I’ve been everywhere, man, but did I like being there? USA-1-June 19, 2021

Likes

The customer is always right: A revelation to the average person coming from the UK is that questions are hardly ever asked when customers have complaints. I got it on my interview visit to the IMF when I ordered a pizza and when it arrived the delivery man apolgized for its being late–I never realised–and had brought a 2nd pizza as compensation! Then, after an early shopping trip during a sale, a friend told me that prices had fallen further and I could go back to the store and get the difference as an extra bonus! What was this sorcery?

The South isn’t all dread for black people: You could have knocked me down with a feather if you thought I’d take a driving tour through the USA’s southern states and end up feeling that I ought to move to South Carolina. But, that’s how it looked after ending up en route from Florida to DC and stopping in Savannah and Charleston.

Football aka soccer: Were my finest hours really being involved with football (soccer) in the USA? Playing, coaching and refereeing, with mainly good memories is what it should be about. Getting licensed to coach and refereeing were never on my radar in England. That I ended up coaching girls was astonishing. That the team won its first ever tournament was dream-like, and those 9-year olds will forever have that trophy-winning moment in 1996.

The West Coast and Pacific North West: Fewer coastal areas are stranger than these, with rugged edges and massive falling trees on beaches.

Buying a car: In the UK, it could easily take weeks to complete a purchase and take away the vehicle. In the USA, it takes hours and you will leave the lot in your car. It’s not a great process, with the faux haggling, but it’s really a sign of totally different outlooks to consumerism.

Dislikes

Urban freeways: It took some getting used to how US roads and urban areas are constructed. I remember looking for a store and being able to see it from the freeway but not being able to figure out how to get to it. I went past and looped back and saw it passing below me, for several tries. Eventually, I discovered the exit and located the store. The other big difference was being told my destination was up the road and 2nd left. When I told the man I was walking, he was stunned. “Up the road” was about 10 miles along the freeway, and “2nd left” was the 2nd exit. Different strokes…

Disenfrachisement: It was fine being a foreigner with a special status, but not having the opportunity to vote isn’t fine, irrespective of what you want to do with your vote.

Absence of extensive public transport: Like many major US cities, the greater Washington area doesn’t have an extensive public transport network. DC and near suburbs are not badly covered by underground trains and buses or and overground lines cover some areas, but it’s really motorized transport that rules. Belatedly, plans to extend the Metro lines into Northern Virginia have gotten underway, but has still not reached a natural major end point at Dulles International Airport. The nearer airport, Reagan National, is easily reached by Metrorail.

Tipping: European attitudes to paying for service are completely at variance with those in the USA. It’s simplest in European countries where a bill is rounded and that’s it, and change that remains goes to the server. None of this decision making over a percentage and better still not attitude about the tip not being big enough. Pay the people the right wages!

Easter and Christmas are not one-day affairs: I’ve never worked during either Lent/Easter or Christmas, both of which are long holiday periods in the Caribbean and UK. So, these not being more than a day’s holiday, at most, was and is shock; we took the full time as holidays every year, including the 12 days of Christmas.

Another Jamaican COVID-19 “blitz” to get second doses done-June 4, 2021

Just when the USA has allocated at least 80 million doses to the rest of the world, Jamaicans can anticipate another boost to COVID vaccination. The USA will share 75% of doses with COVAX, about 19 million can go to areas worst hit by supply constraints.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness did incredibly well with a so-called “blitz” of vaccinations back in April, when they managed to get 75,000 doses…

Another Jamaican COVID-19 “blitz” to get second doses done

The USA is reopening for business-June 3, 2021

As I browsed TV channels early this morning, a clear theme emerged: things are getting back to normal in the USA, after over a year struggling with the COVID pandemic.

Axios has a COVID map that is now all green, showing COVID cases as least flat in every state. The map has lost it’s purpose. It will go.

I looked in on ‘Morning Joe’, at 5am, and noticed that all the 6 main contributors were seated around a table, in pods of 2. What? I’d become used to seeing the two principals together, in studio—they’re married—but others on inset panels, as they contributed from home offices or elsewhere. Now, together ‘as used to be’.

The White House has announced staff are expected to return ‘to campus’.

Having been in the USA for a few days, it’s clearly different, with vaccines more readily available, and many taking their doses, without hesitation.

President Biden is aiming to get to the 70% vaccination threshold by July 4. He and his thrust have made a difference to attacking the pandemic and it seems to be working.

