Global Thoughts — 11 August 2008

Elizabeth’s first pony ride. Taken at the Mohonk Lodge in upstate New York
We were on holiday at the Mohonk Lodge, a resort about 2 hours away from Manhattan. Jeremy was climbing the stairs really well and I said offhandedly that they ought to have a baby race here at the resort. Next thing I know there is a sign on the bulletin board touting Baby Races with cash prizes. So I went down at noon to see if this was a joke and there were people there with babies. So I had Karen wake up Jeremy from his morning nap and bring him down for what I was sure was an easy $20. The whistle blew and Jeremy promptly plopped down on the ground and finally went off in the opposite direction. So if you get your kid in a baby race, make sure he’s really up from his nap first.

Karen enjoyed a surprise party this month in honor of her 10th anniversary of being in America. That explains the above photo.

Coming this November will be my 5th anniversary. To give you an idea of what that means, I had a bad back last week so I took a bath in my bathtub which was full of baby toys and I was completely covered with little letters of the alphabet. When my wife walked in, instead of noticing me in this fairly hilarious if not irresistibly sexy state, she was fixated on the fact that the running water might wake up Jeremy.

So this is where America is at these days….NY Times headline “Dogs react calmly to news of $8 billion fortune.” Maybe you heard that the deceased billionairess Leona Helmsley left $8 billion to a trust for dogs….I took Elizabeth on a 15 minute train ride to Newark, New Jersey on Amtrak, the national railroad monopoly. It was her first ride on a train and we made a field trip out of it. The ride cost $35 on economy class regular train service. We came back with New Jersey transit commuter line for $4. God knows what Amtrak would have charged for its speed train service the Acela.

I’m a bit intrigued by T. Boone Picken’s plan to develop wind power as an alternative energy source. The idea is to use natural gas to power cars and wind energy to power utilities. You can read more at pickensplan.com. If they can get electricity grids to hook up to such a network in places where there is no wind, it is an interesting idea.

I saw this video on YouTube by a Matt Harding called Dancing by Matt Harding. It shows this guy doing a simple dance all over the world. In its own simplistic way, it’s gained a large following.

Last month, Ayman was insulted by my reporting of Oded’s conversation in Israel where he basically says the Arabs can’t do anything right. Just to remind everyone that when I quote other people’s conversations, it’s because I think people need to hear that point of view, among other points of view. I want people to hear a full range of opinion, especially if it counts for a sizable percentage of public opinion within a country. I also want it archived here so that I have a record of it and by reading these postings you get to share in that which is being archived for you or me to access later on. I don’t feel the need to balance or give my own opinion every time I do this. You get my opinion over a range of time and I try not to repeat my points too often.

Moving to this month’s current events:

Georgia/Russia — Georgia asked for it and now it’s getting it after taunting the Russkies and thinking the US would save it from itself. The US can’t do anything about it and the Russians are giving tit for tat after Serbia’s independence. Where it ends is wherever Putin decides.

Iran — There was a censored story in Israel that the Saudis want the Israelis to strike. The Russians and Chinese are not blocking attempts for the Iranians and Syrians to settle scores with Israel and the US. The high price of oil is debilitating for China and Russia is so preoccupied with internal feuds that Iran is a sideshow for them. I still think the Israelis will strike this year and that the Americans are assisting. Despite the 21% decrease in oil price this month and the rise of the US dollar, I think it is all temporary pending such a strike.

Oil in Context — The Arabs earn $2 billion a day in oil revenues, half of it by Saudi. The US has spent $3 trillion in Iraq and, according to a friend in the US Treasury, has roughly $14 trillion on its balance sheet. That being said, the Arabs can’t finance the Iraq war, only the US can, and the US is broke having overextended itself. So far the evidence is that the Gulf States are spending their petrodollars again on real estate and projects that don’t benefit society overall and are repeating mistakes of the 70’s except that their investments abroad are more prudent. Back home, they risk rising expectations that won’t be met. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer; Iran fell victim to this a generation ago. Will Saudi be the next Iran?

Election Campaign — I watched daytime TV one day this month while in an airport lounge. Obama is eating McCain for lunch showing that he feels people’s pain while McCain has Phil Gramm on calling America a nation of whiners. I can’t tell you how many white people are lying when they say they will vote for Obama but I was shocked to find out that among Latinos Obama is 30 points ahead. I was counting on the Latinos to go for McCain to balance out the black vote. My gut says that Obama is going to win in November but I am totally ready to be wrong and a lot can happen over the next 3 months. Appearing abroad with throngs of cheering fans and looking quite presidential can’t hurt. People abroad are saying that America is going down the tubes with its dollar becoming worthless. Democrats will say that America has lost its respect around the world.

