28 June 2009

Human Rights & the Environment

John Maxwell

The Haitian constitution of 1805 was the first national constitution in history to declare that all human beings were equal with equal rights, privileges and responsibilities. After a short preamble the constitution declares that it is made –
"… in presence of the Supreme Being, before whom all mankind are equal, and who has scattered so many species of creatures on the surface of the earth for the purpose of manifesting his glory and his power by the diversity of his works, in the presence of all nature by whom we have been so unjustly and for so long a time considered as outcast children.
"Art. 1. The people inhabiting the island formerly called St. Domingo, hereby agree to form themselves into a free state sovereign and independent of any other power in the universe, under the name of empire of Hayti.
2. Slavery is forever abolished.
3. The Citizens of Hayti are brothers at home; equality in the eyes of the law is incontestably acknowledged, and there cannot exist any titles, advantages, or privileges, other than those necessarily resulting from the consideration and reward of services rendered to liberty and independence.
4. The law is the same to all, whether it punishes, or whether it protects.

"We, the undersigned, place under the safeguard of the magistrates, fathers and mothers of families, the citizens, and the army the explicit and solemn covenant of the sacred rights of man and the duties of the citizen.
Some of the duties of citizenship are enumerated in the constitution; Among them:
9. No person is worth of being a Haitian who is not a good father, good son, a good husband, and especially a good soldier.
10. Fathers and mothers are not permitted to disinherit their children.
11. Every Citizen must possess a mechanic art.
21. Agriculture, as it is the first, the most noble, and the most useful of all the arts, shall be honored and protected.
Under the Constitution, the army is the creature of the state and obedient to it; Due process is guaranteed, the house of every citizen is an inviolable asylum, and the Emperor is prohibited from making wars of conquest.
While the head of state is styled Emperor, the position is elective and not hereditary.

The entire text of the constitution may be found here:

I am no expert on constitutions but I would bet that there are few if any that attempt to define the responsibilities of citizens to the extent the Dessalines constitution did.
What is particularly striking about this constitution is the emphases placed, first on parental responsibilities, then on skill and training and finally on the on husbandry of resources by protecting and and developing agriculture.
These three principles suggest to me that the founding fathers of Haiti were, in the most essential sense, serious environmentalists understanding the duty of the citizens to husband the national patrimony in the interest of all.

'…the vilest scramble for loot'

Haiti was one of the products of the crazed scramble for gold and other emblems of wealth following European exploration of the Western hemisphere and Africa. Millions of indigenous people were exterminated or enslaved, their civilisations laid waste in a multi-century pillaging described by Joseph Conrad as "the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience".
The so-called Industrial Revolution was a process by which raw materials stolen from 'primitive' populations were transmuted into unexampled wealth by human fuel in the form slaves and serfs supplemented later by the fossil fuels coal and petroleum.
Within a century and a half of the start of the Industrial Revolution a Swedish scientist, Svante Arhenius, was warning that human activity was warming the globe by what is now known as the Greenhouse Effect.
Nobody took the threat of global warming seriously until about half a century ago when results from the first International Geophysical Year began to create alarm, strengthened a little later by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring which described all life on earth being caught in the deadly crossfire from new chemicals, plastics, herbicides, pesticides and others that were transforming the American Way of Life into the American way of Death.
Humanity began to wake up to the fact that all of us, black or white or brown, poor or rich, were on a collision course with disaster.Following the Stockholm conference on the Environment in 1972, the United Nations was moved by growing concern "about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development." In 1983 the UN General Assembly recognized that environmental problems were global in nature and determined that it was in the interest of all nations to establish common policies for sustainable development. The UN decided to convene the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), known by the name of its Chair Mrs Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister of Norway. The Bruntland Commission echoed the Haitian constitution when it declared that "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The Haitians version was that no one was allowed to disinherit their children.
The Bruntland Commission prepared the way for the groundbreaking conference of heads of government – the so-called Earth Summit of 1992 at which every country in the world was represented – to design a road map for sustainable development to give all human beings an opportunity to satisfy their basic needs within the limitations of the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.
The Earth summit was an attempt to give effect to the promise of universal rights through universal action. The key element of the agreement, the Treaty of Rio – Agenda 21 –was that every community in the world should be entitled to decide its own way to sustainability and that every person should have a say in this global decision making.
It was a noble aim and every world leader signed on to it, including our own P.J. Patterson and George Bush I of the US. The signatories committed themselves to a variety of objectives, the most important of which was t h idea of community Agendas designed by the people for the people.

