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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.

Where's the Norma Rae of Healthcare?

 

Crystal Lee Sutton died last week. You might know her by her "other" name. It was Sutton's story that inspired the film Norma Rae, starring Sally Field who won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal of Sutton, a North Carolina union organizer in the early 1970s. In an act of defiance Sutton wrote the word "UNION" on a piece of cardboard and stood up on her work table at the J.P. Stevens textile plant. Her co-workers followed and turned their machines off in solidarity.

After hearing of her death, Field said that, "portraying Crystal Lee in Norma Rae not only elevated me as an actress, but as a human being."

Sutton fought for the working poor much of her life. What she also had to fight for, it turns out, was healthcare. After being diagnosed with cancer a few years back, she was told that her insurance wouldn't cover the potentially life saving medication she needed. By the time the approval came through Sutton's cancer had spread.

Speaking of her own predicament, Sutton said, "How in the world can it take so long to find out [whether they would cover the medicine or not] when it could be a matter of life and death. It is almost like, in a way, committing murder."

She died at 68.

It makes all the talk of death panels, a government takeover, and socialized medicine sound rather silly, doesn't it? Cancer's bad enough. But at least it's an equal opportunity killer. Our current for-profit insurance system isn't benign, and there's nothing equal about it. Is there someone out there somewhere standing on a table with a cardboard sign: 'HEALTHCARE'? We'd love to make a movie about it.


Laura Flanders is 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.

 

Will Drones Make General Atomics the next Blackwater?

 

A US drone firing missiles into a village in northern Pakistan killed at least 19 people over the weekend. The targets were militants, said the US military. The victims included six dead children, said a local tribal elder.

"Suspected US drone kills Suspected Taliban Commander." That's becoming the stuff of very suspect news stories. The reporting is so weak there's almost nothing confirmed except that the killer operator is far away in front of a computer screen.

Suspected killing of suspected people covered by unsuspicious media?  It would be sci-fi if it weren't so here-now, and it's only going to get more so.

The Democratic administration just made a big deal of cutting the cumbersome F-22 fighter jet. "We don't need it any more," said the President. What he didn't say is that the defense department is seeking $3.5 billion for unmanned aerial vehicles a.k.a. "drones." Funding is expected to increase to $55 billion by 2020. The air force is currently training more drone operators than fighter and bomber pilots.

Drones have been around since the US-led NATO war on the former Yugoslavia. Since '06, drones have launched hundred of missiles along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border killing as many as 700 civilians according to Pakistani officials.

Forbes magazine's "king of the armed drone makers" is a little known company called General Atomics whose founder James Neal Blue came up with the drone as a way of defeating Soviet-backed Sandinistas by blowing up oil pipelines in Nicaragua. He's a fervent anti-communist and quite possibly the next Erik Prince -- only his mercenaries aren't Blackwater's flesh and blood killers, but conveniently bloodless machines.

General Atomics is small by defense industry standards, but it has a lot of friends in Washington. Between 2000 and 2005, GA was the top corporate sponsor of privately funded congressional travel. So perhaps it's no surprise, there's little resistance to more drones in the US arsenal.

Drones are not cheap -- between $10 million and $12 million apiece per GA "Reaper." Their success rate is widely disputed. They kill civilians and even General David Petraeus admits, they make people hate us. But cynical political calculus is on General Atomics' side. 

President Obama has a problem.  Every American military commander wants more troops, but resistance among foot soldiers is growing and maybe, someday - someday - the president's anti-war base will make itself heard.

How to heed the commanders and quiet the critics simultaneously? Welcome to the super drone bonanza. The pilotless drone is the military's version of cash for very clunky policy.

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.
 

 

MSNBC & FOX: Posing Divided, United They Stand

 

There are days when one's reminded why one works in independent media. August 1st was one of those days, when the New York Times ran a front page media story that might as well have been headlined: GE and Fox Hush Hosts For Profits.

In a nutshell, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and Bill O'Reilly of Fox have been going at it. For months, Olbermann's called the Fox host out for his lies and smears, regularly dubbing him "Worst Person in the World," while O'Reilly's raised questions about MSNBC's corporate owners, General Electric.

The on-air feud was good for ratings. It wasn't even bad journalism, for these kind of programs. Olbermann held Fox's O'Reilly to account for dubbing Dr. George Tiller "baby killer" in the run up to Tiller's assassination. O'Reilly sent a producer to a GE shareholder's meeting to raise questions about company business in Iran.

The feud wasn't bad for ratings, but it was perceived as a potential threat to other corporate interests.  And so it was that some time this May, the chairman of General Electric (which owns MSNBC), and Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation (which owns Fox News), were brought into a "summit meeting" for CEOs where Charlie Rose played peacemaker.

