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December 19, 2014 2:37 PM Unpopularity and Productivity are Related

By Seth Masket

Matt Yglesias posted a nice summary of some of President Obama’s recent accomplishments over at Vox yesterday, noting, “Obama is unpopular. He’s also accomplished an incredible amount.”

These statements are both true. From reforms of health care, the financial sector, and student loans to recent historic shifts on immigration and Cuba policies, his presidency has been an extremely productive one, probably achieving more important domestic policy change than any presidency since Lyndon Johnson’s. It’s also true that Obama’s approval ratings have been middling at best, hovering in the low to mid-40s for over four years now. Why isn’t such an accomplished presidency more popular?

Part of the answer is that approval ratings are never very closely tied to accomplishment. Public opinion on presidents is linked to the performance of the economy. The economy under Obama was briefly in the “terrifying” category at the beginning of his service, and could probably be classified as “strong” in recent months, but for the bulk of his tenure would probably be considered “just okay,” which is pretty consistent with his approval ratings. Sometimes major scandals (Watergate, Iran-Contra) can cause double-digit drops in presidential approval, but Obama’s avoided those. And we know that major military victories and terror attacks can move the needle substantially, but those don’t really apply to Obama’s tenure, either.

But policy accomplishments don’t really help a president much in terms of popularity. LBJ wasn’t popular because he signed Medicare or the Civil Rights Act. It works the other way around; he was able to pass those in part because he was popular in 1964-65, thanks to a very strong economy and public goodwill in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. Notably, all his Great Society legislation didn’t help him out once the public got annoyed by the Vietnam War; his party lost many seats in 1966 and he chose to resign rather than face the voters’ wrath in 1968.

Beyond that, to the extent productivity and popularity may be related today, they may run in the opposite direction. In a polarized political environment, a president’s achievements are likely to generate as least as many enemies as friends. Take health care reform, Obama’s signature accomplishment. No Democrat could credibly run for president in 2008 (or for many years before that) without health care reform being a top priority. That was the nature of the Democratic coalition for decades. Conversely, the Republican coalition had been organized for decades around preventing Democrats from enacting health care reform. Obama’s efforts were bound to produce substantial pushback, just as Clinton’s did twenty years ago. The passage of health care reform indeed exacerbated Democratic congressional losses in 2010, and may well have handed Republicans the House of Representatives.

This doesn’t mean that it was wrong for Democrats to pass health care reform or for Obama to do any of the things he’s recently done. It just means that actually being productive will engender resistance. Obama is unpopular at least in part because he’s been effective.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

December 19, 2014 2:35 PM Cheap Oil Fallout

By Michael O'Hare

I filled up my car for just under $3 a US gallon yesterday and got a short-lived sugar high, followed by the predictable crash. Gasoline in the US retails for about half what it should counting its climate effects and the taxes it should carry for road use, so this is overall, and importantly, a Bad Thing, as is anything that makes fossil fuels cheaper rather than more expensive.

Of course $55 oil is a very big deal in an world addicted to petroleum in other ways, like selling it, as the Russians and Venezuelans will tell you. Oil companies, of course, are scrambling. BP, trying to stop the bleeding across its operations, is also pulling the plug on its cellulosic biofuels projects. I am quite ambivalent about this last development. On the one hand, the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute here at Cal has done a lot of good science and people I like and respect have worked there for several years, mostly trying to make liquid fuels out of whole plants. They are going to be seriously dinged by BP’s pullback.

On the other hand, I am broadly skeptical of liquid biofuels generally, and especially of trying to make them out of whole plants, and I think BPs retreat signals twilight for the latter enterprise.  Getting the lignin off the cellulose, and then breaking the cellulose down into something a yeast will eat, has been very refractory. If you have a big pile of biomass in one place to use for energy, why take a bunch of thermodynamic hits doing chemistry on it to make liquid fuel?  Just throw it in a boiler in place of any fossil fuel (especially coal), burn it directly, and make electricity.

A cautionary example, and a special case, is ethanol from sugarcane, especially in Brazil, where they have spent many years getting really good at it.  This is a C4 grass, the most efficient solar collecting kind of plant, grown where there’s lots of sun and (except this year) water, that only has to be planted every six years or so, and makes sugar that can be fermented directly, so no enzymes to dismantle starch.  Because the whole plant stem has to be hauled to the refinery to be squeezed, the fibrous residue is burned as fuel to run the plant and make electricity to put back in the grid. (If the Brazilian grid were less green–they have a lot of hydro–it would be better.)  Like any crop-based biofuel, it displaces food production and winds up pushing agriculture into forest land, with a big carbon discharge from land clearing.  This is about as good as whole-plant liquid fuel can get, and it’s still only about a third less carbon-intensive than gasoline; it will be very hard for cellulosic liquid fuels to come close, especially at tolerable cost.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

December 19, 2014 2:28 PM Weekend Film Recommendation: The Bishop’s Wife

By Keith Humphreys

Your film reviewer is on Christmas vacation this week, and so we re-run a prior recommendation that is perfect for the holiday season…

the-bishops-wife-10

The only people who grow old were born old to begin with.

