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 31, 2015

Death of the PC Empire in Newfoundland and Labrador

In 2011, when I left the Newfoundland Conservatives, their reign was supreme. A well oiled, impenetrable machine. A dynasty in the making. There was no other, and no other was in sight. Their popularity in the polls was hovering around 75%. They controlled all but 4 seats in the House of Assembly. It was a closed shop, and they went to great pains to keep it that way.

Four years later things have changed - sort of. In 2011 the Province had the worst, most oppressive access to information law in the country. Serious dissent now runs like the wind. People have become engaged and are forcing the political agenda in many ways. The PC Party has not. It simply has become worse at the tactics it used to suppress opposition and change in the Province. The people's core values have shifted, while the Party's tools of control remained entrenched in lip-service and really bad acting.

Four years later the Province has gone through five, count them five PC Party leaders - that must be a Canadian political record. Nothing remains of their "all-star cast" of Ministers that dominated the headlines of the Province. All that remains are the "Omega and the Alpha" - the "End and the Beginning". Current Premier Davis is the "end', and Stephen Kent hopes to be the "beginning". That is to say that while those forces that hovered within the PC Party shuffle over to the Liberal Party ever so quietly, people like Kent remain to be the caretakers that rebuild the PC Party after its defeat.

Yet, throughout its death spiral, the PC Party has operated itself as it operated the government - without accountability. There have been no lessons learned, because there has been no accountability rendered. There is a reason for that. Avoiding accountability of any type for actions has dominated Newfoundland politics, and in some ways Newfoundland culture for some time. What remains obvious to anyone who has been anywhere else, but cloaked within the political culture on the Island, is the immature way politics plays itself out here. Some have referred to it as "high-school politics". Others have been less generous. Whatever the case, it is the nature of the politics here that allows for a party like the PCs to do what they have done.

Let's call it the "It wasn't Me" mentality. It is always some other person, or organization, or province, or country's fault - never our own. To even suggest it was our own is to invite calls of "traitor". That's why politics here is referred to as "high school" or "immature", because adults take responsibility for their actions. The accountability allows them to grow and not repeat the same mistakes over, and over, while blaming others for all their short comings. The failure to accept criticism and mature is the birthplace of systemic immaturity. That's what we have here. The PC Party wasn't some kind of one-off government of despots. It was merely the latest reincarnation of a political culture that has refused to grow. It lies in the face of this place's 500 year existence.

The PC Party has not been able to change, because it doesn't know any other game. PCs aren't stupid. They aren't unusually corrupt. They are a product of their environment. The latest example being Davis's blaming of future cuts on the Liberals impending political victory. Ditto for his warnings to the Province's business community. "They will cut your jobs" he tells the unions. "They will take your customers money, and cause you to fail" he tells the St. John's Board of Trade. The reality is the actions of the PCs in power has left any future government no choice but to cut spending and jobs. Yet, Davis is already playing the "it wasn't me" card, and the election isn't even started yet. He is in fact laying the ground work for the same immature politics to continue a new cycle.

What we have here is not a "failure to communicate". What we have is a failure to learn. A failure to accept that: with great power comes great responsibility; accountability and accepting responsibility are the key stones of personal and systemic growth; and that public office is a sacred trust on behalf of your citizens. We see these things played out on TV and the Province's three radio shows every day of the year. They take different forms, and they involve different issues, but they are all related to the problems outlined above. Many suggest the Liberals will repeat the cycle, and be no different in their approach than the PCs were. In fact I would say that is the dominant opinion among people. What people fail to realize is the accountability for that lays with them. If no accountability is demanded for failings as they happen, then none will be voluntarily accepted. Therein lies the key.

So, while the PC Party twists in its death throws, and the Liberals quietly organize to take their place at the helm of power, it remains to be seen if either the people or the politicians have learned anything from their four year trial of fire. Time will tell.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The King is Dead. Long Live the King

The oil world as we have known it is dead.

As the established market price setter, OPEC has reigned supreme internationally since 1960. In that year Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Kuwait founded the organization - known as the "Founding Members". In 1973, US President Richard Nixon signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia that in exchange for US protection, and arms, the Saudis would accept only US dollars in oil transactions. The other OPEC members then followed suit. All was well in the Kingdom.

