30 April 2006

Oil and Survival

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Eight months ago when Cindy Sheehan put George Bush into check in Crawford, Texas, the US public generally were about equally divided on the performance and virtues of the American president. They had been that way for several months before the great non-confrontation.

Since then, it's been downhill all the way for the president. I thought, correctly, that Sheehan's initiative was going to break the public opinion logjam and produce a flood of negatives for Mr Bush. Although most other commentators may disagree about Sheehan's responsibility, I have no doubt that her action touched a deep chord in the American psyche, recalling people to consciousness and waking them from a PR-induced trance.

Somehow, I believe, Cindy Sheehan's camping out on the president's doorstep and his refusal to meet her challenged American values at a very deep level. I sense that the American sense of propriety, of genteel obligation, received a severe blow from the president's unchivalrous behaviour.

Whatever people said about his lying, his capacity for self-deception, his oilman separation from the ordinary folks, his bad manners broke a last connecting link between him and people who wanted to believe in his essential goodness and sense of honour.

The military death rate has resumed its climb and the White House is racked by the scandal of the Plame leak and the Abramoff connection and the DeLay scandal and a host of other large and small crimes and misdemeanours which seem somehow, to be connected to the White House and the Republican Party.

Along came Jones

I keep remembering the chorus of a song from the 1950s, mocking the American B-movie cliff-hanger heroics in which some unfortunate damsel was foully betrayed and in danger of unspeakable death or other horror, only to be rescued in the nick of time and the final reel by Our Hero.

In the song, the heroine is captured by the mustachioed, patent-haired villain, tied up and left on the railway tracks to be deconstructed by the next train "Salty Sam was a tryin' to stuff Sweet Sue in a burlap sack
He said if you don't give me the deed to your ranch
I'm gonna throw you on the railroad track

And then he grabbed her .and then. he tied her up . and then.
A train started coming .and then, and then .He! He! . and then, AND THEN, AND THEN. along came Jones tall, thin Jones, slow-walkin' Jones, slow-talkin' Jones, Along came long-legged, lanky Jones." who in the nick of time, would cut the grateful heroine loose and all would suddenly be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Mr Bush's version of "The perils of Pauline" could do with a Jones right now. In fact, it could do with two or three Joneses, but there are, alas, none in sight and none hiding anywhere.

Bush is, as they say, 'up the crick withouten a paddle' and even some of his stoutest defenders have adopted a discreet, if uncomfortable silence. Others, like Francis Fukuyama (The End of History) are in full headlong, retreat.

Meanwhile, critics who Republicans believe should be preserving a decent reticence, senior military officers, among them Generals, have been calling for the head of Generalissimo Donald "Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld.

Mr Bush's own favourite 'turd-blossom', Karl Rove, is like Peril-prone Pauline, clinging by his fingernails to the White House cliffs, widely expected to be indicted - like his former associate 'Scooter Libby' - for lying to a grand jury.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, the US is building a stadium-sized so-called Embassy, from which it is intended that the future of the Middle East shall, in the future, be directed.

The alleged Ahmad al Zarqawi has finally shown a face, threatening dire consequences to the Americans while Osama bin Laden has been content with an audio tape "mocking the Americans".

Because the situation in Iraq and elsewhere is so dire, it is not too crazy to imagine that instead of Rumsfeld's head on a platter, the refrigerated remains of bin Laden and Zarqawi may turn up in the nick of time to provide Mr Bush with his Jones. But even if that happened, I cannot imagine that it will cause anything but another small dead-cat bounce in a presidency from which all inspiration, all honour and all life have departed.

The CIA has just fired a senior manager ostensibly for leaking classified information about the agency's international law-breaking in the extraordinary rendition, torture and illegal imprisonment and murder of an unknown number of people, many of them citizens of other countries. There is a nice legal point here.

If the fired CIA officer had in fact leaked the news, she would in fact be doing her duty, in exposing high crimes and misdemeanours. To be fired for that exposes the depths of amorality to which the Bush administration has descended.

Three days ago, the European Union's special inquiry revealed that the CIA had carried out at least 1,000 illegal flights into and out of Europe, transporting the nameless victims of its worldwide policy of 'scraping-up' suspects and then torturing them until they confessed to something.

Some are undoubtedly guilty of something but others are equally clearly innocent of any wrongdoing. It appears to me that the CIA cannot release many of these people because their mental condition would reveal instantly, the corruption, violence and wickedness of the system which entrapped them.

The Bush presidency is the first US administration in my memory which it is possible to imagine bumbling into war by accident. They seem to have no sense of proportion; they start any argument by brandishing the big stick, leaving their opponents no choice but to put on the full armour and panoply of war.

The North Koreans and now the Iranians have sussed out these tactics and have turned to their own version of brinkmanship. When Mr Dulles was employing his brinksmanship, he could proceed, knowing that his opponents were rational men and unwilling to risk everything on the throw of the nuclear dice. The Iranians do not have this assurance, and their posturing, however justified, has the potential to bring the world closer to war than any crisis since the Berlin airlift.

Global warming, Hot Air and Gasolene

A petard is a small bomb, and to be hoisted by your own petard is to blow yourself up like some of the Nihilists in Imperial Russia who had the unfortunate tendency to blow themselves up in their attempts to bring down the government. Mr Bush is an oilman, or at least, a pretend oilman; he talks like an oilman, walks like an oilman and selected another oilman to be his vice-president.

It is my opinion that the notorious and still secret energy policy consultations held by Mr Cheney at the start of the Bush presidency were, in fact, all about the coming Iraq war, which would have, he thought, secured energy sufficiency for the United States for the next century or so.

Unfortunately, Messrs Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld and Company reckoned without the possibility of Iraqi resistance, but even more crucially, they forgot about China and her voraciously growing appetite for oil.

Most countries - outside of the oil-producers - have been calculating for several years, that there will come a time, sooner rather than later, when there will either be no oil available, or that it will be so expensive that they needed to find alternative sources of energy.

Even countries like Norway, the world's largest gas exporter, and Iran, the number three exporter of petroleum, have been planning for the day when 'water more than flour'. That is the motive behind Iran's nuclear research. The US has, however, chosen to treat Iran as it treated Iraq - as a totally untrustworthy, dishonourable entity, incapable of telling the truth and with a mindless, implacable hatred for Israel. The hatred is a fact, but there do seem to be rational leaders in Iran who have no intention of destroying their world by attempting to destroy Israel.

The problem with Israel is that the United States, its patron, has signed on to the Israeli belief that nothing short of unconditional surrender by the Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim world will satisfy Israel's demand for lebensraum. At no point since Sadat's journey to Jerusalem 30 years ago have the 'west' and Israel been willing to deal with the Palestinians as if they had any rights worth noticing.

In such a scenario, a reasonable onlooker would be hard-pressed to decide that the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim recalcitrance is totally unjustified. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the United States, and possibly Israel, are the only countries which still have the capacity and the will to try to make their rhetoric into reality.

In the meantime, as we were forcibly reminded 30 years ago, the Arabs and other oil producers have, in the ground, a potent answer to aggression. The petroleum situation is becoming less and less fluid - as the economists say.

China is busy signing supply contracts with Nigeria and any other oil producer in sight. Saudi Arabia, once a reliable bastion of US support, is a shaky kingdom, almost entirely dependent on American military force to guarantee the regime in power.

Iraq, once ruled by the pragmatist Saddam, is about to become an intellectual protectorate of Iran; and Iran, whose people tend to admire the United States, also tend to value their independence more. Venezuela is busy signing gas distribution agreements with Brazil and Argentina and the world market in oil, if there ever was such a thing, is becoming even more restricted.

This controlled market explains why Exxon (Esso) has been able to make a profit of more than US$8 billion in the first quarter of this year and is well on the way to exceeding its record profits of last year. Exxon's profit last year exceeded the Gross National Income of Nigeria, one of the world's largest oil producers.

This year, like last year, the oil companies will probably make as high profits in the first nine months of the year as they made in the whole of the previous year. Last October, the New York Times reported the outrage of US politicians at the prospects of higher prices. The Republican leader of the senate, Dr Bill Frist, said: "If there are those who abuse the free enterprise system to advantage themselves and their businesses at the expense of all Americans, they ought to be exposed, and they ought to be ashamed."

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, was even more heated: "Big Oil behemoths are making out like bandits, while the average American family is getting killed by high gas prices, and soon-to-be-record heating oil prices."

What they feared then has happened. The head bandit, Mr Lee Raymond of Exxon, has got a retirement benefit of US$400 million. Dr Frist is very quiet, having just signed off on a budget granting the oil companies US$7 billion in 'incentives'.

Meanwhile, television is showing Americans pawning precious possessions to buy gas. Their country was built by General Motors and Ford and depends on cars as no other in the world. Even the unemployed need cars. With gas at over US$3 per gallon, life is getting more interesting for those who thought this time last year, that they would be voting for Republicans this year.

Here in Jamaica, we are clearly immune to such things as petroleum prices. Those of us who said, five years ago, that the Milennium Highway would never be able to pay its way because of the rising cost of petroleum get little satisfaction out of saying we told you so. What is more painful is that 50 years from now when the idiots and bandits responsible for our Doomsday Highway are long dead, our grandchildren and their grandchildren will still be paying for this misbegotten monstrosity.

