Changes

Just a bit of forward notice prior to the December 18th election that there will be some changes coming to my site.

Largely this election has turned me off of politics and like others, I feel like I’m in need of a break from it all.  While I do intend to keep writing, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to taking a bit of a step back from Bermuda politics and delving into many other topics on which I’d like to write.  While I haven’t decided to quit writing about Bermuda politics, it is likely I shall write less frequently on it as I am frankly very tired of the present political climate and very disappointed and disillusioned by the lack of character displayed by many of our politicians.

In order not to mix my writings about Bermuda with my writings on other topics I’ve decided that in the next few weeks I shall be launching a number of other blogs on a variety of topics.   Likely changes to the layout of this site and various domains that point to it will be apparent, so please bear with me during these times of construction.

It is my aim to keep www.21square.com about Bermuda politics while creating other streams on things such a finance, technology, nutrition, life and whatever else sparks my fancy.  All of these blogs will likely be syndicated onto www.dpitcher.com so that if you’d like to read all of them, you can, but if you’re only interested in my musings of Bermuda politics you’ll be free to stick with 21 Square.

Thank you to all of you who have been supportive of my efforts to make Bermuda better.

Denis

Open government linkfest

After coming across Ethan Zuckerman’s blog post about tools for open government I felt inspired to find more examples of open governance and document them for later review of how similar can be implemented here in Bermuda.

TheyWorkForYou, a non-partisan website run by a charity which aims to make it easy for people in the UK to keep tabs on their elected and unelected representatives in Parliament, and other assemblies.  You can view data such as voting records, details tracking their communications, interests, expenses and more.  (note:  Source Code to the website is available)

FixMyStreet where you can report, view, or discuss local problems
(like graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting)  (note:  The source code to this website is available)

Police Act Review Wiki – The New Zealand government launched a collaboration website to solicit feedback on a proposed police act.

OpenCongress.org brings together official US government data with news and blog coverage to give you the real story behind each bill.  It brings  together information on the status of US federal legislation, voting records and other congressional data from official sources and turns it into a free information resource for everyday citizens. 

USASpending.gov is a site built to implement  The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Transparency Act) which requires a single searchable website, accessible by the public for free that provides detailed information about federal spending.  (also take a look at fedspending.org)

OpenSecrets.org which tracks US campaign contributions according to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA)

TheCouch – A website in New Zealand created by The Families Commission to open up communications with families to hear their views and study how they can promote the interests of all families and promote a better understanding of family issues and needs amongst government agencies and the wider community.

PledgeBank – a website created for creating, tracking and sharing pledges.

Road Safety Discussion – An online discussion forum created by the New Zealand government to discuss how to improve road safety as well as gain feedback from road safety workshops.

GovernmentDocs.org gives the public an unprecedented level of access to US government documents by allowing users to browse, search, and review hundreds of thousands of pages acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other public disclosure, or “sunshine,” laws. (laws we were promised, but never received)

Punch Clock Campaign asks all candidates for congressional office – challengers and incumbents – to promise, if elected, to post their daily schedules on the Internet. Lawmakers who agree to share their schedules, including who they’ve met with and why, show that they are responsive, open, transparent and above all accountable, leading to greater public trust.

Earmark Watch brings citizen oversight into congressional spending by encouraging everyday citizens to research into who is receiving grant money tacked onto bills.

Congresspedia – a project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Media & Democracy – is an online wiki-based citizens’ encyclopedia on Congress hosted on the Center for Media & Democracy’s SourceWatch wiki. This resource includes individual pages for every member of Congress, as well as information on congressional committees, specific legislative topic areas, congressional rules and practices and individual bills. As a wiki, its content can be drafted and edited by anyone.

SourceWatch is a collaborative project to track people, organizations and issues shaping the public agenda.

LOUIS (Library Of Unified Information Sources), an effort to illuminate the workings of the US federal government with the ultimate goal being to create a comprehensive, completely indexed and cross-referenced depository of federal documents from the executive and legislative branches of government.

Contractor Misconduct Database – The government awards contracts to companies with histories of misconduct such as contract fraud and environmental, ethics, and labor violations. In the absence of a centralized federal database listing instances of misconduct, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is providing such data about the top 50 contractors.

The DOJ Documents search engine – a project created by users of Daily Kos – provides a search function for the massive number of e-mails released by the Department of Justice to the House Committee on the Judiciary in response to the recent firings of U.S. Attorneys. The e-mails, previously only available in a large PDF file, are presented in text format and are searchable by name. The user can also designate whether they want to see e-mails that are “From,” “To,” or “CC.”

The National Institute on Money in State Politics operates a searchable database of all campaign contributions to political campaigns at the state level. The database allows users to search for contributions to candidates for office at all levels of state government and for contributions spent on supporting and opposing ballot initiatives across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Institute has made available several APIs so programmers can access and display the Institute’s data in their own applications. (The National Institute on Money in State Politics is a Sunlight grantee.)

GovTrack.us centralizes information on the legislative process into a Web site Users can search through member of Congress profiles, bills, votes, and committee action. Users can also create their own Congress-tracker by subscribing to email updates or by creating RSS feeds to keep informed on the latest developments related to bills, issues, members of Congress and committees.

Legistorm provides two unique sets of congressional information. Their congressional staffer salary information can be searched or browsed, giving a revealing view into the working of member, committee, leadership, and administrative offices. Legistorm also presents congressional travel data, offering a robust search feature and rankings among members, staff, sponsors, and destination.

MAPLight.org provides a detailed analysis of legislation by tracking bills, the support and opposition bills garner from interest groups and the campaign contributions given by those interest groups to members of Congress and for the state of California. The site lets users tracks the day by day, vote by vote, impact of political contributions at the federal level. This analysis is based on databases available from the Center for Responsive Politics at www.opensecrets.org and from off
icial records of the Library of Congress via GovTrack.us. The resulting database of bills, voting records, and campaign contributions powers the search engine at MAPLight.org and enables people to see the links between dollars spent and votes cast in Congress. The site allows users to search by bill, interest group or by legislators, and also allows similar searches of the California legislature and state Senate. (MAPLight.org is a Sunlight grantee.)

Metavid is a project that captures, streams, archives and facilitates real-time collective remediation of federal legislative proceedings. Metavid opens up video source footage of House and Senate proceedings for permanent reusable online access, allowing citizens to remix, investigate, and track their representatives in a participant-driven open source archive. (Metavid is a Sunlight grantee.)

Open Hearings is a mini-site of schedules of current and future Senate committee hearings which includes links to live audio and video of hearings in progress. Users can subscribe to receive updates for all committees and hearings via RSS feed or iCalendar. The site also provides users the ability to import the “Live Hearing” view into a personalized Google homepage.

The Open Secrets Lobbying Database – a project of the Center for Responsive Politics – collects information from lobbyist disclosure forms and provides it the user in a number of searchable ways dating back to 1998. Among many options the user can search by client name, lobbyist name, bill ID number, lobbying firms, and issue area. The site allows the user to search through lobbying firms, top lobbying contracts, individual lobbyists, and the top lobbying industries. (The Center for Responsive Politics is a Sunlight grantee.)

The Open Secrets Personal Financial Disclosure Database – a project of the Center for Responsive Politics – has information from the personal financial disclosures filed by every member of Congress and every executive branch official since 2005 and presents it all in a searchable format. The user can search through member’s net worth, stock holdings, assets, and outside income. (The Center for Responsive Politics is a Sunlight grantee.)

The Open Secrets Revolving Door Database – a project of the Center for Responsive Politics – aggregates all information related to those leaving work on Capitol Hill to go to work on K Street and vice versa. The Center for Responsive Politics’ Revolving Door database tracks anyone whose résumé includes positions of influence in both the private and public sectors since 1998. Users can search for members of Congress and congressional staffers turned lobbyists by looking at the congressional offices and committees with the most people spinning through the revolving door. Top agencies, members, congressional committees, and organizations are all available search options. (The Center for Responsive Politics is a Sunlight grantee.)

The Open Secrets Travel Database – a project of the Center for Responsive Politics – a search engine of aggregated privately sponsored congressional travel information compiled from reports filed by members of Congress with the House Legislative Resource Center and Senate Office of Public Records since 2005. Users can search by member, staff, sponsor, country, city and industry to see who is funding their travel. The site also provides maps showing where each individual member of Congress and their staff have traveled. (The Center for Responsive Politics is a Sunlight grantee.)

Project Vote Smart provides detailed information – biographical information, campaign finances, interest groups ratings, issue positions, and public statements – on elected officials including the President, members of Congress, state officials and leadership in state legislatures.

Taxpayers for Common Sense provides reports on pork barrel projects and earmarks in Congress analyzing bills in real-time and providing databases of information. Its mission is to reduce wasteful government spending. (Taxpayers for Common Sense is a Sunlight grantee.)

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) is a giant collection of databases of information from various agencies of the federal government. TRAC contains reports and lists of links to data from the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and Immigration Customs Enforcement.

WashingtonWatch determines the average cost, or savings, per individual of each bill introduced in Congress by performing calculations on government estimates compared to the US population. The Web site provides users with pro and con arguments for each bill, allows comments on each bill, allows users to vote “yes” or “no” on the bills and provides a “write your rep” function. WashingtonWatch also provides a wiki that allows users to add content to each bill. (WashingtonWatch is a Sunlight grantee.)

The Center for Democracy and Technology works to promote democratic values and constitutional liberties in the digital age. With expertise in law, technology, and policy, CDT seeks practical solutions to enhance free expression and privacy in global communications technologies. CDT is dedicated to building consensus among all parties interested in the future of the Internet and other new communications media.

Sources

http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/resources

Lack of structure

Ok, I’m genuinely annoyed that the PLP Platform does not have a table of contents, that the opening bullets don’t match the layout of the sections of the document and that the topics aren’t grouped together.

It’s making review and comparison with the UBP’s platform on specific points difficult.

Thinking of the future of ‘Future Care’

Limey in Bermuda has picked up on the PLP’s intentions to fund their "Future care" health care improvements for seniors plan by creating a new tax.    How would the scheme work?  What about the future?  Who’s going to pay for it?

Under their scheme, working Bermudians will have to contribute to a health style pension plan where a portion of your income is siphoned to create a fund to cover the health care of seniors.  While it’s hard to argue against better care of seniors, extra taxation is less than ideal.  What will be offered by Future Care, what will it cost and how much tax will have to be collected?

Then there are the problems such as how age demographics will impact the fund itself.  According to the Department of Statistics’ Population Projections 2000-2030, the proportion of seniors (65 years and older) will double from 11% in 2000 to 22% by 2030.  When discussing old age dependency it suggests:

Prolonged life of the elderly equates to increased responsibility for the Bermudian working population in general and their children in particular. A shrinking Bermudian workforce and aging population, also means a smaller tax base for government revenue at a time when the number of pension payments will increase.

If we’re already facing potential problems with regards to the pension pool, what problems will we face with a health style pension plan?  Does the doubling of old age dependency and the decreasing workforce suggest that this plan will be doomed to create spiralling tax costs as it struggles to match the growing senior population against the shrinking workforce?

Thinking beyond this year, how will we continue to pay for this program especially in the face of the poor general health of a large number of Bermudians?  Indeed, we are sadly one of the fattest peoples on the planet at very high risk for disorders such as diabetes.  How do we cope with the potential costs?

It also opens up the questions of the lack of preventative medicine which may bring this whole system to it’s knees by the time the current mass of Bermudians with poor nutritional habits hit old age.  Why is preventative medicine still so low on the priority list?

While it’s easy to "let the youth pay for it", there is only so much that the youth shall be able to bear.  In reality, should taxation spiral out of control it may well come to pass that more of our talented and most capable youth will pick up and leave for greener pastures (especially considering the high cost of home ownership) leaving even smaller tax revenues for our elder generations.

