The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

MEA Can't Keep Story Straight on Union Bullying

VP apparently didn't read president's press release

WILX-TV10 in Lansing is reporting on proposed legislation that would prevent unions from bullying members who choose to opt out. Michigan Capitol Confidential reported that the Operating Engineers Local 324 printed in its newsletter the names of 19 former members who left under Michigan’s right-to-work law, calling them “freeloaders.” Now, more than 500 members have opted out of the union.

Nancy Strachan, vice president of the Michigan Education Association, told WILX that her union “stays away from” calling former members freeloaders, saying it is “a term that’s probably been picked up from others within the education community …”

Strachan apparently forgot to tell her boss, MEA President Steve Cook, who used the term no fewer than eight times in this official Michigan Education Association press release.

Mackinac Center spokesman Ted O’Neil told WILX: “Now that employees are not forced to financially support a union as a condition of employment, unions will have to realize that they need to convince members of their value, rather than attacking and bullying those who simply choose to exercise their rights under Michigan law.”

Reason.com has weighed in on the matter.

Right-to-Work Will be Blamed

If Gov. Snyder loses re-election

With a good deal of validity it has been said that history is written by the victors. Keeping that in mind, it follows that if Gov. Rick Snyder loses the 2014 Michigan gubernatorial election, the defeat almost surely will be attributed to his support and enactment of right-to-work.

Blaming a Gov. Snyder loss on right-to-work would, of course, be totally inaccurate. But anyone who thinks questions of accuracy prevent the proliferation of nonsense hasn’t paid attention to how the national mainstream news media operates.

Gov. Snyder asked the Legislature to pass right-to-work in late 2012; it did so and he signed it into law. This occurred in reaction to a failed attempt by a coalition of large unions to put language in the state constitution that would have permanently stacked the deck in labor’s favor at the bargaining table.

Right-to-work, which prohibits workers from being required to financially support a union as a condition of employment, is virtually a nonissue in this year’s election. More Michigan voters support right-to-work than oppose it and most voters who hold a grudge against Gov. Snyder over the issue were never likely to support him in the first place.

Nonetheless, should Gov. Snyder falter in his bid for re-election, the legacy of his failure to win is likely — in the long run — to be reduced to an erroneous but simplistic truism. This truism, which will be repeated with growing certitude, will be that after Gov. Snyder right-to-work in a state with a long tradition of unionism the voters threw him out of office.

Count on it; probably sooner rather than later, this will be the message presented as straight-forward cause and effect. It is precisely the sort of snapshot explanation the image-worshipping national mainstream news media loves to peddle — a portrayal too alluring for it to resist.

In reality, if Gov. Snyder loses it will probably be due to a combination of causes, none having anything to do with right-to-work. Two of these causes would be general in nature, while three pertain to specific segments of voters.

* Causes of a general nature would be: first — at the national level — the Republicans have missed the opportunity to seize the mantle of reform that, in a nonpresidential year, could have bolstered GOP turnout across the country; and second — at the state level — if it turns out that too few of the voters outside of the business community sense the effects of the current economic uptick. 

* Causes of a more specific nature would be the result of seeds of dissatisfaction sewn within voting groups from which Gov. Snyder might otherwise have expected support. Many senior citizens believe, correctly or incorrectly, that he raised their taxes without giving them a break in return; social conservatives distrust his implied flirtation with policies some consider as gateways to recognition of gay marriage; and economic conservatives see many of his policies (especially Medicaid expansion and his efforts to double the fuel tax) as being too government-centric.

All of these reasons, and perhaps a few others, will surely be mentioned by the mainstream news media in its postelection analysis if Gov. Snyder is defeated. Undoubtedly, at the state level, the news media will continue for a certain period of time to cite these, rightly, as the causes of his defeat. Those nearest to any event almost always tend to recall more factual details for a longer duration than those at a distance.

