“Tear down the walls!” “No calculations!” – John Baird speaks at the UN

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By Jim Miles.

Picture: Baird to empty UN on October 1, 2012

Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Baird, in lieu of Prime Minister Harper, read a prepared text to a mainly empty UN General Assembly hall during the recent gathering of world leaders. His speech was roughly divided in half, the first part criticizing the UN, the second half performing for its U.S./Israel overlords by criticizing Syria and Iran and actions related to them.

The latter, Iran and Syria, I have dealt with before, and are simply reflections of Israeli/U.S. rhetoric on the two nations. There are many double standards in those arguments, many that can reflect back on the U.S. and Israel, as well as their allied Arab states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the GCC states among others) that are supporting the U.S. and Israel in their verbal and physical threats against the two countries. What is new in this speech is the criticism of the UN as navel gazing and not being successful in its actions.

Don’t do as we do, do as we say….

Baird started speaking in French asking for a moment of silence for the diplomats who have lost their lives in service over that past year. Without waiting a moment, he then turned to English – a language he reads more proficiently than French – to call out the UN.

He tried a nautical analogy at first. By seeing Canada as a Maritime nation, with seas on three sides, he described how a sailor set sail with the north star as a clear guiding light. This metaphor then becomes how Canada sets “fixed principles and chart[s] a course for immutable goals.” Those principles – well-being, prosperity, dignity, and security – he indicated are found in the UN Charter. Except that prosperity and security are not found in the Charter but well being and dignity are, along with equal rights for women, justice and respect for international law, and fundamental faith in human rights. Obviously true security comes from the others, not as is commonly conflated today from an ever increasingly militarized state (more below).

Baird then presents the case that we “Measure results by measuring results” not by “best efforts…good intentions…or calculating inputs.” A statement of meaningless obviousness, except that at home in Canada, everything comes down to the almighty dollar, the Conservative government’s favourite way of measuring results by “calculating inputs.” Our economy is measured by “calculating inputs,” our health services and education are all “calculated inputs.” The question then is obvious, how can something be “measured” without a “calculated input?”

Input this

Allow me a moment to return to the “maritime nation” analogy and some calculated inputs. Input one: the Atlantic coast in September received its highest level of rainfall for the month ever. Input two: the Arctic coast witnessed the lowest ever recorded loss of summer ice, at the fastest rate ever. Input three: the Pacific coast, at least the southern part near Vancouver/Victoria, received the least rain ever for the August-September period.

Three record inputs in one season. Perhaps that is why the Canadian government does not like “calculated inputs” because they speak the truth to their dismal environmental record. The current government’s agenda works against the environment, against global warming, against the indigenous cultures as exemplified by the tar sands developments in Alberta. The giga-tonnes of carbon that the tar sands are spewing into the atmosphere, the tonnes of chemical pollutants that accompany them or work their way through the water system, the huge amount of fracking required – and its demands on water and other poisonous chemicals – are all “inputs” this government does not want to be “calculated.” The government only wants to “measure results” – the billions of dollars of corporate profits from which they extract very little in royalties.

Another case of unwanted inputs, those nasty calculations that get in the way of conservative success, is the dollar amounts concerning the Conservative’s attempt to buy the U.S. F-35 fighter jet.

in April 2012, Canada’s Auditor General, Michael Ferguson, blasted the government’s cost estimates and the way the Department of National Defence chose the F-35 without a competition.

“The department did not provide parliament with full cost information, or fully inform decision makers about the risks of this program,” Ferguson said during a news conference to announce his report.

In June 2012, the Government Accountability Office, the U.S Government agency that investigates how taxpayer dollars are spent, reported:

  • The cost of building just one F-35 had doubled from $81 million to $161 million.
  • Full production would be delayed by years.
  • Testing was behind schedule. (CTV W5)

That’s a lot of “calculated inputs” that the current Conservative government wishes they could ignore and simply “measure results,” that is to buy the damned plane regardless of costs.

