Were you hoping to get a new flat screen TV for Christmas? You know, one of those huge models that you mount on an entire wall of your "media room" or "man cave" that literally brings the National Football League playoffs to life?

How about a new cell phone, or better yet, one of those all-in-one smart phones that only handle phone calls as an afterthought?

If these, or other electronic devices are indeed on your Christmas list, you may want to move on those purchases while you can, because they all contain materials that collectively are termed Rare Earth Elements, without which our modern world of communication would not exist. Yet they could be in short supply sooner rather than later.

According to Wikipedia:  Rare earth elements or rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium.

Scandium and yttrium are considered rare earth elements since they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties.

Despite their name, rare earth elements (with the exception of the radioactive promethium) are relatively plentiful in the Earth's crust, with cerium being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million (similar to copper). However, because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms.

Unfortunately, while the electronic news media that also relies heavily on these elements is clogged with the latest celebrity and political gossip, and very rarely what in the old days would have been called news, Communist China has been amassing nearly all of the production capabilities for REEs as they are called.

Further, if the Chinese leadership gets really ticked off at us, or just decides to teach Donald Trump a lesson, they can shut the door on all our games, toys, communications devices, advanced aerospace and military equipment, medical devices, and related materials in a heartbeat. Think not? Ask Japan.

According to a recent article in the American Legion magazine, China and Japan had a bit of a tiff toward the end of last year and the next thing you know, the supply of processed Rare Earth Elements suddenly went dry for the island nation that has a long and not very nice history with the Chinese. The supply was turned on again in June, but you can bet the proud Japanese had to do a bit of kowtowing first.

Apparently Hu Jintao, the Paramount Leader of the People's Republic of China, was playing his version of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and wanted everyone to see it.  

Remember the exchange in Mad Max between Tina Turner as Aunty Entity who appears to run Bartertown and her arch enemy, the late Angelo Rossitto as Blaster who controlled the power supply from underground, and thus really ran Bartertown?

Blaster, in a fit of pique shuts down the power and then demands to know on a loudspeaker that is broadcast throughout the community,  "Who runs Bartertown?"

"Master Blaster," is the obedient reply from Aunty.


"Master Blaster runs Bartertown."

"Power on."

Japan learned its lessons just as Aunty Entity did, but in an effort to artificially inflate world prices, China's biggest producer cut shipments to Europe and the US in October.

One of many infuriating facets of this situation is that while China is reported to have more than 90 percent of the world's production of REEs, it only has between 30 and 40 percent of the supply of REE raw ores. The United States and its allies have another 40 percent, according to the Legion article, but production that once was robust in western countries is now nil.

In fact, there is supposed to be a huge concentration of REEs in Nebraska, but it is in the form of raw ore, not processed metals that can be sold to America's high-tech industries.

And, as an interesting aside, another large concentration of REE raw ores lies in Afghanistan. Think about how much better things would be for the Afghans and the rest of the world if opium poppy production was curtailed and replaced with a booming REE production instead. Afghans would have a viable source of income and a reason to move into the high-technology fields - as a nation!

Many countries mined REEs until the mid-1990s, when, during the Clinton Administration, China began undercutting world prices for REEs and the response from the US was to curtail our own production. Now, even though there still are myriad sources of REEs, China has virtual control of the entire market.

Unfortunately, it will take until somewhere around 2015 for the world outside China to reestablish its production facilities so we are pretty much up against the wall until then. Four years is an eternity in the fast moving world of electronics, with a new generation emerging every 9 months or so. And on a national scale, although there are numerous print articles on this issue, for some reason they don't seem to get same attention as the latest gaffe by a politician - as long as that politician is not President Barack Hussein Obama.

There is one silver lining in this cloud, however. If the Chinese communists continue to curtail production - they say it is to protect scarce resources and avoid over-exploitation - they run the risk of aggravating one of the potentially most explosive segments of the US population. No, I am not talking about teen-aged boys and their video games, I am talking about the "Occupy" crowd that rails against capitalism and all its evils, doing so on their cell phones, smart phones and using the electronic media to provide propaganda outlets.

What an incredible opportunity to take a bunch of smelly, filthy, unclean totally stupid fanatics, and turn their energy to a good purpose. If they want to block American shipping ports, then let them block the Chinese docks and prevent their ships from unloading. That would be a prime example of real world, bare knuckles trading, unfettered by politicians who write our import laws to favor the Chinese so they can feather their own overstuffed nests even more.

Actually, the Occupy denizens could well be used in conjunction with the Tea Party believers, with the Occupiers blocking Chinese imports while the Tea Party helps toss out all the bottom feeding politicians who write regulations that stymie American manufacturing while helping our enemies. Real world politics, working in conjunction with real world trade embargoes could change a lot for America and the rest of the free world in a very short time.

Remember that other quote from Mad Max: "If you have nothing to trade, you have no business in Bartertown!"