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Global Thoughts — 23 December 2015 (Year End)

On the beach in Puerto Rico

On the beach in Puerto Rico

This has been a big week for us; Elizabeth has turned 10. Our daughter is now in double digit territory. I chaperoned her and several young girls having a tea party at a local tea house and did my best to leave them alone. Meanwhile, my 8 year old son Jeremy loves parkour and looks at every doorway as a thing to climb, a garbage pail as something to vault, and the living room sofa as something upon which to belly flop.

Let’s talk about Capitalism. We used to go stir crazy getting the kids to take showers, brush their teeth, go to bed, set the table, get dressed, you get the idea. This week we started an incentive program whereas the kids have “chores” to do and get paid for each chore according to a list which if completed earns them $1 a day. After a month, they can build up about $30 to spend on Amazon. If they rack up at least $25 a month of completed chores, the $30 is supplemented by my paying the tax and shipping costs on the amount purchased. In just one day, our house has completely changed. As the authors of Freakonomics write, “people respond to incentives.” Boy, do they ever. Now they get up in the morning rushing to tick off everything on their chart and race to be in beds with lights out. One early morning I offered my son the chance to sleep in our bed and he asked if he would lose his 20 cents for staying in his bed the whole night. If only we’d known while we suffered with kids coming out something like 20x each evening after bedtime and constantly coming into our bed in the middle of the night. We had been running a more socialist type of household – from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs and it was miserable because the kids did nothing to help and expected everything to just come to them. Capitalism works better and it turns out a good night’s sleep can be had for just 20 cents a night at the current rate. We’ll see how long it lasts of course.

So what do you think Jeremy did with his money earned from his first week of chores? I kid you not – he spent $4 (4 days worth of chore money) and bought his dear mum a pink rose to give her on the first night of Chanukah. He then spent the next 2 weeks of chores money buying his sister a birthday present. He’s excited about the money but he knows how to be a good sport.

My kids had a great time learning how to surf in Puerto Rico over Thanksgiving weekend. By his second lesson, Jeremy was jumping from side to side on the board. The Ritz Carlton Dorado Reserve has some great in-house photographers and they took some nice pickies of the kids that are splattered around in this posting. The resort is a great place to relax, its rooms fit all 4 of us, it has a great beach and good pools along with a private water park, they run great children’s activities, the spa is one of the nicest in North America, it doesn’t rain much on that part of the island, there is no need to leave the property to go anywhere else, and the resort is a 45 minute drive from an airport with tons of nonstop flights to almost anywhere in the US and now even some to Europe. We’ve gone there two years in a row and they really have it down pat at that place.

Another travel item concerns a short trip to Bermuda I took with Karen last month. Mid-November is a great time to go there; it is still warm and no tourists are there. We had a big private beach all to ourselves. We stayed at Tuckers Point which had very good food at fairly reasonable prices, big rooms and villas, a nice private beach and pool area, your own golf cart, and probably the best gym of all hotels on the island. The villas are a short walk and one flight of stairs behind the hotel and you get a suite that is closer to apartment size. Not much for kids to do there or anywhere but it is 10 minutes drive from the airport and right near the Ice Caves tourist attraction which kids will like.

I noticed an article about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg taking off from work for paternity leave. His salary is $1 a year but his shares are worth over $45 billion. How do you suppose they work out whether he gets paid leave?

Anyone want tickets for Obama’s White House Chanukah party? Can’t give ‘em away this year.

Here’s a thought. These new creations such as smartphones and Facebook that are all contributing to a world of alienation, distraction and phony faceless friendships are also in their own way contributing to enforcement of social norms and contracts. People are finding out that Uber drivers are reviewing them and that nobody will pick them up if they get bad reviews; bosses at workplaces are finding through glassdoors.com that their employees are posting the good, bad and ugly about their bosses and jobs for the world to see and that companies that do bad will have a hard time recruiting good workers. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas no more.

