Norfolk 15th Primary Election (MA state House, 9/4/18)

In the weeks leading up to the primary election, I walked around this state house district and counted/geocoded all the lawn signs for the Norfolk 15th State House race in a smartphone application. (These are both Democrats; no Republican is running). Lawn signs are pretty consistent with vote shares and you can see “homefield advantage” type stuff in both (more signs & more votes in precincts where candidate lives).


MA-7th Democratic Primary (Pressley beats Capuano)

I was able to get a hold of and digitize the Boston precinct results for this race (maybe 189 of the 270 precincts in this race, though I only get 187 to merge with the Boston precinct shapefile [Edit: One of the oddities may be Long Island; the other is Ward 5, Precinct 2a in the unofficial election results]) without too much trouble. And since I have a Boston voterfile on my computer for research, I can link these precinct results to average precinct demographics among registered voters, like age (from birthdate) and predicted race.

The maps  of precinct results show mostly what you’d expect (white Neighborhoods like Charlestown and Brighton’s Oak Square were better for Capuano than the city as a whole; Black neighborhoods like Roxbury/Mattapan/Dorchester’s Fields Corner much better for Pressley). But Pressley did really well everywhere in Boston, and never gets less than a third of the vote (while Capuano gets <15% in some precincts). East Boston shows up as a relative bright spot for Capuano, which seems odd given the Hispanic predominance of that area (though Capuano also won Chelsea and non-Hispanic whites likely comprise a bigger proportion of the electorate than the population).  I can’t tell too much from the turnout map, though maybe it shows that college-heavy precincts (like around BU and Northeastern and maybe those Longwood-area college campuses) have less turnout (which is consistent with what I find with age and regression later).

Precinct-level regressions indicate that precincts with larger proportions of Black voters, Hispanic voters, and younger mean age gave a higher vote share to Pressley. Higher Hispanic percentage predicted lower turnout, precincts with an older average voter had higher turnout; association for Black percentage on turnout was null (no association with turnout conditional on Hispanic percent and mean age).




Precinct-Level Determinants (Boston only)
Dependent variable:
Pressley Vote Share Turnout
Black % 0.375*** -0.002
(0.02) (0.013)
Hispanic % 0.178*** -0.108***
(0.051) (0.034)
Mean Age -1.194*** 0.710***
(0.135) (0.089)
Observations 187 187
R2 0.676 0.289
Adjusted R2 0.671 0.277
F Statistic (df = 3; 183) 127.525*** 24.777***
Note: *p<0.1; **p<0.05; ***p<0.01

Fixing MA’s Good Samaritan Law: Calling 911 to report an overdose can still land you in legal trouble.

Before the legislative session concludes, Beacon Hill lawmakers will pass Governor Baker’s CARE Act, an important bill boosting services connecting overdose patients in the ER to recovery services. But the Care Act suffers from a critical omission: it leaves broken the Commonwealth’s limited Good Samaritan Law, which has failed to protect those who seek help during an overdose. Reforming the law is needed to ensure that patients call 911 in the first place.

The Good Samaritan Law is intended to protect people who call 911 from legal punishment, since studies show that fear of arrest stops bystanders from calling for help.  Politicians around the state have touted the law as doing just that. In May 2016,  Attorney General Healey and Governor Baker unveiled a $250,000 campaign encouraging bystanders who witnessed an overdose to “Make the Right Call.” The state distributed posters promising those who call 911 that “The Law Protects You.”


[Image: MA’s Department of Public Health  “Make the Right Call Poster”. Poster Text: “You might be high. You might be afraid. If you see an overdose call 911. The Law protects you.”]

Unfortunately, this is not true. The Good Samaritan Law that took effect on August 2nd, 2012 only narrowly exempts bystanders who call 911 and those who need medical attention from charge or prosecution for drug possession. What it does not do is protect bystanders or patients from being arrested, charged, or prosecuted for any offense other than drug possession. According to the Network for Public Health Laws, the Good Samaritan Law in Massachusetts—unlike progressive bastions like Nevada and Tennessee—does not preclude  arrest or prosecution for other crimes including, mindbogglingly, possessing drug paraphernalia. Nor does it confer protection from civil asset forfeiture, prosecution under any outstanding warrants, or violations of probation or parole.

Indeed, under the Massachusetts law, a person can still be arrested for simple drug possession, but not charged or prosecuted. The problem is, once a person is arrested for drug possession, that contact with the criminal justice system can lead to interviews, searches, and sanctions for unrelated crimes, including unpaid court fees or parole violations. What’s more, it is up to a prosecutor to determine whether you were a worthy Good Samaritan or not—something which can hinge on whether or not your drug possession was with intent to distribute. In our criminal justice system, such discretion usually leads to unequal outcomes across zipcodes, races, and economic strata.

