September 2004 Archives

Tonight is the first of the US Presidential Debates, with annoying pre-debate spin beginning at (all times Bda) 8PM, the irrelevant debates at 9:30PM, and the even more annoying post-debate spin from 11PM until you can no longer tolerate it. In all likelihood little of any substance will be said between the canned lines Bush and Kerry haven been memorizing for weeks anyway.

A couple of things I'll be watching for:

whether Kerry can actually walk to his podium without changing direction (at least to mock the incessant spin of the Republican smear machine);
and whether Shrub will be able to contain that smirk of his, biting his bottom lip to hold it in.

Thankfully, to increase the entertainment factor, a reader sent in the rules for the Presidential Debate Drinking Game (source unknown) which are mercifully substantially shorter than the assinine 32 page debate rules themselves (may need a subscription, 7MB file).

Presidential Debate Drinking Game

Drink One Sip of Beer If:
Anyone says "terrorism"
Anyone says "Halliburton"
Anyone says "flip flop"
Anyone says "Saddam Hussein"
Anyone blames "the media"
Anyone mentions their own military service
Anyone says "September 11"
One candidate interrupts another candidate

Drink Two Sips of Beer If:
Bush says "cut and run"
Kerry says "W stands for wrong"
If either candidate talks past their time limit
Kerry brings up Bush's "Mission Accomplished" moment
Bush mentions Crawford, TX
Anyone looks at the wrong camera
Anyone whips out "evidence"
Anyone says "Osama bin Laden"
Anyone mentions blogs
Anyone invokes the hurricane sympathy vote
Anyone mentions "North Korea"
Kerry mentions Bush wants to reinstate the draft
Everytime you see anyone wearing the yellow "LiveSTRONG" bracelet

Finish Your Glass If:
Anyone in the audience gets dragged out of the auditorium
Anyone in the audience gets off an unscripted question
Bush mispronounces any word or name
Anyone says "Osama bin Hidin'"
Anyone uses a sports metaphor
Anyone attempts to speak Spanish to pander to Latinos

Do a Shot If:
Bush mentions the deficit
Bush accuses Kerry of being "French on terrorism"
Kerry accuses Bush of being a pansy for avoiding Vietnam
Bush admits he made a mistake ("miscalculation" counts)
Ralph Nader shows up insisting on airtime

Finish the Bottle If:
Anyone challenges anyone to a dual
The moderator rips off his mask to reveal his true identity is Karl Rove

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All seems to have gone well. If the Powered By Movable Type message at the bottom right corner displays 3.11 instead of 2.64 I'm free and clear.

UPDATE: Success without any problems. Fancy that!

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I'm about to upgrade to the latest version of MovableType, the software that runs this site. You shouldn't notice any changes if all goes well, which upgrades never do!

If you're reading this, it's a good sign. If the site suddenly disappears, it's a bad sign.

I'll post another note when the upgrade has been completed.

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RG Opinion (28 Sept. 2004)

Empty promises of future failure

Last week, the Premier made a major announcement. It’s a shame he didn’t tell us first, preferring instead to deliver the news to his evidently more important friends at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council. Why is it that this Government prefers to inform their newly acquired non-Bermudian head of state friends about what’s going on in Bermuda while keeping us - the ones who will be affected by these policies - in the dark?

Could the motivation for this overseas PR blitz at the expense of us be that the Government is well aware of their lack of credibility locally? That their grand plans would be rightly laughed off the island if delivered here, seen as more empty promises or future failures? Or could it be that it just makes them feel like international players?

What the Premier’s high ranking buddies don’t know, but we do, is that in 6 years the members of this Cabinet aren’t even players on the local stage. They haven’t succeded in building one affordable house at an affordable price, or completing the construction of a school remotely close to its budgeted cost and date for example.

Yet somehow we’re expected to have faith in them to manage an “all-encompassing cross-ministry initiative” over the next 10 years? This initiative, we’re told from thousands of miles away, is to be called the “Action Plan of Social Engineering for Sustainable Development” or, rather unimaginatively for short – drum roll please – ‘The Social Agenda’.

Well you can’t fool us. We all know that this isn’t that different from the first 6 years of PLP rule, known as ‘The Social Calendar and Personal Agendas’, or for short the ‘Sociable Agenda’. We also know that the only part of the Progressive Labour Party name that seems relevant anymore is ‘Party’. In reality, the Government has performed more like the Regressive Incompetent Party, or ‘RIP’ for short.

It’s a harsh condemnation of our current leadership that a group of politicians who’d gone 30 years without winning an election spent their first 6 years in power uninterested in a ‘Social Agenda’.

After finally winning an election in 1998, the self-described “People’s Government” immediately embarked on an ambitious housing plan…for their two Premiers. This comprehensive strategy involved lavishly renovating two ‘unofficial’ residences in 5 years and redecorating the official one at Camden - that’s Government efficiency unparalleled pre-1998. Not to be accused of ignoring the greater housing plight, they also built affordable houses in Warwick - at twice the normal cost per square foot. Then, in order to provide affordable rental units they quietly purchased a house from the current Deputy Premier - at twice its market value according to one real estate agent - and managed the rental portfolio of at least one other Cabinet Minister.

As if that wasn’t enough the Government tackled the traffic and tourism problems by purchasing really big, really shiny GPS unequipped cars for themselves, and attempted to turn declining air arrivals around by re-entering the island frequently after their important and extensive travels outside of Bermuda.

Crime was also high on the priority list. Government presided over the theft of vital funds for housing at the BHC and failed to hold anyone accountable.

Committed to improving education, Government is now conducting a case study in how not to run a construction project by building a new school - at what will be by some estimates almost twice the normal cost (and twice the annual education budget).

That’s an impressive track record of wealth redistribution already! It’s little surprise then that the Premier would prefer to profile as far away from Bermudians as possible. Why? Well, today’s Bermuda looks a lot better if you’re viewing it from the outside in rather than the inside out.

The Premier and his colleagues might find a better reception to their speeches here if they’d registered a couple of achievements and not scandals during their tenure. What we need are politicians who are interested in what they can do for us, not what we can do for them.

