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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.

The Pain of FauxFeminist Populism

I feel your pain—how many times are we going to hear that between now and the midterm elections? Republicans and Democrats all know that the economy weighs first on people's minds, and they all pay lip service at least to the idea of doing something for Main Street. What's ahead—months of millionaires making pledges?

Most notably businesswomen—Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, the latest incarnation of a familiar breed, the faux feminist populist. You go, girl—the slogan was already snagged by Sarah Palin.

Want to spare us the months of hypocrisy? Congress could do it. Earlier this year, Democrats passed something called healthcare reform, but while we wait for it to kick in, COBRA health benefits for the recently unemployed are running out and Medicaid is stretched thin. Unemployment insurance and the TANF program (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, what used to be called welfare) isn't picking up the slack. And most of this burden falls on women. In the last year women became the majority of the workforce despite still making less than men. More than ever, families are depending on women more, and that means depending on women's lower wages.

State budgets, most of which cannot operate at a deficit, are cutting because they can't cover the shortfall. Congress needs to step in.

And that's where the rhetorical rubber hits the road. That nasty screeching sound is the sound of a Tea Party howl for smaller government—crashing into the claim to stand up for the working woman (and man). Want to keep Congress, Democrats? Put the faux feminists and their allies on the spot. The National Women's Law Center and other groups are calling for action on unemployment and COBRA, TANF and Medicaid. Are monied women now running for office going to put their tight-fist fiscal conservatism or their faux feminism first?

Congress should embrace the fight. Elections or no, it's time for politicians to prove that they'll actually do something for struggling families. The crisis isn't over. Not by a long shot.

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Bubba Goes to Arkansas

In case anyone was wondering where the White House stands vis-à-vis its base these days, the defeat of Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter makes it pretty stark.

Who went off to campaign for incumbent Blanche Lincoln in the Arkansas primary? None other than Bubba himself. Bill Clinton's way, just to recall, was to promise loyalty to labor then push through NAFTA against their will. Clinton it was who launched the reign of Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers— today so well ensconced still in the White House.

It was Bill Clinton who early on embraced Dick Morris's dictum, "Out Republican the Republicans" and, he might have added, to hell with your base while you're at it. Cut deficits, grow poverty. That's an acceptable equation for getting re-elected if DC politics always comes first. What if a bad recession hit, with no jobs, cut services, and unemployment benefits dry up? Take a look around today and you see the answer. This is the result of that.

It was Rubin-Summers-Clinton's buy-in into deficit panic that gave "shrink government" Republicans the ideological edge. That ideological give-away has sharpened the slash-and-burn budget knife ever since.

As for the party? It was the top-down party rule of Bill Clinton's DNC that left scores of state Democratic parties penniless, dependent, and pissed off.  In fact, it was that kind of chrony-Clintonism that sparked the bottom up revolt that elected Barack Obama, in hope of "change." 

To sum up: Obama better beware Bubbaism. The grief Arkansas voters gave their senator for flip-flopping on worker rights and healthcare? That could end up being nothing, in comparison to what the twenty-first-century Democratic base could give another flip-flopper president.

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Helen Thomas was Wrong, but Who's Right?

So who says Obama can't show anger? Helen Thomas sure made him angry.

After video hit YouTube of eighty-nine year old reporter, Helen Thomas, telling an interviewer that Israelis should “get out of Palestine” and go back to Poland and Germany and other places, the white House issued an immediate condemnation. Reprehensible was their word. In the ritual flagellation that's followed, one can't help thinking that the grande dame of the White House press corps would have gotten less grief if she'd purposely cheated the financial system and took taxpayer money to recover, or killed eleven and destroyed an ecosystem in an avoidable deep water drilling disaster, or let 29 men die in a push for more mining profits. Or shot nine men dead -- in the head -- in international waters.

Thomas's comments were regrettable, and she's regretted them and she has resigned her post with Hearst because of them. Which is more than can be said of most pundits who say hateful things in the money media.

The White House Correspondents Association showed more fury in 24 hours towards Thomas than they've ever shown towards the journos who, unlike Thomas, softballed Bush for eight straight years and passed on government lies that lead us into the Iraq invasion. Sometimes one's strengths are also one's weaknesses. Thomas was -- and remains -- a bulldog. She doggedly questioned President Bush about war and torture at a time when the rest of the press rolled over. In return they appear more shocked by a comment -- albeit laced with 70 years of horrific history, it's true -- than they are by the deaths of flesh-and-blood humans.

