Showing posts with label The Room Where It Happened. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Room Where It Happened. Show all posts

Wednesday 4 January 2023

USA-Russia Prisoner Swap: Where's the Canadian Outrage?

Where's the Canadian outrage?

The USA has completed the prisoner swap of Brittney Griner, the American basketball player, for Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer.  I was delighted to see Brittney returned home.  But where's the Canadian outrage?  Remember when the "Two [Canadian] Michaels" were in a Chinese prison and our Prime Minister announced that prisoner exchanges were unacceptable, immoral and dangerous.  The Canadian media reported that the great majority of Canadians (72% in fact) agreed with the Prime Minister.  So why aren't the Prime Minister, the government, the media and those millions of Canadians protesting against this unacceptable, immoral and dangerous exchange of prisoners between Russia and the USA?


Who's Calling the shots?

There are many lessons for us Canadians to learn from this comparison of cases.  The one I would point out:  before the Government of Canada asks "how high?" we should at least inquire about who exactly is telling us to "jump!"

Protests against the Russia-USA prisoner swap

The Griner-Bout exchange is being protested by right-wing conservatives in the USA.  These protestants point out that the reason the US moved so quickly to propose and arrange a prisoner swap with Russia is that Griner--a woman, a Black women, a lesbian, a married lesbian, etc--tics so many of the boxes in the Democratic agenda.  They are not wrong.  The fact that the Democrats chose not to negotiate the release of Paul Whelan, an American former marine who has been incarcerated in a Russian prison for four years on charges of espionage, castes the political basis of the Griner decision in sharp relief.

Who Was responsible for Canada's arresting the Huawei CFO?

Why should Canadians care?  Our compliance in arresting and holding Meng Wanzhou on behalf of the USA while the "two Michaels" languished in prison for almost three years appears even more ridiculous when we see how the US government moved quickly to arrange a prisoner exchange when political party popularity was in play--not to mention that the US has dismissed all charges against Meng without penalty.  If our elected leaders had seriously asked "why arrest Meng?" (as they are required by law to do), they would have eventually arrived at the question of "who exactly is asking?"  I have repeatedly pointed the finger at Richard Donaghue because he was the public face of the arrest and extradition request.  Thanks to the Wall Street Journal exposé, "Inside the Secret Prisoner Swap That Splintered the U.S. and China," we now know who was behind the half-baked scheme to arrest the Huawei CFO:  John Bolton.


President Trump asks the question

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, based on testimony of witnesses, six days after Meng was arrested in Canada, President Trump turned on Bolton and asked "Why did you arrest Meng?" This question says it all.  Bolton describes the December 7 episode in his White House memoir but leaves out this question and anything else which shows his direct responsibility.  From his memoir, we now know with certainty Bolton lied to the Guardian (6 December 2018) when he "said he was not sure if Trump knew of the arrest in Canada when the president sat down to a steak dinner with China’s Xi Jinping in Buenos Aire." In the memoir, Bolton describes making a conscious decision not to inform the President and suggests Trump remained uninformed until "the implications of the arrest spread through the media" (305).

President Donald Trump, right, national security adviser John Bolton, second from right, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, far left, having dinner on Dec. 1, 2018, at a G-20 summit in Buenos Aires. KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

"World Peace"

Bolton claims that "my contribution to world peace was suggesting that Xi and Trump, each accompanied by seven aids, have dinner on December 1" (296). Anyone familiar with the memoir will recognize that Bolton's use of the expression "world peace" was dripping with sarcasm.  And, of course, in arranging for Meng to be arrested the same day as the dinner, Bolton was undermining any glimmer of "world peace" that the meeting might produce.  The Room Where It Happened (a title borrowed from the musical Hamilton)  is a long list of pathways to "world peace" which Bolton opposed and/or obstructed:  Paris Climate Accords, INF Treaty, the Law of the Sea Convention, the Treaty on Open Skies, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, Iran nuclear deal, the International Criminal Court, UN Human Rights Commission, South Korea's initiative for Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un to meet in order to end the Korean War now in its 70th year, meetings between Trump and Putin, Trump and Xi, Trump and Erdogan, entente with Cuba, Venezuela or Nicaragua, military withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan, etc, etc.

