Global Thoughts — 10 December 2009

The best picture this month is of Jeremy on the “can” wearing nothing but his boots (he seems to like ‘going commando’ in the house in his boots), but I’m afraid of being prosecuted for child pornography over the Internet so you’ll just have to use your imagination for that one.

This has been an active time for me. First time in 25 years I accomplished anything in the public realm — got a street sign put in near where I live at 75th Street and West End Avenue. Amazing how for years that street had no sign reading 75th Street and I kept getting confused at that corner and nobody else ever did anything about it.

Question — If the cost of sugar has doubled over the past few years, why is it that products advertised as low sugar cost so much extra over the products with lots of sugar in them? Isn’t it nuts that they are getting consumers to pay as much as a 50% premium to leave out the sugar.

Another amazing fact — did you ever notice into how many pieces just one crushed cheerio can become? Just try and pick it all up off the floor and you’ll see what I mean.

Adventures with our kids...Jeremy looked at a map at Sea World, noticed the diagram of a carousel and insisted by pointing to it that we take him there….At Central Park, he climbed up a tall mound of rocks and then looked around, realized how high he had climbed, and there was this sense of recognition of context for the first time. For me it is a highlight of parenting to be there when such discoveries are made for the first time in one’s life and you see him look around and go “Oh!”…Elizabeth peppers her speech with all sorts of grown-up words such as Actually and is beginning to draw pretty pictures and counts in several languages. We have a hard time finding all the things she says are in these pictures and Jeremy is rather inspired by her artistry; we are especially thrilled when his copy-cat works occasionally wind up on paper. Perhaps Shakespeare and Michelangelo really did have all those hidden meanings in their art after all. She now has her first portfolio to house her art….. Christmas is all around and I took Elizabeth to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. It is a great show and is America at its best. Problem was that later that week I was at her Jewish day school and her teacher asked me what Elizabeth was talking about when she told a story referring to seeing a show with 100 Santas on stage — it was a dance routine with the Rockettes. Fortunately, we send her to a school that would not excommunicate our family over such incidents. My philosophy is the more holidays the better. Bring on Kwanzaa!

Interesting world fact — Notice we haven’t heard much about Somali pirates. Seems an Italian ship hired a bunch of Israeli commandos. When they were attacked, the Israelis knocked off the pirates. Word got around and other ships took on Israelis and the Somalis were outta business. Speaking of Israel, that country, according to the Economist, has as much Venture Capital as France and Germany combined and more NASDAQ listings than India and China combined. Not bad for a little country in the big world.

Let’s talk Middle East peace, or lack of it.

Tom Friedman wrote a column on middle east peace this month stating that the US should bow out and tell parties to call them when they are serious. You don’t think he would ever have written that if Bush Jr. were still president. Had Bush Jr. done that, everyone would have been criticizing him for disengaging. He’s right in a sense, and I wrote him a note telling him how I’d apologized to my readers last month for writing less about all this but said that I’m not going to write stuff up just to waste space when nothing is happening. It’s pretty clear that Bibi Netanyahu is doing whatever he has to do in order to stall out Obama and that nothing is going to change.

The word I’m getting is that George Mitchell is failing, trying to do the same thing in the Israel-Palestine arena similar to the Good Friday negotiations over Northern Ireland; problem with that model is that it was process-based and nobody is interested in more process but rather the Palestinians want to get to final status solutions. Ross is waiting for him to fail and for him to be the new czar but he’s hopeless after nearly two decades not getting anything done and being the king of process. Hamas and Shalit — I was told in November that the deal would be finished if Israel agreed to let a bunch of prisoners go from Gaza to West Bank. Easy for me; they could just kill them if they don’t behave. Olmert did nothing until 2 weeks before leaving office on this; Netanyahu wasted months before bringing in the Germans after realizing he can’t free him and that he can’t deal with this. As we’ve been increasingly seeing in public, the two sides are nearing a deal over the prisoners.
 
I read Dennis Ross’s book on Iran — his big idea is to open a secret channel to Iran; I think it would be played like a violin especially since the government is so divided on their end.

Predictions — Global Thoughts said a few years ago that gains from the Iraq surge would be temporary and that Afghanistan was a lost cause. Also that Dubai was a house of cards. And that Obama was all talk and no walk. So far I stand on all of it. Economic recovery in 2010 will be greater than expected but there will be another down cycle in a few years as problems are not fixed unless the next round of deficit reduction is real and timed correctly.

