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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.

Today's Secrets Are In Plain Sight

Daniel Ellsberg was on GRITtv last week and he left me thinking about secrecy.

Ellsberg, of course, was the man who released the top secret Pentagon Papers - a classified report on secret decision making around the wars in Cambodia and Vietnam. He got me wondering -- What are the Pentagon Papers of today?

We've got the torture memos, the Abu Ghraib photos...some of them. What about the scandals hiding in plain sight?

Like the numbers we discuss on the show: 6 million Americans have no income aside from food stamps. Growing numbers of them sell their food stamps at a loss to get cash to pay the rent and heat.

Or the 16.4 million adults and 7 million children who suffer from asthma—a rising trend over the past two decades. According to Science Daily, “Those most at risk -- low income, medically underserved, and African-American and Hispanic children -- have the least access to preventive care and the most visits to the ER.”

What about the number of workplace injuries, on the rise despite the loss of factory jobs? They're habitually underreported, according to the New York Times (who would know...)

What do all these things have in common? They're not secrets to a large portion of the U.S. population, they define our reality, explain a lot of what's going on, yet they're rarely discussed.

Today's biggest "secrets" don't require a top-secret hiding or marking "confidential". They just require politicians, a press corps —and a public—that's paying no attention at all.

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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Who's Protecting The People From Banks?

If going head to head with bankers alone is too scary for Warren Buffett, why are the rest of us being thrown to the financial wolves?

Warren Buffett's annual letter to his shareholders came out this weekend. The gist of it is “Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut."

That's Buffett, one of the world's richest men, warning his clients that their financial advisers' advice is skewed by the financial system in which they operate -- which is a very biased place.

Merit or no merit -- and no matter how it turns out -- bankers make fees off deal making, so deal-making's what they push. There' s no banker's bonus for advising clients to wise up or sit tight.

So investors need independent protection, argues Buffett. Don't go it alone.

If only Buffett worked for us.

In the Senate, Banking Committee Chair Christopher Dodd seems to have given up on protecting consumers. An independent agency to protect against abuse by financial institutions was supposed to be the consumer part of the quid pro quo for accepting the taxpayer bailout of banks.

Now -- ironically, just as Buffett's letter was being published, the man it'll take to make any agency happen -- Christopher Dodd -- is agreeing to defang the agency, strip it of independence and most prosecution power -- a big victory for all those Republicans and business groups who've poured billions --including billions of bailout dollars - into lobbying against any agency with teeth.

Dodd seems to be giving up. But he hasn't even fought for the agency yet. He could start by inviting the Oracle of Omaha to testify. Banks too skewed for Berkshire Hathaway investors shouldn't be loosed on 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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Better Uses for Bankers' Billions

What could be done with $20 billion? A whole lot of Wall Street bankers are about to find out. $20 billion's what the New York Comptroller's office says the Street's bonuses bounced back to in 2009 -- up 17 percent from the year of the crash. According to the latest data the average bonus was $123,850, at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase, all of which taxpayers bailed out. Their bonuses this year were almost a third bigger than last year. It gives a whole new meaning to failing up. As six million Americans--or one in fifty--face life with food stamps as their only income, (for more on that, see yesterday's GRITtv) and a national average of six applicants show up for every job. It boggles the mind to think of how that $20 billion could be spent.

Our friends at Mother Jones aren't boggled, they've put together a nifty list of suggestions for alternative spending. Want a bonus for the country, not the country-club? 1. You could pay the salaries of more than 390,000 public school teachers across the country. 2. You could close nearly all of California's gaping budget hole. 3. You could almost cover unemployment-fund shortfalls, now nearing $25 billion, in 25 different states. 4. You could more than double the amount of Pell Grant funding given to students from low-income backgrounds who might not attend college otherwise. 5. You could increase the budget of the Small Business Administration by more than 35 times. Thanks to Mother Jones for the list. I'll add a sixth -- you could fund all the independent media in the country -- just about for ever.... Fancy making your own suggestions? Send them here: Laura@grittv.org. 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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Looking Closer at Joseph Stack

Joseph Stack -- remember him? He's the guy who crashed his plane into an Internal Revenue Service building in Austin last week. Fifty-three years old, Stack killed one IRS manager, Vernon Hunter, and wounded 13 more before killing himself, but you'd be forgiven for forgetting his name, because he largely fell out of the news in the days afterward...

That's not so say there hasn't been howling. When Stack's daughter told ABC's Good Morning America that she considered her father a hero there was outrage, and reasonably so. Facebook fan pages praising Stack have shown up with links to right-wing, so-called patriot groups and at the CPAC conservative organizing meeting in DC more than one GOP member referred sympathetically to Stack's anti-government views.

