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Saturday, January 31, 2015

American changes on Cuba: Bad news or good news?

President Barack Obama has just now opened up channels for future dialogue with the Communist Republic of Cuba. Most people should have a cursory understanding of the Cuban/American diplomatic, political and economic standoff by now. But as tensions cool now to a new generation of understanding and tolerance of Cuba/America relations, certain issues have come to light with the possibility and seeming eventuality of opening the doors for Americans into Cuba.

Former President of Cuba, Comrade Fidel Castro, has been ill for the past few years. His brother, President Raul Castro, has assumed responsibility for the country's administration. This initially had signalled a small shift in thinking on Cuba's communist and anti-Western ideology espoused and kept current by Fidel Castro.

Fidel's brother, Raul Castro, is certainly not Fidel and apparently is not as hard and fast on having further prolonging this unequal, wasteful and nonsensical standoff with the Western-Hemisphere's largest economic block and the world's largest military super-power, the United States of America.

How does all of this go over with Cuban migrants that were affected by Fidel Castro's policies is something very important. In fact, oddly enough, the reaction of South Floridians has been tame. Too tame. The man responsible for them leaving their homeland in search of freedom, and in most certainty the man responsible for taking their wealth and power within Cuba post revolution, is being given leeway by America through his younger brother as the current president of Cuba.

This means one thing: The old guard of Cuban migrants in South Florida have either died out, or are simply coming to the understanding that the American blockade on Cuba has worked to the disadvantage of all persons involved intimately in this.

While living in South Florida, I had a chance to take a Latin-American politics class. As per the norm, the class was primarily filled with Cuban-Americans. The good thing about this was that younger Cuban-Americans, while they were aware of Castro and the Revolution and the pain and displacement it caused their friends and family members, were not as hard pressed on Fidel Castro or the Castro regime to any large extent. This was refreshing.

So, as we see things changing, the time is apparently "ripe" for an opening of US and Cuban relations. We wish the parties all the best as the embargo, quite frankly, has done more to harm Cubans living in Cuba than it did the Castro regime.

However, Cuba opening up, particularly for tourism based economies like The Bahamas, has caused some fears and anxiety. Anxiety particularly as it relates to Cuba, being a beautiful and culturally historic country that would be "new" and virgin tourism product for Americans, and especially North Eastern seaboard American tourists.

Just to give a little bit of information on the top visited destinations in the region, The Bahamas, as reported by Travellers Digest, is the fifth most visited destination in the Caribbean with about 1.3 million visitors a year, behind Jamaica with nearly 2 million and Cuba with 2.6 million in the fourth and fifth slots respectively. The Dominican Republic is in the top spot with just over 4.25 million visitors and Puerto Rico in the number two spot with roughly 3 million visitors.

The Bahamas is not even in the top spot, with Cuba having doubled the amount of tourists a year than does The Bahamas. The question to be asked now is how much more of a gain will Cuba make with regard to more tourist arrivals and how will it impact the persons looking to travel and them changing their travel plans to go to Cuba instead? We honestly won't know until it happens, but the option is on the table for that to occur.

What's shocking to note is that the top three destinations on the list are non-English speaking countries. What's also shocking is that the largest English speaking economy, Trinidad, is not even in the top ten. Also, the further you go Southward, tourist arrival figures start to trend downwards for English speaking countries.

What all of this suggests is that we have problems with tourism, right here and now even before Cuba fully opens up to Americans.

What it also suggests is that Cuba has made it quite fine with a mixture of tourists that are not American, as most of their visitors are Canadian and Mexican. While Mexicans obviously speak Spanish, the Mexican economy must be very strong and support a strong middle and upper-middle class, at the very least. It is those middle and upper middle class people that like to take vacations to get away from the hum-drum of life and in the numbers needed for a country depending on tourism as their main economic engine.

While The Bahamas, at least, should be concerned about, roughly, 250 to 350 thousand (or thereabouts) prospective tourists changing their itinerary from The Bahamas to Cuba, the point of the matter is what should we do to get more tourists to our shores right now as we type?

I'm no tourism specialist. However, anything over 250 thousand visitors deciding not to come to The Bahamas on any given year would most likely spell serious consequences.