The expectation early in the PLP’s first term was that their first priority was to those they were elected to serve. Instead we quickly discovered that they were mostly concerned with taking care of their own by selling their own properties to the Government - at undisclosed criminally high prices - for example.

One of the hidden advantages of governing Bermuda is that our elected leaders can’t entertain too many distracting international vanity projects and preen on the world stage. We don’t need much of a foreign policy, that’s largely taken care of. Instead they should focus intensely on what’s going on here at home.

Bermuda could be a shining example of the benefits of the saying “Think Global, Act Local” if our leaders would just focus on our own pressing issues here, than impersonating statesmen abroad.

Unfortunately this Government seems more interested in wowing their important foreign friends with their words, than wowing the ignored locals with their accomplishments.

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By the way, that last post is just an update to the site's 'About' page.

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What is Politics.bm?

Politics.bm is a weblog launched on Monday September 29, 2003. The intention of this site is to discuss Bermudian politics, primarily. Hence the name.

It's maintained by Christian Dunleavy, a former weekly columnist for The Royal Gazette and onetime candidate for the United Bermuda Party, who can't seem to satisfy his appetite for political news and strategy - in Bermuda or anywhere else for that matter. If it's political I'll read or talk about it, even if you're not listening.

The focus of this site is the observation and analysis of Bermuda's political process and strategies of the parties, as much as the specific policies of the parties. Certain topics don't really interest me and as such you may see some issues that you'd expect comment on completely ignored.

As a general rule my intention is to try and add something to the discussion, not simply repeat what is covered elsewhere. If a topic has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere and I have nothing new to contribute, I'll just link through to it. If I don't think I can add something I'll stay out of it, something I wish many of our politicians would do themselves.

This site is not affiliated with the United Bermuda Party in any way.

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This post over at NewDonkey.com on the rise of blogging is worth a read.

In case you're interested in the sites NewDonkey refers to, I read Talking Points Memo religiously, rarely look at Wonkette and occassionally read DailyKos. NewDonkey is a recent addition to US political blogs, but it provides some insightful analysis from the left.

My take on blogging and the use of blogs is that they are entirely complimentary to the main stream media. They couldn't exist without it. I'm not a subscriber to the theory that blogging will change the world or wrapped up in some identity as a 'blogger'. For me, it's simply a very effective way to distribute information through efficient personal publishing tools like MovableType, TypePad, Blogger or LiveJournal for example.

If the content sucks then no-one's going to read it. The blogging format and the associated tools put the focus on the content and not web design, that's what is appealing to me.

Maybe more importantly, blogging gives people who might not have the ability to publish their ideas a platform. As NewDonkey's post points out, how people use this varies greatly.

But Tim Hodgson is right in last Friday's Mid Ocean Editorial. Bermudians are retreating from community involvement and are becoming immersed in their computer screens. I'd like to hope that technology is a means of enhancing communication, spurring people to become more involved with each other - face to face.

We shouldn't replace personal contact and community involvement for the anonymity of discussion boards and email, regardless of its convenience.

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The first entry for 'Hypocritical Statement of the Week' goes to Alex Scott:

“It does a tremendous disservice to what we are trying to do – to mislead the public that way.”

Get out of town. Really? What about his Deputy's statement which led to Alex Scott's elevation to Premier of:

"We misled you because we had to."

I'm yet to hear him talk about that disservice.

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After seeing the BIU's gripes today, and hearing that they've now publicly floated talk of a strike, it would appear that the BIU intend to hold the island hostage to get their $4M bad loan back and protect their other $6.8M.

With regards to the $4M, they quite frankly have absolutely no claim against Government. If they chose to advance ProActive $4M that's their business, and clearly bad business.

In the real world the BIU would be SOL. But this is Bermuda, and the PLP are worried solely about protecting their political hides. So when faced with the eventual choice of bankrupting the Union or using tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to cover their asses, well you decide which path they'll take.

It seems that after two ill advised forays into insurance (the bond) and banking (loans to ProActive) the BIU has decided to get back to what they're good at...strikes.

If the union's membership had any collective sense they'd start protesting outside Union headquarters and demand Derrick Burgess's scalp, for being completely inept and jeopardising the future viabililty of the Union.

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RG Opinion (21 Sept. 2004)

Bermuda rot of a different sort

Over the past months Bermuda has been consumed with two major scandals that have cut to the heart of this Government's suitability to lead.

The BHC outrage has exposed a Government devoid of ethical standards, a moral compass or at least the shallowest of survival instincts to hold people responsible after they're caught with their hands in the cookie-jar.

Additionally, the as yet fully understood debacle at the Berkeley project has revealed Government's willingness to expose us to a huge and completely avoidable financial burden in order to cover up their incompetence.

In the past several weeks however, buried somewhere underneath these issues, has been a subtle shift on the Government's part to position themselves as financially accountable - without changing their own behaviour.

This illusion is unfolding by way of the Bermuda Track and Field Association (BTFA) and Hope Homes. While the full details of these stories remain unclear, what is clear is that these actions have exposed a Government that doesn't lead from the top down, but that expects more of us than they are willing to commit to themselves.

Bermuda is currently being subjected to a "do as I say, not as I do" Government, one intent on hoodwinking us into thinking that it embraces the very principles of accountability and transparency that it has intentionally undermined during their tenure.

The most glaring example of this is the eureka moment Minister Dale Butler seems to have experienced, perhaps during his recent trip to Greece.

Only several months ago the Minister proudly proclaimed his desire to fund charitable and sporting organisations, despite poor financial standards.

Now, only two months later, this same Minister is lambasting them for their lack of accountability with taxpayer funds, behaviour he wholeheartedly endorsed. Mr. Butler should count his blessings that George Bush's Republican Party hasn't set up shop in Bermuda.

They'd have christened him as their favourite "flip-flopper" with those statements, let alone his Cabinet appointment-induced Cuban conversion.

Both Hope Homes and the BTFA have been publicly scolded, by Government Ministers of all people, for sub-standard financial practices and a lack of accountability.

