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, October 11, 2014

Newfoundland and Labrador's Revolution

This piece is my opinion, but may be shared by many.

It's been four and a half years since I returned to my ancestral home in Newfoundland and Labrador. A stranger in a strange land to be sure. The haunting, almost pre-historic beauty of the land and sea spoke directly to my soul: "this is where you're meant to be-this is home". However, as I was to find out, not all was well in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Awash in oil revenue, the likes of which it had never seen, and led by a "messiah"-like figure in Danny Williams, the Province was in  full blown party mode. Drunk on promises of never ending fortune and neo-nationalist calls by Williams to be "Masters in our own House" people were unwilling or unable to see, or didn't want to hear, that Williams was leading them into financial ruin. For those that don't know, this place has always looked to a "strong man" for leadership - likely dating to its Irish roots. Williams fit the bill. Local son done well, with gold in his pocket and a silver tongue firmly placed in cheek. "Danny" could do no wrong.

Williams cherished the role. Known for having an ego a mile wide and a mile long, Williams stoked the people's passion for a better place. A place where they were in absolute control of their destiny. The oil revenues that never existed before 2003 became 33% of a provincial budget suddenly and massively expanded. The economy roared to life and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians jumped on for the ride. New homes sprang up like grass in the spring. Every imaginable man-toy you can imagine popped up in every yard and driveway through the land. Businesses became enriched by government and personal debt-driven spending, and as long as that money kept coming from the provincial government the party would go on.

Unfortunately, Newfoundland and Labrador had never experienced a boom, and therefore never experienced a bust. It's the inevitable result of a resource dependent economy that exports to far away lands. Like any business, the far away lands are the customers, and when things go bad for the customers things also go bad for the suppliers - us. That was already happening back in 2010 when I first came home. China and Russia were pushing for a new world currency at the Davos International Forum on economy. They were already engaged in a financial, low-grade economic war with the US. Along with them were the BRIC countries - most notably India, Iran and Brazil. Also back in 2010 the US was massively expanding fracking to release natural gas and oil reserves which would put them in a position of energy independence. All these major, and very obvious foreign forces were already at play then, the result of which is starting to be seriously felt now. Yet, nobody in the government of Newfoundland and Labrador twigged on?

Despite all the external factors, Williams continued to sell people that somehow this Province could be "Masters of our own House". He knew better. In the world of global economies, no country is a master of itself. Not the United States, not Europe, not Asia - nobody. Williams knew this all too well being a businessman with international holdings. Yet, like the Pied Piper of Newfoundland, he led the people in a trance down a very murky road. One that was to his liking and his benefit.

He bragged of the investments in healthcare, but chose to have his heart-saving surgery done in the US. He railed against giveaways of provincial resources, but happily bought Crown Land (enough to build a small city) at a well under man-dated price of just over $300 an acre. He sold his offshore oil service companies to Quebec firm SNC Lavalin while they did work for the government on the Lower Churchill development - despite chastising the previous Liberal government for conflicts of interest. He appointed his former employees, supporters and friends to places throughout the hierarchy of the government, despite lambasting the Liberals for doing the same. In short, Williams behaved as Premier as if the rules of modern politics and economy did not apply to him. Unfortunately, it was ours, not his, money and destiny at stake. That was apparently lost on him.

And if you dared to stand up against him, well, there was a special place in hell for you. The best way I can describe this treatment for dissenters of Williams' will are the words now Finance Minister Ross Wiseman's Executive Assistant, Chick Cholock, leveled at me, in my home, and in front of my wife, with the kids playing upstairs. I had announced that I was considering running for the leadership of the Party, suddenly available after Williams' quick exit. The words were this:

" If you try and run for the leadership we will destroy you. We will destroy you financially. We will destroy you personally. We will destroy your name."

Then, just as he left my home, he turned at the door, and said:

" I am with the backroom, and we hope you make the right decision."

It's a personal story for me, but it's useful. In the Williams' era to dissent or deviate from the "backroom" was to invite ruin upon yourself any your family. Newfoundlanders of course already knew this. The idea that opposing meant losing everything did not appeal to many. In the nut shell, this was how Williams enforced his will. Reward is great, but so is punishment.

