On her MSNBC show last week, progressive commentator Rachel Maddow once again aimed her snarky, facts-be-damned, rhetorical flamethrower at the ongoing controversy of emergency legislation designed to rescue the economically devastated town of Benton Harbor.
Michigan cities from tiny Benton Harbor to Flint to Pontiac all the way up to Detroit are in the death grip of a financial crisis in the wake of the housing crash and near collapse of the auto industry. In a desperate move to turn things around, Republican Governor Rick Snyder invoked Public Act 4, legislation that allows him to appoint city managers to take over cities in dire financial circumstances and enact drastic austerity measures. These managers are empowered to renegotiate union contracts, amend budgets, eliminate departments, even overrule or remove mayors and other elected officials if necessary.
The law’s supporters say it allows for a more effective response to the state’s budget crisis. Even ABC acknowledged that these emergency measures are rescuing a growing number of cities from bankruptcy and thus preserving vital services for the citizens, including the same blacks that Maddow claims are being victimized by the procedure.
But the law’s critics call it an illegal power grab (a “hostile takeover,” as a Mother Jones magazine headline refers to it) to overthrow local leaders and dissolve public-sector unions. Detroit’s Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice has even filed a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality (keep in mind that “social justice” is the left’s code phrase for a movement promoting anti-capitalist class warfare).
As she has ever since she began covering the story a year ago, the incessantly inflammatory Maddow attacked Michigan Republicans in her April 2, 2012 segment for subverting democracy, “stripping” the impoverished blacks in Benton Harbor of their right to rule themselves, and installing a “tyrant” who “will have unilateral power to destroy the town if he wants to, to dissolve it.” This is typical fear-mongering hyperbole on her part – the city manager is not there to destroy the dysfunctional town, but to keep forewarned public unions and wasteful local politicians from driving it deeper into economic ruin.
Terry Stanton, information officer for Michigan’s Department of the Treasury, told ABC last year that the intention of the law is to protect the health, welfare and safety of local government:
No one likes to see their authority taken away. But it’s important to note that oftentimes it was the elected officials who were the ones unable or unwilling to address financial problem before they got crisis stage… The goal is never to have to appoint another emergency manager.
Where circumstances require one, ABC noted in its piece free of Maddow’s hysteria, the manager’s mission is to go in, make necessary budget and staffing changes, and get out as soon as possible, to allow the town to return to self-governance.
Benton Harbor was the first place in which the city manager was appointed (Flint has also been turned over to one, and Detroit could be next). It’s population is largely black – in fact, the “San Francisco Bayview National Black Newspaper,” which bills itself as “the most visited Black newspaper on the web,” calls it “the chocolate city” of Benton Harbor (imagine the gleeful shrieks of outrage from Maddow and her MSNBC ilk if Fox News or FrontPage Mag referred to Benton Harbor as a “chocolate city”).
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