Can we agree that the Detroit water crisis is about more than just unpaid bills?

    A few days ago, in the aftermath of a quick post about the ongoing water crisis in Detroit, a reader by the name of Anne left a comment suggesting that, to a large extent, non-profits working in the City were steering clear of the issue. As I read her comment, she seemed to be of the opinion that the current uproar over water shut-offs in Detroit was more the work of outsiders looking to “save” the City, who perhaps didn’t really grasp the fact that, for the most part, the individuals having their water cut off were people who hadn’t paid their bills for years, in spite of having the funds to do so. While she’s right, of course, that many who recently had their water service terminated were people that merely took advantage of a broken system, in which, for years, non-payment of water bills did not result in termination of service, I take some issue with her comments about how it’s not Detroit natives leading the charge. Having just attended the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit, I can tell you with some degree of confidence that there’s a large and growing grassroots movement in the city pushing this forward.

    If you have a moment, I’d suggest that you watch the following video, shot at the conference, featuring Abayomi Azikiwe of Moratorium Now!, Meredith Begin of Food and Water Watch, Monica Lewis-Patrick of We the People Detroit, Jean Ross of National Nurses United, and Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, who, by the way, was leading a petition drive in 2009 to “make water affordable and stop shutting off the water of low-income people” in Detroit. This session, titled Turn on the Water! How Locals are Fighting Back Against the Shutoffs, was moderated by Peter Hammer, the director of Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University.

    [Jump to 32:30.]

    Speaking of comments left on this site in the wake of my last post on the Detroit water crisis, here are a few that I found interesting. I think, taken as a whole, they pretty well reflect the diversity of views people hold about the issue… And they remind me, once again, just how awesome of a readership that I have. [note: A few of these comments have been slightly edited in order to improve clarity.]

    Demetrius:

    I don’t understand the strategy behind this movement/protest.

    Where were the big national-attention-getting protests and Hollywood celebrities when Detroit/Michigan neighborhood were being picked clean by multinational banks and their predatory loan practices?

    Or when Michigan legislators deliberately engineered policies that drove older Michigan cities like Detroit toward bankruptcy, privatization, and into the hands of “Emergency Managers?”

    Or when tens of thousands of public workers — including police officers, firefighters, teachers, bus drivers, and office clerks — were being told “sorry,” but the pension and health care benefits for which they worked for 20, 25, 30 years … won’t be there for them when they retire?

    While I’m sure there are many very poor people in Detroit who need/deserve help with paying their water bills, in this case it appears that many may have simply been strategically taking advantage of a system in which for many years on end there were little/no consequences for not paying.

    So I would ask the people behind these protests: Who *should* pay the cost for the hundreds of millions of dollars it costs to build and maintain a system capable of collecting, treating, and delivering billions of gallons water to millions of individual homes and businesses across a seven-county area?

    I’m sure the organizers mean well, and I suspect much of this outrage is really aimed at the multinational banks, corporations, and governments that have put Detroit (and Michigan) citizens in such a dire predicament … but having this much energy and attention focused on the water issue — while ignoring or discounting the larger forces at play — seems like a tactical mistake.

    And given metro Detroit’s already toxic landscape with regard to race, class, and geography, it is hard for me to imagine how having Hollywood celebrities descend from their private jets to lecture us all about how, for those living in the City of Detroit, water should be a “right” (presumably paid for by higher water rates on suburbanites) is really going to help.

    Elf:

    From the Rustbelt Radical:

    Detroit sits next on 20% of the world’s fresh water and has the third largest water supply system in the country, and yet thousands of its people are denied access to clean water. If that’s not a damning indictment of the capitalist model, than I don’t know what is.

    Why not do what some places do that, by virtue of living in the land with all this oil, share that wealth in subsidies and investments in social services with residents? This water, owned by the citizens of Detroit, provides over 4 million people, largely in the suburbs with water. You would think it would be considered a huge asset of the city in its renewal. Instead of investing large amounts to identify and deal with the many redundant lines and services belonging to abandoned buildings, in order to restore some efficiency. No, the world of capital will not allow for that.

