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Limit the estate tax charitable deduction

By Edward Zelinsky
One widely-discussed possibility for reforming the federal income tax is limiting the deduction for charitable contributions. Whether or not Congress amends the Code to restrict the income tax deduction for charitable contributions, Congress should limit the charitable contribution deduction under the federal estate and gift taxes. Such a limit would balance the need for federal revenues with the desirability of encouraging charitable giving.

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Is Greece Relevant? Seven Lessons for the U.S. From the Greek Fiscal Crisis

Are Greece’s fiscal woes relevant to the United States? Responding to the simmering national debate on this issue, Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, answers with an emphatic “no.” “America isn’t Greece,” Professor Krugman confidently tells us. With equal assurance, Charles Krauthammer on Fox News comes to the opposite conclusion. Given current trends in U.S. public finance, Dr. Krauthammer contends, Greece is our “future.” In a similar vein, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan approvingly cites the analogy between Greece and the U.S. as setting “the stage for a serious response” to the United States’ budgetary challenges. The Greek experience is not inevitable, but it is instructive.

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Gaza, France, Monaco and the Double Standard for Israel

Nicholas Sarkozy, the president of France, has condemned as “disproportionate” Israel’s response to the flotilla bringing cargo to Gaza. Gaza today is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and which has repeatedly launched attacks on Israel and its civilian population. Israel had told the flotilla’s organizers to bring their goods to the Israeli port of Ashdod for inspection, with all civilian goods to be trucked subsequently from Ashdod to Gaza. The Israeli offer was rejected.

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Advice to President Obama’s Deficit Commission: Tax Social Security Payments

By Edward Zelinsky
President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is reportedly forging an internal consensus concerning the federal Social Security system. The President’s bi-partisan deficit reduction commission is purportedly developing a package of reforms including higher retirement ages for Social Security eligibility, reduced cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security payments, and higher taxes.

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Contraception, HSAs and the unnecessary controversy about religious conscience

By Edward Zelinsky
Among the bitter but unnecessary controversies of this election year was the dispute about the federal government’s mandate that employers provide contraception as part of their health care coverage for their employees. Employers religiously opposed to contraception believe this mandate infringes their right of Free Exercise of religion under the First Amendment. Advocates of the contraception mandate characterize it as vital to women’s health and choice.

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The Free Lunch Campaign: A Lost Opportunity

By Edward Zelinsky
The United States is in the midst of a “free lunch” campaign in which Republicans and Democrats alike promise painless resolution of our budgetary problems. As a result, neither party will have an electoral mandate for the hard choices necessary to tackle our fiscal quandaries. Both parties are squandering an important opportunity to mold public opinion and set the stage for meaningful budgetary discipline.

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The Death Penalty: My Personal Journey

By Edward Zelinsky

Like most Connecticut residents, I watched with a mixture of fascination and horror the trial of Steven J. Hayes. Hayes is one of two defendants accused of the particularly gruesome home invasion murders in July, 2007 in suburban Cheshire, Connecticut. Hayes has been found guilty; the jury has sentenced Hayes to receive the death penalty.

Like everyone who followed this trial, I have both admired and sympathized with Dr. William Petit, Jr. whose wife and two daughters were brutalized and killed by Hayes. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Petit wanted the death penalty in this case as would I had I been in Dr. Petit‘s position. So compelling have been the facts exposed at Hayes’ trial that many normally outspoken opponents of the death penalty have remained silent as the jury assigned that penalty to Hayes for his truly evil crimes.

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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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The Buffett Rule President Obama ignores

By Edward Zelinsky
Like many of us, President Obama is a Warren Buffett fan. Most prominently, the president advocates, as a matter of tax policy, the so-called “Buffett Rule.” This rule responds to Mr. Buffett’s observation that his effective federal income tax rate is lower than the tax rate of Mr. Buffett’s secretary. In President Obama’s formulation, the Buffett Rule calls for taxpayers making at least $1,000,000 annually to pay federal income tax at a 30% bracket.

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Public pensions, private equity, and the mythical 8% return

By Edward Zelinsky
Public pension plans should not invest in private equity deals. These deals lack both transparency and the discipline of market forces. Private equity investments allow elected officials to assume unrealistically high rates of return for public pension plans and to make correspondingly low contributions to such plans. This is a recipe for inadequately funded pensions, an outcome good for neither public employees nor taxpayers.

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Mitt Romney’s IRA

By Edward Zelinsky
On a personal level, I enjoyed the news reports that Governor Romney holds assets worth tens of millions of dollars in his individual retirement account (IRA). These reports confirm a central thesis of The Origins of the Ownership Society, namely, the extent to which defined contribution accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k) accounts, have become central features of American life.

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The growth of the Giving Pledge and the federal estate tax

By Edward Zelinsky
By taking the Giving Pledge, wealthy individuals publicly commit to contribute “the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.” The Pledge was started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Jr. Recently, twelve more wealthy families signed the Giving Pledge including Elon Musk, a founder of PayPal.

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George McGovern

By Edward Zelinsky
On 15 November 1969, I was shivering on the Mall in Washington, D.C., surrounded by a band of self-proclaimed Maoists celebrating the prospect of a Viet Cong victory. This was the second “Moratorium” against the Vietnam War. While the first Moratorium in October had a decidedly mainstream flavor, the tone of the November event was markedly different. I was conflicted on that cold November day in Washington. I opposed the Vietnam War, as did the thousands of others standing on the Mall that day.

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The Likely Failure of Obamacare After ‘National Federation’

By Edward Zelinsky
As virtually all Americans now know, the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, sustained the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”). President Obama hailed the Court’s decision as confirming “a fundamental principle that here in America — in the wealthiest nation on Earth — no illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin.” The President and his supporters tell us that PPACA will provide health care coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans. From the President’s vantage, the Court’s decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius guarantees the desired expansion of health care coverage.

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Paul Ryan and the evolution of the vice presidency

By Edward Zelinsky
By selecting Representative Paul Ryan as the Republican vice presidential nominee, Governor Romney confirmed the decline of the traditional role of vice presidential candidates as providers of geographic balance. Ryan’s selection reinforces the shift to a more policy-oriented definition of the vice presidency. This shift reflects the nationalization of our culture and politics and the increased importance of the general election debate between vice presidential candidates.

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Albert Pujols, Occupy Wall Street, and the Buffett Rule

By Edward Zelinsky
As every baseball fan knows, Albert Pujols has signed a ten year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols, a three-time MVP who has hit 445 home runs so far in his major league career, deserves every penny he is paid. The competition for Pujols demonstrated meritocracy and markets at their best.

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