Analysis 08-03-2020

ANALYSIS

US Redeploys its Forces in Europe

 

This week, the American Secretary of Defense Mark Esper outlined the new US European Command Force Posture Policy.  Given the fact that this is a presidential election year and the election is only about 3 months away, it immediately became controversial. Democrats were quick to accuse Trump of appeasing Russia and abandoning Germany as a NATO reliable partner and ally.

The basics of the policy is that about one third of the American forces in Germany will redeploy to forward NATO nations or bases on American soil.

This is not a uniquely Trump Administration move.  These policies were outlined and agreed upon by the Obama Administration many times from 2009 to 2016.  The Readiness Initiative launched in 2014, which was agreed upon by the Heads of State of NATO significantly reinforced NATO’s collective defense.

In 2016, NATO leaders approved a strengthened deterrence and defense posture which led to the forward deployment of NATO units to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.  An outgrowth of the NATO Heads of State meeting in Warsaw in July 2016 was setting up a regional NATO hub in Naples, Italy to strengthen NATO’s southern flank as unrest started to roil the Mediterranean region.

Consequently, the Trump initiatives must be seen in this historical setting.  It moves assets closer to the NATO border with Russia, and, per the 2018 Brussels Summit, allows for a rapid deployment into the NATO Theater within 30 days (the “four thirties” plan).  US military exercises (Defender Europe 2020) earlier this year showed that the US could deploy US based forces into Europe within 30 days.

 

Strategic Needs

One of the reasons for the new National Defense Strategy is the realization that defense goals change as foreign threats evolve, technology improves, and national politics change.  This was seen in the US European Command Review that the SecDef outlined this week.

Obviously one factor is the ongoing NATO relationship with Russia.  While the US and Russia work out a new nuclear treaty, which will impact NATO, some NATO nations like Germany increase their economic ties with Russia, especially regarding energy and natural gas purchases.

Unlike the Cold War era, when NATO focused primarily on European defense, NATO has become an international force.  They were active in the former Yugoslavia, which was part of Europe, but not part of the NATO region.  Their air forces were also active in Libya.

With the growing tensions surrounding Libya and Turkish expansionism, NATO must look south.

There is also the growing Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean.  Now that Russian ships have a warm water port in Syria, Russian ships can deploy longer to the Mediterranean, resupply, and receive needed repairs without returning to their home port.  What was once considered an American lake, is now part of the growing chessboard of the NATO/Russia “Great Game.”

There is also a growing Russian presence near NATO borders.  Russian reconnaissance aircraft, which were rarely seen in the last 30 years are now aggressively testing NATO responses from Great Britain east to Alaska and Canada’s far northern territories.

This aggressiveness by the Russian military has worried some of the newer NATO nations, who still remember being unwilling members of the Soviet bloc.  Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania especially remember that before World War Two, the Western powers allowed them to be occupied by the Soviet Union with no active response.  By moving NATO assets closer to Russia, it not only makes more strategic sense, it also provides strong proof of the NATO guarantee that these nations will not fall under Russian influence again.

 

The Evolving Strategy – the SecDef Speech

Although it can be seen purely in a NATO/European manner, the SecDef speech made it clear that this new strategy fits into the worldwide scope.  He said, “As we’ve entered a new era of Great Power Competition, we are now at another one of those inflection points in NATO’s evolution.”

Although that includes deterring Russia, the SecDef made it clear that it would “improve US strategic flexibility and EUROCOM operational flexibility.”

The plan will reposition about 11,900 military personnel from Germany – from roughly 36,000 down to 24,000.  Of the 11,900, nearly 5,600 service members will be repositioned within NATO countries and approximately 6,400 will return to the US, with many rotating through Europe from time to time.

Some of the rotations are due to equipment not designed for a European battlefield.  Nearly 4,500 members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment will return to the US.  Similar units will start rotating in countries further east, close to the Black Sea, and closer to the Russian border.

This makes tactical sense.  These units employ the Stryker armored vehicle, which was designed during the Clinton presidency for the transition from a Cold War military to one that would operate in the Third World.  It was designed to be lighter and easier to deploy by aircraft and to be more practical on the unimproved roads and bridges of lesser developed nations.

Although faster than a main battle tank, the Stryker was controversial.  It is lightly armored and without additional armor can only protect its occupants from the 14.5 mm Russian heavy machinegun ammunition – and then, only from the front.  The same bullet will penetrate the armor from the side.  However, to be airmobile, the vehicle could not carry more armor, unless it was flown in separately and attached in the combat theater.

The Stryker was considered a temporary measure until Future Combat Systems Manned Ground Vehicles came online.  However, that program was cancelled

The Stryker was a good idea for an era where the US would only be fighting insurgents.  However, it would be of marginal use (outside of reconnaissance or engaging light infantry) in a European theater where main battle tanks would be controlling the battleground.

The strength of the Stryker is its ability to be air lifted into a theater of operations.  By moving the 2nd Cavalry Regiment back to the US, it can still be quickly redeployed to Europe.  However, by remaining in the US, it allows it to be moved quickly to the Western Pacific, which is seeing increased tensions between the US and China.

The plan also will move more military personnel to Italy, which was once the headquarters of NATO southern operations and still has the infrastructure.  This will mean the movement of about 2,000 soldiers from Germany to Belgium and Naples

A fighter squadron and elements of a fighter wing will be repositioned to Italy, which will provide more coverage in the Mediterranean and bring the aircraft closer to the Black Sea area of operations.

While forces are being moved from Germany, which Trump has accused of not fulfilling their NATO obligations, some units are remaining in nations with better relations with President Trump.  The Air Force command in Mildenhall, Britain, will remain there rather than moving to Germany, as was once planned. Britain has a closer working relationship with the US than Germany.

Another part of the European strategy is the activation of V Corps (Fifth Corps).  According to the agreement between President Trump and Polish President Duda last year, the V Corps forward headquarters will be in Poland.  The V Corps had been stationed in Germany until its deactivation in 2013.

Now that President Duda has been reelected, we can expect to see the signing of the necessary Defense Cooperation Agreement that will be the legal basis of the US deployment to Poland.

Although it is uncertain what assets will be assigned to V Corps, it is interesting that in the Defender Europe 2020 exercises earlier this year, the famed First Cavalry Division went to Poland to set up a temporary headquarters.  The 1st Cav, as it is called, is one of America’s most powerful mechanized units and although it will remain stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, it is expected to frequently rotate some of its units through Eastern Europe as part of V Corps.

 

Conclusion

What does this US European Command Force Posture Policy accomplish?

By shifting some units away from Germany and closer to the border of Russia, it has improved deterrence.  If something happens in Europe, the units that will be asked to fight will be close to the expected area of operations.

By stationing the V Corps in Poland, the US is rewarding Poland, who is one of the few NATO countries to meet its commitments.  And, since Poland has the largest tank force of any European NATO nation, it creates a potentially powerful counterforce to the Russian Army.

Shifting forces to Italy recognizes that the southern flank of NATO is much more unstable than it once was.  With unrest in Libya, Syria, Turkey, and the Eastern Mediterranean, the additional air power will help offset the lack of American naval assets in the region and provide more of a counter to the Russian Fleet.

Shifting US military units to Italy also allows them to be better positioned to assist the US African Command.

Admittedly, there is some politics involved.  Germany, whose relations with Trump are not that good, loses more about 12,000 American soldiers who help boost the local economy.  However, it must be admitted that Germany isn’t the “front line” nation that it was during the Cold War.  A conflict with Russia will start hundreds of miles east of Germany, not on the German border.

Britain will be rewarded by keeping the major American Air Force Base in Mildenhall.  Britain has kept its NATO commitments and by helping Britain in Europe, it allows Britain to keep more assets in and around the South China Sea.

And the close relationship between the US President Trump and the British Prime Minister Johnson also helps.

The US European Command Force Posture Policy also gives the US more worldwide flexibility.  As tensions grow between the US and China, there is a need to be able to quickly move American military units into the Western Pacific.  However, there is still the need to keep the units within quick reach of Europe.

By stationing more units in the US, Trump can keep his promise of bringing more American soldiers back home.

However, there is a strategic advantage.  US military units stationed in the US lie halfway between the NATO Theater and the Western Pacific Theater.  They are better able to respond to the situation in either Europe or The Western Pacific.

Positioning within the US also allows the units to play to their strength.  Light mechanized units like those who use the Stryker vehicle can deploy faster from the US than units that are stronger but use main battle tanks like the M-1 Abrams that require shipment by sealift.  The more powerful units can deploy in a rotating manner, often using redeployed tanks that are permanently stored in Europe.

Although the new US European Command Force Posture Policy will be politically controversial in this election year, To Trump supporters, it makes sense for a nation that has major obligations in Europe and the Pacific.  Repositioning the military assets must eventually be based on sound military thinking, not short-term politics.

Analysis 07-29-2020

ANALYSIS

Trump Strategy on Use of Federal Law Enforcement

 

The US is currently debating President Trump’s decision to use federal law enforcement police, claiming that it is necessary to protect Federal property in cities where the current political leadership is unwilling to provide that protection.  It has led to charges by his opponents that he is trying to federalize law enforcement and will use these forces to stay in the White House if he loses in November.

As is the case in many of these situations, there is no clear answer.  There are a lot of political considerations in the charges.  Some of it has been settled in landmark legal cases over the last two hundred plus years.  And some have been settled on the battlefield during the American Civil War.

When the American colonies won their independence from England, England recognized each of the 13 colonies as an independent, sovereign nation.  The signing of the US Constitution, which formalized the current United States, recognized the individual sovereignty of each state in addition to the sovereignty of the federal government.

