Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Problem With Taxpayer Funded Social Media

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, the twitterverse and blogdom is finally sittin' up and takin' notice that our gummint is paying for favourable postings in various social media. There was a story on it over the weekend: Harper government monitoring online chats about politics. As Stageleft points out, the headline is somewhat misleading. The government is not only monitoring online opinion, they're jumping in and "correcting misinformation." Stageleft says he has no problems with the practice. I disagree.

I posted a bigass comment over at Stageleft and I'm recyclin' it here. Nobody is paying me to post my opinions, btw. I'm open to offers, though. If I'm paying for the government to hire a social media contractor to refute me, I may as well get paid, too.

Here's what I said at Stageleft:
Of course we know that the government and political parties monitor social media. I have no problem with that and, as you say, we want them to take notice of what we, the everyday citizen, is opining.

What I find very questionable is the use of tax dollars to refute opinions which the government has deemed "incorrect." Perhaps a government in bed with big oil thinks it is incorrect to criticize BP for deepwater drilling without a contingency disaster plan. Rand Paul recently stated that criticism of BP with regard to Gulf oilspill is "un-American".

Is criticism of our own tar sands un-Canadian? Do we want our criticisms challenged by bought-and-paid-for PR firms working not for the oil industry but for us? When we express our opinions on our own time, should we be footing the bill for some flak to be countering us?

There's also the issue of credibility. Next time a pro-Harper comment is posted here or on my blog or on Twitter or on Facebook, who could help but wonder if that comment is being paid for with tax dollars and doesn't even necessarily represent the true thinking of the individual whose job it is to spout the government line?

If I were a pro-CPC or pro-Harper tweep or blogger, I'd be a bit concerned that I'd be suspect of not being genuine in my postings but merely working for $XX per tweet on the taxpayer dime.

If private corporations want to hire paid tweeps or bloggers and do so anonymously (or pseudonymously) without any disclaimers, that's business using investor capital to promote its product. I have little problem with that sort of astroturfing and have come to expect as much.

It's when government uses my own money to refute me that I have a problem.

I'm starting to see a few blogs supporting the MPs rejection of Sheila Fraser's request for an audit. Are those bloggers being paid from the public purse to shield MP expenses from scrutiny? One can't help but wonder.

When governments surreptitiously plant the government position into social media -- on our dime -- we no longer have honest discussion. The paying of social media contractors to shape public opinion goes beyond publishing talking points for the faithful to parrot on their own time, at their own expense.

Again, I have no problem with party staffers, company employees, paid PR firms pushing their agenda via social media. When it's done at public expense, however, it crosses a line much like the line crossed when Helena Guergis's staffers wrote letters of support to editors. It dilutes genuine public opinion to the detriment of social media.
Before anyone bothers arguing or refuting anything I just said, be warned: I will be able to accuse you of being a bought-and-paid-for flak spouting the line you're being paid to spout.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

MP Expenses Scandal: Grassroots Outrage or Media Invention

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, I like the discussions that take place over at Steve V's Far and Wide. They're mostly Grits but they tolerate my Green-tinged rants and the partisanship doesn't permeate the conversation as much as on some other blogs. The topic on everybody's tongue these days is the MP expenses issue. Steve figgers the dang media's blown it all out of proportion and he's got hisself boog on that idea today.

I disagree with Steve and I just spent a few minutes blatherin' on (and on) about it. I'm recyclin' that comment here.

We all gave the MSM proper shit for failing to seize upon the prorogation issue. Their excuse was that they didn't think the public was politically astute enough to grasp the nuances of parliamentary protocol. They were wrong and they ended up admitting as much.

You don't have to be too politically astute to understand expense account sleaze, though. The issue comes hot on the heels of the UK's MP expenses scandal with homegrown provincial counterparts in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. The MSM doesn't have to wonder whether or not the public understands. We get it and they know it.

While I agree there are similarities between this issue and prorogation, there are major differences. Prorogation was all about ducking responsibility for the handing over of Afghan detainees to torture. I am one of those who have been on top of that issue for years but I know very well that it fails to strike a chord with many Canadians.

The A-G issue is all about money --- our money. Despite the fact that the amount pales in comparison to what we've squandered on an unwinnable and immoral war, it hits us close to home.

