January 19, 2021

A Dear John Letter to My Democrat and Republican Friends

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

It pains me to tell you, but it’s over between us. Our relationship simply cannot sustain your philandering from principle, deceit, abusiveness, duplicity and abject cowardice. I have tried to be loyal and true to you. I’ve listened to your explanations why you’ve squandered our financial nest egg and imprisoned us in a dungeon of debt. I was stoic when you patted me on the head and told me I’d have to wait to understand important legislation until after it was passed. I was silent as you both reverted to talking points instead of talking to each other.

I stood by the sidelines for years while you treated one another with meanness and spitefulness. Surely you must have known that my patience was running out. I thought I signaled my dissatisfaction in 2008 and then again last November, but it seems you thought I was just frustrated instead of thoroughly disgusted. You were wrong.

I must leave you now if I am to save myself and salvage what’s left of my decency and dignity. But before I do, I think you need to realize that you’ve become the DC version of ‘Desperate Housewives’ – a tragic parody of yourselves. To achieve your goals you’ve adopted tactics that even Tony Soprano wouldn’t use. You deserve to know what you can expect from each other in 2012 without me to referee, and I’m going to tell you. Here are your rules of engagement.

1. No honest exchange only sniping and obstructionism (using personal invective instead of discussing the issues)

2. Uber Nastiness (scorched earth policy using innuendo and false accusations)

3. Debasing each other’s groups (by calling their integrity into question)

4. Demeaning each other’s motives (by alluding to their lack of patriotism or ‘hidden agendas’)

5. Diminishing the importance of the law or the process (if it’s not getting the outcomes you want)

6. Refusal to admit mistakes and apologize for them (passing the buck has become our new  national pastime)

7. Pandering to the camera and the media (populism by sound bite)

8. Wrapping yourselves in the flag (by advocating American exceptionalism instead of promoting the American idea as exceptional)

9. Preying on the naiveté of our youthful voters (branding yourselves as the “new improved version” by stressing style over substance)

10. Spending obscene amounts of campaign dollars (as if that will make us feel better during the worst recession in decades)

11. Waging class warfare (dividing us by group, pitting us against each other)

12. Rhetoricalizing the debate (throwing more flowery words against the wall of our insecurity)

13. Winning at all cost (using the idea that we must first destroy a village in order to save it)

This is not a pretty picture, but it is a predictable one if I remember how you’ve treated me in the past.  Was I just a temporary diversion from your humdrum life? Were you using me as a stepping stone to something better like two more years or four more years in office? If you think I am angry, I am. If you think I feel foolish to have given so much of myself to you, I do. You violated my trust and that is something that defines me. You cannot redeem yourself for cheating on me and you had better get used to the idea that you cannot count on me as part of your ‘base’ any longer.

Yes, I am sadder, but I am also wiser. No silver tongue devil will ever again capture my heart (or my vote). Though the choices may be slim in 2012, I know what to look for when choosing new political bedfellows.  Sadly, they will not be you. Get used to sleeping on the couch.

Stephan Helgesen is a former diplomat and Honorary German Consul in New Mexico. He is also CEO of his own Albuquerque-based high tech consulting company, Second Opinion Marketing.



Health Care is Not a Right in a Free Society

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Healthcare

There is a proposal for a constitutional amendment in our State (New Mexico) to recognize healthcare as a basic human right. One of my colleagues and recently retired public health doctor wrote an editorial titled “Make Healthcare a Right for All” supporting the amendment. The following is my response:

I have read my esteemed colleague’s (Dr. Bruce Trigg) editorial today (2/25/11), titled “Make Health Care a Right for All.” While I have the utmost respect for Dr. Trigg, I must answer with the counter argument that health care is not a right– in a free society.

This nation was founded on the principle of “self evident truths” that each of us as individuals are born equal (not that we should share in all equally) and “endowed’” with “certain unalienable rights”, including the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Nowhere did our Founding Fathers mention “health care” as a right, neither in our Declaration of Independence nor in our Constitution or its Bill of Rights.

Now some would argue that in 18th and early 19th century America, “Health Care” was nothing to brag about—if not dangerous— and certainly, nothing to pursue as a fundamental right for all citizens. Others would argue that it was simply an oversight that the Founding Fathers did not include our health as a fundamental right. I would counter the first of those arguments by asserting that many Americans would travel back to Europe for their “health care” which had to be extraordinarily expensive and inconvenient and yet, there was no clamoring to have the fledgling American government, or rather, its citizens pay for such care. As far as the second argument goes, it is incredulous and inconceivable to consider that considering the collective wisdom of our founders who included Benjamin Rush and other physicians, that they would have overlooked something as important as a basic and fundamental human right.

I believe that it was with foresight from our Founding Fathers that “health care” as a right was purposely excluded as a basic and fundamental right. Unlike, our current politicians, the Founding Fathers were well read and versed in history, philosophy, law, economics, and theology and understood the dangers of the government picking and choosing certain rights arbitrarily and compelling the citizenry to pay for such rights. They understood human nature and man’s natural tendency to want and desire what others have— and he doesn’t have— and they understood how that very human nature could be exploited by politicians and tyrants for political expediency and political power by providing those things as “rights.”

They recognized that man could conjure up an endless list of needs and desires and rationalize any one of them or all of them as being indispensable as basic human rights. Yet, they carefully selected only three basic “unalienable rights” or “natural rights”, none of which another man could provide to another nor could be compelled to pay for or provide to another. These rights are negative rights in that the right is not in the power or the purview of the government (or fellow citizens) to provide such rights, but rather places in the government the power and responsibility to protect such rights from being taken away from us. The government nor our fellow citizens cannot give us or ensure us life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness– or good health!