Spectacular Disrespect

Few states in the world have failed as spectacularly as Jamaica to honour their obligations under the treaty. We actually drew up a document to guide Local Development Planning in Jamaica but there has essentially been no action to enforce the people's rights to a clean, supportive and productive environment. The main guarantee of this, Environmental Impact Assessments, are a bad and stale joke.
The European countries, six years after Rio, drew up an agreement designed to give their citizens the rights envisaged in Agenda 21 – the treaty signed by Jamaica and nearly 200 other countries.
This agreement, the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters – is a document which more than any other single instrument, epitomises the real meaning of democratic rights and self government in the modern world.
In the words of the UN Environmental Commission for Europe –
" The Aarhus Convention is a new kind of environmental agreement. The Convention
- links environmental rights and human rights
- acknowledges that we owe an obligation to future generations
- establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders
- links government accountability and environmental protection
- focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities in a democratic context.
The subject of the Convention goes to the heart of the relationship between people and governments. The Convention is not only an environmental agreement, it is also a Convention about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness.
The Aarhus Convention grants the public rights and imposes on states and public authorities obligations regarding access to information and public participation and access to justice.
Jamaica has more than most other countries, demonstrated a contempt and disrespect for the principles enshrined in the Agenda 21 and in the Arhus convention.
We have talked the talk, big time, but we have not only not walked the walk, we have sedulously avoided doing so.
If we go back long before Agenda 21 we will discover that Jamaica, like many other countries, treated the environment with disrespect, if not outright hostility. We destroyed the most productive protein producing piece of seawater in the world, Kingston Harbour and transformed it into the world's most beautiful toxic dump and cesspool. We did not have to do it. Even in the 1920s when we decided to use the harbour as a sink for human waste, there were well known and reasonably priced alternatives. As always, we chose the easy way, the destructive way out. Our laws in relation to bauxite mining were well meant, but were studiously ignored. More recently we have come close to destroying our premier botanic gardens, an erstwhile valuable educational and economic resource and recreational asset, like Kingston harbour, because some greedy developer wanted to put an upscale housing scheme in what would inevitably have become a private park.

Destroying National Treasures

We are trying our damnedest to destroy the Cockpit Country, an asset of almost unimaginable potential, a cultural, historical, ecological and hydrogeological resource which we have not properly explored before we decide to destroy it.
We are in the process of stealing public amenity in our public recreational beaches to be handed over to Spanish hotels and other private interests and we are in the process of transforming one of our most beautiful towns into a colonial slum dedicated to the processing of excrement and other wastes from cruise ships and to make it a tourist-only apartheid facility in which the only Jamaicans will be those who serve the foreign visitors.
Pretty soon the only beach available to Jamaicans may be Puerto Seco, handed over to the Jamaican people by Kaiser Bauxite who should never have had any ownership rights in the first place.
We are in the process of destroying Negril, fifty years ago one of the world's most beautiful beaches. The destruction is caused by illegal groynes – built against expert advice – by the UDC, a public corporation, and by sewage pumped into the Negril Morass by the UDC, which, together with the humic acid released by UDC dredging of the morass, has killed off the sand-flake producing algae and finally, by the over fertilisation of the sugar plantations on the fringes of the morass.
The morass is itself a valuable resource because it is the main guarantor of the Negril beach as well as an important nature reserve with multi-million dollar potential as an attraction for Jamaicans and visitors. We prefer instead, to build artificial attractions, featuring imported wild animals while we kill off our indigenous plant and animal life by a process of malign neglect. Because we have not thought about housing the thousands attracted to the development areas we have officially encouraged squatting and the misery, squalor and crime which accompany these developments.
But, there are of course, always the end-of-pipe solutions. The IMF killed off our 1978 plans to restore Kingston Harbour to economic productivity both as fishing grounds and as recreational area. We would have restored the hillsides, removing the squatters who destroy nearly US$100 million worth of land every year and putting them to grow food on the flat land still monopolised by sugar cane. Now, thirty years later, we are going to go back to the IMF to get some useless, expensive and counterproductive advice which will simply saddle us with more debt, more homelessness and more crime.
Two hundred years ago the Haitians said that no one has the right to disinherit their children.
Jamaicans do not agree.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell

27 June 2009

Republican Parties

For Sanford, or Ensign, or Vitter,

Whose political hopes seemed to glitter

The chasing of tail

(An objective so male)

Sent their presidential hopes down the shitter.


Now Newt used the word with an arr,

Didn't care he was going too far,

He seemed to forget,

To his own regret,

No wagon was hitched to his star.


So Cheney he came out so quick

To wield the proverbial stick;

So ready to pounce,

And even denounce;

But everyone thought him a Dick.

21 June 2009


this is the turning point and luck will burn

whichever way the earnest choice is made

so it won't matter if you seem afraid

both rich and poor must dance round in their turn

laugh for a while look up and hope to earn

what good they can from honest simple trade

before the sparks come down in last cascade

and all goes out that is the truth we learn

now under the same sun we build the fire

for angry hearts that have not felt the sway

of that fine rule we want the world to seek

past the first moment of youthful desire

since we discovered that was not the way

but now are grown too wise simply to speak

A fi we! A no fi dem!

John Maxwell

Fifty years ago last Monday, an event occurred which transformed Jamaica. The launch of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation transformed the Jamaican culture, theatre, music, politics, journalism and the Jamaican language.
In its periods of independent existence the JBC transformed the Jamaican idea of Jamaica, of Jamaican personality.
I am one of the few survivors of that day. Most of that small band are dead and most of those who aren't are scattered to the four winds. The JBC was Jamaica's real entry into the modern world and it excited enthusiasm and animosity in equal degree, provoking a struggle which persists to this day between those who know themselves to be Jamaican and those who charitably patronise things Jamaican and other pastiches of a Jamaica which never existed outside of travelers' tales.
On June 14, the day before the official launch, the new broadcasters of the JBC presented an ambitious showcase of their talents, programmes ranging from a major radio drama, a concert by the JBC Orchestra playing Jamaican music, Jamaica comedy and high-class soap opera, Jamaican news and a Jamaican newsreel bringing Jamaicans for the first time face to face with themselves and their work, the commonplace and the sublime.
Two of the items for which I was responsible on that day were an interview with Hollywood star Errol Flynn and an interview recorded on a mule-drawn dray carrying supplies for fishermen on the road to Portland Cottage.
We stunned Jamaica.
The papers and the verandahs for weeks afterwards could talk of little else but the Jamaican accents which had never before been heard on radio. Until then two kinds of diction were permissible on Jamaican radio: the clipped BBC accents of Dennis Gick and his ilk with their J.B.Priestley plays, or the real (and occasionally fake) American accents of the announcers on Radio Jamaica. Jamaicans heard instead, for the first time, at last, the voices of Miss Lou (Louise Bennett) Mass Ran (Ranny Williams) Charles Hyatt, "Pro Rata Powell" (Ken Maxwell), Jack Neesberry (Carrol Reckord).
But what amazed everyone was the fact that the news – world news and Jamaican news, were written and edited in a Jamaican newsroom, and read by Jamaicans like Reggie Carter, Joy Gordon and Richard Harty. And, for the first time at last, it wasn't really necessary to listen to the BBC – which we continued to broadcast once a day to calm the nerves of those who could not believe that Jamaican journalists could possibly compete with English journalists. When I went to work for the BBC News eight years later I realised that we had been working twice as hard for half the pay and delivering a product at least as good as our august competitors and often better.
A decade and a half later, in 1975, I was congratulated for my handling of Britain's deputy Prime Minister, James Callaghan, one of the rudest and stupidest politicians I have ever met. The man who congratulated me was Sir Robin Day, then the doyen of British TV journalism. With a group of English journalists, Day came up to me in the Sheraton hotel where all of them had been watching my nightly interviews with people like Archbishop Makarios and Indira Gandhi at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference
"Great work." said Robin Day, "I hear you are called the Robin Day of Jamaica!"
"Oh!" I said, you must be the guy they call the John Maxwell of British television!" and after some more good natured banter we all repaired to the bar to talk about politicians.
Norman Manley, whose idea the JBC was, was never in any doubt that Jamaica and its people were as good or better than any nation anywhere and when the JBC began to prove it by exposing Jamaican musicians, like Carlos Malcolm, Foggy Mullings, and Ernie Ranglin, Don Drummond, Toots Hibbert, Count Ossie and Bob Marley, Jamaicans were astonished at the depth and breadth of Jamaican musical genius and the idea that world class could mean Jamaican.
It was the JBC whose attention to the mento, jankunnu, kumina and rastafari cultures brought them to the notice of their own people and the world. It was the JBC that created the market for Jamaican musicians and producers where none had existed before.
In the three years before independence the JBC was identified as a threat by those whose idea of Jamaica had concretised in 1944, when people spoke of demoracy-in-embryo and the need for tutelage in governance. When the JBC presented public affairs programmes that began to expose the realities of the society many were alarmed. C.L.R. James was astonished by a documentary I did in 1960 about the people who lived on and off the Dungle, who were allowed to tell their stories as if they were important. James thought that this was revolutionary stuff and prophesied that the powers that be would not long allow that sort of exposure.
He was right. When the JLP won the pre-independence elections in 1962 the JBC and myself in particular became immediate targets. One dispute was about JBC's alleged disrespect to the new government. The JLP said that JBC news was not dignifying Ministers by terming them "Honorable" as they said we had always styled the PNP Ministers. Fortunately we were able to produce a memorandum written by me two weeks after the JBC opened, in which we decided that honorifics such as "the Honorable" would be dispensed with except in cases of official announcements and things like death notices. They still didn't believe us.
We were always suspect, because we were not intimidated by anyone. In 1960, during the so-called Reynold Henry 'uprising', Wills Isaacs, acting as Premier while Manley was on a few days leave, insisted that we publish a ministerial statement by him calling upon Jamaicans to hunt down and capture and hogtie all stray bearded men in the interest of national security. We refused to broadcast the speech. Wills called me up, as the person then in charge of the newsroom and when I again refused he called Mr Manley. I told Mr Manley, when he called, that I had referred the speech to our legal adviser, Leacroft Robinson and he had agreed with me that the broadcast was an incitement to violence. When I told Manley this he agreed that we were right and told Wills to cool it.
A very similar row broke out in late 1961 or early 1962 when the JLP wanted us to put out a news release calling on "JLP Freedom Fighters" to give Mr Manley "a hot reception" on his return from pre-independence talks in London. I was again the person responsible for refusing the broadcast, on the same grounds I'd given Isaacs in 1960. Seaga and Lightbourne were at Bustamante's house and got the old man to phone me to persuade me to allow the broadcast.
I refused and then Busta put on the Commissioner of Police, Noel Crosswell who said he saw nothing wrong with the release. Again I had Leacroft Robinson's advice and again I refused.
When Manley arrived at Victoria Pier by motor-launch from the airport all hell broke loose, with Seaga's "Freedom Fighters" locked in battle with Isaacs' Group 69. During the fracas Isaacs' licenced firearm fell to the ground and fortunately was picked up by a responsible adult. No one was seriously injured but I have always wondered what would have happened if Seaga's call to arms had been broadcast.
When the 1962 elections finally came I was not among the JLP's favourite people. Within weeks I was again in trouble. In my weekly news review I had been scathing about the departing British. After 300 years, I said, they had made the munificent bequest of one million pounds, sufficient to run the basic administration of the country for eleven days. They had also generously donated Up Park Camp, which I said was simply because they could not take it away.
On the following Monday Mr Seaga with Sir Alexander Bustamante in tow, both dressed in funereal black, arrived at the JBC to see, by appointment, the chairman, the jeweller, L.A. Henriques. They got him to agree that I should be sacked, over the objections of Hector Bernard who was then the Acting General Manager.
When the rest of the JBC Board heard what had happened they immediately convened a meeting to inform Henriques that he had no authority to sack anyone. He was forced to resign.
I was reinstated. A few weeks later the entire board, with the exception of Henry Fowler, was sacked. A few months later I was again fired, on a trumped up charge and by way of a post-dated letter signed by the General Manager, A.L. Micky Hendricks, who at the time was in London on JBC business.
The new government of independent Jamaica did not understand the necessity for the autonomy of a public service corporation such as the JBC. They saw malice in any decision that went against them and were totally unable to accept any criticism. The PNP, demoralised in defeat, was unable to defend the principles on which we had always operated. Eventually in 1964 the newsroom rebelled against the attempt by Seaga and the new JBC Chairman Ivan Levy's to be news editors.
Despite the first largely middleclass strike and the longest in Jamaican history until then, the gallant workforce of the JBC was defeated and most forced into exiles
The JBC was transformed into a partisan mouthpiece – an image which it never shook – because the JLP were determined to destroy everything we stood for.
I had another innings at the JBC in the 1970s when I was personally painted as the implacable enemy of the JLP and of Edward Seaga, because I had run against him in the 1972 elections when the PNP could find no one willing to run in the brand new garrison of West Kingston. Although my candidacy was solely to prevent Seaga running unopposed and being elected on nomination day, it was taken as an impertinence and an insult to Seaga.
Despite this, however, the JBC managed to recover some of its self-respect. I personally remember with gratitude the opportunity I was given to start the first real talk-show in Jamaica, the Public Eye.