    New Detroit chooses to increase rates 9% on rates that are already twice the national average on the people least able to pay ($75 a month when you live on less than $1000 is simply a hardship). And then, turn off the spigot on the poorest and most vulnerable; those behind for the measly amount of $15, or as also happened in many cases—those in good standing. All the while water runs in the street from innumerable breaks, water continues to flow to countless abandoned structures and businesses that owe 100s of thousands in debt to the Water Department aren’t touched. The golf clubs necessary to make the privatizations deals that are undoubtedly already being discussed still get theirs, $400,000 of debt or not.

    But what’s not necessary to that deal, are all those black, and mostly poor, people that make up eighty-something percent of the City’s population. More than unnecessary, they are an impediment to be removed. Then the real ‘Development’ can commence.

    Remember when we learned about the end of Reconstruction, the reintroduction of share cropping, the end of black elected officials and the rise of Jim Crow? Well, I think we are looking at something analogous here now. Black political power was exercised, for the first time since Reconstruction, in the mainly large, northern industrial, urban centers, backed up by municipal and other unions. With the disenfranchisement of a majority of Michigan’s black citizens, the ‘Right to Work’ enactments and the end of manufacturing and with it, any hope at bettering your position through work, we can add what amounts to forced removal of unwanted population from those cities, so that the land might be better used.

    The end of the Second Reconstruction is happening now, in our cities, before our eyes; this time in the era of neo-liberalism, and of the first black President.

    Dan:

    Elf, the water bills are already subsidized for poor people. They simply chose not to pay their bills because they knew it wouldn’t be shut off. Years and years of in paid bills. This is maddening. This isn’t someone behind $15 and a month late.

    Why the fuck are people rallying around people that refuse to pay their bills? This isn’t corporate greed. This isn’t people getting screwed by politicians. This is people trying to get something for free that costs billions of dollars. What the fuck is going on in this world?

    Peter Larson:

    I think that Detroit needs to make allowances for the very poor or come up with innovative ways to pay for water service so that the very poor can have access to it.

    However, while access to clean water is a human right, there is nothing to suggest that access to water free of charge is a human right, which, more often than not, seems to be the underlying message.

    Michigan may have plenty of fresh water, but it still costs money to pump it in, treat it and then deal with waste water.

    It seems that people don’t realize this. Regardless of ideology, this is just a reality.I had to pay to get my well dug, the pump and to have a septic put in. Perhaps it was my human right to have that done for free?

    Mark Maynard:

    I’m still working through my thoughts on the matter. I’m by no means one of the most vocal on this subject. (I do not see how unlimited water can be delivered for free to all people.) With that said, though, I think the current situation we’re seeing unfold in Detroit is about more than just water. It’s about poverty, and a system in which the poor pay disproportionately more just to live. It’s just coming into sharp focus here, through the lens of water. I agree wholeheartedly that people who can pay their bills should pay them. I likewise agree that many people just haven’t paid for years because they knew they wouldn’t be shut off. (The last bill to get paid is likely the one that you don’t fear will be cut off.) I don’t think there’s any doubt, however, that many have been cut off who cannot afford to pay water bills that continue to rise. And I fear this is just the tip of the iceberg. With wages dropping faster and the cost of living is rising, it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing stories like this across the country.

    Dan:

    You will never admit it, but its a lot more beneficial for someone making say $20k a year to not work at all. They’d have exactly the same lifestyle with government benefits. So tell me, why they should work?

    Maria:

    Dan, they shouldn’t work. And they don’t. They can just go to one of countless Michigan Lawyers, who get them into the disability pipeline. Tens of thousands are lined up waiting to collect a free check.

    And the parents just keep having more kids they can’t pay for or take care of, because they know they will get welfare. A water bill is just one example of the bigger problem of lack of personal responsibility.

    You have one baby and need help? You should get welfare help. You have a second one? Done. No more money. The city is bankrupt. The state is pretty much bust too.

    If you don’t agree that people should be personally responsible, then keep voting for socialism, and soon we’ll have 40% unemployment, just like Spain. Is that compassionate to vote for idiots that want to transform this country into Spain?

    Pay your damn water bill people.

