Apr 062011
 

In the fall of 2010 the Tea Party was swept into power on a wave of voter discontent promising to turn the country around by reigning in out of control government spending.  They were riding high on populist anger pushing a hard ideological line as the solution to our nation’s problems.  Five months later the Tea Party’s approval ratings have plummeted, Republican governors riding the wave have seen their support evaporate, and the oncoming government shutdown has put the ascendant Republicans in a serious bind.  Regardless of the cause of the Tea Party and GOP’s woes can be summed up in one word.

Overreach.

No one can deny the Tea Party-fueled gains of the Congressional Republicans in the 2010 elections.  They trumpeted their victory as a mandate by the voters to pursue a ultraconservative antigovernment agenda.  Yet for all the claims of strong support what the mandate they received was less clear.  A large part of their victory in 2010 was thanks to highly depressed voter turnout especially among groups that Obama depended on for his 2008 victory.  With only 41% of voters bothering to come to the polls as opposed to the low 70s that we saw in 2008 probably the clearest thing the voters did say was they had enough with government as usual.  With the certainty of victory the hard-right Tea Party candidates in Congress and state government moved forward to make the perceived mandate a reality.  Ironically enough it was putting their agenda into action that has led to a serious case of buyer’s remorse across the board.

In Congress the Tea Party, ignoring polls showing Americans’ first priority was job creation as opposed to cutting the deficit, went all ahead full with their agenda starting with the infamous forcible rape bill.  They followed up with attacks on NPR and Planned Parenthood threatening to cut off the flow of government assistance for both.  While the Culture Warriors fought personal battles at the expense of the American public the House leadership continued to thunder on high of the dangers of the growing deficit.  They demanded immediate cuts across the board regardless of their economic impact.  When questioned on the economic impact of mass federal layoffs Speaker John Boehner responded to these concerns with a blunt “So be it”.  When the Democratic-held Senate refused to play ball and roll over to the House Boehner and the House GOP doubled down on their stance of cuts, cuts, and more cuts leading to a string of stopgap continuing resolutions to keep the lights on.  In spite of following their agenda to the letter the Tea Party, far from seeing their political stock rise, has recently taken hard blows to their support.  From previous highs of 50% support the Tea Party has fallen to a new low of 32% and Americans now seeing the Tea Party as being as much a part of the problem as the Democrats and Republicans.  The hard-line calls by the Tea Party for government shutdown, a course Boehner himself fears will benefit the Democrats, coupled with the refusal by ultraconservative Republicans to compromise with the Senate have largely run afoul of American popular opinion.  With strong majorities holding out for a compromise and tiny slivers supporting the white-knuckle showdown that now seems all but inevitable the Tea Party has charted a truly dangerous course for the GOP.

The recent disasters for the Tea Party are hardly confined to the Beltway.  A recent string of anti-union measures and rhetoric pushed in MichiganOhioWisconsin, and Maine have far from rallying public opinion have sparked ferocious backlash.  In Florida Governor Rick Scott’s unilateral actions and disregard for the state legislature have turned his own party against him.  In Wisconsin where the labor fight has most strongly come to a head the expected easy re-election of incumbent Republican David Prosser to the state Supreme Court has come down to a narrow margin with the challenger, virtual unknown Democrat JoAnne Kloppenburg, just barely ahead flipping 19 counties that went for Scott Walker in 2010.  With a storm of recalls gathering the troubles for the Wisconsin GOP, riding high on the Tea Party’s wave, have only just begun with labor increasingly agitated and energized into action across the Rust Belt.
Each of these skirmishes have helped build up what will be a game-changing showdown in Washington.  Both sides in Washington are spoiling for a political fight with each citing dearly-held principles.  Yet in spite diffuse opinion forming on impending shutdown the Tea Party is taking very serious risks.  In every one of their previous attempts to advance their cause they have been met with popular backlash and buyer’s remorse.  Their insistence during the 2010 campaign that government shutdown should not only be an option but actively sought by lawmakers has left the recentprotests to the contrary hollow and has enraged Tea Party activists calling for a firm stand in a fight where the stakes couldn’t be higher.  Far from being an effective cure for our woes some economists fear a prolonged shutdown spiraling back into a deep recession.  Beyond the economic impact is the direct effects of shutting down our federal government.  In the event of a shutdown over 800,000 federal workers would be furlough and stop receiving a paycheck, 30% of all tax refunds will remain unsent, states would face serious cuts in funding for programs like unemployment pay, and soldiers fighting overseas would continue their dangerous work without pay just to name a few.  If a last-minute budget deal cannot be reached then the Tea Party, thanks to their sound and fury, run the risk of being stuck with the blame.  They may soon discover that ideological purity doesn’t matter when the public doesn’t like what your ideology does to them.
Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.  The United States cannot afford courting economic disaster because the most radical faction of one political party cannot put aside ideology for the sake of the public good.

