How not to address the opioid crisis

By prosecuting for murder the friends and family who share drugs with overdose victims.  Great feature in the NYT:

HIBBING, Minn. — In West Virginia, a woman woke after a day of drug use to find her girlfriend’s lips blue and her body limp.

In Florida, a man and his girlfriend bought what they thought was heroin. It turned out to be something more potent, fentanyl. She overdosed and died.

In Minnesota, a woman who shared a fentanyl patch with her fiancé woke after an overdose to find he had not survived.

None of these survivors intended to cause a death. In fact, each could easily have been the one who ended up dead. But all were charged with murder.

As overdose deaths mount, prosecutors are increasingly treating them as homicide scenes and looking to hold someone criminally accountable. Using laws devised to go after drug dealers, they are charging friends, partners and siblings. The accused include young people who shared drugs at a party and a son who gave his mother heroin after her pain medication had been cut off. Many are fellow users, themselves struggling with addiction…

Overdose prosecutions, they say, are simply one tool in a box that should include prevention and treatment. But there is no consensus on their purpose. Some believe they will reduce the flow of drugs into their communities, deter drug use or help those with addiction “hit bottom.” To others, the cases are not meant to achieve public policy goals, [emphasis mine] but as a balm for grieving families or punishment for a callous act.

Our criminal justice system is, in fact, designed to achieve public policy goals.  That’s why I am currently teaching Criminal Justice Policy.  Punishing a sibling, partner, etc., who did nothing more than share drugs with an overdose victim is, in fact, the opposite of public policy goals by doing nothing to curb addiction and doubling-down on the least effective means of criminal deterrence– severity.  And the “but somebody’s got to pay” vigilante mindset is why we have laws, prisons, etc., in the first place to address these issues through the legitimate power of the state than through personal and family vigilantism.

Take this prosecutor:

Pete Orput raised a coffee mug that proclaims, “I am a ray of sunshine,” with an expletive embedded therein. A recovering alcoholic, former Marine and now the prosecutor in Washington County outside Minneapolis, Mr. Orput is not given to sugarcoating.

The opioid manufacturers he is suing are “corporate schlockmeisters.” Prosecutors he deems overzealous are “political hacks.” And as to whether overdose prosecutions have had an impact on the street, the answer is simple: “No.”

He has found no reason to believe that such cases deter users or dealers, and says they rarely lead to high-level suppliers.

But Mr. Orput still prosecutes in overdose cases.

Again, just wrong.  No impact on the street.  No deterrence.  Simply an “overzealous” need to find someone to blame.

Of course, this also all speaks to the systematic problem of overzealous, largely unaccountable prosecutors in our criminal justice system.  But that’s for another day.



More of this!

Is the political feasibility of this hard?  Hell, yeah.  But is it hard to come up with an economic message like this for the Democrats?  (Maybe it was, but it shouldn’t be).  PBS:

Democrats propose funding teacher pay raises by canceling tax cuts for the wealthy

WASHINGTON — Responding to teacher walkouts across the country, congressional Democrats on Tuesday proposed raising teachers’ salaries by canceling the tax cut for the nation’s top 1 percent of earners.

The Republican-controlled Congress was unlikely to support the idea of giving states and school districts $50 billion over a decade to fund the teacher raises at the expense of dismantling the hard-won tax bill.

“Put simply, instead of giving a tax cut to the richest of Americans, we should give a pay raise to teachers in this country who our students depend on to succeed.”
But the proposal gives Democrats an issue they can use ahead of the November midterm elections. Teachers have won widespread support, even in conservative areas, as they complain about low pay.

Seriously.  More of this and less “Trump and Russia” (even though we know there’s all sorts of malfeasance there).

Sometimes, everything actually does work out perfectly

So, Mika was kind enough in comments to ask what happened in the soccer tournament this weekend.  We won, we won!  I was sooooo happy.  We last one this post-season tournament in 2013.  Despite having the best team in our league in the regular season every year but last year (2nd best), we fared no better than 2nd in 2014-2017.  Last year’s winners won all their spring games, then swept the tournament, then had a great party.  And that was it– they were almost all high school seniors.  I was actually pretty happy for them because we had shared a practice field with them for 4 years and knew them well.  And I so much wanted us to go out the same way.  And we did!  We lost to that team in the first game of the tournament last year, won our remaining three games, then had two perfect 8-0-0 seasons this year.  And, finally, followed it up with a first place in the tournament.

And the final was tough.  Due to lots of rain, games were shortened to 20-minutes halves, a much less reliable predictor of the better team than our usual 45 minute halves (which were supposed to be 35 for the tournament).  Anyway, we pulled it out 1-0, but it was actually the only game all year we won by a single goal (most every other we won by 3+).

