Stand aside

Could the UBP do something radical for the betterment of Bermuda and not challenge recently passed Minister Bascome's seat in parliament?  By doing so would the UBP open the door for a rise of independents or a new party to challenge the norm and disrupt our present dichotomy?  Such a move would likely give Bermudians a good benchmark of what hope there is for an alternative to rise.  It would give anti-UBP individuals something other to vote for than the PLP and may well send a strong message to our present leadership that they do not actually have the support they think they do.  Finally it would give the UBP an indication as to whether they should stand aside entirely for the betterment of Bermuda or whether they remain the strongest force to oppose the PLP.  While such a move may not be in the best interests of the UBP it could prove to be in the best interests of Bermuda as it would provide the opportunity to spark a new political dynamic in Bermuda politics..

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In this photo taken by a neighbor Thursday July 16, 2009 Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Jonathan over at Catch a Fire has brought up the topic of racial profiling and the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr, an acclaimed historian, Harvard professor and PBS documentarian.  Jonathan claims:

“What I have trouble understanding is why the police officer found it necessary to arrest the Professor at that point. A little thinking and empathy on the part of the police officer should have told him to have the humility to accept the criticism and just leave it at that. My best guess is that the uniform went to his head and he flipped out on a little power trip. So I totally find the incident absurd.”

Jonathan readily sides with Mr. Gates and suggests that he believes the officer flipped out on a power trip.  Should we jump on the bandwagon or first take a moment to consider the alternate possibility?  Perhaps instead it was Mr. Gates’ status that went to his head and he flipped out on a little power trip himself?  Without considering this alternate possibility how can we be certain we are fairly representing the truth behind the situation?

Having not actually been there we will never know the true details of what happened, though it is worthwhile to hesitate from presuming one thing or another when a lack of evidence is available.  We can seek such evidence by further educating ourselves on the various accounts.  For example we can compare the event as described by the supposed leaked police report and the statement Harvard professor Charles Ogletree made on Mr. Gates’ behalf.  What is rather interesting is the rather stark contrast between these two accounts.  A contrast which suggests that the true history of the incident is blurred somewhere between the two accounts and indeed both interpretations are possibilities so it is very difficult to conclude without seeking further evidence.

What is most interesting and perhaps a more important question to be asked is not who flipped out but rather how we react to such stories.  Our history and experiences tend to guide our perceptions in one direction or another and we in turn end up seeking out information that confirms our beliefs while avoiding information that contradicts our beliefs.  In the field of cognitive psychology this is referred to as confirmation bias.

People holding strong beliefs that racial profiling occurs with great significance are more likely to side with Jonathan and see this incident from the perspective of Mr. Gates while those holding opposing beliefs are likely to see things from the opposing angle.  Which perspective we take guides what information we seek out to confirm our beliefs.  Unfortunately this does indicate that we can be biased when taking positions on nearly any issue and as such should aim to consider the impact of such biases can have on our perceptions in seeking truths.

In the situation of Mr. Gates it is very difficult to make a true conclusion one way or another without further evidence.  Even then a conclusion may not be available.  What is important when dealing with these issues is to always try to recognize areas where you could be biased and try to view things from the opposite perspective to gain insight from the opposing point of view.  By doing so you gain the ability to bring more balance and fairness to your positions and in turn could avoid persecuting the innocent or adding fuel to a bias which may not be fair or correct.

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True suffrage

True suffrage was not achieved in Bermuda in 1968.  While correct, Bermuda did extend the right to vote to all adult citizens regardless of sex, race, creed, wealth or property, Bermudians were only given the right to decide, just not at times of their choosing.  It is this right to choose when to vote which composes the lesser known second foundation of true suffrage and is one which remains lacking in our society today.  It leaves one to ask, are we ready for true suffrage?  Are we able to decide for ourselves?  If so, is it time we strive for a truer and more Direct Democracy?

Prior to 1968 it was believed that the majority of people without property or formal education were incapable of charting the course of our society.  It was suggested that they lacked the capacity that the exercise of political governance required, namely a sense of responsibility and a greater understanding of the implications of their decisions.

Post 1968 we can wonder if this thinking has proven correct.  Are women any less capable of making political decisions?  Non property owners?  People of certain races?  Not only were people en mass able to make use of their vote, they have done so in a fashion that has evolved and fundamentally changed our society for the better.  So if we today have the right to vote, why has true suffrage not been achieved?

