Sunday, December 20, 2015

Top Global Banks and Tech Companies Can No Longer Ignore Bitcoin BUT...

... they are skewing the conversation away from the main quality that makes it revolutionary and disruptive: the fact that it is decentralized and powered by the people. Are they just missing the point or blatantly shrugging off Bitcoin because it threatens to make them obsolete?

The tone and language of these banking and tech giants can be summed up in a few points: first, they acknowledge that the Blockchain is revolutionary or disruptive. Then, they'll reiterate that this is the technology behind Bitcoin, talk about its history and drawbacks or risks. Finally, they'll end by saying that they're working on something better. And by better, they usually mean something they own and control.

Here's a tweet from Goldman Sachs linking to a research they published:


Their Morpheus allusion is quite ironic as they're not really giving consumers the red pill and only garnered ridicule from netizens and Bitcoin proponents.  Anthony Antonopolous, one of the leading experts of cryptocurrency tech and security, replied and said "I'd say you have no clue about bitcoin or the blockchain."

There's also a partnership between IBM, Intel, Cisco, London Stock Exchange Group, JP Morgan and other big names and they're working on creating their own alternative to the Blockchain. The same approach and intent have been expressed by the other big banks and companies on the first image (you may also check references below).

When asked about IBM's partnerships and venture in creating a Blockchain alternative, Jerry Cuomo, their VP and CTO said:

“The current blockchain is a great design pattern. Now, how do we make that real for business? What are the key attributes needed to make that happen? That’s what this organization is about.” 

You see, the Blockchain works independent of central planners. I am guessing "how do we make it real" is corp comm code for "how do we make it owned and controlled."

Yes, businesses of all sizes have the right to experiment with their own products and services alternative to the Blockchain. But are they being disruptive? Hmm, more like being adaptive. This is because most, if not all, of their services could potentially be rendered obsolete by Bitcoin.

I like the way ex-Barclays CEO Anthony Jenkins worded it when he said that the banks will have an Uber moment. Here's the report from Business Insider:

"Jenkins says a series of Uber-style disruptions in the industry could shrink headcount at traditional big banks by as much as 50%, while profitability in some areas could collapse by over 60% — huge predictions from a man who, until recently, ran one of Britain's biggest banks."

What I like about it is how relatable his Uber analogy is. The same benefits people felt in public transportation could be ushered in by Bitcoin start-ups in the financial industry. Much like the struggle of Uber, government attempts in regulation/control is the biggest concern, especially since these giant banks have been labeled by the US government as "too big to fail."

All in all, I am pleased with the massive awareness and intrigue these banking and tech giants are creating for Bitcoin. Also, this makes one part of my life easier. The next time someone asks me what Bitcoin is I can easily say, "oh, it's that thing on the news that those big banks and tech companies are ironically trying to copy." Still working on it but I'm sure you get the point.

If giant banks are too big to fail, Bitcoin is now too disruptive to ignore.


References:

1. Bitcoin's Blockchain Tech May Transform Banking: http://business.inquirer.net/204412/bitcoins-blockchain-tech-may-transform-banking
2. Tech and Banking Giants Ditch Bitcoin for Their Own Blockchain: http://www.wired.com/2015/12/big-tech-joins-big-banks-to-create-alternative-to-bitcoins-blockchain/
3. Goldman Sachs Research’s Emerging Theme Radar report, “What if I Told You… Themes, Dreams and Flying Machines,” http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/pages/macroeconomic-insights-folder/what-if-i-told-you/report.pdf
4. Ex-Barclays CEO: Banks are about to have an 'Uber moment' — and it's going to be painful http://uk.businessinsider.com/ex-barclays-boss-anthony-jenkins-on-fintech-and-bankings-uber-moment-2015-11

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

5 Books For Your Consideration Before the 2016 Elections

With all the online buzz regarding the 2016 presidential elections here in the Philippines, I've decided to shift the focus of my content on sharing sources of information instead of adding to the bickering and drama in their game of thrones. For this specific post, I chose books that I hope could provide the same interest in rethinking our concepts of governance and public policy. This selection of 5 in no particular order, I believe, show a great deal of where my writings in this blog are coming from and hopefully provide the same kind of enlightenment for you.