Also posted at Ryan’s Desk

Mar 142011
 

To say the states of the Union are facing fiscal problems would be an understatement. With nearly every state in the country facing serious budget deficits as the recession takes its toll and stimulus funds drying up states are doing whatever they can to stay above water. Whether through steep cuts in spending in Texas, structural reforms in California, or weakening public unions in the Midwest all are united in their search for an answer. Nowhere is a more radical effort being waged than in the state of Michigan.

 

The Republican-controlled Michigan State Senate recently passed a highly controversial bill to address the fiscal crises facing state. In the name of fiscal responsibility a group of state officials appointed by the governor known as emergency financial maangers would gain virtually unchecked power over all aspects of the local government in their charge. Some argue thesepowers are necessary to address the multitude of fiscal problems in Michigan by giving the emergency managers the extra leverage needed to get the job done. As they see it emergency managers are necessary to clean up the state’s problems and they have been used successfully in Michigan previously. This does not answer the question of if the new powers, or the changes to process, go too far.

 

The first line crossed is in the process of declaring a state of fiscal emergency. The Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act grants a considerable amount of unchecked power to the governor’s office. In the new bill the governor would have the final say on if a local government is in a state of fiscal emergencyi. The governor have the sole power to appoint the emergency manager with no outside review or confirmationii. The new manager, once appointed, could only be removed by the governor or impeachmentiii. The law goes further by giving emergency managers full immunity from any legal liabilityiv.

 

So why would the emergency managers need protection from legal sanction? The Fiscal Accountability Act gives the emergency managers unprecedented authority over their municipalities. The list of powers given to the managers is staggering in its breadth and scope. Once in place there is little the emergency managers cannot do. From the outset they completely control the process being given the sole responsibility of developing the financial plan for the municipalityv. The plan does not need any outside approval of any kind; the public has no opportunity to vote on the issue. The state fiscal emergency remains until the emergency manager declares the crisis has been resolvedvi.

 

During this time the manager is charged to issue “all orders necessary” to make the plan happenvii. This is backed up by substantial authority explicitly spelled out in the bill. The manager is given the power to create the budgetviii, sell or transfer local government assetsix, and remove non-elected local officialsx at their sole discretion. They handle all contract negotiations and, at their discretion, can unilaterally terminate themxi. If a manager is put in charge of a school district they are given the power to set their educational planxii. Any municipal official deemed by the emergency manager to have “not reasonably” carried out an order can be barred from access to municipal facilities, mail, and internal informationxiii. In spite of being in a state of fiscal emergency the municipality is required to foot the bill for the emergency manager’s pay, expenses, and staff for the durationxiv.

 

These powers, while staggering in their totality, are not the most potent they receive. With the approval of the state treasurer they can waive any need for competitive bidding on any contract over $50,000xv. Based on their sole discretion and judgment they can recommend the municipality be declared a debtor and placed under their complete controlxvi or worse yet be legally dissolvedxvii. The governor alone makes the final call. Most astonishingly the law makes legal appeal of any of these actions impossible. The only chance given to the local government is during the investigation process which requires the municipality to request appeal with a 2/3rds majority votexviii. Once an emergency manager is appointed the locals have no legal recourse between the manager’s legal immunity and the law’s restrictions.

