Category: Politics

Our Internal Food-Traffic Regulator

KATHLEEN A. PAGE, assistant professor, Keck School of Medicine of USC, and ROBERT S. SHERWIN, professor of medicine, Yale University.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on April 28.

Imagine that, instead of this article, you were staring at a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The mere sight and smell of them would likely make your mouth water. The first bite would be enough to wake up brain areas that control reward, pleasure and emotion — and perhaps trigger memories of when you tasted cookies like these as a child.

That first bite would also stimulate hormones signaling your brain that fuel was available. The brain would integrate these diverse messages with information from your surroundings and make a decision as to what to do next: keep on chewing, gobble down the cookie and grab another, or walk away.

Studying the complex brain response to such sweet temptations has offered clues as to how we

So Much Tension, so Little Defense Spending

DAVID KANG, professor of international relations, Dornsife College.

This op-ed originally appeared at Foreign Policy.

Are tensions high in Asia? It certainly appears so. Over the last few months, North Korea has tested missiles and threatened the United States with nuclear war. China spars regularly with Japan over ownership of a group of disputed islands, and with several Southeast Asian countries over other sparsely inhabited rocks in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the United States is in the midst of a well-publicized “pivot” to East Asia, and continues to beef up its military deployments to the region.

Yet as of 2012, military expenditures in East and Southeast Asia are at the lowest they’ve been in 25 years — and very likely the lowest they’ve been in 50 years (although data before 1988 is questionable). While it’s too early to factor in recent tensions, as China’s rise has reshaped the region over the past two decades, East and Southeast Asian states don’t seem to have reacted by building up their own militaries. If there’s an arms race in the region, it’s a contest with just one participant: China.

A Low Tax Burden — and Still Complaining

EDWARD D. KLEINBARD, professor of law, Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared April 22 at CNN.

Tax day may be over, but many Americans are still suffering from tax hangovers.

If it’s any consolation, here’s our country’s best-kept fiscal secret: According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Americans in 2012 enjoyed the lowest tax burdens as a share of our national economy of any developed country in the world.

How can it be that we feel so much tax pain, but compared to other developed countries our tax burdens are so low?

There are three reasons.

Zuckerberg’s Tax Burden: $2 Billion and Done

EDWARD J. McCAFFERY, professor of law, Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared at CNN on April 9.

So, you think you have it bad this tax season. Have you heard that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will pay between $1 billion and $2 billion in taxes? That sounds like a tough pill for anyone to swallow.

But it is premature to start a pity party for Zuckerberg. The twenty-something billionaire reaped large financial gains from exercising the stock options that triggered his tax bill, and he has benefited from favorable tax rules along the way. Even better, Zuckerberg will survive his encounter with the tax man in a position to never have to pay taxes again for the rest of his life.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Message for Politics

DAN SCHNUR, director of USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics, Dornsife College.

This op-ed originally appeared at Bloomberg on March 6.

Most first-time candidates for elective office learn quickly that political messaging is a lot like the old playground game of Red Rover.

Your opponents don’t bother to try to break through between the two strongest members of your team. Rather, they zero in on the smallest and weakest links in your chain and do everything they can to force the most vulnerable among you to divide.

How to Slow L.A.’s Rising Rents

RAPHAEL BOSTIC, director of the Bedrosian Center on Governance, Price School.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 4.

Los Angeles, a city where 63.1% of residents rent their homes, is in the midst of a crisis in rental housing.

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development laid out the stark facts. Los Angeles rents have increased, after adjusting for inflation, by nearly 30% over the last 20 years. During the same period, renter incomes have decreased by 6%.

One important part of the problem is an inadequate supply of affordable rental units. Only 37 units are available and affordable for every 100 would-be renters living at the average renter income level.

Mickelson’s in a Tax Trap

EDWARD J. McCAFFERY, professor of law, economics and political science, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared at CNN on Jan. 25.

Phil Mickelson, aka Lefty, is thinking of leaving California and perhaps America because, according to his own reckoning, he is facing tax rates of 62% or 63%. Mickelson, probably the second-most-famous professional golfer in the world after Tiger Woods, later backed off from his initial comments about making “drastic changes.”

Reports suggest that Mickelson earned more than $60 million in 2012. In that sense, he appears to be doing better than the Romneys, and perhaps you are not all that sympathetic to him.

The Problem With ‘Plug-in’ Volunteering

NINA ELIASOPH, associate professor of sociology, Dornsife College.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 21.

Monday, millions of Americans will honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by volunteering for community service. They will collect cans of food for the poor, ladle soup for the hungry and help the homeless. They will talk about their rewarding experiences, and the people they help will express their gratitude. Tomorrow, everybody will return to their normal routines.

The MLK Day of Service represents an increasingly popular form of volunteerism — setting aside a day or so to help the needy. “Plug-in volunteering,” as I call it, is the essence of Big Sunday, Make a Difference Day, Family Volunteer Week and other large-scale efforts. Short-term service accounts for nearly half of all volunteer activity in America. It serves many modern-day purposes: We’re making a contribution without taking too much time from our jobs and families, adding a line to our curriculum vitae or satisfying a community service requirement. And, of course, we’re sometimes giving temporary aid to the needy.

Deconstructing the Sandy Relief Numbers

LARRY HARRIS, professor of finance, USC’s Marshall School of Business.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 11.

President Obama asked Congress for $61 billion for various relief programs following Hurricane Sandy. The Senate approved the full request late last month, but so far the House has approved just $9.7 billion, for flood-insurance claims. The House will soon vote on the remaining $51 billion in proposed aid.

Sandy was an unusually large storm that did substantial damage to the Eastern Seaboard. More than eight million people lost power and perhaps as many as 100,000 were left homeless. Thousands of buildings were destroyed or damaged along the coastline from Maryland to Maine.

Many people don’t appreciate how large these numbers are, in particular the size of the proposed relief. Consider some simple comparisons. The $61 billion aid package represents:

How to Escape the Debt Ceiling Limit

EDWARD KLEINBARD, professor of law, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 10.

The fiscal cliff may have been avoided, but an even higher-stakes political standoff — this time, over the federal debt ceiling — is just around the bend.

Congressional Republicans have said they will demand immense cuts to popular government programs in exchange for agreeing to raise the nation’s authorized borrowing limit of $16.4 trillion. The Treasury Department briefly nudged against that ceiling on Dec. 31, but used “extraordinary” financial measures to buy more time. If nothing is done, the government will soon be unable to pay all of its bills in a timely manner. This unprecedented event would profoundly damage the government’s credit rating and send the financial system into a tailspin.