November 26, 2022

Straight Talk for Exporters – “The Overseas Market Awaits You” 4th in a series of articles on exporting

Posted on 26. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

All Frenchmen love wine.
All Germans enjoy Wagnerian opera.
All Austrians ski.

Obviously these are generalizations, but they do illustrate a point. Although the overseas market is an often-overlooked profitable arena for selling American products and services, one important rule to follow is not to generalize when formulating your advertising messages. While some stereotypes can be useful for fundamental planning purposes, they can come back to haunt you later on.

Even more importantly, they can rob you of bottom-line results.

The motivation to buy products are essentially universal: the promise of time, labor or cost savings, the need to be at the forefront of a movement or trend and various ego needs. If you’re new to the ‘motivation game,’ here are some tips.

Test your message at home

One of the best ways to make sure your advertising message succeeds overseas is to make sure your product is first viable in the United States. Test your message in the U.S. by breaking out a cross section of likely prospects and let your agency or your marketing department test the responses of your English message. Chances are that if you touch some hot buttons here, a similar positive response will be forthcoming in foreign markets IF you use the right translation (language and cultural adaptation) and messaging. Bottom line: Establish an ‘ideal customer’ profile and test at home, first.

Media placement

Now what are you going to do for media placement? If your ad budget is large (in the millions of dollars) your capital problem has already been solved. International agencies with heavy billing clients are ready and willing to provide their media-buying expertise to you, but if your budget is small and you wish to maximize the efficiency of your media buy, there are a number of internationally-operating organizations (such as domestic advertising agencies with links overseas or members of the International Chain of Industrial and Technical Agencies) that can help you. There are a number of publications in Western Europe that not only address their host country’s readers, but also cross boundary lines to reach readers in other countries. Since many top businessmen and middle managers speak several languages -such as the primary languages of French, German and English – advertisements in several business or trade publications (each printed in a different language) have a good chance of reaching most of your target market.

But what do you say to them?

Fact: Europeans travel more and spend more on their vacations than Americans, and their travel takes them outside their own countries.
This regular movement of people from one country to another has done much to create ‘cross cultural acceptance’ for new products and services. When people are exposed to other cultures, attitudes and behavior they will often adopt some of the new behaviors (and products) they have seen and apply them/use them in their own lives, sometimes radically changing old traditional behaviors. Enter globalization.

This has created new markets for products that were previously identified with a specific group or culture. In essence, it’s made the marketer’s job more difficult because the differences from one culture’s view of an advertising message to another’s can be very subtle, and thus critical to the entire selling message. This reinforces the point we made earlier about stereotyping; it’s dangerous to pigeonhole and categorize groups of people, especially now with large population shifts and globalization.

A few generations ago, in the U.S., these same conditions were evident when new immigrants integrated into U.S. society. Many wanted to retain their core culture and language, but most wanted to become ‘real Americans’ and adopt and adapt quickly.  The cultural shift in the U.S. continues to this day, but it is also happening in Europe as the European Union gains new members and borders disappear. Millions of Europeans are living in each other’s countries and learning the ways of their host countries’ cultures. This makes multi-cultural marketing and advertising an even bigger challenge because it is now more than just national marketing.

Don’t despair. These changes also create opportunities. Why not do some basic market research to see where your products and services have the greatest chance of success. Taking that first step across the boundary of the unknown might be the most important one you’ve made in a long while AND you might find yourself right at home…thousands of miles away.

Submitted by Stephan Helgesen, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He has worked in over 24 countries and advised hundreds of exporters on three continents. He is currently the Honorary Consul for Germany in New Mexico and CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications, an export consultancy. He can be reached at:

Copyright © 2011 Second Opinion Marketing & Communications






August Median Prices Down but Number of Sales Up from 2010

Posted on 21. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

The reported August median price for a New Mexico property dropped nearly 6% from July’s reported median while the number of reported sales rose 4.4% over the same period. The 2011 August median price for a New Mexico property was $164,995.  In July of 2011, the median was reported as $177,000.  In August of 2010, the median was $175,000.  New Mexico median prices are continuing to show the effects of the economy in general and the number of short sales and foreclosures in the marketplace.  The median home price means half the homes sold for more than the median amount; half for less.

During August 2011, 1,246 sales were reported to the REALTORS Association of New Mexico (RANM).  This number is nearly 9% higher than the number reported in August 2010 and only 1.3% lower than the number of sales reported for August 2009. Both Santa Fe and Taos Counties showed an increase in median prices from July 2011 to August 2011.  Bernalillo County reported a 6.6% drop in prices for the same period.

According to Teresa Ramos, 2011 President of the REALTORS Association of New Mexico, “The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS’ Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, slipped in July from June, but is well above levels a year ago.”  The data in this index reflects contracts, but not closings.

Citing Lawrence Yun, NAR chief Economist, RANM Executive Vice President M. Steven Anaya, reports sales activity is underperforming. “The market can easily move into a healthy expansion if mortgage underwriting standards return to normalcy,” Yun said. “We also need to be mindful that not all sales contracts are leading to closed existing-home sales. Other market frictions need to be addressed, such as assuring that proper comparables are used in appraisal valuations, and streamlining the short sales process.”