True suffrage involves two components, the right to vote and opportunities to vote.  Certainly ‘Universal Adult Suffrage’ provided us the right but our opportunities remain restricted.  Individuals were afforded only the right to vote for the representative of their choosing at opportunities not of their control.  This was not the right and opportunity to vote as per their needs and beliefs.  While an advance from the de-facto standard, we have not advanced far enough.

The remarks by the political elite prior to Universal Suffrage in defense of the status quo reflect the same remarks we hear of politicians today as they cling to the power our system provides them.  They suggest the common people are incapable of comprehending the sense of responsibility that weighs upon every decision and thus must not be afforded the opportunity to vote whenever they choose upon whatever they choose.  Indeed, it is these same politicians that prey upon our unwillingness to decide for ourselves and convince us of its futility for their own advantage.  They undertake and profit from the very same actions undertaken by those property owners who ruled us in yesteryear.  The only difference is that they convince us things are different because they tell us when we can vote and allow us to choose the oligarchy in which we place the power.  The issue is the such imbalances of power never end up yielding the best results for the people they’re designed to govern. 

Today, true suffrage does not exist in Bermuda as we subsist on little more than a false facsimile.  We are deprived of our right to decide for ourselves while today’s politicians bloat themselves leeching off of and fueling our ignorance.  Is it time we strived for greater suffrage, greater freedom and the right to decide for ourselves?  Are we capable of deciding for ourselves at times and topics of our choosing?  Can we stand up and demand change?   Can we stand up and declare ourselves fit to govern?  If so, it is time we reach for true suffrage and demand a more Direct Democracy.

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Tough on crime, light on punishment

Assistant Commissioner of Police Paul Wright explained in today’s paper:

"Based on analysis for the last four years in Bermuda, you have ten individuals who’ve been arrested 30 times or more.

"There are 210 who have ten arrests or more and 1500 have three arrests or more.”

Is there not something rather odd about these statistics?  Ie, how do 10 people manage to get arrested more than 30 times or more each in 4 years?  That’s nearly once every month and a half!  Something about these numbers seems to indicate we should be focusing more on improving the justice system rather than worrying about the effectiveness of policing. 

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Pandering to the lowest common denominator

Celebrity tours?!?

Some celebrities are full of praise for Bermuda for allowing them to escape the hordes of paparazzi and get on with their lives relatively unnoticed.
That is until now!

The two-hour cruise – which usually departs three times a day -takes up to 70 people as close as they can get to the mansions of the filthy rich

You’ll start to get stalker tendencies as you get so close to these properties that you are practically peering into their back yards.

For those who believe that Bermuda tourism can be rejuvenated via exclusivity and prestige, this is horrifying.  This is the absolute opposite direction for Bermuda tourism that we should be taking.  We’re taking what little notion of exclusivity and prestige Bermuda once had and dragging it through the mud.

Mind you, we could look at the positives.  We’ve doubled our local celebrity numbers with the addition of the Uighars.  Hopefully their home is also included on the tour as they’re certainly famous enough to not deserve any right to actual privacy, right?  Oh, and don’t forget the Premier as we certainly should be getting our money’s worth out of the fencing and guard hut he put up.

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Mistaken identity

The good news?  People have confused us with the Bahamas when the comes to the Uighurs.  The bad news?  We’re still easily confused with the Bahamas.

From this week’s Economist

Twenty-two Uighurs were indeed caught by the Americans in Afghanistan and sent to Guantánamo Bay. Four of them were freed in June and resettled in the Bahamas (emphasis added). The Pacific island of Palau has offered to take 13 others. The Uighurs insist they were not involved in any anti-American operations in Afghanistan. But their capture helped to bolster China’s argument that it too faced an organised terrorist movement backed by foreigners, even though occasional attacks in Xinjiang hardly seemed well organised. Only primitive weapons were involved in the two bloodiest incidents last year that were blamed on terrorists—one against police in Kashgar that left 17 officers dead in August, and bombings in Kuqa the same month that killed two people. Suicide attacks, a hallmark of Muslim militancy elsewhere, are hardly known in Xinjiang.

Not one of the 570 comments made so far noted the mistake either.

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A few positives

While we’ve spent considerable time examining the potential negatives of the proposed St. Regis hotel deal it is worthwhile to also examine a few of the positives. 

Should the hotel proceed as planned it will likely add a much needed luxury element and more capacity to Bermuda’s hotel product.  This has long been agreed by many as a needed development for our tourism product.

Also of note, for those unaware Bermuda may well be facing a rather drastic downturn in our construction industry which could place a great many Bermudians out of work at quite a bad time.  Should this project get off the ground in time it will likely offer the positive effect of lessening the downturn in our construction industry by hopefully providing jobs to many Bermudians who otherwise would be going unemployed. 

