Yes, the NRA really is evil

So, interesting post from Mark Follman filling in for Kevin Drum looking at the politics of gun control.  He argues that both sides are guilty of excesses and see the issue as too dichotomous.  He then goes on to (quite properly) blame most of the problem on the NRA.  That said, this part really bugged me:

Some of the blame also falls on the gun-control movement, which expends considerable energy pontificating about how the NRAisevil. Of course, this bleak if cartoonish disconnect hardly reflects most Americans’ attitudes about firearms, gun owners included.

Notice that rhetorical sleight of hand in an effort to show how fair and balanced he is?  Gun owners are not evil.  Gun owners who belong to and support the NRA are not evil. But as somebody who has, in fact, called the NRA evil, I stand by the claim that the organization itself is evil.  When you look at their extreme and obscene willingness to sacrifice human lives for gun manufacturer profits and their completely delusional beliefs that Democrats are somehow coming to take away all their guns, this is a very fair conclusion.

The article also links to a video that nicely summarizes the economic impact (horrible human suffering aside) of America’s gun ownership policies.

Quick hits

1) David Goldberg, the husband of Sheryl “lean in” Sandberg, suffered an untimely death last week.  Nice article on his life and how he made it possible for Sandberg to lean in.

2) Private prisons are so wrong.  Among other things, they are incentivized to allow more human suffering to earn greater profits.  They can also sue states if they don’t stay full.

3) The Cleveland Indians have an awesome recycling program that runs on massive garbage disposals.

4) These photography tips are pretty cool; I’m going to have to try some.

5) This point doesn’t get old– inequality is a policy choice.  Nice column on the matter from Kristof.

6) Really enjoyed Ross Douthat’s essay on Pope Francis.

7) The head of the Federal Elections Commission has to sadly admit the FEC will be largely unable to prevent widespread campaign finance abuse in 2016.  Why?  The Republicans on the commission basically believe in widespread campaign finance abuse.

8) John Cassidy on the Republican field for president:

If your head is spinning, join the club. Nobody should be expected, or forced, to keep up with every detail of the G.O.P. primary, especially when, Lord help us, we still have more than eight months to go until the Iowa caucuses. At this stage, the important thing to remember is that there are really two spectacles taking place: a high-stakes horse race for the Republican nomination, and a circus held on the infield of the track. Although the events run concurrently, and are ostensibly geared toward the same end, they shouldn’t be confused with one another. One is a serious political contest. The other is a sideshow, designed to amuse the spectators, give the media something to cover, and further the ambitions, varied as they are, of the participants.

9) This article about an Ebola survivor who discovered later he had tons of the virus in his eyeball was fascinating.  Among other things, I had not known about “immune privilege” of that your eyeball benefits from being immune privileged.

10) It’s really kind of amazing that a local television station– local news generally being the province of fires, crime, and 15 minute weather reports– does a terrific job covering state and local politics.  Fortunately for me, it’s my very own local station.  The great work of Raleigh’s WRAL is recognized in CJR.

11) A future without chocolate?  Perish the thought.  But we’ll have to work at it and that’s what the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre is doing.

12) On the taboo of sharing how much money you make and why we should break it.  I won’t share mine, but it is public record if you really want to know.

13) Mitt Romney literally does not even understand what “mass incarceration” is.  Scary to think he could’ve been president.  And this is so pathetic.  Chait’s on it, so you know it’s a good read.

14) Cut the cord to your cable and think you are done with unwanted bundles?  Not so fast; bundling is coming to internet TV.

15) Congressional Republicans are no fans of making it easier for people to afford a college education.

16) Based on my experience, it always struck me that people would blame their infant’s fussiness on “teething” when there was really no particular reason to think that was the case (among other things, you never feel it all when your permanent teeth come in).  Looks like I’ve got science on my side.

17) Loved the new documentary on Kurt Cobain.  Damn if Kurt Cobain isn’t just the prototype of the tortured artist.  And I remember quite distinctly where I was when I found out he died (I was on a pre grad school visit to Ohio State and there were some guys driving around in a car yelling “Kurt Cobain is dead!”)  I’ve been listening to Nirvana a ton this week as a result (In Utero is playing as a type this post).  Also enjoyed showing my oldest the Smells Like Teen Spirit video which he had never seen.

