A Visit to Seoul

lotte-hotel-seoul-5-star-hotel-in-myeongdong-seoul-1-638A week ago on Thursday I was in Seoul. Owing to the North Korean missile tests some meetings I was supposed to attend were cancelled, as was a visit to the Demilitarized Zone. Damn! So I had a little time on my hands. For those of you who are curious, here are a few impressions. Remember, though, that they are more or less limited to the city’s central business district.

  • Service at the airport is polite, fast and efficient. On the way back I saw none of the gigantic security-occasioned queues you often meet in US international airports in particular. Bus service to town is good and reasonably priced.
  • My hotel, The Lotte, is reputed to be the best in Korea. Clean, posh, with very good service. The buffet is famous. Though a bit expensive, of course. Which made me wonder how come  so many guests are young. My one complaint is that there is no lobby where one can sit comfortably and meet a guest. Unless one pays, of course.
  • In China, hotels in this class often have a so-called KTV, meaning a brothel, built in. Here they don’t. The Seoul Lotte does, however, have a “ladies’ floor” where men are not allowed. I doubt that I missed much.
  • Down in the basement there is an arcade, quite posh. Aimed mainly at affluent young women who spend lots of money on designer dresses, shoes, accessories and jewelry. Gosh.
  • Both in the arcade and in the hotel, many of the young women who work there spend their entire time standing up. The idea that doing so is bad for one’s knees does not seem to have occurred to anyone. Strange, that.
  • Outside, the air is quite polluted. You hardly get into the street before you start feeling the acidity in your throat. Some people wear face masks. But not many. I would hate to raise children in such air.
  • An Israeli friend of mine, who is married to a Korean lady, has lived here for many years, and speaks Korean, assures me that this is a safe city. He himself, leaving his seat in a restaurant, leaves his bag behind. No one will take it, he says. Great.
  • They like it if you, a foreigner, speak Korean. Not enough people do. Including myself, of course.
  • Koreans are, on the average, probably as tall as Israelis. But smaller than West Europeans or Americans. If there are obese people like those you see in the US I did not see them. Koreans have lighter skins than Chinese, which makes it relatively easy to tell them apart.
  • Young Korean women are stunning. Many have sweet faces. Small breasts, but well-shaped asses and legs. Among them the shift back from pants to skirts (or shorts) is well under way. Makes them look even better.
  • Most cars are Korean made. Surprisingly few Toyotas and Nissans. Here and there, an expensive Mercedes or BMW. But few if any other, cheaper, Western models. Chinese cars, mainly the large, more expensive models, are beginning to multiply. Cars are clean and show few scratches or dents. What a difference from Israel, where a visiting friend of mine at first thought there was a law against keeping cars in good shape and cleaning them.
  • Even a short-time visitor can see that this, at bottom, is a Confucian society. What makes it tick is deference; the boss is always right. Perhaps that is why, at the conference which I attended as the keynote speaker, there was hardly any Q&A.
  • My friend tells me that the Koreans are the Protestants of the Far East. Tough and extremely hard working. So much so that the Chinese regard them as madmen.
  • He also says that feminism, long practically nonexistent, is becoming stronger. A very low fertility rate, 1.2 or 1.3 per woman, is already in place. Is this country going to follow some others in committing national suicide?
  • I visited a Buddhist temple. A loudspeaker was intoning prayers with the same tune repeated time and again. Having taking off their shoes, people of both sexes enter and kneel on small, thin, mattresses. As they left, one or two offered me theirs. They repeat the words of the prayers from printed prayer books. Few seem to be over forty-five. There are both men and women, though the latter are probably in the majority. Really well dressed men and women are conspicuously absent. Nevertheless, the yard outside is crowded with expensive cars. How come? A mystery.
  • During the afternoon the coffee shops and the Museum of Modern Art are crowded with young women, but hardly any men. At 1730 the streets are even more crowded with very well dressed young women returning from work. Hardly any men; apparently they work longer hours. At 1900 there are more men, but they are not anything like as well-groomed and dressed as the women. The mostly male bosses, it seems, are not on the street but in their cars. Same as in China.
  • My friend tells me that medical service is excellent. Up to date, quickly available, and very reasonably priced. I checked: health accounts for just over 7 percent of GDP. Not 19 percent, as in the US. And more modern and faster than in Israel, which spends about 9 percent. How do they do it?

All in all, except for the polluted air, not half bad.

Where Did the Iranian “Threat” Go?

41l9c6MZegLAs the illustration accompanying this text shows, starting as long ago as 2000, the world has been filled with discussions of the terrible, but terrible, Iranian nuclear “threat.” However, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action having been signed in Lausanne in July 2015, the “threat” vanished almost overnight. Now that the dust has settled and the air is clean, I want to return to that topic. Doing so, I shall start with a general account and continue with an Israeli point of view; both because of the role Israel and Netanyahu have played in the story and because I myself, after all, am an Israeli.

First, the background. The origins of Iran’s nuclear program go back to the days of the Shah. The idea, at that time, was to deter the Soviets, whom not only the Shah but President Carter and his National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, suspected of planning a drive through the Zagros Mountains to the Persian Gulf. This explains why the US, though not exactly enthusiastic about what the Iranians were doing, did nothing to oppose it.

The Shah having been deposed in 1978, the Islamic Republic took over. Eighteen or so months later Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, seeking to exploit the prevailing chaos in Iran, launched an unprovoked attack on his neighbor. However, he miscalculated; the war, which was supposed to be over in a few months or even weeks, lasted fully eight years. The demands, military and economic, which it made on both belligerents were enormous. The more so because, after 1982, the price of oil kept falling. The difference between the two countries was that Saddam had the Gulf countries to pay for his war whereas Iran did not. As a result, the Iranian nuclear program was suspended.

The war having ended in 1988, the Mullahs resumed their efforts. By then they had every reason to do so. Iran was surrounded by nuclear powers on all sides; proceeding counterclockwise, they were the Soviet Union/Russia, Pakistan, India, and Israel (which, unlike Iran had never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty). Not to mention Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was known to be working on his own program. Still things moved very, very slowly. So slowly, in fact, as to make one doubt whether the Iranians were really interested in building a bomb in the first place.

