Global Thoughts — 29 June 2020

Father’s Day gift apron says “Ivan is on Fire.”

My daughter asked me last night while I was tucking her in to put her iPad on Night setting because she did not want to be disturbed during the night.  I said why not just turn it off. She answered that she did not want to have to wait 30 seconds in the morning for it to turn back on. Isn’t it amazing how people will think ahead to avoid just that little inconvenience?

My son got his bar mitzvah present from me this week – an xBox. He’s wanted one for years but we were afraid he would be addicted to it and not do anything else. Now it’s summer and no homework to do so I told him that he could enjoy it during the summer but would have to be responsible to keep it in the fall. The graphics on these games such as Madden are amazing; the whole game is controlled by you and the broadcasters’ commentary and video react to your real time actions and the whole setting looks very realistic. We went to the Pro Bowl in Orlando this past year and the stadium on the TV looks exactly like it did in person. I remember when I was his age with a black and white Zenith TV and I got my first video game, Pong from Atari. What a difference. My son thinks he is on vacation – as long as there are cocoa puffs and internet around him to play Fortnight, he’s fine.

Our kids keep talking about sleepaway camp all year long. How great the food was, all the camp traditions, the greatness of the activities.  When I was a kid, I felt like we got fed decent food on visiting day when the parents and the Red Cross came to visit. I feel like they are being like grandparents reminiscing over the great times in the old country. Unfortunately, lots of kids are getting depressed this summer sitting at home, some with parents who are afraid they might get sick. They might lose their minds first. In Miami, gyms, hotels and beaches have reopened and day camps are in session. Each day the camp remains open I am very thankful. A friend of mine in LA told me he wants to move here with his kids because California is still not happening; the local day school and real estate markets are booming with transplants from New York.

Jeremy keeps a copy of the US Constitution by his bedside and when he feels that his rights are being deprived, he consults with it to find something in there that makes him feel protected. Once when we banished him to the backyard, he took his copy of the Constitution out with him. Maybe he will be a constitutional lawyer when he grows up.

Do you ever find yourself lying in bed and noticing your own breathing and saying to yourself, boy I’m glad that I’m breathing normally. If so, perhaps the virus has brought you to appreciate some of the simpler things in life that truly count.

Someday people are going to look back on this period of time with some pleasant memories. Even though we all presently wish we could wake up one day and find out it was just a bad dream. One Friday my mother brought over a frozen lemon dessert that she had made for us. My wife sent her some fresh cranberry pistachio biscotti she had just baked, and I delivered to my parents a hot apple pie baked for them by a family friend. In normal times all this good cheer wouldn’t be happening. I am quite happy that during this global intermission I’ve been able to connect with almost everyone that I lost touch with over the past several years while everyone thought that a phone call was of low priority.

I would like to draw your attention to American Samoa, a place on the planet that had zero cases of Covid-19. I should add that this is the only place where Michael Bloomberg came in first on the ballot where he got all of 170 people to vote for him after spending $900 million. I would like to think that the good tribesmen and women of American Samoa are clever chaps who were both smart enough to realize that Bloomberg would have run a much better show than Trump has, and that also managed not to get infected. They cut off all air service to the island early on.

I’d say my low point in all this is the day I drove my rental car to the post office, paid for parking, stood on line to get in (only 3 at a time in the lobby), I get to the window and they were all out of stamps. Said they had sold their last two sheets before I came in. You’d like to think you could count on that, right?

Here’s a crossing of the Rubicon. My daughter was so bored  one day that she informed me that she was going to read this week’s copy of the Economist. She actually read through some of the stories and remembered the details. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a great lifetime relationship for her with a great publication.

Here’s a sense of where things are as we try to reach a new normal: Masks have gone down in price – a few weeks ago it was $5 per mask and now Publix supermarket will sell you a package of 10 masks for $10. So far the most comfortable ones we have found are the reusable ones at Target for about $2.50 each.

Here’s the scene 3 blocks from our house when it rains real hard

You know about Fake News – I want to put in a word about Fake Plants. We decided that a living space looks better with plants, but fake plants. It’s hard to take care of real plants and there are fake ones that look really good. There was a BBC story about an opera house in Barcelona staging a concert for 2,600 potted plants that filled all the seats. That is something you can do with plants. The best part is that they don’t cough and open up candies during a performance.

I’m wondering if deodorant sales are down – if you are always 6 feet from other people, can anyone tell you stink?

