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In The News

A few stories I’m following right now:

  • I’ve been critical of some of Trump’s cabinet choices. But my first impression of Mattis, the proposed Secretary of Defense, is positive. He opposes torture, supports a two-state solution for Israel, recognizes that the Iran deal is flawed but that tearing it up would be a mistake. His approach to Iraq was a big reason the surge worked and his musings show an active and sharp mind. He has been willing to praise or criticize politicians from both sides. Moreover, Trump said that one thing that impressed him was that Mattis opposes torture, which Trump ostensibly favors, and made a good argument against it. One of the big concerns with a President is that he will surround himself with Yes Men. Mattis is definitely not a Yes Man. He’s a good choice. But the thought process behind the pick is also encouraging.
  • Of course, he’s still thinking about Bolton for State, so it’s not all roses.
  • Trump sent out a tweet the other day saying that flag burning should be banned and come with a loss of citizenship. You can pretty much guess my response to this: I’m with Scalia.
  • Of course, Hillary Clinton her own damned self once co-sponsored an anti-flag burning bill. No matter what Trump does, let’s not lose sight of what the alternative was like.
  • Neither Obama nor Biden will attend Castro’s funeral. Good.
  • Trump’s deal to keep Carrier from shipping jobs to Mexico (actually, Pence’s deal) does not impress me. It’s a $7 million tax break specifically for Carrier to keep 1000 jobs in Indiana. It’s crony capitalism and an example of what we shouldn’t be doing. We have an entire economy run on backdoor tax breaks, regulatory holidays, subsidies and special dispensations. What we need to do is make America a better place for all businesses through comprehensive and universal regulatory and tax reform.
  • However, I suspect the Carrier deal is a preview of Trump’s Presidency. He’ll make a huge fuss about little things he does like saving a thousand jobs, to give the impression that he’s doing good (which, to be fair, all Presidents do). The real good will have to come from Congress, who have the power to unshackle our economy.

Big Brother In the UK

This is probably our future too:

On Tuesday, the UK is due to pass its controversial new surveillance law, the Investigatory Powers Act, according to the Home Office.

The Act, which has received overwhelming support in both the House of Commons and Lords, formally legalizes a number of mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. It also introduces a new power which will force internet service providers to store browsing data on all customers for 12 months.

Civil liberties campaigners have described the Act as one of the most extreme surveillance laws in any democracy, while law enforcement agencies believe that the collection of browsing data is vital in an age of ubiquitous internet communications.

The UK is also introducing a new mass surveillance power, with the creation of so-called internet connection records (ICRs): records of the internet service a specific device has connected to, which will be created and stored by internet service providers. These records will include visited websites, messaging platforms like WhatsApp, or potentially even the connection your computer makes to a remote server when updating its software.

Many law enforcement agencies will be able to access this data, but so will lots of other, less obvious public bodies, including the Food Standards Agency, and some National Health Service Trusts.

The UK also, a couple of years ago, banned porn depicting anything the pearl-clutching nannies running their country regard as “deviant”. I’m sure more censorship is coming.

Don’t think this can’t happen here. Trump is putting in place people who support mass surveillance and oppose privacy protections. Congress has shown repeatedly that will instantly cave unless we the people rise up in protest. If we don’t want to follow the example of the UK, we have to object now, no matter who is in power.

As Jane’s Law Turns

For the last eight years, you may have heard, the Right Wing has been crazy. At least, that’s what the media assured us. And to be fair, there was some craziness out there: conspiracy theories about Obama, the tendency to infer nefarious motives to Democrats, etc. But I saw this less as a manifestation of Right Wing insanity and more of a manifestation of Jane’s Law:

The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

You see, I’ve been blogging a long time, since Bush’s first term. And I remember how crazy the Left was when Bush was in power. I remember a plurality of Democrats thinking Bush had prior knowledge of 9/11. I remember them saying we invaded Iraq to enrich Hailburton. I remember the Bushitler signs. I remember the claims that Bush was “gutting” spending he was massively increasing. And I especially remember that the only e-mail threat I’ve ever gotten was from a liberal angry at something I’d written on Moorewatch.

