Month: August 2017

Rising to the top despite obstacles

Rising to the top despite obstacles

The world can seem an awful place at times, the young die early, the good suffer while the bad it seems lives a happy and contented life, that those who try to make it from the bottom seem to always end up shafted by the system and the beasts that it creates. This, however, is not true (though the obstacles are real and plenty) and history both past and present is replete with examples of persons who have risen from nothing to become maybe not billionaires, but solidly middle class.

Examples of rags to riches stories are plenty in the world generally and Jamaica specifically. The prime historical example for me as it relates to overcoming life’s obstacles is George Stiebel the patriarch of Devon House. Now it is true that Mr Stiebel was not born into poverty (the fact that he could afford to go to high school in those days speaks to that), however he was born to a Black mother and a Jewish father which in those days (and now) invited much harassment of both the racial and anti-Semitic type. Now here we have a man who is automatically disadvantaged because of his skin colour and fathers religion, a man who faced social discrimination, a man who dropped out of high school and became a carpenter to make ends meet, and yet through graft and grit, he became Jamaica’s first black millionaire. This is a man whom after all the nastiness and hardships that society laid upon him was a massive philanthropist and a man with a deep understanding of the socio-economic needs of the masses during his time, and while he wasn’t perfect (who among us really is) he showed that in this country, sometimes if you work hard enough your efforts are rewarded.

Another prominent and easy example is that of Michael Lee-Chin and his rise to riches from humble beginnings. Here we have a man who was born in pre-independence Jamaica, again of bi-racial origins and again facing the racism and classism that came with that along with the fact that he did not come from a wealthy background. Again we have a person who didn’t have much growing up, made his way through school, took on a lowly landscaping position as his first job and eventually paid his way through school in Canada. After his studies and after much shrewd investing he has become the poster child of Jamaican success what with his Portland Holdings, and again even though not perfect has given much to his nation of birth and is at least trying (in the way he knows best) to improve a lot of the nation as a whole. Again here we have a shining example of a person overcoming life’s obstacles to become a success.

michael_Lee_Chin

An example further afield of a person who rose from nothing to become a success story of the ages is that of Benito Juarez. Now Juarez unlike the above mentioned was dirt poor at birth and lost both parents as an infant, he was of full Indian (American Indian) descent and again like those mentioned above faced the ridicule and racism that came with it (on a larger scale too because he didn’t have the luxury of being a mestizo). He went through a long period of his life uneducated and working hard, but again through graft, hard work and his skills, he not only became the president of Mexico, he became what is probably the greatest Mexican full-stop (and this in a land that is home to many legendary figures).

Yes, the world is harsh, and yes there are many obstacles put up (quite a few deliberately set up too), but persons can and do regularly rise to the top in spite of them. Looking at Jamaica again, the majority of us who are of African, Indian or Chinese descent and are either middle-class or rich owe our success (and that of our children) to our fore-parents who rose above those very same obstacles of what was then blatant racism, classism and in most cases abject poverty, to either slog their way up the totem pole, or to ‘ban dem belly’ as we would say in order to send their children to school (while drilling into them that they had to work ten times harder for success) and ensure that they rose from the mire that they were born in. We face many obstacles in our lives, many are high mountain peaks and seem insurmountable, but (and I’m sorry for sounding corny here) even Everest was conquered, all of us face our Everest, whether we climb it or not is in many ways our choice.

Beating a dead horse (Why the crime bill won’t solve much)

Beating a dead horse (Why the crime bill won’t solve much)

Finally, after over a year of dilly-dallying the government has passed a bill aimed at ridding the nation of violence (mainly caused by gangs and inflicted by the gun). The bill sailed through the lower house with bi-partisan approval, and though the debate in the Senate went on for quite some time, it got passed again with bi-partisan support. The law as it is now and has been passed allows for the security forces (through the PM and his security council) can declare anywhere a zone of special operations. Some people look at the new law as a breath of fresh air which will see us being both ‘tough on crime while fixing the causes’, but though this bill may make some who reside in the affluent neighborhoods feel like something positive is being done the reality is that no lasting positive changes will be made by this bill while it opens the way for Jamaica to become a police state.

This bill, much like its failed predecessor the Suppression of Crime Act, will come to nothing more than poor people being taken advantage of while failing to actually address the root causes of crime. It is very backwards and in many ways puts the cart before the horse. The prime example being the ‘clear, hold, build’ model that they have been touting. Now it sounds good and that it is a straightforward fix, but ask yourself, where are these members of the social service who are to ‘build’ coming from? When last did you see an advert in the papers recruiting for this key job, this job that is at the heart of this plan? Are we to send in the already stretched CDA or some other underfunded, undermanned and overstretched agency?

While much talk and hot air has been wasted on the areas of crime, no one during this entire debate has looked at what is possibly the biggest thing stopping us from fighting crime, uptown and monied Jamaicans. It is no secret that certain persons who live in the rarefied areas like Cherry Gardens are the ones who finance the guns coming into the wharf to arm men in the ghetto who can’t even buy chicken back. We have seen where this model will lead us, we saw it in the 70’s=90’s, and for those of us too young to remember what that looked like, look no further than Brazil and Rio where even after a decade of ‘clear, hold and build’ for the Olympics and World Cup the favelas are still just as violent as before, only with more police brutality.

The law as written and passed is actually mind-boggling in parts, it strips us of our freedoms and liberties while putting far too much power in the hands of a notoriously corrupt constabulary, the army (which isn’t viewed in a much better light) and a small group of overreaching politicians. It gives the security forces such arbitrary powers under very vague circumstances that are open to abuse, take for example Objects of Act 3 (d): Empowers members of the Joint Force to search a person, vehicle or place without a warrant, within a zone, if they reasonably suspect that an offence has been, is being or is about to be committed.  That bit of legislation is so wide and expansive that it, in reality, will enable the Force to search anywhere in that zone because they have a hunch, no actual proof. A piece of legislation that opens the public up to arbitrary and unjustified stops and searches because a crime is being committed nearby, it is the lazy man’s police work.

Then we get into the fact that it opens the nation up to the rule of an executive PM as opposed to one who acts with the consent of and after consultation and agreement with his Cabinet. This can be seen in Zone of special operation, Declaration of Zone 4(1) The Prime Minister in Council, may, by order, declare any geographically defined area within a single continuous boundary in Jamaica, as a zone of special operations for a period not exceeding sixty days if the circumstances set out in subsection (2) exist.

Now, regardless of how stringent the regulations of subsection (2) are (and they are actually pretty black and white), we have seen on a daily basis where persons from both parties both while in government and opposition frequently play fast and loose (or just being plain corrupt) with the law and freely associate with known criminals. We see where laws are implemented on certain persons or groups based on partisan loyalty and who can pay the most and that up to today has not changed, therefore asking us to accept the Prime Minister will have almost unchecked power as it relates to both when, where, how long and who leads these zones is utter insanity as we have seen where they can be (and are) so destructive with the limited amount of power that they have.

haggartfunerald20010508rb(Peter Phillips, Omar Davies and Karl Blythe at Willie Haggarts funeral)

With scamming now almost half of what tourism brings into the coffers of this nation (almost one billion dollars according to a VICE article) how do we expect to get these young men (and women) who have been inculcated with this get rich quick mentality? With the drug scene still prevalent (and really at its same monstrous heights since the deportation of Coke and Ramcharan) where are the plans that we should be putting in place to break the deadly underground and illegal triangular trade we have with the Colombians and the Mexicans (the Mexicans who now control some of our largest and most profitable illegal ganja fields)? Where is the plan to strengthen the border to stop criminals from foreign lands coming to our shores to assist in doing us so much harm, a simple walk to any bar on Water Lane in the vicinity of West Street downtown will have you hearing French creole (in the Haitian dialect) and Spanish (in the dialect of persons from the Dom Rep, Colombia and Mexico), without a safe border how will the crime and the importation of guns be stemmed?

