Michigan considering suspension of democracy

Thanks to Kirk Anderson for putting me on to what is happening in Michigan, which is considering passing a bill that would allow the Governor’s office to replace elected local officials.

Kirk explains:  “There’s a bill working its way through the Michigan legislature that would give the governor authority to place “emergency managers” in financially troubled localities to help get their governments back on the fiscal track.  The thing is, these managers have the power to remove elected officials like country administrators and school board members, fire employees, cut benefits, slash services, merge districts, etc etc.  I think it might be an interesting discussion since it pits financial responsibility vs. local governance, both conservative principles.”  From the linked article:

A day after facing hundreds of rowdy, pro-union protesters that filled the state Capitol, the Senate voted on Wednesday to grant broad new powers to emergency managers who oversee financially struggling cities and schools, including the authority to void union contracts and remove elected officials.

The controversial bills are expected to head to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk for signature shortly, after the House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, work out some language differences.

The Senate passed the main bill in the package by a 26-12 party-line vote, drawing an immediate rebuke from union leaders across the state, who called it an assault on collective bargaining rights. In the Macomb County delegation, Republican Sens. Jack Brandenburg of Harrison Township and Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights supported the measure, while Democratic Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren was opposed.

Brandenburg said several urban areas of the state, especially Detroit, are in “bad shape” and will need a state-appointed emergency financial manager, or EMF, who can impose strong medicine.

“He has to have the backbone, he has to have the power, to null and void a contract,” Brandenburg said.

The senator also rejected claims by Democrats that the bill will destroy Michigan’s long history of local control by allowing the EMF to remove top administrators and elected officials, put millage increases on the ballot, lay off employees, slash services, and merge the city or school district with a neighboring government entity. Brandenburg said the EMFs will be deployed in communities that need “financial martial law.”

“Local control? I’ll tell you what, I think that in a lot of these places there is no control,” he said.

via Michigan Senate passes emergency manager bills – dailytribune.com.

The unions are worried about losing collective bargaining rights?  What about citizens being worried about losing their voting rights?

I read this on the Ides of March, the day the Roman Republic–a free, constitutional, representative government that lasted 500 years–made its last futile effort to stay alive, slipping instead into an authoritarian absolutist  Empire.

The thing is, the jettisoning of the republic was for good reason. It had become corrupt, incompetent, and ineffective in dealing with the problems of Rome, including its financial problems.  Julius Caesar made himself into a dictator to address those problems.  He was very effective.  The people loved him for it.  And so were willing to give up all of their political freedoms.

Is this where we are headed?  Does political freedom just not work anymore, being unwilling to make hard and painful decisions?

Am I missing something?  Can anyone–preferably including people from Michigan–justify this on other than purely pragmatic grounds?

I am completely sympathetic to the comment on local control that in these cases of runaway spending “there is no local control.”  Can’t citizens be motivated to govern themselves, or is representative democracy hopeless and we had better find ourselves a Caesar who can get things done?

The Falerian Schoolmaster

My daughter Joanna, a Latin teacher, told me a great story from Livy.  It can give us a new word for a teacher who harms students or uses them for his own ends.

This account is from Plutarch’s version.  Camillus is the noble general of the Roman Republic who is besieging the Falerii:

Now, it so happened that in Falerii there was a school-master who had under his charge a large number of boys, and after their lessons were finished he would take them daily to the outskirts of the town for play and exercise. He constantly assured them that they had nothing to fear from the enemy at their walls, and they followed their master with perfect confidence wherever he chose to lead them. One day he approached the Roman advance-guard, surrounded by all the boys, whom he delivered up to be carried to Camillus. When questioned by the commander, he told who he was, and said “that he preferred the favor of Camillus to the obligations of duty, and that he had come to hand over to him the Falerian children, and through them the whole city.”

The commander was shocked at such base treachery. “War is at best a savage thing,” he said, “but it has its laws from which men of honor will never depart; though desirous of victory, they do not avail themselves of acts of villany.” So saying, he ordered the lictors to tear off the wretch's clothes and tie his hands behind him, then to furnish each boy with a rod and a scourge, with which to whip the traitor back to the city.

Meanwhile, the Falerians had heard of the fate of their boys, [146] and men and women crowded to the gates in a state of distraction, filling the air with their lamentations. Suddenly they beheld the school-master running towards them pursued by his pupils, who did not spare their blows, but shouted and yelled with delight, while they proclaimed the Roman commander “their God, their Deliverer, their Father.” The citizens were so struck by the generosity of Camillus that it was decided in council to send deputies to the noble commander to surrender the city to him. Camillus took time to consult the senate of Rome, who advised him to demand a sum of money of the Falerians, but on no account to accept anything more. Peace was then restored, and the Roman army returned home.

via The Baldwin Project: Our Young Folks’ Plutarch by Rosalie Kaufman.

Can you think of some Falerian Schoolmasters today?

Tarquin’s Palace discovered

Six miles from Rome, in the crater of an extinct volcano, archeologists have discovered what is apparently the palace of the Tarquins, the last kings of Rome.  Because of their cruelty, they were overthrown in 510 B.C. and the Roman Republic was born.  From Prince’s Palace Found in Volcanic Crater : Discovery News:

A terracotta fragment of the roof has already been found. It features the image of the Minotaur, an emblem of the Tarquins.

“It's a strong piece of evidence to support the hypothesis that the edifice was built for the Tarquin family,” Fabbri said.

Indeed, the archaeologists do not rule out the hypothesis that the building was home to generations of Tarquins, and believe its last occupant was Sextus Tarquinius.

The son of Rome's last king, the despotic Tarquinius Superbus, Sextus Tarquinius is notorious for having raped Lucretia, the virtuous wife of his cousin Tarquinius Collatinus.

The Roman historian Livy (Titus Livius), who lived 59 B.C.-A.D. 17, recounts that Lucretia, “overcome with sorrow and shame,” stabbed herself after the attack. Her death sparked the revolt that put to an end the kingship of Tarquin the Proud and Sextus Tarquinius' life.

“The people of Gabii murdered Sextus after he entered the town. It is not a coincidence that the lavish building is intentionally destroyed around this time,” Fabbri said.

The Republic featured representative government, civil liberties, the rights of the people, and the rule of law. It lasted nearly 500 years, which is much longer than our republic. But then the Romans grew impatient with its slow workings and turned back to the one-man rule of the Emperors, many of which were Tarquin-like in the extreme. (How odd it is–and it’s all Shakespeare’s fault!–that our popular culture honors Julius Caesar over the defenders of the Republic and of liberty like Brutus and Cato. George Washington, in contrast, put on Addison’s play about Cato’s resistance to inspire his revolutionary army.)

Many people cite parallels with America’s woes to the fall of the Roman Empire. But we should be far more concerned with parallels to what came first: the fall of the Roman Republic.


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