The innocent do worse in prison than the guilty
One of the cruelest ironies for innocent people who get sent to jail is that their innocence gets them worse treatment than the people who actually committed the crimes they were convicted of. Their refusal to admit their "guilt" gets them longer sentences and often makes them ineligible for parole. And Radley Balko says that there are other, subtler tortures:
Call it the innocence penalty. Innocent people are much more likely to refuse to admit to their crimes--before and after conviction. (Although it still happens.) That "lack of remorse" often moves prosecutors to throw the book at them, judges to give them longer sentences, and paroles boards to keep them behind bars for as long as possible.
There are other, more subtle ways the innocent are often punished more severely than the guilty. A few years ago, Richard Paey -- a Florida man given basically a life sentence for his supply of painkillers, even though even prosecutors conceded he was likely using them only to treat his own pain -- told me about them.
I didn’t do very well in prison. Fortunately, one of the prison doctors was very kind to me. He said he saw in me what he called 'the consciousness of innocence.' It’s very dangerous. He said if you bring it into prison with you, you will have the most horrifying experience that a human being can possibly have. You won’t survive. You have to acclimate and accept your situation and not resist. You can’t keep holding on to your innocence. You have to let go of it and start acclimating.
Yes, says Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry--in the worst possible way
My friend Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry responded to my piece on Obamacare and the pressure to shift workers to part time by tweeting "The Francification of America". I asked him to elaborate, and he did . . . at length. Below, an Amerophilic Frenchmen's thoughts on the direction of America's economy.
In American politics, perhaps the worst accusation you can level against a Democratic politician is the suggestion that she is trying to turn America into Europe. No, wait, that’s not the worst accusation. The worst accusation against any Democratic politician is that she wants to turn America into France.
Supporters of said politician typically respond with those accusations with outrage. And making such an accusation typically gives you away you as the kind of unhinged Tea Party type who wouldn’t recognize a French person if she wore a beret and carried a comically oversized baguette.
Of course Obama isn’t turning America into France!
“To improve is to change. To be perfect is to have changed alot.”
From Matthew Yglesias, on a lunatic proposal for a liquor license moratorium in the neighborhood where I lived before I got married:
People sometimes seem to have this fantasy that if they reject enough liquor license applications they're going to magically recreate a 1950s local retail ecology out of The Death and Life of Great American Cities but you can't actually do that without reverting to 1950s technology and demographics. Nobody's giving up Amazon, and nobody's giving up their ability to take a Zipcar out to Ikea. What you get are empty storefronts, lower tax revenue, and fewer employment opportunities.
I grew up with that retail environment. I would love to still live in it. But unless you've got a secret plan to outlaw not only Walmart, but also Amazon and the internet, you should probably start thinking about viable plans for second-best. And in the District of Columbia, that's food, alcohol, dry cleaning, and a very limited number of high-end goods distributors.
Pigovian taxes put a price on dangerous behavior. But they don't necessarily change it.
"But if we were pricing carbon fairly . . . "
That's the standard rejoinder to pieces like the one I just wrote, arguing that it's surprisingly difficult to make electric vehicles cost-competitive with the internal combustion engine. Hydrocarbons are an amazingly energy-dense and affordable form of storage for the energy needed to propel a vehicle. Four years ago, my friend Tom has did a couple of great pieces on the great frustration of technologists: why aren't batteries improving as fast as everything else? I encourage you to read both pieces, but here are a couple of highlights. From the first piece:
The other thing to mention is that Drum’s concern over lithium is probably misplaced. Lithium’s great, and a ringer when it comes to batteries. A cell’s energy density is largely determined by the electrical potential between its anode and cathode — the bigger the gap between them, the better. And as you can see from this chart, electrode potentials don’t get much more negative than lithium.
But it’s got its problems, too. Lithium wasn’t incorporated into mass-market batteries for a long time because of its tendency to catch on fire when exposed to air or charged too quickly. And lithium batteries still tend to dramatically lose capacity about 18 months after they roll off the assembly line, mostly without regard to how hard they’ve been used. Both of those problems have and continue to be addressed by brilliant electrochemists, and the lithium polymer batteries we use today are fairly miraculous. But it would probably be a mistake to think that lithium technology will get dramatically better than it currently is.
