October 2007 Archives

I've been away for a few days, and getting bits and pieces of the Privy Council developments. I'm now catching up on all the news that's legally permissible to print, and the silent but deadly reaction from the Premier's spin doctors.

I must say though, that the rather expert Googler over at Vexed Bermoothes has dug up a few juicy tidbits on the World Tourism Marketing Summit, where Dr. Brown strangely found himself incommunicado for a few days:


Indeed, you may ask why is Bermuda sponsoring the CHINESE tourism summit in BEIJING when we have closed our marketing offices in most gateway cities to save money?

Simple: the event runs from October 28 through 30 making sure that Dr. Brown is otherwise disposed when the Privy Council meets on October 29 to consider the BHC matter.

A date which just so happened to coincide with his legal defeat (a result that even his advisors and lawyers have been out saying was entirely expected (aka - we were just buying time)).

Funnily enough, it would seem that Dr. Brown has literally proven the story we were told as kids that if you dug a hole deep enough eventually you'd hit China. Who'd a thunk it?

But back to that Marketing Summit, where Dr. Brown was given an award...for bringing business travelers to Bermuda...er, I mean "The Tourism Leadership Award".

It would seem that Bermuda, the smallest country at the summit, was also one of the largest sponsors. And it also seems that the event was organised in part by the primary movers behind the African Diaspora Heritage Trail as Vexed points out:


So how did little ole Bermuda get sucked in as a major financial sponsor of the Chinese World Tourism Marketing Summit?

Perhaps because the event’s organisers include The Bradford Group, a US marketing company. The Bradford Group is also the organiser of the Africa Travel Association and the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism. As it happens, these two organisations are the major boosters of Dr. Brown’s African Diaspora Heritage Trail.

So, don't be too bowled over by that award, it appears to have been a thank you gesture for funds delivered, as was the quid pro quo of giving Dr. Brown a destination to profile far away from Bermuda while he took it on the chin at home.

The silence can't continue forever. While the PLP spin doctors appear to back on the same refrain as they were when this all broke back in August (ie. we're focused on the issues, it's all a great UBP media conspiracy), eventually it might dawn on them that corruption is an issue.

Cue disenchanted PLP insiders.

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The UBP have a couple of statements (here and here) on their website regarding the fallout of the Privy Council defeat for the Government and the victory for accountability of public officials and the protection of freedom of the press.

John Barritt's comments are important, because he takes the decision to its next necessary step, which is using this landmark decision as a launching pad for fundamental parliamentary reform.

Bermuda's legislature and political system has stagnated and is not modernising. We are being left behind, by competing jurisdictions which are not without their own problems but appear more foresighted than our current Government who are blinded by their obsession with a 50 year old battle, a fight which can't be fought with the only tactics they know.

The public are increasingly moving ahead of the PLP Government, who have emulated and escalated the worst of the behaviour they condemned as opposition. We need reform as John says:

I cannot say that the decision is the end of the matter though.

Nor is the further publication of any further information. That’s not good enough either.

I think the entire matter of the BHC scandal from start to finish has shown up the deficiencies of our system of government and underscored the need for reform – meaningful and serious reform that is long overdue here in Bermuda.

The expenditure of public money and the operation of any Government department or of any Government funded quango should be subject at all times to review and investigation by a more active Public Accounts Committee of the House of Assembly, or a working sub-committee thereof, which meets consistently and regularly, if not weekly, with all the necessary powers to summons Ministers and civil servants to account, and whose meetings should be open to the press and public.

This isn't the sexiest stuff, but it's fundamental to our continued evolution as a country and a people. There's only one party which has committed to limiting its own power and open itself up to scrutiny.

It's time to move into the next century.

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I was pondering how the Premier and crew are going to try and play this defeat that they were handed today over their attempts to muzzle the press and suppress evidence of unethical behaviour.

And then I figured that after the great white colonial conspiracy angle that will almost certainly get trotted out (even though they're well aware of who the Son of the Soil is - hint, he isn't white, UBP or British), and then it dawned on me.

We've now got chapter two of the life and times of Sven and Johnny.

The story would go like this:


Once upon a time, the Premier of Bermuda and some of his friends got in some trouble that was reported in the newspapers.

The Premier and his friends hired a lawyer to go to court in England, but not a Bermudian one. Let's call him Sven.

The Bermuda press, confident that there are many good Bermudian lawyers, hired Bermudians. Let's call him Johnny (and Alan).

Sven and Johnny went to work. Guess who won? The Bermudian. This lesson helped the Premier learn that using foreign experts doesn't always pay, although they always get paid.

See. Some good can come of this after all.

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Just in from the Privy Council:

The public interest wins, Dr. Brown is the biggest loser.

Oh, and we get to pick up costs for his no hope exercise in legal delay tactics.

I'm pretty much out of contact until Wednesday, but you can follow I'm sure on the Gazette and Sun websites.

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I am utterly convinced, certain, that whoever is doing the PR strategy for the PLP is a student of the approach used very effectively over the past 10-20 years by the US Republican Party, and particularly George Bush's political handler Karl Rove.

I know not everyone follows US politics as closely as I do, but it is indisputable that the PLP are emulating the exact methods that were used to give the Republicans a political resurgence in the mid-1990s but has produced such terrible results in Iraq and elsewhere.

I could go on for days about this, but there is an exact emulation of the Republican talking points to try and portray domestic opponents of the war (ie. most Democrats) as unpatriotic being tried in Bermuda.

In the US, if a Democratic politician is critical of the war in Iraq, or dares express even the slightest bit of dissent, they are accused of "not supporting the troops".

The slogan "Support the troops" has become a method to intimidate and discredit politicians and advocacy groups, while it's obvious to most rational people that if you believe a war is un-winnable that it isn't particularly supportive to keep soldiers fighting because a politician wants to save face.

What does this have to do with Bermuda? Well, strangely enough it's to do with education.

Rational, thinking people clearly understand that Government is misusing statistics to artificially inflate the graduation rate (and tourism arrivals) to 80% from 58% previously. This is a particularly egregious attempt to generate a positive headline in the wake of an education inquiry which said the public education system was 'on the brink of meltdown'.

Not surprisingly The Minister maintains that nothing funny is going on (while conceding they've changed how they treat non-graduating students), although it's obvious that the denominator in the graduation rate calculation has been reduced which jacks up the graduating percentage.

Many people, including myself, Denis Pitcher through his blog, Grant Gibbons and others have pointed out the undeniable changes in methodology.

So how does the PLP's increasingly ridiculous website try and play the criticism:


The UBP vs. Bermuda's Students

Of late, UBP critics have questioned how Bermuda's class of 2007 could have achieved such a high graduation rate. The UBP's lack of faith in our students and their capabilities is truly disturbing.

That was the opening, this is the finish (read the full spin here):

Those who seek to undermine the accomplishments of our students by calling into question the statistics their hard work helped generate should be ashamed of themselves.

What complete, mindless nonsense. Firstly, faith isn't going to fix education. Secondly, demanding higher standards and better results is not undermining anyone's accomplishments, it is how you support the students.

This style of stupid political spin is beyond acceptable. I can't believe this has to be said, but demanding an honest assessment of graduation rates year over year is supporting the students. Messing with the number is not.

Bermuda can't have an honest and productive policy discussion about ways to improve the education system (or anything else for that matter) when one side is trotting out such idiotic memes as this.

That has got to be one of the most shameless attempts to deflect responsibility and shut down honest policy debate that we've seen yet - although I'm sure it won't be the last.

It's a style of politicking that we don't need importing here. Just ask a growing number of Americans how well things have worked out when their politicians didn't challenge the administration over a war for fear of seeing their face in an ad with the words "Representative So- and-So doesn't support the troops" as Congressional elections approached.

We don't need to go down this road.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (26 Oct. 2007)

One of the major topics of discussion lately – or at least the one that the press isn’t temporarily gagged from reporting on – is “will he or won’t he”, call an election that is.

I’m not sure why this is such a hard question and generates such hand-wringing. The answer is obvious: he might.

Predicting an election is always an entertaining exercise for everyone from the political junkies (to whom it is an obsession) to the casual observer. There are the usual warning signs; although the shark oil of election preparation is the timing of a taxi driver fare increase (before an election as expected but this time after the lucrative summer months and the PGA Grand Slam and the Music Festival have passed).

Lately however, the prediction game has turned out to be a little different. If you feel like we’ve been in election mode for the better part of a year, it’s because we have.

