Archive for ‘PNM’

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.

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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.

September 22, 2008

The Atacama Budget

 

Just a short note today as I only just got home from broadcasting our analysis of the 2008/2009 budget that was delivered today. It was supposed to be the first budget to be delivered by a female Finance Minister and also one of the shortest budget speeches . I will freely agree it was delivered by a female Finance Minister but at 3.5 hours it was surely not even competition for the 35 minute speech during the UNC regime. Worse still those of us enduring it in the newsroom had to reapply facial moisturizer several times because we could feel the dryness of the delivery dehydrating our faces. The entire presentation was ineffably boring.

 

I had my views and our panel basically just reinforced my beliefs that this budget was just a rehash of last year’s. Nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing original. The only new ground this budget broke was in managing to spend $50 billion dollars of taxpayers money. Maybe it is just me expecting miracles but I think when large amounts of money are involved those spending it should be visionaries. I am used to Steve Jobs at Apple who, despite his almost innumerable faults, gets people excited about plans. Surely, when it is a country involved, people should feel involved and look forward to the future. I honestly don’t feel even interested in what is being planned. There must be something wrong when $50 billion is spent in a country of only 1.3 million people and I can see no immediate tangible benefit. Indeed, the government says that agriculture is a priority and is still spending less on it than it is giving to Tobago with 80,000 people. Feeding a two island nation of securing Tobago votes …. I guess the government has made its decision.

 

On a side note it was an interesting day for family today. I hosted the budget discussion with my cousin Gillian Lucky being part of the panel since I was actually using her time since she normally hosts Just Gill ..her programme …in that time slot. I love Gillian so I was fine with that. Even more interesting, while Gillian and I share the fact we are both fully Lucky family members ( mine changed their name) I was shocked by a comment I received today from the only true bearer of one of my family   names . Blogs are a minefield of surprises. It seems that my cousin Johnny found this blog while in Switzerland. I didn’t even know he had moved to the land of ridiculous prices and ridiculously high mountains …oh..and Heidi.

 

So basically..it was a really boring and expensive budget and I got closer to two family members. A mixed bag but to my mind a really good one. And I will freely admit I would love Gillian as Prime Minister.

 

Wait a minute…that wasn’t short.

September 13, 2008

Silver stars.

 

Didn’t have a chance to blog yesterday but we an interesting day at the station with not one but two Olympic medalists popping in to say hi. Richard “Torpedo” Thompson, fresh from his medal winning performances at the 2008 Olympics came in accompanied by Ato Boldon who has 4 Olympic medals to his credit. 

 

I am not the biggest sports fan but it was still very cool to have the two of them in the same place at the same time and naturally, Kodak Z612 in hand , we took a few pictures of the event. Despite the fact we all work in television it doesn’t stop us from indulging in moments of starry-eyed sucking up. Interestingly, Richard is from Cascade where I live. It amazes me that an country  that has a relatively tiny population of 1.3 million and land area that is smaller than many metropolitan areas in the Northern Hemisphere seems to have such a large number of world famous people. I mean we have two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature ( though we share Walcott with St. Lucia) and , as of 2008, a goodly number of Olympic medalists.

 

Other than that the PM managed to amaze absolutely no one by winning a vote of no confidence in Parliament. Given his party has a majority and the history of those who have crossed him is not a pretty one thus preventing any possibility of internal revolt I suspect the Opposition was just trying to give vent to their views. They managed to do that in the marathon 12 hour sitting of Parliament  but it also allowed the ruling party to indulge in quite a few hours of self-aggrandizement themselves. The whole thing took place against a ridiculous backdrop of thousands of government day workers wearing government red t-shirts chanting their support for the ruling PNM in Woodford Square right next to the Red House. Apparently, according to the Mayor of Port of Spain permission had been granted for the square to be used for an “arts and crafts display”. With the dozens of public buses ferrying the throngs in and giant screens showing the Parliament Channel live it honestly didn’t look like any handicraft show I have ever seen.

 

The end result of all this – nothing gained and nothing lost by either side. In other words it was a typical day in T&T politics.

August 23, 2008

And the rains came.

