Global Economic and Financial War Erupts

As I write these lines the Russo-Ukrainian war is entering its second month. The main fighting is in the Donbass region. The Russian military is attempting to encircle and destroy a Ukrainian army spearheaded by the fascist Azov brigade, variously estimated as between 50,000- to 100,000-strong. Russia also sent ground forces toward Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, with no attempt to storm and seize the city. Kiev is revered by Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians alike as the city of origin of their respective nations.

Putin indicated Russia does not want to occupy or rule Ukraine. Russia has been fighting a limited war. Its demands are that Ukraine acknowledges the independence of the Lugansk and Donestk People’s Republics as well as Russia’s claim to Crimea. Before 1954, Crimea was never Ukrainian. Since the 19th century, it’s had a Russian majority. Russia further demands Ukraine stay out of NATO, be demilitarized, not acquire nuclear weapons or allow NATO to put nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction on its territory, disband the fascist militias operating there and recognize the rights of Russian-language speakers.

Russia hopes to negotiate a peace treaty with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s government meeting Russia’s basic demands. At the start of the war, Russia opened peace negotiations. It would not have done so if it intended to occupy and rule the entire country. Additionally, on March 29 Russia announced as a measure of good faith that it was scaling back, but not ending, its military operation near Kiev and other areas in northern Ukraine.. Regarding the western region, Russia launched cruise missile attacks aimed at military targets but has not moved ground forces into the area.

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Ukraine War

In this post, I had hoped to concentrate on the COVID aftermath boom, inflation, the Federal Reserve System monetary policy, and the growing threat of a deep recession.

But events in Ukraine do not permit this. Even if the Russo-Ukrainian conflict doesn’t spiral into a world war, the U.S. world empire has launched an economic war that is already having a major impact on the development of the global economy.

The most extensive propaganda campaign against any nation occurring within recent memory is blaring out of every media outlet — printed, digital, radio, and TV. Some examples of the propaganda tricks employed include glaring headlines declaring as fact what a close reading of the article reveals as claims of the government or Pentagon.

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Perfect Competition

In January of this year, the U.S. government and its media claimed an invasion of Ukraine by Russia was imminent. One version of the media reports raised fears that Ukraine is only the initial target — first crush Ukraine, then march all the way to the Atlantic. In rhetoric akin to that of the Cold War, when it was said the Soviet army was threatening to invade Western Europe, now Russian President Vladimir Putin is cast as the aggressor.

We know this isn’t true. The Russian economy, devastated by 30 years of capitalist counterrevolution and only partially recovered from capitalism’s restoration in the 1990s, is in no position to support aggressive military campaigns. Russia may have moved about 100,000 troops closer to the Ukrainian border. This would be a defensive move to prevent increased warfare from spilling over into Russia proper. If not for an invasion, what explains the Russian troop movements?

The real story: U.S. imperialism is moving to consolidate domination of Ukraine. Ukraine is rich in agricultural lands and fossil fuels. Adolf Hitler had his eyes on the country as a key to his vision for an Eastern European empire. Ukraine is an important acquisition for a U.S. world empire as well.

The United States established its current domination by orchestrating the 2014 EuroMadian coup, spearheaded by Ukrainian fascists. This overthrew the corrupt capitalist, but elected, government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (1950- ). But two areas in eastern Ukraine refused to accept the coup. They are now under control of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Another region that escaped is Crimea. Ignoring this region’s real history, the U.S. media paints a completely false picture of what really happened there.

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Afghanistan – Past, Present and Future, a Marxist Analysis

On Aug. 30, the last U.S. and other NATO troops after a 20-year shooting war against the Afghani people withdrew from Afghanistan in defeat. On Aug. 15, even before the last U.S.-NATO troops had left, the Taliban entered Kabul as the “president” of Afghanistan, U.S. puppet Ashraf Ghani, fled the country.

