Mark Shapiro draws attention to an article by Alan Macleod reporting that – though the US economy is suffering – American arms manufacturers are thriving.
“The American economy has crashed – only the military industrial complex is booming. A nationwide pandemic that has (officially) claimed some 84,000 Americans has also led to an estimated 36 million filing for unemployment insurance and millions frequenting food banks for the first time”. But weapons manufacturers are busier than ever, advertising for tens of thousands more workers:
- Northrop Grumman announced that it was planning to hire up to 10,000 employees this year.
- Last month, the Air Force commissioned Raytheon to develop and build a new nuclear cruise missile.
- Raytheon is still advertising 2,000 new jobs in the military wing of its business.
- Boeing is looking to add hundreds of new workers in its defense, intelligence, and cybersecurity departments and
- Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms dealer, announcedon Friday that it is “actively recruiting for over 4,600 roles,” in addition to the 2,365 new employees it has taken on since the lockdown started.
Washington has designated weapons manufacturers as “essential” services during a pandemic (CNN report)
In February, the Pentagon released a $705 billion budget request for 2021, revealing that there would be a “shifting focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a greater emphasis on the types of weapons that could be used to confront nuclear giants like Russia and China.”
Confronting nuclear giants like Russia and China
MacLeod points out that, just as Donald Trump was increasing the military budget, he slashed funding for the Center for Disease Control and for the World Health Organization, perhaps the only international body capable of limiting the spread of the virus.
In America and the rest of the world, poverty and disease have inflicted a far higher death toll than warfare
Yesterday US COVID-19’s death toll was 99,886. The United States has suffered the highest death toll from COVID-19 and the pandemic has led Americans to ask whether the enormous military budget is making them safer or whether well-funded healthcare, education and social care would have saved or enhanced more lives.
(War figures include American military deaths in battle, and in-theatre deaths as available. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY)
Alan Macleod ends: “However, that question appears not to have been debated within the walls of the White House, where it is full steam ahead with weapons production”.
Journalist Simon Jenkins reported last year that the British government boasted of record sales with 80% going to the Middle East.
He asserted that Britain should not be weaponising the suppression of dissent in Egypt, Bangladesh, Colombia, Uzbekistan or Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states – their national defence better termed, regime defence.
Calling the last London arms fair (above) “a stain on the nation . . . the most awesome glamorisation of death on the planet”, he added “The reality is that Britain and the US are in an arms race with the Russians in this theatre – with no remotely peaceful objective”.
And Symon Hill, in an article on security, points out that for years, “security” and “defence” have been euphemisms for war and preparations for war, adding that the coronavirus crisis is a fatal reminder that security, safety and defence cannot be found in armed force.
He ends: “In the long term, we must put our resources into addressing real threats, not into the waste and destruction of war”.
As Steve Sweeney writes: Washington has come under fire (Ed: largely in the suffering regions’ media) for using the global health emergency to exert pressure on countries, including Venezuela and Iran, where it seeks regime change. Both have been targeted with increased sanctions and threats.
At least 3,003 people have died in the United States from Covid-19 and over 160,698 cases of coronavirus have been detected. CNN reports that hundreds of medical workers across the country have fallen sick and hospitals face dire shortages of protective gear: “We are slowly descending into chaos,” said a trauma physician at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital.
As infections and deaths escalate, what preoccupies the American government?
Last week the Trump administration indicted President Maduro as a drug trafficker, offering a $15m reward for his capture, despite the words of Pino Arlacchi, the former Vice Secretary of the United Nations and Former Executive Director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Arlacchi is reported to have said that the world’s main producer and consumer are Colombia and the United States and Venezuela has always been outside these main cocaine trafficking circuits, adding:
“There is no illegal drug trade between Venezuela and the United States, except in the ill fantasy of Trump and his associates. I have been dealing with the issue of drugs for 40 years and I have never encountered Venezuela”.
Yesterday, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state (above), added further pressure on Venezuela, telling a press briefing in Washington about plans to invite President Nicolás Maduro to cede power to a new transitional government.
