Kevin Drum

The Best Way To Promote the English Language Is to Do Nothing

| Fri Apr. 22, 2016 12:13 PM EDT

This won't come as a big surprise to anyone who isn't knotted in fear about Hispanics taking over the country, but it turns out that Mexican immigrants are pretty much like every other immigrant population: the longer they're around, the more they speak English. Here is Pew Research:

About three-quarters of Hispanic Millennials are proficient English speakers — that is, they either speak only English at home (28%) or speak a language other than English at home, but speak English “very well” (48%).... Among Hispanics ages 5 to 17, nearly all of whom are U.S. born, 88% are proficient English speakers, including 37% who speak only English at home and 50% who speak another language at home but speak English very well.

It so happens that I think most liberals give short shrift to fears of official (or effective) bilingualism. My read of history and culture suggests that a common language is a key feature of a unified polity. There just aren't that many Switzerlands.

That said, there's not really a compelling reason to do much about this. I may not have any big objections to making English our official language, but why bother? Far from being unique, Hispanics are just like every other wave of immigrants in American history: they start off speaking Spanish, but the second and third generations end up speaking English. And they do it for obvious reasons: they live among English speakers, they watch English-language television, and it's hellishly inconvenient not to speak it. All we have to do is sit back and do nothing, and Hispanic immigrants will eventually all become English speakers.

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Art Museums Should Be Allowed to Participate in Both Sides of the Free Market

| Fri Apr. 22, 2016 11:08 AM EDT

New York City's Metropolitan Museum recently announced that it was running deficits and needed to restructure its operations—most likely including layoffs. Michael O'Hare is agog:

The Met has a collection worth at least $60 billion, thousands and thousands of objects almost none of which (by object count or square feet of picture) is ever shown or ever will be....Selling just two percent (off the bottom by quality or importance, of course, and much more than two percent of it by object count), for example, could endow free admission forever. Selling .3 percent would cover that pesky deficit, also forever. And the smaller museums and collectors who would buy works freed from the catacombs would show it.

Nothing in the Met’s mission statement suggests its purpose is to accumulate as much art as possible where no-one sees it. But the Met and all the other big art museums have insulated themselves from this sort of awkward question by writing a code of ethics that forbids any museum from selling anything except to buy more art.

Rich art lovers....Do not give a penny or so much as a tiny watercolor to any museum that doesn’t recuse itself from this provision of the AAMD rules. When a couple of big ones like the Met show some leadership, things will change, and our engagement with art will improve in many ways.

Selling off artwork is called deaccessioning, and it's become increasingly common—and controversial—in recent years. The AAMD does indeed forbid it, unless the proceeds are used to buy other art, but during the Great Recession several small museums sold off parts of their collection in order to cover operating costs anyway. The AAMD was not amused. When the Delaware Art Museum sold off a William Holman Hunt painting a couple of years ago, the AAMD asked its members to basically suspend any collaboration with the museum.

The art world generally believes that deaccessioning is a horror because art is a public trust blah blah blah. This is little more than meaningless word salad. However, on a more prosaic level, it's probably true that a strong taboo against deaccessioning prevents art museums from using their collections as an ATM machine whenever they run into a patch of trouble. That said, it's hard to understand why art museums, alone among all the institutions of mankind, should be required to never sell anything they own. Perhaps this statement from the AAMD about the Delaware Art Museum's auction tells the real story: "It is also sending a clear signal to its audiences that private support is unnecessary, since it can always sell additional items from its collection to cover its costs."

We can't have that, can we? That would prevent museums from raising money with scary campaigns about shutting down or firing half their staff or cutting hours to the bone.

But what if rules about deaccessioning were abandoned? What would happen? My guess is: nothing much. Museums that gained a reputation for doing it routinely would indeed suffer a drop in private donations, and that would act as a natural brake on the practice. Other museums would benefit, as they were freed to occasionally sell off less important parts of their collection in order to pay bills or undertake other worthy endeavors. And huge museums like the Met, with caverns full of artwork that's never shown and has limited scholarly use, could not only shore up their finances but improve the world by selling pieces to smaller, more specialized museums that would show it. In the end, a free market in art would most likely produce a net increase in public welfare, just as free markets do in nearly every other area.

I'm with O'Hare: the taboo against deaccessioning is way overdone. We should give it a rest.

Hillary Clinton Really Loves Military Intervention

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 3:17 PM EDT

Here's what's in the New York Times Magazine this week:

How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk

But...no. This piece doesn't really tell us how Hillary became a hawk—and that's too bad. It would be genuinely interesting to get some insight into how (or if) her views have evolved over time and what motivates them. Still, even if he doesn't really tell us why Hillary is so hawkish, Mark Landler makes it very, very clear that she is, indeed, a very sincere hawk:

Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone — grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.

