From Time's Belinda Luscombe at the end of an interview with South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who was born and raised as a Sikh:

In New York City, which you're visiting for a couple of days, a lot of our taxi drivers are Sikhs. If you get one, are you going to give him a slightly bigger tip?

This is outrageous. Why does Luscombe casually accept the gender normative view that all taxi drivers are male?

(By the way, Haley answered that she gives the same tip to everyone. She also quite charitably refrained from slugging Luscombe.)

This is an outrage. On Tuesday Judge Jerry Smith, incensed over President Obama's stated hope that the Supreme Court wouldn't overturn his central domestic achievement, gave the Justice Department a homework assignment. And he was very clear about that assignment. He wanted to know if Obama supports the concept of judicial review, and he wanted the president's position explained in "at least three pages single spaced, no less." Well, the letter is out. Here it is:

Does that look like three pages to you? Half of the first page is pure filler, there's only one paragraph on the last page, and the margins are obviously extra big. This is at most two single-spaced pages.

The arrogance of this administration and its contempt for the rule of law truly know no bounds. I demand a bench warrant for Obama's arrest.

Andrew Sullivan says Cato's David Boaz has a point today. Here's Boaz:

The arbiters of appropriate expression in America get very exercised when conservatives call Barack Obama a “socialist.” They treat the claim in the same way as calling Obama a Muslim, Kenyan, or “the anti-Christ.”

But headlines this week report that President Obama accused the Republicans of “social Darwinism,” and I don’t see anyone exercised about that. A New York Times editorial endorses the attack.

Is “social Darwinist” within some bound of propriety that “socialist” violates? I don’t think so. After all, plenty of people call themselves socialists — not President Obama, to be sure, but estimable figures such as Tony Blair and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Members of the British Labour Party have been known to sing the socialist anthem “The Red Flag” on the floor of Parliament.

But no one calls himself a social Darwinist. Not now, not ever. Not Herbert Spencer. The term is always used to label one’s opponents. In that sense it’s clearly a more abusive term than “socialist,” a term that millions of people have proudly claimed.

This is more than a little disingenuous. Yes, millions of people have proudly claimed that they're socialists. Lots of people proudly claim they're Kenyans too. And Muslims. In American national politics, however, being a socialist is a kiss of death and Boaz knows it. Still, being called a social Darwinist is pretty unsettling too, so this is a trade I'd be willing to make. If conservatives will stop calling Obama a socialist, then I agree that he should stop calling them social Darwinists. I'll be waiting to hear back on that.

This little spate of name calling is only modestly interesting, though. Far more fascinating is this from Boaz: "Those who deploy the charge [of social Darwinism] are, first, falsely implying that Republicans support radically smaller government, which neither Ryan’s budget nor any other Republican plan actually proposes."

Say what? The Ryan budget very plainly slashes domestic spending on everything other than Medicare and Social Security by absolutely whopping amounts. As the CBO's analysis makes clear, Medicaid and CHIP (children's healthcare) would decline from 2% of GDP today to 1% of GDP in 2050, and everything else in the domestic budget would decline from about 8% of GDP to 1-2% of GDP. That's prisons, border control, education, the FBI, courts, embassies, the IRS, FEMA, housing, student loans, roads, unemployment insurance, etc. etc. It's everything. Whacked by about 80% or so. If that's not radically smaller government, what is?

Ken Rogoff writes today that the euro is probably doomed:

The good news is that economic research does have a few things to say about whether Europe should have a single currency. The bad news is that it has become increasingly clear that, at least for large countries, currency areas will be highly unstable unless they follow national borders. At a minimum, currency unions require a confederation with far more centralized power over taxation and other policies than European leaders envision for the eurozone.

Rogoff provides a good primer here, explaining that a single currency works for the United States because (a) workers can freely move from depressed areas to more vibrant ones, and (b) national tax policy automatically shifts resources from rich areas to poorer ones. This keeps the entire country in rough balance even though some states have better economic growth and more highly paid workers than others. States that run "trade deficits" with the rest of the nation will never get too far out of whack.

But Europe has neither of these things. Technically, workers in the EU can move freely between countries, but in practice language and cultural barriers are far stronger than they are in the U.S. Spanish workers in Seville just aren't very likely to move to Frankfurt even if lots of jobs are available there. And although Europe does engage in a modest level of fiscal transfers, it's nowhere near big enough to make up for the persistent imbalances between the core and the periphery. As a result, countries that run trade deficits with the rest of Europe can very decidedly get too far out of whack and end up in crisis mode.