1. Economics In One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt


This book starts with questioning popular economic beliefs from that of an average person's perceptions even to the fundamentals of what most economic scholars have been taught and practice. It all begins with a narrative about a broken window and then delves into the world of government policies in taxation, trade, and other matters. Many of the proposals may seem off or controversial but it asks that we consider not just what is seen or apparent but also the unseen or unintended consequences of public policies. 

Full website version (and PDF / audiobook download) available here via FEE.org: http://fee.org/resources/economics-in-one-lesson-2/

2. How An Economy Grows And Why It Crashes by Peter Schiff


If you find the previous book daunting, this one (although not as comprehensive), is simplified in a comical narrative. So simple, in fact, that the story starts with the life of Able, Baker, and Charlie who lived on an island. Being that the author is known for predicting financial crisis of 2007-2008 (see Peter Schiff Was Right), the story evolves from comical analogies of how a market economy works to a satirical portrayal of how the recession came to be. This is usually a first among my recommendations as the illustrations and the story itself is entertaining and is easy to consume.


3. Choice in Currency by F. A. Hayek



This critique of the government's monopoly on money was written by Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek in 1976. His point, though, is not to promote one single specific type of currency but instead to take away government monopoly on money. If the government's fiat currency (ie. the US dollar) is truly valuable, then why not allow it to compete in a marketplace? Historically, gold and other precious metals have been known to be a practical and valuable currency. Also, as disruptive technologies like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies emerge, I believe that the concept of people's choice in currency is becoming easier to grasp. It's a good introduction in sparking interest on what the role of government or central banks should be with people's choice (or lack thereof) in money.

Full PDF, EPUB, and HTML available here: https://mises.org/library/choice-currency-0


3. The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality by Ludwig Von Mises



There are many critiques of "free market" capitalism aside from the Marxist's perspective. Ludwig Von Mises looks at different angles and critiques of capitalism as seen by many, especially by many intellectuals and scholars. He takes on not just political philosophies but also moral arguments against free and voluntary exchange. Most importantly, he shows what "free market capitalism" is and what it is not. He provides arguments and evidence that you may find interesting. It is also noteworthy that I used to have many criticisms of capitalism too but this book helped me understand that  most of what I actually objected to are the effects of a centrally-planned market economy and not the capitalism Mises advocated. It's a very interesting read that I highly recommend.

Full PDF and Epub Available here: https://mises.org/library/anti-capitalistic-mentality

4. Defending the Undefendable by Dr. Walter Block


Yet another controversial piece, Dr. Walter Block takes on "victimless crimes" or acts that don't necessarily interfere with the liberties or properties of others (many attribute this to the Non-Aggression Principle). Many see these controversial acts or practices as moral pretext to place limits on people's civil liberties, especially when the acts are placed in contexts where there are, in fact, victim/s and coercion. Yes, this book will raise many eyebrows and you may not necessarily agree with all acts defended but there are many sound arguments that are worth reading to see a different perspective.

PDF, Epub, and audiobook available here: https://mises.org/library/defending-undefendable

5. A Foreign Policy of Freedom by Ron Paul


In Ron Paul's consistent attempt to uphold their founders' advise to trade with nations and avoid entangling alliances, this book contains his speeches in the US congress about important foreign policy decisions from 1976 to 2006. Often regarded as isolationist, his statements from the death of Mao Tse-Tung to dealing with Iran in 2006 show the wisdom of non-interventionist foreign policy. He has often warned that even intervention, whether monetary aid or actual deployment of troops, lead to what the CIA refers to as "blowback" or unintended consequences. Definitely worth the read especially as the tension among entangling alliances in the middle east (not just of the US) are resulting in more hatred and violence. 

