Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category


 

 

 

Amado M. Mendoza, Jr.

Department of Political Science

University of the Philippines (Diliman)

E-mail: ammendozajr@gmail.com

 

PRRD gesturing with hands

 

 

 

Democracy is the most difficult socio-political regime. It requires a critical mass of economically-independent citizens imbued with adequate intelligence and a healthy civic spirit to get engaged in public matters. Democracy demands a lot both from the governors and the governed. Authoritarianism does not. Democracy offers the possibility of a progressive empowerment of citizens. However, the process is not automatic or natural. The true sovereigns, the people, citizens and all in the body politic, must empower itself even as it is mindful of its public duties and responsibilities. After all, the default behavior of all if not most political leaders in any political regime is to fear and prevent the growth of an empowered citizenry.

 

 

PG_2017.10.16_Global-Democracy_0-02

 

The health and quality of a democracy depends on its capacity to unify a people divided regularly by elections. That used to be the strength of the US. No longer true since the election of Obama. Now, Donald J. Trump is president only of his political base like Rodrigo R. Duterte in the Philippines.

Unification after elections is achieved if the ruling government, together with its partisans, respects, defends, and promotes the legitimate interests of electoral minorities and political opposition. The primary obligation of all is to pay taxes and uphold the law.  Both chief executives revel at savaging political opponents and tilting against enemies and social ills (real and imagined), to catcalls, cheers and the great delight of their partisans.  Trump seems to be at war with his own Republican party. 

 

 

Kim Trump summit photo

US President Donald Trump enjoying a media moment with North Korean leader Kim Jung-un in Sigapore

Duterte did Trump one better recently and has upped the ante by repeatedly attacking the Catholic Church, its clergy, and even Jesus Christ and His teachings.  Earlier, he declared that the Philippine Constitution is just a piece of paper and that he is not bound by it.  In fact, he argued that the basic law of the land was being used by his political enemies to frustrate his ‘Change is Coming’ programme—a mishmash of promises and motherhood statements.  Instead of being appalled by an apparent volte-face from his oath of office, Duterte is cheered on by his followers who seems amenable to the establishment of a nebulous ‘RevGov’ or revolutionary government.   Instead of being impeached for culpable violation of the Constitution, a pliant legislature initiated impeachment proceedings against one of his most prominent critics instead.  Instead of arresting him, the Philippine National Police (PNP) recently declared that his will is the law.

 

On the whole, both presidents are the latest exemplars of uncivil demagoguery and uncouth thuggery, though Trump seem to be copying from Duterte’s playbook.  Notwithstanding their departures from usual norms of civility and public conduct, both conduct themselves with great confidence buoyed by the support of subservient political lieutenants, legislators, judges, bureaucrats, and their defined political bases.

 

Southeast-Asia-Political-Map-CIA-2003

A number of my colleagues at the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science and College of Social Science and Philosophy had strongly suggested that it would be better for all if we stopped calling the socio-political system in the Philippines a democracy but label it instead as an electoral oligarchy–a political system ruled by a faction of the political-economic elites by voters in regular elections both at the local and national levels.

 

They make a very strong case. While indeed elections had been and being are mounted regularly (at least, after 1986 to present day; and between 1946 and 1972), the first test of being fair and fraud-free has not been met repeatedly. For this reason, losing candidates almost always claim that they had been cheated rather than bested in a fair electoral contest.  In many parts of the country, dependent voters either sell their votes or are cowed to vote according to the preferences of local strong men.  Anecdotal evidence suggest that in Muslim Mindanao, ballots are pre-accomplished and pre-counted inside municipal halls and police/military camps while voters innocently cast their votes in full-view and duly recorded by national mass media.  Entry into the candidates’ pool is restricted by laws banning supposedly nuisance candidates—laws which effectively bar less prosperous and less-connected citizens from running for public office.

 

Philippine congress

Philippine Congress hears President Aquino’s SONA

Secondly, virtually the same political families and clans have dominated Philippine politics since elections had been instituted by the American colonial authorities at the beginning of the 20th century as an anti-insurgency and anti-revolutionary strategy–that is to divide the Filipinos who wanted to complete the Philippine Revolution and establish an independent Philippine nation-state.  When outsiders from the under-classes managed to win electoral posts, the ruling oligarchy decided to kick them out of office by branding them as subversives.  If there were new entrants into the ruling circles at both the local and national levels, they are immediately socialized into the dominant political culture, the elements of which include these truisms: the public treasury is a private trough for politicians and other public servants!  And that one must be smart and fast enough to figure out how to get the most of it while in power.  It is never too early to prepare for re-election so good times will never end!  Political support is gained through the grant of special and divisible favors and goodies to supporters, backers, and financiers.  After all, we are above the law.  We are in fact the law.  We execute what we declare is law; we legislate; we interpret what is lawful; and we enforce the law!

