Global Thoughts — 2 January 2022

Disney Springs, Florida

Almost nothing other than toilet paper and paper towels comes in paper anymore. It’s become hard to buy a newspaper in an airport, hotel or on the street. This is not great news for a guy who has a masters degree in print journalism. So when do you think digital toilet paper will come around?

I pay for Amazon Prime with free shipping, but I’ve noticed that people who log into Amazon who are not prime members sometimes get lower prices on their goods. I think that Amazon is taking advantage by building shipping into higher prices for its prime members. I’ve definitely noticed that Amazon’s prices are higher than others. For the price of 450 Dixie Cups on Amazon, I bought 400 cups, a 150 decorative napkins and a 3 pack of scotch tape from Target online. I also don’t like that Amazon shows you so many other products than the one you asked for to push you to buy other brands in which they have a greater interest, to the point that it is hard to find the item you searched for.

I enjoyed reading about a college music professor in Tennessee who, wanting to see if any of his students read his syllabus,  wrote on its second of 3 pages a specific locker and a combination that, when opened, would get the reader $50 in cash. Nobody ever claimed it.

At some point, and I don’t know if it will take a Republican president or years of exhaustion, people will realize that until just about everyone gets their shots, life will never return to normal. This Omicron hysteria is really about all those people who haven’t gotten their shots or who were lazy about getting their boosters. Despite all these lovely statistics about the Israelis, Brits, Europeans and Americans getting their shots, too many people have not. Simple as that. But at least now they can. At least we see from South Africa that after a few weeks it tends to burn itself out; I’m hoping everyone will just get sick and in February we might start to move on, at least until the next scare comes along. Will countries get smarter the next time around? Nope, not after what they did this time around. What did South Africa do for sharing what it knew with the rest of the world and playing it by the book? Banned and treated like crap, which of course makes the next country down the pike less willing to cooperate with the rest of the world. Anyway, these travel bans don’t work and these lockdowns just prolong the agony; as long as the variant is not sending a bunch of unvaccinated people into the hospitals, they should just let it rip and finish as quickly as possible.

Just as I was about to leave to Dubai in mid-November, I got word that Qatar declared UAE a “Red” country for the purpose of Covid. Upon arrival in Qatar I would have had to quarantine. So I cancelled the trip and will hopefully visit the Dubai Expo some other time before it closes at the end of March. I was literally leaving to the airport when I got this email advising me of the latest change in Qatar and turned back.

Know how you feel when kids are being brats and not eating perfectly good food and you tell them that other kids would die for it? One thing I didn’t count on at the beginning of this pandemic was how many signs I would see around me offering bribes to people to get vaccinated. One third of Americans are too scaredy-squirrel to get a shot while the rest of the world is dying to get them.

Villa at Encore Resort, Orlando

I find that if I sit next to a black dude on the subway, he’s not likely to be wearing a mask and nobody is going to mess with him, so if I sit next to him without a mask, nobody is going to mess with me either. On airplanes, sitting in the front row in first class is an invitation to be constantly looked at by a flight attendant who might make you stop eating your meal (by harassing you to wear your mask between bites, which I think is a just a power play by unhappy people) or going nuts every time it falls under your nose. Same with airport lounges. Even my kids have noticed this. I find that getting lost in the back of whatever cabin you’re sitting in has its advantages these days. I was on a JetBlue flight that went back to the gate because of some obnoxious but harmless young people not wearing their masks. This caused an extra hour delay to a flight already delayed an hour for mechanical reasons. The flight arrived after midnight leaving 100 people stranded at the Avis car rental counter. Does it really make sense to penalize 200 people on a plane because some crew members feel disrespected? Why not just suck it up and have the kids nabbed by the authorities at the arrival gate?

Why no newspapers in airports after 2 years? Do newspapers transmit covid?

