#COVID19Chronicles-203: October 31, 2020-The art of diplomacy-Tapia: “It wasn’t me!”

It could be a shaggy dog story if Shaggy hadn’t already made “It wasn’t me” the go-to excuse for men not named Guiliani caught with their pants down. But, how Donald Tapia found himself in hot water is a bit of a shaggy story. 

The US ambassador to Jamaica, Donald Tapia, is not a career diplomat; he’s a businessman rewarded for supporting the president. His profile is shown on the US Embassy in Jamaica website, stating he was chairman and CEO of ESSCO, the largest Hispanic-owned business in Arizona. He took up his appointment in July 2019. It’s no secret that he donated generously to Donald Trump:

‘Tapia is a big Trump supporter who, during the 2016 election, sported a Trump T-shirt at a baseball game and attended a Trump rally wearing a pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” hat.

Since 2000, Tapia has donated more than $1 million, almost exclusively to Republicans, a review of Federal Election Commission records show. More recently, Tapia gave $100,000 to Trump’s 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Tapia said he has donated an additional $11 million since 2008 to charities…he became a powerful donor to Republican politics [in Arizona].

His political donations include $126,000 to former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and $125,000 to President Donald Trump.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 GOP nominee, took in $31,000 from Tapia over the years.’

Since taking up his post, he has frequently warned Jamaica about its relationship with China, prior to his latest warning this week about Chinese 5G technology, in August, he was critical of a new lottery company whose technology is backed by a Chinese company. This was overstepping the mark, in my view, getting into the business relationship of a local business, especially one that was not in a bilateral relationship with US government entity or enterprise, which might have given some excuse. Perhaps, the minister of foreign affairs should have called the ambassador in for a chat then. By not doing so, one could argue the precedent was set. You are what you tolerate!

In February, Tapia told a meeting of the Rotary Club of Kingston Jamaica that the Chinese Government does not share the values shared by the USA and Jamaica:

“The values include governance, free press, religious tolerance and respect for human rights.”

The Jamaica Observer reported he argued that Jamaica is being courted by the Republic of China, which has falsely claimed that it wants a relationship built on mutual benefits:

“Ask yourselves one question, why would a communist dictatorship want a democracy to thrive and prosper? This is a good question to ask.”

Tapia alleged that if unchecked, China would export some of its worst political practices to Jamaica, “including corruption, mass surveillance, and the repression of individual and collective rights.”

The US ambassador pointed to then-recent events in Hong Kong, where a mass protest has been taking place, as proof of the oppressive nature of the Chinese Government and charged that the Jamaican media has not highlighted these issues. This is actually untrue and to the extent that Jamaican media should respond to world events the way that another sovereign government does, then they have. But, even if they had not, it’s their business judgment about new coverage. 

It wouldn’t have taken a genius in politics to have pointed out that the US government is quickly getting a reputation for repressive attitudes towards its citizens protesting its actions, especially on anti-racism matters. It could easily have occurred to the ambassador to have at least acknowledged that his government’s reputation is far from lily white. Well, if he were trying to be objective, he would do that, but…

Back in November 2019, the ambassador warned Jamaica of the two-headed Chinese monster. The Gleaner noted then:

‘Tapia, who arrived in Jamaica in August, has shelved the diplomatic subtlety of recent US ambassadors, even using his Twitter account as a launching pad for invective against Chinese neo-imperialism at least four times last week, much in the mould of his boss, President Donald Trump.’

“China is a dragon with two heads. If China came to Jamaica presumably with no strings attached, then why did you negotiate 1,200 acres of the most prime real estate with them? Because they need a return on their investment,” the ambassador said during an exclusive interview with The Gleaner.

“There is no way that you will be able to fund that highway in 50 years. The negotiation was 1,200 of the most beautiful acres on the water that you gave to China, and they said they would develop it,” he added, referring to a land swap deal agreed under the predecessor Simpson Miller administration.

Tapia also cast Chinese financing at a rate of two per cent, through its Export-Import Bank, as contrived, arguing that no bank in capitalistic societies offered such uncompetitive rates. He also denounced as unfair the Jamaican Government’s concessions to China Harbour Engineering Company – and other construction firms aligned to Beijing that engage in major infrastructure projects – a missive that will hit the Holness administration and find favour with local engineers and developers who have lamented that they are often unable to bid for contracts because the Chinese have a leg up on the market.’

