Jamaica saved by Weiner's wiener
The Lord works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. Or is it that history is full of cunning? Take your pick. Either way, this was my thought as I listened to Jamaican-American US Congresswoman Yvette Clarke describe how close Jamaica recently came to economic disaster.
Clarke, speaking at CIN's 10th Anniversary Lecture Series held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, revealed that when, entirely by chance, the crisis came to her attention, she hurriedly cobbled together the island's friends, Gregory Meeks (NY 5th District), Sheila Jackson-Lee (Texas 18th District), and Maxine Waters (California 43rd District), and headed to the IMF headquarters to lobby on our behalf.
She was telling part of the story that is unknown. Jamaica, she said, had been written off, but our few friends determined that we could not be allowed to sink. As she described it, the country was on the edge of a catastrophic "fiscal cliff", because our credibility was in the toilet bowl (my words) and the IMF was in no mood.
Of course, like every borrower known to history, the country was enthusiastic when getting the loans, with an overwhelming chorus from every quarter demanding it be negotiated and signed ASAP. Now, in accordance with human nature, we are to a man righteously indignant that the loan actually had terms and the halfwits consider it plain gospel that "de IMF ah run Jamaica". I must say, though, that at some level it's an acute irony that the PNP has to deal with this, because it has done its fair share over the years to propagate and spread a brand of fantasy economics.
Anyway, consider just how lucky Jamaicans are to have Yvette Clarke in the US Congress. What you may not have known is that this was facilitated when Anthony Weiner broadcast his wiener to young Ms Gennette Cordova on Twitter. Because that is how he came to resign in June 2011, and how, after a very brief Republican interregnum in a district that has been reliably Democratic since the 1920s, Yvette Clarke came to occupy the NY 9th Congressional seat. It was Weiner's 'master of ceremonies' that precipitated the whole thing. Never has so little done so much for so many.
So that's where we were in 2012: one pic away from the fiscal cliff, in a tough situation, between the Rock and a hard place. It's as if the Good Lord guided the hand of Weiner to unzip his junk, abuse his smartphone, and give us another chance. And some people don't believe in redemption?
Well, for my atheist readers, we can settle on a Diego Maradona formula to split the difference: it was hand of God, but the pecker of Weiner. I'm thinking we really should offer Ms Cordova like a free vacation or something. Or maybe national honours, since they're being sprinkled around for less discernibly deserving contributions.
All of that said, Representative Clarke wasn't the main event at the CIN Lecture. It was Minister of Finance Peter Phillips, who climbed the podium amid lavish praise for his work so far. He gave a broad outline of Jamaica's improvements over the years pursuant to the nationalist project, but also pointed out how improvements have stalled because of a staggering debt, the burden of which is choking the life out of us.
After Phillips had concluded, the floor was opened up for questions. Now there's always a large portion of unpredictable carnival in the atmosphere when a Jamaican politician takes questions from the public. You can normally anticipate a few well-shaped and carefully thought-out inquiries, but mostly its pantomime and pandemonium. Quite apart from that, we do not, even in the slightest degree, hold reticence and reserve to be at all valuable; we are all major celebrities in our own minds.
Questions veered, in descending order of seriousness, from how Jamaica should conduct itself in CARICOM, to why ministers aren't required to be professional experts in the field they administer, to whether Chinese investments and immigration will trigger an undesirable change to the society's racial makeup.
However, the prize of the evening went to 'Martin from Negril', who wants Jamaicans to know that the country has oil reserves that the Government is conspiring to keep from the people of Jamaica. The conspiracy is bipartisan, international, and involves numerous government agencies and private-sector interests.
I point to the audience questions for two reasons. The first is because I try to be a connoisseur of our self-amusement. But second, and unfortunately more to the point, is I wonder how much people are actually understanding about why Jamaica has had to reel in its spending and re-engage the IMF.
Not so long ago, The Gleaner had spent some resources educating the public about the metastasising indebtedness of the country, and it should think about doing that again as a public service. Unsurprisingly, the consciousness has dwindled faster than the debt has.
On a different note, last week, Mr Andrew Holness spoke at the JNBS 'Outlook for the Future' series in New York, but prior to that, I was part of a smaller conversation with him. He did well, laying out some ideas and plans for the future. One striking point he made early out, and on which he was definitive, was that if he were returned to power, he would abide by the fiscal discipline of the current Government. That's good news. But with the very best of intentions, it's far more easily said than done.
Jamaicans have sacrificed a lot to get to this point. Whether Phillips and Holness in their respective spheres can hold the line against the enormous pressure to return to our old ways is yet to be seen. Not now, but as elections become more imminent, the pressure will surely come to Phillips to run wid it. Similarly, should Andrew regain the reins, he will have to correct an uninspiring history, with much of the same team that took us to the fiscal cliff where we were only saved by Weiner's chubbie. All the experts agree we shouldn't try that stunt again. This time, it's us who might get stiffed.
n Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.