Public Eye had a few signal achievements, presenting for the first time public exposure of police brutality in the person of Peter Tosh, whose account of his mistreatment brought Jamaica up short. People knew that police brutality was fairly common, but few realised how pervasive it was. When I spoke to Peter Tosh he was still relatively obscure but well enough known to make a big impression.
Public Eye was also mainly responsible for the successful campaign to reverse the unfair convictions and secure the release of Michael Bernard and six other men on death row because of perjured evidence.

Our greatest achievement, however, was in raising the Jamaican consciousness about the condition of working class women. Shortly after the programme began in February 1974 I interviewed Rosamund Wiltshire and Gillian Monroe who had just done an undergraduate thesis on the treatment of domestic helpers, up to then called servants and maids.
After the interview I invited the domestic helpers of Jamaica to phone me and tell Jamaica their stories. Soon, telephone locks were being imported by the thousands, so that householders could prevent the truth being told. I was accused of scandalising the middle class and one day an expensively dressed chatelaine in a stush Mercedes Benz spat at me as I walked down South Odeon Avenue. After more than a year of agitation Michael Manley, at the instigation of his wife, Beverley, called me up to Jamaica House one day.
"What are we going to do about the helpers?"
I had an answer – suggested by the helpers themselves. Since they couldn't form a union and couldn't strike the society had to find the means to protect them from exploitation. A National Minimum Wage was the answer, but a National Minimum Wage policed by a special office which would also be responsible for defending all their rights.
Manley knew that everybody had said a national minimum wage would never work, that if implemented it would cause mass unemployment; but he, Beverley and I thought we should do it because it was right. Without consulting his Cabinet except for David Coore, he simply announced in Parliament that the government had decided to implement a National Minimum Wage and an office to supervise it.
Pandemonium. Jamaica knew the time had come for justice for the largest section of the labour force. Respect was due.
The impact of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation on Jamaica has never been measured. It is my opinion that in its short periods of independence, the JBC helped begin the transformation of Jamaica from an ignorant colonial backwater into a civilised society. We have a long way to go, but the JBC proved that we have the brains and the will to do it.
If our traditions had been maintained I cannot imagine that 50 years later a Jamaican Governor General would be flying to Buckingham Palace to be knighted by the Queen as if he were some middle-ranking British civil servant.
In our cosmology, honour flowed not from England, but from the cane-cutters and domestic helpers, from the small farmers and the higglers, from the Rastas and all the people who constitute Jamaica, as we know it
When they say "Respect is Due" we know what they mean.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell

20 June 2009

old light

these noted imperfections of old light

enough to drive a god of patience mad

tell us that death is not the lord of night


on days like this the chance of change is slight

we take the hoped-for good with the hard bad

these noted imperfections of old light


provide no proper guide for damaged sight

nor helpful hand though willing lass and lad

tell us that death is not the lord of night


since other forces keep their moments bright

and not all changes lead us to be sad

these noted imperfections of old light


are simple facts not signs of hurt and blight

the signs that fate will catch up to foul cad

tell us that death is not the lord of night


our choices do not always turn out right

but we are still entitled to be glad

these noted imperfections of old light

tell us that death is not the lord of night

19 June 2009

at the bamboo

it's called a bridle path but you must walk

for safety's sake along the mountainside

i've never seen a person who would ride

and many a laden donkey that would balk

of going that long road of grass and chalk

look to the left and death is a quick slide

in the warm rain and plenty bush to hide

your worthless carcass and no one to talk

the map is silent on who owns the place

nor does it hymn the brightness of the green

and noisy leaves in the sun's final ray

as all is captured in transcendent grace

eyes do not understand what they have seen

and mind is turning to the coming day

downhill road

shape stars in heaven no one seems to care

eyes firmly focused on the heaving mud

since each bright hope will turn out one more dud


exhausted haze hangs in the summer air

while the old tale now seems like so much crud

shape stars in heaven no one seems to care


that's the whole summary of this affair

if we are lucky we're put out to stud

if not it's down to muscle bones and blood

shape stars in heaven no one seems to care

14 June 2009

just by mistake

no journey goes to ending without break

but life itself the trip that does not pause

beginning as it ends just by mistake


what has been given others had to take

in secret meetings and to no applause

no journey goes to ending without break


but you must know just what we now forsake

in order to achieve your sacred cause

beginning as it ends just by mistake


yet leaving only horror in its wake

and showing all the marks of tiger claws

no journey goes to ending without break


but at its start there always is an ache

within the mind that recognizes flaws

beginning as it ends just by mistake


from this condition nothing we can shake

except the present and the final laws

no journey goes to ending without break

beginning as it ends just by mistake

Nobody knows the trouble we'll see …

John Maxwell

The British have some intriguing and utterly inexplicable national idiosyncrasies that confound and alarm outsiders. One such is the tendency, from time to time, for discrete sectors of the society to explode into fits of self-righteous self-abnegation accompanied by the shrill screams of journalists and other domestic prophets, apparently transfixed by visions of the most appalling doom and calling for important human sacrifices to forestall the baleful destiny about to overwhelm them.
For most of the last two weeks, if one believed the heavyweight British press, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was just seconds away from political hara kiri, pushed to the verge by the well-timed and apparently selfless resignations of some of his ministers, resignations, like banderillas in a bullfight, meant to madden and enrage the bull beyond endurance, forcing him to self-destruction.
It didn't work.
The British Prime Minister, more like an ancient Aurochs than the modern toro bravo,is a stolid Scots bull not easily impressed by commentators' frothing at the mouth or journalists fleeing from rationality. The excitement was an attempt by the Blairite yuppie wing of the Labour party to seize control of the one-time working class political machine, thus completing a Blairite/Thatcherite capture of the engine-room of British politics.
The problem for them is that the Thatcherite counter-reformation has been everywhere discredited and, that without Gordon Brown, the plundered British economy would have been heading toward Argentina and the IMF even faster than it now seems to be.
Britain's economy is now, probably thanks to Brown, the only significant European economy showing any sign of recovery. Even the Scandinavians, relatively insulated from the capitalist melt-down, have found their residual social democratic social infrastructure under threat from economies they tried to help, like Latvia and the other soi-disant Baltic "Tigers". Professor Steve Hanke's divinely inspired Currency Boards are failing, just like the Central Banks whose faults they supposedly abolish. Latvia, the former darling of the investors has announced that it expects GDP to fall by 18% this year. That's even worse than Jamaica.
The problem in Latvia, Ireland, Iceland, the United States and in Jamaica is that our economic systems depend on the untenable assumption that we must grow in order to survive.
There is a very eminent economist named Herman Daly whose work I have mentioned before and who, for most of his life, has argued for the economics of steady-state development. Daly, who is 4 years younger than I, is the founder of what we call ecological economics or steady-state economics.
He has worked for decades in proposing a steady state economy, and for policies to guide society towards a stable population, a constant material standard of living, and an equitable distribution of wealth.

"The goal of a steady state is to sustain a constant, sufficient stock of real wealth and people for a long time. No one denies that our problems would be easier to solve if we were richer. The question is, does growth any longer make us richer, or is it now making us poorer?"