Speaking after this news, Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s foreign minister, responded: “Nicolás Maduro was elected in May 2018 for a period of six years. . . he would never betray the trust that the people have put in him twice already.”
Sweeney sees aggressive behaviour towards Venezuela, Cuba, China and Iran as attempts by Donald Trump to ‘cover his inadequacies’ fuelled by fears that Washington is losing its dominant influence on the world stage.
The Financial Times editorial has called for the US and its allies to change course and waive sanctions on Venezuela as US bid for regime change escalates. It argued that the desperate state of Venezuela merits special consideration: the spread of the coronavirus, coinciding with a crash in global oil prices, has deprived Caracas of most of its sole source of legal foreign exchange ending:
“Negotiate a humanitarian programme and focus on health as the coronavirus spreads apace in both countries”.
Part 1: economic ramifications, food security and pandemic bonds
Many of the points highlighted in this article are summarised below. It is published in full here.
Alan Simpson opened: “The delusions of neoliberalism stand at the edge of an implosion just waiting to happen. But, as with the emperor’s new clothes, global leaders are too fearful to say that their economic model has been stripped naked”.
The last week has seen that – following the wild weather – coronavirus and tumbling stock markets are ganging up to form an economic “perfect storm.” It will only get worse.
Initially, the industrial world had only a passing interest in the coronavirus outbreak in China: stupid Chinese, eating the wrong stuff it thought — good job that an authoritarian state could turn a city of millions into a quarantine zone.
Then markets began to panic and central banks are having to intervene
But now Italy has followed suit. In a dramatic, middle of the night statement, the Prime Minister announced the quarantining of a whole region of northern Italy, affecting 16 million people around Milan and Venice. Even this may be too late. The ramifications are massive. Start with China.
- Its output accounts for around a quarter of global manufacturing,
- huge quantities of which are currently stored up in containers that cannot get out of Chinese ports.
- accounts for one quarter of global automotive production
- provides 8% of global exports of automotive components for other manufacturers, many of whom rely on just-in-time assembly processes.
- The same applies to steel and plastics, chemicals and high-tech telecoms.
- Tankers arriving now set off before China went into lockdown. The real shortages will start to kick in this month.
The ripple effect of these logjams is running through the entire industrial economy, including a shortage of available containers themselves.
And when goods don’t flow, nor do payments associated with them. First-world firms struggle to work out how to pay bills (and workers) in the same way that China is having to pay workers to stay at home in quarantined areas.
The UK Treasury official who has just advised that agriculture is unimportant to the UK economy could barely have been more mistaken. Real alarm bells should be ringing all around Parliament about the amount of crops that will rot in the ground of waterlogged fields around the land. How are we to feed the public throughout the coronavirus crisis?
Weather related problems, including flood, drought and fire will throw food production systems crisis, with no globalised supply lines to step in as the safety net. But food security is an issue Parliament has barely touched on.
Why are political leaders reluctant to call what we are facing “a pandemic”?
(WHO) definition of a pandemic is relatively clear. It is “an epidemic or actively spreading disease that affects two or more regions worldwide.” This clearly describes today’s geographical spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus and its significant clusters of cases far from China; principally in Italy and Iran. Countries closer to China, like South Korea, have also experienced an explosion in novel coronavirus infections. And Europe and the US are rapidly catching up.
The World Bank has launched a $12bn fund to help developing nations deal with “the epidemic.” But this is where the politics turns ugly. Behind the scenes, casino spivs stand to lose lots of money if we call this a “pandemic” not an “epidemic.” It all goes back to
In June 2017, the World Bank announced the creation of “specialised bonds” that would fund the previously created Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEFF) in the event of an officially recognised (ie WHO-recognised) pandemic. The high-yield bonds were sold under the premise that those who invested would lose their money if any of six deadly pandemics (including coronavirus) occurred. If a pandemic did not occur before the bonds mature on July 15, 2020, investors would receive what they had originally paid for the bonds along with generous interest and premium payments.
