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Ed Driscoll

Detroit Hits Bottom, Keeps Digging

June 4th, 2013 - 10:50 am

In October of 2012, the text on Mr. Obama’s teleprompter read, “We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt. We bet on American workers and American ingenuity, and three years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.”

Well, perhaps the key word is “pay off.” Flash-forward six months, and we find the City Detroit looking to pay off its myriad creditors — just to keep the lights on as it approaches the very bankruptcy that Obama once claimed his administration had prevented.

“Desperation has hit a new low in Detroit,” Walter Russell Mead writes, noting that the city’s emergency manager/bankruptcy attorney “decided to list the holdings of the Detroit Institute of Arts among the city’s assets in preparation for a possible bankruptcy:”

Museum administrators are outraged, but the choice may be keeping the art or paying for vital public services. According to Orr, the city has “long-term obligations of at least $15 billion, unsustainable cash flow shortages and miserably low credit ratings that make it difficult to borrow.” But as the WSJ reports, the city may not have a choice:

“Kevyn Orr doesn’t want the collection sold,” Mr. Nowling said. “But in bankruptcy, it could be eyed by creditors.” [...]

But legal experts say that in a municipal bankruptcy, it is possible for a city to sell assets, even cultural icons. James Spiotto, a bankruptcy attorney and author on municipal-finance issues based in Chicago, said that “in order to provide essential government services like public safety, roads and education, certain other programs are going to be curtailed or eliminated. So it’s not surprising that the sale of art is on the table.”

The collection, which include treasures by Bruegel, Rodin and van Gogh as well as Diego Rivera’s famous “Detroit Industry” murals, is ostensibly worth billions of dollars, but those measures can’t really capture what such artistic treasures mean to a community.

As Mead wrote on Friday, “Every time Detroit seems like it’s about to hit rock bottom, a trap door opens to reveal yet another howling abyss.” Which brings us to today’s news of fresh Motown disaster: “Detroit is now selling off zoo animals to pay its debts,” as spotted by Jim Treacher in the Detroit Free Press:

A healthy, breeding female giraffe from the Detroit Zoo could fetch $80,000 on the open market. Detroit’s half of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel was valued a few years ago at $65 million. A prototype of the 1963 Ford XD Cobra owned by the Detroit Historical Museum carries an estimated price of $1 million.

Belle Isle? Maybe several hundred million dollars. Maybe more.

If everything is indeed on the table when it comes to turning Detroit’s assets into dollars, then the possibilities are nearly endless, bewildering and sometimes bizarre.

Detroit is teetering on the brink of the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. The city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, and his team have said they want to evaluate everything owned by the city as they begin negotiations with creditors in the face of $15 billion to $17 billion in debt and future pension obligations.

But Mead’s theorem from last week still holds, even after that horrific news: “Every time Detroit seems like it’s about to hit rock bottom, a trap door opens to reveal yet another howling abyss.” In some cases, it’s a rather hot, hellish abyss, the Toronto Sun reports. (H/T: SDA)

It’s also impossible to drive through the streets of Motor City for five minutes without seeing structures charred by fire. Arsonists are busy here.

So are firefighters.

One-third of the Detroit Fire Department halls have been shut down through budget cuts. Despite gunshots ringing out nearby and packs of roving wild dogs looking on, police rarely attend fires.

Mostly, firefighters simply do their best to make sure the flames from burning abandoned buildings don’t damage surrounding structures. They knock down flaming walls, contain the heat, and douse their own equipment so it doesn’t get damaged.

Fire just speeds up the course of the crumbling decay of Detroit.

“It’s a city with no laws,” admits Detroit veteran firefighter Ted Roney. “Nobody cares about anything.”

Nobody but those trying to keep the remains safe for the remaining.

At the conclusion of his post, Treacher links to Matt Labash’s poignant December 2008 Weekly Standard article on 21st century Detroit, “The City Where the Sirens Never Sleep.” Think of it as the liner notes for Steven Crowder’s PJTV video shot in the post-apocalyptic city just about concurrently:

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