Said one General Electric employee quoted by the Times, calling the two into line meant, "Fewer headaches on the corporate side."

The sniping's stopped. There's been virtually none of it since the deal took effect on June 1. When Glenn Beck called the President a racist, for example, commentators criticized Beck, but they obediently avoided going after the network that pays him.

It's just another reminder why we don't see stinging reporting, say, of General Electric's investment in the weapons trade, or the healthcare business, or News Corp's dealings with the Chinese government.

Posing divided, united they stand. In the all-about profits media business, ideological rifts are fine for the purposes of gaining notoriety and building audience. Stir things up and deepen divisions among parties, politicians, workers, little people. But go after business interests -- and that's another story. Then, the same media moguls who profit off our social divides sing corporate Kumbaya when their profits are in peril.

Making independent media's tough. It's hard to fund and it's tempting to think there must be a better way. Wouldn't it be easier if some corporation paid the bills?

Not exactly.

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. 

 

Beer is Nice but Equal Protection's Better

 

The National Council of La Raza, a top Latino civil rights group, is taking a shot at RNC chair Michael Steele and several prominent GOP figures for skipping its ongoing annual conference while Democrats are basking in the contrast. Having nominated the first Latina to the Supreme Court and sending no end of speakers to the La Raza conference, they're in like Flynn with Latino voters, they hope.

But things are not so simple. The day after the La Raza affair there was another gathering in NY, to which Latinos came out. That was to protest at the Council on Foreign Relations  -- where Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano was talking up the Administration's anti-terror policy.

A slew of human rights and immigrant-rights organizations, including many Latinos, called the protest because -- for all the nice talk -- the administration's immigration policy has actually put more, not less power in the hands of law enforcement and done little so far to stop abusive raids and deadly detention practises.

Armed federal immigration agents are still illegally pushing and shoving their way into homes and taking people away, breaking up families, on suspicion and Latinos are getting the lion's share of the grief. The Cardozo school of law reports there have been hundreds of predawn raids in just two states (New York and New Jersey) in violation of agency rules as well as the Constitution. And that's not just happening under the big bad Bush crackers-down. It's happening under Napolitano and Obama.

The demonstration by the immigration groups outside the Council in New York is a wake up call. Obama allies and voters, like many of those gathered outside Wednesday, aren't happy.

A Latina on the Supreme Court's great. And a love fest at La Raza's lovely. But just as in the case of the wrongful-arrest of Harvard Professor Skip Gates, a beer in the White House is no fix for what ails us. 

There's still a  problem of inequality and discrimination in America and it isn't solvable by improving our personal (or political) relations. At the end of the day policy -- like policy governing policing and immigration -- is where the action needs to be. If Obama and the Dems are going to applaud themselves for "being on the right side of history" they need to back up their words with real work.

Again, beer and a chat is nice. But ensuring equal protection is better.  ICE and police who abuse power need to be reined in at once.

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.
 

 

Misused TARP Funds Shocker

Told to make more loans, TARP banks made fewer, gambled on the stock market and bought other banks. Will we "tell" them to go to their rooms? Or at least cut their allowance?

Just a few months ago, the Treasury Department stress tested the banks. The result was a call for massive new capital infusion -- for them, from us. 

Even then, academic studies were clear that the very same banks were making more than a buck. TARP recipients JP Morgan and Wells Fargo cut dividends to investors only once, and, well we all know what was happening at  Goldman. They were on track -- boy, were they on track -- to super-profits.

Now there's news -- from special inspector general Neil Barofsky, the overseer of the TARP bailouts.

Of 360 banks that got money through the end of January -- Barofsky reports that 110 invested at least some of it in the stock market, 52 repaid bad debts they'd taken out, and 15 used our funds to buy up other banks. And that's not even counting the millions they spent lobbying against bankruptcy reform or credit card regulation.

To make things right Barofsky's calling on the Treasury Department to require regular, detailed reporting from TARP recipients. Just in case you forgot, so far, the Treasury has refused to collect such information. In a written response, Geithner et al are still against it. "Officials have taken the view that the exact use of the federal aid cannot be tracked because money given to a bank is like water poured into an ocean. "

Oh, really? Well, that's a little different from how TARP was sold to us.

Back last fall, Hank Paulson, a former Goldman CEO, who once owned $700 million worth of the company's stock, told taxpayers that if we gave to the banks, they'd give back to us --in jobs, and loans, and new businesses on Main Street. (Even though CitiGroup were stating publicly their intention to reduce, not grow, lending.)