 

Joseph Stack -- remember him? He's the guy who crashed his plane into an Internal Revenue Service building in Austin last week. Fifty-three years old, Stack killed one IRS manager, Vernon Hunter, and wounded 13 more before killing himself, but you'd be forgiven for forgetting his name, because he largely fell out of the news in the days afterward...

That's not so say there hasn't been howling. When Stack's daughter told ABC's Good Morning America that she considered her father a hero there was outrage, and reasonably so. Facebook fan pages praising Stack have shown up with links to right-wing, so-called patriot groups and at the CPAC conservative organizing meeting in DC more than one GOP member referred sympathetically to Stack's anti-government views.

Outrage at all of that's utterly justified. Sympathy with a bomber puts the lie to the extreme right's claim to reject violence. Someone who carries out premeditated deadly force against civilians to make a political point is by virtually any definition a terrorist, not a hero. Stack remodeled his plane so as to pack it with extra fuel, left a manifesto, took the life of an innocent man.

If Stack had been an Arab or a Muslim, you can bet this story would still be getting blaring headlines and front page news coverage. As one of my Twitter friends wrote, "What, if you own your own plane you can't be a terrorist?"

Well said. But it's not just the hypocrisy that's the problem, it's the lack of serious coverage. By all means hold those who praise Stack to account, and call out media hypocrisy and double standards. But before you dismiss him as simply a crazy, read his manifesto. It's posted online. I quote:

"Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities...and when it's time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and....this country's leaders don't see this as important as bailing out a few of their... cronies."

Most of what Stack has to say's not mad. Or incoherent. Does is justify killing? Not at all, but should the extreme right be the only ones responding? I'd say not. Stack's was a lone act -- and let's hope it stays that way, but - as after 9-11- asking why is again worth doing... We have choices about how to respond. Denial's only one of them.

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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Correction: Joseph Stack was not a Vietnam veteran as reported earlier. However, the man he killed, Vernon Hunter, was. The text has been corrected here.

Human Interest In Bank Practices

How much senior executives earn, in cash and stock, is public information. How they make it is public too. Trouble is, the two are barely brought together in reporting. One story's a business story, the other's, well, for the "human interest" file.

As all humans have a reason to be interested, let's pull the pieces of one tale together. Let's take Wells Fargo, the bank whose CEO just topped the charts -- as the top earner in the country for 2009.

According to analysis released by Equilar, an executive compensation research firm, Wells Fargo CEO John G. Stumpf was paid a personal best of $18.7 million in cash and stock in 2009. That's up 64 percent from two years earlier. That means that Mr. Stumpf is making twice as much as Lloyd C. Blankfein, his counterpart at Goldman Sachs -- the "great vampire squid" himself. Does that make Stumpf Mr. Super Squid... ?

More names might come to mind if the public were reminded of just what's been going on at Wells Fargo on his watch. The company is currently being sued by, among others, the city of Baltimore, for civil rights violations related to racist lending practices.

As we've reported on this program, Wells Fargo made a bundle, selling risky, high-cost subprime loans to African Americans, including long-time African American homeowners.

On GRITtv last year, former subprime mortgage broker turned whistle-blower Beth Jacobson described how African American brokers were sent into Black churches: "Plenty of people there might not even have thought of taking out loans or leveraging their property," but through Black churches loan officers found a motherlode of clients who they steered into subprime loans, even clients with good credit scores.

The rewards for the brokers were massive: what some Wells Fargo brokers called "ghetto loans" brought upwards of twice the fees that they could make off prime-rate kind. But the cost for borrowers -- and cities like Baltimore -- were deadly.

Now Baltimore's suing, foreclosures are continuing... and Stumpf's the country's best-paid CEO. A footnote? Hardly. Of human interest? I think so.

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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Pledge to Save Journalism

It's pledge time at many noncommercial, listener and viewer-supported television and radio stations and you may already be feeling irritated by the persistent pleading from your favorite public radio or TV host.

But before you switch the dial, before you touch that remote, remember. All that guff you're hearing about the importance of public service reporting that's insulated from the influence of corporate advertisers? It's not guff -- as ABC TV affiliates in five southeast states have just found out. Advertisers punish and Toyota apparently did just that, by pulling advertising off scores of affiliates of ABC TV "as punishment" for ABC News reporting on Toyota's sticky pedals.