Meanwhile, Mr Paulwell speaks of selling off our remaining publicly owned assets, which were accumulated by good sense and conservative economics employed mainly by people who called themselves socialists. Like the man pawning his watch to drive his Jaguar, we are on the road to bankruptcy.

We do have the means to avoid total wreck. If we get out of sugar and turn the factories over to the production of ethanol, we can use sugar cane, elephant grass and all kinds of other biomass, which grow wild in Jamaica, to rescue ourselves from the Lee Raymonds of this world.

We can develop wind-power to supplement and eventually supplant all the thermally generated power we consume. We can set up any number of industries to exploit solar energy and the skills of small producers.

We can actually make Jamaica work again by abandoning the stupid, heavy metal policies of the recent past and by understanding that we can develop fastest by developing our people. "Infrastructure" produces nothing; it is people who produce.

23 April 2006

Racism and Bird Flu

Common Sense
John Maxwell

The US Press is in the throes of two of its annual rituals: first, the celebration of the latest crop of Pulitzer prizes for journalistic excellence; second: the selection of a suitable candidate for the year's high profile public lynching.

In past years they have sacrificed O J Simpson, Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant, to name only the most prominent.

Candidates for lynching are not always obvious; since September last and Hurricane Katrina, Kanye West, Harry Belafonte and New Orleans Mayor Roy Nagin were all considered and discarded. Belafonte was too smart, Kanye West was too popular and Roy Nagin was right about the Bush administration and its failures in the disaster. The Mexican illegal immigrants are too diffuse for a really impressive auto da fé. A simpler, more easily stereotyped candidate is needed.

This month, two relatively new candidates presented themselves: Barry Bonds, the home run hitter accused of lying about steroid use, and Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who punched a Congressional security guard she accused of an inappropriate attempt to restrain her as she rushed into the Congress without passing through the metal detectors.

At the same time, two of three suspects in the violent rape of a young black woman by members of an almost all white university sports team are getting the benefit of a 'full court press' to provide character evidence for them before they have even entered the courtroom. Their alleged victim is meanwhile traduced as drunk and delusional.

Clearly, high-class young white men could not possibly have raped a black woman, a university student herself - from a black university - who is not only a single mother but was working her way through college by moonlighting as a stripper.
While the rich, young white athletes are having their sterling praises sung by the media, Cynthia McKinney is being investigated by a Washington, D.C. Grand Jury.

Hamas and Palestine

HEBRON, West Bank - A Palestinian driver places items to be searched in front of an Israeli army explosives robot at a checkpoint in the West Bank town of Hebron last Friday. (Photo: AP)

Hamas and Palestine are getting the Haiti Democracy treatment. Having had the temerity to vote for the people they thought might best represent them, the Palestinians are to be blackmailed into good behaviour.

In response to US and Israeli pressure "Several EU nations, including Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands have already frozen their aid to the new government and more may follow. Aid from the EU and its 25 member nations averages $615 million per year, about half of which has been suspended. The EU decision to freeze payments affects an immediate instalment of $36.5 million, compounding an already dire financial situation for the Palestinian government. Canada, Norway and other non-EU member nations have also cancelled funding."

The US secretary of state explained why: "Because the new Hamas-led Palestinian government has failed to accept the Quartet principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and respect for previous agreements between the parties, the US is suspending assistance to the Palestinian government's Cabinet and ministries."

No similar pressure has been put on the Israelis, whose attitude to the Palestinians is reflected faithfully in the Hamas attitude to Israel. And while Israel is commended for not blasting the Palestinians in revenge for the latest suicide bombing, no one has remarked that the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv was preceded by the Israelis killing 15 Palestinians and wounding dozens more the previous weekend.

In a commentary printed in Cairo's Al Ahram, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Ismail Haniyeh, outlines what he says is the basis for comprehensive peace. It is worth quoting at some length:
"From time immemorial, Palestine was the peaceful homeland of native Muslims, Christians and Jews who lived together in peace and harmony, sharing a common history and heritage. In fact, it was only after Palestine was placed under the British mandate following World War I, and when the British colonialist authorities subsequently decided to illegally give Palestine, our ancestral homeland, to Zionism, that inter-communal and inter-religious harmony was disturbed.

"As result of that wanton injustice, we find ourselves today as prisoners in our own homeland, enslaved and tormented by an illegal and immoral occupier who is treating our people as children of a lesser God, or even as if we were animals.

