Quick hits (part II)

1) Totally agree with Mark Joseph Stern that Democratic politicians need to get out in front on marijuana legalization:

The lack of mobilization from lawmakers is especially puzzling given how neatly marijuana legalization aligns with the goals of the self-styled resistance to Trump. Progressive Trump opponents not only tend to favor legalization on its own, they also broadly support the goals behind legalization. It’s true that the Trump era has reinvigorated liberals’ support for federalism, mostly out of necessity as blue states band together to protect sanctuary cities and fight Trump’s travel ban. But it has also intensified liberals’ opposition to mass incarceration and racial bias in the criminal justice system. Concerns about overpolicing and racism in law enforcement are what animate progressive support for legalization, along with a healthy respect for states’ rights and personal liberty.

And yet, on pot as on so many other issues, Democratic politicians are failing to respond to their base’s stated preferences.

2) Damn the militarization of the police and all the needless no-knock warrants.  And shame on our judicial system for making them way to easy to get.  People die and lives are ruined over these.  And, because, some police departments think it is a good idea to break into a house at 5am, basically unannounced, over a few ounces of marijuana.  Ugh.

3) Basically 75% of my twitter feed yesterday was about the NYT’s big Comey story. Many, many tweets mentioned the fact that the story completely ignores the role of the media in all this.  Relatedly, Drum lays out the clear case for why Comey’s letter was the decisive factor.  I agree.

4) Jacob Levy on Kushner and the problem of nepotism in a democracy.

5) I came across this latest example of classic interest group politics via a FB ad.  I’m 100% convinced that NC ophthalmologists are only interested in the welfare of their patients in attempting to stop optometrists from performing four types of simple surgery that they have been doing successfully in three other states.  I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with protecting their turf and their incomes.  My favorite is their “poll” stating, ” Almost nine out of 10 North Carolina voters oppose legislation that would allow eye-care providers who have not been to medical school to perform eye surgery, a new statewide public opinion poll found.”  As if 1 in 100 NC voters actually has any idea what this legislation is actually about.

6) Ben Mathis-Lilley, “There’s No News Right Now Because Trump Doesn’t Actually Do Anything.”

None of this is really surprising. As has been well-documented, Trump—though he claims to be a “builder”—actually made most of his hay in the private sector by licensing his name. He’s the guy who makes big promises at the ribbon-cutting and gets the name of the project in the newspaper, not the guy who gets the permits and arranges the funding and hires the subcontractors. He doesn’t make things; he talks. (When he does try to make things, they go bankrupt.)

7) While everybody was focused on Betsy DeVos and K-12 education, those in the know were aware that her real damage would be to higher education and college students.  When it comes to student loans, she’s already at it.

8) The saga of North Carolina’s contaminated water gets a nice feature in the Atlantic.  Thanks, NC Republicans!

9) Somehow I missed that prostate cancer screening is back in the news.  Good take on the latest from doctor/blogger Kenny Lin, whom I am now going to start following.  Short version: official take is now that you should at least discuss PSA test with your doctor.  Ongoing reality.  Getting a PSA test makes it about 10 times more likely you will end up incontinent or with sexual dysfunction than the likelihood it will save your life.  No thanks to that trade.

10) Great EJ Dionne column on Trump:

Two issues are paramount in American politics. The first is whether President Trump will get away with his arrogant dismissal of the public’s right to a transparent government free of corrupting conflicts of interest. The second is whether those who would hold him to account remain focused, mobilized and determined.

They are related. There are many reasons to stand against Trump, but the one that should take precedence — because it is foundational for decent governance — is his autocratic assumption that he is above the expectations that apply to us normal humans.

Should Trump separate himself completely from his business interests, as presidents had been doing for more than four decades? His implicit message is always: No, I can do what I want.

11) The political impact of helicopter parents.  Really.

Using a survey conducted at multiple universities in the U.S., we find that helicopter parenting has a significant impact on the policy attitudes of college students. Specifically, students with helicopter parents are more likely to express support for both government surveillance and social welfare policies than are students without helicopter parents. Given the growing trend of helicopter parenting, these findings will likely have substantial implications for both the political science classroom and public opinion in the near future.

