Archive for the ‘International’ Category

“What’s that you said?”

Putin might set a new trend in commercial office decorating: conference tables that begin at Chicago’s lakefront and end somewhere in DuPage County.

That’s an exaggeration of course, but so are claims that Putin’s insane. He’s neither insane nor irrational. For example, Putin knows what he’s doing is wrong. If that were not the case, then he would have no need to create false flag stories about British “crisis actors” staging fake Russian atrocities for the western media, and so on.

But Putin’s sanity and rationality are no guaranty that he’s going to win his war in Ukraine in any sense that we as Americans would understand. His military operations in Ukraine have failed very badly in any number of respects, and Russia doesn’t have the conventional military capacity to completely overrun Ukraine, install its own puppet leader in the old Soviet style, and hold the country.

Putin is a psychopath as opposed to just a typical insane or irrational person. A psychopath can plan things, understand his environment, and act so as to achieve his objectives. A psychopath knows right from wrong, but it makes no difference to him. He feels neither remorse nor regret about anything he’s done. Slaughtering civilians and children, bombing hospitals, whatever he deems necessary he’ll do, and he sees himself as above any conventional sense of morality. Killing someone is no more important to him than deciding whether he’ll have cereal or scrambled eggs for breakfast.

In short, Putin is the geopolitical version of the psychopathic, jilted ex-boyfriend who stalks his ex and won’t stop stalking her until he either gets her back or kills her.

His revanchist idea about dragging Ukraine back into Russia isn’t new. Pan-Slavism as a political ideology goes all the way back to the post-Napoleonic period, and one of its components is the common Eastern Orthodox faith. Americans have a hard time grasping things like pan-ideologies because in this country they’re usually doctrines of the political fringe (see, e.g., Proud Boys). However, neither Pan-Slavism nor any affinity for co-religionists has ever been able to completely extinguish the nationalism of the various individual states that comprise the Slavic world. Sure, Slavs of different nationalities fought under the Austrian flag in the 19th century, but that was because other factors were at work. To Slavs within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, domination by Hungarians (Magyars) would have been worse than domination by the Hapsburgs. In June 1914, Slavic nationalism and its desire to throw off the Austrian chains lit the match that led to World War I. Russia mobilized to protect its fellow Slavs in Serbia from the combined Austro-Hungarian and German Empires.

And just like the Serbians jilted Franz Josef, the Ukrainians have jilted Vladimir Putin. To Putin, Ukraine is the girl who used to be his. Ukraine used to admire Vladimir’s pecs when he went horseback riding with no shirt on. Then she started flirting with westerners. Next she held a wild street party where everybody wore orange. She threw Vlad’s good buddy Viktor Yanukovich out of her house, and for the last eight years he’s had to live in Vlad’s basement. Vladimir’s FSB even showed him a photo of Ukraine hugging NATO, and things might have gone further if he hadn’t stormed into Crimea.

So, like the obsessed, psychopathic ex who just can’t quit his old girlfriend, Putin will pursue her, no matter what. Putin is what you’d get if you turned Jodi Arias into Russia and Travis Alexander into Ukraine. Obsessed ex Jodi Arias killed Travis Alexander rather than let him leave their relationship, and in the same way Putin would sooner destroy Ukraine brick by brick than allow it to fall in love with the West and be a democracy. Like Jodi Arias and other obsessed, psychopathic ex’s, Putin’s bottom line is that if he can’t have Ukraine, then nobody can have Ukraine. That’s why Putin will keep firing missiles and artillery into Ukrainian cities. He knows at some level that he’ll never hold Ukraine in his arms again, but he can sure as hell make the country unlivable. That’s his way of killing his unattainable ex-girlfriend.

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Last week Putin began his blitzkrieg invasion of Ukraine. His war machine is using rockets and artillery against the much smaller, but more highly motivated, Ukrainian military.

In anticipation of economic sanctions, Putin built a war chest of USD630 Billion. That sounds like a lot of money, but wars have a funny way of outlasting the money available to pay for them. With the ruble no longer accepted anywhere in the west, and with Russia cut off from every advanced funds transfer system, he may not be able to use that money. But even if he could use it, would USD630 Billion be enough to make a difference for Putin?

