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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.

Catastrophes Every Day for Profit

"It's premature to say this is catastrophic." The words of Gulf Coast Coast Guard Commander Mary Landry about the BP oil spill Tuesday were spoken as the families of eleven rig workers were still waiting for word of their loved ones, now presumed dead.

While Landry may have reviewed her assessment, the word still makes one think. How do we define catastrophe? By Iraq's uncounted dead? By the uncounted casualties of greed on Wall Street? By the 40,000 dead a year due to lack of health insurance? How about by the 5,000 workers who die every year on the job?

April 28 marked Workers Memorial Day, when workers and their unions pause to remember those who die or are injured at work. This year’s toll already includes 29 men killed in a dangerous but money-making mine, 195 coalition forces in a couple of imperial wars. And how about the thousands in Haiti impoverished so we can have cheap shirts?

Those eleven oil rig workers might have been saved by a safe-guard switch that other oil producing countries require but US regulators don't. And as I speak, two more miners are trapped beneath the rubble of a Kentucky coal mine's collapsed roof.

Maybe at the end of Confederate History Month, it's time to admit that's it not just good ol' boy Southern governors who like to hush about slavery and loss. In an economic climate that prizes wealth over life, the erasure of pain in pursuit of profit is as American as mining or drilling. As American as making a killing.

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.

Good Enough for Oklahoma, How About Goldman?

Democrats in D.C. are going about this regulation thing all wrong. Want to get Republican buy-in? Give Republicans the kind of regulation they like. As usual in U.S. politics, the states provide the road map.

Take Arizona. There, the party of small government's just released police to stop people on suspicion. Want to break GOP resistance to financial regulation? Release the SEC to spot-check Wall Street. Anyone who looks suspiciously likely to be hawking synthetic derivatives? Slap ‘em in detention until their lawyers can prove they're innocent. It’s all in the interests of crime prevention.

Oklahoma's state legislature just overrode the governor's veto of two laws related to pregnancy and abortion. Personal privacy's nice but even good people sometimes make bad decisions, said legislators. Now women who'd like to terminate a pregnancy will be subjected to mandatory vaginal scans and forced to view fetal porn videos. Want to reduce credit default swaps? Before they make another risky bet, let’s force traders to slap on a gown, step in those stirrups, and subject themselves to a mandatory scan of their stock portfolios, while watching American Casino or Plunder or listening to the live, panicked heartbeat of manipulated mortgage owners.

Regulators need to remember that even the die-hardest conservative's OK with some regulation. If it's good enough for the women of Oklahoma, it's good enough for Wall Street. Right?

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.

More Than Reform For Subprime Hurt

When the dust settles, the chain of command at Goldman Sachs -- from CEO Lloyd Blankfein, to junior executive Fab Tourre -- who calls himself the "fabulous Fab" -- face no jail time. A battalion of defense lawyers will see to that, and the Securities and Exchange Commission can only go so far, having been asleep at the wheel for years.

But even unsettled dust can obscure only so much. From what we now know, the package of subprime mortgages sold under Tourre's direction was assembled in part by John Paulson, a Goldman client and hedge fund manager who bet that those mortgages would default. Tourre's apparent assurance to buyers of these debt obligations, including a couple of European governments -- that Paulson himself had bought into the package was not the truth. Paulson was All In for the collapse.

But it wasn't just Goldman and it's not just water under the bridge. As the Senate debates financial reform, millions of underpaid Americans have lost their homes, their nest eggs, and many of them, their incomes. Their legitimate desire to own a home and have some equity was twisted and turned against them, especially if they lived in minority communities.

The subprime rip-off is resulting in the largest transfer of wealth out of minority America ever, estimated now at close to $1 trillion. Taking that much money from an already underpaid sector of the population is a national disgrace. What is being debated by Congress, and proposed by the President, will not fix that.

More GRITtv

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.

BP's boosting profits while belching oil.

It's too bad for British Petroleum. Or is it? For days after its Transocean operated rig exploded and sank with eleven of its workers in the Gulf of Mexico, the company said it had the oil contained.

Not exactly. The rig's been gushing 1,000 barrels of oil a day since Saturday.

Costs for cleanup are likely to be huge. The U.S. Coast Guard's already batting about a figure of $100 million. You'd think that'd be the last we'd hear of the Obama administration's plan for for offshore drilling.