Last week was John Bolton on the Stephen Colbert show. Can you imagine an odder couple than that? Colbert is not an idiot and was a good match for him. The two went the full hour which is an eternity for that kind of TV. I just received his new book today and will read it during the next month.  Whatever he wrote, I think he should forfeit the profits. It’s not right to tell-all when you’ve been a senior official and your boss is still in office. Maybe in this case it’s OK because the guy is so dangerous and it needs to be exposed but since he wouldn’t tell all to Congress and saved it for his book, he shouldn’t get the money.

A few years ago Donald Trump was ridiculed for going down to Puerto Rico and throwing packages of toilet paper rolls to the desperate people. Actually, I had reached a point about a month ago where I wouldn’t have minded if he or someone started throwing packages of toilet paper around. I had to go to the supermarket at 8 in the morning to get some with all the people hoarding paper goods. Amazon wanted $50 for what normally costs $25 and it was taking them over a week to get some Bounty paper towels to me, after not having them for several months. I want a partial refund on my Prime membership this year but there is nobody to speak to since they cut off all phone-based customer service. Even now it says on Amazon that it will take close to a month to get Bounty paper towels; I went to Target and got a better deal right then and there.

Consider this odd fact: Jerry Falwell was ridiculed for reopening Liberty College’s campus in Virginia mid-March. Well, they ran a good show. According to a column in the Wall Street Journal, till they finished the semester in mid-May there wasn’t one single positive virus case on campus. So I guess this means that colleges can run in the fall if they run a good show and should think twice before deciding to start from the ‘virtual’ default position. Likewise, there are nursing homes that ran a good show and managed to shut out the virus from their properties. They had PPE on hand and ran extensive testing of their staffs and residents. Many nursing homes worldwide were not really prepared and had a disproportionate amount of casualties; regulators will have to take a closer look at this for the future.

Pictures in the Art Deco district of South Beach

Since we’ve been in Miami Beach the past 3 months, I’ve been exploring the various neighborhoods and it is funny how things changed since I left here about 25 years ago. When I left, I was feeling pretty down because the city had been deteriorating especially after the 1992 hurricane, and I just felt that nothing was ever going to be fixed up and that the present generation was not investing in the next generation to make them want to stay. All my friends left the city to move away. But meanwhile, while Rip Van Winkle was sleeping for a generation, they rebuilt the city to something that it was not when I left. It’s all shiny and new, entire neighborhoods changed from crappy to desirable, people rebuilt their homes, roads were changed, big pretty buildings and new community centers and parks were built and lots of traffic resulted. The average age in the city has gone way down as well from something in the mid-60’s to 42 at present. But during the lockdown you could drive wherever you want pretty quickly, although lately there has been more traffic except that summer is off-season so it is still bearable. You can see lots of people in the creek with their kayaks and paddle boards and in the bay with jetskis and the occasional superyacht made for a villain right out of James Bond.  It’s a lot different from the tours I used to lead for my visiting friends which I called “Miami Beach Can Be Fun if You’re Under 65.” There are tons of mansions here and 25 years ago when I left town and the hurricane had just come, you could have bought one of these for half a million dollars. Now even an empty lot on a top line street is $10 million. Someone across the street from me is building a 12,000 square foot mansion with 3 levels on the waterfront and the interior of his house alone has $2 million worth of stuff. I am trying to understand what I would do with all that space. They are still doing the work on the house and I snuck around the back to see what it looks like; the kitchen and living room are just huge. You could fit 100 people into each room. I guess that’s what they’ll do – throw big parties. Both rooms have huge buffet tables in them built in.

The day Dade County Florida ended its lockdown, the price of gas went up 20 cents a gallon. When I went to an office building, I had to park on the rooftop level. When I had first arrived, you could go anywhere in that area and hardly see a car on the street. So this is a good sign; it shows that pent-up demand is there. I am hopeful that with contact tracing there won’t be a second wave, although in New York City the mayor made a controversial appointment to oversee contact tracing and if he made a bad decision, it will set the whole city back in terms of time it takes to recover. Dade County hired 1,000 contact tracers, which is as many as exist for the rest of the state of Florida. Around here, they do not want to fool around. The problem seems to run deeper though – people don’t want to cooperate with tracing and no amount of spending or technology will make up for that.

