Monthly Archives: October 2008

Launching a “War against Depression”

Links: Save Boeung Kak Lake in central Phnom Penh. Gathering of Twitter Saigon. Indonesia-made aircraft. Situation in Myanmar a year after the crackdown on the monk-led Saffron Revolution.

During the Great Depression a number of ordinary Americans initiated campaigns to restore confidence in the economy. One example is the campaign launched by a public relations firm which declared a “War against Depression.” The campaign encouraged 1 million employers to create one new job each in order to wipe out unemployment in six months.

There were other measures proposed by various individuals and coalitions. Many of the proposals were reasonable, some were ridiculous. But they were all sincere. Concerned citizens rejected cynicism in favor of a more active approach in solving the country’s economic problems. More importantly, the proposed solutions were meant to help the workers and poor citizens.

Today a new “War against Depression” is needed. The grassroots should be at the forefront of this movement. Politicians and big business do not have a monopoly on bright ideas on how to solve the economic crisis. To paraphrase American economist Stuart Chase, why should the White House and Wall Street have all the fun of remaking the world?

How should the “War against Depression” proceed? This should be a global effort since the U.S. economic downturn is now felt worldwide. It is good that governments of big countries are already exchanging notes and coordinating efforts on how to prevent the further collapse of the global economy. This is similar to what the Allied Powers did during the post-World War II reconstruction campaign. Nations approved a set of banking and trading rules which governed the global economy for many decades.

Another possible tactic in launching the “War against Depression” is to adopt the Bush doctrine. This may be unpopular and extreme but we can argue that the situation today demands extraordinary measures.

What would be the features of the campaign if we use the Bush doctrine? First, we will accuse Wall Street of being evil. Wall Street, the White House and their satellite offices in Europe are the axis of evil.

Then we will declare a war against Wall Street. There is more than adequate available evidence to prove that Wall Street has developed “weapons of mass destruction.” These deadly paper weapons are not only threatening our way of life; they have already caused so much misery and mayhem around the world.

During the Great Depression, a Detroit Catholic priest denounced “banksters” as being bad as gangsters. Wall Street executives are the same creatures. To use a more modern term, they are like terrorists who are using even the most unacceptable methods known to man in order to achieve their profit targets.

They worship the free market and they want the rest of the world to share their faith. They want to shape a new world order where money dictates everything. Wall Street is guilty of “terrorizing” our innocent children whose families today are poorer and probably homeless.

Then we will issue a warning that a preemptive strike will be launched on Wall Street. We will justify the strike by accusing the other soon-to-be bankrupt banks in Wall Street of posing a serious harm to the world. For the sake of our children and the future of this world, Wall Street will be invaded. The guilty Wall Street executives will be detained in Guantanamo Bay.

To preserve democracy and civilization, the world has to fight Wall Street even without the backing of international agencies. A “coalition of the willing” will be established. Then we will deliver an ultimatum to the world: Either you support this coalition or you are against what this group is fighting for.

Clearly, the Bush doctrine will not work. American unilateralism is not a useful model in waging a “War against Depression.” It is really unfortunate that the last major international effort to solve a global menace was poisoned by the Bush doctrine. Fortunately, no leader has proposed the use of this doctrine to overcome the financial crisis.

The other viable option in the campaign against recession is to expand and merge the numerous but dispersed anti-globalization movements in the world. Enough of the self-serving proposals of big bankers, discredited economists, corrupt politicians and sweet-talking presidential candidates. It’s time to hear the views of the poor and other marginalized voices in the world.

Anti-globalization groups can provide a genuine alternative to the oppressive status quo. They can offer practical solutions to our economic woes based on the principles of social justice and equality.

But it’s not that simple. Are we ready to open our minds to new and radical ideas? Are we ready to support a subversive vision of the future? Are we ready to create a better kind of world? Or are we more willing to listen to charismatic leaders who deliver angry and uplifting speeches but offer nothing out of the box?

There are different ways to launch the “War against Depression.” It is up to us to decide which platform we will pursue to change the world.

Related entries:

Capitalism without Capitalism
Recession in America
Poverty and system losses


Recession and its discontents

Links: A playcenter for the elderly in Brunei. The coffee industry of Laos. A stampede in Indonesia where people are queuing for alms. Indonesia’s anti-porn law.

Southeast Asia: Impact of Financial Crisis, a post written for Global Voices. The New York Times links again to my post about the Preah Vihear ownership dispute.

The Hollywood film Night at the Museum ends on a happy note: the series of bizarre events in the Museum of Natural History tickled the curiosity of New York residents which led more people to visit the museum. Film critics note how the ending of the film mimicked real life: The box-office success of the film also led to a better museum attendance.

There is another example of reel life becoming real: Ben Stiller was hired as the museum’s night guard in order to replace three veteran night guards. The workload of three regular workers was delegated to a single worker who was younger, stronger, but probably less eligible to receive fringe benefits. This is what companies are doing today. They are rationalizing operations. To borrow the words of Spiderman’s uncle, corporations are downsizing in order to upsize their profits.

The hiring of the night guard was symbolic – he represents the modern worker. The veteran night guards who had to retire represent the old workforce. They symbolize the regular workers who are being replaced by contractuals. Workers who receive full benefits are already endangered species in the world.

In the film, the night guard watches over exhibits and waxworks portraying cavemen, cowboys, warriors, dictators, adventurers, and other historic figures. Should regular workers of the 20th century be archived/displayed in the museum as well?


The Great Depression during the 1930s did not create poverty in America. Writer Caroline Bird (The Invisible Scar) clarifies a relevant point: “(The Crash made us see, in a binding flash of insight), that the Depression did not depress the conditions of the poor. It merely publicized them. The poor had been poor all along. It was just that nobody had looked at them.”

The Wall Street crash has publicized the extent of poverty in rich America. Suddenly, there are homeless middle-class citizens, hungry children, and jobless professionals. Finally an admission that widespread poverty exists in society. Finally a recognition of the worsening conditions of the urban poor.


A simple explanation of the US housing bubble:

Johnny Pitts is a bus driver who bought a house in 2005 worth $430,000. His mortgage payment is $3,730 a month (plus more on taxes and insurance). His monthly salary is only $4,000. A couple pays $5,000 monthly for their mortgage. Their combined monthly salary is also $5,000. (San Francisco Chronicle, September 19, C3.)

Now we know why foreclosure cases are rising. And another consequence: increasing number of homeless Americans.

During the Great Depression, poverty camps were called Hoovervilles – maybe as a protest against then US President Herbert Hoover. Hoovervilles (or better, Bushvilles) are back today. Tent cities are spreading across America. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 61 percent of local and state homeless groups reported a rise in homelessness since 2007.

Officially, there are 666,000 homeless Americans (January 2007). But this figure is conservative. The Department of Housing and Urban Development did not include those who stayed with relatives or friends, and those who are living in campgrounds and motel rooms.

In short, dumadami ang NPA sa America.


According to the California Job Journal (September 21), the unemployment rate in California rose to 7.7 percent in August, the highest level since 1996. Nationwide, the economic crisis has eliminated 605,000 jobs.

According to the Wall Street Journal (September 16, A3), the financial-services industry had shed more than 11,000 jobs in New York and 20,000 in London. The fate of 25,000 workers of bankrupt Lehman remains uncertain.

Luxury shopping stores, restaurants, hotels, fashion and entertainment have benefited during the boom years on Wall Street. Banks are also big sources of city tax revenues. What will happen to the world’s financial centers, especially New York and London? Both cities are dependent on the financial-services industry.


Because of fewer job options, young Americans are joining the military. The 2008 recruitment target of the military was met as early as last month. It seems the weak economy is an advantage for the army’s recruitment goals.

Crime, particularly property theft, is expected to rise in the coming months. This is good news for America’s Prison-Industrial complex. In recent years or decades, the expanding prison system has benefited the US economy. It created new and permanent jobs, stimulated production, and increased the demand for more efficient security gadgets.

The recession will not just lead America to shop for new wars abroad. It will intensify repression at home. It will lead to more American minorities behind jails.


Bush and company approved a bailout plan for bankrupt Wall Street banks. The government has money to spare for Wall Street but it has allotted little for social welfare. Public schools are suffering because of the fiscal crisis. Many California classrooms are overcrowded and teachers were fired because of budget problems. For example, an Algebra class in a Union City school had 20 students last year; today there are 43 students in the class. Fourteen teachers were removed because the school could not pay their salaries. (San Francisco Chronicle, September 12, A1)

Meanwhile, the bailout beneficiaries are not changing their spending habits. They approved hefty bonuses for their outgoing disgraced executives. And they continue to indulge in luxurious living. Days after a bailout was approved for AIG, the company executives and salespeople met in a Southern California resort. The company spent $200,000 on rooms, $150,000 on meals, $23,000 in spa expenses and $7,000 on golf. ((San Francisco Chronicle, October 8, A15)

Hindi na nahiya ang mga ito. Napaka insensitive. Ordinary Americans are losing their jobs, homes, and pension money, and these Wall Street executives could still afford to meet in a luxurious resort.

Related entries:

Bees and economy
Labor pains

Sometimes the world is flat

Links: Half-naked tourists in Laos. Education funding in Indonesia. Should Cambodia be called Gamblodia? ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign in Brunei.

Thailand/Cambodia: Conflict over Preah Vihear, Part I and Part II. Read the French translation. The New York Times links to the post. My post about the US elections was translated into Spanish.

New pictures in my webshots album. Click here and here.

Today the world seems flat. Poverty is everywhere. Homelessness is spreading. From Asia and Africa to Europe and the Americas, the people of the world are experiencing the traumatic effects of a global economic recession.

It seems that for a rare and fleeting moment, globalization has produced a more equal world. Poverty is no longer a Third World spectacle. The once affluent societies of the United States and Europe are now grappling with Third World problems: high unemployment rates, rising homelessness, worsening inflation, poverty suicides, environmental degradation and escalating social unrest.

The mighty United States was humbled by the Wall Street crash. Many of its citizens are now without work, health insurance and a roof above their heads. Many Americans are already experiencing what Third World residents are enduring every day.

Early this month, an unemployed financial manager in Los Angeles killed five family members and himself because of money woes. This kind of suicide is usually reported in Third World societies, not in the United States. Will there be more poverty suicides in the United States?

Poverty is not a new phenomenon in the United States. Pockets of poverty have existed before. But there is a huge wave of numbing poverty which is now spreading across the country. Middle-class Americans are losing their wealth, pension money and residential homes overnight. These were last seen and felt during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Because of technological advances in communications and transportation, the big world is now called a global village. In the past, the poor in the global village could not see beyond the high fences of the rich. But things have somewhat changed.

In today’s flatter world, the Third World poor are now exchanging survival tips with their First World poor neighbors who have just lost their homes. Or to borrow a phrase from U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the Third World poor can now see the First World from their houses.

Globalization promised to level the playing field in the world so that small nations could compete with bigger economies. But this was never fulfilled. Despite the claims of pro-globalization ideologues that the world has become a better place to live, it cannot be denied that the income gap between the rich and the poor has widened. Globalization has furthered the interests of rich nations at the expense of the poor.

But today the big economies that worshipped the free market are down on their knees. Instead of the poor getting rich, the reverse is happening. Rich nations and their citizens are getting poor. Meanwhile the poor are getting poorer and more hopeless. The future is bleak. Is this the true legacy of globalization? Will globalization always work against the interests of the poor?

Despite the shocking U.S. economic downturn, the Third World poor are not rejoicing. They are not amused that the global economy is slowing down. Maybe some of them feel justified in highlighting the hypocrisy of U.S. trade policies. Or maybe some are quietly asserting the superiority of their nonconformist economic doctrines. But most of them are genuinely afraid over the uncertain future of the global economy.

The U.S. economy will continue to decline. The negative impact will be felt by more people in the next few weeks and months. U.S. imports will decrease due to less domestic consumer spending. U.S. investments in poor countries will be affected as well.

It is only now that Third World banks and social security agencies are determining the extent of their losses due to the U.S. financial meltdown. In short, the Third World poor will suffer more. Not all countries will be able to raise a financial bailout program to rescue their struggling economies.

The First World poor are still faring better than their Third World counterparts. They can at least rely on social welfare funds and other government programs. They can tap the emergency reserves of their wealthy economies.

Meanwhile the Third World poor do not have these options. They can cling to few or no support systems. It is unfortunate that most media attention is focused on the homeless and jobless American poor. The Third World poor are in worse condition, yet their voices are not adequately heard.

