Monday, November 29, 2010

I'M Just Another Shade of Gray

AS A LATE VENERABLE U.S Senator once said –and I am paraphrasing here – people have a right to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

In an appearance on George Grant’s talkshow yesterday, Prime Minister Tillman Thomas gave us heavy doses of his opinion – which he has the right to do – and inter-mingled with anecdotes he tried to represent as fact.

In his calculated anger, he successfully failed to tear apart the main points of my recent commentaries; resorting desperately eventually to impinging sinister motives, and to cast me off as a cheap opportunist.

In doing so he both cheapened his office and strengthened my resolve.

In spite of his innuendos (that are strangers to verifiable facts), neither his government nor party owes me anything; nor have I expected or demanded anything, for which I might have some reason to be upset.

The many invitations that were made to me two years were ago were politely declined either because (a) it was not worth my while (b) it did not fit into my family commitments (c) I could not give up the other stuff I was engaged in at the time and/or (d) I did not feel it was the best career move then.

At no point was there animosity about any matters, and subsequent to this all – I have always volunteered my time, efforts and contacts in non-partisan matters, when I have been asked and when I felt it was in “the national interest.”

Volunteering my time included training government information officers and helping out national committees.

To suggest otherwise is to seek to muddy the waters and to deliberately mislead.

(Out of a deep sense of self respect and not to reduce this to childish levels, I refuse to take the bait to speak in more detail than this).

To equate my commentaries to personal attacks was unfortunate, especially coming from someone that I have privately and publicly shown the greatest respect and regard.

Over the years, including the last few weeks, I have written a lot of opinion pieces on politics, sports and entertainment.

They have never been presented as the gospel of anything – just the view of one writer, using facts as they unfold – interpreting them and giving an opinion.

Of course, no matter what anybody says, there is no one with complete objectivity.

Everybody’s views will be colored by the place they were born, their race, class, family connections, religion (or lack of it), financial interests and that of their families and friends; the sporting teams they back, the music they like – and all those other variables.

What commentators try to do is come to a fair conclusion, given the facts presented.

So Mr Prime Minister, opinion pieces are not true or false, right or wrong. They can’t be, because they are not facts. They are what they are – opinions. You judge opinion pieces on whether the commentator reached a fair conclusion based on the series of facts he might be commenting on.

A commentary piece is different from hard reporting, which just present the facts.

The Prime Minister had a lot of his own opinions on the George Grant show on Sunday; and he sure has a right to them. And we can debate them, like anyone can debate mine. That’s s just part of the state of play.

Where we differ is that I don’t consider his strong opinions on what I wrote a personal attack, though he obviously saw mine as one.

It bothered me a bit though that he found it necessary to set me up as this straw enemy which he needs in his time of crisis.

We all must be careful about trying to suggest other people’s motives, when they have not been stated clearly.

If he reviews all of my pieces, I never speculated on his motives – because they are not only hard to tell, I find it patently unfair.

But in his appearance on Sunday – and sometimes urged on by a willing interviewer – he went on to suggest my motive for my commentaries.

This was the most disappointing part of his posture.

Instead of seeking to debate on the merits or demerits of the points, the Prime Minister threw up a childish tantrum, punctuated by coded phrases, he hopes will intimidate me.

In his mind, he has set up this straw enemy, and convinced himself that fighting this is an extension of his personal crusade in his own war of good over evil.

It is unfortunate for both him and the country.

He once again displayed an uninformed rigidity in which he sees everything as black or white.

Like George Bush, he has a puritanical certainty that there are no grays – you either for me or against me.

Life’s got different colors Mr Prime Minister. See me for what I am sir. I am neither black nor white. I am just another shade of gray.

Redemption after rebellion?

The raging debate of the last seven days has been widely ventilated in the local media and on online fora.

Rightly, it garnered our attention – and in many cases our passion. No doubt there are outstanding arguments that are still to be made, and should be made.

Even while we await those, we must be careful about over analyzing what has happened. In fact, the more appropriate focus should be why it happened.

The issue of why is important, especially since this is not the first time we have had such a rupture in Grenadian politics – and one is left to wonder if ever there were lessons learnt.

At some time in our history we may also come to address the contradiction of us wanting democracy, but frowning upon its greatest strength – the need for debate and dissent. We treat dissent as if it were treason; but if we properly embrace it, that will in the end make this not just another nation – but a great nation.

Some people have tried to equate the past week to 1983.

To do so, is either playing loosely with history; over estimating the significance of the recent developments, or playing to a cheap political choir of fear that 1983 breathes by default. For one, there was never a constitutional crisis, and the government was never in any serious danger of falling.

Neither the MPs themselves nor the general population had the appetite for that. As disappointed as people are with how things have panned out these past few years, they still have not regained the desire to return to what they voted against in 2008.

For all the missteps of the NDC, the New National Party has yet to transform itself into a serious alternative for the independents and the disappointed “yellow people.”

NNP may still win an election by default, but not necessarily by expanding its base, or inspiring a new generation.