"In fact, the criminal nature of this occupation transcends reality. The ugly scenes of murder, home demolitions, and humiliation to which our people are subjected on a daily basis and which people outside Palestine watch on their TV screens, are but a small part of what is really happening on the ground.

"Needless to say, the Israeli occupiers wouldn't be perpetrating their crimes against a helpless people whose only "crime" is its enduring yearning for freedom and justice were it not for the disgraceful apathy of the international community towards my people's plight. "Hence, I call on the international community to pressure the Israeli state to stop its systematic oppression and institutionalised persecution of my people."
Haniyeh says his people want peace and they believe peace is possible, but "for a just peace to materialise in Palestine, the world community must adopt an honest approach to this conflict. We say so because we are tired of the international community's hypocrisy and double standards in dealing with both parties to the conflict.

"Indeed, we would like to know why the UN has allowed Israel to repeatedly fly in the face of more than 100 UN resolutions aimed at ending the illegal occupation of my country? Are there two sets of international law, one for the weak and another for the strong?

"Is Israel above international law? Is Israel entitled to a special treatment by the international community whereby it can kill our children with impunity, steal our land with impunity, and expel us to the four corners of the world with impunity?"

Prime Minister Haniyeh concludes with a simple appeal for justice:
"It is time that all men and women of conscience and rectitude speak up in support of justice for the Palestinians. We have suffered too much, and it is time that we are allowed to reclaim our usurped freedom and dignity. We are not demanding the impossible. We only challenge the world community to be faithful to the UN Charter and international conventions that prohibit the acquisition of land by force."
In a world whose agenda is set by an increasingly corrupt and self-serving media, public opinion on the side of justice will never be able to have any effect if it continues to be systematically denied the truth. If the world does not know of the injustices of Palestine or Haiti, we can never be moved to do anything to redress the prevailing wickedness. We cannot oppose evil if we do not know that it exists.

Bird Flu

Egypt is in the throes of a bird flu epidemic. Apparently, the Egyptian poultry industry has been destroyed but backyard rearing of chickens is making the pandemic impossible to control. Galal Nassar, writing in Al Ahram, says an unpublished study suggests that "the avian flu virus is now endemic in Egypt and will remain so for years because of the bungling of health authorities at every step of the way".

It is suspected that the virus entered Egypt by the illegal importation of infected birds, which implies, according to Nassar "on top of gross negligence, gross corruption motivated by a greed so voracious that it had no compunction at letting the interest of immediate gain override the dangers to which it was exposing society".

Nassar points out that the Egyptian pandemic has occurred despite sensible precautions taken early on; a state of emergency had been declared, there was wholesale slaughter of industrial poultry, but little attention was paid to backyard poultry rearing or to the possibility that unscrupulous people might import infected poultry into the country. So, despite enormous early sacrifice, Egypt is again threatened by a pandemic to which the government's response is to blame the backyard chicken rearers.

It appears that Egypt is increasingly likely to be gripped by panic and confusion unless the government begins to take serious, organised action to find and destroy the sources of infection, because the longer the virus is allowed to survive and spread is the more likely that the disease will mutate, make the jump and begin to spread from human to human, instead of from birds to humans. At that point, there will not be much that anyone can do.

In Jamaica, we need to realise that if bird flu becomes endemic here, as it has in Egypt, despite the fact that only a few people have died, it will mean the end of the tourism industry and wholesale unemployment. At that point we will have not only a public health emergency but a public security emergency. Before we are very much older we need to begin, and urgently, to devise a food security programme, diverting some of the millions we are spending on highways to nowhere to importing and planting food.

We really need to begin turning some of our sugar land over to peas and beans, to begin programmes to promote backyard gardening and to develop new strategies to guarantee reliable supplies of protein foods for the population. I believe it would make sense for us to begin to convert some of the enormous craters left by bauxite mining into fish ponds. It may make sense right now to forbid bauxite companies to mine out all the bauxite and instead to leave a lining of bauxite clay in the ground so that we can seal the ponds without too much expense.

It may also make sense to begin developing cottage industries around these ponds for the salting/pickling of freshwater fish, because if the pandemic really gets a grip even our electricity supplies will be in danger. We may not be able to import the oil to drive the generators to provide power for refrigerators and freezers. We need to begin a completely new look at our survival techniques and a completely new understanding of what it means to be civilised.

We can be certain of only one thing: we have no idea how desperate our situation may become. But even if it does not become desperate we need to begin to understand the meaning of sustainable development and to prepare for future threats.

The lives we save may be our own.

16 April 2006

No Time to Lose

Common Sense
John Maxwell

"A robin redbreast in a cage," according to William Blake, "puts all heaven in a rage." A nation in a cage - eight million people in prison - does not disturb too many people; certainly not the Great White Fathers who control our world.