My kids are signed up for day camp here in Florida. We’ve been waiting to see if they would have sleepaway camp and finally the camp announced it canceled. I was waiting for them to put the kids out of their misery by just telling them already and giving people a chance to make alternate plans instead of leaving them high and dry a week before camp was supposed to start or worse pulling the plug after a few days of camp. I think it will be hard for a sleepaway camp to maintain zero infection for an entire summer. Nevertheless, privately run camps are under a lot of pressure from exhausted parents to open and set them free from their kids.

Here is a thought about recessions and retail. They say retail is dying and that we are in a for a big recession. In the past week, I went to 3 retail stores from national chains: Michaels art, Steinmart for clothes, and Macy’s. In all 3 stores, there was no greeter or person to help me find anything. We bought a minimal amount of merchandise or nothing and walked out. We had driven half an hour to get to the store so we were serious shoppers.  I don’t understand how stores can put out tons of merchandise in a huge store and have nobody on the floor to help sell it. You can’t tell a person what you are looking for, what you could not find and why you walked out. When you go to Macy’s, everything is organized by brand, and nobody in one department knows what another department is selling. So my daughter wanted a romper, a certain kind of dress, and we walked around aimlessly. This kind of retailing is absolutely frustrating and makes you regret that you wasted your time going to a store. They deserve to fail.

I know there is optimism in the stock market but I’m not buying into it. I see stocks go up 10% one week and then down 10% the next such as that Moderna company that had a vaccine trial last month. I think this is all manipulation and I know that active traders are making a lot of money. I’m not a trader and right now I agree with Warren Buffett that this is not a time to buy. I also think that people are underestimating how much time it will take before things get back to normal even if it turns out that the second wave does not come about as fiercely as anticipated. I went to a restaurant which is now open but it only has 2-3 tables it can use out of 10. They are open but choking. And of course now everyone wants an 18-20% tip instead of 15% because they have fewer tables to serve. Even before the recession, every store was turning around a point of sale machine at me looking for tips. I think this is all rotten because the whole idea of making the customer happy has flipped onto the customer making the hired help happy. There is a time and a place for everything and it would be nice someday to restore the idea that the paying customer is the person who is supposed to be taken care of.

Here’s the deal in the US as to Covid-19: Analysts are warning that states and the federal government are not using the intermission to get ready for a second wave. There is still no national plan out there and many states and Trump and Pence at the top are in denial hoping that it will all disappear. Efforts toward contact tracing and testing are not anywhere near countries that have been effective at pinpointing areas of infection and nipping things in the bud. It doesn’t help that Americans do not want to comply with the tracing apps; nobody wants to be told to stay home for 2 weeks because they ran into some person who was in contact with someone else who was sick and when people get off airplanes they just throw away the questionnaire and don’t bother to leave it to be found because they don’t want to participate in a quarantine for arrivals.  The question is really whether a second wave will materialize and whether it will be bad. There are anti-vaccine people who will always cause problems for everyone else because they will not want to be vaccinated. Even if people are not ordered to stay home, lots of people will as long as they are afraid of becoming infected. Indications are that death from this disease for normal people is not a high risk and that lockdowns are not the best way to deal with this; I suppose that a second round will try to avoid the massive lockdowns, but what will replace them? In places like Africa, they estimate that 140 more people will die due to lack of immunizations from other diseases for each person who dies of Covid-19. Kids not going to school is a big problem and so far the research in Europe is that kids do not spread the virus to the majority of adults although that may not be true in places such as Israel.

You would think that the environment would be enjoying all of this with auto use down, but now PPE such as masks and other stuff are winding up on the ocean floors. France alone used 2 billion masks so far.

Jeremy at the drive-in movie at the beach

I don’t know if China did all this to the US on purpose or by mistake, but if they or anyone else did, they showed the world just how fragile everything really is. It didn’t take much to drive everyone down pretty hard. It’s pretty scary to know what you could do if you actually tried to do bad. If anyone did this in order to ensure Trump’s defeat, I guess we’ll find out in November how well the plot worked out. I can’t see the back of this guy soon enough although my ultimate target for blame is Rupert Murdoch with his Fox Network. They exacerbated the fracture of America. They brought Trump to the presidency, have continued to back him and tarred anyone who called for government spending for the past decade, put plenty of people on the air who said the virus was a hoax and pushed stupid remedies, and I’d bet that even now after everyone has lost all their money and the worldwide economy has gone to pot, they will still endorse him over Joe Biden. My feeling is that had Hillary Clinton been president, we would not be in this mess. The world wouldn’t be so hostile toward the US and we would have been in front of this pandemic a lot faster. We might have still been caught without adequate pandemic preparedness, but we wouldn’t have squandered all this time and continued to run such a shit show in every way imaginable. We would probably be working with China to get over the hump. The whole world laughs at the US. Now I read that the US wants to suspend the H1-B program; so Mr. Miller in the White House can stop all immigration but China will be thrilled to welcome the world’s 65,000 best and brightest scientists and innovators to China instead. You couldn’t do any more then Trump or Fox to deliver this country into the hands of its enemies. If he is re-elected, I will seriously want to consider moving away from the US, perhaps to Singapore if they will take me. There is no future here if he gets in for another 4 years.