If you were asked to recall a 1947 Christmas movie that was nominated for a best picture Oscar, you would probably come up with the famous Miracle on 34th Street. But remarkably, it was only one of two Christmas films so honored that year. The other is this week’s film recommendation: The Bishop’s Wife.

Anglican Bishop Henry Brougham (A miscast but appealing David Niven) is under strain as he attempts to raise money for a new cathedral. Donations are not arriving, and the wealthiest woman in town (Gladys Cooper) will only help if the building is made into a tasteless monument to her late husband. Meanwhile, since becoming an Archbishop consumed with finances and grandiose plans, Henry has been drifting apart from his long-suffering wife Julia (the ever-luminous Loretta Young). He prays to God for aid and a friendly, dashing, sharply dressed fellow arrives at his office (Who else but Cary Grant?). Calling himself Dudley, the new arrival says he is here to help, which Henry takes to mean help raising money. But Dudley spends most of his time trying to restore Julia’s happiness instead, much to Henry’s irritation.

Some films live or die on the strength of a star’s charm, and this is an example of a film living, indeed thriving, on the charm of the inimitable Grant. Director Henry Koster seems to have instructed every female member of the cast to swoon upon meeting him, and it’s utterly believable given the warmth and gentleness that the handsome Grant radiates in ever scene. Loretta Young’s devout-and-goodly performance is perfectly matched to Grant’s, as the story requires their relationship to be intimate but at the same time innocent. She was at the peak of her powers in 1947, during which she not only garnered raves for her role in the Bishop’s Wife but also won a Best Actress Oscar for The Farmer’s Daughter.

Grant and Young get strong support from the rest of cast, particularly Monty Woolley as an atheistic retired college professor who is an old friend of Julia and Henry’s. The Robert Mitchell Boy Choir are also on hand for a mellifluous number in Henry’s former and very poor church, a symbol of the simpler faith and life that he has lost.

the-bishops-wife-deep-focus

The Bishop’s Wife rewards the eye as well as the heart, thanks to Gregg Toland being behind the camera. The town looks lovely, peaceful and Christmassy as can be. And Toland gets to be Toland, as you see on the left, which is my favorite shot in the movie, during which the characters slowly accrue at different depths away from Grant, who is making an emotional and religious connection to Henry and Julia’s little girl (played by Karolyn Grimes, who essayed a similar role in It’s a Wonderful Life).

The Bishop’s Wife is not a film for the cynical nor for those hostile to religious messages. But if the Christmas spirit animates your soul at this time of year, you will find much to love in this extraordinarily sweet movie.

I embed below the amusing “un-trailer” of the film, featuring the three leads and absolutely, positively no spoilers.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

December 18, 2014 10:26 PM Four Perspectives on Jeb Bush and the Republican Nomination

By Julia Azari

Giving a holiday gift to American politics junkies everywhere, Jeb Bush has announced that he “will actively explore the possibility of running for president.” At this stage, coverage has mostly been the horse-race bread and butter of junkie-dom, focusing on whether the next Bush in line can win the nomination. Implicit in these stories are ideas about how American political parties and presidential politics function.

Here’s a run-down of the basic perspectives, their implications, and how they relate to each other:

Personal/candidate-centered

Over the past forty years, this has been an important narrative about presidential nominations. Reagan and Clinton were great speakers and “Washington outsiders!” John Kerry was so electable… until he wasn’t - all that wind-surfing. The candidate-centered perspective also captures political presence and skill that can be hard to assess systematically. (This seems to bother some people more than others.) The discussion of possible 2016 contenders has included a healthy dose of attention to personal characteristics: Cruz and Rubio bring their Latino heritage to the table (And J. Bush is married to a woman who was born and raised in Mexico). Chris Christie has that no nonsense attitude -and a different body type than we’re used to seeing in presidential candidates. And Jeb Bush is, of course, a member of what we could properly call a political dynasty.

The New York Times has jumped on this perspective, with Nate Cohn and Jonathan Martin writing about J. Bush’s “persona” as a central aspect of his candidacy. Cohn’s argument seems to be that connection to his brother’s policies, which offended the right flank of the party by expanding government, are a potential liability with the party “base.” Furthermore, he suggests, the habit of criticizing conservatives - his “message and tone” - pose a bigger problem than his actual issue positions.

