Monday, September 22, 2008

Signs of the Economic Apocalypse, 9-22-08


Gold closed at 864.70 dollars an ounce Friday, up 12.5% from $768.70 for the week. The dollar closed at 0.6913 euros Friday, down 1.7% from 0.7032 at the close of the previous week. That put the euro at 1.4466 dollars compared to 1.4221 the week before. Gold in euros would be 597.75 euros an ounce, up 10.6% from 540.54 at the close of the previous Friday. Oil closed at 104.55 dollars an ounce Friday, up 3.8% from $100.69 at the end of the week before. Oil in euros would be 72.27 euros a barrel, up 2.1% from 70.80 for the week. The gold/oil ratio closed at 8.27 Friday, up 8.4% from 7.63 at the close of the previous week. In U.S. stocks, the Dow closed at 11,388.44 Friday, down 0.3% from 11,421.99 at the close of the previous Friday. The NASDAQ closed at 2,273.90 Friday, up 0.6% from 2,261.27 for the week. In U.S. interest rates, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 3.81%, up nine basis points from 3.72 the week before.

What a week! It began with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s decision to let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt. Then news began to come out on Sunday and Monday about the shaky finances of the insurance giant AIG. Then the Federal Reserve took over AIG in exchange for an $85 billion loan. So the stock markets crashed as fear an panic spread, only to recover late in the week as the rescue plan to end all rescue plans was announced. They even brought Bush out of hiding to announce it. When the details were released, everyone was shocked. The U.S. government will be on the hook for at least $700 billion, but probably for more than a trillion. The taxpayers will be forced to buy whichever bad mortgage securities Henry Paulson tells them to. In other words, Bush’s friends will get bailed out again by the rest of us. Oh, also, short selling of financial firms’ stocks was banned.

Where will all this lead? It could go two ways. Since now the entire U.S. government and all the taxpayers will own shaky mortgages, if they decide to pay U.S. workers more, housing prices can start to rise again and the collapse can be prevented. If not it will probably the end of the U.S. dollar, its replacement by the Amero, the new currency of a North American Union ruled by U.S. military’s Northern Command and Blackwater Consulting. Unfortunately, given who is calling the shots, the latter plan seems more likely.

Before we look at some startling evidence for the latter scenario, let’s look at some commentary on the events of the past week. The best and calmest summary comes once again from Barry Grey:

US government to bail out Wall Street

Barry Grey

20 September 2008

The Bush administration on Friday announced plans for a massive and unprecedented federal bailout of the US banking system. In separate appearances Friday morning, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and President Bush announced a series of measures to shore up collapsing financial markets and called on Congress to pass legislation next week to use, in Paulson’s words, “hundreds of billions” of taxpayer dollars to buy virtually worthless mortgage-backed assets that cannot be sold on the market from banks and other financial institutions.

Paulson said he would meet over the weekend with congressional leaders to lay out the details of the government plan.

With this plan, the full cost of the immense debts piled up by the banks will be imposed on the American people. It will shift the banks’ liabilities onto the federal government, sharply increasing government budget deficits and the US debt, a process that can only further erode the creditworthiness of the United States and place a bigger question mark on the value of the US dollar.

In the past week alone, the US Treasury has announced cash injections into the Federal Reserve Board of $200 billion to bolster the sagging balance sheet of the central bank, which has already expended hundreds of billions in loans and subsidies to the major Wall Street banks and put out another $85 billion in the takeover this week of the insurance giant American International Group.

The presidential candidates of both major parties, Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Barack Obama, quickly signaled their support for the wholesale bailout of the banks and big investors, and prominent congressional Democrats issued assurances that they would obey the demands of Paulson, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and Bush and pass the required legislation by the end of next week.

The immediate line-up of both parties and the media behind the bailout plan for Wall Street stands in the starkest contrast to their indifference and inaction in regard to the plight of millions of American working people, who face a rising tide of home foreclosures, layoffs and sinking living standards. When it comes to the social needs of the people, the universal cry from corporate America and the two parties is, “There is no money,” but when the fortunes of the financial elite are threatened, the full power of the government and unlimited resources are marshaled virtually at a moment’s notice.

