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Matty vs. the 99 percent

How the very richest rig the game — against the rest of us



For many critics of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the issue is framed as one of resentment. In this narrow characterization of the protests that have sprung up in cities across America in recent weeks, malcontents are angered simply by the continued concentration of wealth at the top of the system. 

The way we see it, the issue isn't so much resentment of the fabulously wealthy, but rather a rising recognition how wealth has corrupted democracy, skewing the playing field in a way that allows powerful corporate interests and the already rich to continue tilting the political system more and more in their favor, to the detriment of the rest of us.

The more money you have, the more power you get. And the more power you get, the more you are able to engineer changes that allow even more money to come your way.

Which brings us to state Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and the group Bridgewatch Detroit. They are reaching out to the Occupy Detroit protesters, who have set up camp in Grand Circus Park, and their fellow travelers in an attempt to gain allies in the fight against a particularly noteworthy example of the 1 percent problem: billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his Ambassador Bridge Company.

If there is a more telling example of how concentrated wealth can be used to skew public policy, we'd like to see it. Just last week, a Michigan Senate committee effectively blocked a bill that sought construction of a publicly owned span downriver from Matty's Ambassador Bridge. 

(Senate Democratic Floor Leader Tupac A. Hunter of Detroit claimed to have had bipartisan support for a version of the bill that included strong protections for the Delray neighborhood, where the proposed bridge would be located. That support, however, never materialized, so he ended up abstaining. "I was double-crossed in the 11th hour by Senate Republican leadership," he said in a release." Virgil Smith, another Detroit Dem, also abstained, meaning the bill failed to get enough votes to move out of committee.)

"I am disappointed that my legislative colleagues chose to believe a special interest — the Ambassador Bridge owners — over their own Republican-led administration," Tlaib said in a release. "I had hoped that the people's Legislature would not be turned into the Ambassador Bridge Legislature, but that is what happened in the Senate today with the failure to approve legislation that would have created jobs and protected families."

Instead, what got protected was a virtual monopoly and the vast profits it generates for Moroun and crew, who were able to at least stall once again a measure supported by Michigan's Republican governor and the state's Department of Transportation, the government of Canada, the Big Three automakers, the chambers of commerce representing both the metro area and the state, numerous labor unions and more.

It was done by using a multimillion-dollar television campaign that has been roundly — and rightly — criticized for its deceptions and distortions. 

And so, Tlaib and other southwest Detroiters who say they are tired of seeing both the courts and the Legislature fail them, are seeking the help of other 99 percenters in this battle against Moroun.

"The residents in my district are feeling defeated," Tlaib tells News Hits. "They are feeling like money can buy whatever it wants."

The inherent hope in the Occupy movement is that, ultimately, even the richest special interest can be defeated if enough people band together and flex their collective political muscle. It is Tlaib's hope as well.

"We are reaching out," says Tlaib. "We need help with our 1 percent problem."

To that end, a protest is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27, at the corner of 18th and Lafayette. For more information e-mail [email protected]

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