For Daly and other ecologists, the biosphere, the thin planetary skin of soil,water and air that sustains us is the ultimate determinant of our behaviour. Since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, positive growth is possible in one place only if there is corresponding negative growth somewhere else. When bankers "create" wealth by extending credit nothing material is actually produced; what is created is a bubble.
If we take any living system, for instance a human body like yours or mine, we will find that optimal health does not depend on perpetual growth but on maintaining a careful balance in all dimensions. Human beings, whales, mahogany trees, coral polyps, bacteria and crocodiles all start small, as single cells, and achieve maturity when they cease growing, reproduce themselves and in time, return to the carbon cycle – ashes to ashes, etc.
The only organisms which insist on an untrammeled right to grow are cancers and capitalist organisations like banks. But since banks do not actually create anything except demand and notional obligations, the wealth "created" cannot have any validity unless it is necessarily extracted by parasitism of one kind or another or what some economists call 'rent' and others, 'surplus value'.
Various ecologists have calculated that we are living beyond our resources, that to sustain our notional wealth we are running a deficit in our account with the biosphere – we are extracting more than we can replace. Our consumption of oil currently allows some of us to live at an extravagant level which will disappear when the oil runs out.
It has been calculated that to live indefinitely – even at our current unsatisfactory per capita standard – we need the resources of an additional planet. If all of us were to live like Americans we would require the resources of two additional uninhabited planets.
In Jamaica, wealth was "created" over the centuries from slave labour or, to put it more accurately, the plantation system was simply the theft of the labour value of the slaves and its conversion into bills of exchange, stock exchanges and palaces like Versailles.
The fact is that half a millennium after Columbus began the ecological and cultural devastation of the "New World" we are still depending on the superstitions of capitalist theocracy. Our estimable Minister of Finance a few weeks ago appealed to the Caribbean Development Bank "to play a pivotal role in securing the economic transformation of the region."
He was speaking in the Turks & Caicos, which some suspect is itself another kind of bubble.
"The global economic crisis does not only pose severe challenges to member countries, but it also creates opportunities for doing things in new, innovative and better ways, and the CDB is well positioned to anchor these new and necessary initiatives,"
Mr Shaw cited the fresh- and processed-foods sectors as one area that offers vast potential for expansion as the markets in tourism and the Caribbean Diaspora offer many opportunities through linkages and the demand for ethnic foods.
Most Third world politicians and bureaucrats would find no fault with Mr Shaw's analysis, nor would I, if there were any prospect of it working.
Why, with millions of hungry visitors to feed, is Jamaica not straining to feed them?
Were we to produce twice as much food as we do now we could not satisfy the demand from our visitors.
And you ask me why we are poor?
Mr Shaw's prescriptions depend on the mobilisation of finance capital, whose owners' charge expensive rents. And the technology? We've been there before, with private entrepreneurs making nice returns fifty years ago in garments and building materials and even in the canning and export of food. And then they retire to Bermuda or Cayman to enjoy a well-earned retirement, ready to rent their Jamaican- derived capital.
We are mobilising the big money battalions, to capture the beaches of Portland, Trelawny Hanover and the South coast making them off limits to Jamaicans. We are planning to make Falmouth a gated apartheid city at a proposed cost of more than US$150 million to provide day trippers with cheap water, sewage processing and the opportunity to fondle imported wild animals. We could use half of this same money to do what the British are doing installing machines to generate power from ocean currents and cutting fossil fuel imports.
On what basis does any government justify such perverse decisions?
Where is the EIA?
If we are to borrow money it seems to me wise to invest that money in ways that will continue to pay back, in human skills and production.
Jamaica is probably the most favourable site in the world for producing power from ocean currents, being in the middle of one of the world's most powerful currents, the North Equatorial Current and its associated systems from the Orinoco and the Amazon. Offshore from Manchioneal to Port Antonio we have perfect sites for wind powered turbines. The breeze – the North-east Trade winds – the people tell me, never stops blowing.
We have the opportunity to put people back on the land, to rehabilitate Jamaican land and farming and to produce the food we are very soon not going to be able to buy.
We won't be able to buy it either because we will not be able to afford it, or, second, even if we could afford it, it will not be available.
That's when we will begin to understand the reality of the police state.
We need to mobilise our people, rich, poor and in between, to understand that we need each other, and that if we are not ready to help each other there is no help for us, no matter how many bankers we know.
Don't say I didn't tell you.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell

10 June 2009

golden mushroom

a fairy circle where no fairies went

on dew-wet hillside in the still-grey light

a youthful mind gives meaning to the sight

but older heart recalls and is content

merely to pause and let the eye's descent

on harsher images and recent blight

blot out that peace still the calm old forthright

urgings of memory will not relent

now golden mushroom at the porch's end

in northern morning brings back younger days

a world adjacent just beyond the veil

so wait to see what messages they send

while the sun rises to its noontime blaze

and all the forest seems now to exhale

07 June 2009


this is the point where truth turns into pain

but you can't flinch that choice was long since made

so there's no option left but fold and fade

that's the old story there simple and plain

you can't hold back either the sun or rain

but must peel off in time from the parade

return to starting point in the dim shade

straight to the place that none can ascertain

when the call comes we cannot keep back tears

although we know just what we will be told

time has its way of fading out the line

and making us forget the many years

that pass and vanish into the long cold

journey that leads towards the last incline

Cuba, the US and the OAS

John Maxwell

The older I get the more evidence seems to accumulate that the greatest enemy of world peace and popular enlightenment may be the profession of journalism.
Somebody once said that generals are always prepared to fight the last war but the truism seems to fit at least as well when applied to journalists.
Take the New York Times editorial on Thursday; it begins, portentously:

"For 50 years, the Cuban people have suffered under Fidel Castro's, and now Raúl Castro's, repressive rule. But Washington's embargo — a cold war anachronism kept alive by Florida politics — has not lessened that suffering and has given the Castros a far-too-convenient excuse to maintain their iron grip on power."

Anyone who knows anything about the history of the last 50 years might be forgiven for total bafflement.
Let us leave aside the statutory abuse and go to the embargo – which the NYT describes as a Cold War anachronism which had not 'lessened the suffering … etc.'
In the first place the embargo was originally designed and has been periodically reinforced specifically to make the Cuban people suffer and to punish them for not rising up and overthrowing their government. The embargo is – in terms of international law – an act of war, and it has always been meant to have that effect on the Cubans. If any nation had declared war on the US, would the US expect that to improve the conditions of the US population?
The embargo is so punitive that it even bans medicines and vaccines for children from the Cubans. It was and is an attempt to make the Cubans grovel in their misery and cry "Uncle" – as in 'Uncle Sam'. The fact that the opposite has happened is not a matter for inquiry by the NYT. Instead, says the Times:

"So we are encouraged to see President Obama's tentative efforts to ease the embargo and reach out to the Cuban people. At the same time, we are absolutely puzzled and dismayed by this week's frenzied push by many Latin American countries to readmit Cuba to the Organization of American States.
"Cuba, which says it has no interest in joining, clearly does not meet the group's standards for democracy and human rights."

The writer is obviously not aware that in the world outside of the United States, in the United Nations, the margin of support for ending the embargo has grown steadily since 1992, when 59 countries voted in favor of the resolution. The figure was 179 in 2004, 182 in 2005 and 184 in 2007.
Last year apart from the US, only Israel and one or two other superpowers like Palau voted against the resolution, while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.
The delegate speaking on behalf of the European Union, France's UN deputy ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix said the 27-member bloc rejects "all unilateral measures against Cuba which are contrary to common accepted rules of international trade." The Antiguan representative, speaking on behalf of the 132-nation Group of 77 and China, said the alliance renewed its call on Washington to lift the embargo which not only undermines the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and international law, but threatens the [now sacred] principles of free trade and investment.
The New York Times is unaware that the Iberian/Latin American nations long ago welcomed Cuba in from the cold, even holding their 1999 Summit in Havana. There, the Spanish, Portuguese and Mexican heads of government criticised what they called Cuba's lack of democracy, but did not see their differences as unbridgeable.
At that meeting, attended by the King of Spain, among others, the leader of the Cuban revolution defiantly declared that it was ``an impossible task to persuade Cuba that it should abandon the ways of revolution and Socialism,'' Fidel Castro said.
``Almost nobody thought Cuba could survive the fall of the Socialist bloc ... but we thought differently and were determined to fight,'' said Castro.
But even before that, when the revolution was only 25 years old, I happened to be in Havana during the Malvinas (Falklands) War, when streams of Latin American diplomats came to Cuba to ask advice from and to pay homage to Cuba and to Fidel, who had condemned the Thatcher Reagan aggression – as they saw it – against hemispheric political integrity.
And when the US condemns the Cubans for their lack of democracy there is an unconcealed irony in their position, not to say hypocrisy. The so-called dissidents that Cuba is accused of persecuting are in fact paid agents of the United States, whose motives may be as innocent as saints, but who are in fact, under Cuban and international law, working for a foreign power with whom their country is at war, in a war declared not by Cuba but by the United States.
The New York Times, like the people Castro calls the Miami Mafia and like other anti-Cuban forces, does not apparently believe the Cubans have any right to defend themselves from American attack.

"We understand the desire to fully reintegrate Cuba into the main regional organization. But as Human Rights Watch argued this week: "Cuba is the only country in the hemisphere that repudiates nearly all forms of political dissent. For nearly five decades, the Cuban government has enforced political conformity with criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, physical abuse and surveillance."

