The Eagle, The Dragon, And The Bear

Authored by Robert Gore via Straight Line Logic blog,

Does Trump recognize the limits of US power?

Trump’s new world order comes straight from The Godfather. There are three global powers: the US, Russia, and China. None of these powers can militarily defeat either of the other two, and even an alliance among two of them would have trouble defeating the third.

Like Don Corleone, Trump is dividing up the larger territory into smaller, great-power controlled sub-territories. He is tacitly recognizing Russia and China’s dominance in their own spheres of influence, and holding them to account in their territories. The implicit agreement among the three is apparently that each power will, in their, “sphere of influence…enforce peace.”

Trump’s New World Order,” SLL 3/20/18

In one week President Trump confirmed that his first concern is the United States, that he has what may be a workable vision for its place in the world, and he loathes globalism and the globalists.

A good measure of his efficacy is the outrage he generates. By that measure, that week was his finest hour… so far.

Europe won’t have a seat at Trump’s great-power table. Its welfare states are addicted to their handouts, deeply in debt, rely on uneven trade arrangements with the US, and have below-replacement birth rates. They are cowed by Soros-sponsored propaganda—Immigration is the answer!—and haven’t shut off the immigrant invasion. Refusing to spend on their own militaries, they’ve used what they save on defense to subsidize welfare spending and state bureaucracies.

They’re ignoring a lesson from history: nations that rely on other nations for their defense generally come to regret it. Instead, they’re wedded to the globalist acronyms: NATO, EU and UN. They have frittered away their power and their glory—Europe’s heritage and civilization—opting for overrun masquerading as assimilation by dogmatic and implacable foes.

Trump is all about power and despises weakness. There isn’t always strength in numbers. A confederation of weaklings doesn’t equal strength, especially when the weaklings’ premises and principles are fundamentally wrong. Strongest of the weaklings is Germany, a trade powerhouse but a US military vassal. It’s hard to say if Trump’s dislike of Angela Merkel is business—she’s one of the world’s most visible and vociferous proponent of globalism, or personal—it’s always her way or the highway. Probably both, and it looks like Germany may finally be rejecting her way on immigration.

Trump clearly relished snubbing her and her G-6 buddies, particularly boy toys Trudeau and Macron, who may actually believe his bone-crushing handshakes intimidated Trump. When you’re paying for a continent’s defense and you’re giving them a better deal on trade than they’re giving you, that’s leverage, and Trump knows it. He’s not intimidated.

US Atlanticists have used that leverage to cement Europe into the US’s confederated empire. That Trump is willing to blow off Europe suggests that he may be blowing off empire.

America’s imperialists equate backing away from empire with “decline,” but such a sea change would be the exact opposite. Empires require more energy and resources to maintain than can be extracted from them. They are inevitably a road to ruin.

Nothing is as geopolitically telling as Trump leaving Europe’s most “important” heads of state early to meet with the leader of one of Asia’s most impoverished backwaters. Europe’s time has passed, the future belongs to Asia. Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia may look like the same recognition, but it was not. That pivot was designed to encircle China diplomatically, economically, and militarily. That thinking persists among much of the US military, but Trump may have something different in mind.

China has its problems. Much of its economy, especially its financial sector, is state-directed, despite the capitalistic gloss. There will be a reckoning from its debt binge. The repressive social credit system typifies the government’s immoral objective: keeping China’s people compliant but productive drones. However, enforced docility and innovation—the foundation of progress—mix as readily as oil and water, and theft of others’ innovations can’t fill the void.

Notwithstanding its issues, China is a major power and is not going to be encircled or regime changed by the US. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) it cosponsors and finances with Russia is the centerpiece of a basket of initiatives designed to further those countries’ influence and leadership within Eurasia and among emerging market countries. BRI is an apt symbol of the movement towards multipolarity, with competition shifting from the military to the economic and commercial sphere.

Trump tacitly accepts Russian and Chinese dominance in Eurasia. However, Trump doesn’t give without receiving; he’s going to extract concessions. Number one on the list is North Korea and its nuclear weapons. We’ll probably never know what has gone on behind the scenes between Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, and perhaps Vladimir Putin, but Kim may have received an offer he couldn’t refuse. Both China and Russia would be well-served by a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons and US troops. Whatever transpired, Kim came around. Trump ameliorated any potential humiliation, journeying to Kim’s neck of the woods, laying on an inspirational movie video, and flattering the North Korean leader and his country. Kim the farsighted leader may be able to reach a deal; Kim the browbeaten puppet couldn’t. If he tried, he’d probably be deposed, always a danger for dictators.

