Thursday, December 31, 2009

Barack Obama is APU Person of the Year in 2009

Barack Obama claimed this year to be America's first "Pacific president." Born and raised mostly in Hawai'i and partly in Indonesia, Obama is celebrating his holidays in the islands with his family and his sister's family. recognizes Barack Obama as a Pacific president and has chosen him as 2009's Person of the Year.

There were some other good contenders this year including Japan's new prime minister Yukio Hatoyama and his "New Age" wife Miyuki.

Miyuki made headlines this year as Japan's first wife of a Japanese prime minister to claim she had visited the planet Venus! The prime minister himself ushered in a new era in Japan when he defeated the old ruling party candidate -- something done only once before since World War II.

Obama's story is well-known by now but indeed he is the first American president raised in the Pacific islands and Asia. Except for four years spent on Java in the nation of Indonesia from ages six to 10, Obama was raised entirely in Hawai'i.

His parents met while both were attending the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. They divorced shortly after he was born, and Obama's mother -- the former Stanley Ann Dunham -- would eventually marry Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian business man.

So indeed, Obama has a genuine Asia Pacific experience, which he proudly claims and still revisits on his regular vacations to Hawai'i. His sister, Maya, is half-Indonesian and she is married to a Canuck of Chinese extraction. Maya and her husband Konrad Ng have two children Suhaila and Savita.

Obama also has the distinction of being the nation's first African American president -- something many Americans did not think was possible yet. Indeed there were some who thought it would take 50 years or 100 years before America would be ready to elect a black president.

Maybe his electoral accomplishment alone would have been enough to earn him the distinction of this year's Person of the Year, however, the campaign was over before the year started.

In his first year in office, Obama faced what was probably the hardest start in the White House since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The country had plunged into the greatest recession since the Great Depression of FDR's time.

He faced the problems of wrapping up one war in Iraq, while trying to solve and increasingly difficult conflict in Afghanistan. And the same time, he was determined to fulfill his promise of reforming America's healthcare system in his first year in office.

Should he succeed in this latter goal -- and things look good right now -- then he will have accomplished the most sweeping social reform since Social Security. Maybe the heathcare bill is not what some of his more progressive supporters were hoping for. However, the reform is still very significant and will greatly change the landscape as we know it today.

The president got a bit of surprise late in the year when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Ironically the announcement of his win came just shortly before Obama was to decide to increase America's troop presence in Afghanistan.

Obama also had to swallow a bit of a bitter pill at United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Due to the Senate''s busy schedule working on healthcare reform, they were not able to pass a climate change bill. Still, the president was able to reach a non-binding agreement at Copenhagen, that could be pushed through the legislature next year. That's not a bad turnaround for a nation that refused to participate at all at the last climate change conference in Kyoto. And the new agreement will also include emerging nations like China and India agreeing for the first time to set legally binding limits on their greenhouse gas emissions.

Yes, it was a whirlwind year for both the country and the president. Both had to get accustomed to something that America has not seen before -- a black first family in the White House.

While Barack Obama's popularity is not soaring like it did when he was first inaugurated, a recent poll showed that the president is still by far the most admired man in the country. He faces a challenge in 2010 making sure that his party does not lose anymore seats in Congress, especially in the Senate. So far, it has been extremely difficult for him to pass legislation due to the number of conservative Democrats in that legislative body. Many think that the tide is going against him, but Obama has shown before that he fights best when behind. He did not graduate magna cum laude from Harvard Law School for nothing. This is one smart cookie!

We congratulate President Barack Obama for his great accomplishments as the country's first black and Pacific president, and are we are proud to choose him as our Person of the Year for 2009.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Green economy and Copenhagen

As the United Nations climate change conference in Copehagen approaches, we should examine all the reasons for a green economy rather than simply focusing on climate change.

Of course, climate change is what the conference is about, but there is so much disinformation about the "consequences" of climate change action that need to be cleared up.

