Paul Waldman

When Bad Intentions Meet Bad Data

Numbers!

When the Heritage Foundation released that study showing that immigration reform would cost American taxpayers a gajillion feptillion bazillion dollars, people were obviously going to pick it apart and reveal its flaws and tendentious assumptions, which they did. But today came something else interesting. Dylan Matthews read the dissertation written by one of the authors, Jason Richwine, in which Richwin writes that "The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations." In order to deal with the problem, Richwine suggests IQ-testing everyone who wants to immigrate, and taking only the smart ones. As Matthews describes it, "Richwine's dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races...He writes, 'No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.'" Well now.

So: does this provide even more reason to reject the Heritage study Richwine co-wrote? In other words, how much weight should we give to someone's repellent views on a topic when evaluating an empirical piece of work they produce? If you conclude that Richwine has bad intentions, can that be all you need to know to reject what he has to say about the costs of immigration reform?

Chris Christie and GOP Primary Voters, Not So Perfect Together

Flickr/Bob Jagendorf

As an aficionado of American regional resentment and distrust, not to mention someone who grew up in the Garden State, I find the question of whether Chris Christie could take his Jersey style national and win the hearts of Republican presidential primary voters to be quite interesting. Would a party whose center of gravity lies firmly in the South being willing to seriously consider not just a guy from New Jersey, but a guy who is obviously from New Jersey? Christie recently told the New York Post that he had lap-band surgery a couple of months ago, so by the time the Iowa caucuses roll around, he could look a little less like Bobby Bacala and a little more
like the kind of rugged outdoorsman Republicans favor. But will that be enough? Yesterday, Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner argued that the answer is going to be no:

What We Talk about When We Talk about Immigration

From the Heritage Foundation web site.

If you've read or heard anything about immigration today, it probably had to do with a just-released Heritage Foundation report claiming that immigration reform will cost America eleventy bazillion dollars, or as the enormous headline on their web site screams, "The COST of Amnesty TO YOU." If you're interested in a point-by-point analysis of why the assumptions and omissions in the report skew things so absurdly, you can read Dylan Matthews or Alex Nowrasteh, but you have to hand it to Heritage: despite the questionable quality of the work and its obvious intent to scuttle immigration reform, they've gotten a tremendous amount of attention for it.

That's partly a result of good timing (nobody else had attempted to put a dollar figure on reform, so they were the first), and partly due to what I'm sure is a large and skilled communication staff. The way these things work is that your policy people write the report, then your communication people work the phones and email to get reporters to write stories about it, bloggers to blog about it, and members of Congress who find its conclusions pleasing to talk about it when they give floor speeches or go on TV. Most think-tank reports fall like drops of rain on the ocean, little noticed by all but a small circle of people intensely interested in whatever the topic is; this is one of those rare ones that gets much more attention. The Heritage communication department is no doubt pretty pleased with the job they did.

But the topic—what kinds of financial costs are associated with immigration reform—is something that no one on either side actually cares about, not really. Because money isn't anyone's primary consideration.

You Think We Have Lots of Guns Now...

The first working gun made (almost) entirely on a 3-D printer.

There's even more exciting gun news today, coming from a small non-profit organization called Defense Distributed. They announced that they have successfully test-fired a gun made almost entirely in a 3-D printer. The only part that wasn't 3-D printed was the firing pin. And the bullet, of course. Now previously, people had made gun components in 3-D printers, but prior tests of entire weapons had been unsuccessful. This raises some rather troubling questions, which we'll get to in a moment. But first, here's their short video, which shows the firing and construction of the gun, inexplicably interspersed with shots of World War II-era bombers:

Discovering the American Majority with the NRA and Conservative Politicians

I have a piece going up later today over at CNN.com on the NRA convention, but there was something I raised there that I wanted to elaborate on. If you look at the list of Republican politicians who spoke to the assembled firearm enthusiasts, it wasn't exactly the A-team. Last year Mitt Romney showed up, but this year they had failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum, failed presidential candidate Rick Perry, universally disliked freshman senator Ted Cruz, currently unpopular Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and former half-term governor and current punch line Sarah Palin. Every one of them would like to be president one day, but the only one with even the ghost of a chance is Jindal.