 

What is happening in Michigan could be waved away as unique, radical measure born of an economically devastated and desperate state. It could be argued given Michigan’s genuinely terrible situation extreme action might be justified. This all assumes that what happens in one state will remain in one state. Currently 44 of the 50 states of the Union are facing serious fiscal problems. While Michigan’s situation is especially grim they are not the only state with local governments facing serious deficits. We have already seen how Scott Walker’s union-busting bill in Wisconsin has been copied in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Tennessee, and is being seriously considered in Maine. Public outcry proved, in the short term, to be in vain in Wisconsin and other governors press ahead in spite of the lack of popular support. If Michigan puts this law into effect what would stop other states from considering their own version of the Michigan solution?

 

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

iSenate copy of Michigan HB 4214, Sec. 15(1)

iiIbid Sec. 15(4)

iiiIbid Sec. 15(5d)

ivIbid Sec. 25(1)

vIbid Sec. 18(1)

viIbid Sec. 24

viiIbid Sec. 17(1)

viiiIbid Sec. 19(1b)

ixIbid Sec. 19(1r)

xIbid Sec. 19(1n)

xiIbid Sec. 18(1c)

xiiIbid Sec. 17(1)

xiiiIbid Sec. 17(2)

xivIbid Sec. 15(5e)

xvIbid Sec. 19(3)

xviIbid Sec. 23(1)

xviiIbid Sec. 19(1cc)

xviiiIbid Sec. 15(3)

 

Feb 222010
 

 

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!. Benjamin Franklin, or not

From the depths of the past come words that are as true and applicable today as they were then. This one really got me thinking. There are many ways to interpret these words. Today’s post will be but one way I  see the meaning . Please feel free to add to my definition, this should be fun! I can see many ways to look at Franklin’s words, and by our vast political differences, this could be a real chance to learn from each other.

So here we go: I can see the two wolves as the Republican and Democrat parties, powerful and intimidating. The lamb I see as The Constitution. It has been whittled away, disregarded and outright ignored by the wolves for nearly 100 years. What happened? Used to be when the lawmakers wanted to effect change in the country, they actually followed the constitution. Amendments are the proper way for change to occur in our founding document. Even when they turn out to be wrong, they can then be repealed. The Constitution was not supposed to be subject to “acts and regulations”.

When did we start ignoring the intent of our most sacred document? When did The Constitution stop being what it was intended to be and become the “living, breathing”, ever-changing-due-to the-current-political-whim, tool of our servants, rather than their guide? When did the instrument of our governance that they (and many of us as well) took an oath to protect and defend, against all enemies, foreign and domestic, become lunch for the wolves?

I put forth this theory: It happened when our people stopped paying attention to their roots.  When they moved to the cities and away from the farms, away from the earth and began to let material things rule their lives. In my grandfather’s time, most people were pagans in the original sense (country dwellers). They scratched, and sweat, and lived, and raised their children in respect of, and totally at the mercy of, nature’s laws. Work ethic was a way of life. You didn’t work, you didn’t eat. Plain and simple. Your life depended on that piece of dirt where you raised your garden, crops and livestock.

When people moved to the cities, and times got bad, they looked to the government for help. When they lost a job, and didn’t immediately find another, they cried for help. Instead of moving back to the earth and being self-sufficient, instead of looking at the end of their own arm for the “helping hand”, they looked to the government to help. Our entitlement society that we suffer from today, was born. After all, the government was just trying to help. We can’t let people fail, we can’t let them suffer, we can’t let them go hungry. Sound familiar?

So, how does the lamb arm itself against the wolves? It must be through us. We, the people. The wolves have had their way for far too long, and government has become far too large and intrusive. Our federal government is fast becoming a national government, and we have to stop the slide before it’s too late. Before we no longer even recognize where we came from. Arm yourself with The Constitution and be her defender. Ask why, where do you get the right, show me where The Constitution allows you to do what you are trying to do. Write editorials, call in to radio programs, write and call your representatives. Pay attention. Get involved. Be the gigantic pain in the ass our founders were! And don’t ever take no for an answer.