The trends and numbers reported are only a snapshot of market activity.  If you are interested in buying or selling, consult a REALTOR familiar with your market area; he/she can provide information on specific trends in your neighborhood.

Statistical information and trends are based on information furnished by New Mexico Member Boards and MLSs to U. S. House Stats. Current reporting participants are: Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS, Las Cruces Association of REALTORS MLIS, New Mexico Multi-Board MLS (Artesia, Carlsbad, Clovis/Portales, Deming, Gallup, Grants, Hobbs, Las Vegas, Sierra County areas), Otero County Board of REALTORS, Roswell Association of REALTORS, Ruidoso/Lincoln County Association of REALTORS, Santa Fe Association of REALTORS, San Juan County Board of REALTORS, Silver City Regional Association of REALTORS, and the Taos County Association of REALTORS. Reports represent single family residential data only.  Information does not necessarily represent all activity in any market/county.  Figures based on reports run 9/20/11.  Visit (housing trends) for county and board statistics.

This news release was submitted by: The REALTORS Association of New Mexico which is one of the state’s largest trade associations, representing over 5,700 members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate market. For more information, readers may contact:

Straight Talk for Exporters – “Country of Origin Requirements and the Politics of Trade” 3rd in a series of articles on exporting

Posted on 21. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

Anyone who’s shopped in the United States knows that all our products carry a country of origin marking, clearly stating where the product was made, where it was assembled and where the components came from. What most people don’t know is that we’re the only country requiring it on all products exported to us.

Country of Origin Labeling (or COOL) gives consumers another way to determine whether or not they should purchase the product in question. Say, for example, that you don’t agree with a particular country’s politics on human rights, workers rights, child labor laws, foreign policy or a host of other policies. COOL can help you decide whether or not to buy the product.

Granted, buying decisions are not usually made on the basis of strongly-held political beliefs, but sometimes they are… and they don’t have to be ideological. Back in the 70s, housewives boycotted beef because they thought beef prices were excessively high. At first, beef producers and supermarkets dismissed the early protests as a ‘flash in the pan.’ After awhile, when beef was spoiling and profits were affected, things changed. The boycott worked; and prices came down. Never underestimate the power of the consumer… or the government.

The United States Government doesn’t directly control American business, but it does regulate trade with countries it deems unfit or unsuitable. We have something called, ‘Most Favored Nation’ (or MFN) status. Under the WTO agreements, countries cannot normally discriminate between their trading partners. Grant someone a special favor (such as a lower customs duty rate for one of their products) and you must do the same for all other WTO members.

This principle is so important that it is the first article of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which governs trade in goods. MFN is also a priority in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) (Article 2) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) (Article 4), although in each agreement the principle is handled slightly differently.

Together, those three agreements cover all three main areas of trade handled by the WTO.  Some exceptions are allowed.  For example, countries can set up a free trade agreement that applies only to goods traded within the group, essentially discriminating against goods from outside.

They can give developing countries special access to their markets or a country can raise barriers against products that are considered to be traded unfairly from specific countries. With services, countries are allowed, in limited circumstances, to discriminate, but the agreements only permit these exceptions under strict conditions.  In general, MFN means that every time a country lowers a trade barrier or opens up a market, it has to do so for the same goods or services from all its trading partners — whether rich or poor, weak or strong.

As everyone knows, politics affects trade and so can a country’s value system. The human rights policies of Burma (or as they call it, Myanmar) are deplorable and offensive to many people. Needless to say, Burma is not an MFN. Neither is Iran or North Korea. While it’s said that Americans vote with their feet (or pocketbook), the American government votes with its trade policies.

Do other countries have COOL?

Not exactly. The GATT doesn’t require it, and that makes it difficult for the average foreign consumer to tell where something was made. Every country does have import restrictions and regulations, however. For example, many products made within the European Union carry the country of origin label or marking “Made in EU” or “Made in EC.”  Some companies get around this by marking their products “Made in Europe” as opposed to being made in the European Union (a legal entity with its own rules and regulations as opposed to a geographic reference to ”Europe”).

A similar marking, “Made for Europe,” is used by some manufacturers outside Europe. This can be very confusing to many consumers (especially to those who don’t speak English well) and should be replaced with the U.S. COOL. Similar labels are ‘Made in/for North America’, or ‘German (or other country) Designed’ – but manufactured and assembled elsewhere.  For example, the old, ‘Made in PRC’ label used to confuse a lot of people until it was replaced by the ‘Made in China’ marking.

Should you be concerned about COOL if you’re exporting?

Absolutely, and that goes for all the other country of origin requirements your target export market requires. Time spent in researching the import requirements for your specific type of product is always time well spent. The more information foreign consumers have (whether they be industrial or retail consumers), the greater the likelihood that they will view your company as a serious one, respectful of their market and culture, and view your products as a sound purchase.

