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Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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Appeasement and conflict

Art Chance

SPECIAL INTERESTS IN A FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL

By ART CHANCE

A friend in a political discussion group I participate in posed a question to the group: What motivates political figures to appease?  It didn’t get much response and most responses were in terms of Christian doctrine. 

I have more experience with conflict than most. Sometimes I started it, sometimes I ended it. Sometimes I lost, sometimes I won.  And sometimes I didn’t fight, either because I didn’t like the odds, because somebody wouldn’t let me, or wouldn’t let me use the necessary tools and tactics. So, I know a bit about conflict, and about both avoidance and appeasement.

I’ve never been a big guy, so I learned at an early age that if you weren’t big and strong, you’d best be smart and mean. But, even if you’re smart and mean, you’d best have pretty good sense about what you can win. 

The foregoing is a logical and positional argument from the sort of world I lived in and the world that President Donald Trump sees. Not everybody sees the world that way.

As am I, President Trump is what the Harvard Business School types call a “positional bargainer.” To them, that is a derogatory term.   

President Trump takes a position and you either have to convince him to change his position or knock him off of that position; that sometimes leads to conflict. Those who subscribe to the “Hahvud” view think that in any bargaining situation the parties have common interests and you should seek those commonalities and use them as the basis for an ultimate agreement. This is the sort of thinking that only those who have spent their lives in a classroom can have. Why on Earth would anyone listen to someone’s thoughts on conflict resolution if that person had never known actual conflict?

The effete academic view presumes common interests where there are none. They call it interest-based bargaining. It works in commercial negotiation when somebody wants to buy something and somebody wants to sell that something; both have a common interest, the exchange of the something.   

In diplomacy and in government generally there is rarely a common interest beyond each party desiring to survive, and that desire for survival puts the parties in absolutely antithetical positions.
To move this from the philosophical to the practical, the Dunleavy Administration wants to get the State’s budget to a level that can be sustained by current revenue, and various interest groups want to keep their share of State spending where it is or even more. Those positions are antithetical. 

The only way the Administration can reduce the budget to a sustainable level is by taking money from those interest groups. There is no way to get an agreement on that issue without force and the threat of force; there is no common interest beyond survival. So, if we’re going to bargain on shared interests, we bargain on survival; that isn’t pretty.

I wasted a bunch of the State’s money back in the early ‘00s taking myself and most of my staff to Hahvud for their course on “Interest Based Bargaining.”   

I did it as a “know your enemy” course and so whenever some genius tried to tell me how wonderful IBB was, I could point to the cheap certificate from Hahvud on my wall that said I was a member of the cognoscenti.   I did find the vocabulary of IBB useful because it worked to soothe the delicate sensibilities of the weak-willed and weak-minded, of which there are many in government.

To return to my friend’s question about appeasement, some in public life lack physical or moral courage and simply run from conflict. Some have a philosophical or religious belief that one has a duty to avoid conflict. It really doesn’t matter; even if you’re looking to avoid conflict, if you’re in a one wins, one loses situation; conflict is looking for you.  If you run, you’ll be run over.

At the root of my friend’s question is the fact that most people who aspire to public office are “people pleasers;” they want to please people and be liked by as many people as possible. Our Founders saw this problem and wisely tempered the emotions of the populus and the popularly elected House of Representatives with a Senate elected by State Legislatures and a President elected by the Electoral College. The Seventeenth Amendment turned the US Senate into a super House of Representatives and the Voting Rights Act turned state senates into just another volatile version of the House of Representatives but with longer terms.

The Democrats have seized on the volatility of our current system by simply refusing to accept the outcome of elections and launching campaigns of resistance and “lawfare” any time they don’t win an election. Here in Alaska they’ve taken a further step by setting up false flag candidates to thwart the democratic process.  There are only a handful of districts in Alaska where a Democrat who actually espouses the platform of the National party could get elected, so they prop up false flag Republicans and fake independents to form coalition majorities. Add to that feckless people-pleasing Republicans who run from conflict and you have today’s seemingly insoluble conflict over State spending.

I wrote a column a couple of months ago in which I said that the Dunleavy mountain had labored and brought forth a mouse. The Administration had taken all the heat for demanding all those resignations and then only accepted a few of them.  

