Suzuki Comes to Town

Dr David Suzuki stopped in Kelowna yesterday on his cross-Canada tour. He was...angry. I expected him to be knowledgeable, I expected him to be passionate, and persuasive--and he was. But he was also really angry.

He told us he has been down this road before, that he had seen persuasive evidence of global warming in the 1980's, and had consulted Canada's Minister of the Environment in 1988, Lucien Bouchard, who got it, who understood that climate change threatens the species. Then the efforts of international consensus-building were undone by sustained obstinance and proapaganda by the US and other corporate sympathizers. And here we are, among the most egregious environmental outlaws in the world, dumping more per capita carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions and consuming more per capita energy than nearly any other nation.

So now Dr Suzuki is reduced to this, preaching his message to Canadians a couple hundred at a time. He hopes to persuade the electorate so that the leaders who jilted him will be replaced by those he can trust.

Some interesting ideas Dr Suzuki presented:
  • Speaking of the detection of pollutants at the South Pole, "You can't go anywhere on the planet and escape the toxic debris of our industrial activity."
  • He claimed that foresight is the uniquely defining characteristic of our species accounting for the huge success of the Naked Apes we descended from--a claim I would dispute. It is this ability which has apparently now deserted us.
  • In the 19th century, consumption was the name for tuberculosis. Now consumption is is a way of life, reflected in Bush II imploring Americans to spend their way out of a post 9/11 hiccup in the economy. Now, "it is the Earth that is suffering from consumption."
  • "I was enormously proud of Jean Chretien for ratifying Kyoto in 2002."
  • Regarding Sir Nicholas Stern's report on the economic impact of failing to forestall global warming or paying to do so: "On the one hand is economic ruination and on the other is 1% of GDP. What the hell is all the arguing about?"
It wasn't all serious. There were also his memorable anecdotes of picking cherries in the Okanagan, and of growing up in a family of six in a thousand-square-foot home in London, Ontario, stories with a message that struck a chord with my boys.

There was an air of desperation in Dr Suzuki's presentation. He told us that the envronment is now ranked as the number one priority by Canadians. He clearly intends to build on this momentum going into Canada's impending election to fill the House with sympathetic legislators. But I don't know that it's enough.

I asked whether the environment is too important to leave in the hands of politicians with four- or five-year mandates. [The number one issue that the environment supplanted? Health care. And we've seen politicians in Canada's richest jurisdictions, elected to protect the public system, focused on eroding it and delisting its services.] I said that legislators don't protect our civil rights, the courts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms do. I proposed that we develop a Charter of Environmental Protection as an analog. More on that another time.

I wish I could have stayed longer. (I left after a couple of questions including my own.) I watched The Nature of Things as a lad, and his text on genetics is one of the first textbooks I purchased, back in 1987. I would have like to meet this great Canadian, and perhaps someday soon I will. But I had to get my flagging boys to bed. We debriefed at home. I plan on screening An Inconvenient Truth for them later this week to reinforce some of the mesaages we heard. If they feel invested in their future, maybe they'll keep my wife and I on task.


Ignatieff Wins House Motion Calling Out Canadian Neocons

The passage of a motion in the House yesterday received virtually no press. I was browsing the Hansard record last night (don't ask) and discovered that Ignatieff passed a motion criticizing the Neoconservative Party of Canada of doing everything from stacking judicial appointments, to neglecting child care, renouncing Kyoto, assaulting democracy, and being "narrow minded." Here's the text of the motion (YEAS 155; NAYS 122):

"That, in the opinion of this House, the government is failing to act in accordance with the democratic and open values expected of its office by imposing a narrow minded, socially conservative ideology as reflected in its approach to the judicial appointment process to dramatically increase the influence of right-wing ideology in the judiciary, its refusal to honour Canada's international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol including a refusal to act immediately to introduce regulations under the Canada Environmental Protection Act, its misconception that Canadians don’t want or need a dramatic increase in child care spaces on a national basis, its budget spending cuts directed at aboriginal people and silencing advocacy work done on behalf of women and the most vulnerable Canadians even in the face of budget surpluses, its failure to protect and promote linguistic and cultural diversity, and its undemocratic assault on farmers who support the Canadian Wheat Board."

The only press I found was in the National Post, which played the role of Conservative Apologist, pointing out that Liberals exercised partisan patronage during their long tenures in power.

