North American Union:
Time to Re-Focus
The progressive and left media have clearly developed into a strong chorus of voices across the Western world, but a pack mentality has in some ways arisen. Group think has emerged – or resurfaced – and with it, internal self-censorship. There are things that are discussed, and there are things that are collectively, unconsciously, deemed to be out of bounds for discussion.
The progressive and left media is largely focused on documenting the litany of evils of this corporate-dominated socio-political and economic order. This is worthwhile and necessary, but off the mark in terms of a primary focus of efforts.
Polls have shown for some time that the vast majority of people in the U.S., Canada and the Western world have lost faith in this economic and political system. Polls repeatedly show that the great majority view the economic system as inherently unfair, the democratic system as hollowed out by the dominance of corporate interests, and the whole affair as being ecologically suicidal to boot. Continuing to convince the general public that the system of corporate monopoly capitalism is not working in their interests, is preaching to the converted.
What is needed now, is not more focus on documenting the evils of a social order dominated by big money, but a rallying cry – a focused effort to rally the great majority to a cause they already believe in: the struggle for a free and just, democratic society, and the end of corporate dominance over politics and the economy. Action is needed. The people are informed. They need now a rallying focus. The crisis of legitimacy is approaching critical mass across the Western world, particularly in the United States. There is an opportunity now for bold vision and bold action.
Democracy vs. Empire
I would suggest that a natural focus for such a move from criticism to proposition, from documenting evils and informing the public to rallying popular movements for justice and social change, would be the unfolding formalization of corporate power in the Americas, vis a vis the North American Union. This is a focal point that can unite the right and the left, can bring together a broad and diverse coalition and united popular movement from across the political spectrum at the level of the grassroots; for almost everyone, at any point on the political spectrum, at the level of the grassroots populace, is overwhelmingly opposed to further concentration of corporate power over our lives, governments and societies, and that is precisely what the NAU is all about.
The defining struggle of the present is not between left and right, liberal or conservative, but between democracy and empire. What we need to agree upon, and what 80 to 90% of the people of the U.S., Canada and Mexico can agree upon, is that democracy is preferable to tyranny. With the rapid back-door implementation of a North American Union underway, bypassing Congress, Parliament, and public debate, the issue at hand is the survival of democracy, as flawed as it may be, or the emergence of what can only be accurately described as corporate fascism.
At the level of the grassroots, both liberals and conservatives, right and left, overwhelmingly agree that democracy is preferable to fascism. This is our rallying point. This is where the crisis of legitimacy is turned into decisive action at a time of great danger, and great opportunity.
The straw man that terrifies
Progressives and the left seem terrified of being branded as “conspiracy theorists.” It is a fear that is unfounded. The political climate has changed. Of course the corporate-owned and corporate-dominated media will still use this straw man. But the vast majority of the people in the Western world now correctly believe that powerful business and political elites meet behind closed doors to discuss, plan and implement policies that serve their own interests, but not those of the general public. With on-going closed door secretive meetings of the WTO and North American Summits, it is pretty hard to deny the reality of this – it would take a determined effort, in fact, to pretend this is not happening. After Seattle (1999) and the Quebec Summit (2001), the closed-door high-level talks of the power elite became well-publicized. It is by now obvious to just about everyone that high level policies are being determined by a powerful corporate elite and their political counterparts, outside the realm of democratic forums, and without public debate or even oversight. And the fact of corporate dominance over the political process is by now undeniable to virtually everyone, across the political spectrum.
In fact, we are now seeing right-wing, conservative Republicans from Texas – about as staunch a group of supporters as the political right would ever wish for, until recently – move to a direct denunciation of, and opposition to, what they are rightly calling the emerging “corporate fascism.” Who would have thought? But it is happening. Traditional conservatives are becoming disgusted by the corruption and anti-democratic trends of what many have called corporate rule.
A basis for unity within diversity
The divide between right and left is narrowing, at least on this core issue: do we live in a democracy or a tyranny, and do we prefer democracy, or do we prefer fascism. Most on the right, as well as the left, are unequivocal about this: we may disagree on a number of important issues, but we can agree on this – we decidedly prefer democracy to corporate-fascist rule.
