By Randy Alonso Falcón on July 4, 2022 from Havana. First posted here: https://www.resumen-english.org/2022/07/the-decadent-empire/
With a stroke of a pen the majority of the US Supreme Court has just set women’s rights in the United States back 50 years. There is no better example of the degradation that nation suffers. Today it celebrates its independence amidst fireworks and bullets.
No empire lasts forever as mighty Rome showed. It lost its almost undisputed dominance amid wars, economic decline, corruption, immoralities, and declined into decadence.
The Modern Rome is also decrepit. Contested in the military, downtrodden in the economic, degraded in the social, dwarfed in the moral and more dangerous than in its projection towards the world.
Washington’s imperial pose of “global bully” has been deflated by continuous wars throughout the world crowned by failure. The Saigon-like exit from Afghanistan, after 20 years of conflict, is the best image of the gradual collapse of the greatest military power that history has ever known. Its real impossibility to stop Russia in the war in Ukraine and to catch up with Russia’s developments in certain fields of military technology is another.
Despite enormous pressure, the United States and its European allies have not been able to drag China, India, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey and much of the world into their war of trade sanctions against Russia.
It cannot even impose its designs on its once “backyard”. The Summit of the Americas showed that more than a few Latin American and Caribbean governments are standing up to Washington’s attempts at imposition and bludgeoning. And that the world’s leading economy cannot even compete with China in terms of economic offers to the region. Much less in these times of crisis and the record high inflation in four decades.
For historian Alfred McCoy, the decline of the empire in this phase began with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to him, China will surpass the economic and military influence of the United States in the world by 2030.
The concern of the empire’s strategists is growing. Two Pentagon advisors put it clearly in a recent article: “The United States and its allies are in a strategic quagmire. Shaken along the full spectrum of hybrid warfare by similar adversaries, near and non-state, they are being challenged in all domains of contemporary conflict. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine turned the already threatened rules-based liberal order upside down and lowered expectations about the behavioral boundaries within which states could act. China’s unprecedented rise as an economic, technological and military rival has catalyzed a tectonic shift in the global balance of power. The resurgence of Sino-Russian alignment further complicates the West’s strategic situation.”
This has just been reaffirmed by the recently concluded NATO Summit, where Western powers anathematize China and Russia, and try to show muscle under the umbrella of thousands of U.S. nuclear weapons.
Moreover, no military power maintains its hegemonic might without intense production capacity, technology and economic power to safeguard this power.
But the financial casino is running out of steam
The financial bubble economy with which they have dominated and shorn the world over the past decades is showing signs of its exhaustion. Having the dollar printing machine going is no longer enough. The United States has worn out its economic and financial power by implementing irresponsible economic policies, say respected analysts.
The enormous U.S. public debt is an increasingly heavy burden for the great power. The nation’s huge fiscal deficit has been financed almost entirely since the beginning of this century by foreign lenders, including those from China, Russia and other countries considered enemies by Washington.
As economist Nouriel Roubini (the guru who predicted the 2008 crisis) analyzes, “…a country that needs to borrow between $700 billion and $800 billion a year from abroad to finance its external debt cannot be very selective in the ways (common stock rather than debit) in which its lenders and creditors want to finance these deficits. The first rule of good manners if one is invited is not to spit in the dish on which the host feeds one. But under this corrupt financial protectionism, the United States believes it is going to order other countries how and on what terms they should finance their twin deficits. This attitude will not be permitted by creditors for much longer.”
The Federal Reserve, with historic losses on its assets of more than 13 times the amount of its consolidated capital, was forced to raise interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point (0.75%) in a move seen as aggressive, to address the red-hot inflation that is plaguing the economy, frustrating consumers and stifling the Biden administration. It is the largest rate hike since 1994 and will affect millions of U.S. businesses and households, raising the cost of home, auto and other loans to force a slowdown in the economy.
And there will be no soft landing, warn experts, who even speak of the risk of a stagflationary storm in the making.
