Musings on the by-election & PLP internal elections

Post-Gonzalo

While there was widespread damage from hurricane Gonzalo last week, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as bad as what we experienced in Fabian 11 years ago.

There’s extensive damage to our vegetation, but that will recover or be replanted.  There’s an ongoing struggle to completely repair the power grid, but the majority of people now have power back, and roofs are on their way to being repaired.

On a whole, the island was ‘back to normal’ in a working sense by the Monday, more or less.

The storm will provide a short-term retail and employment boost for the local economy, which will be welcome, albeit brief.

I am hopeful though that it may lead to a more long-term boost, particularly for the green energy sector, with solar panels having weathered the storm relatively well, and many may choose – if they have the capital – to invest in them going forward.

Constituency 33 By-Election

With the surprise retirement of former PLP MP, and subsequently Independent MP Terry Lister, Constituency 33 is now in the midst of a by-election process, and both parties have announced their candidates.  No Independents have come forward at this time, although I think there’s still time for that possibility.

The parties didn’t select the people I was expecting to be honest.

I thought the OBA would either run a strong candidate from the 2012 election, such as Andrew Simmons who ran in 17, or someone ‘high profile’ from their Senate team.  In the end they went for the well known lawyer Georgia Marshall.

I don’t know Ms Marshall in a personal sense, although I know of her reputation as a formidable divorce lawyer, and I believe she’s a very strong candidate for the OBA, which will make this by-election less of an assured PLP victory as it may have been otherwise.

Having said that, despite a long-term erosion of PLP support in the constituency (due partly to boundary changes and partly due to incumbent apathy), I fully expect this seat to be won handily by the PLP.

I was expecting the PLP to field Senator Marc Daniels for this by-election.  He is from that general area, has proven himself as a more than capable Senator and winning this seat would have freed up a Senate position, allowing the PLP to develop ‘new blood’ for future electoral purposes.

However, for whatever reason, Senator Daniels is not the candidate, and former UBP MP Jamahl Simmons is.

For many this selection will be controversial due to the candidates history with the NLP and the UBP.  It makes him an easy target for being described as a ‘flip-flopper’ or ‘political opportunist’, just as now PLP MP Wayne Furbert – a former leader of the UBP – was/is.

This will be a hard one for Mr Simmons to shake, both from opponents and from internal PLP critics.  In his favour however is that he will be seen as having paid his dues and proven his commitment to the PLP since defecting from the UBP, and I think this will ultimately win over internal PLP critics at least.

More recently he has courted controversy with some Twitter comments.

Those particular comments, when seen in the context of his comments immediately before and after did not strike me as offensive, although at the time I did think they were unwise.  I understood him to have been partly quoting lyrics from a song and partly asking hypotheticals in an attempt to understand and express the feelings of alienation and hopelessness that a particular sub-group of our population experiences.

I saw the initial, and continued, controversy over his comments as being part misinterpretation (taking them in isolation and outside of context) and partly manufactured outrage for political purposes.

Neither of which should have come as a surprise to him, and which is why I personally was surprised he’d made them, knowing how they’ll be used by his political opponents.  However, he did the right thing and resigned his party position, and, to me, continued focus on them is now purely artificial, although still material in a political sense.

PLP Leadership Elections

Last night the PLP held elections for Leader and Deputy Leader, with Marc Bean retaining the Leadership in an emphatic win against Walton Brown, and David Burt winning over Michael Weeks for the Deputy position.

To me this contestation is a sign of a healthy and vibrant internal democracy for the PLP and helps give legitimacy to the positions, whereas a coronation would have signaled a stifling of internal democracy.  Which makes the coronation of Nicola Sturgeon as SNP Leader in Scotland, following the democratic reawakening of the Scottish independence referendum so surprising and concerning, but I digress…

Having a contested election forces a Party to have a conversation about what direction the Party should take, and helps bring collective legitimacy to whoever wins.  This is a strength.

New PLP Leader and Deputy Leader, October 2014.

New PLP Leader and Deputy Leader, October 2014.