Right now, the media is all up in arms about “fake news”, the supposed apotheosis of Right Wing insanity. I find this concern utterly hilarious from a movement that made fakes news shows like The Daily Show their standard bearers. I find it hypocritical from the people who made serial confabulator Michael Moore the most successful documentary filmmaker in history. I find it bizarre coming from the likes of Vox, which frequently writes factually challenged articles that play to their liberal biases. There was an NPR article that said that fake news sites don’t do as well with liberals (hello? The Onion?). But even if that’s true, it’s mainly because liberals have been in power for eight years, at least at the Presidential level.

So I’ve been wondering since the election: how long would it take for the Left to go nuts, now that they’re out of power? How long before Jane’s Law is applied in the other direction? The answer is: not long.

My canary in the coal mine is Snopes, whose debunkings have slowly been shifting toward debunking nonsense and fake news about Donald Trump (e.g., Ivanka said she’d mace him if he wasn’t her father). But the real manifestation is in the current push for electoral recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. We’ve gone through several stages here of increasing insanity and hypocrisy:

  • Before the election, Trump complained that the system was rigged. Many left-wing sites did sterling work debunking this. They also mocked Trump as a sore loser and castigating him for questioning the integrity of the election and endangering democracy.
  • Then, last weak, based on poor analysis of election returns, a computer scientist started claiming that the election may have been hacked by Russia. He’s since backed off a bit since people who actually know stuff about elections pointed out that the “discrepancies” in the election returns were actually differences in demographics.
  • At first, this was ignored. Clinton didn’t touch it. Some said it probably wasn’t hacked but maybe we should recount just to be sure. But over the Thanksgiving break, the roof caved in. Jill Stein called for a recount in Wisconsin and raised $7 million from Democrats to … well, it’s not really clear what that charlatan is using the money for. But Democrats sure gave her a hell of a lot of it. Now the Clinton camp is joining in, kinda, and many Democrats are openly saying the election might have been hacked.
  • Of course, this is not portrayed in the same way Trump’s ramblings were. Suddenly, calling an election rigged isn’t threatening our democracy; it’s strengthening it! Calling for a recount in a state decided by 60,000 votes or more isn’t being a sore loser; it’s testing the system!
  • The hypocrisy reached full circle today. Trump responded to the recount requests by tweeting out quotes from Clinton criticizing his complaints about a rigged election. He then tweeted that he would have won the popular vote had not three million illegal aliens voted for Clinton. There is zero evidence to supports his allegation. It appears to have originated in a few random tweets. But suddenly, the same commentators who were solemnly calling for a recount started blasting Trump for having the temerity to question the election. How dare he!

Here’s but one example of the response picked almost at random:

Krugman, BTW, went on a multi-tweet rant the other night about how important it was that we do a recount to insure the integrity of the election.

The lack of self-awareness here is simply stunning.

Look, I don’t like Trump either. And I’ll admit that, on election night, I entertained the idea that a Russian hack was responsible for the surprising result. But by the next morning, I realized that I’d spent the last few weeks reading up on just how hard it would be to do that. Not impossible, but very hard. But even if you think a Russian hack were possible, how you can you go, in the span of a couple of days, from promulgating conspiracy theories to denouncing them? It’s madness.

Look, maybe the Russians did hack the election. And maybe millions of illegal aliens voted. But without evidence — not speculation, not random blips on maps, not random tweets — real, solid evidence, I’m not going to proclaim the election results to be a fraud. Prove either assertion beyond a reasonable doubt and I’ll happily eat some crow and then join the pitchfork parade.

But please don’t sit there and tell me how reasonable and rational you are when you embrace one conspiracy theory while swatting down another. And please don’t tell me how reasonable and rational you are when you give $7 million to a grifter like Jill Stein on the desperate hope that your conspiracy theory is real. Maybe there’s something to it. But you’re not carefully and calmly considering the evidence. You’re going down a rabbit hole into madness.

