April 2004 Archives

The Limey has a related article to my previous post about Cuba which is worth a read.

Phil raises some good issues to think about, ones I'd considered in reaching my assessment that this Cuban relationship is damaging to Bermuda.

The Limey questions whether a government has any business telling its citizens, or someone else's, who to do business with (although the PLP are with the taxi GPS issue). I would agree with Phil on this, governments don't generally have a place doing this, although I can think of exceptions (eg. wartime scenarios). Bermudians have been doing business in Cuba for years, without much fanfare. Bermuda Island Cruises is the most notable example

I take issue with 'official" governmental relations with a country like Cuba who actively oppresses its people and denies them basic human rights. We don't have official relations with the Russian Federation and China, the examples Phil cites. In fact, we don't have official relations with anyone, because we don't do foreign relations - the UK does it on our behalf. So if you were to pick your first country to have 'official' relations with why would you pick Cuba? If you were the PLP, who argued in the past to ban relationships with South Africa, why would you get friendly with Fidel who has a knack for oppressing Cubans of African descent in particular? The romanticized image of Cuba that many of the socialist leaners in the PLP still retain is clouding their judgment here.

I also take issue with the increase in private business ventures and prospective ones that have occurred after we cemented ties with Cuba. The cultural initiative has clearly laid the path for smoother business relations, which can only occur with the approval of the Cuban Government. Cuba gets an air of legitimacy internationally by having relations with a great place like Bermuda, the quid pro quo being preferential business opportunties for Bermudians.

Are smoother business interests in Cuba worth allowing ourselves to be used for PR purposes and alienate our hugely important economic partner.?

Cuba isn’t a country where you conduct normal business to business transactions. You're doing business essentially with a government endorsed entity. That's why it starts to look really bad when one of our MPs is among the first to benefit after official relations occur. It also looks bad when the Transport Minister is excitedly hailing a flight to Cuba by one of his backbenchers, which promises at best marginal economic value (landing fees) to Bermuda. Perhaps someone can explain to me how a Spanish tourist to Cuba and Bermuda are the same market segment. They're not. Cuba attracts tourists looking for cheap, high entertainment (and sex tourists, but that's a whole other story) holidays, the antithesis of what Bermuda offers, and Spain isn't exactly a key market for us.

Then there's the issue of whether we should conduct our affairs by what the US deems appropriate. Certainly you don't take orders from another country, but you also don't do things that you know aggravate your long-standing friends who have been an integral part of your success. The departed US Consul couldn't have been much clearer in raising the flag that our actions were being noticed by the US and could have ramifications.

The US is particularly sensitive right now with the fallout from the Iraq war and a pending election. Much of it is self-inflicted because of their heavy-handedness and loss of credibility over Iraq, but when our now Deputy Premier was ridiculing the US President at a public event for owning two books, both colouring books, you just wonder what we're thinking. I'm no fan of the current US President - but our elected leaders have a responsibility to act respectfully towards other elected leaders. It's not even a responsibility, it’s common courtesy and respect. The Premier whines about the UK respecting us but we haven't quite set a tone to follow.

Moving on to the likelihood of the US following through on its threats to punish allies who are engaging Cuba. Some would argue that this isn't going to happen, it's just political rhetoric, ‘campaigning’ as the Premier would put it. I for one, have no desire to find out. We blew up tourism because we became complacent and figured we'd always have it easy, I don't for a second take for granted our favourable treatment by the US in other areas.

We had to work hard to keep good relations in place and even try and get further benefits. It takes much longer to build up trust than to lose it. We had a 'special relationship' with the US, but have let that slip over the past few years. Not only have we let that special relationship wane with our flirting with Caricom, but we're now thumbing our nose at them, as if we have some clout to do this!

It's an amazing act of arrogance and recklessness to put some very important perks like customs pre-clearance and non-visa travel at risk over a frivilous 'cultural' agreement.

We can get righteous about having to live by a failed 40 year American policy towards Cuba, driven by domestic political pandering, or we can ask what serves our interests best. If we think for a second that we have, or will ever have for that matter, influence on the world stage or on US policy we're fooling ourselves. That's the dream of many independence advocates, Bermuda can step onto the world stage. Give me a break!

We are a tiny, insignificant and easily damaged island of 60,000 who have it great, both by some smart policy decisions, some good fortune (sometimes as a result of others misfortune ie. Sept 11) and staying below the radar and not drawing attention to ourselves.

Let's not jeopardize our future over some misguided desire to create cultural initiatives and make a few bucks with a brutally oppressive regime like Cuba.

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This BBC story is a must read if you're unsure about the wisdom of Bermuda's blossoming relationship with Cuba.

The key paragraphs are:

"Bush's political advisor, Karl Rove, visited Miami in March and promised Cuban Americans a host of measures against the Castro regime, including tougher penalties for trade with Cuba, a crackdown on American allies who are friendly to Havana, and fewer flights to the island.

"John Kerry has yet to speak directly to Florida Cubans, but he has made speeches critical of Fidel Castro and is promising similar measures to those Karl Rove spoke about."

Couple this with the latest evidence of Castro's crackdown on dissidents and it makes you wonder just what the Government are up to.

I'll tell you.

It's about parlaying relationships established through Government's 'cultural initiatives' into business opportunities for Bermudians, ignoring the ramifications to the island.

Time to 'get yours' at any cost.

If you doubt that assessment look no further than this recent Bermuda Sun article.