IMG_2933Somebody I saw this week was very upset over the latest killings in California and felt it was outrageous that the Republican-majority Senate voted against a bill that would restrict people on the no-fly list from buying certain types of guns. So basically you can’t get on a plane if you are a suspected terrorist but you can go out and buy some kind of machine gun. I wonder if the National Rifle Association would change its mind if this guy from California had staged his rampage at NRA headquarters instead of some other place. I understand that a good reason to oppose the proposed law is that people have so little regard for the accuracy of the no-fly list because there are tons of people who are on it who don’t belong on it and can’t get off it. My understanding is that earlier attempts at gun control about 2 decades ago (after somebody tried to kill Ronald Reagan) didn’t really work because of all sorts of reasons that make sense and that don’t (ie: lots of states with different rules; lots of loopholes; an impossibly large system to administer nationwide; tons of guns already in circulation and how to get them under control). I also understand that on some level you cannot prevent terrorism. My family walked along midtown Manhattan one evening to see the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and the sound and light show across the Saks Fifth Avenue building and there was a total crush of people on the streets. If anyone tried to massacre people, it would be open season and 10x more people would be crushed trying to stampede outta there. I suppose some day it will happen and then they simply will stop having public spectacles at holiday time because it is also an attraction for terrorism and a trap for spectators. I confess that I am at a loss to have a definitive recommendation as to how to deal with this problem. But I think there is something wrong in this country with people walking around militantly declaring how sacred their second amendment rights are (the right to bear arms) without showing a proper regard for the fact that you are about as likely in the US to die from a gunshot as you are from a car accident. Government and industry stepped in to promote and require use of seatbelts which saved lots of lives. It would make sense to do something here too that would save enough lives to make it worthwhile.

The Wall Street Journal’s Personal Journal section is reading more like Men’s Health and Fitness magazine. They must have figured that their readers are fitness freaks and the Economist has written about this trend in the executive world for people to try and be superfit and work without sleep. Behind every insane freak who feels he has to be superhuman in order to run his company is an executive who probably doesn’t know how to delegate. Meanwhile, readers of the New York Times this year have probably wondered why every single aspect of the news has a story being written about its transgender angle. I’m sure there is some reason behind this crusade but I don’t know it.

It would be good for the USA in the world if the Republican party were to expel Donald Trump and say that a man like that has no place in mainstream American politics. Beyond the fact that there is no way to put a lid on Moslems entering the US, he has given a huge propaganda victory to fanatics everywhere and given a billion people on the planet a good reason to think ill of America, especially when they see polls of people supposedly supporting Mr. Trump, many of whom I might add do not actually show up to vote. It was enough for me to hear him speak ill of John McCain’s war record; I really don’t know why people are continuing to pay attention to him.

Take a read of what I wrote in December 2012, after I mistakenly predicted that Romney was going to beat Obama in the election. What I wrote is something you need to keep in mind this coming year if you want to get it right, especially when you think about Donald Trump:

………..My main take on the US Election is that I failed to get with the program, but now it is crystal clear and I won’t make the same mistake. 70% of the voters had made up their minds by September and had Romney got even 25% of the minority vote or had fewer Blacks and Latinos showed up to vote, Obama would have lost. White straight Anglo men no longer decide elections and the majority of the Democratic Congress Caucus are not white males. I had thoughts of all these people changing their minds in the voting booth and of white men showing up to vote. Forget it – If the Republicans want to see the White House again, they better stop talking about gay marriage, deportation of immigrants, abortion and tax cuts. They have alienated a clear majority of America with these positions and made themselves unelectable. If the Tea Party has to winnow out candidates, they are doomed. Romney boxed himself in last spring; to vote for him you had to believe that everything he was saying in the fall in order to come to the Center was a lie. That’s not a platform on which to run for president and nobody really bought it. Even Jews ignored the scare-mongering about Israel and Iran and 70% voted for Obama. The billions spent on this election went to waste – Congress hardly changed and virtually all the nutty Republicans lost. The American voter is more nuanced than we care to believe and they voted for Obama and against Romney and the Republican platform. I won’t make the same miscalculation; I hope the GOP figures it out and fast. I have complained here for years that the GOP platform is all talk and no walk and nobody really believes in it. And frankly, most of this country hates rich people and wants to see them taxed even more. Obama called for class warfare because it helped him win. Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal wrote in the spring that Obama pissed off the nation’s Catholics when he forced church health institutions to provide coverage for contraception. Most Catholics do not adhere to church doctrine on abortion and there are a lot more women in the country than Catholics who agree with the Church. He knew exactly what he was doing. Again, GOP take note. Sometimes all those polls and the columnists you read in the liberal papers get it right. The polls were 100% on target with electoral college projections this time from sources such as Votamatic and 538…….

