Global Thoughts — 10 January 2010 Year-End Notes, Travel to Southern California, College of Leadership

Photos mostly at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, California

Here’s something special — a 45 second video of Jeremy being very proud of himself after he climbed up on that rock you saw above all by himself. We didn’t even notice. He’s just chirping away, very pleased with himself…. Click here for the WMV file.

Life in the Big City…our next door neighbor went to Ecuador for Christmas for 3 weeks and I guess she wanted her city pleasures with her so she carried along 3 crates of Pelligrino water. Presumably the cost of the excess baggage exceeded the cost of buying it there, assuming you could. 

Strangest thing about the Newark airport lockdown last week was that it was 2½ hours after they realized the guy had jumped the checkpoint that they finally decided to take action and close down the airport. It took some people 24 hours to get out of the airport once they finally did that. But the culprit was far away by that time. Turned out to be a young guy who wanted to kiss his girlfriend goodbye; by the time the police caught up with him, he had gone to the gym.

Funniest thing I read about the firecrackers-in-his-nuts bomber incident was the idea that someday when someone knocks his head against an airplane window and causes damage, they’ll then have everyone wearing protective head gear on board airplanes.

One lovely thing to do in NY around the holidays is to go to the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. It is a great escape 20 minutes drive from Manhattan. At this time of year, they have the Holiday Train Show which features all sorts of working train sets running amid replicas of New York City landmarks made out of natural materials. We went twice since the kids love it; it has a totally different look at night than during the day. It is one of the nicer things about the City at holiday time. During early January they also have Thomas the Train; you line up for an hour to stand in front of a replica of Thomas the Train and take a picture of your kids going ga-ga over it. We can hardly wait till they grow out of this one.

Last month, I issued some forecasts about the year ahead but I’ll hit some major points as of this writing.

The Iran demonstrations at year’s end strike me as a curiosity but not as the seeds of revolution. Maybe in a few years time it will be seen as a turning point but I would bet that a year from now very little inside the country will have changed. Whether the US and/or Israel will strike Iran is the Big Question and I don’t have enough information at my disposal to make the forecast. Those that know aren’t telling and those that are telling don’t know. My assessment is that the Israelis cannot act without pulling in the Americans and the Americans don’t want to be dragged into this. The Israelis are willing to take whatever retaliation the Iranians via their proxies care to throw at them; they prefer to take the crap now than later.  But I don’t think the Israelis will create havoc for the Americans without first consulting them. I do not think the Israelis can do a lot of harm to the Iranians through any kind of bombing campaign. I don’t know of what other options there are but I assume there are other options. No matter what the Israelis or Americans do, the Iranians will want to mine the Arab/Persian Gulf and the only ones that can deal with that are the Americans. It is basically that simple. I do not think that sanctions are a viable alternative. So it comes down to whether or not you think that military force needs to be used now or whether you think that eventually the government of Iran will change. Eventually it will, but a government with nuclear weapons will be harder to fall and could in the meantime leak the technology all over the world to their proxies. Analysts are less likely today to believe that the Iranians are rational people who only want to go to the brink as a negotiating tactic; they increasingly believe that these mullahs want weapons to use them. It therefore follows that the world should not tolerate the acquisition of such weapons by such a government. I also believe that peace in the Middle East is impossible if Iran is nuclear; it may be that complete peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is anyway impossible but many people think it is possible. With a nuclear Iran, it will be apparently impossible to the naked eye and this will affect everyone’s thinking in a negative way. I do believe that 2010 will be the decisive year in terms of the Iranians reaching their nuclear objective. I don’t know what the US has in store for Pakistan but you can’t deal with Afghanistan without dealing with Pakistan. Last month I wrote that I don’t see any hope of fixing Afghanistan and based on the evidence of what I read about what’s going on at grunt troop level, the US effort is so snarled in bureaucracy that it’s amazing we accomplish anything.

Obama, US Economy and MidTerm Elections — I still haven’t made up my mind on the guy. I am waiting for the next Woodward book. I don’t know how he makes his decisions and who counts for what, what he actually believes, and what matters he really cares about. His speeches don’t count for much. I don’t know how much he is willing to push on Iran or Russia, for example. The US economy, even if it improves in 2010 which it will, will still lose more jobs statistically because the unemployment figures don’t count in people that are looking for jobs. Once the economy starts to improve, these people will be counted as they will start looking. It will not look pretty by the time midterm elections come this fall. The Republicans will do well, even though they have offered no alternatives.

Russia — Will continue to make problems for the US and solidify its hold over the ‘Stans and countries on its periphery such as Ukraine and Georgia, as the US is bogged down with its other wars. 

