Welcome back & changes

I’d like to welcome Christian over @ Politics.bm and New Onion back to the blogging scene.  It’ll certainly be good to have more opinions on many of the issues swirling around Bermuda.

I’ve also finally gotten around to fixing the header of my site to match the wider size I needed for many of the charts I post.  Along with that I’ll be experimenting with background colors.  I doubt I’ll jump back into graphic design much to make it much more jazzed up than this but who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired to do so at some point.

Another change, Christian’s announcement of including twitter on his site has inspired me to launch my own account which has been sitting dormant since I first heard about twitter.  I’ve thrown it on the sidebar and am playing around with the location but for those of you with twitter, you’re welcome to follow my musings here.

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You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

In what may be the first signs of what opposition leader Kim Swan should have been doing all along the Royal Gazette reports that he showed real passion and a willingness to fight in a recent constituency meeting.  Unfortunately individuals could be forgiven for wondering that rather than symbolically taking off his jacket like he's ready for a fight to instead be symbolically throwing in the towl at a turn out of a whopping 13 people.  Yet, the UBP could still rally back if they they had vibrant PR and compelling new strategies, unfortunately they don't.

While only 13 people turned out for their meeting the UBP could be using other mediums to get their message out.  They aren't.  A look at the UBP website and no mention is made of this meeting, no copy of the speech is listed and no video of Mr. Swan's passionate speech has been posted.  The front page even still shows the budget reply as the primary feature.  Thus, really only 16 (when including the reporter and other speakers) caught this 'passion' and when you can only witness it through the recounts of a reporter it comes off as rather sad instead of empowering.

The UBP shouldn't be waiting for MPs to jump ship to be holding meetings where they display passion and heart.  They should be scheduling similar meetings in every constituency and displaying similar levels of passion if even just one member turns out.  Subsequently they shouldn't be letting the newpaper be their outlet which significant dulls their ability to rally people.  The difference being that they should be broadcasting and promoting that passion in every medium possible in ways that help people appreciate it.  The problem is they aren't and continue to show few signs of innovation and instead seem to be reverting to strategies that worked in yesteryear in a display that simply promotes how out of touch they've become in today's political environment.

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Thinking of the future

It is rather unsurprising that free FutureCare has not worked out.  We simply don’t have the money for such an elaborate initiative.  Means tested is the way to go and it requires examination of not only cash but also equity.  In today’s Royal Gazette interesting comments were made about some of our seniors.

Claudette Flemming, Age Concern’s director, said: "It is a legitimate question, should those that can afford to pay for private care get FutureCare? But then the question is how do you determine who can afford it?"

With 25 percent of seniors living off $30,000 or less there are many incidents of seniors being land rich but cash poor, she said. (emphasis added)

Sorry, but land rich and cash poor?  Is Ms. Flemming implying that these individuals should or should not be eligible?  Quite unfortunately there are ‘land rich’ seniors out there who live in big multi bedroom homes alone.  Should government be stepping in to give them hand outs because they are ‘cash poor’ but happen to be sitting on a mountain of equity?  This while young Bermudians face greater taxation as debts are run up?  The same young Bermudians who struggle to afford even meager hopes of accommodation yet are preached to about how they’re unwilling to sacrifice?

Certainly there are alternatives such as selling their land/homes for more reasonable accommodations or taking out reverse mortgages such that they could tap into their equity and afford better care?  Certainly, seniors deserve good care.  However, what we risk is that Bermuda pumps so much money into flawed initiatives like ‘FutureCare’ that when today’s youth get into power and wake up to how much debt we have to cover, things will change very quickly.  Today’s leading generations are going wild on the spending, ratcheting up debt.  Who will pay off this debt?  If you’re senior now or are approaching that age perhaps it is time to start asking the questions of what happens when the younger generations get into power and how we’ll react when we realize that you’ve stuck us with this much debt?

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The Stockholm Trial revisited

Back in April 2007 we covered news of the Stockholm Trial which essentially was a 7 month trial of a congestion tax in Stockholm followed up by a referendum on whether it should be made permanent. Stockholm decided in its referendum that it would keep the congestion tax and here we are a few years later and Treehugger has provided an updated report on its progress.

