North Korea

What happens when you poke a Russian bear?

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As written earlier in the week, regardless of one’s views on the righteousness of any attack on Syria, Putin is being faced for the first time in a long time, a leader of a foreign nation (nations as it turns out) prepared to stand up to him. Obama fled the Syria battlefield after being given a two hour window when Russia first went to the aid of Assad. If that wasn’t the ultimate sign of a bully in the Kremlin it is hard to think of what is. While sanctions may have bitten to a degree post Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight, Syria is essentially a testing ground for Putin to weigh up Western (specifically Trump’s) resolve. If we look at Russia’s response post the Syrian strike,

The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard…A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences…All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris…Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.

Kind of says it all really – Russia hasn’t been insulted. Putin has. He must have a glass jaw  like Trump! Two bullies flexing muscle. In a show down Should Putin wish to pick a direct conventional fight against 3 nuclear powers (explicitly mentioned), he knows that ‘mutually assured destruction’ is the very last option in the drawer and next to no chance of being selected despite all of the media beat up. On a conventional basis, Putin wins more battles by stirring up the hornet’s nests in other regions. Lending more support to Iran, Lebanon and Yemen. Destabilize Saudi Arabia and antagonize Israel.

CM wrote,

It is worth nothing that Syria is Rosoboronexport’s (Russia’s military export wing) 2nd largest customer after Iran. Putin is sick of having the West try to remove his clients. Assad is key to Russia’s foothold in the Middle East. With an essentially pro-Iran Iraqi government and Syria as well as Hezbollah Putin has a geopolitical doormat from the troubled separatist states to Russia’s south to Lebanon.

Some arguments have been made about the risks of the American, French or UK strikes killing Russian troops or civilians on the ground in Syria handing Russia free will to attack its enemies. Scroll back to November 2015 when the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter it claimed entered its airspace. Two Russian pilots were killed in the shooting and subsequent rescue. The Russians were incensed but President Erdogan is still in power and Ankara isn’t flailing after seeing its capitol turned into smoldering rubble.

This argument that the Russians weren’t given advance warnings of the attack is ridiculous. Had the Russian defence forces been on proper alert (they most definitely weren’t passed out behind their radar screens after a vodka binge) they would have detected the missile launches. Wind back to the 59 missile launch earlier last year against Syrian chemical facilities. We didn’t hear a peep from Putin. Why now? Of course he is incensed over the booting of diplomats on the nerve agent scandal but this is a showdown of ego.

Think of the long geopolitical chess board here. Should Trump have backed down on Putin’s threats, wouldn’t China’s Xi feel equally empowered to annex Taiwan by telling POTUS that he risks ‘grave reprisals if he meddles with Chinese sovereign territory’?

For all the initial snubbing of Trump by Macron on his historic election win in France, there is no way he would have gone in alone to attack a chemical facility without the guarantee of the military might of America. It is unlikely Theresa May would have done it either. So for all of the ‘unhinged’ lunatic rhetoric bandied about by the media, foreign nations don’t gamble their own sovereignty lightly, especially over something like Syria.

General Mattis has said they plan no further strikes at this stage. Does Putin order his forces to sink a US destroyer in the Mediterranean which launched those missiles? Highly unlikely. He does have the best weapon available to do that (the ‘Sunburn’) but sending US naval vessels to the bottom of the sea on a strategic strike would seem a big response to a targeted hit.

Let there be no mistake. There is a new sheriff in town. Russia has a bloody nose it didn’t think it would find itself. Putin miscalculated that Trump isn’t all Twitter-fueled bluster. Uncertainty in foreign leaders is always a risk for enemies. Trump has shown Putin he won’t be bullied like his predecessor.

Putin doesn’t want a hot war with America. The best way to strike at the US is like the last 6 decades. Undermine her at every opportunity. Supply her enemies. As mentioned before, if the Russians didn’t think it worth hitting back at Turkey for deliberately targeting its fighters, it is unlikely that Putin, no matter how ‘insulted’ he might feel will take a strike not aimed at Russians as a pretext to pick a fight with Trump. Putin has worked out the US president’s measure. He miscalculated. He won’t make that mistake twice.

