Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It's all about stacking the deck

You can't hide from God. That's what they say in the Bible. If God exists then God sees everything and knows everything. We humans lack that perspective. It isn't possible for anyone of us to see everything and know everything. But that doesn't stop us from feeling certain that what we know is true. Indeed, if we didn't feel that way we would never commit ourselves to anything.

In order to engage in an argument I have to respect my opponent. I have to be willing to listen to their side in order to answer or question their claims. But by participating in an argument I am taking the risk that I could be shown to be wrong. It's only by risking being wrong that we can be open to discovering the truth. Unless each party to an argument is willing to be convinced by the other it's just people talking past each other or one person attempting to bully another.

Recent history is full of examples of people who believed that they, like God, couldn't possibly be wrong. When these people gained power they always destroy Open Society. Communism and fascism were political systems that imposed their perspective on everyone by force. The communists believed that they had a monopoly on truth and so they forbade political and moral dissent. They knew they were right and they refused to risk being wrong. Every professional and every “elected” representative had to be a member of the communist party. The representatives didn't debate the proposals of the communist leaders, they simply rubber stamped them. The legal system always ruled in favour of the communist state because it was always right.

Nowadays communism and fascism are spent forces that have lost all credibility so they are no longer such a danger to Open Society. People who now take the “God's eye” perspective are called Fundamentalists. And like the communists and fascists, they try to stack the deck in their favour whenever they gain power. I agree with George Soros that there are two kinds of modern fundamentalists. Religious fundamentalists and Market Fundamentalists. Most people believe that they themselves are right but what distinguishes Fundamentalists is their refusal to risk being wrong in a fair argument.

For instance, there is no evidence that would convince a Christian Fundamentalist of the truth of Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Fundamentalists pretend to engage in argument with evolutionary biologists but behind the scenes they try to stack the deck by taking over school boards, by getting states to ban the teaching of evolution and by intimidating publishers from including the subject of evolution in high school biology textbooks.

Market Fundamentalists believe that free markets are always more beneficial than government regulated markets. Like Christian Fundamentalists there is no evidence that would ever convince them that they are wrong. Not the rising income gap between the rich and poor, not the demise of the middle class, not the “dirty thirties”, not the recent sub-prime mortgage meltdown, and not the spectre of global warming. In fact, a good portion of U.S. Republicans still believe that global warming is a hoax.

The Republican party under the guidance of Karl Rove has gone farthest in bringing the two kinds of fundamentalists together as the "base" for their electoral campaigns. Rove's signature is the anonymous smearing of the opponents and critics of the Bush administration. The swift-boat ads that slandered John Kerry in 2004, the whisper campaign against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries, and the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame in order to get back at her husband for publicly casting doubt on Bush's WMD justification for invading Iraq - these are all associated with Karl Rove.

Rove is widely suspected of orchestrating the systematic harassment and suppression of minority voters that helped decide the election and re-election of George W. Bush. Then there is the firing of six federal prosecutors who refused to aggressively pursue dubious cases of voter fraud during the 2004 campaign. And the recent suppression and distortion of scientific evidence of global warming by the Bush administration. They all lead back to Rove.

It is no coincidence that Karl Rove identifies the Republican party with the two kinds of fundamentalism: market and religious. He and his boss, George W. Bush believe that they, like God, are always right.That's why they refuse to accept the risk of being wrong - the risk of losing a fair argument or a fair election. Like the fascists and communists of yesterday, they are doing everything in their power to stack the deck in their favour.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Harper's pre-emptive action

You may have noticed that since George W. Bush became president of the United States, American foreign policy has changed direction. It went from: “We agree to cooperate with international law because it's in our interests”; to: “We're the most powerful nation on Earth and we make the rules, OK.”

Part of the Bush doctrine is the idea of “pre-emptive action”. What this means is that the president reserves the right to attack any country which might possibly be a threat at some future time even if it does not threaten the United States at this moment. Hence the justification for the Iraq war. I'll leave aside the question of whether invading Iraq may well have multiplied the threat to the U.S. rather than reducing it. But note: there is more to this doctrine of pre-emptive action than meets the eye. For instance, what if it is applied to another country's economy? The answer is – it has been applied – in Iraq.

