Showing posts with label States Rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label States Rights. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Double Standard: Cliven Bundy Standoff and Race

We live in a world in which black men are "accidentally" shot multiple times because police thought that a wallet looked like a gun. We live in a world where black teens climbing trees have guns drawn on them by police who feel threatened or more likely just wanted to put the fear of God into someone they viewed in a negative light, despite their tender age. We live in a world where black people stopped, not arrested but just stopped, by police are more likely to have force used against them. So if some black people who were members of what some people considered to be a fringe religious or political group decided that they weren't going to pay taxes or fees on commercial activity and ignored court orders to do so while continuing to engage in illegal activity and threatening law enforcement officials, well the response would likely be swift and bloody, probably something like this. Most Americans, regardless of where their sympathies lay, would point out that disobeying court orders and drawing down on police officers really isn't very smart unless you're ready to go all out. 

And if you are ready to shed blood well you've either got guts and are quite dedicated or are quite reckless and dumb. If you tell local law enforcement, state police and the United States government to bring it, well don't be surprised or offended when they do indeed bring it. This is obvious to most people, at least when it's black people stirring up a fuss.

But recently in Nevada we saw the spectacle of Cliven Bundy, a rancher, refusing to pay the proper government fees for letting his cattle graze on government land and also refusing to stop his cattle from grazing on government land. He claimed that he and his had been doing it for decades and that he didn't recognize the authority of the Federal government. The proverbial stuff hit the fan after the federal government impounded some of Bundy's cattle.
Flat on his belly in a sniper position, wearing a baseball cap and a flak jacket, a protester aimed his semi-automatic rifle from the edge of an overpass and waited as a crowd below stood its ground against U.S. federal agents in the Nevada desert.
He was part of a 1,000-strong coalition of armed militia-men, cowboys on horseback, gun rights activists and others who rallied to Cliven Bundy's Bunkerville ranch, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, in a stand-off with about a dozen agents from the federal Bureau of Land Management.
The rangers had rounded up hundreds of Bundy's cattle, which had been grazing illegally on federal lands for two decades. Bundy had refused to pay grazing fees, saying he did not recognize the government's authority over the land, a view that attracted vocal support from some right-wing groups.
Citing public safety, the BLM retreated, suspending its operation and even handing back cattle it had already seized. No shots were fired during the stand-off, which Bundy's triumphant supporters swiftly dubbed the "Battle of Bunkerville," but the government's decision to withdraw in the face of armed resistance has alarmed some who worry that it has set a dangerous precedent and emboldened militia groups.

I can often sympathize in theory with people who think that the federal government and law enforcement in general has become too large and too powerful. Whether it's CPS mandarins seizing children because they disagree with the parents' medical or naming decisions, or alphabet agencies descending on a landowner's property to prevent him making some routine changes there is definitely room to fine tune and/or reduce the authority of the federal and local polity over the individual. Unfortunately many of the people on the right who claim to feel that way virtually never show any sympathy for black people who run afoul of federal or state government law enforcement. Then we usually hear a predictable rant about "law and order", "family breakdown", "the need to support the thin blue line" or any other number of oft racialized tropes. Funny. Remember that Fox news and other right wing outlets had the vapors over members of the New Black Panther Party standing near polling stations. This was spun as voter intimidation and black thugs and threats and AG Holder conspiracy and so on. Yet these same media outlets celebrate white men pointing guns at federal agents. Let that sink in a little won't you? If I am stopped by the police and do not have both hands in sight at all times there's a good chance I might be tased, beaten or worse. Yet a white man and his buddies who were ready to shoot at law enforcement walk away clean.

It's also very important to remember that Bundy is not in fact fighting for the right to do something on his land. No. He doesn't own the land in question. It's federal land. So Bundy is no different than someone who enters a federal park, throws a lot of trash all over the place, refuses to clean up after himself and when told to do so has his friends pull guns on the park rangers. This is not political protest. It's thuggery. How can we tell the difference? Well one of the easiest ways is to look to Kant's categorical imperative. Are Bundy and his right wing supporters willing to: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law

I doubt it. 

