26 July 2009

The Myth and Magic of the IMF

John Maxwell

I reluctantly must confess that I have never heard of any success story associated with the International Monetary Fund in relation to its dealings with any poor or Third World country.
Certainly, in its dealings with Jamaica, the record is one of unrelieved disaster after disaster with both political parties fleeing in impoverished terror from the helpful arms of the Fund.
I will never forget the spectacle of Mr Albertelli, the Argentinean principal of the 1977 IMF team, as he scuttled away to hide from journalists in the then Sheraton hotel after delivering the coup de grace to Jamaica's hopes for rational development.
It was therefore with some surprise that I read in the Gleaner on Wednesday a story suggesting that the Michael Manley government had more or less willingly surrendered its sovereignty to the IMF in 1977. According to Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer:
"There was no global economic crisis 32 years ago to shoulder the blame for Jamaica's economic predicament, but on Tuesday, January 19, 1977, when Prime Minister Michael Manley told the House of Representatives of his administration's intention to pursue a borrowing relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), his rhetoric closely matched that of the present government."
Oddly enough, I remember not one, but several international crises that provided a background for the Manley recourse to the IMF. These included the so-called Arab Oil Shock of 1973 et seq. because of which – according to the most easily accessible source – Wikipedia: "A world financial system already under pressure from the breakdown of the Bretton Woods agreement experienced a series of recessions and high inflation that persisted until the early 1980's, and elevated oil prices until 1986."
Among the crises I remember was the devaluation of the US dollar, the quadrupling (or worse) of the price of gasoline and to quote Wikipedia again: "Underscoring the interdependence of the world societies and economies, oil-importing nations in the noncommunist industrial world saw sudden inflation and economic recession. In the industrialized countries, especially the United States, the crisis was for the most part borne by the unemployed, the marginalized social groups, certain categories of aging workers, and increasingly, by younger workers. Schools and offices in the U.S. often closed down to save on heating oil; and factories cut production and laid off workers. In France, the oil crisis spelt the end of the Trente Glorieuses, 30 years of very high economic growth, and announced the ensuing decades of permanent unemployment."
If the effect of these crises on the developed countries was so profound and long-lasting it should not take a genius to understand the effect on totally open economies like Jamaica, totally dependent on imported oil and overwhelmingly dependent on imported food.
Put briefly, the IMF thought our aspirations were too ambitious and decided to put us in our proper place. I believe that this judgment was both racist and political, made by a bunch of 'crazy baldheads' of the same ilk as are now persecuting Haiti.
You can see their point: We had a National Minimum Wage while the English and Americans were still talking about one, we had free education from basic school to university, we had ambitious unemployment relief schemes – the Emergency Employment Programme and the Pioneer Corps, among others, we had decreed maternity leave for every woman worker in the country, including domestic helpers and sugar workers. For the First Time At Last!
There was also serious intrigue. Jamaica had prepared a negotiating position with the IMF – a top secret document. Imagine the delight of the IMF and the total discomfiture of the government when this 'Top Secret' document was broadcast on RJR by the leader of the Opposition, Mr Edward Seaga.
It was a blow from which this country has never recovered. A Minister and a Permanent Secretary were initially found guilty of breaching their trust. They were later acquitted on appeal.
I have never understood why Mr Seaga, a former cabinet minister and bound by the same oaths and undertakings as those in office , was never prosecuted for his breach of trust. He was, however, later excoriated by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Eric Williams for his disloyalty to Jamaica when he went to the IMF and World Bank, arguing that they should not help Jamaica. As it was, and as Seaga discovered for himself while Prime Minister, the IMF and its sibling were never about helping Jamaica; and when Mr Seaga had the opportunity in the 80s, he ran away from them as fast as his little legs could carry him.
I wonder what my friend Clovis would do now if the current leader of the Opposition were to behave now as Mr Seaga did then?

