Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Obama is Right - Foreign Policy is More than War - It's Having a Smart Strategy

President Obama is right - foreign policy is not about military adventures, which always end badly. It's about being strategic and smart in global affairs.

For example, the Ukraine crisis was a  fight between the USA values and Russian values over a land grab --Crimea and east Ukraine. Instead of troops Obama fired economic sanctions. Result? Putin blinked and backed off.  Shutting off his cronies visas and bank access made things uncomfortable for the super rich in Russia which wanted to eat its way across Ukraine's rich mineral lands after taking its valuable port city.

It is Obama 1 and Putin 0 on Ukraine - without the U.S. losing a single soldier or Trillions in cash.

Economic sanctions spoke louder than boots on the ground or jets in the sky in this interdependent economic world we now live in.

This is an example of the 21st century Economic Strategy I laid out in "Agenda for American Greatness"

America must return to No. 1 in education and infrastructure to WIN this global economy. Bush Cheney's Iraq misguided adventure wasted over $5 Trillion for invading a country not involved with 9/11. It will cost another $5 Trillion in medical care for almost 2 million vets who were sent on repeated missions while the rest of America went to the movies and over ate.

How many times do we have to be stupid to get smart?

Obama has been smart in not getting sucked into major land wars like Bush seemed to think would solve things, but made it worse at great expense.  The Iraq war opened a new world for terrorism since Saddam had never let Al Qaida into Iraq. Now they are moving from Iraq to Syria. Iraq was started on false evidence and incompetently handled -- we went into a voluntary war with even a plan of what to do once Saddam was defeated, with too few troops to produce security because Rumsfeld had a crazy idea you could wage war with underwhelming force.

"Agenda for American Greatness" goes far beyond what the President has laid out. If Americans follow it, we shall again be the best and brightest country in the world....

I disagree with the President in this respect - Terrorism is not our greatest threat. Their explosions on our homeland will not destroy our right to vote or democracy. The greater threat is our own Congress which has been destroying our economy.

They have been destroying our future by failing to do anything other than working 100 days a year and playing politics full time. The GOP part of Congress has been the biggest problem - not the moderates but the alleged tea party side which has refused to invest in making our education system No. 1 and rebuilding 70 year old falling apart infrastructure that would create jobs.

Imagine the horror of creating jobs that might make the President look better! It's more important to pick up Senate seats than actually do their jobs!

In other words Pogo was right: "We have met the enemy and he is us."  Specifically it is a Congress more interested in sabotaging our economy to win elections than doing right by American workers.

Our Congress has done more damage to our economy and American jobs than all the terrorists combined. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz shut down our government over the fact people would be getting health insurance for the first time under "Obamacare" - shutting NASA, veterans checks and services, etc. as a result. Al Qaida has never been able to accomplish the damage to our economy that a Ted Cruz in Congress has been able to self inflict on us. Talk about stupid and foolish. Rome would be proud.

Stay tuned by following for updates...

It's at the end of this link, the final chapter in "Better Times Ahead April Fool"...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

60 Years After "Separate but Equal" Was Unequal - Our Greatest Eductaion Crisis: Kids who can't READ

Texas spends only $6,400 per student per year on education, $21,000 per inmate per year in prison.

Sixty years ago the US Supreme Court decided “Brown vs Topeka Board of Education” ruling that segregation was a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Justice Warren said that “separate but equal was inherently unequal.” 

He was right and still is.  Things are still separate and unequal in many parts of our education system. Poor kids schools don't have the computers and labs they have in richer school districts. That deprives that kid of the same opportunity to succeed as one lucky enough to attend a better school.

It’s why Texas has been sued over its funding of education time and time again. It is shortchanging our state and students, as you'll see from what I learned a few hours ago.

Today I had the honor of attending a LULAC meeting in Houston and heard the HISD leader,  Terry Grier, talk about our Houston schools, what they are doing --and what needs to be done. 

Here are some fascinating things I heard from him and LULAC’s speakers:
·       We are in a crisis because of a lack of emphasis by Texas state leaders, and even parents and kids, on education.

    Grier said that we have too many kids who can’t read the technical manuals to get certified for a high paying job, even though the manuals are written at an 8th grade level!  (I can back that up – I’ve personally witnessed China go from behind us to ahead of us in key technologies and skill sets, described in “Better Times Ahead April Fool”).

·       51% of the students in Houston’s schools today are Hispanic. And it is growing. (Their success is critical to our future in the high tech global economy. If they are high wage earners that will help us boomers get paid social security and Medicare. If the next generation end up at McDonald’s or in prison, America and boomers are screwed).

