Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Excellent article from

Democracy on Hold in Benton Harbor

Tuesday 3 May 2011, by Ryan Harvey

While the country watched the protests in Wisconsin spill into the State Capitol Building, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was passing a controversial bill that many consider a direct attack on the constitutional rights of the citizens of Michigan.

Public Acts 4-9, also called The Emergency Financial Management bill, gives already existing "Emergency Financial Managers" (EFMs) sweeping new powers, allowing them to literally suspend the entire elected bodies of municipalities they deem to be failing, and suspend collective bargaining agreements with unions for up to five years.

Immediately after the bill passed, an EFM took complete control over the city of Benton Harbor as well as Detroit's public school system. EFMs are also in power in Pontiac and Ecorse.

As many as 400 [people are studying to become EFM's in Michigan]...

Having studied, these teams are ready to attack the local governments of Michigan to restructure their finances. "A SWAT team is an OK way to look at this," Michigan State University economist Eric Scorsone told Bloomberg last week of the trainees.

Many Michigan residents, especially those experiencing poverty or hanging on to medium-income jobs, are outraged. Protests, lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and local municipalities and calls for Governor Snyder to be recalled...

"It's a dictatorship," Marian Kramer of the National Welfare Rights Union in Detroit says. "They are restructuring the government to protect the interests of corporations, that's what this is all about. It's not about us."

"They have violated the constitution for the residents of Benton Harbor," says Rev. Pinkney of Benton Harbor. "This is a constitutional issue."

He and hundreds of others have been organizing and participating in demonstrations, lawsuits and other forms of protest against the bill.

Benton Harbor residents say that Whirlpool, the world's leading manufacturer of major home appliances, and which once employed many in Benton Harbor in manufacturing jobs, might have a role in the EFM law as well; State Rep. Al Pscholka, who introduced the bill, formerly sat on the board of a Whirlpool-funded nonprofit in Benton Harbor now behind a controversial development on the town's beach. And his former boss Rep. Fred Upton is a Whirlpool heir who owns property near the development.
(emphasis added)

Sucked Down the Whirlpool

Benton Harbor has long dealt with abject poverty, job loss from outsourcing and low-level corruption. [maybe not so low-level]

...many residents say that appointing an EFM with no legal accountability whatsoever will only make...problems worse.

"You as a citizen have no rights," Marian Kramer says. "The EFM only responds to the governor and his committee, not to the people."

Benton Harbor residents point out the state government's two-faced approach to their community. They see Whirlpool as the real criminal, overshadowing anything a city commissioner could do in a lifetime.

Whirlpool, which has its global headquarters in Benton Harbor, has long controlled the city. In 1986, at the behest of business leaders, Benton Harbor was designated as an "Enterprise Zone" to give tax exemptions to the private sector. Whirlpool quickly ate up the exemptions.

At the same time, the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor area was losing over 5,000 jobs. Whirlpool continued layoffs into the '90s, until in 1996 they laid off half of the workers at their Evansville, Indiana, plant.

Today, less than one-third of Whirlpool's workforce is inside the country.

Full article with photos and footnotes: