Sunday, September 27, 2009

Poor Little Rich Barry

I've been watching this whole episode of the new 'environmental' deposit law with more than a great deal of amused cynicism. See, to understand this law you have to go back to the PM's announcement in the House when he said (if I may paraphrase) that while he dislikes free trade, regrettably we are signatories to the CSME treaty. In other words, instead of encouraging exports, which we need to do badly, the PM wants to keep our borders closed and padlocked, which mentality explains why we're still an importing economy. Because free trade goes both ways, and were he to speak the language in the proper way, he would encourage our producers to take the next step and become exporters. He'd encourage other countries to shop in Belize instead of charging duty to those of us who stretch our dollars across the border. Alas, if only foresight were a thing readily available to our leaders.

Anyway, though economic ignorance often rules the day, the duties finally came down on the two relevant imported beers. Naturally, the local brewer went into hysterics because his gazillion years of protection had ended. So the brewery people duly raced up to Belmopan, put the well-practiced poor-me whine on full volume, and the result is this 'environmental' law that'll require everyone to put down a deposit of 25 cents on a perfectly useless bottle for absolutely no reason except that the local brewer is feeling a little pressured by the first real competition he's felt since Crown Beer died...or was murdered. Check it, Belikin has to spend real money on advertising! They had to buy Joe Bradley! What a barrel of laughs, thinking that we'll switch to Belikin just 'cause Joe says he drinks it. Ha! Everybody knows what Joe drinks, and it's not Belikin..

Now me, I do drink the occasional Belikin, but I'm still looking forward to the day, and I'm sure it's still quite some decades away, thanks to said local brewer, when I can drink a Corona in this country instead of hauling my ass up to Chetumal to do it. Hell, I work hard all week, and when Friday comes, as a taxpaying consumer, I deserve a choice of beers, no? Well, no, apparently not, because poor old Barry will starve. I saw him recently, and by my judgment, he could stand to lose a few pounds, so maybe we should all boycott Belikin while they try to take away our right to choose.

But do notice that Hilly is suddenly an environmentally conscious boy, and see how he's banging away on the airwaves, telling anybody who'll listen that he and his bosses are environmental angels. The peeps living behind the brewery in Ladyville know different, but it's fun to listen to. Doesn't matter though, as bogus as the law is, it'll pass, because Barry wants it to, and because he's made promises to the UDP. Mind you, he won't keep them any longer than he has to, after all he not-so-secretly hates the UDP. Wanna know the truth of his politics? Buy him a couple of drinks and ask him.

So kids, in the name of free trade, consumer choice and the environment, once Barry's Deposit passes into law, pay your shilling extra, drink your (newly affordable) imported beer, and raise a toast to the plastic continuing to line our streets with impunity. I guess the way to get that cleaned up is for someone to begin importing a beer in plastic bottles.

Ah, Z...

I'll just say it right now, just shoot it straight from the hip: Z is no fool. Okay, there, I've said it.

But I'll say this as well: as smart as she is, she is utterly lacking in ethics and morals, and she has absolutely no sense of personal responsibility. In place of these things, she has survival skills second only to the legendary cockroach, the one who is expected to survive nuclear winter. Mark my words, Z will survive this latest episode, and will have no conscience whatsoever about having to sacrifice a few of her minions, her order-takers, to do it.

Mr. Davis, you're a fool. Kiran Squared, so are you both. You remain silent, you protect her; your names are in the news nonstop. The way things are shaping up, your fingerprints, and only yours, apparently will be found on the shovels that were used to bury the metaphorical bodies. So...TALK!

Throughout history, the most basic of leadership lessons have included the rule that the leader takes the blame for what happens on her watch. It's why the captain of the Titanic went down with his ship. I have yet to hear the mayor display enough maturity and leadership to take the blame for all these misadventures at City Hall. At the same time that she's not responsible for the bad deeds, she seems to be the only person who can be credited for what goes right, and her Councillors are so cowed or compromised that they too opt to remain silent in the face of it all.

At the higher levels and the party levels, Z enjoys the protection of powerful ministers, the kind who are also incapable of distinguishing right from wrong beyond making sure the law works for them and theirs and that the votes and the money flow their way. She is therefore the anointed heir to the Mesopotamia throne, misdeeds be damned. We are led by financial sociopaths, it seems. Their mantra? We can do whatever we want, the PUP did worse. That truth is fast fading away for you guys, nor did we vote you in so you could be ten percent less corrupt. You've turned out to be the same breed of dog in a different collar.

No, the guiltiest heads will never roll, and Belize is worse off for that fact.

Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are!

"If home is where the heart is, then Belize is my home." -Lord Michael Ashcroft

I'm confused.

This is the accurate state of mind for anyone trying to disentangle Michael Ashcroft's usual murky maze of corporate relationships. In this particular case, Ashcroft emphatically claims not to have anything to do with Telemedia, but keeps popping up like the proverbial bad penny.

The Hayward Charitable Trust, reputed owner of 70% of Telemedia, is, if you click on its website, a joke. Proof of the joke is the hastily put together homepage, which states "The Hayward Charitable Trust was set up in 2009 by MAA [Michael Anthony Ashcroft] to help do some good stuff for people who live in Belize. This includes paying for some buildings BLAH BLAH BLAH etc. etc. Insert text here." It also has "Our current projects include building a shrubbery, one that looks nice, and not too expensive." It is interesting to note that while we've been hearing about the Hayward Trust for some time, it is only in 2009 that it was set up.

