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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.

Dr. Joycelyn Elders: Marijuana, Masturbation and Medicine

A group called MarijuanaHarmsFamilies.com is flooding California airwaves with a scary-scary ad against Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana. We don't know who they are but we do know that there is a former Surgeon General who has come out in favor of Prop 19. She's Joycelyn Elders, also now a professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine and an associate at Arkansas Children's Hospital. Here's a rough transcript of her comments today on GRITtv.

Laura Flanders (host): Your response to those who say those things: it harms children, it's a gateway drug and it'll just do terrible things to law enforcement?

Joycelyn Elders: I would say that if it does anything it will help law enforcement because they could spend more time taking care of… very harmful things. Proposition 19, as I understand it, is really for adults over 21, they can have only one ounce, it's to be smoked in their own home or in a place that's authorized. Now, the drug cartels regulate who buys the drug. If we regulated it or decriminalized it, it could be sold and taxed and we could use the money to do more valuable things for our bright young people.

You're an associate there at a children's hospital. A lot of parents, not even very political folks, but parents are worried. "If they smoke marijuana, who knows what happens next?"

Well, they don't mind that they drink alcohol, that they smoke cigarettes, both of which are much more harmful. Marijuana has been used for 5,000 years. It's never been associated with a toxic death or death from marijuana, so I feel that it's more of a medicine and we should use it, regulate it and tax it. And stop all of our fears and our myths that are going on.

Regulated just like alcohol?

It's over 21. We say that we don't want people under 21 drinking but we know that they do. We don't want them smoking, we know that they do, and both of those things are much more harmful than marijuana.

How did you come to this opinion? Did you always think this way?

I reviewed the literature years ago, and for at least fifteen or twenty years I have been at this opinion and I feel that it should be legalized. The only thing that our harm reduction policy has done has criminalized a lot of bright young people, put them in jail and they're wasting all of our time and money chasing after marijuana users who really are not violent, not nearly as violent as alcohol users. I've read what it does to our brain, it's not a gateway drug, that's been gone over again and again, and I think that we need to stop, review all that's been done, review more if we need to [later] and legalize this drug, tax it and use the funds for useful services.

This isn't the first time you've taken a controversial stand. In 1995 you lost your Surgeon General job after just fifteen months after suggesting that teaching masturbation wouldn't be out of place in our school system. Today, we have a candidate running in Delaware who came out vigorously against masturbation back then.… Looking back, what do you think: If people had spoken up more strongly for you (and for masturbation) then do you think we'd be where we are today?

Well, I think that masturbation never got anybody pregnant, does not make anybody go crazy, and what we're about is preventing HIV in our bright young people. Nobody has to teach anybody how to masturbate, God taught us how. So I think that now, even in our society, they're saying that maybe this is something that we should stress more of for couples and we know that they do already.

Finally, you're the first African-American surgeon general and under our first African American Preisdent, how do you think we're doing? Have we progressed in our understanding and discussion around healthcare?

I feel that we have done much to discuss and increase the understanding around healthcare. I'm very pleased that we have a healthcare reform bill finally passed, it's not what we want, we want universal access for everybody, healthcare should be a human right, but we have something we can work on and try and make better. We are the only industrialized nation that requires so many of our people to not have access to a basic human right like health.

For the complete interview, go to GRITtv.org

Fight for Your Right to Vote for CEO Pay

From the file marked "Good but could go bad," there's this news. We already know that CEO pay has spiked alarmingly over the last decade or so, causing dangerous rifts as ordinary working people struggle to get by and watch their jobs go poof.

Well, the recently passed Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act had as one of its strongest features the right for shareholders to vote on CEO pay for corporations for which they hold stock. Nice. That means real people that have worked their lives to set aside money for retirement—people with pension funds—would get to vote.

Naturally, corporate executives don't like that. And they're fighting back. The Chamber of Commerce and other big business groups are lobbying the US Securities and Exchange Commission to change the rules, allowing corporations more control over the voting system by which shareholders can express their opinions.

