Life’s Not Fair

It was not surprising, though certainly disappointing, to read that a Senate Committee killed the so-called “Buffett Rule” that would have required the wealthy to pay 30% of their income in taxes each year instead of the miniscule amount they now pay with the many tax breaks they enjoy. Warren Buffett tried to call the bluff of the wealthy, but the wealthy Senators (who obviously have a hidden agenda) killed the rule before it could get killed by the House of Representatives. Buffett must have known the Senate was playing with a crooked deck.

The argument by the Senators is interesting for its twisted logic. It is buried in a brief story  recently that also addresses the concern in Washington over the cost of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s numerous trips home to California last year — at a cost of $860,000 — and the G.S.A. Vegas junket that cost tax payers nearly as much.  Let’s take a look:

Any discussion of federal budgets is doomed to the obfuscation of scale: We can vaguely imagine what we’d do on an $800,000 trip to Vegas. It’s harder to fathom what we could do with $1 billion, especially on the scale of huge governmental deficits and debts. To help paint that picture, the opponents of the Buffett Rule were quick to point out how the new revenues would be less than 1 percent of the projected debt under Obama’s 2013 budget proposal.

Logicians call this a non-sequitor. More precisely, it’s a red herring. The issue is whether or not the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, not whether or not it would help to lower the national debt. Clearly it would help somewhat, but not enough to make any real difference. But that’s not the point. The fact remains that we all pay our fair share so why shouldn’t the wealthy? If we follow the logic of those who voted down the Buffett rule, none of us should pay taxes since none of us pays enough to make a real dent in the national debt. That’s where their argument leads. It is fallacious and even absurd. But it won the day because it was a foregone conclusion and the Buffett Rule was defeated before it got a fair airing in the public arena. I dare say logic has no place in politics. Neither does common sense.

I have to believe the public would love to see the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. We all worry each year at this time about the amount we have to pay out of our limited income — will the dreaded I.R.S. will allow that $230.00 deduction for my kid’s dancing lessons? — and it is galling to realize that those with the largest incomes in this country not only control the strings attached to the politicians, but they get to keep most of their filthy lucre. And despite the fact that it would not make a dent in the national debt, the wealthy in this country should start paying their fair share.

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Conflicting Interests

I taught business ethics for years and always found it a goldmine of interesting though at times disturbing cases for discussion. One such case recently surfaced online and it is worth a moment’s reflection. In this day of the infamous 1% it is always instructive to try to see what goes on in the minds of those who control the wealth (and government) in this country. One rarely finds thoughts of duty or honor — though there are always exceptions like Warren Buffett. The article I refer to does not focus on the exception, as it happens. It is more of the same: men at the top who are busy accumulating more wealth than they know what to do with.

The story begins: HOUSTON (Reuters) – Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp, has borrowed as much as $1.1 billion over the last three years against his stake in thousands of company wells – a move that analysts, academics and attorneys who reviewed loan documents say raises the potential for conflicts of interest.

The man himself sees no conflict of interest because he doesn’t seem to understand what the words mean. But, then, dealing with such huge amounts of money might tend to blind a person to even the most obvious moral truths. At some point when dealing with large figures, the mind positively boggles. It is difficult for me to imagine having a loose million to spend, but a billion dollars is almost meaningless. But the article goes on:

The size and nature of the loans raise questions about whether McClendon’s personal financial deals could compromise his fiduciary duty to Chesapeake investors, experts who reviewed the documents told Reuters. . . .The revelation comes as McClendon is scrambling to help Chesapeake weather a multi-billion-dollar cash shortfall amid a plunge in natural gas prices.

One wonders how a man could continue to worry about personal gain at a time when his company is at risk. There is a phenomenon in business known as “embeddedness” in which people become so involved in what is close up they lose sight of the things in the distance — things that, in the end, truly matter, like family and loved ones. . .  and the company that provides one’s livelihood in this case. One should also mention the man’s “fiduciary duty” to the investors. What becomes blurred in the process is  “the right thing to do.”

