Tuesday, March 24, 2009

‘4 Divas’ embark on U.S. and Canada Tour

Photos by Jay Fermin & Albert Vargas (FMG)
Article by Jay Fermin

It is early in the year but everybody can feel that the biggest show for 2009 is indeed here. The four Divas Kuh Ledesma, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Pops Fernandez, and Regine Velasquez arrived in Los Angeles last March 17th for the biggest and most ambitious concert tour of all entitled “Divas 4 Divas”.

Meeting members of the media the next day in Hollywood, Kuh Ledesma confided that it took almost 4 years of planning the project. “I’ve performed with each one of them before, here and in US concert tours, but this is the first time that we are doing a concert together”, she exclaimed.

Following a very successful December 6 show at the Araneta Coliseum in Manila, the 4 Divas were all praises for each other, and especially for Kuh who is the creative brains behind ‘Divas’. Pops described Kuh as ‘persistent’ in making the dream project of having all four of them on one stage become reality.

However, this did not come without challenges. Concert Director Rowell Santiago resigned only 9 days before the December 6 concert because, as insiders reported, he was having problems getting the four divas to rehearse together due to their very tight schedule.

And if schedule was not the main thing, it would indeed be interesting to see the collaboration of the four divas under the same spotlight, playing their best musical style and bringing on their larger than life stage presence without out-staging each other. Kuh emphasized however that this ‘is not a competition.’

‘Divas 4 Divas’ opened in Houston, New Jersey, and Vancouver, and is scheduled for 16 venues in the U.S. and Canada. However, all eyes are looking forward to the concert at Pasadena Civic Center near Los Angeles on March 28, 2009. Produced by Starmedia’s Anna Co-Puno, it is expected that the 3,029 seats will be sold out!

The show continues on to San Jose, Washington D.C., Chicago, Florida, Dallas, and other cities.

With fabulous fashion of 12 costume changes, impressive production numbers, musical direction by famed composer-arranger Louie Ocampo, and the legendary voice of Pop Diva Kuh Ledesma, Divine Diva Zsa Zsa Padilla, Concert Queen Pops Fernandez, and Asia’s Songbird Regine Velasquez, ‘Divas 4 Divas’ promises a totally different concert experience.

Be there when music history happens in your city.






APRIL 3 SAN JOSE CALIFORNIA San Jose State University Event Center



MAY 15 To Be Announced




MAY 23 MAY 24 To Be Announced

MAY 29 DALLAS TEXAS TBAAL (The Black Academy of Arts & Letters) Dallas Convention Center Theatre Complex


MAY 31 To Be Announced

visit Divas 4 Divas website

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bankers Have Gone Bonkers

PerryScope By Perry Diaz

In the past several months, amidst the financial meltdown, a lot of people have wondered, “are bankers going bonkers?” With the passage of the $700-billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and President Obama’s signing of the $787-billion economic stimulus package, the bankers have gone bonkers, not for lack of money but for having too much money in their pockets. Indeed, the government bailout has created a “windfall” for the banks that they can use any which way they want.

Basically, TARP is a program of the US government to purchase “toxic” assets from financial institutions that were acquired through unregulated subprime mortgage programs. Passed during the waning days of the Bush presidency, TARP was intended to prevent the country’s financial sector from collapsing. However, in its ardent desire to keep the financial institutions from going belly up, Congress haphazardly enacted TARP with no specific conditions on how the recipients should use the bailout money. In essence, it’s a giveaway money with no strings attached. They were given carte blanche on how to use the money.

Of the $700 billion in TARP funds, $185 billion went to four of the largest banks: AIG ($70 billion), Bank of America ($45 billion), Citigroup ($45 billion), and Wells Fargo ($25 billion). The rest of the TARP funds were distributed to smaller banks. While the government had acted in good faith, a lot of the banks -- particularly the big ones -- did not respond in a manner that would be consistent with the legislative intent of TARP.

At a congressional hearing last February, lawmakers grilled Wall Street CEOs over their use of TARP funds. The CEOs’ responses were identical. When asked what they’re going to do with the bailout money, they responded that “the shareholders -- not increased lending -- are their utmost concern.” As a matter of fact, many of the banks have tightened their lending standards after TARP was signed to law.

According to a recent report by The Wall Street Journal, it was revealed that 10 of the 13 largest TARP beneficiaries’ lending fell even after they received $148 billion in TARP funds. The report said that these banks’ outstanding loan balances declined by a total of about $46 billion, or 1.4%, between the third and fourth quarters of 2008. The question is: where did their TARP money go?

