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, November 12, 2014

Liberal-ly speaking

I've been wanting to write this post for along time. How to say it? When to say it? The time seems right now. In 2011 I left the PC party as the government it represents was so corrupt I could no longer bare associating myself with it. Others will say it was poor sportsmanship. Some have suggested political opportunism, as if leaving a Party at 75% in the polls for a Party at 14% in the polls was opportunism. No, the real reason was as stated - principle. Then the poor old Liberals looked like a rag tag band of warriors at best. Fighting the good fight, but hopelessly outgunned by a PC machine flooded with corporate donations, and generally ridiculed by the provincial media. That was then and this is now.

Three years later, and five leaders later, the PC Party twists in its death throws as it desperately avoids the fate of all tyrants. Now, the Liberals are the top guns and the media ridicules the PC's. So is the circle of life I suppose. But, what does the Liberal Party hold for the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador when the inevitable election day comes next year?

My father was a life-long Liberal - to be sure. He campaigned to Liberal prime minister Louis St. Laurent for a unique Canadian flag. He submitted his own design for the same under Liberal Lester Pearson. He loved Pierre Trudeau. My family was a truly Liberal family. However, I've often wondered what he would make of the "modern" Liberals.

Gone are the days of the "Just Society", or important constitutional matters and nationhood. Gone is the focus on individual rights and freedoms. Missing in action is Canada as the friendly broker between combatants. Hopelessly ignored are the right of the Aboriginal peoples. All these things that once defined being Liberal have been discarded for "being a better Tory than the Tories". There is no word of a just society, or respect of the individual. There is primarily one focus - out doing the Tories as "managers of government". ie: who can spend the least. In an onslaught of extreme right wing ideology, the Liberal Party is now suffering an identity crisis. It is no longer what makes the Party Liberal. It's now about what makes the Party not Conservative. It has allowed its own identity to be dictated by its foe.

The provincial Liberal Party appears to be no different. Three years since 2011, and three leaders later, the Liberal Party's identity here is hardly distinguishable from that of the ruling PCs. Gone are the days of just three years ago when the Liberals stood in their place to fight Muskrat Falls tooth an nail. Gone is the determination to stop the project, and protect the average person from the impending financial assault the project necessarily would bring. Now it is simply a matter of managing the assault apparently. Barely visible among the Liberal candidates are the determined group that fought so hard to bring real change for the people. Real change being a definitive change to the corrupt political culture in the province, and the resulting responsible government that would bring. Instead, we have Nalcor bred candidates like Cathy Bennett (who has been promoted to Finance critic), and Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Al Hawkins who the Tories appointed to Nalcor's Board only a short while ago. We have perennial establishment hangers on like Siobhan Coady ( big promoter of Alderon), formerly rabid PC and anti-Liberal Paul Lane, and so on and so on.

Instead of being the Party to transform Newfoundland and Labrador, the Liberal Party is looking much like the one it aims to replace. That may seem unduly harsh, and it may in fact be too harsh as the days are early, but the signs are not promising. It reminds me of the last election when, as a Liberal candidate, I found myself face to face with a salt of the earth man in the lower ends of Random Island. His main question to me: "Are you blue or red?". At the time I remember thinking surely their must be more on this man's mind than what colour my party is. Surely he must be concerned about the difference beyond the colour of our flags, but he wasn't. Perhaps therein was a pearl of wisdom.

With a now closing window before the next election, and by-election win tallies replacing serious vision, the question is are the Liberals to be any different than the Conservatives? Is it to be "Liberal Tory, same old story?" I don't know is the honest answer. My heart says no, but my brain is leaning yes. And, that really angers me. At a time in our history when we need a principled and visionary approach, the same old "pragmatism" appears to be reinventing itself. Where are the declarations on democratic reform by the Liberal Party? Where is the policy to eliminate the practice of corporate and union political donations that corrupt our democratic process? Where is the policy to determine how to halt Muskrat Falls until all the legalities are dealt with, not the least of which include: the Water Management Agreement; the Hydro-Quebec lawsuit; the Nunatsiavut lawsuits; and the Nunatukavut lawsuit. Where is the very real question of provincial debt and structural deficits? Where is the duty to our fishers. Where is a coherent, and humane approach to the fastest aging population in the western world - ours?

It's the silence that disturbs me. The silence and the familiarity of the actors entering the stage. Not many would expect the provincial Liberal Party to be "Trudeauesque". The federal Party isn't managing that yet. However, their should by now be a very clear vision toward the critical issues. The prevailing thought should not be: "silence is golden". The prevailing visual should not be a party consumed with winning, but rather a Party confident in winning based on its vision and principles - not on winning by default. Not winning, because we are not them. Not winning simply to replace one set of actors with another. The greatest betrayal of all is the Party that purports to be change, but simply carries on in the same manner - ie: Obama.

