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Likkle more from Moji Anderson: Taxes, Politicians and Jamaica Part 2

Marc Gayle said “the responsibility for this bank tax lies with us.”  

Wait – I am to blame for the withdrawal tax?

Marc Gayle says yes: “Not just those that pay bribes and do blatantly illicit activities, but everybody else that knows that these activities take place and say nothing.”

What country doesn’t have people who do pretty much all the things we do, or versions thereof? While others stand by and say nothing? Does that mean that all those other nations deserve a similarly draconian tax?

Well, Marc doesn’t say, because his argument is that the Jamaican people are exceptional in their levels of corruption, indiscipline etc. You see, all this is innate to us: “it is the bias inherent in our society towards corruption and ‘bun informer’ mentality that has gotten us into this mess.”

Ah, Jamaican exceptionalism: we are the most criminal, most violent, most corrupt, most indisciplined… No matter if various international indices prove this to be false.

What a curious version of exceptionalism we have created. While other countries’ exceptionalism renders them “the best at [insert focus of jingoism here]”, we proclaim ourselves “the worst.”

Successive governments have overspent, refused to engage in meaningful long-term planning, sold us to foreign interests, kowtowed to the IMF (etc)… After you get through that list, you can start talking about stealing light, ‘k?

Final thought: if the government wants to get the tax noncompliants, they should get them, and them alone. We know who they are – research has been done: they are big business, even doctors, dentists… Devise a strategy for getting the people who are actually not paying their taxes. Otherwise, the people who are law abiding are being penalised for following the law. Will this serve to encourage or discourage further law-abiding behaviour?

How long will this self-flagellation continue? Are we ever going to be able to think for ourselves, or will we forever be mired in this self-hating impropaganda? The slave master is gone – drop the whip, people.

by Moji Anderson

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Sometimes, you gotta give a girl a soapbox: Taxes, Politicians and Jamaica

So over the past few days there has been quite a bit of talk in Jamaica about proposed tax measures. Specifically, the one that has the most people’s tongues wagging is a bank withdrawal tax. In response to this particular proposal, Jamaican entrepreneur Gordon Swaby posted a strident commentary entitled “The Jamaican Government’s withdrawal tax is anti-business, does not protect the poor and weakens the middle class”. MP Damion Crawford (Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment) clearly disagreed: The Flaw I Found in Gordon Swaby’s Tax Analysis.

Now, I happen to have a friend with opinions, but without the twitter/facebook/blog platform of the above commentators. Thus, in the interest of keeping this lively debate going, I’ve offered to print her reply to MP Crawford here.

Hello Mr Crawford,

I was reluctant to respond to your response to Mr Swaby, because I’m not an economist. But then, neither are you, so we have something in common.

I think that’s where the commonalities end, however, as you will see from my comments.

First, your 9 assumptions: they easily create a false premise upon which to build your argument.

I take issue with your assumption that the only 2 ways for a government to raise funds are through taxation and increasing the taxpayer pool. Those are indeed very important but not the only options available.

Why don’t you curb government spending…on politicians? Here are some examples of cost-cutting measures:

Car pooling: this is the practice of French Ministers of Government. You will note that France is a much richer country than Jamaica. This would allow us to sell off many of the Toyota Prados – of course, we wouldn’t sell them for a song to the politicians who were previously being driven around in them, because that would be unethical…

Limiting the size of delegations on foreign trips: you already know the general public has a problem with this. Why not cut down to a bare minimum? There are few things that can replace a handshake, but Skype and other means of instant communication are increasingly considered valid alternatives.

Paring politicians’ salaries: Take a cut, and/or establish a wage freeze. Then you’d be just like the rest of us: most of us have had to endure one or the other.

These are 3 options that occur to me off the top of my head. You will note that I have thought outside of the taxation box. I can’t tell you how much money that would save – that’s an economist’s job. But why not have someone work that out? Have any of these (or similar) options been considered and quantified? Although I don’t think that would get us the $2b, it would put us on the way. And you wouldn’t have lost the trust and respect of the people you are ostensibly in power to serve in the process.

You see, these revenue-earning measures wouldn’t just earn revenue. They would earn the goodwill of the people, because we would truly feel like we are all in this together. If you wanted to be cynical about it, you could do this so that at a future date you could use that goodwill to do more stringent cuts (I do not approve of this cynicism). So far we feel like we are the only ones getting our belts tightened. And that belt is fast becoming a noose.

I think your use of the term “short term” needs clarification. Do you mean that we will only be subjected to this tax for a limited (short) time? That would be an important point to make. Especially because once taxes are imposed they are seldom rescinded.

How dare you say you are targeting those who can most afford it? I am now subject to a wage freeze, face a devalued dollar and will soon face a rise in utility charges. I can emphatically not afford this. And I am a relatively well off Jamaican.

A final plea, Mr Crawford: do not under any circumstances compare your pay cheque with ours. That just seems disingenuous. Everyone, including you and your colleagues, knows that your salaries far outweigh ours. This kind of comparison just gets us angrier and serves as further proof that you are completely out of touch.

It might be time to take the “people” out of the “People’s National Party”. Or, is this taxation proof that you already have? You have no idea what the people need or deserve or how we live our lives. Worse – you don’t seem to care.

Moji Anderson

Don’t call me “miss”.

Ahh, the types of things that get me blogging. So a teacher friend posted Rebecca Shuman’s piece, “That’s ‘Doctor Instructor’ to You”, and asked for some comments from those of us engaged in teacherly pursuits. Now, I taught highschool in Ontario ages ago, English as a second language in France and Ethiopia; more English at a college in Montreal for ten years (and probably will again very soon) and then spent some time in the classroom at the University of the West Indies. One thing consistent throughout all these experiences was a firm belief that “miss” is not, and will never be, equivalent to the term “sir”.

As I’ve explained to just about every class I’ve ever taught, I had a lovely grandmother who worked in a one-room schoolhouse on the prarie. Yes, you read that right. On the prarie. She taught all grades at the same time and I have no idea how she did it. But she loved her job. Back in her day, all the teachers were “miss”, because as soon as they were married, they weren’t able to teach any more. It just wasn’t done. After all, a woman would have had more than enough to do tending the house and taking care of the expected children. But my grandmother, and many other teachers back then, fought to keep their jobs, regardless of marital status. I like to think that my desire to have students call me by my first name, or, if they really want to have a title, they could call me “Dr.” if they really, really have to. I’ve got the piece of paper, so why not.

And that brings me to Jamaica, where if you’ve got a PhD, everyone thinks you must be referred to as doctor. I was always told that the only people you call “Dr.” in regular conversation are those with the MD. In Jamaica, if you’ve written those painful 300 or so pages, you get reminded of it much more often than anywhere else I’ve been. I know this drives Annie Paul bonkers. I’m not super keen on it either, though in a race with “miss”, I’ll take “doctor” any day of the week.

I also think that by talking to students about the difference between “miss” and “sir”, you get them thinking about the ways in which women and men are differentiated in society–and how using a diminuative term like “miss” for your teacher is not showing the same respect as when you use “sir”. Yes, we all have different personal preferences, but there is no denying the reality that “miss” IS different from “sir”. So please, PLEASE, don’t call me “miss”.

 

Rebuild, Reposition and Re-energize

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A month or so ago, myself and the Cuso volunteers were sitting have a drink after a meeting. Sitting right next to us was Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley and a whole delegation of American and Canadian folk. Apparently they were in town to talk about a plan to “rebuild, reposition and re-energize” the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre. One of my favourite Toronto Star columnists, Royson James, was there and his piece on the Golding Centre project was featured on the cover of the Star this morning. I know this because my ever-observant mother made a point of telling me. I should mention that my mother is an advocate for people with disabilities (she’s on the board of directors of the amazing Together We Rock! and is a major admirer of David Onley).

