Tag Archives: globalization

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: not in Canada’s interests

As Ottawa trade expert Peter Clark observes of the Harper government’s neoliberal agenda, when it comes to international trade – in CETA, FIPPA, and the TPP – “everything is on the table” (69, my emphasis).

Clark has posted a detailed, plain-speaking, and highly critical analysis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a USA-led, Pacific-rim trade negotiation to which Canada has been admitted … as a “second-tier” participant with no say in whatever the deal ends up demanding. A self-professed advocate of free trade, Clark nevertheless roundly criticizes the TPP here, mainly for its considerable imbalance – in favour of interests that are not Canada’s own (24).

In trade agreements, the devil is always in the details – and when it comes to the TPP, the devils travel in packs.

The TPP has been widely criticized by copyright experts (like Michael Geist) for leaked draft chapters concerning its intellectual property regulations: “The TPP could result in extra-territorial application of U.S. laws, particularly in the Intellectual Property area, including criminalization of non-commercial infringement” (Clark 26). The TPP has also been criticized for its extreme and anti-democratic but all too typical secrecy, and for the uncertainty over what exactly Canada stands to gain at the table here – relative to what it stands to lose.

The TPP is not all about sandals, diapers, detergents and cucumbers. In some ways it is about how we live, our healthcare, access to medicare and our way of life. It is about how we preserve our heritage and culture. And it is about how those whose ideas shape so many things are properly compensated for their achievements. … At this point, participation in the TPP raises more questions for Canada than it answers. As noted, with Japan as a participant there could be real gains. Without it, TPP as currently envisaged would more likely be a gift to Washington with benefits to Canada being marginal and illusory. Fortunately for Canada, Trade Minister Ed Fast has made it clear that Canada will not accept bad or unbalanced trade deals. Break a leg, Minister. (13, 18, my emphasis)

Critiques aside, there are a number of resources to take action against the TPP. There’s a Facebook Stop the TPPA page, and the Stop The Trap website, which focuses on the TPP’s copyright chapters, features a petition that now shows over 120,000 signatures.

As Canada’s neoliberal government ramps up its ecologically hazardous sell-out of Canadian resources, its Orwellian rewriting of Canadian history, its systematic attack on working people, and its dismantling of Canadian sovereignty, Canadians need to do all we can to send the message to Parliament that these are massive political risks it takes at the price, ultimately, of its own credibility and power to govern.

Open letter to #HOC International Trade Committee: The #FIPA Canada-China trade deal needs study and debate

To: House of Commons International Trade Committee – Rob Merrifield (rob.merrifield@parl.gc.ca), Ron Cannan (ron.cannan@parl.gc.ca), Russ Hiebert (russ.hiebert@parl.gc.ca), Ed Holder (ed.holder@parl.gc.ca), Gerald Keddy (gerald.keddy@parl.gc.ca), Bev Shipley (bev.shipley@parl.gc.ca), Devinder Shory (devinder.shory@parl.gc.ca)

Subject: Please support MP Don Davies’ motion to study and debate the Canada-China FIPA treaty

Dear Members of the House of Commons International Trade Committee,

This Thursday, October 25th, NDP International Trade Critic Don Davies will put forward an important motion to conduct a full study of the Canada-China FIPA trade treaty, and to call for postponing its ratification until it gets proper study and parliamentary debate. I am writing to ask you to support that motion.

I understand the House has been debating a trade deal with Panama, worth $213 million, since the spring. This FIPA treaty, worth an estimated $64 billion and to be in force for decades, demands study and debate in its own right.[1] FIPA could compromise the Canadian government’s ability to set policies in the public interest; it exposes taxpayers to expensive litigation and damages; and international investment treaty expert Gus Van Harten suggests that it may even be unconstitutional.[2] A recent Angus-Reid poll shows three of four Canadians oppose foreign governmental control of our resources.[3]

I urge you to support Mr. Davies’ motion, in the interests of Canadian democracy and resource sovereignty.

Thank you for considering this encouragement from a concerned citizen.

Sincerely, [YT]


[1] May, Elizabeth. “The threat to Canada’s sovereignty – what we are giving to China.” Island Tides. 18 Oct. 2012. Web.

