Posts tagged Detroit

Billionaires for Bing or Orr

Here’s some fiscally responsible conservative government from the state-appointed Emergency Management of the city government of Detroit. Whoever is running the city government in Detroit — whether it’s elected city officials, or appointed Emergency Managers, or the direct intervention of the state government — and no matter how much they may protest that they can’t pay the bills when it comes to roads, or firefighters’ pensions, or schools — nothing will prevent a taxpayer-subsidized stadium from being built. Got to keep your priorities straight; and priority number one is, of course, taking money out of the pockets of Detroit taxpayers and giving it to billionaire developer and CEO Mike Ilitch.

Mike Ilitch holds the cup

New Red Wing Arena Should Be Unaffected By Detroit Bankruptcy

Michigan’s state legislature approved Wednesday a $450 million bond offering that would form the public backbone of [Ilitch Holding’s] $650 million entertainment center and development district near the heart of downtown Detroit.

The bonds will be floated by the Michigan Strategic Fund, which handles all of the state’s private development funds. The public, $283 million portion of the bonds will come from the Downtown Development Authority, which earmarks a slice of downtown property taxes for reinvestment there. They both have investment-grade credit ratings and function independently of Detroit’s city government, which makes their involvement in the deal important. Detroit’s credit rating is somewhere between junk status and radioactive.

— Melvin Blackman, New Red Wing Arena Should Be Unaffected By Detroit Bankruptcy
Wall Street Journal MoneyBeat (July 25, 2013)

Most of the Development District is going towards demolishing several buildings north of downtown, and building a new stadium, at taxpayer expense, for the Red Wings, which Mike Ilitch also owns and profits from.

The public will pay nearly 60 percent of the cost of the proposed $450 million Detroit Red Wings arena in downtown Detroit under a plan disclosed Wednesday.

Property taxes would pay for $261.5 million (58 percent) of the building’s construction cost while the team’s ownership would provide $188.4 million (42 percent), according to details provided by the state. . . . Those are July 2013 dollars based on bonds with a 5.91 percent interest rate. Critics have blasted the arena deal as unnecessary subsidies for a billionaire pro sports team owner in a city in municipal bankruptcy. Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, has said the city’s recent Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection filing won’t affect the arena project.

— Bill Shea, Detroit taxpayers to fund 60 percent of Red Wings arena, plan shows
Crain’s Detroit Business (July 25, 2013)

It does not matter who’s in charge of city government, and it doesn’t matter what political or legal constraints are supposedly put on them: the political machine always produces output to certain specifications, and part of the spec is what needs to keep running, and who needs to stay paid. In case you were wondering, citizen, that’s not you, or anyone else small enough to fail. (If you don’t get the reference in the title of this post, it’s probably because you kids today, etc. etc. Here’s something from the last century to remind you.)

Also.

On Detroit, or: Cities don’t go bankrupt, city governments do.

If you have been reading news headlines over the past couple weeks, then I think it might be important to keep in mind that the city of Detroit has not been razed or destroyed in the past few days. The city of Detroit is not over; the city of Detroit has not failed; and the city of Detroit is not gone. It’s still right there, where it has been all these years; see, look, here it is:


View Larger Map

Here’s what has happened, over the past several days, and all that has happened: One institution, out of the millions of things going on in Detroit — specifically the single most confining and abusive and irresponsible institution within the city — the government which latched on to the city of Detroit and has tried to rule and exploit it for decades — has announced that it no longer intends to pay off the people and the institutions and the banks who paid it loans in advance of future tax revenues. That one institution, which claims, arrogantly and fraudulently, to speak for the whole city of Detroit, and which intends to force the whole city of Detroit to pay for its mistakes — the same city government which has bulldozed Detroit neighborhoods and tried to sell out the city to the auto cartel and to corporate developers at every opportunity — the same city government whose attitude towards the people of the city has over the years ranged from one of constant low-level antagonism and hectoring, to one of repression and open warfare against them — the same city government which is now run by an appointed Emergency Manager from the state government, installed in a last-ditch effort to loot the city without the normal political restraints, for the sake of institutional bondholders, before things came to this pass — that one institution within the city of Detroit has announced that it wants to default on debts that most of the city never were asked about and never agreed to take on. And this may mess up that institution’s budgeting process for some time to come. What’s happened is something notable, but it is also something far less important than it’s being treating as, and something with far more political fascination than human significance.

