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Iran’s presidential election: the cynical moderate versus the representative of the deep state

By Ehsan Abdoh-Tabrizi. This article was first published on Open Democracy.

As the incumbent moderate president faces off the Islamic Republic's deep state, potential variations and the shadow of previous disputed elections looms menacingly.

Iran Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rohani and the now presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi at the funeral of the previous head of Imam Reza foundation in late January 2016. Picture by khamenei.ir [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Since 1997, the results of Iran’s presidential elections have followed two repetitive patterns: they have usually been determined at the last possible moment, and have been a surprise compared to early predictions and previous election norms. The current election process has been no different. It has been marked by many surprises and scandalized by taboo-breaking campaigns.

As the election day, Friday the 19th of May approaches, the incumbent moderate president, Hassan Rohani is locked in a close contest with his main challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, who has emerged as the representative of Islamic Republic’s deep state. At the moment President Rohani seems to be ahead but it may not be decisive enough to avoid a second ballot. The result of the election relies on variables, which will remain undetermined till the last possible moment. One potential and worrisome variable is that a candidate such as Ebrahim Raisi and the forces behind him do not take kindly to be thwarted by the electorate.

Until early April, it seemed that President Rohani would have an easy ride towards reelection. The surprise entrance of Ebrahim Raisi changed that and the dynamics of the competition. Ebrahim Raisi comes from the deepest enclaves of the Islamic Republic's deep state. Aged only 17 when the 1979 revolution toppled the monarchy, Raisi joined and advanced rapidly in the newly formed Islamic judiciary and was deputy prosecutor general, when he was appointed to a special committee in the summer of 1988. Nicknamed "the death committees" by Iranian opposition, these committees were set up by the express order of the charismatic Supreme Leader and the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini.

In an arbitrary decree, prompted by the final phase of Iran-Iraq war, Khomeini proclaimed that any political prisoner “still obdurate in their belief” is an enemy of god and their lives are, legally, forfeit. This paved the way for the massacre of Iran's political prisoners. Special committees were set up to decide which prisoners were “still obdurate in their belief” and Raisi was one of the five members of the central committee in Tehran. Most of the said prisoners were either the Marxist-Islamist Mojahedin (AKA M.K.O & M.E.K) or communists and most of them (numbering unknown thousands) were hanged according to the decisions made by these committees’ summary sessions.

Iraj Mesdaghi, a survivor of that massacre and an expert on the subject, claims that Raisi was present at the hanging of prisoners and celebrated them with pastry. The memory of those executions still haunts the Islamic Republic and has plagued Raisi’s presidential bid. Raisi continued to advance to the highest levels of the judiciary but kept a low profile despite the growing and gradual stream of information about the prisoners’ massacre and his role in it. That changed about a year ago when the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Raisi as the custodian of Imam Reza Foundation, the wealthiest religious-economic complex of the country. This move sparked rumors that Raisi is being groomed as the next Supreme Leader. The office of the Supreme Leader has essentially become a focal point for the management of Islamic Republic’s military-security apparatus and Raisi’s background made him a perfect candidate for such position.

Therefore, Raisi's presidential bid was surprising; why he would risk his long-term advance in an election in which his chances seemed dismal?

Raisi’s entrance was the first surprise of this election but was overshadowed by the next surprise as former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, threw his hat in the ring despite the express forbidding of Supreme Leader Khamenei. Controversial and divisive as ever, Ahmadinejad’s presidential bid was brought to a quick end, when he was disqualified by the Guardian Council and police units were deployed around his place of residence to discourage any more shenanigans.

Less surprising was the entry of Tehran’s mayor Mohammad-Baqir Qalibaf to the foray, another member of the Islamic Republic deep state. But unlike Raisi, who chose to be a background functionary, Qalibaf has been an open and active political figure in the past two decades. A senior general of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (I.R.G.C) and former Chief of Police of Tehran, Qalibaf became a, supposedly, civilian politician with high aspirations. Mayor of Tehran since 2004, Qalibaf had tried twice to become president and seemed to have the support of the majority of the I.R.G.C for his third bid for presidency.

