Monks disrupt Tibet media visit

This morning, while driving to work, I heard a piece of news about Tibet along with a cry and Tibetan words.
A monk was crying! According to the news, Buddhist monks in the Tibetan capital protested against Chinese rule during an official conference for foreign journalists put on by the Chinese authorities.

“Foreign journalists were expelled from Tibet at the height of the unrest, but on Wednesday China allowed a group of about two dozen reporters into Lhasa for a three-day escorted visit.
The BBC’s request to be included in the group was turned down.

The monks’ protest came as they toured the Jokhang Temple – one of Tibet’s holiest shrines.

One monk shouted “Tibet is not free, Tibet is not free” before he started to cry, an AP journalist at the scene, Charles Hutzler, reported.

Another monk said the rioting on 14 March “had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama”.

The monks said they had not been allowed to leave the temple since the rioting.

Government handlers told the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away, the reporter said.

Later, the area around the Jokhang Temple was sealed off by riot police.

The protests began on 10 March and developed into violent rioting in Lhasa before spreading to neighbouring regions.

China says 19 people were killed by rioters. The Tibetan government-in-exile says about 140 people have been killed in a crackdown by Chinese security forces.

‘Divided city’

The group of journalists has also visited a medical clinic and a clothing store, where Chinese authorities say five girls were trapped and burned to death, AP’s reporter added.
A reporter for the London-based Financial Times, meanwhile, said that the Tibetan quarter of the city resembled a war zone, with burnt-out buildings, shuttered businesses and groups of soldiers on every corner.

“The smell of burning buildings still hangs in the air nearly two weeks after violent rioting swept through the old Tibetan quarter of Lhasa,” the Financial Times’s Geoff Dyer reported.

The rioting appeared to have been more prolonged and destructive than previously thought, he wrote.

Charles Hutzler described to the BBC a city divided.

“In sort of the more recently built up, very Chinese part of Lhasa, life seems to be going on fairly normally,” he said.

“But in the older, Tibetan section of the town and the blocks leading to it we could see the remains of burnt-out buildings.”

The reporters said there was a heavy security presence in the Tibetan quarter, with squads of police and soldiers on every corner.

But in the new town, they described life as returning to a semblance of normality, with shops and restaurants busy with customers.

Treading carefully

On Wednesday, US President George Bush had “encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

But the fact that it has taken Mr Bush this long to talk directly to Mr Hu shows that the US is treading carefully in its response, says the BBC’s Jonathan Beale in Washington.

Despite calls from rights groups for an Olympic boycott, the White House has already made it clear that Mr Bush will still attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games”

Story from BBC NEWS

“Protesting monks dash China’s show of peace in Tibet

By Charles Hutzler
A GROUP of monks overturned a carefully orchestrated visit for foreign reporters to Tibet’s capital, an embarrassment for the Chinese government struggling yesterday to prove Lhasa was calm.
The government had arranged the trip to show how peaceful Lhasa was after riots shattered China’s plans for a peaceful run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

But the outburst by a group of 30 monks in red robes came as the journalists were being shown around the Jokhang Temple – one of Tibet’s holiest shrines – by Chinese government handlers.

“Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!” yelled one young Buddhist monk, who then started to cry.

They insisted their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, had nothing to do with the anti-government riots in Lhasa, where buildings were burned and looted and ethnic Han Chinese were attacked.

Officials shouted for the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away.

“They want us to curse the Dalai Lama, and that is not right,” one monk said during the 15-minute outburst.

“This had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama,” said another, referring to the 14 March riots in which the Chinese government says 22 people died, while Tibetan exiles claim the death toll is 140.

Reporters were earlier taken to a Tibet medical clinic that was attacked by protesters and were shown a clothes shop where five girls had been trapped and burned to death.

The monks, who first spoke Tibetan and then switched to Mandarin so journalists could understand them, said they knew they would probably be arrested.

Troops who had been guarding the temple were removed the night before the visit, they said. One monk said authorities planted other monks in the monastery to talk to the journalists, calling them “not true believers but… Communist Party members.”

“They are all officials, they (the government] arranged for them to come in. And we aren’t allowed to go out because they say we could destroy things, but we never did anything,” another monk said.

Later the Chinese-installed vice-governor of Tibet said the Jokhang monks were confined to the monastery because some had joined protesters. He promised they would not be punished for their outburst.”