[2] Van Harten, Gus. “Canada-China FIPPA agreement may be unconstitutional, treaty law expert says.” Vancouver Observer 17 Oct. 2012. Web.

[3] Beers, David. “Three of four Canadians against ceding control of resources to foreign governments: poll.” The Hook 20 Oct. 2012. Web.

(Thanks to Thomas Mulcair for today’s #FIPA update e-mail, from which I’ve adapted some wording here.)

Defining the governing trend in governance today

A shrewd colleague at another institution recently offered, via Facebook (hence I’m not naming names), this concise definition of the way supposedly democratic governments work today (with a nod to the policies that pointed the way back in 1980):

“Reaganomics: spend the country into a deficit then slash social programs to ‘cut’ the very deficit you just artificially created in order to suit your ideological belief that ordinary people deserve nothing in the way of health care, education or other services.”

It’s useful to have critical definitions like this on hand, for teaching situations; put this way, such a definition captures not only the context but the contradiction of late capital. A similarly concise and incisive comment on a governance ethos that is close but not identical to Reaganomic social conservatism – libertarianism – occurs in an article on distance postsecondary education by UK researcher Greville Rumble (who in turn is summarizing the arguments of Ted Honderich):

The problem with the libertarian argument is that it allows for a perfectly just society within which there are people who have no food, no healthcare and no education (Honderich, 2002, pp. 43–44). So ‘in this [formulation of a] perfectly just society [there are people who] have no claim to food, no moral right to it. No one and nothing does wrong in letting them starve to death’ (Honderich, 2002, p. 44). ‘This’, says Honderich, ‘is vicious’ (2002, p. 44). (171)

For the full discussion – which is excellent and worthwhile whether or not you’re interested in distance PSE – see:
Rumble, Greville. “Social Justice, Economics and Distance Education.” Open Learning 22.2 (2007): 167-76. Web.

Open letter opposing TPP talks over copyright

Michael Geist advises Canadians to participate in the public consultation on a possible trade deal with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could mean a longer copyright term, stronger digital lock protections, and ISP notice-and-takedown – measures that would toughen copyright beyond international requirements, stifle innovation and education, and undo some of the provisions in C-11 – a bill the government hasn’t even passed yet.

Given what the government’s considering signing away with CETA (you know, just water and health care and such), I dread what else the government may be considering by joining the TPP.

To participate is as easy as sending an e-mail to consultations@international.gc.ca. Here’s the one I wrote.

To whom it may concern,
I am writing, in response to the invitation for public comments on the TPP talks, to state that I object to copyright being part of these talks.

In particular, provisions being considered that would extend copyright term, strengthen digital locks, and introduce notice-and-takedown requirements for ISPs are provisions that would harm Canadian business, education, and culture. They would also run counter to many points in the new copyright legislation, Bill C-11. Some legal criticisms suggest the digital lock provisions in C-11 are themselves unconstitutional, and international criticisms of notice-and-takedown measures point out their inefficacy and flouting of due legal process. For the government to consider copyright changes under TPP that would require either revision or replacement of C-11 is a questionable use of government resources, a detriment to Canadian industry and innovation, and an unacceptable imposition on Canadians’ access to and use of information.


We’re all waiting

"We're all waiting." Ink and crayon, ca. 1994.

One variation in a series I composed as an art-minor undergraduate. Still kinda like it. Still not sure what we’re all waiting for.

The line, the skyline, between then and now

Every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably. – Walter Benjamin

NYC skyline (from the ferry), Feb. 2001

In a hugely absorbing (but disappointingly under-attended) session on Imperialism and Culture at the 2008 Socialist Studies conference, I suggested that the attacks of September 11, 2001, marked a line between past and present that feels uncannily like the kind of line described in science fiction, a line that sharply divides one’s lived and felt experience of time in its unfolding. (Think of Lionel Verney’s reflections on life before and after the plague in The Last Man, or Offred’s reflections on life before and under Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale…or Cayce’s reflections on life after September 11 in Pattern Recognition.) The session presenters suggested (and rightly so, I think) that to represent the attacks of September 11, 2001, in this way is to reproduce the kind of cultural imperialist ideology that has driven not only a lot of popular culture since, but also a lot of dubious-to-disastrous foreign policy decisions.