Along with three other minor candidates (all long-term establishment figures approved by the Guardian Council), the competition began in earnest. The contest has been a sordid and cynical affair, in which no candidate held any moral high-ground and lacked vision and inspiration, and instead relied on crude negative campaigning. Rohani's campaign seriously underestimated the competition and perceived victory a foregone conclusion and failed to produce any tangible program or positive message. Rohani's reformist allies acted similarly in their bid to win local council elections which takes place in the same day as the presidential election. Theirs and Rohani's message to the electorate was “beware of the barbarian at the gate, we are the best deal you can get". This message had a ring of truth to it but wasn't relayed to the electorate in a humble, emphatic and persuasive way. It reeked of snobbery and alienated a significant layer of Iranian voters who are keen on expanding democracy and civil society. Comprised mostly of the urban middle and upper class, young voters and various civil rights campaigners, this voting block (which has strong secular leanings) forms the backbone of Rohani’s base. Whenever moderate and reformist factions were able to motivate this block, they have won elections. Rohani and the reformist high and mighty demeanor led to considerable disaffection among this block.

Rohani’s other campaign failure was the economy where his team, again, failed to produce any coherent plan or message. A serious mistake, particularly since Rohani’s administration cannot claim any great success in this field. More than a year has passed since the conclusion of the nuclear agreement and many Iranians have yet to feel any visible improvement in their lot. This provided great opportunity to the hardliner candidates who launched a well-financed, energetic and populist campaign to grab the votes of the lower income and poverty-stricken Iranians. Taking over the mantle of Ahmadinejad, Qalibaf proclaimed that he would create millions of jobs and provide a $77 monthly cash subsidy to all Iranians.

In the live presidential debates, Qalibaf further raised the stakes by accusing Rohani’s government with corruption and wanton disregard for the poor.  Raisi, also, focused on the financial needs of the poor and unprivileged and made similar promises. The scale of promises made by Qalibaf and Raisi reached ludicrous proportions as the state is totally incapable to honor such pledges. The danger signs prompted Rohani out of inaction and he tried to rally his base in the most unprecedented and controversial way. In a series of campaign speeches, Rohani reaffirmed his promises to Iran’s civil society and crossed many red lines by attacking his opponents’ record on civil liberties. In the most astonishing statement, Rohani proclaimed that “our nation will once again demonstrate its’ disapproval with those who know nothing other than execution and imprisoning”. This was a direct stab at Raisi and Qalibaf's security backgrounds. They responded by intensifying their accusations and negative campaigning.

The presidential mudslinging reached such heights that prompted a reaction from Supreme Leader Khamenei, who emphasized the dangerous plans of external enemies and warned all candidates “not to aid the enemy’s unfinished job”. Khamenei’s speech was made in a ceremony of I.R.G.C's cadets where he was surrounded by I.R.G.C top brass including General Qasim Suleimani. Rohani paid no heed and continued his attacks on the record of his rivals. This made the last election debate an outrageous and comical event. Rohani successfully brushed off Qalibaf's corruption allegations by referring to Qalibaf’s own questionable financial dealings and his role in civil suppression. Rohani also infuriated Raisi by sly cynical remarks about his role as an oppressive judge. Rohani’s campaign gained momentum as he pressed on with further promises about civil liberties. With these tactics, it seems that Rohani has been able to rally his main socio-political base.

On Monday, another surprise came to pass, as Qalibaf withdrew from the competition in favor of Raisi. The race is on a knife's edge. While Rohani's recent maneuvering has swayed many of his disaffected base (the urban middle and upper class, young voters, political and civil rights activists, artists, etc.) it may not be enough to secure a decisive victory. Rohani's great failure in providing an inspiring economic message will cost him, while the great machine behind Raisi can, literally, buy many votes. Also, Rohani's campaign didn't pay sufficient attention to local constituencies who vote according to marginal, regional and ethnic factors.

For example, Iran's province of Kurdistan supplied about 440,000 votes to Rohani's 2013 election. This number is expected to fall, considerably, due to Rohani's incapability to deliver his promises. At the moment it seems certain that Rohani will not achieve his 2013 record of 18 million votes. The question is how many votes will Rohani lose? The available polls are inconclusive and a second ballot is very possible. The unpredictability of Iran's elections may allow a huge rise in Rohani's vote in the last moment.

There are other potential factors which can influence the outcome of elections and, unfortunately, one of them is in the hands of the unpredictable Mr. Trump. As outlined by The Economist, by May 17th, President Trump must decide whether to continue the suspensions of Iran's nuclear related sanctions, or not. The suspensions were President Obama's reward for Iran constraining its nuclear program. President Trump's decision can either boost or sink President Rohani's chances for reelection.