In 2002-2003 the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq again changed the situation. Sitting in Tehran, the Mullahs could see their country surrounded by American troops on all sides. Stationed in Iraq, several Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf—the Persian Gulf, nota bene—they formed an iron ring around Iran. The Mullahs had good reason to be worried. Partly because recent events had shown that, in a conventional war, their armed forces were no match for the American ones; and partly because, as the record since the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident shows only too clearly, one can never know which country the US will choose to bomb next.

Accordingly, the years immediately after 2003 were some of the most dangerous Iran ever went through. Scant wonder the nuclear program was accelerated. Come 2005-6, though, Tehran had good reason to heave a sigh of relief. With the Americans hopelessly stuck in both Iraq and Afghanistan and domestic criticism of both invasions growing, the threat to Iran diminished.

Enter Israel. Under the Shah, relations between Tehran and Jerusalem had been excellent. This changed after 1978, but not nearly as fast as most people believe; it may come as news to many readers that as late as the mid-1980s high-ranking Israeli military experts were still helping Iran fight Iraq. It was only after 1988 that things really started changing. Even so Jerusalem vastly exaggerated the threat. As I myself became aware as far back as 1992 when an Israeli officer, speaking confidentially, told me he had received official news that the Iranians already had the bomb.

Between then and 2015, not a year passed without the Israelis claiming that Iran would have the bomb in five years, or three, or one, or even in six months. Back in 2006 one Russian “expert” went so far as to publish what he said he knew was the exact day on which the Israelis would strike. As we now know, both the Iranian “threat” and the Israeli one were, to put it impolitely but accurately, bull.

1427730328899Which brings me to the last question: why did several Israeli prime ministers, Netanyahu above all, raise the ruckus in the first place? The answer goes back at least as far as the mid-1950s when Moshe Dayan, then chief of staff, suggested that Israel should behave like a “rabid dog.” By threatening to go to war (in self-defense, of course), it could loosen the money- and weapon strings in Washington and Bonn. This policy has always served Israel well, enabling it to push through its nuclear program among other things. Proof? In the whole of history, no other country has ever received so much money and so many weapons free of charge.

How close Israel has ever been to launching a military operation against Iran is hard to say. Judging by the fact that neither Prime Minister Begin before he destroyed the Iraqi Reactor nor Prime Minister Olmert before he did the same to the Syrian one ever uttered a single public threat, the chance was never great. As the saying goes, a barking dog does not bite; the more so because success depends more on surprise than on any other factor. Now that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is in force, it is down to practically zero, which is why talk about it has all but disappeared.

Rest thou in peace, dear Iranian “threat.” And while one never knows what some future Israeli prime minister will choose to do, I very much hope that it has been put to rest for a long, long time.

PE? PE!

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The other day, walking through the Hebrew University library and looking for something interesting to read, my eye hit a tome with the grand-sounding title, The Oxford Companion to the Mind. I opened it; a thousand pages. Edited by one Richard L. Gregory, CBE, MA (Cantab), DSC, LLD, FRS, and published (second edition), in 2004. The volume differs from the better known Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in that it is more than just a list of all kinds of symptoms, real and imaginary. Instead it is a wide-ranging encyclopedia. With alphabetically arranged articles about everything from the way the ancient Egyptians understood the mind to something called the halo effect.

How wonderful, I thought. An opportunity to refresh my understanding of a phenomenon which, as readers know, I have long been interested in: PE (penis envy). Full of anticipation, I turned the pages. What a disappointment! PE is just not there. Yok, as we Israelis, using a Turkish word, say.

Yet that is strange. It is not as if the volume ignores Freud and psychoanalysis. To the contrary, both merit fairly hefty articles. PE apart, Freudian and Freudian-derived ideas do figure in the book. In considerable numbers, what is more. Among them are the Oedipus Complex, the Electra Complex, the inferiority complex, and many more.

I decided to check. On Google.com PE has 422,000 hits. The Oedipus Complex has 431,000, the Electra Complex 159,000, “inferiority complex,” 411,000, and “castration anxiety” 87,400. The figures for Google.scholar are 12,100, 35,200, 2,600 30,900, and 14,800 respectively. On Ngram as of the year 2000, PE figured about as often as “inferiority complex” and far more often than did “Oedipus Complex,” “Electra Complex,” and “castration anxiety.” All in all, PE seems to put on quite a respectable showing. Yet whereas the other three do have entries in the aforesaid Companion, PE does not.

What is going on here? Some claim that there is no way to prove that PE exists. That may be so; however, the same applies to all the rest. After all the methodology, which consists essentially of listening to patients in a room called a clinic that may or may not contain a couch, is always the same. So I decided to do a little historical research.

Before we delve into the topic itself, though, it is important to note that Freud, like many male gurus throughout history, attracted female patients and students as a lamp attracts moths. No wonder, that, since he valued them and treated them like daughters. It was to one of these women, a Viennese society lady, that Freud owed his professorship, a position he, being Jewish, might not have got without her help. To another, Marie Bonaparte, he owed his life. In 1938 it was she who paid off the Nazis to allow him and his family to leave Austria. Thus any idea that Freud hated women, or did not value them, or looked down on them, is so absurd that only half-crazed present-day feminists can entertain it.

Freud first postulated the existence of PE in a contribution to the nature of sexuality he published in 1904. From this point on the concept often came up in his famous Wednesday evening seminars where he and his disciples, both male and female, discussed psychoanalysis. Both the men and the women tended to be highly intelligent. Quite a few of them later attained fame in their own right. None of them was a cretin who simply allowed Freud to overrun him or her.

And how did the women in the company take to the concept? One of the most important, Freud’s own daughter Anna, sidestepped the problem altogether. Not only did she focus on children, but she herself probably died a virgin. The rest were divided. On one side of the debate was Karen Horney. She did not deny the existence of PE; however, she argued that women envied men their penises not because their biology made them to but because the penis stood a symbol for the advantages society conferred on men. In other words, PE, and what she called “the flight from womanhood,” was a consequence, not a cause. For expressing this view, Horney ended up by being thrown out of the New York psychoanalytical society.

Several other female members of Freud’s circle disagreed. One was Hermine Hug-Hellmuth, said to be the most biologically-reductionist among all his followers. Another was Jeanne Lampl de Groot. To her, “the absence of a penis could not be regarded as a matter of secondary and trifling significance for the little girl.” Rather, PE was “a central point [from which] the development into normal femininity begins.” “Woman’s wish for a penis is the consequence of a biological datum that underlies her psychic reaction of feeling inferior and is rock bottom.”

