PNP must have swallowed the wrong pill

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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Do not stand in a field of thorns to remove thorns. — Bemba proverb, Zambia

“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes,” Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) advises Neo (Keanu Reeves) in the science-fiction action film The Matrix . This is one of its most iconic scenes.

Essentially, the red and blue pills are choices. The red pill is reality, with its harsh and uncomfortable truths, including awareness of 'the Matrix' itself (an illusory world), the machines, and their impact. While the blue pill is beatific ignorance, which is more pleasant.

Neo, chose the red pill.

Metaphorically, it seems to me that many of the top-tier leadership of the People's National Party (PNP) have opted for the blue pill. Wrong and strong!

Last Sunday, TVJ's 7:00 pm newscast carried a story in which incumbent president of the PNP and leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition Dr Peter Phillips submitted that his son, Mikael Phillips, Member of Parliament for Manchester North Western, Opposition spokesperson on Transport and Works, a vice-president in the PNP, and a member of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), was excessively criticised following statements which the younger Phillips made at a political rally in his constituency recently. Dr Phillips, in the news item, noted that because his son spoke in patois at the meeting that motivated much of the condemnation that was poured on him.

It was Don Lemon, American journalist, who said some time ago, “You can't make this stuff up.”

I believe Dr Phillips's fatuous defence of his son is blue pill political malignancy.

The PNP's leadership seems intent on hugging up baleful ignorance at all cost. They evidently not only do not want to embrace the realities of today's politics, they seem unable. They are tapped into a political Wonderland Time Zone that Jamaica escaped many years ago.

Dr Phillips's defence of the indefensible should confirm, even for his acolytes, that the near-70-year-old skipper has gone politically tone deaf.

But, what did Mikael actually say?

Two Wednesdays ago this newspaper reported his remarks verbatim: “North West Manchester people... no Labourite can come yah and gwaan like North West Manchester a dem yard, because when we tek road all bwoy haffi run weh, and all gal pickney haffi tek weh demself. We have one likkle tickie-tickie (JLP representative) a run up and dung inna North West; me a tell him seh a one 'man a yard' deh yah, and that is Mikael Asher Phillips. So if dem think seh a done mi done, me jus' a come,” he expressed during his address at the constituency conference.

The younger Phillips's powder-keg remarks were punctuated by the gun lyrics from music of murder convict Vybz Kartel.

When public outrage was heaped on him and the PNP like burning coal, he tendered a formulaic pseudo-apology. Here, again, we saw the blissful ignorance of the blue pill's delusive side effects.

Folks, recognise this kind of behaviour for what it is — a crumpled card straight from Anancy's political playbook.

The Jamaica Observer, on August 14, 2019, reported, among other things: “In his statement today, Phillips said: 'If this was interpreted as derogatory to my political opponents, and generally offensive to others, I am expressing regret. I would like to apologise for any offence that my presentation may have caused.' “

The Member of Parliament told the Observer that the statement had been taken out of context.

“All I was saying was that the JLP is targeting the seat, and because I am not fully on the ground they feel that they are comfortable in there. And all I am saying is don't get too comfortable, because a only one 'man a yard' and that's me, and when I start working back on the ground on a daily basis, everybody haffi go run weh and leave the seat, (but) you say it in Jamaican parlance,” was what he told the Observer team.

This is the same Mikael Phillips who only a few weeks ago dumped a similarly mealy-mouthed apology on the country after the strong tentacles of public pressure latched onto him and the PNP. Folks in the highways and byways were asking what moral authority did the PNP have to be holding so-called anti-corruption vigils.

Recall the birds, those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits and John Chewits shrieked that the so-called vigils were Dr Phillips's reveille. Peter Bunting was conspicuously absent from the Mandela and Montego Bay japes.

Mikael Phillips, surrounded by a mere handful of followers in Montego Bay, St James, obdurately said: “ 'It is sad to hear people say that the People's National Party should not speak against corruption. We may have done wrong in the past, but if we have done wrong, we are sorry for it,' said Phillips.” ( The Gleaner, Monday, July 22, 2019)

Maybe Dr Peter Phillips did not notice that his son's comments on this occasion were made in Standard English. They, nevertheless, triggered a firestorm of criticism.

It is elementary, my dear Watson, it is not because Mikael Phillips spoke in Patois why folks are livid. It is the substance and reality of what he said in the context of a country in which political violence, with its genesis in nasty epithets and vitriol decades before, culminated in the 1980 General Election with the killing of 844 Jamaicans. Folks do not want to travel that death-dealing road again.

These comments by the president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Howard Mitchell in The Gleaner recently were spot on. Among other things, Mitchell said: “ 'The recent disgusting, disrespectful, and potentially dangerous outbursts by Messrs Basil Waite and Mikael Phillips on public political platforms indicate clearly that the People's National Party is still training political dinosaurs,' the PSOJ release stated.

“ 'Their unfortunate utterances represent the most regressive and ignorant behaviour that Jamaica had hoped to discard on the rubbish heap of our dark and shameful political history.' ”

Whether we want to admit it or not, the aorta of our politics is impaired.

Following the rant by a deputy general secretary of the PNP, Basil Waite, at a rally in St Elizabeth only days before our Emancipation and Independence holidays and the rapid condemnation by well-thinking Jamaicans, Mikael Phillips apparently believed he could make similar vituperations and escape the wrath of folks who want a better Jamaica.

Recall, Waite's deep-seated self-loathing utterance, “And some of the likkle nasty nayga dem who ah call themselves Labourite...” In a video circulated on social media Dr Peter Phillips was seated on the very podium only metres away from where Waite delivered the despicable comments. Phillips did not grab the microphone from Waite and tell him to stop what he had been saying. Neither has Dr Phillips, since the incident, attempted to dissociate himself from Waite's contemptible remarks. Why in the midst of all the justified public castigation of the PNP did Mikael Phillips make his combustible remarks? I suggest it is the undesirable effects of the blue pill.