And what do they have in common? Some are has-beens, some have reached the pinnacle of their careers even if they don't know it yet, but what distinguishes them isn't just that they're very, very conservative. It's that—like the NRA itself—they're obviously convinced that they actually represent the majority of the American public, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Feeding the Paranoid Right

Flickr/mjb

In today's edition of Republicans Think the Darndest Things, a poll from Farleigh Dickinson University that came out the other day found, as polls regularly do, that Americans in general and conservative in particular believe some nutty stuff. That's not really news, but there are some reasons to be genuinely concerned, which I'll explain. The headline finding is this: Respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, "In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties." Forty-four percent of Republicans—yes, almost half—said they agreed. We've been doing pretty well with this constitutional system for the last 224 years, but it's just about time to junk it.

The right reaction to any shocking poll result is to say, "Let's not make too much of this." And I don't think any but a tiny proportion of the people who would answer yes to that question would actually start in or participate in a revolution. Let's take the gun owners who email me every time I write an article about guns, telling me I'm an ignorant unmanly Northeastern elitist liberty-hating girly-man wimp (yeah, they're heavy on the accusations of insufficient manliness; this is what psychologists call "projection"). If their neighbor came over and said, "Enough is enough; I'm going down to the police station to kill some cops—you know, for liberty. Are you coming?", how many of them would actually say yes? Not very many.

Nevertheless, the fact that so many people are willing to even entertain the idea is appalling, and we have to put the responsibility where it belongs.

Emotion and Reason in the Gun Debate

Images from the web site of Crickett Firearms, which sells guns for kids.

You may have heard the story of Caroline Sparks, the 2-year-old Kentucky girl who was killed this week when her brother, all of 5 years old himself, took the rifle he got for his birthday and shot her in the chest. I suppose we should be thankful this kind of thing doesn't happen even more often; as a Kentucky state trooper told CNN, "In this part of the country, it's not uncommon for a 5-year-old to have a gun." I'm sure that when gun rights advocates heard the story, they said, "Oh geez, here we go again." They'd have to deal yet again with people being upset when innocents get killed with guns. They'd have to explain that as tragic as Caroline's death is, it doesn't mean that we should change the law on background checks. After all, that 5-year-old boy got his gun from his parents, not at a gun show.

Whatever you think about gun advocates, could they be right on this point? Sure, it's a little rich coming from people who are constantly stoking fears of home invasions, fascist takeovers, and utter societal breakdown to justify our current lax gun laws. But do we get into trouble when our arguments about public policy are based on emotionally vivid but unrepresentative individual stories? Maybe.

Government Oppression of Religious People Continues With National Day of Prayer

Flickr/C Jill Reed

One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn't able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month.

The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don't confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that's an entirely separate national prayer event. Here's Barack Obama's proclamation of the day, though beyond that I don't think the government is actually doing much to honor it. That slack is picked up by the quasi-official National Day of Prayer Task Force, a decidedly evangelical Christian group chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson. This year's honorary chair is California megachurch pastor Greg Laurie, whose participation led to protests from gay rights groups unhappy with Laurie's particular view of sin and sexuality. Laurie will be leading prayer events on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon today. The theme of this year's events is "Pray for America," the message being that everything is pretty much going to hell (so to speak) in our country, and the only thing that can get us back on the right track is Jesus.

House of Representatives Now a Scene from "Life Of Brian"

The People's Front of Judea holds a meeting.

Here in America we have a long tradition of candidates who run for office telling voters that they'll be good at making laws because they know nothing about making laws. This is a longtime pet peeve of mine, particularly the "I'm a businessman, not a politician" variant (see here, for example), but the idea that "outsiders" who aren't beholden to the ways of the Capitol can be successful in curing it of its less appealing habits is almost as old as the republic itself. In ordinary circumstances, people who don't know anything about legislating are usually equally unfamiliar with what it takes to run a successful campaign, so most of them get weeded out by election day. The last couple of elections have not, however, been ordinary.

I bring this up because of a story today in Politico that makes the Republican House of Representatives look like even more of a mess than you might have imagined. I'll get to the issue of "outsider" politicians in a moment, but here's an excerpt:

Why the Fight over Obamacare May Never End

Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, I've held more than one opinion on just how the American public will feel about it as time goes by. Initially, perhaps influenced by the momentousness of the Act's passage, I wrote that once it was actually implemented, it would be much harder for Republicans to attack. They would no longer be able to frighten people with phantoms of death panels, and instead would have to talk about reality. Since people would have their own experience with the law to judge from as opposed to some hypothetical future, the attacks would lose their potency, Republicans would back off, and the law would rise or fall in public esteem on its own merits.