Remember that President Bush's first stated goal of the invasion was to bring democracy to Iraq. It's interesting that Bush's first appointee as Viceroy of Iraq, General Jay Garner, was fired for taking the President at his word. Garner was working towards free elections for Iraqis within ninety days of the invasion. Unfortunately this conflicted with another pre-emptive goal of the Bush Administration which was to privatize Iraqi oil fields and infrastructure and rewrite Iraqi tax laws. The problem that got Garner fired was that this revolutionary change in the Iraq economy could not be done in ninety days, let alone after a free election.

According to author Greg Palast, in his book Armed Madhouse , the plan to create a free enterprise utopia in Iraq was drawn up by Grover Norquist, a powerful American lobbyist. Norquist said, “the rights to free trade, property rights, these are not to be determined by some democratic election.” He told Palast that his model economy was the low tax, property rights economy of Chile under Augusto Pinochet.

Pinochet had pre-empted Chile's economy by first murdering it's democratically elected president and then creating a reign of terror where thousands of suspected dissidents were made to “disappear”. As Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, said when he approved Salvador Allende's assassination: “The issues are too important to be left to the voters.”

What has the Bush Administration learned from the Iraq war? First, they've learned that it is a lot more expensive to get oil from Iraq than they thought. Second, they learned that it's a lot easier to get the economic policies that you want if you pre-empt the electorate. Neither of these lessons bode well for Canada.

As I have said before, once the price of oil shot up Canada became a very attractive place because of the Alberta tar sands. As long as the price of oil stays above thirty dollars the United States has all the oil it needs for the next fifty years right next door in Canada. And with global warming and the projected mid-western drought conditions we have all the water that they thirst for as well.

Now comes the unpleasant part. With their eyes on the prize the Bush Administration has been busy planning more pre-emptive economic change but this time it's Canada instead of Iraq. The name is innocuous sounding: “The Security and Prosperity Partnership” or "SPP"- but the reality is not. Basically it's about integrating the Canadian economy into the American economy by stealth. And leading Canada down the road to servitude that would see is opening our doors to waves of Mexican "guest workers". We would be forced to increase tar sands production fivefold with a corresponding increase in deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. All in order to fuel America's insatiable demand for oil.

So how does our fearless leader, Stephen Harper, protect Canada's interests? By stifling debate in the House of Commons, by putting a gag order on his Cabinet Ministers, and by letting big business leaders work out the terms of agreement with their American counterparts in secret. Bringing this process under public scrutiny and public debate might hinder or reverse the deep integration that's underway. Like Henry Kissinger and Grover Norquist, Harper believes that this is too important to be decided democratically.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The SPP and the Tar Sands

Remember the United States was going to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq? It wasn't about Iraq's oil, they said. That must be why they changed the name of the invasion from “Operation Iraqi Liberation” to “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. The reason I mention the U.S. invasion of Iraq is because it is going to have a devastating effect on the future of Canada.

What has the invasion of Iraq got to do with Canada? After all we refused to get involved with the “coalition of the willing” back in 2003. Bear with me here. Whereas in the Iraqi oilfields it takes the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil to extract one hundred barrels of oil in Alberta it takes one barrel of oil to produce three barrels of tar sands oil. The process of refining bitumen into oil is expensive, costing about 22$ a barrel. So it wasn't economical until the invasion of Iraq raised the price of oil to 35$ and over.

Since 9/11 the Bush administration has been obsessed with energy security. Nobody noticed Alberta until after 2003 when the price of oil skyrocketed. Suddenly the Americans realized that the world's largest deposit of oil was right next door in the Alberta tar sands. It was around this time that the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) was launched, “creating a new institutional framework”, for the integration of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

The Alberta tar sands is basically a gigantic strip mining operation, the largest single manmade project in human history. It will eventually destroy a section of the Canadian boreal forest the size of Florida. Already the rate of deforestation in Alberta is the second highest in the world. And the refining of bitumen produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions as the refining of conventional oil.

The drafters of the SPP have plans for construction of a giant transportation corridor from Mexico to Canada partly in order to facilitate the movement of Mexican “guest workers” into Canada to work the tar sands. The “NAFTA Corridor” will also include pipelines to carry refined and unrefined bitumen to the United States. Incredibly, a fivefold increase in tar sands production is slated once the SPP is signed and comes into effect. There are no plans for any pipelines from Alberta to Eastern Canada, even though Eastern Canda imports 90% of its oil. It's obvious that the North American energy security that the SPP is touting is really American energy security.

