Why We Don’t Reform American Policing

Freddie GrayOn Friday, I was really struck by something that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “We know that the vast majority of the men and the women in the Baltimore City Police Department serve our city with pride, with courage, with honor, and with distinction. But to those of you, who wish to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me be clear, there is no place in the Baltimore City Police Department for you.” Most people have focused on the second sentence. To me it is just political boilerplate — the sort of thing that we hear from every mayor everywhere regardless of what their actual policies are. I’m interested in the first sentence.

Of course, the first sentence is no less boilerplate. It’s required in a nation where the police forces are a bunch of pussies who need to use deadly force rather risk a slight abrasion and yet still demand that the people treat them as though their jobs were very dangerous and that they performed them with great professionalism. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I don’t think highly of policing in this country. In addition to maintaining a low level of professionalism, police officers tend to have huge chips on their soldiers — demanding rather than earning respect.

A good example of this is found in the way that many people respond to my writing about the police. The blame is placed on me. Supposedly, the problem is that I don’t know just what great chaps our men in blue are. So the solution is for me to run out and learn how great they are. This is because we can’t expect the police to actually show themselves to be good guys. Despite the torrent of information indicating that there are major systemic problems with all of our police forces, I’m supposed to start a goodwill tour to ferret out the good guys. It’s nonsense.

But what Bawlings-Blake did is exactly the same thing. The police are so sensitive that we can’t even talk about the heinous acts of six police officers without starting with, “While most police spend their time rescuing kittens and feeding the poor…” Note that it is not de rigueur to start a discussion of pediophile priests with, “While most priests serve their congragations with pride, with courage, with honor, and with distinction…” And I think this is because most priests actually do. When the mayors of major cities say these same things about police, they mean it aspirationally: they hope someday that this is actually true.

But if there is anywhere that most police officers do not serve the city with pride, courage, honor, and distinction, it is Baltimore. What the officers did to Freddie Gray was not just out of control officers; it was part of systemic brutality. Read Conor Friedersdorf excellent article at The Atlantic, The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore. The reason that this thing is allowed to go on is because everyone gives the benefit of the doubt to the police. People like Michael Slager are just bad apples. Darren Wilson was just a pussy. Eric Garner only died because he was fat. We never do anything to change the system because, “We know that the vast majority of the men and the women in the [Whatever] City Police Department serve our city with pride, with courage, with honor, and with distinction.”

Conservatives Understand Oppression Outside US

Donald RumsfeldWhile no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime… And I don’t think there’s anyone in any of those pictures, or any human being who’s not free, who wouldn’t prefer to be free, and recognize that you pass through a transition period like this and accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.

—Donald Rumsfeld
Quoted in Remember When Donald Rumsfeld Stood Up for Rioting and Looting?

Republican Global Warming Denial: We Are All Going Down Together

Climate Change Is a HoaxThis is time. And this is the record of the time.

I used to teach planetary astronomy. The interesting thing about it was how easy it was because of my work in earth sciences. Half the course involved the earth and moon. This is because — and this will surprise some — the earth is a planet. And it is the planet that we know the most about. It is also the planet that we care the most about. So when I started to hear conservatives a few years back grumbling about the fact that NASA spends a lot of resources studying the earth, I just shook my head. Even from the standpoint of exploring other parts of the cosmos, we need to understand the earth.

Of course, no one has a problem with NASA studying the earth. This is just a pretext to stop NASA — or anyone else — from studying global warming. I guess we were wrong all these years we have said that conservatives don’t have a plan to deal with climate change. They do! It is to pretend that it doesn’t exist. And as long as we deny it, it can’t be real. This is the “hide under the blankets until the most productive farm lands turn into deserts” plan. It’s brilliant!

Last Thursday, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology voted along party lines to cut almost 20% of the current $1.77 billion budget for NASA’s Earth science programs. What’s more, the ranking Democrat on the committee said that the new budget proposal was kept from her and the others in the opposition until less than a week before the vote. She said, “After we saw the bill, we understood why.” As Michael Hiltzik put it, “The budget plan perfectly reflects the House GOP’s glorification of space exploration, which masks its disdain for research on climate change.” Of course, there is a lot more than just global warming research being cut. But what does that matter in the grand cause of denying a problem that fixing might interfere with the profits of certain rich people?

We’ve come a long way since the days when I was working in the field. At that time, the conservative position was, “We don’t know enough. We must do more research.” As a result, Republicans were arguably as good at funding global warming research as the Democrats. But now, the Republicans aren’t skeptics. They “know” that global warming isn’t happening. They’ve seen James Inhofe’s snowball. They once heard that scientists were using a “trick” with tree rings. And Al Gore made money on his documentary. Thus, global warming is a hoax. QED.

