Monthly Archives: November 2019

Academic Malpractice

During my time as a professor at Miami University, lunch with my colleagues was often spent sharing stories about students’ less than admirable exploits both inside and outside the classroom.  The student’s name was never revealed and was always referred to as the newest “Harvey.” (I think we picked that moniker because none of us could recall having an actual student with that name.)  You might call it an example of reverse-whistleblower protection, shielding the perpetrator instead of the informant.  At the end of each saga, one or more of those present would remind the group, “Don’t forget.  They are still adults in training.”  And our role as mentors and advisors was to turn the event into a teaching moment.  Or as one of my mentors used to remind me, “The best teaching moments are often outside the classroom.”

Those lunches remain among my fondest memories of academic life as this December marks the eighth anniversary since my departure from Oxford, Ohio for Amelia Island.  They were also a reminder that colleges and universities are not only venues to learn about science, the humanities or business (in my case).  They are a student’s last stop on the road to life as an independent member of society.  It is as much about testing, sometimes by trial and error, the principles of personal responsibility and the consequences when one’s performance or behavior falls outside the norms of academic or personal conduct.  Besides preparing attendees for careers based on technical skills, higher education is akin to military training.  It deserves more credit than it is given for preparing young men and women for the battlefield of adulthood, by letting them practice before they face “live ammunition.”

The American system of higher education has its flaws, but having just spent four weeks as an adjunct professor at an Italian university, I have a new appreciation for the standards imposed upon students in most colleges and universities in the United States.  In contrast, the Italian system, based on both nationally mandated rules and policies of each institution, can only only be described as overly student-centric where the inmates run the asylum.

Image result for university of the sacred heart milanI will share just a few of the most obvious examples.  Upon arriving in Milan, I learned 53 students had registered for my graduate business course titled, “Design Thinking and Startup Launch.”  My immediate concern was how to effectively engage so many students in a class that involved case discussions and team projects.  Such classes at Miami University were often limited to 25 to 30 registrants.  However, I soon learned that 14 of the students had elected the “non-attending” option.  This meant they would never attend classes and their grade would be 100 percent dependent on one exam based on readings assigned by the professor.

Maybe you are asking the same question I posed to the coordinator of the graduate business program.  “Are you telling me a student can get credit for a class based on experiential learning without ever having the experience?”  Without hesitation, she nodded and explained this was based on national policies.  Just so you understand how absurd this is.  Some students would have to prepare analyses of business cases, then write and present a business plan while others would receive the same credit for a three and a half hour written exam.  I’ll come back to this later.

Well, at least I would have a more familiar experience with the “attending” students and prepared the syllabus and lesson plans accordingly.  On the first day of class, I received the second major surprise.  University policy allowed students to schedule their internships at the same time they were taking classes.  Even students who opted for the class-based alternative assumed it was an excused absence from class if their intern host asked them to work during the scheduled class period.  For the record, most graduate business programs in the USA set aside a semester for internships during which students are not required to take classes.

My third example involves deference to students who are not pleased with their grades.  A “non-attending” student can take their exam up to five times (I am not making this up).  To give you a sense of how ludicrous this is, I will share my experience with my first Italian “Harvey.” But first I need to tell you Italian students, by national policy, are graded on a scale of zero to 30.  Again, maybe you might ask the same question I did.  “Why would a nation which measures everything on the base-10 metric system, even the temperature, use a non-metric scale for scoring student performance?”  Chalk it up to one of the sweet mysteries of life as no one I queried had an answer.

Harvey #1, with whom I had no contact or correspondence over the four weeks I was in Milan, took the open-book exam on November 20.  The instructions clearly stated “answers must be supported by specific references or examples from the readings, cases and other material available on BlackBoard.”  For the same credit as an attending student, Harvey #1 submitted a two-page document with just two references to course material, one of which was entirely mis-interpreted.  Giving Harvey #1 the benefit of the doubt, I scored the exam as a 6/30.  Eighteen is a passing grade.  To Harvey #1’s credit, the student did not challenge my assessment and asked for guidance how to better prepare to retake the exam during the next testing cycle.

Which brings me to the last example.  One of the attending students (Harvey #2) missed three of the eight sessions, did not participate in class discussions when he did attend, and a peer review by his project team members indicated he had not made a significant contribution to the team effort.  As is often the case, he was the first student to challenge his grade when they were posted last night.  Which brings me to the final reason why I titled this post “Academic Malpractice.”  The student informed me he would refuse to accept the grade and would take the “non-attending” exam to get credit for the class.  In other words, his performance to date vanished into the ether with no consequences.  Not a great life lesson for an adult in training.

