Archive

February 16th, 2016

How the United States built a welfare state for the wealthy

    Syracuse University political scientist Chris Faricy is the author of the newly published book "Welfare for the Wealthy." The book has been called "critically important" and "eye-opening." He kindly answered some questions via email. A lightly edited transcript is below.

    Q: The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats want to expand government and Republicans want to shrink it. But you argue "a vote for the Republican Party is not necessarily a vote for smaller government." Why is that?

    A: The Republican Party is not immune from electoral pressures to use the federal government to benefit Republican constituencies. The main difference between Democrats and Republicans is not whether to spend federal money but rather who those constituencies are.

    For the GOP, two important groups are wealthier households and businesses. Republicans have pursued policies that benefit both -- things like government subsidies for IRAs and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

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How Sanders spent his Soviet 'honeymoon'

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders's long-ago "honeymoon" in the Soviet Union is held up by his opponents as evidence of dubious judgement, and even Communist sympathies or anti-American tendencies. The self-described socialist was questioned about the visit during a debate of Democratic presidential candidates in October as a way to raise doubts about his electability.

    Those descriptions and concerns are based on distortions and exaggerations: The trip, which began the day after his wedding with his second wife, Jane, in May 1988, was undertaken as part of Sanders' official duties as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. And in any case, most of his critics seem to have forgotten that the Soviet Union at the time was hardly the place for an admirer of communism to find comfort.

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How Flint's water and Brazil's Zika fuel fear about kids

    The news reports of children poisoned by tap water in Flint, Mich., and of babies' brains damaged by Zika in Brazil are horrifying for some of the same reasons. In both cases, the threat is invisible. Lead has been leaching into Flint's water from pipes buried deep underground. The Zika virus, carried by tiny mosquitoes, produces no symptoms in 80 percent of infected people. With Zika and lead, it can take months or years to realize that irreversible damage has been done - for microcephaly to become evident in a fetus, for lead poisoning to show up as learning disabilities and behavior problems. In the meantime, it's difficult to trust what health authorities are saying, because government officials in Flint seem to have acted with negligence verging on malice and because doctors are still trying to understand Zika.

    But perhaps the most chilling parallel between Zika and lead is that they both assault children. In an era of heightened anxiety about protecting kids from contamination and harm, they play on our greatest fears.

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Hillary plays the establishment card

    Hillary Clinton, seeking to recover from her thrashing from Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, sought refuge in President Obama in Thursday night's debate, as his heir to the Democratic establishment.

    His former secretary of state, putting aside her earlier disagreements with Obama on combatting Islamic State terrorism in Syria, attacked Sanders as a disloyal critic of the president and cast herself as his stout defender.

    In an otherwise civil two-hour discourse, Sanders called her allegation "a low blow" and cited his frequent support of Obama's presidency, asking her: "Have you ever disagreed with the president?"

    Obviously striving to bounce back from her 22-point loss in the Granite State, Clinton defended Obamacare, the failed forerunner of which was often called Hillarycare in her husband's presidency, and said she would build on the existing Affordable Care Act pushed through by Obama.

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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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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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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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