Category Archives: Economy and Meltdown

This Pandemic Is Exposing The Futility Of The National Security State

This Pandemic Is Exposing The Futility Of The National Security State

Authored by Andrew Bacevich via TomDispatch.com,

Americans are facing “A Spring Unlike Any Before.” So warned a front-page headline in the March 13th New York Times.

That headline, however hyperbolic, was all too apt. The coming of spring has always promised relief from the discomforts of winter. Yet, far too often, it also brings its own calamities and afflictions.

According to the poet T.S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month.” Yet while April has certainly delivered its share of cataclysmsMarch and May haven’t lagged far behind. In fact, cruelty has seldom been a respecter of seasons. The infamous influenza epidemic of 1918, frequently cited as a possible analogue to our current crisis, began in the spring of that year, but lasted well into 1919.

That said, something about the coronavirus pandemic does seem to set this particular spring apart. At one level, that something is the collective panic now sweeping virtually the entire country. President Trump’s grotesque ineptitude and tone-deafness have only fed that panic. And in their eagerness to hold Trump himself responsible for the pandemic, as if he were the bat that first transmitted the disease to a human being, his critics magnify further a growing sense of events spinning out of control.

Yet to heap the blame for this crisis on Trump alone (though he certainly deserves plenty of blame) is to miss its deeper significance. Deferred for far too long, Judgment Day may at long last have arrived for the national security state.

ORIGINS OF A COLOSSUS

That state within a state’s origins date from the early days of the Cold War. Its ostensible purpose has been to keep Americans safe and so, by extension, to guarantee our freedoms. From the 1950s through the 1980s, keeping us safe provided a seemingly adequate justification for maintaining a sprawling military establishment along with a panoply of “intelligence” agencies—the CIA, the DIA, the NRO, the NSA—all engaged in secret activities hidden from public view. From time to time, the scope, prerogatives, and actions of that conglomeration of agencies attracted brief critical attention—the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, the Vietnam War of the 1960s and early 1970s, and the Iran-Contra affair during the presidency of Ronald Reagan being prime examples. Yet at no time did such failures come anywhere close to jeopardizing its existence.

Indeed, even when the implosion of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War removed the original justification for its creation, the entire apparatus persisted. With the Soviet Empire gone, Russia in a state of disarray, and communism having lost its appeal as an alternative to democratic capitalism, the managers of the national security state wasted no time in identifying new threats and new missions.

The new threats included autocrats like Panama’s Manuel Noriega and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, once deemed valuable American assets, but now, their usefulness gone, classified as dangers to be eliminated. Prominent among the new missions was a sudden urge to repair broken places like the Balkans, Haiti, and Somalia, with American power deployed under the aegis of “humanitarian intervention” and pursuant to a “responsibility to protect.” In this way, in the first decade of the post-Cold War era, the national security state kept itself busy. While the results achieved, to put it politely, were mixed at best, the costs incurred appeared tolerable. In sum, the entire apparatus remained impervious to serious scrutiny.

During that decade, however, both the organs of national security and the American public began taking increased notice of what was called “anti-American terrorism”—and not without reason. In 1993, Islamic fundamentalists detonated a bomb in a parking garage of New York’s World Trade Center. In 1996, terrorists obliterated an apartment building used to house US military personnel in Saudi Arabia. Two years later, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up and, in 2000, suicide bombers nearly sank the USS Cole, a Navy destroyer making a port call in Aden at the tip of the Arabian peninsula. To each of these increasingly brazen attacks, all occurring during the administration of President Bill Clinton, the national security state responded ineffectually.

Then, of course, came September 11, 2001. Orchestrated by Osama bin Laden and carried out by 19 suicidal al-Qaeda operatives, this act of mass murder inflicted incalculable harm on the United States. In its wake, it became common to say that “9/11 changed everything.”

In fact, however, remarkably little changed. Despite its 17 intelligence agencies, the national security state failed utterly to anticipate and thwart that devastating attack on the nation’s political and financial capitals. Yet apart from minor adjustments—primarily expanding surveillance efforts at home and abroad—those outfits mostly kept doing what they had been doing, even as their leaders evaded accountability. After Pearl Harbor, at least, one admiral and one general were fired. After 9/11, no one lost his or her job. At the upper echelons of the national security state, the wagons were circled and a consensus quickly formed: No one had screwed up.

