Police state America

I saw several mentions of this video on twitter this weekend, but thanks to Drum, I finally took a look.  OMG it’s horrible.  Here’s Drum’s brief summary:

I hate to ruin your weekend, but this has to be seen to be believed. A driver in Glendale, Arizona was pulled over for a turn signal violation, and the passenger ended up being tased 11 times—including once in his testicles—solely because he politely asked some questions about what was going on. The officer who did this was suspended for 30 hours.

This was just stomach-churning to watch.  There’s a great, lengthy story on it here that analyzes the video with experts on law enforcement use of force.  Suffice it to say, it is beyond appalling that this officer is still on the streets.  Hopefully now that this has come to light, more appropriate action (i.e., prosecution of the officer) will be taken.  But, damn, there’s just so much endemic corruption in law enforcement that those in power saw this body camera footage the police officer faced only a 30 hour suspension.  In some weird way, it’s also nice to see that bad cops can be horrible to white people, too.


Fair trial: American style

You probably know that thanks to Gideon v. Wainwright, criminal defendants have a right to an attorney even if they cannot afford one.  That’s a good thing.  Not only the “right to counsel” but the even more fundamental concept of a fair trial is wholly undermined if the state has competent legal representation but the defense does not.

But the reality is that this fundamental right is undermined every single day throughout the United States and our court system has largely failed to do anything about it.  What does it mean that the state is paying for you attorney if she only has 5 minutes to spend on your case because she’s got 200 other defendants that week?  Exactly.  A fair trial, it is not.  But, welcome to criminal justice for the poor in America.

Nowhere is this more abominable and absurd than the state of Louisiana.  Great photo essay on this in the NYT last week.  Definitely check it out.  Some highlights:

The numbers alone might seem to violate the Constitution. Poor defendants in the United States have the right to a competent lawyer, and hundreds of thousands of defendants rest their hopes on someone like Mr. Talaska.

But there has never been any guarantee that those lawyers would have enough time to handle their cases. That’s why the study cited above, which looked at the workloads of public defenders, is significant.

Right now, courts allow an individual to claim, after they lose, that they received an ineffective defense. But the bar is high. Some judges have ruled that taking illegal drugs, driving to court drunk or briefly falling asleep at the defense table — even during critical testimony — did not make a lawyer inadequate. [emphases mine]

It is even harder to make the argument that the sheer size of lawyers’ caseloads makes it impossible for them to provide what the Constitution requires: a reasonably effective defense. That is partly because there has never been a reliable standard for how much time is enough.

Now, reformers are using data in a novel attempt to create such a standard. The studies they have produced so far, in four states, say that public defenders have two to almost five times as many cases as they should…

“When obstetricians have five times as much work as they can handle competently, terrible things happen,” Mr. Hanlon said. “When public defenders have five times as much work as they can competently handle, terrible things happen, too.”

You don’t have to be a judge, lawyer, or even all that educated to recognize that the idea of a public defender with 400+ clients is hardly a “right to counsel” in any meaningful sense.  The current state of affairs is abominable and an embarrassment.  It’s great that some organizations are trying to do something about this.  And judges have been cowardly in side-stepping this obviously unconstitutional situation.  But shame on the legislators who put so many people in this situation in the first place.  This has to change.

Quick hits (part I)

Oh man, so much good stuff this week.  But a really busy Friday.  So, let’s see how much I get to here:

1) Among the conservatives whom Trump has caused to see the light to varying degrees, George Will:

Dislike of him should be tempered by this consideration: He is an almost inexpressibly sad specimen. It must be misery to awaken to another day of being Donald Trump. He seems to have as many friends as his pluperfect self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life. His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made. His childlike ignorance — preserved by a lifetime of single-minded self-promotion — concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.

2) Paul Waldman is exactly right, “Why you shouldn’t care when a presidential candidate flip-flops.”  Of course, both the media, the Republican Party, and single-issue agenda pushers have conditioned us to care a lot.  Waldman:

Gillibrand’s situation of starting in a place that isn’t representative of her party and then having to change as she moves to the national stage has plenty of precedents. But the evolution over time may be more common, especially in the past couple of decades as the parties have grown steadily more ideologically more homogeneous and shifted away from the center.

For instance, when Clinton joined her husband in the White House in 1993, it was standard for a Democrat to oppose same-sex marriage and support “tough on crime” measures; she had to apologize for both when she ran for president in 2016. By then Democratic tolerance for dissent from the party’s position on guns had narrowed, which left Bernie Sanders explaining that his sometimes pro-gun record was because Vermont is a rural state where lots of people have guns. In other words, he was faithfully representing the beliefs of his constituents, which you can either say is what a representative should do or is just pandering.

Other Democratic candidates are going to confront this issue as the primaries proceed. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has already released a videoapologizing for her previous opposition to marriage equality. Sen. Kamala D. Harris will be criticized for some of her actions as a prosecutor in California. Former vice president Joe Biden will be grilled on his authorship of the harsh 1994 crime bill (among other things). Sen. Cory Booker will have to defend prior ties to Wall Street. Retired boxer Oscar De La Hoya will have to explain his long record of punching other men in the face (though you probably didn’t know, he’s thinking of running, too).

They’ll all probably say that they’re different today than they were then, and while voters will inevitably judge their sincerity, you don’t really have to believe a politician is sincere when they make this move. Why? Because once they shift, they seldom go back. They don’t get elected and then say, “Ha ha, I fooled you all!” As a voter, you’d do better to accept the change and judge them on whether you like the positions they take now. Because that’s almost certainly what they’ll do if they become president.

3) Derek Thompson on the 70% marginal rate and innovation:

Entrepreneurs aren’t just born tough; they’re born lucky. The majority of successful young founders come from affluent white families, and they often piggyback on the professional connections and business expertise of their parents. Taxing the rich and distributing their income would do nothing to change the networks or tutelage of rich families, but it would reduce precarity among middle- and lower-class families, thus helping nonaffluent children become founders without doing much to punish their richer peers.

If Ocasio-Cortez wanted to destroy the American culture of innovation, she wouldn’t propose a barely applicable marginal tax rate, which exists within a larger tax code, which itself exists within a larger fiscal policy. Instead, she would reduce research funding, protect employer-sponsored insurance to keep tomorrow’s founders locked inside today’s cubicles, and increase student debt to make youth entrepreneurship more precarious. Oh, wait.

4) And Economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman make the case for high marginal rates.  Read this one.

The view that excessive income concentration corrodes the social contract has deep roots in America — a country founded, in part, in reaction against the highly unequal, aristocratic Europe of the 18th century. Sharply progressive taxation is an American invention: The United States was the first country in the world, in 1917 — four years after the creation of the income tax — to impose tax rates as high as 67 percent on the highest incomes. When Representative Ocasio-Cortez proposes a 70 percent rate for incomes above $10 million, she is reconnecting with this American tradition. She’s reviving an ethos that Ronald Reagan successfully repressed, but that prevailed during most of the 20th century.

And she’s doing so at a time when there is an emergency. For just as we have a climate crisis, we have an inequality crisis. Over more than a generation, the lower half of income distribution has been shut out from economic growth: Its income per adult was $16,000 in 1980 (adjusted for inflation), and it still is around $16,000 today. At the same time, the income of a tiny minority has skyrocketed. For the highest 0.1 percent of earners, incomes have grown more than 300 percent; for the top 0.01 percent, incomes have grown by as much as 450 percent. And for the tippy-top 0.001 percent — the 2,300 richest Americans — incomes have grown by more than 600 percent.

Just as the point of taxing carbon is not to raise revenue but to reduce carbon emissions, high tax rates for sky-high incomes do not aim at funding Medicare for All. They aim at preventing an oligarchic drift that, if left unaddressed, will continue undermining the social compact and risk killing democracy.