PDF and Epub available here: https://mises.org/library/foreign-policy-freedom



Friday, November 27, 2015

5 Reasons Why The Miss World Canada Story Is More Significant Than We Think

China is the host for the 65th Miss World pageant. Anastasia Lin, Miss World Canada, was denied visa to enter Mainland China. Here are some reasons why I believe this story goes beyond her advocacy/disputes with the State of China:

1. Beauty pageants are put on a hot seat: why are Q&A portions in beauty pageants so short?

Photo source: AP
From the stereotyped answers of "world peace" and short paragraphs about other values, Anastasia Lin has managed to create probably the longest Q&A in beauty pageant history ever (through the press) -- and the stuff she's outspoken about actually seek to increase peace and values in the world. This shows that beauty is more than just what pageants dictate beauty should be and it's a shame that recognition of values, intellect, advocacy, etc. are very minimal.

2. “If they start to censor beauty pageants — how pathetic is that?”

There are those of us who believe that many we call human or civil rights are natural and not privileges granted by the State. From these natural rights, come freedom of speech and assembly thus granting freedom to practice (or not practice) a religion of your choice for as long as it is done in a civil manner that does not interfere with the liberties of others. The popular Marxist doctrine of religion being the "opium of the masses" have been interpreted many times by authoritarians as pretext to violent suppression of freedom of religion. In a country where the media is heavily regulated/censored and new media such as Facebook or Twitter are banned, Anastasia Lin makes a good point — to censor or control content of even a beauty pageant sounds ridiculous and might as well be an all time low.

3. Freedom of Religion and Her Allegations Against the State of China

Lin giving her testimony to the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China last July 2015 (Full video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LH8dEwLn0Js)
Her advocacy goes beyond promoting the freedom to peacefully practice her religion. In her testimony to the US congress, she claims, "tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been killed so their organs could be harvested and sold for transplants." Those are pretty wild allegations and may seem like something you'd only see in a sci-fi film. Although historically, there is worse precedent to this kind of allegations of how a State could use violence against its own people. Ron Paul once said "[freedom of speech] is not there so we can talk about the weather, it's so we can say controversial things." And this natural right is most especially important when used as civil and peaceful dissent against the State. The fact that the State of China is blatant about censorship and propaganda means there are things they do not want the outside world to see. The "economic prosperity" and freedoms you'd see in publications or if you visit as a tourist, in Macau for instance, is just the tip of the ice berg.

4. Miss World in 2002 and the story of Anima Lawal

Amina Lawal, senceted to be stoned to death in Nigeria amidst Miss World 2002 hosting of the country (photo source: The Guardian)
This is not the first controversy that this pageant has had. In 2002, the contest was held in Nigeria but many contestants boycotted the pageant because of a story of Anima Lawal who was sentenced to be stoned to death for bearing a child out of wedlock, something that Sharia Law considers as adultery and is punishable by death. She was freed from this sentence and the correlation of the boycotts and involvement of Miss World in Nigeria helped make the case known to the world. This, I believe, should pressure beauty pageants to be more than just a few hours of showcasing women dancing around in bikini shows. The reach of beauty pageants is very broad and could be a touchpoint where people increase their awareness about what's happening in the world. At the end of the day, isn't that what beauty is supposed to be? Ironically, one of the pageant's tagline is "Beauty with a purpose" and yet they've remained silent about Lin being barred to enter China.

5. Persona Non Grata in Mainland China

Lin in HK airport, denied entry to Mainland China (source: AP)
In China's statement on the issue they said, “China welcomes all lawful activities organized in China by international organizations or agencies, including the Miss World pageant. But China does not allow any persona non grata to come to China.”

The New York Times reports that celebrties such as Bon Jovi, Linkin Park and Oasis, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, etc. are also on this blacklist of being persona non grata, many of whom are just outspoken about the exiled Dalai Lama.

Again, it is a suppression of civil dissent. When you are considered to be a strong military power in the world and yet you are afraid of one woman's voice, when what she has to say may be more powerful than your bullets or missiles — then that, to me, is beauty.

