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Double Disaster in Detroit

Detroit, then and now. An abandoned school.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven W. Rhodes has allowed the city of Detroit to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy. He has explicitly ruled that city employees pensions may be cut in the process. On the same day, the automakers who used to be known as “Detroit” announced new successes in selling vehicles, especially trucks. Not in any way by coincidence, the National Research Council warned yesterday of “rapid, drastic changes in some human and natural systems” due to the climate catastrophe. And Jones Day, the bankruptcy lawyers who took Detroit into Chapter 9, announced that they had leased offices of 300,000 square feet at 250 Vesey St, New York. Another day in the disaster of neoliberalism.

It was no surprise that the bankruptcy was advanced. The jumpstart on cutting pensions was not so widely anticipated. From media coverage, you may have gained the impression that there are countless retired people in the city, living it up on bloated benefits. The city has just 23,500 retirees. A retired city employee receives about $20,000 a year. The Federal poverty line for a household of two is $15,000. While firefighters and police retirees receive more–about $34,000–they are not eligible for Social Security. In his inflated estimate of Detroit’s financial difficulties, the Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr claims the pension fund is $3.5 billion in arrears. The people that run it put that number at a far more modest $600 million. That’s not peanuts but it scarcely requires bankrupting the city.

Meanwhile the automakers who like to use the name “Detroit” to describe themselves are doing just fine. Thanks to the billion dollar loans we all extended to them in 2008. General Motors’ sales are up 13.7% on last year. Chrysler did even better, 16.7% up, while Ford advanced 7.1%. The sales are boosted above all by trucks, up 11.8%. In total, some 15.6 million new vehicles will be on the road by the end of the year.

And so, in New York it’s 53 degrees in December. Tomorrow, it will be over 60. The mountain pine beetle, which used to be killed off by the winter cold, is marching north, devastating pine forests as it goes. More cars, more carbon. Less trees, even more carbon. The decline in sea ice in the Arctic is likely to mean “shifts in climate and weather around the northern hemisphere.” Watch out for that hurricane in your new truck.

As ever, the lawyers are making out very nicely. Jones Day quietly had its compensation increased from an already decent $3.35 million to a hefty $18 million in the days before the bankruptcy hearing. Why? It had already billed for $3.7 million between March and June of this year. That’s $1 million a month. That shrinks by comparison with the total bill for going bankrupt, now running at $62 million. Not a penny of this does anything productive for the city or its residents.

Jones Day are using some of this money to replace Bank of America/Merrill Lynch at 250 Vesey St.

250 Vesey St, New York

And guess who owns this tower? It’s Brookfield Properties, the very same corporation that owns Zuccotti Park. Jones Day see this as part of “the revitalization of downtown Manhattan.” As a resident and Occupier, please allow me to reject this takeover. Even the banks were better than these parasites.

And so we truly see that all our grievances are connected. The corporate takeover of Detroit is destroying our way of life and the means to support all life. The alternative is not more jobs in the auto industry, let alone more lawyers. The alternative is right there in Detroit, invisible to the neoliberal terminators. So go and watch this trailer for Grace Lee Boggs’ new film, American Revolutionary (the link is on the right, sorry, no embed).

And don’t be depressed. Get going.

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