The failed challengers have thus done the PLP a favour, and it would be wise for the victors to not seek to punish them, as former Premier Jennifer Smith was seen to have done to Arthur Hodgson over a decade ago.  That only encourages factionalism and weakens the Party – in some ways the ‘palace coup’ of the 2003 general election may be seen as having resulted partly from the poor handling of this issue.

Both Mr Brown and Mr Weeks are valuable assets for the PLP and Mr Bean and Mr Burt would do well to use their respective strengths to the benefit of the PLP, both as an effective Opposition and a government-in-waiting.

Furthermore, although Mr Bean and Mr Burt won, they – and the Party – should not see it as a zero-sum game.  As I noted above, contested elections allow a party to have an internal conversation about the party itself and its direction.  In the process of a conversation ones positions evolve – that is the nature of a conversation, as opposed to an autocratic one-way directive.

While Mr Bean and Mr Burt may have won, they should take heed of the conversation that Mr Brown and Mr Weeks helped happen, and the PLP would be best served taking that into account.

Although not a member of the PLP, I would like to congratulate Mr Bean and Mr Burt on their elections, and also Mr Brown and Mr Weeks for ensuring a healthy internal democracy for their party.  There were also other PLP officer elections last night, and I congratulate the successful candidates in their victories.

Gonzalo

I’ll try and give the occasional update as much as I can…

0730, Friday, October 17th

Despite predictions of the island experiencing strong winds as of 2100hrs on Thursday, it only really began to get windy around 2300hrs, at least where I’m too.  It was very much still the proverbial calm-before-the-storm.  It was actually quite a clear evening – I could see the stars quite well at times.

This morning though, it’s definitely a lot windier and overcast, with stormy looking clouds zooming overhead.  It’s also been kind of a reddish dawn.  That kind of surreal morning light that often heralds a very stormy day.  I wouldn’t say the storm’s really upon us yet, but it’s definitely strong winds and threatening to rain.

Cleared the yard fully yesterday and did a quick check on the surrounding street.  Found, for some reason, a trash bag right in the middle of the pavement outside.  Didn’t seem like a great location for it in advance of a hurricane, so I moved it to a more sheltered location.  I don’t know who’s it is or what’s in it, but it shouldn’t cause any mess where it’s to now.

I imagine, by the sky, that we’ll not really be into tropical storm territory until around 1100hrs-ish.  And hurricane territory is still slated for this evening, 1900hrs-ish.

1050hrs, Friday, October 17th

Still nothing to write home about right now.  It’s windy out, but nothing dangerous.  I think we’re still very much in the calm-before-the-storm.  I understand the waves off south shore are beginging to kick up, but here in town it’s all pretty calm still.

I’ve been around the neighbourhood this morning, making sure things are alright.  There was some tupperware rather inexplicably on walls by the doctor and nursery, so I’ve tucked those behind the wall with a stone on top.  And for some reason there’s some trash bags here and there on the street.  I was worried they’d become missiles, so I’ve tucked them into the hedges.  Seemed better than nothing.

There’s still quite a bit of debris, fallen branches and stuff, left over from Fay.  There’s nothing I can see to do with them now, but I’ve tucked some of them in with the rest hoping it’ll keep better in a pile than individual debris.  Fortunately the neighbourhood is quite sheltered, so I don’t think it’ll be that big a problem around here.

I’m expecting the rain to start now around 1pm.  It’s just overcast and gusting right now.

1320hrs, Friday, October 17th

The wind is definitely picking up now here in Town.  Still no rain, but it looks like it’s not long off now.  I’d say we’re approaching tropical storm conditions now – right now it’s more of a regular winter storm, minus the rain.  But it’s coming…

1500hrs, Friday, October 17th

Yeah, we’re definitely now in the middle of a storm.  Strong winds and rain now.

We had our first ‘brown-out’ of flickering lights, here in town, about half an hour ago.  Getting all the dishes washed now, lol!

It’s still not that terrible.  I mean, it’s rather miserable, but more a winter storm at the moment.  But definitely going to get a lot stronger and I wouldn’t want to be outside right now.

I’m sure those in more exposed areas are feeling it a lot worse than we are at the moment.

1615hrs, Friday, October 17th

It’s definitely lashing down out there now.  Heavy rain and howling wind.  The trees outside are thrashing about pretty crazy.

