Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Last Call For The Worst-Case Scenario

Yes, the US government has a worst-case scenario plan, specifically the post-9/11 US military forces that would be activated on US soil in a national disaster scenario, NORTHCOM, has a number of plans, and pray they are never implemented by Donald Trump.

All of these plans are the responsibility of U.S. Northern Command (or NORTHCOM), the homeland defense military authority created after 9/11. Air Force General O'Shaughnessy is NORTHCOM's Colorado Springs-based commander.

On February 1, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper signed orders directing NORTHCOM to execute nationwide pandemic plans. Secretly, he signed Warning Orders (the WARNORD as it's called) alerting NORTHCOM and a host of east coast units to "prepare to deploy" in support of potential extraordinary missions.

Seven secret plans – some highly compartmented – exist to prepare for these extraordinary missions. Three are transportation related, just to move and support the White House and the federal government as it evacuates and operates from alternate sites. The first is called the Rescue & Evacuation of the Occupants of the Executive Mansion (or RESEM) plan, responsible for protecting President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and their families--whether that means moving them at the direction of the Secret Service or, in a catastrophe, digging them out of the rubble of the White House.

The second is called the Joint Emergency Evacuation Plan (or JEEP), and it organizes transportation for the Secretary of Defense and other national security leaders so that they can leave the Washington area. The Atlas Plan is a third, moving non-military leaders – Congressional leadership, the Supreme Court and other important figures – to their emergency relocation sites. Under Atlas, a still- secret bunker would be activated and cordoned, with government operations shifting to Maryland.

The three most compartmented contingencies – Octagon, Freejack, and Zodiac – call upon various military units in Washington DC, North Carolina and eastern Maryland to defend government operations if there is a total breakdown. The seventh plan – codenamed Granite Shadow – lays out the playbook for extraordinary domestic missions that involve weapons of mass destruction. (I disclosed the existence of this plan in 2005, and its associated "national mission force"--a force that is on alert at all times, even in peacetime, to respond to a terrorist attack or threat with the nuclear weapon.)

Most of these plans have been quietly activated during presidential inaugurals and State of the Union addresses, the centrality of the weapons of mass destruction scenario seen in the annual Capital Shield exercise in Washington. Last year's exercise posited a WMD attack on Metro Station. Military sources say that only the massive destruction caused by a nuclear device – or the enormous loss of life that could be caused by a biological agent – present catastrophic pressure great enough to justify movement into extra-Constitutional actions and extraordinary circumstances plans.

"WMD is such an important scenario," a former NORTHCOM commander told me, "not because it is the greatest risk, but because it stresses the system most severely."

According to another senior retired officer, who told me about Granite Shadow and is now working as a defense contractor, the national mission force goes out on its missions with "special authorities" pre-delegated by the president and the attorney general. These special authorities are needed because under regulations and the law, federal military forces can supplant civil authority or engage in law enforcement only under the strictest conditions.

When might the military's "emergency authority" be needed? Traditionally, it's thought of after a nuclear device goes off in an American city. But now, planners are looking at military response to urban violence as people seek protection and fight over food. And, according to one senior officer, in the contingency of the complete evacuation of Washington.

Under Defense department regulations, military commanders are authorized to take action on their own – in extraordinary circumstances – where "duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation." The conditions include "large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances" involving "significant loss of life or wanton destruction of property." The Joint Chiefs of Staff codified these rules in October 2018, reminding commanders that they could decide, on their own authority, to "engage temporarily" in military control in circumstances "where prior authorization by the President is impossible" or where local authorities "are unable to control the situation." A new Trump-era Pentagon directive calls it "extreme situations." In all cases, even where a military commander declares martial law, the directives say that civil rule has to be restored as soon as possible.

"In scenarios where one city or one region is devastated, that's a pretty straightforward process," the military planner told me. "But with coronavirus, where the effect is nationwide, we're in territory we've never been in before."

If things get bad, really, really bad, then yeah, all bets are off.  The military is ready in case multiple local systems or federal government breaks down, and frankly that's a non-zero possibility at this point.

Again, pray these are never used.

Trump Goes Viral, Con't

The White House's "war footing" plan for COVID-19 would take us back to the days of WW II and national mobilization of manufacturing, the era of Rosie the Riveter, and under any other president, I wouldn't hesitate to say "Full Steam Ahead!"  But the person in the White House is Donald Trump.

A federal government plan to combat the coronavirus warned policymakers last week that a pandemic “will last 18 months or longer” and could include “multiple waves,” resulting in widespread shortages that would strain consumers and the nation’s health care system.

The 100-page plan, dated Friday, the same day President Trump declared a national emergency, laid out a grim prognosis for the spread of the virus and outlined a response that would activate agencies across the government and potentially employ special presidential powers to mobilize the private sector.

Among the “additional key federal decisions” listed among the options for Mr. Trump was invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, a Korean War-era law that authorizes a president to take extraordinary action to force American industry to ramp up production of critical equipment and supplies such as ventilators, respirators and protective gear for health care workers.

Shortages of products may occur, impacting health care, emergency services, and other elements of critical infrastructure,” the plan warned. “This includes potentially critical shortages of diagnostics, medical supplies (including PPE and pharmaceuticals), and staffing in some locations.” P.P.E. refers to personal protective equipment.
The plan continued: “State and local governments, as well as critical infrastructure and communications channels, will be stressed and potentially less reliable. These stresses may also increase the challenges of getting updated messages and coordinating guidance to these jurisdictions directly.”