·       HISD says only 30% of the teachers are Hispanic. Despite bonuses they can’t get U.S. Hispanic teachers, so they recruit teachers from other countries! I found that amazing, and puzzling. Why can’t they attract local Hispanic teachers? 

·       Our kids are great at Math but FAIL at READING. It’s our biggest problem. If a kid can’t read they can’t learn. 85% of the people in our prisons are people who cannot read!  Experts say that by measuring 3rd grade reading levels they can predict how much prison space they will need. 70% of prisoners read at a 4th grade level.

·       Grier mentioned a test where kids got a 40--clearly failing-- but when he asked the questions they KNEW the answers. The problem? They couldn’t READ the test questions!
·       Texas spends $6,350 per student for education versus $21,000 a year for each prisoner. (Moral: Cheaper to educate than incarcerate).

·       Having a Mexican American studies course encourages minority kids to read, which makes sense. There is only 1 book for every 300 kids living poverty! Minority kids are also harder on themselves when a test throws them. White kids seemed to blow off the test and not take it so personal.

·       Finally, students do best when they feel wanted and valued.
I got a chance to address the group at the end. I said that had finished running for U.S. Senate and supported HISD and LULAC’s efforts to boost education, due to what I had seen working in over 50 countries the last 30 years. When I told them that I saw everyone as the same except “we each got a different paint job” they laughed. Hispanics have a great sense of humor. Because they know its TRUE. 

The only thing separating America from being No. 1 vs 100 in the world is EDUCATION. To solve our problem that means a laser like focus on READING. Without reading skills, we end up paying $21,000 a year warehousing illiterates in jail instead of spending $6,000 educating future high income earning workers, boosting our economy and paying taxes.

Even those of us without kids have a stake in insuring our country’s future economic success if we set up the next generation of Americans with the best education possible. That will guarantee the income and tax levels needed to pay benefits to the retired among us.

Kids themselves need to realize they need to light a fire under themselves -- because it is their skin and their future at stake. Do they want to live hand-to-mouth at minimum wage jobs the rest of their life?  If our kids don't get those skills, young adults from other countries will be taking their place in the better paying jobs. These American kids will be taking orders instead of giving them or taking luxury vacations.

Kids in China and India have had to struggle with extreme poverty. They have the drive to excel, more than our own kids.  We need that same motivation. You’ll find my Global American roadmap to success here and “Agenda for American Greatness.”  

I know it is possible because of our American values and opportunities. If you don’t think so, stay tuned…

We have excellent role models for these kids in the likes of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who may soon become Obama's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

India, the World's Largest Democracy. Better Times Ahead? Or April Fool?

INDIA is the largest democracy in the world and one of the most overwhelming countries I have ever seen. When they popped the doors of the jumbo jet, the smell is the first thing that hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a mixture of rotting vegetation and human waste. It never got easier over a series of trips I made "back in the day."

 New Delhi, India: A Cobra snake charmer
 Photo above: That's me, Michael Fjetland, on the left with our British controller on a project in India, about 1980.

The people were friendly, but the environment was nothing like I'd ever seen--children coming up to the taxi at stop lights with parts of their limbs missing. I later find out some were intentionally mutilated like that to improve their prospects of earning a living as a city beggar.

With the election of Mr. Modi, who has a checkered past, we'll see if that changes.

I first went to India in 1979 as a young legal negotiator for a Texas Fortune 500 company, back when tax rates were 70%! Getting a deal approved was a nightmare. It required negotiating first with an Indian party, and again with the federal government. If you gave too much away during the first negotiation and had nothing left to give during the second round, your project would not be approved. I saw major American law firms fall into this trap because they didn't know the "unwritten" rules of India.

The title of my book "Better Times Ahead April Fool" comes from a sign I once saw in India at 2 a.m. during a taxi ride from one of the first class hotels in Bombay (now Mumbai) to the airport. In the middle of dark streets and unpainted buildings, a white plastic sign stood out as we flashed by. In red and blue letters it read at the top: BETTER TIMES AHEAD. Below in blue it said: APRIL FOOL

That became the theme of my book. Ironically I had arrived on that trip on April 1, April Fool's day, flying high for a Fortune 500 company. Within three years I would be laid off and lose it all.

India today is facing the same question under Mr. Modi: Better Times Ahead? Or April Fool?  We'll have to wait to find out.

The sights and smells of India make a deep impression. It is 80% Hindu and 20% Muslim. Cows are sacred. It has a caste system that says some people are better than others even though all are of the same Hindu faith, with "Brahmins" at the top and "untouchables" at the bottom. It is a land of immense contrasts.

