The motor city pileup

(Photo credit: ktpupp)

(Photo credit: ktpupp)

“A dream does not die on it’s own. A dream is vanquished by the choices ordinary people make about real things in their own lives.”

-Jonathan Kozol

I was meditating in my cleansing temple (taking a shower) one evening when I asked myself, “Self, what are the first three words that come to mind when you think of Detroit?” Being a lover of arcane word association games, particularly when they are attached to the business end of a school psychologist trying to figure out if I belong in gifted classes or special ed, I played along with myself. “Hmm, here goes…Isaiah Thomas, Motown and Chrysler”. Isaiah Thomas, of course, because he was a member of the once beloved Detroit Pistons, whom I loved watching play when I was a kid. Motown because of all the great music before it was co-opted by, who else, the corporate capitalists and Chrysler because it was the company that made the singular worst car I have ever owned, a wood-paneled 80′s era town and country station wagon. Alas, these days, there are far more morbid terms that come to mind when Detroit is mentioned in the national discourse…bankrupt, destitute, forsaken, come readily to mind. Detroit has the distinction of being squarely in the crosshairs of the global ruling class, whose predation knows no cartographer’s bounds. If Detroit were a car, it’s check engine light would be on. Glen Ford wryly observed, “Some cities, including New Orleans and Detroit, were, in the words of Public Enemy, “too Black, too strong,” with African American majorities of 67 and 80-plus percent, respectively.” These uppity cities surely needed to be put in their place.

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(Photo credit: N-I-C-O)

Most of us know what happened to the city by the bayou…God flooded it because he was mad at the human race, especially the beignet-loving ones. But there was no “act of God” in Detroit to use as cover for the shock doctrine, the methodical and deliberate profiting off of the calamity that results from a natural disaster or event, which has become one of the sharpest tools in the neoliberal’s woodshed. So Wall Street had to get to work manufacturing it’s own perfect storm. The gentrification of gathering places for strong black and brown communities has been evident in major urban centers across the country. But gentrify is too kind of a word for what the princes of privatization do best which is plunder. In Detroit, the casino capitalism that courageous journalists like Greg Palast, Chris Hedges, and Matt Taibbi, to name a few, have been covering for years came up lucky 7′s. Using complex financial schemes known as interestswapcreditderivativese, the city was set up like the one-pin to get knocked down by the billionaire banker’s bowling ball. As the chips came due, an Emergency Financial Manager, a consiglieri, was installed to serve as the city’s taskmaster and do the bidding of his true bosses in Lower Manhattan and the City of London. Last summer, during a 90-degree plus heatwave the electricity was turned off by the emergency manager’s office without any prior notice in order to send residents a “strong message”, leaving workers stranded in elevators and public transportation brought to a standstill.

Occupy Wall Street

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The message has been delivered loud and clear regarding who is now large and in charge in the seized up motor city. The selection of Detroit as the blueprint for Austerity 2.0 was by design. The ruling class knew well that the always present undercurrent of racism in the American zeitgeist would ensure that a tipping point of public outcry would not be reached. Now, the vulture capitalists are licking their lips at hoovering up the public wealth and resources of the city including it’s vast art collection at fire sale prices. Needless to say, the hard-earned pensions of the city’s public workers are also up for grabs. If this sounds familiar, you have been paying attention. Greece has suffered similar humiliations at the hands of the global elite. While the official talking point is “Greek deadbeats should stop living off the public dole and pay their debts”, if the country were a crime scene, Goldman Sachs’ fingerprints would be all over it. In Detroit, it is “lazy, freeloading welfare residents”, code for poor, black people who are to blame for the city’s struggles. If only they had gone to Harvard and learned how to hustle people legally out of every last nickel and dime, we would be lauding them as the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. Speaking of role models, I would be seriously remiss if I didn’t offer proper respect to Nelson Mandela, known affectionately as Madiba to his close followers and admirers, which are legion. Mandela was the real deal, a man who spent 27 years in a South African prison for striking fear and loathing in the hearts of the white power structure in Johannesburg and well beyond.

