Afghanistan

Afghanistan

In earlier posts, I have expressed my opinion that we can no longer assume the role of the World’s cop. Recently there has been talk of reducing our presence in other countries like Syria and Iraq, but little mention of Afghanistan. I wonder why not.

Following are a few facts:

We have had a military presence in Afghanistan since 2001 (over 18 years) and have spent approximately $750 billion in direct costs and as much as $2 trillion when you include indirect and long-term costs, like veteran rehabilitation.  As of July 27, 2018, there have been 2,372 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,856 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,320 American service members have also been wounded in action during the war. In addition, there were 1,720 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities.

While I have some sympathy for the reason which we used to justify our involvement (the pursuit of Asama Bin Laden), what remains is essentially a “civil” conflict. My understanding is that we still have approximately 14,000 military personnel in Afghanistan and have agreed to eventually remove 5,000 within 135 days of the signing of a peace proposal with the Taliban.

Which of our elected representatives is talking about this issue?

Labor Unions

Labor Unions

In the early days of my business career, I despised labor unions. One of my first management positions was heading up the first personal department (AKA Human Resources) for a small company. I was hired as a one-man effort to thwart an organizing attempt by the local Teamsters. Fortunately for my career prospects, we were able to stave off the union effort and the vote failed. I understood the original need for unions and agreed that companies had not treated their employees fairly. However, this was the 70’s and we were much more enlightened managers and were perfectly capable of taking care of our workers without the assistance of a third party.

That was my view early on and I believe it was valid given the very narrow focus of my responsibilities. Today I hope that my view has broadened. I still feel that it is management’s responsibility to provide for workers, but over time I am convinced that we have let the working man down. The earlier post on income distribution illustrates my view. The benefits of our country’s increased per capita GDP over the last 40 years have almost entirely accrued to the country’s wealthiest families. At the same time union participation has declined.  In 1945, union membership reached a peak of 33.4 percent of the U.S. workforce but steadily declined to a low of 10.7 percent in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The membership numbers for the top 10 labor unions are self-reported, and unless specifically noted, the unions are headquartered in Washington, D.C.

A list of the current functioning unions follows:                                                                           

National Education Association:                                                                                                               With more than 3 million members, the NEA represents classroom teachers, education support professionals, higher education staff and faculty, retired teachers and students training to become education professionals. Founded in 1857, the NEA merged with the American Teachers Association in 1966.

Service Employees International Union:                                                                                                  The SEIU has nearly 1.9 million members in more than 100 occupations in the U.S., including janitors, security workers, superintendents, maintenance workers, local and state government employees, bus drivers and child-care providers. Founded by janitorial workers in 1921, the SEIU is now the largest-membership union in the U.S. that represents the property services, public services and health-care industries.

American Federation of Teachers:                                                                          The AFT was founded in Chicago in 1916, and now has more than 1.5 million members, including pre-K through grade 12 teachers, early childhood educators, paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel, higher education faculty and staff, government employees and other education professionals.                                                                              International Brotherhood of Teamsters:                                                       In 1903, two unions merged to form the Teamsters, one of the most recognized unions in the U.S. It has 1.4 million members in 21 industrial divisions, including airlines, bakery and laundry, brewery and soft drinks, building material and construction, entertainment and passenger transportation.                                                                                                                        American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees:                                            With an estimated 1.3 million members, the AFSCME is the biggest public services employee union in the U.S., representing corrections officers, childcare providers, sanitation workers, EMTs and nurses. The union was founded in 1932 by a group of state employees in Madison, Wisconsin.                                                                                                                                  United Food and Commercial Workers International Union:           The UFCW was founded in 1979 and has grown to 1.3 million members in occupations such as food-processing workers, drugstore workers, poultry processing plant workers, packinghouse employees and grocery store workers.                                                                                     United Steelworkers:                                                                                                  The USW was founded in 1942 and is headquartered in Pittsburgh. It has more than 1.2 million members in the steel, aluminum and metalworking industry, and also represents chemical plant workers, pharmacy workers, rubber workers and construction workers.                     The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America:  This union is more commonly referred to as the United Auto Workers and has more than 400,000 active members, and more than 580,000 retired members in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The UAW, which was founded in 1935 and is headquartered in Detroit, represents autoworkers, health-care workers, academic student employees, postdoctoral scholars and workers in the casino gambling industry.   International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers:  Founded in 1888 by a group of Atlanta-based machinists, the IAM is headquartered in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and has 720,000 members. The union represents automotive repair workers, city employees, truck assemblers, fabrication workers and aerospace workers.      