This is why Trump has gone out of his way to pooh-pooh use of the word “pandemic.” If we don’t call it out until after July 15 speculators get paid and it’s the public who then pick up the bills.
The first “pandemic bond” raised $225 million, at an interest rate of around 7%. Payouts are suspended if there is an outbreak of new influenza viruses or coronaviridae (SARS, MERS). The second, riskier bond raised $95 million at an interest rate of more than 11%. This bond keeps investors’ money if there is an outbreak of filovirus, coronavirus, lassa fever, rift valley fever, and/or Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever. The World Bank also issued $105 million in swap derivatives that work in a similar way.
In 2017, $425 million of these “pandemic bonds” were issued, with sales reportedly 200% oversubscribed. For many, they looked more like “a structured derivative time bomb” — one that could upend financial markets if a pandemic was declared by the WHO.
He adds, “And that’s where we are now. Call it a crisis. Call it an emergency. But whatever you do, don’t use the word “pandemic” because it might kill the market”. Concluding that there is no way to magic this crisis away, he says we must manage our way through it as best we can, adding, “But calling a pandemic a pandemic would at least treat countries and communities as human entities, not just chips in casino capitalism”.
8 March 2020
The FT reports that senior executives at several of the largest US banks have privately told the Trump administration they feared the prospect of a Labour victory if Britain were forced into new elections.
It then referred to a report by analysts at Morgan Stanley arguing that a Corbyn government would mark the “most significant political shift in the UK” since Margaret Thatcher’s election and may represent a “bigger risk than Brexit” to the British economy. It predicted snap elections next year, arguing that the prospect of a return to the polls “is much more scary from an equity perspective than Brexit”.
Jeremy Corbyn gave ‘a clear response’ to Morgan Stanley in a video (left) published on social media reflecting anti-Wall Street rhetoric from some mainstream politicians in the US and Europe, saying: “These are the same speculators and gamblers who crashed our economy in 2008 . . . could anyone refute the headline claim that bankers are indeed glorified gamblers playing with the fate of our nation?”
He warned global banks that operate out of the City of London that he would indeed be a “threat” to their business if he became prime minister.
He singled out Morgan Stanley, the US investment bank, for particular criticism, arguing that James Gorman, its chief executive, was paying himself a salary of millions of pounds as ordinary British workers are “finding it harder to get by”.
Corbyn blamed the “greed” of the big banks and said the financial crisis they caused had led to a “crisis” in the public services: “because the Tories used the aftermath of the financial crisis to push through unnecessary and deeply damaging austerity”.
The FT points out that donors linked to Morgan Stanley had given £350,000 to the Tory party since 2006 and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, had met the bank four times, most recently in April 2017. The bank also had strong ties to New Labour: “Alistair Darling, a Labour chancellor until 2010, has served on the bank’s board since 2015. Jeremy Heywood, head of Britain’s civil service, was a managing director at Morgan Stanley, including as co-head of UK investment banking, before returning to public service in 2007”.
A step forward?
In a December article the FT pointed out that the UK lacks the kind of community banks or Sparkassen that are the bedrock of small business lending in many other countries adding: “When Labour’s John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, calls for a network of regional banks, he is calling attention to a real issue”. And an FT reader commented, “The single most important ethos change required is this: publish everyone’s tax returns”:
- In Norway, you can walk into your local library or central council office and see how much tax your boss paid, how much tax your councillor paid, how much tax your politician paid.
- This means major tax avoidance, complex schemes, major offshoring, etc, is almost impossible, because it combines morality and social morals with ethics and taxation.
- We need to minimise this offshoring and tax avoidance; but the people in control of the information media flow, plus the politicians, rely on exactly these methods to increase their cash reserves.
But first give hope to many by electing a truly social democratic party.
Is the rainbow suggesting a new party logo?