Four Seasons Resort in Orlando

If Biden wants to regain his popularity, passing laws in Congress won’t do it as most people don’t care. He should lift mask mandates for vaccinated people on transportation and wherever the federal government has declared them. His slide in the polls started in July when the government put in the mask mandates for vaccinated people on half-baked evidence that the Delta variant was spreading infection among vaccinated people. Time has shown that evidence to be weak and that most of these restrictions don’t make much of a difference except to annoy vaccinated people, which is now a significant majority. (For instance, sitting still in an airplane is not a big infection spreader and people have to sit there for hours wearing masks, but standing in a crowded jetway is a big spreader and nobody does anything about controlling that.) Beyond whether science backs this up, these mandates make clear that, under a Democratic government, vaccination doesn’t get people beyond the pandemic and creates a climate where people see negative images 1,000 times a day stemming from their government telling them that the world around them is not OK and that this nightmare is never going to end. And that perhaps they don’t want these restrictions to end.

We’ve been twice to Florida during December and in the what I call the “Don’t Give A Shit State” you’d hardly know there is a pandemic going on. Nobody wears masks, even in doctor’s offices, and nobody makes you answer 18 questions about whether or not you shouldn’t be allowed to go into the office. Really, my kids’ dentist asked 18 questions on their covid form. Of course, people are lying on the forms otherwise you’d have to cancel the appointment and go home if you reported so much as a headache.

Elizabeth’s 16th Birthday

Across the pond, an otherwise figured-to-be-hapless Boris Johnson remains popular and in power mainly because he is letting British citizens live their lives and leaving it to unvaccinated people to run the risk of getting sick.(And now he’s in trouble because he’s agreeing to restrictions.)  Public health officials are left to figure out why infection rates are similar in England and Scotland although Scotland has mask mandates and England does not. This tells you humbly that “science” still does not really know what works with covid, and that people running government will be most popular to the extent they can leave people alone.  Biden has to live with the fact that a percentage of the US population will remain unvaccinated no matter what and allow the rest of us to move on. Any Republican such as De Santis will have one-third of America’s votes in his pocket before he even starts because that percentage of the country knows that any Republican has their interests at heart. They’re not going to get vaccinated no matter what, so why not appeal to them?

Israel was not as prepared as it should have been to deal with Iran becoming a nuclear breakout state. It is now racing to get ahead of itself so that it can be ready to take on Iran. It would prefer to have some kind of JCPOA agreement in place at least for the time being to give it more time. It hasn’t helped that for 3 years there was no budget in Israel (and so spending was frozen during all that abeyance) and the defense department didn’t have the authorization to go out and spend extra money it needed to focus on this issue. The Iranians are not idiots and are racing ahead toward the bomb knowing that only the Israelis might take them on and they want to press their advantage while they can. It’s pretty clear to mostly everyone in Israel that Trump and Netanyahu’s policy of exiting the agreement with Iran backfired and brought Iran much closer to becoming a nuclear power. The problem is that now nobody sees any good options short of war because Iran has no interest in turning back the clock.

Strawberry picking near Orlando

Israel’s new government has an ironic twist. Its glue exists as long as Netanyahu remains the head of the opposition. If he is convicted or the Knesset passes a law barring him from running, several of the ministers in the government will go back to the Likud party and the government will likely fall. But in the meanwhile, people in the country are happy that there is some return to political normalcy in the country. The Jordanians are quite happy as well to see Trump and Bibi gone and are working hard to cooperate with the new governments in the US and Israel. King Abdullah was quite happy to bring his son to the Oval Office to be somewhat blessed by Biden and to show his country who will be the king of Jordan someday.

You’d have thought the Germans would be very good at getting covid shots, but it turns out that Germans in Germany, Austria and Switzerland have been nuts about not getting the shots and, for this reason, Europe has had a hard time getting out of this rut.

Another milestone: My daughter Elizabeth got her first babysitting gig this week and started work as a youth group leader at our local synagogue. She earned $75 this week and I’m all excited; now she can start buying her own pairs of jeans and shirts. This month she turned 16!

NY Bronx Botanical Garden Night Glow Garden

We learned something very interesting during a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Atlanta. At Six Flags over Georgia amusement park the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the park was nearly empty. Not because of covid or that it was a big travel day for people going home, but rather because the temperature was about 60 degrees and Southerners like to be out sweating in 90 degree heat. We wasted $300 buying fast passes when we could ride 5 rollercoasters in an hour’s time. Another great attraction in Atlanta is the World of Coca Cola; we all rated it as a 10. And I’m still singing the jingles in my sleep almost a month later. The Ritz Carlton at Lake Oconee in Reynolds, Georgia, about 90 minutes drive southeast of Atlanta is a great place to spend a restful weekend. The holiday spirit was in full bloom here with gingerbread house decorating workshops. We also learned that going to Miami a few weeks before Christmas is a great idea. One-third the price for everything, not nearly as busy and the ocean was still warm enough for swimming; about the temperature of a lap pool in a gym.

