Budget day

For those of you who've been anxiously waiting, today is budget day.  Unfortunately I haven't had a lot of time to put together a full preview of what we'd hope to see but might as well throw out a few thoughts.

What we noted back in October is that we'll be keeping an eye on immigration receipts as a possibly early indicator of job loss/growth in 2009.  It'll be interesting to see the comparison as an estimation of how well or poorly we did for jobs in 2009 and what it means for our recession.

Ultimately though Ms. Cox has a terribly difficult job in putting together this budget given spending was high in the boom period and now we have little cushion.

What we're looking for is limited or no tax increases as higher taxes at this rather dire time could only deepen and prolong this recession.

We're also looking for reasonable borrowing.  It's inevitable that we'll need to borrow to cover our cash flow difficulties and it is a hope that we keep this as small as possible.

Finally hopefully some bold plans are put forth to cut costs and wasteful spending.  Eg. Cut back on consultants. Institute a hiring freeze.   Find ways to ensure departments cut back without cog in the wheel cop outs.  Reduce unnecessary or unrealistic social spending.  Cut unnecessary and extravagant travel and get rid of ridiculous and unnecessary expenses like the fleet of GP cars.  Perhaps radical new concepts like car sharing to reduce the government fleet and associated costs.  Who knows what we can expect.  Let's hope for the best.

None the less, let's see it, hopefully in full detail even.

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Quasi pro-independence? Why now?

Why, in his first interview on policy as Bermuda Democratic Alliance's new leader, would Craig Cannonier come out quasi expressing support for independence?  For such a controversial issue it seems rather odd to do, especially when it isn't clear whether he is specifically speaking for only himself or if he's speaking for the party.  The larger question would be why mention support at all when likely there is far more to gain simply by leaving it at his first suggestion of "it's up for the people to decide?"  

In today's paper upon being asked of BDA's stance on independence newly elected leader Craig Cannonier suggests

    "That's a decision for the people of Bermuda. It's my belief it can only be done through     referendum."

Brilliant answer.  It's an important issue and the best way to resolve it is to put it to the people.  It's what many people want and he could have left it at that, but he's not done.

"Personally, someone said to me if it's not broke don't fix it, but I'm of the mind of progression like any other country who's dependent, they believe in the future and progress, and that progress includes Independence. Many of the great minds of the world became independent to progress.

Natural progress for Bermuda would probably be to embody Independence. However, what's the best thing for Bermuda is still to be determined."

What does that even mean?  Many great minds became independent to progress?  Was that through progress or they stood aside from progress?  It's not very clear.  Is he speaking only for himself or for the party?  Is his first statement on policy as the new leader the best time to be promoting personal beliefs when it will surely cloud the issue on where BDA stands and leave quite a few people wondering whether they should be supporting BDA or not.

It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to jump out and tackle a highly controversial issue right after being elected leader, especially with really unclear explanations as well as a blurring of the line between individual and party.  Let's remember, a poll released last month put 74% of people against independence. 

Now, while there's nothing wrong with being pro-independence why would you take on such a controversial issue unnecessarily when you just finished giving a perfectly reasonable answer?  Even further, "Natural progress" doesn't offer any tangible benefit that would be gained for independence, especially when one considers the EU counter argument that many countries are moving towards greater dependence on a centralized body.  

All that aside, the very phrasing sounds incredibly similar to the way Premier Brown has been putting it so he ends up coming off like he agrees with and supports the Premier's argument for independence.  With the Premier's popularity rating being so low, poll rating high against it and apprehension from the international business community about independence does it really make sense to be using such phrasing let alone tackling the issue with his own personal views now of all times?

The simple answer was that it's a decision for the people.  End statement.  Anything more and you're more likely to push away more support than gain it.  This just doesn't seem like a very solid PR move and will raise a great many questions for the party at a time when they're still trying to develop momentum.  Granted BDA is new and still learning but it is likely worthwhile that they learn to avoid these kinds of unnecessary predicaments pretty quickly because public opinion can be pretty fickle when it really comes down to it, especially on highly controversial issues like independence.

