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Kinsley on Citizens United

This is a well-considered analogy from Michael Kinsley, one I wish more people would consider when they cry foul when (some) corporations decide to spend money advancing their preferred ideas or candidates:

The analogy I like (as did the Supreme Court in its ruling) is to a newspaper. Suppose Citizens United were reversed and President Trump decided one day that he was sick of The New York Times. So he proposes a law setting a ceiling on the amount any individual or organization can spend putting out a newspaper. Constitutional? I hope not. But it’s hard to see the difference in principle between this and a law limiting the amount a corporation or union may spend promoting a political candidate.

I recently chatted with Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth about his proposal to remove First Amendment protections for many public discussions of federal candidates. He wasn’t particularly convincing in presenting an argument on behalf of an amendment that would strip away the constitutional protections for media outlets to discuss candidates openly while simultaneously asking that I trust Congress to delicately reanimate the corpse of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance rules prohibiting corporations (but not Trusted Media Outlets) from having their say. I have a hard time thinking that Congress, given the opportunity, would craft a proper balance between the interests of Democratic Government and the rights of individuals to band together and say whatever they think needs to be heard.

Listen here:

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RIP Lowell Reese

Lowell Reese was a journalist who cared deeply about the rules that governed the game. His decades in journalism, his sharp mind, and his kind heart all contributed to his engaged, deep, often meticulous data-driven reporting on politics and policy.

More than that, Lowell Reese was a helpful, generous friend to anyone who wanted to understand practical politics on a deeper level. He gave me important information that drove my studies into Kentucky’s pension system, for which I wrote more than a little bit. In the process of writing on this subject, there weren’t many people to talk to, and Lowell Reese was absolutely invaluable as I tried to understand the ground-level realities of the incentives that drive Kentucky’s pension plans.

I came to know Lowell well while working for the Bluegrass Institute, directing the group’s KentuckyVotes.org platform to track lawmakers’ daily activities in Frankfort.

It’s fun to remember how energizing Lowell was to me, Chris Derry, and Jim Waters as we worked to get the project off the ground and bring that all-important daily rundown of lawmakers’ votes to the public for free. His enthusiasm for the project played out through introductions to helpful lawmakers, helpful staff at the Legislative Research Commission and the various people who had either pull or knowledge to help us move the project forward. I can never thank him enough for so gleefully giving me access to his network.

When I moved to Frankfort to run the project throughout the legislative session and write for Kentucky Gazette, Lowell revealed himself to be a great friend, as well. Always interested in what I knew and freely giving of what he knew, we held occasional meetings in the maddeningly beautiful office behind his home. It was, I recall, the perfect perch for an independent journalist: a life’s work on the walls and a relaxed, engaged journalist behind the desk.

The big issue toward the end of Lowell’s life was pension transparency. You’d be forgiven for thinking this meant he was concerned only about abuses perpetrated by Wall Street profiteers on the poor, defenseless managers of billion-dollar pension funds. Private equity’s appeal to pension managers is a big problem, to be sure, and Lowell was concerned about it, but for him this was at most half of the problem associated with a lack of transparency in pension finance.

Lowell was also intensely concerned with the manner in which individual public sector workers could make relatively minor adjustments in their working lives to trigger massive pension payouts. He made various estimates of how a little-known bill, HB 299, passed in 2005, would allow some Kentucky lawmakers to make a few key moves with respect to their employment and pensions to increase their lifetime wealth by a million dollars or more.

It’s a bigger issue than just lawmakers, of course, and the kind of data detailing the size of pension payouts and and various decisions that balloon pensions is also still shrouded in mystery. But thanks in no small part to Lowell Reese, that issue is on the table like never before.

Only since Kentucky Gazette published his obituary have I learned that Lowell was apparently an active Republican campaigner. Personality driven politics were rarely a part of our discussions. What made Lowell interesting to me was his own interest in the consequences of ideas and appropriateness of rules.

Here’s more from Kentucky Gazette and more from Jim Waters, and some more precise details of his later projects with the Bluegrass Institute.

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Frank Zappa, Conservative

Here’s a remarkably clear description of the entrepreneur’s role from Frank Zappa. In short, the risks are big, the rewards are uncertain and the personnel should be focused on the mission or they should leave.

In the late 1980s, I recall Zappa appearing on “Crossfire” to discuss the problems associated with attempts to limit or punish artists who use off-color language or produce work that deals with off-color themes. At one point in the discussion, he defiantly calls himself a “conservative.” Given this description of what an entrepreneur actually does, I now more fully understand what he meant.

This should be required listening for anyone (*cough* Republicans *cough*) who claim to admire those who take big financial risks in pursuit of big rewards.

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Buckhattan

My buddy Rob Raffety is making a short film called “Muck.” For the intro, he blatantly ripped off honored Woody Allen by recreating the opening scene of “Manhattan” in Rob’s hometown of Buckhannon, West Virginia. Enjoy this carefully detailed effort.

“Buckhattan”

Shot by shot comparison

Rob’s recent film, “Game Nightwill be featured at this year’s DC Shorts Film Festival.

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Chris Thile: American Radio Hero

There was a time when I believed that Chris Thile was merely the greatest mandolinist I’d ever heard. Now that his rise signals the end of the greatest ongoing atrocity ever perpetrated on American radio, he’s more like a Philosopher King Warrior Poet who is also the greatest mandolinist I’ve ever heard.

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Charles Murray’s Dangerous Idea

I chatted with Charles Murray about his recent book, By the People. In it, he describes what he sees as a way to effectively shut down enforcement of vast chunks of destructive federal regulation. All that’s needed is some generous benefactors and some civil disobedience.

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Looting in Perspective

“While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime. And I don’t think there’s anyone in any of those pictures … (who wouldn’t) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.” – Donald Rumsfeld

(Swiped from Alex Nowrasteh)

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A Response to the 2015 State of the Union

Yes, we stayed up all night.

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Bill Moyers on MLK Day

Bill Moyers posted a short interview today to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Selma, he says, was good, but flawed.

As for how the film portrays Lyndon B. Johnson: There’s one egregious and outrageous portrayal that is the worst kind of creative license because it suggests the very opposite of the truth, in this case, that the president was behind J. Edgar Hoover’s sending the “sex tape” to Coretta King. Some of our most scrupulous historians have denounced that one. And even if you want to think of Lyndon B. Johnson as vile enough to want to do that, he was way too smart to hand Hoover the means of blackmailing him.

As to his time in the Johnson White House, Moyers has a hazy memory:

[Moyers’] part in Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover’s bugging of Martin Luther King’s private life, the leaks to the press and diplomatic corps, the surveillance of civil rights groups at the 1964 Democratic Convention, and his request for damaging information from Hoover on members of the Goldwater campaign suggest he was not only a good soldier but a gleeful retainer feeding the appetites of Lyndon Johnson.

… a very hazy memory.

(h/t Mark Hemingway)

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Speakeasy Shorts: ‘Game Night’

I acted in a short film last week. It won an award (and $1000) last night. Thanks to everyone who came out to support us.

Game Night from DC Shorts on Vimeo.

Thanks to DC Shorts and Speakeasy DC for putting on such a cool event and contest! Thanks also to Rob Raffety for offering me the chance to appear in his film.

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