Afghanistan — read the oped in the NY Times on December 8 by Jonathan Vaccaro. The US will never win in Afghanistan. Takes 11 approvals and 96 hours just to get permission to strike at the Taliban once they are located in a village. 70% of attempts to attack Taliban never got off the ground due to delays in getting approvals through all the red tape. As long as people in Afghanistan on the ground can’t do anything without committees of people in the US signing off on it, forget about anything ever happening there.

Israel and Iran — my gut says that nobody will do anything about Iran because the bad guys usually get tolerated until they lose bigtime in a war that could have been avoided had people acted earlier. But if nothing is done, nothing will change for another 50 years unless that war happens. Very simple — all the Arabs will be afraid of a nuclear Iran and none will dare to make peace with Israel, especially since the Iranians don’t want peace. 

A friend of mine from India visited this month and here are some of his thoughts — he worried about the US Dollar and health care expense; India doing good; Latin America will hurt for years; China economy is doubtful. Dubai screwed foreign investors with their visas after they bought real estate and winning back that trust will be impossible – they promised lifetime visas and now say only 3 years. Medical tourism hospital in India — amazing what they will do for 2k rather than 40k and better results due to heavy specialization. Building a new hospital in Grand Cayman that will take in lots of US tourists. Could be very important – if people can become medical tourists, they may not care if insurance in the US doesn’t exist for important surgeries, or US-based insurance could agree to pay for these treatments.
 
Congressman Paul Ryan is a man to watch. He is a Republican, young and highly placed. Not terribly ideological and a good deal-maker with vision and well designed plans. Was lost in the Obama excitement of last year’s campaign.  If the Republicans make a comeback, he will get a lot of credit for it. 

OK, now how silly is this? The UK just announced a 50% tax on bonuses paid out by banks in the US paid out between now and April 5, 2010. What do you suppose banks will do? Might they not simply defer the payments a little while?

Travel Notes — Our first visit this past month to Orlando with the kids. You see Mickey Mouse the minute you arrive off the plane; if you thought you could avoid it by skipping Disney World while in Orlando area, you can’t. Meeting Mickey was the highlight of both kids’ visit. Nickelodeon Hotel featured really bad food and a pretty cheesy place. But they do have the character breakfast with Dora, Diego and Square Bob Sponge Pants. The food is sooo bad; the eggs were some kind of glop from a can. Disney World food still sucks with hardly anything healthy to eat available but it is a good show and delivers good value; Fast Pass is a good innovation and lets you go on rides on timed tickets so that you can not stand in lines all day. Sea World is a very nice attraction with some great shows including one with aquatic gymnasts and dolphins. Marriot World Center has great food, perhaps the best breakfast buffet I’ve seen in an American hotel and a nice property. Kids Night Out is an agency you can call for babysitting. The March of the Peabody Ducks at the Peabody Hotel (near the Convention Center) is a free activity that is fun for the kids (ducks march out of elevator at 11am, head down a red carpet and go swimming in the lobby duck pool) and Downtown Disney with the 400 foot high air balloon and a Lego play area are good attractions. Flying to Miami from Orlando is not a bad move with kids but truthfully it doesn’t save any time over the drive. Maggianos and Taverna Opa were excellent Italian and Greek restaurants in Orlando; the latter had napkins dropping from the ceiling, dancers and flame swallowers and people dancing on tables, and hummus you chop yourself at the table. Miami’s Parrot Jungle not bad for real small kids but it is a rather small park with somewhat lame shows. Avis gave me one of those Toyota Prius hybrid cars — had to have someone come and show me how to turn it on. These electric cars drive differently — it is not a turn-key and there is a special button to put the car into Park. It is rather nice to drive at 45 miles per gallon and it is amazingly quiet when you turn on the car and go into reverse. There is also a camera that shows you what you see in the rear when you are in Reverse. Avis still never fixed the sign at the Miami airport. When you come out on Lejeune Road the arrow points in the wrong direction. It’s been wrong for over a year. Good to fly out late Saturday night during Thanksgiving weekend — avoided the Sunday rush and no complications. Coming up over Christmas and New Year — Los Angeles and Laguna Beach, California with the kids.

Happy Holidays.

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