Saturday, January 31, 2009

No more stop at Kingston 21

Air Jamaica will stop flying to Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Barbados, Grand Cayman and Grenada in February. Route cuts and lay offs are necessary to keep the beleaguered airline afloat.

The airline business is tough. Sir Richard Branson (Virgin) likes to say if you want to be a millionaire start with a billion dollars then go into the airline business. Among the traditional U.S. airlines, American Airlines remains financially the most stable; not because it is making profits, but because it is the only one that has managed to avoid bankruptcy. Air Jamaica, while smaller has not been exempt from those hardships.

The airline has been beset by year-to-year losses for some time, and I have long contended that the Love Bird needed to cut back on some of its in-flight hospitality. Other airlines charge for everything - from six pretzels in a bag to an uncomfortable inflatable pillow. Even after getting squeezed by the discount carrier Spirit, Air Jamaica still served hot meals and soft drinks for free. Now they must make the big changes.

Sadly, the cessation of the Kingston-Miami route marks the end of an era. Air Jamaica was largely built on that route. From the beginning to the end, the flights between Miami International and Norman Manley International airports catered to 'informal commercial importers' bringing in their wares from farin, well-heeled Jamaicans hopping out for weekend partying and shopping trips, and illicit lovers sneaking away for clandestine meetings. Every traveling Jamaican has at least one story of a higgler who refused to accept that she had too much luggage, or a virgin traveler wearing his Sunday best and carrying his heavy coat over his arm. They also, no doubt, have a story about a delayed flight during a holiday that was tempered only by the sweetness of a pretty flight attendant.

The troubles of the national carrier and now the demise of the popular flight route will undoubtedly trigger feelings of loss, regret and some guilt (for those who flew with JOSpirit or American Airlines to save a few dollars). For me, the feeling is nostalgia. I smile at the memories of the little girl with the rich patois accent who tried to open the airplane window, of my late girlfriend's crisp uniform and tight bun, and of feeling like I had already arrived on the island the minute I took my seat on the plane.

Dark paint on ol' house

Ever heard of Michael Steele? Had you heard of him before Friday's news cycle? If you are a political news junkie or live in Maryland you may have. For most everyone else, Michael Steele is the former Lt. Governor of Maryland who came out of oblivion to be elected the new chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Steele, an attorney, made an unsuccessful run at a senate seat in 2006 and is not a member of the RNC. It took six rounds of voting, but Steele ultimately prevailed over republican heavyweights to become the party's first black chair.

Is the RNC embracing change? Or is it putting new dark paint on an old house? Call me skeptical, but I cannot swallow Steele's election at a time when the United States is still swooning at its election of the first black president as a coincidence. I am going out on a limb and suggest that the Republican Party believes it would be advantageous for the party to put on a black face at this time. Steele is the party's answer to their devastating loss in November. A loss they have tragically simplified to be racial.

The party of the good old boys has shown itself committed to racism and racial ignorance. Are voters supposed to confuse one black face for another and 'swap black dog fi monkey?' Are the thousands of voters who abandoned the Grand Old Party and its long held positions and ideals in November supposed to return now because its public face is now a dark one?

If I were hopeful I would view Mr. Steele's election as the RNC's indication that they are opening up the party and their minds to more inclusive actions and policies. But my inclination is to believe that the RNC hopes to pull off an optical illusion, instead of making substantive changes to its policies. They are hoping all black men look alike, instead of aligning more with its public to respect human rights, preserve quality of life for citizens in every economic bracket, and enforce checks and balance for businesses. More than anything, Steele's election shows it is business as usual at the old RNC house.

My womb or ours

In 2003, a Gallup Organization poll found that by a margin of 72 percent to 26 percent, the public supports laws requiring a married woman to notify her husband if she decides to have an abortion. In every state of the union adoptions require the consent of the siring mate. The legal father - the man to whom the woman is married, if she is married - and/or the putative father - the man who fathered the child if conceived out of wedlock - have the same rights as the mother in making adoption decisions.

Beyond those public leanings and legalities, what responsibilities does a woman have to share or extend her reproductive rights with her mate? Should the choice for birth control methods be discussed the same way a car purchase would be? Should a husband carry equal sway in the discussion about the number of children a couple have?

In a recent conversation with my unmarried and childless cousin, I was surprised to find that she believed that reproductive choices should not be solely that of a woman. I was surprised mostly because she usually has a very feminist view. Further discussions with other friends indicate that many women hold this view, but that their positions are very nuanced: A man has some say (and the right to know about a pregnancy) only if the couple is married, for example.

