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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.

Time to Call It Torture

The New York Times is finally calling it torture—when someone else has admitted to it.

"At least someone is owning up to the awful legacy of Mr. Bush’s illegal detention policies," their editorial concludes, after discussing the decision from the British government to compensate former detainees at Guantánamo Bay. The settlement payments could run over a million pounds in one case.

But the Times shouldn't be so quick with the finger-pointing or the congratulations. The British settlement, for one thing, comes with "no concession of liability" for torture. Instead, Cameron's government is paying taxpayer dollars out in order to avoid going to trial and facing liability. There's video available of the treatment of UK prisoners, which the Guardian published and you can see on our Facebook page, but the US news? Not so much.

Our own torture tapes, erased in 2005, earned nary a peep from the big media outlets last week, when the statute of limitations on filing charges against the erasers expired. That means that the investigation into who destroyed videotapes of CIA interrogations is effectively over and no one will be held accountable.

Where were the strongly worded condemnations from the Times then? About where the coverage of those tapes, as opposed to the pre-emptive settlement is now.

Our friends at FireDogLake kept the pressure on while the clock ran out on our torture tapes, but it is ironic to see the Times wagging its finger at the government when it missed an excellent opportunity to hold it accountable itself.

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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Time to Stop Making Nice to the Military

President Obama's go-slow approach to ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" discrimination in the military has left repeal on life support in a lame-duck session of Congress. Well thanks for nothing, Mr. President.

But it's not just him. How about our justice strategy? As we mark another Veterans—or Armistice—Day, with LGBT vets shut up and shut out, it's time we called an Armistice on making nice to our military.

Before another much-medaled macho man talks about unit cohesion and combat readiness—and why we simply must protect our boys from out gay men and lesbians—we need an answer. Just what is rape and sexual abuse doing for unit cohesion?

Gen. James Amos, the new commandant of the Marine Corps, recently told reporters that he was concerned about a possible loss of unit cohesion and combat readiness if "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is repealed. It's the umpteenth time we've heard this.

According to SWAN, the Service Women's Action Network, one in three women is raped or sexually assaulted while serving in our military. I heard a Marine Corps captain choke back her pain this week. Her cohesion's barely holding up; is that just fine with General Amos?

Misogyny and homophobia go hand in hand. Listen to any service person talk about their training. Much of it actually encourages female-hate, or the hatred of the femme within. So no wonder "fag" is a label to be terrified of. The military will never be safe for LGBT people until it's safe for females and it's not. It's deadly.

It's time to stop asking servicemen and starred generals how safe they feel—and start bringing them into the dock to account for hate crimes. They've wrecked and ruined enough brave women. When they put that to rights, maybe we'll consider letting them employ the services of our precious gay and lesbian people.

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

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

Let the punishment fit the crime, they say.

Well, we now know the punishment for the BART officer who shot Oscar Grant: two years and time served. He could actually be out of prison in seven months—for killing a man. His involuntary manslaughter charge normally carries a four-year sentence, and could have included California's "gun enhancement," which would've raised his sentence to 14 years. Instead, his short sentence has been decried as less than Michael Vick was given for killing dogs.

Meanwhile, some of the protesters arrested when the original verdict came down are facing felony charges which could carry more time in prison than Mehserle will serve.

And how about the case of a hit-and-run driver in Vail, Colorado, who was offered a plea bargain that would wipe his felony conviction after a few years of "good behavior"? The man he left lying in the street isn't dead, but suffered spinal cord injuries and a life sentence of pain. The driver's profession? A "wealth manager" at Morgan Stanley.

You have to wonder about our "justice" system. Does the punishment have anything at all to do with the crime—or only with who's committing it? And what happens when a society loses the fundamental premise of the rule of law—that we have one law for all?

One law for me, another for you. What next—one economy for us and another for them? One environment, one marriage, one school... Wait, I guess the real question is: What do we do now we're here?