The PLP need to do more than just a charm offensive in NY, they need to admit the stupidity and recklessness of this initiative and end it immediately.

As a reader over at the pondblog has pointed out, the press should pin the Premier and his Cabinet down on their position on Castro's continuing crackdowns on free speech, a free press and civil liberties, something many in the PLP claim to cherish and fight for. Don't let them off the hook, just keep asking the question at his next press conference until he answers it.

I'd suggest every reporter refuse to ask any more questions or repeat the question until the Premier answers it a la Jeremy Paxman of the BBC's Newsnight. He's famous for asking the exact same question fourteen times of Michael Howard who refused to give a straight answer (see the video of 13 May 1997, about 4 minutes and 40 seconds into the clip on this timeline).

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The Premier's recent rant about the UK disrespecting Bermudians (Chief Justice appointment) rings pretty hollow when you consider the appointment of an American as the PLP's second successive non-Bermudian president of the College after 29 consecutive years under Bermudian leadership.

This RG editorial sums up the hypocrisy very well and is worth another read after yesterday's announcement and this latest example of PLP words not measuring up to their actions.

Perhaps Mr. Green was the best candidate, but perhaps Mr. Ground was for the CJ position. The PLP can't have this both ways, firing up hatred of the UK when it suits them and parading around as the un-waivering defenders of Bermudianisation, while simultaneously installing non-Bermudian after non-Bermudian at our most important institutions (Hospital, Prisons, College etc.).

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RG Opinion (April 27, 2004):

Government as opposition

What do taxi drivers, the Bermuda Union of Teachers, the United Bermuda Party, Prison officers, Prospect residents, Anchorage Road residents, the Governor, St. George's Prep parents and the Bermuda Cement Company have in common? They are all examples of people on the receiving end of a Government trapped in the mindset of an Opposition.

Some level of confrontation in political life is expected. Governing is a balancing act, a constant give and take. However the past five and a half years of leadership through confrontation has evolved into a defining trait of the PLP and has extended to their relations with the public, not just their political opponents.
It was easy in the early days to dismiss the lack of consultation and harsh tone as the missteps of an inexperienced government, rookie mistakes that they would out grow. Today, nine months into their second term, those at the helm have changed but the confrontational style has remained.

One of the most unexpected aspects of life under the PLP has been the heightened level of labour unrest, petitions and marches on Parliament. Many people, including myself, expected the election of a labour party to usher in an era of smoother industrial relations at a minimum. Labour seems locked in a perpetual battle with the Government, while elsewhere the often-mentioned 'stakeholders' are engaged in their own very public battles. Just what they might like to do with those stakes is another issue.

The PLP are governing as if they were still the Opposition. Counter-punching is what the PLP do best, perhaps too well, and it appears to be so deeply ingrained after 30 years in opposition that they've brought that culture from Alaska Hall to the Cabinet Office.

Several of the examples I cited earlier aren't surprising, others are. It's expected that political parties will have an adversarial relationship with each other, although it certainly doesn't have to be that way. Our Westminster system encourages this style of debate and both sides must plead guilty. The confrontation is intended to be one of ideas, around the issues, not ideology and personality as ours has become. Bermuda's elected leaders would be far more productive if they set aside old grudges and tired battles, focusing on the issues before us in a collaborative, non-combative atmosphere.

More worrying is the ongoing confrontation between the Government and the public, the latest chapter being the continued saga of the Transport Minister and the taxi industry. Most of the tension we've seen could have been easily avoided through a more open, respectful and consultative style of policy making. The combative tone was set early during the previous administration with the two sides becoming increasingly polarised, the comments less and less constructive and very personal.

This approach is also present in the framing of the current Independence debate, or lack thereof. Politicians normally try to inspire, building consensus through uplifting arguments. Particularly with a policy initiative of this magnitude, one would have expected the Premier to make the case as to why he believes Independence to be beneficial for Bermuda, setting a positive tone for a constructive debate.

Instead, Mr. Scott chose the alternative and more perilous route, deciding not to argue its merits, but to cynically fabricate a "crisis" creating confrontation with the UK, initially over the Chief Justice appointment and then over airport runway privileges. Suddenly the PLP are back where they are most comfortable, initiating a fight and assuming the role of the underdog.

This strategy is straight out of the PLP election play book of 2003. Former Premier Jennifer Smith, either unable or unwilling to inspire the electorate to vote for her ideas, pitted two segments of the community against each other, while professing to be running on her record for all Bermudians. The incumbent party ran as the underdog, even though the election was theirs to lose.
The narrowly won election of 2003, with a substantially reduced majority, should have demonstrated to the new Premier that the community is looking for positive leadership by an approachable government.

Unless the PLP can overcome the politics of opposition, we're in for a bumpy ride.

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This comment from a reader in response to the GPS post is very interesting:

"I think that there could be a good constitutional argument here for the taxi drivers. Essentially, government is trying to force them to do business with BCDC, which may be in violation of their right of association and dissassociation under the constitution. Potentially, they have a stronger argument in this regard than BTC, who employed the same argument when government forced them to interconnect with Quantum Communications. BTC ultimately lost that case, but it went all the way to the Privy Council and the taxis may...have a stronger argument."

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The ZBM evening news tonight ran interviews with a number of taxi drivers regarding the GPS system.

