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Jeb Bush Gives Away the Game on "Anchor Babies"

| Mon Aug. 24, 2015 6:33 PM EDT

Jeb Bush wants us all to chill out about his use of the term "anchor babies":

What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed. Frankly it’s more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children, and....taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.

Um....no. Bush initially used the term in a radio interview with Bill Bennett. The conversation was entirely about Donald Trump's immigration plan, securing our southern border, and dealing with our third-largest trading partner. In other words, it was all about Mexico. Bush was very definitely not talking about Asians.

And if he was, there's already a perfectly good term to use: birth tourism. It's well known, well documented, and clearly a growing phenomenon. There's no need to describe it using a term that many people find offensive, since there's already one available.

Basically, Bush is tap dancing here. But he's also doing us a favor. In my tedious discussion of "anchor babies" on Saturday, I concluded that its offensiveness depended on whether it was an actual problem in the first place. Bush is pretty much conceding that it's not—at least as it refers to illegal immigration from Mexico. But if it's rare or nonexistent, then you're imputing offensive behavior to immigrant mothers for something they don't do. And that does indeed make it offensive.

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It's Now Open Season on China

| Mon Aug. 24, 2015 5:56 PM EDT

In the midst of Trumpmania, it's good to see that some things never change. Here is Scott Walker today:

Americans are struggling to cope with the fall in today's markets driven in part by China's slowing economy and the fact that they actively manipulate their economy....massive cyberattacks....militarization of the South China Sea....economy....persecution of Christians....There's serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance. We need to see some backbone from President Obama on U.S.-China relations.

China bashing is the little black dress of presidential campaigns: always appropriate, always in style.

Of course, Donald "China is killing us!" Trump got there before Walker. And more than that: he not only bashed China, but was able to claim that he'd been warning of this all along. If only we'd sent Carl Icahn over there from the start, things would be OK today.

"Crash" vs. "Accident" Doesn't Seem Like It Matters Very Much

| Mon Aug. 24, 2015 3:18 PM EDT

Emily Badger passes along news of a group trying to get us all to stop talking about traffic "accidents":

An "accident" is, by definition, unintentional. We accidentally drop dinner plates, or send e-mails before we're done writing them. The word also suggests something of the unforeseen — an event that couldn't have been anticipated, for which no one can be blamed. That second connotation is what irks transportation advocates who want to change how we talk about traffic collisions. When one vehicle careens into another or rounds a corner into a pedestrian — call it a "crash," they say, not an "accident."

"Our children did not die in 'accidents,'" says Amy Cohen, a co-founder of the New York-based group Families for Safe Streets. Her 12-year-old son was hit and killed by a van on the street in front of their home in 2013. "An 'accident,'" she says, "implies that nothing could have been done to prevent their deaths."

I remember this from my driver's ed class 40 years ago. Our instructor told us endlessly that they were "collisions," not accidents. But we're still talking about accidents 40 years later, so apparently this is a tough habit to break.

And the truth is that I didn't really get it back then. I still don't. "Accident" doesn't imply that something is unforeseeable, or that no one can be blamed, or that nothing could possibly have been done to prevent it. Here's the definition:

noun. an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap.

"Unintentional" is the key word here. If you drop the dinner dishes, it's unintentional unless you're pissed off at your family and deliberately threw the dishes at them. Then it's not an accident. Ditto for cars. If you deliberately run over someone, it's not an accident. If it's not deliberate, it is.

Nearly all "accidents" are foreseeable (lots of people drop dinner dishes); have someone to blame (probably the person who dropped the dishes); and can be prevented (stop carrying the dishes with one hand). The same is true of automobile collisions. Driving while drunk, or texting, or speeding are all things that make accidents more likely. We can work to prevent those things and we can assign blame when accidents happen—and we do.

