There is a scene in Total Recall (I refuse to see the "remake" and refer, of course, to the 1990 film) wherein a corrupt profiteer named Cohagen shuts off the supply of breathable air to part of a city managed by his corporation to "teach them a lesson" for hiding Arnold Schwarzenegger's character. It provides us with one of the more famously bad Schwarzenegger quotes from his Eighties "I haven't totally mastered English. Or acting." phase: "Give these people air!"

It's no "Get to the choppa!" but it'll do.

We've all realized by now that the 1987 Paul Verhoeven splatter-fest RoboCop was actually a documentary about how Detroit would look in 25 years; there may not be police-robots but Omni Consumer Products is getting ready to take over. I hadn't previously made the connection with Total Recall, though. It didn't seem plausible that some unelected sociopath would be able to turn off public utilities out of spite here in the United States. As a dystopian literary device, sure. But in real life? In the USA?

Well it turns out that last week's power outage in Detroit was done intentionally by the Rick Snyder-appointed "city manager" or someone in that office. It appears that on one of the hottest days of the year, "We did start calling our customers prior to taking them down and asking them to turn off air conditioners, but they weren't responding as fast as we would like them to so we had to send them a strong message by turning the power off." In the video, the speaker laughs a lot while explaining this. The power was down for four hours without warning.

There hasn't been a peep about this from the media, of course. Go ahead, google "Detroit power outage" and see if any major networks or newspapers covered this – despite the fact that the city manager's office explicitly admits responsibility. On video. In fact, if not for the local Fox station in Detroit – oh, delicious irony – it would be as if this never happened.

The city managers are eager to blame the city's power department and infrastructure as a means of hastening the privatization plans. Services are scheduled to be handed over to DTE Energy, because if the last three decades have proven anything it's that corporate control is pure and efficient whereas public control is inherently corrupt.

Just a friendly reminder to keep this in mind when the ALEC-sponsored "financial emergency" bills appear in your state legislature.

27 thoughts on “GIVE THESE PEOPLE AIR!”

  • Mr. Brown's laughter and general demeanor are those of a man who is in no way afraid of losing his job or, indeed, facing any kind of disapproval from his superiors. Very much a tone of "What the fuck're you gonna do about it? You need the power, and mine is the hand on the switch!" I especially liked the reporter's attempt to elicit some kind of humanity from him by pointing out the plight of people trapped in elevators (not to mention people unable, because of disability, to leave upper floors.) He all but pulls a "Yeah, yeah, we turned the power on to get them out–and where's my 'thank you'?!"

    Really, though, it's the fact that the outage directly affected both City Hall *and* the Courthouse that lets you know–and lets THEM know–who's really in charge here. As in, "Dance, little local government peons, dance for our amusement! What're you gonna do? Huh? Huh? Nothing–that's what. We OWN you."

    Anyone else reminded of the old SNL Bell Telephone commercial? "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company."

  • If corporations are people, every one of those affected can sue them for assault. Not that it'll work, but a flood of lawsuits might (just maybe, a little) get some media attention to the story.

  • I just cannot fathom how this could be remotely legal, even in Rick Snyder's Michigan or Kevyn Orr's Detroit. Seriously, is there no way of stopping, or even slowing down, these state-appointed sociopaths?

  • In my state, the electric company attached governors to everybody's heatpumps (pretty much most homes since the built since the 1970s have heatpumps, even though they're dreadful at actually, you know, heating the house), with the ability to turn off heat/air conditioning "as needed" from the central office. The idea was that they would turn off power for 15 – 30 minutes during peak usage times to save energy, and "reward" homeowners with some small rebate on their utility bills (something like $10/year). In my neighborhood, at least, that 15 minutes was more like 6 – 8 hours, which is dangerous for small children and the elderly on 100-degree days. People began disabling the limiters and the power monopoly couldn't keep repairing them, so now they're on to another scheme where they call you on hot days and threaten you if you don't voluntarily conserve. I can see us going to Detroit's method.

  • Where's the fucking bread?

    Everywhere I look, I see a fucking circus.

    There ought to be clowns, quick send in the clowns.
    Where are the clowns?
    Quick send in the clowns.
    Don't bother they're here – in a state legislature, near you.

  • Lawsuits by citizens (or now, governments) will only slow down the process. I wonder if anything short of tumbrils is really going to change the direction of things.

  • When I read things like this, it makes me so glad I no longer live in the US.

    Oh wait… we just elected in some idiot with more ears than sense who feels that Australia missed out on riding on the SS Auster… erm… Titanic.

  • Iraq-style governance for Detroit. This reminds me of the California blackouts engineered by the power companies there.

  • guttedleafsfan says:

    They were clever to engineer outages which will not result in a baby boom of possible welfare moochers nine months later. Too Darn Hot,

  • Once you see the people who use your services as the problem, this is what you get. "The customer is always wrong, and needs to be punished." An under-appreciated problem with unregulated monopolies. When you combine "It's always projection" with "government is the problem" and put those folks in charge, you're totally screwed. It may be simple corruption – possibly Mafia-run cities would be no different, but I suspect there's more than a little bit of "punish the moochers for their lazy, shiftless moochiness" in there.

  • I'd love to share, but there are just enough nutjobs among the family members and classmates on my F-list for this to trigger a chain-rant in which they skip the point about private vs. public sector and go straight to "next they're taking our guns / Bibles / precious bodily fluids". I just can't take another one right now.

  • Tim H.:
    They aren't stupid enough to turn off the power in affluent neighborhoods. So what if some brown people die with the air/heat turned off? Net benefit, really (in the minds of the 1%, that is).

  • In 2001-2002, my power utility announced rolling blackouts, though I don't think we ever had one. The neighborhoods were numbered 1 through some low two-digit number, with 1 being where the power would be shut off first. Guess who lives in area 1? That's right. Poor, black people.

  • Not too late to declare the Snyders, Walkers and Scotts terrorists. After all, the definition fits. This way we put them all at Gitmo.

  • Tim H.

    Nobody with influence actually lives in Detroit. That's actually the whole problem that the city has.

    The people with influence live out in the suburbs. They have since the 60s when they fled the city en masse because they were terrified of sending their kids to the same schools as black kids. The suburbs around Detroit have historically been some of the most racist areas in the North (and, frankly, given parts of the South a run for the money).

    So, no, nobody with influence is going to be affected by this because if anyone with influence actually LIVED in Detroit there's no way this whole city manager bankruptcy crap would be happening.

  • @NonyNony: "The suburbs around Detroit have historically been some of the most racist areas in the North (and, frankly, given parts of the South a run for the money)."

    Think about the rise of the auto and steel industries; much of the south went to Detroit for work that paid enough to live on.

  • Scooter Walker in Gitmo getting water boarded, generally I would be against torture. But in this case I would be willing to make an exception.

  • Just a note on the irony of Detroit's Fox affiliate reporting the story. Local affiliates don't necessarily tie up directly with the company. In Cleveland, the Fox affiliate looks like NPR compared to the competition (I'm looking at you "Action News").

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