Thursday, 27 March 2014

PERPETUATING THE COLD WAR - KEEPING IMPERIAL AMERICA ALIVE

The decadence of "imperial America" has many causes and manifests itself in many forms--economic, fiscal, educational, cultural, etc., but foreign policy remains at its core. We see decadence of imperial America in failed wars in Asia and in NATO converted into a Eurasian Treaty Organization. After those resoubnding successes in Iraq and Afghanistan that cost the US more than one trillion dollars and brought the dollar as a reserve currency to its lowest levels in comparison with other reserve currencies, Imperial America is about to take the plunge by trying to stimulate its defense and energy sectors, using the Ukrainian-Russia crisis as a pretext. This is not to suggest by any means that the Russian government is not an oligarchic system immersed in corruption. However, it is the system that the US and the West promoted after the end of Communism and it is a system not very different from what exists in the Ukraine.

Openly encouraging all NATO members to spend more on defense, Obama has also asked them to become independent or Russian energy and more dependent on the US, where they would also be purchasing some of their weapons system as they upgrade as part of an effective deterrent to Russia. Anything short of a new nuclear arms race, is there an effective deterrent for Russia? And why does energy dependence on capitalist US make more sense than it does on capitalist Russia?

While the US spends roughly 4% of GDP for defense and an undisclosed amount on defense-related intelligence, NATO members have not kept to the US-dictated amounts of 4% of GDP. Of all EU members only bankrupt Greece spends 2.6%, or the highest level while wealthy Germany that exports weapons spends 1.3%.  The US has always subsidized NATO, currently to the tune of 73%, although there have been many in and outside of political circles calling for a sharp decrease of such subsidies so the US can start reducing its massive public debt. 

That defense is parasitic is well known, but the larger issue to emerge in the mainstream media in the last two decades - partly as a result of the massive corruption linked to defense contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan - is the degree of corruption involved here. The US Justice Department and the FBI have dome a somewhat better job of trying to keep up with corrupt defense contractors' schemes, but this is not the case in Europe and the rest of the world. The highest spending NATO member Greece has one of its former defense ministers and several other officials in prison for massive bribery schemes arising from contracts with companies and laundering operations in Germany, US and Russia among the larger players.

Many people outside the field do not realize that defense contractors actually design the anti-corruption policies that pertain to their companies, just like corporations design environmental policies pertaining to themselves.  Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has concluded that the more advanced capitalist countries in NATO have a relatively high degree (7 out of 10 with 0=very corrupt) of transparency, while the less developed members rank closer to Russia and China ranking around 4 in the scale. Because the profits are so enormous, the temptation to bribe is huge as well, thus taxpayers wind up paying 10% to 50% more for everything from tanks to submarines. Moreover, the product received has mechanical faults to the degree that it does not work in real battle conditions.

Clearly, the US is well aware of all this but it continues to push higher defense spending to strengthen the industry and afford itself greater leverage as an imperial power around the world. There is, however, the rather realistic question of what would the doubling of NATO defense spending do, if it were to take place against a real conflict where the weaker side - let us say Russia - would be hard-pressed to use nuclear weapons or face defeat. Given that there are conventional weapons with the firepower of small nuclear bombs, and tactical nuclear weapons (compared to strategic nuclear weapons) that can be used if the country feels pressed into a corner, one can see the dangers of escalation scenarios we had before the end of the Cold War.

But let us assume that the US wants greater defense spending for leverage against Russia. How much more leverage can NATO have, given that the US and NATO outspend Russia by twelve to one - US defense spending alone is about sevenfold of Russia's. What would the EU achieve and what would it lose under this scenario? If an attempt is made to expand the war economy at the expense of the civilian economy amid EU unemployment of 11% and well above 15% if we add the part-time (underemployment) rates. While the US will have an immediate benefit if the EU follows its imperial lead, longer term decadence will come sooner than later for both sides of the Atlantic.

Because higher defense spending has many dimensions and consequences, it is important to consider that reckless use of armed forces is one of those dimensions. In secretly recorded conversations, high level Turkish officials including the foreign minister discussed how to instigate a contained military conflict with neighboring Syria in spring 2014 for the sole purpose of securing the local elections. A NATO member, acting with the full backing of the US as a base of operations for Syrian rebels, the utterly corrupt Turkish government has used the conflict in the neighboring country and US involvement for political benefit internally, not to mention the massive bribes related to defense contracts.

If there is continued high defense spending that siphons off precious resources from the considerably weakened civilian economy, especially education, decadence is coming sooner than many of us expect. The decadence of empires, however, takes place in every sector from economic to cultural, and they are slow to recognize this because they are part of an almost organic process that goes from maturity to old age. The Romans, the Spaniards, the British realized decadence far too late, and even then they refused to change course, because hegemony is an aphrodisiac for the elites and the masses following.

How long can an empire last before it it begins to crumble? The American Empire has lasted for more than a century and that is indeed a long time, given the intense global competition for hegemony in various areas from military and economics to industry and technology. The World Bank and private institutions are predicting that China will become the preeminent world economic power in less than 15 years, a prospect that could very well translate into military preeminence. If and how China manages its economic hegemony and how it decides to link it to defense as has the US for more than a century remains to be seen. The temptation to link economic to military power will be too enticing to resist.

Despite inevitable decadence, the US will remain a "great power" like Germany, UK, France. Depending on how it decides to support (or not) higher education, it may remain a world leader in non-military-related science and technology areas. If the higher education model is to support anything defense-related, anything that corporations can use, anything government can use for PR and political purposes, then decadence will continue in higher education where US is currently a world leader. Unfortunately, the value system of the academic elites has been for sale to the highest bidder, and that means academics are partly to blame for the decadence unfolding in the American Empire.

There are very few academic voices crying out for a return to a Renaissance in higher education intended for the edification of the pupil and not the utilitarian value to government or corporate world. Boxed and packaged creativity for sale to the highest bidder--government and corporations--naturally entails limitations of the human spirit. Instead of remaining in the enticing mode of hegemony and the glory of the past, the elites of the American Empire, especially educators always quick to sell out and cheaply at that, could be taking steps now to prepare for a transition from Great Power status. However, like the Romans, Spaniards, and British they will want to go down with the empire than to surrender to a lower status.

Unless there is a diplomatic solution, the new US confrontation with Russia sends a strong signal throughout Europe and the world to raise defense spending, as though higher NATO military allocations would have made a bit of difference in Putin's decision to pursue the annexation of Crimea. What could NATO have done other than start another Crimean War (similar to 1854-56)? Other than enrich defense contractors in the larger Western countries, what exactly would more military spending do than destabilize the entire European continent and Eurasia?

Naturally, the die-hard Cold Warriors, those people resting on "the war on terrorism" in the last two decades to keep them satisfied that there is still an enemy out there to fight, those would be very happy to see a new Cold War possibly reemerging. Thank God there is still an enemy to fight and give meaning to the lives of hawkish groups. The larger picture, however, is one that the US as an imperial power is dying and it is desperately trying to keep itself alive through militarism. Unlike China that signed massive contracts with the EU on the same week that Obama was asking NATO member for defense spending increases, the US has chosen to opt for the bankrupt policy of "containment militarism" (a relic of the 1950s revived by the Reagan militarists) that has been responsible for the massive public debt of the last fifty years.Raising the US public debt and the debt of NATO members is one way to keep imperial America alive, but at what cost to the civilian economy, to the social structure and democracy?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

CENTRAL'S ASIA'S STRATEGIC and ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE

Besides the ominous nuclear arms race, one of the major underlying struggles between East and West throughout the Cold War was the global competition for minerals and energy sources. The reason for this is because minerals and energy have civilian as well as military significance and both play a major role in the global balance of power and quest for spheres of influence that the Great Powers carved out for themselves. Even after the Cold War, the issue of limiting countries with the potential of acquiring nuclear weapons remained significant, with the US and Israel assuming the aggressive role of stopping Iran from pursuing nuclear ambitions. In essence, behind the campaign against Iran developing its nuclear program was the US resolve to force the Middle Eastern country into an integration model that would make it more dependent economically and thus politically on the West.

One of the myths propagated by the advocates of the free market system is that the end of the Cold War, coinciding with the advent of globalization and neoliberal policies, entailed the harmonious world economic economic integration. Therefore, there is no need for a global power struggle for minerals and energy and no need to carve out spheres of influence that are reminiscent of the Cold War. This is totally false, especially considering that 85% of energy in the world emanates from oil, natural gas and coal that represents security and stability for countries that have it and those that wish to acquire it.

When it comes to the ongoing struggle for strategic raw materials and energy, the US, China, Russia, northwest Europe and Japan, as well as regional energy producers, geopolitics plays a significant role behind the economics of energy.The Western conflict with Iran, which is at an intermediary stage toward amelioration in 2014, but also the Russian confrontation with the West over the Ukrainian-Crimea crisis are indicative that the end of the Cold has not meant the end of the struggle for trying to secure economic and strategic advantage.

In the early 21st century, we are experiencing a new global power struggle for spheres of influence, in many cases using energy sources as a catalyst. For example, the bloody civil war in Syria has not only the elements of the old East-West struggle for spheres of influence, but energy as a catalyst in its midst, directly involving Syria and indirectly Iran and Israel that has been trying to insert itself in the lucrative natural gas market, always with the assistance of the US. Because Russia has been Syria's patron, and because Russia links Syria to the US-EU struggle to dominate the energy market of Central Asia, there are similarities with the Cold War, although this is in essence an imperialist power struggle comparable to what took place in the late 19th century.

One area that the power struggle has been especially prominent in the last two decades in the domain of natural gas where the US has used its political, military and economic influence to secure resources and to undermine its rivals, especially Russia and Iran, which are the number one and number two natural gas producers in the world - global production is at 175 million cubic meters and Russia's share is at 45 million, while Iran's is at 27 million, thus an immense slice of the global share concentrated in just two countries.

Although the US share of production is currently at 6 million cu. m., it has the potential of overtaking Russia by 2017-18, largely because of deposits in a number of states, especially North Dakota. In addition, the US also has untapped oil potential that could make it even less dependent on the Middle East, and permit the price manipulation of natural gas and oil to undercut rivals like Russia and Iran whose political, economic and military power rests on energy production.

Lower energy prices would make the US much more competitive, while undercutting its rivals producing energy as well as those consuming it. Russia energy giant Gazprom, and the entire energy field that accounts for half of Russia's budgetary  revenues, has allowed President Putin to become an powerful "Tsarist-style" leader at home, while affording him foreign policy leverage with EU, China, former Soviet republics and the Balkans. The US challenge has meant a decline in gas prices, and falling revenues of more than a quarter from the highs of 2010-11. This has actually benefited recessionary EU that is Russia's largest customer. 

From the Clinton administration to the Ukrainian crisis, the US and its EU partners have been pursuing an encirclement policy toward Russia, a policy comparable to the encirclement policy that France, UK and Russia were pursuing toward the German Empire from 1890 to 1914, at least as far as the German nationalists were concerned. Central Asia's strategic importance has been at the center of a competition between Russia and the US for at least a decade before the Ukrainian-Crimean crisis of 2014. Besides the Moscow-Washington rivalry, other players include China, the EU, as well as  Iran, India and Pakistan, all trying to carve out their own policies that clash with other states. The US and EU can tilt the balance of power in Central Asia because of their combine military and economic influence, but it is unlikely that Russia and the other Asian players will roll over and play dead as the West expects.

While the US argues that it is merely interested in combating terrorism and promoting "freedom and democracy" in Central Asia, the primary goal is strategic, considering that the US has been supporting some of the most authoritarian regimes in the region; regimes that are among the most corrupt in the world. The problem of the US in the Central Asia republics is that they are Muslim and the people do not fail to notice the US backed Arab Spring movements to help install pro-neoliberal regimes, and at the same time it is willing to cooperate with authoritarian Asian governments for economic and geopolitical considerations.

Although the US denies there is a power struggle for energy sources, and that there is a race for spheres of influence in Central Asia where Russia and Iran feel encircled, the reality is that in the last two decades the US and the larger EU countries have used Western multinational corporations to corner the energy market for economic and geopolitical reasons. Championing the central Asian republics as their protector from Russia and to some extent China and Iran, the US has been using natural gas reserves development as a catalyst to carving out spheres of influence as part of a larger containment policy, while insisting that Russia is the one with imperialistic intentions toward its energy producing neighbors - Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. At the same time, the US has allied itself with energy-producer Azerbaijan to undercut the role of Iran.

Because the US and the West pay a higher price for natural gas than Russia, while trying to link gas pipelines from the Central Asian republics to Europe (bypassing Iran) and China. This strategy undermines Iran and Russia that have repeatedly argued the US and EU are  engaged in neo-imperial relationship with Asian energy producers with the ultimate goal of undercutting Russia and Iran economically and geopolitically.

Besides Russia and Iran, China views the US neo-imperialist strategy involving natural gas as a threat to its
vital interests. China did not vote with Russia at the UN Security Council when it came to the Crimea issue,
but China's abstention was hardly an endorsement of US foreign policy toward Russia. The Trans-Caspian Gas
Pipeline involving Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan was one in which the US and EU had an active hand,
especially in the South Caucasus Pipeline that would deliver gas through Turkey and onto to Europe.
Although the justification for the pipeline was to keep prices competitive, the real goal
was to undercut Russia and Iran, both of which objected to the pipeline for it would case irreparable
environmental damage to their respective countries and the entire region. In May 2007, Russia countered with the Central
Asian gas pipeline that would provide gas to Europe from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia.

In the last ten years, Germany (RWE) and Austria have (Nabucco) become heavily involved in pipeline
construction projects in Central Asia with the Caspian Sea as the main source. Standing to benefit from
the construction of pipelines going West, Turkey side with the US and EU, partly for geo-strategic considerations,
given that it has been heavily involved in the Syrian rebel support against the Assad regime backed by Russia and
Iran. Turkey however, complained that it was left out in the Cypriot exploration for natural gas - where the US
backed Israeli and European companies - as well as impending Greek exploration for gas and oil in the
Aegean Sea.

The most glaring example that natural gas in the Near East and Central Asia became an obvious play of
spheres of influence was the proposed pipeline originating in Azerbaijan and going through Turkey,
onto Greece, Albania and winding up in Italy. This project has a curious history,
given that Russia was interested in a southbound pipeline that would supply the Balkans and heading
toward Europe through Greece. The US vehemently objected to the Russian pipeline on the grounds
that Balkan and EU dependence on gas would make it vulnerable to political blackmail and allow
Moscow the upper hand diplomatically. This is where the Central Asian gas supply plays a role,
although the region hardly competes with Russia that has immense known reserves. 

Obviously, in time of war, energy becomes very important and that is one reason for the politics of
natural gas. However, the game is more about political influence, containment strategy and carving out
spheres of influence between the Great Powers - Russia, US, China, Germany, UK and France.
The Ukrainian crisis is hardly worth an all out sanction confrontation that only slows down world economic
growth, but it does signal the international energy and markets competition in Central Asia will become much
tighter in the future with the possibility of a regional conflict erupting and possibly dragging the
Great Powers into it. This is not to say that the Great Powers are looking to start a war in Central Asia as
a means of stimulating economic growth and determining who emerges with the greatest leverage,
but all signs point toward that direction.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

PUTIN'S GLOBAL LEVERAGE, RUSSIAN-JEWISH OLIGARCHS and the NEW AGE of IMPERIALISM

President Putin has made no secret of aspiring to make Russia a country that must recapture some part of its former glory as a world power. Using the natural gas, oil and mineral reserves, as well as its low asset values, including low-cost labor force in comparison to the EU members, Russia has been able to recapture some of its former glory, but nowhere near where it was under the USSR or the era of the Czars when it held vast territories. The US and EU in essence drove Russia to use military intervention, placed it in a corner as Putin said, to capture Crimea over which Russia had gone to war in the 1850s and has always deemed it vital to its strategic interests, otherwise it has no outlet to the Eastern Mediterranean and no influence in the region.

In previous articles, I argued that the Ukrainian/Crimean crisis was one that went to the heart of whether Russia would have any voice in determining the regional - trans-Caucasus and Eurasian balance of power, or simply permit the US and its EU partners to impose a policy of encirclement and containment on Russia, thus weakening it strategically and by extension limiting its overall political and economic influence. The US spent enormous resources to outspend the USSR and claimed victory when the Communist system collapsed, only to be followed by the current oligarchic capitalist system that is immersed in corruption that the US also decries, although it helped to create it. Given that Russia has been an obstacle to US anti-Iran, anti-Syria policy, and given that Moscow is hosting Edward Snowden, and considering that Russia has repeatedly embarrassed the US by leaking confidential information such as the Ast/Sec Victoria Nuland tapes, the cumulative effect played an important role in the decision to pressure Russia as much as possible over the Ukraine issue.

The US behaves toward Russia as though it were the old Soviet Union simply because Putin's Russia is refusing to permit US-EU integration model to be imposed on Russia, which wants national capitalism to prevail. The enemy for the US and EU is Putin's national capitalism that has replaced Communism. In short, the US and EU are angry not only that they cannot determine the balance of power in Eurasia. but that their corporations do not have an "open door" policy to exploit the markets, labor and raw materials.  The Open Door Policy was introduced at the turn of the 20th century by the US toward China that held the promise of big profits, but it was in essence a division of China into spheres of influence - a scheme of imperialism not very different from what the US-EU on the one hand, and Russia on the other have done with Ukraine in 2014.In short, we are back to the Age of Imperialism, not Cold War, although it is a new era of Imperialism where nationalism rather than democracy and Communism are essential to this struggle. 

The irony in this new era of Imperialism is that the opposing sides are using as leverage the Jews, while claiming the other is neo-Nazi or Fascist. Putin and his regime, not known for their tolerance of minorities of any type from homosexuals to Muslims, have gone out of their way to argue that Russia is really fighting neo-Nazis in the Ukraine where an unelected government took over and contains extreme right wing elements with anti-Semitic tendencies. It is true that indeed neo-Nazi elements are inside the new regime and they do have the back-door backing of the US and EU, something Putin has been exploiting. However, very wealthy Jews in the Ukraine have sided with the new regime against Russia's interventionist policy in the Crimea, because those Ukrainian Jews see their best interests served by a pro-Western regime, even if it does have neo-Nazis in it.

To further defend his own record toward the Jews, Puttin stresses that his government has incorporated Russian Jews into the mainstream, and it is no surprise that some of the wealthiest oligarchs - billionaires and multi-millionaires - come from the Jewish community. No one can deny that Russia has a long history of anti-Semitic policies, something that has changed dramatically after the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of oligarchic capitalism in which a Jewish elite is very prominent.

Besides Russian Jews as part of the "overnight-created oligarchy" after the collapse of Communism, Putin has pursued cordial relations with Israel that has roughly a million Russian Jews. Israel has benefited from the corrupt oligarchic capitalist system of Russia owing to the reality that many wealthy oligarchs are Russian Jews friendly to Israel by spending and investing in the country. In fact, Russian money has helped enormously the economy of Israel that currently has a $3 billion trade with Russia, while trade between Israel and Ukraine is well under one billion dollars and diminishing because of Ukraine's poor economic status.

Given that there are Russian Jews who are part of the corrupt oligarchic capitalist system of Russia and given that Israel has benefited from this system, the question that some in Israel have been asking
if it matters that Putin adopted a militarist foreign policy toward Ukraine? If Israel had cordial relations with South Africa under the apartheid regime, why not pursue cordial relations with Putin that pro-Israel US politicians compare to Hitler?

Boris Shpigel, a Russian-Jewish oligarch, has been heading a Putin-supported campaign called "World without Nazism", apparently intended to hit at the neo-Nazi elements in the Ukraine and their US and EU supporters. The Russian-Jewish oligarchs and some of the Russian-Jewish organizations have no qualms of going along with Putin's anti-Ukraine anti-West campaign that clashes directly with Ukrainian Jewish and Western Jewish interests. Complicating matters further, the Kremlin has used Mikhail Dobkin, a Ukrainian Jewish politician-oligarch, to create further division in the West and Ukraine where Dobkin has no political prospects at this juncture but is solidly behind Putin's policies.

Anti-Semitic societal attitudes are about the same in Russia as they are in the Ukraine, and both of these countries have a long history of racism toward minorities, and especially toward Jews. However, after the collapse of Communism, in both countries a number of Jews became part of the oligarchic political and financial elites. That there are Jews who have been financing Ukraine's Nazi-Svoboda party has been something that Russian government exploited by presenting Russian Jews to argue of the dangers buried in the pro-West Ukrainian regime. Because the Ukraine has a problem with its neo-Nazi past and present, one ultra-nationalist organization “Right Sector” met with the Israeli ambassador in Kiev to state that it opposed anti-Semitism.

