Category: Your Voice Written by AARP
Reducing pensions of firefighters, police, other public employees violates state Constitution
In response to the Detroit bankruptcy issue and its potential impact on pensions and health benefits, AARP Michigan State Director Jacqueline Morrison issued the following statement today:
“The firefighters and police of Detroit have dedicated their careers to protecting the city’s citizens. These first-responders – and other hard-working Detroit public employees – made their pension payments. They count on their health benefits. We can’t change the rules at the end of the game for these public employees.
“Attorney General Bill Schuette has said that, under the state Constitution, pension obligations to state and municipal employees and retirees in Michigan may not be “diminished or impaired.” Cutting the pension benefits of Detroit’s public employees, who have paid into the system over a lifetime of hard work, violates the Constitution and the state’s contract with all its retirees.
“Many retired public employees live on fixed incomes. And, unlike most Americans, Detroit’s firefighters and police do not get Social Security, and instead rely more heavily on the pension and health benefits they worked for when they retire. The average firefighter in Detroit survives on a pension of only $30,000 per year.”
“Raiding the pensions of hard-working Michiganders to make bondholders whole is not the way to right Detroit’s fiscal house. Detroit’s public employees – all of us – deserve an open, thoughtful discussion about the role we can all play in moving Detroit forward. And, Detroit’s retirees must have effective representation throughout the process of addressing the city’s challenges. Their participation will be crucial.
“On behalf of AARP members throughout Michigan, we fought to protect the retirement income of Michiganders from a substantial tax increase. AARP will continue to be a watchdog for our members and all older Michiganders. We will hold the politicians accountable for finding responsible solutions that protect retirees’ pensions and health benefits.”
Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 23:04
Category: Your Voice Written by Jesse Jackson
North Carolina — once poster child for the New South — now displays the nightmares spawned by the Tea Party right no longer restrained by the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court's conservative gang of five disemboweled it in the Shelby case.
In North Carolina, Republicans took the General Assembly in 2010 and the governorship in 2012. The takeover received rather unprecedented support from one right-wing multimillionaire, Art Pope — who, according to progressive publication The American Prospect, singlehandedly provided about 80 percent of the funding for the state's conservative groups.
Upon taking control, the Republicans began systematically dismantling the social infrastructure of the state. They slashed taxes on the top 5 percent and raised them on the bottom 95 percent. They eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 low-wage workers. They cut Medicaid coverage for 500,000. They ended unemployment benefits for 170,000. They threw about 30,000 kids out of pre-K, while transferring $90 million from public schools to vouchers. They voted to allow guns purchased without a background check to be carried in parks, restaurant and bars. As the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, put it: "They've drank all the Tea Party they could drink and sniffed all the Koch that they could sniff."
These radically reactionary measures didn't exactly meet with popular approval. The approval rating of the state legislature is down to about 23 percent. So Republicans set out to consolidate their unpopular rule by gerrymandering districts to resegregate voters and weaken their opponents' base. And they just pushed through the most radical assault on voting rights in modern memory.
In one "omnibus bill," the legislature would create restrictive voter ID procedures that will disqualify estimated 318,000-registered voters. They cut a week out of early voting time, ended same day registration, eliminates state-supported voter registration drives and ended pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds. They require more frequent purges of voter rolls, and prohibit extending poll hours on Election Day, even if there are long lines still waiting to vote. They even eliminated Citizen Awareness Month that encouraged citizens to register and vote. North Carolina had featured some of the most enlightened election laws and ranked in the top 15 states of voter turnout nationally. With passage of this law, they are intent on driving that down.
Now the question is whether the citizens of North Carolina will allow their government to be hijacked by deep pocket donors and their rights trampled by antidemocratic zealots.
The Rev. Barber says this will not stand. "If you think you can take away our voting rights, you'll have a headache," he vowed.
He started organizing what became Moral Mondays, weekly demonstrations that drew thousands in protest to the state's capital. By the end of July, some 900 people had been arrested in nonviolent civil disobedience. Now, when the legislature closes down in August, the Rev. Barber plans a bus tour through 25 counties to register citizens to vote and to protest the cruel measures.
With its decisions opening the floodgates on corporate money in Citizens United and rolling back the Voting Rights Act, the conservative gang of five on the Supreme Court has opened the way for the North Carolina nightmare. And North Carolina is not alone.
Across the country, Republicans are seeking to roll back voting rights even as they push to gut vital social programs. Citizens of conscience have no choice but to rally once more to protect our rights.
Moral Monday in North Carolina shows the way. In North Carolina, the reaction to the reaction may just have begun.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 10:53
Category: Your Voice Written by Rev. Jesse Jackson
President Barack Obama eloquently described the agony experienced among African-Americans from the slaying of Trayvon Martin. He called for a more thoughtful "conversation" on race, convened not by politicians, but among families, in churches and workplaces. He suggested modest steps to provide greater training on racial profiling with police, greater efforts to figure out how to do a "better job helping young African-American men feel that they're a full part of this society and that they've got pathways and avenues to succeed."
