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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.

The F Word: Capital or Community in Wisconsin

It should be the sound of the other shoe dropping, but you’ll have to listen hard to Governor Scott Walker’s budget address because most media will miss most of it. It’s a funny thing about covering budgets. Cutting spending garners a whole lot more attention than cutting taxes.

How many Americans know, for example, that Governor Walker gave $140 million in tax breaks to corporations—right before he announced this fiscal year's deficit of $137 million? The good people I met last week at the Wisconsin Budget Project call that a structural deficit. I’d go further. It’s not only structural; it’s structured—to bring about exactly this phony budget crisis.

As Scott Walker refuses to budge on his so-called budget repair bill, Wisconsin is bracing now for his actual budget. It's anticipated to cut almost a billion from education, literally scuttling public schools in heavily African-American cities like Milwaukee. And we already know Walker’s plans include shrinking Medicaid while privatizing public utilities, shrinking yet more routes for revenue.

Tea Partyers convening in Phoenix this week, sprang to their feet at the mention of Walker. But they’re only one side of this argument. According to a New York Times poll this week, Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions—as Walker would—by a margin of nearly two to one. Given a list of options to reduce the deficit, 40 percent said they would increase taxes; only 3 percent opt for cutting education.

What’s really playing out here isn’t a battle over numbers. It’s that debate: What is government for? Stripping profit of all responsibility to people, or protecting the public welfare? Walker’s making his answer clear. And the conflict, as “Fighting Bob” LaFollette said, has been joined by the people. It’s wealth vs. the common weal. Capital or community.

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.

Crushing Workers in Wisconsin Has National Effects

So that's what they mean by from welfare to work. First you go force the poorest Americans into the workforce, then you go after their bargaining power. Wisconsin has long been the eye of this storm.

“We have an environment in Wisconsin in which any poor family can climb out of the despair of poverty and pursue the American dream.”

So said former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, singing his own praises to the Heritage Foundation back in the early ’90s.  By the time Bill Clinton ended the federal welfare program in ’96, Wisconsin's W-2 program had already cut off AFDC entitlements and forced poor moms to work for benefits. That pushed thousands of poor women into the labor market. Average wages were around $7 an hour; homelessness rose, as did the number of children in foster care; Milwaukee's black infant mortality rate went up 37 percent, and as soon as the ’90s bubble burst, unemployment and poverty swelled.

Thompson called his policy “compassionate”—and that's the problem. It redefined what was morally acceptable to do to poor people, and with a whole lot of help from strategically funded media, the same reasoning wormed its way into the national mind. Democrat Bill Clinton boasted about "ending welfare as we know it," and signed a brutal ’96 bill, casting it as doing right by the poor. Now that's the same language being used to take down the unions.

Inside the dark Victorian mansion of the Bradley Foundation in benighted Milwaukee, there must be smiles all around. The same ideologically driven outfit that paid for the task force that devised Thompson's welfare plan is now backing Walker's drive to criminalize collective bargaining.

In fact, as Wisconsin journalists reported with alarm two years ago, the CEO of the Bradley Foundation, Michael Grebe, was Scott Walker’s campaign chair and the head of his transition team. Bradley has long treated Wisconsin as its radical policy science lab. It must be itching to carve another notch in its community-destroying cane.

Paying for politicians is child's play. To crib from the debt peddlers: pushing right-wing policy is costly. Actually pacifying workers? Priceless.

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.

What We Still Haven't Learned About Rape

When Lara Logan of CBS News came forward with the news that she had been brutally sexually assaulted by a group of men while reporting from Tahrir Square, the story caused shock waves. Logan is the chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS, and it is rare for prominent women to come forward with stories of rape or sexual assault.

Why?

Maybe because even progressives can't help but blame women for what happens to them. Noted antiwar reporter Nir Rosen stepped down from his position at NYU after a string of Twitter comments that implied Logan had gotten herself assaulted for her career. Rosen's apologized, and said that his distaste for Logan's work colored his response. But this story's bigger than that... and older.

