Here’s a good joke the rabbi told in synagogue from the pulpit – Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts are sitting in Trump Tower talking about what to do for the country. Trump says that if he throws a $10,000 bill out the window, he will make someone very rich. Pelosi says if she throws 100 $100 bills out the window, she will make 100 people very happy. Justice Roberts says that if he throws both of them out the window, he will make the whole world very happy.
Another good joke from the pulpit involves a guy in a quiet car on a train hearing this woman call up about a dozen friends to reschedule a lunch party. After he got to his office, he called up the restaurant pretending to be this woman and cancelled her reservation.
Today is the New York marathon and there are a lot of strangers in town. I was at a kosher bagel store this morning and ahead of me were three guys from the Midwest who obviously had no idea what it meant to be in a kosher store. One of them said “Can I have bacon and eggs on a sandwich?” And the guy behind the counter said, “No, you can’t. ”
I haven’t posted since early June but that doesn’t mean I haven’t spent the last several months preparing this posting. It’s rather long but hopefully useful. Following a rundown of various thoughts on a wide array of topics is a detailed discussion of Global Issues. Separately posted is an article with a platform called the Middle Way with a detailed platform supposing I was running for president that I think makes more sense than what I see out there exactly one year before the next election. Also, two articles with travel notes from various trips this summer all over Europe including Central Europe, the UK and Scandinavia. And lots of pictures.
Consider a widely published recent 11 science experiments involving 800 people that found that 65% of men would rather absorb electric shocks than be left alone for 6-15 minutes in a room to think about thoughts by themselves. (About 25% of women did similarly.) This was even after they said they were willing to pay money not to receive the shocks.
Something doesn’t make sense. I read an article in Forbes that Pete Buttigieg’s net worth is $100,000. How can I guy worth so little take two years off to run for president? And who is going to own him if he is worth so little? When I read about how much it takes to bribe someone I am bemused because it really doesn’t much money to bribe someone when $250,000 will change his life.
There are so many people I know personally that I would vote for as president before any of these candidates. Why can’t a country of 350 million people come up with anything better than this group? Mitt Romney ought to run as a Republican, and people should pay more attention to the Democratic candidate Amy Klobuchar who I am told by various sources is qualified and sensible. Klobuchar could take Buttigieg on as a Vice President and that would be an interesting electoral ticket.
If I could ask Trump one question it would be: 4 years ago you severely criticized Obama for drawing a red line in the sand with Syria over the use of chemical weapons and then not following through when Assad used them. Now that Saudi Arabia was hit with Iranian missiles after you threatened to obliterate them and 50% of the country’s oil production was down for several weeks, which is more damage than any other thing that has ever happened in that region’s history, you did nothing. Was that an “ah-ha” moment for you when you realized that the view from the Oval Office is not the same as it is from the Campaign Trail or was it something else? Readers of Global Thoughts can be sure that it is has become understood in the Middle East, especially now that Trump is abandoning the Kurds to a Turkish invasion, that security pacts in that region with America mean nothing because America is a paper tiger under both Republican and Democratic presidents. If they were disappointed by Obama’s aloofness toward Egypt’s Mubarak and Syria’s Assad, they have been doubly disappointed by Trump’s rhetoric versus his actions. (The operation to capture the ISIS guy was not because of Trump but despite him; when he pulled out suddenly, the special ops guys had to expedite this operation that was being planned for months.) This probably means that countries in the region might get together to solve problems before escalating into war, or it might be otherwise – that war will be inevitable because America cannot be counted on to solve any problems or enforce any solutions. The irony is that America is moving troops into Syria at the same time it is pulling them out, so that effectively there are almost the same number of troops still in Syria. But the imagery of retreat has taken hold despite the facts.
Danny Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel from 2010-17 under Obama, writes in a recent op-ed that you cannot compare the two situations. At the time, Obama got Russia to promise that Syria would not use its chemical weapons against anyone else and Israel put away its gas masks and hasn’t brought them out since. The Israelis were very happy with the deal at the time and he says they sought to take credit for it. In this case, Trump got mothing from anyone for simply backing off (although I suspect that Turkey probably told Trump they were going to move and gave him little choice). The Kurds knew the Americans would eventually withdraw; they just didn’t expect it to happen on the whim of a phone call.
I have to tell you that I am more alarmed than usual at the state of the world. America has a weak president, probably worse than Jimmy Carter because at least Carter had professionals around him. Trump is the kind of bully you want to fight – he talks a lot but when push comes to shove, he backs down and doesn’t fight back and you can take him down pretty easily. After 3 years of watching him spar, you can see where his weak spots are and he’s an easy win. The Chinese, Russians and Iranians are skilled fighters. The Israelis and Saudis talked big thinking Trump had their back; Netanyahu and MBS are probably crapping in their pants right now but they can’t say anything about Trump since they are so much in bed with him. According to publicly available reports, Israeli military intelligence expects the Iranians to attack them within 2 months. It was not a coincidence that the 1973 Yom Kippur broke out at a time when Nixon was being threatened with impeachment and actors in the Middle East thought he would be unable to act. According to a recent column by Thomas Friedman, the Iranians drones used to attack Saudi Arabia last month were roughly equivalent in technology to Israel’s; 85% of the missiles used hit their targets and each tanker hit was hit within one meter of the target precisely at the center. The Iranians have shown that they can accurately hit a target from hundreds of kilometers away. At this point, the Israeli nuclear reactor at Dimona is probably vulnerable to a direct hit and the damage caused by a strike could be more than the cost of shutting it down.
It is not a good situation that Britain is in tatters and the only responsible adults in the Western World today of any significance are Macron in France and Merkel in Germany, and Merkel is hanging by a thread politically with no real future and nobody in the wings to take over. The world is ripe for someone to try and take advantage and the US needs to get a competent president in place soon. The Democrats running are not qualified, and if Trump is re-elected, he will be a lame duck the minute he starts because nobody really wants him and half the Republicans in Congress would vote in a secret ballot to get rid of him today if they could. The world is in a dangerous place right now and 3 years of Trump stirring the pot but having no real plan or any will to execute is coming home to roost.
The Kurd issue in Syria/Turkey is more complicated than it seems and it is too simplistic to call Trump out on it. The situation the US had with its Kurdish allies was unsustainable and ran counter to vital interests of Turkey. It was just a matter of time on this one and at some point Turkey’s leader probably told Trump the game was up. The problem was that the US should have prepared for this moment and really had not done so.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper had a story interviewing an escapee from a Chinese gulag prison where roughly one million Moslems are being “re-educated.” For all intent and purposes, they are in concentration camps and the Chinese are doing everything just short of killing them. They have a reason to be trying to put them down; the Moslems are agitating within China. But the problem is that entire populations are being dragged into this because of some bad eggs among them. I printed out the story for people in my household to read and comment. What is being done in these camps is really bad. My son actually read the 11 page printout (and he hates to read; I think it is the first serious long article he’s ever read), my daughter read it, and my wife read it but found it awful to read. You could just imagine what happened 70 years ago when stories about what was happening to the Jews in Europe leaked out but people either didn’t want to read them or wanted to ignore them. A recent op-ed piece by a retired admiral mentioned how the US was not asserting its values in various parts of the world but it was centered on Europe and did not mention China. What is going on there deserves more attention and outrage but it remains on the periphery and the Chinese are paying off lots of Moslem countries to shut up about it.