Sadly this scheme isn’t convincing in it’s present state.  While the intentions are honourable, it raises far too many unanswered questions that must be asked and subsequently entered with well thought out planning.  Unfortunately a "Whatever it costs we will do it" attitude won’t cut it because as Sir Issac Newton once suggested, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Also not impressed with discrimination

Today’s royal gazette covers a number of topics not getting aired.  One such topic revolves around the review of discrimination based upon sexual orientation. 

Regardless of whether you are for or against a chance in the human rights legislation, what is abundantly clear is that our leadership on both sides are incapable and incompetent when it comes to making a decision on this issue.

Mrs. Louise Jackson has it half right and half wrong

“We believe it is a matter for a conscience vote in Parliament.”

Parliament has demonstrated it’s ineffectiveness in this matter already.

“We believe it is a matter for each individual to decide how to vote on this matter.”

This however, has merit.  Don’t leave it up to the politicians, put it to the people in a plebiscite (which is a vote requested of the people by government and differs from a referendum which is a vote requested by the people via a petition) and let the people choose whether we support this change or not.

Not impressed with conscription stance

The UBP’s platform states

We will carry out a broad review of the Bermuda Regiment, including its operations and conscription policy to ensure that it is meeting the current social and security needs of our community.

In my opinion, this offers nothing to those who are or will be conscripted. The above statement suggests that dialog will occur from the community perspective, not that of conscripts.

What should be occur is a review to ensure that there is fairness in the practice of conscription and a solid review of why so few choose to volunteer.

Number one.  Conscription is biased and sexist.  If there is to be conscription, it should not be pseudo-random.  Either all are conscripted or non are.  It should also not be sexist, if women are eligible to volunteer they are eligible to be conscripted.

Number two.  Despite the pay increases and new bonus structure, conscripts are still underpaid in comparison to just about any part time job.  This significantly reduces any individual’s willingness to volunteer.  This should be considered alongside other factors to make regiment more attractive to volunteers, enough so to eliminate the need for conscription altogether.

Number three, if a community review is to be conducted while sexist conscription exists, women should not be allowed to have a say.  Equality should be a two way street.

The UBP’s proposal offers nothing to conscripts. 

Reward bad behavior, punish good

Premier Brown’s remarks with regards to tax cuts are disappointing.  While I have my criticisms of the UBP’s plan, the PLP’s position lacks sense and employs very sad rhetoric.

“We came to the conclusion that blanket, across-the-board payroll tax relief for everyone is a bad idea.”

Right, tax cuts are ‘unwise’ in the face of more useful initiatives such as fancy trips abroad, un-hindered expense accounts and GP cars.

“Considering the current plight of our families, it is impractical, unaffordable, and unwise to give the same tax cut to a 19-year-old making $40,000 while living with her wealthy parents, as we give to a Bermudian mother-of-four making $40,000 living in a rental apartment.”

Here’s the thing.  Life is about making choices, good and bad choices.  I love how “wealthy parents” is used to describe someone with no children still living with their parents and “Bermudian” is applied to the mother-of-four.

Very easily, both could come from the same family, rich or poor, and both could be Bermudian. 

The 19 year old is an example of someone making good life choices.  Rather than running out, getting her own place and getting pregnant under an income in which she couldn’t sustain children, she’s living with her parents and likely saving her money before starting a family.

Contrast that to the mother-of-four who made the decision to have four more children than she could afford, who is living in a rental apartment. 

So here we have two people, one who is making good life choices, another who has made some poor life choices, repeatedly.  Since both are under the reasonable income level, should both be rewarded with a tax cut or just one?

Premier Brown’s suggestion is that we should reward the bad behavior and punish the good, because the 19 year old doesn’t deserve a tax cut because she has made good life choices.  Even though she may well be Bermudian, may not have wealthy parents and may be reasonably saving all she can to one day afford a home, she doesn’t deserve a break despite the fact that she’s also earning a less than reasonable income.  The mother-of-four is the one who deserves all the breaks despite not having learned that she cannot afford anymore children after the first or even the second child.

