Laura Flanders | The Nation

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

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

Who Fights and Why?

It's too hot for outdoor activities in New York, so off I went to the cinema. Winter Bone—if you haven't seen this extraordinary, woman-directed film about a family in trouble in the Ozarks of Missouri, I recommend it. Grim it is. Irrelevant it is not.

Winter Bone features a 17-year-old girl, the sole supporter of her catatonic mom, and two younger siblings. Put up as collateral on their disappeared father's bail, the family's about to lose their house. Seventeen-year-old Ree looks longingly at the ROTC drills in the high school she had to leave. The best possible scenario for her is military recruitment. Actually, it's the only out on offer, and the $40,000 signing bonus could save her family's house.

Winter Bone made me think of Michael Massing's essay in The New York Review of Books. Who fights and why? "With its guarantees of housing, employment, health insurance, and educational assistance," he wrote, "the US military today seems the last outpost of the welfare state in America." Massing's piece appeared in April 2008, before the economic crisis really hit, before unemployment reached 10% officially (and around 16% by more precise calculations—or 44 percent if you're in Detroit).

The United States is currently shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs each month. It's not just in the Ozarks that the recruiters are the only ones with jobs around. The economy shed 125,000 jobs in June. That's about the number of troops we have left in Iraq.

Winter Bone just amped up the volume on a creepy question in my head. As Massing noted, "In today’s America, the hunger for a college degree is so great that many young men and women are willing to kill—and risk being killed—to get one." And what happens to the vets when they have their degree, or when they don't want one or already have one?

We've long heard about fighting people over there so we don't have to do it here. Is the colder truth becoming that we're sending people over there because we sure can't employ 'em over here? And we're scared to death of what unrest might come with a massive return of men and women who've served and endured—and who expect something better for their families than starvation wages, and no social services when they get back?

Equal Obliviousness, Not Equal Rights

The Atlantic published one of many recent articles about the "he-cession" or the "decline of men," wondering what it means that women are now the majority of the workforce, the majority of breadwinners, et cetera. "What if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?" asked author Hanna Rosin.

Not so fast. After all, the majority of power positions—the presidency, Congress, CEOs and boardrooms—are still filled with men. And although pundits galore like to do it—a lot—it makes no sense to lump the sexes into undifferentiated groups.

As Daisy Hernandez at ColorLines points out: The "He-cession" could be properly termed a "black-cession." White men still have a lower than average unemployment rate (8.8 percent), while black men are soaring over it—at 17 percent. Our still-segregated school system still plays a role—the so-called school-to-jail pipeline doesn't typically funnel more white males to prison than college.

Sure, upper-class white women may be moving into some more positions of power—take former CEOs Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, now buying their way into politics. But Rosin's idea of a "sisterhood" involves domestic jobs opening up when those women go to work—which, Hernandez points out, means women of color cleaning affluent houses. That's not exactly the sisterhood we'd been thinking of.

More gender equality at the top's a fine thing, as Melissa Harris-Lacewell pointed out here last month. But let's not pretend that privileged white women catching up to white men as the whole economy tanks is synonymous with liberation for the gender. As we've seen with the "year of the right-wing women" in politics, sometimes equality is simply being as oblivious to privilege as those stuffed shirts that came before you.

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.

Dangerous Experiment for Deficit Hawks

Top economics writers are sending some scary signals this week. Just as June unemployment numbers are due, Paul Krugman's declaring that we could be headed for a third Depression, and David Leonhardt, also writing in the New York Times, quotes source after source saying, “The world’s rich countries are now conducting a dangerous experiment.”

The dangerous experiment, both writers agree, is the idea of belt-tightening when more spending is needed, of letting stimulus lapse when most people are still struggling for jobs. During the Great Depression, when business started to improve, Roosevelt vowed to balance the budget—and sent the country back into decline. The only thing that yanked the economy into a different direction was the buildup to war and war itself.

We've got better ideas than that, now, right? Maybe not. A year ago, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers told the BBC at Davos that '90s-style growth simply isn't coming back. Yet, shunning a government jobs-creation scheme, the president's still hoping against hope for private industry created jobs. No reason to believe the private sector will do anything different than what its done these last two years. Productivity's up with slashed wages and workers. The private sector's doing fine. And now the deficit hawks are circling.

So what's the plan, Uncle Sam? In many places, the military's the only job offer out there. Democrats in Congress just cut $13B from schools to fund $33B on Afghan escalation. Maybe that's the plan.

Reading into Gun Regulations

I'll give the gun-rights supporter on NPR this morning one bit of credit in his comparison of bookstores to gun stores: books can be dangerous.