5) Molly Roberts with my favorite take on the whole Covington Catholic HS mess:

The problem is, neither of these distillations captures the truth, which is hidden somewhere in a mess of different segments of different recordings showing different offenses by different parties. It’s true that the Hebrew Israelites shouted invective at the kids, and it is true that the kids chanted school cheers to drown them out. It’s also true that the schoolboys, whether someone else was mean to them beforehand or not, were giggling as they let loose with offensive war whoops and tomahawk chops while a Native American man beat his drum before them. It’s true that one of them ripped his shirt off in a signal of self-assured dominance. And it’s true that a smirk is a smirk.

The quarrel over the Covington teens is not only a story of social media hate-mobbing. It’s also a story of the groupthinking tendency to hop off a bandwagon as unthinkingly as we hop onto it. More important, it’s a story of our desire to make every cultural controversy fit into a framework that tells some distillable truth about the state of our country today. Any actual truth about the rifts running through America right now can’t be cleanly distilled. That’s a harder story to tell — which might be why so few are trying.

6) Tom Edsall with a deep dive on Democrats’ leftward movement, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Leading and Following at the Same Time: The Democratic electorate has shifted sharply to the left, taking many politicians along with it — willingly and unwillingly.”

7) But when it comes to social issues, it’s not just Democrats moving left, “Young Voters Keep Moving to the Left on Social Issues, Republicans Included”

Democrats of all ages tend to align fairly closely on major social and political issues, but the report highlights a sharp generational divide among Republicans. For example, more than half of the youngest Republicans surveyed said that racial and ethnic diversity was good for American society, a view shared by fewer than 40 percent of their Millennial counterparts, 34 percent of Generation Xers and just three in 10 baby boomers.

Young Republicans are also more likely to approve of same-sex marriage and accept transgender people.

8) Maybe take a stair-climbing exercise “snack

As little as 20 seconds of brisk stair climbing, done several times a day, might be enough exercise to improve fitness, according to a pragmatic new study of interval-style training.

The study finds that people can complete a meaningful series of insta-workouts without leaving their office building or even changing out of their dress shoes, offering hope — and eliminating excuses — for those of us convinced that we have inadequate time, expertise, income or footwear to exercise…

So, for the new study, which was published this month in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, the researchers decided to see whether it was feasible to break the workout into a series of “exercise snacks” spread throughout the day.

Their hope was that a single quick burst of stair climbing would be strenuous enough to prompt improvements in fitness if it were repeated multiple times, even with hours in between.

To find out, they recruited 24 healthy but inactive college students, tested their endurance and leg power using a specialized stationary bicycle, and randomly assigned them either to continue with their normal lives as a control group or start exercise snacking.

The exercisers reported to the physiology building’s stairwell. There, the researchers directed them to warm up with a few jumping jacks, squats and lunges and then hurry up 60 steps — three flights of stairs — as quickly as they could, one step at a time, while using the guardrail for safety. These ascents lasted about 20 seconds.

And that was the workout. The volunteers repeated these abbreviated exercise snacks twice more that day, usually at lunch and again in the afternoon, for a total intense exercise time of about a minute.

By the end of six weeks, the exercisers had increased their aerobic fitness by about 5 percent. They also showed improvements in leg power and could generate more power while cycling.

9) I’ve done a fair amount of Amazon returns.  I found this pretty fascinating to find out what happens to so much of them.  Pretty sure the headphones I’ve returned (additional headphones from multipack purchases when first pair is defective) have all just ended up trashed.

10) Sarah Jones is right, “Donald Trump Has No Idea How Grocery Stores Work.’

11) I’m a sucker for Girl Scout Cookies and for Vox articles about Girl Scout cookies.  Hooray for Samoas/Carmel Delites.

12) Jeremy Stahl, “Roger Stone’s Indictment Proves the House Republicans’ Russia Investigation Was a Whitewash.”  Yes, it really does.  It’s like asking the guy with a knife, “hey, did you stab that guy over there lying in the pool of blood.”  Guy, “me, no.”  Republicans in Congress, “see, he didn’t do anything wrong.”

13) How much do I love Adam Serwer referencing Stringer Bell’s use of Roberts Rules of Order when it comes to Trup associates taking incriminating notes.

14) Kottke with videos visualizing the speed of light.  This is so cool!