There are several ways to get to Kennedy airport via public transportation but the cheapest is to take the subway, either the A or the E train. I took the E train this week and it was an extra 15 minutes over the time of the Long Island Railroad but you save about $5 a person (and if you have a weekly or monthly pass to ride the subway it’s a free ride) and from within the subway system you can freely transfer to another train anywhere the subway goes. It takes you to Jamaica Station where you pick up the Air Train which is the exact same place the Long Island Railroad takes you to. The E train also stops at many places in Manhattan so you might actually get to where you want to go quite a bit faster using the E or A train than using the LIRR. The E train also runs a bit more often than the LIRR does. I just would avoid the E or A train at night because they make many more stops during the late-night hours. The LIRR takes about 25 minutes from Penn Station in Manhattan to Jamaica Station in Queens. The E train took about 40-45 minutes to get to Penn Station, but it reached 59th and Lexington in about 30 minutes and stopped at places such as 5th Avenue and 53rd Street, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal along the way. Laguardia Airport is also easier to reach these days than I thought. The E, F all go to Roosevelt Avenue station in Queens and then you can take a bus straight to the airport. The 7 train goes to 74th Street and Broadway. The transfer is very easy just outside the station and the bus takes 10-20 minutes to get to the airport. The Q47 bus will take you to the Marine Air Terminal, which JetBlue has decorated beautifully, and the SBS70 bus goes to the other terminals at Laguardia. If you had to get between Laguardia and Kennedy airports, that 71st Street station is your ticket; you just get on the E train at that station and go to Jamaica and in 15 minutes you’re at JFK’s Air Train station. Anyway, the basic point is that you can use the subway and bus system to get to LGA or JFK pretty easily and if you have a monthly pass it’s a free trip! It took me an hour door to door from home on the upper west side to LGA and a little bit more from JFK. It’s not really any faster in a car and it could take even longer if there is traffic or an accident.
The population replacement rate in the US is now 1.7 and it needs to be at least 2.1 in order for each person who dies to be replaced by someone. Millennials don’t want to have kids and maybe, based on how lousy they are acting their own parents, they have come to realize that having kids is a completely irrational thing to do. Kids are poor investments and huge drains; about 2 of every 3 dollars I spend is on my kids. They are never going to pay it back (I certainly haven’t paid my parents back all they spent on me), and many kids don’t even give their parents “nachas” — a Yiddish word meaning something like comfort and joy. Success in parenthood today is basically raising a kid who can earn a living on his or her own and is not mooching on the parents for the entirety of their remaining lives. I knew when people were being nice to us with that knowing look on their faces right when we got married that they were keeping some sort of secret from us, but I didn’t know exactly what it was.
One thing I’ve noticed – although hotels make a big deal about conserving energy and being green, most of them don’t have night lights for the bathroom so either you are completely in the dark or the place is all lit up. Or they turn on with motion and then turn off while you are sitting on the toilet or standing in front of the sink brushing your teeth. That’s if you can figure out the fancy electronics to turn them on in the first place. I bought a $5 nightlight from a local drug store (no brand name on it) that runs on batteries and it’s really light and you can just stick it anywhere and it has a dimmer switch so you can adjust the amount of light you want. It’s a great item to add to a travel list.
Jeremy graduated elementary school and it is as much a celebration for me as a parent as it is for him. In his yearbook, they asked each kid what they would do with $100. Most wrote that they would buy something like video game credit or food. Jeremy said he would buy lemons to make lemonade that he could sell so that he could make $100 profit. I figure this is a good sign.
I needed a prescription from a pharmacy and the doctor’s receptionist told me that Pharmacy X was the only one in the entire city that would fill this prescription. They wanted 2 days to do it. I was in a lot of pain and asked the doctor’s receptionist if my pharmacy could do it. Certainly not, they said. I then called my pharmacy and they said they could do it for the next afternoon. I called the original pharmacy to cancel the order. They called me back 15 minutes later and told me I could come over in 2 hours to pick up my prescription and that it would also cost less. I wonder what was going on….
According to a recent article in the Jewish Week of New York quoting a study by Dan Ben-David of the Shoresh Institute for Socioeconomic Research, the brain drain in Israel is significant. For every university graduate who leaves the country, 4.5 left the country permanently in 2017. This is up from 2.5 in 2012. This is really rotten, since 20% of the population pay over 90% of the taxes; 50% of the population pay no income tax. Effects show up in congested hospitals that are at the highest rate in the developed world; the mortality rate from infectious disease in that country has doubled in the past 20 years. Since only 130,000 out of a population of 9 million are doctors, academics, engineers and the like, this is a serious issue. I had recently written that I thought Israeli was doing much better than countries around it in this regard, but I guess I am wrong. My friends don’t seem to be leaving, but then again, they are lawyers and entrepreneurs, not scientists.
Here is a jarring statistic as to the effects of the opioid problem in America. According to a UN report cited in the Economist, a 15 year old boy in America is more likely to die before age 50 than in Bangladesh.
Everywhere I go now for lunch or at a pharmacy the person behind the counter says “Following” not “Next” or Next Guest Please….. What exactly means Following?
I see a lot of people jumping subway turnstyles in New York City and I’m a fan of having facial recognition technology pick them out for prosecution. You can’t put a bunch of cops at every exit and they probably hate standing there. I see rows of cops standing in stations watching turnstyles. Figure 5 cops at $40 each per hour and that’s $200 per hour of standing around waiting for 10 people to try and beat a $3 fare. This is just not a great use of taxpayer resources and the irony is that fare-beating is still rising despite the latest efforts.
While they kids were in summer camp, we visited the Point at Saranac, a small resort in the Adirondacks section of New York near Lake Placid. It is a 3 hour car ride from Albany (the latter is a 2 ½ hour train ride from New York City). I met the first-ever and only female SWAT team member of the only SWAT team in upstate New York. I thought that was pretty cool. Did you know that the major industry of northern New York is prisons? The resort has about 10 cabins and harks back to the “Great Camps” of the gilded age in the early 20th century. That property was designed by the Rockefellers. The people who currently own it charge quite a bit to stay there but their main goal is probably to lose as little money as possible. More a labor of love than a business, it is a beautiful retreat built around a lake where you can go on a boat and see other “camps” of cabins and historically preserved structures. The food is excellent and every night you can attend a dinner party around a table where you meet most of the other 20 or so people staying the night. Afterward, you can have a camp fire together and make s’mores or just sit in the pub and throw darts or play table games. If you still have room in your tummy and want a midnight pizza or burger, someone standing by in the kitchen will make it for you. During the day, boating and hiking around is the big thing. No children allowed unless a family takes over the whole property. Not a bad place for a corporate retreat, which is why I initially visited it to scout it out.
For one of our date nights while the kids were away at camp, Karen and I went to the Stephen Colbert Show. It was a good show and the audience is stoked for a good time. We won some VIP tickets at a charity auction but I suspect that many of the other people in the VIP section were summer interns at CBS as well as friends of people in the show.
“The Squad” – Democrats need to beware. These gals are animating people who normally don’t give a damn about politics and are producing really bad polling for Democrats. When my brother tells me that his local rabbi in LA who has never said anything about politics for 25 years starts asking his congregants what they think of these nut cases in the Democratic party, you know you’re in serious trouble. With this kind of shit show, they’re going to lose again. The results of the Revolution for the Progressive Left will be another 4 years of Trump which will be a real revolution. I wrote this paragraph in July; it is now October and I don’t think anyone is talking about them anymore. I guess that was a flash in a pan. It’s one of the reasons I don’t post stuff every month; I don’t want you to waste time reading stuff that is out of fashion a month later. Like I could write about FitBits but they were last year’s craze.
An poll on Roommates and Politics cited in the Economist found that people were 7x more likely to avoid a roommate with opposite politics than to want one with similar politics. Good thing that pets are not into politics.