And yet, people who like Trump still like him. They look at Biden and say “Yeah, Trump is a liar and an idiot but Biden is a socialist.” If you are an Orthodox Jew, you are probably getting propaganda saying that Biden is anti-Israel. The guy has 30 years of history behind him and it ain’t true, but I see the crude propaganda flying around and people read it and want to believe it. I read it, research the history and see that the stuff is completely distorted and slickly produced to have a whiff of deniability.  This is America and it’s never been sophisticated.  You put your fate into the hands of idiots in this country and Fox is very happy to manipulate a large slice of it. They just put on their headsets, tune the rest of the world out and listen all evening long to one airhead after another ranting about enemies of the state and wrapping themselves in the red white and blue.

My dad for instance watches a lot of Fox and tells me that Sean Hannity is the only one out there telling you how things really are. My dad thinks that Biden will be controlled by a bunch of Obama and Hillary Clinton cronies. He thinks that Biden is senile and can’t finish a sentence. He also thinks that Obama was an Iranian spy and that he was a secret Muslim, but also says that he went to a radical church for 23 years. I said what kind of Moslem could he be after going to a church for 23 years?  He answered, you’re missing the point. So basically, there is nothing you can really say to argue with people like this. So instead I make jokes; I told him that the BBC stands for Bullshitting British Communists.

One thing that Fox and various conspiracy drivers such as the Russians have succeeded in doing is to convince most people that there is no such thing as accurate information coming from anywhere. Everyone distrusts nearly everything. Problem is that if you can’t trust anything, it’s hard to have an informed citizenry to know what it wants and to be able to express what it wants. To Trump, Fox and the Russians and others such as the Chinese, that’s great because it negates participation within a democracy and makes America easier to manage. Also, humans need to be able to trust each other to cooperate. If nobody trusts anything, you keep America down because nobody will cooperate.

I hate to say it, but I correctly predicted 3 years ago that everyone would lose all their gains and that the moment something seriously went wrong we would be completely unprepared to deal with it. At the beginning of this year, I said we were lucky to survive 3 years and hopefully we could get through just one more but we were playing Russian Roulette with this country. Need I say more. So it has been written, so it has been done. You can look at past editions of Global Thoughts and see it right there.

I still think that this is going to bounce around the USA for a long time with flareups from place to place. Whether or not there will be lockdowns later this year depends on how well contact tracing and testing gets ramped up, how much people will tolerate and if the hospitals can handle patient intake. There is still no national plan; each state is on its own. As I wrote above, in my area, the locals are not even waiting for the state to get on it and are making sure not to screw up.

A serious diplomat from a friendly country told me this week that his country has not yet ruled out bioterror on the part of the Chinese. I did not follow up and ask for a motive, although I should have. But it gnaws at me, what would be the motive? In today’s world, the secret stuff eventually leaks out and everyone will hate them if it’s true. What’s to gain? The damage is so great that it is greatly affecting China too.

However, here is another fact. A friend in a military-run graduate school reports that China is using cyber-harassment to slow down vaccine research in the US. I could understand that they want to get the first vaccine, but no matter who comes out first, it will be to everyone’s benefit. I guess I am just missing stuff here, but it is worrying that China and the US are really on opposite sides here and the Chinese obviously feel it is playing a zero-sum game in the world with this virus. What I don’t understand is why we are not hearing more about this if it is true. There is reason to be very wary of China; there is an article from a previous head of M16 saying that there is good evidence that Chinese scientists bio-engineered this virus to make it hard to cure or prevent in humans, and which mistakenly escaped from a laboratory in China – which is what my gut tells me all along is what happened.