Sovereignty was clearly split.  The 10th Amendment of the US Constitution clearly gave all powers not enumerated by the constitution to the states and the people.  However, the Supremacy Clause in Article 6, Clause 2 says federal laws take priority over state laws, providing they do not contravene the Constitution.

Several states signed the Constitution, while making it clear that they reserved the right to leave the United States, if they found this document to be too burdensome.  This was the legal rationale for the succession of the states before the Civil War.  In fact, this same issue was the legal justification for the opening shots of the Civil War on Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay – that the federal government had illegally reinforced the fort without state approval.

The Union victory over the Confederacy settled the issue and courts recognized the reality of that victory in several cases.

However, the concept of where federal law and state law conflicted remains an issue.  After the federal siege of Ruby Ridge in Idaho in 1992, the issue came up, when an Idaho prosecutor indicted an FBI agent for manslaughter for killing the wife of Randy Weaver.  The federal court assumed jurisdiction in the case and dismissed the case because the FBI agent was a federal agent.  However, later the Federal Court of Appeals held that he could be charged under state laws.

The Supreme Court also ruled in the 1990s that state and local law enforcement were not required to spend money or effort to enforce federal law.  This gave local police the rationale to ignore the defense of federal property.

The result is that the issue of federal enforcement of laws and cooperation is a quilt work of precedents.  Federal and local law enforcement usually cooperate unless local politicians disagree with a federal law.  An example is “illegal” immigration, where some cities and states expressly forbid the local police from cooperating with the federal government.

This is the background behind the current controversy.

The issue came up first in Portland, Oregon, which is very Democratic and progressive.  They have had Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and clashes almost every night for two months.  These protests included coordinated attempts to control federal buildings, which overwhelmed the local federal protective agents.  Trump said the situation in Portland was “Worse than Afghanistan.”

In one instance, the federal courthouse was set afire by protesters on Wednesday night, they were angry by the detaining of some protesters by the federal agents sent by Trump, and after the Department of Homeland Security sent teams in to reinforce the local agents.

The DHS teams came in without warning the governor, mayor, or local law enforcement.  They also came in heavily armed like soldiers, not policemen.

The state went to federal court to seek a restraining order to stop the federal teams from detaining Oregonians.

Stories quickly spread that these agents were taking protestors off the street without arrest warrants or identifying themselves (unconstitutional behavior).  They were also charged with using less than lethal weapons that can seriously hurt protestors.

This week, Trump announced that he was going to send other teams of federal agents to other cities with “lawlessness problems”.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress called for investigations into the Portland events and the legality of Trump’s moves.

One of the cities to receive federal agents will be Chicago, which saw the shooting of 15 people at a funeral just this week.  Despite that, the mayor, a Democrat, was not interested in additional help from the Federal government.

Meanwhile the District Attorney of Philadelphia threatened to arrest federal agents if they came to town.

“Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults, and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office.”

Speaking about Trump, he went on to say, “He has an agenda.  It is a strictly political, racist, divisive, fear-based fictional agenda.  All this stuff comes out of the fascist playbook.  All of this stuff comes out of the white supremacist playbook.”

However, he did admit that federal agents have great flexibility to travel to cities if they obey the law.

Trump supporters responded “but he didn’t mention that his city has major crime problems.  230 people have been murdered in Philadelphia this year – up 28% from last year.  The city has also had nearly 1,000 shootings this year too”.  According to them “these are the types of statistics that can encourage independents to vote for Trump and his pro-police position”.

Democrats obviously do not agree.  Elizabeth Goiten of the Brennan Center for Justice said this was a pretext to have federal agents supplant local police.

“In short, the use of secret federal paramilitary forces in Portland (and soon Chicago and likely other cities) is every bit the abuse of power that it appears to be.  And it is an abuse we can expect to see again in November if the administration isn’t called to account,” she tweeted.

Is this being a rehearsal for November?

First, we have no idea of what violence may take place in November after the elections.  Both sides seem agitated and the potential for protest and violence by both sides is real, especially if it is a close election with the winning margin being decided in the courts or by absentee ballots.

But there is a question if these paramilitary police teams will side with Trump if he is trying to remain in power.

Probably not.  These statements are aimed to encourage the Democratic voter base.

America has gone into overdrive during the past few months when it comes to charges of racism.  While most people supported BLM after the events in Minneapolis, there are concerns after the violence of the last two months.  Trump is counting on many voters, especially White and middle-class voters, to show less support for the BLM movement.

Trump’s calculation is based on his desire to repeat the 1968 situation, when riots and protests led to the victory of the “law and order” presidential candidate Richard Nixon. He is wishing that supporting peaceful protest and opposing violence is a good way to win elections, while supporting the radical protestors is a nearly guaranteed way to lose.

Supporting law and order is clearly Trump’s strategy.  On Wednesday, he approved Operation Legend to tamp down lawlessness in some of America’s biggest cities.  The operation is named after Legend Ruggiero, a four-year-old who was shot and killed while he slept.  Trump was joined by the Ruggiero family in the White House.

The issue according to Trump is not just protests, but an increase in murders and shootings. As the election date approaches, it is not certain whether this strategy will work while his failure to confront Coronavirus is dominating the news forcing him to cancel holding the GOP convention in Florida.

 

Analysis 07-21-2020

ANALYSIS

Sino American Relations Continue to Sour

 

If anyone thought that Chinese American relations could not get worse, they were wrong, as President Trump and the State Department ratcheted up pressure on the Chinese government.This week, the US State Department released a press release on the change in US government policy.  The document stated, “We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign to control them.”

The day after making the South China Sea announcement, Trump signed an executive order (Hong Kong Autonomy Act) that eliminated trade benefits for Hong Kong as long as Mainland China continued its “draconian” actions against the people of that former British colony.

That was followed by the State Department’s imposition of visa restrictions on Chinese corporate executives like Huawei who “facilitate human rights violations”.

“Get out or risk the consequences,” Secretary of State Pompeo said, referring to the new sanctions on China.

Pompeo is heading to Europe next week to discuss China’s treatment of Hong Kong with American allies.

China responded by summoning the US Ambassador to “solemn representations” by Vice Foreign Minister Zeguang.

China said, “This is a gross interference in China’s internal affairs and seriously violated international law.”

These moves have raised anew concerns about a military conflict with China.  Potential Secretary of Defense in a Biden Administration Michele Flournoy wrote in Foreign Affairs that the two nations could, “all too easily stumble into conflict.”

Flournoy warned that China has focused on asymmetric tactics that are “designed to prevent the United States from projecting military power into East Asia in order to defend its interests or allies.”

She continues, “The United States can no longer expect to quickly achieve air, space, or maritime superiority.”

 

The USS Bonhomme Richard Fire

Nothing demonstrates the thin line between deterrence or inability to project power as this week’s fire onboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious ship that has the capability of a light aircraft carrier.  It is a Wasp Class Amphibious Assault ship and its name is one of the most honored in the US Navy – going back to Revolutionary War.  The Captain of the original Bonhomme Richard was the Revolutionary War hero of the US Navy, John Paul Jones.

The ship was undergoing a modernization before being deployed once again in the Western Pacific, where it would undoubtedly come face to face with the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea.

The fire started early Sunday morning.  As only about 160 sailors of the 1,000 crew were onboard, the fire quickly overwhelmed the firefighters and they were withdrawn.  The fire has raged over 4 days, making it the most damaging fire in the history of the US Navy – surpassing the fire on the USS Forrestal during the Vietnam War over 50 years ago.

At this time, there are questions about how the fire started.  It began in a storage area, where there was no work being done.  Any work that required high temperatures (welding, etc.) has a “fire watch” that can quickly put out a fire.

Although spontaneous combustion can take place, it is rare and is usually quickly limited due to the compartmentalization of navy ships.  Journalists have noted that there are cables and other lines used in the repair and modernization process that could keep hatches from being closed, but they are usually limited to the actual work area, not storage in remote parts of the ship.

As the fire comes under control, the major question is if the ship can be repaired or if it will have to be scrapped.  At a press conference on Tuesday, the Navy was optimistic.  It appears that the four engine room compartments were not damaged.  And, although temperatures inside the ships may have reached 1,000 degrees, there is no evidence that the damage will be serious enough to scrap the ship.

The final answer will only be made after a Survey Team goes onboard to make an evaluation.

Even if the ship can be brought back into active service, much will have to be done.  The ship’s “island,” where the bridge and air operations control are, were made of aluminum to decrease topside weight.  These melted in the fire and will have to be replaced.  There will also have to be replacement of cables, electronics, and structural items.  The repairs could take a couple of years.

However, it is not uncommon for heavily damaged ships to be put back into operation.  The battleship USS West Virginia was sunk at Pearl Harbor in WWII but was a flagship at the D-Day landings in 1944.

If the ship is more seriously damaged, it will have to be scrapped, with many of its components like the gas turbine engines being removed to be spare parts.  Since the ship is already 22 years old, the cost of repair (versus the cost of replacement) may not make it economical in the long run.

If the ship is scrapped, it may very likely be replaced by the newer America Class amphibious ship which came out of the shipyards beginning in 2014.  These are like the Wasp Class that the USS Bonhomme Richard belongs to but has more space for aviation operations and less for amphibious operations.

Although frequently seen in the role of a light carrier, the Wasp Class of ships are designed to embark, deploy, and land a Marine landing force.  Although they can deploy a squadron of Harrier jump jets or the new F-35 fighter aircraft, it designed to primarily support helicopters.  In fact, one of the reasons for the current upgrade was to make the flight deck (designed for helicopters) more resistant to the high temperatures of F-35 operations.

