Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cash-Back and Occupy This

This post is going to be split in to two subjects; though one will be longer than the other.

First, let's talk about election financing. Stop groaning and moaning, it's an important subject and it's the shorter of the two topics today. A long time ago, in a Parliament not too far away, it was revealed that the Conservatives had broken electoral financial laws by using a so called in-and-out scheme to transfer money from the federal party to riding associations for the purpose of having those ridings pay for national advertising BUT claim them as a local expense.

The Conservatives defended the practice, but Elections Canada refused to allow it to disappear into the background and took the Conservatives to court. Some high ranking Conservatives, including a few sitting senators, were named in breach of the Elections Act and were looking at some fines and even some jail time for their role in the plan.

However, the Conservatives (perhaps knowing that after losing the last couple of court fights they were going to lose this one) made a plea deal agreement where the party would admit wrongdoing in exchange for dropping the charges against the individuals. The court accepted the deal, and fined the party about $52,000 for breaching the Elections Act.

Now; it's been reported that the Conservatives used this practice to transfer $1.3 million dollars to local ridings. I'm going to repeat that with the connection you all should have made: They overspent in the election by $1.3 million dollars and were given a fine of $52,000. For a party that talks about making punishment fit the crime, it really doesn't apply to them or their lackies when they're the ones caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Let's highlight a similar problem that was faced by the NDP. It recently came out that the NDP improperly used resources to fundraise for the Broadbent Institute, a left-wing think tank founded by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. The party had reached out to members and encouraged them to contribute to the institute as a means of remembering Jack Layton.

And what happened when this came out? Believe it or not, the NDP was quick to admit that they were in the wrong and worked with parliamentary officials to see every dollar of those donations returned to the people who made them. In fact, parliamentary officials noted that there would be no further action against the NDP due to the level of cooperation they provided and their quick admission of wrongdoing.

Let's contrast that again with the Conservatives. Elections Canada says they overspent by $1.3 million dollars; the Conservatives will only admit to $668,000. Elections Canada had to use the RCMP to storm Conservative Party HQ back in the day in order to seize files that were relevant to the charges being laid. Elections Canada insisted that the in-and-out method violated the Elections Act; the Conservatives denied that this was true and had the audacity to suggest every party used in-and-out financing...

The list goes on and on. Some right-wing commentators have seized on the NDP using Layton's memory to illegally raise funds for the Broadbent Institute, insinuating that there is a darker side to the NDP and that they cannot be trusted in power. Yet, when they were caught/or made aware of the conflict, they admitted their mistake and worked with parliamentary officials to correct it. Whereas the Conservatives are hell-bent on avoiding admitting mistakes and even more hell-bent on not working with parliamentary officials.

So, out of those two parties, which one really sounds like the one we can't trust with the reigns of power?

That brings us out of campaign financing, and now we're going to talk a little about the Occupy Movement that has been sweeping the globe. Perhaps I'm a little late to join the party on this one, but I felt for awhile that it was best to stay silent about this movement.

Let's talk for a moment about why this movement exists. The movement was spawned out of the Occupy Wall Street event, wherein people in New York took to the streets and began camping in New York parks as a means of protest against corporate greed. Furthermore, the movement was to show (and remind people) that many Wall Street traders and companies were the recipient of bailout money from the federal government; and that that money was used improperly (Who else remembers Goldman Saks upper-uppers receiving bonuses for 'good work' with bailout money?) and only continued to contribute to the idea of corporate greed.

Well, despite many main stream media organizations basically ignoring the movement; it caught on and soon Occupy Movements were popping up all over North America. We've even got one here in my city of Saskatoon.

And it gained coverage, and support from celebrities and other left-wing supporters, but now the cities are starting to crack down on the movement. Saskatoon, Regina, and Toronto are the latest Canadian cities to issue orders of eviction from the parks these protestors are occupying.

American cities, such as Seattle and Atlanta, have already started to call in riot police armed with stun grenades, pepper spray, and other 'fun' riot gear to get the protestors out of the parks. And this is only getting worse.

While Canadian cities have yet to call in the troops, American cities are using this as a the first option. This is despite both countries having an enshrined right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Conservatives and right-winger like to talk about rights. They have a RIGHT to their guns. They have a RIGHT to privatize their property. They have a RIGHT to say whatever hateful, ignorant, and bigoted comment they want. They have a RIGHT to defend their faith as blindly as they like.

Yet when the other side exercises their RIGHTS, they immediately call for the police to come in and stomp that 'hippie scum' out.

Rights aren't rights unless everyone has them. And to borrow a phrase from George Carlin, 'You don't have any rights, you have privileges.' I say that, because our dear Mr. Carlin may have been closer to the truth than a lot of us want to admit.

A right isn't a right when it can be taken away. And right now, that is what municipal governments are doing. There is a difference between interceding when a peaceful protest turns violent; and attacking a peaceful protest claiming violence.

Yes, some protestors are going to do some stupid things. I'll again refer to the wonderful movie 'Battle for Seattle' (which dealt with the WTO protests.) An organized group of protestors called for peaceful protest; while a smaller bunch of protestors called for all out anarchy. Despite some protestors potentially being trouble makers, the larger group is sane and rational and do not deserve to be pepper sprayed for the actions of a few.

It's much the same that we don't expect to punish all police members when one of their members makes a mistake. Let's say that a cop is seen speeding, outside of duty. We may demand that that officer be punished for their actions, but we don't demand the whole force be punished. So, why do we have a double standard for individuals and groups?

There are going to be bad eggs in the group; that's true of any massive organization of people. But to punish all, even the peaceful protestors, is to create the greater evil by denying a group of citizens a fundamental right.

The Occupy Movements serve as a reminder that our current economic uncertainty is man-made. Sure, markets go through flux, but they are also manipulated by traders and bankers who are looking for a fast score regardless of the cost.

No one should have that much control over an economic system; especially when that control is for the expressed purpose of singular financial gain. These traders and bankers are responsible for the economic slow down; which in turn has led to people losing their jobs, homes, health insurance, and numerous other necessities of life through no fault of their own.

Yet, no one on Wall Street has been punished for their role. Instead, federal money was thrown at them to keep them afloat while the average citizen continues to struggle to hold their head above water.

The Occupy Movement exists to remind us that this situation is unfair and wrong. Many have attacked the group for lacking coherency, but how more coherent could that simple message be?

In short, the Occupy Movement is a necessary movement and deserves to be allowed to continue their occupation of city parks across North America. People need to be reminded that there are those in power and in the media, who are not telling us the truth and who are not interested in seeing the status quo change. Garth Turner once referred to some Canadian people as 'sheeple'; and in many ways he was right.

People don't like to be told that times are tough. That we have challenges ahead of us and that there are going to be sacrifices that we all will have to make. We like to be told that things are good; that there's a 'chicken in every pot' and a 'car in every driveway'. We'd rather buy the illusion of security, than the reality of uncertainty.

The Occupy Movement serves as a reminder of our reality, and for that reason alone it is important to let them continue. Otherwise, who knows what dream-state we may find ourselves in some time down the line.

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