When Tweaking A Little Is Not Enough

by Benjie Oliveros

He took America by storm. His eloquence fired up the imagination of the American people. People volunteered in droves to oil his campaign machinery. His promise of change gave hope to the war-weary, economically-battered ordinary American. The economic crisis that hit the US and the world at that time gave a final push to the candidacy of Barack Obama, propelling him to the presidency in 2008.

But three years later, nothing much has changed. The US economy is still in crisis. Consumption and retail sales, the main drivers of the US economy, are still sluggish. America is still stuck in the quagmire of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ordinary American is worse off now than three years ago: poverty is at its highest since 1993 at 15.1 percent affecting 46.2 million Americans, the highest in 52 years. Unemployment is a high 9.2 percent. In 2010, 48 million Americans ages 18-64 did not work for even one week the whole year.

Inequities worsened with the income of the poorest 10 percent of the population falling by 12 percent, while the income of the top 90th percentile dropped by 1.5 percent. Overall median household income adjusted to inflation dropped 2.3 percent in 2010. Hardest hit were minorities, African Americans and Hispanics, and young working Americans with ages from 15-24.

Thus, after three years in office, US President Barack Obama’s disapproval rating hit a high 55 percent.

What happened? How did it come to this?

The “change” that Obama implemented is nothing more than the same policies couched in big words. Instead of regulating the financial sector, he gave them $700 billion in bail out funds and merely castigated Wall Street executives for their profligacy. Rather than solving the problems of the real economy, his administration infused funds into the automobile industry and let the others close shop, reduce plants, and/or cutback on its work force.

Instead of ending US wars of aggression, which were launched by the bellicose Bush administration, the Obama administration merely shifted the focus of the deployment of US troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, and added Libya to the countries where US is involved in “regime change” efforts. Worse, under Obama’s orders, US Special Forces units are secretly operating in 120 countries, 60 percent of the world’s nations.

Obama’s flagship health care reform also amounted to nothing. The number of Americans without health insurance even increased by one million in 2010 to a 45-year high of 49.9 million Americans or 16.3 percent of the population.

It is only now, three years into his term and a little more than a year before the next presidential elections, where he would run for reelection, did he present a jobs plan amounting to $440 billion in infrastructure projects and tax cutbacks. This is interpreted by some analysts as a desperate effort to gain political points for his reelection campaign in 2012. But with the way things are going, it appears that unless the Republicans, who were able to wrest control of Congress during the US mid-term elections, commit a political blunder or put forward an unpopular presidential candidate, Obama may be headed for a defeat.

What are the implications of these on the Philippines?

Well, for one. a Republican victory in 2012 would again engender a brazenly conservative, warmongering administration. Look at how the Republicans staunchly oppose even just minor tweaking or deviations from the neoliberal economic policies and defend corporate interests against attempts to remove subsidies and increase taxes on them. It would also not be surprising if a Republican administration would impose more anti-labor, anti-immigrant policies.

Second, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III appears to be merely doing an Obama. His bold speeches are not being followed up by concrete policies nor by changes in the policies of the previous Arroyo administration. The Aquino administration is merely continuing with the economic policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization of the previous Arroyo administration. In fact, it appears to be making use of its popularity to aggressively push for its anti-people policies such as the removal of subsidies and the consequent increase in LRT, MRT fares, the VAT on toll fees, the full privatization of the power industry and its consequent rate increases, the budget cut on state colleges and universities, the planned full privatization of the public school system, the cut on the government’s health budget and services, the attacks on the rights of peasants and indigenous peoples to favor big landlords, mining companies and big businesses, and the disregard for the necessity of sincere, genuine peace negotiations to address the problems confronting the Filipino and Bangsamoro peoples, which are at the root of the armed conflict, among others. It also practically legalized and legitimized the anti-labor contractualization schemes of big business when it supported the spin-off of PAL operations. In the meantime, the impunity in human rights violations persist.

A year has passed and the Aquino administration is still blaming the previous Arroyo administration for the country’s woes. To a certain extent that is true. But, minus the brazen, scandalous corruption, the Aquino administration is merely doing the same. As of now, it is still successful at doing so gauging by the positive approval ratings it is still getting. However, this would not last long. In the next one or two years, it would most probably be in the same boat as US President Barack Obama. Of course, Aquino could no longer run for reelection. But the Filipino people would be worse off just the same. (Bulatlat.com)

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