The undecided

A new signature rodeo in the House begins.

Tycoons out to bid for national power grid.

Newsbreak on a local government that chose build, lease, and transfer over build, operate, and transfer when it needed to rebuild a public market.

My column for today is The undecided, a reaction to Doronila’s Overconfidence bugs opposition parties, which came out yesterday. Surveys have been on my mind because of the US midterm elections and my recent show with surveys as the topic -for which Philippine Commentary was a great help -and I’m glad he had a good time- on the show. (The World is an Apple, however, thinks my show on ANC is record-breaking, somehow: “one of the worst made talkshows in the history of planet earth.”). Anyway, in his entry for today, Dean Jorge Bocobo takes a look both at Doronila’s and my column and further discusses the undecided figures in surveys.

The senate slate as it stands -uninspiring, and just a little less disreputable than anything the administration can dream up, because at least many of those on the list have experienced public rejection at the polls- could help achieve a tremendous, short-term solution (impeaching the President) but would guarantee that what comes after will be more of the tiresome same. No alternative list has been proposed that has a fighting chance. The problem is one that fractured civil society and the reformist elements of the political class have had since Edsa Dos. They are unable to mobilize what counts in mainstream politics, which is, the vote. They are necessary for any administration to man the bureaucracy with a semblance of competence, but when reforms become painful, they cannot cushion the government they serve from the backlash of public opinion.

My column points to the problem a very large constituency -to my mind, at least half of the country- faces. If something was worth rallying against because the Marcoses or Estrada did it, then the same should apply if the President does it -or does her being a workaholic and being able to use a fish knife with aplomb excuse what was unforgivable in her predecessors? A quarter, or half of this reform-minded constituency, has decided it’s better to stick with the lady who can speak like an educated person. because the alternatives are too uncouth to be considered. Another quarter is exasperated with everyone and prefers the devils in power to past devils or even new devils. And really, the choice now becomes, hold your nose and vote the opposition senatorial ticket or what,vote a mixed administration-opposition ticket which will achieve nothing but prolong the agony.

Not that I’m drinking Emil Jurado’s Kool-Aid, because the administration is genuinely short of viable national candidates, and furthermore, a showdown is inevitable between Lakas and Kampi for the President’s endorsement (and funding). Diosdado Macapagal spent the first two years of his presidency raiding the opposition because he was elected without a majority in Congress. The President needs a dominant party in the legislature that is loyal to her and no one else. So her people have to go for broke before the price of buying support becomes too high, or the many contests to referee overwhelms her capacity to turn her patronage into an effective means for keeping power. An OFW in Hong Kong thinks something fishy is up, because of the absence of any administration slate.

Still, we can dream.

Iloilo City Boy has a list of people he’d like to see in the Senate, and it got me thinking about who’d comprise a senatorial “dream team” for me. If the ability to win isn’t a factor, I’d want to see these twelve in office. The three main purposes of a senator are: as an advocate, as a sensible lawmaker, and as a competent person to exercise oversight over government.

Note that quite a few happen to be bloggers or write in the papers, which I think is a big help since one of the things we need more of, are people willing to let others see what makes them tick and how they think. Also, policy and oversight require different skills than the managerial requirements of executive positions. Health, education, technology, sensible administration and policies, and jobs are what matter to me, so there are some (Prilles, Ilagan) whom I’ve never met in person. And of course I have a natural bias for people I can claim to somehow understand, and this list is probably more of a reflection of my impractical attitude towards politics than anything else.

1. Randy David, who understands the people.
2. Filomeno Sta. Ana III, an economist whose heart and brain are in the right place.
3. Willy Prilles, Jr. (I’d keep Jesse Robrero where he is, for now, as he needs to be a local executive long enough to ensure a change that lasts), for education reform and regional development advocacy.
4. Gail Ilagan, from Mindanao, an educator.
5. Silvestre Afable Jr., for oversight on the armed forces, and someone who knows how government can -and should- work.
6. Michael Tan, he understands health, education, and minority rights.
7. Dean Jorge Bocobo, because we need someone who understands science.
8. Alex Lacson (“12 Little Things You Can Do For Your Country”).
9. Edwin Lacierda, because not just the letter, but the spirit, of the law needs to be upheld.
10. Yoly Ong, who knows the ins and outs and the good and bad of the communications industry.
11. Rene Azurin, who, like Randy David, has his brain and heart in the right place, too.
12. Federico Macaranas of the AIM Policy Center.

Moving on… There’s Tony Abaya taking Jose Ma. Sison to task. And John Mangun says there’s hope for the Philippine Stock Exchange.

In the blogosphere, Bulletproof Vest asks me 10 questions.

Achieving Happiness’ unhappiness over Rep. Beltran spending his 50th wedding anniversary in detention.

village idiot savant on the Cambodian experience with localized software. Why no word processors in Tagalog, Cebuano, etc. until now?

Leon Kilat on media ethics and blogging -can you accept payment for reviews, for example? MediaShift on how difficult it is to judge blogs in a contest.

New Economist on the French experience with outsourcing.

Mamutong’s son pens an eloquent brief for third party politics in America.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

91 thoughts on “The undecided

  1. mlq3, speaking for myself, I appreciate your apology. But trust me when I say its not about me. My feelings are immaterial and frankly speaking, I really don’t care if you slight, scorn or insult me. My personal feelings have nothing to do with your “responsibility” as journalist to present correct facts as the basis for your analysis in order not to further mislead the vulnerable sector of our society.

    You seem to rely on “edsa tres” as your predicate for your dubious conclusion that GMA is helpless without AFP or PNP and that her “hard-core” supporters are no match against the opposition “mob”, and are, therefore, inconsequential under the present state of politics. First point: I would not give your so-called edsa tres so much importance because edsa tres was not so much anti-GMA (she hadn’t been president for more than a few weeks at that point) as it was to restore an accused plunderer to power. Second point: In the context of national politics, edsa tres, as with the preceding ones, represented a drop in the bucket (the protesters from the “imperial” Manila with a sprinkling of sympathizers from nearby provinces) and could never accurately reflect the “hearts and minds” of the entire nation. The AFP and PNP were there to enforce law and order and defend the Constitution, as their sworn duty to do. Of course, GMA and her unarmed supporters could not, and should not, do that against a crazed “mob” who were ready to kill and get killed for their warped principle. One does not have to be a genius to figure that out.

