Laura Flanders | The Nation

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

Sotomayor Critics Ignore New York & Wichita


OK, let's get this right: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is making the rounds of the Capitol this week and some jackasses are still saying she has to explain her "wise Latina" comment?

In a 2001 speech Sotomayor said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

It's been a week that the quote has been out there and, for just as long, the question's been waiting to be answered: A better conclusion about what subject?

Does Sotomayor believe that Latina judges are ipso facto smarter? That's what her right-wing critics want her much-mangled quote to mean. But smarter about what? The price of beans? The weather? What two and two add up to?

Not exactly. While the money-media have spent the week making the comment "controversial" (and then calling it that), the non-profit media watch group FAIR (where I once worked)  looked at the transcript and they report (drum-roll):

"The topic under discussion was race and gender discrimination. Talking about judging such cases- Sotomayor argued that the experience of facing discrimination might lead to a better decision about discrimination and she pointed out: 'Let us not forget that until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.'

On the moon maybe it's different – or in the privacy of your kitchen -- but out here in the actual, lived USA – white males have been the norm (originally white, not-Irish or Italian or German-males). All "others" have had a different experience. A different experience – not of snow or rain or the price of beans – but of discrimination.

In a week that saw the killing of an off duty police officer by an another police officer in New York, and the killing of a women's doctor in Wichita, it's hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would disagree with Sotomayor. 

The New York shooter took the victim for a criminal at least in part because the victim was a black man.

The assassination of the country's eighth abortion provider brought out of the margins and into the media the reality that women seeking legal care and the people who look after them are still, after decades, subject to the kind of daily harassment, vandalism and threats that no corporate CEO would tolerate for a weekend. Women's lives are not the same.

In a week like this, it's hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would argue that to mention difference in America is to be racist -- or that to have experienced discrimination might make one smarter about it. But what am I saying? All those "right" minds are the problem. Right minds would rather that we pretend we're all already equal, because then we'll stop working to make it that way. 


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.


George Tiller: What If?


When a person who has been targeted before is murdered, as Dr. George Tiller was, there are a lot of what ifs.

What if, back in the 1990s, after the first attempt on Tiller's life, mainstream media had overcome their reluctance to report on violence against abortion providers?

What if, way back then, they'd called the violence by its rightful name: domestic terrorism?

What if, when Dr. David Gunn was shot down in Pensacola Florida in 1993, the newspapers of record hadn't covered that story as if Gunn and his killer were somehow equivalent? "Both Impassioned" as the Washington Post put it. That's not how they talked about 9-11. Passion on both sides? Not in the least.

What if Bill O'Reilly hadn't so often referred to Tiller as a baby killer? What if he'd been pulled off the air for incitement. What if?

Perhaps most urgently, what if we had law-enforcement that took the violent margins of the conservative movement as seriously, as say, the property-damagers of the environmental fringe? (For most of the last decade, the FBI's top priority domestic terror threat was "eco-terrorism")

On his Americablog, right-wing watcher John Aravosis has been talking for weeks about a new line coming out of the radical right. In the debate over extending the hates crimes protections to LGBT people, extreme right fundamentalist Christian leaders could be heard calling for an exemption for their "right" to kill, "provided they claim the murder was inspired by their faith," Aravosis wrote on May 22.

On Monday, that language appeared in the New York Times.

Commenting on Dr. Tiller's death, Dave Leach, an anti-choice activist from Des Moines who runs the newsletter Prayer and Action News said, "to call this a crime is too simplistic. There is Christian scripture that would support this."

Crazy? Yes. To be ignored? Absolutely not. Homeland Security was right to list extreme anti-choice groups in its report on Domestic Terror threats. If Obama had held firm in the face of the criticism last month, he'd be soaking up the commendations now. Instead the administration backed off in face of a flack-attack from right-wing pundits. 

Now a man is dead, and, as John put it, "an American church has been shot up during services." And some – like John – can't help but wonder -- what if the Obama administration had sent a different message?

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.