These Great White hypocrites were much moved, it was reported, by the plight of a single Christian proselyte in Afghanistan who stood to lose his head for abandoning his faith.

Nearer home, in Haiti, thousands of innocent people in jail, put there by outlaws, gangsters, professional murderers and rapists, could not stir the lively consciences of these leaders of the free world in Washington, London, Paris and Ottawa. The fate of innocent schoolgirls, sodomised by soldiers in the street, was of no account to these bozos in their ivory towers.
It was a different country, and besides, there are no votes there.

Parsons and Politics

I don't have a problem with parsons in politics, partly because my father was one, and a good one. He must have been good, since he was almost a pauper when he died.

That was then.

Today, preachers have an entirely different public image, not so cuddly or altruistic, more inclined, like bankers, to keep a sharp eye out for souls "worth saving".

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has called for preachers to be given special privilege in the affairs of state. She wants them put on as many authorities as possible, to lend "probity" or at least the appearance of probity.

The PM must realise that while people respect her own religious views, Jamaica is only nominally a Christian country and that she cannot, like the current US administration, attempt to inflict her beliefs on everyone else. Crucially, it appears that many so-called Christians don't seem to be able to agree on very much and tend to give the impression that religion is, for too many, a means to get rich quickly.

Jamaica is littered with enormous, grandiose structures, built by community savings but no longer serving any community purpose. The development progression is as follows: first there is a small tent and a few chairs, followed in a few months by a bigger tent, more chairs and an enormous sound system.

Then construction begins on a very large structure, then somehow the construction work ends and the building remains unfinished, the pastor has gone abroad to "look more money" while the people's savings remain entombed in a totally useless concrete monstrosity.

For many Jamaicans, myself included, parsons must put their money where their mouths are. If we are all in the development process we all need to demonstrate that we deserve a seat at the table, parsons deserve respect to the extent that they earn it - just like anyone else. And nothing can so quickly discredit an administration as the appearance of probity and integrity without the substance.

I remember 40 years ago, when we were faced with an acute shortage of school space, suggesting in Public Opinion that we could partially solve the problem if the churches would lend some of their buildings for schools during the week. The Roman Catholics were the only denomination to respond positively. There was a total lack of response from the thousands of evangelical churches whose buildings were much more conveniently situated than the Catholics'.

I am really scared by the idea of parsons on the National Family Planning Board, for instance, or the National Environmental & Planning Agency deciding, purely on principle, you understand, whether children are entitled to be taught the elements of human reproduction, or whether a cemetery is a serious threat to the environment.

The PM is in a crucial phase of her administration. The overwhelming majority of Jamaicans want her to do well, while others are praying for disaster. The window of her opportunity is narrow and she has a great deal of work to do.

People want to know about her plans for community consultation and development and that's what she needs to explain now. We have two looming crises which need to be prepared for on the community level. The first major crisis is the hurricane season; the second, the possibility of an epidemic of avian flu.

Building Social Capital

We have, over several years, managed to produce a pretty adequate system to deal with the immediate after-effects of a hurricane. We have not yet produced anything like the Cuban system which moves entire cities out of harm's way before the hurricane strikes.

As hurricanes become more frequent and much more dangerous, we need to mobilise the society to respond more quickly and effectively to the threat of disaster - that is, we must make ourselves more able to avert disaster by moving people and movable assets out of the path of destruction before the crisis arrives.

The development of such responses will be crucial in avoiding the worst economic and social losses produced by hurricanes. Obviously we cannot develop such capacities overnight; among the necessary and missing factors now are high levels of community trust and comradeship.

But there is a bright spot: the Jamaican community is, at this moment, very receptive to initiatives which will summon people to a higher level of social concern and responsibility. If Portia is really going to make a difference, here is one area which begs for mobilisation. And it is an area in which most people have some level of experience and expertise - an area in which the wisdom of the people waits to be harvested and co-ordinated.

I believe that the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management mobilising volunteers and in co-operation with the Army, the Red Cross and with advice and help from the Cubans would, in a few months, be able to make enormous differences in minimising loss from predictable natural disasters. At the end of the hurricane season, as communities evaluated their work, they would also be able to better understand the value of their co-operation and to appreciate the meaning of the social capital they have accumulated.

Bird Flu Threat

According to the best estimates, people in the Americas may have up to nine months to prepare to deal with an outbreak of the Asian bird flu. What worries health experts is the possibility that the H5N1 avian flu virus will combine with a human flu virus and trigger a global flu pandemic.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that if this happens, the world would have just weeks to contain the virus before it spreads, possibly killing millions of people.