Quoting a report from IBM Treehugger notes:

Stockholm, Sweden, has had a congestion charge since January 2006. Cars that enter the city center must pay a congestion tax which varies depending on the time of day (from nothing at night to 20 SEK during rush hour). Now that enough time has passed to gather lots of data on the impact of the congestion charge, the Stockholm City Traffic authorities have released some interesting numbers: "The Stockholm Congestion Charging System, created by IBM (NYSE: IBM) has significantly improved access to the Swedish capital by halving queuing times on access roads to the city in the mornings. City traffic is down by 18% and CO2 emissions in the inner city have been cut by between 14 and 18 percent."


Stockholm

Source: Wikipedia. Amounts in Swedish krona.

The amount of tax payable depends on what time of the day a motorist enters or exits the congestion tax area. There is no charge on Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays or the day before public holidays, nor during nights (18:30 – 06:29), nor during the month of July. The maximum amount of tax per vehicle per day is 60 SEK (6.34 EUR, 9.85 USD). (source)

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NewBP… Is the honeymoon over?

It may be a stroke of strategical mastery or a simple stroke of convenience but either way the PLP’s recent moves to bring controversial topics to the forefront ensure a silencing of the debate on the newBP.  A mere week after the announcement that a rebel group was breaking from the UBP and the PLP has come forth with some of the most controversial topics they’ve ever dealt with.  Coincidence or master strategy?

Whether via blogs, newspapers, talk shows, on the street or around the water cooler where the topic of conversation was once shrouded in speak of the revelation of the UBP splitting and a new party forming it has now been quickly replaced with talk of marijuana, conscription and racial equity.  Bermuda’s newest party, who has yet to produce a single peep of tangible information has seemingly disappeared into the shadows as the public’s attention has quickly shifted in an indication that the honeymoon may well be over.  It is a continuing sign whether intentional or not that the PLP continues to dominate in the realm of political strategy while the UBP struggles with the basics.

It is believed to be outgoing PLP Chairman David Burt who once advocated that you must define your opponent in order to succeed in politics.  This writer readily disagrees and believes that you must first define yourself before your opponent has the chance to define you.  Quite unfortunately the newBP has thus far failed in both endeavors.  Indeed, the mere moniker of newBP has already been formed out of their failure to promote a name for themselves, thus allowing them to be defined by others.  Worse still they have the hurdle to overcome of defining themselves as different from the UBP.  Amid the dying murmur of this formerly latest development we can recognize that the road ahead isn’t as clear cut as sometimes it may seem.  In the end we can be certain that it is likely the newBP has a long and treacherous road ahead of them.  Surely travels will not be easy and strategy plays more of a factor than some might admit.

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Crime and punishment

    This is part 2 of a 4 part series on the implications of marijuana on our society

Our present stance on cannabis has created a black market intent on fulfilling demand that is consuming our island and causing our crime rates to soar.  Further we seem intent on attacking the problems at the surface while ignoring the root causes.  Even worse we maintain a punishment scheme for users which outweighs the actual crime.  It risks taking otherwise good people and turning them towards crime and effectively punishes those who are self medicating or are victims of abuse that should actually be seeking help.  It makes little sense that crime is our great worry and yet we still hold a stance that makes things worse and not better.  Perhaps it is time we revisit this decision and figure out if there are ways to discourage use but not allow it to get so out of hand we create worse problems in the process.

Cannabis prohibition has created a black market rivaling that which which we saw in the US in the ‘20s with alcohol prohibition.  Gangs capitalized on a nascent demand for alcohol and found ways to supply it at great profit.  These profits gave rise to gangsters who, fueled by alcohol smuggling profits, branched out to other areas of crime.  It was not long before profits were so lucrative gangs felt it necessary to protect their interests.  Guns and gang wars proliferated until petty thieves felt the need to equip and protect themselves and the incidents of gun crimes rose to startling prominence.  Does this sound familiar?

