Jamaica’s Sports Reporting Needs Less Administration Talk

Jamaica is blessed with some of the best sport journalists you will find anywhere across the globe.

In countries like Canada, UK and US many UK sports journalists tend to stay in their lane and focus on just one or two specific sports. So you would never hear ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith discuss or report on English football or the Daily Mirror’s John Cross report in any detail on basketball or lawn tennis.

But the average Jamaica sports journalists brings versatility to their sports coverage and discussions. Most are comfortable discussing any range of (international/local) sports. Whether it be football, cricket, netball, swimming, lawn tennis, boxing, athletics, NFL, basketball and table tennis.

The Jamaican sports journalists’ reputation is so well known and respected internationally that some are called up to cover events on behalf of global media organisations.

But for 2019 there is one request I beg of the local sports media fraternity. In relation to local sports please give more reports to the action/players and reduce the airtime/column inches given to the local administrators.

Currently much of local sports reporting is taken up by political figures, sport administrators and spokespersons for sponsors. Yes, these individuals have a part to play in the development of local sports, but the players are missing out on fair coverage in the media.

You rarely go 5 days without some sports report bulletin that includes interviews/speech clips from the likes of  Olivia “Babsy” Grange, Minister of Sports and Christopher Samuda, head of the Jamaica Olympic Association. Not far behind are the likes of executives such as Billy Heaven (cricket), Michael Ricketts (football) and Godfrey Lothian (table tennis) and Walton Small (school sports!).

These suits seem to suck up much of the airtime which is very unfair on those playing the sports. Sometimes I wonder if these suits use their lofty positions to boost their own image/outside interest and the sport is just a side issue. Whether these suits are doing a good job or not is besides the point; sports reporting should never dedicate so much time to the pen pushers and suits.

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Longville – 2013

Table tennis is a perfect example. In sports reports you will see endless interviews about the sport with its top administrator for the last 6 years, Godfrey Lothian. Lothian is always in the media discussing his strategic plans, launch events, electioneering, board infighting or which overseas meeting he is off to from the airport. But you rarely see reports about the local table tennis players themselves.

The local sports players need more coverage in the news reports as it would give them much needed exposure to fans and possibly increase their own chances of attracting sponsorship.

In the UK, sports media hardly mentions the sports minister. I have no idea who that person is and do not wish to know. The outgoing head of the English Premier League, Richard Scudamore, hardly spoke publicly. He allowed the product (players and managers) to do the talking and publicity.

IRIE FM’s flagship sports show “What’s the Score” seems to be over run with such sporting administrators as their special guest on its 2 hour weekly show. Last week the show had as its special guest Godfrey Lothian (head of table tennis) and the week before Billy Heaven (head of cricket). Both men running for reelection for their respective sporting body. This week the show had as its special guest Mark Neita who is challenging Heaven for the post of head of Jamaican cricket.

When was the last time “What’s the Score” had a table tennis player or cricketer as a special guest?

Decades ago when Jamaica had just a handful of media outlets we knew the names of the top local table tennis. Why? Because the sports coverage mentioned their match reports constantly. These Jamaican table tennis players were not world beaters but they were our local stars in the sport.

Back then we knew of the exploits of local table tennis players such as Sandra Riettie, Orville Haslam, Stephen Hylton, Colin McNeish, Ingrid Mangatal and David Marshalleck. These players drew large audiences, discussions and extra coverage. The media reports back then of the charismatic Desmond Douglas – Jamaican-born English player – also generated much interest amongst young Jamaicans to play the sport.

Those were the individuals who inspired us to take up the sport not the suits.

There is an old saying that the best sports administrators are the ones who stay in the background and let their respective sport do all the talking. There is also a thought that if the suits are in the news constantly, then it could imply that there are underlining problems with the sport they are overseeing. As one table tennis administrator said recently; his sport has become a contact game – in the boardroom.

So to the local media houses – develop a fairer balance that allows the local players more coverage in your reporting. It is just never a good look when the comments from politicians and administrators constantly fill up such sports reports. The local players lose out. So too the fans.