What is of main interest here is what passes for “ethics” in a world such as this. It really collapses into the word “legal,” as in whatever is legal is ethical. McClendoin, says, for example, “these are private transactions that the company has no responsibility to disclose or to vet . .. There are no covenants or obligations in my loan documents or mortgages that bind Chesapeake in any way.” In a word, I have done nothing illegal, therefore I have done nothing wrong. That, of course, is nonsense. There are many legal practices that are unethical — such as the conflict of interest in this case. I would argue that legally increasing personal wealth at a time when your company is in dire financial straits is unethical. It might even be argued that accumulating great wealth, more wealth than one could possibly spend in a lifetime, is unethical at a time when there are people who cannot put food on the table. Even John Locke thought there were limits on how much wealth a person could accumulate without crossing an ethical line.

I recall inviting the “ethics officer” from Honeywell to campus years ago when we were sponsoring a business ethics series of lectures on campus. The officer was, of course, an attorney and her job was to make sure Honeywell wasn’t doing anything that could lead to law suits. That was the company’s conception of ethics. The woman had no training in philosophy and had never even taken a course in ethics. She was not an ordained minister. But it didn’t matter, because it was all about keeping Honeywell out of court. Interesting. But what is even more interesting is the fact that this misconception is all too common in the corporate mindset. The focus on the bottom line, embedded as it is on profits, cannot see the ethical implications of the choices that are made and ignores the people who are effected by those choices.

It is a different world from the one I live in, I must say. And if given the choice, I prefer my own world where things are clearer.

Breaking The Ice

There are still those among us who deny global warming. Seriously, it’s true. There are even more among us who deny that humans have had a hand in it. The evidence of the latter is weaker than that of the former, but neither can be reasonably denied. In any event, the question of what to do about it is on the back burner while nations vie with one another to figure out ways to exploit the situation for profit. The opening of the Northwest passage due to the melting of the ice caps has nations actively devising ways to gain an advantage in the pursuit of gas and oil reserves in that region of the world as they simultaneously plan ways to rescue those who will most assuredly run afoul in that pursuit.

A recent story was of interest in this regard. It begins, YOKOSUKA, Japan (AP) — To the world’s military leaders, the debate over climate change is long over. They are preparing for a new kind of Cold War in the Arctic, anticipating that rising temperatures there will open up a treasure trove of resources, long-dreamed-of sea lanes and a slew of potential conflicts. By Arctic standards, the region is already buzzing with military activity, and experts believe that will increase significantly in the years ahead.

I have dealt with the issue of alternative energy in previous blogs. So I will not go there again. But the scenario sketched out for us in this article suggests yet another reason to find alternatives to oil and gas to satisfy the seemingly insatiable demands of a growing human population. Not “needs,” but “demands.” The two must not be confused. We do not need to use as much energy as we do: we waste a disproportionate amount of the energy. We simply do not want to deny ourselves the indulgence. Heaven forbid!

The issues here are complex, as a brief excerpt from that always reliable source, Wikipedia, will attest: The contested sovereignty claims over the waters may complicate future shipping through the region: The Canadian government considers the Northwestern Passages part of Canadian Internal Waters, but the United States and various European countries maintain they are an international strait or transit passage, allowing free and unencumbered passage

The notion that nations will soon be vying with one another to get the upper hand in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, is disquieting. It will not necessarily lead to open warfare, but it may indeed lead to another cold war (no pun intended) as nations seek to gain a step up in a region that promises to yield oil and natural gas and also open the way for masses of daily freight traffic — and even cruise ships — in a region of the world that has been closed off to any boating traffic whatever for most of the year for centuries past and where many an adventurous explorer has met his slow death. There may be more casualties to come. Thus the military buildup. Not for engaging in war, but for rescuing fools who risk their lives for pleasure and/or corporate (and private) profit.

Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the London-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said militaries probably will have to rescue their own citizens in the Arctic before any confrontations arise there. “Catastrophic events, like a cruise ship suddenly sinking or an environmental accident related to the region’s oil and gas exploration, would have a profound impact in the Arctic,” she said. “The risk is not militarization; it is the lack of capabilities while economic development and human activity dramatically increases that is the real risk.”

In one sense, it is exciting to think of new possibilities, and new horizons to explore. But given the human animal and what we know about him, the possibilities bring with them the potential for conflict and catastrophe that give us pause. It will be interesting to see how this thing shakes out while we wonder why the money being spent on finding ways to exploit this region is not being used to discover alternative energies. But there I go again.

Antiquated Constitution?

About one hundred years after the Constitution was adopted in this country Henry Adams was convinced it was already obsolete. As the grandson and great-grandson of Presidents he might have been concerned that the document tied the hands of the executive. That would be understandable. It certainly is the case that when it was written, one of the major concerns of its authors was to limit the powers of the President. Perhaps it limited the executive too much. Adams thought it made government stagnant and he hoped that when Grant took office the situation would be remedied. It wasn’t, however, since Grant didn’t do much of anything except make some bad appointments and get mixed up with the Gold Scandal. Adams came to believe that Grant was a living argument against Darwin!

But there does seem to be some truth in Adams’ concerns. A document written in the eighteenth century, especially one that didn’t even mention corporations, seems antiquated at best and positively outdated at worst. Large Wealth has gained the upper hand and turned our Republic into a corporate oligarchy. Further, consider the powers granted to the U.S. Senate which is the body that was targeted by Adams for most criticism. It has immense power and its members seem to be around forever gaining more and more power. The Senate is able to abuse that power even more readily than the President — something the framers did not foresee.

Madison, for example, was convinced that no minority, within or without the Senate, could ever stall the workings of a democratic system because the majority would simply sweep them aside. In Federalist # 10, Madison expresses almost naive confidence in the ability of a majority to eliminate what he called “factions,” or those small groups within and without government that would misdirect the public good. He says “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by a regular vote.” But then Madison was also convinced that those in Congress would be the best and brightest in the country at large, “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of the country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary and partial considerations.”  Yeah, right.

Let’s consider some of the powers of the Senate listed in Article II Section 2 where, ironically, the document explains some of the powers of the President (note the repeated qualifications):

[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.

It is precisely the powers to “advise and consent,” as Adams saw it, that pretty much tie the hands of the executive and can bring government to a halt. In fact, as we have seen in our day, the Senate can simply refuse to act on presidential appointments and they remain vacant for years. During Adams’ lifetime, Secretary of State John Hay was repeatedly frustrated by the Senate’s reluctance to ratify treaties Hay had painstakingly arranged. The two-thirds majority required for ratification was the killer. It seems that this power is the one Adams most strenuously objected to as it ties the government in knots. It was certainly one of the most hotly debated topics at the time of the writing and subsequent adoption of the Constitution: would the President be hindered from doing his job or would he be given enough power to do the job and then abuse that power? It was a difficult line to draw.

But given the snail’s pace with which this government goes about its business; its susceptibility to the influence of “factions” and PACs; the lack of term limits on members of Congress; the persistent misreading of the second amendment; and the unrestricted influence of large corporations on the election and functioning of officials within government, a strong case can be made that the Constitution can no longer do the job it was designed to do more than two hundred years ago. Rexford Tugwell, part of F.D.R.’s “brain-trust,” years ago proposed a revised Constitution that was widely discussed but went nowhere. Perhaps it is time to reconsider.