While Bush’s own political style and experience are certainly relevant, we can expect the family connection to dominate the discussion. In some circles, the linkage with his brother will be a major liability. However, in contrast to Cohn’s argument, I think it’s more likely that most of the people who are repelled by the family name will be unlikely to vote for a Republican in 2016, much less in the Republican primary.

Party base/Tea Party

If you’re paying attention, you’ve probably heard in the last 48 hours that Jeb Bush isn’t the most popular candidate with the Tea Party and the conservative Republican base (which may or may not be the same thing). His stances on immigration and the Common Core are too moderate (or too liberal, whatever, as long as we’re talking about a continuous left-right spectrum.

Nate Silver places J. Bush on an ideological spectrum with other Republicans, and finds that he’s among the least conservative of the putative 2016 crowd - and about level with his dad. His ideological profile also looks pretty similar to that of John McCain and Mitt Romney. As David Karol points out, the preferred candidates of the right often fail to win the nomination.

The question of whether the wariness of the “base” about Jeb Bush will prove fatal to his candidacy gets at some core political science questions about who controls presidential nomination politics, and how that affects outcomes. As with the candidate-centered thesis, the idea that control over nominations had shifted substantially from elites to voters became an important paradigm in the 1980s and 1990s. Scholars debate about whether primary voters have pulled the parties further from the ideological center.

Furthermore, the contrast between the most recent presidential nomination process in 2012 and the most recent Congressional primary cycles is instructive. The candidacies of Tea Party favorites like Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann stayed on the margins. A party faction that pins its hopes on Rick Santorum is unlikely to emerge happily from the process. But in Congressional primaries, especially the midterm years, the Tea Party has established itself as a group with some staying power, institutional flexibility, and impact. In other words, the Tea Party and other very conservative Republicans have been effective at taking advantage of the Congressional primary process. But, at least in 2012 (and pre-Tea Party, also in 2008) their success in presidential nominating contests has been fairly limited.

The invisible primary/elite influence

One reason why insurgents have been less effective in presidential primaries than in Congressional ones is the elite process that Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller have described as the “invisible primary.” As Hans described in a post earlier today, “The party wants the “best” candidate who can also win, and “best’ for conservatives is a fellow conservative.” So we shouldn’t expect Republican elites to flock to someone who is too moderate.

Bernstein suggests that name recognition mitigates some of the potential issues with the base, noting that, “we can say is that if he were Jeb Smith, a former two-term governor of Florida who has been out of politics since leaving office in 2007, and who has unorthodox positions in more than one policy area, he would be viewed as a longshot.” But the Bush name, he argues, appeals to party elites with the power to donate and to endorse. And these elites are probably much less eager to endorse a candidate who will be too far outside the ideological mainstream, however that may be defined.

The main takeaway so far is the tension between the “electability” concerns of policy demanders and other elites and the ideology concerns of the party activists and voting base. Both Bernstein and Noel frame this in terms of a tradeoff, with the ultimate goal striking a balance between the two sets of considerations.

That may well be what drives the outcome, but let’s take a moment and think about the tension in the process. One of the ideas that I’ve been thinking about as we approach the 2016 nomination season is the fact that the Republicans are choosing their disjunctive leader - the one under whom the Reagan coalition will really fall apart (if you buy the idea of political time and regime politics, as I do). The nomination logic here is not immediately apparent, as parties rarely set out to nominate the candidate who will end their period of dominance. But parties in the late-regime part of the cycle display some identifiable characteristics. They’re looking to reaffirm their beliefs and, at the same time, adapt them to new circumstances.

Viewed through the lens of what happens to political parties after long periods of relative strength, the questions facing Republicans might indicate a political order that has splintered into multiple, clashing institutional logics within the same party. One order is constituted (mostly) by elites, in charge of a powerful but mostly informal process, and primarily concerned with stability and economic prosperity. Their foreign policy is hawkish and neoconservative; their views on immigration pragmatic. The other order includes Tea Party insurgents, and much of the party’s base in the electorate. Their concerns include ideological purity on questions like taxes and national debt, and social issues. Their foreign policy views tend more toward hard lines on immigration and even isolationism. This characterization is hugely reductive, obviously. Insurgent types have their own elite leaders, and some Republicans in the electorate cleave to the former set of policy preferences. But the connection between who controls the selection process and what kinds of nominees will be favored nevertheless dominates our understanding of nomination politics.

