Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Judicial Bomb that Struck America in 2010

It is rare that we have the opportunity to watch the destruction of a nation in slow motion, and know the reason.

Similar to the Philippines, the US Supreme Court has been stocked with political ideologues in regal disguise, much as some judges wear no pants under their robes. Most of the time, their renderings reflect a clear reading of the law, for the cases are not political. These are intelligent people, after all, the sharpest legal minds on the planet. They rule according to law.

But once in a while, in landmark cases, they define a nation. They overlay an idea, an ideal, a political ideology, upon the law. In such cases, judges are not simply interpreting the law. They are making a morality, for good and for bad.

In 2010, the US Supreme Court issued such a ruling. The deciding vote was 5 to 4, with the five in favor being the conservative members of the Court:


  • Anthony M. Kennedy (author of majority opinion)
  • John G. Roberts, Jr. (Chief Justice)
  • Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Antonin Scalia


  • John Paul Stevens (author of dissenting opinion)
  • Steven G. Bryer
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Sonia Sotomayor

Former President Jimmy Carter labeled the decision the "stupidest decision" ever by a Supreme Court.

What was the decision, and why is it destroying America better than TNT could?

In the words of the NY Times:  " . . . a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections."

Note the term "bitterly". The dissenting opinion was 90 pages long, and labeled "passionate" by the NY Times. No matter.  One vote made the difference.

Those backing the ruling said they were upholding free speech rights of individuals and associations of individuals. Those against it said that corporate money flooding into elections would corrupt democracy.

Such simple reasoning. Such utter disregard for result.

So if you wonder why the US Congress is such a bitter, divisive place right now, look to the Supreme Court.  If you wonder why the US cannot find consensus on how to manage its debt or balance expense cuts with revenue increases, look to the Supreme Court. If you wonder why the Republicans are trying to destroy the President of their country, like so many snipers firing from the congressional pulpits, look to the Supreme Court.

 It is because the minority was correct.

Destruction of checks and balances, of fair play, rests squarely with five men who decided that unlimited amounts of money could be held out to politicians who said and did the right things for the VESTED INTERESTS. Not the country.

You want to know why Republicans speak with such a loud voice when they refuse to raise taxes on rich Americans?

You want to know why Democrats are resigning from the Congress in deep and bitter frustration (Barney Frank the latest casualty)?

The morality of money. The intellectual corruption of a Court, and an entire Congress.

That 2010 judicial bomb was more powerful than megatons. It was the angriest bird of all, the insertion of powerful vested interests directly into the political machine.

It was the work of five intelligent men with an ideological agenda disguised, not very well, by the cloaks of justice.

It is rare to be able to identify a point in time when things went horribly wrong.

But there it is. One vote, one fateful decision.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Drones in the USA

Drones are in the news again. This time because non-military applications are rushing toward introduction. Several hundred civilian drones are deployed across the US in test situations. They are serving the police, to hunt down criminals, and for agribusiness, for spewing pesticides.

The possible applications boggle the mind. They could be used to fly over highways and nail speeders, get quickly to disaster situations to assess risk, allow police to cruise over protests, hunt for lost hikers, watch traffic during rush hours, fly into radioactive territory or other dangerous conditions (floods, fire), plant seeds, crop dust, provide silent observation of hostage scenes or replace the Goodyear Blimp at football games.

The two areas of sensitivity that will require new regulations are: (1) infringement upon privacy, and (2) congested air space. With regard for the latter, drones are not yet able to do quick read-outs of approaching planes in order to take evasive maneuvers. But that is where the solution rests. And it will soon be found.

My main point of discussion is number (1), infringement upon privacy. The connection to the Philippines will soon become clear.

Great Britain has a head start in watching its citizens through thousands of cams mounted here and there on posts and buildings in main cities. Brits have gotten used to the intrusion, and there have not yet been any explosive abuses such as the cell phone hacking undertaken by the now defunct "News of the World". Many feel secure knowing a record is being made of their activities, and the activities of others, in crowded places.

I suppose I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who object to being watched. That is because I am indoctrinated in being the watchee. After all, I live in the Philippines.

Staring is not rude by Philippine standards. Given that I am 6" 4", white, and handsome as hell, I get gawked at from the moment I leave the home gate.  Kids through the teen years actually stop in their tracks to turn and watch until I disappear around a corner or get a block away. Old ladies giggle with their friends about my height, oblivious to the fact that they are doing this right in my face. Kids make remarks to their friends and laugh as they pass by in the mall. Motorcycle drivers waiting for a ride stare from the time I enter their field of vision until I pass out of it, as if I were some kind of leper or movie star. People in restaurants spend their whole meal watching me and my family.

Sometimes it is downright creepy.

I have learned to ignore these people in most circumstances, figuring they are largely irrelevant.

However, I do drive about with black tinted windows rolled up, fully air conditioned. My wife wears dark glasses everywhere. It is like being out of sight. 

At least the police are in the business of watching out for the well-being of citizens. I'd in some ways find an "eye in the sky" comforting. I fail to get that comfort with Filipinos because they are quick to anger and quicker on the draw. I've also had way too many beggars thrust a hand into my space. Usually they are about 8 to 12 years old. I react physically if they touch me. No one, no matter how ignorant, has the right to put a hand on my person.

I knock their hand off and snarl. They speed away.

I suppose some day that is how I'll get knocked off. They will speed away and return with Papa's gun.

If JoeAm suddenly stops writing one of these days, survey the news for an American killed by a beggar boy with his Papa's gun.

