Response from my State Senator on Right to Work

Several weeks ago, I sent a message to my State Senator Robert Cowles regarding his upcoming vote on the Right to Work bill in Wisconsin.  On the plus side, I received a response, so it’s nice to know he’s at least partially engaged.  The problem is that my letter, which can be read here, was not the kind of generic talking point letter that politicians typically expect, which means the response completely ignores the points I was trying to make.  In general, I understand that elected officials at a certain level cannot possibly respond to every email and letter they receive.  Being responsive to constituents is important, and in fairness, Senator Cowles has held multiple public listening sessions on the state budget that has been proposed by Governor Walker.  Sadly, there wasn’t sufficient time on Right to Work to hold such sessions due to the fact that it was shoved through the process so fast that Senator Cowles couldn’t even be bothered to understand what it means.

What bothered me about the response is this: I made very specific points which would have been difficult to refute.  So the letter, being a generic talking points response, seemed an awful lot like a dodge from someone that doesn’t really believe in what they’re doing.  Even worse, he continued to spout the lie that Right to Work gives employees the choice of whether to join a union.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, federal law already accomplishes this.  All Right to Work does is allow employees to be represented by a union without having to pay any fees for that representation.  In other words, Right to Work should really be called Right to Freeload.  The following is the letter I received.  If you wrote to him expressing opposition to this bill, you likely received the same letter.

Dear Travis,

Thank you for contacting me with your opposition to Senate Bill 44, the Wisconsin Right to Work bill.  As you may already know, this bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly and has been signed by the Governor into law.

This legislation simply gives Wisconsin’s workers the freedom to determine whether they wish to join and support a labor organization, while ensuring that they cannot be punished for refusing to join a union as a condition of employment.*

This legislation does not eliminate any unions, void union contracts, prohibit collective bargaining, lower wages, or prohibit workers from organizing a labor organization.**

As I researched the potential impacts of this bill, over the past ten years a number of states have generated compelling economic benefits after passage of Right to Work legislation.***

Thank you again for contacting me with your thoughts on the issue.


[signature stamp]

Senator Robert Cowles

* – Repetition of a lie does not make it the truth.  Senator Cowles has made this statement several times, as well as many other Republican legislators.  Many of them are even lawyers.  Unfortunately, getting a law degree doesn’t seem to have given them the background to do some simple research and understand why this statement is a blatant lie.


** – Everything he states here that the legislation does not do is true…sort of.  On the surface, it does not eliminate unions.  But it does weaken them by allowing people to reap the benefits of union training and collective bargaining without having to pay for those services.  It does not prohibit collective bargaining, but it does leave the union in a weaker position at the bargaining table.  Purposefully telling only part of the truth and actively ignoring the other part is a lie.

*** – A number of states likely did generate economic benefits after passing Right to Work legislation.  The fact that the rooster crows when the sun rises doesn’t mean the sun generates because of the rooster’s crow.  Much of these “compelling economic benefits” can be explained by the fact that these states were coming out of a national recession.  Giving credit to Right to Work legislation for a national recovery is as absurd as if someone were to blame Right to Work legislation for the economic crash in the first place.  All research on the success or failure of Right to Work is basically an economic wash, leading to the conclusion that any economic gains or losses are due to factors not connected to the legislation.

The significance of this is in how it displays the true motives of Right to Work legislation.  This was not a move to make Wisconsin more competitive; it was purely and obviously political.  Cracking down on public sector unions in 2011 was supposed to help make Wisconsin more competitive.  Instead, we’re getting crushed by the rest of the Midwest in nearly every economic category.  So what do Wisconsin Republicans do when their legislation isn’t working?  They double-down on it and go after private sector unions.  When an elected official agrees to continue voting for policies that do nothing for their constituents but only serve to hurt their opponents, it’s time for them to move on.  Or for us to vote them out.


What Part of Israel do you Stand With?