Four years later things have changed. The people are changing. Their expectations are changing. They are seeking answers to the questions that are now becoming obvious to them. Why are the roads still so bad after $16 billion in oil revenue has come into the coffers? Why are people still leaving? Why are the much vaulted iron ore projects in Labrador evaporating? Why are civil service jobs being cut? Is Muskrat Falls really the project we've been sold? What will happen to us as oil prices continue to fall? Why can't I sell my home?

Williams and, most recently new premier Paul Davis, continue to try and suppress dissent by filing lawsuits like confetti at dissenters. A desperate bid to keep control in a place spinning out of their control. Dissent is now loud. Dissent is unstoppable. Not just for the government in place now, but for the one to come next year. The political culture in Newfoundland and Labrador has under gone a massive and sudden change brought about by a sense of betrayal. A realization that somehow the all knowing Williams has lead them afar. Reality is crushing fantasy, and people are beginning to realize the cost to them personally may well be enormous. A moment in history, of a place 500 years old, has been squandered. That one of their own, a man they trusted and revered, may have betrayed them. Danny Williams often referred to people who refused to see the value of his actions as "traitors". Now, the same words may well be used against him. Such is the Newfoundland and Labrador revolution well under way.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Ukraine Rope a Dope

The situation is turning from bad to worse in Ukraine for that country's government. Its policy of flashy pincer movements to try and capture high profile objectives for media consumption has come to its natural conclusion - utter failure. As I wrote one month ago - The Mouse Trap - NAF forces were sucking the Ukraine army east to lure them into battle within the strategically convenient, and plausibly deniable, Russian guns. Since that time Ukraine has lost most of its operational air force to missiles, and has seen entire brigades of men wiped out along salients located near the Russian border.

Rather than recognize what should have been the obvious, the Ukraine government continued with the policy of "not giving one inch" and remained in place, trying all the time to crush the will to defend by massive artillery strikes on cities. However, just like Hitler did to his Generals, notably the 6th in Stalingrad, the Ukraine government refused to give ground to a more favorable position. The result of that somewhat reckless decision is now the same result Hitler found - encircled forces. At the time of this post there are 9 encircled formations of Ukraine troops with an estimated total strength of 20,000. For an army the size of Ukraine's, this number represents a decisive loss. What makes matters worse is the knowledge that the units now trapped, and the ones trapped prior to this and already eliminated, represent the entire core of Ukraine's professional army.

The situation in north and central Luhansk is essentially a standoff, with neither side making any bold moves at this point. It has become a static front. The same applies to the west of Donetsk city. Ukraine continues to try and make fruitless attempts to cut off Gorlovka, north of Donetsk, from the rear. The result has been mixed, and has resulted in high casualties with no tangible reward. It is to the south of both Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (provinces), lined by the Russian border, where Ukraine has suffered the most dramatic and catastrophic losses - in men and position. It began with several Ukraine brigades being trapped in the "South Pocket" along the Russian border, and ended with approximately 1500 soldiers being released back to Ukraine with 10,000 missing. It also resulted in the capture of large amounts of Ukraine tanks, and more importantly artillery. With the essential destruction of the Ukraine air force, artillery on both sides has become the tool for battlefield dominance.

That brings us to today, and tomorrow. Having tied up a large percentage of Ukraine troops at the north and central fronts, and with Ukraine thus far refusing to withdraw to positions more defensible with fewer troops, the NAF has moved in the South. Essentially, the move came from near the Russian border two days ago, including an amphibious landing just east of Mariupol on Ukraine's south coast. Simultaneously, NAF units in Donetsk city counterattacked toward the South. The resulting squeeze caused a large Ukraine retreat, but not before two more large pockets of trapped troops were created. At the time of this post Mariupol is surrounded on two sides, with the western resupply/escape route being rapidly closed. NAF units are fanning along the north of Mariupol in an attempt to block Ukraine units from moving south to intercept advancing NAF forces. The goal appears to be the City of Melitopol. From there the NAF have quick access to the Crimean border (Russia) and the Dnieper River cities to the north.

