MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: Michigan attacked from the political right and left
Featured material: Glenn Beck commentary comparing Detroit to Hiroshima; Rachel Maddow commentary describing the use of Michigan’s new emergency manager act in Benton Harbor as martial law.
Let’s first examine Fox News commentator Glenn Beck’s contention that Detroit’s decline happened because the city "embraced progressive policies and corrupt government and unions and (auto) companies that weren't allowed to fail."
Beck began his nearly seven-minute-long monologue by showing a photo of a vibrant-looking Hiroshima, which was destroyed when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on it during World War II.
While acknowledging the government aided in the rebuilding of Hiroshima, Beck says it was "the people, embracing, the free-market system, that revitalized Hiroshima."
Beck then showed a series of photos of vacant theaters, auto plants and other buildings in Detroit, and blamed Democratic leadership, unions, "progressive ideas" and the federal government’s bailout of the auto industry for the city’s problems.
Beck offered a simplistic and misleading view of why Detroit has lost more than half its population and much of its economic muscle over the past 60 years. He ignored a variety of important factors, including white flight to the suburbs, corporate disinvestment and the relocation of the city’s large manufacturing base to the South, which plunged hundreds of thousands of poorly educated workers into poverty.
Beck didn’t specify what "progressive ideas" took down Detroit, but laid blame at the feet of Democrats who "have been in power in Detroit for over 50 years."
In responding to Beck’s indictment of the city, Detroit Free Press Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson cited a number of federal programs following World War II that helped send Detroit into a downward spiral.
Among them were the construction of the interstate highway system and incentives for suburban development that largely excluded poor blacks, Henderson wrote, citing Thomas Sugrue's book, "The Origins of the Urban Crisis."
The freeways that cut through Detroit destroyed neighborhoods and made it easier for businesses and residents to locate outside the city as America embraced suburban living.
It’s also hard to understand how letting General Motors and Chrysler fail, as Beck advocated, would have benefited Detroit. GM employs about 4,400 workers at its Renaissance Center headquarters and is one of the city’s largest employers.
Detroit, as Beck said, has been led at times by corrupt politicians, including former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former city council President Monica Conyers, both of whom are in prison. Unions have strong-armed companies to extract higher wages and benefits. But those things alone don’t explain how Detroit fell into despair.
Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco all have a history of progressive leaders, strong unions and government corruption. Yet they are considered to be some of the most desirable cities in which to live in the country.
Beck also gave an inaccurate account of how Hiroshima was rebuilt after the war, downplaying the government’s role. In fact, its reconstruction was made possible by passage of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law, which provided needed rebuilding funds from the government.
One of Hiroshima’s largest employers is the Mazda Motor Corp., part of a Japanese auto industry that receives a variety of support from the Japanese government, including what critics have long complained are trade and currency policies that give unfair advantage to Japanese companies.
MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD CALL:
Flagrant foul for a misleading and wildly exaggerated explanation of why Detroit has suffered such a large economic and population decline.
Now let’s examine MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow’s views on Michigan’s new emergency manager law.
Maddow, the liberal host of MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," cast a national spotlight last month on Michigan’s controversial emergency manager law.
In a nearly nine-minute segment, Maddow focused on Benton Harbor, the long-struggling Southwest Michigan community on the shores of Lake Michigan. Benton Harbor's EFM, appointed under Gov. Jennifer Granholm, became the first to utilize the broad powers granted under the state’s new emergency manager law.
The law is highly controversial because it allows emergency managers, appointed by the governor, to suspend the powers of elected officials, break labor union contracts and make virtually all decisions in the operation of a local unit of government or school district.
Maddow called it the "emergency financial manager martial law."
And she suggested something even more nefarious was going on in Benton Harbor. The sponsor of the emergency manager legislation, Rep. Al Pscholka, a Republican whose district includes Benton Harbor, was involved in a luxury golf course development that is taking over a popular beachfront city park.
Pscholka also used to work for U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Whirlpool Corp. heir. Whirlpool is one of the partners in the $500 million, 530-acre Harbor Shores residential, retail and golf course development.
Maddow intimates that the appointment of an emergency manager in Benton Harbor is somehow connected to Whirlpool’s financial interests in the Harbor Shores project.
Some residents of the area and now-powerless city agree, saying they think Whirlpool was involved in getting an emergency manager appointed in Benton Harbor so it could grab more land for the real estate development.
Kalamazoo Gazette columnist Julie Mack pretty much destroys the conspiracy theories surrounding the appointment of Benton Harbor emergency manager Joseph Harris, formerly Detroit’s chief financial officer.
Mack notes that Harris was appointed to his post by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, not Gov. Rick Snyder, who approved the broadened emergency manager law.
The Harbor Shores development had already been approved by the Benton Harbor City Commission before Harris took over, Mack wrote. And the city itself is leasing 22 acres of the 90-acre Jean Klock Park for three holes of an 18-hole Harbor Shores golf course.
Michigan’s new emergency manager law is highly controversial because it allows managers to temporarily suspend the powers of elected officials while they work to stabilize the finances of local units of governments and school districts.
A Citizens Research Council of Michigan analysis of the new law found that "while these powers provide for a more robust response to fiscal difficulties, the expanded powers potentially come at the expense of local democracy and the ability of public sector unions to collectively bargain with government officials."
An emergency manager can even dissolve a unit of government, Maddow said.
However, according to the Citizens Research Council, an emergency manager can recommend the dissolution of a unit of government, but would need the consent of the governor to pursue such a course.
But the law also encourages units of government to address financial problems before they reach crisis stage. Even Maddow acknowledged Benton Harbor passed that stage long ago.
"You can find every last social ill that goes along with industrial collapse right here — failing schools, crime, high unemployment, polluted land, corrupt government, the whole rusting away to misery and frustration and schedule one drugs to deal with," she said.
MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD CALL:
Flagrant foul for suggesting, without any evidence, that Whirlpool and Pscholka arranged for an emergency manager to be appointed in Benton Harbor to benefit a real estate development.