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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Union "check off" (Boston Globe, Business Section)

Published in Globe Business Section, June 3, 2007. You need to scroll down as it is last letter. The last part of the URL refers to the first letter in the section.

Here is a earlier, unpublished version referring to an op-ed that appeared a day earlier.

Your writer, Robert Gibbons (Boston Globe, May 28th, 2007. A11) is very misinformed if he believes that "No one would condone such tactics [coercion of employees to vote against a union] by any employer."

Well these tactics may not be condoned but such tactics are widely used against unions engaged in organizing campaigns. They include pressure and the firing of union activists.

These tactics may not be condoned, but it is very difficult to get Bush's National Labor Relations Board to discourage them.

It is for these reasons that unions are agitating for the "card check."

Sent to Boston Globe

Food Fright

You say in your editorial (Food Fright, May 28th., 2007. A10) that "the pet food companies have suffered devastating losses because of the government's failure to regulate food imports rigorously."

Yes, they have suffered losses but due to their own ineptitude. Any firm that does not rigorously inspect its inputs and its outputs deserves to suffer losses when contaminated inputs end up in their outputs.

I am no enemy of big government but we need to be clear that the main government focus should be on food that directly enters the food chain -- fruit, vegetables, etc. That is food that individuals cannot be expected to monitor for purity. On the other hand, food that goes to processors should be monitored by those processors subject, of course, only to back up, less intensive, inspection by the government.

Of course, as is the case here, if the processors fail in their duty to engage in rigorous inspection then government inspection will have to be increased.

Sent to Boston Globe

Creation beliefs and the Al-Qaeda-Iraq link

The story of the Creation Museum (May 27th, 2007. A19) was followed closely by the main part of your story that Republican Presidential candidates were embracing the belief that Iraq and al-Qaeda (A1,A21) were intimately related prior to our invasion of Iraq.

In both cases, I am saddened that people with money and responsibility succumb to beliefs that have no factual basis.

Sent to Boston Globe

The Constitution and Gay Marriage

In his letter to the Globe (Letters, May 27th, 2007. D10) Peter Frank says that "legislators are not voting on whether they agree with the marriage amendment. They are merely saying whether they think people have the right to vote on this volatile issue."

"Merely" is not the word to be used in this context. The question is whether the rights of our gay and lesbian neighbors can be abrogated by a vote of the people. I think not. The State constitution is designed to protect the unpopular.

And let us leave religion out of this. We are talking here about the right to a Civil Marriage -- the kind of marriage you get at the courthouse or from a Justice of the Peace, not the kind you get in a church, mosque, or synagogue. The U.S Constitution mandates the separation of Church and State. It should be applied rigorously in this case.

Our legislators should not vote on the basis of their religious beliefs. They should not vote in favor of the amendment because the Archbishop told them to, or their Minister told them to, or even because their constituents told them to. The members of the legislature should vote unanimously against this amendment because it has the potential to deprive some of our fellow citizens of their civil rights.
Sent to Boston Globe

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Organization Theorists on the War Czar (long post)

The War Czar: An Organizational Perspective

This represents views of half a dozen organization theorists on the recent appointment of General Lute in response to this query.
[Recently] the White House announced the appointment of a War Czar. Lt-General Lute is to serve in this important integrating role. He will report directly to the President, but he will be ranked as a Deputy National Security Advisor.
Imagine you are a member of the President's Board of Organizational and Leadership Advisors (a body that does not yet exist, but let us imagine that it does). The President has belatedly (that is after making the decision) called on you for your advice as to whether this makes sense organizationally.
Please consider the pro's and con's of the appointment and its position and give your advice as to whether this is sensible or whether alternative arrangements should have been made.
Please reply to me on or off list and I will post the results of this inquiry later.

The responses can useful be categorized using Bolman and Deal's categories of structure, human resources/interpersonal, political, and symbolic.
Respondents are numbered in the order of receipt.

  • Structural
    • Respondent #2:
      I am not sure I have enough information about the position to provide a clear response. On the face of it, War Czar makes no sense to me whatsoever. The president is CINC, period. His senior military advisors are the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he's the decider and he cannot give away that final responsibility with abdication. His National Security Advisor function is broader than just military and is good input to him, but War Czar? The SECDEF is the 'War Czar' if there is such a thing. It did used to be a War Department at one time. So, I am quite unclear what this War Czar is going to integrate. The system with a non-line set of military advisors in the Joint Chiefs, a line responsibility through the SECDEF to the War Lords (4-star combat commanders), and a staff function in the White House itself of National Security Advisor seems appropriately dispursed and balanced.

