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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.

Army's Mental Health Care Failed Bradley Manning

The uprisings in Egypt have inspired all sorts of people, including Private Bradley Manning, the young man being held in solitary confinement in Quantico, accused of being the source for Wikileaks. Manning’s friend David House tweeted after visiting him this week that “Bradley’s mood and mind soared” at the news from Egypt.

Manning’s mental health has been the subject of much debate, the putative explanation for his isolation and extreme treatment, but a new report on an Army investigation finds that a mental health specialist recommended Manning not be deployed to Iraq in the first place.

Now the Washington Post reports that two Army officials questioned the leadership of Manning’s superior officers, who overruled a recommendation that he not be deployed and sent him to Iraq regardless.

“This clearly demonstrates the failure of the Army to take care of the soldier,” Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, told the paper. Where have we heard that before?

An overstretched military has been sending soldiers in unstable condition back to war for years now. For the second year in a row, more US soldiers committed suicide than were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve been failing to take care of our soldiers since the beginning of the wars—in part by starting them in the first place.

Bradley Manning’s mental health continues to be used as a reason to punish him before he’s even faced trial, but the evidence is mounting that the Army is making him suffer for a problem they created in the first place. Meanwhile, he’s treated like a convicted criminal for what, if he’s guilty, was an attempt to expose the conditions soldiers were living under.

It’s past time we took an honest look at what we’re doing to our soldiers, as well as how we’re treating our detainees.

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.

Killing the Internet Not Just a Problem in Egypt

As we speak, Egypt is struggling with a near-total Internet and communications shut-off, and not just Egyptians are grappling with the implications. Can the flow of social media information to an entire country simply be cut? Apparently, yes. And that’s not just an Egyptian concern.

It’s very much an American concern, in that a US-based company seems to be the maker of the Internet off-switch. As Tim Karr of Free Press notes, the US company Narus was founded in 1997 by Israeli security experts. Based in Sunnyvale California, Narus has devised what business fans call a “social media sleuth.”

As boosters put it: “Narus is the leader in real-time traffic intelligence for the protection and management of large IP networks…. Used by the world’s service providers and governments, Narus has developed and patented state-of-the art algorithms to detect network anomalies and manage unwanted IP traffic. Additionally, Narus has the unique ability to precision target and fully reconstruct all types of IP traffic, including e-mail, Web mail and instant messages.”

They call it “total visibility.” Who’s buying? Well, Egypt Telecom, the state-owned communications company. Human rights abusers Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are also clients. During Iran’s protests in 2009, dissidents were tracked, imprisoned and in some cases executed thanks to similar technology.

And in that Narus is owned by Boeing, the nominally US-based company that has outsourced jobs all over the world—we know that the US State Department has been lobbying for them. Got to boost those exports!

So while Obama administration reps call for Internet freedom to be restored in Egypt, they may simultaneously be lobbying for the companies who shut down that freedom. Your tax dollars at work promoting the sale of social media off-switches to dictators, that would be bad enough.

But do we have any reason to believe the United States has not also bought this handy tool for itself? It makes you wonder what or who he’s kidding when Robert Gibbs talks about Internet freedom. Better not talk it up too loudly, though, before someone reaches for the kill switch.

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.

Inequality Drives Egyptians to Streets, But Ours Worse

It’s amazing what inequality can drive people to, eventually. Just look at Egypt.
 
“These big guys are stealing all the money,” one 24-year-old textile worker standing at his second job as a fruit peddler told a reporter this weekend. “People are desperate.”

“I wish we could be like the United States with a democracy, but we cannot,” said another.

And so they protest, regardless of police batons, curfews and shootings. With over a 150 estimated dead, a march of millions is scheduled for Tuesday.

In spite of what some on Fox News (and the Israel lobby’s camp) sought to argue this weekend—namely that the protests were all the work of Islamist radicals—every report from the ground contradicts that. As in Tunisia, the protesters are driven by fury at poverty, lack of options and the looting of their state by the super-powerful.

It’s an equation we understand—elsewhere: a massive gap between rich and poor is inconsistent with democracy. But before you get carried away with third world conditions there, try here. On Friday a guest blogger at Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism blog noted a remarkable fact: the US actually has much greater inequality than Egypt—or Tunisia, or Yemen.

