28 December 2008

age of war

we tell ourselves so many foolish lies

about the past and who and what we are

reducing every symbol to a scar

and so becoming what we most despise

our only truths appear in deep disguise

as if reality has turned bizarre

or we had lost sight of our guiding star

and all the world become strange to our eyes

vision's enhanced by what we seem to fear

as bearing us right past the edge of pain

as what we learn is given proper shape

so much we find when no one else will hear

the honest word nor see what seems most plain

instead they moan that life is one more rape

back to the sea

the ocean is a being with grey teeth

what it has eaten everyone must learn

we see the smile and know what hides beneath

each of us has to take a painful turn

upon the oars in honour of old grief

yet in that setting finding what we earn

is less than we deserve and that so brief

a pain may serve as well the mark to sear

into each skin before we find relief

from chore and duty and learn to adhere

not only to the plain but to the hard

since nothing of our world could be more dear

than the one place we claim to be our yard

a coral finger a turtle of stone

with horrid memories it has been marred

and yet it is the only place we own

where rage and hatred turn into desire

and light exposes every broken bone

to show each hero that he is a liar

when he has promised an ending to night

since even truth must perish in the fire

for in these islands nothing comes out right

except the jokes and bullets from each gun

we get the heat and never find the light

but still they call us children of the sun

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.
Travelling Cities
THe challenge of the new mega-cruise ships is to the land based hotels and their employees.
Look at the picture accompanying this column.
The Oasis of the Seas will make land-based hotels irrelevant. Instead of bringing visitors to Jamaica the new ships will offer an ersatz Jamaica to the visitors. Each of these ships will be human zoos specially designed to so bemuse their clientele that it will soon be possible to offer -- in a plain brown wrapper -- a virtual tourism product in the privacy of your own home. I’m sure they’re working on it. In the meantime Royal Caribbean says The  Oasis of the Seas  will be a state-of-the-art 'travelling city' – the largest and most revolutionary cruise ship in the world. The Oasis  will feature seven distinct neighbourhoods including a shopping mall and a Green zone: The cruise liner will have its own ‘Central Park’. (Applause!!!)
The liner’s 220,000 gross registered tons (GRT)will carry 5,400 guests in 2,700 staterooms on 16 decks (and 5,000 crew)
Oasis  will be the first ship to demonstrate the Royal Caribbean’s concept of seven distinct themed neighborhood areas, which include a Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone.
Do not Pass GO!
According to the literature each ship’s central park will be basically a mini ‘jungle’ themed to reflect an imaginary island, say Jamaica, no doubt with its quota of  iguanas, crocodiles, parrots, humming birds and other “authentic’ simulacra of the ‘authentic’ island experience, about as much authentic ‘nature’ as a couch potato can stand and making it unnecessary to actually visit the place.
One cannot help hoping that these benefactors of the sea will have the forethought to include appropriate accommodation to display retired politicians and other ginnigogs  in their natural habitat.
Given all this, the rationale for the Falmouth cruise shipping centre is simple: There’s got to be somewhere to dump the huge amounts of waste generated by such an environmentally unfriendly project. Falmouth’s destiny is to act as a relief point for the ship to be sanitised, resupplied with cheap Jamaican water and for the ship its passengers and crew to offload their excrement in what will become the tourist crapital (sic) of the world.
You read it here first.
Copyright ©2008 John Maxwell

24 December 2008

patchy fog

enough to speak here of the patchy fog
in sheeplike huddles  moving by the coast
not like the tales in which we were engrossed

in which the princess kissed the urgent frog
and forced him to make good on his big boast
enough to speak here of the patchy fog

we're left to wonder why you need to flog
the dying sun to haste before the ghost
of pale remembrance has gone past the post
enough to speak here of the patchy fog


no place to hide it seems from all this cold
just northern sun and wind without warm rain
to ease our judgment of the season's gain
or loss of simple sense in what was told
by no firm purpose or strong will to hold
as true or wise while light makes all so plain
under the grey that is not quite a bane
to our disloyal hearts that are not bold
justice requires that we add up the tale
of many ages in a small black book
in which clear note shall constantly be kept
while eyes examine all the facts that fail
to measure up as beauty when we look
and heart acknowledge that the world has slept