 

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers:                                                                   
With 675,000 members in the utilities, construction, telecommunications, broadcasting, manufacturing and railroad industries, the IBEW has been active since it was founded in St. Louis in 1891.
Most of these unions also belong to the AFL/CIO consortium of unions which numbers over 12 million.
The above does not include the 2nd largest and arguably the most powerful union in our country. Federal Civil Servants number in excess of 2.8 million and are by far the best-compensated workers. Their total compensation exceeds their private sector counterparts by over 70%. I would concede that private-sector wages are too low by as much as 30 – 40%. I would also argue that civil service compensation exceeded market value by about the same amount. Details on the comparison of civil service compensation are contained in a prior post for several years ago and are still available at this site.

My view on unions is still that they should not be necessary. However, without enlightened management practices or stricter federal labor rules they have the potential to add social value.

National Security

National Security

The United States Intelligence Community (IC) is a group of 17 separate United States government intelligence agencies, that work separately and together to conduct intelligence activities to support the foreign policy and national security of the United States. Member organizations of the IC include intelligence agencies, military intelligence, and civilian intelligence and analysis offices within federal executive departments. The IC is overseen by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which itself is headed by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), who reports to the President of the United States.

Among their varied responsibilities, the members of the Community collect and produce foreign and domestic intelligence, contribute to military planning, and perform espionage. The IC was established by Executive Order 12333, signed on December 4, 1981, by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

The Washington Post reported in 2010 that there were 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in 10,000 locations in the United States that were working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence, and that the intelligence community as a whole includes 854,000 people holding top-secret clearances. According to a 2008 study by the ODNI, private contractors make up 29% of the workforce in the U.S. intelligence community and account for 49% of their personnel budgets.

The government funded agencies are:

Agency Parent Agency Federal Department Date est.
Twenty-Fifth Air Force United States Air Force Defense 1948
Intelligence and Security Command United States Army Defense 1977
Central Intelligence Agency none Independent agency 1947
Coast Guard Intelligence United States Coast Guard Homeland Security 1915
Defense Intelligence Agency none Defense 1961
Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence none Energy 1977
Office of Intelligence and Analysis none Homeland Security 2007
Bureau of Intelligence and Research United States Department of State State 1945
Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence none Treasury 2004
Office of National Security Intelligence Drug Enforcement Administration Justice 2006
Intelligence Branch Federal Bureau of Investigation Justice 2005
Marine Corps Intelligence Activity United States Marine Corps Defense 1978
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency none Defense 1996
National Reconnaissance Office none Defense 1961
National Security Agency/Central Security Service none Defense 1952
Office of Naval Intelligence United States Navy Defense 1882

In addition, there are several other agencies responsible for, National Security. Not listed above are the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (2001), the DEA, Dept of the Treasury office of Intelligence and Analysis & Army Intelligence.

I am certain that all of these agencies are doing wonderful work, but does it really take 23 separate agencies to perform national security and intelligence gathering? Are any of these agencies territorial? Do they freely share all of their information with other agencies? I’ll leave you to ponder the answers.

What I do know is that these agencies were founded at different times and for different reasons and are funded via different budget requests. I wonder if our security could be performed more efficiently and at a much lower overall cost? If we hade zero security today and were building an organization from scratch would it look like what we have today?