Federal judge rules in favor of banks and political dictatorship in Detroit bankruptcy decision
By Abayomi Azikiwe on December 3, 2013
Dec. 3 — Judge Steven Rhodes has ruled that a state-imposed emergency manager was acting legally when bankruptcy was filed over and above the objections of the people of Detroit. The judge also said that pensions guaranteed under the Michigan constitution could be diminished.
Rhodes stated that even though Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager and a former partner in corporate law firm Jones Day, did not negotiate in good faith with unions, pensioners and creditors, such a process was impractical. There was no recognition or acknowledgment of the role of the banks and the corporations in the financial destruction of the city and its people in today’s eligibility decision.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Orr in March against the wishes of city residents and elected officials. Facing widespread opposition to his restructuring policies in the courts and in the streets, Orr filed for bankruptcy in July.
This ruling took place today at the same time as union members, retirees and community activists demonstrated outside the courtroom in downtown Detroit. The protesters carried signs calling for bailing out the people not the banks and in favor of cancelling the bank debt that they say is completely illegitimate.
One community leader, Marian Kramer, co-chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told the crowd outside the court, “They’re attacking the pensions of the public employees. Everybody else better start standing up, cause you’re next on the chopping block, because it sets a model for the rest of the country.”
Ruling will affect other cities, ruin people’s lives
The decision has national ramifications for municipalities across the United States facing similar problems in the aftermath of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to leading financial publications, dozens of states in the U.S. have pension systems that are considered underfunded. The decline of revenue sharing from the states and federal government can only mean more austerity for urban residents.
Since 2008, the banks have been bailed out to the tune of at least $14 trillion while poverty, unemployment and political repression have escalated for the overwhelming majority of working and oppressed people.
David Sole, a retired city employee in the Department of Water and Sewerage and an organizer in the Stop the Theft of Our Pensions Committee, said outside the courtroom after the judge’s decision that the ruling “exposed Rhodes as an agent of Wall Street. Retirees will be driven out of their homes into the streets. We will be living in cardboard boxes if our pensions are cut and health care eliminated. This is the same federal court system that justified slavery for over a hundred years. We cannot expect justice from them.”
Most people in the city of Detroit viewed the bankruptcy proceeding as a foregone conclusion. The right to vote and to collective bargaining has been largely stolen under the guise of a ruling-class response to the economic crisis.
Detroit is the largest per capita African-American-populated city in the U.S. The emergency manager law, which voters turned down in November 2012, has disenfranchised over half of the African-American people in the state of Michigan.
Even though the people voted against emergency management, the right-wing-dominated state legislature immediately passed another law reinstituting political dictatorship on behalf of the banks. In addition to the emergency manager law passed last December, state lawmakers, along with the governor, made Michigan a right-to-work state.
No mention of role of criminal banks and corporations
The economic crisis in Detroit is the product of the restructuring of capitalism over the last six decades. Census reports going back to the 1950s reveal that large-scale capital flight and the loss of jobs and household income have driven down living standards inside the city.
In 1950 Detroit had a population of approximately 1.8 million people. Today there are only 700,000. After the theft of hundreds of thousands of industrial, service, professional and skilled jobs, Detroit was then targeted in the late 1990s and early 2000s for racist predatory lending. Subprime mortgage lending to Detroit residents led to 100,000 home foreclosures. These figures speak volumes in regard to the ravages of capitalist exploitation and national oppression.
Banks and other financial institutions profited immensely from the eradication of neighborhoods through fraudulent loans. City and state officials, along with the federal government, refused to place a moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs, resulting in the loss of 25 percent of the city’s population between 2000 and 2010 and of corresponding tax revenue.
City workers and retirees have been blamed consistently by the corporate media for the crisis. This is being done despite the fact that municipal employees have faced massive layoffs and pay cuts over the last decade.
These well-documented facts, however, were not taken into consideration by Judge Rhodes. In line with the right-wing agents of the banks and corporations, the bankruptcy court placed the onus of the crisis on the backs of the workers and oppressed.
During the course of the bankruptcy hearings and trial, more than 100 people filed objections to the proceedings. Pensioners, residents, homeowners and workers outlined for the court why the bankruptcy filing was unjustified and illegal.