My hope and prayer is the Liberal Party defines itself, and commits itself, to being the agent of change that fundamentally improves the lives of its people - both politically and economically. Perhaps it is just that - a hope and a prayer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sliding toward Deflation

Think of the world as an engine designed and built to run in a certain way, and at a certain speed. The fuel of the engine is growth.  The chemistry of the fuel is debt. Then imagine one half of the world (the developed countries) running at full speed for 60 years, while the other half of the world (Asia, Africa, and South America) idling. Because our half of the world has been running full speed, we have used the most debt to power our engines, and the world economy has built itself around that fact. Now imagine that so much debt has been used to fuel the engine that it is almost depleted. Meanwhile the other half of the world is just warming up its engine and has plenty of potential debt to consume. What is the logical consequence? One falls while the other soars.

Now superimpose the unfolding China/Russia/BRIC economic order that is forming to reflect that reality. Let's call it the "New Club". Roughly designed to resemble the Soviet days of trading between countries to the exclusion of others, the New Club is rapidly building a new engine. One that attempts to capitalize on each countries strengths and satisfying each countries needs. If that sounds familiar consider Karl Marx's famous borrowed slogan " From each according to his ability, to each according to his need". Essentially, this is the new slogan of the New Club. China has the currency and the manpower. Russia has the natural resources, technology, and the know how. India has the population and science. South America has specific resources. Africa has population and need.

Together, these countries are forming a new world order. They have combined resources to create a new IMF that will compete with the old western IMF to loan money to areas like Africa and South America. They will control the debt that fires those engines. Russia, China and India (almost 50% of the world population) have entered into formal agreements to use their own currencies to pay for resources from each other. They are excluding the US dollar from their market place as an economic foundation. Making it obsolete. They are reaching deeply into Africa in fierce competition with the US to develop that continent as a place to do business. They are quickly becoming the savior for many South American countries who have tapped out their debt in the Old Club and need a rescue line.

Of course, when one grows the other dies, and the other would be the western world, or the "Old Club". Our ability to consume and pay debt has over reached its maximum. That is reflected in the over valued prices we pay for everything compared to what would be paid for the same object in the Club. In some European countries that has led to such things as inter-generational mortgages on homes. In the US it led to the "housing bubble" in 2008. The price we pay for fuel, compared to the actual price per barrel on the international market, is a good indicator of how skewed the economic reality is. While world oil prices plummet, prices at the pump don't. They stay artificially high. The same can be said for the stock markets. They are valued at more than their 2008 pre-crash worth, despite the indebtedness/under-performance of the corporations listed on them. In other words, there is a space between where they should be at in pure economic terms, and where they exist today. An artificial bubble. An artificial economy. Prices inflated to try and maintain our way of life, our government coffers, and our debt.

While there was only one game in town, that game of artificial economy could be maintained to one degree or another. There would be cyclical recessions to try and balance debt vs income vs prices from time to time, but the system could carry on. But, more dollars printed to maintain that growth created inflation in prices.Our system continued to grow fed on inflation rather than real economic wealth. We created a society based on the artificial. Now we are facing a New Club that, for the most part, will not. As the two realities start to compete the Old Club will lose market share for its products, and a glut will create deflation. 

As sales slide, and corporations within the Old Club try to adjust their production downward, each country's GDP begins to shrink - in other words deflate. That leads to serious consequences for an economic order built on growth fueled by debt. A good current example of this is Germany's recent slide. Germany is the economic engine of Europe, and as its GDP continues to fall so do the hopes of the rest of the continent. Another good example is long term bond costs. Muskrat Falls financing was secured for 50 years at less then 3% interest. Indicative that the banks understand what is coming. What else can explain that length of commitment for such a small return on investment. Perhaps one of the most clear examples of things to come is the Brazilian company Rio Tinto. While North American iron ore mines close, scale back or simply don't develop, Rio Tinto is increasing production by 25%. All these corporations compete on the international market, yet they have two starkly different approaches. Perhaps the key to understanding  this is one corporation is in a BRIC country, and a strong m,ember of the new club, while the others are stuck in the old. 

There are signs all around us if we choose to really see them. The world is changing - for the better for some, and the opposite for others. Reality, or deflation as a measure of it, is coming sooner rather than later. There is really no way for governments to prepare for it financially. Instead, and perhaps a very real indication of intent, police forces through out the western world have been armed like military organizations. Like the banks, our governments see the inevitable deflation of our economies, and understand the social chaos that must follow. At that point order will take precedence over rights. It will be a new world for the Old Club.   