Moreover, several cases illustrate how calling 911 for an overdose can lead to arrest, despite the Good Samaritan Law. In Attleboro, January 2013, a man who called 911 to report an overdose was arrested on drug possession charges. Though the drug possession charges were dropped under the Good Samaritan Law, he faced a three year sentence on an outstanding warrant in another state. In Swampscott, August 2014, police responding to a heroin overdose 911 call found that the residents were manufacturing cannabis oil (hash) in their house. Detectives shared pictures of the hash with the DEA and then arrested the residents on charges related to hash, heroin, and an unlicensed firearm. In Taunton, March 2016, a man called 911 to seek medical assistance for a woman who overdosed. When police arrived, the caller himself was protected by the Good Samaritan Law. But police arrested another person at the house—who hid under a blanket  in the bathroom—on an outstanding warrant. In Brockton, in April 2017, someone called 911 to report an apparent overdose of an unconscious man. When police arrived, he had woken up. Officers searched his truck and arrested him for drug possession and driving without a license.

Newspapers document these and many, many, other such cases where a witness’s call for help  is met with punishment. These cases of what can go wrong if you call for help fuel the apprehension about police that discourages calling 911 at all, a concern which is acute among Blacks, who may be especially wary of calling the police. (In Massachusetts, overdose mortality is rapidly increasing among Blacks). Undocumented residents and those close to them may also have reason to worry.

Expanding the protections of the Good Samaritan Law is essential to ensuring that medical emergencies are not treated like crime scenes. Though politicians around the Commonwealth promise that the law will protect you if you call 911, the experiences of some of our most vulnerable disagree.

Unions, Right-to-Work, and Occupational Deaths

Happily, my paper “Does ‘right to work’ imperil the right to health? The effect of labour unions on workplace fatalities” is attracting a lot of attention, which makes me feel good as an academic who cares at least a little about producing things that others find valuable (we will see how the sheriff stuff is received, once it’s finally done, though it seems like there’s something both quaint and gripping about them!). Although I wrote that short article in August 2017 — and had really no sense of the Janus case at that time — it’s really seemed to have caught the moment. It helps that there’s yet a non-trivial, vested constituency in organized labor that finds something useful, or reassuring, in these results. Anyway, in response to a journalist query about, essentially, what “14.1%” (the coefficient of the reduced form regression of the RTW variable) means exactly,  I wrote something like this:


There were 138,736 total deaths on the job in the 50 states over 1992-2016 recorded in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Using a negative binomial regression (with the same predictors as the “reduced form” regression in the paper, but with the number of workers as an offset variable and the state/annual count of workplace deaths as the dependent variable) to model the incidence of occupational deaths,  the expected count of occupational deaths in a state during this time-period is about 118.7 in a right to work state and about 104.9 in an otherwise similar state without RTW (figure above; Stata margins command with coefplot for figure). Reassuringly, this 13.1% increase in RTW states in the negative binomial model is essentially the same result as in the “reduced form” model in the paper (about a 14% increase in RTW states relative to others). The Incident Rate Ratio on the right-to-work coefficient is also  1.1314 — which makes sense, as that is the ratio of the predicted values!

Over this same 1992-2016 period, 529 state-year dyads had right to work legislation (721 did not). Therefore, the model-implied count of occupational fatalities attributable to RTW  (assuming no confounders) is (118.7-104.9)*529 or about 7,300.That is, if no states had RTW over these years, the model implied counterfactual is that about 131,436 occupational deaths would have occurred instead of the observed 138,736 occupational deaths.

Semi-related: Using the original (non-logged) rate of fatalities, here’s a predicted effects plot of occupational fatality rate at different levels of unionization; I shared this on Twitter previously. This was used with an OLS model containing all the parameters of model 3 in the paper (or replication code), but with the non-logged dv (in the replication code labeled “robustness check using original unscaled variable”). This shows how the actual, observed decreases in unionization rates we’ve seen in states like Wisconsin in recent years may translate into meaningful increases in occupational mortality.


White Supremacists are the biggest snowflakes in American History

[Cover Image from Jim Crow Songbook, 1847, admonishing Black people not to laugh at “them who happen to be white,” a rather strange play at victimhood in a year when almost all Blacks in America were enslaved.]