You can weigh in as well, but you've only got until October 20 to do so. And it'll take a lot of public outrage to outweigh the unlimited amounts of cash that the Chamber of Commerce and other groups can spend.

For more on the Chamber of Commerce and how it does the bidding of big corporations at the expense of small businesses, keep an eye out for our new investigative series, "The Loaded Chamber." The first part comes out this week.

And in the meantime, don't forget to speak up for your right to influence runaway executive pay.

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.

Losing the War's Beginning

The ninth year of the US war in Afghanistan began with an apology. "We deeply regret this tragic loss of life and will continue to work...to ensure this doesn’t happen again."

The apology wasnt to the people of Afghanistan, for invading back in 2001. Or for the loss of civilian life in reprisal for civilian loss of life, on American soil for which no Afghans were responsible.

The apology was to Pakistan, a country where we're not even officially at war. General Petraeus and ambassador Anne W. Patterson apologized for NATO shooting and killing Pakistani border guards.

And amidst the Pakistan news, the papers of record failed. The New York Times and the Washington Post failed even to mark the anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Instead, the Post ran a story titled "Despite rising doubts at home, troops in one corner of Afghanistan see signs of progress" under their ongoing heading "Obama's War."

And so it is that the war begun on October 7, 2001 has quickly lost its beginning, even as it's losing its end. And its borders.

And so it is that anti-war groups struggle to keep up any kind of pressure. War seems simply to be the way it is. We have always been at war in Afghanistan. We will always be at war in Afghanistan. Or maybe Pakistan. Or both. Always.

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.

It's the Economy, Not the Bloggers

It seems odd to quote Bill Clinton when it's Obama's recycling of Clintonite politicians that has helped get us into this mess, but there it is. "It's the economy, stupid."

Americans are angry with the Obama administration, and the Obama administration is angry with—bloggers? The left-leaning media? What's wrong with this picture?

The vice president says "Stop whining." Obama says "Buck up." Robert Gibbs rants about the "professional left." All of them seem to forget who put them in office. Last week blogger Susie Madrak told David Axelrod: "Liberals and bloggers feel like we’re the girl you take under the bleachers but won’t be seen with in the light of day."

And Glenn Greenwald noted to Politico, people's anger "has very little—basically nothing—to do with what bloggers have been saying, and everything to do with the fact that there are no jobs and millions of people are having their homes foreclosed."

I wish it wasn’t the case, but it’s true: people would have much less time for Tea Parties and Glenn Beck if there wasn't so much fear out there about the fate of the nation, and a more defiant fight-back being mounted by Democrats.

Bill Clinton knew that, though his solutions—deregulation, "welfare reform" and NAFTA—created a house of cards that staggered twice and then collapsed two years ago. Now we’re dealing with that fallout, and the fact that Obama put Clinton people in charge of trying to fix the economy. That's the problem. It’s not Glenn Greenwald or Marcy Wheeler or Rachel Maddow or me. Thank you very much.

As Richard Trumka said, it’s jobs, jobs, jobs. The money media love the story that the lefty media are the problem because it preserves their place as the good guys. I wish we had that much power. The reality is, as we've said before, the best antidote to fake class solidarity is the real kind.

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.

Questioning the Cycle of War

The Obama administration is frustrated with the Pakistani government's inability to quell the Taliban. Who is the United States to be frustrated?

The answer to the frustration's apparently a stepping up of the pilotless drone campaign. The term "CIA drone campaign" has embedded itself in the coverage. You know the one: this last month's been the heaviest for attacks—and civilian deaths—from drones. It's the war we haven't declared and only have tacit Pakistani approval to be waging.

In other news, a NATO raid killed four Afghan children already this week. And the horror keeps on coming from the trial of five US soldiers, part of a kill team. At the trial, 22-year-old men keep testifying about saving severed fingers of Afghan civilians as souvenirs. Is "kill team" another new word in our lexicon? Do these young men really need souvenirs to remember?