The BBC reports today that after President Donald Trump warned North Korea it should be “very, very nervous” if it does anything to the US, Defence Secretary James Mattis warned that armed conflict with North Korea would be “catastrophic” and said diplomacy was bearing fruit. “The American effort is diplomatically led, it has diplomatic traction, it is gaining diplomatic results,” he said.
At a series of intergovernmental conferences starting in 2013, extensive evidence was presented of the enormous ‘humanitarian consequences’ should nuclear weapons ever be used again in war.
One study published by the organisation Article 36 was a detailed analysis of the impacts of a single modern nuclear warhead exploding over a typical city within an industrialised nation. The target was Manchester in the UK as a model medium-sized modern city. The yield of the warhead was 100,000 tonnes (100kT) – similar to many of the smaller warheads deployed by the US, Russia, France and UK.
The immediate impacts of blast from the explosion were estimated using the city’s night-time population. Very conservative casualty estimates were around 210,000 people injured – many very seriously – and around 80,000 killed immediately by blast. Many of those injured would likely die from their injuries. These figures do not take account of injuries due to flash burns arising from the fireball, severe fires or longer term health impacts. Similar casualty figures were found for a warhead exploding at ground level. This would slightly reduce the radius of blast and fire damage but instead would create a long lethal zone of radiation capable of killing and injuring people many miles downwind.
These results are based on widely accepted casualty models and are therefore reasonable minimum estimates of the impacts. A range of humanitarian organisations (including UN agencies and the Red Cross) have concluded that the detonation of just one such weapon near any centre of population anywhere in the world would overwhelm the health infrastructure, making an effective humanitarian response impossible.
One 800kT warhead dropped on a city like Manchester would mean an estimated 240,000 killed and 535,000 injured. On top of this, one would expect large numbers of deaths and injuries due to flash burns, severe fires and conflagrations or even a firestorm. One RS-20 missile with ten such warheads could destroy ten urban areas with total deaths of at least 2.4 million and injuries of at least 5.4 million.
It should also be remembered that these casualty figures would only apply to the (very numerous) medium-sized cities. Nuclear warheads would be much more devastating if targeted on larger cities, such as Shanghai (population: 24m), Moscow (12m), London (8.5m) or New York (8.5m). For example, Moscow would suffer an estimated 760,000 immediate deaths with 2.7m injured from one US Trident Mk-5 warhead. For Shanghai, estimated fatalities are 3m with 4.4m injured.
This devastation would not be the end of the story. The next section looks at the longer-term effects of a nuclear war, in particular, disruption to the global climate, the ozone layer, ecosystems and food supplies.
Exploding nuclear warheads over ‘combustible targets’ such as cities and factories would lead to widespread, intense fires that would inject massive amounts of smoke into the atmosphere leading to the formation of extensive high-altitude smoke clouds. These would cause cooling of the climate in a similar fashion to that observed after very large volcanic eruptions (for example, Krakatoa in 1883), but on a rather larger scale, threatening agriculture and hence food supplies across the world. Other effects included major damage to the ozone layer – which protects humans and ecosystems from damaging ultra-violet rays from the Sun – and the long-lived effects of radioactivity.
The use of greater numbers of larger Russian and US nuclear warheads would cause even higher levels of cooling and greater climate impacts lasting a decade or more. The 1,800 US and Russian warhead scenario would cause a long-lasting cold period with a peak global cooling of 4°C, whilst the full scale nuclear war would cause 8°C. Frosts, drought and monsoon disruption would severely impact crop production for several years.
Finally, levels of nitrogen oxide gas and soot particles created by the nuclear explosions would severely damage the Earth’s protective ozone layer. It has been estimated that 50% of the protective value would be lost. This would increase the levels of ground level ultra-violet radiation and skin cancers amongst any survivors. It would also severely affect waterborne life by damaging phytoplankton which are a key part of the oceanic and freshwater ecosystems and provide a vital food supply for all larger aquatic creatures.
