A Picture Worth A Thousand Words

John Maxwell

There is a picture that has made front pages round the world. It is  fairly simple picture; against a background of bombed and burning buildings there are three people in the foreground. A woman, in a paroxysm of grief and probably terror, a man, her husband perhaps, a picture of impotent rage and in his arms, their son, an infant of majestic detachment, conscious it would seem, of everything, but not in the least disturbed. He knows too much, already – it seems.

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Fifty New Year’s Eves ago nearly nine out of every ten people now alive weren’t born yet.

I was then 24, contemplating marriage and, with my girlfriend, celebrating the ending of the old year with a close friend and his wife in their house in Gordon Town.

We were listening to one of about 80 Cuban radio  stations we could hear in Jamaica, It was Radio Rebelde, the voice of the 26 of July Movement.  We were expecting interesting news, as over the past few days it was becoming obvious that the tide was turning against ‘la dictadura’  – despite all the US attempts to shore up the bloody tyranny of Fulgencio Batista

On New Year’s Eve the American effort came crashing down. The Radio Rebelde announcer began to shout:

“The Dictator has fled! the tyrant has gone!”  Pandemonium!

All of a sudden the disciplined broadcasters of Radio Rebelde were like high school kids, celebrating end of term.  We listened to make sure we’d heard right and then Wilmot Perkins and I and our ladies jumped up and down, singing Cuban songs and drinking toasts to Fidel, Ché, Raul, Camilo  and whoever else we could remember.  Some of them we’d met on their way through Jamaica, courtesy of Gabriel Coulthard who seemed to know everyone in Latin America and brought them round to meet us at Public Opinion. Fidel’s lawyer, Baudilio Castellanos, was one.

For most younger journalists in Jamaica at that time, Cuba was the big story and a year later, after the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation had come into existence, I decided to go to Cuba to find out what was going on.  When my mother heard of my plans she convinced Wills Isaacs, a family friend  – to try to talk me out of it. Wills, then Minister of Trade & Industry did even better. With his good friend Aaron Matalon, Wills offered me a year on an Israeli Moshav cooperative farm – which they knew fascinated me – if only I would not go to Cuba, where I was ‘more than likely to be shot’.

At that time I was really deeply interested in the new social experiment that was Israel and like most people at that time had no real idea of what had happened to the Palestinians, no idea that the Palestinians were being made to pay in blood and treasure, for what Europe had done to the Jews. As a child I’d seen the horrific pictures of the stick figures of dead and dying Jews in the German extermination centres, Belsen, Birkenau, Buchenwald, Dachau and Auschwitz, the  names themselves seemed  to stink

I never saw pictures of the Palestinian refugees in their camps nor any documentaries of their Nabka –  their counterpart to the Jewish holocaust.

I was an admirer of Israel, of Ben Gurion and Shimon Peres, of  Abba Eban of Golda Meir and Teddy Kolleck. My first real problem with Israel came with their execution of Adolph Eichmann. I said in a newspaper commentary (1963) that for Israel to reintroduce the death penalty for Eichmann was a dangerous error. To hang him for facilitating the murder of six million Jews plus homosexuals, Gypsies blacks and others was to devalue their lives. Eichmann, I suggested, should be sentenced to work in a kibbutz, to experience at first hand, the civilisation he had tried to destroy. That would have been real punishment. Continue reading


Virtual Tourism in a Floating Paradise

John Maxwell

The Port Authority of Jamaica is clearly one of Jamaica’s most sophisticated public entities; they even appear to have a vice-president in charge of delivering bad news. This gentleman, Mr Pat Belinfanti was quoted round the world, according to Google, about 34,000 times two weeks ago as saying ‘Jamaica suspends port expansion, blames economy’.

Papers as diverse as the Seattle Times, the International Herald Tribune and the Taiwan News reported that ” Jamaica is suspending plans for a multimillion-dollar expansion of a popular tourist port in Kingston because no one wants to finance it.”

I was bemused by the mention of a ‘popular tourist port in Kingston’ since I couldn’t figure out where such a place might be.

Here is the core of the story:

“A spokesman for the island’s port authority says the $122 million project at the Kingston Wharf will be pushed back one year. Pat Belinfanti says construction might start in 2011.

He said Friday that several international banks backed off, citing the global financial crisis after initially saying they might finance the project.

The development would include construction of duty-free shops and a renovation of the nearby Port Royal town as a cruise ship destination.”

The figure of US$122 million appeared to indicate that what might actually have been zapped was the monstrous Falmouth Cruise ship facility Phase One of the Human Zoo planned for Trelawny. The rest of the story appearing to be simply journalistic confetti, scattered to deflect the anti=spin missiles of the foreign press. No such luck.

What is admirable about the Port Authority is that, like their paragon, the UDC (Ultimate Devastation Conglomerate) they gallantly refuse to take no for an answer and like the Light Brigade, will continue charging into the jaws of death, into the gates of hell, if only to deliver their latest press release or to try to borrow even more money while they cannot service their current debt, incurred while no one was looking.

What really seems to have happened is that the Port Authority has recently suffered some serious financial setbacks and is in the process of drawing in its horns.

In the Gleaner of Dec 11  a story written by Arthur Hall says “The worldwide financial meltdown has started to hit Jamaica’s ports, delaying one major project and causing some international financiers to shy away from another.

In addition, there has been a 15 per cent decline in domestic cargo moving through the ports since August. A noisily trumpeted 5 year contract with Maersk, the world’s largest shipping line (2005) disintegrated before the contract was even halfway done.

Chairman of the Port Authority of Jamaica, Noel Hylton, said plans to begin the expansion of the transshipment port in the Fort Augusta area of St Catherine in 2010 have been shelved, with the project now slated to begin a year later.”

Reality is clearly setting in this area. In another area I am not so sure. Arthur Hall’s story says that the high cost of capital may also  be damaging the immediate prospects of the amazing proposed cruise shipping pier in Falmouth where the PA needs $US122 million to seal the deal

As the world’s risk takers sprint for the exits, Jamaica’s gallant Port Authority stands unfazed :  “we have about eight banks which have indicated a willingness to offer financing,” Hylton said; “The question of getting the financing is not the problem for us … The problem is the cost of the financing and in today’s world, financing costs can be very high,” said Hylton.

You can say that again, but you shouldn’t need to. Jamaica has lots of experience with usury. (Eight banks!)

Why anyone should consider destroying Falmouth has never been clear to me, especially to replace it with the Disneyfied monstrosity proposed by the Port Authority in cahoots with Royal Caribbean. Everything is being done at a very high level of course and environmentally concerned people like us just need to shut up and take our medicine.

The medicine is going to be potent. While parliamentary committees gave been reassured that Falmouth will be no danger to the cruise shipping industry, no such guarantees have been given to the  Jamaican hoteliers whose customers regard Jamaica as the attraction. Continue reading

The Wealth of the Poor

John Maxwell

It starts, as everything does, in the slums. These are high-class English slums, though, where Mrs Thatcher and her acolytes have been able to prove that when the state abandons its responsibilities there is indeed, no such thing as ‘Society”

Despite this, judges are still willing to sentence teenagers to jail sentences longer than they have been alive, and to denounce said teenagers for their “brutality and cowardice and lack of discipline, training and honour”. In an exquisitely oxymoronic Thatcherism, people deprived of their rights and their dignity by the state are to be punished by the state for their depravity.

In Britain, in Liverpool this week an 18 year old boy, disturbed, dysfunctional and the product of a dysfunctional social and economic background, was sentenced to 22 years in jail for murder. The teenager had been trying to shoot one of his teenage  enemies and hit an 11 year old innocent in error.

Fortunately, it was not Jamaica, or we would have had street-dancing to celebrate another death sentence. Continue reading

Investors in limbo

Sunday, December 14, 2008

There is one fault line in American life that not even Barack Obama can heal; it is the chasm between those who believe OJ Simpson killed his wife and those who don’t.

I must make it clear at once that I don’t believe OJ did it.
My reason is simple: I cannot imagine anyone, having just butchered two people, being able to make himself and his house presentable within an hour or so of the bloody killings, and then embarking on an aeroplane flight halfway across the United States, leaving his house open to be searched by any police force – even one as incompetent as the Keystone Kops of the Los Angeles Police.

In the days they had to examine Simpson’s house the LAPD could not find one single piece of incriminating evidence – nothing to connect Simpson to the crime. To rid his house of bloodstained clothing and any trace of incriminating DNA in an hour is beyond the capacities, I believe, of even highly trained decontamination experts and, in my view, stratospherically out of reach to a booby like Simpson.

Only an innocent booby could have dared to write a book speculating how he could have committed the murders of his wife and her friend Ron Goldman. And only a booby would not have realised that there was something very odd about the expedition he was persuaded to lead to recover his property from a Las Vegas hotel room.

