- Does Kim Jong-Un's Strategy Make Sense?
"Looking at the recent North Korean testing of two intercontinental missiles, it may seem that Pyongyang wishes to increase tensions in the region. A more careful analysis, however, shows how the DPRK is implementing a strategy that will likely succeed in averting a disastrous war on the peninsula."
In the last four weeks, North Korea seems to have implemented the second phase of its strategy against South Korea, China and the United States. The North Korean nuclear program seems to have reached an important juncture, with two tests carried out at the beginning and end of July. Both missiles seem capable of hitting the American mainland, although doubts still remain over Pyongyang's ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to mount it on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). However, the direction in which North Korea’s nuclear program is headed ensures an important regional deterrent against Japan and South Korea, and in some respects against the United States, which is the main reason for North Korea’s development of ICBMs. Recent history has repeatedly demonstrated the folly of trusting the West (the fate of Gaddafi remains fresh in our minds) and suggests instead the building up of an arsenal that poses a serious deterrence to US bellicosity.
It is not a mystery that from 2009 to date, North Korea's nuclear capacity has increased in direct proportion to the level of distrust visited on Pyongyang by the West. Since 2009, the six-party talks concluded, Kim Jong-un has come to realize that the continuing threats, practices, and arms sales of the United States to Japan and South Korea needed to be thwarted in some way in the interests of defending the sovereignty of the DPRK. Faced with infinitely lower spending capacity than the three nations mentioned, Pyongyang chose a twofold strategy: to pursue nuclear weapons as an explicit deterrence measure; and to strengthen its conventional forces, keeping in mind that Seoul is only a stone’s throw away from North Korean artillery.
This twofold strategy has, in little more than eight years, greatly strengthened the ability of the DPRK to resist infringement of its sovereignty. In contrast to the idea commonly promoted in the Western media, Pyongyang has promised not to use nuclear weapons first, reserving their use only in response to aggression against itself. In the same way, a pre-emptive attack on Seoul using traditional artillery would be seen as intolerable aggression, dragging Pyongyang into a devastating war. Kim Jong-un’s determination in developing conventional and nuclear deterrence has succeeded in establishing a balance of power that helps avoid a regional war and, in so doing, contributes to the strengthening of overall security in the region, contrary to what many believe.
The reason the United States continues to raise tensions with Pyongyang and threaten a conflict is not out of a concern for the protection of her Japanese or South Korean allies, as one may initially be led to think. The United States in the region has a central objective that does not concern Kim Jong-un or his nuclear weapons. Rather, it is driven by the perennial necessity to increase forces in the region for the purposes of maintaining a balance of military force (Asian Pivot) and ultimately trying to contain the rise of the People's Republic of China (PRC). One might even argue that this strategy poses dangers not only to the entire region but, in the case of a confrontation between Washington and Beijing, the entire planet, given the nuclear arsenal possessed by the United States and the People's Republic of China.
In this respect, the triangular relationship between China, North Korea and South Korea takes on another aspect. As always, every action is accompanied with a reaction. The statement that Beijing would prefer to get rid of the DPRK leadership is without foundation. Central in the minds of Chinese policy makers is the threat of a US containment that could undermine the country's economic growth. This strategic planning is well known in Pyongyang, and explains in part why the DPRK leadership still proceeds with actions that are not viewed well by Beijing. From the North Korean point of view, Beijing derives an advantage from sharing a border with the DPRK, which offers a friendly leadership not hostile to Beijing. Pyongyang is aware of the economic, political, and military burden of this situation, but tolerates it, receiving the necessary resources from Beijing to survive and develop the country.
This complex relationship leads the DPRK to carry out missile tests in the hope of gaining many benefits. First of all, it hopes to gain a regional, and possibly a global, deterrence against any surprise attacks. Secondly, it forces South Korea to have a symmetrical response to DPRK missile tests, and this strategy, coming from North Korea diplomacy, is far from improvised or incongruous. In recent years, South Korea’s response has come in the form of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, designed to intercept missiles. As repeatedly explained, it is useless against North Korean rockets, but poses a serious threat to the Chinese nuclear arsenal, as its powerful radars are able to scout much of China's territory, also being ideally positioned to intercept (at least in theory) a responsive nuclear strike from China. In a nutshell, THAAD is a deadly threat to China's strategic nuclear parity.
From the point of view of the four nations involved in the region, each has different aims.
For the United States, there are many advantages in deploying the THAAD: in increases pressure on China, as well as concludes an arms sale that is always welcomed by the military-industrial complex; it also gives the impression of addressing the DPRK nuclear problem adequately.
South Korea, however, finds itself in a special situation, with the former president now under arrest for corruption. The new president, Moon Jae-in, would prefer dialogue rather than the deployment of new THAAD batteries. In any case, after the latest ICBM test, Moon required an additional THAAD system in the Republic of Korea, in addition to the launchers already there. With no particular options available to conduct a diplomatic negotiation, Seoul is following Washington in a spiral of escalation that certainly does not benefit the peninsula's economic growth.
