Thoughts — 3 April 2012

What sucks at this point in life is getting upgraded on all your flights with your gold status except that you can’t use the upgrades because you’re flying with your spouse and kids and they didn’t get upgraded. Ask my wife; she has Gold Status with United and can’t enjoy the upgrades she keeps getting almost every time we check in together for a flight.


Karen spent 3 hours getting her hair all nice and colored and straight. She asked Jeremy if she looked different and he said No. Then she felt sad and told him that she spent 3 hours getting her hair done. He looked at her and loudly said “Stupid.” I tell ya, boys figure it out really early.

Very hard to keep up with their demands. On a recent vacation, Jeremy asked for a window seat on the golf cart; Elizabeth bitterly complained one morning that she had been up for a full 5 minutes drawing and was bored. She told us that she was very upset that her school teacher did not know the difference between water pastels and oil pastels.

Jeremy almost strangled Elizabeth with her necklace while trying to grab a lollypop from her. She wasn’t clever enough to give it up and was choking when I ran in the room to her screams for help. A few hours later, I was sitting with her at an acapella concert and she said she was bored, and then I told her how I love her and that being bored with me at a concert beats being strangled to death. So then she looks around and says “Daddy, there’s a box of candy over there” and runs away. The Beatles had it wrong — All you need is Candy.

So let’s look at the rest of the world where more difficult issues remain.

Pakistan and Egypt list water shortages as an existential threat, bigger than anything else really. Israel meanwhile will have a water surplus within 10 years.

Afghanistan…crux of the problem is that you can’t trust the army units that you are trying to build up.

Santorum — no way Jose. I saw him on TV and he is not a serious candidate. The problem is that if Newt Gingrich weren’t still in the race, Santorum would be creaming Romney. The problem with Romney is that I’ve read two articles this past month, one in the NY Times and one in the Financial Times, both of which say that he is really over-rated in terms of his experience. In particular, that he was governor of Massachusetts and had nothing to do with the legislature. Obama’s biggest failing as president was his failure to work with Congress. I am not getting the sense that Romney will be any better. His record as governor was to increase lots of state fees instead of taxes, which is what Bush did. If people have this feeling, there is not going to be any real reason for people to vote Obama out. I don’t want another Republican who tells me he is going to lower my taxes and then plays shell games in Washington that winds up costing me more money one way or the other. I’ve seen 2 decades of that and I’m tired of it. I’d rather have a Democratic president who keeps threatening to raise taxes and then doesn’t actually do it. I’m just making lots more money with the Democrats than the Republicans and you’ve heard me say here on Global Thoughts for years that I’m really tired of Republicans and their tax cuts that are worth less than the cash back I get from American Express. This election is not going to be a simple affair. Romney is going to have to earn the vote by more than simply being not Obama.

Andrew Cuomo governor of NY — look for him in another 4-8 years for presidency. He is doing a bang-up job as governor. Raising taxes, lowering spending and getting the notoriously lousy legislature to work together for the common good.

Good thing that Israel and Russia cooperate by trading codes on weaponry sold to Georgia and Iran (meaning the Israelis turned over the codes to the Russians on stuff they sold to Georgia in return for the Russians turning over the codes on the stuff it sold to Iran). It is a double-cross against your customers but at least it shows that there is some common sense going on in the background.

Read a book this past month called The Secret War Against Iran by Ronen Bergman. Good book with lots of detail about the various spy vs spy games being played out by US, Israel, Europe, Iran and its terrorist proxies such as Hizbullah. Inside stories about lots of episodes over the last 30 years. What I get out of it is that had the US been tougher on Khomeini, he would have stayed in his box but he got bolder as he realized he would not be opposed. I also gather that if Israel hadn’t been taking the lead against Iran, they’d be nuclear by now. I also hadn’t realized that the Shah was on the verge of becominga nuclear power when the Ayatollah took over. Twice this century — as well as with Iraq in 1990 — powers almost became nuclear except for a chance intervention. I had dinner with someone who knows this author who has had 2 NY Times Magazine cover stories; I’m told this guy knows his stuff.

