Photo of the day

Loved this article about what it takes to be a great sports photographer (lots and lots of hard work) and really loved this image:

ELMONT, NY – JUNE 02: (EDITORS NOTE: An infrared camera was used to create this image.) A horse and exercise rider train at sunrise on the main track at Belmont Park on June2, 2014 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Just Mercy and Mass incarceration

Just did “book club” with my class yesterday using Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.  It went great.  You should strongly consider reading it.  Not only is Stevenson an indefatigable advocate for justice, he is a great writer and compelling storyteller.  At least read this great take on his work in the NY Review of Books.  Or watch his excellent TED talk and be inspired.  I love this conclusion from David Cole’s review of the book (as well as another on Mass Incarceration):

If mass incarceration is to end, it won’t be because courts declare it unconstitutional. It will instead require the public to come to understand, as the National Academies report found, that our policies are inefficient, wasteful, and counterproductive. And it will require us to admit, as Bryan Stevenson’s stories eloquently attest, that our approach to criminal law is cruel and inhumane. Mass incarceration is one of the most harmful practices we as a society have ever adopted, but as Stevenson would say, we are all better than the worst thing we have ever done.

Absolutely.  Let’s make it happen, America.

Trump vs. Clinton or R vs. D

Benjamin Wallace-Wells on the (crazy) fact that Trump and Clinton, two decidedly non-generic candidates may not even matter.  At least if the latest polls are accurate.  We seem to have reached the age of partisanship über alles:

In a way, this election can be seen as an ultimate test of how powerful political polarization is. If Trump can receive the same support as Mitt Romney, and if Clinton—who eight years ago ran to the right of Barack Obama, in a Party that since has moved substantially to the left—can receive the same baseline support as the President, then the populist anger that has moved through both primaries this year may matter less than we thought it would. For all the bold talk about how Donald Trump could pick up Bernie Sanders’s voters, or how Hillary Clinton would inherit Jeb Bush’s, that does not appear to be happening. Populism has been an earthquake, but its tremors have not altered the map of electoral politics. There is not much more than an echo of the culture wars of the early aughts in the contest between the casino mogul and the former Secretary of State who attended his wedding, both of them of New York. And yet the basic tribal division of that era persists, red states versus blue states, strong as ever.

It really is amazing, if not actually surprising, the degree to which Republicans are willing to overlook what a fantastically dangerous and inappropriate presidential candidate Donald Trump is.  And I’ll not pretend Hillary Clinton is perfect, but her flaws are A or AA compared to Trump’s major league.

The stable social issue

Gallup is out with it’s latest polling on abortion and the interesting thing to me is just how stable this has been when you consider how much American society has changed on other social issues (e.g., gay rights, marijuana).  Here’s the key chart:

Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?

And the Gallup summary:

In contrast with public support for gay rights — more specifically, same-sex marriage — which has grown in recent years, Americans’ views on abortion have been remarkably steady. Not only have attitudes changed little in the past year, but they also have been broadly steady over the past decade, spanning three presidential elections. While Americans are a bit more likely to call abortion morally acceptable today than they were in 2004, 2008 and 2012, the percentage calling themselves “pro-choice” is similar to what Gallup found in those years. The overall stability provides a predictable political environment for candidates. Additionally, as Gallup reported previously, the 20% of Americans saying they will vote only for a candidate who agrees with them on abortion has also remained steady, with pro-life voters slightly more likely than pro-choice voters to say the issue is critical to their vote.

Yep.  There’s a really good political science paper needing to be done on the stability of abortion in contrast to the dynamism of other social issues.  Somebody should work on that.

Are criminal risk assessments racist?

Good idea– using data and well-validated models to predict potential for future criminal behavior and responding accordingly with criminal justice procedures.  Bad idea– using data and poorly-validated, racially-biased models to do the same.  I bet which one of these we’ve been using.

