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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.

Lost Billions in Iraq

If public schools or Medicare providers were held to the same standards as military contractors, they'd never have to beg for cash. Need money? Sure! -- Congress would say -- what's a few missing billions of tax dollars?

Congress agreed to pump an extra $33 billion into Afghanistan this week, even as a new report revealed that almost nine billion earmarked for the nation's other occupation -- Iraq -- simply, it seems, went missing.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction says $8.7 billion earmarked for Iraq reconstruction has gone. Precisely where, no one can tell him.

Not one percent or five percent, but a full 96 percent of the special fund created from the sale of Iraqi oil and gas—and frozen Saddam Hussein-era assets -- is missing according to the BBC. The Pentagon is "unable to fully account for" it.

And they're blaming a lack of accounting, oversight, and who knows what -- probably some secretaries. Powerful politicians have a habit of blaming their secretaries.

It's not the first time billions have disappeared—in 2005, the Coalition Provisional Authority faced a criminal investigation over its management of an $8.8 billion fund. This isn't the same $9 billion. It's a different one. In that case, eight US officials were convicted of bribery, fraud and money-laundering.

It's not the same $9 billion but it is the the same old story. How many strikes and the Pentagon's pals are out? There's a very different law for shop-lifters.

Officials are now, as they always do, mouthing words like "undetected loss" and "significant archival retrieval efforts." I'd say -- no more talk of deficits or cash crunches or tax -- until the lost cash is accounted for. Can't afford to support the troops you've deployed? Bring them home then.

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.

Funding War, Choosing Sides

Coming on the eve of another war funding vote, many wondered if the the memos leaked by Wikileaks on the details of the Afghanistan deployment might make a difference. At the first test, the answer appears to have been no.

The House approved $33 billion for a 30,000-troop escalation in Afghanistan this week and in doing so took money away from other places it was desperately needed: public schools, green energy and job creation, the lot. 60 percent of Democrats and 93 percent of Republicans think increasing the deficit is just fine when it comes to war.

But David Swanson found some good news in the clear vote on the war funding measure. At least anti-war folks know who's on what side: who's with and who's against.

Swanson pointed out that a good chunk of the Democratic caucus is opposed to more money for war even when their own leadership is asking for it. Republicans are clearly willing to keep fighting, and funding, regardless, despite their howls about waste and big government. There's one more fact too: the number of anti-war Congresspeople has risen — significantly -- approaching the number of members willing to vote for a mild non-binding timetable for withdrawal.

Wrote Swanson on his blog: “Willingness to express mild interest in ending the war has reached a plateau. Willingness to take serious action to end the war is rapidly catching up. Of course, both have to top 218 before we win.”

With the WikiLeaks documents, and the media's attention on the topic, it's time to redouble efforts to push more members of Congress against the war, says Swanson. And barring that, there's an election's coming up.

Do you know how your Congressperson voted? There's a link here if you want to check.

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.

Americans with Disabilities Did the Impossible

Events were held across the country Monday to mark the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. At a ceremony at the White House, disability rights activists made the point that passing the law was only the start. "Civil rights laws do not self-enforce, " said Marca Bristo, "They only come to life when enlightened citizens…push the envelope."

As with racial apartheid, so with the passage of the ADA—first comes change on the books. Then we need change in our heads. As last week's Shirley Sherrod story reminds us, who do we believe is capable of what? Discrimination in our heads is as deadly as any law.

Against all the odds, thousands of people with all manner of special challenges showed they were more than able to do the seemingly impossible. They forced a foot-dragging Congress to pass and a Republican president to sign the most significant civil rights legislation in twenty years. And every time we find a a step replaced by a slope—we have them to thank.

A law like the ADA would certainly have changed my family's life. I don't have time to go into it. But suffice to say, I was lucky to learn early what people with disabilities face—and what, regardless, they do. In honor of all those who did—and do—the impossible, here's a reminder. Are the rest of us ready to get over our disabled way of thinking about what's possible? This is from 1967. In a packed Broadway theater…

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.

National Confrontation on Race

At the end of a long painful week, Shirley Sherrod's been offered a new job with the USDA's Office of Civil Rights and Community Outreach. She's still considering, though, and who can blame her?

In an interview on Good Morning America Sherrod said Thursday that she wasn't ready to accept Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's job offer. She said she wanted to hear more from the Secretary and his boss. She wants to know that the President is "fully behind" her." "I would hope that he is..." she said. "I would love to talk to him."

And that's where we're at. Yesterday in our studio, Harry Belafonte noted that we don't have a national conversation about race, we have a confrontation. People from different races still don't know one another. As he put it, in an interview with ColorLines: "The person from whom you're thinking of taking life, or land, have you heard their story, have you sung their song?"

While the race- like the red-baiting by the Right- is the most obvious crime in the Sherrod story, the question of who believes whom and why, comes next. It may even be a bigger problem -- after all, it's only because of misplaced trust -- that the baiting works.

Tom Vilsack, in his apology to Sherrod Wednesday, said he didn't think before calling for resignation. But that's not quite true. He did think. And he chose to believe the baiters first. That's the first problem. Why did they, not she, win his first gut-level confidence?

