Notes From The Margin

March 22, 2008

We are the middle class….

We were having a chat this afternoon about a Laugh it Off skit from this year’s prodution called “We are the middle class…” which while being very funny takes a very sharp aim at those members of the middle class who have “the big ride” but no money to put gas in it, or who have platinum credit cards (which are maxed out) or who drive soooves (SUV’s).

I was thinking that the middle class in Barbados is perhaps the most hated socio economic group in the islands social milieu. They are constantly pilloried by the “working class” for “forgetting where they came from”, by the “upper classes” for being “social climbers”, by Cave Hill academics as being “petite bourgeois”, by politicians as being somehow “not as bajan” as the “working” class. There is constantly the insinuation that somehow they ought to be ashamed of wanting to live in a nice house, in nice neighborhood and to drive a nice car, or that they did something illegal or immoral to achieve whatever they have.

This goes further, the tax structure in Barbados shields the poor (hell it even gives a reverse tax credit to the poor) and those in the “upper classes” have all sorts of advice from accountants on how to avoid (note I did NOT say evade) paying taxes. The result of this is that income tax in Barbados is paid by the poor sod who works as an employee for a salary (given the exemptions usually a supervisors salary or higher) in short income tax is paid by the middle class.

And no politician dares to be caught giving concessions to the middle class! The poor or “working” class are the politician’s stock in trade in getting the media spotlight. Concessions are given for investment by businesses “to promote growth in employment” but when was the last time you heard a politician crowing about how he was going to help out the guys in the middle?

 The thing is…..

when I think about the middle class people that I know, they are almost all diligent people who work damn hard for a living, they pay their taxes and follow the rules. They do without so that they have something to put away for the future. They are likely to live not just for their future but for their children’s future. They (in many cases) went to UWI in Cave Hill although some were fortunate enough to travel overseas to study (even if only to Jamaica or Trinidad).

Despite being most often accused of “forgetting where they come from” I’ve found that most of them are well aware of where they came from, but more often than not their focus is on “where they are going” and if you follow their lives and careers there is a steady progression towards that goal.

So rather than bashing the middle class, perhaps the next time you hear this type of conversation going on try to relate it to people that you know rather than some amorphous group, ask yourself who are the middle class?

You might be surprised to find out that WE are the middle class..

Marginal

March 12, 2008

Consultants – Another One Of Those Silly Games That Politicians Play

“Politicians Mekkin Mock Sport At We…..”
Mighty Gabby

We on the margin have watched with a degree of amusement at first Prime Minister David Thompson’s “House cleaning” followed by Former Prime Minister Arthur’s war path speech. Having listened to them both I can only come to the conclusion that our prime ministers both present and past are playing “mock sport” with us.

Let’s accept a few realities here…

1. Consultants are an accepted part of governance in the Caribbean, always have been and more than likely always will be. When running something as complex as a government, it is understandable that policymakers (whatever party they may belong to) may want to have independant advice to help them shape policy or to advise them politically, to write speeches etc.

2. Let’s also accept the fact that each policy maker is going to want to select their own consultants or advisors. Hence you cannot equate persons who fill this role with public servants. Like the directors of statutory boards etc. They SHOULD resign when the administration changes. It is not victimisation for the incoming administration to say that they want to take someone else’s advice.

So here we have PM Thompson, equating hiring consultants with squandermania, just to have to turn around and defend his appointment of “political advisor” Hartley Henry as being somehow different.

We also have former PM Arthur talking about going “on the warpath” over these people being dismissed. (They should have tendered their resignations already)

While we have serious concerns about Mr. Arthur saying that he “helped out” one of his speech writers who had lost his previous employment, we also recognise that Mr. Henry is unlikely ever to file consultant report that will be filed in the government filing system. The advice given by consultants at this level is more than likely to be held in the PM’s personal files and also likely to leave the office with the individual when he demits office.

So when you cut through all of the sound and fury that has surrounded this issue, there really isn’t that much substance here. Just politicians playing “holier than thou” and mekking mock sport as they play to the gallery.

Marginal

March 3, 2008

Why We DON’T Want Obama To Win (Or Clinton For That Matter)

This is one of the more difficult posts to write, difficult because we don’t want to be misunderstood, and difficult because it’s a difficult choice to make. As we write this the Primary season of the US presidential election is rolling forward. The Republican front runner John McCain appears to have his hand on the nomination (barring something quite unexpected happening) In the Democrats camp there is a heated battle for the nomination going on between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In the Caribbean the popular sentiment is understandably for Obama, he’s personable, has an agenda for change in Washington and of course, he’s black. For the first time ever it would seem that an African American has a real chance of ending up in the White House. For a region that is mostly African in descent it’s heady stuff.

