Selling Our Souls

goat islands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose it’s easy to say man shall not live by bread alone when your belly is full. When hunger pangs strike, bread can be powerfully appealing, souls not so much. So I won’t beat my breast self-righteously and cry shame at the Jamaican politicians who are apparently selling the island’s soul to a shadowy Chinese organization.

But I will join the widespread lament that has greeted the news of .a secretive deal to build a massive seaport in the nation’s largest natural protected area. This is, indeed, a sorry chapter in Jamaica’s history.

Yes, Jamaicans need jobs. Yes, the Chinese investment will provide jobs – possibly as many as 10,000 jobs.

But think of the price!

Naturists and environmentalists are aghast at the planned sacrifice of Jamaica’s Goat Islands, in the heart of the Portland Bight Protected Area. They cite the protected species there and the ecological damage that must ensue.

More pragmatic minds question the wisdom of risking the island’s primary source of foreign currency – tourism – to win the $1.5 billion project. The island’s greatest asset is its natural beauty. Tourism is responsible for half of all foreign revenue and a quarter of all jobs.

The proposed project cannot fail to leave an ugly scar on Jamaica’s pretty face. According to an article by Richard Conniff in Takepart.com, it is expected to:

…involve clear-cutting the mangrove forests on both Goat Islands, building up a level work area using dredge spoils from the surrounding waters, and constructing a coal-fired power plant to support the new infrastructure. The port, including areas currently designated as marine sanctuaries, would accommodate “post-Panamax” size ships—up to 1,200 feet long and with a 50-foot draft—arriving via the newly expanded Panama Canal.

And the new jobs will come at the cost of old jobs. The area’s fishing industry provides a living for a lot of Jamaicans who cannot expect to fill the vast majority of jobs created by the port.

Critics also question the integrity of the Chinese organization involved, the China Harbour Engineering Company, which is part of a conglomerate  blacklisted by the World Bank under its Fraud and Corruption Sanctioning Policy.

I have had personal experience with the abuse of international funds in Jamaica. In 1970, I was hired by the Jamaica Telephone Company to direct their PR and promotion activities. It wasn’t long before the horrible truth emerged. The president of our parent company, Continental Telephone, was killed by a car bomb and newspapers suggested the involvement of organized crime. As I remember it, within months, the company abandoned its contract to rebuild Jamaica’s telephone infrastructure, leaving a multimillion-dollar international loan exhausted and the island with only a few showcase projects.

Of course I quit that job as soon as I found out what was happening. And I don’t really know the whole story.

I also have no evidence of similar intentions by the Chinese port builders. But I would expect Jamaican authorities to be more wary of foreign developers by now.

And, however honest the Chinese investors may turn out to be, this looks like a poor bargain to me. I am signing a petition to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, pleading with her to reconsider. If you share my misgivings, you might want to add your signature.

To sign the petititon, go to http://savegoatislands.org/how-you-can-help/

For more on the proposed port, go to http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/04/22/jamaica-hands-over-heart-its-largest-protected-area-blacklisted-chinese

For allegations against China Harbour Engineering Company’s parent conglomerate, go to http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2011/07/29/world-bank-applies-2009-debarment-to-china-communications-construction-company-limited-for-fraud-in-philippines-roads-project

 

The Good that Churches Do

There is so much to deplore in organized religion. History is littered with the tragic consequences of good intentions gone astray and bad intentions festering beneath the masks of false prophets. But, on the plus side, churches have done a lot of good in the world.

Their contributions are not just spiritual. They have attended to the body as well as the soul.

In my native Jamaica, the churches gave us hospitals and schools, orphanages and old folks homes. I suspect these institutions were not always as benevolent as they could be.  Private charity can be mean and cruel, as Charles Dickens and other authors have so vividly illustrated. Personally, I would prefer a society in which the state ensures that all members of society are protected and cared for.

But thin gruel is better than no gruel at all. And, back in my boyhood days, the British government provided almost no social welfare for colonial societies like ours.

Let’s be clear, I know of no abuse in Jamaica’s church-run charities. Thankfully, all I know about them is second-hand.  And from what I know, the island would have been much worse off without them.

So I was saddened to read in Jean Lowrie Chin’s Jamaica Observer column recently that the Alpha home for abused and abandoned boys, on South Camp Road in Kingston, is closing down.  She writes that:

After almost 130 years of nurturing Jamaican boys, the Alpha Boys School is closing its residential facilities…  You would think that an institution like Alpha would have no difficulty receiving a decent subvention for its good work, but like many others of its kind, it has been struggling financially.

Yes, Jean, I would think that a facility like Alpha Boys School should be able to get by financially. And I wonder why it can’t.

