Handicapping The Norks
The Market Ticker - Commentary on The Capital Markets
2017-08-11 12:55 by Karl Denninger
in Foreign Policy , 278 references Ignore this thread
Handicapping The Norks
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How about a bit of analysis, eh?

First, Russia's Lavrov has apparently said that a nuclear armed North Korea is unacceptable.  Well, fancy that.  It would have been nice if you gave a **** ten years ago, or five, eh?

Then there's China.  Let us not forget that in order to execute any foreign transaction someone has to intermediate the money coming back into the country.  That someone has been one of a handful of Chinese banks, and may I remind you that all banks are licensed by the nation in which they operate.  Therefore China has been able to enforce all previous sanctions against North Korea and has willfully refused to.

Now China says that it "will not" interfere if North Korea attacks US interests first.  But China made no such promise if we attack to "change the regime."  In fact it claims it will "prevent" us from doing so (sure it will..... how?)

What's the significance of this bluster from China?  It reinforces China's refusal to adhere to the previous and present UN resolutions and punish those organizations that intentionally violate same, including those very same banks.

This belies the ultimate problem on the Korean peninsula: China most-definitely does not want a unified Korea under a representative republican form of government.  In fact it actively fears that happening since said nation would not be able to be controlled and could become hostile on a trade basis to China.  In fact, it probably would become hostile to same at least in some degree and worse, if it demonstrated success it would add to the risk of political instability in China itself.

So here we are.  China and Russia have sat on their hands or worse, actively aided and funded North Korea for 20+ years while it (1) built a reactor, (2) produced bomb material from said reactor, (3) assembled said bomb and (4) tested said bombs.  They also sat back while the nation developed missiles of increasing ranges, up to and now including, it appears, ICBMs.

Finally they also sat back while North Korea shrunk the size of said bombs so that they will now fit on a missile.

There are four, roughly, steps to producing a nuclear-tipped missile.

1. Make a nuclear bomb.
2. Make a missile that will go as far as you wish to shoot it.
3. Miniaturize said bomb so it will fit on the top of said missile, and the missile can lift it.
4. Figure out the ablative and stability technology so said missile's warhead survives reentry.

The only piece still in question now for North Korea is #4; the last test of their missile appeared to show the nose section breaking up on reentry.  But the Norks know why it broke up and I presume they will figure out what they did wrong stability and ablative-wise, and fix it -- quickly.

Cut the crap, folks.  China in particular is why the North Koreans are within spitting distance of an ICBM-deliverable nuclear bomb, an ability we must presume they now either have or are one test-fired missile away from confirming they have.  They need only splash one successful re-entry to demonstrate that they have accomplished all four of the above steps and China is directly and politically responsible for this state of affairs.

I don't care if you like it or not, whether it's politically uncomfortable or not, these are facts.

Barry Obama sat on the throne for eight years and did exactly nothing to China or anyone else for that matter in putting a stop to the progression of steps #1-4.  Neither did Boosh before him.  In fact all the way back to Bill Clinton there has been zero policing and plenty of evidence that North Korea was openly cheating on every "deal" they made that allegedly prevented them from getting a bomb -- and the technology to deliver it.

In each and every one of these instances of cheating China was directly and explicitly involved in enabling said cheating and the fund flows necessary to accomplish it.  Rather than go after and punish China for their part in these actions we instead bestowed ever-more-favored access to our markets and allowed China to steal US firms' intellectual property for the same 25+ year period.

I remind you that it was back in 1993 that North Korea got caught by the IAEA during routine inspections -- it was fairly clear to them that plutonium was being diverted, which is pretty easy to catch as the numbers of various isotopes produced by a reactor are pretty-well determined by physics, and when they don't all add up, well, you're hiding something.  In other words we've sat on this problem, and the Chinese have actively obstructed attempts to strangle the Norks nuclear program, for roughly 25 years!

Let's leave aside whether all the other folks who have acquired nuclear weapons should have been allowed to do so, or whether anyone should have them at all.  We can debate that all day long but it won't change a thing on the ground.  It is a fact that there are plenty of nations that do have nukes and it's also a fact that the genie is out of the bottle in that regard.  The process isn't all that hard to master given today's technology and more-importantly the world has never successfully stuffed the genie back in said bottle in any nation that has acquired said weapons, declared and tested or otherwise.  There is exactly zero reason to believe, as a result, that we can "de-nuclearize" North Korea successfully and this means that they have nuclear bombs, they either have or will have nuclear ICBMs, and we now argue only over the government that has or will have control over same.

