News http://www.truth-out.org Sat, 23 Jul 2016 22:26:57 -0400 en-gb Donald Trump's Dark and Scary Night http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36949-donald-trump-s-dark-and-scary-night http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36949-donald-trump-s-dark-and-scary-night

The GOP's new big dog blew the whistle Thursday night for nearly an hour and a half and it was loud and shrill enough to reach the ears of every angry, resentful, disaffected white American. The tone was divisive, dark, dystopian and grim.

Here was the alpha dog of the von Trump family, baying at a blood-red moon that the hills are alive with the sounds of menace.

According to Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, this land is rapidly becoming as bleak and dangerous as one of those twisted, vicious kingdoms in Game of Thrones, a place filled with violent crime and despair, a smoldering ruin overrun with foreigners out to take our jobs and terrorists bent on destroying our villages.

It's mourning in America.

And only he can save us.

This has been his message all year: I alone can fix it. Remember his tweet on Easter morning?

He alone has the potion. He alone can call out the incantation. He alone can cast out the demons. It's a little bit Mussolini. A little bit Berlusconi. A little bit George Wallace. And a lot of Napoleon in a trucker's hat. "I am not an ordinary man," Bonaparte once said." I am an extraordinary man and ordinary rules do not apply to me."

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

So he will do it all alone, this Trump. Until he has the US military to carpet-bomb on his orders, and the nuclear codes at the ready beside his bed at 3 a.m., and the 101st Airborne at the southern border, ready to act -- as long as Mexico pays for it.

This was a convention pledged to serve and protect the little guy, but as Rachel Maddow pointed out on MSNBC, it was officially addressed by five -- count 'em, five -- billionaires, including Trump and one, Silicon Valley's Peter Thiel, who has said that woman's suffrage was a bad idea and wrote in 2009 that "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." Boy, was he in the right place.

Thiel was one of the Thursday night speakers leading up to the official coronation of King Donald as the Republican Party's standard-bearer. Introduced by daughter Ivanka, who without a trace of irony lauded her dad's "kindness and compassion" (except of course for all those women he has verbally abused and minorities he has slandered and even the fellow candidates he mocked), Trump announced, "Here, at our convention, there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else… I will tell you the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper."

But as Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee noted:

"The dark portrait of America that Donald J. Trump sketched… is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong.

"When facts are inconveniently positive -- such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent -- Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991."

He said 58 percent of young African-Americans are unemployed -- and the dog whistle signals, you know what that means -- but the number's actually about half that. He insists we're one of the highest taxed nations in the world -- we're nowhere near -- and that we have "no way to screen" refugees, which is just not true.

The speech went on and on like that and the crowd inside the convention hall ate it up, their bitterness and frustration spurred on by Trump's own sputtering, red-faced outrage. The legacy of Hillary Clinton, he said, is "death, destruction and weakness." She proposes "mass amnesty, mass immigration, and mass lawlessness." As for Barack Obama, "The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment for everyone."

By the way, of the 2,472 delegates at the convention, only 18 of them were black, the lowest percentage in over a century, according to History News Network and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. With Trump at the helm, Republicans will soon have purged their party of any memory of its own past. "Lincoln" simply will have been the name of a town car.

As columnist Eugene Robinson said about Thursday's speech, "Frankly, this was a message, at least to my ears, to white America: Be afraid. I will protect you." It's not for nothing that as convention officials projected tweets from Trump supporters on the hall's video screens during his speech, one of them turned out to be from a notorious white supremacist account.

Can anyone imagine Donald Trump breaking into "Amazing Grace" at the service for black worshippers in Charleston, SC, gunned down in their church by a white supremacist? There certainly was not a grace note in his speech. And -- sorry, Ivanka -- not a single note of "kindness and compassion." No touch of humility.

Watching, we could only think of Augustus, during the first century B.C., in a time roiled by corruption and the wealth of empire, who terminated the government and installed himself as emperor, careful to preserve all the forms of the republic while dispensing with their meaning.

Or, as the less august, but funnier folks at The Onion tweeted while the smoke from Trump's cannonade lingered into the night, "Thanks for joining our live coverage of the RNC. This concludes democracy."

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News Sat, 23 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Pokémon Go for Radicals http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36931-pokemon-go-for-radicals http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36931-pokemon-go-for-radicals

2016.7.23.Pokemon.mainLike any app or new technology, Pokémon Go is no replacement for the day-to-day work of community organizing, but it may offer some helpful pieces to the activist toolbox. (Photo: Eduardo Woo / Flickr)If you happen to have been living under a rock this past week, there's a good chance someone turned it over looking for Pokémon. Pokémon Go, Nintendo's free augmented reality app, has been as ubiquitous in the news as the presidential election.

For the uninformed: Game designers have placed Pokémon and in-game items at specific hot spots around the country, encouraging users to venture out into their neighborhoods or others, and to contest for "gyms," where they can challenge other players for control of a particular location.

Its number of daily users has surpassed the location-based dating app Tinder, and is close to eclipsing Twitter and Snapchat. It even boasts more active daily users than Facebook. When the game's servers crashed this weekend, it made headlines in some of the world's biggest news outlets.

Businesses that have offered hot spots (or are lucky enough to be placed near them) have seen profits climb. T-Mobile, for example, is offering a year of free mobile data as a game-friendly promotion. Unsurprisingly, too, Pokémon Go has proven a cash cow for Nintendo, the franchise's creator, which is raking in an estimated $1.6 million per day off of the Apple iOS market alone. Marketers are scratching their heads at ways to put Pokémon to use. So far, there are no in-ad games, though company spokespeople say the app will soon support "sponsored locations" where players can re-up for items like eggs and Pokéballs.

All this new-found, IRL interaction isn't without its complications. Who can wander around unfamiliar neighborhoods un-accosted varies widely based on a player's race and class. A friend in Hebron observed one Palestinian organizer asking a Jewish activist to help him fetch a Pokémon located in an area that's been cordoned off to non-Jews by Israeli Defense Forces.

And -- like nearly everything on your smart phone -- Nintendo is collecting myriad personal information from every aspiring Pokemaster, especially if they've given the company access to a Google account. There's also the lurking fear that all human interaction in the 21st century is on course to be mediated by screens, as if all of us are suddenly living in an episode of "Black Mirror."

The long-term viability of Pokémon-based campaign strategies remain to be seen -- only time will tell if the game is a passing fad or something with a longer shelf-life. But so long as rare Pokémon continue to send stampedes into Central Park, can it be used for good?