23 December 2008

nothing but shipwreck

nothing but shipwreck is the complete tale
from sunrise to sunset and then again
we rise never to triumph but to fail

all humanity fits here in small scale
from the bahamas right down to cayenne
nothing but shipwreck is the complete tale

our story is the oldest human wail
our fate is limited by a hard pen
we rise never to triumph but to fail

you would not think any of us were frail
and yet we seem the weakest sort of men
nothing but shipwreck is the complete tale

set down in writing in such great detail
the complete record lies within our ken
we rise to never triumph but to fail

the hurricane will tear the largest sail
and end the voyage with a last amen
nothing but shipwreck is the complete tale
we rise never to triumph but to fail

what came

what came at the beginning was mistake
words uttered by a fool and said in haste
that altered nothing and were soon erased
the wisest turning swiftly to a flake
meanings unclear and symbols made opaque
by those whose urgencies had been debased
so early on now we think it bad taste
all that is left of truth a distant ache
only the wind recalls what might have passed
simple exposure to a world of joy
a door now closed forever to our thought
as into silences our hopes are cast
we watch as others the last goods destroy
and wish them happiness with what they've caught

21 December 2008


you think i have forgotten what was said
along the way and lost the count of years
in all our  rushing and from many cares

for work and needing daily to earn bread
loaded withal with more  than normal fears
you think i have forgotten what was said

enough to fill an ordinary head
with a full sense of what in truth appears
but not to give one what we might call airs
you think i have forgotten what was said


this is the secret spoken into night
by children and old men so many times
watching as yellow moonbeam slowly climbs
along the wall and thinking chances slight
that in the morning matters will go right
each painful turn as distant town bell chimes
provides an early punishment for crimes
not yet committed now that is our plight
what we expect is some sort of return
to better understanding of our hearts
when the sun rises from the winter deep
with all the force with which a man might yearn
for kinder days and all our human arts
brought to effect these are the thoughts we keep

