Archive for October, 2008

October 25, 2008

Shaking the foundations.

 

It has now become transparently obvious to me that to blog more frequently I am completely dependent on my powerbook Tinkerbell. It isn’t that the iMac I am now using is flawed in any way or even her big sister Sybil, the dual processor PowerPC sitting next to her with the impressively large flat screen display it is just that I like sitting on the couch and blogging. I am a multitasking kind of person I need to blog, while watching something on TV and reading an economic treatise. It might not be the ideal concentration situation but it works for me so I am counting the  days till Harry replaces her hard drive and I can pack her for my upcoming trip.

 

Speaking of my upcoming trip it is nice to see that things are slowly coming together because the logistics are headache inducing. Planning a trip of a limited number of days but still managing to see as many hotels, restaurants and sights is not an easy business. Arranging accommodation alone is a major task since no hotel can reasonably host a travel writer for more than a few days and not the duration of a visit. I am really looking forward to Bucuti in Aruba as my pal of last year ,Susan, has graciously offered to host me for a few days. Having a chance to experience a hotel that seldom has a vacant room and that takes style and environmental consciousness to a new level is going to be one of the highlights of this expedition. Still, I can’t help hoping that the global economic downturn will not take a toll on the tourism income of the ABC islands that rely on visitors.

 

The world economy has been one of my major focuses these days both for work and personal reasons. I have long love the magical science of economics and have been boning up on as many studies that I can so I can seem semi-literate when speaking to both economists and politicians. It is a complicated business but, ultimately, economies have cycles of ups and downs and no amount of intervention can stop them. The world will pull out of this slump once we establish a nadir and inevitably we will, after months or years, start the upward journey again. 

 

Here at home the main problem is inflation heavily fuelled by massive government spending on non-productive projects. Sure, there are a few areas that may spur productivity such as infrastructure but tall government buildings and unnecessary stadiums i shardly likely to bring a return on investment. They don’t seem to have studied the whole FDR New Deal thing properly. Inflation has now reached a worrisome 14.8% and is almost certainly likely to climb. This is the headline inflation  but food inflation is the especially troubling part. Newsday condensed the Central Bank’s analysis of the situation :

 

Food price inflation, considered a key driver of the headline inflation rate, was recorded at 34.6 percent in September. This represents an increase from 30.2 percent, as a result of increases in bread and cereals (63.2 percent), fruits (38.4 percent) vegetables (42.4 percent) and fish ( 25.1 percent). “

 

For people living on the edge such price rises can lead to catastrophe and for some I am sure it already is. Governments have two ways of dealing with rising prices one is curtailing demand and the other is addressing supply. Clearly, as the figures are not measuring caviar prices, it is impossible for people to cut back on consumption if they are already having a hard time affording food to feed their families. On the supply side government has been proposing that people start small gardens which is hardly a useful suggestion in a largely urban country. It has also been pushing the import substitution agenda saying that we should substitute local things like eddoes ( taro) and cassava ( manioc) for imported potatoes. Great suggestion except last time I checked both local items were a lot more expensive than potatoes. Things must really be desperate in their “Vision 20/20 heading for developed country status”world if they have to dredge up unworkable solutions last employed by underdeveloped nations in the 1970s.

 

The other budget “initiatives” involve a “new” agricultural thrust calling for everything from mega-farms run by Cuban farmers to improving access to rural areas. It is like a tired and fading echo now. They have been promising such things for years and nothing has been delivered. I wish they would just get sense and let the private sector do what it does best – get results. Offer meaningful incentives for people to grow food crops. If they want to make it more attractive than long hours slogging in the hot sun and fearing floods then make it more attractive and modern. The simplest solution is to promote things like large-scale hydroponics and aquaculture. Offer potential farmers a $200,000 grant ,a $500,000 interest free loan and a 10 year tax holiday to undertake such projects and I can guarantee that we would be overflowing with food in a matter of 6 months.

