Saturday, May 31, 2014

Media Gone Wild...

Earlier this week a baby was burnt to death in a fire in a notorious 'at risk' 'hotspot' community, exacerbated by the fact that the fire services allegedly refused to enter without police protection, possibly robbing the infant of a life saving opportunity. But believe it or not, that story was not the top news item for the night, and came eleven minutes into the broadcast, because a follow up interview by a reporter who had 'new' facts to offer that her homeless interviewee from the previous night's politically motivated interview was indeed homeless and thought by that station's Head of News to be of greater importance to the viewing public than any dead child, incredulously pushed aside as the first story was followed by another political story that featured what was alleged to be the voice of one government Minister referring to some of his colleagues as rats.

So what is the media trying to say of the values of the society, that scandal and bacchanal outweighs the loss of an innocent life in tragic circumstances?

And in another more bizarre media situation the head of news of another Television station called the Prime Minister directly for a comment on a story and ended up insulting her live and on air, prompting the Minister of Communication to release a most scathing statement and for a wide cross section of the population to call for the journalist's immediate dismissal for his crass and classless behavior and disrespect for both the Office and the Office holder.

These two situations were brought to mind as I read this week's edition of the London Guardian in which there is an article by Jürgen Krönig on media and government that contains a most instructive paragraph that i feel compelled to share verbatim - “The fourth estate is more powerful than ever. It is shaped by two dominating principles - sensationalism and simplification, which the American sociologist Robert McChesney, in his book Rich Media, Poor Democracy, defines as the consequence of "hyper commercialisation". It has led to ever fiercer ratings and circulation wars, which inevitably leads to what is called "dumbing down". To succeed, the media industry tries to appeal to the lower instincts of people.”

This could well have been written about our experience except for the fact that here there is no where else here to go but down. In civilized countries there are checks and balances that keeps the media from devolving to the feeding frenzy that we are seeing here, so much so that for many it is getting harder and harder to tell where the politics ends and where the media begins.

The article goes on to say - “In the "democratic age" news and information have been transformed. The way politics is covered has changed radically. Papers don't "report" news, they quite often present it according to their preferences and prejudices. The growth of columnists has led to the birth of a "Commentariat". It contains a few excellent and analytical minds, but all too often reasonable, balanced voices are drowned out by journalists who seem untainted by facts or deeper knowledge but replace this with gleefully presented prejudices.”

How is this not ringing alarm bells throughout the land? Weighing in on that topic of the national discussion as ‘interpreted’ by media, independent Senator Rolph Balgobin, himself a serial media contributor, offered this stinging critique on the issue of the dumbing down of content and the deleterious effect on society - “much of what passes for radio and television talk shows here, particularly by social activists and political commentators, is beginning to resemble hate speech. Parallels to radio exhortations in Rawanda during their civil war can be found. Bacchanal has created cynicism and indignation, and many people arrive at work angry, having been regaled by commentary that supposedly exposes the stupidity or corruption of public figures but which in fact are extreme and intolerant views unsupported by data.”

How does that sit with our reality? Is the media to be allowed to run away unfettered regardless of its potential to harm society? There is a maxim that the function of media is to reflect society to itself, not to influence it, and that has always defined the role of the profession to most. Encircled on all sides by politics, when media strays beyond those guidelines it does itself and the nation it serves a disservice by blurring the lines between what is real news and what in manufactured for other agendas, and much of the confused public perception and growing distaste is as a direct result of this.

Mr. Krönig further states in his article “News has become more superficial and sensational. The need for images and pictures is greater than ever. News is too often degenerating into "disastertainment”....”

How do we accommodate that idea? If media is now entertainment and not confined to identifying and reporting, should it still benefit from its Constitutional protection?

My concern is far greater. Media has a power to shape public opinion through the manipulation of perception, and in circumstances where content is skewed to serve an agenda, what protects the people from misinformation?

Krönig says in closing “Democracy and civil society need informed citizens, otherwise they will have difficulties in surviving. Without media organisations aware of their own power and responsibility, an informed citizenship cannot be sustained.”

I have been calling for a national enquiry into the operations of media in the hope that guidelines could be agreed to and established that protects the people from errant and biased media operatives and protects the profession itself from being hijacked from within. More and more as days go by I am even more convinced of the need for this before further damage is done.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Tale of Two Parties...

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct to hell...”