That is the entire scope of the debate at this point in time folks -- we can hold people accountable, including Clinton, Bush and Obama along with both Russia and China now or later, but doing so (or not) will not change this fact.

Further, if you stick your head up your ass and refuse to accept this as fact then you are begging to glow in the dark and eventually someone is going to do exactly that.

So here we are.  We know that if there is an attack on North Korea then Seoul will come under immediate artillary bombardment by the North Koreans; they have dug into the mountains just north of the DMZ thousands of field pieces.  We cannot take them out before they lay waste a large part of South Korea -- basically anything within 30-40 miles of the DMZ is within range of their conventional artillery.  North Korea could also attempt to infiltrate the South and fight a guerrilla war; we know of a number of tunnels under the DMZ and we must assume there are dozens or even hundreds of others we don't know about.  Finally, they might have solved the reentry problem or worse, could take one of their diesel-electric subs, which are extremely quiet and difficult for us to detect even with our superior technology and sail it, with a big old-fashioned nuclear bomb and a suicide-willing crew, right up into someone's harbor and set it off.  While we might catch such an incursion before it happens the odds of success are actually quite good for such an attempt.  I put our ability to actively police and catch such an attempt at less than 1 in 2; active sonar is easily detected well beyond its useful range and said sub captain can then go somewhere else.  Absent active sonar a D/E sub is quiet enough to sneak in with a good probability of success and the Norks have several such subs.

Yes, we would utterly paste North Korea if any of that happened, but do not mistake winning for winning "cheaply."  It would not be cheap at all, either in lives or economic cost and there is a very real chance they get at least one nuclear bomb off on someone before we can kill enough of their command and control to stop it.

But at the same time do not make the error of thinking that China or Russia have done a ******n thing to stop the progression of this threat.  They have not, and what's worse is that said obstruction continues to this day, meaning that as things stand right now if you do not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea you have no choice but to hit them before they perfect that last step, and with China openly declaring that such a strike would cause them to "stop it" one must assume that we now have the situation of an immovable object .vs. an irresistible force.

This is not good at all since either someone has to change their mind as to what is acceptable or we wind up with open warfare, and quite-possibly war involving China on a direct basis.

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User Info Handicapping The Norks in forum [Market-Ticker]
Azengrcat
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President Trump needs to declare treasury bonds held by the Chinese to be null and void.
Stonedog
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Actually, implementing a 300% tariff on ALL Chinese goods and services would do the trick.

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Radiosity
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Azengrcat & Stonedog:
Inline
Bjonsson
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Quote:
Actually, implementing a 300% tariff on ALL Chinese goods and services would do the trick.

While I don't necessarily disagree at all with the underlying sentiment behind this proposal, I think we need to keep in mind that the end result would be a tripling in cost of most everything that American consumers buy that has Chinese content in it.

It would crush our tech industry, our only "growth" (cough cough) industry, blow our equity markets up, bankrupt pensions, and probably freeze all credit. Massive destruction on a real world, "Main Street" level.

I know its probably inevitable, and this is only facilitating an early acknowledgement of the inevitable... but if this route is pursued, it has to be managed pretty ****ing well for it to work. And, I have ZERO confidence in our government being able to manage it.

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Zappafan
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Good summary of the technical picture. I haven't heard anyone in the mainstream media bring up point #4 on surviving re-entry (surprise - not.)

Obviously the Chinese government is playing both sides here. Technically didn't China say that they won't accept "regime change?"

I take that to mean that they won't act if the US bombs the be-jaysus out of North Korea, but if we try to move troops in or install a stooge regime, well ... that is another story.

If I were handicapping this, I'd give it at least a 30% chance that we try to take out Lil 'Kim and his minions, leaving a smoldering mess for the Chinese to clean up. It's China's problem then. Likely outcome: Chinese Red Army troops come in to clean up and end up on the border at the DMZ. Install their own puppet regime, and maybe go home in 10 years or so.

The other problem is what happens to South Korea.

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Flappingeagle
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The time to deal with NK was ~25 years ago and that is long past. Once NK got the bomb they became a tough nut to crack because they can always nuke an invading army and call it justified and/or Seoul is just too close to the border.