I think people who are educated, and who have strong self-esteem, do not gawk at others.

Most Filipinos gawk.

You put two and two together and tell me what number you come up with.

I'll tell you frankly that I consider it an offshoot of the notorious Filipino inability to care about others. A refined reading of how to be kind and respectful of others simply escapes too many people here.

But that has little to do with drones, eh?

I'm fine with them. Bring on the drones and robots and move us into the 21st century. Plaster us all on U-Tube. What the hell. Wikileaks and other invaders of privacy can't be stopped. And the slanders and deceits of bloggers and politicians can't be stopped. It is now our environment. We are in the floodwater, washing downhill. Relax, go feet first, and enjoy the ride.

Anyway, the drones are late. They should have been here about 1984.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Birds of the Philippines

Now occasionally I stop to smell the roses, or watch the birds.

I see Filipinos watching the birds, too. Often it is through the sights of a rifle aimed at putting some meat on the rice.

Did you ever watch those jungle movies on the big screen? You'd hear birds hooting and whooping and cawing from somewhere over there. And back there. And up there.

Most of those sound tracks, I am convinced, were taken from my back yard.

One of the birds hidden in the upper reaches of bamboo sounds like a deep throated war whoop. "Whop whoop whoop whoop!" It is usually answered by a whoop from trees in the distance, the female, I suppose, telling her suitor to get lost. Or to get his sexy plumage over here.

One really irritating bird screams incessantly in the morning "fire in the boat", "fire in the boat". I want to grab my own rifle but am constrained by the thought that I would be wasting bullets needed to fend off other animals with two legs. The Philippines is, after all, gunslinger territory. I know this first hand. I was confronted by a drunk with a pistol a couple of months ago. He wanted to show me his macho courage by taunting me and shooting into the dirt in front of him.

I smiled and walked away. Irrelevant people have a way of disappearing from my life. Then I went and connived a gun from my father-in-law.

I saw an emerald dove skitting about the underbrush in my backyard the other day. Plump and green as jade. Some bright yellow orioles, about the size of a pigeon, dive across the yard to snatch berries from this scruffy tree I'd prefer to cut down. Except I like the yellow birds. They are like dive-bombing canaries on steroids.

There are big birds and little birds and long-tailed crazy birds that play with their image in the mirror on my car. They shit all over the car. They also dance and tap at the house windows. But fortunately, it is a daytime activity, because at night it would be downright creepy. I've grown rather fond of the crazy pests. And they are growing less skittish about having an American about laughing at their antics.

My neighbors are demonstrating a similar acceptance.

Little swallow-like birds build nests in the upper reaches of my garage, diving in and out like bats. They rake the air in the evening hours, cleaning the place of bugs. God has His hierarchy, eh? I wonder where we humans stand?

I rather think somewhere beneath cockroaches and rats.

Here is a wonderful bird watcher's site on Philippine birds:  Birdwatch

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Getting Past the Nut

There are nuts attached to bolts, anatomical nuts assuring procreation, pistachios and walnuts and their ilk, and crazy people. This one is about a different nut, a tipping point, the point at which poverty is toppled to become growth, and from that, wealth.

I wrote recently about my island, Biliran. I suggested that Americans are missing the boat by not retiring here, for the price is right and the landscape is drop dead gorgeous.

Regular reader Attila knocked me back a peg by pointing out that it is wholly impractical for Americans to retire in the Philippines, for the commute is outrageous, 20 hours from the east coast of the US. Even the Department of Tourism is ahead of Joe Am on this particular line of thinking. DOT is currently focused on East Malaysia as a source of more tourists. Last year some 76,000 Malaysians visited the Philippines, and the goal is to build that number. The air flight is about 2.5 hours.
Here is a link to an article certifying the DOT's pragmatic approach to attract more Malaysians to the Philippines: Malay Tourism 

Having conceded to the wisdom of proximity as an important driver of tourism, let me at least ramble a bit about the retirement angle. That is, getting Americans to retire in the Philippines. That is different than getting people to visit when there is not much to visit, entertainment wise. There are lots of elegant, laid back retirement places. Beaches, mountains, large plots of land. Inexpensive bungalows.

I have no idea as to the demographic statistics of Americans who live here, or their means or motives. My observations lead me to believe most are older, most have Filipina wives, and many served with the US military in the Philippines. There are a very few white couples, both husband and wife. There are a lot of mixed race kids, American Caucasian and Filipino. The half-and-halfs seem to get along fine because they have the advantage of money.

To prove that this blog may be close to fiction, but perhaps instructional nonetheless, I also admit I know little about the demographic statistics of Americans approaching retirement age. I suspect they are not all feeling very secure nowadays knowing they have to figure out how to live 20 more years on diminished savings and a pittance of income.  I know the baby boom is emerging into retirement. So I'll bet there are a pile of them (a refined statistical concept) who are no longer married (widowers, divorced) and who have found life getting a tad narrow and, perhaps boring. And perhaps expensive for their paltry pensions.

Let's say there are 10 of these out of 300 million Americans that Joe Am, through his slick marketing moxie, convinces to retire in the Philippines on Biliran Island. My assumed profile of the 10 is that they are not rich dudes. They are regular people, maybe even at the low end of the economic scale. On my fictional pro-forma, each would bring cash to the Philippines of about US$ 25,000, gained from selling their US place for the paltry amount it is now worth. And they have monthly Social Security income of US $1,000.

What is taken out of the US is small. What is injected into a small island's economy is substantial. It is an immediate injection of $US 250,000, which at 43.5 pesos per dollar, represents 10.8 million pesos. The monthly inflow is US $10,000 or 435,000 pesos per month.