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Haiti's Hurricane Struggles

Turning away from the US elections for a moment, we can find plenty of places suffering not from a hurricane of campaign cash, but from actual hurricanes, bringing with them immediate suffering but less coverage.

Haiti was all over headlines at first when an earthquake hit that island months ago, but now gets lost in the shuffle. By way of update—Hurricane Tomas dumped rain and flooded already-battered towns like Leogane over the weekend but the island's said to have "dodged" the worst.

The worst, in Haiti, is a constantly moving goalpost. Cholera, borne by water, was already reaching epidemic proportions before the flood. The outbreak has already killed 500 Haitians and sickened more than 7,000. It's a preventable disease. Preventable, that is, if Haiti had received the water filtration systems and attention so many wealthy countries promised so eagerly in the days immediately after the earthquake.

In a population where at least 70 percent of people have no access to improved water or sanitation, people cannot protect themselves. "Cholera will not go away until underlying situations that make people vulnerable change" said Paul Farmer's group Partners in Health not not long ago. But how many are listening?

The US is facing cuts too, in every state, for every kind of service—that's the outcome to our $4 billion race. While Americans dust themselves off from another exorbitantly over-spent election, we'd do well to get some perspective. Hurricane Tomas didn't bring Haiti the kind of devastation that the quake did, and so didn't make many headlines, but Haiti's not close to being back on its feet.

Looking to improve your post-election karma? Haiti would be a good place to start.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Like this blog post? Read all Nation blogs on the Nation's free iPhone App, NationNow.
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Lessons from Elizabeth Warren

Which lesson will Obama take from sweeping midterm losses? The mantra from the media is move right, conciliate, bridge build. But that's the rotten road that brought the Democrats this far. There are other voices to listen to.

Robert Reich, who was part of the Clinton administration during the Gingrich Revolution of ‘94, says the media's wrong about Clinton’s reelection. Clinton was reelected then because the economy was booming, says Reich, not because he caved in to Gingrich—although he did, to devastating effect on the Democratic base.

The relevant lesson for Obama isn’t '96, says Reich, it's 1936. When FDR, in the middle of a Great Depression, retooled and came out swinging – against speculators, monopolies and the men he called "the reckless Banksters of finance."

Obama thus far has prioritized protecting bankers. He even told them, memorably, in March 2009, "My administration is the only thing between you and pitchforks."

Having soaked up the government’s largesse, the banksters repaid him by pouring millions of anonymous dollars into defeating Democrats. As Simon Johnson of MIT points out, a blueprint for a way forward would be to follow the lead of —Elizabeth Warren, interim director of the consumer protection agency.

Warren’s a real consumer protector who could put the faux populists to shame. It's his very last chance. Obama better let her, for our sake, as much as his own.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Three Polls and One Book to Remember While Watching Results

Americans are voting in the 2010 midterm elections. We know the stakes are huge. But before the polls even have closed, Republicans are already rewriting history to suit themselves.

Take yesterday's New York Times. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat exclaimed, "20 years of liberal gains have been erased in 20 months." We will hear more like that tonight. These boasts are not surprising, coming from the Party of No.

But what's also not surprising is what the electorate is doing in this, and in every recent, federal midterm election.

Big drops in voter turnout… swings in political representation… greater activity by minority factions… these are predictable, historic features of midterms. Take turnout. In 2006, 2002 and 1998, it fell 20 percent from the prior presidential election.

Take swings in representation. Yes, the House is up for grabs. But many districts won by Democrats in 2008 were Republican seats for years. These dynamics are predictable, historians and academics say. They have happened for decades.

And yes, political outsiders have an outsized impact in lower turnout races. But are this year's most visible activists, Tea Party conservatives, any more of a majority than Ross Perot's Reform Party supporters were in 1992? No. In fact, they represent about the same slice of voters: 20 percent. See Amy Gardner's valuable, if late, actual study: "Gauging the Scope of the Tea Party Movement in America." Or read At the Tea Party: The Wing Nuts, Whack Jobs and Whitey-Whiteness of the New Republican RIght and Why We Should Take it Seriously, a new collection of essays edited by yours truly, released yesterday and available exclusively through ORbooks.com.

