Monday, February 28, 2011
BY CHRIS BURNS
Written among other things that "he that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life, but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction". Furthermore, "A nuh everything good fi eat, good fi talk". Even so, the verdict that was handed down by a federal jury in Florida last Tuesday, which found Mark "Buju Banton" Myrie guilty of three of four charges, elicited anguish and scepticism among his supporters across the world. Many were expecting a vastly different outcome. But alas, Buju was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offence and using the wires to facilitate drug trafficking.
In reacting to the verdict, one of his fans quipped, "Yuh nuh si seh a pure Babylon tings a gwaan, my yute. Buju nuh deserve none o' dis yah wickedness. De man dem frame 'im, but Babylon kingdom is bound to fall." In his mind, Buju is a victim of an oppressive American justice system. But as alluring as his passionate outbursts were and as defiant as his gesticulative behaviour appeared, I did not join him in apportioning blame to any specific group for Buju's woes. And I am not about to hop on to the caravan of conspiracy theorists, whose purpose, it seems, is to downplay the merits of accepting personal responsibility and applying logics and common sense to our thoughts and actions.
None of this is to suggest that Buju's Boom-bye-bye utterances, or his staunch intolerance of homosexuals, did not bring greater scrutiny towards him, because we know that not all human actions are motivated by purist intentions and are above reproach. That notwithstanding, we should look at this case in view of the evidence presented, but also with full awareness of the doctrine of "opportunity and inclination" and the role this may have played in the minds of the jurors as they deliberated on the circumstances that caused Buju to "taste" that stuff in the warehouse. There is no need for malevolence from anyone. Like most of his fans, I would have preferred a different outcome. My heart and prayers go out to his parents, who must have been disheartened by this verdict.
These serious charges could cause Buju to spend a minimum of 15 years behind bars. Sentencing is yet to be handed down, so before we throw up our hands in complete despair, or fix our eyes on the southern stars of condemnation, we should be mindful of the fact that he has the right and the option to appeal this conviction. Furthermore, the sentencing judge may exercise some discretion when handing down his ruling. Perhaps Buju was being prescient about his own future when he said, it is Not an Easy Road, but let us hope that he doesn't face an extensive incarceration, should his appeal fall through. Let us look ahead to the promises of tomorrow, and because life's destiny is never clear-cut to anyone, one can only hope that hidden treasures will emerge from this ordeal.
At 37 years old, Buju is still relatively young, and despite this setback he can go on to lead a remarkable and transformational life, during and post-prison. He can continue to pen positive lyrics and use his voice to bring positive changes to millions around the world. Consequently, my consolation to Buju is deeply rooted in an idiom my late grandmother often shared with us. It is very much about loss and life, as it is about defeat and triumph. She reminded us constantly that, "Wha nuh cost life, nuh cost nutten". Implicit in this is a certain consciousness that the gift of life is supreme. For although one may lose everything, the fact that one can still breathe, see, hear, think, feel, create, touch and enjoy the splendours of God's creation should be enough to impel one to learn from the tragedies, mistakes and setbacks in one's life and make amends.
Therefore, the unfortunate circumstances of life ought not to become permanent walls of inaction and resignation. Once we become conscious of the character and flavour of our mistakes, accept responsibility and submit to atonement, we should then embark on a journey to fulsome redemption and reformation. In coming to grips with the misfortunes of life, we should also compel ourselves to evaluate the opportunity costs associated with the things we lose, the freedoms we abrogate - wittingly or unwittingly - and the pain we endure by not having them. But we should only do so with the view to motivate ourselves into taking full advantage of the new opportunities for positive change that lie within our grasp.
Truth is that none of us can claim perfection. Errors will be made, some more dastardly than others, yet we cannot play victim or dwell in the emptiness of self-pity or blame everybody else but ourselves for our failings. If there are lessons to be learnt from Buju's predicament, they should be how we control our tongues. Yes, we must place bridles on our tongues sometimes and become cognisant of the effect of unguarded talk, as it could come back to bite us in the softest places of the anatomy. Buju admitted this much during his testimony. He said, "I knew it (drug deal) was all talk for me because when I left Johnson's company, I say to myself 'idiot', I am not a drug dealer. I talk the talk, but I did not walk the walk..." Was it a good strategy to use "idle talk" as one of the bases for his defence?
I often wonder why almost all Jamaican jokes in circulation, particularly those on the internet, end with the Jamaican saying something downright stupid to expose one's own prior actions, often without solicitation. And although these jokes are meant to titillate, they reveal a serious reality about our loose lips. Could it be that we are so inherently honest or helplessly transparent, that we cannot keep a lid on our own tongues? We have a habit to "gwow" a lot without regard for socio-cultural repercussion, but as the frog says, "What is joke to you is death to me." Then, there is no stopping us, especially when we feel we have an opportunity to compete or impress - boy, we go to town without being mindful that "loose lips sink ships".
February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
The uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have caused prices surges in global commodity markets. Now the revolt in oil-rich Libya has brought oil prices to a level unseen since 2008.
The IMF has already revised its forecast of the average price per barrel of oil from $89.5 up to $94.75. Widespread unease and speculation are what's driving oil prices up for now. But if the riots spill over from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, there could be a physical shortage of oil in the world economy, sending prices as high as $150 per barrel.
Specter of revolution
The price of oil continues to rise. April futures on WTI oil have gone up $0.15 to reach $97.43 per barrel (as of 8:58 a.m. Moscow time). The price of April futures for North Sea Brent Crude has gone up by $1.29 to reach $112.65 per barrel.
Fears that the popular revolts in the Middle East could push up prices on hydrocarbons began to surface immediately after protests began in Egypt. While not a major oil-producing country, Egypt controls the Suez Canal, one of the world's key shipping routes.
The threat of shipping disruptions on the canal was enough to drive up March futures for WTI and Brent by 0.31% and 0.76% respectively in early February. But the prices subsided before long, as shipping through the Suez Canal continued seamlessly and Egypt appeared not to be the beginning of a domino effect that could destroy or at least shake up other regimes in the region. But this is exactly what happened. First the regime fell in Tunisia, then Egypt; now oil-rich Libya is in the grips of a bloody revolt. And the specter of revolution (albeit very faint) is already hovering over Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Gaddafi doubles down
The instability in Libya has contributed greatly to the soaring oil prices. The market was sent into a panic when Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi vowed to sabotage oil and gas pipelines and oil refineries in the country. In the several days since, the price of major oil brands has gone up by about 7%. Analysts are predicting that the price of oil could reach $120 per barrel as early as March.
For the time being, the price increases are the result of speculators sowing panic on markets. It is unclear how much Libya has actually reduced oil production. Some experts claim the production has declined by about 400-500 barrels per day, while others think it's double that amount. Regardless, Libya only produces about 1.6 million barrels of oil per day, or roughly 2% of global output.
If oil production falls by about one third in Libya, global output will go down by about 0.6%. Moreover, OPEC has already promised to increase production to offset the shortage from Libya, and the cartel, with its vast resources, will have no trouble making good on this promise. In other words, there is no threat of a physical shortage of oil, nor of a realignment in the oil market.
Real trouble will begin only if the chain reaction of revolt reaches the oil-rich countries of the Arabian Peninsula, primarily Saudi Arabia, which accounts for 10% of the world's oil. If oil production was to be disrupted in Saudi Arabia, this would deal a serious - though far from fatal - blow to the world economy.
A lose-lose situation
Oil prices are determined by a host of other factors, for instance, global and U.S. economic growth, and the level of oil reserves in America. Gaddafi's threat to destroy his own oil infrastructure happened to coincide with the news last week that oil reserves in the United States grew three times slower than projected, on top of an overall decline in oil reserves of late. On the other hand, forecasts of U.S. economic growth have become more optimistic.
True, we may have to revise down these sunny forecasts very soon, at least if the trend of sharply rising oil prices continues. Economic growth has always depended greatly on oil prices. For the time being, experts do not see a direct threat to the global economy, but let's not forget that speculation-fueled spikes in fuel prices in 2007-2008 was a direct cause of the global economic downturn.
As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin noted at a news conference in Brussels yesterday (http://www.rian.ru/economy/20110224/338310436.html), the Russian economy would not benefit from the further growth of prices on hydrocarbons: "We realize that if global economic growth slows down, this will have a negative impact on our economy as well."
True, higher prices on hydrocarbons will increase Russia's export revenues. But oil is less a blessing for our country than "the devil's excrement," as Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso, one of the founders of OPEC, called it. The discovery of deposits in Western Siberia and steadily rising oil prices in the early 1970s lulled the U.S.S.R. into abandoning much-needed economic reforms.
Today, the fuel and energy sector is both the engine of the Russia economy and its anchor. Russia's abundance of oil has allowed the government to carry out social programs. It has helped finance Russia's recovery from the economic crisis, and much, much more. But Russia's oil-based economy is one of the main causes of its technological backwardness, the enormous disparity between rich and poor, and corruption.
