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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.

Bring the No-Fly Zone Home to Arizona

Could Obama and his supporters take a break from celebrating so-called no-fly zones—and take a look at what's happening in Arizona?

Qaddafi, after all, isn't the only one using military technology against his own people. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, has launched “Operation Desert Sky” to round up “illegal drugs and human cargo”—read: men, women, human, immigrants.

If that name sounds familiar, perhaps you're remembering Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq under the first President Bush. That's right, the sheriff of a US county is deliberately evoking the names of military operations in his war on migrants.

Thirty aircraft will be used in the operation, and, according to the Cypress Times, will be furnished and flown largely by the sheriff's armed volunteer posse—in other words, vigilantes. They'll be armed with M-16s and a .50 caliber machine gun.
 
Isn't it time for a no-fly zone in Arizona? The state senate failed to pass Russell Pearce's anti-immigrant bills, but Arpaio, who just recently performed a tank raid on suspected cockfighters for A&E’s TV cameras and Steven Seagal, is clearly escalating.

Former GRITtv guest Salvador Reza, an Arizona immigration activist, says it's unconscionable for Obama and the Justice Department to be part of Arpaio's coalition of the willing. But beyond that, isn't it time for us to put a stop to Arpaio's violence once and for all?

I mean, even progressives are arguing that intervention in Libya was justified on humanitarian grounds. How big a humanitarian disaster must we see on our own soil before we act?

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.

Learning What Unions Have to Teach

In a lot of the talk about attacks on labor, the focus has been on electoral politics and cash. Defunding unions will defund the Democratic party and progressive candidates who might fight for working folks.

But Jane McAlevey made the point in a recent issue of this magazine that doing away with unions does away with one of the only forms of popular education we have. It’s not just the organized schoolteachers that teach—unions have a long history as face-to-face educators, keeping history and even songs alive, passing them generation to generation.

And it’s not just history. In 2008, when the question on everyone’s lips was “Will working-class white voters pull the lever for a black man?” the voice that answered that question wasn’t in the mass media. It was Richard Trumka, whose powerful words to the United Steelworkers convention might not have been celebrated the way Obama’s “race speech” was, but combined with groundwork by union organizers, helped tip the balance for the Democrats.

It’s no surprise, then, that the right is going after unions in the states where unions helped fight ignorance and fear.

What happens without unions? We’ve seen what damage Fox can do, and the Tea Party may seem quiet now as pro-labor, anti-bankster protest swells, but they’ve not stopped organizing—a group in Queens, New York, just held its opening meeting last night.

We can’t count on mass media to do our education for us. Those of us in the independent media do what we can, but we still scramble for funds while the behemoths merge and tighten their grip. No wonder they love the Tea Party—they certainly don’t want regulation of their own power.

No, until we have some Murdochs on our side, it’s person-to-person education that will save us. Organizing. And we need the unions for that.

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.

Putting Some Bite Behind Elizabeth Warren

Paul Krugman called it “The War on Elizabeth Warren.” Yves Smith wrote about “The Elizabeth Warren Rorschach Test.” There’s no doubt that the insightful Harvard professor turned administration official, tapped first to chair the Congressional Oversight Panel into the bank bailouts, drives conservatives a little wild. And nothing drives them wilder than the prospect of her heading up a Consumer Financial Protection Agency that might actually protect consumers.

Smith notes their attacks are largely out of proportion to the real power that Warren wields. Though Republicans spent over two hours attacking Warren when she appeared before Congress last week, Smith points out that Warren’s chances of actually being named to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are skinny.

And then there’s the question of the bureau's power itself. If you dream of a bureau head in a sharp suit who will track down and incarcerate mortgage bundlers and fraudulent foreclosers—dream again. There’s no chance in hell that even Wonderful Warren will be to the banksters what Elliot Ness was to Al Capone.

After all, this is an administration gearing up for a re-election fight expected to cost a billion—with a B—dollars. Thanks to Citizens United, big business can throw some seriously big money around, and Obama has money worries enough. Way enough to stifle any likely pre-election moves on billionaires. Even if he had the inclination.

I have to wonder, too, if there’s an element of sexism in the reactions to Warren. After all, there aren’t a lot of women in high places in Obama’s economic team—and it was mostly women, you’ll remember, who warned and were ignored before the financial crisis first hit.

Nonetheless Krugman seems to think that the unhinged attacks on Warren are a perfect opportunity—another—to debate over who’s responsible for breaking the economy. The administration may not have the guts for it, but groups like US Uncut, National People’s Action and BanksterUSA just might.

We may not have an Elizabeth Ness with a federal bureau at her back, but we do have popular protest—from Wisconsin to Ohio to Indiana and back. Maybe we can have the conversation without 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 Facebook.

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

Stopping Walker's Steamroller In Wisconsin

The night that the Wisconsin Senate Republicans got together and forced through Scott Walker’s union-busting bill, many Wisconsinites cried foul. The state’s open-meetings law required more notice unless there was a true emergency.