The segment confirmed for me how difficult of a job negotiating with the taxi industry is. They're a fragmented group with no definable leadership and no one individual to speak on their behalf. Combine that with the bad blood between the two sides and this now seems to be simply a battle of wills.

I don't say this as a condemnation of the taxi industry. Their decentralised structure makes sense when you consider the nature of the taxi business in Bermuda. Almost every cab is operated as a private business. Unlike many cities there aren't companies that own cars and hire drivers. Trying to implement a central dispatch system under our framework will be a tough sell. But it doesn't have to be.

If we're looking for a better way to approach this issue I'd suggest the following:

1) This whole ongoing saga with the Transport Minister and the taxi industry could be largely circumvented by making the GPS dispatch system voluntary.

The one common theme between all the drivers is that they don't think a GPS system will make them more profitable. To the contrary they say, it will cost them money and they resent that, particularly being forced to support the chosen company of the Minister.

So why the hard line on mandatory implemetation of GPS? If some want it and some don't then make it optional, no big deal. If it makes the drivers who are using it more money than the others I'm sure it will get picked up by the other drivers. Problem solved. If the Bermuda Central Dispatch Company is a private enterprise them let them provide a service at a price the drivers are willing to pay.

2) If the Minister is allowing only one dispatch company then it is essential that the company's ownership information be completely, and I mean completely, open.

BCDC is hoping to operate under an unusual setup, a protected monopoly with forced participation through legislation. The insistence on mandatory implementation with BCDC is only raising suspicions among drivers and owners that something is fishy. They don't want to be forced to support a specific company, particularly an unknown entity.

So the following questions, and more, need answering.

Who are the shareholders? What is their relationship to the PLP, if there is one? How was the Bermuda Central Dispatch Company selected? Were others considered? If there were others why were they not successful? What happens if BCDC doesn't perform up to par? Who governs BCDC? What is BCDC's commitment to the drivers and owners?

Only with satisfactory answers to those questions, and a voluntary system, can the drivers' suspicions be allayed and this process moved forward beyond this impasse.

But both sides are going to have to swallow their pride and concede some ground before this goes anywhere.

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It strikes me as more than a little ironic that the PLP are requiring drug testing of taxi drivers but won't submit their Members of Parliament to it (the UBP MP's have been voluntarily doing it for a couple of years).

I imagine that our taxi drivers would be more than willing to drive the PLP's Parliamentary Group over to a drug testing facility for free!

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Ok, I've just had it confirmed that the quote in my last post was not a misquote!

I have no idea what the Premier was thinking or actually meant to say. Surely he doesn't think that there are only 100 actuaries worldwide!

First he thinks he's the Head of State and now he thinks there's only 100 actuaries worldwide.

That type of statement brings to mind the now infamous Bushisms of the rather inarticulate US President.

I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open to see if a "Scottism" archive is warranted.

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I sincerely hope that this is a misquote:

"Twenty of the world’s 100 or so actuaries are in Bermuda," (Premier Alex Scott speaking at the 2004 RIMS Conference)

Bermuda has far more than 20 actuaries (7 Bermudian I believe) alone, probably closer to 100, and there are thousands worldwide.

Someone screwed up...

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Today is the first day of a regular weekly op-ed (normally Tuesdays I think) that I'll be writing for the Royal Gazette.

It's very different writing with a deadline and a word count I must admit! That'll take some getting used to.

RG Opinion (April 21, 2004)


When it comes to crime, we're in denial, Wednesday April 21, 2004

Two months and one day before the Wellington Oval attacks, the Royal Gazette ran an article entitled “Horton to meet US Consul General over controversial website on Island”. What was the controversy? Public Safety Minister Horton was taking issue with a US State Department website which described Bermuda as having a growing crime rate. The Minister wasn’t taking issue with the facts, but the ‘tone and emphasis’ of the report.

Therein lies the problem.

Too many of us, for too long, have treated our rising crime problem as something that should be addressed through a different “tone and emphasis”, preferring to put our heads in the sand than develop a comprehensive plan of attack.

In fact, the Government seems decidedly schizophrenic when it comes to crime. Minister Randy Horton regretted “the fact that Bermuda's unacceptably high crime rates warrant inclusion in the travel advisory. We as a community must work together to eradicate this problem." Fair enough I thought, Cabinet is treating this problem with the urgency it deserves. Then to my dismay, Tourism Minister Renee Webb was quoted blaming “the way the media, in particular The Royal Gazette, reports crime”. Care to revise your statement Ms. Webb?

If our Government leaders didn’t want to acknowledge that we have a crime problem two months ago I’d bet a Pro-Active construction bond that they do now. Not only is the frequency of crime a problem, but the severity has escalated beyond anything we expected to witness in Bermuda.

I certainly don’t have all the answers but there’s a few simple steps that each of us can take to put us on the path to achieving results.

We must acknowledge that Bermuda has a serious crime problem. Referring to the problem as “youth violence” is counter-productive. Bermuda doesn’t have a youth violence problem, we have a violence problem. The ages of the four people who recently appeared in court for the Wellington Oval incident were 21, 25, 26 and 27! Those are men not boys. Continuing to use the term ‘youth’ is an attempt to downplay the seriousness of the issue. That’s akin to saying “boys will be boys” and dismisses violent behaviour as nothing more than a youthful indiscretion. I couldn’t think of a worse way to characterise it.

Stop denying that gangs exist in Bermuda. Once “Town and Country” stopped invoking the image of a carpet cleaning company I knew that things were out of control. We must accept that something exists before we can start working on it.