So what's the likelihood that the euro will survive? Rogoff says that without "further profound political and economic integration" the euro might not make it to the end of the decade. But what are the odds of that integration happening? For what it's worth, the punters at InTrade don't think it's very likely. They figure there's a 21% chance of a country leaving the euro by the end of 2012, a 35% chance by the end of 2013, and a 43% chance by the end of 2014. There are no bets available beyond that, but the trend is pretty clear. Not many people would be willing to put money on the chances of the euro area staying intact by 2020.

Neither would I. Free movement of workers in the eurozone is constrained not by law, but by language and custom, and there's just no way to speed that up much. This means that for the foreseeable future fiscal integration would have to bear the full weight of making the euro into an optimal currency area, and it's really hard to see the rich countries of Europe being willing to provide the required level and persistence of aid to the poorer countries year after year after year. It's not impossible, just really unlikely. There's a lot of political reluctance to give up on the euro, and a lot of technical reasons why breaking up the eurozone would be really hard. But even so, I'll be at least a bit surprised if it's still around in 2020.

Yesterday Mitt Romney complained that President Obama is "setting up a straw man" in his campaign attacks, an accusation sure to mean absolutely nothing to almost everyone and to be unpersuasive to those few who do know what he's talking about. But that's OK. Obviously Romney is at the point where he's just trying out campaign themes to see which ones stick. That one probably won't (too cerebral for the base, too dumb for the chattering classes), but his "hide and seek" charge, unveiled in the same speech, might have more legs. That's the accusation that Obama is cleverly hiding his true second-term intentions and plans to surprise us all when he's reelected by unveiling an (even more) shocking pro-socialist, anti-Christian, soul-destroying agenda.

Most normal people hear this and think "Huh?" What's Romney talking about? Well, this is one of those alternate reality versions of Obama who lives in conservative fundraising letters. Paul Waldman explains:

You see, as far as base Republicans are concerned, there are two kinds of Obama policies. The first kind is the freedom-destroying, Constitution-desecrating, pulling-us-toward-socialist-dystopia awfulness. Like health care reform, or repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The second kind is the long con, the things he has done to lull the American people into a false sense of security before the second term comes and he unveils the horror of his true agenda. Like the way he has done nothing to restrict gun purchases, which only proves just how diabolical his plan to take away every American's guns really is.

The question is, what does this mean? This is base catnip, not rhetoric designed to appeal to independents, who think this is crazy talk. Paul suggests that it means Romney's long-awaited general election shift may be harder to pull off than we think: "At a moment when he's got the nomination pretty well locked up, Romney is still trying to assure conservatives that he's one of them, that he hates who they hate and fears what they fear. That 'pivot to the center' could be a while in coming."

This is going to be a continuing Romney problem, all right, amplified by the fact that keeping the Republican base on board requires more than just dog whistles these days. They really want to know that you're on board with all their fever swamp notions of who and what Obama really is. They won't accept halfhearted sentiments. They want the full monty.

Still, these are early days. Romney has plenty of time to throw enough red meat to appease the base and get them solidly on his side. We have short attention spans these days, and if Romney does this for another couple of months, and starts his pivot around June or so, that should be plenty of time. By August no one will even remember he ever said this stuff.

Prison in Paradise

There's no political spin to this story at all, but I'm putting it up anyway just for its entertainment value:

The tiny jail on Catalina Island is hardly Alcatraz. Just ask Frank Carrillo. The pro golfer turned jewel thief couldn't believe his luck when he was moved out of his bleak Men's Central Jail cell in downtown L.A. and allowed to do his time on the sunny tourist isle.

But things got even cushier when he met a Los Angeles County sheriff's captain interested in shaving a few strokes off his golf game. Carrillo said Capt. Jeff Donahue escorted him in a patrol Jeep to a hilltop golf course last summer. There, dressed in his yellow inmate jumpsuit, Carrillo said, he gave the captain pointers on how to improve his swing and reduce a double-digit handicap.

....Carrillo, who compared his time in jail for multiple felonies to "hitting the lotto," thought Donahue should be emulated, not investigated. "He was amazing to me," said Carrillo, who believes the captain benefited from his lesson.

"He kind of has this swing that's old school and risky, but he hits it every time," Carrillo said in a phone interview. "I would probably say he's a 14 or 15 handicap. Not too bad."

