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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.

Cutting the Net When We Need It Most

At the very time when the social safety net is most needed, investors the world over are calling it a drag on the world economy.   Here in the U.S., wages are stuck, income is down, unemployment remains around 10 percent, with almost half of those out of work for six months, consumption trends are flat, and Main Street is hurting.

In Europe, where the safety net is a proud tradition, cries for cuts are even louder. "The current system," wrote the New York Times of Europe over the weekend, "is unsustainable."

According to the European Commission, in the 1950s there were seven workers for every retiree in advanced economies. By 2050, Europe's ratio will flip, with less workers supporting more pensioners.

With the retirement of the baby boomers, the number of pensioners will rise 47 percent in France between now and 2050. The French state pension system today is running a deficit of 11 billion
euros.

French state pensions, Social Security in the U.S.--investors are pushing hard to cut these programs, unwilling to entertain higher taxes.  But people who sound alarms about fiscal demise rarely point out that stagnant wages leave little room for enhanced savings and putting a lid on retirement income -- here and in Europe -- drives down consumption. There are alternatives but low consumption means low growth. Something's gotta give.

 

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.

Where's the Party?

The winners were challengers—right and left—and those who organized on the ground. As our friend Jane Hamsher put it primary night, "Between Obama, netroots & tea parties clearing out Senate dead wood, average age has dropped about 2 decades in the last five hours." There are lessons here, but are they party lessons?

This being primary season, the only real party news came from Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district, where candidates competed for  the seat of the late John Murtha.  The district voted for John McCain in 2008 even as the state voted for Obama.  Both party's House leaders showed up: Boehner and Pelosi and both poured in cash; the GOP around $1m bucks. Democratic candidate Mark Critz made jobs and veterans his top two priorities and for pictures he stood with miners in coal fields. He won—and that's got Democrats excited.

Pelosi doesn't have voters as scared as Fox news would have you imagine. And frustrated working Pennsylvanians didn't embrace tea party rage. Instead, in a tough-hit working district, organized labor turned out—with a strong message on fair trade and busting the banksters. And Critz won. Is the lesson that Dems can relax for the fall? Hardly. It may well be a lesson that 33,000 phone calls, 16,000 door-knocks and 75,000 worksite flyers at 63 work district work sites did.  That's what the AFL-CIO say they did for Critz this season.

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].

Pedophilia is Fine, but Hold the Abortion

In another story from Arizona, but one that's attracting less attention than that state's check your documents anti-immigration law, a nun in Phoenix has been ex-communicated after approving a live-saving abortion.  Sister Margaret McBride was excommunicated for approving an abortion without which, doctors say, both the woman and her 11-week-old fetus would have died. According to Thomas Olmsted, the Bishop of Phoenix, approving an abortion is an excommunicating offense -period.

"If a Catholic formally cooperates in the procurement of an abortion, they are automatically excommunicated by that action," said Bishop Olmstead.

Funny how that automatic excommunication clause doesn't kick in when it comes to the sexual abuse of children and rape.

As the Church abuse scandal is revealed, for decade upon decade, the Church not only cooperated with child rapists but has protected them from prosecution, even promoting them to the very top of the Church hierarchy. 

This Church, which flexed every once of its political muscle to strangle hard-won reproductive rights out of this country's health insurance laws, is subsidized by US Taxpayers—not only through public funding of Catholic Churches—but also through blanket tax exemptions.

Perhaps its time we checked their documents. Are priests in this country legally? Have they read the Constitution?  Do they grasp the basics of our—legal system? Or do they not? And how long are we going to keep allowing, not to mention funding these creeps?

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: Kabul, I Think We Have A Problem

At least 18 are dead including six NATO officials, five of them Americans, after a suicide attack by the Taliban. That news could sound like another rote report from Afghanistan -- except that Tuesday's attack didn't take place in that country's troubled south (what US commanders call "a Taliban stronghold.") Tuesday's attack took place in Kabul, the capital, where NATO forces were supposed to have ousted the Taliban years ago. Kabul is home to heavy military patrols, a slew of NGOS, and populated mostly by ethnic Tajiks, not the Pashtuns we're told dominate the Taliban. That a suicide bomber could drove 1,600 pounds of explosives into a NATO convoy in Kabul says all there is to say about the international mission to secure Afghanistan: it's not working.