Contrary to popular belief, those smoking cannabis aren’t the true problem for our society, it’s those who sell and distribute for profit.  Yet the more we ‘crack down’, the higher the profits go.  The higher the profits, the more stake criminal elements have in its distribution meaning people are more anxious to ‘protect’ themselves and their interests.  Thus we see more guns on the island which filters out to others not dealing drugs who now feel they need guns to protect themselves as well.  So now we’re seeing increasing incidents of gun related violence and Bermuda descending further and further into anarchy.  It is a vicious cycle that spirals ever further down unless we do something real to stop the problems closer to the root.

We need to recognize and deal with the problems at their core.  Inherently individuals are turning to cannabis regardless of laws against it.  They do so for recreational purposes, they do so to self medicate or they do so out of psychological addiction.  The recreationalists are going to do it as long as it the rewards outweigh the risks and really, recreationalists aren’t our problem.  Those turning to cannabis to self medicate or suffer from addiction are a problem as they should be seeking proper help but instead could be scared away or reluctant to do so.  Thus demand never changes, we don’t solve the root problems and profits for smugglers and distributors continue to rise, especially as we ‘crack down’ on supply.

Further we are intent on maintaining a punishment scheme for users which outweighs the actual crime.  It is so bad there is a rather sick joke around the island that you’re more likely to be punished worse for smoking a spliff than you are for killing someone.  This is the perception people hold on our streets, that people are more likely to get away with murder than they are with using cannabis.  One act has severe consequences for our society, the other does not.  Is this the message we truly want to be sending?  Where are our priorities?   

It is rather shocking that an individual caught with a small amount of cannabis can be given a criminal record and black listed from travelling to the US.  Sure the argument stands that an individual should understand and accept the consequences of their actions but the punishment is extreme.  The result?   You may well be an otherwise upstanding citizen who breaks no other laws and suddenly you’re marked.  You could face travel restrictions limiting your ability to get training abroad or have a job that requires travel.  You could face discrimination with regards to employment, making it hard for you to have a job.  You could become more likely to give up on society and turn towards crime.  All this for a crime that is about as damaging to others as jaywalking.  It does not make sense.

We are fueling crime with our policies and seem intent on ignoring the root causes while tackling the low hanging fruits.  Our present stance on cannabis has created a black market that is causing our crime rates to soar.  Further we’re only attacking the problems at the surface while maintaining a punishment scheme that outweighs the crime.  We need to focus on actually solving problems, not paying lip service to them.  It makes little sense that as crime is our great worry we still hold a stance that makes things worse and not better.  Perhaps it is time we revisit this decision and figure out if there are ways to discourage use but not allow it to get so out of hand we create worse problems in the process.

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Just Say Know

This is part 1 of a 4 part series on the implications of marijuana on our society

As the marijuana debate has been rehashed there is little doubt that people will sensationalize various misunderstandings as they debate the issue.  It is important as with any issue that we fully educate ourselves such that we understand what we’re dealing with and don’t prejudge based upon hearsay.  For those interested I did take a rather useful course in university on drugs and behavior which opened my eyes to many of the misconceptions surrounding drugs and their use.  Drugs are actually much more widely spread than many realize including being contained in simply things like tea and coffee (caffeine) as well as chocolate.  Other substances are considered by many to have drug like effects (sugar) and yet some are acceptable while others are not.  It is important we aim to fully understand drugs and their impact so I thought I’d do a little research into drugs, marijuana especially.

It is interesting to note that marijuana, it’s active ingredient THC especially is not lethal.  The lethal dose of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) amounts to about 40,000 times the recreational dose (ie, they pumped THC into the blood of rats to the point where it diluted their blood enough to kill them).  By comparison, the lethal dose of nicotine is the equivalent weight of a nickel.

Drug consumption was initially criminalized in the early 1900s in the US and Canada as part of a movement to restrict drug use amongst minorities (Blacks, Hispanics and Asians).  Prior to that time consumption of drugs such as cocaine were widely accepted (Coca-cola originally contained cocaine), was an activity undertaken by the elite members of society and was actually endorsed by individuals such as Queen Victoria, Pope Leo XIII and Pope Saint Pius X.   Indeed cocaine in the form of the coca leave was used by native South Americans for centuries without ill effects.  It wasn’t until the Spanish arrived, extracted the active ingredient in pure form and began consuming it recklessly that it became an issue.