    Peter Larson:

    I’m certainly of the opinion that this situation is the result of a failure of governance. The Detroit City Government should have been proactive about collecting fees for water in the past, and their failure has come back to haunt them, though in a manner slightly different than one might otherwise expect. Failures of governance would usually mean that water service would benefit no one or exclude the poor from the beginning.

    I am not very sympathetic here. Returning to a state of regular collections of fee for services does not constitute a human rights violation and, certainly, as I said before, there is no such thing as a “human right to free water” given the high costs of providing water services.

    However, the protests are clearly about more than water and should be taken seriously. The water issue has merely served as a springboard for demonstrations regarding a long history of political and economic marginalization and poor city governance.

    As for whether the poor pay more to live, they do. Payday loans are often the only banking services available to the poor, as regular banks and credit unions don’t usually offer liquid credit to people whose account balances are usually zero. Non-poor people have credit cards, also a service unavailable to the very poor. This is exactly why payday loan places are able to operate. And while it can be debated as to whether the poor need to have access to liquid credit at all, sudden expenses while living hand to mouth can surface at anytime in the form of disease, injury and car repairs.

    It has been shown that prices for goods in poor areas are higher than in wealthy areas even in absolute terms. Detroit’s lack of a large grocery store, for example, forces people to buy food from convenience stores and small markets which are not able to buy good in bulk and pass savings on to customers so that households pay more for food than other places. While it can be argued that people could just visit a farmers market, many poor people work multiple jobs and require the convenience of 24 hour access to food, something a farmers market can’t provide.
    From afar, it all seems simple. Having been poor for most of my life, I can tell you that it is not. Poverty is a complicated existence, it is expensive and full of volatilities.

    Thom Elliott:

    …but personal responsibility is the single most important existential criteria whatsoever, if these thousands of people in pure destitution cant pay their water bill, let ‘em die. The illiterate denizens of an apocalyptic postmodern ruin should be just like the heroic and spiritually pure corperate people who rule our plutocratic oligarcy. As you know our corperate overlords are just bastions of personal responsibility, and never require handouts…like the 110 billion dollars Fortune 500 companies have recieved in corperate welfare since 1976, which includes 13 billion dollars for Boeing, & over 1 billion for Berkshire Hathaway. We also must keep the billions of tax dollars flowing to Israel so they can have enough ammo to murder soccer-playing Palestinian children on beaches. These international corperations with assets in excess of 58B (Warren Buffet) actually need our welfare more then these lazy, good for nothing, socialist blacks, who probably should just be executed en masse for their lack of personal responsibility…

    I’m very interested to know what ‘human rights’ even are… at all. If water is not a human right, when every man woman & child require water to live, & we are made of over 70% water, then what is a ‘human’ ‘right’? Are these solely what the technological fist of our twisted nihilisitic world deigns to contingently grant to us? Are rights somehow rooted in the disordered ratiocinations/incomplete project of the Enlightenment from 400 years ago? Are they intrinsic to being-human? Like a human being has apriori rights a fortiori? Or does the vengeful sky god of the US religious nihilists give them to us? Where do rights come from, and what are they?

    Wobblie:

    Dan, you are living in the past. Able bodied males get no government assistance. With Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), women only receive assistance for a maxium of 4 years over the course of their lifetimes here in Michigan. I guess you have not noticed the explosion of begging on our streets. This last year I began seeing young able bodied woman at exit ramps begging for the first time.

    Oliva:

    Gotta say, it looks and feels like a pathology–this (highly engineered, heavily sponsored) turn toward anti-community in the guise of wanting “freedom.” It’s not natural! The people who pretend they got where they are on their own have invested so much in disliking others, sitting in judgment. If not for grants of a kind and pooled resources, would they have drinkable water, a highway to drive upon, a school, a library, a life? Funny (not funny!) how they keep track to make it look like they’re paying for things while others are not. A very unseemly construction. Gotta move beyond this willfully unwholesome era – we know it could be much better for many more people. So much work to do… not exactly simple work either.