The proceeding violated the political will and the right to self-determination of the people of Detroit. After Orr was appointed emergency manager in March, his former law firm, Jones Day, was given a multimillion-dollar contract to represent the city in the restructuring and bankruptcy.
This was done despite the fact that Jones Day has financial institutions such as Bank of America as its clients. It has been reported in the corporate media that up to $62 million in contracts have been given to outside firms for “consulting fees” to carry out the wholesale robbery of the city and its population.
Lawyers for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have already filed an appeal of the eligibility ruling. These attorneys will also seek an appeal in the federal Sixth Circuit in an effort to place a stay on the bankruptcy proceedings.
Hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy
Many protesters outside the courtroom were angered because their voices in opposition to emergency management and bankruptcy were completely ignored by Judge Rhodes. People’s attorney Jerome Goldberg, who represented a pensioner in the trial, said that an upcoming hearing on whether a deal drafted by the emergency manager to borrow $350 million from Barclays in order to pay off Bank of America and United Bank of Switzerland for a questionable interest rate swap deal from 2005 will reveal the “true character of the bankruptcy court.”
Goldberg told Workers World, “This decision by the federal court points to the necessity of the retirees mobilizing in the thousands. What’s more important than appealing Rhodes’ decision is to bring people into the streets to oppose this ruling.”
The trial on the Barclays swap deal will begin on Dec.17. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs is calling for people to demonstrate outside the federal court in opposition to the payoff of Bank of America and UBS. These two financial institutions played a significant role in the mortgage crisis that has plagued Detroit for years.
In a leaflet circulated outside the federal courthouse, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition stated that “Beginning on Dec. 17 there will be a trial to determine if 20 percent of city income tax dollars will be pledged for six years after bankruptcy to make good on this gift to the banks. This trial will determine if Detroit is to remain permanently enslaved by the criminal banks.”
Despite the overwhelming vote in November 2012 against the emergency manager law, the slew of legal challenges to this usurpation of democratic rights, the filing of legal objections and the consistent petitioning and protests, the courts, acting on behalf of the banks, are committed to the blatant violation of the needs and rights of the workers, retirees and residents.
These developments illustrate clearly the failure of capitalism in the present period. Capitalism has proven to be incapable of addressing the economic crisis that has impacted not only Detroit but the U.S. as a whole and indeed the world.
As one organizer said during the rally outside federal court: “This ruling demonstrates the need for a fundamental restructuring of the political, legal and economic system inside the U.S. There is no justice for workers and oppressed people in the courts. Our only victory will come from the court of public opinion crafted in the streets in struggle against the bankers and the bosses.”
Colombia: The meaning of the peace process
By Berta Joubert-Ceci on October 19, 2013
Freedom in Colombia – International Day of Solidarity with political prisoners and in support of the peace process. An October 15th Coalition Action at the Colombian consulate
Historical events were plentiful in Colombia this past year: agricultural strikes, peace negotiations, people’s assemblies, large student demonstrations — in short, dynamism in social movements. Although the upsurge has not been massive enough to change the balance of power, it has been enough to give everyone a glimpse of the path toward hope for this country’s people, for whom hope up to now has been denied.
For more than a year, representatives of the FARC-EP (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia-People’s Army) and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos have met in Havana, Cuba, for negotiations leading toward ending the armed conflict in this Andean country.
The talks began with the task of finding a “General Agreement for ending the conflict and building a stable and lasting peace.” But they are not merely conversations between opposing forces trying to reach a consensus. They reflect Colombia’s harsh reality that affects the vast majority of the population. They expose the enormous inequalities that exist in this country, which make a peace with social justice impossible. They also expose the lack of democratic guarantees for those who oppose the neoliberal policies that the U.S. imposes and the national government implements.
The armed insurgency waged by the FARC-EP, as well as the ELN (the National Liberation Army), are simply the expression of a people who face so much poverty, hunger and misery, with no other possibility of waging struggle. In Colombia, the struggle for human, social and labor rights is paid for with blood and with one’s life, as demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands of deaths of social and human rights activists, peasants, Afro-Colombians, students and trade unionists.
That is why this peace process is aimed at the entire Colombian population. The FARC has even created a page on the Internet “mesadeconversaciones.com.co” where the proposals not only can be read, but where they invite the general public to write their comments and suggestions. FARC representatives at the negotiating table study these comments and incorporate them into their proposals to the government. From the table they also made a call to hold forums on specific themes in Colombia to encourage active participation in the negotiations.