Courting Latin America

President Obama is in Latin America attempting to build economic bridges with that region of the world in the hope that it will boost his reelection prospects. He wants to convince voters in this country that our economy will recover as new trade relations are solidified with our neighbors to the South. The officials in that region of the world, meanwhile, are distressed over the fact that the U.S. is perceived as ignoring them out of a misplaced concern with the Middle East. Perhaps so. In any event, the President’s visit has been marred by a scandal involving eleven (at last count) of his security people who seem to have an uncontrollable urge toward promiscuity, and the fact that the U.S. has insisted that Cuba be denied involvement in the next Summit of the Americas.

The story begins: CARTAGENA, Colombia (Reuters) – A prostitution scandal involving U.S. security personnel in Colombia and an unprecedented regional push to end the isolation of Cuba threatened on Saturday to eclipse President Barack Obama’s charm offensive to Latin America.

I am less alarmed by the prostitution scandal — which is certainly disturbing on many levels — than by the fact that the U.S. voted to deny Cuba access to the Summit when 32 countries in that region of the world insisted that Cuba be invited to participate. A number of Latin American countries, including pro-U.S.A. Colombia, have said they will not participate in the next Summit without the involvement of Cuba. I realize that there are real-world political problems with cozying up to Cuba, but this is about sending messages to that part of the world and starting anew. Allowing Cuba to attend the Summit does not necessitate renewed friendship with that country and it just might help build those economic bridges.

Ours is a President, after all, who ran on a policy of open government, the desire to open lines of communication with others — certainly other nations. We should have learned by this time that turning a deaf ear to a country, any country, can be a mistake of gigantic proportions. It is always preferable to talk to people, even people with whom we are ideologically opposed, than it is to take a stance of hard-line opposition. Our acknowledgement of the importance of Cuba to that region is an important element in opening lines of communication with other nations in Latin America, and the resentment that our denial has stirred outweighs the sexual scandal that is grabbing most of the headlines around the world.

In any case, the prestige of this nation and the reputation of this President as a man with an open mind and a willingness to engage in dialogue with anyone may have been irreparably harmed. The scandal involving a group of men who surround the President and apparently can’t keep it in their pants didn’t help, either. In the meantime, China has stepped in and maintains the upper hand in the region with trade agreements that portend the continued economic ascendency of that country at a time when the prestige and economic clout of the United States seem to be in serious jeopardy.

A Moral Dilemma

I am convinced by such minds as Nietzsche and Dostoevsky that when people are simply handed things they become dependent upon the handout and consequently lose their freedom. David Hume thought that giving alms to beggars was a mistake for the same reason. Dostoevsky’s grand inquisitor puts it in theological terms, but the point is well stated that humans want bread and miracles and they want things handed to them even at the cost of their freedom. But that is a price many think worth paying. Freedom, after all, is accompanied with responsibility and that is a terrible burden. Dostoevsky thought socialism was the offspring of the devil precisely because he thought humans become dependent upon the state; they must be free or they cease to be humans, they become “denizens of an ant heap.”

On the other hand, I am aware, as were these men, that there are those in our society in genuine need, people who are born into poverty and need and simply cannot work their way out. There are cynics who say these people get what they deserve, the social Darwinists who insist that the fittest should survive and the rest be damned. But I note that those who say this are almost always among the survivors — and in many cases they prosper precisely because have had things go their way and have never known need, much less dire poverty.

So the dilemma is clear: we deprive humans of their freedom by giving them a handout and running the risk that they become dependent upon that handout and thus become less than human. On the other hand, we ignore those in need and turn our backs on them so they will retain their freedom, even if they should starve to death.

