Monthly Archives: March 2009

GEN-PEACE

Sinulat ko ito noong 2003 para sa Tinig. Katatapos lamang ng malaking pagkilos sa Luneta laban sa napipintong gerang agresyon ng Estados Unidos sa Gitnang Silangan. Pinangunahan ang pagkilos ng mga taong-simbahan at ni dating Bise Presidente Tito Guingona. Heto ang litrato ko sa Luneta. Kasama kong nagsalita noon para sa mga kabataan ay si Len Olea ng College Editors Guild. Pansinin ang patilya, makapal na buhok, maluwang na polo, at cute na mukha. Ang nagmungkahi ng Genpeace ay mula sa Metro Manila chapter ng National Union of Students.

Sa pangunguna ni Ethan Hawke at Winona Ryder (Reality Bites), magkakaroon ng reunion ang mga nagpasikat sa Gen-X upang pagmuni-munihan ang nakaraang sampung taon. Dito naman sa Pilipinas ay patuloy ang paghahanap ng kategoryang kakatawanin ang kabataang Pilipino sa kabuuan. May Generation X,Y, Z at ngayon ay may Gentext (are you one of us?).

Bagama’t nagkakaiba sa estilo, pare-pareho ang inilalako nilang konsepto kung sino at ano ang kabataang Pilipino sa (post)modernong panahon: mall creature, party-hopper, makukulay ang mga suot na designer clothes at jeans, at siyempre bumibili ng bagong modelo ng cellphone.

Kung manonood ka ng TV at papasok sa department store, iisipin mong tumpak ang kanilang kategorya. Mapapaniwala ka na si Britney Spears ang modelong kababaihan ng mga Pilipino imbes na si Gabriela Silang at prepaid credit and nangungunang problema ng mga kabataan.

Ginagatungan pa ito ng akusasyon tungkol sa diumanong kawalan daw ng kamalayang pangkasaysayan (historical amnesia) ng bagong henerasyon ng mga Pilipino. Paboritong halimbawa ang paggawa ng pelikulang Dekada ’70. Nahihirapan si Direk Chito Rono na kumuha ng tamang emosyon mula sa mga nagluluksa sa pagkamatay ng isang aktibista. Dahil tila nakalimutan na ang kolektibong pagdurusa ng sambayanan noon, pinayuhan ni Direk Chito ang mga tao na ang isiping namatay ay si Rico Yan. Biglang lumabas ang luha ng mga extra sa pelikula.

Tatanggapin ko na sana ang taguring Gentxt, Gen-X at iba pang pagkutya sa kabataan kung hindi naganap ang dalawang malalaking pag-aalsa sa bansa: ang EDSA Dos at ang katatapos lamang na February 28 Peace Rally.

Pinatahimik ng EDSA Dos ang mga nagsasabing walang pakialam ang mga kabataan sa mga nangyayari sa lipunan at gobyerno. Pinatunayan nating hindi lamang mga gimik at hedonistang aliw ang pinagkakaabalahan natin kundi pati mga usaping pulitikal na may tuwirang kaugnayan sa ating kinabukasan.

Noong nakaraang Pebrero 28 naman ay muling dumagsa ang mga mga kabataan sa Quirino Grandstand bilang pagtutol sa nakaambang gera ng US laban sa Iraq. Nagmistulang reunion ng EDSA Dos ang okasyong ito sa pagdalo ng iba’t ibang eskuwelahan. Umalingawangaw mula Katipunan, Mendiola, Taft, sa Maynila at sa buong bansa ang nagkakaisang tinig ng kabataan para sa tunay na kapayapaan.

Hindi tinuloy ng UP Manila ang kanilang student council election para makadalo ang mga mag-aaral sa rali. Kapit-bisig ang administrasyon ng mga pamantasan at mga estudyante sa pagmartsa papuntang Luneta. Bihira lang natin ito makita lalo na’t sa araw na yun ay final exams ng mga eskuwelahan at huling araw ng konsultasyon para sa pagtaas ng matrikula. Pasiklaban ang mga eskuwelahan sa pagdadala ng mga nagsisilakihang plakard, poster at banner. Napuno ang Luneta ng mga makukulay na bandila at malikhaing slogan laban sa gera.

Kung ako ang Pangulo, pakikinggan ko ang boses ng kabataan at mamamayan.

Ang pagtindig ng kabataan para sa kapayapaan ay sumusunod sa matagal ng pakikiisa ng kabataang Pilipino para sa kapayapaang nakabatay sa katarungan. Ang mga nauna sa atin ay tumindig laban sa Vietnam War at pananatili ng US Bases sa bansa. Ngayon naman ang henerasyon natin ay kumikilos laban sa napipintong gera sa Iraq.

Ang mahalaga’y pinili nating huwag lang manahimik kundi gumawa ng kongkretong hakbang upang pigilin ang gerang ito na walang batayan at ang suporta ng ating pamahalaan dito ay tunay na nakapagngangalit.

Sino ba talaga ang kabataang Pilipino? Oo, nagpupunta tayo ng mall, gumigimik at sumusunod sa uso. Subalit hindi lamang dito umiinog ang ating buong buhay. Ilang beses na nating ipinakita ang ating mabisang lakas para sa pagbabago na higit pa sa pagkakahon sa atin ng kulturang kanluran bilang Gen-X o Gentxt.

