Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 24, 2011

WHEN OFFICIALS CONSIDER DEMOCRACY A PROBLEMATIC INCONVENIENCE.... We talked a month ago about the remarkable power grab underway in Michigan, where newly-elected Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is now exercising his power to unilaterally fire elected officials, dissolve entire local governments, and impose local dictators "Emergency Managers" without any input from voters. One of the proponents of this new policy called it "financial martial law" -- and that was intended to be a defense of the scheme.

To her enormous credit, Rachel Maddow, far more than anyone else in national media, is taking this story seriously, and shining a light on developments that are already underway in Michigan.

I hope readers will take a few minutes to watch this segment, but there was something Rachel said towards the end of the story that stood out for me: "What is new here is that this state has decided that local elections, locally elected officials are a problem that has to be done away with, that democracy is in the way of fixing problems in the United States now, of making things more efficient, particularly in poor places. Not that democracy is the way we fix problems but that democracy is the problem and it therefore needs to be sidestepped for efficiency sake, for our own good. Governor knows best.

"The point here, what makes Benton Harbor a national story and Katherine Ferguson Academy a national story is that the whole idea of choice for them anymore is purely hypothetical. The state has chosen for them. And that they've got is, frankly, that aforementioned dictator. Their hope -- their one hope -- is the dictator is benevolent.

"Is that how we think problems should get solved in America now?"

Bob Cesca argued yesterday, "We have to help Rachel make this a major national story." That strikes me as a very good idea.

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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The March toward Authoritarian Cronyism has begun in earnest in Michigan and Wisconsin!

Tell your friends and loved ones the days of voting and then complaining are swiftly coming to an end, and without the voting part of the equation, they can look forward to being railroaded to jail for complaining next time Govs. Snyder and Walker have their way! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 24, 2011 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

The fact that we even have to try and make this story national is just one of a million other examples of our worthless media's "balance". It is nothing more than a pretense.

As usual, Rachel is the only person willing to cover stories like this. Whether it is abortion or C Street/Uganda anti-gay legislation or Ensign, she is alone in her reporting because she doesn't give a damn about access. She has enough talent to have a successful career without selling her soul.

Posted by: Holmes on April 24, 2011 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

What is the other party doing about this? Why do the Democrats seem so absent from these stories in Wisconsin and Michigan? Don't we have a Democrat for president now? It is frightening to see how absent he is from this.

Posted by: Tim on April 24, 2011 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Personally, I would rather have an inefficient government than an efficient one.

meanwhile... And furthermore... It's hardly class warfare when the über rich own most of America.  I think the über rich can spare an extra few billion... "In terms of types of financial wealth, the top one percent of households have 38.3% of all privately held stock, 60.6% of financial securities, and 62.4% of business equity. The top 10% have 80% to 90% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of non-home real estate. Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America."  http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on April 24, 2011 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

No other TV journalist in this country does work remotely close to the quality that Maddow does.

But the really a terrible thing is that no TV journalist in this country even tries for her level.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on April 24, 2011 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

The story within this, as she said on the same show, is that the corporate media does not even care about Democrats or the 'base' of Obama's. They simply pay no attention. And she has began to call out the 'beltway media' because of this, their bias. To the point that she said that some within her profession, those within the beltway media, have written her to make her stop calling them out. Think about that for a moment. As if we needed more evidence the the 'beltway media' are nothing more than millionaire pundits whose entire job, what they have been hired to do, is to create the propaganda on behalf of their corporate employers want them too. They are the 'gatekeeper's' who determine, to a very large extent, what the 'issues' are according to them. Thus, we do not ever hear anything about the Democratic Budget Proposal that would balance the budge in ten years. It's as if it does not exit. And that the entire focus is only on cutting social entitlements programs, cutting debt, blah, blah, quack, quack. We never ever hear about raising the taxes on the rich either for example. They are master propagandists, plain and simple. And now Maddow is starting to call them out, and they are writing her not to. That says it all. She is the only one .............the only one. I wonder how long she will last now ........