18) I’ll leave you with this awesome, awesome Amy Schumer video on birth control.  It’s short and brilliant, so watch it already.

How background interacts with partisanship

Nice explanation of a really interesting new study via Wonkblog:

That trajectory [impoverished background to Congress] might make [former NC Representative Brad] Miller unusual in modern America, where social mobility isn’t actually as powerful as political rhetoric might suggest. But he went on to serve in a fairly predictable way, according to new research on how class backgrounds affect legislators’ voting behavior: Democrats with humble upbringings tend to favor policies that help lift people out of poverty, like access to health care, welfare benefits, higher minimum wages and more funding for education.

Republicans, by contrast, don’t break down at all by their financial conditions in childhood — perhaps because those who came from poverty tend to credit their rise to personal initiative, rather than social programs.  [emphases mine] That suggests that while the ability of those who came from humble backgrounds to get elected to Congress matters for the Democratic policy platform, it might not have much impact on the issues the GOP decides to emphasize.

“Don’t ask me to explain Republicans,” Miller says…

“You know people who are struggling, because they’re your relatives, people you knew in high school. And that kind of changes your perspective,” Miller says. “I know that I’m less inclined to think that the U.S. is meritocratic, unless you think it is very meritorious to have rich parents.”

I think that last point pretty much nails it.

Hillary and prison reform

In regards to the many typical end-of-semester queries to how my semester has gone, I generally mention that it has been a great time to teach Criminal Justice Policy as– in addition to flashpoint events, e.g., Baltimore– there’s more sustained and ongoing attention to the flaws in our criminal justice system.  As much as this is good for my teaching, the real benefit is for our country in that maybe we can actually make some serious in coming years in tackling the huge flaws in American criminal justice.

Jamelle Bouie has a nice piece on criminal justice and Hillary’s campaign that provides some hope that there’s important progress in getting this issue onto the political agenda in a meaningful way:

Two days after riots in Baltimore—at a time when most of the presidential field is either silent or contemptuous—Clinton has stepped out front with a forward-looking agenda on bringing people out of prison, a definitive rebuke to the “law and order” politics used by her husband throughout his career. Not only did Clinton call for an end to “the era of mass incarceration,” but she also connected our prison population to broader patterns of inequality. “Without the mass incarceration that we currently practice, millions fewer people would be living in poverty,” she said. “And it’s not just families trying to stay afloat with one parent behind bars. Of the 600,000 prisoners who re-enter society each year, roughly 60 percent face long-term unemployment.” …

Likewise, Clinton is clearly giving thought to how we restructure policing and punishment…

Now, Clinton is on the record, and if elected, she’ll face the kind of pressure that makes policy happen.

On that, it’s worth a final point. Four years ago, body cameras weren’t a priority for national politicians. Now, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president—who may win next year—has endorsed them for all police officers. Even if its not a panacea for broad problems of police violence, it’s still a victory. Not just because Clinton has made the commitment, but because she’s sent a powerful signal to other Democrats(and even some Republicans) to treat police reform as a mainstream issue. [emphasis mine] Competitors like Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley may try to outflank her, but potential allies, either in Congress or elsewhere, will support her message and her leadership. Suddenly, police reform is a Democratic agenda item, something a Democratic Congress and a Democratic White House may act on.

Now, that’s good news.  Of course, what would be even better would be if Republicans actually took these issues seriously as well.  Some do, but at this point, not nearly enough.  Nonetheless, if this issue stays in the place of prominence it deserves on the Democratic agenda, we can be cautiously optimistic about some real change in the future.

Policy solutions to poverty?

At the end of my class on social welfare policy a few weeks ago, one of my students asked so what are we supposed to do about poverty policy-wise.  Hey, I’m no expert on this particularly difficult issue– and no, these suggestions will not “solve” or “end” poverty, but both are super cost-effective policies that would almost surely make a meaningful difference and be huge budget positive over the long term (alas, politicians can never think further than the next election).

