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Two days to pre-pay your property tax payments. Back from Israel with happy memories

Two days to pre-pay your 2018 real estate property taxes. Today and tomorrow.

Make sure you also pay all your 2017 taxes — some of which may be due only in the Spring of 2018.

Some states — e.g. California and Oregon — won’t let you pre-pay your taxes. Call your Governor’s office. He still has time to issue an edict letting you pre-pay. New York did.

Late yesterday,  the IRS announced that filers could claim their 2018 property tax payments on their 2017 federal taxes only if the taxes had been assessed in 2017. I got one set assessed.

Working while you travel.

I’m back from ten days in Israel. Tips:

+ Turn off data roaming. Log onto WiFi and use WiFi for texting, email and grandkid photos.

+ Use WhatsApp to make phone and video calls — local, long distance and international. It’s free and very good. Everybody should be on WhatsApp — all your family, all your company, all your business associates, all your lawyers and all your accountants. Everyone!

+ DocuSign lets you “sign” documents from afar without the paperwork. It’s brilliant. It really works. Teach your lawyers about DocuSign.

+ Best to carry a nice light laptop while traveling. I prefer the Lenovo X1 Carbon.

+ You need this three-pronged extension cord to hold your laptop’s power cord into loose airline power plugs.

Extensioncord

$10. Click here

+ Don’t expect to get onto the Internet  on planes. This is the GoGo flight message I got for several hours on Delta. It never did work.

temporaryConnectionIssue

Israel

It’s high-tech — in everything from software to agriculture. My favorite is this sign from a parking garage that says if you pee, we’ll photograph you and put the video up on YouTube

parkinggarage

My second favorite. This is an underground parking garage. Empty spaces are green. Full ones are red.

Parkinglot

Amazing companies like WAZE and Mobileye start in Israel. It has zillions more. It has many listed on Nasdaq. Here’s a list of 109 Israeli companies on Nasdaq.  I bet there ‘s more. The list is over two years old. Click here

I haven’t picked my favorites yet. Israeli companies get acquired regularly, at high premiums. Intel paid over $15 billion for Mobileye.

Jerusalem city is now Israel’s largest. Were it not for Jerusalem, the Israel/Palestine problem could be solved instantly, if not sooner. People have fought over Jerusalem for thousands of years and will probably fight over over for several thousand more. I wouldn’t want to live there. Nor would I want to negotiate a peace treaty. Too many religious nutcases — both Jewish and Muslim. The religious Jews stone your car if you drive on Saturday.

Tel Aviv is secular, and all business.  I haven’t seen so many high-rise apartment and office buildings under construction in any city ever. It eclipses New York.

Here’s a warm evening scene in Tel Aviv.

nightbuildings

This in a high-tech Tel Aviv suburb. There are four cranes Count them.

cranes

Visitors (like me) arrive with myths about Israel. For example:

  • Israel is a desert. It’s not. The top half is lush. They grow every tropical fruit imaginable.
  • Israel is dangerous. I felt safe everywhere we went — which did not include Palestinian towns.
  • Israels are rude and pushy. They are also warm and friendly. They bump into you constantly and never say sorry. It’s a national trait. The old streets are narrow. There are a lot of people. There are 9 million people, but it feels like twice that.

Israel’s premier museum is Yad Vashem, devoted to the holocaust. The museum’s mission is to put a name on each of the six million Jews killed. They’re missing one million names.

Two words summarize Israel (and Yad Vashem) today: Never again.

Jews like me, whose parents ran away from the Holocaust and barely made it to Australia in 1939, see Israel as an insurance policy. In recent years, Jews have been chased out of many countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, Russia, etc.

Israel is worth a visit: The food is first class and very fresh. The hotels are great. There’s plenty to see. It’s easy to get around. They’re building infrastructure everywhere. Today a train takes 1 1/2 hours from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In two years, a new train will take 28 minutes. Amtrak could use those guys.

Israel is like America — a country of immigrants in a frenetic dash for a better life — practical, creative and energetic.

You don’t have to read the following piece. I found it engrossing. I read it in Israel. The contrast between Albania and Israel couldn’t be greater.

Why is Albania so poor?