Tibet – eyewitness report: Monk ‘kicked to floor’

Before I get to the article I want to present, I must say that I was very proud when our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, took the right stance and called on China to “fully respect human rights and peaceful protest” and “show restraint” in Tibet. Harper released his statement through Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre at a pro-Tibet rally on Parliament Hill on Thursday. Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier later called on China to begin talks with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The response from the Chinese ambassador Lu Shumin- a pretty nasty one I must say, and I am still surprised he was not recalled back, wait a minute, I meant kicked out of Canada- was basically ‘Canada, butt out’. To Mr. Lu Shumin with love: KISS OUR ASSES!
Ambassador Lu Shumin said recent remarks from Canadian officials fail to recognize that China is attempting to restore safety and security in the face of “violent crimes” by separatists in the Tibetan capital city of Lhasa.
“These irresponsible remarks will not do any good to the image of Canada for a champion of law and order,” Lu said Friday.
He also said that any mischaracterization of the Chinese government response to the Tibetan situation “would be inappropriate and be considered as interference with China’s internal affairs. It would also send wrong messages to Tibetan separatist forces and encourage their separatist activities and violence,” Lu warned.

Harper pissed off the Chinese when he received the Dalai Lama in his office on Parliament Hill, a move China considered offensive and when he has vowed he won’t let economic interests dictate Canada’s policies on human rights in China. Some observers believe China’s refusal to designate Canada a government-approved tourist destination is a consequence of the flagging relations
Kudos to our Prime Minister.

Going back to Tibet, it’s difficult to find information on what’s happening over there, therefore, every time I find something, I feel that I have to record the information before it’s lost, maybe forever.
Following is an eyewitness account on the monk’s treatment by the Chinese army and security forces, as presented by BBC.
Read this, and then go back to the paragraph regarding Chinese position on ‘mischaracterization’ of Chinese intervention and then draw your own conclusions.

Eyewitness: Monk ‘kicked to floor’
With tension rising in Tibet following a series of anti-China protests, the BBC spoke to an eyewitness who saw police on Wednesday beating monks at one of three monasteries which have been sealed. He wishes to be identified only as John.

“We knew something was happening because there were more road checks as we got into Lhasa.
Cars were being stopped and police were writing the licence plates down. We tried to stop at a shrine outside Lhasa but were told to keep moving.
Then we heard around Wednesday lunchtime that Drepung monastery was closed. We didn’t know why.
That afternoon we went to Sera monastery to see the debating. It’s famous – the monks debate points of philosophy and people come to see it.
Just when it was about to start, around three o’clock, we started to hear rounds of applause coming out of a courtyard in the heart of the temple.
They were grabbing monks, kicking and beating them
We thought the debate was starting but then suddenly the clapping reached a crescendo – kind of a hooting.
Then the gate of the debating compound opened and this stream of maroon humanity poured out, several hundred monks. It was impossible to count but I think there were at least 300.
We thought it was part of the tradition but when you looked at the expression on their faces, it was a very serious business. They were pumping their hands in the air as they ran out of the temple.

Plain-clothes police
The minute that happened we saw the police – two or three who were inside the compound – suddenly speaking into their radios.
They started going after the monks, and plain-clothes police – I don’t know this for sure but that’s what I think they were – started to emerged from nowhere.
There were four or five in uniform but another 10 or 15 in regular clothing. They were grabbing monks, kicking and beating them.
One monk was kicked in the stomach right in front of us and then beaten on the ground.
The monks were not attacking the soldiers, there was no melee. They were heading out in a stream, it was a very clear path, and the police were attacking them at the sides. It was gratuitous violence.
The Tibetan lay-people started rushing to get out of the temple. Tibetan grandmothers were grabbing young kids and getting them out.
We were left behind when the monks left the temple. About 20 minutes later we felt as if we could leave.

Riot police
Outside the monastery the road curved to the left and to the right. We were directed left – but when we looked to the right there was a line of riot police with batons and helmets blocking off the street.
The monks were sitting in neat rows on the ground, surrounded by a phalanx of police. It was a very clear show of force – there were maybe as many as 300 riot police and regular police there.
It could have been civil disobedience, but it looked like the monks had been put there. They weren’t moving.
As we turned left, we saw troop carriers with camouflaged army regulars arriving – those green trucks with soldiers in the back on benches. We saw guns, large guns that looked like automatic weapons.
There were two or three of those trucks as well as others – several units of public order personnel swarming the situation.
As we left, all the roads around the monastery were blocked by police. There was no access.
At the time, all the phones were dead – we were trying to call the hotel but none of the cell phones were working. But within an hour the phone service was back on.
It seemed as if within half an hour the thing had been totally brought under control.
Back in Lhasa, it was eerily normal. There were police around but not really a muscular presence. It seemed to have been a massive localised show of force.
We realised that if we had gone to Sera monastery an hour earlier or an hour later, no-one would have known what these monks had done.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/03/14 12:15:32 GMT

