Laura Flanders | The Nation

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

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

Don't Listen to the Nay Sayers Listen to the Now Sayers

It's 6 am in Denver and the sky's beginning to light up. An anti-war march starts in a few hours. The kick off event -- Live From Main Street Denver -- takes place at the Big Tent this afternoon. Denver's filling up. And in the most expensive hotels, I imagine, some are sharpening their knives and preparing to pour cold water on all of it.

There is an unspoken rule in the legacy media: Wherever two or more Americans shall gather with change on their minds, pour scorn. Before you can say "Joe Biden" the media big-boys are moving into their favorite mode: scoff.

The John McCain campaign has already done its best to frame every hopeful American at an Obama rally as a crazy celebrity-seeker or cult airhead. CNN's reportedly planning on using $100,000 sky-cam to swoop over the 75,000 at Obama's acceptance speech Thursday night. That's their version of coverage. For way less money, the Media Consortium and GRITtv believe in getting closer than that.

Who's in Denver? Why? What's the Change Agenda? And what's at stake? It's not just about a candidate. Heck, for many, it's not just even about the Democrats. There are plenty here representing an American conscience that resists the compromise push-pull of electoral politics. And we'll be listening to them too. (The City of Denver will be locking them up in barbed wire pens.) It's not about a candidate – it's about a crisis. And it's not about a cult. Most Americans agree. This country better change, or else.

To kick off our week of coverage, tune in for Live From Main Street Denver. Featuring Van Jones, Jim Hightower, Donna Edwards, Faye Wattleton, David Sirota, Polly Baca, Andre Banks and more. You can watch the stream at 3 pacific, 6 eastern at firedoglake.com.

Before you hear it from the other guys, hear it from us. Why has 2008 turned out Americans in record numbers? It's not about a cult, it's about a crisis: two devastating wars, 250,ooo foreclosures a month, healthcare that's killing us, an environment that's making us sick. We can't afford the nay-sayers. We need to listen to the NOW sayers. And so does Barack Obama. That's what this DNC's about.

Tune in today, and if you miss the live stream, Watch Live From Main Street on GRITtv Monday, 5 pm Pacific /8 Eastern on Dish Network ch. 9415 and online at GRITtv.org. Also on cable. Check your listings. And sign up here to contribute, or be added to our mailing list: GRITtv.org. We need your help.

Resistance Heroes in Tbilisi - In Baghdad, only Terrorists

The New York Times ran a feature August 12, on Georgian civilians who've joined the fight against the Russian invasion of that former Soviet republic. The story, by Nicholas Kulish and Michael Schwirtz is full of empathy and heart.

Nika Kharadze and Giorgi Monasalidze went to war last week, the Times report begins… "even though they were not warriors."

It goes on to describe how the men's parents have been searching for them ever since. They've gone from hospital to hospital, to the local and International Red Cross. Mom and dad even asked the cellphone company to trace the last known location of their son's phone. No luck.

And then there's this line: as parts of the country fell before the Russian invaders, the Times writes, "it was not only the army that rose in its defense but also regular citizens." Resistance, we learn, was part of a tradition, inscribed in local history and culture going back to "medieval times."

To make the point, the writers describe a government employee, standing under a statue of Stalin in the city's main square with a rifle slung over his civilian clothes. The man is part of a group of a dozen locals who tell the reporter they're there to defend their town.

The story also describes displacement caused by bombing. "The planes came in and they started to bomb. The ground was covered with dead people, and there was nowhere to go," says Goderzi Zenashvili, 48. "The people that died, they died from their houses falling in on them, from the shrapnel and from concussions."

So now we know! The New York Times can do it when they want to. They can paint a picture of war that's hard to shake: heroic, hapless young men who take up arms to defend their homelands; moms and dads and lovers worried sick. The Times can explain how invading armies provoke righteous resistance. When they want to.

But they didn't – not when it was Baghdad instead of Tbilisi, and the statue Saddam's, not Stalin's. Then, local people in resistance were called dead enders, killers, terrorists. Because of course -- here's the difference: then the resisters were the enemy and the invaders were – are – us.