The people the NYT and HRW are defending are the foreground players in a multilevel criminal assault on the Cuban polity. Over the years thus assault has included terrorist bombings such as the sabotage of the arms ship La Coubre which exploded in the Havana docks in 1960, killing and maiming hundreds, terrorist campaigns in the Escambray and other parts of Cuba, targeted assassinations, biological warfare killing Cuban children with imported strains of hemorrhagic dengue fever for instance; economic biological warfare targeting sugar cane, tobacco and citrus, among others with exotic diseases; terrorist bombings of hotels, targeting tourists, plots to blow up the Tropicana, the world's most famous nightclub and its audience and cast of hundreds; and the unremitting campaign to kill Fidel Castro with more than 600 known attempts on his life.
And while we talk about Cuba let us not forget about the US attempts to spread democracy in Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Colombia, Nicaragua and Haiti, among others, leaving the landscape littered with the corpses of men, women, children, nuns, priests and journalists.
No one can convince me that the Cubans have no right to defend themselves and their revolution. Had Maurice Bishop taken their advice he might still be alive. But for some people, for me to say that the Cubans may have a case is a demonstration of moral and intellectual depravity.

So be it.

Posada Carriles

I happened to be in Havana in 1960 shortly after the ammunition ship La Coubre had been blown up with huge loss of life. Everybody I knew tried to discourage me from going. I was sure to be killed.
I wasn't injured or in any real danger, although the night I arrived some gunmen in a speeding car sprayed the main shopping street with sub-machine gunfire. The air was charged. The day after I arrived I went for a walk with my camera aad ran into a black Cuban on Monserrate street, where he lived. On discovering I was Jamaican and a journalist he told me that he was a communist, a trade unionist and that though the revolution was not communist, he approved of it. We walked to the Parque Central, where the permanent tiled chessboards may have witnessed the genius of Capablanca and where, on that day – May 20, 1960 – Cuba's official Independence Day and my own 26th birthday, various patriotic things were happening. Among them a group of Pioneros – the revolutionary equivalent of Boy Scouts were practicing for a parade. I began to take some pictures and was quickly stopped by a tall young main in civilian clothes who made it plain that I was under arrest.

Monserrate accompanied us to the nearby police station.

I quickly discovered I was in difficulties because Id left my passport behind in my hotel, the nearby Siboney. But they had no one to go with me to get it. How to prove who I was?
Because I spoke English I was an American! Monserrate convinced me to scour my wallet for some form of ID. All I could find was a temporary press pass to the United Nations from the year before. Monserrate took one look at it and jumped for joy. See, he exclaimed (in Spanish of course) my friend is Ingles (English) because the pass said I was a British subject. The Brits were friends of Cuba.

The week before I arrived Life magazine had published a spread on Cuba, featuring the very troop of young Pioneers I had set my sights on.
The photographer had been a black American.
The photo spread had been titled
"Fascism in Latin America?"
As we say in cricket, the Americans had already begun rolling the wicket. The sugar quota was cut while I was there. The revolution was not even 18 months old.
A quarter of a century later I was on the steps of Jamaica House, chatting with Michael Manley, having just interviewed him for some European radio station. Somebody burst out of the house with the news that a Cubana airliner on its way to Jamaica from Barbados had been bombed out of the sky
Manley's reaction was shock and horrified disbelief. He went inside to phone his friend Fidel. The horror was palpable. Most of those on the plane were little more than children, the Cuban junior fencing team, some young Guyanese en route to medical school in Cuba and others.
Two of the culprits were soon discovered, tried and imprisoned. Another, one Luis Posada Carriles, alias 'Bambi' – the mastermind, has since that day 33 years ago, been under the protection of the United States of America. American agents have engineered his release from a Venezuelan jail and later from a Panamanian jail after an failed plot to blow up Fidel Castro along with several other Latin American leaders and thousands of Panamanian students in a concert hall.
This terrorist, a CIA asset from the time of the Kennedy assassination, lives, protected in Miami in a country whose last president promised to go after terrorists wherever they were and regardless of who protected them. No question of moral or intellectual depravity here, of course. In addition to the Cubana bombing he was responsible for some hotel bombings, one of them fatal to an Italian tourist.

Meanwhile, five Cubans who had infiltrated the Miami Mafia and were supplying information about the terrorists the US said it was committed to hunt down – people like 'Bambi' – were given long prison sentences in solitary confinement for taking George W Bush at his word.

Fidel Castro has long made it plain that Cuba has no wish to rejoin the OAS. Latin America knows this, despite which the OAS members decided to rescind the 1964 decision. It will mean nothing, practically, but for the Latins it is a matter of honour.
For them the OAS has been a yanki weapon against all of them, from Arbenz to Allende to Aristide to Fidel, Chavez and Morales. It does not end.
Their pilgrimages to Havana 25 years ago may have served no practical purpose either, but for Latin America it helped restore their self-respect.

Copyright©2009 John Maxwell


03 June 2009


strange that the monster is not some wild beast

but kind-faced human with a ready smile

ready to welcome victims to the feast


not as the guests but to be tied and fleeced

surprised they were so easy to beguile

strange that the monster is not some wild beast


as in the stories told in the warm east

simple in form but so complex in style

ready to welcome victims to the feast


in such a form they think they'll be released

if they'll just come and wait a little while

strange that the monster is not some wild beast


but looks so gentle with face lined and creased

by age and weather absent of all bile

ready to welcome victims to the feast


as if he were some calm presiding priest

whose attitude is wholly versatile

strange that the monster is not some wild beast

ready to welcome victims to the feast