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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.

The A in NATO is not for Afghanistan

 

It's a strange idea, that the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization lies in the mountains of Afghanistan. But that's just the case that President Barack Obama and  British Defense Secretary John Hutton are making at NATO's 60th anniversary summit this weekend in Strasbourg.

Hutton, like Obama, is trying convince his counterparts in NATO that they should commit more troops to Afghanistan. In fact, he told the BBC on the eve of the summit that the Afghan war is the defining conflict for NATO in this part of the 21st century.

 

 

It's the same message carried by Obama.

 

 

Will it fly? I guess that depends on how much history makes its way into the celebration. When it was founded 60 years ago, no one would ever have imagined that, more than half a century later, NATO's defining conflict could possibly be in central Asia.

NATO was created in 1949 to defend western democracies from scary Stalinist Russia.

 

 

A recent guest on our program, Andrew Bacevich, said in a commentary in the LA Times this week that the best gift any American President could give NATO right now would be "a valedictory address, announcing his intention to withdraw the United States from the alliance."

 

 

"The U.S. has done its job. It's time for Europe to assume full responsibility for its own security," wrote Bacevich.

He argues that "the US has done European nations no favors urging the alliance to expand its reach, abandoning its defensive posture to become an instrument of intervention."

 

 

On the matter of defense, NATO sat out the only really significant fight on its continent last year (the one between Russia and Georgia,) and so far it's achieved more backlash than lash in Afghanistan.

 

 

Peace activists who gathered en masse outside the Strausberg meeting demand more than the exit of the US from the alliance. They want the end of NATO altogether. The biggest threats to Europe, they argue, are economic and environmental; the military build up is just a mission-creepy money-sucker.

 

 

Whether you think it should go, or only that the US should, NATO in Asia doesn't make much sense. The A stands for Atlantic. Not Afghanistan.

 

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.

Silence on Afghanistan: If Only it Were a Joke

 

It's April Fool's day week and my inbox is full.

My favorite prank posting so far comes from the London- based Guardian newspaper which announced (via Twitter): "The Guardian scraps print version for all-Twitter format"

The newly Twittered 140-character-only archive was said to include the following articles: "OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see [link]," and "JFK assassin8d@Dallas, def. heard second gunshot... WTF?"

What I wish was a joke was some of the rest of what's been coming in...

Like all the mail from supposedly anti-war groups who worked hard to elect Barack Obama on an anti-Iraq war platform, but now, when it comes to escalation in Afghanistan, are lining up in support.

After the president announced the deployment of 4,000 more troops (on top of the extra 17,000 he's already sent) Jon Soltz, an anti-Iraq war organizer with VoteVets wrote in the Huffington Post: "With today's announcement President Obama has shown that he 'gets it.' That's why we at VoteVets.org are supporting the plan." They even have a rah-rah petition going.

Americans United for Change ran hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of anti-Iraq war ads in 2007, but they refused to answer a Washington Post blogger's question about Afghanistan. Anti-war organizers - and plenty of generals -- agreed that there was no military solution possible in Iraq. But many of those who got their head round that idea then, seem to believe the opposite is true in Afghanistan, even though Obama's own advisers say the struggle there can't be won on the battlefield.

On the website of the liberal Center for America Progress there are no fewer than five articles supporting the president's policy, including one headlined "Seven Reasons Why We need to Engage in Afghanistan."

On the Afghanistan deployment, as the Center for Media and Democracy's John Stauber has pointed out, MoveOn has thus far been silent on Afghanistan.

The Post's Greg Sargent says that when MoveOn's members were recently polled on their priorities for 2009, the subject  didn't apparently make the cut.

I wish I could say APRIL FOOLS. But sadly no. Looking at the history of Afghanistan, I'd have to say, the joke, such as it is, is on us. 

 

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 online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

 

 

Geithner's Plan: Like an Oil Spill

 

Twenty years ago this week, the Exxon Valdez ran aground, spilling ten millions gallons of filthy oil over 10,000 square miles of Prince William Sound. The Exxon corporation spent the next two decades fighting paying punitive damages to the victims. Announced, by coincidence, on the anniversary of that disaster, the Obama administration bank rescue plan is about as comforting as Exxon's clean up.

 

The economy's drowning in bad assets; trillions of dollars worth. The Treasury proposes renaming that bad stuff "legacy assets" and hopes to drive up the price by paying private investors to buy them. Go ahead and buy -- the Treasury says -- the taxpayer will take the hit if those toxic assets turn out to be, well, toxic.

Like Exxon, which has gone in for a major publicity make-over, pushing renewable energy in advertising even as it funds global warming denial, Geithner's hoping to persuade investors to engage in a whole new round of protected gambling, the very phenomenon that got us into this mess in the first place. Those "complex derivatives" aren't bad, just undervalued, he claims, victims of public panic. Treasury's willing to push a few cheap hits in the hope that a little free dope will get the hedge funders addicted again.