What the right and left, liberals, conservatives and progressives can agree upon – at least 85% of the population can agree upon, regardless of political persuasion – is that fascism is an abomination, and democracy, however flawed, is infinitely more desirable. With the writing being clearly on the wall, we can see the drift we’re on: we’re heading for full-fledged corporate fascism. The Patriot Acts and Military Commissions Act makes this unthinkable possibility, a present and grim reality. We need to take action now to stop this trend.
The rise of corporate power
This is the obvious trend in the Western world; in the United States in particular, but also in Canada, the U.K. and Europe: we are moving into a fascist order. In terms of economy, the concentration of corporate power has been increasing steadily, and in fact exponentially, over many decades. As most already know, corporate power now overshadows political power and democratic governments – exactly as Jefferson had warned, nearly 200 years ago. We failed to head his warning, and are now paying the price.
As of 2004, the 500 biggest corporations on the planet controlled over USD $20 trillion in annual revenues – approximately three times the U.S. economy. The political leverage of such awesome financial power would be hard to overstate – and is commonly grossly understated.
The corporate giants have been consciously and with great determination consolidating their power and their dominance over political processes and democratic governments for decades. This trend can be dismissed as a conspiracy theory, but such straw man arguments simply evade the obvious reality. This is, as Chomsky put it, an institutional analysis. Our political and economic institutions are intertwined, clearly, and the result of the interplay between monopoly capitalism in the economic realm, and a democratic process trying to stay afloat and maintain its integrity within such a context, is the on-going and increasing dominance of monopoly capital over democratic forums. We should not be surprised at this. In fact, it would be surprising if it were otherwise.
The straw man revisited:
Institutional analysis and an acknowledgement of class
What is being put forward here is a view that has already been accepted as fact by the vast majority of people across the Western world – hence the lack of fear needed about being branded a “conspiracy theorist” – and it is a view that is founded simply upon institutional analysis, an empirical observation of the widely accepted facts, and a recognition of the reality of class in Western societies.
The business and corporate elite are of a class, comprise a class, and act, by and large, as a class. The existence of class in Western societies may be denied by the more “disciplined” academics, but as far as the general public is concerned, it is an obvious fact. Clearly the Bush family dynasty, to pick a random example, has more economic and political power, as well as more wealth and resources at their disposal, than say, a gas station attendant in Austin Texas, or a gas station owner in New Jersey. There is no need to shrink from class analysis – in public or private discussion. Everyone knows that the Western world is a class-based “civilization” (and I use the term loosely).
I am not a Marxist, nor do you have to be a Marxist to recognize that class exists in the Western world, and plays a very major part in what we call political economy, or the way our societies function – or dysfunction. Only the corporate spin-merchants and the deeply indoctrinated can deny the existence and importance of class in the Western world. For everyone else, it is a fact.
As a class, the business elite and the giant corporations they run, have been making concerted and highly conscious efforts to expand and consolidate their power. There may be intense rivalries among the corporate elite and the financiers who control them, but there are some things that, as a class, they all agree upon. What do the big corporations and their financial barons want? Well, we don’t have to guess; it’s pretty obvious. They want maximum profit and maximum shareholder return. What does this mean? It means a drive toward market dominance – ie monopoly, or at least oligopoly – and it means slashing costs. Market dominance is a matter of PR, as well as manipulating governments for preferential treatment wherever possible (big corporations abhor free markets – they insist on government subsidy, protection, and a “playing field” severely tilted in their favour). Slashing costs entails some common goals and values among the business elite: cut labour costs, push down wages, fight and roll back environmental and all other regulations, externalize costs wherever possible and make the public pay for the mess we create. These are common class interests among the business elite. The system we have created allows it and also necessitates it to be so. You don’t find corporations relocating to areas of high labour organization, good wages, strong environmental and labour regulations, and a profitable but clearly delineated business environment. No, you find corporations moving to areas where labour has been crushed or demoralized, where wages are low, where environmental and workplace safety laws are lax or non-existent. Profit drives the beast, and we should not be surprised at the results.