Many in the PNP are still caught up in a largely discarded political past in which they were 'petted and powered' by large sections of academia and the media. A major strategy, then, was to encircle the PNP wagon each time the PNP did wrong. Those days are over and done.

Two Sundays ago, I said in this space, among other things: “In our political context, it is the norm for one's intended political objective to be achieved on the hustings, even if it means the use of acidic references; and then you appease the general public with pseudo-apologies. I have long contended that these so-called apologies are little more than a manifestation of what George Orwell and other analysts of dystopian mindsets called double-acting — essentially, you believe one thing, but say/act in the opposite way, and/or hold two diametrically opposite views which are utilised as crutches of convenience in different settings.” ( Jamaica Observer, August 11, 2019)

We all make mistakes, but when we do we ought to make amends. As a start we should apologise without qualification and conditions. I wrote in this space some weeks ago, inter alia: “When you apologise you should simply do so and stop. Once you add qualifiers and conditions the submission fails.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 28, 2019)

Here is a good example of an apology.

“Like anyone who's being honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes... I am sorry for harm I have caused. I have listened, and I have learned a lot.” Notice, no conditions, no qualifications. This was the apology US Senator Elizabeth Warren tendered when she appeared at the Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, last week. She apologised for having made unfounded claims of tribal descent. The audience applauded her.

Here is a humble suggestion for the PNP's leadership; it's the red pill, stupid!

Mail Alert!

I got many e-mail responses to last Sunday's The Agenda piece in the Jamaica Observer. Most agreed with my arguments, but a few did not, and that is welcomed. Two of my readers were adamant that democratic socialism has been a great success in Sweden. A few said Jamaica must stop comparing herself to countries like Finland, which achieved “developed status many years ago”. One said “over 80 years ago”.

Then I had those readers who asked me whether I would be willing to give up freedoms — freedom of speech in particular — to live in Singapore. For the benefit of all my readers, I have decided to answer in this space.

Nowhere in my piece last Sunday did I say Singapore is a utopia. There is no such place on Earth. Press freedom is scarce and many governmental systems are semi-autocratic, some might even say repressive. There are concerns over congestion in public transport and housing. Nevertheless, in less that 40 years Singapore has been transformed from mud huts to a metropolis.

According to the World Data Atlas, “In 2017, the homicide rate for Singapore was 0.2 cases per 100,000 population. The homicide rate of Singapore fell gradually from 1.1 cases per 100,000 population in 1998 to 0.2 cases per 100,000 population in 2017.” It was pretty similar in 2018. Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita reached US$64,567 in December 2018, compared with US$60,306 in December 2017. This was corroborated by other credible data sources which I consulted. Singapore's per capita income was US$400 in 1965.

When Jamaica gained political independence in 1962 the murder rate was 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants — one of the lowest in the world. In 2005 Jamaica had 1,674 murders for a murder rate of 58 per 100,000 people. That year, Jamaica had the highest murder rate in the world. Dr Peter Phillips was the minister of national security. Murders fell by 22 per cent in 2018 compared to 2017. Even with the reduced murder count, 2018's murder rate of 47 per 100,000 inhabitants placed Jamaica among the most murderous countries in the world, putting us in the same category as nations such as Lesotho, Venezuela, and Honduras. At present our murder rate is just over 40 per 100,000 inhabitants.

In 2018 Singapore was ranked number one by the Programme for International Student Assessment, which evaluates educational systems by measuring 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance in mathematics, science, and reading skills. In the 60s, Singapore's population was largely uneducated.

As for corruption, according to numerous data indices, this is extremely low in Singapore.

Were I guaranteed that Jamaica would gain Singapore's miracle-like achievements in exchange for giving up freedom of speech, I would, yes.

Finland was not a developed country 80 years ago. She has a population of just over 5.5 million and has one of the best systems of education in the world. She has State-subsidised health care. The reality was far different four decades ago. Finland then was a poor nation dependent on agriculture. Its transformation was achieved though rapid advancement in education and training. A national curriculum was established. Master's degrees for all teachers became mandatory. Finnish teachers are drawn from the top 10 per cent of college graduates. Their performance on the job is carefully measured, and they are paid very well. Today the average student in the Finnish education system speaks four languages; English included. Parental involvement is one of the strongest in the world, and experts in Finnish education say they have a culture which places a premium on educational achievement.

Newsflash! According to renowned Swedish author Johan Norberg, “Sweden is not a socialist country because the Government does not own the means of production.” The big government of tax and spend in Sweden was something from the 70s and 80s. Norberg says the country “went south” under that system. When this happened Sweden reduced government controls, cut public spending, privatised the national rail service, abolished some government monopolies, and sold many State-owned businesses.

They switched to a school voucher system. Schools are forced to compete. They have one of the best systems of education in the world today. The Swedish pension system was privatised, this according to an article in the New York Times, February 12, 2004. Before then, the entire pension system was faced with collapse. Today, if the Swedish economy is doing well pensions increase, if she goes south, pensions are automatically lowered. Politicians, therefore, can't 'samfie' people by promising higher pensions when the national kitty is anaemic. Money from the rich is not taken by the Swedish Government and redistributed to the poor. In fact, those who earn below average income pay up to 60 per cent in taxes. Similar to PAYE in Jamaica, they are a captive group. Sweden ain't no socialist country!

Jamaica has yet to agree on a national set of principles, policies, and programmes to move us forward really fast. We need to do this, and quickly. Among other things, it is a common denominator of countries like Singapore, Finland, and Sweden.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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