The people who harvest our fruits and vegetables are, today, among the country’s most marginalized. They earn well below the poverty line and spend a substantial portion of the year unemployed. They do not have the right to overtime pay or to collective bargaining with their employers. In some cases, workers have faced abuses that fall under modern-day slavery statutes. “The extreme is slavery,” observed Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), while visiting farm workers in Florida. “The norm is disaster.”
This is not a new phenomenon. Since the beginning of large-scale agriculture in America, the demand for farm labor has been met by a population that lives in the shadows. Often exploited by the employers they depended on for seasonal, poverty-level wages, farm workers have, time and again, been likened to post-Civil War slaves.
In 1960, legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and his producers Fred Friendly and David Lowe attempted to draw public attention to this state of affairs with the documentary Harvest of Shame. The film — an hour-long portrait of the “humans who harvest the food for the best-fed people in the world” — aired on CBS the day after Thanksgiving, 1960.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. speaks at a rally for immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing yesterday on the Voting Rights Act since the Supreme Court gutted the landmark civil rights law last month. The key witnesses were civil rights icon Representative John Lewis and Representative James Sensenbrenner, the former chair of the House Judiciary Committee who led the effort to overwhelmingly reauthorize the VRA in 2006.
In his testimony, Lewis described how he almost died fighting for the right to vote in 1965 and how friends of his never made it out of Mississippi alive. “I remember these problems and this struggle like it was yesterday,” Lewis said. He noted the “deliberate and systematic” attempt to make it harder for voters to participate in the last election, when nineteen states passed twenty-five new voting restrictions, saying “the Voting Rights Act is needed now like never before.” MORE
With George Zimmerman off the hook for shooting Trayvon Martin, Shoot-em-up Charlie takes a look at how the case was won. With ALEC, the NRA and Stand-Your-Ground laws, this case was about much more than race. A Mark Fiore political animation.
Note: The audio played over the credits is a tape of a 911 call that Texas resident Joe Horn made in 2007. The dramatic call documents Horn’s decision to use his shotgun to stop a burglary in progress at his neighbor’s house — against the instructions of the 911 operator. Horn shot and killed both burglars, and was later cleared of all charges by a grand jury. The Tampa Bay Timesreports that over 200 cases have involved Stand Your Ground laws in Florida since 2005.
If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Though Zimmerman’s lawyers chose to mount a traditional self-defense argument on their client’s behalf—eschewing a defense specifically based on the controversial Florida law that permits individuals who feel threatened to use deadly force even when they could retreat to safety—the role played in the case by the “stand your ground” law, and the theory that underpins it, has come into stark relief in the days since Zimmerman was acquitted.
In April, Doug Rice, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released a paper that described some of the ways people would be affected by sequestration cuts to local housing agency budgets, including: up to 140,000 fewer low-income families receiving rental assistance vouchers, higher rent for people who can’t afford it, and a rise in homelessness.
“These kinds of cuts are really unprecedented,” said Rice, noting that this was just the third time in 39 years that Congress failed to sufficiently fund housing agencies so that they could renew all current vouchers. “Here we are in 2013 looking at severe cuts in the number of families that receive assistance, even at a time when the number of families in need has been rising sharply.”
Rice said that most local housing agencies would likely “shelve” Section 8 rental assistance vouchers, meaning vouchers would no longer be reissued to families on waiting lists when current recipients leave the program. He said that many people receiving new vouchers would have them rescinded as they searched for apartments. Maintenance and inspection of units would be deferred, and affordable housing stock would be jeopardized.
All of this would occur despite the fact that there are waiting lists for vouchers in almost every community; half of the current households in the program include seniors or people with disabilities; and the average household income of a voucher recipient is just $12,500. On top of that, only 1 in 4 eligible households actually receives a voucher or some other form of federal rental assistance.
A look at over sixty stories from across the country in the past few months reveals that Rice’s analysis was spot-on. Mouse over each location to read the headlines. MORE
In this June 19, 2013, photo, Senate Minority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, House Speaker, Republican John Boehner of Ohio participate in a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The congressional hunger games began when Senate Democrats voted to cut $4.1 billion from food stamps, or SNAP. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said it was a matter of slicing “waste, fraud and abuse” from the program.
Except that’s not what they were doing.
They were cutting about $90 a month in benefits for 500,000 households — more than a week’s worth of assistance for a typical family, at a time when an individual’s average benefit is about $4.45 per day. (It’s worth noting too that just one cent on every dollar of SNAP spending is lost to fraud.)
House Republicans then tried to up the ante and slash $20 billion from the program — to reduce both the deficit and welfare dependence, they claimed.
Tabatha Holley, 19, of Dawson, Ga., chants as demonstrators march in protest as a police cruiser follows at right the day after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, Sunday, July 14, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
On Sunday afternoon, the Department of Justice announced that the case was under review. “Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction,’’ read a department statement that added that the review would determine ‘‘whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial.’’
The formal language describes a first step that, while it is encouraging for civil rights organizations, does not assure that a federal case will be initiated.