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A fool and his money are soon parted

In a recent Bermuda Sun column Larry Burchall stirs up
great racial symbology to convince us that our leadership has sold us like our
slave ancestors once were and that foreign interests own us like slaves because of our
debt.  My friend Mr. Burchall is mistaken.  Cabinet and our leadership aren’t to blame for our predicament and neither is racism.  We aren’t slaves of foreign interests; we’re
still free, we just owe a lot of money.  We’re
to blame for letting things get to this state; we’re the ones who willingly let
ideals and values slip to the wayside while we gave out second and third
chances.  Cabinet didn’t force us to do anything and certainly didn't sell us out for we willingly
sold ourselves, though not into slavery but into mass debt.

1998 was the year we
could finally instill the ideals and values that many had been waiting
for.  It came and went.  So too did each year after.  2003 came and little had changed.  Speaking to Mr. Burchall prior
to the 2003 election and expressing concerns that promises had fallen by the
wayside would have resulted in a suggestion that they're still experiencing growing pains of a new leadership.  The champagne leadership and limited
achievements that was the first term celebration were to be ignored on the
basis that our leaders deserved a second chance, they were still new to leadership after all.  Steeped in great racial symbology, little
promised and little achieved we gave them their second chance.

They say fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on
me.  We were fooled into giving them a
second chance and again they squandered it. 
As Mr. Burchall has noted, spending went out of control as did our
debts.  As others have noted our leadership continued to live the high life and yet still 1998 promises lay to
the wayside.  We were made the fool.  Prior to the 2007 election we were less ready
to be fooled again, great racial rhetoric didn’t hold as much weight and yet we
gave in to the grand promises of “FREE”. 

So here we are, 2010, my how far we haven’t come.  We were made the fool not once but twice.  Mr. Burchall and others may be quick to cast
blame suggesting it is entirely our leadership's fault, they did this, they ran up our
debts, spent frivolously and lived the high life.  Sure they did these things but who allowed it
to happen?  Did we not tick the box?  Did we not give them second and third chances?  Did we get fooled not once, but twice?  Did we not readily and willingly accept
promises of “free” when it was our money that was being spent?  I’m sorry Mr. Burchall, but cabinet isn’t to
blame for our troubles, we are.  Despite
the great racial symbology I’m sorry but we won’t be slaves of foreign
interests and I’m sorry but we aren’t owned by others because of our debt.  Quite to the contrary we still own ourselves
and our freedom but like the vast majority of the rest of the people on this
planet, if things get much worse from here we won’t be slaves we’ll be broke.  There’s an old idiom that seems quite apt at
this time.  “A fool and his money are
soon parted” and I’m sorry Mr. Burchall but we’ve been foolish and we only have
ourselves to blame.

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Fully Transparent

My cousin made a brilliant remark and observation the other night.  You see, Bermuda political parties have this rather odd quirk about them that they expect you to join the party to actually understand what they're about.  They're not interested in spreading their information and philosophy in the public realm and expect you to join on the basis of who the party is before you get to appreciate what they stand for.  My cousin's solution?  He's going to join all 3 of them.

Bermuda politics is frankly a bit ridiculous.  Look over to Jonathan Starling's Catch a Fire blog and you can often find the claims of the PLP commenters there that he's wrong to be relying on information publicly available and should be seeking out the people in the know and having personal conversations with them to 'educate' himself on the truth.  Often times people are accused of relying on information available in the public domain which is deemed as false and inaccurate and yet no alternative exists except for the much suggested "join the party so you can be properly informed".  It isn't just limited to the PLP, it seems like all parties act in this manner.

While there was hope that Bermuda's newest party the Bermuda Democratic Alliance would be different, in this regard they seem to be taking a similar tack.  Upon commenting on the lack of information available for public consumption the overwhelming response from party supporters was that one should join to find out. Why?  Why does one need to join a party to appreciate what they stand for?  It doesn't make any sense. 