Even in a poorer globalized world, there is still wide inequality and discrimination. The suffering of the First World is privileged over that of the Third World. The world may be flat sometimes, but it is still not that flat. Perhaps a new kind of world is needed.

Related entries:

Fake capital of the world
Fences in the world
Poverty and system loss


Links: Thailand has the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rate in Asia. Post-tsunami reconstruction efforts in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Situation of gay men in Vietnam. How to get a license to drive a motorbike in Vietnam.

Southeast Asia: Views on US elections and politics, a post written for Global Voices.

In the Philippines, war veterans refer to those who fought during World War II. But during the 1950s, war veterans were those who fought during the 1896 revolution against the Spanish rule. They were the Katipuneros who waged a revolution to assert the country’s independence. Kuwentong Kutsero, a popular radio show in the 1950s, featured a character (Kapitan Hugo) who was a veteran of 1896. There was even an episode when Lolo Hugo joined his fellow Katipuneros during a parade of heroes in Luneta.

When did we start calling our WWII soldiers as war veterans? Perhaps soon after all Katipuneros died.

There are 18,000 WWII veterans who are still living today. Five decades ago, they were 300,000. How long will they continue to live? About 10 veterans are dying everyday. Do the math.

When they are gone, who will be our new veterans?


There are many war veterans in the United States. There are WWII veterans, Korean War veterans, Vietnam War veterans, Gulf War veterans. Coming soon: Iraq-Afghanistan War veterans. Is there a war (genocidal war seems appropriate too) which I missed? What about the veterans of covert CIA operations?

The U.S. has been involved in numerous wars. It deploys its military might to influence global politics. Its military (mis)adventures have caused irreparable damage in many parts of the world. For instance, there are still Laos farmers who could not till their land because of “planted” cluster bombs which US forces dropped during the Vietnam War.

If the U.S. will continue to play the role of a global supercop, then there will be more war veterans to honor in the next few decades. These veterans are entitled to receive pension money. Can the US government manage to pay the pension of all veterans? How long can the economy afford to finance the post-war expenditures of the US military?

More and more baby boomers are retiring from their jobs. Are there enough retirement funds? The retirement age was raised to 66 but sooner or later America must find a way to pay it retirees. It can help if the U.S. will cease to invade other countries. There will be fewer veterans to pay.

But this is wishful thinking. America needs wars. It will always create war scenarios. A war economy provides jobs, stimulates production and distracts the attention of the people. Wars are necessary to stabilize capitalism. The U.S. will enter into new wars as long as it is certain the opponents are not like the unbeatable Vietnamese guerillas.


Stories about war veterans have been turned into many Hollywood movie blockbusters and TV sitcoms. Which war is more famous in Hollywood: Vietnam War or WWII? Is it WWII because the U.S. won this war? Or Vietnam War because the U.S. lost its soul and many of its bright young soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam? The theme of a rag tag army defeating a more powerful force seems to be more intriguing.


There are American war veterans whose (bloody) legacy is still being defended by their descendants. I’m referring to US soldiers who were sent to invade the Philippines more than a century ago. After almost wiping out the population of Balangiga, a small town in Samar province (located in central Philippines), soldiers stole the town’s church bells and brought them back to the United States as trophies of war. Attempts by succeeding Philippine governments to recover the bells have all failed. The US government insists the bells belong to the American people. Descendants of the Philippine-American war veterans are also opposing the return of the bells claiming that many of their ancestors have perished in that war. It seems the bells have some psychological, nostalgic value for them.

By the way, did US soldiers brought home Iraqi historical artifacts during the mass looting in Baghdad when Saddam Hussein’s government fell in 2003? Just asking.


Pass the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill! For sixty years, the US government has deprived Filipino veterans of their right to be recognized as good and brave soldiers who fought for freedom and democracy alongside American soldiers. The heroism of Filipino veterans deserves to be recognized by the US Congress. But mere recognition is not enough. These veterans, many of them are already octogenarians today, need to pay their medical and other health bills.

What is stopping the US Congress from approving the bill? Maybe they do not want to pay our veterans. Or maybe they are waiting for a few more years until the number of veterans who are eligible to receive pension will be small only. Time is on their side. And they can manage to postpone the passage of the bill since Filipinos or the Filipino community wields little influence on American politics. Politicians are not afraid to lose the Fil-Am vote because only few Filipinos vote during Election Day.

During Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s visit in the U.S. last month, the Filipino Veterans bill was rejected by Congress again. Malas talaga siya.


Should the Quezon City government proceed with the sale of Veterans Hospital? Or the golf course beside the hospital? Don’t sell both of them to private developers. The local government should invest in the area. Tap its surplus funds to develop a retirement home/park for elderly citizens. If a business park will soon rise in North Triangle, then the real estate value of Veterans Hospital will also increase. Why give away a precious public property to the private sector?

Related entries:

Conjugal dictators
Losing the war
Laoag to Laoang

Economic recession and Asia’s experience

Links: Literacy education among Vietnam’s ethnic population. Avril Lavigne is too sexy for some Malaysian politicians. Singapore is harassing Burmese activists. Laos is pronounced as Lao (silent ‘s’).

Indonesia: Views on the U.S. Financial Crisis, a post written for Global Voices. Read the Bangla translation. Check out my profile in Voices Without Votes. Blog Action Day 2008.

The financial crisis in the United States has weakened the economies of many nations. Investment banks are falling. Unemployment is rising. Inflation is getting worse. Poverty is expanding. These are obvious indicators of an impending – or has it already arrived? – global economic recession.

To point out the seriousness of the problem, economists and other commentators are comparing the present economic downturn to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The similarities are difficult to ignore: bank failures, a stock market crash, soaring unemployment and homelessness, and the fact that in both periods, it was the decline of the U.S. economy that triggered the global economic crisis.

The Great Depression has always been used as a benchmark to explain and measure economic upheavals. The mere mention of the term creates panic among people, especially Americans. Today, everybody is talking about the Great Depression again. Thanks to the Wall Street crash, everybody is worried that the world will again experience the horrors of the Great Depression era.

Like the rest of the world, most Asians are terrified of the Great Depression. But this fear must be put into context. Asians share the global anxiety about the uncertain future of the U.S. economy and world economy. They dread the possibility of a prolonged economic crisis. But it is not always adequate to invoke the threat of the Great Depression in order to remind Asians about the gravity of U.S. economic woes.