12) Excellent Isaac Chotiner piece on how Bill O’Reilly was very much the proto-Trump:

But the aspect of The O’Reilly Factor that always shocked me was a different kind of resentment, which took the form of the anchor’s unrepentant solipsism. It’s simply impossible to overstate how much of each night’s show was consumed by O’Reilly’s own grievances. He skirmished with everyone from Matt Lauer to Rosie O’Donnell to Al Franken, and those fights would invariably become the topic of the day on his show. He spent countless hours talking about himself—usually as the victim of various conspiracies. (Frequently, George Soros was the conspiracy’s prime mover.) He would drone on about the New York Times and how it was out to make him look bad. It was endless, and it was exceptionally boring—to everyone except his legions of viewers and fans.

I never really had a theory for how this supposed man of the people got away with talking about nothing but himself. Then Donald Trump came along. Here was another rich guy who built a following speaking up for the working man. Like O’Reilly he seemed entirely driven by resentment: at President Obama, at the media, at the people who doubted him. And like O’Reilly, he spoke almost entirely of himself. His stump speeches were shocking, in part, because they were rarely about anything other than Donald Trump.

13) Interesting Rebecca Traister piece on the role of women’s reproductive rights within the Democratic party.  That said, I’m tired of throw-away lines like this:

For some time now, Sanders — who, it should be noted, has an extremely strong legislative record on reproductive rights — has spoken somewhat carelessly about a populist strategy that exchanges some core Democratic beliefs for the set of issues that are most important to him. “Once you get off the social issues — abortion, gay rights, guns — and into the economic issues, there is a lot more agreement than the pundits understand,” he said in 2015. In January of this year, at a CNN Town Hall, he reiterated, “Yes, of course, there are differences on issues like choice or on gay rights … But on many economic issues, you would be surprised at how many Americans hold the same views.”

Sanders is wrong that reproductive rights (or gay rights, for that matter) are separate from economic issues. The ability to control reproduction is central to women’s social, professional, and economic stability, and the women most likely to require abortion services and to be negatively affected by restrictions on access to reproductive health care are poor and low-income women, disproportionately women of color.

Really, I get it.  But still, let’s just not pretend people think about and conceptualize these issues the way they do matters like taxes, jobs, minimum wage, etc.  Oh, heck, as long as I’m letting Traister annoy me:

The deprioritization of reproductive rights was part of the strategy that helped Rahm Emanuel, chair of the DCCC, win the House for Democrats in 2006. But Ilyse Hogue, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, argues that we should evaluate that strategy now with an understanding of its longer-term implications: “It did not result in more progressive legislation or in a durable governing coalition,” she says. “It depressed the base and predicated the rise of the Tea Party.”

Right.  That’s what led to the rise of the Tea Party.  Dumbest, most obviously self-serving political analysis ever?

14) The many forces pulling Trump in a more conventionally conservative direction.

15) Love Josh Marshall’s post on Trump’s “militant ignorance.”

What is endearing, terrifying and hilarious about Trump is not simply his ignorance, really his militant ignorance, but his complete lack of self-awareness about his ignorance. Trump told a reporter for The Wall Street Journal that his understanding of the problem of North Korea changed dramatically after hearing ten minutes of history from the President of China. Needless to say, Trump didn’t need to admit this. But neither was it candor.

So far the Trump Presidency has been a sort of Mr Magoo performance art in which the comically ignorant Trump learns elemental or basic things that virtually everyone in the world of politics or government already knew – things that the majority of adults probably know. Health Care: “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” North Korea: “I felt pretty strongly that they had tremendous power. But it’s not what you think.” There are perhaps half a dozen examples equally stark.