On an island like Biliran, we are talking about a huge kick in the economy. A lot of the monthly amount would find its way into labor. Say 200,000 pesos. That is employment for about 20 people. Who in turn spend their salaries locally, and the money joins the downstream churn that makes life better for everyone.

So, yes, I agree it is not practical to expect a flood of Americans to the Philippines. But there can be a nice injection of wealth with just a few people.

Or, pick off some Chinese retirees.

The point is the same.

Open the Philippines to money. Forget the color of skin or oddness of cultural differences. It all melts together under the hot tropical sun. Cash knows no racial barrier, and will make a beeline for the wallets, purses and bank accounts of Filipinos.

Once you get the flow started, the breadth of the economy, thin though it is, will provide the foundation for circulating wealth and much better lives for many.

It just takes a little push to get past the nut.

Laws that keep money out give an indication of exactly WHY the Philippines is one of the poorest countries in the world.

At what cost, racial pride?

Children who are malnourished? Who can't afford school? Who live in squalor?

For this, you insist upon fearing American wealth? Or Chinese?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Missed Train Never Catches Up

The Philippines imports rice because it finds satisfaction in dividing large farmland up into unsustainable family farms that produce nothing for the greater Philippines. I feel for poor people, too. And for the laborers who stoop under the hot tropical sun jamming rice plantings into the mud like so many chickens pecking at bugs.

Hacienda Aquino (I have decided to rename it, much as the South China Sea has been retagged the West Philippine Sea to signify certain involvements of certain interested parties) will be divided up among worker's families. Well, once the years of appeals are done, if ever.

American Agribusiness 1925 (JoeAm's Heritage)

4,500 hectares. 6,300 families. Less than a hectare each. Plus dividing up some 1.3 billion pesos, or around 200,000 pesos per family, if those 6,300 families get the money. I'm not too clear on that.

But I know enough to ask, "How will the enriched farmers till the soil? In the modern way, with equipment and the best seedlings  in healthy soil, protected by the best pesticides?"

No. No.

In the Philippine way. The way that will assure poverty from here to eternity, for the road to prosperity is blocked by inefficient farming and the cost of buying rice abroad. Sustenance farming. Not first-class export farming. Farms that bleed the government coffers dry.

And until the Philippines is engaged in productive thinking and practices, labor wins out over equipment and efficiency and quality of method and product. And the waste is amplified by the tax money spent to purchase rice from Viet Nam. Or wherever they are getting it these days. Good money. Tax money. Spent in Viet Nam because Philippine farms can't satisfy Philippine needs.

But everyone sure feels good, now that workers are getting some land.

The Competition Gets It
My own tears are for the nonsense to be found in this economic model. It is not agribusiness, for sure. It is pathos-business. Which is more art than science, the art of conjuring up emotions for people who will be trapped forever in poverty because people feel sorry for them, short term.

I feel sorry for them long term. Until someone summons up the courage to break the woebegotten labor model in order to piece together large, efficient farms, the Philippines is consigned to poverty, bound to need, and unable to feed its own population.

Summon up the perspective and courage to ride through a rough patch, the transition from labor to mechanical, and most people come out the other side wealthier, healthier and wiser. They won't stoop to plant rice. They'll work in transportation, packing houses, marketing, accounting, bio-labs.

There will be a lot of words written during the coming weeks and months about Hacienda Aquino and the poor farmers. And it is ALL off the mark, irrelevant, a discussion that does nothing to make the Philippines wealthier. It is just the stuff of drama, of accusations and counter-accusations, of a President judged guilty by association. It is a glorious side-show with absolutely no relevance to important matters.

I'm sick of it already, whether the argument is for or against the Aquino interest, for I find in the debate the pro-forma reason why the Philippines is so backward and poor. It's called missing the mark. Getting it wrong. Whacking trees and bludgeoning the forest. Arriving at the train station a couple of centuries after the last train has left. It is almost 2012, and the nation is still debating feudal vs family-farm models, both guaranteed to support no one but poor peasants.




Not family farms like it was the 9th century. Not large landholdings worked by indentured workers like it was the 12th century.

Agribusiness, like of the 21st century.

Get it?

Friday, November 25, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday in the U.S. It brought the warmth of family to the table. Although guests are often invited, in my family, it is a peculiarly tight family tradition. Parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, maybe an uncle or aunt. Not much more than that.

Macy's has a parade in New York, and that is about it as far as big national celebrations go. It is not a sports holiday, not fire crackers, not gifts, not necessarily trekking off to church, although a moment of prayer prior to the meal seems to have special meaning.

The giving of thanks. To God. To family. To the greater world for the blessings we receive. That is what this holiday is for.

It is a warm fireplace on a crisp fall day, a feast of turkey and mashed potatoes or yams, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. Warmed with just the right amount of wine or liquor. A walk in the park after the afternoon feast.

It is absent commercial manipulation, absent of gifts, absent of carping and criticism, unless Uncle Wilt is willing to let what is left of his Tea Party hair down for the benefit of Cousin Arnie who had the audacity to enroll at UC Berkeley. Arnie sports an earring and a tattoo on his neck.

The Philippines has that tight family bond regularly. Not occasionally, as is the style of the independent minded US. Philippine fiestas are great feasts, but the family is extended to include every neighbor and friend and anyone who decides to drop by. It is inclusive in ways that Americans can't quite grasp.

Here, the pig is the center of the table, not the turkey.

Both countries have their native heritage, eh? Wild pigs from the mountains, turkeys from the Indian tribes.