When Canada signed onto the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the Canadian negotiators agreed to a “proportionality clause” which locks us into supplying the United States with not less than the proportion of oil, gas, or water that we have been previously supplying. That means that if we increase the supply of oil to the U.S. we are locked into supplying that increased proportion indefinitely. Incidently, Mexico, which also signed on to NAFTA, refused to sign the proportionality clause.

The Security and Prosperity Partnership is a deal that's being made behind closed doors by CEO's and government bureacrats with no public input and little publicity. Increasing tar sands production fivefold will make the tar sands the biggest single greenhouse gas emitter in the world. And once it is ramped up we will be locked in because of the NAFTA proportionality clause. We will not have the option of turning it off or even slowing it down. Besides if we tried to turn off the tap we would be jeopardizing America's energy security and that would bring on an invasion.

The SPP is a gross violation of Canadian sovereignty that must be stopped while there is still time. If we let it pass we will become an evironmental disaster, a pariah in the world community, and the slavish enabler of American hubris and overconsumption. Why should we make an agreement with the United States that locks us into increasing greenhouse gas emissions, prevents us from becoming a sustainable society and undermines our sovereignty? If you love this country please join me and others in protesting this heinous act of treachery on August 20th, the date of the trilateral summit in Montebello Quebec.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

What is the SPP?

What is the Security and Prosperity Partnership? Anyone seen the Hitchcock movie, “The Thirty-Nine Steps”? At the climax of the movie, the hero asks out loud “What are the thirty-nine steps?” And the man who answers the question is shot dead by the bad guys. You see, the thirty-nine steps were the steps in the manufacture of a rocket which were being smuggled out of England, but you don’t learn that until the end of the movie.

Presumably nobody’s going to get shot for explaining what the Security and Prosperity Partnership or SPP is, but the interesting thing is that the Harper Conservatives are doing their utmost to keep the public in the dark about this for as long as they are able. Since March 2005 the three governments of Mexico, the United States, and Canada have been attending a series of meetings to discuss and implement the continental integration of resources, environmental regulations, transportation and security, all behind closed doors with no public input and little or no public disclosure.

Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety refused to confirm that he was at a gathering called the North American Forum which was held last September in Banff Springs. This meeting, which included the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, George Schultz, former U.S. Secretary of State, James Woolsey, former head of the CIA, and a handful of US and Canadian generals, was kept secret from the media until it was leaked to a local Banff newspaper. Apparently they discussed the “demographic and social dimensions of North American Integration” and a “North American energy strategy” but that’s about all we know about it. And Stockwell Day and the other Canadian participants have kept tight lipped about the proceedings to this day.

Then, in May of this year an economics professor named James Laxer was giving a talk that linked the SPP to the Alberta tar sands to a Parliamentary committee when he was interrupted by the chair of the committee, Conservative MP Leon Benoit, who told him to shut up. When he wouldn’t Benoit and all but one of the Tory MP’s walked out of the meeting. Hmmm, do you think that maybe the SPP and the tar sands are related after all?

Even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day. In the United States it’s the paranoid right wing, the John Birch Society crowd, etc. that are protesting the Security and Prosperity Partnership. They’re calling it the ”North American Union”.

Maybe those right wing nut-jobs have got it right this time. They are concerned about the loss of American sovereignty and the fact that this whole thing is being rammed down our throats with no public input. They are also alarmed by the proposed “NAFTA Corridor” a combination superhighway, railway and pipeline corridor three football fields wide, that will stretch all the way from Mexico to Alberta. Presumably this corridor will expedite the flow of tar sands oil to the United States, while expediting the movement of Mexican “guest workers into the United States and Canada.

Remember NAFTA? The free trade agreement between the U.S. and Canada that was hotly debated and formed the basis of a Canadian election campaign more than twenty years ago. The agreement that was supposed to bring jobs and prosperity to all Canadians. Manufacturing jobs went south and incomes have stagnated, except for the richest one percent of Canadians and Americans. Guess who’s behind the SPP? The CEO’s of all the top corporations in North America. Do you think they care about Canadian sovereignty?

Why the secrecy? What is the Harper government hiding? Are they trying to do something that most Canadians would not agree to if they knew about it? Like giving away our sovereignty for a mess of pottage? That’s what I think. And if I’m wrong, why are the Conservatives trying to stifle debate on this?

It’s too bad Alfred Hitchcock isn’t around anymore. He could make a pretty good cloak and dagger movie out of this. In the mean time keep your ears cocked and your eyes opened because the next SPP meeting will be on August 20, 2007 in Montebello Quebec and there is going to be one hell of a demonstration.