Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
January 28, 2011
Mr. President: Your State of the Union Address was a surprise. It took me
back many years. In the seventies, the story was the environment -- how we
were running out of resources. Today, it is climate change. All of it true but
over-enthused scientists do have a habit of crying wolf more than offering
But it was the 1980s your address brought to mind because that was the time
of "innovation and entrepreneurship, education and competitiveness."
Nothing was done -- the story was the private sector could and would do
everything; the focus then was deregulation which led to the "Savings and
Now in the two years since I have been writing this letter, I have never
mentioned my work. Long retired, my penny's worth is hardly important. But
if you want to find out the characteristics of entrepreneurs, the kinds of
ventures likely to be successful, the types of firms likely to be successful at
innovation ... it's all there in models and statistics -- some of it difficult for
me to follow after these many years even though I wrote it.
However, I found a couple that are readable, and very relevant to the
present and to your job creation effort. The first is a newspaper op-ed from
Sunday, May 6, 1990 -- yes, it's a long time ago. No one listened then and it is
most unlikely any serious effort to effect change will be undertaken this time
-- forgive the skepticism but it is borne of past experience. Anyway, the
article, "Why U.S. trails in competitiveness" appeared all those 21 years ago
in "The Dallas Morning News". Still, the recommendations hold true today,
and, sad to say, the predictions of inaction have come true.
Shortly thereafter, I went to Norway and was recruited there to oversee the
analysis of an innovation survey of Norway. Our Technology Policy Group
performed a merely investigative and advisory function but the Norwegians
proved to be nimble -- their per capita G.D.P. is now two times ours ($84,453
versus $47,132 according to the latest 2010 IMF figures, and estimated at
$88,400 versus $47,100 in the CIA World Fact book).
The second article, "Problems and Policies for Transitional Economies" was
a short aside divorced from the main innovation project. It is relevant now
in terms of bringing in high-paying jobs and its general conclusions are
similar to what the Chinese are now doing in places like Chongqing -- in the
Chongqing New North Zone The article appeared in the International Journal
of Technology Management (vol. 8 pp. 513-526) in 1993. It identified then the
technologies of our current industrial cycle as biotechnology, energy
generation and conservation technologies, microprocessor applications
including information and production technologies. It examined and
discussed alternative means employed to develop new industry and to grow
new jobs around new technologies. Among others, it assessed also the
well-known Japanese MITI approach, probed its weaknesses, and offered a
I hope very sincerely we will get somewhere this time, but my rational mind
knows better ... particularly after looking at the video sent by the White
House of the panel discussion and question/answer session following your
The exploding Middle East received barely a mention in your speech. Yet,
the tinder box set alight in Tunisia has the potential of starting a forest fire.
Egypt is already starting to burn. In Lebanon, Hezbollah, designated a
terrorist group by us, represents 40% of Lebanese and together with
supporting Christian factions form a clear over 60% majority. They have a
social/charitable wing that is hugely supportive and supported by the Shia;
moreover they are much more honest than the other parties. We, of course,
do not deal with them. Eventually, we will, for they now control Lebanon, and
will always be a leading player. We have to get used to the fact that the
Tehran, Syria, Lebanon axis is now a powerful counterweight to Israel, and
Tehran's influence in Iraq has changed the balance of power in the Gulf.
They must all be grateful to our neo-cons.