Totally Swamped – And Brief Thoughts on OPEC & Geopolitics…

Still here, just busy!

My apologies to readers – the blog has been a bit dormant of late.  I have no excuse, I’ve just been completely swamped with things, and the blog has had to take a backseat accordingly…

OPEC & Geopolitics

I couldn’t help notice the insistence of OPEC – or, more specifically Saudi Arabia – on continuing to over-saturate the market with oil, leading to a collapse in oil prices (although I don’t expect that to be reflected in our BELCO bills anytime soon…).

Now, this has had an immediate effect, globally, on some key geopolitical actors that also happen to be overly reliant on petrochemicals.  In particular, I’m thinking of Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

All three of these countries have been, shall one say, ‘at odds’ with the interests of Saudi Arabia and the USA (Saudi Arabia and the USA also having some tension too).

Photo credit to 'Green & Gold News' of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Photo credit to ‘Green & Gold News’ of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Russia and Iran have been central to the proxy war in Syria-Iraq, providing key diplomatic, financial and military support to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and (more Iran here) the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.  Even Venezuela has played a minor role in criticising Western and Saudi interference in Syria.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have also been waging proxy wars, to various degrees, throughout the region, notably in Bahrain (where a de facto Saudi military invasion has prevented the overthrow of the minority Sunni dictatorship) and Yemen (where Shia Houthi rebels are increasingly the dominant power).

And despite a thawing of US-Iran relations, notably over the mutual opposition to Da’ish in Iraq, the US and Iran have been political rivals in the region for over three decades now.

Venezuela has been less of an issue to Saudi Arabia than it has to the USA, being as it is in closer proximity to the US and what the US regards as its ‘backyard’.

However, socialist Venezuela has developed strategic relationships with Iran (and Syria) and Russia, and been critical of Western and Saudi interference in North Africa and the Middle East (especially as regards the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya and the Saudi financed coup against Morsi in Egypt).

Over-saturating the oil market, causing a collapse in the oil price, directly impacts Iran, Russia and Venezuela – it weakens them financially, which subsequently weakens them politically.  At least in Venezuela, and to a lesser extent Russia and Iran, this could lead to political ruptures, serving as a pretext for proxy actors to attempt a coup or psuedo-revolution.

Am I in tin-foil hat territory?  Perhaps.  However, we know the West has cynically hijacked legitimate democratic protests to effect regime change, and we know the West has engaged in economic terrorism to facilitate regime change – as has Saudi Arabia.

So, who knows?  Even if I am seeing a conspiracy where there’s none, who wants to bet the consequences will be the same – a weakened Iran, Russia and Venezuela, and even perhaps regime change?

 

The Sun Set & Blog Matters

Sun Archives Inaccessible?

While the Bermuda Sun closed down some months ago now, up until a few days ago it was still possible to access their online stories.  However, now when one tries to go to a Bda Sun link one just gets a picture of a setting sun.

I get it, it’s poetic.  However, I am disappointed that it seems the Sun’s online archive is no longer available.  There were some key stories in the Sun which the RG simply refused to run, and now without access to them, well, if you’ll excuse the phrase, it sort of whitewashes a good chunk of our recent politics and history.

Maybe there’s still a way to access these articles, I don’t know.

On Blogs

Despite a blog explosion earlier this year, I don’t think there’s really been any net change to the blogs really.

The explicitly pro-OBA blog The Soapbox only ever posted four articles and has been dormant since September – I’m not confident of it being very active, if at all, going forward.

Vexed Bermoothes, a relative veteran of Bermudian political blogging pretty much went dormant earlier this year, and as of a few days ago ceased to exist.  One just gets a ‘this webpage is not available’ message now.  Which, like the Sun’s archives, is disappointing.

21 Square went dormant a while ago, and due to technical problems was inaccessible for a period of time – and lost some of its archives too.  I’m hopeful it will resume a degree of activity going forward though.

Politics.bm remains up, but has been dormant since March, 2013.

New Onion was dormant for almost exactly a year, but has posted a flurry of articles in September – nothing since however.

Beachlime remains active, as does Bermuda Blue, and, to a more sporadic degree so does Bermuda Independent.

There is a new blog however, which I’ve been meaning to link to, Thirty-Four, by Kristin White, which has been quite active and an interesting read.

International Day of Persons with Disability – And Other Stories

I’m still a bit swamped with work here, so apologies for the lack of posts.  This post itself will be a bit of a comments on various news stories that have caught my eye lately. social media

America’s Cup & International Day of Persons with Disability

Today, December 3rd, is the UN recognised International Day of Persons with Disability, an event that is supposed to help raise awareness about disability issues and serve as a rallying point for progressive change.

