Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shills and Tools

Okay, kids, today we are going to discuss the differences between being a shill and being a tool.

Wikitionary has a couple of definitions for "shill":

  • A person paid to endorse a product favorably, while pretending to be impartial.
  • An accomplice at a confidence trick during an auction or gambling game.
I was in advertising for years -- I am (sad to say) well acquainted with the art and science of shilling.

A classic example: back in the day, my then employer had as a client a very large brewery, which I shall call "A-B." When a proposal to require a 5 cent deposit on non-returnable bottles appeared as a referendum item on the Oregon ballot one election year, A-B took a very dim view, since they were a major producer of non-returnable bottles.

Their response? They set up and bankrolled some phony grassroots committee ("Citizens for Sensible Packaging" or some such bullshit) to oppose the measure. This is now referred to as "astro-turfing. A-B hired a "chairman" for this bogus organization, ran numerous slick newspaper and radio ads, all paid for by them and produced by us. Funding was also funnelled through us, the ad agency, to keep their finger prints invisible.

The "committee" and their paid employees were shills for A-B.

Among its other definitions, Wikitionary defines "tool" as:
  • Equipment used in a profession, e.g., tools of the trade.
  • Something to perform an operation; an instrument; a means.
  • A person or group which is used or controlled, usually unwittingly, by another person or group.
The unpaid volunteers who had been whipped up by this mockery were tools.

It after this that I realized I was going to hell.

We have exeellent example of shills and tools available for study right now.

Koch Industries, Inc. is an American private energy conglomerate involved in manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum, chemicals, energy, fiber, intermediates and polymers, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper, and chemical technology equipment. They are also the second largest privately held company in the United States with an annual revenue in 2008 of about $98 billion.

Given the nature of their business you would be correct in assuming they are subject to many labor, environmental and safety regulations.. According to Wikipedia, Koch Industries was ranked 10th on the list of top US corporate air polluters in 2010 by the Political Economic Research Institute, and they have had a long history of fines for illegal dumping, poor safety practices and other misdeeds.

The Koch family is no stranger to using their considerable wealth to influence policy. Paterfamilias Fred C. Koch was a co-founder of the rabidly rightwing John Birch Society (an organization that would accuse President Eisenhower of being a Communist agent).

In addition to their lobbying activities on behalf of oil, gas, and chemical Industries , the various Koch family foundations fund a variety of organizations that just happen to oppose government regulations and collective bargaining for employees. Imagine that.

Charles Koch provided initial funding to launch the Cato Institute, a well-known Libertarian think tank, and his brother David sits on the board. It continues to receive funding from Koch family foundations and  though supposedly non-partisan, argues positions that clearly benefit its contributors.

This is shilling.

Americans for Prosperity, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group is another benefactor of the Koch family's largesse -- over a million dollars. According to AFP literature, they promote economic policy that supports business, and restrains regulation by government. Translation: reducing regulation of the oil and gas industry. They also created a dummy organization (Patients United Now) which opposed the single-payer system in the recent healthcare reform debate (did I mention the Kochs' various healthcare interests?).

AFP has also played a key though covert role in the emerging Tea Party movement. Thought the Kochs' deny involvement, the money trail is there - they are major source of funding to the professional political operatives behind the scenes of the supposed grassroots tea party movement.

This is another example of shilling.

More recently in Wisconsin, candidate (now governor) Scott Walker received campaign funds from one of the Koch family PACs; later the AFP (remember them) lobbied for Walker's bill which proposed abolishing collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public sector employees (but not police and firefighters). In the past, the Koch's have donated over $17 million to groups opposing unions.

The Governor is a shill for the Kochs.

And finally, what of all those Tea Party volunteers, waving signs, screaming about Obama's birth certificate and unpaid Libertarian bloggers tirelessly hawking the party line?

They are tools.


Nick Rowe said...

I love the point-counterpoint between you and Whited Sepulcher.

It's a fun tennis match to watch.

Both of you make very well argued and well-supported points.

I must argue, though, that labor unions have their own shills and tools. Big Labor dominates the list of the Heavy Hitters on, and most of their money goes to Democrats.

As bad as I think private sector labor unions are, at least the shareholders can push back.

For public sector unions, there is no negative feedback. The politicians are deeply in the pockets of the public sector unions, and the unions use compulsory dues to fund massive propaganda campaigns.

Four years ago, the public unions defeated Schwarzenegger's four propositions to limit collective bargaining. Now we are looking at a $25 billion budget gap after he was criticized for $50 million in costs for those ballot initiatives.

In 2010, the unions helped defeat a proposal that would ask public unions to make small contributions toward their health care and other benefits. I'm in a federal public sector bargaining unit, and I have to pay for a portion of my benefits.

I recall when I lived in Colorado that union supporters boycotted a brewery whose initials are C.O.O.R.S. when the EMPLOYEES voted year after year against having a union. It seems they felt that they were already receiving adequate pay and benefits.

The labor-friendly alcoholics preferred beers made by a company you call A-B.

C.O.O.R.S. was bought out by a unionized Milwaukee Brewery, but I believe the Golden, Colorado plant remains non-union.

Dr Ralph said...

Nick - you are absolutely correct: unions have their shills and tools, too. And there is corruption in unions, and thuggery, to grant our mutual friend's oft-made point.

That being said, look at labor conditions a hundred years ago. Without organized labor what would have caused any of that to change?

Power corrupts, no doubt about it: in boardrooms, union halls and in our government, and it's not a particularly new phenomena.

My employer has to deal with unions, and they can be pig-headed and stupid in their demands, but despite all the drawbacks, I see the merits to the system as well. It's messy as hell, but so is democracy. Can it be made better? No doubt. Maybe what we are seeing is that process right now.

Thanks for stopping by - I always enjoy our exchanges, sir!

Flee said...

I just loved this!