A Kinder, Gentler Philly

Well, at least when it comes to Philly’s criminal justice system (boldface mine):

The most significant and groundbreaking reform is how he has instructed assistant district attorneys to wield their most powerful tool: plea offers. Over 90 percent of criminal cases nationwide are decided in plea bargains, a system which has been broken beyond repair by mandatory minimum sentences and standardized prosecutorial excess. In an about-face from how these transactions typically work, Krasner’s 300 lawyers are to start many plea offers at the low end of sentencing guidelines. For most nonviolent and nonsexual crimes, or economic crimes below a $50,000 threshold, Krasner’s lawyers are now to offer defendants sentences below the bottom end of the state’s guidelines. So, for example, if a person with no prior convictions is accused of breaking into a store at night and emptying the cash register, he would normally face up to 14 months in jail. Under Krasner’s paradigm, he’ll be offered probation. If prosecutors want to use their discretion to deviate from these guidelines, say if a person has a particularly troubling rap sheet, [District Attorney] Krasner must personally sign off.

“It’s the mirror of a lot of offices saying, ‘If you don’t ask for the max you’ve got to get my permission,’ ” says David Rudovsky, a prominent Philadelphia civil rights attorney. For longtime career prosecutors, this will take some getting used to. “You want to be sure your assistants are actually doing it,” Rudovsky says.

Krasner’s lawyers are also now to decline charges for marijuana possession, no matter the weight, effectively decriminalizing possession of the drug in the city for all nonfederal cases. Sex workers will not be charged with prostitution unless they have more than two priors, in which case they’ll be diverted to a specialized court. Retail theft under $500 is no longer a misdemeanor in the eyes of Philly prosecutors, but a summary offense—the lowest possible criminal charge. And when ADAs give probation charges they are to opt for the lower end of the possible spectrum. “Criminological studies show that most violations of probation occur within the first 12 months,” the memo reads, “Assuming that a defendant is violation free for 12 months, any remaining probation is simply excess baggage requiring unnecessary expenditure of funds for supervision.” When a person does break the rules of probation, minor infractions such as missing a PO meeting are not to be punished with jail time or probation revocation, and more serious infractions are to be disciplined with no more than two years in jail.

In a move that may have less impact on the lives of defendants, but is very on-brand for Kranser, prosecutors must now calculate the amount of money a sentence would cost before recommending it to a judge, and argue why the cost is justified. He estimates that it costs $115 a day, or $42,000 a year, to incarcerate one person. So, if a prosecutor seeks a three-year sentence, she must state, on the record, that it would cost taxpayers $126,000 and explain why she thinks this cost is justified. Krasner reminds his attorneys that the cost of one year of unnecessary incarceration “is in the range of the cost of one year’s salary for a beginning teacher, police officer, fire fighter, social worker, Assistant District Attorney, or addiction counselor.”

It will be interesting to see if this works. Hopefully, it does.

Posted in Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

Links 3/17/18

Links for you. Science:

The 8 Million Species We Don’t Know
The Surprising Ways Tigers Benefit Farmers and Livestock Owners
World’s Largest Telescope To Finally See Stars Without Artificial Spikes
It’s official: Termites are just cockroaches with a fancy social life
Efficacy of Sterile Fecal Filtrate Transfer for Treating Patients With Clostridium difficile Infection (pdf)