In the role of an amphibious assault ship and a light carrier, the LHD ships are an ideal ship for the Western Pacific operations.  Not only can they carry out anti-submarine operations with its helicopters, it can use the F-35 for ground support or limited air superiority operations.  Then they can land a force of Marines to capture some of the islands the Chinese have either constructed or enlarged in the last few years.

This combination of roles makes the USS Bonhomme Richard and its sister ships a real threat to Chinese power in the South China Sea.

In fact, the Chinese Navy is undoubtedly happy that the Bonhomme Richard is out of commission for a couple of years.  In fact, apart from America’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, these amphibious ships pose the biggest threat to the Chinese Navy and its controlled islands.

All this does raise the question, “Was the fire a case of sabotage?”

Sabotage during shipyard availability periods has always been a threat.  Shipyard workers are not as carefully vetted as the sailors and moving the crew off the ship during these periods makes it easier to avoid scrutiny.  Frequently, ships order their commissioned officers to make random walks through the ship 24/7 to prevent potential sabotage or theft of equipment.  Workers are also teamed up with sailors who stand as a fire watch while much of the work is done.  All this limits the risk of sabotage.

However, there are some issues that make the potential of sabotage possible.

The first was the location of the fire.  It was in the stern of the ship, where no work was being done.  The storerooms contained supplies that would be airlifted to Marines on the beach.  The supplies were palletized and covered in a heavy cardboard called triwall.

Usually, storerooms not being used are closed and locked to prevent unauthorized access and to limit the spread of fire.

In this case, the fire was able to spread quickly – something that should not have happened under normal procedures.

The timing of the fire is also suspicious.  It occurred early Sunday morning, a time when there were few crewmen onboard to observe unauthorized activity or fight the fire.  Ironically, the time was like the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which was planned to hit the US Navy at its most vulnerable time.

Could China have been involved?  There is no evidence to indicate that.  However, sabotage is now a legitimate foreign policy tool, as seen in the recent series of explosions at sensitive military bases in Iran.

China has penetrated many sectors of the US economy and there have been arrests of Americans (some highly respected scientists) who have been working for the Chinese.  It is not unthinkable that the Chinese would be able to find willing accomplices in the San Diego shipyard.   These sources would be able to inform the Chinese of shipboard modernization, readiness of navy ships, and the status of repairs.

If the Chinese felt that taking out a ship like the Bonhomme Richard was critical to its strategy in the South China Sea, it could have probably been able to do it.

However, that does not make sabotage the most likely cause.  In recent years, the US Navy has had several public failures like the Corona Virus outbreak on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which put it out of operation for a couple of months.

There were also several Navy collisions with commercial ships in the Pacific.  These collisions were finally blamed on the lack of training of junior officers.

Is it possible that damage control training has deteriorated in the US Navy?

A review of current Officer Candidate School (OCS) damage control training seems to indicate that the scope and intensity of the training has declined over the years.  In the past, most junior officers were given realistic training in preventing a ship from sinking and fighting a fire onboard.  A newly commissioned naval officer now only has one day of training in preventing a ship from sinking and no practical training in onboard firefighting.

In other words, many of the crewmembers onboard the Bonhomme Richard when the fire started were untrained in realistic firefighting.

Traditionally the US Navy has had a reputation of “Not giving up the ship.”  Ships that would have sunk if in another navy were kept afloat thanks to the rigorous damage control training once required in the US Fleet.  The idea that a navy ship could still be on fire for four days, while pier side would have been unthinkable.

Ironically, the first USS Bonhomme Richard caught fire and eventually sank from damage caused during combat in 1779.  However, it sank only after capturing the larger and more powerful British ship HMS Serapis

 

Analysis 07-14-2020

ANALYSIS

The Rise of Black Militias:

Americans Worrying about Violent Overthrow of US Government

America has a 244 year   old tradition of peaceful transition of power.  Even when incoming and outgoing presidents have had serious political disagreements, such as Trump and Obama, the transition took place peacefully at noon on January 20.

With the current nationwide violence, Americans are beginning to worry about violence marring the transition of power.

A recent Rasmussen poll shows half of American voters worried that a violent overthrow of the US government will be attempted in the next ten years.  The” Just the News” poll by Rasmussen showed 18% thinking it is very likely and 32% thinking it is somewhat likely.  The poll was taken over July 2 – 4.

“This was a surprise,” Scott Rasmussen said.  “Upon reflection, though, it probably shouldn’t have been.”

Rasmussen noted that although the gap between Democrats and Republicans is modest, Republicans are more likely to expect such violence.  This may be due to a perception among some that the current unrest is heading in that direction.

Many Republicans fear the left will respond with violence if Trump is reelected.  Many Democrats fear the same thing if Trump is defeated.

Those most convinced that there would be violence were younger demographics – 25 to 44 years of age.  Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to see violence in the future than whites.  Those who were very liberal or very conservative were also more likely to see a violent future.

In what should be a worry, with the unemployment caused by the Corona virus at historical levels, nearly two thirds of the unemployed saw a violent overthrow in the next ten years.  Those who made less money also agreed with that assessment.

This violence was a subject of President Trump’s Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore on July 3rd. He attempted to deflect criticism directed at him of instigating violence,  “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities,” Trump said.  “American people strong and proud, and they will not allow our country and all of its values, history, and culture to be taken from them.”

 

The Growth in Gun Purchases

That fear of violence has shown itself in the boom in firearms purchases in the past few weeks.  June 2020 saw the largest number of FBI firearms purchase background checks in history.  Handgun sales were up 177% over 2019 and rifle sales were up by 114%.  In total, more than 2.3 million firearms were sold in June 2020 – this in a nation that already has more than one firearm for every person in the nation.

According to anecdotal evidence, many rifle sales were for the popular AR-15, the civilian version of the US military rifle.

Ammunition has also been leaving the shelves of gun stores as Americans prepare for the worse.

Another interesting demographic about these increased gun sales is the first-time buyer.  While many previous gun sales have gone to current owners of firearms, in 2020 over 2 million Americans became first time gun owners.  Firearms retailers said about 40% of their guns sales are now first-time buyers.  Women, traditionally a minor firearm purchasing demographic, represented 40% of the first time buyers.

Another changing demographic is the ethnicity of gun owners.  Traditionally Whites have had the highest rate of gun ownership.  Hispanics and Blacks were less likely to own firearms.   Percentage Black ownership of firearms was only 2/3s that of Whites.  Hispanics owned less than half the guns Whites did in terms of percentage.

That is changing as Blacks are seeing the advantages of gun ownership.

 

The Rise of Black Militias

The idea of Black ownership of firearms has become more popular.  While some of these new gun owners have joined traditional gun organizations like the National Rifle Association, there are a growing number of Black gun organizations.  While some focus on the sporting aspect or Second Amendment politics, some are also focused on political aspects.

One group, the National African American Gun Association wants to fight the negative stereotype of a black with a gun.  While supportive of law enforcement, they worry that too many White police are likely to shoot a Black man lawfully carrying a firearm.

A dramatic change in how the Black community views firearms and their uses in self-defense was seen happened last weekend in Atlanta, Georgia.  A Black militia called NFAC (Not F**king Around Coalition) marched to Stone Mountain, the site of a Confederate memorial to protest.  The protest was peaceful.

 

Stone Mountain celebrates the three major persons of the Confederacy – President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.  Their portraits have been chiseled into the side of the mountain.  In the past, the site has been used by White supremacist groups like the KKK.  Some have called for its destruction.

NFAC Militia July 4, 2020, Atlanta Georgia

 

 

The leader of NFAC is a hip-hop music artist called John Jay Fitzgerald Johnson – known as Grandmaster Jay.

“Our initial goal was to have a formation of our militia in Stone Mountain to send a message that as long as you’re abolishing all these statues across the country, what about this one?”

Grand Master Jay also commended Stone Mountain police for allowing them to exercise their constitutional rights on July 4th.

“It was all Black … there were no brown people, no white people… everyone was Black. I am not a protester, I am the commanding general of my militia, we were swearing in new members,” he added.

It makes sense that a Black militia would form after the creation of so many right-wing militias.

However, the contrast to the White militias seen was dramatic.

While most White militias are small, the NFAC group was large and organized, Jay claimed in an interview that he is commending about 12000 members. Its 200 members marched in formation in black uniforms, while carrying rifles.  Georgia is a “open carry” state where citizens can carry firearms if they have permission.  NFAC said they checked to make sure persons carrying firearms had their permits before they could march.

According to Jay, many members are former military.  The political belief of the militia is Black Nationalism and their religious belief is Black Hebrew Israelites.  They claim that they are not affiliated with Black Lives Matter or organizations like the Black Panthers.  There are videos of them holding firearms practice in the past.  Many carry semiautomatic AR-15s.

The Southern Poverty Law Group has designated them a Black extremist hate group.

The NFAC said that although they only intend to protect the Black community, they are more than willing to fight White supremacist groups like the KKK.

However, there appears to be little chance of a firefight between White and black militias soon.

The NFAC still needs training (photos show many of the NFAC unit not familiar with their firearms – something that can be solved with a few days of training), while the right wing militias are focusing on limited missions like protecting monuments and memorials in their locality.  The two groups are also in different localities.  The black militias are in inner cities, while the right-wing militias are usually rural.  A conflict is unlikely unless one invades another’s territory.

The NFAC is unlikely to deploy in a 200-person unit.  What was seen on July 4thwas a publicity stunt to gain members around the nation.  Instead, the NFAC will probably engage in guerilla actions that use 5 to 10 person squads.  Tactics will be like those used in Rhodesia, former Yugoslavia, or during the Dirty War in Argentina.

