Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Acts of GOD vs. Government, Governed, Geeks, Gadgets, Google, GoodReader

I live in the East Coast of the United States,  in McLean, Virginia which is a suburb of Washington, D.C. Our place is also known as the home of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), that of the Kennedys, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Pat Buchanan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Begala and many other celebrities who go to St. Luke’s, our parish church.

My barber’s shop is also located in McLean. We usually talk about ideas, events and other people in his place of work. But the latest topic was certainly closest to home.

Most recently, we had to experience a couple of natural disasters – an earthquake and a hurricane named “IRENE”. My research shows that the earthquake that happened last Tuesday, August 22nd was centered in Mineral, Virginia with a magnitude of 5.8. It was the largest one that Virginia had since 1897.

Luckily, while the quake rattled the whole of the East Coast, there was no serious damage or serious injuries. The White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon were evacuated in Washington, thousands of alarmed federal workers run into the streets, and items came crashing down from store and office shelves.
I was home on the phone with a foreign client  during the earthquake. I was sitting next to my bookshelf, which came crashing down with all my books and boxes with my gadgets. I mentioned this to my client calmly describing the event but continued our discussion until he reminded me, “don’t you think you should get out of the house?”  I started walking down the stairs and out the door still talking on the phone.

I don’t know why but somehow the earthquake did not bother me.. Perhaps because of my exposure to and experience with them in Manila and Tokyo. And we used to have regular earthquake drills in Huntington Beach High School, California during my teenage years.

Hurricane IRENE is a different story. This was one Act of GOD that Kinetic Analysis reported to have caused damages amounting to about $7 billion. It was originally estimated that it could reach as high as $20 billion but later on reduced to $7 billion. "The damage from Hurricane Irene appears to be less severe than initially feared, minimizing the economic impact on both the U.S. and Northeast economies," said Ryan Sweet at Moody's Analytics.

It was also reported that at least 29 deaths were blamed on the storm, and millions of people were left without power along the East Coast after Irene passed over the northeastern United States and headed for Canada.

Human beings as well as institutions created by mankind are never matches against Mother Nature. Rains, flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis and other acts of GOD are unstoppable. Their usually devastating effects can only be minimized.

After witnessing a series of man-made disasters in Washington, D.C. brought about by a broken and divided Government as manifested in the debt ceiling debates, frustration to the brink of despair engulfed the American populace.

However, I actually felt hopeful after observing the actuations of the Government; the Group efforts of the Governed; the usefulness and effectiveness of the technologies and Gadgets produced by the Geeks; the efficiency of Google in providing timely information; and the knowledge and entertainment made available and accessible by GoodReader.

“GOD helps those who help themselves.” Asking or praying for GOD’s help in facing the challenges brought about by Mother Nature is expected. But to stop there and hope that a miracle would ensue and therefore solve all troubles would not necessarily produce expected results.


Facing the possible damaging effects of IRENE, I saw before and after how good it was to see Government, be it Federal, State or Municipal, at work. It did not matter whether they were Democrats, Republicans or Independents. They were helping others, each other and, in the process, themselves.

Group Actions of the GOVERNED

The Governed heeding the appeals, instructions and directives of the Government proved to be effective in minimizing damages, injuries and fatalities. Volunteer groups, gift-giving donors and the goodness of fellow governed lessened whatever devastating impact the hurricane brought.


Scientific and Technological advances in weather forecasting, flood prevention, architecture, engineering, information technology and other industrial and consumer technologies have been helpful. Preparing for a possible power outage, all my Gadgets were ready for use. The batteries of my IPAD, IPHONE, IPOD TOUCH, ANDROID, Blackberry, Nokia, Battery-operated Fan and Radio, MacBook Pro, and my Flashlights were all fully charged. So was my electric Stand and Ride Segway.


All my computer and communications Gadgets have wireless and WIFI connections. Installed in them is Google, which allows me to access and search whatever data, information, knowledge, photos, songs, audio books, videos/movies and whatever wisdom I need to have online and in some cases offline.

The GoodReader is software in IPAD2 that allows me to access any document that I stored in Google Docs, Drop Box, Sugar Sync and other depositories in the Internet anywhere and anytime. My Kindle and my eBooks were always available too.


