4.19.2008

sane thoughts on spp

Unlike many of my cohorts, I don't much worry about North American Union, Deep Integration, and other scenarios that picture Canada losing its sovereignty to the United States. That's an old Canadian fear - and a justified one - but there's too much paranoia and hyperbole in the mix for me, and I avoid it. Wmtc had a big discussion about it a while back, if you want to catch up on my perspective, and that of several of wmtc's most thoughtful readers.

This doesn't mean I think there's no issue. The current crew in Ottawa is happy to walk in lockstep with the US, and that can only be dangerous - no matter who is in Washington. We need to protect the interests of the people, as opposed to the interests of the rich and powerful. That's always the case, and it's no less true about SPP than it is about anything else.

On the other hand, a highway connecting Mexico to the US and Canada - which, by the way, already exists - does not threaten Canadian sovereignty.

SPP, like most corporate schemes, is bad for labour, bad for the environment, and bad for democracy. There are good reasons to oppose it without envisioning the loonie being replaced by the greenback and a monument to George Bush being erected in Ottawa.

I recently read a good story on SPP on AlterNet. The authors, Manuel Pérez Rocha and Sarah Anderson, pull together both strands of thought, dispelling US wingnut fantasies and affirming Canadian progressive concerns.
This month, President Bush will host the leaders of Canada and Mexico to advance the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a project Lou Dobbs has predicted will "end the United States as we know it."

Lou sounds downright blasé, though, compared to all the online ranting and raving on this subject. And while there are plenty of reasons for progressives to be up in arms over this effort to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement, the xenophobes have clearly cornered the market.

In their paranoid fantasies, the three North American executive powers are secretly plotting to surrender everything they hold dear about the good ol' USA. The U.S. borders, the flag, and even the almighty American dollar would disappear as the country is submerged into a North American Union with Mexico and Canada.

Check out amerocurrency.com, whose creators are convinced that while the SPP hasn't replaced the dollar with a North American currency just yet, the switch is right around the corner. To raise alarm bells, these folks have gone ahead and designed our future money themselves. The cost of purchasing uno "amero": $10.

From the always imaginative John Birch Society, you can order a poster featuring our future North American Union flag, a collage of the three countries' current emblems with -- gasp! -- the socialist maple leaf dead center.

After an intro image of North America bursting into flames, Stopspp.com offers screeds by anti-immigrant Minutemen about how the SPP will fling open U.S. borders to terrorists, drunken Mexican truck drivers and tens of millions more illegal immigrants who will infect us all with tuberculosis.

The video "North American Union and Vchip Truth" cranks things up another notch. Viewed more than 4.8 million times, it presents the SPP as a big step towards a single world government, with David Rockefeller preventing any resistance by implanting us all with Vchips. We can only hope this is satire, but the 10,000 comments by Youtubers suggest that many viewers aren't getting the joke.

All this would be simply entertaining if it weren't for the fact that the SPP truly is a dangerous initiative -- but not for the reasons cited by the xenophobes.

Launched in 2005, the SPP is an ongoing process of negotiation between the three countries' executive powers to change regulations and other policies to boost business and support the U.S. War on Terror. Twenty SPP working groups on everything from financial services to intelligence cooperation hammer out details in between the annual presidential summits.

In Mexico and Canada, progressive activists are already highly mobilized on the SPP. And while the far right has dominated the U.S. discourse, this is beginning to change. A half dozen U.S. progressive groups organized a strategy meeting in Washington, D.C., in March with activists and legislators from all three countries. Together with local activists in New Orleans, the site of the fourth SPP Presidential Summit on April 21-22, they are planning a Peoples Summit and a trinational meeting of energy sector workers.

Here are 10 reasons why progressives are paying attention to the SPP:

1. No democratic oversight. Although elected officials in all three countries have demanded transparency, they continue to be excluded from the SPP Presidential summits, ministerial meetings and working groups. Legislators have formed a trinational task force to stop the SPP.

2. Secrecy. The SPP excludes civil society organizations and the media from all meetings. During a peaceful demonstration outside the last summit in Canada, the government sent in undercover agents posing as rock-wielding protesters. After being confronted with video footage, authorities fessed up to the scheme.

3. Only big business has a voice. Wal-Mart, Lockheed Martin, and 28 other corporations and business associations are part of an official SPP advisory body called the North American Competitive Council. The council made 51 proposals to SPP negotiators in February 2007 on issues as varied as taxation and patent rights. Six months later, they boasted that "all three of our governments have committed themselves to taking action on many of our recommendations."

