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The Peter Chernin Subsidy

October 30, 2014 at 11:22 am

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The New York Times has a business-page profile of Peter Chernin, Rupert Murdoch's former no. 2 who is now a successful independent movie producer. Toward the bottom comes this:

Ms. Topping and Mr. Chernin declined to reveal the "Exodus" budget. A person with knowledge of the costs, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private information, put the film's budget at $200 million, but said numerous government incentives brought the net production cost to roughly $140 million.

At $60 million, those are some "government incentives"! Mr. Chernin earned $34 million in 2008, his last full year at News Corp., and his severance deal included "use of a corporate jet for 50 hours a year," the Times reported back in 2009.

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Apple and Corporate Speech Rights

October 30, 2014 at 10:23 am

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Apple CEO Tim Cook has a piece in Bloomberg Businessweek in which he comes out as gay. The piece includes the following passage:

The company I am so fortunate to lead has long advocated for human rights and equality for all. We've taken a strong stand in support of a workplace equality bill before Congress, just as we stood for marriage equality in our home state of California. And we spoke up in Arizona when that state's legislature passed a discriminatory bill targeting the gay community. We'll continue to fight for our values, and I believe that any CEO of this incredible company, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, would do the same.

Twitter sage Josh Greenman mischievously asks, "If you're celebrating Tim Cook's piece in BusinessWeek, do you acknowledge that corporations have speech rights?"

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Read It Here First

October 29, 2014 at 11:36 am

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From my Monday column this week (read the whole thing here at Reason and here at Newsmax) on President Obama's post-election surprises:

A professor of political science at the University of Chicago, Charles Lipson, recently circulated a list of at least six decisions that Obama has postponed making—or at least announcing—until after the election. "As soon as the voting is done," Professor Lipson predicts, "several big shoes will drop," among them Obama's choice of a new attorney general and his decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

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Bloomberg Politics Bashes Cruz

October 29, 2014 at 11:04 am

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A Bloomberg Politics article reports that Senator Ted Cruz's "hard-charging style troubles general election voters. In the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll earlier this month, Cruz performed worst among potential Republican presidential contenders in a hypothetical matchup with presumed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton."

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Civil Asset Forfeiture

October 27, 2014 at 2:04 pm

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The left is starting to stir against the idea that the government can take your stuff. The New York Times had a front page news article on Sunday:

Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.

The Washington Post ran a four-part series about what it called "the spread of an aggressive brand of policing that has spurred the seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from motorists and others not charged with crimes.... Thousands of people have been forced to fight legal battles that can last more than a year to get their money back."

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October 27, 2014 at 6:51 am

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"So far, 2,353 Americans have renounced their citizenship this year, close to the all-time high of 2,369 in the first nine months of 2013," Bloomberg News reports. The third-quarter numbers were particularly high "after rules that make it harder to hide assets from tax authorities came into force."

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Minimum Wage and Employment

October 27, 2014 at 6:48 am

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A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, "More Recent Evidence on the Effects of Minimum Wages in the United States," concludes, "We see the evidence as still pointing to disemployment effects for low-skilled workers from raising the minimum wage." Further, "we conclude that the best evidence still points to job loss from minimum wages for low-skilled workers — in particular for teens."

The paper is co-authored by David Neumark of the University of California at Irvine, William Wascher of the Federal Reserve, and J.M. Ian Salas of Harvard.

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Bradlee Was Katharine Graham's Backup Choice

October 25, 2014 at 10:10 pm

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Amid all the obituaries of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee as the greatest editor since the invention of moveable type, one point I haven't seen mentioned is this: he was not Katharine Graham's top choice for the job of top editor of the Post.

That story is told in God and the Editor: My Search for Meaning at The New York Times, a memoir by Robert H. Phelps that was published in 2009 by Syracuse University Press. Mr. Phelps, who was the Washington news editor for the New York Times from 1965 to 1974, writes:

I have sometimes wondered whether the Post would have covered Watergate as vigorously as it did if Scotty Reston had accepted an offer in 1964 to be its editor. In that year the recently widowed Katharine Graham made a personal appeal to Scotty and his wife Sally:

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The Islamic State Versus Free Enterprise

October 25, 2014 at 9:23 pm

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From a long and horrifying New York Times article about how the Islamic State treated the captured American journalists it later beheaded:

The jihadists had gone from obscurity to running what they called a state.