The Gini Coefficient is a number economists use to measure inequality, and the US is ranked as the forty-second most unequal nation—Egypt is ninetieth.

It’s not just numbers—we can see it every day. As Edwidge Danticat told us last week, “There are places in the US that are like Haiti, that are like Zimbabwe.”

While 22 million were searching  for jobs in the US this week, Goldman Sachs tripled Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein’s base salary and awarded him $12.6 million of stock, a 42 percent increase from ’09. The billionaire Koch brothers threw a lavish secret party for their looter cronies, to talk about their election plans.

The average American may not be suffering the way the average Egyptian has been but as Danticat noted, there’s a tendency to exaggerate the suffering of what we think of as the “third world” while assuming that the US has it better.

As for that anti-democratic gap between rich and poor—not better, worse. And here too, our democracy is suffering. What are we going to do about 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 Facebook.

Like this Blog Post? Read it on the Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Setting the Story Straight on Snow 'Slowdown'

New York is once again buried in snow, but this time more Brooklyn streets are plowed and trains are running, if delayed, to the outer boroughs. While everything slows down for the weather, it’s worth noting that the city’s managed to be prepared for the last couple of snowstorms.

It’s also worth noting, while we dig ourselves out, that the story that went rocketing around the media after the first major snowstorm of the year, of a union staging a work slowdown that kept the city paralyzed, has been debunked pretty thoroughly by now.

The New York Times reports that one man, Councilman Daniel J. Halloran, Republican of Queens, had started the story, saying that five workers, two from the Transportation department and three from Sanitation, had visited him to tell him about the “slowdown.” The transportation workers, though, have denied his claims, and he cannot or will not name the sanitation workers.

A federal investigation was convened after the snowstorm not to look into whether budget cuts were dangerously over-broad and left people without any form of transportation for emergencies, but into the union’s purported actions.

But even Halloran has changed his story somewhat as the investigation proceeds. The freshman councilman, who has Tea Party support, now says that workers “were subtly informed there was no need to rush” while clearing snow, rather than explicitly told to slow it down.

It’s probably too late, though, since the New York Post and Fox News have already used the union workers as another excuse to blame all organized government workers for everything that’s wrong with the country. The damage has been done, and it’s probably too much to hope that the Post will enjoy splashing the truth around as much as all the misinformation.

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.

Protests in Cairo Forgotten by Obama

In the State of the Union speech, Barack Obama did get applause for saying that the United States stands with the people of Tunisia. Now, he didn’t mention the two decades of support the US had given the dictatorship.

The president did not have anything to say about Egypt—where thousands of people, inspired by Tunisia, were taking to the streets to protest their own repressive government—another one the United States has backed for years. Secretary of State Clinton’s official word is that the Egyptian government was “stable.” Aha. She said it’s “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests” of its people. And she urged “restraint” as they suppressed protesters.

Today there’s more tear gas and water trucks being used on people in the streets of Cairo, and Twitter’s been blocked. As has become the norm, social media helped Egyptian protesters organize and spread the word. Video was uploaded to the Web from cell-phone cameras; it showed activists blocking trucks with water cannons and fighting off police batons. As of Wednesday morning the Guardian was reporting four dead.

And now the Twitter-world’s aflame with reports that Egypt’s ruling Mubarak family’s arrived in Heathrow. Stable—in another country—I don’t think that’s what Secretary Clinton meant.

While this was playing out President Obama was holding forth on US exceptionalism, and especially its role promoting world democracy. What happens now?

Paul Ryan’s Republican response to the State of the Union noted that the GOP is watching protests abroad quite closely—he referred to Greece and England’s “day of reckoning.”

But it may not be theirs only. As massive protests ripple across the repressed world, US leaders can’t both claim leadership and show none. They certainly can’t claim a pro-democracy role and stand firm—until the very last minute—with dictators.

And the same is true for the rest of us. When it comes to what’s wrong here—we can sit back and wait for chips to fall, or get involved in righting a wrong and do something.

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.

No Solutions at State of the Union

Obama will deliver his take on the State of the Union tonight, and while Congress has bickered about bipartisan seating, it doesn't matter where anyone sits because the profiteers who define what’s possible in our politics have already barred any serious solution to what ails us.