I  give my love to my family . . . and thanks for the foundation and inspiration they provide . . . thanks to Americans who framed my life and character, and immense gratitude to Filipinos who open new doors for me every day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

No Man Is an Island

Yeah, maybe, but some of us live on one.

It has always amazed me how the Philippines is able to function as one nation given that it is situated on 7,107 separate and distinct pieces of land. I mean, just try counting to 7,107 and you will understand the problem.

How do you get schools there? Electricity? Ballot boxes? Gasoline?

How do you get your body there? Especially if you are prone to being seasick.

Oh, I know, not all of them are populated. Still, logistics here is the mother of all nightmares. But by Gods good will, it works.

My own island is hidden. Many Filipinos have no idea it exists, much less where it is. But somehow the Dutch have found it. And a scattering of Americans.

Getting here is an excursion on its own. You fly via Manila to Tacloban, the place where General MacArthur touristed near the end of World War II. Then you drive across the northern rice plains of Leyte and through a range of mountains thoroughly potted with coconut trees. This road was dirt until about 15 years ago. It is still narrow and prone to head on collisions as fast vehicles grow impatient with large cargo trucks and try to squeeze past, plowing into assorted vehicles coming the other way around the sharp bends.

On the way, you drive past the coastal fishing village where my wife grew up during her elementary schooling days. She'd walk a couple of kilometers to school each day, and on weekends, 15 k or more selling bananas to neighboring towns with her grandmama. She today does not have kind words for the heavy bananas, though her pinarito saging is awesome, carmeled with sugar and thin'sliced like I like them. She has fond memories of her grandmother, and visits her grave regularly to light a candle and bless her for her kindness.

You emerge from the mountains onto a gorgeous and windy bridge, across a rock causeway, and onto my island: Biliran.

Biliran reminds me of Hawaii before it became a state and was overrun by rich white retirees from the mainland. Gorgeous green mountains rising into the mist, clean air, a circular main highway that is paved about 3/4 of the way around. A large portion of that was finished just last year. The rest of the way around is dirt with potholes big enough to swallow my Honda Civic.

There is a fork in the road just off the causeway. If you turn right, you go east, then north. The southern and eastern coast is developing as beach communities, more for pleasure than anything, because the mountains come right down to the coast. There isn't a lot of space for farming. Nice homes are going in there. Retired Filipinos I suspect.

Juices, if Americans only knew the beauty they could find there. And affordable. Blue Pacific waters, islands in the distance. Clean air. Mountains behind, loaded with green. Retirement never had it so beautiful.

Or if the Philippines actually thought of WELCOMING such moneyed normal people as American retirees . . . and let them buy land.

Rather the Philippines welcomes hit and run sex tourists and wayward eccentrics like Joe Am. And government officials in Immigration, Foreign Affairs and Customs  snarl at these particular "guests" rather than make them feel welcome. As if being polite were an unfair burden to impose on such busy and self-important officials of the land.

"We don't need your stinkin' money or corruptive attitudes about good values!" they probably mutter under their garlic and ginger laden breath.
If you turn left off the causeway, you go northwest and eventually reach the main city of Naval, a comparatively clean, bustling gateway to the ocean and the rest of the island. All roads on Biliran lead to  Naval. That is because there are only three of them. Around the island this way, around the island that way, and up and over the mountains through a rocky, eroded dirt road pass.

Half the population of Naval pedals bicycles for a living. The other half works as shop keepers. Another half labors in the rice fields or doing construction. And the rest of us laze about.

I don't know how the Dutch found the place, but there is a community of them in the outlying suburbs. Each has a nice home and a Filipina wife and is old and opinionated. I fit right in, but I am not so pushy. Filipinos can't figure me out. I'm expected to be an arrogant idiot but instead I am deferential and kind. Boy howdy, THAT throws them off.

Naval has a university that trains up a lot of seamen. It has a dock which receives the Super Ferry and all kinds of freighters and local commuter craft. The entire downtown is only barely above sea level, so I don't know what will happen as the ocean rises during the next 50 years. Maybe they will build higher sea walls and people will live in a giant concrete bathtub. Already during major storms the ocean dumps truckloads of sand onto the main square.

The city is progressive compared to what I've seen elsewhere. It has daily trash removal. An anti-dog ordinance (which is enforced haphazardly). Good water piping. Four gas stations, one of which has unleaded gasoline most of the time. No rebels creeping about extorting money in the name of political rectitude. Oh, sure, building standards are a tad lax, the reality of poverty and most people struggling financially, but most shops are in reasonably good condition. Most of the goods come in by boat. Prices are a little higher than what you would find in Tacloban, but you can get or order just about anything you need. We have no Jollibee or Chow King. Soon, I'm sure. Because this place is vibrant and growing.

It is 2 1/2 hours to Tacloban for a modern Robinson's Mall experience (National Bookstore, Greenwich et al, computer stores) and a good B-grade hospital. Ormoc is 2 hours away. I always get grim driving there past the river, thinking it was not too long ago in 1991 that 8,500 Filipinos were killed when a flash flood ripped through the city. It's fine now. You have to dodge sugar cane trucks to get there, so it is diesel alley the last 15 kilometers.

The road to Tacloban is a speed highway. The best of aggressive Filipino driving can be witnessed thereupon.

Biliran is sheltered from typhoons by the larger islands that make up the Visayas. The weather is surprisingly cool outside the concrete jungle of downtown, where mid-day heat is trapped in the cement of the streets and buildings. I suppose because the island is small. Cool ocean air is everywhere. And the mountains act like the freezer in the refrigerator, drawing down a nice nip if the winds are from the east.

