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Obama In Turkey – An Exercise in Cross-Cultural Awareness

April 15, 2009 4 comments

Over the past week, President Barack Obama was up to quite a lot. He had a few things on his plate – the G20 Summit, a speech directed at nuclear non-proliferation, a meeting in Turkey with political, religious, and future leaders, approving his kid’s new dog, etc. You can read more about Obama’s busy schedule in the article I wrote entitled, “A Busy Busy Obama.”

Through all the excitement something struck me that goes to the heart of why Obama will be a GREAT president. During his town hall with Turkish university students he mentioned that he wanted to finish the town hall before the Call to Prayer. Check it out at 3 minutes and 20 seconds (3:20) into this video.



Why does this grip me so? Well, a few years ago I did a seminar/presentation on cross-cultural understanding in the business world. The whole presentation centered around a simulated business meeting, where one group had to do business with another. One group however was deeply religious and had something similar to the Call to Prayer they had to do.

During this simulation everything went well, and business was looking good except for when the religious group realized the people they were dealing with were insensitive to their religious beliefs. And to be fair, the other group wasn’t really privy to such general but detailed information. (I withheld such information, and only told the non-religious group that the people they would be dealing with are very socially conservative and deeply religious.)

Both groups asked me how I would have dealt with such a situation. I told them I would have done my research concerning the others’ religious faith and customs. The moment I read, “deeply religious,” in my briefing report I would have asked follow up questions. I told the group I would have vocalized and stated that I was aware of their “call to prayer.” This little step would have made all the difference during the initial negotiations.

Acknowledging these cultural characteristics, even in a lip-service way shows, at least, that you are aware to some degree of the difference in the room. From that point on people know that you know about them, and can feel that you are taking everything into account.

By acknowledging the Call to Prayer Obama showed that he was culturally sensitive to the people he was engaging. If Obama shows this level of thought and sensitivity to another people, something tells me his policies are not fly-by-night suggestions.

Peace

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Buy American Clause Not So Bad

March 8, 2009 1 comment

So as I’ve been following the recent downturn in the world economy, and paying a special note to the blame being given to the United States for being the cause of this bleak situation. I guess turnabout is fair play. I mean, U.S. leaders try to dictate to the rest of the world how it should act, and we often play the blame game, so I guess it’s our turn. We took some stupid risks, and now everything is messed up…Sorry. I would like to hear more concrete solutions than blame, but what do you expect it’s human nature, right?

Within this time of note, I’ve been paying particular attention to how this new administration is going about things. President Obama and his team seem to be trying to get the U.S. back in shape, not only for the short term, but for the long term. This brings me to the subject of this post.

In the new stimulus package, that was recently signed into law, there is this little clause headed, “Buy American – Sec. 1605. Use of American Iron, Steel, and Manufactured Goods.” This little clause seems to be getting all the attention, as it apparently rings of protectionism towards U.S. industries. Interestingly enough, since this whole global downturn started many countries seem to implementing “protectionist” policies. From Sarkosy looking to help French automakers by floating them money to Russia raising tariffs on imported cars to India restricting certain ‘made in China’ products from entering its nation, the protectionist swing is going on, and it seems to be the hippest move.

Okay, back to the ‘Buy American’ clause. I don’t know what the problem is? If you read the whole thing, it’s really not that bad. Check it out:

BUY AMERICAN
SEC. 1605. USE OF AMERICAN IRON, STEEL, AND MANUFACTURED
GOODS.
(a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made
available by this Act may be used for a project for the construction,
alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public
work unless all of the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used
in the project are produced in the United States.
(b) Subsection
(a) shall not apply in any case or category
of cases in which the head of the Federal department or agency
involved finds that—
(1) applying subsection
(a) would be inconsistent with the
public interest;
(2) iron, steel, and the relevant manufactured goods are
not produced in the United States in sufficient and reasonably
available quantities and of a satisfactory quality; or
(3) inclusion of iron, steel, and manufactured goods produced
in the United States will increase the cost of the overall
project by more than 25 percent.
(c) If the head of a Federal department or agency determines
that it is necessary to waive the application of subsection (a) based
on a finding under subsection (b), the head of the department
or agency shall publish in the Federal Register a detailed written
justification as to why the provision is being waived.
(d) This section shall be applied in a manner consistent with
United States obligations under international agreements.

The heading is all tough and protectionista like, but the actual body of the clause sings a different (at least in my opinion). First of all, this clause is referring to PUBLIC BUILDINGS OR PUBLIC WORKS. The private sector can do whatever it wants, and if a project is found to be INCONSISTENT WITH THE PUBLIC INTEREST things can change. Not convinced that this leaves the door open for foreign competition, well how about if the manufactured product you want is in short supply, too expensive, or just downright sucks? You can opt for an alternative. Oh, and to top this all off this clause states that it SHALL BE APPLIED IN A MANNER CONSISTENT WITH UNITED STATES OBLIGATIONS UNDER INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS.

Can I get some relief, and some calm? Of course any project manager that wants to waive this clause so he/she is not in violation of U.S. law, will need to put everything in writing (small price to pay…okay more paperwork – say it…Bigger Government!).