More important than either of those was Helene Deutsch. Good-looking, capable and extremely hard working, her Psychology of Women (1944) was considered authoritative for decades on end, Deutsch was one of the first Austrian women to receive a medical degree. She considered herself, with good reason, as “a leader in female emancipation.” Yet this did not prevent her from explaining that the clitoris was “an inadequate substitute” for a penis. As late as 1998 a female psychotherapist by the name of Maria Torok wrote that “in every woman’s analysis there is inevitably a period in which appears a feeling of envy and covetousness for both the male sex organ and its symbolic equivalents.” Having made listening to women her profession, she should know.

Back to Freud. Then as today, finding out whether we humans are shaped by nature or nurture was a difficult, very often impossible, enterprise. Perhaps that is why Freud, who sometimes hesitated to enter where his followers treaded, never voiced his opinion on the matter. Instead he contended himself with the famous question, “what does woman want?”

I too will leave the question open. I do, however, want to provide some examples of what, in my view, PE is. When women discard skirts and put on trousers, then that is PE. When some women complain (as has in fact happened!) that their daughters are not being diagnosed with ADHD as often as boys are, then that is PE. When women refuse to have children so that they can have a career as men do, then that is PE. When women want to follow men to Afghanistan so they can get themselves shot to pieces for some obscure cause no one understands, then that too is PE.

When some Jewish Israeli women defy a court order and dance with a Torah scroll at the Wailing Wall as Jewish men have been doing for ages, then that is PE. When renowned feminist Betty Friedan says she wants to play in men’s “ballfield,” then that is PE. When the almost equally renowned feminist Naomi Wolf says she wants to see more ads with objects sticking out of “women’s [emphasis in the original] groins,” then that is PE doubled, tripled, and squared. In these and countless other cases, one can only conclude that women do in fact crave “the obvious ‘extra’ that [men] have” (Nancy Friday).

Always imagining men having it better and trying to imitate them. Never, but never, trying to invent something original men have not already done a zillion times and doing it. To quote my wife, perhaps the real reason why PE is left unmentioned in the Companion is because it is not a disease. It is a normal state of mind.

Just published!

Martin van Creveld, Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West—and What Can Be Done about It.

In the kingdom(s) of the West, something is rotten. Collectively, the countries of NATO are responsible for almost two thirds of global military spending. In terms of military technology, particularly electronics, communications and logistics, they have left most of the rest so far behind that it is no contest. Yet since at least the end of the Korean War back in 1953, almost every time they went abroad and fought non-Westerners they were defeated and had to withdraw without achieving their objectives. As happened, to cite but two recent cases, in Iraq and Afghanistan; and as may yet happen if and when Islam keeps spreading into Europe, as it is doing right now.

What went wrong? How did the ferocious soldiers, who between 1492 and 1914, brought practically the entire world under their control, turn into pussycats? Readers of this website will recognize some of my earlier attempts to answer these questions; now those answers have been extended and put together in a single book.

Chapter I, “Subduing the Young,” focuses on the way Western societies raise their scanty offspring. Protecting and supervising them at every step; depriving them of any kind of independence; forcibly preventing them from growing up; and, if they refuse to sit still for so many hours as to drive any adult out of his mind, pathologizing them and dosing them with Ritalin (a close relation to cocaine, incidentally). Briefly, in the words of a recent American best-seller, turning them into “excellent sheep.”

Chapter II, “Defanging the Troops,” shows how the same is happening in the military. Troops may be, and routinely are, ordered to go to the other side of the world so as to kill and, if necessary, be killed in turn. Depending on the army in question, though, they may not be allowed to be in the streets after 2300 hours, drink a beer, wear uniform in public (lest they become a target for terrorists), watch pornography (lest the sensitive souls of their female “comrades” be offended) or visit a brothel. Briefly, they are not allowed to be men; notwithstanding that proving their manhood has always been, and always will be, one of the most important factors that make soldiers fight.

Chapter III, “The War on Men,” examines the way in which the forces are being feminized affects, indeed infects, their fighting power. In theory female and male soldiers are treated equally as they should be. In reality the former are privileged in many ways. First, the system of “gender norming” means that the standards required from female soldiers during all kinds of training, courses, and tests are lower than those men must meet; with the incidental result that everyone’s training suffers. Second, when it comes to pregnancy and delivery female soldiers enjoy privileges male ones do not have. Third, various factors have created a situation where, in quite some militaries, it is now easier for a woman than for a man to gain a commission with all the advantages that the latter brings. The further removed any arm of service from the front, the truer this is. Worst of all, though everyone knows these facts, no one is allowed to mention them even unconsciously; meaning that the entire military is based on a lie so big as to undermine the foundations on which it is built.

Chapter IV, “Constructing PTSD,” looks at the history of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD, as it suddenly emerged during the American Civil War, is not so much a medical phenomenon as a cultural one. It is the product of a society which tolerates it and, all too often, encourages it and even celebrates it. It does so partly because the idea that war is bad for the soul is taken very much for granted; and partly because of the fear of litigation. Whatever the reason, things have got to the point where American troops returning from places like Afghanistan are now obliged to undergo annual testing for PTSD. Instead of feting its heroes, society, treating them like damaged goods, does what it can to humiliate them.

Chapter V outlines the emergence of modern societies which, exalting rights and forgetting about duty, have come very close to delegitimizing war itself. Especially in Europe, to use armed force for any purpose, specifically including self-defense or correcting a manifest wrong, has become almost taboo. For soldiers to express their pride, let alone joy, in their profession has also become intolerable.

Finally, the conclusions repeat the main problems. The also argue that, if Donald Trump is going to make good on his promise to “rebuild the military,” he has is going to have his hands full.

Like all my books, Pussycats is written in jargon-less language laymen can understand. But it is also as thoroughly documented as academics would wish. Go ahead, you bold readers, and take a look!

Guest Article: Sarajevo in the Baltic?

By

Karsten Riise*

Introduction

Ever since Russia took over Crimea from the Ukraine in 2014, Western analysts have often pointed fingers at Russia and its leader. Then US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton even compared Putin with “Hitler.” Enough of that; here I want to point out the strategic dilemmas Russia is facing and the consequences that may result.

