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Oct 11

Requiring perspicacity from those dulled by gluttony?

This week’s episode of The Explainer (which you can watch on YouTube) focused on some terms being bandied about in the news, and focused on Warren Buffett’s views concerning the financial meltdown in the USA:

You can also read the transcript over at CNBC.com.

Buffett and many others leveraged their personal influence and prestige to help swing Congressional approval for the bailout bill. This Politico.com story on it reveals the pressures (including fears it represented political suicide) brought to bear on some legislators. Additional behind-the-scenes stories given by opponents-turned-supporters of the bill:

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said that a single conversation caused her to change her mind. She spoke Thursday with California state treasurer Bill Lockyer who told her that if the state’s fiscal situation continued on its current path, California would be unable to pay teachers, firefighters, healthcare workers, cops and other essential employees after October 27. Short term credit had become unavailable, he told her, and needed to be loosened up.

And the earthiest analogy of all:

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) had a more colorful way to make the same point, quoting LBJ: “It’s like wearing dark pants and p—ing down your leg,” he said before the vote. “It gives you a warm feeling, but no one knows you did it.’

But what followed the passage of the bill was not what American legislators expected, but the opposite: instead of stemming the tide of fanancial panic, the panic continued. And continues. Meanwhile, the confidence of the region is being sapped (see the Bloomberg story on Singapore announcing it’s in a Recession). Observers like AlphaTrends are now pointing out the markets may take decades to recover, based on past experience:

Now as everyone tries to come to grip with what’s going on, the political headlines are, to some, dangerously diverging from the economic headlines. Impeachment season is once more, upon us, and observers like Cocoy are upset that politics is taking center stage:

Don’t get me wrong.

I’d love nothing more than the President getting her day in court. I’d like to see bullet-proof charges presented that would send her and her family to jail but given the lack of numbers, given the current global challenges and the opportunity such upheaval can do, is a tactical move (a play for impeachment) that important as opposed to taking the greater strategic gain?

Why are we not talking about how to best leverage these opportunities?

Because leveraging these opportunities is impossible given the mentality that thinks politics and the political process is, somehow, expendable. It is not. While I do think that we can view this harsh view of the ongoing troubles in Thailand as a cautionary look in the mirror, so to speak:

Every public institution and organization in Thailand is now compromised by this inter-elite conflict and the losers, as usual, are the poor: workers and small farmers. The monarchy has failed to defuse the situation. The queen has openly sided with the PAD mob. The courts are practicing double standards, attacking Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai/People’s Power Party corruption while ignoring illegal coups, mob violence and corruption by opposition politicians and the military.

The military as always is on the side of the conservative royalists. The police are unable to act and the government lurches from crisis to crisis. The majority of academia is hopelessly compromised by its support for the coup and their support for decreasing the democratic space. Democratic principles have been thrown out the window by professors who teach “democratization” and the need for “the rule of law.”

Even the People’s Movement has shown itself not to be up to the job. Instead of building an independent political position at the side of the poor and oppressed, sections of the NGO movement supported the coup, the military constitution and the PAD. Rosana Tositrakul, the so-called NGO Senator, elected from Bangkok, has joined into ultranationalist fanaticism, especially over the ancient Khmer temple on the border with Cambodia that was almost conflated into a border skirmish.

Perhaps being a politically, at least, more pacific people than the Thais (though some time ago Mong Palatino pointed out that no, it’s not as peaceful as we think, it’s simply that those inclined to take arms have quietly melted away into the hills, and their numbers are growing, restoring hope in “great street battles between te urban proletariat and the defenders of the ruling order” -a confrontation devoutly to be wished, incidentally, not just by the NPA but by the Palace itself), and having preceded them in getting into the whole mess of what happens when you frustrate populism (kick out Estrada, kick out Thaksin, replace both with a facade of constitutional democracy but with the population both cases convinced that yesterday’s democrats proved today’s putschists, though masquerading as People Power -thus making impossible distinguishing where People Power ends and power-grabs begin.

While the battle lines have been drawn since 2005, the Palace continues to profit from the equity of the incumbent. It has been successful in propagating the line -and all successful propaganda has at its heart a kernel of truth – that no one has their hands clean since Edsa Dos and the public can’t be budged to take the plunge,considering the conservative forces who’ve decided to opt for the status quo- I do think that those piously pleading for reason, not emotion, and who think it’s even remotely possible for the leadership to look beyond their noses have to be taken to task for their making this lack of foresight not just possible, but inevitable.

Let me set aside the question of impeachment, for now, and tackle the example of the ratification of the JPEPA. The Senate ratified the RP-Japan trade agreement by a vote of 16 to 4. Two years have been spent wrangling over the treaty (see CenPEG’s Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA): Some Contentious Issues for the cons and Solita Monsod’s On JPEPA: Let’s stick to the facts for the pros), but aside from the merits and demerits of the actual treaty, it was a showdown between two coalitions. Essentially, the arguments every administration has made since the beginnings of our republic (see Primer on the plebiscite, October 21, 1939) have continued to win out. There’s a reason for this, and it goes beyond proponents of such things being better-connected, better-funded, etc.: it is easier to sell optimism than fear. Particularly if the status quo leaves so much to be desired (consider: if oppositionists perhaps clarified their optimism in the future instead of fear/alarm over the present, might the Palace’s own fearmongering, deftly combined with pushing its own pipe dream propaganda, have worked as well as it has?).