Of the six points on the agenda for the discussions, only the first two have been completed: (1) comprehensive agricultural development policy, (2) political participation, (3) end of the conflict, (4) solution to the problem of illicit drugs, (5) victims and (6 ) implementation, verification and endorsement,
Each step of the talks has been hampered by the government’s clear reluctance to achieve a solution other than that the FARC-EP unilaterally lay down its weapons. On the one hand, the government has refused to end the armed confrontation while carrying out the peace process. On the other hand, it has not allowed an open dialogue between citizens and insurgent forces.
Only very recently, on Oct. 1, was an interview from Cuba by journalist Antonio Caballero with FARC spokespeople Pablo Catatumbo and Ivan Marquez broadcast on Colombian television on the program “Las Claves” on the Capital Channel. In this interview they explained to the Colombian people how the discussions have developed. (canalcapital.gov.co)
National agricultural strike
When a major “National Agrarian and Popular Strike” started in Colombia on Aug. 19, it exposed the great need for an agricultural policy that benefits the people, that is, agrarian reform, the first item on the agenda for the negotiations.
While the problem of land tenure has been central to the conflict, the approval of the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. in May 2012 has worsened the economic situation, especially for the Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and peasant populations. The increased cost of transport and production materials, the flood of cheap goods from the U.S. that compete with Colombian products, etc., are reminiscent of how the implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) between Mexico and the U.S. provoked the uprising in Chiapas in January 1994. The consequence of NAFTA was the destruction of Mexican agriculture, throwing millions into extreme poverty and migration.
In all sectors of the Colombian peasantry, a deep and growing dissatisfaction finally exploded in August.
“The national agrarian strike is the result of the social discontent about the calamitous situation in which most of the rural population in Colombia live … due to the signing of the FTA that was designed primarily to benefit foreign capital and a few national oligarchs who are associated with them, said Jairo Jurado, member of the Patriotic March.’’ (andes.info.ec)
Peasant organizations defending their lands against the impact of FTA launched the strike with blockades of major highways. In a few days they extended the action throughout the country, and other sectors of the population — unions, students, etc. — joined in.
Santos’ government responded with massive violence. By Sept. 8, it had committed 660 cases of human rights violations, wounded 485, killed 12 peasants, made 262 arbitrary arrests, and threatened and harassed 52 people.
Although Santos tried to downplay the strike and nationwide struggle, by the end of August, “more than 300,000 people, including peasants, Indigenous, Afro-Colombians, workers, transport workers, students, and Colombians in general, were active in this just struggle.” (viacampesina.org )
After blockading for 21 days, the peasants ended the national strike but not the demonstrations. The National Agricultural and Popular Committee for Dialogue and Agreement (MIA) was formed to engage the national government in a dialogue. Despite several meetings with the government, Santos’ administration has yet to fully respond to the needs and the proposals of the MIA. The convening organizations say that the measures granted by the government have been insufficient and that the government speaks and promises but does not deliver. One of the demands of the strike was to “suspend and review, together with the organizations of small and medium producers, the free trade agreements with the United States, European Union, Korea and other countries.” (viacampesina.org)
The government’s response has been instead to intensify the criminalization of social protest in general. For a long time the Colombian government has accused leaders and social, student and union activists of being members of the guerrilla movement. Many women and men have been killed by paramilitaries, police or military forces. There are more than 10,000 political prisoners. Many people aren still missing and being threatened.
The Santos government wants to erase this reality and come up with a new face after the terrible rule of its predecessor, the paramilitary President Alvaro Uribe. But the situation has not only remained the same, it has been made worse by the intensified invasion of transnational corporations, particularly from the U.S., and the subsequent theft of lands from Afro-Colombians, the Indigenous and peasants.
One of the latest incidents that has outraged the people is that on Aug. 25 the government arrested and imprisoned Huber Ballesteros Gómez, a union leader who was a national spokesman for the MIA, Vice President of FENSUAGRO (the National Unitary Agricultural Union Federation) and member of the National Patriotic Board of the Political and Social Movement-Patriotic March, who was falsely accused of the crimes of rebellion and terrorism. Unions and other activists launched a national and international campaign demanding the immediate release of Ballesteros.
