Calls for Obama Intervention as Detroit Threatens Water Shut-Off for Another 25,000 Residents

Calls for Obama Intervention as Detroit Threatens Water Shut-Off for Another 25,000 Residents

Local activists say city payment plan is ‘unsustainable’ and unjustbyLauren McCauley, staff writer 8 Comments”We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story,” said DeMeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade. (Photo: Detroit Water Brigade/Facebook)Despite international outcry over a previous push to shut off water to its poorest citizens, the city of Detroit on Monday will begin to hand out notices to as many as 25,000 residents, threatening once again to turn off the taps.The warnings will be hung on the doors of households where water bills are at least 60 days late or exceed $150 in overdue payments. Residents will only be given 10 days to pay their bill or sign up for a payment assistance plan.However, despite the city’s attempt to increase assistance to the lowest income customers, advocates say that these efforts don’t go far enough.”They can send out the notices, but really are not reaching out to the people,” DeMeeko Williams, of the grassroots humanitarian group the Detroit Water Brigade, told the Detroit News.”We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story,” added Williams.After the initial wave of mass shut-offs began in December 2014, the city was met with fierce resistance including a damning statement from the United Nations, which accused Detroit of violating the human right to water.”If people are already unable to pay their bills, how could you expect them to keep up if you add past-due payments on top of that?” —Maureen Taylor, Michigan Welfare Rights OrganizationUnder the city’s new payment option, dubbed the “10-30-50” plan, overdue households enter a two-year agreement by first paying down 10 percent of their past-due balance, while at the same time covering their monthly bill. If a payment is missed, the resident will then have to pay 30 percent of their balance; after that, 50 percent of the balance. If a fourth payment is missed, residents face having their water shut off.However, a recent survey by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan found that nearly all of the customers signed up for the plan are now 60 days overdue.ACLU reporter Curt Guyette writes:According to the most recent numbers provided by Detroit’s Department of Water and Sewerage, 24,743 residential customers are enrolled in a payment plan. Of that number, 24,450 are at least 60 days past due on their payments—meaning that their homes are in danger of losing water service once the city resumes shutoffs.    Stated another way, only 300 of the 24,743 customers put on the mayor’s payment plan were able to keep up with their payments and ensure their water will keep flowing.    “You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the outcome would be,” Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told Guyette. “If people are already unable to pay their bills, how could you expect them to keep up if you add past-due payments on top of that? The plan was fundamentally flawed from the beginning, and we said that.”MWRO has started a petition calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene against the renewed shut-offs, which the group says target “low-income families and have affected the homes of children, the disabled, and our honorable veterans.”With some families forced to pay as much as 30 percent of their monthly income to restore their water supply, the petition charges that the city’s payment options are “unsustainable” and unjust.”No mother or father should have to choose between paying a water bill and meeting their family’s other basic needs,” reads the statement. “The crisis is growing, and Detroit’s families need your help.”

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Extremists Attack Draw Muhammad Contest, Illustrate Problems in Islam and Bias in the Media

© Josh Sager – May 2015

Yesterday, two Muslim extremists armed with guns shot at, and tried to enter, a Muhammad cartoon competition located in the Dallas area, Curtis Caldwell Center. Fortunately, the organizers of the event had hired significant amounts of extra security (one report estimated $10,000 worth of off-duty police to supplement the normal security measures), who shot and killed these terrorists before they could enter the building. One security guard from the Curtis Caldwell center was shot in the leg and his injuries are not life-threatening.

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This shooting is just the most recent in a long pattern of Muslim extremists attempting to murder people who they see as offensive to their religion or its prophet. If the police had not been there to stop these men, there is little doubt that this would have been a repeat of the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

The event that that was attacked was put on by Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative. While the name of this group sounds positive, the fact is that Pamela Geller is a right wing ideologue and her group is little more than a neoconservative idea mill that produces bad foreign policy ideas and nationalist propaganda. Her group was running a draw Muhammad contest that would award $10,000 to the cartoonist who drew the “best” cartoon. Ostensibly, her event was intended to promote free speech and fight back against Muslim anti-speech violence, but it is very likely that she was just trying to antagonize people and raise donations from right wing supporters.