In other words, President Trump is open about his discoveries and even eager to share them but universally projects his previous state of comical ignorance onto the general public or whomever he is talking to. In other cases, this would make sense. If Trump discovered that humans could fly if they hold their nose, close one eye and say “Shazam!” I’d want to know. Because that’s awesome. And I wouldn’t think worse of Trump for not knowing it before. Because this is new and amazing information. But learning that health care policy is complicated is a different kind of discovery.

 

 

When a reasonable announcement is totally crazy

Well, on the surface, this from the LAPD sounds good (via LA Times):

The Los Angeles Police Commission voted Tuesday to require officers to try, whenever possible, to defuse tense encounters before firing their guns [emphasis mine]— a policy shift that marks a significant milestone in the board’s attempts to curb shootings by police.

The new rules formally incorporate a decades-old concept called “de-escalation” into the Los Angeles Police Department’s policy outlining how and when officers can use deadly force. As a result, officers can now be judged specifically on whether they did all they could to reduce tensions before resorting to their firearms…

The revised policy — approved at a meeting where activists denounced the fatal police shooting of a 31-year-old man in South L.A. last summer — tells officers they must try to de-escalate a situation “whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so” by taking more time to let it unfold, moving away from the person and trying to talk to him or her, and calling in other resources.

What??!! How is that not the policy already?  Really, existing policy was shoot first, deescalate later?  This twitter take very much captured it for me:

So, yes, good.  Step in the right direction.  That said, tells us so much that this is a new policy.

The opioid epidemic reflects policy choices

So, yesterday in my public policy class, while I was talking about the failure of the “war on drugs” and how we need to treat addiction as a public health problem, not a criminal justice one, in class yesterday, Radley Balko was posting this excellent piece on how bad policy choices contributed to our opioid epidemic:

The other, more important thing to keep in mind is that much of the current crisis is due to a couple of decades of misguided policies that turned a public-health problem into a crime problem. [emphases mine] It began 20 or so years ago when the Drug Enforcement Administration started targeting physicians who specialize in treating long-term chronic pain, essentially ending that area of medicine. The crackdowns made it increasingly difficult for chronic-pain patients to find well-trained, conscientious pain specialists to treat them. Most of the doctors who weren’t arrested migrated to other areas of medicine. Medical students understandably wanted nothing to do with pain management. But the pain patients didn’t go away. That created demand for someone to provide them relief. That demand was filled by far less careful and conscientious doctors — the “pill mills” you often read about. Meanwhile, more-reputable doctors were told to view patients who were dependent on these drugs not as patients who were depending on the medication — just as a diabetic is dependent on insulin — but as addicts.

There’s no question that unscrupulous doctors, pharmacies and pharmaceutical executives have contributed to the current crisis. But bad policy is the real problem. Drug cops aren’t doctors. Yet for some reason, we’ve decided to bring them into the business of deciding what doctors can prescribe to their patients and in what quantities. If physicians are recklessly prescribing these drugs, they should be disciplined by medical boards, not raided by SWAT teams. Treating pain is difficult. It requires care and finesse to both address the suffering of a patient and to keep that patient away from the threat of addiction. Drug cops aren’t known for their care or finesse. They tend to have one gear…

Asking law enforcement to handle prescription drug abuse was a huge mistake in the early 2000s. We don’t seem to have learned much since. The latest surge in opioid-related deaths has pundits and publications across the political spectrum calling for an ever greater law enforcement role in preventing addiction, and for generally more punitiveness across the board. Prosecutors have responded by targeting more doctors, or by bringing murder charges in overdose deaths. Legislatures have followed with new laws such as lowering the minimum weight of illicit drugs needed for felony charges and new mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking or distributing drugs such as hydrocodone, fentanyl or heroin.

That means more felons, more prisons and more lives ruined by incarceration. Addicts get treated as criminals, not as patients in need of treatment. And meanwhile, people living with chronic pain find it ever more difficult to get the medication they need.

When will we ever learn?!  Not by 2017 apparently.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  I’ll leave you with a link and a headline, “Portugal decriminalised drugs 14 years ago – and now hardly anyone dies from overdosing.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) I wasn’t sure what I would make of “The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society,” but there’s definitely some important points here:

THE arrival of the “post-truth” political climate came as a shock to many Americans. But to the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, charges of “fake news” are nothing new. “The deep distrust of the media, of scientific consensus — those were prevalent narratives growing up,” she told me.