Maybe what the Obama administration is trying to do is motivate U.S. industries to raise their product quality, while making sure things remain fiscally sound. Again, this is pertaining to public projects, so maybe Obama is trying to make the Federal Government fiscally sound?

Personally I think the central government should use homemade products. I would take it as a source of great pride to know that my tax dollars when to the construction of a building that uses quality American goods, produced by my fellow citizenry.

So this doesn’t pertain to fuel, cars (unless built for government use), homes, cotton, food, etc (at least that’s how I interpret it). If China can spend billions upgrading it’s physical infrastructure, and encourage its population to buy Chinese made goods, why can’t we do the same?

In any case, I hope the global community doesn’t get in too much of a huff (I might be too late on that one) over the ‘Buy American’ clause. It’s not as tough as people have been making it out to be.

Peace

Madoff Might Be MakingOff

January 8, 2009 Leave a comment

If you haven’t been keeping up with this story here’s the short of it; rich man gets richer by investing rich peoples’ money then loses it in crock scheme while he stays somewhat rich (actually most of the rich are still rich). Check out this link for some up to date news about Madoff and his 50 billion losing spree. Check out this one for background info.

What would you do if someone lost…lets say, US$100 (One hundred dollars) of your money? You might be a little upset (I know I would). Now imagine that amount is US$100,000,000 (One hundred million dollars). What would you do to that person now? I tell ya, Madoff’s best option is to go to jail, so he will be safe. People have been killed for a lot less. If it were me, and it were my money that was lost, I would probably have Madoff stricken from the record – permanently. That’s just me. Not everyone is as cold-blooded as I am. But you would have to think, there must be a long waiting list of people to see this gut who want to serve him up, at least, a knuckle sandwich. Let’s hope first on that list is Lady Justice, and she’s carrying more than just broken scales.

Peace

They Got Him!!!

Better late than never. The Osaka police folk nabbed the former President and CEO of now defunct NOVA Corporation, Nozomu Sahashi. See “Former Nova chief arrested” for all the details.

All I will say is this guy is a crook, and wouldn’t know how to properly manage a sandwich in to a paper bag. I sincerely hope they throw the book at him. I don’t wish him any ill will, I just want him to rot in jail for the rest of his life. That’s how much he owes, fiscally and emotionally. But now the final decisions are up to the Osaka justice system. The Japanese justice system usually has a 99% conviction rate. I hope this guy isn’t in that 1% who get-off.

The Daily Yomuiri Online also has a good write-up if you care to read from more than one source. I pray for his soul. Peace

Government Catches Up To Business

So it seems that government diplomacy is following behind business diplomacy. According to The New York Times Online article “Taiwan and China Hold Formal Talks, by Edward Wong, and Alan Cowell reporting from Paris,

Representatives of China and Taiwan agreed in a meeting here on Thursday to establish permanent offices in each other’s capital to help coordinate discussions about closer relations. The agreement came on the first day of negotiations over how to strengthen the economic relationship between China and Taiwan…

About time, as according to the same NYTimes Online article, “Taiwan is the biggest investor in China and many Taiwanese businesspeople live on the mainland.” Businesses always seem to a few steps ahead of official government diplomacy. Thankfully, in this situation government policy seems to be really trying to follow businesses lead.

A catch-22 to this whole story is that China still considers Taiwan a “renegade nation,” and has ballistic missiles pointed at them. Still, business finds a way around all that. Another funny catch-22 to this courting relationship is that these two neighbors are just beginning to work out a currency situation that will allow normalization of currency usage in each nation. Taiwan is opening its doors to the Chinese Renminbi for the first time. Imagine the United States and Canada saying, today, “Hey guys maybe we should normalize our currency policies so we can use each others’ currency instead of always having to change money into Euros or Swiss Francs or Japanese Yen.” And still, business finds a way of dealing with these little financial hang-ups. Business is obviously tuned in to something, and are now hampered by a lack of government unity between these two major Asian economies.

I always believed it quite strange that China and Taiwan could never get along, as having an unruly neighbor these days is quite strenuous. If one neighbor is upset they aren’t just going to leave last night’s trash on your doorstep. But if they did, last night’s garbage isn’t the same old ramen noodles it used to be in the 1950’s. These days last night’s trash contains ballistic missiles with a topping of depleted uranium to make things extra nice and ripe when it smacks on your doorstep. Ramen noodles never tasted so good. Not to mention Taiwan has its own big neighbor that although has to stretch some distance can hit with alarming impact. So, who wants all that tension around the neighborhood? Isn’t it easier to just exchange wok recipes and call it a night?

I’m not oblivious to the history of these two nations, nor do I make underplay the inter-cultural tensions and ideologies of these two nations, but something has to be done as human casualties can be at stake. Taiwan and China have an interconnected history, as this tiny island was the main fleeing point for Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist ruling party the Kuomintang, which now heads the Taiwanese government, after defeat at the hands of Mao Zedong and his Communist Party at the end of the Chinese Civil War. Since those days in 1950 China has tried to bring Taiwan back under the delicate fist of “One China Unity.” I believe, if Taiwan had not transformed itself into a prosperous economic power we might not hear so much chest thumping from China about “One China” (a strong connection to the United States and other Western powers probably has something to do with the chest thumping as well). And if China had not taken off on its economic rise Taiwanese business people might not be pushing to normalize relations with the Mainland folk who chased them away. Still though, they are interconnected and no one can deny that. Separated by a stones-throw these two state entities are eternal neighbors, and what affects one will affect the other. They must get along. At least that’s what the business people believe, and are proving. Hopefully the governments follow suit.