But, the rest of the world is still lagging, and needs US help to get vaccines.

Biden’s first joint national address to Congress-April 29, 2021

The optics of President Biden’s 99 days joint address to Congress were odd yet typical of #COVID19Life. The audience on the floor of the Congress was only 200 people—not the usual full complement of elected members and only a handful of Cabinet members, including no need for a ‘designated survivor’ not present in the chamber; no invited guests or Supreme Court justices; few members of the press and diplomatic corps. People had to pass metal detectors and show proof of full COVID vaccination. People didn’t shake hands or hug, but bumped fists.

The first black sergeant-in-arms introduced the president:

The image of the Speaker of the House and the vice president being women was quickly pointed out by the president as a first.

The full broadcast can be seen, here:

The substance of the speech was wide-ranging, spelling out a huge package of spending that would restructure the USA physically and socially, spending some US$6 trillion. Funding would come from tax hikes on the richest 1% of society in income and capital gains levies.

President Biden did not step away from matters he’s touched on in a clearly personal and presidential manner, such as racial injustice and voting rights, as well as cancer research.

He’s on a wave of public approval:

Admittedly, it’s skewed heavily on partisan lines.

We got a look inside the preparations:

He harked back to the January 6 insurrection:

He showed some love for his political opponents, such as Rep. Liz Cheney, even if there was less love amongst some of the opponents for each other (with Cheney still at loggerheads with Rep. Kevin McCarthy).

BBC fact-checked the speech:

So, too, did the New York Times:

Ted Cruz fell asleep during a section on immigration and that’s been widely watched online:

Guilty, guilty, guilty: the verdict on Derek Chauvin-April 21, 2021

Former policeman, Derek Chauvin was found guilty unanimously on all three counts of murder and manslaughter for ‘killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes, a crime that prompted waves of protests in support of racial justice in the US and across the world.’

Relief was clear for many who’d endured years of police brutality and killing of black people often for minor offences and rarely being sanctioned for those deeds.

That extended to comments by Vice President Harris:

President Biden remarked on the case at length, talking about “systemic racism”:

It was a “step forward”:

He also called the Floyd family:

Impetus is now greater for police reform:

#COVID19Chronicles-306: February 7, 2021-Has the USA started to get to grips with COVID?

It may be premature, but some data indicate the pandemic might have reached a turning point in the USA: hospitalizations are down:

New cases are declining:

Dining and entertainment still face difficulties:

Churches in California will resume:

But, rules about churches in the state will change:

There’s still an open debate about whether the green light should be shown to schools’ reopening:

Many have and outbreaks occur, but others have also seen few cases. It’s known that younger people carry higher viral loads and may often be asymptomatic spreaders, so the issues are not simple.

Super Bowl may turn the screws again, though, as people gather in groups and in closer proximity in confined indoor spaces as well as outdoors:

However, vaccines are being rolled out, and that should bode well in coming weeks and months; about 9% of the population have been covered, so far:

#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-180: October 8, 2020: Vice presidential debate time

The US vice presidential candidates had their show last night, as Kamala Harris (D) sat opposite VP Mike Pence (R), in Salt Lake City, Utah.

COVID-19 tests before the debates were negative for both:

But, in COVID19 times, did they need to be there? People have pointed out that Nixon and Kennedy had their debate remotely, in 1960:

Precautions were taken, in light of the president have contracted the virus along with a slew of senior White House aides. There was plexiglass separation, though VP Pence has objected:

The Commission on Presidential Debates had agreed to seat Kamala Harris and Mike Pence 12ft apart – up from 7ft at the presidential debate.

Political stakes of the debate had been raised since President Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19:

Health concerns were dominant before the debate, including whether Pence should be in quarantine. All present had to wear masks.

The debate started well but the moderator was again a disaster 😳😩

For future debates, they maybe need someone more forceful like The Rock🤔

Pence adopted the president’s ‘interrupting’ strategy:

Despite that, each ended with about the same speaking time, according to CNN:

Candidates took questions from the public:

Main takeaways, according to the LA Times, can be found here:

Fact checkers had work to do; Pence repeated many false claims the president makes:

Harris won?

Mask rules ignored at the end:

The fly on Pence’s hair was the real winner, sitting there for its allotted two minutes 🤔😂:

Presidential debacle!

I really don’t have much positive to say about the 1st presidential debate last Tuesday, in Cleveland, Ohio, but I feel that history ought to be clear that I was not indifferent to what I saw take place. In fact, I was happily trying to consign it to the back of my mind. I had several feelings about the event and the participants.

