Even the most hard-core libertarian would admit that there are some tasks that an organized community must delegate to some form of central committee of citizens, whether you want to call that committee a “government” or something else. One of those tasks is making sure that the community is not littered with dead bodies, with their potential as a public health crisis. In one of the BBC interviews I head last night, a financial expert was trying to explain that the real problem in bankrupt Detroit is not unpaid pension funds, or even unpaid firemen, but a growing crisis in the Detroit morgue. Not only has Detroit run out of money to pick up the unclaimed dead, but it cannot afford to keep the refrigerators running in the morgue containing all of the prior unclaimed dead. And while you can sort of cut back on the salaries of firemen and other town officials, cutting off the power to the morgue is another issue. And the bodies keep rolling in. By some accounts, some of Detroit’s managers had a plan to keep the power on until November, at which time the bodies could have been moved to an unheated warehouse for storage until April. This is America, people, not some third world country where one might expect bodies to be rotting in the street. I’m sure this country could find some fat in the Pentagon budget to cut so that we can at least properly dispose of the remains of our citizens.
I wrote a column back in 2005 in which I commented that you can always begin to sense the parameters of a failed presidency about five years in, as the books begin to flow from the presses which depict the extent of ultimate failure of any administration. The Bush books started in 2005, the books about the current Regime are coming out fast and furious now–Dirty Wars, Rise of the Warrior Cop and a history of Afghanistan, Return of the King, which makes it clear that this Regime still doesn’t understand the war it inherited. And now Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit; An American Autopsy. No one should dare comment on the Detroit bankruptcy until this book is fully read and understood.
I’ve been trying to get Mark Alexson to comment on Detroit. As a guy who lives in Mombasa, he constantly comments on the similarities between Detroit and major Kenyan cities. As he also likes to opine, his experience in Kenya tells him that Obama is clearly an African, not an African American, with the implication that Obama may think that Martin would be like him, but Obama really doesn’t identify either with African Americans or their slum problems. The problem, Mark says, is not building a middle class, but to start with rebuilding the working class, which is the economic policy of most of Africa. Jobs come first, then better paying jobs. The Middle Class in America was not based on solid foundations, he’ll tell you, but rather upon pension IOUs that were never reasonable. And as LeDuff does make clear (even as he has a nice photo of the morgue), this Regime has never bothered with any kind of real urban policy, even though the two longest serving congressmen are both Democrats from Detroit. More proof that if Obama really wants to claim Chicago as his hometown, its not the Projects.
What I like about LeDuff is that he is from Detroit, and his stories of Detroit feel more real than most stuff I’ve read. In fact, it took me a long time to get through his book because I sat in front of YouTube for awhile watching the antics of Monica Conyers and Kwame Kilpatrick, which goes a long way to understanding how Detroit got from point a to point b. It’s another must read for the beach. Because Detroit is not going to emerge from bankruptcy and thrive. Detroit is our future, and after five years of neglect of asking serious questions about American cities, the debate we need to have is less about Martin v. Zimmerman than how we, as a nation, can face the world with any credibility if we can’t even store our own dead.