- From a Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

They say a day is a long time in politics and what a difference the 23rd and 24th of May have made. Prior to the OWTU led People's National Movement March on Friday, and the People's Partnership anniversary rally on Saturday, there was this notion being floated about of a fait accompli victory for the PNM at any future polls, emboldening the political leader of the PNM to use his platform to call for early elections. Judging strictly on the turnout for both events though, it would be safe to assume that Dr. Keith Rowley may have woken up on Sunday morning not as sure of his stocks as he was on Friday.

The biggest questions to be asked of what transpired this weekend all have to do with attendance. On the one hand, if the combination of the ILP, PNM, OWTU, MSJ and a handful of other organizations could barely pull five thousand people to march despite spending millions of dollars advertising the event, isn't this a symptom that all is not as well as they should be for the opposition, especially with an election due any minute?

And what of the other big event, the Partnership's fourth anniversary rally? What is to be said of the carnival sized crowd that overflowed Mid Center Mall's carpark and caused the police to consider turning revelers and supporters away? Contrasted with the somber mood of hate not twenty four hours earlier in Port of Spain, the feeling in Chaguanas was one of celebration and jubilation, again sending a loud and clear message to all and sundry and shouldn't this be of serious concern to an opposition bent on painting the government as unpopular?

My question to the Opposition Assembly is this. If, as you say, the government is so despised, so widely hated, why is it that the voters do not seem to agree? Even the luke-warmly contested PNM internal elections have been touted as a bust, so what is really going on?

Is it fair to assume as some have, that the PNM is itself in pre-collapse and despite the temporary bumps enjoyed by the Section 34 fiasco and the splitting of the vote by the ILP, that the party has never really recovered from the trouncing it received on May 24th 2010?

And what about the persons at the helm of the organizations making up this alliance of opposition, is it possible that they are not as liked as they assume themselves to be? Or is it that the public is wary of taking tonics for ailments whose side effects outnumber the symptoms of the sickness in the first place?

I have asked before on what does David Abdulah command this media respect that they seek him out for his opinion on all manner of national issues? He has no constituency and represents no one, his position as political leader of a party constituted in name only should have been challenged long ago if the media really wanted to perform if not appear independent, so from which magic potion does his power derive?

And now that Jack Warner has marched with the PNM can it be fair to say that any hope he had of retaining the Chaguanas West seat come 2015 is now moot as there are not enough box drains in the Caribbean to make that happen?

And Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj - Revered as a legal attack dog by those in need, he is still not respected politically on any side of the racial or political divide, so why is he not getting this?

And what of Political Leader Rowley himself? Perhaps his failure to capture his party from within is the most telling symptom of all, and his inability to pull a crowd without a support cast or to build a platform on strictly PNM members shows how outclassed he is in that position.

That is a discussion for the PNM and its financiers and perhaps also for the OWTU, whose membership seem to have sent a message to their own leadership that they are either not interested in being used as political pawns or that the current leader does not command his union. Either way, as they say, something is not right in London Town.

The last time the PNM were this far up a creek we had an upheaval, and if 1990 is anything to go on then the next twelve to fifteen months in this country is going to be a roller coaster as desperation sets in. Prepare for them and their allies to unleash hell. For our sake and that of the democracy i hope the government is ready for anything…

Friday, May 23, 2014

Marching Aimlessly...

What do you do if you call a march and no one comes? Well despite the usual suspects and some state paid oil workers, that is pretty much what became of the mother of all marches carded for today, and now that they have failed to make a dent in the body politic and the national conscience the only option available to Rowley, Warner, Abdulah, Roget, Ramesh & Co. is to accept defeat or unleash hell.

Surely the money laundering cabal are not happy at today's turn out, and despite the millions spent trying to convince T&T that the Sailor Man and his rag tag j'ouvert band was the better option, the People's Partnership drew more people to the Parliament than the entire opposition array did for their 'time to get' serious march, advertised as the beginning of the end and prompting some in their numbers to temporarily lose their minds.

Unleashing hell through certain compromised elements in the media, they set sail for a day of reckoning only to have it fall flat, and if all that Ramesh could bring to the table is Anil smoking weed so call elections, all i could do standing there on Independence Square was laugh.

Because i went to see for myself what was the outcome, not trusting media numbers for something so important, and they almost had more police than marchers.

This morning i had cause to point out to Maxie Cuffie, a man for whom i had the greatest respect that the fact that Rolwey would NEED him to come out unmasked and stand with him said so much, that perhaps he was running out of people to hide behind and that fact alone should have cautioned my friend against the fool's errand.