Ultimately, the PRC sees an increase in the number of THAAD carriers close to the country, and the DPRK is growing in its determination to pursue a nuclear deterrent.
Indeed, the strategy of the Pyongyang is working: on the one hand, they are developing a nuclear weapon to deter external enemies; on the other, they are obligating the PRC to adopt a particularly hostile attitude towards South Korea’s deployment of THAAD. In this sense, the numerous economic actions of Beijing towards Seoul can be explained as a response to the deployment of the THAAD batteries. China is the main economic partner of South Korea, and this trade and tourism limitation is quite damaging to South Korea’s economy.
This tactic has been used by North Korea for the last several years, and the results, in addition to the recent economic crunch between the PRC and South Korea have indirectly led to the end of the reign of the corrupt leader Park Geun-hye, an ever-present puppet in American hands. The pressure that the DPRK applies to bilateral relations between China and South Korea increases with each launch of an ICBM carrier, which is the logic behind these missile tests. Pyongyang feels justified in urging its main ally, China, to step up actions against Seoul to force it to compromise in a diplomatic negotiation with Pyongyang without the overbearing presence of its American ally pushing for war.
The main problem in the relations between South Korea, China and North Korea is represented by American influence and the need to prevent a rapprochement between these parties. As already stated, the United States needs the DPRK to justify its presence in the region, aiming in reality at Chinese containment. Pyongyang has been isolated and sanctioned for almost 50 years, yet serves to secure China’s southern border in the form of a protected friend rather than an enemy. This situation, more than any United Nations sanction to which the PRC adheres, guarantees a lasting relationship between the countries. Beijing is well aware of the weight of isolationism and economic burden on North Korea, which is why Beijing is symmetrically increasing pressure on South Korea to negotiate.
In this situation, the United States tries to remain relevant in the regional dispute, while not having the capacity to influence the Chinese decisions that clearly rely on other tactics, specifically putting pressure on South Korea. In military terms, as explained above, Washington can not start any military confrontation against the DPRK. The consequences, in addition to millions of deaths, would lead Seoul to break relations with Washington and seek an immediate armistice, cutting off the United States from negotiations and likely expelling US troops from its territory. Ultimately, there is no South Korean ability to influence the political process in the North while they continue to be flanked by the United States in terms of warfare (very aggressive joint exercises). The influence Washington can exert on Pyongyang is zero, having fired all cartridges with over half a century of sanctions.
The bottom line is that the United States cannot afford to attack the DPRK. Pyongyang will continue to develop its own nuclear arsenal, with Beijing's covert blessing in spite of its officially continuing to condemn these developments. At the same time, South Korea is likely to persevere with a hostile attitude, especially in regard to the deployment of new THAAD batteries. Sooner or later, Seoul will come to a breaking point as a result of further restrictions on trade between China and South Korea. As long as Seoul is able to absorb Chinese sanctions, little will change.
What will lead to a major change in the region will be the economic effect of these restrictions that will eventually oblige Seoul to consider its role in the region and its future. Seoul's leadership is aware of three situations that will hardly change, namely: Pyongyang will never attack first; Beijing will continue to support North Korea rather than accept the United States on its border; and Washington is not able to bring solutions but only greater chaos and a worsening global economic situation to the region. In the light of this scenario, time is all on the side of Beijing and Pyongyang. Eventually the economic situation for Seoul will become unbearable, bringing it to the negotiating table with a weakened and certainly precarious position. Beijing and Pyongyang have a long-term common goal, which is to break the bond of submission between South Korea and the United States, freeing Seoul from Washington's neo-conservative programs to contain China (on a Russia containment model).
Indirectly coordinated work between Beijing and Pyongyang is hardly understandable to Western analysts, but examining every aspect, especially with regard to cause-and-effect relationships, these decisions are not so incomprehensible and even more rational in a broader viewing of the region and its balance of power. On the one hand, Seoul sees the DPRK offering peace, stability and prosperity based on a framework agreement between Seoul, Pyongyang and Beijing. This would also particularly benefit South Korean trade with China, eventually returning to normal relationships between countries, with important economic benefits.
The alternative is an alliance with Washington that would completely eliminate the economic benefits of a healthy relationship with Beijing. This could even potentially lead to a war involving millions of deaths, fought on South Korean soil and not in the United States. The United States does not offer any solutions to South Korea, either in the short or long term. The only thing Washington is offering is a fixed presence in the country, together with a stubborn anti-Chinese policy that would have serious economic consequences for Seoul.
As paradoxical as it may seem, Kim Jong-un's rockets are much less of a threat than is Seoul’s partnership with Washington in the region, and in fact seem to offer Seoul the ultimate solution to the crisis in the peninsula.
