Global Thoughts — 6 February 2012

Disney, Introducing the Palm Beach karate man, and at the Big Band Dance in Asheville, North Carolina

This last month has had lots of fun for us as a family – New Year’s weekend at Disney World; a Big Band dancing weekend in North Carolina. Elizabeth uses lots of big words such as superb and spectacular and I’m happy that all these new words are about happy expressions. Jeremy is very resourceful and always figures out how to get what he wants.

The world is a funny place. Fewer crises these days but that doesn’t mean that change isn’t happening. But the truth is, for instance in the Arab world, that there is more the appearance of change than true change.  But that doesn’t mean it is not important – it may take 10 years for real change to occur, but at least you can see that the tide of history is beginning to shift.

Florida at least straightened out the idea that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee and I think that if all else is equal he will beat Obama in November. It will be a fairly close race because 40% of the country will vote for Obama no matter what; but I think that lots of people are not happy with him and that even many Democrats are not crazy for him. People will expect that Romney will be good for the economy. Peggy Noonan writes in today’s Wall Street Journal (Feb 4) that Obama has totally pissed off the Catholic church with some new Obama health care rule that forces them to provide employees with abortion coverage as part of their employee health insurance, which of course to the church is against their religion. Till now they were exempt from doing so. Noonan expects that the church will go viral and public against Obama on this and there are 75 million Catholics, many in swing states, and that this is a stupid fight for him to pick with a very powerful constituency. Could be an interesting matter.

On the economic front, I see some positive things happening in America in terms of real estate and people de-leveraging from their debt. It will take more time but things are on the right track. I was looking to see if I could afford to buy an apartment in NY hoping that over the past 2-3 years the prices would have decreased, but in fact the prices have continued to rise another 10-20% over that time and I have basically went back into my tree-house for the rest of the winter. By the way, something people should know is that suppose you insured an apartment in NYC and a nuclear bomb went off a few miles away and it didn’t destroy your apartment but it was uninhabitable due to the fallout. Just like what happened in Japan which was an accident and not even terrorism. So how much you think you’d get from insurance off a $2.5 million apartment? Answer is nothing. If in fact your apartment was destroyed, you’d get a few hundred thousand dollars to replace the contents, but the value of your investment in the property itself is not insurable. This is something that most people don’t know and don’t want to know, even if they themselves own these apartments and purchase insurance on them. I personally couldn’t sleep at night even if I could afford one of those apartments – I just wouldn’t want to have that kind of investment at risk from something I totally couldn’t control happening within 20 miles of this place which is of course the #1 terrorist target in the world. I’d rather pay my rent and know that I can walk away at will.

It took so little time after the Americans withdrew forces to see that Iraq will be chaos and a satellite of Iran. But let’s stay out. It’s their problem now…..Next door in Syria I see slow incremental gains in the rebel forces. They got a toe-hold on territory in a corner of the country. Over time Assad will be gone. If the story that just came out is true (that Assad’s wife and relatives tried to flee the country but were stopped on the way to the airport by a group of rebel troops), the end is nearing. I don’t know why Russia is backing him to the end; they were on the wrong side of Libya and now they are going to be hated by a lot of Arabs for backing the dictator and he is going to eventually lose. Nasrallah is also going to pay a price in Lebanon too.

There are some real indications that Assad’s army is not going to be able to maintain the status quo for more than another month. You’re starting to see defections that count.

Let the Iranians block the strait of Hormuz; their navy will be destroyed in 48 hours and they will have to eat humble pie. I wouldn’t run out and buy oil futures – I think the Iranians don’t want to be humiliated and besides they also import oil and they don’t want to be paying $200 a barrel either. I expect that these days there is a good amount of negotiating going on behind the scenes because this really is the last chance to get somewhere if indeed the Iranian nuclear program is a bluff designed to get better positioning for that country’s interests without crossing red lines and bringing war upon themselves….Something that I came across today that bears mentioning — the US no longer controls Iraqi airspace, which also means that the Israelis no longer need to coordinate with them to get a straight path to Iran. This also gives the US more plausible deniability if the Israelis choose to strike. I think that if the Israelis strike, it will not be a warning strike, as in they go for one or two targets and say “better stop your program or else.” I think they will come out with a massive first round strike and go for as much as they can, and assume that they might not get a second crack at the apple. As I have said before, I think the Iranians will absorb the strike and not do very much to retaliate directly; they will strike out at Jewish targets abroad via their proxies but I don’t think they will launch a thousand missiles or try blocking the straits of Hormuz, as I said earlier.

