Back in the limelight

Roughly every six months the same controversial topics jump into the limelight, there’s a big uproar of debate, little changes and things quiet down until six months later the cycle repeats.  The latest to jump back into the limelight is the topic of marijuana, where Senator Burch laments the fact that people skirt laws to smoke it and harm their opportunities for jobs.  As usual, he advocates a vicious crackdown on all offenders in an attempt to curb use, suggests police shouldn’t be cherry picking which laws to enforce and rather ironically pledges to resign from politics if the PLP promotes decriminalization.  Let’s take a moment to hash out his argument, shall we?

Let’s begin with Senator Burch’s pledge to resign from politics.  This in itself is a rather idle threat that may well be geared to get more publicity than anything.  Let’s remember for a moment that the people have never supported Senator Burch enough to elect him as a politician and that he’s only held his political stature as an appointee.  Thus, who really is all that concerned by his threat to resign from politics?  Let’s then recall that as an appointee he’s at risk of being replaced if he falls out of favor with the leadership of the day.  With the present Premier out of favor and on his way out his replacement may well not have any interest in reappointing Senator Burch so he may well be on his way out as well.  Thus Senator Burch’s threat may be rather idle and ironic as the people haven’t shown enough interest in having him in politics in the first place and the next leadership may not either.

Next up we can consider the so called cherry picking by police of which laws to enforce where Senator Burch has been known for spouting catch phrases such as “No one is above the law” and preaching that police must enforce all laws to the best of their ability.  This is all fine and good until the humble Senator turns a blind eye to the various examples of his party and our government skirting the laws for their own gains.  It is really hard to take the man seriously when he apparently holds a double standard for when laws should be enforced but then is outraged when the standards are not upheld.  If Senator Burch wants the people to have more respect for the laws then shouldn’t Senator Burch and his colleagues be the ones to start by setting a good example?  Otherwise, why is it any surprising the people would sooner listen to Collie Buddz than an unelected politician?

Finally we can look at the job argument.  Senator Burch advocates a crackdown on all marijuana users because use is so high that few are available for job opportunities in the police, fire and corrections services.  This argument is rather meek given that it is highly likely that individuals convicted and given criminal records for marijuana possession would also be ineligible for these jobs.  Admittedly the logic is that crackdowns would act as a deterrent and yet they haven’t proven effective in the many different times they’ve been tried.  Cracking down only further limits the pool of available individuals and near guarantees those that are convicted are left with fewer alternatives to a life of crime.  This as opposed to working with the community to promote healthier and more active lifestyles while encouraging the reduction of marijuana use such that eligible applicant numbers can improve.

So it seems we’ve been launched back into the marijuana debate with Senator Burch’s recent comments.  While it is great that Senator Burch has the resolve to stand firmly behind his principles, his resignation threat doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight.  The condemnation of cherry picking laws to enforce falls as a rather weak argument considering the source.  Finally, should we be doing more to work with the community to promote healthy alternatives to marijuana use rather than cracking down as a quick fix to a problem not easily solved?  Regardless is it highly likely we’ll see a brief fervor of opinionated discussion on the topic with little changing and a return to the lull that precedes the next time this issue bubbles to the surface.

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Looking back to Q1 2007: How did we end up here?

It’s 2010 here in Bermuda.  We’re facing an ongoing recession likely to last into the foreseeable future, a run away budget, job losses, glut in real estate, a downturn in construction and rising youth violence.  It could be said that we’ve had better years.  Recent opinion polls have suggested many things, among them low confidence in Bermuda’s economy.  By comparison 66 percent of people polled by the local daily The Royal Gazette thought in 2007 Bermuda’s economy was in good shape while today only 18 percent would agree.  How did we get here and should we have seen it coming?

Leading businessman Peter Everson responded to the recent poll results suggesting a poor outlook for the island’s core sectors of financial services, construction, and tourism/hospitality. 