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.

Nuclear Power/Racial Power? Surrender!

August 6 marks the anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima – which makes it a day to consider power and vulnerability. Johnathan Schell, writing in Yes Magazine, reflects that, "During the Cold War, the principal objection in the United States to a nuclear-weapon-free world was that you could not get there." That objection melted away with the Soviet Union and then the arguments became that because nuclear weapons could not be disinvented, a world free of nukes is "at worst a mirage, at best, highly dangerous"

History shows the opposite, points out Schell. Just look at Iraq or Afghanistan: while the arms race imperils the planet, nuclear weapons haven't helped their possessors vanquish even tiny non-nuclear adversaries.

"If the nuclear powers wish to be safe from nuclear weapons," writes Schelll. "They must surrender their own. Then we will all work together to assure that everyone abides by the commitment."

Schell's meditation on nuclear weapons reminds me of the discussion on today's GRITtv.org about racial politics. For decades, the argument against racial equality was that people of different races were scientifically different. And then it became, if not different, then nonetheless dangerous. That's the well-wired button John McCain's pressing with his latest ads about an Obama-choice being "risky." "Is he ready?" It's all about fear: if you elect a black president, who knows what will happen to you and the world as you know it.

I bet the answer to racial fear-mongering's the same as it is to nuclear madness. In this dangerous election year it's truer than ever: If people with racial power want not to live in fear, they better surrender their racial privilege for their own sake, and the future for the planet.

Vanity Fair Misses the Point

Vanity Fair has released a cartoon cover online in response to the New Yorker's swipe at the media coverage of the Obamas. The fake Vanity Fair cover shows John McCain, in a walker with a bandaged head and Cindy with a bundle of pills giving her hubby a fist-jab. A portrait of George W. Bush hangs over the mantle-piece; the Constitution is burning in the grate.

Some are finding it funny. I'd say not so much. Worse, it's all wrong. If Vanity Fair's cartoonist wanted to flip the New Yorker cover on the GOP, they'd have to portray the media's lies about the candidate. Not the true stuff.

Sure, she's no drug addict, but the candidate's wife has been forced to admit that she was once addicted to prescription drugs. (She even stole the drugs from her own nonprofit medical relief outfit.) And while McCain doesn't use a walker, it's not as if the media misrepresent his age. Those aren't the media's wrongs where the McCains are concerned. It's not her looks, it's her wealth the media understate, and it's not his physique, it's his politics.

To do the media hit job fairly, Vanity Fair should have taken aim at the media's lies: pundits pretend McCain's a maverick. He's not. He's voted with Bush 95 percent of the time. The equivalent to the lie about Obama being a muslim is the lie about McCain breaking with the Bush pack. The equivalent to the lie about Michelle being dangerous -- is the lie about Cindy being one of us. She's a $100 million aristocrat--who stands to win big from her husband's tax plans.

For all the flips and flops of the McCain campaign so far, the one thing that's true is that the Constitution might as well be burning in the grate. And if McCain ever wins the Oval office, you can be sure GW's policies, if not his portrait will be on display. Again, that's not satire. Satire, sadly, would be the Constitution safe and GW banished.

Funny it's not. We can only hope that this sales-boosting silly season's over.

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.

No Bail Out - No Bail!

As the Bush administration unveiled a publicly-financed plan to "save" mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, local residents at a town hall forum in Miami were calling for criminal prosecutions of the loan-shark mortgage brokers and investment firms that profited from poor people's housing despair.

It would be hard to think of a better place to hold a public forum on the housing crisis and and sustainable development than Overtown, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Miami, Fla. While Overtown is just minutes from downtown geographically-speaking, it's worlds apart economically and culturally.

On Saturday, The Lyric Theater was host to the second of the five part nationally broadcast town hall series,. Hundreds of community members gathered to talk about how foreclosures, bad loans and gentrification had impacted their city-- and their lives -- and what could be done about it in a town hall forum dubbed, "Magic City; Hard Times."