- Look Out Manhattan – Chinese Foreign Real-Estate Spending Plunges 82%
Earlier this month, Morgan Stanley warned that commercial real estate prices in New York City, Sydney and London would likely take a hit over the next two years as Chinese investors pull out of foreign property markets.
The pullback, they said, would be driven by China’s latest crackdown on capital outflows and corporate leverage, which they argued would lead to an 84% drop in overseas property investment by Chinese corporations during 2017, and another 18% in 2018.
Sure enough, official data released by China’s Ministry of Commerce have proven the first part of Morgan Stanley’s thesis correct. Data showed that outbound investment in real estate was particularly hard hit during the first half of the year, plunging 82%.
“According to official data, outbound investment by China’s real estate sector fell 82% year-on-year in the first half, to comprise just 2% of all outbound investment for the period.”
Overall, outbound direct investment to 145 countries declined to $48.19 billion, an annualized drop of 45.8%, according to China Banking News.
The decline is a result of a crackdown by Chinese authorities after corporations went on a foreign-acquisition spree that saw them spend nearly $300 billion buying foreign companies and assets, with China’s four most acquisitive firms accounting for $55 billion, or 18%, of the country’s total. The acquisitions aggravated capital outflows, creating a mountain of debt and making regulators uneasy. Late last month, Chinese authorities ordered Anbang Insurance Group to liquidate its overseas holdings. In June, authorities asked local banks to evaluate whether Anbang and three of its peers posed a “systemic risk” to the country’s financial system. As Morgan Stanley noted, these firms were responsible for billions of dollars of commercial real-estate investments in the US, UK, Australia and Hong Kong.
The pullback will likely be equally as devastating for residential home prices. Average sales prices for Manhattan residential real estate has continued to climb, but cracks are starting to appear. As we pointed out two days ago, 25% of homes sold in 2Q still experienced a price cut, with that number rising to 40-60% in trendy neighborhoods like the Upper East Side.
While falling real-estate prices would be an inconvenience for corrupt Chinese officials and other shady investors trying to stash their money as far away as possible from their homeland, they’d be a welcome relief for renters and young couples or individuals looking to buy their first home.
Across the US, asking rents hit all-time highs earlier this year.
- "We Can Barely Keep Up" – Prepper Panic-Buying Begins As WWIII Fears Grip America
As is often the case, most people wait until the last minute to prepare for the worst.
As reported by CBS Detroit, one Army Surplus store owner reports that preparedness equipment is flying off the shelves:
“We’ve been very busy. Unusually busy, I’d say,” Orr told WWJ’s Sandra McNeill. “It’s definitely an increase, just in selling all the normal prepper stuff, end of the world stuff. A lot of water prep stuff, food, MREs — the military meals.”
And there’s been a substantial increase in the sale of a particular item they don’t sell much of — a so-called radiation antidote called potassium iodide.
“It actually stops your thyroid from absorbing any radiation. So, it fills your thyroid with iodine, which it normally does anyways,” said Orr.
Another popular request: gas masks. But most people looking for those will be out of luck.
“Gas masks are a big thing too, but we only sell them as novelty,” said Orr.
Ed Thomas, a spokesperson for TopTierGearUSA.com, which distributes high-end protective equipment for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical emergencies, says that their web site has seen a 1200% spike in orders in the last week.
We’re barely keeping up with the inflow of orders and our staff is working double shifts just to get everything shipped. People are concerned with North Korea, World War III and what President Trump might do.
I’ve never seen it at these levels.
Everything… Anti radiation pills, gas masks, body suits and respiratory filters… people are trying to get their hands on these critical supplies in case this really happens.
Our biggest concern is that our manufacturers won’t be able to keep up with demand.
And it’s not just preparedness supplies. As Zero Hedge reports, bunker sales in California have skyrocket:
While a global nuclear confrontation is generally viewed as a bad thing, for Ron Hubbard, President of Atlas Survival Shelters in Los Angeles, it has resulted in an economic windfall. Here’s more from The Sacramento Bee:“It’s crazy, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ron Hubbard, president of Atlas Survival Shelters, told Fox11.“It’s all over the country. I sold shelters today in North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, California.”
As we’ve reported previously, the situation has gotten so serious that the island nation of Guam, recently threatened for annihilation by North Korea, has issued a nuclear emergency guide warning residents to not look at the flash or fireball following a nuclear detonation.
President Trump announced Friday that the U.S. military is “locked and loaded,” ready to respond to North Korean aggression.
With panic buying taking hold, it’s only a matter of time before prices for items like gas masks anti-radiation pills go through the roof. Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, panicked U.S. West coast residents pushed prices for a single package to $200 on auction sites. Under normal circumstances, a package of the FDA approved pills sells for about $15.