    Lynne:

    The programs for poor people to help them pay for their water are inadequate. Water in the city of Detroit costs about double what it costs in Ypsilanti, partly due to things like older infrastructure and a large number of people not paying. Free water (up to a point) is a human right imho. The solution seems obvious to me. Socialize water and provide a certain amount per person free of charge and then charge a LOT for anything over that amount. Get the people who landscape or fill pools to subsidize everyone else.

    And for those of you who have no compassion for your fellow human beings, look at it from a purely selfish angle. There are some serious diseases which can crop up if sanitation isn’t adequate. If there is one thing society should want to encourage, it is toilet flushing and hand washing. Just from the public health perspective…

    I might also mention that the Palmer Park Golf Club in Detroit owes the city $200,000 in unpaid water bills. We also use a lot of water for things like baseball fields. Comerica park owes the city $55,000 for water. Hockey ice rinks apparently use $80,000 of water which has not been paid for. If we are going to have a discussion about deadbeats, perhaps we can start there?

    Grumpy:

    Potable water to drink is a basic human right. That represents about 1% of the 100 gallons of water used by the average American. Flushing the toilet with clean water that is fit to drink is not not a human right.

    I know I won’t convince all of you, but I do hope that at least some of you come away from this post recognizing, as I do now, that this is about more than just lazy Detroiters looking to game the system. This is about the rising cost of being poor in America. This is about the cost of living rising as wages fall. This is about the end of the American middle class. And Detroit is ground zero.

    It’s worth pointing out that, after last week’s big protest in Detroit, and the letter from the United Nations, the City has issued a 15-day moratorium on water shutoffs. Furthermore, Canadians have begun smuggling water across the border for the people of Detroit and someone has launched a website where donors across the world can be matched up with Detroiters who need help in order to pay their water bills.

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Detroit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

    Ypsi 2014 mayoral debate

    I couldn’t attend, as I had something else I had to attend to, but my friends Ben and Lindsay hosted a mayoral debate on Monday night at the downtown Ypsilanti library. Here’s the video. If you hit “play” right now, we can watch it together…. Actually, just give me a couple of minutes. I want to pop some popcorn and open a beer.

    Posted in Ypsilanti | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

      Howard Dean on his 2004 run for President: “We were really running against the Democratic party… The Democratic party was becoming increasingly what we would now call corporatist. They’d given up. They just weren’t fighting for a better country.”

      A few days ago, at the Netroots Nation conference, I had the good fortune to catch a session with former presidential candidate, and progressive standard bearer, Howard Dean. Following is the first of three videos I hope to post over the coming weeks, accompanied by my quick attempt at transcription. In this clip, you’ll hear Dean, who until somewhat recently served at the head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), talk about how he made the decision to run for President, the genius of his campaign, Cheney’s “horse shit,” Bill Clinton’s lying, and the price he paid for telling the truth. (The questions during the session were posed by Joe Joe Rospars, who got his start with the Dean campaign before moving on to be Obama’s chief digital strategist during both of his presidential campaigns. In an attempt to streamline things, I’ve reworded and simplified his questions in the transcription below.)

      howarddeandetroit

      What made your 2004 campaign so revolutionary?

      I didn’t win, so I’ve had 10 years to think about the campaign. (Laughs.) What I realized is, the great genius of our campaign was not that I was against the war and all of that stuff, when nobody else was. The great genius of our campaign was that we had tons and tons of 23 year olds like Joe who came to work for us. And we actually listened to them, and let them decide what to do. And that is actually how this got built. So I actually see our campaign, for those of you who are a little grayer, even though I bear no resemblance whatsoever to Gene McCarthy in many ways, our campaign was in many ways the Gene McCarthy campaign of the ‘60s. It was the expression of a whole new generation… that I call first globals and not millennials. And that’s what the campaign was all about. It wasn’t as well organized as it might have been, but we sure had a hell of a lot of fun. And I do think that we revolutionized politics, but not because I was revolutionizing politics. What I did was give young people the freedom to come to the campaign and revolutionize politics. And that’s really what happened…

      How did you decide to run for President?