Like you state above, if you wait it out that has a respectable chance of them executing a first attack successfully and that is just not acceptable. On the other hand, attacking first has its own set of problems including what do the Chinese do in response. It really seems to me like everyone is handcuffed expect for NK who really seems to not give a ****. Caring what happens to your country can definitely be used against you I guess.

Let me throw out a few thoughts relative to what Bjonnson touched on above.

1. I tell my students "income is iffy but debts are for sure". Meaning that you might or might not be able to generate income and receive it but, if you owe someone money it is certain that they want it.

2. The global supply-chain, JIT machine runs through SK in a million ways. If that is disrupted in a meaningful way the flow of finished goods grinds to a halt.

3. Leverage. (Hey, that would make a great title for a book.) The "civilized world" is in hock up to its eyeballs. A disruption in the flow of goods which in turn generates the cash-flow necessary to keep the party going cannot be withstood. If the goods stop flowing the party is over.

So now, what the F do you do re NK?

It may actually come to the point where you have to do the following. Redefine what wining means and then go to it.

Flap

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Tickerguy
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You want my "all options suck but this one sucks less" play? It's this:

1. Put the bombers at Guam on alert and have them in the air on a rotating basis. Float whatever tanker assets we need to keep that the case over the following actions.

2. Pull non-essential personnel from bases in Seoul north out. Place those who remain on alert, and issue an evac order for Seoul.

3. IF the Norks shoot under that scenario then we've got our cause to paste them. They probably will shoot; it has been considered "doctrine" that any attempt to evac Seoul would trigger immediate hostilities by them. We can come up whatever cock-n-bull story we want on that up to and including intelligence claiming we know of an imminent attack from the North.

4. If they DON'T shoot then it gets tougher. Do we shoot ANYWAY?

The problem is that we've NEVER made ANY progress on stopping their nuclear progression thus far. If we take the position that it is flatly unacceptable if they obtain an ICBM with nuclear capability then we HAVE TO STOP THEM NOW. The only question is whether we can do so in a manner that is "acceptable" to the Chinese.

The ONLY other option is that we ALLOW them to have ICBMs.

That's the choice to be made folks.

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Flappingeagle
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Quote:
In July 1962, the US carried out the Starfish Prime test, exploding a 1.44 megaton bomb 400 kilometres (250 mi) above the mid-Pacific Ocean. This demonstrated that the effects of a high-altitude nuclear explosion were much larger than had been previously calculated. Starfish Prime made those effects known to the public by causing electrical damage in Hawaii, about 1,445 kilometres (898 mi) away from the detonation point, knocking out about 300 streetlights, setting off numerous burglar alarms and damaging a microwave link.[8]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_el....

Ok, this is at the edge of my knowledge but I'm sure I'll be corrected if I am wrong. Many items entering the atmosphere survive until they are around 200,000 feet (~40 miles) up in the atmosphere. That is the point where the atmosphere gets dense enough that it exerts considerable force on the incoming object. The space shuttle broke apart at roughly this altitude.

Now, looking above, a successful EMP was generated at a much higher altitude which indicates that the re-entry problem mentioned in the original post does not have to be completely solved. A partial solution is good enough...

As for the goad them into attacking option, I think I would just go ahead and paste the hell out of them in a surprise attack. Why give them a free shot for the sake of being able to say "they shot first"? Like I said in my first post, we might just have to redefine "win" and go to it.

Flap

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Here are my predictions for everyone to see:
S&P 500 at 320, DOW at 2200, Gold $300/oz, and Corn $2/bu.
No sign that housing, equities, or farmland are in a bubble- Yellen 11/14/13
Trying to leave the Rat Race to the rats...
Banditfist
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It is odd that SK is silent and I have heard that this is barely being reported in their media.

Conventional tube artillery only has a range of 30 km. Rocket artillery has an additional range that would be able to reach Seoul. Those same mountain between the 38th parallel are also set with explosives to be blown to stop the NK armor from coming down.

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Penguinzee
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Also factor in that NK has LOTS of nerve gas... makes it even harder to mount a solid attack, if you're worrying about being gassed...

As you've pointed out Karl, once NK gets a handle on the re-entry survival issue (completely solvable too) the game gets even more grim-maybe NK has a working nuke, maybe not, but a chemical/biological weapon that can fly across the Pacific Ocean is not to trifled with, and those are far easier to put together.

When NK put their satellite in orbit (2-7-16) the payload was estimated to be 440lb (200kg). Assuming they can get a nuke that light, they could hit just about anywhere they want... of course, that's a lot of chemical weapons to put on there...

