October 2004 Archives

My overall sense after listening to the Throne Speech was that it didn't feel all that inspiring. Not much new in there and no innovative ideas to make a grand Social Agenda.

The Social Agenda is more of the same from the sounds of it, just dressed up with a sexy title.

Some quick thoughts and highlights:

Introduction

We've heard all this before in the speech the Premier delivered in the UK and the one this Monday.

Housing

>> Mobile Homes for emergency housing (short term) - no number, no idea where.
>> Renovate derelict/vacant properties and rehab existing stock.
>> Housing Information Management System to match accomodation - fancy name for a list of houses.
>> Duty relief on materials.
>> Eliminate death tax on primary residence

Conclusion: Yawn. Same old undelivered ideas dressed up as new. Nothing new here, other than the death tax elimination. How many people does this affect? Is this going to alleviate a housing crunch? I don't buy it as making a huge difference, although I support it.

Seniors

>> establish a national monitoring system for level of care and standard of care.
>> Conduct home assessments to check on level of home care.
>> Workshops and forums
>> Wellness clinics
>> Health Summit

Conclusions: Lots more talk and research. Little in the way of tangible relief. Wellness clinics sound good, was a UBP 2003 election idea (plus free eye-glasses).

Youth

>> develop a National Youth Development Strategy
>> Academic Monitoring and Child Development Mentor Project - values and mentoring
>> promote respect for law and order early with School Resource Officers expansion
>> Junior Police Cadet Programme
>> National Conference on Youth, Crime and Drug Issues
>> develop a national strategy to counter young offenders

Conclusions: we need character training for our youth yes, from this Government - No. Lots more talk, conferences and developing of strategies going on.

Community Development

>> formulation of a national policy to recognize cultural contributions.
>> Community Areas Programme - infrastrucure improvements, traffic calming, upgrading derelict buildings, plaques in historically important spots, day care. Sounds like normal Government stuff to me.
>> Community Forums - residents can discuss issues
>> Fund new community organizations - nothing new here.
>> Demerit traffic points system - oh damn, I'm in trouble here.
>> Commuter bus pilot continuation

Conclusions: more talk, development and formulation. Normal Works & Engineering stuff dressed up as new. Demerit points system is good. Mini buses - old idea.

Crime

>> Police Consultative Committees revitalized
>> Uncommon Results Programme - rehabilitation programme
>> National Drug Commision rolled into Health and Family Services

Conclusions: Not a lot of anything here.

Education & Training

>> Mature Student Further Education Award
>> National Training Board to introduce initiatives, Tech Quest, GED training, Technical Career Prep Seminar, youth development projects, probation and parole project.

Conclusions: Mature student scholarship is good, that's about it. Nothing ambitious here. GED training could be done at Adult Education, A seminar on technical careers? (UBP was to reestablish Bermuda Tech) and more existing projects for youth and inmates.

Economy

>> amendments to legislation that affects international business (huh? That goes on all the time).
>> Work with bank for small business
>> increase bed capacity - how's about they move forward on the ones from years ago yet to materialize
>> New gateways - go for it, Cubans are chomping at the bit to come here.
>> stimulate greater interaction between locals and tourists
>> Entertainment Development Fund

Conclusions: Other than the Entertainment Development Fund this is the same old ideas that haven't been accomplished yet.

Computers:

I can't believe this got a special section. Runnning out of ideas here...

>> internet access in public places
>> recycle computers programme.

Conclusions: 74% of Bermudians have computers in their homes and we're having a special line item to recycle computers?

List of old uncompleted stuff ends it.

My initital reaction:

I didn't have high hopes on this but the Premier has clearly over-promised and un-delivered -- a cardinal sin of politics! There's only a couple of decent ideas here buried in a bunch of old uncompleted ones and promises to 'develop', 'formulate', 'research'. That's not a social agenda, that's buying time.

I don't see anyone getting too inspired about this Throne Speech, particularly in light of how revolutionary we were told it would be. The Government have lots of work to do to spin this into a grand Social Agenda.

Grant Gibbons and his UBP will have a field day. Hopefully they resist the temptation to dwell on how much of a dud this was and strike the right balance between criticism and their own vision.

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Download the 2005 Throne Speech.

More to come after I read it -- after just finishing listening to it.

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Parliament resumes today with the Throne Speech which will be delivered shortly before 11AM I imagine.

I'll post the speech as soon as I get it.

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The UBP has just announced the creation of a Shadow Minister for Race Relations and Economic Opportunity. David Dodwell, former Shadow for Tourism has turned that role over to Senator Kim Swan in order to assume responsibility for this new area.

Full text of press release:

Gibbons unveils newly created Shadow Ministry for Race Relations and Economic Opportunity

UBP Senate Leader appointed Shadow Minister of Tourism

United Bermuda Party Leader Grant Gibbons today announced changes to his Shadow Cabinet intended to strengthen his party’s position as the next government.

“The United Bermuda Party believes that the diversity of our party, like the diversity of our community, is a source of strength,” said Dr. Gibbons. “However, in Bermuda we still have one community that continues to experience pain and anger from the injustices of the past, as well as current challenges, and another community that’s frustrated and scared to address race for fear of making a mistake. We believe that there is still unfinished business between black and white Bermudians that must be addressed in order for us to work together as equal partners in the challenges we face.

“We want to lead this country by beginning a serious discussion on race, economic opportunity and all the related issues, which continue to divide our people. We believe we have a role and responsibility as a political party to work to break down racial barriers in our community and assist in the process of reconciliation. The issue of race is not just a black issue. The white community has an important role to play.

“To facilitate this discussion, I am pleased today to announce the appointment of David Dodwell to the newly created shadow portfolio of Race Relations and Economic Opportunity. We recognize that this discussion on race won’t be easy and that we probably will make mistakes along the way, but we feel that the goal of building One Bermuda and breaking down racial barriers is worth the challenges we will face.”

Dr. Gibbons added, “I have known David Dodwell for many years, and he has always impressed me with his commitment to working toward our vision of a Bermuda with opportunity for all and special privilege for none. I believe he is the right man to advance this critical agenda.

