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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.

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

Authors Rachel Hills and Emily Nagoski demystify female sexual dysfunction and the pill that's meant to cure it.

| 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.

Quote of the Day: GOP Primary Is "One Giant Boob-Off"

| Sat Aug. 22, 2015 2:59 PM EDT

This is from the very conservative Jay Nordlinger over at National Review:

There’s been some comment of late about Bobby Jindal, and I’d like to add some of my own. As I’ve said before, I love the guy — even when he’s pretending to be a populist boob, in an effort to keep up with Trump. (Indeed, the entire GOP primary process may be thought of as one giant boob-off.)

Wait. This is Nordlinger's party. It's his conservative electorate. He likes and sympathizes with conservatism and conservative voters. And yet he concedes that the GOP primary is "one giant boob-off." Doesn't this say something disturbing about the movement he identifies with?

And by the way, Jindal's populist boob persona (Bobby 3.0, I think) predates Trump, so don't blame it on him. Jindal decided all on his own that it was his best chance of appealing to the Republican base.

For Saturday: A Very Long and Possibly Tiresome Conversation About Whether "Anchor Baby" Is a Slur

| Sat Aug. 22, 2015 2:18 PM EDT

Yesterday morning, I asked exactly why the term "anchor baby" is considered by many to be offensive. As penance, last night I waded through lots of comments to that post—a few of which were actually on topic!—as well as some email and Twitter and other articles on the subject. So here's the follow-up.

At the end of this post I'll offer a tentative conclusion, but first I have a few comments. Before even that, though, here's a nickel paraphrase of the various answers I came across:

  1. The term was invented by anti-immigration activists, who meant it as a slur. So it's a slur.
  2. Latinos consider it a slur, so it's a slur.
  3. It implies that babies of immigrants have a kind of second-class citizenship. You and I are "real" US citizens while others are mere grown-up anchor babies.
  4. It dehumanizes both mother and baby by turning them into a label for political purposes.
  5. It implies that Mexican mothers are coldly calculating parasites. Like the Reagan-era "welfare queen" slur, it suggests they see the child merely as a legal boon, not someone to love and cherish, as the rest of us do.
  6. In reality, this hardly ever happens. It's basically a lie intended to whip up anti-immigrant fervor, and this makes it offensive.

A couple of comments before I wade into each of these. First, I'm obviously diving into an ongoing conversation that I haven't followed in any depth. I don't pretend to any expertise on this topic. Second, we're talking here only about Mexican/Latino immigrants, not the well-documented "birth tourism" of (mostly) well-to-do Asian families. That said, here are my comments on each of the six items above.

  1. I don't think I buy this. The etymology of the term probably goes back to the "anchor children" of the post-Vietnam era, and at the time it seems to have been primarily descriptive, not meant as a slur.
  2. This is the kind of explanation that conservatives like to sneer at, but it's perfectly sensible as long as it's not abused. Who's better placed to know if something is hurtful than the person it's aimed at? That said, there still needs to be some reason they consider it hurtful. It can't just be a case of hypersensitivity. We'll get to that in a minute.
  3. I saw this one a lot, but I have to say it always had the ring of something cut-and-pasted from somewhere else to help fill up a column. It was never really explained, just asserted, and always using suspiciously similar language.
  4. I don't buy this at all. We use labels all the time. It's human nature. I'm a "baby boomer," for example. Is this offensive? Does it imply that my parents were mere automatons who pumped out babies just because all their friends were pumping out babies? There are thousands of labels we use for other people, and they aren't automatically offensive or demeaning. It depends on the label.
  5. Now we're getting somewhere. I find this, by far, the most persuasive argument. However, it depends a lot on whether there's any truth to this charge. Keep reading.
  6. This one is....tricky. It also turns out to be heart of the argument, I think.

