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Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

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

Harry Potter and the Bailed-Out Banks

There's a new blockbuster out just in time for the holidays: Harry Potter and the Bailed-Out Banks. Here's a synopsis:

While students in London spend hours in the cold protesting tuition fees that may soon triple, RBS, a bank that took a huge government bailout, throws a party commemorating one famous British student: Harry Potter. (Of course, Potter went to an exclusive private school.)

It'd be funny except it's exactly what just happened in London. Perhaps the bank thinks the money that came from the government appeared by magic or goblins instead of by taxpayers, who still technically own 84 percent of the bank. The taxpayers—particularly those facing steep government cuts—know better.

In the US, we've been seeing extravagant child's play from bankers for a while now: from rub-your-nose-in-it bonuses to costume parties with rappers. And Republicans, who love to cry "What about the children?" when wailing about deficits, are more than happy to keep cutting taxes at the expense of those very same children.

A recent UNICEF report that's received almost no attention found that of the world's twenty-four richest nations—a list the US tops—our children rank twenty-third in material well-being, twenty-second in health well-being, and nineteenth in education well-being.

The tax cuts Congress is debating for the rich, come from somwhere—from education and healthcare to the pockets of those party-throwers, and the kids don't so much as warrant an invitation.

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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Remembering Why WikiLeaks Matters

"The question of whether we want a real 'net is really the question of whether we want a real democracy."

That's what Douglas Rushkoff said on Saturday at the Personal Democracy Forum's conference on WikiLeaks. Real democracy comes with messy things we sometimes don't like—and one of those things is getting a boatload of attention.

What seems to be becoming most provocative of all are distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on companies who've taken reprisals against Wikileaks. Dutch police just arrested a 16-year-old boy for taking part in pro-WikiLeaks cyber attacks against MasterCard and Visa. Tech writer and activist Deanna Zandt wrote of the PDF forum that there too, DDoS absorbed most of the crowd's attention. People might be afraid of giving a stamp of approval to DDoS as a political tool because it would make it okay for their political enemies to use it against them, Zandt suggests.

But while we debate freedom on the Internet and the possibility for fighting back on the Web, we often move away from the bigger point: the destabilization we should be concerned about is the destabilizing effect of US policy around the world, as revealed by the leaked cables. Covert wars in Yemen, Pakistan, the Middle East. Pro-corporate intervention to scuttle climate talks. . . it's not just MasterCard and Visa cutting off WikiLeaks' access to donations, it's the government and corporate intervention, unsupervised, into the freedoms and rights of people around the world.

It can be sexy to talk about digital direct action, but as Deanna wrote, tech activists and political activists, especially in the US, bring a tremendous amount of privilege to the table. We have the ability and freedom to take risks for the benefit of those who don't have those freedoms. While we're thinking about digital action, let's not forget the reason the WikiLeaks information is important in the first place: those people who aren't in the room to speak for themselves.

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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Attacks On Government Workers in Tax Deal

Republican activist Grover Norquist once famously declared that he'd like to shrink the federal government to the point where he could drown it in a bathtub—but a little-noticed provision in the "tax cut compromise" we discussed today with Bernie Sanders might well drain the states' sinks first.

Yves Smith and Reuters blogger James Pethokoukis report that the billionaires-for-benefits compromise effectively ends the Build America Bonds program. That's the program that makes it easier for states to borrow money to cover their budget shortfalls—estimated at $140 billion just next year.

Who are the victims when the states can't borrow? Bill Fletcher reminded us this week of the attacks on public employees' pay. Public employee retirement benefits will probably be the first to go—estimated at $750 billion to more than $3 trillion.

Pethokoukis further notes that legislation amending bankruptcy law is in the works, possibly permitting states to declare bankruptcy. And if they declare bankruptcy, just like GM, workers' benefits are the first thing on the chopping block.

Former Wall Street trader turned blogger Bruce Krasting called the failure to renew the bonds a “black swan”—an unexpectedly huge event that has a disproportionate effect. And he wondered how legislators "could have blundered on this?”

But it's not a blunder. This is intentional. Union-busting, wage-and-benefit slashing, all snuck in under the radar... And its impact will be felt first not in DC—where the money media watch—but in the states. We've seen this strategy from the right before—move the action to the states, in the media dark. Think welfare reform...  And typically it works. Will Build America Bonds be next?

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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Shifting Goalposts on Terrorism

We've seen so many definitions of terrorist in the last few years, it can be hard to keep them straight. So I suppose it's understandable when someone like Rep. Peter King from New York can't remember what the word means anymore.

Back in the '80s, when King was Nassau County Comptroller and the chairman of the American Committee for a United Ireland, he energetically fought the extradition of former IRA volunteer, Joe Doherty from the US to the UK. He told the New York Times, "The Bush Admininstration has really turned its back on America's tradition of being a sanctuary for political refugees. They've allowed their interests with the British Foreign Office to impede justice."