Our government may only protect our rights from such things being taken from us and it is our individual responsibility to respect the rights of others and not take such rights from each other, but nowhere in our constitution is it stated or expressed that our government must provide us with anything or compels us to provide our neighbors with anything! They understood that to compel us to provide for the needs and wants of our neighbors would be antithetical to the very principles this country was founded on and for which we fought a war of independence for: That no man should be in servitude to a tyrant, a tyrannical government, or to each other and that no man should be beholding to or dependent on another man or government for his life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness!

Now some would argue that the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments to the Constitution is where we derive our positive rights from, or those rights that by “social contract”, obligate us or our government to provide us with certain “rights” pertaining to our “general welfare”, yet the first ten amendments, or the “Bill of Rights” were added to further delineate—and limit—the power of the government with respect to both protecting our natural rights of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the right to attain and own private property as well as to define and specify certain liberties, such as the freedom of speech, the freedom to keep and bear arms, and etc. Again, nothing in the Bill of Rights or subsequent amendments explicitly or implicitly allows for or compels the government to provide the citizenry with a minimum standard of welfare or for the citizens to provide for the general welfare of each other for to do so erodes our individual freedoms and places us in the servitude of our government and/or our fellow citizens.

Dr. Trigg in his essay asks “why can’t we guarantee that everyone has medical care on the same basis that we provide police and fire protection and universal free education”? The answer is that the provision of police and fire protection are governmental institutions specifically created and empowered solely to protect our natural and property rights. They cannot provide us with any material needs or desires nor can they deny us or take away from us our property, our lives, or our freedom. With respect to providing “universal free education”, nowhere in the Constitution is it mandated that we all be provided free education. Education from K to 12 is compulsory by state statute and certainly is not “free” in that we all pay taxes to fund our public education. Access to higher education is protected by law, again, as a negative right only, in that no one, including the government can prevent us access to education—as long as we have the means and money to pay for it!

So far, I have made the argument that our Founding Fathers and Framers of our Constitution purposely excluded “health care” and an endless list of similar human needs and wants as positive rights based solely on a moralistic philosophy that to compel the government or the citizenry to provide for such rights would create the hypocritical and antithetical situation of protecting our freedoms and pursuit of happiness while at the same time placing us into involuntary servitude to our government and/or our fellow citizens. Although I believe that such moralistic and enlightened thinking was behind the decisions of our Founders as they framed and penned our Constitution, I also believe there were more practical considerations as well that influenced their thinking.

Besides being great moral thinkers and products of “the enlightenment”, our Founders were also businessmen and pragmatists and understood that the provision of most goods, needs, wants, and services—including health care—to the citizenry was best, most fairly, and most efficiently accomplished through the time-honored system of free markets. They understood from Adam Smith and other economists that free markets are the engines that drive democratic economies and the most efficient way to provide scarce resources to the greatest number. They also understood (unlike modern politicians) that the “invisible hand” of the free markets worked best unfettered and unrestrained by the “heavy hand” of oppressive government, burdensome bureaucratic regulations, onerous taxes, or union extortion.

Dr. Trigg is correct in asserting that a substantial number of our population already receives “[free] medical care either provided directly by the government (VA, Military, Indian Health Service, etc) or paid for by the government (UNM, Medicaid, Medicare, etc)”; however, he fails to mention that, for the most part, care in those systems, is grossly inefficient, very costly, and burdened by layers and layers of costly and onerous government bureaucracy and would best be provided by independent and competing practices in a free market system!
Dr. Trigg states that the proposed state amendment making health care a human right “paraphrases the words of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin” of Chicago who has called since the 1990s for our government to recognize healthcare as a human right which government must “take responsibility” for. That is an interesting proposition from a religious leader from a religion that from medieval times has assumed the responsibility of providing access to healthcare and healthcare directly, through charity and charitable hospitals to millions and millions of sick souls! The Catholic Church and other religions have plenty of assets and money, if they believe healthcare is a right, then let them bear the burden of responsibility of providing it! I’m sure that religious leaders would no more appreciate government fiat compelling them to assume the responsibility of providing healthcare to each and every citizen anymore than any free man or woman wishes to be compelled to assume such responsibility!

I am not arguing that access to healthcare is not a right and I do not believe that our Founders believed that access was not a right; they correctly believed that “healthcare” in and of itself is a service and best provided through the marketplace. Every American has access to healthcare right now and our government has enacted statutes to prevent anyone or any government entity from barring us from such access to healthcare and that is the extent of government involvement that our sage Founders purposely wrote into the Constitution. Unfortunately, from Roosevelt to LBJ to Obama, modern day politicians have completely disregarded the thought and intent of our great Founders and have transformed an “age of enlightenment” to an “age of entitlement”.
Now before, I am accused and nailed to the cross as just another uncaring and self-serving conservative capitalist or hate-monger, it should be known that while in medical school I was recognized with two prestigious awards from the medical school and alumni for volunteer work and community service. I have started a free-clinic for migrant workers in Ohio in 1995 that still operates today and I open my clinic as a free clinic in the South Valley to uninsured and underinsured people every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month. I also have never turned a patient away from any of my clinics because of their inability to pay and every day I provide free or discounted care. As a physician, I took an oath of voluntary servitude to my fellow man, but, as an American doctor, I must resist any call from my government or otherwise well-meaning citizens for my indentured servitude to them, for I am a free man in a free and democratic society!

John R. Vigil, MD, FACPE, MBA (2012)
CEO and Medical Director,
Doctor On Call Urgent Care

Leveraging Government’s Role in Science and Technology: Are we tilting at windmills?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

High-tech company promotion has been my ‘game’ since 1984. During my career as a Foreign Commercial Service officer for the U.S. Department of Commerce, I worked in over two dozen countries with some of the world’s top technologists in Europe and Asia. So when I was hired in autumn 2006 as Director of the State’s Office of Science and Technology (inside the Department of Economic Development or EDD) I felt I found a ‘home.’ Little did I know that three years and three months later my job would be eliminated by the Governor as one of 60 exempt employees for budget reasons. This is not a ‘sour grapes’ article. I had three very productive years and served my State well. My comments are a first-person account of how we in New Mexico do high-tech promotion, and what we should be doing to recruit companies and create jobs.