Somehow, Americans and Asians have different memories of the Great Depression. Yes, Asian economies were also down at that time; but most of them were colonial subjects of Western powers. Many Asians blamed their social problems on colonial economic policies. While the West was trying to cope with the depression, Asians were struggling to become free nations. Many Asians remember the Great Depression as the period when independence movements started to expand in their countries. For many Asians, stories about poverty were subsumed in their collective memories of colonial bondage and the struggle to resist the foreign intruders.

It is not the Great Depression of the 1930s, but rather the 1997 Asian financial crisis that is a more appropriate reference point to capture the attention of Asians. Before 1997, many Asian countries were called “tiger” and “dragon” economies because of their amazing economic output. Many Asians thought the positive performance of their economies would continue for a long time. Then the fatal economic crash came in 1997.

The financial crisis spread like wildfire through the region. Suddenly, rising economies like Thailand and Indonesia quickly went down. Confidence in many Asian economies declined. Economic indicators became negative overnight. Asians became poorer, and markets became unstable. Many Asian countries have yet to fully recover from the 1997 downturn.

For many Asians, the Great Depression seems too distant and ancient, while the 1997 Asian crisis is very recent and concrete. Thus, it is not surprising that many Asian commentators are highlighting the 1997 crisis to explain the possible impact of an imminent global financial meltdown. If Asians are worried about the deteriorating condition of the U.S. economy, it has more to do with the fear that their recovering and struggling economies will be unable to withstand the aftershocks of another economic recession, after the last one hit the region only a decade ago.

Remembering Asian countries’ struggles to rebuild their economies after 1997 is relevant too in order to understand Asia’s reactions to the financial bailout program of the U.S. government. On one hand, there is pessimism that the United States will be unable to solve its economic problems. It was the West, led by the United States, that lectured Asia about the need for market reforms in 1997. So far, these neoliberal economic prescriptions have failed to revive the economies of Asian countries.

On the other hand, there is a feeling of contempt for the United States. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad echoes this sentiment in his blog: "We cannot forget how, in 1997-98, American hedge funds destroyed the economies of poor countries by manipulating their national currencies. (Asian) governments were told not to bail out any company or bank that was in deep trouble. The Americans claimed that these companies or banks were inefficient, and they should be allowed to go bankrupt and perish. Better still, they should be sold at fire-sale prices to American investors. Yet today, we see the U.S. government readying $700 billion to brazenly bail out banks, mortgage companies and insurance companies."

The global economic catastrophe must be viewed from different perspectives. The American worldview is relevant, but it is not applicable nor should it be imposed on the rest of the world. For example, Asia has its own unique historical and social experience, which means it needs a different approach to solve its economic problems.

Related entries:

Myanmar and relief invasion
Gloria and Ramos


Links: Khmer Humer. Indonesia’s Battle of Aru Sea. Reflections on Indonesia’s Independence Day. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s richest royal.

China milk scandal and Southeast Asia, a post written for Global Voices. Read the French, Bangla and Chinese translations. The New York Times links to the post. New pictures in my webshots album.

My name is Raymond, maybe most of you already know that. I was named after St. Raymond Nonnatus, of course you didn’t know that. But this post is not about me. What I want to highlight is the use of political terms which start with the letter R. This is a year of Big Rs – recession, reproductive health, renewable energy, and don’t forget – revolution. But let me mention other acronyms first.

RA – Reaffirmists. Back in college, activists were either reaffirmists or rejectionists. Those who supported/reaffirmed the basic principles of the national democratic revolution (with a socialist perspective) were known as reaffirmists. And those who rejected the left’s rectification movement were called rejectionists, or revisionists. This acronym is no longer often used in mainstream media. RA activists are simply referred to as natdem or ND activists.

RB – Rafael Baylosis. UP student leader during the First Quarter Storm. Together with other honor students (there were only 25 cum laude graduates in UP in 1970), RB participated in a protest action during their graduation rites with placards exhorting students to “Serve the People” and denouncing “American Cultural Aggression.” RB is still an activist.

RC – Renato Constantino. Nationalist historian.

RE – Renewable Energy. Thanks to climate change/global warming and rising oil/gas prices, RE is now a special concern of many individuals and institutions. There is a pending RE bill in Congress. Everybody is supporting it, even the oil companies. Most RE advocates are sincere but opportunist politicians and discredited leaders are joining the crusade. Beware.

RH – Reproductive Health. RE is popular; RH is controversial. Many politicians are secretly supporting the RH measure in Congress. But the Catholic Church is opposing the RH bill. What is the Church’s argument: RH is abortion. Maternal health is abortion. Adolescent reproductive health is abortion. Infant care is abortion. Sex education is abortion. And according to them, the Philippines is not overpopulated. And another unbelievable claim: 90 million Filipinos can survive/thrive in Bohol island.

RJ – Refer to RA

RM – Ramon Magsaysay. Former president of the Republic of the Philippines. Man of the masses or CIA agent?

RN – Registered Nurse. Nursing is the most popular college degree in the Philippines. But there is a shortage of qualified health workers in the country. Why? Majority of Filipino RNs are working abroad.

RO – ROTC or Reserve Officers Training Corp. My generation succeeded in the long campaign to remove the dreaded ROTC program as compulsory subject for college students, at least in the private schools. ROTC was replaced by the National Service Training Program. As usual, the military wants to bring back the ROTC program in colleges and universities.

RP – Republic of the Philippines.

RVAT – Reformed Value Added Tax. It’s similar to the bailout program of America. Save the economy by robbing the poor and giving the money to the rich. Spend small amount of money on high profile projects, name the program ‘Katas ng VAT’, while pocket the rest of the booty. Clever.

RX – Cost of prescription drugs in the Philippines is one of the most expensive in the world. Bawal magkasakit – kulang ang duktor, mahal ang gamot, may melamine pa ang gatas. Generics Law is impressive (Australia copied it) but ineffective.

3Rs – Reading, writing, arithmetic for basic education skills. Reduce, reuse, recycle to save the environment. Replace, reduce, refine for the ethical use of animals in scientific procedures.

Big Rs

Reform – The favorite campaign slogan of US presidentiables: change. Change Washington. Change Wall Street. Reform health care. Reform immigration policies. Rhetoric?