However, the appearance of a large Black militia means that the unrest in America is moving into the next stage.  All sides are sure that major civil war is in the future and are gearing up by creating their own military units.

While the voices of confrontation are growing, it seems like the voices of moderation are growing fainter.


NFAC Militia

 

 

Analysis 06-19-2020

ANALYSIS

The Militia Movement in America

After keeping out of sight for much of Trump’s presidency, the American militia movement is making itself felt.  In the last few weeks, the Michigan militia protected monuments in Hillsdale, Michigan and others were involved in a shooting in New Mexico, as protestors tried to tear down a statue.  In addition, an Air Force sergeant who is accused of shooting a Federal Security Officer in Oakland, CA. is reputed to be associated with an extremist group.

Most of the recent activity by the militia is directly related to the current spate of unrest across the country.  However, the history of the American Militia movement goes back to the settlement of America.

Militias were begun as a protection against raiding bands of Native Americans.  Each male settler was required to have a firearm and practice with it on a regular basis.  A century later, the militias were called upon to assist the British Army in the North American battles of the Seven Years War (called the French and Indian War in North America).

The golden moment of the American militia movement was on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord.  There, 77 American militiamen were present at Lexington when the shooting began.  By that afternoon, hundreds of armed Americans were shooting at the British as they retreated towards Boston.  By that evening, reports of the time say that about 15,000 American colonists were besieging the British in Boston.

Months later, they would cause the British Army to sustain serious casualties at the Battle of Bunker Hill

It was this militia army that was the first American Army.  General George Washington was assigned by the Continental Congress to take command of them.

Unfortunately, the performance of the militias after these first skirmishes was not as memorable.  They were known for refusing to join battle and even leaving the field of battle in later fights with the British.  But their reputation had been established.

No doubt, the militia’s role in the Revolutionary War was a factor for the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which specifically mentioned the need of a “Well-regulated militia” as a reason for Americans to have the right to own firearms.

Militias continued their role as units in future wars like the War of 1812 (part of the Napoleonic Wars) and the American Civil War.  However, they died out as the need for a professional army was seen.

The modern militia movement started in the1980s and grew in the 1990s with the government attacks at Ruby Ridge and Waco.  They were seen by the Clinton Administration’s Department of Justice as relatively harmless as they are reactive, not proactive.

While the militia movement grew during the Obama years, they started to decline in the Trump years.

In recent years, the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified a couple of hundred militia groups.  Most are statewide and very few are national in character.

Militias see themselves as aiding local communities.  However, they do make it clear that they see themselves as a potential insurrectionist force if circumstances call for it.

The reality is that these militias are more of an armed presence than an actual military force.  Although many have former military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, each militia has a separate command structure and disagreements on tactics are frequent.  Each militia group also has differing agendas – ranging from simply protecting local citizens to seeking an armed confrontation with federal agents.

They also have communications and other logistical gear necessary for sustained operations.

Little is known about these groups.  The foremost of these is Oath Keepers, a group of about 3,000 who are either former or serving military members or police, who have sworn that they will not obey unconstitutional orders given by the government.

Oath Keepers created a high profile for itself in the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014 because their headquarters are in Las Vegas and their nationwide network of members was able to quickly funnel money and supplies to the people at the Bundy Ranch.  Although not an actual militia, the presence of armed Oath Keepers and their visibility gained a lot of attention for the organization.

Several other militias exist, although their numbers are unknown – although they undoubtedly number less than an infantry company.  Other militia groups include the West Mountain Rangers, 912 Movement, and the III%.  In most cases, the numbers from each group probably are probably less than a dozen, although many supporters provide logistical support when necessary.

To limit infiltration by federal agents – something that was common in the Obama years – units are usually limited to a dozen or fewer members and usually consist of people who have known each other for years.  However, there are larger units.

Most states have statewide militias that even have websites on the internet.  The size depends on effective leadership and the politics of the day.  Most are conservative – ranging from pro-Trump to small government activists who see Republicans and Democrats as equally bad.  They have been involved in patrolling the US/Mexico border to prevent illegal immigration.  Some deployed at the Bundy Ranch in 2014.  Several units across the country have also deployed recently to protect monuments that have been threatened by protestors.

Many militias work with each other in training exercises.  Some even have leadership and “War College” training for potential militia leadership.

Not all militias are right wing.  A growing number are more radical and have either Marxist or anarchist political beliefs.

Some units have tried to create a nationwide presence, with more assets than a handful of semi automatic firearms.  One such unit is the Colonial Marine Militia, which deployed a mechanized unit to Hillsdale, Michigan last week.  The mechanized unit was the 8th Mechanized Regimental Combat Command, the Colonial Marine Militia.  The unit fielded 18 armored vehicles last week at Hillsdale.

The Colonial Marine Militia concept was established in the1980s by US Marine Corps veterans.  It was formed in Indiana and has grown to include units in 48 states.  They are based on the Regimental Combat Team concept which means each unit is self-sufficient with elements of logistics, communications, and medical support.  This gives them the ability to deploy across the nation at short notice.

There are currently 116 Colonial Marine Militia Regimental Combat Teams, with 49 cadres available for expansion.  There are four training commands and supporting arms that include mechanized and light artillery like mortars.  They also include airborne assets for airborne resupply and small airborne assaults. 

The Colonial Marine Militia also has an air force of cargo aircraft and even small jet powered aircraft that could be used in a tactical situation.

This may seem to be a unique threat to the US government; however, there have been such threats since the beginning of the nation.  Patriotic organizations, called “democratic republican societies” were formed, which were viewed as subversive by the federal government.  President Washington would later write, “I early gave it as my opinion to the confidential characters around me, that if these societies are not counteracted (not by prosecutions, the ready way to make them grow stronger)… they would shake the government to its foundation.”

Although these rebellions may lose, they do have the ability to change government.  For instance, the Whiskey Rebellion changed the complexion of the political landscape and led to the creation of the two-party system in America and led to the election of Thomas Jefferson.

Although the 1794 incident was a vastly larger rebellion than the current standoff in Seattle, the situations share important parallels including the use of what many people in each situation considered the disproportionate use of force by the government.  It also reflects the differing political views of the people in the more progressive, urban parts of the country and those in more conservative rural areas.  In this case, it was the rural parts of the country that rebelled.

The rebellion began in 1791 when Congress passed an excise tax on distilled whiskey with the firm backing of President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s plan was to federalize the debt accumulated by the states during the Revolutionary War and pay it off through a variety of measures, including domestic taxation. On top of that, Hamilton wanted to fund a more widespread extension of government investment in the new country’s military and infrastructure. The tax was excessively high–about 25 percent of the value of each gallon of whiskey.  It encountered almost immediate opposition.

Opposition was fierce on the western frontier (then around Pittsburgh, PA), where farmers would turn excess corn into whiskey.  Not only was whiskey cheaper to transport over the dirt roads, in the money starved west, it was used as a form of money.  In addition, frontier people rarely saw the benefits of federal spending.  In a quote vaguely similar to the statements coming from supporters of the militia movement, one westerner wrote, “To be subject to all the burdens of government and enjoy none of the benefits arising from government is what we will never submit to.”

Western Pennsylvania rose up.  In four western counties of Pennsylvania, excise officers were terrorized; the Pittsburgh mail was robbed; federal judicial proceedings were stopped; and a small body of regular troops guarding the house of General John Neville, excise inspector for western Pennsylvania, was forced to surrender to the rebels.

Historian John Miller would later write that Hamilton “knew that he was committing the government to a trial of strength with Westerners, but he deliberately courted the contest” to display the power and legitimacy of the federal government. Goaded by Hamilton, Washington assembled one of the largest armies built in America up until that time. The president, with the treasury secretary by his side, would lead this force from the capitol in Philadelphia into the wilds of western Pennsylvania.  The size of the assembled army was astounding given the threat.

This force, called the “Watermelon army” by detractors, ended up arresting 30 rebels without any resistance.  Although the rebellion was quashed, the political damage was enormous.

Some Americans viewed the sudden expansion of government power as a blow to the principles fought for during the Revolution, and worried about a government quick to pull the trigger on legitimate freedom of assembly and protest.  The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, attacked the excise tax as an “infernal tax” and said that the “conduct of the ‘rebels’ was no worse than riotous.” He and many others called for an elimination or reduction of the hated tax.

From the scattered protests of leaders like Jefferson and others, a new party was formed to oppose the administration. Panicked Federalists, sensing the rise in support for “Republican” opposition, started to become more repressive in their tactics. Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 under President John Adams in response to the Republican protest during the short “Quasi War” with France, which severely curtailed civil liberties. The acts targeted Jefferson’s supporters. The political storm was growing, and Jefferson and Madison wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, calling out the laws as unconstitutional and repressive.

The Resolutions became a political platform for the new party, and a massive wave of supporters was swept into office in 1798. That year’s election became known as the “Revolution of ‘98” and marked a major change in American politics.  Jefferson was elected president in 1800 and he appointed Albert Gallatin, who had spoken up for the rights of the western farmers, as his treasury secretary.  By tapping into these “patriot” societies of the time, he was able to politically establish a political counterbalance to the Federalist Party.

Although the political parties of that time have disappeared, they have set up the continuing philosophical differences of the two parties of today – one calling for more federal control, and one calling for more state and local control.

 

Are the Militias a Real Threat?

Given the size of the US military, it seems that the militia movement would be little threat to the US government.  However, it must be remembered that the US military has been in Afghanistan for nearly a generation and still has not won.