Although Ms. Evans, 35, no longer calls herself an evangelical, she attended Bryan College, an evangelical school in Dayton, Tenn. She was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a “biblical worldview.”

“It was presented as a cohesive worldview that you could maintain if you studied the Bible,” she told me. “Part of that was that climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”

Conservative evangelicals are not the only ones who think that an authority trusted by the other side is probably lying. But they believe that their own authority — the inerrant Bible — is both supernatural and scientifically sound, and this conviction gives that natural human aversion to unwelcome facts a special power on the right.

2) I’ve heard a couple good interviews with Chris Hayes on his new criminal justice book.  Definitely sounds like good stuff (and the other book reviewed here looks good as well).

3) Enjoyed this NYT feature on how retail is changing.

4) You know what really need to change about policing?  The culture.  It’s enough that there’s too many bad cops out there.  Worse, is that otherwise good cops protect the bad ones.  Also, how many, many incidents of police brutality are lied about and gotten away with without any video to prove otherwise.  Truly, the numbers must be staggering.

5) Personally, I think life is too short and there’s too many books I’ll never get to spend time “hate reading,” but the author of this essay has a point.

But reading what you hate helps you refine what it is you value, whether it’s a style, a story line or an argument. Because books are long-form, they require more of the writer and the reader than a talk show or Facebook link. You can finish watching a movie in two hours and forget about it; not so a novel. Sticking it out for 300 pages means immersing yourself in another person’s world and discovering how it feels. That’s part of what makes books you despise so hard to dismiss. Rather than toss the book aside, turn to the next page and wrestle with its ideas. What about them makes you so uncomfortable?

Right now I’m reading Deception Point by Dan Brown with David.  I don’t hate it.  But it does remind me that while I do enjoy a relentless plot, I really don’t like unrealistic political fiction that thinks it’s realistic (here’s looking at you House of Cards).

6) Yes, Americans vote their partisanship on a pretty much tribal basis.  But I reject the argument that wealthier Democrats are necessarily voting against their own economic interests.  There’s far more to one’s economic interests (like living in vibrant, healthy communities with a growing economy and a healthy middle class) than top marginal tax rates.

7) We can learn a lot about the natural history of penguins through penguin guano deposits.

8) Interesting take on Mitch McConnell’s most consequential decision:

We learned last night from the New York Times that by the time of McConnell’s intervention, the CIA in particular was sounding its loudest alarms, and not just about nebulous “meddling.”

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, [CIA Director John] Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing. The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election.

We can’t be certain that Brennan shared the same concerns with McConnell, but it is hard to imagine why he wouldn’t. McConnell, like Reid, was among the handful of members of Congress receive regular briefings on highly classified intelligence. In either case, the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community sought a united front ahead of the fall against Russian election interference—whatever its nature—and McConnell shot it down.

You can fault the Obama White House, to some degree, for acquiescing to McConnell, but it’s worth noting that McConnell clearly understood his threat to be more ominous than simply a promise to call Obama mean names. The claim of partisanship would have implied that Obama was using contested intelligence to meddle in the election on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. This would have invited the press to summon yet-more dark clouds over both of them, and lead, most likely, to a new, urgent congressional investigation. Consider the media and GOP congressional response to the unfounded allegation that Susan Rice spied on Donald Trump, and you can see the Obama White House had good reason to take McConnell’s threat seriously.

The upshot is that McConnell drew a protective fence around Russian efforts to sabotage Clinton’s candidacy, by characterizing any effort to stop it as partisan politicization of intelligence at Trump’s expense.

Given the outcome of the election, I’d say this move was not only far more consequential than stealing a Supreme Court seat from Democrats, it was the key to the theft itself.

9) Diane Ravitch argues the public should pay for public schools, not religious schools.  I agree.

