Detroit (Still) on My Mind

Aug
20
2013

Written by Frances Kunreuther

Last week, Linda Campbell wrote about her experiences in Detroit. In These Times has a terrific article, Detroit’s Downfall: Beyond the Myth of Black Misleadership, by Marilyn Katz that gives a different narrative on Detroit’s current woes. Though not as pointed, I read two other pieces about Detroit during the week that confirm Katz’s analysis. Both take a critical look at what is happening under the Emergency Manager, Kevin Orr. And though I do not agree fully with either, they also express challenges to the current “story” about Detroit.

The first, a Talk of the Town piece in the New Yorker, explains that “Detroit’s troubles can’t be traced simply to bloated payrolls and intransigent public-sector unions: decades of deindustrialization are the main culprit.” The author, John Cassidy, argues that the federal government’s too big to fail policy for banks should apply to Detroit. He calls for the Obama administration to step in and make the investment needed to help Detroit recover rather than letting the City be “picked apart” by selling its assets for far less than they are worth. Cassidy argues that the federal government’s hands off approach is, “ceding the initiative to Governor Snyder and his conservative supporters, some of whom see the bankruptcy as a template for showdowns with public-sector unions across the country.”

Striking a similar tone, a New York Times editorial on Thursday noted how banks and pensioners are supposed to share the pain of Detroit’s bankruptcy. But in fact, “the special treatment banks receive when debtors are in or near bankruptcy is unfair and economically destabilizing.” It goes on to report that, “Detroit’s agreement with the two banks requires court approval, but, in general, swap deals by banks are not subject to the constraints that normally apply in bankruptcy cases; in effect, the banks are paid first, even before other secured creditors and certainly before pensioners.” 

As the NY Times editorial notes, the pensioners who were public employees do not receive social security. And an article in the Huffington Post points out that many retired municipal employees receive less than the average $19,000 annual retirement income.
So we continue to support the fight for democracy in Detroit where the rights of residents are being taken away. It is amazing that even while Detroiters are under attack on so many fronts, residents still stand up for their rights. I guess that is what our celebration of the 50th Anniversary on the March on Washington is all about.

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