New Sarajevo - NATO - RussiaTo start with, it ought to be clear that Russia cannot live with the fact that Ukraine is becoming an instrument in the hands of NATO. Russia could, should it want to, launch deep military pincer operations with the objective of taking control of that country. In my view, a Russian-inspired regime-change in the Ukraine must and will come.

The Baltic Countries May Become a Threat to Russia

NATO cannot possibly counter a Russian regime-change operation in Ukraine. However, it is also necessary to analyze the military pressures which NATO can build up against Russia in other theaters, especially the Baltic. The following are some of the possibilities:

  1. NATO, with bases in the three Baltic countries, can block international shipping and air traffic to St. Petersburg;
  2. NATO can blockade and starve-out Kaliningrad;
  3. NATO can build up its forces in the Baltic so as to threaten a coup de main-type attack against Minsk, which is only about 125 km from Lithuania.

Briefly, NATO, by reinforcing its military presence in the Baltic, can answer a Russian regime-change in the Ukraine by strangling Kaliningrad and threatening Minsk, the capital city of Belorussia, Russia’s closest ally. In the long term, NATO can also use its foothold in the Baltic to build up growing military pressure on St. Petersburg and Pskov. Seen form Moscow’s point of view such moves would be unacceptable, perhaps unbearable.

Western media, politicians and “experts” are forever pointing fingers at Russian “provocations.” They conveniently overlook the provocations which NATO itself is carrying out right now, as well as those it may want to carry out tomorrow. We should not be naïve. Back in the days of President Reagan the US carried out numerous simulated nuclear bombing attacks deep into Soviet territory. Had this become known at the time, the US would have denied it. NATO thinking is that these simulated nuclear attacks were helpful in causing the Soviet Union to break down.

Needless to say, what worked for the USA against the Soviet Union is something NATO would like to repeat against Russia today. Indeed it is possible that NATO is even now secretly continuing Reagan’s policy, using its forces in the Baltic to launch simulated air, sea and land attacks on Russia. Even if it does not, it may be only a matter of time before NATO has gathered enough strength to do just that.

Time for Russia to Take on the Baltic Countries is Running Out

A RAND study, completed in 2016, shows that NATO does yet not have sufficient forces in place to protect the Baltic countries. It would take Russian forces a maximum of sixty hours to reach the capitals of two of the countries in question. Such a Russian move would leave NATO with some bad, very bad, options.

Though NATO has begun to significantly upgrade its forces in the Baltic, its position there remains very insecure. Partly because the three Baltic countries are geographically isolated, and partly because, should there be a confrontation, NATO reinforcements passing through the straits of Denmark into the Baltic Sea could be interdicted by Russia. But Russia should not expect the window of opportunity to remain open for very long.

 

Baltic Membership in NATO is Destabilizing

When both sides have good reason to feel insecure, the relationship between them becomes unstable and something dramatic may well happen. This is currently the case in the Baltic where Russia may feel an understandable need to take action to remove the future military threat from the three Baltic countries before proceeding to liquidate its unfinished business in the Ukraine.

Any Russian operation in the Baltic will have to take place before NATO’s growing presence there makes it too dangerous. By NATO Treaty, such an operation will be considered an attack on all NATO countries, the US included. But honestly: In such a case, will the US and Europe risk a nuclear war? Probably not. Thus Russia may bet on a limited conventional war; one which would lead to the end of NATO.

On 17 May 2016 one of Denmark’s largest newspapers, Berlingske Tidende, published an article by a retired NATO brigadier general. The article was written with some typical NATO rhetoric. But under the rhetoric the Danish brigadier general seemed to be genuinely scared. He fears that something violent may take place in connection with NATO’s maneuver, BALTOPS 2016, schedules to take place in the Baltic Sea from 3- to 19 June, as Russia’s window for action in that region may become smaller in the future. As I just explained, his worries are in line with own my analysis.

Russian Interest in (Temporary) Stabilization in Syria

The Russian operations in Syria bear strong similarities to those of the German “Legion Condor” during the 1930s Spanish Civil War. They enabled the Kremlin to test and train its most advanced weapons—and watch them working perfectly well. The lesson to NATO? Beware!

For a conflict in the Baltic, Russia will prefer to have all of its air force back after its success in Syria. Land operations in the Ukraine are better undertaken in the summer time, and a Baltic operation will have to take place before NATO builds up too many forces in the Baltic. Therefore Russia has an interest in reaching a settlement (at least temporary) with the West on Syria; one that may allow it to bring the rest of its military aircraft home. As NATO’s build up in the Baltic accelerates, Russia may only have short time left to act

A Sarajevo Effect?

A 2014 study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Business Assessment (CSBA) shows that China has enough missiles to wipe out all ports and airports on Taiwan, and destroy Taiwan’s air force on the ground. Several RAND studies, including a US-China military balance assessment published in 2015, show that the US no longer enjoys an advantage over China in the Taiwan Strait. America’s overall advantage over China is also shrinking. Accordingly, why should China not exploit a US involvement in a European conflict in order to take over Taiwan? And why should Israel not use such an opportunity to strike at Iran’s nuclear installations? And why should Turkey not use it to invade Syria and northern Iraq? Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and India, may also try to solve some issues the hard way. Insurgents in various North African, Central Asian and Southeast Asian countries may also seize the opportunity.

The price of oil has already started rising again. In a world such as the one we have just described, it may not stop at 50 or 100 or 150 dollars. It may go up all the way to 200 dollars, with gold rising in proportion. Stock markets have already peaked. If they cannot go higher, an insecure world will cause them to go off the cliff. And what about the dollar? The US can only finance its huge +3% foreign deficit and big public spending as long as its capital markets are safe and attractive, and the country itself is seen as a world-heaven of security.

Should the US turn out not to be strong enough to be on top of the situation, if conflicts explode in Europe, Asia and the Middle-East, trillions of dollars may flee the US, totally “reconfiguring” a world economy at war.

Welcome to the 21st century.

image001*Karsten Riise, M.Sc.(Econ) with a degree in Spanish, is former CEO of DaimlerChrysler Holding in Scandinavia and CFO of Mercedes-Benz in both Sweden and Denmark. Today he writes about international security, economics and politics.

 

Guest Article: Where China Is Headed

by

Iliya Atanasov*

India on the Rise?

