Archive for January, 2010


Road trip!

January 24, 2010

Matthias Shapiro does an excellent job visualizing past and current government spending in this clip from May, 2009. Matthias blogs at Political Math.


BCRA revisited

January 24, 2010

In my About page, I cited the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka McCain-Feingold) as an example of how the checks and balances in US government didn’t seem to be working.

But the Supreme Court revisited BCRA (and other laws) this week and it made a liar of me. John Stossel has a good column on the Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.

A Victory for Free Speech

The First Amendment is a little stronger now. In a 5-4 decision announced today, the Supreme Court struck down another portion of McCain-Feingold, specifically the ban on corporate and union-funded issue ads in the closing days of an election. Even better, the Supremes also overruled a 20 year old ruling that banned corporate and labor money from funding any political campaign ads.

Finally, the Supreme Court displayed some sanity when interpreting the first Amendment. (Well, five justices, at least.)

I don’t think this means everything will be skittles and beer. I suspect the annoyance level of electioneering ads will go to 11. I’ll also guess that it will make the role of unions in politics more visible, which seems like a good thing to me.

What the decision has done is put some limits on the government’s power. If you haven’t worried about those limits, this clip from the Cato Institute does a good job exploring them. Bear in mind that what was banned was a cable television pay-per-view movie. It wasn’t something you could inadvertently pick up while channel surfing.

The point is not that groups will try to influence elections. We we can take that as a given, like death and taxes. Instead, the question is who decides how much influence is too much: the voters or some federal bureaucrats?

The dismaying reaction of the political left has been its dismay at the Court’s decision. President Obama himself addressed the issue in his weekly address.

President Blasts Supreme Court Over Citizens United Decision


WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Saturday sharply criticized a Supreme Court decision easing limits on campaign spending by corporations and labor unions, saying he couldn’t “think of anything more devastating to the public interest.” He also suggested the ruling could jeopardize his domestic agenda. […]

Portraying himself as aligned with the people and not special interests, Obama said the decision was unacceptable. […]

He said he has instructed his administration to work with Congress to “fight for the American people” and develop a “forceful bipartisan response” to the decision.

Let’s ignore the fact that the President is urging the Congress to override the Supreme Court on this. Considering the source, I’m not too surprised.

But the idea of the President as "aligned with the people and not special interests" is pretty funny, isn’t it? Here’s the guy who backed the GM bailout, the Chrysler bankruptcy deal, and who recently cut a deal with union leadership during health care reform negotiations — all of which favored union members over every one else.

News flash for you, President Obama: most of "the people" aren’t union members. That makes organized labor a "special interest" – just as any other minority group would be.

How about the President’s Some-Are-More-Equal-Than-Others policies? How are you liking those?

If there’s any group of people in Washington that appears to be in an interest group’s pocket, it’s the President and his advisers. In fact, Paul Howard wrote an article on that very topic for City Journal recently.

The Union Rules
What better to call the White House’s latest handout?
19 January 2010

At the rate that congressional Democrats and the White House are handing out special deals, exemptions, and payoffs in their health-care “reform” legislation, there’s a real danger that pundits will run out of snarky phrases to describe them. So as my own modest effort to help headline writers, I move that we call the $60 billion White House cave-in to the AFL-CIO “The Union Rules.” That phrase would henceforth describe the various union demands that President Obama has agreed to: exempting public and private unions for five years (from 2013 to 2018) from a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost health plans; deducting dental and vision benefits from the excise tax; and negotiating higher thresholds under the excise tax for plans that have a higher number of retirees or older workers, as unions do.


The people speak

January 20, 2010

After the surprising election of Scott Brown as senator from Massachusetts (an effort I supported), you can probably find any number of pundits or talk radio hosts to tell you what you want to hear about the event – from either party’s point of view.

But this clip is different and more interesting than some pundit’s commentary. While it is moderated, it’s basically Massachusetts voters talking about how they voted and why they elected Mr. Brown.

