And then there’s the “clawback” of excessive interest rates the Jones Day attorneys argued was paid to people who participated in an annuity savings program between 2003 and 2013.
As one retiree observed, “I’m getting hit four different ways.”
Add it all up, and at least 75 percent of the estimated $7.3 billion in debt and obligations being shed in bankruptcy comes in the form of cuts to retirees.
Will that be enough to put the city on a sound financial footing?
Despite the media’s focus on Detroit’s supposed rebirth, there is real cause for concern that the fundamental factors that led to the city’s dire straits remain unaddressed. In a recent opinion piece, economist Peter Hammer — who’s also a law professor and director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University — warned:
“The perverse logic of fiscal austerity is creating dozens of second-class ‘minimal cities.’ The move to transition Detroit away from serving as a city, to a slimmed-down version with little to no municipal services, is part of the bankruptcy Plan of Adjustment that the city is pursuing, on a par with what the World Bank and International Monetary Fund pursued with Structural Adjustment Programs in much of the developing world. What we know from these SAPs is that they sucked the life out of countries forced to receive them.
“The same will happen with Detroit, especially given how out-of-touch managers are with the city’s history and context. The 226-page Expert Report, for example, on the feasibility of the POA and the reasonableness of the city’s revenue forecasts never addresses issues of race, racism, regionalism, segregation or foreclosure (all words that appear nowhere in the report). And poverty is only mentioned once. … We need alternatives to the dictates of fiscal austerity and structural racism.”
As for Judge Rhodes, this is what he told the people of Detroit:
“A large number of you told me that you were angry that your city was taken away from you and put into bankruptcy. You told me in your court papers. You told me in your statements in court. You told me in your blogs, letters and protests. I heard you.
“I urge you now not to forget your anger. Your enduring and collective memory of what happened here, and your memory of your anger about it, will be exactly what will prevent this from ever happening again. It must never happen again.”
Then he urged Detroiters to channel that anger into positive action by engaging in the democratic process.
For the next 13 years, however, the people of Detroit will have elected leaders, but it won’t really be a true democracy. That’s because an appointed, nine-member financial advisory board (containing only two Detroit officials) will have the final say over approval of major contracts and the budget process.
“It is your City,” Judge Rhodes told Detroiters.
But it is others who, though unelected and mostly living elsewhere, will be the ones with the final authority over crucial decisions facing Detroit for the foreseeable future.
Curt Guyette is an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan. His work, which focuses on Michigan’s emergency management law and open government, is funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation. You can find his reporting at aclumich.org/democracywatch. Contact him at 313.578.6834 or email@example.com.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Rev. Edward Pinkney Convicted of Five Counts of Felony Forgery by Berrien County Jury
Legacy of Racism and National Oppression in Michigan
Friday, October 24, 2014
On Oct. 20th, 2014, United Nations representatives Catarina de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha met with Mayor Mike Duggan and part of his staff to discuss the recent mass water shutoffs plaguing Detroit.
|U.N. Special Rapporteurs. Photo credit: theguardian.com|
The meeting was very frank and at times contentious with the Special Rapporteurs (SR) asking questions based on citizen/resident reports they had received from what they refer to as “civil society” organizations and direct visits to residential homes. The premise of the meeting was itself historic in that this was a session to discuss best practices, shared by the SRs, relative to how decreasing revenues might impact water access, distribution and sanitation specifically in low-income households. The two special investigators have amassed a myriad of expertise over the years after visiting many countries that have faced dwindling economies and transient populations.
Amid a flurry of “denials” and veiled attempts to discredit the intention(s) of these two specialists, the SRs continued to press for answers about recent water shutoffs. The session went back and forth until Mayor Duggan stepped up and suggested he would be interested in receiving detailed information about any current residents without water. The Mayor placed a call at the suggestion of the MWRO rep to the phone center and was able to get right through to someone without a long wait. This single act proved the City’s case that new practices are being put in place to address resident complaints — the problem is that these procedures aren’t reaching the poorest and most vulnerable residents. Long waits on the phone to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. have been a frequent complaint and we hope, at least in this instance, progress is being made. In the end, what was suggested is that specific account information would be needed to examine any claims of denied water and the City would look into each case that was submitted.
|Detroit Mayor Duggan with Alexis Wiley. Photo credit: clickondetroit.com|
In 2005, 2006, and 2007 — the Water Affordability Plan was submitted to the DWSD after is was tweaked and then accepted by the City Council and the then Mayor. Always, it is said there are legal reasons why this wonderfully crafted document can’t be implemented. And always when we ask, “Why not?” no credible answers are shared. The corporate interests that have lined up in great anticipation of receiving mega-infusions of cash is the logical place to search for the financial support needed to help shore up the City. Revenue sharing, unpaid commercial and corporate water accounts, so many places to look for untapped resources yet the then Emergency Manager’s only goal, it appears, was to inflict economic and physical pain on the most marginalized, most vulnerable, the poorest.