The solution seems almost too simple: we err on the side of charity which, as the New Testament reminds us, is the “greatest” of the Christian virtues — a virtue that is missing in many Eastern religions that embrace “a tolerance devoid of charity,”  as Arthur Koestler reminds us. Those who are charitable are rewarded in helping others by becoming more human themselves. Socialism is not a viable economic system, in my view, because it undermines initiative and rewards laziness — both serious character flaws. But it is more charitable than capitalism with its stress on greed and the attendant corruption. Socialism’s appeal is moral, not economic. And as such it is the preferable alternative. But in between the two economic systems one would hope to discover a system in which those with talent and ability can accomplish much and acquire wealth proportionately while at the same time those less fortunate than themselves are encouraged but not ignored. In this dream world, all remain free and fully human. Whether or not we could ever realize such a system is doubtful, of course. But we make a mistake to embrace one or the other of the economic poles while ignoring the possibility that there might be a compromise in which all win out. The problem is to find the middle ground, where people and governments are charitable and help others without those who are helped becoming “denizens of an ant heap.”

Gender Equity

Edith Wharton was an early champion of gender equity, though I am not sure she gets the credit she deserves. One of the numerous targets she has in her sights is the infamous “double standard,” which applauds men for sexual prowess while at the same time condemning women for the exact same thing. In Age of Innocence, her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, she tells us that “All the elderly ladies whom [the hero] knew regarded any woman who loved imprudently as necessarily unscrupulous and designing, and mere simple-minded man as powerless in her clutches. The only thing was to persuade him, as early as possible, to marry a nice girl, and then trust her to look after him.” In this particular novel, the tale winds in a compelling way around the theme of a woman who “loved imprudently” — Wharton’s compelling way. But the double standard is only one of the problems the women in Wharton’s day had, living as they did vapid lives in a man’s world. And Wharton is eager to point them out. She led a movement in its earliest stages of development. The movement has grown and now has a great many zealous followers.

There’s no question that the feminist movement has good grounds for their fervor and enthusiasms as women were silenced far too long. And they have drawn attention to a great many unacceptable, and even unethical, practices in our culture. Many of these practices still remain even after sustained attacks, however, as does the double standard. Martina Navratilova noted when Magic Johnson bragged about his “thousand infidelities” that a woman would have been tarred and feathered for making such a claim publicly. Further, there aren’t many women among the 1% of those who control the wealth in this country. However, painfully slow as it has been, there has also been some progress.

But with the progress there has also been the seemingly inevitable exaggeration as the notion of “equity” has been identified in the minds of many with “sameness,” and important differences are slighted over or shunted aside; certainly disallowed. This has occurred on many fronts, of course, and not just in the camp of women’s rights. The claim that women (in this case) have the same rights as men — or ought to — is based on a moral grounds, involving moral and civil rights. There can be no question that this argument is well founded. But when the notion of “equity” expands to include “sameness,” we are venturing into the realm of the absurd. There are important social, intellectual, physical, biological, and cultural differences among all human beings, not only between men and women. All of these differences should be duly noted while at the same time we acknowledge the rights of all. We should celebrate differences, not brush them aside in the name of “equity.”  Wharton certainly knew this.

There are many intriguing differences between males and females and it is one of the sad consequences of the feminist movement, and so-called “political correctness,” that we have become afraid to mention them for fear of the wrath of the Commissar of Culture. Noting differences between the sexes is dismissed as “stereotyping” and noting differences in general suggests that nasty word “discrimination,” which we forget was once a good thing. We have become oversensitive to the legitimate grievances of those who have been chronically disadvantaged. And in our concern that someone’s feeling might get hurt we become tongue-tied and intellectually impotent. It is wrong to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it is also wrong to hamstring those who have important things to say.

Fortunately, Wharton was not caught up in the gender equity frenzy, though she was wide awake to the plight of women. She most certainly was not tongue-tied nor intellectually impotent. Her main objective was to draw attention to the follies and injustices of her age. In doing so she was able to discriminate between pretense and honesty, the way the world was and the way she knew it should be.  She was aware of the slights that were being perpetrated daily against women in her culture and saw the reality that was buried beneath social protocols and propriety. And she was unafraid to speak about them. Most importantly, she didn’t have to look over her shoulder to see if she was being watched by the Commissar of Culture. That made it possible for her to speak her mind most eloquently.

