3061 Field St.
Detroit, Michigan, 48214
Thinking for Ourselves
The business and political elite gathered on Mackinac Island last week to determine ways that will advance their interests and solidify their political control. As reported, “Nearly 1,700 business leaders, politicians, and philanthropists headed to Mackinac Island to rub elbows, and discuss issues in the state ranging from education to transportation.
“Michigan’s political establishment decamps for this conference because they are drawn by the movers and shakers in the business world who come up here, and vice versa — the business people come up because there is easy access to Michigan’s political class.”
Each year the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the gathering, organizes panels and speakers around themes, or “pillars.” It is obvious that the rejection by Amazon of the Dan Gilbert/Detroit bid to entice its new headquarters here formed the backdrop of the gathering. The pillars were “Is Michigan Prepared?”; the “Mobility Disruption, and “Trust,” restoring confidence in government, news media and business. Transportation and education dominated the discussions.
Over the years these gatherings have been incubators for state level initiatives. This year is no exception. We should all be concerned about the intentions signaled by conference goers to continue to meddle in affairs where they are ill equipped to make decisions. Yet, with an astonishing combination of ignorance and arrogance, the conference provides a glimpse of the collective agenda to continue efforts to “privatize” public goods.
The disaster of our public education system is perhaps the clearest example. The head of the Chamber of Commerce, Sandy Baruah, said, “I think education has been one of those issues that we’ve been talking up on the island in one form or another for years now,” We always talk about it but we haven’t been able to solve it, and so that’s a continuing frustration for us.”
Mackinac gatherings have provided the backdrop for the development of schools of choice; efforts to use public money to finance private, often religious schools; the establishment of emergency management; standardized assaultive and abusive testing; increased police presence in schools; assaults on teachers unions; efforts to charge parents for children’s misbehavior; removal of social supports; resisting anti-bullying efforts because they included LGBTQ concerns; extension of time required in school; and eroding qualifications for teachers. These are just a few of the ideas floated on the island over the years. Many have become laws creating the some of the worst, most destructive and abusive school practices in the country.
Baruah assures us there is no end in sight to this commitment to the destruction of public education.
In part these destructive policies are nothing more than the enactment of neoliberal, austerity politics aimed at turning all public responsibilities into private profit centers. The Mackinac gathering is simply the place where people reassure one another that they are committed to “business as usual,” and making Michigan ever more business friendly.
But these policies do not emerge by accident. The Republican dominated legislature, governor and court system reflect the long standing influence of frequent island visitors such as right wing ideologue Betsy DeVos and family.
Last fall the Republican party gathered to celebrate their hold on state and national government, a government which right wing money like that of the DeVos crew helped establish.
The DeVos family has made at least $82 million in political contributions nationally, as much as $58 million of those dollars spent in Michigan — with $14 million in the last two years alone.
As Free Press writer Nancy Kaffer observed, “In Michigan, it’s difficult to find a significant state-level policy change the DeVos family hasn’t backed: right-to-work, pension reform, unfettered school choice.”
The conference may be over, but the consequences linger. They remind us of the urgent, persistent work ahead to create more human, caring, and creative ways of living.
Join Sweet Water Foundation for the First Annual Juneteenth Celebration at the Perry Ave Commons to create, build, and celebrate freedom and community. Experience the richness of the Commons with Arts & Crafts, Music, Dance, Cooking Demonstrations, Food, Family, and Fun! The celebration will also feature SWF’s first farmers’ market of the season.
Breathe Free Detroit – June 2018 Updates
Please join us for the next
Breathe Free Detroit Community Meeting:
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
6:00 – 7:30 PM
Cass Corridor Commons, 4605 Cass Avenue
D. Blair Theatre (enter through red door at rear of building)
The meeting will include:
updates, including the release of our incinerator report and meetings with City officials
planning for fun summer Breathe Free Detroit activities!
discussion about what closing the incinerator means for our community
Bring a snack to share if you can, but just come!
The 12th Consecutive Annual Backpack Giveaway and Neighborhood Festival on August 4, 2018 is more than an event; it’s a celebration of Love, Hope and Self-Determination. We go extra hard because our people deserve an extra kind of love! We have been able to impact thousands of lives by giving a damn, and with the support of the people from different walks of life. Donations will go to support the following: 1) Backpacks, 2) School supplies , 3) Food (hot meal provided to each attendee as well as hot dogs and snacks all day long) 3) Children’s activities (bounce houses, games, art projects, face painting etc), 4) Live performances, 5) Water supply, 6) Prizes , 7) Portable stage , 8) Porta John, 9) Preparing the site for the event, 10) Dj & Sound system, 11) Photographer…
May 29th, 2018
A free and open web powers our ability to organize across communities, borders, and even the world. That’s why we’re joining more than 50 leading racial justice groups urging members from the tri-caucus to sign on to the House CRA to restore #netneutrality
Thinking for Ourselves Shea Howell Who Benefits
Last week Dan Gilbert received the largest tax subsidy in Michigan history to support his private developments. The board of the Michigan Strategic Fund in Lansing approved $618 million for four linked projects that are estimated to cost $2.2 billion. For perspective consider that the Little Caesars Arena cost $863 million, of which $329.1 million was in subsidies. Or consider that the city gave Belle Isle to the State because it could not afford the $6 million in annual upkeep. Or the $7.8 million the City Council approved for Homrich Wrecking to shut off water.
RJ Wolney, vice president of finance for one of the Gilbert companies involved, Bedrock, said that “the incentives are needed to create catalytic developments to help fill the funding gap of building such projects that can’t be made up with current rents for downtown commercial projects.”