The Government has some events going on today in relation to it, and I’ve got an Opinion piece on Bernews where I propose some changes that Bermuda needs to make Bermuda accessible for all.

However, there’s also a lot of focus on the announcement that Bermuda’s won the America’s Cup hosting rights for 2017, and this is largely crowding out media space and popular attention, pushing disability issues very much to the sidelines.

Now, I’m cautiously optimistic about the America’s Cup coming here.

I think it has great potential, although I do have concerns about our infrastructure, concessions and the risk of this event being used to bypass proper planning – and one just needs to look at the problems Brazil had in the run-up to hosting the World Cup, when resources were taken away from social welfare in order to develop World Cup infrastructure.

So, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Personally, I’m not into sailing.  It’s a mystery to me, and the Yacht Club and the Dinghy Club and such is a world away from my own reality.  Nonetheless, I can see the potential benefits – I just think it’s important to not be blinded to the potential pitfalls too, and in so doing we’re more likely to avoid said pitfalls.

I think the 2017 America’s Cup though does give us a target to making the island accessible for all, and I hope that we take the opportunity of today’s America’s Cup celebrations to resolve to do just that.  We can do it, and the 2017 date makes as good a target as any.

Public Humiliation = Child Abuse

Another news story was this one, where a parent decided to ‘teach his son a lesson for behaving badly at school’ by publicly humiliating him – forcing the son to stand at the Trimingham Hill Roundabout (where Johnny Barnes waves from in the morning) with a sign saying ‘I’ve been rude in school’.

I can understand the parent’s motivation and possible exasperation with his son.  But this action was, in my opinion, counter-productive.  To me it constitutes a form of child abuse.

Basically it teaches the lesson that one wrong justifies another – in this case public humiliation (a form of bullying) in reaction to the child misbehaving at school.  It should also be noted that in the article the father notes that:

“I refuse to beat him.  I’ve spanked him in the past and have even given him licks in front of his school mates but nothing seems to work.  I’m not going to let my son to disrespect anyone.”

So to teach him not to disrespect people you disrespect him?  That logic fails me.  And physical beatings don’t work – they actually compound the problem, especially when done publicly (‘given him licks in front of his school mates’).

The trigger for this was a five-day suspension for cyber-bullying, according to the article.

Cyber-bullying is serious and, like any bullying, is usually by someone who feels powerless trying to get any sense of power they can.  The son needs counselling – as does the father – to work out what the underlying issues are.  And public humiliation is likely to be counter-productive here – by disrespecting the son publicly, you’re more likely to lead him to lash out by increasing his sense of powerlessness.

The Family Centre can provide assistance for these situations, and I implore parents to speak with them before engaging in counterproductive public humiliation.

The choice the father has made here is quite frankly child abuse, and the police should have stepped in to stop this public abuse.  I don’t want to see the father prosecuted, but I think it’s clear that something has gone very wrong here, both internally to the family and institutionally at both the school and police level.

The Airport Deal…

Where to begin with the airport deal?

I’m generally opposed to P3’s (public-private partnerships) as I see them as a bit of a trojan horse.  They actually end up costing the public more than if the public had built it in the first place.  The ‘private’ aspect of them demands a profit, whereas the ‘public’ aspect is focused on value for money use-value of the infrastructure.  These are intrinsically opposed – private profit versus social profit.

Having said that, if P3’s where the way the Government decided to go, it should have gone to an open tender RFP.

The way this has been handled by Government seems to be yet another self-induced scandal (it’s developing into one) that could have been easily prevented.  It’s made the OBA look extremely hypocritical (their criticism of P3’s under the PLP Government, or their reactionary actions regarding the City waterfront – because they didn’t think the open tender RFP was done properly, for examples), and they just look disingenuous.

Redeveloping the airport has long been planned.  Everything was in place for a relatively smooth RFP.  Why go about it exactly the opposite way of building trust and transparency?  Even if there’s nothing untoward going on, in our polarised society and with the disappointments of past actions (under both the PLP and the UBP, and more recently the OBA), it should have been obvious that the Government would have to go even beyond best practice if it wanted to ensure buy-in across the board.

Instead, the OBA erodes its political capital even further…

Personally, I’m conflicted in that I don’t like our ‘colonial overlords’ interfering in our affairs, yet they’re making some good points and the OBA is being disingenuous.  And as long as we remain a colony, our colonial overlords have not only a right but a duty to interfere in our affairs like this.  So I’m stuck between colonial overlords and a cynical government – hoping people power can provide an out for me!

The Casino Gaming Act 2014

Government has tabled the Casino Gaming Act 2014, with the intention of getting it through parliament before the New Year – they’ve tabled it just in time to get it passed I think, through first and second readings and through the Senate.