No need to say more. You had me at "pro golfer turned jewel thief." I smell quirky buddy movie here — maybe with Owen Wilson as the roguish golfer/jewel thief and Morgan Freeman as the gruff but likeable sheriff. Let's do lunch.

Are conservatives more anti-science than liberals? In The Republican Brain, Chris Mooney says they are, and he says this is due to innate temperamental differences between left and right. On Friday I wrote a short post saying I was skeptical about this, and today I'm going to spell out my objections in a little more detail. Tomorrow Chris will reply.

I should make clear at the start that I'm not skeptical of the idea that there are fundamental differences in worldview that drive people to become political liberals or conservatives. Far from it. In fact, I'm on board with this idea completely. I'm quite persuaded that there are a small number of basic cognitive traits that drive a lot of our political differences, and that most of the time we're not even aware they exist. These traits developed via interactions of both biological evolution and cultural evolution, and they've been confirmed by a wide body of research (anthropology, MRI scans, psychological testing, etc.).

So why am I skeptical in particular about the idea that conservative attitudes toward science as a discipline arise from one or more of these innate cognitive traits? I have three reasons.

Reason the first: When you read arguments that conservatives are anti-science, the bill of particulars is often fairly long. But really, there are only two big-ticket items: evolution and climate change. The rest is either small beer or highly arguable. But really, how central to conservative thought can these two things be? After all, mainstream conservative Europeans don't deny climate science and conservative Catholics don't deny evolution. 

What's more, conservative suspicion toward both evolution and climate science is pretty easy to explain. Doubt about evolution is obviously bound up with religious belief, which makes it little more than a subset of the fact that conservatives tend to be more literally religious than liberals and American conservatives tend toward the evangelical Protestant strain of literalism.1 And doubt about climate change is obviously motivated by a dislike of the business regulation that would be necessary if we took climate change seriously. So that's just pure self interest. I really don't think you need the sledgehammer of innate cognitive traits to explain either of these beliefs. Simpler explanations will do.

Reason the second: There are too many steps involved. If you tell me, say, that conservatives tend to value in-group loyalty more than liberals and are more sensitive to outside threats, I don't have a hard time buying the idea that this produces high levels of nationalism and support for the military. That's a pretty simple extrapolation. But what's the cognitive trait that makes you anti-science? Not just skeptical of one or two particular results, but skeptical of science in general. You can probably invent a just-so story with two or three steps to get there, but I'd take it with a big grain of salt.

Reason the third: Liberals do it too. Anyone remember the science wars of the '80s and '90s? That brawl didn't get the headlines that climate change and evolution do today, but it was just as big and just as important. And in this case, it was the academic left that was vitriolically opposed to a new and emerging science. In particular, they were opposed to the emerging science of—ta-da!—innate cognitive traits and their effect on human behavior. And the reason the left was opposed to this science (and still is, to some extent) is because they didn't like some of the conclusions you get when you acknowledge that human cognition is partly determined by biology. This isn't a perfect analogy to climate skepticism, which has grown even as the science has become more certain, but it shares a lot of the same features.

Movement conservatives are interested in building institutions that provide their followers with reliably conservative answers to social and political problems. That's hardly a surprise. Likewise, they're interested in delegitimizing institutions that are either liberal or neutral and therefore don't provide their followers with reliably conservative answers. That's also no surprise, and it explains why they attack the institutions of science, mainstream journalism, entertainment, and academia in general.

There's a complex interplay of biology and culture that produces liberals and conservatives in the first place. But once a conservative movement is in place, it's inevitable that it will attack conclusions it doesn't like and institutions that aren't on board with the conservative agenda. That includes the institutions of science to some extent and a few specific scientific results to a very large extent. But that's just common sense. I don't think you need evolutionary psychology to explain it.

1The deeper religiosity of conservatives is probably due in part to some innate cognitive trait. But that's a separate thing. Skepticism of evolution is just a subset of that cognitive trait, combined with a healthy dose of path dependence within American Protestantism, not the result of some kind of generalized anti-science trait.

Did you know that the richest 1% of Americans pay 21% of all taxes? That's a lot! But do you know why they pay 21% of all taxes? It's because they make 21% of all the income.