We are certainly moons away from the days when women were considered chattel. Today women view their reproductive rights in a myriad of ways. Being a single mother does not carry the same stigma it did 20 years ago. Increasingly, woman are choosing to parent solo. As women have become financially independent, they have come to look at motherhood as an option available outside of marriage and partnership. This is particularly true for women whose search for Mr. Right is not keeping pace with their biological clocks, or if the Mr. has turned out to be wrong.

According to the polls - and the women I've spoken to - married women lose some of those freedoms single women are exercising more and more. The feminist teenager I used to be now almost feels justified for having held an anti-marriage stance.

It is widely accepted that marriage is sustained through compromise. Even so, compromise is not always possible - even in the most successful marriages. Does a woman's rights then revert to the days when she could be declared a taxable asset? Obviously this discussion will take a different direction for every couple, and at different times. The principal question remains though: Should/does a woman's reproductive rights be suppressed with marriage?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let us not get weary

The 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, has been sworn in and starts his tenure in office. While President Obama's inaugural address was expectedly stirring, it was Rev. Joseph E. Lowery benediction that spoke most to me. It mirrored the concerns of my heart and the pride of my soul.

I do not think for one second that the 24-hour media cycle, or the hundreds of thousands of people who flooded the streets of Washington, D.C. is too much hype. This is a significant moment in the history of not just Black America, but for America and for the world. Just as the country issued in a new democratic way when George Washington passed the presidency to John Adams - a passage not of blood line or of war - it is issuing in a new era today. The United States of America can shed some of its guilt and shame and move forward with a renewed hope and trust in its ideals.

Rev. Lowery's prayer recognized the journey that has taken us to this moment, but he also asks for God's strength so that we will not get weary. After the National Mall has emptied of the cheering crowds, after the cameras have turned to some other news, the journey continues. It is not on President Obama's shoulders alone that the future of this nation depends. As he said in his speech, every task counts - as basic as the nurturing of a child.

Let us not get weary. Let us look for opportunities to support our communities. Let us make our voices heard in the administration of our governments. Let us mentor our youth and care for our seniors. Let us reward hard work and spurn laziness and wasted talents. Let us not get weary, but let us face the prospects - bitter and sweet - together.

Account from Washington D.C.

Check out fellow blogger and democratic delegate Marlon Hill, Esq.'s account from D.C.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Leading morality

The Caribbean Seventh-day Adventist community is astir with the pending swearing in of Dr. Patrick Allen as the next Governor General of Jamaica. Dr. Allen, until his selection for the office, was president of the West Indies Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. He is also chairman of the boards of directors of Andrews Hospital and Northern Caribbean University - both Adventist institutions.

Jamaicans on the island and around the world are buzzing about whether the minister will slobber on beauty queens like Glasspole, attend state functions on Saturday, or break the rules of the Adventist diet. The trite chatter is not unexpected considering that the role of the Governor General is largely ceremonial. Also, while the numbers of Adventists in Jamaica is large and growing, so that everybody knows an Adventist, the best known precepts of the church make them subjects of curiosity.

Dr. Herbert Thompson, president of Northern Caribbean University, was exuberant in his response to Allen's appointment. Dr. Thompson said he believed Allen would give Jamaica 'a new moral vision.' I'm not sure what that means, but it was the second time in a week I had heard the concepts of country and morals raised together. During his last press conference, outgoing United States President George W. Bush was asked by a member of the press corps if he thought the country's moral standing had been damaged during his tenure.

As we see clearly by Bush's record low approval ratings, the actions of a government or leader do not always meet with agreement from the people he leads. How then, is the moral standing of a country determined? Is moral standing for countries even possible where people are of such disparate opinions and beliefs? In Dr. Allen's case, how could he possibly affect the morality of Jamaica/ns when his job description consists mostly of wearing an archaic costume and opening parliament?

There seems to be little argument that Dr. Allen has lead an exemplary life. He has been an advocate for pressing social issues, held administrative positions of great responsibility and earned the Commander of the Order of Distinction in 2006. By education, training and actions, he is more qualified to lead than many in Jamaican politics. However, even if his position was one of significant leadership it should not be one that determines morality. It is attempts to determine moral direction and establish moral authority that threaten the reversal of Roe v. Wade, to re-write the consitution to decide who should be able to get married, and to oppress an entire country of people because they don't say Jesus and God.

