June 2008 Archives

I received the following anonymously yesterday, and it has been posted elsewhere, but it is a very powerful piece which speaks to the disappointment, betrayal and building rage in Bermuda, all of which boiled over on Friday outside Parliament.

It's a long comment, but it is well worth reading:

Dear Sir:

“We see the essential mission of the [............] Party to be the empowerment of the broad majority of the Bermudian people. We see a New Bermuda, in which the talents of every Bermudian will be mobilized in building a humane society, in which social and economic justice is a reality, not just an ideal.
The [......] Party’s policies and programmes are meant to rekindle hope, to heal Bermuda ’s present divisions and to replace apathy and alienation with a spirit of optimism and a feeling of oneness and unity. We continue to put Bermuda first, and to put Bermudians first.”

Rumour has it that these are the noble and inspired words that form the mission statement of a certain political party. You would be forgiven for failing to recognize exactly which political party this noble “mission” should be attributed to, but apparently it is the so-called Progressive Labour Party that claims such a mission statement- a party that prides itself on forming Bermuda’s first so-called “labour government”.

Before you form any judgments about who is writing this, let me just say a few words about who I am. I am not in politics nor do I have any desire to be at this time. I have no axe to grind with any politician or political party, and although I am a son of the soil, I am not THE
infamous “Son of the Soil”. I am a young black man who has spent most of his adult life voting for the PLP. I am one of those voters who on the 9th November 1998 celebrated what I thought was the birth of a true democratic process where finally voters could express confidence in a new political party taking the reigns of power and relegate the arrogant and complacent incumbent to the Opposition. I celebrated what I thought would be the dawn of a new age, not where manna would fall from the sky, but where finally, as the mission statement above states, there would be an empowerment of the “broad majority of the Bermudian people”. As a labour government one takes this to mean, not just black people, but anyone, black, Anglo or Portuguese, who has previously been disenfranchised or marginalized in this economy. I am talking about those of us who were not able to get a good job in top local companies by virtue of being fortunate enough to have a daddy or uncle in a senior and influential position to do our bidding for us. I refer to those who were never able to make an impact in the international business world because of cultural bias, despite the fact that we were qualified and worked hard. I refer to those local ambitious entrepreneurs who always seemed to fall short of the criteria required to win a major government contract. I refer to the unions, (oh yes remember them?) who for so long pined for the day when they would actually have a labour government in power who would understand and address their needs with at least some degree of empathy.

I recognize and appreciate that the PLP has done some good things over the last ten years, but it would be an understatement to say that I have been disappointed with the extent to which this government has squandered the goodwill and momentum that it was bestowed with after the 1998 election. In fact, my disappointment has rapidly evolved into disgust over the last eighteen months as I have witnessed the exponential deterioration of the moral fiber and integrity of the government under the current leadership of Premier, Dr Ewart Brown.

Premier Brown came into power on a wave of euphoria. There were many who doubted his integrity and were wary of what they saw as an overbearing ego and naked ambition. However, there were many more who felt that as premier, in spite of, or perhaps because of his head strong disposition, and because of his talents he would rise to the occasion to achieve a level of excellence for the country. If the country did well, he would look good. There were many who saw him as Bermuda ’s version of “New Labour” where the old core principles of the party would be given a modern finish, where he could straddle from negotiating and conversing with CEOs of exempt companies to union bosses. Unfortunately, it would appear that the lure of power and prestige has had such an intoxicating effect on his leadership that you really cannot even call it “leadership”.

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We are not elitist... pleads the Playboy Premier who just took possession of an oversized and totally overpowered BMW 750, while his Cabinet colleagues drive cars that are bigger than allowed for non-politicians; who just flew (with entourage) to Washington DC on a private jet; who park in Cabinet only VIP parking at the airport; who sponsors family events at the Playboy Mansion on the taxpayers dime; who stayed in the 7 diamond Al Burj hotel at taxpayers expense; and who vacations in Martha's Vineyard and Turks and Caicos with his celebrity friends.

Nah. Not elitist at all.