With all of that being said, as we wrote earlier about the inconsequence of the Sir Stafford Sands economic model at length, and particularly as it relates to the need for other economic engines for The Bahamas, what should happen now is more of a focus on other industries in addition to capturing some of the Canadian, Latin American and European tourists along with Asian tourists.

Of course, money is always an issue. Money as it relates to tourism marketing expenditure, facilities upgrades and maintenance with regard to increased air-lift support and activity/venues for tourists when they come on shore, but we should not shy away from the challenge and shrink at the mere thought of doing something different and doing what we do better.

All in all, I for one welcome the shift in American foreign policy towards the end of the embargo on Cuba. It was long over due. In fact, it was something that should have been done 20 years ago, and particularly after it was seen that the Communist ideology was clearly and resoundingly defeated, the Soviet Union will never be again and that Cuba was no more of a military threat to America as is any other Caribbean nation a non threat.

In advance, we want to wish our friends in Cuba, Buena suerte, con mucho amor!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sex, lies and videotape: Going viral and the consequences!

I typically don't make a habit of posting social commentary unless it has something of value that I can spin off of from a social study or into one. Particularly when Rome is burning, commenting on the lack of water for the plants seems to be inconsequential and putting other more substantive matters on the backburner seems unprofitable. But, this is one of those rare occasions where it seems as if, in this case, our young flowers are being put on display via the internet in any manner of sexually explicit, violent and morally corrupt situations.

A few days ago I was made aware through social media that the sexual prowess of a police officer of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Constable Edmund Lewis Jr., was on display as he filmed a threesome, apparently unbeknownst to the other participants. This police officer also has several other videos of his sex-romps, and one reportedly with an under-aged girl. Officer Lewis has since been arrested and is now currently on remand until March, 2015 when his case is expected to be heard. He was also fired from the police force. Quite an unfortunate situation for all of those involved.

At first thought, one would think that it was an isolated incident of one particular sex-romp and that the contents were stolen from the owner, and somehow it got into the hands of someone that was more than willing to share this private moment with as many persons as possible. But, as we are now led to understand by the charges levied against officer Lewis, he apparently has several videotapes of his sexual exploits with various women, one of them alleged to have been under-aged at the time.

As it turned out, the female participants were extremely angry. To such an extent that there surfaced yet again another video, this time recorded from a cell phone, of one of the female participants and a few of her friends and family members beating the living daylights out of Lewis for filming her with out her knowledge and then sharing it with friends. Of course, this too is a crime. Crimes ranging from assault, kidnapping and perhaps attempted murder if we want to really be harsh.

You see? This is how far it has gotten with the introduction the world wide web. Of course, this phenomenon isn't something brand-new and most certainly something that was going on around the developed countries in large numbers from the early 2000's, particularly with the introduction of social media websites like MySpace and Hi-5. However, it has gotten even more wild and voluminous with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and now Instagram and Whatsapp. Yes, what you do and say can go around the globe 100 times in 10 minutes with just a click of a button.

But, to what extent do we understand that this new form of media and ways to connect with people should be used with responsibility? To what extent to we tell people that we need to understand the value of using social media, and the double edged sword that it is in many respects?

So, as we have seen current, and I am most certain have seen countless other incidences, people going well and beyond the call of duty to share their most private moments with people. People that may or may not have their best interest at heart, but in these incidences, people that surely have no issue with sharing your private moments for their benefit if they have the chance.

But, the issue of social media sharing in such negative ways does not end there. In fact, one can also be a victim without being a participant at all, but by just being there for someone to harass and be privy to things you wish not to be privy to.

I too was a victim of a exhibitionist. A male, who represented himself to me as a Bahamian living abroad, added me as a friend to my Facebook account a few months back. He claimed to have read my articles via the various on-line media sources like the Caribbean News Now, The Bahamas Weekly and the Nassau Guardian.

What then started as innocent chatter between countrymen from the Bahamas but living in separate countries, and for him someone that was living abroad and that claimed to want first hand information of what was going on on the ground, shockingly and without warning ended with him sharing with me a picture of his genitals.

Of course, I went ballistic! Not for the fact that he may be homosexual, or an unashamed voyeur, at the very least, looking to get his rocks off on the shock and awe of his invasion into my inbox with his penis pictures. But it was for the mere fact that he would do something like that, with no warning, and with no solicitation and just would up and send a picture of his private parts to a total stranger. A strange man that he was not sure of who I really was, if I was someone that would appreciate that, or just someone that would take that and make a public spectacle out of it and him, and at the very least share it with the authorities and report it as a case of assault.

