Friday, May 18, 2007

Hollowed Out

Ok, I've found another free audio hosting. This link should work now. My apologies. :)

There's a reason why they call it homeSICK. Listen to me rant here.

Philippines' State of Denial

This came out in Aussie free TV last Tuesday. It documents the recent political killings, focusing on the disappearance of Karen Empeño. Journalist Karen Percy interviews Jovito "The Butcher" Palparan.

Part I


PartII

Monday, May 14, 2007

VOTE Today

This is a forwarded e-mail.

Why a vote for AKBAYAN still matters

Many people have been asking, "AKBAYAN is set to win again. Shouldn't I just give my vote to another partylist?"

AKBAYAN is elated over the 8.2% score it garnered in the latest SWS survey, only a .2% difference from Bayan Muna, the partylist obtaining the highest score. While an 8.2% score is well over the 6% needed to obtain three seats (1 seat = 2% of votes cast), a Supreme Court ruling has it that ONLY THE TOP PARTY LIST IS ENTITLED TO THREE SEATS. The second party list is entitled only to two seats, even if it garners more than 6%.

AKBAYAN needs your vote to bridge that .2% difference. AKBAYAN needs your vote for three seats. But why? Why three seats? Our track record will speak for itself.

In 2004, we were given three seats: Etta, Mayong and Risa. Not one of those seats went to waste. Etta as then-chair of the Human Rights Committee was a staunch advocate of human rights in the House -- author of the Marcos Compensation Bill, co-author of the Juvenile Justice Law and the Anti-Death pen Law. In the early part of her term, she was the ONLY representative who blew the whistle on the P100,000 heck given to congressmen to pass a law to privatize NAPOCOR.

Mayong, our second representative, tackled urban poor concerns, peace and development, and labor issues. It was Mayong's office that intervened in the scandalous Riles issue, where thousands of families would have been unlawfully demolished for a bogus contract. Mayong is also the author of the RIGHT TO SELF ORGANIZATION BILL (introducing amendments to the labor code to strengthen the right to unionize), approved in both upper and lower houses.


Risa, on the other hand, our third representatives, carried with her the voice of women and children -- filing bills on reproductive health, gender balance, and the heavily-supported anti-prostitution bill which treats prostituted women as victims and not criminals. Risa is the author of the CHEAPER MEDICINES BILL, which seeks to
bring down the prices of medicine through parallel importation (People remember it for being the bill lawyers from Pfizer tried in vain to stop).

WE WORK AND WE WORK HARD. We have used our three seats in Congress well, and the consolidated work of our three representatives have resulted in real and concrete gains for all of us. Each AKBAYAN representative carries specific concerns and areas of specialization. There is no redundancy, only a synergy of efforts.

Cast your vote for the partylist with a solid track record and a coherent platform. Cast your vote for the consistent partylist that has denounced state-sponsored atrocities AND atrocities from the armed left.

Let the number one party list be the party list that has CLEARLY AND CATEGORICALLY denounced armed struggle.


ABOVE-GROUND. ABOVE-BOARD. ABOVE ALL ELSE: AKBAYAN.


Three seats (originally posted by jae, we just cant help ourselves from reposting this) :)

a.e.

Adonis Elumbre

Department of Social Sciences
University of the Philippines
Los Banos Laguna

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A love letter

Dear Little Brother,

We had another one of our excruciating chats last night. Each time we talk I can't help but feel both despair and hope. I ask about your plans for school, whether you'll finally pursue your studies like we planned before I left. You said yes, and I am hopeful. But then you had enrolled last January and dropped again after the first week.

What will I do with you, I wonder. You asked me how I was, and I told you I made it to the Dean's list. You cursed. Your reaction, I sensed, was a mix of envy and admiration. Is that how its always been? Do you see me as the epitome of what you are not? You've told me, in one of our soap-operatic arguments from years before, that I was the golden child, that I was the one who could do no wrong, the bar with which you were always compared. I don't know what our parents told you. I don't know if they'd made unfair comparisons. But you know I've always believed in you. You know I believe you're brilliant, that you have all the potentials if you but focus. FOCUS.

I am not perfection. I struggle with myself as you do. I have learned, in all these years, that I am my worst enemy. I am not brilliant, as you said. But for lack of natural talent I make up for with discipline and hard work. I keep telling you, there's no such thing as luck. We create our own destiny. We make our own luck.