As global competition moves from military to economic, Trump is also going to make sure he tilts, as much as possible, the rules of that competition back towards the US. There are the existing trade arrangements with Europe, Canada, and Mexico that he’s willing to blow up, presumably to obtain better arrangements.

China is in a league of its own when it comes to gaming trade, and it’s getting the Trump treatment as well. Much of the Chinese “advantage” stems from Chinese overcapacity, fueled by below market interest rates in China and around the globe. Trump can’t do much about that “advantage.” The low-interest regime will eventually crash and burn, but it’s going to take a depression to clear overcapacity in China and elsewhere.

Innovation and intellectual property are America’s one indisputable comparative economic advantage. It will be a tough nut, but Trump is bent on curbing China’s acquisitions, by fair means and foul, of US know how. If he succeeds it will slow, but not stop, the Chinese economic juggernaut. It has millions of smart, well-educated, industrious people who will continue to fuel indigenous innovation (notwithstanding state-enforced docility).

Three realities confronted Trump when he assumed office. The US empire is unsustainable, so too is the trajectory of its spending and debt, and the government is fundamentally corrupt. It would be foolish to bet Trump doesn’t understand these issues and the linkages between them.

“Trump’s New World Order”

If Trump has recognized that first reality and is implementing Don Corleone’s spheres of influence concept, he may get some breathing room to address the intractable second and third realities: the trajectory of US spending and debt, and the fundamentally corrupt government. On the debt, all the breathing room in the world isn’t going to save him. The US keeps adding to principal, which is compounding at rising rates. Cutting imperial expenditures would help some, although transfer payments are the biggest enchilada. To make even the first step on the thousand mile journey to solvency, however, the US government will have to run a bona fide surplus for many years. That prospect is not on the horizon.

As for corruption, thousands of articles by bloggers and commentators, including SLL, may have less instructional value for the populace at large than one simple demonstration: most of America’s rulers and its captive media are speaking out against a peace initiative, not on the merits of the initiative itself, but because Donald Trump was one of its initiators.

That tells those Americans who are paying attention all they need to know about their rulers and their captive media. Whether they do anything about it is another question.

Presenting America’s 20 Best And Worst Paying Jobs

While we fail to see any occupations listed for “insider trading hedge fund managers” or “high frequency market manipulators” in the recently released list by the BLS listing the number of workers and wages earned for all official US occupations, we supposed it will have to do, incomplete as it may be.

Below, sorted by average annual wage, are the Top 20 best paying jobs in the US including the average hourly wage and also showing the number of people the BLS believes are employed in each,  seasonally adjusted of course.

And here are the bottom 20, or worst-paying, US jobs. It is here the the minimum-wage debate is most acute… As is the debate just how motivated the workers in these 20 occupations really are.

Curious how many total workers are employed in the Top and Bottom 20 jobs according to the BLS? Here is the answer:

What may be more surprising is that while there are 6 times as many workers in the worst paid bucket as best-paid, the total compensation paid to the far smaller group of best paying jobs, is roughly 30% higher.

Moral of the story: Don’t become line cooks, kids, unless of course when one adds up all the welfare and insolvent state benefits provided to line cooks, the after tax cash flow matches or beats that of anesthesiologists.

Sexy Metal: The Missing Element In The Korean Puzzle

Authored by Pepe Escobar via The Asia Times,

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo knows the importance of rare earth elements, and North Korea has reportedly found one of the world’s biggest deposits 150km from Pyongyang; is this another factor behind the recent thaw with the US?

This may not be about condos on North Korean beaches after all. 

Arguably, the heart of the matter in the Trump administration’s embrace of Kim Jong-un has everything to do with one of the largest deposits of rare earth elements (REEs) in the world, located only 150 km northwest of Pyongyang and potentially worth billions of US dollars.

All the implements of 21st century technology-driven everyday life rely on the chemical and physical properties of 17 precious elements on the periodic chart also known as REEs.

