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Laura Flanders

Contributing Writer

Best-selling author and broadcaster Laura Flanders hosts the The Laura Flanders Show, where she interviews forward thinking people from the worlds of politics, business, culture and social movements about the key questions of our day. The LF Show airs weekly on KCET/LinkTV, FreeSpeech TV, and in English & Spanish in teleSUR. Flanders is also a contributing writer to The Nation and Yes! Magazine (“Commonomics”) and a regular guest on MSNBC. She is the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species (Verso, 2004) and Blue GRIT: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (Penguin Press, 2007). The Laura Flanders Show first aired on Air America Radio 2004-2008. You can find all her archives and more at Lauraflanders.com.


  • July 1, 2009

    Michael Jackson: Trans Man.

    Michael Jackson. Dead at 50, with over 750 million albums sold. A genius, a freak, a trail blazer, a victim. Jackson's been called all that and more  – sometimes  in a single piece of prose.

    People will be talking about Jackson, his music, performance style, but most of all perhaps his persona, for decades. But ironically, one of the most perceptive reflections on Jackson was penned not since he died on June 25, but years before. Circulating around the internet over these past few days, has been an essay by James Baldwin which originally appeared in Playboy in 1985.

    It's not about Jackson, James Baldwin, wrote in the essay, originally titled "Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood" (and later renamed "Here be Monsters.")  Our culture's discomfort with those we consider "freaks" actually reveals something about ourselves. 

    "The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all," Baldwin wrote. "All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth....the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair…"

    Baldwin put his finger on it: we're provoked -- and call "unstable" those who actually destabilize us. While Jackson may have been struggling with his own demons, he powerfully stirred up ours.

    "Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are treated–in the main, abominably" continued Baldwin, "Because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires."

    Freaks, so-called, destablize notions we're more comfortable keeping fixed, and mess about with ideas we prefer to box in -- like ideas about identity, sexuality, race, and control. "Freaks"  destabilize. They also release something, if we let them.

    So thanks to Michael, and to freaks and transformers everywhere.  On a good day, loosening up that previously fixed-space opens up room for change.

    The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow "GritLaura" on Twitter.

     

    Laura Flanders

  • June 17, 2009

    Novartis Wants to Profit off Pandemic

     

    While the Obama administration's getting serious about healthcare reform, it's time for a rather pointed reading comprehension test.

    Consider the following story and find, if you can, the obvious problem:

    The Swiss drug company Novartis will not give free vaccines against H1N1 flu to poor countries -- it will only consider discounts.

    Novartis's refusal comes in the wake of a request from the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, who has called for drug companies to show solidarity with poor countries as they develop vaccines against the H1NI or "swine flu" pandemic.

    Just by way of reminder, H1N1 has infected around 30,000 people globally, mostly in North America, though there have been a few deaths outside Mexico and the United States. Europe suffered its first death on Sunday. The first has just been reported in Argentina.

    Help the poor prevent a pandemic? Novartis said 'No'. That's Novartis --makers of Exedrin and Bufferin -- I guess they haven't made enough off those over-the-counter best-sellers.

    "If you want to make production sustainable, you have to create financial incentives," explained Novartis Chief Executive Daniel Vasella.

    By "financial incentives" he means the 'p' word: profits.

    Spot the flaw in the profit-driven approach to health care? Anyone?

    Financial incentives?

    When a pandemic isn't incentive enough -- I'd say we have another 'p' word -- a problem.

    Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com

     

    Laura Flanders

  • June 5, 2009

    Deeds Louder Than Words in Cairo

     

    President Obama said in Cairo this week that he sought a new beginning in US relations with the Muslim world, and a relationship based on common principles, including "principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."

    Beautiful words, but deeds tend to speak louder and this week one spoke volumes. Just a few days before the president spoke, a US prisoner held for seven years without charge, killed himself rather than endure one more day at the US Detention center in Guantanamo.

    Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al-Hanashi, whose death was announced Tuesday, was the fifth prisoner - and the second Yemeni - to die in an apparent suicide at the Guantanamo prison. Not charged with any crime, Saleh was 31 years old. Information is limited, but lawyers who visited in May said Saleh was one of seven being held in a psychiatric ward where he was restrained in a chair and force-fed through a tube the width of a finger. It's an excruciating process. The attorney of another striker described a tube being inserted by one guard while another holds the prisoner's chin and a third holds him back by his hair. "No anesthesia or sedative".

    Pentagon medical records show Saleh weighed 124 pounds when he entered Guantanamo. A few years later he was down to just 87 pounds.

    How a man in his shape might have managed to kill himself is hard to imagine. Why is far easier.

    The vast majority of Yemenis in Guantanamo have never been charged -- and more than a dozen have been cleared for return. But only two have left in the past two years and talks with the Yemeni government are stalled.

    Meanwhile, 17 Chinese Uighur Muslims prisoners some of whom the Bush administration cleared for release as early as 2003, continue to languish occupying an iconic place in Gitmo culture. Their release would give hope to the hopeless, say fellow prisoners' attorneys. They should never have been incarcerated. They could be released into the US tomorrow. It's going to take actions like that, Mr. President for those words, "Justice, progress, tolerance, and respect for the dignity of all human beings" on an American president's tongue might begin the long journey of actually gaining some meaning.

     

    The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

    Laura Flanders

  • June 4, 2009

    Sotomayor Critics Ignore New York & Wichita

     

    OK, let's get this right: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is making the rounds of the Capitol this week and some jackasses are still saying she has to explain her "wise Latina" comment?

    In a 2001 speech Sotomayor said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

    It's been a week that the quote has been out there and, for just as long, the question's been waiting to be answered: A better conclusion about what subject?

    Does Sotomayor believe that Latina judges are ipso facto smarter? That's what her right-wing critics want her much-mangled quote to mean. But smarter about what? The price of beans? The weather? What two and two add up to?

    Not exactly. While the money-media have spent the week making the comment "controversial" (and then calling it that), the non-profit media watch group FAIR (where I once worked)  looked at the transcript and they report (drum-roll):

    "The topic under discussion was race and gender discrimination. Talking about judging such cases- Sotomayor argued that the experience of facing discrimination might lead to a better decision about discrimination and she pointed out: 'Let us not forget that until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.'

    On the moon maybe it's different – or in the privacy of your kitchen -- but out here in the actual, lived USA – white males have been the norm (originally white, not-Irish or Italian or German-males). All "others" have had a different experience. A different experience – not of snow or rain or the price of beans – but of discrimination.

    In a week that saw the killing of an off duty police officer by an another police officer in New York, and the killing of a women's doctor in Wichita, it's hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would disagree with Sotomayor. 

    The New York shooter took the victim for a criminal at least in part because the victim was a black man.

    The assassination of the country's eighth abortion provider brought out of the margins and into the media the reality that women seeking legal care and the people who look after them are still, after decades, subject to the kind of daily harassment, vandalism and threats that no corporate CEO would tolerate for a weekend. Women's lives are not the same.

    In a week like this, it's hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would argue that to mention difference in America is to be racist -- or that to have experienced discrimination might make one smarter about it. But what am I saying? All those "right" minds are the problem. Right minds would rather that we pretend we're all already equal, because then we'll stop working to make it that way. 

    Jackasses.

    The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

     

    Laura Flanders

  • June 2, 2009

    George Tiller: What If?

     

    When a person who has been targeted before is murdered, as Dr. George Tiller was, there are a lot of what ifs.

    What if, back in the 1990s, after the first attempt on Tiller's life, mainstream media had overcome their reluctance to report on violence against abortion providers?

    What if, way back then, they'd called the violence by its rightful name: domestic terrorism?