Recession – Economists disagree that the US economy is under recession. They do not believe there is an ongoing global recession. They like to call it credit crunch. But the indicators are very obvious: unemployment figures, inflation rates, foreclosure cases, bank losses. What more is needed to convince the eternal optimists that something is terribly wrong with capitalism?

(John Mangun of Businessmirror is angry. “Don’t confuse things,” he reminds the left and the media. He insists the bailout package of the US Federal government is not really a bailout. According to him, the precise term which we should use is “economic rescue plan.” But John is wrong. First, it is not the left and the media which proposed the name of the bailout package. Blame the US Treasury for the wrong choice of term. Second, “economic rescue plan” sounds like a bailout. When is a bailout a bailout? Remember the military general who reprimanded a reporter for describing a US army attack as bombing. The general said, “Don’t call it bombing, it’s air support.” Don’t call it bailout, it’s an economic rescue plan.)

Revolution – The big-R in America is recession. Americans fear a repeat of the 1930 Great Depression. As much as possible, American politicians and economists will deny the existence of a recession. In the Philippines, the word recession does not provoke intense fear among Filipinos. Recession is not a heavy political/economic term in the country. Maybe because “recession” is an everyday reality for many Filipinos.

The big-R in Philippine politics is revolution. By revolution, I mean the real revolution ha. (Not the ampaw revolution of glamorous housebuilders). I’m referring to leftist mass movements and the armed struggles of communist and separatist rebels. Government apologists will deny the quiet but growing advances of revolutionary movements. They will lie to the people about the real strength of the revolutionists. Those who are afraid to lose their comfortable status in society will ridicule the potential of the revolution. Mention the word revolution and it will spark comments from ideologues, pseudo progressives and blind followers of the ruling order about the irrelevance of the left and its purported crimes against humanity.

In America, politicians often lie about the existence of recession. In the Philippines, reactionary forces are convincing themselves that the left is already a spent force.

Related entries:

Go green, go red.
Brain drain in the health sector
UP student council
Don’t get high on drugs
VAT and Arroyo
In other words

China milk and Wall Street scandals

Links: Southeast Asia’s tallest waterfalls. Myanmar-China jade trade. Coconut milk recipes in Vietnam and Thailand. Sabah Bloggers Gathering 2008.

Several infants have died and thousands were hospitalized in China after drinking milk products contaminated with melamine, a dangerous industrial chemical. The Chinese government admitted that Chinese companies may have exported the tainted milk products. Consumers and health agencies from around the world are now rejecting Chinese milk products.

On the other side of the world, several financial institutions in Wall Street have filed for bankruptcy. Other big U.S. banks are expected to close down as well due to mounting bad loans and subprime losses. The federal government has readied a financial package to rescue these ailing banks.

Is there a direct link between the China milk scandal and the Wall Street crash? Perhaps not. But they are similar economic disasters which expose the downside of corporate globalization.

The drive for profit may have led the Chinese milk manufacturers to mix the harmful melamine chemical with their products. They endangered consumer welfare and violated business ethics in order to reduce production costs.

On the other hand, various U.S. credit agencies ignored banking rules and common sense when they approved housing loans to persons who couldn’t afford to pay their financial obligations. To prevent losses from these unpaid mortgages, banks created artificial financial instruments and traded them in the market.

It is safe to assume that Wall Street executives were aware that these speculative activities would undermine the stability of the market. But it seems the temptation to earn super profits was difficult to refuse.

Chinese milk companies and Wall Street were able to break the rules because of inadequate regulation. Health inspectors in China bungled their jobs. The U.S. government was unwilling to regulate the big transactions on Wall Street.

Economic damage, and deaths in the case of China, could have been minimized if both the Chinese and U.S. governments had intervened early and swiftly when the problem was still manageable. Chinese officials were informed about the tainted milk issue two months ago but they didn’t order the withdrawal of milk products from the market. They didn’t warn their citizens about the health hazards of drinking the contaminated milk. They didn’t stop the shipment of milk products to other countries.

When foreclosure cases in the housing sector began to rise a few years ago, the U.S. government should have devised an emergency plan to help homeowners and to assist the banking sector. But it didn’t act. It refused to tap public money to save the homes of its citizens. Instead, it expected the glorified market forces to fix the problem.

The financial mess got worse. Now the government will be using billions and billions of taxpayers’ money to bail out Wall Street. Thousands will still remain homeless but Wall Street executives will get their hefty paychecks.

The negative impact of the China milk and Wall Street scandals was felt worldwide, thanks to a globalized economy. Chinese milk and milk-based products are exported to almost all countries because they are less expensive. The melamine-infested milk from erstwhile socialist China is the “specter that haunts” the world today.

The Wall Street crash led to the weakening of other financial centers in the world. Global stock markets went down. The decline of the U.S. banking sector has affected the economies of small and big nations alike. It is not only the U.S. economy which is under threat of recession; global capitalism is in serious trouble.

But interestingly, the global impact of the China milk and Wall Street scandals has revealed the world’s dependence on the economies of China and the United States. The world needs China’s cheap goods and the stability of the United States, the world’s biggest consumer market.

Governments cannot afford to ban Chinese goods despite the spotty record of China’s export industry. China produces most of our daily needs, from toothpaste to bed pillows. In the same way, the world cannot ignore a bankrupt United States. The fall of capitalist America will trigger a global crisis.

Whether we like or hate China and the United States, they should be part of the solution the moment we decide to reform the global economy.

Did the world gain something from the China milk scandal? It remains to be seen. But it is promising to note that there are renewed discussions about the importance of breastfeeding, especially in the developing nations. Trade officials are now imposing better safety standards on Chinese export goods. It is hoped that China will improve the working conditions in its manufacturing sector.

Did the world gain something from the Wall Street crash? It is debatable whether the bailout program will be good or bad for the U.S. economy. Definitely there will be new banking regulations. Governments around the world are now reviewing their economic policies, especially those that concern the financial sector.

What is the symbolic relationship of the China milk scandal and the Wall Street crash? By providing the capital which fueled the economic investments in China, Wall Street somehow triggered a chain of events which led to the untimely deaths of numerous infants. Wall Street’s “fictitious capital” produced tangible results which the world’s poor had to bear.