In my moment of anger, I did something rash: I shared the picture with his name attached for the world to see. I exposed him, reported the picture and his profile to Facebook and then proceeded to exact my revenge for this invasion of my privacy and conscience.

As you can imagine, the issue of me sharing and exposing the pervert caused some stir. I got it from all sides, from ridicule, to shock, to persons asking me what did I do or say that caused him to want to share his penis picture with me? I assured them that I did nothing aside from talk about the issues in The Bahamas and Caribbean, and from that it may have given him the courage in his deepest and most erogenous spots to do what it is that he did. (Now I know how rape victims feel when no one believes them, or when folks say that it was "their" fault for the rape in some way, shape or form.)

But, as with my moment of anger, who is to say what went through the minds of the persons that share private and sexual videos, and that these expositions don't have a twinge of anger at the root of it all? Or, even worst: A moment of jealousy where you sought to tear down the image of another?

Of course, all three cases are totally separate, but they share the same common thread: In the days of social media, be careful what you share and who you share it with and make it a matter of a priority that you discern this. 

General rules of thumb must be observed:
  1. Do not take off your clothes for anyone other than your committed lover or spouse for anything else other than it being for commercial use, especially for it to be transmitted live via the internet. In some places pornography and the proliferation of pornography is illegal, but there is some leeway for tasteful nudity and shared private art between friends and colleagues.
  2. Do not share "all" of even any of your personal data and/or information on social media unless it is something innocuous or standardized like pictures of your family, your spouse or the schools you have attended and professional affiliations.
  3. Sending lewd or suggestive pictures via your cellular phone, especially one that bears your face or something that can be traced back to you personally, or racy texts to people without their asking, or without them knowing you personally can also lead you into serious trouble.
  4. Filming a crime in progress, especially when you are the perpetrator, is a crime within itself on top of the crime you are committing. Also, withholding evidence from the authorities is also a criminal act and one can face time in prison.
The overarching theme and message here is that you don't know who's out there, what type of security they have on their side of the transmission or how they truly feel about you now, and what they may feel about you in the future.

Secondly, and almost as important as the former, be mindful of what it is you are doing out here in the first place: Be mindful of the laws in place, in particular when you feel something isn't right, or at the very least makes you uncomfortable knowing what you are doing is taboo, socially awkward or just plain wrong!

Be safe. Be smart. Use this wonderful tool of social media wisely. It can be used for our benefit if used properly. But some discretion and common sense must be practiced.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The oil is falling, the oil is falling!

Oil prices are dropping dramatically. Something that consumers have been waiting on: Lower prices at the pump in addition to lower energy costs.

But, the recent drop in oil prices has been met with fears and concerns by financial and economic pundits, crying that the end is near and the world is on the brink of another economic collapse as a result.

Some have argued that drops in oil prices causes economic collapse. There may be some merit in that to a certain extent, but only because of the matter that economic turbulence had already started, which prompted analysts to move into a position of sifting through historical clues and evidence to see where these problems first occurred.

To the average person on the street that just wants cheaper gas at the pumps, these concerns seems somewhat strange that persons would be scared to death over falling oil prices in addition to the average consumer not giving much of a care on how it started. But, under closer examinations, some fears may be warranted, and more importantly, who will lower oil prices negatively effect?

Let's take a look at historic oil prices, provided by the good people at Macrotrends.net: As of today, oil is down to under $50 per barrel. This is a stark difference from it's peak of over $135 back in May, 2008.

What happened, you ask? Well, several things happened. Some may say unfortunately, some may say fortunately. But happened things did.

For starters, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was knowingly over producing for quite some time. In fact, they have no intention of cutting production anytime soon either as the cartel said in a statement at the end of November, 2014 that members had agreed to roll over the ceiling of 30 million barrels per day, at least 1 million above OPEC's own estimates of demand for its oil next year, 2015.

Part of the reason for the over-production was because China's economy was red hot and needed more oil to fuel that economy. While it could be said that China needed a significant amount of oil to maintain growth, the effect was that other larger economies started to change their oil-security policies and practices; i.e., hoarding oil supplies, increasing domestic supplies and reserves and as an extension, financial markets capitalized by increasing the futures' margin month-on-month end.