I have a tendency to use the word "collision" because I was brainwashed 40 years ago, but it's hard to see that it makes much difference. Here is Caroline Samponaro, deputy director at Transportation Alternatives:

"If we stopped using that word, as individuals, as a city, in a national context, what questions do we have to start asking ourselves about these crashes?" says Caroline Samponaro, deputy director at Transportation Alternatives. How did they happen? Who was to blame? An erratic driver? A faulty vehicle? A perpetually dangerous intersection?

I'm mystified. We already do all that stuff. Collisions are routinely investigated. Fault is determined. The NTSA tracks potential safety problems in vehicles. Municipal traffic departments make changes to intersections. We pass drunk driving laws. We suspend the licenses of dangerous drivers.

So it doesn't seem to me that use of the word "accident" is either wrong or perilous. If we had a history of ignoring automobile safety because it was common to just shrug and ask "whaddaya gonna do?" you could make a case for this. But we don't.

Good Stuff on the Intertubes Today

| Mon Aug. 24, 2015 1:26 PM EDT

Everyone is writing about my pet topics today!

  • Aaron Carroll busts the myth that you should drink eight glasses of water every day.
  • Kiera Butler sings the praises of food irradiation.
  • Dylan Matthews writes that Intuit and H&R Block continue to oppose any effort to make taxes easier to file.
  • Larry Summers makes the case for continued low interest rates because "the global economy has difficulty generating demand for all that can be produced."

Go read them all.

President Obama Is the Anti-Lame Duck

| Mon Aug. 24, 2015 12:13 PM EDT

Quentin Tarantino really likes President Obama:

You supported Obama. How do you think he’s done?

I think he’s fantastic. He’s my favorite president, hands down, of my lifetime. He’s been awesome this past year. Especially the rapid, one-after-another-after-another-after-another aspect of it. It’s almost like take no prisoners. His he-doesn’t-give-a-shit attitude has just been so cool. Everyone always talks about these lame-duck presidents. I’ve never seen anybody end with this kind of ending. All the people who supported him along the way that questioned this or that and the other? All of their questions are being answered now.

Rapid fire indeed. In no particular order, here's a baker's dozen list of his major actions in the nine months since the 2014 midterm elections:

  1. Normalized relations with Cuba.
  2. Signed a climate deal with China.
  3. Issued new EPA ozone rules.
  4. Successfully argued in favor of same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court.
  5. Put in place economic sanctions on Russia that have Vladimir Putin reeling.
  6. Pressured the FCC to approve net neutrality rules.
  7. Issued new EPA coal regulations.
  8. Issued an executive order on immigration.
  9. Got fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and seems poised to pass it.
  10. Signed a nuclear deal with Iran and appears on track to get it passed.
  11. Won yet another Supreme Court case keeping Obamacare intact.
  12. Issued new rules that increase the number of "managers" who qualify for overtime pay.
  13. Presided over the birth of twin giant panda babies at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

I sure hope those baby pandas survive. It would be a shame if Obama's legacy were marred by insufficient maternal attention from Mei Xiang.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent comments: "What’s particularly striking is how many of these major moves have been embraced by likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and have been opposed by the 2016 GOP presidential candidates." In other words, Obama's late-term actions will provide much of the contrast between the likely Democratic and Republican nominees next year.

That’s partly because Clinton is reconstituting the Obama coalition of millennials, minorities, and socially liberal, college educated whites, who are more likely to support (and care about) action to combat climate change, immigration reform, relaxing relations with Cuba, active government to expand health coverage, and so forth. It’s also partly because the Clinton camp genuinely sees these issue contrasts as useful to the broader mission of painting the GOP as trapped in the past. It’s possible the Clinton team thinks it can pull off a balancing act in which she signals she’d take the presidency in her own direction while vowing to make progress on Obama’s major initiatives and excoriating Republicans for wanting to re-litigate them and roll them back.