1) Free access to LARC’s (long-acting reversible contraceptives) for poor women/girls (the age of which will be particularly difficult, but let’s say 13).  Actually free access to LARC’s for all women would very likely be a huge policy win.  Isabel Sawhill has done a bunch of research suggesting that unwanted pregnancies are hugely problematic.  Whatever we can do to reduce them (and nothing beats LARC’s) is a huge policy win.  Preventing unwanted pregnancies among impoverished teens is an even huger win.  Heck, if it was up to me, I would totally go with a policy “nudge” here and make free LARC’s for poor teens the default value for them to opt out of.  Yeah, not going to happen, but this would actually do something meaningful to lessen the perpetuation of poverty.

2) Nurse, social-worker, etc., home visits for poor families that focus on families with young children and help poor parents with better parenting strategies.  This, for example:

A new federal antipoverty initiative may be showing the first signs of real progress.

The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program brings professionals into the homes of low-income, high-risk families to help them raise their children in physically, socially, and emotionally healthy environments. The program funds voluntary, evidence-based home visiting initiatives across the United States, with models hailed as both cost-effective and backed by data…

Home visiting programs are an answer to that problem. They consist of visits from professionals – social workers, parent educators, or registered nurses – who provide health check-ups, parenting advice, and guidance to low-income households with a pregnant mother or young children. The visits are voluntary, but parents are encouraged to spend about an hour with each visit, which can occur anywhere between weekly and monthly, depending on the child’s age and the nature of the program…

Several studies over the last two decades have supported Cintron’s experience. Experts agree that investing in children’s early development yields returns in the form of a more productive and educated workforce, reduced odds of delinquency, crime, and disease, and savings in taxpayer dollars.  

This works.  Let’s do it!  Spend now and reap huge benefit later, damnit.

Meanwhile, on a related note, an interesting Monkey Cage piece arguing that we can even have an impact among troubled teenage males, i.e., it’s not actually too late:

Most solutions you’ve heard of probably boil down to one of two things: jobs or jail. Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence that either do much good. In fact, some of the policing and punishment could be making things worse.

Recently, however, social experiments from two very different places — Liberia and Chicago — suggest an alternative: a few weeks of counseling to teach self-control and how to become a better person.

Jobs and jail assume that adults are adults — you’re not going to change who they are, but you can change their incentives. I’m an economist by training, so of course I think that incentives matter. That’s practically our motto. But in repeating it, we might forget to study whether people can change, to what, and how.

Actually, we do think about this kind of change in children. Invest in early childhood. This is what so much research tells us

So what about the young men who reach adulthood and don’t have these skills?

The article goes on to discuss effective programs in Liberia and Chicago that have been very effective with crime-prone teenage males.

What these programs have in common is that they teach young men things that a lot of their peers got earlier in life from family or institutions. It’s remedial skills for being a patient, controlled person. These programs seem to work, and they’re cheap. STYL cost less than $250 per person.

Something that works is a big deal. Whether it’s in the U.S. or developing countries, job training programs have a spotty track record. Business skills programs seldom pass a simple cost benefit test. Incarceration might make criminal behaviors worse. And policing strategies, for whatever good they do, are too often violent and discriminatory.

So with behavioral therapy we might be onto something. Finally.

Sounds good– let’s scale this Chicago program, too.

And finally, I don’t think we know quite the policy prescriptions the latest research on neighborhoods and social mobility entails, but what we can say is that neighborhood matters a lot for the social mobility of the poor.

Now, however, a large new study is about to overturn the findings of Moving to Opportunity. Based on the earnings records of millions of families that moved with children, it finds that poor children who grow up in some cities and towns have sharply better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere…

How neighborhoods affect children “has been a quandary with which social science has been grappling for decades,” said David B. Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research. “This delivers the most compelling evidence yet that neighborhoods matter in a really big way.” …

“The data shows we can do something about upward mobility,” said Mr. Chetty, a Harvard professor, who conducted the main study along withNathaniel Hendren, also a Harvard economist. “Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter.”

The exact policies this should mean is complicated, but, clearly, insofar as we can figure out which public policies can influence the character of neighborhoods in ways that encourage more social mobility, we damn well should implement such policies.

So, what’s encouraging, is that we really seem to be figuring out some answers for public policy that make a real, lasting, and meaningful dent in poverty.  What’s discouraging is that we need our politicians to actually implement these policies on a wide scale.  But here’s hoping.

All I know

is that it is too damn easy to get guns in America.  Period.  And that has to change.  From Wisconsin:

Neenah —A father and his 11-year-old daughter were among the three people killed when a man upset over a broken engagement opened fire Sunday night in Menasha, police said at a news conference Monday.

