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Frank Kieviet
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Frank Kieviet

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The importance of sane minds on the SCOTUS...
(Remember there's a vacancy that the next president is going to fill?)

The ACLU, in a friend-of-the-court brief in the Stephens case, underscored the concerns that Ginsburg raised in Hobby Lobby. The implications of a ruling in the funeral homes’ favor would be “staggering,” it declared. “People hold sincere religious beliefs about a wide variety of things, including racial and religious segregation and the role of women in society. … If religious motivation exempted businesses from anti-discrimination laws, our government would be powerless to enforce those laws.”

Among other things, “business owners could refuse service to people of color, on the ground that their religious beliefs forbid racial integration. Employers could refuse to hire women or pay them less than men, because their religious beliefs require women to remain at home. And educational institutions receiving federal benefits could impose religiously motivated racial segregation policies on their students. All civil rights laws would be vulnerable to such claims where the discrimination was motivated by religion.”

Hobby Lobby, Ginsburg warned, was “a decision of startling breadth.” How broad is just now becoming clear.
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People. You always said you hated web ads. But good reporting takes money. He shouldn't be reduced to this. His company shouldn't be reduced to this. Go subscribe or go donate.

And please re-share this, so that others know about it as well.

Max Rosenthal, one of the people who worked on this story, wrote on FB
I am genuinely sorry about this brief moment of Earnest Facebook, but this is important:

1) Two months ago we published a huge story about the horrific conditions in privately-run prisons. Today the DOJ announced it's no longer going to use corporate prisons to house its inmates.

2) That story cost us 18 months and $350,000 or so to produce. The online ads that ran with the story earned about $5,000.

Basically, I work with incredible, world-changing badasses, but our industry's funding methods are far too broken to pay for the stories that actually matter. So please consider donating or subscribing to MoJo so we can keep doing this stuff (or, if you don't care about that, maybe at least so I can keep paying my rent).
I started applying for jobs in private prisons because I wanted to see the inner workings of an industry that holds 131000 of the nation's 1.6 million prisoners. As a journalist, it's nearly impossible to get an unconstrained look inside our penal system. When prisons do let reporters in, ...
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Why do we allow for-profit policing? The"moral hazard"is so obvious that it is just asking for trouble.
When police assume the role of debt collectors with the ability to imprison debtors, the risk of a violent confrontation with a civilian may rise.
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In recent years, the Russians have opened some of their archives and digitized many of their documents. Recently, one set of documents of particular importance came to light: 1,000 pages of diary entries from Heinrich Himmler, considered Hitler’s number two and the architect of the Holocaust.

The diaries were discovered in Russian military archives in Podolsk, a suburb of Moscow in 2013. The typed diary entries were put together each day by Himmler’s assistants. Knight writes that the new discovery covers the years 1937-1938 and 1944-1945. A previous diary covering 1941-1942 was discovered in 1990.

Many British newspapers have translated these excerpts that paint a chilling picture of a man who easily blended domestic life with acts of mass murder.

“The most interesting thing for me is this combination of doting father and cold-blooded killer,” Imoehl reported, “He was very careful about his wife and daughter, as well as his affair with his secretary. He takes care of his comrades and friends. Then there is the man of horror.

One day he starts with breakfast and a massage from his personal doctor, then he rings up his wife and daughter in the south of Germany and after that he decides to have 10 men killed or visits a concentration camp.”

On the surface, many of the events recorded seem mundane. But when lined up next to historical events, Himmler's snack breaks and calls to his family are repugnant.

In one instance, the diary records that Himmler ordered that new guard dogs be placed at Auschwitz that could rip people “to shreds.”

Another day's entry casually mentions that Himmler flew to Poland, ate lunch in an airport hotel, then toured the SS Sonderkommando at the Majdanek concentration camp.

The Sonderkommando were units of prisoners forced to dispose of the bodies at concentration camps, as Phillips points out. Himmler was there to see a new diesel-powered gas chamber in action, but no new prisoners were scheduled to arrive that day. So he waited while guards rounded up 400 Jewish women and girls from the nearby Lublin ghetto for a demonstration. Later that night, Himmler attended a banquet held in his honor.

