Thursday, 17 January 2013

More smoke and mirrors?

John Mangun
Business Mirror

IT is instructive to note some of the global news stories over the past two weeks.

France: “A crowd of more than 300,000 took the fight to the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris to protest the president’s plan to legalize gay marriage and allow same-sex couples to adopt and conceive children.”

Ireland: “The violent flag riots in Belfast have shown just how delicate relations between sectarian groups in the British province remain. They also reveal the frustrations of a generation that has grown up feeling misunderstood and disadvantaged.”

United States: “A Texas congressman vowed to try to impeach President Obama if he moves ahead with plans to control guns by executive order.”

Japan: “According to the Chinese military’s news source, documents dated January 14  lay out the goals for this year. These include ‘making firm preparations for war.’ Some Japanese media outlets have been interpreting these orders as ‘prepare for war…presumably against Japan.’”

China: “A journalists’ strike and protests by supporters last week against blatant government censorship of a newspaper editorial in southern Guangdong province attracted wide attention in China.”

United Kingdom: “The leaders of three Labor Party-controlled city councils are warning that the scale of the austerity agenda could lead to ‘the break-up of civil society.”’

There are undoubtedly dozens more than these. But perhaps the most important and to which all the others may be related comes from Washington, D.C.

“A frustratingly slow economic recovery in developed nations is holding back the global economy, the World Bank said on Tuesday, as it sharply cut its outlook for world growth in 2013.”

Historically, governments have always tried to divert the public from economic problems by focusing attention on so-called social problems and affairs. The Roman emperors devised a clear plan of giving the people “bread and circuses” as the colonial wealth that was the foundation of Rome’s economy dried up. What better way to keep Roman citizens occupied with something other than their failing economy than free wheat and grand spectacles in the Coliseum.

France is headed into a recession but the government pushes for the legalization of same-sex marriages knowing that this is a contentious, emotional issue that will dominate the front pages of the newspaper and push economic issues to the back pages.

As China censors and cracks down on any dissent in the face of an economy barely keeping inflation and employment growth at acceptable levels, it rallies nationalism and warmongering as a good alternative. But the same territorial dispute works as well for the Japanese that are facing a declining population and zero economic growth.

The United States faces another credit-rating downgrade as the government borrowing limits are raised and the number of underemployed grows every month. But today the critical issue is gun violence, not poverty and the economy.

It is a fact of society that citizens can be easily distracted particularly if the distraction is emotional and easier to think about than genuine longer-term problems that carry with them difficult decisions.

While the Philippines is being spared the economic turmoil of many other nations, are the people being led to divert focus from the economy?

A year ago, the Corona impeachment trial was critically important to the nation. The government said that this trial was a major step forward toward political and economic reform. But what has been the broader national impact other than a single person being removed from office?

The last months have been dominated by the debate leading up to the passing of the reproductive health law. While the people have been told that this, too, will have a beneficial economic impact, nothing was ever mentioned about specific, measurable benefits. And there was really no reason to talk about the law in pragmatic terms since the emotional arguments were all that seemed important to both proponents and opponents.

This week we are returning to the cybercrime law. Here again, the arguments are emotional between those who see a need to shelter the public from potential harm and those who see government curtailing the freedom of speech.

Where is the front page and emotional discussion about the fact that poverty and hunger in the Philippines are still going higher? Where are the street protests about the fact that the Philippines is a total disaster area in terms of foreign investment?

The traditional and new online media in the Philippines pride themselves on being vocal, outspoken, diverse in opinion and uninhibited. But never do they ask who is creating and driving the agenda and topics of discussion.

Is the Philippines that different from the rest of the world? Has anything changed much since before 1987?

E-mail to, web site is, and Twitter @mangunonmarkets. PSE stock-market information and technical analysis tools provided by COL Financial Group Inc.

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