There is also a factor of addition. Just as a sick person gets addicted to medicine, our raw materials-based economy becomes addicted to high oil prices. Even if oil prices reach pre-crisis levels, we still won't be able to patch the hole in the budget and achieve pre-crisis economic growth rates.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
President Bharrat Jagdeo will bequeath to his country - Guyana: Stagnation, violence, corruption, arch-sectarianism, and unfettered crime
by Robert Cavooris and Elcin Chang, COHA Research Associates
Stagnation, violence, corruption, arch-sectarianism, and unfettered crime—this is the heritage that President Bharrat Jagdeo will bequeath to his country. Now that Jagdeo has announced that he will not seek a third term in the upcoming August election, he may well ask, as a New York mayor once did, “How did I do?” The answer, in this instance, must be: “terribly.”
Chosen by former President Janet Jagan to succeed her in office, and supposedly held in high esteem by Guyana’s founding father, the illustrious Cheddi Jagan, Jagdeo could only receive the lowest of marks from any independent evaluation. Through his tolerance of crime, racism, and dismal social progress, President Jagdeo has turned in a fifth-rate performance as president of one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.
As the Guyanese use every strategy, legal and illegal, to flee the dysfunctional country, Jagdeo will go down in history as a man who did almost nothing for his nation while in office.
Jagdeo in Command?
As Guyana was wrestling with ever-present ethnic and political tensions, Jagdeo ascended to the presidency in 1999, not by election but rather through the anointment of his predecessor, Janet Jagan, thus taking the helm with no popular electoral mandate. To his credit, Jagdeo has led Guyana on a path of considerable economic growth in the last ten years despite a devastating flood in 2005.
The Guyanese economy, which is heavily dependent on the export of six main commodities -- rice, timber, gold, bauxite, shrimp and sugar -- has expanded at an average rate of 3 percent over the past decade. Sadly however, despite this incremental improvement in the Guyanese economy, government officials have been either unwilling or unable to share this modest prosperity with average Guyanese citizens.
Indicative of this trend is the fact that the allocation for education as a percentage of government spending is significantly lower than it was ten years ago. Public spending on education dropped to 6.1 percent of total GDP in 2007, down from 8.5 percent in 2000. Because of this lack of adequate spending on public education, the percentage of primary school entrance-age children enrolled in such schools dropped from 91.8 percent to 62.0 percent.
While it is difficult to speculate precisely what effect these substantive budget cuts on education have had on childhood literacy rates in the country (owing to a lack of data collected by Georgetown officials), there could be pernicious social consequences if education continues to take a back seat on the Guyanese agenda.
On healthcare, there have been some positive results including an increase in life expectancy and a notable decrease in infant mortality. Many exigencies however remain unaffected. For instance, about a fifth of the Guyanese population still lacks access to clean sanitation facilities. And the World Health Organization estimated that Guyana has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Jagdeo’s tenure will also be remembered for the spike in violent crimes experienced throughout Guyana, an issue exacerbated by repeated extrajudicial killings on the part of state authorities. Since 2001, “Phantom” death squads with alleged connections to government agencies -- also called the “Black Clothes Police” -- have been linked to some 400 murders. “A clear pattern is emerging,” said a member of the opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNC). “The Black Clothes Police have constituted themselves accusers, judge, jury and executioners, and have been gunning down people with impunity.”
The Jagdeo administration shocked the region by rejecting a request by the United States, Britain, and Canada to do an independent probe of what amounted to repeated human rights violations. “We are very concerned about the allegations and we believe that the integrity of the government is something that is at question here,” said British High Commissioner Stephen Hiscock.
Amnesty International wrote an open letter to President Jagdeo in 2001 demanding prosecution of any officials involved in extrajudicial violence, and saying that the Guyanese government had “repeatedly failed to ensure the protection of the internationally recognized fundamental right to life -- and to take measures to prevent such killings.” Although several officers were indicted for their participation in extrajudicial killings in 2004, none were convicted.
Some have responded in kind to the state violence, such as in the notorious Rondell Rawlins case. Rawlins, who accused the government of kidnapping his girlfriend, waged a campaign of terror in Guyana seeking her return. This resulted in the shocking deaths of 23 people. Jagdeo’s tumultuous presidency was also beset by a series of fatal bombings over the past several years, including one attack on the Ministry of Health in 2009 and two additional assaults in 2011 -- one at the Stabroek Market and the other at the residence of Philomena Sahoye-Shury, a leading member of President Jagdeo’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP). As one editorial in Guyana’s Stabroek News put it, “The security situation grows murkier by the day and it is in this milieu that there has been a rash of dangerous events.”
Ethnicity and Frustration
The violence in Guyana is all the bitterer for the ethnic undertones that color it. Guyana’s motto -- ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny,’ -- only seems a cruel joke in the face of the stark division that has long seized the country -- a division that Jagdeo has done almost nothing to address.
Party affiliation in Guyana falls almost directly along ethnic lines. Jagdeo’s PPP overwhelmingly receives the vote of the Guyanese of Indian descent, while the opposition PNC garners the support of the country’s African descendents. One study of the 2001 elections called the crossover votes between ethnic groups “insubstantial” and concluded that “[PPP] is still, for all practical purposes, an Indian-dominated party.”
Even after the 2006 election, Jagdeo’s efforts to diminish the trend were nowhere to be seen. One editorial in the Stabroek News in 2010 commented that the two main parties still remain within their ethnic platform. It said, “Both [the PPP and PNC] follow an unwritten rule that their leader must be from a particular ethnic group and both derive a high percentage of their support from a single ethnic group.”
Often, crimes in Guyana take on a racial dimension, reflecting the continued perception of the longstanding Afro-Guyanese exclusion under the PPP. In 2007, Andre Douglas, an alleged murderer of African descent who was eventually killed by police after escaping from jail, placed his own crimes in the context of social marginalization and inequality. He called himself a “freedom fighter,” and said, “Look into innocent black Guyanese problems or unrest will not finish.”
In other words, Douglas would keep terrorizing Guyana until the social problems of the Afro-Guyanese were alleviated. The large turnout at Douglas’ funeral showed that his frustration resonated with the country’s Afro-Guyanese community. Thus, ethnic division remains a challenge that disrupts quotidian life in Guyana, and that President Jagdeo has not effectively taken steps to resolve.
On balance, Jagdeo has failed during his presidency to advance the freedom and fairness of Guyanese public life, or the inequities of the Indo-Guyanese dominated society. Increased economic growth is futile if it does not translate into a greater sense of prosperity within the entirety of society. Jagdeo’s two-term presidency fell woefully short on that point. Social needs remain unmet due to inadequate spending on education and a lack of efforts to improve the quality of healthcare.
Furthermore the perpetual presence of criminal and ethnic violence threatens the fabric of Guyanese society, and, if anything, has been aggravated by the indiscriminate violence of public security forces in response.
It is not yet clear who the candidates will be in the upcoming presidential election, but whoever inherits Jagdeo’s position must work to tackle these persistent issues, and to clear the air of hopelessness when it comes to improving life in one of the hemisphere’s poorest and most forlorn countries.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, visit www.coha.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, February 25, 2011
BBC Caribbean Service has only one month left in operation as it gets ready to end its broadcasts on March 25.
The decision by BBC World Service is part of cuts which will amount to over 600 jobs lost.
BBC said the closures were part of its response to a cut to its Grant-in-Aid funding from Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The final week of broadcasting by the Caribbean Service will include a regional call-in and discussion programme looking at the future of pan-Caribbean news and current affairs.
The last editions of the morning and evening drivetime editions of BBC Caribbean Report and BBC Caribbean Magazine will be aired on March 25.
Debbie Ransome, Head of BBC Caribbean Service said: “After one of our best years ever editorially, this has been a great blow for the team here.”
Controller, Languages at BBC World Service, Liliane Landor described BBC Caribbean as: “One of the oldest and most distinguished services that the BBC has provided in English.”
The Caribbean Service transmissions are used on 48 partner stations across the English, Spanish, and Dutch Caribbean and as part of the Caribbean stream on four FM relays in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and Antigua-Barbuda.
The early roots of the Caribbean Service began in 1939. (BBC)
February 25, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
The debates and concerns about regional independent sovereignty are very much alive in academic, communities and other concerned sectors in the Caribbean Commonwealth. Many questions are being asked by those debating the issue. Recently, I became involved in the debate through my participation in a meeting amongst many concerned Caribbean nationals now residing in Toronto but maintain a deep affinity to the state from where they originally immigrated.
-- Is the foreign policy management process of independent Caribbean sovereign states, republics and nations managed through agencies that are in receipt of multilateral grants and contributions?
-- Are Commonwealth Caribbean governments exerting their sovereign rights and responsibilities to ensure that foreign policy decisions evolve through the government-designated ministry of foreign affairs?