15) Damn, those pot sellers are dangerous!  Radley Balko:

16) Read this excellent piece from Ezra on the excellent political science of Frances Lee and what it tells us about Trump and the current partisan dynamics:

Once a political party has decided the path to governing is winning back the majority, not working with the existing majority, the incentives transform. Instead of cultivating a good relationship with your colleagues across the aisle, you need to destroy them, because you need to convince the voters to destroy them, too.

Dick Cheney, then a member of the House of Representatives, put it sharply in 1985. “Confrontation fits our strategy,” he said. “Polarization often has very beneficial results. If everything is handled through compromise and conciliation, if there are no real issues dividing us from the Democrats, why should the country change and make us the majority?”

There’s nothing particularly unusual about this. It’s the logic of zero-sum contests everywhere. But America’s political system is unusual in that it fosters divided government and is full of tricks minorities can use to obstruct governance, like the filibuster. The current shutdown, for instance, reflects the fact that the Republican president needed Democratic votes to fund the government, even when Republicans held the majority in both the House and the Senate. [emphases mine]

Imagine this structure outside the context of American politics. Imagine you worked in an office where your boss, who was kind of a jerk, needed your help to finish his projects. If you helped him, he’d keep his job and maybe even get a promotion. If you refused to help him, you’d become his boss, and he might even get fired. Now add in a deep dose of disagreement — you hate his projects and think they’re bad for the company, and even the world — and a bunch of colleagues who also hate your boss and will be mad at you if you help him…

The media tends to tell the story of American politics as if it were an episode of The West Wing. The protagonist is the president, and any problem can be solved with enough presidential leadership, with a soaring enough presidential speech.

Brendan Nyhan, a University of Michigan political scientist, calls this the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency, and defines it as “the belief that the president can achieve any political or policy objective if only he tries hard enough or uses the right tactics.” In other words, the American president is functionally all-powerful, and whenever he can’t get something done, it’s because he’s not trying hard enough, not leading aggressively enough.

Trump, whose political history prior to winning the presidency included a lot of speeches and television appearances but no actual governance, seems particularly besotted by this vision of politics. He often seems to understand his presidency as the Donald Trump Show, where he is the main character, perhaps the only character. During his party nomination speech, Trump famously said, “I alone can fix it,” and if the actual experience of the presidency has perhaps tempered that view a bit, it hasn’t tempered it enough for Trump to work in a truly collaborative, consistent way with the other parts of the government.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Pew with a thorough look at public opinion on the border and the shutdown.  Partisanship is a thing.

GOP support for expanding border wall rises; Democratic support falls

2) David Brooks on “putting relationship quality at the center of education.”  I’ve been saying for years and years, that just like Coach K coaches for the relationships, not the championships, I teach for the relationships.

3) I loved the Gillette ad.  Even allowed myself to be goaded into a semi-rare facebook argument (I won, of course– no really, I did), but I also really like Drum’s take on the damn liberals who have to push everything too far.  I also like that he takes on the worst of Vox, which he’s right about and weakens otherwise great journalism.

Well, plenty of men aren’t happy with it. No surprise there. But apparently some women aren’t happy about it either, even though it conveys an explicitly feminist message. Why? Well, at the risk of pissing off some friends, I have to make a confession here: The ism writers at Vox (sexism, racism, ageism, etc.) are always on hand to describe and explain these things. And they always defend the most extreme woke view. Nevertheless, I read most of their wokeness articles anyway, sometimes because they’re good but other times because I’m curious to find out what excuse they’ll use this time to defend the most extravagantly excessive view out there. For the Gillette ad, here it is:

Men who are angry about a commercial and calling for a boycott of a razor company in the comments of a YouTube post are also writing things like, “Gillette is desperately deleting critical comments for fear that people will know about what men are saying about this radical feminist advert.”

These arguments make no sense whatsoever. Still, this ad is a misfire, in that it is a blatant attempt to make money off a painful and ongoing collective action that has not even an indirect relationship to face razors. Is it likely that there were people at Gillette with good intentions and people at Grey who wanted to help realize them? Absolutely! However, it is inherently nonsensical to use feminism to sell men’s grooming products, or any products, as feminism is a political movement bent on dismantling current structures of power, which likely includes multibillion-dollar corporations like Procter & Gamble.