Peace

A Tragic Blow To My Billionaire Fantasy Pick

As I opened my mail today I saw the report flashing across my screen – “Gates No Longer World’s Richest Man.” I was heartbroken. I’ve been putting Billy G. at the top of my list for about a decade now, and I have never been wrong, until now. Matthew Miller of Forbes.com reported that Gates’ best buddy Warren Buffet is now holder of the title – World’s Richest Man.

The mastermind of Berkshire Hathaway Buffet is rolling himself up in blankets made of share price supported wealth. Yes, I said share price because that is how Forbes calculated the wealth of the individuals on the list (+ outside main company holdings). Combined with outside Berkshire Hathaway holdings Buffet is worth roughly $62 billion in U.S. greenbacks. The even more diminishing return of the new list is that Gates isn’t even numero dos. No, that honor goes to Senor Carlos Slim Helu of Mexico.

He’s the “telecom tycoon” of Mexico, according to Forbes.com. My boy Gates comes in at 3 with about US$58 billion in the virtual pocket.

Carlos took him out with US$60 billion.

Now the real kicker to this story (if you’ve been keeping up till now) is Buffet and Helu all posted huge gains over the past year, and are poised to make even more money in years to come. Microsoft share prices actually went down because of the bid to Yahoo (unsolicited), otherwise Gates would still be at the top. Billy Boy was actually up US$2 billion from last year’s count. Gates lost share price, and still gained in overall dollars. Gotta love virtual money.

I know what you must be thinking, “How can I buy some stock in Berkshire Hathaway? I gotta get in on that.” Well sorry to burst the middle-class bubble but unless you have about $170,000 U.S. greenies kicking around you can’t buy a share. According to this story, share prices in Berkshire were at an all-time high of US$165,000 per share in December of 2007 (now you’re looking at like US$137,100). Better off trying Microsoft at US$37 per share. That’s why I still love Billy G. You can actually buy some of the company and feel like you’re apart of the high life.

So, I think to myself, “Wow! Someone is making money in the U.S…I thought there was a recession…? I thought people were losing homes…? I thought banks, airplanes, and job rates were falling…S?@T!!!! I must be really out of touch – Isn’t the U.S. fighting like 2 wars right now?!? I guess things aren’t so bad. Also, didn’t people get back like US$600 in stimulus? What am I doing in slow-moving Japan teaching English?” Ooops, then I jumped back into reality and realized who is in charge of the U.S. right now – George “I can’t even describe my contempt for him” Bush. All I’ll say is, gotta love fascist politicking.

If you want to see the list of those richer than you check it out. 5 notable notes from the Top 25

1) The gap from Bill Gates at ‘3rd Place’ to ‘4th Place’ is US$13 billion (from ‘1st Place’ to ‘3rd Place’ is US$4 billion);

2) India has 4 people in the Top 10;

3) China cracks the Top 25 with ’11th Place’ with a brotha from Hong Kong;

4) 7 out of the Top 25 are from Russia (Putin doesn’t jail all the rich people…Only those who oppose him.); and

5) The lone representative from the Middle East – Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud of Saudi Arabia (With petroleum trading at about US$110 per barrel, according to Bloomberg, things are pretty cushy in The Kingdom.)

Peace

MicroHoo!

February 1, 2008 Leave a comment

As I was scrolling through the New York Times Online front page I couldn’t help but notice this headline – Microsoft Bids $44.6 Billion for Yahoo. I hit a link that took me directly to a proposal letter from Microsoft to Yahoo!. Check out the letter for yourselves – http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/01/microsofts-letter-to-yahoo/

Now, I live in Japan where most everyone is wired to Microsoft operating systems (as is the rest of the World), and Yahoo! Japan is one of the biggest IT companies, if not the biggest, in Japan. Still though, when you flip on a computer you see Google’s dominating presence in the form of Google Ads, and other little features that make Google a household name. I think the Japanese even use the term “Google” to refer to internet searching (no matter what search engine they use). And now social utility sites like facebook are appearing on everyone’s LCD. I guess this merger isn’t about what’s happening in Japan because by all accounts from the Land of the Rising Sun, operations within these two companies are just peachy. If I hadn’t opened the NY Times website I would have never guessed this merger could ever take place, or even be on the table. That said, after some thought (about 5 seconds) I can’t say I’m surprised. Google is kicking everyone’s ass, and like I said before, with these new social networking sites like facebook (in Japan MIXI is really popular), what can you expect. There is a specialty engine out there for everyone.

I’m sure if Microsoft and Yahoo! can bridge their differences they can wrest some market share control from Google. In any case it should be interesting to see how other players in the industry react.