Archive for the ‘Global Issues’ Category

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Proof of an Old Adage

June 8, 2010

A recent Reuters article brought to mind the old adage: “You just can’t make this stuff up” and offers a glimpse into an Islāmic country that most Americans might find surprisingly tolerant. The article documents the growth of Khadija Ahmed’s  sex shop in the Islāmic country of Bahrain.  (Yes, that’s right, those words did just occur in the same sentence!) In most places around the world a business such as this would not be news, but when one considers Bahrain’s immediate Islāmic neighbors,  this article illustrates the existence of a softer, more permissible side of Islam.

Just across the seventeen mile King Fahd Causeway linking Bahrain to the west is Saudi Arabia. Here, women can’t be uncovered in public, drive a car and in recent developments, even belong to an all female gymnasium. To Bahrain’s  east, about a hundred miles across the Persian Gulf, an Iranian cleric is blaming the continuing seismic activity (Iran is one of the most earthquake plagued countries in the world) on women dressing and behaving promiscuously —this cleric must have a difficult time reasoning why there have been no earthquakes in Bahrain. Traveling a bit farther east of Bahrain is Afghanistan and the bordering province to Iran of Helmand—a Taliban stronghold.  There, in Taliban controlled areas, women are prohibited from obtaining an education (schools have been burned and women killed) as it, according to the Taliban, promotes obscenity and vulgarity.

No, the Saudis, Iranians and Taliban types wouldn’t be at all understanding (one can only imagine the harsh or brutal punishments that might be exacted) of Khadija’s shop—so let’s all send a “shout out” to Bahrain and it’s exercising of Islāmic modernism and tolerance. Who knows, this kind of tolerance might spread to other issues and to other countries in the region—we can only hope.

As for Khadija Ahmed and her dreams to expand her shop to other areas of Bahrain and the Middle East, tribute can best be best expressed in one of my favorite American cultural colloquialisms—“You GO girl!”

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Organizational Corruption is Rarely Isolated; It’s Systemic.

April 14, 2010

In one of the largest criminal fraud cases to be brought by the US Government in recent years a Kuwaiti owned logistics firm, Agility, was indicted last February for multiple instances of fraud and other crimes totaling (what has been reported to be) as much as two billion dollars.  Yes, that’s billion—with a “B”—dollars.

The criminal indictment issued by the US District Court in Atlanta is public domain and is available on many web sites.  It includes two conspiracy counts alleging (in simple terms) fraudulent large-scale over-billing, fraudulent large-scale concealment of distribution fees into item pricing, fraudulent retention of rebates from vendors, and fraudulent  large-scale repackaging of items. The indictment counts detail a time-line of fraudulent behavior from June of 2003 to December of 2008 and lists dozens of instances, meetings, communiques, and transactions covering contracts totaling about 8.5 billion dollars (whew, now it’s easy to see how the fraud could be a much as two billion). It’s a pretty damning document.

This week the indictment was amended to include the major US subsidiary, Agility Defense and Government Services (DGS) headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, that seems to have been the contracted and operational entity. Lawyers for Agility DGS have pleaded ‘not guilty’ even though recent news reports suggest there are negotiations underway between the US District Attorney’s office and Agility that would have Agility pay 750 million to avoid a trial (now—in my understanding of the world—no organization pays three-quarters of a billion dollars if its’ innocent).  Also see Article in Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Agility is a competitor in my industry so I have been closely watching the events unfold from a couple of viewpoints. First, as one of the largest competitors in my industry their demise would certainly be a boon to not only my company but other logistics companies as well; so I can’t say I’d be sad to see them crippled by their own folly.

Secondly, I’m keenly interested from an international corruption standpoint how the USG resolves the matter—I certainly hope it’s with greater impact than the 2008 Siemens corruption scandal.

In the Siemens matter no one went to jail and—incredibly—Siemens was not barred from doing business with the US Government.  ((I wrote a Letter to the Editor about the Siemens incident that was published in the Wall Street Journal on December 24, 2008:  If You Do the Crime, You Should Do the Time.)

Roughly half of Agility’s revenues come from business with the US Government and if any non-trial resolution of the indictment allows Agility to continue to do billions of dollars of business with the USG–well, there are very important reasons why that would be an incredibly bad outcome. To begin with (like the Siemens case), it would present no deterrent. If Agility is only “fined” 750 million dollars then, and from any knowledgeable cost assessment, they are way ahead—no question they probably profited much more than that penalty amount. Most importantly, if one looks back over large corruption scandals like Siemens as well as the great UN Oil for Food incident—the most notorious in recent memory—the similarity that cannot be ignored is the corruption was not isolated within those organizations; like a metastasized cancer it was systemic.