From Quora.com by Sami:

I’m Albanian ethnically; I live and work in London and have done reasonably well for myself at 27. I visited Albania many times to see family. I have spent the majority of my adult life contemplating this question. A lot of people will give you specific reasons for it like `corruption’ or `emigration’ or `crime’ or whatever. These are all true but they are only symptoms of the reason. The reason is actually culture. We have a degenerate culture incapable of producing a first-world economy. BUT, that is changing quickly and will be fixed to some extent once the communist generation dies off. Allow me to explain.

THE COMMUNIST ERA

Albania is a former Communist country. Communism there only ended in 1991. Prior to that, it was under the most extreme communist regime in Europe for 40 years. So an entire generation was raised under it.

The communists systematically killed and destroyed the upper land owning, the professional class, the clergy and the intellectual class. They exterminated them entirely and banned most Albanian literature that wasn’t praise for the party. I’m not kidding – every literary book/poem etc had to praise the Party and obedience to the Party and leader.

Albanian poetry (and even culture) pre-communist times was really advanced – I sometimes read some of the works of Fishta and I also read Shakespeare in English. Trust me when I say this, Fishta’s epic poems are equal if not better. And the communists banned his works. There’s many more examples of the communists destruction of Albanian culture but the gist of it is they destroyed it and reformed it as just another branch of propaganda for the party and distorting reality so that it constantly praised the Party.

They also collectivised the economy and all property so that any semblance of competence and entrepreneurship that existed before (which was a lot by the way – Albanians were known to be highly renowned traders in the Balkans) was systematically destroyed both physically (with executions) but also culturally – to have been a go-getter/ wealthy/ capable person or family was a mark of `bourgeoisie’. The communists co-opted some elements of the culture like familiar `honour’ and perverted it so that the communist families were made into the local honourable families whereas the children of previous entrepreneurs (traders/merchants etc) were considered `kulaks’. Kulaks were basically forbidden from doing anything worthwhile – they couldn’t go to higher education or become anything but the lowest shittiest job the government had – usually a farm worker doing the dirty work. They were also socially ostracised so that to marry a kulak was unthinkable. That was the fate of the entrepreneurial families and their values.

In addition, when the Party took peoples lands and property, anybody who had balls to speak out against it was also killed, imprisoned and/or made into a kulak. The result was the systematic destruction of those who carried our entrepreneurial spirit, our cultural spirit, our ferocity of heart that kept the Albanians so fiercely independent for centuries. In the end, what was left was a two tier society, the workers (mostly people (as in more than 90%) who lived and worked on collective farms, with no prospect of ever being anything more than a farm labourer, until death) and the Party.

There was no point in working hard, or planning to save money or starting a business because it was (1) culturally degenerate so people even stopped thinking about it (2) not do-able. The best you could hope for was to be a member of the Party and get a cushy job managing some sort of state run enterprise, usually a collective farm or baker or some nonsense. This went on for 4 decades and got worse every year. Entire generations were raised in this… The party even issued food rations so that you couldn’t buy what you wanted or eat what you wanted – you had a food ration and that was it. For decades. Entire generations grew up in this reality. Free thought was non-existent.

The Party was always right, no matter how bad things got. Also, there was nearly constant wartime propaganda about `the enemy of the people’ which was always looking to invade etc. So more than 20% of the country’s economic output went to war production – building bunkers, buying expensive Soviet and then Chinese weapons. Everybody – I mean everybody – had to train for military service, such that even my mum was trained to fire a light machine gun. Constant paranoia. Foreign radio and TV were also illegal. Complete and total isolation for decades. It resembled North Korea. The Party also taught kids to spy on their own parents and turn people in. They provided extra rations to people who would spy on their neighbours, so that every village had dozens of informants who turned people in for ideological offenses, such as complaining about the bread or rations the Party provided, etc. As a result, there was a complete breakdown in social trust: Nobody could be trusted. Even your neighbour could condemn you – it created the most vicious form of suspicion about your neighbours and family so that people were incapable of organising outside of the Party. No matter how bad things got, people couldn’t organise. The odd person would occasionally go insane and say or do something like shout about the having sawdust for breakfast, and they would be informed on and disappear. Their family would be interned in labour camps located in the mountains. Eventually, those in the Party made sure their family members were in the Party also so that a weird new caste developed of inner Party members who ran everything for their own benefit and the rest of society. This continued for four decades.