I’m going to be starting some new research soon on diaspora involvement in Jamaica and Ethiopia, so this little quotation from Onley at the end of James’s article was particularly interesting to me:

“There is such a significant Jamaica diaspora here in the GTA and a large Caribbean contingent with a fair amount of resources at their disposal. I feel that if they knew about the state of affairs they would do something to improve it.”

My previous research has looked specifically at Rastafari in Ethiopia–their work as a diaspora population is not a small part of what I’ve been investigating. I’m excited about the fact that my new topic is worthy of front page news.

(above photo by Royson James from the Toronto Star)

Back when I was a Girl

450862259_c956a18169_bSo yes, I watch Girls, or, more correctly, I hate-watch the show. I am not mad at it because it is unrealistic (although this makes many elements annoying and borderline offensive), I am mad because it seems to underline the fact that the mid-nineties was some time that I should really remember because there’s clearly nothing exciting now. From the use of Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing” last week to this week’s use of “Wonderwall” it’s like everything from 1995 to 2000 (ok, we can push it to 2004) is new again. Is there nothing new under the sun? Is there no tune from the past few years that Hannah could warble in the bathtub? What’s going on in 2013?

Sex and the City debuted in 1998, its 90 some episodes stretching to 2004. I don’t understand why critics of Girls haven’t spent more time discussing the four-girls-in-NY tv show version 1.0. Yes, there have been some pieces, but most attempt to distance the new Girls from Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.  Myself, I can’t watch the damn thing without thinking Hannah-Carrie, Jessa-Samantha, Shoshanna-Charlotte and Marnie-Miranda. IT’S SIMPLY IMPOSSIBLE. But where SITC underlined its existence as fantasy (hello, studio apartment with walk-in closet), Girls tends to act like it’s some serious commentary on twenty-something life today. If that’s the truth, it seems to indicate that there is nothing going on. I don’t necessarily think that this is the case, but Hannah et al. are telling me so every week.

Whereas the ridiculous fiction of SITC made it a fluffy confection that every once in a while would lead to a wee touch of self affirmation–case in point: Carrie’s 35th birthday episode where she realizes that she can stand on her own even when no one shows up to her party–Girls seems obsessed with zeitgeist but flounders when attempting to put its finger on the pulse. It’s my contention that Ms. Dunham (or, more properly, Girls) is not particularly interested in what’s happening now. As out of touch as the show is with the reality of life in New York (see the million complaints about the lack of diversity on the show), it’s also bereft of any discussions that connect to what might be referred to as zeitgeist.

Of course it’s popular–everyone wants to know what folks from the 18-35 demographic think. The world (as demonstrated by the obsession with youth in advertising) is obsessed with this particular age range. But I don’t know anything really about what these characters believe, care about, love or hate. Everything is a clever line, a funny moment, a nude wander around the apartment. Sure, I love that a woman who looks more like me than like Bar Refaeli is showcased on tv being comfortably naked, but that seems to be the most interesting thing about the show. I want more than a fleeting reference to Glass-Steagall. I want to know that there are more songs that can function as cultural touchstones than those from my 20s. I agree that Girls doesn’t necessarily have to be an accurate portrayal, I just wish it wasn’t so depressing.

p.s. photo is of me–in my 20s.

p.p.s. In terms of 90s throwbacks, I can’t believe I forgot about “It’s a Shame About Ray”. That, combined with the “Jame” character from Jazzhate, is such a Sassy magazine reference that it’s painful.

10 minute sorrel chutney…

I have piles of things to do, and this makes me think of things to cook. In the past, while procrastinating, I would make some elaborate dish. But, in 2013, I have clearly grown and matured. I’m still cooking, but I’m trying to limit the time. Hence, 10 minute sorrel chutney. Perhaps a blog post is overdoing it, but sorrel is so pretty that I had to take photos. It’s used in Jamaica to make a drink with sugar and ginger (and sometimes rum) at Christmas time. I, personally, slightly prefer Senegalese bissap, which is made the same way as Jamaican sorrel–by boiling the sorrel in water–but instead of ginger, it’s vanilla and rose water. Sorrel, for those that don’t know, comes from the Hibiscus plant–it’s the fleshy bit that is left over once the petals of the flower fall off.