- IRS Reports 40% Surge In People Underpaying Their Tax Bills
Paying taxes is just about as much fun as a root canal. As such, apparently more and more people are just deciding not to do it. As the Wall Street Journal points out today, the IRS saw a 40% surge in returns that owe tax penalties between 2010 and 2015.
For reasons that aren’t clear, a growing number of people who pay taxes quarterly are getting their payments wrong and incurring penalties as a result. These taxpayers often owe estimated taxes because they have income that’s not subject to the same withholding as wages earned by employees.
According to Internal Revenue Service data, the number of filers penalized for underpaying estimated taxes rose nearly 40% between 2010 and 2015—to 10 million from 7.2 million.
In 2015, the total number of filers owing penalties may have exceeded the number filing estimated taxes, although final results aren’t out yet. This is possible because some who paid quarterly taxes may have made mistakes, and others who didn’t pay them should have.
“The data suggest that millions of people don’t understand they need to pay quarterly taxes, or at least increase their withholding to avoid penalties,” says Eric Smith, an IRS spokesman.
Estimated tax payments are Congress’s way of keeping non-wage earners from having an advantage over wage earners. More than 80% of taxpayers have wages that are typically subject to withholding, and most people pay most of their income tax this way. Thus the law requires people with other types of income to make quarterly payments based on amounts received during each period.
Taxpayers with a mixture of wage and non-wage income must either pay tax quarterly or raise their withholding to cover the non-wage income. If total payments don’t meet certain thresholds, then the taxpayer owes a penalty on the underpayment based on interest rates charged by the IRS. Currently the rate is 4%.
Of course, there’s any number of reasons why people may be underpaying their tax bills. Some people, you know…those who count themselves among the 95 million ‘discouraged’ workers who have left the work force completely, have been forced to take on random contract work to make ends meet and simply don’t understand that they have to make quarterly estimated tax payments.
That said, others understand the tax system perfectly well and are all too happy to take a 4% loan from the federal government courtesy of the Janet Yellen’s accommodative interest rate policies.
Tax preparers suspect several factors are at work. For most of the period penalties grew, the interest rate was 3%—the lowest in decades, making the pain of paying them lower as well.
“Some people don’t mind paying the toll, especially if their income bunches in the last quarter, and they just owe it for a few months,” says Don Williamson, noting the decision also could explain why average penalties have declined. Mr. Williamson is a certified public accountant who heads the Kogod Tax Policy Center at American University and has a private practice.
To that end, and while unclear if it’s true, Floyd Mayweather’s tax attorney, Jeffrey Morse, recently said that he was simply taking advantage of Yellen’s low rates by ‘deferring’ his $22 million tax bill from 2015. Of course, we suspect this could be just a clever way to avoid fessing up to blowing through nearly $1 billion in career prize winnings…because that would just be embarrassing.
“If he is investing money and getting a rate of return that far exceeds what he has to pay the IRS in interest, then any smart business person is going to take advantage of that deferral.”
— Oskar Garcia (@oskargarcia) July 11, 2017
Then again, maybe it’s all much more simple and people aren’t paying their taxes because they need the money to fund that $500 monthly BMW lease payment they could never afford but finance companies were all too willing to underwrite…just a thought.
- Social Security Requires A Bailout That's 60x Greater Than The 2008 Emergency Bank Handout
A few weeks ago the Board of Trustees of Social Security sent a formal letter to the United States Senate and House of Representatives to issue a dire warning: Social Security is running out of money.
Given that tens of millions of Americans depend on this public pension program as their sole source of retirement income, you’d think this would have been front page news…
… and that every newspaper in the country would have reprinted this ominous projection out of a basic journalistic duty to keep the public informed about an issue that will affect nearly everyone.
But that didn’t happen.
The story was hardly picked up.
It’s astonishing how little attention this issue receives considering it will end up being one of the biggest financial crises in US history.
That’s not hyperbole either– the numbers are very clear.
The US government itself calculates that the long-term Social Security shortfall exceeds $46 TRILLION.
In other words, in order to be able to pay the benefits they’ve promised, Social Security needs a $46 trillion bailout.
That amount is over TWICE the national debt, and nearly THREE times the size of the entire US economy.
Moreover, it’s nearly SIXTY times the size of the bailout that the banking system received back in 2008.
So this is a pretty big deal.
More importantly, even though the Social Security Trustees acknowledge that the fund is running out of money, their projections are still wildly optimistic.
In order to build their long-term financial models, Social Security’s administrators have to make certain assumptions about the future.
What will interest rates be in the future?
What will the population growth rate be?
How high (or low) will inflation be?
These variables can dramatically impact the outcome for Social Security.
For example, Social Security assumes that productivity growth in the US economy will average between 1.7% and 2% per year.
This is an important assumption: the higher US productivity growth, the faster the economy will grow. And this ultimately means more tax revenue (and more income) for the program.
But -actual- US productivity growth is WAY below their assumption.
