Global Thoughts — 1 April 2015

Celebrating Karen's special birthday
Celebrating Karen’s special birthday

We have reached another milestone in our family – we are now calling the “diaper bag” the “fun bag.” You know how you keep calling something the diaper bag even though your kids have been out of diapers for years?

My wife celebrated her 50th birthday last week and I gave her a card for her 40th – hey, I got 20% off. Fortunately, both of us are in better health these days than we were 10 years ago. Had I known that good diet and exercise would be so good for you, I would have lived differently earlier in life.

We were at a function at our local synagogue and we suggested to Jeremy that he go over and talk to one of the clergy, the guy who happened to have performed his circumcision. “Why would I want to talk to a guy who cut off part of my penis?” he exclaimed.

My son likes to walk around like an Egyptian with a towel around his face and walking around with his hand jutting forward. So I thought he might like seeing a video of Steve Martin in 1976 doing his King Tut routine. After about 10 seconds, he thought it was really stupid and walked out. Kids think it is so uncool seeing an adult acting like a kid.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

We went to the Egyptian history section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, and some youth group leader from our synagogue was giving a tour with an eye toward Passover, but he really didn’t know his stuff and was making it up as he went along. My son Jeremy could have given the tour of that section, he’s been there quite a few times by now on school field trips — and wouldn’t you know that he spent the hour correcting the group leader as he gave the tour.  The Met has really done good work in their museum over the past few decades and you can see that they keep improving it. The Museum of Natural History in my opinion could use a real makeover. A lot of it is just words on walls and it probably looks like it did 40 years ago. Meanwhile, my daughter celebrated the Chinese New Year in school and sings songs in Mandarin. I’m mentioning these vignettes not to impress you but because when I went to school we didn’t do anything like this. Kids are being exposed to so many things so quickly these days that it is hard for parents to keep up with their kids. Forget about trying to be cool and risk looking like an idiot — I’ll settle for trying to turn the telephone on and off.

Here’s a good tourist tip for visitors to New York City: Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is another art museum at 86th and 5th Avenue known as the Neue Gallery, home of the Golden Lady painting worth at least $140 million. Inside is Café Sabarsky, a Viennese style coffee house. The pastries are home-made and are some of the best German-Austrian stuff in the city. Crepes, sachertorte, black forest cake, apple strudel, hot chocolate, and real food too. It’s hard to get a seat at this café, but if you go down the stairs, there is a room with overflow seating that nobody seems to know about and you can get the same menu without the wait. The three best all-around restaurants I would vote for in Manhattan are DB Moderne by Bouloud on West 44th Street, Milos on 53rd Street between 5th and 6th, and Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at Columbus Circle on 60th Street. We’ve never had anything in these places that was just plain good, and the prices are on the high side of reasonable. They are still cheaper than a meat meal in a top-level kosher restaurant.

I’m increasingly bothered by the fact that hotels are not allowing rollaway beds in rooms, even in suites, and you have to get 2 connecting rooms if you have a family with kids and don’t all want to share one or two beds. They say this is due to updating fire codes but, whatever it is, it is increasing the cost of travel significantly.

At the Neue Gallery in Manhattan; poster of the Golden Lady painting. Kids under 12 not allowed in the main gallery.
At the Neue Gallery in Manhattan; poster of the Golden Lady painting. Kids under 12 not allowed in the main gallery.

Global Thoughts was probably one of the only sources in the world that correctly called the Israeli election. I wrote on March 3, two weeks before the election: Here is a prediction: Bibi Netanyahu is going to win the upcoming election in Israel and it’s not even going to be close. Another thing you read in Global Thoughts during the last 2 years was that Israeli Arabs were going to work more inside the Israeli political system. And they did this past election, unifying the various Arab parties and becoming the third biggest political bloc in the country. Sometimes I hear people say that Jordan is and should be the Palestinian state. Think about what would probably happen: Jordan as we know it would become destabilized, the Palestinian state, already divided in two and on the verge of collapse, would be taken over by an Iranian proxy attacking through Iraq which it already controls, and Israel would have total instability on its eastern border. Anyone who thinks this through ought to completely forget about raising it as an option.

An interesting statistic: 45% of American kids show no improvement in skills after 2 years in college. Seems to make a mockery of Obama’s idea to provide free 2 year college degrees. Another statistic: 45% of Republicans rate Obama as a bigger threat to America than either Assad of Syria or Putin of Russia. A relative arranged for the White House to send birthday greetings to her grandmother who was turning 100 and the grandmother refused to accept them. One of my relatives thinks that Obama is a Moslem terrorist plant and I wouldn’t be surprised if a bunch of people deep inside the government think it too. There are all types of ideologues working in the agencies of government from both the extreme left and right, and occasionally I find it scary to talk to them. I suppose that 10 years from now we’ll read books about what kinds of intrigue were practiced by oppositionists to Obama within government. It’s just not a good thing to have so many Americans walking around so distrustful of their president and I think it ultimately stems from the fact that the man had no experience when he ran for this position except for the experience of running for various offices one after the other. It is an important reason why Mr. Cruz of the Republican Party ought to be quickly eliminated as a contender at this time. Right now if Bibi Netanyahu were running as a Republican, he would win the nomination hands down. There is no chance in this climate that any deal Obama makes with Iran will be supported across the country.