There was no suggestion in the statements of Bush and Paulson of any relief for the working class—nothing to stop home foreclosures or help those who have already lost their homes. Rather, hundreds of billions—and more likely trillions—of dollars in public funds will be used to prop up the banks.

The resulting bankrupting of the government will be used to justify a brutal assault on what remains of social programs, including Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, and demand even greater financial “sacrifices” from workers, whether the next administration is headed by Obama or McCain. Nothing could more clearly demonstrate that behind the façade of American democracy there stands a dictatorship of big business.

Paulson made his announcement following a meeting Thursday night, with Bernanke and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox also in attendance, along with congressional leaders from both parties. At the meeting, Paulson warned that the US and global financial system was on the brink of collapse and outlined in general terms the plan to set up some form of government agency to take “illiquid” mortgage-backed securities off of the balance sheets of the banks.

News of the plan first broke Thursday afternoon, at a point when a massive injection of liquidity by the Federal Reserve and central banks in Europe, Canada and Japan had failed to unfreeze credit markets that had collapsed over the previous days. The Fed loaned $180 billion to the other central banks and then added another $120 billion in an attempt to get banks to lend to one another and to other companies, under conditions where confidence in the financial markets and major institutions had fallen so sharply that credit markets had ceased to function. But instead of lending the fresh money to other companies, the big banks were hoarding it to protect themselves against possible default.

The breakdown in the world capitalist system—widely acknowledged to be the worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash and heading toward another Great Depression—came in the wake of the US government takeover of the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac less than two weeks ago and the collapse this week of Wall Street icons Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, followed on Tuesday by the US takeover of American International Group.

In the aftermath of these developments, other major US banks had come under immense pressure and were facing bankruptcy, including the investment bank Morgan Stanley and the savings and loan giant Washington Mutual. Both were scrambling to find buyers as their share prices plummeted. The domino effect of falling banks was threatening the biggest US investment bank, Goldman Sachs, headed by Paulson prior to his becoming treasury secretary, whose stock had suffered enormous losses in the course of the week.

The crisis reached the tipping point on Tuesday and Wednesday when major US money market funds announced losses and some were forced to close. This sparked a growing run on the funds, with $78.7 billion withdrawn from the largest funds on Wednesday and, according to one industry estimate, a total of $145.3 billion over a two-day period.

Money market funds are considered the safest form of investment, and tens of millions of Americans have their savings in them. More immediately, from the standpoint of Wall Street, the funds pump money into credit markets by buying short-term IOUs issued by banks and companies, called “commercial paper.” The growing crisis of the money market funds threatened to collapse the commercial paper market, precipitating a chain reaction of defaults and bankruptcies across the economy.

“It’s the ultimate nightmare to have a run on the money markets—that is truly Armageddon—and they’re not going to allow that to happen,” said Paul McCulley at Pacific Investment Management Co.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average had already lost nearly 800 points in the first three trading days of the week, and by Thursday afternoon a rally sparked by the coordinated action of the Fed and other central banks that morning was faltering. At about 3 PM news broke of the government’s plan for a bailout of the banks, the floor of the New York Stock Exchange erupted in cheers, and the market immediately reversed itself and rocketed upward in a frenzy of buying.

In the final hour of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average recouped most of Wednesday’s 449-point loss, rising 410.03 points in the biggest percentage gain in almost six years. From its midday low to its late-afternoon high, shortly before the finish, the Dow swung 617 points.

The biggest winners were the financial stocks, including Morgan Stanley and Washington Mutual, which lurched from heavy losses to big gains.