Dr. Allen's best chance at affecting the moral vision of Jamaicans is by living righteously in their view.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lighter better for many Jamaicans

I caught a piece of Island Stylee on Black Entertainment Television Jazz recently. If you have flown Air Jamaica you may have seen the travel and entertainment video produced by the airline. I have seen a few hosts on the show over the years, most often former Miss Jamaica Rachel Stuart. The host of the episode I saw on BETJazz was new to me, but had a familiar characteristic. She was light-skinned, as was every other host I had ever seen on the show.

A few days prior to my seeing the show, a friend sent me a clip originally shown on Current TV, addressing the concern of skin bleaching in Jamaica. It occured to me that the unhealthy practice and the selection of hosts for the show could very well be fruit of the same ugly tree.

While Jamaica did not have the racial struggles African-Americans did, the island has had, since its independence, distinct color lines that ran across social and economic standing. Things are less discriminatory today than the days when office and bank jobs were reserved for light-skinned Jamaicans. Today the discrimination is largely social and self-inflicted.

In 1992, popular dancehall dj Buju Banton came under fire for his release Love mi browning, refering to Jamaican women with light skin. Public condemnation of the song forced him to quickly respond with another tune, Love mi black woman. I worry that 17 years later, the first song would have meet less public outcry. The widespread use of skin lightening chemicals suggests that many Jamaicans have accepted the notion of black inferiority.

The view of light skin and Euro features as more attractive than dark skin and Afro features is rampant in the island. The tie-dye faces - tell-tale sign of bleaching - of women, men and children are a common sight on the streets of the island. Bleachers use a myriad of methods - from toothpaste and curry mixes to illegal creams - alarming the government and health officials. Two years ago, the Health Department launched a campaign Don't Kill the Skin to warn users of the dangerous effects of the practice and to clamp down on illegal product import and sale. I have not, however, heard of any efforts aimed at addressing the underlying problem.

In Jamaica light skin is associated, not just with beauty, but also with affluence and privilege. A vestige of slavery and colonialism, businesses and property owners are largely descendants of Europeans, ie people with light skin. Even as Jamaicans of every hue are represented in academics, politics, and entertainment, the island's poorest residents are still wearing the shackles of colonialism - mental slavery, so to speak. Any attempt to curtail skin lightening has to start with fostering pride of self.

Legalities vs good politics

It looks like Roland Burris, a former Illinois Attorney General, will actually get his seat in the United States Senate. By creating a spectacle, filing a lawsuit, and being persistent he will be President-elect Obama's replacement to represent the people of Illinois. He has shown that the law is on his side, but he has shown poor judgment and political shortsideness.

Another senate-hopeful from Illinois, Danny Davis, was approached by indicted Governor Rod Blagojevich about taking the vacant seat. He declined, citing concerns of about being able to gain the public's trust if appointed by the tainted governor. Smart move. Burris, who from many accounts has a solid political reputation and would be in contention for the seat anyway, has unnecessarily put himself on a uphill battle to prove he isn't on the take - or on the give. He starts in office under a skeptical public eye, before he has even had a chance to screw up. This man who ran as governor, with then-Senator Obama's backing and against Rod Blagojevich, has tainted his own name in his rush to secure the senate seat.

Mr. Burris has shown a lack of scruples by accepting the appointment and by forcing it down Senate Democrat's collective throat. He will have to run for that office in two years. He has already given his opponent a gift-wrapped, camera-ready line questioning his credibility. His eagerness to get into office means he will always be Blagojevich's pick.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Middle East Conflict: Happily never after

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's analogy in defense of Israel's actions in Gaza says anyone who had a crazy person pounding on their apartment door threatening to come in and kill them would want the New York Police Department to respond with all its might and resources - not merely by sending one officer.

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart retorted it would depend on if you had forced the person to live in your hallway and forced him to go through checkpoints in order to go to work, to the supermarket, to visit family and to worship.

Israel's military actions in Gaza are very much like the NYPD sending all its men and firepower to respond to one crazy man. The Palestinian death toll stands close to 800 people today - nearly half confirmed to be civilians. Overkill is the word that comes to my mind.

