'Fiscal cliffs' and 'economic hurricanes'

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, November 12, 2012

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LAST week's column predicting a win for President Barack Obama in the US presidential elections attracted criticism on the Jamaica Observer web page. I hasten to say that I am no pundit - my forecast was based on the calculations of that marvel of mathematics Nate Silver, founder of www.fivethirtyeight.com http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/ , a blog carried by the New York Times. He combined statistics from the most popular polls and had been predicting a win for the Democrats for nearly a month.

I realised the tide was turning for Barack Obama when, on a recent visit to the US, I met a strong, influential lady who had been, for most of her life, a prime mover in her state for the Republican party. "They have lost my support," she told me. "They don't respect women." It seems that the majority of American women voters agreed with her, as 55 per cent of them threw their support behind President Obama, while 52 per cent of male voters backed Mitt Romney.

As the euphoria recedes, there is talk of a "fiscal cliff", from which President Obama must protect his country's economy. Thomas Kenny explains on the About.com website that this is anticipated at the end of this year "when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect".

He notes: "Among the laws set to change at midnight on December 31, 2012, are the end of last year's temporary payroll tax cuts (resulting in a two per cent tax increase for workers), the end of certain tax breaks for businesses, shifts in the alternative minimum tax that would take a larger bite, the end of the tax cuts from 2001-2003, and the beginning of taxes related to President Obama's health care law. At the same time, the spending cuts agreed upon as part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011 will begin to go into effect."

He foresees stop-gap measures to avoid the danger of the US going into a recession: "Nevertheless, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that if Congress takes the middle ground - extending the Bush-era tax cuts but cancelling the automatic spending cuts - the result, in the short term, would be modest growth but no major economic hit."

Even as the US approaches her "fiscal cliff", we are hearing talk of Jamaica's "economic hurricane" gaining strength with an anticipated hit in January 2013. Investors are sitting on their hands, as government dances around the issues.

Last August, this column had declared, "They sneeze, we wheeze" as I observed that any setback in the US economy would have a punishing effect on ours: "With the US credit rating downgraded ... we have to be ever vigilant and scrupulous if we want to attract any of the scarce benefits from our beleaguered benefactors."

You would think that we are talking about a population of 300 million like the US, when in fact we are looking at a mere three million souls, over-represented by 63 members of parliament and 216 parish councillors. As Opposition leader Andrew Holness observed in the House last week, it is a problem across the two parties that no one will tackle the relocation of residents in flood-prone areas, perhaps because they do not want to interfere with voting patterns.

You would think that we face bitter winters like the north, and have infertile deserts like the Middle East. You would think that we have a poor geographic location and speak a little-known language. God must be very vexed with us that this richly blessed treasure of an island could be facing economic fallout.

Therefore, this column is calling on the elder statesmen of the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party, PJ Patterson and Edward Seaga, to pull together the best and brightest of both parties and clear this political thicket that has been allowed to spread its dangerous, parasitic roots over our country.

Mr Patterson and Mr Seaga should know why we are afraid to walk our streets, why we have so many "bad areas", locking away acres of the country's fine real estate. They should have an idea on why the middle-men get so much "pop-off" that materials and manpower to build our roads and fix our gullies are of poor standard. They can help us find out why we are buck-shuffling over anti-gang and lottery scam legislation.

Why do you think we have one of the finest electoral systems in the world? It is because under the guidance of patriotic, independent stalwarts, representatives of both political parties examined the system, and knowing the loopholes only too well, identified and addressed them through comprehensive reform of the Representation of the People Act.

Now a national transformation commission should be set up along these same lines and our lions in their winter, Mr Patterson and Mr Seaga, demand that their respective parties step up and do right by the traumatised and fearful people of Jamaica. These people, incidentally, include their own children and grandchildren. It is clear that with this global financial debacle, there will be precious few places for anyone to run and hide.

Warning about non-communicable diseases

At the opening of the impressive new UWI Faculty of Medical Sciences, Chancellor Sir George Alleyne laid out some frightening facts about non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Distinguished Sir Kenneth Standard Lecture. NCDs include cancer, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, heart and other respiratory diseases, and account for more deaths than all other diseases combined. The cost to our national budget is $170 million per annum.

We can make a conscious effort to reduce our risk by quitting smoking, drinking responsibly, eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly. As we age, the risk for NCDs is greater, but anyone can improve her or his health by making these important lifestyle changes. Why not start today?






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