The destruction of vital infrastructure such as health care, water, food and energy supply systems, and a complete disruption of communications and trade, the longer-term consequences for the Earth’s environment would present very severe challenges for all those who survived the initial detonations. Realistically, after a large scale nuclear war, one should imagine a brutalised, traumatised shattered society violently thrown back into a pre-industrial age. Assuming that humanity at large could survive this global catastrophe, any ‘recovery’ would surely be measured in hundreds of years. Even after what has formerly been considered a small scale nuclear war, the consequences would still be dire across the globe, far beyond the conflict zones.
It has to be regarded a shocking indictment of our ‘civilisation’ that current stockpiles of nuclear weapons are sufficient to cause such a global catastrophe.
The fully referenced report may be read here: http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/nuclear-weapons-beginner-s-guide-threats
In a recent post on this site, economist Martin Wolf (FT) was quoted, reminding readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.
He continued: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”. (See MP Dawn Butler, 2nd paragraph)
In similar vein, Jenni Russell writes:
“The president’s actions are more important than his words, and they are a betrayal of his voters
“President Trump is brilliant at diversionary tactics, whether tweets, tantrums, or executive orders that may or may not mean anything in practical terms. His speech to Congress was another in his string of conjuror’s illusions.
“Breitbart and the Trump base adored it for its promises to put American workers first, improve their healthcare, incomes and education, cut their taxes, and protect them from danger abroad and immigrants at home. Trump’s liberal critics were momentarily dazzled to find that for at least an hour the president was capable of addressing the nation in a reasonable, conciliatory tone. But we now know that Trump’s public promises and assertions are so full of contradictions that they cannot be taken either literally or seriously.
“Instead we have to scrutinise the practical consequences of the policies his team is implementing. The effect of these won’t be to transform the lives of the people he swore to champion. They will make the rich much richer at the expense of the middle class and the poor”.
She notes that Trump’s tax plan is overwhelmingly skewed towards the wealthy:
- America’s Tax Policy Centre shows nearly half of the total tax cut will go to the top 1% of taxpayers.
- Almost a quarter will be spent on the richest 0.1%, households that earn above $3.7 million a year.
- The middle fifth of households, earning an average of $65,000, will gain just a thousand dollars.
- Less than 7% of the total cost of tax cuts will be spent on them.
- Because Trump intends to drop tax exemptions for children, some families earning less than $50,000 a year will actually see their taxes rise.
- The budgets for education, childcare and medical research will be slashed by at least 15% per cent.
- Trump proposes to end the state tax, which affects only the top 0.2 per cent of the population.
- His proposed cuts to corporation tax range from 35 to 20%
This surreptitious transfer cannot be what Trump supporters expected
Jenni continues: “Trump’s promise to create jobs through a vast infrastructure plan are equally tilted towards the rich. Investors will be offered tax breaks costing $137 billion to encourage them to invest a trillion dollars in projects that offer potential returns from fees or tolls. And far from bringing jobs to depressed regions, the projects will be skewed towards wealthier areas, because there will be no incentive to invest in areas where there’s no hope of a financial return, like the crumbling roads of the Appalachians”.
Still justified by demonstrably failed trickle down theory
Republicans defend this kind of unbalanced reward as they always have, arguing that the more money individuals keep, the more they will spend and the more everyone will benefit. These policies – in addition to the cuts Trump is demanding to pay for his boom in defence spending – will add huge sums to the deficit and drastically shrink the money available for public programmes. Jenni ends:
“Trump promised to protect his voters but the gulf between what he pledged and what he’s delivering is evident everywhere. His teams are busy dismantling consumer, financial and environmental regulations that prevented ordinary people being fleeced or having their land and water defiled. His supporters stubbornly believe in him but they are being betrayed. There can only be more fear and disillusion to come”.
Meanwhile Wall Street is soaring in anticipation, with the Dow Jones breaking the 21,000 barrier for the first time within hours of the speech. That extra money will overwhelmingly go into the bank accounts of those with the most shares – and the May government now turns from squeezing the disabled to the bereaved, successfully passing drastic cuts in payments for which national insurance contributions had been made and raising probate fees.
