The Key To Emptying Prison Cells

by Patrick Appel

Tough On Crime

Researcher Peter K. Enns finds a relationship between the incarceration rate is going down and Americans getting less punitive:

[T]o understand the rise of mass incarceration in the United States, we must look to the American public. In recent research, I show that the U.S. public’s support for being tough on crime—i.e., the public’s punitiveness—has been a fundamental determinant of changes in the incarceration rate….

[The figure above] plots the public’s punitiveness and the change in the incarceration rate. Strong similarities emerge. The correlation is an impressive r=0.82. Statistically, this relationship holds even when controlling for the crime rate, illegal drug use, economic inequality, and the strength of the Republican Party. Based on this statistical model, if the public’s punitiveness had stopped rising in the mid-1970s, we would expect approximately 185,000 fewer incarcerations each year—about 20% of the incarceration rate. The expected influence of the public’s attitudes is larger than any of the other variables in the statistical model. Furthermore, an analysis of the public’s punitiveness and congressional hearings on crime suggests that public support for being tough on crime precedes congressional attention to this issue.

What’s Race’s Impact On Biology?

by Patrick Appel

While trashing Nicholas Wade’s book on race and genetics, Jonathan Marks points out that Wade ignores epigenetics:

It is hard to find a book on evolution today that fails to mention epigenetics—the ways in which DNA can be modified in direct response to the environment, and those DNA modifications can be stably transmitted—but this is one such book. Flexibility and reactivity are not in Wade’s evolutionary arsenal. To acknowledge the plasticity and adaptability of the human organism—which has framed most scientific work in human biology over the last century—would be to undermine Wade’s theme of the independent, unforgiving external world exacting its selective toll on the human gene pool.

Relatedly, Anne Fausto-Sterling reviews Richard C. Francis’s Epigenetics: How Environment Shapes Our GenesAnn Morning’s The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference, and Dorothy Roberts’s Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First CenturyHere’s a quote from Roberts that explains her thesis:

Race is a political category that has staggering biological consequences because of the impact of social inequality on people’s health. Understanding race as a political category does not erase its impact on biology; instead, it redirects attention from genetic explanations to social ones.

Fausto-Sterling takes this argument and runs with it:

Morning and Roberts argue convincingly that race is a socially produced set of categories that has profound and often terrible biological consequences. Without putting words into Francis’s mouth, since he doesn’t discuss race per se, he would, I think, agree that epigenetics provides a well-understood tool that ought to be used more frequently in studies of biological correlates of racial inequality in health. If our goal is not just to understand race, but to improve health, then we don’t need research to find genes that cause essential hypertension as much as we need to address the sources of chronic stress. … Understanding race as a producer of health outcomes, but not a result of genetic programming, doesn’t suggest that we abandon biomedical research as it relates to race, but it does suggest that looking for race-oriented genetic precursors of disease is a fruitless labor. We need a different kind of investigation.

It’s true that epigenetics “ought to be used more frequently in studies of biological correlates of racial inequality in health.” But that doesn’t preclude looking for genes that influence health. And some of those genes may well be concentrated in populations with genetic simularies. Just because those populations are not races doesn’t mean that we should focus entirely on epigenetics.

Previous Dish on Wade here.

Must Animal Shelters Kill?

by Patrick Appel

Brian Palmer defends shelters that euthanize hard-to-adopt animals:

No-kill is an appealing idea. But before condemning U.S. shelter managers as barbarians, look at a country like India, which prohibits the killing of unwanted dogs. The country’s 25 million stray dogs live in deplorable conditions—emaciated, diseased, surviving on trash, and in constant conflict with humans. The country suffers 20,000 human deaths from rabies annually, which represents more than 35 percent of the global total. Contrast this with the situation in the United States. Stray dogs are incredibly rare, and one or two Americans die annually from rabies, invariably transmitted by a wild animal.

The debate between no-kill advocates and traditionalists comes down to this question: What kind of life can we give animals that are surrendered to shelters? And would that life be better than a quick death?