Turkey And Drumsticks 2016

For nine years running, I have taken advantage of the Thanksgiving Holiday to give out my awards for Turkey of the Year and Golden Drumsticks. The latter are for those who exemplify the best traits in our public sphere. The former are for those who exemplify silliness and stupidity. I rarely give them out to someone who is evil; they are reserved for those who regularly make me shake my head and wonder what they’re thinking. It’s a sort of “thank you” for making blogging easier.

This may be the last of these. We’ll see. But this is the post I most look forward to every year.

Read more… »

The Overtime Follies

Good:

In a stunning blow to the Obama administration’s economic legacy, a federal judge in Texas granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday delaying implementation of a regulation that would extend overtime eligibility to an estimated 4.2 million workers.

The ruling puts in serious jeopardy the most significant wage intervention by President Barack Obama, who has been unable to persuade Congress to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour. The Labor Department regulation, previously set to take effect Dec. 1, effectively restored overtime pay to the middle class after decades of erosion had reduced it to a benefit available only to low-wage workers.

Putting aside Politico’s liberal spin, the overtime rule is looking like a bad idea and a massive executive overreach.

But let’s back up a second and review the argument in favor of the changes in overtime rules. The Department of Labor raised the threshold for exemption from overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,120. At the same time, they made changes to what workers are exempt even if their income is below that threshold. This means that approximately four million workers who were previously on salary will not be getting paid hourly and thus eligible for overtime pay if they exceed 40 hours a week.

Ostensibly, the reason for this change is to curb abuses by businesses that give employees a slight bump over the $23,660 threshold and then require them to work 50-60 hours a week. When the President put the rule into place, he said that $30,000 a year did not constitute “management” and therefore should be eligible for overtime instead of being paid as straight salary.

The problem with this logic is that while $30,000 doesn’t sound like a lot to big time lawyers, government civil servants or Vice Presidents for Community and External Affairs, it is a reasonable income for many people who live outside of Washington, D.C. Warren Meyer, over at Coyote Blog, has been doing yeoman’s work cataloging why the increase in overtime exempt income is a bad thing:

The Obama Administration and its supporters (and apparently Politico, by how they wrote the headline) are smoking something if they think employers are going to react by raising salaries of current exempt employees being paid 23,660 or 30,000 or 40,000 to $52,000. Absolutely no way. There may be a few just under the $52,000 threshold that get a bump, but that will be a minor effect.

Everyone else is going to suddenly find themselves converted from a junior manager back to a wage earner. Companies are not going to allow these newly minted wage earners to earn overtime, and so I suppose one good outcome is that we may see a new boost in productivity as companies find ways to automate or eliminate junior management tasks to get all these folks down to 40 hours a week.

There are important differences between hourly and salaried work in the relationship with employers. Some are psychological — for better or worse, management [thinks] of salaried workers differently than hourly workers. And some are real — salaried workers can try to demonstrate that they are worthy of promotion by working extra hours and taking on extra tasks, things that hourly workers really can’t do.

Furthermore, he notes, thew new overtime rules are unlikely to deliver real benefits to employees. It may, in fact, hurt them:

Further, when someone gets switched from salary to hourly, they lose a minimum pay guarantee. When I get a $3,500 a month offer, I know that no matter how slow things are, until I am fired I get $3500 a month. There is a floor on my earnings. As an hourly worker, my hours can be adjusted up or down constantly. There is no floor at all

He also points out that the Department of Labor’s own study concluded that this would not increase the pay of workers. It would just lead to cuts in hours.

The thing is, none of this is theoretical to me. It’s all very real because it’s impacting my family.

