Elizabeth came into our room and announced at about 10 this morning “I’ve got good news. I can see New Jersey.” There had been fog this morning blocking our view across the river. The good people of New Jersey can rest easy now. Jeremy, for his part, was told to “set the table” for lunch, and he actually did set the table for 4. Which is pretty good considering that he is 2. Elizabeth did the monkey bars at the playground by herself this week for the first time and does better than most of the boys at her soccer class, and Jeremy loves solving Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles. So our kids are doing just fine.
This morning we took them to a birthday party. It was a rainy day today. I think that taking your kids to these parties is an introduction to purgatory. You just sit in some basement for 2 hours staring at the ceiling, reaching for a stray balloon, waiting for somebody to serve some kosher pizza sold in our neighborhood that tastes like cardboard and finally a piece of cake and sing Happy Birthday so you can go home and give your kids a nap. We severely ration these parties out during the year and we ourselves throw them on weekday afternoons and invite the nannies and spare the parents. I figured that if we lived in the suburbs this would be our weekend livelihoods but that it is not going to happen to us and that is one reason we are staying in the City. My friend tells me to save my breath and that I am doomed to spend Sundays for years at these parties no matter where — I tell him that he can be rest assured that it will not happen. Stay tuned to Global Thoughts to find out how this all works out in the years ahead.
I must note after about 2 years of this routine that stretching in the morning and at night-time before bed has made a big improvement for me rather immediately. My back and neck hardly go out anymore, and my stomach is also better from the exercise and less bloated. Without even a pound of equipment, you can do this stuff at home or on the road. I celebrated my 44th birthday this past week, and since I am now actuarially into the second half of my life, I guess I have to be more concerned about such things.
I got a blackberry this month, trying to get with the program of increased technology at our thumbs. I severely disliked it and turned it in after a week. I find it very distracting and a real time waster. Adds stress too. More information than I need to be bombarded with and very hard to fiddle with all the buttons. Type out a long phone number, hit a letter by mistake and all your numbers turn to letters till you delete your mistake. I prefer just a plain telephone where you don’t have to constantly look at it, and where you don’t have to send someone a message and then stare at a machine waiting for somebody to answer it. If you have something important, just call me and I’ll give you a straight answer. I also can’t stand people going through life just looking at blackberries. This month I was home for Passover and saw my brother and his sister in law just standing around after dinner right next to each other staring at their blackberries and completely ignoring each other. I see it all day long — on elevators, on the street — people living their lives on blackberries. Something is wrong with this picture. I suppose if you are on the run all day long for business, it really helps you but I figure that what you do in the office belongs in an office. I’ve been told that the i-Phone is great but frankly all I really want in my pocket is a telephone with big buttons that is easy to use, and even that I keep turned off more than half the time. No doubt I feel better when the phone is off.
I would like to opine on a religious matter for a moment. This century, when electricity came into existence, the orthodox rabbis decided that turning lights out was a violation of the Sabbath. I don’t think they considered how wasteful this is, and how it enriches those who sell us oil and use those profits to fund enemies of the Jews and who frankly try to kill them and others in the West. I think that it should be a religious commandment to conserve energy as much as matters concerning saving lives always trump the laws of the Sabbath.
I went to the Tea Party rally in Boston. You’ve heard of the Tea Party in the US? People fed up with taxes, health care reform, Obama for turning the country socialist, etc. It’s not just a bunch of angry gun-toting white trash rednecks, abortion-haters and racists. It’s a bunch of wealthy educated pissed off white and even some black people too (at least there were a few on the stage entertaining), not all of them Christian. You had some of those Harvard young Republicans wearing suits with their hair all slicked back with some ladies in tow in white coats with white belts looking right out of Neiman Marcus. “Yes, I think freedom is very good. It is a very nice thing.” One really said that to her man as I walked by her. The New York Times says that tea party supporters are by and large more educated and affluent than the average. Make sense, since they feel they are losing out to the lower classes. I went to the Boston rally with my business partner for fun to see what was going on and to vent as we came home later that day and sent out our tax forms and checks. Sarah Palin spoke at the rally. Stuff like “We got to keep our guns, our God and our constitution!” I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed. Simply put, these guys talk in platitudes the same old conservative slogans that sound good. Spent a good half hour praising military veterans and telling everyone that Freedom isn’t Free and how the government should get out of people’s lives. Didn’t spend one minute telling anyone how they would actually lower taxes and solve any of the nation’s problems that they also want government to somehow solve. And of course deal with having that big military they want. And sealing thousands of miles of borders against illegal aliens. So until I actually see any substance or at least a good rabble rouser among them, I think that hope will turn to despair by November when people realize the movement has no answers. I wrote an oped piece on this subject — What the Tea Party and Republicans Must Do to Win my Vote. I wrote a separate article on this subject — the piece contains specific ideas how to solve our country’s problems as well as my feelings about the Tea Party and Republicans of today. The link to that article is at the bottom of this page.