I watched a recent edition of BBC Hard Talk with China’s ambassador to the UK. The man did not want to admit that the virus started in China. He would only say it was discovered in China. He did agree that it was important for China to shut down these animal markets where diseased animals are sold and consumed and he said that they were now permanently closed except that since then we see that the markets are still open because another wave of infections in Beijing emanated from one. Last time this happened years ago the markets were closed temporarily. I went to bed pretty unhappy; if China is going to act like a Soviet-style propaganda state and refuse to own up to anything, it does not bode well for any ability to cooperate with them in the future. I see around me and around the world people increasingly boycotting Chinese products and that could be a very powerful thing.  It would be a lot easier if they would just say, we screwed up, we’re sorry, these are the things we are doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and can we please move on. But although I tend to find Chinese to be rather clever, this time-tested escape route eludes them.

You should know that even if these animal markets are shut down in China, they exist elsewhere such as in Indonesia. Unless the world gets together and clamps down, it is just a matter of time before something else comes from somewhere.

According to a Wall Street Journal columnist who cited a Chinese scientific study noted in an abstract published by Yale University, in Wuhan China they looked at about 1,250 cases of infection involving about 320 clusters of infection. They found that 80% of the infections came about within people sharing a residence, 34% involved public transportation and only 2 infections came from contact outdoors. In Miami Beach, few people take public transport, many people live in large private homes and people like to go outdoors. This lockdown is not making a ton of sense here and people are starting to ignore the quarantine orders. Arguments are being made that lockdowns in many parts of America and indeed the world are an overreaction to this crisis, and I suppose that in a second round, better testing will permit more discretion with regard to lockdowns although it seems strange in the US that preparation for that second wave seems to be so shallow. There has been a learning curve here but I expect that by fall the world will generally be better prepared to deal with this.

For all of its history, the US mainland did not have to cope with invasion from a foreign power. The virus is an unusual circumstance because it invaded US territory. Except for the Spanish flu a century ago and a few stray airplanes in 2001, the US mainland has been protected. This is a new experience for Americans having its homeland breached by an enemy that does not have territory itself to defend in retaliation and therefore cannot be deterred It is a new type of vulnerability for Homeland America that it never seriously felt required to prevent.

A word about Sweden – their top epidemiologist now says that had he realized how many people would have been killed in Sweden as a result of its herd immunity policy, they would have locked down the country sooner. So I guess one thing we’ve all learned is that there was no really better alternative to the idea of a lockdown, at least for the first wave. Boris Johnson tried it and saw a lot of people die to the point that the British couldn’t stomach it. In the US, a lockdown a week earlier would have reportedly more than halved the number of deaths. So I guess the argument has been proven on this point.

I’ve been listening to some foreign policy experts discuss various countries. An interesting tidbit is that moving production lines away from China is not only a US matter; France is also looking at Morocco just as the US looks at Mexico. Another tidbit is that none of the Chinese state-owned enterprises want to violate US sanctions against Iran; they are afraid of pissing off US regulators if they do. The Iranians can justly claim that they did not get the benefits of the nuclear deal they signed with the US under the Obama administration; John Kerry, the US secretary of state, was begging companies to start to do business with Iran when they did the deal but the other side of the US Government was still enforcing sanctions. Even if Biden reinstates the deal, most companies will be afraid of dealing with Iran because the day a Republican comes back into office, they expect the sanctions will be reinstated as well and nobody wants to go into long-term deals not knowing that it will be safe to do so.

A word about Hong Kong – China has correctly calculated that foreign companies resident in Hong Kong will not leave and will indeed toady up to China, figuring that their business relies more on China than on what the rest of the world decides to do to China. The Chinese have a free hand to act in Hong Kong; rather than slap trade sanctions on Hong Kong which will hurt the residents and businesses that are ther and strengthen other Chinese cities such as Shanghai, the rest of the world is better off giving out passports to Hong Kong residents and doubling down militarily on Taiwan and telling China in no uncertain terms that the price for screwing Hong Kong and welching on their treaty obligations is that they will never get Taiwan back.

A word about the racial goings on in America – I think that the 9-minute choking of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis is a disgrace and that on first blush I thought the 3 other policemen were guilty of enabling the murder. But then I found out that they had been policemen for about a week and they were in training under the officer’s tutelage. It would be unfair to take these rookies and hold them criminally liable. The first thing they tell a rookie officer is to forget anything they learned in the police academy. They were evidently in no position to be able to protest or to know what they should actually do. They should not be turned into fall guys. Their commander probably should never have been hired as a policeman and certainly should have been off the streets by the time this happened, considering his record. One interesting situation here is that the American military is 40% black and its leaders do not want the military being dragged into a race riot by an American president using them as a prop to stoke the flames to further his re-election “law and order” campaign. It is a moment in which military commanders are in a good position to take on their commander in chief; so far the Republican party has not put the president in his place. The pushback might yet come from the military (and indeed it did).