To be honest, I think this island was probably the original Garden of Eden. It is still paradise in my book, my book not really being the Bible. I seek spiritual guidance from Jonathan Swift and John Grisham.

But I digress.

Stop by if your boat is in this area. Mi isla est su isla. Wakarimashta? Comprende, amigo? Kasabot ka?

You dig?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Whose Finger Is On the "Play" Button?

I must weigh in on the Arroyo flight plan, as everyone else has. It's top drama.

Did the Aquino Administration rush the arrest?

My readout is no, but I would also say that being rushed is preferable to being played for fools.

It was Ms. Arroyo who forced the Administration to act. She did not need to do that. She could have been respectful of the Travel Restraint Order. Respectful of the Administration's offer to fly doctors of her choice to the Philippines. She fails as victim, in my book, because she was the one who initiated the "play". She was responsible for the confrontation.

The Aquino Administration has been slowly and methodically building its understanding of the election rigging. Like any law case, there are risks and judgments made. Do you accept the Ampatuan testimony or seek other witnesses who can confirm the election tampering? When are you absolutely assured you will win if you make the charge?

The Administration was clearly not rushing until forced to make a decision. Do we have enough to charge her? So I don't see the operative word being "rush", but "risk". If we charge her, will we win?

Ms. Arroyo may have forced them to accept a higher risk. But "rush" is not applicable. They have a lot of testimony and evidence. Gathering it wasn't rushed.

Beyond the case evidence, we observe our chief suspect sneaking around and behaving oddly.

The fish in Denmark was stinking to high heaven on this medical flight, and the airport showdown was downright weird, surreal, rather like her chasing President Obama around like a diplomatic stalker.

As I understand it, the Lady and her Gentleman had purchased tickets to six separate destinations before the Supreme Court ruled on setting aside the Travel Restraint Order, permitting her to fly. When the ruling came down, they were immediately off to the airport. By what stroke of efficient scheduling did this occur, and who were the medical appointments with, in the six different locations?

Names and places and procedures, please.

If I read "The People" correctly, most think Ms. Arroyo is playing everyone for fools, and has been since her long-ago midnight raid on the Constitution, followed by a midnight appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court just prior to President Aquino's assumption of office .

Now it is hard in my book for someone sponsoring such irregular activities (and I won't even bring up the bags of cash she once joyfully handed out to legislators) to claim irregularity of process by Mr. Aquino. What kind of bankrupt, two-faced morality is this?

Oh, yes. I should read my own writing about the notorious Filipino Ego and self-dealing, and the trade of favors, and the kinds of deceits undertaken to save face or promote one's own interest.

In this inside-out culture, many hold that President Aquino is wrong for taking steps to do what is right.

Well, it will all play out as it will play out, and I think Ms. Arroyo will sweat a lot and curse a lot, and not too many people will care.

As for Justice Secretary Leila De Lima possibly being charged with contempt of court, I rather think she would become a martyr if that were done, a symbol of the political games undertaken by a court that has made a mockery of its job to be dispassionate interpreters of the law. Besides, I understand Secretary De Lima has technical grounds to argue that the Court's annulment of the TRO did not ever become effective because all conditions were not met. The Arroyos were in too much of a hurry to attend to the requirements.

My main points are:

  1.  I would not give Ms. Arroyo a free pass to claim no responsibility for what has transpired. She is the one pushing the buttons. As she always has.

  1. It isn't a matter of Justice Secretary De Lima rushing the charge. It is a matter of assessing risk; are we ready now?


Monday, November 21, 2011

The Philippines and the U.S.

I see that a few days ago we had Filipino protestors tossing paint balls at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. One of them described her as "evil" in representing that arrogant bully, the United States of America. The protestor complained that the US was engaged in hegemony, pushing everyone around for its own interest. Simply wanting to use the Philippines for its own aims.

I wonder what interest that might be. The oil under that Spratleys? Or to use the Philippines as a proxy warrior to go after China? Rather like recruiting Afghanis to attack the Taliban? Maybe to keep after the extremist Muslims?

Those are well possible, but not in such blunt or direct terms. I think the US would want to BUY oil from the Philippines. That's a problem? And I think the US would send its own troops to die fighting for certain principles, and would expect the Philippines to summon up similar courage and sacrifice to fight side by side. And I would think the Philippines on its own would object to murderers running at large on Mindanao and nearby islands.

I wonder what the protestor believes is in the best interest of the Philippines? That China take the oil and freeze the Philippines out with nothing? That the one Philippine warship go up against the billions of Chinese? You know the Chinese, right? The people who outstrip the Philippines in corruption and power mongering and stinko human rights. Who engage in self-centered economic and trade policies, sanctioning the theft of technology from overseas and pushing its nose into every one else's diplomatic tent.  Rudely. Really trustworthy, you know?

I admit, the Philippines is in a bind, not able to stand up to the giants on its own. But do you lie down with a dog or with a wolf?

The other thing that rankles me is that Hillary Clinton is perhaps one of the three most respected women on the planet. What kind of thinking is it that would call her "evil"?
Evil Exhibit A: Hillary Clinton

Oh, yes. The kind that believes in building oneself up by tearing others down. The kind that is quick with a deceitful slur, for effect. The kind that lays responsibility anywhere but on ones own shoulders.