 

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far left Godfrey Lothian, far right Christopher Samuda

 

 

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BREXIT – Deal for Extra Time

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn should meet prime minister Theresa May privately to discuss BREXIT. In fact he should have pushed for such a meeting months ago.

At one of the most pivotal moments in the country’s history, there is need for extraordinary steps by our elected officials. Corbyn should remove any pre-conditional excuses and see May at Downing Street.

In the past few days May has promised to listen to the views and opinions from across party lines. Finally, after nearly 9 years in government May has realised the importance of hearing voices of those beyond her tiny echo chamber.

2 years ago some civil servants raised serious concerns over May’s initial handling of the UK’S BREXIT plans. There was a sense that her team were not taking the issues seriously or with the urgency desired.

In July 2017, Gus O’Donnell, former head of the civil service said:

There is no chance all the details will be hammered out in 20 months….We will need a long transition phase and the time needed does not diminish by pretending that this phase is just about ‘implementing’ agreed policies as they will not all be agreed.”

Lord Jonathan Marland, a former trade envoy, under David Cameron said :

“My fear is that Whitehall as a whole has really not got the skill set to deliver a really hard-nosed negotiation and I think we have really got to upskill in that area to do it. If you’re too hard on negotiation you don’t win. Any negotiation has got to have something that’s in it for both parties”

As far back as November 2016 frustration amongst civil servants involved in the BREXIT negotiations was common.  Many were angry that – as usual – May’s office had centralised control; that May and her inner circle lacked communication skills and that her team had been too quick to adopt an aggressive approach to anyone offering independent advice.”

May and her advisers are mostly to blame for the current BREXIT negotiation debacle. Her lack of leadership and grasp of the severity of BREXIT has been unforgivable but not surprising.

But I have to also apportion blame to former prime minister David Cameron for not firing May as Home Secretary for her countless insubordination and poor performance – e.g. on immigration and crime. If Cameron had acted then we would never had someone as ill-prepared as May to lead the country’s exit from the EU.

In 2017, Ivan Rogers resigned from his post as UK Ambassador to the European Union. Rogers had earlier warned that it could take up to a decade to ratify a post BREXIT trade deal with the EU. Rogers was realistic in his analysis but that riled the pro-leave campaigners, politicians and media houses.

So Corbyn should swallow his pride and preconditions, meet May and seize the upper hand in taking the UK out of the EU with the best possible deal.

  • Corbyn needs to remember that during his days of supporting Sinn Fein/IRA he was one of few Labour MPs pushing for the then Conservative government to have unconditional talks with the Republican paramilitaries. Let’s face it, those talks and initial devolved government did lead to the most unlikeliest partnerships between Ian Paisley Snr and Martin McGuinness.
  • We saw during the 2008 global economic crisis where then US President George W. Bush sat down together with Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain to go over what measures needed to be taken to stem the recession.

When it comes to such important issues leaving the BREXIT negotiations in  hands of just civil servants and the Conservative government was a bad idea from the beginning. The level of expertise necessary for such high level negotiations should have been more broadly spread and include those former individuals with healthy diplomatic experiences with the EU.

EU officials have had decades of public ridicule by UK politicians and the right wing media. So the idea of EU leaders rushing to a speedy and fair deal within 2 years to appease the Brits was never going to happen. Not with the likes of anti EU ministers such as David Davis, Boris Johnson at the forefront. This was the EU’s officials revenge to stick it to the Brits – especially the Conservative government who even now has a pompous attitude towards EU officials.

There was never a need for Theresa May to have gone with the late Jeremy Heywood plans to create a BREXIT department and a dedicated Cabinet Minister. Having 3 BREXIT Secretaries of State in the past 12 months is a clear sign it did not go toot well. Which was why a competent Foreign Secretary should have had oversight of BREXIT supported by dedicated junior ministers and former EU ministers from previous governments.

What is keeping May afloat during her calamitous premiership is the media’s collective hatred of Corbyn. No matter how badly May and her team have handled the BREXIT plans, the media seem keener to paint Corbyn as the cause for the negotiation failures.

