Our Disaster

by Kathy Kelly
June 1, 2020

An entire generation of Yemeni children has suffered the traumas of war, many of them orphaned, maimed, malnourished, or displaced. The United Nations reports a death toll of 100,000 people in that nation’s ongoing war, with an additional  read more

Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District Candidates Leave Something to Be Desired

On Sunday afternoon, four candidates for the Democratic nomination for Congress in Virginia’s Fifth District held a debate — or really more of an amicable forum in which they didn’t much try to distinguish themselves from each other. I had blogged about them some weeks back when John Lesinski seemed the best among them to me based purely on their websites. Now, Cameron Webb seems the best of the lot to me, though I’m thoroughly underwhelmed and still largely guessing in the dark.

Weeks ago, Webb had no positions on anything on his website, so there was no way for someone who’s interested in the policy outcome of an election (as opposed to tokenism or some sort of prom-like personality contest) to rank him at all. Now he has a typical Democratic Party platform in which foreign policy, the majority of federal discretionary spending, and 96% of humanity go unmentioned — just what R.D. Huffstetler had and still has. Claire Russo had a super weak foreign policy platform and still does.

But weeks ago Lesinski had this sentence on his website: “In addition, I will ensure we renegotiate the Iran nuclear agreement, end support for the Saudi war in Yemen, restore travel to Cuba, and bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.” Now it’s been replaced with this one: “I will support re-engaging in the Iran nuclear agreement, end support for the Saudi war in Yemen, energize peace talks in the Middle East to include Syria, restore travel to Cuba, and put our country back in a leadership position to reduce global warming and fight climate change, an element of foreign policy with worldwide ramifications.” I guess he got a whiff of Congress and fell in love with the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He hasn’t won a primary yet. Imagine how many wars this guy could adore if actually elected!

I had submitted the following question to the moderator (State Delegate Sally Hudson) prior to Sunday’s debate: “Over half of federal discretionary spending goes to militarism (wars and preparations for more wars). Is that the right amount or too much or too little? Should members of Congress have platforms on their websites letting potential voters know what wars they would end or continue or start, what treaties they support ratifying, what bases they support closing or building, what weapons they would work to dismantle or produce?” I admit that it was a multi-part question. Hudson only asked the first part. I proposed following up with the rest of it in the Q&A area on the Zoom call. I was the only person posting any questions there (and for all I know the only person watching the forum) but only the first part got asked: Is 50% of discretionary spending too much or too little to go to militarism?

There’s an implication in such a question, namely that half the debate should focus on what half the money gets spent on. It didn’t. Apart from this one question, the entire rest of the debate predictably focused on domestic issues. But none of the endless series of presidential debates we suffered through in the past year asked this question at all, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually asked.

As to the answers, they could have been worse. All four candidates — three of them former Marines, all three of whom want you to know that — said too much money was going to militarism. But none of them said how much too much. None of them suggested even roughly how much they would move to human and environmental needs, not even give or take $100 billion. There were no exchanges between the candidates and no follow-ups from the moderator. Still, they all talked vaguely about the trade-offs and the need to move money out of militarism — which is more than can be said of most candidates for Congress this year, virtually none of whom will ever be asked in even the most basic terms what they think the federal budget should look like.

Sunday’s event was full of earnest facial expressions and pleasant platitudes and lovely words like “justice” and “equity” intoned over and over again very solemnly, even when the moderator’s question had been for specific policy proposals. Frequently the candidates told us their personal stories and identities or proposed that some topic needed to be talked about (which is exactly what everybody *not* running for Congress can do — talk about things). There was much describing the problems, contrasting with Republicans, and insisting sincerely on the importance of the election. There was much less in the way of telling us what each person would try to do if elected.

None of the four favors major new taxes on gazillionaires, a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, college as part of (free) public education, tearing up corporate trade agreements, banning nukes, opening borders, closing prisons, or really anything significantly different from the catastrophic course we’re on right now. Yet Webb stood out if only because he seemed well informed and intent on trying to communicate policy positions and proposals rather than sound bytes. This was clear from the first question of the event, which was about racist murders by police. Webb proposed a couple of changes to laws, and I think those were the only specific proposals from any of the four candidates on that question.

Huffstetler was the least impressive of the four throughout. When asked the question I’d submitted, he answered first and began by joking about the Space Force. Then he said we should end endless wars. Which are they? How would he end them? What does he know of them? The question clearly was a novel one for him. He reached back into the depths of his memory and pulled out the figure of $1 Trillion as the cost of wars. He credited it to Linda Bilmes and noted that it was probably out of date. In fact, Bilmes co-authored a book 12 years ago called The Three Trillion Dollar War which put that cost at that time on just one war. She’s since been updating the figure. Recently the Cost of War Project’s claim that just four recent U.S. wars have cost $6.4 trillion has become almost impossible to avoid. But U.S. military spending is at least $1.25 trillion per year, and the wars of the past couple of decades have been running for many years.