Similarly marijuana has been used for longer than there are records.  It has been shown to have significant health effects, to be less detrimental than other legalized drugs (eg, cigarettes and alcohol) and yet still is demonized as the most evil thing going.  Quite unfortunately such demonization occurs at the detriment of society as we see individuals consuming it anyway, those who abuse it too afraid to seek proper help, a surging criminal element surrounding its production and supply and ongoing sensationalizing of inaccurate information.

Indeed one of the largest arguments against marijuana is that it ‘makes people crazy’ however there is not conclusive proof of such.  For those who have heard that marijuana increases the risks of Schizophrenia they may have misinterpreted the reports.  Yes, the initial analysis of Swedish military conscripts and subsequent reports can be downright scary.  However, subsequent reanalysis of it and similar studies have only conclusively shown that cannabis increases the risk of Schizophrenia and similar psychosis related disorders for those already at risk and has not be proven for those not already at risk.

For those who view sites like Schizophrenia.com to scare themselves to death with regards to the risks it is worth noting that marijuana is not listed as the only risk factor.  Indeed they report up to a 4x increased risk of Schizophrenia for emigrating to a new country.  Further having an unstable home life as a child and social adversity increased risks by 2.7X. So too living in a urban environment increases risks by 3X.  Further you can look beyond to other scientific studies such as this one which suggests alcohol is associated with an 8x risk of psychotic experiences in men, 3x in women.  By all intents and purposes by these suggestions Bermuda must be filled with crazies and yet we’re not.  Thus is it worth sensationalizing marijuana reports while ignoring other reports of similar risks?

Further we can look to places that have moved to decriminalize marijuana to understand the implications.  This Australian study concluded the incidence of schizophrenia has not risen with the explosion of cannabis use but instead appeared to trigger it in those already at risk.   Yet another Australian study confirmed this.  By comparison we can use cigarette smoking and lung cancer as a guide where as cigarette smoking skyrocketed so too did lung cancer.  A similar trend has not been seen with cannabis use.

As suggested, it is worthwhile fully investigating and examining an issue before making a judgment as far too many jump to unnecessary conclusions.  The criminalization of marijuana has nascent undesirable effects on our society that could be prevented or circumvented if we adequately reviewed the issues from a fair and independent view point.  Are there risks with smoking Marijuana? Certainly.  However, there are risks in just about everything we do in life and thus it is necessary to weigh the risks and choose wisely.  Ultimately telling people they can’t do it does not change consumption and if anything unnecessarily punishes individuals more so than the act itself.  As with anything it is rather easy to sensationalize the risks, however at some at some point you either are consumed by them or accept that risks are a part of living and just live your life. 

An excellent resource I found for much of the information contained here was this post which is rather comprehensive, in-depth and views things from both sides with evidence.

Another excellent resource on the history of drugs and policies in effect around the world is the report produced by the King County Bar Association, something I’ve covered before.

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What does this pin do?

If Senator Burch is a 'PR train wreck in slow motion' surely Darius Tucker must be a 'PR kid playing with a hand grenade'.  In an interview with Mr. Tucker regarding whether he'd try to join the breakaway UBP group The Royal Gazette suggests "Mr. Tucker said he would wait to see more details before deciding whether he wanted to join them".  Mr. Tucker seems to be thinking that he would be welcome amongst any party.  This while his performance during his nonsensical actions during and post the no confidence vote makes it hard to believe.  From the perspective of many Mr. Tucker's days in politics are numbered and it would be political suicide for any group to accept an individual into their midst who could so badly botch his public image in such a short span of time.

Yet it continues.  What is Mr. Tucker talking about with regards to the UBP?

"As I have said before, the United Bermuda Party has served the Country well, they have brought the Country this far, but the Country does not want a white Government. That's just the way the Country is right now. They don't want a white Government so the United Bermuda Party can't be Government any more. People interested in politics need to make themselves viable to serve."

What is Mr. Tucker implying?  That the UBP as the party representative of the white vote has no chance?  That the UBP with white members has no chance?  That the UBP with white MPs has no chance?  Or is it that in Bermuda today the color of your skin dictates whether you have a place in poltics?  What do white people interested in politics do to make themselves viable?  Paint themselves black?  He is simply unclear and confusing.  Perhaps people want a government they can trust and it has less to do with skin color?  

