Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Elections

Paul Collier is a professor of economics at Oxford. His most recent book is Wars, Guns, And Votes. Crammed with facts and statistics, the book assigns monetary values on coup costs, corruption leakage from foreign aid, per capita income threshold that provides consciousness to the masses, and a host of other political realities we all have a vague idea of but somehow never had the chance to quantify.

His research focuses on the billion poorest people on earth, hence the title of his earlier book “The Bottom Billion”. He criticizes the West’s insistence upon democratic elections when our very own Marcos discovered a long time ago that these “performances” are the easiest to achieve. Staging electoral exercises is an inexpensive method of acquiring democratic legitimacy. Even our very own middling professional politicians are very accomplished in this ritual.

He argues however that the means employed to pull off these cyclical stunts do not always redound to the common good. When you employ vote buying, violent intimidation, outright fraud towards the perpetuation of political power, poor governance invariably ensues. More attention needs to be devoted to the pillars of democracy (effective dispensation of justice, freedom of speech, respect for human rights) rather than focusing on the easily rigged electoral process.

As a captive people however, our options are very limited. The oligarchy dominating every aspect of our society is profoundly entrenched and we cling to the hope that elections might provide a sliver of opportunity from which we might be able to break away from the very same democratic institutions that have been perverted to exclusively serve the plutocracy.

The 2010 elections are crucial. If we are to aspire for peaceful, revolutionary change, we must be able to frame this exercise as a battle between professional politicians and citizen-patriots willing to sacrifice for one term only. Since tens of thousands of Filipinos thrive in this corrupt structure, revolutionary change will not come easy. More than ever, we must not break ranks, we must completely unite behind a single slate of candidates if we hope to have a fighting chance.

The immediate challenge is to hold a Congress which will establish the rules for a nominating process; create a committee that will draw an encompassing platform that respects the disparate dreams of the dispossessed and obsessively work towards the common good. When our coalition is formed, we raise funds and we raise consciousness. Critical mass will be rapidly reached. Then we will have more than just a fighting chance.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Now You Know Why We've Been Quiet

We walked the straight and narrow path. We focused on our studies and we became physicians as soon as we could. We went to the US beginning in the 80’s and completed our specialty training expeditiously. Many of us served in remote areas in order to work immediately after residency training.

We paid approximately 40% of our income to various taxes, we worked hard and we scrupulously followed the law. Towards the late 90’s, we took a hit in the internet bubble. We paid our mortgages dutifully, we lived within our means. Our 401K accounts appeared to be growing steadily, our children’s educational funds, likewise. When the value of our homes appreciated, we borrowed from the equity and we invested in real estate property. It was a practical way to pay less taxes and the rental income more than covered the monthly payments. We were living the American Dream.

Now you understand why we haven’t been too visible the last 3 months. We’ve been working extra shifts in the emergency room and we’ve had to extend our office hours in order to see more patients. We had been advised to concentrate on our medical practices and leave the financials to the professionals. Our mutual funds included only the most blue chip of stocks: General Motors, Citibank, AIG, Fannie Mae. While working these extra shifts, we unhappily realize nobody really seemed to know this disaster could happen. Our retirement accounts have been reduced 65%. The children surely can’t expect a free ride through college any longer. Our homes, if we can even find a buyer, are easily 30% less than their appraised values compared to a year ago.

But this is the reason why we have been quiet. We are all hunkered down. We’re all aware more difficult days are ahead and we aren’t complaining, as if complaining would achieve anything. We are still more fortunate than the overwhelming masses of less trained, and therefore less competitive people out there. Of course we sometimes wonder what we could have done different; we could have totally ignored ALL financial advise and simply placed our earnings in FDIC guaranteed CD’s. Screw all those educational savings accounts and all those wonderful-sounding 401K plans.

With the lead story from the New York Times below, who can blame me if in my humble opinion, nobody knows jacksh*t as to what’s going on?
Fed to Buy $1 Trillion in Securities to Aid Economy
The Fed dramatically increased the amount of money it will create out of thin air to thaw frozen credit markets.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who Sang "Mr. Melody"?

In the unlikely event that my friend and patient Melody Smith reads this post, I am happy to inform her that I finally have the answer to the decade-old question as to who sang “Mr. Melody”. I would always sing the first few bars of the song whenever I would see her at the clinic or in WalMart and she would always ask me who made the song popular.

Last night I watched Natalie Cole in Manila and she looked as regal as ever, never mind her well-publicized health issues emphasized by the venous access port jutting over her right chest wall. She opened with a signature song of the Chairman "Come Rain or Come Shine" and went on to sing for about an hour, intermission-free, selected favorites from her well known repertoire.

She had performed in Indonesia 3 days earlier after canceling her engagement in Thailand, presumably for reasons of health which could account for her less than sunny disposition throughout the performance. Three times, she interrupted her singing by warning some unknown persons in the vast audience in total darkness in front of her to refrain from recording the show. She acted like a Diva even if she no longer went all-out for the high, acrobatic notes that younger singers routinely go for with total abandon. Her voice is still smooth and sultry but she had to increasingly rely on phrasing and technique that only come with long experience.

Her selections were tailor-made for the Filipino audience: heavy on the sentimental love songs and easy on the R&B which can be delivered much better by legions of talented, struggling singers. When she sang “Starting Over Again”, “I Live for Your Love”, “Miss You Like Crazy”, “Someone That I Used To Love, “Inseparable”, songs she herself admitted she had not sung for some time, the audience went wild and sang with her, even if at times, Ms. Cole needed to refer to the lyric sheet.

Midway through the performance, she reprised her duet with her father, Nat King Cole “Unforgettable” complete with homemade movies and sepia stills. And then she sang the song Charlie Chaplin wrote for her father “Smile (though your heart is aching)”. My mother, next to me thought the best song of the evening was "When I Fall in Love".

She allowed only one encore, a supremely worthy one however, finishing with an over-the-top duet with her trumpeteer. Good show.