Is the Jamaican government – which claims to be Socialist – taking the place of the churches in providing succor to the island’s needy youth? Are the churches no longer necessary in an increasngly benevolent secular society?

Somehow, I doubt it.

Jean’s column explains that “inadequate government funding” is a key factor in the the boys home’s closing. And she mentions no government-run alternatives for this and similar charities.

She says the Sisters of Mercy will make up for the residential program’s loss by expanding Alpha’s educational program, which is renowned for its musical achievements. So the church’s good work is continuing.

But as Jamaica – and the world - changes, and the churches’ mission evolves, I wonder whether society will also evolve to compensate for the loss of services that organized religions have traditionally provided.

(Find Jean Lowrie Chin’s blog at http://newsle.com/article/0/140493552/)

(For information on the boys home, go to www.alphaboysschool.org)

 

Making a Difference

Sometimes I get downhearted. I ask myself what’s the use? The rich get richer and the poor get children no matter what anyone does. This bad ol’ world just isn’t going to change, etc., etc. …

Take President Obama, America’s first black president, the symbol of hope for a racially divided world. Talk about high hopes!

Let’s face it, things haven’t worked out as I dreamed they would. America’s election of a non-white president has triggered an explosion of racial acrimony and fierce bigotry when I had envisioned the dawning of the age of Aquarius, an awakening of brotherhood from sea to shining sea…

Well intentioned though he undoubtedly is, election of a biracial president has not brought us ethnic harmony – or anything close to it. Indeed, his legacy will include tragic failures as well as grand successes.

Even health care reform, President Obama’s flagship achievement, seems to be leaving as many wounds as it is healing.

Of course it isn’t his fault. The deck was stacked against him from the start. Perhaps it couldn’t be done after all. Perhaps the change we dreamed of was a bridge too far.

But before I give in to despair, I must in fairness acknowledge the myriad acts of tolerance and justice that he has managed to perform along the way. I am sure homosexuals, especially in the military, will look back on the Obama presidency as a period of enlightenment, for example. And young women, struggling to balance the consequences of love and life … they will surely remember the Obama Administration as a compassionate ally.

In a multitude of ways, big and small, this president has acted with tolerance and forbearance to leave a better America behind when he returns to private life. But the media have not  focused so much on those policies. The spotlight has been on Congressional gridlock, political conflict and racial bitterness.

And then I read a news item that makes me realize there may be another way of looking at things. In this morning’s news, for example, the following headline gives a glimpse of a compassionate America, one over which a truly human being presides:

Obama plans clemency for hundreds of drug offenders

How can you not stand up and cheer? In a cruel, unfair world, something kind, sensible and ultimately productive is in the works. I am sure I don’t have to remind you of the waste, the injustice and the heartbreak of the way America’s justice system deals with drug “offenders” big and small.

You know about it, I know about it, everybody knows about it, but nobody has done much to end it.

But somebody is finally doing something to soften the brutal impact of those twisted policies.

And that somebody is Barack Obama.

Click to read about the clemency program.

 

The “Patriots” Among Us

I wonder what would have happened if the armed men who faced down federal agents in Nevada recently were black? Or Mexican?

I know what happened to an African immigrant named Amadou Diallo who reached into his pocket for ID when police confronted him in New York City some years ago. His body was riddled with bullets.

Am I suggesting that the federal agents were wrong to stand down in the incident at Cliven Bundy’s ranch? Of course not. Bloodshed should always be the last resort. But I seem to detect a troubling perception here, a preconception of white insurgents as patriots, and of black males as thugs.

Apparently, the insurgents who pointed loaded weapons at federal agents carrying out a court order have not even been charged. They’re back home writing incendiary blogs and advocating the overthrow of the government. And I am confident some of them are actively plotting to do harm to fellow-Americans as I write this blog.

Somewhere another atrocity is being planned, another Oklahoma City bombing, another Jewish community center massacre, or something equally monstrous.

How would such people be treated if they were Arabs or Pakistanis in some remote Yemen village? I bet President Obama would not hesitate to dispatch drones to annihilate their families and their neighbors.

Both groups are, by definition, terrorists, as Senate Speaker Harry Reid has observed.

But, of course, a drone strike (or any other assassination attempt) against a white supremacist plotter would be unthinkable.

Why?

Apparently, it’s not because the white supremacists are American citizens and, as such, enjoy special constitutional protections. Anwar al-Awaki was an American citizen when he was killed in Yemen in 2011. Also killed in US drone strikes were his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman,and two other Americans, Samar Khan and Jude Mohammed. Obviously being Americans gave them no invincible shield.