After my son was born, my wife left her good-paying but long-commuting job to take a part time job in town at our school’s main campus. Her income was above the exempt threshold. But now it is below it. Under the old rules, she would still have been exempt because she was a skilled professional — a PhD biochemist and molecular biologist managing a lab and doing scientific research. But the new overtime rules, for some strange reason, removed that exemption. So skilled professionals with decades of training are now considered no different than clock-punching temps.

(Ironically, the exemption is being kept in place for two of the most downtrodden classes of workers in higher education — graduate students and adjuncts.)

This change in no way benefits my wife or any of the thousand of scientists around the country affected by this. She’s now, after twenty years of work, back to being a clock puncher, which is humiliating. As an hourly wage earner, she loses certain benefits, like maternity leave and vacation. Like many scientists, my wife is supported by grants which can not support paying massive amounts of overtime. So she’s been told not to work more than 20 hours a week. At other universities and research institutions, scientific staff are being told to only work nine to five and not answer e-mails out of hours lest they incur overtime. A few people are getting small bumps in salary to put them over the threshold. Most are being told to work a strict 40 hours (or, I suspect, lie about how much they work).

This is madness. This is what happens when people with no experience outside government start passing sweeping rules affecting millions of workers. This is what happens when you have people in charge who think businesses (and government institutions like universities) can just conjure money out of the ether.

The states and many businesses are suing, claiming that this is an unfunded mandate from the federal government (which it is). Congress is open to repealing this rule and Trump has indicated he would sign a bill repealing it. I’m not averse to raising the exempt threshold a little bit or a narrowly tailored change to prevent the abuses that supporters of the law assert exist. But this is way too far, way too fast and way too ill-considered.

Note: The judge in this case is an Obama appointee. One of the defining elements of the Obama presidency has been Democratic and liberal judges overturning his executive overreaches. I support their doing so and will continue to support it throughout the Trump Presidency and any future Administration.

This is what checks and balances looks like, folks. If you want judges and Congress to keep Trump in check, you should be applauding this decision. Today, it’s the overtime rules. Tomorrow, it might be registration of Muslims. Checks and balances are good.

Don’t Get Distracted

The current spat over Pence’s attendance to Hamilton is a perfect Trump distraction. In the last few days, two stories have broken that are more important.

First, Trump settled the Trump University lawsuits for $25 million. There’s no admission of guilt, which is standard for settlements.

Second, there are indications that Trump will not, in fact, put his assets in a blind trust but will enrich himself as much as possible from his presidency. Trump has said he will forgo a salary. But diplomats are lining up to get rooms at the Trump hotel. When foreigners donated money to Clinton’s Foundation to get an audience with her, we called it corruption. What do you call this?

(This is aside from some of his appointments, which have included some troubling names, to say the least.)

Let’s not get distracted by Trump’s twitter tantrums. There’s already a lot going on here. Some of it matters; some of it doesn’t. Let’s stay focused.

The Trump Follies

I don’t know if you heard about this. But our nation is in horrifying crisis right now. Earlier this week, Donald Trump … and I can hardly believe I’m writing these words about a President-elect … last night, Trump ditched the media pool so he could enjoy a steak dinner.

Wait, what?! Seriously?

Look, I’m a big believer in transparency and they way Trump attacks the media makes me nervous. But .. this is really a non-story. Maybe if the press spent more time checking politicians’ claims and investigating their corruption and less time finding out how they wanted their steak cooked (Trump apparently likes his well-done. You know who else liked his steaks well done?), we’d have more trust of the media and a better government.

Ben Shapiro, who was driven out of Breitbart and been the target of vicious anti-semitism, has a great piece up deflating a bit of the hysteria currently surrounding the Trump campaign.

This week, the media have gone nuts over the appointment of Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon for White House Chief Strategist. I share their disapproval, but the allegations they’ve made about Bannon are unsupported by evidence. It’s not enough to say that Steve is a nasty human being (he is), that he’s interested in burning down Republican leadership for his own political gain (he is), that he wants to hollow out the traditional constitutional conservative movement in favor of a European-style far-right nationalist populism (he does), or that he pandered to the despicable alt-right at Breitbart News and mainstreamed them by doing so (he did). No, they have to claim that he’s Goebbels. They claim that he’s personally anti-Semitic and racist and a white nationalist and anti-Israel, without evidence.