Under French Law, it is called “force majeure”. Under International Law, it is named, “vis major”. In the Philippines we call it fortuitous events. They all refer to Mother Nature and Acts of GOD – caused by some “superior force” which could only be defeated or neutralized by an equally supreme entity, hence the need to pray.

The Governed helping themselves either individually or in groups, working with officials they have chosen to govern and utilizing technologies created by fellow human beings for their benefit and welfare should now justify asking for additional but “superior” assistance.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life as a Journey; Joy, Justice, Job, Jefferson, Jesus, and other Js

A few weeks ago I was invited to be one of the speakers in an Asian Pacific American event held at the nearby George Mason University in Virginia. The topic was “My American Journey”. The organizers probably thought that my life originating from the Philippines and ending up in the United States was exciting and adventurous enough to merit the ears of an audience who personally shared similar experiences. For the young, it would remind them of their parents’ tales and others who landed in America as immigrants, refugees, or even as illegal aliens with dreams and aspirations.
Each of us has an unwritten journal of experiences worth telling as we continue pursuing a journey towards either a defined and finite future or a destination predetermined by an absolute infinite power.

Nobody can deny that we are  always in the pursuit of JOY or happiness, be it material or spiritual.  As the song goes, “we want a life full of joy”.  Our lives are indeed full of memories mostly depicting events of joy. Sometimes there are moments of sorrow but they are considered mere bumps delaying ultimate joy.

“To say that life is fair is like saying, the bull will not come after me because I am a vegetarian”, I heard this from my Aunt once.
Yes, JUSTICE does not come easily in life.  One has to assert and fight for it in order to obtain it. It could be political, social or economic justice.  It could be asking for the rule of law, due process, fighting poverty or getting a job. “Ang sigaw ng bayan ay KATARUNGAN” (The cry of the people is JUSTICE), we used to shout as youth activists in the ‘70s.
I will never  forget what President Magsaysay said, “Those who have less in life, must have more in law”.  To those much is given, much is required. These are sufficient teachings to go by as we seek social justice.

President Barack Obama’s job approval rating is low. His reelection bid for Presidency is in jeopardy. This is because the economy is performing badly. There are too many people unemployed. He is supposed to come up with a concrete plan or a set of proposals to generate more employment or stimulate the economy this coming Labor Day.
In his last State of the Union Address, President Obama said that we will “out-educate, out-innovate, out-build” our competitors. On the surface, the three goals would help generate jobs. I expected him to immediately follow it up with specific proposals to attain those goals.
To out-educate, for example, I expected him to propose programs that would target certain industries, re-train the unemployed for targeted jobs, provide support to new, current and graduating students not only for the on demand jobs but also to supply the job requirements of the targeted industries.
To out-innovate, I expected him to come up with programs that would provide incentives and support to individuals and industries that create new products and technologies.  Programs supporting research and development,  students pursuing graduate degrees in the sciences, engineering, information and systems and other courses on innovation were also expected.
To out-build, I also expected him to pursue programs that would repair, re-build and / or build infrastructures such as roads, bridges, rails and speed trains,  broadband highways, and others.

The American people are getting frustrated to the point of near despair compared to the hopes and dreams generated when Obama was first elected as President. The President’s  latest approval rating is at an  all-time low. The Republicans especially those in Congress are no better. 
The Democrats and Republicans are urged to stop jousting. They are expected to work together and join all efforts to jumpstart the economy again.

America’s brand of democracy is Jeffersonian.  It is a republic where the people’s authority and sovereign powers are delegated to Congress for legislation and the President for execution. The representatives are expected to govern on behalf of, for and by the people. They are there to assist in the people’s pursuit of JOY and JUSTICE.