This is the central question. Is the public responsible to underwrite private development? Why? For whose benefit? What is the public good from such private ventures?
Dan Gilbert obviously thinks he is owed public money to achieve his private vision. He has been working at putting the legal structure in place to allow such tax subsidies for several years. In 2016 he was behind a series of bills, brownfield tax subsidies, that were so blatantly pushed by him they were informally dubbed the “Gilbert bills.” At the time even some republicans thought it was too much to ask of Michigan taxpayers. Then Speaker of the House, Ken Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) said, “If he can’t make a deal work without state aid then it is not a deal worth doing, and Michigan taxpayers should not be forced to invest.”
But taking a page from the DeVos and family playbook, Gilbert went back at the legislature with changes in the legislation that spread some of the potential benefits around. The Detroit News reported: Public campaign finance records showed that various Quicken Loans employees gave a total to $35,975 to state House members’ committees in 2017. Of those 56 lawmakers, 48 voted yes on the main bill in the brownfields package.
This is the legal framework for transferring taxes that would have supported schools, universities, roads, parks, police, art, and health care.
The practice of using public money to support private business ventures is not new. What is new is the scale and extent of these public commitments. We are all on the hook to Gilbert’s plan for the next 30 years. We are told that given this long-term view, we the citizens will actually benefit from the process.
This is highly debatable. A recent study by the Texas Organizing Project explored similar claims in Houston. The study found “the city was failing miserably at the task of making these programs work for the public… from job creation to setting and achieving equity goals to workforce development and community engagement.” They concluded, “From a community-based perspective, we argue that if economic development tax breaks are not addressing a community need in the service of advancing equity, then they deserve to be called out for what they really are—a windfall for the private sector and a drain on our city’s cash-strapped budget.”
Gilbert, along with the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, and Downtown Development Authority, did all they could to ensure that Detroit would not have a serious community benefits agreement. A strong agreement would demand that questions of the public good, public priorities, and mutual responsibilities be discussed and decided in open, transparent ways.
Developing a city requires a great deal more than big plans and giant tax breaks. This new deal is nothing for Detroiters to celebrate. It is a call to reinvigorate community benefits and restore vigorous public discussion about the direction of our city.
Thinking for Ourselves
Mother’s Day with Nestle
Shortly after Mother’s Day, three Nestle semi-trucks will roll into Flint with free bottled water. Between Mother’s Day and Labor day Nestle will donate 100,000 bottles a week to three service centers where people can pick up the bottled water. The Mayor of Flint has graciously thanked the company for its “willingness to help the people of Flint.”
There are so many things wrong with this public relations stunt, it is hard to know where to begin. First there is the obvious problem that Nestle is “donating” water that the entire state, and in some ways much of the globe, is paying for. Nestle is pumping 400 gallons a minute out of the underground springs that feed the Great Lakes. For this desecration it pays the state $200 a year. That is less than many people in Flint pay for water on a monthly basis. They are doing this in spite of the largest public outcry on record for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Over 80,000 people objected to the authorization to nearly double the amount of water Nestle takes and puts into little bottles.
The decision to allow Nestle to increase its pumping capacity came on the heels of Governor Snyder’s decision to no longer distribute free water to the people of Flint. The Governor noted the water in Flint is now safe to drink, mostly. Nestle is the largest “owner” of a private water source in Michigan. Its head spokesperson is Deb Muchmore, the wife of the Governor’s Chief of Staff. The science behind the decision to allow increased pumping of water is based on questionable science, especially given the information gathered in a court case in 2003 when Nestle was order to stop operations due to “ecological harm and massive reduction in water levels.”
Given the series of lies the people of Flint have heard from public officials since 2014 when their Emergency manager joined with the Detroit Emergency Manager to remove Flint from the Detroit water system, it is understandable why the Governor’s comments are greeted with suspicion. Moreover, the glacial pace of removing lead pipes and replacing them means that aggregate testing of water does not mean every home is safe. Some families in Flint are depending on 22,000 bottles a year to live. But people still object to taking water from a company that is essentially stealing a precious resource for its own profit.
This year, as we celebrate Mothers Day, we should all remember just what kind of company Nestle is. Since the early 1970’s it has callously manipulated people around the globe into using baby formulas that require reliance on contaminated water. In 1974 a report called the Baby Killer by War on Want, sparked a global boycott. In 1981 the World Health Organization adopted a strict code of advertising to ban the promotion of formula as “comparable to breastmilk.” In February of this year Nestle was found to still be pushing formula as comparable to breast feeding, violating international guidelines and its own stated ethics.
In many places around the world, baby formula depends on water. Water that is often contaminated and unsafe to drink.
Nestle’s efforts to deflect our concern is foolish. The people of Flint, like people everywhere, deserve clean, fresh, affordable water. Until Flint’s entire water system is replaced, the State has a moral obligation to provide bottled water. We need a thoughtful, region-wide policy that recognizes our responsibilities to protect the waters of the Great Lakes and to respect the people and life they support.
3.1 mi away
|When:||Saturday, March 24, 11:00 AM|
The Detroit March for Our Lives is an inclusive student-led march being organized by a coalition of very dedicated metro-Detroit high school students, with support from a large group of university students and adult allies. People of every age, race, ethnicity, citizenship and gender will come together for this cause, and all are welcome. On March 24, students and community members of ‘March For Our Lives’ will take to the streets of Washington, DC and nearly every other major city in the United States to demand that their lives and safety become a priority. Detroiters will march at the Riverfront in view of and only .5 miles from Canada, a country that has 51 times fewer gun deaths than the United States. We need your help to deliver the message that mass shootings must stop in this nation and that governing action on gun laws must be taken. Our collective voices will be heard!