Global Thoughts 10 November 2020 — Post-Election Edition

Scenes from around Mohonk Mountain House in upstate NY

Both my kids crossed a Rubicon of maturity and awareness this week. One went to bed early on a Saturday night and got up early Sunday morning to write her essay for school trying to clear her desk before going out to a get together with friends. The other one texted me that he was sad that Alex Trebeck had died, even though he never watches Jeopardy. That was his first texted commentary to me about current events. Moreover, it used to be that our kids would be up in the early hours of the day demanding we play with them; now they could sleep till 10 with no problem and I have to wake them up so that they will go to bed that night at a decent hour.

The day before election day, I promised my kids that if Joe Biden won, we would celebrate with a banana cream pie. The next day I started looking for one and found out that it’s really hard to find such a thing in Manhattan. Finally, I found it but then I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to order one because for a time it looked like Trump might win. Finally, Friday came and I took a risk buying two slices from a patisserie down the street. Saturday night we ate it, and my, it was good.

Yes, my friends, it has all come down to this. To eat a pie, or not to eat.

On Saturday morning about 11:30, we heard cheers and banging pots outside, the likes of which I had not heard since the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. I figured they had declared a winner. We walked around Central Park on Saturday afternoon and Sheep’s Meadow was a giant party on a beautiful late fall sunny unusually warm day. First time in a year I’ve seen people getting together and looking happy, and it certainly gives lie to the idea that New York City is a ghost town.

I felt really happy that voters could make a difference and I thought about people who live around the world in countries where elections are fake and they have no prospect for change. People say that MBS in Saudi Arabia could be the king for the next 50 years; what would it be like to live there and to know that no matter how much people hate him, they can’t vote to get rid of him. In New York City, people were so happy to know that Trump will be gone. I am close to 55 years old and I’ve never seen so many people disgusted with an American leader and so happy to know he will soon be gone. I’ve always liked to feel that when the chips are down, America does the right thing and it usually does. This one was too close for comfort, but in the end, I think the dark side lost. I feel that not only America, but Americans were on trial with this vote – was 2016 a fluke or did we really mean it – and I was really worried how it would actually turn out. Trump did lose by millions of votes but that damn electoral college keeps creeping up on us making the majority of Americans feel we don’t count for much. I will tell you that if Trump won in the face of this, I’d be wondering if I’m living my life in the right country.

I don’t know if China exported this virus on purpose, but if there had been no Covid, you’d probably have 4 more years of Trump. It is clear to me that until this virus is brought under control, there will be an unsteady economy and that Trump was not going to deal with this virus until it either petered out or a vaccine stamped it out, neither of which is likely to happen soon enough. So finally after 4 miserable years, Amateur Hour at the White House is about to end and the haters and wall-builders will be replaced by consensus-builders and deal-makers. Mitch McConnell who leads the Republican Senate gets along very well with Joe Biden and I expect them to work well together. My hope is that stuff will get done by building coalitions of 51-60 senators in the center who can agree rather than trying to get crossovers from the GOP to go along with the Democrats on progressive-based initiatives that will fail. This will leave The Squad squealing in the background but Pelosi does not care for them and she is a vote-counter who has some egg on her face because in my estimation she obstructed a stimulus bill before the election figuring it would help the Democrats as it did in 2008 when congress didn’t pass a bill before the election; this year it backfired and both she and McConnel seem to agree that a stimulus bill is necessary to keep the economy on track for the next several months.

US intelligence services have a strong incentive to make sure ex-president Trump is either jailed or dead; he knows some amount of top secret information that he learned as president and could pass it along to foreign sources. He owes hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign sources, is very angry at the US government and its intelligence agencies, and has a record of compromising intelligence sources as president. Had he not been president, he would have been convicted by now for his actions. The only thing in his favor is that he was so ignorant of reading or listening to his briefings that he doesn’t know nearly as much as he should by now. There is a good article in the Washington Post dated 10 November by Shane Harris about this item.