The reason this commercial is bad is because feminism is dedicated to destroying all large corporations, and it’s therefore inherently nonsensical for large corporations to promote feminist views in their advertising? This wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman women’s studies course. How does it make it past an editor? It persuades no one except those who are already part of the drum circle. Everyone else either skips it entirely or just guffaws when they read it.

I’m not just nitpicking a single piece, either. It doesn’t matter if the subject is liberalism, conservatism, guns, abortion, feminism, racism, climate change, or anything else. We all have to be willing to call out the nonsense on our own side when we hear it. We can’t just automatically go along with the most extreme voices out of fear that we’ll no longer be considered part of the movement if we suggest that maybe someone has gone a wee bit too far.

Anyway: this is just a commercial. Sure, it uses consciousness raising in service of making money. So what? If corporate chieftans are willing to bet that promoting feminism is good for the bottom line, all the better for feminism. How else are you going to reach a hundred million men in prime time, after all?

4) Farhad Manjoo makes the moral case for open borders.  And, for the record, even the liberal NYT commenters let him have it.

5) Apparently treating children equally is a pretty new innovation.  My take is: love your children so that they are each convinced they are your favorite.  It’s actually such a taboo to have favorites that I enjoy joking to my classes that I rank order my children every day with refrigerator magnets.  Anyway, good stuff from Jennifer Traig:

Modern parents haven’t stopped playing favorites; they’ve just stopped doing it openly. Though few parents today will admit they have a favorite child, studies indicate that about two-thirds of parents do. In one small but astounding survey, 80 percent of mothers acknowledged favoring one child over the others. This was no secret to their children, 80 percent of whom agreed. Interestingly, however, when they were asked which child their mother loved most, they almost always got it wrong. Similar results are borne out in larger studies: Two-thirds of children accurately perceive that their parents have a favorite, but less than half get the favorite right.

The idea that you’re supposed to treat your children equally is recent, and it’s still not the norm in much of the world, where different siblings might have different roles and even different titles. In English, we refer to both younger and older siblings as sister or brother, but Chinese has separate terms for each. A gege (older brother) has different rights and responsibilities than a younger one (didi), as do a jiejie (big sister) and meimei (little sister). In Japan, an old slang term for the second son was “Master Cold Rice,” because historically he ate only after the firstborn got his food.

Treating all your children the same is certainly not the norm historically, either. Playing favorites is called “parental differential treatment,” and it was standard practice until fairly recently. Treating all your children the same would be as ridiculous as, say, treating your husband and the doorman the same because they’re both men, greeting them both with kisses and giving both tips for bringing up the mail. The two just play different roles, and there are different expectations for each.

6) Border reality via NPR: “For 7th Consecutive Year, Visa Overstays Exceeded Illegal Border Crossings.”

7) Meanwhile, Drum brings a whole host of border/immigration reality with lots of great charts.

8) This is cool… by making you brain work harder, the Sans Forgetica font can help you learn better.

9) Really enjoyed this from the Economist on why our weeks seven days.  Because… ancient Mesopotamians.

10) Really like this new research from friend PID expert Alex Theodoridis (with Stephen Goggin and John Henderson):

To what extent do voters grasp “what goes with what” among key political objects as they attempt to understand the choices they face at the ballot box? Is recognition of these associations limited to only the most informed citizens? We design a novel conjoint classification experiment that minimizes partisan boosting and allows for the relative comparison of attribute effect when mapping voter associative networks, the cluster of attributes linked to parties and ideological labels. We ask respondents to ‘guess’ the party or ideology of hypothetical candidates with fully randomized issue priorities and biographical details. There is remarkable agreement among both high- and low-knowledge voters in linking issues to each party and ideology, suggesting this minimalist form of associative competence is more widely held in the mass public than perhaps previously thought. We find less agreement about biographical traits, which appear to pose greater informational challenges for voters. Notably, nearly identical issue priorities and traits are associated with party and ideology, indicating these two dimensions are largely fused in the minds of today’s American voters.

