Archive

February 16th, 2016

Five myths about love

    Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is detectable on an fMRI scan? Poets have written about love for millennia, but only recently has it become a subject of serious scientific pursuit. Psychologists, biologists, economists and anthropologists are all investigating the role of love in our lives and our culture. The poets, it turns out, have gotten a lot right (for example, the metaphor of love as a kind of madness gained credence when one study found a chemical resemblance between romantic love and obsessive-compulsive disorder). But we still have a lot to learn. Maybe love will always be part myth, but it's worth debunking a few of our more outdated ideas.

 

    1. Women are more romantic than men.

    The central premise of many relationship advice columns is that women need more romance; it's up to the clueless, sex-crazed men out there to provide it.

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Exploring new frontier of negative interest rates

    When central banks start exploring strange new worlds, the results aren't always ideal.

    Quantitative easing wasn't just a change in monetary policy, but a whole new kind of monetary policy -- a journey into the unknown. It isn't over yet, but there's already a debate about drawbacks and unintended consequences. With that question far from resolved, another adventure in super-loose monetary policy has begun: negative interest rates. This week, as global markets plunged, unforeseen complications have arisen there too.

    Shares in European banks suffered especially badly during this renewed market turmoil. There was more than one reason, but negative rates seem to be implicated. Banks' deposits at the European Central Bank now pay minus 0.3 percent, and a further cut has been advertised for next month. The idea is to encourage banks to lend more (rather than sit on idle balances) and to lower the cost of capital for riskier borrowers. The new concern is that negative rates have squeezed banks' profits and put their soundness in question.

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Donald Trump's siren song is a golden oldie

    Have you seen the new 30-second Trump campaign ad? Here's the text:

    "What's happening in the world economy is like a hockey game, where others guard their goal to keep our products out while we leave our net open. It's cost us jobs and destroyed companies. We're becoming a low-wage nation. And all Barack Obama can do is go to China and beg for a few concessions. I'm Donald Trump. And if I'm president the time for begging is through. I'll tell China that if we can't sell in their market, they can't sell in ours. And if they don't get the message, they'll find out that this president can play a little defense too."

    Announcer: "Fight back, America."

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Democrats shouldn't fear Sanders' talk of revolution. Their party was built on it.

    Whenever Sen. Bernie Sanders talks about overthrowing the system - his campaign "is nothing short of the beginning of a political revolution," he declared in his New Hampshire victory speech Tuesday night, for instance - mainstream Democrats roll their eyes. Frankly, you can't really blame them: They've heard this talk before, and it never ends well. Howard Dean in 2004 and Jesse Jackson twice in the 1980s used similar rhetoric to briefly exhilarate, then bitterly polarize, the party before their campaigns imploded. George McGovern promised to harness the left wing's youthful energy; his dismal landslide defeat to President Richard Nixon in 1972 continues to haunt the Democratic establishment, which now seeks to filter presidential candidates through one paramount criterion: electability.

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Quantity of candidates does not equal quality

    Maybe it's not us. Maybe it's the candidates.

    This election cycle is thrilling, but not necessarily in a good way. Tuesday's vote in New Hampshire lent support to the theory that both Republican and Democratic base voters have gone rogue. Think about it: The winners, by huge margins, were a billionaire reality-show host who has never held elective office and an aging socialist who promises a revolution. If you imagined this a year ago, I'm curious what you were smoking.

     It may be the case, as I have hypothesized, that both parties have lost touch with the nation they are supposed to serve. But at least part of the problem may be that voters are being asked to choose among candidates who are deeply flawed.

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Black votes matter to Clinton and Sanders

    Debating Thursday night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Hillary Clinton felt the fierce urgency of now. So did Bernie Sanders.

    With the Democratic primary campaign moving from Iowa and New Hampshire to Nevada and South Carolina later this month, and a bonanza of states in March, both candidates are fighting for support from black and Hispanic voters -- and will continue to do so as long as the contest lasts. Neither can win the Democratic nomination without these votes.

    "The stakes in this election couldn't be higher," the former secretary of State said campaigning Thursday. "African Americans can't wait for solutions. They need results now."

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Where Hillary goes from here

    It wasn't supposed to work out this way. After the perils of the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire was supposed to be a safe haven for Hillary Clinton. This is the state that brought her husband back from the political dead in 1992. This is the state that resurrected her own political campaign in an upset win over candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

    And New Hampshire's the state where Hillary's previous friends and supporters were supposed to rally behind her once again to crush Bernie Sanders and propel her forward into the upcoming cascade of primaries. Except it didn't work out that way. Bernie Sanders crushed her instead by a stunning 60-38 percent margin, beating her among men and women, young and old. The only two voter groups Hillary won were people over 65 and those making more than $200,000 per year.

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A messy election like Lincoln had in mind

    Responding to my column about Iowa and New Hampshire and how parties, not voters, determine nominations, a commenter wrote:

    "It's the parties choosing their candidate. In almost all other nations this is done quietly, and we don't pretend the people have a say. This is just more of a show to give the illusion of choice.

    "In the end, you have two choices: the person the Republicans pick or the person the Democrats pick."

    What he says about how most nations choose their leaders is correct. Sometimes only official party members have a say in nominations. Sometimes the parliamentary party chooses. Until very recently, only the U.S. had elections or caucuses open to all party voters or, as is the case in many states, any voter who wants to participate, and they are still very rare.

    But the U.S. system is not "a show to give the illusion of choice," despite the limited role of citizens who vote but otherwise don't participate.

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A better question about Clinton and Kissinger

    During Thursday's Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders attacked Hillary Clinton for boasting about the advice she's got from Henry Kissinger. He used Kissinger's actions in the Vietnam War era to make his point. Evidently, Sanders hasn't been following Kissinger lately: Things he said in Moscow last week could have provided him with better ammunition.

    The former secretary of state came to the Russian capital to honor the memory of his friend Yevgeny Primakov, the hawkish foreign-affairs guru who served as Russia's foreign-intelligence chief and later as prime minister. Kissinger took part in the opening of the Primakov Center for Foreign Policy Cooperation. Then he met with President Vladimir Putin and, separately, with Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov. The Kremlin did not release the minutes of these meetings, but Kissinger also delivered a public lecture that provides a glimpse into his conversations with the Russian leaders.

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The awful roads of the U.S. campaign trail

    After three weeks of chasing presidential candidates down the roads of Iowa and New Hampshire, I cannot help but wonder if they notice the quality of the roads their buses and cars drive on. One doesn't even have to listen to voters to see that neither the small- government, tax-cutting messages nor the lavish promises of infrastructure spending from either side's candidates mesh with reality.

    Last week, my flight to Manchester, New Hampshire, was cancelled because of a snowstorm, so I rented a car in New York and drove. The 250-mile drive is supposed to take 4 1/2 hours, not the 3 1/2 it would have taken in Germany, where I live -- the U.S. has significantly lower speed limits than do European countries; Germany has none on stretches of its autobahn system.

    I ended up driving for almost six hours because of the snowfall. I saw dozens of cars that had careened into snowdrifts by the roadside. Two jack-knifed tractor trailers narrowed the interstate to one lane.

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