 

On the other hand, we can keep making misguided halfway efforts to do things the old way and hope the population doesn’t finally get fed up.

October 19, 2008

Sad testament

 

Temporarily back from my panicked attempts to arrange my ABC islands writing trip. At work today producing news one of our cameramen asked a reporter if she was told she had to spend two weeks in either Baghdad or Morvant ( a suburb of Port of Spain) which would she choose? He answer was immediately Baghdad. I answered Baghdad too as did another reporter. He actually added that at least in Baghdad he might have a fighting chance. This troubled me.

 

To check further I called several of my friends and each one of them also answered Baghdad ( one venturing that he might al least make it on CNN there if he died). The unanimous choice of Baghdad rather than a dangerous area of the capital is telling. This country has reached such a sorry state that people would choose a war ravaged city where mortar bombs and snipers are still a fact of life to  staying in an urban area on a Southern Caribbean island. Given that our murder toll for the year has just surpassed 437 it might not actually be an unwise choice. Trinidad and Tobago may not be rising up the world charts in terms of transparency or human development but we now have the dubious distinction of being in the top five most homicide prone nations on earth.

 

I suppose the other advantage of Baghdad is that there is a visible security presence on the ground. Even if you still end up being blown to smithereens at least you have the mental comfort of seeing that there is the possibility someone will be able to reduce the chances of it happening. In the rougher parts of Port of Spain even UPS and FedEx refuse to deliver packages. Despite government promises year after year that they have plans afoot the crime rate is headed out of control and it is my understanding that in the past three years only 77 new officers have been added to the force while many more than that have retired or just left the service.

 

It seems that nobody in authority is doing anything to address either the growing violence or the underlying causes of dispossessed youth. The Government’s ridiculous policy of using a system of welfare relief that involves getting 10 days of manual labour in exchange for pay or CEPEP which is organized through independent contractors paying for maintenance projects is actually encouraging gangs and violence. Just let people prove they are looking fo rwork and give them a damned welfare cheque…it isn’t rocket science.

 

Am I hopeful things are going to get better? Nope. Do I think they will get a lot worse? Hell yes.

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October 19, 2008

Tomorrow

 

 

I will blog tomorrow. Right now I am planning the ABC islands and nothing will stop me. There is something about signing contracts that makes previous plans null and void.

October 9, 2008

Trying times

It  has been a while since my last entry but trust me when I say the title for this entry was not hard to choose. I sit here typing this entry on my iMac as my trusty Tinkerbell has had a serious incident and will have to undergo  emergency heart surgery in the next few days. It seems her hard drive has finally bitten the dust and though I probably haven’t lost too much since I tend to backup frequently and .mac or .me or whatever the hell it is called now will resynchronise all my contacts and email accounts once I get her back up and running but it is still a traumatic time. I take Tinkerbell ( my 12” powerbook) everywhere so I have lost all interest in the internet since she went into a coma. Honestly, I have not logged on to MSN, uploaded a blog or even checked my favourite RSS feeds. Bless her incapacitated 12” soul but she is my primary machine and is in use all the time in our newsroom too.

As I writer this I am not unaware of the turmoil afflicting world financial markets and as I look at the web I see that it is now down over 10% a troubling development in an already upsetting week. Markets are tanking the world over and yet I am still seeing TV analysts asking if we are on the verge of a global recession. I believe the answer is a very definite yes and having lived through quite a few I know  it will last a few years. The markets falling is, of course, a symptom of a slight panic on the part of investors but it is a state of panic in the face of some piss poor economic results being seen from a number of countries around the world.  Ireland, long the economic tiger of Europe, is now in recession and the economic tiger of Asia – Singapore – has just joined it with GDP down over 6% for a second quarter. We are in for a very bumpy ride and I see large job losses and a general tightening of belts in our future. It will certainly get worse before it gets better and anyone expecting a turnaround soon is a few nuggets short of a happy meal. We are in for a trying time as  markets readjust and the economy finds new firm ground to stand on. Funny how we never learn a lesson from past mistakes as it always comes down to easy credit. Read a bit on the Great Depression and the similarities become rather disconcerting.