Books force you to consider different perspectives from your own. They show you worlds you've never been to, create futures that don't exist, stretch and twist and test new ideas and make you consider the fact that you just might be wrong.

Books don't, of course, kill people. I suppose you could try if you dropped enough of them from enough of a height, but they normally don't. Guns are designed for killing. That's the point. And handguns and automatic weapons are designed for killing people. You don't take 'em on a hunt.

So when the Supreme Court upheld the right of individuals to bear arms, first in the Heller decision two years ago and again this week, where the Heller ruling was applied to state gun control laws in McDonald v. Chicago, they upheld an individual's right to own a killing tool.

Should anyone have that right? That's where the law suits probably go next. States and the federal government say no to the very young, or mentally disturbed. We regulate gun sellers. At least, that's currently how it works.

Why, said the source on NPR the day after the decision -- should gun sellers be singled out, when book sellers aren't?

Uh, Courts have taken up the case of books from time to time. How dangerous are parts of Ulysses, or Hustler? But really -- are we really going to argue there's no distinction between a gun and a book. Really? What next? Why guns are safer than swimming pools or gym clubs? The Illinois Rifle Association's already making that argument. Happy summer, everyone.

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.

McChrystal, Afghanistan Policy and...

To heck with the war. It's becoming a story about egos. Or more precisely, as one commentator put it recently, "By focusing on McChrystal’s supposed challenge to Obama’s manhood—the press is turning a story about policy into a story about penises."

Ever since Rolling Stone's story broke, the chattering—and twittering—class started to speculate about McChrystal's firing. Was Obama going to prove his mettle by firing the loose-lipped general? Or would this be another failure of the president to take charge, get angry, act mad?

Most of us got tired of Freudian foreign policy under Bush, when it was common to speculate that the entire Iraq invasion came because Shrub had something to prove. And here we are again if a general and a president are at odds—it must be a manhood-measuring contest.

War is about many things. If you believe the loudest US voices, the war in Afghanistan is about revenge, security, terrorism, rebuilding, some even talk these days about democracy. You won't find many challenges to any of that in the money media—when the two parties agree, the media tends to go along. And so it is now, with the tale about boys and their toys.

If you weren't cynical enough, this will do it. Instead of a serious discussion of McChrystal's record and policy—this is a man who was in charge when torture happened, who was in charge for the Tillman cover-up, who seems to disagree completely with the president's stated policy for Afghanistan and the electorate's stated wish for a draw down. This is the man who told Rolling Stone itself that US forces have killed "an amazing number of civilians" for no good reason in Afghanistan. Instead of any of that—the media focuses on manliness.

A change in leadership in Afghanistan should be cause for rethinking the entire policy. Instead, the press is only concerned with who's got the biggest... mouth.


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.

Drone Attacks to Stimulate Economy?

What's worse: backstabbing a president or bombing lots of civilians? The answers pretty obvious to judge by the stink over General Stanley McChrystal. The man's in trouble; the policies he embraced may not be. Ironically, one policy he raised concerns about—the use of drones—goes on, to barely a whimper.

Thanks to newly announced federal contracts, Wisconsin National Guard is planning to build a new $8 million base for unmanned drones. Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri is to be a drone base control. Rapid City's nearby Ellsworth Force Base also recently "won" a drone contract.

In none of these places was there much of anything but joy at the news. "There was great news for Ellsworth Force Base and for the Rapid City community:" declared the local Black Hills Fox Channel. Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton said he'd worked for a year to win the Predator. The Rapid City Journal editorial page was ecstatic: "Ellsworth and its many supporters have done Rapid City and South Dakota proud."

No mention there—or anywhere—of what peace activist Kathy Kelly described on GRITtv. Namely, the charred flesh of children killed by accident, by remote—or, for that matter, Peter Singer's studies showing that drone pilots suffer PTSD at the same or greater rates as other soldiers

Perhaps the lack of concern is because drones are already flying the Canadian border and Americans are already getting used to them. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson recently told The Hill, "We are working hard to make round-the-clock aerial surveillance the standard for all 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border," too.

Or it could be the impact of all those Northrop Grumman ads on TV. Or maybe it's just the economy. At $4.5 million apiece, the drone program's great for Grumman. Almost everywhere its being sold as good news in a troubled economy.

You could say who can blame those who are happy to see more drone action? You could also say—what's become of our economy? Can we truly not come up with a stimulus plan that stimulated more life and less carnage? And how about a security strategy that actually built American—and global security?

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 a Spare $1 Million Can Buy

BP's Tony Hayward has been yanked off spokesman duty after having the poor judgment to go yachting while the Gulf drowns in his company's oil. But according to the Annual World Wealth Report Hayward's not the only one yachting while the world burns.