Here's the story: ABC News and its chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross have been reporting on the problem of "runaway Toyotas" since last November. Sticky pedals, safety problems, misstatements of fact... Ross had hosted a series of stories long before Toyota management started issuing apologies and denials about the extent of their cars' defects.

Early in February, as the company announced its biggest-ever vehicle recalls, Southeast Toyota dealers started pulling their commercials off ABC. According to web excerpts of an ABC report, the ad agency representing 173 dealers told local ABC affiliates that the shift was due to "excessive stories on the Toyota issues." One unnamed ABC station manager quoted in a February 8 story on the ad-pulls is quoted as saying that the dealers shifted their commercial time buys to non-ABC stations in the same markets, "as punishment for the reporting."

22Squared, the Atlanta advertising agency that handles the account for the dealers, didn't beat about the bush. An email sent to stations by the agency read "Please let me know the earliest that we can get off the air on your station."

Now Toyota is expected to add the 2010 Prius to its list of recalled vehicles. Will ABC News continue reporting? Probably. But will cash strapped local affiliates continue to run those stories? I wonder.

While we find out, have you paid your pledge?

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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Lifting the Veil on US Troops in Pakistan

"The deaths of three American soldiers in a Taliban suicide attack on Wednesday lifted the veil on United States military assistance to Pakistan." So began a Feb 4th piece by Jane Perlez in the New York Times.

But even all these days on, it's been a very discreet unveiling.

Lest we forget, US servicepeople are not supposed to be dying in Pakistan. It's not Iraq, it's not Afghanistan. There's no agreement for combat troops to operate. Until recently, U.S. officials have repeatedly officially denied having any combat troops in place. This month's killing exposed that lie -- so what were the US troops doing there?

What we've learned so far is the soldiers were part of what federal officials say is a small contingent of American soldiers who've been training Pakistan's army for 18 months now.

As the Times puts it, "the trainings has been acknowledged only gingerly by both the Americans and the Pakistanis.....so as not to trespass onto Pakistani sensitivities about sovereignty and not to further inflame high anti-American sentiment."

For a taste of that gingerly-acknowledging, read the Times story. In more than 1, 000 words Perlez quotes roughly a dozen sources, all but two of them US officials, or Pakistanis working implicitly or explicitly with the US embassy. Of two non-official sources, one makes the obvious point:

The American soldiers were probably made targets as a result of the drone strikes, said Syed Rifaat Hussain, professor of international relations at Islamabad University. "The attack seems a payback for the mounting frequency of the drone attacks," Professor Hussain said.

It's an obvious point because the Pakistani press and local activists have been making it loudly, in the press and in street protests for months now. In the same week that Perlez's piece appeared, the country's English daily, The News, ran a long editorial on the rapid increase in US drone attacks, making the point that roughly 41 civilians have been killed for every alleged Al Qaeda or Taliban target.

The Taliban's rewarding its fighters with new cars when they bring down US drones -- "The shooting down of the drone has lifted the morale of our fighters. It's a huge success for the poorly armed Taliban against a powerful enemy," remarked a senior Taliban commander, at the car-award ceremony.

Among the Pakistani public, surveys constantly show that Pakistanis consider the US a greater threat than the Taliban, despite 3,021 Pakistani deaths in terrorist attacks last year. If the drones are controversial, the presence of US soldiers on Pakistani soil is far more so.

If the US war is quietly shifting, it's not quiet inside Pakistan. People are kicking up a stink. Yet Perlez's piece, which is bylined Islamabad, reads more like an Embassy hand-out than a Pulitzer Prize-winner's research. Times readers get only the barest whiff of local reaction, and that may be the most dangerous strike 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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Another Super Bowl, Another Scandal

It's Super Bowl season, another year, another scandal. This year's outburst over CBS's $3 million Focus on the Family ad has revived the mythology around another Super Bowl ad, that one involving domestic violence. As a player in that story, I've come to anticipate game season: the domestic violence Super Bowl so-called "hoax" is one right-wing media-manufactured vampire that just won't die.

Let me lay out the facts one more time. Shortly before the start of the Super Bowl on NBC in 1993, viewers saw a public service announcement that warned: "Domestic violence is a crime." The 30 second moment (worth roughly $500,000 to advertisers) was the result of many weeks of work by FAIR, the media watch group where I co-directed the Women's Desk, and a coalition of anti-violence groups in negotiations with executives at NBC and NBC Sports.

