Walter Russell Mead looks at the " pre-eminent civil rights problem of our day -[that] is devastating minority communities throughout the country."
Disgraced ex-Mayor and shameless identity politician Kwame Kilpatrick has been convicted on twenty-four counts of extortion, racketeering, and bribery. The stunningly corrupt politician, who looted from Detroit’s poor and needy to pay for a life of luxury he never earned, is going to jail. His life is ruined, and his family has been shamed.
It’s only fitting that today, a must-read piece in the NYT (co-authored by Mary Williams Walsh, one of the country’s most careful, thoughtful reporters on state and local pension issues) details the social and fiscal nightmare Detroit’s thugocracy has bequeathed to the young and vulnerable who still inhabit the ruined city. The latest bit of misery was unearthed by a financial consultant brought in to dig through Detroit’s books. He found “an additional $7.2 billion in retiree health costs that had never been reported, or even tallied up.” Until 2008, Detroit was not required to keep track of its workers’ lifetime health care bills. Now, of course, it’s the people who are least able to pay who will bear the brunt of this.
The report follows Detroit’s descent from one of America’s greatest cities into a Third World-style wasteland of incompetence and corruption where streetlights are dark, police don’t respond to calls, and the poor are left to fend for themselves. The process of ruin took decades and is the work of more than one generation of a degenerate political class. But Kwame Kilpatrick’s story is a reminder that the hyenas are still picking at what little is left of the city’s corpse.
Ever since the long death spiral began, Detroit has relied on periodic bond sales to keep its bills paid. The thinking was clear: borrow now, pay it back later when the city’s finances recover. Of course, Detroit’s finances never recovered, and now it’s on the hook for much of this borrowing, in addition to the fees that these banks charged. And these are serious fees. Bloomberg reports that since 2005, Wall Street banks have charged the city a whopping $474 million. As a comparison, that’s about as much as the city’s current entire police and fire budget for this year:Posted by Jill Fallon at March 18, 2013 11:33 AM | Permalink
As Detroit is learning now, in many cases they weren’t. And Detroit is not alone: In city after city, struggling pension funds have turned to exotic Wall Street investments claiming high returns and minimal risks. In some cases this is working out, in many more it isn’t, but either way, Wall Street is collecting its fees and leaving taxpayers and pensioners to pick up the pieces when it falls apart.
If our so-called ‘progressives’ today weren’t so intellectually decadent and, well, historically challenged, they would be leading the charge to clean up American cities. Instead they are mostly silent — and sometimes even defend the machines.
It’s a terrible shame because reformers and progressives really can fight the rot and help the poor — if they can get past their messed up ‘political correctness’ illusions long enough to recognize the basic facts of the case.
The best way to stop future tragedies like this is to enforce the law. From voting fraud to corrupt relations with contractors and financiers to fraudulent accounting on pensions, many American cities are being run more like criminal conspiracies than anything else. And the cost isn’t just the money the politicians steal, or the inflated profits that those doing business with a crooked city can earn or even the sweetheart deals with public sector unions who function as part of the machine. It is the shambolic education offered to generations of poor kids, the lack of protection for person and property, the burden of a government that is both costly and ineffective and the enterprises and jobs such a government kills or drives away: corrupt big city machines may be the most important single civil rights issue in America today.
This is the pre-eminent civil rights problem of our day and is devastating minority communities throughout the country. Our political establishment, our university faculties and fashionable intellectuals, our newspaper editorialists, our legal profession and our clergy stand essentially silent; it is the silence of shame.