The One Thing Democrats Should Learn From Conor Lamb
Bills cracking down on sex work won’t help trafficking victims, but more housing will
I posted a huge note for the thief who stole my bike. Then my doorbell rang.
A Cyberattack in Saudi Arabia Had a Deadly Goal. Experts Fear Another Try.
Correction: Trump’s Pick to Head CIA Did Not Oversee Waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah
Jay Clayton’s SEC Lets Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes Get Away With Brazen Fraud
It’s Time To Get Real About Power in Silicon Valley
Asking Financial Advisers to Act in Their Clients’ Best Interest Is ‘Unreasonable’ Now
Trump’s CIA Has Set Up Teams To Kill Terrorists
In possible first, groups petition to have ICE walled off from Massachusetts courthouses
‘Bipartisan’ Does Not Inherently Mean ‘Good’
Colorized photographs show the everyday life of African Americans who lived side by side with immigrants in Jim Crow-era Nebraska
Gaming the lottery seemed as good a retirement plan as any.
These Dreamers Are 2 Of D.C.’s Best Foster Parents
A ‘Bright Light,’ Dimmed in the Shadows of Homelessness
If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Turns out it’s just chance.
Trump is right, it is possible to win a trade war, if you have a well-defined goal and a clear strategy. Unfortunately, Trump has neither.
On Avoiding Kneejerk Politics
Why We Should Lower the Voting Age to 16

Posted in Lotsa Links | Leave a comment

In Case You Missed It…

…a week of Mad Biologist links:

Driverless Cars And Chauffers

Democrats Unveil A Good Infrastructure Plan


What Happened In West Virginia?

Absurdly Well

A Hypothesis About Why NY Times Op-Ed Writers Obsess About College Students

Open Debate When Words Have No Meaning

Advice For Trump

In PA-18, Everything Mattered

Posted in Weekly Roundup | Leave a comment

Links 3/16/18

Links for you. Science:

Cold-blooded? Study finds female pythons care for their young
The unwelcome revival of ‘race science’
DNA Testing Forced Me To Rethink My Entire Racial Identity
These Crickets Can’t Sing Anymore—But They’re Still Trying
Did These Computer Scientists Solve the Cuban ‘Sonic Attack’?


‘The Trains Are Slower Because They Slowed the Trains Down’
Why it’s time for Democrats to ditch Nancy Pelosi (she’s a great parliamentarian, but she picks awful Congressional candidates)
Bowser Signs Bill Creating Public Financing Program For Political Campaigns — And Will Fund It
White nationalist leader Matthew Heimbach arrested on domestic battery charges (WILL STORMY DANIELS BE IN THE MADE-FOR-TV MOVIE?)
Leading DC Forward?
A Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola would fill a real hole in our transportation system. Is it worth it?
Should DC welcome new people, or try to turn back the clock?
When America’s Basic Housing Unit Was a Bed, Not a House
DC could lose the Funk Parade, but there’s still hope (you can donate here)
How Public Schools Became a Battleground in the Trump Era
On the Russian Presidential Campaign Trail in Siberia Part Two: Putin, Grudinin, Titov and the Meaning of Life
Reaching out to voters with disabilities had profound impact in Conor Lamb’s victory.
‘Bloody Gina’ Should Not Lead the CIA
Why Democrats Should Worry About Conor Lamb’s Victory: Dems pick up a House seat in Pennsylvania – but is Lamb the start of a winning strategy or the establishment sidelining the Trump Resistance?
The Worst Government Possible, on Purpose
Why Film Critics Were Blind to The Big Lebowski’s Brilliance
Busting the Myth of ‘Welfare Makes People Lazy’
Donald Trump Is the New George W. Bush: The rehabilitation of the worst Bush-era offenders underscores that Trump represents a continuity—not a break—with the past.

Posted in Lotsa Links | Leave a comment

In PA-18, Everything Mattered

After any special election victory, various people are keen to claim that their one strategy worked–or would have worked better had the candidate not followed someone else’s strategy. We’re seeing the same thing happen with Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania, were a district that went 58-38 for Trump in 2016, was a toss-up win for Democrat Lamb (BAND NAME!), where there are arguments over how this massive swing occurred. Was it a Democratic rally, Republican discouragement, 2016 non-voters returning to the fold, and so on. Of course, as is usually the case (and annoying as hell), these are proxy arguments for policies and the direction of the Democratic Party.