But fairly quickly at the national level and then eventually even at the state level as well, the real factors behind a Gov. Snyder loss will fade into the mist and be replaced by the untrue, yet shallow and easy (therefore preferred) narrative that right-to-work is what doomed him.

Truth morphing into symbolic fiction is not a process limited to politics. Tellers of tales twist storylines to their liking regardless of the overall category. However, it is in the arena of politics that baseless truisms have perhaps the greatest capacity to become enshrined as lessons.

To the conservative base, if Gov. Snyder were to lose it will be because he ignored basic principles. To seasoned citizens, if Snyder were to lose it would be because they think he hiked their taxes. Yet, for the national mainstream news media, though these elements will have contributed to his loss, they will be considered trivialities not worth mentioning.

One can almost hear the epitaph already: “He turned the birth place of unionism into a right-to-work state and paid the price for doing so.”

(Editor’s note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential and a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not necessarily represent the views of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy of Michigan Capitol Confidential.)

PBS Series Ignores Damage of 'The New Deal'

Faulty economic policies still felt decades on

The ongoing PBS documentary "The Roosevelts" ignores several key facts about the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt  and his so-called New Deal. For another view, please see "Great Myths of the Great Deperssion."

September 19, 2014, MichiganVotes Weekly Report

Expand forfeiture & court costs, auto “protectionism," “right to try”

House Bill 5785, Expand permissible criminal court cost levies: Passed 95 to 14 in the House

To expand the costs that can be imposed on an individual convicted in a criminal case. The bill would authorize imposing assessments covering a share of court employee salaries and benefits, of "goods and services” used in operating the court, and of court building “operation and maintenance" costs. In addition, it would establish that a court has no duty to provide a “calculation of the costs involved in a particular case.” The bill reverses a state Supreme Court case that limited charges to those specifically allowed in a particular statute; its provisions would expire in 27 months, presumably to allow the legislature to rationalize these impositions for all courts across the state.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5233, Expand scope of criminal property seizure law: Passed 93 to 13 in the House

To expand the reach of the state's criminal forfeiture law by making the property of an owner deemed "willfully blind" to illegal activity taking place on the premises subject to forfeiture. The bill would also allow the seizure of real or personal property that had been transferred to a new owner after the crime in some cases, let the government wait up to 28 days before giving notice that property is being seized (under current law this is seven days), and authorize forfeiture for home invasion, rape and other serious sex crimes. The state criminal forfeiture law allows the government to seize property used in a crime or acquired with the proceeds of a crime, with the net proceeds from its sale turned over to the agencies that are “substantially involved in effecting the forfeiture."

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5391, Cap wage garnishment amounts: Passed 102 to 7 in the House

To revise the law that authorizes a court-ordered garnishment of an individual’s wages to satisfy an obligation. The bill would cap the amount of a garnishment at 15 percent of the "gross wages" earned by the employee, but not if this would reduce the pay to less than the "minimum wage" mandated by the state or federal government.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 616, Revise Medicaid funding sources: Passed 78 to 31 in the House

To shift Medicaid fund sources to reflect the transition from a 1 percent "health insurance claims tax" to the imposition of the 6 percent "use tax" on Medicaid managed care health care providers (hospitals). These levies are designed to “game” the federal Medicaid program in ways that result in higher federal payments to Michigan’s medical welfare establishment (including those same hospitals).

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5649, Recognize terminal patients’ “right to try” unapproved treatments: Passed 109 to 0 in the House

To prohibit state officials and licensing boards from sanctioning health care providers who participate in providing non-FDA approved experimental drugs and treatments to terminal patients in accordance with the conditions specified in the “right to try” law proposed by Senate Bill 991. (SB 991 was passed by the Senate in August but has yet been voted on in the House.)

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5606, Expand "protectionist" auto dealer provision: Passed 106 to 3 in the House

To prohibit vehicle makers from preventing a dealer from tacking on extra fees that are permitted by a law that empowers the state to enforce exclusive new car dealer “territories” and regulate the terms of commercial relationships between dealers and manufacturers.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

Senate Approves 'Talk Like a Pirate' Resolution

Good thing they have all the important stuff solved

For the second year in a row, the Michigan Senate has approved a resolution supporting Sept. 19 as “International Talk Like a Pirate Day.”