It is interesting to note that some banks were using TARP funds to buy out banks who were in trouble and who didn’t qualify to receive TARP bailout. There were also some banks who applied for TARP bailout but did not have any use for it. They claimed that they applied out of “civic duty.” If that is the case, shouldn’t it be their “civic duty” to return them to the government?

But some banks have used the bailout money not for “civic duty” but for greed. Take the case of AIG. After reporting a $61.7 billion quarterly loss, they asked the government for an additional $30 billion on top of the $40 billion already received. When AIG got the extra bailout money, they gave bonuses to some of their employees!

A few days ago, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut revealed that documents he subpoenaed from AIG showed that it paid a total of $218 million in bonuses, $53 million more than what it previously disclosed. He said that “bonuses were showered like confetti” on AIG employees.

It is sad that while Congress took the unusual step to bail out the distressed financial institutions, the banks’ modus operandi remains “business as usual”; that is, to maximize profits for their investors and stockholders. In other words, they continue to be driven by “greed” even in these uncertain times.

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf said it bluntly: “We make money when we make loans. That’s our business. Not every borrower that needs money can get it today. We have to be prudent.” But Stumpf wasn’t prudent enough to underwrite “toxic loans” when things were looking good and business was profitable. And now that things are looking bad, he suddenly has the temerity to say, “We have to be prudent.” It is interesting to note that Wells Fargo received the lion’s share of TARP’s $27.6 billion bailout for California’s 67 banks -- a whopping $25 billion!

At the end of the day, the taxpayers are being screwed by the banks. Indeed, the banks are frying the homeowners with their own fat. And at the rate that homes are being foreclosed, it is estimated that one million children will be homeless by the end of 2009. And come to think about it, it will be these one million children who will be paying back the bailout money that they never benefited from. Meanwhile, the banks would be raking in profits from the $700 billion “windfall” they received -- with no repayment plan required -- from their parents.

With the economy in the brink of deflation, the magnitude of which has never been seen before, the bankers couldn’t fathom the depth in which they brought America -- and by extension, the world -- to its worse economic recession since the Great Depression.

There is only one rational explanation to the bankers’ irrational behavior: they have gone bonkers. It’s time for President Obama to rein in the bankers and bring sanity to the banking industry. It’s also time for President Obama to redirect government resources from bailing out banks to helping homeowners avoid foreclosures.

Yesterday, March 23, President Obama did just that. In his boldest move in his 60-day old presidency, he unveiled a new three-part plan -- the Public-Private Investment Program -- that could buy up to $2 trillion in “toxic” real estate assets from troubled banks. As part of this plan, up to $100 billion from TARP funds would be used as equity. But a big part of this plan is for the US Treasury -- through a joint venture with the Federal Reserve -- to pump approximately $1 trillion more into purchasing “toxic” assets from banks. This program is called the Term Asset-Backed Securities Lending Facility (TALF).

Finally, Obama is back on track to doing exactly what he promised the voters last year; that is, to create a foreclosure prevention fund for homeowners.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quo Vadis, Republican Party?

PerryScope By Perry Diaz

With the Republicans routed last November and the Democrats now controlling the Executive and Legislative branches of government, there is a lot of talk about the future of the Republican Party. The Republicans have been looking for a leader to pick up the pieces and restore the Grand Old Party to its glorious past.

Leaderless and rudderless, where is the party of Abraham Lincoln going? Quo vadis, Republican Party?

In an apparent attempt to draw support from African-Americans, Latinos, and other minorities -- who delivered a solid block of votes for President Barack Obama last November -- the Republican National Committee (RNC) elected Michael Steele as its chairman. Steele, who is of African-American descent, immediately went to work in trying to sell the Republican Party and its “conservative philosophy” to minorities. Projecting the GOP’s image as a “big tent” that welcomes all Americans, Steele’s message is not resonating well with minorities. Instead, he’s making the right wingers of his party fuming mad.

With his political head getting squeezed -- like in a vise -- between the right wingers and the mainstream moderates and conservatives of his party, Steele is frantically trying to please both sides. But it is like walking a tightrope with no safety net to fall into if he slips. And he knows that all it takes is one slip to end his political life.

Recently, there have been speculations that Steele was on his way out. During a GQ magazine interview, Steele was asked, “Does a woman have a right to choose abortion?” He replied, “Yeah, absolutely!” If there was one issue that the Republican Party would fight to death, it would be in defense of its anti-abortion stand. And for Steele to utter “right to choose” makes him an anathema to the powerful “right to life” forces within the Republican Party.