One blogger argues that the legends of their amazing recovery may be somewhat exaggerated
Via Tyler Cowen, a rather impassioned pushback on the notion that "old creditors & IMF to go jump, nationalised banks, arrested the fraudsters, gave debt relief and is now growing very strongly, thanks". This narrative has been very popular recently, particularly on the left.
Its author, who lives in Iceland, argues that the banks actually got off pretty well, and moreover, that the country's very peculiar debt markets are making it hard for families to get by:
There has been plenty of debt relief here. The the top 1% has had almost all of their debt written off, for example. Wasn’t that nice of the banks?
For the rest of us, the picture is a lot more complicated.
Better Place is struggling to make electric cars work in a near-ideal environment. What does this mean for the future of these cars?
"The paradox is that electric cars are perfectly suited for short trips–charge your car at home overnight or at the office during the day and you’ll drive worry free. But the economics make sense only if the car is driven a lot."
Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP, via Getty
That's Marc Gunther on the central problem with electric cars. They're quiet, environmentally friendly, and have enviably low operating costs. The problem is, the fixed cost of the battery drives up the cost of the car, to the point where it's simply not cost-competitive with an old-fashioned internal combustion engine. Nor is it convenience-competitive: a battery takes a long time to charge, while it takes a minute or two to pump your car full of gas. Ideally, electric car owners would be urban folks like me, with very brief commutes and plenty of time to charge in between. In practice, urban folks like me rarely have a garage in which to charge their whizzy little electric flivver.
A startup called Better Place aimed to fix that problem by swapping batteries rather than charging them: they own the batteries, and will upgrade them if better technology becomes available. For obvious reasons, they launched in Israel and Denmark, small countries where they could cover the whole nation without a huge install base. Marc Gunther drove one of their cars and found it a pleasure--but not necessarily a success.
It was the most liberal speech our president has given. But actions would speak louder than words.
The liberals and the conservatives in my twitter feed seemed to be listening to different speeches. The liberals were electrified with the bold stances the president was taking, gay marriage and climate change chief among them. Conservatives read it as a lot of empty platitudes about togetherness, followed by a bit of eye-poking to make it clear that anything we did together would necessarily be directed by Obama, not his opponents.
I thought the speech had some great lines, like "History tells us that while these truths may be self evident, they are not self executing." But overall, I was neither transported with joy, nor thrown into a rage. The most emotional part was simply the awareness that our nation had re-elected its first black president, a moment that was remarkable for how little his skin color mattered. We have come a long way indeed, and whether or not you supported his re-election, that is some glad knowledge.
I side with the liberals on one thing: it was arguably the most liberal speech our president has given. Which is news, of a sort. But I side with the conservatives in thinking that this was largely a big yawn. The president gave a speech which maks his base happy, but entirely on symbolic grounds. He promised nothing of substance, and covered no issue which actually commits him to delivering anything. Obama is against "perpetual war", but also wants to support democracy and "act on behalf of those who long for freedom." He wants shorter voting lines and "a better way to welcome" immigrants. He wants children to be safe and cared for. The last is a vague hope shared by all Americans (no really--even the ones who disagree with you about stuff!) The rest are carefully phrased to offer no actual benchmarks.
The speech does seem to be promising more on gay marriage and climate change, but whatever he is promising, he has no way to deliver. Climate change is, for reasons I recently outlined, not going anywhere. Marriage is largely a state matter, and while there are federal initiatives he might push (like making gay couples eligible for social security, or various tax credits), I am extremely skeptical that Obama could or would push them through the legislature. Gay marriage is advancing rapidly, but it is not yet so popular that Obama can count on public opinion to force the GOP's hand; rather the reverse, if anything. Especially since any such bills would come with a non-insubstantial price tag, at a time when the public is starting to push back against the debt.
Were we wrong to believe in them?
Remember how Obamacare was going to "Bend the cost curve" for health care spending?
That was OMB director Peter Orszag, back when Obamacare was being debated. There were a number of theories about how it would accomplish this. There were electronic medical records, which had been passed as part of the 2009 stimulus, which would cut down paperwork and medical errors. And ACOs, which would finally bring America to the promised land of "bundled payments"--i.e., paying a flat fee to keep patients healthy, rather than per-service, which was supposed to radically change treatment incentives. Medicare pilot projects were going to open up new, more efficient ways to do things. If all those failed, the legislation contained an Independent Payment Advisory Board which will recommend a panel of automatic cuts unless health care cost inflation stays below a fairly low target level.