First there was talk of a snap election after the PLP Gala (aka Presidential Inauguration), then there was the slow(ish) build during the summer months – a plan clearly scuttled by a rather notorious leak and the subsequent extraordinary attempts to suppress information by the Premier and his inner circle - the speculative but unlikely Labour Day timing talk to preempt the Privy Council ruling, and now we’re at it again as the next logical window of November’s reconvening of Parliament and a December poll approaches.

The signs that an election could be imminent – again – are everywhere: race has predictably moved to the forefront, Cabinet Members are touring uncompleted housing projects (complete with shiny green hard-hats), they’re trying to reverse course on Southlands, graduation rates and tourism numbers are being misrepresented, the taxi industry received their large fare hike and our litigious Premier is again trying to silence the press.

These are all reliable indicators that the PLP spin doctors are trying to put on their best face, mend some fences and minimize their vulnerabilities.

As previously mentioned though, we’ve done this dance before. So is now the real deal? Maybe. Although there’s another dynamic probably driving our Premier to be The Constant Campaigner.

One is inclined to believe from the PLP insider rumblings in newspaper articles, word on the street, and talk of the PLP delegates returning their leadership elections to two from four years, that there remains an entrenched dissatisfaction with both the style and substance of the PLP’s latest leader both within his party and outside.

Whether it’s The Friends and Family Plan that drives the Brown Government’s agenda; the expanding inner circle of unaccountable taxpayer funded consultants and advisors; the confrontational approach which has destroyed any good faith with the business community; the lack of consultation over controversial development or the lingering ethical problems and troubling but unanswered questions, there’s a lot to leave one disenchanted.

The days of an emboldened and boastful PLP post Alex Scott are long gone. The polls appear to have shifted – substantially it would appear – after the public became aware of things previously buried in Police files…at which point the Premier began his perpetual campaign.

If you were a party leader with growing discontent inside (and outside) your party what would you do? How’s about put your party into non-stop election mode, or as a friend recently described it to me, as a constant state of arousal? (Well he used a different rather cruder term that rhymes with ‘election’, but that would be crass.)

It isn’t a bad survival strategy to load your election rifle, look down the sight, take aim, remove the safety, apply a little pressure to the trigger but not pull it all the way. It’s a surefire way to ensure that the firing squad is pointing in the other direction.

It might have appeared strange during the summer months to see the Premier working his supporters into frenzy after frenzy, dragging the press around for day long photo-ops, hitting the PLP-friendly media circuit, announcing candidates in a very deliberate and planned manner and dropping election hint after election hint all for naught. Until you consider the alternative that is.

Unhappy party members with idle time on their hands can make life difficult for a leader with big ambitions but bigger liabilities.

Observers of recent political developments in the UK will be aware that when Gordon Brown publicly changed his mind on calling an election after the Tories built some momentum he experienced another sudden drop in the polls; the move was an acknowledgement that he knew things looked bleak and was weak.

Only time will tell if an election will materialize from this latest re-upping of the election ante, and there are only so many available opportunities before that hard deadline of July 2008 hits, but something tells me that part of that decision will hinge as much on developments in the courts as in the constituencies

It would appear that the Premier knows he’s not in a very strong position, and is waiting either for a little good news or a mistake by the UBP to pull the trigger and hope for the best.

The one mistake he won’t make however is to admit that things aren’t going as well as he’d hoped; but you don’t have to be a political pundit to see that.

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With today's not particularly surprising hike in taxi fares and other benefits for an industry which has been ignored and outwardly abused for the complete duration of Dr. Brown's time as Transport Minister, I suppose I could start up my "Signs an election is imminent" shtick again (more on that issue in a future post).

I'm sure they knew this sop would come, but I imagine they'd have appreciated it if it had occurred before the summer tourism months ended, and not immediately after the busy period for the Music Festival and PGA Grand Slam.

Thanks for nothing I guess. A fare weather friend indeed.

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A reader sends in a very interesting study recently conducted at Princeton:

Abstract

Predicting political elections from rapid and unreflective face judgments

Charles C. Ballew II and Alexander Todorov

Here we show that rapid judgments of competence based solely on the facial appearance of candidates predicted the outcomes of gubernatorial elections, the most important elections in the United States next to the presidential elections. In all experiments, participants were presented with the faces of the winner and the runner-up and asked to decide who is more competent. To ensure that competence judgments were based solely on facial appearance and not on prior person knowledge, judgments for races in which the participant recognized any of the faces were excluded from all analyses. Predictions were as accurate after a 100-ms exposure to the faces of the winner and the runner-up as exposure after 250 ms and unlimited time exposure (Experiment 1). Asking participants to deliberate and make a good judgment dramatically increased the response times and reduced the predictive accuracy of judgments relative to both judgments made after 250 ms of exposure to the faces and judgments made within a response deadline of 2 s (Experiment 2). Finally, competence judgments collected before the elections in 2006 predicted 68.6% of the gubernatorial races and 72.4% of the Senate races (Experiment 3). These effects were independent of the incumbency status of the candidates. The findings suggest that rapid, unreflective judgments of competence from faces can affect voting decisions.

All that advertising and canvassing for nothing.

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With the latest attempt to gag the media, I thought it worth reposting the comments by one of my legal beagles immediately after the libel suit was filed back in July, who predicted exactly what has unfolded over the past couple 4 weeks:


Looking at the RG article this morning, which says that the previous writ was discontinued, it would appear to be just a ploy to shut you up: as they hadn't yet served the writ, they could discontinue it without costs and refile with extra defendants, as it's easier than applying to amend the writ to add defendants. Again, I don't expect anything to come of this. What will happen is that they will apply for an injunction against all of you shortly before the Privy Council delivers its judgment, thereby delaying further dissemination of the BHC even longer. There's no way they'd actually try to sue you all for libel. The BHC documents would have to be put into evidence, which would then allow them to be published verbatim by the press on the basis of qualified privilege.

He called it.

I can't say much or I'll be abused by my lawyer and he'll bill me for it in 6 minute increments, but it should be clear that this isn't about libel or the law really. It's about tactics to achieve a political objective by gagging the media so the Premier can conduct his election campaign.

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A month ago I posted a link to a new website created by the people who brought us Wikipedia, this one is geared around "providing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis."

It's called wikileaks.org.

A few days after that a reader sent me a note that the site was creating a top ten suppressed reports for each country and was requesting submissions. I forgot to post the info. My reader poked me again a couple of days ago to advise me that Bermuda now has it's own section.

Submissions can be emailed to jay@wikileaks.org.

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I couldn't help but chuckle watching the photo-op of some Cabinet Ministers touring the Loughlands development today.

I imagine there will be a picture I can borrow from the Gazette tomorrow, but every PLP attendee was wearing a shiny new green hard-hat.

Nice touch.

I guess they're planning a bunch of these "look we did build some houses" photo-ops as we again ramp up into an election. I admire the attention to detail.

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As reported today on VSB news, Dr. Brown filed for a gag order (an interim injunction) against the media (technically the one in the Privy Council case is filed by the Commissioner of Police I think). This time the targets are The Royal Gazette, The Mid Ocean News and myself in conjunction with his libel suit against us over the leaked police files.

I've been instructed by my lawyer to not say much out of respect for the court, as I'm obviously a party to this (and too much of a wise-ass apparently), but I imagine the Gazette will have a story on it tomorrow which should lay things out.

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I haven't commented particularly on the Racial Quota law that has been getting heavy rotation over the past couple of weeks, mostly because I don't view it as a serious policy initiative, it's a political pre-election trap.

Phil Perinchief's prejudiced and hypocritical attack on lawyer Tim Marshall (apparently legal opinions are now racist if they run counter to the Government's talking points) and the ex-Governor should have confirmed that, as does the rather intemperate but revealing email exchange where the taxpayer funded race consultant has admitted that he's there to turn the next election into a test of racial allegiance.

Today's rather amusing yet disturbing interview with Wayne Perinchief, Minister of Cultural Affairs, is worth a quick dissection though.

Firstly, I think that you can make a decent argument in favour of affirmative action, one that I used to subscribe to; but after spending a decade working in the real world I’ve come to the conclusion that while the intent can be noble it's completely unworkable and devalues everyone who has achieved their success without quotas.

I believe a much better approach in Bermuda's case is to address education and create an environment that is conducive to creating opportunity rather than doing to international business what we did to Tourism in the 80s by taking it for granted.

Frankly, this initiative from the PLP is apparently a rip-off of Canadian legislation, except it is not broadly targeted at all. Instead it is so narrowly defined that it mocks the idea of preventing discrimination in all forms, making it little more than a political ploy designed to achieve a political result not a social one.