One other Economist item of interest: The Satisfaction Paradox – people who are happy vote on the basis of secondary issues such as race, religion and immigration. When they are not happy, they focus on who will help them economically. Mood swings such as football games, the weather, etc. affect people’s happiness. Rain causes risk aversion. The Ku Klux Klan was most popular in the Roaring 20’s. By the time of the great depression in the 30’s, people moved on to issues that were closer to their pocketbooks. I was surprised by this because I thought that historically people go for racist movements and go nuts over immigrants when they are downtrodden. Turns out that’s not exactly true.
Here’s a gem: Jeremy’s letter from camp. A real masterpiece. “Hi. I’m in a round of poker. Love you. Just kidding. It was raining yesterday. Everyone took naked showers outside.” That was the end of the letter.
My wife went to a Broadway show and you might have heard about it on the news. Some guys on motor-cycles made a lot of noise going through Times Square and everyone thought it was a mass shooting. After several mass shootings in the USA, people are on edge. The actors ran off the stage, the audience crouched down under the seats, people from outside ran into the theater, and Times Square emptied out. The show stopped and people tried not to be stampeded as they left the theater. What bothers me is how a bunch of people were able to storm into a theater in the middle of a show. What if 6 terrorists with machine guns did that? Who was going to stop them? To me that’s the real story. Beyond that, people who paid over $150 a ticket didn’t get to see the end of the show after enduring over 2 and a half hours of To Kill a Mockingbird.
I think that what is bothering people about Facebook’s claim that it is trying to be a stage for anything-goes debate is that because it is allowing itself to be used by propagandists, it is hurting democracy by allowing itself to be used by those trying to suppress voter turnout and actually make society less participatory. By putting out lies and hateful disinformation, it just creates an atmosphere of disgust and alienation and makes people feel that all politicians are evil and that their voting for anyone or anything is not worthwhile. It’s not true that every single person and idea is evil and that people should not vote. Vladimir Putin and various autocrats would prefer you to think that though. The fewer people voted for Obama made it more likely for Trump to win in 2016 and a lot of ads on Facebook went into trying to get voters to stay home. The irony about all the controversy is that Facebook is reporting record profits despite being called on the carpet all over the place.
Something you might not have realized is that the recent synagogue attack in Germany involved the production of a gun with a 3-D printer. Although it is illegal in Europe to use 3-D printers to make weapons, this person did it anyway. This is a potentially earth-shattering piece of news because if you think that banning guns through gun control will prevent acts of terror, you’re probably wrong because fanatics will just create their own guns. In this case, the gun was amateurish and did not work well, but the technology will improve. The Americans had to counter IED’s being used by terrorists (improvised electronic devices that were cheaply produced) in Iraq to ambush American troops on the ground; the cost of creating technology to jam and disable these devices was huge and out of proportion to the cost of the devices themselves but doable. The same will eventually happen with these types of devices as well, but it shows that criminal minds will always stay ahead of whatever people do to try and counter them. Gun control should focus more on preventing accidental deaths which is probably a higher statistic than those shot in terrorist acts.
Here’s another intriguing technological development: it appears the Israelis have developed a way to inject spyware into your telephone simply by dialing your phone number even if you don’t pick up the phone call. What this basically means to me is that if someone wants to get in your phone or computer, they are going to get there unless you keep the device shut off, which essentially negates any value of the device. You can be as paranoid as you want and take all necessary precautions, but it ain’t going to help. The best we can all do is be careful what you say and send and assume that other people are monitoring it. I certainly do that all the time with all my correspondence.
The last week of July I went with my 13 year old daughter Elizabeth to visit Paris for a few days on the way to see some of her cousins who live in Aachen, Germany. Afterward I continued to Dusseldorf and to Switzerland. You can read the travel notes separately. We had a great time! Did stuff like make our own perfume, bicycled around the village of Versailles and the palace, rode the flying chairs over the Tuileries Gardens at sunset, and voted on which macarons were the best (Laduree of Paris won out over Sprungli of Zurich). I continued onto to mountain-top hideaways in Switzerland with killer views and killer tourists with iPhone cameras. While I was on that mountain top, I read this really insightful article about old age written in Hochedel Magazine. It was an interview of Peter Schmidt, a designer. Some of the quotes that struck me: “ There are no shelves in a coffin….The egocentricity of old age leads to the fact that you initially become uninteresting to others and ultimately get bored of yourself…..The older you get, the better you were before. That is the self-deception of old age. You romanticize the past because you no longer have a present…..You no longer desire the things that you were not able to afford in the past. And you know how inane things are that you used to find so meaningful. ..One only understands life backward, but one has to live it forward.”
I personally view myself at being at the point in life where I know that appreciate and desire certain things and am still able to enjoy them. So I want to take advantage of that fact and enjoy them while I can. That’s what drives a lot of what you read on GlobalThoughts.com.
During September, I flew to Norfolk, Virginia to see the Klezmer Conservatory Band in concert at Old Dominion University. Not exactly a Jewish crowd but the theater was sold out and the concert was very good. I haven’t seen this band in 20 years; they do very few gigs and I wanted to see them perform. You can fly to Norfolk in an hour and the Hilton on Main Street in downtown is a perfectly good place to spend the night. In an hour, you can walk around downtown. There is a museum dedicated to General MacArthur, navy warships are parked against Main Street and there is a pretty statue of a sailor, wife and kid hugging on the occasion of his home-coming. It is a navy-oriented city and the downtown is fairly pleasant.
We went glamping with the kids one night to Governor’s Island, which is a 5 minute ferry ride from the southern tip of Manhattan. You can spend the night in a tent. Some of the tents have private bathrooms attached. Some of the tents are not tents but are in fact trailers with air conditioning and heating. We went at the end of September when the weather was perfect and a tent would have been just fine. We were lucky because a week later it got cold and rainy. The kids loved it. The food was much better than we expected at dinner (the breakfast buffet was less impressive but still decent); we were expecting food from a box but wound up having virtually a private chef in residence and the tasting menu was prepared according to our dietary restrictions and was very innovative such as risotto with apple. The Thursday night we were there it was at 60% occupancy (they have 45 tents), and on the weekends it is consistently sold out. We chose late September to avoid mosquitoes and sweating in a tent without air conditioning. Spending the night in a tent right across from the Statute of Liberty with the city skyline in the background is a unique experience. They have bicycles and at 7am you can get up and ride around the island a full 3 hours before the island opens to the public. The downside is that at 6pm, they lock the gates and you have to stay within the confines of the resort property, but there is a bar, dinner, campfire with s’mores (and a bunch of firemen standing around), movie and games to play. It’s definitely something to do once and my kids were more thankful than usual for the staycation in the city and they were both back at school by roughly 9:30am. They tell you that the last ferry to the island is at 4:15pm (check to see if that schedule has changed) but you can get a private boat transfer later for $45 a person if you need it. The first public ferry back to Manhattan is about 10am but you can get on staff ferries every half hour beginning at 7:15. So you do have to ask questions to get the full picture here. Expect to book in May for a September visit; the resort is called Collective Retreats and they have a few locations in the US.
We recently went to Washington DC and a really fun activity is the Mansion/Museum at O Street, about 2 blocks from DuPont Circle. You can walk around a 100 room mansion that is full of artifacts looking for about 70 secret doors. If you find 3, you are above average. We found about 8-10 of them. The kids had a great time roaming the place for 2 hours looking at everything. My advice is take the cheapest tour offered; they are all self-guided and the only difference is that you get a sheet of paper giving you challenges for the more expensive tours, but they are not worth paying for and it’s really hard to find the answers. You have to make a reservation in advance. The place is also a hotel. Nearby is Kramer Books, a really good bookstore with an excellent kids department including great staff. Contrast that with Barnes and Noble where the person in the kids department was utterly clueless even when I gave her a title of a popular kids’ book. Dulles airport is a really cool place to fly out of.