The trend is your friend, but all trends come to an end. China’s resurgence is no exception to this time-tested maxim. Rising powers tend to get mired in multi-decade crises, often never to re-emerge. Such is the nature of the world and of human hubris. Yet, the consensus – including much of China’s own political and intellectual elite – gleefully extrapolates from the country’s meteoric rise. Just about everyone appears certain that within a decade or two China will surpass the US economically and mount a credible challenge to American military dominance in the Pacific. Reality and history, however, beg to differ. The foreseeable future is obvious: China’s current path ends in India.

To be sure, a quarter-century of breakneck economic growth has made China the envy of the world. Some half a billion people found new homes in its mushrooming cities. From skyscrapers and bullet trains to satellites and fighter jets, China quickly adopted just about every advanced technology. The country seemingly sailed through the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 as if it was happening on a different planet. More trillions of dollars of foreign ‘investment’ poured in at the tail end of a multi-decade industrial and real-estate boom. Invincible China’s omniscient leaders could make no misstep.

This mythic ascent to global pre-eminence has been just that – a myth. The reality is much less lustrous. Since the late 1980s, the state-controlled banking system has undergone several wholesale bailouts. China’s rulers blazed new ground in mathematics and statistics as the total of provincial GDPs quite often surpassed the central government’s nationwide figure. In leaked diplomatic cables, then-future Premier Li Keqiang was quoted as smiling that GDP numbers are ‘for reference only’. Yes, China’s economy has grown spectacularly, but probably much less so than widespread perceptions. And it happened on the wings of the most epic debt binge in human history. Years and decades of uncorrected malinvestment have inflated colossal bubbles in stocks, real estate and industrial capacity.

As the facts become too loud to ignore, the mainstream groupthink has struggled to find a counter-narrative. Chinese apparatchiks and foreign pundits peddled ‘soft landing’ as a substitute for the unravelling myth of economic miracle. But years of empty talk about rebalancing the economy have only added up to more – much more – of the same. China’s growth story was mostly based on debt-funded fixed investment: plants, real estate and infrastructure.

By 2014, fixed capital formation remained stubbornly anchored at about 45% of GDP, according to the government’s own statistics. In 2015, China still accounted for 57% of global cement output. The much-touted shift away from investment did not materialize. The country produced 30% more cement in the past three years than the US did in the past 116 years

Here is the problem. Any ‘rebalancing’ would require the instantaneous transmutation of tens of millions of semi-literate factory workers into computer programmers. Or laying them off. Neither is feasible, so Beijing has had to backtrack sheepishly every time real reform was attempted.

Every move to put the brakes on the rabid debt inflation that keeps China’s multiple bubbles from imploding has sent shockwaves through its banking system and the global economy. After housing showed signs of slowing, Beijing ushered in a stock bubble by allowing mom-and- pop day traders to lever up to the hilt. When that bubble burst, the prospect of social unrest forced a ham-fisted government takeover of the securities markets. Reports have surfaced that the authorities are busy inflating still other bubbles – this time in venture capital and commodities. Meanwhile, official statistics say fixed investment grew over 10% last year. Some rebalancing indeed.

Historically, explosive growth has invariably led up to a protracted and painful crisis period to correct for its excesses. China today is deeper in debt than the US at the outset of the Great Depression. Some recent data put Chinese bank ‘assets’ alone at 367% of GDP, up from 196% in 2007. A bank’s asset typically is someone else’s debt. And it is anybody’s guess how much more unserviceable debt festers on the balance sheets of local governments, state-owned enterprises and the shadow-banking sector, which collectively financed much of the fixed-investment rampage. The People’s Bank of China tallied new ‘total social financing’ at a neat $1 trillion just in the first quarter of 2016. Japan, with its measly 450% debt-to- GDP ratio, must have long been left in the dust by all-conquering China.

What China is experiencing is neither a rebalancing nor a landing, hard or soft; it is a crash. If American experience is any guide, the peak-to- trough contraction in China could easily reach 40% of GDP. It took the US stock market a quarter-century, a world war and a baby boom to recover to its 1929 levels.

Large-scale economic collapse, like market crashes, is not a singular event but a process that unfolds over many years. China’s economy has long been precisely this kind of slow-motion train wreck. And the 2015 stock-market plunge dealt a fatal blow to the soft-landing narrative. Hot money – foreign and domestic – rushed for the exits. Amid plummeting foreign trade, Beijing imposed ever more stringent currency controls while devaluing the yuan, thereby feeding an all-too- familiar vicious circle of capital flight.

According to consensus estimates, some $800 billion fled China in just a year. Chinese looking to park their money out of the country have caused epic property bubbles in major global cities. China’s debt problem is a threat not merely to its economy but the entire world. Yet, in terms of the country’s long-term prospects as a global power, the debt overhang pales in comparison to the demographic and environmental crises that are already baked in the cake. As a consequence of the one-child policy, ever-smaller cohorts with ever-greater job expectations are entering the workforce. China’s higher-education bubble has produced a generation demanding well-paid desk jobs but with even fewer marketable skills than its American counterpart. Meanwhile, millions of illegal immigrants from neighbours such as Vietnam and Burma already toil in China’s factory towns, as local Chinese become unaffordable for manufacturers to employ. This is Japanization writ large.

And then there is the aforementioned concrete. The permanent smog screen over the industrial heartland is one of the country’s lesser environmental challenges. Life in the cities is prohibitively expensive for many migrant workers. As they age and as industrial growth slows and reverses, millions of unlicensed migrants will have to head back, but may not like what they find at ‘home’. The Chinese have literally cemented over large swaths of what used to be agricultural land mostly populated by subsistence farmers.

There is no telling how much heavy metals and toxic chemicals have been dumped into China’s soils and aquifers. The effects of this yet-unfathomed ecological calamity will unfold for decades, impacting everything from productivity to healthcare costs in an already aging society.

Against this backdrop, expectations that China will inevitably subvert US dominance are premature. Granted, economic troubles are not much of an obstacle for nationalism and militarism. But China’s nationalist resurgence and recent maritime adventures are a sign of weakness rather than strength. Careening away from Maoism and towards Leninism underscores the leadership’s acute awareness that the economic story will not last much longer as a source of legitimacy for one-party rule. Such concerns are behind President Xi’s taking direct command of the army. Chinese elites may well decide to inflate a nationalism bubble, just as they encouraged stock-market speculation to deflect attention from real estate. Nationalism is both cheaper and more sustainable.