(Photo credit: HelenSTB)

(Photo credit: HelenSTB)

Those who questioned whether the political ground Mandela gained as leader of the African National Congress was overshadowed by the economic power that was conceded to the De Beers of the world have never done battle with an army of $1,000 an hour lawyers. There are far better scribes than myself to put Mandela’s death in the proper context and give him the graceful sendoff he deserves. Suffice it to say, if a politician’s lips are moving, you can count on something hypocritical being uttered. Years from now we’ll be listening to fawning, pompous speeches about Chelsea Manning, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. Mandela like other true visionaries and revolutionaries recognized that the real power players were safely behind the curtains, untouchable and rendered unrecognizable. Meanwhile, at street level, the minions they have released to do their bidding have unleashed a hell on Earth that seeks to copyright, patent, trademark and genetically modify anything on the planet that isn’t nailed down. The only good Earth in the eyes of the captains of capitalism is a scorched Earth where no child is left behind to ask what the hell happened here. As the Age of Austerity continues to take aim at the American landscape, it’s only a matter of time before the poisoned dart lands on a city close to your heart. When future generations play the word association game with friends, what words will come to mind when your city is called?

Peace and solidarity to all readers.

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41 Responses to The motor city pileup

  1. desilef says:

    You boiled it down to its essence. A succinct response to share with people (too many of us) who think what happened there was sad but inevitable. And unique to Detroit.

    Like this

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      It’s cliché to say it’s us against them but the reality is that it’s, well, us against them. Far more astute thinkers than me have come to similar conclusions that Detroit is the blueprint. It may be the first major city to fall but it won’t be the last. Take care, Diane.

      Like this

  2. smilecalm says:

    may we all
    wake up
    compassionately
    divesting of material wealth
    realizing there are
    way more of us
    than them
    and we want
    a future to be possible
    for Detroit and every corner
    of humanity :-)

    Like this

  3. “The only good Earth in the eyes of the captains of capitalism is a scorched Earth where no child is left behind to ask what the hell happened here.”

    Great piece Jeff, thank you. Not offering us comfort and joy, but a perfect reminder of why there is none, not for us ordinary people. These days we need wake-up calls, not lullabies. – Linda

    Like this

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      The comfort and joy arises when we collectively rediscover and tap into our shared humanity, warts and all. The bonds that cannot be broken by the oppressor’s steely gaze. Glad to be in the same side of the struggle with you, Linda.

      Like this

  4. There I was, saving up to buy Detroit for a dollar. Here I am, understanding that it is a money haven, already sold to the highest bidder. I gets no break…

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  5. Great one, Jeff. I’ve always thought of it as a terrible betrayal: The cities where American jazz, R&B and rock’n’roll were birthed and grew (New Orleans, Detroit, Memphis) were left to decline, and yet the music—all of it with African American origins and roots—is the country’s greatest cultural export and ambassador.

    “Don’t forget the Motor City: This is supposed to be the New World!”

    Liked your Mumia Abu-Jamal/Mandela connection too.

    Like this

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      New Orleans and Philly are two of my favorite cities and both have been hit hard by the economic wmd known as austerity. Authentic culture is usually a target of the dominant culture’s ruling class. The traditions, languages, customs and bonds of indigenous and expatriated cultures are diametrically opposed to the numbing standardization and lockstep conformity required to “fit in” with the mono-culture.

      Sorry if I came across as preachy, Denise. I know you know the score.

      Like this

  6. tubularsock says:

    Great post Jeff. Tubularsock is afraid that the power players are already setting themselves up to control the things that are not “nailed down” as well. Air and water …….. the Bush family (as power players they are low fruit but in the game) has for some time been buying up watershed lands in the west to control water rights. In time this type of futuristic investment will be extremely dangerous to people without “means”.

    The power players have already cornered the market on “hot air” but I’m talking about “quality air”. How will they do this you ask? Take these thoughts to your “cleansing temple” and continue your meditating.

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    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      Air, land and water…it’s a full-on amphibious assault. As you remind us, water rights are a major source of contention across the globe and even in the homeland. The Colorado River alone is a study in negotiations and treaties. Interesting to note that Detroit sits near the Great Lakes, one of the largest sources of freshwater on the planet.

      Thanks as always for stopping by, Tubular. Now back to the cleansing temple…

      Like this

  7. wolfess says:

    Pwr 2 the DETROIT peons!
    GUILLOTINE THE POWERBROKERS!

