Thursday, August 28, 2014


The media are finally onto an issue about which I have been fretting for several years: the growing number of Americans killed by cops. Have I been ahead of the curve, aware of an emerging social problem which others are only now beginning to recognize?

This is a sensitive subject. I want to tread carefully and present a nuanced perspective. I hope that you read on before you jump to the conclusion that I am a knee-jerk, left-wing cop hater.

No doubt the high-profile killing of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO has much to do with increasing public awareness of this problem.

Of course, there are several intertwined issues here: bad race relations, economic injustice, the ever greater number of weapons in circulation, the public’s rightward move and its growing repressive tendencies (for example, twice as many people favor capital punishment now than  two generations ago). But today, I want to focus on just one aspect of this complicated problem: the growing number of Americans killed by law enforcement.

When a society becomes more repressive, the agency which is charged with implementing the new attitude is the police. If cops kill more citizens, wouldn’t that be prima facie evidence that a majority of Americans support this? Michael Brown is not an isolated case. It is estimated that the police kill over 1,000 Americans every year. (See Sacramento Bee editorial, Aug. 24, ‘14).

I hope (and still believe) that a majority of these killings fall into the categories of “justifiable use of deadly force” and “suicide by cop,” and that only a minority of the cases are “murders by cop.”

Nor do I know how many of the dead are black or white, rich or poor. I venture to guess that not very many of them are rich white guys. However, the fact that those killed are by no means all black suggests that the problem transcends race.

And of course, who do we call first the moment we face the slightest problem? 911; The police! We ALL do it - conservatives and liberals; black people and white people; We call the police when we get into an accident and when we get burglarized or mugged, and some call 911 when they have a sore tooth. It would be wrong to deny that society requires a robust police force.

However, the growing use of lethal force by the police is worrisome. As a professor of criminology for several decades, I have used the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports assiduously. The report, published annually by the Department of Justice, has been my bible, so to speak. It meticulously compiles and publishes all the important crime statistics for the entire nation, as well as data pertaining to law enforcement, for example the number of peace officers killed in the line of duty. But it does NOT provide any information about the number of Americans killed by policemen. This is scandalous.

The growing violence between the police and the community should be deplored by both sides. Should cops not oppose the growing number of weapons in the hands of the populace? Would it not be logical for law enforcement and the NRA to be mortal enemies?

To be sure, one should not exaggerate the danger to which cops are exposed on the job: In 2011, 72 peace officers were murdered nationwide by criminals in the line of duty. This is a relatively small number. During the heyday of civil unrest in the 1960s, with groups such as the Black Panthers and Weather Underground acting up, the number was more than twice as high, even though America’s population was only two thirds of what it is now. In general, cops are safer on the street than you and me. They are armed and they are trained.

Nevertheless, we see the progressive militarization of the police. Law enforcement in peaceful communities such as Davis, CA are acquiring tank-like armored vehicles and other military gear. Police departments begin to resemble armies of occupation. But given the growing number of weapons in everyone’s hands, I can understand why policemen have become more trigger happy.

Whatever the proximate causes are, the trend is towards more citizens being killed by cops. When this happens in a society, we call it a police state. And in the extreme, it becomes fascism.

But it seems to me that America can only become a police state, if the (white) majority wants it so. The facts that the media pay little attention to this problem and that the government does not even collect or publish national data on the number of Americans killed by police suggest, so far, a callous indifference to this ominous trend, but hopefully not its embracement.

Every single jurisdiction should have an independent civilian review board which looks over the police department’s shoulders so as to preclude whitewashes. “Internal investigation” is an oxymoron. How can an agency be expected to investigate its own alleged wrong-doings?

The Department of Justice should collect and publish data on all police use of deadly force, classifying them into legitimate and illegitimate cases.

© Tom Kando 2014

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Are Our Political Beliefs Hardwired into Us?

The terms 'left-right' in politics originated during the French Revolution when members of the National Assembly who were loyal to religion and the king stood to the right of president's chair, so as to avoid the shouts and insults that came from the opposite side, where the more revolutionary members took their seat.

There is nothing more guaranteed to create conflict than opposing political views, but as John Stuart Mills said: 'Having a party of order and stability and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.'

But what makes someone a 'leftist' or a 'rightist'? Is it something that you learn from your parents, like potty training? Do we acquire our political beliefs on our own? Or do we acquire them at birth, like the color of our hair? Is it the environment or the genes?

In "Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology," John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska argues that what makes conservatives conservative, is their heightened sensitivity to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in the environment. We all react to negative stimuli, which is a good thing, or we wouldn't have been able to survive as a species. Our ancestors didn't approach a saber-toothed tiger cooing 'nice kitty', but wisely followed their negative bias instinct and ran for their lives instead. Read more...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Story Connection: Dr. Tom Kando


Hi folks:

This is a You Tube video of an interview I had recently on Sacramento’s Access TV (Channel 17). The interview was part of the program “What’s Your Story.” The topic was  my autobiography.
Click on the title of this article.