“But it’s not just David’s responsibility; all of us in our party will be fighting for a fairer and more inclusive Bermuda. And all of us will be speaking out against polarization and divisiveness in our community.”

Dr. Gibbons continued, “We, like so many Bermudians, are very concerned about the continuing decline in tourism. I am pleased today to announce the appointment of Senator Kim Swan to the post of Shadow Tourism Minister. Kim has spent almost his entire life in the hospitality industry. He began his career as a young man working at the Port Royal Golf Course. Later he worked at Belmont in the dining room at night and played golf with visitors during the day. For many years, he was the general manager of the St. George’s Golf Club. Kim has the experience, dedication and understanding of what’s required to restore tourism to its critical place in our economy.

David Dodwell said, “While I have mixed feelings about reducing my formal responsibilities for tourism I am very excited about my new role in Race Relations and Economic Opportunity. Bermuda is at a pivotal point in its history. We can either continue as a community that is divided by mistrust, hatred and injustice or we can begin to talk to each other about how we can level the playing field, create opportunity and make this great vision of One Bermuda a reality. We are committed to breaking down the barriers that deny our people an equal chance to succeed in this country. The United Bermuda Party is committed to aggressively seeking out new economic opportunities; empowering all Bermudians to compete for and have access to Bermuda’s prosperity. To do this we must begin to talk to each other and seek ways to resolve the unfinished business between black and white Bermudians.”

Kim Swan said, “Someone once told me that the secret of Bermuda’s success in tourism was that we ‘romanced’ our visitors. The Bermudian people, the friendliness and attentiveness that we give to our visitors are key to our success. In 1998, the PLP promised a 100-day rescue mission to save tourism. November 9, 2004 marks the 2190th day of the PLP’s 100-day rescue mission with no end in sight. My love and understanding of tourism doesn’t come from a book but from working in the tourism industry and spending time with our visitors. My main focus will be to facilitate empowerment for the stakeholders in the industry, those who already have a vested interest in and understanding of the industry, who are the best persons to facilitate a rebirth of tourism. We need to get back to basics and expand the role played by the private sector through a tourism authority.”

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Following up to my last post, Roberta Walker is apparently the Premier's secretary.

A reader pointed out that:

"... you have to accept some blurring at that level, in the interest of efficiency if for no other reason."

So perhaps there is a more innocent explanation for this, but this does fall in that grey area. In this case the Premier was addressing his party's membership as their Party Leader, not so much the Premier.

The Premier was politicking, which Civil Servants should be excluded from. Political speeches, albeit one most likely heavily lifted form the upcoming Throne Speech, should be put together by party workers not civil servants.

But I think, after some deep soul-searching on this question, that I can let this drop.

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Tiger Bay, a regular commenter over at Limey in Bermuda, has opened a rather large can of worms.

He/She noticed that the most recent user information saved in the MS Word document of Premier Scott's PLP Annual Delegates Conference speech was that of a Roberta Walker, with a gov.bm email address listed. (Open the document, look under file/properties in the custom tab).

According to the Government's main switchboard Roberta Walker is an employee of the Cabinet Office - a Civil Servant.

That's a serious problem. It reveals what a lot of people have suspected for a long time now - that the PLP Government are politicising the civil service, compromising civil servants and misusing non-political Government resources for party business. Taxpayer dollars are funding PLP work.

The independence of the Civil Service is sacrosanct. Civil Servants are expressly prohibited from being involved in political activitism, and this speech is political through and through. Read it in its entirety and that's clear. The fact that it was delivered by the Premier, who has a Cabinet Office staff is irrelevant.

Party activities are done on the party's dime and the party's time.

Some examples:

>> The speech was provided to Limey in Bermuda by a PLP Senator and acting Party Spokesperson, Walter Roban.

>> The audience for the speech was the Progressive Labour Party's delegates to their Annual Conference

>> The speech addresses, specifically, party issues:

"However, the promise of the Social Agenda will only be realised if we come together as a Party and Government and deliver." p. 12

>> It speaks about the PLP Central Committee:

"I am here to confirm that it [the Social Agenda] came from the PLP Central Committee."

The Government have to answer some questions on this - not just about this one speech, but about what other non-partisan civil service resources are being directed towards the Progressive Labour Party.

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RG Opinion (Oct. 27, 2004)

PLP's last chance for legitimacy

Throne Speeches are always significant. This Friday however is make or break time. The viability of the PLP as a future Government, and their credibility as the current one, is at stake.

Premier Scott and his colleagues, after six years of inaction on the people’s issues but plenty of action on their own, have put all their eggs in the Social Agenda basket. That’s all they’ve talked about – in suspiciously vague terms – for the past few months.

We’re about to witness one of the greatest rescue attempts in Bermuda history, only one year after an election. This year’s speech will be an attempt to pump some life into a directionless Government and prevent them from becoming a footnote in history. This Social Agenda had better be good. It had better be really good.

Why the big deal? The PLP are six long years away from their first election victory, without tackling any of the serious issues facing Bermudians. That’s six years of a growing housing crisis, rising crime, struggles for our seniors, declining education standards, and on and on.

The Government’s record on these issues can only be summed up as neglect. The Premier admitted as much by declaring that his Government will now embark on a Social Agenda. Well, hallelujah!

It’s staggering that a party, which had thirty years to develop a social policy as an Opposition, took six more as a Government before realizing that social issues might need some attention. That’s thirty-six years for the self-described “People’s Government” to develop a “People’s Plan”.

Compounding that, we’ve been told that this agenda will take ten years to implement. Evidently social engineering takes two election cycles – how very convenient. Using the Berkeley structural engineering project as a precedent, we can therefore expect this ominous social engineering project to actually take twice as long planned – that’s twenty, not ten years.

Basic math suggests then that the incubation period for a PLP Social Agenda is fifty-six years: thirty-six years of planning (thirty as Opposition and six as Government) plus realistically another twenty years (double the announced timeframe) to reach fruition. A fifty-six year project had better be good. It had better be damn good. Anything less is failure, and the problems facing us all – either directly or indirectly – can’t tolerate more of that.

