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Laura Flanders | The Nation

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Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

US Lack of Investment Is Destabilizing the World

Here in the United States all we seem to hear about is deficits and debt. Yet even the countries that hold a lot of our debt are concerned for our lack of investment at home.

China’s pension fund head recently said that the US government needs to reduce not just its fiscal deficit but its trade gap, in order to maintain the dollar’s stability. US average levels need to be closer to those of developing nations and emerging markets, the manager of China’s Sovereign Wealth fund advised.

In other words, even China, which sends so many of its goods here, is worried about our imbalance between imports and exports. And there’s another problem. When the US rich used stimulus money and Federal Reserve help not to hire here but to seek to maximize profits by hiring abroad, and to gamble on commodity markets, that cash not only failed to boost the US economy as it was intended, it drove up commodity prices and the inflation risk in China and elsewhere.

And that, say the Chinese, is not only bad for most Americans but also destabilizes the global economy. Not exactly the message we’ve been hearing stateside.

The piece the Chinese remember but our media tend to ignore is that ours is a global world. Our so-called “jobless recovery” is no great news for anyone. Outsourcing, high unemployment and rock-bottom wages for those with jobs that can’t be outsourced leave even those with full-time work in no mood to spend on Chinese products or anyone else’s.

And less faith in the US economy and its currency abroad will likely make our national debt bigger, not smaller, as the value of Treasury bonds teeters downwards.

GRITtv guest Bob Herbert had it right when he wrote that the United States needs a better ruling class after this one “stopped being concerned with the health of society and became almost entirely obsessed with money.” The Chinese apparently agree. Now what can we do to get Washington to become a responsible partner for Beijing?

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and ‘like” us on Facebook.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Missed Connections from the Economic to the Social

Is there a journalism school somewhere that teaches up-and-comers to put stories into little boxes?

Half our job in independent media, it seems to me, is putting the connections back.

Day to day, in your average news cycle, there are political stories, business reports, human interest, arts and leisure... and never do they meet.

Take today. In "politics," it's the presidential deficit tour, coming to a town near you. Will Obama voters support a plan to cut critical public services? That's question number one—and only.

In "economic" news there's new tax data showing that the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans has effectively  been cut in half since the mid-1990s, while the combined annual income of the richest 400 Americans soared from $6 billion to $23 billion. Period. End of sentence.

Somewhere in an "in-brief" box, you'll probably find a note from Orange County, California where Marilyn Davenport, a member of the Republican Central Committee recently sent an email with Barack Obama's face superimposed on that of a chimp, with a crack about a birth certificate.

We like to keep our stories separate: the economic (dollars & cents) and the so-called social (bias and bigotry) and politics—where the people have a choice. But the latter was always about the first. Right now, as before in our history, it's not just that the economy's bad—it's also that change is coming, inevitably: economic, demographic, political, inter-personal. The status-quo of the wealth gap cannot hold. Democracy can't, actually, be privatized. And a non-white majority is upon us.

Limited choices, concentrated profits, spurts of racism: what's playing out now can be seen as a set of disconnected spasms. Or it can be reported as a reconstruction story. As the century turns, the fight is on over who gets what and who keeps what. You can see it every where you look.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and "like" us on Facebook.

Demonizing Taxes, Heightening Inequality

Today is Tax Day in the US, and that's almost universally greeted with groans and complaints. That tax word's been so effectively demonized that it may be there's no coming back. Is it time for a new word?

Some research by Duke University's Dan Ariely suggests it might be.

Ariely's study showed that Americans actually want a more equitable society—in fact, they think they have one.  When asked to identify their homeland from a list of nations described only by their level of equality—a majority of those polled picked Sweden, thinking it was the US. When asked to create their ideal society, Democrats, Republicans, men and women, the rich and the poor all created a distribution of wealth that is much more equal than the one we've got.

All that "social mobility, low inequality" stuff—Americans love it. They just don't have it. In fact, social mobility here's been shrivelling, as the wealth gap's been opening up.

There are only a few ways to get that more equal distribution: government investment (benefits and services) corporate action (paying people more) or redistribution: taking from each according to their means, to help the whole. We call that tax.