Last week, a Republican-appointed judge ruled with the protesters that the session that passed the bill may have violated the law, which requires twenty-four-hours’ notice on a vote. Judge Maryann Sumi put a stay on the bill, blocking its implementation. Teachers and other state employees retain their union rights.

The people of Wisconsin, I told the Left Forum on Friday, stopped a steamroller. Their willingness to fight, to keep showing up in greater and greater numbers, not only held off the bill but put the GOP in a place where they were desperate enough that they violated the law. They inspired the fight back in other states—Indiana’s state Democrats are still out of state, holding up a vote on a similar bill.

And Judge Sumi's decision puts paid to all those who say progress is achieved through one set of tactics or another. Voting or protest, law or disobedience—Wisconsin stopped this Walker steamroller through a combination of them all: direct action/legislators' actions/legal challenges/protest and above all organizing.

The fight isn’t over—Republicans plan to appeal the decision, and the legislature has a chance to take up the bill again. Meanwhile, the recall organizing efforts go on, and Walker’s budget makes mincemeat of desperately needed healthcare and education programs in the state. It’s going to take every tactic in the book to turn back the steamroller for good.

But it’s worth it right now, I think, to stop for just a minute and acknowledge what’s happening in this country.

When was the last time you heard about a Tea Party rally?

 

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.

What Raymond Davis's Ransom is Worth

Last week GRITtv spoke to Dave Lindorff about Raymond Davis, the CIA employee held in Pakistan, accused of shooting two Pakistani civilians. The story got murkier the deeper it went, Lindorff noted.

This week, Davis has been released after a reported $2.3 million was paid to the families of the victims. Davis is free, his secrets protected.

Others, like Shane Bauer, a freelance journalist still held by Iran, haven’t been so lucky. Pratap Chatterjee notes in the Guardian, though, that Bauer’s job was to uncover US government secrets, not to create more of them. Four New York Times journalists—Anthony Shadid, Tyler Hicks, Lynsey Addario and Stephen Farrell—are missing in Libya right now; will there be negotiation for their release as well?

Meanwhile, the money. $2.3 million for one man is a bit steep even in the war budget, when it costs about $1 million per soldier per year in Afghanistan.

What about closer to home? What could $2.3 million get us?

How about nearly forty-five Wisconsin public school teachers at the current average salary of $51,000 a year? When Scott Walker and the FOX News crew are crying about the budget-busting cost of teachers having some collective bargaining rights, we don’t hear them complaining much about the government’s bargaining for the freedom of a contractor in Pakistan.

Let the market decide, they say, and apparently the US and Pakistani governments consider $2.3 million a fair price for Davis. No word on the market price for journalists, let alone teachers and other workers here at home.

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.

When Is It Time for a General Strike?

Sometimes things fall apart and sometime they flow together.

As the Wisconsin State Senate rammed through their union-busting bill Wednesday night, people in the capitol chanted “General strike!” And I heard an echo. Not of 1934, the last time there was a general strike in the United States, but earlier.

It was 1909, in the crowded Great Hall at New York’s Cooper Union; a big union boss was talking about talks and a 16-year-old girl shouted out from the back: “WALK OUT.”

More than 30,000 shirtwaist factory workers walked off their jobs after that. This week’s International Women’s Day celebrates the anniversary of that strike, by mostly young, immigrant women like 16-year-old Clara Lemlich. Seven hundred women were arrested, many more beaten and spat on for being “on strike against God.”

They struck for eleven weeks. It was the first successful uprising of women workers in this country—but their success didn’t go far enough.

Had, it, the 1911 Triangle Factory fire that killed 146 of these workers two years later might never have happened. A documentary about the fire is available now from PBS’s website, another one’s coming from HBO. At the March 25 centennial commemoration, the names of all the dead will be read.

But fewer Americans remember the demands these women and girls made… not just for wage increases, but for the ability to have a say in the conditions of their workplace—the workplace that killed them. Those are the rights that will be taken from American workers if the Republicans’ power grab is allowed to stand.

Imagine, a century ago, if the rest of New York had stood with the women of the factories. Imagine if instead of 20,000, it had been 2 million workers marching. Or if it were to be today.

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.

New Wave of Protests Fighting Banksters

It was tax day in 2009 that saw the first Tea Party protests, and the FOX-led media firestorm that’s followed has made it seem as though the Tea Party’s the only game in town if you want to complain about bailouts.

This year, though, as tax day approaches, a new wave of protest is sweeping the country. On February 26, inspired by the UK, US Uncut actions took place at Bank of America branches around the country—and all fifty states held solidarity rallies to support Wisconsin’s protesters.

Taxpayers connected with National People’s Action and other community-based groups occupied a Bank of America, protested the Attorneys General and the Republican Congressional leaders this week. And as James Mumm of National People’s Action noted on GRITtv yesterday, this one actually represents the majority. And diversity.

Compare the coverage with what followed every Tea Party outburst and you’d weep.