This is ridiculous. And all it does is provoke defense from the right. For God’s sake, I’m now defending Steve Bannon! The media can’t stop their overreach, because everybody on the right is Hitler to the media, which means that Bannon must be Super-Duper-Hitler.

Considering the history here, this is admirable intellectual honesty from Shapiro. I share his dislike of Bannon and his having any role in a Presidential Administration. But do we need to pretend that the promotion of an Alt-Right asshole heralds a Fourth Reich? Is Bannon not bad enough just being what he is?

Even as a NeverTrumper, this all seems to be a bit hysterical. I made this comment yesterday on OTB:

I do think there is a problem with distinguishing between the very real dangers of a Trump Administration and the not-so-real dangers. Right now, we are being fed a broth of random floating fears (many of which could be applied to any Republican) rather than focusing on what specifically is dangerous about Trump.

Example: One of the things I’ve been hearing a lot over the last week is that marriage equality might be in danger. I understand the fear (to the extent that I can, being straight). But there are many things that have to happen in order for that to be in danger. The Courts are not going to want to revisit it any time soon (they revisit abortion, a much more contentious issue, maybe once a decade). The GOP has little interest in it anymore. So, yeah, I get it that people are nervous. But it’s really low on the list of things we should be worrying about right now. We need to focus on things like civil liberties, the budget deficit and the dangers to illegal immigrants, things that could become critical issues immediately.

This week, there have been numerous anti-Trump demonstrations on my campus. But they often seem to be protesting generic Republican stuff (abortion, immigration, spending cuts) rather than stuff that is specifically alarming about Trump (temperament, disregard for the Constitutional process, the Alt-Right).

Look, everyone needs to take a deep breath here. Donald Trump is going to be President for four years. Let’s not exhaust ourselves by obsessing over random names floated as potential cabinet members, steak dinners and hypothetical policies. If Trump does bad things — and I’ve never seen a President who didn’t — we need to fight him then, not burn up our energy now. Any fight for freedom — whether it’s lower government spending or civil liberties or marriage equality or whatever — is a marathon not a sprint.

Being worried is good. But being prepared is better. Look at what the ACLU is doing right now. They’re not suing Trump over vague rumors of policy. They’re husbanding their resources, raising funds, marshalling lawyers. That way, if Trump does something to violate civil liberties, they’ll be able to unleash a full arsenal of legal and political challenges. Look at Rand Paul. He’s open to working with Trump but has also made it clear that he will filibuster cabinet appointees he considers dangerous to liberty.

Look at the Tea Party. For all the criticism lobbed at them, they understood that opposing a President (and a Congress) is a long slog. They didn’t really get organized until specific policies like Obamacare came out. And, ultimately, this was why they were a powerful political force. They saved their energy for when it mattered. And while they didn’t stop Obamacare, they did help keep a public option out and did get the GOP to hold Obama in check.

Donald Trump has been President-elect for a grand total of eight days. Now is not the time to panic. There will be plenty of time for that later.

Look, I welcome anyone who is willing to oppose government power, no matter who is wielding it. I am willing to join hands with anyone of any political stripe who will support freedom. If there is a silver lining to this awful election, it’s that maybe our nation will become more vigilant, more aware of what’s going on, more supportive of checks and balances, more willing to descend on Washington when our government does something inimical to freedom. But mindless blasts of post-election panic are not the way to do that. Ken White, wrote this must-read the day after the election:

Donald Trump will be the President of the United States in January. I support and defend the United States of America. That means that, though I do not support Trump personally or based on policy, he is my President. He is the President delivered by the Constitution I love and want to defend. I wish him well — meaning that I wish for him the health and strength and resolve to meet the challenges he’ll face. I do not wish him success on many of his stated projects, but I hope that he will perform his Constitutional obligations effectively and to the benefit of the country. I will not be saying “not my President” but “for better or worse, my President.” Though I hope he will not succeed in many parts of his stated agenda, I do not wish failure on his Presidency, and I do not think that defeating him in the next election should be his opposition’s top priority. Our top priority should be opposing bad programs and policies he proposes, making the case for the rightness of our positions, and trying to use what consensus we can find to better govern America.