Miami is widely known as for the national housing crisis. "Miami's the canary in the coal mine of our economy," Gihan Perera, Executive Director of the Miami Workers Center told the engaged crowd. "In terms of rich vs. poor, uneven development, the impact of global trade and immigration: Miami is the cutting edge," Perera added.

And the Lyric Theater, once at the heart of what was called the Black Broadway, sits right where that edge cuts. Over-shadowed now, literally, by the vast condominium skyscrapers rising over downtown, the Lyric, founded in 1915 by a wealthy businessman (who was part of a large middle-class Black Miami community in the first half of the 20th century,) was almost destroyed in the 1960s when developers built a highway through these parts. From "the Harlem of the South," the area became, "Overtown," a community the road drove over – and into destitution.

Today, the Lyric survives thanks to money from the local redevelopment council, but the neighbors are worried that "development" for others will steal the last land they have.

"You can understand why gentrification's a threat," Denise Perry of Power U – a community empowerment project based in Overtown, one of the Live From Main Street panelists told me after the event. "In the 1960s developers had a choice whether to build the road near the water, nearer downtown, or smack through a thriving black community – and they chose the last."

The desolation of neighborhoods is a pattern that has rippled across this country. But where is the national media's coverage? Well, here's one newspaper headline from the weekend: "Which Candidate will Benefit from the Housing Flap?" A quarter of a million foreclosures in June is not exactly a "flap," and which politician will gain advantage is hardly the most important point.

This is exactly that sort of reporting which Live From Main Street puts into harsh relief. At the Lyric, tenant organizers, green builders, political advocacy groups and Miami residents (on the stage and off) got a chance to speak. Latasha Jones, a tenant organizer in Liberty City and panelist on Saturday, lives in an apartment with no hot water and leaks in her roof. The families she knows didn't walk willingly into sub-prime mortgages. Miami currently has four people waiting for each of the city's 10,000 units of public housing. Jones herself is on that waiting list.

''I've spent about 13 years on the waiting list for public housing,'' Jones told the Miami Herald, one of several local media outlets that came to Overtown, drawn by the national event.

At the same time, local residents are entering into bad loans due to shady mortgage practices by lenders or because their only other option was homelessness. Do you think it's fair that "relief" for the profit-makers should come from public coffers (which are already slashing public services) while immense profits remain in private hands? Darin Woods, a financial advisor from Countrywide Home Loan – got an earful from his critics at LFMS where he appeared as a panelist, but, he concluded, "[Live from Main Street] is just the sort of forum we need more of." (Florida's Attorney General joined the AG's of three other states in suing Countrywide for deceptive practices July 1.)

The presidential candidates are unlikely, ever, to talk about today's housing crisis and sustainable development in a place like Overtown. "That's why we're here," said Tracy Van Slyke, director of The Media Consortium, a network of some 45 national, independent media outlets, which is the producer of Live From Main Street. "Live From Main Street's goal is to tell real stories from real people about the issues that effect their communities, and our country, during this election season. We're cutting through political spin and horserace coverage." Pooling resources (as the Consortium has, to make LFMS possible) and working together, independent media can bring national attention to places like Overtown, and put key issues into national context.

There will be more. LFMS is a five-part series, taking place in five states in five months in the run up to November. The first event occurred June 7 in Minneapolis. The next will be in Denver, at the start of the DNC. After that, the project goes to Columbus, OH, where the topic will be voting, and finally Seattle, where the producers are convening an all–female panel to talk about national security.

Live From Main Street is a production of the Media Consortium with GRITtv.org. Portions of the program will appear on GRITtv this Thursday, July 17th, and on both satellite networks – Dish Network, CH. 9415 (Free Speech TV ) and Direct TV (Link TV) later this week. This is a community-supported reporting project (made possible also with funding from the Wallace Global Fund and the Arca Foundation.) To make a contribution, or get more information, go to LivefromMainstreet.org.

Together, we really can make a new media world.

Laura Flanders is the host of Live From Main Street and the daily news and culture program, GRITtv with Laura Flanders. Watch GRITtv on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415) or at GRITtv.org.

