Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Mouse Trap-Battle of Ukraine

It might seem like a strange headline, but the war in Ukraine really is over already. Some wars have their ending written the moment they are started - the fighting and dying being the interlude between the two. Take for example World War II. Hitler was warned by his Generals not to start the war in 1939, because Germany's rearmament was not ready and the prospect of over extension was obvious. Hitler didn't listen, and the moment German tanks crossed the Polish border the war was lost - for Germany. The case is remarkably the same here.

What started as a very obvious western coup of the then Russia friendly government of Ukraine turned into a civil war. Although it is denied, by both sides, the West and Russia have fed and lead the opposing forces in the Ukraine from the get go. However, unlike almost all other proxy wars the two have waged against each other since WWII, this time the collision between the two has become almost inevitable. It almost happened earlier in Syria when Chinese and Russian war ships steamed into the waters off its coast to challenge an immanent American-led assault. The US blinked, and the rest is history. Now the battlefield is Ukraine.

The Novorossyia forces (NAF), also known as separatists to the Ukrainians, led by Igor Stelkov (former Russia army Colonel), created what can best be described as an "elastic defence". What that means is they spread themselves out thinly around towns, villages and cities throughout the Ukraine provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk that they claim as their own. Rather than negotiate with the NAF, the newly self-appointed government of Ukraine immediately responded with military force. First with weak incursions by a handful of armored personnel carriers (APCs), which were chased by residents out of communities, and then more radical "Right Sector" (neo-nazis) and "National Guard" units.

The Ukrainians gradually took each little community or town one by one. The NAF gradually withdrew to the areas directly surrounding their two cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. On the face of it, the Ukraine army appears on the verge of victory, but things aren't always what they seem. Firstly, as the NAF slowly withdrew from their elastic defence, they took a very serious toll on the Ukraine army's equipment and troops. Estimates are in the tens of thousands of deaths and wounded. The Government of Ukraine vigorously denies it, but the decree of mandatory service last week strongly suggest the numbers are true, and Ukraine needs replacements. The NAF, of course, are also taking serious casualties, but they are in reinforced defensive positions giving them a strong advantage. The traditional figure, if the attackers do not have air superiority, which in this case Ukraine does not, is about 10-1. Given each city is rumored to have at least 10,000 fighters, the Ukrainians would need about 150-200 thousand troops to take them. They are nowhere near that.

How then does Ukraine propose to overcome this tactical problem? It seems they intend to rely on massive artillery. In particular, the use of Grad and Smerch rocket artillery. Both these weapons systems were designed to tear apart NATO tank formations by the Soviets. They fire multiple rockets in each salvo, and flatten the ground grid by grid. Ukraine has been using these rocket systems already in smaller locals, but these are large cities - 500,000 to 1,000,000 people. Herein comes the part where you lose the war once you start it.

To fight a war in a cities of this size is a massive effort. The casualties are huge. The destruction wide spread. The civilian casualties unconscionable. Take the battles in Syria's cities for example. Or Stalingrad, Leningrad, Berlin, etc. The Ukraine army is slowly, methodically being drawn into a trap of its own making. For starters, it has transferred a massive amount of its men and equipment from the West of Ukraine to the front in the East. Those forces are focused around the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and being warn down. These are its best units. However, the biggest danger for Ukraine is that the vast majority of its army is now within range of Russian artillery/rocket forces without those same forces having to leave Russia. Furthermore, the Ukraine forces are effectively without any air support.

I call it the "Mouse Trap". Russian forces, having lured the Ukraine army east, with the NAF being the cheese, can now trap those forces behind the Dnieper River - unable to defend the western part of Ukraine - including Kiev. That would be the metal part of the bar coming down on the neck. A good example of this is the Donetsk pocket that formed between the Russian border and southern Donetsk province. Ukrainian forces, following ambitious orders of the new President of Ukraine Poroshenko, sent 3 of the best and largest battalions they had to close all the border points between Russia and Ukraine. These forces swept north of Maripol and continued along the Russian/Donetsk border capturing crossing after crossing - until they came up against fortified emplacements waiting for them around Torez area. Then, suddenly, way back where they started the swing, the NAF captured a relatively small position that cut the entire force off from any resupply. Without air support or resupply, units like the 79th and 72nd airmobile brigades were systematically destroyed where they were trapped. Many have died. Many have surrendered to Russia at the border. Most of their equipment is destroyed. That battle continues. Point is, they were lured in and then destroyed, helplessly.