Over the past ten years productivity growth has been about 25% below their expectations.
And in 2016 US productivity growth was actually NEGATIVE.
Here’s another one: Social Security is hoping for a fertility rate in the US of 2.2 children per woman.
This is important, because a higher population growth means more people entering the work force and paying in to the Social Security system.
But the actual fertility rate is nearly 20% lower than what they project.
And if course, the most important assumption for Social Security is interest rates.
100% of Social Security’s investment income is from their ownership of US government bonds.
So if interest rates are high, the program makes more money. If interest rates are low, the program doesn’t make money.
Where are interest rates now? Very low.
In fact, interest rates are still near the lowest levels they’ve been in US history.
Social Security hopes that ‘real’ interest rates, i.e. inflation-adjusted interest rates, will be at least 3.2%.
This means that they need interest rates to be 3.2% ABOVE the rate of inflation.
This is where their projections are WAY OFF… because real interest rates in the US are actually negative.
The 12-month US government bond currently yields 1.2%. Yet the official inflation rate in the Land of the Free is 1.7%.
In other words, the interest rate is LOWER than inflation, i.e. the ‘real’ interest rate is MINUS 0.5%.
Social Security is depending on +3.2%.
So their assumptions are totally wrong.
And it’s not just Social Security either.
According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston Collage, US public pension funds at the state and local level are also underfunded by an average of 67.9%.
Additionally, most pension funds target an investment return of between 7.5% to 8% in order to stay solvent.
Yet in 2015 the average pension fund’s investment return was just 3.2%. And last year a pitiful 0.6%.
This is a nationwide problem. Social Security is running out of money. State and local pension funds are running out of money.
And even still their assumptions are wildly optimistic. So the problem is much worse than their already dismal forecasts.
Understandably everyone is preoccupied right now with whether or not World War III breaks out in Guam.
(I would respectfully admit that this is one of those times I am grateful to be living on a farm in the southern hemisphere.)
But long-term, these pension shortfalls are truly going to create an epic financial and social crisis.
It’s a ticking time bomb, and one with so much certainty that we can practically circle a date on a calendar for when it will hit.
There are solutions.
Waiting on politicians to fix the problem is not one of them.
The government does not have a spare $45 trillion lying around to re-fund Social Security.
So anyone who expects to retire with comfort and dignity is going to have to take matters into their own hands and start saving now.
Consider options like SEP IRAs and 401(k) plans that have MUCH higher contribution limits, as well as self-directed structures which give you greater influence over how your retirement savings are invested.
These flexible structures also allow investments in alternative asset classes like private equity, cashflowing royalties, secured lending, cryptocurrency, etc.
Education is also critical.
Learning how to be a better investor can increase your investment returns and (most importantly) reduce losses.
And increasing the long-term average investment return of your IRA or 401(k) by just 1% per year can have a PROFOUND (six figure) impact on your retirement.
These solutions make sense: there is ZERO downside in saving more money for retirement.
But it’s critical to start now. A little bit of effort and planning right now will pay enormous dividends in the future.
- India Deploys More Troops Along China Border, Raises "Caution" Level
With the world obsessing over every increasingly childish outburst in the daily back and forth between Trump and Kim Jong-Un, another conflict which has so far gone largely unnoticed by the global media continues to grow on the border between India and China.
As reported yesterday, in the most recent escalation between the two nuclear powers, the Indian Army ordered the evacuation of a village close to the Doklam India-Bhutan-China tri-junction amid to a standoff between Indian and Chinese soldiers. This takes place just days after China turned the war threat amplifier up to ’11’ by threatening India (in an article published a Chinese state-controlled newspaper) that it could conduct a “small-scale military operation” to expel Indian troops from a contested region in the Himalayas.
For those who need a reminder, the latest geopolitical standoff between India and China started in June, after Chinese troops started building a road on a remote plateau which is disputed by China and Bhutan. Indian troops countered by moving to the flashpoint zone to halt the work, with China accusing them of violating its territorial sovereignty and calling for their immediate withdrawal.
After adding a large number of troops to the region, China then sharply escalated when a Chinese Ministry of Defense warned explicitly that Indian troops must leave the contested area if they do not want war.
Then, earlier this week, tensions escalated further when as the Independent reported, the Chinese state-owned Global Times quoted a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences who said China is preparing to initiate a “limited war” to push Indian soldiers out of the area.
To this, the Indian response was the abovementioned forced evacuation of a few hundred villagers living in Nathang, who were asked to vacate their houses immediately, according to News18. Nathang is 35 km from the site of the two-month old standoff.
Which brings us to today, and the latest report by PTI India, according to which in a strategically key move, India has poured in more troops along the entire stretch of its border with China in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the face of heightened rhetoric by Beijing over the Dokalam standoff, according to senior government officials on Friday.