As a society we've yet to disarm rapists—or rape. It hovers around, as a threat to any women walking free, doing her work, let alone free alone, or under the stars. The threat's extra sting lies in the fact that if you are raped, you may still be blamed. Or disbelieved.

Meanwhile, the right is using what happened to Logan to imply that Egyptians cannot be trusted with democracy. As if rape isn't common right here at home. One in six American women faces sexual assault in her lifetime.

Women are faced with an impossible dilemma: report and risk derision. Or keep quiet, and watch it keep happening to others.

Lara Logan deserves commendation for going public with her story, and anyone who tries to twist it into anything other than a tale of what happens to women everywhere, all the time, still, is simply making apologies for rape. And for that there's no apology.

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.

Obama Should Be Ashamed of His Budget

“This freeze would cut the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, bringing this kind of spending -- domestic discretionary spending -- to its lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President. Let me repeat that...."

That was our president announcing his 2012 budget. And indeed let's repeat that — and note a few things he didn't say.

While around 22 million Americans are looking for work...

And almost 62 million workers are working for sub-poverty wages...

While one out of three kids is living in poverty...

And nearly 3 million families have lost their homes last year alone...

While spending on war grows, another $118 billion this year, and military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing see record profits....

And studies show that $2.2 trillion is needed to bring infrastructure to the basic level businesses need.

...Domestic spending will be at its lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower?

Between 1979 and 2005, the CBO numbers show, the average after-tax income of households in the top 0.01 percent quintupled -- from just over $4 million to nearly $24.3 million. In 2009, as million of workers lost their jobs, on Wall Street at the thirty-eight biggest firms, investors and executives earned $140 billion -- the highest sum ever.

James Madison famously wrote that the new American republic was to be "a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people," not aristocratic privilege or hereditary right. Yet in 2010 undisclosed private donors and multinational corporations funneled millions of dollars into our media, saturating the airwaves and skewing the election.

As all this has been shaping up, as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson point out,  government in our era not only failed to push back on the tide rising at the top but "put its thumb on the scale, hard. . . on the side of those who had more weight."

While all that: "This share of spending will be at its lowest level since. . ." Well, since Dwight Eisenhower warned of the anti-democratic threat of a runaway military industrial complex?

We should be ashamed to let our president get away with this. And he should be ashamed of proposing it.

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

The Culture War on Jobs

It might be the greatest bait and switch ever pulled on the American voter. For two successive election cycles we've been promised jobs, a recovering economy, attention to the Constitution. After the last one, triumphant Republican after triumphant Republican declared November's to be an election decided on jobs.

Well, I don't know what jobs you had in mind, but I'll bet most voters weren't thinking axe wielder or culture warrior.  But suddenly all we're getting is tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for everyone else, and no jobs, unless you happen to be paid for pursuing abortion doctors.

Call it class combat with a nice healthy side dose of culture war. While Obama's pursuing the Republican priorities of cutting spending, Republicans and a few of their Blue Dog buddies are attacking abortion rights. Again.

Rand Paul, the supposed Tea Party champion who ran on individual rights to privacy and liberty, has introduced the Life Begins at Conception Act to make sure that fetuses have individual rights too. No word on whether Paul considers the women who carry those fetuses humans under his Constitution.

South Dakota is considering a bill that would make it “justifiable homicide” to kill a doctor who performs abortions. That's right, they want to legalize killings like that of Dr. George Tiller in 2009. Apparently they've learned nothing from the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. Would it be OK in South Dakota to pre-emptively kill batterers, or employers with fetus-unfriendly workplaces? Maybe that's on its way.

And those kinder, gentler Republicans who were going to bring back jobs to their states, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin? They're busy threatening to call out the National Guard on workers who don't like having their rights to collective bargaining taken away—or having their jobs slashed. That's not exactly concern for the economy, Governor Walker.

The only job created that I can see in all this mess is the job of finding us an electoral system that could elect some very different sort of politicians.

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.

Outsourcing Potential, Forgetting Workers

“We need better intelligence, the kind that is derived not from intercepting a president’s phone calls to his mistress but from hanging out with the powerless.”