This past weekend we went to see the leaves change about an hour’s north of New York City at a new resort called Valley Rock Inn. You can rent a house with up to 4 bedrooms and they have a great gym, swimming pool, and they will eventually build a spa and normal-style hotel rooms. They have farm-to-table restaurant and a market as well as a neighboring coffee shop called Village Blend which was really good, and you can go hiking in nearby Harriman State park and in the summer you can also kayak on the lake. There is a New Jersey transit train stop called Sloatsburg about 500 feet from the hotel’s entrance. This was a great place to spend a weekend just out of the city limits and within an hour of Manhattan, about 20 minutes from Woodbury Commons outlet shopping mall. Book way in advance or get lucky in the event of a cancellation as it is a small property and heavily booked for weddings.
Also in the travel notes you can read about our summer holiday to Scotland and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Norway including Oslo, Bergen, and the fjords and glacier region, Copenhagen and London. You can also read about my trip to Paris with Elizabeth, and my continued visit to Dusseldorf and to Villa Honegg in Switzerland. Links are at the bottom of this article.
Global Survey — A detailed discussion of geopolitcal domestic and international isssues.
For the past few years, the world has been quieter in certain ways and I didn’t have that much to write about. That’s changing now because Trump is creating instability across the globe and it’s actually getting hard to keep up with all the trouble-makers filling the voids. I realize that I haven’t posted anything since early June and actually quite a bit has happened this summer. More stuff than usual, and things keep changing so I don’t want to write some analysis that is out of date before you even read it such as what I wrote about The Squad. But now I’m going to pause a bit and take stock of various issues. Last quarter, Stratfor came out with its quarterly report and I thought it was just a bunch of historical analysis without telling you anything I didn’t already know or that they didn’t really predict anything. I’m trying to avoid the same mistakes here. This article contains analysis; a companion article posted today called The Middle Way suggests policies to deal with various issues. A link to that article is at the bottom of this article.
US 2020 Elections – I saw someone watching a video of Trump haranguing about domestic politics and calling on China to investigate his opponent while the President of Finland was visiting the White House. It was embarrassing. What the world needs is for that guy from Finland to stand up and say “You are running a total shit-show here and it’s unprofessional. The world needs the US to get its act together. I’m outta here.” And you know, if he would do that, maybe half the country that thinks Trump is good entertainment might jump ship on him. That’s how Finland could change the world.
If I were the Republicans, I’d join Trump’s impeachment as quickly as possible, get him out and hope that Michael Pence is a better VP than expected. If he surrounds himself with good advisors, selects a competent VP, and runs a good show and exceeds current expectations of him which are below zero, he could have a decent chance of beating the Democratic field. George Bush Jr. put good people around him and wound up a two-term president. I think that Biden is the best of that field but he is a dangerous bet because of his age and the fact that he would be a one-term president (and I guess the money people in the Democratic party agree with me because he is not getting a lot of money). One thing about Biden that worries me is that he was warned about what his son was doing several years ago when he was vice president but the people around him were told at the time that he was consumed with the health of his child and didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with the issue. As president, you have to deal under much more severe pressure and I’m not sure based on this story that Biden is cut out for the job. Buttigieg, a former special forces officer who is known as having gone where 99% of the other soldiers around him wouldn’t dare to go seems a better fit for the job even if he is a lot younger and less politically experienced. Being mayor of a city in Indiana with 100,000 residents and a commando in a war zone is just not enough experience for the presidency. A New York Times columnist had it right when he said that he is the right candidate 4 or 8 years from now.
Bernie Sanders recent heart attack is not going to inspire confidence in his candidacy. Biden’s election as a one-term president either means he’d be a lame duck from Day One or perhaps other countries would see a window of opportunity and rush to make deals with him knowing that he is competent. I think Trump will lose unless the Democrats fall all over themselves, which is quite possible. I think the CIA is now acting to put him out of business and that these leaks about Ukraine, Australia and whatever else is coming are going to be hard for Republicans to defend; you knew all along that they would since he has hated the CIA. Nobody wants to work for him. He is decimating the Republican Party; the worst thing that could happen to the Republicans is 4 more years of Trump trashing the party. They will ultimately get creamed as a party and it’s just a matter of time so they might as well mitigate the damage rather than compound it because they will have to pay the bill for Trump sooner or later.
Actually, if both Trump and Pence are impeached, Pelosi would take over and she would definitely be better than either of them as president. There are just so many people that I know that would be a better president than any of the candidates currently running, except that none of them are stupid enough to run for the office. Consider that the one person Trump doesn’t like to cross is Pelosi.
A telling point is that Fox News has started to replace its board of directors. Paul Ryan, former speaker of the House who hates Trump, is now on the board. Fox anchors are arguing on the air with each other in a way they never did before. Fox has figured out that its audience of whites over 65 years old is a dying audience and it’s just a matter of time before it fizzles out. Right now they matter because older people vote much more than younger people but that party will end at some point because the new generation is not of the same stock. I’ve been saying for years that the Republican party is not going to be relevant in another 10-20 years because the country is becoming less white, females are disgusted with Trump, and attitudes about religion especially among the young are changing. Trump has farmers in his corner, but has given them so much subsidies that 42% of farm income is from government subsidies. When the Democrats do that, the Republicans scream they are buying votes with welfare. Well, what’s the difference folks? Fox sees the writing on the wall and it will be telling to see how they decide to handle Trump in the coming year. Till now, he’s brought them business. Trump is very popular among the Republican base. But who exactly is that base? A bunch of old white men? The same .002% of the British population that voted Boris Johnson in as prime minister? And what’s gonna happen when the man actually faces a popular vote against someone other than James Corbyn, who is the worst possible candidate the Labor party could have put up against him? What you see isn’t really what you get – you are getting it now, but at a certain point this is going to change. Those that don’t get it are going to be left outside the mainstream for a generation and will have to utterly reinvent themselves. There’s still time for another candidate to enter the race but we know the system is rigged for either a Democrat or Republican. A third party candidate just can’t do it. Bloomberg (my personal choice) is not likely to try because the Democratic party won’t back him even if it puts up a sure loser instead. I think they should draft one of the top 10 senators and basically tell him or her that he or she is running. Elizabeth Warren is not going to win for 2 reasons – (1) Hillary Clinton was viewed as a bitch and a lot of men will not vote for one. Warren is in the same category, if not worse. (2) Her ideas are nuts. I’d probably vote for Trump faster than Warren and that would be just awful since I was wiling to vote for Clinton but not for Warren. Well, actually I’d vote for Warren for two bad reasons which I will state below.
The country doesn’t need people with crazy new ideas. We just need some stability and professionalism. Both are sorely lacking. A separate writing I am posting today will go down a list of about 25 issues and tell you what I think ought to be done about them. I spent a lot of time thinking about that because I feel that I’ve seen the various ideas at play and I don’t like them. Most of them are kooky and will never get passed by a Congress. What we need are ideas that are compromises that people could agree to. There is room for innovation but what is needed right now is a time-out and a bit of chill for this country and the world. There is just too much instability for everyone’s taste. It’s hard to commit to anything, be it business, international relations, or investment, when the rules of the game keep changing weekly with a topsy-turvy president.
My personal choices are that Democrats ought to look more closely at Ms. Klobuchar, and the Republicans ought to draft Mitt Romney to run against Trump. Klobuchar could pick someone like Buttigieg as Vice President and that would be an interesting ticket that would be hard to beat. Various people and the Economist say she is the most qualified of the various Democratic choices. Biden is having trouble raising money and he is going to suffer the same fate Jeb Bush suffered 3 years ago.
