Windmillin'

Icon

Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

It was 20 years ago today…

Republished from Written and Noted

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 1.45.53 PM

Amnesia can be wonderful thing, especially in politics. To listen to  John Kennedy, one may think that of course, the teacher pension problem is about poor planning. Then again, that may not be a flaw but a feature. He writes for the West Michigan Policy Forum:

It’s simple math. Today’s vastly underfunded teacher pension systems are not good for our teachers or students. Twenty years ago our state teacher retirement plan was fully funded, but due to poor financial planning assumptions and not meeting the annual funding requirement, there is now a shortfall of least $29 billion.

Here’s where amnesia takes over: twenty years ago the Engler administration raided the teacher pension fund as part of Prop A. Under that same plan, the Engler administration also shifted responsibility for increases in pensions to the local districts. The raid destabilized the funds and the cost shift meant that districts came into fiscal risk while simultaneously losing money to effectively teach their children.

And to spell this out completely: John Engler enjoyed some of his most significant support from the Republican party of W Michigan. This crisis is almost entirely one of their own making.

Filed under: Education Policy, Michigan, , , , ,

The Amash Dilemma

In the era of Trump, Michigan’s Justin Amash has made a name for himself. Not only has he shown the ability to go tweet to tweet with the President, but he has also shown a willingness to meet with constituents, as The Hill reports

He has faced packed town halls in his home state recently with hundreds of constituents, many of whom are anti-Trump.

“I think it is critical that members of Congress hold in-person town halls like this,” Amash said at an event about two weeks ago. “There aren’t enough of people on either side of the aisle who do it.”

This puts a problem to local Dems. On one hand we actually like being listened to; there’s a respect here that is rather ego-gratifying. And we do like having some one who actually stands up to the President, who even in his libertarian ways nonetheless appears to have a backbone.

Of course, what that all means is that no one serious will run against Amash. The already steep odds have gotten psychologically steeper. To oppose him one needs to draw contrasts, but at least psychologically, he deflates this. At the same time his “moderation” buys him freedom from outside money. The path for engagement then lies less on the issues, but on the philosophical — how do establish our life together — and on the empirical. The former begins to create a space to draw in Republicans, the latter can help establish what the actual policy questions are. And then, what are their consequences.

 

 

Filed under: Politics, , ,

Don’t Count on It.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-14-19-pm

Republican regulars have thought that Trump was different than their own vision. Ed Kilgore breaks the news: the support is consolidating with Trump.

Conservatives Are Losing Their Base To Trump

While Dems can think of rebuilding relationships with the disillusioned working class, the reality will be that the nationalistic right of Trump is likely to hold them. The folks more likely to come into play will be civic Republicans, those middle class, non-evangelical, educated voters. There are a bunch of them in the near suburbs and so offer potential as the Party turns to 2018. A Democratic Party that is sane (progressive but practical) may have some possibilities in the eastern townships.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , ,

All Politics is Local

Tip O’Neil’s words were never  more true. Particularly when it comes to resistance. In an era of erratic and likely increasingly autocratic government in Washington, the pushback will not wait until 2020. It starts at the local level, as Josh Marshall reminds us:

Resistance to Trump and anti-Trump activism is a critical precondition of turning back to Trumpite tide. But it is not a sufficient one. I appear to be considerably more confident than a lot of other people I know that Republicans may face a big electoral backlash in 2018. But if it happens it will happen because of grassroots organizing in red states and the red parts of blue states.

Of course, it will not simply be grassroots efforts, as if finding more Democrats will cure the ills. In the past, this has too often meant concentrating on the known players and motivating them to vote. As we saw in the last election, this was roughly the equivalent of the drunk looking for his keys under the street light because ‘that’s where the light was good.’

We might put into this same pot the danger of taking an anti-charter stand, as gratifying as that may be. What we forget with charters is that it is not simply the schools or their philosophy, but these are places of parents.

To go beyond our known voters and known friends will require issues that resonate with larger audiences. At their best such issues should be intuitively true — not unlike how Right to Life found the power of babies. Two suggest themselves: transparency and accountability.

Transparency. This is election reform by a different, neutral name. Rather than focus on limits to campaign finance, much as we want them (cf. reactions to Citizens United), we ask only that funding be transparent. Citizens have a right to know who is putting up the money in politics. Secret money is almost certainly corrupt money. This also puts the weight on citizenship, on empowering voters — a theme that often is heard on the Right. Well, it’s time to steal it.

Accountability. Again, accountability is a  theme found among some conservatives. Going forward the same theme can be applied especially to failed, Republican-driven policies. It’s not just Flint, it is fundamentally the flawed governance of charters.