For some historical context to answer to that question we can turn on the Wayback Machine and revisit an earlier conquest of a hostile little puppy state by a Great Empire with an overwhelming military machine: the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 in South Africa.

In 1899, Great Britain was the preeminent economic and military power of the world. London had not yet ceded to New York the title of world financial center. The United States and Germany had been catching up to Great Britain both economically and militarily, and in the latter sphere Kaiser Wilhelm II was determined to challenge England for naval supremacy. But England was still heads above the rest, and when European nations considered important policy choices they gave a great deal of weight to how Whitehall might react to the change.

From a geographical perspective, Russia today sees Ukraine, part of its “near abroad,” as a territory that it must dominate, if not control. In 1899, South Africa held an importance for Great Britain similar to that of today’s Ukraine for Russia. South Africa was key to maintaining a reliable and defensible sea route between England and India. Cape Town was the re-coaling station for steamships on that route. And although by 1899 the Suez Canal had already been open for about thirty years, England could not rely on it: it was owned and operated by France. If, in a conflict, France were adverse to England (which had happened a few times in the past), access to India through the Suez Canal would be lost.

Natural resources ran a close second to global strategy concerns. Within the fifteen years preceding the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, gold had been discovered in the Transvaal, and diamonds in Witwatersrand, making South Africa one of the richest spots on the planet. South Africa had become the leading source of gold in the world. The world was on the gold standard then, and because London was the center of world finance, England had a keen interest in the volume of gold in circulation and held in government reserves. Too little gold would unduly constrain commercial and industrial access to capital, while too much would risk metallurgical inflation. Europe had endured that type of inflation back when Spain was its most powerful country. The massive quantities of gold and silver that Spain imported from its possessions in central and south America caused more than a few monetary problems.

Russia now claims that ethnic Russians are being mistreated by Ukraine’s government, which Russia views as illegitimate. By 1899, the Boers had declared the Transvaal and the Orange Free State to be independent republics not subject to rule from London. The many Englishmen extracting wealth from South Africa’s mines in these new Boer republics were second-class citizens, without voting and other civil rights.

Today Russia worries about the consequences of having a successful fledgling democracy like Ukraine on its doorstep because it might give Russian citizens the idea that democracy might be worth a try. Similarly, in 1899 Britain viewed the newly declared Boer republics as an affront to its sovereignty over South Africa, and it worried about the effect such new little breakaway states might have on its subjects in other British colonies around the world. Would they start breaking away too? This was an early domino theory.

Just like Putin’s propaganda about the benevolent nature of rule from Moscow, the British in 1899 thought that British rule was a divine gift to all the empire’s subjects, even if some of those subjects were trying to persuade the Brits to leave by shooting at them.

Russia looks down on the people of Ukraine in the same way that Great Britain looked down at the Boers. Both Russia and England thought they’d have a splendid little war, that it would be over quickly, and that they would easily squelch these little republics.

But every present-day Ukrainian, like every Boer back then, was armed to the teeth and ready to fight. Sure, the Boers were not a regular army with chains of command and discipline in the ranks, etc. But, like Ukrainians today, that strategic weakness becomes a tactical strength when the irregular force is highly motivated and fighting against an outside invader on its home turf. The Boers would attack some organized British column moving through the countryside, and then melt back into the wilderness. The Ukrainians have already ambushed some Russian motor convoys. The Russians will also have to fight Ukrainians in urban environments, which is a nightmare for an attacking force. Think Stalingrad.

So how does all this tie in to Putin’s USD630 Billion war chest?

Well, in October 1899, the government of Prime Minister Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, calculated that England’s fine little war against the Boers could be “put through” for 10 million British pounds.

By the time peace was finally negotiated in May 1902, the British government had spent more than 217 million British pounds on its war against the Boers. That was enough to bring down the government of Lord Salisbury, which was replaced by that of Arthur Balfour. To get an idea of how much money that was at the time, it represented 12% of the entire gross national product of the United Kingdom – then the world’s leading economy – for the preceding year.

Were we to apply that same percentage to the 2020 GDP of the United States, today’s leading economy, that would be 12% of USD20.94 Trillion, or about USD2.51 Trillion. That would be not quite twice Russia’s entire GDP of USD1.483 Trillion. So Tsar Vladimir could well find himself a bit short on funds as his Ukraine war drags on, and that’s without any consideration of what happens when no other country in the world accepts your currency.

