March 2011

  • March 15, 2011
    The Wisconsin governor is not the only governor taking protest-provoking actions to slash the pay and working rights of public employees. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder is pushing a measure that critics say will allow him to dissolve unions and local governments.

    MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," as noted in this Daily Kos blog post by Joan McCarter, recently reported that Gov. Snyder (pictured) is pushing a law that "gives the state government the power not only to break up unions, but to dissolve entire local governments and place appointed ‘Emergency Managers' in their stead. But that's not all - whole cities could be eliminated if Emergency Managers and the governor choose to do so. And Snyder can fire elected officials unilaterally, without any input from voters. It doesn't get much more anti-Democratic than that."

    The Detroit Free Press reports that additional rallies are planned at the capitol to "protest Gov. Rick Snyder's budget and tax plans."

    Steve Reck, a Service Employees International Union political director in Lansing, said state lawmakers were "exploiting the budget crisis to attack seniors, workers rights and ordinary families across the state."

    ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson in a statement to ACSblog said Michigan, like Wisconsin, was being led by lawmakers seemingly bent on using any means possible to undermine democracy in their states.

    "Gov. Snyder's radical proposal would greatly hobble local governments, and undercut workers' rights," Fredrickson said. "What's going on in Wisconsin is disconcerting, but we cannot afford to overlook the outrageous steps the Michigan governor is attempting to take to undermine democracy, and the state's economy."

    Snyder continues to defend his plan, the Free Press notes, saying he was open to "tweaks and tuning" of it.

    McCarter, the Daily Kos blogger, writes that "Snyder's own budget will so starve cities that he can create the fiscal emergency in them that will allow him to declare the emergency and seize control. But that's just the beginning. His budget's tax plan slashes corporate taxes by 81 percent, and hikes taxes on the working poor."

    The AFL-CIO has weighed in on the matter saying in a March 15 statement that "corporate-backed politicians are clearly gunning for working people in every state across the country."

    The statement continued, "In a brazen new low, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is on track to sign a new law under the guise of fiscal responsibility that will allow him to appoint emergency fiscal managers with powers so expansive they could ‘fire local officials, break contracts, seize and sell assets, eliminate services - and even eliminate whole cities or school districts without any public input,' according to CBS."

    The AFL-CIO also highlights actions by governors and lawmakers in other states aimed at slashing pay and rights of workers.

  • March 15, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Ellen Dannin. Ms Dannin is the Fannie Weiss distinguished faculty scholar and professor of law at Penn State Dickinson School of Law and author of "Crumbling Infrastructure, Crumbling Democracy: Infrastructure Privatization Contracts and Their Effects on State and Local Governance."
    If you want to experience a real disconnect, find out how highway privatization actually works and then read the glowing raves by infrastructure privatization boosters.

    They claim that privatization transfers risk to the private contractor, while providing high quality infrastructure that a cash-strapped public cannot otherwise afford. They say that the public will have easy drives with new roads and new lanes, all assisted by the installation of the latest tolling and messaging technology.

    But when you look into the history and details of infrastructure privatization, reality differs. Take the VirginiaBusiness.com story, "Public project, private risk: Virginia looks to partnerships to tackle major jobs" that praises the 1995 California State Route 91 private toll lanes built in the median of a public road. Those private lanes have a troubled history that is still relevant to today's privatized infrastructure. The SR 91 deal forbade the state from doing repairs and maintenance on the public lanes in order to herd drivers to the private toll lanes. As the public lanes were left to deteriorate, potholes led to car damage and dangerous road and, eventually, public anger that toppled politicians.

    Today's deals still include similar terms intended to make the toll road drivers' only alternative. Commonly found "noncompete" terms forbid building or improving "competing" road or mass transit systems. They may also require what is called "traffic calming" but which means by narrowing lanes or making other changes to make alternative routes unpleasant or less useful. Other contract terms require that the government "partner" compensate private contractors for "adverse actions," such as promoting car pooling to lower air pollution and urban congestion that could affect revenues. For the next 40 years, the HOT lanes contract with Transurban of Australia and Fluor Corporation of Texas requires Virginia to reimburse the private companies whenever Capital Beltway carpools exceed 24 percent of the traffic on the carpool lanes - or until the builders make $100 million in profits.