After the game one of the player’s family’s with a lovely home hosted everybody for a season-ending pool party.  It was so great.  Especially enjoyed all the players saying a few words (and especially good words from my son and frequent blog reader, David) about what the team and the coaches (including my redoubtable assistant and some-time reader of this blog, Larry) meant to them.   And then kind of a receiving line at the end where I got to have a few words with each player, some of whom I’ve coached since they were 11 (and most through all of high school) and watched grow into young men.   It was honestly just perfect.  On the way home, my wife said something along the lines of, “I hope you appreciate just how perfectly this worked out.  Life rarely works out so nicely.”  I do, I do!

As many of you know I’m a pretty big Duke basketball fan.  I’ve always loved the way Coach K says what he really values most is not the winning, but the relationships.  I totally get what he means.  I’ll be honest, I actually like winning more than I should and am probably far more competitive as a Blasters coach than any other aspect of my life.  That said, I have loved, loved, loved watching these player grow and improve not just as soccer players, but as young men.  And I’ve had so much fun with them and will really, really miss it.

For now, the soccer journey continues with Sarah’s (soon-to-be) U8 Tornados.  And believe me, that team shows it is definitely not about the winning.  And you better believe as long as Sarah wants to play, I’ll be coach.

Anyway, this is the reason my Instagram profile says, “Dad, professor, soccer coach, blogger.”

Headline of the day

So often, the Onion cuts right to the heart of things better than anyone.  Love this:

New NFL Policy Requires All Players To Honor Patriotic Spirit Of Subservience That American Flag Represents

One Trump scandal to rule them all

I’ve been so busy and such a bad blogger, but I had to at least find time to post this from Adam Serwer.  So good:

There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability… [emphases mine]

The president’s opponents have yet to craft a coherent narrative about the Trump administration’s corruption, even though the only major legislative accomplishment Trump has to his name is cutting his own taxes. But his supporters have, ironically, crafted an overarching explanation to account for how the president they voted for, who came to office promising to eliminate official corruption, has come to embody it. The “Deep State” narrative is no more complicated than an attempt to explain the accumulating evidence of misbehavior on the part of the administration as a wide-ranging conspiracy to frame the president. The more evidence of wrongdoing that comes to light, the more certain they are that the conspiracy theory is true. In their own way, Trump supporters have recognized that Trump’s burgeoning list of scandals is made of branches from the same twisted tree…

The essential quality of pro-Trump punditry however, is that their perception of reality must be warped to conform to the latest Trump proclamation, even if it contradicts previous Trump pronouncements or established facts. Trump dictates reality, and his supporters rush to justify whatever has been decreed. In this way, Trump manages to corrupt not just those in his immediate orbit or inner circle, but even those who have never met him, who endeavor to reconcile the insurmountable gap between his words and the world as it exists…

The president’s unwavering commitment to this ethnonationalism persuades his followers that he is incorruptible, despite his use of his own powers for personal gain and profit. “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened,” the segregationist George Wallace once said of his rise to power. “And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.” (These days, they stomp the floor for “son of a bitch” or “animals.”) Any effective hustle persuades the mark that they’re the ones profiting.

For those Americans unmoved by such appeals, the ongoing corruption of the official powers of the U.S. government on behalf of ego, avarice, and impunity should not be seen as separate stories. They are the same story, and it is the story of the Trump presidency.

Quick hits (part I)

Late again.  Busy day with a very wet soccer tournament.  3-1 and 4-1 today.  Hopefully, two more tomorrow and the tournament title.

1) Great piece on how police need to start “snitching” on each other:

Americans have talked constantly about a no-snitch black culture hampering police investigations, leaving violent criminals on the streets. But what about the no-snitch police culture that has hampered investigations into officer misconduct, leaving violent criminals on the streets?

Police officers should lead the way in fostering an American civic culture of reporting lawbreakers. It is their professional duty to snitch, to enforce the law first and foremost against themselves. How can they expect citizens to snitch to them if they refuse to snitch? How can they expect citizens to trust the criminal-justice system if they don’t trust the criminal-justice system? Snitching on each other remains their only salvation from this hypocrisy, their best tool for building trust with the communities they purport to serve and protect. But first, they’ll have to grapple with an empirical truth: Communities of color are actually disproportionately likely to report crimes—it’s police themselves who have maintained a culture of silence.

2) Really interesting Vox piece on the “democratization of kidnapping” in Mexico.