Over and over again, the City has suggested that those unable to find resources to help prevent shutoff or restore water already shut off were not truthful or that they were too dumb to find simple information. The old, tired, “people want free water” message was dragged out, a phrase that is repeated even though no one ever asked for that. It was revealed that the City has always practiced water shutoffs, and that was an established practice never before challenged. It was admitted that some 300,000 water shutoffs have happened over a period of years, a fact the City was not ashamed to admit. Must have felt the same rage and shock like those in the room in Nuremberg during that trial, listening to soldiers talking about how they were just following orders....
|Shutting off water in Detroit. Photo credit: detroitnews.com|
The Special Rapporteurs’ questions and the session ended in about 90 minutes, after which they traveled back to their hotel to prepare the press release for the media. Their specific UN conclusions are online, which include a strong recommendation that all residential water accounts be restored, which allows the City to investigate each address to determine if there are low-income families with children, the disabled, the elderly, or veterans living there who need supportive programs that structure payments they can afford. There are other recommendations the SRs offered, that have been published far and wide that address other ways of managing delinquent water payments that other nations routinely employ.
In closing, MWRO agrees with the basic, fundamental conclusion offered by our international guests. Because the population of Detroit has dropped, because the unemployment numbers have risen, because the good paying auto-industrial jobs have disappeared, and because many of the jobs available today are low-paying, the City still has a legal obligation to supply clean water and sanitation to all — even if only one resident is left! It is in fact a violation of international law to deprive residents of water if they are too poor to pay in the regular way. Ms. de Albuquerque and Ms. Farha were not daunted by Mayor Duggan and his staffs comments. Clearly, they don’t understand the UN reps’ mission.
This is not a popularity contest that is directed by who we like and who we don’t. It is patently wrong to disconnect water where low-income people live, and no amount of “American Exceptionalism” can alter that fact. There are millions of poor Americans who live in horrible conditions that are ignored daily while we act as if all is well; and Detroit has a large share of those families.
The responses coming from the City are at best shallow, defensive, ignorant, and at least, devoid of compassion. What kind of city is this and what kind of people are in charge who would countenance such demonic practices? Are our elected officials so drunk with power that they would choose not to find a way to keep the poorest residents safe and clean? Why didn’t someone in city government stand up when the emergency manager made this life-threatening recommendation and scream to the highest star how wrong it is and that as duly-elected officials, you would not force-march masses of Detroit residents into the crematoriums of poverty and torture?
|Thousands march in Detroit against water shutoffs. Photo credit: michiganradio.org|
Why did it take strangers, trained in recognizing violations against humanity, to shine a light on these dark-age practices and call them out for what they are? This is the best example of how the recognition of class differences have surfaced because we have different ethnic races of administrators, both men and women, both young and old who have been part of this sorry episode of residential infliction of pain. Our elected city officials would have found continued comfort in the torture of low-income people had they not had the covers of gross negligence pulled from them exposing what all knew but few had the courage to declare.
Along with our city officials stand many of the members of the clergy from all denominations, who have stood in silence while the torture of the most vulnerable has unfolded. The Spirit that many profess to serve has been waiting for you all to discover your courage or your voice or at least your crippled-hand gripped around a pen where you could author an anonymous note decrying what has been happening relative to these water shutoffs. I try daily to forgive your cowardice and hope only that when you make your transition to the afterlife, that the fires of “hell” are unkind to you.
We hope the legal violations identified by the two Special Rapporteurs find their way sooner as written charges to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and also to the U.S. State Dept. All nations should be alerted about these international violations so that sanctions might be discussed and even levied to make this practice stop. The U.S. government is ultimately responsible to secure the human rights of the most vulnerable and that task lies first with our ‘beloved’ mayor, then with the county executive, then with the governor, and lastly with all presidents.
As a field general in the army of social justice for vulnerable, low-income populations, it falls to me and mine to keep this battle in the face of all humanity and to take every opportunity to convince those in power that their salvation lies in distancing themselves from the “dark” side in favor of protecting, serving, and advancing the quality of life for all.
Maureen D. Taylor
State Chairperson, MI Welfare Rights Organization
Friday, October 10, 2014
Detroit is in the midst massive water shutoffs, sanitation health concerns and large-scale tax & bank foreclosures tied to widespread homelessness. These grave problems have drawn international concerns about the crises affecting low income and poor people in Detroit. Victims of poverty across the state of Michigan are losing their very right to live. We have sought help from all levels of government, non-profit organizations and the private sector but no one has stepped forward to stop these violations on the human right to water, sanitation and housing.
It is abominable that government officials and the courts have allowed banks and corporations to dictate whether people can or cannot have affordable water in their homes, and keep a roof over the heads of children! Public resources that are intended to support programs for low income people are regularly diverted to investment programs for private profit instead of public good.
Along with the Detroit People's Water Board and Food and Water Watch, MWRO has asked the United Nations Office of Human Rights to hear testimonials from residents, and receive evidence of violations from advocates and groups on these human rights atrocities.
Please come to United Nations Detroit Fact Finding Public Town Hall Meeting on Sunday, October 19, 2014 from 4-6 p.m. (doors open at 3:00 p.m.), at Wayne County Community College District, 1001 W. Fort St, Detroit, MI 48226. For more info9rmation, contact MWRO at (313) 964-0618 or firstname.lastname@example.org Spread the word!