Immigration and crime

The Marshall Project, an independent nonprofit news organization devoted to researching crime and the criminal justice system, has released an interactive report on line examining the relationship between immigration (both legal and illegal) and crimes such as robbery, murder and assault. They assembled data from 200 U.S. cities and for the nation as a whole, and they provide graphs of immigration and crime rates that you can review for yourself here.

In brief, an overall increase in the number of immigrants since the 1980s has been accompanied by a drop in crime. Cities such as Oakland, California, have seen immigration nearly double while violent crime has fallen by more than half. The evidence here and in other studies pretty clearly contradicts the notion that immigration increases crime. In fact, other studies have found lower crime rates in high-immigrant areas and in so-called "sanctuary cities," and that immigrant populations on the whole tend to commit crimes at rates somewhat lower than the native-born population. (See this previous post on evidence that sanctuary cities tend to have lower crime and better economies.)

This of course doesn't mean that there are no criminal immigrants, or that the drop in crime is attributable mainly or entirely to immigration. Nationwide, including in areas with relatively few immigrants, crime has fallen a great deal since roughly 1990 for reasons that aren't clear and likely have to do with a combination of things. (See this post from last fall.) Kevin Drum has argued fairly convincingly that one major factor has been the reduction in lead in the air resulting from the switch to unleaded gasoline. Lead compounds can damage children's brains in ways that decrease impulse control, which in turns increases tendencies toward violent crime. For a summary of his evidence see this link.

Below is a 4-minute report from Sunday's edition of PBS NewsHour about the Marshall Project analysis.

(Incidentally, ignore the dumb thumbnail picture which, unless they've changed it, makes it look like an anti-Trump piece. It isn't. It's a straightforward report that mentions President Trump only in passing, because he has sometimes implied erroneously that immigration increases crime.)


Link: https://youtu.be/7RXs_1b-yJs

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Heart stents might be just a placebo

Pediatrician, author, and medical school professor Dr Aaron Carroll surveys the evidence that cardiovascular stents, which are intended to help keep clogged heart arteries open, may be no better than treatment with drugs alone. One reason this is surprising is that patients who get stents typically have a marked reduction in chest pain, but the research suggests this might simply be a placebo effect.


Link: https://youtu.be/5TjsRjLQk_E

Placebos -- sugar pills or sham treatments -- are especially good at reducing all sorts of pain, at least for a substantial majority of patients. A clever drug dealer might try selling fake opioids, which could benefit a lot of people with chronic pain, and if they get addicted to a placebo, that's not so bad. Actually, I've seen homeopathic drops sold for ear pain in name-brand pharmacies, which amounts to the same sort of thing. (Homeopathic remedies are substances thought to cause the symptoms they're supposed to treat, but diluted to such an extreme that often not one molecule of the original substance remains. There are people who really believe in this despite both hard evidence and common sense.)

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The dangers of short-term health insurance

Several years ago, before Obamacare went into effect, I heard an interview with a woman whose brother had a serious medical condition and whose medical insurance had been canceled, though he had faithfully paid every premium and done nothing wrong.

She looked into it and discovered that he had been persuaded to purchase a short-term health insurance policy and kept renewing it when the bills came, not realizing that he was, in fact, getting a brand new policy every time. When he got sick the company waited until the policy ran out and simply didn't let him buy a new one. Suddenly he had huge medical bills, no insurance, and no way to buy a different policy because of his now pre-existing condition.

Obamacare protected people from this. Insurance companies could no longer deny or cancel policies or sell cheap junk insurance like the kind this guy had bought. But now the Trump administration has issued rules again allowing the sale of the same crap short-term insurance.

In the four-minute video below pediatrician and medical school professor Dr Aaron Carroll explains why this is a problem:


Link: https://youtu.be/IvXhNxNqsf0

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Paul Manfort's 2015-16 personal financial crisis

I haven't really been clear on why Special Counsel Robert Mueller is prosecuting former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, but a February 28 article from Talking Points Memo (referencing a piece from Bloomberg dated the same day) puts things into sharper focus.

The short version is this: In the early years of this decade Paul Manafort's main client was Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who become president of Ukraine in 2010. Manafort advised Yanukovych on politics and campaigning, but he also used his influence in the U.S. on behalf of what was then Ukraine's pro-Putin government and hence at least indirectly acting on behalf of Russia. Manafort is now facing charges of having failed to register as a foreign agent in the U.S.

Yanukovich was ousted in 2014, sending him fleeing into exile in Russia. The new government charged him with treason and accused him of corruption as well. Russia staged military incursions into eastern Ukraine and seized the Crimean peninsula by force, and in response Russia was hit with international sanctions. I won't even try to summarize the details here, but with respect to Manafort, the relevant point is that with his client out of power, he was suddenly without his main source of income.

Complicating matters further, in late 2014 Manafort's family discovered that he had been carrying on an affair, and in 2015 he apparently suffered a kind of emotional crisis, reportedly telling his daughter that he was contemplating suicide, and eventually he checked into an inpatient facility for treatment.

Only a few weeks later, Manafort sought a job in the Trump campaign. In late March of 2016 he was hired, and two months later he was named campaign manager, though according to the campaign he was an unpaid volunteer.

As the TPM article points out, it made sense for Manafort to try to reestablish himself in American politics, but it's also true that he had long ties to pro-Russian interests, that Russia was very interested in having sanctions lifted, and that Manafort was facing personal and financial problems at the time he took the unpaid job.

The aforementioned Bloomberg article quotes former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg as saying, "Manafort looks like he's in dire straits. Then he drops everything to work for free for Trump. It's very strange." This is only suggestive, but it might explain why Mueller is concentrating on Manafort and his associates.

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Comet hunter Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel, sister of William Herschel, was the first female astronomer to be paid for her work and in 1828 was the first woman to win the gold award of the Royal Astronomical Society, where the following video was shot and in which we get to see several items related to her, including a letter she wrote to the Royal Society in 1786 describing a comet she'd found. (She later discovered seven more in her lifetime.)

There's also a notebook in which she recorded her observations, including the time her brother showed her the planet that he'd discovered and was then termed "George's Star" (after King George), and which we now call Uranus.

And there's also her personal copy of Flamsteed's atlast of the heavens, for which she prepared her own index, there not being one in the published version, and in which she made various notes. There's even a sort of 19th century Post-It note added by her great-granddaughter referencing a family story that William's son John Herschel (later a major astronomer in his own right) would as a child beg his Auntie Caroline to "Show me the whale!" -- the pages for the constellation Cetus, depicting it as a terrifying sea monster.

This might not be interesting to everyone, but I quite liked watching this. (It runs under seven minutes.)


Link: https://youtu.be/yxyWdw8IQog

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