Opponents of healthcare are all hot and bothered about $1 trillion -- that's $1 trillion over ten years for healthcare for everybody. Most estimates put the final cost of the TARP fiasco at twice that.

 

Would we have gone for that -- any of us -- if we'd been told it was to "pour money like water into an ocean?"

A very profitable, private ocean, at that. What do you think? 

 

Of Breadlines & Banks

 

President Obama was elected with a large enough mandate for fundamental change that he could forge a fresh social compact, lock in place a new set of mutual obligations and rewrite the relationship between the state and the populace.

Sasha Abramsky's comments in his book Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to Fix Itir?t=lauraflanders-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0981709117 (which I'm paraphrasing there) would be striking enough on any day. The need for change is obvious. In 2008 the official poverty line stood at a shameful $10,590 for a single person and $21,203 for a family of four. And according to the Census 37 million Americans were living at or below those numbers. In 2008, 28.4 million Americans were receiving food stamps, a number that's risen 19 percent since today's recession started.

The need for change is obvious, and last November, the appetite for it became palpable. "President Barack Obama's election was an astounding transformative moment," writes Abramsky. "Tens of millions of voters, from the most liberal to the most conservative regions of the country, stood up and said no more to the divisive greed-driven policies and priorities of the recent past."

But then there's this, from today's news. Analysts report that the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, a major recipient of government cash, has earned a staggering $2 billion in the last three months. The bank's stock value has soared 68 percent and the Wall Street Journal predicts that it's on track to pay out as much as $20 billion this year, in compensation and benefits to its employees --  or about $700,000 per person.

As formerly homeless mom, Franceska Dillella told GRITtv today -- poor Americans, like those in her New York shelter, celebrated on election night. But well-connected Goldman didn't just get hugs or hope when they fell on hard times: Goldman received $13 billion from the Bush bailout of the failed insurance giant AIG and $28 billion more in low-interest loans -- plus insurance worth untold billions more -- thereafter.  Now the bank's repaid that loan and bounced back: how? The Times says Goldman "Brilliantly" capitalized on chaos--making a fortune trading bonds and buying and selling volatile currencies in a shifting market, and making out from gambling on commodities like oil -- raising prices for everyone.

Back to Abramsky.  In Breadline USA Sasha writes that if Obama rewrites the social contract and all the rest, he might be able contain the calamity of the 2008 economic collapse. "But if he fails that calamity will haunt the next several decades..."

What's more too big to fail: The banks or the country?

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.

 

Obama Hushes Healthcare Advocates?

 

Don't like the way the Wall Street bail-out turned out? It looks as if we're in for something similar regarding healthcare.

With popular fury at the status quo rising and hunger for a real, public option attracting over 70 percent approval in polls, the White House is urging public-option advocates to hush.

According to the Washington Post, in a pre-holiday call with half a dozen top House and Senate Democrats, Obama asked health care advocates to ratchet back their pressure for a public option. He's apparently concerned about advertisements and on-line campaigns targeting foot-dragging Democrats.

We've been here before. Back in the fall and spring, when popular fury at private bankers was soaring, Washington urged liberal lobbying groups to focus more on backing the White House plan and less on attacking bankers and banks.

What happened? Washington allowed Wall Street insiders, many of whom had overseen the breaking apart of the economy, to manage the so called recovery, putting most of what was rotten back in place. The re-distributions of wealth to the top continued, while civilian unemployment headed through the roof.

As Barney Frank told bankers back in February, "People really hate you, and they're starting to hate us because we're hanging out with you."

The health care debate is suffering from the same dynamic.

Specifically, on July 4, Obama said he is hoping left-leaning organizations will rally support for "advancing legislation" that fulfills his goal of expanding coverage. But the words public option were left out.

Pro-reform activists are pushing a public plan because it's popular, it's doable -- and it's at least a step closer to the only thing most actually think will work -- which is a totally public system.

Why are they pushing so hard?  Well, consider what they're up against. Pulling against anything remotely public, is the biggest lobbying blitz Washington's ever seen. The Washington Post reports that private insurers, drug companies and their representatives spent more than $126 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year. That's over $1.4 million a day. 

And they've hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress to do all that lobbying work.

When Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sat down with health-care lobbyists on June 10, two were his former chiefs of staff.  Their aim: to minimize the "damage" in profits to insurers, hospitals and drug makers from any change in approach from government. Specifically, they oppose any even remotely public option, the details of which are right now up for debate.

Want to hush the activists? The real scandal, it seems to me, shouldn't be the thousands of dollars that on-line organizers are spending on advertising to the public and Congress. The real scandal should be the millions that private insurers and pharmaceutical firms are spending infiltrating the government. 