Government agents will be watching Trump and his family to see if they get foreign bank transfers afterward and I highly suspect Trump will be the first US president jailed for his crimes. It’s pretty clear that Trump continued to coordinate with his various companies and that people wanting favors had it made known to them that country club membership, hotel patronage and the sort were necessary prerequisites. I also want to know what the deal is with a property he owned in Palm Beach that was reportedly bought by some obscure Russian for roughly 10x what it was worth who didn’t even wind up living there. Some say that Putin paid for it. I expect that Trump is going to be Exhibit A of a person who became president of the USA whose darkest secrets came out after he left office. Lots of other people who might have gotten away with a lot in obscurity are being brought down with him. Bush and Clinton might have gotten lots of money from foreign sources after they left office but Trump is not going to get away with it.

Lots of these little huts are built around a lake.
Inside the historic hotel building

I learned something important this year to think twice about. I’ve said for years that the demographic trends in this country show that over time the country is becoming less White and that this bodes well for the Democratic party. The latest election gives that idea pause. The GOP ticket got more support from various minority groups in 2020 than it did in 2016, even after 4 years of Trump. 38% of Latino men and 18% of Black men voted Republican/GOP. I’ve noticed that the Wall Street Journal has been putting out a good many more articles meant to appeal to Black readers and I have been wondering why. Now I think I know; the conservative movement really is targeting Blacks because they think that Blacks are fertile ground for them. Black men are not very liberal; they tend to be conservative and the Democratic party takes them for granted. Latino men also are extremely wary of anything that looks like socialism.

You’d have thought that Biden would have run away with female votes. The spread was only 52-47% of white women in the suburbs, and an 11% spread overall, meaning that Trump kept a good portion of the female vote. I had been thinking that women would have utterly abandoned him this time around and I wonder what I am supposed to understand from that.

A huge question (which I am about to answer) is why were the polls so wrong yet again? Did Trump have a valid point when he pointed to “poll suppression” meaning that the media knowingly promoted polls they knew were wrong showing a large Democratic lead to suppress voter turnout on election day which was expected to trend Republican? (The Wall Street Journal also published polls showing the Democrats ahead by 10 percentage points and they could hardly be accused of this.) A major Wall Street firm’s (I can’t write which one but trust me, they’re in the top 3) in-house estimate in the fall was a 55% probability of a Trump win which was much closer to the result than the Economist’s 95% odds put out the week of the election. You had to wonder if we have 70 million racists in this country who voted for Trump and if the rest of us really want to live in a country like this? Didn’t it matter that he was such a jerk?

After a few days, I came across an interesting study noted in the Economist by the CATO institute in the US which found that only progressive liberals felt comfortable voicing their opinions in public without fear of offending people. People in the center, soft liberals and conservatives felt muzzled. This is hugely important because it means that with the current “cancel culture” spear-headed by academia and the woke-dominated press, it means that people with other viewpoints in this country are simply driven underground and they surprisingly surface at the ballot box. It takes a pollster 100 calls before being able to get a conservative voter to talk on the phone, meaning that as long as these kinds of people are driven underground, you will never be able to gage their opinion about anything in order to predict what the body politic will actually do with their votes.  An article in the Forward repeats this analysis from a conservative commentator saying that conservatives won’t even tell other conservatives about their voting intentions if they have any reason to feel they will be criticized for their stated choice.

The problem is that most of those 70 million people are not racists, but they don’t agree with the progressive program so they are labeled racists by the progressives who hold the mouthpieces. What more swing people in the middle did than was expected was to vote GOP because they were scared of what would happen if the Democrats took control of the government, and they were willing to put up with a president they did not like but preferred to the prospect of what they felt would be socialism in America. It’s these people in the middle who always decide an election. Just enough of them voted for Biden to him to cross the finish line but it is too close for comfort. Consider that the one demographic where Trump did worse in 2020 than 2016 was with white men. The Democratic party is becoming dominated by progressives according to other long-time party activists who are wary of them and were afraid during the fall that the party might lose in the election (something I reported last posting), and the GOP is now dominated by Trumpists and the future of the GOP is very unclear to other centrist Republicans who are active in the party. It just so happened that Biden got through the primaries and the election because Blacks (who as I said are mostly conservative and not progressive) came out and voted for him. I had been saying that a few hundred thousand votes by Blacks in the Midwest would have pushed Hillary over the top and that Biden would need them to get elected, and it was exactly right. Biden does not owe the progressives of his party anything nor will he be reelected by pandering to them. The rest of the candidates who raised their hand for “Medicare for all” during one of the debates earlier in the year all went down to defeat and tarnished the image of the Democratic party. Giving people a public option is one thing but forcing people to take the public option is another and Biden was smart enough to stay on the right side of this issue.