Thomas's crime wasn't just antisemitism -- it was antisemitism in defense of Palestine. That's the true source of the outrage. The outrage that Obama and Biden and most other U.S. officials, to say nothing of the majority of the press corps, can't seem to find for others.

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Learning from Roosevelt(s)

The President has a Rooseveltian opportunity, columnist Frank Rich wrote this weekend. Teddy Roosevelt was on his mind: stand off against the Titans of oil, Wall Street and mining, suggested Rich. The field is empty.

But the fact is, Obama could don the mantle of two Roosevelts at once. Channel FDR and announce a jobs program -- against the polluters. Why not? Politically, unemployment may be danger number one.

According to recent Gallup polls, the enduring unemployment crisis is hitting Obama's base where it hurts: among the young - the very people who showed up for him in 2008. As unemployment's risen up about 4 percent, the president's approval rating among Americans 18 to 29 is down 8 percent. And that's an indication that the Democrats may be losing ground in the long term.

While some economists were predicting as many as 180,000 new jobs for May, the actual increase came in at 41,000. And the number out of work for 27 or more weeks remained at its highest level since the 1940s. Unemployment for teenagers was 26.4 percent in May - - and keeps going up. It's going to be a long hot summer, with jobs in decline as well as social services.

On the rise: the so-called "skip-college" movement. Why, this theory goes, spend all that money on a college education when jobs are so scarce?

But former Labor secretary Robert Reich had a better suggestion: why not create a new Civilian Conservation Corps on the Gulf Coast, putting young people to work cleaning up after the oil spill -- and send the bill back to BP? Channel Teddy Roosevelt and stick it to the polluters and channel FDR and put people back to work -- and create programs that create goodwill for generations.

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Flotilla Video as Weapon

A picture's worth a thousand words, but what those words are, depends a whole lot in American media, at least, on pre-existing official attitudes. Take the picture of Neda Agha-Soltan -- last year, she became the face of Iranian resistance after a YouTube clip circulated showing the young protester's tragic death.

Quickly, everyone was talking about the power of citizen journalism, and Neda became the symbol of democratic longings slain by anti-western tyrants.

Fast forward to the Israeli assault on the Gaza flotilla and gone is talk of the truth telling power of citizen journalism. In its place, a very different frame: organizers "armed" with video.

Both sides were "well armed - with video cameras" writes Brian Stelter in the New York Times. Organizers "chose to make their trip to Gaza a media event" he quotes a source saying as if that somehow makes them suspect.

It all amounts to a "war of images by the two sides." In fact it amounted to nine civilians dead - at least one shot in the head multiple times by elite commandos in international waters.

It's hard to imagine any similar article appearing were the killers Iranian. What is missing from the videos is context, writes the Times. Could it be that what is actually missing from this debate might be even-handed coverage and logic?

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.

For Poor, America's a Sinking Ship

Last week in New York authorities announced that at Harlem Hospital Center, the largest health facility in that historic neighborhood, doctors had failed to read 4,000 heart tests—for three years—and that 200 of these patients died. These were not simply routine tests but echocardiograms, ordered when patients showed severe symptoms. That does not happen in affluent neighborhoods. Among other reasons, heart sickness is elsewhere an enormous profit opportunity—heart valve and bypass surgeries are a go-go business. But not for sick, poor people. Their Medicaid coverage fails to fully incentivize America's insatiable medical industrial appetite. According to a cardiologist brought in on an emergency basis to start reading the long backlog of tests in Harlem, approximately half were abnormal and 20 to 30 percent needed immediate medical care. "This is very, very appalling," he told the New York Times.

And it's not just in Harlem. Across the US, poor communities are grossly under-served: education, nutrition, housing and healthcare. To a large extent, this explains the chasm in life expectancy between white people and so-called minorities. How much worse does it get? A Brandeis University study recently underscored the growing wealth divide. According to the Federal Reserve, for every dollar of wealth owned by a white family, a black or Latino family owns just 16 cents.

And as this—the great marginalization of America marches on—Democrats, including the president, wrestle with Republicans for smidgeon of reform. Is it anywhere close to enough? For all the talk of Wall Street reform, and new consumer protections, and talk of alternative energy policy, the fact remains that for most people, America is a sinking ship. And minority communities are the first to be thrown over the side. Where are the lifeboats?