DEMOCRACY

In the 1990’s the Communist government came crashing down – but the Communist culture that had developed under it did not. Instead, the culture persisted. Even in the 1990’s, to be a `kulak’ was a mark of shame in much of the country. To be a trader was still seen as suspicious, almost dirty, and something done by the dodgy dishonourable types. `Good families’ didn’t go into that. There was also the question of dividing the land again after decades of collective ownership – few people recalled where the land borders were, so people got into a lot of violent disputes about what land belonged to whom – many people died. Probably over 50,000 in the 1990’s relating to land disputes (this is in a country with 3M people). There were also some revenge attacks against some Communist enforcers and informants. There was also extreme poverty – I mean like people going hungry and malnourishment in the 1990’s, in a European country.

So, to recap, Albania came out of communism with extreme poverty, hunger, no education, no levels of social trust or social capital, a former police state with a Cult of Personality of the former leader. The population was also young – more than 70% of people were below 20 years of age, because the Communists hadn’t allowed birth control. To top it off, the ones who drove the fight against the Communists were the students. and they went into government. Students in their 20’s were running the country during the decade after Communism fell. imagine that. I mean, really think about it.

The country was a mess, badly overpopulated, and being run by students who literally got into fistfights in parliament and even shot each other now and again. Meanwhile, just across the border, the collapse of Jugoslavia was raging with full blown war and genocide. All the farm workers, being exposed to capitalism for the first time, started taking part in pyramid schemes, so whatever savings they might have had were basically lost in the mid 1990’s. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovan refugees started pouring over the border fleeing genocide. The Albanian currency went into hyper-inflation because the university students who ran the government had no idea what they were doing – they figured they could just print money to pay salaries. The cities had no industry that could compete with foreign imports, so people left the cities and went to villages or took shoddy boats across the water to Italy or Greece – about a quarter of the country’s population left, including my parents and me, when I was still a child. The government collapsed and the army depots were abandoned. Teenagers looted machine guns and even tanks, rocket launchers, etc. Highway robbery and armed robbery by teenagers with machine guns were the normal state of affairs – all trade between cities and even within cities ceased. I remember my dad and my uncles organising, getting AK47s, traveling with the men from the village to a market town in a convoy, just to buy flour for a few months which was being sold at absurdly high prices. The flour was by that stage being provided by international aid relief. This is 1997 in Albania – 20 years ago. I remember it.

THE RECOVERY

As you can imagine, in such an environment, the most savage and amoral among us thrived – often they went into business, usually doing illegal things alongside legal stuff, and making decent money in the process. Mainly selling oil to the Serbs and guns to the Kosovans and looting whatever they could from the remnants of the state – my cousin bought ancient statutes from the Albanian national museum and sold them in Greece. Criminal syndicates eventually formed and working alongside local governments joined parties and helped bring the government back in some kind of control, just enough to allow business to be conducted and national resources to be looted in an orderly manner. If you wanted to go into business you had to bribe the local politicians, police captains etc. Salaries were (and still aren’t) enough to live on in Albania, so everybody (nurses, doctors, police etc) supplemented them with bribes – it was and is so endemic that it’s just part of the culture. It’s called `bakshish’ – there is no shame in taking `bakshish’ and it’s expected that you pay it. Even to see a sick relative in hospital, you have to pay the hospital security guard `bakshish’. This goes from the top of the political ladder like the ministers getting `bakshish’ for giving planning permissions or granting monopolies over things like import of medicine etc, to your everyday government worker. It’s just how things are done. To do anything in Albania, you pay `bakshish’. So, a good portion of the economic output of the country now goes into paying `bakshish’. My dad once paid huge bakshish to judges and to the police to get out of prison because he was caught importing bananas without a license. A neighbour paid bakshish to the police to let him off for machine gunning two guys on a public highway in broad daylight in front of many people… To be fair, though, they had raped his niece. My cousin had to pay a big bakshish to a director of nursing to give her a job as nurse. You can pay it to get a good degree as well, get the top marks in class. It’s in EVERYTHING.