An interesting recent example is available on Bermuda is Another World where BDA's defacto representative Full Fullish claims:

Immediately after the party conference we sent out our draft constitution to ALL members for their comment and feed back before ratifing it, all members now have a very active way to not only know how the party works, but has an immediate and direct mechanism for defining those processes.  

This is excellent that they're involving their members but SmokingGun counters and hits it right on the money by claiming that such information should be publicly released if the party truly wants to make new waves in Bermuda politics:

You guys want to be different. Be different. Make it so no-one has to be a "member" before they get a complete and honest understanding of what you stand for. You want people's input, make it easy for them. Don't be afraid to operate in the open from the outset.

This outlines a major point of contention for many sitting on the sidelines with respect to the new party.  The party has been quick to claim that they represent "change" and "a better way" and fundamentally believe in transparency to their core but aren't delivering on the kinds of expectations that people hold.  Many want to see transparency reflected in not only government but also party dealings.  Now admittedly there will always be a need for a small segment of information to be kept under wraps, however every attempt should be made to make as much information as transparent as possible with secretive information being as rare and unnecessary as possible.  Information sent to an entire membership base simply doesn't need to fall under this kind of classification nor does most of the other information related to a party.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise if the legacy parties don't bother to up their transparency but it is a bit of a surprise to not be seeing the kind of change with our newest party.  Many were honestly expecting that it is what was meant by "transparency" and are frankly left disappointed.  As has been said many times on this blog in the past, what we most need to see from those in opposition is for them to be the change, not preach it.  

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Embrace our roots

Salvaging Bermuda tourism comes down to embracing who we are and reinventing
ourselves, not some silver bullet.  Alsys over at Bermuda Fables makes some
excellent observations
on the state of tourism and brilliant suggestions on just
how we could return to our roots.  She suggests we remember what made us great
before, why people started coming here and work to bring it back and make it
even better.

One excellent suggestion Alsys makes is that we could return to a modernized
version of British conservatism.  Before relying on preconceived notions of what
this means consider the absolutely excellent point she makes here.  Bermuda is a
very unique place unlike no other.  Our heritage is composed of a mix of British
and African cultures to which we have developed our own unique culture.  Rather
than try to shun one or another part of our history could we be embracing our
heritage to benefit from it?  Is our success in tourism tied to that which makes
us unique or by copying what everyone else does? 

A large reason why people travel is to seek out experiences different from
their own.  People used to come to Bermuda because it was for many Americans a
taste of British culture, mixed with sun, a short hop from the east coast and a
pleasant and friendly atmosphere.  Can we remake that experience?  Further, can
we do more to embrace our African roots and bind that experience into the mix? 
What is it that makes us who we are?  What experiences do we have to offer that
our core markets would want to come here for?  If we focus on and fully embrace
who we are could we offer an experience that people would make people want to come to Bermuda?  

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Increasingly Bermuda’s newest political party seems to be quite literally attempting to create what they describe as an “Obama-like movement”.  Taking a page from Obama’s election strategy playbook they’re playing heavy on inspirational hype and light on details.  Obama’s strategy counted on capturing votes of disillusioned and disenfranchising former republican supporters and it worked.  The distinction here though, is that Bermuda is not the United States.  Inspirational hype and light on details has been the Progressive Labour Party’s modus operandi for two elections now and many have grown tired of hype over substance. 

In the last couple elections we’ve seen the PLP play heavy on hype while the United Bermuda Party played heavy on details.  Hype won and details didn’t and yet in the long term, hype didn’t produce the results many were hoping for.  The new Bermuda Party may be focusing on hype with their ‘Obama-like movement’ and it may rope in many former UBP supporters who are tired of detail not producing results would it also turn off PLP supporters rather sick of hype?  There were elements of it last election when in the final stretch the PLP rolled out a raft of promises for “Free” social services to win over those not buying it.  Why would hype still be considered a winning strategy?

Bermuda isn’t the United States.  Hype worked for Obama because if he won he’d have the power to instill the ‘change’ he was promising.  Obama was racing to head up the opposition leading Democratic Party not the Constitution Party.  Hype in this instance can buy you support because you’ll have a chance to prove yourself on election.  Hype for the Constitution Party is largely irrelevant because there is less of a case you’d get the chance to back it up with results.  The new Bermuda Party is similar to the Constitution Party, they’re still rather irrelevant and unproven.