drugRamcharan

With corruption permeating throughout all layers of the Jamaican government institutions just how exactly will this crime bill help stem crime long term? When a man can bribe the customs agent and security to turn a blind eye to guns coming into and narcotics exiting the nation how exactly will the crime end? Going back to ports of entry and exit, the airport is so lax that one has to wonder if we really do have a crime problem and all that it carries, especially when one realizes that a lot of the drugs are going through because there is a network of gang members working as security officers and the persons who check the bags that go into the cargo hold of the plane. This is common knowledge and has been for years yet we can’t (or don’t want to) even manage to crack that illegal ring of drug smugglers, yet we are to rest assured that the same men and women who can’t do the simplest of tasks relating to anti-corruption and crime prevention and fighting will solve the crime problem with a bill that strips us all (but really the poor) of all our legal rights and free to be treated like chattel.

With little to naught being done to tackle the root of crime (such as chronic poverty, a lack of education and little hope of finding a decent job and housing etc) coupled with the total lack of any agenda of tackling those who both finance and profit from the crime that has taken root in the nation then we can safely assume that this Zone of Special Operation will be a dud. It is nothing but a sick repetition of the Suppression Of Crime Act and the results will be the same, an abject failure coupled with the eventual spike in violent crime. Instead of aiming for the ‘silver bullet’ to forever eliminate crime (which doesn’t exist) let us instead roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of actually tackling crime. Let’s improve our education system, employ our people and ensure that poverty becomes a thing of the past, let’s aim to rid ourselves of the rats uptown so that they can stop offering spurious claims of get-rich quick schemes to the kids in the ghetto who only want to eat and see no way out, if not then lets give the keys of state to the army and police as this bill already leaves the door ajar for them to take it.

 

P.S. Read the Act here for further spine tingling revelations of just what is in store for us

Is Russia really the worlds biggest belligerent​?

Is Russia really the worlds biggest belligerent​?

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming! That seems to be the refrain that we have been hearing over the past nine years, the constant mantra that the ‘Evil Empire’ is about to return and wreak havoc on the world that we haven’t seen since the days of Hitler. But how much of all of this talk of a Russian threat in the present let alone in the past is true and how much of it is propaganda? And more to the point if it is true and the Russians have all of this power (to influence the world’s peoples to vote for Le Pen and Trump for example)and are ready to pounce like a tiger why haven’t they made more of a mark in the almost twenty years since the rise of the ‘dastardly’ Putin?

The Russians have been aggressive in the past, that much is true and anyone who denies that must clearly be drinking too much vodka. Be it the bloody wars of expansion of Tsar Alexander II or Tsar Nicholas I both of whom had expansionist policies, the USSR that fought bloody battles in the early twentieth century to regain the nations that sought independence after the Revolution, the crushing of both the Hungarian and Chezc manipulations of Soviet orthodox communism and more recently the (contested because the evidence as to who started it is 50/50) the Georgian war we see where Russia in all of its iterations is an active player in world violence.

However, that is not the question at hand as all great powers indulge in the slaughter of those who are unfortunate not to be strong enough to deter them. The question is, are the Russians really this massive threat to world peace, are they aiming to destroy our way of life and dominate the world?

The answer to this question is clearly and obviously no, the Russians don’t have aims of being masters of the world anymore, and won’t have them again at least not during my lifetime. Proof of this can be found ironically in the hostilities that the former Russian empire, former USSR and Russia in its current iteration. All of the Russian wars of aggression have taken place in their own backyard or direct ‘sphere of influence’, in fact almost every war that Russia in all its iterations has been in its backyard. Again, yes the Russian do practice war, again they are a great power (whether we admit it or not is immaterial) and as such will engage in conflicts, but they are hardly the bogeyman to the world’s peace that we make them out to be and history shows that.

There is, however, a nation that is a serious threat to world peace, and it is one that has no respect for boundaries, they are a nation that has (and continues to) systematically destroy and dominate its backyard and when that is complete they then go on to destroy and dominate nations in other hemispheres. The nation I speak of course is nonother than the USA. The US has since 1945 been the main (if not sole if you take in the fact that the other great powers are American lackeys) sponsor and purveyor of violence in the world and the facts bear that out.