In addition to class participation on the team project, each attending student had a final assignment which included three essay questions.  The last question was, “What do you consider to be the most important traits of a successful entrepreneur?  Based on your answer, how would you assess your own potential to start and run your own business?”  In every article and case covered during the class, a recurring theme was the paradox of freedom versus responsibility.  Entrepreneurs are the masters of their own fate which also means they are accountable for their own actions.  Harvey #2 did not include this in his response to the question yet concluded his essay by saying, “I have all the typical characteristics of an entrepreneur.”

Based on this experience, I believe, Italian educators should be asking themselves the following critical question which addresses the impact of a culture which treats students like children as opposed to responsible adults.  Is Harvey #2 an anomaly or is he a product of a system where students who under-perform or do not commit to their studies are told, in the words of Gilda Radner’s Emily Latella, “Never mind!”

For what it’s worth.


I Get It


The following is an op-ed parody.

Why I Must Be Impeached

by Donald J. Trump
November 22, 2019

HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: Before I get to the primary reason for writing this op-ed, I just want to remind everyone this is the 56th anniversary of the day Ted Cruz’ father conspired with Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate John F. Kennedy.

For the past two weeks, my Republican apologists on the House Judiciary Committee have tried to make the point my impeachment and removal from office are a slap in the face to the 62 million Americans who voted for me in the 2016 election.  And if the Democrats think I should no longer be president, they can make that case to the people in 2020.  Let me tell you why they are wrong.

Image result for trump taj mahalAs many of you know, I once owned a few casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  But I am not saying that to remind you they all went bankrupt and I took as much money out of them as I could before the bankruptcy court could impound the assets.  I bring this up because our treatment of less than honorable patrons is the perfect analogy for the situation of my pressuring the president of Ukraine to announce he was ordering investigations into the debunked conspiracy theories about 2016 Ukrainian interference on behalf of Crooked Hillary Clinton and corruption by Joe and Hunter Biden.

You know there are people who come to casinos and use tricks to win lots of money by cheating.  I call them “card counters.”  And there was this one particular card counter by the name of Dan Johnson.  In 2011 he won over $15 million dollars in six months.  If you’re a casino owner, that can ruin your day.

In the old days, when the mafia ran most of the gambling enterprises in America, you did not have that problem.  Anyone caught counting cards would soon find themselves missing a few fingers or need knee replacements.  I was just telling Melania how much I miss those days.

According to an April 16, 2010 post on a website called “The Wizard of Las Vegas, “Johnson says he’s been banned at the Caesars and Harrah’s casinos in Nevada and was turned down by Resorts and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City.” The article goes on to say, “No evidence has been revealed to show that Johnson won the money by cheating, but the casinos figured they would cut their losses nonetheless.”  Imagine if there was evidence.  We would not have let Mr. Johnson within a mile radius of a Trump casino.

As “Sleepy” Joe Biden would say, what if those malarkey spouting Republicans on the Intelligence Committee were faced with this dilemma.  They would probably suggest you let Johnson play.  Let the cards fall where they may.  Don’t let a few unhappy people reverse the outcome of the game.

I know they think they are protecting me.  But I don’t want or need their help.  I got caught “counting votes,”  votes I probably would not get if the dealer was honest.  So think of the United States as the casino.  And at the moment I am the owner.  If you can ban a card counter from playing blackjack, even I would prohibit someone like me from running for re-election, or as Steven Miller calls it “playing whitejack.”

Do not feel sorry for me.  Just like my Atlantic City properties, I will leave the nation bankrupted while I escape with my pockets lined with taxpayer money paid to cover the cost of government officials and the secret service being housed at my resorts.  It’s more than enough to buy a retirement condo in Sochi, the jewel of the Russian Riviera.  прощание!

For what it’s worth.



It’s Mueller Timing


Related imageIn anticipation of the special counsel’s final report earlier this year, the most common meme was, “It’s Mueller Time!” However, as we now know, that brew turned out to have a shelf-life of less than two years and therefore was quite flat.  There were any number of explanations why the report, despite substantial references to contacts between Russians, Russian surrogates and the Trump campaign plus ten documented instance of obstruction of justice in the aftermath of the 2016  election, did not have a more devastating impact on Trump’s fate.  These included Attorney General Bob Barr’s mis-characterization of the findings, numerous redactions, Robert Mueller’s unwillingness to reach conclusions and his less than scintillating Congressional testimony.

