Sponsoring positive coverage

There’s a pretty good article over at the Washington Post today about fishing in Bermuda.  It’s the kind of coverage that I think does Bermuda tourism well with the only downside being that the author leveraged friends for a vacation on the cheap which could discourage others from trying to come here.

These kind of pieces makes me wonder if the Department of Tourism does much to sponsor visits to the island from external media to boost our positive coverage.  I’m inclined to think it bodes well for us to have foreign writers promoting Bermuda to their readership.  If the Department of Tourism already does such, it’d be incredible helpful if they had a blog of sorts where they could keep the public up to date on where we’re covered.  It’d also do the double duty of reinforcing their valued efforts to rebuild Bermuda’s tourism industry.

Is Bermuda in a housing bubble?

Remember when we noted how Bermuda’s housing market could be in a precarious position due to bank lending practices?  Well here’s an interesting chart created from data discovered in the Bermuda Monetary Authority’s Regulatory Updates going back to 2001.  Apparently Bermuda’s borrowing rate has significantly outpaced our savings rate over the last few years which this writer believes may have caused a significant bubble in Bermuda’s housing market.

 

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The above chart is compiled from the  “BD$ Deposit and Loan Profile – Combined Banks and Deposit Companies (unconsolidated)” section.  Note how from Q1 2000 to Q1 2004 there was not a great deviation between the total amount saved vs. the total  amount borrowed.  Subsequently, note how from Q1 2004 to Q1 2008 there is a huge deviation between the total  amount saved vs. the total amount borrowed as well as a massive spike in the amount borrowed. Indeed, from Q1 2004 to Q1 2008 the savings amount fluctuated approximately around 3.5 billion BD$ while the borrowed amount rose nearly $1.8 billion BD$.

Now, if you follow the pretty steady trend of Q1 2000 to Q1 2004 it is not hard to note that if that trend had continued, the total amount borrowed should have been closer to 3.3 billion BD$ rather than 4.3 billion BD$.

So here’s the billion dollar question:  What happens when you flood a very small and supply constrained housing market with an extra billion dollars in borrowed capital? 

‘Bermuda has its issues’

Interesting comments from Dane Douetil, group Chief Executive Officer of U.K.-based non-life insurer and re-insurer Brit Insurance Holdings plc.

Mr. Douetil at a recent press coference at Brit offices suggested the possibility of moving its corporate headquarters out of the UK citing tax disadvantages and uncertainty from the U.K. government on taxation, particularly foreign profits.

“We need to get into a regime where we can plan five, 10 years ahead” Douetil said. “This is not something you do for the short term. It’s not a one- or two-year fix.”

While he did not rule out Bermuda as a possible choice for relocation, he suggested

“Bermuda has its issues. There’s no doubt that people in Bermuda are concerned about political stability.”

Interesting.

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Zooming nowhere

For those who haven’t heard, low cost airline operator Zoom who provided our second link for flights to the UK is no more.

Sadly should we wish to fly to Europe this leaves us stuck with the option of British Airways who, from the experiences of this writer, has horrible service which leaves a great deal to be desired or the alternative of flying through the states, though hopefully not through American Airlines, whose service is on par with the mediocrity of British Airways.

Hopefully the price of oil will drop and we’ll see the return of more competition in the air travel sector.

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A war on drugs is not the answer

Government has announced that it will introduce a US-Style Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team to Bermuda in order to tackle violent crime and the rising use of weapons.  Unfortunately, it is the belief of this writer that such an introduction will actually increase the prevalence of violent crime and weapons rather than reduce it.

If you read through the wikipedia entry for SWAT teams you’ll note how unfitting the typical swat team duties are for Bermuda.  Subsequently, they also overlap many of the things the Regiment is supposed to be responsible for.  Ask yourself when was the last time Bermuda dealt with a hostage situation, snipers, barricaded suspects, terrorist operations, and serial killers?

The core duty that seems apparent for fueling the desire for a SWAT team appears to be in dealing with drugs.  As the Premier recently suggested

“On our watch, the drug dealers ought to pay attention. We are going to take steps that are going to be significant in Bermuda. Some of you may even believe those steps are too draconian.  You might start talking about human rights for drug dealers.”

As we’ve covered before, creating a war on drugs is not the solution.  The issue is when people think drug dealers are the source of our problems.  Unfortunately they are not.  The source are those people out there who are turning to drugs to self medicate and escape life problems and all further problems stem from there. 

