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Form and substance

Week 57 of the occupation

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Last week, the destructive direction for Detroit being pushed by the corporate elite was on full display. In the courtroom, boardroom and banquet hall, the image of a whiter, wealthier city, governed by fiat was celebrated.

First, there was the astonishing courtroom performance of Mike Murphy, arguing for the state of Michigan, to dismiss the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Emergency Manager Law.

The issues raised by this challenge go to the heart of what kind of country we are becoming. This is the core legal challenge to the abuses of authority that surround the state’s effort to use “financial distress” to strip cities of political power.

The suit declares the Michigan Emergency Manager Law “unconstitutionally strips local voters of their right to a republican form of government by transferring governance … from local officials to one unelected emergency manger… In each of these communities, citizens will have effectively lost their right to vote for elected officials or had that right diluted so as to render it an exercise in form without substance.”

Murphy based his case on the evolving legal theories pushed by right-wing think tanks around the country. Only state governments matter in this theory. They argue the U.S. Constitution recognizes two sovereign entities, the federal and the state governments. States, they claim, are primary.

Following this line Murphy said, “There is no guarantee of any local government having a republican form of government. There is no due process for local government matters.” Nor, apparently, for individuals.

In explaining away the sordid history of Gov. Rick Snyder and the right-wing state legislature in passing another emergency manger act after it had been resoundingly rejected by a majority of the citizens of the state, Murphy declared, “We’re not governing by referendum. … We don’t pass laws by voting. We live by elected representatives who pass laws for us.”

Near the end of his comments claiming no one has been harmed by emergency manager laws and the legislation has nothing to do with race, Murphy declared, “We are not a democracy.”

What is clear in Detroit, Michigan and around the country is representative democracy has become completely distorted by money and power. At almost every level, corporate interests contradict the will of the people.

Rick Snyder

Rick Snyder

A few days before the hearing, Emergency Manager Orr spoke at the American Bankruptcy Institute in Washington D.C. He commented the drive to bankruptcy was just a small part of a larger, orchestrated effort by the right-wing governor to restructure the entire city. Orr said, “One of the things that was most striking to us in this process is while the bankruptcy was filed July 18, 2013, the restructuring process had been going on for three years prior to that … when the governor, Gov. Snyder, made a courageous move to say, ‘I’m going to take on Detroit. … It was just good work.”

In discussing that “good work,” Orr, never asks the critical question of “whose interests are served.” However, the implications are clear.

He explains to the audience “the interest of the city” can be seen in the hands of “city fathers and mothers — Roger Penske, Dan Gilbert — committed to the city for years; the foundation community, a billion dollars over the past ten years to the city of Detroit coming in; and professionals, some of who I talked with this morning, about what it means to be involved. Downtown, the central core — nine square miles, we’re 97 percent leased … we actually have had investors come in who trip over each other. We had a group of investors from China come in and they bought three buildings because the value proposition and the relatively low acquisition costs smells a whole lot like … other cities that have gone through a renaissance.”

The substance of the new Detroit Orr, Snyder and the corporate elite want is clear. Only the people stand in their way.

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