A brief look at the world from 1945-89 shows that the wars that have rocked the world were American wars, either involving them directly or through their stooges that make up the remaining great powers. Be it the Korean war (which the USSR deliberately avoided getting into), the Vietnamese war, or the countless wars in the Middle East we see the glaring absence of Russia (bar Syria) and the active involvement of the US and her allies. These are just the facts of life, go to Iraq or Venezuela, every region in the world has felt the effects of US might and military supremacy.

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Again this is not saying that Russia and its iterations haven’t or aren’t currently acting up. We see this in Ukraine (where Russian troops operate while one ‘leave’), the Baltics (Estonia has had its share of Russian cyber-attacks) or even Georgia (where an active war was fought), the Russians have an appetite for war, but it is (and this is no excuse) almost always in their own backyard, within its sphere of influence and always aiming to survive (if not come up trumps). The same can’t be said of the US as the war in Iraq has demonstrated, here we see a war that not only destroyed a nation and destabilised the Arab world, but also a war that directly led to the rise of ISIS and the refugees that now flock to the shores of (and also destabilising) her allies in particular and the rest of the world in general.

russia georgia

The facts are that while Russia does commit violence, and even war crimes, they are nowhere near the extent of the US and almost never with the same range and scope (such as crossing continents and oceans to destroy nations). Russia makes up only 4% of global military expenditure, and that is a lot of cash, but a closer look shows that it is mainly for modernising and internal defence. The US, on the other hand, makes up a whopping 36% of global military expenditure, and as we know they spend it almost exclusively on building and maintaining their bases and troops and compounds in foreign lands.

2017 Military_Expenditure

The US and not Russia is the threat to world peace and stability, the US is the worlds largest (in term of military strength) and most powerful nation and they continually flex their muscles in both their region and also in regions further afield. We in the world are expected to believe that a nation that can’t even sort out its internal conflicts (and they have many) is waltzing around and destabilising the world (even to its own detriment) and that is madness, yet still people swallow it hook, line and sinker, especially since the Russians are alleged to have manipulated the US elections (and even here we see where the wheels on that drama are coming off).

Russia is not this world bogeyman out to destroy every liberal democracy, and they are not out looking to make themselves a global superpower again (they know those days are gone and are content with being simply a great power). Yes, they do commit some strange and often times outrageous things, but when looked at more closely one sees where the Russian moves are primarily of a defensive purpose, but also not aimed to destabilise the world while staying in its region. Again this is not a blanket defence of the Russians, they do have a vested interest in maintaining dominance in the East European region, but they stretch no further. The Americans and their allies are playing a con on the world’s people and we seem to be falling for it, lets hope not, for while the Russians may not share the West’s views on societal and governmental structure and implementation they do have good ideas and offer a differing perspective on the world, to lose that due to lies and misinformation would be most upsetting and further destabilise the world.

 

Why Jamaica in historical terms is actually not doing badly.

Why Jamaica in historical terms is actually not doing badly.

This may come as a surprise to those (few) persons who read what I post, but Jamaica actually isn’t doing badly. Now before you start thinking that I have been smoking too many spliffs and am somewhere in Lala land you have to understand just what I mean when I say that Jamaica is really not in that bad a position. When I say that I mean from a historical perspective, in terms of the life of a nation, from the birth of it to the fall of it, Jamaica is looking not too shabby for a nation of fifty-five years.