In areas under their control, they established an intricate bureaucracy, including a tribunal, a police force and even a consumer protection office, which forced kebab stands to close for selling low-quality products.

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Stoll in USA Today on Minimum Wage

October 23, 2014 at 11:36 pm

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USA Today invited me to write a brief "opposing view" article responding to their editorial about the minimum wage, and I took them up on the offer. The piece I wrote is here.

A column I wrote back in March gives further background on the issue; it's been shared 8,700 times on Facebook and is the reason the USA Today editors turned to me for this topic.

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Ben Bradlee

October 23, 2014 at 6:42 pm

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David Remnick's remembrance, in the New Yorker, of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee includes this account:

I was summoned to see Bradlee. His office had an aquarium-like aspect, with a glass wall facing the newsroom, the better for everyone there to study his every move. I came into his office, warily, and approached the great orca. His feet were on the desk and he was leaning way back in his chair, practically parallel to the floor. I had a great view of the soles of his loafers. He put down a copy of the Times. It was a slow news day. He had been doing the crossword puzzle.

The anecdote made me chuckle, because I remember that 20 or 25 years ago, when I used to sometimes see Bradlee strutting through Harvard Square (he was there to prepare for his 50th reunion, or at his 50th reunion, or to speak at the Kennedy School, or something like that), the newspaper that he always had tucked under his arm was not the Post, but the Times.

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Another Dot-Gov Fail

October 22, 2014 at 11:53 am

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Further evidence to back up my column from last week about how the government is really bad at consumer-facing websites — worse than the private sector is — comes from this New York Times article on the front of the business section:

A link from the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that lets owners look up their car by vehicle identification number did not respond all day. Calls to an operator on the agency's hotline — 1-888-327-4236 — were routinely put on hold....

The agency's balky website was set up to be a nationwide clearinghouse for recall information on vehicles registered in the United States. On Tuesday, most functions meant to serve consumers, including looking up the recall information and alerting the agency to potential problems, were unavailable.

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Technology and Capitalism as Remedy for Racism

October 21, 2014 at 11:29 am

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"Many people of color are embracing" smartphone-based ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft "as a way to avoid discrimination from traditional taxicab drivers," NPR reports.

One way to remedy the evil of racism is to pass a law prohibiting taxi companies from racially discriminating against passengers, and then to send out undercover government testers to enforce the law. Another way, which seems in this case to be more effective, is to allow the free market and technology to work and solve the problem. The incentive of a reward — the Uber founder and investors' shares of the company's reported $18.2 billion valuation — can be stronger than the inventive of the $500 fines imposed by the District of Columbia Taxi Commission on drivers who refuse to pick up black or disabled passengers.

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The Yellin McDonald's Dollar Menu

October 21, 2014 at 10:06 am

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Some recent information has caused me to wonder whether my concerns about inflation are overwrought and whether I really should be more concerned about the risk of deflation. But then along comes an article like this one from Bloomberg, about prices at McDonald's:

McDonald's said its prices were up about 3 percent through the end of June compared with 12 months earlier...McDonald's famous Dollar Menu now includes items that cost more than $1, and other items are creeping above $5. At some McDonald's locations in Chicago's Loop, a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese, fries and a drink totals about $7.50. Chicken Club sandwiches are $4.45, $4.99 and $5.19 at different Chicago McDonald's restaurants, without sides or a beverage....Restaurants are being pressured into boosting prices because of rising beef, cheese and pork prices, as well as minimum-wage increases. Minnesota, California and Michigan have recently hiked minimum pay levels.

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Rattner Versus the Megarich on AIG, Fannie Mae

October 20, 2014 at 4:44 pm

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Steven Rattner's New York Times article about lawsuits brought by AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac shareholders is the subject of my column this week. My column features references to Leviticus, the Talmud, and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's memoir, which is a rare combination, so please be sure to check it out at the New York Sun (here), Reason (here), and Newsmax (here).

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