If environmentalists showed up with guns to stop fracking, if Native Americans showed up with guns to stop mining, if Black people showed up with guns to stop police brutality, if Latinos showed up with guns to stop deportations, if feminists showed up with guns to ensure that a defendant accused of rape was convicted regardless of the evidence, the right wing would go ballistic. And police would no doubt call that bet of violence and raise it quite a bit. Nobody considers those sorts of "marginalized" groups to be the proper descendants of American revolutionaries. Believe that. We can't have a system where political decisions are made based on who can put more button men in the street at any given point in time. In the same way I'm critical of people trying to physically prevent deportations, I'm just as critical of Bundy and his supporters. If you don't like the law, work to change it. Convince people that it's wrong. Blanket the media with your arguments. But when you reach for your gun and start claiming you don't recognize the federal government, that my friend is a different conversation. 

The BLM made a big mistake backing down to Bundy and his supporters. It may have been done for political reasons in an election year. It may have been done because some government agent somewhere lacks the normal amount of testosterone. I don't know. But I do know that when you submit to a bully, all you're going to get is more bullying. This is going to give certain people more swagger and recklessness, guaranteed.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fight Over Online Sales Taxes: Marketplace Fairness Act

Occasionally I might or might not purchase items from Amazon and other online retailers. When I file my tax returns the State of Michigan insists that I give it a listing of online purchases and estimate and provide the sales tax I then owe to the state. Now it takes more than a bit of chutzpah to bogart your way into a private transaction that neither involved you nor took place in your jurisdiction and then claim that the actual parties to that transaction owe you a cut and need to let you wet your beak, or else. But that's how states tend to behave when there's money at stake.

For obvious reasons I won't discuss my answers to my state's nosy little questionnaire. But in general some higher sales tax states and "brick and mortar" retailers aren't pleased with the explosion in online sales. Apparently some of my fellow true blue Americans don't see the point of paying taxes to their state for transactions in which that the state had no role. Even excessively honest people tend to get amnesia about the $1500 or so they spent online last year without paying sales tax. Retailers who aren't primarily online get annoyed with people using their stores as a showroom or to price check for items they intend to purchase online. Some consumers visit a bookstore or electronics shop with no intention of purchasing anything therein. All they're doing is getting a hands on experience before ordering elsewhere. This makes some retailers rather peeved, as you might imagine. They have less money to kick up to their mob captain, state.

Some people have come up with a solution. That is a solution from their point of view, not necessarily mine. This solution will of course require you to pay more taxes. It's only fair right? I mean why should some states go without what they view as their tax revenue just because some consumers have decided it's better to order things online on occasion.
Legislation that would empower states to tax online purchases cleared a key hurdle in the Senate on Monday after winning an enthusiastic endorsement from President Obama. 
Senators advanced the bill in 74-20 procedural vote on Monday evening, just one vote short of the backing it received in a test vote last month. Twenty-six Republicans joined Democrats in moving forward with the bill..
Major retailers are putting all their lobbying muscle behind the legislation, arguing it would close an unfair loophole that benefits online merchants over brick-and-mortar stores. The National Retail Federation, which represents chains such as Macy’s, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), which counts Target and others among its membership, announced it would score lawmakers’ votes. But signs of trouble for the bill also emerged as Wall Street groups urged the Senate to slow down and eBay began marshalling its users in a massive campaign to kill it.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and the Financial Services Roundtable said the measure could pave the way for financial transaction taxes on the state level, an idea that Wall Street and its supporters fiercely oppose.  “It’s important for Congress to explore all the possible outcomes and costs of the proposal, especially the impact on consumers,” Scott Talbott, the senior vice president of public policy for the Roundtable, said in a statement...The Marketplace Fairness Act would empower states to tax out-of-state online retailers, but would exempt small businesses that earn less than $1 million annually. 
Under current law, states can only collect sales taxes from retailers that have a physical presence in their state. People who order items online from another state are supposed to declare the purchases on their tax forms, but few do. The proposal has the support of a host of governors, including Republicans Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Bob McDonnell of Virginia. Passage of the bill could bring billions of dollars in new revenue to state governments. The bill has split the tech industry, pitting eBay against the retail giant Amazon. 
In email to eBay users, eBay CEO John Donahoe argued that the bill would “penalize small online businesses,” urging the site’s millions of users to contact their members of Congress and voice opposition.The company is lobbying for Congress to increase the small-business exemption from $1 million to $10 million.  Donahoe also took a shot at Amazon, a key supporter of the legislation. “Amazon, for example, has fought harder than any other company to require all businesses to collect sales taxes online, while also seeking special tax benefits as it expands its warehouses throughout the country. It’s bad tax policy,” Donahoe wrote....
So as you can see some of this is a case of the elephants fighting and the grass getting trampled. I don't think that Wall Street cares about whether I pay the proper use tax on books or cd's I order online. But Wall Street is very concerned about states attempting to put financial transaction taxes on services that take place in cyberspace. For example California, which has a political class much friendlier to higher taxes than some other jurisdictions, might decide that every transaction which takes place between consumers in California and bankers or financial service companies based in say New York, is now subject to a California tax.
This sort of backdoor tax was disallowed in a 1992 Supreme Court ruling in which North Dakota attempted to tax Quill Corporation, a business which had no sales force, retail outlet or other physical location in the state. Amazingly North Dakota tried to argue that Quill's floppy disks and sales flyers were physically located in the state and therefore so was Quill. The Court rejected this line of reasoning but evidently said that Congress could change the law if it wanted to do so. And now it looks like Congress wants to do so.

