Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The American Sin

The fear of being a person of color in America was brought once again to the forefront of everyday living, exploding onto the pages of reality dictated by a 21 year old blond-haired young man in a way that has sparked a discussion from coast to coast. The history of discrimination based on skin color once again has presented itself, covered in the blood of grandparents, of mothers and fathers, of a librarian, of a Allen University graduate, and of clergy all of whom thought themselves to be safe and in a place of peace. There are two companions joined at the hip, responsible for this American born, South Carolina tragedy.

Reality is tied to history in this horrific episode of absolute domestic terrorism on which such hatred is founded. The kidnapping of millions of African slaves dragged off to this developing country and forced into decades of free labor and a life of absoluter horror is the start of “America’s Greatness”, and the place we should all be aware of as we search to finds reasons for this latest, violent incident. The legacy left by that terrible yet historical truth underscores that “Blacks can never escape the shadow of the plantation.”

We must engage a discussion now that calls for calm and clear heads as we examine the “whys” and the “what-next” conversations that must follow if we are to stay on course. America has used the color question skillfully over the long night of 400 years this practice has been in place. Bombings, shootings, burnings, castrating’s, amputating’s, raping’s, family separations, jailing’s, executions, the list is long but not at all foreign to the progeny of former slaves. This commemorative marker will stay on the hearts and minds of many as it represents a degree of shock, awe, and depravity that we have not been witness to in such stark tones while “main-stream” media works to convince us all that the nation has moved forward leaving such violent acts in the past.

America is at fault for this tragic episode, but it has an “ALPHA” partner in this criminal act. The basis of the country founded so long ago promised to be the land where “equality and democracy” reigned supreme, and that no mistreatment toward its citizens would be tolerated. Our forefathers wrote volumes about the rights of the average citizen and the propertied class in this new country, and dictated glorious and beautiful paragraphs about opportunities and about equal access and other truths that were to be held as self-evident. Something happened on the way to the fountain of democracy, as the “ALPHA-DOG” corporate-class saw a way to make eternal profits if they could just secure then normalize measures that would keep different groups fighting each other while they raked in millions, then billions, and today trillions. So far, the policy of divide and make money, has worked wonderfully for this corporate culprit.

There are other tools of hatred and division in that bag of tricks that when needed, surface quickly, though none are as potent or as effective as what we get when some people train their young to hate on the basis of skin color. When that tactic doesn’t produce the result wanted, we can expect the rise of other points of division. Could be along gender lines, or attacks aimed at low-income mothers, against Hispanics, or against Native Americans, or against Muslims, against the families that live “over there”, and so on. There is no end to the examples of how one group is turned against another group, taught to hate the other especially if these questions appear wrapped in religion, or in politics.
American history and corporate control sleep together. They are both are complicit in this murder of nine African-Americans who were in church to pray and study peaceful ways to serve the Almighty. This 21-year old “creature” had to be taught to both hate and to direct violence toward worshippers whom he sat with for an hour. He and the “9” have been enshrined into our collective memories for years to come. We will not always remember the names of these fellow citizens, but we will always remember this tragedy and will mourn this episode for the rest of our days. It is what we do next that will mark how we recall this murderous moment that happened on a Wednesday night, during Bible study, June 17th, 2015.

Progressive and revolutionary thinkers are marching ahead, envisioning a new world without the influence of corporate pirates who keep us poor and fighting for crumbs as they train how to blame others for individual economic challenges. Progressive and revolutionary thinkers are marching ahead, envisioning a new world where people access what they need in a system that supports equal access and opportunity for all. Progressive and revolutionary thinkers are marching ahead, envisioning a new world where we don’t let 9th graders drop out of school, nor do we allow messages of hatred masquerading as “free speech” to be shared on “FACEBOOK” without consequences, nor do we allow traitors to that vision who call themselves Klansmen, Nazis, or the rest to operate with impunity and in the dark. Time to call them all out, and to make them pay along with their financial sponsors, those who would defile the peace and the prosperity that is ours to claim.

