Quick hits (part I)

1) Ariel Edwards-Levy, “More And More Americans Say They’ll Get Vaccinated — But It’s Still Unclear Just How Many Will”

Five different pollsters asked Americans how willing they are to get vaccinated in December, and again in March, while giving people some option to say they were undecided or in the middle. And the topline takeaway is that the share who’d gotten vaccinated or definitively intended to rose by an average of 23 percentage points.1

Meanwhile, the average share who expressed little intention of getting vaccinated dipped a relatively modest 5 points,2while the undecided share fell an average of 18 points.3 If a politician or issue saw a similar rise over that period of time, it’d be reported — defensibly — as a shocking surge of support.

The shift isn’t entirely unexpected, though. For most of last year, the question of getting vaccinated was wholly hypothetical, as vaccines were still under development and their eventual efficacy remained unknown. Many Americans also worried about a vaccine rushed out under political pressure. But in December, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, marking the start of the nation’s vaccination campaign. Now, over one-quarter of Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine and most know at least one person who’s been vaccinated, making the question of whether to get vaccinated increasingly tangible.

It’s a mistake to think of the public as divided between a faction of enthusiastic vaccine advocates and a smaller bloc of equally adamant anti-vaccination crusaders. Polling last winter found many Americans who were undecided but potentially swayable, and in the months since, that group has increasingly made up their minds in favor of the vaccine, from an average of 40 percent to 58 percent, as the chart above shows. The share of vaccine refusers, meanwhile, has slightly decreased. 

2) Drum on “reasonable Republicans” (there aren’t any in national politics!) and the Georgia voting law:

Second, the detailed voting stuff isn’t the biggest problem with the Georgia law. The biggest problems are the provisions that (1) remove authority from the Secretary of State and give it to a politico appointed by the legislature, and (2) allow the legislature to take control of local election boards that are “underperforming.”

The first provision is plainly nothing more than revenge against Brad Raffensperger, who refused to knuckle under to Donald Trump’s desire to “find” a few thousand additional votes in 2020. It’s pretty obvious that Georgia Republicans never want that to happen again and are planning to appoint a chairman of the State Election Board who will slavishly do whatever Republicans want him to do.

The second provision is designed to allow the legislature to take over Democratic election boards in urban areas if they feel like it. Republicans have a long, long history of insisting that urban areas with large Black and Hispanic populations are rife with fraud, and this is just the latest continuation of that fabrication. There’s no evidence for it, but it appeals to the GOP’s white constituency so it’s useful to keep it going. It’s disgraceful.

In the end, the question is this: Do “reasonable” Republicans agree that our current election laws—which are already insanely partisan—should become even more partisan? This is pure Trumpism, which they claim to oppose. So why defend it when someone is so clearly following Trump’s lead? Instead, why not support something that makes voting less partisan? Shouldn’t that be a goal that everyone aims for?

3) Brian Beutler on Obama vs Biden and, my favorite thing that is so often overlooked in life and political analysis… context

Obama was a candidate for president and a senator when the last huge crisis hit, and as such had direct responsibilities over the federal response to it. He signed off on the bill that gave rise to the TARP program, which the Bush administration hashed out with congressional leadership, then entered a historically smooth transition of power, which ended at the trough of a deep recession. The actions he took that he owned free and clear, particularly the recovery act, became knotted up in the much messier politics of bank bailouts and homeownership amid a tidal wave of foreclosures. He indulged a lot of nonsense about transcending partisanship that got him mired in a mostly useless pursuit of GOP votes, but in 2009 most congressional Democrats were at least as misguided. The prevailing wisdom at the time held that presidents were standard-bearers for unwieldy parties, whose individual members had appropriate license to differentiate themselves, in conforming to the politics of their states and districts. The thought of doing whatever was necessary to circumvent filibusters and pass clean, big, partisan bills was alien to the whole party at the time, and it left progressive critics endlessly frustrated. Republicans exploited that frustration, but they did so having been thoroughly wiped out in two consecutive elections, allowing them to elevate new figureheads and feign a religion of austerity the same day George W. Bush skipped town.