Here’s a thought about gun control. On one hand, common sense would dictate a law that requires gun owners with kids to keep the guns locked up in their homes. Kids shoot and people die. But then you look a bit further. Gun owners object because if they had to spend time unlocking their guns they might take too long to protect their homes against intruders. (My friend says that’s bunk because there are gun locks that can easily be opened with biometrics.) But let’s stick with this for a moment. How many kids are we talking about? In the past year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety quoted by a New York Times opinion columnist, there were 132 deaths and 206 injuries from 332 accidental shootings by kids. Is it worth a law? I’m not at all sure.  We are losing well over 1,000 people a day from covid and vaccine mandates are being fought tooth and nail all over the country. I guess the real question is whether every evil requires a law when Congress can only do so many things a year and the cost of compliance will inconvenience many more people than the law will assist. There are roughly 120 million households in the US, and 42% of them have guns, which is roughly 50 million households. Compare the numbers and you decide with your own common sense. There are reasons half this country is against over-regulation.

Six Flags Over Georgia in Atlanta

I finished reading Woodward’s new book: Peril. It’s not as thrilling as earlier editions, but it does have its points. Insightful to me were glimpses of Mitch McConnell’s strategies and thoughts about what was going on around him. He’s an old experienced hand who thinks long-term and basically wants the GOP to win and who doesn’t get all excited on a day to day basis. It’s good to have staunch people like that in top positions even if they are stubborn and raise obstacles. They are not sucked into the daily drivel of 24 hour news cycles. In today’s particular times, Biden wants to transform America but he wasn’t elected to do that. Manchin and McConnell stand in the way. And they ought to because half the country doesn’t want it. Another insight I got was that although Biden had early meetings with Republicans, he made a quick decision not to pursue that avenue and left them on the sidelines figuring he’d get what he wanted with just 50 senators plus Kamala breaking a tie vote. So far that hasn’t worked very well. It may be that the best thing that could happen to a Biden presidency is for the Republicans to take over the House and Senate in 2022, forcing him to deal with them rather than his progressives. That was what recently happened with his infrastructure bill which passed with Republican votes and over progressive no-votes. It’s the only way he’s going to get anything done as president. Even the NY Times recently editorialized that Democrats need to get realistic about where they are in this world.

I’m going to predict that Biden is not going to run for re-election in 2024 and that someone else will sweep the rug out from Kamala Harris who currently polls at 28% and whose staff doesn’t get along with Biden’s Young Turks who think they know everything. The Democrat who runs will need to be a moderate because the Republicans will run a candidate who will beat the Democrats unless they do run a moderate. The progressives will argue their way through the primaries but we know from this past year that the moderates and Independents really do count in Democratic (and I’ll bet Republican) primaries more than we tend to think.  One reason I think that Biden won’t run is an article I recently read that he has been ignoring fundraisers and people who got him elected, which is not something you do if you think you’ll need these people later on. Some senior level people are wondering aloud if he plans to run for re-election. Also, if Biden doesn’t run in favor of a fresh new face, it will be that much harder for Trump to run; people will want to see something different from the GOP side too.

The Russians, Chinese and Iranians all sense weakness from Biden’s foreign policy team and you might see the world map get redrawn over the next 2 years in terms of the Ukraine, Taiwan and Iran becoming a nuclear state. They are not intimidated by warnings from Team Biden and other countries are nervous about what might happen. I think the GOP has a huge opportunity to sweep the country the same way Carter was pushed out with a mix of inflation, malaise and opportunistic moves by America’s adversaries. The only question is if the GOP will send in a bunch of loonies who care more about appearances on Fox TV or return to its establishment roots with a solid management team.

I recently asked a Middle East expert if Jordan’s King Abdullah was toast in his kingdom after the detailed revelations of him owning $100 million of real estate around the world spread across various properties. The correct answer is that $100 million in a total real estate portfolio for a king after 22 years plus after inheriting what his father had after 50 years of being a king is just no big deal.