    I don’t know about your musing that I (personally) would support GMA “whatever happens” and would even “die” for her.
    Any citizen worth his salt is expected to die, if necessary, in defense of his country, its Constitution and its duly-constituted government. An assault against my President is an attack against my country and I would be willing to join those who would render their duty to defend them. I am sure that your great grandfather would attest to that. God bless him.

  2. “Any citizen worth his salt is expected to die, if necessary, in defense of his country, its Constitution and its duly-constituted government. An assault against my President is an attack against my country and I would be willing to join those who would render their duty to defend them. I am sure that your great grandfather would attest to that. God bless him. ”

    Recently, Hugo Chavez was here in NYC and attacked Pres Bush in the UN Assembly. And all the people administration and opposition defended the President….Just like Ben, I believe that how should it be. There should be no conflict between respect for the president of a country and bringing her/him to justice for her alleged crime/s.

  3. I don’t know what is the big deal about edsa 3. The way I saw it, it was but a mob. Devoid of any reason.In other countries those stone throwing toothless crowd could have been shot dead right there.

    And we tend to concern ourselves more to this kind of intolerable behavior in exchange for the respect to the president. And this goes to whoever sits there as the leader of the country. Lets argue, debate during election time and support whoever is constitutionally elected. I don’t know why we can’t get rid of the tanlanka in our midst.

    the song goes…huwag makisakay sa mga talanka…pekeng bayani…pekeng panindigan…

  4. james, edsa 3 was a very big deal, and the amazing thing is that it didn’t become an even bigger or more permanent deal. the rioters in the past in los angeles, in chicago, in paris budapest, mexico city, etc. in recent memory all shook governments to their foundations and those were of the same size or even smaller.

    there’s a very good book, titled “1968” check it out. since at least that year, our formal notions of democracy have been permanently changed by street protests, something that countries had to worry about last in 1848.

    we’re a lot like the french, etc, in our being factional and never recognizing anyone’s mandate unless it’s unquestionably there. since 1987 we’ve been haunted by having a position, the presidency, saddled with tremendous responsibilities and expectations it can’tmeet, because it’s never armed with an unquestionable mandate. which is why i support runoff elections.

  5. ben,

    thank you for that. i have to dispute your reading of edsa tres and people power efforts.

    take the american revolution. john adams famously wrote that a third of america supported the revolution; a third remained loyal to england; a third sat on the fence. all things being equal, a much more motivated -because patriotic- american revolutionary third defeated the loyalist third who depended on abusive foreign mercenaries and struggled with long supply lines from england. adams could say what he did not because he took surveys or because elections were held to show this, but from practical experience. benjamin franklin, for one, was estranged from his son who remained loyal to the british crown.

    in moments of crisis what people do, matters as much as what they end up not doing.

    cory aquino did not run away during the coups and that helped rally support. people cheered for the republic and gringo’s soldiers shot them down -that became as much a turning point for public opinion as the american jets doing flybys over camp aguinaldo. joseph estrada for all his macho posturing ran away when edsa dos split over what to do, and cory and the cardinal were defied by those who decided to march on the palace. to her great credit as a leader, the president didn’t run away in may 2001 and after that, the armed forces knew she was a tougher commander in chief than they’d expected.

    now what mattered earlier in 2001 when estrada fell? not that 200,000 people gathered at the edsa shrine to denounce him -it was that no one stood up to defend him. again this is when those bold enough to take to the streets can trump the millions who sit around wringing their hands. and this is where the armed forces and police come face to face with historic decisions.

    if those in the streets are set on violence, are disorganized, threaten property, etc., the duty of the army and police becomes clear and easy: crush the rabble. but if peaceful and somehow, organized, it’s tougher because policemen and soldiers are not meant to be mowing down unarmed civilians. that is the power of peaceful crowds and gandhi knew this in confronting the soldiers of the british empire. one man’s heroic gandhi is another’s “naked fakir” as churchill called gandhi, with contempt.

    now if you are content with our representative democracy, where one person, the president, wields executive authority in your name, where 24 senators and a couple hundred representatives wield legislative power in your name, and where a bunch of justices decide questions of law, and the system is replicated by a few -your governor and his council, your mayor and his council- all down the line, you accept it because they were elected. but once elected they are pretty much free to ignore or listen to your opinion and everyone else’s and act in defiance of what anyone thinks if they like -or be slaves to opinion, too

    what’s the difference if thousands take to the streets unopposed? again the public can agree, disagree, oppose, but if the crowd marched to the palace as it did in january 2001, and the president of the philippines runs away, as estrada did, then estrada and not just the crowd made the larger whole irrelevant at the time, didn’t they? when another mob attacked the palace in may 2001, the armed forces instinctively did its duty (as it would have had to for marcos, as it had to for cory) but the president didn’t flee, she stood her ground: just as she has in all the crises since then.

    but i think it unhealthy to clothe a president with the attributes of some kind of royal sovereign. respect for the office of course should be independent of the person, which is why i stand when she enters the room, and greet her civilly when i encounter her, and as much as possible refer to her as the president whatever my private or public position on her legitimacy. she holds the office, we respect the office itself because individual presidents come and go but the office remains.

    but i do not view an attack on her as an attack on the country because neither she or any of her predecessors is the country. more so, she and her predecessors are the heads of state and government of democracies and therefore are subject not only to criticism, but scrutiny. so we can all -and we should- hold our presidents to task but i would not advocate, for example, killing her, or subjecting her to any treatment her predecessors have not had to endure as par for the democratic course.

    as for what my grandfather would say or think, all i know is that his cardinal rule was, you do not need those you already have, what matters in politics is courting those who don’t support you. amang rodriguez who was first his enemy then his friend, boiled it down to “politics is addition.”