-- Have our governments surrendered these sovereign rights due to concentration on managing the local economy?
-- Are they perceived simply as aid recipients and beggars that it is either the surrender of independent sovereign rights or getting the necessary aid?
Looking at the historical development of independence in the Commonwealth Caribbean, the names of Eric Williams, Forbes Burnham, Michael Manley and Errol Barrow cannot be forgotten as they clearly demonstrated their strong anti-colonialist stance and at the same time to ensure that the independence and management of their foreign policy remained intact in the various sanctuaries of their ministry of foreign affairs.
We cannot ignore their joint collective decision to ignore Washington’s objection when they made the decision to establish full diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba. Burnham and Manley’s unflinching support for the liberation movement against apartheid in South Africa and membership in the Non-Aligned Movement were independent foreign policy decisions taken, which brought no smiles in the State Department. In spite of the applied pressure unleashed on both Burnham and Manley, they stood their ground and demonstrated to the colonial interests that they are capable of making their own independent foreign policy decision.
In 1974, the courage against colonial domination was once again demonstrated by former prime minister of Grenada, Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, when he made the decision to lead Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique to independence. What was challenging about Grenada’s decision is that it became the first Associated State in the now renamed environment of the OECS Union to break its colonial shackles with Britain.
Grenada’s decision to become independent led to the formation of various local alliances that were vehemently opposed to independence, leading to strikes and other civil disobedience, which led to the emergence of the famous Committee of 22. This Committee was made up of a group of local colonialists consisting of merchants, lawyers, farmers and other opposition factions. While their opposition to independence had some mitigating effects on the local economy, on February 7, 1974, Grenada, under the leadership of Eric Gairy, became independent and recently celebrated its 37th birth date as an independent nation.
Many of the other Associated States have since followed Grenada’s decision and finally broken the yoke of colonialism with Britain. Many are known as independent Caribbean Commonwealth States.
With the More Developed Countries (MDC) maintaining the management of their independent foreign policy, Grenada followed suit and went on to manage its own foreign policy in a number of misguided ways by establishing diplomatic relations with many nations that had a disregard for individual human rights. This misguided approach resulted in diplomatic relations with some notorious nations.
On the other hand, Grenada was successful in establishing a young corps of dedicated foreign service officers; joining many international organizations and of course taking its illustrious seat at the United Nations General Assembly; establishing its own embassies and consulates across the global community. In essence, it is fair to conclude that Grenada built a foreign policy infrastructure between 1974-79, which the Bishop regime acquired following the 1979 people’s uprising, and which witnessed the overthrow of Gairy from office.
While some of Grenada’s foreign policy decisions have been severely criticized by many international relation experts, the period of government under the Bishop regime of 1979-83 also had some misguided moments like the Afghanistan vote, the unnecessary feud with former Barbados prime minister, Tom Adams, and the constant negative exchanges with Washington.
Based on a careful review of regional events, it would appear to the writer that the surrendering of Caribbean states’ foreign policy management to the CARICOM Secretariat could have started in the late 80s or early 90s. With the surrendering of such an important pinnacle of any government, there have been many dull outcomes for regional independent governments. Some of these dull outcomes have seen a steady decline in bilateral assistance to our governments and a sudden increase of multilateral assistance to the Secretariat and many other regional multilateral agencies.
In conclusion, it is not too late for regional independent states to reclaim their foreign policy management niche. As they ponder the structural changes to be made within the Secretariat in the coming months, CARICOM’s management of regional foreign policy and its relation to international multilateral agencies require closer scrutiny. It is hoped that under Thomas’s current chairmanship and vigour, he will be able to convince his Council of Ambassadors to take a second look at this situation. A ministry of foreign affairs in any independent nation means more that good protocol practices. Formation of good foreign policies is crucial.
Ian Francis resides in Toronto and writes frequently on Caribbean Commonwealth Affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada. He can be reached at email@example.com
February 24, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
By Oliver Mills
The commonly accepted wisdom in the Caribbean has been, and still is, that third political parties are doomed, and that any attempt to establish them will be met with failure. This belief is based on the fact that, in almost all Caribbean countries where a third political party has attempted to challenge the political process, it has met with failure, and in many instances some, or even all its members have lost their deposits. The electorate therefore seems to have lost trust and confidence that a third party will meet with any significant success, and have come to see them as a waste of time.
In his commentary in Caribbean News Now on February 12, 2011, on the failure of third parties, Wellington Ramos states that this failure is due to poor planning, no grassroots campaign, and the time of launching of these political parties, which is just before elections. He also states that after they lose, they disappear. In stating these reasons for third party failure, Ramos does not explain further what the phrases he uses such as poor planning, no grassroots campaign, and the time of launching these parties mean.
For example, what is meant by poor planning on the part of third parties? Does it mean planning to some extent, but with some inadequacy involved, or does it mean engaging in the process of planning without a clear direction or purpose attached to the various efforts? Does poor planning mean planning, but with little insight as to the purpose and point of the efforts made? Or does poor planning mean inefficient planning, not taking into account critical factors concerning the wider political process? How do we know when planning is poor? This is only judged after the results of some action, not before. Also, does poor planning mean being erratic, unfocused, tentative, and not following through with different ideas as to what the party needs and how it will achieve its goals? The writer needs to elaborate on this phrase.
No grassroots campaign is the other reason Ramos cites as a failure by third parties. Although he mentions with respect to Belize about not campaigning island wide and not establishing structures, this is not enough. Grassroots campaigning further means going into the various sectors of the society and spreading the philosophy of the party on a consistent basis. It means having public and town hall meetings, and meeting people where they usually hang out. But this is not only for grassroots people. It is for all potential voters. It also means constant political education, advertisements, and appearing on various media houses to spread the message.
From my experience, there is no such thing as no grassroots campaign, since the grassroots is where the majority of persons are. Third parties do approach them and try to win them over. But in many instances, they are so indoctrinated into the ways of the established parties, that they often give the rebuff to any new effort by a third party. The party’s officials therefore have to exercise patience, be sensitive to the ways of this constituency, win their trust, have a clear philosophy, and try to move them incrementally.
Change is difficult, and people at the grassroots level have to believe they are backing a winner before they commit themselves. Furthermore, labelling a particular constituency as grassroots, belittles them, places them in a category where they might feel devalued, and so there is the risk of losing support particularly if party officials adopt a condescending attitude. The third party therefore needs to see each type of constituency equally, and treat it as such. The class and sector approach to politics will not work.
The time of launching the third party is the final reason Ramos gives for their failure. How do we know precisely and accurately when it is the time to do anything? We can only suspect that a set of conditions exist, and that we should therefore capitalise on them. Suppose Obama had served out his Senate years, would he ever have become president? The point is to take prudent, measurable risks. We can never know exactly when to make a move. We just have to engage with the situation, alert ourselves to its dynamics, and seek the most opportune and rational moment in which to take the plunge. To say that the time of launching the third party contributes to its failure is therefore a misnomer. It is pure speculation based on an analytical fallacy.
Ramos states vaguely that they are launched just before an election. What does this phrase mean? Two weeks or months before, or two years? The phrase is vague to the point of being almost meaningless. The fact is that, if a sufficiently large percentage of the populace is fed up, they will show this in a protest vote. Although it might not be sufficient to win initially because of the psychological grip of the two traditional parties, if the third party persists, it could surprise itself.
For example, third parties now exist in several countries including the UK, Israel, the USA, and France. As is seen in the UK, a third party could become a part of the government based on the distribution of seats after an election. Even in the Caribbean, some third party candidates have won seats, and they later joined on an individual basis with the governing party, particularly if they make a difference in who forms the government. In Israel, third parties have always helped to constitute various governments. This is also the case in Italy.
However, I agree with Ramos, that often, in the Caribbean, third parties dissolve after an election. They seem to lose hope, and the will to persist. But third parties are formed as a result of a crisis in the status quo parties. Their members feel that the electorate is so fed up that they desire fundamental change. The case of the National Democratic Movement in Jamaica is an example, as is the Turks and Caicos Islands with the formation of the National Democratic Alliance party. The NDA did dissolve after a particular election, but the NDM in Jamaica continues mostly as a pressure group. Its initial leader returned to his original party, and is now the prime minister.
So are third parties doomed to failure? It is certainly not wise to give a quick answer. In a theoretical sense, nothing is doomed to failure. The context and circumstances of an issue require serious deliberation. This will determine the success of the effort, or its need to change course. Nothing should be condemned outright. If third party officials have a clear philosophy and ideology which connect with the aspirations of the people, and they win the people’s trust, the groundwork is laid for serious, constant, and persistent work. If party officials are committed to the political work required to enlist the faith of the people in the party’s objectives, then support will be forthcoming over time. Remember, the third party is in the political business of changing mindsets, and re-socialising people into a new way of thinking and being. It will be challenging at first, but consistency and constancy on the part of party officials are necessary.