Given the very complicated picture of Putin's inner circle of oligarchs and of Ukraine's regime's mixed bag of neo-Nazi and oligarch supporters, the propaganda war has become more puzzling for the average person. A BBC commentator noted that the US and EU would not dare freeze the assets of prominent Russian-Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich, for he is far too prominent and well-connected. Besides, if the West goes after Russian Jewish oligarchs, many close to Putin, is that not a form of anti-Semitic policy and hurting Israel as well. European analysts are cautioning that hurting Russian billionaires and millionaires who have their money in the West would only hurt the EU, while benefiting non-Western countries where funds will be transferring.

According to Western financial experts and Russian oligarchs, if the US and EU really wanted to hurt Russia, they would cut off its access to banking capital, forcing the Russian banks to rely on domestic reserves that would eventually run out. This measure would invite retaliation from Moscow and it would also have consequences for the West as well. Instead, the West opted for a softer approach. Among those the US target for sanctions is mega oligarch Gennady Timchenko, head of the largest energy company in Russia and close to Putin. Others on the list include Putin's chief of staff Sergei B. Ivanov, and Yuri V. Kovalchuk, a banker for Russian oligarchs. But the core of the US sanctions on Russia are intended to hit the oil and gas industries on which Russia depends for most of its revenues. Sanctions are very light and symbolic at this stage, but they could become heavier and more painful. My view is that will never take place because Russia is such an integral part of the EU and world economy that serious sanctions would mean a contraction in the world economy, with the US and China benefiting while EU hurting the most.

The Ukrainian crisis was from the very beginning a struggle of imperialist powers trying to exploit the country for geopolitical advantage and to secure its internal markets and raw materials. Like struggles of imperialism of the 19th and 20th century, this one is veiled under rhetoric about freedom and democracy, fighting against neo-Nazism and anti-Semitic elements, trying to protect national sovereignty. None of these things are true because countries involved could care less about Ukraine's national sovereignty or social justice.

There is a great deal of analysis regarding the Ukrainian crisis, and many Westerners have concluded that Putin has been reckless in his approach because of the unforeseen consequences to the Russian economy after a sanctions regime is imposed. I would argue that Putin has been "calculatingly risky" rather than reckless, because Moscow has actually gone through procedural steps - Crimea referendum as one example - to secure what is obviously a tacit legality that Russia believes the regime in Kiev lacks. This does not mean that what has unfolded in the Crimea is not a form of imperialism, but it is in reaction to Western imperialism and containment policy of Russia. By contrast, Obama is far more constrained by institutional limits than exist in the Kremlin, so Obama is actually less of a risk-taker in this respect. Having said this, US foreign policy in general and toward Eurasia specifically is rooted in expansion whether by diplomatic, economic or military means and this is something not lost on many in Crimea who voted for the "imperialist with the most benefits for the region". 

While the people of Crimea voted on sentiment of nationalism, they also voted to join Russia because they see their identity and a better future with Moscow instead of Kiev. After all, the EU and US do not have a good track record in dealing with periphery countries - Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Greece - given that austerity has resulted in sharply lower living standards. Once the IMF and the US-EU fully integrate Ukraine into the Western economic bloc, the fate of the majority of Ukrainians would be about the same as other northern Balkan people where its average income is about $400 a month.The prospect that integration with the EU would sharply raise living standards is very real, but for the oligarchic elements and not for workers and the middle class. Given that people were faced with choices of choosing imperialist patrons, the Western Ukrainians for the most part are convinced that the West offers the best longer term options, while the citizens of Crimea look to Russian imperialism for immediate benefits. 

Is Ukraine the last country over which imperialist rivals will be fighting over for influence, or is this a sign of things to come? As we are entering a period of very tough global competition for markets and raw materials, Ukraine is the tip of the iceberg. If the Great Powers are not willing to place limits on their imperialist designs, the result will be a massive military build up on a world scale. Already the US is calling on its allies, including the poorer East European ones, to spend more on defense, thereby enriching the defense contractors of mostly Western countries. If a new wave of military spending gets under way, the net losers will be the declining middle class and workers whose living standards have been declining in the last decade.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

WHY HILLARY CLINTON CAN'T WIN in 2016

Citizens rarely vote on the basis of their best self-interest. Instead, it is fears, hopes and aspirations of what they would like to be in the future that determine how a person  casts a ballot. For this reason, they choose leaders that they fear least, but who project an image of strength and best express hopes and aspirations with which people identify, even if those are unreachable. The question of expectations from politicians is key, and Hillary has an image that she is trying to reshape so that voters find her acceptable as president. 

Can Hillary win the presidency in 2016 because she is least feared and best represents the hopes and aspirations of the citizenry?  In 2008, I had predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the nomination for president. I believe that was the zenith of her political career, rather than the position as a rather undistinguished Sec/State. In 2008, she had a realistic chance to win the nomination and then the White House. Although Richard Nixon came back in 1968 to win after losing in 1960, I believe that for Hillary there is a very slim chance that she will be elected President of the US in 2016. At this point, it seems that she really has a chance, especially among a pack of Republicans that are weak and divided and she has a great deal of money and more to spend.

She must be flying high on optimism, facing no real rivals within her own party or the GOP. After all, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll, (March 2014), two-thirds of Americans would consider voting for her, although the "definite" category runs only at 25% and the "maybe" at 41%, largely because there are really no star candidates from her own party or the Republican this early in the pre-election game, and two-third of the Republicans are no longer afraid of her if she were president, with just 6% pleased if she won.

Never mind that the election is in 2016 and that she has the highest name recognition and lowest percentage of unfavorable traits in comparison with the current batch of potential Republican candidates. Never mind that she carries enormous baggage from the White House days in the 1990s and no matter how much she tried to move closer to the right on foreign policy while Sec/State, many still see her as a liberal Democrat. Nor does it matter that she is more or less going to run on the same platform as she did in 2008 but lost then to  Obama.

To secure the lead for 2016, the former Sec/State has decided to adopt a hard line on foreign and defense policy, one that is about as close to right-wing Republican positions as possible. This is the safe thing to do to secure the votes of hawkish Democrats that may see her as a "weak female" on foreign affairs and defense, while at the same time counting on the traditional Democrat and independent voters. After all, how can she possibly win the presidency by having a 'left liberal' position on domestic issues as well as foreign affairs, especially as  woman and one with a record that goes back to the days in the White House? Moreover, I predict that the US will continue on its long-established pattern of aggressive foreign policy, with targeted interventions and covert operations in developing nations for the rest of this decade. Moreover, the US is now setting the ground work for a new rise in defense and intelligence spending, asking that its allies do the same on the pretext that Russia poses a threat to the West, as does China and let us not forget terrorists are everywhere waiting to strike.