Lastly, the country’s political system is hobbled by a flawed system design.  Marrying a multi-party system (which the political science literature finds to be best paired with a parliamentary system) with a presidential system, all chief executives since President Corazon C. Aquino (1986-1992) are minority presidents.  Notwithstanding the wisdom of having second round run-off elections, the country’s political leaders argued against the exercise deeming it to be too expensive and divisive (!).  Furthermore, the single presidential term limit had the unintended consequence of weakening already feeble political parties.  The outgoing president, nominally the leader of a ruling party, is reduced to being a lame-duck and cannot impose discipline.  In many instances, ambitious politicians who were unable to win their political parties’ nod found it easy to bolt and form new parties behind their candidacies.  In this respect, political parties remain candidate- centered rather than programmatic and served mainly as vehicles for the political ambitions of clan-supported politicians who, once in office, will rewards family, friends, supporters and financiers with political posts, juicy government contracts, and/or policy favors and preferential treatment.

 

To be continued…

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In my previous piece which I wrote in response to my good friend Ramon Casiple’s “China’s Dilemma,” I argued that it is the United States and the Philippines which actually have a dilemma over Ayungin.

I based my argument on the fact that the US Senate has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), upon which the Philippine claim is based. The US does not recognize such concepts and principles as archipelagic state, archipelagic waters, and exclusive economic zone upon which the Philippine claim is based.

Since Ayungin and other disputed islands and features in the Western Philippine Sea (a part of the larger South China Sea) are not part of the metropolitan territory of the Republic, I foresee difficulties in invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines to explain why the US cannot come immediately to our aid.

 

For the complete article, click on the link below:

 

 

http://www.interaksyon.com/article/88634/commentary–being-a-us-protectorate-weakened-ph-position-vis-a-vis-china-in-dispute


 

Prof. Andrei Tsygankov

Prof. Andrei Tsygankov

 

 

Andrei Tsygankov, a professor of political science and international relations at the San Francisco State University, believes Obama does not have a Russia policy. “That US strategic thinking is impotent;” the world has changed since the end of the Cold War but US thinking has not.

Tsygankov argues that the US cannot return to Cold War strategies of containment and ideological struggle. He believes the proper approach is to help Russia become stronger in a future and a more secure multipolar world. Otherwise, the alternative is a dangerous bipolar world dominated by US and China with Russia firmly on China’s side.

The confluence of events after the end of the Cold War had led to Obama’s current predicament. Russia became so weak and supine the West almost got everything from it thanks to the drunkard Yeltsin.

 

Russian President Boris Yeltsin

Russian President Boris Yeltsin

 

And yet, the West did not give anything of consequence to Russia. Instead, it brought the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an anti-Soviet military alliance that should have disbanded after the Cold War’s end, right up to Russia’s doorsteps and subverted pro-Moscow regimes through the so-called color revolutions.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

 

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that post-Yeltsin leaders of a different breed like Putin cannot accept such further diminution of Russian power and the embedding of existential threats at its very borders. Looks like the American have not heard of Napoleon and a guy named Adolf Hitler.

 

China President Xi Ping

China President Xi Ping

 

 

At this point, China found it opportune to repair its relations not only with Russia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) but also with India. If the US is dreaming of containing China in the East Asian littoral through another containment strategy, the SCO may make it easier said than done. China’s cultivation of Thailand and Myanmar and normalized relations with India can afford it access not only to the Indian Ocean but to new sources of energy.

 

 

Furthermore, the ASEAN connectivity projects specially in mainland Southeast Asia will have positive spillover effects for China’s economy.

 

 

Putin can then decide which state will butter the Russian bread. Or could even have both buttering up to the Russian bear. And supply the bread to boot!

 

 

Of course, in some way, an incoherent power is more harmful than one with a carefully crafted strategy.


US President Barack Obama upped the ante when he warned of grave consequences should Crimeans opt out of Ukraine in a referendum. Majority of Crimea’s population is Russian.  It also contains an autonomous district that houses the Russian Navy Black Sea fleet.

Crimea (the peninsula in the Black Sea), Russia, and Ukraine

Crimea (the peninsula in the Black Sea), Russia, and Ukraine

The West protests the referendum saying the presence of Russian soldiers in Crimea puts illegitimate pressure on voters.