There were talks that Katon Dawson -- the former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and the person whom Steele defeated for the RNC chairmanship -- has been quietly soliciting support for a “no confidence” vote on Steele. However, if Dawson were to succeed in ousting Steele, it would be unlikely that he will get the coveted chairmanship for himself. Interestingly, one of the reasons why he lost to Steele was his 12-year membership in a racist “whites-only” country club -- the last bastion of Southern segregation. Although he claimed that he had resigned his membership, it would be hard to dispel the perception that he has racist tendencies.

The question is: Are the Republicans searching for the “great white hope” to unify their seemingly divided party? Or would they stick it out with Steele and make the most out of him? If the Republican leaders were to use their heads instead of their ideological beliefs, they could prevent their party from disintegrating and start the task of rebuilding it. Otherwise, the 2010 mid-term elections could further solidify the Democrats’ grip on Congress, particularly in the Senate where the Democrats are just a few votes shy of reaching a filibuster-free supermajority.

The next two years would be crucial to the Republicans’ goal of defeating Obama in 2012. There is a guardedly optimistic mood among Republicans that Obama could become -- like Jimmy Carter -- another one-term Democratic president. However, it would take another Republican with a Reaganesque charisma to match up with Obama whose charismatic personality has enthralled millions of Americans. Today, that Republican “presidential timber” has yet to emerge. But who knows? Politics is the ultimate game of the “possible.” Didn’t Obama prove that last November?

Obama also proved that he is a skillful master of the “art of war.” When he saw a power vacuum within the Republican Party, he adroitly moved to fill that vacuum with the person of his choice. At a White House meeting with Republican leaders last January 23, he told them: “You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” In one short sentence, Obama catapulted Limbaugh to the top of the Republican Party, filling the void created by the departure of George W. Bush and John McCain. As expected, many Republicans fell for Obama’s cleverly executed bait. They turned to Limbaugh to lead them in their fight against Obama. And with Limbaugh emerging as the Republicans’ undisputed de facto leader, he could now use his radio talk show as his “official” Republican pulpit to attack Obama and the Democrats.

But wait a minute. Is Limbaugh going to be effective in leading the Republican Party? Some Republicans are worried that Limbaugh might just be the opposite -- he could be the “kryptonite” that could weaken the party just like what it did to Superman.

Limbaugh’s famous line, “I hope Obama fails,” has been widely circulated and criticized by Democrats and some Republicans as well. If Obama fails, then America will fail too -- a notion that scares the hell out of millions of Americans who are tiptoeing on the edge of losing their jobs, homes, and life savings.

Indeed, Limbaugh’s blistering assaults against Obama have unleashed a backlash against him. Bloggers had a heyday lambasting “El Rushbo” as Limbaugh calls himself. They labeled him “Tokyo Rose.” One blogger said, “Rush Limbaugh is the Tokyo Rose of our time. At least, Rose did her subversive, anti-American broadcasts from Tokyo, not from the USA.” Another cyberspace habitué blogged, “Tokyo Rose was as unconcerned about giving accurate, undistorted views of the world situation back in her day like the failed top 40's radio disk jockey turned ideological know-it-all Limbaugh is today.”

In a recent survey conducted by McClatchy-Ipsos, it showed President Obama to be twice as popular as Limbaugh -- 65% to 30%. The survey also showed that a solid 33% of all Americans have "very unfavorable" opinions of Limbaugh.

A few days ago, former Vice President Dick Cheney, during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” was asked, “Is Rush Limbaugh kryptonite?” Cheney replied, “No, Rush is a good friend. I love him.”

It is interesting to note that a few days before the November 4, 2008 elections, Cheney came out to endorse John McCain. With Cheney’s 15% favorability rating at that time, his endorsement was viewed by many as a “kiss of death.” Does Cheney’s endorsement of Limbaugh have the same morbid effect?

The Republican Party has a monumental task in changing its image from a destructive obfuscator to a constructive opposition. Nothing is gained by bringing down the president of the United States of America. He is the people’s president. If he fails, so will the people. All Americans are all in this together.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mercy or No Mercy ?

PerryScope By Perry Diaz

In an act of defiance, Ombudsman Maria Merceditas “Mercy” Gutierrez arrogantly declared, “I have my mandate, I have my term and I believe this is my duty, my service to our countrymen.” With “my” repeated four times in one sentence, one would wonder if she really cared much about what her “mandate” was all about.