The U.S. is the oldest democracy, so the question is how India and America can plot a future together now that India has elected a new leader whose past included violent Hindu extremism, but also successful economic development according to this article. India has had a stormy relationship with its two neighbors, Pakistan and China, including several border wars and the ongoing dispute over Kashmir.

India's population is over 1.2 BILLION, about the size of China's. India and China share a border and the two countries make up nearly 40% of the world's population. Consider this startling statistic: over 600 million Indians are under the age of 25! That's almost twice the size of the entire United States. And they will be looking for JOBS. Finding jobs for them will require a growth rate of 7%, more than twice what it is currently.

Today in America we have over 2 million high-tech, high paying jobs that remain unfilled because Americans don't have the tech skills required. Chinese and Indians do have workers with those skills. China and India are producing the engineers the U.S. is not.

In the meantime, if you want to see what I saw in India, you know where to look. I included photos showing the immense changes in the last 30 years. One thing Americans will recognize: TRAFFIC.

It was my experiences in these countries that formed the basis of the final chapter: "Agenda for American Greatness." It's a roadmap of how we get back to No. 1 in a changing world with countries like China and India taking over as the top economies in the world. China is now No. 2 and is expected to replace the U.S. as No. 1 by 2020. India is right behind China....

Educate yourself because they aren't going away as their economic strength continues at the same time our Congress has sabotaged our economic future.

Friday, May 16, 2014

What a Viking Discovery in Canada Tells Us About Americans -- and Illegal Immigration

After 50 years fruitless years of finding nothing since the first discovery that the Vikings from Norway discovered America 500 years before Columbus, researchers have just found a second Viking outpost in the Americas with a startling twist.  

It turns out the Vikings weren't like the stereotype from the Kirk Douglas Movie "The Vikings" - raping and pillaging the English coast for beer and booty. That kind of activity is best left to politicians.

It turns out that they were the first traders to link the old world Europe with new world America -- traveling thousands of miles of cold sea in open boats. They didn't show up to kill and conquer America, but to farm and trade with it. Frankly, I'm amazed they survived sailing in those conditions without a cabin, toilet and a chef onboard.

Cleverly, the Vikings took iron and wood from Norway to trade for pelts from the American natives in the Arctic. Then they took that loot to England to trade with the rich Nobles who prized the fur. They used sticks to count the trades. Maybe that is when they discovered beer and pillaging.

My family immigrated from Stavanger Norway (a port city) around 1880. They settled in the Midwest (Iowa, Minnesota etc).  Now I know I come from a long line of independent global adventurers who broke down barriers between continents (as America must now do to thrive in this new global economy.) They survived harsh conditions and thrived with far less opportunities than we have today.

I had no idea I would accidentally follow in those footsteps when i went from milking cows on an Iowa farm to negotiating with the "natives" globally, flying Mach 2 on the Concorde before losing it all, then getting it back. ("Better Times Ahead April Fool"). Vikings were farming Greenland--a LONG way from motherland Norway -- in the 14th century! I wonder if they hated milking cows as much as I did.

It is also more proof that we Americans can't be too picky who we say can't come in. Vikings just traded with the natives, for mutual benefit. They didn't try to conquer them. After Columbus' arrival, it was a complete takeover of the American natives.

In other words, we are all illegal immigrants. Our fore-bearers bumped out the natives across the continent. So how can we be hypocritical about blocking entry to other people from other countries who come here with the same desire for a fresh start? How is their illegal entry any different from our own entry and conquest of all native peoples in America "back in the day"?

There should be a path to citizenship and legal status for these people as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Such a solution is long overdue and vital for our continued future success because these people do the jobs ordinary Americans won't touch.  They don't take CEO jobs paying $20 million up. Their kids were brought here as infants are innocent and deserve citizenship and an education to contribute to our future.

Food for thought.

OK, I don't think Vikings REALLY wore horns, but they did know how to have FUN and party now and then (reference Kirk Douglas.) That's a Nordic tradition we should adopt --more fun and fewer politicians passing gas...!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Passing up Obamacare - My Biggest Mistake

So much for loyalty. Because of it I passed up an opportunity to sign up for a policy under Obamacare, and it is costing me big-time.

Last December my health insurance company offered to renew the policy for another year at the same rate I was paying. Since I was turning 65 and eligible for Medicare at the end of the year, and partly because the ACA website was not yet quite working, and partly to show loyalty to an insurance agent who had served me with health coverage for several years, I decided to renew it instead of getting a cheaper plan I found on the ACA website.

BIG MISTAKE. Yesterday, I got a letter from United Healthcare (the so-call "Golden Rule" policy) jumping my rates 30% - from $644/month (for just me) to $840/month starting July 15th - in the middle of the year term!

