Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Specter of Globalization

One of the single most important books I read in graduate school was Clyde Prestowitz's "Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East." The premise of his book was globalization and the rise in economies of countries in the eastern part of the world. Prestowitz starts the first chapters of the book with some interesting statistics on the United States and its economy. He writes: "Go anywhere in the world and people will tell you how much something costs in dollars and will accept dollars without hesitation. Indeed, Americans have a special privilege in this regard: whereas others must first earn dollars in order to buy oil or wheat or Toyotas on the international market, Americans only need to print more dollars. Of the world's 1,000 largest corporations, 423 are American, and the New York and Nasdaq stock exchanges account for 44 percent of the value of all the stocks in the world. The United States is home to the world's finest universities and the overwhelming majority of its leading research centers, and it spends more on research and development than the next five countries combined. It is quite simply, the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever seen." Prestowitz's numbers are awe-inspiring. He notes that America is so powerful that globalization had been criticized as a euphemism for Americanization. In plain English globalization is Americanization.

Globalization certainly is a plus for the rest of the developing world. Personal experiences from living in a developing country are such that I cannot deny how beneficial the reach of the developed world into most of China and South East Asia are. The transfer of services to India and most of South East Asia cuts costs for many American companies and provides jobs that promise an increase in earning power. However, when jobs are outsourced the brunt of being newly unemployed weighs heavily and invariably affects the economy of the United States. Globalization is good for the developing world especially but it can be quite annoying if you've experienced first hand the stories I'm about to share.

On a return trip back from England in March one of my suitcases did not make the journey back to Atlanta. My mom and I flew Delta Airlines and upon returning home, we began the pesky task of filing claims and making calls to Delta to retrieve the luggage. The experience was nothing short of nightmarish. The first call I made was routed to Bangladesh I believe. The customer service representative spoke to me from a script during our entire conversation. She could not answer any of the questions I asked that were not on the script. At one point she began reading the long monologue and I had to do all I could in my power to keep from pounding my head on the wall in frustration. We had lost luggage with some important items in it. I had almost three pairs of shoes in the suitcase and all I kept on hearing over and over again was "Madam we are doing everything in our power to recover your suitcase. We understand the stress you are under...!" I almost wanted to scream. If you understood how I felt we wouldn't be having this conversation between man and machine. I was at a loss. I made over twenty call in the frame of three days and finally I spoke to a supervisor in Atlanta. The most frustrating part of this episode was they were reluctant to transfer me to someone in the United States. Besides, we were separated by time zones and that did nothing to alleviate the issue.

Now, that was March. Today I called Sallie Mae to make sure all my student loans were still simmering in the cauldron of deferment. I had a lot of questions to ask and needed to get some good responses. The representative helping me this time was in Bangalore. It was yet another painful experience. I had to literally spell almost every word to him. He was very nice and courteous but his service was not excellent. We had a challenge understanding each other and in the end he referred me back to the website. Sure, with time I'm sure his services will improve but right now, it's not at the level it needs to be at.

I am an immigrant in the United States and would be more than happy to see jobs outsourced to my country. However, when it comes to outsourcing services, right choices have to be made. It's not helpful to the customer and the overall bottom line of any company when rendering a service becomes like pulling teeth because there is a communication barrier. I've become so used to my calls getting routed to Asia that it's now easy to tell when a call is been answered in a county other than the United States. The line is always fuzzy and the person on the other end seems to really be on the "other end." Is this really good for us the customers. Is it really good for the United States and its so-called powerful companies?

I am all for making the world a global village. I envision a world where time and space barriers are no longer as challenging as they used to be. However, corporations in the United States willing to cut costs need to cut costs elsewhere. Services should not be sacrificed in an effort to balance the books because everyone suffers in the end. While it's easy to forgive Sallie Mae and Delta Airlines for outsourcing calls to Southeast Asia, no one takes the cake on stupidity as much as the United States government for considering outsourcing the management of U.S. ports to the U.A.E. With terrorism becoming "the" issue post September 11, considering the U.A.E was preposterous. That was a classic case of globalization+outsourcing gone south. I don't mean to berate developing economies or their bid to get a share of the globalization pie, but when issues of national security and in this case my student loans are at stake something needs to be done.