After an extended teaser campaign hyping the “Social Agenda” it’s reasonable to expect a whopper of a plan, or the PLP are done. The public, who very kindly delivered a second chance in 2003, have seen their goodwill stretched to the limit. The time to deliver results is now. No more promises, no more excuses, no more blaming the UBP for PLP failures. It’s time to take responsibility and deliver results. The Government will have to stand and deliver – in a big, big way – the biggest of all of their lives.

To set up their last stand, the PLP branded their Annual Conference as: “The Party that Delivers … A Stable Economy, Solid Education and Affordable Housing”. Surely that’s an attempt at humour? A more appropriate theme would be: “The Party that … Inherited A Strong Economy, Ignored Education, and Delivered Affordable Housing for Two Premiers.”

Humour aside, it does suggest that Cabinet knows that Friday is their last chance for legitimacy. So now that the Government has recognized that they can no longer govern by neglect, what should we look for in Friday’s main event? How will we know if they’ve changed their ways, come up with a real plan and will follow through?

Four critical questions must be resoundingly answered: What is going to be delivered, exactly how will it be accomplished, when will it be done by and why we should believe that they’ll actually get it done. With a six years track record of failure, the final and most critical point will take some work.

This speech can’t be another tired attempt to obscure a lack of ideas and chronic neglect with pomp, circumstance and grandiose language. A laundry list of the normal, mundane, day-to-day legislative items all Governments deal with dressed up as a plan is unacceptable. It can’t be the same old vague promises and long-winded self-congratulation we’ve come to expect. The people deserve detailed tangible policies and explicit solutions. The 2004 agenda has to be everything its predecessors were not.

The plan must be visionary but practical, ambitious but achievable, deliverable in a realistic timeframe and aggressively address the people’s issues. The 2004 speech has to be long on details and short on spin. It must be comprehensive, devoid of the meaningless platitudes and feel good sound bites of a Government hoping to buy more time, before trying to buy more time. Now is the time to deliver specifics.

It won’t be hard to tell if this Social Agenda is the genuine article, and not simply a grand distraction to get through the next election. Look for realistic, achievable proposals written in simple language with short declarative action statements and deadlines - solutions, not spin.

The most important thing to look for is a realistic timeframe for accomplishing the majority of the proposals, one within sight and in this term. A delivery date long past the next expected election date will indicate a plan designed to serve the interests of PLP politicians, not you. Alarm bells should go off island-wide warning that the Government delivered a “Survival Guide for the Politically Doomed” instead of a “Social Agenda”.

Ten years, as we’ve been warned this will take, is two more election cycles – on top of the first two. That’s three too many. A decade to deliver might work well for advancing the careers of ineffective politicians, but it’s unacceptable for the many struggling Bermudians who wonder why their Government has callously turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to their concerns.

Friday isn’t any ordinary Throne Speech. It’s Judgment Day.

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VSB Radio News just ran a clip of Alex Scott (at last night's PLP Conference) promising that his Government will be pursuing more Berkeley-esque failures ... and he makes no apologies for it.

Evidently he sees that project as an example of progress.

So much for learning from your mistakes.

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As the Royal Gazette Editor points out in today's editorial, the Social Agenda has become the mantra of the PLP.

It has become something of a mantra for Premier Alex Scott and other Ministers to say, in effect, yes, we know this is a problem, but wait for the “social agenda” and you will see we are doing something. Last night, Premier Alex Scott was due to start putting some flesh on the very bare bones of the social agenda at the opening speech of the Progressive Labour Party’s annual conference.

The Government has spent months raising expectations for the Throne Speech roll-out of the "Social Agenda", in an effort to right their sinking ship.

Last night, in what was supposed to be the beginning of the roll-out of this grand plan, we saw the expecations start to get lowered. The Premier revealed that the Throne Speech will include:

"the early seeds of the all encompassing Social Agenda ... "

That's not good enough. They've got to do better than that on Friday.

If that's all the Government can produce after six years then someone should put them out of their misery and throw in the towel.

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This Social Agenda has been talked about so much that it had better knock our socks off on Friday. In fact I'm so tired of hearing it used as a response to every question for the past few months that Friday's Throne Speech can't come fast enough.

Do I expect it to dazzle us? Well, originally I'd figured it must be good because they're hyping it so much until tonight, when the Premier in an interview on the ZBM evening news said:

"Everything about this throne speech is new. Even the cover is different."

Time to start lowering expectations folks. If the best thing the Premier can say about it is that the cover is new we're in for a bumpy ride.

The Premier is on a real tear of dumb one-liners. The Throne Speech comment was about as productive as this response to a question about working with the UBP on seniors issues:


"If Ms. Jackson has anything to say, I'll take 2 aspirins and listen to her."

but not as revealing as this response to a question on Independence:

"If I’m the Premier and I become Prime Minister, you won’t be able to wipe the smile off my face."

Hmmmm? There you have it.

It must be hard to keep talking when you've got both your feet in your mouth.

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Yesterday my hosting service experienced some problems with the database side of the site. The result was that I was unable to post.

The problem seems to be resolved today.

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The PLP's website entry about the Annual Delegates Conference has been updated and they're back to 'Affordable' in what looks like the full text of yesterday's release.

But don't despair. Fear not. I had a suspicion this might happen, so I made a PDF of the original.

I guess the PLP PR genuises realised that delivering 'adequate' housing wasn't all that inspiring!

I can see the campaign ads now:

"Vote PLP. Make Adequate Housing Happen."

(Cue laugh track)

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What's going on here?

In my last post I noted the unintended humour in the slogan for this year's PLP Annual Conference:

"The Party that Delivers ... A Stable Economy, Solid Education and Adequate Housing."

But what's interesting is that on last night's ZBM News broadcast, today's Bermuda Sun and Royal Gazette articles the slogans differ by one word, 'Adequate' is used on the PLP website but 'Affordable' was used by all the press.

At first, when a reader pointed it out to me, I assumed that I'd misheard ZBM's report. But as you may have heard, when you assume you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'. Something else is up.