11) Frank Bruni asks, “Will the Media Be Trump’s Accomplice Again in 2020?”  Ummmmm… yeah.

Democracies don’t just get the leaders they deserve. They get the leaders who make it through whatever obstacle course — and thrive in whatever atmosphere — their media has created.

“The shadow of what we did last time looms over this next time,” the former CBS newsman Dan Rather, who has covered more than half a century of presidential elections, told me. And what we did last time was emphasize the sound and the fury, because Trump provided both in lavish measure.

“When you cover this as spectacle,” Rather said, “what’s lost is context, perspective and depth. And when you cover this as spectacle, he is the star.” Spectacle is his métier. He’s indisputably spectacular. And even if it’s a ghastly spectacle and presented that way, it still lets him control the narrative. As the writer Steve Almond observed in a recently published essay, “He appears powerful to his followers, which is central to his strongman mystique.”…

Trump was and is a perverse gift to the mainstream, establishment media, a magnet for eyeballs at a juncture when we were struggling economically and desperately needed one. Just present him as the high-wire act and car crash that he is; the audience gorges on it. But readers’ news appetite isn’t infinite, so they’re starved of information about the fraudulence of his supposed populism and the toll of his incompetence. And he wins. He doesn’t hate the media, not at all. He uses us.

Did that dynamic help elect him? There’s no definitive answer. But we gave him an extraordinary bounty of coverage, depriving his rivals of commensurate oxygen and agency. And while our coverage of him had turned overwhelmingly negative by the final months of the 2016 campaign, it by no means started out that way.

12) Greg Sargent makes the case for Sherrod Brown:

Sen. Sherrod Brown will travel to the early presidential primary states in coming weeks, he confirmed to me in an interview. This will stoke speculation about the presidential ambitions of the Ohio Democrat who is widely seen as an ideal messenger for true economic populism as the antidote to President Trump’s sham version of the same.

At the core of Brown’s message is a simple idea: The way to confer dignity on work is to ensure that it pays well. Due to structural economic factors beyond ordinary Americans’ control, wages have stagnated for millions, with many trapped in the ranks of the working poor; but government can remedy this through the tax code by sending struggling Americans money.

Many progressive economists and Democratic lawmakers are coalescing around a way to do this, through one version or another of expanded tax credits for working people and families, to supplement their income and lift them out of poverty and/or closer to the ranks of the middle-class.

13) I cannot believe I was so late to the game of the terrific podcast literally produced in San Quentin by prisoners, “Ear Hustle.”  So good.  Host Earlonne Woods is amazing and so obviously completely rehabilitated.  How many other prisoners who have already served many years and could really benefit society are also languishing behind bars without a podcast to let us know?

What it really takes to reduce mass incarceration

I came across this John Pfaff piece in December and it went straight into the Public Policy syllabus.  Great summary of the politics and policy of mass incarceration and just how hard it will be to make real and meaningful change.  It’s a little on the longer side than most stuff I share, but if you want to understand criminal justice policy in America better there’s probably few better things you could do than take 5-10 minutes to read this.  That said, hey, this is a blog, so excerpts:

Our continuing legacy of racial segregation further amplifies this punitiveness. Wealthier, whiter suburban voters often wield disproportionate electoral influence when it comes to electing the prosecutor. These voters like the feeling of crime going down—but they face none of the costs of aggressive policies. After all, it is not their brothers or fathers or uncles or sons who face the unnecessary police stops or arrests or indictments or convictions or prison terms. Those costs are disproportionately borne by poorer people of color in the city, whom those voters do not know or even interact with.