*Trumpton and Mayhem: first passing reference made on Our Birmingham website by architect David Heslop, moving towards employee ownership.
Following the summary of yesterday’s article by the Times’ Jenni Russell, a second analysis is made by John Wight in the Huffington Post article. He writes:
“The liberal order has collapsed and no one should mourn its demise, for on its tombstone is engraved the disaster of Afghanistan, the murder of Iraq and Libya, and the unleashing of an upsurge in global terrorism and religious fanaticism on the back of the destabilisation wrought across the Middle East in the wake of 9/11. Married to a refugee crisis of biblical dimension and the closest we have ever been to direct military confrontation with Russia since the Cold War, these are the fruits of this liberal order abroad.
“Meanwhile at home its moral and intellectual conceit has produced obscene levels of inequality, alienation, and poverty, exacerbated by the worst economic recession since the 1930s and the implementation of that mass experiment in human despair, otherwise known as austerity, in response.
“Tony Blair, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton epitomise this failed liberal order – leaders who perfected the art of speaking left while acting right, presenting themselves as champions of the masses, of ordinary working people, while worshipping at the altar of the free market, cosying up to the banks, corporations, and vested interests”.
- Are Brexit and Donald Trump ‘unleashing the dogs of racism and bigotry’ as John Wight fears?
- Is hope in Jeremy Corbyn lost? Wight thinks he failed to understand the danger posed by Brexit and mounted a dispassionate and lacklustre nature of the campaign.
- Was the manner in which Bernie Sanders folded his tent after Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Party nomination in decidedly dubious circumstances was tantamount to a betrayal of the passion, commitment and hope that millions across America had placed in him?
He emphasises that politics is not a mere parlour game and says that both Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are fully deserving of criticism for taking positions and an approach which has suggested that for them it is, continuing:
Agreed, but there are better prescriptions than those he outlines in his final paragraphs.
Jenni Russell sees ‘the anguished question’ as being how to remedy the acute problems of inequality, while keeping the engines of capitalism working.
Should we instead try the engines of co-operation, peacebuilding, mutuality and increasing self-provision?
Belatedly, after decades of growing inequality, the 99% – now able to communicate online – are waking up
An analysis by Jenni Russell, one of the Times’ few gifted and right-minded journalists, is summarised here. She says that it wasn’t the quality of the candidates or the prejudices about gender that mattered most in this campaign. It was the message. Our lives matter:
“That is the message of the Trump revolution, delivered with a roar of anger by people who have had enough of seeing their jobs, communities, identities and futures torn apart by the rapacious currents of unfettered capitalism.
“For 40 years they have been sold the promise that free trade deals and the flows of people and capital around the world will bring them prosperity. Instead their incomes have stalled, industries have collapsed, towns and cities have decayed, unfamiliar faces and cultures have appeared in their streets, and the rich have got much, much richer. Yet no one prioritised their loss and anguish until a billionaire channelled their voice.” . . .
She itemises, that, as union power has collapsed, competition increased and shareholders and managers awarded themselves the lion’s share of income:
- Workers’ pay has risen by 11% in real terms in that time,
- CEO pay has risen by almost 1,000%.
- The top 1% are taking 95 cents in every dollar, compared to 50 cents just 20 years ago.
She moves on to the psychological and cultural price the 99% have been paying: just as in Britain (a reference to Corbyn’s huge backing?) this is a vote to reject an economy that prioritises turmoil and profits over the human need for stability, meaning, community and hope:
“Millions of Trump voters are now clinging, fervently and gratefully, to his vague and airy promises of transformation and security. But the anguished question of how to remedy the acute problems of inequality, while keeping the engines of capitalism working, has so far eluded Nobel economists such as Robert Shiller, the ex-chairman of the federal reserve Alan Greenspan, and President Obama”.
Ms Russell ends by wondering if Trump, who “owns the whole train set now” – ‘an arch-capitalist’ who has filed for bankruptcy multiple times – will have the faintest clue how to deal with it?