Here’s a question for Senator McCaskill, one of our Missouri senators: If the voters in Massachusetts – a Democratic Party stronghold – are steamed about the health care reform bill and want to "send a message to Washington", then what kind of message do you think the voters in Missouri want to send?


Can we agree on the basics?

January 16, 2010

Here’s an interesting article from Esquire (my emphasis).

What Makes a Nation Rich? One Economist’s Big Answer

Say you’re a world leader and you want your country’s economy to prosper. According to this Clark Medal winner from MIT, there’s a simple solution: start with free elections.

We are the rich, the haves, the developed. And most of the rest — in Africa, South Asia, and South America, the Somalias and Bolivias and Bangladeshes of the world — are the nots. It’s always been this way, a globe divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine, though the extent of inequality across nations today is unprecedented: The average citizen of the United States is ten times as prosperous as the average Guatemalan, more than twenty times as prosperous as the average North Korean, and more than forty times as prosperous as those living in Mali, Ethiopia, Congo, or Sierra Leone.

The question social scientists have unsuccessfully wrestled with for centuries is, Why? But the question they should have been asking is, How? Because inequality is not predetermined. Nations are not like children — they are not born rich or poor. Their governments make them that way.


Roku video

January 10, 2010

A few years ago I bought a Roku SoundBridge, a network audio player. At the time, the choice was between the SoundBridge and Slim Device’s SqueezeBox. The SqueezeBox had a couple of more features but I didn’t think they were worth the higher price it commanded. And I liked the Roku’s styling.

It’s a nice little widget to have and we use it all the time. I have a library of ~8,000 MP3 tracks. We hook the SoundBridge up to our Bose Wave Radio and the pair makes a fairly portable, decent-sounding way to play the library. Usually it sits in the kitchen but it’s easy to move to the patio when we have people over. After I had set it up and installed the Firefly audio server on one of my boxes, my sons got into the act and brought up servers on their machines, so now we have several libraries to chose from.

So I was looking to buy another SoundBridge when I visited about a month ago. But what I discovered there was a different type of media appliance: Roku network video players.

That was a pleasant surprise. Where we live, we don’t get cable service – and that’s OK because we don’t really want to make monthly payments for TV we’d rarely watch. For the same reason, we don’t use satellite service (though that is available). We mostly watch movies and occasionally watch off-air TV for weather and important news events.

The Roku video players seemed like just the thing for our type of use, so I bought a Roku HD. Most of the major DVD services (Netflix, Blockbuster, and Amazon) are now providing video-on-demand over the Internet so we can get movies without a trip to the video store and without waiting for discs to arrive in the mail. Even better, we don’t have to worry about making sure discs get returned.

The Roku HD was a snap to set up. You hook up the player to your network (we use wireless), you hook it up to your A/V gear, you set up an account with the video service, and you tell the player which service you want to use. The whole process took maybe 10 minutes to get Netflix set up and playing.

The Roku will deliver streaming high-definition video to your system. I use the component video connections because that’s what my older Yamaha receiver supports but the HD also provides HDMI output (as well as composite output). Assuming you have the bandwith — on your LAN and from your ISP — you’re all set for high def movie watching.

I’ve been very happy with the Roku HD and I’d recommend it. I see they’ve lowered the price since I bought mine and you can pick it up directly from Roku for $99.00, shipping included.

The two big improvements I’d like to see to the Roku video players are (1) play DVDs and (2) support audio media as the SoundBridge does.

Not long after I bought the Roku HD, we bought a Samsung Blu-Ray DVD player. When we were shopping for it, I noticed that it also supported video-over-the-network from the same providers the Roku supported.Basically, I got the features of the Roku HD plus a Blu-Ray player for about twice the cost of the Roku.

So one alternative to the Roku player is get a Blu-Ray player with the video-over-the-net feature. Many companies sell them now. Other alternatives are to use a PlayStation, an XBox or a TIVO box since some of those support this feature too.

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