Dear President-Elect Obama

by Lanny Goodman on November 8, 2008

Congratulations.  Not everyone is thrilled with your election, but boy did we need a break from business as usual at the White House.

A couple of thoughts I hope you will find useful.

I know you got a lot of support from the unions and there is a bill pending in congress to allow unions to organize a workplace without a majority secret ballot vote.  I hope you will not support this.  The problem with unions is that they are a symptom.  They are a symptom of the callousness and abuses of managers and owners of companies that forced workers to organize to protect themselves and their interests.  While unions have offered leverage for workers in traditional “us vs. them” organizations, they actually institutionalize dis-integration.  If a more enlightened CEO of a unionized company wants to create an organization that benefits all employees and aligns them behind a common vision, because of the byzantine legal environment unionization has created, it is virtually impossible for him or her to do so.

We can no longer afford to have companies where all employees are not on the same page.  If managers are so foolish in this day and age to abuse their workers, then by all means, give the workers a way to organize.  But the democratic process of secret ballot and majority rule must apply.  Companies that are structurally dis-integrated, will be under a serious long-term disadvantage.  Not because they will be paying union wages, but because the union will prevent them from drawing on the full value employees are capable of bringing to the workplace.  The real enemy is not union wages, it’s union work rules.  We need highly adaptive organizations today in which employees can flexibly and rapidly adjust what they are doing to open up production bottlenecks and satisfy customers.

For those companies that are really making an effort to educate, train and orient their employees and build highly adaptive cultures cannot do so by abusing their employees.  They have to pay them well and share the value the employees create through profit sharing and employee equity plans.  It would be criminal to undermine these efforts by making it easy for a disingenuous organizer to stir up just enough trouble to slip a union into a well-meaning company without due process.

Secondly, in the campaign there was a lot of rhetoric about reducing dependence on foreign oil.  This is missing the point.  We have to reduce dependence on oil period.  We desperately need the equivalent of the Kennedy space program for eliminating the need for fossil fuels.  Coal and oil.  The Bush administration has wrung their hands about environmental initiatives costing jobs.  How many jobs will it cost when the international reinsurance industry collapses under the weight of category five hurricanes and massive flooding (predicted by environmental scientists for decades).  How many jobs will it cost if a Miami or a New Orleans becomes uninhabitable due to massive storms and rising ocean levels?  

You have said you see nuclear (and I’m so glad we have a president who can actually pronounce the word correctly) as part of the solution.  How many Chernoblyls and Three Mile Islands can we afford?  Is it responsible to create waste products that are deadly for a quarter of a million years?  Nuclear reactors are human artifacts and subject to human failures.  These are not failures we can afford.  Surely with government leadership and resources, we can figure out how to heat and light our homes and offices, transport our selves and our goods and mobilize our military resources without poisoning ourselves.  It’s not clear to me how the rallying cry became “Save the Planet” when the real issue is “Save the Species”.  Global warming won’t destroy the planet, but it may make it uninhabitable by human beings.  How ironic if the legacy of our species is to create a world in which only cockroaches can survive.

While I’m at it, I suppose I should mention my concern about the civil war raging in Mexico between the government and the narco trafficers.  The war on drugs has failed.  I know you don’t dare touch this hot potato with banks falling like flies and the Bush administration working overtime to undermine civil liberties and distribute as much or our tax dollars to their Wall Street buddies as possible before leaving office, but as a country, sooner or later we are going to have to deal with this issue.

If Mexico’s government collapses under the pressure of the narcos, we have a very serious problem on our hands.  At this point, it is very possible that any American president or legislator who made any serious moves in the direction of legalizing drugs would be targeted by these psychotic drug lords with virtually unlimited resources at their disposal.  They have proven their ability to corrupt any institution they target.  Are we so pure and idealistic in this country that we are incorruptible?  I think our history belies that notion.

We repealed prohibition and survived.  Does alcohol destroy a lot of lives?  No doubt.  Is anyone suggesting we should stop making and selling it?  No.  Do drugs destroy lives?  No doubt about that either.  And the war on drugs hasn’t changed that one bit except to put astonishing resources in the hands of people who are demonstrably not concerned with humanity’s best interests.  At least with legalization, we could drastically reduce the cost of drugs, put the narcos out of business, levy enough tax on drugs to pay for rehab programs for those who can’t control their use and increase on the job screening and DUI penalties.  Inner city gangs would also find their source of power and revenue gone.

I know no one wants to deal with this, but I hope at least you will make  a priority of publicizing the meltdown that is occurring in Mexico as we speak.  Perhaps this will create enough conversation among the electorate that within a reasonable period of years, Americans will wake up and realize that our war on drugs has cost thousands of lives and untold misery in other people’s countries.  The problem isn’t even that hard to solve if we can just let go of our cultural dogmas long enough to see the damage our blindness is causing.

Thanks for listening.  Speaking for my family, all our very best wishes are with you.

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