If Putin had read up on the Anglo-Boer War, there’s no way to know whether he would have changed his mind about invading Ukraine. But at least he would have learned that it was possible, and even likely, that Russia would get Boer-ed.

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Every once in a while you come across a claymation picture that just encapsulates everything. Someone in the UK created this one, which shows the Queen and Prince Andrew visiting the nearest ATM to get cash to settle the suit brought against Andy by Virginia Giuffre.

“Andrew, this is the LAST time I’m going to do this…”

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Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun…

Around April 20 there were headlines about oil “going negative.” However, it’s easy to read too much into the headlines: no gas station was going to pay consumers to fill up their tanks.

What really happened was that the NYMEX West Texas Intermediate (WTI) May (then the prompt month) futures contract went down to negative $37.63 per barrel. That’s the first time that the WTI contract had ever gone into negative territory, so it was an extraordinary event by any standard. Still, only the May contract went negative; contracts for later months, June, July, etc., were still positive.

Several factors came together to push the May WTI futures contract price below zero, chief among which was the precipitous drop in demand for oil due to the coronavirus pandemic. Energy-intensive economies around the world ground to a halt. Car and truck traffic fell off sharply, as did air traffic. The decline in oil use meant that refineries cut back on output, and therefore purchased less. As if that were not enough, shortly before the coronavirus lockdowns hit full force, Saudi Arabia and Russia failed to agree on oil production quotas. That started an oil price war that flooded the international market with a huge oversupply of crude oil. Oil storage facilities around the globe started to reach maximum capacity. That’s important for the NYMEX WTI contract because it’s physically settled, meaning that if you hold a buy (long) contract that’s still open (i.e., not offset by a sell (short) contract), you have to take physical delivery of the huge quantity of petroleum represented by that contract. By way of comparison, the Brent futures contract, the other oil benchmark, didn’t follow WTI into negative territory; unlike the physically-settled WTI futures contract, the Brent is cash-settled against the Brent index price. Storing oil costs money. The oil supply glut meant that traders holding May WTI contracts had to settle out at a negative price because the commodity had become a liability rather than an asset.

Historically, oil prices have always been subject to big ups and downs. Back in July 2008, Brent crude traded at $147.27/bbl. By December 2008, that price had fallen to $30.28/bbl. Petroleum price stability is the exception, not the rule.

Generally speaking, demand and supply in the oil market are relatively inelastic, meaning that a price increase doesn’t immediately translate into a decrease in consumption because oil is difficult to replace quickly as a fuel or industrial commodity. Likewise, if oil prices fall, supply doesn’t immediately fall far enough to bring prices back up. The marginal cost of continuing to run existing oil wells (as opposed to the very high cost of bringing a new oil field into production), and the cost of plugging a well and then reopening it in the near term, mean that oil supply will not fall off radically when there’s a price drop. Oil supply and demand changes do have effects over the medium- and long-term, though. For example, back in the 1970s oil price shocks resulted in much higher prices to consumers, but prices did go back down. But those price shocks caused a shift away from oil as a generating fuel for electricity over the long term, as natural gas and nuclear power became favored generation types.

The history of oil prices is largely a history of attempts by oil producers to control the price by controlling supply. The most recent of these attempts was the failed negotiations between Russia and Saudi Arabia regarding output reductions in order to maintain price levels. Over the past twenty to twenty-five years, Saudi Arabia, with the largest readily accessible oil reserves, has played the role of swing producer. In the early 20th century, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil played that role. A swing producer can turn the oil spigot on or off to keep prices stable. And price stability is key because it helps to ensure a consistent long-term demand. If demand starts to rise quickly, the swing producer will provide additional supply. If demand starts to fall, it will cut back. But the swing producer (say, Saudi Arabia) is not the only seller in the market, and as the swing producer tries to exercise countervailing price pressure to maintain price stability, its competitors will step in to capture marginal sales on the way up or down. Being a swing producer is very expensive proposition, and the allure of capturing marginal sales while the swing producer bears the cost is one of the reasons why cohesion is so elusive for cartels like OPEC.