Amazingly, those who looked at these models found that the error rates were pretty similar for Black and white defendants.  Alas, they did not look at the direction of the error.  This chart pretty much says it all:

Prediction Fails Differently for Black Defendants

Labeled Higher Risk, But Didn’t Re-Offend 23.5% 44.9%
Labeled Lower Risk, Yet Did Re-Offend 47.7% 28.0%

Overall, Northpointe’s assessment tool correctly predicts recidivism 61 percent of the time. But blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be labeled a higher risk but not actually re-offend. It makes the opposite mistake among whites: They are much more likely than blacks to be labeled lower risk but go on to commit other crimes. (Source: ProPublica analysis of data from Broward County, Fla.)

So, yeah, roughly equivalent number of mistakes, but the mistakes systematically benefit whites and harm Blacks.  Lovely.  So, now that we know there’s a problem, let’s see what we manage to do about it.

Great article from Pro Publica.  Short version via NPR.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s animal photos of the week.  Somebody got a hell of a surprise when heading to the bathroom.  And notice the British toilet humor in the caption:

A resident of San Diego, California, was bowled over when she found this bedraggled baby opossum in her lavatory. The little creature was taken to the San Diego Humane Society's Project Wildlife for a check up and will be let loo-se when it can fend for itself.

Why are young voters feeling the Bern anyway?

Is it just that they, like Bernie, favor liberal policies?  Of course not.  Politics is far more about group identity than issue positions.  And while, yes, Bernie does get support for his liberal positions, renowned political scientists Chris Achen and Larry Bartels (easily one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to be around), explain the identity bases of Sanders’ youth support in the NYT:

The notion that elections are decided by voters’ carefully weighing competing candidates’ stands on major issues reflects a strong faith in American political culture that citizens can control their government from the voting booth. We call it the “folk theory” of democracy.

When candidates surpass expectations, observers caught up in the folk theory believe that they have tapped some newly potent political issue or ideology. Thus, many analysts have argued that Mr. Sanders’s surprising support signals a momentous shift to the left among Democrats.

But wishing does not make it so. Decades of social-scientific evidence show that voting behavior is primarily a product of inherited partisan loyalties, social identities and symbolic attachments. Over time, engaged citizens may construct policy preferences and ideologies that rationalize their choices, but those issues are seldom fundamental…  emphases mine]

The most powerful social identities and symbolic attachments in this year’s Democratic race have favored Mrs. Clinton, not Mr. Sanders. She has been a leading figure in the Democratic Party for decades, a role model for many women and a longtime ally of African-Americans and other minority groups. For many primary voters, that history constitutes a powerful bond, and their loyalties are propelling Mrs. Clinton to the nomination despite her limitations as a candidate.

Mr. Sanders, on the other hand, is a sort of anti-Clinton — a political maverick from lily-white Vermont whose main claim to fame has been his insistence on calling himself an independent, a socialist, anything but a Democrat. That history has made him a convenient vessel for antipathy to Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic establishment and some of the party’s key constituencies. But it is a mistake to assume that voters who support Mr. Sanders because he is not Mrs. Clinton necessarily favor his left-leaning policy views…

It is very hard to point to differences between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders’s proposed policies that could plausibly account for such substantial cleavages. They are reflections of social identities, symbolic commitments and partisan loyalties…

Mr. Sanders has drawn enthusiastic support from young people, a common pattern for outsider candidates. But here, too, the impression of ideological commitment is mostly illusory. While young Democrats in the January survey were more likely than those over age 35 to call themselves liberals, their ideological self-designations seem to have been much more lightly held, varying significantly when they were reinterviewed.

Moreover, warm views of Mr. Sanders increased the liberalism of young Democrats by as much as 1.5 points on the seven-point ideological scale. For many of them, liberal ideology seems to have been a short-term byproduct of enthusiasm for Mr. Sanders rather than a stable political conviction.

Very liberal or not, these young voters would seem to have pretty much no reason to head to Trump in November.  But if they sit out, rather than supporting Clinton, that definitely makes things more interesting.  I still believe that the repulsive power of Trump– especially his racism, xenophobia, and sexism– will end up making a difference in Clinton’s favor with younger voters.


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