Tayo ang henerasyong nagbuwag sa ROTC na ilang dekadang sinubukan ng mga nauna sa atin. Sa ating sama-samang pagtetext ay nakatulong para magdesisyon ang Korte Suprema at Sandiganbayan na pabor sa panig ng mamamayan hinggil sa kaso ng dating Pangulong Estrada. Minsan na nga nating pinutakte ng mga galit na text at napilitang magshut down ang text feedback program ng pamahalaan nang tumutol tayo sa buwis na ipapataw sa mga gumagamit ng prepaid. Kalimutan man natin itong lahat, at maliitan man ng iba, subalit hindi makukuha sa atin ang dakilang partisipasyon natin sa Edsa at Luneta – mga panandang-bato sa ating paggigiit ng isang mas maaliwalas na bukas.

Anumang kategorya ang ipataw sa atin ay hindi mapipigilan ang patuloy nating pagreimbento sa ating mga sarili bilang mabubuting anak ng bayan. Sa ngayon, hangga’t hindi pa nakokompromiso ng komersyal na kultura ang kabuluhan nito, hayaan niyong imungkahi namin (mula sa NUSP- National Capital Region chapter) ang pagkilala sa atin bilang mga Gen-Peace, mga kabataan ng EDSA dos na naninindigan para sa kapayapaan.

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“End the Wars. Bailout the People”

Last week, hundreds of protesters participated in an anti-war march in downtown San Francisco demanding an end to the United States-led occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. This year marks the sixth year of the invasion and colonial subjugation of Iraq.

I joined the Strength in Unity contingent organized by the International League of People’s Struggle. The Philippine delegation was led by BAYAN USA and affiliate groups like Anakbayan East Bay, babae SF and League of Filipino Students.

During the protest rally, I saw the following placards some of which were made from recycled balikbayan boxes:

“Bailout the working people, not the rich.”
“Capitalism must go.”
“Occupation is a crime.”
“Yes we will.”

Protesters criticized U.S. President Barack Obama who recently ordered the sending of 17,000 more troops in Afghanistan. The speakers demanded the new government to end the brutal massacre of Iraq and Afghanistan, bring home American troops, and focus on improving the social welfare of American workers.

Filipino groups articulated the call to abrogate of the Visiting Forces Agreement. Filipino-American students demanded the immediate repeal of the unequal treaty and they also asked Congress to stop giving military aid to the Philippines.

I saw many new faces during the rally. There were organized Asian students from various schools who attended the protest event. Many of them were happy to learn that the opposition to the illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq is widespread. The rally ended after noon.

Click here to view more pictures of the rally.

 

 

 

Revisiting Freire

The year, 1998. After a rally in Plaza Miranda, I went to the old Popular Bookstore in Doroteo Jose. That was my first time to visit the famous bookshop. Francisco Nemenzo claimed that during that time, there were only two bookshops in the country: Solidarity and Popular. The latter was more popular among activists and younger intellectuals. The first book I bought in Popular was Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I had my reasons for buying it: The book was cheap; it was relevant for my studies (I was an education student); and it looked (and smelled) like a progressive reading material. After reading the book, I became a fan of Freire’s teachings. I bought three more books written by Freire (Pedagogy for Liberation, Politics of Education, and Pedagogy of the Heart). I borrowed books by authors who were influenced by Freire. My college term papers were dedicated to Freire’s philosophy on education. I still appreciate Freire’s revolutionary outlook on education.

A few years ago, I was asked to share some ideas on Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a classic. Why do you think this is?

It is a text which has become useful in making education a tool for social change. It criticizes the undemocratic tendencies of education philosophies while proposing a truly democratic and revolutionary concept of pedagogy. This book has become a handbook for social workers and educators who are battling inequality in society by arming the people with the language to articulate their problems.

How do these ideas relate to your work in the classroom?

It can be a guide to improve teaching, and more importantly, make teaching a more democratic practice. It can lead to better interaction with students by encouraging the latter to speak out and share their stories which can enhance learning for both the students and teacher. This book inspires the teacher to respect the knowledge possessed by individuals and guides the oppressed on how to struggle for freedom through learning. Finally, this book encourages teachers not to be tools of oppression in a very exploitative society.

What is the justification for a "pedagogy of the oppressed"?

A society such as ours has sanctioned a culture of passivity. But a "pedagogy of the oppressed" can help the oppressed to articulate their oppression and begin to understand social reality and how to change their present condition. This kind of pedagogy advances the cause of humanity by liberating not just the oppressed but also the oppressor.

How do we overcome the contradiction between the oppressors and the oppressed?

There should be reflection on the part of the oppressed and oppressor about their roles in society. One way to achieve this is through dialogic education. People should start engaging in sincere dialogue. However, the vocabulary of the oppressed must be articulated and used in the learning process. Otherwise, they will remain alienated in the struggle for genuine freedom. Through dialogue, the oppressed can express and use the language they use everyday. The oppressed must learn/internalize how to liberate themselves from different forms of oppression. One concrete solution is action guided by understanding or the fusion of theory and practice also known as praxis. This allows the people to give importance to their daily activities since it is integrated and highlighted in the production of knowledge. Through this effort, the oppressor is deprived of means to privilege certain forms of (elite) knowledge.

What is the banking concept of education and how does it become an instrument of oppression?

This refers to the predominant pedagogic method which privileges the power and knowledge possessed by the teacher. Students are viewed as ‘empty’ individuals without any relevant stories or knowledge to share. Teachers ‘deposit’ knowledge to students by monopolizing the teaching process inside the classroom.

Every individual, teacher or student, has a ‘cultural capital’ or a particular worldview which can be shared to the community. But the banking method of education downplays the ability of individuals, especially the oppressed, to articulate their beliefs, culture, knowledge and life stories.

This method presumes that there are individuals who can/must dictate since they are knowledgeable of the things that are essential in life and there are groups of ignorant people who must remain docile and inarticulate since they possess no knowledge of the world.

What is the problem posing concept of education and how does this become an instrument of liberation?

Through dialogue, reflection, questioning, action, and especially through praxis, this type of education can be an instrument of liberation. When individuals begin to realize their oppression, they begin to act. When they begin to use the language that is relevant to their lives, it gives them the power to dare and act decisively.

Election fraud in the United States

It’s already election season in the Philippines! It is expected that all political parties will adopt the winning strategies of global superstar Barack Obama. Gasbag pundits (Michael Moore’s term) of Manila will probably cite the efficient and democratic election system of mighty United States to highlight the backward election culture in the Philippines. It is not wrong to study and copy the positive aspects of America’s electoral structure. But the intelligentsia and the bureaucrats should not forget to mention that the U.S. election system is far from perfect. It’s only fair that the public is informed that screwball politicians are also manipulating election results in democratic America.

There are many myths surrounding the recent U.S. presidential election. The most famous myth was that Obama relied on the grassroots to finance his campaign. It is only partly true. Obama’s party did receive many small checks worth $20, $30, or $50 from his loyal supporters. But big corporations (including Wall Street banks) contributed the most to Obama’s campaign kitty. He also benefited from "bundling" – the practice of a supporter packaging checks from other donors. In the end, Obama gathered more donations than his main rival.

There are Filipino commentators who insist that America’s voting machines prevented bad elements from changing the election results. Maybe. But in Nassau County of New York, 85 percent of the ballot-marking devices were found to be defective. In San Francisco, supervisors wanted to change the voting machines used in the local polls because they were substandard. Those who casted their votes early were shocked to discover that their votes for Obama went to John Mccain in West Virgina and Texas.

Disenfranchisement of voters seems to be the most popular form of election fraud in the U.S. A few weeks before election day, McCain accused an advocacy group of committing "one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country." Voters can be targeted for disenfranchisement by partisan groups. This practice is known as ‘voter caging.” In 2000 thousands of Florida voters were purged from voter rolls which guaranteed the victory of George Bush.

Minority groups have always been discriminated during elections. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, only propertied classes were given the right to vote. When all adult citizens were finally allowed to vote, politicians complained that there is widespread cheating in African-American villages. They exaggerated cases of fraud in these communities to prevent the counting of votes of the minorities. These forms of discrimination are still visible today. According to IssueLab, “an estimated 5 million people were ineligible to vote in the November election, including nearly 4 million who reside in the 35 states that still prohibit some combination of persons on probation, parole, and/or people who have completed their sentence from voting.” Malas mo na lang kung palagi kang kaaway ng batas.

The articles written by Mark Crispin Miller and Hans A. von Spakovsky for the Wall Street Journal (Will This Election Be Stolen?) provide many grand examples of electoral cheating.

For instance, George Washington won a contest for the Virginia House of Burgesses after buying gallons of liquor for voters. Lyndon Johnson cheated to win during his first election to the Senate in 1948. His victory margin of 87 votes was achieved through ballot fraud.

The notorious Richard Daley, former Chicago Mayor, was able to develop an effective voting machine which could tamper election results. In 1960 Illinois was won by John F. Kennedy because Daley rigged the election in Chicago. The turnout in the city was almost 90 percent. But the Republicans also rigged the results in nearby DuPage Country where voter turnout was an impressive 93 percent. Still, there has been no recent case which surpassed New York City’s 135 percent turnout in 1844.

Here are two cases which are eerily familiar to Filipinos: An FBI agent discovered that "names and addresses of ‘voters’ (in Gary, Indiana) turned out to be vacant lots where there had never been a house, or the house had been torn down years before the ‘person’ was registered." In 2004 the Milwaukee Police Department found out that 5,217 "students" were registered as voters in a college dormitory that only houses 2,600 students.

Our praise for the clean, swift, and impressive American electoral system must be tempered by acknowledging that we are not adequately informed about the flaws which infect the voting culture in America. We should not stop the search for appropriate election practices which suit the needs of the Philippines. We should reconsider our blind faith on the kind of electoral democracy which we inherited from our former colonial master. We should not always worship American politicians and their political practices. We should be critical, judgmental, harsh. In many ways, Filipino politicians are not the worst of their kind in this world.

Bubbles, bailouts and stimulus plans

Identifying the economic woes of the United States is crucial, but we should also understand that other countries are also grappling with bankrupt companies and shrinking economies. Many countries are also implementing their own stimulus plans. Bloggers around the world are discussing the bubble economies, bailout of banks and stimulus plans of their countries.

The global effect of the bursting of the bubble economies in the developed world was sudden and devastating. In Bangladesh there was a housing bubble tied to the country’s reliance on remittances sent by overseas workers. Now that migrant workers are returning home because of mass layoffs in Europe and the United States, the property boom in Bangladesh has come to an end.

Cambodia was also experiencing a property bubble. South Koreans are Cambodia’s biggest investors. Since South Korean businesses have been badly hit by the financial crisis, many of them have already pulled out of their real estate investments in Cambodia.

Elsewhere, Jamaica’s dollar-earning bauxite industry has shed hundreds of jobs already because of the downturn in U.S. car production. The Caribbean financial crisis originated in part from the sharp drop in methanol and real estate prices.

In Antigua, the face of bank fraud is U.S. billionaire Allen Stanford who has been charged with investment fraud. Stanford has considerable investments in the Caribbean. Romania’s lending bubble is familiar because it is almost the same credit bubble which burst in other rich nations.

Brazil’s economy is affected by low consumer spending in the United States and Europe, which are Brazil’s biggest markets for its export industries. Recent reports have shown that Brazil is now the second most affected country by the crisis.

The immediate reaction of many governments to the financial crisis was to rescue the large ailing banks. Bank nationalization schemes have been enforced in some countries, like Iceland and Kazakhstan. Even mainstream U.S. economists are proposing the temporary nationalization of the country’s struggling banks. Trinidad and Tobago banks were rescued not just by their government but also by governments from neighboring countries.

Is nationalization a wise economic decision? Should bankrupt companies receive government assistance? The opinion of bloggers is divided.

Some are open to the idea of nationalizing certain businesses if it can stabilize the economy. Recognizing that orthodox economic prescriptions have so far failed to reverse the declining economy, some writers have expressed willingness to accept bold measures like the nationalization of the banking industry.

But others are vehemently objecting to government initiatives to revive failing companies. They believe the politicization of large financial institutions is counterproductive. Others want the government to euthanize these firms which they blame for creating the global financial mess. It does not help that prominent companies like AIG which received government funding have angered the public by distributing hefty bonuses to their executives.

If bailouts are rejected by many individuals and groups, stimulus plans are demanded by the public. To assure their constituents that something is being planned or done to revive the economy, governments around the world are drafting various economic stimulus packages.

Hungary, Turkey and Indonesia will implement tax reforms. Taiwan has signed a controversial trade agreement with China and several Southeast Asian nations. Hiring street sweepers is part of the Philippine stimulus plan. Mongolia has unveiled a 1.5 trillion tugrik stimulus plan (US$980 million) – but critics claim the program is only intended to cover the budget deficit.

It seems that Russia is relying on “gunpowder economics” for its version of a stimulus plan, as it sold a greater number of weapons last year. Part of Czech Republic’s stimulus program involves spending on energy efficiency projects such as heat-proofing public buildings.

China’s central government has announced a four trillion yuan stimulus package (US$586 billion dollars). But some analysts are worried that corruption and poor infrastructure projects will cause the failure of the stimulus plan. In Cambodia, it is the opposition which has suggested a stimulus package. Predictably, the government rejected it.

Malaysia has recently launched its second stimulus program. Named a “mini-budget,” this stimulus plan has generated a lot of discussion, but also criticism, in the country. Spain and Italy have each launched three stimulus packages.

There are analysts who reject the wisdom of “stimulucrats.” They believe that government intervention in the economy is dangerous. They are worried that unrestrained public spending will hurt taxpayers in the long run. But a ruling party which does not offer any rescue plan to revive the economy is certain to encounter defeat in the public opinion polls. It is no longer wise for bureaucrats to promote the self-regulation of markets. The era of big governments will stage a comeback this year.

The economic crisis is now a global contagion. There are global bubbles, bailouts and stimulus plans. The United States has no monopoly on economic hardship and economic thinking in the world. While the economic woes of the United States are understandably the most recognizable, we should also study the economic conditions of other countries.

Useful things

“The production of too many useful things result in too many useless people.” – Karl Marx

DVR. Digital Video Recorder. The Comcast brochure promises that “Happiness is only a power button away.” With DVR, consumers can improve their TV viewing habits. DVR allows users to record their favorite shows, pause live TV, view an instant reply, rewind memorable scenes, and play programs in slow-motion. The brochure adds: DVR owners “can pause live TV while they answer the phone or get the pizza delivered.” Comcast empowers their customers by giving them choice (hundreds of news and entertainment channels), control (record 20 hours of high-definition programming), and convenience (watch shows when you want it).

Ideally, DVR can record Frasier, Cheers and Monk episodes while I’m out of the house. Then, after hours of web surfing, I can relax at night by watching these recorded shows. I can pause the TV if I want to prepare a midnight snack. I can skip the TV ads by fast forwarding the program. Fantastic! This is control, choice and convenience. This is happiness. This explains why more and more households are selecting cable companies with DVR services.

Still surprised why many residents of America are obese? Still wondering how politics has been reduced to spectacles (like watching the Obama inauguration)?

Technological advancements have revolutionized transportation and communications in the world. Complex processes have been simplified, distances were shortened, and travel has become faster. We are able to save time. Now, there is more time to pursue other meaningful activities. But what kind of activities are we exploring during our free time? Are we trying to solve scientific experiments? Are we developing theories about climate change, origins of the universe, and the end of philosophy? Are we debating about capitalism, socialism and democracy? Are we getting more involved in community affairs? Or do we feel liberated (and happy) enough sitting in front of the idiot box?

Our mobile phones, laptops, and GPS gadgets allow us to save time so that we can go home early to our family and friends. Unfortunately, we use our free time to watch TV.