Note that I am not saying that the profit motive is irreconcilable with labour and environmental legislation that protects workers and the earth. The Scandinavian countries have shown that a capitalist economy, while full of fundamental flaws, can be made tolerable at least. I am not advocating, to paraphrase Thoreau, an ideal society at once, but at once a better order for society. Such an order can include for-profit business, but it cannot tolerate monopoly capitalism, nor can it tolerate the take-over of democratic governments by an all-encompassing all-dominating corporate oligarchy. I am not anti-business; I am anti-fascist – and that means, in practical terms, in terms of present day realities, being actively opposed to the corporate take-over of democratically elected governments.
The Historical Context
To do justice to the topic, we must put it into historical perspective, however briefly, as accessibility allows. (Concision has its limitations, but it does widen the potential audience.) For two hundred years popular movements, mainly the labour movement, but others crucially as well, worked very hard to create a more just, equitable, and democratic order of society for the Western world, from the 1700’s through to the 1930’s. When the Great Depression hit, the suffering was so enormous, and the failing of unregulated capitalism so glaring, the entire capitalist order came under increased and serious attack – from within. Popular movements were powerful, and the crisis of legitimacy of the ruling order was real, and imminent. Something had to be done. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his administration understood very well that major compromises had to be made, and had to be made immediately, or revolution may ensue. The business elite of the U.S. as well as across the Western world, were terrified of a socialist revolution. A compromise was worked out. It was called “The New Deal.” It was a purely pragmatic project, a concession to the ordinary working people – the vast majority – by the business elite who, by that time, already dominated the political process as well as the economy, and did not want to lose all power. Wages would go up, a greater share of the wealth – created primarily by the workers themselves of course – would be granted to the ordinary working person, a safety net would be created, and some measure of regulation would be imposed upon corporate capitalism for the protection of the populace and the stability of the economy. This was all by way of concession. It was not a noble and magnanimous expression of brotherly or sisterly love on the part of the ruling class, but a carefully crafted compromise to ensure the continued dominance of the elite business class. As with virtually every other achievement in the struggle to raise real standards of quality of life for the great majority, the initiative and the pressure came from below, from the grassroots and popular movements, with governments and business conceding, reluctantly, only when there was no other choice. In Canada it was the same: adopt “New Deal” policies, or watch the democratic socialist movement take power. The time frame was a little later – 1940’s instead of 1930’s – but the realities and the pragmatic response was the same.
From 1945 until the mid 1970’s “New Deal” programs expanded: social programs and a safety net, including old age security pensions, unemployment insurance, increasing wages, public education, and universal public health care in Canada and virtually all Western nations, with the glaring exception of the United States. Standards of living – real standards, not just GDP – as measured by quality of life, increased along with wages for the vast majority, and the middle class was born. This era of New Deal politics and economics coincided with what has been called the golden age of post-war capitalism. It was a time of unparalleled economic growth, combined with a compromise between business and the working majority. It was a time of decent wages, job security, good social programs, a safety net for all, and generally rising expectations. This is what the baby boomers grew up with, and came to expect. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived bubble.
In 1971 the U.S. unilaterally abolished the gold standard, and the era of globalization began. The power of large corporations had continued to grow rapidly during the previous period, and with the advances in transportation and communications, combined with increased global trade and the dismembering of capital controls, corporations began moving to globalized systems of production and distribution at a much more rapid pace. As production could be moved offshore to regions with lower labour costs and fewer or no regulations, and a more thinly distributed consumer class was emerging in countries around the world, the bargain with the Western middle class was no longer needed. In fact, the middle class itself was no longer needed, neither as producers nor as consumers. The pattern set by Henry Ford – pay your workers well and they can afford to buy your product – was now viewed as obsolete. Production could be moved to Mexico or Indonesia, where labour costs are a fraction of those in the wealthy Western nations. And a concentrated middle class in Europe and North America became unnecessary as well, as a global consumer class was now present, more thinly spread out over the earth. With the middle class now disposable, obsolete as tools of both production and consumption, the bargain of the New Deal compromise could be broken. It was roll-back time. All of the gains of the past 30 to 40 years – in fact, all of the gains of the past 200 years – cut be rolled back, or simply put on the chopping block. Big business was now truly global, and there was no need to compromise with a concentrated middle class in the rich Western nations. The fall of the Soviet Bloc further confirmed this fact. There being no rival system, the business elite could act with impunity, and destroy all gains made by popular movements since 1750. Thus began a new era of corporate monopoly capitalism: the era of intensifying class warfare in the context of corporate globalization – what became known as neoliberalism; or neoconservatism in its other flavour. The age of swashbuckling capitalism was back. It was rape and pillage for all.