Of course, white supremacist prohibited Blacks from voting, holding office, serving on juries, having sex with or marrying whites, attending school with whites, eating at restaurants with whites, sharing street cars with whites (at issue in Plessy v. Ferguson), and so-on and so forth (Oregon just straight up banned Black people for many years). But I have only recently come to learn the depth, breadth, and sheer pettiness of Jim Crow and white supremacists, who must be among the most fragile people the world has ever seen. Deep down this brutal history really isn’t funny, but the fact that white racists felt it necessary to ban these things is at least a little bit funny–These people had really thin skin. Here are just some of the activities that so perturbed the White Supremacists that they sanctioned them with the law (and the lynch):

Like extreme conservatives in the US today, who have passed laws banning CDC research on guns, banning doctors from talking about guns with their patients, banning the promotion of non-binary pronouns, increasing penalties for protesting, and believe football players should face economic reprisals for protest, white supremacists during Jim Crow shared this belief in restricting the rights of people who disagree with them. Mississippi banned “printing, publishing or circulating printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and negroes.” Mississippi also had in its vagrancy law (a racist Jim Crow statute that allowed the police to arrest and “lease out” unemployed Blacks, often to plantation owners) a provision banning whites from “assembling themselves” with blacks “on terms of equality.”


Profiling is a reality for Muslims in the US (Vanderbilt Hustler Re-post, 02/02/15)

While a student, I wrote several articles for Vanderbilt’s campus newspaper, but all of these were lost from the Vanderbilt Hustler website (along with all historic website content) sometime in the summer of 2016. I’m going to try to upload these articles here while I can still find scanned PDFs of the print issues that existed at the time. Since this particular article only appeared on the website, I found it through some crawling through the Wayback Machine with a url found on Facebook. Amazingly, this preserved the original links.

This article reacts to the inflammatory comments made by then Vanderbilt Professor Carol Swain about American Muslims. 

Profiling is a reality for Muslims in the US

(Originally posted February 2, 2015; I had to disable Javascript to load the archived web page)

As we have all heard, Vanderbilt Professor Carol Swain disparaged Islam in The Tennessean, saying, “Islam … poses an absolute danger to us and our children unless it is monitored better than it has been under the Obama administration …” And later: “If America is to be safe, it must remove the foxes from the henhouses and institute serious monitoring of Islamic organizations.”

Amazingly, in an article bemoaning dangers to “freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association,” Professor Swain calls in the same breath for government intrusion into the speech, assembly and association of American citizens precisely because they exercise their constitutional right to practice a faith different from hers.

The campus appropriately erupted against her callous words, but the actions Swain prescribed – chiefly, “serious monitoring of Islamic organizations” – are not just the daydreams of a strident Islamophobe. They are reality. For law enforcement and intelligence agencies, profiling is policy and, for Muslim Americans, harassment is routine.

This has been most infamously on display in New York. An investigation by The Associated Press reported: The NYPD has implemented “wide-ranging programs to monitor life in Muslim neighborhoods since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Police officers have eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses, trained video cameras on mosques and collected license plates of worshippers. Informants who trawl the mosques — known informally as ‘mosque crawlers’ — tell police what the imam says at sermons and provide police lists of attendees, even when there’s no evidence they committed a crime.”

The NYPD has placed undercover officers at local schools and monitored their Muslim student associations, and even monitored the websites of Muslim student associations in other states. One bizarre NYPD report leaked to the AP describes “an undercover officer … accompanying 18 Muslim students from the City College of New York on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York on April 21, 2008. The officer noted the names of attendees who were officers of the Muslim Student Association” and tallied how often members prayed.

According to the AP, “in more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques, the New York Police Department’s secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation, the department acknowledged in court testimony.” Though the infamous “Demographics Unit” has been disbanded, discrimination against Muslims continues, wrote the Brennan Center, an outfit of New York University’s School of Law.

What has the Obama administration done about these kinds of surveillance? Nothing. Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan has praised profiling by the NYPD, saying it has been “responsible for keeping the city safe over the past decade.” The Obama administration’s 2014 DOJ guidelines nationwide authorize racial profiling by the TSA and border security and “allow the FBI to ‘map’ minority communities to place informants,” according to the Council on American-Islamic relations.

Most Muslims have experienced a “stressful event related to their Muslim identity” such as special airport searches, according to a report by the American Psychological Association. These instances of discrimination cause real psychological harm: The APA report linked them to higher rates of depression and anxiety among Muslims in the United States.

Discriminatory profiling also makes us less safe, since Muslim Americans reaching out to the police have helped stop several terrorist plots, and cooperation requires trust. As Sahar Aziz, a law professor and former policy advisor to the Department of Homeland Security, asked: “Can we reasonably expect Americans who are themselves targets of surveillance and suspicion to trust the very agencies spying on them?”

Not even public intellectuals who have condemned terrorism are safe. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed that the FBI and NSA have tracked the emails of several prominent Muslim American professors, civil rights attorneys and even a Republican political operative and former Homeland Security official named Faisal Gill.

In an interview with The Intercept, Gill was baffled by revelations that his AOL and Yahoo accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates: “I just don’t know why … I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community — I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.”

Gill’s only crime, like that of the overwhelming majority of Muslims who have been singled out, is to have practiced the wrong faith. To borrow Swain’s words, this reality is an insult to the freedoms that most of the world covets.