Now, I frankly appreciate the straightforward and firm tack being taken by President Aquino regarding China. He refuses to concede to China's view that all negotiations should be one-on -one so that China can divide and play various nations off against one another and remain in the driver's seat. China knows that in a group forum, she would be along for the ride, with the consensus of the other nations being in the driver's seat. China also knows it can't go to the UN, for its strange map of 9 dashes showing Chinese rule over the entire sea between its shores and those of other nations would be thrown out like a cheap fortune cookie sticker.

On one hand, I respect Chinese leaders for how far and fast they have taken China during the past 20 years, even though some of the growth is on the backs of other nations. But I am dismayed at the penchant for bullyism that is evident every day. China considers it an affront if other nations reprimand its human rights record or currency gaming, but some in China have no trouble telling the US that it has no legitimate interest in Asia, and should butt out.

The US is the country that sacrificed so many soldiers during World War II kicking the Japanese off so many Pacific islands, and ridding China of the scourge of Japanese rape and pillage.

Not to mention the volume of trade that the US sends through the contested sea between the Philippines and China, and the robust economic relationships between the US and China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

Evil Exhibit B: Chinese Aircraft Carrier
No interest, huh?

And China has no trouble with its ships causing mischief with Vietnamese and Filipino ships. But try that the opposite direction, boy howdy. Screaming louder than a kung foo fighter in mid-leap.

And circling back to the protestor cited above. He believes, what, that the US should concede its affairs in the Pacific Rim to Manila? Or specifically, to him, personally, a font of gleaming diplomatic wisdom, economic accountability and global perspective?

This guy figures it is the Philippine national interest that should rule things. And the US should humbly skulk back to its distant shores and live off the fat of the US land. So, like many critics, he believes that he should be allowed to do what he criticizes others for doing.

Stick up for his own interests.

I think brighter minds than his will figure out that Philippine and American interests are joined at the hip in the Pacific, and, as that "evil" woman Hillary Clinton said, both nations will gain from the strengthening of ties.

For sure, the US does not expect the Philippines to bow to its every whim. There was no lasting rancor over the Philippines being first out of Iraq when the bullets started flying. And getting tossed from Clark/Subic is just old historical data.

But I think there is an expectation that the Philippines will commit deeply and honorably to the same principles as the US. Fair trade, diplomacy, the rule of law, and decency. And that Filipinos, jerk nosed protestors notwithstanding, will be generally respectful and supportive of an important alliance.  That is, they will not storm the Embassy at the first rumple in the security blanket.

And I further believe President Aquino is the right guy to build such a relationship. He has a good set of advisors, and foreign policy is becoming a strong suit as he gets out to engage key leaders in Asia.  It is one area where he has a strong work ethic. No matter what time he arises on days in-country.

I also think President Obama was genuine when he complimented President Aquino on his efforts to end corruption. I think the US finds it refreshing to work with a Philippine President who can be trusted. And who has his values in the right place. In other words, who Americans have no trouble respecting.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cannibals in the City

I sincerely believe there is plane of higher dignity that most of us fail to achieve. We are blocked from reaching it by our emotions and the limits of our ability to comprehend why others believe as they believe.

  • By emotions, I mean the need to defend our esteem, who we are. Defending all that we have invested in getting to where we are, whether it was high minded or low minded. Saving face. Winning. These are bred within our souls as the method of survival in a world beset by beasts and fear of what we don't understand or can't control.

  • By the limits of our ability to comprehend why others believe as they believe, I mean that we cannot, absolutely cannot, relate to the emotions that others feel or the events that comprise their lives. They are separate, different, each breath taken in a different place and time than our own. We can only overlay our own experiences to make a guess as to what they have had to deal with. And it is certain to be wrong.

The failure is shown in this superb photograph taken by Chris Francescani at an Occupy Wall Street confrontation with police on November 18, 2011.

Where in this scene is the dignity of man as an intellectual being?

What you see is anger, esteem being defended, misunderstanding, failure to respect. Not compassion or a search for understanding or patience or the kind of courage it takes to turn the other cheek. Not dialogue or deployment of intellect. You see muscle and pain and challenge and fear, shock, dismay. You don't see cool or rational or generous. You can hear the shouts, feel the chaos.

It is the worst of us. Absolutely the worst of us. And all done in the name of righteousness.

I dislike the Occupy movement. I think it is crass and disrespectful of the ideals of the United States. It makes the US appear cheap, no better than an angry Arab uprising or mundane Philippine coup.  It stands side by side with deceitful political wrangling done by the US Congress as a misguided way to create a healthy, vibrant national community.

Is America a police state, as many Occupiers suggest, because the police come out to greet their unlawful acts?

No, it is a nation of laws. Laws are rules which define where our personal freedoms end in respect of the rights of others to safety,  security and fairness.

A nation of laws that are not enforced is not a nation of laws. It is a nation of anarchy. Of a way of living where each individual professes to know what is best for others. It is the lowest form of living we can know.

It is the world of Occupy, where good is defined as bad and bad is defined as good. Where frustration with the goods delivered by capitalism impels people to rip the foundations from capitalism, with no replacement system in place or even in mind. It is the behavior of a child throwing a tantrum on the floor to try to get the broader world to begin to circle on a new axis that spins directly through the Ego of the tantrum thrower.

No, the Occupiers are not like the Tea Party. Not in the least. One is wrapped up in some emotional high stolen from the Arab Spring and exhibited in snarling confrontation on the streets. The other is wrapped up in ideals and an approach of peacefully but forcefully banding together lawfully to influence elections and outcomes.

