Cheerleading EFMs

Cheerleading EFMs
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, March 20-26, 2011

If anyone wonders why our country’s mainstream media is in trouble, they should read Detroit Free Press Editor Stephen Henderson’s latest column in defense of Emergency Financial Managers.

The Free Press has long been a cheerleader for the Bing-Bobb-Foundation assault on public education. But this latest column reveals just how convoluted their thinking has become.

I read Henderson’s editorial “Stop the hysteria on financial managers.” hoping to learn what unreasoned fears those of us who oppose EFMs are laboring under.

Henderson begins, “Lots of folks are up in arms about the effort to put real teeth into the state’s emergency financial manger law, and some are even linking the proposed reforms to the union busting campaigns under way in Wisconsin and other states.” He continues, “It’s all a little off base and hysterical, mostly because it takes the Michigan legislation out of some important context.”

He goes on to explain the context. “Local governments and school districts have been able to walk right up to the brink of financial disaster without any intervention from the state.”

Most of us who oppose the idea of an emergency financial manager do so because creating this position has set aside democratically elected officials.. Many of us also oppose Robert Bobb, the state-appointed financial manager in Detroit, because he has behaved with an arrogance and ignorance unmatched by even the previously unwelcome holders of that title.

It is difficult to understand why Henderson thinks it is “hysterical” to oppose the closing of half the schools in the city, the decision to increase the number of charter schools made available to corporate interests, the privatizing of security and maintenance services, the increase of class size to 60 students, and the building of a multimillion dollar security complex. Henderson may support all these measures, but his attempt to label their opponents “hysterical” is little more than the substitution of name calling for reasoned discussion.

I await reading his defense of 60 students in a class, of research to support the benefit of charter schools and of an educational environment that is in constant turmoil due to the moving around of students, teachers and principals. All the research I have read and written about suggests that none of this is sound educational policy.

As to the linking of our current governor and legislature with the Wisconsin union busting campaigns, it seems that legislation setting aside union contracts and forcing the privatization of functions currently performed by union food service, security, maintenance, bus drivers and teachers is a fair description of “union busting.” Claiming that it is being done to “balance the books” does not make it any less so.

Most troubling is Mr. Henderson’s section on the direct assault on democracy in the new legislation. Henderson writes, “I don’t support the idea of an unelected financial manager dismissing democratically elected representatives. But I do think their power should be stripped completely while a financial emergency exists, and the manager should be empowered to take extraordinary measures to get things back in balance.”

Perhaps Henderson has a different idea of democracy. But for most of us stripping elected officials of their powers during a financial emergency and putting those powers into the hands of an unelected individual sounds a lot like dictatorship. Just why does Henderson think the EFM would keep the elected officials around? To dust the office?

A free and independent media is a cornerstone for democracy. But today’s mainstream media has so little understanding of democracy that it has become little more than a cheerleader for corporate-foundation elites.