I can teach you a foreign language. I can teach you the rudiments of global politics. I can teach you hifalutin' philosophical concepts. But those aren't what you need to learn. How do I teach you discipline and responsibility? How do I teach you commitment? How do I make you veer away from temptations of just letting yourself go? How do I teach you to listen to yourself, to value yourself, to believe in yourself? How do I make you stop hurting?

Your failures are mine. Your struggles are mine. Your faults are mine. I pray it won't always be like this. I can only hope, that by example, I am helping. In the end, it is your life. But I am here. And I will carry you as long as needed.

I love you dearly.


Yours truly,

Sis

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Book Finds at the Carrara Markets

I've finally found a bargain bookshop! Or rather, bargain books at the Carrara markets a mere 15 minutes away! Yay!

Bought two good finds, Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics and the Gender Wars by Margaret Wertheim and John Ralston Saul's The Doubter's Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense.

Saul lists certain words and gives them alternative meanings. His definitions range from the irreverent to the profound. Some examples:

Jogging. An urban sport whose principle long-term effect is to cripple middle- and uppermiddle-class professionals. Enthusiasts include orthopedic surgeons and running-shoe manufacturers.

Hard Work. The work ethic remains a popular explanation for the success of the West. This doubtful argument relies heavily on comparing humans to insects such as ants. Above all, the work ethic has a feel about it of low-level morality aimed at the poorer of society.

Foreigner. An individual who is considered either comic or sinister. When the victim of a disaster-preferably natural but sometimes political- the foreigner may also be pitied from a distance for a short period of time.

Intelligence. The ruling elite's description of its own strengths. It follows that this is the primary measure of superiority among humans.

Inferiority complex. Individuals whose primary drive stems from their feeling of inferiority are a threat to the public interest. Not only do they tend to seek power in search of self-affirmation, their insecurity actually helps them to achieve it. Once there, they seek to demonstrate the inferiority of those under them.

Bankers. Pillars of society who are goint to hell if there is a God and He has been accurately quoted.

Yacht. One of the belongings from which a [monied person] can fall down and drown when the relationship between his inferiority complex and his banker is no longer viable.

First class. Should a plane crash, those seated at the front are almost guaranteed a clean death. Their passage to the next world is eased by a decent last meal, unlimited alcohol and enough leg room to meet their end with dignity.

Anorexia. A condition aspired to by most middle-class women.

Control. Ideal of managers and housewives. The enemy of creativity and growth, whether economic, social or individual. One of the most destructive characteristics of a modern society. What is it exactly that they are trying to control?

Descartes. Gave credibility to the idea that the mind exists separately from the body, which suggests that he didn't look down while writing.

Doubt. The only human activity capable of controlling the use of power in a positive way. Doubt is central to understanding. The elites of organised societies define leadership as knowing what to do. Their response is to doubt, consider and deliberate. That is, to question, contemplate and weigh carefully.

Happy Hour. A depressing comment on the rest of the day and a victory for the most limited Dionysian view of human nature.

Politeness. A mechanism of control distinguished by urbane, smooth, courteous, refined and other agreeable mannerisms of social intercourse. We are conditioned to think of this control in classic Marxist terms as a phenomenon of vertical class culture. The citizen's job is to be rude- to pierce the comfort of professional intercourse by boorish expressions of doubt. Politics, philosophy, writing, the arts- none of these, and certainly not science and economics, can serve the common weal if they are swathed in politeness.

War. Children love war, especially civil war. In peacetime parents think children can be told what to do. Civil wars are wonderful because suddenly children can be grown-ups. It's an opportunity to get rid of their parents, sometimes permanently. Instead of being bribed with toy guns and games, they can shoot real people.

Sex. Despite being a common activity, demand always runs ahead of supply. This has made sex the market-driven aspect of personal relationships, running somewhere behind property in the schema of economics. Demand, in sex as in commerce, is an irrational mystery. The long-term contractual approach requires property arrangements such as marriage. In the speculative pay-as-you-go market, it is often linked to meals and entertainment. In either case sex has become the most succesful bull market of the last three decades. Theoretical demand stretches so far ahead of real supply that sex has become the opiate of the people.

Venereal. From Venus, the goddess of love, this word refers to the reality of desire. With the rise of Protestantism and science the word "disease" was tacked on in a revealing combination of categorisation and moralising. "Which disease?" "The disease of love."
-------

This book has inspired me to create a new label for this blog, "Word of the Day." I will attempt to furnish you, my dear readers, with either humorous or profound definitions of every day words. On this note, let me begin with these words.

Love. A set of complex mathematical calculations whose main purpose is to extract gains and minimise losses without eliciting feelings of guilt, greed or selfishness.