Bolton and Trudeau share a doctrine

To his credit Bolton has remained consistent in voicing opposition to the Griner-Bout prisoner exchange and all prisoner exchanges. The Bolton doctrine is the same argument presented by PM Justin Trudeau in his press conference 20 June 2020.  (In the press conference, the PM repeated two basic lies which went unchallenged:  that extradition is an "independent judicial" process and the US-Canada treaty request created an "obligation" to hold Meng.)

Canada's about turn:  how far will we follow anti-China hawks?

If Bolton is our "Pied Piper," it's time we Canadians grow up fast and think twice before following the rat catcher into his cave.  For fifty years--from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau, with Clark, Mulroney and Harper following along in between--there was an evolving, three-steps-forward-two-steps-back collaboration between Canada and China.  Suddenly one day, we arrested Meng Wanzhou, then China arrested the two Michaels, and we have been in a cold war with our second-largest trading partner ever since.  That cold war has been heating up fast as the Canadian government has announced an increase of two billion dollars in military spending in the Indio-Pacific, and a plan to confront China by increasing "the number of naval frigates deployed in the region."

What if we had obeyed the Canadian Extradition Act and released Meng?

As pointed out in the WSJ, Justin Trudeau came to power with a promise of closer ties with China.  In 2017, the Trudeau government was on the verge of a Canada-China free-trade agreement.  The question I ask myself and you, dear reader: "If Canada hadn't fallen for Bolton's ploy and arrested Meng in 2018, would we still be saber-rattling--to the tune of two billion dollars--against China today?"

What Does "law-abiding" mean?

We might delude ourselves that we have impressed the world with how law-abiding we are, except that anyone who bothers to check would know we refused to follow or even acknowledge Canadian law in holding Meng.  As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese were quick to point out to the Canadian delegation: "You don't even know your own laws." Ouch.

Double Ouch

When Justin Trudeau asked for a meeting with Xi Jingpin, he was told:  "It would breach protocol for Mr. Xi, China’s head of state, to speak with Mr. Trudeau, merely the head of government of Canada, whose head of state was Queen Elizabeth II."  Double ouch!

Triple Ouch

When Canada's Ambassador Barton met with representatives of the Chinese Foreign Ministry he was told: "You are lapdogs of the United States."  Unfortunately, the Canadian government had shown a great willingness to sacrifice Canadians for what was exclusively a US/Bolton agenda offering no benefit to Canada.

At Least we could depend on US support! (Not)!

Perhaps the darkest irony of the "catastrofarse": when PM Trudeau approached the US President in February 2021 about the "two Michaels," Biden replied “I will not interfere with the judicial process”--the same fallacious justification for inaction that Trudeau himself had been using for two years.

There Is a lesson to be learned

When discussing the US efforts to curtail Huawei, which he claimed"wasn't a company but an arm of China's intelligence services" (305), Bolton mentions that "Former Prime Minister Jean Cretien, never a friend of the US, was arguing that Canada should simply not abide by our extradition treaty" (307-8).  Given the context and the source, "never a friend of the US" is a ringing endorsement.  In 2003, Prime Minister Jean Cretien kept Canada out of the misguided, malign war in Iraq even as the USA, Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, and even members of the Liberal Party attempted to drag us into it.  Herein lies the lesson.  Prime Minister Cretien, Defense Minister John McCallum, and NDP Leader Jack Layton--all stood in opposition to George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq and kept Canada out of a war which should never should have happened.  Sometimes it's possible to act like an independent, sovereign nation and say "no," without a loss of respect and friendship.