But then there is the geopolitical context. On the other side of the Himalayas, another giant is awakening from its stupor. India’s economy is much smaller than China’s and shares many of the same pollution problems. But India has three great strategic advantages in the ‘long game’ that China is playing. India has a much younger population and more than twice the population growth rate. It will surpass China over the next decade or two as the world’s most populous country. In addition, India is much closer to the Persian Gulf, where the planet’s most important energy source is concentrated. When it comes to petroleum, India literally stands in the way of China. It also has a tradition of worryingly friendly relations with Japan, which can be a source of capital if an alliance is pursued more actively. Finally, India’s government and economic system are decentralized. In a decentralized economic system, mistakes are more likely to remain localized and less likely to be perpetuated by large-scale bailouts. This is why India has been developing in fits and starts, but also why its growth will be much more sustainable than China’s.

With relatively low levels of debt, India’s explosive surge is just a matter of when. The talk of China’s economic decline does not even begin to capture the size and scope of the global impact. The sheer scale of economic mismanagement puts to shame all previous bubbles, so it is hard to say whether the world as a whole, not just China, will be able to dig itself from this hole without major war. Yes, China’s odds of recovering 20-30 years down the line are not terrible, but in the meantime the new rising power in Asia is going to be India. Per capita, India’s economy is still in its infancy. But watch out – they grow up fast.

*Iliya Atanasov is founder & CEO of moneyfact.org and senior fellow on finance at the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research in Boston, Massachusetts.

What I Learnt from La-Isha

La-Isha is the largest and most important Israeli women’s magazine. It is affiliated with Yediot, the daily paper and media empire which sells more copies each day than the rest of Israel’s papers combined. My goal in looking at it was to answer Freud’s famous question: What do women want?

laIsha-coverThe issue I am now honored to have in front of me hit the newsstands on 8 May, just before Israel’s Independence Day. It is printed on quality paper, costs NIS 18 (about $ 4.7) and contains 162 pages. Exclusive of advertisements. The front cover shows a young woman wearing heavy make-up and parted lips. Dressed in a tank top, she may be the dream of many young and not so young women; however, she is also just the kind you do not want in the office. Partly because she looks as if she has never done a day’s work in her life; and partly because you have other hobbies besides defending yourself or your company against sexual harassment suits.

Supposing you are young and foolish, or for that matter old and foolish, the one place you might want her is in bed. But even there she might turn out to be the type who considers herself too beautiful to be touched by a coarse male hand and only wants to show you off to her friends.

The rest of the issue does not disappoint. I counted: on the list of contents there are thirty-six major items, excluding numerous minor ones that take up just a few lines. Most major ones are grouped into six categories. To wit, “Health and Happiness,” (how to find a restaurant that will offer healthy food); “Tourism” (beautiful places in Israel to visit; this, after all, is Independence Day); “Consumerism” (how to spend your money buying things); “Style” (no explanation needed; this group contains more items than any other); “Design” (just one piece); and “Mini-Chef” (how to cook). Why is this group is called “Chef,” which in Hebrew is the masculine form, rather than “chefit”, which would be the feminine one? Another case of penis-envy, no doubt. If anyone has a better explanation, I’d be very happy to post it here.

Two articles allow readers to ask questions and receive answers. Interestingly, both respondents are male professors. One is an expert on education, the other a physician. The articles on plastic surgery and the one called “In Bed” are also written by a male physicians. Don’t Israeli women trust women to advise them on their problems?

The longest single article, “Standing to Attention,” is five pages long. Five pages? Can women really read that much? Incredible! Calm down: 90 percent of the space in question are covered by pictures. The article, such as it is, deals with young female soldiers who, while on leave, quickly change into more attractive clothes. Needless to say, not one of them is shown standing to attention. Let alone carrying a weapon of any kind; even penis envy has its limits, it seems.

And then there is the standard weekly fare. A letter from the editor, by her photograph another fairly young and quite attractive woman. “The Letter that Was Never Sent” dealing with the musings—would you believe it—of a young female Israeli soldier who, while riding a bus, shared a seat with an Arab woman in traditional garb.

I shall spare the reader the complete list of all items; instead, let me focus on just a few. A woman named Assi Friedman has discovered an art exhibition dealing with, of all things, flour. As well as an easier way to wipe floors and a particularly good spot for buying milk. There is a column called “In Your Free Time” (no explanation needed); one named “In Bed…” (ditto); one appearing under the heading, “Relationships Are Everything;” and one called “The best-Looking [female] Friends.” The issue concludes with more sagacious advice on physical and mental health as well as the inevitable whoroscope (compliments to Erica Jong, who to my knowledge invented the expression).

Incidentally, all twelve weekly fates being forecast take it for granted that readers are of age. Notwithstanding that Israel has the highest fertility rates in the entire Western world, not one so much as mentions motherhood. It is further assumed that women work, and also that none of them are on pension. Though Israel has one of the world’s longest life expectancies, old women do not seem to count. In other words, the only women who count are those who are adult, are of working age, have a career, and are or expect to be in some kind of relationship. So much for sisterhood.

And then, surprise surprise. To repeat, the normal issue consists of 162 pages. This time, however, in honor of Independence Day, readers also got a special supplement containing 124 pages. Free of charge, the lady behind the counter said. What a treat! The name of the supplement? Stiletto. Precisely the kind of shoe many feminists profess to hate as a symbol of male oppression. The contents? Almost exclusively photographs of young ladies in swimsuits. Including three of Bar Refaeli, the most famous Israeli model whose presence is almost as indispensable as the whoroscope. Currently she is pregnant, a fact that the photographs do not show. Hence they must have been taken some time ago.

Not a single word about such “role models” as Hillary Clinton, who currently stands a good chance of being elected the most powerful person in the world. Not a single one about Angela Merkel who, at the moment, may be more popular in Israel than she is at home. Or about Janet Yellen, head of the Federal Reserve (whom the woman-hating Donald Trump has sworn to fire because, so he says, he does not like her). Or about several female ministers, MKs’ and top-level bankers in Israel itself. Why? Let me guess. Because all these women are quite old. La-Isha readers neither want to see their pics nor can identify with them.

Is that what women really want?