One thing about Fox that worries me. I can’t prove it, but I have this strange suspicion that there might be a reason why Fox covers up everything the Russians are accused of doing. Normally, you’d expect Fox to be all over a Democratic president who cozied up to the Russians. Fox wraps itself up in the American flag sorta like a Republican congressman or church preacher who says homophobic things in public and then one day you found out he was a closet gay person. I wouldn’t be surprised if 20 years from now after Rupert Murchoch is dead we all find out that there was a connection between himself and the Russians that nobody knew about at the time and that the flag-waving Fox network was a cover for a network beholden to the Russians. Remember Robert Maxwell? After he died, we started finding out a bunch of things about that press baron that nobody knew while he was alive. If there is hell, there will be a special place for Murdoch allowing his network to broadcast libel against a Lieutenant Colonel Iraq War Purple Heart veteran serving as head of Ukraine for the national security council insinuating that perhaps he is really a spy (he was born in Ukraine and lived there until he was 3 years old) just because he is exposing what Trump did with regard to the Ukraine when he was holding off their military aid while they were fending off Russian invasion in return for a promise to find dirt on his domestic political opponent. That is just a level of political cynicism beneath contempt.
I’ll end on this one point: Here’s one reason to vote for Elizabeth Warren against Donald Trump, and I wouldn’t want to vote for her. She has a bunch of crazy ideas, but zero chance that any of them will ever pass Congress. So who cares what she says she wants to do? The point is that she is probably more intelligent than Donald Trump and definitely more honest. She would bring more dignity to the office. The problem for America is that as I said before, all these people with stupid ideas won’t get anything done. So if these are the only choices we have, America is doomed to a century of voting for presidents destined to fail because we are voting for extremists instead of people down the middle who might forge compromises and get things done. If you want to know why countries around the world are choosing to side with China over America, you don’t have to look any further than a political system that gives you a choice between Warren/Sanders/Biden versus Trump.
US Election Reform – People with lives that matter are not interested in spending 2 years campaigning to be president and the quality of candidates in both parties shows the truth of this. There should be 4 regional primaries held in the spring of an election year and campaigning shouldn’t start until around January 1 of the election year. All this winnowing out process did was root out moderate candidates and leave us with radicals on both sides, and Trump wound up as president. The system needs to change to encourage moderates with successful track records to run. If people knew that the primaries would be quick and decisive, more people would vote and this would help make the process less prone to manipulation by a few dogs that bark loudly.
Canada – A Canadian explained that Trudeau is basically been exposed whilst in office as an air-head with a famous father who tried to make a show of creating a diverse cabinet. His Justice Minister was an aboriginal who was not qualified for the job. When this Canadian company’s case came up, under normal circumstances, they would have postponed the matter so as not to cause damage to a Canadian company that affected a lot of jobs. She was not part of the established system and didn’t do that. He handled the matter clumsily as he pressured the minister to back off the prosecution and created a scandal for himself in the process. He will win the next election but with a smaller representation in the parliament and probably require a coalition partner to make a majority. He doesn’t have any real opposition. (Obviously I wrote this before the election, but it turns out I made the right call.)
France – Macron wins my award for survival. He’s had a year of hell and somehow came out of it pretty well. He is trying to take advantage of the fact that the Germans and British are preoccupied with domestic politics and punch above his weight in Europe but the other countries resent it and feel he is being too pushy, so he is not getting particularly far with his ideas but he is at least very much in the game.
Britain – If I were Scotland, I’d break away from the rest of these losers although Scotland did not appear to be a place of hard-working people to judge from our last visit there. Britain has the leader it deserves. The only real way out of this mess is to have a second referendum, admit it was all a mistake, and move on. That’s probably beyond the grasp of this breed of people. The damage is probably irreversible at this point; business has moved past Britain, and so have I. Heathrow is one of the meanest airports on the planet and a horrible place to make a connection with terminals that are miles apart and terrible to move around in, even if you are in business class. British Airways has one of the worst customer service departments of any major airline (and this is confirmed in a recent Economist article), and all I can say is that if it were World War II all over again, I’d never send my kid to fight for that country. Today’s Germans are infinitely more pleasant to deal with than today’s Brits. Brexit and the suicide that comes with it couldn’t come to a more deserving country. Apart from an airline ticket in December that I bought a year ago, you’ll probably never find me flying to Heathrow or on British Airways ever again. JetBlue is starting service to London next year and I sincerely hope they avoid Heathrow. If it were me looking to do business in Europe, I’d avoid Britain like the plague and do business and make flight connections elsewhere in Europe. I have a few friends from England and they’re nice but they are stuck is a country that is just consigning itself to the dustbin of history with total idiots at the helm and not too many brains in the population. I can tell you in Boris Johnson’s defense that someone I know who spent time with him over the past 10 years or so says that he is privately a serious and put-together guy but the minute you put a camera on him he goes into a staged routine of acting like an idiot and messing himself up. I’ve also read this story once. This is his public persona that works with blokes in the peanut gallery and it just might work – if the people at the top think they can deal with him privately, he just might come up with the goods for Britain and be able to sell it to the public which by and large is not very sophisticated and doesn’t particularly dislike Johnson.
Turkey – Erdogan built too many palaces and tried to install his family to run the country’s central bank. It’s just too much already and the country is not doing well. His attempt to rig and rerun elections in Istanbul backfired. I think he’ll be gone within 2 years although right now he just got a great shot in the arm when Trump gave into him and let him have the run of the house in the Levant.
Egypt – Sissi doesn’t allow for anything in-between. It’s either him or the threat of a deluge and he is also like Erdogan building palaces and grandiose projects that don’t make sense. There are elements of the army that oppose him. The rich Gulf States don’t want to pay the bills for this country forever. He is doing things to please the IMF but creating higher levels of poverty in the process; he is deeply unpopular within Egypt but people are afraid of what would happen if he were overthrown. They don’t want a replay of Morsi. So Sissi will be around for a while but it would be to his advantage to loosen the reigns a bit and let people breathe. He could have had his way in the country without utterly shutting down factions that were liberal and not under his direct control. Now he really has no allies, just subjects. He also believes that the US cannot be trusted as an ally and he is hedging his bets with parties such as the Russians, which makes the US have very little leverage to deal with him.
Syria – Assad wins this round but he is stuck with a garbage bin of a country that nobody is going to help rebuild. Good Luck. The Russians just want their access to the port and to various concessions in the country and the Iranians want a base against Israel, but the Israelis will keep striking them. So it will just be a hell-hole of a country for the foreseeable future. Like I said, Good Luck. So far there is not much to show for all this war, either for Syria or for its Russian backers.
Lebanon—this is a country to watch in the near future. The situation is changing because it used to be one sect against another. People are so fed up that they are crossing boundaries to align together as Lebanese to try and get the whole system that governs the country to change. There is so much corruption and nothing works that everyone is just disgusted and wants to work together to make things work, such as collecting the garbage and getting electricity to work. Iran is very worried that fed-up people in Lebanon and Iraq are demonstrating against their goons in these countries and will want to throw them out, and that this will lead Iranians to do the same. The Iranians are doing their best to intimidate people in these other countries and keep them down.
Iran – I don’t think that Trump’s strategy is a good one as Iran has important interests that must be recognized and all that is really happening is that Trump is being exposed as a paper tiger and Saudi Arabia is being exposed as too weak to do anything on its own. Ultimately, the Iranian regime will be overthrown and it will adjust its nuclear policies accordingly. Kicking the can down the road for 15 years was not the worst strategy and the Israeli military endorsed it. The Americans ought to sit down with Iran and redo the nuclear deal but it needs to be clearer that the money is not to be diverted by Iran to stir up more trouble all over the region. The Iranians didn’t really do anything to try and rebuild their economy; they just diverted resources to Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere making trouble.
