Whose security and prosperity?
And what do those thudding words mean, anyway?
They don’t have quite the ring of liberté, égalité, fraternité, do they. They don’t sound like the highest ideals of the citizens of a modern democracy, and that would make sense since they are anything but.
From all we know of the tacky euphemisms so beloved of the mouthpieces for the SPP – security, prosperity, harmonisation, integration, convergence, mobility, dialogue, partnership – they are cosmetic terms for the real aims of people who think that citizens are inefficient, liberty is dangerous, and equality is too expensive.
Secrecy is a lot of fun for them, though. They really get off on secrets.
There has been some confusion and some downright nonsense talked and written about the SPP on both sides of the border in recent weeks. For some of the best sense in Canada I take instruction first of all from Alison at Creekside, writing at her own place, at The Galloping Beaver, and at Bread and Roses. (As someone wrote last week: Alison talk: you listen.) It was Alison who first alerted some of us to the strange turn that anti-continentalisation had taken in the U.S., pre-emptively possessed by the 'way far-out right, but then she had to jerk us (ok: me, anyway) to attention as well about the American left’s consequent misreading of the issue and its failure to protest the corporatising ambitions of our current political and business elites.
Last week, Chet Scoville of The Vanity Press wrote a superb open letter to American progressives at Shakesville, setting out the serious (as opposed to the extreme right-wing paranoid nativist) history of and dangers posed by the SPP to democracy in all three nations (h/t to pogge at BnR). That’s the best summary of the historical context and significant diplomatic moves that I’ve seen, and it deserves broad distribution. Chet closes with this appeal to American progressives who are leaving the field to right-wing extremists:
In the end, it comes down to this: despite the embellishments that the rightists are guilty of, the SPP is real. It claims to be nothing to worry about, but its negotiations are happening behind closed doors, and have been for two years and counting. It is affecting life throughout the continent at the most basic levels. It is a process of subjecting all North Americans to corporate rule in as many remaining areas of life as possible, and stripping citizens' abilities to set their own standards through their legislatures.
The people have never been consulted on it. No politician has run for election with the SPP as part of their platform; nobody has a mandate from the people to put it in place. American progressives should be demanding that the process become open and transparent. Instead, they have ceded the issue to the crankiest of right-wing cranks, who are mingling the facts with their own paranoid fantasies. And with no American progressives on board, Canadian progressives opposed to the SPP find themselves alone in the fight -- for there's no way they could ever make common cause with the John Birchers, and the animosity would surely be mutual.
Divide and conquer is of course an old strategy. The frustrating thing, though, is that when it comes to the SPP, American progressives have done the division part all by themselves.
Some of us wonder whether American progressives are slower to pick up on the problems of “harmonisation” because its most immediate effects look likely to be an erosion of higher standards and an often more generous social consensus in Canada.
Linda McQuaig notes, for instance, that the process of bringing Canadian and American regulatory standards into “harmony” with one another (a process begun under NAFTA but speeded up by the SPP) recently resulted in Canada’s raising the levels of pesticide residue allowed on produce in order to bring us into line with weaker U.S. standards. (No, nobody has been running that sort of regulatory change past Parliament, aka our elected representatives. How quaint of you to ask.)
Now, you’d think that the rational solution to the difference between national standards might have been to decide that no one anywhere should be poisoned. Our elected representatives – even some American elected representatives – might have decided that, especially if the issue had first been put to your typical uppity citizen. And on a continent where significant numbers of everyone’s elites seem to believe that the solution is to make sure that Canadians and Americans are being poisoned in equal measure, a little citizen uppitiness seems in order, wouldn’t you think?
We all know what the most serious threats are. "Security": that would be the euphemism for the will of our elites to exploit fear and ignorance as a way to control who may cross borders and why, who may fly, who is deserving of a legal defence, and perhaps even who may speak out and how in public. "Prosperity": that would cover the greed of our elites, to whom people are at best consumers and more usually commodities, just like our water and all our other natural resources, most of which they will despoil while trying to get at the few that will make for the few more than a few quick bucks. Our healthcare systems, all our social services and public benefits systems, all inspire little dollar signs in the eyes of our aspiring corporatists.
Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians deserve our thanks and praise for their steady, careful research and activism on continental integration over the years, even before NAFTA met Homeland Security and spawned the SPP, the NACC (North American Competitiveness Council), the Banff North American Forums, the Washington CSIS discussions about bulk water exports from Canada to the U.S., and who knows how many other cosy gatherings where political leaders schmooze with the only interested parties whose interests they can identify with, even recognize.
Mainstream pundits, when they haven’t tried to smear Canadian critics of the SPP with the strange-bedfellows meme (did Pat Boone ever show or what?), have mainly been writing anodyne dismissals of the entire process, as in this Toronto Star column from Frank Dyment. Secret meetings will do that to the msm, of course, since they leave your average reporter with little to report, your average editor with a lot of blank space to fill, your average producer with too much footage of sheer tear gas, and your average pundit with nothing to regurgitate at all. See this lovely little summary of the trials of the msm from Maisonneuve’s Daniel Casey:
The Citizen pulls off a trifecta of dismissal: a story about how boring the talks are, how so little of any consequence will be discussed there, accompanied by an interview with Canadian Chamber of Commerce head Perrin Beatty smugly opining that “protesters believe in a zero-sum game” in defiance of the iron-clad law of comparative advantage, and followed by a dry account of the protest itself. To cap it all off, there’s a piece from US ambassador David Wilkins on the editorial page, advising us to leave our leaders to their folksy tête-á-têtes, because “that’s what diplomacy is all about.” A conservative estimate would put the ratio of opinion to news content addressing the summit in today’s Citizen at five to one, which oversells the point to the extent that the paper loses credibility. When put together, Harper’s penchant for secrecy, the security bubble around a widely unpopular US president, and the divided Mexican electorate that voted in Felipe Calderon in a questionable poll last year, are all combining with the visible unpopularity of the continental-integration agenda to create a vacuum of information about the “Security and Prosperity Partnership.” When Harper came into power and changed press briefing rules, the media were up in arms for weeks. Now they see a vacuum about a much more consequential policy issue and fill it with reassurance; were it that the media was as concerned with our collective access to information as they are with their own.
Meanwhile, the usual suspects (those guys who fancy themselves our political and corporate “leaders”) say some appallingly ignorant and vulgar things about democracy and their fellow citizens that deserve to be memorialized:
Thomas D'Aquino, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the body that first got the NACC going:
"I do not say to myself, 'If I don't get an hour with the prime minister in the next six months, I'm going to go out and protest and reject the system outright,' " he said.
"I don't do that because civilized human beings — those who believe in democracy — don't do that."
Stephen Harper on Monday, taking the opportunity to sneer at Canadian citizens while welcoming Dubya to Montebello:
"I've heard it's nothing," the prime minister said when asked whether he'd seen the protesters.
"A couple hundred? It's sad."
Perrin Beatty of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (and superannuated failed politician):
“Protestors believe in a zero-sum game.”
David Wilkins, U.S. ambassador to Canada:
Unlike in Europe, all this is taking place without government direction. What is happening at the government level is co-operation.
And when you get right down to it, that's what diplomacy is all about: relationship building. It's about meeting face to face and understanding issues and perspectives at a personal level.
I was personally very sorry that we didn’t hear this time from Ron Covais of Lockheed Martin, the garrulous fellow who let us in on the purpose of the NACC a year ago:
"We've decided not to recommend any things that would require legislative changes," says Covais. "Because we won't get anywhere."
Covais figures they've got less than two years of political will to make it happen. That's when the Bush administration exits, and "The clock will stop if the Harper minority government falls or a new government is elected."
Now there’s a thought! The Bush administration is going down ugly, uglier than I’ve ever seen, although no doubt with a capacity for murderous vengeance still, and the Harper PMO and Canadian corporate execs are still clinging to that ship? Rats have more sense. As jj at Unrepentant Old Hippy says, it’s like watching someone hop on to the boxcar in a slow-motion train wreck.
And speaking of jj, don’t miss her round-up of the jellybean presser Bush and Harper smirked and sneered through on Tuesday. The American press know nothing and care less about the SPP, so they asked Bush their knee-jerk questions about Iraq, so Bush maundered on about Iraq. Afghanistan? Bush maundered on about liberating women. Harper finally got his chance to demonstrate how much he respects his fellow citizens and made his trivializing jellybean speech, tossing in a Rovian kicker at the end in a transparent ploy to discredit Canadian critics as wingnut American conspiracy theorists:
Citing the kind of problems the three leaders are trying to solve, Mr. Harper referred to differing product standards in Canada and the United States for the content of jellybeans, which he said forced Canadian candy-makers to maintain two separate inventories at additional cost.
“Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize the jellybeans? Maybe Mr. Dion thinks so,” he said in a reference to Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's opposition to the Security and Prosperity Partnership. “But I don't think so.”
Mr. Harper mocked Mr. Dion for alleging that the Partnership would lead to massive diversion of water resources from Canada to the U.S. and he laughed at critics who allege that the three leaders are secretly planning a NAFTA super-highway from Mexico to Canada.
Referring to the highway, official plans for which do not actually exist, Mr. Harper sarcastically remarked that the road is “perhaps inter-planetary as well.”
That is not a prime minister. That is an exceptionally nasty, ill-tempered man with no grasp of democratic principle and no patience for the work of putting it into practice. He is no leader, although he is clearly a boss. And if he was, terrifyingly enough, one of the few people present who understood anything at all of what is going on with the SPP, that would have a lot to do with the fact that he has denied access to a crucial planning process to most citizens of good will and good sense. And he smirks at us as he does it.