  6. At least the aforementioned riots weren’t fueled by methamphetamines as what the deposed president sons did. Let’s face it the Filipinos got screwed by EDSA 2 by its failure to deliver change which EDSA 3 tried in a different manner and ended up being used by same crooked politicians who were nowhere to be found in the heat of the battle. Oh, where were you Johnny, Ernie and Miriam when you inpired them to go to Malacañang? Tsk, tsk.

  7. cvj said: “UPn student, i think you’re right in pointing out that blogging is not yet there in terms of reach.”

    But how do we create that reach (aside from making the exhanges in a daily Manny Paquiao fight on a giant screen in Plaza Miranda)?

    Here’s an interesting insight from Noam Chomsky, in a lecture given a year before the ‘text’ revolution of EDSA Dos.

    Remember, first, something that is important to bear in mind, that, like just about like every dynamic aspect of the economy, the Internet is a product of the state sector; that is, it was created at public expense. It was within the vast state sector of the economy for around thirty years. First the Pentagon, then the National Science Foundation, that’s where the ideas came, the development, the research, meaning the public paid for it. Maybe the public didn’t know, but the public paid for it. And that went on until very recently. The Internet was handed over to private power only in 1995. It was a gift, a huge gift, from the public (which didn’t know a thing about it) to private power. That certainly didn’t have to happen. In fact, an interesting question is how it happened, and nobody’s been able to figure that out yet. There’s no record that anybody can discern of what the decision-making process was by which you guys, the public, handed over to Bill Gates (and others) this tremendous development. It’s by no means the only thing. Most of the dynamic economy is sort of similar; this is a dramatic case of it.

    Norman Solomon, who’s a media critic you should know, made the interesting observation that before and after 1995 the Internet was differently described in the media. Before 1995, it was described as an information superhighway. Since 1995 it’s been described mostly as e-commerce, home marketing service. That’s not accidental. When it was under public control, the goal was (or at least thought to be) an information superhighway, something people could participate in. Now it’s a technique of subordination. It’s being converted into a device of exactly the kind that I was describing from the advertising industry (going back decades), a device to degrade and control people. To create wants—to impose a philosophy of futility, to focus your attention on the superficial aspects of life, like fashionable consumption—and to marginalize people (keep them from the dangerous activity of interacting with one another), and to satisfy created wants.

    Will it be that? That’s kind of like the question about Seattle. It depends on whether or not people let it happen. That’s a terrain of struggle right now. The Internet has been very effective in organizing. It’s had a very valuable, subversive effect—like Seattle, for instance. A lot of the organizing was through the Internet. Or East Timor—I’ve been working on East Timor for years, ever since the mid-‘70s. Effects were pretty limited until the early ‘90s when Charlie Scheiner came along and organized ETAN (East Timor Action Network) largely through the internet. Within a very short time it was pretty active and effective at lobbying efforts and educational and organizing efforts, which made a big difference. That’s the kind of thing you can do with it. The Multilateral Agreement on Investments—that would’ve sailed right through if it hadn’t been for Internet organizing, which got around the media suppression on the issue (very quickly in fact). The same is true in other countries, like in Indonesia, the overthrow of the Suharto dictatorship was substantially done through the Internet. That’s a technique of communication that went around the main control systems.

    Well, that’s just what the major corporations want to stop. They want to stop that kind of freedom. And that’s just what the public ought to be calling for and trying to maintain. That’s a big battle that’s going to go on in the next couple of years. It’s like everything else, you can’t predict the outcome—it’s the kind of thing you try to do something about rather than try to predict.

  8. Abe… for the objective of removing GMA from Malacanang (which is what 70-some percent of the bloggers on Q3’s site seems to harp on), blogging and the internet (in my opinion) is not a practical vehicle. If you want an EDSA 2 where NCR students text each other and (with many worker-bees from Makati and a few poor folks trucked in from Tondo), maybe internet-based comm works. But Edsa2 did not involve folks from Tayabas nor Bicol nor Bohol (nor any province of Mindanao), so discard discursive democracy.
    Are you asking “how do you create that reach with blogging/the internet”, or are you asking “how do we reach more of the masa”? These are 2 very different questions, the first one forcing a solution onto a problem, the second question more respectful of the masa. You’re too far away from the Filipino masa now, Abe.

  9. hvrds, anna of paris,

    “The least government is the best government, for then, the people must discipline themselves.” (Thomas Jefferson)

    “A House divided against itself cannot long endure. We cannot be half slave and half free. Either we shall all be slaves or we shall be free.” (Abe Lincoln)

    “In God we trust! [and only in God!] (Ben Franklin)”

    If I have an ideology, it is that these aphorisms are applicable to all Humanity and the entire world in this present day.

  10. Abe, over time, and assuming that the government-corporate alliance does not succeed in fragmenting the internet (into Dubya’s ‘internets’) i agree that its influence over our local political discourse will grow. As of now, i think it’s still early days and Mlq3, DJB, Sassy and others can be considered pioneers in an undertaking that’s still in an embryonic stage, which is not the same as saying that it’s irrelevant.

    UPn Student, i haven’t encountered anyone who has suggested that blogging and the internet are ‘practical vehicles’ for removing GMA from Malacanang. It does have its role to play in supporting front-line advocacies like One Voice and BnW. It will also have a role to play in the coming elections, how big and in what manner remains to be seen.

    ‘Reaching the masa’, for whatever it may be worth, has never been one of the primary design points of the medium so its pointless to lament its inability to do so. It’s more suited to exposing crappy thinking, especially the ones that has been coming from the Middle Class.

  11. Dean,

    That’s always been my stand particularly in difficult and trying times; I’ve always held the motto that one cannot remain sitting on the side undecided when the survivial of the republic is in peril, very much in line with Pres Lincoln’s.

    In spite of his seeming veneration for Gloria I respect Bencard’s position because he’s made a determined stand. I do not accept that he is right, I believe he is wrong to clothe Gloria with the mantra that belonged to Louis XIV.

    But in the scheme of things today, one is either for keeping the reign of terror in place or for the re-establisment of a good and just republic.