There's just one catch: those derivatives are bad: bad bets upon bad bets, based on cost-free betting. Traders gambled, reaped the profits in transaction fees and walked away. Kind of like Exxon: profiteering off the good days and reaping the private gain from public resources, and throwing the cost of environmental clean up back onto the taxpaying public.

 The problem is with the commanders, many of those who drove us aground, are still sitting pretty. As Frank Rich and others have reported, Larry Summers can't admit fault: he helped torpedo the regulation of derivatives while he was in the Clinton administration.

Learn from Alaska. Years after the Exxon Valdez belched guck all over the coast, ruining a fishing industry and bankcrupting a people, the financial industry's flooded our economy with garbage and we're letting the ship's captains control the clean up.

Ask the Alaskans how well that worked. Not so bad for Exxon; less well for the people and the planet.

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 online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

 

What to Do With 1,200 Pounds of Bull

 

You can learn a lot from obituaries -- and recently there have been some great ones.

In February, it was Conchita Cintrón, a celebrated female bullfighter.

Cintrón, who retired from bullfighting after having killed as many as 750 bulls in the ring, died in Lisbon last month at the age of 86.

At eighteen, according to the obituaries, she was known as la Diosa Rubia, the Blond Goddess.

A headline about her in the New York Sun in 1940 read, "She's a Timid Blue Eyed Girl But -- She Kills Bulls Without Qualms."

"I have never had any qualms about it," she said. "A qualm or a cringe before 1,200 pounds of enraged bull would be sure death."

Lesson One in these political days: Don't cringe when there are 1200 pounds of bull coming towards you...

My favorite obituary from this month so far is of Molly Kool, sea captain.

Kool qualified as a captain at age 23, the first woman in North America to be a licensed ship's captain. She died last week at her home in Bangor, Maine, two days after her 93rd birthday.

One contemporary news account described Kool this way: "Her eyebrows are shaped and arched, her lips lightly rouged, her blonde hair up in feminine curls. That's Miss Molly Kool ashore ... but in her barge ... she knows no fear ..."

She was nothing if not pragmatic.

The New York Times notes one widely reported occasion when Kool's ship, the Jean K collided with another in a dense fog and sent her hurtling overboard, where she risked being sucked under by the ship's propeller. A piece of timber floated by and she grabbed it as the ship's passengers hurled life preservers down at her.

"I'm already floating," Ms. Kool hollered up at her shipmates from the brink. "Stop throwing useless stuff at me and send a boat!"

Ahem! Anyone else hear an absolutely perfect message for these economic hard times?

When you're already floating you don't need more help to float. "Stop throwing useless stuff -- and send a boat!"

Exactly. And to think, some say that feminist history's over-rated. Happy Women's History Month.

 

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 online daily at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.

DC to Delhi: Only Our Missiles -- Not Yours

Condoleezza Rice is off to India this week, to "stand in solidarity with the Indian people " in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

The Bush administration says it shares the horror and pain of the Indian people. In fact, it shares a good deal more than that.

It shares experience in ignoring terror warnings, for one thing. In 2007, a report to the Indian Parliament warned that that country's shores were open to attack (and several of the Mumbai attackers seem indeed, to have come by boat. ) As U.S. National Security Advisor, Rice was present on August 6, 2001 when the Presidential Daily Briefing was presented to George W. Bush at his ranch: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." Condoleezza Rice knows all about ignoring warnings like that.

Anti-terror laws? India's considering passing more draconian anti-terror legislation in response to the attacks. Shrinking civil liberaties and expanding police powers? Shredding democracy in defense of democracy? The Bush administration knows all about that.

There's no excuse for terrorism, but in today's global economy there are plenty of real grievances to manipulate. In India's growing economy, a middle class of around 100 million live affluently, while 800 million-plus are miserable. India's Muslim minority is routinely discriminated against -- even subject to pogroms. But the government would far rather point fingers than look at economic disparities -- or India's treatment of its minorities -- to explain what might have motivated the attack.

Blame, don't explain: India's hardly alone in that.

Top of India's blame-list is Pakistan and purported Pakistan-based terrorist camps. The pressure's on George W. Bush and Rice to rein nuclear India back from a deadly revenge attack on its neighbor. But in the name of combatting terrorism, the US has been conducting missile attacks into Pakistan for months. A week before Mumbai, protestors in Islamabad were urging their government to sever ties with the United States over those assaults. What is Rice going to say to India: your missiles would be wrong, but ours are right?

Rice may manage to stand in solidarity when she arrives in India this week. But when it comes to advising caution, urging diplomacy and discouraging reprisal attacks, it's hard to imagine that Bush's Secretary of State will be able to do any of that with a straight face.