What prompted her outburst was the filing of an impeachment complaint against her. Last March 2, 2009, 31 civil society leaders led by former Senate President Jovito Salonga filed a complaint before the House of Representatives. The group -- called “Kilosbayan” (people action) -- said that the Office of the Ombudsman “has become synonymous to inaction, mishandling or downright dismissal of clear cases of graft and corruption, some leading to the President herself or her closest associates.”

What makes the impeachment complaint extraordinarily unusual is that Gutierrez, as the Ombudsman, is the “Tanodbayan” -- literally, the “Protector of the People” -- who is duty-bound to prosecute corrupt public officials who use their positions to enrich themselves. That’s her mandate. If she fails to perform her mandate, then she will be derelict of her constitutional duty to “protect the people.”

Appointed to a seven-year term of office by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on December 1, 2005, the constitution stipulates that the Ombudsman can only be removed from office “on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.”

It is interesting to note that Gutierrez is believed to be a close friend of the First Gentleman, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo. They were classmates at the Ateneo College of Law. Their “friendship” has fueled speculations that Gutierrez is a protégé of the First Gentleman. Prior to her appointment as Ombudsman, Gutierrez was appointed by President Arroyo as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and Chairman of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission -- the Anti-Corruption Czar -- in December 2004. Her two concurrent appointments made her one of the most powerful officials in the Arroyo government.

Coincidentally, it was during Gutierrez’s “czarist” days that corruption dramatically increased. In 2004, before she became the Anti-Corruption Czar, the Philippines was the fifth most corrupt country in Asia. In 2005, during her first “czarist” year, the Philippines became the third most corrupt country in Asia. In 2006, during her first year as Ombudsman, the country moved up to second place. In 2007 and 2008, the country became the most corrupt country in Asia. And more than likely, the country would retain that ignominious distinction in 2009.

The basis for the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez involved at least five cases of corruption in high places which Gutierrez allegedly failed to investigate or prosecute. They are the P1.3-billion Mega Pacific poll computerization case against former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, the $2-million extortion case against former Justice Secretary Hernando Perez, the P728-million fertilizer scam scandal involving Joc-joc Bolante, the P6.9-million case involving the “euro generals,” and the rigged bidding of multi-billion World Bank-funded projects in which the First Gentleman was implicated.

When Gutierrez took office, she declared, “I will be merciless to the grafters… no one can bribe me!” But within eight months, “Mercy,” as she is affectionately called by her friends and associates, was accused of being too merciful to influential people suspected of graft and corruption. On July 31, 2006, the Malaya editorial said: “The Office of the Ombudsman has become a joke after Merceditas Gutierrez, a classmate of Mike Arroyo, succeeded Simeon Marcelo. How many big-time corruption cases have been sleeping the sleep of the dead on the desk of Gutierrez?”

The Malaya editorial enumerated several “sleeping” cases, to wit:

(1) The case against former Justice Secretary Hernani Perez who allegedly received millions as payoff for awarding a sovereign guarantee to an Argentine company. It was reported that the Swiss government provided information to the Philippine government on deposits made to bank accounts of Perez and his wife.

(2) The case against Comelec officials over the election modernization scam was completed by Gutierrez’ office. However, the findings of investigators were overturned by Gutierrez, leaving only Resurreccion Borra among the commissioners to face the music.

(3) On the fertilizer fund scam, Gutierrez failed to take action despite the massive volume of testimonial and documentary evidence transmitted by the Senate committee on agriculture and the Blue Ribbon committee.

Indeed, the impeachment complaint filed by Kilosbayan mirrors the three “sleeping” cases exposed by Malaya two and a half years ago and the two recent scandals involving the “euro generals” and the rigged bidding of World Bank-funded projects.

Although President Arroyo had publicly distanced herself from the impeachment complaint against her three-time appointee and friend of her husband, it remains to be seen if she would covertly exert pressure on her House allies to reject the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez.

However, as a lame duck president, House members might be emboldened to resist pressure from Arroyo to quash the impeachment complaint. With the likelihood that Arroyo would not be able to stay in power beyond 2010, her House allies might soon be looking around for a new “master” to lead them to battle in the 2010 elections.

To impeach Gutierrez, a one-third vote -- 80 -- of the 238 members of the House is needed. The question is: would there be enough House members who will show no mercy for Gutierrez and thus impeach her? In the event that Gutierrez was impeached by the House, she would then be brought to trial before the Senate. Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote -- 16 -- of the 23 senators. In my opinion, the Senate will show no mercy for Gutierrez -- they will convict her. Therefore, Gutierrez’s fate hinges on how the House members will vote on impeachment: mercy or no mercy?


