More Black Men in Prison Today Than Enslaved in 1850

“More Black men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” Michelle Alexander told a standing room only house at the Pasadena Main Library, the first of many jarring points she made in a riveting presentation.

Alexander, currently a law professor at Ohio State, had been brought in to discuss her bestseller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Interest ran so high beforehand that the organizers had to move the event to a location that could accommodate the eager attendees. That evening, more than 200 people braved the pouring rain and inevitable traffic jams to crowd into the library’s main room, with dozens more shuffled into an overflow room, and even more latecomers turned away altogether. Alexander and her topic had struck a nerve.

Growing crime rates over the past 30 years don’t explain the skyrocketing numbers of black — and increasingly brown — men caught in America’s prison system, according to Alexander, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun after attending Stanford Law. “In fact, crime rates have fluctuated over the years and are now at historical lows.”

“Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,” she said, even though studies have shown that whites use and sell illegal drugs at rates equal to or above blacks. In some black inner-city communities, four of five black youth can expect to be caught up in the criminal justice system during their lifetimes.

As a consequence, a great many black men are disenfranchised, said Alexander — prevented because of their felony convictions from voting and from living in public housing, discriminated in hiring, excluded from juries, and denied educational opportunities.

“What do we expect them to do?” she asked, who researched her ground-breaking book while serving as Director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California. “Well, seventy percent return to prison within two years, that’s what they do.”

Organized by the Pasadena Public Library and the Flintridge Center, with a dozen or more cosponsors, including the ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter and Neighborhood Church, and the LA Progressive as the sole media sponsor, the event drew a crowd of the converted, frankly — more than two-thirds from Pasadena’s well-established black community and others drawn from activists circles. Although Alexander is a polished speaker on a deeply researched topic, little she said stunned the crowd, which, after all, was the choir. So the question is what to do about this glaring injustice.

Married to a federal prosecutor, Alexander briefly touched on the differing opinion in the Alexander household. “You can imagine the arguments we have,” Alexander said in relating discussions she has with her husband. “He thinks there are changes we can make within the system,” she said, agreeing that there are good people working on the issues and that improvements can be made. “But I think there has to be a revolution of some kind.”

However change is to come, a big impediment will be the massive prison-industrial system.

“If we were to return prison populations to 1970 levels, before the War on Drugs began,” she said. “More than a million people working in the system would see their jobs disappear.”

Of all African-American men that were born in 1965 or later with less than a high school diploma, 60 percent have a prison record (28 months median time served).

Source: ACA DMC Task Force/Symposium(August 1, 2010)

So it’s like America’s current war addiction. We have built a massive war machine — one bigger than all the other countries in the world combined — with millions of well-paid defense industry jobs and billions of dollars at stake. With a hammer that big, every foreign policy issue looks like a nail — another bomb to drop, another country to invade, another massive weapons development project to build.

Similarly, with such a well-entrenched prison-industrial complex in place — also with a million jobs and billions of dollars at stake — every criminal justice issue also looks like a nail — another prison sentence to pass down, another third strike to enforce, another prison to build in some job-starved small town, another chance at a better life to deny.


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Bank Bonuses Rise Amid Economic Crisis: Nationalize Them Under Workers’ Control!

After laying off 4,664 workers, Canada’s top six banks have recorded a combined profit of $35 billion and set aside a bonus pool of $12.5 billion for their executives at the end of 2015. It has become evidently clear that Canada’s bankers have not felt the pain of the economic crisis the same way as the working class and impoverished.

According to a new report by Bloomberg, a prominent financial information company that analyzed the findings, the 4,664 job cuts at the six banks was the most in six years. The firings, or “cost controls”, as the bankers like to say, are set to continue into 2016.

Toronto-Dominion Bank alone eliminated 1,594 staff positions. In response to criticism, TD Bank CEO Bharat Masrani said “This is simply a reality of today’s slower-growth world.” Ironically, this year’s executive bonuses were higher than $12 billion in 2014 which was a surge of 13 per cent from $10.8 billion in 2013. All of this during a time when the Canadian economy has entered recession and created immense suffering for average working people and the poor.

In fact, looking back at a trend since the 2008 global recession reveals just how the bonuses of bank executives have grown progressively: $8.3 billion in 2009, $8.6 billion in 2010 and $9.3 billion in 2011. Seven years since the Great Recession with continuous slow growth in the world economy and in Canada, the bonuses of bank executives have in turn been rapidly growing. Hence, Mr. Masrani’s description of a “slower-growth world” is meant for those losing their jobs, but the opposite is true if you’re a bank executive.

Bill Vlaad, president of a Toronto-based firm that monitors compensation trends said “Compensation this year is going to be a grab bag… some are going to have a good deal of candy in the bag and some are not going to get as much.” Here is this year’s candy distribution:

The Bank Bailout of 2008: Canadian Workers Robbed of Their Labour

While Canada’s bankers continue to make the case that they deserve every penny of their colossal bonuses through ‘prudent financial intelligence’, the truth is that they are being spoiled and protected by the government through tax payer dollars, especially when they fail big time.

In 2012 Fightback wrote about a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report, The Big Bank’s Big Secret, which revealed that between 2008 and 2010, $114 billion was shelled out of public coffers to save the top five banks in Canada as a response to the 2008 financial crisis.

Royal Bank and TD are the two largest banks in the country. Together they received $25 billion and $26 billion, respectively, in government support. This was enough to buy majority shares in both: 63 per cent share of RBC and a 69 per cent of TD Bank. Scotiabank, CIBC and Bank of Montreal received $25 billion, $21 billion and $17 billion respectively. That was enough money for the government to buy all of them; in fact they overpaid 148 per cent of the market value of CIBC!

Of the $114 billion, $41 billion was made in loans, $69 billion in direct cash injections through mortgage buy-outs for the big five banks and $4 billion to several smaller banks. As a result, during 2008-2010, the banks made a profit of $26.8 billion. None of this vast sum of money made its way back to the public. This kind of wasteful government spending is not criticized on Bay Street because it maintains the for-profit capitalist system. The government bailout allowed the banks to carry on business-as-usual after they had conclusively demonstrated their failure.

As the banks post these massive profits, we are told to “tighten our belts” and accept cuts to social services, wage freezes, job losses, attacks on labour rights and an onslaught of austerity budgets. How often are multi-billion dollar government deficits blamed on government investments into social programs, job creation and infrastructure? How often do we hear the mantra “the money is not there”? The truth is that the “money is not there” as a result of corporate welfare, tax-cuts for the rich, bailouts of big banks and corporations, bad-asset buy-outs, and the failure of the capitalist system generally. Capitalism creates its own crisis and the rest of us are left to pay for it all.

What the Bonuses are Worth

As we have seen, governments hand over more money than the banks are even worth, just to keep the profits in the hands of a tiny minority. Canada’s banks and corporations sit on trillions of dollars. This year’s bank executive bonuses alone, totalling $12.5 billion, instead of being spent on luxury cars, yachts and mansions, could be used for more important things:

The Only Solution: Nationalize the Banks under Democratic Workers’ Control

The idea that a government can engage in cordial negotiations with the bankers or their rich friends in the corporate world to pay for any of these social services is utopian. This is evident if you take a glance at recent global events. In Greece, Syriza tried to negotiate with the EU and Greek bankers, even when the opportunity to nationalize the banks under the control of Greek workers existed. The result was a defeat for the Greek workers as their country is currently being privatized into bits by the capitalists. In Venezuela, the PSUV nationalized some industries more than a decade ago, but the road to complete nationalization was not taken and under pressure from internal and external forces of capital, the government lost the trust of the people and lost power. History shows that any government that either adheres or tries to collaborate with the for-profit system of capitalism cannot meet the needs of workers and the impoverished – especially today when capitalism is in its deepest crisis in its history.

Capitalism is a system that protects the private property and wealth of a few individuals in a chaotic and illogical global network of profit making, and it is time the leaders of the labour movement accepted this reality. The predominant ideas within Canada’s labour movement’s leadership, going back to the 1950s and 60s when capitalism was in its heyday, has run its course and is decades behind the reality of what is happening in this country, let alone the world. Today, capitalism is in its deepest crisis and is revealing immense inequality and lack of wealth distribution. It hasn’t been easy to explain this reality to average workers and youth for a long time.

The choice between capitalism and a new genuinely democratic socialist society is a choice between the unnecessary lavish lifestyles of the rich few and the vital needs of everyone else. This choice is becoming increasingly clear to millions of Canadians. Therefore, the case to nationalize the big banks and corporations in this country and place them under democratic worker’s control has never been stronger. Now is the time for bold demands that can enthuse and organize workers and youth to take back the immense wealth that exists in society and run it in a rational manner for human need.


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Liberals in Action: Privatization of Hydro One

The Ontario Liberals under Kathleen Wynne’s leadership are finishing what the Tory government of Mike Harris started: the privatization of Hydro One. While the newly elected federal Liberal government remains in a honeymoon period under a facade of progressive politics, the Liberals in Ontario are revealing their real character as the sweethearts of Bay Street through this fire sale of the crown corporation.

The first phase of the Liberals’ privatization plan began in the first week of November 2015, with the sale of 15 per cent of Hydro One to the tune of $1.83 billion. Major banks like RBC and Scotiabank managed to capture large stakes. The idea is to sell off 60 per cent of Hydro One by 2019, ostensibly to fund a $130 billion infrastructure project and help balance the budget by 2017-2018. In reality, the privatization of Hydro One will not contribute in any meaningful way towards either of these goals. It is nothing but a very lucrative handout to Bay Street.

In October 2015, Ontario’s financial accountability officer, Stephen LeClair, exposed the Liberals scheme for what it is. LeClair compared two funding options for the Liberal infrastructure/deficit reduction plan: the current privatization plan versus simply borrowing the money. He found privatization will actually cost more than the interest paid on borrowed money. LeClair demonstrated that the government would eventually lose around $500 million a year from lost revenue after a Hydro One selloff. On top of this, of the $4 billion that will supposedly be raised for infrastructure, only about half of this money will be in the form of spendable cash, the rest will be in the form of a “non-cash gain”. LeClair found that at the end of the day there may only be $1.4 billion to fund infrastructure, a splash in the ocean for the needed $130 billion. It seems that neither fund raising nor deficit reduction is on Wynne’s mind, but rather the incitement of hand rubbing on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Hydro One is notoriously known by its customers as a frustrating, bureaucratic mess. People often find that they are billed incorrectly at too expensive of a rate. But these problems will only become accentuated through privatization. Earlier this year, Ontario’s independent legislative officers came together to denounce the Liberal privatization plan, explaining that a privatized Hydro One will be very hard to regulate. In their report they noted that post privatization they will be unable to conduct performance audits, investigate public complaints and will not be able to examine planned operations, among other negative outcomes. Just this week, the Liberals announced that they would be eliminating any independence of the province’s energy regulator, the Ontario Energy Board, thus weakening oversight. Deregulation in combination with privatization can only mean higher electricity rates for Ontarians. Due to the profit seeking nature of private capital, the banks that will have major stakes in Hydro One will be looking for the highest return possible on their investment, which naturally means extortionately high rates for consumers. Even former economist for TD Bank, Douglas Peters, believes privatization will mean higher rates. He explained that investors will demand an 8 per cent return on their investment, and this return will mainly be found through higher rates. To add insult to injury, the new CEO of Hydro One is set to pull an obscene $4 million annual salary.

It is for these reasons that 194 municipalities, many trade unions and even business associations (fearing expensive hydro rates) have come together to oppose the privatization of Hydro One. As Fred Hahn, president of Cupe Ontario said “The vast majority of Ontarians agree that selling Hydro One is a bad idea. It’s time for the Wynne government to put on the brakes, hold public consultations and, really, to do what the public wants and Keep Hydro Public.” And it is in fact true that the vast majority of the public, 80 per cent according to opinion polls, oppose the Liberal plan.

Mike Harris and his Progressive Conservatives seemed to care more about public opinion in regards to the privatization of Hydro One than the Liberals do today. The privatization of Hydro One began under the misnomer “Common Sense Revolution” of Mike Harris, a revolution consisting of savage attacks on the working class and the welfare state. Harris started this process in 1998 by splitting Hydro One into multiple bureaucratic components and introducing a market in electricity, creating a lot of the inefficiencies that exist today. In 2002, Harris’ successor, Ernie Eves, moved to privatize Hydro One, but faced with mass public opposition, was forced to back down. Now it is the Liberals’ turn, with renewed resolve to disregard public opinion. Even the Progressive Conservatives now oppose privatization, along with the Ontario NDP.

In the last provincial election, the Ontario NDP capitulated to the pro-austerity agenda. Their campaign even went as far as to propose the creation of a new “Ministry of Savings and Accountability” that would cut $600 million from the budget annually. This was essentially a proposal for a Ministry of Austerity. The Ontario NDP has partially learned from the terrible failure of their right-leaning election campaign, and have launched an anti-privatization initiative in response to the Liberals. The provincial New Democrats have led the opposition to the selloff in the provincial legislature, gathered signatures for a petition and held town halls throughout Ontario to inform the public of the horrible plan and bring heat on the Liberals. Unfortunately, these actions in themselves will not be enough to stop the privatization of Hydro One.