The big questions lingering here are whether these tensions distinguish contemporary the Republican Party from the contemporary Democrats, or from nomination struggles in other years. The Democrats, after all, seem to have at least some people questioning whether they might prefer Elizabeth Warren to Hillary Clinton on ideological grounds. And twentieth century Republican history turns up no shortage of nomination clashes between moderates and conservatives.

The Republicans’ 2016 circumstances may still be distinct. If this reading of the correlation between ideology and process is correct, then the debate isn’t just about different candidates or policy preferences, but about entirely different ideas about what it means to be conservative, and what it means to operate as a conservative party. Parties that have reached the disjunctive stage often look for someone to manage the coalition - they nominate engineers like Hoover and Carter. But perhaps there are signs of disjunction in the process as well as in the nominees.

[Cross-posted at The Mischiefs of Faction]

December 18, 2014 11:17 AM Bloomberg’s Robert Schmidt Trolls Elizabeth Warren

By Martin Longman

Elizabeth Warren is getting attention recently for her increasingly strident attacks on Wall Street. Beyond mere rhetoric, this has taken solid form in her opposition to the nomination of Antonio Weiss to be undersecretary for domestic finance at the US Treasury. To understand the significance of this it helps to listen carefully to what Warren has said on the matter:

Senator Warren has been pointedly questioning the Wall Street-centric culture that has existed at Treasury and understands that various insiders find that threatening. She’s encouraged that Antonio Weiss supporters are now acknowledging that Dodd-Frank implementation is central to the role, and she continues to believe his experience is not the right fit…
…”[Weiss’s] supporters say, ‘Come on - he’s a smart investment banker, so of course he is qualified to oversee all the complicated financial work done day in and day out at the Treasury.’ But his defenders haven’t shown that his actual experience prepares him for this job,” Warren said in a speech at the Economic Policy Institute Tuesday.

The Treasury Department has had a Wall Street-centric culture since Alexander Hamilton set it up. It hasn’t really occurred to anyone to seriously try to challenge that culture. It seems a bit like trying to take the space-culture out of NASA. Not too many people understand high finance who don’t work in high finance.

Nonetheless, Senator Warren is trying to establish the principle that Wall Street or investment banking experience is actually disqualifying for a job at Treasury.

To be sure, Antonio Weiss has experience facilitating tax-avoidance mergers, so there is a specific beef here beyond the fact that he’s worked in high finance. But his work record is basically unexceptional for a Treasury nominee. Warren is trying to set down a marker.

And it follows on her successful effort to deny Larry Summers the top job at the Federal Reserve. It’s not that Janet Yellin’s record was pure as driven snow, but Warren was letting people know that she expects a different kind of leadership from our government.

For Bloomberg‘s Robert Schmidt, this was too much. He’s decided that the measure of Warren’s effectiveness is not whether she can rally people to oppose Wall Street capture of our regulatory and policy shops, but whether she can also prevent the people she has denied plum jobs from making any money afterwards in the private sector.

Summers went back to teaching at Harvard University, a job that, unlike the Fed, allows him to serve on Lending Club’s board. As a director, Summers has accumulated a little more than 1 million shares of the company’s stock and options, priced at 70 cents a share, according to SEC filings. Since it began trading last week, the peer-to-peer lender’s stock has risen to $27.90 a share—giving Summers a likely paper profit of roughly $28 million…
…Nevertheless, if Summers is looking for a way to show some gratitude to his former Harvard colleague and home state senator, he could always cut her a check. A recent campaign mailing offers an end-of-the-year deal: a special edition T-shirt for a $25 contribution. It reads on the back, “The Best Senator Money Can’t Buy.”

The idea here is to stick a finger in Senator Warren’s eye and say, “See! All your efforts just made Larry Summers a whole lot richer! Nanny, nanny, poo poo, loser!”

But Senator Warren isn’t trying to bankrupt Antonio Weiss and Larry Summers, so this analysis is just trolling.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

December 18, 2014 10:02 AM Sexual Assault Has Declined Dramatically in a Generation

By Keith Humphreys

Sociologists have long noted that public perceptions of social problems can depart dramatically from the reality of social problems. For example, during the height of Ebola coverage, many Americans were more terrified of Ebola than the flu, even though the latter disease is a much greater threat to U.S. public health. Because of the recent spate of media coverage about sexual assault, many people I read and encounter are convinced that the problem has never been worse and will get even worse in the future. Rather than descend into panic and despair about this terrible crime, let’s not forget that the prevalence of sexual assault has declined dramatically over the past generation.

