Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What Was that Bang? Ship Internet 40 cents/minute!

Second full day at sea. Unlike air travel, ship travel is a whole different experience. No ‘rush rush’ – you spend X number of days going at the same steady pace – about 18 knots (__ mph). No hair-raising take offs or landings – just slow rolls over the waves as we make progress like the tortoise.

In other words it’s perfect as a way to finally relax. You can’t hang on the Internet all day while at sea because the cheapest rate is 40 cents a minute (up to 75 cents/minute if you don’t choose a plan).

News takes on a different perspective from out in the water also. Today we got the CNN International channel, which is far superior to CNN domestic for providing news you never hear back in the USA (which is all the same!) There is also a Fox and a Denver local news channel – how weird that looks when you are hundreds of miles out in the Gulf of Mexico…

From out here the tax “deal” looks like the story about the boy who traded the family cow for a ‘magic bean.’ Only in this case the millionaires got the cow and the unemployed got a sterile bean that runs out a full year before the rich guys have to pony up – and the deficit just grew by another $800 billion. Where is the deficit reduction by either party in this deal? On CNN International today it was reported that Ireland will not only be cutting its budget to get help from Europe, but will also be RAISING taxes to meet fiscal reality. Is there any such fiscal reality in the USA?

We are living the reverse of JFK’s famous moon speech, saying “We must do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.” Now, our leaders “avoid things because they are hard, and do only if they are EASY, even if that means more ‘voodoo economics’ that puts us even more in the hole.

The message is clear from the new Congress. We continue to ‘borrow-and-spend’ to give millionaires at the top 2% another $700 billion paid for by the other 98% -- which is worse than ‘tax and spend’ because you then OWE the money. We continue to pass the debt to our own kids and grandkids. At least with tax and spend the budget is paid for. Our leaders continue avoid doing what is right because it is hard. No one wants to eat their vegetables, only the cake and ice cream.

Next stop – Nassau. I’ve been in over 50 countries but have never been to Nassau, Freeport or even Key West. I once spent about two or three hours on Eluthera Island, Bahamas – back in the late 70’s I was a young, newly-hired attorney for Brown & Root. One day the General Counsel gave me a thick contract and told me one of their small private jets would fly me and the contract to a place I had never seen before – the Bahamas -- for signature from Mrs. R.E. “Bob” Smith. It was for the sale of something like 20,000 acres, which became the B&R west side operation. It was the first and only time I met the widow of the famous Houston typhoon R.E. “Bob” Smith, who was already deceased at that time. Only she and a man were present when I arrived on their large yacht. She quickly let me know that the hull “had been imported from England.”

I remember at the time she laughed as she signed the sales contract, saying “Oh, Mr so-and-so will really be mad when he finds out.” I didn’t know if Mr. so-and-so was. My guess it was another advisor but who knows. I was a young kid, my mission was accomplished. We had lunch of “conch” (my Iowa farm boy’s first experience with seafood) and we flew back to Houston the same day. The entire time on the ground was not more than three hours. I was just the messenger but what an experience.

Later, they (B&R) wanted to put me as contract attorney on a naval base they were building at the time for the Shah of Iran –just before Khomeini’s revolution swept out the Shah -- and all the Brown & Root construction workers working on that naval base on the Persian Gulf (not long before Saddam’s war with Iran). What happened next is in the book I’m finishing.

It’s based in part on old travel journals I wrote while I was in places like Nicaragua just before President Reagan and the Contra revolution. I did the same when I was sent on missions for Fortune 500 business to early China, India, Pakistan, etc. -- before all the big changes occurred. I am one of the few who have seen first-hand what these countries were like when they had nothing, and how they have changed –and how that will impact our own future in the years ahead.

I stayed at the Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels in (then) Bombay, now Mumbai, India – before they were targeted in a terrorist attack in 2007 -- that attack came out of next-door Pakistan, where I spent time in port city Karachi (HOT as hell, like Houston) –where four American workers were shot some years later and Al Qaida hangs out today -- and capital city Islamabad in the mountainous middle. And like many Americans today, I was laid off and faced years of unemployment for being “overqualified.” That experience lead me to a prosperous career today, but only after discovering that sometimes the only way to get a job is to create a job for yourself.

