Thursday, April 26, 2012

Today's Pre-emptive Surrender Today

And, as per usual, the Obama Administration decided to take its cues on small-bore tax and regulatory policy from the Daily Caller and Sarah Palin's Facebook page. The Labor department rules attempting to apply some work rules to children who are employees of someone else's family farm have been withdrawn. Note that the rules wouldn't have applied to kids working on their parents' farm.

Once the story is out there, 90% of the damage on this sort of thing is already done. None of the people complaining about this stuff were going to vote for Obama in the first place. Claire McCaskill may have lost a handful of votes, but that's unlikely to be a problem. If the policy is sound you might as well implement it.

This is as good a time as any to remind everyone that there are more World of Warcraft players than farmers in America, but our entire political infrastructure doesn't constantly extol the virtues of Raiders and Silver Farmers and all the other elements of the WoW ecosystem, and make policy changes to avoid upsetting any of them.

Today in Conservative Outrage Over Nothing

No, Virginia, the Obama Administration is not trying
to prevent kids from taking care of the goats on their
family's farm.
Apparently the Daily Caller tried to work everyone into a tizzy over new Department of Labor rules governing child labor on farms. The conservative house organ tried to depict the new rule as preventing kids from working on their family farm or participating in 4-H and FFA activities. In reality, the rule explicitly exempts children working on their parents' farms and only governs "employment", not non-employment situations such as the 4-H and FFA. In case you were wondering.

I often wonder how many of these ridiculous freakouts fly completely past me because I don't expose myself to right-wing media outlets that often. Then I realize that learning about every single molehill that had been turned into Mount Everest wouldn't increase anyone's quality of life.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Yale-NUS College

A few people have asked me what I think about the controversy surrounding Yale-NUS college, so it's probably worth blogging about.

The resolution seems to be based on an outdated impression of Singapore, as things are moving in a pretty good direction here. New readers may be interested in taking a look at my liveblog of Singapore election results last year. As far as I can tell, the election revealed that the civil liberties situation is moving forward pretty well here -- lots of my students were forcefully criticizing the ruling party on Facebook under their real names, and I don't think any of them got any grief about it. The opposition did better than they ever had before -- admittedly, winning 6 out of 87 seats in Parliament isn't much, but it's an outcome that they were quite pleased with, and it says good things about the future viability of opposition politics. I was especially happy that the district (Aljunied GRC) where Lee Kuan Yew tried to intimidate the voters into voting for the PAP turned against them. "If you try to win elections by threatening the voters, you will lose" is a good precedent to set in a new democracy.

It's partly because my teaching and research concerns fairly abstract issues, but I've never had any personal academic freedom worries here in Singapore. There might be problems if you were working on something where you were directly evaluating Singapore policymakers, and I don't blame people at Yale for worrying about that. But I haven't ever heard any of my colleagues worry about whether the things they're teaching in political philosophy will rub university bureaucrats or the government the wrong way.

I don't blame the Yale faculty for being unhappy about the LGBT rights situation -- male same-sex activity is officially illegal, though the laws are hardly ever enforced. I hope the Yale resolution strengthens the hand of local activists and helps Singapore move in the right direction on this issue. But here it's important to remember that lots of states were in the same position 10 years ago.

I guess the big source of annoyance I have about the resolution is that Singapore is doing better than America on a variety of left-wing issues. Singapore's public transit system is a lot better for the environment than what you'd expect in an American city. Singapore provides good housing to its citizens -- 80% of them live in government-owned housing, and it's generally pretty high quality. Singapore pursues a sensible and restrained foreign policy, and didn't start anything like the Iraq War. Really, I'd be more worried about Arizona, where a state legislator is bragging about how he's going to end ethnic studies programs at universities, than Singapore. At least here, things are going in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Romney Victory Postmortem

Recent events in the Republican primary make this everyone's last opportunity in a while for Santorum jokes. But I feel that those comic possibilities have already been exhausted, so I'll move on to other things.

Congratulations are due to Mitt Romney on having won the Republican nomination. It's impressive that someone with his background as a moderate governor of Massachusetts could win the nomination in a Republican Party that was defeating its moderates, even at the cost of several Senate seats, in 2010. He was helped by a weak field (the result of Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008), and the deciding factor was his gigantic fundraising advantage which allowed him to bury competitors in important states with an avalanche of advertising, but winning the race still showed a great deal of political talent.