The BTFA was first in line for the hypocrisy treatment, receiving a public spanking by a Government that has advocated removing the Auditor, failed to produce a receipt for a $700,000 transaction, and builds houses and a school at twice the market rate.

Next up was Hope Homes, an organisation serving the most vulnerable in our island paradise. They were told by our elected practitioners of financial hide-and-seek that they will no longer receive Government grants due to a lack of accountability, throwing them immediately into a financial crisis.

None of this should suggest that these - or any other - organisations should receive taxpayer grants unconditionally, but simply that they are doing nothing more or less than what is being endorsed and honed into a fine art in the Cabinet Office.

It takes plenty of chutzpah, and an admirable lack of shame, to deride these organisations for their behaviour while we watch our taxpayer money disappear faster than a Cabinet Minister flying to their next junket.

True leadership starts at the top and trickles down. What we've experienced over the past few years is a Bermuda rot of the financial variety, and not the kind that's easily treated with a little antiseptic on the surface.

This rot has become so pervasive and deeply ingrained, that it has spread like a virus, infecting worthy causes and jeopardising vital public services along the way.

It's little wonder then that some of the organisations which do so much good, might have adopted the same standards of our unaccountable Government. This administration will have zero credibility in its newfound embrace of sound financial practices until it gets its own house in order.

A good place to start would be with the matter of the phantom $700,000 bond payment, the commissioning of a public inquiry into the goings on at the BHC and a full and public accounting of the costs and progress at Berkeley. These steps would reveal the full extent of the rot, and identify both the host and the cure for the disease.

Perhaps, to take a page out of the Hope Homes scenario, we should start withholding our land, payroll and other taxes until the Government gets their own act together?

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I try to not make a habit of commenting too much on other columnists, particularly in my columns, but after reading Cal Smith's column yesterday I found a couple of things worthy of note:

Firstly, Mr. Smith nicely captures the atmosphere in NY and the general value which Americans attach to their freedom of speech - although there do seem to be plenty of threats on it lately...most noticeably the 'balance' between security and free speech/protesting that has begun in the post Sept 11 world. (At both party's Presidential conventions this year protesters were intended to be confined to ironically named 'Free Speech Zones', although in NY I think the numbers were overwhelming and they didn't cooperate as well.)

Also of note is that the Bush Cheney campaign requires attendees at their campaign events to sign a pledge of support for the President in order to gain access. These are their events (and it's all marketing anyway) so they are entitled - I guess - to be selective on who attends, but it is a bit 'un-American' I would think and suggests a fear of the public.

Anyway, that's all a bit off topic. My point is that free speech is under threat in the US, but Mr. Smith's underlying thrust is correct I think that it has high value in the psyche of Americans.

What I really want to talk about is this assertion at the end of Mr. Smith's column:

Still there is legitimate concern that at least one high ranking member of the UBP, the Deputy Leader Mr. Michael Dunkley, does not place a high value on freedom of speech.

This man has declared that whatever I have to say has no relevance because I am a political “has been”.

Michael Dunkley in his original letter (included at the end of this post as it is not on RG's website) never said that, and he never questioned anyone's right to speak, although I don't think there was any need to go after Cal Smith, Rolfe Commissiong and Senator Roban. This strategy distracted from his underlying point and made it seem a bit too personal.

Mr. Dunkley's point was that there was a noticable absence of Cabinet Ministers and elected members around the Premier willing to lend their support. The Premier was sent out alone and could only rustle up a few of the party's most reliable, unconditional, staunchest defenders. That's ok, there's nothing wrong with that, but it was telling and suggested a lack of unity within the elected PLP group.

What concerns me about Mr. Smith's misrepresentation here is that while a clever tactic to try and dismiss the criticism, undermine Mr. Dunkley's credibility and change the topic from dishonesty in the Government ranks - it suggests a move towards another trait of US political discourse.

Free speech in the US has been increasingly invoked as an defense for political dishonesty, allowing people to present your opponents' words in a false light. Mr. Smith invokes this method in his article attempting to portray Mr. Dunkley as anti-free speech. Mr. Dunkley never questioned anyone's right to free speech, he questioned the weight the messengers carried, which is a judgment everyone makes when listening to public debate.

Perhaps Mr. Smith took the Republican convention and free speech a little much to heart. He's adopted their tactic of lying about the war and voting record of John Kerry, picking his words and presenting them in a dishonest way. John Kerry and the Democrats do this less often and less effectively than the Republicans but they can do it as well.

The Democrats angle at their convention wasn't to lie about Bush's record but to be selective in what they presented about their candidate, focusing almost exclusively on his Vietnam service. This was responded to by the Republicans in the form of dishonesty and distortion with the Swift Boat Vets ads. Being selective is ok, being dishonest is not.

The intentional misrepresentation of people's statements is something that I hope doesn't start to become pervasive in Bermuda politics, although it appears to have already arrived.

--- Michael Dunkley's Letter to the Editor ---

August 17th, 2004

The Editor
Royal Gazette

Dear Sir,

I read with great interest the article in the Royal Gazette on Saturday August 14th titled “PLP rallies around the Premier.” The support that the headline referred to is delivered by Calvin Smith, “Commentator” Rolfe Commissiong and Senator Walter Roban.

I believe there are a few important observations that need to be highlighted as a result of the comments in this article.

First, it is my opinion that Calvin Smith is a “has been” in political terms; when was the last time he was elected by the people to serve the people? On the other hand both Mr. Commissiong and Roban are political “wannabees”; when have they ever been elected by the people to serve the people?

Secondly, if this is all the support that the Premier can get as he faces the sharp uphill climb trying to dig out of the deep negative hole of public opinion dug by himself and his PLP colleagues in connection with the BHC matter, then one would have thought that the Premier could have rustled up a few people with credibility to speak.

After reading this article I am more convinced than ever that the PLP will do whatever it can to cover up their unethical, incompetent or “practices of criminal nature”, as Mr. Commissiong commented.