That said, her motives, methods, and ideological background are completely and totally irrelevant to this situation. In the USA, everybody has the right to be a bigot or idiot, and nobody has the right to harm people who they disagree with. Geller was well within her rights to sponsor an event that lampoons Islam, and Muslims have every right to be offended and insult her back.

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The terrible irony of this situation is that the attackers and many in the media covering the attack have done everything possible to prove Geller’s anti-Muslim message for her.

First, two Muslim extremists went to a peaceful (if offensive to some) cartoon exhibition with the intent to murder cartoonists for insulting them. These two individuals are real-life manifestation of the barbaric, violent, theocratic, caricature that has been applied to Muslims throughout the west. It is simply impossible to call Islam a religion of peace while lunatics like this are committing such violence across multiple continents.

Second, many people in the media have reacted in a way that suggests that the natural and expected response to drawing Muhammad was that violent Muslims would try to murder you—oftentimes, these are even the same people who claim to hate Geller for being an “Islamophobe” or a hate-monger. They blame these cartoonists and Geller’s group for “inciting” the attack and say that it was wrong of them to use their right to free speech in the way that they did. They argue that the intended-victims are somehow to blame for the violence that was almost perpetrated against them.

Put simply, these people are demonstrating true bigotry by infantilizing Muslims and inadvertently buying into the argument that Muslims are just so savage, extreme, and uncontrolled that society cannot hold them to the standard that we hold everybody else. They claim the mantle of “religious tolerance” while they really present a case for anti-Muslim condescension.

By holding society to a different standard in regard to insulting Muslims, these people are willing to justify denying American’s their rights and pandering to religious extremists. Their proposed sensitivity is wholly limited to Muslims, and if Mormon extremists had bombed a showing of “The Book of Mormon,” none of the individuals would ever make these excuses. This is simply because they have internalized the ugly stereotype of Muslims that they purport to reject (unconscious bias) but are trying to make a visible effort at overcompensating in the other direction (extreme political correctness).

The only non-racist way of looking at this situation is to hold EVERYBODY to the exact same standards. No group should be assumed inferior or less able to control themselves in the face of criticism and no line of discourse should be seen as so offensive that it requires a response with a gun. In a world that follows this ideal, anybody is allowed to insult any religious group—whether it is Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Scientology or Pastafarianism—without their speech being used to excuse violence as a response. Even racists, homophobes, nationalists, and sexists have this expectation of safety while they exercise their speech rights.

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In exchange for letting even bigots have free speech, we receive an indispensable return: those who have positive views which offend the mainstream are also protected. At one point it was “offensive” to the American mainstream to promote interracial marriage or equal rights for women, gays, and African Americans. If we didn’t protect unpopular speech, we would never have changed into a country which is proud of supporting these once “offensive” ideals, as any civic discourse aimed at shifting public opinion could simply have been met with violence (even these protections were imperfect, as the KKK demonstrated at the time).

If somebody is offended by speech, they can ignore it, complain about it, counter it with arguments, boycott its sponsors, mock it with humor, or do any number of other things that do not involve violence. Unfortunately, many Muslims have yet to learn this and are currently stuck in much the same mentality that Christianity was stuck in during the dark ages—any blasphemy or thought-crime must be met with force so that god doesn’t get his feelings hurt. This thought process has no place in a free society and Muslims was work within their communities to implement the very same reforms that Christianity did (ex. separating religion/government, adopting religious protections, not taking insults to religious figures as seriously, etc.) while further marginalizing the extremists who give their religion a terrible name.

Progressives and Conservatives Must Unite to Stop the TPP’s Corporate Assault on the American People

© Josh Sager – May 2015

 

In the coming months, it is incredibly likely that the Congress and the President will try to join forces and pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It appears as though the Congress is preparing to give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the agreement, which would then allow the president to submit the deal to the Congress for approval without the possibility for amendments or even significant analysis. If this happens, the TPP could conceivably be passed into law very quickly, in a way that is very difficult to stop and nearly impossible to repeal.

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If passed, the TPP will have immense consequences and will affect approximately 40% of the entire world’s gross domestic product (GDP). It would govern trade in 12 nations—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA and Vietnam—and more nations may sign on once it is finalized and appears ready for signatures.