It is largely telling to watch the progress of the new Bermuda Party’s movement.  They have yet to rope in much of any of one of Bermuda’s most vocal political segments, the online blog and forum community.  Indeed, if one were to look across the internet following their recent party conference you would note that none of the prominent blogs had written anything of what happened and the only mention they received on the Bermuda is Another World forum site was who won their election and more talk about their lack of substance.   Talk and buzz otherwise has been thin and rather non existent.

The largest issue with the new Bermuda Party’s hype strategy is that they’ve still yet to clearly define themselves as much more than the UBP’s sidecar.  “Obama-like movement” notwithstanding, hype doesn’t do a whole lot to rope in disillusioned PLP supports and independents quite frankly sick of it.  Refashioning a strategy that worked in the US to apply here in Bermuda disregards the fact that we aren’t the US and represents a misunderstanding of who we truly are.  Bermuda most needs a Bermuda movement, one focused in inspiration as well as details.  One that ventures off the path of petty bickering and truly begins to involve the people as a driving force behind Bermuda politics rather than as just a tick in a box.   One that represents a significant divergence from our present political structure.  One that fights for the kind of change Bermudians are truly desperate for, the kind of change of substance that will fix our broken system and start truly dealing with our root societal problems.  Hype isn’t it.

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It’s not what you say but how you say it

How you say something often matters far more than what you say.  To
understand why consider a photo on the wall.  In that photo there is a picture
that tells a story and surrounding that picture is a frame that casts that photo
in a certain context.  Regardless of the photo, a rugged wooden frame casts the
picture in a different light than does a cold metallic one or one of a warm
bright color.  Shapes and textures also change the perception as each frame can
subtly change how we perceive the picture even though the picture may always the
same.   In politics, business and in life how we frame things can dramatically
affect how they’re perceived. 

The army serves as a good example of framing.  Soldiers are taught to stand
and walk with a tall frame because it makes them seem stronger and more
confident.  By contrast people who walk hunched over and make a habit of staring
at their shoes tend to be seen as more weak and lacking confidence.  In each
case your frame and how you present it is a reflection of how the world
perceives you.  People often see the frame long before the picture and thus will
naturally preconceive whether you’re strong or weak before even meeting you. 
How you choose to present yourself, your products and your organization can all
impact how they’ll be perceived.

In the past we’ve subtly covered how framing can impact how politicians are
perceived.  For example, we once noted a
2007 pre-election speech in which we broke down the frequency in which Premier
Brown spoke in a first vs second and third person sense.  This was but one
example of where the Premier predominantly focused on speaking in first person and
most often, referencing himself.  Is it this kind of phrasing or ‘framing’ that
lends itself to Premier Brown being perceived by a great many people as being
self interested?  Indeed if he were to primarily phrase things this way when he
speaks publically would he develop such a perception?  Other than through action
how else is such a perception conceived?

We can take a similar approach to how we examine the framings that make up
Bermuda’s official opposition.  The United Bermuda Party allowed themselves for
years to be framed as an evil white party that committed great atrocities. 
Today it matters little whether these claims are based in truth for the
perception is that they are.  Ultimately today how people perceive the UBP is
affected by how they’ve been framed.  Each initiative they undertake and word
that they speak is viewed by many from the perception that they’re an evil white
party.  As former Progressive Labour Party Chairman David Burt eloquently once
suggested it is important to define your opponent before they have a chance to
define you.

Similarly we recently
 the framing used by Bermuda’s newest political party “The Alliance”
and the risks they face by not framing themselves correctly.  In some
cases their public statements are phrased in an exclusive and imposing manner. 
Do they intentionally frame themselves in that way or is their intention to
instead be welcoming and inclusive?  If so why slouch and look at your shoes if you want people to see you as strong and confident?  Shouldn't you stand tall?  Indeed, should they not be rushing to define
themselves or risk being defined by others?