Travel / Boston — Stayed in a nice boutique hotel in Boston called XV Beacon which is located at 15 Beacon Street just near the State Capital building. Nice hotel and location with rooms that are more like apartments. Not great views but good light and location. Value for money paid was quite decent, especially since the grander hotels such as the Taj or the Langham take around the same amount of money and are getting lousy reviews online. JetBlue has made a nice hub in Boston and it allows you to fly there on short notice for not too much money. Terminal 5 at JFK is so nice; they have restaurants there too and the Italian one was excellent. I’d rather fly to Boston than sit on the train, the price is nearly the same, and the food at T5 is so much better. Our daughter does a JetBlue dance; I’d send to YouTube but then she’d be on American Idol and our lives would be much more complicated with all that stardom.
Another nice place I visited this month was the Mayflower Inn in Washington, Connecticut. Almost 2 hours drive from New York City, it is a 30 room bed and breakfast Relais & Chateaux with a spa that is reserved only for hotel guests. No children on this property. A great hideaway with excellent food, gardens, surrounding countryside for walks and knick-knack shopping, and spa treatments. They have a midweek special during the winter and spring that gives you room, food and spa at roughly 60% discount. It was a great escape for Karen and I.
I was in Miami this month for Passover. Whilst there we went to Disney on Ice. I need to state that my wife and I find Disney entertainment rather disconcerting. We think it is too violent for smaller kids, the teenage acting on some of the Disney channel TV shows is really awful, and in general the stuff for teenagers is in poor taste and constitutes brain-dead entertainment. The shows on the Nick Junior channel seem a lot better for children to watch and I don’t mind watching them either. Our kids were bothered by the Disney stuff they saw both at Disney World and at Disney on Ice as well as a good amount of the stuff on their TV network that is supposedly meant for small kids.
My impression of this Goldman Sachs thing (they’ve been charged with securities fraud) is that there are congressional hearings going on and the government needed some red meat in order to show they are doing something and just sprung this out into the public in a way that is not normally done. I don’t think they are going to be able to prove their case and if this carries on too long or too deep, other banks will get hurt which the US Government is trying help recover. The people in that deal were professional traders; it is not like Goldman Sachs went around defrauding Main Street from Wall Street. I expect this to be settled out of court. Look at it this way. Right now in Saudi Arabia, some Lebanese talk show host awaits chop-chop execution for scorcery. He basically had a pyschic TV show for which he was paid a salary. His defense is that his practice was a fraud, but that fraudulent scorcery by its very nature is not scorcery. It can only be scorcery if it is true magic. He may well be let go. By the same token, Goldman Sachs is not guilty for being unethical or ruthless market-makers; it is only guilty if it happens to break the law. I hold some Goldman stock, but I just bought into Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) which I think has more upside potential at 1/10 the price.
Overall, economic signs continue to improve. The US is actually catching up on its current account deficit as it purchases less oil from overseas and exports more. People are saving more. Productivity is up as businesses learn to produce more with fewer workers. The last oil spike resulted in real changes in American consumption and exploration of oil and natural gas has greatly increased in the US. The developing world is now consuming more than the US is. Over the long haul, the US demographics are much better than China, Japan and Europe in terms of productivity. This means the US has more working people as a percentage of the whole population. And the world is happier to locate factories in the US even if the American makes more money than a Chinese because productivity here is so much higher. It just pays to spend a more on a person who operates a piece of machinery worth millions of dollars that employs hundreds of other people because if he does his job well, it affects all the others. Americans are making more money and charitable giving is going back up. In the last recession, it is worth noting that when the chips were down, everyone around the world abandoned all the other currencies and went into the US Dollar. The US is still really the only game in town, despite the sense that China is taking over the world. I think not — it may be that GM sold more cars in China than in the US last month, but everyone knows that China is a casino of a place to do business and nobody really wants to put their assets into China. Until China changes, it will be a place to sell things but it will always be kept at a distance from things that matter.