My health insurance agent of many years told me today that health insurance companies can change the rates ANYTIME even after you have renewed for a full year at a fixed rate. I passed up a lower cost ACA policy to give them a commission - and I'm told that agents "don't make much anyway."  Well, if you didn't want my insurance commission  that much why was I trying to do you a favor by sticking with you until I get Medicare at 65? The conversation went downhill from there.

Until ACA came along, individuals like me who aren't in a group plan get screwed whenever the company like United Healthcare wants to jump the rate ANYTIME during the year you signed up for. Now, because of ACA, the Texas State Bar can finally offer solo lawyers a GROUP rate. They tried to do it for 7 years before ACA but were unable to do it. I hope that as a nonpracticing attorney I can still qualify. I refuse to allow UH to hit me with a 30% in the middle of a policy year.

I am going to check it out now. I heartily encourage everyone to get an ACA plan if they are an individual. The REAL DEATH PANELS are the health insurance companies who get to make whatever rule they want whenever they want.  After the lay off I describe in my book "Better Times Ahead April Fool" my income was so sporadic that I had to go without health insurance for over 20 years! Finally, I developed a business with a rich cash flow that allows me to continue an expensive individual policy - but what about those millions of Americans who are in the same boat I was in during "Better Times Ahead...?""

Jumping my rate from $644/month to $840/month for 1 person is absurd - I haven't even been in a hospital or taken prescription meds in 30 years!

Obamacare rocks if you are an individual needing affordable health insurance. I will never pass it up again! Unlike most Americans I have done business in over 50 countries - and seen that we are the only ones who don't cover the medical needs of our citizens.

How is that better than the rest of the world? From better health care to keeping America a global leader, I wrote a roadmap for success in the chapter entitled "Agenda for American Greatness" - a FREE version with photos is at the link.

As I show in "Agenda" we need more than the Affordable Care Act to get back to No. 1. However, I will never make the mistake of passing on Obamacare again.  Pass it on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

United Healthcare Just Jumped My Premium 30%! Should have taken the Obamacare!

Don't make my mistake - 

I decided to be loyal to my insurance agent one last year since I qualify for Medicare in December - just a few months away. So I passed up an AVA ("Obamacare") policy before the deadline. The ACA policy choices had a much LOWER premium and deductible (I know, I am old fashioned that way--he's an old friend and I figured he could squeeze me one last time. lol).

 My current deductible is $10,000! The ACA one was less than $6,000 for 1/2 the premium.

Today I got a notice that they are jumping my premium on July 15 from $644 to $840 a month! They said NOTHING about that when I renewed last December. TRICKY. Make you sign up for a year then raise the rates half way through it.

I feel discriminated against - a friend of mine works for the State and pays only $200 a month for a family of 5!

So, I will either have to be robbed for the final months of the year, or let it lapse and take the risk (I never get sick and hardly ever even get prescription meds). 

The USA remains the only developed country that does not offer its citizens medical care. That is pretty sad. It certainly isn't something that makes us "No. 1" - like Texas having the highest number of uninsured...I don't think its "pro life" to deny people healthcare access or food...

So United Healthcare has screwed me for the last time.  If anyone wants to help me cover the premium, you can buy my ebook "Better Times Ahead April Fool" - LOL. It's a global adventure story (all true) -- and not one chapter on healthcare in it!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Nigeria: Bigger Film Industry Than Hollywood, Missing Girls and Bad Luck Jonathan

Did you know that NIGERIA has the SECOND largest film industry in the world? That Hollywood is No. 3? India is No. 1.


A video has surfaced showing the kidnapped girls praying "to Allah" and dressed in traditional Islamic dress - when in fact most of the girls are Christians.

So WHY has the government of Nigeria been so uninterested in bringing back these girls?

Is the fate of these innocent girls changing Good Luck Jonathon into "Bad Luck" Jonathon?  What is happening in oil rich Nigeria (the Saudi Arabia of Africa)? My story and experiences in Nigeria in the chapter "Jet Lag and African Voodoo" in my book "Better Times Ahead April Fool" will open the door to that mysterious place, a country split between a Christian south and a Muslim north...

Why was I there? I had been hired by a Texas oil entrepreneur who wanted to get government approval for a "small" oil concession - ten wells, each spewing 10,000 barrels of oil a day! Add ten wells times 10,000 times the price of oil today ($100 barrell), and you'll see why we were there...and what happened...

My wish is for the girls to be free. You'll see why that is so hard to do in "Better Times Ahead April Fool."
Nigeria's GIANT oil rigs...where does all that black gold go? I found out...