Flash forward to 2005, when Karl Rove and Scooter Libby outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. King called for "crosshairs" to be set on news media for not being tough enough on Plame's husband Joe Wilson instead. He also suggested that the media "be shot" for pursuing the story.

Terrorism has a new definition now, though, and King is emphatic on who the bad guys are. "I am calling on the attorney general and supporting his efforts to fully prosecute WikiLeaks and its founder for violating the Espionage Act," he told a New York radio station.

Terrorism: it's blowing things up, except when it's not, and it's leaking sensitive information, depending on who does it, and people should be extradited, except when they're political refugees. Do I have that straight?

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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When Interpol Cares About Sexual Assault

Julian Assange turned himself in Tuesday—he's been arrested and is being held without bail in London ahead of a hearing on extradition to Sweden. The head of the "stateless" news-leak organization WikiLeaks is accused of sexual assault—and let's be clear, he should face the charges. But since when is Interpol ([the investigative arm of the International Criminal Court at The Hague) so vigilant about violence against women? If women's security is suddenly Interpol's priority—that's big news!

Tell it to hundreds of women in US jails and immigration detention centers—who charge that they can't get justice against accused rapists—or women in the US military (two of out three of whom allege they've experienced assault.) In Haiti hundreds of unprosecuted cases of rape in refugee camps could use some of Interpol's attention.

To come back to earth... It seems we only care about women's bodies when there's a political point to be proved. Feminist lawyers had to fight for years for the Criminal Court to take rape in Bosnia and Congo seriously. Feminist journalists wrote for years about the treatment of women under the Taliban, but it wasn't until they needed to sell a war that US politicians cared—and invaded.

Years later, Assange's organization ever-so-inconveniently leaked thousands of Afghan war logs and diplomatic cables about that war, and women's bodies are again the pretext for action.

So yes, if Assange is accused of assault, he should face charges. So should football players (professional and college), politicians, film directors and everyday Joes.

But until some of those others start getting scooped up by Interpol and extradited, let's not pretend that this is the dawning of a brave new era in sexual assault prosecution, shall we?

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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The Big Float's a Big Scam

WikiLeaks may be the biggest information explosion this week, but Wednesday's mammoth release of documents pertaining to the Fed's bank bailout program could well spark the most outrage—at least among those not fortunate enough to head a firm on Wall Street.

The Federal Reserve, we know, floating cash all over the place in the cold months of '08 and '09. But not just to Wall Street. Apparently Harley-Davidson and Verizon were also "too big to fail."

And the government purchase of commercial paper—very short-term loans to businesses to help them meet cash-on-hand obligations—is the new news in this story. Twenty-one thousand commercial loan records have also been released under new financial regulatory legislation.

Some of the biggest users of the Fed's expanded lending were Goldman Sachs, who claimed they didn't need assistance. Goldman hit up the Fed eighty-four times, to borrow nearly $600 billion. GE, parent company of NBC, got $16 billion from the Fed—all this, let us not forget, while credit for the rest of us was frozen over.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who wrote the provision requiring these disclosures, noted that the Fed could have forced the companies they helped to restrict executive pay and lighten the burden on mortgage holders. But they didn't. Instead, the Fed loaned out trillions while families lost their homes. Three thousand three hundred billion dollars in taxpayer cash went to private banks abroad while half a million Americans a month were losing their jobs.

Did Congress authorize our Fed to become the world's private banker? That's a question voters have a right to ask their politicians. While the GOP grandstands over shutting government down if they don't get tax breaks for the wealthy, it just may be there's a message on which actual voters—from the Tea Party to the block party—can agree.

And that's this: Dear Congress: you know what? Go ahead, shut—until you can prove that you're doing as much for us as you've done for a group of enormously powerful people, who today in many instances are making even more money than they did before they were bailed out by the taxpayers.

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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WikiLeaks' Economic Warfare

So far, WikiLeaks have concentrated their efforts on US foreign policy, from wars to diplomacy. Though little concrete action appears to have been taken in response to the leaks, their next target may spark a different reaction.

Bank of America shares fell 3 percent on Tuesday after Julian Assange hinted that he had as much as 5 GB worth of their documents revealing some shady behavior.

"We know they've made horrific acquisitions...taken massive write-downs.... if they actually had to report that, they're probably technically insolvent," financial blogger Barry Ritholtz told cable news.

But we already know there's been plenty of mismanagement and even fraud on Wall Street, so what could Assange have on the bank that we don't already know? Given their shameless theft of US assets, what could possibly embarrass them?

Maybe, however, it's not about what happens after but what happens before WikiLeaks leaks. Ritholtz noted that maybe this is just about "shaking the tree—disturbing the status quo." And Assange has written plenty himself on the subject.

In one essay, Assange notes: "The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie."