Submitted by Stephan Helgesen, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He has worked in over 24 countries and advised hundreds of exporters on three continents. He is currently CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications (an export consultancy) and the Honorary Consul for Germany in New Mexico. He can be reached at:

Copyright © 2011 Second Opinion Marketing & Communications





Republican Candidate for Congress Says Stop Posturing

Posted on 20. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

To quote Janice Arnold Jones, Republican candidate for the Congress, “The President is posturing for the next election, not trying to solve the clear and present danger caused by this historic level of debt, the budget deficit and the economy. Taking more money out of our struggling economy is short-sighted.   We need to cut the budget and create a natural and sustaining economic stimulus by crafting an environment that encourages investment and the repatriation of the billions (if not trillions) of dollars we’ve driven overseas – which is my top priority.

As a former business owner, I know the regulatory and tax environment must be stable, predictable, fair and welcoming to the strong actions necessary to kick the American economic engine back into gear and moving forward. Catch phrases and pandering won’t do that. Cutting excessive spending, bringing in new money and creating wealth for the middle class while providing a hand up to the working poor is the salvation of our Nation – not more political posturing.”

This press release submitted by the Janice Arnold Jones for Congress Campaign. To find out more, readers can log on to their website at:

Class Warfare or Class Welfare?

Posted on 19. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

Class warfare is nothing new.  Over the centuries it has exacted a high price from many countries with disastrous consequences for their economies and societies.

In France, in 1789, the bourgeoisie and the peasantry (21 million of them) were fed up with old King Louis and their rotten standard of living. Collectively, they owned 30-40% of all the land, made up of small, semi-feudal plots though most was rented from the nobility (millionaires and billionaires of their time). They suffered from heavy taxation, necessary to pay for the costs of Louis’ wars. Coupled with that, they were paying high indirect taxes on wine, salt, and bread. Then prices soared at a quicker rate than wages (sound familiar?). The urban French underclass also lived in poverty, a poverty that was intensified by 1789 when wages increased by 22% while the cost of living increased 62%. We know what happened next, the French Revolution.

Our American experience was somewhat different, but preceded the French timeline as we all know, and what happened next was revolution. Both were bloody, and it took a few centuries before the economic systems were in synch with the social systems. It took other European countries’ with monarchs (like the Scandinavian and Benelux countries) considerably more time to move to class welfare without bloody class warfare, thus avoiding wholesale bloodshed. Their objectives were achieved using soft revolutions. The first sweeping social compacts of Scandinavia came about in the 1930s and set them on a course of accelerated social welfare thanks to aggressive and comprehensive legislation supported by a willing monarchy. Over 80 years of experience tinkering with the socialist model has seen an ebb and flow of ideas (and governments).

The most capitalist of the Scandinavian countries (Denmark) and the most capitalist of the Benelux countries (The Netherlands) have seen the ideological pendulum swing back and forth with socialist-leaning governments exchanging places with more pro-capitalist ones (Denmark has just elected a very left-of-center government this week). France, too, has experimented with more capitalist-leaning governments since the end of WWII but has seen significant push-back from its labor unions (more so than with the above mentioned countries).

Rise and fall and rise of trade unionism

There is no doubt that European labor unions have become the tail that wags the class welfare dog and continue to influence the process to a greater degree than in the U.S.. The U.S. experience is different but similar. While private sector union membership is low in the U.S., the real power behind the class welfare war in our country is the public sector unions. The ‘Wisconsin Experience’ is just the latest example in that power struggle being waged for the hearts and minds of American voters and will become a dominant theme in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

To focus squarely on the labor unions is a mistake if one is trying to understand what’s happening in America at this moment in time. Instead, the focus should be directed to our current government and its wishes, in my opinion, to create a European-style welfare state, where wealth is ‘fairly’ distributed and the ‘rich’ should pay their ‘fair share.’

Fighting for (and against) taxes

Our tax code has traditionally been one of the U.S.’ biggest weapons in the fight for ideological purity and ideological equity. Along with our civil rights legislation, it has been the gatekeeper of America’s pursuit of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ and our capitalist way of life. The right to levy taxes, however, is not more important than defining what ‘fair taxation’ is in our modern world. We should not embark on a reconstruction of our tax code before we answer three important questions:

1. Do we still believe that we have the right to keep the lion’s share of what we earn as individuals?;                                                                                                                                                                              2. What do we perceive our obligations to the less fortunate in our society to be?; and                                                                                                                                                                                                        3. Should our tax code be an instrument of social engineering or should other legislation be used to achieve our objectives?

The Tea Party Debate

It’s no surprise to me that the Tea Party movement has gained so much support. We have seen special interest groups rise and fall in popularity in America for generations. What is surprising is the restraint showed by this group (and others) given the acceleration of our country’s polarization and rapid race to the bottom of the economic ladder. When we look overseas to France and elsewhere around the globe, we see disaffected special interest groups not only take to the barricades but attack them, violently. So far, we have not seen that model of class warfare erupt on our streets, though I fear it may be coming, especially if we are unable to turn our economy around.