Biden snubbed his nose at Egypt’s leader Sisi until Gaza broke out in war and the Egyptians were needed to mediate a ceasefire. Saudi’s MBS has been snubbed by Biden so you can imagine how “sympathetic” he is to Biden’s requests for OPEC prices to come down now that the US and his presidency is suffering from inflation.  I assume MBS is just counting the days till 2024 and polishing his MAGA swords.

Gingerbread House Workshop at Lake Oconee, Georgia

I asked a Russia expert if we really should care if Ukraine is taken over by Russia, which seems likely around the time you read this. Of course she cares but I’m still not convinced that I care. They are a crappy kleptocracy and I appreciate that the Russians don’t want a NATO ally in their back yard. Ukraine ought to give the Russians those assurances which it has not done, and then try to stay independent. I’m not scared of having Russia look larger on the world map. The two countries have little to offer each other and, along with Belorussia, deserve each other. The Western European countries have never really offered to bolster the Ukraine and they seem wiling to let Russia blackmail everyone over gas and oil flows coming from the east. I don’t think this is too smart of them and maybe Russia has paid off the Germans, Whatever it is, it’s not America’s problem to bail out the Europeans for their energy needs and presumably technology will at some point make the Nordstream pipeline less pivotal in this geopolitical stew.  That said, I think the Russians will not invade Ukraine because although winning is the easy part, as Colin Powell said, “You break it, you own it” and Iraq turned out to be a big headache for the US even though it took less than a week to conquer it. Russia has been able to have sway in Syria with minimal investment but holding Ukraine would involve guerilla resistance and body-bags coming back to Russia which would haunt Putin.

Looks like the public health scientists in the UK had thought they were pretty smart. They loosened restrictions early on during the summer figuring people would get sick faster and then get over the wave by the onset of winter. The rest of Europe kept restrictions going longer and now they are dealing with a winter wave of covid. The UK looks best positioned on the continent to get through the winter. At least that’s what everyone thought in late November. Omicron put that theory to bed, but I think it’s a bit of a flash in a pan. By the end of January, hopefully things will be looking better all around. The question is what will happen in the world every time a variant comes up? Will we go nuts for the next 50 years? It’s really hard to plan ahead at this point, and if I’m hesitant about booking trips and cancelling them, imagine what everyone else must be thinking. I gave big gifts out to my travel agents this month because I felt sorry for them just booking tickets and cancelling them; they don’t get commissions if I don’t fly.

Lake Oconee, Georgia

All it took was a hint of this new omicron virus variant in South Africa for a sign to go up in a donut shop near me telling everyone to mask up because they are afraid of this. There hadn’t even been a single case of it in the US and everyone in NYC was already scared and adopting a vibe of “we’re all waiting to die.” So far this omicron is a big wave but it’s not sending people to the hospital if they’ve had their shots. We don’t shut everything down every time people get the flu and stomach viruses.

We are raising a generation of kids who are risk averse and don’t want to marry or do risky things. Not a great move for the future.

Inflation in the US is a big deal, but virtually every time people buy some kind of food, they are being asked to tip for it. All this tipping on top of rising prices is yet another 10-20% tax on virtually everything they buy. It’s going to hurt Democrats because it just adds to the inflationary spend. People are being shamed into these tips; people would rather not be the ones who have to make all these people behind the counter get paid a decent wage. There’s something hugely wrong with making the customers be the ones to make the employees serving them happy.

China is now putting party hacks without business experience on the boards of major companies in order to make sure the companies are in sync with communist party desires. I think that Chase Bank is going to get creamed in China and investors will not be happy, no matter how much Mr. Dimon sucks up to the Chinese leadership.  This month I’ll be reading a book called Red Roulette, supposedly one of the year’s best books about life inside China’s elite.

