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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.

New York's Real Culture War

The clash of civilizations continues, 9 years after the attacks of 9-11, the threat to our freedoms remains real.

Shadowy individuals aim to control our way of life, and women's lives and liberties, especially, are at risk. Forcing women into strange clothes and shoes, violating equality-based cultural norms -- it's not just the Taliban. This sect starves one half of the population in the name of culture.

And they're not going away. Even as evidence mounts of the ill effects -- on women and society at large - of keeping females impoverished, undernourished, and under constant surveillance, these culture warriors continue to push their way of life and amass huge profits -- and power and influence off the spoils.

It's a battle for hearts and minds, folks. And it's taking place in our schools, our homes, and of course, on TV. This year, again, they're bringing their crusade to New York. Local sensitivities be damned, they'll be waging their culture war September 11 weekend.

Calvin Klein, Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Jimmy Choo are back. It's fashion week! There have been rumors of a public burning of Vogue.

Enjoy fashion week y'all.

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.

Fighting Class War Fighting, Bob-Style

Obama spoke to a labor crowd in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Monday, calling for new energy investment and new infrastructure. The word most people want to hear from him, of course, is "jobs." Where are they going to be, when are they coming back?

Wisconsin's a place where that discussion's getting very twisted. Once a solid progressive state, home of "Fighting Bob" La Follette, now it's "purple"—and solid progressive Senators like Russ Feingold, the sole Senate vote against the Patriot Act, are feeling the lash this election cycle because of misplaced anger from the Tea Partyers and Republicans decrying "big government" while enjoying cash from big business.

In 1931, La Follette wrote in The Nation of the failure of the Hoover administration to deal promptly and sufficiently with the Depression, saying "The bankruptcy of his leadership in the worst economic crisis in our history reveals the tragic failure of rugged individualism and places the major cost of deflation upon those least able to bear it—the unemployed."

Yet here we are again, nearly eighty years later, and that same rugged individualism, tax cuts for the wealthy and weak stimulus are being tossed out as solutions, as if we've forgotten what ended the Depression, namely spending. Give money back to those who already have it, John McCain and Feingold's foes argue, and they'll fix the economy.

As Katrina vanden Huevel put it on GRITtv yesterday, when the very rich are sitting on $1.8 triillion in assets and wanting more, but not hiring or paying living wages, that's class war. La Follette knew people needed leaders willing to fight it. As he noted back in 1917, that "wealth has never yet sacrificed itself on the altar of patriotism." No indeed.

For more Fighting Bob talk, come on the Barrymore theater, Friday night in Madison, where I'll be kicking off Bob Fest—with the likes of Feingold, Thom Hartmann, Greg Palast and Jim Hightower.

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.

Accepting Defeat in Iraq

Everyone is spinning the Iraq mission's so-called end but no one seems willing to accept defeat.

Republicans are complaining that the president didn't mention George W. Bush often enough in his speech announcing the end of combat operations. In fact, he did, quite a bit, and in an over-generous way, most sane people agree. As GRITtv commentator Bill Fletcher, Jr. put it Wednesday, "Iraq wasn't a case of a war gone bad with good intentions--it was begun illegally and handled wrong from the start."

The people who got the shortest shrift in the president's speech were the Iraqis. In particular, the Iraqi parliament. Obama made much of the fact that was following through on a promise to bring combat troops out of Iraq (for which he's clearly hoping to score election points) but there was only one oblique reference to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which actually forces US combat troops to leave.

The timeline, terms and the troop draw-down stipulated in SOFA were signed by U.S. and Iraqi officials on Nov. 16, 2008 and have stood as the law of the land ever since. As the U.S. right proclaimed the surge a success; so too, Democrats now claiming credit for a withdrawal they didn't really have much choice about. (Certainly not if they are going to claim credit for Iraqi democracy at the same time.)

And then there's the Left. With over 50,000 troops remaining - and the largest embassy on the planet - some on the left are pushing the claim that the U.S. maintains a grip. Uncle Alexander argues that, to the contrary, in terms of every goal set for the invasion - finding WMD, building democracy, accessing oil, building peace - the U.S. invasion has been a total defeat. (Beat the Devil found Reuters' account of Iraq's oil auctions interesting reading.)

Better we come to grips with defeat than proclaim that a lawless operation in some way made the U.S. stronger.  It didn't. Iraq's in ruins. Afghanistan's next. America's crooked, killer appetite for conquest does us - and the world - no good.

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.

Fight Tea Party Voters with Fresh Voters

Candidates are in their districts, making nice to likely mid-term voters. They're a precious bunch, more scarce than general election voters, and typically more polarized in their views. What if there were more of them and more low-income people, particularly women, in the mix?

In a country where 131 million people voted in the 2008 presidential election, a few million more voters from under-represented groups sprinkled, state after state, by the tens or hundreds of thousands, just might make a difference. Securing their voting rights is a smart, effective way to find out.

In a handful of swing states where voting rights groups have sued and won in recent years, the result is impressive: hundreds of thousands of low-income people, two-thirds women, registering since 2008.