Lesinski answered second and said we don’t need endless wars. He said we do need diplomacy. He also said something that is sometimes forbidden and which I imagine he would quickly remove from his website if it were ever posted there, namely that wars are sometimes fought over fossil fuels. He proposed getting the United States off of fossil fuels in order to get it to stop fighting wars. Of course another way would be to elect people to Congress who would forbid it to fight wars, but he’s still on the right track. He also mentioned “recasting” the economy away from militarism. Then he said something rather odd, namely that U.S. military spending is 50% of GDP. Luckily it’s closer to 3%, but I’m still glad Lesinski thinks 50% is too high! I also think Lesinski’s proposal for more diplomacy is right, of course, though it doesn’t answer where most of the money should go, and it may be something he himself should work on. Referring to “an immigration problem,” as he did, is perhaps not as diplomatic as referring to the wonderful immigrants blessing us with their arrival. And there’s something out of proportion, xenophobic, and paranoid in his assertion that a major COVID-19 failure has been getting personal protective equipment manufactured outside of the United States in “countries that may not have our best interest at heart.”

Third to answer the question was Claire Russo, who had opened the evening by bragging about her role in the destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, and who hyped her whole family’s militarism at every opportunity. Yet even she seemed to sort-of/kind-of say that money needed to be moved out of militarism. At first she said that money was going to the wrong places, but she seemed to mean that it was going to weapons like the “J-35 Strike Fighter” (presumably meaning the F-35) rather than to the troops (though she never explained what giving trillions of dollars to the troops would look like). But then she said repeatedly that “a lot of fat needs to be trimmed,” and she said that border walls shouldn’t be built with military funding. It’s not clear if she wants the “fat” turned into tax cuts or spent on something useful. It’s not clear if she wants border walls built with other funds. But her most curious statement was yet to come: Listen, she said, to our military leaders, and they will tell you that spending is out of control. Really? Can you name some of them? Who are they? Where are they saying this? I realize that I may be hurting my cause by questioning this claim, but won’t someone eventually ask for details? (Yeah, right!)

Webb answered next and mentioned the annual budget of the Pentagon at over $700 billion, which is correct. He also mentioned that that money is badly needed elsewhere. And he rattled off a list of things the funding is needed for: housing, education, etc., etc. He also noted that the U.S. military is engaged in operations in over 140 countries, which is true and little known and important. He seconded the call for diplomacy. He proposed ending wars. But he didn’t say which ones. He didn’t say what he would do to end them. And he clearly seemed to think that the wars drive the spending, whereas it’s pretty crucial for someone trying to address this problem to grasp that the exact opposite is the case.

There was no discussion of nuclear weapons. Climate collapse is the only recognized existential crisis in these discussions. There was no mention of any bases, or any treaties, or any peace plans. There was no mention of the tools — such as the War Powers Resolution — that Congress Members can choose to make use of.

This crop of candidates in general seemed not to be running to become members of the First Branch of the U.S. government as conceived of in the Constitution — more to join the ranks of the disempowered court jesters in the government of the Unitary Executive. One of them — I think it was Lesinski — said he’d like to remove the current Secretary of Education, but immediately followed up by saying “I know that’s not my job as a Member of Congress.” Seriously? Whose job is it? Mine? Sally Hudson’s? Who has the power of impeachment and who does not? What is the difference between a member of Congress and everyone else?

Sigh. Anyway, through the rest of the event, Webb seemed best prepared for the job. Lesinski plummeted to the bottom of the rankings for me when, as part of an answer to a question about immigration, he proposed that the U.S. government should get more engaged with the governments of Central America, that doing so would help fix their corruption problems. I’d like to suggest he pick up a book that came out this week. It’s called The Jakarta Method.

Beating Swords to Plowshares

by Kathy Kelly
May 30, 2020

Inscribed on a wall across from the United Nations in New York City are ancient words of incalculable yearning:

“They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.” – Isaiah 2:4

I’ve stood with activists in front of that same wall singing Down by the Riverside, a song promising we’ll lay down read more

Enough with docile permit-granted park protests! Eruptions of Rage in Minneapolis and across the US over the Cop Murder of George Floyd are Uprisings, Not ‘Riots’

By Dave Lindorff

America’s cities are burning again.