Now the entire crew stands limp and impotent.

The Highway Reroute Movement drew less of a following than even the Kirk Waithe one man band Jinxin' T&T, and despite the herculean efforts of political terrorist Inshan Ishmael to demonise the government, without the showing of the OWTU day off crew, today was nothing more than a failure of epic proportions for the band of rogues in this Unholy Alliance.

Last night both Jack Warner and David Abdulah went in tag team fashion to harness the disgruntled among the 'gih mih a fridge' crowd on the TV6 town hall meeting held ironically in the same spot today's march came to rest, and despite Marcia Henville's cheap theatrics and cheaper call for a revolution among the well fed unemployed, Roget & Co. was left with egg on their faces as they looked to union buddies to explain why this little woman from Siparia continues to beat them all at every turn.

Today a line was drawn in the sand and the PNM and friends chose to align themselves publicly and loudly as third in a two man race.

I have said before what is normal for the PNM is chaos for the nation and it is that they must now turn to, chaos itself. David Abdulah knows this path too well and as reminiscent as the idea behind today's 'fed up' march was to the high glory days of resentment of SOPO, today's march attracted fewer of the bitch and moan crew than even i thought possible and he may have to get more than an ageing terrorist to lend him a hand.

But i can't say i am all that surprised.

The writing was already on the wall. This morning major trade unions and civil society sounded public rejection of this PNM event one after the other, and like the paid bell ringer man whose belly with rumbling from the cheap ham sandwich and hot chubby given to the rent a crowd, the sound in Port of Spain this Friday evening was mournful and sad.

So what now?

Andrew Gabriel, John Rahael and Faris al Rawi need to accept that they have failed, that the country does not want what they are offering, and perhaps they all need to find other avenues of pursuit.

For the People's Partnership today was an immense victory that needs to be translated into momentum leading into 2015, and for the nation as a whole it is time to move forward with the business of development, confident with the last of the needless and wasteful distractions behind us.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Journalistic Integrity & Freedom of the Press...

Many people over the past few months have been asking why all of a sudden they do not see my articles in the daily newspapers, have I stopped writing? The short answer is no.

But in response to my highlighting glaring abuses of journalistic responsibility and open bias being passed off as real journalism the media did what every other special interest group does when you attempt to expose their shortcomings, and that is to circle the wagons and attack the messenger.

I have all but been banned from the dailies to silence me, even though all three papers have acknowledged the value of my contributions for years. What's the message? Same as any in a small country I'm afraid, the same message that keeps most people silent and afraid to speak out.

And if I were an ordinary person I too would have been cowed into silence by now, but the fact that my daily readership on social media is greater than most of the established media, any attempts at silencing me can be a fool's errand at best.

As founder of three of the most used sources for information and current affairs on social media myself and others on my team have access to an enviable fifty thousand direct membership that has been known to mushroom to half a million 'views,' something that traditional media cannot match. The idea that perceptions could be controlled through special interests managing the message through corrupt members of the media fraternity 'skewing' stories and burying others outright is almost at an end, and while they have shut me off from my following among the aged and the infirm and the generation who still gets their news in newsprint, I am reliably informed that in matters of importance my words are 'lifted' off of the screens and into the conversation.

Founding father of the United States Thomas Jefferson is noted to have said “Where the press is free and all man able to read, all is safe...” and I agree, but what of instances where the press is corrupted from within and co-opted to serve the agendas of others?

The fact is we are at a war for the hearts and minds of Trinbagonians, and the opposition forces are using their corrupt control of major media to block one side of the conversation even as they spew their questionable facts in a torrent of misinformation. Headlines that deal with a certain political leader's 'blackness' and its impact on him ever being elected to high office has been known to trump more important stories that were buried at the bottom of the sixteenth page, stories such as the incumbent Chair of the CARICOM moving a motion to bar Dominican Republic's request for membership until they address their retrograde and racist policies on Haiti.

The problem is the value of media, the inherent freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic have been hijacked by business interests and newsrooms have been co-opted by the corrupt. No longer the sacred calling of the Fourth Estate, in Trinidad & Tobago the news that we get may not necessarily be accurate, requiring news viewers and readers to almost suspend disbelief at the flagrant acts of censorship or biased reporting.