Secondly, the futures market for oil, and the "irrational exuberance" around oil-spot-prices, made it problematic in predicting what the true price of oil would be. The market was trading oil at about 30% higher than what some analysts comfortably estimated it should have been at any given point and time in recent history prior to the sudden drops.

The reason why no one said anything with regard to the astronomical cost of fuel was because they had a plausible excuse in China, and also because it was profitable to keep oil prices artificially high and rising.

As a consequence, the financial markets, via investment banks, just kept adding additional trading fees and raising the futures' prices based on their own reasoning of what oil prices should be, while selling the public a distorted view of what oil prices were, which was not based on what the actual demand for global production truly called for.

This has caused a significant problem, because oil producing countries, particularly vulnerable oil producing countries like Trinidad, Venezuela, the Ukraine and to some extent Russia, had budget forecasts based on a $100 (USD) and higher oil price. That has obviously changed, as Venezuela has been selling oil way below their breakeven point and are now faced with serious decisions on what their fiscal year may look like.

Thirdly, and most importantly, US President Barack Obama has made tremendous strides in picking the US economy back up off of the ground from the 2008 recession, and has not only increased domestic jobs, but has also increased manufacturing by significant margins over the course of the last 2 years.

US manufacturing grew by over 4% in 2014, and is showing immediate no signs of slowing up in 2015. Thanks to president Obama and his policies on increasing manufacturing jobs in America by reducing tax-cuts to companies that offshore jobs, in addition to enhancing the enabling environments for manufacturing plants and entrepreneurs by first creating a steering committee in 2011 called the "Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0", his administration has worked diligently with regard to boosting production in America and the fruits are telling.

Of course, these manufacturing increases may be blips on the radar screen if not seen in the global perspective. But as we have seen China cut back tremendously on manufacturing growth, and is projected to cut by another 1% in 2015, cut domestic spending in addition to reigning in some of their expansion projects inland, US manufacturing may possibly continue to rise in 2015 if things remain constant.

With respect to oil prices, what it additionally means is that as manufacturing shifts back to the USA from China, greater efficiencies in technological practices should be taken into consideration in the USA that the Chinese simply do not have.

Contextually, while US manufacturing had a modest rebound in 2014, it is no where near back to pre-2000 levels when since that time, up to now, over 1 million manufacturing jobs were lost. This lends to the notion that US manufacturing may be on a continual rise based on increased technological advances that China must now try to keep pace with, which may take 3 to 5 years to truly be on par, job for job.

All of this coinciding with an increase in domestic oil production in the USA, coupled with even a modest decline in US oil consumption, we are probably going to experience relatively low oil prices in the near to medium term at the very least in 2015 if all things remain constant.

So, here we have it: Oil prices at a considerable low, the average consumer is seeing cheaper gasoline at the pump, but with small and vulnerable oil producing countries in fear, coupled with market jitters as a result of the shift and modest decrease in oil demand which has significantly affected market valuations on the price of oil globally, we have what we have today and may be sustained well into the middle of 2015 barring some catastrophic event or human action.

Who's problem is it and should we all be worried? You tell me and you make the call!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Homosexuals are coming!

This January the State of Florida legalized same sex marriage. Quite an accomplishment for such a very conservative leaning state in the South, barring South Florida (Miami-Dade and Broward) being a very liberal territory.

It's no secret that South Florida is a melting pot of Caribbean, and Latin American people via extension of the Cuban migrants. Caribbean people and Latin American's are somewhat socially conservative, holding on vigorously to their religion with most of their inner fibre. This is what makes the embrace of the homosexual movement, in South Florida in particular, so incredibly fascinating and interesting as it relates to Caribbean and Latin American people.

What does all of this mean for Caribbean countries looking at the same homosexual rights issue? I'm not sure we can say with any significance that it would mean a great deal for Caribbean people in the Caribbean territories. Even though if you were to throw a rock in a crowded room in any Caribbean country, you would hit someone that has either visited South Florida, has a close relative that lives in South Florida, or has dual citizenship with strong ties in South Florida.

So South Floridian ties and respect for and with the people of the Caribbean is clear. Clear on both sides. We love our Miami. We identify with American and share values with our brothers and sisters in South Florida. Yes, we do. In fact, we have a saying in The Bahamas: "Bahamians have an inalienable right to learn how to read, write and visit Miami twice a year." It is our "right"!