3) Went to buy light bulbs the other day and realized that CFL’s have basically been out-competed now that LED’s are so much more affordable.  Though, what’s really annoying– I need a single LED floodlight.  It says it should last for 13 years.  They only come in 2 packs.  I’m supposed to just save an extra light bulb for 13 years?!

4) Larry Bartels and Catherine Cramer in the Monkey Cage, “White people get more conservative when they move up — not down — economically. Here’s the evidence.”

5) Greg Sargent on Paul Ryan’s immigration lies (and damn, if there’s an American who has a more undeserved reputation for decency than Paul Ryan…):

Now, over to Paul Ryan. Vulnerable Republicans in the House are pushing a discharge petition that would force a vote on immigration bills, including two measures that would grant the dreamers legal status, one of them packaged with fortifications to border security. Seventeen Republicans have signed the petition, meaning that if organizers can get eight more, it would pass, since Dems will support it — forcing a full House vote on whether the dreamers will be protected or remain in limbo.

Ryan is trying to stop this from happening. He justifies this by claiming that there’s no sense in voting on measures protecting the dreamers that Trump would veto. As Ryan put it: “We actually would like to solve this problem, and that is why I think it’s important for us to come up with a solution that the president can support.”

But this is utter nonsense, because there isn’t any deal that Trump is willing to support that can pass Congress. Ryan knows his suggestion otherwise is a big lie, because we already tried this. This year Democrats repeatedly offered Trump deals with money for the wall in exchange for protecting the dreamers, and he rejected them all, because Trump also wanted deep cuts to legal immigration…

Ryan is trying to prevent a vote to protect the dreamers precisely because such a measure could pass the House. That would expose him to the right’s rage and would probably end up forcing Trump to make the terrible choice of accepting or vetoing it. A deal protecting the dreamers in exchange for border security would probably pass the House by a comfortable margin, and it might pass the Senate — after all, passage in the House would bring tremendous pressure on moderate Republican senators — especially if the White House didn’t actively lobby against it…

But Trump will not accept any deal to protect the dreamers, even though it could very likely pass both chambers, unless it also contains deep cuts to legal immigration. So if the House passed it, the White House would lobby the Senate against it, and if that failed, Trump would then have to veto it. Either of those would look horrible, because after House passage, suddenly protections for the dreamers would appear in reach. This is the spectacle that Ryan is trying to avert — all to protect Trump from having his true priorities revealed in all their ugly glory.

6) The untold story of Robert Mueller’s time leading a combat platoon in Vietnam.

7) NY Times writes a story on how the Richmond courthouse’s no cell phone policy discriminates against poor people and they finally do something about it.  Journalism for the win.  And damn are so many courthouses ridiculous about what is an essential feature of modern life.

8) Speaking of journalism, FTW.  This is an amazing and disturbing NYT feature from Nicholas Kristoff of an almost surely innocent man who California seems committed to punishing for murder.  But, thanks to this terrific article, looks like the wheels of justice may finally start turning again.

9) Alvin Chang, “When Russian trolls wanted to divide America, they knew what to use: race.”

10) Billionaires have too much political power.  Hell yeah! Martin Longman:

We have hard limits on how much money individuals can donate to candidates and there’s a reason for that. We don’t want some citizens to be more equal than others, and rich people already have many options for how they can wield undo influence in the corridors of power.

It makes a mockery of our campaign finance laws when a billionaire can throw 30 million dollars into our midterm elections on the side of one party. The fact that Speaker Paul Ryan had to step out of the room when the pitch was made demonstrates that there was something wrong with the transaction. Whether Ryan was in the room or listening outside the door should not define what is ethical and what is not…

It’s not going too far to argue that Adelson’s money distorted the way the 2012 Republican primaries unfolded. Without Adelson’s cash, Gingrich simply couldn’t have financed his travel let alone his advertising. He would have dropped out much earlier. In the end, he was the last candidate to withdraw from the race, on May 2. In 2016, Adelson adopted Marco Rubio as his pet candidate…

It’s not going too far to argue that Adelson’s money distorted the way the 2012 Republican primaries unfolded. Without Adelson’s cash, Gingrich simply couldn’t have financed his travel let alone his advertising. He would have dropped out much earlier. In the end, he was the last candidate to withdraw from the race, on May 2. In 2016, Adelson adopted Marco Rubio as his pet candidate…

The problem isn’t the country or the individual involved. The problem is the disproportionate power one citizen has to bend American foreign policy to his liking. This is also a problem on domestic issues, like gaming regulations. Michael Bloomberg throws a serious amount of money around to support candidates who will push for gun control. He, too, has too much influence. According to Bloomberg News, Tom Steyer spent more in disclosed donations than the Koch Brothers, Robert Mercer or Adelson during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. In 2014, his $75 million was more than the next three biggest donors combined. It’s not a matter of whether someone is wrong or right. Billionaires shouldn’t be able to bankroll a major political party’s midterm elections, or single-handedly keep a candidate in a presidential race who otherwise would not have the funding to pay for their lunch. These huge donations to the political parties and the Super PACs make a mockery of our own small donations and the idea that we’re all equal citizens.