H5N1 is an avian flu strain that emerged in Hong Kong in 1997, killing or forcing the destruction of 1.5 million chickens, ducks and geese, infecting 18 people and killing six. The WHO says the quick slaughter of all potentially infected birds may have averted a pandemic. However, the virus reappeared in a deadlier form last year and has caused havoc among poultry in Asia, Europe and Africa this year.

Now, according to the world's leading expert, the spread of bird flu across Europe, Asia and Africa suggests that the virus is moving more rapidly than anyone predicted and is closer to a critical mutation that would make it more easily transmissible between humans.

"We expected it to move, but not many of us thought it would move quite like this," said Dr David Nabarro, co-ordinator on bird flu efforts at the United Nations. "Something generally disturbing is going on at the moment. It's certainly in the bird world, and it's pushing up against the human world in a serious way."

Nabarro describes himself as "quite scared", especially since the disease has broken out of Eastern Asia and reached birds in Africa, Europe and India much faster than he expected it to.

"That rampant, explosive spread, and the dramatic way it's killing poultry so rapidly suggests that we've got a very beastly virus in our midst." According to Dr Nabarro: "The infection of millions more birds in many more countries "has led to an exponential increase of the load of virus in the world".

And influenza is a fast-mutating virus. Each infected bird and person is actually awash in minutely different strains, and it takes lengthy genetic testing to sequence each one. So if a pandemic strain were to appear, "it might be quite difficult for us to pick up that change when it happens". Birds that survive infection with H5N1 excrete the virus for at least 10 days, orally and in faeces, making it highly likely to spread.

Overall 103 people have succumbed to it, but experts fear that if the critical mutation occurs, it will spread like wildfire and kill millions of people the world over. Dr Robert Webster, who has been studying the virus since 1997, says that the virus can no longer be controlled. "Nature is in control," he said.

Jamaica and other island nations are in some ways, naturally quarantined against certain diseases, but bird flu is not one of them. Migratory birds, usually wild ducks, are the natural "reservoir" of avian influenza viruses, and usually do not become sick when infected. Domestic poultry, including chickens and turkeys, die quickly when infected.

If a human pandemic does begin, anywhere in the world, most experts forecast widespread economic disaster. The first casualty of a pandemic will be international travel; tourism worldwide will shut down overnight and the vast populations which depend on tourism will need to find some other way to subsist.

Second, if bird flu is discovered in one chicken in Jamaica, the entire poultry stock will have to be destroyed. It will not be easy to explain to people who own a chicken or two that their apparently healthy birds must not only be killed, but burned or buried in the public interest. We should probably ban the bird pet trade now and get ready to stop all poultry imports.

So even if we don't lose thousands of people to the virus, we will almost certainly suffer enormous economic damage by the destruction of the poultry industry - economic disaster for thousands of people, from poultry farmers to sidewalk 'jerkers' - unless we prepare to mitigate the damage. We need to start now.

There are some things we can do while there still appears to be time. The Chinese, who grow one-fifth of all the world's poultry, have begun a highly efficient effort to vaccinate the country's 14 billion birds of all kinds. It may make sense for us to try either to buy some of this vaccine or to ask the Chinese for help in producing our own vaccine.

Again, in such a scenario, the help of the Cubans would be vital, because they are among the very few countries in this hemisphere with the scientific manufacturing capability to produce the high quality products needed in such an enterprise. We should begin a co-ordinated regional response, including all of our neighbours, whatever language they speak.

We need to make major contingency plans for the pandemic. We will not be able to import food, because travel and world trade will come to a standstill. We will therefore need to prepare food contingency plans. These should include the development of the kind of measures used during the second World War.

These programmes need to be started now and the government should, in my view, immediately begin to buy and/or import seed for easily grown garden vegetables and perhaps begin a programme for the rapid expansion of the small livestock industry. Chicken farmers need to be given incentives for growing pigs, goats, sheep and rabbits. School farming programmes must be introduced and stimulated.

Whether there is a pandemic or not, diversifying our domestic food supply will certainly make us safer and probably healthier.

Finally, we should immediately compel cane farmers to convert 10 per cent of their productive land to domestic food crops, to plant corn, cassava, potato, yam and other crops. If we begin now, we have enough time to make ourselves relatively safe while raising the social capital. Whether there is an epidemic or not, we are certain to be better off. And we need to prepare for running a country in which most shops, offices, schools and other public buildings will be closed and people will need to work from home and be taught at home.

The time to begin solving these problems is now.