In Minneapolis, after an unarmed and unresisting George Floyd, 46 and black, was killed by a white cop after being arrested for the non-violent alleged crime of trying to pass a fake $20 bill, protests immediately erupted.

Minneapolis cops, with a reputation for violence, responded to the initial protest with tear gas, rubber bullets and physical violence. After that the protests became more determined, leading read more

The Problem With the Space Force Is Not a Dimwitted General

One cannot help but appreciate the speed with which it became acceptable to produce comedy about the U.S. Space Force. I don’t think any military branch or war or weapon or coup or base or boondoggle has been taken off its holy pedestal more rapidly. Recent clownish yet endearingly murderous efforts to overthrow the government of Venezuela are unlikely to be mocked in a movie for decades to come. But — as with most Hollywood productions — the new Netflix comedy about the Space Force has a set of predictable shortcomings.

I’ve watched one episode, so feel free to tell me if later episodes vary from what I’ve seen. Episode one is occasionally vaguely funny. It makes fun of Trump, which is always good. It makes fun of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is much to be applauded. It mocks military recruitment efforts, which is fantastic. It even highlights the outrageous financial cost of all things military, and compares them to the cost of schools — which is worth a standing ovation. But I have a few complaints.

  1. While Space Force the show probably overstates the cost of launching a satellite, it does not touch on the full cost of U.S. militarism, which is over $1 trillion a year, a tiny fraction of which could radically transform life for people around the world.
  2. The dimwitted general who leads the Space Force is depicted as being motivated by pettiness and stupidity but also by a simple desire to succeed at whatever he’s ordered to do. He is not, however,

read more

The War Industry Threatens Humanity

I’m adding Christian Sorensen’s new book, Understanding the War Industry, to the list of books I think will convince you to help abolish war and militaries. See the list below.

Wars are driven by many factors. They do not include protection, defense, benevolence, or public service. They do include inertia, political calculation, lust for power, and sadism — facilitated by xenophobia and racism. But the top driving force behind wars is the war industry, the all-consuming greed for the all-mighty dollar. It drives government budgets, war rehearsals, arms races, weapons shows, and fly-overs by military jets supposedly honoring people who are working to preserve life. If it could maximize profits without any actual wars, the war industry wouldn’t care. But it can’t. You can only have so many war plans and war trainings without an actual war. The preparations make actual wars very hard to avoid. The weapons make accidental nuclear war increasingly likely.

Sorensen’s book completely and refreshingly avoids two common pitfalls of discussions of war profiteering. First, it does not claim to be presenting the single simple explanation of militarism. Second, it does not suggest that the corruption and financial fraud and privatization is itself the whole problem. There is no pretense here that if the U.S. military would simply set its books straight and nationalize the war business and properly pass an audit and stop hiding slush funds, then all would be right with the world, and mass-murder operations could be conducted with a clear conscience. On the contrary, Sorensen demonstrates how the corruption and the sociopathic destruction feed off each other, generating the real problem: organized and glorified homicide. Most books on corruption in the war business read more like discussions of excess profits in the business of torturing bunnies, where the authors clearly believe that bunnies should be tortured without excessive profiteering. (I use bunnies merely to help readers who don’t sympathize as much with human beings as with bunnies understand.)

Understanding the War Industry is not so much analysis as an effort to persuade through the repetition of examples, countless examples, naming names and laid out over hundreds of pages. The author admits that he’s only scratching the surface. But he’s scratching it in lots of different places, and the result ought to be persuasive for most people. If your mind doesn’t go numb, you will feel an urge to take a shower after closing this book. When the Nye Committee held hearings in the 1930s exposing shameful war profiteering, people cared because war profiteering was considered shameful. Now we get books like Sorensen’s that expose war profiteering as a fully developed industry, one that generates the wars from which to profit, while simultaneously and systematically generating shamelessness in the hearts and minds of the people paying for it all. Such books have the task of re-creating shame, not just exposing what is already shameful. Whether they’re up to the task remains to be seen. But we ought to spread them around and give it a try.

Sorensen does occasionally stop to point out what his endless examples lead to. Here’s one such passage:

“Some people think it’s a chicken-or-egg scenario. They argue that it’s difficult to tell which came first — the war industry or the need to go after bad guys in the hemisphere. But it’s not even a situation where there’s a problem, and then the war industry comes up with a solution for the problem. It’s just the opposite: The war industry inflates an issue, avoids addressing the root causes, manufactures weaponry, and markets the weaponry, which the Pentagon purchases for use in military operations. This process is comparable to the process Corporate America uses to get you, a consumer, to purchase a product that you don’t need. The only difference is that the war industry has more incisive forms of marketing.”