Tibetan monks: A controlled life

My heart aches every time I read about how the Chinese are dealing with the Tibet struggle for autonomy, a real autonomy.
I believe that again and again we witness the same old story: the ‘righteous’ big powers doing nothing when their interest is not in play. By ‘big powers’ I mean the USA, the UK, Germany, France… where are they now? All of them were so fast to recognize Kosovo’s independence, but no one seems to have any muscle to flex when it’s time to really do something righteous.
They are disgusting.

Following is an article as found on BBC’s site, and kuddos to BBC for covering the story of Tibet unrests.

Tibetan monks: A controlled life
China’s crackdown on monk-led rallies in Lhasa is part of a long history of state control of monasteries, argues Peter Firstbrook, producer of BBC Four series A Year in Tibet.

Buddhist monasteries are among the few institutions in China which have the potential to organise resistance and opposition to the government – so the Chinese Communist Party constantly worries about them.

Are some monks secret supporters of the Dalai Lama? Could they be working towards Tibetan independence? Beijing’s fear is so great that being found with just a photograph of the Dalai Lama in your possession could land you in jail.

Government regulation of the monasteries started almost as soon as the People’s Liberation Army marched into Tibet in 1950.

The recent protests mark the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising of 1959 when anti-Chinese and anti-communist demonstrations erupted on the streets of Lhasa, and were put down by force.

Lhasa’s three major monasteries – the Sera, Drepung and Ganden, were seriously damaged by shelling. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee into exile and the Tibetan government-in-exile estimates that 86,000 Tibetans died.

I visit these temples once or twice a month. I tell them what to do and what not to do. They all listen and say nothing
Communist Party official

Less than a decade later, Mao’s Cultural Revolution wrought havoc in the region and the Red Guards destroyed more than 6,000 monasteries and convents – just a handful survived.

Along with the buildings, hundreds and thousands of priceless and irreplaceable statues, tapestries and manuscripts were destroyed.

“At that time all the monasteries were destroyed. The whole country was changing during the revolution. The wave of change was unstoppable,” says Dondrup, a 77-year-old monk at the Pel Kor Monastery in Gyantse.

‘False’ lama

Further evidence of Chinese control over Tibetan Buddhism came in 1995, with the naming of the new reincarnation of the Panchen Lama – second only to the Dalai Lama in terms of spiritual seniority in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama selected six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – but within days the young boy and his immediate family disappeared, apparently abducted.

Although we can’t have that many lamas now, we can still absorb new lamas under the current regulations and policies
Pel Kor monastery

The Chinese government soon announced they had found the real Panchen Lama, a six-year old boy named Gyaltsen Norbu.

Gyaltsen Norbu just happened to be the son of two Tibetan Communist Party workers and he was soon whisked off to Beijing, where he continues to live today. Only occasionally does he appear in public, in carefully stage-managed events.

Most monks regard him as a “false” lama, though he is venerated by ordinary Tibetans.

We filmed his visit to the Pel Kor Monastery in Gyantse in September 2006. It was clear the authorities were worried about demonstrations as there were hundreds of police and army personnel on the streets and the monks had to go through a security check to get into their own monastery.

Since the 1980s the Chinese government has begun to rebuild some of the monasteries and they has also granted greater religious freedom – although it is still limited.

But almost every aspect of the lives of Buddhist monks and nuns is monitored and controlled by the government.

Phone technology

Every monastery and nunnery in Tibet is visited at least once every few weeks by a Communist Party official, who checks that the government rules and regulation are being correctly applied.

Butri, a Tibetan Communist Party cadre, explains: “I visit these temples once or twice a month. I tell them what to do and what not to do. They all listen and say nothing.”

The government is also very careful whom it allows to become a monk. All novices have to go through a detailed vetting procedure which takes years to complete. Even their families are checked for any subversive background.

The Chinese government also restricts the number of monks and nuns. In fact, monasteries can no longer perform many of their rituals correctly because of a shortage of monks.