Third parties are therefore not doomed to failure. They attract new blood and talent into the political process, bring new ideas, challenge old, established ways of operating, and could bring hope to those who want serious change in the infrastructure of Caribbean politics. Third parties can also bring ideas about different, more workable political structures and processes into the political system, and introduce a more ethical and moral politics into political systems weighed down by traditions that have not worked to the benefit of significant numbers of people. They are therefore not doomed to failure. In fact they do not fail. It is those who have been instrumental in their establishment that have failed to consistently operationalise the beliefs and philosophy they advocate on a sustained basis.
Persons forming third parties also need to convince potential followers that they are not in the political business for personal gain. They must prove that principles guide their efforts, and that the goal is a new and transformed society, and political order. Leaders of third parties also have to refute the idea by others that they have everything they need, but want more at the people’s expense. These leaders will also have to show that they have a different kind of political psychology that the third party is not third in any numbering system, but is a movement with no other goal than the political expression of the general will of the people. And that indeed, the third party is the people in action, since the new political institutions the party establishes, will convey and manifest the aspirations and objectives of the people.
Selflessness, a noble sense of purpose, and the urgency to do the will of the people become the philosophical frame of reference for the third party. With this in mind, the third party will enjoy the confidence and goodwill of the people, and will therefore gain respect and credibility. It could then become a potent force for good in the politics of the Caribbean.
February 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
The CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) - are we ready?
By Lloyd Noel:
Now that we have just celebrated our thirty-seventh anniversary of independence, from the colonial rule of England way back in 1974 – but having maintained our association and membership of the British Commonwealth of nations over all those years – we in the tri-Island State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique seem to be on the verge of severing all those ties that assisted us in becoming who we are, and achieving what we have by reason of that association.
And as we are about to travel down that road, to some unknown destination in the new world order, it may be useful to look back from whence we came, to reflect on where exactly we are at this time, and what in fact and in reality we have thus far achieved.
Of course, I must admit up front that I have been very, very fortunate, as far as my personal achievements have been over the years from those colonial days – and some may be tempted to suggest that it is because of my good fortunes during my sojourn in England that I still harbour the fond memories and gratitude of the country and people and their customs.
But I will readily respond to that suggestion by making bold to say, without fear of any contradiction, that the great majority of those thousands of West Indians who travelled to England in those colonial days, to work and start a new life, they too still cherish the opportunities and achievements.
It was while thousands of us were already in the Mother Country in Great Britain, when the first attempt at the unified West Indies came on stream with the Federation of the West Indies in 1958 – but it only lasted for four years (1958-1962), when Jamaica decided to secede, by formally withdrawing from the Federation; and the late P.M. of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, created new maths by announcing that, because there were ten states in the Federation and Jamaica was withdrawing, then one from ten leaves nought, so Trinidad and Tobago was also moving out, and that was the end.
And it was from then that the rush to political independence by the Big Four started; Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana all went on to break their colonial ties with England, although thousands of their nationals were very firmly rooted in the mother country and doing very well for themselves.
From then on the same Big Four states tried to get the same West Indian islands to form an economic union, and the Caribbean Community or CARICOM is what remains of that effort.
Over the years, of course, all the smaller islands went on to achieve their independence – except Montserrat, the BVI and Anguilla -- and that rush to statehood began with Grenada in February, 1974.
Needless to repeat the happenings since then, but now we have the “CARICOM Single Market and Economy” (CSME), and included therein is the “Caribbean Court of Justice” (CCJ), which is the body responsible for the due administration of the Single Market; but more importantly any of the independent states can decide to adopt the CCJ as its final court of appeal, for both civil and criminal and constitutional matters, and by so doing abolish appeals to the Privy Council final court of appeal in England that the West Indies have always been accustomed to, both as colonies and independent states since 1962.
The strange thing about the membership of the CCJ is that, while all the independent states signed on the CSME, only Barbados and Guyana started off using the CCJ as their final court of appeal, and late last year, Belize adopted the court and abolished the Privy Council.
Trinidad and Tobago, where the court has its headquarters, has not adopted it, and the newly elected government that came into office last year are thinking of referring the option to the people for a decision.
And even the Jamaica government is now saying that it is considering establishing its own final appeal court.
Against that state of disunity and disorganisation, our own government is now saying that it will soon be adopting the CCJ as our final court of appeal, to replace the Privy Council in England.
Maybe I missed it whenever it was said, but I have never heard any statement from this government about the preference of the CCJ over the Privy Council, and neither has any opportunity been given to Grenadians to express their opinions or views on the matter. And there can be no doubt whatsoever, that this very fundamental decision, after all those years of the very excellent services we have received from the judges of the highest quality and experience, our people should have been given the opportunity to have their say.
And in the absence of that very basic and highly principled opportunity, I cannot support the government’s decision to go it alone. I hope it is not regretted before too long.
What is also of some importance to the whole concept of regional unity, at the lower level of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in particular, is that we have been sharing a common court system, from our associated statehood days since 1967, and we continue to do so after independence right up to the Privy Council.
I have not heard of the same unified position with the other five states on this matter – but maybe I missed it, while they all were busy promoting the latest unitary animal in the recently publicised “OECS Economic Union” – for the free movement of people and capital throughout the six independent states, with the hope that the three remaining colonies of England will sooner or later get the UK’s go-ahead to join the economic union.
To take the confused situation of so many so-called unity groups in our region – all serving the same little population at different levels -- should a company in St Lucia open a business entity in Grenada, and that business has a court case in the Grenada court, it can go to the OECS Court of Appeal and then to the CCJ final court of appeal in Trinidad.
And if the same company has a case in St Lucia, it can go to the OECS Court of Appeal and then must go to the Privy Council in London for a final decision. It would be interesting if the legal issue is similar in both OECS Court of Appeal but the final decisions at the CCJ and the Privy Council differ.
To think that we in these Caribbean Isles have been playing around with this concept of unity for so many years, and for one reason or another the governments cannot get it right -- that must have some bearing on the fact that the politicians who come and go in the various islands all seem to take the position that they alone have all the answers so they never put it to their people to say yea or nay.
We saw what happened in St Vincent, when the government there put the proposed amended constitution to the people and they rejected it – yet in general elections thereafter the same people voted the same government back into power for a third term.
And that is why I agree with the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister, to put the question of whether or not they opt for the CCJ in place of the Privy Council to the people for a decision.
I saw the news item last week that the NDC government plans to hold its party General Council meeting next month, on the 13th March at the Boca Secondary School.
The same meeting was postponed last November, around the time there was the breakdown in unity over the re-shuffle of those three ministers, and one minister actually resigned from Cabinet.
The party general secretary is the minister of tourism, Peter David, and he was removed from foreign affairs back to tourism. He has since been saying that he is rebuilding the party machinery, but the 13th March is a date that is synonymous with the PRG of 1979, not the NDC of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, on which bandwagon he entered Parliament.
So the questions beg themselves – was the choice of that date a wise decision in the circumstances?
And will it help to rebuild the NDC Party, and at the same time keep the thousands who voted for NDC loyal enough to so vote the next time?
I was chatting with an ex-PRA of the Revolution days, the day after I saw the news item, and he too felt the date of 13th March was much too sensitive at this time – bearing in mind all the events that have taken place.
Time alone will tell, in the months and years ahead.
But like all the issues mentioned above that will affect us as a people in the times ahead, the even bigger question presents itself: are we ready for the possible changes that can result therefrom?
February 22, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
• A colorful controversy developed at the end of January, early February 1961, the result of which is not difficult to appreciate 50 years later. The characters, Esteban Ventura Novo and Tony Varona, seemed to have stepped out of a tragicomedy.
The former had made his name as a criminal due to his cold-blooded murder of revolutionaries in the Batista period. Ventura’s initial steps characterized him as a repressor of student demonstrations under the stern gaze of the University of Havana’s Alma Mater statue. It could be said that he had no godfather. Unaided, from murder to murder, he set about winning the ranks that Batista conferred on him. From lieutenant to colonel in just two years.
In the final days of the dictatorship, his tall slim figure, encased in a starched white drill suit or blue uniform, appeared on the front pages of newspapers with groups of revolutionaries arrested or lying in pools of their own blood. His most publicized feat was the monstrous crime perpetrated against Fructuoso Rodríguez, José Machado, Juan Pedro Carbó Servia and Joe Westbrook, at 7, Humboldt Street in Havana.
Ventura was particularly merciless with these student members of the Revolutionary Directorate in revenge for their assault on the Presidential Palace and possibly recalling that morning when, still a lieutenant, he entered the Calixto García Hospital in pursuit of them. Suddenly, Juan Pedro Carbó emerged from a closet – where he had hidden – cocking his first finger and thumb simulating a weapon like children do when playing cops and robbers, while ordering him to surrender.