Brutal and Procrustean

What I called "the brutal and Procrustean strictures of the World Bank and the IMF, forced us to cut taxes and public services, to raise interest rates to farmers and in fact, to turn us back, back to desperation.    
In 1998 the then head honcho of the World Bank, one Wolfensohn, lied like a trooper to more than a thousand Anglican bishops at the Lambeth conference, saying that the had given US $200 million to Jamaica to ease poverty. He had not. But Argentina, with a preponderantly European population and considerably richer than Jamaica, got $200 million for poverty alleviation. The World `bank gave them the money to do some of the things the IMF suggested amounted to criminal mismanagement when we did them in Jamaica
In other words, Michael Manley's Emergency Employment Programme – the Crash Programme – and the Pioneer Corps became living realities in Argentina thanks to the World Bank but were a wicked misuse of money in Jamaica.
What we should be looking for in these times of trial and tribulation is not an IMF recipe which basically, calls for cutting expenditure, chopping jobs and going even further into recession.
In my opinion, the most significant statistic of all the dread figures bandied about is the drop in the precipitous drop in remittances from Jamaicans abroad. Remittances account for 17% of Jamaica's GDP which means that one in every six dollars worth of Jamaica's output – or more crudely – one in every six dollars spent in Jamaica comes courtesy of Jamaicans abroad.
Since remittances have dropped by 17% in the first six months of this year and may drop even further. This money goes mainly to people at the bottom of the society so it is my guess that for these people, the drop in remittances represents much more than a twenty percent cut in their living standards – it may represent twice as much.

What we need now

This should tell us where the development aid should go. I once said to Michael Manley that it might make more sense if our foreign aid were simply distributed in cash and benefits to the poor rather than being spent on planning and Pajeros.
According to the newspapers, Badrul Haque, special World Bank representative, is looking for a plausible explanation as to why one third of `Jamaica's potential workers remained outside the labour force.
The answer is in monoculture –sugar cane – our shopkeeper culture and the effects of our openness to IMF solutions. The IMF's answer to everything is for us to become more competitive, which means that we need to reduce the take-home pay of our workers until they can compete with the near slave labour of Bangladesh, Indonesia and other southeast Asian labour forces.
Earlier this year, in April, Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank predicted that the present global crisis could become an economic disaster for poorer countries with millions being driven into unemployment. "Poor people could suffer the most and we must act in time to prevent a human catastrophe."
I believe that the Emergency Production Plan of the 1970s – produced by the people themselves – was a superior option to the private sector-driven retreat to the IMF. Both involved hardship, but the Jamaican self-reliance plan would have had the effect of building social capital, encouraging cooperation and cementing communities while producing small scale enterprises especially in the production and marketing of food. The IMF solution simply produced misery.
Today, we are offered alternatives, the alternatives offered to poor people whenever they are in problems – sell your capital assets and further impoverish yourselves, borrow large amounts of foreign exchange for building facilities for foreigners. We will be building a gigantic public sanitary convenience for Royal Caribbean cruise lines by destroying Falmouth, capturing Up Park Camp to build another deadly ghetto in the middle of Kingston while ignoring the desperation in the slums of Kingston, Spanish Town, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril – concrete time bombs which, one day, who knows when, will explode with devastating consequences for the rich, the poor and everybody in between.
Let's give the multipurpose stadium to UTECH to produce thousands of Masters of Business Administration who will end up on the streets here or abroad while the food they could be growing is imported from abroad, produced by 'farmers' who fly planes to work. Let's take away the beaches and the playing fields from the poor because they won't know how to use them and instead of producing more Bob Marleys and Usain Bolts they will be producing more Sandokhans and Jim Browns.
We have a choice. We have always had a choice and we almost always make the same mistake.
Copyright © 2009 John Maxwell