In Missouri, where John McCain beat Barack Obama by less than 4,000 votes, nearly a quarter-million voter registration applications have been filed by Missourians while applying for state public assistance benefits since August 2008.  In Ohio, where George W. Bush beat John Kerry by nearly 119,000 votes in 2004, low-income Ohioans filed 100,000 voter applications in just the first six months of 2010.

Project Vote, Demos, The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the local civil rights groups who sued these states and won (forcing turnarounds at state public assistance agencies) have been waging a lonely fight to implement the National Voter Registration Act. The 1993 law requires a range of state agencies, not just motor vehicles, offer voter registration services.

That fight became a little less lonely in June, when, for the first time, the Justice Department announced it would start enforcing the NVRA’s voter registration mandate.  This April, 40 million Americans applied for Food Stamps.  If 10 percent of those people registered to vote – a smaller percentage than seen at Missouri public assistance agencies after settling its NVRA suit – the nation’s voter rolls would grow by several million.

The numbers from Missouri and Ohio dwarf the size of the largest tea party rallies. Already, right-wingers fear these voters and NVRA compliance, commenting on websites that poor people should not vote for any number of ugly reasons. Now it's up to other candidates to pay attention to voters who've until now been overlooked.  Instead of obsessing about the tea partiers -- give those newest voters some good reason to use that vote!

The F Word: Time to Declare Global War on Flooding

The flooding in Pakistan has displaced 2 million people, killed at least 1600 and affected 14 million. It should be affecting all of us. A disaster of global proportions, requiring a global response, as Gwynne Dyer noted on our show not long ago, it offers a hint of what we can expect if climate change continues on apace. While it's not a cause and effect equation, if we want to know what rising waters look like? Look at Pakistan.

The US has pledged 19 helicopters and 1000 marines for aid in the flood-ravaged regions, and the UN is asking for 460 million aid dollars. But we've already been pouring money into Pakistan—into drones and bombs, that is. We've been giving about $1.5 billion a year for military aid, and have nearly 100,000 soldiers in neighboring Afghanistan.

That, after all, is the war on terror! Terrorism is much more dangerous than some floods, right? After all, we keep approving budgets for war while voting down a bill that might've made a dent in the climate crisis.

To push the point: terrorism killed only 25 Americans last year. Hurricane Katrina killed 1836 Americans in a few days, and we haven't seen a Global War on Flooding.

Not long ago, President Obama told Pakistani paper Dawn, “Our primary goal is to be a partner and a friend to Pakistan and to allow Pakistan to thrive on its own terms, respecting its own traditions, respecting its own culture.”

We could do that by shifting our disproportionate spending on war to spending on aid for the flooded areas. After all, we know the tragedy flooding brings.

Wrote Robert Naiman, “If it were war, our leaders would say, 'Failure is not an option.'”

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.

Evil Inequality In the Works for the Web

Google's corporate motto, it's been noted, is “Don't Be Evil.” They're going to be sorry they ever said it. By siding with Verizon vs. those fighting for a free and equal Internet -- that may be exactly what they're doing.

The Internet and telecom giants Verizon and Google have reportedly reached an agreement that sells out net neutrality. They make it sound like a victory for fairness -- they'll stand by equal access for everyone on the wired web. But the arrangement, not yet public and arrived at in closed door meetings between the behemoths, would enable Verizon to impose tiers and charge for quicker access over wireless devices.That's the future they're talking about.

The deal comes just as the Federal Communications Commission and major telecom giants are crafting new regulations that could last a generation. As we've been rehashing the Constitution lately, maybe it bears reminding that we learned years ago that separate's not equal.

Offering freedom but not for wireless users is tantamount to telling independent producers we are free to communicate and do business -- but only by tin-can or pony express, while the big boys rule the mobile superhighway.

We at GRITtv exist as noncommercial media thanks to your donations, and maybe we're being selfish by calling for neutrality. Costs on bandwidth would make getting our show to you online much, much more expensive, and so would the ads.

Yet if it would make things harder for us, how much harder would it be for that independent producer—or even citizen journalist—who happened to be at the right place at the right time with a camera. It's not just browsing that's endangered by a class system of communications. It's our ability to challenge that class system, for example, and hold governments and corporations--like Google and Verizon—accountable. Maybe it's not just profits they're after, after all.

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.

Charity or Philanthro-Feudalism?

Twenty-nine million unemployed or looking for work, that's the latest estimate, and you'd think it'd concentrate the mind in Washington. 29 million, or over 16 percent of us, need jobs and services and help to stay afloat, and to pay mortgages and grocery bills and—sigh—private health insurers.

With an election coming up, the pundit class are browbeating politicians to look the other way. The panic in their voice is all about—you got it—deficits. And while they're famously unworried about the condition of the unemployed, they won't tolerate any talk of new taxes to solve that problem. The unemployed get lazy when you give them extended benefits; the rich give back, they say. Except they don't, or they haven't. As we've commented before. This so-called recovery's been accompanied by tremendous hoarding.