No more brown-outs, and I’m hopeful we won’t lose power where we’re at (tempting fate, I know!), but we’re only really experiencing the early stages of this storm now, so, who knows?

High tide is in about an hour or so, so that’s gonna mean one heck of a storm surge in low-lying areas, especially the airport.  I know powers gone off in some neighbourhoods already, and I’m expecting more vegetation to go down around the island. From what I can see out the window though, no damages in my immediate vicinity right now.

1815hrs, Friday, October 17th

Yeah, it’s a storm.  A full-on storm right now, and we’ve still got about two hours until we’re at closest point of approach.

I’ve still got power right now in town, but the lights are flickering quite a bit, much more frequently now, and I understand that quite a few of the neighbours on Woodbourne are out of power too.

The foliage is definitely getting a beating outside, though nothing down from what I can see from the windows.  Some of the nice lamposts going down the hill to Pitts Bay are swaying quite a bit too, but they’re holding up so far.

I understand the West has been hit more than other areas, but there’s a lot of people out of power.

I’ll check back in later – time for board games and dinner.

2030hrs, Friday, October 17th

Yeah, we’re in the height of the storm now.  It’s fierce out there.  I think we’re one of the few, last 10% of households with power still.

It’s too dark to see much outside now.

With the possible exception of a major event, I’m pretty much shutting down the blog for now.  I can’t see that I’ll be able to report on anything.

2100hrs, Friday, October 17th

Eye of the storm.  Went out to just check the immediate property, everything’s fine here really.

A bit further down the street, at Woodbourne and Pitts Bay, there’s a big date palm crown pretty much blocking the junction, though I didn’t go down fully to inspect it.  A lot of sea-fog out there too

Looks like power out across the sound too.

Tropical Storm Fay

Surprised and Concerned

While I’m currently off-island, I doubt I’m the only one that’s been surprised at the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Fay to the island.

Bermuda would normally laugh off a tropical storm, and while some damage could indeed have been prevented if people had taken more serious preparations – like we usually do for hurricanes, but not always for tropical storms – the damage to vegetation around the island is testament to this storm having been far more powerful than initial expectations.

Remember Fabian? An AP file aerial photo of the Causeway after Fabian.

Remember Fabian? An AP file aerial photo of the Causeway after Fabian.

The PLP has raised the question about whether the Government was properly prepared for this storm.

While there will be many who will criticise the Opposition for – as they may see it – making politics out of this storm, I personally think they are acting as per their constitutional responsibilities, of holding the Government to account and hoping that their criticism will ensure better preparation going forward, especially with Gonzalo on the horizon.

Fay Questions

I do think questions need to be asked about the Government’s preparation regarding this storm.

Going solely by the RG articles in the immediate aftermath of the storm the impression given was that:

  • Both the Premier and Deputy Premier were off island immediately before and after the storm.
  • The Acting Premier, Minister Moniz (the AG) indicated that the Emergency Measures Organisation (EMO) was not embodied in advance of the storm and for the duration of the storm – indeed, the reports indicate the EMO was only convened on Sunday afternoon, delaying a full-scale organised response to the storm.
  • It’s not clear to what degree the Regiment was involved in the initial preparation for the storm – although they were eventually partially embodied following the EMO meeting on Sunday afternoon, it’s not clear to what degree the Regiment had emergency response teams in place before and during the storm.
  • A full embodiment of the Regiment still does not appear to be in place, despite ongoing concerns about debris post-storm and in preparation for a potential hit by Gonzalo in the next few days.

Fabian Expectations

I think that after Fabian, most of us expected that the following was now the situation in the event of Bermuda having a strong probability of being impacted by tropical weather:

  • The EMO to be set up 24 hours in advance of the storm event, and in place for the entire duration of the storm, until the EMO deciding that a state of relative normality has returned.
  • The Regiment to be partially embodied (100-200 soldiers) in advance (24 hours) of the storm event, with squads based mainly at Warwick Camp, but also at the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre in the East End, and somewhere in the West End (say Port Royal Fire Station or Dockyard).  Another unit could, arguably, be based at the Botanical Gardens in order to facilitate access to the hospital immediately.  This would allow a more rapid deployment of forces (as well as emergency assistance during the storm), ensuring quicker clearing up operations – and facilitating a full deployment if warranted.