Clinton knows that the military-industrial complex exercises enormous power and she has accepted that it is impossible to change course, short of a major domestic economic crisis. Therefore, she is jumping on the militarist/interventionist/hawkish bandwagon because she has a lot to gain, or so she believes.

But is this going to be enough to win the White House in 2016? Is it enough to compare Putin to Hitler and to sound the war drums for Hillary when there are so many Republicans who are much more authentic militarist/interventionist advocates who will emerge once the campaign gets under way in 2015-2016. I would argue that Hillary cannot project an image of a hawk on foreign affairs and defense any better than a Republican, but then again, she has no choice but to do exactly as she is doing. To win the White House, she must redefine herself as strong advocate of defense and tough on foreign policy, while appealing to the business community and the broader middle class that has become much weaker and is in desperate need of revival.

That the aggressive interventionist/militarist policy she proposes will cost a great deal and divert resources from social programs and civilian-oriented economic projects is a consequence Hillary is willing to accept. Otherwise, she would not be calling not only for a John McCain-style response to Russia, but also questioning US diplomatic solutions in Syria and Iran. At an American Jewish Congress event honoring her, Hillary said: "The odds of reaching that comprehensive agreement are not good. I am also personally skeptical that the Iranians would follow through and deliver. I have seen their behavior over the years. But this is a development that is worth testing.”

Never mind that the alternative to a diplomatic solution in Iran is a very costly "Cold War-style" confrontation that would only help Russia and China at the expense of the West, and never mind that in the end the US military solution approach would fail as it has in the past with a legacy of a much larger public debt and weaker dollar. Coming out strongly against Russia, Iran and all real and potential enemies of the US as though they are about to land in Omaha Nebraska, and using the kind of rhetoric that one would only hear on right-wing talk radio, Hillary feels confident this is a winning strategy for the presidential campaign of 2016 because this would be the approach of her Republican opponents. One has to wonder the degree of political hyperbole and shameless opportunism when Hillary compares Putin and Russia in 2014 to Hitler and NAZI Germany in the 1930s. Does this politician really intend to convince the public that anyone who carves out an  interventionist foreign policy, as has Putin, is a Hitler-like leader? If so, then there is a long line of US presidents who fall in that category.

But what if by 2016, the US has reached a deal with Iran, and Crimea is no longer an issue, and what if the Syrian situation is settled? Assuming there is no political solution to any of those issues and the situation is one of tensions between US and its rivals, why would voters trust Hillary as chief executive and not a right wing Republican?

1. Can Democrats secure a third consecutive presidential term?
Voters would really think twice before electing a Democrat with a past such as the one she has, instead of a new fresh face like Obama was in 2008. Times have changed with the internet and social media. Hillary has a generational gap issue that she cannot overcome, making her a relic of the past.

2. Are Americans ready for a woman President?
Voters would think twice about having a woman in the White House, after two terms of the first black-American Democrat. Although this is the view of right-wing Republicans like Michele Bachmann (R-Min), it is largely true in a society that just beneath the surface remains sexist at its core.

3. Can Hillary deliver economic prosperity for all?
While the economy would probably be relatively stable and the stock market steady on a gradual upward trend in 2016, assuming of course no major war or a catastrophic scenario in the economies of the G-20, the American voters would feel confident enough to vote in change with the promise of prosperity, an illusion that can best be delivered by a Republican candidate rather than a Democrat, especially Hillary who is perceived as friendly to the lower classes.

4. Do people vote on the basis of foreign policy?
Hillary represents the 1990s in the minds of many voters, and that identity with the past is not easy to overcome simply by becoming a right-wing hawk on foreign affairs. Do voters elect presidents on the basis of their foreign policy platform, or for what they can do at home? Cheap right-wing rhetoric on Russia and the Middle East means nothing to the broader middle classes and workers Hillary needs to vote for her.

5. Do voters trust Hillary and feel she would be a competent commander-in-chief?
The question of trust is of the utmost importance because it means voters have to feel a sense of comfort and confidence about their leader. Because Hillary has undergone policy changes and superficial transformation in an effort to win the White House, the trust factor is diminished. Moreover, the personal lifestyle of a candidate also plays a role, because the US is not France where 80% of the voters do not care about the private life of their president. Therefore, the trust factor for Hillary has to do with how voters perceive her personal life, which may not be in the best "traditional" format of the all-American representing family values.

For reasons I have listed about, Hillary Clinton is a long shot in the race for the White House, although right now she is the front runner and she has the ability to secure money to make it difficult for anyone to challenge her. While it is true that she is well connected with Hollywood, business, and the Democrat establishment, and it is true that she could spend hundreds of millions to make the run for the White House. Miracles sometime do happen in politics, and Hillary could benefit from such a miracle, but anything short of that, she will lose.

Friday, 14 March 2014

GLOBAL REALIGNMENT: WHAT IF RUSSIA AND ISRAEL JOINED NATO and the EU?



In February 2008, I wrote a brief article for the World Association of International Scholars. In that article, which I am re-issuing below, I proposed six years ago that world stability would be greatly enhanced and at the same time the peace would help global trade and economic growth if Russia and Israel joined NATO and the EU. On the eve of the referendum in the Crimea on Sunday, 16 March 2014, it seems that the issue of global realignment by having Russia and Israel join NATO and the EU may be something to debate seriously.

Russia: 
Once again Moscow has warned about NATO's eastward expansion plans that include Ukraine and Georgia, and perhaps eventually other former Soviet republics in dire need of cash and desire to use NATO as a counterweight to Russia. In the absence of the East-West conflict, NATO ought to consider making Russia a member before expanding into its zone of influence and encircling it as a means of exerting
paramount influence in the Trans-Caucasus and Middle East oil-gas regions and using NATO as leverage for all other matters. Throughout the 1990s, the US as well as Europe rushed to integrate economically the former Soviet republics--the new Third World to be exploited--in effect encircling Russia. 

Under 'Man of the Year' Putin, Moscow forged piecemeal integration pacts to protect itself from encirclement. If the US wants the otherwise insignificant Republic of Macedonia as a NATO and EU member over the objection of the nationalistic Greek government that takes offense to the small country's archaic name, then why not include Russia that would engender immense regional and global stability? Furthermore, Russia's membership could account for a drop in defense spending and a rise in civilian GDP for all NATO and EU members. 

Even more significant, the otherwise diseased state-directed, state-supported western-centered capitalist system can be invigorated with the injection of new blood into its 500-year-old vampire veins currently fueled by globalization-privatization programs that have dubious if not counter-productive value to growth and development. If NATO continues the Eastward expansion course, then Moscow has every right to be concerned about neo-Cold strategies designed to asphyxiate Russia for geopolitical and economic reasons.