The difference between using 'adequate' and 'affordable' is significant. (So far the PLP haven't delivered either adequate or affordable housing so either way the theme is a lie.)

But does the change indicate either a mistake on the initial release or a change in the theme? Did someone catch it after the release and make the change on the PLP site? Is it an implicit admission that the Government has conceded that they can't deliver affordable housing?

I find it hard to believe that all the press got it wrong together, so it must have said 'Affordable' on the PLP's news release.

So which one is it? Maybe someone in the press can pose the question.

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At least the PLP haven't lost their sense of humour. Yesterday they announced the theme for their annual conference:

"The Party that Delivers ... A Stable Economy, Solid Education and Adequate Housing."

It's not funny really, but I couldn't help but laugh.

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One of the advantages to being a citizen in a little place like Bermuda is that our politicians aren't too far removed from the citizenry, and are easily contactable by concerned citizens/activists.

One of the disadvantages to being a politician in a little place like Bermuda is that our citizens aren't too far removed from the politicians and can easily contact you.

On that note, here's a few thoughts on the 'march' held yesterday, organised by Charles Spanswick. My comments are said with some affection:

I applaud people who get involved and try and make a difference. Sometimes becoming an annoyance is a good way to get things accomplished, but yesterday's march was unproductive in achieving anything. I can't even tell you what they were marching for.

To quote one reader:

I can picture the scene in Cabinet now.... "A march?" "...only eight of them, you say?" "Led by yourboy Spanswick?!?" (teary-eyed laughter and much knee slapping)

Mr. Spanswick is a well-intentioned nuisance to politicians. He confuses the humouring of his antics by the press and talk show hosts' - who need to fill space - with having an audience and some clout. Inevitably his initiatives, whether a candidacy for something or a march, just fizzle out. I'd hazard a guess that he's more successful getting things done behind the scenes than the failed stunt he attempted yesterday.

The more important issue was what went on outside Cabinet towards Mr. Spanswick and his 6 or 8 marchers.

Paula Cox's response was suprisingly rude, hostile and lecturey in tone. The Acting Premier publicly berated Mr. Spanswick, essentially saying: 'How dare you question us.' That's obviously a lot easier to do when you combine the deference afforded the Premier/Acting Premiers and Minister, only 8 people are marching and you've brought out the whole Cabinet to outnumber the marchers. But that doesn't mean you do it.

Ms. Cox's comments were delivered in an extremely condescending, unbecoming manner. Notwithstanding the annoyance that Mr. Spanswick might present - to whichever party is governing - Ms. Cox should have been a little more magnanimous, thanking them for their concerns and assuring them that Government was on top things (even though they clearly aren't).

I was suprised with the tone Ms. Cox used, and from some of the comments I've received am not alone. The tone and comments were quite revealing.

Even a small protest - led by someone who is just one of those Bermudian characters who politicians have to tolerate - invoked a quite angry and defensive response from a politician who generally tries to stay above the fray, at least publicly.

Clearly the public's lack of restraint towards the PLP in the Letters to the Editor pages, talk shows, marches, op-eds etc. is getting to the Government.

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RG Opinion (Oct. 20, 2004)

Local traffic and politics - some interesting parallels

The way we behave behind the wheels of our vehicles says a lot about the direction in which Bermuda is heading.

Aggressive muscling to the front of the traffic queue, forcing of other vehicles to the side, cutting across the centre-line or chronic double-parking are all traffic manifestations of a problem not confined to the roads.

Its never fun to be seen as the rules stickler, and we all break some of the rules of the road sometimes, but our driving attitudes reveal a much bigger concern. Theres a growing mentality in Bermuda that rules apply to everyone else, a those dont apply to me mindset. Its everywhere. Our roads have simply become the best place to observe this in action.

Six months ago, at the Bermuda Institute hosted town hall meeting on gang-violence, we were given an insight into the dangers of this way of thinking. A young man probably representing the views of many of his peers, as well as others said, Politicians are all corrupt, prompting Cabinet Minister Dale Butler to leap to his colleagues defense.

While all politicians arent corrupt, this young man put his finger on an important issue. Corruption amongst our elected leaders is on the rise, and he publicly called the Government on it. Why should I follow the rules when you dont? he was arguing. Thats a very good question.

The disregard for laws and the lowering of standards have emerged as fundamental Government principles, PLP doctrine in fact. Its a doctrine which is reinforced and continually practiced at the highest levels of our Government - with an impressive lack of remorse.

This style of governing crept up on us slowly, starting with size laws dont apply cars for the whole Cabinet. Before long it had exploded to include the delaying of a flight for a late arriving Minister, the Transport Minister blowing by US airport security, a failure to account for hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars at Berkeley, criminal in everything but name behaviour at the BHC and the disregarding of the Parliamentary Code of Conduct with Cabinet level financial relationships with the BHC.

As if this wasnt enough, those we entrust to create and enforce the rules simply ignore existing practices and procedures to limit their abuses of power as petty inconveniences. The Police and the courts appear unwilling or incapable of holding anyone accountable for this behaviour. Were seeing sound financial practices undermined with those who hold our Government accountable and advocating for the taxpayer most notably the Auditor ridiculed and marginalized.

Why the community is surprised at this prevailing attitude manifesting itself on our roads is itself astounding.

On a daily basis we see people applying PLP doctrine to their riding habits. Its a regular occurrence to witness people riding their bikes without helmets, undertaking on narrow roads, overtaking on blind corners, running red lights, cutting off other vehicles and weaving all over the roads as if the law doesnt apply to them.

Its not uncommon to see our tourists petrified, hugging the left-most side of the left lane while cars and bikes buzz by them. Tourists are a group of people we complain we dont have enough of, but treat like obstacles on the road. Thats not a very welcoming way to treat the decreasing volume of visitors to our island.

In addition to a general disregard for rules and laws, there is also a rising lack of consideration for our fellow Bermudians. Our sense of community, which existed for so many years and served us so well, threatens to be lost to an emerging cult of the individual.