One page recorded that Himmler was informed that some police officers in Poland were refusing to fight for their Nazi occupiers. The last entry for the day states “9-10 pm: Orders all ten officers be executed and their families sent to concentration camps before going to bed.”

For historians, the diaries are a big find. “The importance of these documents is that we get a better structural understanding of the last phase of the war,” Nikolaus Katzer, director of the German Historical Institute shared. “It provides insight into the changing role of Himmler and insight into the SS elite and overall the entire German leadership.”

Himmler was captured by British soldiers in Berlin in May 1945. He killed himself using a secret cyanide capsule before he could be interrogated. His body was buried in an unmarked grave that has not been revealed to this day.

{text omitted}
The man who designed the Nazi concentration camps switched easily between recording domestic life and mass murder
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warned, long before the rise of Donald Trump, that Presidents Bush and Obama were providing all the infrastructure that a tyrant would need to perpetrate grave abuses of power. With his rise, I urged elected officials to tyrant-proof the White House before it’s too late. If the prudence of doing so wasn’t evident before, is it now, with knowledge that Trump soon won’t need the Russians to secure  information about the private communications of every legislator and judge in America, but will presumably still want to hack into the communications of his rivals?

This danger would be lessened with reforms to the NSA, including a mandate to purge old data from its vast stores. At the same time, Trump’s outreach to the Russians underscores the fact that we’re now in a reality where any candidate for president, or the president herself, can seek data from foreign-intelligence agencies, data that can almost certainly give them power relative to political adversaries.

Trump Shows the Flaws of NSA Surveillance

His call for Russian hackers to break into Hillary Clinton’s email validate the worst suspicions of security-state critics.
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Have him in circles
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Frank Kieviet

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One of the strange things about discussing police violence in the US is that we simply don't know how much of it there is. Despite what you might expect, police in most states are under no obligation to record and report if a person dies in their custody, or even if they kill someone in the line of duty. Back in 2000, Congress passed a law intended to fix this, but as we'll see in a moment, it hasn't quite worked.

Right now, there are only two national sources of data about this. One is the Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) maintained by the FBI, which is a list of homicides by police that have been ruled justified by either local law enforcement or the local FBI. (NB: "homicide" is not the same thing as "murder;" it means the death of a person because of the actions of another, which can include everything from accidents to self-defense to lying in wait with an axe)

The other is the Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) list maintained by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) at the Department of Justice, created because of this 2000 law. It lists all "persons who died either during the process of arrest or while in the custody of state or local law enforcement personnel." This includes deaths which aren't homicides as well, such as suicides, drug overdoses, or accidents – but since one frequently asks whether a suicide was a suicide or "the worst case of suicide I ever saw, six gunshots to the back of the head," it's not a bad idea to log all of them. (Really, simply logging these things ought to be mandatory)

Unfortunately, ARD data is collected via voluntary compliance of state and local law enforcement – and quite a few states and localities have openly refused to provide any data, while other localities' data has proven to be so full of holes (e.g. by simple comparison to media reports) that it can only be described as a blatant lie. This failure was so severe that in 2014, the BJS suspended the entire ARD program pending a massive review. [1]

Congress is discussing passing a new law which would make reporting mandatory, not optional – but given the current state of Congress, passage is far from certain, and the states' treatment of ARD suggests that without some serious enforcement, deceit would be widespread. You would think that "keep track of everyone who died in the course of your job" would be a pretty reasonable thing to ask of most people, but apparently not.

So given two data sources which are full of massive omissions, you might think that we're SOL in figuring out just what the scale of deaths really is. But it turns out that this is not the only situation in which we face such a problem – and there are ways of dealing with it.

The article below was written by a statistician, a member of a team which analyzes mass deaths around the world: Kosovo, Colombia, Syria, and the like. In each of these cases, there are lists of the dead compiled by various sources, and each of them is tremendously full of holes for various reasons. But when you have multiple flawed lists, you can use statistics to estimate how big the original set might have been.