Homes, not Hearings

Democrats and Republicans played out a partisan fight Wednesday over who is to blame for housing hurricane victims in toxic trailers.

Over one million people were displaced after hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Thousands were sent to live in emergency travel trailers that had poisonous levels of formaldehyde. Prolonged exposure can lead to breathing problems and is believed to cause cancer too.

On Wednesday, in Congressional hearings, Democrats said the manufacturers should have taken more tests. Republicans blamed the government for not having set sufficient standards.

There's probably some truth on both sides, but amidst all the finger-pointing, Gulf Stream Coach (which received more than $500 million in trailer contracts) said the company didn't need new tests – or standards. They knew formaldehyde levels were as much as forty-five times above acceptable levels, but company CEO Jim Shea said the results were deemed "irrelevant information" – because the Federal Emergency Management Agency already knew the levels were high.

It's a great opportunity for politicians to score their points, but the facts remain. For years, employees from Gulf Stream Coach, have said they suffer effects from formaldehyde exposure, including nose bleeds, shortness of breath, dizziness, and bleeding ears. Gulf Coast trailer dwellers have complained about the trailers almost since day one.

The true tragedy is Katrina victims still occupy 15,000 travel trailers in the Gulf Coast. What we need are not more hearings. Gulf Goast victims need healthy homes.

This Saturday, in Miami, community organizers will gather to discuss the housing crisis across the Gulf Coast Region, and within Miami itself. Sustainability: we know what it's not (eg. FEMA trailers. ) But what is it, exactly? And what models exist? This is the sort of conversation that needs to be part of the election season conversation -- but probably won't be. It will be the topic of Live From Main Street, the second of five town-hall style meetings, produced by the Media Consortium with GRITtv. For more on Live From Main Street, go to livefrommainstreet.org. And come out Saturday, to the Lyric Theater, to make your voice heard.

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.

Dissing Doctors

U.S. doctors are wondering if this might be the first year since 2002 that Congress won't intervene to keep Medicare fully funded, since lawmakers failed to pass legislation before leaving for their July Fourth recess. The Bush administration said Monday that it will delay Medicare payments to doctors for ten business days to give Congress time to reach a deal to block the cut.

Meanwhile, just coincidentally (or maybe not) some - like Minnesota Senator NOrm Coleman are all steamed up about a GAO report that alleges that thousands of Medicare providers owe more than $2 billion in back taxes. "Crack down on Medicare scofflaws," run the headlines. "It's shocking" says Coleman.

Some Medicare facilities may not be paying out what they should in tax, but if we want to talk about who's making out in our medical system let's keep some perspective.

Take two recent stories.

A new report on tropical diseases compares the rise of viral and parasitic infections among this country's poor to disease rates found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In terms of health, poor people in the US might as well live in a developing country.

Meanwhile, in California, HMOs raked in more than $4 billion last year. Last time I looked, average pay for hospital CEOS was well in excess of 1 million a year. And hospitals are adding deluxe suites for patients who can pay top dollars.

We spend more money on healthcare than any nation in the world--by far. But our results are glaringly uneven. And here we go again. Blaming doctors. There may be some -- even a ward full of bad apples, but it's not doctors that are the problem with our healthcare system. It's the profits. Estimates for 2008 are that employer health care costs are up 10%. And next year is likely to be the same. Unless we do something.

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.

No to Solar and No to Clean-up

So much for the Government's much touted commitment to alternative energy. The New York Times reports that the Bush administration has placed a nearly two-year moratorium on the construction of new solar energy projects on public land. While the amount of oil drilling and gas drilling on public land has reached a new high -- the President approved a record 7,100 new licenses in 2007 alone --- the Bureau of Land Management is saying it needs until the spring of 2010 to study the environmental impact solar projects might have on land in Arizona, Nevada, California and other western states.