The plan, which was unclassified but marked “For Official Use Only // Not For Public Distribution or Release,” was shared with The New York Times as Mr. Trump escalated his efforts to curb the spread of the virus. After weeks of playing down the seriousness of the pandemic, saying it would miraculously disappear, Mr. Trump began shifting to a more sober tone during a news conference on Friday announcing the national emergency.

Much of the plan is bureaucratic in nature, describing coordination among agencies and actions that in some cases have already been taken, like urging schools to close and large events to be canceled. But its discussion of the Defense Production Act came as lawmakers and others urged Mr. Trump to invoke its powers.

“While the administration’s response has so far lacked the urgency this crisis has called for, there are still steps you can take to mitigate the damage,” Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, wrote in a letter to Mr. Trump on Tuesday. “Invoking the powers vested in the DPA will enable the federal government to step up and take the type of aggressive steps needed in this time of uncertainty.”

Another letter sent last week by 57 House Democrats led by Representative Andy Levin of Michigan made similar points: “During World War II, our country adapted to the demands of the time to produce mass quantities of bombers, tanks, and many smaller items needed to save democracy and freedom in the world. We know what the demands of this time are, and we must act now to meet these demands.”

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, said that Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told him on Tuesday that the Pentagon would provide federal health workers with five million respirator masks and 2,000 specialized ventilators. “The American public is on wartime footing in terms of battling the spread of this disease, and the Pentagon has to be part of the effort to help protect the health and safety of the American people,” Mr. Reed said.

But Mr. Trump said on Tuesday that he was not ready to invoke the Defense Production Act. “We’re able to do that if we have to,” he told reporters. “Right now, we haven’t had to, but it’s certainly ready. If I want it, we can do it very quickly. We’ve studied it very closely over two weeks ago, actually. We’ll make that decision pretty quickly if we need it. We hope we don’t need it. It’s a big step.”

One one hand, Trump invoking the DPA would be a tacit admission that the private sector and capitalism in the US has utterly failed in peacetime, and that the solution of last resort to the final developed and industrialized nation that has rejected the basic health and social safety nets applicable on other continents is massive intervention of federal government power, the likes which haven't been seen in 65 years.

This country used to take pride in things like the Interstate Highway System and the Tennessee Valley Authority, public works projects that put the Hoover Dam and the Kennedy Space Center on the map for all the world to see.

And then 40 years ago we decided the federal government's promise of doing good for all Americans meant it was evil.  All my life I've been told that government was the problem, from Reagan to Newt Gingrich to Rush Limbaugh to Dubya to Matt Drudge to Grover Norquist to Andrew Breitbart to Donald Trump.

Now we need it more than ever.

And that brings us to the other hand, where Trump is already pillaging the government to make himself rich, and giving a man like this control over the entire American economic juggernaut is a recipe for abuse of legendary proportions, a cautionary tale people hundreds of years will be discussing as one of the great failures in world history.

We'll see.

[UPDATE] Trump activated the DPA this afternoon.

President Donald Trump said he is invoking the Defense Production Act, which allows the administration to expedite and expand the supply of resources. Trump did not say specifically what powers he would execute, but the act could allow him to step up production of respirators and other medical equipment.

Trump declined to say how, precisely, the Defense Production Act would be used and he suggested that the administration is still deciding. He said the administration had “targets” for equipment it wanted but did not say what those targets were.

“We need millions of masks,” Trump said. “We need respirators.”

We do.  

Primary Positions, Con't

It's time to start referring to Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and everyone knows it except for Bernie Sanders and his dead-enders.

Joe Biden’s decisive victories in Florida, Illinois and Arizona Tuesday effectively put the Democratic nomination out of reach for Bernie Sanders.

The former vice president won all three states by wide enough margins that he now has a majority of all delegates pledged so far, and more than half of the almost 2,000 he needs to secure the nomination at the party’s national convention this summer.

As in past victories, Biden was propelled by strong support from women, African-Americans, older voters and those who described themselves as moderates or conservatives, according to surveys conducted by the Associated Press. But he also won half of all voters aged 30-44, cutting into Sanders’s claim to younger voters. Sanders still won two-thirds of voters under 30, however.

“It’s clear, I think, the first day of the general election will start tomorrow,” said former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who has endorsed Biden.

With the spreading coronavirus forcing businesses to send workers home and campaigns to abandon traditional rallies and events, Biden delivered televised remarks from his house in Delaware rather than give a victory speech in a crowded ballroom.

He spoke mostly about what the country needs to do to confront the crisis of the pandemic, “calling it a national emergency akin to a war.” But he also made an appeal for unity to the core of Sanders supporters whose votes he’ll need in the general election.
Unity Message

“To the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders, I hear you, I know what’s at stake, I know what we have to do,” Biden said in his remarks. “Our goal as a campaign and my goal as a candidate for president is to unify this party and then to unify the nation.”

Biden won black and Latino voters, white and Asian voters, urban, rural, and suburban voters.  The only category where Sanders actually beat Biden was voters under 30, and you can see by the 40-point margins Biden had in the overall total how much of a difference that made.

It's time for Sanders to wrap it up, but he won't because he didn't four years ago, just like the Hillary PUMAs didn't 12 years ago, because we can't stop spending six or seven months of a contested election year tearing each other down rather than the GOP.

So Bernie will continue to snipe at Biden for four more months while the country literally burns with fever and disease, when instead those resources could be used to go after Trump, but what do I know, I'm just a dude with a blog.


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