Saudi Arabia – MBS is finding out that America doesn’t really need Saudi Arabia anymore and that, while America is happy to sell them weapons and be paid, those weapons don’t really work unless you know how to turn them on, and unless you are prepared to use them. There’s a story in a major US newspaper about 30 terrorists from Yemen that crossed into Saudi Arabia for 8 hours, took breaks there, and the Saudis didn’t even try to capture them. The Americans basically lead the Saudi planes to their targets and tell them where to drop the bombs. This Khashoggi murder was really bad; Americans are disgusted with Saudi Arabia and aside from people with business interests who laid low for a while but came right back to the table, you’re not going to get Americans to get behind doing anything to protect that country because it’s clear that our values are in total conflict and this ruler has no interest in anything other than cosmetic change. Even though oil prices went up 20% the next day after 50% of their oil production was wiped out, the oil markets quickly stabilized and life went on. Eventually, Saudi Arabia will become a different country, either because MBS will be overthrown or because it will change in order to be able to survive in a tough neighborhood without the security guarantees it used to have that let it act with impunity.
Israel – I don’t know much about Benny Gantz and I’m not sure I even care. He will probably be a weak prime minister and be the same as Netanyahu except maybe more soft-spoken. The real problem with Netanyahu is that he’s reached the point where is more interested in serving himself than the country. It’s a break from several generations of leaders who cared about serving their country. The whole country’s politics have become self-serving which means you can’t expect the various people in the Knesset to vote the country’s interests. I won’t name names but I can tell you that foreign governments are puzzled when they see Israeli ministers acting like hacks approaching these governments trying to cut side deals and claim the credit for it for their constituents, and these government officials don’t know who they are supposed to deal with. It’s become like every political hack is out for himself or herself. In December I will be speaking at an international Jewish conference and my message will be that Netanyahu did so much damage to the American Jewish relationship with Israel that future relations between Israel and America as a whole will never be as they were. I’ve written in the past about all the things the Israeli government has done to alienate itself from mainstream American Jews. I myself am re-evaluating past support for certain types of charities in Israel and am cutting back travel, periodical subscriptions and engagement with news and goings on in that country. You can be sure that the Jewish federations that provided tons of support to Israel in earlier generations are no longer going to send over the money they used to, not when you have governments out there pandering to ultra-orthodox coalition partners declaring that 90% of American Jews including many Orthodox Jews and their rabbis are not authentic Jews. A recent survey in Israel found that 46% of Israeli Jews do not believe their own government should consider the concerns of American Jews. Only 31% said they should and 23% had no opinion. So that should tell you why Israelis don’t care much about America and why most young American Jews don’t care much about Israel. A new prime minister will get a fresh look from America if the policies also change. One thing Benny Gantz (Israel’s most likely next prime minister) has promised to do is to legitimize all non-Orthodox Jews denominations in Israel and this is in line with a clear majority of public opinion in the country (even traditional religious people) which does not like being hamstrung by an ultra-Orthodox religious monopoly.
I’ve looked at past editions of Globalthoughts and realize that I haven’t really explained this problem on this site so I will do that now, and you’ll have an idea of what I’ll be talking about at that England conference in December.
American Jews & Israel — the coming schism: Aside from the 10% of American Jews who are Orthodox and who solidly back Netanyahu and right-wing and/or religious parties in Israel, the other 90% are rather unhappy with this government which, due to its essential support by religious parties, has taken positions that denigrate the religious legitimacy of that 90% whom the ultra-orthodox rabbis consider not really Jewish. The result is that this 90% feels increasingly alienated from today’s Israel feeling that they have no standing in it. For instance, egalitarian prayer spaces at the Western Wall in Jerusalem were supposed to be created based on a compromise reached several years ago, and Netanyahu nixed it under pressure from his religious coalition partners. When the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting happened a few months ago, the religious authorities in Israel referred to a community center because they wouldn’t say it was a synagogue since it was not an Orthodox synagogue. When Israel’s cabinet minister went to Pittsburgh, the only person who greeted him was another Israeli official; part of the reason was that Netanyahu was aligning himself with racist political parties at home and abroad in Europe and elsewhere, and trumpeting Trump so much that he has created an image of himself as more in bed for survival with racists than with his own Jews whom he views as politically expendable. As you’ve noticed, Netanyahu has aligned Israel with Republicans in a way that no prime minister before him ever did, and most Jews in the US vote Democrat. These are good examples of what I mean by growing alienation. Most American Jews didn’t care if the Americans moved their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and Trump wasn’t trying to please them when he did it; Trump did it to curry favor with evangelicals who did care, and to pay back Sheldon Adelson who really wanted this and was perhaps his biggest donor and who bet large on him when others weren’t backing him.
AIPAC’s (the largest pro-Israel lobbying organization in America) convention in Washington held every March is another example of the new reality in that the 18,000 people that showed up and made a lot of noise represent but a sliver of the Jewish community; people who don’t toe the line don’t feel welcome there, according to first-hand reports I’ve seen from people who attended. AIPAC used to support all Israeli governments but now it only backs right-wing ones, so other organizations such as J Street have risen up to show that AIPAC is not the only game in town which allows politicians to be supportive of Israel and choose among which Jewish organizations they prefer – J Street is uncomfortably leftist for many Jews and is anathema to the current Israeli government. So now you have Jews versus Jews on Israel and this can’t be good because non-Jews want to know there is a central address for Jews. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations was created to prevent this but its executive director Malcolm Hoenlein is retiring and the new guy is not of the same pedigree.
So basically, you can’t expect these 90% of Americans — who can’t even go to the Western Wall to celebrate a girl’s bat mitzvah ceremony — to kick butt for Israel next time it goes to war and asks people to run to their synagogues to buy Israeli Bonds or donate to Jewish federations to pass along the money to Israel. In past generations, it was those people (not the Orthodox) that made possible the establishment of the state and that nurtured it in its first two generations. The Orthodox show up to Jerusalem for Jewish holidays using frequent flyer points and give to a limited array of charities that further their political agendas. The broad support you used to see is not gonna happen anymore because the people running the Jewish community federations across America are not on the same page as the Israeli government (most Federation support and leadership is non-Orthodox) and the amount of money they collect and send to Israel has dropped dramatically over the past generation. And that means that you are not going to see a groundswell of support among American Jews for Israeli political positions no matter if it is important to its security. The younger generation is more alienated — and therefore more apathetic. No real desire to travel and visit there, write letters to the editor, give donations to pro-Israel candidates, or even to be informed about issues of concern to the country. My own 11 year old son refers to Israel as “that freaky place of death” and he’s already visited that country several times (and he can compare it to other countries in the region he has visited at this point such as the UAE and Jordan, and the UAE is a great place to be a tourist). Netanyahu has planted the seeds of this by choosing political survival over long term cultivation of that relationship. Israelis couldn’t care less about American Jews; they live in their own world, think that they don’t need anyone else, and they think that everything is just a PR game and that all you have to do is improve PR — when in reality it is the policies viz the non-religious Jews as well as the Palestinians, not the PR, which is the root of the problem. (I’ve referred above to a recent poll about Israeli attitudes toward American Jews.)
Put simply — If you are Israel saying to 90% of American Jews that they’re not Jewish enough for you to count, then why should they care about knowing or defending Israel’s positions on the Palestinians, Iran or whatever else – why care at all? The only reason they should care in the first place is that it is the Jewish state, but not if they’re not Jewish enough to count. This past year the Jewish Federations had a conference in Israel with the theme “It’s time to talk.” There was no talking, just mealy mouthed sessions. Netanyahu made his speech and left. There was nothing to talk about, not after previous deals had been made and trashed. Millennials write in Jewish newspapers in America that they go to Israel on junkets, and that social media blog writers get audiences with the government as long as they stick to fluff, but that they know there is nothing of substance from these visits. But it’s a good gig.
