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)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Patriot Games: Ukraine,Venezuela and the like.

The Olympics are over, and so is the peace. During the games, two separate, but curiously related insurgencies erupted: one in the Ukraine and one in Venezuela. Separated from each other by geography, but linked to each other by the "national interests" of the United Sates. Venezuela being the pot that stirs the anti-american kettle in South America, and the Ukraine being the soft under belly of Russia's traditional buffer zone to the West.

They each erupted over civil issues: Ukraine-a loan agreement with Russia and the abandoning of the European Union approach; and Venezuela - a student protest over security on a campus. From there they both transformed into mass demonstrations, complete with violence and death. Each insurgency sought primarily one thing - the over throw of their government. A troubling trend.

If you believe that democracy is the rule of the majority, as expressed by election of representatives, then you have to be concerned about these events. Both Venezuela and the Ukraine are democracies that elect their own governments. We may not like the choices made, and the losers of the elections may not like to lose, but that is the natural result of democracy. There are those that win elections and those that lose. The key is to respect the result of the election. To do otherwise is to undermine the very foundation of democracy, and unfortunately we've been seeing a lot of that recently.

A short while ago, the Egyptian military overthrew the elected President of Egypt. The reason? He wasn't governing on behalf of all Egyptians. Those that voted against him in the election protested and demanded he be overthrown, and after much bloodshed he was. Ditto for the Ukraine. Possibly the same coming for Venezuela. If any one reads this that believes these "revolts" are spontaneous cries for freedom, well, you're fooling yourself. These are quite obviously "revolts" that resulted from the destabilization of these governments, because they didn't serve the "national interest". The problem with this approach is that it takes us back, yet again, to the rule of the jungle.

We barely walked away from the American/European intervention in Syria without a world war. If you recall, while the Americans and French were threatening to turn the Syrian government into a parking lot by way of military strikes, the Chinese and Russians were sending war ships and troops to the area in response. Like the Ukraine, Syria involved key strategic allies of Russia - vital to its national interests. Now, we are headed back to a similar scenario. However, this time the stakes are far greater, and far more dangerous.

Up until now the Russians and the West were satisfied with trying to bribe the Ukraine government over to one side or the other. The Russians offering $15 billion in aid, and the West offering EU trade membership. When the Ukrainian government chose the Russian option over the Western option all hell broke loose. Demonstrations and then violence flooded the centre of Kiev. Then, when the government agreed to go with the Western option and abandon the Russian option, the crowds demanded a change of President. Finally, the Ukrainian President changed his mind again, and went with the Russian option. That resulted in an escalation of the violence, many deaths, and his overthrow.

Now, as I write this, Russian troops, ships and aircraft are being deployed all around Ukraine. At a minimum, it looks as though Russia is prepared to annex Eastern Ukraine, which is heavily influenced by Russia, and home to many Russian speaking people. It's also home to the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. That is a minimum. At a maximum, Russia could decide that its "national interests" require a buffer state the size of all of the Ukraine. Russia has always used countries around it as buffer states to foreign aggression. It is at the core of Russian strategic planning, and always has been. It is the reason why the US and Britain have already issued warnings to Russia not to militarily intervene. It's another game of chicken between the US and Russia - just like Syria.

What should trouble us in all this, besides the obvious dangers of war, is what I call "democracy of convenience". That is, yes we'll be democratic, but if we decide that our interests aren't being served, we will overthrow that democratically elected government. Having a "democracy of convenience" is like having "principles of convenience", neither of them mean anything. The problem with having "democracies of convenience", that don't mean anything, is that the entire order of our world is threatened. After all, our trade and integrity as countries in a global community requires rules, protocols, and order. Without it, the world becomes a free for all. We are at that point now. A free for all. We can't expect to disregard the very things that separate us from the animal kingdom, and remain apart from the jungle.

Perhaps, that is the way it's meant to go. Perhaps our society, and our freedoms such as they are, have become inconvenient. Perhaps this is all one step toward the collapse of our international order which might result in a world government of sorts. Perhaps that is the point. Maybe the only thing left to decide between the big powers of the US, China, Russia, and the West is who will dominate that world government. Just maybe that is what we are witnessing in our time. In any case one thing is for certain, the values of democracy are being rendered meaningless each and every day - to our certain detriment.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is Newfoundland and Labrador Falling Down?

With 500 years of history behind it, and oil revenues fueling the engines of hyper inflation in its urban areas, Newfoundland and Labrador should be a bright spot in Canada. It should be, but honestly, it isn't. In fact, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is sleep walking into a disaster of its own making.

