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Raffique Shah


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Braying jackasses, oil gluttons

June 20, 2004
By Raffique Shah

THE raging row between a government that's insisting on having the police reform bills passed in Parliament, and the opposition that's refusing to entertain them on grounds that the bills will usher in a "police state", has sunk to a gutter-level that makes it impossible for any sober citizen to intervene. People have taken sides based purely on political loyalty or racial bias that renders sensible discussion or debate meaningless. So why should I waste a column on fools on both sides of the divide?

Suffice it to say that the bills, if ever they become law, will not solve the crime spiral that has engulfed the nation. In fact, they will hardly make a dent on the issue they are intended to deal with, that is the management of the Police Service. Because if the Police Commissioner could not discipline the officers who witnessed a journalist being assaulted in public last week at the Siparia court, and did nothing about it, what law will ever change such patent bias among policemen?

The men who are supposed to protect and serve all citizens protect one of their own who is charged with the very serious crime of trafficking in cocaine. For as long as I can recall they have extended similar "courtesies" to their colleagues accused of stealing, murder, assault and other heinous crimes. Then we've had people held on petty charges mysteriously hanging themselves in police cells with their T-shirts (you should try that sometime!), and others with no history of epilepsy dying of "fits" while in custody. And no Commissioner or member of the Police Service Commission has ever instituted disciplinary action against the offending officers. Isn't that one facet of a "police state"?

What additional powers of abuse would the bills confer on policemen? Or on the political directorate? It seems that Panday forgot it was Dr Eric Williams who unleashed the riot police on a peaceful march the ULF staged in 1975. That scores of marchers were badly beaten, some of them hospitalised for days, following what became known as "Bloody Tuesday". Wasn't that political control of the police? And what did Panday do to rectify this abuse of the Constitution when he was in power for six years?

Look, I said I wasn't going to get involved in this sterile, jammette-like debate, but here I go. It's just that as a citizen who is concerned about crime, about police misconduct, about the lawlessness that is so widespread in the society, I worry about where this country is heading. When, in the midst of multiple social crises, all one hears is a cacophony of jackasses braying, then one feels that all is lost. And the criminals must feel that they have won. They, too, must be braying with joy. I'll put on my ear plugs, pull aside from this all-pervasive madness, and enjoy some peace until an epileptic "fit" parks me up, or a gunman puts paid to my years on this here earth.

I cannot help but note another kind of madness, this time on the world stage. It's the oil crisis, or more specifically, oil prices. Ever since 1973, when the OPEC first exercised its undeveloped muscles and tripled crude prices, the cry from the developed world has been for oil exporting countries to maintain production at "acceptable" levels. Acceptable to whom? A brief look at the history of oil prices will show that prior to 1973, this critical commodity was sold for as low as US$2 a barrel.

Then came a new wave of thinking in OPEC that saw the price pushed to around $10 a barrel by 1979, shoot up to $30 in 1981, plummet to around $11 between 1985-94 (except for a brief "war spike" in 1991), and then gradually rise to just over $20 a barrel by 2000. The story thereafter is known to most. George Bush opted for war, made the Middle East even more volatile than ever, and in the process unleashed instability and sabotage that sent prices through the roof. The real reason why the US demands that OPEC countries increase production is that Americans over-consume energy in every possible way, and, being God's chosen people, they must be allowed to continue to so do.

To put it bluntly, the US devours 25 per cent of global oil production. In order to sustain the "good life" for its citizens (at least the wealthy and the middle classes), it imports 10.4 million barrels of oil a day. Bear in mind that the US is also one of the biggest oil producers in the world, that it holds billions of barrels in "strategic reserve", that it generates more nuclear energy than any other nation, and it remains a big consumer of coal-generated energy, that country can be considered an energy glutton! Every American must have his mansion heated in winter and air-conditioned in summer, he must have four gas-guzzling SUVs for his family, and generally waste what is a finite resource.

Why can't the US cut back on its energy consumption if it wants to trigger lower prices? Why not penalise individuals and households that abuse this precious resource? Not Sam. He not only wants to eat the whole oil-cake, but he wants to fuel both the greenhouse gases he cares nothing about, and keep prices low for Americans. Whereas the high price of gasoline-close to TT$100 a gallon within recent times-may be a deterrent to Britons and Europeans who own "gas guzzlers", Americans have paid ridiculously low prices for fuels until the latest hike shook them into some reality. It stands to reason that the US must cut back on its gluttonous energy consumption if the world is to ever enjoy lower oil prices again. But will George Bush or even John Kerry see oil in that perspective? Fat chance.

Instead, they point fingers at China and India, two countries that are only now moving to be industrialised. China, with a population of 1.3 billion (five times that of the US), imports 1.6 million barrels a day (bopd) to add to its domestic production of 3.4 million bopd. India accounts for 750,000 bopd in imports to add to its production of 793,000 bopd. So by US logic, these highly populated, poverty-stricken countries, must sacrifice by lowering their consumption, in order that Americans may continue living the good life.

Isn't it time for OPEC to tell the Yanks where to get off? That if they can't contain their insatiable appetite for oil, they must pay the real price, which, experts say, should stand at US$50 a barrel today.

Part II