Let us look at it piece by piece and with analogies and comparisons. Jamaica in its seventy-seven years of self-rule and fifty-five years of self-governance has had always had a (relatively speaking) peaceful transfer of power, even the much talked about, highly contested and bloody election of 1980 ended with Michael Manley handing power over to Edward Seaga without calling out the tanks. Note that even the less talked about (but no less hard fought) election of 1976, with the state of emergency, ended with Edward Seaga sitting as an MP and leader of the opposition till his aforementioned victory in ’80. Now compare that to other newly independent nations, but just to ‘handicap’ myself, compare that to other newly independent former British colonies. Guyana (which was deprived of independence because of British and American fears of Soviet influence with the Premier Cheddi Jagan and his wife) remained under the brutal one-party rule of Forbes Burnham (which incidentally murdered the great Dr Walter Rodney) for some twenty years. Grenada was run by the madman Eric Gairy after independence in 1974 to the point that a revolution took place to oust him a mere five years later and installed the New JEWEL Movement led by the left-wing Maurice Bishop, who was in turn murdered (and whose murder led to a joint US Caribbean invasion). Leaving CARICOM one sees the same thing, Zimbabwe in Africa has brutal crackdowns and a virtual one party-state, while in Asia we have Pakistan which lurches from military dictator to military dictator and even Fiji in the South Pacific has tasted the bitter fruit of election results being literally fought over and the military installing itself in executive power.Millitary Coup

Looking at it from an economic stance Jamaica, while not performing in a stellar fashion, in historical terms and for the age of the nation we are not in a bad position. Yes, the Jamaican economy isn’t much to look at, but take a look right next door to Haiti and you will see what economic ruin truly looks like, the picture below shows statistics up to 2007.

haiti_economic_stats_2007

Now, these stats are initially sourced from the UN, note the glaring absence of any statistics for anything relating to employment rates and economic activity. That is not saying that no economic activity takes place or that they are all unemployed, far from it, in fact, many Haitians hold jobs (many more than one) and run businesses, the problem is that most of the jobs are low paying (to put it politely) and most businesses are in the informal sector and therefore either struggling to get by or just not giving anything meaningful to the economy (see the black market). Again I go back to poor Zimbabwe, their economy has fallen off a cliff since 2000 and a nation that once was the ‘breadbasket’ of the region coupled with a robust labour force has an economy so in tatters that they not only had the highest inflation rates at one point in time, they abandoned their currency altogether and now use FX to grease the wheels of the broken-down economy. Yes Jamaica got FINSAC’ed, yes we haven’t had any meaningful growth for some twenty odd years and yes we have a worrying rate of unemployment, but as mentioned above things could be so much worse.

We have in our nation an issue of safe seats, or to give them their correct name, garrison seats where we know during each election cycle that if an old, shabby broom was put up as the candidate of the ‘influential’ party that it would win by a landslide and then some. But even here, when it comes to incumbents holding onto seats we are not doing all that badly. Take everyone’s favourite (until Trump at least) country America, in 2010 during the midterm elections Congress (both houses) had a 15% approval rating, and yet still the House saw a rate of incumbency return of 90% while the Senate saw an incumbency return of 91%. Now say what you will about the (few) persons who do vote in our local elections but we have a rate of return nowhere near that (partially because we tend to chop and change back benchers) but also because we have a tendency to throw out (the non-influential) those who they feel don’t represent them, as the PNP found out as Mr Arlando lost to Mr Arlando (confusing I know).

US incumbents percent

Another serious issue with Jamaica is political corruption, pork belly politics and corruption in general in all ways shapes and forms. I mince no words when I say that corruption (along with crime and poverty) is a serious millstone around our neck and that if we hope to better our nation then we have to rid ourselves of corruption.  However, for a nation that again has only been policing itself for 55 years, we have some good (albeit currently toothless) anti-corruption agencies and civic groups (which aren’t toothless) which look to stem the tide of corruption in politics. Again using a historical example (again the US), we have what is probably the most blatant example of political patronage (read corruption) in Tammany Hall founded in 1789 and only dissolved a mere fifty years ago (which was historically corrupt from its inception) and its infamous (and notoriously corrupt) head William M. Tweed. Tammany Hall was The Democratic Party political machine in New York, and it ensured that the Democratic Party had both Ney York City and New York State under lock and key through both bribery along with voter intimidation and patronage. Things got so bad that in a nation that was littered with political machines operating in this nature, Tammany Hall came to epitomise and eclipse all of them in the scale and openness of its corruption.

