The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Betty Friedan would vote for Bernie: Gloria Steinem and other feminists need to hear this

Filed under: Scoops — Lucy Komisar @ 1:56 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Feb 24, 2016

I knew Friedan and I know she believed the system wasn’t just about men and women, either.
Bernie Sanders and Betty Friedan REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTX27YMX

Bernie Sanders, Betty Friedan (Photo by Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/AP/Steven Senne)

 Betty Friedan would vote for Bernie Sanders. I say that having known Betty near the start of the women’s movement in the late ‘60s and at the end of her life. As a feminist, she was also a progressive committed to Bernie’s vision of economic justice.
But I have another reason. I knew Betty from 1969 when she brought me into the feminist movement, asking me to communicate to the media the message of feminism and of the National Organization for Women, of which she was founding president. Not an easy job in those days! From ridicule to don’t take too seriously to, well, there’s something significant happening. Rather like what Bernie has faced.

I was elected to serve 1970-71 as a national vice president of NOW. Afterwards, I continued to write and speak about feminism.

Gloria Steinem and Lucy Komisar, photo Diana Mara Henry.

Gloria Steinem and Lucy Komisar, photo © Diana Mara Henry.

Here I am conferring with Gloria Steinem at the 1977 feminist conference in Houston.  I know that Gloria supports Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, as do many women my age who remember or were part of the ‘70s feminist movement. I’d like those women to consider what Betty told me and what she would tell them today.

It was Labor Day weekend 2005 at Betty’s cottage in Sag Harbor, Long Island, five months before her death. We talked for several hours. Ever intellectually curious, she wanted to know what I was working on.

After my involvement in NOW, I had returned to journalism and begun writing about other issues, though the focus was always social justice. In the 1980s, I visited several developing countries and wrote about their movements for democratization. It was a revelation for me when oppositionists in the Philippines, Haiti and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) told me that the dictators (Ferdinand Marcos, Franҁois Duvalier and Mobutu Sese Seko) had stolen their country’s wealth and stashed it in Swiss banks.

I learned that Switzerland was an offshore secrecy haven that welcomed dictators, corporations and a variety of crooks and tax cheaters who set up secret bank accounts and fake shell companies to launder their ill-gotten profits and loot. As a journalist, I started looking into that story in 1997.

So, in Sag Harbor, I told Betty about the offshore bank and corporate secrecy system. I told her how it abetted rich individuals and corporations cheating on their taxes, assisted international corporations sucking money out of developing countries and helped drug traffickers and other criminals laundering their booty. All done with the acquiescence of the U.S. government that could end the system at will by refusing tax havens access to the U.S. financial system in the name of “national security,” as it does “terrorist” banks.

Since Betty had worked as a writer for the United Electrical Workers Union newspaper, UE News, she had a good grasp of the toxic power often exercised by corporate interests. She was a woman of the left. The UE was a leftwing union, still considered one of the most democratic and politically progressive national unions in the country. She was fascinated by what I told her and asked many questions.


Lucy Komisar with Betty Friedan, photo by Larry Bridwell

At the end of the conversation, Betty was thoughtful. Finally, she commented: “We didn’t challenge the system enough.”

In the context, that wasn’t about male and female. The “system” was an economic system that is rigged and corrupt, that allows powerful money interests to grind down the rest of us.

Lest anyone think that I have recalled this conversation for the purpose of the current campaign, note that I referred to this in an article in 2013 on the fiftieth anniversary of Betty’s groundbreaking book, “The Feminine Mystique.” UPI ran the story. A college professor, who took our photo, witnessed her remarks.

Betty started a revolution. But towards the end of her life, she knew, as others in the women’s movement would recognize, that the vision we shared then was not broad enough – not for middle and working-class women, not for minority women, not for anyone but the very rich — and that the revolution had far to go.

The disaster of the Obama presidency that put Wall Street avatars in positions of economic power so they could scam the rest of us was a lesson. Don’t vote for race (as I was persuaded to do in 2008) or gender or anything but policy. There will be good minority and female aspirants for top office if we open up the system.