This is the real government response to the just demands of the Colombian people.
Therefore, it is essential that international progressive movements follow closely the peace process of the Colombian people and reject the violence of the state against the popular sectors. And those in the U.S. should demand that Washington end its military aid to the Colombian military machine.
No War on Syria – Don’t Believe the Lies!
We have seen this all before.
Time & again U.S. wars were started based on a LIE!
Don’t believe the war propaganda.
FACTS on Syria:
There is absolutely no evidence or confirmation that the Assad government carried out the alleged chemical attack.
- UN weapons inspectors were in Syria at the Syrian government’s request only 10 miles from where the attack took place the day they arrived.
- Carla Del Ponte, a UN Human Rights Investigator, said about earlier charges that the Syrian government has not used chemical weapons, but the rebels have.
- In May, 12 members of the Syrian rebel forces were ar- rested in Turkey holding 4.5 pounds of the neuro-toxin gas sarin alleged used Aug. 21.
- In January, the British “Daily Mail” reported that the Syrian rebels planned a chemical attack to be blamed the Syrian government as a pretext for U.S. intervention. The report was based on leaked military contractors’ e-mails.
- The U.S. funds and arms Syrian, despite the rebels’ record of rape, murder, and torture, and a UN report that they actively recruit young children.
- The Assad government has fully cooperated with the weapons inspection teams.
- UN inspection team members have openly stated doubts about the chemical attack.
- Reports on the attack are inconsistent. Some reports said over 1,300 were killed. Other reports have said less than 200. Still other reports say over 350.
- “Doctors Without Borders” admits its report is based not on their own investigation, but based on reports they received from a Syrian rebel group.
- Videos of the alleged attack were posted on the internet by allies of the Syrian rebels, BEFORE the alleged attack took place.
- The U.S. currently urges the U.N. weapons inspection team to halt its work. U.N. weapons inspectors insist they must continue their investigations to determine facts.
- Despite this confusion and inconsistency in the attack claims, the U.S. and its colonialist allies in Britain and France openly prepare an attack on Syria.
Past US Wars and the BIG LIES used as pretexts
- The Spanish-American War 1898 — “Remember the U.S.S. Maine.” But an internal explosion sunk the Maine.
- World War I 1917 — the fraudulent “Zimmerman Telegram”, claiming Germans were plotting to invade the U.S. with Mexico.
- Vietnam War 1964 — “Gulf of Tonkin” incident. Vietnam’s PT-boats never attacked the U.S. warships.
- Grenada 1983 — False allegations that that U.S. medical students were at risk.
- Panama 1989 — False allegations about drugs and attacks on U.S. troops.
- Yugoslavia 1999 — Unsubstantiated and later discredited reports of genocide in the Kosovo province of Serbia.
- Iraq 1991 — False reports of Iraqi war crimes against babies in incubators in Kuwait. A complete invention.
- Afghanistan 2001 — “War on terror.” None of the alleged 9/11 attackers had any connections with Afghanistan’s government.
- Iraq 2003 — False charges of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and “Chemical and Biological Weapons.” No such weapons found by the U.S. occupation.
- Libya 2011 — False claims of genocide and rape, threats to Benghazi, later discredited.
This plane was refused overflight permission by France, Spain, Italy and Portugal on July 2 while in the air. It couldn’t land to refuel before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The plane finally had to touch down in Vienna, Austria, where it sat for 13 hours, until the Indigenous President Morales allowed an Austrian official onboard.
That the countries involved gave only technical reasons for refusing to allow the plane to fly over and land on their territory is a clear sign that they were aware that the forcing down of Morales’ plane is a violation of international law: Aircraft carrying government leaders have diplomatic immunity.
Behind this unprecedented and criminal action was Washington’s panic that whistleblower Edward Snowden would receive asylum in Bolivia or some other Latin American country. Snowden was not on board Morales’ plane. Snowden is the contract worker for the National Security Agency who sacrificed his career, risked his freedom and safety by releasing to the world documents showing the vast extent of U.S. electronic spying on scores of countries. The NSA uses this same electronic spying on people in the U.S. too, many of who consider him a hero for exposing “Big Brother.”