There is a dangerous resignation to and about the modern Grenadian politic – a lingering staleness and an uninspired slush.

NNP’s series of weekly meetings has in a strange way kept in the forefront some of its bankrupt ideas and approaches. Mind you, it has played well to the base, but has had very little appeal beyond that.

NDC, for its part, has been on auto pilot for a while (and in good times that’s safe enough), but now the malfunction light has come on.

The party has shown little ability to reinvent itself; the leadership has run out of ideas, and there is a disconnect with the rank and file.

There have been times when the NNP as an alternative had an opportunity to look forward – and lean forward – but strangely at each juncture they have tended to reach to the past – in both rhetoric and deed. (Juts like it did when it brought back Gregory Bowen to the senate).

Rather than explore bold new frontiers, the NNP has been paralyzed by its own internal fears; frozen by the very thought of dreaming something different.

Having not learnt from its recent past, it appears to have done worse than that. It has been ‘miseducated.’

To understand what last week meant, is to remember 1987 and 1990 (not 1983).

For those who forget history quickly -- in 1987 George Brizan, Francis Alexis and Tillman Thomas led a rebellion against the leadership style of Herbert Blaize.

In 1990, concerned that an ailing Blaize, unable to inspire his troops, was leading the NNP to defeat, Keith Mitchell launched a bitter challenge to him and took over the party even while Blaize was still Prime Minister.

Blaize went on to form The National Party (TNP) taking the likes of Ben Jones, Alleyne Walker and Pauline Andrews with him.

This current NDC is obviously bleeding from its self inflicted wounds, but to believe they are fatal is to ignore the fickleness (and in some broad senses "farcicality") of politics.

Six months is a long time in politics, never mind two years.

Ask Brizan and Mitchell. They would tell you, that played right, there could be redemption after rebellion.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm A Rebel; Soul Rebel!

From fear of dating myself, I remember those days back in 1986 -1987, when George Brizan, Francis Alexis and Tillman Thomas were so fundamentally opposed to the way Herbert Blaize was treating them, that they had made up their minds that the arrangement was untenable.

By the time Brizan and Alexis had attacked their own government’s economic policy in parliament, blasting the retrenchment plan; to paraphrase Mighty Chalkdust – I picked up my gun (pen) again.

By the time they resigned, Tillman Thomas had joined them in walking out of the Blaize cabinet – convinced that MPs must be treated with respect or else.

I remember those letters in the Grenadian Voice (I was sub editor then, and had to review them all), all calling them selfish, unpatriotic, wanting to have their own way and giving trouble.

Leslie Pierre, Lloyd Noel and Willie Redhead in their columns were weekly blasting their stands. I was the lone writer standing up for the right of MPs to dissent and to fight for causes (in that case, the jobs of public servants), that may put their own jobs at risk.

As far as Mr Pierre and Mr Noel were concerned, the guys were not acting in the national interest.

But I was always at odds about this concept of national interest. Who really defines it? And what really defines it?

By the time they (Brizan-Alexis) decided to go to Carriacou one Sunday morning to give Blaize an ultimatum letter, I was the only other person there.

In fact wheel-chair bound Blaize could not bring his hands up to open the letter, and I had to open it for him.

At the time, I was not sure why they called me that Saturday night and asked me to come to Carriacou with them. I suspected it’s because I was a lone voice in the weeklies supporting their “open rebellion.”

But I was glad to get on the “Carriacou plane” that Sunday morning; because for me, I was getting a first hand scoop in a history making moment. (By that time I was also writing for EC News, Barbados Nation and Inter Press Service).

The first time I ever interviewed Tillman Thomas was about a week after he resigned from the Blaize government.

He struck me as a quiet man with strong resolve, willing to risk his ministerial job in a fight for respect – his own respect.

When Blaize died a few years later, Thomas was the lone voice in the parliamentary sitting that lambasted his leadership skill.

In remembering Blaize, he said – something to the effect – that a man cannot be considered a great leader if he becomes so arrogant that he can’t hold his team together.

Afterwards, I told him I saw his point, but I am not sure a parliamentary tribute session was the best place to make them. But still -- point taken.

That point has been in my mind for long moments this past week.

I just thought last night that it is funny how history repeats itself. And how, after all these years – I am still in love with rebels.

The end of innocence

(This was first published online on Friday November 19, 2010).

TODAY is Friday -- and in Grenada there will be some sideshows.

And long after today, there will be a raging debate – that’s for certain – on what today would have brought.

But what it is really – is a sideshow.

I am so sorry that most of us have already missed the real show.

There was a 48 hour window this past week when our democracy was effectively hijacked – and nobody said a word.

The furor about the reshuffle is in itself only significant in the context that it reflects a wider problem of the Tillman Thomas administration.

Thomas is right; reshuffles are par for the course. But there is confusion over this one for a reason. The rumblings are not a protest against a system that has failed us; instead it is a protest against us who have failed the system.

Michael Church has got something to answer to. But today, we should be more fascinated about who will answer for stealing innocence.