Quelling the Taliban is clearly tricky. For the darnedest reasons, poor people half a world away still seem motivated to take up arms against us.

It's not as if the answer's not there in this week's news. But that would require asking the question.

Ann Jones notes that wars don't end, they live on, permeating the culture of the warriors and the warred-upon. Violence done tends to repeat. Misogyny especially, she writes, once ignited, burns off its own fuel.

We can see evidence of this in all these articles. We send drone attacks to quell violence that is stoked by drone attacks and violence; we send soldiers to war and then prosecute them for forming "kill teams."

In our longest war, we have yet to even begin to grapple with the whys of war and the what-war-really-is questions. What we are getting, however, is a pretty good sense of what the twenty-first century's going to be like, if we don't do something fast to stop this.

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.

Is the Drug War a Class War?

The war on drugs. We keep calling it that, it seems, because we like wars on abstract concepts. Like the war on terror, the war on drugs racks up one hell of a body count, and its victims are mostly innocent civilians with no more love for the corrupt regimes that rule them than we have.

Molly Molloy, who runs Frontera List, which focuses on border-related news and specifically Ciudad Juárez, and Charles Bowden, author of a new book on Ciudad Juárez, both call it not a war on drugs but a war on the poor.

Bowden noted in an interview with me in Marfa last week, "If you put people in a city where the police are not totally corrupted, where they're secure in their property, where they can get a job that pays a decent wage, they don’t kill each other."

But the work that NAFTA started in Mexico the drug wars have sped up. There are no jobs that pay a living wage in Juarez, and its proximity to the border makes it valuable turf for all sorts of illicit activity, by all sorts of forces, from gangs, to cops, to big bosses, to the Mexican Army itself.

Politicians here like to talk about border security, but they refuse to acknowledge the demands of human security: living wages, a society of laws, schools, housing, healthcare. Instead of modeling lawfulness, our government's response is more lawlessness—more arms to more armies, more privilege to the very rich and drug laws—as well as immigration laws that make no sense.

The Juárez paper, El Diario, this week addressed the drug lords on its front page: "You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling."

It's a fair point to make about the legal authorities, and the rest of us. We're failing to stop the falling of our neighbors.

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.

Larry Summers: Goodbye To All That

The Internet was all a-Twitter yesterday when news broke that Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council, will step down by the end of the year.

Summers—ring a bell? Maybe you remember his comments as president of Harvard that gender skewed admissions numbers might be explained by female frailty in the area of math and science. Or perhaps you remember his role, chasing away Brooksley Born, chair of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CTFC) in order to push through Clinton's deregulations—you know, the ones that helped lead to the current crash.

Mary Bottari over at Banksters already found an upside for Summers: "Just think of the reception he will receive when he returns to Wall Street! Never have so many financiers been made so rich because of the actions of one man."

Sure enough, in addition to returning to his well-paid position at Harvard, Summers will no doubt return to his lucrative career as a public speaker—he took in $2.7 million in speaking fees the year before joining the administration. Or to his hedge fund where he earned $5.2 million a year for a one day a week job before heading to Washington.

Two other top Obama economic advisers already left—Peter Orzsag and Christina Romer—and Time is now reporting that Rahm Emanuel may be on his way out as well. Are they—pardon the expression—rats leaving a sinking ship? Or is their dread work simply done?

Some hope that the Administration is turning in a new direction, toward a second tier of advisers who might be more progressive...

Don't bet on it. The Washington Post reports that the White House is considering trying to "blunt criticism" that they have been "anti-business."

The Devil we know certainly has friends. Time for other voices to be raised, loud, fast.

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.

Echoing at the Extremes

This weekend, at a panel on the U.S./Mexico border in Marfa, Texas, GRITv friend, reporter Mark Danner discussed the "thinning out" and hardening of politics.