Because half of the population left the country, a lot of money started flooding back to Albania from abroad, like hard currencies, dollars, sterling, Euro, etc. The country experienced a few economic booms in construction and asset values driven by billions in remittance from abroad, especially from Albanian criminals who took Europe by storm in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. You have to understand that for people who grew up in the hell of communism in Albania, being jailed in Switzerland was like going on a mini-holiday in an amazing hotel-resort. It was no deterrent. And shooting people was easy as they had been trained in the army (like everybody) and they witnessed violence by Party thugs all the time. Every few months, my dad and his classmates were forced to watch political dissidents being hanged – the bodies were sometimes strapped to a truck and driven from village to village with posters saying `enemy of the people’. You were expected to spit and throw things at the corpse. if you didn’t, well then you were probably a sympathiser.

The people in government now are basically the extended family of the ex-Communist leaders or the students who took over in the 1990’s, with some fresh blood coming from the organised criminals who did well in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. I’m not kidding here. The current president was on camera taking 500k in Euro as bakshish. Car bombings of business rivals or rival politicians are relatively common. Weed is now grown everywhere, under the protection of the local police commander and politician. To start a business, you need to pay bakshish to various people, to get a job in government – bakshish. To get good grades at school or university – bakshish. To get a government contract to repair a road – bakshish.

Skimming off the top and doing a shoddy job are also culturally acceptable. My family in Albania also asks me about my salary in London and when I tell them, they then always ask, and how much do you make `bakshish’ – it’s just normal and expected that do that. When I said I don’t, they see it as some kind of mental retardation. Almost like `Poor guy, he can’t get any bakshish from his job, he must be slow or something’.

Basically, it’s completely and utterly messed up. It can’t be rich, because the energy of the people (what creates wealth) is not directed towards producing wealth, but rather in grabbing as much as they can for oneself at the expense of everything and everybody else. For instance, there is a lake near my town in Albania. Its fish stocks have plummeted to extinction levels and all the fishermen are now unemployed. The reason? Fishing with electric generators, which destroys the fish’s eggs so they can’t reproduce, plus pollution. The fishermen don’t seem to care – their attitude seems to be, `Oh well, the fishermen using generators are certainly bastards, but they paid the police bakshish, so that’s just how it is’. People sell their votes there too – it’s not a mark of shame. Most people do it. The ones who don’t usually have a family member in the sitting government and they know that they would lose their job if they lost the election. There usually a small bidding war for votes – last year, they got paid £12 per vote! Tidy sum.

I will grow old, my bones will turn to dust, and yet my country will still be poor. Because it cannot be rich. It breaks my heart.

HarryNewton
Harry Newton, who’s glad to be home in New York with has fond memories of Israel, This is granddaughter, Sophie in Caesarea, a very old port city. She’s pushing her stroller on the spot where 2000 years ago the Romans had chariot races.

SophieinCesaria

This is one of the old Roman frescoes still surviving in Caesarea, among the ruins.

floor

  • Lucky

    Not able to pay next year’s property tax, however, was able to scrape together the $793.96 to pay this year’s taxes for our Sun City AZ home…I guess I will just let next year’s taxes slide till next December.

  • Mike

    Harry, what is wrong with your governor of N.Y. today lashing out at our president’s tax bill and calling it “economic civil war.” I have an idea: if you don’t want to pay New York’s steep, now non-deductible taxes, then move! How’s that for a wild concept? Just pack your stuff and go someplace cheaper. Cuomo needs to be patriotic and support our president. I am very turned off by this Andy Cuomo chap right now, attacking my president, whom I voted for and support, in such an angry manner. I love my president, would follow him into war, if it comes to that. And I think it will. North Korea is not towing the line so THe Donald needs to teach ’em who’s boss. Omarossa learned the hard way when she was booted out of the White House. So did Gary Busey and the late Joan Rivers. Ditto for Kim Jong UN who will soon learn you don’t mess with The Donald. I never missed an episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” and Donald’s been kicking butt since season one.

    But, on a happier note, nice photos from Israel. I’ve always wanted to go. It’s funny that you wrote people there constantly bump into you & don’t say they’re sorry. I’ve heard that too.

  • Tom from CA

    Hi Harry, great photos! I would be really interested in seeing more of them. Maybe you can publish an album of them somewhere?