todays acceptable greed may be tomorrows crime

Last week, a man was convicted of wildly inflating his credentials to get himself hired as a Public Guardian, and then manipulating a dying, addled man into bequeathing him 20 per cent of his will.

Last week, a man was convicted of wildly inflating his credentials to get himself hired as a Public Guardian, and then manipulating a dying, addled man into bequeathing him 20 per cent of his will.

He went on to bilk an incompetent old lady out of a million-dollar property for the price of “$1 plus love and affection.” The judge threw the book at the scoundrel, giving him six years in jail. Justice was done.

But that got me thinking about justice.

Last year, the major banks of North America collapsed because of their bogus mortgage schemes, driving families out of their homes, setting off a string of suicides, destroying the pensions of millions and ruining the economy.

Instead of going to jail, the corporate bosses of these banks and institutions received handsome bonuses. And the banks were rewarded with a $700-billion bailout by American taxpayers. Even the executives who were dismissed or resigned in shame received golden parachutes worth more millions of taxpayer money.

Where are the charges! If it’s criminal to defraud two aging people too far gone to know they were being defrauded, why isn’t it criminal to ruin nations? Josef Stalin, the Russian monster knew why: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

People live according to myths and religions, whether they’re Hindu or Islamic or Christian or whatever. One religion that’s not discussed enough is the neo-conservative cult of the so-called “free market” with its all-powerful god, “the invisible hand” that miraculously creates a better world. Even Christ with his bread and fishes doesn’t appear to have had the powers of this “invisible hand.” What a load of hooey.

The only “invisible hand” belongs to the neo-conservatives manipulating politicians to create an economic system benefiting their culture while the vast majority of the middle class and the impoverished pay the expenses.

During the past decade nearly 33 per cent of the wealth created in North America was collected by one per cent of the population. Fifty-seven per cent was earned by the top five per cent. Nearly 70 per cent was earned by the upper 10 per cent. That meant that 90 per cent of the population got only 30 per cent of the wealth.

The exploitive among the wealthy neo-cons use their wealth and control of the corporate media to convince people to elect the governments that are protecting them and impoverishing us. That’s why they’re lowering taxes for big business and the wealthy while gouging wage earners and small businesses, the same people who get hooked every election, like slow, fat, dumb catfish rising from the bottom to the bait.

I used to think it was a conspiracy between politicians and the wealthy, but it’s not. It’s a conspiracy of attitudes, not criminality (most of the time). They believe the myths of the free market and I’m sure these people are convinced they are doing good. But what has been created is a free market for the rich and a nest of regulations and taxes and surcharges for the rest of us.

That’s what we’ll find when the Peel Watershed Planning Commission wraps up its convoluted, bureaucratic smoke-and-mirrors show. Once they have impartially listened to everyone, they will deliver the inevitable worst-case scenario the Yukon government figures it can pass off without rioting in the streets. The preliminary suggestions are already a disaster, designed to let the devil of mixed-use into almost every region of this “wonder of the world.”

Mixed-use is the code word for “stage one.” Pristine wilderness is an oxymoron when it’s splattered with 12,000 mining claims, smelters, open-pit mines, hunting roads, and roads checkered with caches and hunters (the only road pushed into the Wind still displays its damage almost 70 years later).

Leave-no-trace camping just doesn’t cut it next to open-pit mines as the ore trucks roar past and the helicopters and planes buzz overhead. Once it’s ruined as wilderness, it’s forever ruined. That’s when they’ll argue for finishing off the remainder.

Chamber of Mines president Carl Schulze slipped up and let the cat out of the bag while discussing one of the aspects of the battle to save the watershed—the right to stake a claim on public land. “Ending free staking will destroy the idea of personal property,” he said. Whoops, why does the last great wilderness of the Yukon have to become personal property?

The saddest thing is that most of the miners and the small mining companies will eventually fail or be bought out on the Peel. The mines will pass to the corporations (along with fat grants from the taxpayers) and the taxpayers will also have to pay to clean up the mess left behind. There’s still plenty of room in the Yukon to carry on this traditional banditry.

Why do they want the last great wilderness? Perhaps because it’s just that, still wild and free.

But history often goes through what’s known as a paradigm crisis. These are events where cultures change their collective minds. Slavery. Racism. What was once common has now become wicked. We’ve encountered several smaller paradigm crises in our time: the drive for equality of the sexes, war crime trials, the rejection of tobacco, the backlash against hate crimes.

We’re going through another one on the environment, especially as the symptoms of climate change erupt around us.

Today, we are putting war criminals on trial for crimes committed long ago. I don’t doubt that within a few years what’s considered good business now will be rightly regarded as criminal destruction by the next generation.

In the years to come, when the children of environmental criminals look back with disgust on what their parents and grandparents have done, their rage will grow extreme. Especially when they are contemplating the pigsty we have bequeathed to them. But it’ll still be a democracy, won’t it? A free world ruled by a free market. Sure.

How did that old song go? “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Brian Brett, poet, journalist, novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. His most recent book of poetry and prose is Uproar’s Your Only Music.