  12. UPn stud. posted: Are you asking “how do you create that reach with blogging/the internet”, or are you asking “how do we reach more of the masa”? These are 2 very different questions, the first one forcing a solution onto a problem, the second question more respectful of the masa. You’re too far away from the Filipino masa now, Abe.

    My approach is still basically Chomskian. The first principle, according to Chomsky, is that it is the responsibility of any decent person to seek or tell the truth as best as he can about things that matter to an audience that can do something about them. As now known, during the Marcos regime, many people who assumed such a responsibility found the exercise to be very costly to them. Even today journalists, activists and clergies are still paying dearly for the same pursuit.

    Now, some issues like ‘salvaging’ or the right to eat three square meals a day are on its face easily graspable by the general population. Others are not, such as: the desirability of runoff elections (mlq3’s pet project) or the variation of the first-past-the-post electoral system; the tradeoffs between presidential unitary bicameral and parliamentary federal unicameral forms; or the performance of a nation’s wealth creators vis-à-vis their counterparts in competing economies.

    What of the still burning the question about the legitimacy of GMA’s presidency? Or the correctness of the Estrada v. Desierto (where it was held President Estrada “constructively resigned”) or Lambino v. COMELEC (where the majority denied a people’s initiative the authority to propose complex amendments to the constitution)? Do we need to continue to seek the truth about them? Are they something that still matter? If one is intense on these issues, which is the right audience he should be addressing his concern to?

    Regarding GMA’s legitimacy I have written enough, and one of my arguments is that the “burden of going forward” (a technical term in Remedial Law) has remained on the lapse of GMA since the existence of the Garci tapes (where a woman sounding very much like GMA appears to have suggested to a COMELEC commissioner to change the vote count) has not been denied; and by publicly admitting “lapse in judgment” in regard to the tapes, GMA has to explain more to the people why she has not betrayed their trust. When I posted my discourses, I was in effect addressing my concerns to legal practitioners who might potentially be representing impeachment initiators, or active citizens like mlq3, advocates like DBJ or cvj or constitutional law scholars like Prof. Lacierda. If what I have written reaches the masa and it was understood, well and good.

    My case analyses of Estrada and Lambino (as well the Santiago decision) are probably addressed to the same group of people. My discourses are to the effect that the SC in Estrada, by deciding to give People Power II short shrift, lapsed into juridical misadventures that should make the honorable justices cringe and that the position of One Voice in Lambino that the SC sustained may have hurt the potency or essence of people’s initiative as instituted in the constitution. The intentions: for the SC to pay more respect to People Power and for One Voice to be hard on PIG but not on PI.

    Whenever I raise concern about the lackadaisical performance of the economic elites or their inability to produce the right goods the right way doing the best with what the Filipinos have, I am addressing my concerns to the relative deprivation of the Filipino middle class and hopefully allowing them to appreciate that no matter how the trapos change the constitution, if the economic elites are not creating wealth, they will someday find themselves opting out of the social contract, their sense of country notwithstanding, or ultimately leading the masa to try to transform the existing order.

    These discourses are possible through another re-conceptualization of democracy, the so-called “transnational democracy.”

  13. Mr. Margallo should well realize it is the masa that suffers the most and they are well aware of the unfairness and injustice of the whole system. You do not have to reach them. They are its victims. They know.
    They are voiceless for now. I think Ms. P. Evangelista’s column today in the Inquirer clearly reveals this.

    The struggle for that so called Jeffersonian democracy that DJB talks about entails a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Mostly the masa’s. Any grade school student of history would know that. There is a war ongoing in the country. In countless wars in every country this sort of events happen and continue to happen. They call them the disappeared and are simply labeled human rights victims. They are the commas in the history of struggles. Just looking at U.S. history and the slogans of its founders, they spoke poetry but their actions during their lifetime belied their poetry.

    “This is why there are mothers who cry during court hearings, and why a coughing man in a blue jacket is risking his life. This is why there are dozens of families all over the country who wait in quiet agony. It is hoped that the court’s coming verdict will bring home the people who plead “Tama na.”

    Please note that successfull popular revolutions of the 20th century were led by the left and supported by the masses. The Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese struggles. The socialist Nehru and off course Gandhi led the Indian masses in their struggle against their colonial masters.

  14. Abe: I know that both San Miguel and Ford Motors are transnational corporations, but what is “transnational democracy”? [I found the Wikipedia page on ‘politics Noam Chomsky” but it has no info on transnational democracy.]

  15. UPn Student, Abe, my understanding is that ‘Transnational Democracy’ is one that is unconstrained by governmental structures (e.g. elections, constitutions) as applied in the international arena. In the chapter ‘Transnational Democracy: Beyond the Cosmpolitan Model’ in his book ‘Deliberative Democracy and Beyond’, Dryzek asserts that:

    …the defining feature of the international polity is that it lacks a state or state-analogue at the system level…it [therefore] makes more sense to examine the possibilities for democratization in connection with discursive sources of order already present in the international system that do not require any organization of international government…

    The above can be contrasted with ‘realist’ thought in international relations which accepts a: “Hobbesian anarchy where self-help is the only prudent strategy in a world always at the edge of violence, in which the only source of order is the balance of power

    This ‘discursive sources of order’ are building blocks for a model that features ‘governance’ without ‘government’. ‘Government’ and ‘governance’ are distinguished in the following manner:

    …government in international politics may be defined as explicit and binding collective decision at the system level…“[e.g. Treaties, WTO, UN Security Council]

    …governance, in contrast, may be defined as the creation and maintenance of order and the resolution of joint problems in the absence of such binding decision structures…

    …the achievement of governance does not invariably require the creation of material entities of formal organizations of the sort we normally associate with the concept of government… Governance, so defined does, though, require institutions, interpreted as formal or informal rules ‘capable of resolving conflict, facilitating cooperation, or, more generally, alleviating collective action problems in a world of interdependent actors….