Here and there, there are signs of a shake-up in the economic dominance of the United States, which can no longer compete in certain fields with the Arab monarchies, which are also financiers of the U.S. debt. Last week, the head of the PGA Golf Tour, the former symbol of the supreme in this elite sport, came out to cry for help because they cannot compete with a new golf league backed by Saudi Arabia, which in recent weeks has acquired stars such as the Spanish Sergio Garcia or the Americans Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. “I want to be clear, I’m not naive, if this is a war and the only weapon is dollars, the PGA Tour, an American institution, cannot compete with a monarchy that spends millions in an attempt to buy golf,” its commissioner Jay Monahan told a news conference in Cromwell, Connecticut, USA.
Financial corruption makes waves in the midst of the crisis and deepens the decomposition of the empire. It’s not just Trump’s shenanigans to avoid paying taxes, in a country where it is legend that Al Capone went to jail not for being a notorious mobster but for evading the taxman. The Federal Reserve itself has been undermined by scandals in recent years.
The credibility of the U.S. central bank is at risk due to the behavior of some officials who have allegedly put their personal interests above the interests of the economy they are supposed to help steer, several analysts agree.
When countries were beginning to announce mandatory quarantines and panic was growing in the financial markets due to the economic consequences and the potential financial crisis caused by Covid-19, Richard Clarida, the vice-president of the U.S. Federal Reserve, sold almost five million dollars in shares that had already been losing value in the New York Stock Exchange. A “planned portfolio rebalancing” was described by the Federal Reserve in its reports on the stock market movements that senior officials of the U.S. central bank have to report on a daily basis.
Clarida sold his shares on February 24, 2020 when markets were down to avoid losing more money on stocks amid a turbulent backdrop. However, three days later, on February 27 of the same year, he bought back the same shares when they had lost even more value. What most caught the attention of researchers is that one day later, on February 28, Jerome Powell, head of the Federal Reserve, announced that he would use the tools at his disposal to mitigate the economic consequences brought by the pandemic and the general reduction in demand and consumption.
On February 26 of that same year, Fed officials met to define what macroeconomic measures to take to counteract the effects of Covid-19 on the economy, a meeting Clarida was not at, but about which he later obtained report by a call that is recorded with one of the attendees. On March 15, 2020, the Federal Reserve cut the benchmark interest rate to 0%, bought Treasury bonds and other mortgage-backed financial products in excess of $700 billion. Eventually, the financial markets recovered and so did the stocks that Clarida had bought at very low prices before the anti-crash measures were taken.
After investigations, initially revealed by Bloomberg, and much questioning by congressmen and other experts, Richard Clarida submitted his resignation to President Joe Biden on Monday, January 10, 2022. His term was to end on January 31, but he brought his term forward two weeks and left office on January 14. Just like Peter in his own house.
Two other U.S. bank officials, Robert Kaplan, former president of the Federal Reserve’s regional office in Dallas, and Eric Rosengren, former president of the regional office in Boston, also resigned over similar cases in September 2021.
From the Enron and Maddof cases at the turn of the century to the recent episode of fraud in telemedicine services, financial scams have multiplied. And the role of the United States in global financial opacities and corruption has skyrocketed.
As the so-called Pandora Papers revealed, over the past decade, South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, Wyoming, Nevada and more than a dozen other U.S. states became leading tax havens.
By 2020, 17 of the world’s 20 least restrictive jurisdictions for trusts were located in U.S. states, according to an Israeli university study cited in the Pandora Papers.
Tax secrecy, regimes that allow companies to avoid paying taxes, or individuals to avoid payments during an inheritance… these states compete to attract funds, American and foreign, the extensive journalistic investigation highlights.
Delaware (the state for which Joe Biden was a senator for 36 years) is the leading tax haven if you want to create a limited liability company with international activities to avoid paying taxes. More than 1.3 million companies are registered there, i.e. more than the number of its inhabitants.
