December 2010 Archives

I stopped reading and writing much about race in the past year out of sheer exhaustion and disillusionment with Bermuda's inability to conduct a nuanced and intelligent discussion on the island (yes Big Con(versation) that's you) - and because race has become a proxy argument to achieve a political outcome not improve social outcomes.

However, I recently finished reading a book called Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century which I read as a result of a book review in The New Republic which seemed to provide an alternative view to the untouchable conventional wisdom on remedies (which is what interests me, not re-litigating the past).

The book raised ideas that keep resurfacing in my head, and this review really captures the core and compelling case of the book.

This book is depressing because it is so persuasive. There is a school of thought in America which argues that the government must be the main force that provides help to the black community. This shibboleth is predicated upon another one: that such government efforts will make a serious difference in disparities between blacks and whites. Amy Wax not only argues that such efforts have failed, she also suggests that such efforts cannot bring equality, and therefore must be abandoned. Wax identifies the illusion that mars American thinking on this subject as the myth of reverse causation--that if racism was the cause of a problem, then eliminating racism will solve it. If only this were true. But it isn't true: racism can set in motion cultural patterns that take on a life of their own.

Wax appeals to a parable in which a pedestrian is run over by a truck and must learn to walk again. The truck driver pays the pedestrian's medical bills, but the only way the pedestrian will walk again is through his own efforts. The pedestrian may insist that the driver do more, that justice has not occurred until the driver has himself made the pedestrian learn to walk again. But the sad fact is that justice, under this analysis, is impossible. The legal theory about remedies, Wax points out, grapples with this inconvenience--and the history of the descendants of African slaves, no matter how horrific, cannot upend its implacable logic. As she puts it, "That blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it if nothing else will work."

The author goes on to highlight an inconvenient and in Bermuda I suspect unpopular statistical truth, and I would argue is where the solution really rests, not with ineffective Government programs and politically orchestrated conversations:

One of the most sobering observations made by Wax comes in the form of a disarmingly simple calculus presented first by Isabel Sawhill and Christopher Jencks. If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view. In 2004, the poverty rate among blacks who followed that formula was less than 6 percent, as opposed to the overall rate of 24.7 percent. Even after hearing the earnest musings about employers who are less interested in people with names like Tomika, no one can gainsay the simple truth of that advice. Crucially, neither bigotry nor even structural racism can explain why an individual does not live up to it.

Read the complete review, and also the book (I had to special order it). It's a tough read at times because it really challenges in an uncompromising way well established conventional wisdom; the very same conventional wisdom that has been imported here and misused to advance a political agenda at the expense of advancing a historically disadvantaged segment of the population.

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I have acquired a good old fashioned cold, and can't promise much activity until I can think straight, unless inspiration strikes.

Meanwhile the UBP BDA dance continues, but as someone said to me a couple of days ago...it takes two to tango. The UBP continue to be absorbing some shots, but have so far have not responded in kind.

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If I have one overriding problem with the Gazette's new website, other than technical (it went live clearly before it was ready), it's that the look and feel lacks any connection to the physical paper itself.

The predominant red, the absence of the "The Royal Gazette" masthead with their recognised typeface just cheapens the brand and makes it look like some generic news site, rather than that of the island's paper of record.

There are other criticisms I could make, and overall it is a step in the right direction - although it still says the Gazette really doesn't get the web - but casting aside their brand like that online is a mistake.

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The UBP's new Deputy Chair Nic Swan pretty much put their cards on the table as clearly as you can in Friday's Bermuda Sun regarding discussions of a UBP/BDA amalgamation:

He urged both parties to stop rolling out candidates and talk about reconciliation.

"My personal view is that it is incumbent on both parties to sit around the table and to get over our differences.

"For centre-right politics in Bermuda right now, that is the only real issue.

"There is very little that separates us ideologically. We differ on tactics not policy."

Nic also acknowledged that it wouldn't simply be a matter of being absorbed into the UBP: "I don't think it could be a case of them coming back but more of a unification of the two groups."

More or less a merger of equals is a pretty good situation for a BDA holding 3 seats won under a different banner, with no Senate presence and a poor showing against a very flawed UBP candidate in the by-election.

My impression is that they are acting as if they gained leverage with the by-election result. I don't see that. I see them as having lost some. They're drawing the wrong conclusions - at least publicly that is.

Putting arguably their strongest candidate up against certainly the UBP's weakest and still coming in third was not a moral victory, it affirmed that they have not changed the underlying electoral dynamic in Bermuda.