With 11-14 million people unemployed and no jobs for the newer, younger workers in our society, there is a real danger of creating a permanent and angry underclass, the new American bourgeoisie. Add to that our obscene indebtedness and the unlikely prospect of achieving a bi-partisan agreement on which direction we need to take, and the stars seem to be aligning themselves for civil disobedience or worse.

America is a nation of laws that are designed to protect us while we pursue the opportunity to achieve wealth and greatness. No law can – or should – guarantee the outcomes nor reward us for our unwillingness to be part of the solution.

- Editor

Straight Talk for Exporters – “Picking the Right Export Markets” 2nd in a series of articles on exporting

Posted on 16. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

Choosing the best export markets for your products is a tall order, and to be successful at it, you must make your decision on the basis of accurate, up-to-date information. Many will say, “That’s a no-brainer,” but you will be surprised at how many companies have chosen markets simply because they share a few common characteristics with their own home market. Here are three common mistakes companies make in choosing their export markets.

Mistake #1: An English-speaking market will definitely be the right choice

In a previous article I discussed how to thread the cultural needle, and I touched on language ability as being important but not critical to successful selling. Just because your selected market has potential buyers that speak English is no guarantee they will be receptive to your product. Truth is that many businesspeople speak English today, but many of the world’s people eat rice, too. A smart marketer won’t base his export strategy on one common denominator.

While being able to speak English with your distributors and agents is helpful (and definitely a plus), it’s the customers that count. If they aren’t moved by your language to buy your products then you need to make a move to theirs. Check with your export consultant or the local American Chamber of Commerce in your target market about language preferences. Talk with the Trade Specialist that covers your industry at the Commercial Section in the American Embassy, or better yet, work with your export consultant on a plan for contacting all of them before you do.

Mistake #2:  I’ll go where my competition goes

Sometimes your competition can point the way to a successful market, but sometimes it can’t. There are usually many reasons a company is successful in a foreign market. These can range from market longevity (many years in-country) to government or major company specification of the product, excellent local representation or local manufacture.

To determine which of those are relevant to choosing that particular market or crossing it off your list, get the hard data with a competitor assessment. Locate domestic consumption information and export figures of the product in question. If you know of a particular component that is critical to that product’s functioning, check out the local manufacturing data and import figures for that component.

That will tell you how many units are being produced and sold and give you an idea of market size. If you don’t have the in-house capability to research the data, hire someone who knows how and is experienced in analyzing it.

Mistake #3: The market is close by therefore it’s bound to be cheaper doing business there

If proximity were the primary consideration for choosing an export market, we’d all be exporting to Mexico and Canada. The export facts of life just don’t support that decision, however. Trade agreements like NAFTA were developed to move more companies’ investments to our neighbors to the north and south, thinking that a ‘rising tide will lift all boats,’ but businesspeople don’t make key investment decisions based on their patriotic duty. They base them on realistic projections for reasonable profits.

Mexico is a great export market for some U.S. companies, but it may be a better deal for manufacturers with products that can be sold in Mexico made in U.S./Mexican border factories. Exporters must consider the specific costs of doing business in Mexico and factor it into their decision to use it as an export market. For more information, companies should contact the U.S. Department of Commerce special office for NAFTA as well as the Trade Specialists at the Embassy in Mexico City and in Ottawa.

The bottom line is that mistakes can be costly to make in any market, and just because a market is  close by is definitely no assurance that mistakes made there will be less costly or easier to fix.

Stephan Helgesen is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He has worked in over 24 countries  and advised hundreds of exporters on three continents. He is currently CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications (an export consultancy) and the Honorary Consul for Germany in New Mexico. He can be reached at:

Copyright © 2011 Second Opinion Marketing & Communications




Pass on this bill

Posted on 15. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Politics

Last week I heard an echo – not from a lone hiker in the cliffs of New Mexico. It came from the podium of the House of Representatives… from the President of the United States. His words, “Pass this bill,” echoed those chanted by his administration and by the Pelosi-led Congress before the introduction of the Stimulus Plan, the bank/insurance company/automaker’s bailout bill, and the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare).

Just what is it about good governance and cooperation that this administration and the Democrat members of the House and Senate don’t understand? Legislation designed to get bi-partisan support isn’t written behind closed doors nor is it introduced and voted on with 12 hours’ notice in the middle of the night (as was the case with the Healthcare bill). That may be considered acceptable governance in a third-world country, but here it’s just plain legislative thuggery.

The ‘American Jobs Act’ is the latest salvo in the wait and hurry up war waged by the Obama Administration.  Unable to get its act together for nearly two years to prepare a budget for our country, the Administration has shown a remarkable ability to apply this delaying tactic to everything it touches (remember the decisions on troop levels in Afghanistan and the Libyan ‘intervention’?).  Wait and hurry up has become the hallmark of an administration that is expert at hiding the marbles until the eleventh hour. It’s preference for running out the clock is now painfully obvious to all of us with one good eye or ear.