Our parents and community leaders must send a consistent message that our laws are to be respected if we expect our children to become productive adults. For years we’ve let our standards slide, tolerating ‘minor’ offences and excusing anti-social behaviour. We’re teaching our children that laws don’t matter and actions have no consequences. This problem exists at all levels of our society. Potentially criminal behaviour at the Berkeley construction project and BHC were denied, excused and then obstructed by those we’ve charged with creating our laws!

We must enforce the ‘minor’ victimless crimes. Our roads have become a race track. Rampant cycle theft is accepted as a way of life. Stop signs long ago ceased meaning stop. We’re an island of double-parkers. No Parking signs or No Entry signs in our parks and on our roads are routinely ignored. If we don’t respect our rules and laws we shouldn’t feign outrage when the children we raise no longer respect them either.

One approach we should consider is New York City’s “broken window” style of policing. Former Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and his methods were not without their critics, but he stated that "…murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other." We’d do well to take that quote to heart.

Our roads, bus shelters and sidewalks are littered with the remains of stolen motorcycles, household garbage and graffiti tributes to victims of violent crime.

That’s as good a place to start as any.

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If you're a political junkie like me, you can get your daily fix with the Note, published daily by ABCNews.com (completely US focused).

This is by far the most comprehensive US daily political roundup out there.

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I've been reading a new book by Bermudian author Graham Faiella called Fishing in Bermuda (you can pick it up at any of our bookstores for $29.95) and would highly recommend it.

Mr. Faiella has produced a comprehensive book on fishing in Bermuda and it's well written and professionally produced.

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Alex Scott, during an interview on VSB news this evening, mentioned that no other Head of State was present at the annual RIMS conference and that Bermuda was the star.

I'll assume that Mr. Scott knows that he's not the Head of State and is posturing! Keep your eyes open for the appointment of ambassadors, state dinners, private jets, a PLP green flag, higher taxes, increased debt....

By the way, it's easy for Bermuda to be the star at these insurance industry events, and it has little to do with the current Government, so I'd suggest he stop patting himself on the back. Bermuda is in the position it is in because of some smart moves many years ago, private sector innovation and a governing party that knew to stay out of the way...until recently.

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It's a little late notice but Chris Rock has a new stand-up special on HBO tonight at 11PM Bermuda time.

If it's half as good as his last one we're in for a treat. You can preview some of it in this article on Salon.com (subscription may be required).

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After listening on the radio news and reading about British Prime Minister Tony Blair's farewell press conference, I'd sum up the PM's visit as a win for Mr. Blair and a loss for Alex Scott and the anti-British contingent.

Mr. Blair seems to have endeared himself to Bermudians as a relaxed, down-to-earth guy, respectful of Bermuda and genuinely interested in our people and our culture.

Doesn't quite jive with the manufactured image put out by the Scott Spin Machine does it?

It's amazing how the personal touch of a renowned communicator like Mr. Blair can pull the rug out from under those seeking to demonise him and his Government for political agendas.

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I had another read of the anonymous op-ed in RG today by 'Contributed'.

In my last post I said that the piece "effectively debunked" the national pride argument. After reading it again this evening I'll amend that statement to demolished the national pride argument.

That was a great piece of writing by someone who has taken a very measured, reasoned and thoughful approach in considering the sole reason in favour of independence that any of the advocates have articulated thus far.

It's a shame the piece was unsigned because I'd like to shake his/her hand.

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The definition of insanity is 'repeating the same behavior and expecting different results'. It's an overused phrase (and I've been complaining about tired cliches lately) but well articulated by Cal Smith in his rather meandering op-ed in today's RG.

I appreciate his clarification that our affiliation with Caricom is so that we can learn what NOT to do!

Nice one Cal.

I've only got one question? When is someone going to point out a nation from which we can learn what worked, not what didn't?

I certainly hope this isn't the way we educate our kids?

The op-ed states that "Clearly, in its quest for Independence, Bermuda has much to gain from an association with the islands to the south of us. We can learn from their mistakes and receive valuable instruction in the management of a micro-state that, quite frankly, mega-states like America and England are unable to provide."

Mr. Smith thinks that Bermuda, with one of the highest standards of living in the world (oh yeah, that's just "propaganda") needs to learn management techniques from some of the poorest and most troubled nations in the world. The same nations that desperately want to emulate us and are struggling to stay afloat both economically and socially (one follows the other by the way)!

Don't forget that when we joined Caricom a number of the member countries resented our new association. We were (accurately) seen as a rich non-caribbean island which would syphon resources from genuinely needy Caricom nations.

Mr. Smith does a great job in making a very strong case against independence through the lack of positives that he is able to identify.

We're being asked to support a negative by the independence advocates. We won't make their mistakes. We won't lower our standard of living.

Coincidentally this is the same approach used to sell us on Caricom in the first place. We were told that we won't have free movement of labour. We won't be a full member. We won't be bound by their positions. We're still wondering what we get from it but apparently that is irrelevant. So what are we there for other than a place for our politicians to preen and profile?

The only positive? National pride, which was effectively debunked in another op-ed today.

The few arguments so far made in favour of independence by it's advocates all relate to doing the same thing but getting different results.

Insanity indeed!

There's your campaign slogan: "Independence Insanity: repeating the same behavior and expecting different results".

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I've been sent this referendum letter a few times lately. Both the Mid Ocean News and RG have had stories on it recently.