If the Gleaner had done its homework, it could have pointed out to the ambassador that US Ex-Im Bank has minimum ‘commercial interest reference rates’ are under 2 percent. Tralala! 🎶🎶🎶

Tapia warned Jamaica about Chinese 5G technology at the start of the week. Again, some would see this as overstepping the mark as far as diplomacy goes. 

The remarks drew the ire of the Chinese Ambassador:

It also rankled some Jamaicans, who vented on Twitter. Then the stuff hit the fan. Tapia’s Twitter account was trading insults and this was picked up by Reuters, and then some other media houses:

It had the smell of a hacking job. But, it wasn’t.

The Account of US Ambassador to Jamaica Insults Jamaicans on Twitter

On Thursday morning, foreign minister, Kamina Johnson-Smith, let the public know that she and her government did not like what they had seen and she issued a terse ‘dressing down’ on Twitter:

Quick off the mark, Cliff Hughes and Nationwide arranged an interview with the ambassador to get more insight to what had happened. Well, he quickly fessed up that it was one of two assistants who had access to ‘his device’ and offered a full some apology.

That said, he was back on the bashing Huawei track within hours of leaving the interview:

Maybe, I should hold off and make sure it was the ambassador himself, this time.

My tweets during Cliff’s interview are below–I found the interview fascinating as Mr. Hughes didn’t hold back in trying to set the ambassador straight that he needed lessons in diplomacy:

🙂

@cliffnationwide and @AmbassadorUS_JA sparring over “objective”, which Tapia misunderstands (ie objective as aim vs being objective). Tapia: “Do your social distancing…” (is that shade? If so, not bad). They kiss and are BFF again  Score: Cliff 7 Tapia 3 (10 points to share)

— DGJ “I’m speaking…I’m speaking.” (@dennisgjones) October 29, 2020

The Chinese embassy hit one more time on Friday, basically saying that Tapia should have been told to pack his bags by his home government (if not by his host):

https://twitter.com/nationwideradio/status/1322190256951709697?s=21

#COVID19Chronicles-202: October 30, 2020-Perfect storm?

Dr Tufton sounded the alarm during his ‘COVID conversation’ on October 29, that we are nearing a triple threat of COVID, dengue and flu as we head into November.

The replay may be watched here:

On the positive side, 3 private testing laboratories have been approved:

#COVID19Chronicles-201: October 29, 2020-PM media briefing

The media briefing given by the PM on October 28 can be watched here:

Its main points were as follows, including an update on the state of roads damaged by Tropical Storm Zeta:

COVID fatigue and mental health issues are now getting more attention:

COVID active cases are slowing, and the flattening of this curve is a good sign, but it’s being watched, cautiously.

Minister Tufton gave an health issues update.

Care homes were being tested as are correctional facilities.

Curfews remain unchanged.

Funerals protocols remain unchanged through November 30.

Age limit remains at 65 for stay-at-home till November 30.

Schools will move in a phased manner to face-to-face classes, from November 9 through 20, with 17 pilot schools pilot in 9 parishes targeted (affecting primary and secondary schools, and some 60,000 students).

#COVID19Chronicles-200: October 28, 2020-NIDS: research by CaPRI and some personal thoughts on NIDS

I can see many advantages to having a single national identify document. However, I know that life can go on perfectly well without one, as mine has, living nearly 50 years in the UK and USA, neither of which has a national ID system (NIDS) and governments and institutions of neither of which has ever confused me with anyone else or misdirected any transaction with me, except through some mistaken address after I moved.

I’ve travelled in and spent extensive time in countries that have NIDS (eg Germany and France) and life goes on smoothly and with hiccups and is organized in ways to maximize State awareness of people and their particulars. However, good bureaucratic organization was not driven by NIDS, but rather NIDS built up them. Any country that has good organization knows how to deliver goods and services to citizens. Any country that has poor organization won’t become good at it because it has a way of knowing citizens’ particulars.

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Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) held a webinar yesterday on research they’d done looking at some general issues related to a national identity system, as well as some data regarding such a scheme in Jamaica. You can watch the recording, below:

They looked at the unbanked and if access to an ID was a major blockage in getting access to social programmes.

They considered young people (under 18), who in Jamaica only have access to a passport as an official means of ID.