Israel: 
It would make even more sense to consider Israel as a NATO and EU candidate. After 60 years of war as a way of life for Israel and the entire Middle East, there can finally be regional harmony if Israel were NATO and EU member. For those who may be jumping off their seat by my suggestion, it makes as much sense to have Israel join the EU as it does Turkey, and even Sarkozy may go along if the two were a package deal. NATO-EU integration for both Russia and Israel is the road to constructive engagement, assuming the political will is there on all sides. Presumably, both countries will become more pluralistic, tolerant of minorities and progressive with better prospects for sociopolitical harmony and economic development under NATO-EU umbrellas. 

By the same token, anti-Semitism will lessen in the EU, as will tense relations with the Muslim countries with which Europe maintains better relations than the US which has not served Israel's best interests as judged by results. Tel Aviv's fears of Arab encirclement and its unrestrained aggressive response can be
attenuated with EU and NATO membership. Naturally, what I am suggesting assumes the political will in Tel Aviv and Moscow to move toward NATO and EU membership, as well as private sector pressure.

Entrenched interests will resist, especially nationalists of various sorts, militarists and right-wing ideologues in Russia, Israel, EU and US where the political establishment, media, and think tanks are nostalgic for the Cold War. Economic integration of Russia would be very costly for the EU and likely to meet major resistance. Therefore, it would have to take a long time, while NATO integration could proceed more smoothly. The question for both Russia and Israel is whether in the 21st century it best serves their interests to be part of Europe and NATO, or to continue on the same course and see how far the US tightens the thinning rope?

@@@@@@@@@@@@
 
The article above written six years ago has more significance today than it did in 2008.
The global economic power balance is changing very rapidly, and that means gradually US policy will have to change to reflect the realities of its own power and the role of other powers in the Middle East. Realizing that there are certain entrenched interests that want no change in the status quo in Israel, the question is can you count on the status quo remaining in the early Cold War mode? The conflict with the Palestinians must come to some kind of resolution if Israel is to transform itself into a more secure and prosperous society for all people and not one where only some enjoy the benefits of the current war economy.

There are very powerful European interests currently refusing to invest in Israel, directly or indirectly, to say nothing of interests linked to Islamic sources. For example, one of the world's largest fund at more than one trillion euro is Norwegian. Along with other EU funds, it refuses to invest in Israel. If I were advising the government, I would ask what is the trade off here and how can we move ahead to promote the welfare not of a handful of Israeli interests, but of the broader middle class and workers? In short, Israel's integration into the EU and NATO does have trade offs, but this means more Israeli citizens benefit in exchange for leaving the early Cold War ideology in the past. It is time for Israel to move on and embrace the future, which is not the US but Europe.

If the goal of Western capitalism is continued expansion, including geographic integration of as much of the world as possible, and if the goal is to reduce tariff barriers and maximize profits while creating more opportunities for growth and development, then the proposal to have Russia and Israel join the EU makes sense. After all, if Turkey is an associate member, why not Israel and Russia? At the same time, if the concern of the West is antagonism from Russia because it is a nuclear power, then what a better way to coopt the country with second largest military arsenal on earth? And if the endless Israel-Palestinian conflict seems like an endless possibility, is there a better way to coopt Israel other than bringing it into NATO and EU? While such a proposal as described above may actually divert precious resources from the defense sector to the civilian economy and benefit all concerned, that may be one reason, among many others that are largely political, for the difficulty of pursuing it.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

US OBSESSION WITH TERRORISM

The institutionalization of an anti-terrorism regime that impacts both domestic and foreign policy has begun to backfire on the US in many ways. When the CIA finds itself spying on the computers of Congressional staff investigating CIA torture methods, no doubt in the name of national security, this suggests that a state within a state has become a problem for a country calling itself  democracy. When Sen. Diane Feinstein accused the CIA of undermining the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee in its constitutional duty for oversight, the answer from CIA director John Brennan denied there was any such spying, despite incontrovertible evidence that the Senator presented. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating for possible criminal charges to be brought against those who have broken the law in a number of cases.

US obsession with terrorism drove the same John Brennan to immediately jump the gun on the causes for the Malaysian missing Boeing 777. Without a trace of proof, CIA director concluded it was terrorism behind the missing place. When INTERPOL publicly came out to state categorically that terrorism played no role, Brennan felt the need to denigrate INTERPOL, and insist it was terrorism, though he presented no evidence. When more evidence was discovered by various news organizations and the authorities in Malaysia that terrorism was not a possibility, though hijacking could be a cause, Brennan insisted on terrorism but offers no proof to substantiate the claim. I have no doubt that his interest is not in protecting the airline or Boeing, but rather a "terrorism ideology" rooted in obsession that prevents him and his agency from doing their job within the congressional mandate and effectively.

In an issue devoted to the US terrorism obsession, THE ATLANTIC (October 2013) argued that fear of al-Qeada has caused much more damage to the US than al-Qaeda. My only difference with that assessment is that the US has no fear of al-Qaeda, with which it has cooperated indirectly both in Syria and Libya to realize regime change, but the deliberate policy to institutionalize anti-terrorism as a way of keeping the American people loyal to the regime and institutional structure - political, economic and social order -while at the same time justifying foreign interference. Not only are US agencies spying illegally on its own citizens and on congressional committees investigating the spy agencies, all in blatant disregard of the law, but it is spying on foreign leaders and companies - industrial espionage - justifying it as 'part of the war on terror'. EU officials, of course, had to ask how does the EU Parliament pose a terrorist threat to the US; a rhetorical question for which there was never an answer other than "everyone spies on everyone else".

In October 2011, the US heavily publicized an Iran-Mexico plot intended to carry out terrorist activities on US soil, including an assassination scheme at the expense of the Saudi ambassador. As it turned out, this was a totally fabricated story and nothing ever came of it. Nevertheless, a year later Hillary Clinton insisted that Iran exports terrorism to Mexico and other countries, offering no proof for any such activities, other than the argument by authority, namely, believe me because I was Secretary of State.

Because the media always publicizes such government claims about terrorist threats, real or false intended to create diplomatic incidents, the public simply accepts them as true. Nor does the media bother with a follow up stories when there is no evidence at all supporting government claims of terrorism. This not only allows the government to have the entire country on a terrorism alert, real or manufactured, it also allows other countries to call any act from a bank robbery to illegal arms transport terrorist, instead of viewing each case on its own merits. Not only is the issue of definition subjective, based on whatever each government wishes to baptize terrorism, but it becomes even more confusing and a disservice to society because any grassroots democratic movement can be called terrorist by the government trying to repress it. At the same time, we can have two opposing sides, rebels vs. government, denouncing each other as terrorist.

US obsession with terrorism, however, goes much deeper than spying on Senate committees and the EU Parliament. This is how agencies justify their existence in the absence of a Cold War. This is not to suggest that the US has no enemies, but it does go out of its way with covert operations and military solutions to political crises to create enemies, instead of solving problems through diplomatic channels whenever possible. Let us consider the illegal CIA drone strikes that have killing an undetermined number of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen. This illegal type of warfare has been declare a war crime, but the US invokes the doctrine of "Exceptionalism" because it has relegated to itself policeman of the world.