Take for example in the last week alone, a top daily newspaper has had its Sunday Edition's headline rebuked by the Commissioner of Police as rubbish and absolute nonsense, while another's offering has been debunked by the actual interviewee who has since called other media to complain, to say that what was written and what was discussed are two completely different things and that what that newspaper carried was nothing short of slanderous and sensational for no reason supported anywhere by fact. The Minister of National Security himself has put out a release begging caution in reporting of crime stories and requesting that media be more responsible in ascertaining and delivering facts.

An independent Senator has also weighed in on the issue of misdirected or poorly managed media and its potential to do harm to society when he said “much of what passes for radio and television talk shows here, particularly by social activists and political commentators, is beginning to resemble hate speech. Parallels to radio exhortations in Rawanda during their civil war can be found. Bacchanal has created cynicism and indignation, and many people arrive at work angry, having been regaled by commentary that supposedly exposes the stupidity or corruption of public figures but which in fact are extreme and intolerant views unsupported by data.”

And as harsh as that statement is and as sad an indictment it demonstrates, it is both factual and true, begging the question as to the role of the media in modern day Trinidad & Tobago. Should it not be guided to first do no harm? Should it not be governed by a code of ethics and of integrity? In one of her weekly columns Sunity Maharaj insisted that the only thing the media has to sell is its integrity, and then undermined her own integrity by placing herself between the corrupt in the media and the society they serve.

Make no mistake, this is not a war WITH media, it is a battle to SAVE media. To save it from the special interests that have corrupted it and taken it away from its remit, to serve the people of the nation. That is the only reason for it being protected by the Constitution, and unless it lives up to its designed purpose, media as it exists in Trinidad & Tobago makes a mockery of the intention of the supreme law of the land.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have absolute freedom to publish as media and then use that freedom to publish lies and falsehoods. We the people of Trinidad & Tobago need to reclaim our fourth estate and redirect it to serve the greater good. I have suggested a ventilation of the profession only the deep and sweeping investigations of a Commission of Enquiry could effect, and based on the outcomes of any such enquiry, recommendations made as to ways to distance the newsroom and media in general from outside interference and control, to implement mechanisms by which business interests could own media without controlling it, and a proper complaints authority  to rein in media workers guilty of abuse.

It is also my view that journalists should be chartered and governed by a code of ethics, so as to protect the public from misinformation and propaganda.

In every material way the media and all the freedoms it enjoys belongs to the people of T&T. It is time that those very same people had some say in what passes for media and journalism in Trinidad & Tobago.

Another of the founding fathers Benjamin Franklin weighed in “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom, & no such thing as liberty without freedom of speech.”

I concur. We need a Commission of Enquiry into the operations of Media...

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Rowley Conundrum...

In doing research for this column I Googled 'Keith Rowley's Policies' and was surprised that there was a question that even Google could not answer. The page of results brought us Keith Rowleys from as far away as Australia and France, but nothing for the erstwhile and verbose Rottweiler of note, asking in many ways, so much more than it answered, who is Keith Rowley?

I mean, with almost twenty five years of service in the public eye surely we would know a little more about Keith Rowley the man and the leader, what he stands for and what he stands against, right?

With a year to go before Constitutionally due elections in 2015 the newly re-crowned political leader of the People's National Movement and Leader of the Opposition has left a legacy of biting people and not much else to show for it. This one man wrecking ball who has single handedly blazed a trail through the Hansard, research shows that regardless of his being in government or opposition the overwhelming majority of his contributions  have all been negative, begging the question former Mayor Louis Lee Sing so eloquently asked on national television, when Keith Rowley is not on the attack, what is he about?

Clearly a good question if not even Google can answer, and I daresay the consortium of Gabriel, al Rawi and Rahael have their work cut out for them if they are going to rewrite history. Props like scarves and glasses are one thing, actual policies and plans are something else entirely and the campaign for 2015 may well expose the empty suit that Keith Rowley has always been. Ever heard the saying 'All hat and no cowboy?' Could not be a more apt description of the current political leader of the People's National Movement, and I await with some anxiety the day he is caught in a debate to hear him say with his own words the plans he has for his constituency who, instead of policies and plans for the development of the constituency, its communities and diverse peoples, have had to settle for becoming both a flood zone and a hotspot on his watch.