Fresh Air

Let’s face it, the air around NCAA Division I football stinks. There have been so many examples of corruption and uncontrolled avarice in that arena of late with weak administrators flailing around trying to make excuses for the “scholar athletes” and “great men” who play and coach college football that we have simply stopped listening. The latest scandal involving Bobby Petrino at Arkansas would seem to be nothing more than the latest chapter in a book that gives off such a strong odor. But not so it would appear. As reported with approval recently, the A.D. in this case, Jeff Long, actually took the high ground and sounded like a man who has his priorities in the right order.

Yes, winning is important. Yes, money is on the line. And let’s not fail to mention that Long took a risk in hiring Petrino in the first place. It’s not like the guy came with an unblemished reputation. But by squashing Petrino’s career at Arkansas on Tuesday night, Long reminded us the university is there to raise standards, not ignore them. The university is there for teenagers who are living away from home for the first time and placing their trust in a virtual stranger to make them better.

Indeed. It’s not popular to play the in loco parentis card these days as kids like to think they know what’s what and are clearly deluded about their own maturity and good sense. The notion that the university has a paternal relationship with the students is anathema to today’s millennial generation. But it sounds right in this news article. The university is a place where young people grow up and where, above all else, they learn how to use their minds, thereby becoming “better.” Semi-professional sports really have no place in the academy as Robert Hutchins insisted long ago when he cut sports altogether at the University of Chicago. I would argue that this was a bit extreme, but then I coached intercollegiate tennis for sixteen years and am somewhat biased. So far as I know Hutchins never coached a sport. But I do think that Division I football and basketball have become the tail that wags the dog, as I have said in print, and stands like Jeff Long’s are far too rare — indeed unheard of.

Given that Arkansas is not only a Division I football program, but also a pre-season pick to be one of the top five teams in the country next year, there is a helluva lot of money on the table. It took great courage for Long to stand up for principles, and he will no doubt be pilloried by the boosters and alumni who see this move as one guaranteed to bring the team down in the ratings. But this is precisely a major part of the problem: the boosters and alumni have far too much influence on athletics programs around the country and by extension on the academic programs that suffer as a consequence. It is sad commentary on contemporary “higher” education that so few administrators have the courage to stand up against these bozos.

I saw this first hand in the small, public university where I taught for thirty-seven years. An interim president suggested shifting the athletics program at the school from NCAA II status to NCAA III status and taking the “scholarship” money and actually using it for academic scholarships, rather than for wannabe athletes in a struggling athletics program. Word got out, and the president was forced by angry boosters and alumni to leave things as they were (and are) for fear of damaging the “quality” of the athletics program in the university. With the exception of women’s volleyball, the program continues to struggle — including a losing record in football against Division III teams in Wisconsin. You gotta love the irony!

In any event, Long’s stand is a breath of fresh air in the world of semi-professional football (let’s call a spade a spade. The players are even talking about forming a union). It is remarkable, however, that we make a fuss over a man doing the right thing for a change. It should be a matter of course, especially at an institution of higher education. But it’s not, so here’s a tip of the hat to Jeff Long. Let’s hope it’s the start of a new trend.

Nuts and Bolts

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal tells about how disenchanted employers are with their employees who have majored in business but can’t use their minds. That comes under the heading of “Duhhh.” As the article notes, The biggest complaint: The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don’t develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal-arts courses. I have been saying this ad nauseam, as readers of these blogs and my book on education and published articles will attest. It has been known for years that those trained to do specific tasks are too close to the trees to see the forest.  For example, students who major in business have historically scored low on the LSAT tests required by law schools, a fairly accurate indicator of weak analytical skills. As this article notes, such students lack communication skills as well. Employers have been saying for some time that they need employees who can make an oral presentation, read and write memos, and “think outside the box.” This complaint is not all that new.