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A reader writes on the closure of Whitney, perhaps the beginning of the end for the successful aided schools:

Today's announcement of the closure of the Whitney Institute is interesting. The failure to maintain the physical plant to acceptable health and safety standards seems to be at the core of the dispute and subsequent closure. What is interesting however is the shift in language between April and now. In announcements made just a couple of months ago the public was led to believe that as a Government-aided school, the Government was responsible for the upkeep to ensure a clean and safe environment and one that complies with health and safety codes. Fast forward to today and the not-so-subtle announcement by Minister Horton that Whitney's Trustees could not give an assurance that they could remain a viable school within the public school system for five years - hence, the closure. What was not addressed in today's press reports was where the responsibility lay for funding of property management and maintenance. The inference now was that it was the Trustees responsibility, albeit the specifics of the level of Government funding and how it is applied within the multi-million dollar school budget was not elaborated on.

There is no doubt that this closure now becomes a convenient announcement for Government. It is not inconsistent with Government's strategy of dismantling relics of the pre-1998 regime (the Minister's announcement would have been markedly different had Victor Scott School found itself in the same scenario). But, I cannot
help but enquire as to whether the school's Trustees were negligent in not ensuring that required property maintenance was done. I don't think we've seen the last of 'he said, he said' over this one.

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I don't want to dwell on this Tim Wise Mid Ocean interview too much, but it's worth revisiting briefly to touch on something he said which is a) hard to believe, b) incredibly inflammatory and c) at best an unreliable anecdote:

When I came here last time I had a conversation with a young black man who said he'd had a conversation with a white woman who he knew to be otherwise fairly rational. She says to him, "I'm afraid that if Dr. Brown wins and the PLP (Progressive Labour Party) wins re-election, that we're gonna become another Zimbabwe and they're going to start slaughtering white people on the lawn of Parliament, that they're just gonna start shooting us and killing us and beheading us and machete-ing us and they're just gonna kill us.".

I can say, definitively, without question, that I have never heard even the most unguarded white racist make that kind of comment about the PLP. Ever. Full stop.

That conversation as characterised is frankly, more than hard to believe. I am yet to meet any Bermudian that expressed a fear that a PLP election victory would see whites slaughtered on the lawn or Parliament, shot, beheaded or machete'd.

Just typing that sentence is an exercise in ridiculousness.

I've heard some pretty irrational fears about Dr. Brown and others in the PLP, but I've also heard some pretty rational ones - and others that have come to pass (Bermuda Cement Company, attempts to circumvent Parliament, abuse of public funds on the Friends and Family plan - Playboy Mansion). Some were founded in racism, others in reality.

For Wise to cite that example when it is completely unsubstantiated - at best second-hand - is the height of irresponsibility for a supposed academic. It only inflames and plays into simplistic and harmful stereotypes.

Later in the interview Wise returns to that story and characterises the comment as follows:

Q: The woman who thought she'd be killed by the PLP, how would you get a person like that involved?

A: I don't know that someone who's that far gone frankly, in their panic, is gonna ever come to this conversation.

How is that absurd comment, that the PLP would 'slaughter whites', any different from the now notorious statement (delivered in various iterations over a span of years) that a vote for the UBP would be a vote "back on the Plantation" (Premier Brown) or would "return the shackles to our [black Bermudians'] feet"? (PLP Candidate Lovitta Foggo).

Those comments are equally insane.

I see two possibilities: Either the the sentiments were sincere, in which case those who uttered them are equally as panicked and irrational as Wise's white woman; or the comments were delivered intentionally as highly inflammatory political rhetoric (it's beyond metaphoric) intended to play on racial fears, push buttons and stoke racial animosity, in which case the individuals who uttered them should be condemned.

But here's the kicker: Either way the election comments by political candidates are worse; they weren't delivered by some random yet powerless individual like Wise's anecdote, they were delivered by a Cabinet Minister/ Premier and an ultimately successful candidate for Parliament who have not just the bully pulpit and spotlight of political office, but the power to actually shape public policy.