To the residents of the fishing village of L'anse Mitan, the paltry and exposed shed of a fish market complete with no amenities is an insult only surpassed in Carenage by the ten year old sign promising the Carenage Health Facility 'to be built right here' that was never built. In a contribution on November 2009 he is noted to have said (taken from the Hansard) "Let me go to my constituency, Mr. Speaker. Last year, I had reason to raise a number of matters with respect to Diego Martin West, and I want to begin today by pointing out, identifying the progress that we have made in Diego Martin West with respect to the National Development Programme. The Minister of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs I think can take some credit, for ensuring that the Carenage Waterfont Project, which was raised last year is progressing. Our major developmental project in the western peninsula is underway and is progressing relatively smoothly. I look forward to a speedy completion and that will change the face of Carenage both socially, economically and physically. That project is of great pride to all of us and that project is on the way."

Five years later no one anywhere can point to the project of which he spoke, and again not even Google could help in that regard.

But putting his dismal performance as the Parliamentary Representative for Diego Martin West aside for a minute, positioned now as a Prime Minister in waiting, surely someone somewhere would have a clue as to what a Keith Rowley Administration might mean to Trinidad & Tobago, yes? We know nothing of his policies and barely have a spattering of knee jerks in the direction of his former leader's work, so on what does someone give him their vote or their support?

Based solely on his own track record, trying to make something that appears Prime Ministerial out of Keith Rowley is one thing, selling him to a risk averse PNM wary population is something else entirely. In this regard and to close with an equally colourful saying, his handlers may have better luck trying to fashion a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The REAL Pirates of the Caribbean...

I have heard some in the opposition forces refer to the People's Partnership derogatorily as the People's Pirate-ship and had to laugh. Really?

Not believing that that side had the audacity to make such a statement, I thought, how about we take a look at THAT band of merry men and compare, just so we know who is real pirate and who is pirate in name only, shall we?

First off the co-leaders of this rag tag bunch, Keith Rowley and David Abdulah, and odder couple you would be hard pressed to find anywhere, but let's look at their political CV's.

The PNM that Keith Rowley represents has raped this country's treasury every time it has been in office, with the worst offenses being committed while he himself (Rowley) was a senior Cabinet Minister. In fact, it was he who in 2009 told the nation that he (his words) “went to the Prime Minister in 2003 and warned him of massive bid rigging and corruption taking place at UDECOTT that was ten times worse than Piarco.”

Yet besides warning the Prime Minister he did nothing else for six long years and I have asked him repeatedly to either explain or defend that. Did he make a call to the Integrity Commission to alert them to what he knew? How about the Commissioner of Police? Did he think to leak the information to the Fraud Squad? Or to email it to the Anti-Corruption Investigative Bureau? Or what about leaving it in the mailbox of the Director of Public Prosecutions? Why for the entire six years he had not thought to 'buss a mark' in one off the daily or even weekly newspapers? Looked at simply on the face of it and judging him by his own words spoken into the Hansard, how does he justify doing nothing with this knowledge that the treasury was being reamed for six Christmases, six Carnivals, six Eids, six Divalis, six Arrival Days, six Shouter Baptist Days? How?

How does he (Rowley) reconcile knowing that the Prime Minister was now aware and chose to do nothing, thereby tainting the entire government he led and compromising the Cabinet that he Keith Rowley chose to remain in? And if THAT is not a pirate ship, a gang composed and KNOWINGLY in pursuit of ill gotten gains, then what is?

And his partner in political crime and leader of the Wrong Table David Abdulah, on what does he base his moral pontificating? The sins of others? Surely not on his own marvelous successes? His stint as a Senator in the Partnership was the high point of an ignoble career to date, and his choices since adopting T&T as his homeland might have forced other more security conscious developed nations to repatriate him a long time ago. I for one am not happy with his explanations regarding SOPO and SOPO's involvement in the attempted coup of 1990, and based solely on the evidence given to the Commission of Enquiry into that most dastardly act, SOPO and by extension David Abdulah both have questions to answer for this most brazen act of political piracy ever attempted in our history.

But it gets worse. Their ranks are further swollen by the ambitious and the driven. Attorney General hopeful Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj has demonstrated that one does not need to have honour to be in this bunch, and it may in fact be an impediment to membership. Having marched to have our own Captain Jack Sparrow fired from government for being an 'insult to integrity who makes a mockery of public office,' he (Ramesh) now joins forces with the same Jack to get them both back into government.