However….

As cool as it is that the United States has reached the stage of maturity that they could seriously consider a black man for the post of Commander in Chief, we on the Margin have come to the conclusion that Mr. Obama’s race is (or should be) for us in the Caribbean irrelevant.

Why have we reached this conclusion?

We have to recall the Clinton presidency (That’s Bill if you are confused) Bill Clinton was one of the most “human” US Presidents in living memory. Former President Clinton was enormously popular in the Caribbean, mostly on his personal charisma. However when you look at the effects the Clinton presidency had on the Caribbean, Bill Clinton did more damage to us than any hurricane that has struck the island chain. Why do we say this?

1. Dole/Chiquita Bananas and the WTO.  This action destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of Caribbean farmers basically to repay a campaign contributor.

2. The Ship Rider Controversy. Remember the pressure that was brought to bear on Barbados when it resisted?

3. The OECD “Harmful Taxation” initiative.  Despite the BLP’s efforts to say that it fell apart because of Owen Arthur, we really know that it fell apart because when Bush came to power the US was no longer interested in backing the initiative.

This isn’t meant to be a US bashing post, but the fact is the Caribbean has ALWAYS done better under a Republican in the White House than a Democrat. We can see the echoes of similar policies in Mr. Obama’s current political career. With rhetoric against NAFTA (Ironically which was enacted by Clinton) and action in sponsoring the “Tax Haven Abuse Act”.

If we lived in the US we would probably vote for Mr. Obama, but the fact is that we don’t live in the US. Rather than get caught up in the euphoria that surrounds his campaign we are forced to apply the same logic that we do to our local politicians “Judge them not by what they say, but by what they do” and when judged on that scale (from a Caribbean perspective anyway) Mr. Obama is found to be less than an ideal candidate.

Marginal

February 25, 2008

Do We Need A Caribbean FBI?

Faced with rising crime rates, Caribbean governments have struggled to keep pace. However at a time of challenging economic conditions and soaring levels of indebtedness, many Caribbean police forces are overwhelmed, underpaid, and under-equipped. This is particularly the case in the smaller economies of the OECS (you will note that I did not say “smaller islands”) The Caribbean with it’s inadquately equipped security forces, and many islands with inlets and coves make the chain attractive as a route for drug traffickers to move narcotics to the metropolitan markets.

The wealthier economies in the region have attempted to strengthen their security apparatus however, they are often faced with criminals who have more sophisticated equipment than they do.  The problem is compounded by the lack of financial assistance for security ( a mindset that is slowly changing).

It is against this background that Trinidad Prime Minister Patrick Manning recently proposed the development of a Pan Caribbean law enforcement agency.

Patrick Manning said a well-trained, equipped regional force with the power to legally operate in any CARICOM country would be part of the answer to combating the crime situation – one which he insists is being driven by the illegal drug trade.

“Many of us in the Caribbean today are challenged by the unacceptable levels of criminal activity in our country, most of which are now spurred by the global traffic in illegal drugs. The trade in illegal arms and gang warfare lead to an unacceptable level of homicide in our main urban centres,” he said, while delivering the keynote address at the recent University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Campus Commemoration Dinner in Jamaica….

…..Mr Manning said his country had sought to stem the flow of illegal drugs and arms into the country through initiatives which he believes will eventually rid the country of the drug trade, such as round the clock surveillance of the twin island republic’s largely unprotected coastline. But he also noted that the pattern in the past demonstrated that when the operations of drug lords are interrupted in one country they move to another.

“(That) pattern emphasises the need for multilateral efforts among ourselves and with the wider world. Failure to effectively deal with the issue of crime could stymie the economic and social development of the Caribbean,” he said.

Mr Manning further urged CARICOM heads to spearhead the process of greater cooperation in the sharing of intelligence among police forces to head off migratory drug smugglers.

In theory this sounds like a great idea, and we on the margin support it generally. However would such a “federal” force be allowed to operate? To often in the Caribbean there are rumours (and we  aren’t prepared to say they are only rumours) of “certain people” in certain countries being untouchable, would a CFBI be allowed to go after them?If they were it would open an interesting can of worms.

