She was happy for a couple of reasons.
Monica Conyers, possibly the most flamboyantly bizarre politician in the history of Detroit City Council, was quitting.
Last week she confessed to accepting bribes in a sludge-hauling scandal, and is expected to be sentenced to prison.
While that was happening, a federal judge was sentencing crooked investor Bernie Madoff to the absolute maximum -- a century and a half in prison. That’s pretty symbolic, since Madoff is 71, but it was meant to send a message.
Unfortunately, I think it is the wrong message. In my view, the system isn’t working, and works even less well in Michigan than it does in most other places in this country. To deal briefly with Madoff, yes, he may finally have gotten what he deserved.
But so what? His stiff sentence does nothing for the thousands whose savings he destroyed and whose lives were ruined.
If the system worked, some regulatory body, or bodies, would have caught on and stopped him a long time ago.
The same is even more true in Michigan. Yes, Monica Conyers was, thanks to determined effort by law enforcement agencies, caught accepting bribes. Last year Detroit’s mayor was forced to plead guilty to two felonies and resign. Three years ago council member Alonzo Bates was convicted and went to prison.
So does the system work? Guess what. If your health care plan only kicks in once you are diagnosed with terminal cancer, you don’t have very good medical coverage. If our national, state and local justice systems are only able to catch crooks after they’ve bilked the public for years, does that mean the system works?
By the way, don’t think this is a Detroit problem. Corruption may be a little more rampant in our biggest city for a number of reasons. The residents are poor, feel under siege, and may be more vulnerable to those who would exploit them.
But we’ve had plenty of bad actors elsewhere. And I fear that we have more than we know about, because once you get away from the major population centers, there are all too few watchdogs.
Print journalism is dying, and even where papers are still publishing daily, they don’t have as many of those pesky, scruffy, nosy people called reporters as they used to. Even in Detroit, many things are still left unexplored. For example, nobody has yet completely traced Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun’s interlocking financial and political connections.
And when it comes to financial disclosure requirements for public officials, The Center for Public Integrity ranks Michigan dead last, in a tie with the tiny states of Idaho and Vermont.
It may soon get worse.
Michigan has outlawed direct political spending by big corporations on behalf of political candidates. But yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would reopen that case, and the odds are that they may overturn that ban.
We could end up with the worst government that money can buy. I don’t know about you, but that scares me.