Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Puppy Training for Politicians. Or, How we got RTW in Michigan

So it has happened.  Remember the other day when I wrote that Michigan had become a Right-to-Work state? It's not that I'm prescient or anything, announcing a done deal on Saturday when it didn't actually become law until yesterday (Tuesday), when Govnerd Ricky signed the two "Hasta la Vista, Union" bills hustled through the Republican-led legislature in a dazzling demonstration of warp speed.  No, it's just that I've come to know those guys.  No amount of talking, cajoling, coercing or begging was going to change the course of that bloody action, no matter what. Not from us, anyway.

Know why?  Because it wasn't them, it was them:

The ubiquitous Koch brothers, heirs-apparent to the throne once America says "Okay, OKAY! I give up!"
  Nobody wants to believe the obvious--that these two rather dorky brothers are up to their eyeballs in evil wherever it lurks these days--but there it is.  If money really talks, when it belongs to the Brothers Koch it says, "Stick'em up and don't turn around.  I've got a friggin' humungous bunch of greenbacks and I know how to use them!"

Evidence abounds that those cunning Kochs look on American unions as icky Red maggots and have finally figured out a way to bust the guts out of them.  They do it by joining up with other gajillionaires (like Dick deVos, notorious member of the Michigan hoi polloi, given to hating the masses), by funding Tea Party think tanks such as Michigan's own Mackinac Center for (cough, cough, privatizing) Public Policy, and by buying legislators, congresspeople, and even governors for the Republicans.

It's a marvel to watch. If I weren't always on edge, scouting out good locations to run to, I might be standing in awe, pondering how, in a matter of mere months, two seemingly puny persons came out of nowhere to become our first and only potentates. (Eat your hearts out, Grover and Newt.  It is what it is. And it is money.)

But enough about them.  Or not.  How about that ALEC? (The American Legislative Exchange (cough, cough, exchange for what?) Council)  From the Center for Media and Democracy's special report on ALEC's funding and spending:
Almost 98% of ALEC's funding comes from corporations like Exxon Mobil, corporate "foundations" like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, or trade associations like the pharmaceutical industry's PhRMA and sources other than "legislative dues." Those funds help subsidize legislators' trips to ALEC meetings, where they are wined, dined, and handed "model" legislation to make law in their state. Through ALEC, corporations vote on "model" legislation with politicians behind closed doors.
 Sometimes what goes on behind closed doors gets out here in what we still laughingly call the "public."  It turns out the wording of those hallowed right-to-work bills bringing so much entertainment to Michigan Republican lawmakers were word-for-word the creations of the Koch-fueled ALEC bunch.

Both HB 4003, which affects public sector unions, and HB 4054 / SB 116 affecting private sector unions, undermine collective bargaining by allowing workers to opt-out of paying the costs of union representation. As the Center for Media and Democracy's Executive Director Lisa Graves reported today, the move is calculated political payback attacking unions for supporting Democrats. Wages are lower for both union and non-union workers in Right to Work states, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The legislation is straight out of the Koch-funded ALEC playbook. Compare the language in HB 4003 and HB 4054 with the ALEC "model" Right to Work Act:

Stunning, isn't it?  But--are you still with me?--here comes the fun part.  A 2010 article from The Mackinac Center's news service, CAPCON, called "Politician Puppy Training, What the Tea Parties can Learn from the Dogs" has surfaced.  I'm not kidding.  And neither are they.  I thought they were. I thought they were making a funny, Onion-style.  But, no.

Almost everyone loves puppies, at least until they start making messes on the carpet.  With every puppy comes the responsibility of training it to become “man's best friend.” The same can be said about legislators.  While they are, of course, not dogs, they do need to be trained in order to be turned in to a voter's best friend. While most go to Lansing or Washington to do the right thing, many will end up making messes that result in less liberty.

Training legislators, as with training puppies, must be done with care and common sense. An external system of rewards and punishments is used to guide the puppy toward doing the right thing.
There’s a lesson in this for tea party groups who seek to communicate their concerns to politicians. You don’t need to explain the principles or speak their language to get your point across. Indeed, this is often the last thing that will work. 
But, wait. . .
Like the trained puppy, your lawmakers will follow the training that has been driven into them beforehand. Trying to teach these at the last minute is ineffective.  Representative democracy, like puppy training, means you teach the big idea well in advance and then trust the politician or the puppy to do the right thing with the specific details when the big moment arrives.

Counter-intuitively, this means that you can often make the biggest difference well after the vote is over. Afterward, you can find out what your lawmaker knew at the time, and judge whether they made the right decision or not. If they barked smartly and did their business outside where it belongs, a tea party group can send a big important message by effusively praising them for it. But if they chewed your slippers, they should face swift consequences.
With this past experience in mind, a politician will learn what is expected of them the NEXT time an important vote comes up. Whether the issue is taxes, spending, regulations or what not, a message has been sent to the politician regarding the type of conduct is acceptable – and what is not. Either way, they learn that praise or punishment from a tea party is a real consequence of their future actions.
...We try and give you the information that the politician had at the time of the vote, so you can make a fair decision about whether that vote reflected the metaphorical distinction between your puppy going on the rug or barking at the door.