25 July 2009

time changing

now stars go missing in the summer sky

while stub-tailed comet promises dire days

no cloud will come to temper the hard blaze

of unforgiving sunrise when the eye

notes every droop and watches as the dry

heart of the kingdom stands revealed the praise

goes far from us to those who would amaze

both child and elder with some easy lie

life changes fast and the urgent voices

that might report the meaning of each tale

fall silent as we have to hurry forth

to new devotions to human choices

anger behind us so that we won't fail

and faces set towards a truer north

19 July 2009

Licensed to Kill

Licensed to Kill
John Maxwell

"Why should there be one standard for one country, especially because it is black, and another one for another country … that is white. "
In September 2002 the Iraq War was still six months and dozens of lies in the future. People all over the world were still appealing to the good sense of President Bush– a chimera – as it transpired. They thought that they could appeal to reason, to an ethical consciousness, to the general human instinct to obey the rule of law and the mores of the community of which you are a constituent.
Some of us were not fooled.
Nelson Mandela, for instance, whose words are quoted above, was not taken in by the lies and pretensions of the American junta. I was myself excoriated for my treatment of Bush and his coven. In fact I had revealed what some saw as my prejudice when I wrote, before Bush was ennobled by the Supreme Court:
"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." –Democracy? Enough Already!
That was written on December 8, 2000, before the hooligans in Florida and their accomplices on the US Supreme Court presented the world with the precious gift of G. W. Bush.
Less than a year later, a few days after the 9/11 attack, I wrote "No matter how violent and horrific, the terrorist action on Tuesday remains an act of criminal violence, not an act of war. Various spokesmen and supporters of the US government, including Tony Blair, the British PM, speak of attacking and defeating Terrorism as if there were some central directorate, a sort of Terror International, with identifiable officials and institutions. "
Like most of the human race I was alarmed by the reactions of those in power in the US and Britain:
" Mr Bush, whose own legitimacy has been questioned,, speaks, even more ominously, of "ending states " that support terror, as if politics were a video-game in which the baddies can simply be zapped into non-existence. One of his spokesmen, a Mr Wolfowitz, is even scouting the possibility of targeted assassinations of foreign leaders. Dead terrorists, of course, can't be punished. Someone else must therefore pay."
Many thought that some of these ideas were uttered in the heat and panic of the moment.
Some of us were not so sure. Nelson Mandela again:
" If you look at those matters, you will come to the conclusion that the attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace. Because what [America] is saying is that if you are afraid of a veto in the Security Council, you can go outside and take action and violate the sovereignty of other countries.
"That is the message they are sending to the world. That must be condemned in the strongest terms. And you will notice that France, Germany Russia, China are against this decision. It is clearly a decision that is motivated by George W. Bush's desire to please the arms and oil industries in the United States of America. "
As I wrote at the time: "The all important quartet who are for war are Bush himself, Field Marshal von Rumsfeld, the elusive vice-President Dick Cheney and that ineffable puritan and creationist in chief, John Ashcroft. Between them, they have spent not one day as soldiers, but they are anxious now to prove their steely mettle to the last drop of someone else son's blood. "
Mr Wolfowitz's idea of targeted assassinations, most of us thought, was well outside of civilised behaviour; not what we would expect from the leaders of a great democracy.
But in Mr Bush's State of the Union address in 2003, he made some disquieting remarks –
"In Afghanistan, we helped to liberate an oppressed people, and we will continue helping them secure their country, rebuild their society and educate all their children, boys and girls.…As our nation moves troops and builds alliances to make our world safer, we must also remember our calling, as a blessed country, is to make the world better…To date we have arrested or otherwise dealt with many key commanders of Al Qaeda. …All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries.
"And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."
In this speech Mr Bush accused Saddam Hussein of great lies, of denying possession of huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, of concealing his nuclear capabilities, of trying to buy uranium from Africa – for the news of which Mr Bush credited Tony Blair and the British. It was a tour de force of deception and an attempt to frighten the world in joining the US in an illegal, preventive war. It was Mr Bush's argument for the persecution and murder of Saddam Hussein.
We all know the consequences; Iraq is en route to becoming a satellite of Iran and heading for geopolitical dismemberment; Afghanistan is in flames; Pakistan is teetering on the edge of dissolution and Al Quaida is accusing the US of plotting to seize Pakistan's nuclear armoury. The new US administration is trying bravely to restore American credibility, to dispose of thousands of people scraped up from all over the world, tortured and imprisoned without cause.
And, we finally have confirmation that Mr Wolfowitz's modest proposal for the US to send professional killers abroad to murder people suspected of disloyalty to the US was, put into effect , as Mr Bush hinted in his State of the Union speech. Unknown numbers of people considered enemies by Bush and Cheney were quietly liquidated, erased from the human record, "terminated with extreme prejudice" – foully murdered by agents of a state out of its mind.
 " … And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."
Many of us thought that this was Bush rhodomontade, exaggeration to preen. We now know that this illegal programme was in fact a reality. We know that the government of the United States was itself actively subverting the laws and Constitution of the United States of America, contravening settled International Law and Conventions and the charter of the United Nations and betraying all principles of decency and civilised behaviour. And we now know who was in charge.
I admit to a severe prejudice against Dick Cheney, who I regard as an unprincipled, rapaciously greedy predator – a sort of human Komodo Dragon.
Cheney is terminally weird. His wife reported that when Cheney was a Congressman and an aide in the Reagan White House – " … we lived in Washington and our daughters were young, he would take them on weekends to visit battlefields, or sometimes to watch a battle re-enactment. Liz and Mary loved spending time with him, but on occasion they were heard to beg for relief -- a trip to the zoo,maybe. "
I know I risk boring you with another quote from an old column, this from August 11, 2000 entitled "The persistence of Delusion":
"Am I alone in thinking there is something weird about a man who would force his infant daughters to study battlefields? And, since most battlefields in the US are Civil War battlefields, isn't it pretty clear what was in the back of his mind?
"Cheney has never been bashful about being backward and reactionary. As a congressman he voted against the Head Start Education programme for poor children, against the banning of armour piercing, flesh-destroying bullets, he opposed the Clean Water Act, he was against insurance for people who had lost their jobs, against the school lunch programme, against abortion for women even if the mother's life was in danger and even if she had been raped. Cheney is the naked face of US reaction …"
The US Congress has been startled by many disclosures, but none, I think, as profoundly as the recent discovery that Cheney, lacking any legal authority to do so, had instructed the Central Intelligence Agency to launch a clandestine programme to murder people deemed to be enemies of Cheney or Bush who, together, clearly, constituted and embodied the state of the United States of America.
This is not an exaggeration: Cheney ordered the CIA not to disclose this programme to the Congress of the United States in stark contravention of the law and Constitution of the United States. It seems that it was almost by accident that the current head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, heard of the programme and discovered that it was still operational. He closed it down immediately.
In some countries Mr Cheney's behaviour in subverting an agency of the state to perform criminal acts would be deemed 'High Treason" with all the condign penalties attaching.
Anyone who incites or deputises other people to cause grievous bodily harm to third parties is guilty of a serious criminal offence, according to laws in force in every country in the world. Anyone who commits, solicits or incites murder is a murderer and if he does so as a means of intimidating other people he is a terrorist.
In his holy war against Terror, Mr Bush was clearly looking in the wrong direction.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell

18 July 2009

as for the rain

enough that yesterdays beyond recount

involved the passage of so many turns

nobody listened to a child's concerns

nor waited long for the adult account

since it was plainly duty to surmount

such little things as every child soon learns

it does not matter soon the forest burns

and not so high will any ashes mount

no obligation seemed so very great

that meeting it did not require our hearts

to open out as sigils of this pain

but this is something born purely of fate

which cannot be avoided by our arts

so we stand here and wait as for the rain

12 July 2009

Pimps, Peeping Toms & Frotteurs


John Maxwell


Some of my readers may have thought I was unduly harsh in my description of journalism as becoming a refuge for pimps, prostitutes, sexually dysfunctional and psychopathic reporters and editors, peeping toms and frotteurs.
If you were one who thought me cruel, I would commend you to try to follow the story now unfolding in the British press concerning the man I call the world's voyeur in chief, Rupert Murdoch and his menage of media properties and hacks for hire.

The News of the World touts itself as Britain's biggest-selling newspaper featuring the best news, showbiz and sport exclusives - and- on the web this week it promises the worlds sexiest video and the "50 most shocking celeb photos".
Although it is only a dozen or so years younger than the Gleaner, Britain's News of the World, (NOW) a weekly, has always been more venereal than venerable. I remember years ago, reading the NOW's exposes of pitiful prostitutes and the Jamaican pimps who lived off them. The NOW clearly regarded Jamaicans as a scourge and I well remember my amazement at their exposure of one in particular with a name like Eleutherios Christiades – the sort of moniker one expects to find in Ginger Ridge or Salt Spring. These pathetic stories Invariably ended with the prostitute having been paid and ready to play her part, when the NOW reporter, chivalrous to the end reported that he had "made my excuses and left".
The NOW seems, at long last, to have run out of excuses for its 'journalism'.
Which is sad, for such a crusading, high-minded newspaper, always alert to exposing sinners in high and low places. Like a great many Jamaicans, the zealots of the NOW cannot abide the idea that somewhere, someone may be having more fun than they are – and are determined to get to the bottom of these iniquities and abominations.