There is no threnody of grief to be had here, no punishment for hubris or failures or sins, no final unraveling to reveal, no long-coming tragedy of decline or death for the city, if the city is supposed to mean anything at all other than the government. That government has taken over and inserted itself into so many parts of the city of Detroit that this may make things rough. Perhaps it will even make things rougher than they already were — although the reasons that are usually given for thinking that always seem to me to depend on some assumptions about the role of government in Detroit which I think are probably false. (If it is hard for the city government to allocate more money to the Detroit police department, is that going to make life worse in the city? It probably depends on what end of the stick you find yourself on.)

But the important thing is this. Detroit is not the crisis of a handful of elected, appointed and installed government officials. Detroit is not its most abusive institutions; it’s not a political project; it’s not a single institution at all, no matter how dominating its intent or arrogant its claims. It’s something much bigger, much better, and much more important than that. Detroit is the Ujamaa Food Coop and the Masonic Temple, UAW Local 174 and the Reuther Library. Detroit is the Tigers, Friday fish-fries and Paczki Day, the Red Wings and the Pistons, the Movement Electronic Music Festival and John King Books, the giant tire on I-94, the Eastern Market and the Afro-American Music Festival. the People’s Pierogi Collective and Joe Louis’s arm.

Here is a photo of the cast bronze statue of Joe Louis's arm and fist
Jefferson & Woodward, downtown Detroit

Detroit is fresh kielbasa and original Coney Islands (whichever one you think deserves the title); barbecue pork, and felafel and fries with a fruit smoothie; blind pigs and warehouse raves, Arabic signs[1] and pointing to the knuckle of your thumb to show where you’re from. Detroit is 19 year olds making the pilgrimmage to Windsor for booze[2] and to Royal Oak for coffee. Detroit is the home of Rosa Parks and of Grace Lee Boggs. Detroit is the Michigan Citizen and the Metro Times. Detroit is the Rouge plant and Fifth Estate. And Detroit is the long history of displacement, homecoming, work, music, food, culture, strife, love and building that the city grows up out of. Detroit is bigger, stronger, more resilient and much more important than the government’s budget.

Detroit did not cause this crisis. The city government and the state government and the bankers they deal with, who dominate and exploit Detroit, did that. And though Detroit will be forced to pay much of the bill, Detroit is not threatened by this crisis and will not be ended or killed, because Detroit never depended on the city government or the state government or the institutions they deal with for what it is or what it has done. To grow, and to survive, and to thrive, Detroit depends on its people, on the collision and the seeping-together of its many cultures and subcultures and neighborhoods and scenes, on those people’s work and their industry and their craft and their experiments and their interconnection and solidarity and mutual aid. The city of Detroit is its people, not its politics, and it will live on in those people over, above, beyond, and in spite of, the ongoing efforts of local governments and state-appointed emergency governments and corporate-political managers to somehow bail out and save government’s place within Detroit. Everyone would be better off if the austerity government, along with all other local governments, just took this as an opportunity to pack it in and leave the city entirely alone — rather than attempt to somehow auction off, bail out, and save the essential command-posts for its political takeover of people’s space and public life. But even without that, the city continues, and lives, no matter how much the politics falls apart.

Also.

  1. [1] These are of course mostly in and around Dearborn. But Dearborn is of course part of Detroit. Detroit is its communities, not its municipal administrations or the lines that they draw on maps.
  2. [2] Yeah, that’s in Canada. It’s the part of Detroit that happens to be across the Canadian border. Detroit is all its communities, not its municipal governments. Or its national ones.

Street Thugs

From England:

So far, police have arrested more than 1,700 suspects. About 1,000 of those have been charged. Of those convicted some are receiving what seem to be tough sentences.

Take Anderson Fernandes. He faces possible jail time for stealing two scoops of ice cream during a Manchester riot. There are other cases involving petty theft like stealing a bottle of water, a cake and chewing gum.

. . . Politicians and the public [sic] have demanded tough sentences.

And that may explain what seem to be particularly harsh sentences for Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenen. They each got four years in prison for using Facebook to incite a riot, or rather failing to incite a riot.

Both invited their Facebook friends to join in the looting with a “smash down” at an appointed place and time. No one showed up, however, except for police who promptly arrested them.

. . .

But many also feel that harsh punishments are necessary to let offenders know the riots were not a free-for-all without consequences.