Perhaps Premier Brown should think of that Bermudian mother-of-four struggling to sustain herself the next time he jets off to some exotic destination like Dubai or China on the public dollar.

Is education the root cause?

When we last left off we looked at the Gross Annual Income expected by occupation and it’s implications for the income disparities between blacks and whites.  This raised a larger question of whether education or race is a factor in which occupation a person pursues.

In order to delve into discovering the answer to this question, we had to go back to the 2000 Census, which while not recent should give us a rough idea of the impact of education on occupation. 

From the 2000 Census numbers on Working Population 16 years and Over by Highest Examination Passed, Major Occupation Group we have been able to produce the following charts to give a visual answer to our question.

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These were the hard numbers used which produced the charts below.

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Here we have the breakdown of Education Level by Major Occupational Group.  Already we can see the impact a Bachelors (not college/associate) has on attaining a Professional/Technical related job.  In order to gain a better picture, lets look at the percentages.

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Here we can note the direct and undeniable correlation between education level and professional jobs while also noting that there is less of a correlation between education level and Admin & Management jobs.  We can also note how there is a stark correlation between lower levels of education and the clerical, service and production/transport related jobs.

This tells us quite a bit.  Education leads to a better paying occupation.  Thus, if there is a racial disparity in education, that carries right up to career and subsequently earning potential.

Does occupation affect pay?

In our last piece we reviewed Gross Annual Income numbers to determine the disparity in incomes between whites and blacks.  Interestingly, aside from the $156,000 or more category, the earnings levels of non-Bermudians and Bermudians were comparatively similar when looking at racial breakdowns. 

In order to get a better idea of why lets look at types of jobs by race from the 2006 Employment Survey Tabulation Set from the Bermuda Statistics department to get a better idea of why whites earn more than blacks.  Lets note that unfortunately the breakdown of Bermudian vs. non-Bermudian by race was not provided.

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Above we can note the gross annual income by race from the CURE Annual Review of the Workforce Survey Report 2006.  Of considerable mention are the high percentages of whites when compared to blacks in the upper categories.  In order to get a better idea of the causes for such disparity lets take a look at the racial breakdowns of filled jobs by major occupation.

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In the above chart we can note the dominance of blacks in the clerical, services and production/transport occupational groups.  However, as was the case for gross annual income, it is hard to gain a solid understanding of the representative numbers when the number of blacks and whites are not equal.

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We can note from the above chart how the majority of whites fill Professional/Technical and Administrative/Managerial roles while the majority of blacks fill Clerical, Services and Production/Transport roles.  It must also be noted that the above charts are not representative of only Bermudians and instead represent jobs overall in the workforce due to the unavailability of breakdowns by Bermudians status.

In order to understand how occupations translate into earnings, lets take a look at Table 20 of the 2006 Employment Survey Tabulation Set which tabulated Business Establishments with 10 or more Jobs by Annual Salary and Major Occupation Group, 2006

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Hmm, that’s a bit tough to pull meaning from as it’s a lot of numbers.  Let’s take a look at it in chart form, percentage wise to equalize the numbers across occupations and put it under the same income brackets as noted in the Gross Annual Income chart.  Again lets note that this is all jobs and not Bermudian specific.  Also note that this is not broken down by race.  Neither breakdown was available.

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Hmm, this is helpful, but not incredibly.  It shows how the bulk of jobs lie in the $24,000 to $59,999 pay bracket but unfortunately not much else.  In order to get a better picture, let’s equalize the numbers in each bracket so we can understand the breakdowns better.

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Ah, very telling.  Professional/Technical and Administration/Management jobs dominate the top 3 income brackets while Service, Clerical and Production/Transport dominate the bottom two.  So, this offers a much clearer explanation as to why it may be that whites typically earn more than blacks when considering that the majority of whites fulfill Professional/Technical and Administration/Management jobs  while the majority of blacks fill Service, Clerical and Production/Transport jobs.  The next question that arises is why whites fill the jobs they do and blacks fill the jobs they do, could it be tied to education disparities amongst the races?