Fiscal Policy Director Michael LaFaive wrote about this very issue last year, noting that such meaningless resolutions are the best evidence yet that Michigan should have a part-time Legislature.

These resolutions hold no force of law, but sometimes such unnecessary and silly measures do propose ensconcing real-live laws in the state's statute books. For example, in March Sens. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, and Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, (among others) introduced  a bill that would mandate that the cherry be the official fruit of Michigan. There are more than 60 cherry varieties, but unlike previous cherry bills this one wouldn't compel residents to only recognize just one of them as the state's official fruit.

Scots Say 'Yes' to Independence

Seven centuries ago

In light of the historic “no” vote for Scottish independence Thursday, we revisit this essay by President Emeritus Lawrence W. Reed about a time when Scotland did win its independence from Britain.

Feeling Fine About the End of the World

Book review of Kevin Williamson's latest effort

[A review of “The End Is Near, and It’s Going To Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure” by Kevin Williamson; Broadside Books, 2013, $27.99 hardcover/$15.99 eBook; 198 pp.]

Back in the days of classic British humor, a comic impersonating an unctuous variety host proclaimed: “Ladies and gentlemen, Petula Clark sings!” To which another comic responds sotto voce, “Yes, we know that.” I was reminded of this bit while reading Kevin Williamson’s “The End Is Near, and It’s Going To Be Awesome.” Those familiar with Williamson’s prodigious output neither will be surprised by the title’s first clause nor the glib nature of the second. Simply put, ladies and gentlemen: Kevin Williamson is apocalyptically anarchistic. But most readers knew that already.

Williamson, who recently discussed his book at a Mackinac Center Legacy Society luncheon, presents mounting evidence the United States is nearing a reckoning both financial and behavioral, but waits until the last pages to explain why this might be awesome. Like Petula Clark, readers know that she sings, but we’re left wondering whether she’ll perform “Downtown” or “Don’t Sleep in the Subway.” Williamson presents the same quandary vis a vis the awesome part.

Williamson abjures the approaches normally taken for a book of this sort. While chock-a-block with political science, history both distant and recent, law and economics, “The End Is Near” is literary in its approach. This shouldn’t surprise those familiar with Williamson, who arrived on the scene with an English degree, and freely alludes to works by John Milton and T.S. Eliot (not to mention Jewel and “Who Moved My Cheese”). Every movement needs its poets, after all. As Percy B. Shelley recognized, poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, and Williamson is one such specimen. It is because of this approach that this fellow student of literature recommends the book.

Williamson seemingly enjoys placing counterintuitive theories in the middle of his texts. For example, he writes “failure is what makes us rich.” Alluding to the concept of Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction, he explains:

We’d all be a lot worse off if corporations such as U.S. Steel did in fact live forever. Obvious counterexamples include Amtrak and the U.S. Postal Service, two institutions that would have failed long ago if not for government support – subsidies for Amtrak, the government-chartered monopoly on letter delivery for the postal service. The cost of their corporate immortality is not only the waste associated with maintaining them, but the fact that their continued existence prevents the emergence of superior alternatives.

Compare this with McDonald’s and iPhones. Both, writes Williamson, are products…

…of evolution, highly refined by countless tiny revisions through dozens of iterations moving toward a more perfect expression of its ineffable … ethos – by no means moving in a straight line, but guided by the gift of failure in the direction of less wrong. Over time, less wrong looks pretty good: Look in your pocket. Look in the mirror: You’re a big improvement on Homo erectus.