We need to figure out a way to rein in this type of influence.

11) Osita Nwanevu on the hollow calls for liberals to be nice to conservatives:

The piece was the latest in an unending stream of commentary attributing Democrats’ electoral misfortunes to conservative cultural backlash—a variation on a theme in punditry that was old hat long before Hillary Clinton made the supposed mistake of calling Trump supporters “deplorables.” Alleged gaffes like that, the story goes, form part of an imperious posture Democrats take on questions of identity politics that alienates simple folk who haven’t caught up with the progressive consensus on social questions.

Historians will likely take great interest in how the plight of transgender Americans facing a wave of political violence and staggering poverty was framed so casually and easily as the froufrou obsession of wealthy liberal arts students and coastal elites.

This argument has very little to do with the actual state of American public opinion on those questions. Survey data suggests that identity politics as practiced by Democrats and the left has been quite successful and persuasive. Take racial issues, for instance. According to Pew, the percentage of white people in America who believe that the country “needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites” has grown by 18 points since the beginning of the decade. Most of this can be attributed to white Democrats moving left on the question, but the numbers show change on the right as well: The number of Republicans and Republican leaners who believe this has grown by six points to 36 percent over the same period. The percentage of Republicans and Republican leaners who say that “racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days” has also jumped about five points to 14 percent. These are, of course, still small minorities on the right, but given talk about how liberal arrogance and piety have alienated those who disagree with Democrats on racial identity politics into a backlash, one would expect the numbers to show … well, a backlash. Instead, they suggest that post–Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, and Black Lives Matter, rhetoric and activism may be working quite well on a broad cross section of Americans.

The criminal justice war on poor people

So, in my criminal justice policy class yesterday, I was talking about systemic injustice based on race and class.  And I thought about something in a new way.  As much systemic racism as there is in our system– and there’s lots— it is all de facto, rather, than de jure.  In no way do our criminal laws single out people based on race or, openly/intentionally punish people more based on race.  But when we charge a poor person a $500 fine and put them in jail for an inability to pay it, we are basically criminalizing poverty.  And we consistently do this in a way that utterly ruins lives.  It’s just so wrong.

This one disturbing story exemplifies how wrong it can all go:

Her tag light was out and she had yet to purchase appropriate stickers for the car. She also had an outstanding seatbelt ticket from another traffic stop in 2015. “I didn’t really have the money to pay that ticket. Then we moved and I honestly just forgot about it,” she said.

Because the ticket went ignored, and Ms. Thomas had failed to appear in court, her license had been suspended. The arresting officer “was going to let me go, after I reasoned with him some,” Ms. Thomas said. “He let me out of the squad car and was just going to tow my car.”

Then another officer arrived, and he persuaded the original officer to go through with the arrest.

“I remember he said, ‘If we let everybody go, there’d be nobody in prison,’” Ms. Thomas said.

She was taken to Atlanta’s Fulton County jail, and she was in jail for three days before a family member found her. Her relatives had been frantic, calling all the local hospitals and police stations. “This is really embarrassing, but I couldn’t remember anybody’s number by heart,” Ms. Thomas said. “I couldn’t call anybody, so I just sat there.”

A judge set Ms. Thomas’s bail at $1,500. Bail is paid at 10 percent. Her family couldn’t afford $150, so Ms. Thomas remained in jail for eight days…

Ms. Thomas’s bail may not have counted as “excessive,” but for her it was still outside the realm of affordability. Expensive bail, in general, is a far more widespread problem for black women, as they are four times as likely to be imprisoned as white women. Black defendants routinely receive higher bail amounts than white defendants with similar charges.

Many things happen while people are held awaiting trial. Families lose income. Children suffer the absence of a parent. The costs of incarceration — whether its fees paid to probation officers or payments made to bail bondsmen — add up, and can be debilitating for families that are already financially vulnerable.

A secondary fear, for many, is the involvement of Child Protective Services. Ms. Thomas felt fortunate that her son, Jorden, was seventeen at the time of her arrest, and her family intervened to care for him while she was away.


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