Archive

May 1st, 2016

Populism has run through US politics for a very long time

    Populism is hard to ignore in the current primary elections. Donald Trump, the self-described political outsider, is promising to "make America great again" by defending the people against Washington insiders, whom he portrays as self-interested, corrupt and incompetent. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont touts his track record as a longtime advocate of working people, ready to take on Wall Street and a corrupt campaign finance system.

    As a result, many pundits proclaim that this election is ushering in a new era of populist politics.

    But is populism really uncommon in U.S. presidential discourse? Our analysis of the past 12 presidential elections, presented in a forthcoming Social Forces article, suggests otherwise. Populism appears frequently in presidential campaigns, and it does so in a patterned and predictable way.

    What counts as populism?

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On Trump, gefilte fish, and world order

    I don't think it's a coincidence that I was eating my mother's gefilte fish while watching Donald Trump's foreign-policy address Wednesday afternoon. First, it was lunchtime; second, it is Passover; and third, the fish patties in front of me - an amalgam of lots of different ingredients (porgy, rockfish, matzo meal) that, mashed together, resemble nothing immediately recognizable as naturally occurring food - couldn't help but echo the strange consistency of the policy combinations Trump put forward.

    Punctuating his carefully scripted speech with Trumpian bursts of "believe me" and "very bad" - consider them bright bits of rhetorical magenta horseradish - Trump set out his vision of America in the world: America first, but America everywhere. America cutting down on its debt, but also expanding its standing army and revamping its nuclear arsenal. America standing up to China, but also striking an alliance with it. America supporting its allies, but also cracking down on them. America being restrained and judicious in its use of force, but also getting involved militarily and fighting to win.

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Is it time to revise our federal drug laws?

    In a letter this month to inquiring lawmakers, the Drug Enforcement Administration quietly announced that it will decide whether to change the federal status of marijuana "in the first half of 2016." The move excited legalization advocates and reminded everyone else of how convoluted our drug regulatory process can be.

    Under the Controlled Substances Act , enacted in 1970 while facing backlash against the recreational drug use of the 1960s, the federal government categorizes drugs based on their medical value and potential for abuse. If substances have no potential for abuse, they aren't controlled at all. If they do, they're classified in one of five schedules of decreasing severity.

    Drugs in Schedule I are deemed as having "no current accepted medical use" and a high potential for abuse -- the category where marijuana resides, alongside heroin, LSD, ecstasy and others. These drugs are regulated with extreme stringency in terms of access, research and supply.

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How racism and bias criminalized marijuana

    The Controlled Substances Act is not outdated. It is a law structured in a way meant to protect science, medicine, patients and the public. It is not absolutist. It has an administrative structure built into it to control for mistakes, new scientific discoveries and even evolving public or medical understanding.

    Today's federal drug laws appear to have done a disservice to marijuana, locking it into an inappropriate schedule where it is banned outright. But in reality, negative drug policy around marijuana is not the fault of the CSA. Instead, a variety of other factors -- mainly attributed to biased lawmakers -- have hindered the law from working properly when it comes to the drug.

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First rule of the veepstakes is do no harm

    Ted Cruz's decision to pick Carly Fiorina as his running mate kicked off the veepstakes season earlier than expected. But three months before the conventions, all the remaining candidates with a chance at their party's nomination should be working on their vice-presidential selections.

    Why? After all, running mates in the general election have a limited impact. There's no evidence they provide demographic help. (Picking a woman hasn't helped pick up votes from women, for example, no matter what Cruz was thinking when he chose Fiorina.) Nor has a presidential candidate ever successfully established his own story line through his choice of a No. 2.

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Entitlement reform, RIP

    As you have probably heard by now, the stakes in November's presidential election could not be higher. Control of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. Ditto the fate of millions of undocumented immigrants. U.S. foreign policy could be in for its biggest shake-up since the Cold War.

    Yet in one crucial respect the election might make no difference at all.

    Seventy-five percent of planned federal spending between now and the end of the next two presidential terms is mandatory: Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, plus interest on the national debt, according to Congressional Budget Office forecasts. That money is going out the door no matter who's president.

    Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute has come up with an "Index of Fiscal Democracy" to express this vast, automatic commitment of resources, and the preemption of actual political choice it represents. The higher the index, the more possibilities we have for actually governing ourselves.

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Did Virginia's McAuliffe say the state criminal justice system is racist?

    Did Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe just send a sobering message about the commonwealth's criminal justice system? Logical deduction says he did.

    The justification given for McAuliffe's blanket restoration of civil rights for felons is provided in a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article:

    "The McAuliffe administration has particularly emphasized the disproportionate impact on African-Americans [of the state constitutional provision denying ex-felons the right to vote], saying the life disenfranchisement for felons has roots in post-Civil War attempts to suppress black votes."

    As lawyers say, this is the gravamen of their argument.

    Despite the post-Civil War assertions, the 1830 Virginia Constitution -- pre-Civil War -- said, "any person convicted of any infamous offense" cannot vote.

    The term "infamous offense" is legalese, covering many felonies.

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Cruz choice of Fiorina shows his desperation

    Even by the standards of this presidential race, it seems a dubious strategy. Ted Cruz has named Carly Fiorina as his running mate, three months before the Republican convention and with several states yet to hold their primaries. Yes, Ronald Reagan did something similar in 1976, in naming Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate, before the Republican convention named Gerald Ford as its nominee. But Reagan had a specific aim: to sway Republican delegates, and to reach out to other delegates who feared he was too much of an ideologue.

    In Cruz's case with Fiorina, it's less a strategic move than a desperate one. Fiorina has no government experience and lost badly in her previous attempts for elective office. She brings no constituencies or Republican-aligned interest groups with her. After she was trounced in her Senate race in California, she moved away from the Golden State, with no love lost, so it isn't as if she is likely to be helpful in that important primary on June 7. Her national favorability numbers have been consistently below water.

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How to play the 'woman card'

    "Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she's got going is the woman's card," Trump said Tuesday night, after winning 5 primaries.

    Ah yes, the woman's card.

    I have been carrying one of these for years, proudly.

    It is great. It entitles you to a sizable discount on your earnings everywhere you go (average 21 percent, but can be anywhere from 9 percent to 37 percent, depending on what study you're reading and what edition of the Woman Card you have.) If you shop with the Woman Card at the grocery, you will get to pay 11 percent more for all the same products as men, but now they are pink.

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Want to know what it's really like to have a child with autism?

    My husband and I are at our local garden store, running errands on a typical Saturday, when Mae, our 8-year-old, becomes agitated. She quickly goes from bunny-hopping down the Azalea aisle -- smile on her face, dimples on display -- to growing fidgety and vaguely cranky to screaming and hitting herself. The sound is horrifying. Heads turn toward us.

    Mae is wearing a bathing suit under her leggings, not because we plan to go to the pool but because she still wears diapers and recently developed a habit of removing them -- spandex and complicated straps slow her down. In this moment, she's got rock-star hair: What's usually a neat black pageboy is sticking up four inches, thanks to the way she compulsively rotates her head back and forth in bed as she falls asleep. Her beautiful long eyelashes now are plastered together with inconsolable tears -- trying to intervene only ever makes it worse.

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