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Global Thoughts — 1 October 2016

img_5056Our kids’ favorite 3 words are “No More School.” Our 3 favorite words are “Back To School.”

All summer long Jeremy was watching the weather forecast waiting for it to be hot so he could go outside and sell lemonade. This last week of summer he took no prisoners and went outside twice to sell lemonade and made himself $28 in profit. His grandpa is very proud of him and looks forward to someday being his partner.

I went to a Broadway show (Holiday Inn — great, by the way), and I said that there weren’t many young people in the theater. We used to think that meant people under 30, then 40, and now that we’re over 50, it’s like who are we talking about anyway?

We went to a family picnic at the New York Botanical Garden and Jeremy won a potato tossing contest, a feat of strength and accuracy. The picnic was a fundraiser for the renovation of the family planting garden, our favorite part of the site. We remembered that the first time we went with him to the family planting garden he climbed into a very tall dumpster holding water to fill up a jug you use to water plants, and I had to fish him out of there and both of us got soaking wet. That was about 8 years ago – how time goes. Elizabeth was hoping her score would hold, but Jeremy eked out a victory. That’s sorta what is going on in the bigger sense of things – Jeremy is within an inch of her and will soon be taller.

Karen and I had a wonderful time this month attending a dinner dance in the historic ballroom of Philadelphia’s Bellevue Hotel celebrating the Philly Pops, whose concerts were always a highlight when I attended law school in Philadelphia a quarter century ago. A 65-piece orchestra played arrangements of all sorts of music ranging from the Beach Boys to disco to Motown to big band while people of a wide variety of ages took to the dance floor. These two events were a nice side of charities – the impetus to create beautiful enjoyable functions that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

Elizabeth is out this week on her first extended away trip from home – she is on a 4 day nature retreat that is part of being in the 5th grade. The class goes to a rural site in Connecticut and learns about environmental issues. Her Elmo puppet is going along for the ride to represent the rest of us.

Ninja class in Tokyo

Ninja class in Tokyo

We took a family trip late August to Japan, with stopovers in Hawaii and California. This was my third visit to Japan but it was Karen and the kids’ first visit to Asia. Japan is a clean and safe place to go and there is tons more to do than even we expected. We spent 10 nonstop fun-filled days in Japan visiting Tokyo, Kyoto and the Hakone region (and we did not go to Tokyo Disneyland) having all kinds of experiences that you cannot have in Europe and North America, such as ninja and samurai school, a night in a Japanese ryokan, visits to monkey and deer parks and even an evening baseball game. Our kids profoundly realized how advanced Japan was when, on their first Sunday home, they stood in the 34th street subway station in Manhattan for 10 minutes waiting for a subway and smelled all the urine and saw all the crap on the tracks and the peeling above in Penn Station, and when we came out of the airport looking for a taxi and had to walk 10 minutes to find one because of all the construction and chaos. In Tokyo, you never waited more than 2-3 minutes for a train and every station and train was spotless. And every taxi rank was perfect. A link to the Travel Notes and Photos is at the end of this article. Both my kids wrote journals about the trip; Elizabeth’s has so much detail that I forgot to include. If she wants, she will become a great contributor to Global Thoughts or travel blogger on her own. One thing I wanted to mention here is that as we got close to the trip, prices for everything from hotels to airfare went down substantially and we rebooked at lower prices. That is unusual but it might be an indication of a softening in the travel industry; I just rebooked our Thanksgiving trip to Puerto Rico at a 25% lower rate.

If Hillary Clinton had pneumonia and decided to bow out, it is to me a sign from above and I would have been happy with either her vice presidential candidate or Joe Biden taking over her spot.  Biden is not in the position to do so and evidently Hillary will not be denied even if she has to kill herself to win. Hillary will probably win but few people react favorably toward her and a presidency will be nonstop scandal-mongering from Republicans who have painted her as the devil unless she throws the liberals to the wolves and governs from the center. As senator, she got along with Republicans so that is a good sign. The next president is going to have to deal with Syria, Iran, North Korea, China and Russia – all of whom have taken advantage of Obama’s unwillingness to engage. If I had to choose, I would prefer her corruption over Trump’s incompetence for the job, but it’s not an inviting choice. The one thing I can’t tell you is whether people would think she was so corrupt if she were a man (if her husband were running he’d win hands down); politics today is very corrupt and I wonder if she really is that bad or if she is within the norm.