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  8. Leen61 says:

    Jeff,
    Powerful stuff. Many more cities are on the Wall Street chopping block to be cut up into little pieces and passed on to the financial criminals once again. There are not enough voices in places of power to keep this from happening over and over again. This raid on our lives is systematic and we seem powerless to keep it from happening. :(

    Like this

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      Yes, there are most likely a number of major cities already teetering that we haven’t heard about yet. I would argue that there are not enough voices from the mainstream speaking out yet. Those in power will not speak out against themselves. We are not powerless, though. Your blog has taught me and I’m in the choir. I have no doubt you and your sister have opened many eyes to see and ears to hear.

      Keep on keeping’ on, Leen. :-)

      Like this

  9. skulzstudios says:

    Well said Jeff.

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  10. Oh Jeff, so powerful and so right.
    Imperialism needs to die.
    The imperialist embarrassment that is our current government, has fired the final salvo into our iconic homebrand car manufacturer Holden (owned by General Motors now though). Is shutting down in Australia in 2016 and going offshore and I think it’s to teach those uppity pesky unions a lesson.
    Latest news is that Mr Abbott has ordered a BMW bomb proof car, (he’s gonna need that kind of protection) AND surprise surprise his daughter has been appointed as a BMW ambassador! The man, the Party, the Government (and his family) are absolutely shameless.

    I’m with you on the positive Detroit word association gig – Motown and soul music!

    The mission of the current ruling elite seems intent on destruction.

    We are slow to learn history’s lessons.

    Like this

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      In America, we sometimes forget there are other countries that exist. From what I’ve read, Australia has followed America’s lead on some of the belt tightening measures, aka austerity. Teaching unions a lesson sounds like a familiar refrain. Apparently, we’re too spoiled…the serfs and slaves never had unions and look how well they turned out.

      Motown was significant not just for it’s musical contribution, which alone was immense, but for the fact that it was black-owned. I think the major labels in the U.S. are down to three and they all are on auto-tune.

      If we are slow, it’s because many of us have been taught the history lessons of our colonizers. The elite have studied the history of empires well and know which side they are playing on. In America, too many still think their captors have their best interests at heart. It’s a hard habit to break, believe me I know.

      Take care and stay strong, PV. :-)

      Like this

      • The more I read, the more I believe they are doing and have been doing it for years.
        In fact it’s what the capitalist system functions on.

        Look at any trafficking story, they enslave by creating a debt that’s practically insurmountable.

        Apparently slavery is making a comeback, it won’t be long at all till MSM begin to put a positive spin on how ok it is to work for nothing. Oh hang on they already are, I just read the other day about a woman born into slavery in the UK was she quite happy with the ‘arrangement’.
        I rather doubt it but that’s the spin of that particular story.

        Re the history written by the victor thing – I had a thought the other day about establishing an alternative history site where people can post the lost stories of the invisible folk.
        Stories about how it’s ok and cool to be not aggressive and powerful by being fair.
        I surmise it would be quite empowering.

        The big machine gobbles and makes false promises.

        And we are too tired, distracted, scared and lacking in resources to break and run.

        It’s been engineered that way on purpose.

        And so we are chewed up and pooped out.

        Our blinkers dissolved by the bile of the corporate stomach, are off and we see.

        If we are free of the machine, what then?

        Have we got a cunning plan?

        We better formulate one eh?

        Envisage a better way of being.

        Draw some lines in the sand.

        Make it so.
        :)

        Defeat the machine by creatively visualizing it’s defeat.

        Like this

      • Jeff Nguyen says:

        I had a thought the other day about establishing an alternative history site where people can post the lost stories of the invisible folk. Stories about how it’s ok and cool to be not aggressive and powerful by being fair. I surmise it would be quite empowering.”…I, for one, would be very interested in such a site if you do it. We can start to change the outcomes by debunking the false narratives spoon fed to us and by spinning our own tales of love, friendship, cooperation, etc. Great idea, PV!