The Goldman and Brown families, who obviously hate Simpson from the word go, have never wavered in their belief that OJ was the killer. They know, and like all fundamentalists their knowledge is absolute, immanent and incontrovertible.

They have managed to trap Simpson twice, with two hand-picked juries – getting a wrongful death civil verdict against Simpson and now, getting him jailed on the most obviously rigged evidence in proceedings which I would think do not dignify even such a state as Nevada.

It all came out in the wash. The gang behind Simpson, including the lone gunman, have all got away more or less scot-free. The goat, Simpson, will probably spend the rest of his life in jail if a real court cannot be found to end this travesty of justice.
If people are to be jailed because they are fools, the world would clearly have more people in jail than outside. OJ Simpson will die for their sins.

OJ’s sin was that he ‘wanted to live like a white man’, according to Newsweek at the time, a capital offence on the same order as Saddam Hussein’s pretensions. The difference, of course, was that Saddam actually killed people, like some other leaders more powerful than he.

I really don’t believe that Simpson killed anyone. But to say this is extremely unfashionable.


John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson both believed that black people had been so historically disadvantaged that a century after the abolition of slavery, some reparation in kind would be only just. They were persuaded in this by the advocacy of the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s and Affirmative Action was one result. Affirmative Action was designed to help all of the oppressed, women, ethnic minorities and other politically handicapped classes to get to a position where they could compete on approximately level terms with those who had historically enjoyed privileges out of the reach of ordinary people.

In the ’80s and ’90s, after the Reagan revolution, it became an article of faith that welfare subsidies – standard in most civilised countries – were in the United States a means to give excessive privilege to women and blacks, especially to the poorest. Mr Bush’s so-called Justice Department actually entered appearance as a friend of the court in a celebrated case five years ago on the ground that using quotas to determine ethnic diversity in universities was unconstitutional and breached the right to equal protection under the law.

In capitalist society, of course, inequality is built into the system. Some are owners and others are workers. In the development of the market system in the US, however, some workers are clearly more equal than others. Over the past 50 years some white-collar workers have captured the commanding heights of corporations, and the owners, the stockholders, have been relegated to being bit players in their own productions. With the departure of the first entrepreneurs, the second and third generations of owners have become spectators as professional “managers” have taken control of the corporations and have enriched themselves beyond the dreams of commonplace avarice. They pay themselves bonuses in the millions whether their companies are booming or failing.

This week one of the Napoleons of the new capitalism demanded a bonus of $10 million after 11 months as chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch, perhaps the most famous financial services company in the world. John Thain’s basic compensation is about $15 million a year, and in the time that he has been with Merrill, the company became the most high-profile casualty of the current financial disaster, having to be rescued in a takeover by the Bank of America financed by the government of the United States.

Despite this disaster, or perhaps because of it, Thain seemed to believe he was entitled to some super profit. The immediate howl from newspapers, bloggers and others appeared to have persuaded him to withdraw his claim. Thain and others like him are the people most vociferous in attacking the wicked trade unions, particularly the United Autoworkers whose members are derided as parasites battening on poor, helpless companies like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Suddenly the US press has begun to examine the claims against the unions and have discovered that the imaginary millionaires of the UAW are paid just a little more than the non-unionised workers in the American factories of Toyota and Honda. They have discovered that it isn’t the unions that are responsible for the state of the US auto industry, but the exorbitantly paid bosses, still building cars for the fifties while the Japanese and Europeans are building cars people actually want to buy.

The government’s rescue of the auto industry will bring some unlooked-for changes in US motor vehicle manufacture. Congress and Barack Obama are thought to want more environmentally friendly cars. They also want the manufacturers to change their focus to include railway engines and other forms of public transportation. When the taxpayer owns GM, life for everybody will be very different.

Unlike wealthy countries like Messrs Golding’s and Shaw’s Jamaica, the US will soon confront a future in which private transportation will be a luxury.

Another world

In Jamaica important facts surface briefly like drowning fish in Kingston Harbour, never to be heard from again. While Mr Golding was busy backing the Spanish hotel developers it was reported almost by the way:

“The project is receiving funding of US$100 million from Spanish investors and US$80 million from Jamaica’s National Commercial Bank and will provide employment for more than 1,000 Jamaicans at a time when other hotel projects, including Trelawny’s multi-billion-dollar Harmony Cove and the 2,000-room Excellence Group rest in limbo.(http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20081207/lead/lead2.html)

Resting in limbo, indeed. And this despite the enormous sums of Jamaican taxpayers’ money spent on the expensive physical infrastructure for these Arabian nights fantasies.