For the media, running all the scare campaign stories is not only highly irresponsible (as it did over Yemen’s attacks on Saudi Arabia) but proving the lack of depth of analysis. They can beat Trump over the head all they wish but should note the actions of Macron and May following him into the region as a tacit approval of the US leader. Was he the madman they portrayed him as in the first place they would have stayed well out of it.

Watch for Putin’s response (unlikely but will threaten it will come when the evil Americans least expect) and think deeply about why it is important that the real despots (Putin, Xi, KJ-U, Erdogan) around the world no longer have the ability to exercise free will in knowledge that the worst they face is a slap on the wrist from the UN.

Sounds more like grounds for congratulation than censure. 

My Button is bigger than yours

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Purile but effective. The message has gone around the world. How is it more people are worried about his language than the ability for a nation like the DPRK to possess a capability to strike the US? How many times have we seen the North Korean’s nuke technology end up  in the wrong hands – e.g. Syria. Spurn the US for its post war foreign policy but it’s a known devil.

Back to mine is bigger than yours – unorthodox message delivery but why is anyone in the least bit surprised? How can anyone feel outrage at something that has happened almost daily for nearly 12 months straight? One should be howling if he wasn’t doing it! Then one could truly call him an unhinged lunatic because one would be worried that he was unpredictable.

Let’s not forget that China has recently told the world what it thinks of the UN sanctions by continuing to trade oil with the rogue nation. Trump told Xi than no amount of theatre by hosting a dinner in the Forbidden City will give them any free passes like his predecessors. Let’s not forget the farewell message sent by China to Obama on his last state visit – no stairs, no red carpet and no senior delegates. He exited by the emergency stairs of Air Force One. What a humiliation.

It is reasonably unstatesmanlike to be sure but the message is pointed at China not Kim. Quit screwing around is the message. If China doesn’t take care of business with its ‘tenant’ the US will evict him for it.

For all those panicking that a nuke strike is on the horizon Korean CDS spreads are 52. At the first stage of the verbal exchange several months back they were mid 70s. Yawn.

2018 – no more space for multiple ‘elephants’ in the room

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The Contrarian Marketplace wishes everyone a Happy New Year and prosperous 2018.

As oft the case people are busy making new year’s resolutions. CM mission doesn’t change. It aims to further energize the spirit of enquiry. To be the maverick voice that will not be silenced. We live in a world where we need to become comfortable being uncomfortable. We can no longer hide behind group think Because we feel it is dangerous to challenge consensus views. CM won’t buckle to identity politics, victimhood or social justice.

However that will never exclude us from criticism and we welcome feedback to improve the offering. We will not take The Guardian approach of refusing to acknowledge the content might be the problem when appealing for readers to ‘donate’. CM is self funded. It will remain so because it never wishes to be beholden to others to peddle tailored messages to keep the lights on.  If CM doesn’t survive on its own merits then it dies through market forces.

In 2017, Brandon Tatum showed what impact a Tucson, Arizona police officer can have on today’s media. His videos have gone viral (50mn+ views) on topics from the NFL, BLM to anti-Trump protests. He is now working for the Conservative Tribune such has been his impact. He speaks in cold hard truths. One doesn’t have to agree with what he says but he makes compelling arguments. No accolades from the journalist associations to self congratulate. As we used to say at high school sports competitions- “look at the scoreboard.”

CM started two years ago to challenge conventional thinking on all manner of topics.  It was born out of a growing realization that the mainstream media on both sides of the fence was too biased. Investigative journalism has all but disappeared, replaced with clickbait headlines and little more than biased piffle for what can only loosely be described as content. It seems that journalists are paid on the number of shares or likes rather than the quality of input.  As Ariana Huffington once said, “I’ve long said that those of us in the media have provided too many autopsies of what went wrong and not enough biopsies.”