I think this is a bad idea and also unfair. If you're a business who is only physically located in one state why in the world should you have to figure out the tax policies of 49 other states, and various counties, cities, townships and territories. That's expensive. Additionally this new online tax proposal would seem to discriminate between online purchasers and physical purchasers. There are states who do not have sales taxes or have different sales taxes than my state. That's their right. If I happen to drive across the border to purchase goods or services that's my business and my right to do so. My money doesn't automatically belong to my state or the businesses that reside within. If I order something online from a state with no sales tax like New Hampshire my state wants to be able to track that transaction and get its cut. But if I drive to New Hampshire and purchase something my state is just out of luck? Does that makes sense? Or is Michigan also going to try to put GPS on my car to track down any such trips? 

If the states feel that their tax structure is no longer feasible because of a change in consumer behavior then they are free to do things more efficiently OR raise other taxes on businesses or individuals within their state. I don't think states should be able to compel other businesses or other states to adopt their tax policy on "their" citizens. I think all this law would do, if passed, would be to squeeze out smaller businesses. It's not coincidental that Amazon is in support. Amazon just happens to be selling new tax policy software and has already negotiated tax exemptions for itself. Or maybe I'm just being selfish. Maybe I'm just opposed to paying my "fair" sales taxes on goods I hypothetically order online...

What's your take?

Friday, July 1, 2011

International Treaties and Texas

Humberto Leal Garcia
Texas has given us a lot of good things:  Albert Collins. James Lee BurkeFreddie King.  ZZ Top. Cornell Dupree.  Barbara Jordan.

Texas has also given us a justice system that makes it very clear that if you do the crime you most definitely are gonna do the time. Texas has no issue with the death penalty. Since the death penalty was allowed again, Texas has executed more people than anywhere else. Texas also has a reputation for not really seeming to care too much about that whole dotting the i's and crossing the t's thingie when it comes to getting convictions. 
Humberto Leal Garcia was convicted of raping and murdering a 16 year old girl. Her name was Adria Sauceda. She was kidnapped, raped, sodomized, and finally bludgeoned to death with a hunk of asphalt. 

Now, 17 yrs after her death, Leal is due to be executed for that crime. In the meantime he has discovered that he is a Mexican citizen and evidently didn't talk to his consular before his trial and conviction. This is required under international law. But during the Bush Administration, faced with a similar case, in Medellin v. Texas, the SC has ruled that absent a law from Congress the US government can't tell Texas what to do on this issue. 

Apparently the Feds are all hat, no cattle when it comes to Texas. Leal has also claimed that he was molested by a Catholic priest. The Catholic Church has added its voice to those calling for a stay of execution. You can read Leal's pov here. But Texas Governor Perry doesn't seem inclined to stay or commute the sentence. So absent a miracle, on July 7 Leal will be executed. The blog members hashed this out and as usual everyone had different opinions. Mine is pretty apparent so I'll skip that.

GrandCentral said this:
As a nation we have a moral obligation, to honor our commitments and lead by example. When an American citizen commits a crime abroad, it is not only presumed, but often demanded that the individual be given adequate legal representation and access to the US Embassy. The United States should respectfully extend the same courtesy to any individual who is convicted of a crime here. 