In light of testimony during the first week of Roger Stone’s trial for trafficking in the hacked DNC emails, perjury (lying to the FBI) and witness tampering, it is clear that “Mueller Time” was more about “Mueller Timing.”  Already, some of the key witnesses have started to fill in the gaps behind the lines of black Magic Marker which mask critical passages in Mueller’s report.  For example:

  • Former Trump campaign manager and White House political advisor Steve Bannon has confirmed Stone bragged about his on-going communications with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
  • New York radio personality Randy Credico testified Stone pressured him to provide false information during the Mueller probe, even threatening to kill his service dog.
  • And just yesterday, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates confirms that he was with Trump while the then candidate was on the phone with Stone discussing a future release of more stolen DNC emails.  Gates said his account could be validated by the two secret service officers who were also in the car.

This third point is most damning as it counters Trump’s written answers to Mueller that he had no recollection of talking to Stone about WikiLeaks.  Of course, Trump can probably sidestep perjury charges as he couched his responses in the guilty defendent’s mantra of choice, “I do not recall…”

All this begs one, and only one, question.  Knowing that upcoming trials would give the Department of Justice a legitimate excuse to redact any information in the special counsel’s report which might bias the outcome of these trials, did Robert Mueller honestly believe it was more important to indict Stone than to make sure the public got the most complete version of his findings related to Russian interference in the 2016 election? I’m sorry, but this seems like a case of throwing out the baby to hold on to the bath water.

Roger Stone has been one of the most obnoxious and disgusting individuals on the American political scene for the past 50 years.  And I for one will not shed any tears if he goes to jail for the rest of his life.  But given the option, I would have sacrificed the pleasure of watching Stone squirm in front of a judge (which he has during the trial) if it meant the public would have earlier access to some of the most direct evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. (NOTE:  One can argue the release of a less redacted Mueller report might have deterred Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine just one day after Mueller’s Congressional testimony.)

Every one of the three witnesses referenced above were interviewed by the special counsel’s office.  Mueller was aware of every fact that is now being disclosed during Stone’s trial.  And consider the number of more important players he chose not to indict.  Donald Junior who is on record as welcoming Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton.  Paul Manafort for conspiracy.  Or Trump himself for obstruction of justice for personally drafting the false narrative about the July 2016 meeting with Russians or obstruction of justice when he refused to be interviewed by the special counsel or respond in writing to questions about previous obstruction of justice.  Mueller, if he so desired, could have challenged the non-binding Justice opinion related to criminal indictment of a sitting president which has never been tested in the courts.

Having spent two years with Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, Matt Whittaker and finally Bob Barr looking over his shoulder, Mueller should have known these Trump sycophants would use any opening to protect their leader.  And he gave them more than one.  We were told this was not surprising from someone who lived his life as “boy scout.”  If that’s the case, give me a so-so Samaritan with a better sense of judgment.


For the past couple of days, Trump has talked about releasing the transcript of an earlier phone call when he reached out to Ukraine president-elect Volodimyr Zelensky to congratulate him on his victory.  As he always does, Trump is claiming this will vindicate him.

Of course, one’s first reaction is, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  But strangely, we really should believe Trump this time.  Here’s why.  The Zelensky call occurred on April 12, 2019.  What no one in the media has pointed out is the fact that Joe Biden was not a candidate for president at the time.  Biden officially jumps into the race on April 25, 2019.

So, actually, a clean phone call on April 12 is more damning than the “stable genius” in the White House could imagine.  If Trump does not raise the issue of Hunter Biden and Burisma Energy before the senior Biden is a candidate, the ONLY reason to raise it after April 25 is to seek foreign assistance in the 2020 election because Joe Biden is now a threat to Trump’s re-election.  So much for the latest GOP non-starter defense, Trump’s state of mind showed no criminal intent.  Then why would Trump wait until Biden was an official candidate before withholding the Congressionally appropriated support for Ukraine’s defense against further Russian incursion?  It’s so obvious, one can hope even Lindsey Graham will understand it.

For what it’s worth.


Who’s Imitating Whom


In previous posts, I have made the case that sometimes life or politics imitates art, sports and too frequently movies.  And on a couple of rare occasions, I have suggested politics imitates business.  However, my current assignment teaching entrepreneurship in Milan has reminded me the relationship between leader and follower can be a two-way street.

In 2011, I researched and wrote a teaching case, I used to demonstrate how entrepreneurial behavior could be applied to virtually any discipline.  The case involved a decision by Bob Ortega, the owner of a regional Mexican food manufacturer, to expand his business nationally, competing against the two major players in the market.  The choice depended on several factors: product differentiation, raising the necessary capital to build the necessary national marketing and distribution infrastructure and whether he had the a support system willing to back his ambition.