Furthermore, the “caution level” among the troops has also been raised, the officials told PTI.
The Indian officials said that the decision to increase the deployment along the nearly 1,400-km Sino-India border from Sikkim to Arunachal Pradesh was taken after carrying out a detailed analysis of the situation and considering China’s aggressive posturing against India on Dokalam.
“The troop level along the border with China in the Sikkim and Arunachal sectors has been increased,” said the officials on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information. The Army’s Sukna-based 33 Corps as well as 3 and 4 corps based in Arunachal and Assam are tasked to protect the sensitive Sino-India border in the eastern theatre.
However, the officials declined to give any figure or percentage of increased deployment, saying they cannot disclose “operational details.”
According to defence experts, roughly 45,000 troops including personnel having completed the weather acclimatisation process are normally kept ready along the border at any given time, but not all are necessarily deployed. The soldiers, deployed over 9,000 feet, have to go through a 14-day-long acclimatisation process.
The officials, however, said there is no enhancement of troops at the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction in Dokalam where around 350 army personnel are holding on to their position for nearly eight weeks after stopping Chinese troops from constructing a road on June 16.
Bhutan and China have competing claims over Dokalam, and are negotiating a resolution. Meanwhile, China has been ramping up bellicose rhetoric against India over the last few week – in many aspect echoing either side in the US-North Korea conflict – demanding immediate withdrawal of Indian troops from Dokalam. Both the Chinese and Indian state medias have carried a barrage of critical articles on the Dokalam stand-off slamming India.
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj recently said both sides should first pull back their troops for any talks to take place, and favoured a peaceful resolution of the border standoff. India also conveyed to the Chinese government that the road construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for it.
So far, not only has neither side pulled back troops, but as today’s latest news of increasing deployment suggests, a full blown conflict, one whose consequences could be far more devastating than a US military intervention in North Korea, looks increasingly likely with every passing day.
- School Board Removes "Lynch" From The Name Of Three Schools Because It Was Deemed Offensive
Every time that the absurdity of political correctness reaches a new peak in our culture, it’s easy to assume that it can’t get any worse.
But if we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that it can always get worse.
For people who have their entire identity wrapped up in being oppressed and downtrodden, the limit to what they can be offended by is absolutely bottomless. Which is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a school board in Oregon recently voted to remove the name “Lynch” from several elementary schools.
You can probably guess why.
Lynch Meadows Elementary, Lynch Woods Elementary and Lynch View Elementary were all named after a local family who donated land to the school district in the late 1800s.
In recent years, school officials say they have received complaints from people who are concerned about the name’s connotation with lynching.
‘There were an increasing amount of questions and some complaints from families of color around the name,’ Centennial School District Superintendent Paul Coakley, who is black, told the Oregonian.
‘Our diversity is increasing every year, with families coming in from Northeast Portland and out of state, so [the names] needed to be looked at,’ he added.
The fact that “Lynch” is an actual surname held by perhaps tens of thousands of people and has been around for hundreds of years, was of no consequence to the perpetually offended people who wanted these schools to change their names.
“I don’t think any of you have ever seen a picture where one of your decedents was hanging from a tree,” said one man who testified in favor of the name change.
“I know the majority of you guys are white and it’s hard to know how that word could have an effect but it does,” added a young student who testified. “If a simple name change could make students feel safe, then why are we holding back?”
Actually, there is a very good and practical reason why these school names shouldn’t be changed. We have to ask ourselves, where does this end?
Perhaps any “people of color” who happen to work for Merrill Lynch should be outraged.
Maybe director David Lynch should have his name scrubbed from his films.
Maybe the residents of Lynch Town Kentucky, as well as 10 other cities across the country that happened to be named “Lynchburg” should vote to change the names of their communities.
Maybe this surname should be banned entirely. After all, we can’t let these people be a walking reminder of a terrible crime that they had nothing to do with, now can we?
In case you’ve ever wondered why the culture of political correctness is always capable of reaching new levels of madness, now you know.
Once you permit one absurdity, every absurdity is on the table.
- Thrill-Seeking Chinese Tourists Rush To Visit North Korea "Before The Regime Collapses"
While nearly two-thirds of Americans view North Korea as a “serious threat” and most would rather vacation literally anywhere else following the death of college student Otto Warmbier, Chinese adventure-seekers are visiting the North in ever-greater numbers, according to Reuters. The wave of tourism has been inspired by the fear that the latest escalation between Pyongyang and Washington might lead to the toppling of the Kim regime, which has successfully kept the forces of modernization at bay for decades, offering tourists a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse into the past that some say reminds them of a "young" China.
North Korea has become a favorite destination among wealthier, more adventurous Chinese travelers. Another tour operator who targets the affluent said he’s been fielding more questions about whether it’s safe to visit the North, Reuters reported.