It’s hard to knock the Government here, as it was a tropical storm and not a hurricane, and, of course, the priority right now is on post-storm operations and preparations for Gonzalo.

However, a post-mortem of how Fay was handled should be done – and I’d expect such to be standard – in order to learn from it and improve for the future.  The PLP is right to raise issues along those lines, and the Government, once the immediate situation (and Gonzalo) are over, the post-mortem should be transparent and public.

Other Fay Notes

There’s a few additional thoughts that I think this storm has raised:

  • This storm has been a catastrophe for our already struggling agricultural sector.  As such, it helps highlights the challenges to this sector in Bermuda, which has importance far beyond the simple provision of food.  Local agriculture impacts the ‘Bermuda image’ (important both for tourism and our quality of life), labour (an alternative to tourism and IB), biodiversity (key ecological niches), self-sufficiency, reducing the flow of money out of Bermuda (for food imports) and reducing carbon footprints (from imports) – and no doubt additional issues.  Bermuda needs a national agricultural plan (I believe such was proposed, but I haven’t heard much since), seeking to improve and expand local agriculture.  This will need to include such issues (among others) as organic standards/certification, bulk purchasing, local agricultural research, agricultural apprenticeships and scholarships, rehabilitation of derelict agricultural land, stronger planning protection of agricultural land and greater protection for local produce (such as a carbon tax on imported produce to subsidise the cost of local produce), etc.
  • There remains the need for a new crossing to replace the Causeway.  Work was started on this after Fabian, but put on hold with the advent of the economic crisis in 2008.  With Fay, and now potentially Gonzalo, this needs to be revisited.  The Causeway being destroyed again like in 2003 would be catastrophic for the island.
  • It’s likely this storm will have an impact in the debates relating to ending conscription.  I support the complete demilitarisation of Bermuda (and the disbanding of the Regiment – as proud as I am of my own time as a soldier), provided we put into place something else, some kind of national service, that is able to continue the post-hurricane role for which the Regiment currently really finds its purpose, beyond ceremonial pomp and circumstance.
  • The airport has yet again been severely impacted by a tropical weather event, particularly as regards flooding to the ground floors.  Recently there was a competition for designing a new airport – I hope considerations are made to ensure any new terminal is more robust in this regard.
  • It wasn’t that long ago that heavy rain caused delays to waste collection.  One can easily imagine the impact of Fay and, possibly, Gonzalo, having a similar domino impact in the weeks ahead.  There are also questions that need to be asked about improving our overall waste-collection system, and with memories of the ‘fires of Pembroke’ not that long ago, the sudden increase of organic waste (fallen trees, etc) risk similar problems developing at the Pembroke Dump site.  I’ve suggested a few policies in the past regarding this, such as in-vessel composting there (quicker composting and uses a smaller land area), neighbourhood communal composting programmes and a bottle bill to improve collection of beverage containers.
  • There’s now a risk of public health issues arising from this storm, primarily in terms of mosquitoes and rats – appropriate measures will have to be taken to reduce this.
  • We need to seriously look at a national green infrastructure plan here.  And by that I mean the planting of endemic and natives along roadsides and around critical infrastructure.  These trees are less susceptible (not invincible, just better) to storm damage, and as such could (in the long-term) reduce the impact of these storm events on our transport and critical infrastructures.  Even a linear mangrove planting [pdf] along the Causeway and airport could greatly reduce the impact of storm surges and storm waves on these key infrastructures.

Final Comments!

Apart from all that, check on your neighbours, especially the elderly and those with young children.  Make sure they’re both recovering from Fay and prepared for Gonzalo.

Make sure you’re prepared for Gonzalo itself – consider Fay a friendly reminder on hurricane preparedness.

Stay safe – Bermuda will recover; we can rebuild or replace property and plant new trees.  We can’t replace you.

For me, I’m hoping to return to the island imminently, however Gonzalo risks affecting that plan…  

Half a Million Milestone

Sometime over the last two weeks my blog hit a key milestone, and I only just realised…

The blog has now hit a total number of views of over 500,000, that is half a million.

