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Secret Service Budget

October 1, 2014 at 10:50 am

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The series of recent lapses by the Secret Service has put the agency's budget in the news. A New York Times editorial today reports:

The budget and size of the Secret Service, though, has fallen in the last few years. In 2011, the agency had about 6,900 staff positions; it now has about 6,600. Its budget fell from $1.9 billion in 2012 to $1.8 billion in 2013, in part because of automatic cuts demanded by Congress, and it has gone up only slightly since then. Though money cannot be the only reason for these errors, people inside the agency say the cuts have led to staff burnout, low morale and unmonitored posts.

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Republican Optimism

October 1, 2014 at 9:32 am

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One of my favorite political articles of the year was my friend and former colleague Seth Lipsky's New York Post column that appeared under the headline "Optimism: The GOP's Missing Ingredient."

It seems to have resonated not just with me but with some of the Republican Party's possible 2016 presidential contenders. Senator Ted Cruz, in his remarks to the 2014 Values Voter Summit that won him the straw poll there (and that are worth a look for other reasons, too), said, "I'm optimistic because of you. I'm optimistic because I believe in the American people."

And Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin tells Robert Draper of GQ (link via Politico Playbook): "One of the problems I see with Republicans nationally — well, three. … They're always against Obama, so they're not optimistic. I try to be optimistic and visionary."

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Unemployment Benefits and the Job Market

September 30, 2014 at 3:16 pm

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The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has a nifty new piece of research suggesting that the expiration of Emergency Unemployment Compensation — the federal extended unemployment insurance benefits that allowed jobless individuals to collect up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits — contributed to the rapid creation of job openings in early 2014:

increases in UI generosity put upward pressure on wages since it becomes more expensive to lure people into work. As a consequence, firms anticipate lower profits and cut back job creation, which lowers the job finding rate and increases the unemployment rate.

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Living Wage

September 30, 2014 at 2:44 pm

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Mayor de Blasio's executive order raising to $13.13 the minimum wage for workers at sites that receive some city subsidies is the topic of a news article in today's New York Times. Via the American Enterprise Institute's Mark Perry comes a reminder of a 1987 New York Times editorial that appeared under the headline: "The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00." The two articles go well together.

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In Defense of Spontaneous Order

September 30, 2014 at 10:13 am

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The Economist's Will Wilkinson has a nice defense of Hayek and his idea of spontaneous order.

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Inverting to Here

September 30, 2014 at 10:09 am

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USA Today has an op-ed by Andrés Martinez about corporate tax reform:

Instead of attacking companies, the Obama administration should work with Republicans to move to a territorial tax system. That's even more important than fiddling with the actual rates, because it will level the playing field between U.S. companies and their foreign competitors. Both would pay the U.S. rate here, but not elsewhere.

If we modernize our tax system to reflect the realities of the global economy, we won't just stop more U.S. companies from leaving. We'd also be encouraging plenty of foreign companies to pull off inversions of their own, to America.

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November 2014 Tax Ballot Questions

September 30, 2014 at 10:03 am

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Tax questions on state and local ballots this November are the topic of my column this week:

The tax-increase ballot measures, in particular, are a sign of how the higher-tax crowd has become more sophisticated in the decades since the passage of Proposition 13. Their poll-driven playbook seems to be to tailor tax increases to target unpopular minorities — millionaires, big businesses, individuals with the poor taste to drink Gatorade or Coca-Cola instead of latte, Perrier, or Cabernet — and then to claim that the tax revenues will be spent on worthy causes such as schools or obesity reduction.

Please check it out at the New York Sun (here), Reason (here), and Newsmax (here).

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Rand Paul's Degree

September 29, 2014 at 3:09 pm

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Add Senator Rand Paul to New York Times editor Dean Baquet, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Apple founder Steve Jobs on the list of Americans who never finished their college degrees. This detail comes from a New Yorker profile of Paul that is just out.

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Happy New Year

September 24, 2014 at 10:46 am

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Posting will be sparse to non-existent Thursday and Friday as the editor marks the Jewish New Year. A happy, healthy, prosperous and free new year to all reader-participant-community member-watchdog-content co-creators, whatever your religious persuasion or lack of it. We'll be back in full force in 5775.

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Housing Inflation in California

September 24, 2014 at 10:32 am

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The New York Times reports on the housing market in California, where properties that the politicians and the press were declaring "toxic" and threatening to use eminent domain to seize from their owners are now in high demand:

Abel Ruiz has lived with his family in Santa Ana, an inland city in Orange County, for more than a decade. Their landlord recently increased the rent on their one-bedroom apartment to $1,100, plus an $18 surcharge per resident, an increase of more than $300....

Robert Ganem, a former mortgage broker, has bought more than 65 properties in the last four years.

"Things are not too far off the peak prices now, and we just see them going up and up," Mr. Ganem said. "In one complex, I bought a condo for $400,000, and six months later, the exact same model on the same floor sold for $500,000. The market is certainly there."

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Seth Klarman on Inflation

September 23, 2014 at 2:11 pm

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The web site Zero Hedge has an excerpt from what it says is hedge fund manger Seth Klarman's latest client letter: "Even as reported inflation remains quite subdued, signs of incipient cost increases are increasingly evident. We are seeing them, for example, in apartment rents, construction costs, and salaries of newly minted engineering graduates and oilfield workers."

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Richard Epstein on Supply Chain Social Responsibility

September 23, 2014 at 2:05 pm

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Libertarian (or classical liberal) law professor Richard Epstein's column this week takes a look at efforts in American law to force American companies to "monitor the labor conditions of their overseas contractors and subcontractors." He writes: "The law of unintended consequences does not stop at the American border, for the effort to enforce ethical obligations through law could easily hurt the very people they are meant to help."

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Apple and Financial Regulation

September 23, 2014 at 1:54 pm

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"Apple may have just become a regulated financial institution, unwittingly," writes Adam Levitin in a post on the implications of the "Apple Pay" feature that is built into the new iPhone 6.

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A Winning Democratic Policy Playbook for Republicans

September 22, 2014 at 10:11 pm

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Republicans thinking about an agenda for the future may want to borrow some ideas from an unlikely source — the Democrats of the past. Bill Clinton's welfare reform and North American Free Trade Agreement. John F. Kennedy's tax cuts. President Carter's deregulation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's World War II resolve.
Put them together and update them for the current moment, and they are the beginnings of an effective policy program for Republicans in Congress or seeking the White House in 2016. What's more, talking about them as Democratic ideas could help Republicans capture crossover voters while also reminding them how far today's Democrats have shifted left.

So begins my column this week. For the rest, please check it out at the New York Sun (here), Reason (here), and Newsmax (here).

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Rockefeller Energy Divestment

September 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm

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The Rockefeller family is attracting adulatory press coverage for its decision to divest their $860 million charity, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, of its investment in fossil fuels.

There are at least two significant catches, however. As the statement from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund puts it:

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