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So I bought a half pound of sorrel at the market and just washed it thoroughly, tossing out any browned and dried bits. This is a simple chutney, so I grabbed onion, scotch bonnet pepper and ginger.

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I diced the onion and tossed it in a deep stockpot with some coconut oil, cooking it just until soft, and then I added a bit of chopped ginger and scotch bonnet. At the last minute I realized that garlic would be a good idea, so that got thrown in the pan too.

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This was nice and colourful, but I felt it needed a little warmth (instead of just hot hot heat), so I added a bit of cinnamon, coriander and cumin.

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After a couple of minutes, I was ready to mix in the sorrel. There seems like a lot of it initially (hence the need for the stock pot), but it does cook down quite a bit.

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I covered the pot and thought about what I would use to sweeten the chutney. Sorrel is really tart, so it does need significant sweetening. Sugar works, as does honey, but I had something better.

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The delicious Lyle’s Golden syrup is like liquid brown sugar. It’s slightly caramel-like and thoroughly wonderful stuff. I poured a substantial amount into the pot and stirred and tasted and added more and stirred and tasted. The sorrel had all cooked through, the mixture was still slightly tart, and I could feel the scotch bonnet heat on my tongue as well as taste the spices and the ginger. Perfect.

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Now all I need to find is a source for stilton cheese to eat with this stuff and I’ll be on cloud nine.

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Cuso International’s Volunteering for Development Day

I’ve been volunteering for Cuso International since July, working as a youth and gender programme development advisor. I’ve had some great experiences, and I’d like to share one of them. The following piece was something I wrote alongside Kate Chappell reporting on an event I worked on to help promote Cuso International’s work in Jamaica, the Caribbean region and around the world. Cuso International published a version of the piece on their website, but this is a director’s cut. Also, here’s a link to some great photos of the day courtesy of fellow volunteer (and great photographer) Varun Baker.

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On December 6, Jamaica’s non-governmental organizations had the opportunity to learn about Cuso International as part of a Volunteering for Development event organized by Cuso’s Jamaica office. The aim of the day was not only to raise awareness about Cuso’s work and provide information to existing and potential new partner organizations, but also to discuss social entrepreneurship/social enterprise as a means of supporting NGOs and civil society organizations given the reality of funding limitations.

The newly-appointed Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, Robert Ready, began the day with remarks about the value of volunteering. Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency, provides support to Cuso International, and His Excellency demonstrated his own enthusiasm to learn more about Cuso’s work in Jamaica.

Over fifty attendees from various civil society organizations and NGOs listened to presentations by Cuso Jamaica Country Representative Tarik Perkins, who spoke about the history of Cuso and its work in Jamaica, and volunteers Erin MacLeod and Julia Magnuson-Ford, who talked about how research informs Cuso’s work and the development of partnerships. Wendy Lee, a volunteer nearing the end of her placement, talked about her experience alongside her boss, Mickel Jackson, of the Council for Voluntary Social Services.

After a break for lunch, keynote speaker Dr. Kawadame K’nIfe of the Office of Social Entrepreneurship, Youth Crime Watch Jamaica, and University of the West Indies Mona School of Business and Management electrified the crowd with a discussion of social entrepreneurship. He called upon the “social service actors” in Jamaica to think about how their organizations provide value to Jamaicans—and how to leverage that value in a way that might help to find innovative ways of funding. Sonita Abrahams of Cuso partner RISE Life Management provided an example of this by showcasing RISE’s social enterprise project, developed with the input of Cuso volunteer Ivy So. RISE now sells numerous environmentally friendly products, crafted by their own youth beneficiaries. Youth benefit through skills training as well as economically, and partial funds from sales also feed back into RISE.

The question and answer that ensued was lively, and the discussion about Cuso International and social entrepreneurship/enterprise will continue as a key theme in Cuso International’s work in the region.