Currently, China is believed to control over 95% of global production of rare earth metals, with an estimated 55 million tons in deposits. North Korea for its part holds at least 20 million tons.

Rare earth elements are not the only highly strategic minerals and metals in this power play. The same deposits are sources of tungsten, zirconium, titanium, hafnium, rhenium and molybdenum; all of these are absolutely critical not only for myriad military applications but also for nuclear power.

Rare earth metallurgy also happens to be essential for US, Russian and Chinese weapons systems. The THAAD system needs rare earth elements, and so do Russia’s S-400 and S-500 missile defense systems.

It’s not far-fetched to consider ‘The Art of the Deal’ applied to rare earth elements. If the US does not attempt to make a serious play on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK’s) allegedly vast rare earth resources, the winner, once again, may be Beijing. And Moscow as well – considering the Russia-China strategic partnership, now explicitly recognized on the record.

The whole puzzle may revolve around who offers the best return on investment; not on real estate but sexy metal, with the Pyongyang leadership potentially able to collect an immense fortune.

Is Beijing capable of matching a possible American deal? This may well have been a key topic of discussion during the third meeting in only a few weeks between Kim Jong-un and President Xi Jinping, exactly when the entire geopolitical chessboard hangs in the balance.

So metals are not sexy?

Researcher Marc Sills, in a paper titled ‘Strategic Materials Crises and Great Power Conflicts’, says:

Conflict over strategic minerals is inevitable. The dramas will likely unfold at or near the mines, or along the transportation lines the materials must travel, and especially at world’s strategic chokepoints the US military is now generally tasked to control. Again, the power equation is written to include both control of possession and denial of possession by others.”

This applies, for instance, to the Ukraine puzzle. Russia badly needs Ukraine’s titanium, zirconium and hafnium for its industrial-military complex.

Earlier this year Japanese researchers discovered a deposit of 16 million tons of rare earth elements (less than the North Korean reserves) beneath the seabed in the Western Pacific. But that’s unlikely to change China’s – and potentially the DPRK’s – prominence. The key in the whole rare earth element process is to devise a profitable production chain, as the Chinese have done. And that takes a long time.

Detailed papers such as ‘China’s Rare Earth Elements Industry’, by Cindy Hurst (2010), published by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) or ‘Rare Earth in Selected US Defense Applications’, by James Hedrick, presented at the 40th Forum on the Geology of Industrial Minerals in 2004, convincingly map all the connections. Sills stresses how minerals and metals, though, seem to attract attention only in mining trade publications:

“And that would seem to explain in part why the REE contest in Korea has eluded attention. Metals just ain’t that sexy. But weapons are.”

Metals are certainly sexy for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It’s quite enlightening to remember how Pompeo, then CIA director, told a Senate Committee in May 2017 how foreign control of rare earth elements was “a very real concern.”

Fast forward to one year later, when Pompeo, taking over at the State Department, emphasized a new “swagger” in US foreign policy.

And fast forward again to only a few weeks ago, with Pompeo’s swagger applied to meetings with Kim Jong-un.

Way apart from a Netflix-style plot twist, a quite possible narrative is Pompeo impressing on Kim the beauty of a sweet, US-brokered rare earth elements deal. But China and Russia must be locked out. Or else. It’s not hard to visualize Xi understanding the implications.

The DPRK – this unique mix of Turkmenistan and post-USSR Romania – may be on the cusp of being integrated to a vast supply chain via an Iron Silk Road, with the Russia-China strategic partnership simultaneously investing in railways, pipelines and ports in parallel to North-South Korean special economic zones (SEZs), Chinese-style, coming to fruition.

As Gazprom’s Deputy CEO Vitaly Markelov has revealed: “The South Korean side has asked Gazprom” to re-start a key project – a gas pipeline across North Korea, an umbilical cord between South Korea and the Eurasian landmass.

Since key discussions at the Far East Summit in Vladivostok in September 2017, the roadmap is set for South Korea, China and Russia to attach the DPRK to Eurasia integration, developing its agriculture, hydropower and – crucially – mineral wealth.

As much as the Trump administration may be late in the game, it’s unthinkable Washington would abandon a piece of the (metal) action.