But sadly although not surprisingly the Minister is clearly incapable of making even the decent argument, judging by his rant today in the Royal Gazette.

Where to start? How’s about here:

We have done some studies which indicate white people with a high school education go further than blacks with a degree.

"We have seen that, it's been anecdotal. That is one of the issues we need to address. But whites don't have to look over their shoulder if they are as educated and as qualified. They don't."

"I have heard, and this is anecdotal, of students who are entering the workforce in international companies and being — they believe — harshly treated. In other words they are being micro-managed and they have what they believe is a punitive system which deters them from staying.

So which is it? Did they do a study, is it anecdotal or did they study anecdotes?

And then there’s the interchangeable use of “black Bermudians”, “natives” and “indigenous”, providing a classic study in the code words in Bermuda politics that 'Bermudian' means 'black' and everyone else is not a ‘real Bermudian’.

But are we talking white people, or white Bermudians? Black people or black Bermudians? This wouldn't be the first time that the Government used expats as a proxy for whites and compared to black Bermudians with the not surprisngly skewed results of some high earning expats (John Barritt tackled this in a Parliamentary debate in the past year or so).

But it’s funny. Because today the Department of Statistics released its Facts and Figures 2006 report with this historical note:

1609 Start of human settlement as a result of shipwreck of the Sea Venture which was bound for Virginia.

1612 Permanent settlers arrive from England, one of them being Richard Moore, the first Governor. Town of St. George established.

Hence, Bermuda had no indigenous population, everyone is a status Bermudian ultimately.

I could really care less the race of the original settlers versus the current racial breakdown of the population, no-one has a greater claim to call Bermuda their home based on their race. I find this strategy of creating an us and them mentality very offensive. We're all Bermudians.

Personally I think that Bermuda is a much more interesting place as it becomes more cosmopolitan, but I know some don't agree.

My personal favourite non-justification justifications are as follows:

Recently Mr. Perinchief had an epiphany when he visited the Atlantis hotel in Nassau, Bahamas.

"What I was used to seeing in hotels was white management and one or two black people at the lower levels of employment."

But in that hotel everyone from the doorman to the management was black.

"I suddenly realised, after two days, what I was observing. I saw an institution that was run and managed, top to bottom, by the indigenous people, by the locals, by Bahamians.

"And quite honestly it blew my mind — it is a premier hotel by any description. It was mind-boggling and an education to me. I came back home further resolved to ensure that this type of thing happens in Bermuda."

A few statistics (real not manipulated ones) for Mr. Perinchief:

Population of Bahamas: 305,655 (2007)

Population of Bermuda: 62.059 (2000) – 71% Bermudian

Unemployment in Bahamas: 10.2% (2005)

Unemployment in Bermuda: negative (ie. approx 9,000 work permits)

Suggesting that a population (black, white or otherwise) of about 50,000 (with no unemployment) can staff up a highly specialized international financial services economy such as ours, is just bone-headed and completely dishonest. We are a small town.

I know that I shouldn't say that because it doesn't play into the nationalistic fervor that we're trying to cultivate, but it's just a fact. We're a tiny, tiny place with a very sophisticated economy that needs the best and brightest from the world, which brings with it a lot of associated benefits.

Sure, any individual Bermudian can aspire to the best positions, but it's intellectually dishonest, and socially dangerous, to suggest that Bermudians can in disproportionate numbers populate the top positions in the international conglomerates that call Bermuda home.

And then there’s this one:

"Look at the anomaly in this country, you have a Government that, coincidently, is black from top to bottom. A civil service that basically is black — we run the country, we set the policy, we draft the legislation.

"We set the parameters by which these very rich companies make billions. Yet the companies don't employ our nationals, there is something wrong there. Don't tell me we can run a country with basically all black people at the top and these companies can't employ our nationals at any level of middle and upper management? Ridiculous.”

Right. Firstly, to reiterate, Bermudians aren’t just ‘black people’, despite the effort to rewrite history.

Secondly, our companies do employ ‘our nationals’; the 1,700 or so employees of our Class 4 insurer/reinsurers are about 70% Bermudian.

Mr. Perinchief's fundamental flaw is that our private companies are not paving roads, delivering mail, and processing paper work. Bermuda succeeds as a financial jurisdiction because of a lack of Government intervention and a low tax rate, not because of Government. More and more it's in spite of Government in fact.

Our ‘very rich companies making billions’ are competing against the rest of the world in earning high returns on billions of dollars of invested capital, not just within a 21 square mile perimeter.

The closest comparison of Government's effectiveness at performing in the private sector is at the Department of Tourism, and we know how we're losing ground to our competitors there constantly. Things have got so bad that the Premier has to lie about it.

And finally, while we have a very high opinion of ourselves here based on our economic success, a little dose of reality for the misguided Minister is probably in order: cities like New York, London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dublin, all of whom have populations many many times the tiny size of ours, import a substantial amount of the senior staff for their financial services industries as well.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I waste my time pointing out realities in the face of political stupidity.

A friend said it best to me today in an email:

Methinks that attempting to reverse the rising tide of politically-motivated ignorance in Bermuda is probably about as futile - and thankless - a task as trying to convince the Iranian president that the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion were, in fact, long ago exposed as a Tsarist forgery. You're not dealing with reason, anymore, but faith - blind faith that is entirely impervious to logic. Frightening days ahead, good sir.

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Unfortunately, the ascendancy of Dr. Brown to his party's leadership and Premier has heralded the importation and emulation of the worst aspects of the American political system without some of the best.

There's of course The Entourage (justified for an American President but not for the Premier of Bermuda - who is the equivalent of a small town mayor), a Press Secretary whose job is mostly to obstruct the press, rampant litigation (sue whenever possible) and ego props like a Council of Economic Advisors, the Premier's Gala Weekend (ie. Inauguration) and demands that people stand when Dr. Brown (not the head of state) enters the room etc..

Most significantly however, and this started before Dr. Brown but has - as promised - been taken to the next level, is the blatant manipulation and withholding of statistics to present a far different picture than actually exists.

Since the Department of Statistics was moved under the Cabinet Office, statistics have been misused to hoodwink the public.

Most notably is Tourism, where the Premier has benefited substantially from distorting air arrival numbers as an indicator of a rebirth of tourism and continues to bask in the glory of turning around tourism; a lie which was revealed in full a few weeks ago when the business traveler numbers were finally split out.

This constant misuse of statistics is why I don't believe a thing that this Government tells us - zero - which is one of the worst traits of the US system: politics has transcended policy. The Government seems to view facts as pliable if you put enough PR people on them, and PR is the most important office in the Government.

The current administration in the US, with it's massive appointed senior policy making staff, believes in 'creating it's own reality' as a Bush aide famously told Ron Suskind and mocked the "Reality-based community". The primary objective is to spend time and money to manage public perception, usually through lies, damned lies and statistics.

I say all that to preface my complete lack of belief in the latest graduation rates, released on Friday. Quite simply, it is not credible to present the rosy picture of public education after a well documented 53% graduation rate and in the wake of a devastatingly damning review of public education.

Either the Education review was a total waste of money, or Cabinet is at it again with statistics. Those of us in the reality based community will go with the latter.

There is no way that a 22% increase in the graduation rate year over year when not nearly enough time has passed for any serious reform to the public education system to have been implemented let alone had an impact is possible, yet the public is supposed to believe the latest numbers.

Sorry. I don't.

It's pretty clear that they've changed the baseline (most likely as they are now only reporting those who entered the graduating class it seems), lowered the graduation requirements or are grading a lot more lax.

But the fact is that they can really do whatever they want here, because the certificate they're using is a local creation that has little to no weight against other systems such as the GCSE in the UK.

This behaviour is so fundamentally counter-productive to actually improving public education - or any other issue for that matter. If the Minister and his colleagues can't be honest then they need to be replaced. Public education is far too important to be subject to constant political spin.

To be honest, I'd thought that the education review had actually heralded in a willingness to not dress things up anymore and be brutally honest about the state of things. But that's clearly not the case.

Evidently trying to make people feel better as an election approaches is more important than education.

This manipulation of stats and performance has become so pervasive that there is one American political creation that we could use: a Government Accountability Office.

That's one aspect of the US system that we could actually use here, as well as Public Access to Information and modern anti-corruption laws by the way.

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I've said it before and I'll say it again, there are increasing similarities between US politics and the American style stuff that is being imported to Bermuda.