I call this the "Left Hook". Basically a very large flanking maneuver. Having sustained all the blows the Ukraine army could throw at it, the NAF is now countering an exhausted foe - hence the title "Rope a Dope". With Ukraine's entire rear exposed, including all the way to the capital Kiev, it will have no choice but to rapidly withdraw West, and re-position forces to its southern rear. That opens the door for the NAF to easily move West, and that is where the next move comes - the "right uppercut" if you will. The NAF will then be in position to move on Kharkiv city, and the oblast in general - in the North. It will be free to advance in the centre and bypass (if still heavily defended) or capture Slavyansk and area moving directly to the City of Dnepropetrovsk on the Dnieper River - which is to become the new westerly border of a new Novorossyia (New Russia).

The last front to be explained is the Kherson/Odessa areas. Once the NAF capture and secure Melitopol, the Ukraine defences along the Crimea border are exposed from the rear. At that time the separatist region of Moldova, Transnistria, which houses Russian and "Transnistria Self-Defence Forces", is likely to strike southward toward Odessa.

All these moves combined mean a few things. Firstly, it appears that although there are peace or cease fire talks ongoing, they are likely for show at best. Secondly it means that Ukraine will cease to function as a country. Its already desperate financial position will be crippled by the loss of one half of the country - the most resource rich part. Thirdly it means that Ukraine will become landlocked and essentially a new "pocket - like" area. If NATO were to move into this area, they would be surrounded on three sides by Russia, Novorossyia, and Belarus. It would be indefensible. Therefore, Ukraine, or what's left of it, turns into an economically barren no mans land between East and West.

In any case, the "Mouse Trap" is done, the "Rope a Dope" is done, and now it's time for the "Left-Right" combination punches. I understand Putin is a judo champ, and he may have a judo analogy for this, but for now this is mine.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Ukrainian Genocide.

This woman's eyes have haunted me since 4:00 p.m. Ukraine time, June 2, 2014. Her name was Inna Kukuruza. She was a wife, a mother, and a citizen of Luhansk city. On that day, June 2, 2014, she made a fatal mistake walking past the City's Administration building after work. She, and many others, had her life ended in a hail of unguided rockets fired by a lone Ukraine air force jet. However, unlike the rest of those dead around her, she did not die immediately. She lay there for seconds, all filmed by the ever present phone cameras, and asked to speak with her daughter. Then she died. What the picture above doesn't show is her mangled legs, or her missing foot. She bled to death. My heart broke for her at that moment.

It was just the beginning of a campaign by the Ukraine military, and its paramilitary forces known as "National Guards", of killing civilians throughout the Ukraine provinces (known as Oblasts) of Donetsk and Luhansk. A slaughter that Europe has not seen since the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Yet, through all the fog of war, a clear pattern has emerged. The Ukraine army approaches a "rebel" (NAF) area, normally a community. They establish fire bases around it, with varying types of artillery, and then they start shelling. It was the same in Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, Gorlovka, Donetsk, Luhansk, and every other community in the two break away provinces.

First the infrastructure is targeted. Specifically, the electrical power stations. Once these facilities are knocked out, and no power flows: sewage systems shut down; water systems shut down;  hospitals can't operate well; commerce can't function; and on and on it goes. The clear and obvious strategy is to place the citizens of the community in misery. To turn them against the NAF in a psychological warfare conducted with artillery. Of course, the artillery and its ferocity, terrifies the people all on its own.

Second, health and transportation are targeted. Bus stations and train stations are hit. Hospitals of all types are hit. Even schools are hit. The pattern repeats itself in every community the Ukraine army assaults. There is no mistake. At this point the citizens are not just terrified, but also trapped. They can't leave the chaos. They are corralled in a hell no civilian should have to suffer.

Then, the civilians themselves are targeted. Specifically, their homes, apartments, shops, and city centres. The victims have ranged from the very elderly, and in some cases mental patients, to the youngest children and everyone in between. The shells and rockets don't have a conscience - the people that fire them are meant to.

