Before You Can Sell Them Crutches
Heard that line on the Stephanie Miller Show (you can listen online at free speech.org from 8 – 11AM Monday to Friday) the other day. As you can guess this line was spoken in a discussion about Republican policies. In particular they were discussing how the Flint, Michigan water crisis slowly evolved.
Iowa is not immune from the rapacious policies of Republicans hell bent on privatizing and profitizing any and every aspect of government and putting the running of them into the hands of their campaign donors. In previous incarnations Republicans used to try to create some flimsy reason to privatize a government process. In many cases they no longer even bother to do that.
In Iowa in recent years we have seen Gov. Branstad in many cases simply make unilateral changes with little substantial reason while daring the legislature to stop him. Privatizing the administration of Medicaid in Iowa is the ultimate example. However, that is just the most egregious. This follows moves such as closing the mental health facilities in Iowa, closing the juvenile home at Toledo, the line item veto of money for food banks and of course last year’s line item veto of school funding.
While Branstad vetoed the special school funding money last year, the Republican Party as a whole has from year to year slowly strangled public education in Iowa. As it dies be ready for Republicans trotting out some form of ALEC written legislation that will slowly privatize education. It won’t happen tomorrow. They play a long game so it may be a decade or more but the goal won’t change.
Schools are only one aspect of government that Republicans are determined to break so they can sell you their solution. But they have to break it first. Starve the schools, starve the counties, starve the cities, cut food banks, on and on. All will get the Republican treatment.
Below is an excerpt from Michigan blogger Mark Maynard on the history of the Flint water crisis. This interview with Flint attorney Alec Gibbs happened before the current water crisis, but if you read it you will see how the many negative interventions, especially the concept of an emergency manager and removal of local control, slowly led to the situation today.
This interview is quite lengthy and involved, but worth the effort to understand the kind of undercutting of government going on across the country, and how greed has led to the point where people are dying from drinking municipal water. Maynard also has updated pieces on Flint at his blog.
Alec Gibbs: …….You see this very clearly in the Detroit water shutoffs. I think that they are very happy to cut off water to unemployed Detroit families, because they’ll either die from dehydration or leave, paving the way for the Detroit Future City plan. The shutoffs weren’t designed simply to improve the water system’s finances; if that was the plan, they would target the corporate accounts, but they don’t want to do that.
In order to convince people that this is a legitimate project, its architects must lay the blame on the working class. They are very cognizant of the parallels to authoritarianism; Kevyn Orr was quick to point out that the takeover would be perceived as a fascist exercise in emails that were released as part of a FOIA request. That was in relation to the idea of the Bloomberg Foundation financing the takeover, which also raises interesting questions about the secret donors who paid for Orr’s $4200 a month condo at the Westin Book Cadillac.
But the corporate press doesn’t dwell on this. Instead there are two competing narratives, one that is reflective of American liberal or Keynesian thought, and the other reflective of more right wing presuppositions. In the liberal framework, which Flint’s Mayor Dayne Walling articulates quite well, this is the inevitable consequence of the decline of the manufacturing industry, and is largely beyond the control of local officials, even if local corruption might exacerbate the problems. The right wing narrative blames unions and local corruption almost exclusively, and that’s the narrative you hear coming out of Orr when he meets with the Wall Street press.
Of course, all of these people are footsoldiers with patrons in the corporate sector. They have been set up to take the fall if necessary. And you don’t have to look very far to see earlier examples of this. The irony of the local corruption narrative is that it is partially true, after all; Detroit’s former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was corrupt. But his bid rigging schemes that rewarded Detroit-based supporters didn’t create Detroit’s cash crisis; the cash crisis was the result of cuts to state revenue sharing as well as predatory lending from Wall Street. Kilpatrick was beloved by Wall Street for his loan deals, and the Bond Buyer invited him to Wall Street in 2005 to accept the “Midwest Deal of the Year” award. Was that deal disastrous and illegal? Judge Rhodes thought so, but he still accepted an $85 million payout to the banks to settle it. That settlement not only meant a loss of $85 million, but the loss of any opportunity to recover hundreds of millions in fees from an illegal municipal financial transaction. And the banks, UBS and Merrill Lynch, will still collect the remaining payments from Syncora, which insured the transaction.
Local corruption exists, but it is a symptom of a disease, and it would be a mistake to view this as a partisan matter, since both major political parties are complicit. President Obama has refused to prosecute the banks that laid waste to this country in 2008 and sought to pick at the ruins like vultures, although the Justice Department is quite willing to prosecute local officials while entering into civil settlements with financial institutions that made corrupt practices an investment policy, like JP Morgan. In this rigged game, only the people lose.
Mark: What are we seeing now in other parts of the country? Is American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), for instance, pushing similar legislation in other areas, seeing how successful it’s been for Republicans here?
Alec: This legislation is a little more organic than something you see out of ALEC. But the state’s main ALEC-affiliated “think tank,” the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, is a strong proponent of this law. One of their resident scholars is Louis Schimmel, the state’s first emergency financial manager and someone who has served as an EM in a number of communities. Public Act 4 of 2011 and Public Act 436 of 2012 were drafted by the current CEO of one of Michigan’s largest law firms, Michael McGee of Miller Canfield. He has floated this law as an alternative to bankruptcy across the country, at seminars sponsored by the American Bar Association, for example. Snyder’s officials have also attended municipal bond seminars to discuss the topic. There are more limited versions of this law that have been enacted in Indiana and Rhode Island. But I think that conservative leaders and activists outside of Michigan who find it attractive are waiting to see how legal challenges play out.