These problems have always been with us. But they are more problematic now because as our prisons have grown, so, too, have the groups that benefit from them—and who thus have an incentive to manipulate people’s punitiveness and fear of crime for their own ends. Though many would at this juncture quickly point to private prison firms, they are not the main ones “profiting” off prisons. They hold about 9 percent of the nation’s prisoners and generally have little impact on policy…

It is various public sector actors who truly benefit. About two-thirds of $50 billion we spend on prisons—$33 billion or so—goes to the wages and benefits of prison staff. It is not surprising, then, that (public sector) correctional officer unions fight reforms, given how much is at stake. That many if not most prisons are located in economically distressed areas and provide some of the few well-paying jobs in the region only magnifies this effect…

It was never going to be possible to significantly scale back our outsized reliance on prisons easily. Mass incarceration did not arise by accident or due to one or two small mistakes. It is the product of a deep, racially driven punitiveness, combined with a vast array of incentives that consistently make harshness politically safe and leniency dangerous. Our seven-year reduction in prison populations is certainly something to celebrate, but those reductions are modest and always vulnerable. And they will remain modest and vulnerable unless we tackle some very difficult issues, such as how we treat violence and the even the basic design of our criminal justice systems.

Lots more good and important stuff.  If you’ve ever thought that mostly we just need to ease up on non-violent drug offenders, then you really need to read this.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I knew pretty much nothing about Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard (now running for president).  Thanks to this New Yorker article, now I do.  Okay, I did know from a few FB posts that she had a rather checkered history on LGBT issues.  Looks like she’s been taking the orthodox Democratic position for a while now, though.  At what point are people not allowed to change?

2a) Nice piece on marginal tax rates thanks to AOC.

2b) It also links to this in Politico:

The Congressional Research Service published a paper in 2012 that found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth. Congressional Republicans protested the findings, and the service briefly withdrew the paper.

Republicans argued that the CRS paper had methodological errors, namely that it didn’t account for the long-term benefits of tax rate cuts. The paper looked only at effects on growth within the first year of the cuts.

POLITICO looked at each time the country changed the top income tax rate and the following five years of GDP per capita growth rate. The results are similar to the CRS findings: changing the top income tax rate does not have a predictable effect on economic growth.  [emphases in original]

3) Really interesting 538 piece on the problems of single-stream recycling.  It gets so many more people recycling.  But, the recycling is so much more contaminated.  Pretty nasty catch 22.

4) Love this Atlantic article on what $5 billion on border security other than a wall could actually buy.  Great example of the wall as horribly inefficient policy and also of opportunity costs.

5) “Ag gag” laws are just the worst.  Fortunately, some courts are now agreeing.  Vox explains:

Ultimately, though, ag-gag laws aren’t the real problem — they’re a symptom of it. The problem is that what goes on on our farms is so horrifying, and so unconscionable to the typical American consumer, that agribusinesses have turned to trying to hide it.

“The situation agribusiness faced was this,” Balk told me. “They tried for many years” to defend the treatment of animals in industrial farming — blaming systemic abuses on individual bad workers, claiming that their practices were good for animals. “They lost every time. They lost ballot measures, they lost their customers — fast-food chains and major grocery stores.”

That’s why there was a sudden surge of interest in banning undercover investigations of factory farms. Ag-gag laws, in other words, came about because agribusiness concluded the horrors of our food system couldn’t stand up to the light of day.

People want affordable meat. They don’t want animals treated cruelly. Right now, the industry is trying to provide the meat and hide the cruelty. But we can do better. It’s fair to expect a food system that doesn’t have to hide its conduct from its customers — and fair to be very concerned that our current food system considered ag-gag laws a better solution. [emphasis mine]

6) With technology making it so much easier to work from home, we are seeing the death of the sick day.

7) Interesting Op-Ed from a leading pro-life Democrat on the rhetoric of abortion.  I’ll definitely give her this point:

The New York Times editorial board, for instance, recently used the phrase “clusters of cells that have not yet developed into viable human beings,” in a discussion of rights being extended to a fetus in the womb, or what I call a prenatal child.

Language like this ignores the fact that each of us once existed as “clusters of cells that have not yet developed into viable human beings.” It seeks to hide the fact that by the time most surgical abortions take place, a prenatal child has electrical activity in the brain and a beating heart.

Other words and phrases used in the discussion about abortion seek to obscure this reality as well: “tissue,” “part of the mother,” “parasite,” “potential life.” Even the term “fetus” is dehumanizing.