The problem is that all the super-fancy resort developments are in trouble or will be soon. They are facing the double whammy of worldwide tight credit and an evaporating high-end consumer market. I confidently expect to hear that the monstrous cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, is on hold, to be followed by immediate comfort statements from Jamaica telling us all not to worry: Falmouth will be destroyed anyway.

David Jessop asked last week what we are going to do now that the British and the Europeans are imposing new taxes on air travel to faraway places like the Caribbean, designed to slash the effect of aviation on global warming.

We are not planning any responses to these disasters, depending instead on rescue by Brazilian investors in ethanol – food for cars – when we need to get people to plant backyard food gardens and transform idle sugar land to growing food. I pointed out a few years ago that, on acreage equal to that of Monymusk – one of the smallest Jamaican sugar estates – farmers in Florida were producing US$60 million worth of citrus. We are clearly too advanced for anything like that.

We will, of course, be able to eat bauxite.

Copyright 2008 John Maxwell

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The People are the Change




John Maxwell


I’m sure it is possible to second guess Barack Obama.

I’m sure it is possible to outrun Usain Bolt.

I’m pretty certain I won’t be around to witness either event.

The real value of Barack Obama is the fact that millions of people round the world have incorporated Obama into their own dreams, almost into their own personas.

After the foul miasma of the last few years has begun to clear it was almost inevitable that when our most outlandish wish came true, against all the odds, we would bundle all our hopes and aspirations into the skinny kid with the funny name who spoke of change as if it were important and –  that he meant what he said.

In this atmosphere of swirling myth and springtime tears, it is easy to forget Bismarck’s apothegm: politics is the art of the possible. “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best” said the founder of Germany; John Kenneth Galbraith’s apparent dismissal of Bismarck is in fact a confirmation -“Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

Thousands of bloggers and people supposedly learned in the craft of politics, have been having conniptions because Barack Obama has not chosen to break out of the American political system in some revolutionary expedition to wipe all slates clean and to dry every tear.

Obama, like Lincoln and Roosevelt before him, or Bismarck himself or Fidel Castro or Jean Bertrand Aristide – is not a freak of nature but the perfectly logical crystallisation of his people’s dreams. And these dreams have always been various, coalitions of desire which can never be wholly fulfilled because some are always at odds with others. The most fundamental ideals of all,  Freedom and Liberty, mean many different things to any different people. Harmonising these contradictions in the interest of the greater good is the essence of what we call politics.

Some pundits have declared that in choosing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and Lawrence Summers among others, Obama has sold out. Sold out to the past, to the Clintons, to the status quo.

They don’t understand Obama – who does? – and they don’t understand politics.

In the American presidential system it is the President who makes policy: foreign policy and domestic policy, social policy and economic. When a President Obama assembles a team he is choosing people who understand  that the US has one President at a time – even when that President is as totally unfitted for the position as was George Bush. I am not being wise after the event: I said so when Bush was about to be appointed to the job by the US Supreme Court.

As I wrote almost exactly 8 years ago, on Friday December 8, 2000 in a column published in this paper on December 10, two days later:

” Most of us still  know nothing about what is going on [in Florida’s Supreme Court] of course, because our media is too busy congratulating itself to notice the titanic struggle taking place an hour’s flying time from Kingston. Like the people of the United States, we have been carefully screened from the truth. The real George Bush, if he is appointed President, will use his time to destroy the integrity of the country he rules, starting with the Supreme Court. Then he can start on dealing with  the rest of us.  That’s his job, and as the American Press has made plain, nothing needs to be known about him and his  multifarious incapacities because Big Brother in the giant corporations will tell him what to do. We are all in a for a very rough ride.”

We’ve had the ride, and I forecast some of that too, in the same column:

‘The approaching triumph of Greenspan/Ayn Rand capitalism may just be slowed down by the latest developments in the US economy, but that is not cooling down the ardour of the ‘Cognitive Elite’ to gain a handle on the whole business of corporate control of the economies and governance of the world. ‘


Some of us find it really easy to forget unpleasant experience particularly at the hands of someone we were told to trust.  This forgetfulness  allows us to survive all kinds of horrors, but makes it difficult to appreciate just how far the world has travelled since November 4, and how much farther we have to travel.