Would the criminals arrested by this federal force be prosecuted in local or regional courts? For example we have many cases of witnesses in Trinidad being murdered before they can testify, we also have rumours of corrupt judiciaries in some countries, would people arrested by the “Federales” have a likely chance of getting convicted in a local court?

When you look at the implications of a Caribbean Law Enforcement agency, it’s not as simple as it might appear at first blush. For it to be really effective it would have to be part of a Pan Caribbean judicial system.

Marginal

February 17, 2008

Does Barbados Need An Industrial Court?

I run a small business (approx. 10 employees) if this general strike comes off next week it will cost me a significant amount of money. I have no part in this BWU/Royal Shop/Sandy Lane, and yet I will suffer a direct economic consequence of what is a Union action! In theory the Union must carry some civil liability for this cost, but in reality there is no way that I can recover this cost.

Why should I (along with everyone else) be penalised for one company’s perceived intransigence? The threat of a general strike is irresponsible and shows why we need to have an industrial court in this country.

Small Business Owner

Above is a comment by a small business owner and he asks what in our opinion is a valid question.

Historically industrial relations in Barbados has relied on a system of volunteerism. That is that collective agreements aren’t actually legal contracts but are considered to be more along the lines of “gentlemen’s agreements”; that is that either side can breach the agreement at will. Collective agreements are usually enforced by the relative power of the union and the business owner. Now here’s the funny thing… as INSANE as this system may sound, in Barbados it has actually worked! While industrial courts are well established throughout rest of the Caribbean, we in Barbados continue to function on a volunteerism basis, and have had a relatively stable IR climate for a long period of time. ‘

Now of course there are certain features of the Barbados system that make this workable, you have a very small number of very large powerful unions, and you also have a relatively homogeneous private sector. This has meant that historically, everyone knew the rules and how the game was played and everyone was prepared to give and take to make the overall system work.

Now in 2008 we still have a small number of large unions, however the private sector is no longer as monolithic as it was in the past. We have new international investors, we have regional investors, we have relatively new local players. In short we have people who are accustomed to functioning a more “rules based” industrial relations culture. They don’t know how we play the game “’bout here”

This of course leads to all sorts of complications, issues of recognition, issues of wildcat strikes. The Sandy Lane Showdown is a prime example of this. Is there a penalty for workers breaching the collective agreement? Where historically local employers have accepted the occasional wildcat strike as par for the course, someone accustomed to an environment where collective agreements are contracts will expect to be able to terminate wildcat strikers for “abandoning the job”.

Issues such as this will continue to come up. So we on the margin ask the question

Is it time that we retired the volunteerism system?

Do we now NEED an industrial court?

We think it deserves serious consideration.

Marginal

February 11, 2008

What will the cultural academics say about Rihanna when the history of this time is written?

Well it’s old news by now that Rihanna has won her first Grammy. We on the margin are thrilled for her and once again renew our call for some form of national recognition for the songstress. Congratulations to her once more for her achievement.

But we got to thinking about the long term for Ms. Fenty… and we asked ourselves the question:

What will the Bajan cultural academics say about Rihanna when the history of this time is written?

Those slobs like us on the Margin think its great that someone from “bout here” could attain so much in such a short space of time at such a young age. But I can hear the linguistic gymnastics going on already in some quarters….

What does it say about the Barbados “music industry” if the most successful performer to emerge from the island simply bypassed the entire industry? We’ve heard at least one comment that she never sang in the “teen talent contest” We can hear lots of lip service from all and sundry about the development of a “music industry” but really how many international artists has it produced? It’s enough to make one question the relevance of the local scene.

There are many “managers” out there who say they manage artists, but some of them have been doing it for years and haven’t had the success that Rihanna has achieved in a relatively short space of time. It does beg the question… what are they doing wrong?

Let’s face it Rihanna’s music is pop music, written for a global audience, what does it say about the people who have spent years trying to find “the next reggae” (we won’t even talk about the “bring back spouge” crowd) What are the cultural implications of that? I’m sure some academic somewhere is tearing his hair out looking for some sort of “cultural linkage” to hang a paper on.

And while we are at it, the academics are quick to talk about “a strong cultural identity” being important for success (and yes Bob Marley is trotted out to support this) But here we have an artist, who speaks with a Bajan accent, and pays homage to her homeland at every opportunity but is clearly now a citizen of the world. Next to her many of the local artists look…. well…. “local”.