    What defines democratic order is the interplay between the discourses.:

    …A discourse is by definition a shared set of assumptions and capabilities embedded in language that enables its adherents to assemble bits of sensory information that come their way into coherent wholes…

    Dryzek argues that “…the contestation of discourses should be central to a model of deliberative democracy provided that the contest can be engaged by a broad variety of competent actors under unconstrained conditions…

    An example of discourses being contested at the international level are ‘market liberalism (aka globalization)’ and ‘sustainable development’.

  16. Abe, I doubt this will change your mind about Noam Chomsky, but your cut-and-paste of Chomsky’s speech or article reveals that he may be a good motivator, but his history and accounting is flawed. Bill Gates billions is from the PC, not from the Internet. As for the internet being a huge gift by the public, Chomsky also muddles through. The gift was “so huge”, (so huge???) that five years after “the gift was made”, the companies that plunged into the internet were in debt — Qwest ($25B in debt), Sprint ($23B), Worldcom ($30B), FranceTelecom ($70B).
    The internet-gift was the mathematics of TCP/IP and a few trunk lines. The internet developed by generals and colonels and university professors was, indeed, a highway — for email. The transformation of the internet from data-pipes to what it is today was triggered by college-kids who (without government funding) designed Mosaic.
    It is funny that politician Chomsky labels the internet today “…a technique of subordination”, then in the same article/speech also state tag the internet as very valuable for subversion, as in the overthrow of the Suharto dictatorship “…substantially done through the Internet. That’s a technique of communication that went around the main control systems.”

  17. UPn Student, i find Chomsky’s view that the internet was a ‘gift’ from the public to the private sector valid in the same sense that you would call a bridge, a farm to market road, or any other public infrastructure a ‘gift’. Unlike him, i don’t think it’s a bad thing at all as it has resulted in a win-win arrangement for everyone – corporations, government and the general public.

    Prior to the emergence of the World Wide Web portion of the Internet, the IT & Telecom providers were coming up with their own ‘Value Added Networks’ (VANs) a-la AOL. If that pushed through, chances are we would not be having this discussion as there would not have been a single network, only a number of fragmented networks with a more limited range of choices.

    Today, the threat comes from [some] corporations (particularly telcos and broadband providers) who want to end net neutrality . The situation is not cut and dry ‘corporations versus general public’ as there are corporations that are in favor of maintaining net neutrality which, in practice, means separating the content-providers from access providers. The other threat comes from governments (like China) who put up their own content-based ‘firewall’.

  18. cvj, thanks. Anyway, aside from John Dryzek’s “discursive democracy,” there are two other models of “transnational democracy.” One is David Hand’s “cosmopolitan democracy” that seeks “a political order of democratic associations, cities and nations as well as of regions and global networks” by some kind of marriage between global democracy and territorial democracy. It is democratic governance within, between and across states. It is a confederation of some form under a global legal system, with a global parliament and where coercive power is transferred to regional or global institutions.

    The other model of transnational democracy is Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s “democracy of the multitude,” the core idea of which is the banishment of sovereignty in favor of a truly pluralistic democracy wherein “the multitude” is able to rule itself. The “multitude is neither an identity (like the people) nor uniform (like the masses),” but networks of “singularities” with internal differences that “must discover the common that allows them to communicate and act together. This is not “direct democracy” of any sort but one “in which all of us through our biopolitical production collaboratively create and maintain society is what we call ‘absolute.’” It is a political “act of love,” in short. (That is why I like this one best.)

    Incidentally, these models of democracy (of which I am continuing inform myself) are an interesting contrast to the dominant Western-style “liberal democracy” that demands a tightly restricted conception of citizenship of the Isagani Cruz’s flavor. In Hand’s cosmopolitan democracy “each citizen of a state must learn to become a cosmopolitan citizen”; whereas in the democracy of the multitude, the multitude erases the dual relationship of sovereignty, that of the ruler and the ruled, because the multitude rules itself.

    There are serious critics about these new imaginings of democracies on various important grounds.

    UPn Stud. said: “Abe, I doubt this will change your mind about Noam Chomsky . . .”

    UPn, according to Hardt and Negri, as singularities (or “social subjects whose differences cannot be reduced to sameness”), we don’t have to (although I agree with The New York Times that Chomsky is “Arguably the most important intellectual alive”).

    What seems to be needed, I guess, is to find our commonalities even in, and then produce “collaboratively” – across and beyond the borders of territorial democracy.

  19. Abe…. Your house, your thoughts… but I do not trust the Chomsky who spoke kindly of Pol Pot and the killing fields he unleashed.

  20. People who annoint themselves as “advocates” for the masses or provide unsolicited opinions (aka, spins) to mold or, at least,influence the political belief of the “masa”, have a heavy responsibility to make sure that their advocacy or opinion (be it through print, broadcast, or blogsphere) are grounded on accurate facts. In their “discourses”, they should refrain from presenting as fact something that they only feel, believe, preceive, speculate by themselves,or something that is a mere product of another person’s sepeculation or world view.

    For instance, a non-lawyer journalist who knows little about law but who can write apparently valid articulation on a specific legal issue, has a responsibiliy not to mislead the uninformed. On the other hand, a lawyer who is suppoosed to know the law is held to a higher standard (for he is bound by ethical rules and professional responsibility) not to mislead a layman to think, one way or another vis a vis a legal issue, through a deliberate use of unproven proposition as fact.

  21. Abe…. Your house, your thoughts… but yes, I am distrustful of Chomsky the linguist and politician. Chomsky speaks loudly against mass merchandising and media advertising for subjugating the masses, yet spoke positively of Pol Pot and his killing fields.
    Remember that there was no tolerance for dissent in Pol Pot’s killing fields, while the off-button is always available to anyone bombarded with TV advertisements.
    Abe…. your house… your thoughts…. your children.

  22. Abe, thanks for the pointers to Held, Hardt and Negri. On Held, Dryzek, in his book, has good words to say about him as having ‘the most thoughtful and comprehensive exploration of issues relating to democracy in the international system‘.