It wasn’t only Ghani who fled. What was on paper the extremely formidable apparatus of the Afghan state including a heavily armed standing army of 300,000 soldiers and a massive police force melted over 11 days into thin air. As Taliban fighters drove into Kabul, there were no police on the streets. The only security was the armed Taliban. As these astonishing events unfolded, the U.S. military seized and maintained control of the Kabul airport as panic-stricken supporters of the U.S. occupation, and other Afghans who have no desire to live under the rule of the Taliban fled to the airport. In one incident, Afghans fleeing the Taliban desperately held on to a U.S. plane. Showing the real attitude of U.S. imperialism to those who do its bidding, the plane took off anyway with the Afghans dropping to their deaths.

Many more Afghans celebrated both the end of decades of disastrous war and the fact that another empire — the most powerful of them all — had been defeated by the people of Afghanistan. At least momentarily, Afghanistan is more united than at any time in its history. President Biden claimed a few weeks earlier — pointing to the 300,000-strong Afghan army compared to the 75,000-strong Taliban — that the U.S. withdrawal would not end like the U.S. war against Vietnam had on April 30, 1975.

In fact, the speed of the collapse of the U.S. puppet government dwarfed anything that had happened in Vietnam. In Vietnam, the puppet government had held on for about two years after the last U.S. troops withdrew. In Afghanistan, the puppet government vanished several weeks before the last U.S. troops could be flown out — to the astonishment of the U.S. government, the world, and even it seems the Taliban itself.

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A return to austerity

On June 23, President Joseph Biden announced a bi-partisan deal between the Democrats and “moderate” Senate Republicans to pass a $953 billion infrastructure plan, which includes only $559 billion in new spending. This was a small fraction of Biden’s original promise to push for a $4 trillion infrastructure plan. Biden claims he still seeks to pass his original plan. But considering the GOP’s virtual veto power in the U.S. Congress, the plan seems as good as dead. It is worth noting that the $953 billion compromise contains none of the “green energy” proposals that were part of the original plan.

What the bipartisan deal does include is “asset-recycling,” which had also been central to Trump’s infrastructure plans. Under “asset-recycling,” the federal government borrows money at high interest rates from private for-profit companies that the federal government depends on to build infrastructure projects. As collateral on the loans, the companies take possession of roads, bridges, and other public works for the life of the loan — about 30 years.

The private companies then set up toll booths on previously public roads and bridges that the federal government has leased to them as collateral, in effect treating them as their private property until the loans are repaid with interest. The public is skinned twice, once through paying off the loans and the interest on the loans as taxpayers, and second through paying tolls on previously public roads and bridges. The government then uses the borrowed money to carry out other parts of the infrastructure plan.

The proposed “compromise” with the GOP on infrastructure is typical of Joseph Biden’s 50-year-long political career in the service of U.S. capital. The “compromise” is so reactionary that members of the “progressive” Justice Democrat faction of the Democratic Party in Congress threaten to vote against it.

Earlier this year, it was widely believed in progressive circles that the Biden administration was breaking with decades of neoliberal austerity policies and returning to full-blooded “Keynesianism” of the “golden years” of the 1950s and 1960s. The $4 trillion infrastructure plan was supposed to mark the definitive end of the neo-liberal policies that have dominated Washington’s policies since the “Volcker shock” under Carter and then the election of Ronald Reagan some 40 years ago.

Progressives were hoping that a massive “Keynesian” public works program would bring about a return of the kind of full-blooded capitalist prosperity not seen in decades. True, the Biden administration did restore half of the $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits the U.S. government under Donald Trump instituted in the spring (northern hemisphere) of 2020 but then allowed to run out after a few months. And this spring, the Biden administration mailed out $1,400 checks to all “legal” adult working-class and lower-middle-class U.S. residents. It also granted temporary tax relief to families raising young children.

Since it took office on Jan. 20, the Biden administration has been running down the U.S. government’s swollen checking account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. This has allowed the U.S. government to slow the rate at which it has been borrowing money, allowing long-term interest rates to dip in recent months.