    • Respondent #4:
      First, let me say that I view an organizational structure as a command and control network, which filters information on the way up the structure and expands information on the way down the structure. I like the horizontal organization structure, but realize that there are limits on the number of relationships a person can manage. Effectively, we are pre-wired to manage approximately 150-200 relationships (span of control) (R.I.M Dunbar, "Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates," Journal of Human Evolution(1992), vol. 20, pp. 469-493).

      Now for my analysis of your question:

      From an organizational viewpoint, I see a minimum of 21 standard direct reports (information streams - the cabinet & cabinet ranking members) to the U.S. president. This does not count the NSA, the leader of the intelligence Org, who does a daily briefing, or other special study groups. Therefore, we can conclude that there are 21+ channels of organizational filtered information flowing to the president (the decision maker). The span of control is higher than a typical business, but should be reasonable given the number of relationships that a human can handle. Therefore, adding another direct report should NOT be an issue.

      This organizational structure (chain of command) establishes priorities on the information flowing through each channel. In other words, some of the information, which may be important in understanding the overall picture, is filtered as it moves up through the organization. To resolve the filtering issue, organizations have historically established alternative paths of communication to the key decision makers for highly important areas of concern. This is accomplished by creating task forces, special studies groups, etc. Therefore, I conclude that if you want to limit organizational filtering of information, then an alternative channel of communication must be established, which bypasses the standard organizational structure. Therefore, if the objective is to reduce/limit the filtering of information on the war(s), then an appointment of a “War Czar” (Most likely a media label) or a Deputy National Security Advisor is an appropriate action to take.

    • Respondent #5 (repeated under Human Resources):
      I'm generally disinclined to recommend solving a problem by adding an "overlay" role or organization (e.g., DNI, DHS, NCTC, and now the czar) to provide coordination of units that are not working well together. Better, in my view, to work on the relation (especially the interdependence) of the constituent organizations.

    • Respondent #6 (aka Martin Evans)
      I am ambivalent about the appointment of a war czar.

      On the one hand, it is an indicator that the Bush administration must be finally getting serious about negotiations. When the sole branch of our strategy in Iraq was a military one, the need for integration between the Pentagon and the State department was minimal. The appointment of a coordinator means that the need for integration between the two departments has increased. This means that the administration is about to engage in diplomacy as well as military action. This is a very good thing.

      However, as an organization theorist, I do not think that the appointment of a single individual to the role is sufficient. The problems and activities to be coordinated are enormously complex, so the coordinating mechanism also needs to be complex. What is needed is a War Cabinet made up of senior officials from Defense and State which meets on an ongoing basis to set policy and monitor its implementation. Then we would have a chance of coordinating happening in a timely fashion.

      A single individual, especially one with dual reporting relations (to the President and the National Security Advisor) isn't going to be able to get his hands on the necessary levers of power.

  • Human Resource/Interpersonal
    • Respondent #1
      My reaction in that situation would depend on the President's participation practices - his batting average in selecting the most appropriate level of authority for participants - and the extent to which he has established trust with his reports. Tannenbaum and Schmidt popularized a range of participation levels depending on several factors. (The situation you describe is within this range) Victor Vroom and his team refined that range with specific suggestions. However, neither considered the characteristics of the people called on to participate in a decision (see Norman Maier and Blake and Mouton).

      So, to give you firmly specific, unambiguous, response - it all depends. (Don't ask for my opinion on the existing situation).

    • Respondent #5 (repeated under Structure):
      I'm generally disinclined to recommend solving a problem by adding an "overlay" role or organization (e.g., DNI, DHS, NCTC, and now the czar) to provide coordination of units that are not working well together. Better, in my view, to work on the relation (especially the interdependence) of the constituent organizations.

  • Political
    • Respondent #6 (aka Martin Evans)
      The appointment gives political cover to the President as it now appears that he is doing something new and different.

  • Symbolic
    • Respondent#3:
      First, the appointment title War Czar I feel should be changed or removed as
      it leads to confusion for example he is ranked as Deputy National Security
      Advisor, why is the appointment not made under that title?
      The War Czar from a layman's perspective sounds very aggressive and Russian
      so not very American.The focus should be on resolving global issues diplomatically and hence the title War Czar gives the impression of planning wars in advance. War is the last tool available in any crisis and only to be used as a means of defence. The cost of War as our great nations and people know is paid in highest by our service people who lay down their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. The service people's friends and
      families pay the rest of their lives by not having loved ones return.
      How about a new title of Deputy National Security Advisor on Global Peace initiatives. It is argued without understanding both the global issues and the fears for national security by a home nation the advisor cannot really advise. The latter comment then requires both a military mind and that of a economist mind. Does Lt-General Lute have both or at least a team of economic or business minded people to help serve both his role and ultimately that of the President.