Twenty years ago, the National Crime Victimization Survey was redesigned to do a better job detecting sexual assault. The revised questions showed that in a nation of 258 million people, nearly 550,000 rapes occurred. Two decades later, the most recent survey reported that in a nation of 316 million people 300,000 rapes occurred. Thus, in the space of one generation, the raw number of rapes has dropped by 45% and the population-adjusted rate of rape has dropped 55%.

I started my career working with and advocating for rape victims, and no one needs to convince me that the only acceptable goal for society is to have no rapes at all. But that doesn’t change the fact that we have experienced an astonishingly positive change that should lead us to (1) Figure out how it was achieved so that we can build on it (personally, I credit the feminist movement, but there may be other variables) and (2) Never give up hope that we can push back dramatically against even the most horrific social problems.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

December 17, 2014 8:20 PM Does Jeb Bush have a Mitt Romney problem?

By John Stoehr

That was the question leading up to the former Florida governor’s soft announcement this week that he was exploring a run for the presidency in 2016. The question came from Bloomberg reporters Joshua Green and Miles Weiss, who on December 11 wrote about Bush’s new and intricately entangled financial dealings with private equity funds that, among other things, help foreign and domestic investors avoid paying U.S. taxes.

Green and Weiss argue that with these ventures, revealed by November 27 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jeb Bush shares “a number of liabilities with the last nominee, Mitt Romney, whose career in private equity proved so politically damaging that it sunk his candidacy.”

If Bush does indeed share such liabilities, he was sharing them long before this year.

In July, Lou Dubose reported on Bush’s role as spokesman for a Miami firm that bilked millions from investors, and whose founder, Claudio Osorio is now serving time in federal prison. Osorio was a known fraud before Bush came on board, and Bush stayed on board even as Osorio was under investigation. As Dubose wrote in The Washington Spectator, the evidence suggests at least “an ethical blind spot that led Bush to ignore the fact that the book value and returns reported by InnoVida executives were impossible under any reasonable set of financial assumptions. … Bush endorsed a company that defrauded its shareholders and the government while failing to deliver its product to market.”

But there’s reason to believe Bush does not have a Romney problem. Not in the way we currently think. Business is a natural part of the Bush family experience. With them, business and politics go hand in hand to such a degree that there’s no distinction between them. As Jeb noted in his announcement, he had a great time over the Thanksgiving weekend, watched a lot of football with the people he loves, and they all talked about the future of the country.

I suspect voters, especially Republican voters, don’t mind Jeb Bush’s business history, even if they are fodder for attack ads. That history is easily overshadowed by his coming from a long line of venerated public servants that goes all the way back to Prescott Bush of Connecticut (who was a wealthy and well-connected banker and a U.S. senator). In contrast, Republican Mitt Romney was a one-term governor of the most liberal state in America who made millions almost exclusively through a private-equity firm that cannibalized other firms. Sure, former Republican Governor George Romney of Michigan was Willard Mitt Romney’s dad, but old George was a civil-rights warrior and a liberal beloved by the likes of Nelson Rockefeller. In other words, long before Mitt Romney ran for president, he was persona non grata among movement conservatives.

Which I think is the proper context in which to compare Jeb Bush to Mitt Romney: not as a context of labyrinthine financial deal-making, but as two variants to the competing factions that make claims to conservatism, especially the ascendent libertarian faction from which anti-abortion conservatives and neoconservatives have kept a distance. As Sean Trende reminded us some time ago, the Republican base—and he means specifically those who aligned themselves under the banner of the Tea Party—is furious with the GOP establishment especially over what it sees as betrayals during the George W. Bush years in which the biggest Republican majority since the 1920s was squandered on attempts at immigration reform, bank bailouts and the biggest single act of nation-building (Iraq) since the launch of the Marshall Plan. He writes:

“The icing on the cake for conservatives is that these moves were justified through an argument that they were necessary to continue to win elections and take issues off the table for Democrats. Instead, Bush’s presidency was followed in 2008 by the most liberal Democratic presidency since Lyndon Johnson, accompanied by sizable Democratic House and Senate majorities.”

So the Bush brand is far from robust. And this just the start.

December 17, 2014 10:24 AM Congress Finally Acts to Prevent Police Killings, But Will it Make a Difference?

By Blake Fleetwood

Last week, in a rare bipartisan vote just before they adjourned for the year, the House and Senate passed a bill called the Death in Custody Reporting Act. The bill which is slated for a presidential signature, calls for all police departments to report all people killed in custody or during an arrest.

“You can’t begin to improve the situation unless you know what the situation is,” said Rep Bobby Scott in an interview with the Washington Post.

Good Luck.