That was one of  columnist Nicholas Kristof's lessons for US foreign policy drawn from Egypt's revolution. In the New York Times this weekend he pointed out that American journalists and foreign policy experts alike missed the warning signs of what was coming in Egypt in part because they talk to the wrong people. Aha. That's not exactly a revelation to consumers of independent media.

It's not just revolutions in far-off places that we miss when reporters ignore the everyday working people, though. Another piece in the very same paper on the very same day examined the consequences of this country's outsourcing-only manufacturing policy. The question raised there was pretty fundamental. It went to the entire justification for globalization.

We've been told that going global serves American interests because increased profits produce innovation, creativity and investment in new improved products. Right?

The question raised in Louis Uchitelle's deep-inside-the-paper story is, is it even true? Can a country continue to innovative if it's not making the stuff it innovates?

When great products of American innovation are made not here but there—Americans are a world away. Aren't the innovations that will bring us the next iPads and iPhones, for example, in Asia, most likely going to come from people who spend their time actually making things, instead?

Robert Kuttner noted this week in The American Prospect that Democrats have become distanced from  labor—that most party officials come from the business class and have little appreciation of what workers can do. No wonder they don't think of workers as potential innovators—they barely think of them at all.

The US must export to “win the future,” President Obama said in his State of the Union address. Pundit heads nodded. But how much time are they spending listening to the president and his ilk? And how much are they listening to the rest of America?

American workers are not the "powerless" exactly in Kristof's sense of the word. But policy makers keep not listening, down the road, they certainly could be. Things are going that way.

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.

A Bright Bipartisan Future on Civil Liberties?

Lately, when the term “bipartisan compromise” is tossed around, it tends to mean that Democrats are giving in to the Republican position on issues, or that women's rights are being sacrificed to some larger purpose.

But there was bipartisanship of a different sort this week in the House, when civil libertarians on the left and the right of each party joined together to defeat some particularly controversial portions of the Patriot Act.

Twenty-six Republicans, including eight new Tea Party members, voted with some Democrats to stop fast-track passage, extending things like Roving wiretaps, the “lone wolf” surveillance provision, and the “library records” power... at least temporarily.

Was it a Tea Party revolt? Not exactly...

First off, John Boehner brought the extension to a vote under fast-track, which allows no debate or amendments but does require a two-thirds majority. So a relatively small number of “no” votes were able to temporarily stop passage.

Also, most of Michele Bachmann's fifty-two-member Tea Party caucus actually did vote for big government's ability to see your library books and tap your phones.

Tea Party rhetoric notwithstanding, authoritarians on both sides of the political divide seemed more than happy to make nice to Big Brother, especially as they settle into government themselves.

But it does show that at least a few of the Tea Party conservatives do mean what they say when they claim libertarian values. It also shows that not all of them do, which could be trouble down the line for the Republicans.

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.

City of Joy Is What Investing in Life Looks Like

This weekend saw something revolutionary—not just  in Egypt, but in the Congo. The V-Day foundation, led by playwright and GRITtv guest Eve Ensler, opened its first City of Joy, a compound that will help Congolese women, many of them rape survivors, heal and learn, as V-Day puts it, to “turn their pain to power.”

The compound cost around $1 million, and hopes to graduate 180 women per year. Ensler told the New York Times, “You build an army of women,” and they take power for themselves.

Just $1 million, to help heal survivors and support them as they lead their country away from violence. We spend a million a year, per soldier per year in Afghanistan. Imagine.

(The US Navy spent $450,000 to fly jets over the Super Bowl. In fact, over the $1.15 billion stadium’s closed dome!)

What would the world look like, I wonder, if instead of invading countries, often in the name of women's rights, we created support centers for women? If instead of spending $376 billion on the war in Afghanistan, we created 376,000 Cities of Joy?

Just one year of the war budget, $117 billion for fiscal year 2012, could give us 21 million women supported, trained and motivated to heal from the violence they've faced. Talk about civil society. Talk about—that catch phrase in Washington today—orderly transition to a new tomorrow.

