Did that really happen? Did I really just see The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams visit Detroit and make a joke about ball-washers? I think this really happened:
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Once again, The Daily Show, a fake news show, produces some of the best news out there.
Nothing talked about in this clip is going to be news to anyone who has been following Detroit’s water story since this summer. But the sight of Williams grilling Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, about what he means when he says that Detroit residents aren’t paying their water bills “out of a sense of entitlement” — now that is a thing of beauty.
What has changed about Detroit and its water shutoffs since this summer? Not much. In early October, the judge in charge of Detroit’s bankruptcy, Steven Rhodes, ruled that even though water is “a necessary ingredient to sustaining life,” that doesn’t mean that “there is an enforceable right to free and affordable water.”
A few weeks later, Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, visited Detroit and announced that the city’s water shutoffs amount to a violation of basic human rights — one that is especially worrisome because the burden falls heaviest on the poor and African Americans. (Larger corporate clients, like Joe Louis Stadium and Chandler Park Golf Course, owed hundreds of thousands of dollars but did not have their accounts shut off, because the water department said their shutoff crews didn’t have the skills to cut off water at that scale.)
At this, Bill Johnson, a spokesperson for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), replied that the effect that the U.N. had on the utility, or much of anything, was negligible. “This is the same organization trying to achieve world peace,” Johnson said at a community meeting. “It ain’t going to happen.”
This week, Curtrise Garner, another DWSD spokesperson, told the Associated Press that the agency had cut off water to 31,300 customers since the beginning of 2014, and the shut-offs would continue this winter. Out of the accounts that had been turned off, Garner said that about 17,400 had been paid and reinstated.
While a smorgasbord of groups is collecting donations to help Detroiters pay outstanding water bills, the long-term solution that connects them is a desire to implement the Water Affordability Program that Roger Colton, a municipal utilities expert, drew up for the city back in 2005. The program was adopted by the DWSD, but it never got enough money to get up and running.