Mr. Commissiong is quoted in the article as saying “But yet the UBP, after having whipped up the degree of hysteria solely for a political game that they have yet to see realized, continue with the tactics of division and innuendo in attempt to irresponsibly cause a loss of confidence in the Government.”

Firstly in reply to that comment, the PLP themselves have caused the public to lose confidence in them.

Secondly, please allow me to make the record clear; nothing could be farther from the truth. As an opposition one of our mandates is to stimulate the best from the government. In this case within the BHC we have pointed out gross mismanagement, corruption, unethical behavior, incompetence or call it whatever you choose.

This culture was developed since 1998, under a PLP government.
The UBP, while in Opposition, will continue to fight for an ethical, responsible and competent government.

Isn’t that what all Bermudians want?

Sincerely,

Michael H.Dunkley, J.P, M.P.
Devonshire

--- End of Letter ---

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By the way, if you had any doubts that nerves are frayed and that this ProActive/Berkeley thing is personal just read this.

Ouch!

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RG Opinion (15 Sept. 2004)

'Unfinished Business' helps UBP find its voice

A funny thing happened on Labour Day. The UBP didn’t act the way the UBP is ‘supposed’ to act.

Standing in front of the attendees at the ceremonies, Senator Kim Swan and MP David Dodwell did something you don’t often hear the UBP do publicly. They spoke passionately, personally and with an openness that many might not expect. They were unrestrained, at ease in a labour crowd, comfortable in their own skin and without the usual slippery language of politicians. They were direct, honest and introspective. Their message clearly resonated with both men speaking candidly about their, and their party’s, vision for one Bermuda.

To many, this might have been unusual. For me it was not. I’ve heard both of these, and other, UBP members speak powerfully about righting the wrongs of the past, about uniting Bermuda’s de facto segregated community, and about taking steps themselves to make this goal a reality. Unfortunately - perhaps due to a perception that public discussions about race put them on the PLP’s turf – these conversations have taken place internally, creating an impression in the community that the UBP is uninterested in the issue.

Things have clearly changed. This is not your grandfather’s UBP, and it’s happening under an unlikely leader. It’s happening under a Gibbons. You know, the ones that you’re told represent and protect the white establishment. By sending out Kim Swan and David Dodwell to deliver their messages in his absence, Grant Gibbons has signaled his desire to put racial reconciliation front and center under his leadership. Behind that even-tempered unflappable demeanor, is just another Bermudian that cares about the issue.

This directness might surprise some of the traditional UBP support. But if the UBP is to again take the reigns of leadership in this community, they’re going to have to talk about and address race. Only then can we be united. The party is going to have to be ready to open some minds and pull any reluctant members along with them, bringing us together as one.

Bermuda has to tackle the issue of race, and it must be done with a genuine desire to achieve results, not for short-term political point scoring. This UBP seems to have taken up the challenge and appears to have found its voice. The Labour Day speeches should have made that clear, but in reality it started back on October 30th, 2002 when Dr. Gibbons delivered an address entitled ‘Today’s UBP: Embracing the Power of One Bermuda’.

Dr. Gibbons said in his speech (available on the Party’s website): “The legacy of slavery and segregation persists. Prejudice and glass ceilings have not disappeared. There is unfinished business between black and white Bermudians—we cannot deny that—and our history suggests that the struggle to become one Bermuda will not be easy. But the goal of one Bermuda is worth the struggle, because the price of failure is too high.”

The leader of the UBP acknowledged the "unfinished business" between black and white Bermudians' and seems aware that he leads an organization which can advance this cause. Why? Simple. The party was founded at a difficult time in our history as a partnership between the races. The UBP is all too aware that Bermuda’s future depends on the success of this goal. The party’s own continued viability and the uniting of the races are inextricably tied. That’s something that bodes well for Bermuda.

What you saw last week was a renewed determination and willingness to accept this responsibility and step out of the party’s comfort zone to lead the dialogue that must take place. So where has this desire to publicly address racial reconciliation and social inequality come from?

Political parties are a sum of their parts, a reflection of the values of their members. When you join a party you don’t submit yourself to some pre-determined agenda, you help define it and the way it will be achieved. Parties, like people, change with time.

Over the past few years the UBP has brought in a wealth of new blood, and the benefits of this are showing. The party has evolved, with its leadership reflecting on the relative successes or failures of prior policies and methods. The current philosophy and direction of the party is a result of that introspection and fresh faces, revealing an understanding that all isn’t well in our community.

There’s a perception in Bermuda that the UBP isn’t concerned about racial and social inequities. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Grant Gibbons, Kim Swan and David Dodwell, among others, should confirm that.

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I've been observing a rather heated, to put it nicely, thread over at A Limey in Bermuda that seems to have largely drawn to a close. It got pretty exhausting at the end with a couple of commenters posting some pretty hateful and ignorant white supremacist type stuff but somewhere in there was a reasonably productive debate that got off track.

The post essentially tries to draw a line between ProActive's problems at the Berkeley site and the idea that the credibility of all black people has been hurt as a result. I pretty much agree with Phil's position, but wanted to address a few things from the perspective of the political system and the parties, that hasn't been touched on yet.

The whole thing started because the UBP's Patricia Gordon Pamlin said that as a result of this project no one in their right mind would consider black contractors for a large project, and then the PLP's Wayne Perinchief said that the Government was now 'trying to save the credibility of black people.' Two similar sentiments, one on the negative side, one delivered a little more positively - but essentially the same criticism.

Just to reiterate, it is incorrect to say that Pro Active's failure by extension indicts all blacks, but it isn't a surprise that it's cropped up. To some extent, the PLP themselves have created this connection as a political tool - and a smart one at that.

At the last election, one of the major themes delivered on the doorstep by PLP canvassers was, 'If you don't vote us back in you're saying that black people can't manage'. The flip side of this argument, as someone pointed out to me, is 'if you vote us out you're saying that only white people can run the country'. The PLP have used this argument quite shrewdly in an attempt to prevent defection among some swing voters and quash concern over their performance in their first term.

