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)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Bush Doctrine and Today

After the 911 attacks on the US, then President Bush declared the right to preemptive military strikes against countries before they actually committed an aggression against the United States. At the time, and until this day, very little attention has been paid to the "Bush Doctrine" announced back in those panicky days. Yet, those simple words have transformed the world. Diplomacy died on the vine of National Interest. International law became passe. So it was then with the US wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, so it is now almost everywhere in the world.

The most recent case, unfolding as I write, is the military blockading, bombing and soon to be invasion of Yemen. Ditto for Canada's newly announced policy of bombing within Syria. It was only a matter of months ago the federal government stated it would not send war planes into Syria without either a UN mandate, or an invitation from the Syrian government. Now, we will, and the rationale is section 51 of the UN Charter, and the declaration that Syria is either unable or unwilling to control the conflict within its own borders. That somehow, by bombing ISIS in Syria is a key to Canadian self-defence. It's true that ISIS inspired lone wolves have committed two acts of terror on Canadian soil resulting in two innocent deaths. It's also true that many hundreds more die or are maimed in car accidents daily in Canada. Somehow the idea that little black pajama men with daggers will swim to Canada enmasse to decapitate citizens is, well, just foolish. Yet, it's all possible under the Bush Doctrine. The doctrine of punch first, ask questions later.

Now a similar, and predictable confrontation is playing out just south of the Suez Canal in Yemen - for the moment. As Iran and Saudi Arabia play out their mutual hatred of each other on a regional basis, the Bush Doctrine unfolds yet again. Saudi claims to perceive an urgent need to restore to power a Sunni president, as the legitimately elected head of Yemen. Saudi is not exactly known for its zeal for democracy. What Saudi is known for is a draconian, barbaric oil state, that is ruled by one family - no elections.. no descent. A ruthless, dark place where no democratic fruit is allowed to grow. The truth is, quite simply put, Saudi refuses to allow the Shia Houthi, who are aligned with Iran, to take over at the expense of their guy. International law be dammed. The son of the Bush Doctrine.

When then president Bush declared the US's right to act unilaterally in world affairs, the US recreated the jungle. It took mankind back to the dark ages, only this time with weapons of mass destruction. It removed the need to be responsible and restrained in the exercise of power. It opened the Pandora's Box of "National Interest". As the saying goes, "two can play that game", and in the context of the world, many can play that game. That is exactly what we see unfolding before our very eyes. In every continent in the world - excepting Australia. In every "hot spot" in the world. Even within countries. We don't have to obey rules. We make the rules. Might is right, and we will prevail. Welcome back to the Stone Age. This is the state of our world today. A place where mutual respect is as barren as the desserts of Saudi Arabia, and where the innocent blood flows as it has throughout our history. We never learn that power exercised without restraint is poison to us all.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The West's Shame

There is something so bizarre, so inhumane about Western countries boycotting the parade for the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Germany in World War II that I just had to write on it. Recently, the prime minister of the United Kingdom announced he will not be attending the parade. Previous to that, countries like Germany and the United States had announced the same. It's only a parade you say? No it's more than that.

The Soviet Union sacrificed 25 million people to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II. A sacrifice beyond imagination, and far, far greater than all the countries fighting Nazi Germany combined. In comparison, the Holocaust, which is rightly remembered annually, claimed the lives of six million people of the Jewish faith. These are really the two true tragedy's of World War II unleashed on the world by Nazi Germany. The stories of Soviet soldiers advancing without weapons to pickup the rifle of the next dead soldier are well known. The bloodbath of Stalingrad, the siege of Leningrad, the millions of Soviet soldiers killed and captured (only to then die in POW camps) during the early days of the German invasion, and so on, all markers of the brutality of man against his own, stand large in the history of the world. In fact, the German invasion of the Soviet Union stands as the largest military battle in the history of man.

Yet, western leaders have decided to not attend the parade that is meant to honour that sacrifice. When Britain announced it would not attend, well, that's the straw that broke the camel's back frankly. Of all the countries in the world, Britain was saved by the massive waves of young Soviet men and woman that bled the German army white. Hitler would have crushed Britain in short order if he had not diverted millions of German men to the invasion of the Soviet Union. Crucially, the diversion of aircraft, fighters and bombers, to the Soviet front saved Britain from the entire annihilation of a full blown, continuous air campaign, and the subsequent naval invasion that would certainly have occurred. In reality, the western allies left Stalin almost alone in Europe to battle the Nazi's, and take the majority of the casualties in doing so. By the time D-Day finally arrived, the German army and air force was only a shadow of it's former self as it existed in 1941. As bad and hard as it was for the allies to march east through Europe to Berlin, without the Soviet people's sacrifice, it would have never happened.