09 April 2006

No Column This Week

Common Sense
John Maxwell

02 April 2006

Making Jamaica Work

Common Sense
John Maxwell

The richer and more powerful we are, it seems, is the greater our capacity for self-delusion. The long-drawn-out departure of the former prime minister has apparently given hordes of privileged Jamaicans licence to speak about the enormous blessings his 14-year stint has brought us.

He has, we are told, brought a new civility to the affairs of the country, notwithstanding the almost tripling of the murder rate. He has, we are told, brought unexampled prosperity to this country, if we ignore the fact that despite all the heavy investment, the Gross Domestic Product of Jamaica in real terms has risen, perhaps, by two per cent since 1990; the rich have become immeasurably richer, the poor have got poorer and more desperate and are sustained more by remittances from abroad than by any other single factor.

The National Public Debt has risen by almost 50 per cent, while, despite all the redundancies, privatisations and other free market nostrums, government expenditures have risen to more than one-third of GDP, and more than 60 cents of every devalued dollar is paid to bankers and so-called 'investors'.

The only growth sector is financial services, which do nothing but accelerate the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. The result is a country in which the reverse Robin Hood syndrome is more significant than at any time since the abolition of slavery.

As the World Bank has pointed out in several studies of the region, economic inequality and collaterally perceived injustice are the main factors driving violent crime. According to the Bank (Determinants of crime rates in Latin America and the World):
"Greater inequality is associated with higher intentional homicide and robbery rates but the level of per capita income is not a significant determinant...contrary to our expectations, national enrolment rates in secondary education and the average number of years of schooling of the population appear to be positively (but weakly) associated with higher homicide rates."
Simpson Miller: seen by so many people as the answer to their prayers

That makes perfect sense to me. The level of frustration will go up among the better educated but unemployed youth. The promise of education is blasted by the sense of social and economic oppression and unfairness.

And in another publication, the World Bank declares that, "The costs of risky adolescent behaviour in the Caribbean in terms of direct expenditures and forgone productivity reach billions of dollars. It has been calculated that: ...a one per cent decrease in youth crime would directly increase tourist receipts by four per cent in Jamaica. (Caribbean Youth Development: Issues and Policy Directions).

In other publications, the bank suggests that improved education combined with crime reduction might contribute to another six per cent rise in GDP, triple the current rate of GDP increase and more than the Doomsday Highway and Harmony Cove combined.

So what are we waiting for? Conventional wisdom, expounded by conservatives like Don Robotham, suggests that all we need is more of the same Washington Consensus policies so ably promulgated by Omar Davies. This, despite the fact that the strategy clearly does not work anywhere, not in Jamaica or in any other Caribbean nation nor perhaps anywhere in the world outside of Singapore and one or two other specially privileged small nations. (See A Time to Choose: Caribbean development in the 21st century - World Bank 2006).

Recent studies in the United States have produced what the late John Hearne would have called a "brute fact": The share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990s. In 2000, 65 per cent of black male high school dropouts in their 20s were jobless - that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 per cent, compared with 34 per cent of white and 19 per cent of Hispanic dropouts.

Even when high school graduates were included, half the number of black men in their 20s were jobless in 2004, up from 46 per cent in 2000.

Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990s and reached historic highs in the past few years. In 1995, 16 per cent of black men in their 20s who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 per cent were incarcerated. By their mid-30s, six in 10 black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison.

One further US statistic is of interest - the fact that of all the men in prison, black or white, 76 per cent were 'fatherless' - i.e. they came from single-mother families.

These facts tell me that the centuries of dispossession and disinheritance of blacks in the New World has created a climate in which the normal rules of development do not apply, and I am sure that if the Jamaican situation were examined, similar proportions of fatherlessness would be found associated with delinquency.

Migration has been the vehicle for black development since the end of slavery. Jamaicans built the Panama Canal, created the railways and started the banana plantations of Central America, harvested the sugar cane during the 'Dance of the Millions' in Cuba early in the third decade of the 20th century, and provided the farm labour on American plantations during the second world war and after. Since then, Kingston has been simply a way-station on the road to 'prosperity' in Belle Glade and points north.

The current American xenophobia directed against Mexican illegal immigrants, might, if successful, perhaps improve the theoretical employability of native blacks, but it is highly unlikely to succeed because American business knows that it can get away with paying 'illegals' much less than it could offer American citizens of whatever colour.

In Jamaica, we have to wake up to some degree of reality. Jamaica now presents to itself and the world a picture of a supremely investor-friendly destination, the broad smile of invitation subverted only by the cutlass concealed behind the back.