Things have changed for three primary reasons. Firstly, China has risen to the point where it is now the second largest consumer of oil in the world. Secondly, the US with its fracking policies has now become the largest producer of oil in the world. Thirdly, Russia has grown to challenge Saudi Arabia's production levels. Three monumental shifts. Essentially the shifts have on the one hand structurally reduced the value of oil, and on the other hand have changed the demand cycle for oil.

Between 1973 and 1980, the US produced roughly an equal amount of oil as that of Saudi Arabia. However, from 1980 to 2009 US production dropped dramatically until the fracking revolution again placed it near Saudi production. At the same time Russia dramatically grew its production of oil just after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990's, to the point that Russia shares top spot with the US, and Saudi.  

Then there were wars. The US and Saudi Arabia covertly and overtly attempted to either control or destroy the oil capabilities of Iran, Iraq and Venezuela (three of OPEC's founding members) by way of military force or revolution. For the most part these actions were successful to one degree or another. However, now all three have gravitated toward Russia and China for their economic well being. In a sense, this is another monumental shift to add to the three above.

That brings us to today. Russia and China have moved to eliminate the US as the controller of world-wide oil wealth. They have created a Eurasian trading community that speaks to the production of oil, and perhaps more importantly the consumption of oil.

In 2015, Russia and China began signing oil supply and purchase agreements that required transactions to be conducted in local currencies - not US dollars. That had the effect of increasing oil production and trading among the Eurasian bloc of countries. It excluded the US, but also Saudi Arabia, from oil market influence. For example, Russia signed agreements with Venezuela to swap Venezuelan oil for Russian consumer goods - not much different than the old Soviet model of international trading. China signed oil supply agreements with Iran. And so it goes.

That left the old King of OPEC, Saudi Arabia, out in the cold. In an attempt to restore its position Saudi Arabia increased production, along with the Americans, The resulting massive price per barrel decline had the effect of driving many countries into recession and/or hyperinflation (Venezuela). But, and it's a big but, the move failed in its objective. The Eurasian community, and its allies, simply turned inward and compensated each other by trading in their own currencies and products.

Hence the recent visits by Saudi royalty to Russia. On the face of it, Saudi is looking for Russian cooperation in Syria - ie: a departure of Russia from the Syria conflict. However, the real reason for the sudden Saudi diplomacy toward Russia is peace overtures in an oil war they have lost. Saudi is now a lonely supplier of oil running out of markets. Worse for them, the US now no longer needs them for supply and or control of OPEC. The new OPEC is in Eurasia. Specifically Russia.

What all this means for the world of oil is that the cartel days are over. The US stands alone as an oil force. Eurasia and allies stand alone as an oil force. Saudi stands alone with Kuwait and Qatar. It means that world oil prices will now be permanently depressed - likely well below where they rest today. It means an end to the boom of the expensive oil exploration and trade that fueled petro economies around the world - my own included. It's a new reality. Oil is no longer King, and it is no longer exclusive. So, while OPEC is dead, a new oil King has been anointed. That King without any doubt whatsoever is Eurasia.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Canada's New Camelot

Justin Trudeau is the new Prime Minister of Canada - "designate" until official on November 4, 2015. He came to power on an upset, come from way behind wind for one reason - he promised to run deficits to make Canada more the Canada it once was. NDP leader Mulcair refused to permit a deficit in his campaign. By mid-September the NDP base, and soft support became quite agitated by his stand, and by September 29th the NDP's nose dive began. Mulcair was in essence out NDP'd by Trudeau, and people decided to vote for the "new NDP".

Trudeau's acceptance speech used colourful phrases like "hope", "positive change", and "sunny ways" which eerily echoed the dying days of much loved NDP leader Jack Layton. Strange days indeed. Be that as it may, Trudeau is being framed in a John F Kennedy - like light. Young, brash good looking, beautiful wife, beautiful children, even Catholic, and most of all "all things can be better in Canada". The question remains: "Can Trudeau be the JFK of Canada that the press is already framing him as?", although he is certainly laying that ground work himself. The young man who defeated the Nixon-like Prime Minister Harper.

He certainly has the personal capacity to be so. Wealthy, good looking, charming, and surrounded by a young and beautiful family. No question all those parts are there. He even has the spirit of his father over his shoulder. Pierre Trudeau remains a legendary personality in politics here - even in death (perhaps more so in death). The young man who grew up at 24 Sussex while his father Pierre made headlines at home and abroad as Canada's "happening PM", now returns to those hallowed halls where his own children will spend at least 4 if not 8-10 years growing up as he reigns over the country. The ghostly hand of Shakespeare could hardly pen a more expectant scene.

But, there remain major pitfalls for the young leader that he will have to wisely avoid in order to not meet that all to common tragic Shakespearean fate. The first is himself. It seems clear that statesmanship, or leader-like maturity, may be lacking. Flippant remarks that he will "tell Putin face-to-face " that he ought to but out of Ukraine. It's just an example of massively over playing your hand, and making yourself look foolish in the process. That type of bravado must be absolutely avoided at all costs in the future. Being a Prime Minister is serious business, not boxing in a ring.

Secondly, the people around him. Trudeau has made very public signs that he will delegate "deciding" to his ministers. Coincidentally, no doubt, the same leadership style his father championed - which is by the way our system of ministerial responsibility is meant to be conducted. He has for instance a number of military veterans in his caucus that can be Minister of Veterans Affairs. The retired General is the most high profile, and assigning him to the post would show his seriousness of addressing the veterans issues he promised to during the campaign. A serious stumble with veterans can be deathly - ask Mr. Harper.

Another potential problem for Mr. Trudeau is avoiding the hard line, ideologists in his party. One such person, who has had a high profile ride is Chrystia Freeland. A right wing, or "blue Liberal", Freeland goes way over board in her criticism of Russia - particularly in regard to Ukraine. Her vitriol borders on extremism. It is the kind of behavior that appeals to the Conservative base, but alienates and annoys average Canadians. Mr. Harper had a number of those in his caucus, and he paid for it dearly.

Finally, Trudeau has to get the cash from somewhere to pay for the promises he made during the campaign. No doubt he may look to the past and appoint Saskatchewan's Ralph Goodale to Finance Minister. That would make sense. A "Flaherty-like" character, Goodale would provide stability and comfort for the average Canadian. BUT, if the thought of increasing the GST back to 7% crosses the minds of Trudeau's brain trust - beware. At a time of recession, diminishing markets, etc, Canadians will be reluctant to take such a hike - especially in the "alienated" West. That could give rise to "another Trudeau is screwing us" and all that entails.

While Justin Trudeau aims to be the next JFK, knowingly or not, Camelot is a very hard thing to achieve and keep. JFK never had social media and 24/7 news to deal with. It was a different era in human history. Attempting to paint a modern Western country with that brush is possible, but fraught with complications. In any case, all the best to Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party as they attempt to return Canada back to the future, where most Canadians would like to be.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Kurdish Roulette

Once again the Kurds find themselves in the middle of things. Back during the first Operation Desert Storm vs Iraq, the Kurds of Northern Iraq rebelled against Hussein and fought with the allies. There were promises made to the Turks that the allies would protect them, and guarantee their autonomy -  in Northern Iraq only. The US imposed a "no-fly-zone" on the airspace above the Kurds for awhile after the war, but, and it's a big but, they abandoned the Kurds on the ground. Hussein took the opportunity to exact severe revenge. In Desert Storm 2, and with Hussein defeated, the US established a state of autonomy for the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Turkey was unimpressed.

To understand Turkey's almost hatred of the Kurds it's necessary to understand that the Kurds claim the southern, mountainous region of Turkey as a part of their homeland. That home also includes Northern Iraq and North Eastern Syria. In other words, they are in the middle of it. Here is a picture of their "homeland":

From their autonomous area in Northern Iraq the Kurds have moved west, and into Syria. Ostensibly they are fighting President Assad of Syria, along with several radical Islamist groups. In reality they engaged an overly ambitious ISIS army that attempted to conquer their Iraq territory - until the US air force put an end to it. Now the Kurds fight with those same ISIS formations to overthrow Assad. But is their goal to overthrow Assad, or is it more like carving  North East Syria up, and adding it to their "historic homeland"? I suggest the latter to be true.

Turkey seems to understand this ambition extremely well. It has fought a decades old guerrilla-type war against the Kurds to keep its territory intact. Now, with the Kurds again working with the allies to topple another middle eastern head of state, Turkey has become very alarmed. So much so that today it released the following statement:

"The PYD (Kurds) has been getting closer with both the United States and Russia of late. We view the PYD as a terrorist group and we want all countries to consider the consequences of their cooperation."

In other words, the Kurds are an enemy of the state of Turkey, and cooperation/legitimization of their interests will be considered an act of war by Turkey. Now some may say that is reading into it too much, but consider the US response - the withdrawal of all Patriot missile systems from Turkey today. Those systems were meant to safeguard turkey from Syrian aircraft, but they also kept the peace (relatively) between Syria and Turkey during the 5 year old conflict. Now there is no such buffer. In another development today, it was reported Turkish forces, equipped with armor and bulldozers, entered Northern Syria. Right where the Kurds are. You get the idea. Turkey is putting its national interests first, which are defensive in nature, before those of its allies or adversaries - economic and otherwise.

Meanwhile, the Russians are faced with a predicament. On the one hand they have no beef with the Kurds, and perhaps even see the Kurds as being useful in the interim to fight other Islamic groups in Syria. Perhaps they have even done a quiet handshake deal with the Kurds to look after them with some territory in Syria if the Kurds play ball in saving Assad. That wouldn't be too surprising. The problem is that to keep that promise would mean going to war with Turkey - the 4th largest military in the world. All very complicated and messy. That means the Kurds become expendable at the right time, and there is all smiles around the table of great powers within the region.

That in a nutshell has been the nature of the Kurds dilemma for along time - too small a player swimming against a tide of geo-political interests that only match theirs on a temporary basis. Each time their young people lay down their lives in this or that conflict, with the ever lasting hope that a great power will deliver them their complete homeland as compensation, they get betrayed. The nature of the game known as Kurdish Roulette.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Danny Williams Harper Attack - Hello Kettle

Danny Williams is a man who just has no shame whatsoever. None. His recent attack on Prime Minister Harper was nothing less than character assassination. Nation-wide, public character assassination. Now for those that don't know, Williams is known for taking people to court for defamation when he feels the least bit incensed about comments regarding his actions that are less than flattering. He's even sued people for comments that were not directly made about him personally, but at society's elites in general - that includes our provincial newspaper at the present.

Nope, Williams has no shame. He accused Harper of being anti-democratic. That may well be true in a sense, but this is coming from Danny Williams, a man commonly referred to as being a "bully" during his terms as premier. A man who: attacked a local mayor for speaking out against his government; ejected a lady from a provincial advisory board for a joke she made regarding the size of his penis; threatened unions when his son was beat up downtown; and so it goes. Williams reputation was that of tyrant, albeit mostly loved tyrant due to fast flowing oil money. Under his government the legislature became a rubber-stamp committee, and any MHA that dared challenge or question his wisdom was gone (2 are now Conservative Senators). Under his government the worst access to information law in the country was used to deny, deny, deny information. A man who kept individual colour coded files on reporters in the province, and assailed radio hosts on live provincial radio.

Yep, Williams was no statesman as he now pretends to be. He was an absolute control freak, not unlike what Harper gets accused of. Yet, in the Emperor has no clothes style, Williams struck out at Harper for being divisive, manipulating unrest in Quebec and the rest of the country, and using a divide and conquer approach to politics. Pardon me? This from the man who loved to, no thrived on berating Quebec and using the tools of division as if they were child's candy. Check this video or this one just to get a taste of how Danny Williams loved to divide Canadians for his own agenda.Then there was the lowering of Canada's flag at all provincial government buildings when he couldn't get his own way on the Atlantic Accord.

Perhaps the ugliest of sins that Williams accuses Harper of, racism, can in fact be found on his own doorstep. Williams often used the term "true Newfoundlander" in his many public commentaries. It begs the question: what is a "true Newfoundlander". Is that some kind of coded racist language in itself? Is there a "false Newfoundlander"? Is it a shot at new arrivals to Newfoundland often referred to as "come from aways" or "mainlanders". Are they not true Newfoundlanders? Is this racism in the form of provincial nationalism? It sure sounds and looks that way.

The truth about Danny Williams sanctimonious interview on the CBC regarding Harper is that almost all, if not all, the allegations he made against the Prime Minister could just as easily be made against him. He calls Harper a nasty man, and that may be true and it may not, but one thing is for certain, Williams is known to carry a grudge and to be outright "spitey" as we say on the Island. No further evidence needed than his tirade against Harper even though the Conservatives stand to win not a seat in Newfoundland and Labrador. Yep, it's just a character assassination from afar, sent with love, from a man who knows no sin.