After showing the wide differences between public boondoggles and private enterprise, the author goes in for the philosophical coup de grace:

The problem of politics is that it does not know how to get less wrong. It is as a practical matter impossible to design a national health-care policy that can be tweaked and improved every quarter, or on-the-fly in real time as problems are discovered, as software is. It is nearly impossible to imagine political institutions creating something like a software-update feature for Social Security or the War on Drugs. Resistance to innovation is a part of the deep structure of politics. In that, it is like any other monopoly. It never goes out of business – despite flooding the market with defective and dangerous products, mistreating its customers, degrading the environment, cooking the books, and engaging in financial shenanigans that would have made Gordon Gekko pale to contemplate.

Politics is a kind of island in the evolutionary stream—isolated, unchanging, incapable of learning because it is insulated against going extinct. Politics is the last monopoly, the Immortal Corporation. You’ll never see a capitol building with a GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign hanging out front—even genuinely bankrupt, undeniable insolvent political regimes from Argentina to Greece for the most part go on about their business, even after defaulting on their financial obligations.

We have better phones, better cars and other consumer goods than in the past, says Williamson, but we’ve nothing to look forward to but politics as we’ve always known it. Or worse.

Williamson goes to great lengths to show how increasingly militarized our government agencies have become. He notes the U.S. Dept. of Education recently purchased “a few dozen Remington 12-gauge shotguns with 14-inch barrels.” These sawed-off shotguns were deployed by a DOE tactical unit against a single father with three children in a 2011 attempt to arrest the man’s ex-wife regarding a student-aid issue. The benign-sounding Social Security Administration trumped the Department of Education by purchasing 174,000 .357 hollow-point pistol rounds. Dodge your taxes and you might end up with a prison sentence double the average amount of those convicted of homicide (5.5 years is the national average). Government, Williamson reminds us, is never less than the threat of violence and oftentimes more.

“They got the guns/but we got the numbers,” sang Jim Morrison of The Doors, and Williamson echoes the sentiment. The “awesome” of the book’s title is the 300-million-strong U.S. population that might, in part, tire of ever-growing Leviathan enough to say … well … “Enough.” He ponders what would happen if, say, one-tenth of the U.S. population refused to pay their taxes, or performed any other coordinated act of community civil disobedience. The time is approaching he says, when the End in which we find ourselves might justify such extraordinary means. 

Happy Constitution Day

Recognizing the importance of Sept. 17

Today, Sept. 17, is Constitution Day, which the Mackinac Center commemorates in this piece by President Emeritus Lawrence W. Reed.

Michigan Education Digest

How many districts have self-created overspending crises?

This week’s Michigan Education Digest is now available online. Topics include the retirement of the Detroit Federation of Teachers president, a school district saving $737,000 by dropping union insurance and the number of districts that have self-created overspending crises.

Government Transparency Bill Stalled in Senate

Michigan House passed bill six months ago

It’s been six months since the Michigan House passed House Bill 4001, but the Senate has taken no action on it apart from referring the bill to the Government Operations Committee.

The bill, which drew bipartisan support in the House, promotes government transparency and accountability by modernizing the state’s Freedom of Information Act. This law enables residents and journalists to request and obtain government records. The Mackinac Center relies on FOIA to conduct its public policy research and to promote government accountability; each year we file hundreds of FOIA requests.

A common complaint about the public records law is the cost imposed on individuals who request records. Agencies charge a per-page copying fee, as well as a search fee for a public employee to locate and copy the record. Stories of agencies charging exorbitant fees are common; the Mackinac Center holds the distinction of receiving a $6.8 million bill from the Michigan State Police for one FOIA request. (We chose to forego obtaining the records in order to avoid incurring a cost that exceeds our annual budget.)

Introduced by Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, HB 4001 received careful consideration in the House and incorporated feedback from multiple organizations. The version passed by the House is designed to control how much agencies can charge the public for turning over public records. The bill also increases penalties that can be imposed on agencies that improperly withhold records.

Transparency shouldn’t be viewed as an extra cost or burden borne by public agencies; rather, it should be seen as a vital function of government. HB 4001 helps accomplish this worthy priority.