"It is the financial services sector that brought the crisis upon the developed economies because it grew too large; it is now in a downturn and it is likely to be some time before it bottoms out let alone promotes net new hiring,"

Addressing prospects for the construction industry Mr. Everson suggested unnecessary glut was due to cause difficulties as office space goes unrented and hotels have only modest occupancy. 

"It is unlikely that there will be significant new building activity until some part of this slack has been taken up,"

Looking back to 2007 our economy was booming.  Finance Minister Paula Cox had noted that for more than five budgets in a row Government was bringing in more revenue than projected.  Chamber of Commerce vice president Philip Barnett commented on the wealth of opportunity created by international business.  They were good times.  So how did we come to this point today?

In 2007 while enthusiasm was high there were those in the community voicing concern that perhaps things were a little too good.  UBP Senator Bob Richard’s deserves some credit for having pointed out that we may be showing signs of overheating and having suggested steps to help slow our ascent.  Though who could have known that things would take a rather abrupt turn?  How could it have been conceived that a housing bubble in the United States would pop and in turn our own bubble would too?  Perhaps the signs weren’t crystal clear but was the writing on the wall and did we do ourselves any favors by not paying them greater heed?

We first caught wind of potential troubles in the US housing markets in February 2007 as we questioned the impact of the recent rapid interest rate hikes on homeowners, especially those who were on variable rate mortgages.  Had these individuals overstretched their budgets such that they would be unable to pay?  If it were to create a trend that continued, we mused, could it cause housing values to continue their descent and bring forth an overall devaluation of the housing markets, thus putting more and more people underwater? 

It was near this time that Government was frolicking in its wealth as it threw money at various ventures all while being rather limited when it came to providing details of how it was being spent.  While some expressed their concerns about graduation rates having greater importance it was determined that youth would best develop via greater investment in sport and thus some $15 million was pledged to take Bermudian football to the next level.  This on top of the $14 million that was already allocated to and spent on youth sport the previous year.  The impact of that funding some three years later is less than clear as youth have become more troubled and education has worsened.

Concerns were raised that growth was reaching such a pace that home ownership was even being pushed out of reach.  This while housing demand had outstretched supply to such a state that average Bermudians were being sidelined in terms of options to even just live let alone own.  Housing was high in demand as the BHC waiting list continued to grow to nearly 600 strong.  People went to such extents to seek nearly any alternative to Bermuda’s skyrocketing cost of living that they’d taken to living in derelict buildings.

The strains of growth were breeding growing resentment towards our guest workers despite the heavy reliance we have on them to keep money flowing in our local economy.  We examined how a large part of our problems with regards to growth was the lack of infrastructure geared towards handling the influx of additional guest workers.  Inadequate housing for expats was the focus of considerable analysis as to the causes for our supply/demand issues.  This all while tourism was being spun as a rejuvenating force and once again a towering economic pillar.  External independent analysts however countered this as they pointed to trends of “secular decline”.  Is it any wonder that many questions were raised about whether tourism would actually sustain its pace?  Was it indeed a fit place for us to have dedicated so much focus and so many resources at the time?

It would seem that despite public perceptions being high in 2007, under the surface many problems were brewing.  There were signs that perhaps money had become a bit too easy both home and abroad as some questioned the risks of an economy overheated and the possibility of what could happen if the bubble bursts.  Bermudians were quickly being outpaced by growth as we lacked the ability to satisfy the demands that accompanied it.  Unsurprisingly resentment grew while certainly not helped by those willing to throw fuel on the fire.  While things were certainly good it was not entirely clear that they’d remain that way forever.  Indeed, in good times it can be easy to get caught up in the party and forget all about the mess that’s left to be cleaned up when the party ends.

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School closures: More detail needed

The announcement of the closure of a number of primary concerns has unsurprisingly yielded a string of concerned gut reactions from the public.  The largest issue with the proposed closures are not the closures themselves but the way the idea has been communicated to the public.  Indeed, it could be a colossal mistake just as it easily could be a brilliant and necessary cost saving measure.  The problem, at present, is that the public hates the idea and that’s largely due to how it came to view and the utter lack of any suggested details or plan forwards.