4. Expansion of failed NAFTA policies. Even though the lifting of trade and investment barriers under the trade pact has failed to create good jobs, the SPP is further chipping away at remaining economic regulations. For example, at the last SPP summit, the three leaders announced (PDF) a weakening of NAFTA's "rules of origin" to allow products with a lower level of national content to receive preferential tariff treatment. This will undermine domestic industries by making trade in products from third countries like China even more profitable.

5. Privatization. SPP agreements announced thus far show a clear bias in favor of an expanded role for corporations. Two examples: 1) a North American Plan for Avian and Pandemic Influenza intended as a model for private sector and military involvement in emergency management and preparedness and 2) a Trilateral Agreement for Cooperation in Energy, Science and Technology that reflects the NACC's recommendations (PDF) to promote energy privatization in Mexico, where there has been strong resistance to opening up to U.S. oil companies.

6. Energy grab. Progressive activists in Canada and Mexico are particularly concerned about the likelihood that the U.S. government will use the SPP negotiations to push for greater control over its neighbors' resources, under the guise of a "North American integrated energy market." Common Frontiers, the Council of Canadians, and other groups point to an SPP workshop that envisioned a fivefold increase in environmentally destructive oil production from tar sands, with most of the increase to be exported to the United States.

7. Pipeline proliferation. The Sierra Club and others have raised alarm bells about the SPP's Transportation Working Group, whose mandate includes facilitating "multimodal corridors" that could include massive water and oil pipelines, with serious costs to the environment and communities. The Alliance for Democracy is calling for public hearings on the issue.

8. More border baloney. The SPP is focusing on facilitating transit of "legitimate people" and expanding border surveillance infrastructure, rather than addressing the root causes of migration or the rights of undocumented workers. There are also worrisome implications for civil liberties, as Mexico and Canada have agreed to share vast amounts of information with the U.S. government, including the fingerprints of refugees and asylum seekers.

9. Militarization. Mexico and Canada are enlisting in the U.S. War on Terror by creating a North American security perimeter and joining forces against not only external but also "internal threats." Some fear a U.S. multibillion-dollar military aid package for Mexico, supposedly to combat drug cartels, may also end up being used to suppress political dissidence and immigration flows.

10. Polarization. The zany anti-SPP xenophobes may be amusing at times, but their hysteria shows how government secrecy and exclusion can fan the flames of a racist movement and push us further away from any rational response to migration.

Having the leaders of our three deeply interconnected nations getting together to talk is a positive thing. The problem is with what's on the agenda -- and what's not. Rather than a misguided NAFTA expansion, they should be addressing people's real needs and planning a sustainable future.

See AlterNet for the story with linkage.

9 comments:

Wrye said...

Well, springing off the previous discussion, I don't think the intervening year and a half has changed much vis a vis the conservatives being closet neo-cons, but I think what has become clear is

1) How much of a one man show the conservatives are, and how short a leash Harper keeps the more lunatic members of his posse on;

and

2) How much Minority government has curtailed Harper's own ability to make radical changes or go out and out nuts, if he was ever inclined that way to begin with. Bill C-10 and the like, while galling, are hardly the riots-in-the-streets stuff folks were worried about. And the longer he's in office, the less of a free pass he would have if he ever manages to finagle his way into majority territory. The passage of time is the grit in his wheels. It's not 100% certain that he isn't a neo-con, but it's less and less likely that he is one, no matter how much neocons might prefer him over any Liberal leader.

As for deep integration itself, I'm not sure what caused that particular spike in fear, which has been with us since confederation. Since the CBC keeps making movies
about a US coup of Canada, clearly something extra was, and to a degree still is, in the air. But I can't blame people.

In the internet-famous words of Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist, but it's true. I don't need to rehash this for this audience, but since 2000, there's been a clear sense that the US has gone off the rails in terms of following its own laws, and given that, is it any wonder that people up here were questioning what a United States no longer bound by legal niceties could attempt? That's really what this boils down to. Is there any evidence that we were next on the hit list? Not particularly. But when we're having factual discussions about US presidential elections being stolen and rigged, confronted with wars of agression under false pretenses, and the destruction of a major US city, I just can't see it as all that unreasonable for some people to conclude, hey, you know what else the powers that be in the US have been wanting to do for a really long time? Because there clearly was a list, and we're certainly on it somewhere.