And what of Jack? Newly crowned friend of the enemy, enemy of former friends, I am sure this man must have to review a check list on waking up each morning just to be reminded of who he is for and who he against with each passing day. Famous for his 'yesterday was yesterday, today is today' philosophy, the hollowness of that position is demonstrated by the fact that not one of his professional political relationships has been built on a lifetime of camaraderie in pursuit of the common good and every one of them either and obstacle to overcome or a means to an end. I refuse to go down the road of the many crimes he (Warner) stands accused of here and abroad or how closely they themselves resemble piracy, I rely on the readers reading this to already be familiar with that side of history. All I hope to do here is unmask pirates hiding in plain sight for all to see.

Moving on. On Wednesday evenings one is treated to a spectacle on local cable TV by another pirate wanna be, literally exploiting a religion as a political soap box much to the publicly expressed consternation of the real practitioners of that religion. Powerless and afraid to risk the ire of this public extortioner who uses his fifteen minutes in the spotlight to defame all who runs afoul or refuses to agree with his point of view at the time, they like others (myself included) prefer to just let him bray. How does the Telecom Authority allow this obscene threat to decency to continue? Like everyone they too seem to have adopted a 'hands off' approach to this described political terrorist.

I have run completely out of space before getting to the rest of this version of the the Forty Thieves but I am sure I have made my point. What continues to strike me as odd in this bizarre land is not that they are brazen enough to try this in public, but that they are allowed to. What does that say about us as a society, especially those who are willing to blink away the truth in search of the lie? How do these people defend their choices to themselves, their families and loved ones? As a corrector of history I just wanted to weigh in on this pirate-ship talk, to separate real pirate from pirate in name only, and to make it possible for others to do the same...

Monday, May 12, 2014

That Nagging Credibility Gap...

Keith Rowley has a big problem and it is his credibility. Many of his claims don't add up, his decisions make no sense, some of the things he says end up being exposed as fabrications while others still have been proven to be outright falsehoods.

To quote former port of Spain Mayor and die-hard, dues-paying PNM stalwart Louis Lee Sing, when Keith Rowley is not on the attack, what is he about?

That is a most telling statement to make because to be honest, no one anywhere can claim any knowledge of any Keith Rowley policies or plans, nor has he advanced any since assuming the mantle of political leader of the PNM, much to the consternation of those who he and his cabal have replaced. Rather, the only impression most if not all who know of him have of him is him snarling and attacking, all the eye glasses and scarves his re-branders and image re-makers care to drape on him notwithstanding.

Using a thinly disguised network of trouble makers, scandal breakers and news takers, he has been re-beating the same dead horse since Section 34 hoping to get another bite of the public's push against it, assuming their dissatisfaction with a government policy automatically translated to support for him, but he could not be more wrong. Having deep pockets 'axe to grind' specialist Jack Warner feeding him information is not hurting him, but it is not helping him appear any more Prime Ministerial either and their combined reputations may yet sink them both.

In 2009 then fired Cabinet Minister Keith Rowley suddenly found his integrity and rushed to tell the nation that he had warned the Prime Minister in August 2003 of massive bid rigging and corruption taking place at UDECOTT that he claimed into the Hansard was ten times worse than what took place at Piarco, yet he sat in that same Cabinet and toed that Cabinet's line for six long years without a call to the Integrity Commission, the Fraud Squad, the Commissioner of Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Anti-Corruption Investigative Bureau, in fact he called no one. And what is worse, he's never said anything about it or called anyone since.

So which is the lie?

But it continues.

On the hustings for the internal political leadership elections his is a campaign marred with all manner of threats of violence, open hostility and vile and bitter racist taunts. His own Rottweiler in training Fitzgerald Hinds promised challenger Penny Beckles 'bois,' which to those who do not understand the lingo of the stick fighter, that is a big stick across her back if she does not behave, with nary a word of admonishment from his leader. The same Hinds who told the nation that Rowley was too black to ever be Prime Minister of this country, and while he tried to ascribe it to some fictitious 'other' who he claims said it to him, it is not the first time that Hinds has gone down this path, possibly hoping to bear the same ethnic fruit and appeal to afro-consciousness that the THA's infamous Calcutta Ship remark had.

