Category Archives: Political Animal

Outside looking in, or through the looking glass

Inquiring minds want to know:

1 – What are the economics of the proposed government-sponsored, Caribbean Airlines corporate/executive jet service?

2 – What are the current arrangements for government travel? Where do ministers et al go that requires the use of a jet leased from Guardian Holdings? How much does that arrangement cost? Why is it preferred to flying commercial services, either local or international?

3 – From Ria Tait’s Trinidad Express article on March 4 2008: “On allegations by Opposition Chief Whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj that CA received $350 million from the Government for the venture before Cabinet held discussions on the proposal last Thursday, Lok Jack said Caribbean Airlines did get money because “we had to begin negotiations and make downpayments”.” Caribbean Airlines had to make downpayments on an aircraft that hadn’t even been approved yet? Really?

4 – From the same article: “[Lok Jack] declined to say exactly how much money Government advanced to the airline or how much the service was estimated to cost on a monthly basis, saying that the airline was in a competitive situation.” Is anyone looking into this? We have a right to know how much our government is spending on this. And with whom, exactly, is CA “in a competitive situation” in the business of providing private jet travel to the government?

4 – Ibid: “Lok Jack said…the Government was “very interested” in being able to go on transatlantic trips and to travel African countries and therefore CA chose an aircraft which had the range to make such flights.” Why the focus on African countries? How much does a long-haul flight from Trinidad to Lagos (say) cost, in terms of fuel and wages for the pilots, etc? Are there no commercial alternatives?

5 – Ibid, but jumping around a bit: “[Lok Jack] confirmed statements in a Caribbean Airlines press release that Government would be underwriting the cost of the venture, eliminating “the commercial risk” to Caribbean Airlines.” Who owns Caribbean Airlines, exactly? What is the equity structure?

6 – In Juhel Browne’s Trinidad Express article on March 2 2008, Prime Minister Manning says a Caribbean Airlines jet service would be a cheaper air travel option for the State: “Right now, when some of us, when the Prime Minister travels in the region now, we do so by contracted private jet services. It costs a lot of money,” Manning said. Contracted jet services for regional jet travel? Seriously? Exactly how much is a lot of money? And again, why are commercial alternatives rejected?

7 – Who will have use of the services? Government only? Friends, family members, well-wishers? The Opposition? At what cost? Who pays what?

The relevant company insiders are fairly high-profile types who should be reasonably easy to track down. I’m tempted to make some calls.

Beyond politricks

When I grow up, I want to write like Michael Harris.

I discovered him quite by accident – trawling the (badly implemented but kudos for even having one) RSS feed of the Trinidad Express, lured by the headline “Party politics and the voice of the people.”

The man is a true-true political commentator, and an aphorist after mine own Oscar Wilde-loving heart:

In short, neither good governance nor good government is possible in the absence of politics and there is no politics without the voice of the people. (From Party politics and the voice of the people)

In all the essential areas of life each year seems to be a replicate of the previous year. It is as though we are locked in a time warp of helplessness in which all our yesterdays become our tomorrows. (From Solving the political paradox)

Since it is not necessary to engage in real politics outside the party there is no politics within the parties. People do not join those parties because they are inspired by a vision which they are committed to work towards. People join those parties in the hope of securing placement by means fair or corrupt. (From New politics and old paradigms)

(Here’s a Google search which indexes all his articles at the Trinidad Express)

These are the works of a political animal, in the true and Aristotelian sense of the term.The first episode – Solving the political paradox, cited above – of Mr Harris’s 2008 commentary for the newspaper ended thus:

In the midst of all of this neither government nor people have much time to devote to the fundamental questions of what kind of society we wish to live in and what system of governance shall we build?

Those questions are fundamental to political discourse, and to politics itself, but I have never heard them answered – or even addressed – by a modern Trinbagonian politician. (I welcome examples to the contrary.)

It was only because I’ve been reading these columns that I was not wholly disheartened by the subject of the latest post over at The Manicou Report – a Facebook group with the subtle title of Fuck the PNM.

Mani’s take on this 365-strong anti-PNM army – and there are similar Facebook groups dedicated to every major political party in Trinidad – is that it reinforces political tribalism.

Says he:

If the makers of the group are trying to propagate the same type of tribalism by setting people even firmer in their ways than they are now, then they are on the right track. But if they want to get people to think for themselves and change voting patterns, then an “F*** the PNM” group on Facebook couldn’t possible be the way to do it. You can’t woo people over to your side by insulting them – a point lost on some politicians.

I would take his analysis a step further. The “party politics” in T&T is what gives rise to such self-defeating factionalism. This group is just a Web2.0 representation of the discussions taking place in rum shops, on street corners and in expensive coffee shops on university campuses.It is time for some new conversations, for discourse that dares to be more than a rehash of the same old same old.

Michael Harris has kicked things off in fine fashion. Who’s next?

Feel it in the One Drop

I feel an identity crisis coming on.

This most recent bout of mixed-person-itis was triggered by a post over at What Tami Said, in which the eponymous author comments on “black people” (italics mine) who claim mixed heritage.

While she makes some interesting points, two of her affirmations thereupon unsettled me:

Mixed ancestry is often what we bring up to prove that we are different from other “just black” folks.

It is about elevating ourselves in the hierarchy of race–from “just black” to something special.

The folks in question are not those “bi-racial people who rightly claim both family cultures,” Ms Tami said, but those “who reach back 100 years in the family tree to tout a Cherokee princess who may or may not have existed.”

Oh dear.

I’m not bi-racial. I’m not even tri-racial. Rather, like so many other Trinidadians of my generation and prior, I’m a Chinese-Indian-white-black poster child for miscegenation.

And those roots are much less than 100 years old.

It is true that when people ask me – as they often do – what my “background” is, I reel off that list. But that is not because I’m trying to prove that I am more than merely black.

Because the fact of the matter is, I am not just black.

Nor am I just white, Chinese or Indian – and in fact I am “more” any one of those than I am black, judging by the overwhelming Chinese/Indian presence in my family tree.

So what then?

I’ve said in the past that it is only when I left Trinidad I discovered I was black. Before that, I was happily race-averse, content with and never questioning the legitimacy of my red woman status.

Now, increasingly and usually in the context of discussions socio-political, I self-identify as black.

But I still don’t know what that means. I’m working on it.