Tactics aside, the American Jobs Bill is a mirage in the middle of the very real desert of unemployment. It’s an underwhelming and underthought bill that reveals an amazing lack of understanding about how jobs are actually created, especially in a recessionary environment.

What’s glaring is what’s NOT in the bill. NO tax holiday or relief for repatriated profits. NO incentives for bringing back manufacturing jobs from overseas (done by letting foreign manufacturing contracts lapse). NO fair and equal treatment of the unemployed, only special treatment of certain segments of the unemployed workforce. (If you’re a teacher, firefighter or construction worker you have good reason to be excited, but if you’re an out-of-work middle manager, you might as well go back to your cribbage game at the unemployment office.)  NO grants for worker re-training, and NO long term tax breaks or incentives for increased exports of U.S.-made products.

What the bill DOES contain is a number of separate elements that have only a tangential relationship to one another and which were probably cobbled together by academics that once studied job creation but never actually did it.  The one big thing that’s missing from the bill is … a fair and balanced way to fund it. Instead, much of the cost of all the wonderful small business-related giveaways will be paid by, you guessed it, the small businesses themselves! Anyone earning over $200K individually or $250K as a couple will cough up more in taxes.

So, just when we thought there might be a glimmer of reasonableness from the White House on stopping the U.S. job hemorrhage, we’re introduced to a new version of voodoo economics.

In addition, the President mentioned that he wouldn’t entertain breaking the bill up into smaller pieces. It’s an all or nothing, take it or leave it offer and it must be passed NOW. Remind me, how is this offer different from all of the other wait and hurry up offers?

- Editor

Obama, Perry and Romney – and Churchill “The train may have no engineer, no one who can handle it.”

Posted on 15. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

Last Wednesday, millions of American workers (and voters) watched the first major Republican presidential candidate debate at the Reagan Library, and the next day thirty-one million watched President Obama’s speech to the nation on jobs.

When it came to resuscitating the economy, the laissez faire Republicans all fell back on “free”: (largely unregulated) free enterprise, (more) free trade and (nearly) free taxation of corporations and the extremely wealthy.  In other words, they continued to offer major reforms of the tax and regulatory systems in order to ease the burdens on the already extremely wealthy and on big business, despite multinational corporations’ long dismal histories of off-shoring jobs and evading taxes.

The core principles of the major Republican candidates are pretty obviously:

* Each recovery proposal must be rooted in the conservative premise that government itself cannot create jobs, even in times of extreme real unemployment

* Marginal income tax rates and capital gains tax rates must be kept low, for both corporations and wealthy individuals.

* Congress must immediately pass the pending free trade agreements (FTAs) with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

* There must be a Constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

President Obama – very obviously better intentioned – offered a $447 billion smorgasbord comprised of payroll tax cuts (54%), unemployment benefits (11%), new-hiring tax credits (4%) and infrastructure rebuilding & modernization initiatives (31%).  Of this combined $200 billion in new spending and $240 billion in tax cuts, however, it really is only the infrastructure proposals which will actually, as the President himself characterized, “put workers back on the job.”  As such, they are dramatically undersized, especially the infrastructure bank “seed grant” of just $10 billion.  And inexplicably, like the Rs, the President also continues to call for passage of the three pending FTAs, despite the indisputable fact that they would be American job killers not creators.

The Republicans’ proposals, which rely only on the private sector, would at best create, even over the medium term, only a few hundred thousand jobs, when we need more than 20 million new jobs in order to be at full employment in real terms.  And their proposals, which always attempt to mask the enormous benefits that would mostly go to big corporations and the extremely wealthy, reveal an incomprehensible insensitivity to the needs of the middle class.  Even the Wall Street Journal, which is certainly no friend of progressive economics, in its critique of Mr. Romney’s 160 pages and 59 proposals described them “as surprisingly timid and tactical considering our economic predicament – a technocrat’s guide more than a reform manifesto” (9-07-11).

President Obama’s latest proposals would, in contrast, create many more jobs, but still only a few million and nowhere close to 20 million.

On the private sector or business side of economic recovery, it’s only sustained customer demand – and confidence in the future – that drive hiring, not short-term tax breaks and incentives.  And when we have a genuine jobs crisis, then on the fiscal or government side the answer is found in the combination of trade reform, tax reform, large-scale infrastructure investing and jobs programs a la FDR.

The relatively meager job creation offerings that are now on the table bring to mind the failed political leadership in Great Britain, after the onset of World War II and just prior to the arrival of Winston Churchill.  Consider two passages from the captivating  book Troublesome Young Men by Lynn Olson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) which chronicled those very few courageous Members of Parliament who in 1940 stood up against their own Party’s Prime Minister and maneuvered Mr. Churchill first to become First Lord of the Admiralty and then P.M.

In the first of these passages, Ms. Olson introduces the radio broadcast by the legendary CBS correspondent Edward R. Murrow to his listeners in America in May 1940 – eight months after war had been declared on Nazi Germany for its invasions first of Austria, then of Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia and finally of Poland – which reported that the people of Britain felt that “the machine is out of control, that we are all passengers on an express train traveling at high speed through a dark tunnel toward an unknown destiny.  The suspicion recurs that the train may have no engineer, no one who can handle it.”