I’m not sure if the recent wave of protests contributed to the spike in viruses across the US. Considering that victims of the virus are disproportionately minorities both in terms of physical and economic injury, the last thing you’d think anyone would want to do is to make things worse. But then as you can see Americans can be really short-sighted and unsophisticated. I know some Russians here who say that this could never happen in Russia and I ask them “you left Russia for this?” They answer, “sometimes we really wonder.”  Nobody seems to want to state that the recent spike in hospitalizations across America might be partly a result of the civil unrest 2-3 weeks ago. Whether or not the media reports it, people are not idiots and will reach their own conclusions.

Speaking of the media, a word about NPR: national public radio. I often listen to it in the car during the day and hour after hour week after week this taxpayer-funded network is just rambling on about race, virus and police brutality. It’s become a real nag and I wish they would move on to other subjects.

Trump looked really forlorn stepping off his helicopter at the White House after the disastrous rally in Oklahoma. He liked an exhausted salesman who had a really bad day on the road. You wondered what he’d be tweeting throughout the night after telling people he was expecting a million people at the rally only to have 6,000 show up. I’m concerned that at some point he will realize he is going to lose or after the election concede that he lost, and then go and try to tank the country to take out his revenge. This is a man who puts himself before country and doesn’t listen to people.

Here are some other interesting thoughts I’ve heard from my contacts during the past month or so:

Fossil Fuels – Gas taxes are #1 source of revenue for many US states such as Florida, Alaska, Texas, and New York. Alternative forms of energy are generally subsidized. People are celebrating that the environment is getting a sabbatical but the money needed to pay unemployment claims, municipal employees and teachers and give aid to struggling cities and businesses will need to come from somewhere. Since taxes are not coming in from sales and income, there will be newfound appreciation for the benefits of transactions arising out of the use of fossil fuels, especially when someone like Mitch McConnell tells states to go bankrupt and they need to be able to issue municipal bonds to fund things.

Joe Biden – some people think he is old and is basically a guy who has “shown up all his life.” Others think he is a decent human being who would be a nice change from Trump. Both these opinions come from liberal Democrats. One of them felt that Kamala Harris would be a good running mate. The New York Times is touting Elizabeth Warren. I strongly feel that putting either on the ticket would be a great way to ensure the Democrats lose to Trump. They must put up two people that old-fashioned Republicans could vote for.  I personally recommend that Andrew Cuomo go for VP and stick around for 2024, but I could understand why he would rather stay where he is. Since I wrote this, Klobuchar withdrew and also was under scrutiny for her racer relations when she served in law enforcement. Kamala Harris I watched on TV and found her more watchable than I did during the debates. I don’t think that Biden should put up a black person just because it’s fashionable or politically correct;(and according to most polls Blacks agree with that statement) he must put up a plausible president that will attract middle of the road voters. That said, Condoleeza Rice is a plausible choice in my book. Susan Rice less so; I think she is too wishful in her global outlook based on what I read from her columns.

Ever hear of Tammy Duckworth? If Amy Klobuchar has taken her name out of contention for Biden’s Vice Presidential pick, take a look at this person. She would be a hard person for Trump to take down, she’d get the military vote and she has good credentials having been in Congress for a number of years. Her politics are said to be moderate and she is Asian-American.

America’s New Deal for 2021 – Somebody challenged me: What should be the New Deal for America in 2021 if I were President? Should it be to ensure 5G to every household in America? Should it be Universal Healthcare? Should we build massive infrastructure projects involving roads, trains, tunnels and airports? I am skeptical. Road projects will not get started for at least a year and will be bogged down for years in environmental impact studies and litigation by people opposing the projects. 5G is less than it appears; much of the world is already looking toward 6G and 5G seems to be dominated by Chinese Huawei and a senseless battle by the US to defeat it. However, given what we have seen, I could also see the imperative for the US not to cede defeat to China on this platform and to make internal development a priority although it will involve lots of money. People are asking if the US will become more pro-Universal healthcare; I think it is being treated as an emergency and that when the pandemic wears off, so will enthusiasm for that as well. If as much as 15% of Americans will be out of work, we will need to stimulate the economy and the question is whether government spending is the way to do it. For instance, right now unemployment benefits exceed what people were being paid when they were employed; people don’t want to go back to work and make less money. This is a real problem since the payroll protection program was meant to protect people’s pay checks. But companies are having trouble getting people to come back to work. By the way, if 25% of America is unemployed, so will the rest of the world. So America spending that money and causing inflation and hoping the Chinese buy its debt is not really the solution, in my opinion. If you ask me, the silver bullet is what the Economist recommended earlier this year in a survey about Immigration. The report said that if you wanted to do just one thing that would massively stimulate the world economy in a way that nothing else could ever do, you would simply allow people to live where they want to live. Free immigration would result in a massive stimulus to the world economy to the tune of 90 trillion dollars a year or doubling global GDP. So if I were president, I’d try to get the rest of the world and the US to make a massive push to enable free immigration. That would be my New Deal for the 21st century.