Caught by surprise at the unexpected and mocking joke, Ventura almost dropped his weapon. Enraged, he shrieked hysterically, "I’m going to kill you, Carbó…I’m gonna kill you!"
With his characteristic self-possession, laughing in the face of terror, Carbó replied, "You’re not going to kill anyone, Ventura, you are a…"
On the other hand, Tony Varona was a professional politician, former prime minister, ex-president of the Senate, famous among CIA officers for his limited intelligence. Howard Hunt, the U.S. spy subordinate to David Atlee Phillips in CIA plans against Cuba, related in his book Give Us This Day compromising situations in which he was placed given that characteristic of Tony’s. His stupidity was such that he was known as Pony, both in Cuba and in the United States.
Ventura was angry with Tony because the latter had publicly vetoed him from joining the CIA ranks against the Cuban Revolution. That prompted the henchman to send a public letter to Varona, at that time the Company’s golden boy, stating, "We would say that those of us who were outstanding in our posts in our country’s armed forces cadres are the real veteran anti-communists, because we were the first to fight them."
After that unique profession of faith, Ventura moved on to recount some details of Varona’s history. He listed a number of murders committed against members of governments in which Pony was a prominent leader. He mentioned the crime against the students Masó and Regueyro; the license to kill granted to certain gangsters; the Investigation Bureau’s cork-lined torture chamber; and told him that Tony’s hands were not only bloodstained but also tainted by gold, given his involvement in the faked incineration of 40 million pesos, a sum appropriated by a group within the government of Carlos Prío, headed by Prío’s brother and treasury minister, Antonio Prío.
While accusing Varona, he was also mocking Batista who, when he fled Cuba, abandoned Varona there: "What was Dr. Tony Varona thinking in terms of his obligations as government premier when he tacitly accepted the granting of broad prerogatives to the notorious drug trafficker Lucky Luciano, so that he could make Havana his operational base for all of Latin America? This also produced gold, Dr. Tony Varona, gold that bathed the hands of various officials during your premiership of the regime. Bribery, sinecure, waste, the squandering of public funds, provided your cash in Cuba, Dr. Tony Varona, not precisely during the era of those stained by you, but of the ‘immaculate’ governments which preceded the coward who fled in the early hours of January 1, 1959… Cubans are not divided up by crimes, but by eras… if you are going to throw them out of the ‘temple of the pure’ for crimes, we can assure you that the temple would be left completely empty."
In the training camps for the invasion in Miami and in Guatemala, the Ventura v. Varona controversy, whose essence was about the participation of Batista supporters in the planned invasion of Cuba, was generalized and threatened to endanger the venture.
The development of events was giving the right to the henchman over the politico. The CIA preferred Batista’s people in its ranks. The CIA thought like Ventura: the first anti-communists had been the ex-henchmen. But it wasn’t about Tony vetoing all the Batista followers. The issue was about certain ones, like Ventura. Others, such as Calviño and the King were acceptable. But the presence of Ventura Novo was too scandalous.
Arthur Schlesinger, President Kennedy’s advisor as well as a writer, later admitted that preference, dressing it up with tactical reasons: "The U.S. advisors were growing impatient in the face of what they considered political subtleties. They preferred men with professional military experience (from Batista’s army), like Pepe San Román, who had been trained in Fort Belvoir and Fort Benning in the United States, who could be trusted to fulfill orders given." (1)
In real terms it was Batista’s officers who had the military experience, even though that was worth nothing to them in the Sierra Maestra.
As a screen for the aggression, in June 1960, the CIA had created the Democratic Revolutionary Front, bringing together five of the main capos. One of them was Tony Varona, who hastened to declare when he was accepted that assets confiscated by the Castro regime would be returned to their American and Cuban owners. But CIA control led to resentment within the Front, Schlesinger noted.
In September of that year, the CIA appointed Tony Varona coordinator of the group, which prompted the resignation of one of its members, Aureliano Sánchez Arango, former minister of education and foreign relations in the Prío government, to which Varona also belonged.
That storm passed, but in the training camps the infighting for the leadership was reflected among Batista’s men. Those in favor of Tony Varona and Manuel Artime, the brigade’s political chief, were demanding their presence in Guatemala so as to personally relay their complaints, and the disrespectful attitude of many of the U.S. instructors. But the leaders of the CIA front did not allow them to visit the camps in Retalhuleu, and they were forced to accept orders or lose their lucrative income.
But the situation developed into a crisis and, defying the opinion of the CIA chiefs in the training camps, Washington decided to authorize Varona and Artime to go there and try and solve the problem. But no airs or social graces were allowed in CIA headquarters. They had to cover all their own expenses, including the easy life and the capos’ tours of American and Europe. Howard Hunt was given instructions to take them to the training base in Guatemala and to bring everyone into line.
Hunt was an old friend of Miguel Ydígoras, the Guatemalan president. When the CIA organized and executed the plot against the constitutionally elected President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, Hunt was chief of political actions. An intelligence officer since the times of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), he had even been congratulated by Eisenhower for the 1954 operation. The Varona and Artime of that adventure were Colonels Carlos Castillo Armas and Miguel Ydígora himself. Hunt took Varona and Artime to meet President Ydígoras, who was known for his eccentricities, such as the much commented occasion when he decided to dance the Suisse before TV cameras.
Varona owed Ydígoras for having handed over Guatemalan territory for the training camps. Ydígoras owed Varona for having utilized the men of the future 2506 brigade to suppress a military uprising against his government a few months previously. But both of them were aware that they owed those favors to the CIA and, in order to back up U.S. interests, Hunt relayed back their meeting, which must have been delightful.
Varona affected his most pompous voice and tried to impress sincerity into his words in a rhetorical speech. But Ydígoras dictated a memo to his secretary while the former prime minister disguised as liberator was speaking. He had already played that role and knew it well. Afterwards, Hunt ironically wrote that it was proof of Ydígoras’ talent for doing two things at once. The future Watergate plumber made news in the 1970s for having directed the Nixon espionage operation against the headquarters of the Democratic Party in Washington, using the same individuals of Cuban origin involved in the invasion plans. In Retalhuleu, Varona had no alternative but to obey Hunt’s instructions and calm his friends down, although a number of them had already been behind bars in the Guatemalan jungle.
Those preferences for the Batista followers are still reflected, with more intense nuances, in Congress members of Cuban origin leading anti-Cuba conspiracies, headed in the last few years by Ileana Ros Lehtinen and the Díaz-Balart brothers, sons and nephews of high-ranking officials from the Batista regime, and closely linked to the dictator. •
(1) Arthur M. Schlesinger: Los mil días de Kennedy, (A Thousand Days: J. F. Kennedy in the White House), Ayma Sociedad Anónima, Barcelona, 1966, P. 179.
Havana. February 17 , 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
By Jean H Charles:
I visited Brazil twenty years ago, as a globe trotter who cherished the joy of travelling, despite my trip to Brazil. I told my travel companion Eddy Harper at the end of our journey, one should not visit a country just because a plane can bring you there. I was warned before my departure that one should be very careful of your belongings, including your own ears or eyes.
They could be taken for sale as fresh organs. My bracelet that I held tightly in my hand to prevent its theft, was stolen anyway. The carnival in Rio, with a public relations machine well oiled all over the world, was for me a deception. It was a fine orchestrated exercise for the tourists (contrary to Trinidad and Tobago) with no personal participation.
I flew to Salvador de Bahia to taste the remnants of the black culture; I was not deceived. Yet my conclusion that one should not travel to a country just because a scheduled airline made the journey there was confirmed in Salvador. In the middle of the night walking around the colonial streets of the city, I was surprised to found the bustling business of the hour was the sale of coffins. An epidemic in the area was killing the citizens by the thousand.
Back in Rio, amidst the splendor of the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, the squalor of the hills surrounding the city was threatening and menacing. The hypocrisy of the slogan: one nation, one people was mining the ethos of the society. A part of Pele, known all over the world for his skills in the sport of football/soccer, amidst the large black population one cannot find a single emerging black star in politics, the arts, science and education in Brazil.
The larger society was not in better shape, I remember my conversation with a young white teacher on the beach of Ipanema, doubling her life as a school teacher with one of a part time prostitute because her salary was not sufficient to provide a decent living.
Things have improved since in Brazil, with the advent of Ignacio Lula, who recognized social integration and upward mobility as a government policy.
Brazil was in an enviable position to help usher into Haiti a climate of hospitality for all, with the big brother holding the hands of the junior one. Passionate about soccer, the Haitian people have adopted Brazil as their idol nation. There were deaths of passion in Haiti following a football match between Argentina and Brazil. (That passion has been transmuted today onto Messi of Barcelona in Spain, revered as a demi-god.)