Dangerous overtaking, bikes stacking up across two lanes at stop lights, bikes overtaking other bikes already in the third lane are all indicative of a belief that others should just get out of the way resulting in an undermining of good order and common courtesy. We simply dont treat or value each other as we used to.

Mutual respect has been superceded by a sense that our fellow Bermudians are simply obstacles worthy of being run over. Our cherished Bermudian friendliness is in danger of being overtaken by outright hostility. The roads are simply the most visible manifestation of the decline of respect for order and civility in our community.

So when the PLP hold their crisis talks on road safety, they might want to convene them in their exclusive size rules dont apply to me cars. The first order of business should be to glance at themselves in their rear view mirrors, lead by example and change their own behaviour.

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Check out this CNN crawler headline (from Salon.com's War Room):

"PUBLIC SPLIT ON WHETHER BUSH IS A DIVIDER"

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You might have noticed that I can gain or drop a lot of weight in the week which passes between publications of my RG columns! In light of this I'm changing the by-line of my column to 'Opinion by Fatboy Slim'.

Today's photo (if you read the print version) is my alter ego - stern chubby Christian. Last week, was happy slim Christian*. This way people can't spot me on the street, it's very helpful. Maybe the editor uses stern chubby me to go with certain columns and happy slim me for others. It helps set the tone.

* Stern chubby Christian is a file photo taken in July for the 2003 election, while happy slim Christian was taken a couple of months ago.

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RG Opinion (14 Oct. 2004)

George Bush and Alex Scott: Strong and Wrong

Dead Ringer: A person or thing that closely resembles another; an exact counterpart. Source, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

Bermudas Premier has what some might find an unlikely political dead ringer. Someone diametrically opposed in ideology but aligned in political circumstances and - if you listen to his critics - approach. Alex Scott and US President George W. Bush have a lot in common.

The ascension of George W. Bush and Alex Scott were both controversial, to say the least. George Bushs critics argue that he was selected - not elected - by the US Supreme Court, after the well documented turmoil of the close and disputed US election. Alex Scott, in Bermudas case, was selected by his colleagues - as all Premiers are - but only hours after an extremely close election and as a compromise to end the tumultuous removal of Jennifer Smith.

Another common thread is the widespread sinister belief that these individuals seconds-in-command are in fact the real power players. Its often claimed that Dick Cheney is the mastermind of the White House, while here in Bermuda the presence - and ambition - of Ewart Brown is the elephant in the Cabinet Office.

Significant public outrage and sharply divided electorates dominated the post-election political landscapes. Both George Bush and Alex Scott embarked on short-lived charm offensives amid claims to govern from the centre in response. President Bush talked of being a uniter not a divider and promised to govern for all. Alex Scott, faced with both a divided country and party, used similar language, speaking of using his new found political capital and position as Premier, to unite our people - all of our people.

Both leaders experienced unforeseen catastrophes early during their terms. On September 11, 2001, just 9 months into President Bushs first year in office, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, killing over 3,000 and causing billions in damage and economic disruption. In Bermuda, less than 3 months into Premier Scotts tenure, Hurricane Fabian caused widespread devastation and tragically claimed the lives of four Bermudians.

In the wake of these situations, both leaders received positive reviews. Their communities responded positively, coming together both physically and emotionally, and indicated their approval with sky high job performance ratings. This atmosphere however was short-lived, their poll numbers quickly declined. Goodwill was replaced by mistrust and hostility.

Critics of both George Bush and Alex Scott argue that rather than put this unprecedented national unity to work on important bi-partisan issues, they embarked on ill-advised campaigns to appease the extreme wings of their parties. Bush began a war of pre-emption in Iraq coupled with tax cuts, while Alex Scott opted for an as yet to materialize campaign for independence.

Sky-high ratings were primarily used as opportunities to appeal to the religious wings of their parties and pursue wedge issues. Bush proposed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, while in Bermuda legislation banning gambling was hastily pushed through without public consultation. Unsurprisingly, both communities fragmented. The responses from President Bush and Premier Scott were strikingly familiar.

Mr. Bush counters criticism of his approach with talk of steady leadership and being resolute and decisive. Strong leadership was our Premiers explanation for a lack of consultation on important and polarizing issues, or the resignation of a disillusioned Cabinet Minister.

Their styles of governance are also quite similar. Both leaders are accused of - shall we say habitual truth-stretching and appeals to fear.

A stream of bad news on Iraq and the economy has inundated George Bush. Many people claim that he intentionally misrepresented the case for war in Iraq and alienated important allies. Compounding this, hes accused of painting an overly rosy picture of a rapidly worsening situation and refusing to recognize the reality of the situation. In response the Presidents surrogates delivered the message that John Kerry is the candidate of choice for terrorists.

Our Premier has also been known to pursue this approach. Perhaps recognizing that its easier to manage perception than reality, he repeatedly makes blatantly false statements as justification for ill-advised policies or his refusal to admit mistakes - look no further than the BHC, Berkeley and Independence.

Never one to miss an opportunity for political theatre and fear-mongering, the Premier stage-managed a series of phony confrontations with the UK. These commenced with the Chief Justice appointment and extended to internal self-governance and airport privileges, all intended to resurrect the spectre of a colonial master.

Bill Clinton characterized George Bushs political strategy as follows: People, Mr. Clinton said, will follow someone who is strong but wrong not weak but right.

Sound familiar? Imagine how refreshing it would be for Bermuda to have a Premier who was strong and right.

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After the Police were out this morning - ticketing furiously in the middle of a huge traffic jam going back for miles - I was flabbergasted to see an article in the Bermuda Sun today with a sub-headline of:

Police switch emphasis from punishment to prevention

...police have moved their enforcement from so-called 'outputs' (ticket numbers) to 'outcomes' (fewer crashes)...

Someone might want to relay this to the crowd of cops who were pulling over about 2 bikes per minute outside of Aberfeldy. Nothing was accomplished by this morning's exercise other than 'outputs'.