As Dylan Matthews points out for Vox, Pokémon Go one-ups social media's ability to draw people out, given that it actually gets bodies moving and to a particular location. Rather than retweeting or liking a post, players have to physically flock to lures. It's why the Clinton campaign has been so eager to put it to use registering voters, turning up to Poké Stops and gyms. Anyone can place Pokémon "lures," which attract creatures to a certain area, up around a city -- and even more so if you happen to be working with a budget.

Even before the Clinton campaign started using it, NextGen Climate, an environmentally-focused voter turnout organization, had begun trying to put the app to work. "In each of our states, NextGen Climate will be dropping Pokémon Go lures in strategic locations, which means we'll release rare Pokémon in a specific location at a specific time," said Suzanne Henkels, the group's press secretary. "While they're there we engage with them and talk about the importance of being registered to vote and committing to vote for clean energy leaders this November."

NextGen has held Pokémon-themed events across New Hampshire, Ohio and Iowa, complete with lures and recharging stations. In Nevada, they hosted a "real life Poké Stop" and had refreshments alongside "organizers there to register attendees to vote and educate them about the importance of electing climate champions in November."

What makes Pokémon good for voter registration could also make it invaluable in getting people out to the polls come November, when turnout among young voters -- now about a third of the electorate -- could make or break Donald Trump's shot at the Oval Office.

But its uses, some say, go beyond the ballot box as well. Brandon Holmes -- a civil rights organizer with the community organizing outfit Vocal New York -- identified several ways the app could bolster grassroots movements.

"The more players you have in an area, the more rare Pokémon will show," he said, suggesting that players "build a large occupancy somewhere like Trump Tower or divestment targets and constantly attach lures to stops." Organizers, Holmes added, could even plan marches that route through different Poké Stops, though he saw a challenge in "keeping the attendees captivated and not buried in their phones during speeches or chants … You would need some serious marshaling and the world's best energy team."

The Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward [County, Florida] held an event yesterday at a Fort Lauderdale supermarket "looking for new ways to engage the community around the issues surrounding the movement for black lives," encouraging participants to bring "water, friends" and "lures." Another set of activists are also looking into how the game might bring people out to fossil fuel infrastructure sites within their communities, though opted not to be named in this article as the effort has yet to launch.

One model Holmes saw as instructive was at the famously bigoted Westboro Baptist Church, the site of a gym where a Clefairy ("fairy-type") Pokémon named "LOVEISLOVE" beat out Westboro faithfuls for control. "If we could find gyms that are solid targets, we could nickname Pokémon after our campaign messaging and organize enough folks to train the gym to be virtually unstoppable," he said. "We could also name them after our organizations."

Pokémon might also come in handy for fundraising efforts. After a Long Island pizza shop paid to have a rare Pokémon sent to their store front, sales jumped 75 percent by day's end. "We could host a campaign-specific fundraiser where [a certain percentage] of the funds go directly to Pokémon Go for a rare Pokémon and the rest go to a specific campaign/action," Holmes said, noting that this could involve lobbying Nintendo and Niantec, the game's creator, for the ability to purchase rare finds.

Jeremy Gong, of the Sierra Club's San Francisco chapter, was more skeptical.

"I imagine that one can only do rather shallow organizing with Pokémon Go -- like Facebook events, the game could be great for a quick turnout, but there's no guarantee those Poké-hunters are in it for the long haul," he warned. "I don't imagine a lot of people saying, 'I came for the Snorlax, but stayed for police reform.'"

Like any other new app or new technology, Pokémon Go is no replacement for the day-to-day work of community organizing and well-timed mobilization. But it might offer a few more pieces to an activist toolbox that -- in 2016 -- has never needed to be bigger.

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News Sat, 23 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Trump's New Super PAC Attack Dog http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36928-trump-s-new-super-pac-attack-dog http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36928-trump-s-new-super-pac-attack-dog

In dark lighting during a technical glitch, Donald Trump sat with family as his son Eric addressed the Republican National Convention, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, July 20, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times) In dark lighting during a technical glitch, Donald Trump sat with family as his son Eric addressed the Republican National Convention, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, July 20, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

The news and analysis at Truthout go way beyond the talking points. You can contribute to the creation of independent, insightful journalism by making a donation today!

A pro-Donald Trump super PAC called "Rebuilding America Now" has positioned itself as an attack dog, unafraid to take shots at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

One of its hard-hitting ads spliced together clips of Clinton denying ever sending classified information via her private email with clips of Bill Clinton denying having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky while president. Another ad intimated that Hillary Clinton doesn't think women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct should be believed.

This week, Rebuilding America Now continued its tough anti-Clinton tack in multiple new ads, while also launching its first positive, pro-Trump spot.

One new attack ad features Clinton defending the outsourcing of jobs while in India as a US senator in 2005. Another criticizes her for Libya turning into a "breeding ground" for terrorists.

Meanwhile, the positive ad uses excerpts of the June 28 speech Trump gave in Pennsylvania focused on jobs to argue that Trump will turn the US economy around for American workers.

Officials with Rebuilding America Now told CNN on Monday that the new ads were part of a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign now underway. Some of this new ad buy will be focused on the presidential battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to the Washington Post. Others will air on national cable -- the distribution method of choice for the super PAC so far.

Rebuilding America Now's new ads come at a time when Trump and his allies have been massively outgunned on the television airwaves.

Clinton's campaign and Priorities USA Action -- her well-funded super PAC supporter -- have aired more than 60,000 ads since June 8, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of data provided by ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

Pro-Trump groups, meanwhile, have aired fewer than 3,000 ads during the same period -- with Rebuilding America Now accounting for fewer than 200 of them.

Trump's own campaign has not aired a single TV ad since early May, when he won the Indiana primary and all-but-clinched the GOP presidential nomination.

The Ad's Sponsor

Rebuilding America Now was officially registered with the Federal Election Commission last month.

As a super PAC, it can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations or labor unions -- so long as it doesn't coordinate its spending with Trump.

Who's Behind It?

Wealthy real estate investor Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of Trump's, helped launch Rebuilding America Now, although he is now reportedly backing away from as active of a role as he once envisioned.

Barrack, who is slated to be one of the featured speakers at the Republican National Convention on Thursday, is a major Trump campaign fundraiser.

In May, he hosted Trump at his home in California for a fundraising event at which guests paid $25,000 or more to attend. He has also personally donated $415,000 to Trump's joint fundraising committee -- money that benefits Trump's campaign as well as the Republican National Committee and GOP parties in several states.

Also behind Rebuilding America Now? Veteran GOP political operative Ken McKay, who previously served as the campaign manager of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's failed presidential bid. In April, McKay was hired to advise Trump's presidential campaign, a role he has since left.

Meanwhile, Laurance "Laurie" Gay, a close associate of Trump campaign adviser Paul Manafort, serves as the super PAC's managing director.

Rebuilding America Now has also hired GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, who has long advised GOP presidential campaigns about advertising, including during Romney's 2008 bid and George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004.

The super PAC's treasurer is Ryan Call, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Colorado.

Money In

Rebuilding America Now is not yet the giant it dreams of being.

It collected about $2.16 million during its first few weeks of existence, according to a recently filed campaign finance report.

The bulk of that money -- $2 million -- came from California real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer. Another real estate developer, Rick Carlton of Tennessee, ponied up $10,000 to the super PAC.

Among the other notable donors to Rebuilding America Now: Ohio-based coal mining company Murray Energy Corp., which gave $100,000 on June 29, and Southeast QSR LLC, which gave $50,000 on June 28. That company is owned by businessman Nicholas Peters and operates dozens of Taco Bell franchises in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and South Carolina.

In its first weeks of existence, Rebuilding America Now also raised $450 from an unknown number of small-dollar donors who each gave $200 or less and, therefore, did not need to be itemized in the group's campaign finance filing.

Tracking the candidates, political committees and nonprofits that are making this presidential election the most expensive in history.

Money Out

Rebuilding America Now has so far spent more than $1.6 million on anti-Clinton ads, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

As of June 30, the super PAC had about $570,000 in the bank -- although a deep-pocketed donor could always improve the financial health of the group with a single check at any time.

Why It Matters

Unlike Clinton's supporters, wealthy Trump fans haven't, to date, coalesced around a single super PAC. (Trump spurned super PACs during the GOP primary.) Rebuilding America Now hopes that will change.

When Rebuilding America Now launched, officials told CNN they had secured $32 million in commitments. Most of that money has yet to appear.

Nevertheless, the group raised the stakes on Monday, suggesting that its receipts could rise to more than $60 million -- including one so-far-unnamed donor who has pledged $20 million.

If such significant funding does materialize, Rebuilding America Now would have a formidable war chest to help Team Trump combat Team Clinton on the airwaves.

That is certainly Rebuilding America Now's goal.

"With your help, we will continue to make these hard-hitting ads and show people the truth about Hillary," the group states on its website. "We will run a national campaign just like Priorities USA, but we will do it better."

This article was co-published with TIME.

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News Sat, 23 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Defeating Fear: Lessons From Mexico's Housing Movement http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36906-defeating-fear-lessons-from-mexico-s-housing-movement http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36906-defeating-fear-lessons-from-mexico-s-housing-movement

"The biggest challenge was to defeat our fears," proclaimed Mexican housing activist, Enrique Reynoso on a recent visit to London. As one of the epicenters of the European and North American housing crisis, London was an important stop on his recent European tour of grassroots movement spaces.

Enrique has been active in the Francisco Villa Popular Independent Leftist Organization (FPFVI in Spanish) since the 1980s. With even a glimpse into what Los Panchos (a shorthand for the FPFVI, based on the nickname of the Mexican revolutionary for whom the organization is named) have achieved since the mid-80s, this quote can sound like an oversimplification of some magnitude.

Can the creation of an alternative society of many thousands, built over decades on the principles of solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid, within what has been called "the perfect dictatorship," really be chalked-up to "defeating fear"? But as simple as it sounds, the statement holds a profound and fundamental truth -- that for most of us, collective power is daunting, even if we intellectually desire it and want to work towards it. Wherever we find ourselves in the world, fear is a barrier to change. But as Los Panchos have demonstrated, it is not an insurmountable one.

As cities across Europe increasingly-become domains of the ultra-rich, and as the many Global North housing movements remain largely wed to attempts to influence the machinations of representative politics (with notable exceptions), Enrique's insight comes at a particularly critical moment. Will we keep repeating the patterns of A-to-B marches and petitions, or will we act together to find, create -- and, when necessary -- take, what we need to collectively survive in a housing market that is leaving more and more of us behind?

Survive and Organize Together

As with the housing movements in London, New York, Berlin and beyond, the emergence of Los Panchos was a response to rising property prices in the twenty-million-dense Mexican capital. "You can buy or sell everything in Mexico," Enrique told the small gathering in South London, "but the poor couldn't afford the basics after housing became a commodity. In the cities, land had been given to developers to build housing that people who live and work there couldn't afford. As the price of land increased, we realized the only way we could survive was to organize together."

So that's what they did. Following on the heels of a failed attempt by party-political forces to provide basic housing for 500 families on disused land in the suburb of Iztapalapa in 1984, many families stayed behind and fought for the land without institutional support. They formed the Allepetlalli cooperative and negotiated the space for 384 homes to be built in 1987.

With the wind of this landmark victory in their sails, Los Panchos was formed in 1988 with the explicit aim of taking back land. With the Mexican state having so recently demonstrated its inability to provide for peoples' needs, Los Panchos began to occupy another tract of land in the Iztapalapa neighborhood, establishing the El Molino settlement and building homes with whatever materials they could get their hands on.

Initially things were basic; a mix of wood and cardboard structures dotted the settlement. But the humble resources available were no impediment to construction. "The dignity of housing comes from the people who live in it," Enrique reminded the London crowd. "Even if materials were at first basic or precarious, the houses were dignified."

Of course, property owners were not immediately ingratiated by this demonstration of collective dignity. Mexican police were dispatched -- as they had been in the early days of the Allepetlalli coop -- and innumerable battles ensued as the occupiers defended their new homes from regular violent eviction attempts.

It Starts With Housing...

The battles made clear that more than housing was required, as injuries required greater healthcare provision than was typically available in one of Mexico City's poorest suburbs. Thus, as the community fortified their living spaces, day-by-day, they also began to train one another in First Aid and other essential medical skills to maintain the community's wellbeing, while living under sporadic states of siege.

As the number and quality of homes increased between police raids, the movement began to negotiate with the land owners for a selling price that they could afford to pay. Their steadfast presence on the land offered a strong incentive for the landlords to make a deal and cut their losses.