The case opens with the following quote attributed to E. J. Dionne without identifying him as an opinion writer for the Washington Post.

A good entrepreneur triumphs by adapting to the times and taking advantage of opportunities as they come. A great entrepreneur anticipates openings others don’t see and creates possibilities that were not there before.

Once students finish discussing the case, I share my dirty, little secret.  There is no Bob Ortega.  The case is about Barack Obama’s decision to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president.  Dionne’s actual quote referred to politicians, not entrepreneurs.  Instead of market share expressed in dollars, the currency in the case is votes.

Related imageThis nexus between entrepreneurial and political decision making resurfaced last week while teaching a Harvard Business School case titled, “Starbucks Customer Service.”  The decision facing CEO Howard Shultz (yes, the same Howard Shultz of short-lived presidential ambition) is whether to invest up to $40 million in additional labor to address increasing consumer dissatisfaction.  The decline in customer gratification was the result of the company’s own success.  As a broader client base emerged, Starbucks faced competing needs between their original “sit and sip” patrons and the growing “grab and go” crowd.

The supporting documents which accompany this teaching case are data-heavy from which we can ascertain several facts.

  • Highly satisfied customers are more likely to drop in three more times per month than other customers.
  • Highly satisfied customers spend more per visit than other customers.
  • The increased revenue from highly satisfied customers over time more than justifies the additional investment in labor.

But that raised the most important question.  How many customers would you have to move from the “so-so” category to “highly satisfied” category to break even (i.e. cover the additional labor cost)?  The answer was 67 per store or just less than three percent of the  average annual per store clientele.  As Obama once said about calling out neo-Nazis as bad people, “How hard can that be?”

Which, as all things eventually do, brings us to the 2020 election.  Think of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania as Starbucks.  Democratic voters became increasingly disappointed with the level of customer service and decided to buy their coffee somewhere else.  Unfortunately, the new brewer-in-chief had no knowledge of what it takes to run a roastery.  So, as we approach 2020, the Democratic Party faces the exact same situation as Starbucks in 2002.  They have two very different customer categories.  Instead of “sit and sip” versus “grab and go,” they have left of center moderates and progressives wanting to lead a political revolution.

Shultz’ targeted investment in labor solved his business’ problem.   The extra person behind the counter meant baristas could still spend time schmoozing with the lingerers without holding up those who wanted their java NOW.  After laying out the numbers, here’s the bottom-line question I ask students.  “Is influencing 67 people doable?”  And the answer is, “Of course it’s doable.”

Folks, we’re not talking about three percent in these three battleground states.  In Michigan, we’re talking about 0.3 percent.  Pennsylvania, 1.2 percent.  And Wisconsin, 1.0 percent.  “How hard can that be?”  If the Democratic Party, in the age of Trump, regardless of the nominee cannot find a way to move such a small percentage of voters from the Republican to Democratic column, they have a bigger problem than voter suppression, foreign interference and social media.

Take a lesson from Starbucks.  Find solutions that address the legitimate customer service needs of both factions within the party.  When it comes to health care, talk about a public option which mirrors Medicare while allowing those who want to stay with their employer based coverage or private insurer to do so.  On gun control, you have a consensus on two issues, universal background checks and red flag laws.  The NRA will bitch and moan, but their own members overwhelming support these initiatives.  And you don’t have to promise free everything.  You just need to make a limited number of strategic investments.  For example, do you think climate change advocates would oppose investments to retrain coal workers to build solar panels and wind generators?

Maybe, instead of debating each other, the remaining Democratic candidates could sit down over a cup of coffee and figure this out.


The sacrifice our men and women make every day to keep us safe in an uncertain and dangerous world is normally something I would not joke about.  But this Veterans Day, I cannot pass up the chance to point out a synchronistic moment that could only occur in Trump World.  It began with release of an excerpt for Junior’s book Triggered, in which he shares his thoughts while watching his father lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed — voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off the office.

Junior much be taking Yiddish lessons from Jared because he certainly seems to know the meaning of the word CHUTZPAH.

Image result for baby trump balloon knifedBut then we had an angry Trumpster attack the inflated Baby Trump balloon with a knife at the Alabama-LSU football game Saturday.  When I saw this picture of the deflated caricature, I could not help but think, “Junior, now that’s what I call sacrifice.”  Baby Trump gave his life for the resistance.  And is more deserving of a purple heart than Junior’s father who accepted one from a veteran at a campaign rally without even stubbing a bone spur.