Prestowitz does not leave readers hanging without a solution. He notes that there is a significant rise in capitalists across the globe. He puts their number at precisely 3 billion. If you need evidence of what is to come and the challenges that the United States faces please watch the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Now if you don't call that the new frontier I don't know what is. Simply put, the comfortable life and security blanket the American skies have given its citizens may soon have holes the size of giant craters. When this happens, Prestowitz notes that we'll need new leaders who are visionary and have the ability to ride the tide and think outside the box. Until then, this capitalists wants my Sallie Mae loans managed at Sallie Mae's physical address!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama picks a Bedfellow

In a few hours, Senator Barack Obama will make the announcement we've been waiting for all summer. Through text and email messages his campaign supporters will be notified of Dick Cheney's possible replacement this winter. The name Cheney makes me want to write a ten page essay on how not to be a Vice-President, but I'll restrain myself tonight. It's not clear what significant impact Obama's choice will have on the campaign. However, it would still be a plus if his choice is someone who will further unify the party.

An article in The New York Times yesterday discussed prospective choices and subsequent consequences on the campaign. The article named current Virginia governor Tim Kaine and Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana and Joseph Biden of Delaware as prospective choices. Of the candidates, I am more familiar with Joseph Biden. I heard Senator Biden speak for the first time almost 5 years ago on the Charlie Rose Show. Hearing him speak gave me a Richard Holbrooke moment (there's nothing like hearing experts discuss foreign policy). He was eloquent, poised and moderately charming. I can almost say I've idolized Biden since then. His expertise in foreign policy will clearly make up for deficiencies Obama has in this arena. Regarding Governor Kaine, I heard him speak for the first time after the Virginia Tech massacre. His speech was not only very eloquent and well paced but was comforting and unifying. I was reminded of Guiliani post September 11. Kaine's speech gave the Commonwealth of Virginia the assurance they needed. Now, I am quite unfamiliar with Senator Bayh and do not remember if I've heard him speak before. Nonetheless, to be considered for the office of Vice-President though is some indication that he has something to bring to the table.

Earlier on in the campaign most people hoped for a Democratic ticket that had a mix of Senators Obama, Edwards and Clinton. We can almost guess that neither Clinton nor Edwards will be on the ticket. Clinton for one does not seem to have the ability to unify the party. Although Senator Clinton is incredibly intelligent and a good politician and would undoubtedly have made a fine President she is just not well liked. Ask Willy Loman. If you haven't read Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," and can't quite understand the benefits of being well liked, then fix your mind on an episode of "The Hills." Politics is a popularity contest. Then, there's Edwards. We went from questioning how he would handle his wife's illness if he got elected to wondering how much of the budget mght be used to pay his occasional playmate.

So for all the buzz, how significant is the American Vice-President? The answer is not much. Most Vice-Presidential candidates do the most work during the campaign than they do once in office. Now I might be exaggerating but really what do the Vice-Presidents do? Few Presidents in office had pleasant relationships with their Vice Presidents. Ask Richard Nixon what he thought of Spiro Agnew. Agnew and Nixon had perhaps the most bizarre of all relationships in modern political history. Nixon made sure Agnew was kept well away from him and excluded Agnew from his decision making processes. For a Vice-President, Agnew was not even part of Nixon's inner circle. At one point they communicated by trading notes back and forth. Or consider Clinton and Gore. How on earth did they ever meet? The two men together do not seem as though they had any chemistry. I find it even hard to picture them as friends who met at the PTA. I'm not sure what the relationship is now but I bet Gore hates Clinton's guts. I've tried to imagine how Clinton told Gore about Monica Lewinsky. I wonder what Gore must have told Bill? Given these examples, the United States does not have a very rosy history of a President who worked well with his Vice-President. Although it seems as though Dick Cheney broke the mold. He seems to have a good working and personal relationship with George Bush, although I wouldn't call him a Vice-President. Most times I forget he is a political figure. He seems constantly removed. Remember him in his parka and boots ensemble at the Holocaust Memorial? Classic.

The United States needs a boost in all respects. Hence, I hope Obama will not make the same historical mistake but will rather choose someone with whom he can work with properly. After having served in an office while in school, the benefit to having a Vice-President you can plan with and delegate responsibilities to is priceless. Politics should never make strange bedfellows but it does. It is quite pointless trying to make a ship go northbound when you have two captains who are not on the same page. I am pretty excited about Obama's selection but I don't want to expect much. This country deserves more than two individuals on an ego-trip who loathe each other but still make for good photographs.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Make mine a Michael

Two nights ago, I was in bed trying to sleep. I don't remember if I was praying for sleep to come or just plain hoping that I would fall asleep. When I realized I wasn't doing any and became aware that I wasn't going to fall asleep, I decided to watch old episodes of my favorite sitcom "Girlfriends." Now, if you aren't of African descent you might not know about the show. "Girlfriends" was sort of the African-American response to "Sex and the City". The show chronicles the lives of four African-American women, Joan an attorney turned lounge proprietress, Lynn an aspiring musician and singer, Toni a real estate "mogul," and Maya, Joan's former administrative assistant now turned authoress as she likes to be called.