We’re not decrying the local music industry, but there are loads of “armchair experts” who are quick to talk about what should be done and what Rihanna should do. “We don’t want a Sony or EMI taking our artists” we heard one say on the radio today. There are only so many labels with the power to create a superstar. Even Prince ended up re signing with Universal after trying to go it alone. Rather than trying to create an entirely new music industry, perhaps we would get further if we worked on linking local talent to the international industry.

Just a thought….

Marginal

February 7, 2008

Freedom is a funny thing….

“I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it”

Voltaire 

Over the last few days we’ve had quite a few posts about freedom of expression, and in reflecting on this period we’ve had to remark that freedom is a funny thing. Having a blog gives the writer the power to say anything, really with very little chance of having to face any consequences for having said it. Now in some ways this is great, corruption that would only be hinted at in public fora (or never mentioned at all) can be exposed for all to see. Lots of quiet little back room deals may find themselves subject to public exposure. Democracy is generally strengthened by this.

The corollary of having freedom of expression is that you may hear things that you don’t agree with. Things that you may find repugnant. And the funny thing is that there are many people for whom “Freedom of Expression” means that they can say what they want and anyone else can say what they want too as long as they agree with them.  That’s not freedom, that’s swapping one yoke for another.

We have taken a great deal of pressure over the past week or two to unlink from three new blogs that have been established by (we presume) supporters of the BLP. Despite, what many of our passing commenters may say, we have never set out to be a “political blog” and we don’t have any particular brief for these three new blogs. We see the ongoing campaign to silence them as a step in the wrong direction. We see a larger issue here that we feel is worth fighting for. We have been delisted from the two major Barbados blogs in the blogosphere, we have received several emails (some of it public, most of it private) with various levels of abuse.

We think we are doing the right thing.

The vindictiveness of the response makes us sure that we are doing the right thing.

We have also received expressions of support  and we thank those that have sent them.

Notes From The Margin is not going anywhere.

Marginal

February 4, 2008

Notes From The Margin Censored by Both Barbados Political Blogs

Well it was bound to happen at some point. The two most forthright advocates of freedom of expression on the net have censored another blog.  Notes From The Margin would appear to be banned from Barbados Underground (my comments appear to be blocked) and Barbados Free Press.

Yes we on the margin have been harshly critical of these blogs (particularly Barbados Free Press) and we have resisted all sorts of comments about our listing three BLP associated blogs bajan free press, De Stand Pipe, Cat Piss And Pepper. While we were not really surprised by BFP’s actions we have to admit that we are more than a little disapointed in Barbados Underground and their creators. It is however their decision and we accept it.

We do have to say, that as much as these two blogs which are known for their unrelenting criticism of others, it is ironic that their response to the expression of a differing opinion is to resort to censorship. It’s a shame really.

We do hope that they will reconsider their decision but Notes From The Margin will continue in much the same vein as it did before weather or not they choose to link to us.

Marginal

January 29, 2008

BFP – “Notes From The Margin Now Revealed To Be Part Of The BLP’s Grand Plan!!!”

Recent comment by BFP….

LMAO!!!!! 🙂

Marginal

December 21, 2007

Owen Arthur Rolls The Dice….

Owen Arthur announced the general elections today as January 15th 2008 with nomination day being December 31st. Signalling the start of what must surely be one of the shortest campaigns in local political history. Both opposition parties have been quick to condemn the announcement coming before Christmas while saying that they are ready to go to the electorate.

NFTM tries not to get into the political scene however I’m sure that we will get into commenting now and again over the coming two weeks. We had quite honestly figured that the bell would have been rung later down in the year, however the election date is the sole prerogative of the PM and given the harsh criticism of the date by the opposition, it would appear that he has execised his choice to give tactical advantage to his party.

I’m sure over the next couple of weeks we’ll hear about:

The teifing and corruption is terrible!

What corruption?

We are united behind our leader!

They are a house in disarray!

So and so is a dis and dat

and all the other things that pass for intellectual discourse in a political campaign.

However, the fact remains that both parties come from the same ideological position (we’ve talked about this before in our post “Prime Minister Owen Arthur, and the Opposition Democratic Labour Party led by David Thompson, who was once the Minister of Finance, are virtual ideological twins”)

So whoever wins don’t expect much to change (both good and bad)

Marginal

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