Suddenly that doesn't seem all that unfair, does it? In fact, the rich are doing mighty well for themselves if we basically have a flat tax in America. And as it turns out, they are, and we do: the federal tax system is modestly progressive, but state and local taxes are modestly regressive. Add 'em all up and you end up with a pretty flat tax system. Here are the numbers for 2011 from Citizens for Tax Justice:

Click the link for information about tax rates. All told, Americans pay about 28% of their income in taxes.1 The poor and working class pay a bit less, but the entire top half of the income spectrum, from middle class to super rich, pays almost exactly the same rate, around 29-30% of their income. Not a bad deal for the wealthy.

1In case you're curious, that's about 24% of GDP. Roughly speaking, we pay about 15% of GDP in federal taxes and 9% of GDP in state and local taxes.

Yesterday, referring to the Trayvon Martin case, I asked whether "wrestling someone to the ground and throwing some punches" was enough to count as a reasonable fear of great bodily harm, the standard in Florida for defending yourself with lethal force. Today, a reader sent me a link to a Sunday piece in the Tampa Bay Times, and the answer sure seems to be yes. The detailed tick-tock of exactly who did what that night is interesting in the court of public opinion, but apparently it matters not a whit as far as the law is concerned:

"The real issue is what happens around the 60 seconds prior to the shooting," said Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, which brought the charges against Greyston Garcia. "Everything else has emotional content, but from a legal perspective, it all comes down to the 60 seconds before the incident."

It doesn't matter if you're the one who initiated the confrontation. It doesn't matter where you are, as long as you have a right to be there. It doesn't even matter if you shoot someone who's fleeing. All that seems to matter is whether you have any kind of plausible claim to have feared great bodily harm. Here's a recent case:

Nine days after Trayvon Martin was shot dead in Sanford, Brandon Baker, 30, and his twin brother were driving separate cars toward the apartment they shared in Palm Harbor. Seth Browning, a 23-year-old security guard who later told deputies he was concerned with Baker's erratic driving, pulled in close behind Baker to get his license tag number.

Baker turned off East Lake Road, then onto an access road and came to a stop....Browning followed and stopped....Baker climbed out of his truck and walked to Browning's window. His brother [] said Baker was trying to figure out why Browning was tailgating him.....Browning sprayed Baker with pepper spray, then shot him in the chest. He told deputies that Baker had punched him and he was in fear for his life.

....More than 500 people have signed their online petition to get "stand your ground" repealed. "This case is being considered a 'stand your ground' case and should not be since Seth Browning was the sole 'AGGRESSOR' and 'CHOSE' to tailgate, pull over, pepper spray, and shoot and kill Brandon Baker," it says. "Seth Browning did NOT act out of self defense and should be prosecuted for killing Brandon Baker."

But if history serves, the pursuit may not matter. The case will hinge on what happened in the moments before Browning pulled the trigger, and whether he feared for his life. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gaultieri said this week that the case is still under investigation.

The whole story is fascinating and well worth a read. And while I'm no lawyer, it certainly seems to suggest that if George Zimmerman ever goes to trial, prosecutors will have a tough time winning a conviction.

UPDATE: In the third paragraph I originally said, "It doesn't matter if you're the one who started the fight." That was sloppy. The story itself suggests that it doesn't matter who "initiated the confrontation." That's legally a different thing. I've corrected the text.

Is there an easy solution to the problems of Europe's south? Well, one of the eurozone's fundamental problems is that (a) workers in the GIPSI countries are uncompetitive and (b) the GIPSI countries are running persistent trade deficits. They need to import less while Europe's core (especially Germany) needs to export less.

So how do you make workers more competitive? One way is to simply cut their pay, but that's hard. Another way is to substantially reduce payroll taxes, which reduces labor costs without cutting take-home pay.

And how do you discourage imports? One way is to devalue your currency, but countries in the eurozone can't do that. Another way is to raise your VAT, which makes goods more expensive.

Put those together, mix in some more sensible monetary policy, and you get "fiscal devaluation" plus higher inflation. That's the recommendation of Georgetown's Jay Shambaugh, glossed here by Matt Yglesias:

  1. A pro-exports tax swap in peripheral countries where payroll taxes are slashed and the money is made up with higher VAT.
  2. A pro-consumer tax swap in the core countries, where VATs are slashed and the lost revenue is made up with a combination of bigger deficits and higher payroll taxes.
  3. A higher inflation target from the European Central Bank.

Shambaugh also recommends increased ECB purchases of sovereign debt; capital injections into stressed banks; and bigger budget deficits in "non-stressed" countries. This all sounds surprisingly....reasonable. And even doable. It still wouldn't be easy, since there would very definitely be some losers from this kind of policy, but it's not flatly impossible. That's a start.