For all intents and purposes, Landler says that Hillary has been the most hawkish person in the room in almost literally every case where she was in the room in the first place. For example:

Adm. Robert Willard, then the Pacific commander, wanted to send the carrier on a more aggressive course, into the Yellow Sea....Clinton strongly seconded it. “We’ve got to run it up the gut!” she had said to her aides a few days earlier.

....After 9/11, Clinton saw Armed Services as better preparation for her future. For a politician looking to hone hard-power credentials — a woman who aspired to be commander in chief — it was the perfect training ground. She dug in like a grunt at boot camp.

....Jack Keane is one of the intellectual architects of the Iraq surge; he is also perhaps the greatest single influence on the way Hillary Clinton thinks about military issues....Keane is the resident hawk on Fox News, where he appears regularly to call for the United States to use greater military force in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan....The two would meet many times over the next decade, discussing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Iranian nu­clear threat and other flash points in the Middle East.

....Keane, like Clinton, favored more robust intervention in Syria than Obama did....He advocated imposing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria that would neutralize the air power of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, with a goal of forcing him into a political settlement with opposition groups. Six months later, Clinton publicly adopted this position, further distancing herself from Obama.

....The Afghan troop debate....Her unstinting support of General McChrystal’s maximalist recommendation made it harder for Obama to choose a lesser option....“Hillary was adamant in her support for what Stan asked for,” Gates says....“She was, in a way, tougher on the numbers in the surge than I was.”

And Landler doesn't even mention Libya, perhaps because the Times already investigated her role at length a couple of months ago. It's hardly necessary, though. Taken as a whole, this is a portrait of a would-be president who (a) fundamentally believes in displays of force, (b) is eager to give the military everything they ask for, and (c) doesn't believe that military intervention is a last resort, no matter what she might say in public.

If anything worries me about Hillary Clinton, this is it. It's not so much that she's more hawkish than me, it's the fact that events of the past 15 years don't seem to have affected her views at all. How is that possible? And yet, our failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere apparently haven't given her the slightest pause about the effectiveness of military force in the Middle East. Quite the opposite: the sense I get from Landler's piece is that she continues to think all of these engagements would have turned out better if only we'd used more military power. I find it hard to understand how an intelligent, well-briefed person could continue to believe this, and that in turn makes me wonder just exactly what motivates Hillary's worldview.

Harriet Tubman Was a Republican!

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 12:54 PM EDT

Conservatives have finally found something to like about the Obama administration:

Perhaps some of the voices calling for Tubman on the $20 just wanted any prominent African-American woman to replace one of the white males on our currency. If it was political correctness that drove this decision, who cares? The Obama administration has inadvertently given Tubman fans of all political stripes an opportunity to tell the story of a deeply-religious, gun-toting Republican who fought for freedom in defiance of the laws of a government that refused to recognize her rights.

Yeah. That's the ticket. All those folks in the Obama administration had no idea who Harriet Tubman really was. They were all like, check this out, Jack: black, female, helped slaves, done. Boxes checked. Identity politics satisfied. Put her on the twenty.

The poor fools. She was religious! She carried a gun while helping slaves escape! She was a Republican! She fought for freedom against a tyrannical government! If you think about it, she's basically the poster child of the modern-day Tea Party. And none of those idiots in the White House had a clue.

Seriously. That seems to be what they think. Next they're going to remind us that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican too.

Will Trump Supporters Join Him in Opposing NC Bathroom Bill?

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 11:58 AM EDT

I'm curious about something. Here is Donald Trump opposing North Carolina's law that forces transgender people to use public bathrooms coinciding with their birth gender:

"North Carolina did something that was very strong and they're paying a big price. And there's a lot of problems." Trump said. "Leave it the way it is. North Carolina, what they're going through, with all of the business and all of the strife — and that's on both sides — you leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble. And the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic punishment they're taking."

At a guess, Trump's supporters are mostly people who think the North Carolina law is a good idea. Or at least, they used to. But now that Trump has come out against it, will the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice become the latest rallying cry of the angry working class? Perhaps we're about to find out just how much influence Trump really has with his supporters.

Donald Trump Is Evolving. Will the #NeverTrumpers Evolve With Him?

| Thu Apr. 21, 2016 10:41 AM EDT

Welcome to Donald Trump 2.0:

Donald Trump, after notching a big win in New York, is planning to roll out significant changes in his campaign, including giving a policy speech on foreign affairs and using teleprompters and a speechwriter....Mr. Trump, in an interview, acknowledged the need for a shift. “The campaign is evolving and transitioning, and so am I,” he said. “I’ll be more effective and more disciplined.” He’s changing, he said, because “I’m not going to blow it.”