The explanation is not hard to find. Increasingly in recent years local school boards, made up of small businessmen and businesswomen, farmers, and a cross-section of the local population have embraced the business model that stresses the bottom line and have been pushing vocational courses in the public schools. At the level of higher education, the business model has been adopted as well and administrators are increasingly trained in “academic administration,” with a smattering of liberal arts courses and the faculties themselves are for the most part trained in narrow disciplines while the liberal arts wallow in obscurity and enrollments dwindle. It is perfectly understandable that the business world would now discover that its employees cannot use their minds even though they can do a few things fairly well. But it is not only business that has suffered from the increased emphasis on vocational training.

Society, especially a democratic society, needs people who can think, who can make the intelligent choices and work through the mud that surrounds them. But while companies, especially large corporations, may complain about the inability of their employees to think critically,  they assuredly do not want people who are likely to stir up the mud. And you can’t have it both ways. So they have not been willing to endorse a meaningful course of study in the liberal arts for future employees and have been only too willing to push for more business courses and increasing emphasis on “career” paths through the minefield of both lower and higher education. So the result is a plethora of well-trained but uneducated employees who have a narrow focus and cannot see the wider canvas.

Employers will continue to complain that they need employees with communication skills who can write an intelligible memo and make persuasive oral presentations, solve problems and think critically. But, liberal arts courses are expensive and don’t appeal to the masses of poorly trained students coming out of the high schools who want a piece of paper that will make them marketable in the short term. Furthermore, employers will continue to choose those graduates with business and marketing majors because they don’t need expensive training, and they won’t be likely to think too much about what they are doing. Eventually the companies will figure out that they can’t have it both ways and they will have to choose between employees who can think for themselves or employees who will do what they are told. It’s not hard to guess which choice they will make.

Note the irony: the education establishment has increasingly embraced the business model and even introduced a plethora of business courses into high school and college curricula (with the encouragement of business itself) and now those in business are complaining that the people working for them can’t use their minds.  It’s called being “hoist by your own petard.”

Foreign Policy

The latest out of Afghanistan is somewhat unsettling. The story begins: KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan and the United States have reached an agreement to curb night raids on Afghan homes, giving Kabul veto power over the operations despised by most local people and control over treatment of any detainees, Afghan officials said on Sunday.

Let’s think about this. In light of the recent killing of 17 civilians, including children, by an American soldier on his seventh tour of duty in two different war zones, not to mention the burning of the Quran at a NATO base resulting in waves of daily protests that brought about the death of seven people and the injuring of 65 others, we now condescend to turn tactical decisions over to the people who actually live in that country. What do we call this? Largess? Generosity? To state the obvious: this is their country. We don’t belong there. Our only possible reason for going there in the first place was to capture or (as it turned out) kill Osama Bin Laden — who, as I recall, was killed in Pakistan where he was apparently being protected by our “allies.” Once that was accomplished, we should have turned things over to the Afghan people and gotten the hell out.

Our foreign policy needs some serious review. As a country we have a disturbing tendency toward paternalism and a misguided sense of our own superiority that must be galling to people elsewhere in the world. As was clearly the case in Iraq, our presence in Afghanistan is unwelcome. I would imagine the people of that country feel as many Americans did in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the British armed forces could be seen everywhere in our colonies and military rule was the order of the day. We are an occupying force in a country that wants us out of there — and has for a number of years. Recent developments have simply made things worse and the flames of discontent burn higher and hotter today than they did yesterday. The claim that we must remain there to contain the Taliban is absurd. We have been unable to deal with them militarily –something like trying to nail Jello to the wall. So dialogue seemed to be the wise option. However, any chance of opening talks with those people went up in flames with the Quran.

The very least we can do is to allow the local government to “call the shots” as we prepare to evacuate the country sooner rather than later and allow the people to deal with their centuries-old problems themselves. They may not live the way we would want them to live, but they may not want to live the way we want them to, either.  To repeat, it’s their country and in their eyes we are the ugly Americans.