  • March 14, 2011
    Federal courts struggling with rising vacancies and caseloads have increasingly turned to their senior judges to keep the wheels of justice from grinding to a complete halt. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, however, may be an extreme case, where it has put a "third of the legal load" on the vast majority of its 19 senior judges in order to keep courthouse doors open, the Los Angeles Times reports.

    And the newspaper notes that most of those senior judges are in their 80s. Judge Betty Fletcher, 88, "retired a dozen years ago yet still works full time, on what is known as senior status," for the Ninth Circuit courts, which have "had no new judgeships added in 21 years and that have declining numbers of active judges because of partisan posturing in Congress."

    Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, 82, has carried 75 percent of the federal circuit's caseload, according to the newspaper, and took senior status 16 years ago.

    "I feel a responsibility to the litigants," Nelson told the newspaper. "The courts are not for the judges, and they are not for the lawyers. They are for the people who have real grievances that need to be heard."

    The Ninth Circuit's clerk Molly Dwyer said, "We'd be sunk without them."

    The situation may not quickly improve. The Los Angeles Times, citing the Brooking Institution's Russell Wheeler, noted the "alarming trend of lengthening times between when a vacancy occurs and when it is filled." For example, the newspaper noted that the nomination of UC Berkeley law school professor Goodwin Liu to fill a vacant seat on the Ninth Circuit has been mired in the Senate for more than a year "with no confirmation vote in sight."

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has consistently urged Republicans to stop obstructing the judicial nominations process, saying at one point, "There is no good reason to hold up consideration for weeks and months of nominees reported unanimously from the Judiciary Committee."

    ACS sent to Senate leaders a letter from former federal court judges, appointed by both Democratic and Republican administrations, urging an end to the obstruction. "At this moment, our courts are overburdened and increasingly certain vacancies are being designated as ‘emergencies' by the Administrative Office of the Courts because of the length of time the court has been without a judge," the letter stated in part. "This situation is untenable for a country that believes in the rule of law."

    To follow the rising number of vacancies on the federal bench and news on judicial nominations, visit ACS's JudicialNominations.org.

  • March 14, 2011
    P.J. Crowley issued a statement late yesterday regarding his resignation as Chief State Department spokesman. Crowley resigned after calling the military's treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley E. Manning "counterproductive and stupid," The Washington Post reports.

    In part, Crowley said:

    The unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime under U.S. law. My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discrete actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership. The exercise of power in today's challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.

    Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Spokesman for the Department of State.

    Crowley authored an article for the official journal of ACS, The Harvard Law & Policy Review (HLPR), dedicated to "ideas and recommendations" for a new administration. The article, "Homeland Security and the Upcoming Transition: What the Next Administration Should Do to Make Us Safe at Home," is available here.

    Think Progress has more on Crowley here.

  • March 11, 2011
    Religious Right groups in Maryland helped defeat a marriage quality bill that had the support of the state's Senate and governor.

    The measure, which would have allowed lesbians and gay men to marry, was defeated in the Maryland House of Delegates, where the measure was tossed back to a committee effectively ending any chance of passage in the current session.

    Gov. Martin O'Malley (pictured) said he would have signed the bill into law. Following the bill's demise, O'Malley said it was his "firm belief that equality under the law means equality for everyone, and our laws should reflect that fundamental principle."

    As The Washington Post reported, the measure ran into difficulty after religious right groups loudly fought the equality measure. The Rev. Nathaniel Thomas claimed, "We're not talking about anyone not having rights. But when you use the word ‘marriage,' that goes directly to what the church believes is a relationship between a male and a female.'"

    Equality Maryland, a public interest group, issued a statement expressing "disappointment," but perseverance to continue fighting for marriage equality.

    Five states, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, and the District of Columbia, recognize marriage quality rights, allowing gay men and lesbians to wed.

    [image via chesbayprogram]