The point is that if public relations, political discipline, governance and policy-making have all been reduced to a science by the current leadership, then it doesn’t make sense to express the hope it will start acting with foresight and reason, much less stray beyond the cozy confines of what has kept it in power and is keeping it in power -and will keep it in power for the foreseeable future. Not least because the only things that might jolt the leadership out of its cozy situation without leading to “great street battles” (something most people seem quite allergic to) have been so thoroughly neutralized over the past few years.

The Palace has proved itself adept at finding ways to prop up the constituencies it’s built. From a combination of bad-luck, poor judgment, and yes, more self-respect than its opponents have (that is, taking their own principles far too seriously, hence engaging in soul-searching and infighting when the other side has perfected pragmatic stop-gap governance and the Three Monkeys Act) the broad opposition to the ruling coalition has only achieved a stalemate that means it’s lost. And will continue to lose unless Divine Providence intervenes (the way some groups are hoping the current economic implosion will result in creative destruction).

This might well happen but even if you’re hoping for an economic asteroid to wipe out our political dinosaurs, it is an eventuality that most people are hoping will not happen, or are wondering if it’s worth it. Certainly, not a situation they will just roll over and accept.

Which brings me to Cocoy’s question, much as I do agree with many of his observations. The point is not success but rather the futility of expecting foresight much less reforms from the current fat cats. The necessity is not in a cost-benefit analysis of impeachment, but rather, the reality of it’s being a political exercise, precisely at a time when the future is so uncertain and that every opportunity to flex political muscle -however atrophied- provides an opportunity to ensure having a fighting chance in whatever the future brings.

The opponents of JPEPA may have, behind the scenes, assumed failure; but they flexed their muscle both to achieve partial success -it did force the executive to renegotiate at least some things, rather than continue its supine attitude towards the deal- for its more moderate critics and reinforced solidarity among its more hard-line opponents.

Of course it did the same for the administration and its allies in this particular case. “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” as Bobi Tiglao said early on; it has added one more feather to the cap of the ruling coalition while provoking frustration, hand-wringing, and the soul-sapping underdog’s defiance on the part of the opponents of the deal. And it underscores the pragmatic lesson the past few years have have taught: for now, the current incarnation of the administration coalition, remains the game to beat.

While I myself view political parties as unhealthy and that we should work towards Making political parties obsolete, Randy David in his column today has the opposite view, expressing misgivings When civil society becomes political.

But these are two ends of an argument with a vacuum in the middle -the large portion of the middle class, at least, that continues to think that if only purged of “politics,” governance might actually redound to the public interest.

54 comments

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  1. cvj

    Extended families. That vision of people helping move a home on their shoulders is part of that familial culture. – hvrds

    That’s the first time i’ve heard such an interpretation. I’ve always thought that the people helping the family in moving house are the neighbors who are not necessarily their relatives which makes it part of community culture (on top of familial culture).

    Then you use class contradictions to mouth your arguments. For the guys living in the slums and other garbage dumps eveyrone person who is in a private car is an elite. – hvrds

    True, but i don’t see how that invalidates my use of class contradictions.

  2. vic

    What is our Electoral Law? Do we have one?

    Yes, there is, not as most may like it but duly enforced will do for a moment, and that where the problems lie, enforcement.

    Leytenian, just two years ago, corporate donations and from labour unions were allowed in our Electoral Laws, but even that were abused, so it was abolished and now the source of election campaign fundings come from only two sources, the individuals contributor, including the candidates and the government in forms of rebates and refunds…and even that a very strict guidelines of record keeping is required since most of these contributions are refunded by the government, including a refund of at least 50% for the qualified Parties for the allowable expense…

  3. hvrds

    On JDV you are correct. But I still doubt if he could take Erap on and win in a runoff.

    I heard someone on TV last night talk about the low trust “familist” culture of the Philippines. It was none other than Dondi Teehankee defending his brothers clemency.

    Then he said that we must move away from this format. Huh??

    If you want to make class contradictions you have to have a general idea of the class status.

    For the informal settlers- the peasants who have been unable to find jobs what class would they fall under?

    Point out the blue collar industrial worker in the Philippines. Where are they?

    Point out the what is known as elite since one uses class contradictions.

    Who send off and who receives OFW’s at the airport.. The entire barangay.

  4. cvj

    hvrds, yes you have good reason to doubt. In a run-off it could still go both ways but if you add up the results.

    1998 election returns & percentage
    Joseph Ejercito Estrada 10,722,295 39.86%

    Jose de Venecia 4,268,483 15.87%
    Raul Roco 3,720,212 13.83%
    Emilio Osmeña 3,347,631 12.44%
    Alfredo Lim 2,344,362 8.71%
    Renato de Villa 1,308,352 4.86%
    Anti-Erap vote 14,989,040 55.71%

    The 55.71% anti-Erap vote would have been enough to trump Erap’s 39.86%. (That’s percentage disparity is probably going to be bigger than the eventual result of the 2008 Presidential elections between Obama & McCain.) The big assumption, (and this is where doubt sets in), is how may of the voters for other candidates would have shifted to JDV.

    BTW, did you notice that it is the rich elite who propagate the ‘familist’ culture in the Philippines (e.g. Dondi Teehankee)? As Manolo mentioned previously, the OFW (who mostly come from the lower classes) once they get established, are the first ones move away from their relatives by establishing retirement homes away from their hometowns.

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