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Public pensions’ unrealistic rate of return assumptions

By Edward Zelinsky
Ten years ago, the financial problems of public employee pensions concerned only specialists in the field. Today, the underfunding of public retirement plans is widely understood to be a major problem of the American polity. Underfinanced public pensions threaten the ability of the states and their localities to provide basic public services while paying the retirement benefits promised to state employees.

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9780195339352

Our Antonia

The first time I read My Antonia, I hated it. That was to be expected: It was required reading in my sophomore English course at Omaha Central High. This was during the Sixties. In the Age of Aquarius, no one was supposed to like assigned reading. That’s why it had to be assigned. I next confronted My Antonia in college. Like Jim Burden, Willa Cather’s narrator, I had left Nebraska to go to east to continue my education.

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Arab Spring, Israeli reality

By Edward Zelinsky
The world watches events in Libya, Egypt, Syria and other parts of the Arab world with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Slogans promising the quick and easy reform of an Arab Spring have given way to the harsh reality that violent autocracies are not easily overthrown. A fundamental, but politically incorrect, truth of this combustible situation is that only one Middle Eastern nation has created a functioning democratic society: Israel. Arab reformers, if they wish to create free, modern states, must terminate the Arab boycott of Israel and must instead emulate Israel.

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The Legal and Practical Futility of State “Amazon” Laws

By Edward Zelinsky

As they scramble for tax revenue in a challenging environment, the states increasingly turn to so-called “Amazon” laws to force out-of-state internet and mail order retailers to collect tax on their sales. The Illinois General Assembly is the most recent state legislature to pass an Amazon statute. New York, Colorado, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Oklahoma have already enacted such laws while Amazon acts are pending in other state legislatures.

While they differ in important respects, all of these proposed and enacted laws share the premise that goods which are taxed when purchased in a conventional, bricks-and-mortar store should also be taxed when bought from an online or mail order retailer. This premise is compelling.

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Proud to be AARP. Kinda.

By Edward Zelinsky
Receiving my AARP membership card was one of the truly traumatic events of my life. I had marched for civil rights. I had protested the war in Vietnam. I walked the streets for Gene McCarthy. I was a legitimate Baby Boomer. How could this have happened to me?

My wiser and more self-confident spouse took it in better stride. Doris quickly became adept at pulling out her AARP card and demanding old-age discounts, as I stood sheepishly aside.

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The Westboro Church and Justice Alito: the other side of the story

By Edward Zelinsky

It is noteworthy when eight ideologically diverse justices of the U.S. Supreme Court all decide a First Amendment case the same way. Thus, Snyder v. Phelps is a noteworthy decision. The Westboro Baptist Church is well-known for its demonstrations at military funerals. Indeed, the Westboro Church, led by (and, some say, principally consisting of) the Phelps family, has the rare distinction of having been denounced by both Jon Stewart and Mike Huckabee.

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Warren Buffett, Taxes, FICA and Social Security

By Edward Zelinsky
Warren Buffett has again called on Congress to raise federal taxes on affluent taxpayers. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Mr. Buffett urged Congress to increase federal taxes on taxpayers with annual incomes greater than $1,000,000. As he has in the past, Mr. Buffett contrasted his effective tax rate with

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As Maine goes, so goes Pennsylvania?

By Edward Zelinsky
In presidential elections, Nebraska and Maine today allocate one elector to the candidate who prevails in each congressional district in the state and award the remaining two electors (corresponding to the states’ U.S. Senators) to the statewide popular vote winner. All other states bestow their electoral votes as a bloc on a winner-take-all basis. In Pennsylvania, the Republican governor, senate majority leader, and speaker of the state house of representatives propose that, starting in 2012, the Keystone State emulate Nebraska and Maine and apportion one electoral vote to each of

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The case against pension-financed infrastructure

By Edward Zelinsky
Media reports have indicated that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been considering the use of public pension funds to finance the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge and to underwrite other infrastructure investments in the Empire State. This is a bad idea, harmful both to the governmental employees of the Empire State and to New York’s taxpayers. Using public pension monies in this fashion trades the immediate benefits of public construction for the long-term cost of underfunded public retirement plans.

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Abolish the Minimum Required Distribution Rules

In this article, Professor Zelinsky discusses the controversy surrounding the effects of the minimum required distribution (MRD) rules after the Crash of 2008. He concludes that the MRD rules, suspended by President Bush and Congress for 2009, should be abolished permanently.

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The Buffett Rule debate: A guide for the perplexed

By Edward Zelinsky
Although he had said it before, Warren Buffett struck a nerve with his most recent observation that his effective federal tax rate is lower than or equal to the effective federal tax rates of the other employees who work at Berkshire Hathaway’s Omaha office. Mr. Buffett’s observations have provoked extensive comments both from those supporting his position (e.g., President Obama) and those critical (e.g., the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal). In response to Mr. Buffett’s remarks, President Obama has promulgated what he calls “the Buffett Rule,” namely, that those making

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The belated revenge of the health care Grinches

By Edward Zelinsky
It hasn’t been fun being a health care Grinch. Until recently, we health care Grinches have been the objects of bi-partisan scorn.

We have been warning that health care cost control will be painful and will entail reduced medical services and lower payments to health care providers. “Nonsense,” retorted President Obama. Taking a page from the Republican book of bromides as he plugged his health care reforms, Mr. Obama assured the nation that health care costs can be controlled painlessly, by purging “waste” and “fraud.”

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For stronger gun control laws; against the divestiture of gun stocks

By Edward Zelinsky
Even before the events in Newtown, I supported the strengthening of gun control laws. Advocates of gun rights correctly assert the need for better enforcement of existing laws as well as the urgency of confronting the violent nature of our culture. But General McChrystal is also correct. There is no compelling reason for civilians to own or possess high capacity weaponry designed for military missions.

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Metro North disruption and “employer convenience”, double taxation – again

By Edward Zelinsky
Once again, those of us who depend on Metro North’s railroad commuter service found ourselves bereft of adequate transportation to travel to work in Manhattan. Once again, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA), which runs Metro North, urged us to avoid Manhattan by telecommuting from our homes for the duration of this service disruption.

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The Noto decision and double state income taxation of dual residents

By Edward Zelinsky
Lucio Noto worked for Mobil and ExxonMobil in Virginia and Texas before retiring in 2001. In his retirement, Mr. Noto and his wife Joan maintain homes in Greenwich, Connecticut and in East Hampton, New York. For state income tax purposes, the Notos are residents of both Connecticut where they are domiciled and New York where they spend at least 183 days annually at their second home.

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Pension fund divestment is no answer to Russia’s homophobic policies

By Edward Zelinsky
A group of California state senators, including senate president pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, has called for California’s public employee pension plans to protest Russia’s homophobic laws and policies by ceasing to make Russian investments. While the senators are right to denounce Russia’s assault on human rights, they are wrong to call for the divestment of the Golden State’s public pension funds.

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