On a much bigger scale, this is what I believe Russia is doing to Ukraine, and in a sense its western allies. The calculation is: will the West go to war with Russia over Ukraine? The obvious answer is no. Being that the answer is no, Russia has a free hand to really act at any time it chooses in Ukraine. It may allow Ukraine to wither away in a battle of bloody attrition in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and then move in when its citizens can no longer stand the scenes of civilian casualties and destruction. It may choose to move sooner to save the inhabitants, and bring its people along board. One thing it certainly will not allow is a NATO presence of any kind in eastern Ukraine, and western Ukraine is also questionable. Putin still sits back, with many cards up his sleeve, with the cat like smile that has become famous. Europe entertains the thought of already deflating economies, and what a Russian withdrawl from their economies would mean - instant depression. The US has too many balls in play around the world to react, and even if they could, what can they do to the Russians that the Russians can't do back to them? Not much.

It's a game of chess. A friend once called it Wizards Chess (after the famous Harry Potter scene). I call this particular strategy the "Mouse Trap", and Ukraine is the mouse.























     

Saturday, July 19, 2014

All the King's Men - Part 6 - Paul Davis and the RNCA





Paul Davis is running for the PC leadership race - the new one. The last one went off the rails like a train derailing at high speed. It was ugly, messy and well ... that about covers it. Davis was elected in the district of Topsail as a result of a by-election in 2010. A dashing, and well-spoken MHA (as opposed to any of the rest of the PC MHAs), Davis quickly made it through the ranks to the Cabinet table. He has held a number of cabinet positions in a very short period of time, mostly as a result of the political carnage at the top of the PCs over the last four years: Minster of  Transportation; Minister of Service NL; Minister of Child and Youth Services; and Minister of Health and Community Services. However, this post deals with the time just before Davis entered the provincial scene as an MHA.

Davis became best known in the province as the public voice for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC). He joined the force in 1985 and retired in 2010 - just as he entered elected political life at the provincial level. As part of his service i the RNC, Davis served on the Executive of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association (RNCA) - from 2005-2010. It is this period that casts a shadow over Davis's judgement and leadership qualities.

The RNCA is essentially the "union" for officers of the RNC. The RNCA lists, as its first objective as: "The goals and objectives of the RNCA are to improve benefits and working conditions for police officers." Nothing inherently wrong with that. Every union, or in this case "professional association" does the same thing. However, unlike other trades, or professions, the RNCA are restricted in how they can "improve benefits and working conditions." The primary restriction on that practice is a ban on political activity by RNC officers - ie: those that make up the RNCA:

From the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Regulations:

"Officer's Conduct:
       7. (1) (A) A police officer shall not:

           (d) wear the emblem, mark or insignia of a political party or in another way manifest political                               partisanship.
      (3)  A POLICE OFFICER WHO FAILS TO COMPLY WITH OR OTHERWISE CONTRAVENES A PROVISION OF THESE REGULATIONS IS GUILTY OF AN OFFENCE.
Seems straight forward enough. While officers have the right to advance their positions through the RNCA, the law of the Province requires they do so without "manifesting political partisanship". However, that is not what's been happening - and Davis had a hand in that.

The RNCA's entry into official political partisan activities first appears in 1999 with a $200.00 election contribution to PC candidate John Ottenheimer - yes the same John Ottenheimer that is now also running for the PC leadership (much more on him in another post). It made no other donations to any political party. In that same year, "Coppers" (the RNCA Mess) donated $200.00 to the PC Party. That's where the long relationship between the RNCA and the PC Party started. Also, in that same year, RNC officers were banned from staging protests by the provincial Liberal government - which caused fury in the ranks of the RNC. Whether or not the entry into political donations is tied to the dissatisfaction of a ruling against them is uncertain - although it pops up again in 2007.