After all, compare and contrast; a sea of sludge, edging towards New Orleans vs. reaping power from Ocean Breezes -- the headline on a story about Cape Wind, the country's first offshore turbine -- also just approved by the White House.

You'd think there'd be no contest. But then there's this -- even as it belched, BP on Tuesday reported a more than doubling of its first-quarter profit: Profits rose from $2.56 billion to $6.08 billion while its alternative energy division saw losses.

A few hundred milllon out of $6.08 billiion. The price of all that Cajun coastline just may not be high enough to make a dent.

And that's why it's not a level playing field. We don't need even steven energy policy. We need aggressive government affirmative action for alternatives.

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.

Hard At Work Figuring Out Imbalance

For a little balance on the deal reached between New York City's residential building owners and their hard working janitors and doormen -- It's not as if the doormen and women are the only hard workers in the building.

GRITtv dug up the records on an apartment tower, 15 Central Park West in Manhattan. The condo tower is home to Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and Sandy Weill of Citigroup, two hard-working bankers. Weill bought one of the penthouses for $45 million.

Others for whom doormen open the doors are the hard-working performers Sting, Denzel Washington and Bob Costas, who also paid millions for their digs. Baseball great A-Rod rents his apartment there, for $30,000 a month.

Under the new contract, union doormen -- and women -- will be bringing in around $30 -40,000 a year. Hard workers all. In a hard-working city. Hard at work trying to figure out just how things turned out this way, and how long the imbalance can endure.

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.

Is the SEC Up to the Job?

One of the best kept secrets in Washington is the working of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Does it get the job done? Not even close.

Typically, Wall Street is awash in insider trading, accounting games, and let's not forget campaign contributions -- and SEC lawyers are outgunned and outmaneuvered. All this was known before the Bernard Madoff scandal put the SEC to shame and dozens of kiss-and-tell best sellers were published by ex-financiers who, having stashed away enough for themselves and their dynasty of future children, came forward with sordid tales of pocket stuffing.

The agency may have been weak thorughout the Bush years, but it's not just the way, it's the will. Back in '93, in Clintontimes, Mary Schapiro told an audience in Switzerland that "a more flexible regulatory paradigm" would benefit the financial world. And she wasn't alone: over at the White House, chief economist Bob Rubin was saying the same.

Rubin, who cashed out of Goldman Sachs with hundreds of millions of dollars, and his lieutenant, Larry Summers, who made millions at a hedge fund, went on to run the Treasury Department. There, this dynamic duo unleashed the forces not of regulation -- but its reverse -- laying the foundation for the awful mess we are familiar with -- speculation upon speculation and leverage upon leverage -- producing profits galore but few jobs.

Even the best intentioned SEC, under the the reformed and revitalized Mary Schapiro, can put but a dent in a system so skewed. The case against Goldman's juicy, but juicier to investors are the bank's first quarter returns -- which are up. It'll take more than Ms. Schapiro's lawsuit to topple the applecart of massive accumulation for some and next to nothing for the rest of us.

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.

Coal Company Shopping Spree

Last week, I noted that rating agency Standard and Poors had upgraded Massey Energy from “hold” to a “buy.” Massey's the company that owns the mine where 29 miners were killed in an explosion recently.

Now we find out that Standard and Poors were right: Massey's prospects are only going up -- in fact, they're on a shopping spree!

Perhaps they're just taking George W. Bush's advice from 2001 to heart: the best way to deal with a tragedy is to go shopping. Anyway, the Wall Street Journal reports that Massey completed a purchase of U.S. coal producer Cumberland Resources Corp. for $640 million in cash and 6.5 million of its shares.

Now, we should be fair. Jeff Biggers pointed out on GRITtv that while Massey might be a particularly egregious union-buster and regular safety violator, they're hardly that far outside the norm for their industry. They're serving their investors and the politicians who benefit from their largesse, and they're taking advantage of opportunity -- the purchase of Cumberland was said to be part of a focus on underground mining for Massey in the face of expected federal regulations on surface mining.

One can't help feeling that while Massey's CEO may be on the outs -- there are mounting calls for his resignation -- the bigger problem's the coal industry itself. No fine's enough. And until we see some serious structural changes, the industry is going to continue doing what it has been doing: trading death for profit.