The bill was originally passed in 2000, but expired in 2006. During those years not much data was collected, according to the FBI and most criminologists. Since the law expired eight years ago, Scott has unsuccessfully attempted to reinstate it four times.

But his bill was stalled until last week when Republican Senator Rand Paul called on a couple of colleagues and persuaded them to remove their holds, no doubt motivated by the national uproar following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

If we can ever get accurate data, adoption of best practices and procedures might result in hundreds, if not thousands, of lives saved annually as a result of a reduction in police shootings of unarmed persons. Neither the federal government, nor anyone else, has ever managed to collect reliable figures that might help bring this about.

A Washington Monthly analysis of police homicides found wide discrepancies in the rate of police killings among major metropolitan police departments, when measured against population figures.

Contrary to popular belief, New York City—-with a police homicide rate of 1 in 123,529 citizens—-ranks near the top (best, least people killed) of large cities in the U.S. The NYPD killed 68 people from 2007 - 2012 out of a population of 8.4 million.

In Miami-Dade County, in a population of 2.5 million, (less than a third of the people living in NYC) police killed 68 citizens during that same five-year period. This means that citizens of Miami are 3.5 times more likely to killed by their local policeman than their counterparts in New York City.

An amalgamated review of police shooting data from the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and figures from 105 major police departments (obtained by the Wall Street Journal) —- when overlaid with population figures —- revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department killed 111 citizens during this period in a population of 3.8 million, which works out to one police homicide per 34,234 persons. This indicates that the average citizen’s chance of being killed by a policeman is nearly four times greater in Los Angeles than in New York City.

Wilfrado A Ferrer, the United States attorney for South Florida, studied police shooting incidents in Miami and noted the high rate of Miami shootings when compared to New York. In 2010, there was one fatal shooting for every 4,300 officers in New York, compared to one for every 220 officers in Miami.

If all police enforcement departments used the best practices of New York and Boston, which came in first place, the figures indicate that well over half of police killings might have be avoided. More than 3,000 lives could have been saved during that five-year period.

Lowering the Rate of Police Killings

Lowering the rate of police killings and shootings is certainly possible. For example, police in NYC killed an average 71 people per year from 1970-72. After a number of highly publicized killings, the NYPD instituted stricter guidelines and more professional training. Police were banned from shooting at moving vehicles. The drop in police killings was dramatic. Only an average of 11 people were killed annually in 2011-2013.

Police shootings in NYC have also dropped dramatically since 1991: from 332 to 105. This may be related to overall dropping crime rates (an 85% drop in murders from 1990 to 2013) as well as better training and procedures. Los Angeles police recorded 164 shootings in 1990, and that number dropped to just 65 shootings in 2010.

Much of this comparative city data is incomplete and some years are missing (e.g. there is no data for Chicago for 2007.) But working with the best numbers available for police homicides (2007-12), see below:

The lack of a national data for fatal police killings is beset by systematic problems and “is a national embarrassment,” says Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina.

The figures for people killed by police vary widely from 2007-2012. FBI reports show 1,242 police killings in those years. The WSJ findings, reported recently, indicate the true number should be higher than 1,800. Including police killings in rural areas and small towns, the total might well be over 3,000 and possibly higher, according to a Wikipedia page on the subject. Real national figures do not exist on this, but local compilations from municipalities and local papers give some idea of what is going on.

The last time data of this kind was compiled was more than fifty years ago in an article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology in 1963. In that study Boston was the safest city and Miami was one of the most deadly.

More Utah citizens have been killed by police than by gang members, or drug dealers, or from child abuse in the past five years,, according to a recent report in the Salt Lake City Tribune.

Through October of this year, 45 people had been killed by law enforcement officers in Utah since 2010, accounting for 15 percent of all homicides during that period. If you narrow the number killed to those killed by a stranger, then almost 50 percent of the firearm homicides are attributable to police shootings. Most people, of course, are killed by their family and friends.

In 2013, only 29 people were killed by a stranger in NYC (8.7 percent out of some 334 overall murders). The numbers suggest that if you are killed by a stranger with a firearm, one third of the time your killer will be a policeman.

An NYPD analysis of police killings several years ago noted that police reports in the past had been based on “the mistaken assumption that in the majority of cases where a policeman uses his weapon to fend off an assault upon himself the perpetrator is attacking with a firearm.”

“This is not true,” the study went on to say. “Reports indicate that in excess of 60 percent of these situations, the weapon used was other than a firearm.”

Most Citizens Killed by Police Are Not Carrying a Firearm

A Washington Monthly review of NYPD Firearms Discharge reports from 2010 to 2012 shows that more than half of the 33 people killed during this three-year period were not armed with a firearm. Only 15 guns were found, eight knives, two fake guns, one cane, and one frying pan.