In 2007, while Davis was an RNC officer, and a member of the Executive of the RNCA, the force became entangled with the then PC government in contract issues. Specifically, the PC government refused to grant the RNC the wage increases they were demanding, and the matter had to be settled by arbitration http://www.gov.nl.ca/lra/arbitration_awards/pdf/20070531_Provincial_Government_Public%20Services%20Secretariat_Executive_Council_and_RNCA_Arbitrator_Fagan_Christine.pdf 

It was the only year the RNCA refused to contribute to the PC Party, and instead made a donation of $500.00 to the opposition Liberals:

1999 - John Ottenheimer    - $  200.00 (election)
1999 - PC Party                - $  200.00
2001 - PC Party                 -$ 1250.00
2002 - PC Party                 -$ 1250.00
2003 - PC Party                 -$ 1000.00 (election)
2003 - PC Party                 -$ 1750.00
2004 - PC Party                 -$ 3000.00
2005 - PC Party                 -$ 1800.00
2007 - Liberal Party            -$  500.00
2008 - PC Party                 -$ 2000.00
2009 - PC Party                 -$ 2000.00
2010 - PC Party                 -$ 2000.00
2010 - Paul Davis               -$ 1000.00 (by-election)
2011 - PC Party                 -$ 2000.00
           Liberal Party            -$ 1200.00
2011 - Paul Davis               -$ 1000.00 (election)
2012 - PC Party                 -$ 2000.00
           Liberal Party            -$ 1650.00 

When the story was cast under light by the Telegram in Dec, 2011, they received this response from Tim Buckle - RNCA President:

"The RNC Association supports the political process... Fundraising by political parties is an aspect of politics, and we have supported both (the Tories and Liberals)"

Buckle admits that "fundraising" is "an aspect of politics". In other words, Buckle admits that the Association has broken the law by violating the prohibition on partisan politics incorporated in the "Regulations". 

Now, the stated goal of the Association is to "improve benefits and working conditions for police officers". In other words, get better pay, benefits, etc for its members - who are all RNC police officers. That is its primary role. Therefore, it can be easily argued the RNCA is making financial contributions to the governing party to influence its ability to get those increases and benefits. The problem with that is it violates the Criminal Code of Canada:

"(2) Every one commits an offence who, in order to obtain or retain a contract with the government, or as a term of any such contract, whether express or implied, directly or indirectly subscribes or gives, or agrees to subscribe or give, to any person any valuable consideration

         (a) for the purpose of promoting the election of a candidate or a class of party of candidates to                          Parliament or the legislature of a province; or

         (b) with intent to influence or affect in any way the result of an election conducted for the purpose of                  electing persons to serve in Parliament or the legislature of a province."

It seems clear that the RNCA, including by his participation Davis, withdrew financial support of the PC Party when contract negotiations were forced to arbitration in 2007. It also seems clear that the RNCA started contributing to the PC Party (and parties in general) after a conflict with the then Liberal government in 1999. The "implied" message being quite obviously that political donations will be held back if contracts are not negotiated to the RNCA's satisfaction. That would violate the Criminal Code, and its corruption provisions. It is also quite obvious that the RNCA intended to influence the result of an election, because it donated to Davis and the PC Party directly in election and by-election contributions. 

I personally had a similar type situation indirectly with Davis in 2010. He, along with Terry French, were presenting on election readiness to the PC Party convention. While sharing the stage with Davis, French advocated that delegates should approach paving contractors for donations - reminding them where their contracts came from. When that issue hit the press French did not deny he had said it. More importantly, for the purposes of his leadership integrity, Davis did not come forward and admit the comments were made. Coincidentally, French is now Davis's co-campaign manager for the leadership. 

The bottom line is that Davis was involved with making political donations from the RNCA to the PC Party from at least 2005-2010. He accepted personal political donations from the RNCA for his election to office. All of which appear to violate a number of laws. That raises the question in my mind: Is Paul Davis fit to be premier of this Province? The answer: He looks the part, but his actions say different.


















Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Great Uncoupling

The war in Ukraine is about a number of things: language and culture; nationalism; buffer zones; resources; and even bees. It has become the playground for a hybrid proxy war between the "East" and the "West". Like the Lend Lease program of World War II between the US and Britain, Russia now appears to be supplying arms to rebels in East Ukraine while trying to remain officially neutral. On the flip side of the coin, the US and allies have openly supplied the Ukraine government with money, arms, and reportedly soldiers - or private military  contractors. To be clear, there are no innocent parties here. There is also no right or wrong side. This is about one thing - interests.