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Today's multiple choice question:

If traffic from the West End is severely backed up due to an accident on East Broadway, the Police:

a) quickly clear the accident to keep traffic moving
b) take action to re-route traffic in the most efficient manner
c) exacerbate the problem by blocking up Harbour Rd with 10-15 cops at a pointless traffic stop, impeding progress but raising tons of revenue.

Grrrr.

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No need for a translation this week. Just allocate a few quiet minutes and have a read.

Mr. Hodgson's comments on the Premier's recent totally false claim about the historical lack of referenda for Independence is particularly relevant and will be incorporated into the claims vs fact entry on that topic.

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Both Government and Pro Active's site survey's should have been completed by now. Pro Active's 2 weeks concluded on 27 Sept. 2004.

Time for an update from the Government.

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From Raymond Russell, former staunch PLP Member, community activist and BIU member:

Bermuda is more corrupt now than its even been under the UBP (United Bermuda Party), he said last night. Ive had enough.

Amen.

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I wonder if the Dept. of Tourism was smart enough to buy event cancellation insurance for the Music Festival?

If they didn't, I'd suggest they look into it for future years. Surely alot of money was lost on this year's event, admittedly due to forces beyond the DOT's control. But this is an insurable risk. Major events like the World Cup, Olympics etc. all take out insurance protection for acts of terrorism, natural disasters etc..

In the same way that a surety bond is required on all major capital projects, event cancellation insurance should be mandatory for major Government sponsored events.

Maybe the BIU would be up for providing it?

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Seal's performance last night at the Bermuda Music Festival last night was as good as it gets.

Total class.

The evening didn't go off without a few glitches in scheduling and some poor sound quality, but the sound was sorted for the main act and all was forgotten about 15 seconds after Seal stepped on stage.

He had the crowd eating out of his hands.

What a show!

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Just so I'm clear on this:

Dr. Brown strong arms the BHC to by his property - one they rejected twice - by dispatching then Housing Minister Nelson Bascome to apply pressure, for double the market rate, unethically fails to disclose it, offers to buy it back below the current estimated market value and claims that it "flies in the face of the accusation they got ripped off" and that it "was, and is, my firm belief that BHC paid a fair, if not below market, price for the property".

Seems to me like he's trying to rip us off again and rehabilitate his reputation simultaneously. No wonder he doesn't want to talk about this anymore.

At least he understands the second rule of political survival.

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One last comment, well maybe not my last but another, on that Letter to the Editor today.

I have little doubt that this letter is a classic example of the Bermudian version of Astroturf Activism/Organising. What is that you ask? Let me explain.

Astroturf Activism has been going on in the US (and Bermuda) for years, but is much less sophisticated here and in this case blatantly obvious - which defeats its whole purpose. When done properly it's very effective, but when you see a gushing shameless letter like today it doesn't work.

Let's start with the US. Lobbying has been refined to both an art-form and a multi-million dollar industry in the US, it's taken over K Street in DC. Any organisation can find a lobbyist to work the halls of power and try and gain a favourable reception for their interests. But lobbyists are a dime (or a few hundred grand) a dozen and usually represent specific corporate interests or an interest group. Think Enron/Halliburton or the Sierra Club/Planned Parenthood for different extremes on the continuum.

Organisations figured out some time ago that what really gets the attention of a politician is when an issue matters to their constituents. Once the calls start coming in from the home district the Senator or Congressman really pays attention. So the question from interest groups became "I wish we could buy some of that?".

Well, it turns out you can. Astroturf organising involves political consultants providing services to simulate grass roots interest in an issue. They setup phone banks, cutely named interest groups (Citizens For Higher Emissions), letter writing campaigns, media blitzes, all intended to apply pressure interpreted as genuine grass roots action - not the shady balance sheet driven corporate interest type of lobbying.

Ok. On to Bermuda.

Bermuda lacks a full-time political industry of professional consultants etc.. It's almost entirely volunteer based other than the actual politicians themselves, who are mostly part-time. So Astroturfing here is a little different, and until today, probably not really noticed, making it pretty successful. In Bermuda unlike the US it's generally aimed at convincing the voters not the MPs.

If you listen to the talk shows alot you're in the area that the PLP have cornered quite well as their astroturf. They've got a core group of party activits who get the talking points on an issue and call in constantly, parrotting the message of the day as if they're just random Bermudian, some are self-appointed experts but the effect is the same. This was done particularly well in the run-up to the 1998 election. The talk shows aren't nearly as PLP friendly lately but the UBP has almost no presence there.

In the print media, the Letters to the Editor page is where this mainly goes on. A party worker or politician writes a bunch of letters on an issue or about themselves and then finds a constituent to sign it, either for attributed or anonymous publication.

People read the letters and say:
"Wow, Politician X is doing a great job. He/she is getting all this grass roots support."

or

"people are really for/against this issue judging from the Letters to the Editor".

If a politician needs to project an image of being a hard working man of the people who's notching up accomplishments, you get a letter like today. If they want to attack another position or person then they send out the attack dogs with anonymous letters all around the same theme. Simulating this grass roots support helps convince others in a way a politician or the parties couldn't.

So, in the case of today's letter, I'd bet that (another multiple choice question for you):

a) the letter writer is a die-hard PLP member posing as random constituent at Dr. Brown's direction
b) the Doc is starting a little letter writing campaign of his own to try and rehabilitate his reputation for an opportunistic run at the weakened Premier
c) an election might not be that far off (more on that in a later post).
d) all of the above

As an aside, there's also 'grass tops' activism which would be getting a bunch of community/corporate leaders to all publicly endorse/support and initiative.

Anyway, as the PLP have lost their grass roots appeal and support you can expect to see lots more Astroturfing, probably not as crude as today's example.

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Nicely spotted by a reader from Dr. Brown's bio:

"Dr. Brown once again proved that he was the man "

Has anyone told Alex Scott?


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My last post reminded me of another example of subtlety.

Check out Dr. Brown's bio on the PLP's website.

Hmmm.

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A little subtlety might have helped with this Letter to the Editor.

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RG Opinion (05 Oct. 2004)

Where UBP goes from here

The 2003 election offered the first real opportunity to measure the pulse of the community at a time when both parties had a record in government. What was the verdict?