In America today, the government would not dare to assassinate a white supremacist who is actively plotting to overthrow the government and harm Americans. It would spark massive public outrage.

Apparently, the government is powerless even to round up and prosecute these lawbreakers as a preemptive measure. They are usually pursued only after they commit some horrendous atrocity.

But the authorities can routinely gun down non-white men – at home and abroad – suspected of being threatening to America or Americans.

Indeed, in many states, private citizens seem to have the same kind of right. It’s called “standing their ground.”

Sadly, I am left with the suspicion that it might be the color of their skin that makes America’s white supremacist insurgents untouchable.

Click for the Cliven Bundy story.

Click for Americans killed in drone strikes.

Click for the shooting of Amadou Diallo.

 

 

A “Do-Gooder’s” Lament

You might think that most people would choose decency, fairness and compassion over skullduggery, oppression and injustice. But I wonder how true that is.

As I sit here this morning, the American Congress is deadlocked over such issues as extending aid to the unemployed and giving equal pay to women for doing the same work as men.

Obviously, a significant constituency exists for letting the jobless go hungry and female employees get shafted.

Also, the US Supreme Court has just made another ruling in favor of letting billionaires buy elections. And Florida’s legislature is in the process of giving the governor the right to pack the state supreme court with “conservatives.”

The Republican Party has come out as the political voice of white male dominance, shedding all pretense of concern for minorities (including women) and the working or middle class.  Yet the polls show the party is likely to keep the House and win back the Senate in November.

For some reason, Democrats don’t seem able to capitalize on the Republicans’ repugnant policies.

At the local level, the Democratic Party in my Central Florida district will be represented in November’s state House elections by an absurd perennial candidate for any and every office that comes open.  Of course he can’t win. But I guess I will have to hold my nose and vote for the guy. In my book, a bad Democrat is preferable to a good Republican (if such a creature exists).

To say the Democrats are in disarray is to be too kind. But why?

They are undoubtedly the party of fairness and decency. They undoubtedly speak for the working and middle classes. They undoubtedly stand up for women’s rights and voters’ rights and gay rights and civil rights… and all the other rights that Americans say they value.

Meanwhile Republicans are brazenly opportunistic and sleazy.Their policies unambiguously promote the enrichment of the rich and the oppression of the poor. And – in many cases -  their personalities and private lives are equally depressing. I just read about yet another “family values” politician who was caught on a surveillance camera making out with a married female staffer. And I bet voters in his home state of Louisiana will send him back to Congress – just as they did with Senator David Vitter.

Why do Republicans get elected and re-elected when the party’s policies are so defiantly devoid of decency, fairness and compassion? One reason might be the vast amount of money they have for their campaigns. But, surely, even the most unaware American voter knows enough of the truth to see through those slick TV commercials?

There has to be more to it than marketing.

I think the heart of the matter is that most Americans are getting by. Sure, the super-rich have plundered the nation. Sure the workers are being bilked. Sure, the poor and the sick and the old and the infirm are being left to suffer. Sure, women are being deprived of control of their bodies. And sure, they are getting underpaid. Sure, the jobless are losing their benefits, poor families are losing their food stamps, hungry kids are losing their school lunches and old folks are losing their Meals on Wheels. Sure, Medicare and Social Security are under attack…

But things aren’t bad enough to risk rocking the boat. Most Americans have jobs – such as they are. Most own a car, have somewhere to live, eat thee meals (and snacks) a day, buy video games for their kids…

And the rest? Let them eat cake, I guess.

Click for the “family values” story.

More on extension of jobless benefits

More on fair pay for women

More on Rick Scott and the court

 

 

Gay Rights – the Backlash

Pat Buchanan (above) says God hates gays and loves Vladimir Putin because the Russian president has outlawed homosexuality. I haven’t heard from God on that topic recently, but I am sure Buchanan is mistaken. That voice he heard was from the Demon of Bigotry, not from our Creator.

God made us all, in all our diversity. And from what I’ve read in the Bible, God loves us all.

To say that being homosexual is a sin is to suggest that being left-handed is a sin. Or being short.

It might sound more logical to say that practicing homosexuality is sinful and homosexuals should be obliged to take a vow of chastity to remain free of sin. But who in their right mind would suggest such a thing?

You might as well decree that bees should no longer pollinate flowers.

Of course, I was brought up to fear and avoid homosexuals. And at boarding school, the practice was talked about in hushed horror.

But that was a long time ago, and back then, masturbation was shrouded in secrecy and shame, too. After the Kinsey report, society’s view of sexuality changed drastically.

Scientific research has debunked many of the sexual myths of my childhood.

