Detroit as Dred Scott

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

The bum-rush to bankrupt Detroit is the leading legal edge in Wall Street’s drive to declare Black urban dwellers "beings of an inferior order” with no rights that Capital is bound to respect. The verdict will be applicable to the rest of the 99 percent, as well. “In America, race – more properly, white supremacy – has always been the magic wedge.”


Detroit as Dred Scott

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

I would say his rights are in bankruptcy now.”

Kevyn Orr, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager who holds dictatorial powers over Detroit, was attempting to clarify his current views on whether retiree’s pensions can be cut if the city goes bankrupt. Back in June, Orr tried to ease city workers’ and retirees’ fears – and lower their union’s defenses – by telling creditors that pensions were “sacrosanct.” Indeed, pensions are explicitly immune from slashing under the Michigan state constitution. Once Orr moved to bankrupt the Black metropolis, he proposed to throw Detroit’s pensioners into the common mix of “creditors” whose final payouts would depend on what’s left after the “super-priority” bankers are made whole. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes this week asked Orr what he would tell a retiree, now, about the status of his previously “sacrosanct” pensions? “I would say his rights are in bankruptcy now,” Orr replied. “I would say his rights are subject to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.”

The Supremacy Clause establishes the U.S. Constitution as “the supreme law of the land,” with federal law trumping state law in any conflict between the two. Orr interprets federal bankruptcy law as rendering Detroit’s pensioners’ protections null and void. He subscribes to the Chief Justice Roger Taney school of bankruptcy, which views the non-rich as "beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the [moneyed classes], either in social or political [or legal] relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the [rich] man was bound to respect."

It is more than ironic that Orr, the Black corporate operative, seems to channel the ghost of Chief Justice Taney. When the Dred Scott decision was handed down, in 1857, the slaveholding classes and their partners in northern textiles and shipping dominated all three branches of the federal government. Abraham Lincoln’s election, three years later, seemed to threaten their supremacy, so the slavocracy responded with secession. After the Civil War, power concentrated in the hands of industrialists and financiers, whose intra-capitalist conflicts were resolved, a little over a century later, with the total hegemony of Wall Street, which now controls all three branches of government and both major political parties.

Orr interprets federal bankruptcy law as rendering Detroit’s pensioners’ protections null and void.”

The rest of society – especially the never-fully-emancipated Blacks – have no rights that the Lords of Capital and their henchmen intend to recognize. Since finance capital creates nothing, reproducing itself through manipulation of money (and the creation of new forms of “money” in the $1.2 quadrillion derivatives universe, dwarfing the real economy), it is driven to devour all things of value in the social and physical environment. This requires that the public sphere be legally, morally and politically delegitimized – so that it can be monetized and digested. The process is made infinitely easier when the targeted institutions and populations are widely viewed as illegitimate, morally debased, and socially unworthy of protection, i.e. “Black.” In America, race – more properly, white supremacy – has always been the magic wedge, the great source of exceptions to previous notions of law, the quicksand under the path to social progress. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the best place to create the corporate template for the New Urban Order, is Detroit, the nation’s Blackest metropolis. In fact, the corporate logic of bankrupting Detroit was so obvious, Kevyn Orr and his coconspirators could hardly avoid blabbing out the whole plan.

The first step in requesting bankruptcy “protection” is to show that one has bargained in good faith with one’s creditors, yet found no other way out. Kevyn Orr almost let the cat out of the bag by rushing so quickly to formally recommend bankruptcy for Detroit. Orr’s haste made the decision look “premeditated,” testified Andy Dillon, the former state treasurer. If Orr never seriously pursued a settlement with the city’s unions, then he acted in “bad faith” in pulling the bankruptcy “trigger.” But, of course, he was simply keeping faith with the Lords of Capital, who are rewriting the rules of urban American existence, just as they are creating a global legal order that transcends national sovereignty through the two decades-long, bi-partisan “free trade” marathon. Detroit’s bankruptcy, and its aftermath, is the domestic counterpart of NAFTA and all of the treaty’s infernal legal offspring. Both exercises are intended to make capital “sacrosanct” in the eyes of the “law.”

Humankind will have to save itself by wholly illegal means. Hopefully, most of you already knew that.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].