Outside of an abortion context, an obstetrician-gynecologist doesn’t generally speak to a mother about her fetus. She talks to her about her baby. Family and friends organize baby showers, not fetus showers. A mother-to-be has a baby bump, not a fetus bump. She is “with child,” not “with fetus.” It is not unusual for major news outlets, such as the BBC, to use the phrase “unborn babies” when they report on new prenatal surgical techniques.

I’ll always remember the words from my ardently pro-choice Ethics professor friend… if you think abortion is an easy call, you’re not thinking hard enough.  Trying to reduce a human embryo, rhetorically to “clusters of cells that have not yet developed into viable human beings” is a way to try to win an argument without facing up to the moral complexity.

8) Drum is right… never believe corporations:

My take on all this is to repeat something I’ve said before: Never believe corporations. Period.¹ Don’t believe them when they say the “jury is still out” about the danger of the chemicals they produce. Don’t believe them when they say environmental regulations will put them out of business. Don’t believe them when they claim that they’ll hire more people and boost their fixed investment if Congress will pass tax cuts. And don’t believe them when they say they just can’t find people to take their jobs. Most of them just need to stop goosing their hiring requirements and increase their pay rate a bit. Problem solved.

¹I should add that you shouldn’t automatically believe the opposite of what corporations say, either. Simply treat their pronouncements as null data, sort of like the pleas of a coke addict who you know will say anything to get a few bucks from you. Just ignore the chatter and make up your mind based on all the other evidence available.

8) I never heard about this police shooting from over a year ago until today.  It is so horribly appalling and there has been absolutely nothing to hold anybody to account.  Talk about a “police state.”  Ugh.

9) Loved so many of Andrew Yang’s ideas for thinking about the economy.

Mass incarceration: it’s the prosecutors (stupid)

Last spring I assigned John Pfaff’s truly eye-opening Locked In, about the realities of mass incarceration in America.  Sooo good.  Short version– it’s the prosecutors.  Medium version– this post.  Long version– the book.

Anyway, some recent really good news had me thinking about this.  Summary from Mark Joseph Stern:

Matthew Charles, a rehabilitated felon whose mistaken release and reincarceration drew nationwide outcry, will be freed from prison on Thursday at the order of a federal judge. Charles, who already served 20 years in prison, received a sentence reduction under the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill that President Donald Trump signed on Dec. 21…

But Sharp made a mistake. The law did not permit early release for offenders who, like Charles, were deemed “career criminals.” So prosecutors appealed Sharp’s decision [emphasis mine], and in December 2016, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Charles back to prison. By that point, the ex-offender had fully re-entered society: He spent every Saturday morning volunteering at a food pantry in North Nashville, Tennessee, mentored young men on probation or parole, reconnected with his children and grandchildren, obtained a job, and began a relationship. The 6th Circuit even acknowledged that Charles had amassed a record “not only of rehabilitation but of ‘good works,’ ” and suggested that Trump should consider commuting his sentence.

But Trump granted no clemency, and in 2018—after living nearly two years as a free man—Charles reported back to prison to serve the remaining decade of his sentence…

His case sparked outrage across the political spectrum and helped create momentum for the First Step Act, which made the 2010 reforms fully retroactive. That meant even “career criminals” like Charles sentenced under the old, stringent guidelines could petition for early release. On Dec. 27, public defenders asked a federal court to release Charles for time served, and federal prosecutors did not object. And on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Aleta Arthur Trauger ordered Charles’ immediate release.

See that bold.  Prosecutors made the absurd and downright stupid decision to force a man so obviously rehabilitated, who as doing good in his community, and had already been punished a lot, back into prison for potentially ten years.  What the hell?

I decided I needed to see what John Pfaff had to say back in May:

And the nice Reason piece taking on the truly damnable federal prosecutor.

Of course even most of the prosecutors who are ultimately responsible for our way over-incarceration are good people and good public servants, but, clearly not all of them.  And, we need to do something about prosecutors and the system they work in if we are truly going to meaningfully tackle mass incarceration.

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