The Onion sums it up:


Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters

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A reader sent in an April 2006 story from the BBC on the problems the UK's sham marriage law encountered after being ruled to be a breach of Human Rights.

Tough government rules to prevent sham marriages discriminate against immigrants, the High Court has ruled.

In a significant defeat for the government, Mr Justice Silber said the rules were unreasonable and breached human rights.

Campaigners said the law was discriminatory because it effectively labelled some immigrants as fraudsters.

The judge gave leave to appeal - but the Home Office has partially suspended the rules while it considers its case.

However, Mr Justice Silber's "declaration of incompatibility" against the rules is the most severe defeat the courts can inflict on the government on human rights grounds.

and

Amit Sachdev, a solicitor representing two of the claimants, said that the law was the first time that a British government had sought to restrict the right to marry.

"Sadly, this Act once again shows the government's abject failure to respect the human rights of immigrants," said Mr Sachdev.

"This Act was a knee-jerk reaction based on speculation rather than evidence. The House of Lords complained that the Act had not received proper scrutiny. By this judgement, their concerns have proved correct.

"A vast majority of British and European citizens [caught up by the rules] have been complaining that this law brought pain, suffering, humiliation and misery to them."

I won't have much time until tonight to research the UK law that is apparently being used as a model for our law, but I'll give it a shot later.

This article is a year and a half old, so there could have been developments.

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VSB radio news reported this morning that the Government is about to introduce new legislation requiring Bermudians who want to marry a non-Bermudian to first obtain permission from the Department of Immigration.

Presumably this means that if you have to get permission that some bureaucrat at Immigration can say no. Perhaps you'll have to also consummate the sham marriage on the officer's desk as well?

The assumption here of course is that Bermudians marry foreigners out of convenience to circumvent a work permit and/or use their rich spouses (aren't they all) money to buy up property that the poor Bermudian couldn't otherwise afford.

Sledge hammer tactics as usual.

Is the idea here to get us all inter-breeding? Because it won't take long to turn some family trees into stumps with no branches.

But here's a serious question:

If I were to decide to circumvent the Department of Immigration's permission by marrying overseas, in the home country of my spouse, would Bermuda not recognize that marriage?

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Even the most casual observor would have probably noticed that there's been a flurry of activity over the past few weeks of unexpected developments and renewed talk of an election as the next logical window approaches (December).

Most notably there's been developments around moving the Southlands development to Morgan's Point; supplementing the Bermuda Police with some nebulous imported force; importing a foreign consultant to cool down the economy (or just advise on tourism development if you believe the latest shifting justification); and the draft racial quota law.

I don't claim to have any insight on the timing of an election, although it should be pretty clear that one was about to be called in the summer before the leaked Police files threw the Premier into damage control and diversion mode.

People seem pretty much split on whether it would be advantageous to call an election before or after Christmas, but my sense is that the Premier is taking things a couple of weeks at a time...much like the UBP was in 98 when things weren't going well.

Maybe he'll call it before Christmas, maybe not, I'd say probably not, particularly as the Privy Council is due to rule on gag orders versus the public interest in less than two weeks on October 29th.

I haven't seen any polls lately, although the Gazette probably is about due to publish a new one about now anyway, but this feels to me like one of those scenarios where a wounded incumbent party is waiting for the slightest little uptick in favourability to go to an election, but it just isn't coming.

We're even hearing that some PLP insiders think that the Premier should try and capitalise on the Music Festival and PGA event (which he and his party seem unable to share the credit with the members of the Mid Ocean who put in so much time and effort to both secure the tournament and run it). That's a rather shallow and insulting rationale for someone to vote PLP ("Well, they threw a good concert and sports event").

What I think is more significant is that there has been a sudden pivot on Southlands, the telegraphing of a policing arrangement, talk of cooling down the economy and the study on black males in conjunction with the workplace laws (ie. the tried and true pre-election demonising of whites and expats to redirect from a lack of progress under almost 9 years of PLP rule).

These three or four moves (plus the public education review) are all efforts to minimise as best as possible some serious vulnerabilities by putting them "under study".

These three or four moves were all relatively unexpected (and the draft Workplace Equity Act appears to have been hastily thrown out and legally problematic) but are all quite specifically targeted at trouble spots in their record.

It's a clear admission that a serious disconnect has developed between the public and the direction/performance of the PLP, particularly the Dr. Brown era.

The question is whether the UBP are able to turn this disconnect into support for them. That's hard to gauge because people appear to be keeping their cards quite close to their chests, although there is a steady chorus of dissatisfaction out there, and the UBP appear to be banking on a lower key one on one doorstep campaign.

The fact that Alex Scott in Warwick was put forth as the one who brought the sides together to discuss moving Southlands is clearly an attempt to rehabilitate some PLP candidates in Warwick, where resentment was running high over the fait d'accompli that was the Southlands development.

This election, whenever it happens, will be hard to read, and very competitive I believe. Clearly the PLP's cockiness of early 2007 has disappeared with some second guessing of the decision to not go early, giving the electorate time to digest the radicalised PLP under Dr. Brown and discover the details of the Police files.

The UBP appear quietly confident (is Dunkley trying some Jedi mind tricks here - does he want it early or not?). I'd like to see some of their new candidates raise their profile a little, but if the Southlands switch in Warwick is any indication, their doorstep strategy could be paying dividends.

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The Gazette today highlighted an interesting angle in the story that the Premier is bringing in his own economist to cool down the economy, by pointing out that this encroaches on the territory of the Finance Minister, who only a few months ago maintained that the economy was not overheating.

The establishment of the rather grand sounding (which is all it's probably intended to be) Premier's Council of Economic Advisers also raises serious questions about the usurping of Finance into the Premier's office.

This development of an executive branch of Government is of course borrowed from the US, where the Premier seems to get most of his ideas, consultants which create his entourage, but it isn't a part of our system of Government and could create a real conflict between the Finance Minister and the Premier, if one doesn't already exist.

But all this reminded me that we already have a foreign consultant on the payroll, Dr. Andrew Brimmer. He's been an advisor to our current and past Finance Ministers, since at least 2001, and as recently as December 2006 was still on the payroll.

So is Dr. Brimmer still on the job? If so, why are we seeking additional advice from another consultant? Does Government not have confidence in him? What will another consultant add? And isn't it the Finance Minister's role to recommend and implement economic policies?

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Perhaps Dr. Brown should prescribe himself some meds; he appears to be schizophrenic.

One minute he’s issuing orders to mow down massive areas of green space to fill with concrete and add a massive amount of new jobs, cars, and foreign workers to the economy (both during and after construction), and the next he’s calling in someone to slow things down.

Is he really serious? We don't need an ‘internationally renowned' economist to cool down the island’s economy? We need some common sense. Why are we yet again looking overseas for advice? It doesn’t take yet another foreign expert to tell us what to do. We have more than enough expertise here.

What should be done. Mostly, just reduce Government’s size, waste and spending. There. I just saved the taxpayer $500,000 in consulting fees.

Firstly, when Government starts talking about manipulating the economy, I get scared. They can’t even build a school on budget, let alone cool off an economy.

And that’s the real point here. Arguably the biggest contributor to overheating in Bermuda’s economy is the Government and their wasteful ways.

Economist Craig Simmons pointed this out in today’s article:

Government spending is approximately 20 to 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the value of final goods and services produced or consumed in a year. Decreases in Government spending are overdue. Discretionary and capital spending are obvious candidates for the largest budget cuts. The purpose of cutting capital spending is two-fold. Capital spending puts additional demand on an already overstretched construction industry. Postponing capital projects will free plumbers, electricians and masons to work in the private sector. In addition, money not spent becomes part of a surplus that can be used either against existing debt or applied to the building of an external reserve.

Contrary to the claims that the civil service would be reduced in size under the PLP Government in 1998, it has exploded in size – and I’m not just talking about the Department of Communications (where the number of employees has an inverse relationship to the amount of information communicated).

Since 2001 there has been an increase in 1,000 Government jobs.

That's:

1,000 new Government in 6 years or;
166 per year.
14 per month.
3 per week.
1 every other day.

That’s just the Government. For every job the Government creates, one non-Bermudian position is created elsewhere as we have no unemployment. And that’s before private sector growth is considered. (That also doesn’t include the Government consultant racket that is growing by the day.)

You’ve got Government approving any new major construction development (hotel or otherwise) that comes their way, particularly ones that violate existing planning laws, and has increased spending dramatically every year since 1998 – with no real improvement on delivery of services – rather than return the excess revenue and reduce the tax burden. There's no fiscal responsibility in the executing of taxpayer funded projects, just massive cost overruns, most notably at the almost 2 times cost Berkeley project.