    What if, when Dr. David Gunn was shot down in Pensacola Florida in 1993, the newspapers of record hadn't covered that story as if Gunn and his killer were somehow equivalent? "Both Impassioned" as the Washington Post put it. That's not how they talked about 9-11. Passion on both sides? Not in the least.

    What if Bill O'Reilly hadn't so often referred to Tiller as a baby killer? What if he'd been pulled off the air for incitement. What if?

    Perhaps most urgently, what if we had law-enforcement that took the violent margins of the conservative movement as seriously, as say, the property-damagers of the environmental fringe? (For most of the last decade, the FBI's top priority domestic terror threat was "eco-terrorism")

    On his Americablog, right-wing watcher John Aravosis has been talking for weeks about a new line coming out of the radical right. In the debate over extending the hates crimes protections to LGBT people, extreme right fundamentalist Christian leaders could be heard calling for an exemption for their "right" to kill, "provided they claim the murder was inspired by their faith," Aravosis wrote on May 22.

    On Monday, that language appeared in the New York Times.

    Commenting on Dr. Tiller's death, Dave Leach, an anti-choice activist from Des Moines who runs the newsletter Prayer and Action News said, "to call this a crime is too simplistic. There is Christian scripture that would support this."

    Crazy? Yes. To be ignored? Absolutely not. Homeland Security was right to list extreme anti-choice groups in its report on Domestic Terror threats. If Obama had held firm in the face of the criticism last month, he'd be soaking up the commendations now. Instead the administration backed off in face of a flack-attack from right-wing pundits. 

    Now a man is dead, and, as John put it, "an American church has been shot up during services." And some – like John – can't help but wonder -- what if the Obama administration had sent a different message?

    The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders the host of GRITtv, which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

     

    Laura Flanders

  • The Nation is reader supported.


  • May 28, 2009

    The President of Paradox

     

    It will be an historic occasion when Sonia Sotomayor takes her seat. Assuming she's confirmed, she'll be the first woman of color and the first person from the Latino community to become a Supreme Court justice.

    Announcing this, his first top court appointment, President Obama put it clearly enough: "When Sonia Sotomayor ascends those marble steps to assume her seat on the highest court of the land, America will have taken another important step towards realizing the ideal that is etched above its entrance: Equal Justice under the law."

    It's pretty simple and kind of stirring stuff. There aren't royals and non-royals, just human beings. And those two words: Equal and Justice.

    Equal. Equality is indivisible. It either is or it isn't. We learned that, from among others, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Justice. Those blind, balancing scales -- they either balance or they're tilted. It's not rocket science.

    It's hard not to be moved by Judge Sotomayor's story: from Puerto Rican parents in the Bronx to the highest court in the land. Just as the swearing-in of the first African American president inspired millions of Americans from all walks of life -- to wake up early and stand on a very frigid National Mall to watch his inauguration. So, people of all sorts feel good about the nomination of Sotomayor. As Obama said, it feels as if the nation's making progress.

    But what a paradoxical day. At the very same time that one court was moving (possibly) towards an ideal; in another they were stepping back from it.

    While the President was lifting up the nation's professed ideals in Washington, in California, justices approved discrimination against same sex -couples under the law, with only one dissent from the lone Democrat.

    There aren't a lot of ways of going at this.

    Separate isn't equal.

    Justice is balanced or tilted.

    If Barack Obama doesn't want to be remembered as the President of paradox, it's time he stood up and provided leadership. If you believe in those words etched above the Supreme Court entrance, Mr. President, stand up for all Americans to ascend those marble steps -- to marriage, to the court - Those words again are Equal Justice.

     

    Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

    Laura Flanders

  • May 21, 2009

    Killing the Public Option

    The nation's for profit health insurers are out to scuttle anything within the Obama healthcare plan that might be in any way public.

    One week after the insurance lobby pledged to voluntarily constrain rising costs, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is preparing a public message campaign aimed at killing the public non-profit part of Obama's reform plan.