Once President George W. Bush identified an “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea), three nations that had had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attacks, as the primary target for his administration’s “Global War on Terrorism,” it became clear that no wholesale reevaluation of national security policy was going to occur. The Pentagon and the Intelligence Community, along with their sprawling support network of profit-minded contractors, could breathe easy. All of them would get ever more money. That went without saying. Meanwhile, the underlying premise of US policy since the immediate aftermath of World War II—that projecting hard power globally would keep Americans safe—remained sacrosanct.

Viewed from this perspective, the sequence of events that followed was probably overdetermined. In late 2001, US forces invaded Afghanistan, overthrew the Taliban regime, and set out to install a political order more agreeable to Washington. In early 2003, with the mission in Afghanistan still anything but complete, US forces set out to do the same in Iraq. Both of those undertakings have dragged on, in one fashion or another, without coming remotely close to success. Today, the military undertaking launched in 2001 continues, even if it no longer has a name or an agreed-upon purpose.

Nonetheless, at the upper echelons of the national security state, the consensus forged after 9/11 remains firmly in place: No one screws up. In Washington, the conviction that projecting hard power keeps Americans safe likewise remains sacrosanct.

In the nearly two decades since 9/11, willingness to challenge this paradigm has rarely extended beyond non-conforming publications like TomDispatch. Until Donald Trump came along, rare was the ambitious politician of either political party who dared say aloud what Trump himself has repeatedly said—that, as he calls them, the “ridiculous endless wars” launched in response to 9/11 represent the height of folly.

Astonishingly enough, within the political establishment that point has still not sunk in. So, in 2020, as in 2016, the likely Democratic nominee for president will be someone who vigorously supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Imagine, if you will, Democrats in 1880 nominating not a former union general (as they did) but a former confederate who, 20 years before, had advocated secession. Back then, some sins were unforgivable. Today, politicians of both parties practice self-absolution and get away with it.

THE REAL THREAT

Note, however, the parallel narrative that has unfolded alongside those post-9/11 wars. Taken seriously, that narrative exposes the utter irrelevance of the national security state as currently constituted. The coronavirus pandemic will doubtless prove to be a significant learning experience. Here is one lesson that Americans cannot afford to overlook.

Presidents now routinely request and Congress routinely appropriates more than a trillion dollars annually to satisfy the national security state’s supposed needs. Even so, Americans today do not feel safe and, to a degree without precedent, they are being denied the exercise of basic everyday freedoms. Judged by this standard, the apparatus created to keep them safe and free has failed. In the face of a pandemic, nature’s version of an act of true terror, that failure, the consequences of which Americans will suffer through for months to come, should be seen as definitive.

But wait, some will object: Don’t we find ourselves in uncharted waters? Is this really the moment to rush to judgment? In fact, judgment is long overdue.

While the menace posed by the coronavirus may differ in scope, it does not differ substantively from the myriad other perils that Americans have endured since the national security state wandered off on its quixotic quest to pacify Afghanistan and Iraq and purge the planet of terrorists. Since 9/11, a partial roster of those perils would include: Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricane Sandy (2012), Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria (2017), and massive wildfires that have devastated vast stretches of the West Coast on virtually an annual basis. The cumulative cost of such events exceeds a half-trillion dollars. Together, they have taken the lives of several thousand more people than were lost in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Earlier generations might have written all of these off as acts of God. Today, we know better. As with blaming Trump, blaming God won’t do. Human activities, ranging from the hubristic reengineering of rivers like the Mississippi to the effects of climate change stemming from the use of fossil fuels, have substantially exacerbated such “natural” catastrophes.

And unlike faraway autocrats or terrorist organizations, such phenomena, from extreme-weather events to pandemics, directly and immediately threaten the safety and wellbeing of the American people. Don’t tell the Central Intelligence Agency or the Joint Chiefs of Staff but the principal threats to our collective wellbeing are right here where we live.