Put simply, this trade deal is a disaster that must be stopped at all costs. The TPP is a corporatist’s dream which is being backed by the largest multi-national corporations on the planet. It isn’t a partisan issue and will establish policies that are toxic to true progressives and conservatives.

While the public hasn’t been given access to most of the document—it is being negotiated by state department officials and corporate lawyers—there have been several leaked sections posted by WikiLeaks that paint a terrifying picture.

First and foremost, the TPP will increase the power of corporations to mount legal cases against sovereign governments, forcing nations to arbitrate policy disputes in an unaccountable system of international tribunals. These tribunals would hear cases where corporations claim that government regulations reduced “projected profits” and would allow corporations to force governments to repay the difference between projected and real profits. A rotating list of corporate lawyers would staff this tribunal system, creating a massive conflict of interests that would tilt the playing field in the favor of corporations.

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This section of the TPP represents a massive attack on American sovereignty that would allow international corporations to force American taxpayers to give them government welfare. It is an intersection of the conservative concern that American sovereignty will be stolen by international forces and their concern that welfare bums will live off of their tax dollars. For progressives, this section of the TPP is immensely problematic because it will allow corporations to destroy regulations, including environmental, worker, wage, and safety protections, and enrich executives at the cost of public safety.

Second, the TPP will extend intellectual property rights and the ability of corporations to shut down websites that are accused of violating their patents. It would basically make it easier for corporations to patent ideas and creative enterprises, for longer, and increase their ability to crack down on competitors and those who would participate in a free flow of ideas. In effect, the TPP would also pass the website-shutdown provisions from the SOPA bill that were so offensive that they led several sites to shut down in protest (ex. Wikipedia, Google, etc.).

This section of the TPP represents a rejection of the free market, where corporations are allowed to use government power to protect their products from competition for decades. To give you perspective on the scope of this expansion, one draft of this section expanded the intellectual property rights provision from life of creator+50 years to life or creator+100 years for created characters (ex. James Bond).

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Third, the TPP will expand patent rights of big-Pharma corporations, giving them more power to fight against generic drugs and even to patent medical procedures. Specifically, the TPP will dramatically increase the ability of big-Pharma to “evergreen” their drugs by tweaking the formula in unsubstantial ways in order to extend their patents and block competition.

Just as with intellectual property, these expansions of medical patent-powers will decrease market competition and allow corporations to use government power to back up their products—they don’t need to innovate, just as long as they can keep maximizing profits by blocking competition and forcing the public to accept their existing goods. From a progressive perspective, this provision is anathema, as it will result in increased medical costs for vulnerable people across the world and the prioritization of corporate profits over human life.

These three provisions are just a selection of provisions that could be found in one corner of the TPP agreement (the one dealing with patents and legal challenges). Nobody knows what else might be hidden in the law, as the full text has been held away from the eyes of the public and even our elected representatives.

Even with the lack of information about the entire trade deal, the provisions that we do know are so objectionable that they would absolutely kill the law if it were to be publically debated. Unfortunately, corporations have bought large portions of our government, and are using their power to align the Republican Congress with the Obama presidency—in doing so, they have ironically, created the one point of agreement between these two groups in recent years.

So-called “conservatives” like Rand Paul, Orrin Hatch and John Boehner and so-called “progressives” like Barrack Obama and Ron Wyden are proving themselves to be corporatists rather than intellectually honest representatives. They are betraying their ideologies in favor of supporting corporate power and advancement, while masking their betrayal in the language of “free trade.”

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The very same Republicans who have worked tirelessly to deny Obama the executive power to make agreements with Iran—a power that all presidents have had—are the ones who are working to give him the extraordinary power to sign away US sovereignty and the wellbeing of our people through signing this terrible trade deal.

Any honest progressive or conservative can identify truly awful provisions in this TPP and should oppose the agreement. Those who fail to do this are either corporatists, ignorant, or letting their partisan affiliations override their ideological commitments (ex. supporting the TPP because “their team” in elected office has agreed to do so).

In the coming weeks, politicians and groups from across the political spectrum must put aside other political fights and work together to kill the TPP. Progressives like Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) must team up with conservatives like David Young (R-IA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) to fight this agreement, even if doing so forces them to go against their own parties. Other policy fights can wait until the TPP is dead, if only because the TPP will create structural impediments to fixing those other problems in any direction that doesn’t benefit corporate interests.