 

 

It rained today and by rain I do not mean a few piddling drops of dampness but a full-fledged rainstorm that would lead anyone to drag out their nearest cubit measuring stick and start thinking about livestock. The cause of this day long deluge is a system moving slightly to the North of us that might or might not turn into a depression and then a hurricane. No stranger to tropical depressions ( or temperate ones for that matter) myself I can just enjoy the sound of rain on the tin roofs and thunder reverberating off the shrouded Northern Range.

 

Trinidadians are able to party till they literally drop and consume alcohol at levels that would have a Russian wrestler reeling but when it comes to weather they are a particularly effete lot. While North Americans and even Europeans will slog to work through metres of snow and sleet Trinis get quite weak when faced with even a slight dampness in the air They will call in sick or late to work, complain of ague and generally mope about. If they happen to be at work during a rainfall there will be early sniffling and a request to leave work early with dire mutterings along the lines of “see you tomorrow..depending on my health…I got wet…so you never know”. 

 

Another strange phenomenon in these parts is that traffic might be moving along at a fair clip but once water hits asphalt it is a guarantee that gridlock will result. The cause of this is not certain and it may well be an interesting exercise for scientists. One thing is sure it can’t be safety because that is a word that doesn’t cross the mind of the average Trini driver.

 

Here at work I have just been subjected to viewing a tape of the Prime Minister attempting to sing to students and giving them a lecture on the bible and his views on Christianity. How such a thing can happen in a pluralistic and ( nominally) secular society is beyond me. Bet your bottom dollar that if that had been a PM espousing the many virtues of Allah all hell would break loose. Such is the nature of this strange land.

August 14, 2008

Unnecessary Evil

 

Never a nation to pass up a chance for excess the PM has , of late, been indulging in a veritable orgy of entertaining. We are not just talking about a few cocktail parties for visiting dignitaries we are talking about oodles of taxpayers dollars being spent on actually encouraging the heads of various economically important states to visit. We have had the President of Ghana here because obviously that is a big economic powerhouse nearby that we simply must pin down so as to even out our balance of trade.

 

More recently we have had the PM of Barbados, the PM of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and as of this writing the ever important Prime Minister of Grenada. Apparently, the PM is fearful that we will be short of nutmeg with the Yule season so fast approaching. Acting in the National Eggnog interest he threw caution and our money to the wind and sent a rented private jet to get PM Tillman so as to ensure he is comfortable on the arduous 20 minute flight. There was a guard of honour, a grand banquet , the usual cultural events and the requisite  meeting at the Hilton. Now only a silly pragmatic person would note that Grenada is not even important in the Caribbean and of no economic or cultural importance to the rest of the known universe. In short, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem on why women need men – we need them like a fish needs a bicycle. 

 

A more cynical soul would think all these state visits are simply there to make our PM feel even more self-important – though that would be hard to imagine. Late tonight we learn that he has announced that Trinidad & Tobago will be in a union with some of these small economic solar panels by 2011. The Guardian reports:

 

“Trinidad and Tobago and three other Caribbean states—Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia—last night signed an agreement to achieve economic integration by 2011 and political integration by two years later”. 

Oh Goody.

 

I was just praying that our oil and gas rich country with a strong industrial sector would be able to avail itself of the many benefits that would accrue from joining with other states that barely have economies, suffer from high unemployment and are stuck in a time warp. Now we can look forward to being aligned with an island that is famous for nutmeg, another famous for bananas and the third that looks like Dolly Parton doing the backstroke.

 

Strangely, based on the European example and several others I always thought that such sweeping changes required the consent of the population via a quaint little process called a referendum. I wasn’t aware that one man would just take it upon himself to enter into  agreements that fundamentally change our economy and society but I suppose, as we learned in Germany and Italy not that long ago – we should always trust our leaders to make our decisions for us. Father , after all, knows best.

July 5, 2008

A brick short of a load.

 

I seem to be getting into a once a week entry habit. I hope this is not a sign of blogitis setting in although I am aware my entries do not in any way enhance the planet.I suppose we all pass through ebb and flow periods in terms of communication so , as with all things in life, I will wait and see how it plays out. I am now handily heading out of depression territory but still not feeling all that great physically – I hope it is nothing trivial so I can have a legitimate reason for thinking gyms and personal trainers are a waste of time. When I think of how much I spend on the gym I cringe and since I can see no improvement I am led to wonder about my own sanity. Thankfully, as I have mentioned before, I am living in a country where sanity is not really an asset.