Not only does this book provide endless research and documentation leading to the appropriate conclusions, but it does so with highly unusually honest language. Sorensen even explains up front that he is going to refer to the Department of War by that, its original name, that he is going to call mercenaries by the name “mercenaries,” etc. He even gives us four pages of explanations of common euphemisms in the war industry. I’ll give you the first half a page:

acquire the full range of counterspace capabilities: develop weaponry to blow up other countries’ satellites

additional contract requirement: exorbitant public treasure spent on mediocre weapons platform

administrative detention: solitary confinement

advisor: CIA officers / special operations personnel

anticipatory self-defense: Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive strike, regardless of validity of threat

arms trade: selling weapons of death

armed combatant: civilian or resistance fighter, armed or unarmed

“at the request of the [allied govt.], the United States is conducting unarmed reconnaissance flights accompanied by armed escorts who have the right to return fire if fired upon”: “we bomb civilians” to assure the survival of client governments

outpost, facility, station, forward operating location, defense staging post, contingency operating site: base

Read these books:

Understanding the War Industry by Christian Sorensen, 2020.
No More War by Dan Kovalik, 2020.
Social Defence by Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin, 2019.
Murder Incorporated: Book Two: America’s Favorite Pastime by Mumia Abu Jamal and Stephen Vittoria, 2018.
Waymakers for Peace: Hiroshima and Nagasaki Survivors Speak by Melinda Clarke, 2018.
Preventing War and Promoting Peace: A Guide for Health Professionals edited by William Wiist and Shelley White, 2017.
The Business Plan For Peace: Building a World Without War by Scilla Elworthy, 2017.
War Is Never Just by David Swanson, 2016.
A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War, 2015, 2016, 2017.
A Mighty Case Against War: What America Missed in U.S. History Class and What We (All) Can Do Now by Kathy Beckwith, 2015.
War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo, 2014.
Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War by David Carroll Cochran, 2014.
War and Delusion: A Critical Examination by Laurie Calhoun, 2013.
Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand, 2013.
War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson, 2013.
The End of War by John Horgan, 2012.
Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac, 2012.
From War to Peace: A Guide To the Next Hundred Years by Kent Shifferd, 2011.
War Is A Lie by David Swanson, 2010, 2016.
Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry, 2009.
Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers, 2009.
Enough Blood Shed: 101 Solutions to Violence, Terror, and War by Mary-Wynne Ashford with Guy Dauncey, 2006.
Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War by Rosalie Bertell, 2001.


Tomgram: Nomi Prins, A Rendezvous with Destiny?

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Believe me, moments like this one will haunt a generation for rest of their lives. I was born in 1944. I knew nothing of the Great Depression of the 1930s and yet, in retrospect, it haunted me indirectly. So many decades later, I can still sense how memories of that economic disaster hovered over my parents’ world. Looking back, I can still feel its presence in those years of the golden 1950s when I was growing up (which were actually tough times for my mom and dad). I can still feel it in their fierce arguments about money and their fears for their futures and mine. I can remember it in the way my best friend’s dad insisted that he “get a profession” — because, in Great Depression-style bad times, which that generation always feared might return, it was the only thing (so he believed) that could keep you afloat.

An economic disaster of such an order never leaves you. And for a generation of young people who, even before Covid-19 arrived on these shores, already inhabited a world of skyrocketing school debt; a world in which three men — Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates — had more wealth than half the American population combined; a world in which a self-promoting billionaire (who had crashed and burned more than once) made it to the White House; a world of staggering inequality that the present coronaviral crash has left in ruins, the haunting has just begun.

In that context, TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins considers what the two haunting bookends of “the American century,” the Great Depression and the Coronavirus Crash, have in common and what the earlier one has to tell us about the otherwise unknown world of catastrophe we’ve now entered. In the process, she imagines what it might truly mean to “reopen” such a ghostly world. Tom
The Great Depression, Coronavirus Style
Crashes, Then and Now
By Nomi Prins

Many economists believe that a recession is already underway. So do millions of Americans struggling with bills and job losses. While the ghosts of the 2008 financial crisis that sent inequality soaring to new heights in this country are still with us, it’s become abundantly clear that the economic disaster brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has already left the initial shock of that crisis in the dust. While the world has certainly experienced its share of staggering jolts in the past, this cycle of events is likely to prove unparalleled.

The swiftness with which the coronavirus has stolen lives and crippled the economy has been both devastating and unprecedented in living memory. Whatever happens from this moment on, a new and defining chapter in the history of the world is being written right now and we are that history.

