9/11 and the SPP

Hello, all -- I'm Chet Scoville, author of The Vanity Press. I used to be known as the Green Knight. Melissa asked me to contribute this post about an issue that a lot of progressives up here in Canada are deeply worried about, but one that not a lot of American progressives know about yet: the SPP, or Security and Prosperity Partnership. This, basically, is an ongoing attempt by the three NAFTA governments to complete the process of corporate hegemony over the continent, at the expense of democracy. Some call it "NAFTA on steroids."

In order to explain this, I need to remind us all of a bit of history.

Of course, many of us would agree by now that 9/11 did not change everything. But one thing that it did change was the way we talk about globalization.

If you'll think back to the decade between the end of the Cold War and the destruction of the World Trade Center, the powers that be said that unrestricted capital was the future. With the Soviet system destroyed, Francis Fukuyama declared history to be at an end, and we all could just get on with making as much money as possible. NAFTA went into effect; international organizations like the WTO and the IMF bestrode the globe in triumph. People spoke reverently of the market and predicted that the Dow would hit 36,000 before the 90s were over. As Thomas Frank observed in his book One Market Under God, people spoke of the market as if it were the truest form of democracy, and also as if it were sacred.

Remember all that?

Of course, there were skeptics of the new faith. In fact, the new face of progressivism was looking like it was going to be the anti-globalization movement. Naomi Klein's No Logo was the new manifesto; Green parties worldwide tapped into the moment and seemed to offer a new theoretical framework for progressives (articulated by writers like Charlene Spretnak). Events like the Battle for Seattle threw a lasting scare into the economic powers that be. Pro-globalization newspaper editors taunted the protesters to unintentionally comic effect: "Who exactly elected you?" they asked, not noticing that nobody had elected them either.

Remember?

But then, George W. Bush "let nineteen guys fly four planes into three buildings and a field," and it was all forgotten. Except, it wasn't.

Within a week of 9/11, the American ambassador to Canada called for the creation of a "North American perimeter." A week after that, Tom D'Aquino, the leader of the Canadian big business community, called for "more fundamental harmonization and integration" between Canada and the United States -- with corporations leading the way and setting the standards, naturally. And thereafter, with no public debate, the process started -- a process of integrating Canadian, American, and Mexican economies, security measures, and social and economic standards, again with corporations having almost sole input.

A few months after that, the so-called "smart border" initiative was introduced, with the effect of harmonizing border procedures. Within only a few weeks, under the new rules, Maher Arar was abducted by American authorities with the full cooperation of Canadian authorities, and deported to Syria to be tortured.

And finally a few years later, it was agreed to begin a large-scale integration process: the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership (or SPP), which would finally bring North America under corporate control.

In other words, 9/11 did not make the globalization drive go away. It just drove it out of the public eye. Distracted by fear, people stopped noticing it and the press stopped reporting on it. And governments and corporations, seizing their chance, began to plow full steam ahead, knowing that nobody was paying attention any more.

But they couldn't hide forever. Canadian progressives have been all over this issue recently. In the blogosphere, besides me there's been the sterling work of Alison from Creekside among many others. In the Tyee, one of Canada's leading progressive journals, Murray Dobbin wrote a searing article about the SPP and the damage that it is causing in everything from pesticide levels to water to energy policy. The Council of Canadians and Canada's progressive parties (the NDP and the Greens) have been sounding the alarm, attempting to hold parliamentary meetings on the topic, getting the word out, protesting. The powers that be keep trying to shut them down, with the US Army and the RCMP imposing a 25-kilometer security perimeter around the latest SPP meeting in Quebec.

Yes, you read that right. The US Army is co-imposing a free speech zone on Canadian soil.

All of this was made possible by the fear that followed 9/11. Ideas that would never have seemed possible before then are being accepted without question by the bureaucracies and by governments; legislatures and parliaments are being shut out; the laws are being rewritten behind the scenes by corporate interests. Think of the SPP as the international version of the Patriot Act and the K Street Project put together.

In the face of this looming corporate rule, this obvious politicizing of 9/11, you'd think that American progressives would be all over this issue too. It's been going on for six years now, after all, and it's a continuation of the same sort of NAFTA/WTO/IMF-driven nonsense we've been seeing for years before that -- combined with the assaults on civil rights that typify the Bush administration at its worst.