It seems like I've heard this before. Maybe two or three times before, in fact. And yet, somehow nothing ever seems to change.

Still, this could be fascinating. A foreign policy speech with teleprompters and a speechwriter implies that the speech will be written with input from foreign policy experts. But who? The ragtag team Trump announced a couple of weeks ago? And how exactly would a foreign policy expert mold Trump's actual positions (take the oil, make our allies pay us lots of money, tax China, etc.) into something non-insane?

Beats me. But I suppose it can be done. And it will be interesting to watch all the conservative #NeverTrumpers start their slow conversion into Trump supporters: "He really seems to have matured." "That speech was surprisingly sensible." "We may have underestimated Trump." "Everyone gets a little crazy during primaries." "We can't afford four years of Hillary." "Trump 2016!"

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Silicon Valley Not Really Feeling the Bern

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 10:08 PM EDT

Based on donor data, Brian Fung says that Bernie Sanders has a lot of fans in the dotcom biz:

This wouldn't be worth mentioning except for the fact that Sanders appears to have a broad-based appeal among Silicon Valley workers compared with his rivals. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sanders's campaign committee seems to be by far the biggest recipient of donations from employees of Alphabet (Google's parent company), Apple, Microsoft, Amazon.com and Intel.

....This sets up a few possibilities. It's conceivable, for instance, that Clinton's support among tech companies is actually higher than what we can observe from her list....Another possibility is that tech-industry folks are donating to Clinton but in amounts too small to break into the lists we're looking at....What we can say is that Sanders appears to have much more support than Clinton across a wider range of tech companies, even if the amount of that financial support is relatively small.

Nah. Google employees are split nearly evenly between Bernie and Hillary, and employees of the other four companies probably are too. We just can't see them because their totals fall below the top 20 in Hillary's donor list. But why guess about this? All we have to do is look at the overall industry numbers. Here they are:

Compared to overall fundraising, this represents a bigger tilt toward Hillary than average. And despite the size of this sector, it represents a dismal 0.43 percent of Hillary's total campaign donations and 0.36 percent of Bernie's. So we can draw the following conclusions:

  • Hillary has broader support in the internet sector than Bernie.
  • Hillary gets a bigger percentage of her donations from the internet sector.
  • Silicon Valley is full of cheapskates who don't care much about politics.

So there you have it.

Donald Trump Is Right: The GOP Primary System Is Rigged

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 6:35 PM EDT

I hate to agree with Donald Trump about anything, but he's got a point: the Republican primary process is really unfair. Just look at New York: Kasich and Cruz won 40 percent of the vote but only 4 percent of the delegates. It's an outrage.

And it's been that way all along. In the early contests, Trump's opponents won 68 percent of the vote but only 38 percent of the delegates. On Super Tuesday they won 66 percent of the vote but only 57 percent of the delegates. In early March they eked out a fair result: 63 percent of the vote and 66 percent of the delegates. But on Super Tuesday II it was back to business as usual: they crushed Trump with 60 percent of the vote but won only 38 percent of the delegates.

I'm glad Trump is helping shine a media spotlight on this gross inequity—and he deserves special credit since he's the one benefiting from it. It's a pretty selfless act. Maybe someone will finally start paying attention to the way the Republican establishment is so obviously in the bag for Trump.

Is It Finally Time For a UBI?

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 3:55 PM EDT

UBI is having a moment. Not a big moment, mind you, but a moment nonetheless. Why?

UBI stands for Universal Basic Income, and it's just what it sounds like. It guarantees everyone, rich and poor alike, a certain minimum cash income and replaces the alphabet soup of current welfare programs. No more food stamps. No more Section 8. No more unemployment compensation.

On the right, UBI got a boost a few years ago from Charles Murray, who championed the idea in his book In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State. On the left, the rise of Bernie Sanders has given it a bit of new momentum, even though it's not part of Bernie's campaign platform. It's also gotten some attention thanks to planned experiments in Finland and the Netherlands, and a referendum for a national UBI in Switzerland this summer. On his Freakonomics podcast last week, Stephen Dubner suggests it's "an idea whose time finally may have come."

So what are the pros and cons? Here's a quick, extremely non-exhaustive rundown.

THE GOOD

#1: A UBI eliminates bad work incentives.

There's a problem inherent with all means-tested welfare benefits: they phase out as you make more money. Suppose you make $15,000 per year, and above that point you lose 50 cents of welfare benefits for every dollar you earn. This means that working more hours or taking a more challenging job doesn't pay much. On net, a raise of $5,000 per year only gets you $2,500 of actual compensation. This reduces the incentive to work harder in order to escape poverty. But a UBI is different: Since you continue to receive a UBI no matter what your income, it has no effect on work incentives.

