Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Changing our Minds on Crime...

The people of Trinidad & Tobago do not feel safe. The truth is we wont for a long time to come. Reeling from years of an inestimable crime problem that looked to have the authorities beat, we may see the results of the new dispensation with many quick to point out how hard the police and other members of law enforcement are working, but like victims of sustained violence all through history, it is going to take some time for us to accept that we are in fact truly free. Even the criminal element, members of the police service tell of their surprise when they are caught, so accustomed were they to plying their trade without fear of consequence, some of them end up dying due to the clumsiness of sheer disbelief.

We are creatures of conditioning. Victims of domestic abuse cower and tremble when certain sounds play. I read the story of a woman who was abused every night after the news and for years and years after her liberation the sound of the musical score of the nightly news was enough to dramatically disturb her and make her almost non functional. We are creatures of habit, of learning. We can be taught to be afraid. Violence applied over time has been used for centuries to break human spirits, and we in T&T are no different, our spirits are still broken. After decades of abuse inflicted without respite we developed a conditioned response, and it is this more than anything else that keeps us feeling unsafe despite the undeniable drop in crimes of all types and the dramatically increased interdiction rates.

I myself wonder at times what it would take to feel the freedom of a crime free society, to establish in the minds of the criminally minded that to choose such a pastime in these times have almost one of two certain outcomes, life spent in a cage, or terminated in a hail of gunfire as attacks against law enforcement are met with the unexpected fury of the superior fire power of the highly trained and well armed determined to reverse the tides. Had I not heard the head of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association himself admit that for the first time in a long time the streets of the capital city are safer as the crime numbers are dramatically down, or the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, despite being on opposite sides of the political divide praising the Ministry of National Security and the law enforcement community for successes in Tobago how would I be able to gauge?

Doesn't the news contain stories of violence and crime daily and nightly? How are we to distinguish and to accept facts that seem to be challenged by reality? Well the truth is that all social conditioning ebbs and flows like waves, where one person's actions determines another's in like fashion. Much of the crime that we are hearing now usually have a different outcome than it did in the not too distant past, and the perpetrators who choose to challenge the authorities rather than surrender to clearly superior odds are routinely killed for their miscalculation of the situation if not their trouble.

Can this be dealt with? Yes, over time. What law enforcement needs to do is continue to build on its successes, and to keep speaking up and out. Nothing exceeds like excess, and high visibility responses are going to continue to be the best kind.

A couple weeks ago I stood alongside others and witnessed the Coast Guard and Police Service intercept and subdue a criminal gang in Cocorite in broad daylight and the professionalism demonstrated even during the suppression stage of the operation astonished us all, the Hollywood-esque, surreal quality to what we were watching. The almost scripted dance as sea-going law enforcement gave way to their land based counterparts and back again as those caught in that act tried every imaginable trick to evade capture to no avail. I remember watching the faces and expressions of some of the other onlookers and noted the shock and awe mirrored in each face as we watched the reality of law enforcement doing its job, the cheer as the arrival of the helicopters provided the final piece in what was already checkmate and had us rooting for the good guys.

The truth is we don't feel safe and we probably wont for a while to come, but we can, especially if the law enforcement agencies keep up and build upon the good work that they have been doing in the recent past. This nation and its people are due for a healing, a grand gesture to define the changing of the order. The arrest, trial and conviction of the killers of Dana Seetahal or the successful arrests and prosecution of the big fish behind the juice tin cocaine bust are two that come to mind that could help speed this process along the way, that changes our preconceived notion that crime does in fact pay in Trinidad & Tobago.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hijacking the Balisier...

On any given day I am approached by people from all walks of life who apparently have no problem off-loading all of their political cares and concerns on me as if they and I have been friends for life or as if this were somehow my role in the thing. I have no problem as sometimes these exchanges could be funny, other times eye opening, usually informative, and for the most part as long as it is reasonable I bring it to the public in the hopes of broadening the national discussion.

Take my good friend the elderly doctor from an upper class neighborhood in Diego Martin West who bounced me up in West Bee's carpark on Sunday morning, he raised an issue I must confess I had overlooked, and his treatment of the matter seemed so rational I thought it should be advanced.

From my friend's position (and to hear him speak that of many others in the traditional People's National Movement strongholds as well) it appeared as if Opposition Leader Keith Rowley's PNM was trying hard to distance himself and the party from itself, and many of his and their appointments of late have been consistent with a sort of reverse ethnic bias, begging questions as to that party's position, intentions, and future momentum where its traditional supporters are concerned.

Long recognized as the 'black' party for its afro-centric roots (as opposed to the United National Congress' more indo-centric lean), the doctor's statement that the new face of the PNM appears anything but, and while he said he applauded any organization that reverses its own racist, tribal, or otherwise divisive agenda, in the cut and thrust of politics the people presented are usually packaged to attract votes and for that reason usually tend to reflect the demographic of the target audience so who was the PNM targeting now?

He got my attention.

“Change is great and broadening of the base is ideal” he went on, “but if one were to line up the PNM's Parliamentary front line and put it to stand next to its own Senatorial arm the contrast is so striking as to beg a question on the surface, is the PNM trying to compete with the United National Congress for the East Indian vote?” I was stunned by the question. He went on “If the answer to that is no, how then does one explain all of the appointments and much of the successful screenings having so few traditional PNM and dare I say African looking faces? With the exception of Maxie Cuffie, almost every other single appointment made and advanced by the Keith Rowley team has thus far been anything but Afro-centric, and while I (his words) like every other forward thinking, all inclusive patriot again wholeheartedly and fully support the notion of all inclusion in this beautiful multicultural nation of ours, at what point do we begin to look at not so much as to what has been included, but in acknowledging what has been excluded?”

I was beginning to see his point.

“Where are the young, bright, educated and talented Afro-Trini members of that party that were allegedly being groomed under (former Prime Minister) Manning, and why aren't the older heads advocating for their inclusion among the new ranks?”

He continued passionately “Clarence Rhambarath, Justin Phelps, Stuart Young, Faris al Rawi, Diane Baldeo-Chadeesingh, Avinash Singh, Alif Mohammed, Neil Mohammed, Terry Shaun Jadoonanan, Abbegail Nandalal and Terrnece Deyalsingh all make up the list of now frontline speakers, Senators and successfully screened candidates, and when one takes the leadership council of Andrew Gabriel, Rohan Sinanan and Franklin Khan into account, doesn't it strike anyone else as odd the almost one hundred and eighty degree turn where people of African descent are concerned that the People's National Movement has made since Keith Rowley rose to power?”

I must admit I was starting to see his 'point' even more clearly, but surely there had to be some other less sinister explanation for the obvious pattern of appointments, standing there in the noon day sun I was hard pressed to find one.

Seeing my discomfort in being cast in the role of listener in a dialogue to which I could not reasonably contribute my friend brought our time together to a close with two more questions. He asked me to ask who is the the People in the People's National Movement now that the new look has swept away the old guard, and the last question he asked needs to be asked in his words - “In a world where the PNM seems to have abandoned its roots and turned its back on the very people who put them into public office, who is supposed to represent the now orphaned children of the Balisier wandering the political wilderness of Trinidad & Tobago?”

I found that I could not answer any of his questions satisfactorily even to my own mind and that troubled me. In pondering the possible and the plausible the obvious kept presenting itself, and if that were to be the real answer then I worry for the grandchildren of Africa in Trinidad & Tobago, long under-represented by the politics and social experiments of the PNM, they are in desperate need of a new dispensation, leadership with a heart and a vision for them as a people worthy of respect and real representation. I almost forgot I was there to go to the grocery.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Yes, Prime Minister...

In the classic fable 'The Emperor's New Clothes' the Emperor is duped by the clever knowing that the 'yes men and women' around him would dare not disagree with him even if they were told that he was not naked in public but was in fact wearing clothes that they just couldn't see. So they ended up lying to agree with him in his confusion and ended up making a royal fool of him. This same plot-line was taken to the extreme and milked of all its comic value in the British hit comedy series 'Yes Minister,' and made the point every week that one ought to be careful whose advice and more importantly, whose interpretation of circumstances one subscribed to.

Take our illustrious Prime Minister, whose brand management and now electoral campaign is being run by an illusion artist capable of convincing her that the growing negative public perception of her that is happening on his watch is nothing for which she should be concerned. So the hit that she took and continues to take while they gave out bribes to media workers in her name and at her event remains, and while it is being touted as a 'help for the needful in times of need,' no explanation was given as to why this 'help' was not given out in the full glare of everyone else or to everyone else invited. But that is nothing. This same charlatan is presiding over her name slowly being made synonymous with bad luck and blight, so that everything that she blesses or attends, if the team she supports loses, it becomes comic fodder after on social media and in traditional 'ole talk' that 'the Prime Minister blight the team.' This was seen in the Brazilian World Cup epic defeat and just recently the Trinbagonian Women's Team's attempt to qualify for the World Cup. But it gets worse still.

