Kevin Drum

Enough With the Eugenics Already

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 5:49 PM EST

Jonah Goldberg:

I have on my desk Thomas Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers which I am very much looking forward to reading and, if time permits, reviewing. Leonard is a brilliant and meticulous historian and his new book investigates the eugenic roots of progressivism. More on that in a moment.

Everybody needs a hobby, but this is sure an odd thing to keep obsessing about. Yes, many early progressives believed in eugenics. Modern liberals aren't especially proud of this, but we don't deny it either. There are ugly parts of everyone's history.

So why go on and on about it? If it's a professional historical field of study for you, sure. Go ahead. But in a political magazine? It might make sense if you're investigating the roots of current beliefs, but eugenics died an unmourned death nearly a century ago. And no matter what you think of modern liberal views toward abortion or right-to-die laws, nobody can credibly argue that they're rooted in anything but the opposite of eugenics. Early 20th century progressives supported eugenics out of a belief that it would improve society. Contemporary liberals support abortion rights and right-to-die laws out of a belief in individual rights that flowered in the 60s.

So what's the deal? Is this supposed to be something that will cause the general public to turn against liberals? Or what? It really doesn't make much sense.

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Are Immigration Agents Defying the President?

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 2:37 PM EST

As you all know, the Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the legality of President Obama's 2014 immigration program—Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, or DAPA. Like DACA, the "mini-DREAM" rule that Obama established in 2012, DAPA codifies the president's ability to direct prosecutorial resources by explicitly telling immigration agents to do what they've mostly been doing anyway: ignore undocumented immigrants who have clean records and have been in the US for a long time. The key word here is "mostly." Nearly all immigrants who fit the DAPA criteria are left untouched, but immigration agents continue to randomly deport some of them. Over at the New Republic, Spencer Amdur makes an interesting argument that this is at the core of the legal case:

As the administration tries to rationalize its immigration policy, the biggest challenge has actually come from within....In 2011, the head of ICE, John Morton, issued a memorandum directing agents not to focus their limited resources on immigrants with clean records, long-time residence, and families in the United States....Morton issued several of these “priorities” memos, and line-level agents almost universally ignored them, continuing to deport immigrants with deep roots here and no convictions.

....Later in 2011, the administration instructed immigration prosecutors to close cases of people who were not priorities for deportation; little changed. In 2012, the administration asked agents to stop sending detention requests to local police for immigrants without criminal records. Still nothing.

....This pattern of defiance is not mentioned in any of the briefs or court decisions in United States v. Texas. But it was an essential antecedent for DAPA, which effectively forces immigration agents to follow the previous policies....This is the elephant in the courtroom. The lawsuit is not just about the balance of power between the president and Congress, as the briefs suggest. It’s about democratic control of the police. Do our elected officials have the right to control the enforcement bureaucracy?

The fact that this isn't mentioned in any of the briefs suggests it's not taken seriously by anyone. Should it be?

Lets All Agree That Apostrophe's Arent Necessary

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 2:08 PM EST

German Lopez says that "apostrophes offer an exciting opportunity to show other people how smart and educated you are"—which all by itself makes it worth learning how to use them. For example:

Another common issue is irregular plural words, like children and teeth. For these words, you add an apostrophe and an s — so children's toys and teeth's roots.

Live by the apostrophe, die by the apostrophe. My middle-school English teacher beat into us that only humans can possess things. Animals too, I suppose. Or countries. But in any case, never inanimate objects. So it's "roots of teeth," because teeth don't own roots.

Of course, some young punks think this is a dated rule that makes no sense, and they go around merrily giving inanimate objects possession of everything. This is appalling. Of course this rule makes no sense, but that's the whole reason that good grammar demonstrates how smart and educated you are. If we did what made sense, we'd eliminate the apostrophe entirely since it's never necessary for comprehension. But that way lies anarchy.

Anyway, everyone1 loves to argue about grammatical minutiae, so have a beer and get to it in comments.

1Actually, not everyone. But my readers sure seem to like it!

Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump: Who Is the Least Charitable?

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 1:16 PM EST

McKay Coppins tells us that Ted Cruz is "facing questions" about his lack of entirely Christ-like generosity:

In a series of interviews this week, political opponents and pastors alike suggested Cruz — an avowed Baptist who is aggressively courting evangelical voters — has flouted the Biblical commandment of tithing in his personal life....According to personal tax returns released during his 2012 Senate bid, Cruz contributed less than 1% of his income to charity between 2006 and 2010 — a far cry from the 10% most evangelical leaders believe the Bible demands.