Friday 2 December 2022

Do Right and Left Mean Anything Anymore?

Meanings of Words change

The meanings of words change over time.  Charting those changes of meaning has been the goal of the Oxford English Dictionary since it's inception in 1755.  Being aware of how the meanings of words are constructed and reconstructed over time is what Jacques Derrida called "deconstruction."  I have leaned hard on the notions of "right wing" versus "left wing" in my writing. (See, for example,  Liberal Entropy:  The Challenge of Doing Nothing.)

"When You think you right . . . "

Reading Tara Henley, in particular her substack article "When You Think You're Right even if You're Wrong," I am troubled by the short-comings of the right-left binary, as is she apparently.  I'm supposed to be a left-leaning liberal and she often sounds like a conservative, so it is disconcerting to discover how frequently I agree with her. 

Etymology of left and right wing

Just a quick reminder:  the expressions date to the period immediately after the French Revolution (1789) and referred to where representatives sat in the National Assembly.  Monarchist who tended to be well-to-do traditionalists sat to the right of the Speaker; anti-royalist revolutionaries representing the proletariat sat to the left.  As time has marched on, the binary has been recast as Conservative versus Liberal,  Republican versus Democrat, even Capitalist versus Socialist, though none of these binaries are exactly equivalent. 

Remember when opposing free trade meant you were a left-wing radical?

What counts as left or right keeps shifting.  Remember when opposing a free-trade deal meant you were a left-wing radical?  (The images are from protests against the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, April 2001.  See also The Erasure of the Left.)  In 2015, Donald Trump, a right-wing Republican, began campaigning against free-trade deals which won over the casualties of globalization, the American working and lower middle class. Eventually, even Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama began to back away from their fulsome support of free trade.

What Has gone awry with the left-right binary?

The real problem in recent years has been the floundering attempts to squeeze every political issue into the left-right binary.  The issues of the day simply do not fit the left-right dichotomy.  Vaccine mandates, Tara Henley's particular hobby horse, are a case in point.   

When Pierre Poilievre, Canada's Conservative Party Prime Minister in waiting, rushed to a photo-op with the anti-mandate "Freedom Convoy" as it headed to Ottawa, I thought he had kissed his political career good-bye.  The convoy managed to arouse a great deal of both public antipathy and fractious support, but the Conservative politician's public embrace of a prima facie working-class protest seemed contradictory if not hypocritical.  Nonetheless, I remained mindful of Steve Bannon's claim that the Bernie Sanders constituency and the Donald Trump  constituency were the same working and lower middle-class voters.  Even David Graeber, a card-carrying member of the left if there ever was one, writes:

Ultimately, the more liberal members of this professional-managerial elite became the social base for what came to pass as “left-wing” political parties, as actual working-class organizations like trade unions were cast into the wilderness (The Utopia of Rules p. 20).


The actual working class, who bore a traditional loathing for such characters, either dropped out of politics entirely, or were increasingly reduced to casting protest votes for the radical Right  (The Utopia of Rules p. 21).

 Left-wing in Canada

When I was working on a local NDP campaign (New Democratic Party; i.e., what passes for "left wing" in Canada), I was struck to learn that our greatest support (number of votes) came from the most upper-crust neighbourhood in the riding.   It made sense to me that "enlightened" professionals would vote for the left, for equality and social justice but, at the same time, it seemed the party whose raison d'être was to represent the working class was abandoning and/or being abandoned by that cohort of voters.

"Luxury Beliefs"

Rob Henderson (another Tara Henley guest) coined the expression "luxury beliefs" meaning "ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class, while often inflicting costs on the lower classes." Henderson surmises that upper-class elites while enjoying wealth and status also want to signal that they are "sophisticated member[s] of the educated class."  As an example he cites a conversation with a middle-class classmate who was raised in a stable home and planned to marry herself but claimed that "monogamy and marriage are outdated [....] oppressive patriarchal institutions.” 