The announcement to close primary schools is rather shocking.  Primary schools aren’t the ones underperforming and the suggestion that another massive high school should be created risks repeating the same mistakes of the past when high schools were consolidated into behemoths.  While the announcement lacks teeth at this stage government needs to carefully balance public opinion with the need to cut unnecessary costs.  To sacrifice one or the other would be terribly unfortunate.

What we’re lacking most is a clear cut justification as to why these schools should be closed.  Where are the supporting numbers to back up claims of fiscal savings with evidence?  Where are the supporting numbers to showcase that the best performing schools are not the ones being sacrificed?  Where are the numbers to showcase that the best teachers will be retained?  Where is the plan for how things will be consolidated such that we can be confident that things will go smoothly.  While admittedly government could well have been in the process of preparing these details prior to the leak it could also be surmised that an individual involved had their own concerns and opted to leak the info to the press to slow things down.  The best defense the government can make at this point is to start supporting their reasoning with facts and clear evidence that this is a well planned move and not a gong show.

In a breaking news piece in The Royal Gazette, island Principals lay out their demands for the information they need in order to appreciate and accept the decision to close various schools.  Subsequently here is a list of things that would likely be helpful to their case if presented in the form of a statistical breakdown.  One such that all primary schools are included by means of comparison so that we can be clear as to the logic behind why it is necessary to close a specific few.

Cost of school per student

Average student performance and progression

Average teacher experience

Average teacher salary

Number of students

Number of teachers

Average student/teacher ratio per class

Average student performance per ratio

Undoubtedly many more metrics could be proposed and provided to help provide a clearer picture.  Certainly a much better case could be made if such metrics were as government needs all the help it can get in saving face on this move.

Stellar police response

I’m long overdue at posting anything.  One item that has been near the top of my list is recognition of the police’s response to my burglary.  It turned out to be far more than I originally would have imagined including a quick response to my initial report, multiple follow-up visits for detailed accounts of what happened, what was stolen and also fairly intensive fingerprinting.  Ultimately the police apprehended a suspect who apparently had been released on parole only a couple months prior.  Subsequently patrols and police presence in my area have seemingly increased as it is apparent that the police have been stepping up their efforts if not in my area but throughout the island.  Overall I find the police have done an excellent job and should be commended for their efforts.

Quite unfortunately I’m still dismayed that I got burgled in the first place, which isn’t the police’s responsibility at all.  If ultimately found guilty in court, the suspect apprehended is an individual who rolled out of prison only to quickly return to crime.  He’s a young guy aged 19 with a rather troubled past so while not inexcusable it helps put pieces of the puzzle together.  It was suggested that the reason he stole what he did was that he was selling the items for drugs and that conclusion seems to make sense.

Getting broken into frankly sucks but having gone through a similar experience when I was in university made things a bit easier.  In this case, mostly smaller items were taken and in such a way that if I hadn’t had an eye for specific details I probably wouldn’t have noticed immediately.  The reason being the burglar made attempts to cover his tracks and actually managed to get in at least twice before I was certain I’d been burgled.  By comparison when my place was broken into in Canada they pretty much took everything and tore my place apart looking for anything I may have hidden.  It was a much more devastating experience.

What bothers me most about this experience more so than the loss of my possessions or the invasion of my home and privacy is how we failed this individual and as a society are likely failing so many others.  While indeed not everyone is savable I’d like to think that most are.  How is it that we managed to jail this individual and yet later release him back onto the streets only to succumb to criminal activities in what may well be caused by a drug addiction?  How did we not rehabilitate this individual to help him deal with and manage his addiction?  How did we not provide him with the tools and hope for a better life to stay away from drugs and crime?  How many others out there are just like him and how long will it be before more break-ins or worse occur as these individuals roll in and out of our justice system without remorse or recourse?