Falling in love. A condition in which one is attracted to another who is either a mirror of oneself or a complement of what is lacking in oneself. Also known as Masturbation.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Third World Financial Crises

Excerpts of my paper on the 2001 Argentine financial meltdown. Feel free to replace "Argentina" with "the Philippines." For a background on the crisis itself, click here.

The year 2001 was, in many ways, a turning point in Argentina’s history. It was the year when one of Latin America’s few success stories joined the ranks of tragedies and failed expectations. From the rapid growth of the early 90s, today Argentina is burdened with a total external debt of $169 billion, 300 percent more than in the height of the debt crisis of the 80s.

$106 billion of this debt is owed to the private sector from all around the globe (World Bank 2006). Today Argentina has the developing world’s highest debt per capita at $4,420 per Argentine (Escude 2002). From having been a ‘darling star pupil’ of the IMF for much of the decade before (Santiso 2003: 177), Argentina is a recent case of another ‘emerging market’ getting both economics and politics wrong.

There are many versions in the telling of how this has come to pass. In unravelling the Argentine crisis, much is revealed about the blurring of borders separating the national from international, the political from the economic. The idea of state accountability in the domestic context is also challenged by today’s globalising world, perhaps more so in the realm of international credit creation, where debtors are sovereign nations and creditors are private multinational entities and individuals.

The Argentine debt default in 2001 is as much a story of Argentina as it is the story of financial globalisation. This paper argues that the financial crisis was a symptom of the Argentine state’s continuing inability to carry out its function as an aggregator of interests more or less equitable to all within its domestic constituency. In the past half century, it has repeatedly financed government deficits with external credit. Due to its indebtedness, this dilemma is compounded by constraints and pressures by external actors such as international financial institutions and private creditors. The structure of the international monetary system since the 1970s allowed, even encouraged, debt-financed development which would continue on for four more decades despite limited results and repeated failures in many other debtor countries. The IMF’s early mandate of lender of last resort has changed significantly. It was politicised by the debt crisis of the 80s as it mediated between sovereign debtors and creditor banks. Because of the implicitly political nature of the IMF today, it is open to policy capture by strong creditor and certain national interests. The politicking within the IMF is difficult to monitor due to the nature of the institution itself. Its lack of transparency and accountability is highly disproportionate to the magnitude and reach of its policy-making.

Credit Addiction and the International Monetary System

The 90s saw an enormous expansion in credit-creating instruments. In the US alone the stock market business employed hundreds of thousands involved in investing $7 trillion annually (Sherden 85). The ratio of money exchange over trade has widened considerably from 10:1 in 1980 to 70:1 by 1995 (Eatwell 1997: 4). In recent years therefore, the exchange of real goods, commodities and services are clearly outpaced by the exchange of money instruments, forms of money that circle the globe facilitated by advances in computing technology.

Similar to the decade before, the IMF praised the benefits of capital freely crossing boundaries because laws of free market economics, in theory, predict that capital will go where it is needed the most. The World Bank coined the term “Emerging Markets,” i.e. developing country stock markets surveyed by its subsidiary office the International Finance Corporation. In the early 80s thirty-two countries were put in this list (Santiso 2003:1)

In Economic orthodoxy, the freedom of financial markets were supposed to effect a redistribution of capital world-wide. Capital was supposed to “flow from capital-rich developed countries to opportunity-rich emerging countries (Eatwell 1997: 11).” Not only that, markets were also expected to discipline governments for greater ‘efficiency.’

The IMF itself advocated deregulation of capital controls among members. Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer claimed capital account liberalisation would “outweigh the potential costs," hence the need to adapt “economic policies and institutions, particularly the financial system [to] operate in a world of liberalised capital markets (Singh 2003: 195).” Its sister institution, the World Bank also encouraged opening capital markets to foreign portfolio investment (Eatwell 1997: 7). Interestingly, China and India had not liberalised their capital account, but had nevertheless maintained economic growth for the last two decades (Singh 2003: 199). Argentina followed IMF advice to the letter. Scholars agree, perhaps more than any other country. But by the second half of the 90s, which saw financial crises erupt in these so-called ‘emerging markets,’ a similar crash in Argentina was not a matter of if but when it would happen. The country’s false sens of prosperity was about to come to an end.

Key Reforms in the IMF: Post-Washington Consensus?