Despite this threat, some investors do buy into the seductive promise of multimillion dollar rewards. A short trip along the North Coast will make it plain that Jamaica is becoming an island completely surrounded by all-inclusive hotels complete with all-inclusive shops and attractions, walled off from native predation. And if water is privatised they, of course, expect to get as much as they want for golf-courses and saunas - and who cares about the thirsty villagers down the road?

The tourism industry, which serves more higher-income visitors than the population of Jamaica, contains within itself the potential to provide a market which could easily demand twice the national farm production, if properly organised and if the industry could persuade itself to buy more Jamaican instead of finding convenient channels for the export of money.

Doubling farm production would require at least two new initiatives, the first being an agrarian reform programme and the second being massive investment in people instead of concrete.

Portia Simpson Miller's expressed intention to harvest the wisdom of the people will surely inform Jamaica of some unpalatable truths: despite the buoyant economic climate in the air-conditioned boardrooms of Kingston, most Jamaicans see no way out of their present hopelessness.

If we read the Horace Levy-edited report They Cry Respect, now more than a decade old, we would find that the people do know what they want.

They understand very clearly that they have been abandoned by the state, and hence feel only a residual loyalty to it. They want an end to the disinheritance, they want to be reconnected to a caring society which understands their history of oppression and misery. That is why Portia Simpson Miller is seen by so many as the answer to their prayers. They know that she knows the troubles they've seen, that she shares their sorrows. They know they can talk to her, and hope she can struggle with the Great Economic Determinists in the sky to bring them a modicum of joy and content.

Between these entreaties and the demands of the rich and super-rich stand a few obstacles, not least the idea that economic development is an exercise in selfishness and greed, in which it is every man for himself and the devil take the women and children.

The Matalon Committee's suggestion that the tax burden should be shifted even more onerously onto the shoulders of the poor is a good example of the level of self-deception in the society. In a small country in which one family can own six-and-a-half square miles of land while large numbers depend on the kindness of friends for the clothes they wear, it is clear that many cannot conceive of the parameters of the perils we confront.

People know, from Sam Sharpe, Bogle, Garvey and the two Manleys, that they are entitled at least to a fair chance. They know from their everyday experience that they do not get one. They intuitively understand that every human being is entitled to development and they seize whatever chances are on offer. If sports, cricket and athletics are the only openings available, they seize the chances and prove that they can excel.

All real sports, including bobsledding, tennis and golf, depend on brains as well as muscle. But not all of us are athletes, and for those, the opportunities are severely limited.

The University of the West Indies recently de-registered 500 undergraduates, not because they were dumb, but because they could not pay their full fees. That meant that the university, at one stroke, lost more than three per cent of its enrolment. We can no more afford such a rate of attrition than we can afford a tsunami.

No duty to be poor

No one has a duty to be poor, and no one has a right to be rich. Most people really do understand that we are all in the same boat and that we swim or sink together. There are some of us, however, who believe that God, or some other external agency, will warn us when we are coming too close to the edge of disaster. History does not disclose any such warnings to any other society. As we were in 1972, we are back on the precipice's edge right now, and the fact that Portia is in charge is only one way of buying time. If we are to avoid the predictable disasters which lurk round the corner, we need to commit ourselves to a different idea of Jamaica. We have to begin to face facts and embrace them.

Two major resources

What Jamaica needs to understand now is that the country, the society, the nation are broken and that we need to fix them. We need to turn away from the heavy metal developments, from the stealing of public goods, beaches, land, institutions and wealth. We need to invest at the base of our societies, in making real families possible and in making them work.

We need to send all our children to school and to make sure that they are not afflicted with asthma and emphysema provoked by burning plastic and other garbage. We need to understand that those who have much must be expected to give most; and above all, we need to understand that the national interest is our personal interest.

We need to understand that our major resources are our people and our land, and we need to put them both into productive, creative employment. Casual labour is not enough; 'independent contractors' and organised hustling or 'scuffling' cannot work. People must have security of environment in family and community, in work, in health, culture and governance.

We need to understand that it is not only unpatriotic but self-destructive in every sense, to demand more from a poor and almost destitute society so that we can salt away millions in unproductive bank accounts. If half our debt repayment - now 63 per cent of revenue - were spent in education and other social investment we would recoup our investment in a very short time.

We don't need foreign investors - we need only to convince ourselves of the truism that we can only get out of life and Jamaica, as much as we put into them. Our very lives depend on it. What, may I ask, is the point of being rich if we are then forced to live in gated, grilled air-conditioned prisons at half-a-million US$ a pop? Greed is unsustainable.

We can make Jamaica work again, but we need to work on it, in it and for it.

We need to invest our work, our wealth, our confidence and trust and our respect in our people. And we need to remember the famous question: What shall it profit anyone to gain the whole world but to lose his own soul?