Posted by: stormskies on April 24, 2011 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

This reminds me of a statement that, in a saner political environment, would just be sarcasm, but is instead increasingly a truism of our current system: "If they accuse you of it, they're doing it themselves."

After two years of paranoid, motivate-the-base assurances that we're always right on the brink of state takeovers at the hands of the White House, we are in fact beginning to see state takeovers of institutions. But instead of a dastardly communist plot, it's one more front on the war for upward redistribution of wealth in this country.

And the only question seems to be how bad things will have to get before enough voters decide they don't want to be live their lives as disposable temp workers in an economically devastated Ayn Rand fantasyland.

Posted by: Matt Sandwich on April 24, 2011 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Actually Matt Sandwich an Ayn Rand fantasy land would probably be preferable to the third world polluted hell hole that those bastards have planned for us.

Posted by: Gandalf on April 24, 2011 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

I think the mayor and city council of Benton Harbor should tell this dictator that Snyder has foisted on them to go f*ck himself, tell city employees to ignore him, and go about their business as if he didn't exist. When Snyder tries to enforce his law, take him to court over it and show it for the unconstitutional fascist power grab that it is.

Posted by: roger the Cabin Boy on April 24, 2011 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Why, this is just the kind of 'business-oriented' CEO the Republicans have been telling us we need to clean up 'messes'.

The fact that they made the messes doesn't count.

Have people been so softened up by the media/cultural lionization of the "CEO" that they forgot how badly our first CEO president ran the place?

Corporations are the ANTITHESIS of democracy. They are hierarchies with direct power over those under them given to people who 'rise' in the bureaucracy.

Not democracy.

Posted by: jjm on April 24, 2011 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

I saw Rachel's story - and I'm spending my Easter Sunday trying to figure out how I can help the ordinary folks of Michigan (particularly, but not solely, Benton Harbor) fight back.

Any suggestions?

Posted by: blondie on April 24, 2011 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

As I watched the first third of Maddow's segment, I was thinking, "What a great place for these young girls. I'll send a donation to the school to help with daycare or college expenses." As the story went on, I realized that Mrs. Andrews's time, worries, and money for the next few months would be occupied, not with marshaling resources for her students and finding colleges for them to attend, but rather with preparing and presenting (think lawyers' fees) a proposal to become a charter school -- my paltry contribution would be needed, instead, for those unexpected expenses. By the end, it became clear that my few dollars will most likely be needed for bail money for those courageous young women and their teachers. This is one of the most appalling stories I've heard in a very long time. Maybe since Bush v. Gore. I'm not a Michigan resident, so I can't do anything from an electoral standpoint, and really can't contribute much in the way of money. Blondie, if you get any good ideas, please post them here.

Posted by: stinger on April 24, 2011 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Don't use the "dictator" frame. Dictatorship is always factional, not personal; and faction is never about the gain of a group, but the harm of another group.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on April 24, 2011 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

A democracy worthy of the name can only function with a well-educated, well-informed, and involved electorate. An ignorant, easily manipulated, gullible citizenry having to choose equally ignorant, unqualified, and corrupt politicians to run their governments and solve their problems may be a form of democracy, as in let them stew in their own juice, but does it provide for the health safety and welfare of the populace? And when does obvious dysfunction become dangerous?

Do I think the Michigan model of arbitrarily ousting local elected officials is a healthy one? Of course not. I haven't seen the Michigan legislation authorizing the installation of 'emergency managers', but every state has provisions for allowing the governor to intervene when local governments no longer function properly. New York City was under state supervision in the mid-1970s when it was effectively bankrupt. The finances of the city of Yonkers, in New York State, was under state control when the city council refused to put its budget in order, and the county of Nassau, also in New York State, is in the same situation now.

State intervention per se is not the evil. How it is done, and for what reasons, and how such intervention is triggered, are the questions that need to asked and answered. What exactly is dysfuntional about Benton Harbor's city government? What, if any, are the limits of power for the emergency manager? How is such intervention ended? Is Michigan's law similar to such laws in other states? If not, how is it different? That's what we need to hear about.