But the NAACP and other groups are arguing that there are clear grounds for an intervention by the department.
In a message posted on the group’s website and circulated nationally within hours of the announcement of the verdict, the group’s president, Ben Jealous, declared, “We are not done demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.” MORE
I have seen nothing within the actual case presented by the prosecution that would allow for a stable and unvacillating belief that George Zimmerman was guilty.
That conclusion should not offer you security or comfort. It should not leave you secure in the wisdom of our laws. On the contrary, it should greatly trouble you. But if you are simply focusing on what happened in the court-room, then you have been head-faked by history and bought into a idea of fairness which can not possibly exist.
Spontaneous protests broke out across the country on Sunday as people reacted to the “not guilty” verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. Demonstrators focused on racial profiling, gun violence and racial bias in the justice system. Below are scenes from some of those protests.
A cut-out picture of Trayvon Martin is held aloft by marchers on Times Square, Sunday, July 14, 2013, in New York, as they gathered for a protest against the acquittal of volunteer neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman in the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
For those who took the recent Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act as vindication that discrimination no longer lingers deep in the heart of Texas, one only need look back to the summer of 2012 to see evidence to the contrary.
Voters arrive during the first day of early voting at a Travis County mega voting site in Austin, Texas, in 2008. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Last summer, a federal court ruled that Texas Republican lawmakers discriminated against minority voters while redrawing voting districts in 2011. U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith wrote that the 2011 redistricting map contained numerous irregularities and that Texas lawmakers drew the new boundaries “with discriminatory purpose.”
Only by reading the voluminous lawsuits filed against the state can one appreciate just how creative Texas Republicans had to be to so successfully dilute and suppress the state’s minority vote. According to a lawsuit filed by a host of civil rights groups, “even though Whites’ share of the population declined from 52 percent to 45 percent, they remain the majority in 70 percent of Congressional Districts.” To cite just one of many examples: in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Hispanic population increased by 440,898, the African-American population grew by 152,825 and the white population fell by 156,742. Yet white Republicans, a minority in the metropolis, control four of five Congressional seats. Despite declining in population, white Republicans managed to pick up two Congressional seats in the Dallas and Houston areas. In fact, whites are the minority in the state’s five largest counties but control twelve of nineteen Congressional districts.
George Zimmerman arrives for his trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. Thursday, July 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Gary W. Green, Pool)
If you have cable television in your home, you probably know more than you want to know about the trial of George Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin. But you may still be wondering why this story has attracted so much attention from the media. We called Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert for a critique of the coverage.
Lauren Feeney: Why are the 24-hour news stations so obsessed with this trial?
Eric Boehlert: It’s easy, it’s summer, and it’s lazy — a simple way to be able to cover the same story over and over for two or three weeks. In the old days, unless it was the O.J. Simpson trial, news channels would never give up hour after hour of daytime or primetime to cover a courtroom event. The feeling was, “That’s not really journalism and that’s not why we’re in the news business.” But slowly but surely, the cable news channels have decided to do exactly that. Each year, they seem to pick three or four of these trials and almost randomly devote way too much time to them. Now they’ve decided to do it with the Zimmerman trial, which at its core is a much more serious and important event —- the societal and legal implications are much more important and sober than some of the other celebrity trials that they’ve embraced.
The first decade of the 21st century contained nine of the 10 warmest years on record. A new report from the World Meteorological Organization compares the 2001-2010 decade with the 12 that came before it in a chart that makes it hard to argue that the planet isn’t warming. MORE
Muckrakers and activists have been working to expose the brutality of industrialized meat production since Upton Sinclair’s writing of The Jungle in 1906. But an ALEC model bill known as “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” would make it a crime to film at animal facilities — such as factory farms or slaughterhouses — with the intent to “defame the facility or its owner.” So-called “ag-gag” laws that appear inspired by the ALEC model have been passed in several states. This report, produced by Okapi Productions, LLC and the Schumann Media Center, Inc. looks at the effect of these laws on both our food supply and our freedom of speech.
Producer: Tom Casciato Writers: Bill Moyers, Tom Casciato Associate Producer: Laura Macomber Editor: Daniel Baer
Watch Bill Moyers’ July 9, 2013 Frontline documentary about two ordinary, hard-working families in Milwaukee.
Since 1992, Bill Moyers has been following the story of these two middle-class families — one black, one white — as they battle to keep from sliding into poverty. He first met the Stanleys and Neumanns when they were featured in his 1990 documentary Minimum Wages: The New Economy. The families were revisited in 1995 for Living on the Edge, and again in 2000 for Surviving the Good Times.
Bill Moyers revisited his reports on the Stanleys and Neumanns and talked about issues raised with authors Barbara Miner and Barbara Garson on the July 5 episode of Moyers & Company, “Surviving the New American Economy.”
On July 8, Bill Moyers sat with Charlie Rose to talk about Bill’s Frontline project “Two American Families.” They talk about the many challenges facing America’s shrinking middle class, how our economy is biased toward the very rich and the disappearing American dream. They also discuss Bill’s professional transition from politics to journalism. MORE