Whether it worked or not I don't know, but I do know that it was used. I disagree with the sentiment in both the Pro Active scenario or the scenario of the PLP's re-election, but to deny that tactic was used would be dishonest.

Additionally, one of the other things that was expressed to me by a black Bermudian was that the black community put a lot of pressure and expectations on each other to succeed. Perhaps the best example is when young black men and women go off to higher education. Many in the black community will tell them that they're going 'for all of us, so don't screw it up". There's even an NAACP commercial on heavy rotation in Bermuda that expresses this with a young man going off to college and his father wanting him to wear a tie. It's quite a powerful ad. In many ways, Pro Active might have carried some of this burden of expectation, one I can sort of understand. This individual felt that while both Ms. Gordon Pamplin and Mr. Perinchief's comments were misguided, he knows where they coming from, and many in the black community probably could too.

On to the topic of black economic empowerment, or maybe just economic empowerment. An important aspect has been largely lost in the discussion of the Government and Pro Active's performance:

Government have been completely inconsistent, evasive and downright schizophrenic on whether the Berkeley contract was awarded on the basis of empowerment.

The Premier, when W&E Minister, wanted to have it both ways - as he did recently in his rambling and ineffective press conference. Mr. Scott was waffling in the face of criticism about the PLP's treatment of a black firm, and responded by saying there were other examples of contracts awarded that were successful (Dellwood I think was one example), but ended his comments with "who just happened to be black". Well which one is it? The PLP seem to want both sides of the issue when it suits them.

You can't have a policy of economic empowerment, or black empowerment, or of anything if you aren't sure what you've done and can't decide if you did it or not. In today's RG Ashfield De Vent goes down the same road. He picks up a line used by the Premier before the last election:

"Mr. DeVent said he understood Pro-Active had come up with the most responsive tender at the time.

"They were chosen on merit.""

I ask again which one is it? The contractor thinks it was awarded as part of a broader, albeit undefined, policy of empowerment. Julian Hall said as much in his press conference:

"He added that Cabinet Ministers had spoken out about a desire for a policy of black economic empowerment. But Government had not delivered the degree of flexibility and support that Pro-Active had been led to expect, as a small company without the substantial capital resources."

That's my biggest complaint with the PLP's claim to be supporting black businesses and following a course of empowerment. Where's the policy? Where's the support to achieve success? This is something I've written about in my RG column. In the absence of a policy it's just favouritism. Or is that the point?

A policy statement is limiting. It means all-comers can apply and it clearly sets out who qualifies, what the expectations are and what support Government will give. Selection is based on a clear set of guidelines and the process would be open and easily justified. Even if people disagreed with the methodology it would be laid out and the Government could say this is why we did what we did. Instead there is nothing but the word of the Government and a completely inconsistent approach to this, one the Government aren't even sure they're doing themselves.

I support this approach, and in fact the UBP, in the run-up to the 2003 election, proposed establishing an Office of Economic Empowerment to do just that. Obviously, they lost so it didn't happen - which is a shame because that proposal was a good one as was the housing plan - but what the PLP are doing is not economic empowerment. It's political opportunism, pure and simple.

If the Berkeley contract was truly a case of economic empowerment then Government would have announced that the contract was going to be awarded on this basis, or with this as a consideration, BEFORE the tendering process began - not after.

What happened here was that Pro Active was awarded the contract and the PLP pointed to it and said "Look. Empowerment". Well, not really. What about all the other small black contractors who might have wanted to put together a consortium, or their own new firm and bid? How were they empowered by this? Recently in a RG Letter to the Editor (not online) Dr. Eva Hodgson made a very incisive point when she stated that (I'm paraphrasing) "the PLP hierarchy is not all black people". Absolutely, but they'd like you to think that because they and their hand picked few are doing well that all blacks have been empwered. Absolutely not. It's just a new elite that is being created. A new 40 Thieves for the new millenium.

What seemed to occur was that the Government put word out to a few selected individuals that they'd win the contract if they put together a firm - even with a substantially higher bid - and called it empowerment afterwards. That's favouritism, cronyism in my eyes, not empowerment.

It didn't work in any case but economic empowerment couldn't have been hurt in this case because this was anything but. What was hurt I believe was the PLP's ability to go down this murky road again. I can't see the public standing for it...if we're aware it's happening that is.

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Saturday's RG printed the details of how to donate to the Red Cross's Hurricane Ivan relief fund.

Grenada, Jamaica and the Caymans will be in extremely bad shape after the last few days. Any support we can give our Caribbean friends will be greatly appreciated.

Jamaica in particular I would think is going to be in a bad way for some time after the pounding they took. Their economy can't really absorb this type of a hit very well.

Accounts to deposit to:

Bank of Bermuda – 701-19842
Butterfield Bank – 20-006-060-663859-200
Capital G Bank – 35760

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Well, as I was writing my post on the letter from UAH threatening an injunction on the Government it was revealed that the Government and BIU had a little pow-wow and came to a compromise.

I guess the letter achieved it's goal, because Pro-Active has been given 2 weeks to do their own assessment of the site and the Union agreed to not seek an injuction. One question? Shouldn't Pro Active know exactly where they are and what needs doing? (Cynical note: One of the main gripes against Pro Active has been its slow work rate. Well, they've been allotted twice as much time as the Government assessor to do a site assessment - who started arrived on Monday and were supposed to complete their work this week. Maybe they need time to bring in their own experts, I don't know, but I couldn't help but notice that.)

I imagine the compromise was inevitable. My understanding was that the letter contained some pretty flimsy legal threats from UAH but the last thing the Government wants is to be in court with the Union. The BIU specialises in on the brink tactics so this is standard stuff in their arseanal.

A climb-down was probably in the cards from the get go. Where this goes after Pro Active completes their assessment is anyone's guess.

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From a comment over at the Limey's place:

After asking around a little and watching the almost daily turn-over in Acting Premiers this week I've come to the conclusion that both parties appointed symbolic Acting Leaders for Labour Day.

Randy Horton as Minister of Labour makes complete sense for the PLP, and Kim Swan has been a strong voice in the UBP for workers and labour - particularly since joining the Senate he has really taken this on as his issue. I don't think Kim was chosen due to his race but due to his interest in labour.