From neighborhoods, to this greater American tragedy that played itself out in Charleston, S.C., any single person or class of persons that supports violence in the form of bullets, or in the form of poverty, or discrimination of any type must be challenged. No one can legislate feelings or thoughts, but we must hold those who openly declare hurt toward others, responsible in such a way that they learn to fear saying similar words where others might hear them. We cannot allow this horrible incident to take us off our mark as we go forward toward the building of such a new world that works for the majority of working class people. We must close ranks around our sorrow and carry the memory of those lost to us by the senseless act of this demonic, domestic terrorist with us into the bright future that lies ahead.

Lastly, about that flag that flies over the Carolina capital bldg. It is a symbol of treachery, Kid Rock, a constant reminder of slavery, a symbol of violence and of hatred that those who can’t let the Civil War fade into the past, hold on to. In years past, the Black Panther Party openly carried fire arms in their defense against elements they suspected were active in the murder of Black folks. Since that flag won’t come down, I challenge all in the memory of the Black Panther Party who have rifles, to go to that site at night and open fire on that flag. Anglo-Americans in greater numbers are invited to join with other national patriots already in motion by adding their voices to the demand for peace and the end to war, to violence, to hurt toward Mother Earth, to poverty, and the call to end all forms of discrimination. The twin towers of abuse - the legacy of American history along with the recent occupation of corporate control - will maintain their reign of terror over us all that promises to be the death of our nation.

We are witnesses to America’s Sin, so a few holes in that flag fired by a few skilled, blonde-headed patriots, may send the right message…” Hurt No One Else in fact or with symbols.” The other message may also be heard, and that is…”we are not going to sit and be foreclosed on, have our water shutoff, injured, impoverished, or slaughtered day and day, city after city without consequences to those who would cause such a degree and scale of pain”… Take that painful flag down and take it to a museum, with the bullet holes still visible.

MD  Taylor
MI Welfare Rights Organization

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Water Statement to Michigan Rep Chang


To: Rep. Stephanie Chang

From: Maureen D Taylor, MSW

Re: Status Report on Accessibility

Rep. Chang;

As the State Chairperson of the MI Welfare Rights Organization, know that we are humbled to present these words that outline our collective feelings on this sensitive and critical issue as thousands of residential customers in Detroit face new rounds of water shutoffs.

I am reminded that in the Lansing State Capitol, stands a bronze statue of a seven-year old Helen Keller, blind at birth, memorializing the moment of her historical enlightenment.  Her teacher, Ann Sullivan, and this story made famous in the Oscar winning movie, “The Miracle Worker” was trying to convey the essence of what words meant to a child born without hearing or sight. The bronze statue captures that moment as Helen put her hands under the pump while her teacher, Ms. Sullivan, used hand-to-hand sign language and spelled out the word…  W-A-T-E-R…to her.  Helen finally understood the relationship between the word and what that word represented.

June 1st marks the day the great Helen Keller passed away, so it is ironic that in June of this year, we are celebrating not an age of enlightenment, but instead we are a witness to a period of human darkness that will stain this State for years.

It is not necessary to recant the economic climate that residents of Michigan have been struggling through since the recession of 2005 and beyond.  Entire cities and communities scattered across the State continue to reel from the loss of financial foundations built by so many years of fruitful employment. In the US Census of 2010, it was reported that MI was the only state to have loss significant population.  In Detroit, we know this fact all too well, as do all elected officials that purport to represent the residents.

Over one million residents from just Detroit have left this City leaving us with just under 800,000 to fill the void created by such a dramatic population decline.  Factories that were the back-bone of financial stability for millions of families have been slowly phased out. Computers are taking the place of the American working class, and that trend is best seen here in Detroit and in surrounding factory-based counties. Technology that used to enhance labor, today has replaced labor leaving in its wake the skeleton of what was in neighborhoods all over Wayne County. 

We are slipping into the dark-side, shoved into this draconian condition marked by a false and divisive narrative, which covertly suggests Detroiters have resources but because of our criminal leanings, we don’t want to pay water bills. Poverty is being criminalized as the poor are held responsible for not having enough money to pay rising utility costs.  The economics of the low-income family profile is completely overlooked. Consequently, we learn nothing from past
civil uprisings, or the current uprisings in Cities across the country.    

Our calls for relief are mostly ignored. Our tears go unnoticed, and our prayers have been unanswered. We have hope, and try to hold on, but this latest assault against the most vulnerable is galvanizing a response that know one here wants to anticipate.