Well, Ted had all those loans from Goldman Sachs to pay off, so he probably didn't have much to spare for tithing. Anyway, those loans were used for the greatest possible gift to the Lord: Ted Cruz's ascension to the Senate.

Of course, Cruz is Mother Teresa compared to his competition:

Tax filings of the Donald J. Trump foundation show Trump has made no charitable contributions to his own namesake nonprofit since 2008. Without an endowment, the fund has continued to give grants only as a result of contributions from others.

....Pressed by the AP on the details of his contributions, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks provided a partial list of donations that appeared to correspond with the foundation's gifts — indicating that Trump may be counting other people's charitable giving as his own.

"I give to hundreds of charities and people in need of help," Trump said in an emailed response to questions from the AP about how he tallied his own philanthropy. "It is one of the things I most like doing and one of the great reasons to have made a lot of money." The Trump campaign did not respond to a request that it identify donations that Trump himself gave.

More here. Obviously Trump is lying about this, but that's hardly even noteworthy anymore. As near as I can tell, he's congenitally unable to tell the truth about anything related to his finances. I mean, this is a guy who's using other people's money for his supposedly self-funded campaign and who claims to this day that he did great with his Atlantic City casinos.

But he's somehow invulnerable anyway. As best I can figure it, Trump (a) never goes to church, (b) has never read the Bible, (c) is unusually stingy, and (d) lives a personal life of serial affairs with younger women followed by serial divorces. But somehow lots of evangelicals think he's a Godly man anyway.

Cruz, on the other hand, is the son of a guy who runs the Purifying Fire International ministry—a preacher so evangelical he seems ready to explode at times. Cruz went to a Baptist high school; he talks about religion interminably; and he attends church regularly. But somehow lots of evangelicals have abandoned him for Trump.

Strange times.

Giant Supernova May Be Due to Cloud of Star Smithereens

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 12:25 PM EST

It's been a big week for astro-scientist types. First a gigantic supernova, then a ninth planet. We have yet to confirm the planet, but a team of scientists has now suggested a possible explanation for the supernova: a fast spinning magnetar.

When researchers announced confirmation of the record-breaking stellar explosion ASASSN-15lh last week, they mused that such a star, called a magnetar, wasn’t enough to explain the supernova’s unusual brightness. To create the energy seen in this explosion, the magnetar’s core would have to be spinning so fast that it would break apart.

But a new analysis using more detailed calculations claims it could happen, if powerful magnetic fields interacted with a big enough cloud of star smithereens.

....Previous calculations suggested that any star that could produce as much energy as ASASSN-15lh, which would outshine the moon if it were in our galaxy, wouldn’t survive long enough to become a magnetar. But now Melina Bersten of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina and her colleagues suggest that the stellar corpse that remains after the explosion could pump extra energy into a cloud of gas surrounding it, and produce the superluminous supernova discovered last summer....That cloud of stellar leftovers would have to be pretty extreme, though: at least six times the mass of the sun.

Star smithereens? Is that a real word? Somebody help me out here.

Raw Data: The Undocumented Immigrant Population in the US Is Down Yet Again

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 11:55 AM EST

I don't have any real comment about this. It's just raw data for those who are interested. Illegal immigration into the US has been declining ever since 2008 and declined yet again in 2014, according to the Center for Migration Studies. The full report is here.

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Conservative Anger Over Immigration Isn't That Complicated

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 10:48 AM EST

Ramesh Ponnuru writes today that Nikki Haley has paid a price for her squishy stance on immigration:

For these comments, she was denounced in some quarters as a moderate who had declared war on her own party’s strongest supporters. Both the speech and the reaction offer more evidence that immigration control is becoming a more important, and defining, issue for conservatives.

Why the issue has become central is less clear. It's not because the problem of illegal immigration is growing; it has fallen in recent years. But that decline has coincided with at least seven factors that have raised the political importance of immigration for the right.

Low economic growth.....Demographic changes among Republicans....The growth of the immigrant population....The unresponsiveness of elites....Partisan politics....The progress of arguments among conservatives....Cascading effects.