    Anyone who's been watching has heard the data that have the insurance profiteers so scared. A government-run plan, with no need for profits for Wall Street or bonuses to retain CEOs -- a plan run only to deliver healthcare for the public -- would cut the cost of healthcare. Period. Single payer advocates say that's the only way to go but Obama's still offering a compromise: a bit of both.

    According to the Washington Post, as part of what it calls an "informational website," Blue Cross Blue Shield has hired an outside firm to make a series of videos to terrify the public about Obama's so-called public option. In three 30-second videos, the insurer paints a picture of a future system in which patients wait months for appointments and can't choose their own doctors.

    One spot in the series shows a woman and child wandering down a darkened hospital doorway, "as if they're starting to realize that they've lost their way," according to sketches of the video. "We can do a lot better than a government-run healthcare system," the narrator concludes.

    The company's tactics are familiar -- remember the Harry and Louise ads? For profit-companies savaged Hillary Clinton's reform plan. It's right out of the right wing PR book: scare the public and lie about the facts. The fact is, Obama's healthcare plan wouldn't force anyone to choose the not-for-profit option.

    But boy, how the insurers fear they might. Suddenly all those professed beliefs in free markets and competition are out the window. Profiteers don't like competition with an option that's non-profit.

    What the private healthcare lobby understands that has them so frightened now is that public healthcare would be preferable because it would be better and cheaper. Their fear just underscores the reality: it's time to move beyond a sick system that's rigged for profit to a public plan that's actually about health.

    Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

    Laura Flanders

  • May 19, 2009

    Pelosi or Cheney? Who’s the Torturer in Chief?

     

    Beltway journalists seem finally to have a found a torture story they like. Mind you, not the one about the Bush/Cheney White House possibly okaying drowning to extract "information" to justify an Iraq attack -- not that story. The story the Beltway bulldogs have decided to get stuck into is a story about Democrats.

    Let's recap. Prosecutions of members of the Bush/Cheney administration became a real possibility last month. As part of an ongoing court case, the Department of Justice released memos detailing techniques approved for use on terror suspects. CIA interrogators were given legal authorization to use water torture, to slam an alleged "high-value" detainee's head against a wall, to place insects inside a "confinement box" to induce fear, and force a detainee to remain awake for 11 consecutive days. All that, according to a memo signed by the former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jay Bybee, now a federal judge.

    Subsequent reports including commentary by an FBI interrogator who interrogated one of the same suspects by traditional -- non-torture -- means, suggests that even knowing (as most interrogators did) that torture produces untrustworthy evidence (because torture victims make things up to make the torture stop), officials at the highest level in the Bush/Cheney administration okayed torture tactics.

    Did they order abuse specifically to extract an Al Qaeda/ Saddam Hussein link? Maybe. But we'll never know, because instead of even asking the question, the headline story in the media has become: "Nancy Pelosi is a hypocrite."

    "Pelosi a hypocrite" vs. "Cheney okayed torture for political reasons:" It seems easy to pick the hotter scoop. Yet David Gregory (of Meet the Press) was all over Pelosi, as were the rest of the Sunday squawkers this weekend. On Fox News they talk about almost nothing else. Why didn't the House speaker push back harder? When did she actually know what? Was she right to hold a press conference blaming the CIA? They're not bad questions. They're important questions. But when it comes to torture, is Pelosi the thorn or the point?

    "This is not where the White House wants the public discussion to be," Gregory said on Morning Joe. Too right. But it's bigger than that. On this question of torture-for-war or Pelosi political mis-step, it's not just the White House that wants a different conversation. It's America. We need accountability for torture -- and prosecutions -- if we don't want heinous practices to continue. And we need a press that grasps, not avoids, the serious questions. Scrutinize Pelosi all you like -- but right after Cheney's shut up and Bybee's off the bench.

    Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

     

    Laura Flanders

  • May 12, 2009

    Robbing Us and Paying Out

     

    The results of the Treasury Department's touted "stress tests" are out – and so far the result is a call for massive new capital for banks. It adds up to a needed $100 billion for Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the rest. Sooner or later we'll be looking at TARP Three, I bet.

    It's hard not to feel bilked. Even when they were running short of cash, the banks looked after their own. According to a recent academic study they paid out a staggering $400 billion to investors in 2007 and 2008 even as the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression broke. With the value of their portfolios shrinking and common equity drying up, Lehman Brothers dividends went up 13% in January 2008. TARP recipients JPMorgan and Wells Fargo cut dividends only in February and March 2009, and as of late last month, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley had yet to do so, despite urging from the Fed.

    Watching their own backs is what these banks do best. Now they're doing it by lobbying to beat back bankruptcy reform.(See a pretty furious discussion on GRITtv this week.) At the banks, public money goes in the front and out the back.

    Meanwhile, while the government's doing somersaults to keep owners and top bank managers in place and in the black, many Americans are choosing between food and home and gas.

    It's not only unfair, it's not smart.

    There is no fair rationale for allocating trillions of US dollars to protect bankers' hedge funds and well-paid execs while tens of millions of working Americans go belly up.

    Societies dominated by finance (as ours has been,) have always collapsed. The only way the US gets back on track is with good paying jobs in solid communities that work. In New York, Wall Street's cheering up – but libraries are going broke. Just imagine if you took the trillions and kept teachers on the job, built roads, gave people grants to re-do homes, issue fair mortgages, and provide quality childcare.

    Let's not kid ourselves: filtering trillions through banks and investment houses won't do the job -- they built their billions by cutting labor and keeping down pay – and rewarding companies that did the same -- especially their execs. If we do not rebuild the US workforce there's no way this country's going back up. Are we "all in this together?" -- Hardly. You just have to look at Main Street to know that.

    Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Carl Ginsburg co-wrote this piece.

     

    Laura Flanders

  • April 27, 2009

    Killer Economics

     

    We don't need a 100-day reckoning to know the score: war, recession, violence in Pakistan and now a global epidemic.

    The landscape before us is a pretty tense: more than thirteen million unemployed, falling prospects, rising gun sales, not to mention the foreclosure of probably an additional ten million homes. Many are fearing a long hot summer, the implications of which will be felt across the land. And now there's Swine Flu. 

    It's funny that when it comes to Swine flu, we get it.  When we're talking about the human body, we seem to understand that vulnerable parts put the whole body politic at risk.

    In the face of a virus it makes perfect sense: germs don't discriminate. Poisons spread.  Switch to the topic of poverty and predatory lending,  and we have a problem grasping the basics. Yet exploitation and corruption  jump fences too. The epidemic of predatory lending, for example, began by targeting Black, Latino (especially female) borrowers, but predatory practices didn't stay in the 'hood. 

    On Sunday, as 20 cases of swine flu were confirmed, American health officials declared a public health emergency. After scares from SARS and bird flu a few years ago, international protocols were put in place to deal with global pandemics.  At a news conference in DC, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called the flu emergency declaration "standard operating procedure." 

    Imagine if we'd declared an Economic Health Emergency after Enron, and the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the collapse and devaluation of the Russian ruble?

    What we need are some standard operating procedures to deal with a plague of killer economics. Reading today's New York Times about the Treasury Secretary's cosy professional and personal relationship with the very industry he was supposed to regulate, it's clear that quarantine would have served us well. 

    In the case of epidemics, we investigate the causes and isolate the carriers. On the economic front, so far, we've forged forward without virtually no diagnosis -- and promoted the virus-carriers to high office.

    So what, now?  Well, we'll need more than a face mask to protect us from Geithneritis. And no amount of Theraflu will do.

    Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

     

    Laura Flanders