By Alex Kane
August 22, 2014
The militarized police force unleashed in Ferguson, Missouri over the past two weeks has crushed the civil liberties of black residents angry over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. That law enforcement has shown utter disregard for the rights of protesters and the press is no surprise to many, especially black people, who have had to contend with pervasive surveillance and harassment in varied forms for much of American history. Yet what makes the situation in Ferguson look especially scary and dystopic are the militarized weapons being used to crush constitutional rights.
The first civil liberty to be trampled on by cops was the right to protest, or as the Constitution puts it, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Protests have occurred almost daily since August 9, the day Brown was killed by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. When demonstrations broke out over the shooting, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and used vehicles that produce piercing sounds to disperse the crowd.
In the wake of these scenes, groups like Human Rights Watch have charged that the methods law enforcement used have intimidated peaceful demonstrators. “Ferguson police are compounding problems with threats and the use of unnecessary force against people peacefully protesting the police killing of Michael Brown,” Human Rights Watch’s U.S. researcher Alba Morales said in a statement. “They should be upholding basic rights to peaceful assembly and free speech, not undermining them.”
Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, and Daria Roithmayr, a law professor, argue that excessive tear gas and rubber bullets also violate the constitutional right to due process. “The due process clause bans the police from using excessive force even when they are within their rights to control a crowd or arrest a suspect,” they write.
Despite this criticism, the police in Ferguson have not changed their tactics.
When citizens with camera phones and journalists have tried to document police tactics, officers have sought to prevent them from doing so. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of a journalist who was told by police to stop recording with his camera. On August 15, the police and the ACLU reached an agreement that would allow the videotaping of police officers as long as officers are able to do their jobs.
Heather Digby Parton
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014
One of the most misunderstood elements of American politics has to be the fact that legislative coalitions are very different from voting coalitions. The most obvious case in point is the erroneous assumption that the coalition that often forms around civil liberties, featuring elements of the most ideologically committed members of the left and the right, means that these groups are in agreement as to the goals they wish to obtain. It’s not essential that everyone who signs on to a bill is doing so for the same reason, but it’s vitally important that people not misinterpret the joint action as a sign that we are entering a moment of bipartisan kumbaya that will heal the nation’s wounds and bring us together once and for all.
In the wake of Michael Brown’s death and all that’s followed, we are seeing this play out in what Jim Newell accurately described as a potential coalition of right and left on the demilitarization of the police. In this case it’s the hardcore wingnuts at the Gun Owners of America joining in with the ACLU to demand an end to the Pentagon program that encourages police departments to buy surplus military equipment at bargain basement prices, both of whom have endorsed a bill by Democratic congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia to do just that. But it’s important that we distinguish that the liberty concerns driving this particular joint endorsement are not coming from the same place or seeking the same end.
Gun Owners of America president Larry Pratt is not concerned about the police harassing and shooting young African-American men or using military tactics and equipment against peaceful protesters exercising their rights under the Constitution. He has never before expressed any concern for these issues in the past. What he is worried about is something else entirely. Just a few weeks ago he appeared on Alex Jones’ conspiracy show and articulated exactly what it is he fears the most. Right Wing Watch captured the moment:
Jones asked Pratt about a Washington Times report about a 2010 Pentagon directive — an update to a series of similar directives crafted under previous administrations — outlining how and when the military can use force to quell domestic unrest “in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the president is impossible.”
Jones, of course, read this to mean that it is “official and has been confirmed” that the military is “training with tanks, armored vehicles, drones” to “take on the American people, mainly the Tea Party.”
BY Anna Gorman Kaiser Health News
August 26 2014
Devin Payne had gone years without health insurance — having little need and not much money to pay for it.
Then Payne realized she’s transgender. In her early 40s, she changed her name, began wearing long skirts, grew out her sandy blond hair and started taking hormones.
Although not all trans women get gender reassignment surgery, Payne said it was the right next step for her. For that, Payne, who is now 44, said she needed health coverage. “It is not a simple, easy, magical surgery,” said Payne, a photographer who lives in Palm Springs. “Trying to do this without insurance is a big risk. Things can go wrong … not having the money to pay for it would be awful.”
Payne learned in the fall that she might qualify for subsidies through the state’s new insurance marketplace, Covered California, because her income fell under the limit of $46,000 a year. She eagerly signed up in March for a Blue Shield plan for about $230 a month and began making preparations for the surgery that would change her life.