So: do anchor babies actually exist? Or is this merely a myth? This one gets a bunch of bullet points all its own:

  • The notion that having a baby in the US helps the parents gain citizenship is legally specious. The child can't sponsor them for citizenship until age 21, and even then it normally takes another decade before they qualify. It's unlikely that Mexican immigrants are having babies just on the chance that they'll gain US citizenship three decades later.
  • However, in practice it might help parents stay in the US. Judges are probably less likely to deport parents who have a baby that can't be legally deported along with them.
  • On a related note, parents might do this not to anchor themselves to the US, but to anchor the child. In other words, they want a better life for their child, and the best way to guarantee that is to give birth on US soil.
  • All that said, we're still left with an unanswered question: how common is it for parents to illegally cross the border solely (or primarily) for the purpose of ensuring that their child will be a US citizen? As near as I can tell, there's basically no research on this point at all—and even if there were, it would probably be inconclusive. Parents who immigrate illegally almost certainly have a whole host of reasons for doing so: a better life for themselves, a better life for their children, money to send home to family, etc. How can you possibly tease out just how important US citizenship is in this jumble of motives?
  • And now we get to the end. If anchor babies are basically a myth, then the term is obviously a slur. There's no reason to make up this name for something that never (or very rarely) happens except as a way of demeaning a class of people and appealing to crude xenophobia. But if it does happen, then it makes sense to have a term for it. Otherwise you can't even talk about the subject sensibly. And if that's the case, there's nothing inherently insulting about "anchor baby" as a descriptive term.

I don't have a firm conclusion here. Sorry. At this point, I guess I'd say that it's up to the anti-immigration folks to demonstrate that anchor babies actually exist in any meaningful numbers. They've had plenty of time, but so far don't seem to have come up with anything. So put up or shut up, folks. Unless you've got some evidence that this is a real (and common) phenomenon, it's a slur.

Finally, I get why some lefties find this whole conversation amusing. Privileged middle-class white guy just doesn't get it, and has to write a thousand words of argle-bargle to understand something that's obvious to anyone with a clue. Sure. But look: you have to interrogate this stuff or you just end up as a tribal hack. And since this is a blog, and I'm an analytical kind of person, what you get is a brain dump translated into English and organized to try to make sense. It can seem naive to see it put down in words like this, but the truth is that we all think this way to some degree or another.

POSTSCRIPT: On Twitter, Frank Koughan good-naturedly suggests that it should be a rule of blogging that if you ask readers a question, you post an update so that everyone doesn't have to wade through 300 comments. Fair enough. But this post is an example of why I don't always do this: it can turn into a lot of work! Sometimes there's a simple answer in comments, but that's rare. Usually about 95 percent of the comments are off topic and the other 5 percent all disagree with each other. So it's not as easy as it sounds.

It's Time to Separate the South From the Confederacy

The real meaning of a soon-to-be removed statue of a Confederate general and KKK founder.

| Sat Aug. 22, 2015 9:00 AM EDT
The statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis, Tennessee

On Wednesday, the Memphis City Council cast its final vote to remove a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a downtown park. Despite the considerable pushback against the decision, I can't help but feel a little hope that progress is being made in my home state.

Not to be mistaken for the garish Forrest statue in Nashville, this one is a tarnished bronze likeness of the Confederate general, slave trader, and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The statue tops a concrete burial vault that houses the remains of Forrest and his wife. The memorial has stood in Health Sciences Park (formerly Forrest Park) since 1905, when, 28 years after Forrest's death, a group of wealthy, white Memphians dug up the general and his wife and entombed them in a vault beneath this statue in downtown Memphis. Astride his horse, Forrest faces north, positioned so he doesn't seem to be retreating.

In the aftermath of the Charleston massacre and a renewed push to take down Confederate flags and other symbols of the Confederacy, the Memphis City Council voted to remove the statue and return the remains to Elmwood Cemetery, where Forrest was originally buried in accordance with his will. Surprisingly, much of the indignant outcry has surrounded the idea of moving the remains rather than removing the statue. In some of my recent personal conversations, people have expressed their outrage at such an "extreme" move.

A Confederate flag is draped over the base of the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest at a celebration of his 194th birthday in July. Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal via AP

Indeed, they do. At the ceremony unveiling the statue in May, 1905, nothing was said of Forrest's order to massacre more than 300 African-American Union soldiers who had already surrendered at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in 1864. His role as a leader in the KKK was never mentioned. Instead, the Forrest Monument Association spoke of his chivalry, and of heritage and honor. As Nate DiMeo notes in a recent episode of his podcast, The Memory Palace, the statue was unveiled "at a specific moment in time": The city's African-American population was increasing, and racial tensions were building. The memorial was a tip of the hat to an idealized past, and those who supported it hoped the symbol would inspire a similar future. "Memorials are not memories," DiMeo says. "They have motives."

