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Global Thoughts 5 July 2016

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Photos in this posting from the Bahamas, the Homestead Resort in Virginia, and Jeremy’s strawberry bush.

Here is a great joke I heard from none other than the “Green Prince”, Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader who spied for the Israelis. He was speaking at the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York City. By the way, his speech was definitely the best of the day, and I still think he is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met – I first met him about 5 years ago at an event in Washington. Although his father has disowned him as a traitor and presumably lots of Arabs want to kill him, I must say that his family ought to be proud of him. He is truly brilliant and insightful, and carries himself like a total dude. I would imagine his father is similar so this guy walking around is a good advertisement for the family that raised him. All the other speakers had at least one security guard near them on the stage; this guy stands up there all alone and looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world, and told me it was his choice not to have a guard standing there. I’d totally vote for this guy for anything. He’s also very approachable; you can just walk up to him and talk to him.

Anyway, here’s the joke: A Jew and Arab are standing on the roof of a construction site eating their lunch. The Jew opens his sandwich and says “Shwarma again? I am sick of Shwarma. If I have it again tomorrow, I will kill myself.” The Arab opens his sandwich and says “Falafel again? I am sick of falafel. If I have it again tomorrow, I will kill myself.” The next day, of course each of them has the sandwich they don’t want and kill themselves. The next day at the funeral, the wife of the Jew says “I don’t understand his problem. If he would have just told me that he was sick of shwarma, I would have made him something else.” The wife of the Arab says “I don’t understand his problem. He makes his own sandwiches.”

IMG_3446My son Jeremy has saved Mexico and Donald Trump a lot of trouble by building this lovely wall around America. Yes, it is about 10 decks of cards, but we all know the border to be built for billions of dollars would not be all that more sturdy and probably less colorful.  Jeremy is also very proud this month for having grown a strawberry bush in his bedroom by the window and having harvested a good dozen strawberries from it.

Speaking of fruits and vegetables, I am always thankful for the beautiful fruits and vegetables that are available to us year round and when I see a fruit stand on the street I sometimes think of people who used to faint when they first walked into a supermarket after leaving Eastern Europe or Russia under communism. In today’s world, there is so much available to us and we forget to appreciate it. Some people make blessings every time they eat one; I don’t but it is in my mind that I am thankful for them and that they deserve to be blessed. Five dollars can buy you a pack of strawberries or a pizza to feed your whole family; it is not hard to understand why most of mankind purchases the latter and many do actually prefer the latter. But my kids will take the strawberries over a slice of cake if they have a choice and I am glad that they can and do.

We were at the Homestead resort in late June with the kids and they had some epic flooding in the region. The Greenbrier resort 20 miles to the west had to close. The next evening I saw a good number of young girls wearing Lilly Pullitzer dresses in the main dining room and was wondering why – then I heard what happened – and figured they must have been Greenbrier refugees.

I was going through my box of treasures as I mark my 50th year and I found my wall certificates for the NY and DC bar that had never been opened. So I opened them to look at them; they had been kept for the purpose of hanging in a law office someday. Except that several years ago I retired from the bar and I’ve never had one of those big fancy offices. Isn’t that how life is? By the time you open the box to look at what you were supposed to start or have your career with, it is already history.

IMG_3931I need someone to explain this to me: I attended a fundraiser for a school that is definitely not Jewish. They auctioned off a table for 6-8 people at a famous Italian restaurant (Raos) in New York City where it is hard to get a reservation. The cost of the dinner itself is not included.  The table went for $11,000. For that money, you could just fly the whole group to Italy and eat a few good meals. You would never see this happen at an auction for a Jewish school — there is no way that Jews would pay 11 grand for a table at a restaurant without any food. I know that somewhere Jackie Mason the comedian could make a lot of jokes about this. Except that the next morning I found out that the local Jewish Community Center had an auction and this same item went for about $10,000 there. So just call me naïve.

This month I went to my 25th law school reunion. While I was at my hotel, there were these high school proms going on and I passed by the ballroom just as everyone was lining up to go inside. When I was going through my box of treasures, I was aghast at the horrible looking clothes and eyeglasses I used to wear and thought maybe it was just part of the 70’s where everybody looked just plain weird to our eyes. But actually these kids were dressed up with formal wear and eyeglasses that looked totally dorky even today. I guess I feel better now. People will still get dressed up the way they think they ought to look (or in whatever they could afford to rent) and I can assure you that 30 years from now these teenagers will rue opening their box of treasures to see how they looked at the time!