Tsultrim, the deputy head lama of the Pel Kor monastery in Gyantse, said at its peak the monastery was home to 1,500 monks. Today the Chinese government restricts numbers to no more than 80.

“Although we can’t have that many lamas now, we can still absorb new lamas under the current regulations and policies,” he said.

“Of course, we need to check up on them, to see if they’re the right people for us.”

The recent conflict on the streets of Lhasa mirrors events almost 20 years ago – the last time there were major protests – when frustration among the monks and ordinary Tibetans finally reached boiling point in 1989.

But today, there is one important difference: technology. Practically every Tibetan monk I have met has a mobile phone. They even have special pockets sewn inside their robes to carry them.

In the past it has been notoriously difficult to communicate across the vast expanse of Tibet. Today, everybody is just a text away.

A Year In Tibet will be broadcast on BBC Four on Thursday, 20 March, 2008 at 2100 GMT.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/03/20 20:34:59 GMT

How the spinmasters run the world

After I finished watching the movie ‘Wag the Dog’ I realized how thin and blurred is the line between politics, media and show business.
Many years after that I kept asking myself how many of the political events are master minded by the USA, UK and other big players and how many are genuine movements, and with every passing year I am losing more and more of my enthusiasm and belief in the innate good of people.

In ‘Wag the Dog’ the spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro) is called to the White House to disarm a sex scandal ready to erupt, scandal that will jeopardize the President’s bid for a second term. Conrad Brean knows how to manipulate politics, the press and most importantly, the American people.
Anticipating the reaction of the press, Brean creates a bigger story, something to deflect the attention from the president to something else. And that something else is a fake war with Albania.
Helped by Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), a famed Hollywood producer, Brean assembles a crisis team that will orchestrate a global conflict.

Less than a month after the movie was released, President Bill Clinton was embroiled in a sex scandal arising from his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Over the course of 1998 and early 1999, as the scandal dominated American politics, the US engaged in three military operations:
• Operation Desert Fox, a three-day bombing campaign in Iraq that took place as the U.S. House of Representatives debated articles of impeachment against Clinton
• Operation Infinite Reach, a pair of missile strikes against suspected terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan three days after Clinton admitted in a nationally televised address that he had an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky
• Operation Allied Force, a 78-day-long NATO bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that began weeks after Clinton was acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial.
In a further coincidence, the missile strikes against Sudan and Afghanistan were announced by the White House moments before the beginning of a press conference in which Lewinsky was to give details of her appearance before Congress.
Critics, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, charged that the former operation was an attempt to distract attention from the Lewinsky scandal, and Serb state television went so far as to broadcast Wag The Dog in the midst of NATO attacks on Serbia.
Source: wikipedia

‘Canadian Bacon’, released in 1995, is another movie dealing with the same issue: start a war to divert the attention from the stringent domestic issues. In the movie, the problem with this plan is that, with the demise of the Soviet Union, there’s no one left to go to war with. But some brainstorming leads to an attempt to start a cold war with Canada (“everyone hates Canadians”), using media manipulation as the main tool to stoke the passions of the US public.

Going back to the previous article on Obama, Clinton and NAFTA, it looks like the reality imitates art, much more than vice versa. When having domestic trouble try to blame everybody around, but the true culprits.

I have to admit that when I found out that the USA was among the first nations to approve/accept/recognize Kosovo independence, one though revolved around the question ‘cui bono’? (to whose benefits) and I was looking for a political reason related to the current presidential nomination campaign, rather than a financial one.

Speaking of the political campaign, not that it matters to anybody but me, I have to say that I don’t like any of the candidates, regardless the political orientation.
I don’t particularly like Hilary Clinton. I had mixed feelings until she launched the rhetoric on how NAFTA should be redesigned, implying that basically Canada and Mexico suck the USA vitality.
Give me a freaking break!
I lost any consideration I might have had for her.

Obama and Clinton on NAFTA

To my big surprise (yes, I am still surprised by the political games) I have read that both these two Democratic candidates vowed to re open the NAFTA issue, and more concrete, to take the USA out of it.
In a debate in Ohio, Clinton bluntly vowed to tell “Canada and Mexico that we will opt out (of the North American Free Trade Agreement) unless we renegotiate the core labour and environmental standards.” Not to be outdone, Obama quickly echoed her: “I think actually Senator Clinton’s answer on this one is right.”