Click. There was a time when we used different verbs to describe what we are doing or what we plan to do everyday. We switch on/off the lights. We rotate or dial the numbers on the telephone. We pump the kerosene. We eject the tapes. We write letters. We wash our clothes. We push buttons. We pull the trigger. We flip, swipe, spin, roll, mix, shuffle, press, squeeze. We slide, kick, jump, hop, bounce, punch, throw. We walk, run, jog, swim, lift, crawl. We huddle, cuddle, snuggle, kiss, embrace, cling, grasp.

Today, we click. Most of the time, we click. Left-click. Right-click. Double-click. Fast click. Silent click. We click things to make something happen. We click to communicate with fellow human beings. We click to punish criminals. We click to express our creative thoughts and emotions. We click to experience life. We click to use our imagination. We click to impose our dogmas. We click to affirm our faith. We click in order to act. We click to make others act. We click to make someone else suffer. Click. Click? Click!

Maybe it is convenient. It is easy to remember: click. It is a simple task: click. It is fast: click. It is safe: click. It is powerful: click. It is dull and stupid: click. One word to rule the world: click. One sound heard around the globe: click. One verb to control the behavior of all: click. I click therefore I am. I am therefore I click.

Etc. A bluetooth headset allows you to connect to your mobile phone and computer wirelessly and hands free. (Look Ma, no hands!). Convenient device for multitasking drivers. Is multitasking possible while driving? Yes, ofcourse. Driving and drinking is possible at the same time. It is common to see individuals talking to themselves while driving or walking. They are not loonies. Most likely, they are busy professionals who have little time to talk to simpletons like us or to appreciate the beauty of our post-industrial surroundings. The bluetooth headset promotes efficiency but discourages genuine interaction, communication, and human relationships.

The automatic carwash is convenient for many drivers. It is cheap, effective, and fast. Drivers can accomplish other tasks while waiting inside their cars. Like listening to radio? Playing PSP? Reading a book? Texting? Twittering? Finishing papers? Changing diapers? Many car owners are so busy with their work (especially those with 2-3 jobs) that they no longer have the time or the energy to clean their cars on weekends. It would have been a nice activity to bond with children or their pet dogs.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a gift from the friendly military establishment. We civilians are now using GPS for navigation purposes. Who needs big street maps and old persons to guide us in reaching our destination when we have the GPS? Why stop and ask the locals about driving directions? Why trust the advice of friends when the GPS is more reliable? Why remember natural landmarks when GPS is more accurate? Ignore your instincts, surrender to the wisdom of the GPS. Getting lost is an adventure. Asking people for directions (talking to people) is not scary. And do we really need to reach our vacation hotel as quickly as possible? What about the idea of enjoying the nature trail? We should recalculate our travel priorities.

TV captioning is annoying. If you’re deaf, use it. If you need to research something about a program, TV captioning would be helpful. But if you want to be entertained, don’t use it. If you miss a dialogue, ask your family or friends. If you’re alone, forget the urge to know the missed dialogue. It’s part of the fun of watching TV. Why do we need to know the whole script of the program? Most of them are trash anyway. There are lines which are best not translated or transcribed for the TV viewers. There are times when you have to interpret the TV drama or movie based on your understanding of the scenes.

Perhaps the Catholic Church is correct. We need to go on hi-tech fasting. Turn-off the gadgets once in a while. Reject the “prefabricated amusements” (Kingsley Amis’ term) offered by hitech companies. Feed our souls and minds, not our gadget-dependent bodies.

“All savages are too much occupied with their own wants and necessities, to give much attention to those of another person.” – Adam Smith

Recession causing global discontent

The Wall Street crash and the collapsed housing industry in the United States are the aspects of the global recession that have been most highlighted. Without belittling these unfortunate economic disasters, we should also take note of other effects of the crisis that people around the world are witnessing and experiencing every day.

For example, the economic downturn is forcing many South Koreans to change or abandon their travel plans. This has affected the tourism industry in Brunei, which is a favorite destination of many South Koreans. Because of declining numbers of global tourists, Egypt’s tourism workers are complaining that their salaries are not being paid on time.

Decreased consumer spending in the United States has also brought down the demand for garments made in Bangladesh. This has weakened the garments export industry of Bangladesh, which employs a large number of the population. Bangladesh exports its products mainly to the United States and the United Kingdom.

In Russia, the financial crisis is signified by reduced government spending on healthcare. In Japan, the recession has become evident through reports showing reduced department store hours, a slump in car sales and an increasing presence of jobless and homeless persons in temporary facilities, parks and even Internet cafes.

The economic freeze became literal in Ukraine as hot water was shut off in much of Kiev for a week last December because of unpaid water bills. Ukrainian blogger Evie reported that residents couldn’t even wash their dishes because the water in the taps was literally freezing.

Hong Kong, a tower of strength in the global financial community, was shocked to learn that the stocks of HSBC Holdings crashed to their lowest level since 1995. The shock was personified by a TV commentator who shed a tear while reporting the unbelievable plunge in the bank’s stocks last week.

The global recession is forcing many people to behave in strange ways. In Latvia, four special guard dogs in a state prison were killed to save public funds. In prosperous Singapore a disgruntled senior citizen, angry at not receiving a red envelope containing US$135 traditionally given at Chinese New Year, set a lawmaker on fire. Bloggers from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have observed that many people are now keeping their money under mattresses instead of depositing them in banks.