It is also extremely naive to look at the Ukrainian civil war as a one-off. An isolated conflict on the bridge between Europe and Asia. It is far more than that. In fact, the Ukraine conflict is the final tremor in the "Great Uncoupling". To understand what's happening to the world one needs to go back to the early 1990's and the "fall" of the Soviet Union. The question is: Did the Soviet Union lose the Cold War, or did it simply change tactics and create the "Gold War". In other words, did the Soviets, and as importantly the Chinese, decide a military standoff was a flawed strategy, and the better strategy was to beat the West at its own game - namely financially.

When the Berlin wall fell, Russia and China became "quasi-capitalist" societies. By which I mean, fundamental governing structures remained in place, but production of goods and services changed somewhat. Western countries, and particularly Western corporations, began to rely on cheap Chinese goods to drive their economies, and endless supplies of Russian natural resources to feed their production. Over time, the West accumulated huge trade deficits with the East, and more importantly huge debts to cover it. The debts were financed by the East. Now China is on the verge of becoming the largest economy in the world. Similarly, Russia is the great energy warehouse for Europe. Both have highly developed space programs, defence programs, and technology in general.

Fast forward to 2010, and the World Economic Conference in Davos, Switzerland. At the conference both Russia and China insisted on a new "world reserve currency". They argued that, especially after the collapse of the US economy in 2008, that the US currency was no longer strong enough to fit that roll. They were turned away. However, it didn't end there. Now enter the Ukraine crisis.

The United States reaction to the Ukraine crisis has been to financially act against Russia. However, that has suited Russia's purpose. It's given Russia the reason it needed to secure itself from financial instability. It also gave Russia the excuse it needed to take the next major step in the "Gold War" - namely, isolate the indebted countries of the West from the demographic market places of the East. Russia and China immediately started this process by creating, in a sense, a sheltered monetary union between themselves. Firstly, the massive gas deal between them was to be paid in their national currencies - not US dollars. That is the blue print that each country wants, not just for each other, but also the non-aligned BRIC countries like India, Iran, Brazil and the like. By way of example, India's most recent purchase of a Russian aircraft carrier. Another important development was Russia's moves on "card transactions". Russia took steps for credit card companies that essentially make Western cards useless in that market, and even created its own chip technology for cards.

The lesson to learn from these actions is quite simple: Now that Russia and China have the West in an indebted position they aim to starve Western production of markets. For example, Russia and China are creating their own "IMF". They will lend, etc to the developing world in competition with the already existing IMF (which they see as Western dominated). The currency involved with their IMF will be the Chinese Yuan - not the US dollar. Their primary market will be the BRIC countries - which also have the largest demographic markets for consumption of goods. The West will be faced with a limited market for its goods - a market dominated by heavily indebted countries, whose debt is primarily owed to the East, and whose populations are the fastest aging in the world.

In other words, the "Great Uncoupling". The splitting of the world into two camps: North America and Europe vs the rest of the World. The old Soviet Bloc, China, and BRIC versus the rest. The end of the "New" World Order, and the beginning of another. It's a financial war that the West cannot win. On every level, strategically or tactically, the West can not win in a financial war. Largely, a position it placed itself in by losing the discipline that gave it rise in the first place, and the inability to recognize the nature of the financial war since the 1990's. Living far beyond its means, and being helped along the way by those that were only too happy to help it along the way.

So, in many ways Ukraine will be the litmus test of each sides power. Will the West challenge Russia's counter moves in Ukraine with military force? It's abundantly clear that Russia is prepared to do so. It's far less clear that the West has the appetite, or even the means, financially or otherwise, to do so. Will the West simply recognize the apparent inevitability of its financial outflanking, or will it fight til the last man? In a world of mutually assured destruction a nuclear war seems out of the question. Will the West see a large scale conventional war as their one and only last hope? Not likely. The Russians and Chinese, not to mention countries like India or Iran, would be at least their equals. The great irony is that, frankly, the West is no longer in a financial position to fight a large scale war, while the East's debt is minuscule in comparison. yes, we live in a world of ironies at the moment. We also live in a world on the edge - on the edge of divide. At the end of a pseudo World Order, and on the verge of a quite different World Order. But for now, we are on the cusp of the "Great Uncoupling".