FREEDOM, FREE TRADE and other EUPHEMISMS

An article was sent to me by my buddy Tim, entitled US’s Iraq Oil Grab A Done Deal, and I read a second article called Vultures Circle Overhead To Feast Off Iraq’s Carrion.

An excerpt from the first article:

By 2010 we will need [a further] 50 million barrels a day. The Middle East, with two-thirds of the oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize lies.

—US Vice President Dick Cheney, then Halliburton chief executive officer, London, autumn 1999

US President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney might as well declare the Iraq war over and out. As far as they—and the humongous energy interests they defend—are concerned, only now is the mission really accomplished. More than half a trillion dollars spent and more than half a million Iraqis killed have come down to this.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s cabinet in Baghdad approved the draft of the new Iraqi oil law. The government regards it as “a major national project”. The key point of the law is that Iraq’s immense oil wealth (115 billion barrels of proven reserves, third in the world after Saudi Arabia and Iran) will be under the iron rule of a fuzzy “Federal Oil and Gas Council” boasting “a panel of oil experts from inside and outside Iraq”. That is, nothing less than predominantly US Big Oil executives.

What occurred to me is how on some level, with a glance at modern history—and apologies for stating the obvious—this war is an ongoing policy, in degree because it is in many ways extreme, witnessed all across the planet for millenia.

And from the second article:

Do you recall in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq how sceptics who suggested the Bush administration was after oil were generally written off as anti-American conspiracy nuts?

At that time those paragons of virtue inhabiting the White House were thought to have no such grasping motives. They were instead committed to ridding the planet of nasty weapons and evil-doing dictators in the name of democracy, freedom and the spread of Starbucks.

It turns out those sceptics, who insisted Iraq wouldn’t have been invaded if its only export commodity were bananas, were on to something after all.

According to last Sunday’s Observer, “Baghdad is under pressure from Britain and the US to pass an oil law which would hand long-term control of Iraq’s energy assets to foreign multi-nationals.?

One prominent doubting Thomas was former South African President Nelson Mandela, who said this in 2005, “George Bush wants to get hold of the Iraqi oil? and “we must expose this as much as possible.?

Iraq reminds privileged people like me how so many hundreds of thousands, millions, of people—civilians, mothers, fathers, children—are perpetually sacrificed, century after century, under a mountain of propaganda, East and West, so that certain select groups can obtain geo-strategic and resource control over a given area.

And whether one lives in that area of attack is really a “there but for the grace of God go I” proposition. Who knows for certain what areas are next to be targeted on what appears to be an ever-depleting planet, loaded with more and more people?

Canada’s water, so-called, could be a great source of conflict in the future, had not most of it already been given away in the Free Trade agreement.

A thousand theories can be and are mobilized to understand this violence: greed; Huntington’s A Clash Of Civilizations; the fight for freedom and democracy; Bzrezinski’s The Grand Chessboard; ongoing colonialism; the fight for civilization; racism; the fight to stop totalitarianism; to push towards Armageddon; for Free Trade etc etc, ad infinitum.

Who from their television set can truly fathom the misery of the Iraqi civilians who have suffered and died under this statement of force, all for the control of an inanimate resource? A resource that, in one way or another, warms my office, powers my car, cooks my food, transports food, heats my shower—and that’s just the tip of the oilberg.

From the brutal and sadistic Saddam Hussein, to the utterly resource oriented, devastating and humiliating American invasion and now the Iraq-owning occupation and the relentless, horrific sectarian civil war.

As the world is depleted of her sufficient bounty, I am reminded of Ghandi’s saying, paraphrasing: “The Lord made enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

So what wars, miseries, slaughterings (behind slogans of freedom—which, if one looks closely, are used by virtually all regimes and invaders) will arise in the not-so-distant future? So much force and destruction is used to control fossil fuels—a diminishing and polluting resource, which obviously also plays a huge role in the overwhelming if not conclusive evidence of man-made global warming—and I use the term man-made consciously.

Heck, as my dad once asked: What is the effect of taking so much oil from beneath the earth’s crust, on the earth itself? Is oil the earth’s joint lubricant?

AN OXYMORON: SUBSIDIZED CAPITALISM

But what amazes me in these wars to open free markets is how much is paid for by public subsidies. In other words, of course, the taxpayer. It is a remarkable phenomenon, inordinately obvious to a turnip, yet rarely stressed.