The show comes up on the CW normally. Since I wasn't sure of the exact url for the CW I just did a search for girlfriends. Now, I wasn't sure what to expect, any number of things could have come up. The network doesn't have a monopoly on the term, besides it's not quite as cut and dry as say searching for "Frasier" or "Gossip Girl." What came up however on the search shocked me. The server pulled up modified searches of all sorts for "Michael Phelps' girlfriend." Oh no it didn't! Normally, I would have cared to check but I was too tired to care about who the young olympian was dating so I just went ahead and watched my show.

So what's all this buzz about Michael Phelps? Sure he has won more gold medals than I can count on my fingers and half my toes, he is over six feet tall, he has an adoring mother and he sure isn't bad looking. Usually searches on Yahoo! will pull up the most commonly requested key word. So, it seems like a lot of ladies have been searching to see who the young Phelps is dating. I haven't done my research yet, but I kind of feel bad for these girls. Let's be logical here, what are their chances really?

Michael Phelps may or may not have a girlfriend. I haven't checked and will not. But I want to go with the assumption that he doesn't. So for those searching let's examine their chances. Phelps is all the way in China right now. In Beijing to be precise. I don't know what the rules are for the athletes but I bet they aren't spending the bulk of their time staring at ancient ruins or sampling restaurants. Besides he is surrounded by his team mates, coaches, doctors, and other specialists most of the time. Once the games are over, he is likely to return back to the United States. I'm not sure what his life back here is like, but seriously what are the odds for a young girl searching in Pueblo, Colorado?

So why all these searches! The boy doesn't even know half these girls exist. I'm using the term girls loosely though. Some of them may be grandmas for all I know. Michael is one of several billion people on this planet. And the chances of meeting him unless properly executed are few and far between. But I wouldn't rule it out completely. If someone can get into Anderson Cooper's hotel room, then "ain't no mountain high enough." These women will do anything, including buy a ticket and fly all the way to China for a chance with the Phelps.

Do I like Michael Phelps? I like his first name though. He reminds me of my other famous Michael's. Michael Jordan, Michael Johnson, and the favorite of all; Michael Jackson. "Dear Michael Jackson, let me count the ways I love thee. I love thee for thy Neverland Ranch, I love thee for thy high water pants. I love thee for thy sweet, sweet voice, but most of all I love thee for thy nose so slim!" Funny right, but I love Michael Phelps as much as I love the other Michael's.

Michael Phelps is a great olympian and definitely seems like a great kid. However, the craze about him though warranted is severely abnormal. If he were the kid toting around a bottle of perfume at the Abercrombie and Fitch store, some girls would be moved. On the other hand, if he was a manager of the grocery store down the street few girls would notice. So, why all the hype now? He is on television, he's famous now and may have some money to buy some girl a designer purse. Now, they all want him. Wait till I become famous and there will be a ruckus. I'm sure I'll see people hiding in my closet, the trunk of my car and other weird spaces. So, people... I would join in the search to see if I may be the lucky Mrs. Phelps, but sadly I'm not dating younger men right now.

Friday, August 15, 2008


I thought it would make me blog daily but yet it didn't. My PC semi gave up the ghost late last year. I am not a computer addict, but I have a tendency to hug my laptop and can be on the PC surfing the internet for hours on end. When my PC died, I suffered. I had withdrawal symptoms. I sat down and tapped my fingers on an imaginary keyboard. I right clicked my way through half the day. I opened up several tabs; CNN on one, Slate on the other, and of course my gossip site on another. I read the news, pausing to take everything in the back of my mind.

I wanted to blog so badly, but I didn't want to be confined to sitting in a lone chair for hours staring at a desk top. I wanted to blog sitting up in bed. I wanted to blog when I got inspired while cooking or watching AC360. I wanted to blog on my own terms on my own computer. Then, it was tax-free weekend in Georgia. I stood in line the first day for a consultation. I came back the next day, to make my first contribution to the Steve Jobs Family Foundation. I bought a Mac.

I thought my MAC would make me blog daily, but it didn't. It's amazing how that three letter word represents some of the most beloved things. Make Up Art Cosmetics, Macintosh...I love my MAC. I got some nice new toys along with it. They cunningly call giving me those presents a rebate. I accepted. I couldn't say no to a color printer whose ink is more than it's worth or an ITouch. I am more than happy to have these new toys. It's been over half a month since I got my MAC and still I haven't blogged.

I might sound philosophical, but there's never a right time to blog. There's never a right time to do anything because the right time just never comes, so just do it! I'm reminded of the analogy of humans to lobsters waiting for some wind of fate to spur them into action. I waited so long for this was my excuse for not blogging and when it finally came, it was my excuse for not blogging still. What's your excuse?