Kevin Drum

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.

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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.

Sarah Palin Is Such a Creep

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 2:52 PM EST

I know I said that last night's Palin-palooza would "hold me for a year," but I guess I was wrong. Palin's son Track was arrested Monday on domestic violence charges, and today Palin addressed this:

My own family, my son, a combat vet having served in the Stryker brigade... my son like so many others, they come back a bit different, they come back hardened, they come back wondering if there is that respect... and that starts right at the top.

I'm not happy with liberals who use Track's problems as a way of snickering at Sarah. Yes, when you use your kids as campaign props, you open yourself up to some of this. But parents do their best, and kids sometimes have problems. Whatever Track's problems are, he and his family should be allowed to deal with them in their own way.

That said, if you decide to use your son's problems as a political cudgel, you can hardly expect to others to hold back forever. Palin should be ashamed of herself.

But leave Track alone anyway. He doesn't deserve outsize attention just because his mother is such a creep. I only hope he gets the help he pretty obviously needs.

Scientists Discover "Most Planet-y" Planet in the Solar System

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 1:29 PM EST

Oh FFS. We just demoted Pluto because it was too small and didn't do a real planet's job of taking out the orbital trash, but now the boffins at Caltech are claiming we have a ninth planet after all. It's a gazillion miles away, but apparently it's big enough to "clear the neighborhood" and thus qualify as a real planet.

If it's real, that is. So far its existence has merely been inferred from gravitational anomalies in Kuiper Belt objects:

The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine [ed note: clever!], has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune...."This would be a real ninth planet," says [Mike] Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy....Brown notes that the putative ninth planet—at 5,000 times the mass of Pluto—is sufficiently large that there should be no debate about whether it is a true planet....In fact, it dominates a region larger than any of the other known planets—a fact that Brown says makes it "the most planet-y of the planets in the whole solar system."

Ooh. The "most planet-y" object in the solar system! And how do they infer its existence? With sciencey stuff like this:

Well, I'll believe it when I see it. Or, rather, when I see a digitally enhanced CCD image that's been fed into the maw of a supercomputer, thus allowing scientists to assure me at a 5-sigma level that a certain gray pixel has met rigorous statistical tests and really is Planet Nine. After all, seeing is believing.

By the way, if we ever mount an expedition to Planet Nine, it should be pretty interesting. Here's what I expect we'll find:

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Global Warming Went On a Rampage in 2015

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 12:17 PM EST

Remember that old chestnut, the climate chart that starts in 1998 and makes it look like climate change has been on a "pause" ever since? It was always nonsense produced by cherry picking an unusually high starting point, but it was still effective propaganda. But those days are gone for good. 2014 was already considerably warmer than 1998, and last year has now blown away everything in the record books:

The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2015 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880. During the final month, the December combined global land and ocean average surface temperature was the highest on record for any month in the 136-year record.

During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average....This is also the largest margin by which the annual global temperature record has been broken. Ten months had record high temperatures for their respective months during the year. The five highest monthly departures from average for any month on record all occurred during 2015.

George Will is now going to have to find some other way to lie about global warming. I don't doubt that he's up to it, but at least he'll have to work a little harder.

ISIS Is Losing

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 11:17 AM EST

Zack Beauchamp passes along a new leaked document that chronicles the latest travails of the ISIS high command:

According to the document, ISIS is being forced to slash salaries for its fighters by half across its holdings. The document was first reported by researcher Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi on his personal site, as part of a broader cache of documents he acquired. Here's the core passage from the document:

 "On account of the exceptional circumstances the Islamic State is facing, it has been decided to reduce the salaries that are paid to all mujahideen by half, and it is not allowed for anyone to be exempted from this decision, whatever his position."

ISIS is such a hideous group that it's hard to find anything about them funny. But both al-Qaeda and ISIS have a bureaucratic streak that it's hard not to laugh at. The only thing missing from this memo is a declaration that they're planning to hire McKinsey to help them streamline operations and get back on track to meet FY16 business plan projections.

On a more serious note, this really is a sign that ISIS is not the unstoppable juggernaut that the hair-on-fire brigade insists it is. They've lost large amounts of their territory. Their oil infrastructure has been badly damaged and the global glut of oil makes it a lousy source of revenue anyway. They're surrounded by enemies on all sides. They may be the first terrorist group in history to master social media, but on the ground they're losing. That's likely to continue.

Donald and Sarah Barnstorm Iowa

| Wed Jan. 20, 2016 12:23 AM EST

Oh God. I know I shouldn't do this. I know I shouldn't post snippets from Sarah Palin's endorsement speech for Donald Trump just because they amuse me. But I'm weak. So, so weak. Can you find it in your hearts to forgive me? Please please please? Thanks. Here goes:

On national security: I’m in it, because just last week, we’re watching our sailors suffer and be humiliated on a world stage at the hands of Iranian captors in violation of international law, because a weak-kneed, capitulator-in-chief has decided America will lead from behind. And he, who would negotiate deals, kind of with the skills of a community organizer maybe organizing a neighborhood tea, well, he deciding that, “No, America would apologize as part of the deal,” as the enemy sends a message to the rest of the world that they capture and we kowtow, and we apologize, and then, we bend over and say, “Thank you, enemy.”

Ed note: Actually, our sailors violated Iranian waters and were released after 16 hours. Nobody in the Obama administration apologized for anything.