The PLP, in just 5 years, had bled substantial support and was ravaged with internal strife and disunity. The party was able to hold on to a reduced majority and victory - the difference being 70 votes across 4 constituencies - in a new system that was supposed to guarantee them favourable results.

In the UBPs case theyd made some inroads, although obviously not enough, and had begun to turn around what some thought - and others hoped - was irreversible. Most likely their performance was a combination of dissatisfaction with the PLP Government and some success at reinvention and rejuvenation. But the public wanted to see more, from both parties.

Finally, the third party option was confirmed as farther away today than its ever been. The NLPs decision to support single seats was political suicide, although probably of little consequence. The removal of dual seats entrenched a two party system, and effectively ended the viability of independent or third party candidates. A better move for the NLP would have been advocating dual seats of equal size.

Theres nothing undemocratic about dual seat constituencies, it was the difference in voting size that was a problem. Voters were much more likely to split their votes and support a third party or independent candidate when they had two votes, than in the current setup.

Barring some implosion from either major party, which is unlikely, the PLP and UBP are here to stay. So where does the UBP go from here, in the face of a PLP in disarray and mired in debacle after debacle? What does the UBP team have to do to win over those disillusioned voters, who are open to a change but not yet convinced? How do they earn those 70 votes that separated them from an 18-18 deadlock and that decisive 19th seat?

One year on from the 2003 election, the UBP finds itself in a strong position, but with plenty of work to do. The party and its supporters cant expect to win the next election, whenever that might be, by default. The Premiers rapidly declining poll numbers, his partys six year record of corruption and mismanagement, and increasing public hostility toward the PLP leadership alone isnt enough - although theyll help.

The United Bermuda Party need look no further than the first two words of the partys name, both individually and combined. The focus has to be on building a United Bermuda, uniting a polarized public and returning the focus to Bermudas issues, not preoccupations with international sideshows and personal agendas. The last word Party - should be ignored. Party, and Im not talking of the cocktail variety, is the part people dont like. The UBP must not attempt to convince people of their merits as a political organization. They must convince Bermudians to join them in their quest for a United Bermuda.

They must continue their effective criticism of this Governments lack of vision, failure to execute, secrecy, corruption and disdain for accountability. Valid criticisms must be accompanied by a vision. The widespread dissatisfaction with politicians and the political process must be acknowledged. The UBP must commit to opening up Government and reconnecting it with the public.

Dr. Gibbons and his team should continue to deliver their message of optimism, inclusion and local solutions for local issues with visits to churches, clubs and community events. This has already started with the recent Labour Day speeches, the campaign of 2003 and a more aggressive and less restrained approach in holding the Government accountable.

Critical work to earn the public trust must take place between elections, both nationally and on the doorstep. Voters expect to be visited shortly before an election and hear grand promises for the future, but many people dont believe it. Were rightly cynical about promises made on the eve of an election. The UBPs real work, work that will be accepted as genuine, must happen now.

An Opposition who wants to lead shouldnt act like an opposition. They should present themselves as the next Government. Throne speeches, budget replies and house debates must speak to the core elements and values of a United Bermuda agenda, not just a critique of the Governments plan or lack of it. Perhaps most importantly, the Party must recommit to its core values and explain what they are and how they will be achieved.

Finally, the UBP cannot continue to allow itself to be defined by the PLP, wresting back their message, history and values from the Governments attack machine. Every action, every word, every policy, must promote the partys defining and distinguishing traits of diversity, opportunity, inclusion and accountability. That is what separates them from the PLP.

A track record established on these values will be the foundation for success at the polls and a refreshing alternative for a public disillusioned by 6 years of failures and inaction.

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Lawyers can back me up on this one but there's a golden rule in politics (and the courtroom):

"Don't ask a question that you don't already know the answer to."

Actually there's another one that would come in useful for the Premier:

"If you've dug yourself into a hole...stop digging."

Alex Scott breaks the second rule all the time, most recently when he spoke with RG to rebut the Mid Ocean article.

He broke the first and second rules on VSB radio news this morning. Apparently the Premier asked people to use Google and look up 'Social Engineering' and they'd see that it does not have a negative connotation...or something to that effect. But he obviously didn't do the query himself because the results aren't helpful to his weakening case.

(There's been a couple of comments on this topic over at A Limey in Bermuda but it's worth a mention here.)

Now I have a degree in both sociology and political science - and I can't remember a damn thing about either - but I am a googling monkey (backoff Mr. Ahad), so I welcomed the opportunity to put my non-degree skills to work.

I googled 'social engineering' alone and also 'social engineering, sociology' and here's what you'll find:

The first search, and what most people would probably do, returns a bevy of results related to today's common usage of the term social engineering - the computer hacker definition:

(sō sh&l enj&-nēring) (n.) In the realm of computers, the act of obtaining or attempting to obtain otherwise secure data by conning an individual into revealing secure information. Social engineering is successful because its victims innately want to trust other people and are naturally helpful. The victims of social engineering are tricked into releasing information that they do not realize will be used to attack a computer network. For example, an employee in an enterprise may be tricked into revealing an employee identification number to someone who is pretending to be someone he trusts or representing someone he trusts. While that employee number may not seem valuable to the employee, which makes it easier for him to reveal the information in the first place, the social engineer can use that employee number in conjunction with other information that has been gathered to get closer to finding a way into the enterprises network.

To summarise, it's a scam used on unsuspecting computer users to trick them into providing information (passwords, bank account numbers, social security numbers) that can be used to rip you off. Sort of the sinister Governmental interpretation of what Eddie Saints raises in RG today.

Surely the Premier didn't intend for people to see that definition?

So, on to the 2nd search of 'social engineering, sociology', which produces far less. If you follow your way into the first link to Wikipedia you'll get the sociology, or more like political science usage:

Social engineering (political science) From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

In the field of political science, social engineering is a mainly pejorative term used to describe the intended effects of authoritarian systems of government. The implication is that some governments, or powerful private groupings, are intending to change or "engineer" the citizenry, for example, by the use of propaganda, or through the manipulation of culture. The discussion of the possibilities for such manipulation became quite active following World War II:

..."I think the subject which will be of most importance politically is mass psychology.... Its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called 'education.' Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; the press, the cinema, and the radio play an increasing part.... It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment."

