Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nov. 11: Two tales.......

It's Sunday, so there is, as one of the blessings of a Sunday, no Moncton Times and Transcript today. However, there are a couple of interesting stories in the news. And the first one is a sort of mystery story.

General Petraeus, commonly hailed as the man who saved the NATO war effort in Afghanistan, then moved to chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, has now, as a matter of honour, submitted his resignation to President Obama. It seems the general had been caught by the FBI with his pants down. Though married, he was having an affair with a young woman, also in the military, who had been assigned to him to write his biography. Such an affair, we are told, is outside the military code of behaviour. I have been reading about in the American press - and the story that is emerging is not an entirely believable one.

First, there is the gushing tone of the reports. They speak of Petraeus as a great and inspiring general. Never believe reports that gush like that.

Few journalists are or ever have been judges of generalship. As far back as the Boer War, they made an international hero of Baden-Powell for his defence of Mafeking in the Boer War. In fact, he was an incompetent ass who wasn't supposed to be defending Mafeking in the first place. The British military leadership was furious and would have liked to court-martial him. But they press had made such a hero of him, they had to promote him, instead.

In the same way, the press made a hero of the American General Pershing in World War I, though Pershing was so far beyond his depth that he made Baden-Powell look like Napoleon.

They now praise Petraeus for an inspired leadership that salvaged the NATO war effort in Afghanistan. What salvage? It was a losing war when he took over, and still a losing one when he left. That's why everybody in NATO has been scrambling to find a way to get out of it.

Then there's the romanticism of the notion that married generals are not supposed to have affairs, especially with their subordinates. Really? Then they must be a stunningly virtuous bunch. How many cases have you heard of American generals resigning because of an affair?

In World War Two, General Eisenhower (married) had a very public affair with his British driver. It lasted for  years, and was so public it made regular copy for the newspapers, and profoundly embarrassed the general's social circle when he showed up for social events with (as he always did) his driver as his date. She migrated to the US after the war, expecting him to divorce his wife, and marry her.  But Eisenhower's code of honour which was flexible enough to accept an affair would not accept a divorce. I know of no FBI investigation of it, nor of any demand for him to resign.

So what's really going on here?

The honour part of the story is just silly. He did not volunteer to resign. He was caught by the FBI, and told to resign. The story that he redeemed his honour by resigning is equally silly. If having an affair was against the code of honour before he resigned, it was still against it after he resigned. Saying "I'm sorry" is nice. But it doesn't change that.

When did the FBI become a morality police force? Where did they get the authority to tell him to resign? And if they threatened to go public to coerce him, where did they get the authority to do that? Somebody very high up must have made the decision that Petraeus had to go. Who? Why?

We'll probably never find out. But there's a smell about this one.


The other story, pretty much ignored in the Irving Press, is Harper's trade deal with China. Supposedly, the purpose of it is to open up China to Canadian investment. That sounds a little odd because, so far as I can learn, it doesn't mention any guarantees or even vague promises that China will open up to Canadian investment.

Odd point two: though it is a very lengthy document, MPs have been permitted less than an hour to look at it. There will be no significant debate. Harper wants it passed soon, within days. His majority is a guarantee that it will pass if it goes to the Commons and Senate.

Odd point three: the deal largely concerns resource extraction -a notoriously difficult cause of pollution and environmental destruction. If any level of government in Canada, from Ottawa to a local village council passes a regulation which causes the Chinese investors to lose any "anticipated profits", China can sue.

For example, if a mine pollutes a waterway, destroys the value of property, even threatens life, any attempt to take protective action will cost us heavily.

Odd point three: they don't have to sue in a Canadian court. It can be any court in the world.

Odd point four: the case can be heard before a closed tribunal. In other words, we can be required to pay billions without ever knowing the reasons for the decision.

Odd point five: (this one is a guess. Obviously, I have not seen anything close to the whole document.)
I have heard it includes the right for China to import its own labour.

It's impossible to be clear on this because nobody, including our MPs, has been allowed to get a full look at it. But what we are permitted to know is alarming - and it stays in effect for 31 years. That means he has thrown control over our environment, our jobs and our economy to another country. This is the sort of deal that the big countries have been forcing for a couple of centuries on the third world.

Mr. Harper has always had an obvious contempt for democracy. That's why he exercises such tight, personal control over government. That's why he has chosen a cabinet of third-raters who submit to him in everything. He is, I think, the first prime minister we have ever had who is so arrogant that he actually has no interest in the opinions or the needs of Canadians.

It won't matter who we elect after him. The damage will have been done.

Given his past behaviour and his narrow, political and economic ideology, we can be sure that this bill will please big business in Canada and do good things for it. I don't know what that good for big business can be. But I know it will be disastrously bad for Canada.

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