I would not be surprised if both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush wind up being eliminated in the primaries. I don’t think that people really want to continue this business of having 2 families dominate American presidential politics. Saturday Night Live is ridiculing Clinton and making her look like a mean political bully and you read stories about her press agent threatening those that don’t write nice things about her. There is an air of scandal about her with the emails as secretary of state from personal accounts and the sense that the rules don’t apply to her, and the Clinton Foundation getting all that foreign money and people wondering what all these governments hope to buy with it. Bush just doesn’t play well in Iowa and we know from history that you can’t win an election only with rich people backing you with donations. I personally am not against either of them but I really wonder if America has no other choices from within this country of 300 million people. It’s like we have two family companies that put up presidential candidates for this generation. I think the Democrats are making a big mistake positioning themselves for the inevitability of Clinton. Maybe they just don’t know how to speak truth to the prospect that a woman might become president. But they need a Plan B in case her campaign fails and the Republicans will be in a better position to win by default if they don’t have a Plan B.

The Economist notes that whether or not Obama’s health care law survives, it has already had a profound effect on the nation’s health care marketplace. Lots of new businesses are coming into being in ways nobody thought of 5-10 years ago, such as urgent health care clinics meant to replace hospital emergency rooms, and software that matches up patients to providers sorta like Uber is matching drivers to riders. What makes America great is that private enterprise is free to realize opportunities and to capitalize on them, so that even when government screws up, the marketplace can still be made to work.

My award for Most Integrity goes to the lady in England who had an estate sale and sold through an auction house a painting for about $5,000. According to a front page story in the NY Times, an anonymous buyer realized it was worth more and flipped it for $5 million. The lady said she was not going to sue the auction house for failing to do proper due diligence because she still thinks it is a horrible painting that shouldn’t be worth anything.

An interesting note in the Economist has European companies alleging that the US pressures them not to do business with Iran, while American companies are using front companies to put them at the head of the line should the US ease up sanctions against Iran. I guess that gets the award for Least Integrity.

I spent some time this week sitting on a beach in the Cayman Islands (by the way, Cayman Airways is a pretty good airline and the Ritz Carlton is probably the best hotel on the island) trying to figure out what the US President ought to do about ISIS. Focus groups say that Americans want to see ISIS destroyed but they don’t want to see US military people getting hurt in the process. My suggestion is the president ought to have either the US military or a proxy doing really awful things to ISIS to make it most unattractive for people to want to join ISIS. If people know that ISIS members will meet awful fates they might not want to join. Also, he should make it clear that Americans who go to join ISIS or who want to put themselves in harm’s way should not expect any protection or mercy from the Americans. Now it seems that ISIS is being weakened by military bombardment, a lack of hostages to sell, and falling oil prices more than anything else cutting off 75% of its revenues. Except in Syria where it is expected to continue to be a factor for the coming years, the conventional wisdom is that it is a flash in the pan in the history of the region.

Somebody made an interesting point to me this week. The recent recession hit construction workers the most, because housing was the main victim of the recession. You’d have thought that putting all those people to work building roads and infrastructure would have been the most efficient thing to do, but the US government didn’t do it.

I think the Republicans need to stop being the party that looks like they are against immigration and they need to get out in front convincing their white party base that they should see immigration as a positive thing. Latin immigration is good for the US; the country needs young, hard-working families who will also fund the next generation of pensioners as this generation ages. And anyway, Latinos tend to share Republican values more so than Democratic ones. People forget that America is a nation of immigrants and that new blood brings progress. If Republicans get more Latinos to support them than Democrats, it would ensure Republican dominance in American politics for a generation. The Democrats are really vulnerable on this issue but the Republicans have too many districts in Congress that presently are controlled by white-dominated voters that are hostile to immigration and therefore have not been able to capitalize on the opportunity when you look at the Big Picture instead of looking at individual districts.

The new ruler of Saudi Arabia appointed his son as the defense minister and he is somewhere around 30 years old. Although he has no military background, he seems to be impressive and, armed with an unlimited bank account, seems to be making friends in the region with countries otherwise known to be hostile to Saudi Arabia such as Sudan and Turkey, and he is also in charge of their military operation in Yemen, which represents a more muscular policy for that country as it is the first war that country has initiated in several decades. It remains to see how this gamble in Yemen will fare. His father is a transitional figure and not in good health at age 80.  It would be interesting if the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar were both in their 30’s — the new ruler of Qatar is in that category. I doubt this guy will get the #1 job in the next go-round but unless he stumbles it is going to be more interesting to watch this play out. Saudi needs new blood in its leadership to keep pace with the facts that oil supplies are not unlimited, the US is less protective of its interests, the Iranians are on the march in their backyard, and there are so many young people in that country that have no future to look forward to. I’ve asked around to find out how credibly the new defense minister is viewed among other military personnel in the world and will let you know what I find out.

We are off to Italy this week for the holidays. My kids are registered for gladiator school and we intend to uncover some of Rome’s underground secrets with tours of archeological off-beat sites. I am also slated to visit Cuba the first week in May and look forward to reporting to you on conditions in that country soon afterward.


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