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

GOP’s ‘Colorful’ Poster Boys

PerryScope By Perry Diaz

In an attempt to add “color” and re-energize its ranks, the Republican National Committee (RNC) elected Michael Steele, an African-American, as the new Chairman. They also asked Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who is of Asian Indian descent, to respond to President Barack Obama’s address to a special joint session of Congress last February 24, 2009.

Obviously, the motivation behind the election of Steele as the first African-American RNC Chairman was to counter the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president. But Obama was elected by 52.92% of approximately 131 million voters while Steele was elected by 168 RNC members.

As soon as Steele was installed, he immediately laid out plans to reach out to African-American and Latino voters in all 50 states. He vowed that his outreach program will be “permanent” and not just election-time activity as what had happened in past campaigns.

In a recent interview with a national news magazine, Steele said that he wanted to “better explain the GOP's conservative philosophy of optimism, opportunity, and economic growth to minority voters and make folks understand that ‘we'll walk that walk with them’.” However, he conceded that “it may be tough sledding, but we're going to get on the sled.”

Well, it seems to me that he isn’t bold enough to do the task and doesn’t have the “optimism” that he claims is part of the “conservative philosophy” that he’s trying hard to sell to minority voters. But no matter how Steele retools “conservative philosophy,” minority voters aren’t going to buy that because they perceive it as pro-business. And how could he peddle Republicanism to Latinos who perceive Republicans as anti-immigrant; therefore, anti-Latino.

The battle for Obama’s stimulus package last month proved once again that the Republican Party is out of touch with the American people’s problems -- particularly the poor and the middle-class. Obama’s populist stimulus package, among other things, centered on creating jobs and providing tax cuts for those who needed it most, which is 95% of those earning less than $250,000 a year.

The Republicans in Congress insisted that Obama’s stimulus package should provide tax breaks to businesses and the wealthy, a philosophy -- known as Trickle Down Economics or Reaganomics -- launched by Ronald Reagan in 1980. But Reaganomics hardly trickled down to the people. Instead, it became the tool of big businesses and their greedy CEOs who plundered the economy for corporate and personal gain. The result was the financial meltdown that occurred in the waning days of George W. Bush’s administration.

After losing the White House to Obama, the Republicans retrenched in Congress hoping that they could hold some bargaining chips. Obama tried to work with the Republicans in a bipartisan fashion. But even after getting some concessions, the House Republicans voted unanimously against Obama’s stimulus package. But the number of Republicans in the House had dwindled so much that it made them completely irrelevant and inutile.

The Republicans’ last redoubt was in the U.S. Senate where the Democrats hold a majority but short of the 60 required to stop a filibuster. But the Republicans’ only chance of defeating the stimulus package was shattered when three Republican senators broke ranks with their party and voted with the Democrats; thus, preventing a filibuster and ensuring its passage.

After signing the bill into law, Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to explain how the stimulus package would work. As soon as his speech was over, Jindal went on national television to deliver the Republican Party’s blistering attack against Obama’s stimulus package.

Jindal called the congressional Democrats “irresponsible” for passing the $787 billion stimulus package which the Republicans had criticized as excessive and wasteful. He claimed that giving tax breaks and assistance to businesses -- an allusion to Reaganomics -- would work best for the nation’s economic recovery. In my opinion, that’s like selling a dead horse to pull the wagon. He should know that Reaganomics died when George W. Bush’s presidency came to an end.

But the question that popped in my mind was: Why did the Republicans select Jindal as their spokesman in attacking Obama’s stimulus package? Why not the Senate or House Republican leader? Or was it because Jindal was presumed to be “teflonized” from attacks by minorities -- particularly African-Americans -- who might be alienated if the Republican spokesman was white? With Jindal as the spokesman -- or “hatchet man” -- the Republican congressional leaders could conveniently wash their hands in the event of a backlash from the community.

But whether it projected the 37 year-old Jindal as a bad guy or not, his “15 minutes” on TV prime time gave him priceless exposure that he could use to promote his ambition to run for president in 2012. But will he have the gumption to wage war against a sitting president? Well, he’s probably praying day and night that Obama will fail and thus become another one-term president like Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.

And kicking by his side for the next four years is Steele whom he could unleash as his “attack dog” just like what Sarah Palin did for John McCain during the 2008 elections. With Steele doing the attacks, nobody could accuse him of racism since he and Obama are both African-Americans.

With Jindal and Steele as poster boys for the “new” Republican Party, it would certainly add color to an otherwise anemic party that had bled to near-death after the Obama electoral landslide last November. And where would Sarah Palin fit in the picture? She would probably be making her next move pretty soon.