Politics, religion, and history meld in the Middle East resulting in irreconcilable differences. Palestinians are not likely to forget that their independence, way of life and the very ownership of their land was disrupted by the United Nations to make room for the world's Jews to live together after World War II. Nor will they ever accept Israeli control of their movements and of Jerusalem. Israel will never come to the decision that the land was not given to the Jews by God. The conflict will continue. The course of the conflict, however, can be altered.

Israel has come to look like the big bully in the dispute, particularly as it has the unabashed backing of the United States. The state has no incentive to be either just or merciful. And it choosing to be neither. Red Cross/Red Crescent and United Nations representatives report that articles of the Geneva Convention are being violated in this latest assault on Gaza. There are no safe havens for Palestinian civilians; every building is subject to bombing from Israeli fire. Inadequate amounts of food, water and other aid are being allowed into the region. United Nations aid workers temporarily halted oeprations after one of its drivers was killed by Israeli fire. An Israeli mortar shell also killed 43 people in a United Nations school.

Casualties like these are inevitable with heavy warfare in as densely a populated area as Gaza. The only way to stop the deaths is for Israel to stop the fighting. Other attempts at curtailing the deaths and injuries are ineffective at best, disingenuous at worst. Israel has made phone calls and distributed leaflets urging residents of Gaza to evacuate for their own safety. The phone calls and leaflets did not, however, assure safe passage for evacuees or offer havens to which residents could could escape.

Human Rights Watch criticizes Israel for not paying enough attention to distinction and proportionality - distinction between combatants and civilians, and whether an attack will have a disproportionate effect on civilians in the area. In Sunday's New York Times Fred Abrahams, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said this is 'the first conflict he could remember when civilians could not flee the war zone. Gaza's borders are shut both to Israel and to Egypt, and civilians, he said, " are like fish in a barrel."' Mr. Abrahams and Human Rights Watch also criticize Hamas for infractions such as hiding weapons in mosques.

I do not know (and would welcome an education) how the United States came to take sides so explicitly in a conflict so rested on untenable religious beliefs. What is without debate is that radicalism is born and nurtured in oppression and isolation. Israel's heavy handedness, in this war effort and in its ongoing dealings with the Palestinian people, and the United States' blind support will only cause the number of crazy people in the hallway to multiply.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Simplicity and frugality: Watch words for 2009

For a couple of reasons I have never made New Year resolutions. Mainly, I don't want to set myself up for failure. Life trips me up enough as it is without me putting up new hurdles to get over. Plus, I like to think I am on an ongoing quest to better myself. No annual lists necessary.

Nevertheless, I recognize that a new year presents an opportunity to assess and challenge ourselves. Since I have been meaning to write this post for two weeks, I assess that I have a tendency to procrastinate and challenge myself to complete tasks in a more timely manner. Also, looking at my most recent BJ's and Shop-Rite bills, I assess that I am a spendthrift - a welterweight spendthrift, but a spendthrift nonetheless. I am challenging myself to cut back on unnecessary purchases and to look for new ways to save money.

According to the the pundits, the economists and my investment portfolio, 2009 will be financially difficult for many of us. President-elect Barack Obama is issuing dire predictions that things will get worse before they get better. It is no wonder that groups and websites like Wisebread and Frugal Village that promote low budget living are gaining traction across the country. These sites give suggestions on saving money - from shopping at salvage grocery stores to homesteading. While buying dented cans of food or living and sharing expenses with strangers is not an option for everyone, most of us will admit that we have opportunities to be more frugal, and to simplify our lives.

Having accepted the frugality challenge, my first step was to unsubscribe from any mailing list aimed at selling me something. Gap, Old Navy, DSW, Zappos, Gymboree, Children's Place, Stride Rite, Piperlime,, Tuesday Morning, Sears, JCPenney, Target, Disney, AirTran, Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines. And those are only the ones I can remember. I am sure I have forgotten some. I did not realize before starting the unsubscribing process that I was getting so many emails on a daily basis announcing clearances, season sales and 'low, low prices.' Each one an opportunity to 'need' and buy something else.

That process has led to other choices for simplification - and hopefully, savings. I have decided to wash all my laundry in cold water. I save time on sorting and money on electricity/gas. I have decided to cook every week day and to shop from a meal plan and only with a list. I save time contemplating what's for dinner and avoid the temptation of buying take out. I also save money on eating out and on unnecessary grocery purchases.

I am looking forward to seeing how these steps are going to make my life better - and also if I can save enough money to justify the giraffe Dooney bag I want.

Are you planning any changes in spending for 2009? Do you think your life can be simplified?