The UBP have in the past had white members speak. I saw Michael Dunkley speak several years ago and Dr. Gibbons as well if memory serves.

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I'm no lawyer, I don't even play one on TV. I'm just, as someone accurately described me in an email yesterday, an 'opinionated UBP white boy' - all true I might add. I like that description actually, there's some beauty in it's all-encompassing brevity.

But I read the article today, about the potential for an injunction to be served by Union Asset Holdings (UAH) on Government to stop the resumption of work on the Berkeley site, and a couple of things peaked my interest. So I bounced a little off someone who is a lawyer (but doesn't play one on TV) and I'm not entirely alone in my suspicions here (at least on the next point).

The frst thing that jumped out at me was the following statement from UAH's letter:

"We are advised that it is highly arguable that UAH has the right to insist on completing the construction works under its own aegis and supervision. Counsel has told us that these rights stem from the fact that, as Surety, UAH has undertaken and assumed – up to the amount stated in the Performance Bond – the ultimate responsibility for the costs of completion beyond that which has been agreed between you and the Contractor,"

What seemed a huge leap was the implication in that statement that UAH in essence is entitled to run the project from here on out. At least that's what I would read into 'aegis and supervision". Now I don't know what is scarier. The idea that the Government is now managing the project as Mr. De Vent recently asserted or the idea that Derrick Burgess might try and take over the show. The pro-bono legal opinion I received suggested that this assertion by UAH is a dubious claim at best.

The additional point of interest in that quote is the impression it leaves that UAH believes it is likely on the hook for the $6.8M surety payout on the performance bond. While we're yet to have clarity on that from the Government side, Pro Active's legal advisor Julian Hall suggested it was unlikely to be called in due to the early termination of the contract:

"He added that the performance bond – in effect an insurance policy which could pay out up to $6.8 million – was not an issue due to the Government's early termination of the contract. However, he conceded that it would be an issue if the Government proved that termination of the contract had been justified."

Next in line of interesting bits is this missive:

And the letter reminds the Minister that UAH is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bermuda Industrial Union which represents all of the Pro-Active's former site workers.

What's that got to do with anything, from a legal perspective that is? That line was in there to apply political not legal pressure I would think. UAH's responsibility is entirely separate from the BIU's. Although I'll admit it was always too close to comfort.

From the beginning everything in this project was a little incestuous; the PLP being the political arm of the BIU who put up the bond, then claimed the site was a union only site and represents the workers as well as having provided cash flow to Pro Active. Everything had to go off perfectly to avoid the type of scenario that is unfolding today with former allies seemingly at war.

The final thing that caught my interest was the following paragraph:

"Yet in breach of our rights as Surety, you appear – from all the statements made publicly and on the Government's behalf – to have engaged an alternative Contractor and/or to have embarked on a course for the completion of the project which in no way takes into account our views and input. UAH has simply not been invited to participate. Instead you have repeatedly stonewalled us and insisted upon the exercise of a power which, frankly, you do not possess. These are grave matters for us."

The key phrase from that would be: "...in no way takes into account our views and input. UAH has simply not been invited to participate."

This seemed to me to be in stark contrast to something I heard Randy Horton say in his Labour Day speech, as well as in the fence-mending speeches the Premier, Dr. Brown and others have engaged in over the past week or so.

So I went back and this is what Randy Horton said at Labour Day:

"While all has not been smooth sailing, let us not forget the untold story of daily consultation and cooperation amongst unions, employers and Government.

"We now have a Government that does not see unions as the enemy but rather as an integral part of the tri-partite social partnership that the International Labour Organisation promotes."

and

"Honest dissent and airing of legitimate grievances are hallmarks of a sound democracy. While we might not always agree, we should not forget that now – for the first time in our Island's history – under this PLP Government, the union movement is listened to with respect and understanding," Mr. Horton said.

So which one is it? It appears the Union doesn't think it is being consulted. Despite the protests and pleas to keep this in the family it would seem that what we're asked to believe and what is actually occurring are two very different things.

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Tom Vesey has a good column on the broader issues resulting from the Berkeley fallout in the Bermuda Sun today. It's well worth a read. Tom always provides a thoughtful, reasonable take on the issues.

I'll link to it after the Sun updates at 3 or 4PM.

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By the way, my last post was intended as sarcasm.

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At the latest of the seemingly weekly marches on the Cabinet Office Deputy Premier Ewart Brown said to the protesters (and I'm paraphrasing as I saw it on the broadcast news) that 'we with titles attached to our names haven't forgetten who put us here'.

Nice quote.

The least Dr. Brown could have done was attribute the quote to it's author. Rev. Sharpton made the statement in his Labour Day speech of last Friday night:

Rev. Sharpton also reminded the audience that labourers had made Bermuda the success it is. "Those that got dirt in their fingernails... That is the salt of this country – not people in high places with big titles. It was ordinary people that made this an extraordinary place," he said. "And those of you that sit high should never forget who put you there. It doesn't matter who's up if nobody's looking up to you. You can't be a leader if nobody's following you. And whoever the people raise up, the people can tear down."

So to go along with his failure to follow the Parliamentary Code of Conduct in not declaring the sale of a home - at an outrageously inflated house - to the BHC we can add plagarism to his list of indiscretions.

That would get him expelled from any reputable university...but not Mr. Ahad's.

Shame, shame, shame.

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I'm still taking entries for the Top Ten list of reasons why Alex Scott wouldn't let Ewart Brown be Acting Premier.

Remember, they're supposed to be funny NOT nasty!

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RG Opinion 08 Sept. 2004

How Past and Present Preoccupations Collide

There’s rarely a moment in a community’s political evolution that marks a real turning point, a specific event beginning a sea change in how we consider our choices. Bermuda may have just experienced one, although you might not have noticed and those involved may be unaware as well.