This problem was not created in a day, and it is not going to be easily reversed.
As I’ve said, the future of America is a more Democratic progressive country and Israel looks increasingly outside the bounds of American values with a prime minister cozying up to dictators around the world, denying entry to the country to anyone who has publicly stated highly liberal positions, and negating a two-state solution which has been the cornerstone of global policy in that area for 50 years (without creating an alternative that takes anyone else’s interests into account in a serious way). Democratic candidates are openly expressing opinions about Israel that they would never in the past have said publicly and this reflects changes of opinion at the highest levels of the party and Israel deserves this since Netanyahu sided with Republicans against Democrats and they have not forgiven him for this. Trump is a passing phenomenon and Bibi aligned himself with Trump to the point of ridiculousness, especially since Trump is dumping Bibi the minute he didn’t win the last vote. Trump is never going to be there for Israel if it ever needs America, just like Trump who would be thrilled to suck up to the Saudis and the promise of future wealth transfers, won’t be there for them either.
Here are some important numbers: A Pew Research Center poll in April 2019 found that just 27% of Americans under 30 had a favorable view of the Israeli government. 61% of Republicans and just 26% of Democrats had favorable views of the Israeli government. Favorability ratings among evangelicals also shows a generational divide; younger ones are not as pro-Israel as their parents. All this means that unless Israeli governmental policy changes, they are increasingly going to be looking at an American public that does not share their values and an up and coming Jewish community that doesn’t either and will not do the same as their parents did to support them. Remember the feeling is mutual — a few paragraphs above I wrote that a recent poll in Israel shows that 46% of Israelis feel their government should not consider the opinions of Americans Jews and only 31% said they should. So when I say a schism is coming, the numbers clearly show it. And considering that Jewish money counted for about 50% of contributions to the Democratic Party and 25% of contributions to the Republican party in 2016 (and note that the survey closed before Sheldon Adelson starting putting money into Republicans) according to a study published by the Ruderman Foundation for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, it means that even though Jews are only 2% of the country’s population, politically they still punch way above their weight. By the way, if it is any indication, Pete Buttigieg is getting the most Jewish money so far of all the candidates, so if you think Jewish money is smart money, then he’s the guy to watch. And you might have noticed that, except for Biden, the other 3 Democratic leading candidates are not espousing policies that give Israel the free pass they used to expect and clearly Jewish money is not alienated from these candidates at this point. A takeaway from this is that Jewish money increasingly doesn’t care about Israel. Today’s billionaires may be disproportionately Jewish but that doesn’t mean that people like Mark Zuckerberg are supporting candidates based on their policies about Israel. This article is not pro-Israel or anti-Israel; it is an attempt to explain the current reality and future trends.
The Geopolitical Angle Beyond: Aside from the Jewish religious aspect to this problem which is really an intra-Jewish issue, there is also a geopolitical problem festering between the two countries. Israel seems to be making a strategic choice that it wants to have deeper relations with China, which also happens to be arising as America’s rival in the world arousing great suspicion. Chinese companies are buying up Israeli companies and a Chinese company has a contract to operate the port of Haifa where American navy ships and submarines historically docked. There is no question that this takeover will open the port to Chinese spying and the Americans will no longer want to dock there. The Israelis tried to excuse this by saying that some idiots approved of the deal (but you have to wonder how a deal like this could have gotten off the ground), but the government’s cabinet met earlier in the year and couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do and simply put off the matter for review for 6 months. I believe the final decision is to continue to allow the deal to happen. This is important because this pivot toward Asia and China, along with Netanyahu’s embrace of all kinds of dictators hostile to American interests, such as in the Philippines, Hungary and in South America. American supporters of Israel used to claim that Israel shared American values and was a geopolitical asset. If it is not going to be in that category, the pillars of the relationship will be put to the test. Israel is a democracy but it is tending toward anti-Democratic values in its domestic politics with new laws that tend toward negating minorities and abridging individual freedoms, and there have been too many corruption cases for anyone’s comfort, although at least they are being exposed and prosecuted. Israel is basically left with evangelical support for people waiting for Armageddon and 10% of the Jewish community but is basically alienating everyone else. It’s not a good plan for the future although perhaps it is a good plan if you believe that America is not where the future is. Considering that America has become unreliable, gridlocked politically for a generation and has managed to consistently come up with awful candidates for its leadership, you look at China and at least see a country that thinks and acts strategically and consistently and is set to become the world’s #1 economy. Netanyahu is no fool, and his embrace of China is in fact a damning indictment of America’s future and where Israel sees the winds of progress blowing. Israelis and Chinese have a lot in common; they value investment, family, close personal ties and education, and do not suffer fools gladly. Israel’s careful engagement with the Russians is capitulation to reality that Russians are taking charge in the region and the Americans are unreliable and leaving. The Americans can get angry over this, but a more productive response would be for America to get its act together, something that will never happen as long as the Fox Network and Facebook simply run around getting everyone to hate anything that smacks of moderation and compromise and allowing truth and lies to have equal footing in the national discourse.
For the first year of Trump’s presidency, people in the region wondered what his secret plan was. Now they realize he has no plan, and it’s more scary in that region because they know he’s clueless and has no intention of doing anything which means that troublemakers have a void to fill. The Israelis are stepping up strikes in Syria, Sudan and Iraq (and soon Yemen) to compensate but in my opinion, the Israelis are not able to do any lasting damage in Iran. They can cause damage, but so can the Iranians. So it is basically a standoff and a problem that is better suited to negotiation rather than saber rattling and constant military action under the radar. Someone suggested the Israelis offer to pull out of Shebaa farms in Lebanon and eliminate Hizbullah’s raison d’etre for being in that country. It is a sensible strategic idea; Israel gains little by being there and it might be good to call Hizbullah’s bluff and see if it leads to other issues being solved. One other thought – Israeli Arabs got their act together in this last election and united as a bloc. Most of that bloc even endorsed Gantz. I don’t know why it is taboo to have Israeli Arabs as part of the government but I think that today the moderate Israelis have more in common with Israeli Arabs than with racist yahoos and Ultra-Orthodox fanatics. I think they should bring them into the political system and that they would be worthy coalition partners; they represent over 20% of the country and it is probably much more practical and constructive to work with them than the others. Israeli can still be a Jewish homeland and that does not have to be inconsistent with working with Arabs inside a government. Today’s Israel does not want religious coercion, and even young religious people feel that way, according to polls. That means that the most likely way forward in that country is an alliance between major mainstream parties that excludes the ultra-religious parties. For that to happen, the Likud will have to get rid of Netanyahu and eventually they will.
The Middle East is going to be a big problem – As I wrote above, Trump and Obama have both shown that America is a paper tiger that cannot and will not enforce anything in the region. That leaves the parties either to work things out or to fight. You can expect more instability in this region going forward unless the US gets a person in the oval office to restore American credibility.
Russia and Ukraine—Putin is pretty unpopular in his country and the new Ukrainian president seems a bit more clever and willing to deal in a reasonable way with Russia. It might make sense to make a deal that gives Russia rights in the Ukraine and pulls everyone’s troops out. I don’t see a long-term benefit to Russia for draining resources in the Ukraine. He could declare victory and use the money at home. Russia does have vital interests there and it is to be expected that they would want to defend them. At the very least, Russia doesn’t want a hostile Ukraine just as America doesn’t want trouble from Cuba.