We need to be clear what this election is and is not. It is not a national presidential election. Midterms are scores of local and state contests. These are not nationwide campaigns. The GOP may declare a new political era has arrived. But it hasn't.

A report on an October 2010 poll by the Washington Post, Henry J. Kaiser Foundation and Harvard University said, "Americans continue to see major areas of government spending as essential. Whether it is Medicare, Social Security, national defense, food stamps, education, unemployment benefits or environmental protection, about nine in 10 [voters] call these programs at least somewhat important." Furthermore, it noted that "most Americans who say they want more limited government also call Social Security and Medicare 'very important.' They want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role regulating health care."

Most voters are not angry about the size of government. They are disappointed and frustrated government has not done what they hoped for in hard times. Poll after poll finds a solid majority of voters want government to protect them, especially in tough times. Voters support core programs; retirement security, anti-poverty, education, consumer protection, infrastructure, environmental protection and defense. The pundits, usually so obsessed with polls, skipped USA Today/Gallup's October report which found that "the government is the problem mantra draws only about one in five voters." In contrast,"there is a broad consensus that the government ought to build transportation systems, protect consumers from unsafe products, preserve the environment and combat discrimination. Nearly six in 10 say government should make sure all Americans have adequate health care, despite qualms about the health care overhaul President Obama signed this year."

If Democrats lose big, they can blame themselves for compromising too much, not nurturing their base and not selling even those accomplishments they got for the price of all that compromise. But let's remember what a midterm election is and is not. It is not a national referendum. It is not launching a new political era. Voters still want government to be effective. Ironically, just when America needs a more responsive government, it looks like the process will be anything but that.

Bear that in mind as you watch the results. And if you don't trust media that's been binging on a banquet of campaign cash, tune in the alternative: Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzales, Thom Hartmann, Marc Steiner, David Sirota, Gloria Neal and I are teaming up tonight to co-host unique, all-night live coverage on Free Speech TV. Watch DISH Network ch. 9415, DIRECTV ch. 348 or stream. 8 pm–2 am EST. Send us your comments on Facebook or follow on Twitter: #FSTVQ.

Be Careful What You Vote for This Election Night

Halloween is over, but the scary stuff is still around.

One of the scariest things we can think of here at GRITtv is a Senate without Russ Feingold, but that's not the end of the creepy prospects in Wisconsin.

David King, the Republican nominee for secretary of state of Wisconsin, is running for a statewide constitutional office that is second in line to the governorship after the lieutenant governor. And he's accused of rape.

A Tea Party favorite who appears at events with Ron Johnson, Feingold's challenger for the Senate, King, who calls himself Apostle David King and runs a ministry called Milwaukee God Squad, has been sued by a woman who claims he got her so drunk that she passed out and then got her pregnant.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, her lawsuit is for battery, violation of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision, on the part of BuySeasons, where she was hired by King to work.

He's denied the charges, of course, and it'll be months before we know the truth. But it's noteworthy that the story's been out there in the Journal Sentinel for days with no national pick up to speak of.

King's far from alone in the creep line up who made it to the ballot this election. There's Rich Iott, the Republican Tea Party nominee for Congress from Ohio's 9th District, who liked to dress up as a member of the Waffen-SS and called it harmless fun; the North Carolina candidate Ilario Pantano who was charged with murdering two unarmed civilians in Iraq when he was deployed. And in Wisconsin, an accused rapist.

The lesson? In a political climate of "sweep the bums out," there's always the matter of who's sweeping in. And elected or not, there's the question of how so many creeps got so far. That's the question that will last long after the election.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

WikiLeaks and War Spending

Last week we spoke to Ethan McCord, who featured prominently in the first bombshell release from WikiLeaks. On Friday there came another massive revelation, documents confirming all our worst suspicions about the Iraq war.

Iraq Veterans Against the War, of which McCord is a member, said "We believe that real national security is created where government transparency and accountability, free press, and an end to spending on illegal wars and occupations are the norm."

The free press failed this weekend, with the Sunday talk shows ignoring the Iraq War Logs in order to talk horse race strategy for the upcoming elections.

Wouldn't you think this would be an election issue? After all, "spending on illegal wars" is what took us from surplus to deficit, helped create the situation in which we find ourselves today, with infrastructure crumbling, Tea Party candidates calling for Social Security cuts and overturning health care.

You'd think savvy Dems like Joe Biden and Tim Kaine would pounce on this opportunity to remind Americans who supported the Iraq war and its connections to our current problems.

But no. The Tea Party tall story is the only one out that's out there. In the absence of any other explanation for why a country should go from rich to broke and its people get split into super rich and destitute, it must be big government's spent too much on poor people and immigrants and crony corporate bureaucrats and bailouts.

That big sucking sound you don't hear? That's the war—spending that's getting away with murder.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Campaign Cash, Corruption, Corporate Power

Campaign cash—we're drowning in a flood of it. As Katrina vanden Heuvel noted yesterday on GRITtv, this is on track to be a $5 billion election—and it's not over.

We used to have words for spending like that on politicians: bribery. Remember all that quaint anti-colonial talk about "independence"? As Zephyr Teachout commented in a meeting I was part of, hosted by the Coffee Party, those founding fathers were all about independence from corruption and prosecuting bribery. Remember the term "antitrust"?

Now it seems the most we can hope for is "transparency." Well, Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index is out now, and it's pretty transparent: The United States has dropped in the world rankings to twenty-second, below Chile and just above Uruguay. "The world's most peaceful countries score the best" reports the UK Guardian—places like Denmark and New Zealand—hmm. Maybe there's a connection. (You'll be relieved to know we're above Somalia.)

Just think how far we've come. Once Tea Partyers fought corporate power. Now they live off it. Once corruption and bribery were the Axis of Evil. Today they're Supreme Court–confirmed law. It's trust-busting that the courts can't stand.

In this election, poor people will vote on rich candidates covered by even richer corporate media. Bloated on a diet of billions of dollars of anonymous campaign ads, money media are nothing but happy. What would Tom Paine say?

He might say what Zephyr Teachout said. "What our country needs is less corruption and more good old fashioned bribery."

At least then we could prosecute the thieves of our democracy.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Who Profits From Silly Campaign Season?

We need another word for silly season. It's way beyond silly how some are competing in this midterm race.

In Illinois in particular, it's not been pretty in the tight fight for Barack Obama's old seat. At three different points in a recent televised debate, Democratic contender Alexi Giannoulias challenged Republican Representative Mark Kirk over his claims that he had been shot at in a plane when he was serving in Iraq. 
"The question, Congressman, is, why would you not tell the truth? Why would you make all this stuff up?" Giannoulias asked.

Actually the question is, "What, Congressman Kirk, did you do while the Illinois economy was diving off a cliff?"

According to the 2010 Report on Illinois Poverty, close to 20 percent, or 3.5 million, Illinois residents live in poverty or close to it. The poorest in the state face 1930s-style unemployment rates of 27 percent.

What's Kirk's record? He voted against the Reinvestment Act, against tax cuts for the average person. He voted FOR tax cuts for the super-rich, and voted six times for a loophole that rewards companies that export jobs.

While Giannoulias is no dream candidate, at least he's for reinvesting such that the state as a whole stands a chance. Kirk's for tax policies that let the super-rich get ever further ahead.

Campaigns this year are likely to spend a record $3 billion on television advertising—and more than ever it's negative. There is no way precisely to quantify it but quality we can assess: it sucks. Mudslinging may be good for ratings, but it's no way to make decisions about our shared future. Money media, however, are laughing all the way to the bank.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

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