Inside the Capitol

Monday, November 03, 2008

10-15 Into the Persian Gulf

WED, 10-15-08

TOWARD THE PERSIAN GULF - We seldom are out of sight of an oil tanker as we move from the Arabian Sea into the Gulf of Oman and head toward the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf.
Security gets a little tighter at each port and the ship's crew is never quite sure what to expect. From this point forward, except for Dubai, the ports are all new for SilverSea Cruise Line, which is one of the few that has been willing to venture into these waters.
These emerging gulf states don't care much for Western culture but they like our money and they know that tourism is a great backup when oil prices tank.
Each shore tour promises to be a challenge, with inexperienced guides taking us to places only tourists from their own country usually witness. It appears we will be visiting a mosque, a palace, a souq (market) and a Portuguese fort at each stop. Portugal took over this area for trading purposes when it was king of the sea.
With so much sameness, we may skip a few shore tours. The bus drivers are crazy, the guides barely speak our language and think we should be much more interested in what they are showing us. And the weather still is unbearably hot.
We had experiences with new guides and old buses on our World War II 60th anniversary cruise in the Pacific three years ago. But those guides and locals were so appreciative to see us and thanked us for liberating them all those years ago.
I imagine our government was expecting to see the same appreciation after we invaded Iraq. But it's a different deal here. We are told dress codes for going ashore have become more conservative. Arms and legs must be fully covered in most countries. It's somewhat of a relief not seeing fat legs and muscle shirts, but in 100-degree heat, the attire is a bit uncomfortable.
We are told that despite the Middle East being hit the hardest economically by the world financial downturn, plans are going ahead for multi-billion-dollar new buildings throughout the area and for complete new towns costing hundreds of billions of dollars. The message is that oil and gas needs of emerging nations, such as China and India, are not going away. So there will not be a long-term slide in oil prices as we saw in the early eighties.
New Mexicans remember those days well. From 1975 to 1982, Govs. Jerry Apodaca and Bruce King presided over a rapidly expanding New Mexico economy. In November 1982, Toney Anaya was elected governor amid promises of tax cuts and program improvements.
The week following the election, Anaya and his family vacationed on the island of Kauai. Hurricane Iwo directly hit the island at the fancy hotel where Anaya was staying.
The following day, after moving on from the devastation of his vacation paradise, Anaya learned that the price of oil had suddenly nose-dived and New Mexico was in deep financial trouble. Anaya spent the next four years proposing tax increases, with which even Republicans had to cooperate to keep the state afloat.
New Mexico will recover, but this downturn is more than just oil. Because banks lend to banks internationally, everyone will be hit. The news almost totally dominates BBC and CNN International, which we receive on the ship.
I had expected to hear a fair amount of recrimination over here against the United States for getting this started. But that hasn't been the case. The European Union talks about trying to work something out.
The scariest news is that Russia, although being hit very hard economically, is depending on its huge oil and natural gas reserves to emerge as the world's financial superpower. It is offering to help bail out other countries in a manner that reminds some European commentators of our post-World War II Marshall Plan.
We're finally home. Actually Jeanette is currently in St. Vincent Hospital as a physical rehab patient but she feels much better about life than she did for over two weeks in an Abu Dhabi hospital with a broken femur.
I hope all of you got the message from our daughter that we were unable to call outside the country or access the Internet from the hospital. The local American consul there was good enough to initiate any contacts we needed to make.
Attached is the column I was rushing to get sent as Jeanette was being hustled off the ship before it left Abu Dhabi that aternoon. I didn't quite make it. I'm sorry I didnt get back in time to do a pre-election wrap up but I'll try to get a post-election column to you for Friday revealing some of the impressions we got on the other side of the world about this election.

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