Yet according to Ariely, the very same people who expressed an ardent wish for an equal society have an highly averse reaction to the word tax. Why, he wondered, recently, to National Public Radio.

It's not so hard to figure out. Day in day out, when you hear taxes mentioned, what's the context? Social citizenship? Tools of an equal society? Or is it rather all about how heavy the burden is, how overtaxed Americans are. The Taxman, the IRS—the first public workers our media teach us to hate.

There are taxes to hate—taxes that go to give a blank check to the military, or tax credits for corporations that export American jobs. But the truth is, taxes on the rich have done nothing but fall since the Reagan years. And inequality's only gotten bigger.

What's the money media's stake in all this? It's hardly hidden. Remember that GE tax refund for $3.2 billion? The co-owner of NBC and MSNBC isn't alone either. Time Warner and News Corp, owners of CNN and Fox, are also on a list of the biggest corporate tax avoiders.

Today, when you hear that news story about how tax day is no fun, remember that you're actually paying more than the company behind the news. And remember who it was who taught you to hate taxes. And if you come up with a new word, let us know?

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and 'like' us on Facebook.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Time for Obama to Join the Fight

Obama’s punching below his weight class again. That was Gary Younge’s metaphor, a boxing analogy that makes more sense if you consider the weight a politician carries to be the support for their policies around the country.

Obama won office in the midst of economic meltdown, with applause lines about doing away with Bush tax cuts for the rich, about ending a destructive war, about universal healthcare.

This week he kicked off his re-election campaign with a speech about those same things—but three years in, he’s conceded the framing to the Republicans even when the majority of the country supports his original plan. Deficits, deficits, deficits—even as protests continue around the country in favor of jobs, jobs, jobs.

Meanwhile, Younge notes, Tea Party candidates without majority support are punching well above their weight class—they may be losing, but you certainly can’t accuse them of not trying. Maine governor Paul LePage was elected with just 38 percent of the vote, yet he’s picked a fight over a pro-labor mural that has drawn intervention from the Federal Department of Labor.

What can be done to show Obama that there’s plenty of fight left in the country if he’d only tap into it? A good speech—a solid defense of programs like Medicare—rings hollow when it’s come much too late and conceded too much ground. A line in the sand on tax cuts for the rich means little when it’s three years old and been proven false already.

Yet from Wisconsin to Ohio to New Jersey to Maine to right here in New York, citizens are fighting the austerity frame, calling for investment in jobs, for taxes for millionaires, for real health care. The fight goes on without Obama, when he should have led it.

Will he notice that in time for a re-election battle?

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and "like" us on Facebook.

Cuts Leave Young People With No Future to Win

Paul Mason of the BBC called them “the graduates with no future.” They've been at the center of protest movements around the world, from Tunisia to Wisconsin.

GRITtv contributor Gary Younge reported on Spain's unemployment for the Guardian recently —64 percent of youth under 19 are out of work, and the total youth unemployment rate is 43 percent—higher than Egypt and Tunisia, both. Don Tapscott noted in the same paper that in the UK, 40 percent of the unemployed are aged 16 to 24, and here in the US, 21 percent of young people are unemployed.

For years people have bemoaned Europe's lost generations; the dead-end, lay-about Europeans with no place to go. But given US hiring patterns--all abroad, not at home--the US is looking to the very same thing.

And what's in store in the budget? More cuts to PELL program grants for the students who are already struggling. Other countries' kids can get scholarships from their countries to study here. They go home with all that dandy intellectual capital and make things.

Just what are young people here supposed to do? See if they can get a visa to work in China in an iPhone factory?

Obama harped over and over on “winning the future” in his State of the Union, but then caved in on cuts for the young people who will have to do that winning. What's left for them to do but hit the streets and lead the protests here as they've been doing around the world?

The last time they got active it was to get Obama elected. It's unlikely they'll do that again.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on

When Will It Be Time to Cut Military Spending?

On Tuesday, April 12, people in more than thirty-five countries, as well as Columbus, Dallas, Kansas City and dozens of other cities throughout the United States, will participate in the first Global Day of Action on Military Spending.