Meanwhile in other news, the Washington Post reports that the Defense Department is resisting orders to clean up Fort Meade, and two other military bases where "dumped chemicals pose an imminent threat to the public health and the environment." The Pentagon is also in violation of EPA orders to clean up twelve other military sites on the SuperFund list of most polluted spots. The Pentagon doesn't want to follow the law, and guess what, the EPA isn't going to push it. "Under executive branch policy, the EPA will not sue the Pentagon as it would a private polluter." According to the Post, military officials wrote to the DOJ last month to challenge the EPA's authority. And challenged it was.

Do you feel defended? Protected, Managed? I say it's time for some departmental renaming. What do you call a Defense Department that makes you sicker, an environmental protection agency that can't, and a bureau of Land Management that seems to care most about managing threats to the oil and gas industry. You can post your suggestions here.

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.

Shelling Out for Shell

Free trade... Free oil contracts... There it is again, that cute word "free."

Of 46 international oil companies, including firms from China, India and Russia that had their eye on the first major oil deals in post-Saddam Iraq, guess who got the gig? Exxon-Mobil, Shell, Total and BP!

The western giants got the first-of-a-kind no-bid contracts to service Iraq's biggest fields NOT because the US invaded Iraq for oil. Oh NO. According to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, Exxon-Mobil, Shell, Total et al received the first-of-a-kind, no-bid deals because, of the years of "free" consultations those companies have been giving to the ministry. The ministry also cited a certain "comfort level" in their joint operations. That's the ministry's word.

So how's your comfort level? The companies have been advising "without charge" thanks to you. They get to give their consults away because we the taxpayers have been picking up the tab. We've paid for the imperial influence peddlers, which is to say -- the US military. We've paid the Pentagon -- and the private mercenaries who keep the Green Zone "comfortable" for Big Oil and the Ministry. We the tax-payers have been shelling out for Shell - to the tune of over $750 million a day.

All that "free consulting" costs blood too: the blood of well over a million men and women and children and the health of a nation's water and soil.

It's not for naught. The companies are blissed out. Iraqi oil production is expected to go to 3 million barrels soon and 6 million barrels later. Imagine the revenues at today's $140 per barrel. It'll be great for profits. And don't forget: profit's just another word for money someone didn't pay for.

So take pride in the oil companies whom you helped to offer so much, so comfortably, for "free." But don't expect a piece of the profit. Expecting back would be disturbing the comforts of the cronies of big oil. Besides, the companies are counting on you not to think about it too much. "Free" sounds great. Don't let the facts - or the deaths -- mess with your comfort levels.

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.

Of Weddings and Wedges

In times like these, when many people's rights and benefits are shrinking, it's easy for the Right to set us at each other's throats. And if the past is any guide, that's just what we're in for, as Radical religionists fire up their engines against gay marriage. The arguments will be cast in terms of choices and morality, but what it is, make no mistake, is wedge politics.

As the attack on same sex marriage takes off, we're likely to hear all about difference: what entitles some people to the rights and benefits offered by the state -- and not others. But marriage isn't about difference. It's about a common longing to be part of communities that love and care for us. In stressed-out times, that longing for connection -- and protection -- grows particularly sharp. "Belonging's only for some," say some. "Let us in!" say scared-to-death outsiders.

Which brings us to wedge politics. It's great for the state of California to welcome a new group of people into the community of those whose partnerships the state helps and protects. Thanks to the Supreme Court of California and the movements that have pushed this issue forward, the door of belonging has been shoved open a bit. But winning marriage equality in order to access benefits and rights doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot if those longed-for benefits and rights are gurgling down the economic drain or entering the government's shredder.

To counter all that rationing of rights, what's needed is strategic thinking, not just about how to defend letting some in through the benefits-door, but how to throw the door wide open. We could dis-empower the wedge-thinkers, for example, if we started with the premise that we all belong and we all have rights. Have your weddings, but lets wise up to wedges, and defend our rights to communities that love and care for all, married and unmarried.

You can see this commentary and a panel discussion about gay marriage with writer/activist Kenyon Farrow and others today on GRITtv at GRITtv.org. Or watch on Free Speech TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415, directly following Democracy Now!)


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