Corbyn should go into Downing Street with a cross section of Labour MPs but bring a couple top negotiators. I would advise Corbyn to invite the likes Gus O’Donnell and Ivan Rogers.

The optics of Corbyn walking out of 10 Downing Street and giving a press conference at the steps would do wonders for his push to return there more permanently after the next general elections.

The problem with Corbyn and May is that for much of their political careers both have had a lukewarm attitude towards the EU. Until she became Home Secretary May was an ardent euro-sceptic. Watching May go back and forth to Brussels shows a leader in desperation mode. It’s the sort of behavior you would expect to see from a junior civil servant or a runner on a film set.

Now is not the time to draw red lines. If there is need for an extension until the end of 2019 to get a better deal in place then Corbyn and May should agreed to do so. Let the Farages and Boris Johnsons scream their heads off in outrage. It is very clear that the UK is far from been prepared for a smooth transition from the EU.

I for one will miss the UK not being part of the EU for professional, cultural and social reasons. Having worked with public servants from all member nations for 2 decades we did deliver improvement across public services and achieve great success away from the headlines. Collaborating with colleagues in other EU states was a unique experience. The UK public services have gained greatly from those numerous collaborations. But we have to respect the will of the majority who wanted out of the EU.

I have little time for those “Remainers” pushing for a 2nd referendum. It would be a dangerous route to take to ignore the results of the 1st referendum and proceed for a second vote. Some of those “Remainers” are the same folks who told the nationalists in Scotland to shut up and accept the results of the 2014 referendum for independence.

Some of the most vocal  “Remainers” who are doing their best to stop BREXIT need to look in the mirror and accept there are partly to blame for the current position the UK is in right now.

Take for example “Remainers” such as Tony Blair and his chief political surrogates. It was under the Blair government in 2004 where the seeds of BREXIT started to gather momentum. As the then government laughed at those concerned over the EU’s expansion to former Eastern Bloc. This miscalculation over the number of immigrants by the Blair government gave much renewed voice to the anti-EU brigade especially the Daily Mail, The Sun and Telegraph papers. As the pressures on public services to meet the growing influx of EU immigrants was overwhelming for some local authorities.

Which was why as PM (1997-2007), Blair promised a EU referendum but never went through with offering the public such a vote. As Blair knew he had messed up over projections of migration and such a referendum -even then -was too risky.

The rush by the May government to clinch a BREXIT deal by March 2019 was always foolhardy. The UK’s bind to the EU is so entrenched it was bound to take some time to reach a satisfactory conclusion. But today we live in a society where the impatience & disgruntled want results and outcomes last week.

The negotiations for a fair EU deal should have taken at least 5 years and allow input from all concerned parties. The vagaries and peculiarities of the UK links to the EU are just too monumental to dismantle along partisan political lines in the space of two years.

As for the “No Deal” merchants it would be irresponsible for any UK prime minister to walk away without some satisfactory deal. Especially at this late cut-off point of March 29. Britain aint that Great anymore for such bravado swashbuckling maneuvers.

Last week’s motion of no confidence against May’s government – filed by Corbyn and ensuing debate – was uncalled for as there was no way the Tories and the Democratic Unionist Party would give Corbyn such as victory. Corbyn would have been better off organising his team to meet with May.

Both would never admit it publicly – and maybe to themselves – but May and Corbyn need each other to get the fairest possible EU deal across the line. No shame in asking for the UK parliament to agree on an extension until the end of December 2019. Breakups are never straight forward.

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It’s Complicated

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RJRGLEANER National Sports Awards 2018 – Poor Choice for Speaker

This evening’s RJRGLEANER National Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year 2018 event will be held at the Pegasus Hotel.

Now this event is probably Jamaica’s most prestigious awards ceremony. Yes, there is the National honours awards every October on National Heroes Day but this RJRGLEANER sports awards gig attracts more glitz and glamour. It’s Jamaica’s Oscar’s.