"The Country doesn't want the United Bermuda Party to be the Government. The reports that the UBP has commissioned has told them that. They have paid money for reports but they are not listening to the reports. They haven't even given it a good opportunity to reshape and rebrand and give it one good shot because they didn't get committed to change."

What in the world is Mr. Tucker saying?  First it was that the people don't want a white government, now it's that the UBP can't be government then he turns around and says that the UBP didn't take the opportunity to rebrand and isn't commited to change.  Rebrand how?  A new name doesn't change white support for the UBP, nor does it change the white members or MPs.  If the people don't want a white government, what does a new name do?  Alternatively we've recieved accounts that these reports suggested the UBP needed more black surrogates.  Is this what Mr. Tucker is advocating?  More black MPs to to act as puppets to white string pullers?  Should it be all black faces in the forefront of a party with largely white support?  Does that make for a non-white government that would make the UBP something the people would want as government?  What is it?

The issue is that Mr. Tucker makes about as much sense now a he did when he resigned: none.  Words are coming out of his mouth but they aren't adding up to anything coherent.  Mr. Tucker seems to claim the country doesn't want the the UBP in government because they'd be a white government but still thinks they should be rebranding and giving it a shot without clarifying what kind of rebranding will solve the problem.  It would seem Mr. Tucker agrees with the need for more puppets but who really knows.  Sure it'd put white [typo] black faces up front but it would make the UBP trusted even less.  Indeed, it wasn't race that got the UBP into this predicament, it was trust and the nacent abuse of it.  Mr. Tucker's rather odd and confusing quasi pondering about race aside.

Would someone please bang the gong already and get him off the stage?

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Comparing apples to apples

The following was submitted to the Sun for publication earlier this week but I haven’t heard if it will be published so I’m posting it here anyway.

The Bermuda Sun recently reported a number of rather startling statistics on income disparities between the races.  Quoting data from the Statistic Department’s 2009 Employment Brief they suggest that “White Bermudian 'clerks', for example, make $8,000 a year more than black Bermudian clerks.”  Undoubtedly this statistic is shocking and dismaying and only more startling than the statistic itself is the realization that it isn’t painting a fair picture.

To be clear there is no argument on the part of this writer that racism does not play a factor and that there is likely a disparity in pay between the races, however that does not justify misinterpretations of statistics that skew the perception of the problem in favor of one side or another.

Let us start our examination of the above statistic by taking a look at the earnings range of clerks.  According to table 20 on page 16 of the 2008 Employment Brief Tabulations data there were 5763 individuals considered under the ‘Clerks’ major occupation group.  Of these individuals, 78 were listed as earning an annual salary of under $6000 and 3 were listed as earning between $235,000 and $349,000 with the remainder falling in between.  Just to get the true scope of the distribution, let’s look at it in chart form.

image

Note the rather wide distribution in salaries.  The question you may be asking yourself is how one clerk can make so little while another can make so much.  The answer lies in the definition of ‘clerk’ which represents a major occupational group of unskilled clerks all the way to highly skilled clerks who perform advanced research in complex topics.   Indeed, the 2000 Census even classifies ‘Government Executive Officials’ and ‘Cashiers ‘ in the clerical role. Thus comparing one random clerk to another is not a simple apples to apples comparison. 

Now, another question to ask yourself, how likely is a cashier to have a doctorate degree?  If you agree that it is quite unlikely then you may also agree that education level plays a factor in what kind of job you end up with and the subsequent range of pay you can expect to receive.  Indeed we can look to the 2000 Census to confirm that the higher your education level, the more you can expect to earn on a median basis.

image

We can now see clear evidence that education level matters greatly in terms of earnings potential so now let us examine data available from the 2000 census on academic attainment by race.  To make the data easier to interpret let us simply compare percentage distributions from the data compiled for Bermudian population aged 16 years and over by highest academic qualification by race, which is available via table 2 on page 50 of the 2000 Census.