Speaking of Iran, I spent a weekend in DC listening to 3 addresses by Yehuda Avner, author of The Prime Ministers, a book I reviewed last year on this site. He is an excellent speaker of the old English school. I have no doubt that he expects the Israelis to take care of business with Iran and he is still intimately connected with the country’s leadership and its secrets. I am also hearing distinct news from the Gulf Arab and the US side that rates a 70% probability of a devastating strike against Iran within the next 2 months. Lots of the Gulf countries at this point have mercenary armies stacked with American Iraq war veterans and they have been buying tons of equipment lately. Abu Dhabi is clamoring for an attack even if they have to participate in it. The Saudis hate Iran but fear their desalinization plants being hit in reprisal attacks. Putting out a few of these plants could bring the country to its knees in a few days. The gist of the analysis is that Gulf Arab countries feel that Obama has no choice but to either attack or to consent to it and then pile on, even with Arab allies, if it is necessary. Clearly, the region would prefer the Israelis do it themselves and leave them and the US out of it.

The Americans are leaking all kinds of information designed to make it harder for the Israelis to strike Iran. This helps explain why the Israelis feel reticent about sharing their intelligence with the Americans. Obama knows very well how to plug leaks; instead, we see a lot of leaks coming out of the American side. I really don’t believe very much of what I am reading and figure that the Israelis are going to do what they will do without regard for him. I suppose that if they really want to embarrass him and cause him harm, and I have to believe that Netanyahu favors Romney, they will strike smack in the middle of the Democratic Convention and take all the media attention away from the Democrats.

This past month was Purim, a Jewish festival that commemorates the story of ancient Persia about 2,500 years ago when a viceroy of the king named Haman sought to destroy the Jewish population of the Persian empire and instead wound up being hung along with his ten sons. You could substitute president Ahmadenijad as today’s Persian viceroy under the Ayatollah. And just as it was that these people want to today wipe Israel off the map, I fully expect these rulers of Iran to be put back into their box this coming year.

While I was sitting in synagogue hearing the annual reading of the Book of Esther, I was thinking about how I thought the Israelis might go about attacking the nuclear sites in Iran. All this talk about whether the bombs are strong enough to penetrate the concrete are sort of a red herring I think. It might be easier to simply drop a small atomic device over the area that has a limited radius of effect but that basically blanket the immediate area with enough radiation to make it a no-go area. No scientist would want to go into that area to continue working and that would basically put that plant out of commission. If the Iranians tried to go into that plant and move all the stuff inside to another place, that would be seen by satellite and then the matter would be above ground and could be bombed from the air. That just seems to me to be the way to go about this. I’m no scientist or munitions person but I assume that whatever kind of form the attack takes shape, it will be of a type that is out of the box and not what everyone is expecting. I just hope it waits until after Passover because our family is planning a trip to the region at that time. And anyway, there is a movement in Israel asking the government to postpone any action against Iran until after the Madonna concert in Israel scheduled for May 29th. Really.

Bibi doesn’t particularly want Obama in there for another 4 years but a successful strike now will make Obama more likely to win in November. On the other hand, a strike against Iran or continued saber rattling is driving up the oil price and helping Republicans. But it also helps Iran get revenues. So the trick is to keep the sanctions going but let the Indians and Chinese buy Iranian oil (albeit at a discount) privately, to keep the supply in the world at a consistent level and keep the price from going up too high.

By the way, the Republicans aren’t saying they would do anything different against Iran than Obama is saying.

A friend of mine this week spoke with the Ambassador of a Gulf country to the US and he mentioned that they fear the Iranians going with ground forces over Iraq and into Syria. I must admit that I did not think that people were expecting that kind of projection by the Iranians, but if indeed it is an issue, then it requires consideration. Clearly, Iraq is at this point an Iranian satellite much like Belgium or Austria was to Germany in World War II.

My opinion on the matter of Iran is that the US has a poor record of knowing which countries are getting close to the bomb and only find out after they have successfully tested it. Israel attacked Iraq 30 years ago because it did not want Iraq to go nuclear, period. It did not make a distinction between having the capability of building a nuclear bomb and actually having a nuclear weapon. I think that everyone agrees that even if the Iranians hit back and cause some casualties or a mess, it will be 100x worse if they actually get the bomb and start sending that technology around the world via their surrogates. I can tell from reading Ronen Bergman’s book mentioned above that had the Israelis not led the fight against Iran these past 30 years there is no doubt they would be a nuclear power by now. I can also state with certainty that if the Iranians go nuclear, the Americans will lose 90% of their leverage in that region and there will never be any hope for peace because the Iranians will intimidate everyone in the region to play things their way and nobody will think America can do anything. No doubt a bunch of countries will demand that they get the bomb the next day. It will be insane. So I think this is why the consensus is as I stated above that Obama has no choice. He will be dragged into this war either kicking or screaming or he will embrace the fact that he has to either lead or get out of the way. Unless he wants to be remembered as the president who allowed Iran to go nuclear (or unless he secretly wanted that all along), he will have to deal with this issue just about now. I can’t see Israel dealing with this by itself from beginning to end. And if you do think that the Iranians might send their armies across several nations to Syria, then it behooves the US to pummel them right from the start and make sure they realize that such adventures are not worth their while. Personally, my gut says that I don’t see such a military move by the Iranians as viable, but I don’t have evidence to say that. My overall position is that the Iranians are all bluff and no bite, and that they will fold when attacked.

