DETROIT IS LIKE a canvas of chaotic art, a Gerard Richter or Pollock, standing starkly out against the blank white room that surrounds it. You find yourself drawn in, compelled to stop and gaze at it. Whether it’s ruin porn or the saga of Kwame or now our new state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager, it’s hard to look away.
The national press has duly documented this most recent drama, how Governor Snyder appointed Kevyn Orr as the Emergency Financial Manager to studiously go through the city’s books and find a way to stave off bankruptcy. Orr is like some old man in a ramshackle rooming house desperately digging through every drawer to find change for the fare as the sound of the last bus barreling down the street shakes the whole structure. It isn’t pretty.
Recently, Mr. Orr made the surprising suggestion the city pay its debts off by selling various treasures from the Detroit Institute of Arts. The thought being that an auction of a few pieces by Van Gogh, Matisse, Bruegel and Copleys might be enough to satisfy our hungry creditors. I’m sure he had a good reason for suggesting such a thing (after all, city services can’t really be cut much deeper. As the excellent documentary “Burn” points out, this is a city where the Fire Commissioner vacuums his own office). Still, the logic behind Mr. Orr’s tactic escapes me. Since a variety of legal constraints exclude the possibility of any works being sold, all his proposal did was make a lot of very serious people extremely upset. Perhaps that was his goal, who knows. I sincerely believe he has good intentions. As opposed to many here who view him and his mission with suspicion – many were angry at him before he even began –I wish him every success and I do not envy him his task.
His is an exceedingly difficult job. This week he is going into negotiations with the various institutions that own Detroit’s city bonds, institutions that include various large banks.
If he were to ask me, I would offer one very simple solution: Ask the banks to pay back the banks. Maybe not all of the debt, but they could cover a good chunk of it and without even having to write a check.
I am not talking about a loan; we are poor as church mice with nothing to mortgage really (except for perhaps José Valverde’s contract; seriously, we’ll give that to you cheap). Also, I am not asking for a favor or a kindness or an act of benevolence. And I am not talking about class war; no, nothing fancy like that. But there is a logic to why they should help us out, and it goes like this:
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