Although the military has better equipment, the militia and its supporters have the US military vastly outnumbered and can field more firearms.  In fact, there are more hunters out on the first day of deer hunting in Pennsylvania than are in the American Army.  Although the militia does not have machine guns, many firearms experts say semi automatic firearms are more accurate and use less ammunition.

The problem that the US Army faces is that they cannot be everywhere.  Most of their assets would be used to protect vital government installations like military bases and Washington DC.

Local police are also limited, as is being seen in the current protests. If the police can’t handle the rocks that are being thrown at them, they will be hard pressed to handle militias with training and experience from Afghanistan and Iraq.

At this point in time, the militia is in a reactive mode.  A study of militia websites seems to confirm that militias are gearing up for a potential civil war. Others are guarding communities or memorials. Others are advancing their training.  However, they all seem to be prepared for the worse – a second American Revolution.

If that is true, they are emulating the words of the commander of the Lexington militia, Captain John Parker, on April 19, 1775.  According to accounts, he said, “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Analysis 05-22-2020

ANALYSIS

Special Elections Give Insight into November Election

Although relatively insignificant, special elections show political experts a lot.  While polls show the leanings of adults, registered voters, and likely voters, special elections show who the real voters prefer.

The other difference is that special elections, although small have an impact.  In Tuesday’s case, they narrowed the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives by one vote.

The Republican wins in two congressional districts were more important in that they both occurred in states that have Democratic majorities – California and Wisconsin.  No doubt, Democratic Party leaders are worrying a bit.

The most dramatic Republican win is in the heavily Democratic state of California.  For the first time in over 20 years, Republicans have managed to flip a Democratic seat to Republican control.

The nationally watched congressional special election in California’s 25th congressional district appears to have gone to Republican Mike Garcia, although mail-in ballots have yet to be counted.  However, Garcia is leading by more than 11%, so his margin appears to be sound.

What is remarkable is that Hillary Clinton won this district in 2016 by 6%.  And, though the nonpartisan Cook political report rated the district a “toss-up,” Garcia’s margin of victory represents a major shift.  It is also the first time Republicans have flipped a California congressional district since 1998.

If the election results hold, Garcia will be the only House Republican to represent a district that Hillary Clinton won with more than 50% of the vote.

The other congressional special election win for Republicans was in Wisconsin’s district 7, where Tom Tiffany beat Tricia Zunker.  And, although Wisconsin went for Trump in 2016, the state is still overwhelmingly Democratic, the Republican won by a margin of 14% of the vote.  The district, which is rural, has started to tilt Republican over the last few years and Trump won handily in 2016.  However, Obama had won the district in both 2008 and 2012.

So, does this mean that Trump is on his way for reelection and the Republicans are set to retake the House?  Not necessarily.  The election is still half a year away and there is the political maxim that, “A week is an eternity in politics”

There are several factors still in play and no one really knows what will happen.

The Corona virus issue is still the great unknown.  While many thoughts that the number of cases and the declining economy would scuttle Trump’s reelection bid, this week’s Newsweek and CNN polls showed Trump with his highest approval rating since 2017.  Not only do voters think that China is to blame for the pandemic rather than Trump, the daily press briefings have given Trump more.

In fact, the CNN poll shows Trump beating Biden by 7 points in the battleground states which will decide the election.  However, Biden leads nationally, thanks to large majorities in solidly Democratic states like California, which does not count in the way the president is elected by the Electoral College.

No one, not even the medical experts know what will happen if the restrictions are eased.  Americans are getting tired of staying at home and the Democratic governors who are pushing for continued isolation are facing more resistance.  Some political commentators have even speculated that the strict isolation policy in California may have helped the Republicans win in California.

Will a surge of new Corona cases as the nation opens cause voters to turn against Trump?  Will the crashing economy cause voters to blame Trump?  Will voters turn against Democrats who want to keep restrictions in place?  No one can tell at this time.

Another issue is apparent Democratic presidential nominee Biden and his choice of a Vice Presidential candidate.  Many Democrats are worried about Biden’s fading mental capabilities and lackluster performance in the last couple of months.  They see Biden’s pick of a VP as a chance to energize the electorate and bring all the wings of the Democratic Party together for the election.

Another issue that the Democratic leadership is discussing – but not publicly – is replacing Biden if necessary.  Biden is losing support due to credible charges that he raped a member of his staff back in the early 1990s.  He is also having problems articulating himself in interviews.

If the problem gets worse, there may have to be a last-minute change in the Democratic presidential ticket. Although Biden has the largest number of delegates currently, Bernie Sanders has a sizable number too.  There are also quite a few uncommitted delegates from states that did not have their primaries due to the pandemic.

How these delegates are picked and how they will vote are big questions.  They will probably be picked at state conventions and their selection may depend on who controls the party in that state.  Democratic governors and senators will have a big say in who is picked and therefore, these delegates will be likely to support the governor’s or senator’s presidential choice.

However, these delegates will not be legally bound to any candidate, which can make the national convention a “free for all.”  It may be the first brokered convention since the end of World War Two.

If it is decided to pick someone to replace Biden, the Sanders delegates will expect that choice to be Sanders – something that the Democratic leadership will not tolerate.  The result might be that the Sanders delegates may walk out of the convention and not support the Democratic nominee in November.

Of course, the biggest determinant of the election is the economy.  A bad economy means the incumbent loses.  A good economy means the incumbent usually wins reelection.

However, this is a different situation.  The Corona virus, which voters may not blame on Trump, has caused the economy to go into a tailspin – a situation that more closely reflects the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Here the dynamic is interesting.  Franklin Roosevelt won reelection during the Great Depression, so the good economy/bad economy theory does not hold in extreme circumstances.

The other issue is that Republicans are pushing for reopening the economy, while the Democrats are insisting that the economy remain closed until the threat of the Corona virus is eliminated.

In this case, the issue is: do you want the economy to reopen and grow or do you want to stay home?

While many seem to want to remain in isolation, providing they can receive more stimulus money from the federal government, the increase in public demonstrations across the nation show that the majority of people want to reopen the nation and economy.

There is also a growing concern about the issue of Constitutional Rights.  As some states try to keep their citizens at home, there are more and more stories about police arresting people for being outside, opening their business, worshiping at church, or even protesting the isolation rules.

One of the governors at the center of this is Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who has found herself in the center of the Constitutional Rights debate as thousands of Michigan citizens have protested her strict isolation rules.  As one of those on Biden’s list for Vice President, her political future may very well hang on how American voters view the guaranteed Constitutional Rights of assembly, religion, and petition of grievances.

Whitmer may have overplayed her hand this week.  Last week a 77-year-old barber, Karl Manke, opened his shop despite the governor’s orders.  Despite the revocation of his license and threats to arrest him, he opened the shop, which was then surrounded by armed Michigan militia who were there to prevent any police from arresting him.

However, the county Sheriff made it clear he would not arrest the barber, “Since the Michigan legislature did not extend the state of emergency beyond April 30as required by law.” Sheriff Begole noted his office’s “responsibility to serve and protect the citizens of Shiawassee County and to ensure their rights as described in both state and federal Constitution.”

Later a judge denied the state’s cease-and-desist order against Manke.  And, with it, probably goes Whitmer’s chances of going to Washington as Vice President.

In the end, it must be remembered that there is still a long road to the November elections.  Trump has improved his ratings and it appears, based on this week’s special elections, that Congress may have more Republicans next year.  However, the Republicans’ hold on the Senate is precarious as twice as many Republicans are up for reelection this year than Democrats.

If history holds, however, Trump should win reelection and increase Republican margins in Congress.

Admittedly, the Corona virus is an unknown, although the press briefings are helping Trump’s approval ratings.

The new factor is the shutdown of the nation and the growing issue of Constitutional Rights.  Americans want to leave their houses, spend their money as they wish, return to their jobs, and assemble in crowds or at their place of worship.  Some Democratic governors have probably overstepped their authority, and this may become a Republican issue in November.

But keep in mind that in the world of politics, the next six months is several eternities.

Analysis 05-01-2020

ANALYSIS

Americans have no patience with continuous lockdown

245 years ago, this month, Americans showed their disdain for following the orders of their government.  In that case, it was American militiamen who refused to disperse when ordered by the British military.  The resulting firefight was the beginning of the American Revolution and what is now called the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

That same disdain for government edicts remains at the heart of the American Spirit.  While state governments have issued orders to keep Americans at home, tracking of cell phone traffic shows that Americans are leaving home in growing numbers.

One segment of the government, the courts, have aided the “breakout” as judges across the nation have ruled many of the government edicts unconstitutional and an infringement on American rights.

But courts or not, Americans are growing tired of staying at home.

Unacast used “anonymized cell phone location data” to measure foot traffic at retail locations.  According to the report, traffic increased by about 25% from the previous week.  Nor was the shopping just at drug stores or supermarkets.  It was a wide range of retail stores and travel facilities.  Although shopping trips are down 20% over last year, Americans made 103 million stops at retail stores on Friday, April 25.

This data raises several questions.  Is the economic downturn going to end within weeks instead of years?  Will this scoffing at government orders to stay home force state governors to recognize reality and allow the economy to restart?  And will the stimulus checks going out to Americans now help jump start all the economy – not just grocery stores?

States like Georgia have already allowed many stores to restart. In fact, retail traffic has surged above 2019 levels, which promises to bring the economy back quickly according to optimists.  Other states like Ohio and Wisconsin, who have allowed more business to open, are also seeing increased traffic.

Actual sales data has not come in, so how the stimulus money will be spent is still a question.  However, with the ability go places, the spending profile should change.  During the shutdown, groceries and medicines were in the greatest demand. Much of that demand went to internet “stores” like Amazon that offered home delivery.   There was also an increase in home improvement purchases as people stuck at home spent some of their time in home improvement projects.

