Monday, July 14, 2008


Defence Minister Peter McKay (on the right)
Should heads roll?

Dick Cheney in one of his private moments
Did he write part of the report?

President Karzai (on the left) with friend

Here’s an update on Stevie Harper’s War.

The Globe and Mail reported Saturday that the Department of National Defence Center for Operational Research and Analysis began studying the 10-year Soviet nightmare in Afghanistan in 2006 – 5 years after Canada and its NATO allies began hostilities in that godforsaken country.

A report based on the study apparently found its way onto the desks of the Canadian Defence Department brass in 2007. It is entitled 3-D Soviet Style: A Presentation of the Lessons Learned from the Soviet Experience in Afghanistan. An executive summary of the work done to date says, “The project was undertaken for the purpose of determining whether this history offered any lessons to be learned for the Canadian Forces.”

Think about it. It took the Department of National Defence five long years after we sent our troops into combat to begin a study of the 1979-1989 Soviet War in Afghanistan to see if we could learn something from it. A war which, by the way, took the lives of 14,500 Soviet troops and destroyed 120 Soviet-built tanks, 300 helicopters and 118 planes. That’s not all. It was a war where as many as 120,000 Soviet troops served together at one time, and a total of 620,000 troops had been rotated in and out of the country during the war’s duration.

According to the Globe and Mail report, the study project on the Soviet catastrophe has revealed information that the Canadian military has learned from bitter on-the-ground experience since 2001. Jeez, do you think that if we had that info in 2001 maybe we could have avoided the bitter experience? For instance, the study concluded that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was a significant problem for the Russkies because the enemy – the mujahedeen – used it as a supply route for arms, resources and insurgents. Wow! Just what our enemy – the Taliban - is using it for today!

The report also states that Afghanistan would never be stable until the country had a growing stable economy so that it could provide for its own security. Well, I’ll be!! The Soviets, the study said, focused too much on security. But isn’t that what NATO is now doing there? Focusing exclusively on security – bolstering the police, the army, fighting the Taliban, and providing protection for very modest redevelopment?

If the Globe story is reliable – and the Globe is the only Canadian newspaper that has been consistently reliable on the current Afghanistan war – the Canadian taxpayer sure didn’t get his money’s worth from the report. Much of it is quite trite. In a section that could have been written by Dick Cheney himself (given the way the Harper government looks up to the neocon crowd in D.C., Cheney may very well have been the author) the study says that it was high time that Afghanistan developed its oil and gas industry to benefit the country’s economy. We also learned from the report that “successive battlefield victories do not guarantee strategic success” when dealing with an insurgency. Shocking, indeed! There was even more lightweight stuff, such as the observation that “engaging and enfranchising local populations and power centers is of critical importance.” Yes, yes, empowerment is always good for the people.

What monumental hubris, arrogance or stupidity or combination thereof, would lead our military to overlook for so long something so relevant to the lives and safety of our troops as the recent tragic Soviet experience in Afghanistan? And how could that 10-year war which took so many lives lead to such threadbare piffle conclusions. Heads should roll over this bush league (pardon the pun, but one must admit it is very apt in this case) performance of the big guns at Defence.

This blog has long been very negative on the war being waged in Afghanistan.

As I’ve pointed out many times, the biggest problem is our allies. They do not have their hearts in it. They have contributed only 47,000 troops to the cause – a pathetic number that allows no chance for meaningful success. Most of them are afraid to send their troops into the main theatres of battle – such as where the Canadians are in Kandahar – for fear of taking too many casualties in a conflict which has no end in sight. As former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives ‘Tip’ O’Neill used to say, “All politics is local,” and the locals from NATO’s member states would not like taking too many casualties.

Another problem is corruption. The country is ridden with corruption from the bottom to the very top. The President, an old lobbyist for Unocal, is compromised and distrusted. Worse yet, our brave troops have to look the other way while bumper poppy crops - the only cash crop in the country – supply 90% of more of the world’s heroin supply. And, why should we be trying to prop up a country where one can still be executed for converting to Christianity?

The NATO Afghanistan initiative has been half-baked from day one. It has been doomed from the beginning because our allies have it well down their priority list of things to do. Complicating the mess even further is that amongst our allies and including our own government there is little knowledge and understanding of the history of that wild country and the repeated failures of foreign powers – even empires – to bring some order or civilized influence to the region.

The whole deal is going badly. The sooner Canadians realize this, start bellyaching in earnest about it, and put real heat on our government to get the hell out, the better off we’ll all be, including our troops.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Jason Fekete, wrote on July 5, 2008 for his employer, the Calgary Herald:

"The NEP - which set domestic oil prices lower than the world price and steered energy exploration out of Alberta - crippled the province's economy for a decade, but it was compounded by a collapse in world oil markets."

Gwyn Morgan (last year) speechified as reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

“when Ralph became Premier [1993], Alberta was suffering the after effects of Trudeau's national energy program followed by a prolonged slump in energy prices."

Neil Waugh (yesterday) as reported in the Edmonton Sun wrote:

". . . Pierre Trudeau's evil 1980 national energy program . . . brought on 10 years of economic winter in Alberta . . ." "

All of the above indicated in italics are either statements of mendacity or ignorance.

You decide which.

For further reading see:

Sunday, July 06, 2008


For those of you who read my musings, Rick Bell has appeared in my pages more than once. These days he is temporarily out of my doghouse. The quality of his work has risen perceptibly since he was recently awarded SunMedia's prestigious J. Douglas Creighton Award. The Award is named after a much loved colorful co-founder and one of the publishers of the Sun organization. It was bestowed upon Bell for his undeniable excellent writing skills that has graced the Sun pages over many years.

Yesterday morning at the Calgary Zoo, I ran into the seasoned old pro Bell. He was there covering the speech of Stephane Dion at the annual Grit Stampede Breakfast. After exchanging the usual pleasanteries interspersed with a few loud guffaws, he introduced me to reporter Jason Fekete of the Calgary Herald who was standing nearby. I had never met Fekete before. He seemed like an earnest young man and was friendly enough. However, the introduction was perfunctory and fleeting. Hardly an opportunity to size up the personality and skill set of the young scribe.

Dion went on to wow the crowd of 500 or so party faithful with a forty minute exposition of his 'Green Shift' policy, delivered articulately and passionately without a note. The crowd gave him many warm and long bursts of applause throughout the speech, ending with a heartfelt standing ovation. It seems that there are a lot of 'Green Shift' sympathizers in cowtown. I have heard Dion speak many times in the past, but this was his very best outing and his listeners rewarded him accordingly.

After the festivities had concluded, I returned home and picked up my morning edition of the Calgary Herald which I had yet to read. I was disappointed but not surprised to see that the second most prominent story on the front page was - as you might expect from an organization that is in the throes of a steamy love affair with Bush's pal Steve Harper - a negative story about the Liberals. It was written by Fekete who I had just met. The headline read "Grit's blog slurs Alberta." The piece was about the incendiary musings of maverick Ontario Liberal MP and former Tory, Garth Turner. Turner has mused like this before. He's a loose cannon. All parties have had loose cannons. I would question whether Turner's musings - like pitbull stories - are the right stuff for front page treatment. For that I don't blame Fekete. It was probably the work of one of his rag's many Conservative cheerleader editors. So be it.

But as I read further into the story, I did find something in Fekete's story that, well, . . really pissed me off. It was the invoking of the mother of all of our fears - Alberta's potato famine, its holocaust. Yes, the Ace up every RAT (ReformAllianceTory)'s sleeve, and the rabbit in every RAT's hat - the National Energy Program! The evil and dreaded NEP!

Now, being a Grit in Alberta, I need not dwell on the fact that I do not like the mention of the NEP. Of course, I don't. After all, our opponents have been flogging us about the NEP for - believe it or not - more than twenty-eight years! But what I really dislike is when it is made to look a lot worse than it was. When history is cast aside in the interests of advertising revenues or pamphleteering, or pandering to an important well-heeled segment of the Herald's dwindling readership. That is when it really gets to me.

The offending paragraph of Fekete's article reads: "The NEP - which set domestic oil prices lower than the world price and steered energy exploration out of Alberta - crippled the province's economy for a decade, but it was compounded by a collapse in world oil markets."
A fair interpretation of Fekete's words is that it was the NEP that caused our economic woes for ten years, and the collapse of world oil markets did not make things any easier. This is nonsense!
These are the facts:

1. The NEP was introduced in October, 1980.
2. Brian Mulroney and the Tories were elected in September, 1984.
3. Mulroney's Western Accord ended the NEP in March of 1985.

So, Fekete's history lesson so far is that the life of the NEP was four and one-half years - not a decade.

But here's more history - economic history, in this case - for Mr. Fekete:

  • Between October 1980 and December 1980 when the slowdown began to take hold in the oil and gas industry, as well as other parts of the economy, interests rates - led by the Federal Reserve Board of the United States - rose from 13.5% to 20.50%.

In other words, NEP came into force and interest rates shot to the moon, just like that. There was no lag in time between the NEP and spiralling interest rates. Think of it - homeowners facing twenty percent mortgage rates. Investment loan interest in the same levels of the stratosphere. Business in times like that has only one way to go - down! It went down. And it got worse:

  • By September 1981 - one year after the introduction of the NEP - interest rates were still hovering at 20%.
  • Through 1980, the average price of a barrel of oil was $37.42 US (inflation adjusted to 2007 $97.68 US).
  • Through 1984, the average price of a barrel of oil was $28.75 US (inflation adjusted to 2007 $59.47 US).
  • Through 1986, a mere 6 years after the NEP and almost 2 years after the Western Accord that trashed the NEP, the average price of a barrel of oil was $14.44 US (inflation adjusted to 2007 $28.29 US - about 29% of the real value of a barrel of oil in 1980 when the NEP was initiated).
  • Between 1987 and 1990 the average price per barrel ranged from $17.75 US to $23.19 US (inflation adjusted to 2007 $33.56 US to $38.02 - 35% to 38% of the real value of a barrel of oil in 1980 when the NEP was initiated).

And so, there was little lag in time between the NEP coming into force and collapsing oil prices. What this history tells us is that the NEP was literally the least of our problems.

See, Historical Oil Prices

See, Historical Interest Rates

See also,

So the NEP - as bad as it was, and it was not good policy admittedly - was only a factor that lasted not more than four and a half years. A long way from a decade. Far more trouble came to the oil and gas sector because of high interest rates and plunging oil prices (caused in part at least by high interest rates), all of which started at about the same time the NEP came into force. The NEP did not set interest rates or oil prices. It was those high interest rates and low oil prices that caused far more economic havoc for Albertans and lasted a helluva lot longer than the NEP.

Politics being what it is, I can understand why politicians sometimes misrepresent facts or skew them a certain way so as to reap some political gain. That's politics, and if one is involved in politics, it goes with the territory. But why should a newspaper do the same? What about the old newspaper value of informing the public - informing the public of the facts, not myths, so the public can make intelligent choices. That's what newpapers used to stand for, and what too often these days, they do not stand for.

Back a long while ago, when the Calgary Herald was a venerable newspaper of record, it would have accurately reported all of the economic facts about the NEP. Those days are clearly over now that it has become merely a cheap Conservative/Fraser Institute pamphlet.