Matters of data privacy were highlighted:

Interoperability is a basic problem with the official IDs that currently exist in Jamaica, though each functions well and securely in its own rights:

Independent oversight of a national ID system was discussed by one of the panelists, an expert on human rights:

Amongst comments from the panelists, it was stressed that data protection should precede the issuance of a national ID:

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Some of own views on NIDS in Jamaica are as follows:

Discussion of NIDS in Jamaica been based on several myths. The worst of these currently is NIDS is the gateway to a digital society. If that holds water, then why did Napoleon introduce ID cards in France in the 19th century? If it were a gateway to a digital society, how did the USA and UK launch themselves successfully on that path without national IDs? In the UK’s case, it famously introduced a NIDS in 2005 and scrapped it in 2010.

However, it may appears, NIDS are form of central control of citizens. That’s not bad in itself, though how Nazis used it in the 1930s should not be the model. It’s way to organize society & usually separate citizens from foreigners; again, not bad in itself, but prone to abuse.

Jamaica needs social controls. Is NIDS the answer? It’s a hard sell. Most Jamaicans are known to the State in person and by residence (that latter isn’t so critical in dynamic society). People sometimes refer to the practice of many Jamaicans to be known by nicknames; this can be covered by NIDS. Some have concerns that not all locations have formal addresses. Again, that should not be a major problem for NIDS; many ways exist to determine if a stated location exists (with modern technology, it could be a geotag or GPS location).

Misidentification of people is rare in Jamaica: if one notes police reports, for example, it’s rare for them to state that the person has no name or is somehow unknown. As noted above, it’s irrelevant for NIDS if a person goes by ‘Supercat’ and is also known as ‘Delroy Francis’. Identity is not an issue.

Fraudulent use of ID documents is rare in Jamaica (according to CaPRI)—<500 cases 2014-18, noted above across passports, TRNs and voter IDs.

Nothing stops GOJ from issuing a special ID for people under 18, maybe with the proviso that this be exchanged for another ID when they become adults. Many countries have school IDs that serve such purposes. This could also have the benefit of ‘under age’ people not lying about their age and getting access to age-prohibited items, eg alcohol. (One reason Jamaican may have less fraud with IDs is that lying about your age to get a drink or smoke is not a real problem in Jamaica!)

If the government of Jamaica (GOJ) argues it has problems delivering services to people, it hasn’t shown that’s not its incompetence at work, or problems with financial institutions (pensions issues argue strongly that’s the case as many people wait year for payments), when banking access or identity are not problems. This was the case this summer when NCB had technical problems).

Banking access is a weak reason for NIDS: financial institutions have few problems with existing IDs. Customers have problems opening bank accounts because of references, complying with banks’ ‘know your customer’ rules, and minimum balance constraints. New bank accounts reduce the need for IDs and minimum balances. With NCB’s introduction of its new Quick Save account, individuals will only be required to present a Government of Jamaica-issued ID, a Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN) and J$100 to become a bank account holder; maximum balances should not exceed $250,000.

The bigger problem is that current IDs aren’t interoperable. Can that be fixed? We hear nothing on that, relative to a totally new ID system. But, the question must be answered. Interoperability exists in other jurisdictions but is overcome by efficient operations amongst service and goods providers.

Another major problem is simply arbitrary practices across organizations. All GOJ issued IDs should have the same status. I point to the ludicrous situation where I am trained and certified by GOJ to be the trusted person to attest for others, and that is often essential when conducting many transactions. However, my GOJ-issued JP ID card is not accepted as proof of identification by Jamaican financial institutions! I also point out that my Jamaican driver’s licence is readily accepted as ID when I am overseas, if I choose to not present a passport: I’ve done it recently with banking transactions in the USA.

Digitization brings other problems & they’re not yet well addressed, namely how secure will be the database: systems in other countries have had recent data breaches as their major problems. This was the case in Estonia in late-2017, that affected around 750,000 people.

Accepted, nothing is perfect. But use right hammer and right nails to build the box.

#COVID19Chronicles-199: October 27, 2020-Dealing with the rain damage

NWA provided an overview of damage and progress with rectifying it:

Western Jamaica flooding had been extensive:

Clarendon landslides had been extensive:

The 9 mile community was quickly getting roads back in order:

Bog walk was near to reopening:

#COVID19Chronicles-198: October 26, 2020–Down came the rain

Tropical Storm Zeta passed by and dumped a massive amount of rain on Jamaica on Sunday afternoon.

The following extract and thread (click link to see it all) from CVM-TV gives a summary of devastation and road damage that was repeated all over the island.