One nagging question troubles many, including this author: why did the powers that be chose a candidate such as Raisi? And why have they forced Qalibaf to withdraw in Raisi's favor? Qalibaf was combative and energetic while Raisi is uninspiring and vividly uncomfortable in front of cameras. The most logical explanation is that the Islamic Republic’s deep state (the unelected institutions headed by the office of the Supreme Leader, the judicial and security apparatus, the economic monopolies and the I.R.G.C) are making a combined effort to reclaim the presidency. The deep states’ need for such move may be linked to the issue of the Supreme Leader's succession. Ayatollah Khamenei is in his late 70's and reportedly ill. In the event of his death, the President will be in a key position to influence the selection of the next Supreme Leader.

If this theory is to be taken seriously, it adds a more troubling question to this election: how determined is the deep state to install Raisi as president? Many Iranians simply don't wish to think about this question as the repercussions are too grave. The memories of the 2005 and 2009 presidential elections are still fresh in their minds. There were serious accusations about the integrity of the first round of 2004 election. One of the contenders, Mehdi Karrubi, accused the I.R.G.C, the Islamic Militia (Basij) and other security organizations of manipulating the election to pave the way for Ahmadinejad's ascent. Ahmadinejad did ascend to the presidency and, four years later, Karrubi found himself in open confrontation with the regime, when he and the other presidential challenger, Mir-Hossein Musavi defied the 2009 electoral coup.

Eight years have passed since that fiasco and both Karrubi and Musavi are still under house arrest. There is no definite evidence or sign of such situation reoccurring, yet. But there is ample reasons to believe that the deep state (the I.R.G.C in particular) can engineer the 2005's alleged scenario. The I.R.G.C and Basij can mobilize vast numbers of voters in favor of Raisi and they can do more. In 2005 voter's participation was low and certain amount of vote-rigging could take place, while maintaining plausible denial. In 2009 the reformist game-plan was to counter such measures by vast turn-out which is probably what caused the electoral coup. This year, the turn-out is out to be lower than 2012 and the closer the competition, the easier it is to manipulate it. A more disturbing thought is that to bring Raisi out of the backgrounds and to put him in the vanguard of the deep state's campaign, demonstrates a grim determination. What is there to stop the deep state from ensuring Raisi's presidency by any means necessary?

What makes this unthinkable is that even the smallest internal upheaval will risk exceedingly dangerous repercussions for the security of the state, particularly given the tense regional and international situation. However, the Islamic Republic has demonstrated a great illogical capacity for risk-taking.

One can only hope and pray that this is nothing but undue concern caused by a bitter experience. As this article is being concluded extra security and police forces are being deployed in Tehran. This may be nothing more than a cautionary measure by a security force also anxious by previous memories or...

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What Rouhani’s Landslide Election Victory in Iran Means

By Trita Parsi.

The Iranian population’s political sophistication continues to impress. Despite a highly flawed political system where the elections are neither fair nor free, they overwhelmingly majority chose a non-violent path to bring about progress. They massively participated in the elections with a 75% turnout - compare that to the turnout in the U.S. elections in 2016, 56% - and handed the incumbent moderate President Hassan Rouhani a landslide victory with 57% of the vote.

In a regional context, this election is even more remarkable. In most of the Middle East, elections are not even held. Take Saudi Arabia for instance, President Donald Trump’s choice for his first foreign trip. 

There are a few things we can say about the meaning of the Iranian people’s collective action. 

First of all, once again, Iranians voted against the candidate who was believed to be favored by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This is now a strong pattern, as I pointed out earlier this week in Foreign Affairs.

Secondly, the Iranians also rebuked exiled opposition groups and Washington hawks and neocon, who called on the Iranian people to either boycott the elections or vote for the hardline candidate Ebrahim Raisi in order to hasten a confrontation. Clearly, these elements have no following in Iran.

Third, despite Trump’s undermining of the nuclear deal with Iran, and despite significant problems with the sanctions relief process which has left many Iranians disappointed in the nuclear deal, Iranians still chose diplomacy, detente and moderation over the confrontational line of previous Iranian administrations. Iran is today one of the few countries in the world where a message of moderation and anti-populism secures you a landslide election victory.

Fourth, despite Rouhani falling short on his promises to improve the human rights situation in Iran, Iranians and the leaders of the Green Movement leaders gave him a second chance. But now he has a stronger mandate - and less excuses. Now is the time for him to deliver on the promises that inspired tens of millions of Iranians to elect him twice as president. 