Brazil, with its size and its limitless resources, had hemispheric hegemonic ambition. Lula planned to use its leadership of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in Haiti, to help his country obtain a seat on the Security Council. That goal has been a complete failure and disappointment. After the questioning suicide of the Brazilian general in Haiti, Brazil could not find another national to succeed at the helm of the mission. The Guatemalan, Edmund Mulet, whose arrogance equals only his excellent command of French, is decried on the walls of Port au Prince with the same intensity as Rene Preval, the despised Haitian president.
The MINUSTAH culture is one of make believe in most of the operations concerning its mission of stabilization of the country. A mammoth military operation in a nation at peace with itself is as out of place as an elephant moving around in a small living room.
Small countries like Nepal are competing and bidding against big ones like China to get the prime risk funding just for parading on the street of Port au Prince, forcing children to wake up at 5.00 am to reach their school destination on time amongst the crowded streets of Port au Prince.
The police as well as the military unit operates a vast cottage industry designed to provide employment to expatriates from forty nations, while providing absolutely no service or at least limited service that impacts the Haitian population in security, police, training and education and development.
The talk around the water cooler at the headquarters in Geneva or in New York is that a tour of duty in Haiti is a plum placement. You will find sun, sand, docile and attractive women, tasty food, strong and exotic culture during combat and prime risk duty while feigning to stabilize the country with words instead of action. An astute anthropologist or sociologist would have a field day studying Haiti at the age of its colonization by the United Nations.
As a detached or interested observer, I am watching the complete disintegration of Haitian society under the watch of the UN Mission of Stabilization. Starting with the women and the young people that represent the fragile segment of the nation, they exhibit coping mechanisms with pathological manifestations that will compromise the foreseeable future of the nation.
The aftermath of the earthquake and the cholera epidemic (brought by the UN into Haiti) should have been an incentive to rebuild a new Haiti hospitable to all, where the security of the environment, public health and public security would be the hallmark of the government.
Haiti is being instead quickly Africanized at its worst, with refugee camps in public places as well as on the golf courses. The indecency in public policy is being plotted, implemented, and applauded by most international institutions.
One hundred fifty years ago (1864) the Vatican stood up as the only entity to support a nation ostracized by the entire world for daring to stand up against the world order of slavery. Haiti needs today one friendly country in the world that would stand up to support with strategies, finance and technical assistance its growing opposition, thirsty for a complete break with the culture of squalor imposed upon the country during the last sixty years.
I have not seen nor heard one nation in the whole world that raises a finger to say that I am ready for the challenge!
February 19, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
By Trevor Yearwood
THERE’S a lot of domestic violence in Barbados’ gay and lesbian communities.
Priest and psychologist Reverend Marcus Lashley made this charge last Wednesday night during a panel discussion at the Grand Salle, in the Tom Adams Financial Centre, Bridgetown.
Lashley said domestic violence was not limited to man/woman relationships.
“I can’t think of one case where they (partners) are equal in terms of power,” he told the meeting, organised by the Caribbean Gynaecological Endoscopic Services (CariGES).
“There is always a significant power differential and it is how that power differential is manifested that is of tremendous significance.
“There’s also a lot of violence because it is a close-knit community. It is, in essence, a minority community and therefore there is tremendous possession, tremendous jealousy, tremendous fear and that motivates a lot of the actions.”
The meeting discussed issues including domestic violence, how to become more attractive to your partner, male menopause and the prevalence of endometriosis.
The panellists included obstetrician/ gynaecologist Dr John George, women’s rights activist Nalita Gajadhar and mathematics teacher and youth leader, Corey Worrell.
Earlier, Gajadhar had said Barbadians may have some “fanciful notions” about violence and assigned roles in homosexual relations.
She was responding to a question from the audience on whether the “females” in such relationships faced abuse.
Dealing with the issue of how to become more attractive to your partner, Worrell told the gathering that it took more than financial and emotional security to keep a relationship going well.
He spoke of the need for partners to pray together and to be physically fit.
Worrell urged couples to do what was right and not what was popular, complaining that men were being encouraged to have several spouses.
“A lot of people’s lives get messed up because of a penis and a vagina,” he said.
February 18, 2011 - 12:02 AM
Thursday, February 17, 2011
By Oliver Mills
In our Caribbean society, commentaries and reports on educational issues seem to constantly appear in our various daily papers, sometimes competing with politics. Recently in one country, there was a commentary on the way a particular ministry of education was treating high school principals. In another, there was the issue of the importance of technical and vocational education being offered more broadly in high schools. Yet in another, there was a discussion about the inadequate performance of students in the grade achievement test leading to entry in various high schools.
All of these episodes point more starkly to the real role education should play in equipping individuals with knowledge and competencies to enable them to play a positive role in the development of their societies. But in undertaking this role, the important question can be posed. Is education an equal opportunity provider, or is it Kentucky Fried oriented? The latter description will be explained later.
In connection with the question of the role of education, a recent article published in the journal Educational Philosophy and Theory, the writer states that education is charged with the task of equalising and expanding the opportunities of individuals in terms of the jobs they might have access to, and the material resources they can hope to enjoy, and their role as citizens. Does education really perform this function?
At one level it could be said that education does perform the above mentioned function. In the majority of instances, in the Caribbean, education fosters social mobility, in terms of widening the middle class because of the skills and competencies it equips those benefitting from it with.
It further opens opportunities and equalises the social structure since through it the educated person gains access to the higher echelons of society, where critical decisions are made. Education also enables many to enter the professions, politics, and to do serious research, which results in an enhancement of the lives of Caribbean people.
The educated person therefore gains access to greater material and financial resources, which he or she would be denied otherwise. Furthermore, education results in committed citizens with positive values who contribute to the welfare of their societies, and promote moral and ethical values that create trustworthiness among members of the society at large.
But is it as straightforward as it is presented here? There are some of us who seriously question whether education performs the tasks it is alleged it does. Many others think that some educated persons neither think nor act as if they have been exposed to education. And even if this is not the case, their dispositions and performance appraisal do not reflect the capabilities education should have provided.
Why is it, for example in the Caribbean, that many of our countries still experience unsatisfactory economic growth and development, even though we have various types and levels of educational institutions, which almost make education an industry, and an appreciable number of graduates from these institutions. Why can’t they get our institutions and industries to perform more efficiently? Is not this what education is all about? Why is it that skills and knowledge do not seem to match productivity in the Caribbean?
It is precisely because of these factors that some Caribbean observers are saying that although education is an opportunity provider in some sense, the opportunities do not reflect the necessary results expected both for the individual and for society. They also say in a most frightening way, that what we really have in the Caribbean is education taking on the function of Kentucky Fried chicken. More clearly, that it is Kentucky Fried oriented. This means that those exposed to education swallow it, barely digest it, and then through the exits it goes. It does not ever become an integral part of the individual and his being so that his or her behaviour could be transformed for the better.
In a wider sense, education, seen as being Kentucky Fried oriented, means that the ingredients of education, prepared by the lecturer, which include knowledge and skills, are fed to students in the classroom. The students ingest it, without giving the time and concentration to really savour it. They therefore swallow it, without understanding what they have been exposed to, and without giving the necessary attention to chewing it, so that it is experienced in a deep way. They then barely digest it, so that it does not become a part of their understanding. It is then expunged, without having any significant impact on the individual or the environment.
This is why many persons in their critique of education feel that some educated persons do not act as if they have been exposed to knowledge at a high level, which should make a difference for them, and to them. They do not see the education received by some individuals as related or connected to new behaviours, or contributing to national development. It is therefore of the Kentucky Fried variety, where it is swallowed, barely digested, and then goes the way of the exit.
Many students often complain also, that whenever they attend lectures, they are not given the opportunity to question, or come up with a different perspective or interpretation of what the lecturer gives. They fear that if they do, they would be penalised by being given an unsatisfactory grade. They therefore reproduce in their essays and exams what the lecturer gave them in class. Students therefore, in order to get a grade that will enable them to get a good degree, or which would put them on the path to apply for higher studies, go along with what is given to them. The more you can accurately give the lecturer’s viewpoint, the higher the grade you get. There is no alternative view, no questioning, no quoting of additional sources, because what the lecturer says is almost sacred, hence the Kentucky Fried orientation of education.
This strategy is also responsible for the fact that when students graduate and are on the job, they find it difficult to think innovatively. Even here, they fear that their manager at the workplace would penalise them, if they seem too bright, and they may even be accused of not fitting in with the team. This is because the manager has himself, or herself received the same kind of Kentucky Fried education as the employee. The vicious circle therefore continues.
This Kentucky Fried way of doing things also applies to politics. The political party has a certain line, given by either its leader, or an executive group. If there is any questioning of the ideology, a member could either be disciplined or expelled, for not being part of the dominant value system, which follows the Kentucky Fried method of doing things.
Since the Kentucky Fried strategy discourages independent thinking, it is prone to mistakes in judgment and in the implementation of policies, because other voices are censored, and only the voice of the dominant ideology is allowed.