The President of Paradox


It will be an historic occasion when Sonia Sotomayor takes her seat. Assuming she's confirmed, she'll be the first woman of color and the first person from the Latino community to become a Supreme Court justice.

Announcing this, his first top court appointment, President Obama put it clearly enough: "When Sonia Sotomayor ascends those marble steps to assume her seat on the highest court of the land, America will have taken another important step towards realizing the ideal that is etched above its entrance: Equal Justice under the law."

It's pretty simple and kind of stirring stuff. There aren't royals and non-royals, just human beings. And those two words: Equal and Justice.

Equal. Equality is indivisible. It either is or it isn't. We learned that, from among others, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Justice. Those blind, balancing scales -- they either balance or they're tilted. It's not rocket science.

It's hard not to be moved by Judge Sotomayor's story: from Puerto Rican parents in the Bronx to the highest court in the land. Just as the swearing-in of the first African American president inspired millions of Americans from all walks of life -- to wake up early and stand on a very frigid National Mall to watch his inauguration. So, people of all sorts feel good about the nomination of Sotomayor. As Obama said, it feels as if the nation's making progress.

But what a paradoxical day. At the very same time that one court was moving (possibly) towards an ideal; in another they were stepping back from it.

While the President was lifting up the nation's professed ideals in Washington, in California, justices approved discrimination against same sex -couples under the law, with only one dissent from the lone Democrat.

There aren't a lot of ways of going at this.

Separate isn't equal.

Justice is balanced or tilted.

If Barack Obama doesn't want to be remembered as the President of paradox, it's time he stood up and provided leadership. If you believe in those words etched above the Supreme Court entrance, Mr. President, stand up for all Americans to ascend those marble steps -- to marriage, to the court - Those words again are Equal Justice.


Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

Killing the Public Option


Pelosi or Cheney? Who's the Torturer in Chief?


Beltway journalists seem finally to have a found a torture story they like. Mind you, not the one about the Bush/Cheney White House possibly okaying drowning to extract "information" to justify an Iraq attack -- not that story. The story the Beltway bulldogs have decided to get stuck into is a story about Democrats.

Let's recap. Prosecutions of members of the Bush/Cheney administration became a real possibility last month. As part of an ongoing court case, the Department of Justice released memos detailing techniques approved for use on terror suspects. CIA interrogators were given legal authorization to use water torture, to slam an alleged "high-value" detainee's head against a wall, to place insects inside a "confinement box" to induce fear, and force a detainee to remain awake for 11 consecutive days. All that, according to a memo signed by the former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jay Bybee, now a federal judge.

Subsequent reports including commentary by an FBI interrogator who interrogated one of the same suspects by traditional -- non-torture -- means, suggests that even knowing (as most interrogators did) that torture produces untrustworthy evidence (because torture victims make things up to make the torture stop), officials at the highest level in the Bush/Cheney administration okayed torture tactics.

Did they order abuse specifically to extract an Al Qaeda/ Saddam Hussein link? Maybe. But we'll never know, because instead of even asking the question, the headline story in the media has become: "Nancy Pelosi is a hypocrite."

"Pelosi a hypocrite" vs. "Cheney okayed torture for political reasons:" It seems easy to pick the hotter scoop. Yet David Gregory (of Meet the Press) was all over Pelosi, as were the rest of the Sunday squawkers this weekend. On Fox News they talk about almost nothing else. Why didn't the House speaker push back harder? When did she actually know what? Was she right to hold a press conference blaming the CIA? They're not bad questions. They're important questions. But when it comes to torture, is Pelosi the thorn or the point?

"This is not where the White House wants the public discussion to be," Gregory said on Morning Joe. Too right. But it's bigger than that. On this question of torture-for-war or Pelosi political mis-step, it's not just the White House that wants a different conversation. It's America. We need accountability for torture -- and prosecutions -- if we don't want heinous practices to continue. And we need a press that grasps, not avoids, the serious questions. Scrutinize Pelosi all you like -- but right after Cheney's shut up and Bybee's off the bench.

Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.