In 2012, of 16 people shot by police, seven were armed with a firearm. In 2011, nine citizens were killed and only four guns were found. One person, killed by mistake, was a policeman. In 2010, eight people were killed and only four had guns.

One private nationwide report says that of the 739 justified shootings in 2012, 44 percent of civilians killed, or 136 total, were unarmed. Twenty-seven percent of them (83) were claimed by law enforcement to have a gun at the time of the shooting, but according to news reports, that could later not be confirmed, or the “gun”, in fact, was a toy or other non-lethal object according to “Operation Ghetto Storm.”

One of the most striking findings emerged from a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union a few years ago: in 77 percent of total shooting incidents (572), police officers were the only ones firing weapons.

Only 23% of the time (131 incidents) were the police officers fired upon with an exchange of gun fire.

A report of violent deaths by the CDC in 16 states indicates that 3.4% of violent deaths are caused by police, and only 4.6% are caused by a stranger. The chances of an average citizen being killed by a policeman or a stranger are remarkably similar.

American police answer their critics by claiming that a moment’s hesitation endangers innocent civilians. But the no-hesitation policy that cops traditionally use has killed more innocent people, including fellow police officers, than could ever be endangered by a little temperance. Finally, police say that guns are necessary for their own protection.

The fact is that being a policeman is one of the safest jobs you can have.

In five years, 2008 to 2012, only one policeman was killed by a firearm in the line of duty in New York City. Police officers are many times more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by a criminal. Eight NYC policemen took their own lives in 2012, alone.

Comparatively, a fisherman is 10 times more likely to be killed on the job than a police officer, according to national figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A logging worker is eight times more likely than a police officer to die on the job, and a garbage man is three times more likely to die while working.

Most policemen killed on the job die in auto accidents, according to FBI statistics.

Almost every major civil insurrection that occurred in the United States in the past century was initiated or accelerated by the perception that the police had misused their right to use deadly force, according to a report in the American Journal of Public Health. These incidents frequently cause large numbers of injuries and deaths, and they disrupt the social and economic relationships through which essential economic, health, public safety, and social services are provided to communities.

Two interesting statistics run counter to most media reports and widespread public perceptions:

1) The year 2013 had the fewest police deaths by firearms since 1887 nationwide.

2) Conversely, the number of citizens killed by police has been on a sharp downtrend for the last fifty years. This does not match FBI statistics, which show that show police homicides are rising. But the FBI has been underreporting police homicides for a long time. Hopefully, the Reporting Act will change this.

It is likely that more accurate reporting of late has led to rising FBI police homicide numbers. Reports from major police departments themselves show rapidly decreasing police killings of citizens. For example, New York City reports indicate that police homicides have fallen from 50 to 60 killings per year 50 years ago to 9 to 11 in recent years.

Keep in mind that 99.9 percent of all police arrests do not result in a fatality.

The lack of an accurate national database is intentional, according to Dr. Brian Burghart, who has been building a national database of police homicides. No government—not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force—wants you to know how many people they kill.

Twenty years ago Bill Clinton funded the Police Corps, whose mission was to train elite policemen with physical and mental conditioning very much like the training of the Seals and Green Berets. The recruits spent a year role-playing through every possible situation. The Police Corps produced 1,000 of the best trained and most professional policeman in the country.

But it was expensive, and, according to Joe Klein, it was killed by George W. Bush.

If the United States had better trained, more professional police, we certainly would not have so many police homicides, which are tearing apart the social fabric of our country.

December 16, 2014 3:43 PM Attorneys General Immigration Lawsuit is About Cheap Labor

By John Stoehr

Congressional Republicans have run out of options in countering President Barack Obama’s decision to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in the enforcement of federal immigration law. Such discretion means Obama’s administration, like all administrations, is given the leeway to choose which methods of enforcement work best, and in this case, the result is that as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants will not face deportation. His order, announced on national TV, does not cover the approximately 7 million illegal residents that remain, but it is in keeping with actions taken by previous chief executives. According to the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit in Washington, every single president in the postwar era, whether Republican or Democrat, has acted independently of the Congress on immigration.

The Republicans could pass reform legislation to override Obama’s immigration order but that’s unlikely given the sway of the party’s Know-Nothing faction, which is peerlessly led by the ambitious Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. The Know Nothing are a nativist throng that refuses to back reform of any kind even though the U.S.-Mexican border has never been more secure and even though the president has deported more aliens than all previous presidents combined. The Republicans could, moreover, press for impeachment on the grounds that Obama exceeded his authority in expanding a previous order (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals). However much that might warm the cockles of the Republican base, impeachment is neither practical nor smart. It wouldn’t revoke the order, only the executive who decreed it, and even more than the 2013 shutdown of the government, any Republican attempt to impeach Obama, especially if it’s successful, would be politically suicidal.