Say it like it is:
Global neo-capitalist feudalism and the consolidation of corporate power
With the onset of globalization, capitalism – and Western liberal democracies – entered a new, more feudal era: what has accurately been described as global neo-capitalist feudalism.
In the three decades that we have had corporate globalization, wages have fallen or remained flat while corporate profits have gone through the roof, the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically, the number of people living in poverty has increased steadily – both globally and within the Western nations; social programs have been eroded, slashed or eliminated, environmental regulation has been rolled back or dismantled, and, most serious of all, the very fabric of democratic societies has been undercut: the corporate powers have launched an assault on democracy; not a frontal assault, which they knew would fail, but an end-run around democratic sovereignty.
For corporate and business elites, and the political elite who serve them, democracy is anathema. For the business and corporate elite, this is easy to understand: when democracies are actually, authentically functioning, they tend to favour the public interest, and the great majority of people want things like decent wages (ie higher labour costs), environmental and workplace safety regulations (ie: cuts into stratospheric profits), social programs like public education and health care, pensions and a safety net (ie: programs that diminish the willingness of the populace to work for nothing, or next to it). In short, a functioning democracy means compromise with the public interest, and a reduction in profits. This is clearly unacceptable to the corporate elite, as they have shown by the record of their actions. For the political elite, when it is not a case of simple shared interests with the elite business class – that is, a financial tie in, or buy in – it is a case of arrogant elitism. “We know best; the masses are not fit to participate in our notion of democracy – they should be passive observers, at best, or better, distracted and uninvolved in the decisions that shape their lives.”
The efforts to consolidate corporate power, and to institutionalize corporate power in Western societies – and globally – has been ongoing for at least three decades. GATT, NAFTA, the WTO and the failed MAI were all expressions of the conscious, highly determined drive by big business to consolidate and institutionalize their dominance over the political process, democratically elected governments, and the world in general. Each of these “trade agreements” – which are much more about ensuring corporate hegemony than about trade – further advanced a common corporate agenda of asphyxiation of and dominance over democratic governments. With each of these, corporate power, and most specifically, the rights of the elite investment class, was enshrined and ensconced to a further level. Under the WTO regime, democratically elected governments cannot decide, for example, that a gasoline additive known to cause brain cancer, will be banned in that country. The attempt by a democratically elected government to pass legislation that protects the health and well-being of its citizens, or even asserts the interests and desires of its citizens, will be rebuked and punished by the WTO regime. In this case, it was the Canadian federal government that naively tried to pass a law that protected Canadian citizens’ health and expressed the desires of the Canadian people. The WTO ruled that the Canadian government was in violation of WTO regulations by legislative action that was “tantamount to expropriation” by affecting “potential future profits.” The Canadian government backed down, and corporate rule held. “Power to the shareholders!” You could almost hear the cry from the rooftops of Wall St., beneath the snort of scotch and the puffing Cuban cigars.
It should not shock us then, when news begins to surface that the North American business elite have been holding back-room meetings with the political elite of the three nations of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to further institutionalize and consolidate their power and their dominance over the political process and society in general. The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) which was signed by U.S. President George Bush, then Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin and Mexico’s President Vicente Fox, is just such a back-door putsch. The back-room planning and implementation of a North American Union is set to institutionalize corporate power via the newly created North American Council on Competitiveness (NACC). Under the SPP, “regulatory harmonization” is planned to be completed for the three nations by 2007. Full integration of the economies, military, intelligence, security frameworks, and legislative/regulatory frameworks of the three nations is set to be implemented in full by 2010. The NACC is to be the de facto North American government, consisting of 30 CEOs, 10 from each nation, which will “brief” Parliament and Congress. Anyone who cares about democracy should speak now. This ups the ante dramatically. This is the formalization of corporate rule.