Rather than support a flawed woman candidate who would not challenge the corporate order, Betty would vote for Bernie.

Lucy Komisar writes about corporate and financial corruption. She became a journalist after spending a year (1962-3) as a college student volunteer editor of the “Mississippi Free Press,” a civil rights weekly in Jackson, Miss. She joined NOW after experiencing discrimination seeking jobs in journalism.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Poitras exhibit at Whitney turns U.S. govt threat to liberty into political art

Filed under: art,Blog — Lucy Komisar @ 6:02 pm

By Lucy Komisar
Feb 4, 2016

Art as politics reaches new intensities in the Whitney Museum’s disturbing and powerful new exhibit of film maker Laura Poitras’ selection of videos and documents to define the U.S. government’s threats to liberty after 9/11. The exhibit opens in New York Feb 5 and continues till May 1, 2016.

Laura Poitras at the press preview, photo Lucy Komisar.

Laura Poitras at the press preview, photo Lucy Komisar.

Astro Noise, the name of the show, comes from the faint background disturbances of thermal radiation left over from the Big Bang, the start of our universe.

It is the name Edward Snowden gave the encrypted file with evidence of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency that he provided to Poitras in 2013. She would make the documentary, “Citizenfour,” about Snowden.

The most upsetting part of the exhibit is a 12-minute film produced by the U.S. military of two prisoners they were interrogating in Afghanistan, imprisoned there in 2001.

Salim Hamdan and Said Boujaadia are held in dungeon-like conditions, often hooded.

Prisoner told we will ask the Pakistani government to capture and arrest your wife in Karachi.

Prisoner told we will ask the Pakistani government to capture and arrest your wife in Karachi, photo Lucy Komisar.

The longer interrogation is of Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni captured during the invasion of Afghanistan, and declared by the U.S. an illegal enemy combatant. He said he had worked as Osama bin Laden’s driver for the money.

The interrogator says, “We will ask the Pakistani government to capture and arrest your wife in Karachi.”

"So we can question her." Museum visitors are at the side, viewing the reverse screen.

“So we can question her.” Museum visitors are at the side, viewing the reverse screen, photo Lucy Komisar.

In the end, after more than five years of prison in Guantanamo and Yemen, his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and he was acquitted of all charges.

The video was obtained as evidence in the U.S. court case. Hamdan and his brother-in-law were the subjects of Potras’ documentary, “The Oath,” in 2010.

The reverse screen shows people disturbed at what they have seen.

The reverse screen shows people disturbed at what they have seen, photo Lucy Komisar.

The reverse of the screen shows stunned “viewers” and their reactions. In fact, ironically, they are viewing ground zero after the 9/11 attack. Still significantly opposite sides of the same “screen” as vision.

Museum visitors as drone targets.

Museum visitors as drone targets, photo Lucy Komisar.

There is involvement by museum-goers, witting and not. People are invited to lie on a platform in a dark room and look up to gaze at what they might see from the courtyards of homes in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan.

And in the other room, we see those – our – bodies as multi-color drone targets.

In a dark twisting room, providing a vision of the secretive Deep State, exhibits of documents, drawings and videos are seen through voyeuristic peepholes that offer only partial views.

There’s a 2002 memo from CIA Director George Tenet on increasing the agency’s cooperation with the NSA.

Also cell phone footage of casualties from a Sept 2012 U.S. airstrike in Yemen.

And a prisoner’s line drawings of implements of torture at a secret CIA detention sites in Afghanistan.

Access across the U.S. for phone and data collection.

Access across the U.S. for phone and data collection, photo Lucy Komisar.

A home video presents two days in a town in Yemen. The first shows a wedding, the second the results of a U.S. drone strike, taken by a man whose brother-in-law and nephew were killed in the strike.

And then, for the visitors who have cell phones, in case they think this exhibit is about “others,” a monitor showing the wi-fi signals coming from those phones via Wi-Fi Snifter software by Surya Mattu.

Poitras, who had been living in Berlin as a result of U.S. government harassment when she entered or left the country, returned to New York to prepare the show. After “Citizen Four,” her profile is so strong that she can cross the American border with the same freedom as most citizens.