      I didn’t ask anybody, including my wife, whether or not it was a good idea to run for President… So I’ll tell you how I got to run for Lt. Governor (of Vermont). I was in the legislature for two terms… And everything in Vermont, until you get to the top five offices is part-time, including Lt. Governor… So, during my second term, Judy and I were getting ready to have our second child, and that was clearly much to much for our small loft apartment in downtown Burlington, for which we were paying the huge amount of $125 a month. And so we had to move. We had to move out of my district. And, in the district I moved to, there were two State Reps, both of whom were Democrats. They were incumbents. And I wasn’t going to run against them. I could have run for State Senate in Chittenden County. But Chittenden County, by Vermont standards, is a big, very expensive county (to run in). And I could have run against Jim Jeffords, which would have been a loosing proposition. But I figured, “Ah, I could get my name out there.” Or, I figured, I could run for Lieutenant Governor. And I figured, “A Chitlin County race is just as expensive as a Lieutenant Governor race, so you might as well run for Lieutenant Governor.”

      So, then, I thought I was being so smart and clever… and I was about 35, or something… and I sit down with this rookie reporter from the Rutland Herald, which, at the time, was the most respected paper in the state in terms of politics, people who know politics, and so forth. And I’m trying to be so clever… as the southern part of the state has no idea who I am whatsoever… as the Burlington Free Press is the big paper in my area… so I thought that I’d hint, and float a trial balloon. And I’m thinking that I’m so smart and so sophisticated. And the next day, on the front page of the Herald… it’s a Saturday, and there’s not anything going on… and the headline says, “Dean to Run for Number Two Spot.” (Laughs.) So I’m working on Saturday morning and my wife gets a call. “What do you think about your husband running for Lt. Governor?” And she says, “WHAT?” (Laughs.) So, the Presidential decision was pretty much made the same way. (Laughs.)

      Did you go into the race with the intention of building a grassroots campaign?

      No… Actually, opposing the war wasn’t on purpose either. I think one of the charms that the campaign had was that I pretty much said what I thought, which got me into trouble on numerous occasions. But I think it was refreshing for people to see a candidate who said what he thought, and wasn’t looking at 19 polls to tell them what they should think. What happened was… First of all, I realized that, over this past ten years, we were really running against the Democratic party. The Democratic party had completely lost its way. They had deregulated Wall Street, which was a disaster, and we’re still paying a price for it. They had voted for Bush’s tax cuts, which had led to this enormous deficit which Obama keeps getting blamed for. The truth is, those deficits are mostly due to A. the recession that was caused by Bush, B. the tax cuts which were caused by Bush, and C. the Iraq war. That’s where the deficit comes from. So Obama deserves no blame for the deficit whatsoever. You can’t say that when you’ve been President for six years, but, in fact, that is the truth. So the Democratic party was becoming increasingly what we would now call corporatist. They’d given up. They just weren’t fighting for a better country.

      So I’d intended to run on balancing the budget, which I thought was important, and on universal health care, which hadn’t been looked at in a long time. And then the Iraq war came along… and I’m not that much of a dove. I supported the first Iraq war because I thought we had a treaty obligation to Kuwait. I supported the war in Afghanistan because they harbored people who killed 3,000 Americans. But I’d also lived through Vietnam, and I read the British press… mostly the Guardian and the Independent… and, in Britain, they publish defense stuff that you couldn’t get published here. And the two intelligence agencies in the world that are the closest are not the Israeli and American intelligence agencies, but the British and the American intelligence agencies. So I was pretty sure that whatever the British knew, the Americans knew. And British intelligence was saying there were, in fact, absolutely no weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq. And they were also saying that… because Cheney was trying to make out that (Iraq) had an atomic weapons program, which turned out to be complete horse shit… (Laughter.) I actually did not use that word during the campaign, but it’s one of the few that I didn’t… So it turned out that what the Brits were telling their people, which is what was getting in the papers, was that there was probably not an atomic program. And, even if there was, it was five years from any progress.