The article explains how this works in very clear language, but let me give you a taste. Imagine that N total people died, but you don't know N. Instead, you just have two lists, one of A people and one of B people. Now, if there were no correlation between these lists, you would expect that the probability for anyone to be on the B list is B/N. That means that the probability for someone on the A list to be on the B list as well is also B/N, so you expect there to be AB/N people on both lists. But since you know A, B, and the number of people on both lists, you can work out a first guess about N.

The trickier bits come from ways to take into account that the two lists often are correlated; for example, a death with more media attention is far more likely to be reported in both the ARD and SHR than one that goes below the radar. But this is exactly what statisticians have gotten good at for the past twenty-five years, and we can look at how lists like these from around the world do or don't correlate to get a range of how these two lists might relate.

When all is said and done, it's possible to pull out a number: somewhere between 1,250 and 1,500. That's the team's best estimate of the total number of people killed every year in police custody or during arrest in the US. Note that this doesn't try to split up justified versus unjustified deaths, which wouldn't be something you can do from statistics; it just gives us a scale of what's going on.

For comparison, in 2015 there were a total of 16,121 homicides of any sort in the US, [2] so police-involved deaths would account for about 8% of all deaths. But before you get too relaxed, remember that the overwhelming majority – about three quarters, by best estimates – of homicides are committed by people who know each other. (This makes sense; if you sit and make your better-dead list, it's going to contain people you know, not total strangers. People have more reasons to kill people they know.)

This means that roughly one third of all Americans killed by strangers are killed by police. That's an extraordinary number. And while I'll reiterate that this makes no attempt to separate the justified from the unjustified deaths, it does give us a sense of scale, and why the reports of police violence sometimes seem overwhelming.

The next step for such an analysis would be to note that police-related deaths aren't uniformly distributed in the population. We could use similar techniques to estimate what fraction of stranger killings are done by police by race. Without access to the full data [3], I can tell you that the fraction is going to be much higher if you're black, and somewhat lower if you're white. Mental illness is another very strong predictor, although I don't know if we have enough data to estimate the precise effect.

(This reminds me of another interesting article I read, although I can't find the citation right now: while the rate of rape of women is much higher than that of men, the rate of rape by strangers is actually close to equal. The difference for men is almost entirely accounted for by prisons, where (depending on the prison) rape is considered almost a standard part of punishment. A good general rule is that stranger crimes and acquaintance crimes tend to be very different beasts. This makes it somewhat surprising that our laws don't treat the two more differently.)

So if you're ever wondering why some people see death by police as a major risk, this is why. It turns out that, if you're going to be murdered by a stranger, the odds are pretty good that it's going to be a cop.

[1] For more, see
[2] See . CDC statistics about death are really interesting.
[3] I can't give you a back-of-the-envelope answer, because the most naive calculation – using that most statistics of the form "black people are X times more likely than white people to encounter [negative event] with the police" seem to come up with X's around 3 – would tell you that all of them are, which is clearly false. So real statistics work is required, preferably done by real statisticians.
‘One-third of all Americans killed by strangers are killed by police.’ Patrick Ball measures the undocumented police killings in the United States.
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Good news! (What took them so long?)

If you haven't read the Mother Jones article yet, I strongly recommend it (although it's very long).
There are three companies in the country which run almost all of its private prisons: GEO, CCA, and MTC. This is a plot of the stock prices of the two public ones (GEO and CCA) today, after the Department of Justice announced that the Federal government was done with private prisons: the Deputy AG has directed the department to "substantially reduce" or decline to renew expiring contracts with all of them. [1]

It would be hard to find a set of companies that I would be happier to see fail. If you had to come up with an outrageous example of "perverse incentives," private prisons would top the list: these companies' contracts with states and localities specify minimum numbers of people that these governments must imprison, at which point they are handed over to these companies for use as "free" labor. [2]

One of the key motivating factors for this change was good journalism in action: an investigative reporter went undercover as a guard in a private prisons, and the resulting article is incredibly worth reading. If you haven't, check it out:


[2] Many people don't notice the loophole in the 13th Amendment: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." It took about seven years after the Civil War for people to realize the full economic value of this loophole, that you could arrest people on any charge and then use them as slave labor. Elaborate systems of kickbacks to judges and arrest quotas showed up almost immediately, and have been immensely profitable ever since)
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Some things I need to say which will probably be fairly unpopular:

(1) Pauline Hanson is an excellent example of why I think multiparty democracy is a terrible idea. Increasing the political power of people at the fringes might help you get your particular favorite idea represented – but it also lets other people do that. Generally, it moves political power away from the center and towards the edges. And so you end up with people like this having the effective deciding vote in legislatures, able to block any bill if they don't get their way.