Watching the first presidential candidate debate, I had this feeling that a major prank was being pulled on the country and that instead of the candidates themselves we were watching the comedians who impersonate them on Saturday Night Live. There was Hillary smiling ear to ear and going “aw shucks” every time the Donald insulted her, and he was just looking down at his notes like Sam the Eagle and twitting his fingers and saying “That’s not nice.” I can’t wait to see someone imitate Trump saying that she doesn’t have the “stamina” to be president or offhandedly remarking how smart he was not to be paying income taxes.  I turned off the TV right afterward and didn’t see the commentary; I thought the debate was pretty much a tie, which means he wins by virtue of looking like her equal.  Evidently though it wasn’t close — much of the undecided voters didn’t think he did well, and the polls that will come out over the next week will tell you a lot about what the results of the election will be. Historically, voters don’t change a lot after they make up their minds after the first debate. I did see excerpts from some of the late night comedy shows and they are ridiculing Trump — can’t be good for him.

There are things they both could have argued: She could have argued that the reason the country’s infrastructure is so poor after all these years is that the Republicans refused to vote for any of it. He could then claim that most of his examples of poor infrastructure that he cited were in New York, a place where billions were spent by Democrats and squandered into bureaucracies such as the Port Authority that were corrupt and bloated. He could have mentioned that all that free college and housing that she promised wasn’t free. Colleges raised tuition because of all the government money available and let in students who were not qualified who then graduated with loans they couldn’t pay back, leaving the taxpayers with the bill and a bunch of unhappy unemployed graduates. Maybe college is not for everyone; there is also vocational training like in Germany which works very well. He could have said that homes that people couldn’t afford went up in value because of government money to give out low-cost loans that jacked up the price people could afford to pay creating the appearance of a hot real estate market, except that all they did was pay out interest and never really owned those homes they bought. The whole house of cards fell down leaving people foreclosed and losing a large percentage of their savings and the country in recession less than 10 years ago. None of these points ever got raised in this debate and maybe nobody wants to raise them because they are not popular, but they’re true and they really are at the heart of whose economic program you prefer because there are consequences to these choices. Trump never mentions the Clinton Foundation and the connections between foreign government and corporate donors and the Clintons. Clinton didn’t mention the fraud around Trump University and Trump’s connections to shady Russians. Almost seems like there is a pact between them not to say certain things about each other.

Cover of Newsweek in Japan with the Donald

Cover of Newsweek in Japan with the Donald

I was at a Sabbath lunch recently sitting across from a well-dressed intelligent women who is a science professor and talk came around to politics and out of nowhere she mentions that she is going to vote for Trump and starts spouting forth the conspiracy type of dribble that Trump puts out. There are a lot of people like her out there and America is not the most sophisticated country in the world, although it should tell you something that as of now not a single Fortune 100 CEO is known to have donated to the Trump campaign which is unusual given the usual tendency for these people to donate to Republicans. The biggest unknown in November is how many people are out there that are going to vote for Trump that are not saying so. I think that support for third party candidates will evaporate close to the election as people realize that voting for a wacko on the left or the right is essentially voting for the other of the two major candidates; that is generally a historical fact that people realize and react to. I still think that Clinton will win because I have tended to find that American voters in the end make sensible choices, but Trump voters don’t want to admit they are voting for him because they think they look stupid by doing so. Clinton’s campaign is not helping Hillary by making people who vote for Trump appear to be stupid or “deplorable”; equating them with Minions is driving them underground.  And he did not look all that stupid at the debate. Petulant and smart-ass maybe, but not stupid. OK, well maybe stupid is correct. Remember that comment about the hypothetical 400 pound person in his bed who might have been responsible for hacking the Democratic party headquarters instead of the Russians? Besides coming out of nowhere, he gratuitously insulted overweight people, and it turns out that 2/3 of American adults are either overweight or obese. Making fat jokes probably qualifies as stupid. I thought it was enough for him to insult John McCain earlier this year, but I guess this one will do him in.