In February 2009, when one CNBC correspondent spoke out from the floor of the stock exchange against taxpayers’ help to beleaguered mortgage holders, Rick Santelli’s “rant” went viral thanks to web-based front groups of the corporate-funded right. Tax day protests a couple of months later were covered live on FOX and by June’s healthcare meetings, even a single wild-eyed ranter could snag prime time attention, on every show, on every network.

This time the attention’s critical. The Empire Justice Center is predicting a “tsunami” of foreclosures coming, and Bank of America is refusing to write down mortgage debt. Republicans in Congress want to eliminate the Home Affordable Modification Program, which helps people keep their homes and Democrats are flagging in their support.

How big do protests have to be for money media to pick them up? We don’t know, but we know it’s out of all proportion when the critique goes against the super-rich. Luckily the action’s picking up. Now, will media spotlight? We in the independent media will do our best to keep up. But we’re going to need your help.

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.

Philanthro-Feudalism Is the Future!

China’s new economic plan is a relic of the past. It focuses on raising standards of living. How quaint!

When China’s leaders unveiled their latest five-year plan recently, they revealed that their focus is on lowering inequality, investing in railroads, highways and hospitals and expanding domestic demand through income subsidies. Fancy that!

Those old world Chinese just don’t seem to get it, that the modern way is the American way: deregulate, concentrate wealth in the top 1 percent and then make sure those at the top don’t pay taxes!

Treated well enough, the rich will fund desperately-needed things like cancer research. Just look at David Koch. Keep government regulators’ hands off his cancer-causing formaldehyde, and he’ll happily put $100 million toward a new Institute for (some) Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (As long as it’s named after him. )

It’s the modern new twist on an Old World theme. We call it Philanthro-feudalism.

Those Chinese by contrast, so stuck in the past, are still looking to government to fund government things. They’re even spending public money on public projects—things like broadband internet for peasants and medical and technological research. Communists!

After all this time, they just don’t understand that the best guardians of public dollars are private bankers.

Here at home, we’re making remarkable advances! Our corporations recently gained the right to free speech and they’re so advanced that they’re preparing to spend billions to influence our next election! And a few pesky Wisconsin protesters aside, workers have realized that they don’t need rights, or jobs, or much in the way of wages.

The government of China clearly has a lot to learn. But meanwhile, let’s give ’em our thanks for still buying our bonds—and taking all those jobs off our hands.

One last thing, we’ve learned names matter. The poor aren’t eating so much these days in the US, but don’t call them peasants. They don’t like that. Here we call them consumers.

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.

Fighting Over Crumbs Left from Military Spending

There's been a joke going around the labor protests. It goes something like this:

A union member, a CEO and a Tea Party member are sitting at a table with 12 cookies. The CEO grabs 11, turns to the Tea Partier and says "The Union's out to take your cookie!"

I've been thinking that the joke applies pretty well to another situation. For instance, the military. Our military spending grabs 11 cookies and leaves us all battling over the 12th.

Christopher Hellman at TomDispatch added up all the military-related spending in the budget and came to a startling number: for fiscal year 2012, the actual military budget is something like $1.2 trillion dollars.

Trillion with a T.

Just to put that in perspective for a second, a million seconds is 12 days. A trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

So after all that cash is gone, what are we left with? Not a whole heck of a lot for the rest of us. “Discretionary” spending is nearly 40% of the budget, but if Hellman's numbers are accurate, that $1.2 trillion eats up nearly 90% of discretionary funds, leaving just 10% for the rest of us. (That doesn't include mandatory spending on things like Social Security and Medicare, which are separate.)

To be fair, Tea Partiers have called for military spending cuts, too. Rand Paul, hardly a progressive, pointed out that you could cut all of the non-military discretionary spending and not balance the budget—and Politifact rated it True.

The point behind the joke still holds, though. Instead of fighting over the last crumbs, maybe it's time to team up and grab some of the cookies back from the people who've been hanging on to far more than their share.

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.

Banksters Fighting Back With Higher Fees

The banks are back! They’re paying out bonuses and raking in profits, we hear. But just how did they bounce back so fast?

Have you noticed a little extra being trimmed off the top of your account these days? Let’s take Bank of America—Forbes notes that they’re testing a new “fee structure” for formerly-free checking, adding $6 to $25 to their take of your money each month.

The banks have been adding fees to recoup profits lost under the regulations in last year’s Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Of course, you can escape the fees by maintaining a high balance—so once again, the fees hit those who can least afford them.

Chase, Wells Fargo and Citi are also hiking their fees.

Conveniently, while they’re skimming fees from you, they’re also neatly avoiding paying taxes back—in tax dollars that could be used to rebuild the economy the banks drove into a ditch. Bank of America paid nothing in taxes in 2009—a big zero—and while they’re one of the worst offenders, bad enough to be the targets of the first round of US Uncut protests around the country this past weekend, they’re not the only ones.

Taxes and fees for us, profits and bonuses for the banksters. Is this the new American Dream? There’s one solution to it, though, and that’s to move your money—and if you’re interested in more information about that, we have a link right here.

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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