Alongside the financial negotiations, Los Panchos established a security commission, coordinating voluntary community patrols and establishing borders to keep the police out (unless their guns were left outside and they were accompanied by members of the community). Once established, (as has been the case in other such experiments in Mexico where police have been barred from a community), Enrique told us that "the crime rate dropped to almost zero." Even some of the movement's early critics came around to supporting them as the community solidified its presence in the area: "When we first took over the land, the neighbors viewed us as criminals," Enrique remembers. "Now the neighbors join us on community patrols."

Los Panchos were and are reclaiming the autonomy needed to live their lives beyond the dual tyrannies of the state and the market. It began with housing, but it couldn't stop there. Today, 28 years on, El Molino, is one of ten occupied neighborhoods in Mexico City. The most recent, in the neighborhood of Tlahuac, was only established in 2012 and continues to grow.

The Acapatzingo settlement houses over 600 families and 2,400 residents. Between them, the ten communities are home to over 9,000 people who have managed to build alternative ways of living and working together, beyond government initiative or private property ownership.

Acapatzingo boasts education, health, sport and leisure facilities, all built and maintained by members of the community. Families take part in local assemblies in order to make collective decisions, and rotate representative roles for any decisions that require the input of other communities, beyond the immediate neighborhood.

"We don't want to grow individual neighborhoods," Enrique emphasizes, "we want our neighborhoods to inspire others to take action where they are. Rather than grow the scale of our assemblies, we want these assemblies to multiply in other places, in whatever ways are appropriate."

Demonstrating a similar ideological openness, Enrique says Los Panchos are reluctant to impose or commit to any particular political dogma:

We have learned not to put ideological labels on what we do. We have learned from too many different places. We are all anti-capitalist, but there are many ideas within that. Like the Zapatistas, we want to build a world where many worlds are possible. Our comrades may not be committed to socialism or communism, but they're committed to transforming the world we're in today.

Before the Zapatistas, There Were Los Panchos

The FPFVI are signatories of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle, an initiative of Mexico's foremost land defense movement, the EZLN, or Zapatistas. At the core of the EZLN outlook is the reclamation of land for community needs. It is not the state collectivizations of the Soviet Union, nor the social democrat model of state-based public ownership. This is a collectivity that happens much closer to home, with responsibility and accountability for common resources shared amongst those who are directly affected by them.

This outlook exists largely in the shadows of Global North political discourses, however. Debates on housing, food production, work distribution and land reform, have tended to be bound by the false dichotomy of state or market-based solutions (with rare shoots of cooperativism, worker-occupations and mostly-marginalized squatting movements, poking through around the edges). While the welfare state has often offered critical protections against the ravaging effects of the free market, it has perhaps also instilled a fear of change and dulled our abilities to imagine collective solutions beyond it.

However, Enrique's view is that the differences between Mexico City and London are less-extreme than they can sometimes appear. In Mexico, too, people had to overcome fear, break unjust laws for the first time and learn countless new skills from one another before they were able to create the structures and systems they needed, together. "We are demonstrating that independently and autonomously, we can change things," he reminded us.

Even through the pressures of the housing market, semblances of community still exist in the capitalist metropolises of America and Europe. Indeed, for those whom the state has failed for decades and centuries, informal economies, barter networks, mutual aid circles and generally-friendly neighbors have long-been relied upon to help make life under capitalism possible. And as distant as they can seem, these survival strategies are also the bedrocks of the Los Panchos communities.

Helping a friend with childcare, cooking a shared meal together, doing DIY work for one another when no one can afford a carpenter or a plumber -- are the ways that we build up collective social muscle. These social muscles allow us to face confrontation with a sense of power and community, rather than fear and isolation.

In small ways, London's housing movement has felt the early pangs of this muscle growth, through the AylesburyGuinness TrustCarpenters' Estate and Sweets Way occupations in 2014-15. So have LatinXs communities in Los Angeles, who have successfully stood up to would-be-gentrifiers, and untold numbers in Spain who have stopped thousands of evictions through direct action. It is not impossible. We have tasted it. And we need to believe in the places these kinds of actions can take us.

"When we wonder, 'How did we achieve what we did?,'" Enrique boldly asserts, "the answer was: 'we dared to dream.' And we have to continue dreaming." Wherever we are, the onus is on us to do the same.

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News Sat, 23 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How Can This Be Happening in the US? International Journalists Reflect on Rise of Donald Trump http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36944-how-can-this-be-happening-in-the-us-international-journalists-reflect-on-rise-of-donald-trump http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36944-how-can-this-be-happening-in-the-us-international-journalists-reflect-on-rise-of-donald-trump

On Wednesday, Democracy Now!'s Deena Guzder and Hany Massoud spoke to members of the international press covering the Republican National Convention to find out how other countries view Donald Trump.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
"Build Bridges, Not Walls": Medea Benjamin on How She Disrupted Donald Trump's Speech http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36943-build-bridges-not-walls-medea-benjamin-on-how-she-disrupted-donald-trump-s-speech http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36943-build-bridges-not-walls-medea-benjamin-on-how-she-disrupted-donald-trump-s-speech

CodePink's Medea Benjamin disrupted Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention by holding up a banner reading "Build bridges, not walls!" Her protest diverted cameras away from Trump's speech. Benjamin was removed after the disruption and says she was later interviewed by the Secret Service. Democracy Now! spoke to her on the street afterwards.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We turn right now to CodePink's Medea Benjamin, who disrupted Donald Trump's speech last night. By the way, the speech, the longest in presidential convention history at an hour and 15 minutes. Media Benjamin stood up, holding a banner reading "Build bridges, not walls!" Her protest diverted cameras away from Trump's speech. She was removed by security after the disruption. Medea Benjamin says she was later interviewed by the Secret Service. Democracy Now! caught up with her on the streets of Cleveland afterwards.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I got a pass inside. I went to a press area, which I thought was as good as I was going to get. I had a sign that said "Build bridges, not walls!" I had read the speech beforehand, so I knew exactly when I wanted to interrupt: when he said, "I am your voice." And I wanted to get up then and say, "You are not my voice. Your voice is one of hatred and anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia and misogyny. And we need someone who will build bridges, not walls."

And there was a lot of tussling going on with the people next to me, who were grabbing my sign and trying to pull me down. And there were all kinds of people around me doing various things. At one point, I know my legs were in the air. And I just kept speaking out that Donald Trump is dangerous for this country and dangerous for the world. I think it's so important CodePink has been in three out of the four nights in the convention center interrupting Donald Trump. And I think we speak for millions of people in this country and people all over the world who are horrified with the idea of Donald Trump for president.

