Copyright 2001-2008, James J. Belcher. All rights reserved.
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Copyright 1998-2001 James J. Belcher. All rights reserved.
Richest Man on the Planet, Part 4
It was involved, some might say involuted, but it was his system of communication. As he got older, he added more steps and more confusion. He had created it and called it N-step. First, he hired a lawyer in one country and got his E-mail address. Then, he had that lawyer hire another lawyer in another country and get that lawyer's E-mail address. The second lawyer hired a third lawyer in another country and got that lawyer's E-mail address and so forth. He knew the first and last lawyers in the chain of N (as in Number) steps. Of course, even the lawyers generally did not know one another.
To send a message, E-mail was hand carried from one office to another and, with certain specified additions and encryption specifications, sent to the next member in the network. While the contents of the message might be made public at any point, the ultimate recipient and his address remained anonymous.
With tree canopy and private guards, even surveillance satellites and the occasional casual intruder didn't get far and no one got a look.
His home was owned by him alone; "the palace" was one helluva home. For that matter, so was the little island where he lived. No man is an island, unless you own it and a lot more islands. He did.
Ironically, he was highly religious and uprightly moral. He prayed to his God with the piety of the obscure and led his own crusades with a power like the Pope; he had created a world that was truly his own. No media types or politicians would invade his privacy, no governmental personnel his jurisdiction.
By definition, there is only one person who is the richest man on the planet and he knew enough to make the rules that counted.
It was my reward to have known him and lived to tell the story. He had gotten me paroled when he was a prison superintendent back in the States twenty-odd years ago and I'll never forget where I might have been without him.
His was no standard government, no bureaucracy. He never called on his staff for trivialities and they knew better than to call him for routine matters. If they needed to call, they didn't know. If they didn't know, they shouldn't be there. He made the rules.
I didn't know his name until he told the world, and that was over twenty years after we met. I'd seen passport designations, several of them, and they showed a number of aliases. I found out that even the name he gave as a prison superintendent was an alias. He travels under ambassadorial credentials now and only his title is given. I realized years ago it doesn't matter.
I do know that he was and is one of the greatest philanthropists in the world. Something like fifteen billion given away, without so much as anyone knowing his name or, in almost all cases, even that an individual was responsible.
He gave away over a billion and a half a year to promote better health. Not one cent for heart, stroke, cancer or AIDS research. The developed nations already were working on those. He created the European Union Health Corps (EUHC) and, at first, was its sole benefactor. Their mission: to minimize and/or eliminate the misery of cholera, smallpox, glandular fever and a myriad of diseases unknown except in the Third World, the things our children would never see.
He hired ten thousand doctors, graduates of medical schools from the Third World, after checking their credentials. He sent them, along with sanitary engineers, to see that human feces was used as plant fertilizer and not swept into the river, the drinking water. Inoculations, antibiotics, prenatal and postnatal care, routine checkups, things we take for granted. They changed the lives of at least 20% of Africans, together with islanders throughout the globe.
He hired five thousand U.S. senior engineers, the kind that carry business cards that say "Consultant" because they're embarrassed to say their employers of long standing laid them off or forced them into retirement in order to save a few short-term dollars. He paid them $50,000 a year and all expenses and sent them to Eastern Europe.
One of those engineers spent three weeks in a Polish industrial plant and faxed back, "For $150,000 I can reduce air pollution 70% and increase production 2.8%, all in a matter of four months. For $125,000,000 and four years, I can reduce air pollution 93% and increase production 4.5%." $150,000 was wired to his account within one day.
In a year and ten months, 300 factories in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Russia, Serbia and several other former Eastern-bloc countries were still producing industrial products, but with far less air pollution, cleaner water, healthier working conditions, and a citizenry that was elated but baffled how it all came about. The project is still going forward.
In China, an emissary donated $US500,000,000 towards a power plant project, provided that a second donated $500,000,000 be used for the first national anti-smoking campaign. It was a surprisingly tough sell, since the Chinese make most of their own cigarettes, but the economics of long-term health care persuaded them (along with the "free" half-billion). Cigarette smoking decreased 12%, compared with typical yearly increases of 10% or more.
This one anonymous benefactor has helped hundreds of millions of the largely forgotten people of the world lead better lives.
Perhaps once in a lifetime a good guy gets his chance. It's a trial for his life or the interview of a lifetime. It's then. It's history. It's a signal to the world that something important is going on or has taken place. With us, it was junk E-mail, despite N-step. The wrong number that reaches the war room of the Pentagon. It happened.
The boss laughed when he found out. Of course he understood. The nuances and the implications. A zealous realtor from Beverly Hills was pushing a $US7M estate and one of the staff replied.
Caesar: "Veni, vidi, vici." I came, I saw, I conquered. "Mr. Watson, please come here." "A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind." It was the E-mail that rocked the world. "Madam, he buys countries, not houses." The Los Angeles Times starting checking and, after two staffers were dismissed, they stopped, but they knew. From the top. No news.
That helped put the question mark on the top of the Forbes Richest 400 list.
Once I was just a fucking thief, but this one great man took the time and made the effort to show me the way. Hell, he even changed my name from Emmet Smith to John Knowlton and paid a million dollars to make me an ambassador! Emmet the thief from Cleveland, who lives in a palace and carries a diplomatic passport. He did the same for two more inmates, Obie and Reds. Now they're Charles and Jack. I'm one of a palace staff of something over 300. For years, we have been changing the world, for the better.
If a guy is on the winning team at the Super Bowl, he gets a check for money he spends and a ring to commemorate one day's football. I have seen the greatest business deals, the real wedding of the century, the nearly invisible man who eventually ran countries where billions of people lived. I had access to what was published and broadcast all over the world and I knew more than any of them, just being there. I was a combatant in his war with Ted Turner. I saw him firsthand with the co-founders of Microsoft. Before I'm gone, I'm writing it down. The world should know.
God, it was great to be part of it.