‘Cyaapet’ has now turned to Car-pit, as potholes and craters appear, plus some canals where roads used to be.

The ‘usual suspects’ for closed roads were in the picture, such as Bog Walk:

The heavy rains will be here through late-Monday afternoon:

No surprise, no politician has yet decided to hold the poisoned chalice of saying much about the shambolic repetition of extensive road damage after almost every heavy downpour of rain, and what that says about contract issuance and oversight of construction projects.

#COVID19Chronicles-197: October 25, 2020-The presidential race is officially on…in the PNP

Lisa Hanna was on the stage first with her nomination to become PNP president and with her ‘platform’:

But, Mark Golding was up at the bar only a few steps behind:

But, each has promised to be the other’s BFF:

Both have racked up serious backing within the party, especially, Ms. Hanna:

That’s not trivial, given that the presidential voting is amongst delegates not the public at large.

Outside backers, especially in business, have notably shown support for Mr. Golding, spurred by many working and personal relationships, not without some of that sparking some tongue-wagging.

Chairman of the RJR Group, Joe Matalon, made a personal endorsement and the RJR Group made clear that this was not a corporate endorsement: “The Board deliberated on the matter and agreed that Chairman Matalon, as a non-executive chairman was clearly speaking in a personal or business capacity.”

I have to say, though, I was not impressed that neither nominee saw fit to curb the public melee around their nominations, given the inherent risks of this PNP people had been complaining about through the general election.

I guess when the hat fits, wear it 😦

One thing had puzzled me during this brief campaign: Ms. Hanna was almost the archetypal social media maven, with active presence on several platforms, especially with visual material. However, during the campaign, it seemed that Mr. Golding was more visible on social media, almost the reverse of his prior activity. Now, Ms. Hanna has stated that she took a deliberate step to pull back and work more on the ground and behind the scenes.

How that all plays out in terms of swaying delegates, we shall have to wait and see.

#COVID19Chronicles-196: October 24, 2020-New special curfew areas

Two new special curfew areas were designated on October 23, a section of Rae Town, Kingston, and Cornwall Courts, St. James, from 6pm through 5am November 6–as a result of an increase in COVID19 cases:

In addition, special attention is also being placed on the Montego Bay business district.

#COVID19Chronicles-195: October 23, 2020-The Third Presidential Debate

The 3rd presidential debate was not rivetting television, for me, in part because I was still scarred from the first, and I’m not a great fan of the love affair with untruths that seem to be the president’s forte. I gave it 30 minutes and decided that sleep was better. My wife tried to stay with it longer, but I had to wake her up to turn off the TV before the debate had finished. Neither of us can vote in the elections, anyway, so it’s really background material for a life ahead.

The moderator, Kristen Welker (NBC), gets props for her handling, though with the benefit this time of a microphone cut-off during the opening two minutes of each candidate’s remarks.

The microphone rule would have made for a much better first debate, which was an absolute ‘train wreck’ that helped the president, who thought he succeeded in his ploy to constantly interrupt and not let his opponent get in a word.

It was a pity many had to suffer that, but it should be a constant, going forward. Poor Chris Wallace (Fox News) was left “jealous” that he’d not had the same advantage:

The LA Times called the debate a ‘study in exasperation’:

He also went after the president about when he knew and who he told about what he knew about the virus, citing how keep contacts had been able to short the stock markets based on the dire reports, which had not been shared with the public—stories that had circulated back in March:

As the LA Times put it, the debate was a ‘tale of two Trumps’:

‘At the start, the president largely reined in his combative impulses. He interrupted less, spoke softly and even sprinkled in a few niceties toward Kristen Welker, the debate moderator, whom he had been attacking in recent days. But the president’s more familiar instincts ultimately resurfaced.

He ran through the greatest hits of his Twitter feed — falsely claiming he was subject to a years-long “phony witch hunt” involving Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, groundlessly accusing the Obama administration of spying on his campaign.

Having recovered from COVID-19, he seemed none the worse for wear, growing more animated as the evening went on.

One constant throughout: the president’s tenuous relationship with the truth. Fact-checkers were kept busy with his claims of an imminent coronavirus vaccine, his exaggerated toughness toward Russia and other whoppers.’

President Trump is an incorrigible liar and one of the ‘tells’ is his hands and how they come into play as his stories spin around a possible grain of truth. It’s like a fisherman telling about his catch: ‘It was this big; no, this big’.