      So, I’d been in this movie before, where a President of the United States was lying to our faces, and sending 55,000 American kids to die in Vietnam. And I didn’t want to see that movie happen again. And that’s how I got to be against the Iraq war. At the time I didn’t know that much about foreign policy. But I’m thinking, “These guys are lying to our faces, and, if they’re lying to our faces, I don’t know what the facts are, but I do know that they’re lying, and we shouldn’t be going to war. If the President and Vice President think it’s OK to lie to us, A. they shouldn’t be in office, and B. we shouldn’t be going to war.” (Applause.) So that very bluntness unearthed… The support of the campaign was actually a bimodal distribution. The young people we drawn to the campaign because somebody was willing to stand up and say what was what. Young people have always been drawn to frankness. As you grow up, you realize that’s not always the best political tactic. (Laughter.) But that’s the way I am, and I wasn’t going to change. And there were also a ton of people my age who had given up on politics. And they came out in droves. A ten thousand person rally, which is what we had in Seattle, just blew me away. By Obama standards, that’s not all that big, but it was an incredible thing. People who didn’t believe in politics because of all of the shananagins that had gone on, suddenly began to think that there was hope again. And then the 23 year olds came in.

      And we didn’t know how to do any of this stuff. Joe and his huge team, all of whom were being paid about two hundred bucks a week, when they got paid at all at the beginning… We had these old, clunky sites. Remember, there was no Twitter. There was no Facebook. There was no YouTube. There was email. We had this company Convio, which has somehow still survived. (Laughter.) and Lieberman and Gephardt were using Convio at the same time. So, every time we’d send out an email, and all of these gazillion dollars in contributions would come in, all of their sites would crash, giving us a double benefit. (Laughter.) We’d be bringing all of this money in, and they couldn’t bring any in. So these guys were building this stuff on the fly. (Points to Joe.) They were inventing all of the tools on the fly. We had a lot of interesting stuff, but no one had figured out how to put it all together. Of course, those days, everyone over 30 was totally incompetent with everything having to do with the internet, except for tiny handful of geniuses. But these people who were 23 knew everything. So we said, “Great, you take over the campaign, and I’ll just go out and talk.”

      How was running a state different from running a campaign?

      I didn’t run the campaign, and that was a mistake. The candidate should never run the campaign, but we were in a lot of disarray back in Burlington. The biggest problem was me, of course, because I’d say what I thought, and I was impulsive. What I said was true, but you do get penalized for telling the truth. I remember when Saddam Hussein was captured. It was on the day of my first major foreign policy address. It was to a group of foreign affairs people in LA. And so we worked out this speech, which was about five or six pages of single-spaced stuff which I was supposed to read. And I absolutely hated reading speeches. I hated it with a passion. But I agreed to do it, because every “i” had to be dotted, and ever “t” had to be crossed. It was all very diplomatic language. And, when Saddam was captured, I didn’t call the office, and I didn’t talk with any of our foreign policy people, and we had some very good people who were working with us, including Susan Rice and Sandy Berger, and I didn’t call any of them. I just crossed out a few lines and wrote in, “And we are not safer now that Saddam Hussein has been captured.” And that is true. This was irrelevant… But it was a stupid thing to do on this triumphal day when everyone could feel good about the American armed forces for having captured this terrible person, who was hiding out in a cellar somewhere. So that’s the kind of stuff which just didn’t help. When you have a candidate who basically does what they damn well please after having agreed to do something else…

      Then there was the problem with management at the top of the campaign. Which I’m not going to go into.

      And the third problem was our operation in Iowa. And we didn’t have the means to fix it. And that was the only state that we didn’t understand. We were way ahead of everybody else… Kerry actually had to borrow our electors in New York State. New York State is the hardest state to get on the ballot of any state in the country, by far. You have to have a certain number of signatures in each of the 45 counties, or whatever it is. And then you have to have three electors from each one of those counties. And we had a full slate, and no one else did. So our on-the-ground people were unbelievable. But there were a lot of problems on the campaign and that’s the real reason we didn’t (go any father).

      You can’t really run your own campaign if you’re running for President. And you shouldn’t. But you do have to have a very disciplined, experienced, organization. And it wasn’t just that.

      And there was also the fact that other Democratic candidates were trying to stop you. Weren’t the other campaigns coordinating to keep you from getting the SEIU endorsement?