I’ll say it again…and again…and again…(but won’t do it)

The speech continued with a rambling section on how the UN kept looking at itself and not acting enough on the world stage. In repetitious tautological reiterations of the same idea, Baird says the UN “must spend less time looking at itself, and more time focussed on the problems that demand its attention.” Moments later, the UN should not participate in “inward looking exercises.” The UN should measure its achievements “not how [it] arranges its affairs.” It spends “too much time on itself.”

Then comes the big line, the line that actually rings true for Canada’s increasing loss of democracy:

The preoccupation with procedure and process must yield to substance and results.

Yes, Baird for once reveals the truth about Canadian democracy as run by the Conservatives! Forget procedure and due process, we’re going to do what we want to do regardless. Which is why the Conservatives twice cancelled parliament (once to avoid a non-confidence vote, and the second time to avoid questions on Canada’s complicity with torture in Afghanistan) and once was found in contempt of Parliament, the latter partly as a result of the F-35 debacle as noted above – obviously “calculated inputs” can be harmful for democratic health.

This is a government that manipulated the voting process (in Canada called the “robocalling scandal”), and that fired many of its scientists and requires the others – and all other assistants – to vet questions received and answers given through a media coordinator for the government, those scientific “calculated inputs” being a bit too much for the government to comprehend, as noted above with climate change. This is the government that recently wrapped up numerous changes in many laws into one large omnibus bill pretending to be the budget, and then limited debate on all the issues created.

At least in this instance, there are no double standards, Baird is simply asking the UN to do as Canada’s Conservatives have done recently and avoid those nasty “procedures and processes” that are involved with democracy.

Oh, Lord….

Somewhat confused about his own religion, Baird invoked the Creator, saying “Those of us who recognize a Creator….” continuing on saying that we should “use the Creator’s gifts for the well being of all.” Well, what a wonderful little homily for the assembly.

So why the Creator…as if God won’t do? Is it because you were trying to hide the Conservatives attempts to demonize the Islamic people of the world, as PM Harper has said that “Islamicism is the greatest threat to Canada”? Is it because you support the Jewish God but do not want to adversely affect your relationship with the Christian God? Or vice versa?

Or are you trying to play up to our local indigenous groups who have always used the terminology of a Creator? There are of course several indigenous groups on the proposed route for the noxious tar sands to be shipped from Alberta through their territory, territory long revered as made by the Creator and held sacred by the indigenous people as the basis of their life and culture. The government certainly does not want “calculated inputs” on this line of thinking as the costs in dollar terms extrapolated from environmental and cultural damages would simply put stop to the project.

And the walls came a tumbling’ down.

After a bit more rambling about openness and engagement, and inventing trade (really, it was invented?), Baird spoke again in metaphor, this time about walls:

You cannot develop understanding by building walls between cultures.

You cannot achieve prosperity by erecting walls between economies and you cannot advance a people by putting walls between them and the state.

Great metaphor and it raises some serious issues.

Domestically, it raises issues about the Conservative’s increased spending on prisons for its law and order agenda. It raises issues for the walls that are raised at international meetings when civil protestors are kept outside of a city centre and then “kettled” and arrested for being in a “riot”. It raises issues about the indigenous people and the current and historical confinement to their reservations and their lack of democracy subservient to the outdated and colonial Indian Act of 1876. And if the metaphor is extended, the government itself has created walls of silence around its agenda (the economy, the climate, the military), and around its employees in the civil service. So much for “advancing” Canadians.

Internationally, walls are even a larger issue.

Israel (okay, I said I wouldn’t but here goes…)

Canada has become the western world’s most vocal supporter of the Israeli government. This is based on historical support for Zionism that goes back to our British imperial roots, and for the current Millennial Christian goals of an Israel that occupies all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The latter has been subsumed under the U.S./Israeli rhetoric and agenda for the war on terror and the ever increasing fear-mongering about security. (more below).

