Michigan’s ‘Financial Martial Law’- Coming Soon to Wisconsin?

In March, the Michigan legislature passed, and Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill one GOP lawmaker referred to as “financial martial law.”  In a nutshell, it allows the governor to appoint “emergency financial managers” to run local governments- elected officials notwithstanding. The elected officials can call meetings, approve minutes, and adjourn…and that’s about it!  The unelected managers can privatize city services, sell off assets, set aside union contracts, and consolidate or even dissolve local governments…all in the name of saving struggling cities and school districts.

There is no disputing that there are a number of localities and school districts in the state that struggling financially. That noted, can this new law be construed to be constitutional? Under Art. I Sec. 10 of the United States Constitution, states are prohibited from impairing contracts in most cases. (The federal government is not under this same prohibition.) This law is designed to prevent the local entity from going into bankruptcy, however it actually acts in virtually the same manner as a bankruptcy. Municipalities are allowed to declare bankruptcy by act of Congress, and bankruptcy is provided for in the Constitution.

For this reason, it appears that this law falls under the doctrine of preemption…that is, it’s something the federal government has already regulated, and state law cannot supersede it.  Ultimately, it will likely be the federal courts that decide the issue.

It seems that this law is, more than anything, a mechanism to set aside union contracts, and to take and resell assets to businesses that might profit handsomely from them. It has its roots in the Mackinac Center, an organization associated with the Heritage Foundation. A version of the bill has now surfaced in Wisconsin, and there will surely be others introduced in other states.

If this sort of law continues to spread, and is not struck down in the federal courts, the belief that a person’s vote counts may be severely diminished, if not eliminated. Who would have thought in the United States of America that elected officials you voted for could be swept aside and replaced by an appointed tsar?


The Government’s Budget and The National Debt

There is great hue and cry right now, and lots of political throat clearing about cutting the budget and getting the debt under control. The President is about to bring out a plan for this as a counter to Paul Ryan’s plan, which aside from funny numbers, the CBO has said will actually barely dent the national debt, if not increase it more.


I don’t believe that the federal government should be run (or can be) like a business, but that is always the demand from the right. As someone who has run a couple multimillion dollar businesses, I offer this: No business on the planet has ever survived by continually cutting spending AND revenues! This, however, is the conservative plan! Cutting spending? Sure. We have and will do more, and it will be painful. There are some services that government exists to provide that can’t be efficiently ‘privatized’ and where it would be a conflict of interest to do so. That said, we will cut more from the budget, both the Democrats and Republicans agree on at least that much.


Let’s address the other side of this equation. More tax cuts are proposed in the Ryan plan. This is just plain insane. If you have ever owned or managed a business, you know that you can’t keep cutting revenue and survive, yet that’s exactly what the Ryan plan does. No matter how dear tax cuts are to the right, taxes are revenues to the government…whether from corporations, individuals, fees, or however they are characterized.


Here is one place the government had better act like a business…raise revenues. The top 2% of wealthy control more wealth at this moment than any time in the last 80 years, they can afford to pay a little more in tax. Wall Street took huge bailouts from the government (us) after nearly sinking the economy with their crazy casino gambling…put a small transaction tax on every transaction that doesn’t presently have one. Finally, close loopholes for corporations, and take away some of their goodies…do you really think oil companies need the depletion allowance when oil is over 100 dollars a barrel and they are making billions in profits? You must be kidding!


The net net is, more cuts are needed (the defense department is so bloated it virtually begs for some cuts), and revenues MUST be raised. Do both, and the national debt will absolutely be reduced. Do only the cuts and lower taxes, and the country is in great peril.


Reasonable People Can Disagree- Are Any Left?

The Wisconsin Supreme Court election of Wednesday, April 6th was a real squeaker…Kloppenburg, the democratic challenger has beaten Prosser, the incumbent Republican by 204 votes out of a little over 1,400,000 cast. This ensures a recount. This election has turned out around a half million more voters than in a normal off-year Wisconsin election, and certainly a huge turnout for a nominally non-partisan Supreme Court election.


Reportedly, over 3 million dollars was spent on this election, a stunning amount for such a race. (The Brennan Center for Justice puts the total from 4 conservative groups in Wisconsin judicial races in 2011 at $2,177,220 and the progressive Greater Wisconsin Committee’s spending at $1,363.040.)


Does this election, on the heels of the Republican governor and legislature there passing legislation banning collective bargaining for most unionized government workers foretell an ever more fractured electorate, both there and nationally? With a rally there turning out some 100,000 people protesting the elimination of the collective bargaining rights, it would seem so.


There is no doubt that there is huge money from very conservative billionaires behind the union-busting in Wisconsin and elsewhere. There is also no doubt that there is a substantial amount of union money and union on-the-ground organizing supporting the government employee unions, trying to maintain what they’ve gained over years.


Pulling out to the national level, witness the potential government shut down over the temporary budget continuing resolution that the two major parties can’t agree on. Until relatively recently, politics was the art of the compromise. The two major parties have now grown so far apart, and so entrenched in their positions, it seems almost impossible for them to agree on the slightest point.


Perhaps it’s time to see a modification of our at least formerly great system of government. It could be third and fourth parties at the least disruptive…perhaps serving the more moderate voters and independent voters, which actually outnumber those on the extremes in each party. A lot of younger voters seem to be leaning towards this. As one television commentator who had formerly worked in the legislative branch noted, it might even be time to take a giant step, and blow the whole thing up and switch to the parliamentary system. It could be something not yet even contemplated.


Whatever course the country ends up taking, it’s time for the great middle to start dictating terms to the extremes in both the major parties, instead of giving in to their often unreasonable demands. This is, and I hope will remain, the greatest country in the world, but we are in serious need of pulling together and really addressing our challenges.


The End of Newspapers-Why You Should Care

After reading an article about how much longer do newspapers have ( read it here: http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/03/the-newsonomics-of-oblivion/), and an earlier observation about the expense involved now in publishing, it seems like a good time to remind those who never touch a paper about how this will affect them.


An earlier article noted that it costs so much to put out the New York Times, the paper could send every subscriber FOUR free Kindles per year, and still end up with more money than they are taking in now! This pretty effectively underscores that newspapers can’t possibly continue putting out print editions…in today’s world, the economics just prohibit it.


What does this mean to you, the non-newspaper reader (or perhaps the concerned newspaper reader?) It means that newspaper organizations have to find a way to profitably stay in business as NEWS organizations…without the paper. Why? The short answer is that they are the ones at this point in time that are doing the heavy lifting as far as local news and investigative journalism.


Virtually everyone else borrows or steals from them. Bloggers and aggregators either have no news staff or very small ones. Radio news is so badly reduced that many major market outlets don’t even have enough reporters to send one out when a story breaks. Television news isn’t far behind when it comes to reduced staffs that can barely cover what breaks. The national networks also have reduced staffing. Watch as CNN has a guy in Dallas cover a story in Kansas City, for example. They don’t even have a stringer or local reporter they can call! Sure, lots of websites will still rewrite press releases they receive, and can publish tips that come in, but who’s going to do the digging to verify facts or interview people at the scene when an actual hard news story breaks or continues to unfold?


Newspapers need–right now- -to figure out a way to combine electronic subscriptions and mobile and web advertising in a manner that will support their news operations and make a profit or they will go away. When? A lot of observers think in the next 5 to 10 years. If you value knowing what’s going on in your neighborhood, city, and the world, you should be very concerned.