The moderator: I don’t watch a lot of TV, and rarely watch US political analysis and commentary shows, these days; election night coverage can be exciting. I sometimes use to watch Meet The Press on Sundays with Tim Russert (a sort of acquaintance), then with David Gregory; rarely with Chris Todd. It used to be a perfect prelude to an afternoon of American football on TV. I started that trend because of early trips to the USA, when I stayed with English friends, and that’s how Sundays began. I had grown up in England using Sunday mornings for reading the quality papers—The Sunday Times and The Observer—often sitting on the floor. It was often a great time with my first-born, when she could roam and if she felt destructive, tearing newspaper was no big deal—there was enough paper to go around the house many times. I guess I never watched Chris Wallace because I do not watch Fox News. Simple. I’ve heard him speak many times and wondered if he was a Trojan horse there.

Anyway, it was clear early on that Wallace was on a hiding to nothing with President Trump, who went exactly where I had said to my wife he would go—jugular, distracting, disrespectful, mendacious, disruptive, and a host of other ‘destabilizing’ oral tricks that I’ve seen employed in parts, but rarely in a full-bore package all the time. My experience of it has been when people rattle off a lot of information, mostly vague, often incorrect, and then stop any attempts to investigate, correct, or deal with them in any calm and collected manner—it’s bullying tactics. The ‘opponent’ then becomes frustrated and angry, loses his/her own strategy and is laid bare for the kill. So, I saw Wallace having to wrestle with this as Joe Biden was given ‘the treatment’. As they say in England: ‘Not a hope in Hell, mate’.

The president also did the ‘Devil’s work’ by labelling the moderator (known as not one of his sympathizers) as part of the ‘opposition’ he had to deal with—2 v 1–helping to frame himself as ‘victim’: “First of all, I guess I’m debating you, not him, but that’s okay, I’m not surprised…” Of the many phrases that will stick in my memory, this will be one.

His supporters latched onto that and put Wallace on ‘Team Joe’:

Quite elegant, as sabotage goes. Wallace was now totally neutralized in the role he should be playing, as the neutral referee. Job done!

But, Wallace helped to bring the wall down on himself:

The candidates:

The incumbent president. I took a view long before the 2016 election that it was in my personal interest to do several things regarding then-candidate Donald Trump. Its genesis was way back and had plenty to do with the ‘Central Park 5’, for whom he had called for the death penalty and staunchly refused to apologize after they were found to be innocent.

1. Do not listen to too much of what he has to say; most of it is false, in the way that anyone who follows news and developments with some attention could spot easily. I’m not ordinary in that sense, as it’s been part of my working life to do that and it went to another level when I traded foreign exchange: news moves markets and rumours are rife; one must sift rumours fast for their essential truth or falsehood, otherwise, you’ll end up on the wrong side of the market. So, I have never watched or listened to anything he said in its entirety. I was comfortable doing that because reports tended to confirm my priors, that much of what was going on was obfuscation, to give it a nice term.

2. Insurance policies are there for ‘rainy days’ to help you survive some shocks. My insurance was the insulation of the preceding actions, plus some specific things that showed I did not drink any of the ‘magic elixir’ that was being dripped onto other tongues. It helps because I am fiercely independent-thinking and have no problems drawing my own conclusions based on evidence. If I have no evidence, I try to deduce what the balance of evidence is likely saying—it also comes from trading, but also from working at the IMF, where dealing with governments was often about finding out what was the gap they did not want you to see in the information they fed you. You can usually do it by knowing what ought to corroborate what. So, if the finance minister said he did not spend, then the government’s account central bank accounts would not decline. But, it could also not decline if the minister could find a way of spending that was ‘off budget’; aha, that’s neat, but also not too hard to figure out, if you know who could possibly play that role.

The challenger: From what I have seen of Joe Biden over the years, he doesn’t come across as someone who’s afraid of getting into an actual street fight or a ‘street fight’ fit for a more refined audience. Again, as they say in England: “I don’t want to meet him in a dark alley any night.” At the risk of stereotyping, his strong Irish roots are clear to see and he has a gritty belligerence that anyone who has lived in Irish communities would spot from far away. I’m sure his briefing included advice like “You know he’s going to hit low and do it early. Absorb the pain, but don’t go low yourself. Try to stay on the higher ground. Got that?” I’m sure he nodded, sagely. But, what I know about intense contests, is that when you’re trying to stay fair and work within the rules but your opponent is just looking to bend or break them against you all the time, staying on the high ground is for angels. You give as good as you get. So, Joe will be forever famous for “Will you shut up, man?”. (It’s worth watching the lead up, including “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about”—for sure, something that the president doesn’t like to hear—and decide for yourself, if and when you would have come out with a similar phrase.)