One almost had to sympathise with the newspaper's fury when, last year, a high court judge decided that the paper had no right to pay prostitutes to film their client, Max Mosley, in a sadomasochistic romp in which Mr Mosley paid the prostitutes to dress up like prison guards and flog him. The court decided that the NOW had no right to invade Mr Mosley's privacy and ordered the newspaper to pay him damages and costs totalling more than three quarters of a million pounds.
The NOW, in its outraged reaction, insisted that public figures must maintain "standards".
"It is not for the powerful and the influential to run to the courts to gag newspapers from publishing stories that are true", the newspaper thundered, proclaiming "This is all about the public's right to know".
I cannot imagine why the public needed to know that Mr Mosley, like many Englishmen, is addicted to being whipped. You pays your money and you takes your choice, as the saying is, and if no one else is being hurt, the problem would seem to be in the minds of people even more maladjusted than Mr Mosley who are compelled to poke their noses into other people's business and to judge them and scandalise them.

Criminal misbehaviour

According to Nick Davies in the `Guardian this week, almost as those high-minded words were being published by the NOW, the newspaper was itself engaged in using the courts to cover up a disgraceful history of criminal misbehaviour driven by the need to invade the privacy of hundreds of people, most of them guilty only of being well known.
You may recollect that about two years ago an English reporter, Clive `Goodman, was jailed for hacking into the phones of three members of the staff of St. James' Palace. A private investigator who had abetted Goodman admitted hacking into the phones of five other targets, including the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, Gordon Taylor.
Taylor sued News Group, (Murdoch's company which owns the NOW) .
According to the Guardian's Nick Davies:
"News Group denied all knowledge of the hacking, but Taylor last year sued them on the basis that they must have known about it.
"In documents initially submitted to the high court, News Group executives said the company had not been involved in any way in the hacking of Taylor's phone. They denied keeping any recording or notes of intercepted messages. But, at the request of Taylor's lawyers, the court ordered the production of detailed evidence from Scotland Yard's inquiry in the Goodman case, and from an inquiry by the information commissioner into journalists who dishonestly obtain confidential personal records."
News Group realised that the game was up and settled with Taylor, provided he would agree not to say anything about the settlement. There were settlements with two other victims, on similar confidential terms.
As Davies reports "The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills. Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars were all targets of the private investigators."
Davies, a real investigative journalist, reveals that the News of the World was an absolute hive of illegal activity, targeting thousands of people including Tony Blair's Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, the model Elle McPherson, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, comedian and TV personality, Lenny Henry, football manager Sven Goran Ericcson, cabinet ministers, MPs and apparently, anyone the NOW editors felt like 'feeling up'.
The News of the World managed to convince the court to seal the file on the Taylor case to prevent all public access – although as Nick Davies points out, the file contained prima facie evidence of criminal activity.