Congratulations, Miss World Canada. With or without their crown, you're already a beauty queen.


References:
1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/27/world/asia/miss-world-contestant-barred-from-final-in-china-over-human-rights-advocacy.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

2. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/742986/outspoken-miss-world-canada-denied-entry-to-china
3. http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/africa/09/25/nigeria.stoning/
4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/23/newsid_3226000/3226740.stm

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remember Greco Belgica's Name On 2016

Many ask me who I'll be voting for this coming 2016 elections. This question usually refers to a presidential bet. My answer is none (yet). Although for senatorial bets, in 2013, I supported the views of Greco Belgica when he ran for senate (see my old post Senate Hopeful Greco Belgica Debates Mongsod On Flat Tax). You might not have heard of him because he doesn't have the same influence and machinery as the other candidates.

He is consistently running on the same platform and political views, many that resonate or come close to those I advocate. Here are some reasons why I would most likely support him in 2016:

  • He advocates that money and power should be with the people and not the government.
  • He has a real tax reform plan as he continues to support a 10% flat tax that I've discussed in my blog post link above.
  • He had been a strong opponent of PDAF or any discretionary budget before these things became mainstream controversy and to date continues to question and legally petition against the constitutionality of DAP.
  • He advocates that these discretionary funds be converted into tuition vouchers, promoting school choice for parents and students and adding market incentives and competition to the current monopolized public schooling system.
  • He supports a limited and decentralized form of government. He believes in free markets and free trade (key positions that my blog also support). 
There are aspects of his platform that I do not agree with such as his social conservative stance on prohibition in a time when such policies are already being slowly reformed all over the world.  I am also worried that this kind of social conservatism might influence his views on matters of other State-criminalized acts that infringe on no one's personal liberties (ie. victimless crimes; see my post on Defending the Undefendable by Walter Block).

If it matters to you (as much as CVs don't matter, I believe it could add to background and character vetting), he studied Marketing and Management in San Beda College and then majored in International Trade and Commerce (International Trade, Economics, Finance) in the University of California, Berkeley. 

Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Greco_Belgica
Like his Facebook Page

So far, he remains to be the closest candidate I will most likely vote for. How about you, have you decided on any? What factors do you take into consideration with your choices? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reflections and Appeal to Supporters of a Duterte Dictatorship

For Those With the"We Need an Iron Hand" Mentality

"This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector," said Plato. And it is true: throughout the course of history, public safety and national security have been the most used pretext to justify suspension of civil rights and the use of violence. 

For this reflection I would like to (i) request that we take a step back and reconsider popular notions about authoritarian governance, (ii) present philosophical and moral arguments against centralized power, and (iii) hope and pray that I am wrong on all accounts against a dictatorship if I am not able to change the minds of those who see it as the only means in creating a peaceful and prosperous society for the Filipino people.

Full interview: http://www.rappler.com/nation/politics/elections/2016/111096-leadership-duterte-style

It is, perhaps, because we are all sick and tired of the Philippine political system that we are willing to resort to someone who has no hesitation in admitting to murder or ignoring the Rule of Law to, ironically, uphold the Rule of Law. Supporters are consequentialist. The person they clamor for has no regret nor remorse because, to him, those he killed are the foulest and most evil and their deaths benefit society.

I do not question his motives or even his character (as much as his choice of words and cursing makes him a bad role model for children). I do not question his guilt. He himself admits with no hesitation to murders and use of violence. I do not discredit that he may have noble intentions for our country and its people -- what worries me is the means and lengths he's willing to take to achieve them. 

Separation of Powers and Extrajudicial Punishments/Killings

He proudly tells the public that he had made smokers eat cigarette butts (most of Davao city is mandated by his administration to be smoke-free) and made some eat falsified public documents. This fearlessness to ignore due process has been venerated by many on social media. They say this is what it takes. They call it political will to get things done. 