License-holders to the biggest-revenue producing broadcast of the year, the networks, at the time, were required to air a free PSA every year. They'd never aired one on domestic violence. Workers at women's shelters, and some journalists, had long reported that Super Bowl Sunday is one of the year's worst days for violence against women in the home. FAIR hoped that the broadcast of an anti-violence PSA on Super Sunday, in front of the biggest TV audience of the year, would sound a wake-up call for the media, and it did. Helpful stories about a generally undercovered topic flooded the airwaves and hit the press for days before the game.

But a handful of reporters and editors decided to "debunk" the story. The "debunkers," led by Ken Ringle of the Washington Post, (1/31/93), claimed that FAIR had slanted the facts and claimed that "national studies" linked Super Bowl Sunday to increased assaults. Similar stories ran almost simultaneously on the AP, the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal.

Let me say it one more time. That wasn't FAIR's claim. In fact, FAIR made the point repeatedly that domestic violence is understudied and under-reported. Critics charged that the coalition was forced to "acknowledge" that its evidence was largely "anecdotal." But "anecdotal" was our word: I used it in countless interviews calling out for more reporting.

In the Washington Post, Ringle painted a picture of a feminist mob strong-arming the networks with myth and false statistics. And that claim was quickly picked up by and amplified by professional anti-feminists Christina Hoff Sommers, the Independent Women's Forum and on and on....

But it was Ringle who distorted the facts. Washington Post readers to this day probably don't know that of the four experts cited by Ringle, only one agreed with the article's thesis. Ringle quoted psychotherapist Michael Lindsey to defend his point that the Super Bowl PSA campaign was misguided: "You know I hate this," Ringle quoted Lindsey saying. But Lindsey told FAIR that he was referring to Ringle's line of questioning, not the anti-battering campaign. "He was really hostile," Lindsey added. On the same day as Ringle's "debunking" story, Lindsey was quoted in the New York Times, saying, "The PSA will save lives."

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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Integrity Isn't Just a Military Value

On Tuesday, several of the nation's top military officials, including Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, spoke out in favor of ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Clinton-era policy that can get a lesbian or gay service person fired if their sexuality becomes known.

Mullen tweeted later: "Stand by what I said: Allowing homosexuals to serve openly is the right thing to do. Comes down to integrity."

Hoorah! But before we pat our leaders on the back for talking about integrity, can we just point out that the military is mostly a grand symbol in this debate.

For many the biggest problem with the US military is not how it treats its own, but how it treats outsiders it considers "other" --Iraqis or Pakistanis for example. It's possible that unteaching machismo within could improve the institution's respect for the human rights of all. But -- I hate to mention it -- eliminating Don't Ask Don't Tell will not create full equality in the USA.

Workplaces around this country in a world of different professions and places are dangerous places for LGBT people. Willing and able workers can be fired for who they are. The National Gay And Lesbian Task Force, which is about to hold its annual Creating Change conference in Texas this weekend, points out that it's still legal in 29 states to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. In 38 states, people can be fired for being transgender -- not fitting in to gender stereotypes.

Where's our integrity as a nation that claims to be founded on the principles of Every Person Is Created Equal?

The President's push to hold hearings on Don't Ask Don't Tell is a step up from not talking about it at all. But a year of hearings on the military, past present and future?

What we need is an inclusive employment non-discrimination act that applies to ALL jobs, and all people -- not just the military -- and we need it now.

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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

The Defense Industry Is Pleased with Obama

Who says the president is failing to show leadership? In one area at least, there's no sign of flag or falter. If anything, the administration's only becoming more forthright. Sad to say, that area is military build-up.

Last year, the White House made a big deal of cutting a weapons program -- the F-22 fighter jet -- and the cuts conveniently obscured the growth in spending on unmanned aircraft or drones (the weapons that Pakistanis say killed a record 123 civilians in twelve attacks last month; 41 for every alleged Al Qaeda operative.)

This year, the president dispensed with the window dressing. No big deal about cuts -- except on the domestic side. While the administration's record $3.8 trillion budget cuts or freezes spending on domestic programs, it requests $708.3 billion for war. That's $14.8 billion more than we're spending now.

The total includes $548.9 billion for "regular" war, plus $159.3 billion for special spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oh yes, the administration's also asking Congress to increase spending on new nuclear weapons by more than $7 billion dollars over the next five years -- despite that peace prize-winning pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world.

The quote of the day comes from the CEO of a military contractor-funded policy group called the Lexington Institute. Loren Thompson tells Tuesday'sNew York Times, "The defense industry is pleased but bemused... It's been telling itself for years that when the Democrats got control it would be bad news for weapons programs. But the spending keeps going on."

Take that you Nobel committee!

And to think some whiners complain about Democrats suffering from a lack of direction.

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. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

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