Now they have a thousand people in State government who hate them and who they need to make the government actually work.  I’m not a part of the Administration because some union goons don’t like me and the Administration couldn’t take the heat. 

Donna Arduin, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, is gone because they couldn’t stand the heat about the budget she produced based on recurring revenue. The real issue was that the Administration simply wasn’t competent to communicate what it was doing with its budget proposal.

So, we get back to why they just naturally seek to appease. The answer is simply that they can’t take the heat. They need to learn that it is OK to be hated, so long as it is the right people who hate you.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s banned from posting on Facebook.

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  • Great overview of the battlefield now that the Dunleavy Administration has taken two steps forward and one step back. Alaska public education continues to get worse; a guy with an ASD diploma was their choice for governor in the last election, and as a former educator and senator from the Mat-Su Valley, the big guy has been tied down like Gulliver, by the little people.

    Instead of so much posturing many are ready for our governor to show some 2020 vision on the biggest loss leader expense of our state, which defines the budget–bottom of the nation public education.

    • Good points, Don.

  • Thank you Art Chance. I look forward to your clarity of thought and perspicacity. Your writing is sort of like a George Will with brass knuckles. Keep it up.

  • I too attended Interest Based Bargaining (IBB) at Harvard. It is labeled as their Program on Negotiation. In the context of labor contract bargaining, what struck me about IBB was that one began a contract negotiation having already conceded a position(s). For the management side to concede anything in a contract negotiation is essentially conceding some aspect of management rights. Okay, maybe that’s necessary to get a contract. But the problem is that IBB means that in subsequent contract negotiations one does the same thing. Consequently, using the IBB principle the management side is incrementally whittling away its management rights until little of that remains. IBB is particularly popular in public sector labor negotiations. The reasons for that are twofold: (1) politicians and their labor negotiators don’t understand or care about management rights, and (2) there is really nothing to risk because it is other people’s money at stake.

    The Dunleavy administration began doing all the right things. The identified government waste (ie, Donna Arduin) and they went after entranced bureaucratic opposition by asking for resignations of at will employees. The blowback was intense and the Dunleavy team apparently has lost its zeal to match spending with revenue. So it seems that the Dunleavy administration has decided to try Interest Based Bargaining with the legislature and other assorted opponents. How do you think that will work?

    • With IBB, you start by moving halfway to the adversary’s position; you’ve already lost when you do that. It is the kind of stupid shit that only an academic would espouse.

      • If IBB is correct, that means Trump should move the predator drones half way between Baghdad and Tehran before hitting the button on another Hellfire missle. That’s the kind of negotiation the Iranian zealots understand.

    • read, ‘The Art of the Deal,” by Donald John Trump.

    • The trend in academia since the 40s has been socialism/communism–Marx. Consequently, IBB is a tool that reflects that philosophy.
      Contract negotiation is based upon concessions based upon strength of position, rather than ‘common interest’. That’s a given, otherwise both would not be negotiating.
      When management’s remuneration is expressed as a percentage of union scale, management is in bed with the union and both are working for the same goal, to fleece the taxpayer. That’s why gov’t unions are such a bad idea.

  • Well said, Art. One thing I took away from the Hahvud course was the Importance of role-playing in so many negotiations. In one class exercise, I watched a kind-hearted classmate of mine turn into a real-life, fire-breathing ogre in front of my very eyes. He achieved his goal in the role-play and then returned to the kind-hearted friend I had met the day before.

    I remember doing my homework in Jitters Coffee Shop in Eagle River one afternoon, and half-way through my reading assignment, a group of five negotiators sat down next to me; four firefighters, and a sweet gal from the muni who was trying to negotiate on behalf of Mayor Dan. Four-on-one wasn’t a fair fight, but that wasn’t even the half of it. One side knew what it meant to be a positional bargainer—the other side was just along for the ride. Even as a firefighter myself, I felt sorry for the gal who was clearly in over her head.

    • Well, I never considered four on one to be outnumbered; that’s why they love me so much. You’re judged by the quality of your enemies.