Hence, a huge amount of purchasing power has been pumped into the U.S. and world capitalist economy in the opening months of the Biden administration. As a result, according to the U.S. Labor Department, total employment rose 850,000 in June. For the first time in months, this number met the expectation of economic pundits. But maintaining this economic momentum long enough to set off a sustained rise in the industrial cycle capable of restoring old-time capitalist prosperity is another matter entirely.

The U.S. capitalists claim they are facing a huge labor shortage even as employment remains millions below the level that prevailed in February 2020 just before COVID-19 hit with full force. However, the capitalists’ complaints about the “labor shortage” are having their effect on government policy in the U.S., at both the federal and state levels.

Republican state governments have already ended the expanded unemployment benefits, while the Democrat-run government of California has announced that people must now give evidence that they are actively seeking employment or lose benefits. This occurs even as COVID-19 cases are once again rising, especially among the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. In September, the extended unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out entirely. There is virtually no chance in light of the alleged “labor shortage” being trumpeted by the media that the extra benefits will be extended.

Nor is there much chance in light of the “labor shortage” of any more stimulus checks. The mailing out of additional stimulus checks would encourage workers to hold out for wages and working conditions higher than the bosses are offering. The capitalists are therefore using their control over both the Democrats and the Republicans to make sure there are no more stimulus checks.

In addition, the U.S. Treasury is nearing the end of the rundown of its checking account at the New York Fed. As the account balance shrinks, either U.S. government borrowing will have to rise once again, which will renew upward pressure on interest rates, or government spending will have to fall, or some combination of the above. This means that U.S. fiscal policy will be a great deal less expansionary beginning in the second half of 2021 and beyond than it was in the first half of the year.

The drift back to the fiscal austerity typical of post-Volcker shock neo-liberalism almost certainly means that the rate of economic growth and with it the rise in employment will soon be slowing down.

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The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee Meets

On June 16, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee concluded its two-day meeting and announced its decisions. The FOMC consists of the seven members of the Board of Governors, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and (on a rotating basis) the heads of four of the 11 other Federal Reserve Banks that make up the Federal Reserve System. The four Federal Reserve Bank presidents serve one-year terms.

The only concrete decision announced was a rise in the interest rate Federal Reserve Banks pay on the deposits commercial banks keep with them, from 0.10% to 0.15% per year. This represents a very slight “tightening move.” However, as is usually the case, more attention was paid to the tone of the FOMC report than on any concrete decisions made.

Speculators in the gold market, commodities markets, bond market, and stock market hang on every phrase of Federal Reserve statements. The general reaction was that the FOMC indicated that it would move to “tighten” its stance sooner than had been expected. As a result, the price of stocks fell while the U.S. dollar rose sharply against gold.

The Fed’s leadership is nervous about the dollar’s recent weakness against gold and a surge in primary commodity as well as wholesale and consumer prices. Though the FOMC repeated its belief that the current surge in inflation will soon taper off, it no longer seems so sure. As I explained last month, Fed leaders cannot ignore the very real danger that dollar weakness and rising inflation could signal a return to “stagflation” over the next several years and the sharp rise in interest rates and deep recession that inevitably follow.

The Federal Reserve System’s leaders hope to guide the U.S. and world capitalist economies onto a path of a sustained rise in the global industrial cycle, which would normally be expected to last about nine years. They hope that the cyclical upturn will be stronger than the one that followed the Great Recession. But they have to reckon with the very real danger that the current apparent upturn in the worldwide industrial cycle will abort if the Fed allows the dollar to plunge against gold causing inflation and interest rates to rise.

This would make a deep global recession with soaring unemployment inevitable, perhaps before the end of Biden’s four-year term. Far worse from the viewpoint of U.S. imperialism, it would endanger the dollar system, which forms the foundation of the U.S. global empire.

Ultimately, the decisions of the Federal Reserve and its Open Market Committee are constrained by the economic laws that govern the circulation of money. This is why Pichit Likitkijsomboon’s article in Monthly Review critiquing what he calls the “anti-quantity theory of money” takes on special importance. Before we continue our examination of his critique, let’s take a brief look at the current economic situation.