Hilarious to hear the Americans talking about environmental standards, right?
Aside from that, I am pretty sure the Canadians were left fuming over the remark. WTF??!!! Is it like NAFTA has done something to bring advantage only to Canadians? Well, it looks like over here, on the other side of the fence, the things look quite different then in the USA.
On the past disputes over the softwood treaty, most of them arbitrated by third parties, the Canadians did not win, and if they did, somehow the Americans turned the tables in their favor regardless.
Newsflash for Obama and Clinton: We would like changes to NAFTA, too. They must to be careful about what they ask for.
Remember that back in 1993 Jean Chrétien wanted something we would still like to have: an effective dispute resolution mechanism to shield us from U.S. bullying on issues like softwood lumber. He also sought for Canada the right Mexico has to cut oil and gas exports if a continental energy shortage occurs. And he wanted anti-dumping and subsidies codes.

Some people managed to see beyond the political rhetoric and tell it like it is, or better said, it would be: a disaster for the American manufacturing industry. Hello!!! the energy is coming from the North of 49.
“That would be a disaster for American jobs,” warns Frank Vargo, from the National Association of Manufacturers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the Democratic candidates’ remarks “troubling.”

Following is an article written by Laura Carlsen, the Director of the Americas Policy Program ( of the Center for International Policy, article called: The North American Union Farce.

Enjoy it!

The North American Union Farce

It’s got millions of rightwing citizens calling Congress, sponsoring legislation, and writing manifestos in defense of U.S. sovereignty. It comes up in presidential candidates’ public appearances, has made it into primetime debates, and one presidential candidate—Ron Paul—used it as a central theme of his (short-lived) campaign.

Not bad for a plan that doesn’t exist.

The North American Union (NAU) conspiracy theory is an offshoot of an all-too-real trilateral agreement called the “Security and Prosperity Partnership” (SPP). Cultivated by xenophobic fears and political opportunism, the NAU soon outstripped its reality-based progenitor. The confusion between the two today has made it difficult to sort out the facts. A little history helps.

The Impossible Leap from SPP to NAU After the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into force in 1994, the three governments began to talk about expanding the scope of the agreement. Mexico , in particular, hoped to negotiate a solution to the border/immigration problem. However, the process was brought to a grinding halt by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center .

In a 2005 summit of then-Presidents George W. Bush, Vicente Fox, and Prime Minister Paul Martin in Waco , Texas , plans for “deep integration” between the three countries finally progressed with the official launch of the SPP. In the post-September 11th political context, immigration was off the table and U.S. security interests, along with corporate aims to obtain even more favorable terms for regional trade and investment, dominated the agenda.

As the executive branches of Canada , the United States , and Mexico conspired to expand NAFTA behind the backs of their unconvinced populaces, an independent task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations floated the idea of deeper integration under the name of the North American Community. Their paper, published in May of 2005 and financed by Archer Daniels Midland, Merrill Lynch, and Yves-Andres Istel, was not authored by an underground network of conspirators against U.S. sovereignty, as NAU critics would have us believe, but by a staid group made up mostly of former government officials and big business representatives.

This group envisioned regional integration as the creation of a “community” with shared commercial, security, and environmental purposes. It proposes sacrificing national policy tools to regional goals in areas such as creation of a common security perimeter, a permanent NAFTA tribunal to settle disputes, expanding NAFTA to restricted or excluded sectors, and adopting a joint resource agreement and energy strategy. Indeed, some of these recommendations could very well present threats to democracy in all three countries. But the report does not include adopting a common currency or a single regional government and in fact states that a “union” along the lines of the European Union is not the right approach for North America .

The CFR paper was an academic exercise with pretensions of reaching policymakers. While some of its recommendations were later taken up in the Security and Prosperity Partnership talks, particularly suggestions on ways to improve transnational business, many of them were unanchored by reality and quickly went the way of the vast majority of policy recommendations.

The SPP, on the other hand, established working groups, rules, recommendations, and agreements that have had a huge and largely unknown impact on rules and policies. It is a complex web of negotiators who work without congressional oversight, public right-to-know, or civil society participation. The corporate world, however, has ample representation; the SPP advisory body called the “North American Competitiveness Council” reads like a “Who’s Who” of the largest transnationals based on the continent.