But attitudes toward homosexuality have been slow to change. And the change that occurred has brought a powerful backlash.

America is in the throes of such a reaction, and Pat Buchanan’s rant is evidence of the backlash.

The battle for gay rights has come a long way, but, obviously, the fight is far from over.

I have news for people like Buchanan, however, God is not on their side.

Click for the Buchanan interview with God.

Click for more on the gay rights debate.

 

Jamaica’s Sinister Side

After Life Sentence, an Uncertain Fate for Vybz Kartel

I haven’t set eyes on my native Jamaica in more than 30 years, and my memories are mellowed by the rosy glow of nostalgia. But, obviously, life in the island can still be really nice. My brother Bill and his wife Faye holiday there every year and they have nothing but praise for the Jamaica they experience. And relatives who still live in Jamaica say they wouldn’t think of  leaving.

But that’s the good news.

The bad news is the island’s dependence on the international drug trade. Just a hop, skip and jump from America and the South American mainland, it’s a convenient stop on global drug routes, and the fertile mountainsides produce bountiful crops of marijuana, which we know as ganja.

Back in my boyhood, ganja was a semi-secret vice, prosecuted unenthusiastically by the authorities and indulged in mainly by the poorest Jamaicans. Now, from what I read and hear, ganja – and the harder drugs – are the island’s economic mainstay.

Drugs are also inextricably associated with the music that has put the island on the map.

And drugs lead to dark and sinister crimes, including gun running and murder.

Take the case of Vybz Kartel (above), one of Jamaica’s most famous rap stars. His songs and his life share a message of defiant degeneracy.

Kartel, whose original name is Adidjah Palmer, has been sentenced with two associates to life in prison for the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams. The court found that Williams was beaten to death and then chopped into pieces because he was suspected of stealing a couple of guns.

It wasn’t the rapper’s first run-in with the law. He was arrested in 2011 on drug charges, for example. And it wasn’t the first time he was charged with murder. A previous murder charge against Kartel and two co-defendants was dismissed after prosecutors failed to show that they killed businessman Barrington “Bossy” Burton.

Kartel’s lawyer says he will appeal the murder conviction, so this may not be the end of the road for the Jamaican superstar.

And even if the conviction is upheld, Kartel’s recording career could continue. According to the Jamaica Observer, the island’s rehabilitation program includes access to a fully operational recording studio. Jamaican artist Jah Cure recorded three albums during his imprisonment for rape in the early 2000s, with proceeds going to the rehabilitation program.

To me, this shows a sad dependency on a sick culture.

With stars like Kartel as role models, Jamaica’s youths are being short-changed. It is sad that so much of the island’s economy depends on music that glamorizes the toxic messages of a violent drug culture.

Click for more on the Kartel case.

 

Trying to Make Sense of “Religious Freedom”

As I understand it, early settlers to America were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. In England, for example, the Roman Catholics and Protestants harried and butchered each other for generations. A monarch known as Bloody Mary burned Protestants at the stake. In Spain and Portugal the Inquisition tortured and killed “heretics,” claiming they were sacrificing the victims’ bodies to save their souls.

I imagine that was why the authors of the American Constitution included a brake against the government getting involved in religion.

But I don’t see the connection between Bloody Mary and Obamacare.

Or the Inquisition for that matter.

Nobody is being burned at the stake because of the new health care law. Nobody is being broken on the rack or put to death by Inquisitors.

Yet, as I write this, the Supreme Court justices are pondering a lawsuit claiming the law violates the religious freedom of a craft store chain called Hobby Lobby.

How? By requiring employers to include birth control in their employees’ health insurance coverage.

The owners of Hobby Lobby say they don’t believe in birth control. They say it’s against their religion.

I won’t burden you with the arguments pro and con. But I see a clear distinction here. I don’t think the government can force Hobby Lobby’s owners to practice birth control themselves. But, under its mandate to regulate commerce, it can make them provide birth control for employees who want it. The owners are free to follow their religion, and the employees are free to follow theirs.

That doesn’t violate anybody’s rights.

No reasonable American complains that their rights are violated when unsafe drugs are banned or unlicensed drivers prosecuted. They don’t feel oppressed because employers are required to provide a safe working environment. They don’t go to court to have building codes and traffic laws declared unconstitutional.

This kind of regulation is part of the government’s job.

And even if the justices feel Hobby Lobby’s owners should be free to deny their employees birth control coverage, they should beware of embarking on a very slippery slope.

Who knows what “religious” beliefs will show up next?

The courts have had to consider some weird practices in the past, and decided Americans aren’t free to follow such beliefs.