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.

Anger over Israel Hurts U.S.

As we wait to see any substantive response from the U.S. president to Israel's killings of peace workers seeking to break the years-long Gaza siege, it's worth noting that anger towards the US is up -- in the Middle East, but also around the world. As mild-mannered Jim Sciutto, senior foreign correspondent for ABC News, noted Sunday at a protest at the Israeli embassy in London, the anger was more like what's usually seen in the Middle East than in Europe. And the anger extended to the U.S. Tweeted Sciutto: "Anger extended to US - got grief for working for US network, again something I'd expect more in Cairo than Kensington." As David Petraeus, head of Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, "The conflict foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel." "Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world." After Israel's latest act of aggression, it's not just the Arab world that is outraged. And it's not just Israel they're outraged at. 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.

DeBush, Debar and Debunk

Republican criticsm of President Obama's response to the Gulf of Mexico spill is escalating. The President needs to get down there, say his critics -- even his friends. He says he's heading back to the coast for his second visit, this Friday. While President Obama certainly needs to be doing something other than attending fundraisers at the Getty mansion (imagine the grief George W. Bush would have gotten from that) it's actually not in the marshlands that he can do most good. What he needs to be doing is in Washington. Three things that the GOP would steadfastly oppose. First, as laid out by GRITtv correspondent Mike Papantonio, as in Iraq where there was de-Baathification in the government, there needs to be de-Bushificiation of federal agencies. Then debarment: BP, a repeat offender corporation, needs to be universally barred from receiving further federal contracts. That means no licenses to drill on federal lands, in US waters, anywhere, and no contracts from the US taxpayer's coffers until further notice. That's not instead of criminal investigation -- there's more than enough evidence of wrong-doing to bring a case against the company. But debarring's a start. And finally the President needs to use his bully pulpit to debunk all those myths about how regulation is bad for us. For the sake of our air and water, our economy, our health and our jobs. DeBush, debar and debunk, Mr. President. You may not be able personally to cap the pipeline or clean those precious marshes, but there are some things you can do. The world's biggest megaphone is yours. 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 F Word: Sacrificing Women to the Budget Gods

As states scramble to stay afloat -- how are they balancing their budgets? On the backs of working women of course. The new big trend is to cut subsidies for child care. And with child care -- poof -- a critical lifeline to working moms is disappearing. The same states that cut welfare entitlements in the 90s, forcing moms out to work, are now cutting the subsidized child care that was promised in return for workfare. While the Obama government has provided some aid to states to keep subsidies up, it is not nearly enough, and some states are just calling it quits. In California, Governor Schwarzennegger, whose respect for women is well known, recently proposed to eliminate the entire state welfare and child care program entirely, affecting 1.4 million people two thirds children. In some places, Head Start programs that have been in place for five decades, are competing for contributions from hedge funds and running street fairs. Many will have to charge tuition for the first time this September, exactly the opposite of the vision of the program. The bottom line: remember that line about poor women being the canaries in society's coal mine. That sound you hear is them choking. As spending on war -- and elections -- continues to rise, we're suffocating our kids - and their caretakers. If this is as test - how much will we really give up? Our society, the richest in the world by far, seems to be asking the question. 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.

Baby Steps Towards Equality

It's over a year into an Obama administration, and already that word “compromise” has been heard too much. Yet when the news hit Monday night that the administration had agreed to a compromise that would see Congress voting on overturning Don't Ask Don't Tell, hopes rose again.

There's still a way to go to full equality in the military. Congress still has to vote, and Republicans like John McCain (previously a supporter of repeal) now say they'll oppose.

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There is, as I mentioned, compromise. No Congressional repeal will go into effect until after a Pentagon study hits the Hill December 1. Only after that, will the Pres give an executive order to actually enact the reform. Which he could do, er, now.

But still, in a world of baby steps it seems like a stride. In this case, toward overturning a Clinton-era policy put in place after many presidential promises to the gay community. Obama has a chance, to do the right thing. How did he get there? Pressure. While equality lovers are celebrating, remember those protestors in uniform chained to the White House Fence when everyone told them to trust the president's word? Who confronted the Pres whereever he went -- who didn't compromise? They brought us this far, and with any luck they'll keep the pressure on to bring us a step closer to the promise of every person born equal. No compromise.

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 [http://TheNation.com]. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com [http://Twitter.com].

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