So Obama beat Republicans inside the beltway. But the fight is far from over. From a tactical view, this is where having control of a majority of governorships comes into play. On Dec. 3, attorneys general from 18 states filed suit in federal court in Brownsville, Texas, in a bid to stop the administration from implementing Obama’s immigration order. By filing in Brownsville, a small city that’s more than 93 percent Hispanic, the Republicans found in Andrew S. Hanen a sympathetic judge with a dim view of the administration. This effort, which has been joined by six more attorneys general since the initial filing, is doomed to fail. The complaint won’t bear scrutiny. But the point isn’t failure. It’s to never cede ground to the enemy. The utter nihilism of this lawsuit should elucidate what shouldn’t any longer require elucidation. Politics to the modern-day Republican Party is total warfare.

If judged on the merits, Obama’s immigration order is clearly within the constitutional limits of his authority. In any case, executive orders are temporary. They can be reversed by future presidents, Republican or Democrat, or they can be outlawed by Congress (Obama has come close to pleading with the Republicans to please, pretty please, pass immigration reform, please). More relevant to the Brownsville lawsuit, however, is that American jurisprudence is preponderantly acquiescent to the duties of the chief executive. Courts are exceedingly cautious and reluctant to say a president broke the law in the process of executing it. This is no secret. GOP lawyers know this. Consider the latest from John Yoo.

You’ll recall that John Yoo wrote the so-called torture memos while serving in President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice. Those memos in essence rationalized the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Apropos to the Brownsville suit, the memos argued that any action taken by the Bush administration in the name of national security is in and of itself legal. Say what you will, but Yoo is consistent. In a paper co-authored with a faculty colleague at the Berkeley School of Law, Yoo wrote there is no legal or political “remedy” to Obama’s executive actions on immigration, because “the prevailing standard of review of challenges to executive non-enforcement decisions is extraordinarily lenient.” In other words, if the president does it, it’s de facto legal, because there’s no way to stop it.

Like many Republicans, Yoo believes Obama’s immigration order is a “constitutional wrong,” but unlike fellow Republicans, he recognizes the main obstacle to suing the president over non-enforcement is something called “standing.” That’s a legal term meaning that I must show I have been harmed in some way to have grounds on which my legal complaint “stands.” The 24 attorneys general certainly believe they are poised for a world of hurt. Their states will suffer “dramatic and irreparable injuries” thanks to Obama’s “unilateral exercise in lawmaking.” But that’s not entirely clear. For one thing, as Yoo writes, it’s doubtful any “individual litigant could show the particularized harm necessary for … standing.”

For another, who’s being harmed? States have lived with illegal immigration for a long time, something that Republicans have claimed is itself a source of “dramatic and irreparable injuries.” More likely is a specific class of people fears “harm”: large corporations and agribusiness firms that rely on cheap labor. Obama’s immigration order in effect puts a floor under wages so immigrants formerly fearful of deportation can now demand at least the federal or state minimum, whichever wage is higher. That, economists say, puts upward pressure on wages, notably at the bottom of the labor market. And that helps everyone.

So this lawsuit isn’t about “amnesty” or “rewarding lawbreakers” or the integrity of the Constitution. Not at all. The longer Obama’s immigration order is delayed, the more time there is to exploit cheap labor. It makes sense when you think about. Big Business is, after all, the Republican Party’s base—it’s real base, to paraphrase George W. Bush. There is virtually no downside, short of impeachment, to waging all-out war against the Obama administration. Even if you lose in the end, there is honor—and profit!—in fighting the good fight. The real question is whether national Democrats are prepared to meet power with power, or are they content with merely being the most reasonable people in the room.

December 16, 2014 9:21 AM Living Well With Breast Cancer By Choosing Wisely

By Harold Pollack

Over at Wonkblog, I checked back in with one of my favorite people, Amy Berman.

AmyBerman_1x1 5 (1)

Amy is a program officer at the Hartford Foundation. She is on my real-life Madden team. She has been living with stage IV breast cancer for several years now. By the judicious use of palliative care, she is living well despite the challenges of a spreading cancer. It is a strange experience yucking it up over Skype sipping diet soda and discussing metastatic cancer. Life is funny like that.

We spend so much time debating what a good death might look like in end-of-life care. She has had a good life for the past several years despite an incurable cancer, because she has sought and received excellent care.

More here.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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