Friday, April 22, 2011

Rule of Law under seige

     Rule of law is under siege in some parts of the United States.

     I never thought that conservatives,who prize freedom of contract, privacy rights and rule of law, would take on absolutist powers to nullify contracts between parties. Conservatives, as classical liberals, view the right to contract as a inviolable part of the free market economy.  But under the leadership of its conservative governor, Michigan is striking down valid contracts with teachers.  Isn't that considered 'statist' and overreach of power?

      This did not start with the Republicans.  Michigan's former governor,  Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, appointed Mr. Robert Bobb, to be emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools to help close a massive deficit.  Bobb uncovered numerous instances of fraud at the school system - by rooting out corruption, he was trying to stop the fiscal bleeding.  Then the conservative Republican Rick Snyder took over as governor. He wanted immediate action. The Detroit school system has a $327 million deficit.  So just how did  Robert Bobb  handle the problem?   He issued layoff notices to all the teachers in March. More 5,000 notices went out.
     Brilliant. Just what we need. In a city struggling to compete, he fires the educators. Then Bobb gets an $80,000 raise . That's just for one year. His raise costs more than a teacher's total annual salary.  The Michigan Citizen wryly observed that everyone but Bobb is being asked to sacrifice to close the deficit. The manner in which Bobb is trying to close the deficit - privatizing the schools -- raises some additional questions.  Bobb is a public employee - but he also receives huge payments from foundations that promote school privatization.  He gets $280,000 in public money a year - and the rest comes from private foundations. This year he will earn close to half a million.  The Broad Foundation paid him $56,000 last year alone.
     There is a lot of money to be made in privatizing schools.  Bobb wants to place 41,000 students in Detroit in the hands of charter schools - and pay the schools to educate them. He would give the private schools no-bid contracts of course.   So it looks like he's sending a huge amount of business to charter schools -- the very ones promoted by the foundations that pay him.  Does anyone else see a problem here?  I have been supportive of charter schools in the past, but I'm rethinking my support. This looks underhanded and unethical.  To Bobb's credit, he has helped the school system by uncovering many instances of fraud and theft that contributed to the schools' massive deficit. But is he part of the problem?   Bobb is not acting alone - he was ordered to close half the public schools by the Michigan Education Department (which answers to Snyder).  The state wants to prevent Detroit schools from declaring bankruptcy, which could grant the district relief and save the teachers. If the district doesn't declare bankruptcy and continues its belt-tightening, students will be packed 60 to a room as schools are closed. Bobb, throughout this crisis, is collecting on his contracts with charter school advocates while getting paid by the government.  Weird, right?

      It sounds unethical - but that didn't bother Gov. Granholm and it doesn't bother Gov. Snyder. Apparently, in the minds of some people, unionized teachers are the enemy. It's incredible. Teachers are the ones who teach us to read, write, do math, they model social skills, they mentor us. They teach us about life, kindness, sharing as well as instructing us on the Pythagorean theorem, how to conjugate verbs and modify nouns, how to design an experiment using the scientific method and how to parse a newspaper article to find bias. There are good teachers, bad teachers and so-so teachers, but we need them.  What the Republicans have done is betray every ideal libertarians hold - employing massive statist controls - in service of the libertarian ideal of full privatization.

Why would they do this? And while the Republicans push to lay off unionized teachers - because of the budget deficit - Snyder simultaneously proposes giving corporations a $2 billion tax cut.  Is he serious? Does he think this makes any kind of sense? 

     Today's conservatives, the descendants of the classical liberals, are a study in contradictions. They promote the free market, but the free market is based on the private right of contract. By eviscerating the worker's right to negotiate contracts through their unions, the conservatives have actually set a precedent for voiding the private right of contract, the basis of classic liberalism, of conservatism.  They are sowing the seeds of the demise of their own ideology. It is inevitable. I have never seen a political ideology that didn't fail when tested in the crucible of real life.  

For an interesting take on this, read more here:


MET said...

Hey Maria - the issues you site never cease to astound me! Thank you for shining a light where it's most needed! (you can take the girl out of journalism...) You are, as always, amazing!

Kathy Kathy Kathy said...

I admire your calmness. Me? FFFFFffreaked out! We're next in Milwaukee. I've already lost my spot and have to interview and/or be reassigned. If our contract is voided, Milwaukee Public Schools will be ordered to drop me like a hot potato.

Fusion said...

I hope you get your job back. I know teachers are really under the gun and I'm appalled that legislators are using teachers as a scapegoat for the deficit problems. The manner in which they are attacking teachers raises a lot of constitutional questions as well. They don't seem very concerned about following the law. Personally, I've been deeply inspired by the way Wisconsites have rallied against this. It's pure democracy in action. Be strong and know that you have a lot of support from around the country.

Fusion said...

Thanks so much MET - that means a great deal to me. Hugs. M