World Economy — The Euro will be under pressure because the Europeans are in a deeper mess than the US is, so even if it is strong against the US Dollar, the Euro will not run away. Japan also has a problem; even though the US national debt is now 87% of GDP, Japan’s stands at 217%. In China, 95% of its domestic growth originated from investment spending, much of it dubious loans. Some people think China is a disaster in the making. I believe that China is over-rated and I have no investments there. I don’t think that whatever happens in China will bring the rest of the world economy down with it, and China is not a normal country. Its government can do many things to control the overall situation. So while I wouldn’t be surprised to see bad things happen in China in 2010, it’s not something I am terribly worried about as long as I’m not exposed to it. Venezuela is having serious economic problems but I don’t expect Chavez to fall. Greece will be a problem too — as will other countries — but again I see it as a localized issue.

Research and Development at Global Thoughts — College of Leadership
You have probably noticed that I haven’t been writing much during the past 2 years about some bright new idea. It’s not that I haven’t been working on one. I spent a lot of time researching the feasibility of creating a College of Leadership, and even signed an option with a real estate developer for a campus in Middletown, New York after looking for a year for a compelling transaction. Visited with all sorts of experts — New York State Department of Education, Security Experts, Architects, etc. Shopped a prospectus around to various philanthropists and community leaders after coming up with a terrific deal — the physical plant alone was worth 4x what the buyer would be paying for it. Problem is the type of thing that happens when the airline ticket that normally costs $400 is on sale for $99 but everyone is afraid of some virus and nobody wants to fly. That’s what you got in this economy, so people said “Great idea; come back next year even if it costs more when I can afford to think about it.” I actually visited the head of the World Jewish Congress who was sitting alone with a young secretary on a whole floor of an office building right over the heart of Madison Avenue — he’s had to fire the entire staff and is waiting for a philanthropist to send him a check to keep the lights on. So in this environment of over-extended commitments, it’s hard to envision people making new ones. And most of the top philanthropists made their money in real estate, and that’s the area where people are hurting most.

Anyway, now’s your chance to see on Global Thoughts the product of this Research and Development. There are two versions — one College of World Leadership, and the other a College of Jewish Leadership. One would be for the education and training of world leaders and would help restore America’s place in the world as a center for education, innovation, hospitality and generosity. The other would help the Jewish community ensure the continuity of its future institutions against Madoff-like scandals which worked because the leaders weren’t savvy enough to realize it and didn’t know how to invest otherwise, and because a majority of present leaders are retiring and there are no new ones being groomed to take over those positions.

The College of Jewish Leadership is being redesigned as a summer program to attract 100 of the best and brightest for a summer at a college campus, featuring 6 weeks of classroom instruction and 2 weeks of foreign travel. The second summer would be an internship offering relevant experience.

Take a look and let me know what you think:
Mount Canaan College of Jewish Leadership

Mount Canaan College of World Leadership

Southern California New Year’s Travel — Over the holiday we visited California, Los Angeles and down toward Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach is about an hour away along the coastline with very pretty beaches and coast. Here are some notes:

California Travel — Marriott Residence Inn in Beverly Hills works well but stay on a low floor. Breakfast can be a zoo. Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel still best dining and Pats makes for a great kosher dinner. Montage Beverly Hills has a decent dining room but not as good as the Polo Lounge. Found some nice parks such as Roxbury. Farmers Market is fun and the nearby Grove shopping mall which is outside with fountains and trolleys is too. Good fudge and place with toy cars in the farmer’s market. Knotts Berry Farm was a decent day’s fun with kids located about 45 minutes away. For jetlag, nap the kids early in the day. Many attractions were closed during this week so call before you go. Train travel museum at the LA zoo was a nice attraction which full length trains kids could climb on. Long Beach Aquarium also nice attraction; nearby town of Cerrritos had a beautiful new children’s library. Lots of money in some of these suburbs. Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach had stunning views of ocean and coastline and a nice beach; decent food especially at the fine dining Studio and at poolside’s Mosaic and take the breakfast buffet at Studio if it is offered — a stunning venue, and lots of New Year’s Eve programming. Hotel is a bit over the top pricey on food and beverage; has a good children’s day camp and the spa was pretty but too pricey for us to try it. Some of the food items such as the German Chocolate Cake from the room service menu were real winners but a lot of it wasn’t exceptional. Lots of day trippers going on there. Boomers is a play place to go in nearby Irvine with kiddie stuff to do; Balboa Village had a ferris wheel and a playground by the pier at the beach. Expect a sweater in California at this time of year. All the above, plus Knotts Berry Farm and Disney Land are within 30 minutes of Laguna. Irvine Regional Park was closed but offers pony rides and a train. There was also a children’s museum in Irvine called Pretend City which was closed but looked promising. 230 Forest Avenue an excellent restaurant with good value right on the main drag of Laguna. Their signature items (Alaska Halibut and the Chocolate Bread Pudding Dessert) are winners. Long Beach airport a pleasure; worth taking it over LAX if you go JetBlue.  LA Kids Suggestions: Noah’s Ark exhibit at Skirball; Santa Monica Pier; TreeHouse social club. We couldn’t get into these exhibits (either closed or sold out) but they are permanent ones and might be open for future visits.

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