JESUS and the other Js
In the journey towards joy and justice, our job should not be focused on jousting with others but joining them as a team. We start as JUVENILES but grow up JADED. Some could end up as JOKES, JILTED or even JAILED.  Others would be happy with JUNKS. A few are lucky to have JEWELS even a JACKPOT.
Such is life.  Whether you are a JEEPNEY-riding JOE or a JET-SETTING JANE, you have as much chance to JAM, listen to JAZZ, or watch a J-LO, or a JUSTIN Bieber/Timberlake Concert.
When in JEOPARDY, you can always use your skills in JUDO or JU-JIT-SU. Of course, especially in desperate conditions, you always call on JESUS, JOSEPH, JACOB, JOSHUA,  JACINTA, JULKANAIN, JIAO or to some, the JEWISH Messiah.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I was with my barber a few days ago and we discussed the Republican Party straw poll held in Ames, Iowa. He asked me what I thought of the results. Do I agree with what the news media is saying and what the so-called political pundits are interpreting vis-à-vis the results and the coming in of Texas Governor Rick Perry as a presidential candidate?

The straw poll shows the following results:

Rick Perry (write-in)


Based on these results and the announcement of the presidential candidacy of Governor Perry, the U.S. news media and several analysts have concluded that the top Presidential timbers has come down to Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry.

I told my barber that the said conclusion was disputable and questionable if not downright biased. To exclude Ron Paul among the top despite his exemplary performance as compared to the others does not bode well for a free press which is supposed to give all candidates “fair and equal” treatment. In fact, while several networks scheduled interviews with Bachmann the next day after the straw poll, none of them touched or even tried to hear from Ron Paul.

A careful analysis would show that although Michelle Bachmann beat Ron Paul by only 152 votes which is only .9% difference, it is really a statistical tie or the difference insignificant in so far as polling is concerned. Besides, consider the following facts:

            1.  Michelle Bachmann was born in Waterloo, Iowa (home court advantage);
2.  She is currently residing in Minnesota which is not too far from Iowa;
            3.  She spent 10 times more than Ron Paul;
4.  In fact, her campaign paid for at least 6,000 dinner tickets costing $30 per head with the expectation that the recipients would vote for her; (obviously 1177 did not vote for her);
5.  Ron Paul garnered more votes than Romney when the latter won the straw poll with 4516 votes four years ago; more than Bob Dole when he won it in 1995 with 2582 votes; more than Pat Robertson who won it in1987; and even more than George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan when they were running against each other in the same straw poll in 1979; and
6. Lastly Ron Paul with his 4671 votes obtained 8.23 times more than Romney who got 567 and 7.9 times more than Perry’s 718.

The media projected Bachmann to win since the beginning of the campaign because of her inherent advantages such as birthplace, proximity to her current residence in Minnesota, invested resources and ties with the Tea Party and the Conservatives in Iowa who similarly made Huckabee win the caucuses four years ago.

Yet, she beat Ron Paul only by .9% or 152 votes. She has more relatives in Waterloo than that. I just wonder what would happen if the students are able to join the succeeding caucuses. Many of Paul’s followers are students.

It is probably correct to put Bachmann in the top tier of Presidential candidates after her first victory no matter how slim. But for the media and pundits to ignore Paul completely despite his laudable performance is a disgrace.

It is also reasonable to place Romney in the top tier because he was no. 2 in the primaries and the nomination four years ago. He is also running first in the initial surveys in the current race. But Paul obtained more votes than Romney in the straw poll and in a similar poll four years ago. Recognize Romney if you insist but to ignore Paul is a travesty.

Perry comes from Texas and probably has access to oil money. He was Al Gore’s campaign manager in 1988 and now perceived as George W. Bush in steroids. Perry, being from vote-rich Texas, is given a distinct advantage. He supposedly can count on the Conservatives as much as Bachmann does. But Ron Paul is also from Texas. He is definitely not George W. Bush but has the most conservative voting record among Republicans in the House in history. In fact, most of the issues that the Tea Party are
fighting for came from him, thus he was dubbed as one of the godfathers of the latter. Include Perry if you want, but it would be a media misuse and / or abuse of press freedom to ignore Ron Paul.

I am not a fan of Ron Paul. He has ideas that I like but many I do not. But in the interest of fairness he deserves to be heard in the same manner that President Obama, Bachmann, Romney and Perry are being given easy media access. A medical practitioner who has been delivering babies for free for many years as he diligently performs his duties as a Congressman, Ron Paul must be given the credit that is rightfully due him.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Balancing the Budget, Balancing the Books, Balance Sheet

S&P (Standard & Poor’s) last Friday downgraded the credit rating of the United States from AAA to AA+.This is the first time ever that the acknowledged most powerful nation in the world got a downgrading of its credit worthiness.