It'll take even more political talent to bounce back from two years of pandering to the GOP base to hit the right notes for the general election, and I don't know if Mitt has that in him. For example, his campaign didn't know whether he supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act. I think his numbers will move up in the next few days -- that's usually what happens when a primary ends and the party coalesces around the winner. But he's got a lot of work to do, and a candidate who spent the last two years trying to win the GOP nomination really isn't going to be in the mindset where he says the right things to win over moderate female voters.

Congratulations are also overdue to Jonathan Bernstein, who was optimistic about Romney when I and a lot of people weren't.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

And Thus Begins The Stupidest Season

Actual quote from WSJ's Washington Wire:
As Rick Santorum exits the presidential race, attention will turn more to Mitt Romney’s choice of running mate. And the latest name to get significant buzz in Washington is Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.

It’s a media boomlet that could be wrong, especially this far in advance, and it’s based on speculation rather than on inside knowledge. But ...
No. No "But". Just stop right there. Media insiders think Rob Portman might be VP. End of news item. Actually, don't even go that far. Once you write the fragment "it's based on speculation rather than inside knowledge", it should be clear that you would be providing your readers with a more useful service if you were to close your laptop, head to the nearest public park, and enjoy the nice weather. Why not do that instead?

What Do We Want? A New Top Marginal Tax Bracket on Income Above One Million Dollars! When Do We Want It? Now!

This is the kind of chart that everyone can understand.
Unlike attempts to assuage liberals by reducing the number of years prescription drug manufacturers have exclusive marketing rights, the idea of ensuring that the top 0.1% of income earners pay a higher tax rate than those in the middle of the income distribution is the kind of policy that everyone intuitively understands. Which is a big part of the reason why the White House is putting the Buffet Rule as front and center as they possibly can. The fact that it means that Mitt Romney has to explain why he ought to pay an effective income tax rate on an eight figure income is certainly another part of the equation.

At one level, it's a sad state of affairs that the leftmost position in American politics is an alternate alternate minimum tax on income in excess of $1 million. While the Buffet Rule would make a bigger difference than anything Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan have proposed on the tax or spending side, there simply aren't enough super-rich to fund all of our current priorities purely through raising taxes on them. On the other, the fact that Ronald Reagan managed to collapse the political interest of the upper class, upper-upper middle class, and truly rich into a single tax bracket is a mistake that really ought to be undone.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fox Calls Neo-Nazis "Civil Rights Group"

Pam Spaulding and ThinkProgress are all over Fox News' presentation of the National Socialist Movement as a "Civil rights group." Fox changed the headline to "white rights" shortly afterward, as if that was a good way to describe them.

It's not like the ideology of the National Socialist Movement is difficult to identify. This isn't some group of neo-Nazis that called themselves the Munich Eggplant Lovers Association to confuse people. It's right there in the name -- "Nazi" is a contraction for the German word Nationalsozialist. Outside of India and a few other places where the terms mean other things, "National Socialist" is a term Nazis use for themselves. This group admires Hitler and flies the swastika, as the linked posts show.

I'm usually one to look on the bright side, so let me point out something good that could come of this. If we can get the "Hitler is awesome!" right-wingers together with the "Obama is Hitler!" right-wingers, maybe they'll convince each other, draw the rational inference, and vote for Obama in November.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

White And Black Racists Discuss Asians

It's a big day for racism, as John Derbyshire writes an article laying out racist things that white and Asian parents should teach their kids about black people, and Marion Barry tells Asian shopkeepers to get out of town.

Asian people, specifically East Asians, are a focus of attention in both cases. They're seen unlike black people and (especially with Derbyshire) closer to white people. With the passage of time, minority groups that attain higher social status in America are seen as more like whites, until eventually they're not seen as a separate race at all. East Asians seem to be on a swift path to that outcome.