"...The subject will make great strides when it is taken up by scientists under a scientific dictatorship.... The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is black. Various results will soon be arrived at. First, that the influence of home is obstructive. Second, that not much can be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. Third, that verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are very effective. Fourth, that the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity. But I anticipate. It is for future scientists to make these maxims precise and discover exactly how much it costs per head to make children believe that snow is black, and how much less it would cost to make them believe it is dark gray."

"...Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen."

--Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society, 1951

Laws and tax policies can influence behavior, and progressive politics often promote socially influential policies.

A general meaning is any attempt by a government to alter society. Whether a government is supporting or altering a society depends upon what is the purpose of government.

Ooops! So the Premier's assertion that it's a sociological term is a little loose (it's primarily a political science term), although we'll give him that one. The common usage is in political science as a 'mainly pejorative term' to describe authoritarian, communist or other failed socialist regimes attempts to manipulate the citizenry through misinformation and state sponsored propoganda.

Hence the hijacking of the term by hackers.

Now you can assert that a fairer description would be a more general definition, such as 'an attempt to alter society' - which is itself creepy but not quite as bad.

Anyway, if you're still with me in this post, try this multiple choice question:

Premier Alex Scott's speech on wealth redistribution (err, I mean mentoring programs) revealed

a) his fondness for failed socialist policies and techniques
b) that he's a relic of the 1960s
c) that he's violating the golden rule of not asking questions that you don't already know the answer to
d) that he's trying to dig his way out of a big hole
e) all of the above

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Topic: Independence
Speaker: Alex Scott, Premier of Bermuda
Date: 30 Sept., 2004
Source: Royal Gazette: 'Scott welcomes UBP views on sovereignty path'
Claim/Quote:

Historically, every country that has gone independent has done so through a General Election. He (Mr. Rammell) would want me to give a balanced view that while that may be so current practice and thinking, certainly in the EU and Great Britain, the facility of a referendum is a tool that is being used, the Premier said.
So history is on our side, opinion in Europe and Great Britain may be elsewhere.

Fact:
Jamaicans voted, via referendum in 1961, to withdraw from the Federation of the West Indies which was established in 1959 - a vote for independence. Both Houses debated a draft Constitution for an independent Jamaica which was unanimously approved. Jamaica achieved independence on 6 Aug. 1962 from the UK.

References:
Jamaica National Heritage Trust: History of Jamaica
Jamaicans.com: Brief History of Jamaica
CIA - The World Factbook - Jamaica

Submit a claim

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I'm compiling a database to catalogue and correct misleading and incorrect statements in the media. Each claim or quote will be matched with documented facts, so that Bermudian politicians are held accountable for their words.

I need your help. Please submit any claims that you believe to be untrue. Include the source and date of the statement and any references that disprove this statement.

I'll research it and add it to the list if it checks out.

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"Let's twist again... - Tim Translated Version"

Politics in Bermuda is an ideal place to observe larger political themes at work.

Alex Scott is a terrible Premier, his ego is out of control, he suffers from delusions of grandeur and is a threat to Bermuda's future success. He's lost so much credibility that few people will defend him anymore and those who do are looking out for their Party.

Rather than clarify his position it's easier to pretend he didn't mean what he said. It's easier to manage perception than reality. Attempting to understand Alex Scott is a pointless exercise.

The speech regarding Bermuda's Social Agenda will have far reaching consquences to not just the Premier and his party's credibility, but that of Bermuda and our economy. The PLP are returning to the discredited socialist roots that helped them remain in Opposition for 30 years and have been abandoned worlwide.

'Social Engineering' isn't a term used anymore, particularly not in academia, and when it is it's to discuss long lost authoritarian and dictatorial regimes. Anyone who still believes in social engineering is at least smart enough not to use the term, let alone name a whole Government agenda with it.

This Premier can't even engineer the new Berkeley school competently, let alone people.

After unsuccessfully floating the income tax trial balloon in London the Premier backed off, trying to play off his wealth redistribution through taxation as corporate mentoring programs. This doesn't need a 'major cross-Ministry initiative' taking ten years to get done. It could be done in days or weeks if that were really the case. He's lying.

His disavowal of his party's interest in implementing income tax rings hollow. The Government has started collecting income data in the Literacy, Household Expenditure, Census and Employment surveys. You collect data for a reason.

Bermudians are indifferent to the stench of corruption and threats to democratic principles eminating from our shores. Cabinet prefers not to talk about what they're up to. Evidently we're too dumb to know what's good for us. No-one trusts this Premier.

Alex Scott represents the old agage: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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I'm starting a new category and regular weekly feature called 'Tim Translated'.

What is Tim Translated? Well, in response to today's post urging people to read Tim Hodgson Mid Ocean Editorial I received several emails all with the same theme. These reaffirmed what I've thought and heard people say for some time.

Tim Hodgson's editorials are masterful works of writing, insightful and of critical importance. They're also so dense with literary references, complex sentence structures and advanced vocabulary that they can be tough to plough through. As a result, they almost certainly don't get read by enough people. Those who do read them will be by far 'the choir'.

In fact, I read them in two sittings. The first involves reading the first two paragraphs and the 2nd section. Then later in the day I read it again in totality.

This is not to say that writing well is a bad thing and to suggest that the editor should change his style. I enjoy them and many others do as well. But many people could benefit from the ideas contained but find them too intimidating.

So, in an effort to widen the audience for the valuable insights of the Mid Ocean's wise editor I'm providing a consise and simple summary of the week's column, beginning this week with "Let's twist again...the Tim Translated Version".

I can't guarantee when I'll get around to this weekly, and I have no idea whether Tim will appreciate this or not. Oh well.

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Read today's Mid Ocean Editorial.

Tim Hodgson absolutely dismantles Alex Scott and his complaints about the Mid Ocean's interpretation of his speech in the UK last week.

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