That photo on the wall translates to many things in life.  Behind that frame
could be an incredible organization, product or person.  It could reflect a
caring and genuine image of an individual or organization who wishes for only the
best of who or what they represent.  It could truly be something overlooked and yet placed
behind the wrong frame many could do just that.  They say you can’t judge a book
by its cover and yet do people tend to judge a photo by its frame?  As we’ve
noted, perception can be reality and ultimately does how you say something often
matter far more than just what you say?

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PR? Image? Perception?

The newBP sure enjoys third person phrasing.  For example, when discussing the Premier’s recent travel figures Alliance founding member and former UBP chairman Michael Fahy said:

"The Alliance is disappointed and indeed stunned at the figures released by the Government in respect of travel costs.”

Conversely when discussing recent tourism statistics current Alliance Member of Parliament Shawn Crockwell suggested:

"The Alliance supports and encourages all visitors who comes to the Island, but there must be a focused and strategic effort at encouraging more traditional air passengers to our shores,"

The issue with these two examples is that phrasing their party in this manner can create a poor perception counter to what they’re likely hoping to achieve.  “Alliance” has different connotations than “Party” and the way it’s phrased makes it seem like it is a cold oppressive and imposing organization far removed from the common man – exactly the perception the newBP is attempting to step away from.

Referring to themselves in the third person creates an ‘us vs. them’ perception that likely could drive away potential supporters and make their climb to relevance all the more difficult.  Rather than doing so the newBP may be better served rephrasing such statements to be more inclusive and welcoming.  Contrast the above statements to these simple modifications;

“Members of the Alliance are disappointed and indeed stunned at the figures released by the Government in respect of travel costs.”

How about:

“Followers of the Alliance support and encourage all visitors who come to the Island, but believe there must be a focused and strategic effort at encouraging more traditional air passengers to our shores,"

Suddenly you’ve taken very exclusive and imposing phrasing and made it sound inclusive and more welcoming.  Not only that, you boost the perception that the newBP has members and followers, increasing their perceived relevance.  Further it subversively suggests that Bermuda's newest party is about more than just the front men and that all followers or supporters of the party agree on the core value supporting tourism.  If these are the gains, why would you choose the cold and archaic sounding "The Alliance"?

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See only what I want you to see

Our latest example of spin comes from today’s paper where Senator Dunkley of the United Bermuda Party where he highlights the incredible drop in visitor spending from 2007 to 2009.  Mr. Dunkley is indeed correct in his analysis however one could be forgiven for questioning why he compares against only the last two years?  Indeed, looking back to 2001 through 2006 tells a different story than the picture he paints.  That doesn’t lend itself to his argument now does it?  When tourism was on its way up, the incumbent could do little less than to spin numbers in every way possible to accentuate the job they were doing, conversely now that tourism is on its way down the opposition is taking the opportunity to spin things the other way.  Politicians.

Looking at tourism numbers there is no denying that we’ve seen significant declines since 2007 highs.  Analyzing since 2007 however doesn’t paint a complete picture.

Let’s take a look at an old chart we put together back in 2007.

Admittedly numbers are only presented for the first 3 quarters however a comparison of 2009’s $276 million vs. 2007’s $414 million in visitor expenditure paints a rather incomplete picture.  Noting the above chart we can see annual tourism expenditures and how Bermuda had a pretty poor few years from 2001-2004.   Is it not a bit ingenious disingenuous to leave such years out of your analysis and simply compare against the best recent year while leaving out the details for the previous few?  Though of course, doing so would lessen the dramatic effect now wouldn’t it?

It’s not too late

The magic about studying research like that found in How the mighty fall is that it shows us not only how to recognize where we are but what steps we need to take to keep ourselves from failing.  It takes a realization and acceptance of where you are and what got you there.  It takes the perseverance to never give up, to never give in, but to always be willing to evolve your position.  It takes a willingness to question your direction and carefully consider the questions of others.  Most importantly it takes a commitment to recognizing not only when you’re on the wrong path but when to get off it.

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