10) Sorry, calling out conservative (or Southern ones, in this case) Christians for their hypocrisy does not get old for me:

Tribal bonds have always been a challenge for our species. What’s new is how baldly the 2016 election exposed the collision between basic Christian values and Republican Party loyalty. By any conceivable definition, the sitting president of the United States is the utter antithesis of Christian values — a misogynist who disdains refugees, persecutes immigrants, condones torture and is energetically working to dismantle the safety net that protects our most vulnerable neighbors. Watching Christians put him in the White House has completely broken my heart…

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” All the rest is window dressing.

But this is the part of Christ’s message that most conservative Christians ignore when they step into the voting booth. In part that’s because abortion has become the ultimate border wall for Southern believers. I can’t count the number of Christians I know who are one-plank voters: They’d put Vladimir Putin in the White House if he promised to overturn Roe v. Wade. To someone who ardently believes abortion is murder, that idea is not as crazy as it seems. But reasonable people can disagree on the moment when human life begins, and I don’t see my own commitment to protecting a woman’s legal right to choose as a contradiction of my religious practice. No matter how you define it, protecting human life should never stop at the zygote.

Republicans now have what they’ve long wanted: the chance to turn this into a Christian nation. But what’s being planned in Washington will hit my fellow Southerners harder than almost anyone else. Where are the immigrants? Mostly in the South. Which states execute more prisoners? The Southern states. Which region has the highest poverty rates? The South. Where are you most likely to drink poisoned water? Right here in the South. Where is affordable health care hardest to find? You guessed it. My people are among the least prepared to survive a Trump presidency, but the “Christian” president they elected is about to demonstrate exactly what betrayal really looks like — and for a lot more than 30 pieces of silver.

11) Really good New Yorker article reviewing several books that help explain why humans are so bad at reasoning and responding to facts.  Short version: tribal needs– sociability trumps needs to actually understand things.

12) And, with that, Happy Easter!

 

 

 

Go Canada

Nice to see at least some country coming to its senses on Marijuana policy:

OTTAWA — Fulfilling a campaign pledge, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation on Thursday to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Canada.

Many nations have either decriminalized marijuana, allowed it to be prescribed medically or effectively stopped enforcing laws against it. But when Mr. Trudeau’s bill passes as expected, Canada will become only the second nation, after Uruguay, to completely legalize marijuana as a consumer product.

“Criminal prohibition has failed to protect our kids and our communities,” said Bill Blair, a lawmaker and former Toronto police chief whom Mr. Trudeau appointed to manage the legislation…

While the new legislation will take Canada beyond its medical marijuana system, it stops far short of creating an open market. The law will require purchasers to be at least 18 years old — though provinces can set a higher minimum — and it will limit the amount they can carry at any one time to 30 grams, about an ounce.

Households will be allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants. But the legislation seems built on the assumption that most users will be supplied by commercial growers, who will be licensed and closely supervised by the federal government.

Growing, importing, exporting or selling marijuana outside licensed channels will remain serious crimes, according to Mr. Blair and Ralph Goodale, the public safety minister.

I especially appreciate their acknowledgement that there may well be unintended consequences (primarily in the form of a black market) and that they will be vigilant and adjust the policy as needed:

How much marijuana will cost and how heavily it will be taxed will be influenced by Canada’s experience with tobacco, which is also tightly regulated.

When the country tried to discourage smoking by sharply increasing cigarette taxes, it inadvertently created a growing black market for cigarettes smuggled from the United States and elsewhere.

Since one of the government’s main aims with the new law is to wipe out — or at least reduce — illicit marijuana dealing, it will want to avoid measures that spur its growth.

Will there be problems?  Sure.  Plenty of “devil is in the details” to sort out, too.  But this is absolutely better than the status quo and miles better than most other countries.  If we can reasonably successfully regulate tobacco, we can certainly do the same with marijuana.  And so much better to not be wasting scarce criminal justice resources on ordinary use.