It's a place of honour in human history. To quarrel with that is to go beyond ignorance. To quarrel with that is the hateful and arrogant bastion of the very seeds that caused World War II in the first place. And now, as if history is repeating itself, Western leaders have entered that bastion of ignorance and arrogance to punish Russia for the Ukrainian civil war. By contrast, Russian president Putin, despite the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, attended the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France last year. He was given the proverbial cold shoulder by western leaders, yet he subjected himself to that, in honour of the sacrifice of the men of Canada, Britain and the United States. He did not ignore the history or the price in blood of that action. He honoured it. He put the sacrifice ahead of his political position, and it could even be said his personal shunning. Now that the time is here to do the same for the Soviet Union's dead, we cannot bring ourselves to do the same.

What that says about us is really quite obvious. It means we haven't learned the lessons of history. That our political leadership has become so petty, so detached from historical reality, that it attempts to rewrite the history of 25 million souls. That is the danger of all of this. Russians don't really need the West to honour their sacrifice. They know it all too well. It's the West that needs to honour that sacrifice so it can clearly see the dangers of war on a scale far more destructive than anything it experienced on the western front, or anywhere else in history. Poland started this train rolling by refusing to invite the Russian president to the Holocaust remembrance at Auschwitz last year. This despite the fact that the Soviet army liberated all of Poland, and specifically Auschwitz from German armies.

The actions of our western politicians say more about us than the Russians could ever say themselves. They have portrayed us as people who refuse to honour the dead, those that gave their lives in another time to defeat a tyrant bent on world domination, and in doing so dishonour those men and women. As the son of a young man, training in England, fighting in North Africa, Italy, Holland, and Germany through those tumultuous years of war and senseless slaughter, I recognize the Soviet sacrifice that probably saved my Dad's life. How could you not? Yet, that is exactly what our politicians are doing today. You don't have to be a lover of this country, or that country to recognize and honour grave human injustice committed on a massive scale. You just have to be humane, and subordinate your own bias in the remembrance of the fallen. Is that really so hard? Isn't that what is expected of us all? Wouldn't we expect that from our children? I've never been so ashamed of the actions of our governments than I am now with the boycott of that parade in Moscow.


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Oil Overdose

Oil is done as a "gold" standard. "Black Gold" is now more like "Black Coal". It's everywhere and plentiful. Many countries in the world, and provinces in Canada (like my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador) have bet the farm on unending oil wealth to fuel their growth. Some, like Norway, have banked all those petro dollars into a trillion dollar savings fund that essentially makes every Norwegian a millionaire. Others have used the big bucks to build massive militaries - like Russia; Saudi Arabia; and Iran to name a few. The old black gold has been a God send for those that have it, but those days have come and gone.

Some economists are predicting a relatively short turn around for oil prices - somewhere between a year or two. Very few economists have ventured into the permanently depressed price projection. So, does the evidence support a short term downturn or a fundamental, long-term decline in the price of crude oil? One of the few interesting trends in oil, that has not been discussed much, is the narrowing of the price for oil between the benchmarks of West Texas Crude (WTI) and Brent Crude. Generally, Brent Crude is a world price for oil, while the WTI is the American price. Not too long ago there was a 20% difference in the two benchmarks - WTI being the cheapest. Today that gap has narrowed to the point of near parity. What does that indicate? In two words - European deflation. The European economy is spiraling downward with massive unemployment in places like Spain and Greece, and negative bond issues in places like Germany and Switzerland. In effect, Europe as an economic entity is tapped out.

Then there is the suppression of oil exports into the world oil trade. Most notably Iran. Iran has been severely restrained from exporting oil due to US led sanctions. It has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, and is strategically located to send that oil to market at a low cost. In effect Iran's oil has already been priced out of the market price. Then there is Libya. It has been torn apart by civil war like conditions, inter-tribal warfare, and now Islamic warfare. Its oil exports have been essentially removed from the market. Nigeria is falling into a similar position. Ditto for Iraq, In other words, the glut of oil in the world is really only a small measure of what that glut would look like if and when these countries come back into the market in a significant way.

There is the major factor of new discoveries and technology to consider. A massive oil and gas field has been discovered off the coasts of Israel and Gaza, and is as yet untapped. There are major oil plays in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and to some extent Turkey that remain well underutilized. The dueling technologies of fracking and offshore sub sea "tentical"lines have revolutionized the ability to recover oil from previously trapped locations.