The crisis of legitimacy and doors of opportunity
Lest the discussion of these issues create hand-wringing passivity and despair, it should be noted that the business and political elite of North America are not pursuing such a bold strategy out of a strength, but out of weakness. Yes, the financial barons and big corporations have awesome economic power, and yes this translates into real political power. But the writing is on the wall for this order. Global and national polls show clearly a broad and deep crisis of legitimacy across the Western world and around the globe, for business leaders, politicians, political parties, and in fact, the entire liberal democratic system, which by now, as most understand, is a system of corporate monopoly capitalism. The business and political elite are highly aware of this fact, acutely aware of it. It is with a sense of fear at the inevitable sweep from power that this grand and bold plan is being implemented; not out of confidence, but out of terror and desperation. We simply have to look to the fact that the meetings taking place to orchestrate this greatest of changes any of the three North American countries has seen in approximately 200 years, are being held in secret: the media is not invited or even notified, the public is being kept in the dark as much as possible, and it is being kept away from Congress and Parliament.
The reason the NAU is being drafted and implemented away from public view and outside Congressional or Parliamentary debate is that its authors know full well it would never stand a chance if exposed to democratic debate or public scrutiny. It is the fear of the people that drives such secrecy. It is the fear of loss of power. It is the position of weakness to resort to such deceptive tactics. It is because the people are ultimately far more powerful than any group of elected or unelected elites that these deals are done in private: they would not survive the light of day.
I am not sure on the political climate of Mexico and how the Mexican people would react if they knew their “leader” – Vicente Fox – was quietly negotiating the merger of Mexico with the U.S., but it is abundantly clear that the overwhelming majority of Americans and Canadians do not wish to see their national sovereignty dissolved into a giant continent-wide mega-state. One of the architects of the NAU “grand idea” has stated that it was understood that a direct frontal assault on democracy would fail, hence we have had to go for “an end-run around national sovereignty.” Another has said, “we have a 2 year window of opportunity.” (This coincides with the rest of Bush’ term in office – unless he is impeached before then.) What all of this indicates is a shadowy coup by powerful business elites who are afraid of losing their power. It is a bid to consolidate corporate power while it is still possible. It is an end-game strategy. It is an act of desperation and fear.
We must remember that the protests of Seattle in `99 surprised the business and political elite. They were caught off guard. They had no idea such a powerful coalition or confluence of popular movements was uniting to oppose corporate-led globalization. They were a little shell-shocked.
In 2001, at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, the political and business elite thought they were well-prepared. Big fence, tear gas, thousands of police, water canons. The power elite thought they could deal with the protestors and the dissent by simply putting up a wall.
By early 2002 the World Economic Forum’s global poll had come in. The WEF meeting just two weeks later was reported to be one filled with a mood of dejection and sullenness. The founder and chairman of this elite business planning group essentially admitted defeat. The polls showed a world-wide crisis of legitimacy for the reigning corporate-globalist order. (Liberal democracy is a misnomer, as liberal democracy was destroyed some time ago by corporate monopoly capitalists). It is a crisis of legitimacy that is both broad and deep. The writing seemed to be on the wall at the 2002 WEF meeting in Davos. With public trust in business and political leaders running neck and neck with used car sales men and lawyers, somewhere at the bottom of the legitimacy rankings, it is only a matter of time until the entire corporate-globalist order disintegrates, as its foundations collapse. Somewhere between Seattle 1999 and Davos 2002, the corporate elite lost the global propaganda war; and they know it.
After the Quebec Summit of 2001, a big fence and lots of police began to be insufficient to deal with the growing protests and popular dissent. Increasingly, the meetings of the business and political elite – whether meetings of the WTO, the G-7, or the North American Forum – were held in remote locations, far from the public eye, or on turf that was known to be safe.
By the time we arrive at March 2005, with the signing of the Security and Prosperity Partnership – one of the key steps toward full implementation of a North American Union and the Orwellian-named North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) – we have “the three amigos”, Bush, Fox and Martin, meeting privately in Waco Texas. With the latest round of meetings of the North American Forum, September 12-14, 2006, the media were not even informed of the occurrence of the meeting. It was held in a luxury hotel in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, far from the public eye, and under a total media blackout.
