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The Chinese Banker
The Chinese Banker: A story of the 2012 elections
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Oct 28, 2012 12:55PM
In the days following the 2012 elections, the new president is met with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Gasoline rises to $10 a gallon, protestors flood the streets, and riots erupt in grocery stores. The crisis overwhelms the new president because it is not an economic crisis at all. It is the damage from the world's newest form of warfare.
A columnist for The New York Examiner and a retired general soon discover what the president has not, and the pair find themselves buried in a conspiracy that could change the world's balance of power forever.
The Chinese Banker is available in both eBook and paperback at Amazon.com,
Here's an except of Chapter 1 of The Chinese Banker.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Politics at 1 in the morning requires a cocktail.
It is not a new thought, not even a particularly sober thought. Two bourbon and ginger ales already have come my way as I look out upon the most vertical city in the world. Really, I look down upon it. From the 118th floor of the Hong Kong Ritz-Carlton I watch the lights of mere 70-and 80-story buildings reflect off Victoria Harbour. American companies like Philips and Epson have their names in neon atop the smaller buildings, and yet the bay still looks beautiful.
But my chair is built to swivel and I turn to face the true Chinese wonder: the flat screen television. I tap my middle finger twice on the rosewood bar as a substitute for eye contact, and then twist two fingers in the air like I am some sort of American shortstop. The language is universal among males of a certain type, and the bartender fetches a fresh highball crystal and makes sure to double up on the bourbon.
Yes, politics at 1 in the morning requires a cocktail. It is a good thought. A good amount of wit there. I feel like I should share it with someone. Or at least the bourbon feels that way. The ginger ale rarely adds anything to the conversation. But no one else sits at this rosewood bar, and, truth be told, I’m not sure it is rosewood. I could tell the bartender. (My line, not my observation about rosewood.) His English is passable. He would laugh, but it would be a professional courtesy type of laugh. I would much prefer a drunken laugh.
A group of Americans – this is the American-themed bar at the hotel, thus the flat-screen TVs everywhere – sit at a round upholstered table that tries to be part chic, part 1950s-style diner. The men at the table have no such fashion struggle. They try to convince no one that they are chic. Most wear slacks and short-sleeved pullovers that are made of some sort of material whose greatest fashion value seems to be that it wicks away rain. There is one, though, who has broken from the mold and actually wears a dress shirt with an unbuttoned collar, complete with khakis and a pair of black cowboy boots. It is like he is going to a businessman’s rodeo.
It would seem awkward to go to the table and deliver my observation like a stand-up comedian, so, of course, I don’t. The sight of them makes me laugh anyway, so my desire to make others laugh has diminished some. I’m sure all of them make more money than I do. They are in finance because all Americans in China are in finance. But my, how that world has changed. Twenty years ago, my blue blazer with gray linen slacks would have qualified me to hand out trays of martinis at a finance party or perhaps warm towels at the club’s washroom. Now look at them.
This show on the television needs to get moving. The TV news boys have taken the very serious occasion of inaugurating America’s first black president and turned it into an infomercial-type of affair where the pitchman must keep reminding you of the selling point. Here, the selling point is this: Razik “Ray” Amin will be sworn in today as the 45th president of the United States, becoming the country’s first black president, and the first since the Great Depression facing an economy in freefall.
I had followed Amin some on the campaign trail. That speech he gave as a Senatorial nobody at the ’08 Democratic Convention had made me take notice. I thought: This guy can lie well enough to be president. But I never thought the American people would touch him with that Arab-sounding name. The campaign, though, played out perfectly for him. McCain — God bless the old war hero — looked like he had fought in the Spanish-American War. He was just so damn old and his aides wanted to cut his tongue out every time he reminded voters that he’d only recently started using the Internet. And Palin. Four years of Mama Moose – as Letterman had labeled her for five nights a week – were enough for most Americans. And then there was Iraq. McCain was still fighting Vietnam, and it showed. This election ended up being so simple. Americans had decided their buggy ride was too bumpy. They now were ready to take a backseat in a modern vehicle.
It is almost noon Washington time. Almost 1 a.m. here. The ceremonies have begun on the screen. Into the bar comes another American, looking like a frat boy who is trying to reach his class seat before the bell rings. He settles beside me and orders a Crown and Coke, I think mainly because he likes the alliteration.
“Politics at 1 in the morning requires a cocktail,” I say as I glance back at the TV.
“You’re not kidding,” he says with a laugh that I deem good enough. “Brett.”
“Roger,” I say as I shake his extended hand.
“Roger Cusak?” he asks.
“Roger Cusak, The New York Examiner columnist. I’ll be damned.”
“Damned you may well be.”
“They have you here instead of in Washington,” which I assume is not a true question, since he has only begun to drink.
“Plenty of others to cover the show,” I say.
“Just as well. The world is run from here these days.”
I feel like some sort of journalistic ethic prohibits me from agreeing with such an important opinion, so I smile and raise the bourbon to my lips. There is no journalistic ethic that ever prohibits such action.
“And how about you? What brings you here?”
“I’m an analyst with Credit Suisse. At the moment, I’m in charge of kissing Chinese ass.”
He pauses and takes a couple of steps down the empty bar and pulls a large bowl of cashews toward us.
