Kevin Drum

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.

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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.

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.

Hey, Denver: Give Chick-fil-A a Break

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 11:48 AM EDT

I can't recall ever agreeing with John Fund about anything, but he thinks this is ridiculous and I guess I do too:

Chick-fil-A's reputation as an opponent of same-sex marriage has imperiled the fast-food chain's potential return to Denver International Airport, with several City Council members this week passionately questioning a proposed concession agreement.

Councilman Paul Lopez called opposition to the chain at DIA "really, truly a moral issue on the city."...Robin Kniech, the council's first openly gay member, said she was most worried about a local franchise generating "corporate profits used to fund and fuel discrimination." She was first to raise Chick-fil-A leaders' politics during a Tuesday committee hearing.

....Several council members — including four on the six-member committee — raised questions related to Chick-fil-A's religion-influenced operation, which includes keeping all franchises closed on Sundays.

Most focused on political firestorms sparked by remarks made by Chick-fil-A's now-CEO Dan Cathy, reaching a peak in 2012 after court decisions favorable to same-sex marriage. The company also came under fire for donations made by charitable arms to groups opposing LGBT causes.

This stuff happened four years ago, and the company halted contributions to anti-gay groups a year later. Cathy presumably still doesn't support gay marriage, but I really don't think that should be a precondition for winning a bid with a government agency.

And when several council members go beyond that, raising questions about "Chick-fil-A's religion-influenced operation," all it does is confirm the worst hysteria from the right wing that merely being Christian is enough to arouse the hatred of the left. That's just wildly inappropriate.

If the Denver City Council were giving a popular fast-food outlet a hard time because its CEO contributed to Planned Parenthood four years ago, we'd be outraged—and rightly so. I don't blame conservatives for being equally outraged about this.

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Falling Stock Markets? Blame China.

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 11:18 AM EDT

Over at Wonkblog, Ylan Mui writes about the plummeting stock market:

Is this the beginning of “Rate Rage”?

You could be forgiven for thinking so, judging by all the blame that’s been heaped on the Federal Reserve for the selloff in stock markets over the past three days. The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average has plunged 500 points, and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index erased its gains for the year. Markets Friday morning were already beginning to edge down.

We must read wildly different stuff. I haven't noticed anyone blaming the Fed for falling stock markets. The headlines have all been like this one in the Wall Street Journal: markets are dropping because investors are afraid that China is about to go belly up. As Mui points out, the Fed's actions have been widely anticipated, and the timing of the market drop doesn't really match up with anything new from the Fed anyway. It does match up with investors finally getting nervous after weeks of increasingly bad news from China.

In any case, this is yet another reason the Fed might want to rethink a rate rise later this year. The global economy is not looking especially robust at the moment, with Europe barely growing and China possibly entering a serious slowdown. We don't really need to add to these problems.

Hobby Drones: Not As Cute As You Think

Why a sky clogged with unregulated remote-control aircraft might not be such a great idea.

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 10:40 AM EDT

Somebody at the FAA leaked several hundred rogue-drone reports to the Washington Post's Craig Whitlock:

Before last year, close encounters with rogue drones were unheard of. But as a result of a sales boom, small, largely unregulated remote-control aircraft are clogging U.S. airspace, snarling air traffic and giving the FAA fits.

Pilots have reported a surge in close calls with drones: nearly 700 incidents so far this year, according to FAA statistics, about triple the number recorded for all of 2014. The agency has acknowledged growing concern about the problem and its inability to do much to tame it.

And we saw something similar a few weeks ago, when private drones interfered with firefighting in California.

This is the reason I'm more skeptical about a laissez faire attitude toward drones than many people. Once they're out there, they're out there, and all the new regulations in the world won't put the genie back in the bottle. Conversely, if you regulate them more tightly and ease up slowly as the consequences become clearer, we can avoid things like drones bringing down a 747 about to land at LaGuardia.

Nobody likes the idea of the government getting in the way of cool new technology. I get that. But governments regulate driverless cars for an obvious reason: they're dangerous. Drones probably ought to be more tightly regulated for the same reason. When one person in 10,000 owned one, they seemed harmless. When one person in a hundred owns one, it suddenly becomes clear that a sky full of hobby drones might not be such a great idea. When the day comes that everyone has one, it will be too late.

This is true of a lot of things. When they're rare, they seem harmless. And they are! But you need to think about what happens when they get cheap and ubiquitous. In the case of drones, we might not like what we get.

Word of the Day: Trumpery

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 8:30 AM EDT

This may be the greatest, classiest entry in any dictionary ever. Yes, it's real.

Carly Fiorina Plans to Run America Via Smartphone

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 10:50 PM EDT

Soon we will all be Trumpists. Trumpets? Trumpettes? Trumpies?

Ahem. Anyway, at a town hall today a veteran told Carly Fiorina that he was having trouble getting a doctor’s appointment through Veterans Affairs:

“Listen to that story,” Fiorina said. “How long has [VA] been a problem? Decades. How long have politicians been talking about it? Decades.”

Fiorina said she would gather 10 or 12 veterans in a room, including the gentleman from the third row, and ask what they want. Fiorina would then vet this plan via telephone poll, asking Americans to “press one for yes on your smartphone, two for no.”

“You know how to solve these problems,” she said, “so I’m going to ask you.”

Until now, I had been willing cut Fiorina a little bit of slack over running HP into the ground. I figured other people shared some of the blame too.

Now I'm not so sure. Is this the razor-sharp leadership savvy she's been bragging about? Just ask a bunch of vets what they want? Press one for yes and two for no? That's how she's going to whip the VA into shape? Somebody just shoot me now.

POSTSCRIPT: Do you think that Fiorina (a) thought this up on the spur of the moment, or (b) gamed this out with her consultants and was just waiting for the right time to use it? And which is scarier?