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)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The People's Turn in Canada

Tuesday night was the revenge of the average person in Alberta. A modern day political slaughter that saw the now former Premier resign both his seat and his leadership before all the votes were counted in his riding. A "socialist" NDP government swept out the corporate-obedient PC's leaving just two "conservative" governments in all the provinces of Canada - Saskatchewan and in name only Newfoundland and Labrador. The casualties are obvious, as is the trend, but what's behind it all. That is the question.

The first factor is alienation. Voter alienation. People alienation. The Conservative agenda, of no deficits run government as if it were a business, trace back to the early nineties and Preston Manning's Reform Party movement - coincidentally also born in Alberta. Prior to that, deficits were a matter of fact in Canadian politics, and social programs were one of the key things that we defined ourselves by. How we look after each other and the less fortunate in society. Paul Martin took the idea of running the country like a business, rather than as a country, to the federal scene. He chopped and chopped until the provinces were forced to do the same, and before we new it we had "business-government". People began to view this new way of things as responsible. They equated it to their own lives and their own finances. Before we knew it we had not just "business-politics", but also "business-families". The promise was that if we followed this path that our country and our lives would reach some sort of Utopian balance.

Unfortunately, to quote some nefarious politicians from here, "nothing could be further from the truth". After 25 years of the "Manning doctrine" the finances of the country are no better than they were. Our household problems and family issues have not improved. What we've really become is a country preoccupied with survival and cold at heart when it comes to our own. We have become "rationalizers" rather than "visionary". There is no more advancement toward a just society, but rather a down ward spiral of the dog eat dog society that is so prevalent in our neighbor to the south. A cold place, with a machine-like existence, and no purpose other than achieving some elusive economic paradise. 

That's ending in Canada though. The idea that our only worth as a country is to be measured by deficit or surplus each year is slowly uncoupling. Harper kind of gets this. His platform for re-election this year is dishing financial breaks to two specific groups - the so-called rich and the so-called middle class. He's targeting their desire to have more income, as if that could somehow improve their personal happiness, in an attempt to tempt people to achieving that "elusive economic paradise". He's trying to prove that the Manning doctrine is working, and that the country is really to be measured by its bottom line rather than its values. It's a formula that has been successful up to now since the dog days of Preston Manning. But, those days are coming to a quick end.

The PC's loss in Alberta was not about the decline in oil prices. The truth is the PC's have been falling in voter support in Alberta since Ralph Kline left. He was popular because he represented the bold, brash, free spirit of the Alberta people. The ones that followed merely tried to maintain a political system for the corporate elites in Alberta, while virtually ignoring the wishes of their own people. Until last night, Alberta dared not cross the Rubicon. It dared not fire the maintainers. Now the seal has been broken, and the "unthinkable" has happened. It happened in the last federal election in Quebec as well. The "anti-business", "pro-people" party, the NDP, created a wave. The Orange Wave or the Orange Crush - which ever you prefer. 

Why? Because people are sick of being treated as widgets. It's that simple. Sick of being measured by the dollar. Sick of seeing the sick and downtrodden marginalized as if they were more burden than their relative economic worth. Sick of being treated as a commodity. Sick of having their hopes for the future superficially addressed. The list goes on, but essentially, people are sick of insincere people treating them like means to an end. By rationalizing our society to an economic standard we have rationalized our humanness in kind. It is this fundamental fact that has resulted in Orange Waves. It's not that the NDP are somehow the in thing. It's that the other parties have been type-cast as purveyors of the status quo. Interchangeable. Indistinguishable. Preston Manning clones that people have become sick of. 

Will that people's revolt happen this year in our province's election? You can take that to the bank - pardon the pun. Will it be the Liberals, who now lead the polls, that take the government? That's still not a guaranteed thing. The PCs falling is, but their replacement isn't. A great deal of that depends on how the Liberals conduct themselves as the "people's party". Will they be believable as champions of the people rather than champions of the business elite? Right now that is very questionable. Very questionable in deed. Will the NDP rebound, catch momentum, and become those champions of the average person? That's still to be determined too. One thing seems certain from last night - Harper's/Manning's view of Canada is under attack, and the PM should be seeing the Alberta victory for what it is - the People's turn.