He must take decisive action to protect the human rights and civil liberties of the Iranian people, pursue improved relations with the world, and promote economic growth for the Iranian people. The hardline forces behind Iran’s arbitrary arrests and spiking executions may not answer to Rouhani directly, but the Iranian people who elected him expect him to do more in his second term to bring about change. Failure to do so risks disenchanting a generation of Iranians from the belief that their voice can make a difference, potentially ceding Iran’s future to the hardline voices who would take the country back to isolationism and confrontation with the West.

Fifth, while Saudi Arabia is hosting Trump and pushing him to return to a policy of complete isolation of Iran, the EU Foreign Policy head Federica Mogherini congratulated congratulated Rouhani on his election victory and recommitted the EU to the nuclear deal. The election results will strengthen the EU’s dedication to ensuring the deal’s survival as well as its commitment to an inclusive security framework for the Middle East. Consequently, the EU will oppose Trump and Saudi Arabia’s attempt to stage a confrontation with Iran. This puts the Trump administration once again out of synch with Europe and the U.S.’s Western allies on a key security issue.

Sixth, Iranians have once again endorsed a policy of dialogue with the West, but the question is if Trump will unclench his fist and embrace this window for diplomacy. Just as the nuclear crisis was resolved through negotiations, the remaining points of conflict between the U.S. and Iran can also be resolved diplomatically, including Syria and Yemen. This is what the Middle East needs now - more diplomacy, not more arms sales. 

Seventh, Congress should avoid undermining the clear pro-engagement message sent by the Iranian people and empowering hardliners by pushing forward provocative sanctions legislation in the wake of the election results. New Senate sanctions are scheduled to be marked-up in Committee this coming week. What a horrible response to the Iranian people after they voted for diplomacy and moderation.

Finally, the power struggle in Iran will increasingly shift towards the question of who will succeed Ayatollah Khamenei and become Iran’s next Supreme Leader. It is widely believed that Rouhani is eyeing this position. With his landslide victory, he has improved his prospects. To some extent, this is what this presidential election was really about.

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What if People Owned the Banks, Instead of Wall Street?

By Jimmy Tobias. This article was first published in The Nation.

From Seattle to Santa Fe, cities are at the center of a movement to create publicly owned banks.

Protest outside Chase

Demonstrators protest against the Wall Street bailout outside Chase in Times Square. (AP Photo / Edouard H.R. Gluck)

When Craig Brandt marched into the City Council chambers in Oakland, California, in the summer of 2015, he was furious about fraud.

The long-time local attorney and father of two had been following the fallout from the Libor scandal, a brazen financial scam that saw some of the biggest banks on Wall Street illegally manipulate international interest rates in order to boost their profits. By some estimates, the scheme cost cities and states around the country well over $6 billion. In June of 2015, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Barclays, among other Libor-rigging giants, pleaded guilty to felony charges related to the conspiracy and agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in criminal fines to US regulators. But, for Brandt, that wasn’t enough. He wanted the banks banished, blocked from doing business in his city.

“I was totally pissed about it,” he says. “It was straight-up fraud.”

So, in a small act of stick-it-to-the-man defiance, Brandt drafted a resolution that barred the municipality from working with any firm that had either committed a felony or had recently paid more than $150 million in fines. He presented the homespun and eminently reasonable legislation to city officials and urged them to adopt it.

“The city councilors said they couldn’t do it,” Brandt says. “If they did, they wouldn’t have a bank left to work with. They said there wouldn’t be any bank big enough to take the city’s deposits.” Oakland, it seemed, was hopelessly dependent on ethically dubious and occasionally criminal financial titans. Brandt, however, was undeterred.

After the City Council turned him down, he started looking for other ways to wean Oakland off Wall Street. That’s when he fell in with a group of locals who have been nursing an audacious idea. They want their city to take radical action to combat plutocracy, inequality, and financial dislocation. They want their city to do something that hasn’t been done in this country in nearly a century, not since the trust-busting days of the Progressive Era. They want their city to create a bank—and, strange as the idea may seem, it’s not some utopian scheme. It’s a cause that’s catching on.

Across the country, community activists, mayors, city council members, and more are waking up to the power and the promise of public banks. Such banks are established and controlled by cities or states, rather than private interests. They collect deposits from government entities—from school districts, from city tax receipts, from state infrastructure funds—and use that money to issue loans and support public priorities. They are led by independent professionals but accountable to elected officials. Public banks are a way, supporters say, to build local wealth and resist the market’s predatory predilections. They are a way to end municipal reliance on Wall Street institutions, with their high fees, their scandal-ridden track records, and their vile investments in private prisons and pipelines. They are a way, at long last, to manage money in the public interest.