WRT the Facebook thing, there could be a couple of mitigating factors. First, the very fact that the MSM IS all over this issue makes it seem less important for individuals to get personally involved. This time around, the media is not ignoring the issue and perhaps would-be Facebook group members are sitting back and allowing the media to do its job and push for disclosure.

Secondly, the first and largest Facebook group is the creation of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, considered by many to be a right-wing lobby group. The anti-prorogation group was the creation of a non-partisan student and was truly a grassroots effort.

Perhaps partisanship is the biggest difference here. With prorogation, it was everyone against the ruling Conservatives. They only got 38% of the votes, after all. 62% voted against them and were not happy with the affront to democracy. There weren't too many card-carrying CPCers out on the streets on January 23. There were plenty of Liberals, Dippers and Greens.

In the expenses issue, highly partisan citizens -- card-carrying party members from all parties -- may be holding back. Ignatieff hasn't endorsed the protest. Neither has Layton. In fact, they are the ones we are protesting against, along with the Harper Conservatives. When the party faithful are being told that this isn't an issue by the party leaders and nearly every MP, party members are not too likely to join a Facebook group or take to the streets.

When the 4 parties finally struck a deal on the detainee documents, it was big news. The parties in this hitherto fractious parliament had been able to reach an agreement. The media was a bit surprised by the fact, as were many voters. Getting to the bottom of the torture allegations was secondary in the reportage. The all-party agreement on a divisive issue was the big story.

Jump ahead a couple weeks and there's parliamentary unanimity on another issue: MP expenses. Why shouldn't that be newsworthy? When the MPs solidarity is contrasted with the public's diametrically opposite solidarity, it's news.

Poll after poll after poll has found the MPs to be entirely out of step with public opinion. That's news and the media would be remiss in failing to report it. Remember, we faulted them severely for failing to pick up on the outrage around prorogation. Do they want to be accused of being out of touch yet again?

There is a big difference between journalists' expense accounts and MPs expense accounts. The MPs are spending our money. The MPs are our employees. The MPs are public servants. The MPs pledged accountability and transparency and we elected them and gave them our confidence. Abuse may be commonplace in every workplace but in this particular workplace, we are the employers. We have every right to see the books and we have every right to be outraged when MPs band together across party lines to hide them from us.

If we lose confidence in the media, we can quit buying newspapers. If we lose confidence in MPs of every party, we can live with it until the next election at which time we can choose between tweedle-crook and tweedle-crookeder.

Scandals are news. Scandal sell papers. So what? Would we rather bury our heads in the sand? There's a bigger scandal brewing regarding the detainees and I relish the moment that the media grabs it and runs with it. Crimes against expense accounts are scandalous, sure. War crimes and crimes against humanity are more scandalous and I won't fault the media for delving into such a scandal -- even if their motivation is to sell more papers.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Green Party Calls for MPs to Open Expenses to Auditor-General

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, Earth Mother Lizzie May put out a press release this morning and she's on the money a hunnert percent's worth, sez I.

Greens call for transparency

17 May 2010 - 10:26am

The Green Party of Canada pledges full support for the Auditor General in her bid to increase the transparency of MPs' spending habits. Greens are calling for the release to the Auditor General of the last 10 years of MP expenses.

"The Green Party of Canada fully supports the Auditor General having a mandate to oversee MP expenses," said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. "The Canadian public deserves accountability for the half billion dollars MPs spend every year. The fact that MPs are afraid to have Sheila Fraser examine their accounts suggests that it is probably long overdue."

Provincial governments and the government of Britain have been rocked by government spending scandals in recent years, adding to the disillusionment of citizens and mistrust of politicians.

"Given the declining voting record in this country, Parliament should be doing everything possible to encourage public trust and engagement in democracy," said May.

According to the Toronto Star, a Leger Marketing poll showed 88% of Canadians would like a deeper examination of politicians' expense accounts. Currently, details of any spending by MPs and senators are kept secret.

"For someone who campaigned on transparency, Prime Minister Harper is failing miserably," said May. "Shame on the Liberals and the NDP for agreeing that the public doesn't deserve to know how their tax money is being spent."

Dang right!


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

JimBobby Sings "Hey There, Guergis Girl"

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, I ain't been boogin' too much lately but I got me a new song that I just posted up on the YouTube an' it's all about pore little Helena Guergis: Hey There, Guergis Girl.