Also, too, because Obama and Clinton are both liberals, and are naturally likely to agree on the general direction of the country in the first place. It's worth remembering that a lot of Democrats struggled in 2008 to find much daylight between the two.

Fragile Global Economy Is Starting to Crack Up

| Mon Aug. 24, 2015 11:06 AM EDT

I woke up a little late this morning, but maybe that turned out to be a good thing. The Dow Jones plunged a thousand points within minutes of opening, but by the time I saw the news it had already recouped about half of that loss:

You can probably guess what triggered this:

The stock drop was fueled by what China’s state media is already calling “Black Monday,” in which markets there recorded their biggest one-day plunge in eight years amid growing fears over an economic slowdown.

On Friday, China reported its worst manufacturing results since the global financial crisis, a new sign of woe for the world’s second-largest economy, which surprised investors earlier this month by announcing it would devalue its currency. China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite index has fallen by nearly 40 percent since June, after soaring more than 140 percent last year.

Markets around the world are crashing, and as usual that means seeking safety in the good old US of A:

Investors stampeded into relatively safe assets such as U.S. government bonds, the Swiss franc and the yen. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dropped below 2% during Asian trading and recently was 1.976%, the lowest level since April.

....“A lot of markets abroad have seen a low amount of liquidity so investors are turning to the U.S. market to hedge,” said Jeffrey Yu, head of single-stock derivatives trading at UBS AG....While the selloff began as an emerging markets story, with China’s stock market offering very little liquidity to investors due in part to technical stock-trading halts, investors have had to turn to the most liquid market to sell, which is the U.S., Mr. Yu said.

Now can we finally get a statement from the Fed saying that they no longer have any immediate plans to raise interest rates? Please?

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Marshall Crenshaw Plays Superior Guitar Pop

| Mon Aug. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Marshall Crenshaw
#392: The EP Collection
Red River Entertainment

 

A worthy heir to Buddy Holly (who he portrayed in the biopic La Bamba) and John Lennon (who he played in a production of Beatlemania), Michigan-bred, New York-based Marshall Crenshaw has made superior guitar pop for more than three decades. Folks with long memories will recall such early faves as "Someday, Someway" and "Favorite Waste of Time," also recorded by Bette Midler. Compiling highlights from six recent EPs, #392 showcases Crenshaw's gift for blending razor-sharp melodies and wistful vocals that have just enough grit to avoid any suggestion of cheap sentiment. This 14-track set also offers some savvy covers, including a lovely, un-ironic take on the Carpenters' "Close to You" and a crackling, previously unreleased version of the Everly Brothers' "Man with Money." If you're new to Crenshaw's work, consider yourself lucky: A great back catalog awaits.

There Is Poop in Basically All Hamburger Meat

| Mon Aug. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

There's a "simple explanation for why eating a hamburger can now make you seriously ill," wrote Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. "There is shit in the meat.” 

A new Consumer Reports investigation suggests things haven't changed much since the publication of Schlosser's 2001 blockbuster. The team tested 300 packages of ground beef, bought from more than 100 grocery, big-box, and natural food stores in 26 cities nationwide. The result:

All 458 pounds of beef we examined contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination (enterococcus and/or non-toxin-producing E. coli), which can cause blood or urinary tract infections.

But not all burger meat is created equal. The researchers also compared the bacterial load of beef from conventionally raised cows (181 samples) to that of their no-antibiotic, grass fed, and organic peers (116 samples total), grouped under the heading "more sustainably produced." Here's what they found:

From "How Safe is Your Beef?," Consumer Reports

The bacterial implications of beef production practices really emerged when the researchers tested the bacterial strains for resistance to antibiotics. Nearly a fifth of conventional ground beef carried bacteria resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics—more than double the number found in the "more sustainably produced" samples, and triple that found in samples from cows raised outdoors on grass.