A “Preexisting Condition”
Among the less-talked-about implications of the Affordable Care Act is the relief it is providing to transgender people, many of whom are low-income and who have struggled to obtain health coverage.
Getting jobs that offer insurance often has been difficult for transgender people, and the cost of purchasing plans on the private market can be prohibitive. Some have been denied policies altogether after being diagnosed with “gender identity disorder,” often considered a preexisting condition.
Without insurance, many people were unable to afford the hormones, surgeries, and counseling needed to complete their transition. Nor would they have been covered in the event of complications.
Aug. 17, 2014
Ferguson is not just about systemic racism — it’s about class warfare and how America’s poor are held back, says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Will the recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, be a tipping point in the struggle against racial injustice, or will it be a minor footnote in some future grad student’s thesis on Civil Unrest in the Early Twenty-First Century?
The answer can be found in May of 1970.
You probably have heard of the Kent State shootings: on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters at Kent State University. During those 13 seconds of gunfire, four students were killed and nine were wounded, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The shock and outcry resulted in a nationwide strike of 4 million students that closed more than 450 campuses. Five days after the shooting, 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. And the nation’s youth was energetically mobilized to end the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and mindless faith in the political establishment.
You probably haven’t heard of the Jackson State shootings.
On May 14th, 10 days after Kent State ignited the nation, at the predominantly black Jackson State University in Mississippi, police killed two black students (one a high school senior, the other the father of an 18-month-old baby) with shotguns and wounded twelve others.
There was no national outcry. The nation was not mobilized to do anything. That heartless leviathan we call History swallowed that event whole, erasing it from the national memory.
And, unless we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.
By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)
Continue reading at: http://time.com/3132635/ferguson-coming-race-war-class-warfare/
By Lynn Stuart Parramore
August 25, 2014
In a must-read article in the current issue of Harper’s magazine, journalist Jessica Bruder, adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, adds a new phrase to America’s vocabulary: “Elderly migrant worker.” She documents a growing trend of older Americans for whom the reality of unaffordable housing and scarcity of work has driven them from their homes and onto the road in search of seasonal and temporary employment across the country. Packed into RVs, detached from their communities, these “Okies” of the Great Recession put in time at Amazon warehouses, farms and amusement parks, popping free over-the-counter pain reliever to mask the agony of strained muscles and sore backs. And when they can’t hold up any longer? The RV sometimes becomes a coffin.
Since the financial crisis ripped the security out from under millions of people, the bulk of our politicians, including President Obama, actually tried to reduce, rather than increase, Social Security. The absence of pensions, along with the inadequacy of 401(k)s, skyrocketing healthcare and job insecurity and unemployment, are sending more and more people scrambling to figure out a way to keep body and soul together. Even grandparents are joining the ranks of those for whom life has become a game of Survivor. In an email interview, I asked Bruder about this alarming trend and what it means for the country, now and in the future.
Lynn Parramore: In your recent article in Harper’s, you describe a trend of downwardly mobile elderly folks traveling the country in RVs in search of temporary and seasonal work. How many people are we talking about? How fast has this trend been emerging?
Jessica Bruder: Though no one keeps an official tally of how many older Americans are doing this kind of work, their ranks appear to be growing rapidly in the wake of the housing bust and market crashes.
Amazon first hired a handful of migrant full-time RVers in 2008 through a program the company later named “CamperForce.” As of 2014, it had expanded to employ some 2,000 workers, according to a recruiter I met in Quartzsite, Arizona. The American Crystal Sugar Company taps the same labor pool each fall to staff its annual sugar beet harvest, and their recruitment numbers are up, too. This year, they’re hoping to recruit 600 ” workampers,” up from 450 the year before.
LP: What’s the gender breakdown among these traveling workers? What kinds of work are men and women doing?
JB: I was impressed by how many older, single women I met among the working nomads, from a tarot reader living in a former convict labor van she’d transformed into a roving gypsy boudoir, to an ex-medical technician who managed to fit her whole life—along with a Shih-Tzu, a lovebird and a loquacious African Grey parrot—into a 10.5-foot Carson Kalispell sport trailer.
The gender breakdown was roughly even. Employers don’t discriminate when doling out hard or dirty work, whether it’s scrubbing campsite toilets or walking 15 miles a day on a concrete warehouse floor to pack Amazon’s holiday orders.