Famous Last Words

The News of the World assured a parliamentary committee that reporter Clive Goodman was§ acting alone and that his accomplice was a rogue agent. The Press Complaints Commission was told that Goodman's behaviour was "aberrational", "a rogue exception" and "an exceptional and unhappy event in the 163-year history of the News of the World, involving one journalist". The News of the World's managing editor, Stuart Kuttner, who told Radio Four's Today programme in February 2008 that only one News of the World journalist had been involved in illegal phone hacking: "It happened once at the News of the World. The reporter was fired; he went to prison. The editor resigned."
Rupert Murdoch himself told Bloomberg News that he knew nothing about the payments. "If that had happened, I would know about it."
Murdoch's lieutenant, Les Hinton, then chairman of News International and now CEO of the Murdoch-owned `Wall Street Journal made similar excuses before leavingfor New York, as did the editor of the NOW Andy Coulson, before he left to become the personal communication aide to Britain's Opposition Leader, David Cameron.
Yet, a former senior employee of Murdoch's Andrew Neil, who was editor of the Sunday Times, said the NOW had no defence for its actions. He saw no defence based on the public interest: "It is illegal. That doesn't mean that it should never be done, you may have a public interest defence. But that's not the case in any of this; it was a fishing expedition …If …there was something of real major importance, you could have a public interest defence. But breaking into Gwyneth Paltrow's voicemail after she's just had a baby is not in the public interest. I'm at a loss to know what the public interest could be."
Mr Neil joined former Deputy PM John Prescott in questioning why the police had not told top politicians and others that their privacy had been compromised. "It's not just a media story; it raises serious questions for Scotland Yard, top prosecutors and for judges."
Neil didn't understand why the Crown Prosecution Service failed to act and why a court, faced with evidence of conspiracy and systemic illegal actions could agree to seal evidence. "That was completely wrong" and left the British criminal Justice system itself in the dock.
Roy Greenslade, a former senior Fleet Street editor reports in his blog that since the Goodman story broke three years ago, journalists were saying that hacking was endemic at the NOW, information obtained by hackers was readily available and used by reporters as a matter of course. It was a newsroom out of control.
And, as he points out, it is inconceivable that an editor could be entirely ignorant of a process widely used in his newsroom. "It is inconceivable that any journalist could have produced a story without revealing its provenance." Andrew Neil makes the same point, contradicting the silly American idea that journalists can confer on their sources, immunity from questioning .

The story becomes even more poignant when it is realised that the News of the World's phone hacking was not their only criminal adventure. The Information Commission revealed the names of 31 journalists working for the NOW and its stablemate, the Sun, together with details of government agencies, banks, phone companies and others who were conned into handing over confidential information. This is an offence under the Data Protection Act unless it can be justified by public interest.
Reporters and editors were commissioning multiple purchases of confidential information illegally obtained and openly paid for and itemised by the newspaper's accounts departments .
As Roy Greenslade wryly comments: "Perhaps News International's other … papers could carry leading articles calling on the News of the World to come clean, echoing their persistent demands for transparency at Westminster."
It is, of course, all about the public's right to know.
The News of the World has one option: it can always credibly plead that their reporters, editors and editorial executives were simply incompetent, puritan ignoramuses who were not really journalists. But that's not going to help them defend the thousands of civil suits about to descend on the Murdoch seraglio.