One reason why not many people came to the reunion is that people have all these Facebook pages so they feel virtually close to other people, even though they have no actual contact with them. People don’t feel the desire to actually see their colleagues after 25 years because they feel they know them even though they don’t. Same thing with my high school – I tried to organize a reunion this year and people were not interested because they feel that they are somehow already in contact with each other. All this phony Facebook friending is a real bummer to any effort to facilitate actual friendships.

IMG_3865 IMG_3855I was in a hotel room watching HBO and noticed that they have really diversified their offerings into a more full-service TV network. Sesame Street has had a very good makeover under their auspices, and Bill Maher has a good weekly political program where he tells jokes and has a panel discussing political issues. HBO is outdoing some of the legacy networks in producing good television for this age and because the FCC standards of decency don’t apply to them (since they do not broadcast over the air but rather via satellite and cable) they can put things on the air in a very straightforward manner that others can’t.

I think the claims that the UK is causing chaos by leaving the EU has it backward – the Brits voted to get out of the EU because they think the EU is itself becoming chaotic. The migrants are seen as destabilizing Europe and the UK doesn’t want to be sucked into it. The UK is wondering why it has to take in a bunch of poor Bulgarians when it is throwing out educated Australians. I don’t expect a lot of fallout from the UK referendum – if the UK exits, both Europe and the UK will act in self-interest with the second largest economy in Europe (the UK) and continue to deal with each other as best they can. The vote to exit was influenced by a lot of untrue propaganda and promises that cannot be kept, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the UK has a revote and votes this time to stay in. Scotland and London voted to stay in, and the UK doesn’t want to stay out of Europe only to have itself split apart. What is most amusing is this flurry of Brexit leaders who, now that they actually won, have been rushing to resign and doing their best to look like idiots. This Ms. May from the Conservative party who backed prime minister Cameron’s Remain campaign, seems to be one of the only party leaders left who shows gravitas and looks like the most likely next prime minister.

Leave it to the Palestinians to open a $24 million museum of art – that has no art in it. Infighting caused the cancellation of its opening show but they celebrated the opening of the building anyway. This is a microcosm of why after all these years they still have no state. And so it is throughout the region.

I attended the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York. I haven’t been to a day of Israel talk for almost a decade, but I was curious to see what kinds of ideas and people are percolating for a future beyond Netanyahu. It was my first glimpse at many people I read about but have never heard or saw.

IMG_3914 ewaterI haven’t heard anything new out of Israel for about the last 10 years since Bibi has silenced anyone in his party who might have any ideas and the Labor party has had virtually nothing to say and nobody to say it. Gilad Erdan, minister for public security, was a rather good speaker and might be someone to keep an eye on. Dennis Ross said that he didn’t think the Palestinian issue could be solved anytime soon and that, although he said people should pay attention to it, even if it were solved, it wouldn’t help solve any other problem presently occurring in the region. What I got out of the conference is that today’s Israel is not focused on Palestinians or even the Iranians but rather on its economy and that’s why Netanyahu has probably succeeded to remain in his post for so long. The Israelis are building trains, roads, ports, technologies – all kinds of infrastructure and they are cooperating with other countries in the region and in the world to make themselves compelling partners for trade and technology transfer. In these matters, there are plenty of relations going on with Arab countries and to these countries an alliance against Iran is much more important than statehood for Palestine. Iran represents an existential threat to these countries and Iran is backing the most militant communities within the Palestinian people. The best the Palestinians could hope for out of this conference is a proposal by Israel’s transport minister concerning an offshore island to be built 3 miles from Gaza with a causeway that would allow them to get people and goods in and out of Gaza without crossing Israeli territory.  And even Turkey and Israel have finally made up officially, something I told you was coming in my last posting.