Euna Lee and Laura Ling, two American journalists, were convicted of illegally entering North Korea and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. According to the North Korean government, they committed a crime. Their families along with the US State Department,  pleaded with the North Koreans and demanded their release. We cannot expect fair treatment of our citizens abroad, when we don't extend the same courtesy to citizens of other nations.

The Janitor pointed out:
When it comes to criminal laws of a state, the feds are pretty much powerless to intervene with the sovereignty of a state's internal judicial process.  You violate a law of the state, the state has jurisdiction over you.  The feds can't intervene UNLESS there is some constitutional violation, in which case the feds can overturn state convictions.  That's the general rule.

This case presents a rare exception where international law may apply.  Things get tricky once you start talking about conventions and treaties and whatnot.

"While a treaty may constitute an international commitment, it is not binding domestic law unless Congress has enacted statutes implementing it."
And in this case, Congress has not implemented any statutes implementing the Vienna Convention.  In fact, in 2005 the U.S. opted out of the convention's international court provision that would have allowed the international court to decide whether or not a Mexican like the guy in this case should be able to overturn his conviction by Texas state law. So is the US a party to this treaty?  Yes.  Is it binding on the States? No, thanks to the SCOTUS.

However, even if it isn't LEGALLY binding on the states, Texas should realize there is an internationally political aspect here that is bigger than the wishes of one state to execute one person.   If we execute this guy, as much as he may deserve to be executed, then we are basically giving other countries the green light to disregard our rights to consult with our embassies overseas whenever we get in trouble. 
Texas needs to be a team player here, but somehow I doubt they will.

The Fed stated:

This is where I DISAGREE with the SCOTUS... State law is NOT Supreme law in this country! HOWEVER, along with the constitution, treaties and international agreements are.  This isn't an issue of State's Rights vs Fed's Rights.  States HAVE NO RIGHTS on this issue.  They should stop trying to force their make believe rights. The US signed an agreement that said XYZ.  PERIOD.  As a result, Texas can't decide it doesn't want to follow that law. What good are treaties if states don't have to follow?

Is this impending execution problematic? If so, why?
Should Congress pass a law preventing state executions where there's a conflict with a treaty?
Is an execution that takes place 17 yrs after the crime any sort of deterrent?
Should the Administration seek other ways to pressure Texas absent a bill from Congress?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Secure Communities and States' Rights

Many people who are pro-comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) usually get very upset when some states create laws which seek to identify illegal immigrants and turn them over for processing and presumed deportation by the Federal government.

The normal complaint by CIR partisans is that the states have no right legislating on immigration issues, that such things are the sole purview of the federal government and that to let states attempt to even address the state specific portions of this national problem, (increased costs for schools and hospitals, business licensing revocation, etc) is tantamount to accepting a "states' rights" constitutional interpretation with the negative baggage that such a charge implies. Federal Supremacy is the mantra of this group They tell us that only the Federal government has the authority to act. The states have NO BUSINESS attempting to preempt the Federal government, enforce federal law on immigration or resist Federal rules on immigration. What the Feds say or do goes. They are the Big Dogs on this issue.

So imagine my surprise when some states with more CIR-friendly governors or senators, gave a great deal of criticism and finally open resistance to the Federal Secure Communities Program. This is a program which mandated that states share fingerprints of arrested people with the FBI , which runs criminal background checks and shares the fingerprints with DHS/ICE for immigration violations. Massachusetts, Illinois and New York all announced that they would no longer participate in the Secure Communities program. In this they were supported and cheered on by the New York Times, which atypically wrote an ode to states rights.
Add Massachusetts to the groundswell of states and localities opposing President Obama’s misconceived and failing immigration dragnet.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Monday that his state would not participate in Secure Communities, the fingerprint-sharing program that the Obama administration wants to impose nationwide by 2013. Gov. Andrew Cuomo halted New York’s involvement last week. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois rejected it last month. They join a long list of elected officials, Congress members and law-enforcement professionals who want nothing to do with the program for the simple reason that it does more harm than good.
What these states’ actions mean, practically speaking, is unclear. States like New York signed contracts with the Department of Homeland Security to enter Secure Communities, and now the administration insists that they must participate. If they send suspects’ fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for criminal checks — as states must and will continue to do routinely — then the F.B.I. will share that data with the Department of Homeland Security. There is no way to opt out.
We’ll see about that. The idea that the federal government can commandeer states’ resources for its enforcement schemes seems ripe for legal challenge.
WOW. Imagine that.  A state refusing to assist in enforcing and obeying Federal Law. Isn't this the EXACT sort of thing that the NYT and pro-CIR partisans normally get rather rabid about? This is the same NYT that previously wrote about Arizona: (emphasis added)

And although appeals are certain, Judge Susan Bolton offered clear and well-reasoned arguments affirming the federal government’s final authority over immigration enforcement.