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The 1962 Spy Thriller

“Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”

In the 1962 thriller The Manchurian Candidate, a U.S. Army platoon is captured during the Korean War and taken to China. There, the platoon is brainwashed by Chinese and Soviet spymasters into believing that their sergeant, Raymond Shaw, rescued them all from the hands of the enemy. Not only that, everyone in the platoon believes (and repeats) that Shaw “is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being” any of them have ever known in their lives. Shaw is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The nefarious Communist plot is to turn Shaw into a sleeper agent who will rise through the U.S. intelligence and political establishments. Once he’s in place, the Chinese can trigger him by suggesting that he play a little solitaire. When Shaw turns over a red queen, the sleeper agent is activated.

Fast forward to May 1, 2020: The Trump Administration issued Executive Order 13920, Securing the United States Bulk Power System.

The Executive Order acknowledges that the U.S. bulk-power system (shorthand for the interstate electricity transmission system) is a target of foreign adversaries of the U.S. who seek to commit malicious cyber- and other attacks on our bulk-power system. Historically, blackouts in the U.S. have affected areas or regions, but none have stretched from coast to coast. Still, anybody who has been through a blackout knows that the failure of the electricity grid is catastrophic, no matter how localized the outage. Electricity is the unnoticed platform that supports modern civilization itself.

The Executive Order prohibits the unrestricted acquisition or use in the United States of any bulk-power system electric equipment designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of foreign adversaries. Any such acquisition or use is a “transaction,” and such transactions are prohibited even if any related contract, license or permit was entered into or granted prior to the date of the order. (Executive Order 13920, Sec. 1(c)).

The order itself doesn’t name the foreign adversaries with whom transactions are prohibited, but the State Grid Corporation of China, the world’s largest utility, most likely tops the list.

State Grid has been on an acquisition binge for several years. As far back as 2012, State Grid became the largest shareholder in Redes Energeticas Nacionais, Portugal’s national power grid. In 2013, State Grid began acquiring interests in utilities and transmission and distribution networks in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia. In 2014, State Grid took a substantial equity stake in Italy’s CDP Reti, which operates both electricity and natural gas networks. Brazil, Laos and some countries in central Africa have also been recipients of State Grid’s interest, in particular with regard to the development of ultra-high voltage transmission facilities that can transmit power over very long distances with relatively lower line losses. (There are still line losses, however.) Many have viewed Beijing’s rapid international expansion of its electricity industry as a geopolitical companion piece to its Belt and Road Initiative.


Presiden Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China

A Manchurian Capacitor (used to improve power factors) is a distinct possibility. If China were to build into the grid equipment it sells in the U.S. sleeper mechanisms that could cause a breakdown in our electrical grid, the effects would be catastrophic on a historical scale. But even short of this, a threat by China to trigger a grid failure in the U.S. would be much more plausible, and therefore much more effective, than a threat made with ICBM’s that could end China’s existence as well as ours.

Executive Order 13920 signals a fundamental change in the perception of China since the outbreak of the global Covid-19 health crisis. Nobody wants electric grid equipment that Xi Jinping can tell to go play a little solitaire.

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An Ethiopian Air Boeing 737

Following two crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8 commercial jetliners for apparently similar causes — the plane’s autopilot mechanism took over and caused the plane to suddenly go nose-down during take-off — news outlets have reported that similar complaints about the 737 Max 8 have been registered by U.S. pilots over the past several years, although no accidents have occurred.

The important thing, though, is where those pilots registered their complaints.

They registered them in a federal government database.

An anonymous government database.

No names of pilots are given. No names of airlines are given. According to the news reports, this anonymous reporting facility is provided by the U.S. government so that commercial airline pilots can make these reports and complaints without having to worry about “repercussions to their own careers.”

The flying public (i.e., people like you and me) should stop and think about that for just a moment.

You board an airplane at an airport. But the big airlines whose planes you’re getting on, the companies to whom you are entrusting your very life, are so prone to retaliate against a pilot who reports a problem that the United States government has to intervene and provide an anonymous reporting system so that pilots can raise life-and-death issues without worrying about whether they’ll put themselves out of their jobs.

There may also be pilots who have witnessed problems with their aircraft who, despite the existence of this anonymous reporting service, made no complaint because they didn’t trust that system and didn’t believe that their report would remain anonymous.