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.

Economy is in the Eyes of the Beholder

Beauty's in the eye of the beholder, especially, apparently, the beauty of bailouts. In the U.S. right now, some see robust growth, others a limping progress. Some see unemployment edging down, others see it spiking up. It's all about the beholder.

The U.S. Treasury is now estimating the cost of the bailout at $89 billion, considerably less than what's been reported since the fall of 2008. The $89 billion figure fits nicely into the vision of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner who, as head of the New York Fed, was the point-man under Bush, overseeing the hand-out of dough to Wall Street.

But where Geithner sees gentle waves, New York Times business reporter Gretchen Morgenson sees tsunamis -- counting it all up in the $1 trillion range. For one, there's the cost of lending to banks at near zero interest rate set that against what banks charge us -- which is to say an average 14% on credit cards -- and what they pay back in interest to depositors -- far too little, most of us think.

Morgenson points to FDIC losses in taking over failed banks, including loss-sharing costs shouldered by taxpayers. That she puts at $400 billion. Against that, Geithner's $89 billion starts to fade fast.

There's just one more thing left out of Geithner's figures: implied government guarantees; what one bank analyst calls the "noxious byproduct" of systemic risk. A "deliberate low-balling that underestimates damage to the wider economy," that analyst observed, obscures $4 trillion in lost output globally, losses that can be permanent or persistent, in his words. So take your pick -- gentle waves or a global tsunami. Feel better yet?

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.

Taxes, Spending, or Race?

The latest in a spate of polls about the Tea Partiers comes from the New York Times and CBS and it raises some questions about just what's fueling the protests: is it all about taxes or something else?

Of those self described Tea Partiers polled by the Times most considered their taxes “fair.” They send their kids to public schools and despite opposing health care reform, think that Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost.

So what's driving them to the streets in a rage? It's not money per se, it's something else. Usefully, the pollsters asked Tea Partiers other questions too. Surprise surprise, they believe that Obama “does not share the values most Americans live by and that he does not understand the problems of people like themselves.” Half think the administration favors the poor, and a quarter say it favors blacks over whites — compared with 11 percent of the general public."

Where did they get such ideas? In this case, mostly from the Fox News network, but the coded language is clear as ice. It's not about taxes or spending per se, it's about spending on them...(other people.)

And that's how self-interested politicians and spinmeisters have stirred up people to slash government since Reconstruction. As one Social Security-receiving tea partier tells the Times: "I didn't look at from the perspective of losing things I need" [emphasis added]

And that's the genius of this kind of talk. By painting assistance to the poor as only a "black" thing, poor whites have consistently been encouraged to support doing away with the only safety net they'd ever had. That's part of what brought us to this spot.

An honest debate about taxes? It'd be helpful. But what we really need to do is grapple with post-apartheid racial resentments. And that makes the whole tax debate look easy.

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.

Tax Grousing Tells Half The Story

It's tax time again, the time of year when Americans grouse about forking over part of their hard-earned cash to the dear old government.

These days, there's a whole movement dedicated to grumbling about taxes full time -- I'm talking, of course, about the Right's latest incarnation -- tea partiers, who are gearing up for another round of protests.

One of the complaints heard a lot among those stirring up people's rage is that 47 percent of households owe no income taxes this year. That's apparently a sign that that 47 percent is a bunch of freeloaders, and the rich shouldn't be asked to make up the difference.

But take a closer look and you'll find that the only reason taxes are going up at all on the wealthy is that they've seen their tax rates fall and their incomes skyrocket over the last 3 decades. In other words, the tiny tax increase they may see won't even begin to balance their compensation.

And at the other end, state and local taxes, not to mention sales taxes, are actually regressive — they burden the poor more than the rich. Reporter David Leonhardt lays out the facts in a recent story. Then there's the fact that the working class and poor tend to pay more in payroll taxes. And the fact that what we really should be screaming about is that almost half our population's earning so little.

Covering their taxes is the least of our worries. Who's going to buy our products? This is what jobless recovery looks like. Poverty for most and a tiny influential minority stirring up a
movement to fight any responsibility. It sounds like a recipe for a failed state to me.

So why the rampant anger on talk radio and cable news? Leonhardt has an answer for that: “it’s hard not to notice that the talk show hosts themselves tend to be among the very wealthy.”

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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