Some of the money will be saved as Americans remain unsure of the future.  There will also be the paying of some overdue bills.

However, there will be increased demand for gasoline as Americans move about more.  Automobile and home sales, which dried up in the last two months, can be expected to pick up.  Travel and apparel purchases are also expected to come back.

Much will also depend on future stimulus checks and how quickly the unemployed can be reabsorbed into the workforce.  However, the ability of the economy to bounce back also depends on how optimistic consumers are.

Of the Western nations, the US is the most optimistic about the ability of the economy to recover.  In fact, for every European who is optimistic about their economy’s future rebound, there are two Americans who have faith in the US economy.

Given this bit of information, it appears that stories of America’s economic death have been greatly exaggerated.

The Case Against a Nationwide Lockdown

After being flooded with advice about locking down a nation to “flatten the curve,” many medical experts are questioning the tactic.

Some note that many people are delaying preventative care by not going to their doctor or an emergency room.  And many hospitals have stopped usually routine cancer screenings during the current emergency.

Now WHO’s Dr. Adhanom has officially endorsed the “no lockdown” approach by Sweden.

Evacuation of Washington still possible

Despite the confidence of Americans in the future, the US government is advancing its plans to evacuate the capital if the Corona virus spreads.

It now appears that the 106th Aviation Regiment, which is a National Guard unit, has been called up by the Pentagon.  The unit flies Blackhawk helicopters, which are used for moving soldiers, but also can carry a wide assortment of weapons.

The unit is now stationed at Fort Belvoir and has been isolated to prevent contamination by the Corona virus.

Captain Adam Kowalski of the 106th said, “We are the quick reaction force that allows us to help mobilize forces within the Washington DC area, evacuate people, or whatever that might be.  We are kind of that big taxicab that makes sure everybody gets where they need to be and keeps the government going.

However, the 106th Aviation Regiment is more than a “big taxicab.” They have also engaged in combat training.  A couple of years ago at Fort Irwin in California, a brigade of the 106th was involved in providing air assault capability for the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team.

In an emergency, the 106th could move troops in order to secure parts of the capital, provide tactical fire support, and evacuate critical government personnel.

The 106th Aviation Regiment falls under the command of Major General Omar Jones, the Commander of the Washington Military District.

Logistics Chain Showing Signs of Stress

Over the past four weeks, a dozen large meat packing plants have closed due to many workers contracting the Corona virus.  As a result, meat products are starting to disappear at grocery stores.  And, while meat prices at the retail level are going up, the price for cattle, hogs, and chickens at the farm level are dropping.

According to Bloomberg, 25% of America’s pork and 10% of America’s beef processing capacity has gone offline in the last few weeks.

This week, Tyson Foods, a major meat processor, placed ads in several papers warning the nation about the problem.  They wrote, “As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain…the food supply chain is breaking.” But some reports are circulating about euphemizing pork in many pork farms,

to get rid of the excesses created by lower demand in order to maintain higher prices.

As we have noted before, we are just about half a dozen meals away from a breakdown of society.  With widespread civil disobedience over the strict “stay at home” rules, a lack of food could quickly lead to massive civil unrest.

In order to keep the meat supply chain from falling apart, President Trump signed an executive order keeping meat processing plants open during the current crisis.  He is using the Defense Production Act, which was passed during the Korean War.  It has been used in the past in the wake of hurricanes and President Clinton and Bush used it to supply California utilities during an energy crisis.

Currently, many plants are decontaminating their equipment and taking steps to keep the Corona virus from infecting their workforce.  Some meat processors are also offering higher pay and bonuses for employees who return to work.

At the same time, Brazil and Australia are ready to scale up exports to the American meat market.

A Corona Virus Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Try as he might, it has been hard for Trump to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.  Many generals and officials insist that the US must remain in the country and have done their best to slow down the withdrawal process.

However, now it appears that the Corona virus may help Trump keep one of the campaigns promises he made in 2016.

The peace deal between the US and the Taliban includes a complete withdrawal of US and allied forces from the country in 14 months.  However, Trump is dissatisfied with the pace of the withdrawal.

Now US officials worry that the Corona virus could become rampant in Afghanistan given the country’s lack of health care and its border with Iran, which has been hit hard by the virus.  The Afghan health ministry is bracing for possibly millions of cases.

This leaves the US in a bind.  The soldiers could stay in Afghanistan but remain confined to a few bases.  US troops confined to base and unable to patrol would be an inviting target for attackers.  In that case, it makes more sense to withdraw them earlier than planned.

 Of course, there are generals who want to keep US forces in Afghanistan.  They argue that if Trump is that concerned about American troops getting infected, maybe the US should withdraw from Italy.

Analysis 04-24-2020

ANALYSIS

Tensions Increase while US Navy is Stretched by Corona Virus

 While most of the world stays home and focuses on the spread of the Coronavirus, several hot spots are beginning to form – hot spots that may very well require the movement of US Navy warships – warships that are already stretched thin by the Coronavirus.

In the Mediterranean, Russian aircraft are challenging US Navy air patrols over the eastern Mediterranean.  In North Korea, the exact situation is uncertain, but that nation’s capital is locked down and it appears that Kim Jong Un hasn’t been seen recently and may be seriously ill.  In the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian boats are challenging US Naval and Coast Guard vessels and President Trump has given the Navy permission to shoot Iranian boats that get too close or become threatening.

Finally, a number of Chinese vessels are threatening Malaysian ships in an area that both nations claim.  At the same time, China has ordered increased air and naval patrols around the island of Taiwan.

The situation in North Korea is uncertain and Trump has admitted that “we don’t know what is going on.”  The capital of Pyongyang is locked down and there are signs of an abnormal situation taking place. Kim was last seen on April 11 at a politburo meeting. Many think he is seriously ill, and the precautions being taken are to ensure a smooth transition.

The problem is that two of Kim’s relatives may have a claim on the leadership. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong is the Vice Director of Propaganda and Agitation for the Workers Party of Korea.  At the April 11th meeting, which was the last time that Kim Jong Un was seen, she was reinstated as an alternate politburo member. This has solidified her position as “Number Two” and the likely successor to Kim Jong Un.

However, Kim Jong Un has an older brother, Kim Jong Chul, who was passed over by their father Kim Jong Il because he was regarded as unfit to rule the country.  It is possible that he could make a bid for power.

The biggest question is who will control North Korea’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems? Could a fight evolve over who controls them and what could that mean to North Korea’s neighbors?

There are American military assets in the area, but the US will be unwilling to move those assets to other hot spots if the situation in North Korea remains uncertain.

The next potential hot spot is Syria. The US Navy accused the Russians of endangering the crew of a US Navy reconnaissance aircraft over the Eastern Mediterranean.

The US Navy’s Sixth Fleet said in a statement that, “The interception was determined to be unsafe because the Sukhoi Su-35 conducted an inverted high speed  maneuver, 25 feet facing the mission plane, thereby exposing our pilots and crew to danger.”  The air turbulence caused by the Russian aircraft made it difficult for the US patrol aircraft to operate for about 45 minutes.

These unsafe interceptions were more common in the past but have decreased in recent times.

During the Cold War, the Mediterranean was always home to two US aircraft carriers. However, as the number of American aircraft carriers has declined and there has been more focus on the Gulf region, the US Navy can no longer muster the naval air superiority it once did around Syria.  This has allowed Russian aircraft to challenge US patrol aircraft, who are likely tracking Russian submarines in the Eastern Mediterranean. Since there are few NATO facilities in the Eastern Mediterranean (now that Turkey is no longer working with NATO) American fighter aircraft cannot react as quickly to these Russian moves.

The US can move the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower into the Mediterranean, but that would take it away from its current position outside the Gulf region. And, as we will see, that is the last place the US Navy wants to leave without enough ship strength.

A bigger threat is the increasing harassment of US Navy warships in and around the Strait of Hormuz by the Iranians. That prompted President Trump to tweet a warning, “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

Currently the carrier USS Eisenhower and an Amphibious Readiness Group are stationed in the area and there are bases in the GCC nations that the US can use if hostilities break out.

Although the possibility for full blown hostilities to break out in the Strait of Hormuz is slim, the impact on the oil markets will be major. Iran, whose oil industry is a major foreign currency earner, wants to boost the price, which any danger to oil shipping in the Gulf will do.  Ironically, the US, which is now a major petroleum producer, is also anxious to keep prices up. And, although the Saudis want to keep their percentage of the oil market, it’s not in their interest in hostilities to break out, especially since they and the UAE have their hands full in Yemen.

However, some analysts in Washington believe that the biggest threat is not Iran, Russia, or North Korea. It is China and its expansionist policy in the South China Sea. There are several reports that the Chinese have made several provocative actions in what Malaysia considers its Exclusive Economic Zone.

China’s survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 and 10 Chinese Coast Guard escorts have remained 200 nautical miles off the coast of East Malaysia for several days near a Malaysian oil exploration vessel. The waters are claimed by Malaysia, China, and Vietnam.

The Australian Navy has helped take the pressure off the US Navy by dispatching a frigate to join the three ship American task force.

At the same time, China is making threatening moves towards Taiwan by increasing aircraft and naval patrols around the island nation.

Normally, this threat would call for the US Navy dispatching one of its carriers. In fact, the USS Roosevelt was deployed to the South China Sea before its crew was infected by the Coronavirus

The result is that the US Navy has sent an amphibious ship, the USS America, with its five F-35 fighters and some helicopters to the South China Sea. While the USS America is a potent weapon, it does not have the full range of capabilities of a nuclear aircraft carrier. And it is possibly not as capable as the new Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, which sailed into the Pacific on April 13th.