The irony, to me personally, is that I don't subscribe to the Tea Party ideals of small government, no matter the price paid. I subscribe to the democratic ideals of regulation to channel the fruits of capitalism to build a balanced, healthy life for the most people. I lean more toward the intellectual platform of the Occupy movement.

I simply detest the method. It is a disease, and it is growing.

This is a modern era. Well connected through technology and the internet. It should be a thoughtful, considerate world. Forceful communities can be built on line. Rallies can make a public statement peacefully. Instead, we have the snarling  seekers of "a better way" finding some kind of perverse righteousness in physically  bringing down the financial framework that builds the wealth that feeds their families and employs their friends.

What kind of animal is it, that eats its own? Teeth gnashing, bones crunching?

Just go back and look at that picture.

I fail to accept that this is a proper America, or that this is a constructive movement.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bring in the Clowns

With Apology to Joni Mitchell, my mind often free associates wild and sometimes unkind images with reality, rather like viewing the Bible through a drunken kaleidoscope, overlaying it's Godly blunt trauma wisdom with a visually imperfect tower of Babel.  Especially if it is 1:30 in the morning as I just awoke from a dream in which I had tossed a bobcat into the bed of a sleeping BenK. He sleeps in gold satin sheets, I would note. The bobcat sliced and diced the sheets and him, much as BenK does to President Aquino. Only the cat used claws instead of words.

The drama attached to the foiled Arroyo flight plan is better than most Ludlum books, Jason Bourne not withstanding.

Please paste "allegedly" wherever you think it belongs in the ramble that follows.

I rather see the entire Arroyo reign as circus-like. Here is this devoted, pious Catholic woman whose photo was plastered all over the nation at road construction sites bragging about how she is good for Filipinos whilst behind the scenes she was conniving like the Joker on steroids.  I'm talking about Batman's Joker, not that Arroyo relative Joker. Although now that I am in free visual association mode, the wild-ass, conniving gleam in the eye seems the same for every Joker named Joker.

Here is a woman who packed the Supreme Court with her cronies, those at the heart of the Philippine old-boy network. They are engaged in the "trade of favors" as a primary currency more important than the law as a foundation of Philippine social values.

Here is a woman who tried to ramrod a new Constitution down the throats of the Philippine population, including a farcical midnight raid hoisted by her congressional cronies, even though the existing Constitution provides a perfectly fine foundation for law. She wanted to extend her reign, using the same moral mechanics that won her the election.

The existing Constitution is certainly in better condition than the values of judges in the Philippines who interpret it. You know, those sloppy, inefficient, ponderous people who one has a hard time addressing as "Your Honor". A more fitting title is "Your Despicable". What a pack of buffoons this Supreme Court has proved to be, relegating the highest court in the land to the irrelevance of politics and favor over truth and justice. Judges. Operating under oath. We don't have to mention the local judges who give out justice according to the size of the payment buried in a packet of papers slipped slyly by some rat attorney underneath the nara wood judicial bench.

I wonder what devil they all worship.

But I digress . . .

Here is a woman whose husband is an archetype big shot power mongering Filipino, buffooning his way onto the platter of roasted pigs like Tita Nina's fat pink hog puffed up on the finest slops of the land. Selling used helicopters to his pals in the Army for new-helicopter price, the taxpayer who loyally shelled out 12% VAT making up the difference. Trading fertilizer like counterfeit money. Wheeling and dealing construction kickbacks like Uncle Louie, the mafia con man.

Here is a woman who crassly passed out bags of cash to her congressional puppets. Only to find that a few had values higher than hers, and would not accept them. It was like cracking a joke, but people did not laugh.

Here is a woman who tried woefully and pitifully to wheel her way to everlasting freedom past the people, the President, and the law, but instead forced the President's hand and wheeled herself off to jail. Her itinerary? For health reasons, of course:  any country without an extradition treaty to the Philippines.

That is buffoonery, folks. When you try so hard to game the system that you end up with your own boot where it does not belong. And sticking it there is hard if you are wearing a neck brace.

Now, forgive me, for I am sure, to their friends, it is I who am the buffoon. They believe they got screwed by a President who would not play tit for tat. After all, Ms. Arroyo pardoned ex-President Estrada of his corruption. Such audacity that President Aquino would not join this club of slimy self-dealers.

Frankly, I have not heard such woebegotten whining since Grandpa Jones came down with the clap after attending regular Sunday bible lessons with Preacher Cole's wife. He blamed it on the devil.

Oh, my.

Only in the Philippines (and Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, Syria, Iran and the Gaza Strip) do Presidents and judges not grasp simple concepts, like . . .

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but not all the people all the time.

            Abraham Lincoln.

But I digress . . .

Kudos to the very honorable Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. She is a woman of purpose and action. A woman of courage.  A noisy woman, too. Like, man, quotable.

May she have many honorable successes in her endeavors.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Advantage of the Anti-Anything

My newfound understanding of the Filipino psyche is instructional, not just in giving me a framework for understanding Philippine culture, but in understanding Greek protestors, American "occupiers", and a lot of other strange beings.

The psyche is essentially this: "I am raised up if I tear you down."

Therefore, every personal interaction is a psychic wrestling match for power, and power rules all. The grasp for power rules the trash tosser, who can say with impunity to all Filipinos, "I am more important than you; here, eat my garbage". It rules the driver who asserts his place by parking in the middle of the highway or blasting headlong down the wrong side of the road, "I am more important than you; here, eat my dust".  It rules the LTO staffer who glowers and does not move until P100 is slipped to him with the paperwork. He says "I am more important than you; you can't get anywhere without my approval".