Imagine the hopelessness that the average Briton must have felt hearing his cherished and historically highly respected country described so critically by no less than Mr. Murrow.

Ms. Olson went on to write: “When war was declared, the British braced themselves to bear the shock, believing their cause was just.  But when their leaders [also] turned their backs on Poland and nothing more happened, the sense of mission evaporated.  More than a million city dwellers had been evacuated to the countryside; a blackout had been imposed, causing tremendous disruption and danger – and for what?  Where were the bombs?  What was the rationale for turning everyone’s life upside down?  Why were the wealthy still throwing lavish parties and drinking champagne at posh nightclubs while workers struggled with shortages and skyrocketing costs?”

The turnaround for the British of course came with the ascendancy of the indomitable Mr. Churchill.  In short order, he made clear to the world that the strategy of appeasement which Britain’s previous leaders – first Stanley Baldwin and then Neville Chamberlain – had embraced was finished.   He immediately gave Britain a strong, principled stance to rally behind and refused to cave on principles in the face of existential adversity, which of course is the only counter to appeasement.  Churchill’s re-invigoration of the populace also restored the country’s confidence in its government’s ability to not only prevail but in the process to regain much of the UK’s standing in the world.

“In Mr. Churchill, we have seen a man of action who sweeps [our faults] aside and reminds us that [as] British we must live or die.” (The New Statesman, Ibid.)

But for America today, with similar uncertainty and fatalism being felt in every quarter, there is sadly no Winston Churchill in sight.  An absence particularly noticeable just two days after the memorial services surrounding the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an anniversary which should remind all of us what true leadership should look like in challenging times.

Democrats, for whom the betterment of the whole is proudly their natural objective, are natural compromisers.  This said, there are some people you just can’t negotiate with, and from reflecting back on the dealings in Congress around economic stimulus, health care reform and financial industry reform, it should now be painfully obvious to President Obama that he can’t productively negotiate with Congressional Republicans on job creation.

In a piece that he wrote for the New York Times on July 30, Stanley B. Greenberg, CEO of the national polling company Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, sought to identify the reasons “Why Voters Tune Out Democrats”.  It’s as if Mr. Greenberg was endeavoring to write the 2011 American version of Troublesome Young Men.

Let me quote Mr. Greenberg, and then offer my own comments from the vantage points of having been in 2008 first Senior Economic Policy Advisor for candidate John Edwards and later a senior advisor to candidate Barack Obama on jobs, labor and trade issues.  First, per Mr. Greenberg:

*  “I see clearly that voters feel ever more estranged from government – and that they associate Democrats with government.

*  “Just a quarter of the country is optimistic about our system of government – the lowest since polls by ABC and others began asking this question in 1974.  But a crisis of government legitimacy is a crisis of liberalism.  It doesn’t hurt Republicans.  If government is seen as useless, what is the point of electing Democrats who aim to use government to advance some public end?

*  “Government operates by the wrong values and rules, for the wrong people and purposes, the Americans I’ve surveyed believe.  Government rushes to help the irresponsible and does little for the responsible. Wall Street lobbyists govern, not Main Street voters.”

Mr. Greenberg has specific ideas for President Obama and the Democrats in Congress to pursue, as do I and my nineteen colleagues on the “Task Force on Job Creation” which I co-chaired with Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers.  But before exploring the more timely and likely-effective of our recommendations, let me expand a bit on Mr. Greenberg’s observations and my own from the 2008 Campaign.

We knew as far back as 2006, when the economy was already starting to wheeze in a way and to a degree unlike any of the nine prior recessions that followed WW II, that, as Mr. Greenberg has again confirmed, voters respond strongly to Democratic messages on the economy only when a Party leader declares, “We have to start by changing Washington.”

In 2007-2008, I remember saying and writing to our candidates that before they ever spoke of government’s indispensable role in helping turn around the economy, they had to promise the electorate that under Democratic leadership, government would be at once efficient and accessible and not wasteful.  To this point, Mr. Greenberg later wrote, “progressives have to be serious about making government accountable to the ordinary citizen.”  Mr. Greenberg’s analysis was precisely the perspective that I believed the Obama administration would embrace after the Inauguration, given candidate Obama’s continuing emphasis that this was precisely where his head was.

Unfortunately, not long after the Inauguration, we watched as the stimulus package came out undersized and misdirected.  We watched as Larry Summers, the President’s chief economic advisor, declared the Recession “over”, even though in real terms nearly 30 million workers were unemployed.  And then it soon became clear that Mr. Obama’s three overriding promises to create millions of new jobs, appropriately punish the banks and Wall Street for their near sinful misbehaviors, and make government accountable were going to be largely gutted in a series of accommodations to the Republicans in Congress.  Mr. Churchill would have cringed.

These latter-day appeasements have left our country with greater income inequality than at any time since 1928, the extremely wealthy now even wealthier, many of the major banks irresponsibly back acting as if they’re again ‘too big to fail’ and, most concerning of all right now, unprecedented real unemployment.