So, there's not much evidence for an attempt being imminent, no. But it wasn't, and still isn't, an irrational fear, and it isn't going away anytime so long as the US is run by people who are demonstrably capable of trying anything, and in the much longer long term by people who do not understand that the the world outside the US does not see the US the same way the US sees itself.

Even assuming things ever get back to semi-normal, I wonder what the long term effects of the last 8 years will be. Even under the best scenarios imaginable, I worry about where the US/Canadian relationship is headed. But so long as the risk of WW3 or global ecological catastrophe gets reduced, I suppose I can live with that.

Now as for SPP...

L-girl said...

Thanks Wrye! (And if I haven't said so before, welcome back to wmtc.)

I agree with much of what you say here. But I'm especially interested in a point that is counter to how I've been seeing things, and hoping your take is right.

And the longer he's in office, the less of a free pass he would have if he ever manages to finagle his way into majority territory. The passage of time is the grit in his wheels.

I have been thinking that the longer this govt remains, the more power Harper has, the more he can get away with, as the boundaries become elastic. With the Liberals giving the Tories a de facto majority, the Tories seem to be becoming bolder. C-10, C-484, changes to immigration policy - things they might not have attempted a year ago.

is it any wonder that people up here were questioning what a United States no longer bound by legal niceties could attempt? That's really what this boils down to.

That's an excellent summation. Especially given Canada's reserves of both oil and fresh water.

Is there any evidence that we were next on the hit list? Not particularly.

Most of the discussions of Deep Integration I've read present long lists of supposed "evidence", but none of it looks like evidence to me.

But it wasn't, and still isn't, an irrational fear,

I agree. It's certainly justified.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Wrye said...

I have been thinking that the longer this govt remains, the more power Harper has, the more he can get away with, as the boundaries become elastic. With the Liberals giving the Tories a de facto majority, the Tories seem to be becoming bolder. C-10, C-484, changes to immigration policy - things they might not have attempted a year ago.

True. But he's Prime Minister. Barring Joe Clark versus Pierre Trudeau weakness, it's not like a sitting Prime Minister can be prevented from doing anything indefinitely. These were things they were inevitably going to attempt to do anyway, but they've been delayed a valuable year in doing so. They've burned irreplacable time and exhausted their honeymoon period with the public and the press, such as it was. Every day that passes weakens their momentum and lessens their ability to muster the support necessary for radical changes. And a year's delay can make an immense difference in the big picture.

This is what I think about by way of analogy: it was a very very important thing for the world at large that Canada in 2003 did not sign on to the Iraqi adventure, as it made clear to the world that this was Bush acting on his own and wasn't some sort of Anti-Muslim crusade. Canada - and other countries - staying back weakened Bush's hand, and probably helped keep things cooled down some small bit. If Canada and other countries sign on in 2003, the global situation is that much more dangerous now, and Bush has that much more international legitimacy, and maybe even enough to start that shooting war with Iran that some were jonesing for.

Paul Martin wasn't prime minister very long, but he did accomplish this one thing: he clung to power just long enough to deny Bush that extra bit of political cover at the critical time. Harper coming to power in 2006, as opposed to 2004 or earlier, was not nearly so disastrous for us as it would have been. Bush in 2006 had become much more of a lame duck, Canada could gracefully decline to send troops to Iraq, and so on.

So time is important. When I think about Harper's potential time in office, his first years in power will be the ones where he still has the capital to attempt really radical changes. But he's burning them up, and he won't get them back. And that's a bigger deal than it may seem.

L-girl said...

I never would have thought of it this way. Thanks, Wrye. Great perspective. And hopeful!

issachar said...

Hello,

I found your blog after running a search for SPP Canada on blogsearch.google.com.

I found your comment that there are good reasons for opposing the SPP despit the paranoia & hyperbole being spouted by opponents of the SPP.

I myself generally favour the SPP, being also in favour of the FTA and NAFTA. I read the arguments opposing the SPP, but to put it bluntly most are paranoid fantasies suitable only for those wearing tinfoil hats. I'd be interested to hear you elaborate on your statements. You said that the SPP "like most corporate schemes" is bad for labour, the environment and democracy. Okay, but WHY is it bad for those things?