Finally, we’re at least getting some foreign press about Bermuda that doesn’t involve the Uighurs which is welcome considering the controversy is still making top headlines.

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A big gamble?

While few would disagree with the need for a new luxury hotel in Bermuda, quite unfortunately something just doesn’t sit right with the recent announcement of the proposed Starwood/St.Regis hotel.  Again we bear witness to shady acts that only raise questions as to why they’re necessary.  Further we are presented with yet another government plan with ties to questionable credentials on the part of the developers and SDOs used to thwart proper studies that could increase costs later.  Then there is the larger question of where the funding is coming from for surely it is hard to come by lately.  Finally, we can wonder that if this doesn’t all work out as rosy as planned, who ends up holding the short end of the stick?  Let’s hope that it doesn’t end up being the taxpayer, which of late has become the norm.

The announcement of a five-star St. Regis in Hamilton would be tremendously welcome if it weren’t marred in the kind of controversy that has become typical of a Brown Premiership.  Questions are circling as to why the Corporation of Hamilton was kept out of the announcement when it has been suggested that they were a crucial factor in the development of this deal.  Further, the timing of this announcement leaves much to desired after the government announced only last week its intent to shut down the Corporations of Hamilton and St. Georges.   Despite claims of a ‘miscommunication’, something seems awry.

Reports that Unified Resorts, the US developer in the deal, “has been mostly a US government defence contractor” is concerning as a lack of experience in hotel developments, especially in a Bermuda construction environment could point to yet another Bermuda project that runs over time and budget.  We can however take at least some comfort that Unified Resorts’ investment partner, Sagewood Investments LLC has an executive or two with at least some resort development experience.  Still questioned however are the eventual impacts of having provided an SDO such that we could end up with problems that end up costing far more after the fact like has happened with cruise ship pier in Dockyard.  Who ends up footing the bill if we have to rework things to repair damage to traffic flow or any other mishap that will be overlooked on the part of the SDO?

Questions of funding may well be what takes the cake however as we can wonder where the equity to fund this project has come from in a time when the world is in an economic crisis.  This as U.S. hotel occupancy rates are at lows not seen since the 70s and Bermuda occupancy rates are equally low while compounded with seasonal downturns.  Who, one could ask, would want to take a gamble in a hotel in a market that has shown mediocre performance in comparison to its rivals?  Starwood seems unlikely to be investing much capital when a Starwood managed hotel in Hawaii has been foreclosed on and a five star St. Regis in Orange Country looks due for the same fate.  While Starwood may still be announcing a new hotel or two they are being downgraded by analysts which makes them less of a candidate to be reaching out with funds.  Thus, who is footing the bill for this project to get it off the ground in these rocky times?

When queried on the backers of the project Unified Resorts President Ted Adams is suggested to have stated that a local bank and international backers are involved.  This sets off alarm bells as we wonder which local bank is tied to this project.  When considering that The Royal Gazette suggests the project will cost at least $200 million we can wonder what local bank would have access to that kind of capital.  Then of course we can recall the Bank of Butterfield preferred shares deal and wonder how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Let us presume for a minute that perhaps the Bank of Butterfield has a hand in this project.  They’ve notably run into difficulties having acquired a guarantee from the Bermuda Government on their preferred shares deal and subsequently had to freeze their Liquid Reserve Fund.  Let us consider for a moment the scenario that perhaps in exchange for the guarantee offered by the Bermuda Government that the Bank of Butterfield would use some of the proceeds to fund a much needed hotel project.  If this were the case, said hotel project could prove to be quite the gamble as if it goes over budget, Bermuda’s economy doesn’t recover quickly enough or any of a raft of other potential mishaps occur, the already troubled bank could find itself even more troubled.  Let us remember, the Bermuda government has guaranteed that in 10 years those Bank of Butterfield preferred shares will be worth that original $200 million along with the extra $200 million paid out in dividends.  Meaning essentially if things go bad, the Bermudian taxpayer needs to come up with the money.  Some food for thought perhaps?

While we desperately are in need of a more luxurious product on the island, this hotel deal still raises far too many questions, especially given its rather questionable introduction.  Yet again we find ourselves presented with a government plan with ties to questionable credentials on the part of the developers and SDOs used to thwart proper studies that could increase costs and risks later.  Then we face the question of where the funding is going to come from and finally wonder, if things don’t pan out according to plan, who is going to end up paying for this?  Let us hope that we the taxpayers have bailed out our last overdue, over budget construction project; though you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.

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