Melissa Harris-Lacewell pointed out on MSNBC Wednesday night, had Vilsack known Sherrod's history better -- he'd have known that her father was shot in the back by a white farmer when she was 17; that she had history with the civil rights movement. That her husband worked with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and he'd have known of her involvement with a lawsuit, recently settled, representing black farmers, long dispossessed as part of the post-Reconstruction backlash against emancipated blacks. If he'd understood those things, if they'd resonated -- he'd have known they made her a perfect target. If he'd known that -- and felt it -- there's a chance that even at the gut-level, he'd have heard an echo of past, similar fabrications -- not a fact.

Indeed, if the entire USDA heard and felt that history, they'd not have dragged their mostly-white feet so long in getting black farmers justice.

Eric Holder was right. We're still a nation of cowards on the issue of race. But here's another opportunity to grapple with it. We don't need a debate over whether we're post-racial -- clearly that's settled. As is the matter of whether the Fox News Channel is a journalistic project.

What we need now is what Sherrod's asking for from the president -- time to talk. We need true conversation, that starts with learning one another's histories. Not the whitewashed sort that Texas and Arizona textbooks want to teach, but our real histories - and why they matter. It's not just a question for the President. It's for all of us. Do we as a nation have Sherrod's back?

Rolling Over on Shirley Sherrod

How many times is the Obama administration going to roll over for Glenn Beck?

That's the question once again, this time as Shirley Sherrod, a Department of Agriculture official, is forced out of her job following the airing of a selectively-edited video of her speech at an NAACP banquet in March. The video, cut to make it appear as if the African-American Sherrod was a "reverse racist," has since been released in full, clearing Sherrod.

But instead of even asking Sherrod to explain, the Agriculture Department pressed her to quit. She says that she received several phone calls from undersecretary Cheryl Cook, asking her to resign immediately because the video was "going to be on Glenn Beck tonight."

Of course, now Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary, is "reconsidering." The NAACP has reversed its earlier condemnation. But what does it mean for our country when the administration is so terrified of a controversy on a show that courts it, on a network that is a mouthpiece for the opposition, that they shove out people of color at the first goading punch?

It wasn't just progressive indie media that stood up for Sherrod. CNN and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did the basic reporting required to clear Sherrod's name. You'd think the White House would by now be used to this misleading video stuff.

Imagine, as David Corn noted, any Bush official badgered to quit becasuse of something threatening to be on Rachel Maddow's show. Or on GRITtv, perhaps. As Corn said, "You don't allow ideological enemies -- who want you to fail -- to define the terms."

But that's been Obama's M.O. The lesson needs learning and needs learning fast. The party of No and its loud-mouthed cable and blog counterparts are not going to work with you. They are going to try to destroy you.

As Yosi Sargent, another victim of Glenn Beck's red-and-race-baiting, tweeted this morning: "Grow a pair. Stand up for Shirley Sherrod." We'd add -- a pair of eyes and ears. 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.

Top Secret: Privatizing Fails

The Washington Post has a new series out on “Top Secret America,” investigating the massive security complex that's sprung up around our war industry. While independent journalists like Tim Shorrock and Jeremy Scahill have been reporting on this for years, the Post brings a new level of attention to the contractors—and the blank check they get from our otherwise deficit-obsessed government.

“Everything else in our society is being squeezed and yet they have almost carte blanche for this,” noted Greg Mitchell of the Nation on GRITtv this week. And nothing's being squeezed more than our public schools—and by extension, our kids.

Diane Ravitch, in the same show, noted that without exception, the least well performing schools are in the poorest, most racially segregated districts. The solution to poor school districts never seems to be spending more money on poor schools—instead it's test, test, test, creating a testing-industrial complex that just adds more inequality. And charter schools take government cash with mixed results, while skimming away the best-achieving kids.

Talk about a Race to the Top. While deficit hawks obsess over spending for some, private security companies, private spies, and private armies have gotten there. They rule the tax dollar roost. Even though pricey "intel" was ignored and called bunk - when the President wanted a war on Iraq -- there's no spending limit on intelligence. It's just education that faces a cash crunch.

What happens to kids whose public school is cut? There are always jobs -- in a publicly funded army -- or spy center -- if they can pass the test. Barring that there's always a spot in a publicly funded private prison. Intel Yes: Teaching No? What are we thinking? Or aren't we? Maybe that's the point.

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.

Great Hoarding Causing Great Hurt

Congress is hemming and hawing over financial reform, no doubt weighing up the cost of too little reform vs. too many lost campaign contributions. Meanwhile, while the best jobless workers can hope for is an extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed, it's not just the jobless who are slipping under the bus -- it's all workers. As Robert Reich pointed out this week, real wages are falling -  even as hours and “productivity” are rising. And the White House keeps on hoping that the private sector will do the right thing about all of this.

President Obama met with billionaire financier Warren Buffett at the White House this week, right after a meeting with Bill Clinton. Did the two of them give him advice on how to suck up to financial elites?