Below is what one senior UBP member told me Friday post by-election regarding potential amalgamation:

Check out comments of BDA members in Facebook and elsewhere, you will see that they believe they have arrived and are on their way. It is going to make even rapprochement a very, very difficult proposition. I'm inclined for now to let things run their course for a while to allow anger to dissipate and disappointment to settle.

They are not being frank with themselves. They had the stronger candidate and were out earlier than us. Our candidate was ... well, let's just say, with his challenges that his detractors and critics didn't really have to play up... and yet they made no real inroad other than, it would appear, to split the UBP vote, and now they want us to pack up shop so they can become, what? NewBP. It is not often than I agree with Jamahl Simmons but I think he's got it right in the RG today.

They clearly failed in their claim and their mission to appeal to voters in the middle and who may vote PLP. They won't say so publicly but they also thought they were going to at least finish second and with somewhere in the region of 180 to 200 votes. In that context, the result is telling.

In the meantime, if the two parties keep going this way, it will be, not metaphorically but literally, a fight to the death. How utterly dumb and futile is that? I can't imagine the frustrated electorate being impressed at all, with either BDA or UBP, if this keeps up.

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Maybe it's just me, but I would have thought that the new Premier would have commissioned a Civil Service review before, not after, reorganising and renaming every Ministry under the Sun.

The cost of the first re-organisation is surely not insignificant, and it's hard to see the consultant not recommending a further costly re-organisation in the name of cost savings. Measure twice, cut once as they say in the trades.

Unless the consultant was hired solely to be the public face of the public sector layoffs that is.

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Interesting little dance, or skirmish in the paper today between the UBP and BDA.

The UBP's Kim Swan:

"As far as the BDA is concerned, they set themselves up this past year as a separate party and I do not think they are of a mind to join with the UBP.

"Indeed their leader a few weeks ago said the UBP should 'turn out the lights'. That's hardly an overture to some form of coalition. So the ball is in their court.

"As far as we in the UBP are concerned, we recognise Bermuda's best interest does not lie in a divided Opposition. People who cannot support the performance of this Government and there are many are frustrated because they do not see a viable way to replace them in the current situation. It's not healthy.

"The fact is that Bermuda needs the strongest possible Opposition today because the Government is failing in the three most important areas of island life: the economy, education and public safety.

"It is unfortunate that the BDA chooses to focus its political guns on the UBP."

The BDA's Kathy Michelmore repsonded:

Dr Michelmore responded: "It is our belief that the UBP has been floundering as an Opposition party, and it is clear that this impression galvanised the BDA founders to step forward to offer an alternative.

"Sadly for the UBP, despite many capable and effective MPs, the UBP has become enmeshed in its negative historical legacy and as it currently exists cannot offer Bermuda a viable alternative.

"Kim Swan has criticised us for being of this opinion, but that is because it is a message the UBP leadership does not want to hear but many have said.

"Ultimately the BDA wishes to change the Government, and is prepared to work with those who recognise that real change is essential and are willing to recognise the obvious.

"We have not gunned for the UBP as Mr Swan is saying, but there must be severe disappointment in the UBP that 40-odd years gets you eight extra votes over a one-year-old entity.

"Nevertheless it is important that the Government is held to account and that the Country is given a strong Opposition. We will work towards that goal. Given the large numbers that did not vote, political parties have lots to do to enfranchise every voter."

I think they're talking across each other, and for the BDA simply splitting the UBP's vote wasn't an accomplishment...it was a given.

If the hangup is over the letters "UBP" that's easy to resolve, and I don't see that as a hurdle to an amalgamation. An amalgamation can be more than that though, taking the best of the BDA and the best of the UBP and walking the walk (and the constituencies) until the next election.

Otherwise, the BDA gets wiped out and hands the PLP an inflated majority at the next election.

I don't agree with much Jamahl Simmons says nowadays, but he's bang on with his assessment (other than the untrustworthy jab):

Former UBP MP Jamahl Simmons, now a PLP member, said yesterday: "After a year of existence and several weeks of targeting this constituency, the BDA has failed to distinguish itself as anything more than an alternative to the UBP for UBP supporters.

"The issues they choose to prioritise, the values they espouse, the language they use, their very approach, echoes the UBP. So to a swing voter or a traditional PLP supporter they are likely to be seen to be as untrustworthy, out of touch and unappealing as the UBP."

Mr Simmons said an alliance between the two could stave off a PLP landslide at the next General Election, adding: "As it stands the BDA have virtually no chance of retaining any of their seats and the UBP almost no chance at forming the Government.