Apart from modest belated efforts at mitigation, the existing national security state is about as pertinent to addressing such threats as President Trump’s cheery expectations that the coronavirus will simply evaporate once warmer weather appears. Terror has indeed arrived on our shores and it has nothing to do with al-Qaeda or ISIS or Iranian-backed militias. Americans are terrorized because it has now become apparent that our government, whether out of negligence or stupidity, has left them exposed to dangers that truly put life and liberty at risk. As it happens, all these years in which the national security state has been preoccupied with projecting hard power abroad have left us naked and vulnerable right here at home.

Protecting Americans where they live ought to be the national security priority of our time. The existing national security state is incapable of fulfilling that imperative, while its leaders, fixated on waging distant wars, have yet to even accept that they have a responsibility to do so.

Worst of all, even in this election year, no one on the national political scene appears to recognize the danger now fully at hand.


Tyler Durden

Fri, 03/27/2020 – 22:45

How Governments Are Deploying Big Data To Enforce COVID-19 Quarantines

How Governments Are Deploying Big Data To Enforce COVID-19 Quarantines

This week a technology startup called Unacast launched a new app called “Social Distancing Scoreboard,” which tracks the GPS location of smartphones and grades geographical regions, such as a town, county, and or even a state, on how well residents in those areas are abiding by the government-enforced social distancing rules. The app creates an index, ranked from A to F, for whether people are staying home or not.

Comparing the nation’s mass movements between February 28 to March 23 – virus cases started to rise and local governments across the country began to implement “shelter in place” public health orders, which by mid-month, changes in the average mobility for Americans started to slope downwards. As of March 23, the app ranked the US with a “C,” detailing how many people in the US are ignoring calls by the federal and state governments to stay home amid community spreading. 

As of March 23, the top five states where citizens were practicing the best social distancing were District of Colombia, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, and Alaska. The bottom five states were Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

On a state and county level, Maryland earned a “B” with much of its counties surrounding Washington, DC, and central counties receiving good marks on Monday as many stayed home. However, in Western Maryland, it was life as usual as many seemingly did not care about the virus crisis.

Unacast is just another example of how technology is being deployed as mass surveillance tools to combat the virus.

Several other examples of companies and governments extracting data from citizens for surveillance purposes to support quarantines have been though monitoring social media posts and facial recognition databases.

Ghost Data, a big data analysis firm, collected half a million Instagram posts in March, mainly from hard-hit virus regions in Italy that are in lockdown. The company was able to run facial recognition software on all images to identify people who were violating the country’s quarantine orders.

Another technology company that has joined the effort to support big governments in their quest to enforce full lockdowns with high-tech tools is telecommunications firm Vodafone. The company is giving European governments heat maps of location data, to track mass gatherings.

The World Health Organization has widely supported the actions by governments to tap technology companies to unleash mass surveillance programs to fight the virus. Monitoring the populace through invasive technology tools will erode whatever freedoms people of the West have left and risk ushering in a more permeant dystopian surveillance system like China’s. 


Tyler Durden

Fri, 03/27/2020 – 22:25

All The Craziest Things About America Are Being Highlighted By This Virus

All The Craziest Things About America Are Being Highlighted By This Virus

Authored by Caitlin Johnstone via Medium.com,

“Corona is a black light and America is a cum-stained hotel room,” comedian Megan Amram colorfully tweeted a couple of weeks ago. Her observation has only grown more accurate since.

The corporate cronyism of America’s political system has been highlighted with a massive kleptocratic multitrillion-dollar corporate bailout of which actual Americans are only receiving a tiny fraction. Instead of putting that money toward paying people a living wage to stay home during a global pandemic, the overwhelming majority of the money is going to corporations while actual human beings receive a paltry $1,200 (which they won’t even be getting until May at the earliest) at a time of record-smashing unemployment.