The jury is still out on IPAB, which won't go into effect for a while. One by one, however, the others have disappointed. Medicare pilot projects have so far been a near-complete bust; "After accounting for the fees that Medicare paid to the programs . . . Medicare spending was either unchanged or increased in nearly all of the programs", said the CBO. ACOs may eventually produce the promised savings, but the top-notch facilities who inspired the program have declined to participate. And now EMRs are also looking a little wobby . . . indeed, they may actually increase costs, according to the New York Times. It seems that they make it a whole lot easier to bill for every niggling thing you do.
Mickey Kaus . . . er, well, takes the mickey out of overcredulous supporters of EMR. I'm not sure this is entirely fair. I was, as long-time readers know, a great skeptic of Obamacare. I still am. But EMRs were the one claim I found convincing. (Their promises about ACOs, on the other hand, were frustratingly vague: they could tell you a lot about how great the Mayo Clinic was, but didn't seem to have much of a blueprint, even a rudimentary one, for how ACOs were going to work. Any attempt to flesh out the details was met with the explanation that this was all really too complicated to explain in a limited time period but of course it was all going to be worked out.)
Law schools aren't the only ones.
Several of my readers have asked if I've seen this article about the New England Law School, whose dean makes a high-six-figures salary for producing graduates with some of the worst employment rates in the country:
New England Law certainly pays top dollar for O’Brien’s services. Pressed to name a dean who is paid more, Robert Gray, a political consultant hired by the school to help O’Brien answer questions from the Globe, cited only Brooklyn Law School, in New York City, where a dean and a president are paid combined salaries of more than $1 million.
But some indicators suggest that O’Brien’s impact on New England Law’s performance has been limited. US News & World Report, in its listing of 199 law schools, includes New England Law among the bottom 50 or so schools that it does not publicly rank because they fall “below the US News cutoff.”
In addition, only 34 percent of students in New England Law’s 2011 graduating class were able to land jobs requiring a law degree within nine months of graduating, according to the American Bar Association, compared with 68 percent at Boston College Law School, and 90 percent at Harvard Law.
The bigger, the better
In light of the Te'o story, this week I'm inviting readers to share their own whoppers. I'll share one that may not be the biggest lie I've ever told, but is certainly the most mortifying.
When I was a wee young thing of 14, a friend of mine had a huge crush on a boy we knew. (I know: amazing plot twist!) That boy, who I'll call "Tom", was best friends with another boy, call him "Harry", who happened to be dating another friend of mine. We conceived of an absurd plan to get him to ask my friend--um, "Jane"--out. I would call him up and point out that despite their nominal boyfriend-girlfriend status, Harry and my friend . . . er, Mary . . . never actually, y'know, went out. And that we should rectify this by getting them on a double date. With, naturally, Tom and Jane.
Got all that? Now I remember why we needed so much free time in high school. It must have taken hours to have every conversation.
So I paced back and forth in front of the phone for a while, practicing my speech, and then when we decided that I had gotten it absolutely perfect, I finally called up Tom. And like all bad liars, immediately gave into the urge to embellish.
Employers are planning to cut hours in anticipation of new health care rules. Can the IRS fight back?
This is the year that agencies will be finalizing the rules that tell us what ObamaCare will look like. Funnily enough, the IRS is one of the most important agencies, because they decide how the penalties . . . er, pardon me, Justice Roberts, the taxes . . . get applied.
I wrote earlier this week about the rules governing adjunct professors, who thanks to an IRS ruling, are likely to qualify as full-time employees for the purposes of assessing penalties against universities. In response, universities--the most left-wing employers in the country, except for maybe labor unions--are already planning cutbacks in their adjunct hours.
If the universities are doing it, you know it must be coming in other sectors; anecdotally, workers in the retail sector are about to get hammered. Employers are going to be hypervigilant about making sure that employees don't get anywhere near the 30 hour threshhold. And for employers that use variable shifts, like restaurants (where slow nights see workers sent home early, and very busy nights see them staying hours late) that's going to mean scheduling a lot fewer shifts per worker.