Be that as it may: How soon would places in the Caribbean begin to embrace homosexuality and same sex marriage? This is a very good question.

A snapshot of what issues surrounding even the mere notion of providing any Launchpad for homosexual marriage has and is taking place in The Bahamas. To be quite frank: The initiative of homosexual marriage, at this time, would probably sink faster than a one hundred pound bucket of cement in shallow water.

The issue of homosexual marriage came out as a result of a proposed Referendum that initially had nothing to do about homosexual marriage, at all. But because it was perceived to be paving the way for the introduction of homosexual marriage at a later date, it torpedoed all of the other merits that was presented in that Referendum. Here are the proposed Bills:
Bill # 1 seeks to give a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian-born mother and non-Bahamian father the same automatic right to Bahamian citizenship.
Bill #2 also seeks to achieve gender equality in another respect under the Constitution: It seeks to enable a Bahamian woman who marries a foreign man to secure for him the same access to Bahamian citizenship.
 
Bill #3 seeks to make provisions for an unwed Bahamian father to pass his citizenship to a child born to a foreign woman.
 
 Bill #4 seeks to end discrimination based on sex. This involves the insertion of the word “sex” in Article 26 of the Constitution so as to make it unconstitutional to discriminate based on whether someone is male or female.
From first glance these Bills represent all that is fair and just for a first world country, or one boasting to be a first world country, and one that a country should strive for to enshrine in laws by virtue of it's most sacred legal document: The Constitution. Everything seems fine, from first presentation.

Even a remotely controversial Bill #2, which sought to smooth immigration issues for foreign born males married to Bahamian women, was met with some resistance, but a small majority of people came to the understanding in due time that in reality it did not extend to making naturalized citizens of foreign born males in perpetuity. Or so what we were led that it would not be.

More startlingly however, what transpired with regard to the promotion and public education on these bills was something fierce at its midway point. Something utterly shameful and embarrassing on many levels.

Bill #4, instead of being seen as a general application of the removal of gender discrimination, turned into a proxy war on gay marriage and thus devolved into an assault on homosexuals in general.

Homosexual-equality proponents initially championed Bill#4 as the beginning of removing the legal constructs that bound them from being honest citizens in The Bahamas, and thus paving the way for equal and fair treatment and the enabling of rights with regard to social justice and marriage. From the moment their lobby made mere mention that it helped their cause, persons became livid.

The Church went on high alert! Condemning the constitutional commission responsible for drafting the Bills along with the players in the background for this backdoor gay-marriage push in to our social living and consciousness.

Those not "Churched" and simply opposed to homosexuals on any and every level took it to the tenth level and used it as a platform to spew their homophobic rants and hatred towards gays. It was quite troubling to see so many well respected, and seemingly level headed people, just turn hot-red with anger, vitriol, hate and spite.

The opposition political party needed to do nothing at all. That's how bad it was.

Personally, I don't care if gays were to all jump up and get married today, or never marry ever again, ever, ever, ever. I'm aware of the social issues and religious underpinnings that we have as a society in The Bahamas, and won't drag myself into a religious or moral debate on the matter because we all have our views on how we interpret Christian principles. However, I'm not a homophobe either. Because the reality is that discrimination based on gender, gender appearance, sex and sexual preference, is what it is: Discrimination.

I always ask persons spewing the usual homophobic rhetoric: Are you aware of how many homosexuals are in your midst? Can you be certain of how many people in your own family and friendship circles are heterosexual? How many gays cut, you your family members and your friends cheques? How many gays run successful businesses? How many homosexuals you watch on television and enjoy their art forms, whether film or music? How many persons in the public service, from politicians to team-leaders that are living homosexual lifestyles? The real answers to all of these questions would stagger you.

So, for The Bahamas at least, an extension of rights or even the expansion of the tolerance of homosexuality, is not something we would see any time soon based on these recent events. A political party, at this time, would introduce it at their own risk.

Even though homosexual activity was legalized for persons practicing in private quarters as per the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act., 1991, with the age of consent for homosexual activity being 18 years of age, taking the next steps won't be anytime soon.

In a nutshell: The homosexuals are coming. Coming hard too, particularly in American and European countries. How far they get in the Caribbean territories, and not trying to speak for all Caribbean countries, is something else all together.