In campaign finance and charter oversight, Michigan ranks at or near the bottom nationally. Two themes give us the path forward.

 

 

Filed under: Democratic Party, , , ,

Senator Milquetoast

It’s good that U.S. Senator Gary Peters has spoken out against the President’s anti-immigration Executive Order. But sadly, the voice is muffled.

“As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, my top priority is ensuring we’re doing everything we can to keep Americans safe. But I am also proud to represent vibrant Muslim and Arab American communities that are integral to Michigan’s culture and our economy.

The first sentence is pure political muffery: “my top priority… doing everything… keep Americans safe.” What is missing is a clear point of view, what he (or his office) thinks. The second sentence is little better: he’s “proud to represent.” yeah yeah yeah. This is indirect speech, at a distant from a straight forward presentation of the case.

There are big, legitimate issues of national security involved. This is the natural forceful lead. And it’s powerful, as Mother Jones demonstrates.

In the second paragraph Sen. Peters compounds his wishy-washiness.

“One of America’s founding – and most sacred – principles is the freedom of religion. I am extremely alarmed by President Trump’s executive order that effectively implements a religious test for those seeking to enter the United States…

The shift to First Amendment issues has a nice ring to it, but again one may ask whether it demonstrates a grasp of the actual Constitutional issues involved with the Executive Order. If anything the focus on Freedom of Religion plays into the cultural push of the President’s order, namely that of privileging Christian America. Immediate feedback from Trump supporters indicates their approval of the action. So rather than change opinion the appeal to the First is a sign of political boundary making. It is a lost opportunity.

And then finally there is a return to muffery with the final sentence:

 “While I support continued strengthening of the refugee screening process, I remain opposed to the suspension of the refugee admissions program.”

This is the sound of a man trying to have it both ways. “While I….” Oh, be direct. Know what time it is, and what the issues are. In the days ahead the battle needs far more direct, far clearer expression of ideas. Now is no time to waffle.

— Originally published at Written and Noted.

 

 

Filed under: Michigan, Washington, , , ,

Betsy DeVos, Michigan’s finest

A friend writes on Facebook:

“But what I do know is that she’s smart, committed to kids, and a mainstream conservative Republican.” I think that we need to question how mainstream she is given who she is associating herself with. Also, is she committed to kids or to privatization? Another question.

Any one who has clashed with Betsy DeVos knows what kind of Republican she is, she is moneyed,  partisan. and close to the center of Michigan politics, if not in fact one of its main movers. So  “mainstream” is altogether reasonable given where the GOP is these days. There are several aspects of this mainstream Republican that bear on educational policy, that in fact have given such heartburn: there’s the preference for the private solution, at least so far as services are considered — and urban education falls into that category; and then there’s the no tax dogma which again seeks to hamstring social spending generally by pitting services against each other, a process that at once short-changes retirees, yet refuses to raise funds. This has bred considerable trouble for our State.
Here is where privatization of schools takes shape. From her past actions, Betsy DeVos  push for privatization is  a combination of private school advocacy and triage of the urban school. Charters basically began as a way of addressing the urban schools, their administration and teacher corps — both being perceived as intrinsically hostile to GOP interests (this is Engler c. 1998), and manifestly failing. This failure drives the larger push for educational reform. And it is a fair question to ask (as do the conservatives): Must the kids in Detroit or Lansing or Grand Rapids  have their future cut short simply because of where they live and go to school?  That’s the big question that the Charter-ists have been trying to address. One can read the current reform efforts of Grand Rapids Superintendent Neal as a direct response to this problem. Those who care about schools and our cities know that something needs to be done.
 
To this, DeVos and other conservatives also bring the voucher. This is a sort of triage: the very best get a private education, the middle gets charters, and the rest? well sucks to be you. And of course the middle class (white) suburbs also get a benefit. That the charter payments are lower than the state grants only adds to the benefits: the charter provides the “reform” while taking the requirement to meet educational goals off the plate. Lansing gets cheaper schools and less accountability laid at its doorstep — it’s now someone else’s problem. Disadvantage the city, reward the suburb: classic GOP policy.
 
Of course, the unions are right to be so oppositional. Betsy has been their foe directly for at least 15 years, 20 if you add in the Engler years. The movement to educational reform was not simply to meet the needs of the city (something of an afterthought, actually, having to wait until Pres. George W Bush came by with No Child Left Behind), its goal was to break the power of the teacher unions for a generation. In Michigan the job was made all the easier by a longstanding cultural hostility that had persistently underfunded schools — a  residue of manufacturing era.
 