All of these changes in the world around us will impact Americans’ future and America’s future…

In coming years America will need 120 million high tech jobs but only 50 million American workers will have the skills needed to fill them. Because our education system is failing, those jobs will have to go to foreign workers until and unless we upgrade our education system. But today Texas ranks 49th out of 50 in the percentage of our citizens getting a high school degree – not to mention a college or post-grad degree required for these future jobs! And we are CUTTING funding for education. What does that bode for our future in a space-age 21st century?

Most Americans haven’t traveled enough to personally see the great changes happening around us. Therefore they assume we are still in the “cat-bird’s seat.” They have no idea that we are losing ground unless we change our ways and our priorities. Asian kids are studying harder than our kids. European kids get more language training then our kids – which is an advantage in a global economy. Mexico is losing its war with the narco-terrorists. It is the linchpin for not just drugs but human trafficking into America.

My book will share the insight of “having been there/done that” globally with the American public -- so the public knows the truth about what is really going on in the world and how we can stay competitive in it -- instead of what Americans are being told by a Congress in which over half of the members do not even possess Passports!

Not having a passport means that they have never been outside our country. That means their experience with the world is zero –and I can tell you that all the books I read about China before I went was nothing like the China I found when I got there. Nor is it the same China today. Having leaders that don’t know the world we are competing with leads to “the blind trying to lead the blind” about the countries they are making decisions about! While China builds 300 mph trains systems we can’t even built a tunnel between New Jersey and New York to alleviate the traffic between the two cities.

Would you feel comfortable flying with a pilot to a place where he had never been to –like the Alaskan bush? Would you choose an African safari guide who was brought in from New York or L.A. and had never before experienced the bush? (Hint: You can, but the results will not be pretty).

So why would you pick a Congressional representative -- or President -- who had never been to Europe or Asia, the Middle East or South America --yet they think they have the global skills and knowledge necessary to represent the American people in the high tech global economy we are part of? Party political slogans don’t mean a thing when negotiating with the real world.

“Seeing Russia from Alaska” is nothing like having been there working business deals in Russia, (China, India, etc.) I can tell you that. As a celebrity or President you don’t see the “real” country, only what they want you to see. You never really get to know the people or how the country works. In India, we had to negotiate twice – once with the company we wanted to do business with (they were buying our pollution control equipment), and a second time with the government who had to approve the deal. I heard about companies whose legal counsel left nothing to negotiate with the government –so they never got their deal done. The smart negotiator left something on the table to give up at the Ministry so that they could show they had “done their job.” The people who really know the truth are the business people who have to negotiate deals in these countries – and experience their laws, customs, etc.

We went into the Iraq war not knowing the difference between Muslim Sunni’s and Shiites. We had forgotten that Iraq was part of the U.S. policy in the Reagan years as a counterweight for Iran, which kept it from being able to pursue a nuclear program. How many Americans know that during the Reagan years, the U.S. supplied Saddam with military know-how including satellite images of Iran?

Not knowing the differences, like how much the anti-religious Saddam and the overly-religious Osama bin laden hated each other, lead to a lot of mistakes on our part that got a lot of people being killed. Toppling Saddam, who had no WMD’s – gave Iran the freedom to pursue its nuclear weapons program once the U.S. had eliminated Iraq as a counterweight. Yet under Saddam, Christians in Iraq were protected and had been since the first days.

Now, since the Iraq War begin in 2003, few Christians remain in Iraq. Sunni’s and Shiites are killing each other and Christians too. Iraq’s new Prime Ministry Al Malaki is close to Iran and is removing professional intelligence officers and replacing them with political loyalists, undermining its intelligence and our future.

A few minutes ago the ship shuddered and I heard a bang of some kind, out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Cuba is somewhere off the right side – not more than 50 miles away. What was that? We are still moving.

Stay tuned…

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