Beautiful fall foliage from tall of Skytop Lookout.

The future is disturbing because the Democrats keep losing for most of the past 40 years except when a centrist candidate gets a crossover vote. Only Clinton and Obama managed to do that between 1980 and 2016. The New York Times is increasingly stuck in an echo-chamber of wokeness as is tax-dollars- funded-NPR, and I don’t know if I can stand 4 more years of reading a daily diet of articles that make it seem that the entire universe is filled with transgender people and racist police officers and that Biden needs to appoint Elizabeth Warren to run our economy. The Democrats are stuck on the Left. The GOP was not punished at the voting booth for having a bunch of Trumpists in charge and the question is whether there is a place for centrist republicans in that party. I don’t know where the money will be placed that pays the bills but figure that ought to help answer the question. It is a good argument for a third party but the structure of the American political system makes it nearly impossible that one could exist.

Those that were expecting a landslide election have to look at historical context – America is a very divided country and most elections here are close. In 1960, they say that it was dead people’s votes in Chicago that pushed JFK over the top. Anything beyond a few percentage votes spread happens only a few times a century and overthrowing an incumbent president after a first term also is rare. That it happened is a big event even if it was by the hair of the chinny-chin-chin.

America is historically divided with dirty tricks and hard feelings. Just look at 1860 election which could easily have gone the other way but for a certain congressman who played fair and allowed Lincoln’s votes to be certified in congress. Our entire history could have gone another way but for that man’s act of courtesy. Basically, America is a divided country except in rare moments.

Here’s another thing we learned from this election: Most Americans don’t really care how much tax cuts you give to the top 1% as long as they get a cut too. They would rather share tax cuts than share tax increases, even if the 1% pay a whole lot more. We are NOT all in this together. We are not Canadians; we are country of selfish people who vote for what they feel is good for them. To understand why so many Latinos voted for Trump, all you had to know was this: I read a quote from a Latino in Texas just before the election who said “Let him build the FU***IN wall. I’m on this side of the Rio Grande now.”

We know that Trump got several million more votes than 2016, so bringing out the Democratic vote also stirred up more Republican votes who felt threatened by court packing, increased taxes, socialism, and Black Lives Matter violence.

Money is over-rated in politics. Didn’t seem to make much of a difference at all in lots of races. Just ask Mike Bloomberg who spent close to a billion dollars only to come in first in American Samoa. People vote for a message and if you don’t have one, money won’t help.

I sent an angry note to Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan who wrote the weekend before the election that she was writing in dead European philosopher Edmund Burke as her presidential candidate. If you have such a prominent column, you have to take a side and explain yourself and not cop-out like this. Jim Clyburn, whose endorsement of Biden before the South Carolina primary turned the tables on Super Tuesday, only did so after an elderly lady told him to get off the fence and tell people who to vote for. Imagine if millions of other people wrote in Edmund Burke. That would leave a bunch of not-so-educated people to pick our president and I’m not so sure as it is that we are better off having so many people involved making poor decisions for the rest of us.  There is something to be said for the fact that in the beginning only 6% of Americans actually had the right to vote.

Let me end on a happy note – all the horrible things that were supposed to happen — social media fake news that would suppress votes and create chaos, voting snafus, the postal service that couldn’t deliver, hacking by domestic and foreign actors – all went pretty well and all the feared scenarios did not happen. Maybe the foreigners stayed away thinking a Biden win was in the bag no matter what, but whatever it was, it did not happen.

The world was watching America and finally, after so many screwups and under the worst conditions, America showed itself to be a country with an electoral system that counted on integrity and worked. In America, we are now allowed to forget Trump and look forward to life without thinking about our Dear Leader. I can’t wait for 2020 to be over and to try and forget all of this ever happened.

Meanwhile…Moving On….(Isn’t that a really great idea, everyone?)