Welfare Rights and the Peoples Water Board have fought tooth and nail over these last 16 months, in every way possible to convince the City of Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. that the path they had chosen was both wrong and not cost-effective. We have tirelessly offered solution after solution to this crisis demanding that a Water Affordability Plan be instituted, even if it is implemented at first as a pilot project to be tested.  Always the answer is “NO”, so we find ourselves again in this painful gap of pending defiance and civil unrest as we are unable to do anything but stop this by any means necessary.

We urge our elected officials to review this crisis and that they put the issue of mass water shutoffs at the top of the list as the deadline for continued tolerance approaches.  As MWRO is the recognized union for low-income families, we cannot turn from this struggle.  If our colleagues from the UNITED NATIONS are correct in that the US of America cannot deprive low-income populations of access to clean water and sanitation, we will then pursue the path of litigation as we seek to file suit against this violation of international law.

We will not stop there.  We will press you to create legislation that outlaws such practices now and forever.  We will not stop there.  We will demonstrate, we will picket, we will agitate, we will interfere with business as usual everywhere we can in an effort to erase forever the notion that water is a commodity to be bought and sold.  Access to water is a human right, and must always be held as a common trust never to be denied because people are too poor.  Shame on those who created this concept, and shame on us if we allow this “cancer” to exist without an all out battle against it.

Maureen D Taylor
State Chairperson

Friday, March 13, 2015

Stop Detroit Tax Foreclosures -- Sign Petitions Today

MWRO is working with local organizations to defend the right to housing and stop the nearly 75,000 tax-foreclosures scheduled to happen this year in Wayne County, Michigan, where Detroit is located.

Please help us get out information to people at risk of home tax-foreclosure due to incorrect tax bills with exaggerated property assessments and disputed water bill liens. Here's how you can help:

(1) Sign and share the online petition to the Wayne County Treasurer against the tax-foreclosures at http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50109/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15875

(2) Call MWRO at 313-964-0618 if you are in the Detroit area and want us to mail (or email) a hard copy of the petition form to you to collect signatures from families and friends.

(3) Share information about free tax clinics in March for person in need of information on their housing rights and payment plan opportunities BEFORE meeting with Wayne County tax officials. The tax foreclosure clinics are coordinated by community attorneys at United Community Housing Coalition and the Detroit People's Platform. See flyers below.

We will update this information as it becomes available. For more information, contact MWRO at info@mwro.org or Aaron at the Detroit People's Platform at HomesForAll@DetroitPeoplesPlatform.org

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

International Network ESCR files legal brief in support of Detroit residents against water shutoffs

For immediate release

International human rights network intervenes in case challenging large-scale disconnection of water supply to tens of thousands of low-income residents in Detroit

New York. February 9, 2015. The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), a global network of over 220 groups and 50 individual advocates from around the world working to secure economic and social justice through human rights, has requested leave from the U.S. District Court to be recognized as amicus curiae[1] in the case of Lyda et al. v. City of Detroit[2]in support of residents challenging the City of Detroit’s decision to cut off water supply to thousands of households unable to pay their bills.

As detailed in the plaintiffs’ complaint, by the end of August 2014 the City of Detroit had disconnected approximately 30,000 households of low-income persons and persons living in poverty from the municipal water supply and sewerage service, leaving them without access to drinking water and water for toilets and basic sanitation.

ESCR-Net, through its amicus brief, seeks to bolster the plaintiffs’ legal challenge by highlighting that the disconnections for inability to pay violate a range of legal obligations applicable to the U.S. under key international human rights treaties.

At the same time, ESCR-Net contends that Detroit’s City Charter, which includes a Declaration of Rights recognizing rights to water, sanitation and decent housing, must be respected. Pursuant to long-established principles of both U.S. law and international law, relevant domestic law must be interpreted consistently with treaty obligations. 

Chris Grove, Executive Director of ESCR-Net, said, “Access to justice is required for violations of human rights, and we welcome the opportunity to assist the U.S. District Court with material relevant to consideration of the issues at stake. These issues impact the health, security and human dignity of thousands of Detroit residents and implicate our vision of a just society.”