Not sure on the range of NK's subs, but I kinda doubt they can make it all the way to the US without stopping... Tokyo, OTOH, would likely be well in-range...

If we are to assume that NK would go all-out on an attack, I'm guessing (besides what we all think here) that Japan would see incredible amount of destruction-NK has plenty of SCUD-type missiles for their chemical weapons to lob that way, and the possible suicide nuke sub in Tokyo harbor...

I know this-if I was anywhere near there, I'd be high-tailing it out of there PDQ...

P

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Tickerguy
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Quote:
Now, looking above, a successful EMP was generated at a much higher altitude which indicates that the re-entry problem mentioned in the original post does not have to be completely solved. A partial solution is good enough...

EMP isn't the sort of threat made out to be. Yes, it's real, but it's a hell of a lot more complicated than just setting off a nuke just outside the atmosphere, and the actual damage IMHO wouldn't be anywhere near the scaremongering that has gone on.
Quote:
As for the goad them into attacking option, I think I would just go ahead and paste the hell out of them in a surprise attack. Why give them a free shot for the sake of being able to say "they shot first"? Like I said in my first post, we might just have to redefine "win" and go to it.

Because it won't materially change the conventional artillery outcome in terms of rounds they can fire, but it will likely result in fewer casualties in the South and if it keeps China out of it as it is a clear retaliatory strike it's worth it on that basis.

If it was going to materially change the conventional artillery count I'd be with you on "hit 'em at night and by surprise", but it won't -- and there is a VERY material PR advantage to be had if they shoot first.

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Bjonsson
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I'm wondering now if a suicide sub is even required.

What if they put a nuke in an intermodal cargo container, and sailed it into a US port on an unknowing cargo ship?

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Nonsensical
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China arming North Korea has to be one of the dumbest things I've seen a country do. North Korea doesn't have to reach the US, they only need to reach major cities in China and Japan.

Who knows what's going on behind the scenes, but I don't see how at this stage this is beneficial to China to let North Korea, an unpredictable country, continue. I'm sure they thought they could control it, until, well, they can hold China hostage.

So the question is, does China behind the scenes get the US to clean it up? Obviously these conversation would be insanely secret. I'm not even sure China at this point could do it themselves because if north Korea could launch a regional nuke, well, China will eat a couple.

Definitely it's a mess, and I don't see who actually benefits from allowing North Korea to keep going. But the US is in the best position to do it as we're out of range of potential retaliation if possible. At least our cities are.

But who knows, but I'd be surprised if China would actually intervene on North Korea's behalf. It's a problem they have and created, but they'll get us to clean it up. China doesn't like or trust North Korea any more than we do.
Uwe
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KD wrote..
issue an evac order for Seoul

Such an evac would not happen quickly. 20-25 million people (about half the population of South Korea) live in the Seoul area.

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Tickerguy
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I understand.

You can't get enough of them out of harm's way; artillery can be fired in minutes, short-range missiles likewise.

The question is whether issuing such an order would provoke an attack.

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Nonsensical
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Evacuating Seoul may not even have to be an option. North Korea has been running a blackmail economy, and now they're getting more leverage against China and the US.

The real pressure is behind the scenes for China to turn over all the information of where everything is in North Korea, which I'm sure they know. . And then stay on the sidelines. Which I suspect a China will do, they'll of course act offended publicly.
Tickerguy
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They don't need to turn over anything. It's very easy to figure out where anything important is in North Korea.

Simply look at what's lit at night and blow it up.

Being an insular regime like that has its downsides. One of the big ones is that you pretty-much mark yourself everywhere you go, like it or not, because you stand out wildly against the ordinary people.

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Nonsensical
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I agree. I don't even think it'll be much of a fight. Football team are hard to organize and maintain personnel and equipment. Militaries much more so. I doubt half the orders of the North Korean Army would be followed or even received, and certainly half their equipment doesn't even work and the majority of their military isn't sufficiently trained to deploy--just getting 11 guys to move in a coordinated way is hard.

But, behind the scenes corporation from China would help ensure their neutrality. But I would guess we already have their neutrality, of course I can't guarantee that. But one would think that even they're tired of North Korea's blackmailing.

The Saudis do the same thing with us. They don't wan to deal with internal groups, so they fund and export terror groups and then have us deal with them. But, we of course were complacent in creating this problem.