In China we keep hearing how everything is doing just fine.  Factories are still really closed, despite what they say. People can’t get their orders, so I don’t know how well it can be doing.

Time for a funny story. I’m walking down the street and I see this homeless guy with very few teeth sitting up against a milk crate against some scaffolding. About 25 feet away I see this nice comfy leather office chair and I say to the guy, hey there! There’s this nice comfy leather chair right over there, maybe you’d like to take it. He said to me after thinking for a second, Nope. I like it just the way I have it.

A nice thing about NY City these days – people are being very polite to each other, observing their distance and wearing their masks even if they don’t have to. Infection rates are low here, kids are still in school even in mid-November, and people just feel that it’s nice being around when people are trying to be excellent to each other.

I’ve noticed more traffic as I ride cross-town on the buses the past few weeks so I think the city is slowly coming back to life. A secretary in my doctor’s office said this month her travel time to and from work has doubled or tripled since the summer.

The reason the BBC is such a great news service is that after the third Trump-Biden debate, the analysts were discussing Trump’s rant about birds getting killed with windmills as a reason for his opposition to wind farms. The analyst said that X number of birds get killed with windmills, but a much greater number of birds each year get killed by cats. Therefore, what we really ought to do on the basis of this logic is to ban cats. You just don’t get that kind of analysis anywhere else.

During this pandemic, something keeps popping up in my mind. In the Yom Kippur liturgy (the Jewish Day of Atonement), there is a retelling of the ancient service of the High Priest in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem where the priest atones for the sins of the Israelites. At some point, the priest weeps for being suspected of sin, and the priests around him weep for suspecting him. I think of this moment because we are in a situation where everyone acts as if people are suspected of being sick without proof, but I don’t think that anyone feels bad about suspecting each other. When we say that we’re all in this together, I have to be cynical and say that people are not really empathetic about the feelings of others; everyone is in it for themselves afraid that they themselves might get sick from someone else. The guy poking his umbrella at me while walking down the street trying to ensure that he will keep me away from him is not concerned about anyone else but himself. If I fainted because I was breathing in too much carbon dioxide with my mask on while running on a treadmill in a gym where the nearest person is 50 feet away but that person goes nuts when the mask slips off my nose, I just think the person couldn’t care less what happens to me.

Nowadays, people want to ban entry to people who live within certain zip codes, because the rate of infection has been higher from those zip codes. People used to deny giving mortgages to people residing within certain zip codes, and that was called redlining. It probably still happens. We call that discrimination, because you are being judged not by the person you are or how you act, but by being lumped into a category with the people around you that share a characteristic such as skin color or religion. I think that people who live in safe homes and act responsibly should not be penalized and quarantined and barred from entry to schools and other places just because they come from neighborhoods where other people are sick. I don’t understand why people are so willing to do this to other people when they would be highly offended if someone did that to them because they run a good show. I haven’t seen real data that show a correlation between people coming to school infected with the virus and the fact that they live in a certain neighborhood. If I see enough of that, I would change my mind. It’s the same thing with the quarantines by states you visit. Florida is a huge state; it takes almost 12 hours to drive from one end to the other. There are safe spots and there are infectious spots. But people living in infectious spots might live safely inside their homes and have little contact with other people, which is the case in places like Dade County which has poor areas with high infection and rich areas with low infection. That’s why I think it is stupid to say that everyone coming out of Florida has to quarantine for 14 days as if they were sick. New Yorkers were afraid that people returning after summer vacations all over the place would bring infections with them and it did not happen. I also think that 14 days is draconian and invites noncompliance and roughly 50% of people are lying on these health declarations and avoiding contact tracers; other countries are switching to 5-7 days to increase compliance because that is the amount of time that is necessary to catch almost all infections that arise from infectious contact. I would think that by now there would be scientific data on this to guide policy. I think public policy would be better served by being more pin-pricky about restricting the movement of people; it would enable the economy to function better and for people to believe that compliance really makes a difference or that the sacrifice is worth it. There is an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz available in English online dated 15 October by Hilo Glazer where a good many senior doctors say that these lockdowns are stupid. It’s an interesting read. I was sitting in a deserted hotel hallway at 11pm one night reading a newspaper and someone on staff walks up to me and says I am not wearing my mask correctly and that it is necessary to adjust it because I am in a public place. Really…..