In the recently concluded Cabinet retreat held in Tobago to prepare for the upcoming General Elections, the overwhelming majority of Cabinet Ministers polled readily agree that the individual in question appears clueless to the needs of the party and its floundering popularity despite the fact that it and they delivering on an extremely high level. They point to the telegraphed campaign to create a cult of sorts around the Prime Minister where she is adored for the government's successes, and the associated marginalizing of every other Minister that is surely bound to backfire by an opposition who now only have one target to hit. On the upside to this the Ministers with the power to ignore this communications mismanagement who are in fact managing their own brands and preparing to step into the light should the need arise, and one only has to point to the remarkable transformation of the Housing Minister from dour and arrogant to tempered and measured and a joy to listen to even when engaging his and the government's enemies, who now keeps his rapier wit sheathed while focusing his barbs in cleverly designed come backs that make even his detractors laugh, showing an understanding of the national culture and a willingness to bend the show to suit the audience.

The public for their part is also telling the government to hold the public relations and deal with them from a position of fact, to give us the bitter medicine stripped down of all the glitz and glamour and let them decide. Take the fourteen month old Minister of National Security for example, who has demonstrated a willingness to communicate with the public at every step regardless of the perceived popularity of his policy or lack thereof at the time, which has resulted in a public trusting him in a Ministry that, prior to his elevation, was considered a career killer for every previous holder of that office including two Prime Ministers who were all ridiculed for their efforts. This from a Minister who has dismantled the culture of rewarding gang members with state contracts, contrary to the previously widely held belief that the government through the MONS should be accommodating to gang leaders in exchange for peace. Instead he has extracted peace through the enforcement of the law and the threat of further enforcement and the public is lapping it up. Now he does not even have to defend himself or his policies, and Friday's broadcast that a New York based fringe group was taking serious issue with his immigration repatriation policy saw social media rise vociferously to his defense. To the uninitiated that is called winning the battle of hearts and minds.

So what am i saying?

That it is a cheap stunt to attempt to package everything good in the land as the Prime Minister's doing, and everything bad as the work of sinister opposition forces. The public is not that foolish and the push back when it comes will sting. Further, this policy of isolating and shaming those perceived to be opposed to the government in any way is backfiring badly, and our hard working multi talented and willing Attorney General seems to be the first to pay the ultimate price. His ratings are so low outside of the People's Partnership Government and the United National Congress there is a new joke making the rounds, that if Anand were to cure cancer the people would choose cancer over his cure.

Now there are many who would not dare tell the AG that simply because the AG appears unable to process negativity or bad news, but to succeed in public life one must not only develop a thick skin where detractors are concerned, one must almost become Christ-like in one's willingness to forgive. This is something that the high functioning public figures around the world understand, that the people demand their right to an opinion of you as an expression of their own power, and the real job is to manage that impression. It is where Fuad Khan went so wrong over the easily solved ambulance issue, and instead of taking the matter being raised as a personal attack he had a wonderful opportunity to come down on the side of the people, express outrage over the tragic and calamitous state of affairs and pledge to work unceasingly to rectify them regardless of the obstacles that needed to be overcome. His surly and withdrawn response has drawn the ire of the public and now they are monitoring his every step to expose him again, something inevitable in the difficult to run health sector and I daresay, the new career killing Ministry.

My advice to Fuad? Come straight with the public, out yourself and the entire health sector, bombard the people with the failings and their failures, implement new policies in full view of the public, and most importantly, engage your detractors. There is no amount of money available to fool people with PR stunts equivalent to a converted detractor. When those traditionally opposed to you start singing your praises it is then that you would have won the public's trust.

Similarly with the Attorney General, whose personality seems to reflexively lash out at people he considers opposed to him. This is not working for him and neither is the campaign to 'soften' his image now being waged on social media. His is a unique situation as he is supposed to embody his office and should do so with the dignity for which it calls. The only approach of merit for him is to cease the public politicking altogether, to only approach national issues from the position of the Attorney General of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, and to do so with the greatest respect for the office and all that portends.

But why am I giving all of this free advice?

To let Rodney Charles and any cabalists in the government know that I am unfazed by their behind the scenes chicanery to punish me for speaking the truth. The threat of the loss of contracts or the ability to bid for contracts will never work to control me, and, if anything will further embolden me to  expose the heavy handed misuse of state funds to control public opinion.