The politics of science and the science of politics

There hadn’t been a Director in the Science and Technology Division at the EDD for six months, so I had a lot to do. I was anxious to get going and fortunate to work hand-in-hand with the Governor’s Science Advisor, Dr. Tom Bowles, a brilliant and affable man. Tom is the Chief Scientist at LANL and ‘on-loan’ to the Governor’s Office as his Science Advisor. I think the Cabinet Secretary knew that we would re-energize the S&T portfolio together and do great things. We were both used to working in highly-charged/high expectations environments. Working for the Governor (a former DOE Secretary who understood the value of high-technology) was a great fit for us. Our first order of business was to prepare a comprehensive ‘road map’ of science & technology investments and involvement in the state. We assembled over a hundred volunteers from around the state to help us, and after nearly two years of work, we had prepared the most definitive work on Science and Technology that the state had ever seen (it can be downloaded from www.nmsciencetech.org). In 2008, I saw the interest in New Mexico as a potential high-tech investment site grow, rapidly. Part of it was due to the Governor’s run for President, but more was because of the ground-breaking research done at Sandia and Los Alamos, our White Sands Testing Facility, our three research universities and by the private sector.

Economic Development and Science: Strange bedfellows?

This brings me to Economic Development – not the activity but the EDD, the department charged with helping recruit companies to New Mexico and stimulating job growth. It didn’t take me long to realize that my Division of Science and Technology was a ‘stepchild’ at the EDD. The ‘real’ economic development work of the Department is done by the community representatives and the ‘program managers’ who manage the state’s economic development programs/incentives. My portfolio and I were not on their radar screen.

Supercomputing to the ‘rescue’?

Yes, the Governor is an ambitious individual, and the right amount of ambition can spawn some good ideas. One of those is a initiative I worked on called the New Mexico Computing Applications Center (the ‘Center’ or NMCAC). We needed a bigger and better ‘lure’ to recruit companies here, so we chose the best high-tech ‘tool’ we could find – a kind of Swiss Army Knife of high-tech tools – a supercomputer. Not only would it satisfy our own in-state needs for high performance computing, but also earn money from selling comprehensive services to non-New Mexican companies in the digital imaging business for example. The model is a sound one, but it requires a commitment from the state to keep it going through its start-up phase. This was a non-traditional economic development project, one the EDD could not have taken it on. That’s not the EDD’s fault; it was never really set up to support S&T, much like other activities (the State Film Office is another). Because it is so focused on its core job of getting on-the-ground economic development successes, ‘complex’ divisions like S&T was basically left to fend for itself without a single budget increase in the three years I was there.

The Governor’s Office is not the absolute best or right place for these efforts either. Science-based government-supported economic development is a tough nut to crack. Decisions must be based on proven science and sound business projections. There are very few tangible near-term outcomes. It’s the consummate long-term investment, but it’s one we MUST make if we are to compete and thrive in the high-tech marketplace. State government is best suited to take the lead on certain S&T projects, however. One of those is the ‘Green Grid.’

The NMGGI (New Mexico Green Grid Initiative) was formed as a State initiative in part to take advantage of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds to build out a new array of alternative energy technologies in the State and run them in micro-grids. The principal technology was solar, and it was thought that the State could be a prime contender for a Dept. of Energy grant. We spent the better part of a year working to develop a comprehensive grant proposal and submitted it on August 26th. We all had great hopes for a win. Unfortunately, we were not selected for a grant, but neither was any other southwestern state! Strange that the two best places for modeling solar technology (Arizona and New Mexico) were left out. All is not fair in love and science nor in politics, I suspect. I mention the NMGGI as a prime example as how the State of New Mexico has aggressively sought opportunities to advance our high-tech companies and technologies. We must continue the fight, but we must learn to fight, smarter.

The Way Forward

Last summer, the Legislature approved a bill that would enable the establishment of a ‘Research Application Center.’ The RAC, which would be a clearing house and ‘home to technology’ promotion for the State, is our best hope to promote the State’s high-tech capabilities and merge the various state government initiatives into one location, centralizing our resources and saving the taxpayers money in the bargain. (Many states have gone this route and have enjoyed considerable success – see ‘Technology 21′, the State’s Science and Technology Plan available on www.nmsciencetech.org). I worry that the current legislative session will not fund the RAC and thereby deal a body blow to our state’s high-tech ambitions. Without an on-going State commitment to pursuing new inward high-tech investment we will not grow fast enough. Our home-grown technology companies cannot provide our economy with enough jobs. To attract newcomer high-tech companies we must work more closely with educational institutions to insure that the right commercial curricula is developed to educate those new high-tech workers. We will not achieve our goals to create a ‘critical mass’ of specialized technologies on our own without those jobs and those out-of-state companies. We need them to help us diversify our economic base away from a dependency on government jobs. We must act now.

We must realize that true high-tech economic growth can only come from a strong public/private partnership where each side shoulders its own burden of the cost. We should resist the impulse to cut funds for the State’s efforts in this area. Ask any successful company what they do when sales are down. They don’t fire the salesmen or cut their budgets.

Stephan Helgesen is the Former Director of the State’s Office of Science and Technology and a retired Foreign Service Officer who worked in 24 countries. He is Honorary German Consul and CEO of his own high-tech consulting company, 2nd Opinion Marketing and Communications.

Can Technology Really Save Our Economy -and- Protect Us?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

Time was when Americans feared and avoided technology. We called those folks, Luddites. World War II changed all that when we geared up to fight tyranny and defeat the Axis powers. After the war, we tooled up for peacetime and built on the technological gains of five years of arms production.

We found radar, sonar, rocketry, nuclear fission and plastics. Our companies reached out to the vanquished powers of Germany and Japan and collaborated on research. Then something interesting happened… they became our competitors. Globalization was born. Fast forward fifty years, and the new millennium brought a host of new wars that provided the impetus for new innovation. That begs a terrible question: Are wars good for technology?