Although the various polls show Obama creaming Romney in November, it is now only early April and a very long time to November. Lots can happen and most of the country doesn’t start paying attention to this until October, and lots of people will make up their minds in the last few days before the election. Just look at how South Carolina shifted in the primary in the last few days before the vote; a week or two before the vote, Romney was supposedly 20 points ahead and wound up losing. I sat next to an FT reporter just back from Tennessee who was told by people there that they ain’t voting for a Mormon, and it is not helping Romney to have to keep making speeches how he is a real conservative that don’t convince Republicans and only convince Independents not to vote for him.

Ah, so now comes the first news of high level defections from the Syrian government. So the middle of the end is coming now. And the Guardian reports that a senior Hamas leader says that Hamas will not fight Israel on behalf of Iran. Given that this month they also came out publicly against Assad in Syria, it is clear that they are changing sides because nobody in the Arab world likes to back a loser. I understand that Israel offered an evacuation corridor through its country for the wounded or those trying to escape but that the Red Cross refused to work with them. I think the consensus among analysts is that unless there is some kind of military intervention from outside, covert or overt, Assad will remain in power. That might be about to happen; everybody including Turkey is pulling civilians outta there and now the Turks say they are closing their embassy in Syria. So far the Turks have been all talk and no walk, but if they want to see change in Syria, they will have to be a part of it, but they will have increased influence afterward.

Interesting issue in the Arab world — as the Moslem Brotherhood becomes a more pan-arab force, Saudi Arabia doesn’t care for the MB and is actually funding extremist Salafist parties in these countries to counter it. They don’t like the MB’s idea that Islamic countries will be run by Islamic parties in government as opposed to the monarchies that had existed in those countries. They want the clergy to be powerful in the state but separate from the levers of governmental power because after all they want to keep monarchies in power instead of republics.

2 other interesting factoids — Saudi Arabia is now the world’s 6th largest oil CONSUMER. And the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar is considered one of the top 6 art museums in the world. I look forward to visiting it in January 2013 on a visit to Gulf countries.

Here is an answer to an interesting question. Why doesn’t Israel get upset over the fact that Pakistan has the bomb? Because Israel has good back-door relations with Pakistan as well as some understandings with that country.

So the head of the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood decided to run for President of Egypt, after promising not to. I can’t see the military tolerating this; the Brotherhood was supposed to stay out the presidency and the military has their plans for the country. I suppose if the military doesn’t like him, he will be taken out.

Stratfor gives an interesting analysis of China’s actual power in the world today and it is frankly less dangerous than it appears with not a lot of potential in the coming generation. I personally don’t get all that excited about China. Every time I read about that country it is just another story about how there is less there than meets the eye; this week I read about their supercomputers that are not so super and their speed trains that keep breaking. But it is interesting that most of the people in the world that have been lifted above poverty in the last 20 years have been Chinese.

Travel Notes: Bermuda is OK in February if you don’t mind 70 degree weather with frequent showers. Lots of things are not running at that time of year but it was OK. JetBlue runs a small plane and if it is windy they have to cancel; CO and AA run larger jets. Fairmont Southampton was surprisingly good; they have a nice beach as well, and the breakfast buffet when they want to make it nice is best in Bermuda. Four Corners Restaurant was a very good dinner place near Southampton — very good choice outside the hotels without having to go into town…Nassau’s new airport is open for departures but arrivals still go thru the old customs hall. Their airport renovation seems to go on forever….The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia is nice; the Manhattan Children’s Museum would fit in its lobby. Our 6 year old is just about outgrowing it. Amtrak has become really insane; tickets for 4 people on a Sunday to Philadelphia would be about $500 if you booked less than 14 days in advance; more than 14 days in advance for certain trains the roundtrip was still over $200 and you’d have to pay an extra $200 if you switched to another train on that date. If you have a membership with the Association of Childrens Museums thru your local museum, you get reciprocal rights in tons of other children’s and science museums around the world. Our membership, thru the NY Hall of Science, has paid for itself in spades.

This month we are off to Israel and Italy with the kids for Passover. Ciao!

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