What will Washington do? It will be interesting to see if the Democrats work with Republicans to fix things over the next 6 months or just hope they fail in the fall with a second wave and pray they win big time. You can see the conflict of interest here and why Trump is so cynical about statistics and what the media says about the virus. Lots of people are pretty upset with their elected officials over how slow the federal money has been to reach them, whether the whole lockdown thing is the best way to go about this and wondering if anyone truly cares about them. Mitch McConnel (Senate majority leader) looks like a guy who couldn’t care less and it will be interesting to see if the GOP loses the Senate because of him. In 2008, House Republicans blocked stimulus aid after the Lehman Brothers collapse and it was at that point that McCain knew his bid to be president was lost. If history is a guide, the GOP will lose the Senate because they will be scrooge-like; people’s salaries are being cut 10-20% by companies and this is the source of people’s discretionary spending. Take that away and your economy tanks because people spend all their money on their monthly nut. This is where Uncle Sam needs to help people get by. If history is a guide, if the Republicans hold onto the Senate but Biden wins, it will be a disaster because the Republicans won’t pass any more stimulus and the recession will go on for several years longer than it should. McConnel will be Dr. No blocking executive appointments, legal reforms and anything else and everyone will just argue and fight.

If it is any indication, Iran has decided to tone things down with the US for the next couple months figuring that escalation of tensions only helps Trump. They obviously are hoping he will be voted out. The Chinese seem to be doing the opposite; they seem to want to use the virus as a diversion to inflate tensions with the rest of the world and figure they will get away with it. They are giving Trump his biggest campaign treasure by targeting them as the source of all evil but they have evidently calculated that the benefits outweigh the costs. I personally think the Chinese strategy has been and continues to be poor and that all this in-your-face stuff with Hong Kong, Taiwan, the naval projection of power in the Pacific and the strong-arming with the virus is only going to ensure that the world hates them no matter who wins the American election. The Chinese are not going to win this way; they are just showing themselves to be a threat to the world and people will be wary of engaging with them. The Chinese are provoking India with a billion people on its border. Is it really good sense? Now that all the developing world cannot pay back their debts to China, they have to decide if they really want to try and foreclose on these countries where they tied up strategic assets hoping that someday they would be able to take them over – they will stoke revolutions that may cause them to lose their collateral. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point Mr. Xi loses his job because China’s leaders come to the conclusion that his aggressive stances were counterproductive. I think he could have done better with a more low-key style.

Under the radar, I notice that conflicts between countries are still taking place. To some extent, parties are using the diversion to score points. The Israelis are attacking the Iranians hard in Syria and the Saudis are still involved in Yemen. Belarus is making important moves to make sure it will not be a vassal of Russia.

The other question I’m wondering about long term is whether the term Investment will be a polarizing term. Democrats call for investment and Republicans say you are featherbedding unions, raising taxes, growing government and wasting money. Proper investment into pandemic planning would have cost one-billionth the amount we are now spending on lockdowns and 15% unemployment coming down the pike. Will the country and the rest of the world realize that preventive expenditures are an investment worth making?  It’s estimated that each month of lockdown is costing the US about a trillion dollars. A national pandemic preparedness program wasn’t going to cost more than $1 billion a year by a long shot. All of a sudden, you think about the $20 billion tunnel to connect New York and New Jersey that they’ve been fighting about for years because the current tunnel is seriously obsolete. Now they are going to pay for it because they will need to create jobs, but only after all this loss happened.