AMY GOODMAN: Who were the people that were sitting next to you, and what did they say? And who ended up dragging you out?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: There were other journalists next to me from conservative papers. And I know that because I looked at some of their name tags. And they also were clapping so much during the speech. You know, if you're an objective journalist, you're not going to get up and clap when Donald Trump comes in and after every two sentences. So they were very enthusiastic press, and they were really upset when I got up, and immediately started trying to tackle me.

DELEGATES: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

AMY GOODMAN: You got an early transcript of the speech. Did anything surprise you in it?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I was -- I found it interesting that before Donald came on, there were -- there's a Republican gay businessman. There were people who talked about gay rights. And Ivanka was really focusing on women's rights and how great her husband -- her father was for women. And I think Donald Trump, in the beginning of the speech, tried to come across as somebody who would unite this country. And, of course, it's all about how he's a great builder, builder, builder. And then he got, at one point, very negative. And his talk about how we are besieged by immigrants who are coming across our border and then murdering people is such a horrible thing to be focusing on, when 99 percent of the immigrants are peaceful, hard-working people who have contributed so much to this society. I just got back from Latin America, and I've been to the Middle East a lot, and I know people are really terrified about Donald Trump, as well as our friends here who are Muslim and our friends here who are Latino.

DELEGATES: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!

MEDEA BENJAMIN: When he starts in his rhetoric and people start yelling "Build that wall! Build that wall!" that's a very scary thing. So, I think it was very appropriate to be there with the "Build bridges, not walls!"

AMY GOODMAN: That is Medea Benjamin, the founder of CodePink, the women's peace group. She disrupted Donald Trump's speech last night, holding a banner reading "Build bridges, not walls!" This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We are "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency," everyday two-hour expanded broadcast from the Cleveland Republican convention here in Ohio. Next week we'll be in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "You Can't Always Get What You Want," The Rolling Stones. It was closing song last night after Donald Trump's speech, the longest in presidential convention history. Over 100,000 balloons were dropped as the song played and the family was on the stage.

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News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Pastor on Tamir Rice Shooting: Ohio Is an Open-Carry State Except if You're an African-American Male http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36941-pastor-on-tamir-rice-shooting-ohio-is-an-open-carry-state-except-if-you-re-an-african-american-male http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36941-pastor-on-tamir-rice-shooting-ohio-is-an-open-carry-state-except-if-you-re-an-african-american-male

The Republican National Convention is underway just a few miles from the park where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead by police in November of 2014 while he was playing with a toy pellet gun. We speak with Rev. Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin, the pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, which is one of the largest African-American congregations in Cleveland, about how city officials and activists responded to the killing. He was recently profiled in a Politico report titled "The Preacher Who Took on the Police."

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: We're joined right now by Reverend Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin, the pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, which is one of the largest African-American congregations in Cleveland. He was recently profiled in Politico in a piece titled "The Preacher Who Took on the Police."

Reverend Colvin, welcome to Democracy Now!

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Glad to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Took on the police how?

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Well, when the incident took place with respect to the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, I and others within the activist community made a decision that we couldn't allow the death of this young boy to go without justice. I reached out to the Department of Justice. I began to reach out to my brothers and sisters in the activist community, many not in the church, but within a community of conscience built around academics, people in the nonprofit community. And we began to work together to figure out a way in which we could bring this issue to light. The family had done a great job in bringing national civil rights attorneys to their assistance. But we thought that if they did not have community support and they didn't have community activism to continue to bring this, not only for individual justice for their son, but to make sure that there was attention brought to the injustice related to the entire Cleveland Police Department.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain something to me? We went to Cudell Park, to the recreational center, where young Tamir, 12 years old -- it was what? November 22nd --

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- 2014, has a toy gun, police move in within a few seconds, Officer Loehmann shoots Tamir Rice dead. Now, we're here at the convention. There have been protests around the issue of assault weapons. You have open carry in this state, so people carry guns all the time. Even if they thought he had a gun, within seconds shooting him? And it's been shown by studies that white police officers think kids, black kids, are older like by 10 years than they are. So here they're seeing -- they thought he was like 20, and he's got a gun. You're allowed to carry a gun in this state.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Except if you're an African-American male, particularly if you're an African-American male that's in a community that is perceived as hostile, if you're in a community in which young people are oftentimes viewed as much older than they particularly are. The challenge is that there were a number of forces that were working against Tamir that day. Being a young black male with historical challenges between police and community, Tamir found himself in a place and a position where, when Loehmann, who we know had a history of instability with respect to his unfitness to being in another department, but when he came to the city of Cleveland, he was allowed to not only have a badge but also allowed to carry a gun, and when Tamir found himself in the crosshairs, in less than two seconds, this young boy, who was playing with his toy gun, was only doing something that any young 12-year-old would do in a community center, place that he went to every day, obviously found himself in a circumstance and a situation which, unfortunately, was not in the best judgment of those police officers.

AMY GOODMAN: Neither of these officers, the one who shot him, Loehmann, who, what, was described as having low gun impulse control at the previous department he worked in Independence --

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: That's right.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- and Garmback, who had another excessive force case around him, where they had -- the police department had to pay out, I think, a six-figure amount, have been indicted. What about the federal investigation?

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Well, the federal investigation, at this point, we know that, in terms of civil rights, the civil rights bar is so high that oftentimes we can't -- we don't see any federal action taking place. I mean, that's why that I and seven of my colleagues went into municipal court, looking at the Ohio Revised Code and finding there was a statute that if citizens can come and find an affidavit -- and file an affidavit stating that there is evidence, reason to believe, that a crime has been committed, you can do that. We did that. That video indicated that there was probable cause. And the fact that while a municipal court judge, an African-American municipal court judge in a majority African-American city, found there was reasonable -- I mean, at least probable cause, which is a low bar. Ironically, when it went to the county, County Prosecutor Tim McGinty found that there was not enough evidence to even to have an indictment, which, in and of itself, is problematic. We've seen the GQ.com article, which indicates that it was a sham from the beginning, that it was an orchestrated attempt, really, to try this case in secret, which I only thought we did in Eastern Bloc countries 50 years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: McGinty ultimately losing his race again for prosecutor.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: He did lose his race, but, unfortunately, justice still has not been served. And so, while justice was meted out for Mr. McGinty, unfortunately we still have -- we still have a case, and there is no statute of limitations on murder. And so, you know, it is up to the family whether they want to continue to pursue that, because many of us in the activist community are supporting the family in such a case. But what we do know is from both the law enforcement community to the Prosecutor's Office, there was clearly injustice that was done. And it is not simply to be found in Loehmann. It is systemic, it is institutional, and I'm not sure that changing one prosecutor is really going to change the process.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the Republican National Convention. On Monday night, the Milwaukee County sheriff, David Clarke, celebrated the acquittal of the Baltimore police officer Brian Rice, one of the officers on trial in the Freddie Gray case. Gray died from injuries sustained in police custody. We were on the floor when Sheriff Clarke took the stage of the convention.