Then there is the darker secret behind the DeVos/Republican agenda, that it fed on the racial animosity and segregation that so profoundly shaped Detroit’s regional politics. In this politics, any attempt to help kids in the urban setting (and especially Detroit) was seen as coming out of the pockets of the middle class (white) suburbs.In effect, the DeVos led reforms envision two systems of schools: one for the poor (the charters, with income for GOP supporters), and another, the regular schools of aspiration and achievement, te schools of GOP supporters. This two-track model is the problem, but that is for another day. For now, thanks to tax cuts, Michigan’s educational problems have metastasized so  that we have educational dysfunction across the state. By refusing to address the question of revenue the DeVos/Republican approach has cut short the possibility of real reform or achievement, and threatened the schools of its supporters. This is less a problem of privatization than of neglect and the ironic turning to Washington to help out. Betsy DeVos may yet help clean up Michigan’s mess.

Filed under: Michigan, Politics, , , ,

A most peculiar turn

What are we to make of the mayoral candidacy of Rev. Robert Dean?

One one hand, it represents the most peculiar of alliances, between old school African American politics, the more sharply radicalized left of Jose Flores, and fiscal austerity package — Tea Party in all but name — of Rina Baker and our raft of comptrollers. What each has in common is a sense of distance, even alienation from the present downtown initiatives. As a potential vehicle for outside grievances, the Dean candidacy could be useful. After all, with all the building downtown, the  city’s population still struggles, particularly in the African American community. And one might ask if the downtown emphasis also helps the Hispanic communities. Are they prospering? Or only providing the low-wage service support to keep the new buildings gleaming?

And as irascible as Baker and her compatriot Betty Burke are, they function as an outside populist counter to the young and downtown crowd.

But…

Instead of raising the issues of neighborhoods, the campaign has instead chosen to focus on the subject of debt. In the literature from Dean, it is a billion dollar cliff. But as the reactions in Wednesday’s debate reveal, it is a most peculiar cliff. If it is as dire as made out, then one must focus on cutting it — this is the basic argument. How odd, then, when asked about current surpluses, the response?

“Why not return (the voter-approved rate increase) back to the voters?”

Well that’s an answer, but it just doesn’t match with the threat. Giving back revenue only increases the obligation, scarcely the thing one wants to do. And in this response, Dean basically gives away the game.

No, there is not cliff. The earlier respect for the City’s budget by Comptroller Sara VanderWerf is correct.

Picking up Fleas.

Sadly, Rev. Dean appears to have picked up some of the worst habits of the fiscal hawks. He touts a billion dollar debt, but a debt only if one lumps all types of debt together, including that that is covered by other revenue streams. While such an approach has a kitchen table, monetarist appeal, it mistakes the problem of debt, viz. that of cash flow. The question with any obligation is one’s ability to meet the demands.

However the question of debt is not simply that of what Grand Rapids is doing, it is part of the fiscal hawk narrative generally: the city’s debt is a stand in for the perceived national debt.

Here, Dean’s advocacy of this narrative does a genuine disservice to those who have backed him. The implicit solution from the fiscal hawks is not more taxes, but more cuts. Assume that the problem is as dire as Dean says, the actual City response would then be more cuts to personnel and programs. It’s fewer police and closed parks. Lying down with the fiscal hawks, these are the fleas one eventually picks up.

Or the Reverend may want to remember Scripture: Bad company ruins good morals (1 Cor 15:33).

Filed under: Politics, , , , , ,

Oh, yeah, right.

A week ago Bridge and WZZM both wondered aloud whether Michigan was turning “red.

Of course, that all depends, not least with what one means by “red.” Voting Republican at the State level? That seems to be a sure thing, between the mid-term fall-off, and the shape of the legislative districts. Nonetheless, there are also signs that “red” as in the partisan never say yes to taxes crowd was abating. After all, there was Ottawa County passing a road millage of their own. And in Grand Rapids there is a continuing push to local solutions that surprisingly do not have the partisan tinge. Even the one notorious measure, term limits, was more a product of local frustration than ideology. So if Michigan was turning ideologically red, it would be a surprise.

But just to be sure, Rep Pete Lund decided to remove all doubt with his proposal to revisit electoral vote allocation — a reallocation that would just conveniently hand off more votes to the GOP candidate. The entire premise of the bill of course is that Michigan is anything but but Red, that it will be voting for the Dems in 2016. Sharon Doente, director of the Michigan Election Coalition, nails it,

“Michigan has had a winner-take-all Electoral College since 1836. Any changes to the Electoral College should be made by the voters of Michigan and not the politicians who stand to gain.”