When there's insecurity, violence and threat, he noted, people flock to those who promise to deliver security and stability even at the cost of their personal liberties. Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico—whomever offers protection attracts popular support.

But that's not only true in visibly war-torn countries. It's true here too. Don't you think? The economy hasn't recovered, no matter how many reports proclaim that the recession ended and millions cast about for answers, for someone to blame, someone who promises to help.

The middle of the spectrum, Danner noted, thins out while the extremes thicken and grow more powerful. Funny how here in the U.S. we've only heard about one extreme: the Tea Party movement, the angry, anti-government, pro-gun, far white. The money media loves their rallies and their politicians. Wacky views make great cable news.

So what about other views? Views that might be considered the other end of the "extreme" spectrum remain unspeakable. Suggest that Obama is a socialist Kenyan Nazi Muslim and you might end up winning a primary campaign. Suggest that Bush and Cheney ought to be prosecuted for torture and other war crimes, and you're ostracized. Why is that?

Perhaps the reason that we've only heard from one extreme in this time of crisis is that those in the money media fear that the other, leftist sort might actually gain traction. As Americans feel the ground shifting beneath them, nothing's more critical than controlling what's out there, on offer, on which to hold tight.

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.

Sexy Primary Victories On Both Sides

The other day on the show, Melissa Harris-Lacewell suggested media "need to be covering the left as much as we cover, with anxiety, the right.”

Anxiety reached a fever pitch Tuesday night with the Tea Party primary victory for Christine O'Donnell, anti-masturbation crusader, in Delaware's Senate race. The New York Times breathlessly headlines “G.O.P. Insurgents Win in Del. and N.Y.” and goes on for several paragraphs without even mentioning Democratic primaries, let alone noting that there were some insurgent victories there as well.

Perhaps the outcome of the Attorney General's race came in too late for a headline? Maybe the AG just isn't a sexy enough position for the hometown newspaper? It's only the position that launched Eliot Spitzer to the governorship and from which Andrew Cuomo is starting his campaign.

And Eric Schneiderman, who Katrina vanden Heuvel noted has been a leader on progressive issues such as overhauling the draconian Rockefeller drug laws, judicial reform, and transparency, won that primary.

Early in the day, New York bloggers were calling for poll watchers to the Bronx, where they suspected State Senator Pedro Espada of unethical activities. But just a few hours later, Espada conceded to Gustavo Rivera, whose campaign attracted the support of friends of GRITtv like Baratunde Thurston and Elana Levin.

Meanwhile, Carolyn Maloney easily fought off a Wall Street-backed “New York lawyer who emerged as a national voice for the financial industry” according to the Times. They may not be LEFT victories exactly, but they're closer than the other stuff. And even those stories didn't make headlines.

Should Democrats spend more time talking about masturbation?

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 From Rate Hikes

“Corporate interests are buying the elections? Oh no", Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told the New York Times this week. “It’s much worse than that. We don’t know who’s buying the election.”

Sure enough, but we do have an inkling. The first since the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, which lifted a ban on direct corporate spending—the 2010 elections are being bought by the highest bidder.

Looking at just August spending on TV ads, while spending by the candidates themselves has been pretty even in Senate races, Republican-leaning interest groups have outspent Democratic-leaning ones ten to one, and in the House, by roughly three to one.

And then there's off-screen corporate pressure like this: the big health insurance profiteers, the ones who fought and misfigured health care reform, are raising premiums—and blaming reform—just ahead of the election.

"I would have real deep concerns that the kinds of rate increases that you're quoting...are justified," Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House's top health official, told the Wall Street Journal.

Higher premiums will produce higher profits, and all the more cash for campaigning. And it's true, federal disclosure laws make it next to impossible to know for sure where money for election ads comes from.

But as Molly Ivins used to say, "You dance with them that brung you"—and as long as politicians are bought and paid for by anyone other than the public, it's not going to be our tune they're jumping to.

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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