2017 has been a continuation of the ridiculous pandering to political correctness and our lawmakers seem even more determined to avoid censure from social media, somehow thinking it speaks for the majority. Gender neutral toilets, removing statues and same-sex marriage take priority to the oncoming fiscal/monetary train wreck and a fracturing geopolitical landscape. It is almost as if our elected leaders have the blinkers on.

2018 is shaping up to be one that our political class is ill prepared for. Out of one’s depth is not a harsh enough criticism. Too many governments (including conservatives) are running up the national credit card trying to bribe bewildered constituents into tolerating more of their nonsense. However at some point, appeasement will not work because government’s can’t economically afford it.

Silent voices are increasingly pushing back. Traditional parties are seeing their constituents abandoning them. Australia’s conservative Liberal Party is Exhibit A. It is no longer a party true to its core. After the Turnbull coup it has taken its constituents for mugs but they have left in droves. While the Libs champion superior leadership, how is it One Nation has taken a huge bite out of it’s support base? It doesn’t add up and its this sense of denial that guarantees they’ll be destroyed at the next election.

Look at the growth in nationalist parties in Austria, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy and even America. While they may not have outright majorities in every case the reality is that all of these parties surged in the most recent elections. Mainstream parties can mark it down as a one-off or ‘they’ll be back’ mentality but this time is different. Take Trump. His GOP hate him almost as much as the Democrats. While the mainstream media ties itself into knots over the relevance of well done steak and tomato ketchup to running a country or the fact he paid millions in tax, his brand of political incorrectness is refreshing.

Sure his words are vulgar at times and Obama knocks the sports off him for eloquence or as a nice guy but we are in a world of ruthless people. The geopolitical landscape is rapidly changing. The last US administration allowed a free-for-all for nations such as China and Russia to roam free on the global landscape. Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, Syria and Iran or China building man made military bases in contested Asia-Pac waters have filled a vacuum vacated by the US. We should be glad that we have a Trump who is putting his foot down that things have changed.

While Trump’s use of ‘Rocketman’ to describe North Korea’s leader may seem juvenile, China hasn’t fully worked him out. They stroked his ego by allowing him to be the first President to dine in the Forbidden City after his rhetoric saying that if they don’t deal with Kim he will. The resumption of Chinese oil trading with North Korea in full defiance of UN sanctions tells two things. China thinks the UN is a waste of space and it is testing Trump’s resolve to carry out his threats to take care of business with minor provocations. China’s military is nowhere a match for the US so this could backfire badly if they miscalculate. This will escalate again in 2018.

Don’t rule out India’s growing frustrations with China. China’s built a naval port in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota. Recently the Maldives signed a FTA with China which should be ringing alarm bells in Delhi. For the last decade, China has been strengthening its armed (ground and air) forces to India’s north too, including the funding of the upgrade of the 1300km construction of the Karakoram Highway (aka China-Pakistan Friendship Highway). It is no surprise that Russia has been replaced by the US and UK as preferred arms suppliers to India.

As written several days ago, the Middle East seems to be an unstable powder keg. The way the stars are aligning with respects to the death of the former Yemeni President Saleh, the cleaning of the House of Saud, the repudiation of Qatar by the Gulf states and ructions in Iran point to something larger to kick off. Do not be surprised to see Israel and Hezbollah clash again in 2018. It won’t be an Arab Spring. Afterall this is more a shift toward a more direct clash between Sunni and Shia, not just played through proxy wars in Yemen, Syria or Lebanon. One can’t sink Saudi and Emirati naval vessels off Yemen’s coast with Iranian Revolutionary Guard support indefinitely.

These geopolitical problems will only put pressure on global markets which are already overstretched asset bubbles in almost every form – equities, bonds and housing. The realisation that unfunded pensions are likely to wipe out the retirements plans of millions causing even more pressure on economic growth. There is no escaping the fact that the can has been kicked down the road for too long. Whether 2018 is the precise year it unfolds is still a moot point but we are moving ever closer to the impending financial collapse which will be uglier than 1929.

Central banks have no plausible ammunition left to play with. Bloated balance sheets filled with mislabeled toxic assets (liabilities). Record low interest rates offer next to no policy flexibility and tapped out consumers face oblivion if asset prices keel over. A systemic banking collapse is absolutely plausible. No amount of QE will work this time.