Here is why it pays at a hotel to not have everything included in the fee, and for you to have to pay for activities. My father always used to grouse about how hotels are no longer all-inclusive like the ones he grew up with and I used to agree with him. At the Mohonk Lodge one weekend this fall, they had tomahawk throwing. It was a free activity. Over 30 people attended and you stood there for an hour and got to throw a tomahawk 6 times. Last year we went to Colonial Williamsburg and they charged $25 or so for the activity but you were there with just 3 other people and could throw tomahawks for a half an hour with an instructor coaching you.  By the way, there must be some kind of environmental Nazi at Mohonk who is currently trying to eliminate all paper products. The gift shop doesn’t sell newspapers (too much paper in them, I guess) and the menus and daily schedules have all been digitized. Some of the cutbacks in services at hotels are being blamed on the pandemic but I really believe they are just cost-cutting measures using the pandemic as an excuse. People are paying more and getting less when they travel at this point.

Jeremy doing a rock scramble at the Labrynthe on the property

I’ve finished reading the newly released biography of James Baker. They don’t make these people like they used to and it’s a shame because we need them. One thing I got out of the book was that the Americans in the 1980’s only put up about half a billion dollars to support all of the Russian Republics and Eastern Europe as they transitioned out of communism. At the end of World War II, the US put up roughly $26 billion for Western Europe. The US was really stingy here and it may have helped lead to the initial failure of Russia to build democratic institutions and to show some success; instead we have Vladiimir Putin and lots of dictators all around. I don’t know that history would have gone any different, but we were not players and a historic opportunity was probably squandered. We just don’t like to invest in anything in America; we would rather pay 50x more when disaster strikes as with this Covid. I’m not even sure after this pandemic whether most countries have really learned anything. Western Europe seems to be heading toward the abyss all over again and much of the US certainly has not really adapted since the first wave last spring.

For a good example of how to handle things during a pandemic, look at Vietnam. They have the 4th lowest death rate in the world (roughly one in a million) and their economy is booming.

One thing about America is that sometimes we get kicked in the butt and get caught by surprise, such as 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. But we take our licks, learn some lessons and come back better prepared so that it doesn’t happen again. The biggest sin with Trump is that this happened but there is no evidence that he has learned anything over the past 6 months. Cuomo and New York took a licking but then got their act together and now New York runs one of the best shows in the US. That’s probably why Trump hates Cuomo so much. Yes, New York is down right now but it is coming back and sooner or later new businesses will take the places of the old ones and new residents will come in. New York always comes back and it will again. I just wouldn’t go out and invest here until I had a better feeling that if another pandemic or a cyberattack comes this way, that the authorities will have a real plan to deal with it.

Even if sanctions against Iran are lifted under Biden, the Iranians are in for a tough slog. The oil market has collapsed and there will be few buyers for its oil. American and European companies such as Boeing that wanted to sell stuff to them found the deals not to be profitable, and they will not want to invest in future relationships that might go flat the next time a Republican becomes president. I suppose the Iranians will want to make a deal with Biden though especially if Khamenei thinks that he will die in the next few years and wants to put Iran on a better track to survive him.

On recent normalization moves involving Israel: Here are a few statistics about Israel that I just heard at a conference that are pretty interesting and bear repeating because they are quite different than just 10 years ago: Its population is now equal to Sweden (but deaths from the virus are 1/3 of those in Sweden according to the WHO), its GDP equals Japan, 10% of its population is employed in hi-tech, and business failures so far in 2020 are less than there were in 2019. 70% of Americans still look favorably at Israel, and former chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, no fan of Israel, was being treated for the virus at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem (he could have gone anywhere he wanted). So I guess this means that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, which may help to explain why various countries in the region are normalizing relations with that country.  These statistics come from the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, a prominent think tank in the US.