Riots and looters trashed the pretty and normally placid suburb of Ealing, west London last week. The day after, I stood in the riot debris and an elderly woman stopped for a chat.

She lamented the state of Britain’s youth and suggested one way to deal with it. They should bring back … execution, she said grimly, drawing a finger across her throat.

— Atika Shubert, CNN World (2011-08-17): Riot sentences stir backlash in UK

I’m reminded of the time that Lyndon Johnson took a brief break from napalming Vietnamese children to get on the TV in July 1967, in order to speak out on the riots in Detroit, and to declare that We will not endure violence. It matters not by whom it is done or under what slogan or banner. It will not be tolerated. Which is why — under the slogan of public order and the banner of the United States government — he sent tanks and soldiers down Woodward Avenue, so that they could massacre unarmed teenagers at the Algiers Hotel, and join the local police in gunning down looters and curfew violators.

Countereconomics on the shopfloor

So lately I’ve been reading through a cache of syndicalist and autonomist booklets that I picked up a couple years ago from a NEFACker friend of mine who was soon to move out of Vegas. Partly for my own edutainment, but also because I am doing some prep work for possibly introducing a sort of Little Libertarian Labor Library to the ALL Distro.[1] Anyway, here’s a really interest passage I ran across in a booklet edition of Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers — a talk by the Detroit auto-worker and autonomist Marxist Martin Glaberman — on the difference between asking workers to vote on an issue and asking them to strike over it, taking as an example the internal conflicts over the union bosses’ no-strike pledge during World War II.

One of the things I want to start with, because it does provide a framework, and is not simply an event from the past, is something I did some work on a number of years ago about auto workers in the United States during World War II, the kinds of struggles that went on on the shop floor, within the union, between the workers and the government, a complex reality. What it revolved around was the struggle against the no-strike pledge in the UAW When the United States entered World War II, virtually all of America’s labor leaders graciously granted in the name of their members a pledge not to strike at all during the war.

In the first months of the war, the first year, there was an actual drop off in strikes. The end of 1941 through 1942 was a period that put a finish to the late thirties, the massive organizational drives, the sit-down strikes, the violence, all the things that created the big industrial unions. The job hadn’t been entirely done. Ford wasn’t organized until early 1941. Little Steel wasn’t organized, unionized, until the war was well under way, and so on.

Gradually, however, as the war went on, the number of strikes, (by definition all of them were wildcats, all of them were illegal under union contracts and under union constitutions) began to escalate until by the end of the war, the number of workers on strike exceeded anything in past American labor history. What was distinct about the UAW wasn’t just that the wildcat strikes were larger in number and more militant, but the fact that something took place which made it possible to make a certain kind of record. It was the only union in which, because there were still two competing caucuses, leaving rank and file workers a certain amount of democratic leeway to press for their point of view, an actual formal debate and vote took place on the question of the no-strike pledge.

A small, so-called rank and file, caucus was organized late in 1943 and early 1944, to begin a campaign around a number of issues, but the central issue was the repeal of the no-strike pledge. … So[2] they proceeded to have a referendum. This referendum was in some respects the classic sociological survey. Everyone got a postcard ballot. Errors, cheating, etc. were really kept to a minimum. Everyone on the commission thought that it was as fair as you get in an organization of a million or more members. It took several months to do. When the vote was finally in, the membership of the UAW had voted about two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge.

The conclusion any decent sociologist would draw is that autoworkers on the whole thought that patriotism was a little bit more important than class interests, that they supported the war rather than class struggle and strikes, etc. There was a little problem, however, and this is why this is such a fascinating historical experience. The problem was that at the very same time that the vote was going on, in which workers voted two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge, a majority of autoworkers struck ….

To visualize it is fairly simple: you’re not voting on the shop floor; you get this postcard, you’re sitting at the kitchen table, you’re listening to the radio news with the casualty reports from Europe and the Pacific and you think, yes, we really should have a no-strike pledge, we’ve got to support our boys. Then you go to work the next day and your machine breaks down and the foreman says, Don’t stand around, grab a broom and sweep up, and you tell him to go to hell because it’s not your job and the foreman says he’s going to give you time off and the next thing you know, the department walks out. … The reality is that in a war which was probably the most popular war that America took part in, workers in fact, if not in their minds or in theory, said that given the choice between supporting the war or supporting our interests and class struggle, we take class struggle.

— Martin Glaberman, Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers (1993?)