500k+ Milestone!

500k+ Milestone!

That probably doesn’t sound like much compared to some other sites, and I have no idea how it compares with the other Bermudian blogs, historical or current, specifically the more politics-focused ones.  However, to me, it’s still quite a milestone, and one that I’m fairly chuffed about.

When I started this blog I wasn’t sure what it would amount to, and there’s been times when I almost let it go dormant and die.

As anyone who’s actually tried their hand at blogging – and I mean real blogging, writing articles regularly, rather than simple posting quick comments on this or that site – it’s a lot harder than one might initially think.

I’ve learned a lot over the eight years that I’ve operated this blog.

I’ve learned or improved on some key skills of editing, writing, presentation, formatting and meeting deadlines.  I know there’s a lot I still have to learn, but for something I started rather naively, and outside my comfort zone (I use computers, but I’m no IT guru!), I feel I’ve come a long way.

It’s also forced me to learn about issues I wouldn’t otherwise have looked into – it’s challenged me, as have commentators or readers who prefer to give me private feedback.

I think the quality of writing, and overall general presentation of the site, has improved greatly from my rather clumsy start, and I’ve found that many of the skills, especially the improvements to my writing skills, has been transferable outside of the blog.

True, the viewership has suffered due to the neglect it suffered at times, as I gave priority to other things in my life, like my decision to go back to school as a mature student in the hope of coming out of the economic crisis with new skills that can be put to the service of Bermuda.

In my first year I came close to 20,000 views, but the second year reached 142k, and the third year hit 186k.

The fourth year saw the begin of the decline as I left to return to school, only seeing 86k views, year five saw 20k, and years six and seven were both in the 13,000s.

This year, the eighth, has seen an increase, currently at around 23k, and I believe it’s possible to begin recovering to my previous viewership should I choose to put the time and effort into it.

Of course, there’s now the added competition of Facebook and even Twitter.  The bulk of online discussion, of the nature that the core Bermudian blogs once dominated, has shifted to these new forms of social media.

This has made it harder to find the motivation to keep a blog like this one running – it’s easy to instead get sucked into the whirlpool of instant conversation that these other social media offer, and lose the motivation to post a proper blog post. social media

Nonetheless, I think that blogs still have a key role to play in the ecology of our political discourse.  They may be dinosaurs, relatively, but they have a role to play, complementary to both the traditional media (newspapers, news-sites) and new social media (Facebook).

After all, one can only formulate so much of an argument in the forms common to the new social media formats or in the to and fro of FB conversations.

Blogs like these allow for a more detailed argument and opinion to be formulated and can serve as a foundation for FB conversations.  They can be more than that too, even if only to help the blogger themselves clarify and articulate their ideas, including being able to go back and reflect on earlier positions.  That’s something that I think is harder to do on FB.

My initial milestone was 100k; then 250k.  Having reached 500k I’m not sure what that means for this blog.  I feel it’s at a bit of a crossroads to be honest.

Ebol-A-pocalypse?

I’ve been a bit pre-occupied for the last couple of weeks, so apologies for the lack of posting.

It’s always hard to get back to posting after a little hiatus, expected or not.

I’ve got some drafts going on the Public Sector Reform Act and a few other things, but I thought I’d just post a quick little something to try and kick-start writing properly again…

And so, Ebola.

In our modern world with its various apocalyptic films and TV series dominating popular culture, and with globalisation shrinking our world, increasing connections between populations while also accelerating socio-economic collapse in the imperial periphery to the benefit of the imperial metropoles, the fear of a global epidemic has to rank right up there with the worst of nightmares of humanity in the early 21st Century. Biohazard

For my own generation, who came of age in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, exchanging the fear of a nuclear apocalypse with a disease-based apocalypse, this is perhaps not surprising.

And with the recent concerns over Avian Flu, Swine Flu and MERS virus, with all the apocalyptic panic that accompanied these (along with various outbreaks of xenophobia), the latest scare of Ebola is just the latest scare of this nature.

Western Ebola?