Since 2011, advocates from a national nonprofit called the Public Banking Institute have traveled across the country, preaching the practical benefits of public banking and recruiting or training activists and organizers to take up the cause. They have found willing and enthusiastic supporters from coast to coast. The movement has been embraced in Philadelphia, where the city council held hearings on the idea last year. It’s been championed in Seattle and San Francisco, where a number of city supervisors are calling for a task force to study public banking. It’s taken root in Santa Fe, with backing from the mayor, and in Oregon, Vermont, and even New Jersey, where a leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Murphy, has proclaimed his desire to create a state bank right next door to the financial capital of the world.

“I believe this is the wave of the future,” says Craig Brandt, who is now a leader of Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland, the group advocating for public banking in the city. “And I hope Oakland will be the first one out the door to do it.”

The city is well on its way. Last November, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution announcing their intention to explore the creation of a public bank. In February, elected officials and community activists gathered at City Hall for a packed forum on the benefits of a public bank, including the possibility that it could hold deposits from the state’s multibillion-dollar cannabis industry and help promote affordable-housing development. This summer, meanwhile, the council will likely vote on whether to dedicate as much as $100,000 to fund a feasibility study that will explore the technical requirements of creating an independent publicly owned financial institution in Oakland.

“The fundamental point is to have a bank whose purpose is to be responsive to community needs.” —Rebecca Kaplan

“The fundamental point is to have a bank whose purpose is to be responsive to community needs,” says Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, a key backer of the local public-banking movement. “This would allow us to save money compared to traditional corporate bank rates, and it would allow us to fund vital projects based on community need rather than having those decisions driven by the profit motive.” She says the City is also interested in the possibility of creating a regional public bank by partnering with neighboring cities like Berkeley and Richmond, California.

“The more folks on board,” she said, “the stronger the support for taking this kind of action.”

Public banks have a long, though subterranean, history in the United States that stretches back to the days of Benjamin Franklin, who helped establish a public land bank in Pennsylvania to provide cheap loans to small farmers. Even today many public institutions, from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to the Small Business Administration to the Federal Housing administration, are essential components of America’s banking system. But there’s only one true public bank in this country and it’s not in Washington or New York or some coastal liberal enclave. It’s in North Dakota, where it has survived and thrived for nearly a century.

First established in 1919 by populist state legislators eager to extend credit to cash-strapped farmers and ranchers, the state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) is now a modern and multifaceted financial juggernaut. The bank holds deposits from government agencies. It provides low-cost credit for school construction and municipal infrastructure projects. It refinances student debt at reduced interest rates. Rather than opening branches of its own, it generously partners with local community banks and credit unions tos issue small-business, home, and agricultural loans. Best of all, it funnels its profits back into state coffers whenever North Dakota has budget troubles. The bank is, in other words, essentially socialist.

It’s also a steady source of profit. Last year, according to its annual report, the Bank of North Dakota saw its 13th consecutive year of record profits, taking in more than $136 million in income while growing its loan portfolio by $449 million dollars. And, unlike some of its counterparts, the bank accomplished all that without opening fraudulent accounts or manipulating interest rates or otherwise scamming consumers.

The bank’s success—its long track-record of supporting and stabilizing local economies, sharing the wealth, and minting a profit to boot—has turned it into an intriguing model for cities around the country that are keen to find creative fixes for their ongoing financial woes.

“Public banking is finding its time now because municipal executives have very poor choices,” says Walt McRee, the chair of the Public Banking Institute. “As things deteriorate and have to be fixed, as population grows but jobs decline, as tax receipts dry up, cities can either can cut services, raise taxes, fire people, or privatize things. But those trends are enormously destructive.”

“The prospect of a public bank does something entirely different,” he continues. “It gives a community the ability to liquefy its own assets and lend itself money, to do things it needs to do with money it already has, to hold on to people’s capital instead of sending it to Wall Street.”

Consider municipal bonds. Cities regularly go to the municipal-bond market to raise money for big projects, from school construction to bridge building to park development and more. These bonds, however, come with overhead costs in the form of fees that normally hover around 1 percent, but can climb as high as 10 percent, of the bond’s principal value. A recent report by the University of California Berkeley’s Haas Institute estimates that cities and other public entities pay upward of $4 billion a year in such fees, an enormous sum that serves only to fatten the purses of multinational banks, legal firms, and others involved in the bond-issuance business. A public bank could help reduce these costs and free up funds by enabling a city to deposit its money in a public entity instead of a profit-centric institution like Wells Fargo or JPMorgan Chase. The city would then be able to borrow money from its own bank rather than turning to the Wall Street bond market, with its overhead costs and market-set interest rates. It could, in short, introduce a radical alternative into the realm of municipal finance.