      To conclude then the President would be ill advised using this title and no one who cared for him and the people of America and the world would recommend this. Personally I would push for the suggested title even if it cost me my job, which at present I do not have as I'm a mere student be it a middle aged one catching up.

There it is: some of us dislike the symbolism of the title, some think it structurally appropriate, others do not, yet others think "it all depends."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mike Capuano in the Revolving Door

I was horrified to read that Congressman Capuano opposes the extension of the "revolving door" provision from 1 year to 2. We need to increase that gap so that former congressmen do not retain a strong set of contacts to engage in undue and improper influence with their colleagues.

We cannot accept his assertion that his political career is solely designed to improve his post-House earnings.

The electors of the 8th District of Massachusetts sent Congressman Capuano to Washington to do his best for our country, our state, and our district -- not what is best for Mike Capuano.

Sent to New York Times

The paper trail

Your correspondent, Dennis McFeely (Letters, May 21, 2007 A20) is right to be suspicious of the American electoral system with its partisan officials, partisan redistricting, and partisan excesses in fundraising.

The alarm he raises about the fraudulent paper trail is is a false one. Yes, as he says "a computer can easily be programmed ... to accept a vote for candidate A, give the vote to Candidate B, and print a vote on the paper trail for Candidate A," but such a result will not survive an audit. The point of the paper trail is to permit auditing of the result and allow recounting of the vote. The improper programming would easily be detected.

Sent to New York Times

Drug Firms and Doctors

Your op-ed writer, Scott Lassman (Does a drug firm's free lunch influence doctors? Boston Globe, May 18, 2007, A15), is correct: it is all about trust.

The problem is that major players in the industry have, over the years, violated that trust (Thalidomide, Vioxx). As a result, most of us are not willing to give the drug companies the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps if the major firms resolved to begin rebuilding that trust by stopping direct advertising to the general public (Talk to your Doctor about .....) then we would be less suspicious about those free lunches.

How about it?

Sent to Boston Globe

AG: No hands on leader, he

Every CEO in America knows that one of her most important tasks is making sure that the senior managers reporting to her are of the highest caliber. This is not something that is delegated to subordinates.

Mr Gonzales does not seem to know this (Gonzales says he followed deputy's advice on firings, Boston Globe, March 16th., 2007, A4).

For this reason alone, he is unsuited to serve as the top official in the Justice Department.

Sent to Boston Globe

The War Czar

The appointment of Lt-General Douglas Lute (New York Times, please add full cite). is a good sign.

It is an indicator that the Bush administration must be finally getting serious about negotiations. When the sole branch of our strategy in Iraq was a military one, the need for integration between the Pentagon and the State department was minimal.

The appointment of a coordinator means that the need for integration between the two departments has increased. This means that the administration is about to engage in diplomacy as well as military action.

What a good idea!

I hope that this will lead to a successful outcome.

Sent to the New York Times

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Commander Guy

What a pathetic comment by our president.

He has placed hundreds of thousands of our troops in harm's way. He has run a failing war and a government that is breathtaking in its incompetence. Yet he still demands deference from us because he is "the commander guy."

Well, he is a guy in one sense of the term -- one who deserves ridicule.

But his continuation in office is a tragedy. He and the Vice-President should step down.

Sent to the Boston Globe

Bush Fumbles Iran

After reading Mr Kristof's column (Diplomacy at its worst, New York Times Week in Review, April 29, 2007, page 13), I too "ache for my country."

We should also remember that the Bush Administration had a second chance at rapprochement with Iran when in May 2006, the President of Iran sent a letter full of philosophizing to President Bush. The approach was rebuffed by Secretary Rice who said "There is nothing concrete here."

Maybe not in the letter's content, but the very concrete existence of the letter suggested that some faction in Iraq was interested in pursuing a dialog with the United States despite being rebuffed in 2003.

One would have hoped that Secretary Rice, a Soviet expert, would have drawn the lesson from the Cuban Missile crisis that it was useful to reinforce the doveish elements and ignore the hawkish elements among our adversaries.

It would have been useful to engage in further discussions with Iran. Why did the administration fail to do so?
Sent to New York Times