The gunman, identified as Sergio Daniel Valencia del Toro, 27, then shot and killed himself on the Trestle Trail Bridge, police said.

The three killed by the gunman were identified by police as Johnathan Stoffel, 33, his daugther, Olivia Stoffel, 11, and Adam Bentdahl, 31.

Police also identified the victim who survived the shooting as Erin Stoffel, 32, the mother of the girl who was killed. Erin Stoffel is in critical condition at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah.

Valencia Del Toro, identified as a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student, had left a Menasha home Sunday after an argument with the woman he had been engaged to a little more than a year. Valencia Del Toro rode by bicycle to the Trestle Trail armed with two handguns. He opened fire unprovoked, Chief Tim Styka said at the news conference, held at the hospital.

About 75 people were in the area at the time of the shooting.

The Stoffel family — mom, dad, and three young children — was enjoying a beautiful spring Sunday evening on the bridge connecting the town and city of Menasha when their path tragically crossed that of Valencia del Toro’s.

Bentdahl, who liked to go for walks across the bridge and Fritse Park, also just happened to be in Valencia Del Toro’s path.

At about 7:30 p.m., Valencia Del Toro fired handguns at almost point-blank range without saying anything, Styka said. Witnesses described hearing 10 to 12 shots.

Johnathon and Olivia Stoffel and Bentdahl died on the scene. Erin Stoffel was bleeding from gunshot wounds in her abdomen, right thigh and left hand. She and her two other children, ages 7 and 5, made it off the bridge as she told her 7-year-old son, Ezra, to go for help, but by then numerous 911 calls were flooding into police headquarters.

Something tells me that even if 70 of those 75 bystanders in the area had been packing heat of their own, this horrible tragedy would not be averted.  I don’t know anything about Sergio Del Toro except that 1) he was extremely mentally ill (really, how else can you explain his actions); and 2) it was too easy for him to get a gun.

Police Unions

I’ve certainly complained many times on how frustrating it is that seemingly good cops stand by for the horrible behavior of bad copies.  Thus, even if it is only a “few bad apples” the whole barrel is hopelessly corrupted.  A lot of this is not just cultural, but institutional/organizational in the form of police unions seemingly predicated on the belief that police officers are incapable of doing no wrong.  Democrats don’t want to take on police unions because they are unions, and conservatives, while pretty much hating all other public-sector unions, still support police unions out of their misguided fealty to “law and order” at all costs.  Ross Douthat has a nice column taking on all the wrongness that police unions thus perpetuate:

Police unions do have critics on the right. But thanks to a mix of cultural affinity, conservative support for law-and-order policies and police union support for Republican politicians, there hasn’t been a strong right-of-center constituency for taking on their privileges. Instead, many Republican governors have deliberately exempted police unions from collective-bargaining reforms — and one who didn’t, John Kasich of Ohio, saw those reforms defeated.

In an irony typical of politics, then, the right’s intellectual critique of public-sector unions is illustrated by the ease with which police unions have bridled and ridden actual right-wing politicians. Which in turn has left those unions in a politically enviable position, insulated from any real pressure to reform.

In an irony typical of politics, then, the right’s intellectual critique of public-sector unions is illustrated by the ease with which police unions have bridled and ridden actual right-wing politicians. Which in turn has left those unions in a politically enviable position, insulated from any real pressure to reform.

With this important difference, however: Even with the worst teacher, the effects are diffused across many years and many kids, and it’s hard for just one teacher to do that much damage to any given student. A bad cop, on the other hand, can leave his victim dead or permanently damaged, and under the right circumstances one cop’s bad call — or a group of cops’ habitual thuggishness — can be the spark that leaves a city like Baltimore in flames.

The cases from all over the country where unions and arbitration boards have reinstated abusive cops make for an extraordinary and depressing litany. Baltimore is no exception. Last fall, The Baltimore Sun reported on the police commissioner’s struggle to negotiate enough authority to quickly remove and punish his own cops, and the union’s resistance to swift action and real oversight persists.

Not to say there’s no value to police unions, but largely unchecked from either the left of the right, it seems pretty clear they are creating far more harm to society than good in protecting individual police officers.  Time for left and right to come together and seek some meaningful change here.


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