Here is a link to the debate in the House when the motion was presented on February 15. Some excerpts from that debate:
  • [Ignatieff, Lib]: The Prime Minister is turning back the clock on the social reforms of the last 30 years. It is not surprising that the Conservative Party decided to drop the word “progressive” from its name. That means we are no longer faced with the conservatism we know but with an ideological conservatism, a movement conservatism that will take Canada backward.
    Bit by bit, the Prime Minister is shaping Canada into his vision and it is less progressive, less fair, less just and less equal.
  • [Ignatieff]: This is a government that has plans to build more prison cells instead of child care spaces.
  • [Day, CPC]: Mr. Speaker, I am just wondering if either the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore ... can tell us if there is a typo here because everything that is being referred to are failures of the former government....As far as Kyoto, the Liberals did not follow any of it and we are 35% below the levels that we should be. It is this government that created child care spaces. They created none. As far as aboriginals, it is this government that has provided a $3.7 billion increase over two years, more than four Liberal budgets altogether, and as far as an assault on the farmers being undemocratic, it is the former government that put farmers in jail related to the Wheat Board.
  • [Neville, Lib]: The issue of the $3.7 billion [increased funding to aboriginal peoples] includes the residential schools agreement, which was negotiated by the previous government and ratified by the Conservative government. It is not part of the regular operating dollars of the Department of Indian Affairs. Therefore, that is misleading to the public and to aboriginal peoples.
  • [Anderson, CPC]: The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food last fall announced that we would hold a plebiscite on the marketing of barley. That plebiscite is now under way and, let me ask members, how much more democratic could the process be than what we have put in place?...Each farm operation, whether a single producer, partnership or corporation, will be eligible for one vote as long as it has produced grain during the last year and has produced barley in at least one of the last five years between 2002 and 2006 inclusive.
  • [Nash, NDP]: ...under the previous government it was unfortunate and terrible that there was a missed opportunity, because after signing the Kyoto agreement, in fact our environmental record deteriorated. Our record is now worse than that of the United States. It was a phenomenal embarrassment and a betrayal of the confidence of Canadians.

An interesting and lively debate.

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The Way Forward

I read the Iraq Study Group Report. You can find it in its entirety as a pdf here at the New York Times site. I have to confess that I learned much from its survey of the current situation in Iraq, which I think says more about the limitations of media coverage of the region than the depth of the Report. Whole countries receive little more than a paragraph's exposition about their relationship to Iraq and role in future intiatives in the region.

The authors make no sensational claims about the promise of their proposal. They open the report with a letter: "There is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq." The Executive Summary reinforces this sentiment: "There is no path that can guarantee success;" and this is echoed in the opening line of the first chapter, "There is no guarantee for success in Iraq."

They describe a situation in Iraq that is highly unstable, even moreso than I appreciated. Reading their survey of the context in Iraq, with its internal strife and neighboring countries compounding the problem, I began to appreciate the appeal of a puppet autocrat in a client state. Violence was never as bad now as it was under Saddam Hussein. And while Shia and Kurd lives were cheap under the Sunni Baathist regime, they're all cheap now. The number of civilian attacks that go on in Iraq on a daily basis is staggering. Roughly 10 civilians a day are killed, and about 180 attacks on US and Iraqi security forces occur each day. Any similar day occurring in Canada would be unthinkably tragic and alarming. I can't imagine a life in that context, with no end in sight.

Given the clear roadmap and numerous recommendations offered by the Iraq Study Group, I can't understand why the Bush II regime would focus on troop redployment, with an additional 20,000 troops, as the centrepiece of its renewed strategy. The ISG Report clearly states that what is required is a New Diplomatic Offensive, a typically American oxymoron of international relations. Recommendation 2 (p. 45) explicitly enunciates the components of this Offensive:

RECOMMENDATION 2: The goals of the diplomatic offensive as it relates to regional players should be to:

i. Support the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.

ii. Stop destabilizing interventions and actions by Iraq’s neighbors.

iii. Secure Iraq’s borders, including the use of joint patrols with neighboring countries.

iv. Prevent the expansion of the instability and conflict beyond Iraq’s borders.

v. Promote economic assistance, commerce, trade, political support, and, if possible, military assistance for the Iraqi government from non-neighboring Muslim nations.

vi. Energize countries to support national political reconciliation in Iraq.

vii. Validate Iraq’s legitimacy by resuming diplomatic relations, where appropriate, and reestablishing embassies in Baghdad.

viii. Assist Iraq in establishing active working embassies in key capitals in the region (for example, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).

ix. Help Iraq reach a mutually acceptable agreement on Kirkuk.

x. Assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political, and economic milestones, including better performance on issues such as national reconciliation, equitable distribution of oil revenues, and the dismantling of militias.

That's a pretty clear path they're charting. I looked at Bush II's January 10 troop surge speech and there was little about diplomacy, although I found plenty that was offensive. The speech focused almost entirely on securing Baghdad and gave short shrift to Rice's diplomatic mission to compel regional players to play ball with the US.

At one point, Bush II states:
"The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life."

