Federal Court Ruling on Detroit Bankruptcy Jeopardizes Public Employee Pensions Nationally
Interview with John C. Philo, legal director with the Maurice and Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, conducted by Scott Harris
Detroit, an American city that once was the hub of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers became the largest municipality in U.S. history to enter into Chapter 9 bankruptcy after federal judge Steven Rhodes handed down his ruling on Dec. 3 in a controversial case being watched closely around the country.
The ruling allows bankruptcy proceedings to move forward over the objections of 48 labor union groups and public employee retirees who had urged Judge Rhodes to reject Detroit’s eligibility for bankruptcy. Opponents of the ruling have already taken steps to appeal the case. As part of the bankruptcy process, Judge Rhodes announced he will allow Detroit, which is $18 billion in debt, to cut pension benefits – but emphasized that he will only authorize pension cuts if he finds them to be fair and equitable.
Because Judge Rhodes’ authorization for cuts to city workers’ pensions is viewed as a possible landmark legal precedent for other cities in financial trouble, retirees and labor unions were quite naturally alarmed. Further, Detroit’s unelected emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, who was appointed by Michigan’s anti-union Republican governor, Rick Snyder, has moved forward on privatization of city services and signaled he may also sell off many masterpieces in the city’s Institute of Arts Museum. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with John C. Philo, legal director with the Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice, who examines the recent court ruling in Detroit’s bankruptcy case and the impact it may have on public employees pensions in the motor city and other municipalities across the country.
Find links to analysis and commentary on Detroit’s bankruptcy from the Maurice and Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice by visiting http://sugarlaw.org/.
- Interview with John C. Philo, conducted by Scott Harris, Counterpoint, Dec. 9, 2013 (26:33)
- Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management website at d-rem.org
- “Detroit Bankruptcy Bankrupts Democracy,” The Nation, Dec. 3, 2013
- “America’s Retirement Crisis Grows as Cities Raid Pension and Health Simple Plan,” Alternet, Dec. 10, 2013
- “Detroit bankruptcy judge: Pensions are fair game Michigan Radio, Dec. 3, 2013
- “Orr Takes Immediate Aim at Pensions After Judge OKs Detroit Bankruptcy AFL-CIO, Dec. 3, 2013
Dams Along Tigris and Euphrates Rivers Create Water Crisis in Iraq
Excerpt of speech by Johanna Rivera, coordinator of Save the Tigris Campaign, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus
Johanna Rivera is a former pharmacy graduate student. In 2010, she decided to postpone her Ph.D. dissertation and travel to Israel/Palestine, where she worked for the Tent of Nations, the Palestine Solidarity Project in Palestine and the Kayan Feminist Organization.
Rivera then moved to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where she worked on human rights issues ranging from violence against women, honor killings, internally displaced Camps, and most recently she has been working across Iraq and internationally in an advocacy campaign to protect the Tigris River from dams upstream in Turkey and Iran. Rivera, now coordinator of Iraq’s Save the Tigris Campaign, has traveled to Tunisia, Turkey and Jordan to talk about the need to protect water rights and the social, cultural and environmental heritage of Mesopotamia.
She recently spoke at the New Haven, Conn. public library in a program titled, “Iraq: Ten Years After Shock and Awe,” sponsored by the Middle East Crisis Committee. In this excerpt of Rivera’s Dec. 4 talk, she addresses the problem of water shortages, especially for the people of the marshes in southern Iraq. Former dictator Saddam Hussein drained the marshes in the early 1990s to force the Shia marsh dwellers to leave their land, but they are now returning to their former home under the current Shiite-led government. However, they are still threatened by dam projects initiated by Turkey, along both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where there are 22 dams so far and more planned.
JOHANNA RIVERA: Iraq is fed from the Euphrates and the Tigris. There have been nine dams already built, mostly on the Euphrates, and they say the flow on the Euphrates has decreased up to 80 percent. And this, of course, affects agriculture and affects the marshes, which were in the process of restoration. The marshes are also proposed as a World Heritage site, but this is based on there is enough water to keep them alive. The marshes are a unique ecosystem, both culturally and naturally. It hosts a lot of biodiversity and endangered species that only live in that area. And think about the repercussions of not having water in Iraq – more conflicts for water. They were talking about Syria speeding up the civil war because of resources and because of water. There was a big drought between 2007 and 2009. People migrated to the big cities; there was not enough accommodations or enough jobs. So the same will happen in Iraq. This area of the marshes is said to be the place of the Garden of Eden, so it has a lot of historical and cultural value for the people. The people that live there, they depend totally on the ecosystem. They depend on water. They build from reed their houses; they feed their animals, their water buffaloes from the reed. And these people were displaced; 500,000 people were displaced during the Iran-Iraq War, and after the drainage of the marshes. Some of them have come back, but if they are going to have water issues … and now we have seen that some of the farmers and some of the fishermen have been migrated up where there is more water, so it’s already causing a resource struggle.
So what we’ve been doing in the campaign, is that because the Ilisu Dam is built in Turkey, we have contacted the people in Turkey, the Turkish activists who’ve been fighting against the dam, because in Turkey it’s also going to flood a potential World Heritage site, the city of Hasan Kef, it’s a small village but it has history back 12,000 years – a lot of archaeological sites, it’s the birthplace of the Tigris Valley, a lot of endangered species also, birds, fish. So we’ve been in contact with them and have been trying to build a coalition, let’s say, to raise awareness of the dangers in Turkey but also in Iraq, because the Iraqi government has been very silent about this issue. There have been negotiations but Turkey, you know; it’s the upstream state so they have the upper hand. They can decide what to do because the waters are born in their territory. So for them, they consider as long as the water in their territory, they can develop the river as they want.
