Kevin Drum

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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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.