So it was quite surprising to read that the guest speaker for this glorious event will be Asaf Ahmad, British High Commissioner to Jamaica.

If there was need for a UK based guest speaker then the organisers should have considered far more suitable options such as the likes of David Lammy MP, former sport stars such as Jeremy Guscott (rugby), Denise Lewis, Darren Campbell, Colin Jackson, Kriss Akabusi (athletics), Lennox Lewis (boxing) or Dr Mark Prince. All of whom are well known and respected after dinner speakers.

Does any representative of the current UK government deserve such a prestigious Jamaican platform?

Given the ongoing Windrush scandal, it’s just poor judgement by the organisers to have asked the local representative of Theresa May’s government to be the main speaker at an event full of Jamaican champions past and present. The hostile environment culture developed by the UK government towards Jamaicans is still there despite the current PR charm offensive by Mr Ahmad on local soil.

Best of luck to all the nominees and special award recipients.

At 16 years of age, her achievements at the junior world stage, may deem her ineligible for tonight’s top award. But my Jamaican Sportsperson of 2018 is indeed Briana Williams.

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No Contest

 

 

 

 

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Jamaica’s Plastic Ban – One Small Step

As from 1 January, the Jamaican government has officially banned a number of plastic items including single-use plastic bags (aka scandal bags), straws, cups and Styrofoam.

No doubt the Jamaican government is following the line taken by others such as the EU, who in 2018 announced the ban of items such as plastic straws, cotton swabs, disposable plastic plates and cutlery. At least the EU’s ban will gradually come into full effect by 2021. The EU also mandated that by 2025, 90% of plastic bottles must be recycled.

(As from this week government departments in Ireland will no longer purchase single use plastics.)

The Jamaican government and the main opposition Peoples National Party (PNP) are all in support of such a ban. Although the PNP have stated that the ban has been introduced too quickly after the ban was initially agreed by the powers that be in September 2018. I have to agree with the PNP.

Both parties believe this ban will boost Jamaica’s tepid efforts at improving the environment. Compared to many other nations Jamaica is light years behind when it comes to applying best practice in environment control and tackling climate change.

Car Culture

While Jamaican politicians are talking tough with buzz words about climate change and banning the use of plastics, they are at the same time widening roads and building new highways across the island. The official reason given for the road expansion programmes is to ease the traffic jams across Jamaica.

In the long term – these road expansions will do more damage to the environment than any pile of small plastic bags would ever do. Jamaica’s physical landscape has changed significantly as a result of these Chinese/European funded road developments. In time more cars will clogg up these new roads.

The answer to such growing traffic congestion would be for a more smarter integrated transport system that includes the use of trains for the movement of cargo and commuters. I have always wondered why there was never been a push to have passenger boat services to and from Kingston ports.

  • In 2018 a report by the Rhodium Group revealed that cars and trucks were the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the US.
  • A 2010 NASA study revealed “motor vehicles emerged as the greatest contributor to atmospheric warming now and in the near term. Cars, buses, and trucks release pollutants and greenhouse gases that promote warming, while emitting few aerosols that counteract it.”

The traffic in Jamaica is so horrendous (at times very dangerous) that the head of police traffic management – Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen – appears on local news reports virtually every single week. I kid you not.

In Germany, there is growing consensus for major changes to its car culture to cut emissions. They have plans to reduce the role for individually owned cars and introduce cooperative or coordinated mobility –  a transport system that connects bicycles, buses, trains, and shared cars, all controlled by digital platforms that allow users to commute in the fastest and cheapest way.

Jamaican Railways

Jamaica was one of the first countries to introduce passenger train services in the 19th century. Yet one of the great sins of Jamaican governments since the 1970s was the complete destruction of passenger railway services.

This lack of effort to develop the railway services has now come back to haunt the island with the seismic growth of 4 wheel drive gas guzzlers and the tens of thousands of 2nd hand vehicles imported chiefly from Japan.