If we look at the great strides made in nuclear science in our Manhattan Project, the answer is clear from a technological viewpoint. Physics took a quantum leap forward. The horror of nuclear devastation sowed the seeds of discovery. From the tragedy of Vietnam came similar progress in chemicals, aerodynamics/avionics and electronics.

Later, ‘Star Wars’ technology helped precipitate the dissolution of the Soviet empire. While some called this technology ‘junk science,’ successive decades of space exploration have proved it scientifically feasible. The mere threat of the use of technology actually helped avoid a cataclysmic confrontation.

Our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have moved squarely into the ‘Brave New World’ of IT-driven warfare. From advances in battlefield gear, clothing and sophisticated electronics we are now taking men out of the equation through the use of unmanned drones (UAVs) with extraordinary surveillance capabilities, monitored and guided from command posts thousands of miles away.

Can we transition technological prowess to peacetime and use it to solve domestic problems like terrorism and illegal immigration or must we mobilize manpower in massive numbers to stand guard at America’s southern border like sentries at medieval city gates?

The Chinese spent centuries building their Great Wall… with thousands of slave laborers. While it’s now considered a wonder of the world, I think a ‘great wall’ along the Mexican border would not be so favorably viewed. Technological advances like UAVs and maybe even laser surveillance fences must be deployed if we are to protect our border.

Passport protection is another issue. While the government has awarded millions of dollars in contracts to ‘securitize’ our passports to eliminate forgeries, the technology currently being employed is less than cutting edge. ‘Electronic passports’ containing imbedded threads of data are costly and not yet reprogrammable. So the old saying, ‘garbage in garbage out’ (bad or incomplete data) should concern all of us. There is another technology that is ‘home grown,’ right here in New Mexico. It offers a better alternative, and it is truly 21st century.

It’s called holography. Holograms are light-sensitive images and something we first heard about in the seventies when one appeared in a film called, “The Man that fell to Earth’ with David Bowie, produced by a small group of techno-artists that included Britton Zabka, one of the world’s premier holographers. Zabka, lives in Albuquerque and has been busy refining and patenting his discoveries.

To hear him talk about holography is like listening to a wizard, an artist and a seasoned scientist all in one. He explained the practical application of his patented technology. “Imagine going in to the DMV or passport agency and sitting down on a revolving chair, turning ever so slowly while a digital motion camera films you.

It’s then fed into a computer database. A special digital laser printer that I developed transposes the digital information into a holographic movie segment that projects images two inches behind the card when illuminated by light. What you end up with is a seamless image that shows the individual from all angles in motion and that’s perfect for ID cards.”

Sandia National Labs tested his technology and found it to be “98% forgery proof.” The technology has not yet made it to our passports, but this hasn’t deterred Zabka who says, “Our national security deserves the very best technology, especially during these trying times, and I’m committed to making holography a household word when it comes to passports, credit cards and anything that can be forged.” Maybe through technology we can beat our swords into plowshares and make progress peacetime – dependent after all.

Stephan Helgesen is a former diplomat and former Director of the New Mexico Office of Science and Technology. He is now Honorary Consul for Germany and CEO of his own high-tech consultancy company, 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications.

Are You Media Irrelevant?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

Assuming one is relevant in the first place, it shouldn’t take any time at all to become truly irrelevant to the media, especially those consumers who aren’t on the media’s main radar screen. But it needn’t be so.

Is quality irrelevant?

In American society, we are encouraged (but not necessarily taught) to be productive, energetic, assertive and successful. Our school lives are spent in constant competition to be the best in our class, to rank highest on a grading curve; to excel in sports or aspire to be popular. All those things are relevant to our society, a society that doesn’t seem to respect or reward anything ‘average’ and whose tolerance for losers is nearly nil. Our role models of relevancy are changing, too. Once upon a time, Jesus Christ headed that list, and he shared it with many great men and women of all faiths and backgrounds: doctors, great thinkers, and the occasional musical or artistic genius.

Sadly, those first-stringers on the relevancy all-star team are benched, maybe for good. Today, the list is filled with bare-midriff teenage waifs who uniformly sing off-key and diamond-fingered rappers with baggy pants who advocate bad language, along with an assortment of serial killers, child molesters, overpaid top corporate executives and, of course, celebrities. They are relevant not because they represent the best in our society, but because they appeal to our baser instincts and our insatiable need for something new and different. Truth is, vast amounts of money are made by talking about them and showing their antics on our TV screens.

These days, relevance is measured by the number of times a person’s name or face can be mentioned or seen within a traditional news cycle and how long their publicity agents can manage to stretch out their exposure by ‘spinning’ the original press statement or report. The war of the 30-second soundbite has reached thermo-nuclear proportions. The time available for true news stories on radio and television has dwindled, dramatically. Commercials dominate and push the ‘real’ news farther into the background. What does that say about relevance or more appropriately, the speed at which our society travels?

Today, only the speedy and the seedy can be relevant, because they will get airtime. Only they can be programmed, slotted or inserted within the few minutes available for newsbites. An Everett Dirksen (the now deceased drawling Senator from Illinois) or a Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (a popular 1950s TV religious figure) couldn’t cut the soundbite mustard today. Why? Because they talked in measured tones, using language as their principal tool. Probably the only ‘slow-talker’ left on the national airwaves is Paul Harvey, and he is barely hanging on, largely due to his longevity and credibility (and aging audience which dutifully buys the vitamins he sells). It’s certainly not because of his delivery which is very very slow. Page Two!

Have we lost our patience?

The media will say that our society doesn’t have the time or patience to listen anymore, and they may be right. But what does that say about us, and what will that mean for our future information dissemination? It means time-compression technology will take over where conversational delivery once ruled. Where is Edward R. Murrow when we need him most?
Every future complex issue will need to be distilled into something simple, otherwise it won’t catch the eye or ear of the TV or radio producer or be passed on to the viewer/listener. Those who don’t adhere to the newsbite/soundbite requirement won’t get their message out. The media that figures out how to deliver their message quicker will likely get more ad revenue, and the ones who don’t will fade away like General MacArthur’s old soldiers. So round and round we go, locked in a series of vicious concentric circles that will insure that the time available to us for serious news will eventually end up as a nano-message, grazing a glancing blow on our conscious mind. The ‘Brave New World’ of the media will begin to sell ‘millisecond spots’ and ‘delayed action tags’ (ultra-rapid two-three word messages designed to capture our attention, later, when we’re more relaxed and receptive).

Has Aldous Huxley written the script, or is there an alternative?

Ironically, it is our nation’s own demographics that will present the biggest challenge to the current trends. We are getting older. Our capacity to digest (both physically and mentally) is diminished with age, and that will present advertisers and purveyors of news with a dilemma: how to advertise/appeal to the large ‘Baby Boom’ generation while not alienating the more youthful consumers. The test will take place at the cash register. Advertisers and the media will only take notice of our desire for more content-driven messages and newscasts (and other programming) when we vote with our pocketbook. Only when enough consumers start demanding more ‘traditional’ messaging, will we get more ‘traditional’ messaging. It’s up to us.

I believe it will happen, and when it does, it will spawn whole new media divisions, geared to the older American within the major networks. The marketplace will take care of it because American business needs its cash cows … even if they are longer in the tooth.

Stephan Helgesen is past President of the Albuquerque Council for International Visitors. He spent 25 years working overseas observing changes in the American media. Prior to that he owned his own advertising agency in Connecticut and counseled U.S. businesses on their corporate media strategies.

Isolationism: America’s Next Step?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

Unlike pornography, isolationism is easy to define. It takes many forms but always results in a loss whether it’s a narrowing of perspective, retreat from relationships or the reduction of foreign aid — and the inescapable consequences to our economy and way of life. In the last 62 years, the U.S. spent approx. $800 billion on foreign aid and has about 154 countries receiving it (Israel receives the most). Helping the world’s needy wasn’t always a top American priority. Perhaps our most significant period of ideological isolationism was before our entry in WWI, a war we referred to as ‘Europe’s War’ until we were drawn in by the sinking of the Lusitania. After the Armistice was signed, the League of Nations (the forerunner to the United Nations) was formed and America officially became a citizen of the world.

Our donor objectives were simple: grow markets for our goods, help the disadvantaged and spread democracy. At the end of World War II, the hawks of war were supposedly caged for good as we looked outward. In 1946, we gave 1.38% of our GDP ($3.08 billion) in foreign aid (most to the Marshall Plan and for Japanese reconstruction). In 1947, we doubled our aid to $6.71 billion and then, in 1948 abruptly reduced it to $3.18 billion. There have been spikes along the way, most notably during the Cold War (military assistance counts as foreign aid) when we averaged $6.5 billion/year.

Let the good times roll … for awhile

Our companies followed on behind America’s foreign aid commitments much like the ‘Flying Wedge’ formation in football. Business took the Vietnam peace accords as a sign that Asia was ‘open for business.’ One-world thinkers populated the State Department and other organizations like the Agency for International Development, the Voice of America, the World Bank and the IMF. The UN bureaucracy was still fairly manageable, and the UNDP was still pretty transparent. It seemed we all had learned a valuable lesson: that proselytizing or making war would not open markets or improve disposable incomes. Aid would. It would also help attack some of mankind’s most pervasive problems like illiteracy, poverty, communicable diseases, addiction and famine. Americans have always looked at foreign aid with a mixture of altruism and pragmatism, and our aid programs have reflected that attitude. We believe in tied aid (tied to outcomes and purchases), but we also believed in giving to multilateral organizations, though with some reluctance. The 80s saw us level out our giving at about .35% of our GDP until the 90s when we dropped to .25%. It seemed we were losing our ‘appetite’ for donating. The new Millennium started us out at .16% of our GDP, and we’re more or less at that same rate today.

Where does the money go?

There are five main types of assistance: Bilateral Development Assistance (Congress appropriated $10.3 billion for this in 2008), Economic Aid Supporting U.S. Political and Security Objectives ($7.8 billion in 2008), Humanitarian Assistance ($4.2 billion in 2008), Multilateral Assistance ($1.6 billion in 2008), and Military Assistance ($5.1 billion in 2008). Add them up and our total foreign aid in 2008 was $27.68 billion or .19% of our GDP. Compare that with the post-war years of 1946 (with 1.38%) and 1974 (with .57%) and you can see that at this pace we’ll soon be putting IOUs into the international collection plate! There is a silver lining, though. Most U.S. foreign aid is used to procure U.S. goods and services. Of the FY2008 Military Assistance expenditure, 87% was used to procure U.S. military equipment and training. Food assistance commodities are purchased wholly in the U.S. and most of the costs for shipping those commodities to foreign countries go entirely to U.S. freight companies. On this basis, a rough estimate suggests that 90% of FY2008 U.S. food aid expenditures were spent in the U.S.

If America is to survive this severe economic downturn we will need to retrench and spend more money at home, but it is shortsighted of us to pull the plug on foreign aid when American companies are benefiting from the orders. While that may sound mercenary, it may be a mistake not to look at which barn this gift horse lives.

Stephan Helgesen is the former Director of the State of NM Office of Science and Technology and retired Foreign Service Officer who has worked in 24 countries. He is CEO of Second Opinion Marketing, a high technology consulting company.