If what Is happening in Michigan is malevolent and aimed at a power grab from Democrats by fascist Republicans then that story is national, and needs more probing than it got in Rachel's segment. Until she provides that I, for one, will not respond with a knee-jerk outburst against what is happening in Michigan. Don't get me wrong. I literally hate the Rethugs, but this piece is coming across a little too simply for my tastes.

Posted by: rrk1 on April 24, 2011 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Have you noticed that Rachel hasn't been on the Meet The Press panel for a long, long time? I haven't seen her since she sat next to Dick Army and challenged him as often as she could get a word in edgewise. That probably was her undoing. The powers that be can't have their rich conservative liars verbally ruffed up by a smart informed liberal.

Posted by: Kathryn on April 24, 2011 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

so basically benton Harbor is now the same as, well, the District of Columbia?

Posted by: northzax on April 24, 2011 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

What Roger said. How is this possibly constitutional or legal?

I say fuck 'em, too. If I was in Benton Harbor government, I'd let them arrest me and then make a literal federal case out of it.

Posted by: MsJoanne on April 24, 2011 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with rr1. There is something missing from the story. How could a school with 90% graduation rates and 100% college entrance be on the block for closing? It's clearly a successful school. It should be getting awards, not closure threats.

What's missing?

Posted by: Seould on April 24, 2011 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

This is a horror story.

Posted by: clevergirl on April 24, 2011 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Seould, it is a public school in Detroit, a very poor, lower class, mostly black city, that has had a lot of problems over the year.

Because it is public, they want to close it. It has three things going against it: it gears towards black women, there are children involved and it is successful. None of those are what the GOP wants.

Women who get pregnant are to be punished, either by forcibly making them give birth or once they have done so, by putting them into desperate poverty so they can be thrilled with whatever handouts they receive.

This is typical GOP MO. It is how they operate and have for about 30 years.

The rise of compassionate conservatism.

Posted by: MsJoanne on April 24, 2011 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a fan of Rachel, but her coverage on this is wrong. Michigan has several local governments that have mis-managed things to the point where they can't pay their bills. The most visible is the Detroit Public Schools, which has a state-appointed manager (appointed by former governor Granholm, a democrat). The state-appointed manager in Benton Harbor was also appointed by Granholm.

The state-appointed guys are there only because the local government has failed. There have been big struggles between the locals and the state-appointed managers. Eventually the power goes to the managers, but it's drawn out and things get worse during the squabbling. A rationale for the new law is to simplify the transfer of power.

To repeat: the manager in Benton Harbor was put in place before Snyder was governor, and before the new law was passed.

Posted by: MichiganMike on April 24, 2011 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

Don't know what the Michigan law says specifically or anything about the Michigan constitution -- but the US Supreme Court decided back in 1907 that local governments only exist within the framework that state governments allow them. This is called Dillon's Rule.

Posted by: JohnMcC on April 24, 2011 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

As noted, this has happened before, and under a centrist Democratic governor. If you have a city where the same councilpeople are returned to office year after year on the basis of "he/she looks like me" or "I voted for his dad" with a straight 50.5% of the vote, you get a government that is stagnated.
If you get a schoolboard elected on the same basis, some members of which display a skillset that wouldn't earn them a GED, you get lousy schools.
And yes, the uproar from Michigan somewhat less than a din.
As for Maddow, the show she spent mispronouncing the best known island in the state is as much of a tell as David Brock's visit to the salad bar at Applebee's. Apparently the story about academic suppression in Michigan was reported without a single call to Ann Arbor, Mount Pleasant, Detroit or East Lansing. There are some stories you just can't cover with Twitter.

Posted by: Steve P on April 25, 2011 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Nothing this extreme EVER occurred under Granholm. In fact, the law that permits this is NEWLY ENACTED by the new teabag House and Senate in MI, and was just signed into law by Snyder a few weeks ago.

Posted by: G.Kerby on April 25, 2011 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe Obama should declare Michigan a disaster area and replace the governor and legislature with an emergency dictator. Alan Grayson, maybe?

Posted by: Nancy Irving on April 28, 2011 at 5:09 AM | PERMALINK
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