The problem is, as best as I can tell, based on exit polling data, the answer is yes. In a trivial sense, this is always true in a close election. If you win a basketball game by one point, everything mattered: making that extra free throw, not throwing up that bad shot, that lucky call (or no-call). But it really does seem that there was no One Neat Trick that let Lamb win. It’s also clear that 2016 Trump supporters really didn’t show up, while, relatively speaking, 2016 Clinton supporters surged (though turnouts were lower overall).

The best way to see this is to use specific vote estimates based on an exit poll (pdf), and the 2016 and 2018 election results. Here are the figures on the 2016 and 2018 turnouts, as well as the estimated numbers of Clinton and Trump voters (note: don’t take the precise numbers too seriously; estimates from the exit polls and the vote totals differ by around 1,000, which is pretty good, as polls have a margin of error):

(“Trump 2018” and “Clinton 2018” refer to Trump and Clinton supporters who voted in the PA-18 election).

So Trump voters, in a relative sense, stayed home compared to Clinton supporters, who also turned out at very high rates for an off-year election. So people saying that strong Clinton voter turnout doesn’t explain much of the massive swing aren’t making much sense: most of Lamb’s votes came from Clinton 2016 voters. At the same time, Lamb’s ability to convince eleven percent of Trump 2016 voters to vote for him put him over the top. And Trump supporters didn’t show up–and that, too, put Lamb over the top. But so did Lamb’s ability to keep 94 percent of Clinton 2016 voters in line, as well as reach out third party/2016 non-voters (who went 70-26 Lamb). All of these things mattered in determining victory, if not the massive shift from 2016.

So what does this mean, in the sense of claiming victory for one strategy or another? First, rallying the base does matter: if one percent of Clinton voters who voted for Lamb stayed home, Lamb loses. Without base turnout, you can’t win. Shitting on your base isn’t helpful–which Lamb did not do. At the same time, if Democrats can pick off a few Trump voters, attract some previous non-voters, and convince a few Republicans to stay home, they can pick up seats in all but the most conservative areas; as we’ve discussed many times, elections are often won at the margins, so these voters matter too.

Realistically, there isn’t going to be one model or political strategy to do that in different districts. And Saccone did worse than expected in turnout–was that a general Trump effect, or a ‘I don’t like Saccone’ effect? Since non-voters weren’t polled, we don’t know.

Anyway, your favorite just-so story is probably correct in explaining why Lamb won, but so are many of the others.

Posted in Democrats, Voting | 2 Comments

Links 3/15/18

Links for you. Science:

The Weird World Inside a Pitcher Plant
Forests Protect the Climate. A Future With More Storms Would Mean Trouble.
Congress Quashed Research Into Gun Violence. Since Then, 600,000 People Have Been Shot.
The Controversial Link Between Epic Storms and a Warming Arctic


Silicon Valley’s Gilded Cage (must-read)
Today Among Our Special Elite Media Snowflakes
Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions (this, not a 70% marginal income tax rate, is what confiscation looks like)
Dem senator: Why is Trump silent on Putin blaming Jews for election interference?
After Putin Cites Jews, Democrats Implore Trump to Extradite Russians
Betsy DeVos’s Investment in DC Distillery Draws Boycott Threats
Trump’s Towers Pale Next to Ultraluxury Buildings, Studies Show
D.C. Residents Set to Fight High Water Bills (don’t know what to make of this. We shouldn’t be slamming black institutions, but, at the same time, the parking lots need to be reduced)
Trump’s Order Stops ALL Foreign Takeovers of Large US Tech Companies
The Racial Dimension of Student Debt
What Elizabeth Warren Is In For: Trump will use Warren’s family history to stir up the dregs of the racial animus that got him to the White House in the first place. (though Il Trumpe will do this with any Democratic candidate)
The (Classist, Racist) History of Jaywalking
Trump’s Nominee For CIA Director: This Is What Happens When There’s No Justice For Torture
This would be a really good week for Senate Democrats to defeat a racist banking bill

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment

Advice For Trump

Observed at the Hirshhorn Museum, D.C.:

Hirshorn February 2018

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