While I have very little fear of Ebola heralding a global apocalypse, or even being a problem in Bermuda, I don’t think anyone can deny it is a serious problem.  And it is a massive regional crisis in West Africa, with the scope of expanding throughout the African continent and South-East Asia.

The ‘West’, the imperial metropoles of the world, a continuing legacy of first formal imperialism and, second, the unequal relations between nominally ‘free’ former colonial peripheries that maintain and reinforce dependency and exploitation, is not, in my opinion, at risk of being directly affected by Ebola.

At best I can see a few minor cases like we’ve already seen in Spain and Texas.  I have no doubt that in the coming weeks we’ll see additional, similar, cases, but I don’t see it becoming a problem outside of medical facilities – in the West Ebola will be contained.

Quite frankly, the West has a robust medical infrastructure which, despite its obvious failures (especially in the USA’s hyper-privatisation system), is more than sufficient to contain Ebola.

Epidemic Ebola

Where Ebola is a threat, and I mean a real crisis and likely to reach epidemic level, is in those areas of the world without a robust social infrastructure, particularly medical.

In practical terms, for various reasons, those are areas of historical underdevelopment and those areas which are effectively ‘failed states’ at the moment.

In other words:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • South-East Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines – to various degrees)
  • Parts of Latin America
  • Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan

In these areas, already underdeveloped by imperialism, historical and current, where the social/medical infrastructure has been under-developed through unequal and exploitative relations with the West, or where war has led to a collapse of previously robust (relatively) infrastructures, it will be hard to contain Ebola, and there it may become epidemic, with long-lasting consequences for their societies and economies.

These already under-developed areas will become even more under-developed accordingly.  And it’s no coincidence that Ebola has broken out in the still recovering war-torn Sierra Leone and Liberia (with Guinea being affected by their conflicts too) after all.

Ebola will, however, indirectly affect the West, primarily in terms of increased desperate immigration (further destablising intermediary countries – North Africa and the Levant in particular), as well as becoming potential incubators for terrorist organisations, likely leading to a greater and greater ‘Fortress West’ and the occassional military interventions as an expanded ‘War on Terror’.  It’s hard not to imagine groups like Boko Haram or AQIM taking advantage of the Ebola-destabilised regions.

There’s a few other notes that I’ll only touch on a little here:

  • Ebola has evolved into a more perfect killer.  In the past it killed far too rapidly (within 48 hours) – as a result, infected persons were limited in how far they could spread the disease.  They died before spreading the infection too widely.  The current virus seems to take anywhere between five to twenty days, greatly increasing the range of contagion.
  • Globalisation has made it quicker and easier to expand the range of contagion greatly.
  • Western media coverage has betrayed its biases again – the coverage of the few infected Western citizens has received far greater coverage than the thousands infected and dead in West Africa.

Final points:

  • Western panic of an Ebola apocalypse is misplaced in my opinion – the West, including Bermuda, is not about to be brought to its knees by Ebola.
  • If we want to (and I think we have an ethical imperative to do so) stop the spread of Ebola we need provide assistance to the social and medical infrastructures in Africa and South East Asia.
  • Even more, we need to create a less exploitative relationship with these areas.  Specifically, we need to engage in fair trade relationships; we need to transfer (for free) technological know-how; write-off all debt to these regions; pay reparations for at least more recent military interventions; and stop undermining these regions through proxy wars.

Syriana – ISIS & Perpetual War

A new war?

As I type the UK (and thus, by extension, Bermuda) is on the verge of a new war in the Middle East.

Although to what degree this is a ‘new war’ or just a continuation of the 1991 Gulf War is very much open to interpretation.

I want to be clear here:

  • I am no fan of the Assad Government, the Iraqi Government or Iran.  These are all rather brutal regimes with various degrees of ruthlessness.
  • I am no fan of ISIS – I do not consider them anymore representative of Islam than I consider the KKK or the Westboro Baptists representative of Christianity.  In fact, I think if we’re going to call them anything it should be the Jahiliyyah (ignorance) State (al-dawlah al-jahiliyyah – الدولة الجاهلية).  They are a brutal terroristic outfit who defame the name of Islam with their barbarism.

Having made the above clear, I cannot support this new ‘war’.