There are things Obama did within that context that wore poorly over time, but the context was real. 

Biden’s presidency looks nothing like this. Donald Trump wrecked the country many long, hard months before the election, then presided over a violent and uncooperative transition. Biden campaigned on many of the same platitudes to bipartisanship that Obama took to heart, but has governed with a fool-me-once sense of realism about them. More importantly, congressional Democrats from all wings of the party seem to be similarly snakebit by the experience of 2009-2020. Luckily for them, Obama cleared out a lot of the underbrush that might’ve mired them in the thicket of state building. A combination of path dependency and coalitional pressures drove Obama to prioritize health-care and financial-regulatory reform over other issues, which meant achieving partisan consensus over complex policy regimes where both winners and losers were sympathetic characters. He left Democrats the seedbed of a health-coverage guarantee, and they’ve fought vigorously over what to plant in it, but the hellish work of creating the taxes and mandates and marketplaces that laid the foundation for the thing is done. We’re closer to the end of history of the liberal state now, which means Biden has the easier task of directing resources at popular things that already exist, while Republicans struggle to articulate any core belief other than that they and people who look like them should be in charge.

Obama won his presidential primary at a time when the sharpest divisions in the party were over questions of war and peace. He thus became identified as a representative of the progressive wing, but he was actually pretty moderate, and that scrambled expectations about what uniting the party required. Biden embraced his centrist identity during the 2020 primary, then used his lifetime of legislative experience and the urgent demands of the coronavirus pandemic to bring the left in closer. Also: Barack Obama was a black man named Barack Hussein Obama; Joe Biden is an old white guy whose middle name is technically “Robinette” but we don’t talk about that for some reason. 

4) Derek Chauvin undoubtedly needs to be held to account and severely punished for killing George Floyd.  But I’m not convinced that Chauvin might not have done the same thing to a white person.  McWhorter with a really good post, “Is Derek Chauvin a racist murderer of just a murderer?”

In my experience, however, the idea that to be black is to live under threat from state-sponsored racist murder by the cops runs so deep, is held so fiercely, and elicits such unreachable contempt when denied, that more than a few are simply impervious to hearing anything else.

It doesn’t help to note that there is indeed evidence that cops are racist in other ways, such as in deciding who to pull over on drug searches. To propose that this racism does not lead to casual murder is to depart from qualification for interaction with polite society. I learned when I started writing about race 20 years ago that the cops are the reason so many think of racism as the foundational experience of blackness in America. The issue does not lend itself to statistics, what-ifs, and standing at a distance, and it won’t for a long time.

I consider just allowing that history proceeds in messy ways. I am thinking about this recently as I finish War and Peace (unfortunately in Pevear and Volkhonsky’s utterly execrable translation – another hoax our republic lives under is that they are master translators, but I’ll leave that aside for now!).  [Steve– what do I know about translations, but I loved their version of Anna Karenina!]

Tolstoy muses on the difference between how humans process history and how it really happens. Say Chauvin gets what he deserves, and it is part of a gradual reform of the cops’ getting away with the murder of just people, as opposed to black people. If it took a misperception of cop murders as racist to make that happen, then maybe that’s how making an omelette requires cracking some eggs.

We may leave it to the historians of the future to see that the idea that people like Floyd died because of their skin color doesn’t hold up, but that it was the catalyst for something more important than whether we people down here on the ground were processing things with complete accuracy.

* * *

But I know – in the meantime I just look like I am in some kind of denial. Of course George Floyd died because he was black. Because, well, Chauvin looks like such a cold-hearted son of a bitch; just look at him. Because, well, look at the video … (but look also at the Timpa video). Because, well … because under our current sociopolitical assumptions, our paramount ethical job is to identify racism’s role in society, and think of black people’s essence as suffering under its degradations. To stray from this is to Not Do the Work.