Point taken, and a fair enough one at that.

Lines of tragedy and trauma divide and sometimes dismember everyone’s lives, whether on the personal scale or the sociopolitical. Walter Benjamin observed that the state of emergency is not the exception but the rule. As witnessed by the helpless and horrified hindsight of Benjamin’s hypothetical angel, history is illuminated as a grim palimpsest of such lines, like a whip-scarred back: West African nations after slavery, the First Nations after colonization, Japan after August 1945, Rwanda after 1994. (This isn’t to homogenize different traumas and tragedies, only to suggest how they mar and mark time.)

Memorial mural, NYC, Apr. 2002

So it is perhaps not despite but because of this knowledge — knowledge of history’s lacerated hide, and of the military-entertainment complex that feeds greedily on it –that one still feels so keenly this line, this skyline, cut down through the lived experience of time in its unfolding.

Or its collapsing.

Such a strong storm buffets the angel of history, it’s impossible to tell which.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Illuminations (1940). Trans. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken, 1969. Rpt. in Simon Fraser U http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/CONCEPT2.html

Forsyth, Scott and John McCullough. “Imperialism and Culture.” Society for Socialist Studies annual conference, U of British Columbia, 4 Jun. 2008.

For Labour Day: diagnoses of neoliberalism

To observe Labour Day at a time when labour is being aggressively demonized by business and its political enablers, I’ll share this shrewd and concise diagnosis of neoliberalism, and its core contradiction, by David Harvey:

To guard against their greatest fears––fascism, communism, socialism, authoritarian populism, and even majority rule––the neoliberals have to put strong limits on democratic governance, relying instead upon undemocratic and unaccountable institutions (such as the Federal Reserve or the IMF) to make key decisions. This creates the paradox of intense state interventions and government by elites and ‘experts’ in a world where the state is supposed not to be interventionist. […] Faced with social movements that seek collective interventions, therefore, the neoliberal state is itself forced to intervene, sometimes repressively, thus denying the very freedoms it is supposed to uphold. (A Brief History of Neoliberalism [2007], 69-70)

While I’m at it, I’ll share Roseanne’s diagnosis too:

I’m pleased to say I’m indebted to student work for directing me to these instructive illuminations.

Casino capital’s frontier forays

Discussion with students in this term’s grad course on theory has been educational for instructor and students alike: for the former, in developing a critical vocabulary for contemporary capitalism that foregrounds its postcolonial contexts.

1. Frontiers and futures
In discussing the documentary The Corporation, two students wrote:

As opposed to traditional colonialism … corporate colonizers no longer require the local population to give up their beliefs in order to change their loyalty. They simply have to spend their dollars, pesos, euros etc., and with no value system outside of a growing bottom line, corporations are free to change their identity to adapt to the culture and beliefs of any market. … advancing capitalism pays a special eye to frontier thought, behaviour, and organization as these spaces create new areas to be exploited and appropriated by the system. (my emphasis)

In comparing corporate business to colonialism, the students referred to the work of Andrew Potter, who with Joseph Heath wrote The Rebel Sell, which investigates the frontier prospecting of capitalism, its ability to commoditize even the most resistant counter-cultural forms (e.g. Adbusters): “there is, even amongst the most acute critics of consumerism, a deep-seated misunderstanding of the forces that drive consumerism. Most people think it’s driven by advertising and the corporations … In actual fact it’s driven by competitive consumption amongst consumers.” (Potter qtd. in MacLean)

Potter and Heath’s argument relates to Fisher’s idea of SF capital, mentioned in my last post, in which futuristic speculation in culture becomes a renewable resource for economic exploitation by capital. But if the “rebel sell” thesis reproduces something of the core-periphery model of capitalist growth, in which the imperial core co-opts the “authentic” periphery, it also problematizes this model by assigning some responsibility for co-optation to consumers — the co-opted — themselves.