Elections, the saying goes, are about the future. That may be so in an ideal world, but as we all know, Bermuda is another world. For someone like me, who hopefully has more of his life in front of than behind him, our elections seem like a battle to convince us that the past is in fact the present. For example, a particularly offensive phrase was coined during the 2003 campaign, that Bermudians shouldn’t vote themselves “back on the plantation”. You don’t get any more backwards looking than that.

If you strip away these manipulative tactics, elections should be about proposals for the next five years, which includes recognizing the mistakes of yesterday and attempting to address their consequences for a better tomorrow. In Bermuda however, the political parties seem locked in a battle over the 1960’s, or earlier. The 2003 election illustrated two alternative approaches towards campaigning, one forward looking the other intended to prevent that.

The UBP conducted a campaign of ideas and adopted the term ‘new’ before their name, indicating a gentle break with the past. The party’s strategists resisted the obvious temptation to run a negative campaign attacking the PLP’s lackluster first term, preferring to discuss their plans.

The PLP, driven by a lack of vision, illustrated by a platform published hours before polling day, conducted a predominantly negative campaign demonizing their opponents at rallies and in the media. The party’s leadership appears convinced that their fortunes are best served if Bermudians stay frozen in the political past. The most vivid example of this is the continuing comparisons of today’s UBP members to slave owners and Uncle Toms, as heard in the notorious 2003 radio ads.

But back to the event that could signal a shift from this rear-view mirror politicking. What was the moment?

The answer is found in five words uttered about the BHC investigation: “Put it all behind us” the Premier said, insisting that we should drop the whole subject of unethical behaviour. What they did was not illegal. Translation: we should be unconcerned with the allegedly unethical and corrupt actions of some current MPs.

That statement and that position are, if you consider them, quite remarkable. The leader of a group of politicians who earn their living dwelling in the past, on things that were legal…but clearly wrong, told us to disregard his Government’s recent past, and present. The PLP routinely berate the current members of the UBP, for things that happened up to 400 years ago. I’ve done some checking and I can confidently say that no one in today’s UBP is 400 years old!

We’re urged to reject today’s UBP candidates because of things that occurred before their time. It’s a strategy intended to shift the focus, making the past more relevant than things presently occurring. It is hoped that you dismiss them outright as well as the actions and track record of the current PLP administration.

What you have now, as a result of the Premier’s plea, is a credibility gap when his colleagues embark on their next trip far down memory lane. His statement should expose the harping on the past with no vision for the future, as nothing more than hollow diversionary rhetoric and not a genuine concern with righting wrongs.

Voters should be comparing candidates, their values and the proposals they put before us … today. We aren’t voting in the past, we’re voting for a better future. Suggestions that we be more concerned with events up to 400 years gone than those currently unfolding, should be viewed with great suspicion.

The Government strategy is to put the present behind us while ensuring that the past is squarely before us, in the hope that voters will turn a blind eye to today’s events in their pre-occupation with the past.

Maybe it’s the idealist in me that longs for a day when Bermuda’s political parties are judged for the beliefs, ideas and actions of their current members. Or maybe it’s the only way forward.

Only then will our elections be about the future, and only then can we address the legacy of the past.

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Today marked the first day of a public inquiry into rampant fraud at a Government agency. The first to testify was the Auditor General.

Lest you think I'm day-dreaming this is taking place in Canada to shed some light and get to the bottom of a multi-million dollar Government fraud scandal.

Wow! Imagine that. A public inquiry after allegations of unethical and illegal behaviour with Government funds.

Meanwhile, back in the BDA, we have a Premier who continues to try and pull the wool over our eyes with quotes like this:

"The Auditor General may hold the opinion that something unethical took place, but I've never heard of any Minister being asked to resign based on the opinion of an Auditor General," Mr. Scott said.

You don't say? Actually you need only look to Ottawa for a recent example under the Westminster system. With a little Googling the Premier could have found this article describing Prime Minister Martin's almost immediate firing of his Ambassador to Denmark, who presided over the Public Works Ministry at the centre of the scandal.

But I guess I'm naive for expecting the same type of accountability here.

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Someone familiar with Cabinet protocol has suggested that the reason Randy Horton may have been Acting Premier over Dr. Brown is that Dr. Brown could be traveling as well during the period that the Premier is off island.

In this case, particularly in the midst of some serious challenges, it could make more sense to have one appointment for continuity (and avoiding unnecessary bureaucratic hassle).

As for the question of why Kim Swan, an unelected Senator, would be Acting Opposition Leader, I don't really know. This one strikes me as more unusual than the Government's musical chairs.

In fact, I've never heard of that before, although I did some checking and it was not an error. Kim Swan (a friend of mine) was indeed Acting Opposition Leader.

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OK, I'm taking entries for a Top Ten List of reasons why Alex Scott wouldn't make Ewart Brown acting Premier while he is off the island.

Send in your entries and I'll post the best 10.

Entries will be anonymous, other than me, of course.

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Rumours of a strike this morning are apparently incorrect. The Union workers were attending a meeting and therefore there were stoppages while that went on.

However, the scoop is that the Union has reportedly delivered a letter to Government demanding that Pro-Active (or their workers - I'm unclear at this stage) be reinstated to the site, or something to that affect.

Now why would they want that?

Well for starters the BIU has a little issue of a $6.8M bond payout handing over their head as well as laid off workers and a pissed off membership to deal with.

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I'm a little confused as to why Deputy Premier Ewart Brown is not the acting Premier in the absence of Alex Scott.

Why would Minister of Labour Randy Horton be the acting Premier at an event which the Deputy Premier also spoke?

I don't get it.

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The press seems to be tip-toeing around this one (although I hear they may be ready to run with this) but there's lots of behind the scenes PLP manoeuvering going on apparently. Rumour has it that:

-- The Premier cancelled his vacation, officially to deal with the Berkeley fiasco. Unofficially the word is that he was advised that if he left he wouldn't be the Premier when he returned.

-- Finance Minister Paula Cox has been urged to put herself up as leader but has declined.

-- Jennifer Smith has taken herself out of the running, she's apparently not interested in cleaning up after her annointed successor.

-- Deputy Premier and Prime Misleader Dr. Ewart Brown is apparently 2 votes short of a majority among his Parliamentary colleagues to mount a leadership challenge.