The other two rating agencies, Moody’s and Fitch decided correctly and understandably to retain America’s AAA rating.

This is basically a numbers game. The measurable standards are quantifiable, its effects reflected in numerical terms. The most decisive factor is the bottom line. It is based on objective facts and figures.

While the objective measures should be dominant, sometimes the judgment is tainted by the analyst’s subjective or biased views.

Does the United States have the capacity to pay? Is there any doubt on America’s willingness to pay or service its debt?

The debt ceiling debate displayed a seemingly dysfunctional Congress incapable of arriving at a defensible compromise. It gave the impression that a small minority group like the Tea Party could hold hostage its own majority Republican Party in the House and the nation by imposing impractical if not impossible conditions. It also allows a minority in the Senate to block any proposal using the power to filibuster.

This process was blown up by the media nationwide and worldwide putting more doubts on America’s willingness and capacity to pay thus risking default.

This is despite the assurances by Senate and House leaders of both parties and President Obama that they will never allow a default. The issue was really more on how much of the debt limit would be raised, how much of the budget to reduce, how to do it and for how long.

A deal was done; a default averted as expected; debt limit rose; and deficit reduction assured.

Yet, S&P still decided to downgrade America’s rating. This is despite the fact that, admittedly, it made a $2 trillion mistake in its analysis regarding the projected deficit over a period. It says, “It’s immaterial”.  What? When you balance the books, the credits must equal the debits. Under the double entry bookkeeping system, the balance must end up with zero. If there is a difference, something is wrong. If the difference is small like a few cents or dollars so that it would be more expensive to look for the discrepancy, you can declare it to be “immaterial”. You could then just charge it to “miscellaneous fees” or some other account thus balancing the books.

But a $2 trillion discrepancy is too much. If S&P’s math is way off by that much on this one, a fortiori (with more reason) it could be wrong on its computation somewhere else. Its capacity to compute is questionable and unreliable. So does its ability in quantitatively  rating other’s credit worthiness.

In fact, S&P is considered one of the “unindicted co-conspirators” of the financial collapse a few years ago. Laden with conflict of interest, its role in mistakenly rating mortgage-backed securities is still under investigation.

Qualitatively, S&P is as bad. While it enjoys the freedom provided and protected by the Constitutional democratic processes, it fails to recognize that Congress and the President of the United States are elected representatives of the sovereign people who are empowered by the Constitution with powers and obligations. The debates, the free press, the power to raise the debt ceiling, the obligation to pay its debts, even the right to rate among others are all parts of the democratic process.

It should have recognized that the United States will not and could not default on its debt. Article I of the U.S. Constitution mandates that no law or action could impair the obligation of contracts. The Fourteenth Amendment recognizes the validity of public debt and could not be questioned, thus empowering the President to raise the debt limit and pay U.S. obligations. If necessary, the President could even invoke the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

As Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said, “It could always print more money. It just hit a nerve, affecting U.S. self-esteem and psyche.”

Meanwhile, what do the numbers say? Government debts are supposed to be riskier by virtue of the downgrading hence U.S. Treasury bond rates should be higher. But reports indicate that the U.S. Treasury markets are seemingly laughing in S&P’s face. It has led to a buying spree of the Treasury instruments. Two-year Treasury yields fell to record lows. Ten-year Treasuries are selling at the highest prices since November of 2010.

Financial Times has questioned S&P’s credibility. In its editorial it says, “The future role of rating agencies will also now come under close scrutiny, bringing to the fore the question of who rates the rating agencies? S&P’s action will likely unite governments in America and Europe in an effort to erode their monopoly power and operational influence.”

U.S.A. remains the largest economy in the world. Its current GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is  $14.6 trillion which is about the same as the total GDP of all the countries that S&P rated as AAA. In fact, the GDP of each of these AAA-rated countries except United Kingdom is less than the $2 trillion mistake that S&P made. With the growth rate of each, it would take decades, centuries, even forever to reach the current GDP of the United States.