For what it’s worth.


Castle of the King

In the era of Trump, commentators regularly draw on a chess metaphor to describe the tactics employed by the Trumpists and those eager to end this national nightmare.  How many times, following one of Donald Trump’s self-inflicted wounds, do we hear, “The Democrats are playing chess, while Trump is playing checkers.”  I wish it were that simply.  Especially when Trump claims Article II of the Constitution allows him to ANYTHING he wants.  Is that not the checkers equivalent of reaching the opponent’s side of the board and demanding, “King ME!”

However, now that the formal impeachment process is underway, there is no question both sides are playing chess.  So, let me set up the game before examining the two sides’ strategies.  On one side we have Trump who begins the game with a king (Trump) and 15 pawns, and I need not tell you these are the WHITE pieces.  On the opposing side is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (the queen) and Adam Schiff (the king), and at the moment, a traditional array of players (bishops, knights, etc.) with one exception.  The rooks are yet to be identified.

The match began with a classic move by one of the black knights, an anonymous whistleblower, who foreshadowed every subsequent move.  As expected, several of Trump’s pawns countered this opening claiming “deep state” and “hearsay.”  Yet one move and response does not a chess match make as the game is now in its fifth week.

To demonstrate how complex and tense play has become we need only look at the moves of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman and just retired National Security Advisor Tim Morrison.  Vindman is the second black knight, coming to the rescue by quashing Trumps’ first defensive move that every account of the July 25 phone call was hearsay.  Plus he provided the seemingly damaging testimony that the publicly released “transcript” of the July 25 conversation with Ukraine President Zelensky is less than exhaustive.

Three days later, Trumpists on the Intelligence Committee claimed Morrison had testified the phone summary was more complete than Vindman avowed, and while he questioned Trump’s ethics, he did not believe the withholding of arms for dirt on the Bidens was illegal.  By calling this witness, had the black king Schiff fallen into a trap set by Trump’s pawns?  Did he not see this coming?

Or, was this the move that sets up mate and checkmate?  Did Schiff know Morrison would contradict Vindman, and welcomed his testimony?  Here is one possibility.  Trumpists are using Morrison’s testimony to again call for a halt to further impeachment proceedings.  Have Schiff and Pelosi set a trap and are preparing to call their bluff?  Imagine Pelosi now challenging the Trumpists to either stand up or shut up.

Regardless of which side you may be on, the worst possible outcome is a draw.  The white king must either be exonerated or vanquished.  And here we now sit with two versions of the same story: one that the released summary of the July 25 call with Zelensky is incomplete and the other claiming it is substantially accurate.  Both cannot be true.  There is only one way to discover the truth.  Demand the white king release the actual transcript, the one we now know was inappropriately remanded to a code-word secured server.

If Morrison is correct we will agree to drop the impeachment inquiry.  If, however, the transcript goes beyond the summary, and further documents a quid pro quo, House and Senate Trumpists must agree to support an article of impeachment charging obstruction of justice. even if you do not agree Trump violated his oath of office or abused his power.

Now one might find this a bit risky.  I do not.  Vindman had no doubt the summary omitted key information.  He even detailed to whom and when he made the case to re-insert the deleted material.  In contrast, Morrison cloaked his testimony concerning the validity of the summary with the phrase, “I do not recall…”   As any defense lawyer will tell you, “I do not recall…” is a time-tested means to avoid a perjury charge, the equivalent of a get out of jail free card in Monopoly.  Remember, Trump’s shill Gordon Sondland used the same language during his original congressional deposition.  Until every subsequent witness contradicted his testimony.  And yesterday Sondland informed the intelligence committee his recollection of the events surrounding the Ukraine quid pro quo have magically improved with the aid of the statements by Vindman and others.

Which brings us back to the case of the missing black rooks.  These pieces have a unique role in chess through a move called “castling,” during which the king moves to the corner of the board and is protected on his flank by one of the rooks.  In the coming days, expect a rook to emerge in the form of a Trump insider who forever dispels the narrative that impeachment is a left-wing conspiracy which Schiff has choreographed.

To some extent, Sondland’s amending his previous testimony serves this purpose.  But we should not be surprised if more people audition for the part as the legal jeopardy in which Trump operatives find themselves becomes apparent.  In other words, in this 2019 version of chess, white pawns can easily be transformed into black rooks.

Forget Fischer versus Spassky.  Or IBM’s Big Blue versus Kasparov.  By the end of the year, there may be a new grand master.  And as any chess expert will tell you, it is hard to win a match when all you have left are pawns.

For what it’s worth.