#2: A UBI reduces admin costs.

Means-tested programs all have to be administered, and that costs money. A UBI reclaims nearly all of that. The government just sends out a monthly check to every citizen, and that's it. Admin costs are minuscule.

#3: A UBI allows the poor to live freer lives.

Poor people no longer have to endure a demanding gauntlet of welfare offices and complicated forms. They don't have to prove their income is low, or that they have kids, or that they're actively looking for work. Nor do they have to accept only the specific forms of welfare the government feels like giving them. They just get a check every month, and they can spend it as they please.

THE BAD

#1: It costs a fortune.

A reasonable UBI would probably amount to about $10,000 per year, which works out to a total cost of $3.2 trillion. Of course, we'd also eliminate lots of welfare payments, so the net cost would be less than that. But even accounting for that, it would probably require the federal income tax to be doubled or tripled. That's a pretty tough sell.

#2: It can't replace everything.

You can—barely—live on $10,000 per year. But that won't pay for health care. It won't pay for public schools for our kids. We'll still have to keep some welfare programs around even with a UBI. On the plus side, as long as these programs are universal, they generally retain the benefits of a UBI: low admin costs and no bad work incentives.

#3: What about children?

This is tricky. Option A is to simply include them like everyone else. But this provides a substantial incentive to have children in order to get their UBI, and that's not something most voters are likely to accept. Option B is to give children a smaller UBI than adults. But would that be enough to provide for them properly? Nobody wants kids to suffer because their parents are poor. How do you ensure that?

#4: What about the elderly?

Should retirees be folded into the UBI? If so, their pensions would be quite a bit lower than they are now. If not, we'd basically be guaranteeing a higher UBI for old people than for young people. Would that seem fair to most people?

#5: Money is a sadly vulnerable commodity.

It's an unfortunate but painful truth that poor people are often vulnerable to having cash taken away from them. It can be stolen, of course, but more likely it's simply confiscated by someone they're living with. This is obviously a problem with earnings of all kinds, but one advantage of existing welfare programs is that it provides a minimum floor to this. A drunk and abusive husband can't take away your Section 8 voucher or your food stamps or your Medicaid in order to blow it on beer and smokes.

This is just the briefest outline. And it may be that in the near future we no longer have much choice about this anyway. As robots take away more and more jobs, a UBI may be the only realistic answer to a nation full of robots that can replace low-skill workers at almost no cost. If we get to a point where a substantial number of people flatly don't have the skills to perform any job for any wage, what are we going to do? The most likely answer is that we'll end up with a UBI whether we like it or not. And that makes it worth thinking about right now.

Harriet Tubman Will Replace Jackson on $20 Bill

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 12:58 PM EDT

Who says Broadway musicals are a dying art form?

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Wednesday will announce plans to both keep Alexander Hamilton on the front of the $10 bill and to knock Andrew Jackson off the front of the $20 in favor of Harriet Tubman, sources tell POLITICO.

....Lew's reversal comes after he announced last summer that he was considering replacing Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman. The plan drew swift rebukes from fans of Hamilton, who helped create the Treasury Department and the modern American financial system....Supporters of putting a woman on the $10 bill have complained that it will take too long to put a woman on the $20 bill. But people familiar with the matter said new designs for the bills should be ready by 2020. Treasury is likely to ask the Federal Reserve, which makes the final decision, to speed the process and get the bills into circulation as quickly as possible.

The movement to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill gathered strength after the Broadway musical named after the former Treasury Secretary and founding father became a runaway smash hit.

Quick! Someone create a smash hit dubstep-zydeco dance musical featuring Andrew Jackson. It's his only hope.

I still wish Lew had chosen Frances Perkins, since I like the tradition of portraying people on currency who have served in office, but that's just a personal thing. (Though I do admire Perkins greatly, and think she deserves more attention than she usually gets.) Still, it's hard to argue with Tubman—or with any of dozens of other women. When you're going from zero to one, there are a whole lot of worthy choices.

And it's also nice to see that they can manage to put a new bill in circulation by 2020 after all. I mean, 2030? Seriously? How can it take 15 years to design a new bill and start shipping it to banks?

POSTSCRIPT: There's a bit of irony here. The $20 bill is ubiquitous largely because that's what ATMs have been spitting out since the late 70s. But a twenty today is worth less a ten back then. We really ought to be using $50 bills as our go-to walking-around currency these days, and that's what ATMs should be churning out. By 2020, maybe they will be. And by 2025 cash will probably have disappeared entirely. So by the time Tubman finally makes it onto the twenty, we won't be using them much anymore. Women just can't catch a break.