I also understand that these same individuals have been working behind the scene to prevent me being allowed to contest the Diego Martin West seat as a member of the People's Partnership, but I wonder what they believe would be the outcome of that situation with someone so politically minded and active as myself, who had to sacrifice much of his own support base to support this government? I wonder if Rodney Charles is ready for the push back of myself and others like me come election time, who have zero interest in seeing a PNM government ever come to office but would inadvertently end up working in their favor as we work to punish the political charlatans in our midst?

As Kahlil Gibran said in his world famous work 'The Prophet' – 'You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?'

Madame Prime Minister the last polls told you that your communications is not working. That despite you presiding over the best performing government that we have ever had, the people are anxious to rid themselves of your government. This will not get better and accelerating while being stuck only deepens the hole. As of this writing I am prepared to resign any position and surrender any contract in exchange for principle and integrity and to let you know that you are being made a fool. You are a high functioning capable Prime Minister, quite possibly the best that we have ever had. Do not allow the simple minded to dress you up and trot you out like a Barbie Doll. Listen to the ground, they will tell you everything you need to know and to do to retain office in 2015. You might be surprised the benefit to your popularity a tactical firing or two could accomplish right now.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bringing this Rowley nonsense to an end...

Before he could finish smirking over the allegations he made in the Parliament last Friday that 'police all over' were looking for a former government Minister and United National Congress Member of Parliament, Political Leader of the People's National Movement Dr. Keith Rowley had to switch off his phone to stop taking calls as the rumor mill was abuzz with the latest news, that a young attorney short listed as one of his bright new stars and earmarked to be a future PNM Member of Parliament was himself arrested a short time after.

Now not wanting to get into the details of either matter, it is clear that the time tested sayings stand the test of time simply because they're have so much truth in them, and in this case it is obvious that who the Gods wish to destroy they do indeed first make mad.

But this is to be expected, and like the former People's Partnership Minister who himself seems bent on self destructing spectacularly, this is a man who has built an entire career on nothing but fluff and bravado and has pushed it so far even he must be shocked that he is still getting away with it. I mean seriously, think back over his twenty five year career and tell me one thing of national value this individual has contributed. Can't, can you? It's unbelievable that he has slipped by this far on so little for so long. And at the constituency level it is worse. Much worse. He has never once been on the ground. The only time we've ever heard him mention walking about was in reference to nineteen eighty six when he mentioned that he walked in Westmoorings and Glencoe, but for the rest of the constituency, not a word, not a trace. It's almost as if he's a ghost. Phoning it in from the start, he is that guy on every job site who figures out the boss' movements and times him. Who appears busy only when he absolutely has to be. Who is the most vocal on a wide assortment of issues, but none of them can he ever really claim as his own.

My issue with this individual is his blatant disingenuousness. His two faced, hypocritical forked tongue double standard. This individual who stood up in the Parliament and accused his political leader of knowing that the Cabinet he led was corrupt to the core and was engaged in bid rigging, because he said he told him so in two thousand and three. But he told us all this after his falling out with his same leader in two thousand and nine, but what he has never said to this day is what he did for the six years in between. By his own admission the systematic rape of the treasury that was taking place every year was ten times worse than what took place at Piarco, and as by then we all knew the estimated haul at Piarco was upwards of a billion dollars, is he saying that he knew for a fact that the PNM government that he was a part of was stealing over ten billion dollars a year, and he did nothing for six years? This man, who has called the country to order on a whiff and a suspicion, who has invaded the sanctity of the Chairman of the Integrity Commission's home when he thought the matter was of an urgent nature based on flimsy suspicions made no report to the same Integrity Commission for six years despite admitting that he knew for a fact that the government of which he was a part was stealing tens of billions of dollars of public funds? Not a call to the media? To the police? To the Fraud Squad? As a senior Cabinet Minister he could have called in Transparency International if he wanted, but from his own mouth again we know he did absolutely nothing, so tell me, on what is anyone to base any consideration of this individual for the office and positions he currently holds, much less support him for higher office?

And if all of what I said before were not already an indelible justification and a stain on a bleak and dismal failure of a career, what has he done to advance the cause of his party or the interests of the country or its people for the over four and a half years he has been leader of the Opposition? What plans and policies advanced? What options suggested? What ideas mentioned in passing?