The Germans are shooting themselves in the foot over Greece. They encouraged reckless borrowing in order to feed demand of their exports and now they want to force austerity and basically take over Greece – but then the Greeks won’t be able to buy anything from the Germans who are the biggest exporters in Europe. Most “I live in the real world” quote from the Supreme Court I’ve heard in a long time – They were debating whether or not there could be curse words on broadcast TV stations (not cable TV). So a justice mentioned that there are V-Chips to block out indecent content to kids, except, he said, that the only person in the house who knows how to work the V-chip is the 10 year old. We should know – Elizabeth has to show Karen how to work the remote control on the TV.

I’m sympathetic to the idea that if someone makes over $1 million a year at the 15% capital gains level, he should not be paying half as much tax as a guy who makes $250,000 a year who actually works for a living. The Republicans are going to block a Democratic-led bill in the Senate to this effect, but the idea is not nuts.

Don’t cry for the airline industry – fares for this upcoming summer are very high and it seems that more routes than ever are run by monopolies or phony competition among airlines in the same alliance.

Interesting how Chinese companies have been delisted from world stock exchanges and so many IPO’s cancelled. There is too much nonsense going on with their companies and foreign investors via the American markets are spooked.

Very interesting how Hamas is really fighting among themselves now. Iran has basically cut off funding to them; the Gaza leadership is viewed as more authentic than the Syrian leadership; and Hamas is finding out that neither Jordan nor Egypt is going to be all that hospitable to them if they insist on making a lot of trouble for those countries. In Egypt, there are something like 400,000 people who might want to drink alcohol versus 80 million people without clean water. The Moslem Brotherhood can run around telling Egypt how they will save them from the alcoholic infidels in their midst and lead the fight against the Zionists, but the Egyptians are more interested in knowing how the rest of them will get clean water and the Brotherhood leadership has gotten the message real good. Egypt wants tourists and loans from the IMF, not a bad rap sheet from America and Europe. I noticed that Turkey is offering to fund Hamas to the tune of $300 million a year (but see opinion below that says it is not a true story). That could be interesting; it would give credence to my forecast expressed last month that the Moslem Brotherhood will basically take over the patronage of Hamas. I’ve seen how Hamas has begun acting against Shiites in Gaza and basically turning against Iran which stopped funding it. I see the Haniya/Mashaal split going on and I know that the King of Jordan told Jewish leaders in Washington last week that he doesn’t see any difference between the Moslem Brotherhood’s various factions – he thinks they are all bad news. So I have a strong sense that Jordan is not going to be where Hamas sets up its new HQ; I would tend to think that if it were between Jordan and Qatar, it would be Qatar. Jordan once expelled Arafat’s guys; it’d be pretty funny if they had to expel Hamas too. Those pesky Palestinians, the non-Palestinian Arabs keep thinking….

I asked someone in a very strong position to know if, he were the Israeli government, he would rather be dealing with Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. He said he’d rather be dealing with the PA. Although Hamas is disciplined and has street credibility, he says that the Moslem Brotherhood is not reconciled to doing any deals with Israel over a long term peace or anything beyond ceasefires. He believes that Hamas will not be headquartered either in Jordan or Egypt or Qatar but spread out, and that Turkey is not really offering them $300 million in funding. He also has good reason to state that the PA at the highest level is interested in dealing with Israel and reaching a long-term peace agreement, but that there is a recognition that dealing with them through public governmental channels is not going to work, and that a private channel a la the pre-Oslo agreement talks is the way to go. It really boils down to whether or not Netanyahu is actually interested in this as well; his gatekeepers are not. Nobody really knows if Netanyahu has intent in terms of anything beyond his gatekeepers; what he has done well this term is to realize that he succeeds best by buying off his coalition and keeping it stable, and by not talking too much to the press so as to keep everyone guessing. Just to remind you of an opinion published last month here in Global Thoughts from another friend in the Middle East who believes that the Moslem Brotherhood is changing and that he could see Hamas being absorbed by the MB, and then seeing the MB endorse peace talks with Israel via Hamas. I personally think that in the coming year, after Iran and Syria are dealt with, the MB might indeed change and that we will be looking at a new stage in the region with actors showing new attitudes. I have always said that this is the prerequisite; people may have to be prepared to deal with these contingencies coming true. Some good news is that Hamas is probably not interested in taking any more Gilat Shalits; it was a net loser to them. Overall, there was a big siege over Gaza for several years and 3,000 Palestinians died who otherwise would have lived. That fact is known to their leadership even if it is not always recognized by the rest of the world.