Counterproductive…

Rather than solving the problem of ISIS this war will only compound the problem.

Crises of the 21st Century...

Crises of the 21st Century…

To use a rather cliched saying, attributed to Einstein ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.

ISIS exists, and to the extent that it exists, as a result of the ‘war on terror’ initiated by war criminals George W Bush and Tony Blair, and continued by Obama (more through the drone wars than boots on the ground).  It seems insane to think that launching a new war will have any more of an effect than making things worse in the long-term.

It also seems rather hypocritical that the West is suddenly taking action against ISIS, but failed to take any actions against Israel with their recent war crimes, but I digress…

And let’s not mention the absurd alliances that this new war involves, or the lessons the West should’ve learned about the mujahideen in Afghanistan, proxy fighters for the West, who then turned on their previous handlers.  But I digress again…

Bombing Syriana will only generate more extremists and further expand the proxy regional war that is rather misleadingly being described in the media as the ‘Syrian civil war’, drawing more and more into it, and forcing more and more people into barbarism and misery.

It is particularly concerning that there is no clear strategy in this war – something which you’d think the West would’ve realised was a key factor in the quagmire that was the 2003 Iraq war.  The scope for mission creep and blowback (terrorist attacks in Western citadels) is inescapable and unpredictable.

Waging a new war only creates new martyrs, fertilising a whole new generation of extremists who bastardise Islam.  It does nothing to address the causes of this extremism in the first place – a lack of hope, economic and social collapse and the lack of democracy (and with the coup by Sisi in Egypt the door for a democratic moderate Islam has been slammed shut).

If we really wanted to defeat ISIS and its familiars, we need to address these root causes; we need to address poverty and stop supporting authoritarian regimes on the basis of Western interests (like how we turn a blind eye to the dictatorships of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt, because they’re ‘friends’ of the West).

Steps away from war

One of the first steps to dealing with ISIS should be:

  • Brokering a truce between Syria and the various Syrian rebels.  This would halt the advance of ISIS by allowing Syria and the rebels to bolster their defences against the ISIS advance.  It also provides the foundation for a wider political solution to the so called civil war, while also allowing for humanitarian aid into civilian populations – thus reducing the hopelessness of the people, on which extremist ideologies thrive.
  • A political solution in Iraq is needed, one that addresses the sectarian tensions that have been generated there.  This may need a move to full federalism there, between the Shia south and east, the Sunni west and the Kurdish north.
  • Humanitarian aid is desperately needed in the region.  Just as ‘one catches more flies with honey than vinegar’, we win more hearts and minds (and reduce the number of potential recruits to exploit) through helping people fleeing the crisis and providing humanitarian aid to civilians in general.
  • A truce in Syria will also need a wider resolution of the tensions between Russia and the West, and addressing the growing Shia-Sunni tensions that are being exploited in the region for various geopolitical reasons.
  • Israeli apartheid needs to be ended.  As long as it persists there can be no peace in the middle east.
  • Western hypocrisy in the region needs ended.  The West cannot claim to stand for democracy while at the same time aiding and abetting Israeli apartheid and authoritarian regimes such as Egypt (receives billions of dollars in military aid, despite the coup outdoing Tiananmen for deaths of unarmed protestors) or Saudi Arabia.  This fuels hatred of the West and contributes to extremism there.  We either support democracy or we don’t.  Right now we don’t, beyond lying to our own people.  If we want people to trust us, perhaps we should stop propping up brutal regimes while pretending to be defenders of democracy.  Just a thought…

I cannot support this war.

It’s easy to get worked up in the face of ISIS atrocities, but to rush into a war without a clear strategy, without guarding against mission creep, without an exit strategy, without regard to the fact that every time we’ve done this type of war in the past (Afhganistan, Iraq, Libya) it generally makes things worse, all we’re doing is contributing to the problem.

This war will not solve the problem of ISIS.  It will just make things worse.  For everyone.

 

Terry Lister’s Retirement From Politics

Retiring

I was caught off-guard by Mr Lister’s decision to retire, prompting an intriguing by-election situation.