What I also know about Biden is what we saw of him as VP to President Obama; they were complementary to each other and I took the view that Obama’s mantra of “Obama, no drama” meant that Joe couldn’t have been wilding it like an out of control of express train. Simply put, Obama did not surround himself with people who would have seemed well cast for parts in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. He’s obviously well-grounded in the minutiae of US representational politics—which doesn’t mean he’s straight as an arrow or lily-white clean, but has a political track record that stands up well, if it’s really scrutinized with some sort of objectivity.

Of course, the ‘debate’ quickly descended into a debacle. I gave up watching after about 30 minutes. My wife decided that another episode or ‘Wallender’ on Netflix would be calming and more rewarding—Kenneth Brangh can be like morphine. We both had a great night’s sleep.

I don’t know what people are doing trying to score this event. It was described in words I used as a ‘shit show’ (excuse my language, but it’s really apposite). Jake Tapper has the quote: “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.”

Yesterday morning, I was on the ‘train’ that was not heading to Florida for the next offering, even if it’s the vice presidential candidates; I really thought VP Biden would do the decent, but risky thing and say ‘No mas’, but that would be a clear ‘win’ for The Donald. Well, sense has prevailed for now and new rules are to be employed for the remaining debates. I was one who asked early on why the mikes couldn’t be switched off when it’s not a person’s time to speak, at least any efforts to interrupt would have to be at such volume and with such vigour as to make it see borderline truly confrontational.

New rules for the debates will be coming, though not yet fully formulated and not yet agreed by the opposing sides:

We’ll have to see if the original schedule holds: ‘The 2020 presidential debates are scheduled from 9:00pm to 10:30pm Eastern time on September 29th, October 15th and October 22nd. The vice presidential debate is scheduled from 9pm to 10:30pm Eastern time on October 7th.’ Will new rules govern the vice presidential debate? The chili already has plenty of hot pepper in it, but could it be getting even more?

#COVID19Chronicles-136: August 28, 2020: Our baby left on a jet plane 😳🤔🙏🏾

Our number 1-2-3 child headed back to school yesterday. She left early afternoon and by 10:30pm she called to say she’d landed safely. Bags came fast and she was in her dorm not long after 11 and one of her teachers had left her snacks 🙂

When she came home in early-March for Spring break, we had only expected her to be with us till end-month. Well, COVID19LIFE mashed up those plans. She was able to have online school for her Spring term. We had her grandmother and grand aunt with us for 3 months. Now, nearly 6 months on from her arrival, in-person schooling can resume.

Living with COVID19 has meant many major changes, especially with international travel. So, face coverings are mandatory at airports and, in Jamaica, non-travellers cannot enter the departure area. Temperatures are checked along with travel documents at entry. That means a little log jam on entry. So, decked out with cloth mask and face shield, and carrying hand sanitizers and spare masks, our young warrior set off.

Family and friends illing around outside NMIA, while passengers enter
Face shield is almost now de rigeur for airplane travel

She’s a seasoned traveller so was happy to be flying solo. However, she met an older friend travelling to the same destination, to resume college, so ended up with a peer buddy.

We’d talked extensively about how to proceed through airports and navigate other people, with some clear advice to take no nonsense from anyone not following protocols and keeping all at a good distance. She passed security at this end easily; the airport was quiet. Our concerns were at the US end and how things would be managed at Immigration and with TSA, so we’d checked online for any horror stories. Of course, we read and saw reports of the odd crazy travellers who refuse to wear masks and are being forcibly removed from planes. But, none of that presented issues.

NMIA walkway to departure gates

So, now, she has to quarantine for 14 days while settling in—‘cohorting’. School will be on-campus and remote and lessons will be recorded to allowing remote learning for any who prefer. Daily health testing is scheduled. I’m interested in how the eating etc will work, though I think the general meals wont be happening, but more family-style and small group dining will prevail. It’s still nice weather and I’m sure the teenagers are champing at the bit to get back into their sports program.

Anyway, lots to ponder and lots to hope for in terms of good things to happen in this important senior high school year. Thinking about college is stressful enough, but with the health and safety issues on top. Ay caramba!