Still, to get our bearings, it’s worth glancing back nearly a century, to a time when another economic crisis ravaged the country. While the U.S. has come a long way since the Great Depression, there are still lessons to be learned from it about where we might be heading today. Four key factors from that era — unemployment, the economy, the market, and the Federal Reserve’s response — can provide us with a roadmap for putting this era into historical context.

Unemployment Then and Now

In 1933, the height of the Great Depression, the U.S. unemployment rate reached a stunning 24.9%. In an eerie parallel with today, that double-digit increase had leapt from an era of remarkably low unemployment, 3.2% in the crash year of 1929. By mid-1931, mass layoffs were the new norm and despair was acute and widespread.

Fast forward to the present. In February, the unemployment rate stood at a similar 3.5%. Yet, by May 22nd, in the aftermath of city and state shutdowns and coronavirus shocks, including the collapse of the airline industry and professional sports, new filings for unemployment claims hit an estimated 40 million in 10 weeks, the most jobs lost in the shortest period in American history.

In April, the official unemployment rate reached 14.7%, the worst since the Great Depression, and that official figure doesn’t even account for the full scope of the disaster underway. It excludes workers the Bureau of Labor Statistics considers “marginally attached” to the workforce, meaning those not looking for a job because the prospects are so dim, or those who were only laboring part-time. If you factor them in, the unemployment rate already stands at a Great Depression-level 22.8%. Some industries, of course, felt more pain than others. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector, for instance, fell in April by 7.7 million, or 47%.

Worse yet, low-wage workers have taken the hardest hit. According to a recent Federal Reserve survey, although one in five American workers have lost their jobs, among the lowest-earning Americans, 40% have done so. Among the highest-earning American workers (many of whom could work from home), the rate was “only” 9%.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard has already predicted that the unemployment rate could reach 30% before the end of June. Other Fed economists have suggested that it could go even higher, exceeding Great Depression levels, a chilling thought. As the country, pushed by President Trump’s reelection desires, “reopens” relatively quickly (at whatever cost in further Covid-19 deaths), many workers will undoubtedly be brought back or rehired, but there’s no avoiding the obvious reality that any number of “temporary” layoffs will become permanent realities.

The Economy: A Century Apart Yet Much the Same

When Covid-19 first hit and self-isolation set in, the stock market plunged and many businesses were forced to shut down normal operations. Various economists and media commentators then began musing about a V-shaped economic rebound — that is, a quick drop followed by a quick recovery.

As the fallout and uncertainty only expanded, however, it’s become increasingly evident that such a pattern was a fantasy. At this point, the best recovery outcome imaginable would be U-shaped in which the bottoming-out period lasted significantly longer before we started heading up again. But don’t count on that either. Consider the possibility of an elongated L, in which for the vast majority of Americans the economy just limps along for endless months, if not years (even if the stock market rallies).

In 1930, the American gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 8.5% as the economy contracted in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929. It would shrink a further 6.4% in 1931 and another 12.9% in 1932. It wasn’t just the crash that did in that economy. The economic excesses of the 1920s and the borrowing that supported it were also responsible. Money funneled into the stock market in a previous age of inequality fueled grotesque financial speculation. Instead of financing productive investments, the markets provided only the illusion of stability and prosperity while enriching the few at the top. (Sound familiar in the age of Donald Trump?)

Yet the Republican president of that moment, Herbert Hoover, didn’t want to admit that the bottom had truly fallen out on his watch. On May Day 1930, for instance, he declared, “We have now passed the worst, and with continued unity of effort, we shall rapidly recover.” (Such a claim, too, should ring a few bells in 2020 America.) That statement became the marker for a nearly two-year Dow Jones average dive to a Depression-low of a mere 41 points on July 8, 1932. His inability to truly take in what was right in front of his eyes only lengthened the Great Depression.

Turning to the present, the CARES Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27th, unleashed an estimated $2.2 trillion in government relief (significant parts of which were aimed at giant corporations and the wealthy). That, combined with the Federal Reserve’s backing of the economy, could add up to perhaps $6.2 trillion. What promptly transpired for Wall Street, which had previously seen the Dow plunge 34%, was one of the best months for the stock market in more than 33 years.

Beltway leaders had learned the pivotal lesson of the moment: even if the market’s not the economy, it always craves more. They stood ready to green-light Wall Street with yet another stimulus package skewed to help corporate interests, even as the majority of Americans on Main Street were simply left further behind.

Meanwhile, the gross domestic product had fallen 4.8% in the first quarter of 2020, before Covid-19 and the corresponding social shutdown really hit hard. In other words, GDP for the second quarter of this year is guaranteed to be truly awful. Estimates of its contraction range from 20% to 30%, either of which would eclipse the contractions of the Great Depression era.

The Stock Market: A Casino Shadowing an Economic Problem

The Roaring Twenties claimed that moniker not just thanks to the free-flowing bootlegged booze but rampant financial speculation — and the lack of rules to protect citizens from nefarious Wall Street shenanigans. Having hit record highs in the summer of 1929, stock prices began their decline that September. By mid-October, the fall had gained steam. On October 24th, as panic set in on what would become known as “Black Thursday,” a then-record 12,894,650 shares were traded by investors and speculators seeking to lock in profits before the bottom fell out of the market.

By the next Monday — “Black Monday” — it had gone into free fall. And that would be followed by “Black Tuesday,” when stock prices plummeted yet further amid record trading volume. Billions of dollars were lost and thousands of investors wiped out. (Once upon a time, I even wrote a novel about that era called — you guessed it — Black Tuesday.)

By then, the Dow had dropped 24.8% in three days, though for several weeks thereafter stock prices would partially recover and bond prices rise on rumors that the Federal Reserve was going to purchase government securities. (Again, that should sound familiar in 2020.)

Bankers, then fortified by the Fed, did indeed inject yet more speculative money into the market in the post-crash moment, yet none of this could hide what were by then obvious systemic problems in the economy, which meant that prices soon headed south again. By July 1932, stocks were worth only 20% of their 1929 values and the country had plunged into the Great Depression. It would take years, substantive federal action, and ultimately an industrial mobilization for World War II to truly turn the situation around.

Fast forward to 2020. By March 23rd, when the coronavirus sell-off was underway, the Dow had lost about 35% of its value. Since then, equity markets, though down significantly from their February peaks, have rallied and the Dow has risen about 30%.

As in 1929-1930, this could all prove to be an illusion, especially since the market’s April rally did not reflect the longer-term economic issues that lie ahead. It was in large part a response to something that didn’t exist during those crash years of the Great Depression: an extremely amped up Federal Reserve.

The Fed: A Revamped Mechanism from the Last Depression

In the wake of the Crash of 1929, Wall Street bankers pushed the Fed to keep interest rates low so they could borrow money more easily to make up for their losses. In May 1932, the Fed finally initiated a massive bond-buying program, agreeing to purchase $26 million of them from its member banks each week.

The idea was that those banks would sell their U.S. Treasury bonds to the Fed and use that money to pay off their debts. They could then lend out the remaining cash to a desperate Main Street. As it happened, however, they didn’t launch such a generous loan program (another Great Depression reality that might ring a bell today).

The Fed eventually lowered rates from to 2.5% in 1934 to 1.5% in September 1937 to inject more money into the system. That did not, however, inspire an outpouring of lending either, nor did rates make it down to zero.

In the wake of the Covid-19 shutdowns, the Fed has indeed cut rates to zero. As Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said on May 13th, “The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II.” He added: “We have acted with unprecedented speed and force.” His counterpart, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, even termed what was going on “a war.”

Because of quantitative easing — the Fed’s purchasing of securities, a term that didn’t exist in the Great Depression era — its balance sheet now sits at nearly $7 trillion spent. That’s almost double the figure from just last summer and equivalent to one-third of the $21.5 trillion gross domestic product. The Fed has been injecting money into the markets and scarfing up securities backed by debt at — to steal a term the president only recently applied toward developing a coronavirus vaccine — “warp speed.”

With a genuine arsenal at its disposal to fight this “war,” the Fed’s activities are jacked up on the financial equivalent of steroids. The nation’s central bank is prepared to provide money to the financial system in quantities and ways unimaginable in the Great Depression era.

Why History Matters

What’s happening today is not, of course, a replica of the Great Depression. That nightmare was catalyzed by a prolonged market crash, thanks to banks lying about the real value of certain securities and too much debt in the system. Today’s crisis has been catalyzed by a viral pandemic spreading across the planet, by supply-and-demand shocks the world over, and by the collapse of a global economic system, as well as widespread lockdowns. Yet certain factors are common to both eras in which economic disaster was exacerbated by too much corporate debt, a Fed-stoked market rally, and grotesque levels of inequality.

A century ago, the Fed put just a financial toe in the water to support the markets on the assumption that this would be enough to sustain the economy. Today, it has jumped in big time and Chairman Powell has vowed that it “is not going to run out of ammunition.” The result could be a financial tug of war that lasts years.

The Fed can electronically print money, but it can’t print jobs. It can buy bonds, but it can’t cure a virus. It can continue to try to stimulate the market, but it can’t banish fear. As it happens, the economy needs much more than Fed-style monetary support. As even Powell noted on May 13th, “Additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery. This tradeoff is one for our elected representatives, who wield powers of taxation and spending.”

What’s needed, above all, is greater strategic action from Washington politicians who are more desperately divided and tribalized than ever in the Trump era. History tells us that political actions matter even more in times of crisis. During the Great Depression, the state of the country became so bad that, in 1932, Herbert Hoover lost the presidential vote to Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a landslide. However, it took until 1934, even with a president ready to do much to help Americans in trouble, for the country to slowly emerge from the malaise.

Though unemployment remained near 22% then, the national mood lifted (and people started to spend again) in part thanks to growing confidence in President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. Those included the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority — the nation’s first regional supplier of public power — numerous jobs programs, and the passage of the Social Security Act. Add to that the regulation of the banking system through the passage of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which protected ordinary people’s bank deposits and note as well that such forward-looking, economy-stabilizing programs were bipartisan acts.

In the face of devastation today, despite

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Talk Nation Radio: Helena Cobban on the State of the U.S. Empire

Helena Cobban is a veteran analyst of international affairs and an anti-imperialist activist who campaigns for human equality at all levels. She’s a Quaker who lives in Washington DC, which she describes as “the belly of the beast.” Helena has authored seven books on international issues, four of which have been about the Middle East; and for 20 years she contributed a regular column about global affairs to The Christian Science Monitor. She has also been a publisher. Her company, Just World Books, has helped midwife the work of writers like Miko Peled, Laila El-Haddad, Leila Abdelrazaq, and David Swanson. She’s the head of the non-profit Just World Educational, which has some great web-based programing, most recently on Syria. She has also resumed blogging on her blog Just World News, where her major current preoccupation is the ways the coronavirus crisis affects the hegemonic role the United States has played in world affairs since 1945. See: https://justworldnews.org

Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.

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Tomgram: Danny Sjursen, The End of War As We Know It?

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Consider it strange. The U.S. has been fighting in Somalia on and off (mostly on) since the early 1990s. (Who, of a certain age, doesn’t remember the “Black Hawk Down” fiasco?) Almost 30 years later, at a time when the U.N. secretary-general, supported by dozens of countries, has reasonably enough called for a global ceasefire so that humanity can refocus on “the true fight of our lives,” bringing Covid-19 under control, the U.S. is still at war there. At a time when American naval vessels are turning into pandemic hot zones and the man in the White House has repeatedly denounced this country’s “ridiculous endless wars,” the Pentagon’s war in Somalia against an insurgent terror group by the name of al-Shabaab is actually escalating. No kidding.

Of course, if you were only attending to the mainstream media, filled with little but coronaviral news (and even more viral news about our president), you wouldn’t know it. You might hardly know that the U.S. military was involved in Somalia at all. You would have to read TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse’s recent investigative piece at the Intercept to discover that U.S. air strikes in that country have risen radically in recent times. In the Obama years, from 2009-2017, the U.S. carried out a total of 36 such strikes in Somalia. According to U.S. Africa Command, by early April 2020, only four months into this devastating year, 39 such strikes had already been launched, essentially ensuring that the annual bounty of destruction there will top last year’s record 63 strikes. And mind you, at this moment, Covid-19 is beginning to tear a path of death through that country’s capital, Mogadishu.

And that, as retired U.S. Army Major and TomDispatch regular Danny Sjursen makes clear today, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to America’s never-ending wars of this century. That they are now becoming pandemic wars seems to matter little in Washington. With that in mind, Sjursen, whose new book, Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War, will be published this fall, takes a deep dive into the future of American war in a Covid-19 world. Hang on tight. Tom
The Coming of a Social-Distancing Version of War
The Future of Forever War, American-Style
By Danny Sjursen

Covid-19, an ongoing global human tragedy, may have at least one silver lining. It has led millions of people to question America’s most malignant policies at home and abroad.

Regarding Washington’s war policies abroad, there’s been speculation that the coronavirus might, in the end, put a dent in such conflicts, if not prove an unintended peacemaker — and with good reason, since a cash-flush Pentagon has proven impotent as a virus challenger. Meanwhile, it’s become ever more obvious that, had a fraction of “defense” spending been invested in chronically underfunded disease control agencies, this country’s response to the coronavirus crisis might have been so much better.

Curiously enough, though, despite President Trump’s periodic complaints about America’s “ridiculous endless wars,” his administration has proven remarkably unwilling to agree to even a modest rollback in U.S. imperial ambitions. In some theaters of operation — Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, and Somalia above all — Washington has even escalated its militarism in a fit of macabre, largely under-the-radar pandemic opportunism.

For all that, this is an obvious moment to reflect on whether America’s nearly two-decade-old “war on terror” (perhaps better thought of as a set of wars of terror) might actually end. Predictions are tricky matters. Nonetheless, the spread of Covid-19 has offered a rare opportunity to raise questions, challenge frameworks, and critically consider what “ending” war might even mean for this country.

In some sense, our post-9/11 wars have been gradually subsiding for some time now. Even though the total number of U.S. troops deployed to the Middle East has actually risen in the Trump years, those numbers pale when compared to the U.S. commitment at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The number of American soldiers taking fire overseas has, in recent years, dropped to levels unthinkably low for those of us who entered the military around the time of the 9/11 attacks.

That said, in these years, even unwinnable, unnecessary wars have proven remarkably unendable. For evidence of this, look no further than that perennial war hawk Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Given the lack of success of the various campaigns run by U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, across that continent and the Pentagon’s stated desire to once again pivot to great-power competition with China and Russia, just before the pandemic arrived on our shores Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced plans for a modest troop drawdown in parts of Africa. Appalled by even such minor retrenchments, Graham, leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers, reportedly confronted Esper and threatened to make his “life hell,” should the secretary downsize U.S. forces there.

Less than two months later, AFRICOM declared a public-health emergency at the largest of this country’s African bases in Djibouti amid concerns that even far smaller, more spartan American facilities on that continent lacked the requisite medical equipment to fight the spreading virus. Whether the pandemic facilitates Esper’s contemplated reductions remains to be seen. (A mid-April AFRICOM press release offering reassurance that the “command’s partnership endures during Covid-19” doesn’t bode well for such a transformation.)

Still, the disease will surely have some effect. Just as quarantine and social-distancing measures have transformed people’s lives and work in the U.S., Washington’s war fighting will undoubtedly have to adapt, too. Minimally, expect the Pentagon to wage wars (largely hidden from public view) that require ever fewer of its troops to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with allies and fewer still to die doing so. Expect Washington to mandate and the Pentagon to practice what might increasingly be thought of as social-distancing-style warfare.

Soldiers will operate in ever smaller teams. Just as senior leaders constantly counseled us junior officers in the bad old days to “put an Iraqi face between you and the problem,” so today’s and tomorrow’s troopers will do their best to place drones or (less precious) proxy lives between themselves and enemies of any sort. Meanwhile, the already immense chasm between the American public and the wars being fought in its name is only likely to widen. What may emerge from these years is a version of war so unrecognizable that, while still unending, it may no longer pass for war in the classic sense.

To grasp how we’ve made it to a social-distancing version of war, it’s necessary to go back to the earlier part of this century, years before a pandemic like Covid-19 was on anyone’s radar screen.

American Wars Don’t End, They Evolve

When, as a young Army lieutenant and later captain, I joined what were then called “surges” in Iraq in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2011, conventional foot soldiers like me were the main game in town. The doctrine of counterinsurgency, or COIN, then ruled the Pentagon’s intellectual roost. The trick, so key commanders believed, was to flood the war zone with infantry brigades, securing the conflict’s “center of gravity“: the locals. Behind the scenes, Special Operations units were already taking on ever-larger roles. Nevertheless, there were ample “boots-on-the-ground” and relatively high casualties in conventional units like mine.

Times have changed. Full-scale invasions and long-term occupations, along with COIN as a war-on-terror cure-all, long ago fell out of favor. By Barack Obama’s second term, such unpopular and costly campaigns were passé. Even so, rather than rethink the efficacy of imperial interventionism, Washington simply substituted new methods masquerading as the latest strategy of success.

By the time Donald Trump delivered his “American carnage” inaugural address, the burdens of Washington war-making had flipped. When I served in Iraq and Afghanistan, about half of the Army’s 40-odd combat brigades were deployed in those two regional theaters at any given time. The remainder were training for their next rotations and already on the “patch chart” where each unit’s logo indicated its future scheduled deployment. This was the life on the conveyor belt of American war that a generation of soldiers like me lived. By January 2017, however, the number of conventional brigades deployed in the war on terror could be counted on one hand.

For instance, the Army’s most recent round of deployments, announced this April, included just six brigades. Of these, two were aviation units and, among the ground forces, one was headed for Europe, another for Kuwait. Only two ground combat brigades, in other words, were slated for Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan and one of them was a reconstituted

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Living on $600/wk for a while and then going back to $7.25 sucks: Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US

By Dave Lindorff

American workers have a huge opportunity as a result of this coronavirus pandemic — an opportunity to massively expand union membership in the workplace, and a chance, after decades of being ignored by Congress, to finally win a desperately needed increase in the federal minimum wage from it’s current $7.25 per hour to at least $15 per hour.

Republicans in Congress, notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), are unhappy with the supplemental read more