If Wise thinks that the white woman who is scared of being slaughtered can't come to the [Big] Con(versation), how does he think people who've expressed the same sentiments in reverse can lead it?

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If you haven't read Tim Wise in the Mid Ocean interview today you should, if only to realise how uninformed he is.

The statement below should clarify just how inapplicable this guy's theories are to Bermuda:

"But the reality is the white people who aren't rich - is their mortgage in the hands of a black banker. Is their job in the hands of a black employer. Is their child's education in the hands of a black teacher."

Yes. Yes. And yes in many cases.

He gives himself a little wiggle room as an escape hatch, but it's all for naught wrapped up in consultant-speak:

"If so, then at least theoretically they could have a point although we'd still have to excavate the practicality."

Excavate the practicality? Huh? Consultant mumbo-jumbo. Perhaps we need to find some 'synergies' so that we can determine his 'value added' 'going forward'.

If he wasn't being thrust to the fore as the authoritative voice on race by the political spin doctors and Bermuda's equivalents of Lenin's soviet sympathisers - rather harshly termed his "Useful Idiots" (those who are lapping the Big Con up) - it would serve as an entertaining diversion.

Larry Burchall in the Bermuda Sun today calls him a 'snake oil salesman'. That's a little harsh; he's simply a businessman. One literally in the business of race.

He knows who his audience is and has carved a nice living off this issue.

Anyone with a clue about Bermuda knows that probably over half of Bermuda's mortgages are held with a 'black banker', namely Phillip Butterfield, CEO of the Bank of Bermuda and the brother of the Premier (a scenario that is eerily similar to the old Front St. oligarchy with Bank CEOs with close ties to the political leadership).

Someone might also like to inform him that all Bermudian children - regardless of race - have been, and will continue to be, educated by black teachers, despite his prejudicial and uninformed statement to the contrary about how many white parents will have their children educated by black teachers.

I'd say all at some point in their lives.

Same goes for black employers and business owners with white employees.

Lots.

Maybe in America he can make these arguments, but not here. He's clearly clueless here (hence why he was hired: easily manipulated to the political agenda).

Wise applies his US-centric view, where blacks are a demographic minority (~12%), to Bermuda where they are in fact a majority (~ 70%). Of course they could practice racial discrimination if they so desired.

That's not a controversial statement. It's a fact.

He is an American who was intentionally selected because his angle meshes well with a political agenda and he'll happily give his stump speeches to a new audience. He's been imported to peddle those inapplicable arguments here at probably pretty good rates.

This is the same North American view that Ewart Brown experienced living outside of Bermuda and is his context when talking about Bermuda (Back to the plantation talk for example), so it plays right into his hand.

Whether discrimination does occur in fact is an entirely different argument; but it's not helpful for this so-called expert to be given a pedestal to peddle his product in a place he clearly knows so little about.

This is a business for him, and Consulting 101 tells you to maximise your profit margins by reusing your work. So from that perspective I'm not surprised.

I'd suggest he spend more time listening and less time talking about a place and a history he clearly knows little to nothing about.

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The upside of Ewart Brown and George Bush getting together, as reported today, is that their combined approval rating may actually break 50%.

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The cartoon over at The Devil Island entitled What Really Happened is pretty good.

Mike has a future as a political cartoonist.

Personally, judging by the size of the bandage, the sling and a plastic surgeon to remove a splinter, it must have been a helluva splinter - or perhaps they actually found a missing cedar beam.

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While on the tourism topic, I wanted to circle back to the issue of the sale of the Harmony Club for new Police dorms.

I didn't get into it at the time, but what caught my attention in the article was not the transaction itself, or the price which drew some comment. It was this:


Minister of Housing Senator David Burch said of the hotel's history: "The owners of the property have flirted with tourism redevelopment, an outright sale, a branded partnership style tourism development and other means of realising the potential of the site.

"Those efforts did not succeed primarily as a result of the current difficult credit market environment in the United States.

The last sentence didn't get much attention, but begs the question of how, if a small scale tourism redevelopment couldn't find financing, how some of these mega-developments such as Southlands/Morgans Point, the St. George's Club Med latest developer etc. will be able to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars (billion for Morgan's Point methinks) needed to get these projects moving forward?