Travel Notes – We spent Christmas week in Florida and all over the place everything is busy. Tourism is going back up and there are no bargains in the air for upper classes of service for anything popular as I start booking for summer holidays. Flying into Miami with any airline other than American is not so bad. Besides all the walking (even with the new monorail) you wait so long in Miami to get the bags. Palm Beach Ritz Carlton is a good hotel; kids program starts at age 5 which is bad if you have little kids. Got a good price at this hotel by booking ahead. Breakers is very sprawling, impersonal and busy. Four Seasons is very compact and cold, and you are on top of each other. Café L’Europe is excellent in Palm Beach; Café Bouloud also excellent for dinner. We like Palm Beach; it is compact, clean and easy to get around. Sprinkles ice cream parlour was OK but nothing great despite its #1 ranking in People magazine. I’m pretty jaded about these rankings; someone rated 2,000 pizza parlors in NYC for the Wall Street Journal and I want to #1 on that list and it wasn’t that great either. Onto Orlando for New Year’s weekend at Disney – Grand Floridian hotel is one stop away from Magic Kingdom on the monorail; half hour by monorail to Epcot or to the other parks via bus ride. Food was not as bad as expected – I think it improved over the past decade; concierge floor is great for fast brekkie escapes in the morning. Best restaurant was California Grill atop the Contemporary and watch the fireworks from their observation deck. Best park food is the Land Pavillion food court at Epcot. There were 4 hour wait times at some of the rides such as Test Track and Soaring at Epcot. I don’t think the rides are worth the waits but they are very good rides; Soaring is a lot of optical illusion because you don’t really move so much from your starting position. The Test Track does have some really good acceleration at a certain point and it was worth it just to see the big smile on Jeremy’s face when we were zooming around a curve at something like 50 miles per hour. An interesting fact: If you are handicapped or special needs, you can go through a process of obtaining a special pass to enter rides thru a handicapped entrance and get the equivalent of fast-pass entrance on all rides. This can make Disney World much more tolerable if you have a situation where it is simply not feasible to wait in long lines. Elizabeth and I had a great time one evening going to the Magic Kingdom. Went on all the roller coasters together, there was a street party, the Electrical Parade and all the good rides in Fantasy Land, and this new Buzz Lightyear ride in TomorrowLand where you shoot lasers at brightly colored targets. The kids really liked that one and Elizabeth scored 100,7000 points to my 800 points. New Years Eve fireworks were the best show I’ve ever seen in the sky and the best place to watch those is from the pier at the Grand Floridian. Disney Efficiency: Just five minutes after midnight, a cleaning crew swept in to clean up the dance floor at the Grand Floridian where the band was playing….Was in Houston this month and the St. Regis hotel is consistently my favorite over there right near the Galleria airport and 25 minutes ride from Houston Hobby airport…Weekend at Grove Park Inn at Asheville, North Carolina. Our third visit there in as many years. This was a Big Band Weekend with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Revelers Orchestra. They had nightly dances and an afternoon tea party and the kids had a ball at the tea dance – Elizabeth liked the dancing and Jeremy ate about 20 silver-dollar-sized pancakes. I asked Elizabeth this week when we were dancing together at her hip-hop dance class when parents were invited to join their kids on the floor (really jazz and house music dance) which music she preferred – hip hop or big band – she thankfully said Big Band. Weather there was unusually warm for January and it is a 90 minute nonstop flight from New York – super convenient and by the way there’s a Target a half mile from the airport and a Fun Depot (indoor all-around family fun place) a few miles further up the road, and then the hotel is another few miles more. What more could you want for a family weekend in the middle of the winter without going further South?

Finally, a big announcement….TA DA!!!!! A new revamped look for Global Thoughts is coming out next month. Time after about 15 years to move to a platform other than Netscape Composer, which is so old that I have to keep uninstalling Adobe Flash Player every time I want to open this program to post a new article to the site! Hope you like the new look.

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