On Islam: Are you ready for a commander-in-chief, you ready for a commander-in-chief who will let our warriors do their job and go kick ISIS ass?....And you quit footin’ the bill for these nations who are oil-rich, we’re paying for some of their squirmishes that have been going on for centuries. Where they're fightin’ each other and yellin’ “Allah Akbar” calling Jihad on each other’s heads for ever and ever. Like I’ve said before, let them duke it out and let Allah sort it out.

Ed note: Um, which is it? Is Trump going to kick ISIS ass or is he going to withdraw and let Allah sort it out?

On Donald Trump's family values: Oh, I just hope you guys get to know him more and more as a person, and a family man. What he’s been able to accomplish, with his um, it’s kind of this quiet generosity. Yeah, maybe his largess kind of, I don’t know, some would say gets in the way of that quiet generosity, and, uh, his compassion, but if you know him as a person and you’ll get to know him more and more, you’ll have even more respect.

Ed note: Actually, Trump married a model; started an affair with a younger actress; dumped the model; married the actress; started an affair with an even younger model; dumped the actress; and then married model #2. There's no telling how long this one will last.

On Trump's fiscal rectitude: He, being an optimist, passionate about equal-opportunity to work. The self-made success of his, you know that he doesn’t get his power, his high, off of OPM, other people’s money, like a lot of dopes in Washington do. They’re addicted to OPM, where they take other people’s money, and then their high is getting to redistribute it, right?

Ed note: Actually, Donald Trump loves other people's money. That's why he's been involved in no less than four bankruptcies: because he borrowed lots of other people's money and then squandered it.

On her future career as a hip hop artist:

  • No, we’re not going to chill. In fact it’s time to drill, baby, drill down.
  • Cops and cooks, you rockin’ rollers and holy rollers!
  • Right wingin’, bitter clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our god, and our religion....Tell us that we’re not red enough?
  • Yes the status quo has got to go....Their failed agenda, it can’t be salvaged. It must be savaged.
  • The main thing, the main thing, and he knows the main thing....He knows the main thing, and he knows how to lead the charge.

Ed note: Not bad! Let Dre produce and she might have something here.

OK, that should hold me for another year or so.

Should Bernie Sanders Support Reparations?

| Tue Jan. 19, 2016 9:36 PM EST

A few days ago, someone asked Bernie Sanders if he supported the payment of reparations to African-Americans. He said he didn't—and then, as with every other subject he's asked about, used it as a springboard to talk about the "real issue" of poverty and income inequality. Ta-Nehisi Coates was pretty unimpressed:

Sanders says the chance of getting reparations through Congress is “nil,” a correct observation which could just as well apply to much of the Vermont senator’s own platform....Sanders is a lot of things, many of them good. But he is not the candidate of moderation and unification, so much as the candidate of partisanship and radicalism....Sanders should be directly confronted and asked why his political imagination is so active against plutocracy, but so limited against white supremacy.

Coates is unhappy that Sanders is so reticent about reparations, but this strikes me as an odd criticism. A couple of years ago Coates famously wrote an Atlantic article titled "The Case for Reparations," and after reading it I concluded that he was reticent about reparations too. He certainly made the case that black labor and wealth had been plundered by whites for centuries—something that few people deny anymore—but when it came time to talk about concrete restitution for this, he tap danced gingerly. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

Broach the topic of reparations today and a barrage of questions inevitably follows: Who will be paid? How much will they be paid? Who will pay? But if the practicalities, not the justice, of reparations are the true sticking point, there has for some time been the beginnings of a solution. For the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for “appropriate remedies.”

....Scholars have long discussed methods by which America might make reparations to those on whose labor and exclusion the country was built. In the 1970s, the Yale Law professor Boris Bittker argued...$34 billion....Today Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law School professor, argues for something broader: a program of job training and public works that takes racial justice as its mission but includes the poor of all races.

....Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely....What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.

If you say "reparations," an ordinary person will almost certainly understand it in a very specific way: A disbursement of money to blacks to atone for slavery and its aftermath. But despite the provocative title of his piece, Coates never squarely endorses this. Instead, he suggests we pass a bill that would study slavery. He writes approvingly of Ogletree's proposal for job training and public works. And he wants a "full acceptance" of our past along with a "national reckoning" about its consequences.

I'm not being coy when I say that after I read this, I couldn't tell whether or not Coates supported reparations in the sense that most people understand them. And since I'm sure that's the sense in which Bernie Sanders was answering the question, I'm not quite sure what Coates is criticizing here. To my ear, Sanders sounded a lot like Ogletree, who Coates seems to have no problem with. So what's his problem with Sanders?

POSTSCRIPT: Since someone is bound to ask, I don't support reparations myself because I don't think they would do any good. But maybe I'm wrong. I can be convinced otherwise.

And if I am wrong, I've never thought that practical considerations are an insurmountable obstacle. A simple solution is to try to roughly equalize black and white net worth, which would require payment of about $50,000 to every black person in the country. That would be expensive but affordable over a course of 10 or 20 years. Nor would the supposedly sticky subject of "who's black?" be all that difficult. About 95 percent of the cases would be easy, and the rest would go to an arbitration panel of some kind. The arbitration might be messy, but it would hardly be the first time we've done something like this.