The claim is so thick with hypocrisy that I get nauseated and dyspeptic just reading it. Has Bush II so little insight into the misery that the US inflicts on civilians caught in the crossfire? Or is it merely contempt for an audience that will swallow such lies? Is freedom and moderation what the US has supported in Saudi Arabia for the last sixty years? Or Israel? Could not Osama Bin Laden have made the exact same speech?

Bush II had no intention to follow the Iraq Study Group Report. His only interest in the Report was that its release be deferred until after the mid-term elections so it wouldn't leave the Republicans even more vulnerable.

With the release of the Report, Bush II made a show of extensive consultations and ultimately pursued an option that was outlined by Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute in a report titled, "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq." The recommendation: basically, a troop surge to secure Baghdad because all other options would fail. For example, "Negotiating with Iran and Syria will not stop violence."

Fortunately, there may be other trends afoot in the region that don't involve the US and may, as a result, bear fruit. To wit: Turkey has been welcomed by Israel to inspect the construction around Al Aqsa mosque that recently spawned so much protest. Another: The leader of Hamas has stepped down as the democratically elected Palestinian PM, paving the way for a unified government and halting the slide to civil war amongst Palestinians, in a deal mediated—or at least hosted—by diplomatic wallflower Saudi Arabia.

Despite the US's efforts to avert peace, it just may flower in the desert after all.


Chomsky Gives Me The Red Pill

I just finished reading Noam Chomsky's Failed States this weekend. It is always unnerving to exit the internally consistent mediasphere of the US and get a whiff of perspectives abroad. Chomsky is one of few Americans who seem immune to the obfuscating propaganda that saturates our senses, parsing the truth from American and foreign sources.

There are good reasons to resent the US and its policies, and nearly every nation in the world can cite some grievance against the state or the corporations it serves. Chomsky's persuasive thesis is that the US, by its own definition, meets the criteria for a failed state. It is widely acknowledged by many countries as their greatest threat to national security. It acts unilaterally, often in contempt of international consensus or law. It ignores the will of its people, safeguards the interests of corporations and the powerful, and increasingly shirks its responsibilities to the citizens who need the state most.

Chomsky opens by asserting that the most important issues to those concerned with human welfare are: the threat of nuclear war, looming environmental disaster, and that the government of the world's leading power is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of both calamities. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently moved their Doomsday Clock to five minutes to midnight for just these reasons.

While Chomsky is compelling, he makes a couple of careless contentions that should be scrupulously avoided in the future to limit assaults on his credibility. Specifically, he dismissively describes Robert Kagan's commentary on transatlantic relations as "Europeans being 'from Venus,' while 'Americans are from Mars.'" This reduction substantially misrepresents Kagan's thesis. His position is not that Europeans are fundamentally different from Americans. He describes Europe's long history of military adventurism, unilaterality, and dim view of the law. Europe's current interest in multilateralism and international law is not the consequence of an enlightened moral centre or congenial temperament, but of an emasculated military in the last half century.

Chomsky also offers up dubious arithmetic when he contends that developing domestic oil supplies in the Arctic Northern Wildlife Refuge "entails even greater reliance on Middle East oil." He also tries to argue that there is no Social Security crisis because "If American society was able to take care of the boomers from ages zero to twenty, there can be no fundamental reason why...[America] cannot take care of them from ages sixty-five to ninety. At most, some technical fixes might be needed."

Perhaps I am being unfair to Chomsky to focus on these shortcomings when he presents a relentless account of where America has gone and continues to go wrong. Failed States left me despairing for the future my four boys will inherit from my generation. The world's most powerful nation's "formal democratic practices are largely reduced to a device for periodic mobilization of the public in the service of elite interests." American efforts in Iraq, ostensibly to quash terrorism, have inspired unprecedented Islamic radicalism, factional power, and terror. The US renounces international law governing the treatment of prisoners of war, nuclear proliferation, trade, and international intervention.

Speaking of Israel's relations with Palestinians, Chomsky paraphrases scholar and scientist Yeshayu Leibowitz's warning that "oppressing another people would lead to serious moral degeneration, corruption, and internal decay." The caution applies equally well to the US, with its awesome sphere of dominion, and oppression abroad and--often overlooked--domestically.

Our current government's sympathy for the US's religious fundamentalism, corporate primacy, fear-mongering, and militarism ranks behind that of only the UK and Australia, perhaps. That is a disturbing development. Canada has long had a reputation as a successful plural society, a social welfare state in the model of Western Europe, a mediator of international relations, a peacekeeper, and a tolerant, progressive society. But, as Chomsky warns in the US, reactionary statists are seeking to exploit current opportunities to enshrine policies which serve the powerful elite "so that it will be no small task to reconstruct a more humane and democratic society."

Why, oh why, did I take the Red Pill?