One of the other places where this radical alternative has taken root, surpassing even Bay Area efforts, is Santa Fe, New Mexico. The movement in that city of 67,000 started gathering momentum in 2014, when a small but determined group called Banking on New Mexico held a symposium to promote the idea. More then three hundred people showed up, including the newly elected progressive mayor, Javier Gonzales.

“A group of advocates met with me early in my term,” says Gonzales. “I was really intrigued and excited about an opportunity to explore a different way to have fiscal relationships.”

In early 2015, Santa Fe commissioned a private consultant, in partnership with New Mexico State University, to conduct a feasibility study into public banking. A year later, in January 2016, the report came back and the news was positive: By funding the city’s capital needs and improving municipal cash management, among other functions, a public bank could generate more than $24 million in savings and earnings for Santa Fe over a seven-year period. And such a bank would be particularly effective, says Katie Updike, the consultant who authored the study, if it serviced the city as well as the surrounding county and school district.

“In the case of Santa Fe, where I saw the biggest benefit is if the city, county, and school district worked together,” she says. “When you begin to step out of the jurisdiction of the city and look at the county and the school district too, which are separate entities, all their cash could be pooled and used to fund projects and then it began to get more interesting.”

In late April of this year, based on the results of the feasibility study, Santa Fe’s city council announced that it was creating a nine-person task force to spend six months digging deeper into the legal and financial prerequisites of establishing a public bank. The task force will focus, above all, on developing a governance structure for the bank.

“Governance is a concern for a lot of people,” says Elaine Sullivan, a leader of Banking on New Mexico and a passionate promoter of the cause. “People don’t want the bank run by political officials, and it wouldn’t be. There would be a clear distinction between the public bank, which would be managed by public bankers, and the city of Santa Fe.”

Indeed, the prospect of political interference into a public bank is one of the most common critiques of the idea. If public banks are to succeed in cities around the country, say skeptics and supporters alike, they must to be firmly insulated from the whims of legislative bodies and elected officials.

Across the country, activists, mayors, and city council members are waking up to the promise of public banks.

Here, once again, the Bank of North Dakota offers a model. While overseen by a commission of elected officials, including the state’s governor and attorney general, BND is managed on a day-to-day basis by an independent and highly transparent executive committee of professional financial managers. Its operations are also subject to regular inspection by independent auditors. BND, moreover, maintains public goodwill by declining to compete with local banks. It has no retail locations or ATMs. Rather, it partners with community banks and credit unions to provide its services.

By putting similar structure in place and starting small, Sullivan believes a public bank in Santa Fe could someday be a smash hit. It wouldn’t just provide ample economic benefits to the city but would serve a larger purpose too.

“As the global banks and major corporations that don’t have a moral tether have become more and more powerful, communities have become weaker and weaker and more passive,” she says. “A public bank is about addressing plutocracy. It is about restoring hope.” A public bank, she asserts, would be a red-hot engine of local economic democracy.

This essential fact, more than anything else, explains why the public-banking movement is blossoming in a post-recession, too-big-to-fail America where Donald Trump rules the White House and Wall Street rules Washington.

“We are seeing a resurgence of community-oriented life and activism and vision in this imperial era,” says Councilmember Kaplan of Oakland. “And it has strengthened the movement.”

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MST Leader Joao Pedro Stedile: ‘We need direct elections now and an emergency plan for the people’

By Joana Tavares. this article was first published on The Dawn News.

After Temer falls, we need to stay on the streets, Stedile says.

Photo credit: Santiago Macambira / Mídia NinjaPhoto credit: Santiago Macambira / Mídia Ninja

Joao Pedro Stedile, leader of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) and of the People’s Brazil Front, analyzes the Brazilian political scenario, the role of the O Globo media network, the internal divisions among the putschists, and speaks about the need of building a transition government and the people’s project of Brazil.

Brasil de Fato: Why does the Globo network need to publish the audios that incriminate Michel Temer and why do they insist on indirect elections?