So, I always look at the hands, which are also part of the illusionists’ arsenal of distraction tools.

That’s all, folks. 🙂

#COVIDChronicles-194: October 22, 2020-What digital means to older people

I had a column on this topic published in Jamaica Observer’s ‘The Digital Life’, yesterday.

SOMEONE commented on Twitter , recently, that people who take more than 45 seconds at an ATM/ABM should be ‘penalised’. I responded that he had no idea of the issues faced by physically or mentally challenged people, or older people, who cannot do things as fast, because they do not process the information as rapidly. I went to an ABM a few days ago and the lady in front of me was there about five minutes. She was in her 60s/70s. She completed her transactions and took however long it took. The digital age has made many people think in nanoseconds and about speed as if it’s something everyone should crave or be destined for the garbage heap.

I’m a director of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) and I hear and see many concerns about technology from older people in Jamaica. Though I’m in my mid-60s, I’ve managed to master much new technology at work and leisure; I’m often the one in my household who understands what needs to be fixed, whether it’s an Internet router or microwave thermostat. I’m not a gadget person but I like things to work for my benefit, not for looks.

CCRP’s feedback supports findings that older people face many problems with the digital world; some physical, some mental (processing what needs to be done); some technical. Many people mastered the mouse, then they needed to master touchscreens and swiping, now they need to master voice-activated or facial-activated. All are simple for many, but pose problems for others. Add to that fears about what technology may be doing behind the scenes. One doesn’t need to be a conspiracy theorist, just maybe someone who has had scamming e-mails or worse been the victim of some kind of cyberfraud. The latest Apple operating system for iPhone alerts you when an application is accessing your device’s camera or microphone.

As Forbes has highlighted, recent reports indicate older people are getting used to new technologies but the issue is whether they are able to master it. One finding is that there is little or no input from older adults on their design.

The irony, Forbes noted, is that “most older adults prefer to age in place, and technologies, including Internet of things (IoT), Ambient/Active Assisted Living (AAL) robots and other artificial intelligence (AI), can support independent living.”

While studies have shown that older adults could use well-designed technologies in their daily lives, few developers have addressed user-related issues in their design processes. Researchers concluded that effective technologies are going to be “those that prioritise the needs and wishes of older adults, general acceptance of potential users, and suitable preconditions for its adoption”. These are all difficult goals to achieve “with a top-down design methodology that fails to engage users in the design process”.

Participants in the study reported a lack of understanding of modern technologies and digital platforms as a barrier that kept them from using new technology and made them dependent on others to operate basic features. They said they had purchased services (for example Netflix) they didn’t use, because they couldn’t understand how to operate them. We often hear the story of family gatherings where the seniors love the youngsters coming so that they can use them as tutors for the technology. There’s a great Ally Bank ad that has the grandkids being handed the laptop as soon as they arrive, and being told, “It’s not working.”

We know seniors can manage to send messages on WhatsApp, but may not know how to add pictures, use voice notes, or forward messages or other features. I once knew a lady who told wonderful stories and when I suggested she start to write them on her computer, she admitted she did not know how to start with any of the word processing software. When I explained she could dictate and have her voice converted to text she looked at me with awe.

In Jamaica, we have low trust in institutions, such as banks, but high trust in people, even strangers. A lady once met me at an ABM and asked if I would help her log in to her account and withdraw money. One of my fellow directors, Ambassador Aloun Assamba, CEO of COK Sodality Co-op Credit Union explained that they now have an online platform which makes it much easier for people, especially seniors, to use their banking facilities. “Initially, many are reluctant to try it so people will walk them through it and usually when that is done they are happy. It is the setting up that is the problem. We have found it takes a little patience to work with the seniors but once it is done they are happy,” she said.

We know that memories can fail rapidly after a certain age. One feature of many technologies is passwords, but keeping them safe and remembered is often a challenge. Many people write them in a book, but can they find the book? An acquaintance related how she could not access her investment account because she’d had no reason to log in because it is not her primary bank account. She was locked out of it, then had to call customer service. But, the line is not toll free; she used a lot of credit waiting an excessive amount of time in the queue. Not a big problem to solve, but things conspired to make it hard to solve, and costly.

Older people often demand little more than consideration. When it comes to technology, they’d like a seat at the development and implementation tables. Is that too much to ask?

Dennis Jones is a director of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP).