May Day Celebrated in Toronto

by Christian Whittall

The Free Times Cafe was packed to the gills on the evening of Saturday, May 1, for Toronto’s 24th Annual Socialist May Day Celebration. The lively, convivial atmosphere may have seemed in sharp contrast to the rather dire-sounding theme for this year: “Eco-Socialism or Extinction”. But what was really on display was great hope and excitement for the first of these two alternatives.

Jorge Soberon, Cuba’s consul general in Toronto spoke about challenges facing his country and its militant resolve in the face of them. He deflated the wishful thinking of Cuba’s enemies that the revolution would die with Fidel, citing the vast resource represented by the country’s young generation.

The Venezuela consul general in Toronto, Mirna Quero de Peña, sent a written statement that was read aloud by emcee Elizabeth Byce. De Peña emphasized that the environmental crisis we are facing is an economic rather than a technological one.

B.C. Holmes of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee talked about her visit to the subsequently earthquake-ravaged nation on the anniversary of its independence, Jan. 1 of this year. “Haiti needs solidarity, not charity,” she insisted. Vice president of the Canadian Arab Federation Ali Mallah spoke next, also giving voice to revolutionary sentiments overseas, especially in the Middle East.

With a more local perspective, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty member Leslie Wood celebrated the noisy optimism and numerical strength of the No One Is Illegal march held earlier that day (with several hundred participants)—defiant in the face of the province’s inhumane cut to welfare spending in the middle of a recession.

Finally, Socialist Action Federal Secretary Barry Weisleder drew all these threads together in a “State of the Revolution” address. The evening was rounded out by a line-up of performers, leaving the crowd infused with rebellion and hope.

War Crimes & Scandals Aplenty

by Barry Weisleder

At the risk of being found in contempt of Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative minority government still refuses to release documents pertaining to the torture of detainees handed over by Canadian forces to Afghan authorities. If House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken backs the parliamentary order, the Justice Department may take the issue to the Supreme Court, which will buy the Tories some time.

But time doesn’t appear to be on their side. Despite assiduous, side-door efforts to re-open the debate and extend the 2011 date for removal of troops from the war of occupation, a series of scandals have conspired against Harper and company.

First, there are persistently surfacing torture allegations. Ahmadshah Malgari, 37, an Ottawa resident who volunteered to work for Canadian military intelligence in Afghanistan, made three claims before a Commons committee in mid-April:

1) In August 2007 a Canadian soldier illegally shot an unarmed Afghan in the head and, to cover this crime, troops panicked and arrested innocent people. (Chief of defense staff General Walter Natynczyk denied this.)

2) Military intelligence officers deliberately handed over “uncooperative” prisoners to Afghanistan’s notorious National Directorate of Security, knowing they were likely to be tortured.

3) Canadian troops arrested far too many Afghans with no links to the insurgency. Malgarai interviewed such people, including a 90-year-old man who could barely walk. There has been no official denial of the latter two allegations.

Then there was the revelation that, among NATO allies, the Canadian army led the pack with 163 prisoner transfers, followed by Britain with 93, the Netherlands 10, and Denmark one. The U.S. has its own system for dealing with captives.

To deflect mild Western criticism of Afghan puppet-government corruption and brutality, Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened to join the Taliban. His outburst cast a deeper pall over the imperialists’ promise to bring democracy and civilization to the region as they ready for the anticipated summer offensive of national resistance fighters.

Ironically, the scandal over alleged influence peddling by ex-Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, and the dubious behaviour of his wife, ex-Tory Cabinet member Helena Guergis, might have seemed like a welcome distraction from the unpopular war in Asia and from the persisting woes of the so-called Great Recession. Except that it isn’t. It highlights the government’s toxic secrecy, duplicity, and arrogance, and it makes extension of the war a more problematic sell-job.

Not to be lost in the fog of scandal-wracked Ottawa are maneuvers to keep Canadian police and other security personnel in Afghanistan, backing the corrupt regime of drug lords, past the 2011 troop pull-out time—or to transfer troops to Congo or Haiti or elsewhere to secure corporate resource extraction interests. Vigilance by activists, alongside demands for full disclosure by Ottawa, are key at this turning point.

If only the antiwar movement would get back into the streets to seal the deal for peace now.

Harper Sets a Corporate Table for Summits

by Barry Weisleder

The big issues on the agenda for the G8 and G20 Summits in Huntsville and Toronto in June include climate change, nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, and the state of the world economy. Poverty, hunger, and disease as a function of capitalist economic crisis and growing inequality will likely take a distant back seat to government deficit and debt reduction.