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The Second Trump Impeachment Trial

Former President Donald Trump was acquitted on an insurrection count on Feb. 13 in his second impeachment trial, though 57 senators out of a hundred, including seven Republicans, voted to convict him. However, this was short of the two-thirds’ majority required to convict a federal official or ex-official on an impeachment count.

Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell admitted that, while Trump was guilty, it was unconstitutional for the Senate to try a former official on an impeachment count after the official had left office. This was despite the fact that there was precedent to do so.

In the days leading up to the five-day impeachment trial, Trump had blackmailed the Republicans by threatening to form a new far-right “Patriot Party.” Such a party would split much of Trump’s MAGA base away from the Republicans, which would make many, perhaps most, Republican politicians unelectable.

Besides the acquittal, the trial was notable not only for its brevity — particularly considering the gravity of the count — but by the agreement between the Republicans and Democrats to not call witnesses.

The issue was not simply Trump’s incendiary speech to a MAGA crowd of tens of thousands gathered in front of the White House on Jan. 6. It could be argued that Trump’s speech, however despicable its content, was protected speech under the First Amendment. You can be sure that if a U.S. president can be convicted in an impeachment trial for exercising his right of free speech, Black Lives Matter activists, leftists of all types, trade unionists, and other progressive activists can be convicted at a criminal trial for exercising the same right.

What made Jan. 6 a failed putsch rather than a right-wing demonstration that got out of hand was not the content of Trump’s speech. It was the fact that National Guard and police forces were withheld for hours even though the Pentagon and FBI as well as the police knew that a dangerous armed demonstration was planned. Indeed, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser had specifically requested on Jan. 5 that National Guard forces be called to the capital in case needed to prevent the impending violence.

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The abortive 18th Brumaire of Donald John Trump

Joseph Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States and Kamala Harris as vice president on Jan. 20, 2021. But it was an inauguration unlike any other. Washington was occupied by 20,000 National Guard troops. Nobody without a pass was allowed anywhere near the ceremony. One reporter on the eve of Biden’s inauguration said something to the effect that on Jan. 20 Washington did not look anything like America. But the point is this is exactly what the United States of America looks like now. The real questions are, how did the U.S. get this way and where is it going?

Four years earlier, the capitalist ruling class looked on with a mixture of great hope and some trepidation as Donald John Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. On one hand, Trump was a brazen amateur compared to even the least prepared of his predecessors. He had never served in the armed forces or held an elective office, nor had he served in a U.S. cabinet or any other government post. Indeed, he never held any job outside his family business besides his role as a TV showman.

Once in office, Trump wasted no time in starting a trade war with China but also with the U.S.’s imperialist satellite “allies” such as Germany and the other EU countries. There were fears in the ruling circles that this was endangering the world order that had emerged out of the U.S. victory against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. This world “order,” which Joseph Biden is now trying to reinvigorate, was based on a compromise agreement between the victorious U.S. and its defeated imperialist rivals that emerged after World War II.

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The Putsch of January 6, 2021

Normally, after my draft returns from the editors, I make a few last-minute changes, sometimes correct factual errors, and then send it back for final editing and posting. In this post, my deadline for the initial draft was Jan. 4. I considered updating the draft to cover the events of Jan. 6 but it was clear that would involve changes way beyond the usual last-minute updates I sometimes have to make. I therefore decided to leave the post as is, minus some minor editorial changes, but add this special section. The following post should be read as a description of the U.S. political situation on the eve of the attempted putsch of Jan. 6. There will be more on this subject in next month’s post.

After the the Electoral College elected Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris to the presidency and vice presidency of the United States on Dec. 14, Trump appeared to be out of legal options in his attempt to cling to office. But there was one more legal hurdle to clear before the presidential election was formally complete. This was the counting of the electoral vote and announcement of the results to a special joint session of the House of Representatives and Senate by the president of Senate, which was Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence.

At this point, if a member of the House mounts a challenge to the electors of a given state and is backed by a member of the Senate, both houses of Congress have to vote on the challenge. If the challenge is approved by both chambers, the electoral vote of that state is declared invalid. This year, a number of extreme right-wing Republican congressman and some senators announced that they would indeed mount such challenges in a series of swing states that were carried by electors pledged to the Harris-Biden ticket.

Such challenges, though they have occurred occasionally, have always been overwhelmingly voted down. This year, it was clear that the challenges would also be defeated. First, because as far as the Senate is concerned, they did not have support of Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and second, because the Democrats have a majority of the House of Representatives. Trump not only would have had to overcome McConnell’s resistance but split off some Democrats in the House to have any chance of prevailing.

But Trump hoped that the Electoral College vote could be nullified on Jan. 6, which would then move the election to the House of Representatives where Trump would be “elected” to a second four-year term. Or perhaps Trump hoped Vice President Mike Pence could simply announce that not Biden-Harris but Trump-Pence had carried the Electoral College.

When Pence tried to explain to him that the vice president has no such power under the U.S. Constitution, Trump was reportedly enraged and came to view Pence, who had hoped before the Nov. 3 election to become Trump’s anointed successor in four years, as a traitor just as Trump views so many other high officials who have come and gone over the last four years.

With time rapidly running out, Trump decided to play one final card. In the preceding weeks, thousands of MAGA supporters had arrived in Washington waiting to act on the president’s command. On Jan. 6, the command came. As the two houses of Congress were convening in the Capitol to carry out their ceremonial function of certifying the presidential election, Trump addressed a crowd of assembled fascists, some armed with guns, in front of the White House. He announced that they would march to the Capitol. Trump, however, instead of joining them retreated to the White House to watch the show on TV. The fascist mob not only marched to the Capitol, it stormed the Capitol.

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The End of the Trump Era

Just as he promised he would, Donald Trump has refused to concede the U.S. presidential election to Joseph Biden. However, on Nov. 23, Emily Murphy, the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration, or GSA, finally allowed the Biden transition team to begin preparations for Biden’s assumption of the U.S. presidency on Jan. 20, 2021.

Between Nov. 3 and 23, Murphy had stubbornly refused to grant access to the Biden transition team on grounds that, in Ms. Murphy’s judgment, it wasn’t clear that Biden had won the election. Her decision to begin cooperating with Biden’s transition team was seen as a de facto admission by at least some in the Trump administration that Biden had won the election.

Widespread relief was felt in financial circles that a contested election outcome leading to widespread unrest in the streets, if not outright civil war, had been adverted. The stock market celebrated by rising to new all-time highs and the U.S. dollar rose against gold. However, Trump himself along with many if not most Republican politicians still refused to concede the election. Trump continued to claim that he had in fact won and that Biden and the Democrats had stolen the election through massive fraud.

In a normal U.S. presidential election, the losing candidate concedes the election and congratulates the winner within hours after the polls close on election day. If the election leads to a new president, the outgoing and incoming presidents and their aides work closely with one another until the transition is officially completed. Since the 1896 presidential election, when the losing “silver” Democrat William Jennings Bryan conceded to the victorious “gold” Republican William McKinley, the concession statement from the losing candidate has become an unwritten part of the U.S. Constitution.

This election year had unusual complications because of COVID-19, which made voting at traditional polling stations extremely dangerous. As a result, many voters voted by mail. This had the paradoxical effect of making voting easier for many voters. Perhaps of even greater importance, the racist and bigoted reelection campaign of far-right incumbent Donald Trump led to an extreme polarization of the U.S. electorate. Usually, the differences between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are obviously not very deep, if not virtually nonexistent. As a result, most voters, though they generally prefer one candidate to another, do not care that much whether their preferred candidate wins or loses.

But not this time. While Joseph Biden created even less excitement than the usual Democratic candidate, Donald Trump in contrast was either hated — the clear majority view in the U.S. and even more so in the world — or loved by his bigoted white racist supporters. The result was the largest turnout of voters for a U.S. presidential election in decades. As a consequence, the large number of mail-in ballots, combined with COVID-19, messed up the computer algorithms that since 1952 have enabled the networks to accurately call the election with only a minority of the votes counted.

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