Thursday, March 10, 2011

Power Is A Tricky Thing

Power is a tricky thing. It's one of our basest natures to seek power, to accumulate more and more of it, so that we and our family might be secure or so that we can reshape the world according to our ideas of how it should look or because of the sheer rush of having power over others. The pursuit of power is behind practically everything in human history, and it's led us to no shortage of dark places. With that in mind we should be careful to whom we entrust the reins of power, and always wary of those who actively seek it with good reason to believe that they will find it.

I know this might sound a bit hypocritical considering that a year ago I was running for Mayor of Toronto. I qualify that because my campaigning was pretty much entirely limited to this weblog, and next to candidates like Ford and Smitherman and Joe Pantalone, I didn't expect to even come close to winning.

Keeping tabs on who has what power becomes particularly important in government. There are always people jockeying for position, seeking to favor themselves and their group over the other guys, governments looking for leverage against oppositions and oppositions probing for weak spots to bring the government down. They have to be watched carefully, because if they think they can get away with a something they're apt to try to run away with the legislature.

This is particularly important now. With Wisconsin the focus of what little news coverage there is that isn't following Charlie Sheen, governors in other states are able to practically hide in plain sight, and push through their own "dream bills" while no one is looking. Take, for example, Missouri's SB 222, which modifies the state's child labor laws and "eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen," which will of course absolutely not have any negative consequences!

Or, more to the point, look at Michigan - where Republican governor Rick Snyder and the Republican majorities* in the state House of Representatives and Senate are working to push into being the "Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act." Sounds bloodless enough, right? Don't forget that one of the arts of politics is coming up with new names for odious things. Tocqueville said that, I think, or something like it - or someone else did.

Regardless! Do you want to know what this bill does? Well, in a process vaguely consistent with its name, it allows Michigan's financial authority to review the financial problems of a municipal government or school district - and based upon this review, the Governor can declare that government or district to be in a state of "financial emergency," which would require the appointment of an emergency manager "to develop a financial and operating plan for the local government."

It's a dark road that Michigan will go down if it follows what's in this bill.

Sounds understandable enough, right? Just wait. Once this emergency manager has been appointed, he or she has the authority to modify, terminate, or renegotiate any contracts entered into by the municipality, and - if you thought what was happening in Wisconsin was just on its own - the personal authority to "reject, modify, or terminate the terms of an existing contract or collective bargaining agreement (CBA)." This is given its own bullet point.

Oh, and that's not all. These appointed, unelected emergency managers, presumably answering to the Governor of Michigan, are also granted the power "to disincorporate or dissolve the municipal government with the approval of the Governor; or recommend consolidation with another municipal government."


It's been fourteen years, but I still remember how wildly unpopular the forced amalgamation of the cities of Metro Toronto was - that didn't stop the government from doing it anyway, because it was convenient for Mike Harris. And even then, the Conservatives couldn't turf the Metro councillors out of power just like that.

Some people - I don't think I'm assuming overmuch when I suggest "Republicans" - may not think this is particularly serious, that this is nothing more than a government taking drastic action to avoid some grim meathook future. That is total disingenuous bullshit. Michigan is set to codify not only union-busting legislation, but city-busting legislation, and if you think this won't be abused you're delusional. The contents of that bill go way, way beyond what any government should have without proper oversight and civic involvement. Just read it! The definitions, processes, and functions are absolutely opaque - this could be very easily abused. By anyone, come to that - what some people forget is that their guys won't be in power forever. Just watch this.

We need to keep a firm eye on our governments - because down in the States, it looks like they're getting ready to run off with them.

* Would "The Republican Governor and His Republican Majority" make a good name for a band?

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