The constituency leaders who met last night and rebuked the Prime Minister about his handling of this situation, was not challenging his right to reshuffle his cabinet.

They were protesting the collapse of collective governance.

For all practical purposes, the leaders abandoned their own party about a year ago. (Refer to my February article of NDC’s Problem With Itself).

With the party abandoned, the only linkage to what people voted for in July 2008, was through their MPs – as absent and non performing as some of them are.

Then at some point in the last year, the cabinet system was being treated with contempt.

Collective decisions taken, were being subsequently unilaterally abandoned. (Which makes Michael Church’s alleged sins look as child’s play).

The second cabinet – of exclusively non elected members and all of whom are not even members of the party – took over, with the supposed knowledge and acceptance of the Prime Minister.

Jimmy Bristol spoke of the destabilizing effect of the “second cabinet” – but we missed the warning because as usual we got caught up in the sideshow.

Then, the sideshow was Bristol, his son and so on.

And now, to today….

I predict once again the debate will be on the sideshow – our comments colored by who our favorites are in a government that’s going around in circles, rather than going forward.

Only if we can talk about the problem, instead of the symptoms – things will be so different.

This brings me back to a 48 hour window this past week when democracy was hijacked.

For two days the Prime Minister was not talking to the majority of his cabinet. On the other hand the Party Chairman was canceling a General Council meeting – which he had no authority to do. And (remember) the General Council of the Party is the only real official mechanism for the government to report to the party that brought it to power.

There was a time this past week, when the end begun. That was the hour when the mechanisms for the leadership to talk to both cabinet and party were suspended all at once.

The General Council was canceled because a select few took the view that they cannot risk going before the party to report to the body that brought this government into power.

So, when a government officially runs from its people – you know it is indeed – the end of innocence.

And now, back to today… again!

Michael Church may lose his job; or the cabinet may lose its Michael Church. And while both will claim victory in their own arrogant collective self righteousness, covered in legal rather than moral authority, we would have lost innocence.

No wonder DON HENLEY’s song has been in my head all night long.

O' beautiful, for spacious skies

But now those skies are threatening

They're beating plowshares into swords

For this tired old man that we elected king

Armchair warriors often fail

And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales

The lawyers clean up all details

Since daddy had to lie

But I know a place where we can go

And wash away this sin

We'll sit and watch the clouds roll by

And the tall grass waves in the wind

Just lay your head back on the ground

And let your hair spill all around me

Offer up your best defense

But this is the end

This is the end of the innocence

Seeking my personal interest

Forgive me for saying, but I could care less about the job status of Karl Hood, Glynnis Roberts, Peter David and Michael Church -- as much as I would want them to make a living.

What concerns me – and should concern all of us – is the 37 percent of the working population desperately seeking jobs and can’t find one.

For me this is personal.

I have got a cousin in Munich who has been out of work for 16 months. His girlfriend's got a baby – and they find it hard making a living. And sometime I have to give them a little change too. You see how it’s costing me?

My ex-girlfriend’s mother, living somewhere close to Grenville has been seeking a new job after there was none on the estate she used to work.

No offense to Karl, Glynis, Peter and Marchy – my problem with Grenada is far more personal than if they keep their jobs.

I am sure these four ministers have a mortgage.

Thank God my mother ain’t got one. And she is cool – not starving either.

This government took away the pension NNP gave her months before the general elections in 2008 in hopes of getting her vote. The truth is, not that she really needed that $200 – she has never been that desperate. But it had helped pay a bill nonetheless.

It has not made her worse off. It has made me worse off (told you it was personal) – because I just need to give her an extra $200 a month. But that’s cool. That’s not even $US100. Anyhow it’s better for my health, cause I have less money to spend on fast food.
You see I told you it was personal.

Yea, Grenada is a small place, and everybody knows everybody. I manage to know Glynis, Peter, Marchy and Karl well. And I am cool with them. I wish them the best. But they are not my headache right now. For that matter, I don’t think they’re Tillman’s headache either.

But the only reason, I feel I should talk about some of the broader issues, is that I have not given up my Grenadian passport yet. And I still have this Utopian dream of retiring in Munich – some time. And so, I kinda have a self serving interest here.

I want more people in Munich to get work. For me the smaller picture is the bigger picture. You see why I say it’s personal?

And I know finding work is easier said than done. How about just giving Munich people a little hope? I don’t want to retire in any village where people have been so short-changed by their government and their system – that they take it out on me. So I am here protecting my own self interest.

Hey – and what is this talk about national interest? Who determines national interest anyhow? The truth is, in the real world, it doesn’t exist. What we have is a collection of individual interests. All of us have our individual interests – that we –when it’s convenient, use the cover of the state to protect. My national interest ends with my personal interest.

I vex with this government that not enough people in Munich have work. But I am a realist – and I know those things don’t come easy. I am madder because Munich people don’t have hope. And I don’t know why I am feeling guilty about that.

What about you Mr Prime Minister?