I wonder what the role of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent will be in all this. We're dark enough in coloring that it'll be harder to see us simply as another kind of white people. At the same time, our racial stereotypes are pretty good, as far as these things go. As with East Asians, the stereotype isn't "likely to commit crimes" but "good at math." At least until we intermarry into the rest of the culture so fully that we can no longer be identified as a separate group, we'll be disrupting the correlation between whiteness of skin and whiteness in the "Stuff White People Like" sense. I guess that's kind of neat.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Obama Caption Contest

President Barack Obama looks over the shoulder of Hannah Wyman, 11, as she demonstrates her project in the Blue Room, Feb. 7, 2012, during the second annual White House Science Fair celebrating student winners of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. Wyman, who attends St. Anna's School in Leominster, Mass., won the grand prize in her age group (9-12) for her video game "Toxic," in Microsoft's first-ever U.S. Kodu Cup. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Use the comments to add your own caption to for this photo.

Since Obama continues to showcase younger science & math students, let me continue my campaign to get the White House to recognize more nerds. Obama did call IMO individual runner up Evan O'Dorney and the Obama Administration continues to host MATHCOUNTS winners at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but ARML powerhouse Lehigh Valley continues to be left out in the cold. Getting the 2012 ARML winners an appearance with the President would be change I could believe in.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Did All The Female Republicans Defect In The War On Women?

That's the best explanation I can think of for why Reince Preibus put himself out front to deny the existence of a GOP war on women (claiming that it was as unreal as a GOP war on caterpillars). This is the kind of issue where you get some female Republican operative to do your talking for you. Your top male figurehead is not the person who should be doing this.

The fact that he expressed himself in a way where an insect species was mentioned as a parallel to "women" didn't help. I get the point he's trying to make, that these things are equally unreal, but it would've been more apt to choose something nicer-sounding, or an actual human demographic group like redheads or electricians or Anabaptists. Well, nobody has any idea who the Anabaptists were anymore, but the other two would've been better.

The substantive problem, of course, is that having a talking head come out and say "it's not happening" isn't going to help very much when Republican state legislators all over the country are restricting access to abortion and Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke for supporting contraception.

Hillary 2016? Wait And See

At some point, I'm going to have to say something about the possibility of Hillary Clinton running to be Barack Obama's successor, should he get a second term. And why not say a little bit of that now?

It can only be a little bit, because we haven't seen the Hillary 2016 campaign yet, and we don't know what kind of situation we'll be in then. Will the Supreme Court go nuts and overturn the ACA, and Hillary be supporting Medicare for All, a carbon tax, and free universal pre-K education? Then I'm very likely to support her. Will Hillary rehire Mark Penn, take herself to have the primary in the bag, and run a cautious centrist campaign in preparation for the general election? Then I'm against her, as we'll certainly have better candidates. In any event, a whole lot more has to happen before reasonable people can make up their minds.

Just as the 2006 and 2008 elections left the Republican Party with a fairly weak presidential primary field, they left us with plenty of excellent young Democratic Senators whom I'd be happy to see in a presidential race. I like Hillary well enough, but it's far too early for people on the left to have their minds made up.

It is a good time to give an early endorsement to the "Texts from Hillary" tumblr, however.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Different Parties, Different Goals

I realize it's the job of politicians to project confidence, but when I see Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confidently predicting that the Court will uphold the ACA 6-3, I can't help but think that Pelosi, Obama, and really everyone else trying to point out that the individual mandate originated with the Heritage foundation and represent a tremendous compromise, are all playing one game, in which the goal is to enact sound, centrist public policy, and craft a legal argument based on existing based on existing precedent (to which, it should be noted, the Court is not necessarily bound), while basically every elected Republican and the conservative Justices are playing another game, in which the goal is for the Red Team to beat the Blue Team and therefore nothing else matters.

Monday, April 2, 2012

When Guns Aren't Outlawed, Dirty F***ing Hippies Will Have Guns

Over at Balloon Juice, Betty Cracker flags the difficulty local governments in the Tampa area are having in preparing for the Republican convention, noting that all sorts of paraphernalia are banned from the protest zone, except for actual firearms, thanks to a ban on firearm bans courtesy of Rick Scott, the NRA, and the Florida Legislature.


It's worth noting that the quickest way to enact restrictions on walking around while carrying a gun is probably for the "wrong" kinds of people to start carrying firearms, causing a freakout among the people who wrote the laws in the first place.