Dear Republicans, 

I get that you #StandWithIsrael …good job. What I don’t understand is which part of Israel you stand with. Is it their universal health care system? Is it because they have perhaps the most liberal abortion laws in the world? Is it because they actively promote immigration?

Oh, it’s because they want to blow up Iran and you’re seeing dollar signs? You might be standing with Israel in trying to start a war, but don’t stand too tall. You might get some liberal on you.

Republicans Dont Actually Want to Pay Off the Debt, and Here’s Why

(Before we start, it’s important to note the differences in some terminology.  For instance, if I refer to a deficit or structural deficit, I’m referring to an annual deficit.  Same goes for a surplus or structural surplus.  These are annual terms and have nothing to do with long-term debt, outside of how they directly affect that long-term debt.  Point is, when referring to a deficit or surplus, this is outside of the context of the full debt.  This full or long-term debt is simply referred to as the debt.  A shortfall is a projection, in this case from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau in Wisconsin, that uses current trends to predict future outlook)

I hear a lot from Republicans about how scary the $17 trillion national debt is and how we have to cut spending because we can’t sustain that much debt. I hear little about how the structural deficit is now under $500 billion, as compared to the $1.4 trillion structural deficit left by Bush the Younger. It strikes that this dynamic is the exact opposite of the concerns regarding state debt.

When Wisconsin Republicans announced a projected surplus of almost $1 billion in the last budget, the first thing they wanted to do was tax cuts. Income taxes, property taxes…didn’t matter. They just needed to have the talking point into the next election that they cut taxes.

Number one on the list of why everything is wrong with this is that the nearly $1 billion surplus projections quickly became a $283 million shortfall thanks to the tax cut paired with dismal job growth (wait, wasn’t the tax cut supposed to trickle down and create furious job growth?). I believe they call this “counting your chickens before they hatch.”


The other reason cutting taxes due to an alleged structural surplus was a blatantly hypocritical idea in Wisconsin goes back to what Republicans always complain about…the entire debt. While they were touting a structural surplus and tax cuts, the actual full state debt in Wisconsin sits at about $16 billion (that’s a very conservative estimate that excludes state pension obligations). If we had a surplus, why didn’t that go towards this debt?

This shortfall now puts us at a point where the state debt is not being paid down, we’re actually going to skip a $108 million debt payment to help cover ground from the shortfall, and now we’re facing another projected shortfall of around $2 billion in the next budget. You can agree or disagree on what to do with a surplus…cut taxes, fund programs, or pay down the debt. What you can’t disagree with is that this is piss-poor fiscal management from a group of individuals elected due to their claims of fiscal responsibility.

So why so many contradictions? I’m happy to provide the reason, but if you’re a Republican, you’re not going to like it. It’s because they don’t actually want to pay down the debt. If they pay down the debt and the state starts running surpluses, there’s only so much taxes can be cut anymore, meaning surplus money will have to go towards funding government programs and expanding government reach. Probably an even simpler reason is this: what will they talk about during campaigns if there’s no scary debt?

I’m sure there are those that think I’m just making up Republican intentions to benefit my own cause. So all I ask is that you look it up for yourself. Look at the full state debt and explain to me how you can support a Republican  governor that is skipping debt payments and borrowing $1.3 billion in new loans to pay for roads and bridge repair? How can you support a Republican governor that sees a structural surplus as free money rather than an obligation to our loan payments?


If you need absolute, undeniable proof that Republicans don’t actually want to pay down the debt, look no further than the Bush the Younger Tax Cuts. Are you sure you know why those tax cuts were enacted? I bet they told you it’s because they want to give you your money back. Right? Nope.

By the end of the Clinton Administration, despite its moral ambiguity, we were left with a structural surplus that was projected to grow larger over the next decade and pay off the debt completely. That was a problem…apparently.

So Republicans passed the Bush the Younger Tax because (drumroll, please!) they were afraid to pay the debt off completely. Think I’m lying? Here’s a history lesson for you.