On Friday morning, the government announced a series of immediate measures to bail out the markets, including a temporary ban on short-selling (betting on a fall in prices) of financial stocks and a $50 billion government program to insure money market funds. The Treasury Department also announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, now under government ownership, would increase their purchases of mortgage-backed securities and the Treasury would directly buy up a larger number of such assets. The Fed added that it would extend low-cost loans to the banks to unfreeze the commercial paper market.

These moves and the statements of Paulson and Bush set off another orgy of buying on the stock exchange, with the Dow closing up 368.75 for the day.
In his statement, Paulson said “comprehensive” action was needed “to address the root cause of our financial system stresses. The underlying weakness in our financial system today is illiquid mortgage assets that have lost value as the housing correction has proceeded.”

This is a lie. The root cause of the crisis is the unbridled parasitism of American capitalism, which over a period of decades has dismantled huge sections of industry in order to reap super profits for the rich by means of financial speculation and fraud, based on a colossal buildup of debt. Now the bill is being passed to the American people.

Bush, flanked by Paulson, Bernanke and Cox, called for a government bailout of Wall Street in the name of “our system of free enterprise.”

“There will be ample opportunity to debate the origins of this problem,” he said. “Now is the time to solve it.”

There will, in fact, be no debate or discussion. Nobody will be held accountable for the greatest financial scandal in world history. There will be no penalties. No one who made tens and hundreds of millions from the plundering of America will be forced to give back a dime.

All of the financial resources of the United States are being placed at the disposal of Wall Street and every American citizen, without being asked, is being given the responsibility for covering the debts of the richest people in the country.

Certainly no debate or resistance will come from the supposed political opposition—the Democratic Party. Speaking Friday in Miami, Obama said he fully supported the bailout plan. “John McCain and I can continue to argue about our different economic agendas for next year, but we should come together now to work on what this country urgently needs this year,” he said.

Obama is no less bound to Wall Street than his Republican opponent. In fact, he has received more campaign money from the financial industry—$22.5 million—than McCain, who has taken in $19.6 million.

Democratic congressional leaders lined up Friday to back the administration plan. New York Senator Charles Schumer, who chairs the Joint Economic Committee, said he was optimistic that Congress could approve the package in a week.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said his panel could hold a vote on the package as soon as Wednesday. “They said they would like legislation to do it, and there was virtually unanimous agreement that there would be legislation to do it,” said Frank.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, added, “We hope to move very quickly—time is of the essence.”

All of those involved in pushing through this scheme to funnel the entire wealth of the country into the coffers of the financial elite have direct financial stakes in the outcome. Paulson made hundreds of millions of dollars as chairman of Goldman Sachs. Pelosi reportedly has major investments in American International Group. Many of the congressional leaders of both parties are themselves multi-millionaires and rely on handouts from big business to get elected. They are all ruled by personal interests that reflect the interest of the American ruling class.

The result of the government moves announced Thursday and Friday has already been to not only cover the debts of the super-rich, but to expand their stock portfolios and bank accounts by millions more through the run-up of share prices.

As for the mother of all bailout plans itself, even more shocking than the dollar amount were the terms. Glenn Greenwald summarizes:

Here is the current draft for the latest plan. It's elegantly simple. The three key provisions: (1) The Treasury Secretary is authorized to buy up to $700 billion of any mortgage-related assets (so he can just transfer that amount to any corporations in exchange for their worthless or severely crippled "assets") [Sec. 6]; (2) The ceiling on the national debt is raised to $11.3 trillion to accommodate this scheme [Sec. 10]; and (3) best of all: "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency" [Sec. 8].

Put another way, this authorizes Hank Paulson to transfer $700 billion of taxpayer money to private industry in his sole discretion, and nobody has the right or ability to review or challenge any decision he makes.

More commentary from the Housing Panic blog:

The end of America as you knew it is at hand. It was a good 232 year run. But it is about to be stolen in the night.

America is about to be legally stolen from the people, and given to a very small group of powerful men.

Yes, HP can be a bit dramatic sometimes.

This is not one of those sometimes.

