Kill the Department of Defense

Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew bureaucracy: “You know, I’m a juggler, and I never let my right hand know what my left hand does.”

Uncle Theodore
Uncle Theodore

As in many aspects of FDR’s life, his wife’s uncle was a model. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, young hotshot Uncle Theodore proved chronically wearisome to his boss, veteran Massachusetts state Republican machine cog John Davis Long. When Long took a day off once, Uncle Theodore, liberated by a sudden vacuum of adult supervision, tried to start a war. Long countermanded Uncle Theodore’s orders but it was too late: Uncle Theodore had his war and it was splendid.

Padawan
Portrait of the master as a young man

In 1913, to prevent regime uncertainty, newly elected Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) said, “Fine, you want a Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, I got your Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy right here.” So into the family sinecure went spunky 31 year old New York State Democratic Senator Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He immediately commenced his own Long struggle against his boss, Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer publisher and race baiter Josephus Daniels. While Daniels focused on high-level issues like controlling every radio in America, FDR Uncle Theodored him by secretly lobbying Congress to build up U.S. naval strength to levels Daniels opposed. FDR even attempted to start his own splendid little war by mobilizing the U.S. Navy against unrestricted Hun submarine attacks in 1917.

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SWOT Analysis of Boston Marathon Bombing

Negative items (weaknesses and threats) first.

Overconcentration of political belief systems by geography and especially by vocation, notably in journalism; the corresponding threat is misdiagnosis of motivation and identity of perpetrators.
This was on full display over the past week, and although the most prominent examples were instances of the amazingly robust narrative about a supposed right-wing fundamentalist Christian underground, the persistence of which reveals a great deal about the mindset of the “liberal” bien-pensant, they’re not the only ones who have this problem. Claiming that people in Boston are cowering under their beds and wishing they had AR-15s, or casually accusing various (and singularly unimpressive) American politicians of being Communists, isn’t much better than fantasizing about entirely nonexistent WASP terrorists. And there has already been at least one wild-goose chase in recent years, the nationwide Federal investigation to find the co-conspirators of Scott Roeder in the assassination of George Tiller. He didn’t have any, and was known very early on to have acted alone. Your tax dollars nonetheless went to work; see also “memetic parasitism,” below.

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Rethinking Unions VI: embrace unions and extend them to a true worker movement

Previous in the series:
I, II, III, IV, V

Embrace and extend is a proprietary software company strategy that was made famous by Microsoft’s use of the practice. The idea was to embrace an open standard, create the best implementation of that standard in part by adding proprietary extensions, and get everybody to use your version and become addicted to the proprietary goodness which was not released as an addition to the standard. Everybody buys your commercial software that includes the enhanced standard feature and you gain an extra dollop of lock-in profits for several product cycles.

The challenges of moving beyond current unionization efforts to a true workers movement is a bit like a photo negative of Microsoft’s strategy. What’s desired in this case isn’t to create something proprietary to extend a standard for advantage but to identify the jewels in the proprietary 1st generation unions, standardize and spread their benefits to all workers, and create efficient methods to achieve legitimate worker ends without the violence and without the contribution to crony capitalism that present day unions participate in.

Jewel #1 – Education
US vocational education is generally a mess. Union vocational education is generally considered a viable, quality system.

Jewel #2 – Benefits provider
According to the US tax code ( 501(c) 5 ) Unions have the ability to provide benefits consistent with their purpose. That makes them natural health insurance and pension providers that are financially distinct from the company. Union provided benefits are associational and allow increased worker mobility between firms covered by the same union which is both good for workers and good for capitalism.

Jewel #3 – Worker Protection
This one’s a very flawed jewel, but in a dysfunctional organization that has not yet gone broke, the union might be all that is between you and bearing the cost of changing jobs in a sticky economy when you’ve been done an injustice or have even been asked to do something dangerous or illegal.

Adaptation #1 – The open badging movement in education needs extension into the vocational education sphere. This isn’t really a technical challenge, that part is being handled by the technical crowd admirably. Instead the major unaddressed issues are social and organizational ones. People need to know about the badges both in HR departments and in the job seeking population. Badges need to be something that can give you an edge in finding a job. Badges need to be something that lets you find more good employees and filter out more duds. This is a major work in progress and nobody’s really cracked the code yet though there are a lot of entrepreneurial initiatives trying to work out the issues including big names like MIT and Harvard.

Adaptation #2 – Unions are a ready made association that can stay with workers throughout their working lives and provide benefits no matter what happens to a particular employer. This is a very valuable service, one that could use as many entrants into this market as possible in order to prevent membership gouging If you’re a Catholic, scout master, and bricklayer, picking your benefits among your three major associations gets you better possibilities if all of them are participating as benefits provider associations. This is going to require a sea change in legislation so that cross-state associations can provide benefits packages. President Bush proposed this early in his 2nd term and had his head handed to him. President Obama is obviously not interested. Would our next President do better? On the first day President Romney says he would work to replace Obamacare with a more common sense set of reforms. Would this qualify as part of the solution?

Adaptation #3 – Ultimately, this is the most difficult of adaptations because here is where threat and intimidation get applied in a form of street justice to handle situations that are ill suited to the formal justice system. If management behaves badly, unionized workers impose costs is generally how it works. But the ultimate expression of this tactic in current unions, the strike, is disruptive without being very effective. An entire industry has grown up around making it ineffective. Either formal justice needs to be radically reduced in costs to make these situations solvable by the courts or street justice needs to move into the 21st century so that it has lower dead weight loss, lower overhead, and higher effectiveness.

Rethinking Unions V: AFL-CIOx

Previous in the series:
I, II, III, IV

First there was TEDx, the low cost/no cost to the original TED initiative to spread the TED message around the world in local affiliated events. Now there is MITx, an initiative to create free/low cost classes with an MIT affiliation but no degree. So why isn’t there AFL-CIOx? There is no great leap necessary to figure this out. Fire up a web site and provide tools for all workers to improve their position. AFL-CIOx could provide templates on how to lobby their local governments to diversify local economies and cater to entrepreneurs so the increase in businesses operating locally would improve the chance that different employers would compete for local workers. Employers bidding up salaries in order to compete is how non-union workers get salary increases and it’s a successful strategy. It used to be that union workers earned more than non-union. That is no longer true.

And they could provide “plus” services that would carry a fee that you could take or leave. Hat sales alone would probably cover most of the electricity bill. And yes, I’d buy one. I’d also use the site as I assume a lot of people who would viscerally reject joining a union, ever. Google will index it and people will use compelling content, giving unions a 2nd chance at a large part of the population that have long written them off as irrelevant and outdated.

So where is that site? Where is the effort to improve the position of all American workers by providing a 21st century education on how to be a smart, savvy worker?