Happy Birthday, Israel

A year ago at this time of the year, I posted an article arguing that Israel has been the most successful political creation of the entire twentieth century. Demographically, economically, politically, militarily, scientifically, culturally—no other country started from so little and no other achieved so much in such a short time. Let me remind readers that, a hundred something years ago, even the language—Hebrew—was moribund. Used almost exclusively for prayer, it had to be rebuilt almost from the beginning. Today, to celebrate my country’s 68th birthday, I want to focus on a particularly touchy question: namely, the place occupied by, and the feelings of, Israel’s 1,300,000 strong Arab community.

The research was done by Prof. Sami Samocha, a professor of sociology at the University of Haifa. He has been monitorings_a relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel for 35 years, no less. Thanks also to my colleague, Prof. Alex Yakobson, who drew my attention to Samocha’s work.

The following information pertains to the year 2015. It presents, in somewhat simplified form, the responses to 19 out of 178 questions Samocha asked Arab-Israeli citizens. Needless to say, the questionnaires were anonymous.

Bad news first:

61.1 percent strongly oppose or oppose their children attending Jewish schools, whereas only 38.4 percent would strongly like or like them to do so (0.5 percent did not answer this question; since the number of non-respondents to this and the remaining questions is very small, in what follows I did not bother to mention them). 67.9 percent greatly fear or fear serious infractions of their civil rights, whereas only 31.6 percent are very certain or certain that will not happen. 56.5 percent greatly fear or fear they may one day be “ethnically cleansed,” whereas only 44.8 percent do not fear such a possibility or do not fear it at all. 32.2 percent strongly believe or believe in the government, whereas 67.8 percent disagree or strongly disagree.

And now, to the good news:

76.1 percent of Arab Israelis strongly agree or agree that Arabs and Jews should work together in common organizations, against only 22.6 who either disagree or strongly disagree. Working side by side with Jews, 65.8 percent feel completely at ease or at ease versus only 26.6 percent who disagree or strongly disagree. Visiting a shopping center also frequented by Jews, 58.8 percent feel either completely at ease or at ease whereas only 31.11 disagree or strongly disagree. 53.6 percent strongly agree or agree that Palestine is the common homeland of both peoples, whereas only 45.6 percent strongly disagree or disagree. 66 percent strongly agree or agree that Israel is a good place to live, whereas only 35.8 percent disagree or strongly disagree. 59 percent strongly prefer or prefer living in Israel than in any other country in the world, whereas only 40.8 percent strongly disagree or disagree.

75 percent are quite ready, or ready, to have Jewish friends whereas only 24.3 percent reject, or strongly reject, that possibility. 52.3 percent strongly believe, or believe, that Jews have many positive qualities Arabs should adopt whereas only 35.5 percent disagree or strongly disagree. 58.1 percent strongly believe, or believe, that Arab Israelis resemble Jewish Israelis more than they do Palestinians in the west Bank and the Gaza Strip, whereas only 41.2 percent disagree or strongly disagree. 27.5 percent would be very ready or ready to live in a Palestinian State, whereas 72.4 percent would either reject or strongly reject such a possibility. 65.8 percent strongly hold or hold that Israel has a right to exist, whereas only 33.8 percent disagree or strongly disagree.

Finally, 89.4 percent say either that, as Arabs, they had never been threatened or hit by Jews, or else that this had only happened once or twice. Only 10.3 say that this had happened to them more often. 77 percent say either that being Arab never made them feel discriminated against or that this only happened once or twice; whereas only 22.5 percent said that they had felt so more often than this.

Let me end this with two anecdotes. My oldest son lives in northern Israel in a town called Carmiel. Nearby is Dabach, known after the head of the family tribe, a big man whom I last saw while he was snoring peacefully away in his office. The complex includes a supermarket, several shops, a restaurant, and a large parking lot. Currently the family is busy building a second complex in Haifa. Since prices are low, Dabach is frequented by both Arabs and Jews, me—when I get there—included. Never in any of my visits did I witness any problems between Arabs and Jews.

The second anecdote goes as follows. The other day I was listening on the radio to the mayor of Umm el Fahem, an Arab-Israeli town of over 50,000 inhabitants adjacent to the northern part of the West Bank. The interviewer asked him about the possibility that, in some eventual peace agreement, the border would be moved slightly to the west so that he and his people would live in a Palestinian State. In response, the man almost got a stroke. With good, reason, too. Given that Arab-Israeli per capita GDP is more than ten times higher than that of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; and given also the truly terrible things that are currently happening in Arab countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, the Sudan, and the Sinai.

So have a happy birthday Israel. To expect Arab Israelis to wax enthusiastic about that birthday, let alone celebrate it, would be too much. I do, however, hope that as many of them as possible will make use of it to have a merry day off.

Trillhaase, Or So the World Changes

Visiting an art fair in Cologne, Germany, a couple of weeks ago, I came across an artist of whose existence I had never been aware. He was Adalbert Trillhaase (1858-1936), a retired merchant and amateur painter who did his best work during the late 1920s. Normally he is classified as “naïve.” To me, however, he is anything but; rather, seeing him using crude forms and apparently poking deliberate fun at the world around him, I would call him an expressionist. Another hint pointing in the same direction is provided by the fact that he was close to the much better known Otto Dix, who at one point did a painting of Trillhaase and his family. If so, that would explain why the Nazis, classifying him as a “degenerate” artist, placed him under a so-called Malverbot (prohibition to paint). But this is a point the reader should judge for him- or herself.

trillhaasegerichtThe painting that struck me most carried the title, “A Meeting of the Court.” It shows four judges, each wearing a different expression but all of them men and all of them mustachioed, sitting at the bench. To the left is the scrivener, also a man, who appears be resting from his labors or fallen asleep. There is a male lawyer who has thrown his arm over the shoulder of a woman, presumably either a witness or the defendant. Judging by the number of judges present, the issue at hand must have been quite serious. Completing the painting are five women who form the audience.

Just what stage the proceedings have reached is by no means clear. The lawyer may be leading the woman towards the black volume lying on the table in the foreground, presumably a Bible, in order to make her swear on it. Or what we see may be a recess, or else the woman may already have been convicted. In that case her lawyer may be trying to console her. Or he may not.