In DC, they most definitely are sitting this one out.

In fact, after weeks of budget brinksmanship, Congress emerged with a tentative so-called compromise that was unable to get a single cut made to spending on the US military.

Christopher Hellman at TomDispatch recently added up all the hidden military-related spending in the budget and came to a startling number for fiscal year 2012. Something like $1.2 trillion dollars. That’s trillion, with a T. In this year’s budget they admit to $670 billion or so, plus another $41 billion for Homeland Security and $76.6 billion for "military construction" and Veterans Affairs—an increase over last year.

After the long search for ways to shrink government spending, the compromise brings us a 16 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency but NO cuts to the military?

The departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services—which represent only about 15 percent of the budget—are taking about 52 percent of the cuts.

The Institute for Policy Studies estimates it costs taxpayers $1.2 million a year for each soldier in Afghanistan. To make up for the $141 million cut from Fish and Wildlife services, say, you’d only have to bring 117 soldiers home.

The missiles that fell on Libya in the first day of the supposed “peacekeeping” mission cost the US over $100 million—and that was March 19. As of yesterday, the estimated cost is $608 million. Tomahawk missiles alone cost $1 million a piece.

We knew that governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker were helping to manufacture a deficit to cut programs they wanted to target, even as they cut taxes for billionaires and the rich. Our Democratic president has given in to deficit hawking too. But to not make a single cut to so-called defense spending while attacking desperately needed funds for jobs?

Some call the budget deal a compromise. It is. But not a compromise between the parties. The killer compromise we should be talking about is the compromise both parties make with the war profiteers—to keep their cash coming and the killing and dying continuing, while people and all things public line up for the chopping block.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Shareholders Fight Back as Democrats Compromise

The ink on the compromise that kept the government open—barely--isn't even dry and they're already talking about the next round of cuts in Washington.

The New York Times led off this week with an article about Obama's plan to reduce the deficit by making unspecified “changes” to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Sure, it also mentions increasing taxes and cutting military spending, but when we're embracing the conservative frame that entitlement programs are too big, that's not much to cheer about.

Meanwhile, of course, CEOs are raking in the cash and still not hiring, at least not Americans. Daniel Costello wrote in the Times this weekend that top executive pay at 200 major companies was up 12 percent from last year—a median pay rate of $9.6 million. Viacom's CEO made $84.5 million in just nine months, and Ray Irani at Occidental Petroleum's pay went up 142 percent from last year.

The Dodd-Frank financial regulation package includes rules that give shareholders a say on executive pay, Costello notes, but they are mostly cheerily ignoring them. H.P. got a grade of D on an A to F scale for its pay packages, but rejected criticism—until its shareholders voted against approving the pay rates. Now they're “under review.”

But Beazer Homes' chief executive had to return $6.5 million of his compensation in a settlement with the S.E.C. over inaccurate financial statements. Activist shareholders can't do it alone, but some government support could help.

So here's an idea, President Obama. Instead of changing wildly popular programs that keep Americans healthy and secure, take those CEO pay numbers and make a speech about them. Take it on the road, to Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, and anywhere conservative governors are attacking working people's rights. If shareholders are angry, imagine how angry everyone else will be.

You'll have support for taxing the rich faster than you can say “deficit.”

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Remembering Why Media Reform Matters

Progressives cheered when it was announced Wednesday that Glenn Beck would be “transitioning” off his Fox News show. Beck's not gone for good, of course, but his daily screeds against the likes of Van Jones and Frances Fox Piven will be somewhat more limited—perhaps to radio.

That news aside, though, it's been a rough year in media. NPR and PBS are under attack, newspapers and magazines are still struggling to make ends meet, and with a new war, hundreds of anti-woman, anti-union, anti-immigrant bills popping up around the country, the progressive independent media is stretched thin as a pancake.

As we speak, to make things worse, the Republican House is preparing to vote against net neutrality. Though Senate Democrats, including tireless supporter Al Franken, have vowed to stop it, and even President Obama has issued a rare veto threat, the House wants us to know where they stand: on the side of the big media conglomerates.