But I'm tired of hearing about these supposedly vaunted third world armies and how we need to be intimidated by them. Just like all that bluster we heard about the feared Iraqi Republican Guard.

Reason: clarity in the first paragraph, incorrect word
Dudefish
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Excellent analysis as usual. Thank you for posting it. A few nights ago I was trying to do some research on the nork missile program and found this article (2008):
http://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/p....

Reading between the lines, I suspect the Russians did a **lot** more than sit on their hands while NK reverse engineered the scud designs, although they did a fair job of maintaining plausible deniability.

One question for you, Karl, do you think the recent tests demonstrate sufficient lift capability? I've been mulling this over, and I'm guessing even with an inert rocket test they would need to ballast the cone of the rocket with essentially the same mass as the warhead in order to properly test the stability and guidance systems. Thoughts?

I also saw some news footage yesterday of fragments of one of the recent test missiles being pulled from the ocean. In the footage you can see that they recovered at least a combustion chamber/nozzle and a liquid fuel/LOX pump. That will tell our guys a lot about the program. It would be "interesting" if those fragments provide concrete proof of origin...

My prediction (fear) is that NK will in fact lob rockets in the direction of Guam, not close enough to hit but close enough to trigger our response. I can only hope--as Trump has hinted at--that we have some combat capabilities that have not yet been demonstrated publicly. Otherwise there will be massive loss of life.
Tickerguy
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Quote:
One question for you, Karl, do you think the recent tests demonstrate sufficient lift capability? I've been mulling this over, and I'm guessing even with an inert rocket test they would need to ballast the cone of the rocket with essentially the same mass as the warhead in order to properly test the stability and guidance systems. Thoughts?

Exactly. Rockets have to have their CG sufficiently far forward or they don't fly -- they tumble. It's exactly the opposite of what you think.
Quote:
I can only hope--as Trump has hinted at--that we have some combat capabilities that have not yet been demonstrated publicly. Otherwise there will be massive loss of life.

There is no way to take out the quantity of field pieces they have buried in those mountains quickly or easily. Even if you carpet-nuked them you wouldn't get them all, and we realistically can't do that without also nuking Seoul and everything around it with the fallout, so forget that idea. We don't have anywhere near the cruise missile inventory to target all of them, etc.

Basically the problem is that it's "one shot, one piece dead" sort of work, and they have a LOT of them dug into the mountains. Yes, we can get them, but they'll get off a lot of shells -- enough to really trash things south of the DMZ, and one has to assume they'll fire all the short-range rockets (scuds, etc) as well, many of THEM being hidden in the mountains also.

There's no good way to knock this stuff out. It's all conventional, much of it is quite old, but I assure you it all still works and will still cause a hell of a lot of damage.

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Winding it down.
Enapa
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I second the call for evacuating Seoul. Literally no country on the planet, save the ones that hate us, would find fault in us laying waste to NK if they attacked simply for evacuating our personnel. I just don't think the NK midget would be dumb enough to strike first, but then again every day I get surprised by people's stupidity.
Bagbalm
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It occurs to me the perfect target if North Korea shot at the US mainland would be a major town along the route of the coming eclipse. There will be lots of people outside looking up and the roads will already be jammed. We'll get 80% just north of Detroit. That's plenty for me.
Shannonlk1
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Again late to the conversation , but had to add my 2 cents. As for the 300% tariff, I am sick and tired of the threat of OMG the economy will crater, OMG the markets will crash, etc. So what if apple products jump by 50%? that won't phase me one bit. So what if every single android phone jumps up by 50%? I will not be hurt one bit. I as well as 80% of America can do without most of the stuff that would be impacted including the markets crashing as well. In case nobody has noticed the markets are going to crash anyway. Its just a matter of timing. One of the best things that would happen would be people not being able to buy some of these things and for the markets to crash. Its better to do it now vs a death by 1000 cuts which is what has been happening for 20 years or more. With tariffs at 300%, we would have manufacturing plants going up everywhere within 18 months. I can take the pain. Most of America can too , they may not like the pain, but they could take the pain. China has the most to lose, not us. Their economy tanks, their people get rowdy and start riots. Oh, If NK were by chance to nuke Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle I would not shed one tear. Not a single one. Nobody wants to admit it, but we hold all the cards.

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Tickerguy
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If NK wants to nuke a US location, may I politely recommend Google's Headquarters?

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Winding it down.
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