Now the NYT writes "We'll see about that"? and "..ripe for legal challenge"? Who wrote this editorial, Lester Maddox? What are the reasons given for supporting this state rebellion on immigration enforcement? Was it some sort of liberal appeal to the 10th Amendment? A new found appreciation for a weak central government? A sudden attack of Jeffersonian principles?
The reason that some states were getting upset and finally refused to comply was that the program was actually working!!! People that had no legal right to be in the United States were being identified and processed for deportation-in accordance with Federal law. Some of these people were dangerous violent felons. Some weren't. But none of them had any right to be in the US. Period. The correct and legally authorized consequence is for the unlawful resident to be deported back to his country of origin. There can be no question that the Federal government has the right and the authority to do this.
However the Administration for what appear to be political reasons not so surprisingly sought a way to soften and maybe even neuter its own successful program. ICE director John Morton, released a memo reminding prosecutors and agents of their "discretion". Among other things that should be considered before detention or deportation were such things as:
  • the circumstances of the person's arrival in the United States and the manner of his or her entry, particularly if the alien came to the United States as a young child
  • the person's pursuit of education in the United States, with particular consideration given to those who have graduated from a U.S. high school or have successfully pursued or are pursuing a college or advanced degrees at a legitimate institution of higher education in the United States
  • whether the person, or the person's immediate relative,has served in the U.S. military, reserves, or national guard, with particular consideration given to those who served in combat
  • the person's ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships
The problem is that these qualifications look rather suspiciously like what was just voted down in the failed Dream Act. So this could be a stealth Dream Act, done administratively rather than via law.
There are costs to illegal immigration. I'm sure that several illegal immigrants are hardworking people just trying to make a better life for themselves. But that doesn't change the fact that the US simply can not accept everyone who would like to live in this country. There are over one billion people in the world that live on less than $1.25/day. Neither the US nor any other developed country can allow all of those people to enter, and certainly not without permission. And permission is what is key here.
Most people have some compassion. But few people would allow someone to enter their house without consent, set up shop and then shriek of injustice if you tried to force them out. That's the death of law. The states that are resisting Secure Communities don't appear to recognize the Federal right to control and regulate immigration. To quote my blog mate The Janitor
"States can't preempt federal programs.  At most they can refuse to take federal dollars altogether but for programs which are specifically executed by the federal government, a state cannot block those initiatives"
This shows me that at least some of the politicians, activists and media personalities that were caustically opposed to state initiatives on immigration didn't really care about federalism so much as they cared about stopping deportations. If people really want open borders and unlimited immigration and no deportations they should say so.
*The use of this quote should most definitely not be taken to mean that The Janitor agrees with this post. I just thought it was a really cool quote to use... LOL

What say you?
Is Secure Communities a good idea?
Should States be able to resist or opt out of Federal anti-illegal immigration programs?
Were the States of Illinois, New York and Massachusetts correct to protest that too many non-violent illegal immigrants were being identified and proccessed for deportation?
What's your solution to this issue?

Monday, June 20, 2011

It's All About States' Rights

"Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction."
- Republican front runner Mitt Romney, GOP New Hampshire Debate, June 13, 2011

If the recent Republican debate in New Hampshire was any indicator, we suspect that you're going to hear the phrase "States' Rights" quite often between now and next year's election.  During the debate, all 7 of the candidates on stage echoed similar statements like the one from Romney quoted above.  And this probably comes at no surprise since conservative candidates have been advocating for "States' Rights" for quite some time. There is a common belief among conservatives/Republicans that Federal government is inherently bad, but that State government is somehow inherently good.  But why is that?  Where did this notion come from?  Is it a valid argument?  What does this "States' Rights" phrase really mean and how has it affected our day to day lives over the years?  We take a more in depth look at these questions after the jump:

The Law:
In the United States of America, our government is split between two sovereigns: one at the Federal level and one at the State level.  The Federal government represents the unified interest of the entire country, whereas each State government, of course, represents only itself.  The Constitution dictates that our Federal government is a government of limited powers, meaning that each action that it takes or law that it writes must be tied to a specific provision in the Constitution; if it's not spelled out in the Constitution, then it cannot act.  The States, on the other hand, are governments of almost unlimited powers, meaning that they can take whatever actions they want and write whatever laws they want, so long as those actions or laws are not specifically reserved for the Federal government in the Constitution or prohibited by the Constitution itself.  This concept is embodied in the 10th Amendment to the Constitution and forms the basis for the common phrase "States' Rights." As a final point on the law, the Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, foresaw that there may come a time when the two governments may bump heads.  In such an event, the 2 governments need to know which of them has the last word.  Thanks to the Founding Fathers, we have an answer to that question: The Supremacy Clause.  It is a clause in the Constitution that basically says that whenever there's a conflict between the two governments, Federal law trumps State law every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The History:
Knowing the basic legal framework of our 2 governments is all fine and dandy, but this doesn't tell us how the issue of States' Rights has played out in real life.  What many Republican Presidential Candidates conveniently gloss over is that the States' Rights issue first became controversial during slavery.  Many school kids are taught every year that the United States fought the Civil War because some people in our great nation recognized (and rightfully so) that slavery was immoral.   While there were some White citizens who did feel that way back in the 1800's, the majority of them actually did not care about Black people having equal rights.  Even Abraham Lincoln, who is celebrated as the man who "freed the slaves," drew a fine line in the sand between (A) freeing slaves and (B) actually accepting Black people as equals.

The true reason that we fought the civil war was far less noble than what many of our middle-school history books commonly report.  The full story is that we fought the civil war in part because (1) the U.S. acknowledged the tremendous loss of revenue that would be realized if the Southern States seceded from the U.S., but (2) the main issue that pushed everything over the edge and into war was the Rights of the States to do whatever they wanted to do (in this case - allow slavery) within their own borders WITHOUT the pesky Federal government telling them that they couldn't do it.  In other words, it was a battle over States' Rights.

Some States, primarily in the South, felt that their citizens should be able to own slaves.  The Federal government disagreed.  As a result, a war ensued and, after the Southern States were defeated, the Federal government crafted the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution (known as the Reconstruction Amendments) in order to force the States to shape up and fly right from that day forward.  This sentiment is plainly evidenced in the language of the Amendments themselves, which are framed in the negative against the States (eg. "No State Shall...").  And this worked...for a while.

Shortly after the Civil War, however, the Southern States began to enact what would later become known as "Jim Crow" laws.  These were laws which basically separated the White citizens from the Non-White citizens in all public aspects of life: separate restaurants, separate drinking fountains, separate entrances to public establishments, etc.  These were STATE laws (not to be confused with Federal laws) that basically made Blacks and other minorities second-class citizens.

At some point during the 1950's and 60's (aka, the "Civil Rights Era") America, as a nation, came to the general consensus that racial segregation was no longer acceptable within a society that claimed to be civilized.  This consensus was sparked by the Federal Supreme Court decisions against segregation (Brown v. Board of Education) that were handed down by the Warren Court in the 1950's, and it culminated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Despite this national consensus at the Federal level, some of the Southern States argued that it would be a violation of States' Rights to force racial integration in their schools and public establishments.   George Wallace, the Governor of the State of Alabama, famously delivered the message "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" during his inaugural address in 1963. Governor Wallace and other State governors and elected State officials consistently framed the issue of segregation as a "States' Rights" issue, arguing that the Federal government had no right to force its policy of racial equality onto the States even though the 14th Amendment clearly stated then, as it does today, that:

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall...deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

States' Rights Today
Returning full circle to Romney's quote above, we can see that the Republicans continue to embrace the notion that more powers should be stripped from the Federal government and given to the States.  This may sound like a great idea for conservatives because most conservatives tend to be in the majority (aka White) and would likely stand to benefit from such measures.  However, for those people who happen to be minorities in this country, history has shown us time and time again that minority interests are not served by allowing elected officials at the State level of government to rule as they see fit without regard for the Constitutional rights of all people and not just those in the majority.  The Constitutional rights of the people must be enforced and protected by the Federal government, despite State interests to the contrary.