    • Further to this; during my time with the State we in State labor relations considered the MOA to be at best a minor league operation and in many administrations hopelessly compromised as management representatives. The unions have simply regarded the MOA government as chattel since time immemorial.

      The only good thing I can say about MOA labor relations is that since they bargain under their own law and have their own labor board and arbitration panels the stupid and often corrupt stuff they do doesn’t have any precedential effect on other public employers. When I was in a position to have any influence over such things the last thing I wanted for either advice or representation was anyone who claimed to practice employment law on the employer side in Anchorage or whose labor relations background was with the MOA. We foolishly hired one whose background was MOA and couldn’t get him out of State labor relations fast enough. He dived off over to DHSS and fit right in over where competence goes to die, and cost the State millions in the years it took to finally force him out. Then DHSS couldn’t even do that right and he got several hundred thousand dollars out of a Juneau jury for his wrongful discharge suit. I had a laser dot on his forehead for a sexual harassment complaint but the damnable Knowles Administration wouldn’t let me pull the trigger.

      I was on Mayor Dan’s transition team and entertained some thought of maybe moving back to Anchorage and working for the MOA. I took a look around and couldn’t get back to Juneau fast enough; fixing that mess was simply a suicide mission. Then when Mayor Dan did try to fix it, it did the sort of thing that only someone who styles themselves a labor lawyer would do. AO-37 was something only someone who’d never run a program of labor relations would do, and not only did it fail spectacularly, it nationalized Alaska politics and allowed the AFL-CIO to achieve power and influence that it has never had; not even in the days of the mighty jet-owning Pipeline unions. We’re still paying for that exercise in dumb.

  • I have been a fighter most of my life regardless of what other people thought or did. If you have thin skin, get out of the game has always been my position. Reading and understanding history is the most important aspect. If people don’t get off their duff and participate for the good everything will be lost. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

  • So, which is more important to a politician in a non-election year: appeasing the electorate, or, appeasing the bureaucracy?

    • Appeasing the interest group(s) that support them. It is said only half jokingly that they should all wear the logos of their sponsors like NASCAR drivers do. These days the big players are the education racket, the healthcare racket, and unionized public employees. Education and healthcare overlap with Native interests. Unionized teachers are a little distinct from other unionized public employees but their interests overlap. The oil industry isn’t a very visible player any more except when something directly effects the industry.

      • Good reply, Art. Occasionally, I’ve seen a legislator wearing an NEA T-shirt. Never seen one wearing a VECO hat, though. One time while in Juneau I did see a state senator from the Kenai area walk into a bathroom stall that had graffiti placed on the outside part of the door…..”for VECO senators only.”

    • Staying in office, no matter what.

  • Very well stated and accurate assessment. Anyone who has studied the battles between the Rs and the Ds knows that the Republicans always back down when the Dems start screaming bipartisan. The Rs will always back down to avoid being seen as the ‘bad guy’.
    That’s not how wars and business is done.
    We are engaged in a cultural war that is being fought by one side only, the Dems. The Republicans are still trying to be the nice guys. We see this in the U.S. Senate with McConnell et al, and we see it now with Dunleavy.
    Dunleavy conceded back to the Dems many programs and cash without any quid pro quo. He conceded the PFD issue without forcing the question in another special session. He gave them Arduin’s head on a platter without anything in return. He is now giving them their refugee settlement program that will result in more blue votes–Muslims vote in blocks for liberals. Europe learned this the hard way.
    It is okay to be hated, the hard things that have to be done are not easy, and will not make one popular, but that’s what Dunleavy signed up to do, that’s what he promised. One has to stay the course, but Mike conceded, the Dems took the wind from the proverbial sail and now the governor’s initiative is now without momentum.
    Yes, there were cuts, but his center piece was removed from the table, the PFD. His architect of the cuts, Arduin was fired by an e-mail from Ben Stevens . . . hardly a conservative. Mike has let the Establish Rs dictate his strategy. And, the Dems see that as a strategy of concession, not strength.
    Trump has kept his word in that regard, no matter how vitriolic the attack, Trump stands firm.
    Dunleavy gave without getting, and that bares ill for any hope of him recovering the initiative this coming legislative session.

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