It's not just Brits, either. Sales of luxury boats were up 30% in the U.S. in the first quarter of the year. The ultra-rich, it seems, are getting their lives back. Lucky them.

The report, just released by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, notes that the number of wealthy people in the world has returned to the level before the banking crisis. 10 million people - thank you very much -- have more than $1 million to spare. Gains were highest in Asia and the Pacific, so you can still send some pity for the suffering British and European millionaires.

Suffering, of course, is relative: Tony Hayward is able to get his life back just by getting on a plane and taking off on his yacht. Other “high net worth individuals” shaken for a moment by the financial storm, almost immediately started to spend on what Merrill Lynch calls “investments of passion”-- you know -- art, private jets, yachts.

Back in the so-called small people's world, one Gulf Coast fisherman has a suggestion for the spare millions the ultra-rich have hanging around. “The first thing I’d like to do is punch that CEO in the mouth. That’d make me feel a little bit better, I guess,” Dean Blanchard told the LA Times. “I think I’d give a million dollars for one punch."

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 Power of the Presidency

President Obama's announcement that BP would set aside $20 billion in a fund for victims of the Gulf spill is a welcome relief to communities where businesses and homes have been destroyed. The total amount needed to compensate, however, is being estimated at closer to $60 billion. Obama swears the $20 billion is not a cap—I guess we'll see.

More to the point: since the president had no legal basis to demand the set-aside, on what basis did he extract those billions? It's called the power of the president. It just goes to show what you can do when you've got the top job.

Linked to the "bully pulpit," the US president is the leader of the richest country in the world—twice as rich as China—with the biggest market finance capital of the world. Talk about clout. Most of the time that clout is used to enrich, well, the rich who kick some back to politicians who play the game.

But the president—finally—used his muscle to get something done for those the chair of the BP board called the "small people." People in need.

Imagine if President Obama had used his power to stop government layoffs? Or prod Congress into some new taxes? Get Congress to raise taxes on hedge funds and commercial real estate over 15 percent, for example—closer to the 35 percent taxation rate we all pay?

There's so much to do to get people back to work, or keep people on the job, and yet the president holds back his power of the president. Wield that baton, Mr. President. That's what makes presidents great.

Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

'Bloody Sunday' Apologies, What About Monday?

Yesterday, a prominent world leader made an official apology to his nation.

"What happened...was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong. The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the Government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry."

Unfortunately, that wasn't Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, talking about the deaths on the Freedom Flotilla, or any US president. Instead, it was David Cameron, new British prime minister, apologizing for the actions of the British army in 1972, on what has become known as "Bloody Sunday."

Soldiers killed fourteen men that day when they opened fire on a peaceful civil rights protest -- and for 38 years, the government has blamed the protesters—accusing those marching for jobs and homes and the vote, and against internment without trial—of attacking the Empire's crack-troops. Sound familiar?

The Saville inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings finally righted the wrong of the original inquiry, which blamed the victims and their families for their own deaths—and from which the media took their cues, as they so often do.

Robert Fisk who was a Northern Ireland reporter for many years, wrote this week that, "As usual—and for Derry, read Fallujah or Gaza or any Afghan village where civilians get in the way—the innocent became the guilty and the guilty became the innocent."

Now Israel is planning its own inquiry into the deaths on board the Mavi Marmara, but calls for a truly independent commission have been brushed off by Netanyahu. General Rick Sanchez has been calling for a truth commission into US human rights crimes for a year. Will justice again take thirty-eight years?

Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Iron Lady, Meet Pitbull in Lipstick

It's a political cartoonist's dream: Sarah Palin is reportedly planning a trip to England to meet her political idol, Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady, Britain's first female prime minister, the infamous union-buster of the '80s meets the Pitbull in Lipstick.

Thatcher is now 84 and out of public life, yet her reputation still looms larger than life over not just British but world politics, and meeting her may help Palin burnish some Serious Politician credentials as she stretches for that Reaganite mantle that's still political gold among Republican voters. Thatcher, after all, had what they call a very special relationship with Reagan, bonded by their mutual love of privatization.

Palin's attempts at credibility-by-osmosis may be enough for a section of the base, but they won't help her win over anyone in the middle. Thatcher didn't trade on her femininity or any folksy accent, personal drama or $150,000 wardrobe. She didn't need an army of consultants. Instead, she sold her politics. Palin, on the other hand, is the woman who famously couldn't name a newspaper she reads.

It's a grim day when feminists are comparing Thatcher favorably to another female politician. Yet when I picture Thatcher and Palin's meeting, I can't help but imagine Thatcher rolling her eyes and saying "You've got to be kidding me."

Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Syndicate content