"I suspect that as an election draws nearer, the traditional base of the UBP will begin to solidify behind the party that looks most likely to have the best shot of preventing a PLP landslide. The money, manpower and resources will begin to flow to one entity and it will probably be the UBP."

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So the by-election result is in, with no surprise as to the winner for the PLP.

PLP - 310
UBP - 78
BDA - 70

The UBP, with a very flawed candidate, held on to second with the BDA pulling in third. (Devrae getting appendicitis and not being at the poll station could have been a blessing in disguise for the UBP as his choice was difficult for many people - it was simply too soon from a drug conviction, and a mohawk, to be put up as a serious candidate.)

Together both the UBP and BDA didn't mount much of a challenge to the PLP, in a climate which should be conducive to some protest votes at least. Turnout was extremely low, less than 50%. So really, there's no winners here, PLP included.

But...the BDA went all in on the pre-election "Lights out UBP" talk, and couldn't beat them even in the face of a gift of a candidate from the UBP. Which is going to boomerang back at them. Lights out BDA will surely be the UBP's refrain.

The realists in the BDA were undoubtably looking to try and get the UBP behind them, and failed. The idealists genuinely thought they had a shot, which was never going to happen. So it's back to the drawing board, and I would argue, over to the negotiating table with the UBP.

I remain firmly convinced that the only way forward - and even this way is tough - is for the BDA and UBP to come together under a new banner, pull in some better quality candidates and fight a strategic, targeted joint effort. The alternative is a PLP which has wrecked the local economy and overseen a huge escalation in social deterioration taking 30 seats.

My thoughts on how the BDA/UBP amalgamation should play out are here, here and here.

This was the first empirical test of the BDA experiment and the result is not what they needed. This affirms what I said a few days ago about the likely outcome in a general election:

Two parties fighting for second will ensure that the BDA end up with most likely no seats (which is lights out for them), the UBP probably 5 or 6 and the PLP 30, which would be a result completely out of sync with the electorate's intentions.

On a personal level I won't get involved with either the BDA or UBP because it is mutual assured destruction. I will however, work for something new, an amalgamation of the two under a new banner with a new approach.

That is not just a better way, it's the only way right now.

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The projected turn-out for the by-election of 400 - 500 people is abysmally low.

If anything it does say that people don't like any of the choices. The UBP have the most to lose, the BDA the most to gain. And such a low turnout makes it a bit hard to know quite how it will play out. The results could be quirky, but the meta-message would be that the level of voter disenchantment is exceedingly high.

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The news that ex-Premier Brown will allegedly be paying for Works and Engineering to build a wall on his property will have come to a surprise to everyone - W & E and Dr. Brown included I'm sure.

Nice to see Zane DeSilva defending his patron with the language of the unapologetically corrupt, and uninformed:

Mr DeSilva added that former United Bermuda Party (UBP) Minister Ralph Marshall had Mr DeSilva added that former United Bermuda Party (UBP) Minister Ralph Marshall had walls built by Works & Engineering on two of his West End properties one at Whale Bay and another at Hog Bay.

"What goes around, comes around," Mr DeSilva finished.

UBP Deputy Leader Trevor Moniz objected that in both cases Mr Marshall had given away a strip of his property to allow for the construction of sidewalk.

And UBP MP John Barritt said: "I bristle when I hear things like 'what goes around comes around', if land owners are willing to give land for sidewalk." (*)

The more things change....

[* UPDATE: John Barrit contacted me as the Gazette's quote was incorrect and didn't accurately capture his intent. John's clarification is as follow:

The point I thought I made was I bristle when I hear comments like what goes around comes around because the people of this country are tired of this sort of justification. They want us to break from the past and past practices and do what's right. But on that front, I said it was my recollection that what W&E used to do (and I still hoped they would do) is build walls for land-owners who give up property for the purposes of constructing a sidewalk. That was good practice . A kind of quid pro quo which works for the benefit of the public. The paragraph which the RG reported just didn't capture at all what I said or was trying to say.]

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The Gazette's revamped website went live today, and every link (and there's lots of them over the past seven years) to them on my site is now dead. Second time this has happened.

Sorry.

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Whoever installed this Christmas tree near Saltus Island is definitely in the spirit. http://plixi.com/p/62576281

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The BDA continue to struggle with the widespread image held of them as an offshoot of the UBP, and posted a video of their Warwick by-election candidate addressing the topic.

Here's the problem. Mr. Richards tries to demonstrate that the BDA is different by using the language of the UBP:

"The first thing that struck me was the diversity of the people in the room..."

This is UBP candidate rollout language 101. "The UBP is diverse, the members are sincere etc.."