Generally speaking, this is a good time to be owning stocks. So many people think the market is not really improving that stocks are rallying. Once everyone thinks it’s great and decides to buy in, it will soon be time to sell. It’s not necessarily that the US is doing well or reforming its system, it is that the US is exporting more, consuming less, and the world as a whole either was not involved in the last crisis or is coming out of it. That is except for Europe. Greece basically lied all these years about its affairs to the rest of Europe and now it has to pay the price. Germany doesn’t really care to bail Greece out. But in mid-May Greece could go into default. Not like to happen because it would bring down the rest of Europe and the Euro, but it is not a happy situation for all in Europe who decided to pretend they were One and now have to act as if they are since they are up to their necks in it.
The Economist had a very insightful survey this month about Innovation in the World, stating in essence that while the West used to innovate high technology that the Third World used second-hand, today much of the key innovation is taking place in the Third World as things are taken to their utter essence and made available to the greater masses, and then sold to the West by Third World companies that have become known not only for price but for quality and innovation as well. A good deal of Western investment is also moving into the Third World — Microsoft’s biggest R&D center after its headquarters is near Beijing.
North Korea — I mentioned this earlier this year but restate that the regime there will go out of existence and be replaced with something else within a few years. The current leader is dying, trying to create a cult of personality around a 27 year old son who has nothing about him the generals there can take seriously.
Egypt — The fix is pretty much in. Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief, takes over the presidency if and when Mubarak croaks or steps aside. After one term, Gamal Mubarak (Hosni’s son) takes over the presidency. At least this is the arrangement.
Afghanistan — President Karzai as I’ve said is somebody worth abandoning. He thinks we need them more than they need us. Obama, by dressing him down so much, has pretty much made him a marked man at home as a patsy to the Americans. I just don’t see the point to keeping our guys in that country. The Afghanis just play us there; they hate us more than they hate each other. Same with the Iraqis.
Venezuela — The real problem in that country is electricity. At a certain point, they are going to become desperate. Even Iran has revolutionary guards in that country right now propping up Chavez’s dictatorship. When the electricity fails and there is nobody to get things to work because Chavez has basically nationalized the whole place, people in that country will finally get fed up with him. Could be later this summer.
Israel — Aaron Miller, one of the associate deans of American Middle East policy in government this generation, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine this month that when he reviews memos he’d wrote for the last 25 years about prospects for the Middle East peace process, he can’t read them with a straight face anymore. Mirrors what I’ve been saying this year. The peace process is a fool’s game right now. Netanyahu will supposedly offer a temporary Palestinian state on 60% of the West Bank; Abbas will refuse it, the Americans will see that the Israelis offered it and move onto the next issue as it heads into an election year, and meanwhile nothing will happen. I’m reading that Obama’s middle east envoy has been meeting with Netanyahu’s top officials, one of the two listed being Ron Dermer. I know Ron Dermer since he was a kid — if he is the guy negotiating with the US, you can be sure the Israelis are conceding to nothing that matters. He would have no problem saying F-You to whomever the Americans want to send over there.
College of Jewish Leadership — I’ve refashioned the idea as a summer program. 6 weeks of study at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, 2 weeks of travel to New York, Jerusalem, the Gulf and a Developing Country such as China or Brazil, and a summer internship at a not for profit organization. The cost will be 1% of building the college and you’d get about 80% of the result from the 100 students in attendance. Am now approaching philanthropists and organizations to see about raising the roughly $1.5m it will take to operate the program. Let’s see if the Jewish World can invest even this amount in its future leadership. Will let you know.
Am going this week to Jerusalem to check up on one of my companies and to Barcelona, Spain to see what’s new since my last visit there in 1995.