We know what the problem is: Jobs. 15 million still unemployed. A National Journal piece last week noted that the Great Recession wiped out what amounts to every US job created in the twenty-first century. And jobs had already been leaving—for three decades.

That's a bipartisan problem—remember who passed NAFTA, which first opened the floodgates. As a commentator with the hardly radical Hoover Institute told the Journal—Instead of reinvesting the gains of globalization in improved plants or a higher quality of life work in the UStates, private companies privatized the profits and hired abroad. Driving down wages for them, and us.

Now as cheap production’s boosting profits again,as Heidi Shierholz reminded GRITtv yesterday, while CEOs are smiling, communities are frozen, cold as ice. And again big business is promoting trade.

Abroad, "That's where the customers are," the president said last week, and with a jobs-tsar like Jeffrey Immelt the GE CEO at his side – we’re going to hear a lot more of that.

But trade's not fixed, it's fouled us up.  The spoils have gone to shareholders, and to spending on jobs abroad – and politics -- thank you, Supreme Court.

As a result, government's done nothing: neither through taxes nor through regulations. The traditional tools for evening the playing field -- government regulation, economic planning, taxes—have all been turned toxic.

And while bailouts for banks are just fine, safety nets for the rest of us are trashed as socialism and waste. And in place of a community culture, those same profiteers have sold us a celebration of greed and all things private—while denigrating government and all things public. Think public workers, public spaces, public art.

Obama is just the last in a line of Democratic presidents playing it safe, or making change small enough not to rock any powerful boat. But that's what we've seen for thirty years. And playing safe hasn't been safe at all—it's played us into a ditch.

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.

Palestine Papers, Peace and Concessions

The revelation of thousands of pages of confidential Palestinian diplomatic records has shocked the world—all of it except the United States, that is.

The “Palestine Papers,” published by the Guardian and Al-Jazeera, which cover decades of failed so-called peace negotiations, show among other things just how much the Palestinian Authority was willing to sacrifice, and how much more the Israeli government still wanted.

According to the documents—which the Palestinians say are partly fabricated but they won't say which part—in 2008, Saeb Erekat, the PA's chief negotiator, offered to allow Israel to annex almost all settlements in East Jerusalem with nothing in return—lands which international law recognizes as Palestinian. “This is the first time in Palestinian-Israeli history in which such a suggestion is officially made,” the Palestinian negotiator pointed out, but his Israeli counterparts rejected even that offer saying it didn't go far enough.

Surveying the reaction to the release—in the United States it's mostly silence, or concern for the State Department's own credibility. In the Arab world and most of Europe the reaction is more typically outrage at the betrayal, and what Erekat calls “flexibility” and willingness to be “creative” others are calling a giveaway. Says one Tweeter: the papers show Israel doesn't want peace and Abbas doesn't want Palestine.

Coming up, the Guardian promises more releases, including some that they say will reveal that PA leaders were privately tipped off about Israel's 2008–09 war in Gaza. Meanwhile in other news, an Israeli inquiry has absolved that government and its military in any wrongdoing on the attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year, the one that killed nine last year when Israeli troops stormed the Mavi Marmara ship. Inquiry chair Jacob Turkel declared the Israeli actions were justified by Israel's security concerns.

When insecurity justifies just about anything and total concessions are rejected as inadequate, it all begins to make one wonder whether insecurity hasn't become more valuable than peace. And if that's the case, what's the next step for the people of Gaza and the West Bank?

*Research help provided by Anna Lekas Miller.

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's Deregulation Dance With Wall Street

With a new Republican Congress falling all over itself to hand corporations whatever they want, it was only a matter of time before some politician turned up in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, breathlessly describing the "dazzling" and "path-breaking" nature of the free market, and vowing to get rid of regulations that have placed "unreasonable" burdens on businesses.

We just didn't think it would be Barack Obama.

But the man who couldn't give an executive order to halt dismissals of gay and lesbian members of the military has apparently issued an order to review regulations that stifle job creation, or place unreasonable restrictions on business, or—and these are his own words—are "just plain dumb."