I noticed that among the 70 or so countries that sent representatives to Shimon Peres’ funeral, Russia didn’t send any senior people with power, and the Jordanians also stayed away. Of all Israel’s leaders, Peres wanted and worked toward a two state solution more than any of them, but beyond the Europeans and the Americans, the rest of the world including the Arabs and a majority of Israelis didn’t think all that much of him. I saw this video of Barack Obama standing on the steps of Air Force One offering Bill Clinton a last minute ride back to Washington with him (which he accepted), and he was just so cool with his necktie flapping in the breeze and just standing there and looking like he was going out to the beach. He will probably leave office with some of the highest approval ratings and may be remembered as the coolest dude who was ever president.

An interesting article I read in the Jerusalem Report is that despite the repeal of laws penalizing the ultra-orthodox in Israel for not serving in the army, the reality is that life is changing for them and that the changes are irreversible. One law had prohibited hiring any male under 30 who hadn’t served in the army; this made them stay in the Yeshiva schools till age 30 even if they wanted to work. Now they can work and they are. The army really doesn’t want them anyway.  If they work, they are less of a drain to the rest of society. And despite all the talk about their lack of interest in worldly things such as the internet, the highest grossing cellphone stores are in their neighborhoods. People have two phones – one kosher phone they use in public, and another one they use in private.

I am being told that contrary to what I wrote in July, that the former defense minister of Israel constitutes a threat within the next year to the prime ministership of Netanyahu, that he is no threat to him and that Netanyahu can be expected to continue in office for quite a while. I am scheduled to be in Jerusalem the day after the US elections where I will take assessments and get back to you in the next edition of Global Thoughts.

Every once in a while the Economist has an article about robots and you’d think the world was being overrun by them, but actually in a profound way there is a revolution taking place with factories that are completely automated and that have no lights on and that run 24 hours a day with robots doing all the work.  Driverless cars will take away jobs from people who drive for a living.  Some countries are starting to think about the fact that there will be a certain amount of unemployment because some people will simply be unemployable. Will they get a base salary from the government for doing nothing? Switzerland recently voted against such a proposal brought up in a referendum and in Scandinavia there are pilot programs being tested. Eventually, this might become public policy. We’re not only talking about menial jobs – certain surgical procedures are handled more routinely by robots than surgeons.

Banks are real dinosaurs and are ripe for a revolution. If you want to move money from one account to another between banks, there has to be a better way than paying a ton of money to send a wire or to send a check somewhere and wait a week or two domestically or more internationally for the money to clear. If an ATM can tell instantly if you have money in your account to allow a withdrawal, the system of payments has to enter this century as well.

Overall, there are good reasons to be optimistic in the world. Disease and poverty are down in the developing worlds, crime and violence are down in the US significantly from a generation ago, and despite the sense you get that Russia is chasing the US all over the globe, the reality is more complicated. Russia has brought itself world sanctions for meddling in the Ukraine, Syria is a cesspool with dangerous allies and without any likelihood of victory, and Russia’s economy is in the dumps. China is also making noises but its economy is also lackluster and I don’t think the country’s ruler is doing all that great. Europe is still in a funk with countries that can’t agree on very much with a union that is fraying. The UK is in bad shape with no good choices on Brexit, a Labor Party that is in no position to compete as an opposition, and with Scotland very frustrated that the country’s Brexit policy is to its detriment. If Scotland had cause to remain in the union earlier this year, the reasons to exit are more compelling now. The US is still the safest and most robust marketplace in the world today.  Trump’s claims that America is in decline and on the run just don’t square with reality, but there are people who will never be optimistic and will always claim that the end is near. Even with some terrorism occurring, the odds that you will die in your bathtub remain significantly higher than dying in a terrorist incident. Better yet, take the train to the plane instead of a taxi.

Here is a link to travel notes and photos regarding our summer holiday to Japan, including stopovers in Hawaii and California.

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