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Tuesday's attack took place on a busy thoroughfare near the Afghan parliament building, a stone's throw from a military recruiting and training center, just before Afghan President Hamid Karzai was to speak to the press about his US trip -- where he hailed his success in quelling the Taliban. In DC, Karzai and Obama are also said to have discussed an upcoming NATO and Afghan offensive in Kandahar, ("a southern Taliban "stronghold.") That plan is said to be on hold. Indeed. If the goal of troop escalation in the south is to make that part of the country more peaceful and Taliban resistant, like Kabul and the North. Well, Kabul to Houston: I think we have a problem.

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].

The F Word: Why Are Voters So Mad?

An 800 billion dollar stimulus package, a budget boost for schools, an agreement with Russia on nukes, reduced forces in Iraq, not to mention healthcare "reform"—with a record of accomplishment like that, say Obama supporters, why are voters so mad?

Well maybe it's those three consecutive quarters of economic growth. The highest productivity gain—6.2 percent since 1962. Strong profits at US companies and the stock market is moving up. While at the same time, the percentage of Americans out of work for more than six months stands at 46 percent—that's the most people out of a job that long in 60 years. One of 50 children in America is homeless. One out of 8 mortgages has fallen behind. Maybe that's why voters are disillusioned.

Oh yes, and then there's that flow of jobs overseas. In 2000, the US government granted China "Most Favored Nation" trade status to allow more US investment in China. Before China, it was Mexico. That flow of cheap stuff in and good jobs out, to be transformed into cheap and dangerous jobs abroad... that's "free trade." Going back 30 years, Democrat or GOP—it's been the policy... And the price is millions of lost jobs, lower wages, trade deficits and a huge foreign debt.

Candidate Obama said he'd review NAFTA. It hasn't happened. Meanwhile, US multinational investors have made a killing in the era of free trade—profits have been sky high. Today with all those nice profits US companies are investing—but in China. Not here. And the American worker has no prospects. Unless the White House institutes a fair, balanced trade policy, recovery will only be for the few. And the political price is a detail.

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].

Winners and Losers in the UK Election

For all his faults, I was struck by outgoing British Prime Minster Gordon Brown's resignation speech. It wasn't the pomp of the job he loved, he said, it was the chance to make his country a fairer place.

Brown's out, but it may he may not be the only loser here. After the 2008 crash it was Brown who led the way when it came to stimulus spending and bank regulating (even Barack Obama acknowledged that this week.) Now the accepted wisdom seems to be that all that lead to his defeat. There's a potentially dangerous lesson there, and it may be the wrong lesson at that. 

 

 

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 In Britain, the Conservatives are back in power in coalition with centrist Liberal Democrats. For all their differences, both are deficit-obsessed. Tory leader David Cameron's already called for a more "responsible society - where entitlements are not center stage. So what comes next? Two and a half million Britains are already officially unemployed - a rate of over 8 %. Laying government workers off will push that number up and bring consumer spending down. As speculators thrive, any progress to fairness will be on the skids.

I haven't seen exit polls or polled people myself, but isn't it just possible that after 18 years of rule, the Labor Party took a beating because Brown is a downer of a guy -- and more importantly, because of his predecessor, Tony Blair's lies leading his country into war? The UK has been racked by conflict over coal, policing, collaboration with US torturers - and did I mention WAR -- in Afghanistan and Iraq. British casualties are up. And it may not be Brown, but those casualties politicians ought to be thinking about. When it comes to Brown's defeat I'd say the verdicts not as clear - or as convenient- as some might like.

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.

Service Cuts Come From Low Taxes

Across the U.S., in virtually all states and localities, government is on the verge of, or has already, stopped providing essential services. The public coffers are empty. In Arizona, the state sold off its Capitol building. In New York City, one thousand transit workers were given pink slips last week.

Plainly, the U.S. needs a big injection of revenue and, with unemployment at 9.9 percent, it wouldn't hurt to keep payrolls intact. Many are asking: how could there be trillions of dollars in government aid for banks and insurance companies and so little left over for schools, health and transit?

On top of this nagging question comes the release of data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis: Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency. Which is to say -- tax collection is at its lowest level since 1950.