The president's courageous comments merit praise and consideration. But we've had a long conversation about race in America. No small part of American history has been devoted to that "conversation" and that struggle. And as the president said, great progress has been made.
What we need now is action. The president's personal narrative must translate into policy. His sentiments must be turned into meaningful solutions.
Young African-American boys need positive reinforcement, but they also need adequate nutrition as infants, good education as children, and jobs once they get out of school. Unemployment among black teenagers not in school hit a staggering 42.6 percent in June (up from a miserable 36.4 percent a year ago).
Blacks and Hispanics are clustered into low-wage, unstable jobs, and physically concentrated in impoverished ghettos and barrios, mostly in our nation's cities. According to the census, in 31 cities, the unemployment rate is above 40 percent. In six of them, the unemployment rate is above 50 percent, which makes these young men fodder for the prison industrial complex. This is a global disgrace.
These men need more than a conversation about them from those who already have jobs. They need a plan. Lift them up where they belong. This is good policy for Americans. Lifting them is cheaper and much more wholesome than talking about them and leaving them in the margins.
Yet, the last time we had any major effort targeted at the concentrated areas of poverty and joblessness was Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty in the 1960s. In fact, Johnson's war was remarkably successful, reducing childhood poverty and providing work or training to millions. But its programs fell victim to the costs of the Vietnam War.
Now, instead of concerted programs to provide hope and opportunity, African-Americans witness concerted attacks on the poor. North Carolina, for example, has become one of six southern states to introduce new voter ID laws since the Supreme Court's conservative justices dismembered the Voting Rights Act. The Senate version requires a state issued ID, disqualifies student IDs for voting. The House version cuts early voting, same day registration and more. Of the 316,000 registered voters without a state-issued ID, 34 percent are African-American and 55 percent registered Democrats.
Since Republicans took control in North Carolina in 2012, the state has taken a hard shift to the right. So far this year, bills passed or pending by Republicans would eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit for 900,000 low wage workers, reduce Medicaid benefits for 500,000 and federal unemployment benefits for 170,000, cut 30,000 kids out of pre-K, and transferred $90 million from public to voucher schools.
In North Carolina, people of conscience realized that a conversation about the situation wasn't enough. The Rev. William Barber III, president of the North Carolina NAACP, helped create "Moral Mondays," weekly protests at the state capitol to "dramatize the shameful condition of our state." These protests have grown dramatically, with thousands getting arrested in peaceful civil disobedience to challenge the assault on voting rights and on the poor.
This week, President Obama will travel to Knox College in Illinois to outline out his agenda on jobs and the economy once more. He will contrast "middle-out" economics, a focus on the strengthening the middle class, with the trickle-down economics of Republicans. If we are to provide hope for young African-American boys, we need a bottom up economics, as well, targeted to provide jobs in communities scarred by high levels of unemployment and poverty.
Whatever the president's agenda, Rev. Barber is right. Nothing will get through the obstructionists in Congress unless citizens of conscience mobilize across the nation and demand action. That will create the conversation we need to make progress once more.
Keep up with Rev. Jackson and the work of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at www.rainbowpush.org.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 09:50
Category: Your Voice Written by AJ Williams, Chronicle Web Editor
The city that ‘put the world on wheels’. The Arsenal of Democracy. The Motor City. All these have been used to describe Detroit. Now it has the dubious distinction of being the largest Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing for a city in U.S. history.
Our once proud Detroit – again humiliated in the eyes of the country and the world.
Detroit might learn some lessons from China about turning adversity into strength. China, too, suffered – through a century of humiliation, but is now rising to unprecedented heights of historical and economic prominence today.
Chinese scholar, Wei Yuan (1794 – 1857) attempted to combine traditional scholarly knowledge with practical experience in finding workable solutions to problems of his day. In his book, Records of the Conquest, Wei wrote, "Humiliation stimulates effort; when a country (city) is humiliated, its spirit will be aroused" or "To feel shame is to approach courage."
With insight and leadership, China could well play a role in revitalizing this once iconic American city. It is worth noting that China, in returning to its historical position of strength, has had the world’s largest economy 18 of the past 20 centuries.
The China-United States Exchange Foundation, a non-government and non-profit organization based in Hong Kong, seeks to foster and strengthen the relationship between China and the United States. Under the leadership of Tung CheeHwa, Vice Chairman of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and founder and Chairman of the Foundation, they recently released a report, “U.S.-China Economic Relations in the next Ten Years.”
I consider it mandatory reading for government and business leaders interested in re-building Detroit.