And if those at the top use sophisticated operations to get their hands on money, other rogues also take advantage of the circumstances. One gigantic fraud spread across the country in the midst of the pandemic: making fraudulent claims of pandemic unemployment, a recent audit of federal aid delivered between July 2020 and June 2021 to mitigate the social impacts of the paralysis caused by COVID-19 showed.
They used bots or teams of low-wage workers to complete online forms and file false unemployment claims in all 50 U.S. states. An international collection of fraudsters raised billions in pandemic unemployment relief funds to commit what U.S. prosecutors say could be the largest wave of fraud in U.S. history.
The U.S. Inspector General’s Office estimates about $87 billion in fraudulent claims; some experts think the losses could be in the hundreds of billions.
In Illinois alone, fraudsters stole more than half of the money paid by the state from a special pandemic unemployment fund that amounted to $3.6 billion. Nearly $2 billion in federal money that was supposed to help out-of-work Illinoisans ended up in the hands of scammers who filed more than 212,000 fraudulent unemployment claims.
Political corruption reaches scandalous levels for what calls itself the “largest democracy in the world”. Congress is like a great gambling house, where the seats are mostly occupied by those who manage to recruit the most money among the generous and well-interested lobbyists and Political Action Groups. Economic policy specialist Thomas Ferguson points out that: “…the parties in the U.S. Congress now put a price on vacant seats that are key to the law-making process”.
According to Transparency International’s latest annual report, issued in January 2022, the United States has the worst level of corruption in nearly a decade. Its deterioration, in part, is the result of a collapse in confidence in its electoral system generated not only by misinformation, but by the investment of unprecedented amounts of money whose sources are not disclosed.
What in any other country would be considered a corrupt activity by definition is common practice in the United States where astronomical sums of private money are injected into national, state and local elections, all in a legal manner. Donors do not have to be identified and can evade contribution limits through various maneuvers.
The federal election -presidency and legislature- of 2020 was the most expensive to date, totaling nearly 14 billion, more than double the previous cycle in 2016, according to the specialized organization Open Secrets. And the trend is to grow. Last year, 20 billionaires contributed a total of 2.3 billion, a figure that is double what Biden’s election campaign spent.
An example of the “exemplary” functioning of the great democracy that economic power can buy is that of Gary Cohn, former president of Goldman Sachs, who became Trump’s top economic advisor. Upon leaving Goldman, the firm gave him a total of $285 million; $123 million in the form of cash and stock that he could only cash in if he left the firm for a government job.
While cashing that $285 million check, Gary Cohn helped rewrite the country’s tax laws, advanced the changes through Congress and basically gave Goldman Sachs its money back and a few billion dollars too much.
So it matters little that the country is tearing itself apart or mourning more and more families through mass shootings. Nothing can go up against gun ownership. That’s what generous contributions to lawmakers by the National Rifle Association and other gun advocacy groups are for.
“Every day 30 people are killed by someone using a gun. And if you add in suicides and accidental deaths, the number rises to 100 people every day. And we all know how terrible these mass shootings are. It seems like it’s weekly, the tragic lives that are lost in these mass shootings and in these individual shootings every single day,” said Democratic Representative Mike Thompson in a recent session of Congress.
For the first time in 30 years, that Congress has just agreed to limited gun legislation that includes restrictions such as a ban on assault weapons and background checks for all gun transactions across the board. It is just a step short of what a society jaded by violence is demanding.
Most of the 15 conservative senators who have joined, including Republican House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have done so because they are not running in elections this year in which their voters could punish them. The gun issue remains a red line for the voting base of many of those lawmakers.
But 33 Republican senators, almost all well-funded by the NRA, voted against the bill.
This happened on the same day that the Supreme Court decreed the right to bear arms in public places, based on the Second Amendment. Now bars, restaurants, subways and other public spaces will be filled with guns ready to be used. Hail, sheriff.