Friday, May 1, 2015

I'm Sorry Russia

There is something very wrong, and possibly very evil going on in our world today. Aside from all the conflicts spawned by greed and the desire to control in our world, there is some all too real revisionist history happening. When people, let alone governments, try to recreate history it's an ominous sign. A sign of hatred. Of deep hatred. That's what is happening right now in our world when it comes to the Russian (then Soviet) victory over Germany in World War Two.

The Soviet Union suffered 25 million killed in World War Two. By comparison, the other allied countries suffered:

United kingdom           450,900
United States                418,500
India                         2, 087,000
China                       15,000,000
Poland                       5,700,000
Yugoslavia                1,363,500
Dutch East Indies      3,500,000

and there are many more.

The Soviet Red Army suffered the most military deaths of any nation in World War Two at 9,750,000. Almost twice as many as the nearest country, its enemy, Germany. The Soviet people, comprised today of Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus bled the German army white. Of all the German military deaths of World War Two, 2,742,909 were caused by the Soviet army on the Eastern Front. By way of comparison, only 534,683 were killed by all other allies put together on all other fronts. In this way it's clear to see that the vast majority of the German armed forces were wiped out by the Soviets between 1941-1945. For that sacrifice the world owes the old Soviet Union, or Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus our undying gratitude. No question. To believe otherwise is to disrespect the sacrifice of a generation.

However, that seems to be all the rage these days in the West. And, I'm having a very hard time with that. There are a few reasons. First off, we owe the families, mostly Russian, our eternal respect for the generations of young men and women lost. The families broken to bits. The loves lost. The communities, towns, cities destroyed. They took the steel punch of German Nazism for the rest of us. We set foot back in Normandy when the German army was essentially already defeated. Secondly, to white wash the heroic struggle of the Russian people is to invite a repetition of the same savage crime. We preach this constantly with the Holocaust - rightly so. However, it's as if the greater sacrifice of Russia is somehow less and open to some sort of political interpretation. Lastly, it speaks to who we are, not who they are. It says we are so superficial, so petulant, that we can allow such a sacrifice to be degraded to suit our present political needs or wants.

That leads me to the Victory Day celebrations and parade in Moscow in about a week from now. Countries like my own (Canada), Britain, the US, etc are boycotting the celebrations and parade marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Germany. As a son of a vet who fought in that war against the Nazis I find this new Western revisionism very hard to swallow. As a retired infantry vet myself I am ashamed by it. The disrespect is unconscionable. It is dark and it is evil. It goes against everything I believe in and hold as dear. The West should hold its head in collective shame. Not just the leadership, but also the people. It's a disgrace. I'm writing this post just to let the Russian people know that not everyone agrees with this slight. Not everyone sees sacrifice through the lens of political expediency. That the sacrifice of your people is recognized and honoured by anyone with any education and knowledge of history - even though it was just a short while ago. Mostly, I just wanted to say: "I'm sorry Russia".

Thursday, April 30, 2015

NL Budget 2015 - Practiced at the Art of Deception

There are two words that come to mind after reading budgetary estimates for 2015 in this province: election; and deception. Actually there is a third - tragic. For starters, the biggest bomb of all is that our actual budget deficit for 2015 is $2,092,867 billion. Not the $900 plus million that's being thrown about in the media. Here's how it breaks down:

Total revenue for 2015 is projected to be:                      $ 5,757,328 billion

Current Account Expenditures for 2015:                    -  $ 6,659,952 billion
Capital Account Expenditures for 2015:                     -  $ 1,143,743 billion

Need to borrow for 2015:                                               $ 2,092,867 billion

Now the politicians are saying that capital spending is not a part of the deficit, but the fact is that it is. The University of Calgary just issued its report stating they saw the deficit coming in at $1.8 billion, so they were actually a little light. The government here likes to deceive people by saying this or that isn't included. Like, for instance former premier and finance minister Marshall's statement that the money allocated to Natural Resources, and then reallocated to Nalcor each year for the last three years does not contribute to the deficit. Yet, his estimates each year clearly show the transfer from the General Revenue Fund to the Department of Natural Resources. That number factors into the expenditures of the department. That is how it's accounted for.