This is all deeply disturbing. I want my country back. I don’t mean it in the conservative sense that I want some fanciful notion of “America” that never actually existed. I can remember the America I want back. In it, Republicans commonly used racist appeals to win office. They ran crime syndicates out of the White House. And they were total hypocrites. But they didn’t deny reality. If we had had the modern Republican Party over the last 40 years, the claim that tobacco smoking causes cancer would still be reported as a controversy. The Republican Party really has become something that is a quantum state more dangerous than it used to be.

There were many problems with the founding of the United States. But there is no doubt that it was a political extension of the Enlightenment. But in modern America, we have a major political party — which represents half of our people — that is so done with Enlightenment. It is too liberal for them. They want to go back further — to the Iron Age Middle East. And like all flat earth folks everywhere, they want all the benefits of the Enlightenment — central heating, fresh food, advanced medicines — without any of the responsibilities that go along with them like having to pay attention to facts.

It’s too bad we can’t allow them to go off somewhere and destroy themselves. Instead, we are stuck with them. We are all going down, together.

This is time. And this is the record of the time.

How American Christianity Got Corrupted

One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian AmericaI spend a lot of time around here complaining about the state of American Christianity. I am not a Christian, but I still admire it as one of the the great religions of the world. And what I see in America makes me sad. Generally speaking, Christianity here hardly qualifies as a religion. To give you some idea of what I think, all you need to do is read the title of one of my articles, American Christianity as Cultural Signifier. American Christianity is just what all right thinking people believe. This is why it seems more like a prosperity cult than anything Jesus might have intended.

The fact that American Christians seem to be more focused on abortion and homosexuality almost to the exclusion of caring for the poor should be clear enough. As I’ve discussed before, abortion was never an issue for protestants all the way through Roe v Wade. That was something that concerned the Catholics. What changed this was that white protestant churches — primarily in the south — did not want their tax exempt status blocked as a result of them running segregated schools. So they needed to get their congregations politically involved. But they weren’t going to do it based upon the actual issue: segregation; that wasn’t a winning strategy. So the church leaders picked abortion, and the rest is history.

The result of that history is what is found in, What’s the Matter with Kansas? We now have white evangelicals all over the country who vote for the interests of the economic power elite — all in the name of abortion. And what’s especially interesting is that the economic power elite have no interest in abortion at all. In fact, if they could make money off it, they would. Hell, let’s be clear, there are few American corporations that wouldn’t have been putting in bids for the gas chambers and incinerators for the Nazi concentration camps. That’s the thing about the legal definition of a corporation: it is amoral. So it is a supreme irony that American Christianity should be so critical in supporting the power of these amoral institutions.

Over at New Republic a while back, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig wrote a review of two recent books that look into this connection, Gods and Profits. It is subtitled, “How capitalism and Christianity aligned in modern America.” Of particular interest is the book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin Kruse. It looks at the history of American Christianity from the Great Depression onward. And it is sickening.

As you probably know, Christianity hasn’t generally been all that keen on capitalism. And you don’t have to go that far back: just look at William Jennings Bryan. I think that if Christianity hadn’t gone off the rails, today, Mike Huckabee would be a liberal. But instead, he believes in the title of Bruenig’s article: God and Profits. But in the opposite order. According to Kruse’s book, the wealthy were very concerned about economic populism, so they were looking for ways to fight back. And they bought themselves a preacher: James W Fifield Jr:

Fifield married Christian thought with a new era of economic development, and spread the gospel through his organization, Spiritual Mobilization. Its mission was simple: to stamp out Christian support for a generous welfare state — which paired naturally with New Deal concern for the poor, elderly, and vulnerable — and to advance a new theory of Christian libertarianism.

I will have to get the book. But it is fascinating because those in the Religious Right are the ones most inclined to talk about how America has been co-opted. But what has really been co-opted is American Christianity itself. And they are the ones who allow it, even while they focus on what the founding fathers did or did not really believe. It’s sad for them, but it has been devastating for America.

Morning Music: Sarah Silverman

Sarah SilvermanFor no particular reason, I got Sarah Silverman running through my head. She writes very catchy tunes that are generally very funny. And there is something about her very sweet, positive sounding voice, and the really nasty things that she says with it. Our case in point today is, “You’re Gonna Die Soon,” where she cheers up some very old people with the thought of death. And why not? Death isn’t a bad thing — especially when you’re old. As it is, we die a little each day. Even at the relatively young age of 51, I can see that if I keep this up, I wouldn’t even notice a sudden change when I die.

It’s not cold in here; I’m just dying.