So here's a list, probably not complete, of additional good reasons to establish a green economy that will help reduce carbon emissions:

  • Energy independence. President Barack Obama actually campaigned more on this issue than climate change in addressing environmental concerns. It is more of a nationalistic concern. For example, it would not make a good argument in Saudi Arabia.
  • Peak oil. Yes, many people have forgotten about this in the whole climate change debate. Petroleum is not a sustainable resource! At some point, most experts, even those in the oil industry, agree that oil reserves will no longer be able to keep up with demand. Which nations will fare well when oil prices start going through the roof? Obviously those that have made the adjustments toward renewable energy sources and conservation will be in the driver's seat.
  • Pollution. Let's not forget that among the the leading causes of cancer are the carcinogens contained in industrial waste and pollutants. These carcinogens are contaminating the food and water chain. Air pollution also contributes seriously to public health problems. The cost of cleaning up contaminated water and land continues to rise. Pollution directly impacts many industries. For example, fertilizers that runoff into the Gulf of Mexico have created vast dead zones where fisheries and other sea-based industries are impossible.
  • If you're a nature lover, a bird watcher, a hunter, a fisherman (or fisherwoman), or anyone else who likes the outdoors, then you need to think about the green economy. A lot of these people already know this even among people who are politically conservative. The old-timers especially have seen the changes that have occurred in the last few decades in many ecosystems.
  • Economy. The big deception out there is that a green economy will somehow translate to lost jobs, and that it will cost too much. The reality is that it will cost too much not to have a green economy. Ask any economic analyst where the world economy is heading in the future. It's not really a secret anymore. Those nations that do not make the adjusments now will be dependent on those nations that do.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Obama's Olympics setback

Better to try and lose, than never to play the game. I don't really think Obama suffers anymore from having personally lobbied for Chicago, as compared to him not getting personally involved. Either way, his critics were going to chalk it up as a loss for the president. Actually, I see him gaining from making the effort.

As for Obama's accomplishments after less than three quarters in office, there is quite a list of them. For example, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice and more headway on universal healthcare than any previous president. Let's remember that the public option never got out of committee before.

Urban planning and the Metro Manila Floods

Typhoon Ondoy dumped a record rainfall over the Philippine capital of Manila causing flooding beyond anything in memory, even for a city fairly used to high water.

A lot of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's enemies have been blaming her for the severity of the disaster, but this isn't really fair. Indeed, whatever failings the Macapagal government may have, it actually has done more than its predecessors in a number of key areas.

Probably highest on this list of accomplishments is cleaning out the Pasig River, and at least attempting to move back the shantytowns on its banks at least 3 meters from the water. There have also been pumping stations built to deal with waters that flood these areas.

Massive scale of flood

However, it would have been difficult to prepare for a disaster of this magnitude. Even developed countries like the United States have difficulties when record natural disasters of any type strike. The Hurricane Katrina example is just one of many. So, rather than spend time laying blame, it might be a better idea to look ahead and plan for such occurrences in the future. And given the forecasts of global warming and rising sea levels, we should expect serious events to become more normal than they were before.

The natural inclination is to build higher and stronger dikes and levees to keep the water within the banks of rivers, creeks, canals, etc.

However, there are problems to this unnatural solution. As we can see from what happened in New Orleans in the United States, water barriers are not really the ideal solution.

Flood plains like New Orleans and Manila depend on sediment deposits from flooding to replenish the soil. When the floodwaters are blocked, the deposits stop but the loss of earth continues due to drainage, wind, and other factors. This loss of earth causes the city to actually sink lower and lower as in the case of New Orleans.

Ecological solutions for flooding

Here are a few things that have been done or have been suggested to manage flooding in areas like Manila that is ecologically sustainable.

  • Reduce drainage by building more tree and green cover, and by building green roofs and architectures. Trees and plants hold water and they also help create ecosystems. The fallen fruit, leaves, twigs, and the dead insects, lizards and other varmints that live in these ecosystems decompose and become part of the soil. Pavement contributes nothing and does not completely stop rain from draining off soil. Promote urban gardening in abandoned lots and encourage the use of compost bins.
  • Do not let squatters rebuild their lost or destroyed homes near the rivers, creeks, estuaries, etc. The government needs to use some of its foreign reserves to build subsidized housing for these shantytown dwellers. Keep as much area as possible near the river banks clear from buildings.
  • Create a system that can charge the ground with composted, treated sewage instead of letting it run into the Manila Bay.
  • Create a high tech solution that can pump some of the silty flood water in an orderly way into parks, golf courses, even private lawns. Maybe a separate type of watering system can be created.
  • The government must enforce prohibitions on illegal activities on waterways that impede the natural flow of water. At the same time, it must provide those who depended on such illegal livelihoods with alternative methods of earning a living.

The government should implement these measures not only in Manila but in other urban areas of the country. No excuses about not having any money. If they need more money, then they should raise more money. That's their responsibility.