Robbing Us and Paying Out


The results of the Treasury Department's touted "stress tests" are out – and so far the result is a call for massive new capital for banks. It adds up to a needed $100 billion for Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the rest. Sooner or later we'll be looking at TARP Three, I bet.

It's hard not to feel bilked. Even when they were running short of cash, the banks looked after their own. According to a recent academic study they paid out a staggering $400 billion to investors in 2007 and 2008 even as the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression broke. With the value of their portfolios shrinking and common equity drying up, Lehman Brothers dividends went up 13% in January 2008. TARP recipients JPMorgan and Wells Fargo cut dividends only in February and March 2009, and as of late last month, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley had yet to do so, despite urging from the Fed.

Watching their own backs is what these banks do best. Now they're doing it by lobbying to beat back bankruptcy reform.(See a pretty furious discussion on GRITtv this week.) At the banks, public money goes in the front and out the back.

Meanwhile, while the government's doing somersaults to keep owners and top bank managers in place and in the black, many Americans are choosing between food and home and gas.

It's not only unfair, it's not smart.

There is no fair rationale for allocating trillions of US dollars to protect bankers' hedge funds and well-paid execs while tens of millions of working Americans go belly up.

Societies dominated by finance (as ours has been,) have always collapsed. The only way the US gets back on track is with good paying jobs in solid communities that work. In New York, Wall Street's cheering up – but libraries are going broke. Just imagine if you took the trillions and kept teachers on the job, built roads, gave people grants to re-do homes, issue fair mortgages, and provide quality childcare.

Let's not kid ourselves: filtering trillions through banks and investment houses won't do the job -- they built their billions by cutting labor and keeping down pay – and rewarding companies that did the same -- especially their execs. If we do not rebuild the US workforce there's no way this country's going back up. Are we "all in this together?" -- Hardly. You just have to look at Main Street to know that.

Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Carl Ginsburg co-wrote this piece.


Killer Economics


We don't need a 100-day reckoning to know the score: war, recession, violence in Pakistan and now a global epidemic.

The landscape before us is a pretty tense: more than thirteen million unemployed, falling prospects, rising gun sales, not to mention the foreclosure of probably an additional ten million homes. Many are fearing a long hot summer, the implications of which will be felt across the land. And now there's Swine Flu. 

It's funny that when it comes to Swine flu, we get it.  When we're talking about the human body, we seem to understand that vulnerable parts put the whole body politic at risk.

In the face of a virus it makes perfect sense: germs don't discriminate. Poisons spread.  Switch to the topic of poverty and predatory lending,  and we have a problem grasping the basics. Yet exploitation and corruption  jump fences too. The epidemic of predatory lending, for example, began by targeting Black, Latino (especially female) borrowers, but predatory practices didn't stay in the 'hood. 

On Sunday, as 20 cases of swine flu were confirmed, American health officials declared a public health emergency. After scares from SARS and bird flu a few years ago, international protocols were put in place to deal with global pandemics.  At a news conference in DC, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called the flu emergency declaration "standard operating procedure." 

Imagine if we'd declared an Economic Health Emergency after Enron, and the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the collapse and devaluation of the Russian ruble?

What we need are some standard operating procedures to deal with a plague of killer economics. Reading today's New York Times about the Treasury Secretary's cosy professional and personal relationship with the very industry he was supposed to regulate, it's clear that quarantine would have served us well. 

In the case of epidemics, we investigate the causes and isolate the carriers. On the economic front, so far, we've forged forward without virtually no diagnosis -- and promoted the virus-carriers to high office.

So what, now?  Well, we'll need more than a face mask to protect us from Geithneritis. And no amount of Theraflu will do.

Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.


The Answer to Obama=Hitler


The presidential campaign had more than a smattering of it. The economic crisis is breeding lots more. Crazy talk comparing Barack Obama to Hitler went mainstream April 15th. It's nasty and it could get worse, but there is something Barack Obama could do about it if he wanted to.