I think it’s clear I’m opposed to the introduction of casino gambling through this manner.  Both parties promised a referendum on this issue, with current OBA MPs being extremely adamant that such was ‘the right thing to do’ when in Opposition.

The OBA promised this referendum throughout 2013, and abandoned it only after proposing a ridiculously biased question which seemed calculated to cause public uproar – and provide a pretext for imposing casino gambling via a three-line whip.

The Casino Gaming Act 2014 is a massive act – 117 pages long and written in legalese.  And it is being rushed through now as people are distracted by preparations for the holiday season, the America’s Cup celebrations and a new, developing, scandal concerning the airport development.

I call on the Government to withdraw the Casino Gaming Act 2014 and instead engage in section-by-section town-hall consultations before moving ahead with the legislation.  

Right now people do not have the time to review such a massive act and lobby their MPs from an informed manner.

Quite frankly, the Government has mishandled the issue of casino gambling from the very start, and this rush with the Act seems to be a rather cynical move, which will only further erode public trust in the Government, at least on this matter.

 

Referendum (Clarity) Act – Proposed

Following on from the release of my draft Right of Recall Act earlier this week, and my draft Fixed Term Elections Act earlier in the year, today I’ve released my draft Referendum (Clarity) Act.

I actually wrote this in December 2013 – I wrote it in reaction to the Gaming Referendum Act 2013 which ignited a storm of controversy due to the incredibly loaded question it proposed for the then promised referendum on casino gambling.

At the time I expected the Government to amend the question to a more neutral one, even if by an Opposition motion. I wasn’t expecting them to drop the referendum altogether – and when they did I decided to focus on the petition for a referendum on casino gambling, as that seemed the priority once they dropped it.  I didn’t want to confuse the issue by having two related things going on at once, so I put this draft Act on the backburner. fountain-pen-1441111-m

I think it’s important to note that before the referendum was dropped, I sent an earlier draft of this Act to every single MP and Senator, OBA, PLP and Independent.  Only PLP MPs and Senators replied to that email, offering some constructive criticism (typos, legal phrasing, etc) and generally being supportive of it.  I say that to stress that this proposed Act shouldn’t be new to any MP or Senator – they’ve had access to at least an earlier version for almost a year now.

My approach since the 2012 election was announced (and thus a key factor in my deciding to run as an Independent then) has been that while criticising policy is all well and good, I should take it a step further and offer alternatives or concrete proposals, rather than just simply criticise things.

So, rather than just simply criticise the Government for not implementing Fixed Term Elections or Right of Recall legislation yet, I’ve taken a stab at preparing workable drafts that the Government (or Opposition) could take and introduce – and hopefully get passed – thus expediting their introduction. I realise my drafts may subsequently get amended in the process – in some cases purely procedurally (I’m not a lawyer trained in official drafting of legislation) or more substantively.

My proposed Referendum (Clarity) Act simply seeks to strengthen the Referendum Act 2012, correcting a flaw in the 2012 legislation that was highlighted by the biased phrasing of the Gaming Referendum Act 2013 question.

It’s based on UK legislation that empowers their Electoral Commission to rule on the neutrality and intelligibility of referendum questions, including the power to postpone referendums until an acceptable question is proposed. This was most recently seen with the referendum on Scottish independence, with the original question being ruled biased in favour of independence, and subsequently replaced by a more neutral question.

Quite simply, the policy exists in other jurisdictions, it has a proven precedent, and we can introduce it quite easily.

I welcome feedback on this draft Act too, although I’m confident (having received feedback from MPs earlier, and having consulted the UK Electoral Commission in drafting it), that it’s good to go as is.

If you think that my draft Referendum (Clarity) Act is good, or at least the underlying principle of it is, then please help me get it introduced – please contact your MP, or write to a Senator, and encourage them to adopt and/or support it!

Thank you!

A pdf version of the draft Act can be found on Bernews here.

New Work Permit Policy Delayed

Just a quick note this.

I welcome the decision by Minister Fahy to delay the implementation of the proposed new work permit policy.

I have not had sufficient time to review the full policy document, however I am aware – and from my cursory reading support – that criticisms have been made regarding it.

Personally, I was surprised that a document supposedly developed for public consultation stated quite blatantly on the front cover that the policy was to come into effect on December 1st (the ‘consultation’ document being issued in October).

The front cover of the consultative document.

The front cover of the consultative document.

To me that sent the wrong message regarding consultation.  It gave the impression that no matter what, the policy is coming into effect on December 1st, and the ‘consultation’ was merely a formality.  It wasn’t a proper consultation, but an exercise in a fait accompli.