It rules the Anti-Pinoy writer and the Get Real writer who pen "Filipinos are morons for this reason and that; see, I am wiser because I can point out the flaws that you dolts live, incessantly".

It rules the Senator who claims treaties with the US need to be re-negotiated because "the US operates in its own interest and only gives us crumbs".

It rules the teenage campers in the middle of New York that shout "down with banks".

Can you see the big empty space behind all these power-based arguments? Do you see what is missing? Do you see the common thread?

If not, I'll tell you.

It is an absolute abandonment of any responsibility for the conditions being criticized, or the outcomes to emerge if the complainant wins.

  • The trash tosser wonders why his government can't fix his poverty, when he, himself, does more to drive tourist money away than anyone.

  • The driver who cares not how others are affected by his methods cannot connect his actions to people lying injured or dead in the hospital.

  • The LTO staffer who can't figure out why he can't support his family on his salary fails to connect his need to cheat with the need to cheat that undermines the effectiveness of the Philippines in every economic arena. Corruption is not a flaw here; it is a way of life. Capability is not rewarded. Cheating is.

  • The Senator who finds the US VFA "humiliating" because of the out of balance imprisonment clauses fails to see that the Courts in the Philippines cannot be trusted to rule on LAW. They rule according to the trade of favors. And would abet the escape of felons.  So, no, the US will not allow its soldiers to be tried on the basis of favor and emotion.

  • The Occupier who is a snot-nosed kid recently out of college, without a job, and figures he can run a bank better than the high-paid CEOs he is complaining about. And has not the vision to see the economic ruin that would result if HE were in charge. Same with the Greek protestors. They can't build; they can only tear down.

So the argument is based on air. "I am raised up if I tear you down". It is the empty argument that is so very, very effective. It is the irresponsible argument that cannot be debated because it is based on the prejudicial notion that "I am right, because I thought it . . . or said it . . . or did it."

It is beyond challenge because my weak self-esteem does not brook confrontation.

If you are a policeman doing your job, enforcing the law, you, "copper", are in the wrong if you tell me to leave the park.

"I am right, because I thought it . . . or said it . . . or did it."

We are surrounded by people who madcap go about with the arrogance of knowing something is right because they thought it. Or a statement is correct because they uttered it. Or an act is right because they did it.

And all the bad outcomes are for sure someone else's fault.

It's surreal, baby! Surreal!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Louis Jenkins and Other Intellectuals

I was shocked when a blog commenter a while back claimed Joe America was an "intellectual".  I hold that intellectuals can speak several languages, French foremost among them, cite Greek mythology and quote Shakespeare. I can't do that. I can't even speak pig Latin.

My daughter is an intellectual. Indeed, she can write Shakespearian sonnets as well as old man Shakespeare hisself. She can work a Rubik's cube in under two minutes. She speaks three languages fluently. She knows Greek mythology, and more important, enjoys it. She can parse a poem and give you six different really deep meanings, all hidden to we obtusians.

And intellectuals don't use words like "hisself" . . . or substitute "really" for very . . . or use made-up words like "obtusians".

But I do enjoy a good twist of the mind. A little humor.

And it is in that vein that I give you my favorite poet, Louis Jenkins.

Yes, his works fall into the category of poetry, which goes to show that you can't read him without stretching your conventional mental framework really a lot.

Louis Jenkins:

Walking Through a Wall

Unlike flying or astral projection, walking through walls is a totally earth-related craft, but a lot more interesting than pot making or driftwood lamps. I got started at a picnic up in Bowstring in the northern part of the state. A fellow walked through a brick wall right there in the park. I said, "Say, I want to try that." Stone walls are best, then brick and wood. Wooden walls with fiberglass insulation and steel doors aren't so good. They won't hurt you. If your wall walking is done properly, both you and the wall are left intact. It is just that they aren't pleasant somehow. The worst things are wire fences, maybe it's the molecular structure of the alloy or just the amount of give in a fence, I don't know, but I've torn my jacket and lost my hat in a lot of fences. The best approach to a wall is, first, two hands placed flat against the surface; it's a matter of concentration and just the right pressure. You will feel the dry, cool inner wall with your fingers, then there is a moment of total darkness before you step through on the other side.

Uncle Axel

In the box of old photos there's one of a young man with a moustache wearing a long coat, circa 1890. The photo is labeled "Uncle Karl" on the back. That would be your mother's granduncle, who came from Sweden, a missionary, and was killed by Indians in North Dakota, your great-granduncle. The young man in the photo is looking away from the camera, slightly to the left. He has a look of determination, a man of destiny, preparing to bring the faith to the heathen Sioux. But it isn't Karl. The photo was mislabeled, fifty years ago. It's actually a photo of Uncle Axel, from Norway, your father's uncle, who was a farmer. No one knows that now. No one remembers Axel, or Karl. If you look closely at the photo it almost appears that the young man is speaking, perhaps muttering "I'm Axel damn it. Quit calling me Karl!"


I take the snap from the center, fake to the right, fade back...
I've got protection. I've got a receiver open downfield...
What the hell is this? This isn't a football, it's a shoe, a man's
brown leather oxford. A cousin to a football maybe, the same
skin, but not the same, a thing made for the earth, not the air.
I realize that this is a world where anything is possible and I
understand, also, that one often has to make do with what one
has. I have eaten pancakes, for instance, with that clear corn
syrup on them because there was no maple syrup and they
weren't very good. Well, anyway, this is different. (My man
downfield is waving his arms.) One has certain responsibilities,
one has to make choices. This isn't right and I'm not going
to throw it.