“A number of human rights are arguably violated by these disconnections, including rights to water, sanitation, adequate housing, health, life, freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment, and non-discrimination. The international human rights obligations of the U.S. also apply to the City of Detroit, and these obligations require that denial of access to water be reversed immediately,” he added.

The City of Detroit’s water disconnection policy has shocked the international community and has prompted, among other reactions, the visit of two United Nations Special Procedures human rights experts to assess the situation in October 2014.[3] Despite the onset of winter, local groups report that the City has continued water shut-offs at the homes of low-income families, the elderly, and the infirmed.

It is hoped that the application of international human rights law will help the plaintiffs achieve a just and effective remedy, including renewed access to water and an end to any further disconnections.

A copy of the amicus curiae brief is available at http://bit.ly/1ESJLdW

About ESCR-Net
ESCR-Net is the largest global network of human rights organizations, grassroots groups and advocates working to build a global movement to make human rights and social justice a reality for all. Please visit http://www.escr-net.org

This action is being led by ESCR-Net Strategic Litigation Working Group members Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia), the Global Initiative on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), the Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC), and the Social Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI).

For information regarding this amicus intervention, contact:

For information on the situation in Detroit or to speak with residents, contact:
Michigan Welfare Rights Organization http://michiganwro.blogspot.com
Marian Kramer, Maureen Taylor or Sylvia Orduño +1-313-964-0618

[1] An amicus curiae (or ‘friend of the Court’) is a person or organization who, although not a party to a case, is granted leave to submit material to the Court relevant to the disposition of the case and not already brought to the Court’s attention by the parties.
[2]Lyda et al. v. City of Detroit, Case No. 2:15-cv-10038-BAF-RSW, before Hon. Bernard A. Friedman in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Rev Pinkney: "I am paying a debt to society which I do not owe"

Reposted from http://www.bhbanco.org/2015/01/i-am-paying-debt-to-society-which-i-do.html

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.

The court system has stolen time from me.  I am paying time with my life, family life, and community.  I’m required to serve a sentence while several issues are being decided in the court — and paying a debt to society that I do not owe.

I have already raised substantial issues.  I am entitled to a directed verdict of Not Guilty based on constitutionally insufficient evidence under the Beyond a Reasonable Doubt standard.  I also assert that I am entitled to a directed verdict based on the issue that was resolved in favor of the defendant in People v. Hall (10/23/14).  

Under MCL 168.937 and based on due process, statutory construction, and the rule of lenity, a petition circulator cannot be subjected to a felony conviction and penalty when notice and warnings on the petition form, provided by the government, indicate that one may only be subject to a misdemeanor conviction and penalty.  

A misdemeanor conviction and penalty may only be imposed under a specific statue, MCL 168.544, specifically proscribed acts of falsifying election petitions.  For this reason, the convictions under MCL 168.937 must be vacated.  Due process also requires this result, as the rule of lenity is mandated by due process. 

This result is also required by the issue that the jury was not constitutionally adequate, based on the arguments raised in my motion for a new trial relating to juror Gail Freehling concealing information during the jury selection.

I am a political prisoner being held in Marquette Prison and I remain in great spirits despite the racist injustice that has landed me here.  This attack on me and on democracy in Benton Harbor shows that Whirlpool is determined to crush anyone who stands in its way.  It is part of a process underway across the US in various forms. Let’s confront the corporations that are destroying this country.

For more information about the miscarriage of justice against Rev. Edward Pinkney of BANCO, please read: http://sfbayview.com/2014/12/national-defense-campaign-building-for-rev-edward-pinkney/

Monday, November 17, 2014

Court Sanctions Emergency Manager Theft of Detroit

(reposted  from Michigan Citizen)


By Curt Guyette
Special to The Michigan Citizen

The grins stretched from ear to ear, and the hugs and back-patting were plentiful.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan and U.S. Judge Gerald Rosen — all were in a celebratory mode last week as they appeared at a press conference following the announcement by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Steven Rhodes that Detroit’s proposed “plan of adjustment” had been accepted, putting an end to the city’s journey through bankruptcy.
Gov. Snyder and Mike Duggan

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

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 cguyette@aclumich.org.