    UPn Student, it could be that Cambodia is Chomsky’s blind spot (just as Iraq is DJB’s), but on balance, it still pays to read Chomsky (and DJB). With regard to the issue of Khmer Rouge atrocities, i’ve come across this passage in his book ‘Powers and Prospects’ (1996) where he made a point by point comparison between Pol Pot’s atrocities in Cambodia, and the Indonesian atrocities in East Timor, which happened at about the same time:

    Let’s begin with Khmer rouge atrocities:

    1. They were crimes against humanity, if the concept has meaning.
    2. They were attributable to an official enemy.
    3. They were ideologically serviceable, offering justification for US crimes in Indochina for 25 years …And they were exploited quite deliberately for those purposes…(we must torture and kill to ‘prevent another Pol Pot’, the doctrine held).
    4. No one had any suggestion as to how to mitigate the crimes of the KR, let alone to end them.
    5. They elicited a huge outcry and show of indignation, remarkable by comparative standards, and with a record of deceit that would have impressed Stalin (which is no exaggeration.)…
    6. These crimes became the very symbol of evil, placed alongside those of Hitler and Stalin, where they remain in the approved list of twentieth century horrors.

    Let’s turn to the atrocities in East Timor, comparing them with the KR atrocities in these respects, point by point:

    1. They were crimes against humanity, but furthermore, crimes carried out in the process of outright aggression, war crimes, hence clearly within the purview of international law.
    2. Responsibility for them traced directly back to Washington and its allies.
    3. They were ideologically dysfunctional, given the locus of responsibility.
    4. To terminate them has always been very easy, given the locus of responsibility…it would have been enough to turn off the tap.
    5. The reaction…was almost total silence apart from reiteration of lies of the State Department and Indonesian Generals…
    6.The Western-backed crimes are no symbol of evil, and no blot on our record.

    The pattern is rather striking. It takes considerable talent not to notice it, and to avoid drawing certain conclusions from it

    Considering that, as Abe has said, Chomsky’s focus is on advocacies that are actionable, as an American, his focus on Indonesia in the late 70’s was understandable. After all, it was Vietnam, America’s sworn enemy at that time, that finally put an end to the Killing Fields.

  23. cvj and Abe… your short paragraphs give me the impression that the both of you have a working assumption that those who disagree with Chomsky are those who have not read his works. Or.. that those who have read Chomsky (either because of Chomsky logic or his understanding of history or whatever) have no choice but to agree with him.

  24. UPnStudent,

    I’m one of those who “follow”, “read” Chomsky’s works; although he’s been declared “arguably the best thinker of modern times”, I don’t always buy everything he writes.

    All bona fide or declared thinkers have something valuable to say but inevitably, there are things that they say that are just hard acts to follow. They are human beings after all.

    My favorite contemporary thinkers, Simone de Beauvoir and her lover-partner, Jean-Paul Sartre, André Malraux, Bernard Lévy among others, have said, written things that would challenge their most dedicated supporters because as one might say, there are in their writings thoughts that defy reason as defined by Rousseau (one of my favorite thinkers.) I believe works of these thinkers allow their readers to reflect, to agree, to continuously challenge, to advance other premises to contradict theirs … In that aspect, Chomsky cannot be faulted – he indeed provokes.

  25. Folks concerned about Chomsky’s logic processes with regards geo-politics should read about the Faurisson affair. If one or both of you do not know of this:
    (a) In 1979, Robert Faurisson, a French literary critic and professor of literature, published two letters in Le Monde which included claims that the gas chambers used by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews did not exist. Faurisson was convicted of defamation with penalties — fine plus prison sentence.
    (b) Chomsky, while stating that he had insufficient knowledge of the case, wrote a defense of Faurisson. Chomsky also wrote:
    (c) Chomsky: “I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers or even denial of the Holocaust”.
    —The French historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet attacked Chomsky. He questioned Chomsky’s judgement and even Chomsky’s right to comment on Faurisson’s work when Chomsky openly claimed to know very little about it. He also argued that Chomsky could have signed other petitions that defended the right to free speech without presenting Faurisson as a legitimate historian. Vidal-Naquet’s essay concluded
    “The simple truth, Noam Chomsky, is that you were unable to abide by the ethical maxim you had imposed. . . You did not have the right to take a falsifier of history and to recast him in the colors of truth.”
    Werner Cohn and a few others labelled Chomsky as “morally and intellectually blind” for Chomsky statement that he “..sees no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers or even denial of the Holocaust”.
    On the the tragedy when a child is killed, another wrote of Chomsky as follows: “Nothing in Chomsky’s account acknowledges the difference between intending to kill a child, because of the effect you hope to produce on its parents (we call this “terrorism”), and inadvertently killing a child in an attempt to capture or kill an avowed child murderer (we call this “collateral damage”). In both cases a child has died, and in both cases it is a tragedy. But the ethical status of the perpetrators, be they individuals or states, cold not be more distinct… For [Chomsky], intentions do not seem to matter. Body count is all.”

  26. UPStudent,

    I am aware of the negation crime that Faurisson committed. Vidal-Naquet was at his best when he published and challenged Chomsky in print, on the air, everywhere.

    Chomsky’s lost a lot of ground and following among the thinkers from the French left.

    Must say I’m happy when Chomsky attacks Bush and the US neo-cons but other than that, while I don’t describe myself as circumspect with regard what he publishes, I’m cautious. Modern day thinkers are not gurus of truth.

  27. UPn, you don’t have to agree with Chomsky, cvj and me because I believe well-meaning discussants in a discourse – and I assume you are one judging from your serious vetting of the issues – are not supposed to negotiate or compromise on what’s the truth; they try hard to find it, much like for instance a scientific community pursuing for the cure of certain disease.

    Now, if you are referring to “Distortions at Fourth Hand”
    by Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman which appeared in The Nation on June 6, 1977, please read the essay again very carefully. Anyway, here’s how the authors concluded their piece:

    “What filters through to the American public is a seriously distorted version of the evidence available, emphasizing alleged Khmer Rouge atrocities and downplaying or ignoring the crucial U.S. role, direct and indirect, in the torment that Cambodia has suffered. Evidence that focuses on the American role, like the Hildebrand and Porter volume, is ignored, not on the basis of truthfulness or scholarship but because the message is unpalatable.”