What is this all about?

You don’t have to be an economist, and definitely not an 'internationally renowned' one to see what is overheating Bermuda’s economy.

The UBP (Bob Richards, Pat Gordon-Pamplin and Grant Gibbons in particular) have been singing this tune for years now. But it’s not increased interest rates and slowing down the housing market that should be the targets. It’s the waste, the corruption, the excess of Government that should be the starting point.

Reduce Government and you’ll have an almost immediate impact.

Government has become so bloated and self-indulgent, so full of excess wasteful spending, with a rubber stamp for anything that involves pouring concrete, that it simply boggles the mind that we’re now talking about bringing in an expert to cool things off.

Look in the mirror not overseas.

Unless of course, this is a back door for something else.

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A little housekeeping:

1) The caption competitions were fun, but this weekend's will be the last. Thanks to everyone who has participated over the past few months.

2) The reinsurance business enters it's busy season in the next couple of weeks, and as such I'll be doing more early mornings and later nights. Updates will slow down because of this. I don't have as much time to pre-write posts in the early morning and evenings and queue them up for publishing at various points of the day as I do during the summer months.

3) I'm trying to get my column in the Gazette going regularly again, and that means a Tuesday morning deadline, which will also impact activity on the blog as it tends to take me longer to write a column that rattle out a blog post.

As always, thanks for reading and please send on comments as they've been very interesting lately.

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Photo courtesy of The Royal Gazette

1st Place - SmokingGun

"Sure I had a little fun. I thought the police file was a classic. And the cedar beam trick no one caught onto. And the Russian guys? Old schoolmates. Wait till Ewart finds out who's bank account he's been putting all that money into."

2nd Place - Proteus:

Sir John melodic inner monologue:
"The house began to pitch, the kitchen took a slitch
It landed on the wicked witch in the middle of a ditch
Which was not a healthy situation for the wicked witch
Who began to twitch, and was reduced to just a stitch
Of what was once the wicked witch"

3rd Place - Bermuda Rasta: Even in retirement, Snidely Whiplash enjoys watching train wrecks.

Honourable Mention

- Blankman: They're laughing now but wait till they meet my replacement.

- Ali: The Guv shows his delight as he prepares to meet Phil Perinchief for a final farewell.

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There's a new Bermuda forum called:

Bermuda Is Another World

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This week's competition is for the departed:

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Photo courtesy of The Royal Gazette

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A reader who has "a very dim view of the role of politics in our micro society" - and needs to remain anonymous - writes about the reality of current public policy/politics on opportunities for Bermudians:

As a Bermudian heading up a few international businesses over many years, I have frequently been placed in a position of professional embarrassment in coordinating interfaces with our government - I remember attending a meeting almost 10 years ago with a new, but veteran Finance Minister to introduce the CEO of a one of the top 100 firms in the world, and the first question from the Minister was whether I supported a charity which his wife was involved with. My overseas colleagues assumed this was pay to play, but I honestly believe it was simply a stupid gaffe on the part of the Minister.

We have a few hundred years of a recurring theme in our history, on a global scale we are a tiny place with limited competent resources and the occasional remarkable talent, most of the competent are drawn to business where their efforts are well rewarded, sadly the competent are too infrequently drawn to politics and public office. We also have a tradition of failing to recognize the limitations of our gene puddle and to embrace the contributions of outsiders in our public policy and our business endeavours.

Bermudians representing an international business are in a tight spot, they have a duty to their international principals to actively monitor and fairly characterize the risks of doing business in Bermuda, and they hopefully have a patriotic duty to promote their jurisdiction. In addition, the international principals will probably recognize a marginal conflict of interest on the part of the Bermudian and evaluate their judgment with some skepticism. This creates a very awkward role for a Bermudian executive whenever public policy creates risks and uncertainty. To fulfill the duty to the company and maintain the confidence of the international principals, the Bermudian needs to be very candid about the risks. The company in turn helps the Bermudian save face and quietly executes a transition to another jurisdiction, rationalized and timed in such a way as to not create any ruckus that might further hamper the business left in Bermuda.

I've been part of this, and cannot speak about it as it would the breach confidentiality terms of a separation agreement. International principals simply lose confidence in their ability to direct the staffing and operations of the business that they created due to ill-conceived government intervention. They relocate their core operations to another location, they provide parachutes and consulting arrangements for the executives key to the transitioning functions, and declare the Bermudian staff redundant. They are perfectly entitled to do this, they created the business, they pinned down the intellectual capital to make it work and grow; if our jurisdictional conditions are right, employees at all levels can participate in their insight and success either by having solid and interesting work, or by taking advantage of a remarkable opportunity for personal growth. If conditions are not right, there are only crap jobs left behind;
uninteresting routine work, which does not require much skill or judgment to perform. Our public policy is creating an environment where Bermudians will have less opportunity to be exposed to valuable experience.

And forcing Sven to tutor Johnny is not only an unacceptable imposition on someone's business, it creates a culture of entitlement amongst us Bermudians. As a professional person, I find it demeaning to be considered for a role, purely because I am Bermudian - I want to work where my contribution and professional judgment adds value irrespective of my skin color or nationality and I take pride that I can compete in the business world and continually win for my employer and for myself. I have had to address this sense of entitlement of fellow Bermudian employees on a number of occasions, it is not pleasant and in my view it is significantly a function of an immigration policy which is self-defeating - it encourages us to take the low hanging fruit and not to stretch for the better stuff.

Bermudianization of key areas of public service are excellent examples of how a sense of entitlement diminishes performance of critical objectives; Public Education has failed to utilize competition and diversity within its workforce to improve the standards of teaching and administration, and prefers to set educational policy without embracing opportunities to access some of the best minds in the field.

I had sincerely hoped that the PLP would introduce important social change to Bermuda, but the opportunity was squandered from the outset in power plays, self aggrandizement and a lack of leadership from a remarkable talent. Jennifer Smith might have been the remarkable talent, but she succumbed to the vices of political office and was manipulated by an apparently vengeful party faithful. Dr. Brown is increasingly relying on vacuous rhetoric - I was appalled at the latest I heard on the ZBM interview with Al Seymour - that Bermudians will participate in the rebirth of the glorious days of tourism and will take up many of the part time roles in the new hotels - it seems pretty demeaning to Bermudians if he thinks our people should relish the idea of continuing to work multiple part time jobs in one of the lowest paying sectors of the economy. The issue of racial quotas in the work place is a similarly ill conceived idea - it effectively demeans every black Bermudian by creating an unnecessary and open question - did you get this job for your talent, your nationality or your race? Who wants to live with that?

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In today's Insurance Day newsletter (subsription required) the new director of Isle of Man Finance, John Spellman, says about Bermuda:

We want to go head to head with them to engage some of the biggest global names of reinsurance" said Spellman. This drive will take advantage of "political instability" in Bermuda, he said.

The current government there is viewed as less welcoming to the financial services industry than previous regimes and there are also concerns about the ease of getting work visas, according to market commentators.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (10 October, 2007)

The past several weeks have seen a renewed focus on the relationship between international business and the PLP Government. This debate was re-ignited after anonymous comments expressing concern over Bermuda’s political leadership made at an influential annual gathering of reinsurers were printed in several international reinsurance publications.

Local attention on this issue has been intense, with good reason; international business directly impacts every Bermudian’s quality of life, whether you are employed in it or not. Indeed the long overdue detailed breakdown of air arrivals reveals that business travel has even been used to mask tourism’s ongoing decline.

Generally I avoid writing on the insurance industry too directly as I work in it. Even though the opinions expressed are always my own and not those of my employer I am well aware that there are those who will attempt to use me against my employer and my employer against me. However, I believe the concerns raised recently are sufficiently important and should be addressed from the perspective of a Bermudian in the industry.

Firstly, on Friday September 28th, 2007, The Royal Gazette published a column by an anonymous senior Bermudian reinsurance executive entitled “External Threats, Internal Challenges”. This column addressed a potential business ‘exodus’ from Bermuda. I was subsequently informed by a number of people that it was alleged on a radio talk show, by PLP candidate Laverne Furbert, that I was in fact the author of this article.

Let me say definitively that I was not the author, nor was I privy to its composition. I, like everyone else, read the article for the first time on the morning of September 28th.

The predictable attempt to ‘out’ the author entirely validates the writer’s desire to protect their identity; it’s precisely why those reinsurance executives at Monte Carlo spoke off the record. This retributive behavior is contributing to a climate of unease among those within our largest industry, both Bermudian and otherwise.

I can think of many Bermudians insurance workers who share the sentiments of that article but wouldn’t want their names attached to it for fear of retaliation against themselves and/or their employers. As someone who puts his name on his opinions daily, I understand this concern as I am the target of this at times, but at some point we must stop being scared of our shadows and speak up.

Where are the young Bermudians in International Business in this debate? There are many, many of us working our way up through the industry quite successfully at various levels – with no help from the Government – who are far more qualified to discuss this topic than Cabinet and their advisors; few who possess more than a superficial understanding of Bermuda’s biggest economic engine.

As a young Bermudian reinsurance underwriter, I regularly meet with international clients, brokers and competing reinsurers. So I was not at all surprised to read the comments in The Royal Gazette articles entitled “Prepared to take flight: Bermuda's $64bn reinsurance community unhappy with Island situation - new report” and “More claims of discontent among reinsurers”, although the phrase ‘preparing to take flight’ is a bit of an overstatement.

It is indisputable that the impact of term limits, the precedent setting deportations of several non-Bermudian workers for minor issues, threats to prohibit car ownership by non-Bermudians, Ministerial warnings to non-Bermudians to stay out of politics (ie. by all means publicly agree with the Government but never dissent) and Dr. Brown’s intensely adversarial approach has created an environment of unease among our billion dollar corporations.

This is discussed within the industry regularly, both informally and otherwise. Mr. Ed Noonan of Validus Re was recently reported as characterising the chatter as “bar-talk”, prompting the Premier and his proxies to spin away the concerns as those of people “who had been drinking”.

Here’s where it’s useful to actually understand how the industry works; conversations and discussions aren’t limited to set agenda meetings in a board room. Bermuda’s companies are friendly but fierce competitors who operate in a small market. “Bar talk” doesn’t mean getting full hot; it means casual but frank conversations about issues facing the industry as whole conducted outside of regular business hours, versus the specifics of an individual business deal.

No-one schedules an open session at a conference entitled “Threats from the Bermuda Government”, but you can be absolutely sure it comes up afterwards. Just as many important discussions are held and relationships solidified on a golf course or over dinner, “bar talk” plays a major role in this industry, both as a networking tool and a way to discuss broad concerns and sometimes vent. If you doubt that assertion, take a wander over to Little Venice Wine Bar any day after 5:30 and see it for yourself.

It is also undeniable that Bermuda’s international businesses, which are broader than just insurance, are moving jobs out of Bermuda. This is due to basic economics but also a hedge against the increasingly hostile political climate which is hamstringing companies’ ability to compete, hire and retain key staff. These policies seem designed to generate a political rallying cry for rallies which the industry is asked to finance through political donations while being told to stay out of politics.

The Premier’s recent speech in Washington DC about a program labeled as Goodwill Plus, whereby every expatriate employee has a Bermudian college graduate attached to them to succeed them in 3 years, simply put an exclamation point on the lack of realism and pragmatism in the election year policies which are being rolled out.

Goodwill Plus should be called Opportunities Lost; it is at best naïve, at worst disingenuous. Either way it’s counterproductive.

As a Bermudian in the industry who would like to see other Bermudians continuing to benefit from it, it is clear to me that young university educated Bermudians hoping to pursue a career in insurance will in fact suffer if this policy is ever acted on (versus just hyped before an election).

Term limits are equally as counterproductive as Goodwill Plus. The cumulative effect of all of this politicking, and the never-ending scandals, is a drastic reduction in Bermuda’s attractiveness as a long term business home.

Talk about replacing experienced and skilled ‘Sven’ with fresh out of college ‘Johnny’ is little more than political headline generators which will not achieve the professed results for a number of reasons, some obvious others not.

Firstly, it seems to be treated as a given by the Government that businesses in Bermuda are discriminating against Bermudians. But with the Government admitting that the public education system is grossly inadequate – and has been for some time – and has labeled young black males as a problem, it seems rather unfair and insincere to then put the blame on employers for not having enough senior Bermudians (of any race) in their ranks.

An objective observer would most likely conclude that businesses are being handed a problem rather than creating one. Politicians are motivated to shift blame for this, at least the ones running for re-election are, which is why departing MP Renee Webb felt free to point out that we have to deal with education first before we can claim rampant discrimination.

Secondly, international business, and insurance in particular, is an industry that is built on relationships and experience, not ‘jobs’. We as Bermudians must stop thinking about ‘jobs’ and start thinking about careers, relationships, experience and credibility. This takes time. Goodwill Plus talks about 3 years; 10 to 15 is more realistic.

And bear in mind that Bermuda’s insurance and reinsurance industry really only began to ramp up rapidly in the last 15 years, at which point Bermudians began to transition out of tourism and into business roles. A massive culture shift had to occur as well as re-calibration of skills.

Thirdly, Bermudians working in the industry in Bermuda have a much better chance to advance because our companies currently locate their most senior staff here. The key decision makers and most valued employees in our billion dollar companies are interacting on a daily basis with entry level staff in a way that does not occur in North America, Europe or Asia.

While every Bermudian should spend time overseas building up experience prior to returning to Bermuda (hence the need for an EU passport) those of us working on island should exploit the unique opportunity to be exposed to key figures in the global financial services industry. The value of that is unquantifiable.

Fourthly, the cumulative effect of forcing companies to terminate experienced and skilled non-Bermudian staff after 3 years in the Sven example or 6 years for term limits will drive key positions to the many competing jurisdictions where our companies already maintain a presence; jurisdictions that are anxious to erode Bermuda’s dominance as a global financial market. Sven will never get here, so who is Johnny going to be attached to?

A key employee in this industry is someone who can generate tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue and/or investment for their firms. When they are re-located, so will the positions around them; resulting in opportunities lost for Bermudians. And if we’re honest, one of the hardest things for our companies to do is retain Bermudians, they are in such demand.

I wonder how – with this phenomenon already occurring in a low-key manner – the next generation of Bermudians will be able to enter the business that fuels our economy the way I did. The vital entry level professional positions are moving elsewhere.

The associated promising career paths are shifting to Dublin, Zurich, London, New York, Halifax or even Waterloo Ontario. Ten to fifteen years later those non-Bermudian beneficiaries might end up here in the top level positions that remain on island, positions which Bermudians could have previously aspired to.

Furthermore, the net impact of this is that we will begin to push Bermuda back to a model which we’ve successfully moved away from, much to our benefit. Bermuda is far better served by having companies with a genuine physical presence and the accompanying skilled analytical, actuarial and management roles, rather than by driving those elsewhere and being attractive as a holding company location only. That model holds less benefit for us economically and re-invites intense scrutiny as a tax haven.

The Bermudians in international business can’t remain silent. There are plenty of us methodically working our way up through the ranks quite successfully; I interact with them in Bermuda and overseas and see them handling important financial deals.

Those of us in this industry have not been called on by the Government in this discussion, and we can’t sit idly by as observers. We are in fact far more knowledgeable about this topic than those who keep telling us what is good for us. We deserve a voice.

There are many Bermudian success stories in the industry, and we can tell the Government a thing or two about what should and should not be done, about what is and isn’t helpful. Chasing away broad economic opportunities for present and future generations of Bermudians in an effort to secure another political term isn’t productive.

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There's a new Bermuda blog out there Vexed Bermoothes.

So far so good. It's singing a similar song to me, but with far less sarcasm and attitude!

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A reader with his experience with a wind turbine:

In reference to the planning application for the wind turbine installation. I am all for seeking and using environmentally friendly energy resources. My only concern with the wind turbine it that during a normal breezy day the turbine is extremely quiet and unnoticeable, but during times of moderately higher winds the "blades" of the turbine make an extreme amount of very high pitch noise!

I know this because I had installed one for test purposes on my own property and found that on windy days (sometimes) but definitely nights I had to shut it off as it would keep everyone in the immediate area including myself awake!

This was a very expensive unit definitely not the bottom of the barrel but it was 5 years ago so maybe things have changed. I definitely wouldn't recommend this type of energy generator for an area where you have anyone living near you.

I've been told that they're getting quieter, but I can imagine that if their use became widespread you could have a serious noise pollution problem.

In this case Mr. Miller applied for a one year test period as well. I'm sure his neighbours would have notified Planning if noise was a problem.

There are lots of issues to consider for new power sources (solar seems best suited to Bermuda I'd think), but 'unattractive' seems like a low one on the Ministry of the Environment's hierarchy of concerns.