Slavyansk became the model for all Ukraine army operations since. Surround the community. Do not allow escape. And fire. Small caliber mortar fire was the start. There were many reports of it on social media, but the "main stream media" refused to report it, or its damage. As if encouraged by that, the Ukraine army brought in larger mortars, then field artillery. They got away with all that too, despite pictures of the destruction and the civilian victims flooding social media. There was no outrage, or reporting in the main media. The NAF refused to budge, so the Ukraine army brought in even bigger guns - self-propelled 152mm guns. Monsters of artillery, these weapons created massive, indiscriminate damage and casualties. Not completely satisfied with this level of destruction, the Ukraine army started using air burst white phosphorous shells at communities on the outskirts of Slavyansk, and then Slavyansk itself. The Russian government drew the line there and raised concerns about it at the UN. It was dismissed, and the  Ukraine army carried on.

Then came the battles around Donetsk city, Gorloka and Luhansk city. A whole new form of artillery was deployed - Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS). At the low end of these systems is the GRAD, and on the high end the "Tornado", "Hurricane, and "Smerch". They can fire up to 40 high explosive rockets at a time. They were designed by the Soviets to break up tank formation and create chaos. They are lethal and can level entire complete grid squares when deployed enmasse. They are also unguided. The use of MLRS took the ferocity of the conflict to an all new level, and with it a rapidly increasing civilian death and wounded toll. Pictures of grandmothers , fathers, children, and even priests - with their bodies torn to pieces - began flooding the social media. So grotesque were the results that You Tube began taking films of the victims off their site.

As if this wasn't a great enough outrage, the Ukraine army upped the ante one more time. On July 29, 2014 the Ukraine army fired four, of a reported five available, SS-21 ballistic missiles at the NAF held community of  Snezhnoe. The missiles are massive, and carry a warhead of up to 1000 lbs. They can be used to deliver nuclear weapons. In this case they carried high explosive warheads. These were designed as, and remain, weapons of mass destruction. Even the US government admitted the missiles were fired - yet they did not cause any damage. The reason? Russian S-300, S-400 anti-missile/air units on the Russian border shot them down before they impacted Snezhnoe. If the Russians had not intervened, the loss of life would have been in the thousands. It is here that apparently the US and West were prepared to draw the line on the Ukraine army. There was no condemnation by the West, but there was also no condemnation of Russia for shooting them down.

The death toll so far in the Ukraine war against the Donbass Region (Luhansk and Donetsk) was estimated to be around 10,000. The wounded many more times that. Over 250,000 refugees have fled - mostly to temporary camps lining the Russian side of the border. Those that remain are suffering constant shelling. Constant terror. But, that's the point of it - right? The Ukraine government always refers to the NAF as "terrorists", yet the only side terrorizing its citizenship seems to be the Ukraine government itself. The Geneva Convention is supposed to protect civilians and civilian institutions at a time of war, however the lawyers in the crowd claim this isn't a war. It's war-light. It's an internal insurrection. Although the Ukraine government itself has accused Russia of invading it at the UN Security Council. It would seem, therefore, that the Ukraine government considers itself in a state of war. In that case, the rules of war as outlined in the Geneva Convention should apply to them.

If, for whatever reason, the lawyers succeed and the Ukraine government is not restrained by the Geneva Convention, then there is always the International Court of the Hague. It clearly details that attacks made against civilian populations, or terrorizing civilian populations, or forcefully moving populations is a crime against humanity. There can be no doubt in any right thinking person's mind that what Ukraine has committed against the Donbass is a crime against humanity. Inna Kukuruza was a member of humanity. She did not deserve to die in that blood soaked street in Luhansk city. There was no need. She did no wrong. Her only crime was to be a citizen of a break away region of Ukraine. As far as I'm concerned, Ukraine will never be able to whipe that spot of her blood off their hands. Her final appeal to speak to her daughter, her eyes betraying her terror, the helplessness, will never leave me.