TPC_Ciment-9

While sitting in Bermuda with Karen (we traded our kids for some daiquiris and pina coladas for 2 days which I highly recommend and which we hadn’t been able to do for over 16 months), I watched some American TV and saw an interview with Paul Ryan on CBS’s 60 Minutes. He was engaging and interesting. I also saw Jeb Bush on Meet the Press. He could hardly get a complete sentence out and I couldn’t really focus on what he was saying, which may be why the Republicans begged Ryan to become Speaker of the House and why Bush consistently polls at under 5%. The Republicans have more people in the pipeline for the next decade than the Democrats, which is one reason why they are stuck with Hillary Clinton this election cycle. Regardless of who wins in 2016, the Republicans have talent for the future.

You have to consider that Iraq, Syria and Libya became voids that ISIS has stepped into. The Europeans have tried to avoid this problem abroad and now they have refugees all over the place; the idea of a Christian Europe is going to be gone a generation from now. Obama has tried valiantly to avoid it as well, but the reason the Russians have stepped in is that there is a void that is now affecting everyone. If World War III is going to exist, it might start here. They might all wind up fighting each other — the Saudis, Turks, Russians, Americans, Syrians, etc. — or they might be better off cooperating and get rid of ISIS and perhaps learn to live with Assad for the time being. More discussion about this subject below.

I’m not saying that the French deserved what they got, but they certainly knew how to piss off Islamists of all stripes when they refused to hold a state dinner in honor of the visiting Iranian president without alcohol thus forcing the president to decline the invitation. Seems the French sense of tradition won out over the obligation to accommodate the guest of honor. They invited the president to breakfast instead but the Iranians felt it seemed cheap and declined.

In August 2014, I wrote in Global Thoughts that the new chief rabbi of France was given a briefing by authorities who told him they were concerned about 300 French citizens in Syria on a jihad that they expected to make trouble upon return to France. They knew it was going to be a problem but said they couldn’t stop them until they actually broke the law in France. Well, now it appears that they did so maybe they will now act to stop them. Europe is a joke — they still can’t agree to screen incoming passengers on flights after years of haggling and even the new compromise they just came up with is just a compromise. Why would you expect the US to allow people into the US without visas if they can get into and across Europe without being prescreened when they pass through there. It gets even better — one reason the police couldn’t get to the terrorists in Belgium last month is a law on the books that bans police raids on private homes during night-time hours.

I asked a friend of mine who knows about security how it came about that 1,000 people were at a rock concert and the gunmen kept going for almost 20 minutes without hardly any opposition. The answer: people are not trained how to counter the active shooter. Nobody tried to rush the gunmen or even distract them. People just try and run away and this is exactly what the gunman expects and takes advantage of. The planners of the attacks in Paris expected to attack in waves, expecting the initial attacks to sow chaos, and then for the second wave of attackers to detonate themselves in the stampede that would follow. It is necessary to get the word out there to train members of the public how to counter the active shooter. For instance, having school children lock themselves up in “lockdown” is a surefire way to get lots of people killed in the classroom. That’s what is the standard response in the US. Better to rush the attacker so that someone can take him down; some people will get hurt but the overall kill rate goes down tremendously in countries that deal with things that way.

