Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Dishonesty of "Right-to-Work" Legislation

The Michigan legislature just rammed through “right-to-work” legislation making it illegal for a collective bargaining agreement to require employees to pay union dues.  When this happened I emailed my mother, who voted for Governor Rick Snyder, saying I told you so when I warned against doing so.  She responded that she didn’t believe that people should be forced to join a union to get a job.
My mother is a solid liberal in general and if she doesn’t understand why that’s the wrong way to look at it, there is clearly more explanation needed.  So I’ll give it a try.
There is no such thing a right-to-work in the United States.  Such a concept is incompatible with the basic principles that govern our employment law.  Under this framework no one has ever, will ever, or even can ever be forced to join a union in order to get a job.  It’s not possible.
In US law, employment is a contractual relationship into which both parties freely enter.  There is no coercion involved short of actual slavery.  It doesn’t matter how badly someone needs obtain income or how great the power imbalance between management and labor there is.  You are not forced to do anything.
One place you can see this is in regards to pre-employment drug testing.  If there were any sort of right-to-work, this would constitute a 4th Amendment violation.  Instead, the courts have repeatedly held that there is no coercion in requiring a prospective employee to take a drug test.  No one is forced to do so.
If there were any sort of right-to-work, I would not have spent the last five years unsuccessfully applying for jobs for which I am abundantly qualified.  If it existed it would mean that someone would have had to hire me.  If it existed then my boss couldn’t fire me from that position without cause.
A very high percentage of those who push “right-to-work” legislation when it comes to union membership vehemently oppose all other ways in which the concept might be applied.  The difference is that all of those other implications of a right-to-work would empower employees at the expense of management.  They would provide protections to workers.
That’s not at all what these people want.  So they reject any argument that there is a right-to-work.  They firmly believe that there is no such thing.  They hold that belief all the way up to the point where a right-to-work can be interpreted in a way that will empower employers, suppress wages and contribute to inequality in society.  That’s the point where they suddenly become devoted advocates of a right-to-work, ignoring (but not discarding) all of their previous opposition to the idea.
In truth, honest libertarians should be as opposed to the sort of legislation Michigan is adopting.  Libertarians think of themselves as die hard supporters of the right for people to enter into whatever contractual relationships they desire.  “Right-to-work” legislation cuts against that.  It forbids employers from entering into certain kinds of contracts with their workers.  Most American libertarians joyfully abandon their most fundamental principle and loudly support “right-to-work” legislation.
Well, okay then.  If you want to push laws that create a right-to-work, let’s go for it.  In reality there are a number of significant downsides to actually implementing a regime that enshrines such a right, but I’ll call your bluff.  I’ll support your attempt.  We’ll see if we can pass it.  Even if we don’t, hopefully we’ll conduct some useful education of people along the way.
But my support is conditional on you actually meaning it.  If you want to enact a right-to-work then that’s what we’re going to shoot for.  We will forbid requiring payment of union dues.  We will forbid pre-employment drug tests as an unreasonable search.  We will make sure that everyone who wants a job actually gets one.  We will protect workers from losing their jobs unless their behavior creates a reasonable cause for firing.  
If all you mean is that you want to define “right-to-work” in a way that doesn’t really create any such thing then count me out.  If you want to dishonestly claim the phrase for a very narrow purpose while ignoring everything else that it would mean, then you deserve to lose.  Either own all of the legal principles that it would entail or admit that you don’t really believe in a right-to-work at all and that all you want to ensure is that workers will be paid less and be perpetually insecure.  

Monday, April 09, 2012

Don't Feed the Poor

I have long thought that there is an absurd contradiction inherent in evangelical Christians' enthusiasm for capitalism.  When I read the Gospels, I can't manage to come away with the idea that Christ was advocating a system of government based around the idea of making sure that people could become fabulously wealthy.  I just don't see him as very concerned about low marginal tax rates.

However, appearing on This Week yesterday, Rick Warren, the pastor of an evangelical megachurch in California, took this to a whole new level.  Here is a part of what he had to say:
R. WARREN: Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There's over 2,000 versus in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there's a fundamental question on the meaning of "fairness." Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation.