Is Albuquerque an International City?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

No one would argue that New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are international cities, but would everyone agree that Albuquerque belongs in the same category? What is it that makes a city truly international, and how do we know when we’ve arrived? Cities become international over long periods of time, but all start with close civic cooperation and lots of investment money. They are not always coastal cities with large seaports, nor are they always home to significant numbers of international businesses, but they do have one very important thing in common … an international attitude and an abiding desire to become international. The recipe for a successful international city must include: organizations which promote and implement foreign visitor exchanges, universities with cutting edge international studies programs, a vibrant business community, a diverse population that values its diversity, a modern and growing infrastructure and a progressive city government that thinks internationally.

At first blush, Albuquerque would seem to measure up. It is multi-cultural. It has an international airport (though not yet offering direct international flights), and is home to universities offering international studies and organizations that promote the city to foreign markets. New Mexico exports over $2.5 billion with a significant share originating from Greater Albuquerque. Foreign investment in ABQ is growing steadily, too, and is respectably high for a community its size.

Do we see ourselves as `international’?

Do we view ourselves as international? Many do, but many don’t. I think that those who don’t are not seeing the forest for the trees. They forget our impressive demographics which include our large Hispanic and Native American population. This built-in diverse population offers a unique cultural foundation, and while it may not constitute a ‘foreign population base’ in the eyes of New Mexicans, it’s a plus to foreigners. In a sense, Albuquerque is ‘domestically foreign,’ and offers a distinct advantage over other U.S. cities our size. (Foreign investment goes where it can feel comfortable, and it can feel comfortable in a multi-cultural community like ours). We also have a very large subculture of foreign-born residents. It is estimated that nearly 9.0% of Albuquerquens are foreign-born. This compares with 12.9% nationwide, but it is still a significantly large number of people (approx. 70,000 if you look at recent growth rates for the city). The number of fraternal organizations and clubs that cater to ‘hyphenated Americans’ is also rising as more and more immigrants move to Albuquerque. We must also engage these groups in helping us build an international Albuquerque.

What else is necessary?

What next steps need to be taken to make Albuquerque a truly international city? We should continue to support our existing institutions, but we must also encourage them to increase their cooperation and coordination with one another. We are fortunate to have the City’s Economic Development Department and the AED who are doing an excellent job beating Albuquerque’s drum for foreign investment; the Chambers of Industry and Commerce are making trade matches; and the ABQ Tourism Office is bringing thousands more foreign tourists to our city. While all are posting impressive gains, I believe that we ought to consider creating a joint private/public sector International Office to help maximize the work done by all the NGOs, businesses and other organizations that routinely bring in foreign visitors.

Before we start laying any bricks, though, we need to stimulate a community-wide dialogue to produce a consensus-driven, professional plan for the future. If we engage Albuquerqueans in a debate on their city’s international future, we will be able to craft a realistic and manageable plan for achieving our goals.

Citizen Ambassadors

To make that leap of faith we will need to spread the word about how foreign investment and foreign involvement benefits and affects us all. We must recruit a corps of ‘citizen ambassadors’ who are willing to open their homes to foreign visitors. Becoming a host or hostess to foreigners and advocating for our city is a very personally rewarding experience, but more people need to be involved. Fortunately, we already have several groups who are working independently and energetically to that end: Friendship Force, Sister Cities and the Albuquerque Council for International Visitors which works closely with the U.S. Department of State to bring in emerging foreign leaders. By working more closely together, we could help attract even more foreign visitors to the Duke City.

Our own World Trade Center?

World Trade Centers are magnets for business, and they help establish the bona fides of an international city. We should strongly consider building an Albuquerque World Trade Center to house a permanent exhibition center – a showcase – for foreign and domestically-made products and one that provides low-cost office space for new foreign start-up businesses. (The WTC would also be home to the International Office I mentioned earlier.) We should staff it with government agencies and other professionals whose principal goal would be to insure its success. Finally, we must begin to see ourselves as part of a grand regional metroplex with other southwestern cities like Denver which already has a highly developed international focus. By partnering with other nearby cities to develop events and conferences, we will attract more foreign visitors to our region. A city should never grow for the sake of growing, but growing more international has a far-reaching benefit to all of us. It gives us a passport to extend our reach beyond our borders without leaving home. It deepens our understanding of other cultures, and helps us not only tolerate differences but learn to embrace them. We are already well on our way, but as with every journey, we need to measure our progress against some identifiable mile markers so that we will know how far we need to go by seeing how far we have come.

Stephan Helgesen is a former diplomat who has worked in over 24 foreign countries. He is Honorary Consul for German and CEO of his own Albuquerque-based high-tech consultancy company, 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications.

The Coming American Diaspora?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

In Amity Shlaes’ recent book, “The Forgotten Man,” the Great Depression (which led to the first American economic Diaspora) is discussed in equally depressing detail. It’s preceded by many scholarly works and novels like John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” Both should be recommended reading for everybody today lest we forget what our parents and grandparents endured and the fact that economies have predictable cycles. Those cycles are only visible when we look back and try to relate the actions taken to the outcomes and apply them to the events of today. To be a good economist, you need to know history, sociology, psychology and political science. Economics reveals the light and dark sides of human nature and tells us more about ourselves than we care to admit.

We were hedonists in the 20s, celebrating the victory of WWI and realizing how exciting it was to make money in the stock market without really trying. America was split into two halves then, too: the haves and the have nots. There were vast numbers of Americans who worked hard in ordinary jobs, and then there were those who felt it acceptable (even advisable) to profit from someone else’s labor by using their investments. Those were days of vast concentrations of power and widespread abuse of the law. In September 1929, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached a high of 381.2 only to see it erode on October 24th (Black Thursday) to 299.5 (a 21% decline).

A selling frenzy took place and the market fell to 199 by November 13th. The Great Depression ensued, and three years later, stocks had lost nearly 90% of their value. Ironically, the Great Depression, which wiped out the fortunes of many of the rich and the hopes of nearly every average man, has given rise to an new industry today… research of the Great Depression. We are seeing a resurgence of interest in the subject, perhaps because it’s camped right on our front lawn. Anyone who has some training and understands the principle of cause and effect is dropping their two cents into the tin cup of the media.