In order to control heavy traffic and cut emissions other countries have brought in measures such as congestion charges to force people out of their vehicles on to public transport especially the trains. But as Jamaica has no passenger train service any  idea to reduce emissions from these vehicles is not going to happen soon.

e.g. In the largely populated area of Portmore the government should have insisted on implementing light railway services linked to the capital Kingston.

The only occasion you may hear of a government minister raising the issue of passenger trains is only in terms of boosting tourism.

Plastic Policy

Hopefully the Jamaican political class are not so short sighted if they think a plastic bag ban is a more of  a health/climate hazard compared to monstrosity that is empty plastic bottles.

Ban the plastic bags as much as you like. But do not use climate change as the basis for such a move.

Many Jamaicans need these bags because for one thing they make it easy to carry items. But more importantly plastic bags are useful for storing rubbish discreetly in larger rubbish bins. As in Jamaica refuse collection by the authorities – in many areas – is so infrequent. You can go for months without any refuse collection on your street. We have not had our rubbish collected since late November.

So what some residents now do, to get rid their piled-up rubbish is to (illegally) burn it in their yards. Thus causing more health hazards to their neighbourhood which I find disrespectful, irritating and dangerous.

Recycling

There is no government driven recycling programme in Jamaica. Recycling is still barely mentioned in environment circles. I have never seen or heard of any local recycling deposit sites outside of Kingston.

Next Steps

The next major move has to be the recycling of used plastic bottles which has become an eyesore and inconvenience on our streets. We must do better as a society at how we dispose of plastic bottles. Then again we have to do far better at how we dispose of rubbish generally.

Jamaica has taken in billions of dollars in Chinese investments over the past 2 decades. The government could have invested in Chinese expertise on modernising its railways. Imagine if there were railway services to and from the two major airports?

So until we develop a recycle culture, bring back passenger trains and cut the emissions by reducing our use of gas guzzling vehicles, this plastic ban is just a small step in the right direction.

 

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Make it Happen

 

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Time Person of 2018? Here’s my Top 6

Time Person of the 2018 were as follows

  1. Journalists – Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and the Capital Gazette
  2. Donald Trump
  3. Robert Mueller

Others who were considered included Vladimir Putin, Ryan Coogler, Christine Blassey Ford, Moon Jae-in, Meghan Markle, Ben Shapirio March of our Lives activists and Separated Families.

http://time.com/person-of-the-year-2018-the-guardians/

My persons of 2018 in order would be

  1. The Innocence Project (Human Rights-USA) – This non-for-profit legal body continues to successfully prove the innocence of convicted people in US prisons. Proving that the US criminal justice system remains seriously flawed and at times corrupt. Many other nations could do with an organisation like the Innocence Project. Kevin Bailey: My first Christmas in nearly 30 years.
  2. Benyamin Netanyahu (Politics-Israel) –  The PM got the US to officially declare Jerusalem, Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. He coerced Trump to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. He snatched the defence portfolio following the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman. He has (so far) survived numerous police investigations into alleged corruption. Has limited the influence of the Palestinian leadership. Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and Oman are lining up to develop better relations with Israel. Even Chad’s President, Idriss Déby, shocked observers by visiting Netanyahu recently. Putin has had his back in 2018. Like him or loathe him, Netanyahu ends 2018 in a very strong position.
  3. Amelia Gentleman (Media-UK) Gentleman’s reports – in the Guardian newspaper – on the Windrush scandal were moving and humiliated the UK government. She detailed the harsh treatment metered out to elderly Caribbean-born UK residents by the Home Office. Her articles also brought respectability to a group of people much maligned by UK society for generations. Deserved her British Journalist of the Year award.
  4. Mia Mottley (Politics-Barbados) – Mottley led her party to win all 30 seats in the general elections thus becoming the island’s first female prime minister.
  5. Kim Jong Un/Moon Jae-in/Donald Trump (Diplomacy)– For their efforts to deescalate tensions on the Korean peninsula.
  6. Rachael Blackmore (Sports-Ireland) –  Since May, Blackmore has been in the top 2 of this season’s grueling Irish jockeys national hunt racing championship. In a mostly male dominated sport (2 professional female jockeys) she is just 2 wins behind the leader. Blackmore, 28, is widely known in the Irish racing industry as the hardest working jockey in the sport.

