Opinion: Panem et Circenses

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Panem et Circenses

Panem et Circenses

None of this is really new in the city of Detroit, but tonight as I was sitting on my couch, minding my own business watching The Sound of Music, eating bumpy cake and ice cream (I know!), I came across yet another article demonstrating the asinine thinking in the city of Detroit.

Detroit is no different than ancient Rome in many ways. Not the least of which are its spectacular ruins (which I often explore and photograph). But also in a more sinister way – Those in power know to keep the people happy and quiet.

Panem et Circenses or Bread and Circuses.

It was Juvenal that coined this system, a mechanism of influential power over the Roman mass. “Panem et Circensus”, literally “bread and circuses”, was the formula for the well-being of the population, and thus a political strategy. This formula offered a variety of pleasures such as: the distribution of food, public baths, gladiators, exotic animals, chariot races, sports competition, and theater representation. It was an efficient instrument in the hands of the Emperors to keep the population peaceful, and at the same time giving them the opportunity to voice themselves in these places of performance. – http://www.capitolium.org/eng/imperatori/circenses.htm

Back to Detroit. According to a story posted to MLIve yesterday:

DETROIT, MI – The M1 Rail project has begun utility relocation along Woodward Avenue as part of the first step towards building a 3.3-mile street car from New Center to downtown in Detroit.

The federal government signed off on the $140 million M1 Rail project in April. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in January announced $25 million in federal funding for the transit project, which will have 11 stops and cost $1.50 per ride. Fifteen private donors led by Penske Chairman Roger Penske, Quicken Chairman Dan Gilbert and M-1 CEO Matt Cullen contributed $100 million to the project. – http://www.mlive.com/business/detroit/index.ssf/2013/12/detroits_m1_rail_project_begin.html

Am I the only one that thinks this is RIDICULOUS? The feds give $140,000,000 and Penske, Gilbert, et al throw down another $100,000,000??? For a rail project that’s gonna go THREE MILES from New Center to Downtown? First of all, the average person could WALK the three miles in under 45 minutes. If they had a BIKE they could do it in less than 15. But that’s the least of my problem with these “projects”. It gets better. Or worse depending on your point of view.

But wait, there’s more. This from The Daily Beast on December 7th regarding the proposed new arena:

Detroit is declaring bankruptcy while its city council considers contributing public money to build a new Hockey Stadium for the billionaire owner of the Red Wings.

While Judge Steven Rhodes was trying to figure out if the city of Detroit could declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the Detroit City Council was also doing some thinking. Should the council kick in about $45 million of city funding towards the $650 million entertainment complex that would include a residential section and a new arena for the Detroit Red Wings National Hockey League franchise?

Under the preliminary agreement with state and Detroit officials, Mike Ilitch, the Red Wings owner who is valued at $2.7 billion, is getting about $284 million in state aid. You can’t blame Ilitch for asking for city and state money in a place like Michigan where Governor Rick Snyder put six cities, Allen Park, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Ecorse, Flint and Pontiac under the aegis of a state Emergency Financial Manager. Ilitch is just doing what sports owners do. Asking municipalities to subsidize his business so he can maximize his profits. – http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/12/04/bankruptcy-hasn-t-stopped-detroit-s-plan-for-public-funding-of-new-sports-stadium.html

How about a quote that’s a little more in line with my reaction to all this?

“This deal I feel is completely revolting… There is no economic benefit to Detroit.” -Jerry Belanger, owner of Cliff Bell’s, Park Bar, Bucharest Grill – http://democraticprogress.net/2013/12/why-detroit-red-wings-fans-should.html

“Completely revolting”. Yeah, that’s the ticket. More about Detroit’s proposed new “Colosseum” from the same source:

The public funding will come from 30-year tax-free bonds floated by the Michigan Strategic Fund, with the Detroit Downtown Development Authority contributing $15-17 Million annually toward payments. Of this, $13-15 Million would come from downtown taxes which would otherwise go to Michigan’s School Aid Fund. This is happening at the same time as Detroit Public Schools closes 9 schools and leases 15 others to Michigan’s controversial state Education Achievement Authority district for a savings of $6.2 Million for fiscal year 2014.

Are you kidding me? Don’t answer that.

130906-StateFair-23-2How about we add up the millions this “rail project” and new “Colosseum” are gonna cost. Now what if we took a FRACTION of that money and used it where there was real NEED in the city?

What if we tore down or (crazy thought, here) redeveloped our abandoned structures? What if we paid and properly equipped our police officers, fire fighters and other public workers more in line with what they’re worth? What if we used that money to buy toilet paper and other necessary supplies for our public schools (don’t laugh, as recently as 2009, at least one DPS issued this plea for toilet paper, trash bags and light bulbs)? What if we hired more qualified teachers for those schools? What if we turned the streetlights back on in our neighborhoods? What if we cleaned up the streets (not a euphemism for ridding the city of crime, I mean actually CLEANING up the STREETS).

What if we fixed some buses and worked on our public transportation with four wheels so some 20 something guy didn’t have to start his own bus company to provide buses for our residents? What if we used some of the money to develop more permanent solutions to the huge homeless population like those under the Springwell St. Bridge?

What if?

Instead some Detroit residents are being EVICTED FROM THEIR HOMES in the area of the arena development with only SEVEN DAYS NOTICE! I’m not talking about how people got kicked out of their homes in Black Bottom in the ’60’s. I’m talking about RIGHT NOW. 2013. Don’t believe me?

As historic buildings are bought up and torn down around them, residents all over the area are being handed eviction notices. In a disturbing echo of similar events surrounding the construction of Comerica Park, home of Ilitch’s Detroit Tigers, some residents are only receiving 7 days notice before they are tossed out into the cold, dangerous streets of Detroit. “I feel safe here…I am alone. I’m afraid of what I might run into where I have to move.” said 90-year-old Esther Harding, a 29-year resident of the Griswold apartments, located a few blocks south of the proposed arena development. – http://democraticprogress.net/2013/12/why-detroit-red-wings-fans-should.html

Is Detroit the new Rome? You ask me, we’re not far off. The people in power are doing everything they can to distract the citizens of the city so they can realize their grandiose visions. At the EXPENSE OF THE PEOPLE.

The expression “bread and circuses” captures a certain cynical political view that the masses can be kept happy with fast food (think Cartman’s “Cheesy Poofs” on South Park) and faster entertainment (NASCAR races, NFL games, and the like). In the Roman Empire, it was bread and chariot races and gladiatorial games that filled the belly and distracted the mind, allowing emperors to rule as they saw fit.

There’s truth to the view that people can be kept tractable as long as you fill their bellies and give them violent spectacles to fill their free time. – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-astore/bread-and-circuses-in-rom_b_3414248.html

How many residents of Detroit will use this three mile rail system? How would they even GET to the rail station from their neighborhoods? How many have $50-100 to pay for a ticket to the Red Wing game in the “new coliseum” (not to mention food, beverages, etc.)? Projects like these are simply ways of propagating the status quo. Keep the people happy and poor.

Panem et Circenses

Bread and Circuses, baby.