The NC Legislature gets one right

Amazing, I know.  Might as well give credit where it’s due, in this case on “ban the box”:

— A bill that would help people with criminal records get jobs in state government passed the House Tuesday afternoon with surprising levels of bipartisan support.

House Bill 409 would direct most state agencies to “ban the box” on job applications – that is, to move a question about criminal history from the initial stages of a job application to later in the interview process, when an applicant would be able to explain his or her criminal record and why it should or should not matter to consideration for state employment.

Legislative Democrats have filed “Ban the Box” bills most every session since 2011, but they’ve never gained much traction with the Republican leadership. However, House Bill 409 sailed through the House with a 98-14 vote, including all Democrats and the majority of Republicans as well.

The proposal would not apply to jobs with direct interaction with children or the elderly, law enforcement or public safety jobs or any other positions that by law require a criminal history inquiry as a preliminary qualification.

Bill sponsor Rep. Rena Turner, R-Iredell, said the bill also directs state recruitment officers to consider the gravity of the crime, the amount of time passed since it happened, any rehabilitation work and whether the crime committed had anything to do with the job the person is seeking.

Turner is a longtime clerk of court in Iredell County. She said her experience led her to support the measure, which she believes will reduce criminal recidivism.

“Occasionally, there’s somebody who really understands that they messed up,” Turner said. “Maybe it’s been 20 years ago. Maybe it’s been 30 years ago.

“If we keep stuffing them down and never taking their applications,” she asked, “how can we expect them to do any better?

“I think they need a chance,” she said.

I do love that “occasionally.”  Just a reminder that the vast majority of criminals are bad, irredeemable people.  At least we’ll give the “occasional” good one a chance.

Of course, in all seriousness, it is great to see some real bipartisanship on common-sense criminal justice reforms.  There’s so much low-hanging fruit we can improve if Republicans just open their eyes.  Good to see that, at least on some issues, they are.

Jeff Sessions: worst human in America?

Good God, is Sessions just the worst Attorney General ever?  How can one man be so wrong about so much?!  In a way, I think he is worse than Trump, because there’s really not a lot beyond xenophobia and “deals” that Trump really believes.  But Sessions firmly believes all the wrong stuff.

I was going to write a post about how amazingly misguided he is on the war on drugs:

When the Obama administration launched a sweeping policy to reduce harsh prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, rave reviews came from across the political spectrum. Civil rights groups and the Koch brothers praised Obama for his efforts, saying he was making the criminal justice system more humane.

But there was one person who watched these developments with some horror. Steven H. Cook, a former street cop who became a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tenn., saw nothing wrong with how the system worked — not the life sentences for drug charges, not the huge growth of the prison population. And he went everywhere — Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, congressional hearings, public panels — to spread a different gospel.

“The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed,” Cook said at a criminal justice panel at The Washington Post last year.

The Obama administration largely ignored Cook, who was then president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. But he won’t be overlooked anymore.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought Cook into his inner circle at the Justice Department, appointing him to be one of his top lieutenants to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. As Sessions has traveled to different cities to preach his tough-on-crime philosophy, Cook has been at his side.

Ouch, the stupid!!

Anyway, speaking of stupid, today we learn that he is all good with forensic “science.” Which, aside from DNA, actual scientists know is largely a joke that has led to probably tens of thousands of Americans being wrongly imprisoned:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.

In a statement Monday, Sessions said he would not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a roughly 30-member advisory panel of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors and defense lawyers chartered by the Obama administration in 2013.

A path to meet needs of overburdened crime labs will be set by a yet-to-be-named senior forensic adviser and an internal department crime task force,Sessions’s statement said.

Yglesias tweet captured this perfectly.  Honestly, probably one of my favorite tweets ever.

I was decrying this in my class today, and I asked what’s left that’s dumb about our criminal justice enforcement that Sessions can double-down on?  My students reminded me that Sessions was looking to undo consent decrees between the federal government and police departments that have had trouble with systematic racism.

So, there you go… wrong on war on drugs, wrong on forensic “science,” wrong on race and criminal justice.  Trump’s America.  Ugh.

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