IMG_3875As I have written before, several people mentioned that the biggest threat to Israel is not from the Arabs but from its own government which, due to the demands of coalition partners from the ultra-orthodox,  are failing to recognize as Jewish several hundred thousand Russian immigrants and are alienating the younger generation of American Jews by stating they are not really Jewish because they aren’t Orthodox (and then even the Orthodox are not Orthodox enough).  I’ve read that although evangelical Christian support for Israel is high, that younger people are not as supportive as their parents. At the Jerusalem Post conference, speakers friendly to the Israeli government spent a lot of time talking about the BDS issue (defined below), which in my opinion, is a red herring to divert attention from real issues facing the government that they don’t want to deal with. To explain, a war of ideas is being waged on college campuses to convince people that Israel is illegitimate, and so far they have been silencing pro-Israel voices through intimidation and good organization. Israel and Jews are starting to fight back where it counts (meaning for example that universities are hearing from their donors, moves are being made to expose the alleged financial connections between these campus organizations and international terrorist organizations, and professional organizations are being set up to counter these agitators), and I assume that in another few years or so this BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement will have been a passing fad.  I think that in general people are getting fed up with the militant liberalism on campuses that is bent on silencing dissenting opinions across the board and that the backlash is well on its way. Campuses are supposed to be places where people debate opposing viewpoints that are based on facts – not label their opponents as something illegitimate and try to silence them. Not all viewpoints are based on facts and that’s why not all viewpoints are legitimate – for instance, Holocaust deniers are denying proven facts, and that’s why there is no point in having a debate with Holocaust deniers. The fact that Israel is a democracy is not an argument to be debated; it’s a fact. You don’t have to go further than the fact that Jews can’t pray at the Temple Mount, which is Judaism’s holiest site, because the government doesn’t want to offend Muslims. Or that the Arab population in the territories and in Jerusalem has grown significantly during Israeli occupation. Or all the Israeli ex-leaders that are sitting in jail after being successfully prosecuted and sentenced.  I’m not saying Arabs are being treated as equals in Israel, but neither are Blacks in America, and if Trump had his way neither would Muslims in America. But overall, the Israelis are not trying to wipe out the Arabs either in Israel or the territories and they do have to deal with valid security threats both inside and outside Israel proper, and nobody in Israel is in any position to conduct any kind of holy war against Muslim holy places. But every time the Arabs speak of the Jews in Palestine it is always to throw them out completely from any area under Palestinian rule; there is no 2-way street of desire to try and figure out how to transfer sovereignty over an area while leaving people in place and then to figure out structures to allow people to get along with each other, which if you think about it is the most realistic outcome when you are talking about roughly a million people.

IMG_4024I don’t tend to discuss these points because it’s pretty obvious if you think about it and I don’t see the need to argue about it but it’s a great bogeyman issue with which to rally everyone around an external threat. But evidently it’s not so obvious to the younger generation who are being led to believe that everyone’s viewpoint is just as valid as anyone else’s, no matter how ridiculous the subject. This is nowadays known as “politically correct” and it’s getting a bad name because lots of people see it as an excuse to not call things for what they are and then failing to deal with real issues, because if you don’t call something for what it is, you have good reason not to have to deal with it. The Green Prince referred to at the beginning of this posting said he’s sorry if he is offending people but he said it’s ridiculous to go around saying that Islam is a religion of peace, which he said was the worst thing Obama could do when he made a speech a few years ago saying just that which he said just emboldened crazy people. He said Islam has a problem – all these people around the world are killing in the name of Islam in a way that no other major religion on the planet is doing. He said Muslims are not bad people, but they need to face up to the fact that there is a crisis in Islam and that if you refuse to recognize that Islam has a problem and want to instead be politically correct and whitewash Islam 100% as not being part of the problem, you won’t deal with it and you just empower the next generation of militants to keep on functioning within a society that is in denial. One reason Trump is doing well is that he is wearing his political incorrectness like a badge of honor and telling white people things they think are true and is dealing with impolite issues that others wish to sweep under the rug such as that many white Americans don’t have jobs and think that they are losing them to foreigners, that Islamic militants are making a lot of trouble around the world and it is affecting people in the US, and that white men are feeling down on themselves and want someone to make them feel better.

Here’s a statistic that I felt jumped off the page at me which may also explain why lots of veterans are supporting Trump. According to an advertisement by Citibank, 12% of homeless people in the US are veterans of the armed forces. With a percentage that high, it is inescapable that somehow America is failing to take care of its veterans and speak to their needs.

The Iran deal is about a year old and so far it looks like a joke in terms of its enforceability. But it is also a bit of a draw. The US hasn’t really let up on the sanctions and the price of oil is down but not as far down as it was. The Iranians in power are fighting among themselves to the extent that businesses are not going to be quick to invest in that country. The next US president will have to decide how to deal with Iran and North Korea which remains a big problem that is not being dealt with decisively.