Remember this next time a Republican assures you they can cut your taxes and cut the debt all at once. They’re lying to you, they always have been, and we now have over 3 decades of proof that this is a failed concept that leads to higher deficits and debt.


Quick Thoughts on the Letter to Iran

The most annoying part of modern political journalism is the use of blatant exaggeration to create a louder “voice.”

With that in mind, let’s be very careful about labeling someone as a traitor or having committed treason. These are powerful words that should not be bandied about lightly.

It is possible that these 47 senators violated the Logan Act and/or are guilty of sedition for the letter to Iran. Personally, if it were up to me, I would only go after the author of the letter, Senator Tom Cotton. Then I would heavily scold those senators that signed the letter without reading it because they wanted to beat the storm.

The point is, none of this is treason. Treason has a specific definition and requires specific parts. Most notably, it requires an act of collusion with a foreign government to assassinate the President or overthrow the government. Nothing that we know of has come close to that yet. 

A louder message may travel further, but an accurate message is the only message that will withstand the test of time.

“Right to Work” Republicans Encourage Freeloaders

One of my more prominent aims in sharing my thoughts via blog is to give controversial questions more than a sentence or paragraph.  Most real controversies have many different parts, many different actors, many different consequences, and many different levels in which the controversy affects.  Often I find this aim to be tedious and frustrating, because our political climate so badly underestimates the ability of real people to understand what’s really happening.  If you’re looking for the “elitists” in politics, I submit that they are not those trying to give you all of the information, even when it might seem snobby or pretentious.  The “elitists” are those that only give you a small piece of the information because they think you’re too stupid to handle all of it.  Or they only give you a small piece because they don’t want you to know the larger piece…and they think you’re too stupid to find the answers on your own.  I’ll give it to you straight out – this entire introduction is to make you feel bad if you stop reading halfway through.  The best parts of every story are usually about 90% into the story. So please, hang with me for a bit.  Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip.  Let’s roll down the highway of labor management law, and why “Right to Work” laws are advertised as doing something that is already accomplished by federal law.

Much of this can be hashed out through a proper defining of the four categories of unions: Closed Shop, Union Shop, Agency Shop, and Open Shop.  Actually, the Open Shop is pretty simple.  You can’t be forced to pay anything to the union that trained you and represents you.  And they still have to represent you, even though you’re just freeloading on the dues of actual paying members.  Got it?  Good.

Closed Shop

First off, the Closed Shop is no longer legal in the U.S., and hasn’t been since 1947.  With that said, there is some history that has implications on other forms of unions that are still legal.

The Closed Shop describes a job that requires membership in the union before being able to accept a position.  Such a shop could essentially replace open positions with their own union members, giving the union an immense amount of input in management decisions.

This kind of union became a point of contention in the 1930’s and 40’s.  The Wagner Act of 1935 was a huge win for unions and clamped down on a series of unfair labor practices committed by corporations, but conservative Republicans at the time were concerned that it gave unions too much power over management.  This was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and spurred a flurry of attempts to strip it down for the next decade.  During WWII, most unions said that they would abstain from striking during the war for any reason in order to prevent any adverse economic impact during wartime.  But when the war ended in 1945, all bets were off.  By this point, 25% of the workforce belonged to a union, and they were as strong as they had ever been, which did not sit well with some.

Finally, in 1947, the Taft-Hartley act passed through Congress, was vetoed by President Harry Truman, but then overcame that veto when sent back to Congress.  This law had many far-reaching implications, and among them was making the Closed Shop illegal.  It also sought to balance the power struggle by defining and eradicating unfair labor practices committed by unions (similar to the restrictions the Wagner Act placed on corporations) .  Due to this law, the strongest option for unions became the Union Shop.