No matter how obstructionist the Republicans in Congress remain, there are, however, still a handful of extremely meaningful actions which the administration could demand and probably get enacted.  Mr. Greenberg says that if “Democrats want to win the trust of the public, they should propose taxing lobbyist expenses and excessive chief executive bonuses and put a small fee on the sale of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments.”  We on the Jobs Task Force agree, and would add, in brief, four other key initiatives:

1.  With a new leveraged National Infrastructure Bank as the funding source and with Buy American requirements enacted, commit to at least $2 trillion of infrastructure spending over the next decade.  Over and above the de minimus $10 billion in seed capital proposed by the President to get the investments rolling, reach out to the states’ public pension funds for the leverage needed to help meet the overall medium-term spending needed (in rail, ports, airports and bridges & roads) to again make our country globally competitive.

2.  Adopt incentives to accelerate commercial bank lending to small and medium sized businesses.  New hiring incentives pale in effect compared to the ability of this category of borrowers to again borrow on fair and readily available terms.  Right now, lending to this group is down by 25% compared to pre-Recession 2007.

3.  Enact the pending “Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act of 2011”.  Stop the U.S. government from entering into a bilateral investment treaty with China until China makes WTO-compliant its Indigenous Innovation Production Accreditation Program (and, in the interim, demand that the USTR bring a Section 301 case against the Program).  Go after all of China’s illegal subsidies, not just its currency manipulation.  And put a halt to China’s persistent theft of America’s valuable intellectual property.

4.  Enact large-scale jobs programs targeted at returning military veterans and the five million out-of-school unemployed youth.  As in general, but here especially, we need actual jobs created for veterans and youth, not – all good intentions notwithstanding – just hiring ‘credits’ with the misguided hope that they induce hiring.  And a perfect place to start would be helping rebuild communities so ravaged this year by natural disasters.

But first, Mr. President, help the American people see that their train – their government – has an ‘engineer in place who can handle it’ and who never wavers from his commitment to a vibrant – and fully employed – middle class.  And as long as the Republicans in Congress keep saying “nay’ to everything, then rather than appeasing them, lay out your case for and the specifics of a fully responsive populist government, even if it means going down swinging.   Voters will at least again know who we are and what we stand for.

This article was submitted by Leo Hindery Jr. who is chair of the Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and an investor in media companies.  He is the former CEO of AT&T Broadband and its predecessors, Tele-Communications, Inc. and Liberty Media.



Prologue to Sept. 11, 2001

Posted on 13. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Social/Cultural, Uncategorized

In the years that have passed since our great national tragedy, our friendships with the nations that poured out their compassion to us in the wake of 9/11 have ebbed and flowed.

The search for the terrorists, the sponsors of terrorism and the invasion of Iraq, have been the subject of dozens of articles, interviews and books detailing the events that led up to the War and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Our allies that comprised the coalition forces spent their own native blood and treasure in support of the hunt for the perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the foiled attempt that left hundreds dead in a Pennsylvania farmer’s field. For years, our friendships with these nations have been tested by America’s foreign policy and will continue to be. Americans, too, have come down on both sides of the issue of whether the hunt for the terrorists should have precipitated the invasion of Iraq instead of a more narrowly targeted ‘surgical’ dragnet.

One thing is for certain, America will never be the same, and the tragedy of 9/11 set in motion a widespread national debate on war, terrorism, personal liberty, torture, incarceration, due process and security, not to mention geopolitics. Americans of all ages and persuasions have weighed in on  the advisability of preemptive use of force, and the political winds that blow hot and heavy throughout the Congress have carried this debate to the floor of the Senate and House on more than one occasion.

These debates, which are reminiscent of those of the Vietnam War years, will not go away, and each  Congress and President must take them up and try to square them with our Constitution and with our values as a nation. That is the responsibility of free people and the promise of freedom entrusted to us by the framers of our Constitution. Tyranny will always be with us and is a parasite on democracy. We will never totally eradicate tyranny; we can only hope to show it for what it is, a mutation of humanity.

I have a good friend, a kind and decent man I have known for over 25 years, who was called upon to be the Civilian Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, III. ‘Jerry,’ as his friends call him, was not a man that sought fame and adulation. He was a career diplomat who began his career as a junior officer in Afghanistan and worked his way up the State Department’s ladder. Retiring earlier than most at his pay grade to take a position in the private sector, he did so to ensure his children of the best education possible and to spend more time with them and with his wife of many years.

Answering the President’s call to become the U.S.’ top man in Iraq and take on the gargantuan task of reconstituting a government and helping stabilize a country in ruins was a daunting responsibility – one that most people would never even entertain. I was relieved when President Bush chose him because I knew there was no better qualified, resilient and resourceful man for the job. I mention him here because he is a well-known figure to many and to show that one man’s (or woman’s) dedicated actions can make a difference in righting the wrongs visited upon us by evil people.