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About “Face”—Ottoman Style

March 5, 2010

If anyone has any doubt about the extent of the “face” issue and how it is playing out in today’s world (both political and business), they  merely have to read the latest news about the vote by the House Foreign Affairs on the 100-year old Turkish-Armenian controversy.

The House committee has voted to pass a resolution that states that in the early 1900’s the Turks committed genocide by killing approximately 1.5 million Armenians. The Turks are so upset (even though the atrocities occurred during the Ottoman era) they’ve threatened to recall their US Ambassador. The Turkish pressure to stop the resolution from passing was so intense that President Obama even reneged on one of his campaign promises that stood on the side of Armenia. Apparently, getting Turkey to agree to sanctions against Iran is enough justification to break a campaign pledge.

Secretary of State Clinton weighed in last week warning the committee chairman that the resolution could harm reconciliation talks between Turkey and Armenia. Maybe the secretary has a new found respect for the issue of “face” after her Pakistan and China forays that created tension and controversy. In Pakistan she accused the government there of not wanting to catch the Taliban and the China/Google hacking issue is still making news.  This is not to say Secretary Clinton isn’t a good and capable chief diplomat; she definitely is, but her American-style bluntness—or disregard for  “face”—has had its shortcomings.  

The Armenian lobby in the U.S. Congress is very powerful and is part of a larger global effort to have the Ottoman era killings labeled by governments worldwide as genocide.  A similar resolution, pushed  by the influential Armenian lobby efforts was passed in 2007, but was prevented from getting a full House vote by the Bush White House (during that time there was a fear that the Turks would prohibit use of a certain military base that was key  to the U.S. Iraq war effort).

This century old issue has not been this hotly debated since the tragedies occurred—it’s an issue that is certainly a resonating indicator of the omnipresent and enduring influence of the concept of “face.”

For a greater understanding of “face” and its global cultural impact, pick up a copy of my book, Lies, Bribes & Peril.

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Child Trafficking or Incredible Cultural Naivete?

February 2, 2010

The current situation involving the 10 jailed members of the Southern Baptist Convention religious organization has a number of root causes. First and foremost, what I like to believe was a well intended group, the cultural ignorance shown by the religious group was pretty astounding.

Not only did the group attempt to move roughly thirty children across an international border without any of the proper paperwork (this in a country that suffers from the blight of real human traffickers), but the most recent development about yesterday’s postponed court date highlights the fact the group embarked on their overzealous mission without possessing an ability to speak French!

Basically, the group ignored any and all cultural, legal, and communications issues. Geeze!

How the situation will evolve and what the outcomes will be is anybody’s guess–as well intended as the group may be their naiveté borders on arrogant indifference. At first blush I thought this might be a case of corrupt Haitian officials making a mountain from a molehill—but the facts are otherwise. This group, whether inadvertent or properly intended, are in real trouble—and unfortunately they should be. Any thought or preparation about what the group might need to succeed in their international endeavor would surely have served as a harbinger.  It’s way too late, but a copy of my book would have certainly kept them from this fate.

Now, I alluded to other causes and they certainly are there. This group’s fervor and zeal was most certainly stoked by the hopelessness and ‘blame oriented’ media coverage beamed out by the likes of Anderson Cooper, and others:

Instead of the coverage recognizing the insignificance and futility of man’s abilities in the face of nature’s awesome—and at times awful—power, there was the wringing of hands over what was inferred as ‘avoidable’ delay and mismanagement of the Haitian rescue effort. There have been many stories from knowledgeable media sources about this ‘blame’ phenomenon and the resultant well doers—like our Southern Baptist group, spurred to ineffectual action, that actually cause more harm while desperately intent on trying to do good.  

Let’s remember, there is no evil at work here—nothing like the needless human tragedy that continues to exist in Darfur.  In Haiti, there are thousands of trained, professional disaster relief personnel struggling to do their very best in a place that is a ‘perfect storm’ of obstacles and challenges.

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Brazilian Custody Fight = All Accommodation – UPDATE to 12/22/09 post

December 23, 2009

12/22 and 23/2009- CNN:  Brazil high court lifts stay, allowing boy to return to U.S. Brazil high court lifts stay, allowing boy to return to U.S

Thank goodness the latest turn of events (as of yesterday 12/22/09) has the Brazilian Chief Justice overturning the ruling last week by his counterpart and requiring the boy (Sean) be returned to his US father David Goldman. While anything can still happen, Face issues—brought by the combination of the absence of any legitimate legal basis and the very serious US political pressure—in this case have outweighed the obvious Accommodation. 