The political wisdom is for the democratic leaders to focus on JOBS. Spending on programs with goals “to out-educate, out-innovate and out-build” the competition” should be able to generate employment. While the cash budgeting and accounting system of the Federal Government would show increased expenditures, these costs are really investments for the future. In the books, it should not only decrease (credit) Cash but correspondingly it should increase (debit) another Asset Account either as Property (including Intellectual), Equipment, Building, etc.

Those who try to rate the United States of America must look at its Balance Sheet: its Assets, Liabilities and its Net worth. Configure into it its daunting military assets, its gold reserves, its natural resources, its museums, its infrastructures, its space ships, its institutions, and most importantly, its human and intellectual capital. One can not help but rate it what Warren Buffet said it deserved, “AAAA”.

S&P: Wrong Standards and Poor judgment!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Playing It By Ear by Rod Garcia

Lady Behind the Counter

Tessie Alarcon sat behind the registration counter working on little ticket stubs for a function celebrating Philippine Independence.
Not too many of the guests knew the truth about this inconspicuous, tiny figure.
But Tessie and her friends are responsible for having fed over two thousand 
five hundred malnourished children in the Philippines.

She's at an age for enjoying a cruise in the caribbean. But with other intrepid retirees, Tessie has taken a rinkydink bangka and crossed deep waters to distribute gifts, food, or  medicine to children in some remote Philippine island. She's done this several times.
This sense of mission started over a decade ago. Tessie and her husband Pablito were enjoying a meal in a small restaurant in Laguna. A small grungy boy of  nine (9) in a tattered t-shirt came up to their window and gawked  open-mouthed at the food, obviously very hungry.
The couple waved the boy in and let him eat with them. They also had a clean t-shirt they were planning to give to some relative's son. But they decided to let this boy wear it. And he did, with a palpable pride in his face. Later, in a way to repay their kindness, the boy helped slow down oncoming traffic, waving and signalling like a cop, so the couple could drive their car out of the parking spot. The incident taught them that even children can learn to earn. 
And so aside from all the charity work, Tessie and her posse have also sponsored nineteen (19) livelihood projects in the Philippines;built ninety-one (91) modern classrooms (with six more to come); distributed two hundred thousand (200,000) books to public schools and libraries; gave one hundred fifty (150) students educational scholarships to high schools and universities; and donated twenty (20) sets of computers and other IT equipment.
And they're still at it.
Tessie is the founder of Washington D.C.-based Feed The Hungry, Inc., which has now blossomed into chapters in Hawaii, Nevada, and Manila itself.
Her sense of mission is infectious. Many doers and shakers have joined the action as board members or operatives. Among them financial whiz Martin Gaw; FilAm activitist dynamo Gloria Caoile, and cerebral Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto Del Rosario and his grand-hearted wife Gretchen, to name a few. (Even inconsequential folks like me found a place: Tessie asked help with the legal stuff; and adopted my composition "Ako" as Feed The Hungry's theme song.")
This little lady behind the counter received the Pilipino Presidential Award from President Noynoy Aquino last year(Lingkod Sa Kapwa), adding to other recognitions in previous years.
Where does one find proof that the Filipino is worth dying for? Neither in the halls of political power in Malacanang nor in the money of Makati.
But in humble servant hearts of everyday people like that lady behind the counter ----- who  would have a sign above her that states: Now Serving --- The Poor.
Rod Garcia
by Rod Garcia
Hindi mo ba alam
Na nandoon AKO noon
Nang ika'y nagiisa't nagtatanong?
Hindi ka nagtaka
Kung kanino ang awit?
Nakatakap ka sa lupa,
Ang tingin mo'y sa langit.
Kaya't nang ika'y naglalakad
Sa lamig, nagiisa,
AKO'Y nagaalalay
Sa iyo.
Masakit sa kalooban;
Matamlay sa pagtingin;
Pagasa mo na lamang ay AKO.
Pagmasdan mo ang paligid mo;
Mapapansin mo rin.
May na ngangailangan sa iyo.
Siya'y iyong kusang bigyan ng tanging pagtingin
And tinutulungan mo'y