People turning to drugs creates demand for drugs.  Once there is sufficient demand for something with an inefficiency of supply, an industry will spring up to supply it, legal or not.  Now, for anyone who understands basic economics, the ratio of supply and demand control the price that can be charged.  The higher the demand and the lower the supply, the greater the price.  The greater the price, the greater the profit and profit is what drives people to get into the drug dealing game.

The more you crack down on supply when demand isn’t changing, the higher prices go and subsequently the more profits drug dealers can make.  When there are greater profits to be had, people are willing to undertake greater risks to achieve them.  Every drug dealer you bust, crushes supply and pushes prices up.  If you bust them using guns, the remaining drug dealers will begin equipping themselves to fight back.  Subsequently you create a situation where well equipped drug dealers begin using weapons to defend their turf against both other groups or gangs that want to reap the profits of that area as well as police who want to shut you down.

Cracking down on supply without solving the problem of demand creates a vicious cycle that will only make crime in Bermuda more violent than it already is.  Even worse, cracking down on the supply of trivial drugs like marijuana simply because it is easier and makes headlines simply pushes people to consider self-medicating with harder and much worse drugs. 

For those who don’t understand the problem of drugs and the various solutions that have been tried around the world, I highly recommend you check out the comprehensive 146 page report produced in 2005 by the Seattle-based King County Bar Association.  It offers a deep look into the history of drug use including the knowledge that original prohibition was largely fueled by racism.  It also explores the various different models of drug policy that have been implemented around the world and documents their success and failures. 

We need a truly progressive approach to drug policy, not one that repeats the same failures which have been made elsewhere.

Curbing demand

Can’t Find Parking Spot? Check Smartphone

You may not yet have heard of it, but San Francisco thinks it may have solved the problem of never being able to find a parking space when you need one.  The struggle to find parking has become so commonplace it has become a cliché, a problem not limited just to these 21 square miles.  San Francisco’s solution?  Take the age old system of pay by the hour and spice it up with a little modern technology to allow prices to flow with natural supply and demand.  In layman’s terms?  San Francisco, along with a handful of other demonstration projects in cities around the United States, will be introducing parking where the price adjusts according to how many spots are still available, the time of day and how long you stay to help curb demand and keep spaces open.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported of SFPark, the name of the program, back in April, San Francisco is one of numerous cities hoping to revolutionize parking through the introduction of smart meters.  Among the suggested potential benefits include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, unclogging the streets and turning greater revenue.

As SFpark is envisioned, parking rates would be adjusted based on time of day, day of week and duration of stay. People would be able to pay not just with coins, but with credit cards, prepaid debit cards and even by cell phone. If a meter is set to expire, a text message could be sent to the driver. More time could be purchased remotely.

People also would be able to check parking availability before arriving at their destination via the Internet, handheld devices such as BlackBerrys, or cell phone. Sensors would be embedded in the asphalt to keep track of when a parking spot is empty.

“The idea is to give people more choice, more convenience and to reduce congestion,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Now likely you’re thinking, that sure seems like a nice idea, but the technology to actually accomplish something like that must be a long ways away.  Right?

Actually, according to an article in the New York Times last month, San Francisco will be going live with the system this fall.

The city’s planners want to ensure that at any time, on-street parking is no more than 85 percent occupied. This strategy is based on research by Mr. Shoup, who has estimated that drivers searching for curbside parking are responsible for as much of 30 percent of the traffic in central business districts.

To install the market-priced parking system, San Francisco has used a system devised by Streetline, a small technology company that has adapted a wireless sensor technology known as “smart dust” that was pioneered by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

It gives city parking officials up-to-date information on whether parking spots are occupied or vacant. The embedded sensors will also be used to relay congestion information to city planners by monitoring the speed of traffic flowing on city streets. The heart of the system is a wirelessly connected sensor embedded in a 4-inch-by-4-inch piece of plastic glued to the pavement adjacent to each parking space.

The device, called a “bump,” is battery operated and intended to last for five and 10 years without service. From the street the bumps form a mesh of wireless Internet signals that funnel data to parking meters on to a central management office near the San Francisco city hall.

Streetline has technology that will display open parking spaces on Web sites that can be accessed through wireless devices like smartphones. They are also developing a low-cost battery-operated street display that will be able to alert drivers to open parking spots nearby.