Glaberman puts this out as a distinction between what workers say in their minds or in theory and what they say or do in fact. I’m not sure that’s right — doesn’t the story about the foreman involve the workers’ mind and beliefs just as much as the story about the kitchen table? — but I think the most important thing here is Glaberman’s attention to the context at the point of decision, and how that shapes what kind of decision a worker thinks of herself as making. Not just the outcome of the choice, but really the topic, whether the worker is asked to make some kind of political choice about what she ought, in some general and detached sense, she ought to value (isn’t Patriotism important?), or she finds herself making an engaged, personal choice about what’s happening — what’s being done — to her and her fellow workers right now, on the margin. There is a lesson here for counter-economists.

Freedom is not something you vote on. It’s something you struggle for. And what’s far more important than trying to figure out how to get people to endorse the right ideology, or, worse, the least-bad set of policies and candidates to each other across the kitchen table, is figuring out how you and your neighbors can best cooperate with each other, practice solidarity and withdraw from maintaining and collaborating with the state. People who would never respond to a smaller-government candidate or a libertarian ideological pitch often will act very differently when you open up opportunities to support grassroots alternatives and withdraw from the day-to-day inhumanities of war taxes, regulations, police, prisons, borders, and the state-supported and state-supporting corporate capitalist economy. Meanwhile, those who talk all day about changing votes, and building parties to more effectively capture a few more votes here and there, and have nothing else to offer, are wasting time, resources, and organizing energy on efforts that are not merely futile, but in fact actively lethal to any hope of motivating and coordinating effective practical action.

See also:

  1. [1] The basic idea: L4 would encompass some of the material we already have (Chaplin’s General Strike, Carson’s Ethics of Labor Struggle) and a lot of new and classic material, with new titles published at regular intervals, all with the basic underlying goal of (1) providing some decent labor-oriented materials for ALL locals, and (2) providing a decent source (mostly, currently, lacking) for IWW local organizing committees and other radical labor efforts to find some decently produced, low-cost booklet-style materials for lit drops and outreach tables, beyond just the IW, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, and the relatively expensive books you can purchase through GHQ.
  2. [2] [After an inconclusive floor debate in convention. —RG]

Dr. Anarchy Answers Your Rhetorical Questions

Today’s question comes from The Agitator (2011-01-20), about a recent police raid on a medical marijuana dispensary in the suburbs of Metro Detroit:

Dear Dr. Anarchy:

Earlier this month, police in Oakland County, Michigan raided a medical marijuana dispensary in the town of Oak Park. The deputies came in with guns drawn and bulletproof vests, with at least one wearing a mask.

They made no arrests, but they did clean the place out. The confiscated all of the dispensary’s cash on hand and—in a particularly thuggish touch—also took all of the cash from the wallets and purses of employees and patients.

… Under Michigan’s asset forfeiture law, 80 percent of the cash the deputies seized will go directly to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department. The other 20 percent goes to the local prosecutor. Medical marijuana is legal under Michigan law but is of course still illegal under federal law. And apparently there’s some debate about the legality of dispensaries. All of which means this particular dispensary will have a hard time proving it earned the seized cash legitimately. I doubt the patients and employees will get their cash back, either. The cost of challenging the seizure is likely several times more than the amount of money most people carry on their person.

In light of all this, Balko asks, So how is this different from armed robbery?

The short answer to the rhetorical question is that it isn’t. The longer answer is that, aside from the gang colors, there are two differences between an official armed robbery like this one, and the stereotypical armed robbery carried out by freelancers.[1] The first difference is that when gangsters without badges rob you, you could in principle go to the police about it and try to get the robbers arrested. But when the gangsters who robbed you are the police, and are happy to arrest you if you complain about the robbery, then who do you go to?

The second difference is that after gangsters without badges rob you, at least they usually let you go on your way; they spend the money on private indulgences, and leave you alone. But when gangsters with badges rob you, they take the money and use it to finance the more raids, more arrests, more brutality, and more efforts to control the behavior of people like you and force you to submit to their insane and arbitrary laws. As Spooner writes in No Treason 6.3.5:

The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

So, the only difference between police forfeiture raids and the more stereotypical forms of armed robbery is that police forfeiture raids are worse.

  1. [1] Stereotypical, not typical. Armed robbery by government officials is just as typical as armed robbery carried out by freelancers. It’s just not discussed to the same extent.