The extreme measures taken to avoid public discussion or parliamentary/congressional debate on the issue, is an indication of the profound weakness of the position of its authors. Sun Tzu knew this very clearly many centuries ago: the Chinese classic, The Art of War, advises that when one’s position is strong and one’s enemy weak, this is the time to attack; when one’s enemy is powerful and one is weak, do not attack, use an indirect approach. By now all the leading strategists for the business elite have read Sun Tzu, but even if they hadn’t, the point is obvious: attack directly if you are strong enough, use subterfuge if you are weak. A bold move is being implemented here; there is no question; but the boldness shows desperation, not strength.
The corporate-globalists have already lost the main battle: the battle for the hearts and minds of the people. They have lost the propaganda war. The crisis of legitimacy that is clearly revealed in global and national polls shows the people to have lost faith in this order. Once the hearts and minds of the people is lost, only force is left as a means of ruling. Hence the emergence of fascism.
But when the people have lost their faith in the ruling order, it is only a matter of time until that order collapses like a house of cards. The Leninists found that out when the Soviet Bloc collapsed. Down went an entire social order. Next is the corporate capitalist order. The people have lost faith. It is time.
This is what the political and business elite fear: a collapse of their house of cards, just as the Soviets experienced. This is why the desperate measures are being taken now to consolidate power – while it is still possible. The tide has turned. This is a desperate end-game bid.
Add to this context the reality of the United States being an empire in decline. The U.S. is now deeply in debt to China and a number of other nations, having gone from being the world’s biggest creditor to the world’s biggest debtor nation (thanks mainly to neo-conservative Republicans under Reagan and Bush 1 and 2). Much of the big money has already left the U.S., has gone to Europe and China. The central banks of Europe, Asia and the Arab nations are moving money out of the U.S. The U.S. dollar is falling, and will continue to fall. The U.S. has to bring in $2.8 billion a day to prop up its economy, in light of a $70 billion a month trade deficit. The smart move for Canada and Mexico now would be to increase ties with Europe, Latin America and other rising economic regions, not tie ourselves to a sinking ship.
The reason for the back door putsch for deep integration is that the U.S. economy is about to melt down: the U.S. is an empire at twilight, and it’s corporate elite want Canadian resources, particularly the tar sands – with one to two million barrels of oil a day – to rescue this sinking ship. Canadian CEOs are on-board, but the Canadian public doesn’t want this, and rightly so.
When the American, Canadian and Mexican people find out what is going on, there will be an outrage that will be heard round the world. The time is now to let the reality of this nefarious plan be known. Delay now may be extremely dangerous. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There is such a thing as “Too late.” ”
The issue at hand
The central and most pressing issue of the day, at least for people in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and the area of focus we should be concentrating upon, is the question of democracy versus empire. This issue should and can bring together all concerned citizens from across the political spectrum, for while we may have widely divergent opinions and views on many issues, the one thing we can pretty much all agree upon – at least 80-90% of the population in any case – is that authentic democracy is vastly more preferable than corporate aristocracy, or more simply and starkly put, democracy is preferable – in almost any form – to fascism.
With the plans being rapidly implemented – from behind closed doors, under the radar, behind the backs of the public, outside the scrutiny of Congress, Parliament and the democratic process – for a North American Union which will merge the three nations of the U.S., Canada and Mexico into one mega-state – run by and for the biggest corporations on the continent – it is time to sharpen our focus. It is time to stop preaching to the converted, time to stop focusing excessively on documenting the litany of evils of this corporate-dominated order, time to stop trying to convince the people of what they already know and have come to believe – that this order is not serving their interests, nor the interests of the ordinary person or the vast majority – and begin to create a rallying point to channel the deep and broad popular discontent into decisive action, and take the opportunity held within this crisis of legitimacy for corporate globalism, and make of it a new day. The time is now. The danger is real. So too is the opportunity.
The Security and Prosperity Partnership – an “informal understanding” between the leaders of the U.S., Canada and Mexico – has been on the public record since at least as early as March 2005. Considering the SPP has implications far greater than NAFTA, it is a subject that merits serious attention. To date, virtually all of the mainstream media, as well as the progressive media, have ignored it. The silence is deafening. This has to change. We need to be talking about this. And we need to stop it.
The Reality of Class:
U.S. Faces “Economic Armageddon”:
An empire at twilight:
Superpower’s global dominance in question
The crisis of legitimacy:
Global corporate rule is now fragile