I get it. But to me, the tragedy of George Floyd may be redeemed by pointing us past a problem with the cops’ murdering too many human beings. If what puts the wind beneath our society’s wings on that point is thinking of the cops as blithely dedicated to shattering black bodies, then I may just have to go along for the ride.

5) From what I’ve seen, I’m not entirely convinced by this, “The Vaccine Line Is an Illusion: People are stretching the truth to get the vaccine faster, but experts say I shouldn’t. Here’s why.”  Virtually everybody I know who has stretched the truth has gotten their vaccine in an outlying area where there were plenty of appointments, not exactly taking away slots from people who qualified but just couldn’t get an appointment.  

6) Would’ve missed the “failure of the elites” interview in Vox if not for DJC:

Sean Illing

I’m starting to hate the phrase “post-truth” because it implies there was some period in which we lived in truth or in which truth was predominant. But that’s misleading. The difference is that elite gatekeeping institutions can’t place borders on the public conversation and that means they’ve lost the ability to determine what passes as truth, so now we’re in the Wild West.

Martin Gurri

That’s a very good way to put it. I would say, though, that there was a shining moment when we all had truth. They are correct about that. If truth is really a function of authority, and if in the 20th century these institutions really had authority, then we did have something like truth. But if we had the information back then that we have today, if we had all the noise that we have today, nothing would’ve seemed quite as true because we would’ve lacked faith in the institutions that tried to tell us.

Sean Illing

What does it mean for our society if an “official narrative” isn’t possible? Because that’s where we’re at, right? Millions of people will never believe any story or account that comes from the government or a mainstream institution.

Martin Gurri

As long as our institutions remain as they are, nothing much will change. What that means is more of the same — more instability, more turbulence, more conspiracy theories, more distrust of authorities. But there’s no iron law of history that says we have to keep these institutions the way they are. Many of our institutions were built around the turn of the 20th century. They weren’t that egalitarian or democratic. They were like great, big pyramids.

But we can take our constitutional framework and reconfigure it. We’ve done it once already, and we could do it again with the digital realm in mind, understanding the distance we once had between those in power and ordinary citizens is gone forever. It’s just gone. So we need people in power who are comfortable in proximity to the public, which many of our elites are not.

7) I honestly have such fond memories of figuring out, along with my teenage friends, inventive ways to use South Carolina fireworks on Brood X cicadas in their Northern Virginia appearance two cycles ago in 1987.  It really is just an amazing feature of nature to see so damn many bugs— I’m sorry my kids won’t see it.  

8) I’ve been very intrigued by the potential benefits of vaccination mix-and-match, that is, heterologous prime-boost , since I learned about it on twitter.  Nice to see a full Carl Zimmer NYT story on it:

Mixing vaccines might do more than just help overcome supply bottlenecks. Some researchers suspect that a pair of different vaccines might work better than two doses of the same one.

“I think we’re on the cusp of some interesting data,” said Adam Wheatley, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The concept of mixing vaccines — sometimes called a heterologous prime-boost — is not new to our pandemic era. For decades, researchers have investigated the approach, hoping to find potent combinations against a range of viruses, such as influenza, H.I.V. and Ebola.

But scientists had little to show for all that research. It was easy enough to demonstrate that two vaccines may work well together in a mouse. But running full-blown clinical trials on a combination of vaccines is a tall order.

“For a single company to develop two parallel arms of a vaccine is twice the work and twice the cost,” Dr. Wheatley said…

Dr. Jakob Cramer, the head of clinical development at CEPI, a vaccine development organization, said that vaccines using viral vectors were not the only kind that might benefit from mixing. In fact, certain combinations might provoke a different, more effective immune response than a single type of vaccine. “Immunologically, there are several arguments in favor of exploring heterologous priming,” Dr. Kramer said.

Another kind of Covid-19 vaccine being tested contains the actual spike protein, rather than genetic instructions for it. Some of the vaccines contain the entire protein; others contain just a fragment of it. Currently, there are 29 protein-based vaccines for Covid-19 in clinical trials, although none have been authorized yet.