2. Casino capitalism: wheel of misfortune
After I mentioned “casino capitalism” with reference to a student’s commentary on Max Weber’s idea of the “spirit of capitalism,” the student asked, understandably, what I meant. Which made me realize I didn’t, actually, know precisely what I meant; so I did a bit of digging, then replied:

It’s something I’ve been hearing a lot over the past two years with reference to the US sub-prime mortgage bubble and the ensuing global financial chaos, and it made sense, on a broader historical view, as a characterization of the postwar global economic dispensation of postmodernity … a dispensation characterized by rapidly changing IT in the service of increasingly mobile, flexible, and “financialized” capitalism.
Turns out it dates from 1986, in a book of the same title by Susan Strange:
“The instability and volatility of active markets can devalue the economic base of real lives, or in more macro-scenarios can lead to the collapse of national and regional economies. Susan Strange (1986) calls this instability ‘casino capitalism,’ a phenomenon she links to five trends: innovations in the way in which financial markets work; the sheer size of markets; commercial banks turned into investment banks; the emergence of Asian nations as players; and the shift to self-regulation by banks (pp.9-10). (“Shifting”)
Maybe the term’s been re-circulating with a vengeance in the wake of the global economic turmoil, evoking not just the infrastructural features of the postwar global economy but also, now, the widespread sense that postmodern capital has indeed been running like a casino — meaning that most who go there to play will lose.

In addition to the scholarly literature on the casino capital thesis, it recurs from time to time in popular discourse, like editorials, about actual casinos. A decade ago, Toronto playwright and former Globe & Mail columnist Rick Salutin shared a problematic, provocative postcolonial angle on “lotteries and gambling” as a “sign of the times,”

a symptom of despair over ever improving your lot in life’s normal course. The gambling instinct may be eternal, but we’re seeing its spread as a way of life — and hope. The perfect wedding of these despondent impulses comes in native-run casinos such as Ontario’s Casino Rama, as if to say: The desperation of everyone in this ever more desperate society will help us, most desperate of all, to overcome our centuries of despair. (“Who owes”)

Salutin was writing of casinos as a then-recently legitimized socioeconomic institution; since then casinos have moved from legitimacy to centrality as a staple source of government revenue, and an ever more symptomatic “sign” of neoliberal hegemony’s dominion). Gambling and casinos fund all kinds of public programs in Alberta, and it’s money many see as ill-got from the exploitation of people with addictive disorders. In 2005, Salutin followed up:

Governments of all stripes are hip-deep in promoting and advertising gambling and in effect encouraging addiction to it. Of course, not all gamblers are addicted, though addicts are central, since a huge cut of the revenue comes from a small tranche of heavy gamblers. But the real addiction problem belongs to governments, who’ve grown addicted to the returns, and turned into pimps and pushers. … the job of an institution like government should be to increase the odds — if you’ll pardon the expression — of hard work receiving a fair return, rather than reinforcing the message that you have to be rich or lucky to succeed. (“My gambling problem”)

3. The weirdest Western?
These critical models of late capital, with their disjunctive postcolonial contexts, together start to make the interlocking institutions of global capital seem a lot like a weird Western. As one film critic argues, the globalized culture industry of Hollywood has not shown itself to know how to make this kind of movie well. When it does, in films like Serenity — to say nothing of non-weird, ultra-naturalist Westerns like Deadwood, for that matter — what I’d suggest we encounter is an image of late global capital, in all its frontier freewheeling and monopolizing machinations: “The best Weird Westerns allow the sprawling frontier to organically give up its secrets … in the dark, your mind builds entire cyclopean empires; there’s something out there, but chances are it doesn’t care about the laws which begin and end with your wagon train.”

Just the laws of infinite growth and the bottom line.

Works Cited

Lamar, Cyriaque. “Dear Hollywood, you absolutely suck at making weird Westerns.” io9 19 Jun. 2010 http://io9.com/#!5567908/dear-hollywood-you-absolutely-suck-at-making-weird-westerns?comment=24778688

MacLean, C. “Tall Poppy Interview: Andrew Potter, Author of The Rebel Sell.” Torontoist Nov. 2006 http://torontoist.com/2006/11/tall_poppy_andr.php

MAIS 601 Group Two. “The Group TwoPoration” (group response to The Corporation). MAIS 601, Athabasca U, 23 Mar. 2011.