Union Shop

The Union Shop has a very unique, very confusing history, so please bear with me.  Originally, after the passing of Taft-Hartley, the Union Shop took over for the Closed Shop because it differed from the Closed Shop for a key reason: a Union Shop does not require membership before hiring, and typically there was a time period set by the union for the employee to join the union.  The most important part to take from this is that, after this law was passed, union membership could still be required for employment; it just gave more personnel power back to corporate management.  This was a small change, but carried a substantial impact that set in motion a series of legislation over the next several decades that pushed more power into the hands of management and away from unions.  The Union Shop is technically still legal, but it cannot exist in the way that it once existed, even directly after Taft-Hartley.

Agency Shop

Due to several Congressional and court battles over the next few decades, the Agency Shop increased in prominence as a way for unions to continue to fund their huge training programs for high-skill positions while not forcing the employee to join the union or have their dues go towards any political candidate or campaign.  What is still taken out in non-Right to Work states is called an “agency fee” or “fair share fee,” and it is necessary because, even though the law now says you cannot be forced to join or stay in a union, the union is still required to represent all employees, union and non-union, under their collective bargaining agreement.  Because of this, Right to Work states are essentially saying that people can work at a job represented by a union, reap all the benefits of the union (including high-skill training, higher wages and benefits, more work protections), but not pay anything to the union.  In a non-Right to Work state, you can receive all of these benefits, pay the agency fees that cover those services, and nothing more.  Unions are even required to be able to prove in their accounting that certain monies are only used towards services and not political campaigns (the case that decided this will be discussed shortly).

At the Courthouse

Those are the shops, but the court history is even more fun.  Seriously, I’m geeking like crazy with this stuff.  After many individual battles, some that made it to the Supreme Court, a few finally made it to the high court that declared a significant change in union membership precedent.

In 1961, Machinists v. Street stated that the Railway Labor Act “denies the authority to a union, over the employee’s objection, to spend his money for political causes which he opposes.”  This is a big deal, and if Taft-Hartley laid the foundation, this set the stage for an avalanche.

For the public sector unions, it came in 1977 from Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.  This case declared agency fees in public sector unions constitutional, but stated that they could not charge agency fees equal to union dues. In other words, they could only charge the amount needed for union activities, not for political campaigns of which the members may have conflicting ideologies, much like Machinists v. Street had done for the private sector already.

Over the next several years, the court was able to better clarify this position through a few other cases.  Then, in 1985, another bombshell from Pattern Workers v. NLRB, which stated that union members should be allowed to resign from the union at any time without notice.  This forbid any consequences to resigning from the union, including termination of employment.  As stated earlier, though, the union is still forced to represent the resigning employee in collective bargaining activities.

This all came to a head in the 1988 case of Communication Workers of America v. Beck, where the Supreme Court ruled that unions could not charge agency fees equal or close to union dues, mostly because it stated that unions need to be able to prove that they weren’t charging agency fees that were used towards political campaigns.  They had to prove how much a union-paying member would pay for only collective bargaining activities, and the agency fee could not exceed this.

Summary, and Why This Matters to You

So here’s the deal.  You cannot be forced to join a union anywhere in the U.S.  In non-Right to Work states, you can be charged an agency fee in order to cover collective bargaining activities performed by the union on your behalf (and from which you benefit), but no part of that fee can go towards any political campaign or candidate.  In Right to Work states, this means you can legally work in a union job as a non-union member and receive something for nothing.  And here I thought Republicans had a problem with freeloaders.

The biggest problem with how Republicans present this law is that they call it a choice to join or not join a union.  It’s pretty clear that the choice to join or not join is ingrained in federal law.  Then they say you shouldn’t have to give money to an organization that funds Democrats…awfully convenient for a Republican to say this.  But this, too, is not true, as you cannot be required to pay an agency fee more than the amount the union clearly defines they need to perform collective bargaining and training activities.  All this law really does is encourage people to get something for nothing, while weakening Republican election opponents.