The Patriot Act of Finance, otherwise known as Paulson's $700 billion bailout bill, if passed in its present form will be the nail in the coffin for an America by, for and of the people.

Just like the Patriot Act appeared to be written before 9/11, so does this Patriot Act of Finance appear to be written before the housing crash. And yes, both were rushed through a panicked Congress and complacent media in the middle of the night.

A nation founded by the people, for the people will be given to a very select group of bankers. Legally. Without a shot fired. Because Americans were too distracted and too dumb to know what was going on.


Here's how it will be done:

1) The key line in the proposed bill is this one:

"The Secretary's authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to 700,000,000,000 dollars outstanding at any one time"

What this does is give Hank Paulson, acting as an emperor with unchecked control over the nation's treasury, a $700 billion line of credit in which he can buy up toxic debt for whatever price he'd like to pay, $700 billion at a time.

In other words - he could buy trillions. Trillions and trillions and trillions. Buying and selling, buying and selling.

He can sell the junk he buys from his banker friends for whatever price he wants, saddling the taxpayers with the loss. He keeps this process going, using his $700 billion credit card. Buy for 60 cents on the dollar, sell for 30 cents on the dollar. Buy for 80 cents on the dollar, sell for 5 cents on the dollar. He's in charge.

$700 billion folks IS JUST THE LINE OF CREDIT. He can purchase trillions and trillions of bad debt with this credit card, as long as only $700 billion is OUTSTANDING at any one time.

2) Hank Paulson, CEO of Goldman Sachs on leave, has complete and total control over the nation's treasure. He would be unchecked by Congress, unchecked by the President. He will be king. Here's the text:

"The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act, including, without limitation"

Using this power, Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs could pay Goldman Sachs anything he wanted for their mortgage assets. Let's say the market value was 20 cents on the dollar. Hank Paulson could pay them 100 cents on the dollar. Its his decision and his alone. No oversight. No limitations. Hank Paulson could simply give the nation's treasure to Goldman Sachs.

Get it now?

3) Deputizing the banks and investment banks as "agents of the government". Seriously. Here's the text:

"Designating financial institutions as financial agents of the Government, and they shall perform all such reasonable duties related to this Act as financial agents of the Government as may be required of them"

4) Have no outside control over the firesale of assets and loss to the taxpayer. Again, Hank Paulson and Hank Paulson alone shall be in control. No auditors. No oversight. No multiple bids. No nothing. Hank Paulson and Hank Paulson alone. Here you go:

"Sale of Mortgage-Related Assets. The Secretary may, at any time, upon terms and conditions and at prices determined by the Secretary, sell, or enter into securities loans, repurchase transactions or other financial transactions in regard to, any mortgage-related asset purchased under this Act."

5) Hank Paulson has final say. Hank Paulson knows what's best. Hank Paulson cannot be reversed. Hank Paulson cannot be sued. Hank Paulson is king.

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency"

So, what can you do? Normally here I'd say contact your corrupt Congressman or Senator. Contact the media. But folks, Congress has been bought. The media have been bought.

The American people have lost.

Deal with it.

So unless there's rage in the street, which there won't be - the new Fall TV season is starting - it's over. They win. In eight short years, they took everything they wanted. And nobody could stop them.

The only hope, for the hopeful? That we can run out the clock, and this bill doesn't pass until Bush and Paulson are gone. But if that's the case, and the bill does pass after January 2009, then the question is - who do you trust more - the outsider or the insider. And with this much on the line, will the outsider be allowed to win?

If this bill does pass ASAP, well, then watch Paulson get busy with his new credit card as fast as he can. He only has four more months. He'll be buying up crap as fast as he can in a desperate and reckless orgy of greed.

Regardless of how this plays out, prepare the best you can. Know what is happening in your former country, and do what is best for you and your family to survive.

I'm off to go find my tin foil hat now. I'm not usually one for conspiracy theories.

Until now.