Salutin, Rick. “My gambling problem, and ours.” Globe & Mail 5 Aug. 2005: A15.

—. “Who owes what in a racist world?” Globe & Mail 24 Aug. 2001: A15.

“The shifting nature of capital: exhilaration and anxiety.” Representations of Global Capital. Lewis & Clark College of Arts & Sciences, Portland. n.d. http://legacy.lclark.edu/~soan370/global/casino.html

Science fiction means business

The US-based Creative Science Foundation is hosting its second annual workshop in the UK this summer. According to the call for papers:

This workshop will explore the use of science fiction as a means to motivate and direct research into new technologies and consumer products. It does this by creating science fiction stories grounded in current science and engineering research that are written for the explicit purpose of acting as prototypes for people to explore a wide variety of futures. […] In this way fictional prototypes provide a powerful interdisciplinary tool to enhance the traditional practices of research, design and market research.

The relationship between fiction and fact here is familiar enough to science fiction. In popular and fan discourses, this relationship tends to be mystified in terms of “uncanny prediction”: recent popular magazine articles detail “6 eerily specific inventions predicted by science fiction” and “11 astounding sci-fi predictions that came true.” In criticism and research, we find demystifications that investigate the material conditions linking science fiction to fact, extrapolation to production. Mark Fisher has helpfully coined the term “SF capital” to describe how science fiction works as a literary laboratory for real-world R&D, a resource for what Henry Jenkins calls “the military-entertainment complex” (75). A generation before Fisher, Marshall McLuhan — who was ambivalent about science fiction, and sometimes criticized for writing it -– had a firm, proleptic grasp on the idea of SF capital, which he well understood in his dual capacities as maverick scholar and corporate consultant:

Big Business has learned to tap the s-f writer. (124)

What’s striking in the CSF is perhaps the boldness of business’ courtship of SF: how frankly SF capital is being recognized and instituted, in a peculiarly Utilitarian program to enlist SF production specifically for “consumer products” and “market research.” The CSF is, in a way, simply spelling out the terms of a long-standing if somewhat asymmetrical partnership. SF’s command of both a popular market and a certain counter-cultural cachet has positioned it, since its inception (in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), as more commodity than culture, hence its exile to the peripheries of legitimate “Literature,” according to a cultural-economic history provocatively explained by Samuel R. Delany (195). But is its future to be increasingly channeled into and defined by the speculations and futures we associate more with high finance and global capital than with cultural commentary and social progress?

Putting the question this way, of course, oversimplifies the numerous trajectories, formations, allegiances, and even definitions of science fiction; this is perhaps more an issue of science fiction studies, of the genre’s role in and relation to research: will a program like that of the CSF represent a route for delivering SF out of its encampment on the fringes of literary studies, towards more interdisciplinary and more broad-based social engagements, or will it merely transport it from one camp to another?

Works Cited
Creative Science Foundation. Intel Labs, Hillsboro, 2011.
Delany, Samuel R. and Carl Freedman. “A Conversation with Samuel R. Delany about Sex, Gender, Race, Writing — and Science Fiction.” Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory. Ed. Marleen S. Barr. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2008. 191-235.
Fisher, Mark. “SF Capital.” Transmat: Resources in Transcendent Materialism (2001).
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP, 2006.
Kessler, Sarah. “11 Astounding Sci-Fi Predictions That Came True.” Mashable 25 Sept. 2011.
McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. New York: Bantam, 1967.
Murdock, Colin. “6 eerily specific inventions predicted by science fiction.” Cracked 19 Nov. 2010.

Objecting to Canadian ‘free’ trade with Europe (CETA)

Dear Mr. van Loan,

I am writing to voice my strenuous objection to your government’s proposed trade agreement with Europe, CETA. It is being undemocratically negotiated, and if implemented would gravely threaten Canada’s sovereignty, industry, and natural resources.

Thank you for considering this objection.

– Dr. Mark A. McCutcheon
Assistant Professor
Athabasca University

CC: My riding’s MP

For a comprehensive briefing on the problems CETA would pose for Canada, to which my letter alludes, see the Council of Canadians’ CETA webpage. We must not let transnational corporations write our nation’s laws.

Follow updates about CETA on Twitter at @CETAWatch