For many people living in poor countries, the U.S. financial crisis looks and sounds too vague on TV. Few people understand what liquidation, credit crunch and subprime really mean. If the U.S. economy is falling, what are its concrete consequences which the global poor have to fear?

The infant deaths caused by melamine-tainted milk in China gave the public an image to visualize the horrific consequences of unbridled corporate globalization. Capitalism which obeys few or no rules leads to bankruptcies, homelessness and infant deaths.

Related entries:

Breastfeeding in the Philippines
Viagra and capitalism


Total recall. It is reasonable to single out China for producing unsafe and low quality products. But production glitches and undermining of consumer welfare are inherent in capitalism. Labor is given low priority (low wages, unpaid benefits, appalling working conditions) since the profit drive is the primary concern of capitalists. Thus it is no longer surprising to read about these product recalls in the United States:

– 600,000 Simplicity brand cribs which are already in stores can lead to infant entrapment and suffocation;
– 20,000 children’s metal water bottles in San Francisco can pose as choking hazard to young children
– 223,000 SlyDog dog leashes can pose a serious risk of injury
– 57,000 Fairy Dust pendants and candle charms contain high levels of lead
– 330,000 pairs of Circo Rosette bobbie socks can pose a choking hazard to young children
– 190,000 MacGregor folding soccer goals and Mitre folding soccer goals can pose a head and neck entrapment or strangulation hazard
– 25,000 Apeks second-stage scuba regulators and 6,000 Titan DIN first-stage scuba regulators can pose as drowning hazard
– 73,000 Vaio TZ-series notebook computers can pose a burn hazard
– 24,000 Wolf gas ranges can pose a burn hazard
– 322,000 MYO Belt headlamps can pose a burn hazard

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, September 21, 2008, C2

Zinn, Fromm, McNeill, Majul

Links: Online map of Vientiane. Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary in Phnom Penh. From street kids to Lao cooks. Vietnam has topped the internet chart in searches for the word ’sex’.

Two books borrowed from a nearby library: Voices of a People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and Muslims in the Philippines by Cesar Adib Majul. Two books borrowed from the main library: Beyond the Chains of Illusion by Erich Fromm and Mythistory and other Essays by William McNeill. Mega booksale: I bought 29 books; each book costs $1 only.

Voices of a People’s History of the United States. A must-read for those who enjoyed reading A People’s History of the United States. This new book is a collection of short essays, poems, personal stories and eyewitness accounts written by Native Americans, African Americans, workers, women, immigrants – the same people who were oppressed and excluded from mainstream society. I was able to read the first few chapters of the book, from the arrival of Columbus until the rise of early feminist movement in the U.S. Then I skipped the next chapters in order to read the recent history of the U.S. – from the Carter-Reagan consensus until the present Bush era.

Beyond the Chains of Illusion. Fromm’s narration of his encounter with the radical theories of Marx and Freud. Enlightening! On my part, a fresh understanding of some of the concepts advanced by Freud like superego. Fromm provided a background to some of his interesting works as well.

For example, the function of social character is “to shape the energies of the members of society in such a way that their behavior is not a matter of conscious decision as to whether or not to follow the social pattern, but one of wanting to act as they have to act and at the same time finding gratification in acting according to the requirements of the culture.” Is it similar to Bourdieu’s habitus?

Social unconscious: “Areas of repression which are common to most members of a society; these commonly repressed elements are those contents which a given society cannot permit its members to be aware of if the society with its specific contradictions is to operate successfully.”

According to Fromm, both Marx and Freud recognized that “man explains his actions to himself as being rational or moral and these rationalizations satisfy him subjectively…But being driven by forces unknown to him, man is not free.”

Socially-conditioned filter: “Experience can enter into awareness only under the condition that it can be perceived, related, and ordered in terms of a conceptual system, and its categories…Experience cannot enter awareness unless it can penetrate this filter.”

Fromm argued that man will lie, repress his emotion because he is afraid of ostracism:

“Man as man is afraid of insanity, just as man as animal is afraid of death. Man has to be related, he has to find union with others, in order to be sane. This need to be one with others is his strongest passion, stronger than sex and often even stronger than his wish to live.

“For this reason the individual must blind himself from seeing that which his group claims does not exist, or accept as truth that which the majority says is true, even if his own eyes could convince him that it is false.

“What man considers true, real, sane are the clichés accepted by his society, and much that does not fit in with these clichés is excluded from awareness, is unconscious.”

Mythistory and other Essays. McNeill’s thesis on the evolution of human societies: “Troubling encounters with strangers constitute the principal motor of change within human societies.”

McNeill notes the relationship between truth and myth (“My truth dissolves into your myth even before I can put words on paper”). And he points out the value of shared truths to humans who are social creatures:

“We need to share truths with one another, and not just truths about atoms, stars, and molecules, but about human relations and the people around us…shared truths that provide a sanction for common effort have obvious survival value.”

McNeill is a popular world historian. Probably, you have read his world history textbooks. McNeill is a proponent of an ecumenical version of history. While others doubt the value and objectivity of a general or macro (or universal) history, McNeill defends this kind of history writing which focuses on general processes, relationships and trends. He explains:

“Precision and truthfulness do not necessarily increase as the scale becomes smaller. Large scale truths and patternings can be just as precise as small-scale observations and truths.”

He even warns that “multiplication of facts reduces historical study to triviality.”

Muslims in the Philippines. Confession: I get bored when I read Majul. Perhaps I prefer the lively prose (a critic calls it lyricism) of Agoncillo. I had a hard time focusing when I read Majul’s book on Mabini a few years ago. But I could not turn down a Majul book, especially his groundbreaking book on the history of Muslims in the Philippines. I haven’t finished reading the book, but so far here are some of the things I learned:

1. Islam in the Philippines is part of the Islamization process in the Malay and Indonesian Peninsula.
2. Traders, not missionaries, introduced Islam. Some of the traders remained in Mindanao. Some of them married the children of powerful/influential families.
3. Islam was accepted by many natives in the region because it meant the abolition of the oppressive caste system. Islam provided a consciousness among the people that they belong to a larger, universal religious community of believers.
4. When missionaries arrived, their work was made easy because Muslim settlements were already existing throughout the archipelago.
5. Many communities have adopted Muslim customs (avoiding pork, for example) but they were not necessarily Islam believers. When the Spanish arrived, they thought many communities in Luzon were Muslims because the natives were not eating pork.
6. The arrival of Western/Christian powers had a profound impact in the region. It hastened the Islamization in the region. Missionaries and Muslim leaders became more aggressive in defending and promoting Islam.
7. The Muslim leaders in Manila during the arrival of the Spaniards were connected by blood to the ruling families of Brunei. Palawan communities were paying tributes to the Sultan of Brunei.
8. Shariff Kabungsuan did not introduce Islam in the Philippines, but he was influential in consolidating the religion in Mindanao.
9. Muslims incorporated native practices which were alien to Islam, like blood compact.
10. In the Spanish records, Muslims were accused of piracy and slave-trading. Indeed, there were Muslim pirates in the region. There were also Chinese pirates, and Dutch and Spanish invaders. We have to differentiate acts of aggression which were sanctioned by Muslim Sultans and those initiated by pirates.
11. The Spanish attempt to Christianize and subjugate the Muslims in Mindanao was the primary reason for the start of the so-called Moro Wars. The Muslims were provoked to rise up and defend their territories.
12. Because of superior firepower, Spanish forces were always successful in destroying Muslim settlements. But they were always brief victories. Muslim forces would always regroup, gather more strength and subdue the attacking Spaniards in the end.
13. The Spaniards used the divide and rule tactic to fight the Muslims. They would befriend local datus in order to prevent the formation of a unified Muslim community.
14. Spanish soldiers were assisted by Tagalogs, Pampangos and natives from some Visayas islands.
15. In order to instill fear, Spanish soldiers destroyed Muslim houses, plantations, boats and they beheaded captured local leaders. Women and children were taken as slaves.
16. The Jesuits were the most consistent in convincing Spanish officials to Christianize Mindanao and build Christian settlements.
17. Spanish forces failed miserably to “pacify” Mindanao. They entered into numerous peace treaties with Muslim local leaders in order to facilitate trade and protect Christian subjects in the island.
18. Zamboanga has always been strategic in dominating Mindanao, especially Sulu, Magundanao and Tawi-Tawi. Everytime Spanish forces would build a fort in Zamboanga, it would weaken the trading and political power of Muslim communities.
19. Sultan Qudarat was a strong leader and wise warrior. He defeated the almost successful campaign of the Spaniards to rule over the whole of Mindanao.
20. Because of Spain’s failure to defeat the forces of Qudarat, a peace agreement was signed with the Sultan. Spain acknowledged the supreme authority of Qudarat in many areas in Mindanao and even recognized Qudarat’s claim to collect tributes from areas outside his sphere of influence.
21. Muslims from Borneo and Malay Peninsula have always aided the Muslims in the Philippines in fighting the Spanish invaders.
22. Muslim leaders would always seek the military and political assistance of the Dutch, another foreign power and rival of the Spaniards.
23. Spanish officials were always willing to ratify peace agreements with Muslim communities every time foreign powers or pirates were threatening to invade Manila and the Philippine archipelago.
24. Peace treaties were not permanent, at least from the point of view of the Spanish government. Spanish officials would always claim they were temporary truces, not permanent treaties every time they resume their offensives on Muslim communities.
25. Sabah was a gift (reward) given by the Sultan of Brunei to the Sultan of Sulu.

Change the names and dates in the book and replace them with MILF, MNLF, AFP, MOA-AD, US government, Malaysia, terrorists – and it would seem the situation has not changed in Muslim Mindanao.

Book sale. 29 books, costing $1 each. Books by Zinn, Sartre, Naomi Klein, John Pilger, Edgar Snow, Edward Said, Hugo Blanco, Andre Malraux. Books about the Chinese revolution, Great Depression, Cuba, Intifada, Saddam Hussein, Marxist art. I could have bought more books but it was already lunchtime.

Related entries:

Book hunt
Sentimental nationalists
Aguinaldo and Imelda

U.S. elections and Southeast Asia

Links: Skateboard competition in Brunei. Transvestite toilets in Thailand. Coffee industry of East Timor. Floating market in Vietnam.

Thanks to the person/s who nominated this blog in the 2008 Philippine Blog Awards. This blog was a finalist in the Best Commentary category.

Many Southeast Asians are intently monitoring the presidential elections in the United States, which maintains a solid influence in the region. It has a military presence in the Philippines. It enjoys good trading relations with Southeast Asian countries.
Both China and the United States are aiming for supremacy in this part of the world.

But there is another reason why the U.S. elections matter to many people in Southeast Asia. Both U.S. presidential candidates – John McCain and Barack Obama – are popular in the region. McCain was a former Navy pilot during the Vietnam War; he spent five years in a Hanoi prison. A very young Obama lived in Jakarta for five years. He studied in two Indonesian schools.

Despite being a soldier of the country which attacked Vietnam, McCain has many supporters in Vietnam. As a senator, McCain supported the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam.

Even former detention guards at Hoa Lo prison, more popularly known today as the “Hanoi Hilton,” where McCain was incarcerated and allegedly tortured for five years, are supporting the candidacy of McCain. The prison guards, now retired generals, believe McCain as U.S. president will be good to Vietnam since Vietnamese peasants saved his life when he almost drowned in a lake after his Skyhawk bomber was hit by a missile in 1967.

Obama’s stepfather is Indonesian. There is a Facebook group called “Indonesia for Obama ’08” which is somehow a hint that Obama is well regarded in this country. In his book, Obama discussed the covert support provided by the U.S. government to right-wing Indonesian generals who ordered the purge of thousands of Indonesian communist members and sympathizers in the 1960s. Obama seems to be critical of U.S. foreign policy toward Indonesia. Obama’s mother is also recognized as a pioneer of a microfinance program in Indonesia that gave livelihood loans to poor women.

Both McCain and Obama have faced controversy regarding their Asian ties. In 2000 McCain said he hated “gooks,” referring to his Vietnamese captors. He added, "I will hate them as long as I live."

The word “gook” is a term of war and a term of racism. U.S. soldiers first used the word “goo-goo” to describe Filipinos when the United States invaded the Philippines a century ago; the word “gook” was used again in the Korean and Vietnamese wars. In all cases, the use of the racial term was meant to demonize the enemy. It took some time before McCain apologized for his “I hate gooks” remark. An interesting question: If McCain said “I hate niggers” instead of “I hate gooks,” would he still be qualified to run as president?