The set of conditionalities attached to new loans were harmlessly termed ‘structural adjustment programs’ (SAPs). They embodied a ‘development orthodoxy’ by the ‘Washington Consensus,’ so called because of their origin (Davis 2006, Hoogvelt 1997). The policy framework enforced “fiscal and monetary austerity, elimination of government subsidies, moderate taxation, freeing of interest rates, lowering of exchange rates, liberalisation of foreign trade, privatisation, deregulation and encouragement of foreign direct investment. Free-market economics, with a strong US flavour, would take care of the problems of developing countries (Fine et al 2003: xiv).”

SAPs forced developing states to abandon developmental initiatives based on the early ISI framework. Pursuing liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation served to weaken the State as an agent of development. The laissez-faire approach and the infinite wisdom of the markets “led to weakened political parties and depressed participation – eerily echoing the apathy of the US electorate…developing countries have adopted a model of governance that resembles, in its most general outlines, the sort of capitalism that is practiced in the United States (Babb 2005:209).”

As a result of recent crises in many emerging markets the IMF has instituted new key reforms; “streamlined conditionality” and “program ownership.” The former meant lessening the number of structural benchmarks, outlining only the most crucial ones. ‘Owning’ the program meant governments must propose their own conditionalities (Arceneaux Pion-Berlin 2005: 51)

Today this ‘streamlined conditionality’ is also called ‘Good Governance.’ It has recently entered the canon of International Financial Institutions. Its “four pillars” are accountability, transparency, the rule of law, and participation (Kapur & Webb 2003).

Good governance, like democracy, certainly sounds like something any country would aspire for. But similar to the ‘Development’ blurb of the IFIs in the 80s, does ‘Good Governance’ pretend to champion debtors when it in fact looks after creditor interests? Critique of the good governance rhetoric include the excessive focus on public offices and institutions. The World Bank today is denouncing corruption and its ‘abuse of public power for private gain.’ However, the Bank defines power “as public office rather than the arbitrary exercise of power by any actor, public or private, but in the public domain. (Kapur & Webb 2003:12)."

Besides, twenty years of ‘rolling back’ the State through SAPs had already weakened the state as an economic (not to mention developmental) agent vis-à-vis markets (Strange 1988) and today it needs further discipline? In recent years, even the WTO has emerged as a major source of rules and conditions.

The last two decades has seen the following content of ongoing structural adjustment programs (Fine 2003: 10):
1. remove import quotas (57%)
2. improve export incentives (76%)
3. reform the fiscal system (70%)
4. improve financial performance of public enterprises (73%)
5. revise agricultural pricing (73%)
6. shift public investment (59%)
7. revise industrial incentives (68%)
8. increase public enterprise efficiency (57%)
9/ improve marketing and other support for agriculture (57%)

While conditionalities of the past were merely concerned with macroeconomic policies, today’s new conditionalities go beyond restructuring the economy. They have become increasingly tied with issues of domestic governance and democratisation (Fine 2003).

Lending by the Washington institutions has been marked by a creeping, even a galloping, extent of intervention within the economic arena to impose laissez-faire policies ...the new consensus can be understood as strengthening and extending the scope of permissible intervention in recipient countries...While the old consensus claimed that there was nothing wrong with its policies other than that they were not implemented, the new consensus is able to push for command over what the state does and how it should do it…What the new consensus does analytically is to strengthen and widen the scope for discretionary intervention under the guise of good governance and the imperative to moderate both market and non-market imperfections, and wrap it up in terms of local ownership (Fine 2003: 14-15).
‘Good governance’ has been accused of actually being ‘corporate governance’ instead because its supposed real aim was “to ensure investors (suppliers of finance, shareholders, or creditors) get a return on their money." The interests of these actors are then made into ‘common values’ to be safeguarded by emerging market countries and enforced through these new surveillance and policing institutions (Soederberg 2002).

Conclusion

For many developing countries, ‘development’ is a process that does not take place in a domestic vacuum. The State’s policy-making is pushed and pulled in all directions in response to different articulated interests. This puts increased pressure on national governments as they must contend with sub-national as well as supra-national actors, both public and private.

The 2001 Argentine crisis may be framed differently from all sorts of perspectives. It can be viewed as a series of ‘mismanagement’ by a short-sighted and under-informed global institution. It may also be viewed as a mere pawn of dominant transnational classes. What is beyond dispute, no matter which perspective we take is the IMF’s increasingly interventionist role in sovereign policy-making in the past twenty years. Its politicised role must be openly recognised so that it as an institution would itself be subject to its ‘four pillars’ of transparency, accountability, the rule of law and participation.