Here are some of the things that were said:

“I was born in Budapest, Hungary,   at the beginning of World War saga  is extraordinarily eventful and interesting. Sometimes I joke that my life conforms to the ancient Chinese curse that wishes you an interesting life...

...I have lived in four separate countries,  almost a decade in each, and traveled to another thirty. I speak four languages fluently and dabble in another couple. I have had an exceptionally international upbringing and background.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Racism, Again

On August 9, officer Darren Wilson  killed an unarmed  black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO. Since then, there have been daily confrontations  in that community between angry black crowds and the police - “race riots” if you will. The verdict is not in as to what happened exactly. I am not  going to delve into who  did what. The situation is still unfolding.  What I DO want to do, is share with you what I experienced when I clicked on the following article: “Police Identify Officer, Allege Teen Robbed Store” By David A. Lieb and Alan Scher Zagier; AP; (Yahoo News Home Page).

Within a few hours of this publication there were over 45,000 comments. I scrolled down the first hundred or so. It was shocking. 99.9% of them were unmitigated white racist rage. Unfathomable hatred of blacks. I won’t speculate about the representativeness of this sample. But here are  thousands upon thousands of vicious anonymous  racist comments in just ONE article on ONE website. There must be dozens of millions more such opinions elsewhere. It seems to me that white America is turning into a catastrophe. I hope that I am wrong. Read more...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Decimal and Metric

On August 5, National Public Radio had a skit on the fact that the US remains one of three countries in the world which don’t use the metric/decimal system (the other two are Liberia and Myanmar).

Maybe so. Of course, metric and decimal are not synonymous. This country IS decimal in many ways - starting with the dollar and our entire monetary system, thanks to Thomas Jefferson who at least pushed that through.

And by now, much of American science, medicine and commerce takes place decimally. Your meds are all measured in grams and milligrams, your primary care physician might record your weight in kilos, etc. But we are not metric. Nor are we decimal in our measurement of weight and temperature.

But I don’t want to nitpick how accurate or inaccurate the statement is that “the US is one of only three countries that remain non-metric/non-decimal.” Instead, I want to share with you some interesting thoughts about this subject:

Friday, August 8, 2014

Killing the Innocent with Ignorance

by Madeleine Kando

In July, the Massachusetts Senate passed the Environmental Bond Bill which will help protect the State's natural resources, which is a good thing. The bad news is, that the bill also includes a provision to authorize deer culling (a euphemism for killing), large amounts of deer.

In Section 43 of the bill it states that 'the department shall identify areas in which deer overpopulation is negatively impacting forestation, water resources or plant growth on department-owned land. The department shall also consult with the department of public health regarding the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses as a result of deer overpopulation.'

Deer, however, while they are big animals, cannot browse on anything much above six feet, so they cannot prosper in deep mature woods with a dense canopy and no understory. Therefore deer can not 'negatively impact forestation', let alone water resources. How much can deer drink, really?'

As far as 'the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses as a result of deer overpopulation,' the members of the Senate responsible for drafting Section 43 of the bill should have done their homework before sneaking it in. Read more...

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Gestapo of Political Correctness

by Madeleine Kando

I met the Gestapo yesterday. I barely had time to sit down at the table in our usual meeting place, ready to share a short essay with my writing group, when, without a word of warning, my hands were cuffed tight to my chair and the Gestapo of Political Correctness came out and started to drill me.

I was drilled for hours. When one member of the crew got tired, another one took over. I started to sweat and my heart was racing. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was being accused of because my essay was about elves and Christmas. Should I have referred to the elves in my story as ‘vertically challenged individuals?’ or called Christmas ‘the winter solstice holiday, practiced with respect for the religious persuasion of others?’

But the Gestapo let those two pecadilloes slide. It was a lot worse, one of the interrogators told me, as he pushed his face into mine. With an accusatory finger he pointed to the third paragraph, where, I confess, I did mention Zwarte Piet, in the context of the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas.

If you are not familiar with the Sinterklaas tradition, let me explain. Every year, on December 5th, a bishop by the name of Sinterklaas arrives on the beautiful shores of Holland from Spain. He sits on a white horse, a large mitre on his head and a bishop's staff in his white gloved hand, to give out candy to the enthusiastically waving Dutch children. This bishop also has a helper by the name of Zwarte Piet who holds the bulging bag full of candy. Piet is also instructed to clairvoyantly seek out those children who have been naughty and work them over with a birch twig. If they are really really bad, he stuffs the unfortunate ones in a canvas bag that gets shipped back to Spain. Read more...