We always condemn, ever so passionately, extrajudicial killings and yet we fail to see that Duterte's approach in curbing crime through murder or his discretionary punishment is no different. It is against the most basic human right to due process.

And yet there seems to be no action from the Department of Justice (or whatever bureaucracy has mandate for this) to investigate Duterte's extrajudicial decisions (see, even he is entitled to a fair trial where he can defend himself).

"Pag ako ang nasalubong mo, sagasaan talaga kita. Pag namatay ka diyan, pasensiya ka na. I told you to obey the law. So if you go against the traffic at nagdala ako ng tractor, at nasagasaan kita, putang ina ka, pasensiya ka. Leche ka. Sinabi ko sa iyo, sundin mo ang batas," Duterte says in the interview. 

In a dictatorship or authoritarian government, one person or group of persons legislate, execute, and judge with or without the consent of the people. The reason these powers were separated to begin with is to ensure checks and balance between the three so that no one branch has abuse of power (ie. someone from the executive branch using a tractor to kill someone who has a traffic violation).

This use of force and intimidation is criminal, especially from a public servant, and no one should have such power to bully citizens. All citizens must always be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

My Two Cents

For some cliché and undying last attempts to persuade you, here are some classic sayings: violence begets violence, absolute power corrupts absolutely, the government should always only be our servant and never our master,  the government governs only at the consent of the governed. 

All I ask is that we don't assume benevolence for someone we want to have a throne with such centralized power. The solution is in decentralization. Ironically, Duterte claims he advocates federalism. He claims to want a dictatorship if ever he becomes president (although he has been so fickle about his candidacy) and yet advocates decentralization of power from Imperial Manila and the national government. 

Let's read up on history of authoritarian regimes. We will realize that it is wrong to assume that just because we create such an authoritarian seat of power, a Singapore-esque Lee Kwan Yew of the Philippines will emerge. For every one authoritarian like him, there are dozens who have abused such a seat of power, with or without the consent of the people. 

Lastly, as I have mentioned above, if I was not able to make you reconsider freedom over dictatorship for  even a tiny bit and one day we do end up with a dictator or authoritarian government, I do hope and pray that I am wrong and that it does leads to peace and prosperity and not violence and suppression of civil rights and liberties. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Reflections on the SC Decision to Grant Sen. Enrile Bail and His Freedom to Play Bejeweled in Senate

The Purpose of This Reflection, What It Is and What It's Not

It's been almost 2 months since the 8 to 4 majority decision to grant Enrile to post 1 million pesos bail. I was compelled to revisit and share my two cents on the matter as I read a report that he's back on the Senate floor playing his favorite mobile game Bejeweled during the hearing last Wednesday.



Please understand that I do not question his innocence and grant that he should be presumed such until proven otherwise. Second, I have nothing against his preference for mobile games -- it is merely an incidental anecdote that compelled me to pursue this reflection. Finally, given that I am not a legal expert and I am yet to familiarize myself with the procedural rules of court (ie. of the Sandiganbayan, etc.), for all intents and purposes, this reflection humbly seeks the following objectives:
  • To familiarize myself and be able to quickly explain important points in Sen. Enrile's petition for bail
  • To join in and promote the dissenting opinion of Justice Leonen regarding the SC ruling to grant this petition and make my focus NOT limited to his arguments against the petition and focus more on his narrative of how this SC ruling came to be. And...
  • To provide my own perspective or opinion on matters or interpretations that I find to be very different from how Justice Leonen positioned his dissenting opinion.
 Both (1) The Supreme Court ruling (source: http://bit.ly/1HXb82N) and (2) Justice Leonen's dissenting opinion on the matter (source: http://bit.ly/1Ojfl9V) are available online for your reference.

An Era About To Usher In?

Allow me to express my personal difference on the matter before we continue to study the ruling and the dissenting opinion.