Taking decisions from the voters is another piece of political gamesmanship that has too often bedeviled Michigan politics.  It makes the GOP look petty when they should be looking like leaders.

Filed under: Republican Folly, , , , ,

Listening to Bad Advice

Gabriel Sanchez at the Bridge was thinking about the past elections and his decision not to vote. Formally, he was appalled by the choice between Justin Amash and Bob Goodrich, both deeply offensive to his Catholic values if in different ways.

Faced with such impossible choices (and I suspect others) Sanchez decided that the best answer was to sit this one out. This is certainly culturally understandable: there is something of this despair in the air, the stench of disconnection. But sadly, that was not his point, but rather there was another path to be followed, one pioneered by Alasdair McIntyre

I have chosen to keep faith with moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s provocative dictate: “When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither.”

He expands this later,

MacIntyre, we cannot forget that in our present political environment “a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives.” As such, “The way to vote against the system is not to vote.”

McIntyre’s branch is a poor one to try and hang much on.

McIntyre’s proposal cleaves participation in the political process with its fundamental questions of how power is to be distributed, and the act of ratification — the vote. In contemporary terms, we may see the political process in both its advocacy and actions as a kind of secular liturgy — a set of acts we collectively engage in. Voting, then is a ratification of these decisions; my vote participates in the process. Again to steal from religion, there is something sacramental about it.

Political participation without voting is either a tacit acceptance of the status quo, or an appeal to a non-electoral model of change. An end around of some kind; it’s McIntyre as an anti-democrat.

What about justice?

As an acceptance or willingness to accept the status quo, non-voting makes another statement: it denies the possibility of justice. Whether it is the hunkering down despair of the working poor, the too-busy indifference of the young adult, or the belief that they’re all the same — the action testifies to a belief that what finally counts is power, power alone. The notion that power can be rightly ordered (the actual stuff of politics) is glossed over. McIntyre ends up with Nietzsche.

While there is a temptation to withdraw, especially from educated conservatives of a certain ilk (e.g. see Rod Dreher’s “Bendict option”), it is one clouded by a lack of hope. In the name of principle, it denies the possibility of principled action.

It is the peculiar evil of this age of partisanship to devolve issues of all kinds to simply that of power and self interest without the possibility of something better, greater, a good. At the end of the day politics is an exercise in hope, in believing the best about our neighbor; that’s why there can be no walking away.

Filed under: Community, Politics, , , , , , ,

Mapping the Future

MI76 : Gov 14 map This is a map that will drive many crazy in the GOP. As the red dots indicate, Gov. Snyder won decisively in the 76th District. Eleven precincts gave him at least a 20 point margin (and some came close to a full 40; a 70-30 split). The places where the party dominated on the SE side, the NE fringe (with the Riverside neighborhood tossed in) demonstrate why the district has the shape that it does. They were supposed to win in the off year, except, they didn’t. The gerrymander failed.

For party strategists, this map represents a what-if, a secret nudge of hope. But that partisan reading may miss the message. Take a look at the results for Winnie Brink.

MI76 14 mapPrecincts that were in the GOP column are now in her’s and what is more, they are there in decisive shape, with her winning with twenty percent margins (look at precinct 2-42, or precincts 3-77, and 3-59). Even in precincts where the Governor won big, the Brinks campaign tightened the margin (look at precinct 1-6).

One can look at this as a matter of hard work, that the campaign worked and earned the win. That is certainly the case. But this is also a map of hope, of a future.

Brinks strength even in the usually conservative neighborhoods points to the power of pragmatism within the City. The fact that both Brinks and Snyder win the same seats suggests a common persona, one of moderation, a look past the partisanship. There is surprisingly little of the Tea Party in this map (perhaps pct 1-21 or 1-23).

The Brinks campaign modeled this moderation as well, her’s was a campaign emphasized hard-work and pragmatic solutions. Where the term limits opponents had stumbled in the blue collar neighborhoods, Brinks won comfortably, sometimes even spectacularly.  And this was done without running away from her stance on abortion — a killer for most candidates a decade ago. Brinks again demonstrated that where one is moderate and hard-working, the questions on abortion can be handled.

As the City explores how it should continue to develop (that long conversation between the downtown and the left out), the Brinks win maps what a coalition might very well look like. Yes, we will always have the west side but most in the City want to see it succeed. And to do that, they are willing to cross lines and work together. It’s the sweat equity of hope.

And it bodes well for our City.

Note on the maps: The dots measure the size of the margin, from the lightest representing less than a one percent difference (a margin +/- 0.5 percent) to the darkest representing at least a twenty percent margin (60/40)

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

Archives

July 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31