Let us also consider the US is now engaged in what ATLANTIC in its article calls "pre-crime style police methods" (based on sci-fi movie MINORITY REPORT), where the Department of Homeland Security screens travelers 'private databases that include Americans’ tax identification numbers, car registrations and property records." This is an illegal process and violates privacy rights, but the US terrorism obsession justifies it, just like CIA director Brennan justified spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee and then denying it when Feinstein went public with the story.

Rather than bringing up what Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organizations have concluded about US violations of human rights, war crimes, and violations of international law, I would prefer to focus on why the US is so obsessed with terrorism when that campaign has drained the US Treasury and it has not been effective in deterring terrorism as the US defines it, on case by case. Besides serving to justify high spending on defense and intelligence, which constitute a drain on the budget but help strengthen corporations linked to those sectors, the institutionalization of terrorism to the point of breaking the law, violating civil right and spying on Senate Oversight committees provides the US government with the justification that there must not be structural change in society.

As long as there is an aura of fear rooted in terrorism, the government, and of course the media and all mainstream institutions, project the image to the American people that national security come first above all else, including social justice issues. At the same time, given that the US has been challenged economically by China that is likely to become the world's number one economy at some point in the 21st century, needs to retain its military superpower status as leverage for exerting global economic influence.

Therefore, the terrorism obsession serves a domestic political and economic agenda in keeping the status quo despite the massive erosion of living standards on the part of the middle class, as well as the US preeminent global military position. Next time that CIA director Brennan goes on TV to insist that terrorism is behind everything that goes wrong with the world, from airplanes with mechanical faults to the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating torture methods by CIA operatives, you must believe that he is only reflecting and serving the institutional structure and nothing more. This is not an issue of CIA credibility, because few expect a spy agency or its chief to have much credibility. Deeper than agency credibility is political responsibility at the highest levels and whether American society wishes to preserve its democratic values or to continue going the road of a quasi-police state.


Thursday, 6 March 2014

US SUPPORT FOR NEO-NAZI UKRAINIANS

Has the US government been supporting neo-Nazi Ukrainians who took part in the overthrow of president Yanukovych and then established themselves in power along with other right wing and pro-Western elements? There are a number of articles on this issue as well as video showing neo-Nazis receiving political backing from Western officials, while all along the US and EU are insisting that democracy is at stake in the Ukraine and Russia is the obstacle.

Let us have no illusions that indeed the US played a role in the downfall of the Communist bloc and it celebrated the new regime that immediately embraced the capitalist political economy and elected government based on multi-party system. However, the Ukrainian crisis has proved the problem for the West even under Communism was not confined to ideology, but extended to the matter of nationalism and spheres of influence the US demanded for itself at the expense of its rival Russia. Let us also acknowledge that besides helping to bring the oligarchic political economy that prevails today in Russia and the former Soviet republics, the US and its EU partners have benefited by the cheap energy source Russia and the former republics have been providing the West as well as massive investment flowing outward. 

Is the US so desperate to carve out more spheres of influence all around Russia's borders that it would go to the lengths of backing dictatorships in the trans-Caucasus region and neo-Nazis seizing power through a Western-guided and financed rebel movement? There is some evidence already that the US with the help of France, UK and Germany used neo-Nazis in the Ukraine to do the exact same thing they did in Libya and Syria where the rebel movements were openly receiving Western financial, military, political and technical support.

On 5 March 2015, several European television stations played a video and audio that apparently proves beyond any doubt the so-called rebel movement was manufactured and manipulated in such a way as to force Yanukovych from power. This is not to defend the former utterly corrupt president who proved incompetent and ruthless, but the video and audio is now confirmed to be authentic by the foreign minister of Estonia who has asked for an investigation into the sniper shootings that resulted in the death of several demonstrators in Kiev.

Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet had been in the Ukraine to see for himself on behalf of his government what had taken place and to report back to his government and to EU foreign minister Katherine Ashton. In a conversation that was leaked, Paet tells Ashton that the snipers who were killing demonstrators were in fact paid professionals working for the anti-Yanukovych movement. The question of who hired and paid the snipers is unclear. Katherine Ashton explained to Paet on the phone that she was concerned and that there must be an investigation.

The odd thing about this video is that one cannot find anything written about it in the leading Western media. By contrast, there are many articles about how Russia is a militaristic power violating international law, and how both Sen. John McCain and Hillary Clinton believe Putin is like Hitler, a comparison the Bush administration was making when it wanted to topple Saddam Hussein and when Obama wanted to topple Qaddafi by use of military force.

As far as neo-Nazi elements in the Ukraine, I am not privy to US official documents that indicate the degree to which the US is involved.  However, we now have a neo-Nazi announcing his intention to run for president in the upcoming elections.I have no US official documents to prove that the US has been helping neo-Nazis directly. However, the National Endowment for Democracy, acting as an NGO but receiving funding from the government and operating under the State Department, has been very active in the country for at least ten years. The key players in the Ukrainian rebel movement and their sources of support have come to question, largely because the US government has lined up behind the entire movement without making any distinction between the genuine pro-democracy elements and the neo-Nazis who appear to be the most influential from behind the scenes.Just as the US has been on the same side of rebel Islamic movements that included al-Qaeda elements in Syria and Libya, similarly, it was on the same side as neo-Nazis fighting to bring down a regime the US wanted overthrown.

While it is understandable that the propaganda war takes over in times of diplomatic crises, the question is the arrogance of Western media that claims to be professional and "objective", when in fact it delivers the political line of the government in power. This is true of Russia and China, but at least in these countries the consumer of news already knows this to be the case, because there is no pretense of objectivity. Meanwhile, the exact same mode of operation that unfolded in the Ukraine is now unfolding in Venezuela. There seems to be a US global covert campaign to destabilize regimes that affirm national sovereignty and/or align themselves with countries the US opposes. Ukraine fits into this mold, but to go as far as supporting neo-Nazis and have snipers working for the anti-regime elements assassinate demonstrators brings back memories of CIA operations in Iran, Indonesia, Chile, etc.

"Spinning" a story to a certain degree for propaganda purposes is to be expected by the media, East or West. Completely ignoring a core news story that goes to the heart of the grand deception about who is behind a rebel movement and who is carrying out assassinations of demonstrators goes beyond "spinning" into the realm of self-censorship at best, and state-influenced media coverage at worst, especially when the intention is to cover up Western ostensibly "democratic" support for a movement that in reality has neo-Nazis as key players.

The danger of US and EU support of the interim government that replaced Yanukovych is that at the very least it has strengthened neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist elements who believe in ethnic purity and ridding the land of Russians, Jews and other minorities. While Western support for a regime that includes neo-Nazis may present geopolitical advantages to the West and probably offers good business opportunities down the road, there is a lesson here from Western policy of appeasement during the Third Reich, a policy that the US and its Western allies pursued because it was good for business and it was a way to create a buffer zone between the Soviet Union and the West. The result of that reckless policy was World War II. 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

THE POVERTY OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT MODELS



PART I: The question of "Development Models" 

What are plausible models of modern economic development and to what degree do they improve people's lives"? In a globally integrated economy, is it possible for a country to pursue development that does not conform to the neoliberal policies that the IMF, World Bank, large banks and corporations, and the most advanced countries are peddling to ensure even greater global integration? Do economic growth and development alone account for human happiness with the broader meaning of the term, or is the Western materialist bourgeois society defining a value system for the entire world?