      Edwards actually stayed out of it, to his credit. It was Lieberman, Kerry. Gephardt and Wes Clarke… who was actually… These are stories you never heard before… (Laughs.) I’ve probably never told this on in public before, but I’m going to tell it…

      So, the day that Gore endorsed us, which was the 9th of December. This is a big surprise, and all of this… After he endorses us in New York, we fly to Iowa and do an endorsement there. And then he flies to Sweden or somewhat, and I’m flying back… because, of course, I’d disrupted my schedule (for this). And I get a call as we’re taking off, and it’s President Clinton. And he said, “Hey, Howard, how are you?” (Doing a Clinton impression that gets big laughs.) I said, “Well, Mr. President, I’m doing just great.” …I learned two things from this call… And he says, “I know there are a lot of rumors around that the Clintons are supporting Wes Clark, and that is just not so. It’s not true.” And I said, “Umm Hmmm.” And I knew exactly how long he was going to talk. He was going to talk for 37 minutes. Because that’s how long every phone call he… He once called me in a candy store in Vermont, where I was buying presents. The phone rings. And I was at the cashier’s desk. And it’s Bill Clinton on the other end of the line. And it’s Christmastime… And he says, “That is not so.” And so we talked for a while. And the plane is taking off… Cell phones, by the way, do no disrupt plane takeoffs. (Applause and laughter.) …So the plane is taking off and we’re getting higher and higher, and the cell drops off, and that’s the end of the call with the President. So I learned two things. One, I learned that he thought that I was going to win, although he never said that, because he wouldn’t have called me (otherwise). And, two, they had indeed gotten Was Clark to get into the race in order to get me out of there, which is why he insisted that he hadn’t. (Laughs.)

      Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

      Elizabeth Warren outlines the fight ahead for Progressives at Netroots Nation 2014

      One of my favorite people in the whole world, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, dropped by the Netroots Nation conference yesterday in Detroit to talk about banking reform, the threat of oligarchy, the fight to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and those things that she feels that we, as Progressives, are ready to fight for. My video is below, but here’s a bit of the transcript.

      …We can’t win what we won’t fight for, and it will be a hard fight. Today, many powerful companies look for any way they can to boost their profits and their CEO bonuses. They try to run more efficient companies. They try to grow faster. They try to beat out the competition. But many of them have another plan. They use their money and their connections to try to capture Washington, and rig the rules in their favor. From tax policy to retirement security, those with power fight to make sure that every rule tilts in their favor. Everyone else just gets left behind. That’s what we’re up against. That’s what democracy is up against.

      Just look at the big banks. They cheated American families, crashed the economy, got bailed out, and now the biggest banks are even bigger that they were when they were too big to fail in 2008. They still swagger through Washington, blocking reforms and pushing around agencies… A kid get caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank launders drug money and no one gets arrested… The game is rigged! It is rigged!

      But it isn’t just the big banks. Look at the choices that the federal government makes right now. Our college kids are getting crushed by student loan debt. We need to rebuild our roads and bridges, up rage our power grid. We need to more investment in medical research and scientific research. But, instead of building a future, this country is bleeding billions of dollars from tax loopholes and subsidies that go to rich and powerful corporations.Billion dollar companies take advantage of every benefit they can squeeze out of the American government, and then they put together sleazy deals with foreign countries so that the can renounce their American citizenship and pay no taxes… Billionaires pay taxes at lower rates than their secretaries.

      How does this happen? It happens because they all have lobbyists… lobbyists and Republican friends in Congress… lobbyists and Republicans to protect every loophole and every privilege. The game is rigged, and it isn’t right. It is not right.

      Take a look at what happens with trade deals. For big corporations, trade negotiations are like Christmas morning. They can get special gifts through trade negotiations that they could never get through (through other means). How does that happen? Because trade negotiations are held in secret so that big corporations can do their work behind closed doors. Giant corporations get insider access to promote their interests while worker rights and environmental regulations are just gutted. From what I hear, Wall Street companies, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, big polluters, and outsourcers are all smacking their lips at the possibility of rigging the upcoming trade negotiations.