China – It’s been explained to me that Xi in China didn’t extend his rule because he was power hungry but because he has a long term vision for the country and wants time to be able to fulfill it. As you will recall, I earlier wrote this year that he didn’t want the top job and insisted on doing it his way if he would take it. Although there are real complaints about China, I think that Trump’s strategy is poor and that finding common ground with China is the way to go instead of trying to build a technology wall between the two systems. Countries all over the world prefer Huawei and do not want to have to choose sides and be stuck with the US on the wrong side of the G5 revolution. It bears noting that the leading American tech companies have their top AI research centers in China. Tariffs are so last-century. You’ve heard me say this before but I’ll say it again – China needs to know that on a bipartisan basis people are unhappy with them stealing technology, locking up their own people in concentration camps and basically not playing fair. Hong Kong is clearly full of unhappy campers and maybe China will send in its troops, maybe Hong Kong will lose its importance as a financial capitol, and maybe China will keep buying silence by spreading its money around various countries with carrots and sticks attached. But long term it is not a strategy to make friends and influence people. China has no friends and no respect. It has power and money but what really matters to Xi is keeping his people employed; he knows that unemployment beyond a certain threshold threatens his rule and his country so Xi can put on his game face and say he is able to dig in for the long haul and he has a great propaganda machine going for him domestically, but push comes to shove if people are out of work in China he’s afraid of losing control over the country. America can play hard ball and make a lot of trouble for China in this regard but at the cost of hurting America too. It is a stare-down with no winners. The whole world economy right now is in a downdraft because of the unstable economic relationship between China and America that can’t seem to find common ground. It’s not a long-term future for anyone, let alone China, and it probably means that within 20 years or so the country will change. Xi can do what he does and forestall the inevitable but my feeling is that it is better to work with China than to prolong the agony as we did with Cuba by giving them an enemy to rally against. Work with them and eventually the country will probably change for the better. North Korea is another example –
North Korea – information is leaking into that country and its leader can keep his racket going into the intermediate future but people are starving, his programs aren’t working, and the problem with all those weapons is that they become useless once they are actually used (because then you get hit back and everything is destroyed). It’s better to keep talking to the North Koreans, deprive them of an enemy to rally around, and just bide time till the system falls of its own accord.
Singapore – I’m looking to visiting it with the kids this coming year. Someone explained to me that the biggest issue facing the country is its air space. Neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia want more control over Singapore’s air space. Singapore’s economy is driven by its airport and by planes making connections. If its neighbors choke its airspace, it is a existential threat to the country’s economy.
Israel’s Elections and Future Prime Minister — It took a while but I finally got the high-level briefing I needed, and I think I can make a prediction about Israel’s political future. Benny Gantz will, in the eleventh hour, form a coalition with Likud with the blessing of Avigdor Liberman and the country’s president Rivlin. There will be some face-saver for Netanyahu who will be prime minister but “incapacitated” once he is indicted and Gantz will wind up serving most of the 4 year term. According to a poll just released today by the Times of Israel, 62% of Israelis favor a unity government between Likud and Gantz’s Blue & White party, which ought to put pressure on the two sides to agree to form a coalition. Gantz is considered a calm, humble person who is expected to develop more political skills with time, just as Netanyahu did during his course of years in power. Gantz brings to mind a person like Yitzchak Rabin who is considered honest and good at reaching across the table to compromise with various political factions. His view as to the Palestinian issue is that the problem should be shrunk if it cannot be managed. This is a pragmatic view in light of the current circumstances (Palestinian infighting with two distinct camps in two distinct territories and no designated successor to Abbas who is at this point ineffective), and it means that the issue should be dealt with in a good faith way so that options can be preserved for the future if and when the time comes to deal, rather than continuing to create facts on the ground that preclude an ultimate two-state solution. He will put the good of the country first, and he has two other former army chiefs of staff with him, so nobody can say that the leadership is not conscious of security (and it is really the army and not the prime minister that calls the shots militarily). I believe that the various factions will want to deal with Gantz who will be more pleasant to deal with than Netanyahu was, and that the major parties will want to avoid a stalemate leading to a third election in which public apathy will be so great that it would be anyone’s guess who would win. I also think that Trump’s latest exit from the Middle East is sobering throughout the region, not least in Israel. Less bombast and touting the idea that Trump will have Israel’s back is going to result in people realizing that Netanyahu does not really have as much of an alliance with Trump as he thought, and that the country has to rely on itself with solid leadership and less bullshit. Gantz is not a professional politician but it should be recalled that Netanyahu also made a lot of mistakes in his early political years and people feel that Gantz will grow in the job.
Dennis Ross and David Makovsky are touting their new book “Be Strong and of Good Courage” which I haven’t read yet, but their message is that the Palestinian issue cannot be fixed at the present time, but that Israel should not continue to create facts on the ground that make it impossible to have a two-state solution, because the demographics are running against Israel and 20 years from now, the Palestinians will say the heck with the land, give us the vote, and then Israel will wish that 20 years earlier they had just given them some territory and not try to take over the country with their votes. They also said that if America wants to exit the Middle East, they should not be surprised that bad actors will fill the voids that are created and that it will be much harder in the future to get local partners to help the US on the ground, so the only way the US will get its way in the region is to put its own armed forces on the ground. Penny-wise, dollar foolish is in essence what the US is doing today under Trump in abandoning the Kurds and showing the Egyptians, Turks, Syrians and everyone else that they are not a reliable ally. So of course Putin steps in and takes over the region. It’s hard to believe that only 1,000 American troops separated the region from a tenuous calm to chaos and that the Russians with a minimal investment got the windfall in the whole region. It’s called a Tripwire and it matters, I guess.
At the end of the day, only Israel is countering Iran in the region and the players there know and respect it. At this point, the Gulf states probably see themselves aligned more with Israel than anyone else in the world but this is a temporary alliance because their values do not align and nobody should delude themselves about it. The US is not doing anything of substance except for making noise, and Europe wishes the problem would go away so they could do more business.
There is a difference between the US and the Russians/Chinese in the Middle East and elsewhere. You could plausibly say that Russia is just getting itself into a mess with the Kurds, Turkey and Syria and that Iran is certainly not interested in having the Russians and Turks on their doorstep in this way. You could say that it is fine for the US to just get out of there and let all these wonderful gentlemen duke it out among themselves. Obama certainly felt that way when the Russians came into Syria about 5 years ago. I don’t think they have a lot to show for 5 years of involvement in the region.
The parties in the region actually prefer the US being involved than the Russians or the Iranians. Most of the parties don’t trust the Iranians or the Russians. The Russians are more like mafia dons than actual partners and they do want to destabilize and corrupt countries in the region; the Israelis have turned down various Russian offers to invest in the country because they know that the investments will bring corruption and give Russian government officials an inside track within Israel. They have been more friendly toward Chinese investment because they are strong enough economically not to feel threatened by the investment. The Iranians are looking to stir up trouble in all these countries. The Chinese are not looking to destabilize the countries but they want to create debt traps and then assert rights in these countries that have the effect of making the countries dependent on China. Americans are basically viewed as having intentions to create stability, even if some of their actions don’t have that effect, and not all the American ideas about democracy are welcome. But basically, the Americans are viewed as a naïve and preachy force for good and at least until now, they were considered to be reliable. What the Russians are accomplishing is to be persistently involved and to show that they are not going to exit if the going gets tough and it’s funny because their actual investments have been small but enough to matter in the absence of American assertiveness. That builds a certain amount of credibility and forces people to deal with them as a force to be reckoned with. The Israelis have certainly learned that they have to deal with the Russians over the past decade, and that they more so than the Americans are now controlling the air traffic in the region. The Israelis have been striking at Iraq and Syria with in-place missile systems, meaning that they are being launched from Israel or from the sea but not directly over the foreign countries. That will be harder to do if the players turn to Russian systems that allow for better air defense, and even the Saudis are now talking to Russia because America was not particularly helpful in preventing 50% of their oil production from going down when they were hit by Iranian missiles. So all that means that the Russians have to be dealt with.
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