This week was the usual assortment of murders and political intrigue keeping the newsroom buzzing. Melissa Williams managed an exclusive on Thursday when I was producing news so that added a bit of excitement. T&T is currently without a permanent Police Commissioner as the previous one retired ( early) and the service commission given the task of finding a replacement had the ruling party turn down their candidate in parliament. The man chosen was Senior Superintendent Stephen Williams who has spent his life in the police. He is 47 and by all accounts a highly competent individual. Unfortunately for him he was not the man the PM wanted in the post so despite rigorous interviews and passing the polygraph test ( which some of his competitors did not) he was doomed from the outset. Mind you, he probably didn’t help his case by speaking to the papers after his name was announced as the chosen candidate by the PSC and he declared that his ambition was to own a BMW X5….note to future candidates…say “world peace”.

 

On a side note I am rather shocked to notice that my blog has crossed 14,000 hits. Since I assume I am writing to an audience of just North of zero even that modest figure rather shocks me. Even more puzzling I had occasion to search for the headquarters for the ruling PNM the other day at work and noticed that my blog comes up as the second hit on Google…right after the official web site for the PNM.  I have no idea how that happened but if you have come here after searching for Balisier House on Google looking for a positive experience….I apologize. 

June 8, 2008

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse

I work in news and when I have to produce a newscast on a weekend with my usual dream team of Ria, Nadine and the powerhouse that is Giselle it is normal to call before I head to the newsroom to ask if there were any overnight murders. What is not normal is hearing that one of the latest murder victims is a 5 month old infant. Things have reached a really sorry state in this country when a 25 year old father is getting out of a taxi with his baby boy and they are both gunned down. There is no indication the father had any involvement in anything illegal and by all accounts three bullets were pumped into the child as his father tried to shield him. Giselle did her usual excellent job on the story and we devoted 4 minutes to it but I am still shocked and most of all very angry that such an event actually happened in this country that is rolling in money and should be a tropical paradise. Knowing that the sorry excuse for a National Security Minister will sit there defending his performance at some future media event and the PM will tacitly show his own poor judgment by keeping him in office is more than I can reasonably comprehend.

 

We also had a late arriving story of Dr. Keith Rowley giving his latest take on the scandals involving UDeCOTT and the government’s continuing attempts to explain some decidedly strange accusations from the Opposition concerning alleged nepotism and tendering inconsistencies. As I have said before I have a begrudging respect for Dr. Rowley mainly because of his clear intelligence and spunk. He may not be taken very seriously since he was part of the administration for many years with nary a peep but I like seeing him speaking and I admire his bulldog spirit. Basically, in his hour and a half speech, he said I am not apologizing to anyone and the government is taking us all for fools. At one of the recent get-togethers at my place someone said the PNM has done some good work. I don’t deny it and I honestly can’t say any of the opposition parties would have done any better but I know that even an abject idiot with billions to spend would do some good. Hell…a gang of monkeys punching keys to spend billions of dollars would have accomplished some good. 

 

At this point I only know one thing – this country is in a sorry state and there is no cavalry on the horizon.

May 28, 2008

Face to familiar face.

 

Now that Peggy is here to promote her book Jahajin it was inevitable I would have her on the programme for a little tête-à-tête about her visit. It is never an easy business interviewing a family member much less someone who has always rather awed me with her multiplicity of talents. Like the cat that she has always used as a metaphor for her personality one must simply approach it and hope for the best. As it turns out it was a very pleasant interview and Peggy even consented to do two interviews back to back. The logic of this was not simply to maximise the nepotism potential ( and, yes, I mentioned she was my cousin) but also to be able to get her on before the book launch tomorrow and to also have a programme with her insights for Indian Arrival Day which is this Friday.

 

Both interviews were enjoyable for me and Peggy is nothing if not an intelligent raconteur. She discussed the book candidly and was able to give insight into the genesis of the idea and her motivations for bringing it to press. I thoroughly enjoyed her discussion of what it is like to have adopted India as her homeland and the unique perspective it gives of Trinidad. I think I came away learning something but then again I am never in Peggy’s company without learning something. To this day i carry around bits of trivia and even opinions that were planted into my young head many years ago. I am not one to go about admiring people but I am happy to admit that she has played an unusually ( and ,I dare say, unintentionally) large role in shaping my mind.