Smoking marijuana as a sacrament, got short shrift. Parents go to jail if they prevent their children from having life-saving blood transfusions, even if their religion forbids the practice. Animal sacrifices are taboo.

In considering the freedoms endowed by the Constitution, the court is still expected to have a little common sense.

 Click for more on the case.

Click for more on religious persecution.

 

Why Would Minorities Vote for the Republicans?

As I enter my 81st year on earth, you would think I’ve figured out most of the mysteries that keep folks like me awake at night. But I have to confess I still have no clue about a whole lot of things. For instance, what makes a black person or a Chinese person or a Hispanic person – or any other non-”Aryan” person – vote Republican?

I see minorities on TV spouting the Republican party line and I wonder are they deaf and blind? Don’t they listen to the TV or radio? Don’t they read the newspapers? Or do they misunderstand what’s happening?

Does Bobby Jindal (above, left), for example, think he is “one of them”? If he does, I have news for the Louisiana governor.

They might treat you like one of them when you’re around, Bobby, but when you’re not around you can bet they sing a different tune. And, trust me, you wouldn’t want to hear.

Take the story I just read in the Daily Kos. Originally published by the Miami Herald, it told of a Cuban born billionaire named Mike Fernandez who has stopped campaigning for Rick Scott (above, right) after the Florida governor’s campaign workers made fun of Hispanics. Here’s an excerpt:

Tensions between Scott’s campaign staff and Fernandez had been building for weeks. And the last straw, according to people within the campaign who spoke with the Miami Herald this weekend, was an incident in which several of Scott’s campaign staffers allegedly began joking around in a cartoonish, over-the-top Mexican accent while on the way to a Mexican restaurant.

Fernandez, who is Cuban, reportedly shot off an angry email to campaign leadership after word of the incident leaked out.

If you’ve been following the statements and policies coming from the new Republican Party, I’m sure this kind of behavior doesn’t surprise you. I know it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen too many of those disgusting portrayals of President Obama and his family that Republican politicians circulate among themselves, too many “monkey” dolls, too many tasteless ethnic jokes…

What surprises me is how non-white people swallow their pride and support these obvious racists. I wouldn’t even want to be in the same room with them, let alone the same political party.

They can gather in their posh country clubs and send their children to private schools (but not with our tax dollars!). They can laugh at us behind our backs and bask in their delusions of superiority. It’s a free country and they’re free to live in a fool’s paradise if they want.

But why would the rest of us aid and abet them?

Click here for the Daily Kos report.

 

 

Anouncement of Democrats’ Demise is Premature

November is eight months away and already the pundits are predicting the outcome of the midterm elections. I won’t burden you with the details but the bottom line is “Democrats are in trouble.” For one reason or another, they argue, the Republican Party will gain seats in both the House and the Senate. They might even win complete control of Congress.

To me, it is a prospect too horrible to contemplate. But, if you step back and take a look at Congress as it is now, how much more damage can the Republicans do to America than they’ve already done?

The House of Representatives has become a loony bin in the grip of the Tea Party and the Senate is hobbled by filibusters and other procedural tricks. This is the worst Congress ever, and Americans have had it with both major parties.

But all is not lost. Despite the intricate prognostications, people tend to vote the way they’ve always voted, and there are more Democrats in America than Republicans. Of course, the number of Independents is increasing and it’s anybody’s guess who they’ll favor in November. My bet is they will tend to vote against incumbents – in both parties.

One reason for the pundits’ pessimism is the recent special election in Pinellas County, where Republican David Jolly defeated  Democrat Alex Sink. But I don’t think that’s a reliable predictor.

Sink reportedly said some pretty dumb things. She is quoted as saying immigration reform is needed because there are so many jobs for hotel maids and so on in Florida. And she damned Obamacare with faint praise, promising to fix it when she got to Washington. Furthermore, her commercials toward the end of the campaign were rather tepid, suggesting she would work with Republicans to achieve bipartisan results.

That’s obviously no way tro fire up your base. And, naturally, the base did not bother to vote.

I think that’s the key in November. If Democrats don’t bother to turn out, they’re doomed indeed. And if the party chooses uninspiring candidates like Alex Sink, they can expect to get beaten.

The Republicans, for all their internal squabbling and backbiting, are fired up. They share a common hatred of Barack Obama (I don’t have to tell you why, I’m sure). They will be going to the polls in droves, that’s for sure.

And if Democrats stay home, they will get what they deserve.

On the other hand, if Democrats vote – and persuade their friends and relatives to vote – they will certainly have an opportunity to give the President a Congress he can work with to achieve his goals.

Click for Robert Gibbs’ warning.