Though people may not readily recognize it, the Corporation of Hamilton is trying to do the right thing with their recent introduction of higher parking fees in town.  You may not have noticed, but it is near impossible to find a parking spot in town when you need one.  The Corporation thus has a solution, increase the costs to decrease demand.  Unfortunately however, this may or may not be successful at freeing up parking spaces for those who need them and may inadvertently punish those who don’t abuse the system just as badly as those who do abuse it.  Someone who actually just wants to pop into a shop for an hour shouldn’t have to struggle to find spaces while those with deep pockets can take up a spot all day, endlessly running out to scratch more tickets.  Why should everyone be punished for the abuse of the system by a few bad apples and better yet, is there a better way?

NextBus

NextBus, “uses Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking satellites to provide vehicle arrival information and real-time maps— not just bus schedules — to passengers and managers of public transit, shuttles, and trains.”

Just the kind of innovation I would like to see in our transport system.

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To disband or not to disband, that is the question.

Wayne Furbert sure didn’t hold back much in today’s interview on how the UBP should be reforming itself.  This writer can’t say he disagree’s with Mr. Furbert, at least not entirely, as certainly one could expect much more than term limits, at least from the UBP.  Those who believe the UBP doesn’t need change should likely wake up and smell the proverbial coffee.  Indeed, despite claims that half the electorate supported them in the last election, one could wonder where all those people went in recent polls.  Could it be that only 30 percent actually supported them with the rest simply having voted against the incumbent?

In the eyes of this writer the best thing the UBP could do for the betterment of our island would be to disband completely.   That means it won’t become the party formerly known as the UBP.  Nor would it play musical constituencies.   Further it wouldn’t attempt to bring in the token black politicians.  No, disbanding isn’t a modern day remake of the Emperor’s new clothes, it would mean the end of the UBP, full stop.  No party line.  No caucus.  No hierarchy.  No UBP.  Surely you may be thinking:  he’s gone mad.  Perhaps, but first allow this lowly writer to plead his case as to why the UBP should disband, and into what form. 

If the UBP are to really change, it is the belief of this writer that it should be to disband into independent candidates.  Why not a new party?  Surely it has been said that there is strength in unity, so why independents?  Ah, for the cognizant observer would note that strength in unity in the case of the UBP really means strength of unity for the PLP.  Unity for the PLP?  How could that be?  Simply put it is the belief of more than just this writer that the only reason the left and right factions of the PLP remain united is the existence of the UBP.  Put differently, the UBP is the glue that holds the PLP together.

So why independents?  Simply put, independents offer the strongest foot forwards.

  • First off, independents relinquish the title of being puppeted by the old white guard for they shall toe no party line, vote and stand for themselves and hold allegiance only to their represented constituents.  They are freed of the chains of the party and as such, are their own voice, a voice which can gain more respect from the middle block of voters than one that stands with either side.
  • Second, independents open the door for newcomers, those individuals out in the community who are highly capable of contributing to the betterment of our island but refuse to associate themselves with either the UBP or the PLP.  Such individuals would be free to stand on their own two feet without having to worry about succumbing to arguments that supporting them would split the vote and guarantee a win for the other side.
  • Third, independents, as well as a disbanded UBP, will empower frustrated PLP politicians.  Not having a party to battle against, frustrated PLPers will be free to stand as independents knowing that they won’t be easily challenged by the UBP and made as redundant and present day independents.  Such a move would open to door to individuals or even a group stepping out of the PLP to challenge the status quo.  The glue that binds the PLP would stick no more.

So, now that this writer has pleaded his case, let us recap.   A name change will not work.  Why?  Well if you think calling broccoli a cookie will get a kid to eat it than certainly you know something the rest of us don’t.   Filling the ranks with token black politicians will also not work.  Why?  Well with the UBP’s demographical support base it would make about as much sense as the chewbacca defense.  So, unless you think a wolf in sheep’s clothing looks that much different from a wolf, that doesn’t have much hope either.

As suggested, in the eyes of this writer the best course of action the UBP could take would be to disband into independents.  It would relinquish the claims of puppetry, open the doors to newcomers and empower the disillusioned members of the PLP who only hang on in spite of the UBP.  Disbanding the UBP could quite possibly put an end to both parties and give rise to a new political structure that is far more capable of moving beyond the petty bickering, childlike tantrums and ridiculous squabbles that plague our present system.  It may well serve as a move that could build a government fitting of Bermuda that is truly dedicated to the betterment of our future.