So here it is:

Referendum Letter Template

My only word of warning would to be careful what you ask for. Other than Alex Scott and a couple of his proxies, I haven't sensed a real excitement locally since the issue was raised - yet again.

If everyone starts writing letters to the press, the Premier and Government House etc. saying that we need a referendum on Independence then the Premier will claim support for his initiative. There's no need to create a groundswell of support for a referendum on independence when the public seem uninterested in the issue. Mr. Scott is no dummy and is well aware of this.

Alex Scott hasn't yet achieved what he wanted, to shift the public discourse away from PLP Government ineffectiveness, scandal and corruption and on to a more abstract and fungible issue. The Premier is hoping to cynically attempt to position himself as a modern day freedom fighter from a non-existent foe, obscuring the issues that are going unaddressed.

I for one, don't plan on helping him achieve momentum. He's going to have to carry his own water on this one.

The better angle (as this letter takes) is to argue that if Bermuda were to consider independence at some point in time, that a referendum is the only legitimate mechanism to measure public support.

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Tony Blair certainly seems to have used his trademark charm to generate some positive headlines, at least locally, while on vacation.

When I looked at the photo on the front page of today's RG I couldn't help but sense the irony. Here's our Cabinet - probably still proudly bruised from their anti-UK chest beating of the past few months - looking quite chuffed to be posing with the Colonialist in Chief.

I certainly hope our Cabinet Dream Team made the most of the opportunity with Mr. Blair, free from distractions and on their home turf, to actually forge a bond.

I'd hazard a bet that they stuck to international affairs because the Premier was too embarrassed to raise his signature issue.

Picture it. Alex Scott pounding the cabinet table angrily: "As a matter of fact Prime Minister Blair, we do have a major problem we need to urgently address. How come the Gov. gets to drive his Rolls on the runway? I demand that for my Peugeot as well or you're disrespecting us? And car one-upmanship is a big deal in Bermuda."

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Nigel Regan of the Sun has a good run down of the highlights of Tuesday night's Violence Forum. The headline is a little charitable as there wasn't much if anything in the way of solutions discussed before I left.

You might have noticed that the Sun counted 100 in attendance where the Gazette had 60. While reporters are better with words than numbers that isn't the problem here.

The explanation is actually quite simple and very Bermewjan.

Even an urgent problem like discussing violence in our community happens on Bermuda time. The event was due to start at 6:30PM but didn't really kick off until closer to 7PM, and even then the crowd was a little light. RG's reporter had to meet his deadline for Tuesday's paper and left early. Nigel Regan of the Sun on the other hand had the whole of Tuesday to work on his story for Wednesday's edition.

My count at 9PM was 95 people, but at 8PM it was closer to 60.

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A strong theme throughout the violence forum tonight was religion and it's lack of place people's lives.

Now, I know this might upset a few people but as soon as someone starts talking about God that should set off alarm bells that they don't have a clue what to do and have resorted to prayer.

This theme made me think of the lyrics from the great Arrested Development song Fishin 4 Religion from the '3 Years 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of' album. (If you don't have this album you're missing one of the greatest ever)!

Here's a snippet of the lyrics where Speech is talking about prayer and churches. Makes me think of Bermuda:

"They’re praising a God that watches you weep
But doesn’t want you to do a damn thing about it.
When they want change the preacher says shout it.
Does shout bring about change?
I doubt it.
All shout does is make you lose your voice.

...Pastor tells the lady it will be alright
Just pray so you can see the pearly gates are white
The lady prays and prays and prays and prays and prays and prays and prays and prays and
It’s everlasting.
There’s nothing wrong with praying it’s what she’s asking
She’s asking the Lord to let her cope
So one day she can see the golden ropes
What you pray for God will give to be able to cope in this world we live
The word COPE and the word CHANGE are directly opposite not the same
She should have been praying to change her woes but pastor said pray to cope with those.
The Government’s happy with most Baptist churches because we don’t do a damn thing to try and nurture
Brothers and sisters on a revolution
Baptist preachers dying is the only solution

Passiveness causes others to pass us by
I throw my line until I made a decision, until then I’m still
Fishin’ 4 Religion"

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I spent tonight at the ‘gang violence’ forum at Bermuda Institute and will defer to tomorrow’s RG and Wednesday’s Bermuda Sun for more comprehensive coverage of what each of the (too many and too longwinded) panelists said.

I left after 9PM when someone in the audience said that the legalization of homosexuality in 1995 is part of the problem. Strange, I’m yet to see a bunch of gay guys hacking each other with machetes at a football game! But you know, everyone is trying to attach their pet hate to this one rather than actually dealing with the problem.

Anyway, here’s a few details.

• It only started half an hour late and after two unnecessary musical interludes by Shine Hayward
• 10 panelists was too many. None of them stuck to their 6 minute allotted time and the moderator didn’t enforce it well enough. Actually it was more like 10-15 minutes each one which took us to 8:45PM before the audience could contribute
• 3 UBP in attendance (4 if you include me): Sen. Rev. Leonard Santucci and Shadow Youth Minister Jon Brunson were speakers and David Dodwell was in the audience
• 2 PLP in attendance: Dale Butler rolled in 45 minutes late and walked to take his seat at the front (that’s an old political trick at public meetings and funerals to make sure everyone sees you - come in late, walk to the front) and Rev. Larry Lowe who didn’t last very long. One panelist gave apologies from Southampton MP and Labour and Home Affairs Minister Randy Horton, Southampton candidate and Sen. Raymond Tannock and Attorney General Sen. Larry Mussenden (also head of Bermuda Football Association). That should clear up any confusion of the Government’s level of interest in this issue I suppose.
• No gangsters present, a few gangster wannabe's appeared to be dragged in late on but strangely they had other things to do (sharpen their machetes maybe)

My general feeling on this event was what I had expected going in. Unfortunately that wasn’t a good thing.