Yes, it would be nice to see 2018 trump 2017 for good news (it wouldn’t be hard) but sadly the punch bowl at the party is empty and the hangover won’t be pleasant. No amount of painkillers will let one avoid a throbbing headache which will last a very long time.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Forbidden fruit(cake) in the Fordbidden City

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Sun Tzu once said, “All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

Let us not mistake China for one second. China is the master of the long game. It knows Trump has a maximum of 8 years in power. Letting him dine in the Forbidden City, the first ever foreign head of state to do so, speaks volumes of respecting an unpredictable foe. Xi Jinping knows his adversary is not all about bark. Better to cater to his huge ego and make him feel he has their attention (which he does) and get him to work solutions in their favour now it is clear they do not have carte blanche to use the USA as a door mat as they did with the previous administration.

Recall Obama’s final state visit to China. Air Force One was met with no senior officials, no red carpet and no stairs. Obama had to climb down Air Force One’s emergency exit . No more telling display of complete lack of respect to the leader of the most powerful nation.

China built man made islands in contested regional waters and did so knowing it had a maximum of 8 years to extend its future power base. Even Australia was dim witted enough to lease a port to the Chinese. Yet it was done with military precision when it knew it could.

Now China realises that Trump is not kidding over North Korea and is doing his darnedest to get China to commit to removing the snake head or otherwise America will do it for China. China, as CM has written many times before does not want to lose the strategic buffer North Korea provides from pro-US countries. China knows it could turn the lights out (China is responsible for 80%+ of imports & exports to the hermit kingdom) on Pyongyang in a heartbeat. Yet as a priority it has not been toward the top of the list.

The flip side to China taking care of the North Korean solution could mean that the US gives it certain concessions elsewhere. Foreign policy is very often about ‘optics’. China taking care of North Korea would be seen as preferable to the world than an attack by the US. China wins only if China takes care of it by itself. America wins in either scenario. China knows it is vastly militarily inferior to this US so the idea that China rushes to defend North Korea is more bark than promise to bite.

So view the idea of allowing the forbidden fruitcake (a sop to the liberal media) to dine in the most treasured of places in China as none other than the ultimate display of respect that Trump has the upper hand (which he does) but at the same time allow China to extend the ‘timing’ of any action on dealing with the ‘Rocket Man’ to give maximum optic effect for Xi. Yes, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump must have been summoning The Untouchables – “keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer” (Xi) vs “in my neighborhood they said you can get much further with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word!” (Trump).

The press might want to critique the President’s skill with chopsticks but they should focus on the fact that China put its most expensive national crockery on display to bring Trump over to their side in negotiations over regional problems. To that end call him a fruitcake all you like but this is a win-win for both supposed tyrants.

Highways to Hell. Railways to Ruin

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Zero Hedge has an interesting expose on a report that China is expediting the construction of a 6 lane highway toward North Korea’s border. It makes perfect sense and supports what CM has said about China taking action on North Korea and replacing Kim Jong Un with a puppet they can control. Forget the WW3 rhetoric. It is far cleaner to have China deal with the problem. The constant jaw-boning from Trump is to get China to hurry up. Of course there is a limit to the patience. The so-called G1112 Ji’an–Shuangliao Expressway is under construction. China’s Jilin province has even upgraded road infrastructure inside some parts of North Korea. It would be useful in getting tanks and troops to the border quickly. There is method in the madness and it is quite a common infrastructure to put in place for obvious reasons. North Korea is hugely strategic to China’s border security – a buffer from the US backed South Koreans.

Probably many are unaware that Mongolia which divides China and Russia has a railway developed by the Russians which runs on a Russian rail gauge. Mongolia is rich with resources so any raw materials exported to China must change bogeys at the border. It is the same with the Kazakh-China border. Russian rail gauges. So in the event of war, troops and supplies can be efficiently transported. Sure an enemy can bomb a railway but in terms of transporting lots of equipment and heavy armaments quickly rail is very efficient.

While the news looks startling it is nothing more than business as usual for the Chinese. Before the highway is completed the Chinese still have around 150,000 troops stationed near the border.

4 more years

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Start laughing. It is ok. It is the same thing heard time and time again since forecasting it back in mid-2015. Yes, at this rate he is staring at another 4 years should his health hold out. This week capped off yet another mad push for so called ‘progressive’ (regressive) values will only drive the wedge of division ever deeper. People are growing sick and tired of being told how they must think. When liberal TV host Bill Maher admits openly that “Democrats, this movement to childproof the world has made Republicans the party of freedom and Democrats the party of poopers.” you know they are in trouble. Yet they can’t help being victims. Have you already forgotten how the liberals turned on Rachel Maddow over the tax returns? Yet one can guess they won’t run a more centrist candidate like Bill Clinton in 2020 but one pushing the thresholds of the identity kit. If they can find a genderless Dreamer who was raised by a North Korean Muslim lesbian couple they’ll have their ‘person’.

Sure liberals can celebrate the admission of girls into the Boy Scouts. It will probably become Scouts of America where tying knots will be replaced with wearing a rainbow scarf, learning gender fluidity while being banned from rubbing two sticks together to make fire because it is harmful to the environment.  No doubt they’ll learn the correct use of genderless pronouns which in reality will be of high value because the State of California would sooner jail citizens for incorrect use of language than properly vetting illegal immigrants. By the way how silent has the media been now that the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 to approve the revised travel ban? No matter how one might hate it or view its insensitivity, many of those that voted for him will happily chalk it up as a win. He ran that as part of his election campaign. Get over it.

Of course celebrating  Columbus Day 2017 was yet another chance to bash colonialists for things that modern day descendants had nothing to do with.  The City of Detroit wants to replace it with Indigenous People’s Day. Well truth be told that Michiganites born in America are indeed indigenous. We had this debate in Australia this year where socialist and Greens city councils in the Marxist state of Victoria went beyond their remit of collecting rubbish and keeping park amenities clean by announcing they would be scrapping Australia Day. Instead of asking their 240,000 residents for their opinion they rigged a poll by asking 80 activists and even then couldn’t muster more than 60% in favour of their preferred name of ‘Invasion Day’. Talk of pathetic when they can’t even get all of the victims onside. Yet the mayor of one of the councils decided to speak down to those who couldn’t accept it by telling them they lacked ‘education’. The irony was that many prominent aborigines are in favour of Australia Day because it celebrates togetherness and how far the nation has come rather than rake over coals that happened  230 years ago. Yet the socialists made out that calling it Australia Day for aborigines was the equivalent to the Jews as Germans celebrating ‘Holocaust Day’. Seriously?

This year statues of former Confederate generals like Robert E Lee sparked outrage when nary we heard a peep beforehand. Even people like basketball legend Charles Barkley said he has never driven past any statues and associated them with any excuse to grieve today. So once again Australia copied suit. Calling for the removal of statues of Captain James Cook, Governors Phillip and Macquarie, because they weren’t discoverers and settlers but ‘invaders’. Yet liberals will happily find this as another excuse to play the victim by erasing the history they don’t like. Get rid of the statues and it won’t be long before the next victim case arrives in the in-tray to protest over. Once again, people are tired of the lectures. Sick of being told they should feel guilty for things they had no control over because they weren’t even born at the time. How can we possibly move forward if they’re forever wanting people not responsible for things to apologize and be wracked with guilt? Move on!