There is more to fear than fear itself

One of my greatest fears is that we have been riding the crest of a wave to nowhere (or worse) instead of the path towards economic clarity and certainty. Having the faith of our fathers in an economic system that has continued to disproportionately reward risk rather than hard work has made us a bit schizophrenic. Investments made for the purpose of earning maximum return regardless of the consequences elsewhere is never a good strategy, because today everything is connected, but we keep on doing it! If we are to avoid the mistakes that split up businesses, families, caused crime and suicides in the 30s, we’re going to need a national dialogue on what economic system we want for the USA.

Obviously, the one we have isn’t working well enough. I would submit that any new one must be global in its ambitions (a continuation of some investment overseas) but more local in its design (rewarding companies for repatriating as much profit and jobs as possible from that investment). It must respect the rights of workers to earn a good living, but make them stakeholders in the company’s success. It must provide benefits, but those benefits must not lead companies to move American jobs offshore to pay for the benefits of their American workforce. We must also reach a consensus on an energy policy and thereto a foreign policy towards energy-producing countries that offers our companies and citizens carrots not sticks in our eye.

We have a short window of opportunity to figure out what system we want and how we will build it, before the next big shoe drops, and that could be the BIG shoe… the second great American economic Diaspora. Imagine the disruption if Americans were forced to pull up roots and leave their homes, schools and communities because they can’t afford to stay where they are. The impact on relationships would be disastrous. In the past, Americans moved households every six years. That was for upward mobility. The next time will be for pure survival. If that happens, we must hope the moves are made within their communities and that they are temporary in nature. We can’t afford to weave the new American Dream out of a whole new cloth.

Stephan Helgesen is former Director of the New Mexico Office of Science and Technology and retired U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Officer who served in twenty foreign countries. He is the Honorary Consul for Germany and CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing, an Albuquerque-based international high-technology consultancy company.

Ten Speed Bumps on the Export Superhighway

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

There are more consultants claiming to be experts in export marketing than in any other sub-specialty of marketing. Unfortunately, many of them have never lived or worked overseas or even speak another language. Their wisdom comes from college textbooks and courses on marketing theory. Many have never met a payroll or owned a small business. With all this second-hand wisdom, it’s easy to understand the old saying, “A man who borrows his opinions can seldom repay his debts.” That aside, why export? Isn’t it better to be satisfied with expanding your sales in the U.S.? The short answer may be yes, but the smart money says no. If you’re not convinced that exporting will help you (or you don’t have the capability to export) than you probably shouldn’t. However, if you want to grow your business with export sales and create another revenue stream, then you should most definitely consider it.

Speed bump # 1. Get over your fear of exporting

This is easier said than done, but it can be – and must be – done before you go any further. Ignoring the opportunities inherent in exporting is the same as not doing anything at all. Fear cannot live in an environment of knowledge. That’s why you must become familiar with the world’s markets and seek the company of experienced exporters and professional consultants.

Speed bump #2. How do I morph into an exporting company?

One of the big secrets of building a successful exporting company is first building a successful company. If you are not successful selling domestically, you will probably not be successful selling overseas. Start by doing an assessment of your company’s strengths. Where are you strongest and weakest? How can you shore up the weak spots? Call your key people together from all departments: production, transportation, accounting and marketing. Tell them you’re considering producing for export markets and that you want their input. Then listen, carefully.

Speed bump #3. Should I engage a foreign agent or sell directly to the end-user?

This decision must be based on an evaluation of which foreign market(s) you’ve chosen, prevailing practices for competing products, regulations concerning foreign representatives and your own preferences. Some companies are capable of selling directly to end-users in faraway countries (Dell Computers, for example), but most small companies need a solution that is less resource-intensive. The choice is yours, but you will need to get good market intelligence before you make it.

Speed bump #4. How do I choose the right market?

The operative word here is, right. Anybody can help you choose a market, but choosing the absolute right one is a task best left to someone who knows international markets, intimately. A good way to narrow your search is through good research. Find the part of the world where your competition is located or where competitive products are being sold. Get the sales statistics by countries of origin, tariff rates, typical markups, pricing (wholesale and retail), agents’ commissions, and any/all government regulations concerning product certification and testing before you make up your mind to pursue that market.

Speed bump #5. No plan is a bad plan.

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there, just like a company without a good plan is a surefire recipe for disaster. Do yourself a favor and make a plan by combining your research with information on a few, likely, target markets and figure out your overseas costs for sales & marketing (new labeling, sales literature and advertising), shipping, distribution, dealer support, commissions and fees. Add in your desired net profit margin, and see if your price matches your competitors’. If it doesn’t, you better have a superior product with an obvious competitive advantage or you’ll need to rethink your costs.

Speed bump #6. A banker in time saves nine.

Before you go any further with your export plan, do something everyone should do and show it to your banker. Get his/her opinion on your intentions. This will do three things:

1.) It will show that you are a serious business customer;
2.) It will reveal how astute your banker is to the ways of exporting, and
3.) It will legitimize your efforts with your stakeholders.

Be ready for some good questions, however, especially if your banker is interested in your plan. Banks can also be helpful with letters of credit and with other alternative financing opportunities, so it is wise to include them in your thinking early on.

Speed bump #7. Take a deep breath at home and exhale overseas.

If you have the money and the time, try to schedule a visit to your chosen market, but before you go, gather your product information (and samples, if possible) and take them with you. Know why you’re going (to gather additional market research; to scout retail or distribution centers; to meet with U.S. Embassy Commercial Officers or to interview potential agents, just to name a few).

Speed bump #8. A contract is a contract, or is it?