So perhaps when we look for action to be taken as a result of the WikiLeaks, we're looking for the wrong thing. Instead, maybe what we're looking at is a long-term attempt to provoke a response that reveals the dysfunction within our most powerful institutions and possibly derails it by provoking an over-reaction.

Think lunch-counter sit-ins, updated. If Assange's cyber invasion is to Bankster Street what the civil rights marchers were to segregation, what are Wall Street's water cannons? And will they end up, by their reaction, shooting themselves in the foot?

I can hardly wait to 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 all Nation blogs on the Nation's free iPhone App, NationNow.
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Why Tax When You Can Freeze?

Corporate profits are up, especially in finance, and yet hiring and wages aren't. No matter how much productivity spikes, wages stay stagnant. They haven't budged. That means workers doing more work for less pay. So what's a Democratic administration to do?

Freeze federal workers' wages! That's what. President Obama on Monday announced a two year pay freeze for civilian federal workers. "The hard truth" is that controlling the deficit's going to "require some broad sacrifice" that public workers are going to have to share in, said the Pres.

A brave move to take on those overpriced slackers on the federal dime. . . Right?

Not quite. Federal workers are an easy target because it's been drilled into us that public workers are soaking up taxpayer largesse. But it's not true. As Lawrence Mishel at the Economic Policy Institute notes, federal workers' pay actually lags behind the private sector about 22 percent—according to the government's own figures.

And although that $2 billion Obama estimates he'll save in cost-of-living increases for federal employees sounds like a lot of money, it isn't. I mean, compare it to the $700 billion that we handed over to Wall Street, or the $700 billion we pour into the war budget...

But where else is the government going to get $2 billion? Well, journalist and Das Krapital blogger Moe Tkacik points out that if we wanted to raise taxes on the wealthiest one percent instead, we'd have to raise them a whole lot! Like, 0.072 percentage points! (“Tax only billionaires and centimillionaires, and you could do it with an extra 0.275 percent in taxes at most," she notes.)

But why tax bailed-out billionaires when there are struggling federal workers you can squeeze?

And a public employees union you can stick it to?

I mean, who ELSE are they going to vote for?

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

 
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Solving the Irish Crisis

The financial crisis in Ireland is leading to a political crisis on the heels of a bailout and more "austerity measures." The coalition that currently rules is falling apart, the Green Party detaching from the prime minister's Fianna Fail party, and elections loom.

But just as in colonial days, the "Irish problem" is really a problem from outside. Ireland wouldn't need "help" if it hadn't been robbed by multinationals.

To be fair, its own government turned over its pockets to be picked. Ireland's corporate tax rates are some of the lowest in the EU and its loopholes allow foreign companies to use Ireland's well-educated and health-insured workforce, while giving the least possible back. Americans are linked to the problem -- every time we GOOGLE we're using a company that's avoiding taxes at home in the United States and in other, higher-rate European countries by setting up in Ireland, and shuttling profits in and almost tax-free out.

The influx of temporary corporate cash creates a big bubble, but leaves no incentive for actual investment in Ireland. Sound familiar? New economy companies like "Do No Harm" Google are doing there just what manufacturers did here—suck up labor, hollow out infrastructure, then leave the place for the next desperate economy to chew up and spit out.

The Washington Post noted the young educated Irish are leaving the country in droves—emigration jumped 50 percent last year, and there are estimates that as many as half of all graduates will leave the country in the next five years. Some Irish homes have lost 70 percent of their value, unemployment is above 13 percent, and many families are underwater on their mortgages, just as in the United States.

What can we learn from Ireland? Lower corporate taxes don't lead to jobs and economic health, they lead to dangerous bubble economies that burst at the slightest threat, and even 100 billion euros isn't enough to bring back stability. Austerity won't help people who need jobs and homes. This is not the time to obsess over deficits, it's time to pull countries back from the brink.

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 all Nation blogs on the Nation's free iPhone App, NationNow.
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Profits, Pensions and the Return of GM

Today marked the return of automaker GM to public trading on the stock market. All hail the American automakers, returning to profitability in a little over a year after bankruptcy proceedings and billions of government dollars in bailouts, right?

Not so fast. Though the stock prices are expected to be high and papers have called it "historic," let's not forget that bailout dollars and profits for shareholders come on the backs of union worker concessions, buyouts and layoffs. And that's still not enough for some.

"If GM has a social purpose beyond generating profits, shareholders will suffer," said Antony Page, quoted in the Wall Street Journal. The same article warned prospective buyers that GM has underfunded its pension fund to the tune of $17 billion—you know, those pesky retirements that all those workers expect to have.

Unemployment is still sky-high in the United States, and bailing out GM kept some people in work, it's true. But with unemployment benefits ready to run out and no job-creation programs in sight under a Republican House, one can expect more pressure on union autoworkers to make even more concessions—all in the name of keeping the company profitable, of course.

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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