The truth, according to the government's own budget estimates is that fiscal 2014 saw a cash shortfall of  $ 1,051,798 billion. In other words, the total amount needed to borrow for last year, and this year is approximately $3.2 billion - which will go directly to our gross debt.

Speaking of gross debt, that is the total money we owe and are making debt payments on, 2015 will see it rise to $13, 889 billion. In 2003, before the oil money really started rolling in, that number was $8,932 billion. This year we will pay just over $770 million in interest charges/debt expenses. In 2003 that number was $520 million. Revenue this year is projected to be $5.7 billion. In 2003 it was $3.7 billion. The total budget expenses in 2015 is projected to be $8.2 billion. In 2003 it was 3.6 billion. So, in other words, after 12 years of oil, and over $20 billion of oil revenue brought in, we are spending over 200% more annually to run the affairs of the province,with revenue that has only increased 65%. That's shocking. That's catastrophic financially. It's called structural deficits with huge debt accumulations.

It's no wonder that Standard and Poors warned the provincial government last year to shed the weight of the public pension plans or face a credit downgrade. They knew the government was heading into massive deficit, therefore added debt, and in order to keep that rating we had to cut the pensions loose.  Still, you can expect a credit downgrade imminently at this rate.

Now to the politics. The utter sleazy politics of deceiving your own people to further your political hopes. The PCs have scheduled an HST increase of 2% effective January 1, 2016, or about two months after the next election. They've pledged not to replace 20% of the public service as it retires over the next 5 years... the next five years. They've committed to an all day kindergarten starting in 2016..2016. In other words, none of the big hits or programs start until AFTER the next election. That way, the PCs are serving a budget up they hope won't immediately affect the pocket books of voters - ie: re-election. The horrific truth is that no matter what government is elected in November, 2015, a financial disaster never seen in modern time Newfoundland and Labrador awaits. The Liberals have already said they will cancel the increase on election, but can they?

2016 will not be much better, and likely much worse for the province's finances and economy. We are on the cusp of a provincial recession as it is. Almost 30% of all employees in the province work for the provincial government. They likely compromise about 80% of the higher incomes here. Keep in mind that 30% of residents here are too poor to pay any income tax. The PC's have said the government will have to borrow $5 billion over the next 5 years. That's just an outright lie. Just for starters, the federal loan guarantee is only now starting to kick in for Muskrat Falls. That loan requirement is at least $5 billion, and many experts suggest it could reach $8 billion in additional borrowing beyond the $2.6 billion the province has invested in cash. In fact, the federal loan guarantee won't kick in until at least 35% of the total project cost is paid in cash by the province. That $5-* billion has to be paid within 2 years for the 2017 first power date to be met. Then there is the minimum $750 million investment in Hebron which must be paid upfront. And so it goes. Considering the government is spending $1 billion a year more than it brings in just to operate government - not including fancy projects like Muskrat Falls and Hebron -  the next government is looking at massive cuts. A 2% increase in the HST will only bring in about $300 million at the most - if the economy remains at the level it is.

Unfortunately, the economy won't be remaining where its at now. Construction and real estate are falling rapidly. Oil companies are scratching development projects as the international trade war with Eurasia begins to heat up. It's worth noting that Russia is the number one exporter of oil and natural gas in the world, not Saudi Arabia, and they can hit us hard. Expect that to happen as the BRIC countries solidify their oil for food and the like trade deals with Russia and China. None of this is being explained in any way to the people of the Province. The real truth is we had a window, a ten year window, to reap as much as we could from our oil. We didn't. We squandered it in a money-mad drunk fest. Now the party is over. Was Danny Williams the best premier this province has ever had? No. He was the worst premier this province ever had. His actions have caused irreparable harm to the place and the people. That is the truth. The numbers speak for themselves. Don't believe the deception spun by the entrails of the Williams government. Realize that as a people we have been deceived in an almost unimaginable way.