Stuck with Obama

Oct 29

As many pundits have noted, if the rest of the world were voting in the US elections, the third presidential debate would probably have proceeded differently. America, the Exception But given the fact that only about 200 plus million people on earth are eligible to vote for the man whose policies will impact on all of us, the evening, as expected, turned into an exercise in imperial chest-thumping.  President Barack Obama dredged up former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s assertion that “America remains the indispensable nation” to remind American voters of what a great gift to the world their country is.   Not to be outdone in extolling American Exceptionalism, Republican candidate Mitt Romney told his compatriots, “This nation is the hope of the earth.” Both also agreed that, as Obama put it in unabashed fashion, “we’ve got to make sure that our economy is strong at home so that we can project military power overseas.” Who Would Better Serve Israel? The candidates sought, however, to highlight their differences.  They competed on who would be the better dog to be wagged by Israel.  For all intents and purposes, pleasing Israel emerged as the cornerstone of each candidate’s foreign policy approach.  As the progressive Israeli commentator Uri Avnery noted:  “Israel was mentioned in the debate 34 times — 33 times more than Europe, 30 times more than Latin America, five times more than Afghanistan, four times more than China. Only Iran was mentioned more often — 45 times — but in the context of the danger it poses to Israel.” Romney said the Middle East was a mess but was short on specifics on how he would manage things there better than Obama.  Al Qaeda is on its last legs, said Obama, but Romney claimed it is now stronger than before.  It was with respect to Libya that Obama contrasted what he called Romney’s “reckless” approach with his own brand of interventionism, one done  “in a careful, thoughtful way, making certain that we knew who we were dealing with, that those forces of moderation on the ground were ones that we could work with.” What Obama was not about to admit was that his “thoughtful” interventionism has not prevented the anarchy...

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Economic crisis shakes old paradigms

Oct 22

The world will soon enter the 6th Year of the Great Recession, and there is no end in sight. In the United States, stagnation continues to reign and some 23 million Americans remain out of work, are involuntarily employed part time, or have simply dropped out of the work force in frustration. This is a condition that now threatens to result in President Barack Obama’s replacement by a Republican candidate whose program, if implemented, is likely to worsen the crisis. In Europe, draconian austerity programs now blanket the economic landscape, threatening to impact on the continent’s few remaining healthy economies, like Germany’s.  The third quarter was reported to be German industry’s worst in the last three years owing to plunging exports to the austerity-ridden countries. Many analysts had been warning that the German government’s insistence on imposing barebones budgets on its neighbors to ensure German banks got repaid would eventually have a blowback effect on the European Union’s largest economy. The BRICS sputter 2012 marked China and East Asia’s being drawn, definitively, into the global maelstrom, along with India and Brazil. In late 2008 and 2009, the recession in Europe and the US brought down growth rates in East Asia, but this was only for about a year.  By 2010, East Asia and the big “newly emerging economies” known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) appeared to have recovered.   A big reason was China’s $585 billion stimulus program—the world’s largest relative to the size of the economy–which not only pulled the country but also its neighbors in East Asia from recession. The BRICS were regarded as bright spots in the global economy, exhibiting resiliency and growth even as the North stagnated.  Indeed, to economists like Nobel laureate Michael Spence, “With growth returning to pre-2008 levels, the breakout performance of China, India, and Brazil are important engines of expansion for today’s global economy.” In a decade, the share of global GDP by the emerging economies would pass the 50 percent mark, he predicted.  Much of this growth would stem from “endogenous domestic-growth drivers in emerging economies, anchored by an expanding middle class.” Moreover, as trade among the BRICS increased, the future of emerging economies is one of...

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Healing Syria’s Gushing Wound

Sep 24

(This article was co-authored with Richard Javad Heydarian.*) Almost 18 months after the onset of popular-democratic protests, the Syrian revolution increasingly resembles a bloody marathon with no clear finish line on the horizon. Unlike the “lightning” revolutions in North Africa, namely Tunisia and Egypt, which took only few weeks to overthrow Arab strongmen such as Mubarak and Ben Ali, the Syrian uprising has instead replicated a “slow-motion disintegration” of the rich tapestry that has characterized the Syrian society for centuries. Undoubtedly, Syria is at the epicenter of one of the bloodiest and most unfortunate conflicts in recent times, raising the specter of international intervention and prolonged humanitarian crisis. There is no way to understate the depth of the unfolding tragedy: there have been almost 20,000 civilians killed, with 2.5 million (and counting) internally displaced people in need of urgent humanitarian need, and more than 200,000 people fleeing the country just to arrive at cramped refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq.  I was able to visit Damascus and Homs a few months ago and had a first-hand look at the tragic unfolding of events. As the armed revolution enters the two large cities of Aleppo and Damascus, the humanitarian tragedy, unfortunately, is set to further deepen in scope and duration, unless all relevant parties (domestic and international) begin to commit themselves to a peaceful and effective political solution. Thus, the first priority should be the following: (1) Imposition of a ceasefire, under the aegis of the UN, on both sides of the conflict to end the bloodshed and provide necessary space for a genuine political dialogue; and (2) An immediate end to the ongoing proxy war that is fuelling an ‘internal arms race’, whereby Western and Arab powers have resorted to arming (directly or indirectly) rebels and extremist elements to topple the regime through sheer violence and terror. With the Syrian regime losing its grip over a growing proportion of the territory, it is also imperative for the Philippine government to explore channels of communication with the opposition forces to ensure the safety of thousands OFWS in Syria, while utilizing varying international fora, including the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), to encourage a unified, peaceful international response to the Syrian...