While the lack of transparency and the U.S. corporate and security-dominated agenda of the SPP are cause for great concern, they are not evidence of a plot to move toward a North American Union. Among the most bizarre assumptions of NAU scaremongers is the contention that the SPP will threaten U.S. sovereignty and erase borders. The idea of a regional union that effaces U.S. sovereignty is light-years away from George W. Bush’s foreign policy of unilateral action and disdain for international law and institutions. On the contrary, the precepts of the Bush administration’s foreign policy point to a return to the neocon belief that the world would be a better place if the U.S. government just ran everything.

Real and Conjured Threats

A poli-sci undergrad can tell you who will prevail if Canadian, U.S. , and Mexican negotiators get together to set out a common agenda. (Hint: it’s not Mexico or Canada .)

Officially described as “… a White House-led initiative among the United States and the two nations it borders—Canada and Mexico—to increase security and to enhance prosperity among the three countries through greater cooperation,” the SPP poses a much more palpable sovereignty threat to NAFTA’s junior partners. Canadians have been the most active in opposing the SPP, not out of fear of a mythical NAU but because of real threats to their ability to protect consumer health, natural resources, and the environment. SPP rules would force open oil production in environmentally sensitive areas and channel water supplies to U.S. needs. Likewise, Mexican civic organizations have protested against SPP pressures to privatize Mexican oil and allow greater U.S. intervention in the Mexican national security system.

Both these fears have been born out in Mexico in recent months. President Felipe Calderon is expected to announce a plan to privatize segments of the state-owned oil company PEMEX any day now. Plan Mexico (also called the Merida Initiative) currently before the U.S. Congress goes farther than any other measure in the history of the binational relationship toward developing a common security perimeter, within which U.S. government teams and private defense companies would train security forces, coordinate intelligence-gathering, and provide defense equipment for use against internal threats. Few countries in the world have been willing to take this kind of risk.

As for moving toward a borderless North America , the years since the SPP began have witnessed a hardening of the U.S.-Mexico border never seen before in modern history. Fifteen thousand Border Patrol agents, 6,000 members of the National Guard, and a border fence powerfully belie any suggestion that the U.S. government aims to eliminate borders as it moves toward a secret North American Union.

Right Wing Red Herring?

How, then, to explain the fact that the NAU conspiracy has gone viral among rightwing populists in the United States ?

How to explain how a baseless myth has garnered the support of millions, made it into presidential candidates’ debates, and become the subject of 20 state resolutions and a federal one?

Given the absolute lack of factual data to support the existence of a secret plan to create a North American Union, it’s tempting to assume that the NAU scare was put forth as a red herring to divert attention from real issues facing the country. By channeling the insecurities of white working-class Americans into belief in an attack on U.S. sovereignty, the NAU myth obscures the very real globalization issues raised by NAFTA—job loss, labor insecurity, the surge in illegal immigration, and racial tensions caused by the portrayal of immigrants as invaders. This is convenient for both rightwing politicians and the government and business elites they attack because real solutions to these problems would include actions anathema to the right, including unionization, enforcement of labor rights, comprehensive immigration reform, and regulation of the international market. Instead, these options are shunted aside with the redefinition of the problem as a conspiracy of anti-American elites.

But espousing a conspiracy theory to contradict another conspiracy theory would be absurd. It’s unlikely there’s a central kitchen that cooked up the NAU red herring. The NAU myth taps into deep-rooted traditions and fears of many Americans and so, it has found a broad audience. This audience is predisposed to defend imagined communities from external threats, rather than face the complex task of unraveling the contradictions within their real communities brought about by a model of economic integration that generates insecurity and inequality.

In this context, outrage over a nonexistent NAU should not be confused with growing criticism of the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The SPP has proceeded to change national regulations, and create closed business committees without the participation of labor, environmental, or citizen voices. SPP negotiations provide a vehicle for more of the corporate integration that has eliminated jobs, impoverished workers, and threatened the environment across borders.

It has also served to extend the dangerous Bush security doctrine to Canada and Mexico , despite its lack of popularity in those countries and among the U.S. public. Its latest outgrowth, the $1.4 billion-dollar Merida Initiative or Plan Mexico would extend a militarized model of fighting the real problems of drug-trafficking and human smuggling that would lead to greater violence and heightened binational tensions.

The NAU is a red herring. It serves to divert attention from domestic problems that have more to do with layers of contradictory policies and unmet challenges than any kind of anti-U.S. conspiracy.

It’s time to separate out false threats from real threats. A good place to start is to demand transparency in trinational talks (April 21-22 in New Orleans ) and informed public debate on regional integration.