From "How Safe is Your Beef?," Consumer Reports

The article offers plenty of information that could explain these differences. As for why essentially all ground beef carries fecal bacteria, the slaughter and processing of huge animals is messy—feces caked on the hide or trapped in intestines can easily move onto the carcass. That's not such a big deal in steaks and roasts, because the bacteria tend to stay on the surface, so "when you cook them, the outside is likely to get hot enough to kill any bugs." But with ground beef, "the bacteria get mixed throughout, contaminating all of the meat—including what’s in the middle of your hamburger."

"The meat and fat trimmings often come from multiple animals, so meat from a single contaminated cow can end up in many packages of ground beef."

Then there's this problem: "The meat and fat trimmings often come from multiple animals, so meat from a single contaminated cow can end up in many packages of ground beef."

As for why conventional production—the source of 97 percent of US burger meat, according to CR—is moderately more likely to contain certain bacteria like E. coli, and much more likely to contain multidrug-resistant strains, the report delivers a detailed look at the different production systems.

Conventionally raised cows start out on grass but spend the final months of their lives on feedlots, where they fatten on diets of corn and soybeans, even though "cows' digestive systems aren't designed to easily process high-starch foods such as corn and soy," creating an acidic environment in the cows' digestive tract that can "lead to ulcers and infections" and "shed more E. coli in their manure.

And corn and soy aren't the only delicacies feedlot cows feast on.

[Their feed can also include] include candy (such as gummy bears, lemon drops, and chocolate) to boost their sugar intake and plastic pellets to substitute for the fiber they would otherwise get from grass. Cattle feed can also contain parts of slaughtered hogs and chickens that are not used in food production, and dried manure and litter from chicken barns.

In addition, they can also receive regular low doses of antibiotics, both to prevent infections and promote faster growth, although the Food and Drug Administration has launched a voluntary program to limit the latter use. One common feedlot antibiotic, tylosin—used to ward off liver abscesses—is in "a class of antibiotics that the World Health Organization categorizes as 'critically important' for human medicine," CR reports.

The magazine recommends that consumers buy from the alternative supply chains "whenever possible," adding that "sustainable methods run the gamut from the very basic 'raised without antibiotics' to the most sustainable, which is grass-fed organic." (The article contains ample detail on each.) And when you get it home, handle it carefully and cook it to 160 degrees. After all, there's shit in pretty much all the ground beef.

Black Lives Matter Comes Through With a Plan

| Sun Aug. 23, 2015 5:32 PM EDT

A few weeks ago, after the disruption at Netroots Nation, I wondered aloud what the Black Lives Matter movement actually wanted. What were their demands? What did they want from candidates for president? I found a list of items on their website, but they were vague enough and broad enough to keep me a little puzzled. What sort of concrete initiatives were they interested in?

I'm happy to see that they've now come up with exactly what everyone's been asking for. It's called Campaign Zero, and it even comes with its own nifty graphic:

Some of these are easy: police body cams, for example, have become widely supported on both right and left, and by both activists and police. Others are a little harder: independent investigations of police shootings and better representation of minorities on police forces aren't universally supported, but they do have fairly wide backing already. And some are more difficult: it will be tough to wean police forces off their up-armored humvees and challenging to end the vogue for broken-windows policing.

That said, these are all specific and achievable goals. They even have a fact sheet here that tracks some of the presidential candidates and where they stand on each issue. Ironically, Bernie Sanders has positions that at least partly address eight of the ten items—more than anyone else. Martin O'Malley has seven and Hillary Clinton has two so far.

This is good stuff. BLM won't get everything it wants—nobody ever does—but Campaign Zero should allow them to avoid the fate of Occupy Wall Street, which generated a ton of passion but never really offered any place to channel it. BLM has now done both, and has a good shot at making their issues important ones during the upcoming presidential campaign.