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An island of growth in a stagnant sea

Sep 14

The economic news on the Philippines the last few weeks has been good.  The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate for the first semester was an impressive 6.1 per cent, which put it in the top tier in Asia, while its “competiveness” leaped 10 notches, to the 65th  from the 75th  spot, out of 144 countries rated by the World Economic Forum.  Most other indicators appear to be pointing in a positive direction. In the opinion of many economic commentators, what is mainly responsible for the positive economic climate are infrastructure spending, which was restrained in the first two years as the contracting process was cleaned up at the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the anti-corruption program of the Aquino administration.  Also instrumental in the view of some has been the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which has raised the purchasing power of millions of households. The country’s performance was in marked contrast to the center economies.  The US recovery has stalled, while most of Europe is plunging into recession owing to savage austerity programs that have been demanded by Germany and key European institutions from highly indebted countries. With two engines virtually knocked out, the global economy has been running on one motor in the last three years, and that is the so-called emerging economies.  Now that motor is faltering, and this will have an impact on the Philippines. BRICs in trouble In 2010 and early 2011, East Asia and the big “newly emerging economies” known as the “BRICs” (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) were regarded as bright spots in the global economy, exhibiting resiliency and growth even as the North stagnated.  Indeed, to economists like Nobel laureate Michael Spence, “With growth returning to pre-2008 levels, the breakout performance of China, India, and Brazil are important engines of expansion for today’s global economy.” In a decade, the share of global GDP by the emerging economies would pass the 50 per cent mark, he predicted.  Much of this growth would stem from “endogenous domestic-growth drivers in emerging economies, anchored by an expanding middle class.”  Moreover, as trade among the BRICs increased, the future of emerging economies is one...

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We don’t need $100,000, Mr. Thomas; we need action on greenhouse gas emissions

Aug 13

This July was the hottest July in the United States ever since they started keeping records.  In India, the monsoon rains are long delayed, resulting in the country’s second drought in four years.  Triple digit temperatures in New Delhi and other cities have already provoked the worst power outages in the country’s history and the expected bad harvest is likely to slice at least five per cent from GDP growth.   In Beijing, which usually suffers from a shortage of water, a storm on July 21 resulted in the worst flooding since records began to be kept in 1951, according to the Economist.  Meantime, here in the Philippines, the protracted “rainstorm with no name” (as PDI columnist Jose Montelibano christened it) that persisted for over a week plunged Metro Manila into a watery disaster that is now said to be worse than Ondoy. The ‘new normal’   It’s climate change, and Department of the Environment and Natural Resources head Ramon Paje captured the nature of nature’s wrath when he said that the “new normal” in our climate is unpredictable weather owing to the uncontrolled rise in the globe’s mean temperature due to greenhouse gas  (GHG) emissions.   If there is any doubt that the abnormal is now the norm, remember that this is shaping up to be the second straight year that non-stop rains have wreaked havoc in Southeast Asia.  Last year, the monsoon season brought about the worst flooding in Thailand’s history, with waters rushing down from the north of the country engulfing even Bangkok, affecting over 14 million people, damaging nearly 7000 square miles of agricultural land, disrupting global supply chains of transnationals with subsidiaries in the country, and bringing about what the World Bank estimated to be the world’s fourth costliest disaster ever. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the unceasing rainstorms is we could do little to prevent it.  We could have made it less calamitous by resettling informal settlers away from the floodways to Manila Bay and reforesting the hills and mountains that border the Metropolitan area.  We could have passed the Reproductive Health Bill much earlier and propagated family planning to reduce the human impact on the upland, rural, and urban environments.  We could have,...

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Philippine-style democracy on trial

Aug 04

In the coming week, two critical bills will move to center stage at the House of Representatives: the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) and the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.  The consideration of these two bills will test the mettle of Philippine-style democracy. Climax of RH debate? After 14 long years, the Reproductive Health Bill will finally be subjected to a vote on the House floor when a decision will be taken on a motion to terminate the debate on the bill.  Since prolonging debate till kingdom come has been the strategy of the anti-RH forces, success on the motion will be a sign that the pro-RH forces will most likely triumph when the bill finally comes to a vote after the period for amendments. 14 years of lobbying of members of Congress by the Catholic Church hierarchy against the bill went into high gear in the last few days.  In dramatic fashion, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, recently released on bail in connection with an electoral fraud case against her, showed up at the House last Tuesday to pull away seven members of the minority from their earlier support for the bill.   A representative of the hierarchy also announced that 140 congressmen and congresswomen were sure to vote against the bill, but Rep. Edcel Lagman, the bill’s prime sponsor, dismissed this as a psy-war effort to get the pro-RH side to reveal its own political map so that the bishops could then blitz vulnerable legislators. More and more people are shaking their heads as to why the Church hierarchy has poured so much effort and resources into stopping a bill that is so patently necessary to promote maternal health, bring about the economic takeoff the country so desperately needs, and promote a more benign balance between society and the environment.  These needs are so self-evident to most people in the country that the Church hierarchy’s stand is seen by many as an extension of its foolish battle against Copernicus’ theory that the earth moves around the sun. For other analysts, what is at stake for the hierarchy is not simply the credibility of a doctrine that contraception is morally wrong but the hegemonic ideological position that the Church has long...

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