I can imagine Mr Lister was having a lot of stress, both from former colleagues (be they MPs or PLP members/supporters unhappy with his decision to leave the PLP, having won his seat under the PLP banner) and the general shenanigans that our incredibly divisive, tribalistic and negative politics still involves.

However, I was convinced he was moving ahead with a third party option, and was waiting to see how it developed – who was rolled out as candidates, what policies it would espouse, what ideological direction it would take. TLister

My feeling was that it would likely be a successor to the National Liberal Party, that is, a centrist party.

In that there would be little ideological differentiation between the PLP and the OBA.  Despite the gulf that exists between their supporters and MPs, from an ideological perspective the differences are more nuanced than real.  Different shades of gray, at least on major ideological issues.  About the only difference, if one were charitable, would be that the PLP believes our class system should reflect our racial demographics, while the OBA generally adopts a colour-blind approach which serves only to reinforce our racial inequalities.

Despite this, I would have welcomed a truly centrist third party, as I would have hoped that would attract the centre-right wing of the PLP and the centre-left wing of the OBA, thus pushing the PLP to the left and the OBA to the right, ideologically.  And from my perspective, greater ideological diversity in our political sphere is a good thing, and one that is better in terms of policy innovation and resilience.

While not an ideological centrist by any means, I would have been willing to assist such a venture, for the sake of it’s potential for kick-starting an ideological rebirth for Bermudian politics, as well as in the hope it would serve as a catalyst for transcending our traditional divisions.

The two-party system, to me, reinforces and helps reproduce the very real racial-economic divisions in our society.  This two-party system, of course, was a reflection and a product of pre-existing racial-economic divisions, but I believe it has since helped maintain these divisions, be it intentionally (political calculus) or unintentionally.

Why, and why now?

I’ve read Mr Lister’s explanations for his decision.  I think he’s mostly telling the truth – he seems, quite frankly, burnt out.

I also suspect he feels personally betrayed:

  • He cites the PLP and OBA MPs failing to back up an amendment he proposed earlier this year, for example.  I severely doubt he would try to table such a bill without first courting support for it, at least for a seconder.  I imagine he did so and was given reason to expect he had wide support sufficient to pass the amendment – which itself seems like something hardly objectionable.  That no one then backed him up in the House was no doubt humiliating to him as a result.
  • I also feel that he feels he did have a few people lined up, ready to be announced as candidates for his new third party (as part of a long-term campaign strategy, of regularly announcing new candidates), however, for whatever reason, those people backed out, leaving his plans in tatters.  It would be hard not to see Kim Swan’s decision to join the PLP in this light.  If I was an Independent MP in the HoA – in the way he became one – looking to set up a third party and looking for prospective candidates for centrist party able to appeal to both OBA and PLP voters, I would have approached Mr Swan.  I don’t know if Mr Lister did or not, just saying that’s what I would have done if I was him.  And so Mr Swan’s joining the PLP would throw my plans into complete disarray.  And if I was already on the verge of burning out, and had already spent a good chunk of my working life as an MP previously, yeah, I can see deciding to retire.

Now, sure, some will quite rightly say that if one’s disgusted with the current state of politics, then that’s even more reason not to duck out, but instead to roll-up ones sleeves and redouble ones efforts.

However, I can also empathise with burn-out, and I commend his service to the country over the years – and I respect his attempts to be a good example of what an Independent MP could be.


By-Election Time

Inevitably, the focus now goes to the subsequent by-election.

Under the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968, Section 51(2), a by-election must be held within two months of a member vacating their seat in the House of Assembly.  At the very least we’ll have a new MP by the end of November.

The seat is widely considered a PLP safe seat, but the question of who’ll run for them is of interest.  The PLP Senators make obvious candidates, with Marc Daniels being from the west.  There’s also the question of what effect the PLP leadership challenge might have on the by-election (and vice versa).

As for the OBA, the by-election offers an opportunity for a shuffle, as well as the long-shot chance of a stronger majority in the H0A.  It’s likely their choice of candidate will be seen through the prism of BDA/UBP factional rivalry though.

Also, is there a potential for an Independent or a newly minted third party to take a gamble and try contesting this election too?  I’d like to think so, as difficult a challenge as it would be.

Also, see Beachlime’s take on this.