Paul Krugman wrote this week, "In effect, a large part of our political class is showing its priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation’s foundations to crumble—literally…—they’re choosing the latter."

And just when you might begin think ill of billionaires, headlines trumpet forty of them are taking a pledge with Warren Buffett to give half their wealth to charity. The Oracle of Omaha's getting plaudits from the investor-invested media, but his timing couldn't be more deadly.

What's the message of Buffett’s "greatest givers" plan? Massive wealth's alright, as long as those who have it share some. Some even have a word for it: philanthro-capitalism. But it's a face-saver, not a state-saver.

The wealthiest Americans have seen incomes skyrocket since the 90s, growing 409% between 1992 and 2007, while their effective tax rate fell to just 16 percent—less than yours and mine. That's part of the problem.

In New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's sitting on an $18 billion fortune gives to charity, but the transit system is still hiking fares and public schools are crumbling and segregated. We saw what T. Boone Pickens's idea of giving was back when he bankrolled the swiftboaters against John Kerry.

If we're going to depend on the goodwill of forty rich guys to pick who gets help, we ought to declare Philanthro-Feudalism and stop wasting money on elections.

Let's not forget, money donated to charity is tax-free, so giving to charities actually deprives the government of revenue. Long-term change will require government, the people's representatives, not the profiteers' action, growing an economic system that works for more of us. Instead of urging a pledge to give to charity, world's billionaires could do some good. Buffett's joined the good fight for higher taxes on his income. Now he needs to get real about higher taxes on corporations. We need government which has the might and the revenues to run a state. Not rich guys with whims and PR dollars.

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.

What Good is the 14th Amendment?

The 14th amendment has done it again! No wonder right wing radicals want to repeal it.

Just a few days ago, in Congress, Tea Partiers and their pals were signing up 93 co-sponsors up for a bill to repeal the thing, or at least change it, to be clear that it can't and shouldn't justify citizenship for those born to inadequately documented people in the U.S.

Now there's this, the decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger -- citing again the 14th Amendment. A Republican-appointed judge, Judge Walker, wrote: "Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."

That'll really drive right wingers mad.

There's just one problem. That pesky piece of legislation, the same part that protects minorities? It's the same pesky statute that Conservatives love -- when, as in Citizens United, it's cited by Supremes on the right hand side of the court to apply to regulation-fighting corporations.

It's going to be hard to have your corporate cake and eat it too, dear friends.

And in case you haven't read it in a while, read the decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, then this: by way of reminder.

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Find the full text here for a reminder. Enjoy. It's people's law.

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.

Welcome to Recovery for the Rich

Welcome to the recovery!

That's what Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote in the New York Times this week. And such good news! We've all been waiting to be told that the economy was improving, after all.

Consider: Conan O'Brien, surely one of the nation's most famous unemployed folks, just made $25 million, one of the highest prices paid for a Manhattan apartment this year. Someone's buying—even if they got a bit of a break. The apartment was originally listed for $29.5 million!

Geithner noted, "We all understand and appreciate that these signs of strength in parts of the economy are cold comfort to those Americans still looking for work." Indeed, Geithner doesn't want his declaration of Mission Accomplished over the economy to go the way of that other one. It's a confusing clutch of contrasting news coming to us courtesy of the NYT. Geithner on the Op-Ed page, Conan in the real estate section—and on the front page Michael Luo reporting on the "99ers," those unemployed people who have “exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits."

There are about 1.4 million of them, including Alexandra Jarrin, who's profiled in the piece. She's living in a motel off borrowed money, applying for jobs to pay off her student loans and unfinished MBA. She's had her first job interview in over a year this past week.

But hey, someone tell her that the economy's recovering! Conan sold his condo! Surely it won't be long now…

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.

What Are Teachers Worth?

What are teachers really worth?

That's the question, as the Senate puts off a vote on $10 billion for state and local governments to prevent teacher layoffs. Senate leadership wanted the bill to be deficit neutral--a line never applied to war funding, where no spending's too great because we're killing for peace. Estimates are that it costs $1 million per soldier per year to keep troops in Afghanistan. But enough of that.

Last week, David Leonhardt at the New York Times cited a study that showed that teachers can make a huge difference in the lives of children as early as kindergarten. The study found that a “standout” kindergarten teacher is probably worth $320,000 a year--that's the value that good teachers can add to the life of their students. When researchers left standardized testing out of the equation, they found many more benefits added by teachers.

Of course, this study plays into the idea that every individual teacher's responsible for the performance of the kids they teach, regardless of socioeconomic status, home life, class size. Listen to Diane Ravitch on this program for more on that.

But it also brought to the front page of the Times the idea that our teachers, far from being laid off because of Senate politics, should be paid better and given more support.

If we can't find $320,000 a year for kindergarten teachers, perhaps we can at least find a way to keep them from losing their jobs entirely. Scratch that. If we can't find a way to pay living wages for kindergarten teachers, who are we? And just where in our picture of "national security" do we place our kids?

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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