And this lack of credibility is not limited to the leader alone. Colm Imbert has been playing his version of the school girl game 'elastic' for some time now, jump in, jump out, jump in, stamp. Does anyone know whose camp Colm is in? No, but apparently neither does Colm. And what about the same Hinds? Fired by every political leader he has ever had, and in spite of his painful to watch public displays of loyalty for his leader, he was almost left out of Rowley's pack and had to settle for the humiliation of being named as Youth Officer despite being well into his fifties. Or what of 'new kid on the block' Faris al Rawi, whom Keith Rowley cleverly hides behind whenever he thinks the questions of the PNM's past might be too tough to answer? What of the man rumored to have benefitted from some iron clad leases signed literally at the death of the last administration binding this Administration to him and his family to the tune of millions of dollars for still unoccupied real estate?

No the real problem for Keith Rowley and the PNM is a serious lack of credibility. That is why they work so hard creating scandals and stirring 'kuchoor' for this government, they desperately need the distraction. Because if for a moment there is sufficient calm for the non aligned voters to contrast and compare between the government and the opposition, the PNM loses.


Why? Because despite having political and economic control for forty of this country's fifty one years of independence and a quarter of a trillion dollars spent on their watch, more than two hundred thousand of our people live desperate lives amid squalor and mind numbing poverty and violence, the overwhelming majority of them being PNM supporters and members from the PNM communities, and that more than anything is why I say he and they have no credibility. If you can do that to your own, to the very people who have kept you alive politically, on what authority, moral or otherwise, do you speak of anyone else?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Murder Most Foul...

To sit in that standing room only church that spilled into twice the number outside than the Fire Services should have reasonably allowed inside and listen to the snapshots of friends and family, co-workers and colleagues, one got the sense that the person who left us, this Dana Seetahal was so much more than the legal luminary and attorney extraordinaire one believed her to be. The outpouring of love that made up the bulk of that almost four hour experience for most seemed to barely touch the idea of Dana as one nephew so aptly described it, this phenomena of a diminutive individual so much larger than life whose loss left many traumatized and grasping for words even as they gasped for air.

His Excellency the President seemed to be in an almost fighting mood, his passionate plea that we not fail her memory brought a perfect close to an evening of moving contributions, none more so than a weeping Prime Minister who herself appeared almost shaken by the whole experience and I asked myself, how could this have been allowed to happen?

There were more Ministers and public officials present in that humble church than have gathered for world leaders, comfortably squeezed among average Joe mourners and everyone content for their space among the tears, happy at least to be present to say good bye to someone who was described as the most learned of Jurists and practitioners of her craft, someone humble enough to terrorize an entire generation of up and coming professionals into aspiring to be the best, to change the world as Dana dared to even as she stormed the ramparts of the courts in zealous defense or prosecution, so enamored was she with the administration of justice if the testimonies of so many in that profession were to be believed and again I ask, what have we truly lost?

Media workers with tears streaming down their faces covering the funeral of a 'name' is no ordinary sight, law enforcement officers directing traffic while simultaneously squeezing the hands in knowing camaraderie of those who greeted while walking by told me this was no simple loss, this death seemed to have ripped the very fabric of this land in that it snuffed out a life that so effortlessly walked with Kings but never lost the common touch and that it was reverberating from the stateroom to the board room, from the halls of justice to the very streets. Machel Montano wrote and performed an impassioned love song for her and asked the question, who would look after us now?

For my own part, my experience of Dana Seetahal came through her niece my producer on our weekly radio programme where Dana would text to say when she thought that we were going off topic or that she was bored with us now, enough of an admonition to get us to adjust our direction and approach to our prosecution of the week's topic until she finally gave the rare compliment that the show wasn't all that bad and that she grudgingly listened to the end. I became tethered to this my thinking guide who on the rare occasion would even pick up her phone and dial in with a message for us and I think like Machel, who is to guide us now? I was not fortunate enough as many were to have a long or close working relationship with 'Senior' even though I have long been a follower of her diverse and ranging contributions, and even when I disagreed with her it was with a respect for her approach if not her position. Dana Seetahal touched all of our lives. Like many when I heard the news that Dana was 'gunned down' I thought “Madness!” This HAD to be a joke in poor taste, the work of idle and juvenile minds. The confirming call from law enforcement that 'yes, the rumor was true' winded me and left me befuddled for a minute, how was this nation going to react?

The outpouring of grief and anger has been constant and strangely unifying, adding a new dimension to the loss. We, all of us, seem not to appreciate that we are tied to each other through others, but the death of Dana brought that home with a forceful blow and sitting there in that tightly packed mini-Cathedral I looked from face to face and did not see stations in society but a people gathered to mourn a death most tragic, to rail against a murder most foul.