This 'joke' is apparently tied in with several companies having links to Ashcroft, and has lawyers in common with Ashcroft. According to his spokesman, Ashcroft helped set up the trust for the benefit of charities and Telemedia employees. Now, according to this week's Reporter newspaper, their lawyers are pressing for action using the UK-Belize Bilateral Investment Treaty of 1982, Article 5 of which apparently states that "investments of nationals or companies of either Contracting Party shall not be nationalised, expropriated or subjected to measures having effect equivalent to nationalisation or expropriation."

So my question here is, who is the UK national or company bringing the action? Those of you who live overseas may not be familiar with Ashcroft's typically opaque way of doing business, but here we have the brand-new (2009) Hayward Charitable Trust owning approximately 70% of Telemedia, supposedly for Belizeans and therefore by inference Belizean, but there has to be a UK national or corporation involved in order to bring suit under the terms of the UK-Belize BIT. A release from Hayward Charitable Belize Trust sent to local media and posted on the blog Developing Telecoms Watch (and probably a million other places) states that Hayward indirectly owns 70% of Telemedia and "is entitled to protection of its interests under international law and it will invoke the Investment Treaty between the United Kingdom and Belize to ensure that it is afforded such protection." However, searches for a UK-based Hayward Charitable Trust do not yield anything that mentions aid to Belize charities or Telemedia employees. Hopefully someone can clear up this omission.

Now that you're as confused as I am, let me summarize: an unheard-of Belizean or UK charity, which has zero visibility except as the reputed owner of Telemdia, is invoking its rights, which it may or may not have under a treaty our successive governments forgot to cancel. Michael Ashcroft may or may not be involved, but while he's highly visible in the matter, says he has nothing to do with the thing, except as advisor. Ashcroft, a dual citizen, is able to use his dual nationality to absolute advantage in two countries, which reminds me: don't we have a suddenly silent question still pending on dual citizens in high places?

I can't wait for the next few chapters.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Traitorous Greed

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed”  –Mahatma Gandhi

“He who is greedy is always in want.”  –Horace

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." –1 Timothy 6:10

The Seven Deadly Sins, also known as the Capital Vices or Cardinal Sins, is a classification of the most objectionable vices which has been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct followers concerning (immoral) fallen man's tendency to sin. It consists of "Lust", "Gluttony", "Greed", "Sloth", "Wrath", "Envy", and "Pride".  –Wikipedia

 When you think about it, if it weren't for the uncontrolled, insatiable greed of a few, we would probably be a lot further ahead today as a country. The most obvious case in point for this argument is the politician who takes a bribe to change or introduce a law, but there are so many other ways that greed holds us back.

Imagine, a billionaire who made his fortune in our country, but made the country poorer in the process. His minions take his sizable paychecks in order to look the other way as he grinds us under his boot. Some of them are paid well enough to participate in the pillaging of our country with as much conscience as a serial killer. And some of those well-paid financial sociopaths are our own leaders, past and present. Make no mistake, our unlovable billionaire may be temporarily down, but he's not yet out -not as long as avarice rules us. We can be bought, he knows. Everybody has a price, he's sure of it.

Imagine, a politician who, with no pretense of conscience, commits the wholesale version of the very sins she once rallied the unions to condemn. She may have once been the hope of many, but now most just hope she will disappear. But think about this: if she does go, is her potential replacement any less greedy? Are his fellow councillors, in the main, innocent of all sin? Or are they merely waiting for their current leader's outsize greed to be moved out of the way so that they can have their turn at the feeding trough?

Imagine, a multimillionaire who has, over nearly forty years, achieved success by destroying his competition -not less than five companies- in Hiroshima-like fashion. Competition and a possibly superior product are not enough; it's best to smash bottles and sabotage factories -the enemy's bankruptcy is the only acceptable option. And yet, successive governments, generations of corrupt politicians, have been persuaded to look the other way, have even fought to protect him, while he's fed his insatiable greed, but only because he let a few tasty crumbs fall from his table into their gaping, voracious mouths. Only he must survive, and an entire country must be held hostage to please only him. The politicians profess to worry about jobs he provides, even as they carefully overlook the jobs he's destroyed. The stench of greed chokes us all.

For ten years, we watched one man control an entire government, the embodiment of vicious gluttony. You want something done? Best to go to this guy and pay your fee, he's more powerful than the actual PM. He can get things done, and no matter how evil he may be, he runs the show, so get over your morals or get out of the way. Think that mentality is yesterday's news? Think again, the demons have possessed new bodies and this year is no different from the ten or so that went before it. Greed pulls us under, fills our lungs, prevents us from breathing and growing.

But knowing all this, you're reading this and thinking 'okay, but what do we do?' We have to continue letting them know that we have no tolerance for greed and its ravages. Boycott the greedy boys' businesses; remind the corrupt politicians that they work for us, not the other way around; tell the Lands Department officer that you aren't paying and if your papers get lost, you'll report his suggestion of a bribe -do the same for that Customs officer at the border, and the cop who wants his piece for doing the job he's already paid to do. Tell your friends, your family, your neighbours to stand with you, for greed cannot survive in the face of defiance; it is fed by complacency, fattened by apathy. 

When you begin to realize that you can't wait for a savior to come along, when you begin to realize that it starts with you, is the day you'll begin to pull your country back from the edge of the precipice.