By way of example, abortion is legal in this country because the Supreme Court (aka the Federal government) has ruled that the States are not allowed to infringe upon a woman's 14th Amendment right to privacy; no State is allowed to make a law that would bring back Jim Crow lunch counters because the Federal government has declared such an act would be illegal under the Civil Rights Act of '64; and States are not allowed to refuse the right to vote to certain minorities because the 15th Amendment strictly prohibits the States from taking such action.  These are but a few examples of how States' Rights must yield to Federal interests.

When people like Mitt Romney talk about increasing States' Rights, they are pandering to a crowd that would like to see less Federal government regulation.  In theory, limited Federal government is a good idea because it allows the States to govern themselves at the local level and solve their own problems.  In practice, limited Federal government allows the States to get away with whatever it is their respective leaders feel like getting away with, which blindly assumes that State officials will do what is in the best interest of all people, and not just those who look as they do or agree with their particular ideology.  As history has taught us, such assumptions are often misplaced.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Michigan Republicans Attack Democracy

I'm in charge now you see.

Haven't you ever wondered, once a representative who differs politically from you, has said or done something that you find spectacularly stupid or offensive, what a nice thing it would be if the person just wasn't in office any more OR had his authority limited to something more appropriate to his intelligence, say for example asking you "Paper or plastic today?"

You probably have.

Unfortunately the flaw in this here republic is that people get to vote on their elected representatives, no matter how stupid you may think they are or how immoral you may find their political positions. So this means, absent term limits, internal legislative rules or criminal convictions, someone you don't like may hold her elected position with all the authority of that position for as long as she likes, no matter how much damage she may do to her constituency. Bottom line is that the people get to decide on their elected representatives. Period.

Well not so fast. Although much of the conversation about the new Republican governorships and state legislative majorities in the US has focused on Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida, the new Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, and the Republican state House and Senate majorities have been busy as bees proposing or imposing a host of new changes to how state government works. One of these changes has been the ability for the State of Michigan to grant executive powers to emergency managers for municipalities, not just school boards, which allows the emergency financial managers to eliminate collective bargaining contracts. It also allows earlier appointments of such managers, before a municipality asks for one or declares bankruptcy.

Benton Harbor— In a move believed to be the first under sweeping new state legislation, Emergency Manager Joseph Harris suspended decision-making powers of city officials Friday.
Officials only can call meetings to order, adjourn them and approve minutes of meetings as part of the order issued Friday.

The action is likely the first since Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law in March a new statute that grants more powers to emergency managers appointed by the Treasury Department to take over distressed schools and communities.
At least one elected Benton Harbor official was sanguine about the order. "It doesn't bother me," said City Commissioner Bryan Joseph. "I'm in favor of it."
Joseph said he has watched financial mismanagement for decades, which was one of the reasons he ran for election in 2008.
But the move drew a strong rebuke from the AFL-CIO. The union represents administrative workers, among others. "This is sad news for democracy in Michigan," said Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. "With the stripping of all power of duly elected officials in Benton Harbor … we can now see the true nature of the emergency manager system."

This being Michigan the race element is never far from the surface and one must note that Benton Harbor is over 90% Black. But the other two cities that have emergency financial managers, Pontiac and Ecorse, are not majority Black, although they are getting close. The mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing, is using the threat of an emergency financial manager, to attempt to leverage concessions from city unions.

No one can doubt that these cities are indeed in pretty crappy condition. People can argue over how they got there and what needs to be done to solve their issues. Some people say that this is the obvious end result of a bloated welfare state and union "gimme" mindset that must ruthlessly be eradicated. Others respond that this is late stage capitalism as more workers become superfluous to profit and are shed at ever increasing rates. Other people have even simpler and much uglier theories which are related to the demographics of those cities.

Whatever one's opinion might be, should we agree that the people in a given city should have the ABSOLUTE right to elect whoever they want and run their city how they want? Or is this a quaint notion at a time where Detroit councilwoman (and lovable quack) JoAnn Watson is calling for a city bailout on the scale of what the federal government gave to GM.

What's your take?
Do you think emergency managers are critical to fixing the problems of certain cities?
Is this just a new tool to bash unions?
Are union contracts the problem these cities face or does it have more to do with the collapse of housing and flight of capital overseas? Are these problems related?
Would you be willing to give your city's decision making capacity over to an emergency financial manager if your governor thought it necessary?