To all who had a part in committing this unspeakable act I wish you all that the hand of Karma has in store for you. To say what I really feel seems disrespectful to the memory of Dana, and to call for the mob rule and public and painful execution that my base self longs for seems to contradict the idea of her, the final lesson of the life of Dana Seetahal, that even these, those who plotted and set upon her, who conspired and in the darkness visited her with the violence that killed her, even these were deserving of their day in court.

Rest in peace sage and fighting warrior, rest in well deserved and perfect peace, Amen.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Never be Normal again...

Following the unspeakable horror that was the slaying of well known legal activist Dana Seetahal, there are some who are already eager for us to 'return to normal.' But how can we? Our new normal is  a world where people can not only contemplate the execution of such a powerful and well known personality operating at the highest levels of national contribution, but have also the means to have that intention carried out. No, some changes scar the sky and cause even angels to weep, that change normal forever. And sadly, that is where we find ourselves today.

I will always remember where I was when it was first put to me that a mad man and 114 accomplices had taken the government and others hostage and was attempting to overthrow our democracy. That moment changed normal as, in the normal world prior to that people did not contemplate such actions. Normal also changed forever when former Attorney General and National Security Minister Selwyn Richardson was executed in his own yard by persons who have never been brought to justice. Now we have a new normal, a normal where Dana Seetahal's vehicle could be forced to a stop and she sprayed with enough high powered ammunition to rob us all of her most valuable life.

I remember saying to someone that if only lawlessness can prosper then we ought to be lawless too, and visit onto those who committed these atrocities against the people of this country with certain death, bright and public execution even if it required personal sacrifices. You see to me, in a normal world the law could never be an impediment to justice, and regardless of how bleeding your liberal heart is you must understand the power of simple gestures, that if Abu Bakr and his 114 treasonous thugs were all hanged from the neck until dead much of the violent crime that we have today we simply would not have. And in like circumstances, if the people were afforded the satisfaction of having the 'shot callers' executed for the role they played in the conspiracy that ended Mr. Richardson's life I am almost certain that that new normal would have protected Dana.

But we live in a country where governments routinely fail the people, and perhaps without a shred of irony or sarcasm, that is the most normal thing about Trinidad & Tobago. That Ish & Steve and Abu and Bilaal and Calder and Julien and Lawrence and Andre and Sam P and Johnny O and others have been allowed to thumb their noses at the rest of us foolish citizens bound by the premise of a rule of law that has no meaning to them, and because somewhere someone or someones were allowed to grow old in the material comfort and benefit of the removal of a former Minster whose life was dedicated to making this country better by the cessation of the corruption that many believe eventually killed him makes a joke of our version of the rule of law.

We live in a mad country, a place where those in authority seem to have no clue as to their role in or ability to impact history, because if we weren't, if this was a SERIOUS country, at 12:05 after the news broke that Dana Seetahal had been executed, by 12:06 we would have had Port of Spain cut  completely off of the rest of the world by land sea and air in an operation and exercise that curtailed liberty until the shooters were in custody being squeezed to 'give up' their bosses.

This government had the opportunity to give us a new normal, a normal where it would literally require madness to contemplate such actions because the message would have been clear, that the  machinery of state was dedicated to upholding the rule of law and the protection of the people.

The news the day after should have been dominated by the speed with which that State of Emergency was called, and, similar to the police action in the United States that ended with one of the two Boston Bombers dead and the other in custody, or that did not cease until Timothy McVeigh was executed for blowing up the Federal Building in Oklahoma, the message would have been pellucidly clear.

Because while everyone agrees there is no real way to prevent the intentions of the insane and the murderous, there are actions to be taken after that prevents them benefitting from their crimes and from inspiring others that such activity should even be contemplated. It's too late of course, and regardless of what is done and who if anyone is ultimately arrested the people are already jaded and disillusioned by what is now normal.

We missed an important opportunity here, and there is probably going to be a price to pay for that failure. The people of Trinidad & Tobago are heartbroken over the loss of a loved one they never got a chance to know personally but whose death they are taking very, very personally because of who she was and all that she represented. Now the new normal is for others contemplating a life of sacrifice and service to this country to take a long hard look at that choice where their own safety and that of their loved ones is concerned, and that, ultimately, may well be the greatest casualty of all.

With the ignoble slaying of Dana Seetahal normal has been changed forever, and we will never return to 'normal' again.