Kevin Drum

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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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.

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.

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.