International law, which is something we’ve been working with – international conventions say if there is a transboundary river, you need a transboundary impact assessment to see what are the impacts downstream. That hasn’t happened yet. Turkey hasn’t had an evaluation of the impacts in Iraq. And you have to have prior consultation. You have to tell the people that you’re going to do this, and you have to negotiate, and that hasn’t happened yet. So we’ve been trying to raise awareness from the Iraqi citizens so they can demand their government work on this issue. So it’s also an issue of governance; weak governance in Iraq, corruption, lack of institutions that are strong enough. The Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Water Resources, and they say it’s the other ministries; the other ministries say it’s the Parliament. The Kurds say it’s the Arabs, you know, it’s Baghdad that has to deal with it. On the other hand, they have very good relations with Turkey, and they will be the upstream state when it comes inside Iraq because Kurdistan is an autonomous region. So it’s international repercussions, it’s national repercussions, and then provinces – how they will divide the water.
So we’ve been doing a lot of work inside Iraq in different provinces, especially in the south – Amara, Basra, Missan, Nasiriya, where the marshes are – raising awareness because the people know what the problem is but they don’t know how to solve it. They think it’s the government; they cannot do anything. They say, “It’s Turkey.” They don’t even say it’s Iraq. “Turkey – they want to build this dam. What can we do?” We say, like, “You can do something. You’re not alone,” so that’s also why we were in Tunis trying to connect with movements at the international level. We had a session with people from India. They had a lot of experience with a big dam – the Narmanda project in the 1990s that was a big, big controversy. The World Bank removed the funds. So we heard from them. We had people from Peru, from Mexico; we had our colleagues from Turkey and then I was speaking about Iraq. So it was very good to exchange ideas on how people have fought this issue in other countries.
Johanna Rivera’s talk in New Haven was recorded and produced by Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus. Find more information on water issues in Iraq and Rivera’s advocacy work by visiting http://www.iraqicivilsociety.org.
- “A Journey Deep into the Struggle,” blog by Johanna Rivera
- “Save the Tigris Campaign holds successful seminars in four South Iraq Province,” Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative, July 8, 2013
- International Activist meet in Baghdad to Discuss Legal Strategies to Protect the Tigris River Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative, Sept. 26, 2013
On the Wrong Side of History: Ronald Reagan’s Embrace of Apartheid South Africa and Condemnation of Nelson Mandela
Interview with Robert Parry, founder and editor of ConsortiumNews.com, conducted by Scott Harris
As the world mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela, the much loved father of post-apartheid South Africa, 100 current or former heads of state joined tens of thousands of his country’s citizens at a national memorial service held in his honor at Soweto’s FNB Soccer Stadium. Since he died on Dec. 5, the legacy of the 95-year-old symbol of South Africa’s struggle for equality and justice has been the subject of much media coverage in the U.S. and around the globe.
While President Obama, whose speech in Soweto was greeted with cheers, lauded Mandela as a “giant of history” and the last great liberator of the 20th Century, United States policy toward South Africa and its official view of Mandela weren’t always so reverential. While millions of people across the U.S. and the world mobilized to condemn South Africa’s brutal apartheid government and demanded the imposition of economic sanctions in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan opposed those measures and branded Nelson Mandela as a communist and terrorist. Steeped in Cold War ideology, Reagan pursued a strategy known at the time as “constructive engagement,” where his administration offered support to the apartheid regime by inviting senior South African security officials to Washington, violated a U.N. arms embargo and vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have imposed worldwide economic sanctions on Pretoria. The Reagan administration placed Mandela on a U.S. list of international terrorists, where he remained until 2008.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with investigative reporter Robert Parry, founder and editor of ConsortiumNews.com and author. Here, Parry discusses the life of Nelson Mandela, a lawyer, freedom fighter, 27-year imprisoned activist and the first democratically-elected president of South Africa and the shameful chapter in American foreign policy where Ronald Reagan clearly placed the U.S. on the wrong side of history.
Parry is editor of ConsortiumNews.com and one of the reporters who helped expose the Iran Contra scandal in the mid-1980s. He’s the author of “America’s Stolen Narrative.” Find links to Parry’s recent article on Mandela and Reagan by visiting consortiumnews.com.
- Interview with Robert Parry, conducted by Scott Harris, Counterpoint, Dec. 9, 2013 (25:26)
- “Honoring Mandela, Not Reagan,” Consortium News, Dec. 6, 2013
- “In Ronald Reagan era, Mandela was branded a terrorist,” McclatchyDC, Dec. 6, 2013
- “Reagan’s embrace of apartheid South Africa,” Salon, Feb. 6, 2011
- “Sharpton: Don’t ‘Sugarcoat’ History by Forgetting Reagan and US Opposed Mandela,” Atlanta Black Star, Dec. 9, 2013
- “Maya Angelou: Mandela taught mankind the power of forgiveness,” CBS News, Dec. 8, 2013
- “Conservatives Now Co-opt & Deify Mandela who they Vilified as ‘Terrorist & Communist,’” Daily Kos, Dec. 7, 2013
- Lawyers for longtime detainees at the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to expose torture at a former secret CIA prison in Poland.
- The Guardian newspaper reports that the U.S. rightwing network of state legislators and their corporate backers, the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, is in deep financial trouble and attempting to restructure itself to allow potential donors to hide their contributions.
- The emergence of the new digital currency known as “bitcoin” has excited tech-savvy investors while alarming law enforcement agencies.