This means that even in a general sense, if Caribbean countries undertake basically the same education project aimed at transforming their systems, it would not achieve its objectives, since it would be riddled with defects that could have been exposed had there been a fair dialogue concerning consequences and other possible paradigms for consideration. The Kentucky Fried phenomenon in education therefore hinders critical thinking, discourages alternatives, and freezes the education process. Mistakes and bad strategies therefore persist.
Education also, as an opportunity provider, if in fact this is really the case, can be seen as a contradiction. The question is opportunity provider for whom? What sector of society? Is it the sector that has always dominated decision making and co-opted others, in order to maintain its power and influence? Is education then the equal opportunity provider for the selected few, and not for the many? Despite the expansion of educational opportunities in the Caribbean, is it not the case that the top positions are held by the ‘old boys network’? And that in terms of gender equality, are not male managers more prevalent and dominant than female managers? This is despite the fact that females may be greater in numbers, but the male manager or leader possesses the resources and social capital which enable them to maintain their professional grip on the system. Where then is the equal opportunity?
From the arguments above, it could therefore be said that education, in the strict theoretical sense, is an equal opportunity provider, but not in its practical, everyday operation. Here, complexities and contradictions abound. What is most clear, however, is that the Kentucky Fried model dominates, controls, and shapes the educational process. This is because, despite the fact that education is meant to liberate and encourage critical thinking, there is a dominant philosophy which inhibits this.
This philosophy also promotes a situation throughout the Caribbean, where the Kentucky Fried paradigm operates by preparing knowledge with certain ingredients, feeding it to its clients, who then swallow it, barely digest it, and it then percolates through a predetermined exit, which neither benefits the individual nor society in any way that is significant, or positive.
February 17, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The idea that you should believe in God "just in case" trivializes both faith and reality, and concedes your argument before it's begun.
"Why not believe in God? If you believe and you turn out to be wrong, you haven't lost anything. But if you don't believe and you turn out to be wrong, you lose everything. Isn't believing the safer bet?"
In debates about religion, this argument keeps coming up. Over, and over, and over again. In almost any debate about religion, if the debate lasts long enough, someone is almost guaranteed to bring it up. The argument even has a name: Pascal's Wager, after Blaise Pascal, the philosopher who most famously formulated it.
And it makes atheists want to tear our hair out.
Not because it's a great argument... but because it's such a manifestly lousy one. It doesn't make logical sense. It doesn't make practical sense. It trivializes the whole idea of both belief and non-belief. It trivializes reality. In fact, it concedes the argument before it's even begun. Demolishing Pascal's Wager is like shooting fish in a barrel. Unusually slow fish, in a tiny, tiny barrel. I almost feel guilty writing an entire piece about it. It's such low-hanging fruit.
But alas, it's a ridiculously common argument. In fact, it's one of the most common arguments made in favor of religion. So today, I'm going to take a deep breath, and put on a hat so I don't tear my hair out, and spend a little time annihilating it.
Which God? The first and most obvious problem with Pascal's Wager? It assumes there's only one religion, and only one version of God.
Pascal's Wager assumes the choice between religion and atheism is simple. You pick either religion, or no religion. Belief in God, or no belief in God. One, or the other.
But as anyone knows who's read even a little history -- or who's turned on a TV in the last 10 years -- there are hundreds upon hundreds of different religions, and different gods these religions believe in. Thousands, if you count all the little sub-sects separately. Tens of thousands or more, if you count every religion throughout history that anyone's ever believed in. Even among today's Big Five, there are hundreds of variations: sects of Christianity, for instance, include Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Mormon, United Church of Christ, Jehovah's Witness, etc. etc. etc. And sub-sects of these sects include Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Mormonism (mainstream LDS version), Mormonism (cultish polygamous version), Mormonism (repulsive infant-torturing version), Church of England, American Episcopalian, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod....
How do you know which one to wager on?
The differences between these gods and religions aren't trivial. If you obey the rules of one, you're guaranteed to be violating the rules of another. If you worship Jesus, and Islam turns out to right -- you're screwed. If you worship Allah, and Judaism turns out to be right -- you're screwed. If you worship Jehovah, and Jainism turns out to be right -- you're screwed. Even if you get the broad strokes right, you could be getting the finer points wrong. And in many religions, the finer points matter a lot. Taking Communion or not taking Communion? Baptizing at birth or at the age of reason? Ordaining women as priests or not? Any of these could get you sent straight to hell. No matter if you're Catholic, or Baptist, or Mormon, or Anglican, or whatever... there are a whole bunch of other Christians out there who are absolutely convinced that you've gotten Christianity totally wrong, and that you're just pissing God off more and more every day.
So how on Earth is religion a safer bet?
You're just as likely to be angering God with your belief as atheists are with our lack of it.
To many believers, the answer to the "Which god?" question seems obvious. It's their god, of course. Like, duh. But to someone who doesn't believe -- to someone being presented with Pascal's Wager as a reason to believe -- the answer to "Which god?" is anything but obvious. To someone who doesn't believe, the question is both baffling and crucial. And without some decent evidence supporting one god hypothesis over another, the "Which god?" question renders Pascal's Wager utterly useless.
Unless you have some actual good evidence that your particular religion is the right one and all the others are wrong, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheist's bet on no God.
And if you had some good evidence that your religion was right, you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
Does God even care? Pascal's Wager doesn't just assume there's only one god and one religion. It assumes that God cares whether you believe in him. It assumes that God will reward belief with a heavenly eternal afterlife... and punish disbelief with a hellish one.
But why should we assume that?
According to many religions -- the more progressive ecumenical ones leap to mind -- God doesn't care whether we worship him in exactly the right way. Or indeed whether we worship him at all. In these religions, as long as we treat each other well, according to our best understanding of right and wrong, God will be happy with us, and reward us in the afterlife. These believers are totally fine with atheists -- well, as long as we keep our mouths shut and don't disturb anyone with our annoying arguments -- and they certainly don't think we're going to burn in hell.
In fact, according to many of these progressive religionists, God has more respect for sincere atheists who fearlessly proclaim their non-belief than he does for insincere "believers" who pretend to have faith because it's easier and safer and they don't want to rock the boat. According to these progressives, honest atheism is actually the safer bet. The weaselly hypocrisy of Pascal's Wager is more likely to get up God's nose.
So even if you think the god hypothesis is plausible and coherent... why would it automatically follow that belief in said god is an essential part of this afterlife insurance you're supposedly buying with your "safer bet"?
In fact, I've seen (and written about) an atheist version of Pascal's Wager that takes this conundrum into account. In the Atheist's Wager, you might as well just be as good a person as you can in this life, and not worry about God or the afterlife. If (a) God is good, he won't care if you believe in him, as long as you were the best person you could be. If (b) God is a capricious, egoistic, insecure jackass whose lessons on how to act are so unclear we're still fighting about them after thousands of years... then we have no way of knowing what behavior he's going to punish or reward, and we might as well just be good according to our own understanding. And if (c) there is no god, then it's worth being good for its own sake: because we have compassion for other people, and because being good makes our world a better place, for ourselves and everyone else.
Now, to be perfectly clear: I don't, in fact, think the Atheist's Wager is a good argument for atheism. I think the best arguments for atheism are based, not on what kind of behavior is a safer bet for a better afterlife, but on whether religion is, you know, true. The Atheist's Wager is funny, and it makes some valid points... but it's not a sensible argument for why we shouldn't believe in God.
But it makes a hell of a lot more sense than Pascal's Wager.
Unless you have some good evidence that God cares about our religious belief, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheists' bet on no God.
And if you had some good evidence that God cares about our religious belief, you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
Is God that easily fooled? And speaking of whether God cares about our religion: If God does care whether we believe in him... do you really think he's going to be fooled by this sort of bet-hedging?
Let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that God is real. And for the moment, let's also pretend that God cares whether we believe in him. Let's pretend, in fact, that he cares so much about whether we believe in him that, when he's deciding what kind of afterlife we're going to spend eternity in, this belief or lack thereof is the make-or-break factor.
Is God going to be fooled by Pascal's Wager?
When you're lining up at the gates to the afterlife and God is looking deep into your soul -- and when he sees that your belief consisted of, "Hey, why not believe, it's not like I've got anything to lose, and I've got a whole afterlife of good times to gain, so sure, I 'believe' in God, wink wink" -- do you really think God's going to be impressed? Do you really think he's going to say, "Oo, that's sly, that's some ingenious dodging of the question you got there, we just love a slippery weasel here in Heaven, come on in"? Is he going to be flattered by being seen, not as the creator of all existence who breathed life into you and everyone you loved, but as the "safer bet"?
I don't believe in God. Obviously. I think the god hypothesis is implausible at best, incoherent at worst. But of all the implausible, incoherent gods I've seen hypothesized, the one who punishes honest atheists who take the question of his existence seriously enough to reject it when they don't see it supported, and at the same time rewards insincere, bet-hedging religionists who profess belief as part of a self-centered attempt to hit the jackpot at the end of their life... that is easily among the battiest.