Calabash 2012

Last weekend I went to Calabash for the first time. Treasure Beach is really quite a place for a literary festival. I recorded a review of the fest for radio, and hopefully it will be broadcast next week on “Double Standards” along with some recordings of the event–musical as well as literary.
I’m crazily preparing for a trip at the moment, but I will add more here–especially now that I have posted this as a reminder to do so!

Rastafari in the New Millennium

Today, the Michael Barnett edited Rastafari in the New Millennium: A Rastafari Reader is launched and I’m happy to say that I’m in the book. If you’re in Kingston, come and check it out. My piece, incidentally, is about the Rastafari-initiated (under the auspices of the Ethiopian World Federation) water harvesting project in Shashemene, Ethiopia.

I’m on Jamaican Radio…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been filling in for Annie Paul on Double Standards on NewsTalk 93FM. Alongside the venerable Yvette Rowe, we’ve spoken with filmmaker Esther Figueroa about social justice and film, recent York University Social and Political Though grad Asheda Dwyer about popular music, patwa and politics, anthropologist Dr. Moji Anderson about moral panic and progress, and music industry insider/economics student Dean McKellar about rights and recording artists. Each week, for an hour, we have our snappy set of topics, and the conversation is just as snappy. I am trying to get the programs up on mixcloud asap, because I’d be interested in some feedback.

Radio is something that I have done off and on since undergrad–from the all-woman all-the-time radio show Venus, that I founded alongside Laura McNeil and Christy Love at CKUT Radio McGill back in the mid-nineties (and it’s still on!) to my layered collage of a program Pop Tart on CIUT at the University of Toronto, I’ve always enjoyed the buzz of being on radio. Talk radio, however, is a whole different ball game, but I was able to get my feet wet last semester on Annie Paul’s hour long interview show “The Silo” as well as making a couple of appearances on “Double Standards”.

The great thing about “Double Standards” is that the loose themes lead to the most interesting discussions. Listening to Figueroa talk about how stories are told and the need to think about perspective as well as awareness was illuminating. She discussed her experience working in Hawaii alongside indigenous Hawaiians telling indigenous Hawaiian stories in the face of the barrage of  American stories. Of course, she talked about her documentary Jamaica For Sale, but she also discussed the need for social justice filmmaking in general.

On the episode with Asheda Dwyer we talked about what a Jamaican Music Museum might look like. This was my doing, as the recording of the program happened a couple days after my return from the EMP Pop Conference where I’d heard Chuck D and curators from the Smithsonian talk about the development of the music section of the to-be-opened in 2015 Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. We also, however, talked about Patwa and why there is so much disdain for the language in Jamaica–especially on editorial pages. Dwyer, who had made use of Patwa as a language requirement at university in Canada, provided an articulate defense, and Yvette and I heartily concurred.

With Moji Anderson, we discussed the recent spate of articles in the Gleaner and the Observer discussing sexual abuse and sexual impropriety. Anderson’s research deals with language and sexuality–the way young men navigate through language, avoiding certain terms so as not to be labelled homosexual. We talked about how taboo limits not just language use, but how discussions of sex and sexuality–some that really need to be out in the open. Our conversation shifted to the concept of “progress” as Jamaica moves towards 50 years of age.

This week, continuing our focus on Jamaica 50, we  had Dean McKellar, a song writer turned music industry consultant, who talked about copyright issues. The man has an ability to rhyme off legislation like I couldn’t believe, and he was able to answer all of our “what if” questions. The most interesting part was his discussion of the relationship between creativity and copyright. If you want to hear this one, you can listen tomorrow morning at 9-10am and then again on April 19, between 9-10pm on NewsTalk.

What’s interesting to me about all of these discussions is that they provide perspectives on different elements of Jamaica–elements that shift the focus beyond the polarities of either beautiful beaches or rude bwoys and badmen. This week we’ll have yet another discussion…I’ll post links to the shows once I can figure out how to get them up here.