I don't get this. In 2007 George Bush tried to pass an immigration bill, but the conservative base rose up in anger and killed it. In 2013 Barack Obama tried to pass an immigration bill, but the conservative base rose up in anger and killed it. Basically, conservative skepticism of immigration has been growing ever since 1986, when Reagan's immigration bill offered amnesty to millions but failed to reduce the flow of immigrants across the southern border.

Ponnuru may or may not be right about the reasons for conservative anger—I suspect that culture shock and outright racism are the most likely causes, just as they are in lots of other countries—but there really shouldn't be any surprise about this. The conservative base has been outraged about illegal immigration for at least a decade, and probably longer. Now that Obama is explicitly trying to outmaneuver them and broaden amnesty using executive orders, they're even more outraged, and folks like Donald Trump are exploiting that. There's really no need to make it any more complicated.

Why Is Flint's Water Still Unsafe? Or Is It?

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 9:51 PM EST

Can someone help me out? Flint reconnected to the Detroit water system in October, and it was supposed to take a few weeks after that to clean out the pipes. So what happened? I keep seeing pallets of bottled water being delivered to Flint, but shouldn't the tap water be safe by now? Has it been tested for lead levels in the past month or two? I've been trying to check this out, but I can't seem to find anything definitive.

I feel like I must have missed something. I don't know how hard a thorough round of testing is, but it sure seems like that would have been a top priority starting in early November. Is it being done?

UPDATE: Here's the answer:

  • Over time, the lead pipes in Flint built up a protective mineral coating—or scale—that prevented lead from getting into the water.
  • During the 17 months it was used, acidic water from the Flint River corroded away the scale, exposing fresh metal.
  • Even if the water is now good, it's going to take a while before the scale rebuilds. In the meantime, lead can still leach into the water.

Back in December, the Flint Utilities Director announced that they planned to boost the level of phosphates in the water to aid in rebuilding the scale. They also hired a firm to begin testing of high-risk homes. Normally it can take up to five years for scale to rebuild, but presumably the additional phosphates will reduce this time. Still, it might be quite a while before the water is safe again, which explains the continuing pallets of bottled water.

Republicans Refuse to Vote on Banning Muslims From US

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 8:42 PM EST

House Republicans have passed a bill to ban refugees from Syria and Iraq, and today it was up for debate in the Senate:

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) slammed the refugee bill but said Democrats would allow it to advance if they could offer four amendments, including one aimed at Trump that would put senators on record about whether there should be a religious test for anyone entering the country.

....Senate Republicans declined Reid’s offer and Democrats blocked the refugee legislation....Earlier this month, Reid said he will use every opportunity to try to force Senate votes on policies touted by Trump. This drew a warning from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that he would counter by holding votes on campaign promises made by Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

I know this is all just political theater, but it's still pretty entertaining. I wonder if voting for Trump policies would actually hurt Republicans? I wonder if voting against Trump policies would hurt Republicans? I guess we'll never know.

Anyway, this is what things have come to: Faced with a ridiculous amendment that would ban Muslims from visiting America, Republicans are afraid to just vote No and then move along. They're scared that their base would hold it against them. Amazing.

Why Are #OscarsSoWhite?

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 7:00 PM EST

The answer to the question in the headline is easy: because Academy voters are mostly white senior citizens (94 percent white, average age 63) and their taste tends to be pretty conventional for white folks born in 1952. At least that's what all the critics say. This explains, they say, why a great film like Straight Outta Compton didn't get nominated. A bunch of old white guys just aren't going to be moved by a film about an angry group of black gangsta rappers.

But what about the critics themselves? According to Hayley Munguia of FiveThirtyEight, here are the 20 films from 2015 that showed up on the most "Best Of" lists. The movies in red got Oscar nods:

Where's Straight Outta Compton? Not in the top 20.1 Apparently the critics are a bunch of old white guys too.

Next up: maybe Munguia will compile similar lists for the acting categories. Who did the critics love? Did Idris Elba make the top 20? Michael Jordan? Tessa Thompson? O'Shea Jackson Jr? Teyonah Parris? I'm curious about whether the critics ought to be examining themselves as much as they're examining the Academy.

1Only two movies not in the top 20 got Best Picture nominations. Revenant may have gotten released too late to make many lists. And Bridge of Spies didn't deserve to be in the top 20, but probably got nominated because everyone loves Tom Hanks.