The emphasis on tradition, heritage, and honor sounds familiar to me. I grew up in a tiny farming community about an hour and a half east of Memphis, in a place where those values tended to come before equality and the respect for anyone who isn't white. My history classes were full of winding excuses about how the Civil War wasn't really about slavery. It was a struggle over state's rights, and economic power. Obviously. Dixie was a place of hospitality and heart—if you were white. Nathan Bedford Forrest's name was everywhere. It was attached to a nearby state park, a handful of statues, and even the ROTC building on my college campus. DiMeo sees the current controversy as a collision between the present and history, but I've been staring at that collision since I was too young to know what it was.

DiMeo says that despite Forrest's alleged regret at the end of his life for his actions, he's no American role model. He imagines adding a plaque to the Forrest statue and others like it. "Maybe [the plaque] should just say, maybe they should all say, that the men who fought and died for the CSA, whatever their personal reasons, whatever was in their hearts, did so on behalf of a government, formed for the express purpose that men and women and children could be bought and sold and destroyed at will," DiMeo says. I tend to agree.

There are people I've known my whole life who are fiercely protective of the Confederacy and its symbols. They mean well when they speak of heritage and honor, but their pride comes at the expense of those who have suffered far worse than we ever have. Their refusal to recognize that perpetuates a racism that is so insidious that it is confused with cultural values.

I love where I came from. I love the mile-wide stubborn streak I inherited from my deeply Southern grandmother, a woman who is strong and outspoken, because as the daughter of poor sharecroppers, she had to be. I love the syrupy sound of our accents, and I love dark, heady summer nights filled with fireflies. I love being part of a community that is armed with casseroles whenever tragedy catches someone unaware. I do not love the Confederacy, and I do not stand for its murderous agenda or its skewed racial hierarchy. We cannot change the past, but as Memphis removes the statue and tries to move forward, so should the South. It's time to separate the South from the Confederacy.

Listen to The Memory Palace episode on the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue, "Notes on an Imaginary Plaque…"

The Head of a Major Law Enforcement Group Described Nonviolent Drug Offenders As "Peddlers of Death"

He also compared them to lions poised to terrorize society.

| Sat Aug. 22, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Last month, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders detained in federal prisons. Given that 35,000 nonviolent inmates had applied for reduced sentences, some activists said the clemency grant did not go far enough. Apparently, not everyone agrees.

In an opinion piece Thursday, Jon Adler, the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), blasted Obama's decision by describing these nonviolent offenders as "peddlers of death." Arguing that Obama ignored the risks of drug traffickers and instead chose to "perpetuate a narrative that these felons are harmless hippies," Adler went so far as to compare the offenders to lions in an overcrowded zoo:

With limited space, rising labor, and lodging costs, which animals would the president let go? Using the president's methodology, the lions would likely be set free. Why? They eat the most food and therefore cost the most to maintain. During the 10 years of their captivity, they haven't eaten anyone or attacked their handlers. They have no known affiliation to any violent lion groups. They are totally safe to release into the public. The president's rationale for release of these federal prisoners does not benefit the American public, nor keep it safe.

Adler's FLEOA provides testimony at congressional hearings and represents more than 25,000 federal law enforcement officers from some 65 agencies. But his description of nonviolent drug offenders seems unfair for people like Antonio Bascaro, an octogenarian grandfather in a wheelchair who has been incarcerated for 35 years because he worked on a fishing boat used by Cubans to smuggle cannabis to Florida. Or what about John Knock, a first-time offender serving life in prison for conspiracy to traffic large quantities of weed that the government never even seized? (Neither man was granted clemency.)

In an investigation of weed lifers, my colleague Bryan Schatz writes:

Every year, more people are arrested for pot possession than violent crimes. Around 40,000 people are currently serving time for offenses involving a drug that has been decriminalized or legalized in 27 states and Washington, DC. Even as Americans' attitudes toward pot have mellowed, the law has yet to catch up, leaving pot offenders subject to draconian sentences born out of the war on drugs. As David Holland, a criminal-defense attorney in New York City who filed a presidential clemency petition for marijuana lifers in 2012, puts it: "The world has changed, but these poor bastards are still sitting in jail."

It's important to note that the war on drugs has disproportionately affected black and Latino men. And Obama's clemency last month went to a group of nonviolent inmates who had served more than 10 years in prison with good behavior, and who would not have received such severe sentences under today's sentencing rules. "These men and women were not hardened criminals," the president said, adding that 14 of the 46 nonviolent offenders had been given life sentences. "So their punishments didn't fit the crime."