At home, Republicans (and some Blue Dog Democrats) elected in the name of job creation and fiscal responsibility are instead trying to criminalize rape victims and their doctors if they choose abortion. Their "family values" laws would watch women die rather than risk harm to a fetus. Those same members of Congress like to talk about being prolife, but they almost all support our wars. For my money, what Ensler and V-Day are doing looks much more like the real thing.

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.

Corruption and Inequality Begin at Home

The US media seems to have found a new language for the economy. There's been talk of “solidarity” and even “class war,” and a focus on corruption and inequality like we haven't seen in who knows how long.

The only problem? They're talking about Egypt.

“It’s quite clear that entire domains in the economy were dominated by a few people,” a British professor of Middle Eastern Studies told the New York Times Monday. The reporter notes “Hosni Mubarak's Egypt has long functioned as a state where wealth bought political power and political power bought great wealth.”

Salon's Glenn Greenwald notes that such rhetoric about foreign countries serves to promote the idea that these problems exist Over There, but not over here. But Greenwald's readers and GRITtv viewers know better.

Just one example, in case you've forgotten: Massey Energy is the union-busting company that owned the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that exploded in April, killing twenty-nine people. As local reporters had complained for years, Massey's CEO Don Blankenship had more or less purchased the state's government with a consistent flow of camapaign ad dollars.

And as if that wasn't enough, the Brennan Center for Justice singled out Massey, along with the US Chamber of Commerce, for its spending on judicial elections—where Blankenship spent millions to remove a state Supreme Court justice who had ruled against his company and replace him with another, with whose help the same court reversed a $50 million anti-Massey judgment.

An economy dominated by a few? Great wealth buying great political influence?

It's fine to explain why the Egyptian people are in the streets. But don't pretend corruption's a word that only exists in Arabic.

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.

Media Miss the Al Jazeera Story

One of the biggest stories of the past few weeks has been the story of Americans discovering Al Jazeera English. It shouldn’t have been so hard.

As the protest movement in Egypt grew, Americans found that Al Jazeera had what no US network has any more: fully staffed reporting teams working round the clock in Cairo. But other than in a handful of pockets across the United States—including Ohio, Vermont and Washington, DC—cable viewers couldn’t watch Al Jazeera. Some cable operators have blamed political pressure. Others have said they had little time for it.

Even as American diplomats damn the Egyptian government for blocking the free flow of information, a handful of cable operators right here exercise a chokehold on their viewers’ options. And Al Jazeera—a victim of post-9/11 Islamophobia—is not one of those.

As the New York Times’s Frank Rich bemoaned this week, "The noxious domestic political atmosphere fostering this near-blackout is obvious to all". One result is a poorly informed public. As Rich put it (and he’s hardly the first): "We see the Middle East on television only when it flares up and then generally in medium or long shot."

The other result, this season, has been a huge surge of traffic in the United States to Al Jazeera English’s website.

Sooner or later some for-profit network’s going to wise up and make a big deal of adding Al Jazeera English. (Maybe it’ll be the new AOL Huffington Post platform.) Before they do—let’s point out that Al Jazeera can now and has for a long time been seen daily on our partner station, Free Speech TV.

Since October 2009, FSTV has been airing Al Jazeera English on Dish Network ch. 9415 and DirecTV 348, and making it available, along with the rest of its lineup, to some 300 community run cable stations coast to coast. Since the uprising, FSTV has expanded from one hour a night to more than thirteen hours of Al Jazeera’s live-stream daily. LinkTV has done the same. Link’s daily report on the Middle East, MOSAIC has drawn on Al Jazeera for years.

We’ve long been fans of Al Jazeera English, for its smart timely reports such as Big Noise Films’s White Power USA. Even more, we’re fans of independent media. Not corporate-owned like the cable companies, nor state-funded like Al Jazeera, independent channels are the first stop for those seeking TV options, and programmers brave enough to resist baiting. And it’s a pity that pundits like Rich, even as they bemoan blackouts, continue their own.

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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