Just to make sure that the rich are not made to pay, even in the slightest way, for the crisis their system caused and their actions aggravated, the Conservative federal government in Ottawa is campaigning aggressively to block a proposal for a speculation tax and an excess-profits tax on financial institutions.

This is an old idea, first posited by the English economist John Maynard Keynes in 1936, and by American economist James Tobin in 1972. It is backed today by British P.M. Gordon Brown and the International Monetary Fund; even U.S. President Barack Obama is edging towards such a tax to pay for bank bailouts. These facts are clues that the FAT (Financial Activities Tax) will not go nearly far enough—and moreover, that it is designed to help stabilize the system of the fat cats rather than help working people.

But it goes way too far for the likes of Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “No Canadian taxpayer money has to be put into our system,” Flaherty told The Canadian Press on April 20. While Canadian banks were not hit as hard by the global meltdown in 2008, the country didn’t escape unscathed. Quebec’s giant Caisse de depot et placement, which manages the province’s pension fund plan, was burned by its investments in risky securities, as were private holders of asset-backed commercial paper. The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan lost $19.5 billion since the end of 2007.

And now deficits resulting from shrinking revenues, in large part caused by cuts to corporate taxes, are being cited by governments as a reason to slash services and jobs, freeze workers’ wages, and further reduce corporation taxes. So, wouldn’t a Tobin Tax go well now?

Socialists are not opposed. But we insist that to eradicate (not just alleviate) poverty, hunger, and disease, and to convert industry and homes to green energy technologies (to save our global habitat), it will be necessary to expropriate the banks and big business. Democratically elected councils of workers and consumers will know how to invest the fabulous wealth of such institutions in the interest of the majority, once and for all.

In the meantime, let’s get ready to hit the streets and alternative venues for the Peoples’ Summit and protest actions in Toronto during the week leading up to June 28.

Children a G-8 ‘Priority’?

by Barry Weisleder

While child and maternal health is supposed to be a top priority at the G8 Summit in June, host Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have a tough time reconciling his federal budget with his public relations spin.

Ottawa’s budget freeze on foreign development aid after this year is in tune with Tory and business priorities to reduce the deficit, notwithstanding uninterrupted annual increases for the military.

Meanwhile, the tragic deaths of millions of children globally, from easily preventable diseases, proceeds at a staggering pace. Some 8.8 million children still die annually before they reach the age of five, according to World Vision Canada. That is 24,000 children per day. Seventeen per minute.

At the same time, 500,000 mothers die annually in childbirth or from other pregnancy-related causes.

A $10 bed net can protect a child from malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Access to nutritious foods can be provided at little cost. Diarrhea kills 1.5 million children annually. It is easily treated, as is malaria. Child blindness, too common in the underdeveloped world, can be prevented by just two vitamin A pills per year, at a cost of four cents.

Today the world spends $49 billion (U.S.) on pet food every year. If half of that amount were added to current spending on maternal and child health, the child death rate could be cut nearly in half.

If the big business politicians who run the G8 and G20 were forced to tax the rich and abolish military spending, humanity would have taken a big step toward solving our major problems.

TD Moves Into Florida

by Barry Weisleder

While most of us have been trying to cope with the ongoing ‘Great Recession’, Canadian bankers have been busy with their own expansion plans. Showing that Canada’s banks weathered the crash better than their American counterparts, TD Bank (formerly the Toronto-Dominion) bought three insolvent Florida banks to establish its retail presence in the U.S. southeast.

TD’s purchase of Riverside National Bank of North Florida, First Federal Bank of North Florida, and AmericanFirst Bank is a low-risk venture since the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. agreed to share 50 per cent of the loan losses up to specific thresholds at each bank, beyond which the FDIC would handle 80 per cent.

TD is getting 69 new branches in Florida, bringing its total there to 103. It already has a major presence in New England and New York, and owns 40 per cent of TD Ameritrade, a discount brokerage based in the U.S. Midwest.

One elite’s loss is another’s gain. That’s why we call it inter-imperialist rivalry, sometimes the stuff of wars. But this one is still well under control as high-finance operators make the average Jill and Jack pay the price in lost homes, jobs, and pensions.

Meanwhile, as bank profits in Canada soar, and corporate taxes decline, consumer debt is rising fast. In Canada, disposable income growth has been going down, and in the year ended last February, household debt went up more than three times faster than income growth. Canadians have seen their liabilities rising twice as fast as their assets over the past two years—despite the rebound in stock valuations and the recent surge in home prices.

“Canadian consumer fundamentals are weaker than they have been in almost 15 years,” reported CIBC economist Benjamin Tal on April 1. When will the next bubble burst, and who will pay the price?

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