In other personal news I have been afflicted with a sort of technological blight in the last two weeks. It started with my Mondeo not functioning properly and a missing mechanic who had to set some things right. It moved on to my beloved Samsung D900 being unable to charge owing to a poorly designed charger port which is now in a repair shop and don’t even let me get started on that fiasco but it still leaves me without my 2000 contacts easily accessible ( they were mirrored on my laptop but she is not able to help me either). Then, while trying to resuscitate Tinkerbell I started feeling a bit warm in my living room and realised my groovy electronic fan had conked out.  I think I need a voodoo doctor to stop me before I kill more tech.

Just watched “Life on Mars” the new series on ABC. I like the weird premise of a police officer being transported back to 1973  but in the midst of my new technology snafu it has made me even more depressed. Watching the character getting used to everything in the world of 1973 I realised that, though I was not quite a teenager yet, I remembered the music, the cars, the references, Richard Nixon, 8 tracks and even the bad hairstyles. Suddenly my memories make me dated – a virtual dinosaur in the modern world. I should have seen this coming when chatting with one of our 20-something IT people not too long ago I casually mentioned that I remembered how annoying using punch cards for input was and he looked at me like I fell from space. He had never heard of punch cards and card readers and told me that he never knew I was that old. I guess i am.

October 1, 2008

Burning down the house

Our Parliament is never a place for the quiet and dignified exchange of ideas. It exists somewhere in the murky region between the UK Parliament and the Korean Parliament. We don’t actually have fisticuffs but we have been known to have the odd teacup tossing  during the break. This past couple of weeks has been something of a thrill for political observers such as myself. It all began with the doze worthy laying of the 2008/2009 budget last week and has been a virtual amusement park ride ever since.

 

We had the opposition response presented rather well by the always animated Kamla Persad Bissessar and the subsequent debate. Basically the opposition ripped the budget apart and the government spent hours saying what a great job they are doing. Frankly, watching the National Security Minister standing up and lauding his accomplishments and the government’s vision in the face of a 400 plus murder toll was a bit too rich for my blood…but I am sure it had a certain macabre dramatic value.

 

The highlight of the week of parliamentary shenanigans was undoubtedly the stellar presentation of  Dr. Keith Rowley, the maverick PNM member for Diego Martin West and former minister. As I mentioned in an entry way back when he fell out of favour with the PM and was cast into the political outhouse. He came out swinging on Monday with what amounts to one of the best moments I can remember in the Parliament for the past twenty years. Speaking from the government benches he called the PM to task for a lack of accountability and for questionable practices. It was gripping and resulted in surprising desk thumping from both sides of the house.

 

In his closing of the budget debate the PM lashed back yesterday. After convincing the Speaker to suspend the standing orders for him to speak for an unlimited time – unheard of and most peculiar – he went on to attack Dr. Rowley in what might best be described as unstatesmanlike and at worst as mean spirited. He even suggested that $10 million had gone missing from the Ministry of Housing under Dr. Rowley’s stewardship. Why he waited for over a year to make the accusation or how he failed to notice that as PM at the time he was also accountable I have no idea. I am looking forward to the fallout in the coming days.

 

I am now watching the finals of America’s Got Talent and as soon as either Eli Mattson or Nuttin’ but Stringz wins I will post the result and hit the publish button. If anyone else wins I will shake my head and wonder before pushing the publish button.

 

Ah well they picked Neil E Boyd..the one who breaks into tears every 3 minutes. God help them. Eli will get a recording contract in 2 seconds and much more than the million dollar prize.

Oh God…if they vote this way in the elections the world will shudder….oh right…Dubya got in with them too.