Perhaps it is due to formality, but I feel strongly that J. Leonen's fear that this Supreme Court ruling will set precedent for and usher in an era of  "special accommodation" or "selective justice" are misnomers. Yes, it puts pressure on all lower courts when faced with a similar petition for bail that was granted for Enrile by our highest court but this formal citation or precedent is not necessary to have special accommodation and the discretion of selective justice. These are already prevalent. In fact, his narrative of how this ruling came to be showcases some fraudulent behavior and sketchy decision-making / procedures.

Let us keep in mind that no high courts found difficulty in allowing Erap Estrada, already found guilty of this exact same case Enrile is accused of, to be mayor of Manila as he was given executive pardon. There is no surprise here. Many dangerous precedents may already be cited, perhaps most informally, regarding special accommodation or selective justice in our courts. I find it pretentious to say this kind of era is just about to usher in.

Nonetheless, it is very courageous and intellectual. At the same time, it's not hard to speculate, not just with the 4 who dissented but with all justices if any intent comes from their oath and moral obligation to the public or made due to necessary political favors and alliance.

It's something to really reflect on as the elections come because the successor of PNoy will have the power to appoint 11 justices. It's not about to usher in due to this grant of bail, we've been living in an era of special accommodation and selective justice.

Nonetheless, I am compelled to study and share what I learn here as this case shows the power and importance of dissent. The unsatisfactory justice system around us is not an excuse to just accept that justice has a price and a privilege for those who can afford it. It is even more reason for us to support specific instances such as J. Leonen's dissenting opinion as these kinds do not warn of dangerous precedents but rather expose the status quo.

The Arguments For and Against His Petition for Bail

Our laws allow for courts to grant bail for those accused UNLESS (i) the offense may be punishable by life imprisonment and (ii) there is strong evidence of guilt. Enrile argues that the prosecution has failed to provide evidence for both points.

  • J. Leonen asserts that Sandiganbayan's "muteness" is due to Enrile's repeated challenge for the prosecution to provide evidence where Enrile must [first] formally apply for, the formal proceedings (“bail hearing”) before the prosecution may be called upon to discharge its duty of proving evidence of guilt is strong." The denial of bail, therefore, was not in grave abuse of discretion as the motion for bail was premature. Also, the delay on the end of the prosecution, he alleged, comes from Enrile's repeated challenge to be shown any single piece of paper that links him to even a single peso received from the alleged kick-backs.  
He also cites social standing and even cited past charges of rebellion and murder where he was granted bail based on not being a flight risk. He asserts this further by citing his old age and ill-health. And being that he cited that the purpose of bail was merely for the accused to appear at trial whenever required, he argued that there should be judicial discretion in assessing humanitarian reasons for granting him bail.

  • Leonen argued the Sandiganbayan never failed to accommodate Enrile's medical concerns, as guided by the law, nor were these health concerns part of his motion for bail and, allegedly, even the petition to the SC itself as the drafts the Justices previously deliberated was revised to add these health or "humanitarian" reasons when it was already time for the Justices to vote.
  • What kind of fraudulent and immoral behavior is that, especially coming from what is supposed to be the highest court of our land to randomly change final drafts at the last second when time to vote? Again, not being familiar with the procedural rules, but will there be no investigation nor anyone held accountable for something I believe to be such a low form of cheating/trickery to advance special interest?
  • And yes, I insinuated selective justice to be common practice already but how many would you think  of those charged of multiple murder, multiple incestuous rape, serious illegal detention, and other crimes punishable by life imprisonment will now be empowered to cite this Supreme Court ruling in their petitions for bail? 
The majority decision found the arguments that supported Enrile's claims and citations above as sufficient to grant him bail. The decision was 8 to 4, with 1 justice on official leave, 1 on sick leave, 1 who chose to not take part, and over 100 million Filipinos who will fear injustice as justice is an expensive privilege available only to those with money and power.

I hope it is true, that saying of masamang damo, matagal mamatay because as the trial continues, with his old age and health, he might not live to face his verdict and spend the remainder of his life enjoying his favorite mobile games and not spend it in jail like those who don't have his influence for this kind of special accommodation.