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lest We Forget

Lest we forget. That is the motto of the last two world wars. The question could be : "Lest we forget what?" Is it the men and women who died, were wounded and forever scarred by war that we are meant not to forget? Not likely, in the sense that we never knew them. Some of us had loved ones in the war, in my case a father, but I would never forget him in any case. Is it the mass destruction, the slaughter of civilians, the absolute firepower that these armies unleashed that we are meant to forget? I would argue it's all of these things, summed up in one word - sacrifice.

But, what was that sacrifice for? In different countries there were as many different reasons. For the Russians it was the "Great Patriotic War". For the British Empire it was "Empire War", and for the Americans it was the "Mess with us and die War". In the sixty odd years since the last world war we commonly see that struggle as the "War for Freedom". Freedom meaning our society would never become a police state as was the case with Nazi Germany. Personal freedom, democracy, and the rule of law would guide our nation. We prided ourselves on this, and the average person on the streets never questions it should be any other way.

Then, in a murderous, chaotic moment at the National War Monument, and then Parliament Hill, all that came into question. Or did it? As a young Corporal lay dying near the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and as the young attacker who caused his death died in a hail of bullets in the Hall of Honour, national media were already saying "This changes Canada forever". If that sounds familiar it's likely your mind wondering back to the events of "911" and the rhetoric that came afterward from the politicians: the world is changed; America has changed; the Patriot Act; Guantanamo; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; making the world safe for democracy; you are with us or against us. Yes, the ghosts of 911 immediately sprang to life in the Canadian national media.

But, is that really true? Perhaps I missed it? At what point did the Canadian people agree to abandon their freedom for "security"? Did we agree to forfeit our freedom that was guaranteed by the deaths of over 100,000 Canadians in two world wars over the deaths of two soldiers at the hands of two now dead ISIS sympathizers? Is our freedom, our way of life really that weak? Are we that insecure? Are we prepared to capitulate and surrender the gift of freedom, earned by the blood of our ancestors on foreign battle fields, so that we may know what it is to not live in a police state?

After the attack in Ottawa by a lone gunman the military was ordered not to wear their uniforms anywhere in the country while off base. Then, a day later, the decision was overturned. It was an immediate surrender of pride, freedom, and honour by politicians in a panic. An over reaction. What the might of Nazi Germany could not do, one lone gunman achieved - if only briefly. The national media, particularly the state-owned CBC, immediately began the call for restricting our freedom to our Parliament and greater state intrusions into our personal lives. All in the name of security. All in the name of the "greater good". Just like 911. Hopefully, that will face the same fate as the order not to wear uniforms.

The bigger lesson in all of this is just how ready "the powers to be" are to sacrifice our rights in the name of security. It was almost like they were looking for an excuse to do that, and once presented, they quickly grasped it. However, they ignore one very crucial thing. The blood of 100,000 dead earned us the right to keep that freedom. The hundreds of thousands of men and women wounded and altered by their war experience for life earned us that right. Rights that are guaranteed by our Constitution now. Freedom that is not subject to political whims or expediency. Freedom that is eternal as the flame that burns on Parliament Hill. It is paid for in full. It makes us who we are. Without it we are nothing.

The lesson for people like ISIS is that Canada can be rocked by the death of two soldiers at home. That the collective Canadian psyche is so weak that a lone gunman can bring it down by one moment of madness. Far from deterring another attack by the likes of ISIS, Canada's response must be mightily encouraging to them. Therein lies the danger. We are showing weakness. After all, ISIS doesn't care about our societal values. It cares about our personal values. It cares that we insist on freedom and equality for women, as an example. There are many others. The point is, they want to change us more than change our government. If we allow this attack to in any way alter us then they have won. When we should be giving a Churchill-like "some chicken, some neck", we instead give a Chamberlain-like "peace in our time".

Appeasing, even rewarding people like ISIS with the degradation of our freedom speaks more about us than them. It says we are weak, scared, and without courage of conviction. It says we do not find strength in the fields of Canadian crosses oversees, but rather we scurry to whatever system that will allow us to freely shop at Walmart. It says our society, and our belief system, is based on convenience rather than principle. Perhaps people like ISIS already suspect this about us. Perhaps it's even true. But, it doesn't have to be. We don't have to stand on a cold highway, and awkwardly (even bizarrely)  sing O Canada and clap as if we were at a hockey game as a lone hearse carries a dead soldier to a funeral home. Perhaps we could stand in steely silence, honour the man's sacrifice, and swear to ourselves and him that we won't trade off the freedom given by the men and women whose monument he had guarded. That would be the ultimate statement. The strength of our character and values was tested in two world wars. We prevailed. That mantle was given to us. Lest we forget.