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A reader writes with a serious take on the sarcastic Licensing Your Spouse:

It is good to see this issue is still getting attention. I am a spouse of a Bermudian who owned a house well before we met which we decided to sell. We have now been waiting for our buyers to obtain a license for about 2 ½ months. Until this license mess is sorted, we definitely won’t be reinvesting in Bermuda. More and more I see my husband pushed out of his own country (most of the time because of me!). It is quite sad!

Obviously, the reader comment in Licensing Your Spouse was an extreme comment to take the policy to its furthest, but the comment above expresses a real life example of the impact of shallow politicking through heavy handed and ill conceived policies designed to drum up a few votes but that have a real impact on people's lives, both financial and otherwise.

Surely if we treat Spouses of Bermudians as Bermudians for employment purposes (outside of the Civil Service that is), there is no reason that we can't do likewise for jointly held investments.

The example the Minister cited about how we'd then have to allow Spouses of Bermudians to vote is just an attempt to inflame the issue.

Voting is an individual right whereas issues of jointly held assets and financial decisions in marriage is not.

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A reader writes on the wind turbines:

While I do agree that the application for this should have been turned down, for me it is not the unsightly aspect that is unacceptable but how many birds are killed or maimed by these. That seems to not even have been part of the minister’s concern. what meaning of “environment” is she using, i wonder?

Not something that I'd considered, but at least that would have been understandable from an environmental perspective.

The more I think about the 'unattractive' reasoning, the more silly it seems.

I mean, really. If we're rejecting wind turbines because they're an unattractive method of delivering energy, then surely we should be banning above ground power lines as well...which can be seen in the bottom left corner of the background of the proposed wind turbine photo.

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Photo courtesy of The Bermuda Sun

1st Place - Fast Eddy: Today in The Situation Room, Big Bad Wolf Blitzer revealed the historic reconciliation between Goldilocks and Baby Bear.

2nd Place - Lewis Padgett: This shot, taken moments after Paula had just asked Hilary, if that was the infamous "Blue Dress".

3rd Place - Proteus: Visibly dis-pleased and barely able to crack a smile, Coxy didn't have the heart to tell Hilary that when she was talking about HRC, she didn't mean Hilary Rodham Clinton.

Honourable Mentions:

Bermuda Rasta: "What?! This isn't Emmanuel Lewis?"

Gombey House: HRC: "Welcome to Washington, my my we've never seen so many Bahamians here before!"

Dishonourable Mention:

Blankman for too many fat jokes!

Hillary Clinton brings out the best...and worst... in you. I spent this evening cleaning up a few of the comments. I chuckled all weekend at Bermuda Rasta's Emmanuel Lewis crack though.

See you next week. Feel free to send on suggested photos.

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Here's one for the ages, the Ministry of the Environment, henceforth known as the Ministry of Exterior Decorating, rejected an application for wind turbines (aka enviromentally clean energy) on a residence because they were...get this...unattractive.

This is of course the same Ministry (or perhaps more accurately Minister) that issued a Special Development Order to destroy woodland and coastal reserve at Southlands though.

The article in the paper today sums up the incoherence and inconsistency of planning decisions. But it boils down to the age old saying of "It's not what you know it's who you know."

If I were Mr. Miller, I'd move my wind turbine to a protected coastal or woodland reserve and make it 10 stories high so that it violates every height restriction - then it's sure to get approved.

Oh, and most importantly, pay your membership dues and resubmit the planning application through a preferred developer (here or here).

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I'm low on time today, but on special request this week's caption contest is dedicated to Cox's Hill:

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Photo courtesy of The Bermuda Sun

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Lionel Richie killed it last night at the Music Festival. Absolutely brilliant performance.

Two suggestions though:

1) Triple the size of the bar, add 5 times as many staff
2) Switch a few of the fish stalls for a Coco Puff vendor

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A reader writes:

Question: If I do want to buy property and I have a non-Bermudian wife, I have to get her licensed..... Now does she have to wear that license around her neck or is the Government gonna just tattoo that right on her arm or something???

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A recurring theme in Housing Minister David Burch's complaints about delivering affordable housing is "greedy landlords". On September 27th he held a press conference where he eviscerated "greedy" landlords who are "wreaking havoc in the housing market."

"You have people around here extorting money from other people for accommodation that's up for rent and they're able to get away with it because the demand is so great," Sen. Burch added.

Ignoring the Minister's inability to grasp basic supply and demand economics and market forces, I thought it only appropriate to provide a very illuminating example of arguably Bermuda's greediest landlord: Senator Burch's Government.

You'll recall that Government spent 1.5M to renovate Clifton as the "Official Premier's Residence", which Alex Scott lived in for a few short months.

Subsequently, on acceding to the Premiership, Dr. Brown opted not to move in to the mandatory "Official Residence" and we were told that Government would be renting this property out to provide some revenue and recoup the renovation cost (seems reasonable).

Clifton was put on the rental market in April, with a target rent of $25,000 - $35,000 / month, easily qualifying as among the absolute highest rents in Bermuda.

How has that worked out?

Six months later it remains empty, the rent slashed almost in half and seemingly continues to generate little interest.

That's a greedy landlord indeed.

So let's work this out:

By pitching the rent so high the property has been empty for 6 months, which, if we assume it could ultimately be rented for say $15,000 per month (questionable at best as it has no pool) has lost the greedy landlord $90,000 - half of the annual rent they could have got if they put a more realistic asking price on it.

Now who's greedy?

Sure, it's greedy, but it's also just the Government asking above market for an inferior property, and the market correcting it. Welcome to Bermuda and the real world of capitalism.

That's what goes on every day in Bermuda's rental market. People want to get the most rent/sale price for their properties...including the PLP Government.

Another egregious example of greed was the Premier strong-arming the Bermuda Housing Corporation into buying his Flatts house, after it was rejected several times, for over the appraised value. The non-Ministerial home sellers wouldn't have been able to swing that kind of a deal. Membership has its privileges.

So let's drop the greedy landlord nonsense can we. Bermuda is a free market and the Government is playing the game just like everyone else.

The alternative (Government fixing rental prices) is far worse.

(All of this is in addition to the question of why a $1.5M renovation of a centrally located historic 4 bedroom property with extensive grounds has produced a home that can't command the rent that one would expect.)

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The CaymanNetNews publishes an excellent editorial, citing the current situation in Bermuda as one they should not follow:

Indeed, the latest developments in Bermuda could sound the death knell for the island's financial sector and, in the normal course of events, the Cayman Islands ought to be the beneficiary, but that is now by no means a foregone conclusion. According to a recent article in Bermuda's Royal Gazette, businesses there may soon be forced to recruit and promote black Bermudians ahead of other candidates through newly-drafted "employment equity" laws.

The new legislation will reportedly require firms of 40 or more employees to set up policies to ensure black Bermudians achieve "a degree of representation in each occupational group in the employers' workforce that reflects their representation in the Bermuda labour force".

Not surprisingly, local business leaders claim that the proposals will encourage senior executives to leave the island, and this comes on top of existing concerns surrounding Bermuda's political climate and work permit problems, about which we have also written in recent weeks and months.

Indeed, we pointed out that, in a process that is already starting to take place in Cayman as well, Bermudians are facing job losses as a result of unforeseen and unintended consequences of that country's own six-year rollover policy.

International companies are now outsourcing jobs overseas because of difficulties associated with hiring foreign workers on limited-term work permits.

This will directly affect local people and their place in the workforce because, as companies increasingly seek to outsource overseas jobs that have previously been filled by expatriate employees on work permits, they will also outsource lower-level jobs that would ordinarily be filled by locals.

Such outsourcing will inevitably be followed by the businesses themselves leaving for more accommodating jurisdictions and one of those alternative destinations might have been the Cayman islands.

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The Minister of Immigration today issued a statement to attempt to rebut the complaints that so many people have been having over the new law which puts Government into your marriage and your bank account.

I've been meaning to comment on this earlier, not the whole legislation as it's quite involved, but the general attitude that underlies this legislation.

Phil Barnett of the Chamber of Commerce summed it up best with his comment about people being surprised about the Government's definition of a Bermudian family:


"Based on strict interpretation of the Act, Bermudians might be surprised at the Government's definition of a Bermudian family. "If you believe you are a 'Bermudian' family (by contributing to the tax base, educating your Bermudian children and fully investing in Bermuda as your home country of domicile), the Act strictly interprets this not to be the case if your spouse is not Bermudian."You do not have the same rights as a 'Bermudian' family comprising of two Bermudian spouses."Therefore the question requires asking 'What is a Bermudian family' and why are only some being disenfranchised?