Then I began to have second thoughts. One of the biggest problems, which I wrote about a few months later, is that Obamacare isn't a single program like Medicare that people can come to love. It's a whole bunch of pilot programs and new regulations, many of which involve private insurance or existing programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and when people are affected by those changes they won't necessarily see them as being part of Obamacare. For instance, beginning in January, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage based on pre-existing conditions. But to most people, interacting as they will be with private companies, it will look like Aetna or Blue Cross or whoever just got more humane, and they may not even know that the government made them do it. Even the exchanges, if they work well, will just be the place where you go to shop for private insurance. Your relationship with the insurer you choose will certainly be affected deeply by the ACA's regulations, but most people still won't understand exactly how.

Among the consequences are that Republicans will be absolutely free to continue to blame every problem anyone has with the health care system on Obamacare, without concern of producing a backlash from the law's supporters.

Is It Too Late for the GOP to Save Itself with Latinos?

Outreach!

Since the 2012 election, there's a story we've heard over and over about Republicans and the Latino vote. After spending years bashing immigrants, the party got hammered among this increasingly vital demographic group in this election, whereupon the party's more pragmatic elements woke up and realized that if they don't convince Latinos that the GOP isn't hostile to them, they risk making it impossible for themselves to win presidential elections. They've got one shot on immigration reform: pass it, and they can stanch the bleeding, or kill it, and lock in their dreadful performance among Latinos for generations.

This story is mostly true. But I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't already too late for the GOP to win Latinos over. It's going a little far to suggest that Latinos could become the equivalent of African-Americans, giving 90 percent or more of their votes to Democrats in every election. But is it possible that so much damage has already been done that even if immigration reform passes, Republicans won't see any improvement in their standing among Latinos?

The Utter Irrelevance of "Personal Charm"

President Obama exercising his charm, to no avail. (White House photo)

You'd think that if you're an experienced political reporter for the Washington Post, after a while you would have acquired a sense of how things happen in the nation's capital these days—how legislation gets passed, how the different power centers in town relate to each other, and what factors do and don't matter in determining the outcome of events. Yet for some unfathomable reason, we're still talking about whether Barack Obama can exercise his "personal charm" or "powers of persuasion" on members of the Republican party, convincing them to vote for things they're otherwise inclined against. Here's an article from today's Post:

Don't Give Up on Green Tech Yet

flickr/Chris Wevers

When in 2008 George W. Bush signed the law creating the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program (ATVM), which gives loans to car companies investing in green tech, conservatives were outraged. They took to talk radio to express their dismay, they introduced bills to dismantle the program, they poured contempt on Bush for trying to "pick winners and losers" with a bunch of hippie-mobiles running on patchouli and idealistic delusions.

Is Washington the Worst Place on Earth?

Flickr/Skillishots

Today we learn that New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich has penned a book called This Town: The Way It Works In Suck Up City, exposing all the awfulness of our nation's capital. As Politico reports, "Two people familiar with the book said it opens with a long, biting take on [Tim] Russert's 2008 funeral, where Washington's self-obsession – and lack of self-awareness – was on full display. The book argues that all of Washington's worst virtues were exposed, with over-the-top coverage of his death, jockeying for good seats at a funeral and Washington insiders transacting business at the event." Sounds about right.

In the past, I've offered Washington some gentle ribbing, employing colorful phrases like "moral sewer" and "festering cauldron of corruption." In truth, D.C. is a complicated place, and like any city it has its virtues and flaws. But you don't find many other cities where the inhabitants regularly write about how despicable the place is. Obviously, there's "Washington," an actual city where people live and work, and "Washington," a rhetorical construct that embodies the things people don't like about government and politics. But is Washington really worse than anyplace else? It's a tough call, but here are some reasons I think D.C. comes in for more of this kind of criticism:

The Unending War on Obamacare

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

I'm not a historian, so maybe there's something I don't know, but it seems to me that there may never have been a piece of legislation that has inspired such partisan venom as the Affordable Care Act. Sure, Republicans hated Medicare. And yes, their rhetoric at the time, particularly Ronald Reagan's famous warning that if it passed, "We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free," was very similar to what they now say about Obamacare. But once it passed, their attempts to undermine it ran more to the occasional raid than the ongoing siege.

I bring this up because Kevin Drum makes an unsettling point today about the future of Obamacare:

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