Here's What Sexperts Think About "Female Viagra" and Why You Shouldn't Call It That

| Sun Aug. 23, 2015 3:05 AM EDT

When news broke on August 18 that the Food and Drug Administration approved Addyi, the pill that is being incorrectly referred to as the "female Viagra," it might have seemed like an obvious feminist win. Viagra has been around since 1998, but there hasn't been anything remotely comparable on the market for women. Addyi is supposed to alleviate female hypoactive sexual desire disorder (or lack of sexual desire). But as we've reported, women on Addyi experienced an increase of only one sexual event per month during clinical trials.

So what's really going on with the little pink pill? And what's the latest science on low libidos? We asked Rachel Hills, author of the The Sex Myth, and Emily Nagoski, sex educator and author of Come As You Are, to weigh in:

What is female sexual dysfunction? Hills points out that when Viagra went on the market, it aimed to treat a very specific disease: erectile dysfunction. Viagra works by increasing blood flow to the penis to get an erection hard enough for sex; it does not cause arousal. Addyi targets the brain, and it does aim to increase arousal by stimulating the brain in a way that's comparable to antidepressants. Hills says this is where it gets tricky, because "female sexual dysfunction" is not well-defined medically, and she thinks the term is being used too broadly. "It's more amorphous than erectile dysfunction because the 'disease' is basically not wanting to have sex enough," she says.

Do we need Addyi? According to Nagoski, there are two types of desire: spontaneous desire, which occurs without any physical prompting from a partner, and responsive desire, which comes from being in a sexual situation (think foreplay or dirty talk). Nagoski says it's pretty normal for women to only experience responsive desire. But, maybe because men's bodies work a little differently, women are led to believe that something is wrong with them if they don't crave sex every day. Nagoski, who has worked as a sex educator for almost a decade, often hears women say, "Once [my partner and I] got started, everything was fine. It's getting me started that's the problem." She thinks a lot of the hype surrounding Addyi is due to a lack of readily available information surrounding female sexuality.

Is this simply a pharmaceutical company trying to tap into a profitable market? A lot of the hype surrounding Addyi stemmed from good marketing, not a scientific breakthrough. "The most generous possible interpretation of the FDA responder analysis is that, of the thousands of women who were on the drug, a few experienced minimal benefit," says Nagoski. Hills is also suspicious of the motives behind treating female sexual desire with a pill: "The entire question of female sexual dysfunction was motivated by the fact that there's potentially a lot of money to be made in that." There is certainly a lot of money at stake—Sprout Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Addyi, announced that Valeant Pharmaceuticals International acquired the pill for $1 billion.

"I worry about the desire for sex becoming an imperative."

Let's talk about pleasure. Nagoski says the problem with Addyi is that it's purpose is to create desire, but the point of desire falls flat if women aren't experiencing pleasure. Hills and Nagoski believe the conversation about Addyi is too focused on how much sex women are having, regardless of whether the sex is good or not. For this reason, Hills says she doesn't buy that Addyi is a feminist victory. "It’s certainly not that I think women should not have the right to sexual desire; it’s just that I think everyone has the right to desire as much sex as they want," Hills says. "I worry about the desire for sex becoming an imperative." Nagoski adds that framing a lack of desire as a medical problem reinforces the idea that there's something wrong, which creates additional pressure that can impede libido. A focus on pleasure rather than desire could break that cycle.

So what's the key to female sexual arousal? Nagoski details an interesting theory about this in Come As You Are. The way she sees it, the brain has what's called a "dual-control model," in which there is a sexual "accelerator" and a sexual "brake." For the most part, men have more sensitive accelerators and women have more sensitive brakes—it's easier for them to lose sexual arousal. The key is figuring out what's hitting the brakes. Nagoski says it could be as simple as being distracted by grit on the sheets, or being worried someone will walk in. Or maybe it's literally cold feet—a study by Dutch scientists found that wearing socks increased a woman's chance of having an orgasm. Of course, if the sensitivity is trauma-related, Nagoski says seeing a sex therapist might be the best way to go. But for others, try to "take control of the issues you can take control of," she says.