This is free trade? This is open markets? This is capitalism?

Regardless of the right and wrongs of it, countless major industries/corporations have been massively subsidized and supported by the taxpayer since their inception—from aeronautics, to arms dealers, to computers and on and on.

That is not capitalism; that is not free trade; that is not free market. It is essential to get this. Despite the disaster of labels, it is at best, it seems to me, state capitalism pushing towards communism in its worst definition from a market point of view.

A cursory look at what the government (the taxpayer) spends its money on immediately reveals that the research and development burden for these industries remains deeply, again at times perhaps completely, supported by public subsidy (the taxpayer).

Paying for the war in Iraq means, among many things, paying for what is necessary to be in Iraq: food, travel, research, build up, weapons, medical, housing—all these companies’ profits paid for by the tax-payer.

Noam Chomsky, in a much berated phrase, has called free trade “socialism for the rich,” or, at best, “state capitalism,” where…

the public pays the costs and the rich get the benefit—markets for the poor and plenty of state protection for the rich.

Or:

we don’t live in a capitalist world. We live in a world run by state and corporate power…

Whether one agrees or disagrees in part, to toss away that idea without consideration would be to deny Iraq altogether. State and corporate power in profound ways define the Iraq War, for good or for bad.We see it in the State Power that launched the war, and the Corporate Power that backed the war, and is now taking over Iraq.

What are the meanings of these phrases like Open Market; Let The Market Decide; Free Trade and so on? What do they really have to do with the Iraqi people? The Canadian people? The American people? All of us, sisters and brothers.

Referring to the Invisible Hand and Free Markets and one who is often thought of a the father of these “free-market” ideas—Adam Smith—Peter Urmetzer writes:

[18th century Economist] Adam Smith is often quoted and I think he’s also often misunderstood…Most people when they think about Adam Smith think about his anti-state sentiment. But the state at that time was very much a different animal than it is today.

Smith had an antipathy toward monopoly…and you can’t really say we have free trade today because of large corporations which really have monopolized certain sectors of the economy.

Granted, I live like royalty compared to 99% of the world. Thus, I must become more vigilant, more aware of my actions, transactions and on and on, without becoming paralyzed in, as they are described in the Bhagavad Gita, “the intricacies of karma…”

PART II: FREE TRADE and CANADA

A few “QUOTABLE QUOTES” from the website of the film Hoodwinkwed, about the effects of Free Trade on Canada that are at least worth contemplating. All these words and agreements endlessly pounded out, aregued about, publicly and privately (as the article on Iraq mentions), but what is really going on?

Who knows?

John Turner:

My argument with the deal was that it was not free trade….it didn’t control subsidies…it didn’t include anti-trust actions, it didn’t include countervail duty, it didn’t in any way restrict what the Congress of the United States calls “presidential discretion.? It wasn’t a free trade agreement.

Dalton Camp:

In free trade there is a kind of automatic thing that kicks in—the biggest party gets the most from it.

To make any sense out this new world order of the free movement of goods, we have got to protect the rights of working people, because if we don’t there isn’t anybody else who will. I think there are some barbarous things being done.

David Orchard:

They had 20 chapters in the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and only one had to do with tariffs. The others had to do with energy, with agriculture, with investment.

We signed away our energy so completely…we’ve said that even if we face a shortage of any form of energy in the future we will continue to send the same proportion south that we’re sending now…I’m not aware of any country anywhere in the world that’s signed away its energy resources in such a sweeping way to another country…Mexico refused to sign that energy section that Canada signed.

The huge foreign ownership we have in Canada has led to a massive outflow. Each year almost $50 billion dollars flows out of Canada to pay for the foreign ownership we’ve already got. This is in interest, service charges, dividends paid to parent corporations….we are left here with a standard of living that is nowhere near what it could be if we owned and controlled our own economy.

We now have tariffs against our exports of wheat, which we didn’t have before free trade…we’ve had actions against our blueberries, our raspberries, our steel, our lobsters, a whole long list of exports. So it didn’t give us secure access at all, but in chasing that secure access to the U.S. market we signed away huge slices of our sovereignty.

There’s no such thing as secure access to anyone else’s market. The only secure market any country has is its own internal market.

We’re not a little nation that has no resources, with perhaps nothing but the sweat of our brow to compete with. We have these resources, we have the intelligence, we have the trained labour force. We have everything that we need.