 

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Petrojam Scandal – Corruption Spillage Everywhere

Image result for petrojam edward seaga

The recent Auditor General’s report into the failing operations at the state-run oil refinery, PetroJam Limited, has understandably angered Jamaicans. The report highlighted entrenched levels of abuse of public money and power, poor governance, corruption, bullying, nepotism, misappropriation of funds, senior management incompetence and failure to operate the company to its full capacity.

The findings in the report sent shockwaves across Jamaica and the diaspora. The public is angry, baying for accountability, justice and even convictions.

Andrew Wheatley was the Minister of Science, Energy and Technology at the time when a number of these scandals occurred, but not all. Wheatley eventually resigned in July 2018 having been in the post since March 2016. There were many other significant figures at Petrojam who had to relinquish their position including Chairman, Perceval Bahado-Singh and HR Manager, Yolande Ramharrack.

Given the scale of the findings in the Auditor General’s report does Andrew Wheatley need a sabbatical from being a Member of Parliament?

Parliament should demand that Wheatley at least issues a public statement in light of the Auditor General’s report. Given the scale of the corruption laid out in the report the current Minister of Energy must make a statement on the next steps for Petrojam.

But wait, there is no such minister in place as Prime Minister Andrew Holness has still to appoint Wheatley’s successor. As the portfolio is currently under the control of Office of the Prime Minster.

Does it imply a lack of urgency on the PM’s part? Despite the Chris Zacca-led ongoing review into Petrojam.

Long before last week’s Auditor General’s report was published, the public were well aware of some of the chaos and corruption at Petrojam through media reports and from select committee hearings in parliament. So this delay in finding Wheatley replacement has been disappointing.

The next Minister of Energy should also have responsibility for the environment and mining as the synergy of all 3 sectors is vital to Jamaica’s development.

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Andrew Wheatley – Boombastic

I have to question the judgement of some in the media when the Petrojam scandal first came to the public’s attention; especially decisions by news producers and senior sales executives.

Long before Wheatley eventually resigned, the local news had regular reports on the scandals – within minister Wheatley portfolio – such as those at Petrojam and also at the (soon to be closed) National Energy Solutions Limited (NESOL); where millions of Jamaica dollars were unaccounted for and some senior managers are now before the courts.

e.g. TVJ’s evening news would regularly report on those scandals – within Wheatley’s portfolio- for weeks. Yet during the commercial breaks after their news reports,  on the happenings at Petrojam or NESOL, TVJ would play a government-paid advert where a group of people sang the praises of the same Andrew Wheatley.  I thought playing such an advert was totally unprofessional.

Holness had allowed Andrew Wheatley’s ego to flourish way before the Petrojam scandal blew up in the government’s face.

In November 2017, Holness should not have allowed a centre at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) to be named “in honour” of Wheatley. The “Dr. Andrew Wheatley Centre for Digital Innovation and Advanced Manufacturing” smacks of political pandering. CMU should also have known better than to go along with this obsequious gesture to a serving government minister.

The Jamaican political class has an insatiable urge to have their name plastered on local landmarks.

Image result for andrew wheatley centre maritime

 

The opposition People’s National Party (PNP) cannot be completely absolved of all the drama that happened at PetroJam. The Auditor General’s report did highlight that some of the poor levels of operations and governance at Petrojam did occur under the previous PNP government. So the PNP needs to look in mirror before gloating too much – given the minister at the time was Phillip Paulwell and he is the current opposition spokesman for energy.

Holness had no option but to rightly instigate a forensic audit of Petrojam. But in the meantime Prime Minister, please appoint the new energy minister before that audit kicks into gear.