Don't believe me? Listen to new UBP Deputy Leader Nick Swan explaining why he joined the party executive, the same day the BDA posted their video:

"The United Bermuda Party is the only party on the island that represents Bermuda's rich diversity".

The BDA's problem is unsolvable in my view; they are indisputably an offshoot of the UBP, it was founded by 3 UBP MPs, a sitting UBP Senator and several senior party executive members but has failed to draw notable PLP defections. The last point was critical to creating that vital first impression.

The BDA is not creating a better way, they're trying to refine the UBP model and it is not different enough.

This inability to draw high profile PLP supporters, or one of their disillusioned MPs, has negated the effort to define themselves as a true cross over party. I know that the BDA has been playing up Mr. Richards as former PLP, but he is not high profile and not a game changer for them.

PLP loyalty remains powerful despite the visible manifestations of 12 years of comprehensive failure in social and economic governance.

All indicators point in the wrong direction: Violent crime up. GDP down. Unemployment up. Debt up. Revenues down. Tourism down. Education down.

That the UBP have not gained traction during an unprecedented economic upheaval, their core competency is economic issues, speaks also to the depth of their malaise.

An amalgamation under a new banner with a new structure and new leadership is truly the better way. I'm convinced that the UBP understand this, likewise the BDA, although the latter is conflicted but the realists among them must recognise that they are not viable in the current setup.

The extent of Bermuda's current problems can't be solved by the PLP, they are devoid of any ideas and their policies have in fact inflicted and inflamed much of the pain we're currently experiencing. Just weeks before GDP was disclosed as down 8.1% the Premier said that Bermuda was post-recessionary in her maiden Throne Speech.

The PLP continue to cling to bad policies out of pride rather than show leadership and change course. All the ideas are coming from outside of the Government and unless Government shows a willingness to mature and change with changing times Bermuda's future is bleak.

The psychology on island is horrendous. People are incredibly down and negative on our prospects and this too perpetuates the decline through a lack of confidence.

A renewed, energised, amalgamated Opposition stands a credible chance at the next election. Two parties fighting for second will ensure that the BDA end up with most likely no seats (which is lights out for them), the UBP probably 5 or 6 and the PLP 30, which would be a result completely out of sync with the electorate's intentions.

I admire the BDA for the efforts they've made, and are making, to shake up the dynamic and break the PLP v UBP cold war. But they've plateaued in a short time and are not demonstrating growth potential. The UBP have managed to stabilise and hope to hold their own in the upcoming by-election.

Whatever happens on by-election day, barring some shock BDA or UBP win - which is not going to happen - the way forward is clear and there will have to be a reckoning of sorts.

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Surely I'm the most polled person in Bermuda, and that tap tapping in the background is me logging the questions.

But I have a complaint for the pollsters: ending your calls with this series of questions obliterates any pretense of anonymity and always leaves me amazed:

What is your age?
What is your gender?
What is your race?
What is your income bracket?
What Parish do you live in?
What is your Postal Code?
So that I can confirm for my supervisor that I conducted this interview what is your first name?
And I reached you at the following number: 441-23X-XXXX.

Yes Total Marketing Group. That would be you.

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Been busy with some housekeeping and developing out some side projects. Will get back up to speed shortly.

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Windows PC officially no more. Now a headless NAS with Freenas.org.

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Surely Dame Jennifer is self-aware enough to have foreseen the optics of her lineup of school adopters, a benevolent bunch who are dipping so generously into their pockets lined by the taxpayers to bail out our apparently broke Government who can't afford to maintain the schools.

That the Adopt a School Program is being funded by PLP insiders and beneficiaries of Government's decade long Adopt a Contractor program is unintentionally amusing and sad:

  • A former Premier.
  • A current Cabinet Minister whose construction equipment is crawling all over Marsh Folly as we speak.
  • The head of Rock Media who has been involved in all sorts of Government expenses.
  • And a PLP Senator and former Chairman whose consulting firm was running IT services over at TCD.

This stuff is comedic gold - a tragedy - delivered with the earnest seriousness of the self-deluded.

Of course there was one contractor notably missing, whose over-billing to the tune of tens of millions of dollars has outraged multiple Auditor Generals and could of course have probably covered maintenance of all Government buildings for many years.

The unintentional political messaging here is that Government is well and truly broke and the circle of friends remains fully in tact. Government as charity inwards and outwards.

If I was the UBP or BDA I'd be rounding up $10,000, and offering to sponsor a school (with a nice placard) and waiting for the PLP to say "Hell no!"

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