During a fundraising event, Obama said he is a “desi,” an informal term meaning South Asian. While most Asians were impressed by this remark, there were negative reactions as well. Instead of pandering, Obama was advised to articulate his program for Asian Americans. Here is another comment from a blogger: “The outreach is nice, but having an immigrant father, some Asian friends, and a few years in an Indonesian school and a few more in Hawaii doesn’t make you Asian, and it certainly doesn’t make you Indian.”

Will Southeast Asia stand to gain from an Obama or McCain presidency? Who is the better candidate? Who will win the Asian American vote?

McCain is distancing himself from President George W. Bush. But he believes in more troop deployments in the Middle East and the continued U.S. leadership in the War on Terror campaign. Would this mean an intensified U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia, especially in the Philippines and Indonesia where terrorist cells are reported to be operating?

Obama vows to bring back American jobs by reviewing U.S. free trade agreements. This has been interpreted by some analysts as a threat to the business process outsourcing industry. Would this lead to the closing or reduction of outsourcing operations in several Asian countries, especially in India, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines?

What is the immigration policy of both Obama and McCain? Will they support the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act which aims to recognize the contribution of Filipino soldiers during World War II? Will they continue to impose economic sanctions on the junta-led Myanmar? What is their solution to the global financial crisis? Can they revive the U.S. economy under their leadership?

Bush is perceived by many Southeast Asians as both incompetent and arrogant. The Bush doctrine of preemptive strike has angered many people, especially Muslims, in the region. The next U.S. president will face enormous political and economic challenges. Both Obama and McCain should maximize their Asian ties to promote a sincere and productive relationship with Asian societies.

Related entries:

Who’s the real meddler?
Saddam Hussein

What if Viagra doesn’t work?

Wait a minute. Saigon is called the Pearl of the Far East (Hòn ngọc Viễn Đông) or Paris in the Orient (Paris Phương Đông). Phnom Penh is the Pearl of Asia. And all this time we thought the Philippines is the Pearl of the Orient Seas. Which is which?

Myanmar: Aid still needed, a post written for Global Voices. Read the French translation. My earlier roundup on Indonesian elections was also translated into French.

Viagra is the magic pill for people of a certain age. But what if one day (or one night) Viagra doesn’t work? Not to worry: An ad was placed in the newspaper which promised a one-on-one treatment and newer techniques to deal with the delicate issue. It seems Viagra is no longer enough to cure impotency.

Isn’t Viagra akin to the bail-out proposal of the U.S. Federal government with regards to the spectacular downfall of several global financial institutions? What if the bail-out doesn’t work? What if it failed to reverse the decline of US-style casino capitalism? Will there be a new magic pill?

Or perhaps neoliberalism was the Viagra which was prescribed in the 1970s to deal with the global stagflation and crisis of overproduction. And this neoliberal dose, which used to satisfy and enhance the profit drive of the elite, has suddenly stopped working wonders for 21st century capitalism. What will be the cure today? Back-to-the basics capitalism; old school banking? Keynesianism?

Capitalist tremors

The weather page of California newspapers: Very informative, accurate, and helpful. (e.g. Tomorrow will be foggy. Weekends will be warmer.) But what is unique in the weather page; or creepy for my promdi eyes? There is an earthquake data box. Last week, 107 mild/moderate earthquakes rocked California. Two weeks ago, there were 85 earthquakes. Three weeks ago, 95 tremors.

What is the value of the earthquake data box? To remind California residents that they are living in an area with several active earthquake faultlines? To normalize the experience of having to deal with mild/moderate aftershocks everyday? To assure/warn the people that the big bang has yet to come; so prepare for the great quake. It will happen soon. Don’t be alarmed if it arrives.

Isn’t capitalism similar to earthquakes? Unstable, unpredictable, deadly. Have we been desensitized by mild capitalist tremors? Have we already accepted that inequality, risky living, uncertain future constitute the state of normalcy under the capitalist way of life? We were taught (and we somehow believed) that unemployment, inflation, and falling wages are inherent in the system; that they are necessary glitches so that the world will be a better place. That they are manageable, but not life threatening. That they are not the great quake, the big bang.

But something scary (or unexpected) happened in the past few months. The titans of capitalism have fallen. Those who control the rules of the game have broken the rules. There is chaos inside the capitalist war room. Did a strong capitalist tremor hit the U.S. and the world? Is it the big bang already? The end of days, the last days of capitalism?

Suddenly, a wave of panic has engulfed the capitalist universe. This is a crisis which was anticipated but we never seriously expected to happen in our lifetime. We thought the dreaded Great Depression of the 1930s will never happen again. It belonged to a distant past; man has grown wiser; new tools are already available to stabilize the convulsions of capitalism. Those who knew the truth about capitalism have convinced the ruling classes that by injecting Viagra and other prescription drugs to resuscitate the moribund conditions of capitalism, the big bang (the great crash) will be postponed.

But Wall Street has crashed. A financial meltdown is threatening the viability of the global capitalist system. Analysts are correct: Today’s money crisis is the “Ground Zero” of capitalism. The political/military supremacy of the U.S. was shattered in the Iraq War. Its economic weakness is now exposed. The American century is over.

In other words, capitalism has been unmasked. “The emperor is naked.” “The throne is empty.” The old man is impotent. In the film Borat, there was an important scene which captured the truth about the US financial system. Borat was chasing his producer in a hotel; they were running naked. Then they barged into a convention of Mortgage Brokers. The two very naked men shocked the audience. It’s funny and ironic that the scene portraying the two naked men inside the convention of Mortgage Brokers was actually a symbol for the imminent housing bubble in the U.S. By looking at the two naked men, the participants were looking at the naked truth of the U.S. housing industry.

Citizens of the capitalist world are taught how to survive during crisis situations. In many households, there are emergency kits in case of hurricanes, earthquakes, fire, and blackouts. Emergency drills are common. Recently, undocumented residents were advised to prepare an emergency kit in case of a raid or deportation. But citizens (consumers) are not prepared to deal with a severe economic recession. They do not expect that Third World poverty spectacles will happen in the US. There is now a flurry of information advising residents on how to deal with foreclosures, bankruptcy and unemployment.

These are interesting times. Hard times. Harsh times. (To be continued)

Related entries:

Pure neoliberalism doesn’t work
Burgers, politicians.