Some years back, Alan and I saw Bill Maher’s Broadway show in New York. He spent a few minutes talking about people whose response to 9/11 was to put American flags on their SUVs. This was, “literally, the least you could do,” Maher said.
This was 2003, before Facebook and Twitter and the rise of what we’ve come to call slacktivism. It was before People magazine could write a story like this and not have heads explode across the country:
In the wake of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan Friday afternoon – which triggered a 10-meter tsunami and a lingering threat as far west as the California coast – celebs have taken to Twitter to reach out after what may be the biggest such disaster on record to strike the country
(It ended like that, too. No period. Like a tweet, sorta.)
I guess this is what constitutes “reaching out” these days — reaching for your iPhone and pecking out a text message. This was Lea Michelle’s contribution:
So devastating to hear about the huge earthquake & tsunami Japan. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone there.
This makes putting a flag on your car look like a two-year hitch in the Peace Corps. You actually have to go to a store or corner gas station or whatever, select and pay for the flag, figure out the plastic clip thingy, affix it to the car and take it down when it’s torn to ribbons.
Ah, well. This all seems like a very small thing after an event that actually changed the coastline of Japan — it’s now “wider,” the earth’s axis shifted by 6.5 inches. You read stories like that, and you realize we are all just ants crawling around on a picnic blanket, and every so often someone shakes the blanket.
Tiny, insignificant ants.
That’s a cheerful thought for a Monday, wouldn’t you say? How about a change of subject? A few people have sent me the “Michigan is screwed” video that’s been going around, Rachel Maddow breaking down the details of new GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget plan, spinning it as an evil plot to not just smash unions, but be the flying wedge of a Republican takeover of EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING I TELL YOU, until one day in the near future it is complete and Snyder peels off his face to reveal that of a SkyNet commander, OUR NEW ROBOT OVERLORDS.
Well, that’s one way to spin it.
Every fact in that report is correct. What it lacks is context. It is true that Snyder’s budget — still in proposal form, still not enacted — raises taxes on the poor and elderly and strips business taxes to the lowest in the Great Lakes region. What Maddow doesn’t tell you is the first is the loss of an earned income tax credit averaging $432 a year, and that Michigan is among a dwindling handful of states that doesn’t tax pension income. If all you do is benchmark the practice, it’s probably time for Michigan to join the rest of the country.
But the real meat of her report is the part about state officials being able to swoop into any municipality or school district and stomp it to pieces under their jackboots, a fate she implies is right around the corner for any number of cities and towns — the part about the sign on the outskirts with “founded in 1872” being made obsolete is a bit much. This part of the plan is only the beefing up of the state’s existing emergency financial management law. Stephen Henderson, a Freep columnist — and no conservative — provides context:
For years, local governments and school districts have been able to walk right up to the brink of financial disaster without any intervention from the state. So when state officials do rush in, they face horrific conditions with too few options for balancing the books.
That’s why cities such as Pontiac have made so little progress getting costs under control even with emergency financial management. It’s why Robert Bobb can’t do what the accountant in him knows needs to be done to fix Detroit Public Schools. And it’s why officials in Hamtramck were just a few months ago begging the state to let the city go bankrupt so drastic steps could be taken.
The state’s current rubric for dealing with financial emergencies is weak to the point of flaccidity. Legislators are right to firm up the consequences of inaction.
He goes on to say that wiping out elected officials and smashing existing contracts goes too far. But he’s right that for now, there’s too little sanction placed on cities that screw up.
There’s a great deal of discussion about the budget proposal in the state now. Much of it — led by Mitch Albom, Rochelle Riley and a few other high-profile Michiganders, along with many of my friends — is about the loss of the generous film tax credits, which would undoubtedly take all the air out of the movie and TV production going on around here. That concerns me, but frankly, that’s not my ox being gored. I’ve long thought the amount we’re handing out is unsustainable over the long haul, or even the short one, although I’m sorry to see it go.
What’s far, far more worrisome to me is are the proposed, and enormous, cuts in education funding — primary, secondary and higher — as well as municipal revenue sharing, which will have a far greater impact on our way of life than whether the next Mitch Albom film project is shot in Detroit or not. Virtually all education monies in Michigan come from the state, following an overhaul in the 1990s designed to fix inequities. I frankly can’t believe this isn’t getting more attention, but then again, Albom has no children.
The forces of all the affected constituencies are girding for the battle ahead — the AARP, Michigan Municipal League, Albom and his fearsome quiver of dramatic repetition, et al. One of my local school-board members has written a bit about these issues on his blog, including the emergency financial manager proposal, and the school-funding issues. (I suspect he’s very proud of the latter entry, which works on a Winnie the Pooh metaphor. Michiganders, show your luv with a click.)
I guess it’s all in how you look at things. It could be worse. We could live in Japan.
Manic Monday — must run.