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.
The Poverty of the Rich
At this moment the British and other capitalist realists are abandoning the welfare state,  in order to encourage self reliance among the working class; they are, simultaneously seizing the commanding heights of the economy in a programme of nationalisation designed to calm, revitalise and recapitalise the failed capitalist economy.
What is good for the rich is not good for the poor.
Except that some formerly rich are now, due to their own efforts, not so rich anymore. In New York, a week ago, a friendly gentleman with the face of a kindly gnome and unknown to most people rich or poor, confessed that he had managed to obliterate wealth the equivalent of the GDP of Cuba or Luxembourg. This  man known  previously only to a close and select circle of very rich people, , disclosed that he, singlehanded, had struck a grievous blow against capitalism, destroying fortunes, wiping out whole charitable foundations and leaving a great many people, many of them his friends wondering exactly what had hit them.
Mr Bernard Madoff, a quiet unassuming securities broker, had managed, over the last 20 years or so, to transform himself from a mere broker to a high-class money manager, a safe pair of hands for delicate funds requiring rapid multiplication. Mr Madoff was the soul of discretion. He didn’t take money from just anyone. You had to be recommended, to be a member of one of his golf clubs or possibly, a patron of the hairdressing salon where Mr Madoff got $65 haircuts and $50 pedicures. The super-rich begged to be allowed to meet him.
Mr Madoff  it is now apparent, took a lot of people to the cleaners, among them, his nearest and dearest friends and even his own family. He damaged several banks in France, Spain and England, wrecked a number of hedge funds  and charitable foundations, and has managed to generate an enormous amount of distrust among the growing gaggle of millionaires and billionaires who cannot abide the thought that their excess riches are not somehow, generating even more excess, pullulating like spirogyra in  a stagnant swimming pool..
The Madoff swindle is a classic Ponzi scheme, such as some we have had here , where investors are paid ‘dividends’ from the investments of people who come into the scheme later. Basically, it is another version of the privatisation of development. In this scenario, governments are forbidden to borrow from their own people’s resources. This was called printing money. Governments  must be forced to borrow from private usurers whose resources come out of the same consumers (erstwhile taxpayers) from  whom the government is forbidden to  borrow. Since these resources come out of the surplus value created by the consumers themselves in the form of profit margins, they (consumers/taxpayers)  have no claim on any share of it as they would have, were their taxes being used.  Capitalist democracy means that in Jamaica, 35% of our taxes go to the government and  65% goes to the usurers. In the privatisation scenario, the government taxes, which would have gone straight into bridges and social security are instead diverted to be sanitised by the banking system and then lent back to the government at greatly increased cost because of course, the private sector must get its proper tribute.
This process, the so called financial system resembles a multilayered casino, in which several different forms of gambling take place depending on the taste and affluence of the gamblers. At the beginning of the Bush administration the world was startled by what was then the world’s greatest corporate bankruptcy, the Enron disaster. In this boondoggle the Enron geniuses devised a whole slew of so called financial ‘vehicles’ – basically different  forms of scratch and win multimillion dollar  bets. In the process Enron managed to steal billions from the citizens of California  by cornering the market in energy and forcing the Californians to pay extortionate prices for electricity.
In the latest crisis of capitalism now wracking the world, the prime suckers were the poor and underprivileged of the United States. It was suddenly realised that no matter how poor these people were, if you got enough of them together in the same corral, you could get important money out of them. People who had been denied housing loans because of their race or income were suddenly eligible, and -whether they could or could not pay for a whole house, were able to pay for at least several months. This was fine. When the mortgage was foreclosed the process would begin again and again. Except that as more and more people ‘bought’ houses, the prices of houses rose, and soon, more and more of the mortgages were for overvalued housing bought by people who could not pay. The avalanche of foreclosures made the situation even worse, as people were now paying for  houses worth much less than they were supposed to be.
In the meantime, bundles of these mortgages were being packaged and sold as ‘securities’  — debentures — rock solid investments.  As soon as the foreclosures began the bubble burst.
In the Enron catastrophe, in the toxic mortgage disaster and recession and in the Madoff debacle, there is one constant. The regulators, the overseers, the auditors, the protectors of the public interest were at all material times, non-functional. This of course means that the ‘system’ is an unsupervised racket.
The Paupers Pay
Transparency International and other NGOs whose purpose is to back up the usury of the International Financial Institutions, have very little to say about these catastrophic failures of private sector governance. This is so despite the fact that these recent  failures have cost us more than all the government failures in history.
The double standard is crude and easily recognisable. In the US, the taxpayer is seen to have a duty to rescue the financial industry and its grossly overpaid minions. The taxpayer, according to the Republican party, has no business rescuing the auto industry, because the workers in that industry are unionised and earn too much.
Nobody appears to have noticed that the securitisation of the sub-prime mortgages in the US was an almost exact analogue to the privatisation of Third World debt a few years earlier.
And that is why the current recession will become a global depression and why all of us need to do some serious emergency thinking, mainly about growing food and achieving food security.
Mr Bartlett, the Minister for Tourism, apparently believes it is unpatriotic or shameful to anticipate hard times ahead for tourism or for the coutnry as a whole. I would ask him to consider this: The collapse of bauxite is part of the general collapse of the commodities market which is a part of the general economic malaise precipitated by the collapse of the big financial institutions, the disappearance of credit and the collapse of the stock market. Embedded in this are other factors such as the collapse of the general housing market, hedge funds and widespread unemployment,  expecially in the financial industries.
Where in that scenario does Mr Bartlett discern hope for a vibrant tourism industry and a sparkling economy?
Copyright 2008© John Maxwell