Dr. Wheatley and his colleagues have been testing protein-based vaccines in mice. They injected the full spike protein into the animals as a first dose. For the second dose, they injected only the tip of the spike, a region known as the receptor-binding domain, or R.B.D.

Dr. Wheatley and his colleagues found that the mixture worked better than two doses of the spike or of the R.B.D.

The researchers suspect that the first dose produces a broad range of antibodies that can stick to spots along the length of the spike protein, and that the second dose delivers a big supply of particularly potent antibodies to the tip of the spike. Together, the assortment of antibodies does a better job of stopping the coronavirus.

“You’re able to basically take that initial immunity that was elicited to that spike vaccine, and then really focus it down onto that R.B.D.,” Dr. Wheatley said.

Other combinations of vaccines may bring benefits of their own. Some vaccines, especially protein-based ones, do a good job of generating antibodies. Others, such as viral vectors, are better at training immune cells. A viral vector followed by a protein boost might offer the best of both worlds.

Hmmm.  If not that it would mess up my J&J trial participation, I’d be awfully tempted.

9) Really enjoyed this from Ezra, “Are We Much Too Timid in the Way We Fight Covid-19?”  Yes!!!  Sorry, I get the “we should go with what we tested in the trial,” I do, but sometimes our broader body of knowledge just cannot be ignored and we should do things like spread out doses to vaccinate more people more quickly and almost surely save lives in the process.  I’m unpersuaded by the “if we don’t exactly follow the trials, this will ruin confidence and people will die!” takes.  

But as best as I can tell, Tabarrok has repeatedly been proved right, and ideas that sounded radical when he first argued for them command broader support now. What I’ve come to think of as the Tabarrok agenda has come closest to being adopted in Britain, which delayed second doses, approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine despite its data issues, is pushing at-home testing and permitted human challenge trials, in which volunteers are exposed to the coronavirus to speed the testing of treatments. And for now it’s working: Britain has vaccinated a larger percentage of its population than the rest of Europe and the United States have and is seeing lower daily case rates and deaths.

Many of these policies could still help America and the world — particularly with the more contagious, and more lethal, B.1.1.7 variant spreading. Just this week, Atul Gawande, who served on President Biden’s Coronavirus Task Force, endorsed delaying second doses in order to accelerate initial vaccinations and slow the rise in cases. But there’s no evidence that the F.D.A., the Biden administration or global health authorities are any closer to doing so. At this point, it’s worth asking why.

At the core of this debate sit two questions: How much information do regulators need to act? And how should regulators balance the harms of action against the harms of inaction? The F.D.A.’s critics feel the agency demands too much information before it moves and is too comfortable with the costs of not making decisions, even in an emergency. “Not doing something is a choice,” said Emily Oster, a health economist at Brown. “It’s not a safe harbor.”

Daniel Carpenter is a professor of government at Harvard and an expert on the F.D.A., and he thinks its critics underestimate the costs of a mistake. “Effective therapies depend upon credible regulation,” he told me. Mass vaccination campaigns work only if the masses take the vaccines. “In this way, it’s a deeply social technology, and so the credibility is everything.”

To Carpenter, the F.D.A.’s critics miss the consequences of regulators losing public trust. President Donald Trump publicly pressured the agency to authorize unproven drugs, like hydroxychloroquine, that proved useless and tweeted that the “deep state” in the agency was trying to delay a vaccine to hurt him politically. Stephen Hahn, then the F.D.A. commissioner, joined Trump at a briefing to tout an emergency-use authorization for convalescent plasma — and Hahn then had to apologize, and fire two staff members, after misstating the evidence. It looked to many as though the F.D.A.’s process was collapsing under Trump’s attacks…

The same tensions have held up efforts to alter vaccine dosing in ways that would increase supply. There’s good evidence that the first doses of Pfizer and Moderna provide significant protection, and so delaying second doses — as Britain is doing — could allow us to vaccinate more of the population and get to herd immunity faster. There’s also research suggesting that half-doses, or some other fraction, might be plenty to trigger an immune response.