Then we have had the NFL saga. The original BLM protest started by Kaepernick kneeling has been so diluted from its original purpose that the controversial quarterback promises to stand during the anthem if he can have a multi million dollar contract again. The initial shirt fronting bluster of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has turned into a 180 degree retreat after Trump tweeted about considering cutting the generous tax breaks the league receives. Money talks greater than protests in the end. Fans were sick of the in their face protests when they wanted to unwind in front of the ball game. While progressives scream the right to ‘freedom of speech’, fans merely exercised freedom of consumption – burning memorabilia and season tickets. The very money that pays the multi million dollar salaries of the players have a right to get what they handed over their hard earned dollars for. Even if they want to draw attention to a worthy cause do fans require it drilled into them every game? This is the problem with the left. It bangs on incessantly that it ends turning people off. I have not heard of fans complaining of any players protesting on their own time. Whether we like it or not, NFL players are employees. If any of us took a knee to our boss who told us to manage a difficult account you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re demoted or worse. It is not a violation of free speech. It is dissent – pure and simple. Just like those openly using tax-payer funded websites to vilify their boss. Once again, send a mail to your boss cc-ing the firm and tell him or her what a complete jerk they are and see how long you last.

Now we have Weinstein. Liberal celebrities are trying to cover up their own impropriety (Affleck, Kimmel et al) post the exposure of ‘one of their own’ by turning on POTUS. There has been tweet and post after post on Trump’s ‘p*ssy grab’ tape (which by the way he was elected in full knowledge of voters) being just as bad as Weinstein. While once can cry foul that these are double standards to OK the president but vilify Weinstein for disrespecting women, his legion of followers have more of an issue with Hollywood hypocrites try to push their heightened sense of values on them when they so blatantly hid a monster that served their lavish lives. The deplorables are sick of these liberals lecturing them. It is not a question of who is worse – Trump or Weinstein- but having actors talk down to them in such sanctimonious fashion.

Then it was only a few weeks back that Michelle Obama was bludgeoning American women for obeying their husbands at the polling booth and abandoning the ‘sisters’. Does Mrs Obama honestly believe she will sway female Trump voters back to being Democrats by calling out their supposed lack of intelligence. What a slap in the face to all women to have her patronize them. I do not recall her making those sweeping statements to get a woman in the Oval Office when Hillary ran against her husband in 2008?

So the only message to liberals is that if they want to get rid of the President then they ought to pay attention to all of the things which cost them the election in 2016. If anything they’ve amplified the noise which turned people away in droves. One can see the 2020 election campaign by the Democrats. It will crank up victimhood, identity politics and focus on trying to get people married to the state. Isn’t it telling that Trump said if politicians don’t want to overhaul Obamacare then they can switch from a bountiful taxpayer healthcare plan to the system they are resisting  change – how silent they’ve become…then again how many from both sides of the house are on the payroll of big pharmaceutical companies…? This is the thing – it is no longer GOP vs Democrats – both are not behind POTUS. If he ran as an independent he’d win.

The way the liberals can win is to encourage open, rational debate (like the Trump rally which gave their stage to BLM protestors to wonderfully unify them on many levels), allow conservatives to speak on campus on issues without causing trigger warnings, micro aggression and safe spaces and to refrain from shoving every political issue in the electorate’s face at every opportunity.  Failure to do so will practically guarantee a return of the incumbent in 2020. All the signs point to an even bigger defeat. Keep up the good work. The only fear is that any the rate your expending grievances you may run out of things to moan about when the next 4 years eventually arrive.

When Reagan used to stick it to the Soviets

For all the flak that DJT copped today on social media for sticking it to the Rocketman, Venezuela and the United Nations, Reagan was no less tough in the rhetoric toward foes. Reagan’s speech in Berlin where he demanded Gorbachev “tear down that wall” was no less in your face than Trump telling Rocketman to smarten his act or face the music. The central instrument for burying the Soviet Union was Reagan’s massive defense build-up. He forked out $134 billion in 1980 and ramped it to $253 billion in 1989. American defense spending rose to 7% of GDP (c.4.5% now), dramatically increasing the federal deficit. The Soviet Union was compelled to keep up by raising the share of its defense spending from 22% to 27% of GDP, freezing the production of non-defence goods at 1980 levels. Economically it couldn’t keep up and by 1991 the Soviet Union folded. A small price to pay to end the Cold War. America did not wilt under Reagan as it has in recent years,

We should not forget the numerous occasions that former President Reagan openly used to ridicule the Soviets for being so backward. As the old saying goes, ‘never a truer word than that said in jest’. The joke about the curfew is a cracker.