It’s a big, complex country. There are a lot of issues. You won’t be able to stand up for them all, nor should you try. I submit that every American appalled or outraged by President Trump’s election should pick an issue that is important to them, educate themselves thoroughly about it, and come together with fellow Americans to fight for that issue — to defend people in various circumstances who cannot defend themselves. The First Amendment remains my issue, and I will continue to ask for help defending it. More on that to come.

Look, I understand that a lot of people are nervous right now. A lot of Latinos wonder what’s going to happen with immigration policies. A lot of LGBT folk are worried about attacks on their freedom. Trump’s stances on law enforcement issues make a lot of black people nervous (and really should make everyone nervous).

But at some point, nervousness and hysteria have to give way to resolve. At some point, you have to focus your concern on specific issues and at specific times. I opposed Trump. And while I am willing to give him a chance, I suspect that he will propose policies I oppose vigorously. When he does, I will oppose them. Until then, it’s time to watch, wait and prepare.

Update: (More on the Trump hysteria from Slate Star Codex.)

Why Federalism Matters

Hmm. Not sure this blogging hiatus thing is going well, but … I had another thought on the election.

Right now, a lot of the liberal echosphere is in a tizzy because Trump, with a Republican Congress, might undo a lot of the things that Obama has done. I think such panic should be reserved until he actually, you know, does stuff. Right now, all we have are rumors of potential cabinet appointments (some of which, I agree, are alarming).

But … I do understand what they’re on about. Much of Obama’s legacy, such as it is, is fragile. But that’s in part because of the way he bypassed the process. The Iran Deal and the Paris deal, whatever you think of them, can be undone because they were never ratified by Congress. TPP can be rejected because Obama never bothered to get it through Congress. Obamacare could be undone because it was passed through reconciliation and has serious problems.

But here’s the thing: a lot of this “progress” could have been insulated from Trump had it been done at the state level. You want cap-and-trade? Try it out in your state. Socialized medicine? You can try, although Vermont and Colorado both rejected it decisively. Protections for LGBT Americans? Do it at the state level and Trump can’t touch it. Radley Balko has a great article in the WaPo about how criminal justice reform at the federal level may be dead, but is moving forward on the state level. And really, if mass incarceration is what worries you, the states are where you should be working since most prisoners are confined at the state level. Free college? Well, California once guaranteed free tuition at its universities. No reason it couldn’t do it again if balanced its books and got costs under control.

States can address police misconduct. States can address poverty. The only things states can’t address are foreign relations (trade, immigration, treaties) which are a federal concern.

You know why the Republican Party is so strong right now, controlling most of the states and Congress? Because they’ve been doing things at the state level. I don’t agree with all of the things they’ve done (e.g., abortion restrictions). But in doing so, they have built up formidable state political machines. And that has paid off not only in state and federal elections but in creating a deep bench of potential president candidates that could have run in 2020 had Trump lost (and will run in 2024).

The Democrats got lazy, too convinced that Obama was their deliverer and that they would control Congress and the White House forever. They thought they could deliver policy from on high. If they really want a “legacy” they need to embrace federalism. There are fifty states where they can try out their brand of progressivism. And most of it can’t be touched by Donald Trump or Paul Ryan or anyone else.

Federalism. It’s a good thing. And as a conservative-libertarian, I’m happy to devolve as much power to the states as the Left wants.

Update: A great tweet-storm from Iowahawk says this better than I could:

(For those of you not on Twitter, click that tweet and scroll down to read the whole thing.)