Snowden, like Pvt. B. Manning and other whistleblowers who are enmeshed in the vast bureaucratic and repressive state apparatus, discovered in their work that the government they identified with was engaged in criminal and often murderous activity in the interest of a tiny few billionaires and multi-millionaires at the pinnacle of wealth in the United States. They rebelled against being used for these ends. Their exposure of U.S. imperialist crimes is a contribution to the freedom of the people of the world and to the working class inside the United States, who have no interest in protecting and extending the wealth of a tiny few.
It is nothing new for the United States to infringe on the sovereignty of nations south of the U.S. What distinguishes this case is that the leaders of Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and other Latin American countries are attending an extraordinary meeting of the Union of South American Nations on July 4 in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba to demand respect from the imperialists and to show solidarity with Morales.
We too, as anti-imperialists in the United States, want to express our solidarity with the Bolivian leader and his regional allies in the defense of their sovereignty, and to defend Snowden, Manning, Julian Assange and all others who expose the truth about the repressive international U.S. spy and murder machine.
Israeli attack on Syria widens war — U.S. anti-war movement on alert:
Statement from The International Action Center
The latest Israeli warplane striking the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, during the nights of May 2-3 and May 4-5 have dangerously escalated foreign intervention in the ongoing war in Syria. The anti-war movement in the United States must be alert to the growing attempt by the U.S., other NATO powers and now the main militarist threat in the region, Israel, to overturn the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria and replace it with an imperialist puppet.
These strikes and Washington’s obvious support for all Israeli aggression against Syria appear to be the opening thrust of open imperialist military intervention in the war in Syria. For the past two years, Western imperialism fed weapons through the Qatar and Saudi monarchies through NATO-member Turkey to arm and fund reactionary “rebel” forces inside Syria. This support kept them going and extended the bloodletting of Syrians.
In recent months the support not only from the U.S. but from imperialist Britain and France, the former colonial powers in that region of Western Asia, has increased and grown more and more overt. The Pentagon has placed Special Forces on Jordan’s border with Syria. The U.S. and other NATO countries have personnel with anti-missile batteries on Turkey’s border with Syria.
The governments and the corporate media machine in the NATO countries have carried out an intensive propaganda campaign against the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. The stories about use of chemical weapons have no basis in fact. The imperialist gun running has cost the lives of tens of thousands of Syrians, yet all the blame for these deaths is heaped on the Damascus government. For the imperialists, Syria’s real sin was to have wrested some independence from U.S. and West European domination and to be an enemy of the Israeli settler state.
Despite the material, diplomatic and political support for the “rebels,” the Syrian government in recent weeks has clearly been defeating the reactionaries militarily. At the same time, the “rebels” are split into dozens of little groups, each with its own leadership. The military initiative of these contra rebels has slid over to those groups closest to al-Qaida in ideology. The U.S. and its allies have contributed by recruiting people closest to this ideology from all around the world and sending them — mercenaries, reactionary fundamentalists of all backgrounds — into Syria as veritable death squads. They are capable only of bringing sectarian slaughter to Syria.
No matter what today’s or tomorrow’s pretext for more Israeli attacks — and the Israelis and their U.S. backers will tell plenty of lies — Israeli air strikes against Syrian soil put Israel on the side of the reactionary uprising against Damascus. It clearly places bloody U.S. and NATO imperialism and the Israeli local gendarmes on one side and the Syrian people and government and their allies on the other. It means that U.S.-NATO forces are resorting to what is a desperate measure: using the Israeli pit bull against an independent country in that region.
It would not be the first time the Israeli state has played the role of cat’s paw of imperialism in the region. The French-British-Israeli seizure of the Suez Canal in 1956, the June 1967 war against the progressive Syrian government, the 1982 invasion and occupation of Lebanon and the more recent blows against the Palestinian and Lebanese liberation movements are other examples. While serving its own interests as an expansionist settler state in the region, Israel also serves the interest of the worldwide dominant U.S. and NATO imperialism. In the current situation with U.S. and other NATO powers controlling all intelligence and monitoring the airspace, it is more than reasonable to assume that any Israeli airstrikes are first signaled to and approved by Washington.
For the anti-war movement in the United States, it is a time to remove any doubts about who is who in the war going on in Syria. The worldwide forces of oppression — U.S., NATO and Israel — are all lined up against the Syrian government. It is time demand U.S., Israeli, NATO hands off Syria!