All income taxes, and property, sales and other taxes combined equaled 9.2 percent of all personal income in 2009. The historic rate for the last half century is 12 percent. All told, taxes paid for 2009 dropped 23%, contributing to the federal debt growing to $8.4 trillion dollars.

Is the cause tax cuts, income declines or the continuing havens offered high income earners? A bit of all three. But one thing's crystal clear: Reality to Tea Party people: high taxes are the very last thing we should be screaming about.

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.

Newsweek and New Media

It was in 1933 that Newsweek magazine got its start pitted against Henry Luce's Time --and its virulent anti-New Deal politics. This week Newsweek's owner, The Washington Post Company, put it on the block, its ink turned to red and its fiscal outlook poor.

A thirst for diverse news and opinion not available in the era of concentration of media outlets drove Newsweek to the brink, combined with an ever-increasing need for Big Profits from Big Media, now coming down even as CEO's pay keeps going up. In its place -- a diverse menu of reporting and opinion on the Web, satellite, and public access. We here at GRITtv are part of that new media.

For Wall Street, where a jobless recovery is just fine, a shrinking media is similarly okay. What matters is sky high profits, low taxes and minimal regulation. Widgets or words or, better, the wonders of computerized futures trading, it all comes down to return on investment.

But Big Media with its big budgets did send reporters to far off spots -- and paid their expenses -- There is no substitute for first hand observation in the streets, an original take on just-released government data and investigation backed by real bucks - and lawyers. That requires resources and a way to support "seeing it first hand" is one of the most critical issues our society faces. New media provides a wider range of voices than the old, but the biggest challenge remaining is how to match those budgets.

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.

Responsibility for Greek Protest Deaths

"Demonstrations against austerity measures in Greece claimed their first fatalities on Wednesday with three people reported to have died inside a bank building set ablaze by protesters." That's the framing that you'll be hearing all week as U.S. media cover the first deaths in the conflict between striking Greek workers and a government seeking to impose stiff new taxes and cuts to stave off economic collapse.

But when it comes to who claimed what in terms of fatalities, it's worth remembering what lies in the background of this picture.  To begin, the international financial community sees opportunity in Greece's demise and has placed its bets there, which drives up the cost of borrowing if you're Greek.  Just as here, Wall Street bets against state and local bonds have raised the cost of running city services.

Like in the U.S., since 1981 Greek wages have been essentially flat, a fundamental problem no one's been solving. Cutting state jobs won't help and already around 20 percent of Greeks live in poverty. Over half a million households pay more than half their income on debt.  Even prior to today's insolvency, surveys have shown that a "third world" was being created inside Greece. Now, cue the angry protests.

Now consider what claimed their first fatalities Wednesday... demonstrations by the strapped? Or decades of decision making that wrote off inequality, poverty and debt as just collateral damage. Oh, and Portugal's just been downgraded by Moody's. And oh yes, The European commission's forecasting that the UK budget deficit this year will hit 12% of GDP – the highest in the European Union, even worse than Greece. So when we say long hot European summer, we mean it!

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.

Corporate Bombs Demand Justice Too

President Barack Obama said Sunday that his administration and law enforcement officials are investigating who is responsible for a bombing attempt in New York City's Times Square on Saturday night.

Obama, visiting Louisiana to inspect the oil spill efforts, said he'll do what's necessary, “to protect the American people, to determine who is behind this potentially deadly act and to see that justice is done."

It must have sounded odd to the families of the oil rig workers lost in the rig explosion of now two weeks back. Or the families of the Massey Energy miners, 29 of whom lost their lives in an explosion last month.

In the Times Square case, nothing exploded, no one died. The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility but officials aren't giving that much credence.

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon rig, there was a real explosion, eleven real deaths, more injuries and quite possibly some violations of safety regs. But still no Presidential use of that word justice. How come when the threat's packed into a car on the street it's a matter of seeking justice, but when it's corporate malfeasance, or oil spewing onto the beach it's a matter of money?

To BP -- a company that saw $6 billion in profits this last quarter -- talking only about money makes little sense. Besides, if companies want to be treated as people for electioneerring purposes, isn't it time we started talking about walking them away in cuffs?

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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