SHERIFF DAVID CLARKE: There is some good news out of Baltimore, Maryland, as Lieutenant Brian Rice was acquitted on all charges. ... What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcends peaceful protest and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the Milwaukee County sheriff, David Clarke. Your response, Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin?

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: What's interesting is that what the sheriff is calling anarchy, we call, you know, our First Amendment rights -- the right to protest, the right to peaceful assembly. Black Lives Matter has utilized the best of the civil rights tradition: nonviolent direct action. The only thing and the only association that he can connect with the murders of those police officers and Black Lives Matter is the fact that they are, in fact, black. I mean, officers -- we talk about the challenge with respect to rebuilding the trust between officers, law enforcement and the community. Historically, there has never been trust between the law enforcement community and African-American community. And this only reinforces the same type of enmity, deeply embedded mistrust, that is clearly not simply on the perspective or the side of the African-American community. But also, this is reflective, clearly, of mistrust on the side of law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: The Texas lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, appeared on CNN here in Cleveland, expressed support for an investigation, following Donald Trump's statement Monday night on Fox News that, if elected, he would instruct his attorney general to look into Black Lives Matter.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: Well, thankfully, he's lieutenant governor, not president of the United States and not the head of the Department of Justice. You know, it's amazing that Black Lives Matter, which is a movement which has brought to the fore the issue of, you know, police misconduct, Black Lives Matter, which has finally put on the national platform and in the national conversation the issue of the excessive use of force and the unconstitutionality of the encounters with police and African Americans, are now themselves being criminalized. They are the ones being criminalized. It is an amazing phenomenon that now we have the law enforcement community, and those who support them, saying somehow that the blue shield is more important than citizenship and expressing constitutional rights.

AMY GOODMAN: The number of black delegates, 18, lowest number, believed, in more than half a -- in more than a century here at the Republican convention.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN: And I would add to that, I saw the recent poll, that zero percent support for Donald Trump, and I know that is not within the margin of error. It's absolutely right. You know, Adam Clayton Powell said decades ago, the reason that black people -- most African Americans are not conservative, because they have nothing to conserve. There is nothing in the current state of the American economy, the current state of American social order, the current state of policing in America that African Americans would want to preserve. So I'm not surprised. I'm actually surprised that we have as -- the few that we do have, even in light of the fact of the vitriol that we have coming out of Donald Trump.

But I would say this, is that African Americans are not going to be -- even on the left, are not going to be intimidated to vote against Donald Trump. We're not going to be, in any way, shape or form, made to feel that he's the bogeyman or anything of that nature. The truth is, African Americans, over the course of 400 years, since 1619, have dealt with all kinds of blowhards, whether we're talking about Bull Connor, Orval Faubus, George Wallace. And so, we know how to deal with the Donald Trumps. So, when we go to the -- into the polls, it's not about who we're voting against or what we --

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

REV. JAWANZA KARRIEM COLVIN:  -- but rather, what we're voting for.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Reverend Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin, pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church here in Cleveland, Ohio.

That does it for our show. I'll be doing a report back from the conventions after our two weeks of coverage -- on Friday, July 29th at the Provincetown Town Hall in Massachusetts, and Saturday, July 30th, on Martha's Vineyard at Old Whaling Church. Check our website. Follow our team for the latest updates from the convention on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Snapchat.

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News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Feminism Slowly Gaining Support at United Nations http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36939-feminism-slowly-gaining-support-at-united-nations http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36939-feminism-slowly-gaining-support-at-united-nations

Achieving gender equality has long been one of the United Nations' top priorities yet the word feminism has only recently begun to find its way into speeches at UN headquarters.

Croatia's Vesna Pusic, one of 12 candidates for the post of UN Secretary-General, explained why she thought her feminism made her suitable for the UN's top job, during a globally televised debate, on 12 July.

"I happen to be a woman, I don't think this is enough, I happen to be a feminist and I think this is (important)," Pusic said, to applause from the diplomats and UN staff filling the UN General Assembly hall.

Pusic joins other high profile feminists at the UN including British actor Emma Watson, whose September 2014 speech about her own feminism gained worldwide media attention.

More recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told UN Women's Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at a UN meeting in March 2016 that there shouldn't be such a big reaction every time he uses the word feminist.

"For me, it's just really obvious. We should be standing up for women's rights and trying to create more equal societies," he said.

Perhaps more significant though than these speeches is Sweden's recent election to the UN Security Council on a feminist foreign policy platform.

Sweden will join the 15-member council for two years in January 2017, the same month that the new Secretary-General will take office. There are hopes that the UN's ninth Secretary-General, will be the first woman to lead the organisation, with women making up half of the 12 candidates currently under consideration.

"There could be a lot of elements coming together to finally create some momentum for progress," Jessica Neuwirth, one of the founders and Honorary President of Equality Now told IPS.

Even the number of female candidates running represents a change for the UN, Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK told IPS.

"Not only has no woman ever held the UN's top job, but just three of 31 formal candidates in previous appointments have been female."

The push to select a female Secretary-General has seen all candidates, both male and female, eager to show their commitment to gender equality.

Whoever is selected will be continuing on work already started by current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said Neuwirth, who believes that Ban has shown a commitment to gender equality at the UN, even if he may not use the word feminist to describe himself.

"I'm not a person who really lives or dies on the words, I think what people do is really much more important than what they call themselves," said Neuwirth, who is the director of Donor Direct Action, founded to raise funds for frontline women's groups.

"I don't know that I've ever heard (Ban) use the word feminist, definitely not to describe himself," she added. "On the other hand as somebody who had the privilege of working at the UN during his tenure I did see first hand the efforts he made to increase the representation of women at the UN at the highest levels, he made a very conscious effort to increase those numbers."

"It's still not 50:50 and it's even slid backwards which is disappointing, but he showed that one person can make a big difference."