Seventy percent of Canada’s external trade now is handled inside American corporations. These aren’t Canadian companies that are trading around the world. These are American corporations trading our oil, or our gas, or our steel, or our nickel, or our wheat to their customers around the world.

Stephen Clarkson:

Neoconservatism is about changing the balance between the power of government and the power of the marketplace…. The weakening of government and starving government by cutting taxes means that the social programs on which the rest of the public depends are impoverished.

These [NAFTA] arbitration tribunals can make decisions that have nothing to do with Canadian law and…can impose quite wild interpretations on us…The impact on Canada has been to reduce the capacity of government to regulate….so in that way Canadian sovereignty is reduced.

It creates a chill because bureaucrats never know whether if they do something, let’s say to control the pollution that’s caused by industry, some American company will say that this is reducing our profits and we’re going to take you to court and environmental concerns have no value in this kind of trial.

Head offices are very important to a national economy, because head offices are where the best jobs are. The research and development operations are clustered around the head offices. Where the CEOs and the senior executives live affects how they give to charities. And all the spin-offs—from local companies that are approached to develop new software to restaurants that the executives go to and right down the work chain to cleaning staff and taxi drivers—they create a huge amount of spin-off business…One result of globalization is that companies have tended to shut down branch plant offices and have the whole global company run from the central head office which is typically in the United States or Japan.

The standard of living has barely moved in 20 years. We are not better off. The globalized economy has made things worse for many, many people.

Shadia Drury:

Neoconservatism is an American import. It’s a very radical brand of conservatism. It combines…unfettered capitalism with social conservatism. Irving Kristol [the father of neoconservatism and William Kristol, perpetuates]…the myth that is meant to support unfettered capitalism and that is the myth that within our society we have achieved perfect equality of opportunity…that there is a perfect harmony between talent and income…those who have the most money deserve to have the most money and those on the bottom of the scale are stupid or lazy or both. So there is absolutely no reason to provide greater equality of opportunity….a complete absence of noblesse oblige which was part and parcel of traditional conservatism.

So what we see in the Bush administration right now is a neoconservative ideology in operation. Here they are, going around, conquering the world in the name of freedom and democracy, when in reality neoconservatives don’t have any use for either freedom or democracy. What they mean by freedom is free trade, corporate capitalism. And what they mean by democracy is rule or tyranny of the moral majority.

Jim Stanford:

The point of the economy, and the point of trade, is not just to pump up a number. It’s actually to improve our quality of life. And it’s not at all apparent that our quality of life has gotten any better in 20 years of free trade; in fact, quite the opposite has occurred.

There are many cases [in history] where markets fail, or when they’re doing their job, [they] actually produce social harm even if they’re creating private wealth.

I think one of the biggest failures of NAFTA is that it’s encouraged us to look inward, within North America, at a moment when the broader global economy is going through tremendous changes.

The key trade that was made when we signed free trade… we traded them [the Americans] secure access to our energy with a provision in a trade agreement that had never been seen in the world before, this Proportional Sharing Clause. This is a fundamental structural shift in our economy where we are going to specialize as an energy warehouse for the continental economy…Once again, we are a hewer of wood, a drawer of water and a pumper of oil.

Peter Urmetzer:

For every job that we won because of exports, we lost through imports.

What kind of jobs are we getting? More people working in call centres, more people working in WalMart, more people working at Tim Hortons.

Somebody may be gaining from free trade, but it isn’t us.

Whatever the intentions behind Iraq (and as Chomsky has said a million times, would we be there if there main exports were “pickles and jelly”?), the people—families virtually indecipherable from yours and mine—paid the price with terror, misery, fear, disease and death. How free is that?

I wish you vigilance and insight, fired (as in fired up, not restructured) with compassion for sisters and brothers everywhere.

To rephrase an old yogic maxim: Always love more (remember), never love less (forget); Whatever makes you love more (remember), do that; whatever makes you love less (forget), don’t do that.

Pete

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One Response to “FREEDOM, FREE TRADE and other EUPHEMISMS”

  1. [...] I wonder if many Middle Eastern Muslims today realize that so many of their ancestors were colonized first by Islamic invaders (just as India was, but was able to hold onto their decimated culture as best as possible) and then the by the British, who eventually retreated from both places (and the Americans stepped in, up to today). [...]

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