“Jesus, I hope I didn’t completely tilt the room on its edge by doing that. I walk around this whole damn country afraid to move even a chair. I don’t understand any of this feng shui crap. That’s what you ought to write about. That the entire world’s economy is run by a country that is convinced its fate relies upon a sofa being in the southeast corner of an office.”
“I can see why the Swiss sent you.”
“Yes,” Brett says before taking a fraternity-like gulp of his cocktail. “The Swiss are great diplomats, you know. That’s why the world is so peaceful these days.”
On the screen, processions and proclamations are playing out. But neither Brett nor I pay much attention. On this point, we are alike: We aren’t here for the history. We are here for a glimpse of the future. We want to hear the address.
“Geneva or Zurich?” I ask him.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Zurich. Between the U.N. and the French that are everywhere in Geneva, I always feel like I should cower in a corner with a croissant every time I’m in that town.”
“No offense, but it doesn’t seem like you would fit in real well in Zurich either.”
“No, you’re right. But they put up with me because I understand derivatives,” he says with another large gulp. “Actually, that’s a damn lie. No one understands derivatives.”
“Can I quote you on that?”
“Sure. Its spelled W-A-R-R-E-N B-U-F-F-E-T-T.” Another gulp. “Have you been to Zurich?”
“I have,” I say. “Both Zurich and Geneva, actually. Both are beautiful, but I would give a slight nod to Geneva.”
“Really? Why so?”
“Well, my family is French.”
Brett laughs heartily without the least bit of embarrassment. “Ah, see. The Swiss’ diplomatic ways clearly have rubbed off on me. I guarantee world peace for years to come.”
“Why not eternity?”
“Let’s seal it with another drink,” I say, as I tap my finger upon what I now believe to be a mahogany bar. A quick point at my glass and at Brett’s and the wonderful process of another round has begun.
“Now, you sir, are a true diplomat.”
“Turn it up,” one of the rain wickers yells from his Fonzie-like diner booth.
The volume on the television increases and a new future has begun.
“We must rebuild our bridges, repair our roads, re-lay the pipelines of tomorrow’s prosperity,” the new president says. “But first we must reinforce our foundation: the American bedrock of home ownership. I will not let the dream of home ownership crack nor crumble, because when any of us lose a house to call home, we all lose another place to call America.”
Already the future is taking a side street. During the campaign, Amin’s stimulus plan called for major investments in infrastructure and new research and development funding to prime the country’s innovation sector. But fellow Democrats — the ones who run Congress — had convinced Amin otherwise. So now the stimulus is solely about providing relief to homeowners who have seen foreclosure rates soar.
None of this surprises me. Campaigning and governing are like dancing and making love. They both involve a woman, physical activity and the chance to step on something you shouldn’t. But let’s not pretend everything whispered on the dance floor becomes true in the bedroom.
Brett, the rain wickers and the businessman rodeo clown all still look like frat boys, but they at least are the type who pay attention in class. Between all of them in this room, they probably have bet several hundred billion dollars – of someone’s money — on this change in stimulus direction.
Brett raises his glass to me. “Right on cue.”
It is impressive. With a few simple words, Amin has not changed course, he has not gone back on a promise. Instead, he has strengthened an American dream. “When any of us lose a home, we all lose a place to call America.” It was a gift, and it had taken Razik “Ray” Amin to the White House. An interesting story had helped too: A first-term senator from Ohio who grew up with a single mother who came to America and then toiled as a secretary in the law school of Ohio State. He never knew his father, some Columbus ambulance chaser who caught a ride out of town soon after becoming a father.
But mainly it wasn’t his story that had gotten him on this stage today. It was how he told the country’s story.
“In 1933, one in every four adult Americans was unemployed, and the jobless rate would stay above 10 percent until 1941,” Amin told the crowd. “In that same perilous year of ’33, there were a total of 4,000 banks that closed their doors, leaving hard-working Americans in crisis.
“The scene on Wall Street was equally as ugly. Blood and tears flooded the markets. By July of 1932, the Dow had fallen so low that it had wiped out 36 years of gains — 36 years. It would take it a full 25 years — 25 years — to reach its pre-Depression highs.
“Those, of course, were just the numerical tolls of the Great Depression. The true tolls were found in heatless homes, shabby shanties or angry alleys. They were seen in children who went hungry and grown men who went hopeless.
“I recall this not as a prediction of the hell we will face, but rather as a reminder of the forge we already have emerged from.
“Americans, our steel is strong.”
Ah, there it is, the headline. Write the headline for them. Don’t let some hack like me come up with it.
“I have traveled all across this great country to win the honor of this position, and I am here to tell you that there is light in the valley, hope on the horizon, and the American ideal is still mightier than the mightiest mountain.”
And there’s the opening paragraph, the lede. “Light in the valley and hope on the horizon,” the new American president proclaims. READ MORE AT
Feb 10, 2013 02:01PM
If anybody is interested in what confusion, conspiracy and chaos in America may look like, it is now on sale for 99 cents. I'm tweaking the marketing efforts for the e-book version of The Chinese Banker, which is a political novel about the U.S. getting shoved over a steep fiscal cliff by the Chinese. U.S. Amazon link:
Also, I've started a new Goodreads group called Political Pages where we get together to talk about political fiction and non-fiction. I hope you check it out.
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