Biden said he will “follow the science,” but that often means following the existing evidence, which is not the same thing. It’s wrong to assume that the dosing protocols that pharmaceutical companies proposed in their rush for authorization are optimal for society’s goals. “They wanted to get this going as soon as possible, so they didn’t explore other doses, and it’s very likely they overdosed the vaccine,” Topol said. There is, of course, a risk in attempting a dosing protocol that didn’t go through Phase 3 trials; perhaps immunity will fade faster, for instance. But holding to the current dosing schedules means a slower vaccination program and more deaths…

In all of this, the same issue recurs: What should regulators do when there’s an idea that might work to save a large number of lives and appears to be safe in early testing but there isn’t time to run large studies? “People say things like, ‘You shouldn’t cut corners,’” Tabarrok told me. “But that’s stupid. Of course you should cut corners when you need to get somewhere fast. Ambulances go through red lights!”

One problem is no one, on either side of this debate, really knows what will and won’t destroy public trust. Britain, which has been one of the most flexible in its approach to vaccines, has less vaccine hesitancy than Germany or the United States. But is that because of regulatory decisions, policy decisions, population characteristics, history, political leadership or some other factor? Scientists and politicians are jointly managing public psychology, and they’re just guessing. If a faster, looser F.D.A. would lose public trust, that’s a good reason not to have a faster, looser F.D.A. But that’s a possibility, not a fact.

10) Damn this excerpt from John Boehner’s new memoir is really, really good.

Besides the homegrown “talent” at Fox, with their choice of guests they were making people who used to be fringe characters into powerful media stars. One of the first prototypes out of their laboratory was a woman named Michele Bachmann.

There was no way she was going to get on Ways and Means, the most prestigious committee in Congress, and jump ahead of everyone else in line. Not while I was Speaker. In earlier days, a member of Congress in her position wouldn’t even have dared ask for something like this. Sam Rayburn would have laughed her out of the city.

So I told her no—diplomatically, of course. But as she kept on talking, it dawned on me. This wasn’t a request of the Speaker of the House. This was a demand.

Her response to me was calm and matter-of-fact. “Well, then I’ll just have to go talk to Sean Hannity and everybody at Fox,” she said, “and Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and everybody else on the radio, and tell them that this is how John Boehner is treating the people who made it possible for the Republicans to take back the House.”

I wasn’t the one with the power, she was saying. I just thought I was. She had the power now.

She was right, of course.

11) One thing I find really interesting, but don’t quite understand, is that viruses don’t just readily evolve to defeat vaccines in the same way that bacteria so readily evolve to defeat antibiotics.  But, that fact is pretty clear.  Not that viruses cannot “escape” vaccines, but it is clearly more difficult and rare than antibiotic resistance.  But so many people just want to default to the antibiotic model.  So, this, “Concerns about SARS-CoV-2 evolution should not hold back efforts to expand vaccination”

When vaccines are in limited supply, expanding the number of people who receive some vaccine, such as by halving doses or increasing the interval between doses, can reduce disease and mortality compared with concentrating available vaccine doses in a subset of the population. A corollary of such dose-sparing strategies is that the vaccinated individuals may have less protective immunity. Concerns have been raised that expanding the fraction of the population with partial immunity to SARS-CoV-2 could increase selection for vaccine-escape variants, ultimately undermining vaccine effectiveness. We argue that, although this is possible, preliminary evidence instead suggests such strategies should slow the rate of viral escape from vaccine or naturally induced immunity. As long as vaccination provides some protection against escape variants, the corresponding reduction in prevalence and incidence should reduce the rate at which new variants are generated and the speed of adaptation. Because there is little evidence of efficient immune selection of SARS-CoV-2 during typical infections, these population-level effects are likely to dominate vaccine-induced evolution.

12) Our over-criminalization of drugs is just a massive, massive policy failure that has destroyed so many lives.  But, that does not mean we want our teenagers taking them, “Teenage Brains May Be Especially Vulnerable to Marijuana and Other Drugs: Teenagers are more likely to get hooked on marijuana, stimulants and other recreational drugs than college-aged or older adults.”