image

We can note via this chart that a much higher percentage of white Bermudians in the year 2000 had degrees than black Bermudians, who had the highest percentage of no qualifications.  While the classifications unfortunately do not exactly match the detailed breakdowns above, this was the best picture available by Bermudian status.  If considering non Bermudian status we can see the full breakdown via data from figure 4.3 on page 129 of the 2000 Census.

image

The sad reality that we face is that white Bermudians are more likely to hold a higher level of education and thus are more likely to earn more.  This subsequently explains why they would outpace black Bermudians in the ‘clerks’ occupational category along with many other wide reaching major occupational group.  While indeed racism is a factor that should be considered and examined we unfortunately do not have the statistical depth to get a true picture of the problem.  Indeed, to truly compare apples to apples we need to break down jobs by Bermudian status, race, academic qualification, field of qualification, pay, experience level and even institutions attended.  Even then we are forced to make approximations to make comparisons as no two people are exactly alike.  Regardless it is important that we take the time to fully understand the statistics we’re dealing with so we can fully appreciate the problem and hopefully determine its true cause.

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Salvaging the UBP

While I’ve made it quite clear that in my belief the best thing for Bermuda’s future would be for the UBP to disband into independents there are likely still things I believe the UBP could do to salvage itself.  Besides, there are many PLP supporters out there who are now rooting for a maintained weak opposition that can keep their own party unaccountable and we certainly can’t disappoint them.

The UBP needs to pursue the fundamental change that the community has been calling for.  No, not a name change and definitely not more token puppets.  Number one the UBP needs to be the change it talks about.  Number two the UBP needs to stop hiring clueless consultants. 

At its core people have an issue with trust and the suggestion that blacks are pushed to the forefront as puppets is a huge issue of contention for people.  Why would it make any sense to hire and listen to people who would produce a report suggesting that you need to get more puppets, the exact thing people don’t trust you for?

[Senator Dunkley] admits the party had employed tokenism in the past, and the UBP has long faced allegations of fielding black candidates and hiding the fact the string-pullers behind the scenes are white.

This label refuses to go away, and a review by consultants carried out after the election defeat was published this week on ZBM, in which advisers told the party they needed more "black surrogates". (via the RG)

Here’s a suggestion:  solve this problem.  How do you do so?  By doing the very thing you’ve been saying the government needs to do more of: being transparent.  The UBP needs to make itself as open as possible.  It needs to make candidate and party executive selection as open and transparent as possible.  It needs to make meetings as transparent as possible.  It should be the people who choose the candidates and party executives and it should be made obvious by making it an open election process that chooses the best candidates based on numerous factors.  Anything that clearly shows the people chose these candidates and not some clique of white powerbrokers will improve things. 

Want to counter ‘puppet’ ads?  Create an ad where the individuals in question come out to claim “I’m a puppet” only to zoom the camera out to show a wide range of their constituents and suggest “and it’s my constituents who pull my strings” depicting constituents pulling strings attached to the chosen representative.  Creatively target this negative stigma and fight it.  Earn the people’s trust by making it clear that a white clique aren’t the ones behind the scenes pulling strings and you’re truly there serving the community.

The biggest problem the UBP has is that few trust them.  Few trust the PLP either it is just that we trust the UBP less.  The PLP once talked about good governance and all the great things they were going to do when they finally made it to power and once they did, whoops, all of that disappeared.  Thus, why would anyone trust the UBP saying the same things?  What happens when you’re elected?  What stops you from up and deciding that maybe good governance is about as important as the PLP thinks it is.  The UBP needs to be the change it preaches.

Be the change.  If the UBP wants to talk about good governance, transparency and decency then it has to do more than preach about how things could be.  The UBP needs to take a hard look at the change it wants to see in government and make that change happen within itself.  It needs to make absolutely everything it possibly can transparent and open to the public.  It needs to prove that the public can have more of a say by giving the public more of a say.  It needs to be more democratic, it needs to embrace direct democratic processes and empower the people.  It needs to regain the trust of the people.  It needs to be the change so people can see the change before we can accept that the UBP is the kind of change we’ve been waiting for.

Be the change.  That or disband into independents.  Your choice. (I vote independents)

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