Six Things You Need To Know About Police Violence In The US

  1. It has been increasing for years. While the exact number of civilians killed by police is surprisingly hard to find (see this article for a scary investigation of why the government doesn’t keep data on the number of Americans killed by cops), most experts agree that more Americans have been killed by cops than have died in war in the last ten years.
  2. Police violence is increasing even while crime decreases.
  3. The American government has spent a lot of money turning local cops into heavily armed military forces. They’ve bought hundreds of armored vehicles and thousands of machine guns and sniper rifles.
  4. Cops who are armed like an invading army often act like one: No Knock Swat Team Raids (busting down the door and threatening the enemy with guns) have increased dramatically.  Most of these military style raids are done for something as small as serving a warrant or looking for drugs in someone’s home.
  5. And cops acting like soldiers, without being trained as soldiers, are not very good at it.
  6. While the framers of the constitution adamantly opposed a standing army in the United States, we almost have one.  As long as bad cops are able to do bad things with military style weapons without being punished for crimes they commit, we are facing a broken system of governance.  Many argue that the police force has become an occupying force which terrorizes the American people.

Is it any wonder that Americans are upset about police brutality?  Or that when the American people protest police brutality, they are met with police brutality (#Ferguson)?  Is it any wonder that the American people feel that their local cops increasingly resemble an invading army?

While Obama offers half-measures of body-cameras and more training for cops, the solution to this problem is twofold: Stop arming cops with military equipment and punish bad cops for bad behavior.


The Student Loan Rip Off

I have been thinking with increasing frequency about the scam of student debt and the incredible bubble we have created in our society by pushing young adults into universities regardless of career path and without regard for the process of education. We are saddling our twenty something year old workers with thousands of dollars of debt for degrees that are worth less and less, lining the pockets of for-profit businesses and lending sharks in the process.

In the 1950’s and 60’s a college degree did seem to be some kind of guarantee in life. Only 5% of people 25 and over had a college degree in 1950. In 2013 more than 40% of people 25 and over have an associate or bachelor’s. Sixty years ago, getting a degree after high school put you in an elite category. Today, almost half of the 25 and over job force has one.

And while the exclusivity of a degree from a college or university has worn off, the cost of the degree has increased exponentially. People are further into debt for college than they are for credit cards and car payments.

As this article shows, all that debt is not paying off. People are spending more and more for education and getting less and less.

Unsurprisingly: Student loan companies, colleges and universities are all spending more money bribing our government.

What we end up with is a system where 18 year olds are lent tens of thousands of dollars for degrees that are increasingly unlikely to get them jobs. The only reason banks will loan that much money with no collateral to these students is this: The government guarantees the loans. Students can never declare bankruptcy, they can’t avoid repaying, the government and the banks will follow these individuals for the rest of their lives taking as much money as they can until the debt and the fees and the interest have all been repaid.

Matt Taibbi summed up the tragedy and ugly corruption of this system here.

If you watched John Oliver this week, then you can agree with my conclusion: While we tackle this issue of what to do about the nasty decrease in the benefit-to-cost ratio of going to a university, we should all do our best to stop people we know from giving any money at all to for-profit-colleges.

The Future of Religion

Today I am reading “The Evolution of God,” by Robert Wright.  It is a compelling work, illustrating the hypothetical roots of religiosity by detailing the known characteristics of primitive man’s beliefs in the supernatural.  An interesting point he makes: The transition from basic hunter-gatherer tribes (40-50 people each) to chiefdoms (1,000 – 10,000 people each) required a previously amoral religion to begin offering more moral structure for social cohesion.  When there are 40-50 people in your tribe, stealing or cheating or violence is unlikely: You have to live with those people, there’s nowhere to hide.  In a chiefdom of several thousand you can commit petty crime, stealing for instance, and sneak off.

“In this phase of cultural evolution – with personal policing having lost its charm but with government not yet taking up the slack – a supplementary force of social control was called for.  Religion seems to have responded to the call.  Whereas religion in hunter-gatherer societies didn’t have much of a moral dimension, religion in the Polynesian chiefdoms did: it systematically discouraged antisocial behavior.” (Pg. 55)

Wright goes on to show how we can see the roots of our modern religious attitude in many of the primitive rites and beliefs and he shows how these early religions likely evolved into our most popular brands today. One of his most compelling chapters is Survival of the Fittest Christianity, in which he shows the evolution of the Christian faith from its Roman precursors and how it became strong.  In the first century AD there were many versions of Christianity and much fighting among them.  Eventually the weaker strains were killed off, leaving only the strongest version to go forth and multiply itself.

Most interestingly, he concludes the chapter with what seems like a fondness for the Christian attitude: “It may sound paradoxical to say that a Jesus who exists only in imagination is the Logos, or anything else, made flesh.  But when Christians revere Christ as they conceive him, they may – according to the theology of the Logos – be revering something authentically divine…when Christians conjure up their image of Jesus, putting flesh around the message of love, the word, — the Logos – is in a sense being made flesh…And maybe worshipping a divinely sponsored illusion is about as close as people can get to seeing the face of God.” (Pg. 302)

Most compelling is Wright’s assertion that religion, having adapted itself over millennia, can adapt itself again.  While religion is valuable for social cohesion, he worries about the tendency of the claim to ‘specialness’ of each system of fixed beliefs.

“Is it crazy to imagine a day when the Abrahamic faiths renounce not only their specific claims to specialness, but even the claim to specialness of the whole Abrahamic enterprise?  Are such radical changes in God’s character imaginable?  Changes this radical have already happened, again and again.  Another transformation would be nothing new.” (Pg. 442)

In an age in which rapid technological development and radical expansion of the boundaries of communication have created the need for reassessment of our older and outdated modes of thinking, the implication of the possibility for the evolution of religion is refreshing and much less harsh than the call for the relatively unlikely end of organized worship.

The Sneakiest Among Us

Reading The Divide by Matt Taibbi I’m reminded of a truth in this struggle that is often lost.  While our country succumbs to an oligarchy of the most sinister mediocrity we can remember, it is important to see that this isn’t a fight between poor people and rich people.  This is a fight between the vast majority of Americans, something like 99.95% of us, and a very small minority who work to corrupt and manipulate the government, the market, our future and our way of life for their own personal gain.

The folks who own the Republican and Democrat corporations, the individuals and groups that spend time buying up congresspeople and who have our presidents and judges in their pockets, these aren’t just wealthy people.  These are wealthy, corrupt, mean spirited people.

Whether you make $3,000 a year or $30,000 a year or $300,000 doesn’t tell the story.  The question is: How far do you go to subvert our democracy with whatever money you have?

Certainly it is the case that a person making very little money will have a hard time influencing politics with it (a low threshold for corruption is spending around $5,000/year) but that should not confuse us as to who is who in this battle for the future of our country.

Wealthy, poor, successful, defeated, whatever race or sex or orientation or religious background or belief system you come from there are only two questions: 1. Do you use large amounts of money to buy our politicians?  2. Are you a judge, congressperson or president who consistently favors that wealthy minority over the rest of our American people?

I can answer that I won’t sell our people down the river for power or profit.  I’m sure you aren’t looking to buy your way to sustained success or inordinate access to power (99.95% of the time anyway).  We are on the same team.  Time to throw off this fake democracy and build the functional governance we deserve.