    And what’s the message? The Americans were as responsible, if not more responsible, for Cambodia’s “killing fields.” It should be remembered that predictions by American officials (e.g. by Henry Kissinger) as a result of U.S. invasion and bombing of Cambodia commenced in 1969 was that aside from direct casualties and collateral damage, about a million more Cambodians would die just from the EFFECTS of the war. At the time the U.S. forces cut and ran from Cambodia paving for Pol Pot takeover, refugees from the countryside that fled into Phnom Penh alone were dying of starvation at the rate of 100,000 a year.

    There’s no doubt the Pol Pot regime was murderous (Chomsky has not denied it) and cvj is right that the Vietnamese put an end to the killing fields by deposing Pol Pot. But PRIOR to Pol Pot’s atrocities had been America’s own killing fields that unfolded “primarily because of a large-scale United States bombing campaign in which 539,129 tons of bombs were dropped on the Cambodian countryside” which shattered the agrarian economy, according to NY Times.

    I’ve once quipped (to anna de brux, I think) somewhere in DJB’s blogsite that given or at the rate the bloody mess the U.S. has created in Iraq is going, how come only Saddam and his gang are on trial? What or who is the proximate cause of Iraq’s “killing fields” today? This and similar catastrophic situations bring into focus the advocacy of David Held for transnational democracy of a cosmopolitan model (not the so-called Western-style one) whereby an international institution with coercive power will have the authority to make perpetrators accountable for their acts aside, for example, from mere electoral repudiation by their national constituency.

    On another affair, some five years ago, I posted this comment:

    “Saddam Hussein is a thug, and Osama bin Laden is a demented thug. I agree. But both are small-time thugs who today are the dominant media’s speedball. On the other hand, hundreds of volumes of literature chronicling the Holocaust, the excesses of Stalin, or the crimes Mao which are easily accessible in community libraries, make the big-time thugs—whom the well inured Western-oriented intellectuals serve—look like boy scouts.”

    I then proceeded to draw the killing fields analogue as in the above. Is that being anti-Semitic? UPn, will you defend my right to say it?

  28. UPn Student, i was not aware of the Faurisson affair and, from your account, Vidal-Naquet and Cohn do have a point in criticizing Chomsky, although the latter’s position is more in keeping with the American approach to free speech, which i believe is superior to the French or German model.

    On the matter of the child who is killed because of ‘terrorism’ or ‘collateral damage’, Chomsky is right to consider (in that critic’s words) that:

    In both cases a child has died, and in both cases it is a tragedy.

    While ‘terrorism’ is a willful act, ‘collateral damage’, as is the case in Iraq and Lebanon, is an act of negligence. To the innocent victims, the intentions of the perpetrators do not matter.

  29. cvj… Abe the lawyer in better position to respond whether or not to law, intentions of the perpetrators do matter.

    and minor question, because now I have gotten more curious. I read of Chomsky anti-american bias… anti-corporate… anti-advertising…. also that he is libertarian, so he may not institutions like the United Nations as special. What concept has Chomsky added in regards the furtherance of democracy?

  30. On the first question, intent matters in criminal law but you should probably look at it from the standpoint that Chomsky considers the U.S. as the number one author of terrorism in the world.

    On the other question, from the Chomsky literature that I have read so for, I think Chomsky stands first and foremost against illegitimate forms of authority. He believes that people working at the grassroots level are the real change agents capable of dismantling totalitarian institutions (and he thinks corporations are the most totalitarian of them); hence, if political as well as economic institutions are placed under democratic control, i.e, by the people themselves or their genuine representative, he’ll probably die a very happy man.

  31. abe… thanks regarding Chomsky being one of many standing against illegitimate forms of authority. But placing a corporation under the control of “the people themselves or their genuine representative” becomes disrespectful of property rights and clashes with Chomsky’s supposed belief in libertarian philosophy. [Now I understand a little bit better why Chomsky is beleaguered from many sides.]
    Now Chomsky will probably say that Rumsfeld (is held to high standards and) can not ignore criminal law. This tells me that a number of Chomsky peers will expect the same of Chomsky, hence their disappointment.

  32. UPn Student, i value Abe’s legal opinion, but i believe this matter is too important to be left to lawyers. Besides, law (unlike engineering or medicine) as a subject matter, is coenoscopic.

  33. cvj,

    Re your “criticizing Chomsky, although the latter’s position is more in keeping with the American approach to free speech, which i believe is superior to the French or German model.”

    You’re right that chomsky’s position is more in keeping with the American tradition of free speech but I do not believe free speech in the US, is “superior” as such (unless you believe that “almost free for all sort of thing” is a gauge of superiority) to the French or German model.

    Indeed if we are to go by the negation law or anti-negativism laws that were passed by the National Assembly making it a criminal offence to deny that the Jewish Holocaust or the Armenian genocide existed, you might feel that your right to speak or to negate certain events in history is clearly infringed upon, but it is a tradition in France for critiques, writers, opinion columnists to value what they write; they feel a tremendous responsibility for what they write, hence the French as a rule do not just mouth freedom of speech for the sake of satisfying the ego.

    With freedom comes responsiblity as the saying goes. (Btw, libel is not criminal offence in France and there is a limit to damages awarded to a libel victim, eg, 1 E to 3,000 euros most of the time.) The “responsabilité” trait just like “la mission civilisatrice” dogma (although less pronounced today) is almost latent in the French; it is inculcated from the time a child makes his début in a place of learning (I know because my children all attended French schools till they were 13); it wouldn’t be at all wrong to say that for the Frnch freedom of speech is more of an intellectual rather than a muscular exercise.

    Modern Germany’s model is a different brand altogether and I ascribe that to a feeling of “collective guilt”, eg WWII German atrocities.

  34. cvj, allow me to refer to the summum of freedom of speech: Voltaire, a French man, was believed to have said to a lady friend: “I may not accept what you say but I will defend your right to say it to the death.”