13) I don’t quite understand the policy failure behind our internet prices, but it clearly is a policy failure:

Internet Costs Amongst OECD Countries

14) I thought Larry Brilliant was too negative in parts of this interview, but, lots of interesting takes:

If you have half the population vaccinated, can we still have an incredibly destructive spike?

Of course. We’re all customers for the virus. There’s no wall that will keep the virus out. Think about the pandemic in year three or four. There will still be billions of people unvaccinated. Billions of people will harbor billions of viruses. Each one will be replicating. A certain percentage will mutate. A certain percent will become variants of those variants—some will be of high concern, and a percentage will be fucking nightmarish.

See, that “incredibly destructive” and “nightmarish” just doesn’t comport with my broader reading.  But, like I said, lots of good stuff:

Well, I’m listening to you, Larry, and I’m thinking I might never see a Broadway show again. And if I go to a baseball game in five years, I’ll be wearing a mask.

That’s an overreaction. I’m saying that, because it’s a probability that we will never reach herd immunity, there will be places in the world and in the animal population that could produce variants that could continually reinfect us. Let’s plan for it and put aside enough vaccine, and enough money, so that we can find outbreaks quickly, respond to them just in time with the right vaccine, and keep outbreaks contained. I’m very optimistic about that. In the Cares Act, there’s money to pay people to be vaccinated, to be isolated, to give them food and to give them shelter. I think you’ll be able to go to a Broadway show. And I think baseball will happen again, not so much because people are vaccinated, although that’s critically important. Point-of-care diagnostics is also part of that. A year from now there will be $5, five-minute, at-home spit tests that are 100 percent accurate, and you can do one in the morning before you brush your teeth…

And we will be able to deliver specialized versions of the vaccine optimized to fight specific strains?

Our ability to do viral sequencing at low cost, speed, and scale is as astounding as our ability to deliver a brand-new-technology vaccine in a year. It’s the public health equivalent of personalized medicine, and we could do that. We have the just-in-time vaccine manufacturing now, and we have the just-in-time vaccine delivery. Now we need a just-in-time way to find the cases of tomorrow. We have to vaccinate where the virus will go. Also, let’s get a vaccine that works faster. And by the way, give it to me in a nasal spray. Because we’re Americans and we’re shitty at public health, we have to do things in a frictionless way.

15) Thoughtful stuff from Alex Tabarrok on new research showing that misdemeanor prosecutions lead to more crime:

Misdemeanor Prosecution (NBER) (ungated) is a new, blockbuster paper by Agan, Doleac and Harvey (ADH). Misdemeanor crimes are lesser crimes than felonies and typically carry a potential jail term of less than one year. Examples of  misdemeanors include petty theft/shoplifting, prostitution, public intoxication, simple assault, disorderly conduct, trespass, vandalism, reckless driving, indecent exposure, and various drug crimes such as possession. Eighty percent of all criminal justice cases, some 13 million cases a year, are misdemeanors. ADH look at what happens to subsequent criminal behavior when misdemeanor cases are prosecuted versus non-prosecuted. Of course, the prosecuted differ from the non-prosecuted so we need to find situations where for random reasons comparable people are prosecuted and non-prosecuted. Not surprisingly some Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) are more lenient than others when it comes to prosecuting misdemeanors. ADH use the random assignment of ADAs to a case to tease out the impact of prosecution–essentially finding two similar individuals one of whom got lucky and was assigned a lenient ADA and the other of whom got unlucky and was assigned a less lenient ADA.

We leverage the as-if random assignment of nonviolent misdemeanor cases to Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) who decide whether a case should move forward with prosecution in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.These ADAs vary in the average leniency of their prosecution decisions. We find that,for the marginal defendant, nonprosecution of a nonviolent misdemeanor offense leads to large reductions in the likelihood of a new criminal complaint over the next two years.These local average treatment effects are largest for first-time defendants, suggesting that averting initial entry into the criminal justice system has the greatest benefits.