IMG_3798It is embarrassing to watch people like John McCain endorse a guy like Trump, especially when Trump said such awful things about him earlier this year. McCain is in a tough race with an electorate that likes Trump and he is afraid of alienating his voters. More people are voting for Trump than the polls show or that people care to admit, and this is scaring people in leadership positions. Across the board, there are Republicans who are criticizing Trump on one hand as a racist and out of bounds, and endorsing him at the same time. It is a complete lack of integrity for the short term and it is really bad for the GOP which increasingly stands for nothing. Someone said that people are going to have to decide if they love their country more than they hate Hillary Clinton and I think that is where this is going to turn in November – people who ordinarily don’t like Mrs. Clinton or her liberal positions will vote for her because at least she is a plausible president of an important country. I just read an article about what Hillary’s First 100 Days might be like and it sounds just fine to me — the article said she will go to the center and try to work out deals on immigration and infrastructure investment. She will piss off liberals but she knows that if she spends her presidency pandering to them she will get almost nothing done, just as Obama refused to learn. As Senator, I think she got along with Republicans pretty well, and I think that both she and leadership in both parties will try to get along because everyone is just so tired of all the fighting and a do-nothing Congress that will want to show it can actually get things done. The Republicans have done well when they work with Democrats to pass legislation; they do the worst when they just stand around and say no and have nothing constructive to say. She will definitely be a more compatible politico in Washington than Obama was. I won’t shy away from saying it — she is not a likable politician to voters but she probably will do decently as a president.

In my analysis, the reason Trump got where he is today is that the Republican party establishment put all their chips on Jeb Bush who they should have known was going to be a poor candidate. Because he was, 17 other weak contenders got into the race and cancelled each other out and before you knew it, Trump, who was entertaining and provocative, rose to the top.  In the next presidential election cycle, both political parties need to let real candidates offer the voters a choice during the primaries – a lot of what happened this year was a revolt against the lack of a real alternative either to Bush or Clinton.

e&idancThe most important men to watch were not at the Jerusalem Post conference but were referred to by a good number of speakers. I wonder if having Lieberman as defense minister is the straw that breaks Netanyahu’s back as prime minister in Israel. The guy is not qualified for that job and the person who was in the job was by all accounts excellent. Israel has many parties but there is some consensus in the country that the army has to be professional and above politics. You can see from the security officials a significant degree of discomfort with Netanyahu and his policies. The problem is that Netanyahu has managed to sideline any possible contender to his job. Mr. Ya’alon, the ex minister, intends to run for office after a cooling off period. Polls say he could do well and he is not considered highly ideological in either direction and I know people who have really liked this guy over a good number of years. This could be the guy who takes him down in the next year. By the way, Mr. Yaalon recently remarked that the Iranian deal was not a big problem for Israel.

This month we went to the Bahamas and enjoyed Nassau and Atlantis along with Karen’s mum from Australia. I thought it would be really humid and buggy in June, but there were no mosquitoes and it was not so hot and we had very little rain. The water was more comfortable than it is in February too and this helps at the water park in Atlantis where Jeremy is now old enough to go on any slide he dares. The Ocean Club has renovated its Hartford wing with beautiful rooms and a new infinity pool between it and the ocean.  The Homestead Resort in western Virginia was taken over by Omni and the chain has imposed some changes – afternoon tea no longer has sandwiches and various kinds of cakes. They nickel and dime you more – at their spa, you have to pay extra to go to the outdoor pool and the flat rate parking charge is now a daily charge. Two kids at Kids Night Out costs $134. By the time you add everything up, a 4 day stay there is within 5-7% of what a similar stay would cost at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, and the properties are in no way comparable for what you get. What you do get here is dinner and dancing, which is something I don’t know where you find for 1,000 miles in any direction and which produces some really cute photos like the one to the left. Another thing we really enjoy here is Governors Island, which is a great place to go for a day trip from Manhattan, reachable by a 10 minute ferry ride from the southernmost tip. You can ride bicycles or a surrey, sit in hammocks, play mini-golf, chase chickens or walk a goat at an urban farm, ride a 3 story tall slide, put together things in a junk yard playground, practice parkour, climb scaffolding to see the renovation of a 200 year old statue, tour a fort, see exhibitions of holograms, NY history, mathematics — we never run out of things to do here, and it’s free entrance and staffed by volunteers and the US Park Service. It’s your tax dollars at work via the local and federal governments and it’s a good thing. The playground I mentioned is one of many Adventure Playgrounds around the world mostly in Europe and one in Berkeley (a Google search for Adventure Playgrounds will find stuff) — we once visited one in Berlin called Kolle 37, but the kids were too young at the time to fully appreciate it. This past weekend, Jeremy grabbed a toilet seat, a shower head and a tennis racket — and ran off trying to make something of it. We had to leave after an hour, but he could have easily spent the night there!

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