The next time you hear that fugazy little jingle about flying the friendly skies of Acme Air, think about that anonymous database, about why it’s necessary, and then draw your own conclusions about what those airlines really think about the safety of the flying public.


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Constantinople falls to Ottoman Ruler Mehmet II, 1453

Constantinople falls to Ottoman Ruler Mehmet II, 1453

For hundreds of years alum was mined in Smyrna, in Asia Minor, which back then went by the name of Anatolia. Anatolia was the breadbasket of Constantinople, the Queen of Cities, and was under the control of the Byzantine Emperors for nearly a millennium.

Alum was an essential commodity for the makers of fabrics and tapestries in Flanders and other cloth-making centers in northwest Europe. They used it to set the colors and make sure they did not run or fade too quickly. (The saying “These colors don’t run” might have been coined back then.)

In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. Then in 1455 the Ottomans occupied Smyrna and took control of its alum mines. Needless to say, this put quite a strain on the tapestry industries, cloth makers and dyers of Western Europe, who now had to pay through the nose to obtain this irreplaceable substance.

We in the contemporary United States get rather frosted when we consider that we have to buy petroleum from some countries who absolutely hate us, and who undoubtedly use some of that money to finance overseas terrorism in the West. We may question whether we’re financing a war against ourselves.

Western Europe had a similar problem. Having to pay the Ottomans for alum was particularly galling because there was a continuing low-intensity war between Christendom in the West and the Ottoman Empire in the East. The Ottomans continually probed into the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Think of Malta around 1565 or the gates of Vienna in the 1680’s. (Vienna had (and may still have) a residential district called the Turkenschanze, or Turkish Redoubt, which was where part of the old city’s walls faced the Turkish armies. It was Sigmund Freud’s neighborhood, until he left.) So, after the fall of Constantinople, Western Europe was in effect financing the war against itself.

Then, in the 1480s alum deposits were discovered in one of the Papal States in Italy. The Pope moved quickly to establish a monopoly on the alum trade. A papal bull (which doesn’t mean what you think it means) was issued prohibiting the purchase or importation of any Turkish alum under pain of excommunication and eternal damnation. In fact, the written text of the indulgences that were being sold to finance the Vatican’s wars (mostly against other Italian city-states like Florence) and its construction of St. Peter’s was revised to carve out the purchase of Turkish alum and make it a mortal sin that could not be absolved by any indulgence. These were the same indulgences which, a few decades later, really upset an Augustinian friar named Martin Luther.

Try to imagine what it must have been like for some cardinal or canon lawyer laboring in the bowels of the Vatican to come up with the theological underpinning for making the purchase of Turkish alum (but not the Pope’s alum) an unforgivable mortal sin.

Nowadays, there are threats to slap 35% or 50% tariffs on some goods manufactured overseas. Could we try a threat of eternal damnation for buying a Ford Escort assembled in Ciudad Juarez? The more things change….

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey

In order to subvert Turkey’s supposedly democratic system, it appears that Sultan Erdogan has staged (as in theatrically staged) a coup. After the coup was defeated he rounded up the most guilty culprits: the judiciary and the prosecutors. Like Hitler, Erdogan uses the excuse of an emergency situation to arrogate extraordinary powers to himself and eliminate political opposition.

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey

A few months ago The Sparkspread wrote about Erdogan’s double game, that is, using ISIS as proxy fighters against the Kurds whose PKK organization inside Turkey is virtually at war with the regime.

The Syrian civil war has been a no-win situation for Turkey since it first broke out in 2011. Turkish Syrian policy has been more or less aligned with the U.S. insofar as Erdogan wants to get rid of Bashar al-Assad. But Erdogan and Obama both failed to reckon with how strongly Iran and Russia would backstop Assad. For the Russians, Syria and Assad are essential: without the Russian naval base in Tartus, on the Syrian coast, Russia cannot make a legitimate claim of being an Atlantic power. For Iran, Syria is the other end of the Shia Crescent from Tehran to the Mediterranean.

Assad plays the same game. Since the start of the civil war, Assad has allowed Syrian Kurds to control the Rojava, a territory in Syria that stretches east and west along the border with Turkey.

Take that, Erdogan.