Monday, February 09, 2009

"Dr. Doom" and the "Black Swan" discuss economy's future

Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Taleb talk about the economy on CNBC. They are known respectively as "Dr Doom" and the "Black Swan" for their gloomy forecasts that correctly predicted the current crisis.

During the recent Davos summit, top CEOs from around the world waited in line for hours to hear these two analysts speak.

Neither of them have much faith in President Barack Obama's economic team as it consists mainly of people whose economic philosophy they deem responsible for the current economic woes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Comment: Recovery money is sitting in hedge funds

Fareed Zakaria on CNN the other day said that outgoing US president's George W. Bush's worse mistake was cutting taxes on the rich.

Bush not only cut higher tier taxes he also restructured the tiers basically lumping together the super rich with the moderately rich and then lowering both of their taxes. It was the last phase in a process that began in the Reagan years.

While Republicans like to criticize "socialist" redistribution of wealth, what has happened over the last few decades is a redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich.

Money that used to be in the savings of ordinary Americans is now sitting in derivative markets, in which average players are locked out. These markets are designed to allow the super rich to win, but to protect them from losing, i.e., they're rigged.

When Japan's real estate market melted down, the Japanese government was able to borrow from its people, who had stockpiles of money, at almost no interest. Actually it would have been better off just taxing the people.

Because by borrowing the money, it just transferred the problem of the Japan's banks to the central government.

Now, corporate types like to criticize the central government, but many in the corporate world are looking to the central government for help. The fact is that a country's economy is closely tied to the performance of the central government and the central bank.

The Japanese people could have easily just given the government the money not obliging them, i.e., the taxpayer, to pay it back. You see how there is a wasteful cycling of money here. The Japanese had sufficient savings to absorb such higher taxes. As it was, they ended up straddling the central government with debt that it's still trying to pay back.

Now, the American people have very little savings to offer the government for bailout money. Much of the needed money again is sitting in the derivative funds of the wealthy.

These wealthy elites want to lend the government the money instead of paying it in taxes. But who pays for the loans?

Yes, the taxpayer will eventually pay for those loans. So again we see a wasteful cycling of money that benefits the wealthy and will leave the central government swimming in red ink.

And again the central government is important to the economy. Just look at all the people in Wall St. and elsewhere looking to the central government at this time of crisis.

So basically, big deficit spending is just transferring the problems of Wall St, the auto industry, etc. to the central government.

Holistically, a deficit spending plan will not work in actually repairing the economy because there actually must be a healthy redistribution of wealth, a reversal of the redistribution of wealth that has occurred over the last 25 years. Debt spending does not get that job done.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Coral Triangle faces massive bleaching event

A hot summer could cause a massive bleaching event in the Coral Triangle, the world's most diverse marine area, environmentalists warn.

The Coral Triangle stretches from the Philippines and Sabah, on the island of Borneo, through Eastern Indonesia to Papua New Guinea.

Coastal marine resources could be impacted by the event, and similar bleaching episodes are predicted to happen more frequently int he future because of global warming.

Indonesia will hold the Coral Triangle Initiative Summit in May on the island of Sulawesi to address the problems facing the rich marine area.

Power Boat - World

Colourless corals spell doom
New Straits Times, Malaysia - Dec 19, 2008
The Coral Triangle, which stretches from the Philippines to Malaysia (Sabah) and Papua New Guinea, is home to 75 per cent of all known coral species, ...
Massive Coral Bleaching Could Decimate SE Asia’s Coral Triangle ... Earthtimes (press release)
Scientists predict coral destruction Sydney Morning Herald
Indigenous insights help save coral reefs ABC Online

Friday, January 02, 2009

Max Keiser: World in deep recession

Economic analyst Max Keiser talks about a deep world recession on al-Jazeera television.

He talks about a "black hole" of American debt created by short-selling and other schemes that is greater than the combined American wealth.

Countries like South Korea and Taiwan have been turning a wary eye on American treasuries making it difficult for the U.S. to finance its recovery plans.

In the latest economic news from the United States, manufacturing fell to a 28-year low in December.

ABC News
Manufacturing falls to 28-year low - 1 hour ago
Manufacturing activity fell to its lowest point in 28 years as factories are slashing capacity in the face of weakening demand, according to an analysis of December factory data released Friday by the Institute for Supply Management.
Manufacturing index drops to 28-year low The Associated Press
US Economy: Manufacturing Shrinks as Orders Hit 60-Year Low Bloomberg