Sunday, 30 May 2010

Kafka eat your heart out

Santiago has two huge neon billboards which I have always admired. They have a certain retro-Parisian air which is sadly missing in the rest of the city, even with our Eiffel-designed public buildings.

But they are, after all, only advertising. So it is one thing is to admire them. It is quite another to declare them national monuments, as the Piñera government has just done. That's just wierd.

When Piñera came to power, he changed the government logo, eschewing the modern and simple Chilean flag logo of the Concertación years for the traditional coat of arms (which includes the motto, By Reason or by Force). At the time, some wags suggested he might skip a step altogether and opt for the LAN Chile logo.

Somehow, now that doesn't seem so far fetched.

Friday, 21 May 2010

After this morning's speech, a mental health break

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union XV

Two observations in conclusion:

It was not a memorable speech, but most of what he said was reasonable and would not have sounded out of place in a State of the Union by Michelle Bachelet or Ricardo Lagos.

But the emphasis on bonuses and subsidies shows that this is, indeed, a new right. It is not the UDI, Pinochetist right. It is much more retrogade than that. It is a right of the 1950s, which believes the state has a role to play, but its role is to throw money around. It does not believe the state can contribute to structural reforms that will change the social makeup of the country (and probably doesn't want to).

Hopefully the Concertación will pick up on that, and not nitpick on the details, which many people will find quite palatable.

Well, that was Liveblogging for today. Thanks for tuning in.

The line of the day

So far the line of the day does not belong to President Piñera, but to the journalist Miguel Paz, who has tweeted:

"Si el Pdte Piñera logra 1 quinto de sus medidas, Chile sera como Japon en tech, Harvard en educacion, Finlandia en trabajo, Canada en salud"

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union XIV

On health he seems to be making promises that are already part of the Plan Auge (offering medical attention at private clinics if the public system cannot deliver)

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union XIII

Talking about improving public education, the President inserted, almost as an aside, that he would be willing to close schools that do not meet standards of quality education.

It seems to me that this is a loophole that could actually allow the government to close many public schools or privatise them. In other words, the beginning of the end of public education in Chile.

Just saying.

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union XII

Three good bits:

Facilitating the business-creation process and simplifying bankruptcy is long overdue. Both have been mentioned often by international observers who rate things like competitiveness.

He also says they will widen the space for collective bargaining.

For the most part this really does sound like the Concertación's 5th government.

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union XI

The President says he will double investment in science and technology -- but his government has not got around to naming someone to head up the higher education division in the Ministry of Education.

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union X

The President thinks to be progressive it to 'progress economically and spiritually'.

In that case you can be a Communist if you 'commune with God?', or a Socialist if you have a 'social life', or a Capitalist if you live in a capital?


Shopping List

He's getting into the shopping list part of the speech, so he's losing me. Instead, it's time to play



Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union IX

Clearly the theme of the speech is reaching a state of development.

He asks what is needed to get there. He says it's not resources but will.

Again, not true. It's resources, particularly of the human kind.

This underscores an attitude which has been present since the campaign, whose principal message was that his would be a government of similar policies but with better management -- the will and the skill to do things better. But so far there has been no evidence of this superior talent that the MBAs bring to government, so it is strange that now he would return to this theme.

Piñera thinks that governing is about setting targets and meeting them. He is quoting the questionable target which he set for getting students to return to school within 45 days of the earthquake.

And now he says they may not always meet other targets in the same way, but they will try. Great.

So the same policies but with better management, except when they can't.

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union VIII

He's gone right into the 'tema valórico', and called for non-discrimination on basis of gender, religion, sexual orientation. But he has not gone further. Yet.

And then he goes on to quote John Paul II.

A fine line.

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union VII

"Todos somos hijos del mismo dios". The Right will like that he mentioned the big guy. The talk of national unity has not changed since Feb 27. But it rings hollow. No one knows what that means, except trying to get the Concertación to blindly support whatever he puts forward. If that's what he means, it's not working.

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union VI

Regarding the total value of earthquake damage, he continues to repeat the 30 billion dollar figure. It's not true.

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union V

A moment's silence for the victims of the earthquake.

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union IV

Piñera has mentioned and honoured each one of the presidents of the Concertación. The UDI will love that.

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union III

"El Presidente y el Congreso son aliado y no rivales". Yup, he's reaching out.

But what is he offering them?

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union II

Piñera starts by congratulating and reaching out to Congress. Is he finally realizing that he needs them?

Liveblogging the Presidential State of the Union

President Sebastián Piñera has just entered the Congress, and is about to give the annual May 21st State of the Union -- his first.

And now, all stand for the antional anthem....

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Greeced Lightning

The Chilean news media, in general, have fallen into the habit of interviewing political scientists when they need a comment on some event. This is, in general, a good thing. It sure beats those CNN types who interview each other. "Anderson, what is your view of the possible impact of the hurricane on corn futures?"

The problem is, that political scientists specialize in different areas, often having nothing to do with corn futures.

So as a general rule, I try to avoid commenting on corn futures, or other areas which are not somewhat related to my particular area of interest. As proof, here is an interview I gave on the situation in Greece.


Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Prime Minister Cameron. Do Chileans Care?

As this column notes, I was in London when Tony Blair, leading something called New Labour, won the 1997 British elections. No matter what one's political stripes, it was an extraordinary time, coinciding with a surge in British pride, nationalism, and not a little bit of marketing, that had not been seen since the 60s. Looking back, much of it was pretty tacky (think Spice Girls and Tellytubbies). But there is no question that Blair's election brought about a major change in how British politics is done.

So I thought I would jot down a few thoughts in El Mostrador -- written before the coalition talks were settled and Cameron took over as PM. What I find amazing, however, is something unrelated: of all the columns I have written in El Mostrador, this is the first one that is not about Chilean politics. And it is also the first one that has attracted no comments from readers.

Now, unlike on this blog, where readers are informed and interested and usually kind, comments in El Mostrador can be about anything, and more often than not descend into a shouting match between commentators and end up losing any relevance to the issue at hand. Nevertheless, I suspect that the absence of reader feedback on this article reflects the almost total lack of interest that Chileans have in the rest of the world -- unless they are asking what the rest of the world thinks of Chile.

On the one hand, this should not be surprising. Spending 400 years living on a virtual island will make anyone turn inward. But for over a generation, Chile has been one of the most open countries, trading with anyone, signing dozens of free trade agreements, and Chileans increasingly travel to the US, Europe and within Latin America. And yet, they just don't seem to care.