  35. Anna, thanks for the explanation on the rationale behind the French and German models. Let me qualify ‘superior’ to mean more generally applicable and more authentic. France’s democratic culture is firmly rooted in the ideals of its revolution so there is a small chance that the tradition of passing negation laws will be abused by those in power. Imagine the same power in the hands of Gloria or JDV’s parliament. The only time we can emulate the French model is when the Philippines has established a long tradition of responsible government. Right now, we cannot trust our politicians with such powers.

    In terms of authenticity, the US model is more in keeping with Voltaire’s summation above. Even if we are appalled at the discourses of the Islamists, Klu Klux Klan or the neo-Nazi’s, from the standpoint of a genuine democracy, it would be better for them to exist out in the open rather than as underground movements. Going back to Dryzek:

    …one cannot abolish prejudice, racism, sectarianism, and rational egoism by forbidding their proponents from public speaking. A model of deliberative democracy that stresses the contestation of discourses in the public sphere allows for challenge of sectarian positions, as it allows for challenge of all kinds of oppressive discourses. Indeed, if there were no such oppressive discourses to challenge, a vital democratic life in the public sphere would be hard to imagine. Deliberative democrats are those who have faith in the powers of deliberation itself to root out bad arguments and sectarianism; to deny their advocates admission into the forum is to reveal a lack of confidence in the efficacy of deliberation. Rather than attach preconditions for entry into deliberation, we should rely as far as possible on mechanisms endogenous to deliberation itself to change views and beliefs in a benign direction – and also, in the language of social choice theory, to restrict domain and so make collective choice more tractable. Discursive democracy is not an exclusive gentleman’s club.

  36. “Discursive democracy is not an exclusive gentleman’s club”

    What does Chomsky think about it?

    If you look back at the Revolutionary War period, you’ll find that Revolutionary War leaders, people like Thomas Jefferson (who’s regarded as a great libertarian, and with some reason), were saying that people should be punished if they are, in his words, “traitors in thought but not in deed” — meaning they should be punished if they say things that are treacherous, or even if they think things that are treacherous. And during the Revolutionary War, there was vicious repression of dissident opinion.

    Well, it just goes on from there. Today the methods are different — now it’s not the threat of force that ensures the media will present things within a framework that serves the interests of the dominant institutions, the mechanisms today are much more subtle. But nevertheless, there is a complex system of filters in the media and educational institutions which ends up ensuring that dissident perspectives are weeded out, or marginalized in one way or another. And the end result is in fact quite similar: what are called opinions “on the left” and “on the right” in the media represent only a limited spectrum of debate, which reflects the range of needs of private power — but there’s essentially nothing beyond those “acceptable” positions.

    So what the media do, in effect, is to take the set of assumptions which express the basic ideas of the propaganda system, whether about the Cold War or the economic system or the “national interest” and so on, and then present a range of debate within that framework — so the debate only enhances the strength of the assumptions, ingraining them in people’s minds as the entire possible spectrum of opinion that there is. So you see, in our system what you might call “state propaganda” isn’t expressed as such, as it would be in a totalitarian society — rather it’s implicit, it’s presupposed, it provides the framework for debate among the people who are admitted into mainstream discussion.

    In fact, the nature of Western systems of indoctrination is typically not understood by dictators, they don’t understand the utility for propaganda purposes of having “critical debate” that incorporates the basic assumptions of the official doctrines, and thereby marginalizes and eliminates authentic and rational critical discussion. Under what’s sometimes been called “brainwashing under freedom,” the critics, or at least, the “responsible critics” make a major contribution to the cause by bounding the debate within certain acceptable limits — that’s why they’re tolerated, and in fact even honored.

    I have relevant discourses here ( and (

    In the first discourse I posted:

    To put it in general terms, freedom of speech or of the press and popular power have parallel offices. The expansion of their domains has the opposite effect of constricting the domain of the powers that be. In a political sense, the press is but one institutionalized aspect of the phenomenon we now call “people power” – I mean those romantic and traditional journalists who still refuse (some by taking partial refuge in the blogosphere) to be withered into just another form of concentrated power, the media power as The Wall Street Journal represents. In revolutionary France, these powers were the clergy, the aristocracy and feudalism itself. Today, these power structures are what former president Fidel V. Ramos calls as the “unholy alliance” and “perverse symbiosis” of the political and economic elites in the Philippines. The Filipino power holders are no different from the power holders of the American variety that The Wall Street Journal is obligated to protect against what conservative intellectual Samuel Huntington regards as the “excess of democracy” (of the French sort).

    In the second, this:

    If I may take the liberty to restate DJB’s position, when media ministers to private power, it loses its true office – basically that of telling as truthfully and ethically as possible what the emperor is wearing or not wearing. Not blind spots but self-imposed “blinders” have “gagged and compromised” the media in such a way as to render it as “not so free as it pretends to be,” to appropriate once again another no-holds-barred raps from DJB.

    I would assume that media practitioners who out of practical convenience choose to sidetrack issues that really matter (i.e., those that pry on the very core of the dominant system) are likely to produce muddled exchanges in the public square. It could get even worse when the same people, arrogating their agenda-setting power, ultimately drown the disparate voices of the multitude which are deemed necessary for a healthy democracy to thrive. Wouldn’t journalism in the traditional sense suffer in the process the way the truthful recording of history get “compromised” through the self-serving selection of historical accounts by the victor in war as part of the spoils?

    Political correctness on the part of individual journalists may actually amount to sheer submissiveness to the private power of the people running the media business who are for the most part into it for the money. In this respect, concentrated media power as anathema to the “free market of ideas” parallels the chimera of oligopolies as dregs of the free market society.

  37. Thanks, Abe. Just came from the site and read your elaborative piece.

    I posted the following:


    “Very “elaborative” piece.

    “On a more specific point, I thought you dissected the Wall Street Journal “rant”, “rave” rather surgically.

    “I would have loved to translate it for Le Monde but am afraid am not a professional translator, interpreter and might miss the message of your discourse (as in lost in translation – pity!) They would’ve loved it!”

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