TPC_Ciment-17I’ve been challenged to say what I would do as President about ISIS. My first reaction is that I don’t know. So far everything the US has tried over the past decade or so hasn’t worked and has cost us a lot of money that could have been better used inside this country. The problem as I said above is that avoidance hasn’t worked for either the US or Europe. The problem is still coming to these lands and it is going to get worse unless something is done about it. But you can’t wipe out ISIS with a military just like you can’t wipe out fundamentalist Islam because in the Arab world it exists as a symptom of a disease which is that the countries in that region are all corrupt places which are not respected by the citizens who have no rights and no futures. It is not the lack of democracy that keeps the region down, it is the lack of people to have a life in which they can get education, work and freedom from interference in their lives by corrupt officials who play favorites or who demand bribes so that people can live a normal life. This means that even if the US were to put boots on the ground and try to support a nation, it is doomed to fail because we have seen all over the place that we wind up supporting backward and disgusting ways of life (ie: teenage sex slaves used by Afghani officers) and the money for schools and bridges winds up in people’s pockets and is utterly wasted or even worse, the projects require the support of the armed militias to tolerate them and thus build up support for those very militias we want to defeat. The past century has brought nothing to the region except for war, ever more stupid ideologies and frustration as more and more kids are brought into the world with no future. The easiest thing to do is to say FCK U and let these people rot in their own juices, but we see that’s not really an option, because they are not content to rot over there but instead are desperately seeking a better life in Europe or blowing themselves up wherever they can hoping to bring as many others down with them. Half the region is filled with refugees in countries that are no longer livable. Say what you will but Israel is one of the few places for several thousand miles in either direction that is stable where people are not being killed just for being who they are after living in a place for hundreds of years (ie: Christians all over the region). It is clear that you cannot fix this problem in a few years and you can’t just stomp all over the place dropping bombs and killing people, trying to build up a national army and then just walking away when there are no real institutions or infrastructure built up to support a nation state, which is why everything that has been done in the region lately doesn’t work.

I read an article recently penned by John McCain and Lindsey Graham in the Wall Street Journal in which they give their plan to eradicate ISIS. It might be good but it is a short term solution because it will produce a military result but then you have to sit there for decades holding the fort without getting rid of the reasons that ISIS exists, which include the fact that these nation states are not working, people are distressed and not living a decent life, and ISIS is filling a void.

Here’s my idea. It’s nuts but it seems to be the only thing that will work: Turn the clock back 100 years and redraw the map of the Middle East to what it was roughly at World War I. Turn the really unstable countries into protectorates such as Syria under Russia or France, Libya under Italy or Germany, and Iraq under the United Kingdom. The protecting countries are responsible for security, make the laws, administer the schools and public works, tax the citizens or get to exploit the natural resources to pay the bills, and enter into a written agreement that after 25 years (enough time to get people to think about adjusting to a new reality instead of waiting out the clock), they will turn the country over to an elected government that is representative of the country. We need to think more like Hong Kong and less like Afghanistan and Iraq. If you want to say – that’s colonialism and rule by outsiders – I say to you, Yes, but since when does Europe and America have to take in everyone’s refugees and suicide bombers because you guys can’t run a decent show over there and make sure that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. The best long term solution for this region is to create conditions so that people from that region can live their lives in that region in a place where they can observe their customs and tribal traditions and do so alongside their fellow countrymen and women with respect for each other. I think it could happen if there was a fair chance to build up decent schools, roads, hospitals, economies, rule of law, civic institutions and leaders – all of which will take time and patience, and requires the skills of outsiders who can import these ideas in a region where all of this remains foreign and the province of a very thin elite who often are not understood and appreciated among their own.

Maybe you like my idea and maybe you don’t. But I’ve been reading everyone else’s ideas such as Henry Kissinger, the New York Times editorials and news analysis, and columnists all over the world, and so far all I have read is the same old crap or a bunch of mealy-mouthed recitations of history without any real ideas for the future.