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A Peek Inside the Anti-Immigrant Id

| Sat Aug. 22, 2015 12:22 AM EDT

An Alabama fan offers some advice to Donald Trump:

"Hopefully, he's going to sit there and say, 'When I become elected president, what we're going to do is we're going to make the border a vacation spot, it's going to cost you $25 for a permit, and then you get $50 for every confirmed kill,'" said Jim Sherota, 53, who works for a landscaping company. "That'd be one nice thing."

Charming. But I'm sure he's just kidding. Don't be so hypersensitive, people.

Friday Cat Blogging - 21 August 2015

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 2:35 PM EDT

My old friends at the Washington Monthly sent me an early copy of their latest College Guide issue, and apparently it inspired Hilbert to think about pursuing an advanced degree. Unlike humans, though, he doesn't need to read the issue. He merely has to absorb it through his fur. Stupid humans.

Anyway, because I have this issue in my hot little hands, I know which college scored #1 in the Monthly's unique "Bang for the Buck" ranking. Among Western colleges, this year's winner is the University of—

Aack! It's embargoed until Monday. And the embargo police are at the door. I have to leave now before they bust in. Does anyone have a hidey-hole nearby I can use for a few days?

"Anchor Babies" Are the Latest Pawns in the GOP's Crusade to Sound Tough

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 1:12 PM EDT

Anchor babies are back! And back with a vengeance. Yesterday, Jeb Bush unveiled Jeb 2.0, a louder, tougher, more outraged version of himself. Overall, it was a pretty woeful performance—he sounded a lot like a shy teenager practicing toughness in front of a mirror—but along the way he suggested that we needed better enforcement at the border in order to reduce the epidemic of anchor babies. A reporter asked why he used a term that's considered offensive, and Bush looked like a kid who's just gotten a toy at Christmas, "Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I'll use it," he shot back. Tough! Trumpish!

Ed Kilgore says the worst part of all this is that Republican candidates don't just use the term, but defend it with "snarling pride." Well sure. They all want to be Donald Trump. But there's nothing surprising about this. Republicans ostentatiously use the term "illegals" constantly as a signal that they're not just conservatives, but conservatives who don't take any guff from anyone—and certainly not from the PC police.

So no surprises here. But I'm curious about something. Last night I read a longish piece at TNR by Gwyneth Kelly titled "Why 'Anchor Baby' Is Offensive." I was actually sort of curious about that, so I read through it. But all the article did was provide a bit of history about the term and quote a bunch of people saying it was disgusting and dehumanizing. There was no explanation of why it's offensive.

Don't everyone pile on me at once. If you don't ask, you can't learn, right? So I guess my question is this. Is "anchor baby" offensive because:

  • It riles up xenophobia over something that doesn't actually happen very much.
    or
  • There's something about the term itself that's obnoxious.

I'm probably going to regret asking this. But I am curious. It's not obvious from first principles what the problem is here.

Trump Blasts O'Malley: "Disgusting, Little, Weak, Pathetic Baby"

The Donald wasn't impressed with O'Malley's apology to Black Lives Matter activists.

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 11:58 AM EDT

Back in July, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley apologized for saying "all lives matter" to a group of Black Lives Matter activists who had interrupted one of his speeches.

"That was a mistake on my part, and I meant no disrespect," the Democratic presidential hopeful said. "I did not mean to be insensitive in any way or communicate that I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment, and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue."

Great, a well-spoken, sincere apology from a white guy who, if given the benefit of the doubt, probably just didn't know any better. Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

In an interview on Fox News that is set to air Saturday night, Donald Trump blasted O'Malley's apology.

"And then he apologized like a little baby, like a disgusting, little, weak, pathetic baby," Trump said. "And that's the problem with our country."

Though many will groan at an adult hurling insults at another adult for realizing he made a mistake and attempting to correct himself, O'Malley may be loving the Trump exposure, considering he has been known to participate in some good old-fashioned trolling of the real estate tycoon himself.

Mother Jones has reached out to the O'Malley campaign, and we will update if it responds.

UPDATE, {8/21/2015 4:59 PM}: Lis Smith, Mr. O'Malley's deputy campaign manager responded with the following comment:

"Governor O'Malley stands with those who have the guts to stand up to Donald Trump's hate speech. It speaks volumes about the Republican Party today that this is their frontrunner. Unlike the rest of the Republican field, we're not interested in engaging in a race to the bottom with Mr. Trump."