Analysis 03-20-2020


Part 1/2 series:

The American Corona Virus Apocalypse – What to Expect and What Could Happen

A month ago, predictions about the course of the Corona virus were varied.  Many insisted it was merely a typical mild winter sickness that would quickly dissipate when the weather got warmer.  Others warned this was a pandemic that could impact the world and how we live for decades.

It seems the pessimists were closer to the mark.  While the death rate has moderated itself in China and other nations in East Asia like Japan and South Korea, the West is experiencing an alarming growth of the disease.

It now appears that the West will have the same widespread problems China had.  Confirmed cases in the West are doubling every two to three days.  Some countries like Italy don’t have the medical infrastructure to handle the serious cases.  And, instead of just targeting the old, the Corona virus is also infecting and killing young people in their 20s and 30s.

In the meantime, all investments from stock to precious metals are losing value.  It appears that the only investment that is holding its value is food and sanitary supplies.  Major companies like Boeing are on the verge of bankruptcy and it appears that employment figures this month will be like those during the worldwide depression of the 1930s.

Fortunately, humans are resilient, and the world will come back – eventually.

So, how will this impact the world superpower – America?  The fact is that recovery will be slow.

Many companies will go bankrupt in the coming months.  And, others will take time to get back on their feet as they must gear up production and rebuild their customer base.  Although the US government is passing legislation to provide economic assistance, most of that will go to paying bills that must be paid despite the lack of sales and paying for sick leave for employees.  Companies may start up production, but there must be a market for their goods and demand for everything from aircraft to automobiles has crashed.  The result will be higher unemployment for a while – unemployment that can lead to civil unrest.

As billionaire Bill Ackman noted about government assistance, “You can’t borrow your way out of the problem. You can’t lend your way out of the crisis.  You have to kill the virus.”

There will be some positives in the long terms for America as this crisis has shown how dependent the US is on Chinese products.  Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, which will bring critical manufacturing back to the US from China.  However, starting up production is something that takes years, not weeks or months.

The most important sector of the economy in this crisis is food – as seen in the empty shelves in American stores as people rushed out to buy food for self-imposed quarantines.  Here the US has an advantage.  Most American food production is in states that have not been seriously hit by the Corona virus.  Population density is low in farm country, so the virus will have problems spreading in the American food belt.  However, the weakness is to be found in the logistics that converts Midwestern wheat into flour and then the loaf of bread on the shelf in New York.  These factories, mills, food processing plants, warehouses, and truck lines are vulnerable to sick workers, food riots, theft, and economic factors.

Another long-term impact is social.  Although many of the lines in stores were orderly, many fights broke out between people over limited supplies of food and sanitary products.  One can only wonder what will happen when there isn’t enough food to go around.

The potential violence will be multiplied by the impact the virus is having on law enforcement, the courts, and prisons.  In order to limit contact with potential Corona virus carriers, law enforcement has been instructed to limit their enforcement actions to serious crime.  Shoplifting, petty crime, drugs, prostitution, and traffic laws will be overlooked in order to limit the chance the police are exposed to the virus.

The change is also found in the courts.  Court cases have been delayed; juries are not being empaneled due to the health risk, and warrants for minor crimes aren’t being issued.

This reduction in law enforcement and justice has been compounded by the release of some prisoners in order to keep prisons from becoming hot spots for the Corona virus.  Hopefully many of those released will go home and try to change their lives.  Unfortunately, many will go back to crime – especially since the chances of being caught and arrested are lower now.

An American Apocalypse?

Apocalyptic movies have been popular entertainment ever since Mad Max.  And, in recent years, these movies have used the theme of worldwide infections.  Popular movies like the Resident Evil series and the Maze Runner trilogy have popularized the idea of an epidemic destroying the world as we know it.

But, is real life beginning to resemble a movie?  Could the scuffles in American stores over toilet paper be just a sample of what may occur if the corona virus epidemic continues to grow at a geometric rate?

It’s not unlikely.  Food riots are common in some nations and the only thing keeping it from happening in America is the abundance of food and its low prices.

However, as Alfred Lewis observed in 1906, “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.”  The same has been observed by others, including the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  While people can deal with other shortages like clothing or gasoline, food is an essential commodity.  And, if there is no food, even the most civilized person will commit a crime to feed themselves or their family.

The American food industry operates on thin profit margins and “just in time” stocking.  Unusual consumer demand, as America has seen in the last few weeks, can quickly empty the shelves.  And, the only way to refill those shelves is a rapid resupply by truck from the local warehouse, which in turn relies on food processors.  Any glitch in transportation, food processing or warehousing can keep shelves empty.

There is also the inflation problem.  The US is seriously looking at economic recovery legislation that will cost over $1 trillion.  And, since there isn’t that sort of money available to the federal government, it will be paid for with the selling of more government debt, which is purchased in large part by the Federal Reserve – using money it has created.  And has been seen in 1920s Germany, 2000 Argentina, and modern-day Venezuela, food supplies are most vulnerable in inflationary times.  Stores with the worst profit margin (usually in the poorer parts of a city) close first.  This, in turn leads to food riots.

Don’t forget that as food becomes scarcer, theft grows.  Hijacking trucks, warehouse thefts, and shoplifting become prevalent as food prices go up and law enforcement looks the other way.

It’s not hard to see food riots becoming common in the Western world.

If food riots come to the US, expect the US military to step in.  Many states have already called up the National Guard and California Governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that the state is prepared to declare martial law.

There are plans for such an eventuality in America.  In 2008, the Army War College issued a report saying that an economic crisis in the US could lead to massive civil unrest that would require the military to intervene to restore order.

Ironically, the military planning for such a civil disturbance is based on the same types of movies that are popular with the movie going public – zombies created by some infection.

As writer observed, “Dystopian movies used to reflect our anxieties, now they reflect our reality, mirroring…how our government views us.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) joined with the Department of Defense (DoD) to use zombies to train government agents in mock military drills.  In 2011, the DoD created a 31-page manual on how to protect America from an attack carried out by zombie forces. In 2012, the CDC released a guide for surviving a zombie plague.

The current plan for a military intervention during civil unrest is outlined in “CONOP 8888.”  According to a Foreign Policy article dated May 13, 2014, the document states, “This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for US Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve “non-zombie” humans from the threat posed by a zombie horde.”

Lest anyone think this was a joke, in the disclaimer section, it states, “This plan was not actually designed as a joke.”  Although zombies are the theoretical enemy, it outlines how the military envisions its role in any unrest.

By basing the study on “enemy zombies,” the Pentagon avoids any political fallout by picking a realistic threat like terrorists, white supremacists, leftists, black nationalists, militias, etc.

Although the Corona virus doesn’t create zombies, the manual does outline how the military will put down a civil uprising that may result from the Corona virus.  Its 6 phases to protect and restore the civilian government and civil peace are: shape, deter, seize initiative, dominate, stabilize, and restore civil authority.

The first step is to increase surveillance, carry out drills, and coordinate with state and local law enforcement.  This transitions into deterrence by recalling military personnel to their duty stations, fortifying military bases, and starting limited combat operations against the enemy.

The military would then shelter all essential government employees at these bases and then deploy troops to control waterways.  Reconnaissance forces would then reconnoiter remaining threats and survey the status of important infrastructure like water, power, and lines of communication.

The last step is restoring civilian authority and assisting them with military forces.  Any opposition hold outs will then be attacked.

Although there is no solid evidence that CONOP 8888 is seriously under consideration, the DoD has ordered troops to stay on base and is quickly moving the 20,000 troops currently in Europe on NATO exercises back to the US – movements that are similar to stage 2 in the plan.  They are also making plans to deploy two Navy hospital ships to Corona virus hot spots in order to care for patients that aren’t infected.  The Army Corps of Engineers is also planning to build temporary hospitals to handle hospital overflows.

But the employment of martial law and the military comes at a cost.  In America, there is a clear line separating the military and law enforcement – a legacy of the days when the United States was a British colony and British soldiers enforced the law.  As a result, any attempt to put the military on the streets to enforce laws will not be greeted with favor in many parts of the country.

Another problem with martial law is that some in government will use the situation to advance their agenda without public debate or legislation.  For instance, in the past week, some anti-gun politicians have used the state of emergency to restrict gun rights.  Many gun owners are concerned that some politicians could use martial law to try to confiscate firearms as they did in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  If that happens, the level of civil unrest will grow into a post-apocalyptic civil war.

What happens next depends on the course of the virus, the actions of health officials, and what politicians – who are trying to balance economic issues and health concerns – will allow.

Although an American Corona virus apocalypse is still an unlikely event, the chances of it occurring are much greater than they were just a few weeks ago.


*Next part 2 : Military Takes