Copyright © 2009 John Maxwell

11 July 2009

the conquest

this is the kingdom where the true god rules

a horrid realm where every light's a lie

and only pain can fall out of the sky

no gentle beast can rest by shaded pools

instead by harsh noon light predator drools

and angry laughter fills its leering eye

not one of us can choose we must comply

if anyone said otherwise they're fools

you listen and you count each fading beat

of that weak drum you claim to want to hear

there is no other music that is left

nor any other players in this heat

who might give us the music we hold dear

just to remind us that we are bereft

on the black road

we catch the crabs at night on the black road

just shovel them into the waiting bag

until the sweat pools and your spirits flag


above the stars signal in arcane code

while you wipe down with an old smelly rag

we catch the crabs at night on the black road


that leads us back to where the waters flowed

past all the places where we let hope sag

back into swamp where memories might nag

we catch the crabs at night on the black road

06 July 2009

in this gentle rain

you miss the vision in this gentle rain

of what was needed by the hungry soul

since no one here is in their proper role


nor is the story ever truly plain

for none of us could ever reach the goal

you miss the vision in this gentle rain


of cities built upon an ancient pain

and of the sweetness that they could control

but neither salt nor sugar can console

you miss the vision in this gentle rain

05 July 2009

The Piranhas of the Media

John Maxwell

'They ate her alive' was the opening sentence of my 1997 column following the death of Diana, the ex-wife of the heir to the British throne. It continued:
'As she lay broken and covered in blood, as she lay helpless and mortally wounded, they were, as always, professional, shooting fast, furious and careful of camera angle, hoping perhaps to capture her last breath, to profit one last time from her suffering, to take the million dollar photograph which would put them at last on the same level as their prey, enjoying a life of ease and big money.
They always wanted to make a killing from Diana.
Last Sunday morning in Paris, they succeeded.
It is horrible to imagine that Diana's last view of this world might have been the flashing cameras of the cockroaches of the Press.'
Michael Jackson was luckier. He died at home, apparently of a heart attack, although if you read the British newspapers the day after – tabloid or 'quality' – you might believe that Michael Jackson was murdered or died of a drug overdose. There was no more evidence of those things than there is that Jackson was a child molester, but to say that is to court ferocious hostility and hate because there are people in this world who KNOW the truth and are not to be contradicted by evidence unless delivered by divine messenger. Jackson died without permission from the media.
If one looks carefully at the mass media of the western world it soon becomes apparent that the death of Michael Jackson is the biggest money-making opportunity for them since the death of Diana. The Daily Mirror makes it explicit with a tag-line following every Mirror story on the web. It reads:

"Michael Jackson dead at 50. All you need to know about the King of Pop."
And, if like the Times, most of their stuff is second or third or fourth hand, or invented, malicious and libellous, who cares?
Jackson is dead and can't sue, and under American libel standards set by their Supreme Court 42 years ago, were he alive he couldn't sue even if he wanted to, because as a public figure, and a public figure more public than any other in history, it would have been almost impossible for him to sue even if he could prove that his maligner knew that what he was saying was untrue but said it anyway with reckless disregard for the truth. With Jackson surrounded by bloodsuckers of every breed, rank and description, from crooked district attorneys to suborned employees and journalistic moles, there was so much crap in the air that it was impossible for anyone – perhaps even Jackson himself – to disentangle truth from fantasy.
Public personalities and particularly show business personalities are, ipso facto, all creatures of fantasy. Canute, king of England, Denmark and Norway more than 900 years ago faced a smaller but no less intractable problem. His courtiers may have seen the ocean's tides disobeying the king, but that was no doubt because the King was playing a game.

What the Nanny 'saw'

As the old nursery rhyme says

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite 'em
And little fleas have lesser fleas
And so on ad infinitum

I was reminded of this by a bizarre story in the Sunday Times of London. The beginning of the story should prepare you for whoppers to come:

"Grace Rwaramba who cared for King of Pop and his children has shocking secrets of his addictions and bizarre nomadic life."

This elaborate work of art details how Grace the Nanny, fired by Jackson in 2008, was "working through her phone calls to LA on Friday, desperately trying to ensure that the children were comforted after losing their father, she sobbed and screamed and became more incoherent.
"Yes, this is it . . . because (crying) this is it . . . because he started avoiding everything. We were trying to help him and they fired me because of this (sobs)."
Yet, not knowing where the children were and not having spoken to them, Grace
Rwaramba, in a London hotel, informs the credulous Times reporter that –

'the children had been anxious about their father and had been trying to care for him — "he hasn't been eating and the kids have been so scared for him".
'Worried by the endless goings on in the Jackson compound Grace turned to me at the end and said: "The youngest one has been saying, 'God should have taken me not him'."

Clearly, Grace is either telepathic or psychopathic.
Why was the Times interviewing the nanny in the first place? They are silent about this, but clearly the intention was to dish up as much dirt as possible to coincide with what would have been a triumphal return for the King of Pop in 50 concerts sold out almost as soon as they were announced.
It's a dirty job, but hey! someone has to do it.
The Times is owned by the world's voyeur in chief, Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Sun, the News of the World and the New York Post a well as the unfair and unbalanced Fox TV news network.
Other newspapers were not much better except that most of them seemed somewhat more discreet with rumours and hearsay.