The report concludes that Beijing and Washington share the desire to “establish a pattern of secure, high-quality sustainable growth and employment for their people.”
It could be argued that in the early days of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and China, the China bridge was more a one – way span in China’s favor as the U.S. sought to invest in that country. The same cannot be said today. Chinese investment in the U.S. is at an all-time high. According to the Heritage Foundation, total Chinese investment in the U.S. since 2005 stands at $54 billion, and is expected to grow significantly over the next decade. According to the Asia Society, the Chinese will be seeking overseas investment opportunities from between $1-2 trillion dollars over the next decade. Detroit, Michigan, and the U.S. need to be aggressive about securing a chunk of Chinese investment.
Michigan's Governor Snyder has set the table for attracting foreign direct investment that creates both wealth and jobs here at home.
Michigan’s business community now includes more than 50 major Chinese companies that have invested more than $1 billion in our state and growing” said Michael A. Finney, President and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
As our new immigrant and business friendly Governor Rick Snyder (who has twice traveled to China with a third trip planned) likes to say: “Michigan is open for business." Investment in Detroit should be a priority for the Governor's up-coming fall trip to China.
Snyder is seeking foreign direct investment in our state. He wants to export our agricultural products, technology know-how, and other goods and services around the globe. Snyder understands that Michigan is two beautiful peninsulas – not an island – in our global, knowledge economy where ideas and jobs can and do move around the world effortlessly.
As the “U.S.-China Economic relations in the Next Ten Years” report spells out, over the course of the next decade this important economic relationship has the potential to create enormous economic opportunities and millions of jobs, as well as public good globally.
Chinese Consul General Zhao Weiping, based in Chicago recently said, “Michigan has many ingredients: Economic, social, cultural and educational that make it attractive to Chinese investors and, I suspect as the relationship matures, the investments and job creation will only continue to grow.”
John McElory, a global auto expert and president of Blue Sky Productions (www.Autoline.tv) understands Detroit is a fountain of opportunity for Chinese investors: "The Chinese are coming to Michigan because when they look around they don’t see shuttered factories, they see nothing but opportunity.”
Detroit can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its bankrupt humiliation. Just as the Chinese sought knowledge and investment from the West, Detroit may look to the East to rise again.
Detroit and Michigan leaders should tap China’s continued rise, economic clout, and excess capital – seeking a place for that country’s investment as yet another tool in its efforts to revitalize a once-great city.
It is wise to remember: "To feel shame is to approach courage."
Tom Watkins, a former Michigan state superintendent if schools has a life-long interest in China sparked by a great fourth grade teacher. He has worked for more than three decades building cultural, educational and economic ties between our two countries,
Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 16:42
Category: Your Voice Written by Huffington Post - Reuters
Bankruptcy Lawyers See Land Of Opportunity In Detroit Crisis
July 21 (Reuters) - With more than $18 billion at stake in Detroit's restructuring, big law firms and other advisers are clamoring to represent the city's many creditors - including some advisers not exactly known for municipal work.
The city, which filed the largest-ever U.S. municipal bankruptcy on Thursday, tapped high-priced lawyers from Jones Day, financial advisers from Ernst & Young and restructuring consultants from Conway MacKenzie, court papers show.
For creditors and related parties, there is clearly a lot at stake. That means bondholders, insurers, retirees and others are sure to be accompanied in court by platoons of lawyers.
Detroit owes more than $8 billion in bond debt, and the insurers likely on the hook for those costs have already retained big-name law firms to take their cases.
Federal Guaranty Insurance Co tapped Weil Gotshal & Manges, according to a source close to the matter, who declined to be named because the information was not public as of Saturday. An attorney for Weil declined to comment.
David Dubrow, a lawyer at Arent Fox, confirmed on Saturday that he has been tapped by Ambac Financial Group.
And, according to the court's electronic docket, Syncora hired Kirkland & Ellis, known for its corporate bankruptcy work, while Assured Guaranty retained Winston & Strawn, and National Public Finance Guarantee Corp hired Sidley Austin.
Bond insurers will play a key role in Detroit's case. While a portion of the city's $1.13 billion in general obligation bonds are secured by city assets, about $651 million of it is secured only by the ability to raise taxes. The city's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, has said he will treat that portion of the debt as an unsecured claim.
That classification, which has been largely untested in federal courts, is likely to be hotly contested and possibly litigated by bondholders or their insurers.
Detroit also owes $5.7 billion in unfunded healthcare and other benefits to retirees, and has asked the judge to form a committee to look out for their interests. The Department of Justice may also appoint a committee of unsecured creditors in the case. Both moves would mean opportunities for professional advisers.
The city needs to negotiate new labor deals with unions, and its pension funds are underfunded by $3.5 billion, providing yet more opportunities for attorneys to advise creditors. Continue to HuffPost...
Last Updated on Monday, 22 July 2013 04:06
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