"But those that inquire often already have their heart set on going," the operator, who declined to be named, told Reuters. "The idea of a bit of danger adds to the thrill and mystery of North Korea."
While the looming threat of nuclear annihilation is keeping some tourists at bay, more daring travelers say they are trying to visit the North before regime change brings the country into the 21st century, according to one tour guide.
"There have been quite a few tourists in my groups who say they want to see North Korea in its reclusive state while they can," he said.
"It won't be the same if the regime collapses."
China stopped publishing national data about tourism to North Korea in 2012. But regional data show that more than 580,000 Chinese from the province of Dandong crossed the border into North Korea during the second half of 2016, more than the double the 237,000 Chinese who visited the country during 2012.
“China's tourism authority has not published a breakdown of the total number of Chinese visitors to North Korea since 2012, when it said 237,000 made the trip.
But the number traveling just from Dandong spiked to 580,000 in the second half of 2016 alone, according to the state-run China News Service. The report said 85 percent of Chinese tourist visits to North Korea originated from Dandong.
That's still only a fraction of the 8 million Chinese who visited South Korea in 2016.”
According to Reuters, tourists can take ferries or charter speedboats down the Yalu River – the border between the North and China – to catch a glimpse of North Korea villages and the heavily armed guards who patrol the border.
Other fun activities include paying respects to a statue of Kim il-Sung.
“A flyer for the one-day tour to Sinijiu tout a trip to the city’s central plaza, where you can pay respects to a bronze statue of North Korea's founding president Kim il-Sung, as well as visits to a cosmetics factory, a revolutionary history museum, art history museum and a cultural park.
"You can feast on the North Korean specialty food by warm and hospitable North Koreans," it says.
As we reported last month, trade between China and North Korea expanded by 10% during the first half of the year, as have the number of border crossings. Meanwhile, traffic, especially on lower-end group tours, has grown steadily to one of the world's most isolated states over the past few years, despite North Korea's persistent nuclear and missile tests, which have elicited increasingly tight U.N. sanctions.
Few of the Chinese who spoke to Reuters were concerned about the North’s missile tests, or the economic sanctions imposed by the UN. Most said they saw the opportunity to visit a “piece of history” as too attractive to pass up.
“Undeterred by escalating tensions between Pyongyang and Washington rattling nerves globally, a steady stream of tourists from China each morning passes through the immigration checkpoint at the border trading hub of Dandong.
Greeting them on the North Korean side are dozens of tour buses, collecting them for itineraries ranging from a day in neighboring Sinijiu to a week visiting North Korea's main cities, including the capital Pyongyang.
"We're curious. We want to see how they live," Xu Juan said on Thursday before crossing the Yalu River, which marks the border between the two countries. Xu was traveling with friends and family from Hangzhou, in eastern China.
"I just want the sense of nostalgia, to see a country that is poor, like (China was) when I was young," said a man in his early 50s, from Jilin province, declining to give his name.”
If the Chinese government has its druthers, the North’s status as a living wax museum likely won’t change any time soon: According to an article in the Global Post, the Communist Party has vowed to step in if the US or South Korea tries to topple the Kim regime.
Though no official US records are available, it’s believed that hundreds of adventure-seeking US tourists would visit North Korea every year. Typically, they would arrange tours through Switzerland, or sign on with a Chinese tour company based near the border. However, relations between the two countries have deteriorated to such a degree that any US tourist crazy enough to visit the North should get it over with soon: The State Department has banned US passport holders from traveling to the North after Sept. 1.
For any American hoping to visit a foreign country ruled by a hostile government, we hear Eritrea is beautiful in the fall.
- This Is How America Would Wage A Nuclear War Against North Korea
"It is time to think about the unthinkable…"
The standoff between the United States and North Korea continues to escalate with neither side willing to back down.
With each passing day, the possibility of open warfare breaking out seems to increase as each side ups the ante. Indeed, President Donald Trump has ratcheted up his rhetoric in recent days—seemingly threatening to launch a nuclear first strike against North Korea.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Just hours later, Kim Jong-un’s regime in Pyongyang threatened to preemptively strike at American forces given even a “slight sign of the U.S. provocation.” That, according to the North Korean statement, would include a “beheading operation” such as a special operations forces raid aimed at assassinating Kim.
“The U.S. should remembered, however, that once there observed a sign of action for ‘preventive war’ from the U.S., the army of the DPRK will turn the U.S. mainland into the theatre of a nuclear war before the inviolable land of the DPRK turns into the one,” reads a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement.
“We do not hide that we already have in full readiness the diversified strategic nuclear strike means which have the U.S. mainland in our striking range.”
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis—while taking a more measured tone—issued a statement on August 9 warning North Korea that it must give up its nuclear weapons. “The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Mattis said. “The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”
Mattis also warned that the United States would continue to maintain overwhelming nuclear superiority over Pyongyang. “While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth,” Mattis said. “The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”
If tensions with North Korea boil over into open warfare—or if Trump decides to launch a preemptive strike—there are military options available to the United States. However, the collateral damage that might be wrought onto South Korea and Japan could be devastating.