But where is the wall here? Ahh, it extends around the decreasing cantons/bantustans of the Israeli occupied West Bank, seriously eroding the water resources and agricultural land that could make the base for a truncated but independent Palestine. Of course, all these Palestinians are terrorists, and the Creator would not want us to deal with them, nor are we to make “calculated inputs” into the number of dunnams of land have been confiscated, expropriated, and built on by the Israeli settlers, nor on the number of deaths and extrajudicial killings and numbers of prisoners and children tortured in the Israeli jails in the occupied territories. Results are all that count – the dominance of Israel regardless of the humanitarian and international laws put forth under the aegis of the UN.

Then there is the second wall, the barrier of razor wire, concrete and steel that surrounds the Gaza strip, and is extended non-metaphorically around the Mediterranean coast by the Israeli navy. With 1.5 million people behind this wall, without decent power and water, with minimal civic structure as all are controlled by Israel, the chances for “developing understanding” and “achieving prosperity” are pretty slim. PM Harper’s description of the well known “calculated input” of the huge number of deaths under the Cast Lead attack is that it was a “proportional response” – yes, results, ignore those inputs.

While these walls are real, they essentially remain invisible to the greater western public. Guarded from discussion by the corporate controlled media, the Israeli wall that creates the cantons in the West Bank, and the strict controlled boundary that walls in the Gaza strip appears to not even have entered the speech writer’s mind…or he simply concluded that no one would be able to see the huge contradiction in the metaphor he or she created.

I will however leave Iran out of the arguments. Baird’s reflection of the Canadian government’s views are so wildly inflammatory and error prone and have been covered well elsewhere.

Security and prosperity (but no longer freedom and democracy)

For a while most arguments made for global consumption conflated free markets with democracy and freedom. Economic statistics from around the world, if properly made into “calculated inputs” clearly show that this is not true. Now, the current rhetoric is about “security” being conflated with prosperity.

This simply raises the spectre of a militarized corporate state that allows for certain personal freedoms, including perhaps my ability to rant at the Canadian government without a visit from CSIS as an expression of Canada being an open society with open markets and open-mindedness, none of which are fully true.

Baird’s essential argument, or at least that of his speechwriter, is that security is not in conflict with openness:

[There is] no fundamental conflict between national security and the open society….Both seek to protect the same values, the same rights and the same freedoms.

Is that why perhaps we have “free trade” agreements written behind closed doors by corporate lawyers and CEOs in collusion with their government cronies? Is that why we had so much “openness” about the F-35s? Is that why we have security agreements with Israel (“an attack on Israel is an attack on Canada” – not in my books!)? And is that why there is a security perimeter around North America – with of course that wall between Mexico (and the rest of Latin America) and the U.S. and many walls between the people and the government such that corporations have more rights – by way of their power politically and financially – than the citizens do? Is that why the government shut down parliament twice, and was in contempt of it later?

My security does not require that I live in an increasingly militarized state. Part of our economic success – along with the tar sands – is Canada’s role in military spending. The creation of the F-35 has its Canadian corporate counterparts, with government assistance – building parts of the F-35 systems. Canada is one of the world’s leading arms exporters to countries around the world. Our valorous military is not needed to bomb Yugoslavia or Libya (or Syria or Iran) in order for me to feel secure, in fact, it makes me less secure, as does its sycophantic ranting behind the U.S. and Israel.

Back at the UN

The UN may be flawed, and yes it does need alterations and improvements, but certainly not as would be indicated by John Baird and Canada’s Conservative government. Canada’s reputation has deservedly taken a turn for the worse at the UN, and Harper, who would rather speak to an admiring crowd at the New York-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith (Jewish – Christian) council, has avoided the UN the past two years.

So world be warned. It is a good thing that Canada is not nearly as powerful or influential as its new bully attitude would want it to be as it is operating with “immutable goals” that are unaccountable to “calculated inputs” (which in my language means “facts or information”) and is not interested in the “processes and procedures” of democracy, human rights, and international law.

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Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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