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/12/22/brazil.custody.battle/index.html?eref=rss_topstories&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fcnn_topstories+%28RSS%3A+Top+Stories%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

Read my book Lies, Bribes & Peril to get a better understanding about the concept of “Face” and “Accommodation” and other Lessons for the REAL Challenges of International Business.

Happy Holidays!

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Improved US-Russia Cooperation—All Started with a Communication Faux Pas

December 15, 2009

Recent articles suggesting greater cooperation between the US and Russia on various issues like cyberspace security are a nice change in the frosty dialogue that has been status quo between the countries over the past decade or so Implausibly it was all started by a classic Communication blunder on the part of The State Department and Secretary Clinton. (See: http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=CNG.9ca28ad2530b0d0029e1304762eca18f.8c1&show_article=1).

Last March, in a Communication lesson straight from my book Lies, Bribes and Peril, Sec Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with a box possessing a large red button and a Russian word thought to translate as “Restart.”  In a scene that couldn’t have been written better by one of the comedy news shows and is another real life parody off the web site www.engrish.com, Minister Lavrov pointed out the word in Russian actually said “Overcharged.” Sec Clinton attempted a weak joke about the faux pas, but then went to the real intent of the meeting. I think Minster Lavrov got a chuckle out of the mistake and no harm was done.  Why not? This situation should have been disastrous! As I point out quite simply in my book, most foreigners are usually pleased with the attempt, by anyone at any level, to communicate in their native tongue. The attempt is more important than being correct—even at a meeting this lofty.

The real point to drive home from this wacky situation (or “moment” as I say) “turn the ordinary into the bizarre”—and this kind of translation issue  is very, very common and occurs all the time. Here you have a situation where the entire State Department—I mean the whole damn thing is at Sec. Clinton’s disposal—got the word wrong!  Once more, the State Department’s sole purpose on this earth is: foreign relations –for gosh sakes!

Ok, the point here is not to embarrass, but more so to draw attention to the fact that, heck, if the State Department can get something like this wrong, a translated word involving a superpower, then the rest of us will make faux pas’ for sure.

I’ve had it happen many times all over the world–some hilarious, but some just as potentially devastating as this Restart situation.  It just flat-out happens all the time and ways how to best deal with and to realize when they  (there are a number of ways this ‘translation issue” can pop up) happen—are in my book.

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Iranian Nuclear Proliferation is World’s Biggest Issue By Far

December 15, 2009

This recent article http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34404196/ns/world_news/page/2/from/ET about the Iranian & North Korean threats was right on the money.  Both are substantive threats to the world but I thought I would use the lessons from Lies, Bribes & Peril to outline why the Iranian threat is so much more dangerous.

Never mind the Israeli problem with Iran having a nuclear capability, that is just the beginning of the problem. We all realize potential threat to world peace by the fact the Israelis may take unilateral action (most likely bombing of each facility) to prevent the Iranians from further enrichment strides. While this would be very perilous for the world, it most likely would not be catastrophic (The US would rein in the Israelis & the Russians would temper the Iranians).

No, the largest threat of an Iranian nuclear capability would be the certain proliferation of an Arab capability. I’m puzzled by that statement—it seems redundant? Well it’s not and there’s a significant Cultural issue most Westerners are not aware of.

Iranians are Persians (speaking primarily Farsi), not to be confused with Arabs (speaking, of course, Arabic). Both groups, Persians and Arabs see themselves as Culturally superior. The historical issues begin in the seventh century when the Arabs conquered the Persians, not only eventually wiping out the Persian alphabet, but their religion (Persians until that time practiced primarily Zoroastrianism) as well. The Persian defeat began the tidal wave of Islam  throughout the Asian sub-continent that would crest with the Turks expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the eleventh century.

The fourteen or so centuries since have not lessened the Cultural differences, prejudices, and wounds. Today, there exists an Arabic Logic that basically contends that any nuclear capability developed by Iran would need an Arabic equal. The problem with that Logic is that the Arabic countries of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt all feel they should be the ones to have nuclear capability equal to Iran’s.  All have the ability to begin nuclear programs with the development of a weapon a quick and sure outcome.

If Iran is allowed to continue their nuclear weapons development the result will be a Middle East with no less than six countries with nuclear weapons—an increase of over fifty percent of the world’s current nuclear powers. 

Here the proliferation nightmare is obvious and, I think, the certain eventual use of nuclear weapons in the region.