Governor Rick Snyder

Posted: August 21, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

 

Diane Ravitch reports bad news about education in Detroit. 26 schools will be closed, and teachers’ pay will be cut by 10%. What angers me about this report is that Governor Rick Snyder and his allies preach the school “reform” line. They put the blame for poor education outcomes on teachers. Then they take measures that make good teachers want to leave the profession. The decision to make the cut was made by the city’s Dicta. . . Emergency Manager, who is a puppet of the Governor. Best wishes to the parents and children in Detroit. What is happening in your city is a crime against democracy – and common sense.

Posted: December 4, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I frequently blog about income inequality because it is a vital issue that affects all working people, not just those in low wage jobs.  Today, President Obama called income inequality, “the defining challenge of our time.”  The President referred to specific types of low wage workers in calling for an increase in the minimum wage.  More importantly, he addressed the issue of decreased mobility:  not only are more Americans being born into poverty, they seem to be stuck there.  The President’s words are good and inspiring.  However, during his first campaign, he told labor that he would stand with them and put on his walking shoes to be with them in the picket line.  Did Obama march in Wisconsin or Ohio?  No.  Did he push through passage of the Employee Free Choice Act?  No.  Hopefully, these good words will lead to some positive action.  Let’s remember Jesse Jackson motto:  “Keep hope alive.”

There is nothing hopeful about the situation in Detroit.  Judge Steven W. Rhodes, a federal bankruptcy judge, ruled that all should be for the creditors, nothing for retired workers who paid into pension funds.  David Cay Johnston describes the situation as “stealing from the workers.”  His reasoning is clear:  Pensions are deferred wages.  Would anyone think of taking money from an employee’s paycheck?  That would clearly be theft.  How is a promised pension any different?  Johnson lists several examples of how politicians have played this game in the past.  Detroit is just the latest, ugliest example of a trend that is also taking place in my state, Illinois, which is run by Democrats.

As Johnston examines the economic impact of Detroit’s bankruptcy, John Nichols considers the political impact.  Citing a study by Demos, Nichols argues that Detroit’s serious financial problems should not have led to bankruptcy.  Why did the city go bankrupt?  So the Governor could appoint an unelected manager to strip assets that range from pension funds to the great collection in the city’s art museum.  Nichols quotes Detroit’s new mayor Mike Duggan, who admits that he will only have power to the degree that it is given by the governor and his manager.  The elected mayor is powerless.  Nichols captures the problem in these words:  “There is a lot more at stake in Detroit, and in Michigan, than one city’s balance sheet.  Our understanding of democracy, itself, is being subverted.” 

If President Obama is serious about addressing income inequality and mobility, he should start in Detroit.  Turn the Justice Department loose on Governor Snyder and his “Emergency Managers,” who lord over cities that are populated mostly by poor African Americans.  Clearly American citizens in the cities under Governor’s Snyder’s Emergency Manager system are not enjoying the rights promised under the XV Amendment.  Detroit is a good starting point, Mr. President.  Save democracy and promote opportunity in that great city.

P.S.  David Sirota calls out the fraud in Detroit by discussing funds that can be found for a new hockey arena and $6 billion in subsidies, also known as corporate welfare.

Posted: August 13, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I started going up and down the radio dial, looking for something that might put me to sleep.  A conservative talker raged about the need for inner city youth to obey the police.  His point was simple:  No matter what the circumstance, we must respect the police.

Conservative leaders in Michigan must listen to other right wing radio talkers.  According to Laura Clawson in Daily Kos, police and firefighters in Detroit are not getting respect from the conservative governor Rick Snyder and his “Emergency Manager” Kevyn Orr.  Neither group is eligible for Social Security, and the city’s bankruptcy will make their pensions next to worthless.  Unlike pensions in the private sector there is no Federal system to backstop failed public pension funds.  Brave cops and firefighters who put their lives on the line to keep the people safe now face a very insecure retirement.

Even if public safety officers in Detroit received full pensions, they would only average $30,000, much less than peers in cities of a similar size.  How can people who say they respect the police (and I assume firefighters) treat them so poorly?  Clawson puts it best in the last words of her article:  “They kept their promises to the city of Detroit. It must keep its promises to them.”  Amen.

Posted: June 23, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Detroit is a great American, and it is  in trouble.  Rather than the state or federal government coming to its aid, they do nothing – or less than nothing.  The governor of Michigan has assigned an emergency manager whose main job is to pay creditors by selling off public assets.

Today, we have a small bit of good news for Detroit.  According to Daily Kos, musician Jack White has saved the city’s Masonic Temple, which was completed in 1926.  White’s mother worked in the building when he way young.  The story also notes that White has donated in the past to save a baseball field in the city.

So what do we have here?  One person trying to save the city while others who should be protecting public assets want to tear them down and sell them off.  Welcome to America in 2013.

Posted: March 10, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog explores topics beyond the work world in “Sabbath.”]

Detroit and Democracy

I wanted to do more to prepare more to write this post, but I’ve had work responsibilities this week and weekend that would not let me dive into research and numbers.  Even so, I feel a need to express my less than informed opinion on a vital topic – the impending takeover of Detroit.

It’s not the big media story I thought it would be.  It’s taken as a given that Detroit is “bankrupt” and “something has to be done.”  I’ve even heard that claim in progressive media.  Is Detroit in trouble?  Of course, it is.  So are many other large American cities that have lost their industrial base.  No one seems to be asking if there are alternatives to taking power from the hands of elected officials and putting it in the hands of an unelected Emergency Manager.  Governor Rick Snyder presents this solution that he has introduced in other cities as the only way to save the state’s biggest city.

Let’s take a minute and ask some questions:

1.  Is the situation as bad as the governor claims?  Why is Michigan the only state in the nation where such action is taking place on such a scale?  Is the governor really concerned about helping cities, or is he working off an ALEC playbook strategy to transfer public wealth into private hands?  Is there any evidence that Emergency Managers in other cities have made a long term improvement in local conditions – long term, not a simple give away to the connected class?

2.  Where is the wealth?  Throughout America, central cities are surrounded by suburbs that conduct business in and take their identity from the urban hub.  Could some system be devised where those who benefit from the hub pay their share for its upkeep?  Why not tax suburbs that have a surplus?  Why not introduce county wide or regional taxes that would help revive great American cities?

Here in Chicago we’ve had similar claims of impending ruin.  One of Mayor Daley’s chief aides used the term “Doomsday” in talking about the state of the city’s school system and public transit system.  Both systems were cut in the face of such claims.  Mayor Daley also transferred public assets of parking meters and a public toll road to private interests.  The city’s finances are not better.  In fact, by the end of the contract, the city will lose money on the parking meter contract.  Now Mayor Emanuel want to close over 100 schools because of a pending billion dollar deficit.  Is this a real problem or a way to move students from public to “charter” schools?

Whenever a politician claims a situation is an emergency, we need to ask for better evidence and transparency, not solutions that make the original problem worse and benefit only those who are the most wealthy.  We need to ask harder questions about our leaders and their solutions, especially those that deal with privatization.  The fate of Detroit and other cities in Michigan need to seen as a sign of things to come.  Will the U.S. live up to its promise of being a democracy that offers opportunity to all of its people, including the poor?  Or will the country further devolve into an oligarchy of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy?

Postscript: On this weekend’s Smiley and West radio program, Cornel West said: “You can’t love money and love poor people.” He was criticizing political leaders, both Republicans and Democrats.  I can only respond with one word: Amen.

More:  Laura Clawson of Daily Kos weighs in on the consequences of a Detroit take over and what has happened in other Michigan cities that have lost their democratic rule.