Further reading:

Loop Jamaica – Wheatley’s surprise birthday cake US$1000 cake – Petrojam

Loop Jamaica – NESOL paid out millions without written contract

Jamaica Observer – Auditor General finds explicit acts nepotism at Petrojam

Jamaica Gleaner – HR Practices and Lack of Transparency

Jamaica Gleaner – Paulwell accepts that there should have been greater oversight of Petrojam (when he was Minister)

Access to the Auditor General’s full report

 

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No! US Criminal Justice Reform Proposals Unites Far Right Congressman & Civil Rights Icon

The US Congress, along with the likes of White House official Jared Kushner and Democratic strategist Van Jones have taken strides to bring much needed reform to the criminal justice system.

Known as First Step Act, the legislation looks to revise some of the anti-crime legislation that was championed by previous administrations. E.g. Changes will be made to Bill Clinton’s infamous three-strikes and you out ‘penalties which has deeply affected the African American community.

“Here are the major provisions of the First Step Act, as it stands now:

  • The bill would make retroactive the reforms enacted by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences at the federal level. This could affect nearly 2,600 federal inmates, according to the Marshall Project.
  • The bill would take several steps to ease mandatory minimum sentences under federal law. It would expand the “safety valve” that judges can use to avoid handing down mandatory minimum sentences. It would ease a “three strikes” rule so people with three or more convictions, including for drug offenses, automatically get 25 years instead of life, among other changes. It would restrict the current practice of stacking gun charges against drug offenders to add possibly decades to prison sentences. All of these changes would lead to shorter prison sentences in the future.
  • The bill would increase “good time credits” that inmates can earn. Inmates who avoid a disciplinary record can currently get credits of up to 47 days per year incarcerated. The bill increases the cap to 54, allowing well-behaved inmates to cut their prison sentence by an additional week for each year they’re incarcerated. The change applies retroactively, which could allow some prisoners — as many as 4,000 — to qualify for release the day that the bill goes into effect.
  • The bill would allow inmates to get “earned time credits” by participating in more vocational and rehabilitative programs. Those credits would allow them to be released early to halfway houses or home confinement. Not only could this mitigate prison overcrowding, but the hope is that the education programs will reduce the likelihood that an inmate will commit another crime once released and, as a result, reduce both crime and incarceration in the long term.”Vox

So in Congress recently the First Step Act was passed 360-59 in a rare bi-partisan moment under the Trump administration.

But what was interesting from the vote in Congress was some of those Representatives who voted against the First Step Act. They included the far-right Republican Steve King along with African American Democrats such as Maxine Walters, John Lewis, Sharon Jackson-Lee and Elijah Cummings. So Lewis and King on the same side but not the King you would expect.

Donald Trump came out and publicly endorsed the First Step Act but some supporters of the reforms are concerned that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell could stall at having a vote in the Senate.

Some Republican Senators such as Bob Corker and Tom Cotton have voiced their opposition to the proposals.  Makes you wonder why and wonder if money is never far from their thinking.

It is fair to say that one of the losers – should the First Step Act become law – will be the private prison firms such as Geo Group and CoreCivic. Both are known to have contributed to the coffers of political campaigns for both Republican and Democrat candidates. Geo Group did donate to the Trump 2016 campaign. Less prisoners is bad business for private prison companies.

  • Will the private prison firms lobby hard to delay any Senate vote? Yep
  • Will McConnell prevent a vote in the Senate? Not anymore as McConnell seems to have changed his tune and will allow vote this week.

First Step Act has brought unity between Democrat figures (such as  Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Beto O’Rourke and Jim Clyburn) and Republicans (including Marsha Blackburn, Mia Love, Trey Gowdy).

As Dr Bernice King (daughter of Martin Luther King) wrote recently “The FIRST STEP Act can launch a better way to America’s criminal justice reform. While many have asserted that this bill is not comprehensive enough, to which I also agree, we must also understand that the road to progress is paved with incremental steps.”

Who would have thought that in 2018 that Steve King and the much respected John Lewis would be (for differing reasons) on the same side in opposing proposals for criminal justice reform? Strange politics.

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l-r John Lewis and (in Lewis’s own words) “racist & bigoted” Steve King

Further reading

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