But most American progressives have never even heard of the SPP. And in many cases, they refuse to believe it even exists.

Take, for example, this piece recently published in The Nation. The author, Christopher Hayes, has a good giggle over the very idea that there could possibly be anything wrong with the SPP. Of course, nothing serious is happening. It's just an attempt to make everybody's life easier by standardizing the size of jars of baby food. And his evidence for this? It's what David Bohigian assured him to be true. Who is David Bohigian? He's the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance in the Bush administration.

Yes, that's right. All of a sudden The Nation believes what a Bush administration official says, without doing any further checking. As John, from the Canadian blog Dymaxion World, puts it,
[T]his is probably the only time a writer for The Nation would ever uncritically reproduce a Bush Administration quote -- in order to chuckle about those simple rubes in the sticks getting all ornery about nothing.
Or here's another example. When the Canadian progressive broadcaster and activist Avi Lewis was on Democracy Now! recently, he explained much of this to Amy Goodman and her co-host Juan Gonzalez. Not only was it clear that neither Goodman nor Gonzalez had ever heard of any of this, but they couldn't actually believe what Lewis was telling them. Witness this exchange, for example:
JUAN GONZALEZ: In other words, what you're saying is that there won't -- this won’t be another treaty that will have to be approved by the various parliaments or --

AMY GOODMAN: Elected bodies?

JUAN GONZALEZ: -- elected bodies of the governments?
Now, Gonzalez and Goodman are smart people. And yet somehow, even after all this time, after six years of Bush they still can't seem to believe that their government might be doing something without consulting Congress.

Or, take for example one American blogger's reaction to those who are alarmed about the SPP:
It's crazy talk and there's just so much of it ... that it gets tiring. (And they call us the extremists ...) As much as I feel sorry for people who are lost in the vortex of rapid change, they still seem to me to be looking for reasons to be stupid. (And they have more in common with the scary Muslims than they think.)
Wow -- if you're alarmed about corporate rule and the destruction of democracy in favor of security, well, you're crazy. You're just trying to stand in the way of "rapid change" because obviously you are too stupid to cope. In fact, you're probably an Islamonazi.

Who is this blogger? Is it Glenn Reynolds? Michelle Malkin? Someone from Pajamas Media?

No, it's Digby.

What on Earth is going on here?

Well, the problem is this: there are Americans who have noticed the SPP and realize that something bad is happening. Unfortunately, they're not people to whom American progressives are likely to listen. They are people like the John Birch Society, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Jerome Corsi, and Phyllis Schlafly. They are mixing in a good deal of insanity, racism, and just plain dopiness into what they're saying, thereby poisoning the well ("Oh noes! A NAFTA Superhighway! The Mexicans are invading! Ahhhhh!"). American progressives, naturally, don't want to touch any issue that such people have claimed as their own; and, not knowing about much beyond their own borders, are unaware of the work that Canadian progressives have done to uncover the SPP. And Canadian progressives in turn are growing increasingly alarmed at that fact. As Alison put it recently,
I've just spent the better part of several exasperating days arguing with American "progressives" about SPP.

Shorter US Progs : If the John Birch Society et al say the sky is blue, then we say it isn't.

I thought we were all pretty well agreed on both sides of the border that while Glen Beck, Jerome Corsi, Lou Dobbs and the John Birch Society have their own bizarre agenda to use the SPP to promote their New World Order paranoia, the rest of us should get on with the actual facts at hand. Right?

Nuh-uh-uh, say the American progressives.
John from Dymaxion World puts it like this:
I don't know if there's a way for Canadians to convince American progressives that the SPP is genuinely a concern. That well's already been poisoned, and the Democratic party still belongs to the centrist wonkosphere when it comes to domestic issues -- meaning, in this case, an uncritical assumption in favour of anything labelled "free-trade".
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.

Fortunately, it's not too late. The process is ongoing and largely behind the scenes, but we still ultimately have the power to force it out in the open. But it will take an effort by both Canadian and American progressives to get it going. The links I've included in this post have lots of good information (especially this one), albeit largely from a Canadian point of view. There's lots of work to be done on the American side.

I urge you, don't let the John Birchers be the only Americans talking about this, and don't get distracted by their crazy talk. Do what progressives do best: find out the facts, make lots of noise, cause change. Canadians will help, but we can only do so much. We need you.


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