WHAT I’M THINKING ABOUT TODAY: FERGUSON AND THE DEBT COLLECTORS

1. It’s Thursday, March 5, 2015. Today is mathematically correct (3×5=15)

2. Baseball teams are playing exhibition games in Florida and Arizona. That’s the only thing sustaining my heart on a day like this: 

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3. I noticed my jaw dropping constantly as I was reading the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson, Mo., police department. 

Actually, describing what Ferguson has as a “police department” seems like slander to police departments that actually police. Ferguson has a bunch of guys — mostly white — whose main job appears to be shaking down the city’s residents — most of whom are African-American.

Ferguson’s moneymakers did that by writing tickets and arresting people, often for no legitimate reason and in violation of their Constitutional rights.

And when those people found themselves in the maw of the Ferguson money-grubbing machine — calling it a justice system is unfair to judges who actually aspire to justice — it was like leeches attacking. Small tickets unfairly given because huge penalties because the people didn’t understand what was going on or couldn’t pay exactly what the vultures sought.

For people who saw President Obama as the punchline to a joke instead of the duly elected chief executive of this country, it was a sweet coincidence that the people they were victimizing were African-American. They needed the money anyway, so why not get it from people they didn’t particularly care for or about?

The other striking thing to me is the incredible lack of personal responsibility the people who control the system. While they scorn the people of the community for not being able to keep up with the escalating obligations they imposed, they were doing the old-boy thing for their own irresponsibility — getting officials in nearby towns to drop speeding tickets and complaints for running stop signs.

I’m fortunate to live in a place where the police do their jobs well. I know the police do their jobs well because our town consistently is among those with the lowest crime rates in the nation. Not being a person of color, I don’t know if that’s a universally held view.

But I’m willing to bet that all residents of my town appreciate the safety of the community. That’s the feeling the people of Ferguson are entitled to as well. They should not feel as though they are a cash crop to be harvested.

4. There’s a common thread running between the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson and a terrific series on government debt collection by my former CNNMoney colleagues Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken.

In that series, Ms. Ellis and Ms. Hicken describe how government agencies are using private debt collectors to get fees and penalties. The agencies are able to charge steep premiums and make threats, and can skirt around consumer protection laws to do so. (Here’s the latest story

The common thread in these stories is government’s need for money. By whatever means necessary. It doesn’t matter whether rights are trampled on or lives are ruined.

Now before you think this is going to be an anti-government rant, and that I’m going all Ron Paul on you, it’s not. It’s quite the opposite.

Governments need money to do the jobs that government is supposed to do. If you don’t believe that, take a look at the picture at the top of the page. That street needs in the background needs to be plowed (and, in fact, was a few minutes after the photo was taken). The road underneath it, battered by freeze-and-thaw cycles that have rendered it a moonscape, needs paving work.

Somebody, somehow, has got to pay for that. That somebody is us. That somehow is our taxes.

Americans grumble so much about taxes that the only way you can be elected to office is to say you’re cutting them. Saying you’ll raise taxes — or not saying you won’t — is the third rail of politics in this country. And hey, my accountant is about to tell me how much of my money I have to send to Washington, Albany and Trenton (!!!).

But when tax revenue falls short, governments have to find ways to get the money to plow those streets and pave them in the spring. They have to find ways to pay the cops who patrol towns and cities.

They resort to what they do in Ferguson, or what you’ll read in the CNNMoney stories. Unless the attitude changes, we might be hearing about this kind of crap for awhile.

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