Blaming the fans

In the Times the lady who wrote "What the Nanny saw" followed up with a learned disquisition entitled "The fans killed their idol; they always do"
Disingenuously she tries to turn the blame onto the fans and away from the real criminals:
"We know how the stars loathe the paparazzi, smash their lenses, call them — as Hugh Grant did this week — wankers and losers. But what they can't, daren't, say is how deeply they loathe their fans — their pestering, cloying, snatching, the demand for photos amid a private dinner, the sneaky snapping with their crummy mobile cameras while a star is buying a latte, pushing his kid on a swing, their high-horse outrage when a demand is politely refused."
She blames the fans when it's the media voyeurs and intruders who manage the lunacy. She carps at Angelina Jolie whose "fanbase are the reason, as much as great wealth, that Angelina Jolie feels she can demand a no-fly zone over part of Namibia while she gave birth there …" Guess what, the no-fly zone was to protect the mother and child from paparazzi who hired planes to try to peep into the most private moments of a family's life. If one had crashed into the house, obliterating mother child and father-to-be Brad Pitt, it would, no doubt, have been ascribed to the onerous responsibilities due to Freedom of the Press.
Fans don't kill their idols; the murderers are in my so-called profession – now, more than ever – a refuge for pimps, prostitutes, sexually dysfunctional and psychopathic reporters and editors, peeping toms and frotteurs, who are the guys who can gaze at a trembling, shattered human being, on the verge of suicide, and yell "Jump! Jump!" as they make sure their cameras are correctly focused.
I once met Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and when I told someone at work the next day the girls gathered round. It was Burton they were interested in.
"Did you shake his hand? " one asked.
"Which hand?" she asked
"Why, the right one of course", at which the young woman took my right hand and kissed it.
This happened in the BBC World Service newsroom, not among a gaggle of semiliterate hysterics.
This week Elizabeth Taylor herself, in whose violet eyes I would have drowned given time, declared that she cannot imagine life without her friend Michael Jackson. His ex-wife, Lisa Marie Presley, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, Dionne Warwick, Beyonce, Martin Scorcese, Donna Summer, Stephen Spielberg, Mariah Carey, Uri Geller, Cher, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jane Fonda, Lisa Minelli, Sophia Loren, Celine Dion, Madonna, and many many others famous and noteworthy, who knew him and loved him, grieved at his death, along with millions more round the world. They grieved because they had lost someone important to them. Crusty steelworkers in Gary,Indiana, his hometown, grieved, as did millions more young and old, rich and poor, famous and unknown, people in prisons and
Nancy Reagan and KIm Dae Jung, former president of South Korea, Imelda Marcos, black, white and every shade in between, and their grief propelled several of Jackson's hits back into top spots on music charts all over the world, causing, among other things, a near 2,000 percent increase in demand for his songs on US radio stations and the slowing down of the Internet itself.
To the imperial media Jackson was guilty of everything of which he had ever been accused, like Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley and John Lennon. The problem with all of these and with Bob Marley, Patrice Lumumba and Jean Bertrand Aristide is that they connected in a fundamental way with ordinary people, and that, to the rulers of our world and their servile media , is supremely dangerous.
Lennon said "All we need is Love"; Jackson sang "We are the world"; Martin Luther King, Bob Marley and Aristide preached "Get up, Stand up! Stand up for your rights!"
All of them clearly reckoned without the Imperial Media and the new Lords of the Earth.


Copyright 2009 John Maxwell


03 July 2009

true gospel

it never matters what you truly think

the prize turns to be only fools' gold

and what is written's just a waste of ink


no hero's there to save you on the brink

nor is the story like what you were told

it never matters what you truly think


since each of us is just another link

now this whole history is very old

and what is written's just a waste of ink


don't whine or argue you'll go in the clink

while all the scoundrels still shall be extolled

it never matters what you truly think


as each tortfeasor is passed on the wink

while the examiner will treat you cold

and what is written's just a waste of ink


such is the law so just go have a drink

forget about the foolish and the bold

it never matters what you truly think

and what is written's just a waste of ink

02 July 2009

that reaching finger

what has been lost in that one languid scene

that moves the western soul so we've been told

as much as oil and far far more than gold

is any sense of what else might have been

before the truth that nothing was serene

what seemed the warmest turned out dull and cold

the wildest moment most tightly controlled

nothing what what we thought it had to mean

the object found was other than the sought

a glimpse of hope en route to where truth fell

before the onslaught of the shining lies

right where the innocent young fools were caught

believing to the last this was not hell

and what they saw were the redeeming skies

a bangup old time

there are no boundaries in human time

we may not cross or otherwise respect

unless as you or other fool direct

since we are bound to creep out of the slime

ignore the sweetness of most daring crime

and only take those goods the herds reject

choosing to be in sombre tones bedecked

for only silence tastes of the sublime

gold alone rules whatever may be law

in heavy book that we know to be fact

in this reality we have not made

when what seems best is just another flaw

and no one ever will come through intact

we have no choice except slowly to fade