On what then does this Prime Ministerial hopeful base his and by extension our fortunes should he succeed with his ambitions? On a wish? A prayer? On the public's possible disenchantment with the government so that he could benefit from another 'slip een?’ I put to the entire national community that it is way past time that this entire Keith Christopher Rowley charade be brought to an end. That this chapter in our political misfortunes need to be closed and the individual retired to a place where he can do no more harm. In an ideal world that would be the responsibility of the very Opposition that is currently languishing like a rudderless boat in stormy water under his leadership, but out of concern and love of country we may all need to get involved and put this particular political misadventure out of its misery. For all of our sakes. Just in case.

When the People Rise... (Real Unity)

Don't you just love it when those who set out to fool are themselves fooled and made fools of? This week we had two perfect such examples of the flipping of the script that my romantic heart was filled with so much hope it made me proud to be a Trini once more.

The first was the clearly orchestrated attempt at managing our low information voter through the clever use of racism and threats of violence to destabilize the nation, but which did not so much as backfire as it fizzled, leaving the Public Relations Officers of both of the political parties implicated in the matter taking to the airwaves to finger point and jibber jabber, while the rest of the population yawned, looked away and ignored them both. I swear, if I could have shaken one point three million hands that day I gladly would have, just for the message it sent to the two empty suits of the UNC's Rodney Charles and the PNM's Faris al Rawi. Now it's back to the drawing boards for these two and the dinosaurs behind them who still think that punctured tires and a threatening flyer placed on vehicles was going to incense the public enough to affect them on a passionate political level.

Shows just how much they are misreading the public, doesn't it? The majority of Trinbagonians aren't Africans and Indians no more, they seem to have seen through the ruse. The polls taken by the pollsters continue to tell the politicians and the public two different things, and if I were to advise those pulling the campaign strings it would be to shut up and listen, the people are guiding you. You are not getting statistical dead heats in the polls, you're getting apathy. The people are fed up. This is not twenty years ago, this is the time of instant information where the news cycle lags behind the public information curve. Now the people form opinions before the opinion shapers get a chance to tell them what to think, catching pundits everywhere off guard every single time and I have to say I love it.

Every creed and race appears on the way to finding an equal place, and step one along that road seems to be a uniting in disgust over the fables of the story tellers. Wonderful time to be alive I tell you.

The second thing that happened was the evaporation of Ancil Roget's political if not union leader career and everything else that came wrapped up in that embarrassing collapse of yet another PNM supported, ILP inspired, OWTU led march to nowhere over nothing for no good reason. Not that I am taking a political side to the union's position but am in fact questioning why the union would have one in the first place. But i'm getting ahead of myself. I wonder what David 'opinion on everything ' Abdullah thinks of this latest calamity to befall him and his comrades in arms?  Is he savvy enough to read the tea leaves to see that the entire population is just fed up of the nonsense now? That the lack of real leadership offered by Keith Rowley is a turn off? That the Jesus today, Judas tomorrow games Jack Warner plays are all played out? That no one cares if Ancil Roget is happy or sad because he has never had credibility or integrity with the public to begin with?

No, the politics of the future is certainly not going to be rooted anywhere near the politics of the past and those hoping for a career better understand the times we live in and get with the programme. The people don't care what you look like or the texture of your hair, they know we deserve better and whosoever is dealing those cards can be dealer for the rest of the game for all they care. They understand now that politicians are servants. That you are not going to get a raise in pay until we get an increase in the quality of our lives. That your bitching and moaning in the Parliament will not help you one iota come election time if the people are not satisfied with either your performance or your promise, and bet your bottom dollar, your words better match your track record or you will feel like Anil Roberts felt on his honeymoon night, unsure of if he was really in or out.

Now is the time for the rise of real people-centered, delivery-focused leaders with national vision and hearts for service. None of the numbers of the past are going to matter in this bright new frontier, in a world where the sitting Minister of National Security is so widely loved he could sit in any party, where any colour and it would matter nothing to a public so enamored with him that all they care about is him continuing to hold that job. And that's the lesson. Serving the people is now a measurable quantity not based on your predecessor or your challenger but on you and your promises. The people hold the reins of media and information and possess the ability to check you against yourself and what they know to be in their best interest. We are at a time when delivery is going to talk and gobar is going to walk, and to close how I opened, I am so proud of my fellow Trinis right about now, if for nothing, for finding their way home despite some of the questionable leadership we have had in the past fifty two years. It's a wonderful time to be alive.