If we have really observed Obama we might have noticed that he is a man who writes his own script and that he likes to stick to that script, because he knows it makes sense. And he understands too that the best leaders make the best followers, because, more than most, they understand what is to be done. And in Obama they have a leader who they know, from personal experience, is not easily diverted and not willing to surrender his mandate to anyone,

Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s most significant triumph will, I predict, be in Palestine, followed by Darfur, Cuba and Haiti. Just as the anti-communist Republican Richard Nixon was peculiarly qualified to come to terms with China, so, I believe will Hillary Clinton find it possible to secure in the Middle East the peace that Obama wants and the world thirsts for. Barack Obama’s grandfather was tortured by the British in Kenya on suspicion of being tied to Mau Mau. It will be impossible for Obama, with his history, to condemn any people or nation to be the chattels of any other nation.

Even in the highly unlikely event that Mrs Clinton wished to design her own foreign policy she would find it impossible in a Cabinet that also includes Joseph Biden, Bill Richardson and Susan Rice, Obama’s ambassador to the UN. These people know how the world works and they all understand as Bush never did, that the United Sates needs, especially at this juncture, to work with the world.

Great orchestras often contain several maestros, but their pride is in the music they collectively produce under a great conductor. But the same orchestra can sound quite different with another great conductor. Continue reading

The Human Zoo


John Maxwell


There is an ancient joke about an American tourist being shepherded round Europe on a package tour, collecting places without ever experiencing them. One morning his wife asked him: “Where are we? His bemused answer:  ‘If this is Tuesday this must be Paris.’

The cruise ship business is even more soulless than the land based package tour. Cruise ships are floating amusement parks designed to delude you into believing that you are taking part  in  a mind expanding experience – travelling to foreign countries to partake of the local culture. In fact the stops in the various islands of convenience are basically to buy cheap water and to allow the crew a day to clean the ship and make it ready for the next day of cruising and boozing and goofing off at great expense. Continue reading

Foolish Virgins & the Wrath to Come



John Maxwell


Eighty years ago the giant American company, General Motors decided on a strategy to sell cars, not Just to sell cars but to convert first the United States into an automobile owning democracy. ‘Automobile’ – a heavy and clumsy word, conveyed subtle hints of free range, autonomy and capitalist self determination. ‘Car’ – on the other hand was redolent of old fashioned modes of transport like street cars and railway cars all public transportation.

Though it was never put in these terms, automobiles would be the motive power behind leaving the herd and joining the rat race.

Beginning in the twenties, GM conducted widespread PR campaigns against public transportation, particularly aimed at getting streetcars – trams – off the roads. streetcars, buses and trains were limiting to personal mobility GM said.  Although no one had noticed those limitations before, GM was selling the idea that cars were the ticket to the wide open spaces of America, although few roads then existed to get to those wide open spaces and there wasn’t much to be done there, except for hikers, nature-lovers and gangsters looking for places to dump dead bodies.

General Motors, through a dummy corporation, began buying up tramways and shutting them down on the ground that they were old fashioned, slow and got in the way of cars. in collusion with Standard Oil of California and Firestone (tyres) GM bought the largest makers of buses in the US so that public and private transportation would not only be controlled by Detroit but tied to the internal combustion engine.

Americans loved their cars. Some early movies seemed to be more about cars than people and pretty soon the charms of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” were blown away in the exhausts from “Route 66” where you could get your kicks fleeing dead ends like New York and Boston for the wide open soullessness of Bakersfield Calif or Oklahoma City, which was ‘mighty pretty’.

‘A basketful of King Cobras’

Detroit built automobiles, big, clumsy vehicles with soft suspensions and inefficient engines. In the 1950s writer Tom McCahill reviewed new cars for Mechanix Illustrated magazine though he continually lambasted American automakers for their sloppy suspension and inefficient engines. He once criticised the suspension of Ford’s Edsel as so dangerous that “I wouldn’t own one except with the export kit; without stiffer suspension, a car with so much performance could prove similar to opening a Christmas basket full of King Cobras in a small room with the lights out”.

But McCahill  was also a nationalist and went along with the US auto industry as it defied  commonsense and continued building gas guzzlers. Of course, at that time, gasoline was priced in cents per gallon, not dollars. But California was already beginning to enforce fuel consumption and air pollution standards on cars,  so they can’t say they didn’t know which way the wind was blowing. McCahill did tend to laugh at the small European and Japanese cars which were beginning to nibble at GM’s near monopoly on the US market. Continue reading