Samarasinghe also noted that even if the word feminist is not explicitly used at the UN, its meaning is reflected in the UN's many objectives for achieving gender equality.

"Feminism is about women and men having equal opportunities and rights – something reaffirmed countless times in UN documents, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights onwards."

However Samarasinghe noted that the word feminist remains controversial. The UN's 193 member states include many countries which lag far behind outliers such as Sweden and Canada on gender equality.

"Being a feminist is a complete no-brainer. It's like having to explain to people that you're not racist. But clearly the word is still controversial so we have to keep using it until people get it," she said.

Emma Watson noted in her high profile UN speech, that the word feminist is not as easy to use as it should be.

"I decided that I was a feminist, and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists."

"Apparently, I'm among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men. Unattractive, even," said Watson.

In late 2015, some media reported that Watson had said she had been advised not to use the word feminist in her speech.

Neuwirth who was present when Watson made her speech told IPS that Watson's choice of words ultimately had a strong impact.

"That was an incredible event, I mean the level of emotion in that room was so high it was kind of shocking to me."

"There were so many diplomats there, which was a good thing, and it was just really a powerful speech that she made, and it moved them, you could just see visibly that it moved them," said Neuwirth.

However since Watson's speech, progress on gender equality at the UN has not always been easy.

Media organisation PassBlue, which monitors gender equality at the UN, has noted that the number of women appointed to senior UN positions has been slipping.

When Sweden takes up its position on the Security Council, it will have big strides to make on both improving women's representation in decision making positions at the UN and enacting policies which promote gender equality more broadly.

In fact, it is anticipated that all 15 permanent representatives on the UN Security Council in 2017 will be men, unless the United States chooses a woman to replace Samantha Power, who is expected to leave her post by the end of 2016.

Sweden hopes to use its seat on the Security Council to increase women's involvement in negotiating and mediating peace agreements, Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said at a media briefing hosted by Donor Direct Action on 30 June.

Neuwirth welcomed Wallstrom's comments, noting that in Syria, for example, women continue to be shut out of peace negotiations.

Syrian women "are trying to play a meaningful role in the negotiations over Syria, which are totally a mess," she said, "yet these women really just are struggling so hard to get even inside a corridor let alone to the table."

"Why wouldn't they just give these women a little more of a chance to see if they could do better, because it would be hard to do worse?"

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News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
From Occupy Protests to the Platforms http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36936-from-occupy-protests-to-the-platforms http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36936-from-occupy-protests-to-the-platforms

2016.7.22.Occupy.MainOccupy Oakland general strike, November 2, 2011. Five years after the birth of Occupy, both the Democratic and Republican Party platforms now call for the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act. (Photo: timothy.actwell / Flickr)

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At Occupy Wall Street rallies in New York's Zuccotti Park back in September 2011, Akshat Tewary noticed that many protesters were calling for the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that separated investment and commercial banking. As an administrative lawyer, Tewary knew that financial regulators are required to consider input from the public. To make sure these regulators heard the views of Wall Street critics -- not just financial industry boosters -- he helped organize a loose group of protestors under the name "Occupy the SEC."

Since 2011, this group has generated a steady stream of letters to regulators, amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, and petitions to Congress on Glass-Steagall and other aspects of Wall Street reform. Today, five years after the birth of Occupy, both the Democratic and Republican Party platforms now call for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall. Inequality.org co-editor Sarah Anderson asked Tewary for his reaction.

Sarah Anderson: What do you think about both party platforms calling for a new Glass-Steagall? 

Akshat Tewary: It certainly comes as a surprise. The Republicans have stymied and rejected recent attempts by progressive legislators like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to reinstate Glass-Steagall. The Republican-led House Financial Services Committee is famously bank-friendly, and has recently championed the repeal of financial reform laws like the Dodd-Frank Act. So at some level, the inclusion of Glass-Steagall in the Republican platform seems utterly bizarre.

Even so, a closer analysis shows that maybe this is much ado about nothing. Party platforms are routinely ignored by incumbent Presidents: Bob Dole famously admitted that he never read the Republican convention's platform when he ran for President in 1996. The mere fact that the law is on the platform does not mean that the law will actually become a campaign priority in Congress later this year.

Banks hold inordinate sway with mainstream Republicans, and you can bet that they would never take a renewed Glass-Steagall bill lying down. Powerful bank lobbyists would inveigh against the bill to such an extent that it would never receive serious consideration among mainstream Republicans.

Even if the Republican Party lacks a real appetite to resurrect Glass-Steagall, there are a number of strategic reasons for the party to include the law in its platform. A certain segment of the Republican Party reflects populist angst against big-wig corporations that are seen as having bought the political system. A few early contenders for the Republican Presidential ticket (like Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson) even advocated for Glass-Steagall, probably in an attempt to tap into that populist angst against Wall Street.

Similarly, in 2013 Republican Senator John McCain joined Senator Warren and others in championing a reboot of the law called "The 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act." In my view, the inclusion of Glass-Steagall on the Republican platform is a classic bait and switch tactic -- the party is seeking to curry favor with the minority of Republican Party members who strongly oppose Wall Street's influence. Glass-Steagall will not get serious Republican consideration in Congress, but its mention on the platform will serve to attract a larger segment of Republicans and Independents who might otherwise vote for a centrist Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton has been outspoken in her opposition to the Glass-Steagall Act. In an op-ed in the New York Times she claimed that shadow banking, not Glass-Steagall, should be our real concern. And it was her husband who presided over the law's repeal in 1999. So the Republicans may have included Glass-Steagall on their platform as an additional way to distinguish themselves from Clinton during campaign season.

The inclusion of the Glass-Steagall Act on the Democratic ticket is also somewhat surprising. As I mentioned, Hillary Clinton has been vocal in belittling the law. And Senator Warren's 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act has only received tepid support from Congressional Democrats thus far. Of course, Bernie Sanders was an ardent champion of bringing back Glass-Steagall, but he's no longer in the race. So here too this is most likely an attempt to garner support from more populist elements in the party, even if more centrist party leaders find it unpalatable in fact.

Why is this reform important? 

Glass-Stegall would force retail banks to disassociate themselves from their investment banking, insurance and broker-dealer affiliates. This is a vital reform that could help avert the next financial crisis.

The simple fact is that the half-century between the law's passage in 1933 and its repeal in 1999 saw the greatest economic progress in American (and possibly world) history. The passage of the Glass-Steagall Act was the denouement of Congress's attempts to understand the causes behind the Market Crash of 1929 and the consequent Great Depression.

