#BlackLivesMatter? — unless you’re Homeland Security


Click to enlargePeter Marshall

The Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring the Black Lives Matter movement since anti-police protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, according to hundreds of documents obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination, indicate that the department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful. The reports confirm social media surveillance of the protest movement and ostensibly related events in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.

They also show the department watching over gatherings that seem benign and even mundane. For example, DHS circulated information on a nationwide series of silent vigils and a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation’s capital.

The tracking of domestic protest groups and peaceful gatherings raises questions over whether DHS is chilling the exercise of First Amendment rights, and over whether the department, created in large part to combat terrorism, has allowed its mission to creep beyond the bounds of useful security activities as its annual budget has grown beyond $60 billion.

Our government thinks anyone who stands up for equal rights is a potential terrorist.

The surveillance cataloged in the DHS documents goes back to August of last year, when protests and riots broke out in Ferguson the day after the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. According to two August 11th, 2014 reports, a DHS FEMA “WatchOps officer” used information from Twitter and Vine to monitor the riots and reproduced a map, originally created by a Reddit user, of conflict zones…

An April 2015 FEMA memo also shows that the DHS appears to have gathered information on anti-police-brutality protests in Philadelphia “organized by members of the Philly Coalition for Real Justice” and in New York on May Day at “Foley Square, start time 1700… Independent factions are being solicited to join in on a full day of demonstration through various open source social media sites, fliers, posters.”…

Baher Azmy, a legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, however, argues that this “providing situational awareness” is just another word for surveillance and that creating this body of knowledge about perfectly legal events is a problem in and of itself. “What they call situational awareness is Orwellian speak for watching and intimidation,” said Azmy. “Over time there’s a serious harm to the associational rights of the protesters and it’s an effective way to chill protest movements. The average person would be less likely to go to a Black Lives Matter protest if the government is monitoring social media, Facebook, and their movements.”

Although DHS spokesman S.Y.Lee says…that the department “does not provide resources to monitor any specific planned or spontaneous protest, rally or public gathering,” some of the documents show that the DHS has produced minute-by-minute reports on protesters’ movements in demonstrations…

The documents also elaborate on DHS’s response to riots and militant protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American man who in April died from injuries sustained while in police custody…the DHS’ Federal Protective Service placed more than 400 officers on duty in Baltimore after Gray’s death…

Raven Rakia, a journalist who investigates state surveillance and policing, said that the DHS’ decision to monitor Black Lives Matter is hardly surprising, given the federal government’s well documented history of spying on and suppressing black social movements and groups like the Black Panthers. “There’s a long history of the federal agencies, especially the FBI, seeing black resistance organizations as a threat to national security,” says Rakia…

Same as it ever was. A government that isn’t serious about equal rights for all Americans, a Congress afraid of attempts to guarantee voting rights, civil rights, expected in a democratic nation – sets the stage for activists to be an automatic target for suppression.

How wealthy are the rest of us?

We seem to really enjoy contemplating the money and lifestyles of the top 0.01 percent. The wealthiest Americans garner immense mind-share in the imaginations of the rest of the populace. We incessantly track the incomes of hedge-fund managers and other finance stars, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune and other $100 billion families. Don’t forget the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and the Forbes 400 and the wealthiest New Yorkers.

We are in short fascinated with other people’s wealth.

What about the rest of the income strata? As it turns out, there is a fascinating story there as well. It may not be as glitzy and luxe as the Billionaires Index, but it is a tale of gradual improvement. So says a recent data analysis on the global middle class by the Pew Research Center.

The good news is that during the first decade of the 21st century, about 700 million people were lifted out of poverty. That is a 14 percent reduction in poverty. The bad news is that moving into, and staying within, the global middle class is a significant challenge.

The study found that 71 percent of the global population is either poor (15 percent) or low-income (56 percent). The middle class is only 13 percent of the total population. To put some hard numbers on those percentages, with a world population of 7.2 billion humans, about 936 million are middle-class. A little more than a billion (1.08) are impoverished, and more than half the world’s population, a giant 4.03 billion people, are low-income.

PG-2015-07-08_globalClass-03

The Pew report contains some astonishing data points: 84 percent of the world’s population, including those defined as middle-class, live on less than $20 a day. Surviving on the maximum in the U.S. or Europe would be difficult for an individual — about $7,300 a year…

Think of it another way. More than fourth-fifths of world’s population live on less than $20 a day. In other words, how well this vast swath of humanity is doing will have important implications for industry, from health care and finance to agriculture and energy.

Income growth in these groups in both the developing and developed world will alter the economic and political landscape.

Not to be too optimistic, but the economic state of world is getting better. As more people move into the global middle class, they are able to buy more consumer goods, save and invest. That creates a long-term self-interest in political stability and, one can hope, democratic institutions.

Barry Ritholtz is justified in his positive outlook for the global population – even if the “we” in the industrial western civilization aren’t doing as well. The United States, Canada and Western Europe – with conservative governments very often – have a declining middle class. So, we feel the squeeze of Republican-style economics.

It’s your choice, folks. In my view as someone who’s a citizen of the planet Earth, I’m pleased the struggles of so many people around this globe are moving forward towards better opportunities for themselves, their children. The ennui of ignorant North Americans, of Europeans who have stepped into the bipolar trap of two-party politics continues to drag down what always has been the most dynamic and creative segment of our economy.

You can keep on with the obvious foolishness of believing you alone can make it – while the fat cats at the top stack the deck – or you can fight for independent thought and action and try for change that starts with education, healthcare, social security – and, did I say, education.

Going for a record: 204 mass shootings in 204 days — in 2015, so far


Never Forget

…The headlines all start to sound the same after awhile. Seven people shot inside Louisville nightclub. Four men shot in Suffolk early Sunday morning. Two dead, two hospitalized in Brice Street shooting.

The shootings happen so often, the circumstances become so familiar, that we tune them out. One dead, five injured in west Columbus shooting. Four shot in grocery store ambush. One dead, four injured in Stockton shooting.

Every now and then a particularly heinous crime makes us pause and reflect. Nine dead in shooting at black church in Charleston. Four marines, one sailor killed in attacks on Chattanooga military facilities. Gunman opens fire on Louisiana movie theater.

The Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced project of the anti-gun folks at the Guns Are Cool subreddit, lists 203 mass shooting events so far in 2015. Add in the shooting at a Louisiana movie theater last night and you get 204. Incidentally, yesterday was the 204th day of the year…

The Mass Shooting Tracker is different from other shooting databases in that it uses a broader definition of mass shooting. “The old FBI definition of Mass Murder (not even the most recent one) is four or more people murdered in one event,” the site’s creators explain. “It is only logical that a Mass Shooting is four or more people shot in one event.”…

These shootings have become so common that they typically don’t even make national news. Do you remember the four people shot in Cincinnati earlier this month? How about the seven in Cleveland, or the nine in Fort Wayne? Unless you live in these areas, you probably didn’t even hear about them…

Will anything change? Probably not. The Charleston shooting did produce a fruitful national conversation — not on guns, but on the symbolism of the Confederate flag, which the shooter adopted as a banner of his racist beliefs. It took 150 years and a national tragedy for the country to reach something like a consensus on the meaning of a battle flag.

“Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard [mass shootings] the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing,” The Economist wrote in response to the Charleston massacre. “This may, however, be a bit unfair. China seems to be making progress on pollution.”

Agreed.