Political corruption was (and still remains actually) such a problem in the US that even the ‘great’ JFK wasn’t immune from scandal. During his election against Nixon his camp was accused (and the evidence does deserve some looking at) of vote buying and rigging that the US$20 was jokingly nicknamed after JFK. Now Jamaica does have a big corruption problem, however, it is my view that it not as entrenched as we make it out to be, it is that we simply watch it and say nothing so the little that is grafted and gifted (a case of Guinness ain’t all that expensive)  adds up.

All in all what I’m trying to say is that Jamaica, while it has its serious issues (mainly the murder rate which is mind-boggling), has potential and isn’t in the bad place that we like to believe we are as we are still a young nation with time on our side (unless the sea levels begin to rise), and as pointed out above things could be a lot worse. Put another way there is two types of shit in the world, horseshit and dogshit, both are waste materials but one simply can’t be used while the other can be used to fertilize a garden (it has potential). In a frank and crass manner, yes we are shit, a bad economy and a society that is scared, but we are horseshit, it is up to us now as to whether we use or potential or we allow it to remain wasted.

Time to do right by the Boyz​

Time to do right by the Boyz​

Jamaican football has been in a slump for quite some time now, with the level of play in the local senior league sometimes at a standard that is more akin to the English League Two (the fourth division) the Jamaican football fan has been starved for quality on a local basis. For almost twenty years that slump also extended to the men’s senior football team, our beloved Reggae Boyz. Since their historic qualification for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, the side has drifted from disappointment (as when we failed at the last hurdle to qualify for the World Cup in 2002) to downright embarrassment and dejection (as was the case with the 6-0 that England gave us in preparation for another World Cup that we failed to qualify for), all that however seems to have changed.

The Boyz in the last two major CONCACAF tournaments (note: not CFU or CONMEBOL) have done exceedingly well, going above and beyond the expectations that most if not all of us had. In the past two Gold Cups, the Boyz have managed to reach the finals on both occasions while playing what can only be described as good looking (not Barcelona sexy) football and regaining the defensive prowess that led us to that historic ’98 qualification. What makes these performances all the more remarkable is that they did it with (1) a whole bunch of local players (though in truth it was a mixed contingent that did the deeds in 2015) and (2) they did it at a time when football in Jamaica is desperately short of cash.

CONCACAF2017-NEWS_1170x540-7fd3107704

At a time when businesses (not so much the people) are making profits hand over fist (see Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica Ltd) and listing on the JSE and junior stock market (see Proven Investment Ltd) to rake in billions, the JFF should really look into getting some much needed finances from these institutions. The Reggae Boyz have kept up their end of the bargain so far what with the two finals and as such the private sector should hold up its end of the bargain and start to pump money into (after seeing an actual feasible long term plan with set deadlines) our local football program so that we can ensure that these performances are not just ‘buckups’ as we Jamaicans would say.

The problem certainly isn’t a lack of cash in the nation, as track and field shows, there is money in this nation and I am probably being a little harsh on the private sector who have in the past funded the JFF (like Stewarts Motors which has been by the Boyz side through thick and thin) sometimes to the detriment of other sporting disciplines. The private sector is scared (and scarred) to invest in football because of the countless false dawns that the national team have had and the complacency (often times bordering on ineptitude) the JFF have had over the past twenty years. However as mentioned previously the Boyz have done exceedingly well on a relative shoestring budget and seem to have the makings of a long term plan and as such at least deserve to be listened to (if not actively prodded into) as it relates to football and how it will improve further.

The Reggae Boyz have done well, they deserve the plaudits that they have been receiving as well as the hype and inevitable big money transfer rumours. More needs to be done however if we are to not only retain this good run of form but (and this is the most important thing) to kick off from there and make serious gains not only in the region but the world. This can only be done if the game has a serious cash infusion from the private sector and that will only happen if the JFF presents an actual well thought out plan for the game and its future in Jamaica, if not then this will be a repeat of ’98 and we will have to wait another two decades for some form of footballing enjoyment on the international (let alone regional) stage.