Today, July 4, a shooting turned Illinois’ Independence Day festivities into mourning. Nothing seems safe anymore in the great northern nation.
It matters little to the magistrates that statistics indicate that today there are more American children dying from homicides than from disease. Or that an epidemic of drug use such as fentanyl is affecting the destinies of millions of people and has become the leading cause of death among younger Americans. Images of zombie people on the streets of Philadelphia or New York seem like scenes from a futuristic world dominated by mindless people.
In 2020, 93,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses, up 30% from the previous year.
As La Jornada columnist David Brooks noted in a recent article: “…60-70% of the country supports abortion rights, just as majorities support immigration reform, gun control, universal access to health care, labor rights, measures to combat climate change and economic inequality, and more. But as demonstrated again last week, the will of the people is not what reigns in this “beacon of democracy”.”
Decadence, as in Rome, leads to barbarism. With Trump, as a modern Nero, the most reactionary and conservative forces of the empire are flexing their muscles in the face of the loss of world hegemony and domestic ravings. They were participants in the assault on Capitol Hill a year and a half ago. They are the ones who propagate ideologies that have encouraged the perpetrators of several of the recent mass murders. They have taken over a Supreme Court that has just erased with the stroke of a pen a victory won by American women 50 years ago. Overturning the protection of abortion rights, the mythical Roe v. Wade ruling, as happened a few days ago, will leave it in the hands of each state to decide on the sexual and reproductive rights of women.
A total of 26 states are in the hands of conservative or Republican governors who have already expressed their willingness to pass legislation opposing abortion or banning it altogether.
The Supreme Court’s decision will have a devastating effect on millions of women, but especially on the poorest women, especially black women, Latinas and in general those of immigrant origin. The Supreme Court’s decision will affect some 40 million women and girls of reproductive age, who may no longer have access to abortion. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the umbrella organization of all national family planning federations, estimates that women’s mortality could increase by 14%. The worst part, they add, will be borne by African-American women, whose risk of dying during childbirth is currently three times higher.
And it seems that the backlash is not enough. Justice Clarence Thomas stated in his brief on abortion that they now intend to go after contraceptive rights and the existence of equal marriage.
Giant corporations and powerful interests have not limited their influence in Congress and the White House. They have also turned their attention to the courts.
The Federalist Society-a far-right, corporate-funded group that selected Trump’s slate of Supreme Court nominees-covered all of Justice Clarence Thomas’ expenses so he could attend a luxury event hosted by the Koch brothers. And for years, Justice Thomas filed no public statements indicating that his wife worked as a White House liaison for the Heritage Foundation, a group whose co-founder personally started the conservative effort to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.
The looming decline
As the eminent political scientist Noam Chomsky defined in his analysis of America’s decline: ” Corporate power, at this point composed largely of finance capital, has reached a point at which the two major political organizations in the United States, which barely resemble the traditional parties anymore, are in the most extreme right-wing position relative to the general population on all matters of importance that are on the table.
[…]” Over the past 30 years, “the ‘masters of mankind,’ as Smith called them, have put aside any sentimental concern for the welfare of their own society, and, instead, have concentrated on short-term profits and immense bonuses, and the country be damned – as long as the nanny-state remains intact to serve their interests, that is.”
A March 2019 Pew Research Center survey focused on what Americans think the U.S. will look like in 2050 reveals that most respondents envision a country with a growing national debt, a widening gap between rich and poor, and a workforce threatened by automation.
Most predict that the economy will be weaker, health care will be less affordable, the condition of the environment will be worse, and older Americans will have a harder time making ends meet than they do now. Also predicted: a terrorist attack as bad or worse than 9/11 sometime during the next 30 years.
The decline in the military, economic, political and moral might of the U.S. empire is notorious. It is not a process of days; it takes years. But it is going the way of the Rome of the emperors. The American people are suffering. The world is also suffering the blows.
Source: Cubadebate, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English