Apple picking in upstate NY

A word about the stupidity of tariffs: A good oped piece recently discussed the chassis industry and said that each $40,000 job that was saved cost $1 million in extra costs due to the tariffs. It would have been far cheaper to pay people not to work. The cost of saving a washing machine manufacturing job was over $800,000 and it affected about 1,800 jobs. Tire tariffs saved 1,200 jobs at a cost of 1 billion dollars. Just as Republicans don’t like having government spend money, tariffs are also an inefficient way to save jobs and are essentially a tax on everyone else. But strangely, they seem fine with tariffs. And so do Democrats. I think that Trump, Biden and Obama have done a poor job of dealing with China. We should stop making empty threats and complaining about what they do. We should both compete harder with less protectionism and look for mutual ways to lessen points of conflict. If the Chinese insist on intimidating Asia, we can work with Asian allies who are bearing the brunt of the pressure. I think that China is pursuing policies that are going to lead to economic failure and their political policies are leading to diplomatic backfire. We should just let them self-destruct and not overly concern ourselves with them.

According to Bloomberg, it would cost $140 per American per year to comply with the Paris global climate agreement. It would cost over $11,000 per American per year to pay for Biden’s net-zero 2050 targets. That is a bit more than the cost of the Iraq war. Americans by a small majority rejected even a $24 per year tax assessment to pay for the costs of dealing with climate change as a $2 monthly surcharge on their energy bills. When the surcharge rises to $10 per month, almost 75% are opposed. Clearly, the cost is high and, even if it is low, nearly everyone wants someone else to pay for it. I think that all these reusable bags are going to cause an environmental problem 10x worse than it was meant to solve: these bags are just piling up and being thrown out. They don’t biodegrade. The idea that people would remember to reuse bags because they would have to pay for them doesn’t work because too much of shopping is not planned and people don’t remember to take bags with them. Someone should blow the whistle on this before everyone wakes up and realizes what harm they are doing.

Instead of going to London for Christmas week, we rented a house in Encore Reunion resort in Orlando. It turned out to be more fun than I expected. The resort is a bunch of homes right next to each other in a gated community. It’s fine except if you have neighbors that play loud music at their pool or make noise at night. Our house came with a pool and jacuzzi. A few minutes walk leads to a clubhouse with a small gym, big pool and some water slides. There were lots of people of color and lots of tattoos at this pool which was noticeable because of the high amount being charged (if you go to the Four Seasons in Orlando, you do not see the diversity of America present)– more than I’ve ever seen at a resort pool that were not either homeless or asking for money back in NYC. Hey, maybe all these people were on vacation here in Orlando because the streets were pretty empty in NYC when we returned. I asked a staff member how these people could afford to be renting homes for $10,000 a week and the answer is that some of these homes have 14 bedrooms and, when split among several families, yield each of them an affordable vacation. Despite the demographic shock because we don’t tend to see these types of crowds at resorts, I would add that we found people there to be very friendly and approachable and my kids mentioned it.

We rented a BBQ and had some great cookouts with meat fedexed to us from our NYC butcher. Instead of going to Disney parks, we went one day to Volcano Bay waterpark at Universal (much better because they have express passes that really do cut the lines), visited Disney Springs (used to be called Downtown Disney), went rafting on a bioluminescent bay near Titusville, a 90 minute drive away, and went to a fun magic show at Wonderworks Orlando. I was disappointed by their small gym, but 2 miles away there is a large shopping center with a Publix and an excellent Anytime Fitness gym, where $70 gets you a week entry. We figured out there is a backway entrance to I-4 via Sinclair Avenue that saved us about 10-15 minutes each time we went somewhere, especially during the rush hours. Celebration Bicycle Rentals will deliver a bike to your house for the week (get a 10-speed bike; the 3 speed bikes were not adequate as there are hills). 2 minutes away is Tree Trek Adventures with a ropes course and zipline, a good 3-hour diversion for the kids.  You can book these homes direct through Jeeves Management; we made the mistake of booking through Marriott and paying an extra 10% or so for nothing else than having them make the same booking.  There are other such developments such as Reunion and Champions Gate; I haven’t tried them but it would be interesting to see what you get. There are some pain points – the house was not air conditioned as well as we wanted and driving through the security gates was a pain because we had to keep waiting all the time to get let in. We also had noisy neighbors the last night we were there. Orlando can be exasperating with the traffic, although lots of toll roads help you get past much of it. We would happily do this vacation again, although we know we were lucky that in late December the temperature was about 80 degrees and sunny the whole week. Not sure if we could expect the same in mid-February.

Happy New Year 2022; hope it will be better than 2021 which, at least, was better than 2020.

 

 

 

 

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