The reality is, no amount of sucking up is working. Taxpayers have bailed out private banking, and the mortgage industry, and the financial sector. Congress has gone as softly softly as they can on regulatory reform. And still the the world's wealthiest aren't spending.

According to a London consulting firm, wealthy investors (those with more than a million lying around) have more than $26 trillion they could be giving out in investments -- growing companies, growing payrolls, even potentially growing wages (?!) -- but they're not doing it.  On the corporate side, non-financial U.S. corporations are holding more than $1.8 trillion.  This is a 26 percent increase from the year before — the largest increase since 1952 according to the Wall Street Journal. The Great Recession's happening simultaneously with great hoarding.

Big money won't do "the right thing" because as far as they're concerned, they're doing it already. Capitalism's working well for them: people are working harder, for less, producing more, with fewer workmates. No reason they'll shift and no sign of it either.

When the balance between the powerful and the powerless gets this big what we need isn't sucking up (or standing back), it's standing tough: Government action for the people to re-balance the equation. Anybody care to run on that this November?

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.

Charges in Police Killings Just a Start

So you wonder about government. What's it for? Why do we need it?

A story out of New Orleans puts those questions in sharp relief: Nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina, four current and two former New Orleans police officers have been charged by the Department of Justice with federal civil rights violations (and could face the death penalty) for the shooting and killing of James Brissette and Ronald Madison, two unarmed African Americans, in the aftermath of the storm.

In the immediate wake of the killings, the New Orleans police dreamt up a story about being shot at. A cover up followed that included manufactured witnesses, a planted weapon, a fake police report and lying to a state grand jury.

Murder charges brought by the New Orleans Parish DA were dismissed by a judge in 2008.

It's taken Attorney General Eric Holder to reverse course. Now Holder's saying the charges against the six are only a start. What's needed is reform. In the wake of the involuntary manslaughter charges against Johannes Mehserle for the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, it is good to hear that the Obama justice department is involved in a full review of the New Orleans police department. But why five years later? And why stop there?

If a federal investigation's good enough for New Orleans, how about Oakland too?

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.

Do Ask, Don't Tell

The White House has pulled quite a bait and switch on the LGBT community.

LGBT voters came out and contributed en masse to Barack Obama's campaign. A year ago, he promised them action on, among other things, repeal of the military's discrimination policy, Don't ask Don't Tell. This May it seemed as if they'd won. To much ballyhoo, on the eve of a war appropriation vote, the White House announced what sounded like repeal.

Now half the LGBT community thinks Don't Ask Don't Tell is already repealed, Miriam Perez of Feministing told GRITtv recently.

Except what the President actually announced wasn't repeal. It was a compromise that opened the way for a vote on repeal if a Pentagon working group, the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs all approved such a thing.

Now it turns out that 400,000 service members are going to have their say as well.

As the jobless go with nothing and school libraries are shut up tight for lack of cash, we the taxpayers have, it turns out, paid a research firm some $4.4 million to send an email-survey to 400,000 troops.

Leaked copies include the following questions: "If a wartime situation made it necessary for you to share a room, berth or field tent with someone you believe to be a gay or lesbian service member, what are you likely to do?" (The survey offers options.) "If Don't Ask Don't Tell is repealed and you are assigned to bathroom facilities with open bay showers with a gay or lesbian service member, would you: Take no action? Use shower at different time?"

There's also a question asking service members, if a gay or lesbian member moved into military housing with a same-sex partner, would they pick up their family and move out.

There's no question about how troops feel about serving under Don't Ask Don't Tell (of course.)

And -- no question, this is a first. No one surveyed the troops when it was time to desegregate. No one surveyed male soldiers about allowing women in. When it came to school desegregation, the Supreme Court didn't survey white kids. In fact it's impossible to imagine such a thing.

About as impossible as imagining that LGBT campaign contributors will be doling out much cash to Democratic candidates this fall.

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.

The Year of Which Women Again?

So it's “the year of the women" in the media again. But again, it's only some.

All about money media are all about the women of the GOP. It's news, right, when Republican women are running for office and winning primaries, it seems, because, well it's supposed to irk feminists and progressives, and it's new.

Except novelty can't be the only argument, because there's another year of the women underway and that's getting almost no play. Seen any banner headlines about the Year of Women in Labor? I thought not.

Not only did women become the majority of the workforce in the US in the past year, they also became the majority of the unionized workforce. The head of SEIU stepped down, and the election to replace him was between two women—and the one who won, Mary Kay Henry, was a leader of the LGBT "Lavender Caucus."

The new AFL-CIO leader has as his second-in-command recent GRITtv guest Liz Shuler, not only the first woman secretary-treasurer of the largest labor federation in the country, but its youngest in history as well. And with the formation of the National Nurses Union, tough healthcare advocates like Rose Ann DeMoro have moved to expand their presence on the national stage—after leading the fight for healthcare reform and keeping up the pressure for single-payer.

With unions pouring support into primary challenges for centrist Democrats, you'd think the media would've noticed this storyline as well. If Nikki Haley is a new face for the Republican Party, certainly Mary Kay Henry is a new face for organized labor. So if novelty's not the reason for the love for the new generation of Bushwomen, what is?

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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