Because in the post-Communist era there is the current model of neoliberal policies under globalization that has resulted in a few hundred billionaires and multi-millionaires owning more wealth than half the world's population, the legitimate question to pose is whether a variety of economic development models even makes sense. We are now at the point that socioeconomic inequality compares with pre-revolutionary France across Europe. Another question arising from the existing egregious inequality on a world scale is whether civilization can possibly survive by pursuing the existing neoliberal model that promises prosperity, but delivers downward socioeconomic mobility, higher chronic unemployment and underemployment, famine, disease, and conflicts arising from mass demonstrations and rebellions in reaction to absence of social justice?

The mode of production, which determines the social order under capitalism, has evolved from the Commercial Revolution in the 16th century to globalization in the late 20th-early 21st century. Five hundred years after nascent capitalism's nascent stage in northwest Europe, the manner by which the system creates poverty as it simultaneously concentrates wealth and creates social inequality, unequal exchange, and uneven world development have remained the most compelling political issues of our time. At the dawn of the 21st century, the international political economic structure remains unaltered in its goals of capital concentration socially and geographically, promising greater growth and development for all who take part in it. While global economic integration under neoliberalism emphasizes the benefits of increased trade and the futility of autarky in the age of globalization, critics question whether national sovereignty is sacrificed in the process along with social justice, creating a larger greater gap between the very few rich and the multitudes of workers.

Under the world-system of capitalism, there have been different models of development in the history of capitalism, determined to a large degree by the shifts from the primary sector of production (agriculture, forestry, mining and fisheries) to the secondary sector (manufacturing) and to the tertiary (service) and high tech/biotechnology sector. Before analyzing some models of economic development, it is instructive to consider the following questions about development economics.

a) What development model best serves the needs of the people, presumably all people and not just a small percentage representing financial, political, military, and bureaucratic elites? Is the existing model of neoliberal capitalism the best and only option, or has it resulted in the downsizing of the middle class? Because people have differing views on what best serves society, that is, best serves every person equally in every respect in institutional terms, most economic models are necessarily based on what best serves interest groups within society. There are of course economic development models that claim to best serve everyone, including Socialist and Communist models, but in practice some sectors and some individuals are better served even by those models, as history has clearly demonstrated in the 20th century, than other groups in society.

b) Is it possible to separate politics from economics and speak in terms of pure economics instead of a system of political economy and social structure? If economics comes down to political decisions that result in some benefiting and others hurting in society, should politicians be hiding behind economists and organizations dealing with economic issues? Presumably, the political economy of capitalism is predicated on an expanding middle class, or at least on a steady upward socioeconomic mobility. However, does this system continue to deliver on that promise in  the Western World, or has it become an impediment to its own stated goals and only Asia will experience such growth in the next few decades?

According to the OECD,
 "In 2009 the middle class included 1.8 billion people, with Europe (664 million), Asia (525 million) North America (338 million) accounting for the highest number of people belonging to this group. ...  The size of the “global middle class” will increase from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030. The bulk of this growth will come from Asia: by 2030 Asia will represent 66% of the global middle-class population and 59% of middle-class consumption, compared to 28% and 23%, respectively in 2009..."

c) Is there such a thing as "the perfect" or 'ideal' development model that can be applied perfectly in practice as it may appear in theory, whether such a system is market-based, statist, or some model based on a mixture? If economic dogmatism, especially on the part of the IMF, the World Bank, and OECD, to mention just a few of the major influential organizations dogmatically advocating neoliberalism, has not worked as it claims to make more people and more countries more prosperous, then why is the mass media, many academics, think tanks, as well as governments lining up behind such dogmatism to mold public opinion?

d) Is it possible that one development model is ideal for all countries regardless of when it is applied?   Different countries would require to adopt variations of different models depending on their natural resources, labor force, level of current development and future potential and aspirations. Can the same development model in the early 21st century work to bring about greater development and upward socioeconomic mobility for people in the US in the same manner as that model would work in Kenya or Portugal?

e) Can development models be divorced from the realities of the present with an eye on the future of a specific country? If Ukraine is currently in dire need of massive injections of liquidity to prevent an inevitable bankruptcy, would the combination of austerity, neoliberalism and external dependence that the IMF is recommending result in prosperity or deeper socioeconomic crisis as has been the case with countries of southern and Eastern Europe that adopted such policies? Divorcing development models from the realities of the "real economy" also means that one does not take into account the subterranean economy, which includes everything from "shadow banking" to narcotics trade and other illegal activities not accounted as part of the legitimate economy.

f)  Because the decision on what policies to pursue are always taken by those who command economic and political power, can economic models in force be anything other than true representations of society's elites that enjoy access to power denied to the ordinary citizen? While it is true that citizens vote, it is not true that their vote translates into policy influence. While a very rich individual will invariably have direct or indirect contact and influence in his/her government, it is simply impossible for an ordinary worker or middle class professional to enjoy the same privilege. Therefore, the worker could propose the best possible economic development model for society, but in the end the government will adopt policies to serve the privileged individuals. 

g) Should GDP growth be the sole criteria for human happiness?  In world public opinion polls the top "happiest countries" are the economically most developed with diversified institutional structures and a division of labor reflecting upward socioeconomic mobility. This is a reflection of the value system rooted in the 18th century mindset that associates societal harmony and happiness with the Industrial Revolution that in turn carries with a revolution in science and technology and presumably solves human problems. However, three centuries have passed since the Industrial Revolution began in England, we have had far reaching scientific and technological advances, but a large percentage of the world's population still lives in chronic poverty.

While human happiness is predicated on material fulfillment in Western societies that have indeed spread their value system globally, spiritual fulfillment remains a goal for many non-Western societies at the cultural level. While a government pursues economic growth and development, culturally society or at least a segment of it can reject material accumulation as the sole criterion for progress and happiness. Even psychological well being of course in a material society is itself a commodity to be purchased in the form of medication and physician care for psychological problems, among other things.

Of course, this does not mean that spiritual fulfillment by itself is a substitute for material needs, but it does suggest the bottomless pit of materialism is a value system that is itself rooted in a mind that can never be fulfilled and will remain in disharmony. Finally, I offer a caveat regarding the issue of value spiritual vs. materialistic value systems. It is true that throughout history in all civilizations the elites that are invariably materialistic have used the spiritual issue to amass wealth and to indoctrinate the masses that all they need to live on is spiritual fulfillment. In short, religion has been used by the materialistic elites as a distraction for the masses and a substitute for material needs, ranging from basic food and decent affordable housing, to medical care and education for all and not just those who can afford it.