Perhaps if the money is coming from, say, the Middle East then it could happen, but any tourism development seeking financing through the traditional credit markets faces a serious, serious challenge.

As one person closely connected to the international hotel developer community likes to frequently remind me, the perception of Bermuda is as follows:

1) Bermuda has the most expensive tourism product in the world;
2) the least attractive tourism product in the world and;
3) I hate to say it, I really do, but that "Bermuda has gone dirty" (hence the PR firm perhaps).

Not my words. Someone else's.

So, I can only think that the odds of these major luxury developments in St. George's, Morgan's Point, the old Golden Hind and a city hotel coming to fruition are low at best.

I'd think the city hotel is the most likely because it's geared at business travelers who have been coming in abundance and are less price sensitive than leisure travelers; and that's gone nowhere for years now.

Which is why Bermuda is crazy to be treating international business the way we treated tourists in the 80s; we took them for granted and behaved as if they'd keep coming regardless of the quality of our product and the welcome we gave them.

We know how well that worked out.

The problem is that Tourism (and most other areas) appears to be a one man show. There is no discernible policy that people can get on board with. Tourism seems to be being run for the benefit of friends and associates of the Premier.

As one very perceptive commenter over at Catch a Fire deftly summed up in response to the Playboy Premier:

This event only touches the tip of the iceberg of the mutual backscratching that goes on in Dr. Brown’s circle. The Forty Thieves’ local yacht club types have simply been replaced by the American elite of Howard University and Oak Bluffs/Martha’s Vineyard. Pretty much every major initiative undertaken by Dr. Brown has a dotted line relationship to these social aspirations.

The lack of a proper tourism policy, the over-reliance on low-spending cruise arrivals, the focus on even driven tourism, the manipulation of tourism stats and the focus on short term headlines over long term results is starting to catch up with the Premier it seems.

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The website Cruise Critic has characterised the cruise ship policy change as desperation:

In a move that signals an increased sense of urgency and -- dare we say -- desperation, the government of Bermuda has passed measures that will overturn a long-held ban on the operation of cruise ship casinos and suspend a cabin tax currently levied on ships calling on the island.

As the Gazette's editorial today points out, cruise numbers have been the only thing masking the massive decline in tourists visiting Bermuda.

Well, not the only thing. Classifying huge numbers of post September 11 and post Hurricane Katrina business arrivals as tourists helped even more.

The Gazette also has a good pickup; it points out that the idea that the gambling change and contributions towards onshore entertainment such as The Music Festival were part of a reciprocal agreement:


It should come as even less as a surprise to those who watch the cruise industry carefully, because Norwegian Cruise Line's sponsorship, along with the $275,000 donation to the St. George's Foundation and the Bermudian Heritage Museum also "announced" on Friday, were already agreed to last November when NCL signed a new ten-year agreement with Government.

That flies in the face of Dr. Brown's suggestion in his statement on Friday that "in return for allowing controlled on-board revenues to occur", the major cruise lines ... are expected to participate in a number of activities and events".

This is not a quid pro quo – NCL had already agreed to these concessions, including a programme to encourage dining.

Maybe. Maybe not. Not if they were promised a change in gambling restriction after the election so as not to spoil the staged press event. Remember that the new cruise ship policy was announced during the election campaign and after Parliament had been dissolved and Ministers were in caretaker mode pending the election.

Throwing gambling into the mix during the campaign would have caused all sorts of complications for Brown's campaign (Independence too - which we now see is back on the agenda).

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Another reader picks up on a different angle of the change in cruise ship policy and what it suggests about Government's aspirations for control:

Today’s announcement allowing casinos to open on cruise ships is bound to stir up debate about gambling but I question some of the financial ‘benefits’ listed by the Premier. $150k is chicken feed to these cruise lines and it appears that they are only going to be giving back money that they save by not charging cabin tax. (11 visits x 1,000 passengers x $14 equals $154k.( Note that it is only the Hamilton and St Georges ships that will be affected). The Premier is all about promoting Dockyard, guess who receives the revenue? WEDCO.