America’s capitalism worship has been highlighted with Wall Street Journal headline “Dow Soars More Than 11% In Biggest One-Day Jump Since 1933” running at the exact same time as “Record Rise in Unemployment Claims Halts Historic Run of Job Growth — More than 3 million workers file for jobless benefits as coronavirus hits the economy”. Stocks are booming, Amazon is surging, and mountains of wealth are being transferred to sprawling megacorporations, while actual human beings are terrified of what the future holds.

America’s joke of a healthcare system is being highlighted as uninsured COVID-19 patients are racking up $35,000 medical bills and even insured COVID-19 patients are looking at out-of-pocket expenses in excess of $1,300. Combine this with the millions of Americans getting thrown off of employer-provided health insurance and you’re looking at a huge number of people who will avoid getting tested and avoid treatment as much as possible. Both heads of America’s two-headed one-party system have spent decades forcefully creating this dynamic.

America’s income and wealth inequality is being highlighted in a nation suffering from all of the above problems while most Americans were already unable to afford a mere $1,000 emergency expense. A one-time $1,200 payment to a population already stretched that thin guarantees that millions will be plunged into crushing debt and destitution in a nation with a historically unprecedented billionaire class raking in even more unearned wealth.

The insanity of America’s war machine has been highlighted as awareness grows during a global health emergency that government military spending negatively impacts government healthcare spending and the US has the most bloated military budget on the planet. Now as journalist Max Blumenthal explains this war machine’s escalating hostility toward China is causing Americans to needlessly die of the virus.

America’s fake political system has been highlighted as the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee completely vanished for a week and then returned to deliver an embarrassing string of befuddled interviews upon his return, reminding the nation once again that the Democrats are running an actual, literal dementia patient for the most powerful elected office in the world. Biden will of course be running against an incoherent reality TV star who only last week decided that the virus is indeed a real problem which needs to be seriously addressed, and who now already wants to begin rolling back the inadequate measures his administration implemented far too late. The debates between two men who don’t understand what they’re doing and can’t string a sentence together between them will soon be broadcast around the world for all of civilization to behold.

America’s lying mass media are being highlighted with propagandistic lines that would make Kim Jong Un blush, like The New York Times claiming today that “the American medical system is unsurpassed and its public health system has a reputation as one of the finest in the world”. We can safely expect US media to get even more demented as they expands their hysteria-inducing new cold war propaganda campaign against Russia to China as well.

America’s murderous sanctions machine has been highlighted as the US continues ramping up its economic warfare against Iranian civilians, with thousands already dead and potentially millions to follow due to Tehran’s inability to access necessary equipment, medicine and resources during the pandemic. The Trump administration has not eased the sanctions during the outbreak, and has in fact added to them, because killing Iranian civilians has always been the goal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has gone on record to say that the objective is to make Iranian civilians so miserable and desperate that they overthrow their own government.

So basically everything crazy about America is being amplified to absurd caricatures of its own insanity and highlighted for everyone to see. There’s a lot of ugliness coming out into the light as a result of this virus, which may end up being one of its few perks for everyone. As they say of both viruses and governments, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

*  *  *

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Tyler Durden

Fri, 03/27/2020 – 22:05

There Is Now A Treasury Shortage

There Is Now A Treasury Shortage

Earlier this morning we showed something remarkable in the Fed’s ongoing attempt to inject a record amount of liquidity into the financial system: on Friday morning, the Fed held a $500 billion term repo operation and nobody showed up. There were zero submissions of either Treasury, Agency of MBS securities by Dealers who appear to have run out of securities, or are unwilling to pledge to the Fed.

Today’s “zero bid” auction was merely the logical endgame of a recent collapse in Treasury submissions into the Fed’s massive daily term and overnight repo operations, which climaxed two weeks ago, only to plunge as soon as the Fed announced the start of unlimited QE.

With dealers now able to sell unlimited amounts directly to the Fed, and at a premium to carrying values, most of them appear to have picked that option instead of holding on to paper that may be worthless especially with an avalanche of debt coming down the pipeline as the Treasury has to fund its $2 trillion corporate handout package.

“Why on Earth you would tie something up for three months in repo with the Fed buying,” said Ian Burdette, managing director at Academy Securities, who followed up with a very apt observation: “I think people are getting wise to the fact that an absolute tsunami of global sovereign debt issuance is on its way. Best to sell it all to the fed now probably.