When that life isn’t so great:

The conditions in some no-kill shelters are awful. “If you don’t euthanize animals due to over crowding, they get into fights,” says [PETA’s Daphna] Nachminovitch. “They injure each other. They kill each other. They spin around and throw themselves against the cage. They stop eating. They get sick, and they eventually die. This is the reality.”

PETA’s support of animal euthanasia has come under fire in the past.

Sharing The Bottom Line With Workers

by Patrick Appel

Seth Stevenson recommends open-book management:

Some owners or managers might be reluctant to share numbers with employees. One concern is that workers might leak information to competitors. But if employees have been sufficiently motivated by equity stakes or bonuses that are entwined with company performance, the last thing they’ll want to do is harm the company by aiding a rival. An employee of Square, the privately held San Francisco–based payments company, tells me that over the multiple years that Square has been sharing financial numbers with its employees, there’s never been a single leak—despite operating within the incestuous, cutthroat realm that is the Bay Area technology sector.

Another worry is that sharing numbers might fuel employee resentment over how budgets are distributed. But according to [Open-Book Management author John] Case, most low-level workers vastly overestimate how much of their company’s revenue is profit. When they learn how thin the margins truly are, they develop far more respect for attempts to limit needless expenditures. In situations where layoffs become necessary, opening the books can help workers understand why the company was forced to cut jobs. Case credits open-book management for frequently defusing adversarial relationships between labor unions and management.

An Accounting Of American Racism

by Patrick Appel

A history of the fight against housing discrimination in Chicago:

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These unfair housing policies are a big part of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new Atlantic cover story, The Case for Reparations,” which is certain to make waves:

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injusticesmore than a handout, a payout, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history. …

Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.

TNC reflects on his article at his blog:

I rarely hope for my writing to have any effect. But I confess that I hope this piece makes people feel a certain kind of way. I hope it makes a certain specimen of intellectual cowardice and willful historical ignorance less acceptable. More, I hope it mocks people who believe that a society can spend three and a half centuries attempting to cripple a man, fifty years offering half-hearted aid, and then wonder why he walks with a limp.

Freddie deBoer supports Coates:

Reparations would give us the most direct and powerful evidence of the efficacy of direct transfers since the (massively successful) implementation of Social Security. If reparations were paid out over time rather than in a lump sum, it could be a fantastic opportunity to learn how a universal basic income or similar mechanism would work at large scale. Closing the economic gap would go a long way to solving persistent sociological questions. We would see whether the “race science” crowd is right, and black people suffer from genetic cognitive deficits, or if my side is right, and structural economic inequalities cause performance gaps in education and other fields. My guess is that economic parity would lead to great improvements in a host of other quality of life metrics, like education, life expectancy, crime and incarceration rates, etc. We would also learn a lot about prejudice: do emotional and social prejudices cause structural inequalities, or the other way around? Can you attack those inequalities through attention to language and social taboos, or do you need direct economic change? Redressing the enormous black-white wealth gap would be a great moral good in and of itself, and it would also facilitate broader projects of social justice in the future.

Chotiner chimes in:

The best argument against Coates’s proposals is simply that they will prove to be more trouble than they are worth, i.e. that their practical effect will be a negative one. Perhaps white people will feel that they are being attacked, as a mere 95 percent of Fox News segments imply. Or perhaps this will weaken support for the social safety net, because African Americans will sound ungrateful. (The focus of the remaining 5 percent of Fox segments.) But then Coates will have been proven doubly right. If we can’t even have the conversation he wants because people are so defensive or unwilling (or plain racist), it’s just more evidence for what his essay rightfully bemoans.

Danny Vinik calculates the potential cost of reparations:

Larry Neal, an economist at the University of Illinois, calculated the difference between the wages that slaves would have received from 1620 to 1840, minus estimated maintenance costs spent by slave owners, and reached a total of $1.4 trillion in 1983 dollars. At an annual rate of interest of 5 percent, that’s more than $6.5 trillion in 2014just in lost wages. In a separate estimate in 1983, James Marketti calculated it at $2.1 trillion, equal to $10 trillion today. In 1989, economists Bernadette Chachere and Gerald Udinsky estimated that labor market discrimination between 1929 and 1969 cost black Americans $1.6 trillion.