He is systematically strangling the 2 Corporations of one of their largest sources of revenue.

The government refuses to support the Corporation of Hamilton in any way other than to contribute to a new ferry terminal, so the chances of the waterfront being revamped to the tune of hundreds of millions is very unlikely to happen. I don’t know if the average punter can see what he is doing but I see it as a way of weakening the towns financially so the government can eventually step in and ‘save’ them.

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A reader writes on the changes to the cruise ship policy announced on Friday:

“The Premier said ships would now be allowed to open bars and signature shops and "provide full entertainment inclusive of the opening of casinos after 10 p.m. while in port".”

I don’t see ships’ casinos as the introduction of gambling to Bermuda (which I don’t support), but what disturbs me more is the opening of ships’ bars and shops while in port, and what that means for local bars and shops. The Premier’s policy is effectively taking money spent in the local bars and shops, putting it into the ships’ bars and shops, and then taking a fat payment from the ships for his centrally funded events, enabling him to have further subsidy to make them bigger and better. The government can’t keep being the gateway for Bermuda’s tourism economy. These funds need to get directly out into the local businesses.

I actually do think that this is the soft launch of gambling to Bermuda, but the observation about central control of the tourism economy is a good one.

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It's indisputable that as Parliamentary Question Time in Bermuda goes, it's a walk in the park, compared to other Parliaments such as the UK, Canada and Australia for example.

In Bermuda the questions have to be submitted 10 days in advance; there is a 3 question limit per Minister; follow-ups are limited; there is no set question time itself and can be pre-empted with mindless time-wasting Ministerial Statements and political pandering in the form of Congrats and Obits; and answers can be given in writing if time runs out.

It's also fair to say that if a Prime Minister in any of those countries had attempted to short-circuit Parliamentary Questions he would have been slayed by the press and public as a coward.

Personally I'm a little surprised that Ewart Brown is so frightened by a few questions from an Opposition that he just handed an electoral defeat.

Aren't we constantly told that he is a strong leader? He looks like a scared, power-crazed one right now.

Here's what a real Parliamentary Question Time looks like where the political leadership go toe to toe, rather than trying to hide behind anti-democratic press releases and public relations agencies:

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Well, the Speaker did the only thing he could and today reversed what was clearly an completely unsupportable ruling on Parliamentary questions.

I'm not quite as willing to quickly pat him on the back as others; it took him 2 weeks to correct this and a bizarre "this is private" comment last week when he deferred the ruling.

When this all first went down with the bizarre press release sent out by Brown's taxpayer funded (and clearly clueless) Department of Communication spin doctors, someone in the UBP suggested to me that Brown rapid-fired out a press release in an attempt to to lock the Speaker into his incorrect position.


“Even more unfortunate was a most extraordinary press release from the Cabinet Office which left the mistaken impression that the Speaker had approved such a release and also unwittingly brought into question the independence and integrity of the Speaker’s Office.”

Unfortunately for Brown and his aspirations of unchecked and unlimited Presidential power, his action has actually shone a spotlight on the glaring inadequacies of our neglected Parliamentary system and could be one of those tipping points of Bermuda politics (one can hope).

The attempt to avoid Parliamentary Questions has only served to raise even more questions.

Bermuda's Parliament has fallen so far behind others, that something has to be done. Quickly.

Sadly I'm not optimistic. I don't know what it's going to take for Bermudians to wake up from their complacent slumber and stop falling so easily for political sleight of hand ("Look. Racists over there.)"

These events should have demonstrated to everyone that Brown knows his actions cannot stand up to scrutiny. We should all be asking what is he going to such lengths to hide? (Faith Based Tourism anyone?)

The issuing of what looked to be a joint press release authorised by the Speaker and the Premier was a new low. It is also proof positive that independence under this crowd would be anything but progress as they do not respect basic separations of powers and long established checks and balances.

Come to think of it, perhaps it's the cheques and balances that they don't want people to look at.

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I'll be out of commission until the end of the weekend.

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