Another hint that the Fed may have overliquified the market, soaking up too much “safe, money-like collateral” such as Treasuries and MBS, and injecting too many reserves (i.e., cash) came from the Fed itself which 30 minutes before the close today announced it would taper “QE-unlimited” and cut the amount of TSY purchases starting April 1 from $75BN to $60BN, while also trimming its MBS QE from $50BN to $40BN.

But the clearest hint yet that there has been a sea change in the US financial system, which has gone from reserve scarce to collateral(Treasury) scarce was in today’s fixed-rate reverse repo operation. As the name suggests, this is the opposite of repo, where instead of borrowing cash from the Fed in exchange for Treasury collateral, while paying a modest borrowing fee, Dealers borrow Treasurys in exchange for cash collateral.

If the presence of a reverse repo is news to some, there’s a reason for that: for much of the past 3 years, when the Fed was draining reserves as part of QT and banks were cash strained, there was an abundance of Treasurys.

Until today, because today’s reverse repo operation exploded to a record $210BN from $138.4BN yesterday, after virtually no usages for years.

This means that after scrambling to park treasuries at the Fed in exchange for cash, Dealers are now doing the opposite, because as a result of the Fed’s historic QE spree in which the Fed has bought $1 trillion in TSYs and MBS in the past two weeks, there is now an unexpected Treasury shortage among the financial community. Either that, or simply nobody wants to park their Treasurys with the Fed if they can sell them.

But don’t worry: if there is indeed a Treasury shortage, it won’t last. With the US Treasury on deck to issue hundreds of billions in debt in the coming weeks, a scarcity of US paper is the last thing the world will have to worry about…


Tyler Durden

Fri, 03/27/2020 – 21:40

Whither COVID-19? When Will It End And What Will Happen Along The Way

Whither COVID-19? When Will It End And What Will Happen Along The Way

Authored by Phillip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

The coronavirus story has generated a number of major subplots…

First is the origin of the virus. Did it occur naturally or was it created in a Chinese, American or Israeli weapons lab? If bioengineered, did it somehow escape or was it deliberately released? As the governments that might have been involved in the process have become very tight lipped and the mainstream media is reluctant to embrace conspiracy theories, we the public may never know the answer.

Second is the nature of the virus itself. There are inevitably skeptics who choose to compare the affliction to a common head cold or normal winter flu and are able to cherry pick so-called experts to support their case. Many Americans are unwilling to submit to a lockdown or isolation and are flaunting their willingness to go out in public and mix freely while others are claiming that the whole thing is a hoax designed to create a panic that will benefit certain constituencies. There are press reports of teenagers going to supermarkets and faking a sneeze or a cough in the produce section to show their indifference to the infection avoidance guidelines now being promoted by the media and government. Some critics have also commented regarding the deaths of hundreds of Italians daily, suggesting that in Italy’s health care system old people were deliberately being allowed to die.

The fact is that when critically ill people die in hospitals it is sometimes attributable to triage. Triage arises when there are only limited resources to treat the sick, as in the case recently in the Italian Lombard city of Bergamo where hospitals were overwhelmed. Doctors must make the decision to treat those who are ill who are likely to survive as a first priority, meaning that others will only receive limited treatment. Italy has roughly the same number of hospital beds as does the United States per capita and it has more ventilators capable of being used to treat the advanced stages of the virus. It also is receiving assistance from both China and Russia on testing supplies and additional ventilators and masks. Italy has conducted far more coronavirus tests than has the U.S. The northern Italian medical services system was up to European standards, better than what prevails in the U.S., but it has been broken by the virus. Spain is heading the same way and there are similar concerns about France.

In spite of all the ideologically driven background clutter, genuinely knowledgeable medical authorities come down overwhelmingly promoting the view that the virus is highly contagious and capable of spreading rapidly, making it a pandemic, and it can be exceptionally lethal to certain demographics, including the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. The way of combatting it also appears to be agreed upon by most genuine experts i.e. that testing must be widespread to determine who is infected and those individuals should be isolated from contact with others for at least two weeks to limit the spread of the contagion. For those whose conditions worsen, hospitalization and treatment for possible respiratory failure are warranted.

