Andrew Kohut doesn’t know how to read his own data

Dean Baker points out that the Villagers see what they want to see in a new poll:

That arguably should have been the headline of a Post segment discussing the release of new polling data from the Pew Research Center, which Kohut heads. The Center’s poll asked people a series of questions about the budget, taxes, and various programs. Most people answered that they viewed the deficit as a major concern. They were also strongly supportive of all major areas of federal spending with the exception of the military. In the case of military spending, there were almost equal numbers of people favoring cuts as increases. In the case of Medicare and Social Security, those favoring increases outnumbered those supporting cuts by more than 3 to 1.

In the case of Social Security, an overwhelming majority of respondents said that they supported raising the cap on taxable wages (currently $110,000). In addition, an overwhelming majority also said that they would rather see the tax rate increased than face a cut in benefits.

The conclusion of the Post piece tells readers:

“But ultimately, despite listing the deficit as a priority, most Americans — about 60 percent in a 2011 poll — would prefer to maintain benefits than take steps to reduce federal spending. As Kohut explains, this puts legislators in a real bind: ‘They are dealing with a public that is demanding solution to a problem which it has declared to be a major priority, but at the same time Americans are resistant, or divided at best, on the sacrifices that would be required to achieve a solution.'”

Contrary to what Kohut asserted, legislators are not in a bind if they want to follow public opinion. They can easily deal with the problems facing Social Security by raising the cap on taxable wages and phasing in an increase in tax rates over many decades in the future. If ordinary workers again share in the economy’s productivity growth, as the Social Security trustees projections assume, these tax increases would be a small fraction of future wage gains.

The public didn’t “demand” solutions to the deficit — a carefully orchestrated campaign by conservative interests and the media convinced them the sky was falling. The media is just as capable of reversing that as they were of creating it – but that, of course, isn’t what they and their corporate owners want.

Halfway there

Let’s see: Poor oversight, high-powered political sponsors in both parties. But the pesky prisoners have a way of escaping and causing problems. Oh dear, what shall we do?

After decades of tough criminal justice policies, states have been grappling with crowded prisons that are straining budgets. In response to those pressures, New Jersey has become a leader in a national movement to save money by diverting inmates to a new kind of privately run halfway house.

At the heart of the system is a company with deep connections to politicians of both parties, most notably Gov. Chris Christie.

Many of these halfway houses are as big as prisons, with several hundred beds, and bear little resemblance to the neighborhood halfway houses of the past, where small groups of low-level offenders were sent to straighten up.

New Jersey officials have called these large facilities an innovative example of privatization and have promoted the approach all the way to the Obama White House.

Yet with little oversight, the state’s halfway houses have mutated into a shadow corrections network, where drugs, gang activity and violence, including sexual assaults, often go unchecked, according to a 10-month investigation by The New York Times.

Perhaps the most unsettling sign of the chaos within is inmates’ ease in getting out.

Since 2005, roughly 5,100 inmates have escaped from the state’s privately run halfway houses, including at least 1,300 in the 29 months since Governor Christie took office, according to an analysis by The Times.

Some inmates left through the back, side or emergency doors of halfway houses, or through smoking areas, state records show. Others placed dummies in their beds as decoys, or fled while being returned to prison for violating halfway houses’ rules. Many had permission to go on work-release programs but then did not return.

While these halfway houses often resemble traditional correctional institutions, they have much less security. There are no correction officers, and workers are not allowed to restrain inmates who try to leave or to locate those who do not come back from work release, the most common form of escape. The halfway houses’ only recourse is to alert the authorities.

And so the inmates flee in a steady stream: 46 last September, 39 in October, 40 in November, 38 in December, state records show.

“The system is a mess,” said Thaddeus B. Caldwell, who spent four years tracking down halfway house escapees in New Jersey as a senior corrections investigator. “No matter how many escaped, no matter how many were caught, no matter how many committed heinous acts while they were on the run, they still kept releasing more guys into the halfway houses, and it kept happening over and over again.

The battle of who could care less

I’ve got this great idea
Why don’t we pitch it to the Franklin fucking Mint
Fine pewter portraits of General Apathy
And Major Boredom
Singing ‘forever and ever’

One of my all-time favorite lyrics. Ben Folds Five:

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