Here is Mike Whitney on the consequences:

Full-Spectrum Breakdown: Grasping at Straws

Mike Whitney

September 20 / 21, 2008

On Friday morning, Senator Christopher Dodd, the head of the Senate Banking Committee, was interviewed on ABC's “Good Morning America.” Dodd revealed that just hours earlier at an emergency meeting convened by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, lawmakers were told that "We’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system.” Dodd added somberly, that in his three decades of serving in public office, he had "never heard language like this.”

The system is at the breaking point, and despite Wall Street's elation from the proposed $1 trillion dollar bailout to remove toxic mortgage-backed debt from banks balance sheets, the market is still correcting in what has become a vicious downward cycle. This cycle will persist until the bad debts are accounted for and written off for or until the exhausted dollar-system collapses altogether. Either way, the volatility and violent dislocations will continue for the foreseeable future.

Most people don't understand what happened on Thursday, but the build-up of bad news on the Lehman default and the $85 billion government takeover of AIG, triggered a run on the money markets and a freeze in interbank lending. The overnight LIBOR rate (London Interbank Offered Rate) more than doubled to 6.44 per cent. Bank of America reported overnight borrowing rates in excess of 6 per cent. Longer-term LIBOR rates also rose sharply. On Wednesday, jittery investors removed their money from money markets and flooded short-term US Treasurys for the assurance of a government guarantee on their savings even though interest rates had turned negative which means that their balance would actually shrink at the date of maturity. This is unprecedented, but it does help to illustrate how raw fear can drive the market.

The TED spread (the TED Spread measures market stress by revealing the reluctance of banks to lend to each other) widened and the credit markets froze in place. Borrowing three-month dollars on the interbank market and the U.S. Treasury's three-month borrowing costs widened five full percentage points. That's huge. The banking system shut down.

What does it mean? It means the Federal Reserve has lost control of the system. The market is driving interest rates now, and the market is terrified. End of story.

When the Fed announced its emergency program to dump $180 billion into the global banking system, short term Libor retreated slightly but long-term rates have remained stubbornly high. The noose continues to tighten. These rates are pinned to 6 million US mortgages which will be resetting in the next few years. That's more bad news for the housing industry.

The entire system is deleveraging with the ferocity of a Force-5 gale touching down in the Gulf, and yet, Henry Paulson has decided that the prudent thing to do is build levees around the system with paper dollars.
Naturally, many people who understand the power of market-corrections are skeptical. It won't work. Libor is pushing rates upwards--that's the "true" cost of money. The Fed Funds rate (2 per cent) is supported by infusions of paper dollars into the banking system to keep interest rates artificially low. Now the extreme pace of deleveraging has the Fed on the ropes. Trillions of dollars of credit is being sucked into a black hole which is raising the price of money. It's out of Bernanke's control. He needs to step out of the way and let prices fall or the dollar system will vanish in a deflationary vacuum.

The problems cannot be resolved by shifting the debts of the banks onto the taxpayer. That's an illusion. By adding another $1 or $2 trillion dollars to the National Debt, Paulson is just ensuring that interest rates will go up, real estate will crash, unemployment will soar, and foreign central banks will abandon the dollar. In truth, there is no fix for a deleveraging market anymore than there is a fix for gravity. The belief that massive debts and insolvency can be erased by increasing liquidity just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of economics. That's why Henry Paulson is the worst possible person to be orchestrating the so called rescue project. Paulson comes from a business culture which rewards deception, personal acquisitiveness, and extreme risk-taking. Paulson is to finance capitalism what Rumsfeld is to military strategy. His leadership, and the congress' pathetic abdication of responsibility, assures disaster. Besides, why should the taxpayers be happy that the stocks of Morgan Stanley, Washington Mutual and Goldman Sachs surged on the news that there would be a government bailout yesterday? These banks are essentially bankrupt and their business models are broken. Keeping insolvent banks on life support is not a rescue plan; it's insanity.