This matters to you, and me, and all of us.  And just throw out the whole “unions have gotten benefits for us all” stuff because apparently our society has become desensitized to the significance of this.  It’s all true, but it’s a very big picture that not everyone can see.  So let’s put it this way.  A union for a construction company provides training in highly-skilled positions in order to keep their employees as safe as possible.  These are serious, life-threatening jobs. Ever wonder how that guy up on the scaffolding can do it without fear?  Because he did it a thousand times in training provided by his union.  By telling employees that they no longer have to even pay agency fees for the services they are being provided, these services will start to lose funding and become unavailable.

Remember that, Wisconsin.  We’re probably only a week or so away from becoming the 25th Right to Work state in the country.  Remember this, all of this, next time you’re crossing a bridge and see a crane operator moving a steel girder.  He looks kinda young, right?  I wonder how many times he’s done this before.  I wonder how much training he received.  Think this doesn’t matter to you?  Then keep your eyes on the road and cross your fingers.

pro union republicans

P.S. I realize I just put out a post not long ago saying that Democrats cannot make this an issue in upcoming campaigns if we hope to win.  At that time, I was under the impression that this was not actually going to come up in Wisconsin before the ’16 election, especially because Governor Scott Walker outright stated he wasn’t interested and it would just be a “distraction.”  Now that this is inevitably going to happen, I’m hoping more people will be receptive to what it all means.

My Letter to my State Senator on “Right to Work”

Senator Cowles,

I am a registered Democrat living in your district. I was once a Republican, but then I saw what the Republican Party was starting to become. My moderate opinions were no longer welcome in the GOP, so I went to the other side, where my moderate opinions are listened to and debated with respect.

When I moved to this district 2 1/2 years ago, one of the first things I did was look up my elected officials and give them a fair shot, regardless of party. I found many references to your stances being fairly moderate, and was happy to see that you were a strong proponent of public education. I decided that I could live with that, even though we are in opposing parties. I respect conscience and integrity above all else, and I am generally satisfied if I feel my public officials are voting for what they truly feel is best for their constituents.

Then you expressed concern about Act 10, followed by voting for it anyway after multiple sources say you were threatened with a primary. Then you fought back against the expansion of voucher schools, but voted for it anyway. Now I’m hearing that, even though you are skeptical of “Right to Work” legislation, the State Senate has the votes to pass it tomorrow, and you are one of them ready to vote for it anyway.

I’m asking you to disregard party allegiance or the repercussions from your party for voting no on this legislation. I have serious concerns right now about the integrity that I was lead to believe you possess. Your values have been compromised since the Tea Party uprising in 2010, and the more decisions you make like this one make it seem like less and less of a coincidence.

This is my simple plea: do the right thing. You know this legislation is meaningless for the economy, and the statistics on it are, at best, a wash. This is 100% political; another blow to unions and a boost for Walker’s Presidential campaign. I urge you to not be a part of this continued spiral that this radical wing of your party has taken our state down.

I, like many of your constituents, will be watching closely when this legislation is introduced to the full Senate floor. And we’re all hoping that we still have a Senator with a spine.


Travis Bille

Good Ole Boy Scale – 51-100

In case you missed it, you can read the introduction, explanation, and bottom half of the scale here.  The full page for the scale can be found here.  While the 0-50 part was focused more on those failing to reach the stated but not quite understood or relevant Good Ole Boy standards, we now move into what I think is the more interesting part of the scale.  These are the real Good Ole Boys.  Well, one is a girl.  Just, don’t tell Bill that there’s a girl around.


Bill “Liberal Drawler” Clinton – This is as high as you will likely ever see a Democrat on this list.  Clinton leads all in the “grab a beer” category, and it’s not even close.  The fact that I think many Republicans would even enjoy tossing back a few cold ones with him makes him the greatest Democratic Good Ole Boy of all time.  I’m convinced that if party loyalty were tossed to the side, he would beat Paul Ryan and John Boehner by double digits with Republican voters. Possibly the best drawl on this list.

