Dumbing way down

Michigan's political system no longer works, and is rapidly sending our state careening toward a future of poverty and hopelessness. That's not  wild-eyed leftist talk. That's just a sad, inescapable clinical diagnosis that can be confirmed by anyone who takes the time to collect the information and study how our government works. Or, rather, doesn't work.

First, here's a snapshot to remind you what a mess we are in. We have the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Everybody expects it to rise. There are a number of reasons for this, but one big one outranks them all. For years, our economy was built on high-paying, easy-to-find jobs that involved little or no skill: working on assembly lines, sticking in bolts, slapping fenders on cars.

Higher education wasn't necessary. The state and its communities had so much money they built a network of decent public schools and a magnificent university system anyway. Yet the number of college graduates lagged below the national average, since you could make a decent living with only a high school diploma, and sometimes not even that.

That world was shattered, little by little at first, then with a big bang in the last few years. Nobody knows whether Chrysler and General Motors will make it, long term. Ford Motor Co. looks to be in better shape, but who knows if that will be true in a decade?

What we do know is that without some form of higher education, the good life, or maybe even any kind of job, is not going to be possible for today's Michiganders. You simply cannot support yourself flipping burgers at McDonald's, even if you can find a job there. Everybody in the state Legislature knows this. 

Five years ago, before anybody knew how quickly the auto world would collapse, Lt. Gov. John Cherry headed a commission to study higher education. The government, industry and academic experts on his panel concluded that we needed to double the number of college degrees awarded here within the next decade.

That isn't happening. Instead, the higher education budget has been cut, again and again. When times are bad, we need to be investing in a better future. There were times when we had statesmen and enlightened leaders who did that. Gov. William Milliken took steps in the 1970s to protect our environment.

Sadly, we no longer have leaders like that, in large part because the system is now set up to prevent them. Our insane term limits make sure nobody has the background, experience or long-term vision to lead us into a better future.

Increasingly, state government can't do its job badly, let alone well. Want proof? The governor and Legislature have one basic job: Balance the state budget. Come up with a plan that means as much money comes in as goes out. If enough money isn't coming in, get some more somehow or cut spending.

It doesn't legally matter if they do it well or poorly. But they can't even get the bare minimum done. The Michigan Constitution requires a balanced budget to be enacted by midnight Oct. 1, the day our state's fiscal year starts. The Legislature failed to do that. After floundering around for a year, the weasels voted themselves another month to get the job done.

Two weeks later, they still haven't done it. What does seem certain is that if they get it done without shutting the state down again, they will have "balanced" the budget in the worst way possible. The Legislature already has voted to sabotage our future. They have slashed funding for early childhood development, and are cutting spending for public education by $165 a pupil. The cynics, careerists and hypocrites among them are acting as if that were a victory for the kids, since earlier, the "leadership" had happily agreed to cut it by $218.

They also betrayed their promise to Michigan's kids by voting to eliminate the Michigan Promise college scholarship grant.

Their excuse for all this is that there is no money. Well, the entire deficit could be wiped out, MSU economist Charlie Ballard told me, if they only raised the state income tax by 0.75 percent. If you make, say, $52,000 a year, it would cost you only about $300. Not bad to save your kids' future. But the time-servers in Lansing aren't willing to ask you to pay.

We need, at a minimum, to get rid of term limits, to enact a graduated income tax, and elect leaders who have courage and who care. You'll be asked when you vote in November 2010 if you want to call a convention to write a new constitution that could do that.

The only question should be, "Why the hell not?" 

The verdict is in:
 You may recall that last March the Detroit Newspapers went to a system where they deliver the newspaper only on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Otherwise, you were supposed to read it online, though you could still go buy one.

When you did find one on a newsstand — and it wasn't always easy — it wasn't your father's Free Press or News, but a shrunken shell. Early on, the marketing team claimed that this was going great, that there was tremendous consumer and advertiser acceptance.

Who would want to hold a paper after seeing it on a little glass screen? Well, sadly, it would appear that some version of the truth is rearing its ugly head. Last week representatives of the Detroit Media Partnership, aka Monopoly, met with the unions.

Surprise! Things aren't that rosy after all. According to someone who was there, the company claimed to "have lost money in 2009 despite the fact that it made all its goals and targets following the switch" away from home delivery.

"Advertising revenues were down 30 percent and projections are for more red ink," the Partnership admitted. (If they are telling the truth, do you suppose they shot the idiot who set those goals and targets?) Anyway, as a result, guess what: More layoffs!! Jobs will be eliminated for "all union-represented jurisdictions."

What's more, according to Lou Mleczko, president of the local chapter of the Newspaper Guild, the evil empire said there will be even more layoffs if the unions don't agree to health care concessions. Even if they do, the monopoly said they might lay off even more workers before the current contracts expire next year.

One wonders what the "Partnership" (which in fact is entirely controlled by Gannett) will want then. Employees who agree to work for less than the minimum wage? Filipino slave labor? What is clear is the contempt the company has for its employees and its readers.

Despite making printed newspapers ever harder to get, the company found, to its dismay, people kept on going to the gas station to buy them. So last week it doubled the newsstand price, to a dollar a paper. That'll learn those stupid customers.

You have to wonder what these bozos would do if they were running General Motors. My guess is that they would have started making the Chevy Malibu out of plastic, eliminated the back seat and the trunk and then doubled the price of the car. And then told customers, "We really want you to only drive it online."

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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