 

We went to lunch at the Arabic food place near work which she hailed as serving the best food she has encountered on this trip in between befriending the entire Syrian staff…one of whom refused to believe that we are not Arabic. Over our meal she gave me some insights into her next planned books but her mind and thought processes are such that I have not yet quite absorbed all of her ideas and concepts. One does not listen to Peggy and digest what she is saying but rather one stores the bulk of it for later processing. Her mind runs like a Maserati on an Alpine road so it is sufficient to hang on for dear life and then ponder the trip in due time. I don’t think i have the full capacity to follow her thought processes fully as her vast array of talents leads her to think about literature in musical terms, of narrative in visual terms and of reality in conceptual terms. I just sit and talk to people for a living so you can see my disadvantages in that area. She is an accomplished painter, musician, linguist and now writer so I will say that were she not family I would hate her instinctively. 

The only other news today other than road blocking, an 8 year old girl murdered and raped by a family member and more accusations about UDeCOTT was the Prime Minister dismissing the notion expressed by..oooh 90% of the public that he is an arrogant jackass ( ok…I added the jackass part). All I can say is that when you decide to follow some harebrained scheme for becoming a developed country while ignoring human welfare, spending money like a high-rolling gambler on crack and build yourself a palace as a priority when work hasn’t even started on a new hospital  you have to be pretty damned arrogant not to spot your own arrogance.

 

May 19, 2008

The Salmon of Wisdom

Crested Oropendola nests, Maraval

 

In my studies of Celtic culture at U of T I was always fascinated by the whole concept of the salmon of knowledge or the bradán feasa ,if you prefer, which  forms part of the Fenian Cycle. Sure, the christian world had the forbidden fruit but it takes much more imagination to come up with a fish that bestows unlimited knowledge because it ate from the hazelnuts that fell into the Well of Wisdom. That sort of creativity doesn’t grow on trees ( though the hazelnuts did). Sure, there are those who might wonder why not forget the damned salmon and eat the nuts directly but that would be to miss the whole magic of the thing. I can tell you that if I could get my hands on such a marvelous creature I would have it braised in a bit of parsley and butter and in my mouth faster than the nuts could hit the well. Working in my field and even just living in general makes me wonder how we even manage given the bits of information thrown at us when we have no sense of how they all fit into the bigger picture.Of course, they may not fit at all but even knowing that would be helpful.

 

This weekend passed generally uneventfully. I had Peter and Naz over for dinner on Friday and despite feeling a bit unwell managed to rustle up Peter’s preferred main course of roasted Cornish game hen and pureed squash. I also managed to make some Vol-au-vents filled with cheese, mushrooms and chopped shrimp and even made a spinach salad with walnuts, blue cheese  and  mandarins. As usual dessert was beyond me so I just bought some cheesecake which was quite nice.  The weekend news was fairly easy as there were quite a lot of stories and no need to “creatively append “ to what stories we had. Sad that a 14 year old girl has now been kidnapped and , once again, I  find myself fearing for the safety of a stranger and imagining the trauma the family must be experiencing. The murders continue and we are now well over 180 for the year. There is no point commenting because the murder count, the dismal detection rate and the even poorer conviction rate are there for the authorities to see but, being idiots, they seem incapable of any action whatsoever. I had Professor Ramesh Deosaran on the programme again last week and he echoed a sentiment I have voiced here in this blog. When I asked him why, given this government’s obsession with achieving “developed country status” ( whatever the hell that means) we don’t seem to be emulating countries such as the UK, Canada or even Singapore in dealing with crime, he responded that people in those government’s have shame which we lack. It really comes down to simple things like shame and humility both of which are sadly lacking in this regime and, even more apparently, in the opposition.

 

At times like this the only recourse for me seems to be to grab my Collected Works of William Shakespeare and fall into the magic of his writing. At least I can take some comfort in knowing that while I spend far too much time railing against storms there is zero danger of all my progeny dropping dead as I don’t have any.