The Protestations of a Man Who Seems to be Concerned His Lawyer Will Turn on Him

Mr. Twitterfingers is busy this morning.

The thing about our president is that you can always tell what he’s thinking. And today’s he’s laying the groundwork to contend Mr. Cohen is lying if and when Cohen ever implicates Mr. Trump in wrongdoing.

I have no idea if Mr. Trump committed any crimes. That said, I’ve never seen anyone make himself look so guilty.

I sure hope your generation has more sense than mine, Vera. And is never tempted to elect a man such as this to the highest office in the land.

(P.S. Here’s the NYT’s story that seems to have set the pres off this morning.)

Is Your Connectivity Making Your Life Better?

A memo written by Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth in the summer of 2016 contained the following controversial passage:

“[Connecting people] can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”

Continue reading

Daniels Is Proving Just How Bad Colleges (and People) Are at Controlling Costs

Mitch Daniels took over the presidency of Purdue University in 2013. They have yet to have a tuition increase on his watch. That, quite frankly, is remarkable in the world of higher ed and, perhaps, even unimaginable in a world in which annual tuition increases are a given. For more details, I refer you to this Inside Higher Ed story.

I’m particularly fond of the Daniels story because he’s proving me right. And everyone likes to be proved right.

Since becoming intimately familiar with the world of higher ed, when preparing for and then occupying the presidency of a college, I’ve contended that annual increases in the cost of a college education were not inevitable, as many claim, but were, in part, the product of gross mismanagement, namely, the pathetic inability of college trustees, administrators, and faculty to control their costs. Stated differently, higher ed is smothering in waste, inefficiencies, and extravagant spending.

They get away with it because students and their parents are willing to pay the ever-rising prices, in tuition, fees, and room and board, and are willing to go into debt to finance these purchases. Moreover, thanks in part to the cartel called the accreditation system, the competition isn’t there to constrain price increases, as it is in many other industries. But that doesn’t make it right or without consequences.

One of the consequences is student-loan debt, which is now in the neighborhood of $4 trillion. Not that most college trustees, administrators, and faculty care. They don’t. If they did, Daniels would have more company in his campaign against out-of-control spending. And Purdue wouldn’t be alone in holding the line on tuition increases for seven straight years.

Colleges and universities mismanage resources on so many levels. But, of course, they’re not alone. Their bad habits are shared by other nonprofits and governmental agencies — organizations that are not accountable to investors. But it’s not that all for-profit organizations excel in this regard. They don’t. Many of them do a poor job of controlling expenses, too. But, overall, they do a far superior job than their nonprofit relatives.

It will be harder for other colleges and universities to peddle their excuses now that Daniels and Purdue have shined the spotlight on them. Yet I don’t expect much to change for most institutions. They’ll continue to increase prices every year.

There’s only one thing that will bring about change, and that’s competition and consumer awareness. If and when students stop enrolling because there are better values to be had elsewhere, then and only then will boards of trustees hire administrators with the skills and guts to act in the best interests of the students.

But there’s a bigger lesson to be learned here, Vera, for what we see in the world of higher ed and organizations generally, we also see play out in the world of household finances. Continue reading

What Would a Great Country Look Like?

Part of my problem (and I have come to the conclusion, belatedly, that it is a problem) is that I think about how things could be, whether the “things” are a firm, company, city, or country. I’m not a particularly imaginative person, but when it comes to organizations and social structures, my mind is imaginative (beyond what’s good for me). And my level of contentment with the status quo is low.

It’s a problem, I’ve come to believe, because it leads nowhere except to frustration and disappointment. On a national scale, the country I envision cannot possibly come about given humans’ desires and traits. This focus on the could leads to disappointment on a micro scale, too — that is, with respect to individual firms, companies, and other organizations (such as colleges) — because of the ironclad grip of inertia and status quo. The could simply cannot garner critical support. In other words, I’m out of step and always will be. I get it. Finally.

That said, Vera, I thought I might share with you a glimpse of what a great country looks like in my mind. It’s an appropriate time, I suppose, because we have a president who says he’s making America “great again.” Yet it’s clear to me that his concept of greatness is vastly different from mine. But my intent is not to debate who’s right or wrong. Each person can decide for him or herself.

