Remember Willie? James, that is. If you’re under forty, chances are you don’t. Until frustration and bumping his head against stonewalls of intolerance and ignorance took their toll, Willie served Premier John Compton (remember him?) as his public relations officer—something like what today the Jade does for Kenny Dee, although admittedly Willie was never nearly as attractive or as multi-faceted—or nimble-fingered. In the same way some people can be hilarious by accident, so Willie tended to deposit his gems at times most inappropriate. Which of course made them unforgettable.
During one of his pre-recorded weekly propaganda programs over RSL, variously called “This Is Where the Action Is” and “St. Lucia Government on the Move,” Willie took it into his head to wish the serial rapists, the killers, the repeat burglars, petty thieves and others long incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Prison “a very merry Christmas on behalf of the government and people of St. Lucia!”
Mirabile dictu, the particular barrel of good cheer was never delivered, thanks to the station’s no-nonsense manager Winston Hinkson who directed that Willie’s tape be appropriately doctored before release. Compton’s PR genius did not take lightly the interference. He complained bitterly to the premier, who promised to have a word with Hinkson—alas, another politician’s promise doomed never to materialize.
What Willie is by the likes of me best remembered for, however, is unrelated to Christmas. At a time when things were particularly bad socially and economically, when George Odlum, Peter Josie and Tom Walcott had hijacked the previously comatose St. Lucia Labour Party and turned it into a fearsome fire-breathing monster, this was how Willie unforgettably took to introducing his weekly program: “This is St. Lucia Where We are Happy!” Suffice it to say his “Government on the Move” was soon removed from office, put out of action, so to speak, albeit not for long. But that’s for another show.
Willie came to mind this week as I listened to Timothy Poleon rumbling with the usual weapons of mass distraction, well-known determined individuals hell-bent on convincing Newsspin listeners that while things were not yet quite as wonderful as had been the case prior to the 2006 general elections, Saint Lucians nevertheless had much to be thankful for—and to no one more than the miracle worker Kenny Anthony.
For what must’ve been the millionth time I heard on Wednesday certain familiar voices repeating the mostly unchallenged observation that without STEP and NICE and the other “government interventions” the nation would be far worse off. Someone actually fired at Poleon the following barrage: “Tim, why are you always suggesting things are so bad? Are our people dying of starvation? Why can’t you give praise to the government for what it’s doing for the poor? Why can’t you admit there are places worse off than Saint Lucia?”
As I say, a familiar refrain. Obviously it had not occurred to Poleon’s callers (or to the official opposition) that STEP and the other mentioned “interventions” only proved how badly off we are, with some 73 percent of our work force—by the prime minister’s account—“unable to access available jobs.” In other words, over half our work force is unemployed. Therefore, if Muhammad cannot get to the mountain, then the mountain would have to be brought to Muhammad. Only in this case we’re talking about a mountain of debt.
In any event, how sad that the best our government can do about our largely idle work force is to employ an insignificant number as grass cutters, at public expense, every three or four months, for two weeks. One can safely assume STEP workers also have responsibilities: children who must be fed, clothed and schooled; unemployed partners who must be cared for; child maintenance; rent and so on. STEP workers also must feed and clothe themselves. Small wonder many invest their measly earnings in the drug trade—in the process creating more headaches for themselves and for the nation. Or they take their chances at our ubiquitous VLTs.
Yes, a depressing reality. But as earlier stated, not the view from party headquarters where the most pressing concern is to convince the presumed gullible populace, as Willie had tried to do back in the 70s, that their own eyes cannot be trusted, neither their grumbling bellies; that if thousands were not dying in the street from starvation it was all because of our compassionate government’s “interventions.” That a country whose answer to mass unemployment and all of its consequences is STEP effectively is a country drowning in its own doo-doo is hardly the point; at any rate as far as our politicians are concerned. All of which again proves how right was the ECCB’s governor Sir Dwight Venner when recently he revealed our main problem was not economic, that what we should be most concerned about is our leadership.
I took a phone call this week from a stranger. He wanted me to know that every time Donald Trump appeared on his TV, I came to mind. “Don’t misunderstand me, Rick,” he said, cautiously. “Let me explain.”
“OK,” I said, “go ahead, explain.”
“Well,” he went on, “Trump publicly insults a highly rated TV journalist; he says she must’ve been menstruating when she questioned him about his well-chronicled negative disposition toward women, to the extent he had labeled some of them ‘ugly pigs.’ After such an unprecedented outburst everyone predicted that was it for Trump’s campaign. Instead, he continues to wipe out established Republican giants like Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Scott and so on.”
And I said, “I don’t get the relevance. What’s that got to do with me?”
And my caller said: “Bear with me. See what’s also happening with the Democrat Bernie Sanders? He’s drawing the biggest crowds. More and more people are saying he’s a problem for Hillary Clinton. You know why?”
I said I did not. “Well,” my caller went on, “what you, Trump and Sanders have in common is this: you’ve all underscored the fact that politicians have brought the world to its current sorry state. That few of them are talented, while the majority come across as snake-oil salesmen and crooks. Ready to be bought. And finally the people are demonstrating their concurrence. They are making it clear in the worst way that they don’t give a damn about what the established Republicans and Democrats have to say about the businessman Trump and Sanders.”
“In other words,” I said, wickedly, “you’re saying the people have been fooled by the politicians too many times? That the next batch of politicians to fool the people should be hanged . . .”
My caller cut me short: “Right, but not necessarily in the square renamed after the illustrious Derek Walcott!”