-- George Scott & Dr. Brown have been actively signing up new members in Brown's constituency to increase the Doc's delegate count at any PLP membership meeting. Rumour has it that the membership fee is being offered to be taken care of for these new members if it helps.

Apparently the Premier, when questioned yesterday at the press conference about how secure his position is, made a remark about 'nothing has been done in front of him'...or something like that. Suggesting that all isn't well and he's aware of some internal moves.

Julian Hall's remarks at the press conference yesterday were remarkable and reveal the extent of discord internally within the PLP. This type of public airing of discontent, from a Life Member of the PLP is remarkable (emphasis mine):

"But hanging Pro-Active out to dry, we have to say that the Progressive Labour Party Government has attacked the very heart and soul of the labour movement - more particularly has assaulted the very principle of black economic empowerment which we thought underlay the decision to award the contract to a company like Pro-Active."

"We know a lot about the history of this project. We know the degree to which the project has been stymied by various civil servants. The question has to be asked who governs Bermuda? Because it became increasingly clear to Pro-Active that the Government of Bermuda does not govern Bermuda. I put it no higher than that – I don't care what the Premier has to say in response to it. Or what the Minister has to say. If they feel it is their duty to protect people who are trying to destroy their own Government that's their problem. We owe it to our selves, to our country to make plain that we have been as a company fed to the wolves by the Progressive Labour Party Government – a Government that we support and have supported, that many of us have been committed to supporting until death. And we hope that this Government gets its act in order. I want to say to the Premier right now that there is no honour in kicking people when they are down. No further attacks on Pro–Active management by this Government will be countenanced – despite our loyalty and love for the labour movement. Truth must finally come out."

Note that Mr. Hall, a very charismatic and powerful speaker and advocate, but one with a lot of baggage and unable to practice at the bar, stated that "we support and have supported". This statement suggests that the core PLP support has not *yet* deserted the PLP.

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Well, the first day of lobster season arrived and it's already an improvement over last season.

I say that because I actually used my license this year and went out this afternoon...but not to break my streak I didn't see one lobster. They're as visible as Alex Scott post the Berkeley annoucement.

What was interesting was
a) the abundance of jellyfish that were out there
and
b) how calm it was, like glass, when the Bermuda Weather service was forecasting seas outside the reef 4-5 feet...it was more like 4-5 inches.

Happy lobstering! But watch the jellyfish.

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RG Opinion (Sept. 01, 2004)

Deception and the New Bermuda

One positive outcome from the Berkeley project’s implosion is the merciful end to the public relations charade of the past several years. The downside however is that Bermudians, still fighting the battle for truth over justice with the BHC scandal, are again faced with another entirely avoidable multi-million dollar waste of taxpayer funds.

Money isn’t the only thing that is disappearing into the New Bermuda Triangle. The ability of those we entrust with governing to tell the truth has vanished as well.

This Berkeley script was written from day one, with the project managed entirely to achieve a political outcome on a political timetable. This approach, a surefire recipe for failure, did achieve its primary goal - the re-election of those responsible for the biggest capital project disaster in Bermuda’s history. If you’ve ever wondered how many taxpayer dollars can be spent to cover up a massive failure and ascend to the Premiership, just subtract the Berkeley budgeted amount of $68 million from the project’s final price tag.

Everyone, including the former Works and Engineering Minister and now Premier, knew that the project would be drastically behind schedule and over-budget. You didn’t need to be an expert to see that, just eyes and a little common sense. Alex Scott, never one to let the obvious stand in the way of what’s convenient, continued with his ridiculous pronouncements that all was well and viciously attacked anyone who dared state what inevitably came to pass. Apologies won’t be forthcoming however. That would be a sign of weakness and not the “strong leadership” he characterizes his campaigns of dishonesty as.

Mr. Scott’s recent performance, indeed his whole political career, is impressive only in his ability to maintain a straight face while stating the blatantly absurd. Maybe ‘The Man’ is so deluded with his own grandeur that he actually believes his own lies? That’s unlikely. He may be deluded, but he doesn’t believe his own deception. Rather, this Premier subscribes to an apparent belief in the PLP hierarchy that voters are so irrelevant and stupid that we can be lied to at will. As has been noted before, Bermudians are treated like mushrooms; that is kept in the dark and fed crap.

It’s worth revisiting then, Dr. Brown’s notorious statement: “We misled you because we had to”. That pronouncement, delivered not surprisingly by someone unable to dismiss persistent ethical questions but undeterred in his obvious quest to lead the country, was trotted out in a desperate attempt to salvage an election and promote his political career. In reality it is very revealing. The 2003 post-election coup was not, as you’ve been led to believe, a one-off decision reluctantly made to prevent electoral defeat. Deception has emerged as a fundamental management principle in the New Bermuda.

At its most basic level, Dr. Brown articulated a quite disturbing view; that we’re too dumb to make informed decisions in our own best interests and that what’s beneficial for the political careers of PLP politicians is best for Bermuda. It’s also an admission that what was occurring would have been rejected by the electorate. Sadly, as a reward, Dr. Brown was elevated to deputy leader of his party and by extension the country. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this view is held in isolation.

Former PLP Minister Arthur Hodgson, who recently discussed his party’s obsession with independence, stated that there was an acceptance in the PLP leadership that the public didn’t know what was good for them and therefore should be taken to independence in spite of ourselves. There it is again, “you’re too stupid to make the ‘right’ decision so we, the all-powerful, all-knowing PLP leadership, will make it on your behalf. Don’t question, just fall in line.” This dictatorial arrogance, while politically expedient, doesn’t gel with the increasingly alien democratic principle that we elect individuals to represent our interests, not anoint them to govern in spite of us.

We’ve been lied to about the BHC, lied to about Berkeley, and lied to throughout the 2003 election campaign, among other things. The Premier, Dr. Brown and the rest of those who subscribe to this disdain for the intelligence and interests of the Bermudian voter, appear determined to continue unapologetically in their misleadership of Bermuda.

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