(2) In related news, Jill Stein is now talking about how wonderful Julian Assange is. If you haven't been following what Assange and his cronies have been up to lately, he's been (a) openly waging a campaign against Clinton, saying he's doing this specifically to harm her and he doesn't care what else happens, (b) doing massive data dumps without bothering to redact sensitive personal information about people who are in no way implicated in wrongdoing (e.g., people's SSN's and home addresses), and (c) going off on thoroughly anti-Semitic rants in public. In case you haven't noticed it, Julian Assange is grade-A scum who happens to have been involved in some decent things in the past – but, AFAICT, anything good he's done has been by chance, not design.

Stein's self-affiliation with him only serves to lower her even further in my eyes. (Her policy statements did a great deal to do so before this, ranging from her love affair with anti-vaxxers to her lengthy screed against the rights of sex workers)

(3) For those who think that third parties serve an important role in the process, I have to say: I completely and utterly disagree.

Third parties would play an important role if the purpose of elections were for people to express their political opinions, and for the country to come to some kind of conclusion as to how its government should operate at a basic level. But that's not what elections do. That's the purpose of the public square, of public discussion and debate. Elections have a very specific and concrete purpose: to choose who takes various elective offices. That's all they do.

A vote for a third party is simply a fancy way to abstain; it doesn't actually increase the chances that the third party will get funding in the future, or that their ideas will be more listened to, because these parties are the fringe of the fringe: they are so interested in the "purity of their ideals" that they won't even enter into the process of actual dealmaking, coalition-building, and so on. Their ideas will never have an effect, because they have given up on talking to the main bulk of the country and are instead spending their time either preaching to the choir or trying to convert the handful of people who are so far on the edge of their own parties that they're about to abstain anyway.

And to be brutally honest: abstention from important elections on matters of principle is irresponsible.

Elections do come down to small numbers of votes. Bush v. Gore came down to roughly 600 votes' difference. Local elections, even statewide elections, can come down to even less. And when you not only abstain, but encourage others to do so, you stand the risk of actually influencing the election – but rarely in the way you want. Because if you encourage people who are leaning mostly your way to cast a protest vote, you're telling people who would vote for a candidate that mostly agrees with you to stay home. Whether you're on the left or the right, what that does is cast half a vote for the other side.

Do not tell me that both of the candidates are the same. To say that at this point goes beyond the level of "deliberately obtuse." You know they aren't.

Do not tell me that neither of the candidates is speaking about the things you care about. There may be the one thing you care about more than anything else, but whoever is President, and whoever controls Congress, is going to be making decisions about a lot of things, including things you care about a great deal. You do not get to choose from all the people in the world, or from all the positions in the world, but you do get to choose between two options, and they aren't the same. They will not appoint the same people to the courts, they will not start the same wars, they will not do the same things to the economy.

(4) If you are seriously so isolated that you think you would do equally well, or badly, under either of them, then think about what would happen to the rest of the people in the country. They wouldn't.

(5) If you seriously don't care and just want to watch the world burn, then I stand corrected: please, go vote for a third party. Or stay home. Or emigrate. Those of us who have to live here don't welcome you.
According to Pauline Hanson, Australia is being "swarmed by Asians", mosques need to have security cameras, and halal-certified food is funding terrorism.
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3am... Who do you want to answer the phone?
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Ignore the profanity and read it!
It's hard to look at the headlines when you're facepalming. But I see my Facebook feed alight with various opinions on the election, all of which are wrong – so rather than screaming OH, FOR FUCK'S SAKE at all of you individually, let me pull you into the corner and have a brief but ...
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I've lost confidence in 538. When I checked in last week they were still averaging April polls into their models which seems like nonsense. Only time will tell... 
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Currently working at Google, but this is my personal blog. Opinions expressed in my posts may or may not coincide with those of my employer.
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