But the IRS is wiley. They understand that this is the likely outcome of penalizing employers who do not cover 95% of their full-time-employees (defined as anyone working more than 30 hours a week). And just as they have written rules making it very difficult to, say, pay your salary to a corporation that pays you nothing, but owns a very attractive house and grocery stash that you are free to use, they are writing rules to make this sort of arbitrage difficult. Such as declaring that if you try to put people on part time so that you have fewer than 50 full time workers (the threshhold at which the penalty is triggered), they will add up the hours of your part time employees, and count two employees working 20 hours each as one full-time employee.
A whole lot of changes ahead
"I couldn't do this if I didn't have tenure."
Law school enrollment continues to drop. (Rick Hyman/Getty)
That's what law professor Paul Campos told me, sitting at a table in Brasserie Beck after a Cato panel on law schools. By "this", he meant "crtiticize law schools for their graduation rates", something he's been doing, vociferously, since 2011. In an interview with me a few months ago, Campos laid out the dire math facing current law students:
I found that half of our graduates, like more than half of graduates nationally, weren't getting real legal jobs at all, and the majority of those who did get jobs weren't making enough money to service their loans in a timely manner. I was also shocked by the radical increase in the cost legal education, and what has turned out to be a two decade long contraction in the market for the services of lawyers. This is a disastrous combination for our graduates, and indeed for lawyers at all levels of the profession.
Not because climate skeptics suddenly got double-extra effective at messaging
Theda Skopcol has written a lengthy post-mortem on the failure of cap-and-trade legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions. An interview with Brad Plumer captures the gist.
In the course of this interview, Skopcol makes the following remarkable claim: "Climate-change denial had been an elite industry for a long time, but it finally penetrated down to conservative Republican identified voters around this time."
As Reihan Salam points out, this is an implausible account of what happened. I'll add, a wildly implausible account of what happened. I've been talking to conservatives about carbon taxes for years. They were never indifferent, waiting only for John McCain to lead them to the proper view on policy. They were always opposed. They just didn't spend much time thinking about it, because who cares?
For years, unions and companies have cooperated to push up the cost of New York's school bus contracts. That may end.
New York City's school bus drivers have gone on strike over job protections. Specifically, they are striking because the city is preparing to put its bussing contracts out for bid, and refuses to require that the contracts go to union workers. The result has been chaos for parents. As New York City has increased school choice, and special ed provision, more and more children are being bussed to far flung locations. Now their parents are scrambling to get them there without missing too much work themselves.
It's understandable that the workers don't want to give up such a lucrative job protection (Mayor Bloomberg says that after an adverse court decision about the city's Pre-K bussing, it is no longer legal for the city to offer them). And it's clear from the New York Times account that the union's desire to keep job protections has evolved into a cozy cartel relationship with the bus companies, in which they jointly work hard to protect each other from competition:
The history behind the current standoff can be traced back at least to 1979. Before then, a single company, Varsity, ran most of the roughly 2,000 bus routes. According to former Mayor Edward I. Koch, the schools chancellor at the time believed opening the bus contract to bids would save money. But, Mr. Koch said, it did not. And when the city put out the routes for bid, it did so without the job protections that had previously been in place. That touched off a strike that featured Operation Kiddie Lift, a thrown-together effort by city correction officers to ferry disabled children in buses borrowed from Rikers Island.
The city decided to end things. A judge brokered an arrangement that required the city’s 70 or so new bus vendors to hire the old union labor, setting in motion the job security clauses known as employment protection provisions that are at the heart of the current dispute.
What are they thinking?
I am fascinated by liars.
I don't mean ordinary, boring liars, like employees who call in sick because they want to go to the beach, or insurance salesmen who tell you that it is a good idea to buy whole life insurance. I mean people who tell high-test, dry-aged, technicolor extravaganza sort of lies. The kind of lies that are very, very hard to tell without eventually getting caught. Like making up a girlfriend who died of leukemia right before a big game.
Journalist Stephen Glass fabricating companies whose threads were spun out of his fertile imagination. People who pretend to attend law school or medical school, fooling their families for years. Scientists who fake Nobel-caliber research.
The morality of this is not very interesting: what they're doing is terrible. But the psychology is fascinating. What all these lies have in common is that eventually, there is a 100% chance that you will get caught, and that your lies will destroy you. How do people decide to tell them?
Medea Benjamin on being admonished by the president—and what she would have said if she could have finished on Thursday.
Did Obama lock down the independent vote with his move to reform immigration law? Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky and David Frum debate the liberal and conservative perspective on the latest immigration reform.