I don't find the article you quoted entirely convincing for a rew reasons, but here's two:

The so-called secrecy of the meetings puts people off, but this secrecy is really nothing more than having the meetings private behind closed doors. They're quite good at telling reporters what was discussed. (I just finished listening to a long speech by Ambassador Wilkins that Michael Geist linked to). The reasons behind closed doors are obvious. You can't get anything productive done with protestors in the room or even if you're having your discussions on camera. You get the same thing in labour negotiations between management and unions. If you want a productive meeting you don't do it on camera. That doesn't make unions "secretive", it just means they don't want to waste their time.

The article claims that the SPP is an expansion of failed NAFTA policies. Fair enough, except that NAFTA has actually been a great success. Rhetoric aside, NAFTA has greatly helped the economies of the US and Canada. (I don't know about Mexico, because I just don't keep up with their economy. Free trade provided the impetus for fruit growers in my region, (Okangan valley, BC), to get out of the highly unproductive fruit market and into the highly lucrative wine market. (Okanagan valley wine is excellent). California fruit growers got to expand in teh Canadian market. Free trade has even helped the lumber industry which I work in. Granted the softwood lumber dispute has been killing us, but without any free trade it would have been much worse. (NAFTA gave us a club to fight unfair US protectionism). Free trade opponents seem to happily ignore the benefits of free trade while trumpeting the detrimental effects.


I really would like to hear more of your reasons though, it just seems like the article isn't doing your opinion justice.

issachar said...

Oh, and on the "Harper hidden agenda" file, I think it's really time to let that silly claim die.

I heard so much about Harper's hidden agenda and now that it's failed to materialize all I'm hearing is that it's just because he doesn't have a majority it's really just around the corner. (Because the Conservatives have clearly been incredibly hindered by the opposition).

Yes, I'm sure that Harper's hidden agenda will eventually be found right next to the stockpile of WMD's in Iraq. There comes a time to stop repeating claims when they just don't pan out. The WMD crowd and the Harper = teh Bu$h crowd seeem to be in lockstep on this one.

L-girl said...

Issachar, thanks for your comments. You are welcome to search this blog or click on various categories to learn more about my opinions on labour or anything else. I wasn't attempting to set out all my views in this one post.

Not sure what you are responding to re Harper's secret agenda.

Broad swipes about tinfoil hats are not useful, nor are they welcome at wmtc. I am not particularly worried about Deep Integration, but I don't dismiss any concerns offhand. We're seeing things happen that we never dreamed we'd see in our lifetimes. With the people ruling the US right now, all bets are off. "They wouldn't do that" was proven wrong a long time ago.

Thanks again for stopping by.

issachar said...

L-girl, it seems I have some crow to eat...

Yes, I suppose that was a little unfair of me to expect some sort of complete summary of everything in a single post. Sorry about that. :)

And I think I gave the wrong impression with my comment about tin-foil hats. I only meant to say that most of the anti-SPP stuff I've read seems downright paranoid to me. I'm just glad to read some opposition to SPP that doesn't focus on the North American Union claims. Tin-foil hat is an inflamatory term though and I shouldn't have used it.

And on the Harper secret agenda, I'm a bit touchy on that one despite not being a member of the Conservative party. I've been maligned as a closet racist and a facist simply for being politically conservative and I was jumping the gun at your comment that the longer this government remains the more power Harper has and the more he can get away with. I read in a "hidden agenda" theme to that statement based on the last part. Again, I apologize.

I think I'll go peruse your blog now as you've suggested.

L-girl said...

Issachar, thank you very much for your reply.

I'm so accustomed to people who don't agree with my views flaming out, that it's a very pleasant surprise when someone is polite and reasonable.

I don't think you need to "eat crow" in the slightest. But feel free to look around, although if you are conservative, you will probably find very little you agree with.

I do agree some of the SPP rhetoric seems paranoid. But many people would find my concerns about the US paranoid - but only because they don't know the facts. :)

Re my concerns about Stephen Harper's long tenure. I dislike this government, and agree with very little of what Harper has done and how he has done it.

I'm not afraid of a hidden agenda. I'm afraid of the *conservative* agenda. When I am able to vote, I'll be voting NDP, and I want Canada to be as progressive as possible.

I don't want to debate my views point by point - that's an utter waste of time, IMO - but I'm sure you can understand how a diehard leftist does not want this government in power, now or ever.

Anyway, thanks again for your thoughts.