… We find that the marginal nonprosecuted misdemeanor defendant is 33 percentage points less likely to be issued a new criminal complaint within two years post-arraignment (58% less than the mean for complier” defendants who are prosecuted; p 0.01). We find that nonprosecution reduces the likelihood of a new misdemeanor complaint by 24 percentage points (60%; p 0.01), and reduces the likelihood of a new felony complaint by 8 percentage points (47%; not significant). Nonprosecution reduces the number of subsequent criminal complaints by 2.1 complaints (69%; p .01); the number of subsequent misdemeanor complaints by 1.2 complaints (67%; p .01), and the number of subsequent felony complaints by 0.7 complaints (75%; p .05). We see significant reductions in subsequent criminal complaints for violent, disorderly conduct/theft, and motor vehicle offenses.

Did you get that? On a wide variety of margins, prosecution leads to more subsequent criminal behavior. How can this be? [emphases mine]

We consider possible causal mechanisms that could be generating our findings. Cases that are not prosecuted by definition are closed on the day of arraignment. By contrast, the average time to disposition for prosecuted nonviolent misdemeanor cases in our sample is 185 days. This time spent in the criminal justice system may disrupt defendants’ work and family lives. Cases that are not prosecuted also by definition do not result in convictions, but 26% of prosecuted nonviolent misdemeanor cases in our sample result in a conviction. Criminal records of misdemeanor convictions may decrease defendants’ labor market prospects and increase their likelihoods of future prosecution and criminal record acquisition, conditional on future arrest. Finally, cases that are not prosecuted are at much lower risk of resulting in a criminal record of the complaint in the statewide criminal records system. We find that nonprosecution reduces the probability that a defendant will receive a criminal record of that nonviolent misdemeanor complaint by 55 percentage points (56%, p .01). Criminal records of misdemeanor arrests may also damage defendants’ labor market prospects and increase their likelihoods of future prosecution and criminal record acquisition, conditional on future arrest. All three of these mechanisms may be contributing to the large reductions in subsequent criminal justice involvement following nonprosecution…

The policy study is a short-term study so we don’t know what happens if the rule is changed permanently but nevertheless this is good evidence that punishment can be criminogenic. I am uncomfortable, however, with thinking about non-prosecution as the choice variable, even on the margin. Crime should be punished. Becker wasn’t wrong about that. We need to ask more deeply, what is it about prosecution that increases subsequent criminal behavior? Could we do better by speeding up trials (a constitutional right that is often ignored!)–i.e. short, sharp punishment such as community service on the weekend? Is it time to to think about punishments that don’t require time off work? What about more diversion to programs that do not result in a criminal record? More generally, people accused and convicted of crimes ought to find help and acceptance in re-assimilating to civilized society. It’s crazy–not just wrong but counter-productive–that we make it difficult for people with a criminal record to get a job and access various medical and housing benefits.

The authors are too sophisticated to advocate for non-prosecution as a policy but it fits with the “defund the police,” and “end cash bail” movements. I worry, however, that after the tremendous gains of the 1990s we will let the pendulum swing back too far. A lot of what counts as cutting-edge crime policy today is simply the mood affiliation of a group of people who have no recollection of crime in the 1970s and 1980s. The great forgetting. It’s welcome news that we might be on the wrong side of the punishment Laffer curve and so can reduce punishment and crime at the same time. But it’s a huge mistake to think that the low levels of crime in the last two decades are a permanent features of the American landscape. We could lose it all in a mistaken fit of moralistic naivete.

16) Jamelle Bouie, “The G.O.P. Has Some Voters It Likes and Some It Doesn’t: This is what happens when a political party turns against democracy.”

Looming in the background of this “reform” is Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s conflict with Donald Trump, who pressured him to subvert the election and deliver Trump a victory. What won Raffensperger praise and admiration from Democrats and mainstream observers has apparently doomed his prospects within the Republican Party, where “stop the steal” is dogma and Trump is still the rightful president to many. It is not even clear that Raffensperger will hold office after his term ends in 2023; he must fight off a primary challenge next year from Representative Jody Hice of Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, an outspoken defender of Trump’s attempt to overturn the election.