Even language has not been spared by the recession contagion. In Kazakhstan the word “crisis” is now perceived as a taboo, especially by government ministers. In Japan, asking “What are you up to now?” and “Are you married” have become taboo questions because of rising unemployment. In the Philippines, the government has redefined the meaning of unemployment. If you are jobless but not actively looking for work, you are not considered as unemployed by the state.

The current economic crisis has worsened social inequalities in many countries. It is not surprising that public unrest has gripped both rich and poor nations. In Russia disgruntled citizens launched “dissenters’ marches” in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg last December. A drivers’ protest in Vladivostok was significant because the media openly discussed the prospect of unrest in Russia and the protesters were ordinary citizens who had refused to join opposition-led marches in the past.

As more Russians are becoming dissatisfied with the economy, the Russian president has unleashed a preemptive legal strike – the Russian criminal code was modified to allow the instant prosecution of persons who instigate “mass disturbances” and “diversions.”

Recession-related protests are erupting in different parts of the world. There was a general strike in France and wildcat strikes in Britain in January. Protesting Greek farmers clashed with riot police last month. More than 600 labor protests were registered in Egypt last year. In Singapore, investors protested in the streets when big Wall Street banks crashed last October.

Riots broke out in the French overseas departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique as people protested against skyrocketing prices. In Guadeloupe, the slogan of the rioters was “Let’s gather to fight against all sorts of abuses.”

More than 10,000 people participated in the so-called Penguin Revolution in Latvia in January. The protesters disliked the statement of the prime minister, who compared Latvians to penguins who stick together during severe winter storms.

Over the past few months, the financial crisis has engulfed much of the world and created disastrous economic consequences. The full impact of the global economic recession has not yet been felt. The number of jobless, homeless, hopeless and angry individuals and groups in the world is expected to swell further. This promises to be a very difficult and dangerous year.

Italian Films: General Della Rovere / La Famiglia

General Della Rovere (1959)

Victorio Emanuele Bardone is a conman who makes money by pretending to help desperate families whose relatives are incarcerated in Nazi-controlled jails in Italy during the closing years of World War II. A high-ranking German officer, Colonel Mueller, was impressed by Bardone’s skills and offers the latter a proposition: His crimes will be ignored if he agrees to impersonate General della Rovere, an important icon of the Resistance movement. Since only few are aware that the real General della Rovere is already dead, Bardone can assume the General’s identity and solicit information from other political prisoners. Bardone’s goal is to identify Fabrizio in the Nazi prison center. Fabrizio is the leader of the Resistance.

The film has two parts: The first half features the shameful activities of Bardone. He is introduced as a bumbling conman, amateur gambler, and a pathological liar. He is an individual who cannot be trusted. The second half chronicles the transformation of Bardone into a respectable and brave leader of the Resistance. In the end, Bardone decided to become the “real” General della Rovere by refusing to identify Fabrizio. The conman became a genuine hero.

My first impression: the film is too long (130 minutes). The director (Roberto Rossellini) allotted more time to the first half of the movie. Is it really necessary to highlight the con tricks of Bardone? Later, I realized the importance of the early scenes of the film. A person can live a life of a criminal for many years but he/she can still change. A brief time of reflection is enough to guide a person into a different path. Bardone only spent a few moments with other prisoners but this proved to be most valuable in influencing his decision to respect the memory of the person he was impersonating.

On the night before their execution, one of the prisoners complained that he is only an innocent civilian who refuses to be involved with the war. The other prisoners reminded him that being in the middle is equal to doing nothing. He was told that "When a man doesn’t know which course to take, he must choose the more difficult." Bardone was listening to this conversation. Maybe he realized that he is similar to the non-partisan prisoner. For a long time he was in the middle, he has chosen the less difficult course, and maybe he was worse than the unsympathetic prisoner since he is a conman. This was the moment when Bardone decided to choose the difficult path by protecting the identity of Fabrizio so that the leader of the Resistance can live. The price he paid for this unbelievable display of courage was his life.

It was not only Bardone’s identity which changed in the movie but also his relationship with Colonel Mueller. First, Mueller admired Bardone’s pleasant manners. Then he looked down on Bardone when he learned that Bardone was a worthless conman. Later, Bardone became Mueller’s spy in the prison. In the end, Bardone became an equal and even superior to the cultured Nazi officer by proving that he is also a principled individual who is capable of making sacrifices for a higher cause.

La Famiglia (1987)

1. During a party, an 80-year-old patriarch recounts his family history. The main characters are Carlo, his brother Giulio, his wife Beatrice, his sister-in-law and lover Adriana, and Adelina, former family servant who later became Giulio’s wife.

2. The movie was shot entirely inside an apartment building. There were no scenes outside the house. The family history was told by allowing us to see the rooms and corridors of the apartment. This is a privileged gaze. The homes of our neighbors, friends and colleagues are not always accessible to us. We only see the outside appearance of their lives. We are not invited to see their daily troubles and activities. We make superficial judgments based on our impressions of their outward looks and public lives. The movie reminds us that all individuals, successful or not, have family-related problems and private secrets which are not revealed to us.

3. The film portrays the rise and evolution of a middle class family. Is the film a faithful representation of a mainstream middle class family? The movie aspired to sketch a universal characterization of what it means to belong to a family. Everyone is familiar: the powerful figure of a grandfather, the strong and honorable father, artistic mothers, competitive siblings, unmarried aunts, annoying uncles, loyal and hardworking wives, and rebellious children.