Here’s another idea, in honor of humorist Dave Barry, who I’m sure wishes he’d thought of it first. Often on airplanes there are ads asking you to contribute money to offset carbon emissions from airplanes based on the idea that flights contribute to global warming. In reality, all airplane flights in the world add up to less than 2% of that which contributes to global warming and even that is suspect; in the days following 9/11 when airplanes were grounded over the US and Canada, atmospheric temperatures actually went up. So if you really want to assuage your guilt over contributing to global warming, consider the fact that I raised last month, which is that farts from cows and horses contribute 50% of whatever causes global warming. A billion humans farting must add up to something. So how about a fart tax on humans? Every time you open a window of your car or home or have an air conditioner using outside air to clear your air or are just jogging in the street, yessiree you are contributing to global warming. And you should pay for this. Odds are that people would fart less and everyone around them would be happier.

TPC_Ciment-14This past week I went to a dinner at which Ruth Calderon, a former member of Israel’s parliament, was one of the speakers. She talked about the partnership between American Jews and Israel and said that Israel couldn’t function without the input of American Jews. Sounds like nice words, but I really don’t believe it and I wonder how much of the smattering of applause she got with those lines was really genuine, because I know what people in the room were thinking. First of all, it was almost 9:30pm and people wanted to know where the heck was dessert and when they could go home. Second, the consul general of Israel was supposed to speak at the dinner too. He was introduced by the MC and then it turns out he wasn’t even there. That means 3 things: (1) He didn’t show up to a dinner at New York City’s poshest hotel with some of the most important people in town in that room whom he was supposed to address. (2) He didn’t tell anyone he wasn’t coming. (3) Nobody noticed that he wasn’t there. I mean, dude, they made a 3 minute speech introducing him and then he’s not even there.  Beyond the question of what idiot was in charge of that dinner, the lack of courtesy is so typically Israeli that nobody even thinks anything of it anymore and obviously people don’t think too much of him and most of Israeli officialdom anyway.

Beyond that incident, there is a more important point. Which is that when you have all these fanatical rabbis in Israel who are in the government and stating that most of American Jews are not really Jews and they don’t recognize their rabbis, you know that American Jews have no real input in the country, contrary to Ms. Calderon’s fluffy words of partnership. If American Jews counted for something in Israel, the government wouldn’t dare let these people have their way. These rabbis don’t even recognize a great portion of the Orthodox Jewish rabbis in America. Most of the people at that dinner were honoring an Orthodox Rabbi who is considered one of the greatest in America who is probably not recognized by the Israeli rabbinate. I’m Orthodox and I’m offended at the officially sanctioned attitudes emanating from its leadership about the vast majority of American Jews and it doesn’t get better as the years go by and only seems to get worse. American Jews are not stupid and it explains why over the next generation, it’s really only the hard-right Orthodox Jews that will have a real connection to Israel. They will be firmly supportive and bark loudly but they represent not even 10% of American Jews. Aside from hard-nosed politics and the fact that there is a real alliance that exists for darn good reasons, the emotional bond between Jews on both sides of the Atlantic is fading as this generation knows only good fortunes in America and has no real need of an Israel that doesn’t represent their values. Netanyahu’s government went back on a lot of religious compromises fashioned to fix decades of things gone wrong that his previous government had agreed to; it is a short-term gain for his personal political power (he’s not even Orthodox and probably detests them privately along with a majority of Israelis) but it’s a long-term throwaway for the country which is losing its base of support in America which is disgusted with the whole political stench that is Israeli politics. You can see that the rest of American Jewry are not sending money to their federations to send to Israel to any degree that they used to, and despite the talk about these Birthright trips, the vast majority of American Jews have never been and never will go to Israel. I can tell you that right now, I am avoiding the country and no cheap tickets are going to change my mind until things simmer down and I stop reading about terrorist attacks every few days. The Israelis can live with it for as much as they are willing to tolerate it, but tourists don’t have to, and nobody here wants to know that some kid on a year-abroad program in Israel winds up at the wrong traffic intersection and gets killed by a terrorist, especially when that kid turns out to be someone who almost everyone we know knew of the family.

Let me summarize the last paragraph succinctly — the coming chasm between American Jews and Israel is not about the peace process; it is about religion. There is no true partnership with a Jewish state that has a government that makes laws that says that most American Jews are not Jews in Israel. Do that kind of stuff and there is really nothing else to talk about.