The Liberals have not simply made a misjudgement that can be corrected. They will not be convinced through the power of a good argument. The privatization of Hydro One is part of a larger agenda of privatization, austerity and attacks on workers’ rights. Is it any wonder why the Liberals took advice on privatization from Ed Clark, former CEO of TD Bank? The Liberals’ most recent budget means the most savage austerity and attacks on workers since the Harris years, driven by the necessity to balance the budget at the behest of the financiers. Wynne is determined to maintain “zero net gain” in public sector contract negotiations, which in reality means pay cuts due to rising living costs, and cuts to social services such as healthcare, education and welfare. A particularly disgusting part of Liberal austerity was the elimination of a $100 benefit for disabled people. We can only expect more of these uncivilized attacks. The Liberals are nothing more than enemies of the working class and servants to Bay Street. Especially in this period of capitalist crisis, only a mass mobilization by the working class will be able to stop the privatization of Hydro One. Wynne fears working class opposition to her austerity, but will not concede anything without a fight.

For inspiration to fight Liberal austerity we need only look next door to the struggle in Quebec. On December 9th, there were 400,000 public sector workers on strike in Quebec against capitalist austerity measures. This is the sort of action that can halt the privatization of Hydro One and austerity generally. As the saying goes, not a light shines, not a wheel turns, without the kind permission of the working class. Workers have all the power in the world to put an end to austerity, and capitalism. The unions and the Ontario NDP must have faith in the workers to fight for their livelihoods, and give the necessary leadership to call for demonstrations and strike action. The trade unions, in collaboration with the Ontario NDP, should begin mobilization for such demonstrations and strikes against the Liberal agenda. This is the only way we can seriously fight against the privatization of Hydro One and provide a real opposition to the Liberals.


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Real Existing Capitalism and the Challenge for an Alternative

From People’s Voice

There are times and certain processes in the production of human needs that have become the catalyst for change in society, a change in which the old order of doing things – whether it is ruling, governing, trading, building, creating, destroying, or a myriad of different complexities that steer human development – are incapable of satisfying, or can no longer satisfy, the new social and productive forces in society.

Over time, what once was the exception to the rule becomes the rule, and those that once dominated and steered the functions of society have, because of the development of society, been overtaken by new and more advanced forms of social and economic relations.

Primitive communal societies, slave societies, feudal societies, capitalist societies and socialist societies, and the transition from one type of society to another, have been the constant and turbulent advancement of mankind. Masterful inventions and ingenuities, such as the wheel, the printing press, the steam engine and internal combustion engine, the harnessing of electricity, natural resources and the elements, exploration in the fields of science, mathematics, engineering and computing, all of which and many more have to one degree or another been developed to satisfy our basic human needs, are based upon the stage of development within a given society.

It is very easy to settle into the notion that what is shall for ever be, and that what has gone before must remain as it was, a relic of its time irrelevant to today’s world. But humankind is not a victim of its own self-importance: there has been and continues to be a dynamic relationship between ourselves and the world into which we are born. The time and the age in which one lives is just a chance, a lottery of sporadic consciousness, untamed and uncontrollable.


Ontario Liberals Scheme to Privatize Hydro One

From People’s Voice

The battle against privatization in Ontario is gathering steam as the Liberal government moves to sell Hydro One – the largest supplier of publicly owned and controlled electricity in North America. The privatization was hidden in the budget presented in April with little fanfare. The government knew the move would be unpopular, as the Harris Tories had tried to do the same thing in 2002, only to be forced to back off by an irate public.

So Premier Wynne proposed to sell off 60%, and “keep” 40%, claiming this would allow for public control of the utility, while “unlocking the value” tied up in Hydro One to pay for the government’s unfunded 10 year, $130 billion infrastructure program.

Indeed this is a valuable asset: debt-free, unencumbered with Ontario’s nuclear plants, and generating a tidy profit of $1 billion a year for the provincial treasury. It also produces a reliable stream of relatively cheap and reliable electricity for residents, industry, and business. So why sell it off?

The bankers – Don Drummond and Ed Clark – recommended the sell-off, in answer to Wynne’s request for proposals to restructure public services and assets, to pay for the infrastructure plan which was the centerpiece of the Liberals’ 2014 election platform. The plan could have been paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate, which is the lowest in the industrialized world, and much lower than the Great Lake states around Ontario. But the Liberals have committed to further reduce corporate taxes, while also eliminating the provincial deficit.