I’d sum up the forum panelists and audience as a group of genuinely well intentioned people who are stuck in a diagnosis psychosis. We seem to be in a competition to see who can provide the most profound and all-encompassing diagnosis of the problem without actually being interested in starting to deal with it.

Not one proposal for how to approach this issue was put forward, just the same tired platitudes and clichés that we hear every day. They all have some validity I’m sure, but one of the worst characteristics of Bermudians is that we complain and don’t actually do anything about the grievances we have. Just more talk, talk, talk without action.

Every panelist bar one wasted their opportunity with tired clichés and overused anecdotes about single mothers and ‘it takes a village type’ comments.

Who was the one you ask? Rolfe Commissiong, of all people.

For the record I almost never agree with Rolfe. However on this occasion he was the only panelist willing to challenge the audience and not cover the same old territory with overused arguments. He did eventually deviate onto his pet themes of independence, race and the evil black woman. (Rolfe can’t help himself and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to promote his own clairvoyance showing an op-ed he wrote in RG once about violence - even having someone hand out copies of his brilliance after he spoke! It was such a shame. He started so well but just devolved into his usual histrionics about black women alienating their children from their absentee fathers.)

Anyway, I left with a profound disappointment that not one person proposed a single potential solution to start dealing with this problem.

So in the spirit of solutions here’s a few ideas for addressing violence in our community (in no particular order). This is an off-the-cuff brainstorm, I wouldn’t necessarily do all of these or would modify some:

• acknowledge that gangs exist in Bermuda
• stop using the phrase ‘Youth violence’. Most of these guys are men, in their mid-20’s.
• background checks before you can buy a machete (just kidding)
• return the “Force” to the Police Service (I always thought changing the name to “Police Service” was a bad idea. They’re a Police Force.
• increase the Police Force staffing by 33% (real cops on the street, not ones sitting in offices)
• ban or place time restrictions on broadcasts of BET (and Fresh TV music videos) which promotes misogyny, violence, materialism, drugs and alcohol to kids
• search spectators at all sporting events
• increase sentences for violent crimes and crimes with weapons
• curfews
• courts to punish parents if children under 18 involved in a serious crime (this one would be very tricky but worth thinking about)
• improve the public education system by raising standards and enforcing strict discipline
• stop teaching 18 year olds how to use weapons in the regiment

Feel free to email me other ideas which I’ll post later.

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Bermuda's got to be the only place in the world where we call a public meeting with gang members (link to come soon)! If it wasn't such a damning condemnation of our unwillingness to face reality it would be laughable.

Let's get real. It's time for action not talk.

We've got to take back control and make the rest of us safe before we can start changing people.

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I've recently added to my links on this site, under the heading of 'News Aggregators' (at the bottom of the left hand column) a list of the major news aggregators available.

A number of you read this site, and other blogs, using RSS or a syndicated site feed. If you're not familiar with site syndication and are looking for an easy way to read all your blogs and news sites in one place without checking for updates, then these are sent from heaven.

I've been using Bloglines for quite a while to read my favourite sites, and I couldn't live without it. Some major sites using RSS include most blogs and the NY Times, Slate, Salon.com, Guardian Unlimited and many many more.

My next mission is to try and convince the local print media to adopt RSS on their websites.

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Hey, that was my idea!

I wondered aloud to a friend (who'd better not be doing this without me...just kidding) about 8 months ago why no-one had done this in Bermuda. We assumed it was because of the distance a casino boat would have to travel to reach international waters or something along those lines.

What this latest gambling initiative suggests is that we should probably just accept that entrepreneurs will always find a way around the law, and regulate and tax the gambling industry. At least that way we can pay for all the problems that Government are inevitably going to be called on to address.

Currently, we must be the only place in the world with gambling that doesn't collect a cent in tax from it!

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"Back to life, back to reality", ahh the immortal words of Soul II Soul and Jazzie B.

After being on the road and a little out of touch for a week I'm back on de rock and have the flamethrower primed and ready to go!

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Blogging will be extremely light for this week.

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Check out this article picked up by the Pondblogger.

Seems the gambling inititative may be further along than we might think. If this agreement turns out to be true it will be interesting to see who gets implicated in this. Backroom negotiations over an issue like gambling are ill-advised. Without the community on board this will be relegated to the political football arena.

Look for this to blow up in the local press shortly.

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I don't know how much more obvious the Premier's independence strategy could be.

On the Premier's Caricom experience he said:

“..we did have the courtesy and respect shown to us of allowing us to be at the table and to be able to speak.”

and on his need to be picked up on the airport runway:

"The Premier, not Alex Scott, should probably be given equal respect to dignitaries who visit the Island, to the Governor who is part of the executive of the Island...If I allow that to be disrespected I am allowing the Country to be disrespected."

Get it? Caribbean countries respect us, the UK doesn't...thus independence is necessary to be treated with respect.

Well if the UK did respect us I bet they no longer do after the disgraceful public displays by 'the Premier, not Alex Scott'.

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Don't miss Tom Vesey's excellent piece on page 7 of today's Bermuda Sun deconstructing Alex Scott, the Premier that is!

Tom picks up all the good stuff. It's particularly grating to constantly hear the Premier's annoying (and cardinal sin of political speaking) habit of referring to himself in the 3rd person, or by the title of 'the Premier'.

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So let me get this right.

The day after the Premier was pounding the podium for the media over concerns he supposedly has with the Governor, he is quoted in today's Mid Ocean News as saying that he "'did not appreciate' learning of Mr. Coleman's [US Consul General] comments through the media rather than directly through him".

Am I hearing this right?

Seems there's one standard for Mr. Scott and another for everyone else. But then again he is the "constitutional head of internal affairs"...blah, blah, blah.

Mr. Scott is serving as justification of why Bermuda is better served, at least under the current administration, by the UK handling our foreign affairs.

It's amateur hour at the Cabinet Office. Unfortunately the joke is on us.

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Watching the Premier today at his press conference made me feel ill.

Alex Scott used the event to cover everything from attacking the UK as undemocratic to not respecting the position of Premier because the Governor didn't immediately agree to his request for airport runway pickups.

The UK apparently is undemocratic because they would only allow him observer status at the Caricom meetings. Well, they're right. Bermudians voted 2-1 in the 1995 referendum that they wanted to remain a colony, thus Mr. Scott should stop preening for the press and observe. The referendum's 'Yes' result meant that Bermudians were content with the UK representing our interests internationally, whether Mr. Scott likes it or not.

I discussed in a previous post the ridiculousness of this drama over airport privileges for the Premier. Phillip Wells seems to have misinterpreted my post, although I did focus on the profiling of the PLP since assuming the Government. My point is that the Premier isn't being straight with us on why he wants these things and is using them for other purposes, both personal and now evidently political.

Apparently I misread the motive for this confrontation over airport runway privileges by suggesting that it was driven by a desire for additional perks. While I stand by that as part of the decision - probably triggered by the over the top VIP treatment that he'll have received at the recent Caricom meetings - it's clear after watching the press conference today that the Premier is instigating confrontation with the Governor as a ploy to build support for independence.

The Chief Justice appointment process was used for political gain (and probably back-fired) and now, before any response has been received on the airport pickup 'crisis', the Premier is taking the same angle attacking the Governor and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for not respecting the position of Premier if they don't meet his demand.

They haven't even made a decision yet and the Premier is furious.

This guy's a joke.

Does this approach sound familiar? It's the same failed method he used in recommending a Chief Justice.

If anyone thinks the Premier wants the Governor to agree to his runway request you're mistaken. Mr. Scott didn't want his choice for Chief Justice to be successful and he'd prefer to have this trojan horse runway issue be denied as well. That way he can build his case for mistreatment and disrespect of our Premier by the evil colonialists.

Mr. Scott, devoid of any real reasons to justify the benefits of independence, is now using every opportunity to fabricate confrontation where there is none. The PLP are hoping to manufacture a feeling of inferiority in the community and will apparently stoop to any level to do this.

If this is the type of diplomatic approach we can expect as an independent nation we'll be the laughing stock of the world.

The image of the Premier banging on the podium demanding that the UK agree to increased airport privileges was shameful and a discredit to his Office. I'm not sure why he has to ask frankly. Doesn't the Transport Ministry run the airport and Immigration and Customs control the runway? What's the Governor's jurisdiction?

This Premier is an embarrassment. In the absence of any real reasons to go independent the PLP are trying to create crisis after crisis in an attempt to hoodwink Bermudians into supporting his Independence initiative.

The electorate is much more intelligent than Mr. Scott seems to think.

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Earlier this week Brian Darby on VSB carried some unattributed comments from a senior executive at one of the major international companies. This individual was highlighting the current difficulties of operating out of Bermuda. The tone of the discussion was not positive and raised some serious concerns about the cost and challenges our businesses face.

While I don't have a transcript of the comments, he or she raised the following issues as problematic and getting worse (in no particular order):

- Work Permit difficulties (relaxing in Key employee speculated to be in response to complaints by the industry)
- Key Employee restrictions
- poorly motivated Bermudian employees
- housing costs
- constant bashing of international companies in the press and Parliament for political gain
- on the subject of Independence the individual said: "Don't get me started". Could they have been any more clear than that?

The individual prefaced these comments saying that the positive reason (there's only one really) for operating out of Bermuda (favourable tax environment) remain and is compelling, but that companies are quietly downsizing their Bermuda presence and that this will continue.

Now, I'll start by congratulating VSB and Bryan Darby in particular for getting this story, albeit unattributed and not doing what VSB is notorious for - reading from one of the local papers with very little acknowledgement of the print media as having done the report. VSB is on the money with this story and we'd do well to take notice.

As a follow-up story Labour Minister Randy Horton was quoted as dismissing the criticism and saying that this isn't the feedback he gets from the business community. Bermuda is an attractive place to operate out of he maintained.

Mr. Horton, while saying what I'd expect, would be wise not to dismiss the concerns of this individual. I imagine Bryan Darby was hanging out with someone at a cocktail party and after a few drinks things loosened up and as always, the truth starts to come out.

I'd also suggest that the industry would be better served in telling Mr. Horton the truth and not softening their message when dealing with him in person, which I'm sure is what is going on. Dancing around the issues serves no purpose. When speaking on the record or at public events, neither the Minister nor the business community are going to be quite as blunt as they will at a cocktail party but this does no-one any good.

Bermuda is, as has been pointed out a lot lately, a "one trick pony". The two pillars of our economy are down to one. Tourism isn't the major contributor to our economy that it once was and we've become overly dependent, both in terms of jobs and revenue, on international business to drive us.

So, what is our response as Bermudians and Bermudian policy makers to this dependence? Attack it and make it much harder for them to operate. Sound familiar? Hmmm, how do we think we killed tourism? We did that quite successfully with multiple strikes and protesting new hotel developments for political points (David Allen leading a march down South Shore anyone?).

We have to remove our economic drivers from the political domain.

We as Bermudians have a bad habit of thinking that people will always come here to do business and we can put whatever restrictions and hassle we want on them without impact. We also thought that tourists would always come here.

Well, as someone who works in the Reinsurance industry, I can attest to the fact that many of the companies here are quietly moving their jobs to other more hospitable and hungry places. Dublin, the Caymans, other islands, back to the US and London are becoming more attractive every day to the leaders of these companies. These countries want our jobs and the associated economic benefit. The tax advantage remains, but until our politicians set the tone for the community to follow I worry that we're on a downward spiral.

Yes the companies will continue to set up here for the time being but if we're shipping the professional jobs to other areas we are doing a number of very damaging things for our island:

1) The jobs that will move won't be the CEOs and CFO's and underwriters but the entry level professional jobs that put you on a track to those positions. Who'll suffer from that? Bermudians who will find they can't work their way into the industry and thus will never reach the positions they aspire to.

2) At the same time we're making other areas better competitors by forcing out smart employees who could be mentoring our young Bermudians. Instead they're training up young Dubliners while our Bermudians get offered jobs as receptionists and personal assistants.

3) The tax advantage is a major boost to Bermuda but if the expenses get too high, coupled with the reality that an organisation can't get the people they want to produce a profit, they'll go elsewhere. Remember the tax benefit is no good if you're not making money and it takes good employees to do that. At the minimum they'll reduce the presence here to a holding company level and use accounting to get the benefit.

4) If number 3 takes place we'll become what the US accuse of us being - simply a tax shelter moving around dollars rather than a thriving industry providing valuable services from our shores. Then we'll get hit really hard as John Kerry has promised.

There are obvious other drawbacks that I could mention but I'm highlighting the Bermudian trait of killing the goose that laid the golden egg and then wondering where it all suddenly went. Like tourism it won't be sudden but one day everyone will wake up and realise that we've done it again!

One of my common criticisms of the PLP Government has been a lack of planning and vision in their policy making. This government is reactive and willing to use anything for short term political gain. Unfortunately short term political gain soon turns into long term economic damage.

The key employee restriction is a prime example of a policy put in place for electioneering purposes but that has many more far reaching implications.

I always knew it was a hollow policy and that Lister put it in place to drum up a few votes (and Grant Gibbons sadly took the bait). The PLP needed something to point to as an example of protecting Bermudian jobs, when in fact it does the exact opposite by driving them to other places (look at ACE's recent layoffs and the Bank of Bermuda moving their IT department to Scotland several years ago). As soon as the 2003 election was a done deal the PLP predictably backed away from this ill-advised policy, although it remains in place. Both the Premier and Randy Horton have indicated it will be applied much more loosely. What a surprise! They won't be needing it for another 5 years when it will either be resurrected or something else hastily thrown together in its place.

It's not only electioneering however. It also speaks to a fundamental lack of understanding in the PLP of how to run a businesses and how the industry functions here.

Apart from a few exceptions, PLP Parliamentarians are completely ignorant of the nuances and requirements of running a business, let alone a major international corporation. At it's core this stems from their labour background. Most in the PLP see employees as simply performing a set of predefined and easily repeatable tasks. Employees perform functions that anyone can be retrained to do and changing employees has no discernable impact on a business.

Well, that works in the PLP labour blue collar world to a certain extent but it is kryptonite to our financial services industry. Serious and valuable employees, the kind we want our Bermudians to be, bring revenue to the table when they are hired in this business. Reinsurance, insurance and the broker industry are relationship driven. Multi-million dollar accounts follow the individuals more than they do the company.

So if you decide that the 6 years for Employee A are up and force them out (to pointlessly replace them with another foreigner) they'll take their $100 Million dollars of premium with them to a competitor. That's the fundamental distinction. Employees bring revenue with them and take it when they leave.

This is why the key employee policy undermines the ability to run a succcessful business in Bermuda. Rather than lose the employee the company may shift them to Dublin, or not have them here at all. That only hurts Bermudians.

Our immigration policies don't acknowledge that and as a result are fundamentally threatening the profitability of our international companies.

I don't sense an interest in understanding how the industry works from our Government and I certainly don't see any signs that the exploitation of our international businesses for political gain will stop anytime soon. The PLP have presented no vision or long range planning as to how to keep Bermuda at the forefront of this industry.

In fact, using our only economic engine as a political whipping boy has created an envrionment of hostility and distrust towards an industry which gives back to Bermuda an incredible amount (that they really don't have to).

Unless we're prepared for the idea of Bermuda with no international companies and an anemic tourism industry, things have to change.

To a certain extent it may be too late. The decline may have already started.

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