This week on GRITtv, the Indypendent's Arun Gupta talked about the Right's April 15th "tea parties." They tapped into real resentments, he said, but manipulated them in a racist way. Just as some mortgage-holders have become the scapegoats for all our economic woes and along the way the borrowers themselves have become "subprime" -- so too, president Obama's is talked about as not really American, a closet Muslim, a "sub-prime" president.  "There is racial code wording going on," said Arun.

It was all over the signs at the April 15 rallies: "Obamanation." "Hang Em High!" "Show us your real birth certificate." The creepiest declared: "The American Tax Payers are the the Jews for Obama's ovens."

None of this is new.  The Obama=Hitler comparison's been out there since early in the presidential campaign.  Rev James David Manning from Harlem sermonized on the topic back in June 2008 (there's a clip on YouTube,) but Manning's spew never received the Jeremiah Wright treatment; it got him invited onto right-wing radio instead. Indeed, some right-wing shock-jocks used their mikes to deliver almost daily diatribes questioning Obama's religion and his citizenship.  Now with Limbaugh in the limelight again, right-wing talkers are enjoying a bump and from fringe to middle is how this stuff moves -- with the help of powerful media. 

There's nothing like economic chaos to feed fear and anger. We know that much. And race-panic has always been an easy sell in the USA. Historically, those who want to divide and conquer unrest have always succeeded by dressing up racism and xenophobia as working-class solidarity.

There is an antidote. President Obama could put 5 million Americans on the federal payroll as FDR would have done; stop foreclosures on people's homes. Stop federal and state job layoffs, and stop -- please stop -- those screw-us again schemes for unscrupulous bankers.

It's clearly not his nature, but it better become Obama's strategy. The best answer to fake working-class solidarity is the real kind.


Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.


New Way Forward?

Chris is keen on A New Way Forward and Zephyr wrote about the group here. I had a chance to talk with Kyle Krahel-Frolan a New Way Forward organizer when he was on a GRITtv panel discussing What Next? (after the bank bonus brouhaha.) The conversation's rich -- and looking around the table here, I was struck with the smarts of the crew. Protest can be knee-jerk, (and sometimes that's just right) but these organizers have their heads' screwed on.

Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.


Lesson from Vermont: Don't Cower, Push.


They did it. On Tuesday the Vermont legislature formally recognized that civil unions are not the same as marriage. Forgive me for saying it, but I think the Vermonters have a thing or two to teach the Congress.

Mustering one more vote than the two thirds majority needed to override their Governor's veto, they passed a bill that grants same sex couples the freedom to marry, and became the first state in the nation to achieve marriage equality through legislation rather than the court.

What's it got to do with Congress? Merely this: there is such a thing as the courage of conviction. How many times have we heard that progress comes through conciliation? It's the ubiquitous refrain of political "framing" and "spin-meisters."

"Go to where the middle is." How many anti-war activists, anti-poverty, pro-single-payer advocates have been told that progress comes from hugging the middle, not pushing the edge? You hear it now in Washington, around healthcare --- or the budget.



Civil Unions, passed in 2000 in Vermont, didn't satisfy fair-minded Vermonters. They'd pushed from the edge to Civil Unions, still wanted marriage equality, and they weren't going away, and they continued to work and to push. A veto threat from Vermont's governor didn't discourage the backers of same sex marriage. Among the people egging them on was former Democratic National Committee chair and former Vermont governor Howard Dean. "Vote your conscience, not your district," he encouraged legislators at a pre-vote party fundraiser.

"Stand up for doing the right thing; for being a human being," Dean was quoted as saying in the Burlington Free Press. "Put human rights above politics -- because if you don't, you'll regret it for the rest of your political career."

He was right. Coming less than a week after a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court that extended same sex marriage in that state, and with bills to follow suit under consideration in several other states, the arc of history feels as if it's tilting toward equal protection after all.

And watching LGBT equality advance you've got to chalk up one more victory to a small but determined minority clinging to what they believe is right. If culture warriors always trod softly-softly and adhered to conventional guff, we'd never have marriage equality. Or inter-racial marriage. Or votes for women, or civil rights.


Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan and other cities) and online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

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