“We would not necessarily need to resort to a nuclear strike,” one retired Defense Department official told The National Interest.
“We have conventional capabilities and capacity to take out many of the threats we are most concerned with. It wouldn't be easy, of course.”
Another high-ranking former senior defense official said that North Korea is a complex, multi-dimensional problem. It is not an issue that can be solved by the military or even the United States by itself. All of the stakeholders in the Western Pacific including Japan, South Korea, China, Russia and United States have to be part of the equation. “Endorsing Japan and South Korea seeking their own nuclear deterrent force may get China’s attention,” the former senior defense official said. “There are many such options available and that needs to be played out before resorting to the military option is the best way ahead.”
But what are the military options available to the United States should it come to war?
Arms control advocates note that a preventative nuclear first strike would be a gross violation of international law. “Talk of targeting North Korea with nuclear weapons is delusional and should be off the table,” Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, told The National Interest. “In addition to the gross illegality of a preventative nuclear strike, the humanitarian, economic and environmental consequences would be devastating—and not just contained within North Korea’s borders. Washington would be putting U.S. allies at serious risk, both from the fallout, but also from a North Korean counter attack.”
If Trump’s words are taken at face value and a nuclear first strike is a real option that he is considering, the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of twenty Northrop B-2 Spirit stealth bombers will likely have to shoulder the burden.
“We haven't had tactical nukes in the fleet since the Bush I administration, so no first strike will come from the sea,” James R. Holmes, professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College—speaking in a personal capacity—told The National Interest.
“An ICBM or SLBM strike could be misinterpreted by China and Russia as against them, so that's probably out as well. My guess would be that USAF bombers, probably B-2s, would carry out the mission.”
As for conventional options, the B-2 can carry a pair of 30,000 pound GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator bombs, but the U.S. Air Force only has a handful of those weapons in its inventory. It is not clear if there are enough GBU-57s available to substantially damage the North Korean nuclear program, let alone destroy it.
“On the conventional side, there are bunker-busting munitions. We're back to the USAF as the primary executor of the operation, with THAAD and Aegis ships providing the defense against missile launches,” Holmes said.
“How effective bunker busters would be would depend on how many sites need to be struck, how deep and extensive the bunkers are, and whether we could concentrate enough fire on them to do the job.”
Davenport agreed that the United States has conventional military options—but there is no guarantee of success. Moreover, North Korea could retaliate with its road-mobile ballistic missiles, which are designed to ride out a first strike by dispersing.
“The United States has non-nuclear options in the region for targeting North Korea’s nuclear assets, such as airstrikes and cruise missiles,” Davenport said.
“But while a conventional strike would be less devastating, there is still no guarantee that the United States would hit all of Korea’s nuclear assets. The U.S. has fewer intelligence options at its disposal in North Korea, and Pyongyang has mobile nuclear-capable missiles that are more difficult to track.”
Even if Trump were to resort to the nuclear option, there are questions as to how effective such an attack would be.
“I guess the answer depends on how you define effective,” Holmes said.
“One imagines we could take out the program with nukes, but at what cost? Even apart from the obvious loss of life and material damage, you're talking about nuking a country that is centrally located among American allies and prospective foes.”
In fact, the collateral damage to the United States’ network of alliances and Washington’s standing in the world could be catastrophic.
“There would be a very real prospect of breaking our alliances with Japan and South Korea and assuring permanent enmity from China and Russia,” Holmes said.
“We would also place our position as guarantor of the international order in jeopardy. As you suggest, it's hard for an international pariah to lead by example. So my answer would be: a first strike wouldn't be effective even if it worked. The returns don't justify the enormous costs.”
Another factor to consider is that a military attack that is intended to disarm North Korea’s nuclear forces might actually prompt a nuclear retaliation.
“If the North Korean regime thought is nuclear deterrent was at risk, either from a nuclear or conventional strike, Pyongyang might miscalculate and launch its own nuclear weapons,” Davenport said.
“A nuclear exchange of any size would have devastating regional consequences. Even a strike targeted solely at taking out North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles runs the risk of being misinterpreted by Pyongyang as part of a larger military operation.”
Indeed, as former director of national intelligence, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper told CNN, North Korea is looking at the world in strict realist terms. Pyongyang—from its vantage point—is surrounded by enemies that are overwhelmingly more powerful than it is. The Kim regime’s only trump card against those foes are their nuclear weapons. Because the survival of the Kim regime is dependent on their nuclear capability, Pyongyang will never give up those weapons under any circumstances. Thus, America’s best response is containment and deterrence.
“We need to have dialogue with them,” Clapper told CNN. “But accept the fact they are a nuclear power."
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