Laura Flanders is the host of RadioNation and GRITtv. Watch GRITtv on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan) or online at GRITtv.org.

 

No Moderate Cabinet

The President-elect is still selecting his cabinet. He's met with Hillary Clinton who's said to be under consideration for Secretary of State and more former Clinton administration officials have been named to top posts.

Gregory Craig will probably get the headlines. He is to be White House counsel. Craig led Bill Clinton's legal team through the 1998 impeachment proceedings. But also on board the new administration will be Ronald Klain. Klain, who's to be Chief of Staff to the Vice President previously served as Vice President Al Gore's Chief of Staff and as a lobbyist for among others the failed mortgage giant Fannie Mae, the media giant Time Warner, and the Coalition for Asbestos Resolution, a business group that sought government help resolving asbestos lawsuits.

It's all well and good, we're told. Obama's assembling a cabinet like Lincoln's - moderate and bi-partisan. But bi-partisanship when it comes to things like settling Asbestos suits is the kind of "bi-partisanship" with corporate America that makes people sick -- and not just for political reasons

George Bush's cabinet came in crammed with industry lobbyists. The Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality was a lawyer for the asbestos polluters. A former lobbyist for Monsanto served as Deputy Director of the EPA and the head of the Forest Service was a timber industry lobbyist.

Obama's not making the big policy appointments yet. But what if he did? Bush put an affirmative action opponent--the former dean of the Pat Robertson School of Government in charge of The White House Office of Personnel Management. At the Administration For Children and Families, Bush named a man who spent a decade fighting domestic violence and child custody laws. To head up the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs at FDA, Bush named a physician who refused to discuss contraception with unwed women.

To come close to any of that, Obama would have to name sex radical Susie Bright for Health and Human Services, tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill for EPA. Dennis Kucinich for Secretary of State. Treasury? Jamie Galbraith. Defense? Trumping the criminal warmongering of Donald Rumsfeld would take a pacifist lawbreaker way to the extreme of Cindy Sheehan.

Let's not permit the pundits narrow the field with the kumbaya for moderation. The playing field of government not only needs evening up, it needs total replanting by people with at least as much vision and oomph as those they're replacing--vision of a very different kind.

Laura Flanders is the host of RadioNation and GRITtv. Watch GRITtv on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan) or online at GRITtv.org. Carl Ginsburg co-wrote "Who is the Oracle?"

Who Is the Oracle?

Tuesday night's Presidential debate in Nashville featured a notable clash or two, but on one topic there was agreement: Warren Buffett. The so-called "Oracle of Omaha" is an Obama supporter but also received a nod from John McCain. When asked who would be a suitable Treasury Secretary both men invoked Buffett's name. So who is the Oracle everybody admires?

Warren Buffett is the 78-year old chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company based in Omaha, Nebraska. In 2007 Forbes ranked him the richest man in the world, worth $62 billion, now only $50 billion...but you get the idea.

How does somebody get that rich? By buying the stocks of companies that make good returns for their investors. Some of Buffett's picks over the years include: Coca-Cola and McDonalds as well as Dow Chemical, and of course WalMart. Trouble is, those that make the best returns for their shareholders don't generally treat their workers all that well -- or the environment. All that shareholder profit's got to come from somewhere. Buffett also owns Mid-Atlantic Energy, a utility that burns coal and runs nuclear power plants.

In terms of Buffett the bellwether-leader -- the Wall Street Journal recently reported that Buffett was shopping for businesses in Europe; he owns some in Israel, and last week announced an investment in a Chinese venture that makes batteries for electric cars. Not a very reassuring move for car makers here at home.

Buffett would change the tax system to make it fairer -- He's been public about the fact that in 2006, he paid just 19% of his income in total federal taxes. He gives lots of money to the Gates Foundation. So you can see why he's a man for all candidates.

But if the candidates like Buffett for Treasury Secretary so much, it's odd that they vote for Paulson plan. When Buffett kicked in $5 billion to Goldman Sachs he demanded 10% interest back. Paulson just gave it away.

Laura Flanders is the host of RadioNation and GRITtv. Watch GRITtv on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) on cable (8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan) or online at GRITtv.org. Carl Ginsburg co-wrote "Who is the Oracle?"

The Day Chicken Little Croaked?

"You have nothing to fear but fear itself." Hearing those words from Franklin Delano Roosevelt quoted again today, they rang true in a whole new way. The fear is out there. Of course it's there -- when the Dow Jones drops a spooky 777 points in a day -- that fear's inevitable -- and the hurt's real enough -- in people's pensions and their pocket books.