The only way to get people out of poverty is J-O-B-S. Create jobs. To create wealth, not to subsidize wealth. When you subsidize people, you create the dependency. You -- you rob them of dignity. The primary purpose of government is to keep the peace, protect the citizens, provide opportunity. And when we start getting into all kinds of other things, I think we -- we invite greater control. And I'm fundamentally about freedom. You know the -- the first freedom in America is actually the freedom of religion. It's not the second, third, fourth or fifth"

This is not, taken by itself, an absurd position.  In fact, it's sufficiently vague that I could end up agreeing with it almost entirely, depending upon how the details get fit in.  Although, I suspect that Rick Warren and I would fill in those details very differently.

The problem is that combining this with the Gospels is an absurd position.  To me, it demonstrates the complete bankruptcy of many (though most certainly not all) evangelical Christians.  It is perilously close to the reprehensible doctrine of the Prosperity Gospel, which holds that those who are rich are so because they deserve it.

Look, Christ said the following (from Luke 12):

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

And John the Baptist teaches (Luke 3):

 7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
 10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 

From these passages it remains debatable whether government should be involved in helping the poor; I think the case for that is extra-biblical either way.  But this idea that it is Christian not to give help directly to the poor but rather to insist the creating jobs is the only way to help them is so clearly opposed to the spirit of Christ that Rick Warren ought to be laughed out of his pulpit.

But remember, if you ever find yourselves with a couple fishes and a few loaves of bread and faced with several thousand hungry people, don't give that food away.  The laws of supply and demand show that you can get an immense return on investment by selling them to the highest bidder.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gopher Hockey Update: Season Over

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Two young men, arms and necks covered in tattoos, discussing their golf game.

Maybe I'm just getting old.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Gopher Hockey Update: 10 March, 2012

Different week.  Same train.  Same victim.  I was really nervous about this game all week, but it was entirely over whether the Gophers could manage the same level of intensity and play they showed last week.  I was sure, if they could, they’d win pretty easily.
I knew we were in good shape when they came out of the tunnel for the pregame introductions like they were being shot out of a cannon.  As they hit the ice, there is video on our fancy new scoreboard and the eighteen skaters sprinted the whole distance from the locker room to the rink.  The goalies weren’t quite so speedy, but they tried.  
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Friday, March 09, 2012

Safe House

This is a good movie, but sadly unambitious.  I’ve liked Denzel Washington all the way back to when I saw him as PFC Peterson in A Soldier’s Story in a first run theater.  Along the way, I think he’s been in a bunch of clunkers, particularly whenever he tries to do an action movie, but also lots of good things.  I’d particularly single out Fallen, since I’m one of about 16 people that actually saw it.  It’s not great, but it is interesting.
Here, he does his normal, very fine job.  I really wish I’d gotten to see him play James Bond at some point, because I think he would have been perfect for the pre-Daniel Craig style of Bond movies.  He just projects an aura of calm and unflappability.  I’d love to see him try out a role in which he’s manic, frantic and out of control, because I can’t remember seeing him do that, and it would be a change of pace.
I’d never seen Ryan Reynolds in anything.  Looking through his page at IMDb, the only things he’s been in that I’d heard of were movies that I actively avoided.  I may have to give some of them a try, because I thought he was fabulous.  What problems I have with his character derive entirely from the script and not his performance, and I’ll get to them in a moment.  Based upon his reactions, I really would have believed him as a CIA functionary thrust into action for the first time.
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Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Story of My Life

A few weeks ago, I joined a singles group that plays wallyball (volleyball in a racquetball court, if you aren’t familiar) on Wednesday nights.  After that, we go out for dinner at a sports bar near where we play.  I’m having a good time, and (with a few notable exceptions) enjoy the group.  Fortunately, I had a couple of friends I’d made gaming that introduced me to people.  However . . .
It fits with every other time I try to meet people that I have joined a singles group in which 80%-90% of the women come as part of a couple.  No matter what I try, I can’t meet single women.  I do things that ought to lead to that, but doesn’t.  I’ve tried book clubs; all of them not only read books I don’t like, but all of the women are attached.  I’ve become something close to an insider for a women’s hockey team; all of the women I’ve met are married, except for the players and two who would be married if the state of Minnesota would let them.   I entered a master’s program, and every single woman in it was either married, something close to it, or going back to China as soon as they graduated; that’s not an exaggeration.  Every single one.
And now, the first singles group I’ve joined that wasn’t someone selling me an event is full of married or engaged women.  Somehow, there is something very wrong with that.  It’s like the job search: I’m trying every fucking thing I’m supposed to, and none of it gets me anywhere. 
Somewhere in Minneapolis, there is a married guy who meets nothing but single women, and I wish I thought that he was as pissed off about this as I am.