4. The transition of the movie mirrors the maturity of the main characters. When Carlo and his friends were young, the movie was also fast-paced and intense. When they reached midlife, the movie turned dull and slow. When they became old, the movie became more reflective, funny and interesting.

My generation often forgets that the generation born in the early 1900s had to endure and survive a global war. This war inflicted physical and emotional pain on individuals and it divided families into different political camps. The film was able to describe the unpleasant impact of war on society through its sensitive depiction of the struggles of Carlo’s family as they try to grapple with the realities of war.

The changing of the times is also symbolized by the death of family members, replacement of furniture, and the gradual loss of cultural practices. In the film, the radio was a prominent part of the living room. Characters were communicating through letters. There was a time when listening to the radio was a group activity (Now we have individuals enjoying music through iPods). Letter-writing was an intimate and serious means of communication (the art of letter-writing is dying today because of e-mail and texting).

Another fascinating symbol of change in the film is the relationship of Carlo and his lover Adriana. This was signified by their changing behavior and emotional response during the three parting scenes in the stairway. They were irrational and impulsive during their youth; hypocritical and moralistic during middle age; and wise and subdued in old age.

5. The family history was recalled from Carlo’s perspective. The story can be narrated again using the points-of-view of the other major characters, especially the female members of the family. Their life stories might be more exciting. Carlo’s history is traditional (read: feudal, patriarchal). He was not like his cousin who went to fight the war in Paris and Spain. He broke off with Adriana because he couldn’t persuade her to settle down to a domestic life.

The other and maybe more deserving hero in the film is Giulio. He was a prisoner of war; he ignored class restrictions by marrying the family servant; he was a businessman who struggled for many years; and he was a gifted writer. Despite his bravery and loyalty to his family, Giulio had to bear the stigma of being anointed as the weak brother who needed help. In the end, Carlo admitted his mistake by recognizing Giulio’s talent.

Ominous signs for the year ahead

Floods, virus scares, moderate quakes, a refugee scandal and job losses – these were the major disasters to hit Southeast Asia in the last two months. A superstitious person might say these were ominous signs for the future. Things may get worse once the full impact of the global economic crisis is felt in the region.

The series of flooding calamities that struck Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and most recently Brunei was the first great natural disaster of the year in the Asia-Pacific region. Floods displaced thousands of residents, destroyed millions of dollars in property, and affected numerous development projects.

Landslides and floods were reportedly the worst to hit the region in more than two decades. Moderate quakes have frequently rocked the Malay region, especially Indonesia, in the past two months.

While strong rains were submerging different parts of the Asia-Pacific, health officials were compiling information about viruses which are spreading in their countries. Rising cases of dengue fever, chikungunya, bird flu and the ebola virus in several Southeast Asian countries have alarmed authorities.

Malaysia is grappling with rising dengue-related deaths – the worst in the nation’s history. The chikungunya virus is spreading in Malaysia and Singapore. Vietnam has confirmed that bird flu cases have been found in 13 provinces. To contain the virus, more than 50,000 poultry had to be slaughtered. Even Vietnam’s famous motorbikes are no longer allowed to transport poultry.

Last month, the Philippines reported that six persons had tested positive for the Ebola-Reston virus. This was the first time in the world that humans acquired the virus from pigs and not from monkeys. The ebola outbreak in the Philippines has worried many experts, since humans are more exposed to pigs than monkeys.

The series of floods and the virus scares were not reported as regional disasters, hence there have been no regional programs to address these issues. The first time regional leaders and the Southeast Asian community agreed to launch a region-wide inquiry was to resolve the Rohingya refugee scandal, which has become an international embarrassment.

The plight of the Rohingya people, an ethnic Muslim tribe in Myanmar, became headline news when it was exposed that Rohingya refugees who escaped from Myanmar were allegedly mistreated and abandoned at sea by the Thai army.

The Rohingya issue is a regional problem. Rohingya Muslims are unwelcome in their own country; one Myanmar envoy described them as “ugly as ogres.” A large number of Rohingya Muslims are fleeing to Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. But the refugees are also not welcome in these countries.

When U.N. goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie visited Bangkok a few weeks ago, she expressed her concern for the sufferings endured by the Rohingya in refugee camps.

The persecution of the Rohingya is described by some writers as a form of cultural genocide. This highlights the lack of adequate measures in the region to protect human rights and immigration welfare. It is shameful that the “caring” Southeast Asian community is accused of being indifferent to the plight of the Rohingya.

One reason Southeast Asian governments are not enthusiastic about launching initiatives to address the flooding, virus scares, and even the deteriorating refugee situation in the region is their inevitable handling of the economic crisis as a topmost priority.

It is difficult for governments to ignore the mounting economic problems. Job losses are reported every day in almost all sectors of the economy. Factory towns are turning into ghost towns as entrepreneurs pull out their investments. The poor are suffering most since they lack social welfare entitlements.

The crisis is provoking civilian outbursts in many countries. In prosperous Singapore a disgruntled senior citizen, angry at not receiving a red envelope containing US$135 traditionally given at Chinese New Year, set a lawmaker on fire. News reports like this are forcing politicians to redouble their efforts to bring instant economic relief to their constituents.

In the past, American scholar Fredric Jameson complained that it was “easier for us to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the Earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations.” Today, as capitalism continues to implode, it is possible for us to imagine the collapse of the economic order.