No one has any idea of the magnitude of the deleveraging ahead or the size of the debts that will have to be written down. That's because 30 years of deregulation has allowed a parallel financial system to arise in which over $500 trillion dollars in derivatives are traded without any government supervision or accounting. These counterparty transactions are interwoven throughout the entire "regulated" system in a way that poses a clear and present danger to the broader economy. It's a mess. For example, there are an estimated $62 trillion of Credit Default Swaps (CDS) alone, which are basically insurance policies for defaulting bonds. AIG was as heavily involved in CDS as they were in regulated insurance products. So why would AIG sell CDS rather than conventional insurance?

Because, just like the banks, AIG could maximize its profits by minimizing its capital cushion. In other words, it didn't really have the capital to pay off claims when its CDS contracts began to blow up. If it had been properly regulated, then government regulators would have made sure that it was sufficiently capitalized with adequate reserves to pay off claims in a down-market. Now taxpayers will pay for the lawless system which men like "industry rep" Henry Paulson put in place. That's deregulation in a nutshell; a system that allows Wall Street banksters to create credit out of thin air and then run weeping to Congress when their swindles backfire.

Inflating the currency, printing more money, and increasing the deficits won't help. The bad debts have to be accounted for and liquidated. The Paulson strategy is to create another ocean of red ink while refusing to face the underlying problem head-on. This just further exacerbates the consumer-led recession which economists know is already setting in everywhere across the country. Demand is down and consumer spending is off due to falling home equity, job losses, and tighter lending standards at the banks. The broader economy does not need the added downward pressure from higher taxes, bigger deficits, or inflation. Paulson's plan is a band-aid approach to a sucking chest wound. The debts are enormous and the pain will be substantial, but the problem cannot be resolved by crushing the middle class or destroying the currency.

The malfunctioning of the markets and the freeze-over in the banking system are the outcome of a massive credit unwind instigated by trillions of dollars of low interest credit from the Federal Reserve which was magnified many times over via complex derivatives contracts and extreme leveraging by speculative investment bankers. This has generated the biggest equity bubble in history. That bubble is now set for a "hard-landing" which is the predictable result of an unsupervised marketplace where individual players are allowed to create as much credit as they choose.

Stef Zucconi has some fun with the statement sometimes heard in the mainstream media that no one could have predicted it would get this bad.

Rambling #2 - aka The Genius of Darwin

… As it happens, whether Darwin was right or wrong about the Evolution of Life makes virtually bugger all difference to most people's daily lives. However, Darwinism has affected the way people interpret tangible events that do impact on their daily lives.

Before Darwinism and the Enlightenment, most people believed that someone, or some entity, was responsible for everything that happened. The weather, the outcome of battles, the shape of tea leaves in a cup, the outcome of the throw of some dice; all was the Will of some god or other.

There was no such thing as chance. Everything that happened was the predetermined outcome of a controlling intelligence.

After Darwin, it was considered very clever to believe that everything of any importance or scale was the result of blind chance. Any pattern of events that appeared to be result of design was simply the result of blind chance combined with some kind of selection mechanism.

The result was that, in the act of denying the Hand of God in natural affairs, Darwinism also had the consequence of denying the Hand of Man in human affairs.

Anyone who suggests that the course of human, or natural affairs, may be the result of the interplay of intelligent planning and the natural selection of random events is now branded an irrational religious lunatic or a conspiracy theorist.

Shit just happens.

And if you don't believe that Shit just happens then you're only fit for the Funny Farm.

Because I'm a Loon I believe that the promotion of this kind of thinking, as an essentially exclusive model to explain how the world works, was an entirely deliberate course of action - but I would wouldn't I?

If you would like to witness a nice example of what I'm talking about, the mainstream coverage of the recent financial turmoil is a nice case history.

The unwavering message of the mainstream coverage of the 'Credit Crunch' is...

-- The impending implosion of our financial system is an unintended consequence of unreasoning, animalistic, undirected greed and fear.

-- No-one could have predicted it.

-- There is no predetermined objective.