I’ll end with a thought about the intersection between politics and religion in the current state of things: If you really believe in God (and the majority of Westerners say that they do), then you might agree that the Lord has something to do with this pandemic. Is it to remind us humans that the world we live in is more fragile than we thought and that not everything is within our control at a time when we think we do control everything? Or you might believe that there is no god and or that there might be a god but it does not care about the pandemic. I think about this because the more religious people seem to be, the less they seem to see the hand of God in this pandemic. Religious people seem more interested in expediency than morality these days; how else can you explain the Evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews being so supportive of Trump who does not share their values? In the Jewish community, 75% of non-Orthodox Jews can’t stand Trump, but among the Orthodox, 75% love him. Similar numbers show up in the evangelical and non-evangelical communities. Don’t you think that if God exists, he might be using this pandemic to remind religionists that the world doesn’t turn on politics but rather that morality counts for something? Is it all about getting justices appointed to the supreme court to advance a conservative agenda or slapping an embassy sign on a consulate building in Jerusalem? I just feel that if God is trying to teach us something through this pandemic, the religious people of the world are just not getting the message. Aren’t we supposed to learn from this that we are all in this world together, that our world needs to be taken care of if it is to stay healthy for us humans to live in, and that we need to care for each other more, from little things such as wearing masks in a pandemic to big things like providing a floor to accommodate those who get sick and who suffer consequences through no fault of their own. It looks like a global opportunity so far that has been lost. I don’t see anyone talking about it. It’s a shame. For all the expectation that evangelicals or religious Jews might be turned off to Trump, even in the face of a regular churchgoing Catholic like Biden, very few voted against him. I guess the GOP has become a piece of religion quite apart from its leadership and you can expect this trend to continue.

This is a good time to mention Yuval Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century where he muses that Russia and Trump will tweet a story to a million people and it’s called Fake News, but the Bible is read by billions of people and nobody calls its stories Fake News even though Harari is quite sure based on all available evidence that there is no such thing as a Bible authored by God. He surmises that humans demand fictional stories to guide them through their lives; a politician spouting forth facts in a debate is not going to affect public opinion as much as one telling fibs in an uplifting way. This is a very disturbing finding because it shows that demagogues such as Trump, Putin and Brazil’s Bolsonaro are more effective at relating to the human condition and that though we make fun of their propaganda exercises, we are failing to realize that they are simply more effective at understanding what people want to hear and how to influence the majority of people on the planet. It’s also disturbing for considering that anyone who wants the majority of people to vote and to trust them to be guided by something approaching rational logic is going to be disappointed. It’s a fine line between voting suppression, rule by elites and tyranny of the majority. Are we better off having just 6% of elite Americans having the right to vote as it was when the constitution was first ratified? Right now you have the American democratic majority ruing rule by Republican minorities through the filibuster in Congress, the electoral college, and each state having two senators. But then what replaces it? People didn’t want to give the Democrats free reign of a congress to get rid of those minority protections especially since they didn’t like what the Democrats would do with majority power.  But that does that mean that people in the center will join to work together or 4 more years of partisan gridlock in which nothing gets done? We’ve had 40 years of that and I’m sick of watching autocratic countries surpass the US because they can get big things done while we fail at anything beyond what the private sector can do. The US has a huge question mark over its head as it moves toward life beyond this pandemic. There is a huge opportunity for the US to reassess itself and set a course for the future that includes both growth and investment, but somehow I think that just as I saw on TV this past weekend thousands of kids run like crazy unprotected in a pandemic onto a football field after Notre Dame upset Clemson, the US will screw it up all over again, even with a solid guy like Biden as its leader. I’m hoping that we all learn lessons from this – that the US and China, in particular, will need to be transparent with each other to protect each other’s mutual interests, for example. That Planet Earth will need to be cared for if we want to hope that life will not be filled with natural disasters and that it is better to invest in preventive care than to be stuck rebuilding after things go wrong. It’s not a left versus right thing for Fox News commentators to tar and feather people with, it’s common sense, at least to me.

With a hopeful eye, I’ve been booking airline tickets to foreign destinations beginning the second half of June 2021, but for now it makes sense to stay within the US as you need to do these PCR tests within 72 hours of flying out of the country to most destinations. Hopefully the latest vaccine announcement by Pfizer means in another 4-6 months or so people will begin to be able to move around again. I also believe that economic rebounds will be faster than expected, once things begin to pick up. But meanwhile, it could be hell for this winter. Stay healthy!

 

 

 

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