João Pedro Stédile: The Globo network became the main party of the Brazilian bourgeoisie. Ir protects the interests of capital, uses its force of manipulation of public opinion and coordinates with the ideological sectors of the bourgeoisie, which include the Judiciary Power, some procurators, and the press in general. They know that Brazil and the world are going through a serious economic, social and environmental crisis, caused by capitalism. That, in Brazil, became a political crisis, because the bourgeoisie needed to have hegemony in Congress and in the federal government in order to apply their plans to put all of the negative effects of the crisis on the shoulders of the working class. Therefore, the Globo network is an ideological author of the coup.

To them, putting Temer in power after Dilma’s impeachment was a faux pas, since his gang is full of lumpen politicians, opportunists and corrupts, who weren’t concerned with the bourgeois project for the country–they merely cared about their own pockets. The “weak meat” operation was another faux pas that helped discredit the PMDB (Temer’s party) since many of them were involved and ended up provoking a sector of the agroexporting bourgeoisie. Now they need to create an alternative to Temer. The way out of this will be decided over the next few hours or days, whether he resigns, or is judged by the Supreme Electoral Court or if the impeachment requests that were submitted to Congress are passed. Over the next few days the successor will be chosen, and many factors will influence that. The outcome won’t be the fruit of some Machiavellian plan by a particular sector (like Globo) but of the class struggle, and how that struggle plays out over the next hours, days and weeks.

How is the putschist sector reacting?

The sector that reached power through the coup is internally divided since 2014. And that helps us. Because in previous coups, like the 1964 one, and during the 1994 government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the bourgeoisie was united, under a single command, a single project for the country and a strong rearguard in US capital. Now, they don’t have a project for the country, they lost their US rearguard (because they were allied with Hillary Clinton) and want to salvatage only their own particular interest. In the words of José de Souza Martins, sociologist of the PSDB party, “reforms in retirement and labor policies are capitalist measures that increase exploitation of workers, but they’re also measures that go against a capitalist project for the country’.

The putschists also don’t have a unified command. They’re divided into the sector with economic power (which includes Minister of Finance Henrique Meirelles, and the company that denounced Temer, JBS), the group of PMDB lumpens (Romero Jupé, Eliseu Padilha, Temer himself, Moreira Franco), who have power over the law but are beginning to crack, like Renan Calheiros. There’s also an ideological group made up of Globo and the Judiciary Power, but there are many internal contradictions among them. That’s also why they don’t know who to put in place of Temer. Their ideal solution would be to take Lula out of the picture, make a transition government that the majority of the population accepts (it could be even led by Minister Cármen Lúcia) until October 2018, and then try to win the elections.

But their internal division also affects the candidacies, since they can’t manage to construct a candidate like Henrique Cardoso or Fernando Collor. They’re testing the public opinion, presenting João Doria (current Mayor of Sao Paulo) or Luciano Hulk. But the polls show they’re not viable and they know they would deepen the political crisis.

In this context, what can workers and people’s organizations do?

We, at the People’s Brazil Front,  which is made up of over 80 people’s movements and political organizations, are debating since last year that the best interest of the working class is in a packet of measures that complement each other.

First of all, to take the putschists down and suspend every legislative measure they have taken against the people. Then, having a transition government that calls to presidential elections on October 2017 and discussing a way to make an immediate political reform that guarantees that the will of the people is respected, and voting for a new Congress.

Another item is for the new government to commit to convene an Exclusive Constituent Assembly to build a new “Emergency Plan for the People” which includes over 70 emergency measures that the transition government and the new government will have to implement, which we believe would take the country out of the economic, social and political crisis.

During the electoral campaign we need to discuss a new model for the country, which takes into account the need for structural reforms in the mid-to-long-term, such as a tax reform, a reform of media, the agrarian reform and a reform of the Judiciary Power itself. But in order for all of this to be possible, the masses need to take to the streets urgently. The strength of the people is exercised there, in mobilizations, occupations and pressure.

I believe that over the next few hours and days there will be plenary sessions to discuss specific dates for mobilizations. On our side, we believe that next week is decisive. We need to camp outside the Supreme Federal Court in order to ensure the putschists resign and the corrupt officials denounced by Joesley Batista go to prison. We need to make mobilizations in all capitals and big cities next Sunday 21. We need to transform May 24 into a nation-wide mobilizations, occupy Legislative Assemblies, routes, everything. The people needs to take the lead and put pressure to achieve the changes we need.

Can direct elections benefit the country? How? Who would the candidates be?