But as we try to rationalize the shocking decline of the global economy, we seem to have overlooked the need to discuss and fix other equally important social concerns like the environment, health, immigration and human rights.

The situation will not become easier in the coming months. Political squabbles will intensify as elections draw near in Indonesia and the Philippines. Malaysia is besieged today by violent and nasty attempts of the ruling and opposition parties to control the Parliament. There is no hope yet that Myanmar’s junta will change its evil ways.

Indeed, 2009 is beginning to look like the “year of living dangerously” in Southeast Asia.

Curious commodities

“Modern man is so surrounded by nothing but impersonal, lifeless objects that he becomes more and more obliged to accept the idea that he is living in an anti-individualistic social order.” – Georg Simmel

Credit card. If you want to rent a car in the United States, you need a credit card. You may have bundles of cash but credit card is required. Your ATM debit card may be loaded with a large amount of money, but your request for a car service would still be refused. Credit is indeed king. Companies are less interested in the available cash in the card. They are more concerned about your credit history. If you have established consistency in paying your credit, you will be able to purchase more commodities. A good customer is a person with a large credit. Kapag mas malaki ang utang mo, mas marami kang mabibili. A successful individual is someone with multiple credit cards.

Credit cards are efficient identification cards of the 21st century. Suspects can be located through their cards. Individuals can be questioned by the police if they purchase controversial commodities. Companies can determine the personalities, preferences, and shopping habits of their customers through credit cards. Eduardo Galeano puts it best: I owe therefore I am.

Credit cards are magic keys which make it possible for both rich and poor consumers to buy expensive things. Cards are used to buy cars, plane tickets, home accessories, and almost every available commodity in the so-called developed world. Online and phone shopping can be done only through the use of credit cards. Virtual money for virtual shopping.

Hindi pwedeng kuripot kapag gagamit ng credit card. Many victims of identity theft are those who do not use their cards often. To protect their identities, individuals have to swipe their cards in superstores as frequently as possible. Cardholders are obliged to buy, consume, and unleash their materialistic appetite or else….

Garbage bag. In the past we burn or bury our trash. There was also a time when we just throw our leftovers in the rivers or seas. The tides will sweep it away anyway. Waste disposal has not changed: our trash are still buried, burned and even discharged in the seas. But the process of hiding our garbage has become a little complex. Others do the odious task of handling our junk. We are outsourcing the difficult and unwanted responsibility of burying our garbage. Our participation is limited to the dumping of trash bags in garbage containers and trucks.

Because everything ends up as trash, garbage bags (some call it kitchen bags) have become a necessary item in the modern world. It is a curious reminder that every human being on the planet produces waste which we cannot properly handle. It signifies the overproduction of redundant commodities. We produce disposables, not goods. It shows that waste is the main product of the modern economic system. Others have argued that globalization’s legacy is the establishment of throw-away societies.

Trash bags are popular but underrated commodities. Everybody needs them but nobody wants to keep them. Their purpose is to be discharged as quickly as possible. They are hastily delivered to waiting dump trucks since they contain our dark, smelly, and everyday secrets. We are what we throw; and we don’t want others to look inside our garbage. Unfortunately for us, garbology is an established academic discipline.

Modern trash bags are funny. Some of them are advertised as powerful bags with an odor shield which could neutralize smell. Some are even scented. (We use vanilla-scented trash bags). Who will smell these bags anyway? The garbage men? Scavengers in the dumpsites? We deceive ourselves by believing that producing trash which does not smell is possible. Garbage without garbage. Waste without odor. Life without risks. Politics without politics….

Then there are the green bags for those who are proud of their politically-correct lifestyles. They segregate their trash; they recycle and reuse (but they don’t reduce since they always buy green things). Unfortunately, when garbage bins are collected, the green bags will be mixed with non-greens. At dumpsites, the greens will finally lose their privileged status. And it will be revealed that the so-called green bags are manufactured not to save the fragile ecosystem but to assure the earth-loving and guilt stricken consumers that producing waste can also become an environmental activity.

Recession suit. Wanna buy a suit? An Italian clothier is selling suits with a price tag of $43,000. That’s right, $43,000 (Forty-three thousand dollars). Convert it into pesos. Surprised? Here’s more surprise: The clothing company sold 30 suits last January. What is so special with these expensive suits? According to the clothier, the suits are made from rare fibers such as vicuna, pashmina and Qiviuk.

Is there really a recession in the United States? Probably the "elite of the elite" who bought the suits were not victims of Wall Street-Madoff ponzi scheme. But even if they have the money to spend on luxurious items, is it wise to spend $43,000 for a suit?

When progressives lambast individuals for buying things we don’t need in life, they refer in general to the rise of consumerism in society. But in this case, progressives need to be more specific and literal in their criticism. No one needs $43,000 suits. That amount of money is already more than the annual income of a minimum wage earner in recession-hit America.

Economists are criticizing the undeserving poor for buying houses which they couldn’t afford to pay. These subprime loans became so huge which led to the collapse of the housing industry in the country. But at least the poor bought something which they really need in life. A house is a basic necessity. Who is the more unreasonable human being: The poor worker who bought a modestly priced house for his/her family or a (filthy) rich banker who bought a $43,000 suit for himself?

Still surprised why America’s economy is declining?

News report about the infamous “recession suit” can be read here.