Where do you stand? Since you're reading this, we assume you stand on the side of progressive media reform advocates. We try to keep you abreast of the latest media policy decisions as well as the range of political issues of the day, and with our partners at the Media Consortium are bringing you even more in-depth coverage of issues like net neutrality, media mergers and the latest on public broadcasting.

But if you're in Boston this weekend, why not join us at the National Conference for Media Reform? I'll be hosting the Friday keynote and speaking with Tony award–winner Sarah Jones, and you'll get a chance to hear Nancy Pelosi, Joseph Stiglitz, Bernie Sanders and the Bay Area's Malkia Cyril tell you why media justice matters. If you can't get to Boston, keep an eye on our website as we'll be broadcasting live with Free Speech TV!

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Bonuses for Bosses at Killer Corporations?

Eleven workers dead, untold volumes of sea life poisoned and more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea. If that’s what a historically good safety record looks like at TransOcean, I’d hate to see a bad year.

Most people know the name TransOcean only because of the explosion on the company’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

A US presidential commission investigating the offshore spill—the largest in US history—declared that lax standards caused the deadly mess. Despite that, TransOcean executives are receiving safety bonuses this month. In a filing Friday, TransOcean said, “Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record.” In fact, the company says it was the best year in safety performance in the company’s history—which has to make you wonder about other years.

Safety apparently accounts for a quarter of the equation that determines executive bonuses at TransOcean. The rest is, predictably, “financial factors,” including new rig contracts. Even as it doles out that safety bonus (worth $374,000, above salary) to its CEO, TransOcean is trying to score more of those—and dodge hearings by the US Interior Department and Coast Guard, telling its employees they don’t have to show up despite being subpoenaed.

Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Reilly says TransOcean “just doesn’t get it.” Maybe what we need to “get” is the importance of not leaving corporations to police themselves. When it comes to safety, self-enforcement doesn’t do the job. Just ask the families of the eleven dead TransOcean rig workers, or the relatives of the twenty-nine miners killed a year ago this week at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Persistent violations there preceded the deadly gas build up. Multiple investigations continue, with every player pointing the finger elsewhere. Is a safety bonus for then–Massey CEO Don Blankenship on the way? Who knows?

What we do know is that workers’ lives need defense not contingent on the calculus of CEO performance and that doesn't value profits and reputation over people’s lives. As long as companies have great lawyers, workers need their own defenders. And that’s part of what people are marching for.

This April, people are remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last stand with striking sanitation workers in Memphis and showing their own solidarity with unions under attack. When politicians or executives say we “all” have to share the sacrifice, some sacrifice more than others—and as long as bonuses are paid to the bosses who don’t protect workers lives, workers need unions that will stand up for them.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Bringing the Budget Protests to New York

From Wisconsin to Indiana to right here in New York—the state capitol in Albany Wednesday night echoed as well with chants of “This is what democracy looks like” as protesters occupied the halls to protest budget cuts to education.

This time, it’s a Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, in the driver’s seat, and while he’s not threatening to take away union negotiating rights, the budget pushed through at 1 am contains steep cuts to primary education spending, the State University of New York, and job creation. It also allows the millionaires’ tax to expire—that’s a surtax on incomes over $1 million.

In other words, it’s not just Republicans cutting taxes on the rich and taking the funding from students and the unemployed.

Just like in Wisconsin, protesters in New York, chanted “Whose house? Our house!” ate pizza, made s’mores and were joined by State Senators Adams and Diaz, who carried pillows to sleep on as they announced their votes against the budget.

A sign on a door announced that it was for “Senators, Staff & Lobbyists Only,” but Twitter later announced that the group Community Voices Heard had taken over that spot.

Despite the protests, though, the budget passed and the politicians celebrated but the battle’s not over yet. New Yorkers and working people around the country are gearing up for “We Are One” rallies on Monday— foreshadowed in New Haven yesterday by a march that brought union workers from public and private sectors together with non-union folks from the community.

What can people do against massive power? Who knows. But from what we’re hearing, a whole lot of Americans are planning to come together Monday—and find out.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on Facebook.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.
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