Of course, direct elections for President and for a new Congress are indispensable for democracy and to get the country out of the political crisis. Only through urns can we attain a government that represents the majority and has the legitimacy to make changes for the people that also allow us to leave behind the economic crisis. Because the economic crisis is the foundation of the whole social and political crisis. The candidate of the working class is Lula da Silva, who represents the vast majority of the Brazilian people, and can commit to a project of change and support our emergency plan.

There will probably be other candidates, like Bolsonaro, who represents the far-right, and Marina Silva, who tries to attract a centrist electorate, but her real voter base is only the Assemblies of God Church. The tucanos are in crisis, because ALckmin is involved in several denounces. Doria is a cheap playboy. And the Globo network hasn’t had time to create an alternative, like Collor was in 1989.

What’s the way to prevent the backlash of the putschist agenda?

To mobilize, fight, and not leave the streets. We need to work in the upcoming days on the possibility of a general strike with indefinite durations. All of our social militancy and the readers of this newspaper need to be in a state of alert, since the next few days will be decisive to define the destiny of the country. The strength of the working class is only expressed on the streets.

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Tom Perez Bombs Speech, California Dem Chair Tells Protesters ‘Shut the Fuck Up’

By Michael Sainato

DNC Chair offers same meaningless rhetoric that incited protests and criticisms of his ability to lead

gettyimages 681579104 Tom Perez Bombs Speech, California Dem Chair Tells Protesters Shut the Fuck Up

Democratic National Party Chair Tom Perez speaks as about 300 people rally to protest against President Donald Trump’s firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey outside the White House May 10 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The rift within the Democratic Party was on full display at the California Democratic Party Convention on May 19 in Sacramento, California. Progressives joined members of National Nurses United, protesting the Democratic Party establishment’s refusal to support single payer health care system. Rather than follow through with Democratic rhetoric that health care is a human right, establishment Democrats have responded to voters by scolding and attacking them.

During the first day of the convention, California Democratic Party chair John Burton yelled at protesting nurses to “shut the fuck up and go outside.” Burton condescendingly told the protesters, “There’re some people who have been fighting for that issue before you guys were born.”

The California Democratic establishment, like the national party leadership, has favored corporate and wealthy donors, undermining pushes for a single payer health care system that would provide Americans with health care—not just health insurance. Eric Bauman, the California Democratic Party vice chair and candidate to succeed Burton as the Party’s chair, received $12,500 a month from the pharmaceutical industry to fight Proposition 61, which would “cap the price that any state agency or care program could spend on prescription drugs at what the federal Department of Veterans Affairs pays.” Bauman received these payments while earning a six-figure salary as an adviser to California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. Proposition 61 failed to pass in November 2016 after the pharmaceutical industry spent millions of dollars opposing it.

During a rally at the state capitol, National Nurses United Director RoseAnn Demoro told supporters not to wait for establishment Democrats to take the lead on healthcare and making medicare for all a reality. “They cannot be in denial anymore that this is a movement that can primary them.”

DNC Chair Tom Perez spoke at the California Democratic Party Convention, offering the same meaningless rhetoric and platitudes that have incited boos, protests, and criticisms of his ability to lead. “We make sure that health care is a right for everyone,” Perez claimed. “And not a privilege for a few.”

Despite his claim, Perez and the Democratic Party leadership refuse to support Medicare for All, insisting Obamacare just needs a few improvements. Obamacare does not ensure health care as a right, but rather serves to maximize benefits to the pharmaceutical and health industries. Perez claims the Democratic Party supports providing health care to all Americans, but is unwilling to support the policies that will actually do so. After pandering to protesters on the issue and jokingly comparing their presence to infighting at Thanksgiving dinner—a stark change from his constant affirmations that the party is united—Perez reverted to the Democratic go-to in lieu of championing stances on actual issues.

“We have a president…I don’t know who it is, Putin, or Trump,” Perez said to an uninspired crowd. “They’re in a bromance. This is really weird.” On May 20, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who also doesn’t support single payer health care, focused her speech at the California Democratic Party Convention on Russia as well.

In contrast, at a rally for Bernie Sanders supporters at the State Convention hosted by the National Nurses United on May 19, former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner explained the need for the Democratic Party to address the issues impacting working, middle class and low income Americans. “We need to deal with income inequality, racial justice, but Dems only want to talk about Russia!” she said on Twitter. “We need a party that stands up for people & doesn’t fake it. In the words of Janet Jackson ‘What have you done for me lately?'”

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