Causes of Poverty

I found his example telling.  When I was preparing a lecture on The Grapes of Wrath, I discovered repeated claims that a significant cause of poverty was marriage breakdown.  It was immediately obvious to me that while marriage and family were, first and foremost, emotional and social bonds, the family is also an economic union. Go looking for who exactly is dealing with poverty and chances are you will discover single mothers and the children of fatherless households.  "It takes a village to raise a child" is a nice idea, but these days few of us live in villages.  In my experience, two parents is the minimal requirement for raising a child, and a supplementary army of siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbours is helpful if not essential.  However, "family values," (as I've discussed elsewhere) remains a quintessentially "right wing" expression.

Privileged Values 

A corollary to Henderson's "luxury beliefs" are what I would call "privileged values."  (See Virtues, Vices and Values.) Both the detractors and the supporters of woke and cancel culture are, above all, proof that we live in the age of moral superiority.  Today, everyone thinks of themselves as morally superior and behaves or at least vocalizes accordingly.  The great paradox of moral superiority is that people who feel morally superior self-license to  act immorally at every turn.  In other words, if you think you're one "the good guys," then you're likely to think that whatever you do is  "good"--no matter how amoral, immoral or morally challenged it is. And the illusion is easier to maintain if your privileged circumstances insulate you from the challenges, costs, consequences and contradictions of your morally superiority.

John Bolton versus David Graeber

Perusing John Bolton's The Room Where It Happened and David Graeber's The Utopia of Rules, it is fascinating to read a right-wing hawk and a left-wing dove complaining about the same thing:  bureaucracy.  Graeber's thesis is that bureaucracy is sustained by an underlying threat of violence.  Bolton complains that bureaucracy prevents him from exercising the threats of violence which are his stock and trade.  As Donald Trump once quipped, "If I listened to John Bolton, we would have had World War Six by now." In Bolton's mindset, "Give Peace a Chance" is Chinese propaganda.  Despite my having decried and derided bureaucracy most of my working life (see, for example, This Professor Should Be Fired), reading Graeber and Bolton I came away thinking "Thank gawd for bureaucracy!"  

Bureaucracy or the alternative

To cannibalize a bromide about democracy, bureaucracy may be imperfect, but it's better than all the alternatives.  Bureaucracy protects us from  left-wing anarchy and right-wing corruption.  The important point here is that bureaucracy is neither innately left wing nor innately right wing. In specific cases, bureaucracy may tilt left or right, which is why this binary still matters.

"On Baggage, Bureaucracy and Brokenness"

 However, in her most recent newsletter "On Baggage, Bureaucracy and Brokenness," Tara Henley references Alana Newhouse's claim that

[ . . .] the most vital debate in contemporary America is not between liberalism and conservatism. But rather, it is “between those who believe there is something fundamentally broken in America, and that it’s an emergency, and those who do not.”

The examples are numerous: lost baggage, the bureaucratic run-around, the broken health-care system. We've all been there.  Personally, every time I encounter these screw-ups, I imagine a left-right binary.  Someone is profiting from these screw-ups:  the underfunded health-care system allowing the super-wealthy to remain under-taxed, the telecom giants which deliberately send you from one automated "help line" to another intending that you will give up on requesting service or getting a response to your complaint, the airline company paying minimum wage to part-time baggage handlers.

The Problem of perseverance

Henley's observations about "perseverance" in "When You Think You're Right even if You're Wrong" cut close to home.  My cognitive bias always leans left, so I must admit that when an issue seems left-leaning, I'm likely to get onboard.  And, of course, I always think I'm right, even when the evidence challenges my thinking.  I believe in the left-right binary, but when, where and how the binary applies, and perhaps more importantly, when it doesn't apply--these are the real questions.  The problem is when the binary is applied too quickly and easily, too dogmatically, too broadly, too loosely.  In short, the problem is when the binary becomes a replacement for thinking rather than a way of thinking.



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