Final Score: 65 points

Joni “Leader of the Coup” Ernst

Just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she can’t be near the top of the Good Ole Boy Scale.  Although I wouldn’t suggest bringing that up to anyone higher than her.  But come on, her major talking points are walking to school with bread bags on her shoes, over-throwing the government, and castrating hogs.

hopkins hogs

Just take a look at these gems:

“I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” 20 points

“I had only one good pair of shoes.  On rainy school days my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry.” 5 points

Sadly, though, that one is only partially true.  And by partially, I mean a very small part.

None of that can even come close to comparing to this grand wizard of a quote:

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere (10 points).  But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder (5 points), or whether it’s from the government (35 points), should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

That’s right.  A United States Senator hasn’t ruled out a violent overthrow of the U.S. government.

Final score: 75 points

Rick “What’s the Third One?” Perry – Not only does he sound like a drunken cowboy nearly every time he speaks, but then, in the middle of a Presidential primary debate, he forgets the name of a government agency that he says he will cut.  So let’s rundown which agencies should be looking for the axe from a President Perry.  There’s Education (15 points), Commerce (5 points), and…

…what’s the third one? (23 points).


You know what, this guy is so camera-awesome, I’m pretty sure I can do this all with quotes and pictures.

rick perry age of earth

Dodging “age of the earth” and possible evolution questions in order to appeal to your pre-adamistic, new earth creationist voting base?  Remember, this guy had a frightening amount of power over what kids in Texas were taught in school.  (24 points)

rickperry hand it to god

Now, I actually accept this sentiment in my personal life.  I just don’t know how I would feel about hearing my Governor say it about something he was elected to do (presumably called to that position by God).  Putting it in God’s hands doesn’t mean you don’t do anything. (17 points)

This actually reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

It had been raining for days and days, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house.

As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. “Climb in!” shouted a man in the boat. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the speedboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the helicopter went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually they rose so high that the man on the roof was washed away, and alas, the poor man drowned.

Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God. “Heavenly Father,” he said, “I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?” God gave him a puzzled look, and replied “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect?

I see what you did there

I see what you did there

Final Score: 84 points

Steve “Babies, Guns, and Abortions” Stockman – There’s really no way to describe this man outside of his legendary Twitter account.

(38 points)


(53 points)


Final Score: 91 points

Louie “Caribou Cupid” Gohmert – Twang, a big mouth, and some of the blindest ignorance you will ever see. Congratulations Rep. Gohmert, you’re as close to a perfect score Good Ole Boy as there is right now.  He also was the subject of what might be the greatest headline ever, all because he made one of the dumbest arguments ever.  And there’s one more “ever”:

Louie Gohmert: Best Caribou Wingman Ever

The nickname and headline are the result of a speech Rep. Gohmert made while discussing the effects of an Alaskan oil pipeline project.  His theory is that the caribou population has been boosted in the area because the caribou go towards the warmth of the pipeline to mate.  You just cannot make this stuff up.

The caribou very much enjoy the warmth the pipeline radiates. “So when they want to go on a date, they invite each other to head over to the pipeline,” he informed his colleagues. It’s apparently the equivalent of being wined and dined. And that has resulted in a tenfold caribou population boom, he concluded.  “So my real concern now …if oil stops running through the pipeline…do we need a study to see how adversely the caribou would be affected if that warm oil ever quit flowing?”

Of all the reasons to offer to keep the oil flowing through a pipeline, only the greatest of Good Ole Boys could come up with caribou mating. (53 points)

And of course, when talking about Louie Gohmert and his gun-lovin’, terrorist-hating, gay-bashing, down-home, outhouse-peeing, caribou-pimping, Pope-insulting……….

Sorry, I trailed off for a second.  What were we talking about?  Oh yeah, terror babies. (45 points)

Final Score: 98 points