Obama's words at times echoed US Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue, who called for regulations to be "swept away"—and who cheered the hiring of Wall Streeter Bill Daley as White House chief of staff. For more on Donohue and the Chamber, check out our series "The Loaded Chamber" at our website.

Reality check: Deregulation or lax regulation, let's not forget, led to the BP oil spill that Naomi Klein notes is still wreaking havoc on the ocean floor. It permitted ultimately deadly practices to continue at profit-mad Massey Energy. A Mine Safety and Health Administration official called those twenty-nine* miners' deaths "preventable" this week.

And the point is, while there are always "dumb" rules you can dig up and make fun of, what's raging in the United States isn't a political fight over dumb stuff. What's raging right now is a very real fight over government, and its role in protecting the public and the public sphere, and the relative power of private profiteers. And in that fight, well, the argument is part of the point.

The president and his advisers may think that getting ahead of the GOP on "releasing businesses from regulations" may steal their thunder and dull the US Chamber and Donahue's political bite. But as blogger Melissa McEwan said, "Spoiler alert! Corporate America still won't like you."

Given the choice between a Democrat who gives in most of the time and a Republican who gives in all of the time, corporations will still go with the latter. And isn't the president supposed to work for the rest of us?

*The video version of this commentary says twenty-two deaths—it is actually twenty-nine.

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.

Cutting Taxes Is Breaking the Economy

It scored the cover of The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Paul Krugman's feature, "Can Europe Be Saved?" And a quick read may have left American readers feeling reassured. At least Americans aren't in the Europeans' fix with their common currency, enduring safety net, shared responsibilities and all that socialisty stuff.

Focus tightly enough on Europe and it's just possible to ignore what's really making business news. Namely us. Last week the World Bank warned of "serious tensions and pitfalls" ahead in the global economy, and less than 3 percent growth for the United States. That came on the heels of the news that the United States could lose its triple-A credit rating if the national debt keeps going up.

The United States, in case you haven't noticed, has become a debtor nation, borrowing to finance war, private healthcare, bank bailouts... and did I mention low taxation? While the Times would have readers worry about Europe, Europeans have noticed the obvious: the United States and in particular the US super-rich and corporations are under-taxed.

As the BBC chief economics correspondent—actually my sister, no radical—noted, "looking at the numbers, and America's dysfunctional politics, if investors ever started to question America's creditworthiness or seriously sell the dollar, it could make the bailouts on the European periphery look like a tea party." And not Sarah Palin's sort.

"Dysfunctional" refers to efforts to cut yet more taxes—the top item of the lame duck and of the new Congress. Your Congress is at work—driving your economy into a ditch and default. But don't worry. Or if you must worry, worry about Europe.

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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Widening Concern for Public Workers

It's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, the holiday that celebrates the Nobel Peace Prize–winner's birth and life. The Reverend King wasn't assassinated, as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords almost was, at a Congress on Your Corner. Or on a civil rights march.

He was assassinated in Memphis, where he was showing up to support the right of public employees to organize and strike.

What have civil rights got to do with public workers' rights? To use President Obama's language in Tucson, we need to "widen our circle of concern"—as King did—when it comes to civil rights.

Dr. King didn't distinguish social rights from economic rights, surprising as that may seem to the commentators who've shrunk down his story for convenience sake. Like Eleanor Roosevelt and many of her contemporaries, King saw a linkage between legal rights—being permitted, say, to see a quality doctor, attend a quality school or live in a quality community—and economic rights: actually being able to make a living that permits you do to any of those things.

King saw public workers as the first line of defense. That's why he went to Memphis to stand by striking sanitation members of AFSCME, the public worker's union. In his view they led the way in the fight for fair pay and benefits... and in the fight for dignity for those who shovel our snow and clean our streets.

Daniel Hernandez, the intern for Gabrielle Giffords who is credited with saving her life, said something King-like at Wednesday's memorial service.

"We must reject the title of 'hero' and reserve it for those who deserve it, and those who deserve it are the first responders and the public servants and the people who have made sure they have dedicated their lives to helping others.”

With exactly those workers under attack right now, Hernandez, the out gay son of an immigrant, was right on target. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we would all do well to join King and Hernandez—and widen our circle of civil rights concern to include those who do the work that enables the rest of us to do ours cleanly, calmly and safely.

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.

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