The Minister seems put out by this statement judging by his press release today.

There is no disputing that the Minister is saying that Government can decide how a married couple can invest their funds. I find that offensive and a slippery slope. There is a fundamental principle at stake of individual liberty here. Do we run our lives or does the Government?

It also means that as a Bermudian you lose rights once you marry a non-Bermudian.

Surely the appropriate way to deal with non-Bermudian property ownership is that if the marriage were to end before the non-Bermudian spouse acquired status, that the property would have to be sold, as the non-Bermudian couldn't hold their share of that property, rather than having Government interfering in your decision to purchase a property in the first place.

Why should a legitimately married couple, where one spouse is Bermudian and the other not, have less rights than a married couple of two Bermudians?

What business is it of any government to be in the personal finances of individuals or families, whether 100% Bermudian or not?

In fact, the starting point of this act is an assumption that Bermudians only marry foreigners for their money and that the non-Bermudians bring the assets to a relationship?

If the Bermudian spouse possessed all the assets and is the income earner while the non-Bermudian spouse doesn't work why should they not be allowed to invest their funds in Bermuda real estate like any other Bermudian.

The legislation is presuming that every marriage between a non-Bermudian and a Bermudian is a financial transaction.

Unless a marriage is one of convenience, which was dealt with a few years back legislatively if I recall, Government has no business whatsoever decreeing how a family can invest their funds. None. Zero.

Here's a question for you: If, as the Premier has proposed, non-Bermudians are prohibited from owning a car, does that mean that a Bermudian and non-Bermudian married couple now have to sell their vehicle?

This is a very slippery slope, and one that is bigger than just the issue of property ownership. It speaks to the role of Government and personal liberties and freedoms.

There is a fundamental principle here of how much you want the Government in your life and your wallet. I say not at all thanks.

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Evidently Bermuda is cuckoo for Coco Puffs, as the Cleveland Leader declares that:

Bermuda Blames Obesity Problems on Coco Pops

I'd never noticed the run on Coco Puffs at Lindos.

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A reader picks up on an interesting but overlooked item of the Premier's Washington DC speech:


"We are underway with some of the most recognisable and luxurious brands in the hotel industry - Ritz Carlton, Inter-Continental, and St. Regis are on the list."

Inter-Continental??? That's new to me....

I think so too. I don't recall any announcements about an Intercontinental Hotel and I can't find any references online anywhere.

Did they let something slip?

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A reader writes on the Minister who isn't delivering tourists:


Premier Brown said: "Some media have put a newfound emphasis on separating certain kinds of visitors, which is perfectly fine. However we want the public to know the Bermuda Department of Tourism caters to all kinds of visitors because we don't mind who comes to our shores, as long as they are filling our hotels and restaurants and taxis."

So why is Andre Curtis being paid to scare away gay tourists…?

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You've got to give it to them, the PLP are much better at the language game than the UBP.

Latest example, caught hiding a tourism decline in aggregated business and tourism air arrival stats (not to mention the cruise ship impact), the PLP takes the glass half full approach and declares on their website that:

"Business Tourism Booms"

Clever. Nice redirect.

The UBP's David Dodwell gets the substantive point right though:


"Business visitors, by any definition, are not tourists. Their activities and spending patterns are different from those of tourists, and their arrival has nothing to do with Bermuda Tourism's marketing or promotional efforts.

"Yes, these visitors stay in hotels, go to restaurants, use taxis and play golf, but that is not the reason they are coming — they are here for business.

"The real question is are we getting value for money, for the 36 million tourism budget that we spend to attract probably 100,000 first time air arrival leisure visitors?"

And finally, beginning today, the Government today announced that Finance Minister Paula Cox will announce air arrival statistics.

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You gotta love this.

First Dr. Brown got a grip n grin with Condi Rice. Then, Michael Dunkley stuck his finger in Dr. Brown's eye with a grip n grin with Tiger Woods. And now Dr. Brown reciprocates with today's toothy grip n grin with Barack Obama on the front page of the Royal Gazette (Friday's caption competition front-runner).

I'm reliably informed that Michael Dunkley intends to put this one to bed when he produces the photo of him and Jesus.

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So, in response to my last post on what the "CI" in CITV stands for, general consensus appears to be "Community Information TV". Seems to make sense.

Now, on to a selection of the wise-ass responses:

Communist Invasion
Clowns International
Control (and) Indoctrination
Crock of Idiots
Collective Individualism - one cancels out the other, therefore it means nothing.

and

If you weren't being serious, it's a nefarious plot of the Cayman Islands (or is it the Channel Islands?) to take over Bermuda through propaganda. Or perhaps:

Counter (to your) Intelligence TV
Crisis of Identity TV
Control of Information TV
Cabinet's Indiscretions TV

and


CITV (short for Children's ITV or Children's Independent Television) is the brand name used for the majority of children's television output on ITV's ...

and

I love the comment from the Premier on the CITV website "it was created for you", just like the Soviet Union created TASS for it's people.

CI = Completely Irrelevant ?

and

Criminal Investigation TV

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Does anyone know what the "CI" in CITV stands for?

I don't.

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The Southlands saga continues, with news breaking late last week that Government is looking to shift the project to Morgan's Point.

I think most people would welcome the mega-development not blighting South Shore as the Government has authorised by ramming down the public's throat an SDO voiding all zoning laws, but the sudden shift raises a lot of questions, which Denis Pitcher covers well in his post from a couple of days ago.

The obvious implication here is that the results of the heavy pre-election canvassing that have been going on across the island recently, but also in the key battle grounds in Warwick, revealed that the PLP are in danger of losing Warwick seats because of the blatant disregard they had for the public interest over this project.

The Ministers - including she of the Environment - always acted as the agents for the developers, abdicating their responsibility to represent the public.

As one person said to me the other day, the general sentiment towards the PLP MPs in the Warwick constituencies has been 'stick it in your tunnel'....hence, the sudden change of heart.

The release of the potential Morgan's Point move to the press has been carefully orchestrated as an effort by PLP Warwick MPs (excluding the Premier presumably), to respond to the concerns of their constituents (after ignoring them for the better part of a year). Isn't it interesting what the prospects of an election can do?

So, in an effort to salvage some votes, we're now seeing the Government trying to do some sort of a swap with Southlands and Morgan's point.

It's not a bad concept, except Government holds no cards here now after issuing the SDO. The developers could start digging the Southlands tunnel tomorrow presumably to leverage this up and extract more concessions form the people of Bermuda in exchange for moving to Morgan's Point.

With an SDO in hand and a Government with a political problem, they're rubbing their hands together with delight I'm sure.

Government so desperately wants to save face over this now and salvage something (in Warwick in particular) so that the Premier can swoop in and claim credit for the great compromise, listening to the community, respecting sustainable development etc. that they'll probably say yes to an unattractive deal.

I'm pretty convinced it will get done, because the PLP website is linking to 3 press stories on the topic.

But the problems here are massive:

I can't see the Southlands/Jumeirah developers paying to clean up the pollution, so the taxpayers will foot that one.

Some sort of legal indemnity will have to be worked out so the developers/owners can't be sued for any health problems that may arise - back on the taxpayers absent some very well crafted legislation (which this Government isn't known for).

By needing to get this done to solve a political problem the PLP Goverment are likely to accept a deal that isn't as attractive for the people of Bermuda as it could have been if Morgan's Point was open to a competitive bidding process and Southlands hadn't been rezoned.

Instead, we now have Southlands being given preferred access (after the PLP chased away a development at Morgan's Point immediately after taking over in 1998).

This is a mess. Moving the project away from Warwick is the optimal solution, but we'll have to wait to see just what is put on the table as an alternative, because the Government aren't holding the cards. They have a massive political problem they need to solve, and see Morgan's Point as the answer.

That's not a good combination for the people of Bermuda.

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Finally today, the Royal Gazette confirms what I and others have been saying for months, and months, and months:

Long withheld detailed air arrival statistics show definitively that the number of air arriving tourists is down, and that the heavily touted tourism renaissance under Dr. Brown has been business travelers.

What a shock. It's been obvious that air arrivals have been reported instead of tourist arrivals to mask the Minister's failed tourism strategy.

I'm just not sure why the Gazette chose to give relatively low play to it on the front page, while they've played right along with big lead headlines based on the misinformation they've been fed every quarter for years now.

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