Israel — I don’t know if Livni controls the Kadima party more than Mofaz, but I think she is more popular in the country. Ultimately, it matters who controls the party. Primary elections are 17 September.

Currencies and Commodities — I was advised not to buy into Brazilian currency. Right now I recommend cash and so do a good number of my amigos around the world. The equity market is too volatile for investment. The main reason food and oil prices are going up around the world is that there is more of a middle class these days to consume it.

Assorted Global Thoughts I’ve read lately — Countries with too many young people tend not to be democratic; too much instability with too many people working and not happy. An article in Foreign Policy magazine published by the Carnegie Endowment March/April 2008 says that democracy doesn’t usually happen unless people are first happy. Another article in that issue says that leaderless terrorism movements are likely to falter unless the US builds up individuals within these movements and creates martyrs of leaders. Dragging people to court is also a good way of knocking them down because they want to be heroes, not in courtrooms. These days the leadership of Al Qaeda have been mostly knocked off and people are more or less sitting in Internet chat rooms talking about terrorism and there is opportunity to take charge of these chat rooms and guide the conversation to something more productive as long as this remains the case, says the article. Ehud Yaari writing the Jerusalem Report magazine says the Iranians don’t really want the bomb and can’t delivery it so they will trade it away; economic primacy is their first priority and they are losing it so they will have to trade just like the Russians did in order to stay in the game as oil exports for them are way down (same for Syria). Everyone wants the Iranians and Israelis to deal because people want market stability including the Chinese, Saudis and Russians. So what to make of the notation above that the Saudis want the Israelis to strike? I think that Ehud Yaari is logical and that the Saudis prefer stability and that the Iranians realize they cannot get the bomb and win this game. Problem is that Iran is headed by fanatics who are believed to not be guided by logic and the Israelis, Americans and Sunni Arabs fear that this is the real truth and that it is better to be rid of the threat now than to be stuck with it later when it is too late which would create even more instability. Even if you think the Iranians will not strike at Israel, they are too willing to hide behind proxies and nobody is prepared to take the chance that they will play footsie with nuclear weapons using proxies.

Latin America has been neglected by Global Thoughts and will therefore be a major focus in 2009 with visits to Mexico City, Panama City, Bogota, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. BA is an exercise in how to ruin a country, Bogota is how to fix one, Sao Paulo is how to run one, Panama is getting a lot of investment from people in the US looking for a haven and Mexico City deserves some attention by me as our neighbor to the south which I’ve never visited.

Botswana I hear is doing really well. Will have to put it on the list in case I ever get to South Africa.

Pakistan — We know the country is falling apart but the question is whether the US can control this situation. Oded says rely on the Indians to sort through it and on top of that I hope that Petraeus in Afghanistan comes up with some ideas.

Syria and the Palestinians — Hamas continues to want the ceasefire in Gaza to hold. Syria is quite interested in talking to the Israelis via the Turks and there was quite an interesting article in the Financial Times about Mr. and Mrs. Assad that made them look a lot more sophisticated than I had previously given them credit for. I have to think that long-range they will want peace with the Israelis and integration with the rest of the world. The Palestinians are quite busy tearing themselves apart and so are the Lebanese. Abbas doesn’t want the Israelis letting Hamas prisoners out and the Gazans are taking Abbas’s officials as prisoners to pressure him. Obviously, nobody wants to talk seriously about anything not knowing who will be the prime minister of Israel a few months hence but at least on the Syrian side there have been assurances from all parties that talking would not be in vain. I will say that an Israeli strike against Hizbullah or Iran will not jeopardize the Syrian or Palestinian tracks (and may well help them) and that arrangements for these contingencies have already been made. In the short term, I expect no real developments but I remain optimistic for the medium term, meaning the next 18-36 months with Obama providing more impetus for progress in this area than McCain.

Travel Notes about Cape May, New Jersey….This seaside resort is a 3 hour drive from New York City without traffic. We went on a Sunday morning against the traffic and came back on Monday. The Manse is a nice bed and breakfast but breakfast is communal and not a place for small children. There is no baby sitting available. Congress Hall is a better place for families. Louise’s is supposed to be a great fish restaurant on Jackson Street next to a baby store. Beware the beach nazi, an old crotchety lady, who throws you off the beach if you don’t have a beach tag even if you are just there for 10 minutes in cloudy weather to get your kid some sea shells. I protested to her and she got on her radio to call in the police saying that my 2 year old was harassing her. It’s a nice place to spend a few days with your kids without having to get on an airplane and everything is within a few blocks of each other. Pretty town center; go to see the fire trucks at the fire house at 8:30am when they are testing them. Lots of sounds and lights for the kids.

Will write in shortly after Labor Day before taking a 2 week holiday to California with wife and kids.

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