A great deal of Newfoundland's problem stem from those 500 years of abstract poverty for the many. While it didn't kill the independent spirit of the people, it did kill the education system. Generation after generation were brought up in a religious dominated education system that did nothing to advance intellectual development or debate. The priority of a great many people was simply survival, and in many ways that remains true today. If you leave the province with children, enroll them in a school elsewhere in the country, you will know how far they've been let down by the education system here.

However, it's not the children who are causing the fall of this province. It's the adults. It is evident every day, of every month, of every year. Many commentators call it "apathy". Apathy is at the root of all of Newfoundland's problems they say. People won't engage in the political system or hold their representatives to account beyond voting every four years, or so. There is a real nugget of truth in this. If the adults can't see beyond "keeping up with the Jones", with their shiny new sleds, the big houses, the monster trucks, then who will?

Frankly, it's a case of built up expectations being released in a volley of consumption. Having so little for so long created an appetite to have it all at once. The new found oil wealth was the fuel. Responsibility left the room. Greed entered. You can see it everywhere in the province. Whether it's the epidemic of failed marriages in a place rooted in "the family", or the epidemic of crime and drugs, or even the provincial government's abandoning of anything resembling responsible fiscal policy, the infection of greed is everywhere. It is no longer "we Newfoundlanders stick together". It is no longer "one for all and all for one." Sure, that rhetoric still gets used by politicians to defend this spending priority, or that project, but it is just rhetoric now. It has now been replaced with "me,me,me".

That attitude has caused deep and dark chasms all across the province. A good example is "townies" in St. John's debating whether rural Newfoundland is worth spending any money on. We've had actual conversations on province-wide radio about whether it's necessary for the affluent Avalon Peninsula to spend oil dollars in rural Newfoundland for such things as roads, ferries, or even basics like water supplies. Which, totally ignores the fact 50% of the population lives in the rural part of the province. The tone is so self-serving, so self-absorbed, it borders on narcissism. Group narcissism. Arrogance fueled by the need to look down upon others to make yourself feel important. Danny Williams, as premier, fueled this feeling and channeled it into a nationalism that can only be termed "ugly". The most recent example being Williams' indignant "bullshit" comment when confronted with the scientific reality that Newfoundland and Labrador's population is in imminent decline. As if it were an attack on the very people of the province by "negative nay-sayers", and not the brush of reality that it was by the Conference Board of Canada.

The schisms haven't stopped at the island portion of the province. Labrador has become alienated. Labradorians watch as their rivers and lands are exploited for the benefit of the coffers in St. John's. they grow angry and resentful as they travel along unpaved highways, and watch their young people die from a lack of search and rescue and extreme substance abuse problems in the aboriginal communities. They are tired of a central government, located far away, using them for what they can get and giving only a pittance back. Some Newfoundland commentators say this is small minded on the behalf of Labradorians, but they fail to see the same in themselves. Just witness the constant attacks against the federal government for not doing enough in the fishery, or ferries, or what have you. In most cases we are right to be outraged, but yet we don't afford that same right to Labradorians.

It has become a central theme in Newfoundland. A lack of accountability. Whether it is the government passing Bill 29 to avoid accountability in general or banning the Public Utilities Board from holding Nalcor and the Lower Churchill development accountable by exempting it from the Public Utilities Act, it's all about not being accountable. It's everyone's fault but ours. There is nothing wrong with us, it's everyone else. Rural Newfoundland is meant to die. Labrador is meant to be used. It is for the greater good, and that good rests in St. John's and the Avalon.

The province has blown $14 billion in oil revenues in less than a decade. The provincial budget has gone from $4 billion to $8 billion in less then ten years. The unfunded pensions remain unfunded to the tune of almost $7 billion. The gross debt is larger than it was before the oil boom began in 2003. Yet, outside of St. John's and the Avalon there is almost nothing to show for it, other than the inflated prices caused by unsustainable spending. The people in Labrador are tired of sending their wealth to the collective credit card. The people in rural Newfoundland are angry at the state of their health care, and basic necessities of life - like roads and water supplies.The province is breaking apart along geographical areas. Talk of Labrador separation is becoming more and more evident on province-wide radio shows. Talk of absent, neglected or substandard services in rural Newfoundland is the same.

The place that had been in poverty for 500 years has, at its moment in history, fallen down. It has failed to manage itself for the benefit and interest of its people - all its people. It refuses to look inward and accept what is wrong, and change it. It drives to be the one to reap reward, and turns its back on those left behind. It has grown cold, and the cold, like a sheet of ice, has shattered the geographic and societal conscience of this place we love. Is Newfoundland and Labrador falling down? Yes it is. And what a shame.      

Monday, February 17, 2014

The PUB Complaint on Muskrat Falls filed

Today myself and five other people filed an official complaint with the Public Utilities Board (PUB) here in the province. These people come from all over the province - Labrador, the Northern Peninsula, and here on Random Island.

The provincial government designed its Lower Churchill strategy around pushing public oversight of the project beyond us. It exempted Nalcor from PUB scrutiny. Ditto for the entire Lower Churchill project, including transmission lines, dams, everything. It had the whole deal sown up, except for one thing. In order to allow for the Churchill dam projects, Muskrat Falls now and Gull Island later, the government amended the Electrical Power Control Act in 2007 to allow it to effectively force CFLCo to break the Power Contract with Hydro-Quebec. When Hydro-Quebec's directors on the CFLCo Board vetoed the proposed Water Management Agreement, leaving the door open for Nalcor to go to the PUB. The PUB dutifully implemented the agreement as they were required to do under the Act.

The government had a plan. It can be found further on in the Electrical Power Control Act. Specifically, it allows the government to declare a "State of Emergency" if for "some reason" it should be in a situation where it does not have enough power or water to supply the power "needs" of the province. The way to look at this is the government is essentially creating its own state of emergency. The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled legislation like this is unconstitutional. The government knows this. There plan is simple: build the dam by legislating away any legal opposition; have the dam and more importantly the transmission lines built before their case with Hydro-Quebec goes to Court; and when the Court sides with Hydro-Quebec declare a state of emergency.

Under that state of emergency the provincial government appoints an Emergency Coordinator, who decides who gets what power, including Hydro-Quebec and the Upper Churchill. The state of emergency stays in place until the government decides it's over. There is no legislated criteria for when it starts or when it ends. All of this has been tested in the Supreme Court of Canada, and all of it has failed - completely. That's my problem. I know it's going to fail. When you know something is going to fail, and you know your fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are going to be sacrificed in the process, you have two choices: do nothing and let it happen; or do something and try to stop that sacrifice. I chose the latter.

I have already filed a lawsuit that is going through the Courts, and is in the Appeal Court now. And, today, myself and five others filed an official complaint with the PUB over that same Water Management Agreement. The government had to open their flank by giving the PUB the power to order a water management agreement, but in doing so they also left the power with the PUB to rescind the agreement. Perhaps, even more importantly, the Public Utilities Act requires that when a complaint is filed, and it involves a question of law, the PUB must refer it to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Court of Appeal for a judicial reference. Essentially, the agreement will be judged on its constitutionality. So, while the government has done everything it can to avoid a judicial review of the water management agreement until the dam is built and it's too late, they left the power with the PUB to do just that. All it took was five people to sign an official complaint to put it before the PUB. That's what we did today. Now it's up to the PUB to follow the Act and send it to the Appeal Court for it's day of judgement. The official complaint is below:


Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Ghost of Premiers Past

Danny Williams is what my father would say is a promoter. That is they are big cheer leaders when it comes to other people's money. As premier he spent like a drunken sailor. The $10 billion or so he went through in oil revenues was poured into a provincial economy which, until that time, was like a fire starved for wood. Property values, wages and inflation sky rocketed as they do when that sort of thing happens. Locally it was referred to the "buddy boom". What he didn't do was pay the biggest bill the province has - the unfunded pension liabilities. Kind of like a teenager with a new job spending all his money on a new car and not paying his rent.

What he did do was get the Muskrat Falls dam project on course. He spent years, from 2003 til 2009 drafting pieces of legislation here and there that gave the province some false hope on taking power from the Upper Churchill, and setting the course for Muskrat Falls and his land development in the suburbs of St. John's.

So this past week was a home truth week. A week when many buried issues came home to roost. The Conference Board of Canada came out with its study stating our province would see a dramatic drop in population, by 2035, to about 482,000 people - worst in the country. Williams, true to form, lashed out at the Board's credibility and called their study "bull shit". Well, unfortunately for Williams, he is the one who is full of bullshit. The demographic change has its roots in the decade 1985-95 when 140,000 Newfoundlanders under the age of 25 left the province. A massive hole in the demographic of the province that could only be reversed by an immediate and similar size immigration.

However, Williams isn't much for people raining on his parade. The very same day as the Board's statement on population decline, Williams was back in Newfoundland from his sunny mansion in Florida, to promote his new, massive land development. Seems Williams was quite disturbed by the idea that he would be foolish enough to build 10,000 new homes when the population is receding. In typical Williams style, he lashed out at the Board for being "negative". Apparently, not good for business.

He also took the opportunity to promote a new power line from the Upper Churchill to Lab West for Alderon Iron Ore Inc - estimated to cost the taxpayers $300 million. In fact, he called it a "no-brainer". The problem with that assessment is it's not entirely clear the Upper Churchill facility can be modified without the consent of Hydro-Quebec, and it's definitely not clear the Water Management Agreement he imposed on Hydro-Quebec to make Muskrat Falls possible is legal either. None the less, it's a no-brainer. Perhaps, being a person who stands to gain a great deal from the Alderon mine development would say such a thing. Williams is a hired "strategic consultant" at Alderon, as is his girlfriend, and he holds 1,250,000 share options and 100,000 shares in it. You never hear that bit in the media here for some reason. So, like the population decline affecting his glorious housing development, the power line is a must for his mining development.

Of course, Williams says he would never put his reputation on the line for such small things. However, the facts say when it comes to his self-interest, Williams takes care of business. But does that mean he's right? Take the case of Bill Barry. He's a self-made wealthy businessman dealing in the fish industry. He's also bluntly honest, and not a fan of Muskrat Falls, or many other of Williams' decisions as Premier. On the same day as Williams made the proclamations from on high above, he also took the opportunity to falsely accuse Mr. Barry of wanting to: privatize Nalcor; privatize health care; and privatize education. He said Barry stated all these things in a memo sent to caucus for support in Barry's leadership bid for the PCs. The truth is Barry said none of them, and when Barry published the memo, Williams was caught in his lies.

It seems that Williams is still caught up in the days of being Premier, and spinning people lines that they took hook, line, and sinker. The truth of those lines is starting to ebb to the surface. Case in point, Wabush Mines. It announced this week that it's closing a mine in Labrador. The reason? No business case. So Williams "no-brainer" case for running a publicly funded $300 million power line to a mine, he holds the single largest share options in, looks self-serving and not in the public's interest. To build a new mine with borrowed Chinese money when the market is clearly flooded is one thing. To build a dam and run power lines for mines with the public's money is another.

It seems that the ghost of Danny Williams still haunts the Province.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Can Alderon Iron Ore Have Their Power Lines?

Alderon Iron Ore Corp has been launching an all out offensive over the last three weeks to get their $300 million transmission lines run from the Upper Churchill facility to Lab West, and of course their Kami mine site. Without the power line, Alderon claims its Chinese financing will dry up within mere weeks, and the project will be moth balled. Alderon has been able to get Loud Labradorian MP Jones to screech for them. They have got the towns on board with agreements, and the hollering that comes from that. They even inked a deal with the Innu. They are crossing their "I's" and dotting their "T's" in a virtual hearts and minds campaign aimed at putting pressure on the ...PC government.

Pressuring the PC government? Aren't they supposed to be allies in the whole Muskrat Falls rah-rah team? That is the way it was til a short while ago. Now suddenly Alderon is threatening the taxpayers that if they don't come up with $240 million (our share of the $300 million) they will take their toys from the sand box and leave. The press are covering the whining. Dutifully printing out Alderon's words. Funny enough not allowing comments on the stories - at the CBC anyway. Yes, all in all, it's a typical Newfoundland railroading job on the taxpayers.

Strange that the media aren't asking a few really pertinent questions of our politicians like: 1. Does the Power Contract allow us to add any transmission systems to the Upper Churchill; Does the Shareholders Agreement of 1999 play a role; and why would we invest in a $300 million line when the Quebec lawsuit will be before the courts until at least 2018? Never hear a single word about these issues in our press. Not a word. Bizarre. Truly bizarre. Do we have an investigative press here at all, or is that simply restricted to why buddy had to wait three hours in the E.R.? Is all about the cat in the tree, or the skater, or the garbage collection? Is there not at least one press person, other than the true giants of media here (the open line show's hosts) that can look and report an issue in depth? Warn the people? Inform the people? Doesn't appear so, and that makes us truly unique in Canada.

Should we place one penny in the Alderon/Lab West transmission line? No. And frankly neither should Alderon's shareholders. Bottom line is without a court tested water management agreement, so there is actually power to send down the transmission line, and until Hydro-Quebec get's on board and allows the modification of the Upper Churchill facilities (which in the Power Contract includes roads, lines, town site, everything) no more power can be sent to Lab West - not one kwh.

It's time the government was honest with the people, and say: " Look we came to an agreement with Hydro-Quebec to swap documents and examine each other's witnesses, and that's agreed by court order to take to August 2015, then we go to court, and then we may have to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. We feel it would be irresponsible to spend money on a line like that until we are sure we can send power down it. Wouldn't be fair to taxpayers or Alderon's shareholders."

That would be the truth, but this government isn't known for being truthful. It is known to be manipulative, secretive, and hell bent on screwing us (Abitibi - case in point). If the PCs want to turn things around it will take baby steps with big impact. This will be a test for the "new" leadership. This is also a test for the opposition parties. Why would they promote this line given the circumstances? Is it all about politics or is there a sense of duty. A sense that there is a common sense voice that can be trusted? I guess we'll see, but decision makers be aware. The days of making deals to make the boys happy, and sacrifice the people, are over. Govern yourselves accordingly.