These estimates don’t include the physical harms of slavery, lost educational, and wealth-building opportunities, nor the cost of the discrimination that persists today. But it’s clear the magnitude of reparations would be in the trillions of dollars. For perspective, the federal government last year spent $3.5 trillion and GDP was $16.6 trillion.

The GOP’s Senate Candidates

by Patrick Appel

Beutler sizes them up:

[T]he real issue isn’t whether the “Tea Party,” now vanquished, has been a liability for the Republican Party, but whether the Republican electorate is fractious and reactionary, and has thus kept the Senate out of reach for Republicans two cycles in a row.

The answer is yes. And Republicans have addressed that problem not by running shock and awe campaigns against individual “Tea Party” candidates, but by aligning behind candidates and incumbents conservative enough for the primary electorate yet polished enough (they hope) to avoid Akin-like admissions against interest. There are no Christine O’Donnells this year, but there are no Mike Castles either.

So the questions now are whether the current crop of GOP candidates can actually suppress the right wing Id, and, secondarily, whether the winning candidates of the American right can durably embed themselves into the political system. Just as we know that 2016 (a presidential year) will be a tough one for Senate Republicans, we can also project that conservatives who win swing states this year will face a much different electorate when they’re up again in six years. And come then, their conservatism will be a liability, not an asset.

Molly Ball argues that the Tea Party is still hurting the GOP:

Republican infighting is far more common and more brutal than that experienced by Democrats, egged on by a constellation of rabble-rousing conservative groups who pour money into ginning up the base. These battles, it hardly needs to be said, inevitably push the nominee far to the right in ways that may alienate moderate voters. North Carolina’s Republican Senate nominee, Thom Tillis, sought to reassure primary voters of his anti-Obamacare bona fides by boasting about how he worked to prevent the state from expanding Medicare; now his Democratic opponent, Senator Kay Hagan, is attacking him for his opposition to the expansion, which is generally popular.

Cool Ad Watch

by Patrick Appel

New CDC ads make passing reference to Truvada:

Following the CDC’s announcement last week, Russell Saunders, a gay pediatrician, came around on PrEP:

How can I justify qualms about Truvada when I don’t have them about Ortho Tri-Cyclen?

In truth, I can’t. If I’m going to be honest, I will admit that my misgivings are more about wanting my patients’ experience to conform to my own, and their identities to look like mine. And that’s not medical care, it’s moralism.

My job is to prevent HIV infections when I can. As the nation’s top AIDS doctor is quoted as saying, I cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. My personal feelings about the AIDS crisis are not a valid factor in my medical decision-making, and for patients who would benefit from a preventive prescription for Truvada I will start providing them.

The Dish’s thread on Truvada is here.

Winning Hearts And Minds And Judges

by Patrick Appel

Support for marriage equality continues to increase:


Lemieux argues that marriage equality’s success demonstrates the importance of court victories:

There’s no evidence that the public responds to judicial opinions differently than it responds to legislation.  … The lesson is that political conflict cannot be avoided merely by avoiding particular means of affecting social change. When proponents of social reform win, they will likely generate a backlash by supporters of the status quo — no matter what institution creates the policy change. The only way to avoid backlash is simply to not win.

At this point, the success of the gay marriage litigation campaign should be clear. Public opinion has trended in a remarkably positive direction, ultimately reaching the politically cautious occupant of the White House. Same-sex marriage rights have continued to advance at the state level, and such marriages now have federal recognition thanks to the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision last year. Arguments that the judicial decisions favoring same-sex marriage would be a major liability for the Democratic Party have proven to be unfounded.