If the public option lobbyists had the access Big Pharma's got, they might not need to buy all those ads. Besides -- $1.4 million a day. Imagine what real-life nurses could do with that!

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, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GritLaura on Twitter.com.

 

Michael Jackson: Trans Man.

Michael Jackson. Dead at 50, with over 750 million albums sold. A genius, a freak, a trail blazer, a victim. Jackson's been called all that and more  – sometimes  in a single piece of prose.

People will be talking about Jackson, his music, performance style, but most of all perhaps his persona, for decades. But ironically, one of the most perceptive reflections on Jackson was penned not since he died on June 25, but years before. Circulating around the internet over these past few days, has been an essay by James Baldwin which originally appeared in Playboy in 1985.

It's not about Jackson, James Baldwin, wrote in the essay, originally titled "Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood" (and later renamed "Here be Monsters.")  Our culture's discomfort with those we consider "freaks" actually reveals something about ourselves. 

"The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all," Baldwin wrote. "All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth....the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair…"

Baldwin put his finger on it: we're provoked -- and call "unstable" those who actually destabilize us. While Jackson may have been struggling with his own demons, he powerfully stirred up ours.

"Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are treated–in the main, abominably" continued Baldwin, "Because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires."

Freaks, so-called, destablize notions we're more comfortable keeping fixed, and mess about with ideas we prefer to box in -- like ideas about identity, sexuality, race, and control. "Freaks"  destabilize. They also release something, if we let them.

So thanks to Michael, and to freaks and transformers everywhere.  On a good day, loosening up that previously fixed-space opens up room for change.

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 "GritLaura" on Twitter.

 

Novartis Wants to Profit off Pandemic

 

While the Obama administration's getting serious about healthcare reform, it's time for a rather pointed reading comprehension test.

Consider the following story and find, if you can, the obvious problem:

The Swiss drug company Novartis will not give free vaccines against H1N1 flu to poor countries -- it will only consider discounts.

Novartis's refusal comes in the wake of a request from the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, who has called for drug companies to show solidarity with poor countries as they develop vaccines against the H1NI or "swine flu" pandemic.

Just by way of reminder, H1N1 has infected around 30,000 people globally, mostly in North America, though there have been a few deaths outside Mexico and the United States. Europe suffered its first death on Sunday. The first has just been reported in Argentina.

Help the poor prevent a pandemic? Novartis said 'No'. That's Novartis --makers of Exedrin and Bufferin -- I guess they haven't made enough off those over-the-counter best-sellers.

"If you want to make production sustainable, you have to create financial incentives," explained Novartis Chief Executive Daniel Vasella.

By "financial incentives" he means the 'p' word: profits.

Spot the flaw in the profit-driven approach to health care? Anyone?

Financial incentives?

When a pandemic isn't incentive enough -- I'd say we have another 'p' word -- a problem.

Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com

 

Deeds Louder Than Words in Cairo

 

President Obama said in Cairo this week that he sought a new beginning in US relations with the Muslim world, and a relationship based on common principles, including "principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."

Beautiful words, but deeds tend to speak louder and this week one spoke volumes. Just a few days before the president spoke, a US prisoner held for seven years without charge, killed himself rather than endure one more day at the US Detention center in Guantanamo.

Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al-Hanashi, whose death was announced Tuesday, was the fifth prisoner - and the second Yemeni - to die in an apparent suicide at the Guantanamo prison. Not charged with any crime, Saleh was 31 years old. Information is limited, but lawyers who visited in May said Saleh was one of seven being held in a psychiatric ward where he was restrained in a chair and force-fed through a tube the width of a finger. It's an excruciating process. The attorney of another striker described a tube being inserted by one guard while another holds the prisoner's chin and a third holds him back by his hair. "No anesthesia or sedative".

Pentagon medical records show Saleh weighed 124 pounds when he entered Guantanamo. A few years later he was down to just 87 pounds.

How a man in his shape might have managed to kill himself is hard to imagine. Why is far easier.

The vast majority of Yemenis in Guantanamo have never been charged -- and more than a dozen have been cleared for return. But only two have left in the past two years and talks with the Yemeni government are stalled.

Meanwhile, 17 Chinese Uighur Muslims prisoners some of whom the Bush administration cleared for release as early as 2003, continue to languish occupying an iconic place in Gitmo culture. Their release would give hope to the hopeless, say fellow prisoners' attorneys. They should never have been incarcerated. They could be released into the US tomorrow. It's going to take actions like that, Mr. President for those words, "Justice, progress, tolerance, and respect for the dignity of all human beings" on an American president's tongue might begin the long journey of actually gaining some meaning.

 

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, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

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