In any case, here’s what our country would look like if we decided to make it great as guided by my imagination — my hopes and dreams and the public policies I would like to see implemented: Continue reading

When the Goal Is to Win, We All Lose

Congressman Trey Gowdy has conducted himself in a highly partisan manner (although I assume some rabid Republicans might have approved of his unnecessarily divisive and highly offensive conduct). Indeed, based on the standards of conduct any parent would try to instill in their children, it’s fair to say Mr. Gowdy’s conduct has been cringeworthy. Shameful. Despicable.

But no matter what you might think of him and the damage he’s done to America, it’s worth your time watching this interview of Congressman Gowdy. It’s a reminder of what our political parties are all about and the kind of government the good people of the Unites States are willing to accept.

In Gowdy’s own words, “the goal is to win.” The best interests of the country be damned.

This is where we are today. It does not bode well for the future of our country.

Why Does Bombing and Killing Make Us Feel So Good?

Once again, our president bombed another country. And once again, so many of my fellow citizens take delight in such actions. I’ll never understand.

Here’s what our president tweeted this morning:

So just what has America accomplished in Syria?

Well, we (or our surrogates) killed a lot of people. And destroyed a lot of homes and property.

We’ve caused untold suffering. And helped create millions of refugees.

In short, we’ve been an agent of death and destruction.

Mission accomplished, America. To some we “could not have had a better result.”

To others, we lack the good sense to feel shame.

The Shifting Landscape of America

Power will be shifting, if the Xers and millennials aren’t timid about elbowing the boomers out of the way. But don’t expect the boomers to relinquish it willingly.

My biggest concern about the passing of the baton from the so-called silent and boomer generations is the loss of memory. A recent survey revealed that two-thirds of millennials can’t say what Auschwitz was, and 52 percent of Americans wrongly believe Hitler came to power through force.

Democracy is a fragile institution, and the threat from autocrats is more potent than many people believe. I’m hoping the millennials acquire a deeper understanding of the way power works and of the importance of maintaining institutions critical to our independence. If not, the baton may be dropped — with dire consequences.

Former F.B.I. Director Comey Reminds America of Its Recklessness

From the former director of the F.B.I.:

I had never seen anything like it in the Oval Office. As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob.

The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview.

The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and the truth.

Describing a different meeting with Trump in January 2017, where he was asked for his personal loyalty:

To my mind, the demand was like Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony – with Trump in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man’.

Here’s how he described a meeting about Russian election interference:

Holy crap, they are trying to make each of us an ‘amica nostra’ – a friend of ours. To draw us in.

As crazy as it sounds, I suddenly had the feeling that, in the blink of an eye, the president-elect was trying to make us all part of the same family.

The election of Donald J. Trump was the most reckless act I’ve witnessed in national politics in my lifetime. Mr. Comey is making sure we don’t forget.

Ready or Not, China Is Becoming the Big Boy on the Block

My fav British economist-journalist Martin Wolf sums it up well in his most recent Financial Times op-ed titled “US-China rivalry will shape the 21st century.” I recommend you take the time to read it, especially if you want to understand the Trump-China tussle better.

I wish Wolf wasn’t right about this but fear he is. He opines:

The threat is the decadence of the west, very much including the US — the prevalence of rent extraction as a way of economic life, the indifference to the fate of much of its citizenry, the corrupting role of money in politics, the indifference to the truth, and the sacrifice of long-term investment to private and public consumption.

History tells us that the odds are high that the U.S. and China will find themselves in armed conflict before this power shift is complete. It’s not inevitable though.

My hope is that America’s attention will be focused on many of the problems alluded to by Mr. Wolf: the out-of-control rent extraction economy, the indifference to quality of life issues, the corruption (particularly in our deeply flawed system for financing political campaigns), the lack of honesty and virtue, our short-term mindset, our excessive leverage, etc.

China is on the rise. By quite a few measures, America is on the wane. But China’s rise does not require America’s decline. Both can rise together, albeit at different rates (since China has far to go to catch up). But that’s not necessarily what will happen. The choice is ours. And, right now, there’s not a whole lot of reason for optimism.