For a true public consultation a second policy document, incorporating the consultative feedback, would have been required before the policy came into effect.  At best the document could have stated approximate timelines, not a concrete date within which it was pretty much impossible to ensure adequate feedback, rewriting and subsequent issuing of the final version.

Granted, you’re not going to get a document that everyone agrees with, but if you’re going to issue something for public consultation, it should be done properly.

Right of Recall – Draft for Consultation

Apologies for the lack of posts lately – last week was rather hectic for me.

I’ve released a draft Right of Recall Act for public consultation, with the hope of (a) getting constructive criticism to improve it; and (b) encouraging the Government to speed up their commitment to this, and other, political reform(s).

In developing the draft I relied heavily on existing recall legislation in British Columbia (Canada) and the UK, as they have a related legislative history to ours.  I also consulted other jurisdictions, namely various US States, Venezuela and Switzerland. fountain-pen-1441111-m

I’ve tried to strike a balance between direct democracy and not letting the process be hijacked by party politics.

I’m hoping for feedback, both here, on Facebook, the Bernews post and the RG article.

I’m sure there’ll be people who will either attack me personally – and ignore the draft itself – or ignore it completely out of political animosity towards me.  However, I’m hoping that most people will see it as an effort to accelerate the pace of political reforms and contribute some genuine feedback on it.

I would love it if a Senator or MP adopts the draft and introduces it as a private bill on my behalf.

Beyond that, in as much as the Government claims to remain committed to these political reforms, by introducing a draft and encouraging feedback on it, the Government too can benefit from the feedback in designing their own Act, should they choose not to adopt the one I’ve offered.

I cannot stress enough, that if we, the electorate, do not push for things like this, if we don’t advocate and act for their adoption, then the politicians have absolutely no incentive to change the status quo – a status quo that they actively benefit from.

If you want our politicians to become more accountable to the people, then you need to take action to ensure they adopt these reforms rather than simply hoping they’ll do it out of the goodness of their hearts.  It doesn’t happen that way.  They will only adopt these reforms if they calculate it’s in their interest – in this case, that they’ll suffer a backlash at the polls if they don’t.

Of course, in our severely polarised racial-economic political reality, both parties believe they don’t need to worry too much about that possibility due to a combination of our polarised politics (where key voting blocs will vote for their party against the other no matter what) and the historical passivity of our people.

Nonetheless, swing voters determine election outcomes here.  And if an issue such as these political reforms grows enough to capture a significant chunk of the swing vote, then both parties will push to adopt the issue as their own.

So, hopefully there will be some good feedback from this draft Right of Recall Act, and hopefully voters will lobby their MPs to get a move on, or to even adopt my offering.

The full draft is available on the Bernews article itself, or you can open a pdf here.

Congratulations to Jamahl Simmons

Jamahl Simmons, the PLP candidate in the constituency 33 by-election, has emerged the winner in today’s by-election.

Mr Simmons won with 462 votes, versus 326 votes for Ms Marshall of the OBA (or 58.18% to 41.05%).

There were also six spoiled ballots, however it’s impossible to tell whether these ballots were intentionally spoiled or not.

The turn-out was relatively low, as is usually the norm in by-elections, with 794 of the 1,327 eligible voters turning out – that is, there was a 59% turn-out.

This equates to a slight swing of 1.56% in favour of the PLP – in 2012 the PLP won with 56.62% to the OBA’s 43.48%.  This is contrary to my expectation that he would win but with a reduced margin of victory.

Now, it’s been an eventful day for me personally, so I’m not going to write too much right now about this…

At most, I’d simply like to congratulate Mr Simmons for his win and for running a pretty energetic and positive campaign (although I’m aware there’s some criticism surrounding the constituency ‘Feed the Family’ event).

I am hopeful that Mr Simmons is also aware of the question marks that remain over him as a result of his political past and the way he became the PLP candidate in this by-election, as well as his Twitter controversy earlier this year.

I say hopeful because I believe these should drive him to prove himself, both as a constituency MP and on the national stage.  I am hopeful this background will lead to him being a diligent and considerate MP.

As for Ms Marshall, I was disappointed by her refusal to engage in the media.

For someone of her intellectual caliber and professional prowess I was surprised at her reluctance in this regards.  She gave the impression she was afraid of being challenged by investigative journalists, and instead retreated to the illusory safety of a stage-managed campaign by the OBA Party itself.

We never really got to hear what she was about beyond campaign managed PR pieces.

Nonetheless, I believe she remains a potentially quality candidate, and I hope she takes the time to reflect on this experience, and I hope she doesn’t bow out of politics going forward.  She has the potential to be an excellent representative going forward – whether one likes her or not on a political level, I think it would be churlish to deny her potential contributions to our parliament in the future.