What about the term Social Justice? Would it be too much to advocate for Social Justice without having people spit at you and say that you are a bleeding-hearth liberal to be in favor of Social Justice? It’s funny because I see people who are very Republican and Trump-loving who are all excited about trying to get any money they can from the US Government in the midst of this pandemic. Some of these people are the last ones on earth who need the money as in self-employed people making six figures filing for $500 unemployment insurance checks because their businesses are closed. And yeah, they hate immigration but right now it seems that the essential services are being provided by immigrants. They will continue to hate immigration even if it turns out the nurse or doctor who saves their life or the person in the lab who develops the cure or the vaccine is an immigrant scientist.

Think about it — even the idea of wearing a mask has become a partisan issue in America. If you wear a mask, you’re now a bleeding heart liberal wuss and if you don’t wear a mask you are expressing your First Amendment rights. The whole thing has become nuts because you have a president who wants to play politics rather than to set an example. Fact is that wearing masks and keeping 6 feet apart helps limit the spread of this virus. If people could just stick with the program all over the world, we’d be better off. But people won’t so we never get out from under this.

Here are the funniest and cleverest four videos that I’ve seen during the weeks of lockdown. One is Randy Rainbow’s parody of Mary Poppins “Spoonful of Medicine” song making fun of Trump’s proposal to use disinfectants to wash out the virus, and the other is a British family parodying the Les Miz song “One More Day.” The fourth is an Israeli woman ranting about her kids in virtual school which went viral all over the world. No lockdown is complete without these, so be sure and enjoy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdcS0Nbo7Ng

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPDPzbLFeP4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS9iiGJxbWo

https://nypost.com/2020/03/20/israeli-moms-rant-about-coronavirus-lockdown-with-kids-goes-viral/

My son enjoys watching Mr. Beast on YouTube. He gives away lots of things to people and it is a nice way to feel good about something when you watch him being nice to people. Some of it is pretty funny such as when he opened a bank and started giving away free money to anyone who came in.

I am using this time to try and self-improve, such as learning how to ride a bicycle without holding on to the handlebars or improve my 3-ball juggling. There are tons of TRX exercises, ranging from the simple to the absurd and you can find them on YouTube. I never thought you could do so many things with just that little strap, loop and buckle. My wife is doing some embroidery projects, and I want to alert you to the fact that at the same time from two computers, we both got different prices from Amazon for the exact same item to be shipped in the same way to the same place, except that I logged in as a Amazon Prime Member and she did not, and I was charged $4 more. Makes you wonder if Prime membership is as valuable as it seems if they are pegging Prime subscription customers as people who can pay more.

Jeremy atop the Carl Fisher monument; he was founder of Miami Beach

Here are some final thoughts: Every few years, something happens that makes demand change in the auto industry. When oil was expensive some years ago (remember $4-5 gallon petrol in the US), people said that the age of the SUV was gone. Now, oil is cheap and people are buying lots of SUV’s and other gas guzzlers for the past few years. Then all of a sudden it was a virtual certainty that nobody would be owning cars anymore and that ride sharing and autonomous vehicles would be the big thing. With the virus, people want their own cars again and ride sharing has gone way down. Considering that cars are planned 5-7 years ahead, it must be a terribly frustrating thing to be in the automotive industry. One reason this is important is that people keep saying that habits will change due to this virus; history shows that people revert to normal after a few years of lowered resistance to doing things they want to do.

Syria’s Assad might find it harder to survive in peace than war because very few other than Russia and Iran will help him now, and those two countries are pretty close to bankrupt. Not one Chinese state owned enterprise wants to do business with Iran for fear of US sanctions. Russia is using up its cash reserves and Assad is trying to squeeze business elites in the country who had propped him up in a marriage of convenience and who now might be more likely to plot against him.

The Economist is noting in a recent survey that Artificial Intelligence is showing itself to be a bit of a disappointment. Scientists are finding that the expenses involved in running experiments and training computers are far more than they expected and there are limits to what an artificial brain can learn that is simply no match for a human brain. Artificial intelligence has gone through peaks and valleys over the last half century and it looks like the present “fad” of AI will be another one of those. For instance, people are not talking as much about driverless cars but rather driver-assisted cars as developers hit walls and realize that the future is not necessarily now or in the manner previously imagined.

Our plan is to remain in Miami Beach till Labor Day and then to return to the Big Apple if the kids have real school. If virtual school continues, we’ll stay down here. Right now the odds are 50/50 of real school happening, according to the NY education authorities. I am trying to plan our first holiday for the end of August; hopefully we can make it as far as Atlanta and Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. Our trips this summer to Ireland, Australia and Singapore will have to wait a year, hopefully not more than that. Meanwhile, Hooray for the Fourth of July this week!

 

 

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