And that’s when it is most effective for you to decide whether to scratch behind their ears or smack them on the nose. Either way, they’ll remember the next time.
There's more, and, as hilarious as this is, remember, this wild primer on housebreaking is a legitimate plan. There are lessons to be learned here, and if we don't pay attention, we'll go on losing until all is lost 

In a chilling article in New York Magazine called "In Michigan, the Republican Will to Power", Jonathan Chait writes: 
Last year, the Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing activist group, explained, “We fight these battles on taxes and regulation but really what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.” Republicans understand full well that Michigan leans Democratic, and the GOP has total power at the moment, so its best use of that power is to crush one of the largest bastions of support for the opposing party.

In the coming days we need to keep talking about the impact right-to-work has on our nation's workers. We need to stress the need for the strong organized workplace oversight only labor unions can provide.

We need to explain and offset the thundering opposition to a prosperous working class.  We need to expose the lies.  Our voices will be drowned out by those who have a vested interest in keeping the RTW momentum going, but we're not puppies and they're not our trainers.  They'll have no real power over us unless we give it to them by lying down and rolling over.

(Addendum:  More from Harold Meyerson at WaPo and Chris Savage at Eclectablog)

(Addendum II:  Selected for Mike's Blog Round-up at Crooks and Liars.  Thank you!)

(And, of course, cross-posted at dagblog)


  1. Here is a report on unionization trends in the US -

    1. Very interesting, Ed. Thanks. I think this says it all about why Michigan was targeted so vehemently:

      Looking at the percentage of union wins across
      eight Midwestern and surrounding states, in 2009 five states had union win ratios greater than
      Ohio.23 Michigan had the highest percentage of union wins at 65 percent and Wisconsin had
      the lowest at 45 percent.

      I didn't see anything in there about reasons why the unions declined--which is what I'm emphasizing here. Still, the stats are valid and I appreciate you're sharing it.

  2. The thing I'm not able to understand is why are these greedy people so intent on driving wages down. Don't they realize that the more the workers have the more they spend and the lion's share goes up to the top??????????

    I guess you don't have to be smart to have money!!

    1. It's obvious to everybody that when wages are up and workers feel comfortable with bennies and pensions, etc., our economy thrives.

      Most of the Big Guys working so hard to drive wages down and do away with Big Government make (and hide) much of their money outside the US. Whatever happens here doesn't affect them as much as it does us.

      Plus, they're hateful, greedy sociopaths. I don't think they're going to change. All we can do is nullify them.

  3. Great post, Mona.

    So the G.O.P. attack dogs are at it again. As a strategy, what they've done is very, very clever: Cripple the unions; starve the Democratic "beast." Why do the liars and cheaters always seem to outmaneuver us? You'd never know voters just last month handed Republicans their asses.

    Sometimes I look at "our" side and think, "that dog won't hunt."

    It really makes me shake my head at the Obama administration's first two years in office, when it had a brief if uneasy filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and control of the house. Maybe if they'd done more then (something, ANYthing) to advance the Employee Free Choice Act, they could have averted some of this pain. Perhaps if the Democrats hadn't turned their backs on their benefactors, we wouldn't be watching now as the puppy mill grinds out anti-labor pit bulls.

    It's disheartening to watch the events unfold in Michigan in part because it's a rude reminder of what goes on elsewhere, especially in Washington. Lame duck or otherwise out-of-favor Republicans ruthlessly foist their unpopular ideas on an unsuspecting public, and the best the Democrats and other leaders on the left can muster is a look of surprise and a hang-dog expression.

    One of the terms I've read more than once to describe the G.O.P. effort to pass Michigan's new "Right to Work" law is "blindsided," as in the governor blindsided labor and the Democrats with his abrupt about-face on the issue. But what I don't get is when Democrats are going to "get" it? The Republicans are ruthless opportunists who never give up on an idea, however heartless or pernicious, and who will use whatever means at their disposal -- whatever means -- to achieve their goals.

    Why are we ever surprised by what they do? And why do we need constant reminders that, yeah, we do have a dog in this fight?

    1. Well, shoot--had a long answer here and it disappeared.

      Anyway, I save my rage for the Republicans and my deep, deep disappointment for the Democrats. They squandered those two years and we'll never get hem back.

      All I can do is hope all of these revelations about the Koch Bros., etc., will finally get through to the voters. The Republicans are pathetic--without the dirty tricks they would be exposed as the losers they really are.

      You bet we have a dog in this fight. If our Democratic leaders don't want to participate, we'll have to find others who will. (I know--easier said than done. Who in their right minds would want to be politicians?)

  4. "Who in their right minds would want to be politicians?)" Haha, there's the rub!

  5. alec's koch-incest'd puppymill - who's yer daddy

    a dog-whistled puppy training kennel registry
    might show unnatural beasts most people will not see
    who's licking hand-held dark koch-shrivel'd schtup money
    fed rabid hungry curs passing alec-sheet legislatively
    can't get new tricks into old dogs who're still led around by pricks
    in their closets, on the tv, on roads where the future's lick'd
    in imagery stuck under tail housing right fat blood-suck ticks


  6. The "Lame Ducks" are doing a scorched earth policy on their way out. They are destroying as much as possible while they still have a large majority.


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