        You might like this article, “How High School Text Bookz Indoctrinate Youth With A False and Dangerouz Sense of Our Racial History”:

        http://moorbey.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/how-high-school-text-bookz-indoctrinate-youth-with-a-false-and-dangerouz-sense-of-our-racial-history/

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  11. Time to organize, I guess, to stop the international banking institutions from destroying our cities. People seem to be pursuing a number of different strategies. In about 20 states, grassroots groups are organizing to create state banks like the Bank of North Dakota that would allow states and municipalities to opt out of Wall Street altogether. And about five have passed legislation (in addition to Pennsylvania which already has it) which allows cities to enact a Land Value Tax. An LVT shifts the tax burden to real estate developers and wealthy landowners, so cities don’t need to borrow money to begin with. I will leave the more radical options to your imagination.

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    • I love reading the comments of your readers, Stuart your information is always pertinent and inspiring. Jeff, we are living through very dark times – what can we say but that it is always darkest before the light. Even though it appears that the materialist capitalists have the power – it is only material power. And it will be overcome as the circle continues to turn. Thanks for another thought provoking read.

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      • Jeff Nguyen says:

        I share your love of reading every reader’s comments, including yours. This is what elevates the blog far beyond anything I could do on my own. The arc will bend fully toward justice, it’s just a matter of when, not if. Unfortunately, many are suffering in the interim. I do look forward to your daily haiku and shots of Alaska, Skywalker.

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    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      I appreciate the practical solutions and alternatives you bring to the table. More localized control is a good counterbalance to super sized federal control. I hope these initiatives you mention are successful.

      Now you’ve got my interest piqued, Stuart. Care to share some of the more radical options? My imagination is not what it used to be. ;-)

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    • I agree, Wall Street and all it stands for has a LOT to answer for.
      Time to break the stranglehold.

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  12. Jeff-your posts just keep getting better and better. Between your great writing, dark humour, and thought-provoking insight as well as the forum/comments, you really get this reader to thinking. Keep up your great work!

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    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      Thanks, Meg. The response section does seem to be taking on a life of its own. Glad you’re a part of it.

      Every time I see one of your canine portraits, I imagine my chihuahua posing and just hang my head in shame. You must have some great treats for your model.

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  13. Jeff, your post addresses the issue of who bears responsibility for what happened in Detroit and that is as it should be. However, as Joseph Schumpeter pointed out markets work through creative destruction. I predict that Detroit will rise from the ashes. By the time most people agree that there is a problem, the problem is well on its way to being solved. That is another aspect of markets worth paying attention to.

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    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      Hmm…while the markets are working through it’s “issues”, there are millions of people suffering on a daily basis not only in Detroit but around the country. Hope that problem is well on its way to being solved thing happens sooner rather than later.

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  14. Vassilis says:

    A very powerful post Jeff. I only hope the remaining citizens gather up and make the change. The problem is that there is no easy solution. Going back to the traditional ways in order to find the so called self-sufficiency, might solve the problem temporarily, but then it is a matter of passing a law that forbids you to have domestic animals, or grow anything etc. It is already happening in a way with the genetically modified seeds and with the public health warnings for viruses coming from animals. Urbanization after all has been the best way to control people. Because you have to relay on politicians for everything, be that water, electricity, transportation, food, etc.

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    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      Hi Vassilis…It will take a massive reshifting of priorities that I doubt the majority of mainstream Americans are ready or even willing to consider, much less initiate. The controlling of the food supply is well established, as you mentioned. Real, systemic change is going to be uncomfortable but so is perpetuating the status quo. I wish more people knew just how much the people of Greece have suffered in recent years. Solidarity will have to reach across borders.

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  15. H3nry J3kyll says:

    I can only imagine how you cringed when you saw the apparatus that stood in lock step with Botha and de Klerk consuming the Mandela legacy to sanitize their support of his incarceration. Should we really be surprised by Palestine today? Wonderful post that draws attention to the “darker” side of causality.
    Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Jeff.
    (Should have picked GM in the 80s bud, my 84 Buick Regal was a warrior. lol)

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    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      The hypocrisy meter is off the charts. This is exactly why controlling the discourse through education, media and entertainment outlets is so important to the ruling class. When the discourse is controlled, it is much easier to manage dissent. Then the myth makers can spin any narrative they want to.

      I’ll give you Buick but never had a GM or Ford, for that matter. ;-)

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  16. Reblogged this on Jesse Talks Back and commented:
    Thank you for always helping me think

    I gave you the versatile blogging award

    http://jessetalksback.com/2013/12/22/i-was-awarded-the-the-versatile-blogger-award/

    Like this

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