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Bill Bradley minces no words with tech elites

Former senator and Knicks star touts common sense and hard-to-swallow solutions for corporate America's woes in keynote interview.

BOSTON--Bill Bradley cannot possibly be running for president.

The former senator did not sugarcoat any of his opinions at a keynote address that took place as a question-and-answer session led by AMR Research CEO Tony Friscia at the Executive Leadership Conference 2007 in Boston on Tuesday.

Friscia questioned Bradley's ideas put forth in his book, The New American Story and its message of collectiveness and necessary sacrifice if the U.S. is going to stay on top.

The topics discussed--while grounded in effects on technology companies globally--took many unusual turns. Bradley waned, waxed and warned on the sorry state of American education, the red/blue state divide he calls "the biggest lie perpetrated on the American public," the power gerrymandered congressional seats have given to extremists, the 2008 presidential campaign, how corporate America got stuck footing the bill for health care and a mired court system, and even Sirius radio.

"Yeah. Howard Stern and me. Same station, different microphone," Bradley said of his new show on Sirius radio that interviews Americans inspiring their community.

On a more serious note, Bradley warned how the United State's long-term policies will affect corporate America.

AMR Research CEO Tony Friscia and former Senator and New York Knicks star Bill Bradley. Candace Lombardi/CNET

The U.S. saves less than one percent of its GDP while China saves about 35 percent of its GDP. Personal debt is at an all-time high and as a nation we are the greatest debtor, said Bradley.

"The new story is put country ahead of party and tell people the truth. When you tell people that we need more savings and that it's going to take spending cuts and more taxes, no one wants to hear that...But we do need to reduce the budget deficit by cutting spending and raising taxes...and not just on the upper two percent," he said.

When it comes to the much talked about issue of a lack of skilled workers in the U.S., an issue close to the hearts of many tech companies, he also told it straight.

"A train wreck is going to happen unless we wake up in this country. Where is the national security going to be won?...Although armies are important, it's going to be won in the classrooms," said Bradley.

There has to be a national standard of education for schools. Salaries for principals and teachers, who become very important in our country in a national security sense, must double to attract better talent. But that new teacher pay scheme has to be based on achievement, not for everybody, and people are afraid the unions won't like that, he said.

"It's a no-brainer. I know they say, 'Well, people worry that the national government will impose on the local.' Well, sorry. This is a national issue," said Bradley.

"You have to have people that are skilled and if schools aren't' doing the job then you're going to fall behind...That's the quiet crisis," he said.

On the environment, Bradley was outwardly critical toward those who say emerging nations' deserve a free pass as they go through their own Industrial Revolution.

"They say, 'You went through the dirty phase. We have to go through the dirty phase.' After World War II, Germany didn't go back to the old structures when it rebuilt...Clean energy will add to production cost, but China is so far under everyone else in the world it would still make a profit. Otherwise, they are going to choke on their own prosperity," he said.

Bradley was also not shy about touting two companies on which he is a board member.

He said that presidential candidate Barack Obama could benefit from Meetup to boost his campaign from a mainframe to a Web 2.0 dynamic by allowing citizens to organize their own campaign strategy and meetings. And if companies truly wanted to do something immediately to help the environment, they would hire TechTurn, a company that scrubs and disposes of computer electronics in a data secure and environmentally responsible manner, according to Bradley.

Friscia even got Bradley to comment on fantasy basketball.

If given the choice between guards Earl "The Pearl" Monroe or Walt "Clyde" Frazier, both of whom played with Bradley for the New York Knicks, who would Bradley choose?

"I'd stay with Clyde. But if I was going to pick one player it would be Bill Russell," he said.