The Syrian Kurds have been fighting ISIS with some degree of success. In the fall of 2014 they fought off an ISIS attempt to take over the Rojava town of Kobani. Kurds in Turkey wanted to join in the fight against ISIS, but Erdogan initially wouldn’t let them go and fight. Erdogan undoubtedly saw his advantage in letting ISIS win in Kobani and maybe roll up the other Kurdish-controlled towns in Rojava. Of course, Erdogan had to play his hand carefully because too much pro-ISIS/anti-Kurdish sentiment would cause friction with the Obama Administration.

For Obama, the Syrian Kurds were fighting the ISIS jihadis, so that was good. After a few months, complete with Kurdish riots in Turkey and pressure from Obama, Erdogan finally allowed the Turkish Kurds to join the Syrian Kurds in their fight against ISIS. That, plus American arms, plus American air strikes against ISIS positions finally kicked ISIS completely out of Kobani.

Even for Assad, he needs to fight ISIS, but not so hard that he wins and then finds that the U.S. and Turkey don’t really need him any more. He has to portray himself as part of a solution to a problem (ISIS), but he has to keep that problem going.

Though the U.S. knows that Erdogan’s attitude to ISIS is one of appeasement, Obama can’t play his hand too hard either. Remember those air strikes on the ISIS Kobani positions? The American fighters took off from Incirlik air base in Turkey.

This is one complicated chessboard.

The attack on Ataturk Airport shows the danger of any kind of appeasement of ISIS. Erdogan and his regime, though putatively Islamist, isn’t half as religious as it needs to be in order to meet the so-called Caliphate’s 7th Century standards of piety. In their view, Turkey isn’t part of the House of Islam. Is ISIS going to fight directly with Turkey? How many ISIS “sleeper” cells are there in Turkey, given the porosity of its borders with those parts of Syria and Iraq that comprise the so-called Islamic State? The Ataturk Airport bombing may well be just the beginning of a wave of ISIS-terrorist actions aimed at destabilizing Erdogan.

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Xi Jinping, President of the PRC and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party

Thus does le capitalisme dirigiste hit the wall.  CNBC reports that China’s economic growth edged down to 6.9 percent in the final quarter of 2015 as trade and consumer spending weakened, dragging full-year growth to its lowest in 25 years. Since virtually no self-respecting Western economist or business forecaster believes any official Chinese government-issued economic data, it’s a fair bet that China’s real growth rate is much, much lower than that.

Only a few years ago, foreign money flooded into China as one of the so-called emerging market economies, along with Turkey (which The Sparkspread addressed recently), Brazil, and a few other countries. Commodity prices boomed along with the China boom, although the China boom itself was a debt-fueled spree enabled by China’s banks — under state direction, of course. It made the 1980’s LBO boom in the US look like a sedate tea party. For example: China manufactured more cement between 2010 and 2013 than the United States produced during the entire 20th century.

That is mind-boggling. But the party has to run out of booze at some point, or else the guests reach the point where they lie insensible on the floor, unable to imbibe one more drop.

China’s banks funded all of the booze and buffet tables with huge loans, most of which will never be paid back. The “lackluster” 6.9% growth rate reflects in part the exhaustion of the country’s banks. How can they continue to lend the vast sums needed to prop up China’s exorbitant growth rates? The short answer is, they can’t. When China reports a 6.9% growth rate, it’s more likely that the country’s real growth growth rate is stuck at mid-1970’s levels, back when Mao Tse Tung held the reins.

This is coupled with something of a national identity crisis. What does it mean to be China in the world of the 21st century? It is building artificial islands in international waters and claiming that such construction makes them Chinese territorial waters. It has one aircraft carrier and wants a few more. Its economy did grow by leaps and bounds, every year, for the last few decades. But how does China reconcile all that money and muscle-flexing with its traditional victimology? True, China was a victim of past aggression, whether from the West in the 19th and early 20th centuries, or from Japan between 1931 through the end of WWII. But its recent and remarkable progress imports assumption of a greater responsibility for constructive leadership in the world. Whether the country lives up to that responsibility remains to be seen. It certainly won’t happen without internal stability. The legitimacy of China’s Communist Party rule depends in large measure on a continued impressive growth rate, and that is by no means a sure thing.

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