[An aside about that dinner — during the cocktail hour I was hanging around and I didn’t know anyone there so I wound up talking to a guy at the hotel who has worked there 48 years who is one of the banqueting captains at the Pierre Hotel. Next to the big cocktail party room is a circular room with a wall mural that is to my mind the prettiest coziest common room of all hotels in New York City. He was explaining to me all the hidden jokes in the wall mural painted in the mid-60’s by the artist whom he watched every day as it was done. There is the artist’s daughter in the mural, Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, an oversexed statue of a man, the secret lover above what appears to be an uninterested damsel in the hands of a man — you get the idea. It was one of those interesting moments where you know that you will never look at that room the same way again except for having had that conversation. He also told me the interesting story of the billionaire Lawrence Tisch who wanted to buy the hotel about 40 years ago, was told its owners were a cooperative, paid a bellman $500 to get the list of owners, and then realizing that he couldn’t buy them off, built another hotel (the Regency) a few blocks away.]

Back to my previous point. Most people I know that travel regularly to Israel for tourism go there because they like being in a place where they can eat kosher food all day long at a reasonable price and see other people they know, particularly for the major Jewish holidays in spring and fall where there is a social scene that seems like a big thing until you realize it’s just several hundred of the same people coming each year among a few hotels and/or who own apartments in certain key areas. You can find better quality food in New York City or Paris but at a higher price and Israeli chains are opening up in America with all the foods you like to eat there. Israeli chefs are opening up some of the most sought-after restaurants in London, New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans and my wife has been cooking her way through the Ottolenghi cookbooks for several years now. After a point, you’ve seen all the attractions and the hotels there are not compelling as there are no high-quality family resorts. The Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem opened up a year ago and still hasn’t opened its pool because it hasn’t figured out to what extent it will allow women to use it. Eilat is far away from the rest of the country and there is still no Atlantis-type property in the country to draw sun and fun seekers, and the Dead Sea area is still underdeveloped. 5-stars in Israel is about 4-star in the US. It happens to be a very nice country to visit but it is expensive (you have to take a second room for the kids even if you take a suite, and kids are generally not allowed on concierge floors) and not highly competitive with other choices if you do not require kosher and if you want an all-around great vacation for what you pay. And of course why deal with all the instability and potential threats if you could avoid it. There are just not a lot of reasons why the majority of American Jews are going to be compelled to travel there more than perhaps once or twice. I’m not saying that this is the year to go to Paris, but I’d be looking at some Asian spots for a change such as Japan which is generally clean and safe with interesting things to see and which has plenty to eat even if you don’t like Japanese food.

Speaking of food, here is a list of my Top 10 Favorite Restaurants in NYC in no particular order (most of them are Italian — my kids think that all restaurants are Italian) that I can recommend to the tourist. All of these restaurants are great from starter through dessert.

Leopard Room at what used to be Café D’Artistes – 67th and Central Park West (great Italian). 3 course $50 tasting menu a bargain.

Gigino at Battery Park – great Italian food and view of the Statue of Liberty

Gina La Fornarina – French/Italian at 73rd and Amsterdam on Upper West Side. Reasonably priced and a good neighborhood standby.

Rana Restaurant – Italian at the Flower Market 15th street and 9th avenue. Family style large portions.

Milos Restaurant – 55th street between 6th and 7th avenue – Greek great for fish but expensive

Chagalls – Kosher authentic Parisien style bistro in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn; meat and fish

Db Moderne – 44th street between 5th and 6th Avenues — continental by Daniel Boulud

Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at Columbus Circle – continental – 3 course dinners $100.

Auerole by Charlie Palmer 42nd street between 6th and 7th avenues – continental – good deals on pre-theater menus.

Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie Museum at 86th Street and 5th Avenue — avoid the lines and go to the cafe on the basement level (same menu as upstairs) for authentic German/Austrian food and pastries. It is the closest you can get to a Viennese cafe this side of the pond.

On this sweet note, my best wishes at the festive season for a healthy and happy 2016!

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