 
In other words, Republicans are using the former president’s failed attempt to overturn the election as a guide to how you would change the system to make it possible. In Georgia, as we’ve seen, that means stripping power from an unreliable partisan and giving it, in effect, to the party itself. In Pennsylvania, where a state Supreme Court with a Democratic majority unanimously rejected a Republican lawsuit claiming that universal mail-in balloting was unconstitutional, it means working to end statewide election of justices, essentially gerrymandering the court. In Nebraska, which Republicans won, it means changing the way the state distributes its electoral votes, from a district-based system in which Democrats have a chance to win one potentially critical vote, as Joe Biden and Barack Obama did, to winner-take-all…
 
This fact pattern underscores a larger truth: The Republican Party is driving the nation’s democratic decline. A recent paper by Jacob M. Grumbach, a political scientist at the University of Washington, makes this plain. Using a new measure of state-level democratic performance in the United States from 2000 to 2018, Grumbach finds that Republican control of state government “consistently and profoundly reduces state democratic performance during this time period.” The nationalization of American politics and the coordination of parties across states means that “state governments controlled by the same party behave similarly when they take power.” Republican-controlled governments in states as different as Alabama and Wisconsin have “taken similar actions with respect to democratic institutions.”

17) N&O on the local edition of this madness, “The GOP’s feverish hunt for NC election fraud uncovers a shocking result – clean elections”

The Republican Party’s hysteria about alleged voter fraud was on full display in North Carolina last week.

It was as baseless as ever, but this time it had the added dimensions of wasted tax dollars and the browbeating of an elections official who has served the state and democracy well.

The first display was the outcome of a voter fraud investigation led by Robert Higdon when he was U.S attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Higdon, a President Trump appointee, went hunting for the GOP’s great white whale of voter fraud and returned years later with a basket of minnows. He resigned in February after President Joe Biden asked Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys to step down as part of the switch in administrations.

The probe, which focused on voting by noncitizens, became public just before the 2018 election. It was easy to notice. The U.S. Attorney’s Office served subpoenas on the State Board of Elections, county election boards and the Department of Motor Vehicles, effectively seeking records on every registered voter in the state.

The State Board of Elections – then controlled by Republican appointees, no less – objected to the vast and invasive request. State attorneys representing the board told the court in a 2019 filing that, “The all-encompassing, ‘dragnet’ nature of the subpoenas would impose extraordinary burdens on the state and county boards.” Cost of compliance, they said, would mean producing more than 15 million documents and cost the state millions of dollars…

In response, the subpoenas were narrowed to records relating to more than 700 voters the State Board of Elections had flagged earlier as potential noncitizen voters. The court struggle went back and forth between the state and the U.S. attorney.

In the end, little was uncovered, and most of the wrongful voting was done inadvertently by immigrants who didn’t know they were barred from voting. The news report on the probe’s findings, written jointly by The News & Observer’s Tyler Dukes and WRAL’s Travis Fain, said the effort initiated by the U.S. Attorney “resulted in a range of charges related to immigration, registration and election rules against about 70 people. More than 40 of them were accused of casting ballots illegally.”

That’s out of more than 4.7 million votes cast in 2016.

Pat Gannon, spokesman for the State Board of Elections, gave the proper epitaph for the years-long hunt for North Carolina’s share of what former President Trump had said were “millions” of votes cast by illegal immigrants in 2016. Gannon said Friday, “There is no evidence whatsoever of any type of widespread election fraud in North Carolina.”

18) Good chance you haven’t heard of Alex Berenson, but, damn is this guy one grade A quality conservative grifter.  So successfully played his “former NYT reporter” credential into being a Fox/right-wing blusterer, but he’s just so full of BS.  Derek Thompson takes down his Covid misinformation campaign.

19) Nice Guardian feature on how the Ever Given was ultimately freed.  The key?  Seagoing tugs far more powerful than the regular canal tugs.  

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