The Rise Of Legal Highs

by Patrick Appel

Synthetic Drugs

Amar Toor flags a new report on it:

The world has seen an “unprecedented” surge in the production of new synthetic drugs, according to a report released [this week] by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In its latest Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment, the agency says it identified 348 new synthetic drugs in 94 countries as of last year, with the majority emerging between 2008 and 2013. The UNODC received reports on 97 new synthetic drugs in 2013 alone, though it acknowledges that the true number of substances on the market could be much higher.

The agency defines new psychoactive substances as drugs that are not controlled under international conventions, but may pose public health risks. Synthetic cannabinoids — drugs designed to mimic the psychoactive effects of cannabis — comprised the majority (28 percent) of such substances reported to the UNODC between 2008 and 2013, followed by synthetic cathinones, including bath salts, at 25 percent.

Abby Haglage traces the origins of “Spice” aka “K2,” a form of synthetic marijuana. She also looks at how the DEA is cracking down these drugs:

In March 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice placed the five most widely abused synthetic cannabinoids—including Huffman and Pfizer’s—on its Schedule 1 List of banned substances.

The DEA is focusing on moving forward to try to curb the spead of Spice—not back at its origins. On May 7, 45 DEA agents armed with 200 search warrantslaunched a massive nationwide program to eradicate synthetic designer drugs like spice (called “Project Synergy.”) In a matter of hours, the agents had confiscated hundreds of thousands of packets of synthetic drugs and over $20 million in cash. “The chemical aspect of Spice is unique and new,” Rusty Payne, spokesperson for the DEA tells me. “We have to not only establish that someone is trafficking something but we have to go undercover and get it so we can test it. Sometimes it’s a game of whack-a-mole.”

Jacob Sullum expects this strategy to backfire:

As [Dallas ABC station WFAA] explains, “K2 is difficult to regulate because manufacturers switch up the ingredients frequently.” And why do they do that? To stay ahead of the law. The upshot is that a relatively benign ingredient may be replaced on the sly with something less fun or more toxic. And as the DEA implicitly admits, legal restrictions on marijuana—a well-researched drug that humans have been consuming for thousands of years, a drug that the president of the United States correctly calls safer than alcohol—are encouraging people to experiment with novel chemicals that may prove far more dangerous.

Taking Climate Politics’s Temperature

by Patrick Appel

Chait acknowledges “where the politics of climate change stand at the outset of Obama’s new climate offensive”:

The scientific consensus is stronger and more urgent than ever, while the political consensus is weaker than ever. Republicans are not even considering the notion of asking Americans to spend money to mitigate climate change, and are increasingly uncertain about the notion of even saving money to mitigate climate change. And into this simmering pot of reflexive opposition and anti-empiricism Obama will plop a highly ambitious and not very cuddly scheme to clean up the power-plant sector. It has already drawn strong opposition from the major business lobbies. It is likely to become the major point of conflagration of Obama’s second term.

He compares the climate fight to Obamacare:

The grimmest contrast between power-plant regulation and health care is that regulating carbon emissions creates almost no winners. There will be no equivalent of the millions of people newly granted access to medical care, no heartwarming stories of long-suffering patients seeing a doctor for the first time in years. Climate regulation doesn’t create a benefit. It doesn’t even prevent a loss. Its only goal is to mitigate the extent of the damage.

And this is why, unlike carefully selected election-year issues like the minimum wage or equal pay, Obama is not picking this issue to help his party save Senate seats. He is doing this because, given the enormity of the stakes for centuries to come, there is no morally defensible alternative.

But Nate Cohn notes that El Niño could change the political calculus somewhat:

The return of El Niño is likely to increase global temperatures. [Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research] believes it is “reasonable” to expect that 2015 will be the warmest year on record if this fall’s El Niño event is strong and long enough.

That could make a difference in the battle for public opinion. One-third of Americans don’t trust climate scientists, according to Jon Krosnick of Stanford University, and they make their decisions about climate change “based on very recent trends in warming.” Belief in warming jumps when global temperatures hit record highs; it drops in cooler years.