In other words, there is just too much oil in the world, for the foreseeable future, to warrant a scarcity price. The current prices really reflect almost a Debeers - type strategy. Debeers of course controls the world diamond market and ensures that prices remain high by restricting volume in the market. A similar trend is happening with oil. In reality, oil should be at $15-25 per barrel US. Prices above this reflect artificial interventions in the market place, which cushion the fall for many governments that have built societies based on $100 + oil. My province is no different. In fact, even at the current inflated prices, Newfoundland and Labrador looks to be taking a 15-20% hit on its annual budget. Addressing these issues of revenue loss for governments is guaranteed to add further to deflation as consumer confidence crashes and the internal markets realign to economic reality. The same can be said for countries like Russia, Iran, Iraq, Saudi-Arabia, etc.

Predicting the future is a tough task indeed. But, as the CSI saying goes: "people lie, the evidence doesn't." In order to see that future we need to understand demographic trends, political/trade trends, supply and demand trends, etc and synthesize them into one living organism (our world). It's abundantly clear that artificial barriers, primarily caused by speculators in the trading markets, are becoming more and more redundant. As the world economy deflates, which it is, those artificial barriers to the true market value of oil fall away. Expect to see oil decline as the world economy deflates. They go hand in hand, with one racing before the other. Unfortunately, for people like ours that have been subjected to "good times" spending and zero savings, the end of the oil bounty is the end of the party. The government has suffered an oil overdose, and we let them.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

World Economy War One

If World War One was the first time humanity witnessed the brutal, inhumane destruction of a generation by the tools of war, then what we are witnessing today is the first of a potentially similar world economic war. Now, many would argue that the Cold War was a world-scale economic war that communism lost vs. capitalism. However, that would be a simplification of both the means and the ends. For example, my take on the end of the Cold War is that Russia and China merely conducted a strategic withdrawl to regroup, approach the issue in an economic way as opposed to military-type way, to end up where we are today.

Whatever your take on that might be, the bottom line is the world is dividing into two economic camps - one dominated by the US and one dominated by a Russia/China alliance. Economically, the Russo/Sino alliance has all the momentum and strategic strength to win this match hands down. I covered the bones of that here and here . Today it seems all these things are coming to a head - rapidly. It appears the US is not prepared to allow the new Eurasia alliance to peacefully transform the capitalist system to its needs and benefit. In other words, the US is not prepared to peacefully allow others to play its own game on it. That, simply put, sums it up.

Two years ago I had a close chat with my brother on these very events now transpiring. At the time he asked what I saw the outcome being of a trade war like we have today. I said that depended mostly on the Americans. Would they play nice or go "cowboy"? If they went cowboy,  I explained, then prepare for war. It seems that's where we are at. Up until now most of the American actions have been by proxy. That is to say, the US has covertly, and overtly funded and armed certain groups, in certain regions, to take on certain governments so as to reduce Eurasian regional influence. Probably the most notorious example at the moment is the Syrian war, and the resulting birth of ISIS. It strongly resembles the CIA funded war in Afghanistan, and the subsequent birth of Al-Qaeda. Both were attempts to undermine/topple Russian interests covertly. Both resulted in the birth of organized Islamic groups dedicated to even harsher economic and cultural separation of the region from US influence. Ditto transpiring in Libya, portions of Africa, etc.

The game became very real when the US decided to intervene in a somewhat similar fashion in Ukraine. Having overthrown the democratically elected, although unpopular, president of Ukraine, the US quickly stepped in to organize everything from its government to its economic bail-out. In other words, the US  took on Ukraine as a client state on the very border of Russia. Hence the whole "cowboy" thing. A very dangerous and irresponsible "in-your-face" move by the US that opened Pandora's Box. The Russians responded, as you knew they would, and so it goes. The major difference here is the US are no longer playing games with some two-bit dictator far a flung. No, this time they have gone directly to the fence of their enemy. A nuclear armed enemy. An enemy that is as advanced in every way as the US. One of two major players in the economic alliance that aims to reduce US economic power, and thus influence, throughout the world. No more dancing around proxies. The powers to be are in each other's face.

So where do we go from here. It seems fairly obvious the US, or any western country's population has failed to cotton on to where they are being led. Not a clue. Barely any coverage in the media, except that this terrorist or that terrorist is a threat to this or that nation's security. It's as if men in black pajamas and cloaked women in similarly coloured get ups will be throwing themselves, wave after wave, onto the shores of western countries. Any reference to Russia is cloaked in similar paranoia and fear. China is currently being only nibbled at on the fringes, because frankly the West can't afford to upset China financially. So, in effect, people in the West are sleepwalking into certain financial disaster, and possibly worse. A scenario that has repeated itself through out history, and the result has always been the same - tragedy for the human race.

The truth is, we can only project what might be the result of an all out world economic war. We can only surmise, if we dare to, what catastrophic effects would be heaped on our families, our communities, and our countries. Why can't we see it clearer? The easy answer is: we have never witnessed it before like this. We've seen depressions, and recessions. However, we've never seen complete destruction of economic systems. That's something that is hard to wrap the mind around for most. The best analogy perhaps is the First World War.  Slaughter had never happened before on this scale.The men left for the front lines in a hurry in 1914. Up for the challenge and afraid to miss the big show. They found out all too quickly that the massive slaughter that occurred on those front lines was not any kind of great struggle for a higher cause. What they found was humanity turning on itself in a global slaughter of a generation. Four years later, after unimaginable horror and destruction, the phrase was "never again". Eleven years later mankind did it all over again. When that one was over we had a new phrase: " Lest we Forget". Sometimes ... often times, it seems that our desire to dominate each other is never fully satisfied.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Russia's Weakness is the West's Gain

There was a time, back when, that the Soviet Union was feared and respected. That fear and respect created and maintained what we refer to as the Cold War. It divided the world in a sense, but it also provided a peculiar sense of stability. Each side was aware of where the lines not to cross were located, and neither side dared make a serious attempt to undermine them. There was no question of a strong, forceful Soviet response. Therein lies the problem for modern day Russia.

To be frank, Russia's handling of the Ukraine crisis on its own border displays the sort of weakness one would normally associate with the bluster of North Korea. Strong words but no action to back it up. Russian special forces quickly moved into Crimea before the West could stop them. But that was pretty much it. The Crimean assault was really a "sneaky" move rather than a forceful move of principle. There was no grand declaration of principle by the Russian government, other than it would defend the rights of Russian speaking people's - which it quickly abandoned in Donetsk and Luhansk republics prolonging the war there and massively increasing civilian and military casualties. Russian support for the separatist forces in East Ukraine was again of the "sneaky" variety. Weapons, ammunition, advisers, and some special forces. A grey war if you will.

The problem with a grey war is that each side is left with the ability to interpret it as it will. In other words, Ukraine can scream Russia is invading it, while Russia can respond that it has no troops there. There is no serious projection of power, and serious statement made to the other side. They are playing "footsies" with each other. The message is that of weakness. Russia is being dictated to by the West and simply responding defensively. It does not project the image of an equal. It actually reinforces Obama's arrogant comment that Russia is a "regional power". Now, Russia is not a regional power, to be clear. Iran is a regional power, as is Saudi Arabia. Russia is a world power. But, Russia's weak response to Western infiltration of the buffer zone known as Ukraine tends to back Obama's message.

Another well publicized event took place in Estonia where us mechanized troops paraded within 300 meters of the Russian border. Ditto for similar flippant moves by Lithuania and even Finland. Now, despite prohibitions against foreign troops in accordance with the Minsk Accord, the United States is sending a full airborne battalion to Ukraine to "train" Ukraine forces. Britain is sending 75 troops for a similar mission. The response from Russia is...nothing.

If Russia wants the role of super power in the world, or even at the very least top dog in its own neighborhood, it needs to seriously project strength. That means incorporating a "doctrine" which will be defended at any time and any place. The doctrine must be in strict defence of its sphere of influence - otherwise, it doesn't have one. Without a sphere of influence its not even a regional power, but rather a state power. Hard to imagine for a country with the history and tradition of Russia. The truth is, the world really needs Russia to be that strong player in the world. The world desperately needs balance. The US has proven that as the sole power projecting strength in the world, it has failed to recognize the need to restrain its own ambitions. In other words, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Now, we live in a world that has no stability, because the rules have been thrown out the proverbial window. That is a failure by the US, but its also a failure of countries like Russia and China.

All of this is why I support the rise of a Eurasian bloc that includes countries like Russia, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and the like. It creates the counter balance so desperately needed in the world. Of course the Americans view this in the opposite light. So be it. All people in the world deserve a stable environment, not just Americans. In short, it's past time that Russia project serious strength. Allowing other nations to encroach on its borders is a sign of weakness, not strategy. It's being interpreted that way by its enemies as well. All of which creates a less stable world for the rest of us - including Russia.