You’ve made your trip and checked out the market. You’ve observed how business is done, and you’ve chosen a likely agent. Now is the time to formalize the relationship. Your potential agent has suggested that he prepare a sample agreement, and you agree. Three weeks later, you get an envelope with a thick sheaf of papers. On the last page, the agent has neatly noted where you can sign. Do you? Of course not, not before your lawyer sees it. Fortunately, you obtained a sample agent’s agreement from the local American Chamber of Commerce and one from the host country’s Agents’ Association, so you are prepared. You pack them up along with the agent’s suggested contract and send them off to your lawyer. Good thing, too, because two weeks later, you get it back, filled with red lines and suggestions in the margins. You have just been saved from making a big (but common) mistake, trusting too much too soon.

Speed bump #9. Cultural sensitivity isn’t born; it’s bred.

Cultural sensitivity is necessary for all exporters, whether you want to walk the overseas corridors of power, sit in their boardrooms or occupy space on their retail shelves. Cultural sensitivity is an art and a science, and while it’s not learned overnight, anyone can master the basics after a few lessons from a professional. Once you’ve learned how to be culturally sensitive in your market (this is more than just ‘political correctness’ as we know it in the U.S.), you will have prepared yourself to take the next important steps on the export superhighway!

Speed bump #10. Communication, communication, communication

Nothing can replace good communication except more of the same. Successful exporters must not only know what to say, but how to say it to a wide variety of audiences: sales representatives, agents, distributors, store owners, customers, government officials, consumer groups, the media, etc. Sometimes your messages can be crafted in English.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that their English is not always our English. It can be the Australians’, the British’, the Canadians’, the Indians’ or others who have English as one of their principal languages. Often, our messages will need to be translated into foreign languages. This is where the services of a truly bi-lingual professional marketing person with experience in the country are invaluable. While we’re on the subject of communication, please remember to respond to all foreign inquiries that cross your desk. In my 25 years of working with foreign companies, the most common complaint about American businesses was, “They never respond to my inquiries. Finally, after two or three tries, we gave up.” That, my friends, is one of the reasons we have a trade deficit.

A final thought

Remember, speed bumps are there for a reason. They give us time to look around. By slowing down, we become more observant, and these observations help us form new opinions of the neighborhood and the people who live there. And that’s something that’s good for all of us whether the street is in New Delhi or New Mexico.

Stephan Helgesen spent 20 years as an American diplomat working overseas helping American companies become successful in foreign markets. He is Honorary Consul for Germany and CEO of his own Albuquerque-based high-tech consultancy company, 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications.

Celebrating the older but wiser ones among us

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

Soon New Mexico will choose its first female Governor, and while I applaud that, I want to make sure that while she’s busy setting up the ‘old girls network’ she doesn’t forget about the ‘old boys’ who supported her. That’s one of the reasons I formed the ‘Mansa Society’ (see the last paragraph), but it’s not the principal reason. Truth is, I was starting to feel slightly irrelevant and needed some way to stay in the game. Several of my friends have started weblogs (‘blogs’), internet-based places where they can state their views and let others counter with their own opinions. Terrific empowerment for older, retired people and a lot better than many pastimes normally associated with our ‘seniors’ (I hate that word because it conjures up a group of venerable but not really venerated old people who are terrible drivers, bad dressers and who’ve lost their marbles somewhere and don’t even remember why they’re looking for them). Be that as it may, we’re stuck with ‘seniors’ (the word), so let’s use it, but redefine it:

Sen ior: noun – an older person who has lived life to the fullest, learned from it and is ready to use that knowledge as an important resource for his/her community and country; adjective – describing a person that is older and wiser and deserving of respect and admiration for surviving what life has thrown at them.

At last count, approx. 25% of America’s population was over the age of 55. That’s 75 million people; a pretty sizable figure for any nation. Many of those folks are either unemployed or retired, and I suspect that many of them are feeling displaced – as they no longer have the money, power or influence of their youth. But to call them powerless would be to ignore two important assets they possess: life experience and time. Over the decades we’ve seen senior groups rise to prominence. Among them was the quasi-political group, the Gray Panthers in the 70s. We’ve seen seniors as voting blocks in places like Florida for many years. The AARP has also become more vocal in its political support – not just for issues – but for candidates. (This actually caused me to drop my membership, disappointed that AARP had more than a ‘senior moment’ when it went ‘rogue’ on those of us who don’t want politics, everywhere.)

Retired executives have been mentoring younger execs for a long time via ‘SCORE,’ and doing some great work along the way. In New Mexico, we have perhaps more non-profit organizations per capita than any other state, and many of the more active ones owe their activity to retiree volunteers. New Mexico’s population growth in the over-55 age group has been tracking slightly ahead of the national average, so there is reason to believe that about 500,000 people fall into that category here.

What are all these people doing?

Many of these seniors are ‘living the good life’ with steady pensions and retirement income, but another group is just getting by as the cost of everything increases, steadily chipping away at their nest eggs. From healthcare to transportation to food, this group is the least capable of paying the price but is doing so, often at the expense of other things. We all heard the horror stories of seniors eating dog food some years back because they couldn’t afford both medicine and food. I fear we’re headed down that road again. That’s why we need to re-energize these 75 million people and bring them back inside the tent where their voices can be heard and their experience and vitality can be brought to bear.

Recently, while chewing the fat with a few of my male friends about the economy and politics, I blurted out my newest brainstorm, the ‘Mansa Society.’ I told them that I wanted to formalize our man-togethers and create chapters all across the world (I go in for the cowboy maxim of ‘aim high, but shoot low’). I said that we cannot move forward if we don’t move the retirees off the sofa, so I wrote a charter, registered a website, and made a t-shirt. We fully expect to change the world, one codger at a time. Our credo is patterned on old west wisdom, a combination of Davy Crockett (‘be sure you’re right and then go ahead’) and Gabby Hayes, the first and perhaps cleverest cowboy sidekick to realize that he could get ahead by following – in this case, a younger man, Roy Rogers.

Stephan Helgesen is former Director of the Office of Science and Technology for the State of New Mexico and retired U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Officer who served in twenty foreign countries. He is CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing, an international high-technology consultancy company.

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