The Bacchanal Now Start

They cah stop the bacchanal

They cah stop the festival

Nutting cah stop the carnival

Because tis the season to wine

Hold someting and wine

Hold somebody and wine

I telling yuh

Wining Season, Machel Montano

Who needs to play mas when there are people playing it on TV for us? A big big mas. Even before Carnival Monday and Tuesday. This kind of mas is the one to beat all cockfight. This kind of mas is even more exclusive than all the bikini bands with rope around them charging more money for a miniscule piece of cloth than most Trinbagonians stand to make for the first three months of the year. Only certain people could play this kind of mas. Big, high people playing a big big mas they call the Commission of Enquiry. And the rest of the country like burrokeets, getting ridden through the badly paved roads. The rest of the country could only play a donkey mas while their money jumping up like so many soca fans in a big fete. But who needs Carnival in this place where leaders could play mas with democracy? Watch the whole thing unfold like a Minshall tableau on the now gone Savannah stage. Watch the whole thing move in slow motion with high falutin’ Pierrot speechifiying in big English accent. Watch lawyers carré, dance a big dance with your money. Hear the Professor dreaden them like a King Kootoo doing a bluest devil jook. This is a big big mas and you don’t even need the jackass costume they give you. All you need to do is sit down and watch. Because this is real mas in all it’s mind boggling shiny splendour. This is mas in yuh masses. And sometimes you have to look twice because you not sure if it is a masquerade or mass hysteria, or masturbation. You not sure if to laugh or cry at how your leaders wining down on your right to know what they do with your money. You not sure if this is serious or just more entertainment. You not sure if you’re supposed to get vex and start to riot or hold your head and wine down low, lower than the price of oil. You not sure if all this bacchanal and long reports on the nightly news is just to distract you from the fact that we now have a budget deficit and we not getting anywhere near the proper royalties for natural gas. This big mas and noise come like last Carnival when the big sequins band push the 90-year-old blind Midnight Robber out of the way. Because this mas is the mas to beat all cockfight. Meanwhile Alcoa reported a 929 million US dollar loss and pull up brakes on several of their smelter projects in Iceland. Environmentalists breathing a sigh of relief that the economic decline has saved them from more unnecessary destruction of Europe’s last remaining wilderness. Meanwhile they just laid off 250 bauxite workers in Jamaica, because the global price of aluminum has plummeted so drastically. Meanwhile Rio Tinto Alcan just announced the closure of their Angelesey smelter in Wales, the largest single energy user in all of Great Britain. 14,000 jobs gone there to reduce capital spending by £5 billion.Meanwhile a decision is expected in the case against Alutrint this month, which has been in court since October, without so much as a sideways glance from the media. But aluminum is just as much of a nice mas as Udecott. Definitely not as sexy. Environment and mineral resources and small communities being bullied off their land is not as sexy. It not ready for the big stage yet. Let that stay on the back burners. Let us focus on the bigger better, louder, shinier mas. Because this mas is much more important. This mas is affecting the bottom line of many people who thought they were going to be getting a lot more out of this government. This mas is about the elite—some black skins in white masks, some wild Indians, some foreign drunken sailors on shore leave looking for Jean and Dinah in the construction industry. And all of them want to protect their bottom line and their right to wine. Meanwhile the lack of investigative journalists means the government could continue to play mas with the global financial crisis and say what they want without anybody bothering to question their robber talk. The bacchanal now start. But from the look of things, this masquerade will never end.

The Valley of the Shadow of Debt

Don’t forget your history
Know your destiny
In the abundance of water
The fool is thirsty
Rat Race, Bob Marley

The first word I learned when I went to Iceland last year was utsala.   I still remember it, because it was everywhere, on billboards, in shops and bus stops.
When the news of the deepening economic crisis hit this week, it popped into my mind again, the one word from that language so different from my native that made an impression on my consciousness.
I guess it was fitting, since I was in Iceland for a conference on the global impact of the aluminum industry.  We couldn’t ignore the obvious economic advantages companies like Alcoa and Alcan were reaping from targeting countries like Trinidad and Iceland and South Africa.  Countries with lots of natural resources and small bendable populations.  So many sale signs dotted across the landscape like smoke rising from the many geothermal springs whose energy was being tapped as green energy for smelting primary aluminum.
There was a sense that money was easy, money was no problem and Icelanders were welcoming any and everyone who wanted to partake of the wealth.
We gathered two hours east of Reykjavik, a bunch of people with much love and rage for the state of our respective parts of the planet. I told them about Union Village and the animals clubbed to death when they came to clear those 800 acres in the name of progress. I learned about the Narmada in India and the protests against Alcan in Johannesburg.  And farmers in northern Iceland who were promised the world but ended up with respiratory problems and a dead end job in a fish packing plant.
Leading the charge was an American performance activist called Reverend Billy and his wife Savitri who manages his Church of Stop Shopping.  Reverend Billy and Savitri and I waxed lyrical about the shopocalypse.  It seemed a long way away in the midst of all those signs screaming utsala.
I knew that Babylon had to fall.  We fantasized about it and wondered what we would do and where we would be when the bottom finally fell out on the spending and the debt and the conspicuous consumption.
We were hopeful, but not really.
On the last day a woman rolled up in a stretch Hummer and those of us who had lost ourselves in the starkness of the landscape and the spareness of our tents and sharing food and ideas and dreams of changing our worlds got tired again.  I quoted Rat Race to her. She shrugged and gulped her champagne.
On Monday we turned up at a mall in Reykjavik, and Reverend Billy started preaching the gospel of the shopocalypse to the scandalized middle class Icelanders burdened with their bags from the many utsalas.
The security guards were swift and brutal.  We sang, regardless, handing out fliers, asking regular Icelanders to watch what their government and their big companies were choosing to do with their land, their money.  Most of them looked confused, some of them were downright angry.
Eventually they released Reverend Billy.  We gave out free hugs and walked through the streets of Reykjavik utsala signs flapping all around us.
A year later and Iceland, where aluminum is king, is on the brink of bankruptcy.  This week, Alcoa’s profits halved as the price of primary aluminum dropped due to seasonal fluctuations and a downturn in the manufacturing sector worldwide.
One report from Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch said “Alcoa warned that the profit squeeze will be exacerbated looking ahead due to lower aluminum prices, waning demand and still-high input costs.”
Now I see Reverend Billy as he walks through main street America seeing his comic prophecy become reality.  He preaches his stop-shopping gospel now to more people who see that the line between mad man and prophet is not that thin.
The warnings are there, too many to ignore.  You don’t have take on the insane ravings of tree huggers if you don’t want to.  But people better start waking up.  Better rebuild their community parlours and their sou sous and their gayaps.
In the panic of markets and the trillions of debt and the excess of luxury, countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Iceland, with so much for sale, will suffer the most.
With no sensible leaders and a business elite that is not obliged to share their vast wealth, who will be our buffer zone protecting us against the global economic crisis?   Who will save us from loans for shopping at Christmas and loans for playing mas in obscenely expensive costumes at Carnival?
As we walk through the valley of the shadow of debt who will speak out for our homeland security?  Who will mark out a new energy policy now that the rich countries are closing ranks and shutting down all the businesses that we keep tagging our economy to?
Who will save us from selling ourselves short of our own worth?