Clearly, the US Navy has left a vacuum in the Pacific that the Chinese are more than willing to fill. However, there is a question about the fitness of the Chinese Navy to carry out its mission after China was hit so hard by the Coronavirus.  The Chinese moves could be a bluff.

Another troubling sign is the withdrawal of several B-52s from their forward position in Guam back to the continental United States. They had been positioned there to give the US a strategic fast reaction force in the South China Sea.  However, with the USS Roosevelt docked in Guam and unable to rapidly deploy as most of its crew are on shore, the Pentagon decided that it was unwise to place too many strategic assets on the small island of Guam and risk a “Nuclear Pearl Harbor.”

While the US strategic bombers can reach the South China Sea from the United States, it will take longer to reach their target.

Clearly, while the number of aircraft carriers has declined, the number of potential hotspots has grown.  The result is that amphibious ships with some fighter aircraft capability are now being forced into roles that were once delegated to full deck nuclear carriers.

The one hope for America is that while the Coronavirus has infected several of the Pacific aircraft carrier crews, the great majority of crew show no signs of the illness. That means that in an instant, it is possible the Western Pacific aircraft carriers could set sail quickly in an emergency. In addition, other ships of the Pacific Fleet have been kept at sea and away from port so they will not be infected with the Coronavirus.

In the meantime, the Trump Administration is committed to increasing the number of Navy warships.

However, if any of these four hot spots blow up, the US Navy will find itself strained in the short term.

Analysis 04-17-2020

ANALYSIS

Biden Starts Vetting of Vice-Presidential Choices

With Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren suspending their campaigns and formally endorsing former Vice President Biden, the vetting and interview process for picking a vice presidential choice has begun. But what are Biden and his political advisors looking for?

Traditionally, vice presidential nominees are picked to balance the ticket, geographically, and in terms of experience.  That’s why the experienced Senator Biden was picked by freshman Senator Obama.  That’s why Northeastern Senator Kennedy picked Southerner Senator Johnson.  It’s also why political novice Trump picked then-Indiana Governor and former Congressman Pence for his running mate.

Biden doesn’t have to pick someone with a lot of experience, since he has been in politics for decades.  But he needs to look for someone who can help win some of the states Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.  He also should look for an ideological balance that can excite some of the more liberal/left-leaning members of the Democratic Party.

However, one of the most important factors (and one that usually isn’t a major factor in picking a running mate) is to pick someone who can readily step into the office of president.

Given Biden’s obvious mental decline and age (77 years old), it is quite likely that the Democratic vice-presidential choice could become president in the next 4 years.  And, if Biden makes it through the first term, he is unlikely to run for a second term, which means the Vice President could be the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2024.

Biden said in one of the Democratic primary debates that he would select a female vice-presidential candidate that would align with him on key principles and shore up his weaknesses – probably an allusion to his age.

Voters aren’t as concerned about the sex of the vice-presidential nominee with the exception of a majority of women.  According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week, voters overwhelmingly preferred someone with governing experience over gender or race.  Only 29% said it was important for Biden to choose a woman and only 22% said it was important to pick a person of color.

41% said it was important that Biden pick someone more liberal then himself and 31% wanted someone religious.

However, many Biden advisors want him to pick a woman of color.

Keeping in mind that the person running for president impacts voters more than the vice president, here are some of the top contenders for VP nominee:

Senator Kamala Harris.  Harris is young (55 years old), a Black woman, someone with experience in Washington as a senator from California, and as California Attorney General.  It doesn’t hurt that she endorsed Biden when she dropped out of the presidential race.

She does have weaknesses.  Her record as California’s Attorney General was attacked by her Democratic opponents during the presidential primary debates.  Her office was involved in a crime lab scandal that resulted in more than 1,000 drug cases being dismissed.  She was also accused of blocking evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until she was forced to by the courts.  Investigative reporting by the Sacramento Bee verified the charges and Harris didn’t have a good response to either charge.

This type of heavy handedness by Harris while Attorney General will hurt her in the Black community. Black men represent a large part of America’s prison population.

On the positive side, Harris is a favorite of the Democratic leadership.

Senator Amy Klobuchar.  If Biden hopes to do better than Hillary Clinton, he needs to win the Midwest.  This is where Klobuchar comes in.  Although Minnesota is considered Democratic, it has shifted towards Trump in polls over the past few years.  Klobuchar could hold her state for Biden, while her Midwest roots could help retake Wisconsin and Michigan.

Klobuchar is also one of the favorites of the Democratic leadership.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer.  As governor of Michigan, Whitmer promises to help Biden retake Michigan – a state that helped Trump win the presidency.

However, Whitmer’s recent performance during the Coronavirus epidemic has been lackluster.  She first outlawed the prescribing of anti-malarial drugs for Coronavirus, even though preliminary tests show it to be somewhat effective.  Then she turned around and asked for the same drugs from President Trump.

Her heavy handedness during the epidemic has outraged some Michigan voters, who are circulating a petition to recall her.  The petition already has about a quarter of a million signatures.

She has banned the sale of vegetable seeds or plants.  Her strict stay-at-home orders have led to silly arrests by the police- including a $1,000 fine for a person found alone in a state forest.  Her authoritarian approach during the epidemic led this week to large protests at the state capitol that blocked traffic for miles.  Four Michigan sheriffs have announced they will not follow extreme executive orders.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board wrote, “Decrees like those from the Michigan Governor’s office and their capricious enforcement run the risk of encouraging mass civil disobedience.”

Speaking not only of Whitmer’s actions, former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino said, “Civil disobedience is about to make a bold comeback.”

Although her tangles with Trump will warm the anti-Trump bloc, her recent actions will do little to win over people who voted for Trump in 2016.

Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Warren is the obvious choice if Biden wants to reach out to dissatisfied Sanders voters.  However, Warren frequently tangled with Biden during the debates and she was the last 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to endorse Biden.  She is also 70 years old, which negates the idea of bringing fresh, young blood to the ticket.

There are questions about her effectiveness as a campaigner despite her energy and good organization.  She lost the presidential primary in her home state of Massachusetts and did poorly across the nation although she was well financed.  She has also been caught in controversy that was exploited by Trump, including claiming she was partially Native American and that she was fired for being pregnant.

However, Warren has proved to be an effective fundraiser and fighter against corruption.  She is also one of the favorites of the Democratic leadership.

Senator Tammy Baldwin.  The senator from Wisconsin is the first openly gay senator, who withstood a strong effort by Republicans to unseat her in 2018.  This makes her a good choice to retake Wisconsin from Trump this year.

Although she isn’t as well-known as Warren, her liberal credentials put her in the same part of the ideological spectrum as Warren and Sanders.  This gives her some of the advantages of Warren, without any political baggage.

Stacey Abrams.  Abrams barely lost the race for governor in 2018, which would have made her the first Black woman to be a governor.

Abrams is popular with Black women, but her lack of experience and her refusal to admit defeat, while accusing the Republicans of voter fraud may make her more of a liability than an asset.

What is most likely to kill her chances to become the vice-presidential nominee is that she is actively seeking it – a negative in American politics.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.  Hispanics are the largest minority in America, and Cortez Masto may be the one to make a Hispanic person a nationally elected official.

One of Biden’s weaknesses during the primaries was with Hispanics, who went overwhelmingly for Sanders in Colorado, Nevada, and California.

One advantage that gives Cortez Masto the inside track for the nomination is that one of her supporters is former Senator Reid, who is close to Biden.  It’s quite likely that Reid will be pushing for her in the coming months.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.  Grisham is the governor of New Mexico, a Democratic state.  However, as with Cortez Masto, she is a Hispanic and would help solidify a critical bloc of voters.

She has tangled with Trump over border enforcement.  She has pulled National Guard troops away from the border with Mexico and fought ranchers on the border who complained that the state wasn’t doing anything to close the border and protect their property. Some critics are asserting that border crime is higher in the New Mexico section the El Paso Border Patrol Sector than it is in the Texas section.

Although it is a given that Hispanics are for more flexibility on borders, polls show the average Hispanic voter wants more border security.  That and the large majority of voters who want America’s borders controlled, make Grisham a controversial choice for the vice-presidential nomination.

These are the women that are under consideration.  However, picking a woman isn’t a guarantee of election success.  Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro for his Vice-Presidential nominee and lost.  John McCain picked Sarah Palin for his vice-presidential nominee and lost.  And Hillary Clinton ran for president and lost to Trump. But time has changed and the mid-term election 2018 showed a wave of elected women to the congress.

Could there be a man that would make a better candidate?

The fact is that the current Democratic Party is so focused on gender and race that it can’t see that voters aren’t overly impressed by either factor.  They prefer experience.

This is one reason why New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is being considered as a vice presidential possibility, even though he has said he isn’t interested.

Cuomo has raised his profile with his daily news briefings on the Corona epidemic in New York.  He has tangled with Trump, but he has also thanked Trump for his help, which allows him to seem bipartisan.  All in all, he appears to be an effective executive although New York is America’s Coronavirus hotspot.

However, despite the positive news coverage, Cuomo has several problems.  First, New York State has the highest taxes in the nation and is losing people and businesses.  He is very anti-gun in a nation where the majority of voters’ support gun ownership.  And in past years, he has told conservatives that they aren’t welcome in his state.

While Cuomo has high visibility now, he is probably the most vulnerable of the other potential VP nominees.

So, who has the best chance to help Biden win?