Crimean peninsula

Crimean peninsula

To emphasize his point, President Obama received the interim prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, at the White House in a clear sign of support.

Obama and Yatsenyuk

Obama and Yatsenyuk

The United States recognized Kosovo (which got out of Serbia) some years back.  The official line was Kosovo was a genuine struggle for independence while Crimea will be a naked land grab. 

Celebrating Kosovo's independence

Celebrating Kosovo’s independence

What gives? 

Whatever happened to the right of national self-determination?

Oh, I think I get it. 

Russia and Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine

If the rump state aligns with the West against Russia, it will be recognized with alacrity.

If it is friendly with Putin, dire sanctions will follow.

Realism rules!

The situation seems to be getting more and more complicated.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had sent advanced surveillance planes to monitor Ukraine’s borders with Poland and Romania.

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus

 

NATO reportedly redeployed 15 jet fighters from Italy to the Baltic states near Belarus. Accordingly, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he will offer Russia the same opportunity to deploy 15 warplanes to counter NATO activity near Belarussian borders.  The request was in compliance with the terms of Russian-Belarussian alliance.

The Ukrainian crisis is obviously of interest to the global powers and is still in the making.  

I will continue to write on the crisis.  That is, if I am not composing photoseptons for my other blog, http://bmmphotopoetry.wordpress.com.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

Oh, by the way, the current crisis started when pro-Western protesters (with obvious Western support) ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last February.  Yanukovych may indeed be corrupt.  The problem is he had a clear electoral mandate.


Mitt Romney introduces Paul Ryan to Republican Party faithfuls

Mitt Romney recently announced in Norfolk, Virginia that his vice presidential running mate is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

ABC News reported on the elaborate measures taken by the Romney campaign to keep the decision under wraps until the right moment. The report (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/08/how-mitt-romney-and-paul-ryan-tricked-the-press/) read: “Mitt Romney decided on Paul Ryan on Aug. 1, the day after returning from his trip overseas to the Olympics in London and to Israel and Poland. The candidate and his campaign kept the secret for nine days, according to campaign sources. Romney and Ryan met secretly on August 5th, after the decision had been made and just before Romney submitted to round-the-clock coverage by reporters who had been traveling with him.”

Ryan is known as a fiscal ideologue who is in favor of spending cuts to reduce the government budget deficit.  He is respected within the Republican Party for his economic acumen and is considered by many as a key party leader.  Romney’s choice of Ryan as running mate reportedly energized party activists.

The choice of Ryan is considered by many to reflect the fundamental truth underlying the 2012 US elections: “It’s the economy, stupid!”  Both the Republican and Democratic parties must answer voters’ queries on immediate prospects of the sluggish  US economy beset with unemployment since the start of President Obama’s term.  

Ryan tangled with President Obama repeatedly in the past over proposed budgetary allocations for the Medicare program (the so-called ObamaCare).  The Wisconsin representative believed that Obama’s allocations were not sustainable given substantial US budget deficits.  

Notwithstanding these public deficits, Ryan follows the lead of several Republicans since the late 1970s to propose cuts in tax rates, especially for upper income individuals and corporations.  This suggestion is counter-intuitive and must have some solid theoretical backing.

During the late 1970s, the Western countries dealt with a new phenomenon–‘stagflation’–the coexistence of high prices and stagnant economic growth.   It was theorized previously that these cannot happen simultaneously–that inflation sets in only during full employment and that recession dampens prices.  This was the Keynesian consensus at the time.  

John Maynard Keynes

Keynesians ordinarily prescribed increased government spending (and sometimes tax cuts for ordinary consumers) to get out of economic slowdowns.  For this reason, Keynesians are called demand-side economists.  On the other hand, monetarists or so-called supply-side economists, led by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, believed the key policy tool is the control of money supply to control inflation, that is, tighter money leads to lower prices.  They also believed that artificial market imperfections such monopolization by trade unions  of labor markets, capital controls, and excessive government regulations should be dealt with since they raise wages, interest rates and overall prices.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman

Supply-side economic policies were adopted by President Ronald Reagan during his first term in the early 1980s.  The situation then was similar to current conditions: tax cuts were proposed for corporations and upper income individuals  amid US deficits.  The reasoning: corporations did not invest as much so the economy could grow because of excessive tax rates and regulations.  The tax cuts were adopted but the deficits did not decrease; in fact, they increased.  

President Ronald Reagan

The clarion call then was deregulation.  Government should stop regulating and interfering in the economy and allow market forces to work freely.  

President George Bush Jr.

However, it was not to be a simple binary choice.  One policy program does not exclude the other.  When the big US financial institutions started to go under in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 housing crisis, the US Congress at the urgent request of President George Bush Jr. approved a $700 billion bail-out program for the Wall Street banks as well as General Motors and Chrysler.  Alienating many within his ‘Main Street’ constituency, President Barack Obama had to maintain the program.  In many instances, Obama was accused of being soft on the banks, considered by many to be responsible for the financial crisis.  The five biggest banks were recently allowed to settle lawsuits over practices that forced millions of American families from their homes(see https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/02/09-5).

Obama weighing alternatives?

Our historical discussion shows that political leaders cannot be held captive by their ideologies.  They may be forced to adopt policies that work, pragmatic policies that is.  Should Romney and Ryan get elected in November 2012, I will be very interested to see if their ideology survives its first brush with reality.

Paul Ryan with his latest budget proposal


Toppling Assad: In aid of Obama’s re-election?.


Obama solves his quandary?

As late as a week ago, US President Barack Obama continued to shy away from a closer American involvement in the ongoing Syrian civil war.   He relied on a United Nations peace plan that was repeatedly stymied by Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council.  He is aware that the American public does not want to get entangled in yet another war in the Middle East.  And in an election year, he has to be particularly careful.  This may be the reason the US played second-fiddle to NATO, France and Britain in the overthrow of the Khaddafi regime in Libya.

The most recent poll figures released by CBSNEWS (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57475178-503544/obama-romney-in-dead-heat-in-presidential-race/) should give Obama cause to pause and ponder.

Obama on the stump

The story reads:  “President Obama and Mitt Romney are effectively tied in the race for the presidency, according to a new CBS News/New York Times survey.

Forty-seven percent of registered voters nationwide who lean towards a candidate back Romney, while 46 percent support the president. Four percent are undecided. The 1 percentage point difference iss within the survey’s three-point margin of error.

Romney leads by eight points among men; the president leads by five points among women. 

Republican Party standard-bearer Mitt Romney

The president’s supporters are more likely to strongly back their candidate. Fifty-two percent strongly favor Mr. Obama, while just 29 percent of Romney voters strongly back the presumptive Republican nominee”.

While the polled voters considered Obama to be better than Romney in foreign policy (47 percent to 40 percent),  a less complicated international environment would be best for a president seeking the voters’ approval anew.  One other thing, this is the first time Romney caught up in the surveys despite weeks of blistering ads against his personal wealth, his role in Bain Capital, a private equity firm that supposedly outsourced jobs overseas at a time when Americans were suffering from severe unemployment, and his reluctance to reveal tax returns on any year while he supposedly was making hay at Bain.  For more details on the Bain issue, read this story from Time magazine

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2119903,00.html?xid=newsletter-weekly

Obama and Netanyahu

We remember Obama’s efforts earlier this year to cool Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear reactors.   Any ratcheting up of the Iran situation will, among other things, cause a global spike in oil prices–endangering the tentative US economic recovery and torpedoing his chances at re-election. 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Recent developments in Syria, including the strengthening of the Syrian rebel forces and the death of four of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s closest associates (including his brother-in-law), may have persuaded Obama to change tack.   Heckling from the Republicans and the American right may also have had some effect.  For one, Romney declared he will arm the Syrian rebels.

It looks like the Syrian rebels now have a better chance to prevail in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  Up to this writing, they have been contemptuous of American caution and were praising Turkey and Qatar as their reliable allies.  They may yet change their opinions about the US.

Rebels in Idlib province, Syria

A new US policy on the Syrian crisis was publicly announced in a news article published by the New York Times last 21 July 2012 (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/22/world/middleeast/us-to-focus-on-forcibly-toppling-syrian-government.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=middleeast).   A truncated version of the article is in today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  

A summary: abandonment of the diplomatic tack and the formation of a coalition of  like-minded countries  to forcibly bring down Assad’s government.

The named coalition members:  US, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

Key concerns:

  • Syria’s chemical weapons
  • Negative reaction to Israel’s participation in Assad’s ouster
  • Broad representation in post-Assad government (Alawites, Sunnis, and Christians) 

Will Obama’s gamble pay off?  Will Assad’s ouster insure his return to the White House?

The same NYT story quotes Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who said: “We’re looking at the controlled demolition of the Assad regime.  But like any controlled demolition, anything can go wrong.”

Even a victory in Syria might not convince American voters grappling with an unemployment rate that remained flat at 8% for several months to date to vote for Obama.