Unless you have some actual good evidence that God (a) exists, (b) cares passionately about our religious belief, and yet (c) is dumb enough to be fooled by Pascal's Wager, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheists' bet on no God.
And if you had some good evidence for any of this, you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
All of which brings me to:
Does this even count as "belief"? This is one of the things that drives me most nuts about Pascal's Wager. Whenever anyone proposes it, I want to just tear my hair out and yell, "Do you really not care whether the things you believe are true?"
Believers who propose Pascal's Wager apparently think that you can just choose what to believe, as easily as you choose what pair of shoes to buy. They seem to think that "believing" means "professing an allegiance to an opinion, regardless of whether you think it's true." And I am both infuriated and baffled by this notion. I literally have no idea what it means to "believe" something based entirely on what would be most convenient, without any concern for whether it's actually true. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word "believe." I do not think it means what you think it means.
Unless you have a good argument for why insincere, bet-hedging "belief" qualifies as actual belief, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheists' bet on no God.
And if you had a good argument for this insincere version of "belief," you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
Is the cost of belief really nothing? And, of course, we have one of the core foundational premises of Pascal's Wager. It doesn't just assume that the rewards of belief are infinite. It assumes that the costs of belief are non-existent.
And that is just flatly not true.
Let's take an example. Let's say that I tell you that the Flying Spaghetti Monster will reward you with strippers and beer in heaven when you die -- and to receive this reward, you simply have to say the words, "I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, bless his noodly appendage," one time and one time only. You might think I was off my rocker. Okay, you'd almost certainly think I was off my rocker. But because the sacrifice of time and energy would be so tiny, you might, for the sake of hedging your bets, go ahead and say the words. (For the entertainment value, if nothing else.)
But if I tell you that the Flying Spaghetti Monster will reward you with strippers and beer in heaven when you die -- and that to receive this reward, you have to send me a box of Godiva truffles every Saturday, get a full-color image of the Monster tattooed on the back of your right hand, be unfailingly rude to anyone who comes from Detroit, and say the words "I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, bless his noodly appendage" every hour on the hour for the rest of your life... it's very, very unlikely that you're going to comply. You're going to think I'm off my rocker -- and you're going to ignore my pleading request to save your eternal soul from a beerless, stripper-less eternity. You're going to think that following the sacred customs of the FSM faith would be a ridiculous waste of time, energy, and resources. You're definitely not going to think that it's a safer bet.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
Most religions don't simply require you to believe that God exists. They require you to make sacrifices, and adhere to rules. Not just the ordinary ones needed to be a moral/ successful/ happy person in everyday life, either. Religions typically require significant sacrifices, and obedience to strict rules, that can seriously interfere with happiness, success, even morality. Religions require people to donate money; participate in rituals; spend time in houses of worship; follow rules about what to eat, what to wear, what drugs to avoid, who to have sex with and how. Religions require people to cut off their foreskins. Cut off their clitorises. Cut off ties with their gay children. Dress modestly. Suppress their sexuality. Reject evolution. Reject blood transfusions. (For themselves, and their children.) Refuse to consider interfaith marriage. Refuse to consider interfaith friendship. Memorize a long stretch of religious text and recite it in public at age thirteen. Spend their weekends knocking on strangers' doors, pestering them to join the faith. Donate money to fix the church roof. Donate money to send bibles to Nicaragua. Donate money so the preacher can buy a Cadillac. Have as many children as they physically can. Disown their children if they leave the faith. Obey their husbands without question. Not eat pork. Not get tattoos. Get up early to sit in church once a week, on one of only two days a week they have off. Cover their bodies from head to toe. Treat people as unclean who were born into different castes. Treat women as sinners if they have sex outside marriage. Beat or kill their wives and daughters if they have sex outside marriage. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Religion typically requires sacrifice.
And this simple fact, all by itself, completely demolishes the foundational assumption of Pascal's wager.
The assumption of Pascal's Wager is that any other wager is a sucker's bet. Pascal's Wager doesn't just assume that the payoff for winning the bet is infinite bliss, or that the cost of losing is infinite suffering. It assumes that the stakes for the bet are zero.
But the stakes are not zero.
It's even been argued -- correctly, I think -- that the sacrifices religion requires are an essential part of what keep it going. (Think of fraternity hazing. Once you've sacrificed and suffered for a belief or project or group affiliation, you're more likely to stick with it... to convince yourself that the sacrifice was worth it. That's how the rationalizing human mind works.)
And if religion requires sacrifice... then Pascal's Wager collapses. A bet with an infinite payoff and zero stakes? Sure, that's an obvious bet. But a bet with infinite payoff and real stakes? That's a lot less obvious. Especially when there are, as I said before, thousands of competing bets, all with contradictory demands for the specific stakes you're supposed to place. And double especially when there's no good evidence that any one of these competing bets is more likely to pay off than any other... or that any of them at all have any plausible chance whatsoever of paying off. Again: If you wouldn't bet on my Flying Spaghetti Monster religion, with its entirely reasonable demands for chocolate and tattoos and hourly prayer and fanatical Detroit-phobia... then why on Earth are you betting on your own religion?
If this short life is the only one we have, then contorting our lives into narrow and arbitrary restrictions, and following rules that grotesquely distort our moral compass, and giving things up that are harmless and ethical and could make ourselves and others profoundly happy, all for no good reason... that's the sucker bet.
Besides... even if none of this were true? Even if belief in God required absolutely no sacrifice in any practical matters? No rules, no rituals, no circumcision, no sexual guilt, no execution of adulterers, no gay children shamed and abandoned, no dead children who would have lived if they'd gotten blood transfusions, no money in the collection plate? Nothing except belief?
It would still have costs.
And those costs would be significant.
The idea of religious faith? The idea that it makes sense to believe in invisible beings, undetectable forces, events that happen after we die? The idea that it makes sense to believe in a hypothesis that's either entirely untestable... or that's been tested thousands of times and consistently been proven wrong? The idea that we can rely entirely on our personal intuition to tell us what is and isn't true about the world... and ignore hard evidence that contradicts that intuition? The idea that it's not only acceptable, but a positive good, to believe in things for which you have not one single shred of good evidence?
This idea has costs. This idea undermines our critical thinking skills. It closes our minds to new ideas. It bolsters our prejudices and preconceptions. It leaves us vulnerable to bad ideas. It leaves us vulnerable to frauds and charlatans. It leaves us vulnerable to manipulative political leaders. It leads us to devalue evidence and reason. It leads us to trivialize reality.
So all by itself, even without any obvious sacrifices of time or money or restricted lifestyle or screwed-up ethical choices, religious faith shapes the way we live our lives. And it does so in a way that can do a tremendous amount of harm.
Unless you have some actual good evidence that the sacrifice of time/ money/ happiness/ goodness/ etc. required by religion -- and the sacrifice of healthy skepticism and critical thinking and passion for truth -- will actually pay off with the reward of a blissful eternal afterlife, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheists' bet on no God.
And if you had some good evidence that God exists, and that these sacrifices had a good chance of paying off, you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
Conceding Your Argument Before You've Even Started It. If you take nothing else from this piece, take this:
The moment you propose Pascal's Wager is the moment you've conceded the argument.
Pascal's Wager isn't an argument for why God exists and is really real. Pascal's Wager is, in fact, 100% disconnected from the question of whether God exists and is really real. Pascal's Wager offers no evidence for God's existence -- not even the shaky "evidence" of the appearance of design or the supposed fine-tuning of the universe or the feelings in your heart. It offers no logical argument for why God must exist or probably exists -- not even the paper-thin "logic" of the First Cause argument. It does not offer one scrap of a positive reason for thinking that God is real.
Pascal's Wager is misdirection. Distraction. It's a way of drawing attention away from how crummy the arguments for God actually are. It's an evasion: a slippery, dodgy, wanna-be clever trick to avoid the actual argument. It's a way of making the debater feel wily and ingenious, while ignoring the actual question on the table.
It isn't an argument. It's an excuse for why you don't have an argument. And it's a completely pathetic excuse.
If you're relying on Pascal's Wager for your faith, you might as well believe in unicorns or elves, Zoroaster or Zeus, the invisible dragon in Carl Sagan's garage or the Flying Spaghetti Monster who brought the world into being through his blessed noodley appendage. Pascal's Wager is every bit as good an argument for these beliefs as it is for any religion that people currently believe in.
If you had a better argument for God, you'd be making it. You'd be offering some good evidence for why God exists; some logical explanation for why God has to exist. You wouldn't be resorting to this lazy, slippery, bet-hedging, shot-full-of-holes excuse for why you don't have to actually think about the question.
Pascal's Wager isn't an argument.
It's an admission that you've got nothing.
February 14, 2011