According to some leaders in the democratic party and prior to Coronavirus crisis, the best choice probably is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.  She is more moderate and comes from the Midwest, which is a Republican stronghold.

Some polls show that among the women mentioned for the vice-presidential nomination, Klobuchar has a stronger image among white voters, independents, Republicans, moderates, conservatives, and those with a favorable view of Trump.  She also is more popular than Warren or Harris in the Midwest, Northeast, South and West.

Although the sentiment for a progressive woman of color is great amongst some in the Democratic Party, the reality of vice-presidential politics will probably come to the fore.  More than anything, the vice-presidential nominee must help the presidential candidate win the election by delivering electoral votes. Again, her supporters claims that   Klobuchar could erode Trump support more than politicians like Warren or Harris.

However, will Klobuchar help Biden that much?  Incumbents usually win reelection and Trump’s popularity numbers have gone up and down during the Coronavirus epidemic.  Klobuchar may be more popular than the other potential Democratic VP nominees, but in the end, nearly all voters will be choosing between Trump and Biden, not Klobuchar and Pence.

In the end, that is what counts.

Analysis 04-10-2020

ANALYSIS

American Leadership Crisis Scenario During the Corona Virus Epidemic

President Trump and Vice President Pence have remained very visible during the Corona epidemic, often being seen together in briefings on the epidemic.  Yet, according to the White House, both have been tested and shown so far, no Corona contamination.

Yet, the recent news that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to the hospital and placed in the intensive care unit indicates that this illness is no respecter of person or position.  It is quite possible that Trump, or Pence, or both could come down with the Corona virus.  If that happens, what then?

Currently, the US Constitution’s rules on succession of leadership is limited to singular events, not an epidemic that could incapacitate a number of those who might be required to fill the position of president.

The 25th Amendment, proposed by Congress and ratified by the states in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, provides the procedures for replacing the president or vice president in the event of death, removal, resignation, or incapacitation.  The Watergate scandal of the 1970s saw the application of these procedures, first when Gerald Ford replaced Spiro Agnew as vice president.  Then he replaced Richard Nixon as president after Watergate.  Then Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller to fill the resulting vacancy as vice president.

Sections 3 and 4 are the sections most applicable to the current epidemic.  Section 3 states that the president can send a letter to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore stating that he can’t discharge the powers and duties of president.  In that case, the Vice President becomes acting president until the president sends a letter stating that is now capable of fulfilling his duty as President

Section 4 is for a situation when the president wants to retain the powers of president, even though he is incapacitated.  It states, “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

In other words, if Vice President Pence and the majority of the president’s cabinet decide that Trump is so seriously ill that he is unable to discharge the position of president, the Vice President becomes acting president.

Of course, in this case, Vice President Pence is the key player.  If Pence doesn’t feel that Trump is incapacitated, this option will not work.  If he does, the transfer of power could just take hours.

While the 25th Amendment allows for a quick transfer of power, it also allows the president to challenge any charges of incapacity.  It says, “Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.”

In other words, if Pence says Trump is too sick to be president, Trump can challenge it.  If the Vice President and majority of the cabinet continue to say the President is unable to carry out the office of president, it goes to Congress to determine the fitness of Trump.  It would take a 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate to remove Trump.

Needless to say, the 21 days that Congress has to determine the fitness of Trump would be a politically unstable time, especially if the nation is suffering from a widespread epidemic.  If Trump is sick, then, it is quite possible that numerous members of Congress would be unable to attend because they are sick or under quarantine.

At least, there is a clear path for everyone to follow if Trump is incapacitated by the Corona virus.  Things get much murkier after that.  If the President is healthy, but the Vice President becomes incapacitated, there is no way to remove him.  He dies, resigns, or recovers.  If he dies or resigns, the president can nominate a new vice president, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

The problem is that currently the next in the line of succession to the presidency would be the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is a Democrat and opponent of Trump.  If something happens to Trump during the time when there is no vice president, Pelosi would become the president.

There is another issue that has never been decided.  If vice presidential spot is open, does the ability to declare Trump incapacitated or incompetent become Pelosi’s privilege?  If so, she could use that power to try to remove Trump – a possibility given the fact that many Democrats argued over the last three years that this was the way to remove Trump.  However, she would still have to garner most Cabinet officials and 2/3 of the Senate and House.

The problem becomes more complicated if both Trump and Pence fall ill to the Corona virus.  There is no constitutional way to remove them both.  The Speaker of the House could try to declare both the President and Vice President incapacitated, with the concurrence of the majority of the Cabinet.  Although the courts might allow this to take place, it is likely that the Cabinet officers, who are Republican, would prefer an incapacitated Republican president to a Democratic president.

This event might lead to a standoff that leads to the US not having a president for a short time.  However, while the bureaucracy would still function, there is a need for a president to sign legislation and budgets into law.

It’s possible that in such a situation, the Cabinet might negotiate with the Speaker of the House.  They might provide a majority vote to declare both the President and Vice President incapacitated in return for some consideration.

The reality is that the incapacitation of both President and Vice President poses some problems, especially if neither recovers nor dies, but remains on life support.  The same problem can continue farther down the line of succession – incapacitation of the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate (both of whom are much older than the President and probably more susceptible to the virus).

There is a bigger problem if Pelosi tries to declare Trump and Pence incapacitated.  Such a move would have to ignore the limitations in the Constitution and would also mean a dramatic shift in the politics of the nation as the Democrats would then be in control of the White House.  This could very well lead to large scale civil unrest that the military would be unable or unwilling to suppress.

In other words, the legal ascension to the presidency could become a political battle (and possibly a street battle too) that could take weeks or months.  While the bureaucracy could manage to operate for a time, there must be someone who is clearly authorized to handle homeland security.

Fortunately, there is a plan in place, thanks to the Cold War and the possibility that Washington could have been leveled with a nuclear bomb, leaving the country without a clear civilian leader.  The advantage of this plan is that it can handle the slow pace of the pandemic.  The problem is that the walls of a bomb proof bunker might not stop this virus, which can infect others, even if they show no signs of illness.

As we noted in our analysis a couple of weeks ago, if the Corona virus gets out of control and the government must rely on military support, the authority will reside in the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in Colorado Springs Colorado.  On February 1st, NORTHCOM received warning orders from the Secretary of Defense to be prepared to act.

Another part of the plan is the separation of Defense Secretary Esper and Deputy Defense Secretary Norquist in order to lessen the likelihood that both will be infected.  Defense Secretary Esper in is the fifth person in the line of succession and would be a likely candidate to be sent to an isolated command headquarters.

That isolated location might be the Cheyenne Mountain facility, which was built during the Cold War and is designed to withstand a 30-megaton nuclear bomb.  This bunker complex, which is 2,000 feet under the Colorado Rockies, was designed to wage a nuclear war even if the rest of America had been destroyed by a Soviet nuclear attack.

Corona-free staff have been sent into Cheyenne Mountain and are currently being isolated there.  There is also the probably that others in the presidential line of succession will be sent there, including the Vice President.

These measures are being taken, “To ensure that we can defend the homeland despite this pandemic,” NORAD and NORTHCOM Commander General O’Shaughnessy said in a briefing.  O’Shaughnessy would be the key commander if there is a problem with the presidential succession.  He will oversee efforts defending the US if an enemy tries to take advantage of the uncertainty to attack the US.  He would also be responsible for deploying the troops that would have to deal with any civil unrest caused by the political uncertainty.

There is also another team at a secret location that can take over if the Corona virus infects the Cheyenne Mountain Bunker.  Undoubtedly, someone in the line of succession will be stationed there.

If the Corona virus gets out of control on the East Coast, it is likely that Vice President Pence will be flown to Cheyenne Mountain for the duration.  With their separation, it should limit the chance that both the President and Vice President will be infected.  Then, if the epidemic gets out of control, there will still be a civilian in control of the military.

With the military and civilian leadership protected, there remains the military itself.  It appears that the four aircraft carriers in the Pacific all have cases of the Corona virus onboard – the USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Carl Vinson, USS Chester Nimitz, and the USS Ronald Reagan.  Given the threats posed by the Chinese in the South China Sea and the Iranians in the Middle East, there is no possibility that all four carriers can be sent to port all at one time for quarantine and decontamination.  The best alternative would be to ship the promising anti-malarial drugs to the ships so they can be given it at the earliest possible time.

 

Conclusion

 

Although the focus has been on those who die from the Corona virus, the evidence is that about 80% have few if any symptoms.  Seriously incapacitating symptoms usually are limited to 5% – 10% of the population.  So, although the civilian leadership is older (Trump 73, Pence 60, Pelosi 80, Grassley 86), the chances that they will all be incapacitated by the Corona virus are minimal.  It’s also likely that all four are currently taking anti-malarial medications.

Since age is a major factor in being incapacitated by the virus, it is more likely that President Pro Tempore of the Senate Grassley and Speaker of the House Pelosi would be the ones to have the biggest problems.  But House rules allow for an immediate vote for a new speaker if something happens to Pelosi.  The same type of rules pertains to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

The key person in any change of leadership would be Vice President Pence.  He is the one that is constitutionally delegated the sole authority to declare the president incapacitated, provided he is backed up by a majority of the Cabinet.  And, Pence is the youngest and least likely to be susceptible to infection.

The military leadership is much younger and likely in better health.  This means that the military side of any epidemic caused crisis is in better shape.

Although plans for succession are likely being reviewed, the chances that they will lead to a major shift in the leadership of the United States are unlikely.

 

Succession to the vacancy of the president:

1 – President

2 – Vice President

3 – Speaker of the House

4 – President Pro Tempore of the Senate