All smoke, no mirrors 

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Let's see if I have this right. Vaunted Canadian carbon merchant Harpo Polo sets off on a trade mission to China and returns with billions of dollars in agreements and a pair of Giant Pandas in hand. Hail conquering hero! What a great friend is China!

Optics couldn't be better for the furiously paced (= unopposed) NeoCon agenda, eh? So much so that one news channel recently depicted Canadian school kids sketching Panda pics in giddy anticipation, then interviewed doe-eyed business leaders already wet over laying down for the money-laden Chinese. Later the same channel carried reports of Syrian security forces entering hospitals to kill wounded protesters, of women and children targeted for torture, and blood-spattered video of Syrian school kids with their innocent faces blown off. Much of this carnage was perpetrated with weapons being sold to Syria — today — by China, which refused to back an Arab League-sponsored UN resolution calling for an end to the violence. But if there's one thing unscrupulous NeoCons find seductive about China, it's that it doesn't let petty morals get in the way of good business. What a wonderful partner in our future prosperity!

We'll come back to that. First let's deal with the pandas.

Panda diplomacy, a tradition dating to China's Tang Dynasty, has arrived in Canada. A sign of warming relations? Possibly, but more so a troubling sign. Harpo is delighted China will "lend" Canada these pandas — five years each at the Toronto and Calgary zoos. But since Canada will pay $1 million per year for the privilege, and an estimated $200,000 annually for fresh bamboo to feed the critters, "rental" is a more truthful term. The cost is naturally dismissed as trivial in light of the pandas' role as symbols of wildlife education. What a great partner in conservation is China! Never mind that Canada has hundreds of endangered species that receive no such attention or funding, and that virtually the entire planet's trade in endangered wildlife — and I mean all of it, whether tiger penises, rhino horns, bear gall bladders, Tokay Geckos, King Cobras and thousands of other species — flows daily and relentlessly down a pipeline of insidious demand to one place: China. Oh, but don't worry, pandas have the power to make this sad reality magically disappear — and Harpo knows it.

When he met with Bo Xilai, Communist Party boss for Chongqing, Harpo told him: "In spite of all the very important deals and the billions of dollars of contracts we signed this week, more people in Canada will notice the pandas than anything else."

Indeed. Pandas are the perfect smokescreen. Harper can say he'll keep raising human rights abuses with Beijing, but in the face of what cynical conservation types term "charismatic megafauna" (i.e., highly anthropomorphic pandas) no one will notice or care if he doesn't. Furthermore, this is precisely what China hopes. History shows that China doesn't rent pandas to countries that it wishes to open progressive political dialogue with; rather, it rents pandas to countries that it expects will suspend the pretense of any such foolishness, STFU and get on with the business at hand — like pipelines and oil. Our ten-year panda rental means one thing: we have a decade to build a pipeline and open the taps to Chinese tankers. There may not be an etymological link between panda and "pander," but there certainly could be given that the latter's origin is in a medieval term used for "procurer, pimp." Which brings us to part two of Harpo Polo's foray to the Orient.

Panda Diplomacy fits perfectly with the "reality distortion" which Harpo & Co. has leaned heavily upon since first stumbling to power. Reality distortion is nothing new, of course, and remains a powerful tool of human coercion — ask any communist or fascist leader. In Walter Isaacson's excellent biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, we're introduced to Jobs' Reality Distortion Field, a quasi-oblivion embraced to convince himself — and others — that what was deemed impossible by most was, in fact, achievable. In getting Apple designers and engineers to "Think Different," Jobs' use of reality distortion was innovative, conceptual, and, above all, visionary. Harpo's use of reality distortion serves quite the opposite purpose.

For instance: those who question the Northern Gateway pipeline have been labelled "radicals" and "terrorists" by the NeoCons, language clearly intended to distort reality by promoting the notion that — despite our esteemed "democracy" — it's radical to speak out on decisions affecting public health and future generations; to demand that development be based on scientifically credible environmental assessment, and to expect Canada to reduce dependence on fossil fuels instead of locking us into centuries of exploitation of non-renewable energy.

If this seems like ridicule, it is. The Ottawa NeoCons have taken to "majority" with such avuncular glee they've left room for little else. The reality distortion of pandas for pipelines exemplifies this attempted sleight of hand. Except this one is all smoke. There's no mirrors lest we catch the reflection of our willful ignorance.

Next time: Reality Distortion II—environmental disaster and economic benefit on Northern Gateway.

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