The Congressionally appointed Pecora Commission found that rampant speculation on Wall Street created a financial bubble produced by excess liquidity in the market. Banks had utilized their special access to capital — access to depositors' funds and the Fed's discount window -- to churn the markets with speculative risk. This led to the worst economic crisis in modern history: the Great Depression.

Unfortunately, since the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, banks have once again moved away from "boring banking" services that benefit the public (i.e. taking deposits and making loans at reasonable rates), and have instead moved towards speculative trading and fee-generating services that enrich the few while putting the public at risk.

Just as the Pecora Commission found that Wall Street speculation caused the Great Depression, in 2011 the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission found that speculation on Wall Street helped cause the 2008 meltdown. A renewed Glass-Steagall Act would prevent yet another repeat of such a scenario.

Banks have ready access to financing that is simply not available to other businesses. For example, the Government Accountability Office reported that between 2008 and 2010, the Federal Reserve made available to banks nearly $16 trillion in essentially zero-percent loan facilities.

Main Street business have never been able to receive anywhere near that kind of capital. Historically, banks have been given access to this liquidity under the theory that they will spread that liquidity to the rest of the market. Unfortunately, since the repeal of Glass-Steagall banks have proven adept at making money for themselves, even as they draw liquidity away from Main Street businesses and people.

Instead of utilizing their size and funding advantages to make loans to businesses, banks have been focused more on creating mind-numbingly obscure derivatives and other "financial innovations" in an effort to enrich themselves through fees and spreads. A renewed Glass-Steagall Act would redress this wrong by forcing retail banks to divest themselves from their investment banking and trading affiliates. On the one hand, retails banks would be forbidden from speculating at all. And divested investment banking units could continue to do business as usual, but their global impact would be mitigated because they would be smaller in size.

A new Glass-Steagall Act would also help address our country's Too Big to Fail problem. If banks were Too Big to Fail in 2007, they are undoubtedly more so today. The country's biggest banks are now bigger than ever. The six biggest banks enjoy a combined $10 trillion in assets. By way of comparison, the U.S. GDP is $17 trillion. The crisis of 2008 taught us that when banks are gargantuan in size, they become ticking time bombs that threaten the global economy.

The Dodd-Frank Act contains various half-measures, like the Volcker Rule, living wills, and resolution authority, that seek to address the Too Big to Fail Problem. But the efficacy of these provisions is questionable. Virtually every aspect of Dodd-Frank has been challenged at the agency level, and much of the resultant regulation has been severely watered down and delayed through bank lobbying. To make matters worse, various parts of Dodd-Frank have come under the Congressional chopping block since 2010 (and will continue to do so in the future).

While Dodd-Frank contains many important financial reforms, it adopts a Whack-a-Mole approach that puts regulatory band-aids over old problems, while doing little to address new problems. Only bold, systemic reform like Glass-Steagall can truly mitigate the risks posed by Too-Big-to-Fail banks.

How would this reform affect ordinary Americans? 

Too Big to Fail banks helped cause the last financial crisis. As we all know, all Americans -- not just bank employees -- felt the impact of that crisis. Between 2007 and 2010, median U.S. family wealth dropped a jaw-dropping 40 percent. The size and interconnectedness of the nation's gargantuan banks all but ensured that a discrete banking crisis would translate into a world-wide, general economic crisis. A new Glass-Steagall Act would help avoid a repeat of this scenario.

That law would force our nation's behemoth banks to divest themselves into smaller, manageable units. In doing so, the Act would reduce the chances that the failure of one bank would cause the failure of other, unrelated businesses. As a consequence, ordinary Americans would be spared the burden of losing wealth and income simply because of the failure of one, or a handful of financial institutions.

How would it affect community banks? 

Community banks have much to gain from a new Glass-Steagall. At present, the financial services industry suffers from an oligopoly condition whereby a handful of institutions with inordinate market power are able to set prices and offer services in a manner that maximizes profit for the institution, but extracts value from the broader economy. Community banks simply cannot compete under these anti-competitive conditions, which is why we are seeing that smaller banks are merging into bigger ones at unprecedented rates.

Under Glass-Steagall, giants like Bank of America and Citigroup would have to spin out their retail services into smaller retail-only banks. Those smaller units would no longer control the market, thereby allowing community banks to become relatively more competitive. Classical economic theory tells us that efficient markets feature many small firms, rather than a handful of big ones. By cutting oversized banks down to size, Glass-Steagall would push the retail banking industry towards greater efficiency.

What are other Wall Street reforms that should be top priorities at the moment? 

Too Big to Fail remains a fundamental problem in the economic system, and a new Glass-Steagall would go a long way towards addressing that problem. That said, the need for financial reform is not limited to the banking industry.

For example, the so-called "shadow banking" sector is also in need of serious reform. Hedge funds, credit funds, and other small financial institutions can allocate or mis-allocate large amounts of capital that can have serious systemic effects. This can occur as the result of individual decisions or because of herding behavior across the industry.

Regulators need to expand the applicability of Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act to cover additional players with inordinate market impact. For instance, in 1998 a hedge fund called Long Term Capital Management nearly brought the financial sector to its knees. The 2016 version of LTCM would certainly not fall under the current version of Title II, and would likely escape regulatory scrutiny. While much has changed since 1998, what remains true is that single, small actors can continue to cause havoc in the industry. The "Flash Crash" and various "fat finger" market crises attest to that fact.

More generally, our policy platform seeks to bring about the following long-term reforms:

  • providing income support to workers and communities
  • creating conditions for workers' wealth and eliminating unnecessary private debt
  • democratizing the economy for the 99% through measures such as public banking
  • promoting social ownership of enterprises and housing to yield more economically efficient and equitable outcomes
  • transforming banking systems to avoid another financial crisis
  • eliminating the control of economic resources by the 1%.

What would you like the financial sector to look like in 20 years?

It's anybody's guess as to what the future holds, but what's clear is that the mistakes of the present yield the regrets of the future. The country must adopt bold financial reforms like a renewed Glass-Steagall Act if it wants to avoid another financial catastrophe like the Great Recession of 2008.

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News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Economic Update: Convention Economics http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36935-economic-update-convention-economics http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36935-economic-update-convention-economics

This episode discusses platform contradictions, the Volkswagen scandal, CEO pay and the Italian banking crisis. We also examine the economics of lotteries, when profit decides who gets mortgages and why 21st century socialism makes worker cooperatives the primary institution of production.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

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News Fri, 22 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400