The third big issue is the apparently deliberate failure of the Trump Administration to respond proactively to limit the spread of the virus. Seeking to protect the stock market more than the American public, President Donald Trump initially downplayed the impact of the virus, even calling it a “hoax” during January and February when it first appeared on U.S. soil. It turned out that several institutes affiliated to the Center for Disease Control to deal with epidemics had been dismantled by the Administration and, in spite of the warning provided by what was occurring in Wuhan, the U.S. made no effort to increase its supply of testing kits, masks or ventilators. Meanwhile, congressmen were receiving dire warnings of what was coming from the intelligence community in private briefings, leading to a number of senators selling their stock in anticipation of a market collapse. That is something called insider trading and it is illegal. It is also a measure of the corruption of America’s ruling class.

The fourth major subplot relates to what will come out of the pandemic once it is over, if it is indeed defeated at all. Critics rightly observe that the government response both at federal and state levels might well be a major overreaction to a health crisis that could possibly be dealt with using a lighter hand. Donald Trump has now called himself a “wartime president,” a particularly odd conceit in that America’s chief executive officer dodged the Vietnam war draft.  Trump is now providing daily rambling briefings emphasizing that his administration deserves a “10 out or 10” for its yeoman’s work against coronavirus. The real story is that the president personally inhibited initial efforts to respond to the disease and he is now attempting to regain lost ground by supporting draconian measures to include cash payments to all American residents, even to people who do not need the money. The money itself will have to be borrowed or printed, putting the United States even deeper in debt.

Based on his wartime status, the president and his cabinet are poised to exploit Civil War and Korean War legislation to assume powers over the economy and will likely arrange bailouts of some industries that will then acquire the government as a partner. The now declared “national emergency” will undoubtedly come to include some forms of martial law to enforce the isolation of targeted populations and it is also being reported that the Justice Department has asked Congress to allow judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during the “emergency.” As we have learned from the Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act and the Authorization to Use Military Force, allegedly temporary powers acquired by the executive branch have frequently become permanent. Unrestrained power in the hands of a Trump or Biden should frighten anyone who is still interested in voting in November.

There is some speculation that Trump might well follow the example being set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Israel has banned foreign visitors, is under 24 hours curfew and is effectively in lockdown. It is using cell phone intercepts provided by the intelligence services to track the comings and goings of Israeli residents. The monitoring is being justified as a mechanism to create a record of who is meeting whom and where to support isolation and lockdown efforts. A similar program is already active in the suburbs around Washington. The National Security Agency (NSA) already has the technical ability in place that would permit monitoring of the movements of much of the U.S. population. It would be an intelligence community dream and would fit quite nicely with Congress’s recent efforts to re-authorization certain Patriot Act aspects of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Fifth and finally, there is the politicization aspect of coronavirus. The virus is being “blamed” on China, a global competitor of the United States. As is often the case, Trump has gotten the ball rolling through his usual verbal toxicity, calling the virus the Chinese Virus or Wuhan Virus. Other Republicans have picked up on the theme, leading to the inevitably Democratic progressive wing complaints that such language was “racist.” The fact it, there is no evidence whatsoever that China in any deliberate way either created or unleashed the virus.

And, of course, there is Russia. It would almost seem an old joke that is no longer amusing to blame something new and menacing on Moscow and congress has so far largely refrained from doing so. But that does not mean that the Deep State establishment is holding the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin blameless. The U.S. intelligence community, through its preferred propaganda sheet the New York Times, is now reporting that Russia is taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to spread disinformation through Europe and also in the U.S. In particular, Putin has escalated a campaign-by-innuendo to reduce confidence in the outcome of the upcoming 2020 presidential election. In any event, the Russians are too late as the Democratic and Republican parties’ behavior has already convinced many Americans that voting in November will be a waste of time.


Tyler Durden

Fri, 03/27/2020 – 21:25