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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On the militarization of small-town cops and rural county sheriffs

La Plata County, Colorado, where I live, is a fairly peaceful place. The population is a little over 50,000, mostly spread out over a lot of territory, and easily fits within the rural category, with the possible exception of quasi-urban Durango, the biggest town by far with 17,000 people... 

And yet, in recent years, local law enforcement agencies have stocked up on battlefield-tested gear, including: at least 100 bayonet knives, three ordnance- and explosive-disposal robots, 18 5.56 mm rifles (M16s), five 7.62 mm rifles (M14s), 15 .45 caliber pistols, 30 bipods for machine guns, four night vision sniper scopes, two exercise bikes and a Cat-1 MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP).

What's going on? Read more here.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Some things I've been working on and writing about this summer

A short piece on Denver's transit system, done while reporting on a much bigger picture project about the death of suburbia and the newfound Western urbanism: Last night as we passed through this stretch it didn’t seem terrifying at all — just another piece of suburbia, with its strip malls and car dealerships and parking lots. But we were in a car then. Now, on a warm and humid Monday morning in July, I’m on foot, and this particular streetscape seems downright hostile, designed to scare the unwitting pedestrian into a vehicle or perhaps the nearest Chick-Fil-A. Six lanes of traffic thrum by on the wide thoroughfare, inches and a text-while-driving away from hopping the curb and squashing me. The grocery store turns out to be on the other side of a vast expanse of pavement that would take too much time to traverse. Nothing is on the human scale here.

I’m making this mile-long trek, from my suburban hotel to the nearest light rail station, to test a recent headline from theAtlantic’s City Lab news site calling Denver “the most advanced transit city in the West."
 A backpack into the Weminuche Wilderness area on the Wilderness Act's 50th birthday:  

I’d like to say that my friend Gabe and I took a short backpacking trip in late June to celebrate the Wilderness Act’s 50th birthday, which is coming up in September, but that would be a lie. We just wanted to go somewhere kind of wild, where we could escape the round-the-clock pressure of our jobs and laptops and cell phones for a couple days, maybe scare the hell out of ourselves on some high ridge line and then drink some whiskey around the camp stove. Our last-minute choice of Colorado’s largest wilderness area as a destination was mostly random.
Payday-type lenders prey on Native Americans, and tribes get in on the game via online lending and invoke sovereign immunity to skirt state usury regulations: 

Mariah Tsosie* needed cash. She worked 32 hours per week for $11 an hour, but her ex-husband often failed to send child support, and Tsosie, who has three kids, fell behind on her bills. She lacked credit cards, and her friends and family were as strapped as she was.
But there were other options in Farmington, New Mexico, where she lived on the edge of the Navajo Nation: Dozens of modest storefronts emblazoned with colorful, beckoning signs – "FastBucks," "Quik Cash" or "Check 'N Go." These so-called "payday lenders" offer payday, short-term installment, car title or tax refund anticipation loans to tide folks over until their next paycheck.
Tsosie picked Cash Loans Now, where friendly staffers assured her that a $200 installment loan would cost her just a few dollars per day. A couple weeks later, she made the first of 25 biweekly payments of $90 each. Thanks to an annualized interest rate of 1,147 percent, about 100 times the average credit card rate, eventually she would have forked out $2,360 – nearly one-tenth of her yearly earnings – just for a tank of gas and some groceries.