Museum director Adam Weinberg sets the show in “in the tradition of socially and politically engaged artists…progressive artists such as Ben Shahn and Alice Neal.” He said, “The aim of the projections is to provoke moral and ethical responses.” Indeed, they do. Or they should.

“Astro Noise,” by Laura Poitras. Whitney Museum of Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, New York City, bet Washington St. & 11th Ave. Daily except Tues. Opens 10:30 am. Under 18 free. Students/seniors $18. Adults $22. On Fridays, 7–10 pm, admission is pay-what-you-wish. 2/4/16. Also on Portside.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fed Co-chair Fischer deflects call for numbers on wages

Filed under: Blog,Corporate/Wall St.,Regulation & enforcement — Lucy Komisar @ 5:55 pm

Feb 2, 2016
By Lucy Komisar

At the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, I pointed out to Stanley Fischer, Vice Chairman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, that the current low unemployment rate he cited in his talk doesn’t mean what it did when workers had good manufacturing jobs – when now the employed are often working for the minimum wage and need government aid. Shouldn’t the Fed put out those numbers? He avoided answering the question.

Q: “Lucy Komisar. I’m a journalist.

Lucy queries Stanley Fischer, Vice Chair of Board of Governors of Federal Reserve.

Lucy queries Stanley Fischer, Vice Chair of Board of Governors of Federal Reserve.

A 5-percent unemployment rate, say, 30, 40, 50 years ago, when people were getting factory job wages—$30 an hour—that same number now, when such people are serving hamburgers for the minimum wage, if you just come out with those unemployment rates, that’s not really telling you about the health of the economy and the welfare of the population.

Should you add another number—another bit of data to the numbers that you put out that talk about the numbers or percentages of workers who are getting enough money to take care of their families and, for example, don’t have to depend on food stamps?”

Tom KEENE, Editor-at-Large, Bloomberg News, moderator: “Well, but this goes to the heart of the—of John Edwards, of two Americas. Has the Fed mechanism changed, given an anger that’s out there, as we see in our political debate? Has the process that you’re working with changed?”

FISCHER: “The process hasn’t changed. We’re using the same set of monetary tools, slightly different because we have this gigantic portfolio at the moment, to work on the aggregates. We don’t have the capacity to ensure that the minimum wage is both wise, in the sense that it’s not creating unemployment, and fair. We’d like—we’d be very happy if there were such a mechanism, and that’s not things that the Fed can do.”


Q: “But just tell us your numbers.”

KEENE: “Well, that doesn’t have a number.”

Fischer says, "The numbers are all there," but they apparently will stay "there."

Fischer says, “The numbers are all there,” but they apparently will stay “there.”

Fischer differed.

FISCHER: “The numbers are all there, ma’am.”

KEENE: “But to the point, the Pew Research recently has come out with a wonderful study of the middle class and the changing of the middle class. You’ve seen this across all of your academic career. Do our central bank institutions need a new calculus to address the polarity of our labor force?”

FISCHER: “Well, I don’t see a new calculus to address the polarity of the labor force. I can see research, which is taking place and which has led to many discussions, of the relationship between the things we do and the distribution of income—namely, are low interest rates good for the poor or bad for the poor? The people who look at them say, well, they must be bad for the poor because it’s the rich who save, who invest, and so forth.

That actually doesn’t make sense. What is good for the poor is employment. And that is a goal of ours, and that is a goal that we succeeded in dealing with very strongly, or the American economy succeeded in dealing with it very strongly. And we have close to full employment at the moment. It may be a bit lower than the current rate, may be about the current rate. We’re in that vicinity. And that is the achievement of the monetary policy that has been followed.”

No “calculus,” no way to figure out what Americans are earning? I didn’t get a chance to ask why workers think there’s an employment crisis while he apparently thinks employment is just fine. Maybe the results of the Democratic caucuses in Iowa that night raised the question in Fischer’s mind.

Full text.

Video.  Lucy’s question at 54:30 minutes in.


Powered by WordPress