      Now stop and ask yourselves, “Why are trade deals secret?” I’ve actually heard supporter say, “They have to be secret, because, if people knew what was going on, they would be opposed.” It’s true. Well, my view is, if people would be opposed, then we shouldn’t have those trade deals.

      The tilt in the playing field is everywhere. When the conservatives talk about opportunity, they mean the opportunity for the rich to get richer and the powerful to get more powerful. They don’t mean opportunities for a young person with $100,000 in student loan debt to try to build a future. They don’t mean opportunities for someone out of work to get back on their feet. They don’t mean opportunities for someone who worked hard all of her life to retire with dignity… The game is rigged…

      So, the way I see it is this. We could whine about it. We could whimper about it. Or we can fight back… I’m fighting back.

      This is a fight over economics. A fight over privilege. But, deep down, it is a fight over values. Conservatives and their powerful friends will continue to be guided by their internal motto, “I got mine, the rest of you are you’re on your own.” Well, we’re guided by principle. And it’s a pretty simple idea. We do better when we work together, and invest in building a future.

      We know that this economy grown when hard-working families have the opportunity to improve their lives. We know that this country gets stronger when we invest in helping people succeed. We know that our lives improve when we care for our neighbors and we help build a future not just for some of our kids, but for all of our kids. That’s what we believe! These are Progressive ideas. These are Progressive values. These are America’s values. And these are the values that we are willing to fight for…

      (As progressives) we believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it! We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect the earth, and we will fight for it! We believe that the internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations, and we should have real net neutrality, and we will fight for it! We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage, and we are willing to fight for it! We believe that students are entitled to get an education without begin crushed by debt, and we are willing to fight for it! We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting social security, medicare and pensions, and we will fight for it! And… I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014… We believe in equal pay for equal work, and we are willing to fight for it! We believe that equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, it’s true in the workplace, it’s true in all of America, and we will fight for it! We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and we will fight for it! And we believe that corporation are not people (unintelligible), and we will fight for it!

      I know that she’s said that she wouldn’t run, but I think that sounds like a pretty good Presidential platform right there… What do you think?

      Posted in Corporate Crime, Detroit, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

      Over 1,000 Detroiters shut down traffic, demand the city “Turn the Water On”

      I’m heading back into the conference now, but here are a few photos from today’s protest in response to the water issue in Detroit… I don’t know what the powers that be in Detroit must have been thinking when they decided to shut the water off now, just as 3,000 of our nation’s most radical progressive bloggers were descending on the City, but I’m sure, if they had it all to do over again, they would have done it a little differently. This thing is blowing up well beyond their control.

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      [note: Not everyone is sympathetic.]

      update: Today’s Detroit Free Press feature, “Life without water makes for some difficult choices for Detroit residents,” does a pretty good job of laying out the situation as it now stands in Detroit. Here’s how it begins.

      A single mother, living in the blighted Brightmoor neighborhood in northwest Detroit, keeps a jug of water by the toilet for flushing.

      She takes a shower when she picks her daughter up at a relative’s home.

      She heats up store-bought water in a microwave to wash her 6-year-old’s face and hands.

      This Detroit mother chooses gas for her car over water.

      The water shutoff situation in Detroit has reached a boiling point. For many low-income Detroiters, the city’s push for water shutoffs due to unpaid bills is creating a crisis.

      If you are more than two months late paying your bill, and owe $150 or more, the Water Department may send a “shutoff technician” to turn off the tap. In May, the department shut off water for 4,500 residents. In June, the number hit 7,210 customers.

      The Brightmoor mother said she recently landed a good-paying government job in Ann Arbor after years of no or low-wage work. It takes $20 a day to get back and forth to work. She owes $5,347 to the water department.

      “It’s kind of impossible to pay everything and get to work,” she said. “We’ve been without water for three weeks now.

      “I got caught up on my light and gas. I got caught up on the rent. The water was the last thing,” she said.

      To get the water turned back on, she said she needs to pay $1,604.

      “Now that I finally have a decent job, plus my saving, I can pay my bill. I believe in paying my bills. I do,” she said. “But they want $1,600, and I don’t have it.”

      Posted in Civil Liberties, Detroit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 53 Comments

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