-- The people responsible for our great financial institutions are honestly trying to unf*** things as best as they can for the Common Good.

The possibility that the crisis could have been deliberately engineered in some way, and that some very clever, powerful people knew exactly what was going to happen, is deemed so unlikely it is not raised even to be debunked.

Presumably, the fact that so many on-line Conspiranauts have been predicting this crash for years, in accordance with their insane models of how the world really works, is merely blind luck.

And if all those CCTV cameras, databases, terrorism laws and detention infrastructure are turned towards, instead of the shadowy terrorists, a general public f*****-off with being robbed blind that will be an unintended outcome too.

Speaking of “detention infrastructure,” here is a bit of news courtesy of the U.S. Army Times (thanks to Cryptagon for finding this), that might offer some clues as to the future planned for the U.S. if the economy should collapse:
Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1

3rd Infantry’s 1st BCT trains for a new dwell-time mission. Helping ‘people at home’ may become a permanent part of the active Army

Gina Cavallaro

Monday Sep 8, 2008

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys.

Now they’re training for the same mission — with a twist — at home.

Beginning Oct. 1 for 12 months, the 1st BCT will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.

It is not the first time an active-duty unit has been tapped to help at home. In August 2005, for example, when Hurricane Katrina unleashed hell in Mississippi and Louisiana, several active-duty units were pulled from various posts and mobilized to those areas.

But this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.

After 1st BCT finishes its dwell-time mission, expectations are that another, as yet unnamed, active-duty brigade will take over and that the mission will be a permanent one.

“Right now, the response force requirement will be an enduring mission. How the [Defense Department] chooses to source that and whether or not they continue to assign them to NorthCom, that could change in the future,” said Army Col. Louis Vogler, chief of NorthCom future operations. “Now, the plan is to assign a force every year.”

…They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack.

Training for homeland scenarios has already begun at Fort Stewart and includes specialty tasks such as knowing how to use the “jaws of life” to extract a person from a mangled vehicle; extra medical training for a CBRNE incident; and working with U.S. Forestry Service experts on how to go in with chainsaws and cut and clear trees to clear a road or area.

The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.

“It’s a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that they’re fielding. They’ve been using pieces of it in Iraq, but this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we’re undertaking we were the first to get it.”

The package includes equipment to stand up a hasty road block; spike strips for slowing, stopping or controlling traffic; shields and batons; and, beanbag bullets.

“I was the first guy in the brigade to get Tasered,” said Cloutier, describing the experience as “your worst muscle cramp ever — times 10 throughout your whole body.

“I’m not a small guy, I weigh 230 pounds ... it put me on my knees in seconds.”

The brigade will not change its name, but the force will be known for the next year as a CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force, or CCMRF (pronounced “sea-smurf”).

“I can’t think of a more noble mission than this,” said Cloutier, who took command in July. “We’ve been all over the world during this time of conflict, but now our mission is to take care of citizens at home ... and depending on where an event occurred, you’re going home to take care of your home town, your loved ones.”

While soldiers’ combat training is applicable, he said, some nuances don’t apply.

“If we go in, we’re going in to help American citizens on American soil, to save lives, provide critical life support, help clear debris, restore normalcy and support whatever local agencies need us to do, so it’s kind of a different role,” said Cloutier, who, as the division operations officer on the last rotation, learned of the homeland mission a few months ago while they were still in Iraq.

Some brigade elements will be on call around the clock, during which time they’ll do their regular marksmanship, gunnery and other deployment training. That’s because the unit will continue to train and reset for the next deployment, even as it serves in its CCMRF mission.

Should personnel be needed at an earthquake in California, for example, all or part of the brigade could be scrambled there, depending on the extent of the need and the specialties involved.

…“I don’t know what America’s overall plan is — I just know that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there are soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that are standing by to come and help if they’re called,” Cloutier said. “It makes me feel good as an American to know that my country has dedicated a force to come in and help the people at home.”

Any questions?

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