Ordinary citizens in vastly different situations than his have done all they could over the past ten years to try make sense out of the senseless acts of 9/11. Thousands of our brave men and women  in uniform have given their lives in defense of our liberty, and many thousands more have come back to us badly wounded and suffering from severe battle trauma. We owe them a debt of gratitude. While that debt can never fully be paid, we pay it down by acknowledging their sacrifice during these days immediately following 9/11.

Our Creator has endowed us with the ability to evolve and to learn from our mistakes. We live our lives in the present, but we must remember that history did not begin with our birth nor with the births of countless generations of decent human beings that came before us. Finding fault is never as important to our human condition as finding truth and acting responsibly.

To borrow a currently-used phrase, “one cannot lead from behind,” and only we the living have the luxury of hindsight. Whether the decisions made from 2001 on were correct or not will be left to the survivors of this national holocaust to decide, not the victims. It is our solemn duty to honor them by getting it right… for the next ten years and beyond.

- The Editor

3,652 days

Posted on 09. Sep, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics, Social/Cultural

Ten years have not completely removed the pain felt by all Americans from that horrible day in September of 2001. Each of us in our way has dealt with the loss we suffered as a country, but nothing can compare with the abject sorrow felt at the loss of a family member or a friend by the surviving families. We do their loss honor by remembering them and by trying to examine how we as a nation have found the strength to carry on without them.

Thousands of words will be added to the thousands of pages written by journalists to solemnly commemorate this event, and while many will share a common theme, each one on its own will be a tribute to the innocent victims of that day when America lost its innocence at the hands of terrorists.

There are still those among us who remember President Roosevelt’s ‘Day of Infamy’ speech in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th and many more that remember Walter Cronkite’s emotional announcement that President Kennedy was killed in Dallas on a sunny day in November of 1963. Events that rob us of our precious young men and women like wars are perhaps a bit easier to reconcile, though no less painful, while senseless killings like those that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 require a journey to the very core of our souls to understand.

Each of us remembers where we were when those announcements were made. They were burned into us like a brand that we will wear all our lives. For me, personally, I was working in the American Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark when my staff came into my office and told me to turn on the television that ‘something terrible happened in New York City.’ We crowded around to watch the horrendous scenes of an unbelievable nature unfolding before our very eyes. Our momentary shock was interrupted by the Marine Security Guards who burst into my office, clad in flak jackets and helmets and carrying automatic weapons. We were swiftly ushered out into the corridor and told to proceed to the ‘safe area’ of the Embassy where others were gathered.

A few minutes passed and the Ambassador came down to us flanked by his security team and told us that ‘America’s been attacked.’ We were told to stay put, away from the windows. The sound of people’s movements outside the Embassy walls was unmistakable. We could see from our vantage point that hundreds of Danes were gathering in front of the main entrance. Many were walking as if in a procession, without talking and with heads bowed in an eerie reverence.

This went on for some time until the Danish police had to finally expand the perimeter for the crowd. The gray September afternoon provided a somber backdrop for what was soon to become an even more somber evening. After receiving a briefing from the Danish police that the crowd was  not a hostile one, the Ambassador told us that the Danish people were grieving with all of us. I asked him if I could go outside and speak with them, and the Ambassador said that the Public Affairs Officer and I could engage the crowd which we immediately did.

I was not prepared for what I saw. The concrete steps of the main entrance were festooned with bouquets of flowers and lit candles. Framed photographs of the World Trade Center were amidst the flowers. People of every age and persuasion stood vigil, wanting to somehow show their solidarity with those of us who were inside the heavily guarded walls of the Embassy.

I spoke to the first few who immediately grasped my hand and with tears in their eyes said, “Vi er så kede af det” (we’re so sorry for it – the attack). I will never forget their eyes that looked beyond me and directly into my heart. It was all I could do not to break down with my own grief and sadness at what we then knew was an enormous loss of life from three separate attacks.

One woman came up to me and touched me on the shoulder. She was carrying a single flower and a picture of Tower One. I asked her, “Did you lose someone in the attack?” She said, “No.” I then asked her if she had been to the tower. She said, “No, I’ve never been to the United States.” She continued, and said something that probably passed the lips of many foreigners that day in many different languages, “I dag er vi allesammen amerikaner.” Today we’re all Americans.

This was especially poignant for me as earlier that same day, well before the attacks, I spoke at an American Chamber of Commerce breakfast to 40 or 50 representatives of American companies. One of my duties was to pass on to them a Security Alert that the State Department provided to us. It stated there was reason to believe that American companies might be at risk from a security threat. Little did I know at the time that that threat would come true… but in my own country.

The days that followed were a blur as they must have been for everybody around the world. While the rubble has been cleared from ‘Ground Zero’ and the re-building is taking place, the scars we all bear and that tear at us every time we hear 9/11 will never fade away, nor should they. They are a reminder that our world is a fragile and often times confusing place, but one that is still populated by more people of goodwill than those who do not hold human life sacred. Rest in peace, victims of 9/11.

- The Editor

Stephan J. Helgesen


Bad Behavior has blocked 413 access attempts in the last 7 days.