Anyhow. The painting made me think, the best thing a work of art can do. First, judging by the way they are dressed, the ladies in the audience seem to be middle class. All five have ample bosoms; obviously the idea that they should starve themselves so as to achieve as slim a figure as possible has not yet occurred to them. Nor is there any reason why it should have. After all, this was the immediate aftermath of World War I. Inflation was gathering steam and many Germans were almost literally starving. Having enough to eat was a blessing, not a shame.

Next, the lawyer. Not only is he male—at that time, female lawyers were almost as rare as unicorns. But he is making the sort of gesture which, today, might cause him to be charged with sexual harassment. And four—four—men sitting in judgment of a single woman? Who has heard of such a thing?

Briefly, what the painting told me was that the world has changed. Follow a few of the changes which, judging purely by what we see, it has undergone:

First, as I just said, in our day and age a court made up entirely of men, mustachioed men what is more, sitting in judgment over a woman would have been all but inconceivable. Except in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and some Israeli rabbinical court, of course. Long before the first judge would have opened his mouth for the first time, such a court would have been condemned for being male chauvinist, incapable of understanding women, oppressive of their rights, and generally unfair and unworthy.

Second, the scrivener would almost certainly have been a woman. A young one dressed very differently from the ladies we see. And instead of writing up the record by hand, as he seems to be doing, she would have used some kind of computer or other electronic gadget.

Third, the lawyer would as likely have been female as male.

Fourth, the ladies in the audience, besides being slimmer-looking, would be very unlikely to wear hats indoors. Interestingly enough, except for the fact that they are spectators what they are doing there is anything but clear. Almost certainly they have cleaning ladies to look after the household. Probably they do not hold paid jobs, or else they would hardly have leisure to attend the court. Yet they do not look as if they are oppressed or discriminated against in any way, do they? To me at any they look quite self-conscious, ready to take on anyone and anything.

What Trillhaase is providing us with, quite unintentionally of course, is a door into a different world that has long since passed away. Like the one in which my late grandmother, who was born in 1893, might have lived in while busy having one child after another (she ended up by having six). Was it worse than the one in which we live today? Or, perhaps, better? Who is to say?

White Elephants

At least since 9/11, and possibly since the First Gulf War back in 1991, it has been clear that the most immediate threat facing developed countries is not other developed countries. It is terrorism, guerrilla, insurgencies, asymmetric war, fourth generation war, war among the people, nontrinitarian war (my own favorite term), whatever. Follows a list-–a very partial one, to be sure—of expensive new American weapons and weapon systems, now in various stages of development, all of which have this in common that they are not relevant to the threat in question.

  1. The USAF’s new bomber. America’s last bomber, the B-2, was an absolute disaster. Originally the program, which went back to the late 1980s, was supposed to result in a fleet of 132 aircraft. That figure was later reduced to just 20, plus one used for all kinds of experimental purposes. The machines cost $ 500,000,000 each, which is far more than almost any conceivable target. Some sources, taking development costs into consideration, provide a much higher figure still. Yet so vulnerable are the machines that, when they are not in the air, they need to stay in air-conditioned hangars. That in turn means that they can only be operated from the Continental US and take hours and hours to reach their targets. Nevertheless, fixated on bombers as the USAF has been for so many years, none of these problems have prevented it from going for an even more ambitious program. This is the so-called Next Generation Bomber of which 175 are planned. Suppose, which in view of past experience seems rather unlikely, that anything like this number is in fact produced at a cost of God knows how many dozens and dozens of billions. The contribution to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.
  1. The USAF’s new ICBM. America’s last ICBM, known as the Peacemaker, was deployed from 1986 on (as so often, cost overruns reduced their number from the original 100 to just 50). In 2005 the last of them was decommissioned. Why? The answer is by no means clear. The START II Treaty, which prohibited putting multiple warheads on a single launcher, was already dead. Killed by President G. W. Bush’s decision to go ahead with missile defense, another unbelievably expensive system which to-date has only yielded a handful of launchers totally unable to stop either a Russian or a Chinese attack. Or perhaps it died because running too different ICBM systems, one made up of Peacemakers and the other of the older Minutemans, was too expensive? In any case, the warheads were put on the old Minuteman missiles and the launching crews retrained for operating them; a rare case of fortunes being spent so the old can take the place of the new. And the contribution of all this to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.
  1. The USAF’s new F-35 fighter. Originally it was supposed to be a cheap alternative to the F-22, itself an expensive failure (which is why, out of 750 originally envisaged, only 187 were built). By now, however, each F-35 is expected to cost as much as an F-22. The program has been marked by numerous delays and developmental uncertainties. Only to result in an aircraft that can carry less ordnance than some older ones could. In terms of the critically important thrust to weight ratio it is actually inferior to no fewer than ten different American, Russian, and European fighters. One sometimes feels that the Air Force has forgotten all about the late John Boyd, his concept of energy maneuverability, and the F-16 whose mastermind he was. Instead it has returned to the days when Soviet-built Mig-17s, flown by North Vietnamese pilots, had little difficulty shooting heavier, less maneuverable, American F-105s out of the sky. And the contribution of all this to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.
  1. Ford class carriers. Compared to its predecessors, the Nimitz class carriers, these huge warships (100,000 ton capacity when fully loaded) are said to have an improved nuclear power plant, electromagnetic catapults, and superior stealth characteristics. Originally they were also supposed to be able to generate a larger number of sorties per day, but there now seems to exist some doubt whether that objective will, in fact, be achieved. Early estimates put the cost of each carrier at $ 10.5 billion; now the estimate stands at $ 12.9 billion. And even this “outrageous” (John McCain) increase is most unlikely to be the last word. The carriers’ contribution to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.
  1. The army’s new ground combat vehicle. Originally there was a call for a relatively light vehicle. One capable of being rapidly airlifted to wherever it may be needed so that any trouble might be dealt with before it could spread. What emerged, instead, was an 84-ton monster heavier and more unwieldy than any tank now in existence. One reminiscent of Germany’s projected 100, 188, and 1,000 ton tanks during World War II (see image). Thank God this one was cancelled in mid stride—as, incidentally, Hitler’s tanks also were. Or else the black hole that is the national debt would have been blessed with another white elephant.

bef2fdee-a398-4a95-a04f-765ff264af18_zps393146aa

Will they ever learn?

 

*Thanks to my friend Bill Lind, whose work always inspires my own.