But bail-out supporter or not, there are lots of reasons to celebrate the vote that so many powerful people are wringing their hands about today. There's a lot of arm-twisting going on right now, and a new package may be put up for a vote as soon as Friday, but what happened Monday is a game changer moment and it's worth taking note: calls into Congress came in 9 to 1 against the bailout. Even after every powerful opinion pusher in the land preached the urgency of the bailout. The politics of pure panic failed. Chicken Little croaked.

People in this country have been told to fear so much for so long -- from terrorism, Islam, abortion, gay marriage, Iraq, deficits, trade, no-trade; layoffs, no layoffs, environmental regulations -- you name it -- that finally, they just didn't buy it.

What they did buy was some time for someone to come up with a better, more democratic package. The question is, who? It's not hard to notice there's a vacuum at the top. When it comes to popular legitimacy, our political leaders have none. John McCain and the Republicans flailed and lied last week. Nancy Pelosi was unable to rally the votes she thought she could Monday in Congress and no one knows now whether she'll seek those votes from right or left.

People are fed up, but it's also worth noting how little they seem to be blaming Barack Obama for his support for the bailout. Generally up in the polls, the Democratic candidate is clearly riding the reputation for change he built up early on.

Now Obama's got to drop the baggage the voters seem to have dropped: the Fear baggage. Your ideas can't soar like your rhetoric, Senator Obama, if you're carrying around so much weight. And they need to. It's long past time for some leadership and some transformational thought.

Laura Flanders is the host of RadioNation and GRITtv. Watch GRITtv on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) or 8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan. OR on a cable station near you, or online at GRITtv.org. And become a subscriber.

An Economic Coup?

A threatened elite seeks to consolidate control and tighten its grip on a nation's resources ...

You could be forgiven for thinking I'm describing Bolivia, where conflict between landowners and backers of the democratically elected president Evo Morales claimed 30 lives so far this month, but I'm not. Reading the economic plan proposed by the Bush Administration for Wal St., I'm struck by the thought that what we're going through right here might not be an election season, but rather a coup.

The oligarchs in Bolivia used bullets and batons to undermine democracy. Here the weapons look like bailouts and blank checks, but the end goal is the same: Put the economy in a vice and you've tied the hands of whomever's in office. You, the voter, may not vote for the team that promises -- as the GOP service-cutters have promised -- to shrink the Treasury to a puddle that can be drowned in a bathtub. But no matter, your candidate gets the keys to the Treasury and - presto, the Treasury is bare.

We know the Bush team want to tie Congress's hands by preemptively committing troops to Iraq. The same thing's going on with our tax-dollars here at home. Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wants $700 billion, "clean," with no quids pros or quos from Congress. He's demanding absolute power plus immunity from review "by any court of law or any administrative agency."

Yet Democratic candidate Barack Obama hasn't "ruled out" keeping Paulson in place even if he wins this November. Getting a new person to start juggling those balls is going to be tricky," Mr. Obama said in an interview aboard his campaign plane Saturday. "Regardless of who wins the election, the issue of transition to the next administration is going to be very important. And it's going to have to be executed with a spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation," Senator Obama told The New York Times,

Is this still an election season? Or something else?

Laura Flanders is the host of RadioNation and GRITtv. Watch GRITtv on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) or 8 pm ET on Channel 67 in Manhattan. OR on a cable station near you, or online at GRITtv.org. And become a subscriber.

Mixed Feelings at the DNC

There was caution as well as exuberance at the Democratic Convention Monday night. First the exuberance - the place was packed to the brim. The first thing I heard when I reached the floor was the Fire Marshall telling the stewards to close the doors.

The crowd rose to its feet as one after Massachusetts Sen Edward Kennedy appeared.

But the feelings that brought tears to many eyes were mixed with grief. The party's liberal leader is sick. The event was billed as a "tribute" to Teddy – and that's how the occasion felt.

Michelle Obama delivered quite possibly the smartest as well as the most passionate speech by any potential first lady to take the Convention floor. But again, just a few feet from me sat four older African American women who, wiping their tears, told me they just couldn't quite believe what they were seeing.

Michelle Obama drew attention to two anniversaries: the 44th anniversary of Dr King's "I have a Dream" speech and the 88th anniversary of women's suffrage . But those anniversaries bring up mixed feelings too. While they celebrate now, forty-four years ago, the Democratic Party of the time did its best to keep civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer and her Mississippi Freedom delegation out of their convention. And much to the fury of many suffrage workers the 19th Amendment did nothing to dismantle Jim Crow...

That a blue collar black woman kicked off convention week to a standing room only ovation is a big hopeful thing. Much needed change seems to be in the air. But will it happen? Not just for the Obamas, but for the nation?

That's what many here are wondering. It's not a sucking sound you hear, it's people holding their breath.

The F Word is a daily commentary by Laura Flanders on GRITtv. Watch GRITtv on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) or at GRITtv.org. And become a subscriber.

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