Reading Kentucky’s Constitution

Joe Gerth believes that the Kentucky Senate is dithering while the Kentucky House is grappling with tough revenue and spending issues.

The House was sweating over falling revenue that could mean cuts of much-needed money for the state’s schools and universities.

The state Senate, meanwhile, was considering bills that were designed to do little more than force Senate Democrats into making votes the GOP will use against them in the 2010 elections.

Talk about fiddling while Rome burned.

He’s probably right on the House side. There are lots of tough decisions that need to be made to reduce wasteful spending in Frankfort. But Gerth shouldn’t blame the Kentucky Senate for requirements of Kentucky’s constitution:

Section 47: All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose amendments thereto: Provided, No new matter shall be introduced, under color of amendment, which does not relate to raising revenue.

It’s most certainly true that the Kentucky Senate should probably use its time more wisely than it does. But on this score, Kentucky Senators are scrupulously obeying the dictates of the document to which they swear an oath each term.

Julian Carroll Doesn’t Care What You Want

Kentucky State Senator and former Governor Julian Carroll tells CNN he doesn’t care what independent voters want. He wants them to pick between Kentucky’s two Totally Awesome Parties or, as he suggested to one independent voter, “move to another country.”

For anyone paying attention, it should be pretty clear that Julian Carroll doesn’t care what anyone wants except the constituencies that return him to office. After all, he represents Frankfort. Frankfort produces two things: some of the world’s finest bourbon and some of the country’s most hair-curling infringements on personal and economic liberty. Some of us indulge in the former to deal with the latter.

In any case, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Senator from Frankfort doesn’t care about the many and varied constituencies that actually produce the wealth that Carroll is so gleeful about spending.

A few years ago Carroll filed a bill to give retired teachers enhanced health insurance benefits. Think about what that means. He wanted to give free stuff to people who are no longer producing anything on behalf of taxpayers. In the actuarial analysis of the bill, that free stuff (extra health insurance benefits) would have amounted to $2.35 billion over the first ten years of implementation. That’s $2.35 billion to people who are out of the government workforce and no longer contributing anything to Kentucky taxpayers. If there are about a million or so working Kentuckians, that’s an extra tax bite of $2000 or more that Julian Carroll wants to take from each of them.

Al Haig

“The notion that the United States can remake the world in its own image, on its own, as a reaction to violence from abroad dates from Woodrow Wilson’s time. It’s an old populist con detached from reality; calling it a neo-con doesn’t make it any better. Does anyone believe that the United States can turn Afghanistan and Iraq into thriving democracies; reconcile India and Pakistan; transform the Middle East and do it all with a 10-division army and a $500 billion deficit?” – Al Haig in 2004

CPAC’s Big(ger) Tent

Here are a few notables from the Conservative Political Action Conference last week:

  • The forces attempting to keep GOProud, a gay conservative group, from sponsoring CPAC ultimately failed.
  • Jerry Falwell’s inaptly named Liberty University law school dropped out of CPAC because of it.
  • The guy from Students for Liberty, Alexander McCobin, got cheers when he wisely praised CPAC for its inclusion of GOProud.
  • Ryan Sorba, the turd who had a little tantrum aimed at CPAC for the same action, was booed. Big time. I can’t fathom what he was thinking. I do look forward to Mr. Sorba’s forthcoming explanation of why natural rights demands that we be intolerant toward gays. Also, can you really speak for a group called “California Young Americans for Freedom” if you’re clearly the least tolerant guy in the room?
  • One percent of CPAC attendees listed “stopping gay marriage” as one of two top priorities. Less than one percent (perhaps no one) listed “stopping gay marriage” as their number one priority.
  • Ron Paul, the anti-war and gay-tolerant Republican, won the straw poll.

Hey Fanboy! Banjos!

It’s nice to hear someone as esteemed as Pete Seeger say this:

Earl Scruggs. He’s the one who brought back the banjo.

And Steve Martin:

The only comparable person was Monet, to me. Monet invented a style and he fulfilled it beautifully and perfectly. And so did Earl Scruggs.

The Banjo Project is coming:

The Banjo Project is a cross-media cultural odyssey: a major television documentary, a live stage/multi-media performance, and a website that chronicle the journey of America’s quintessential instrument—the banjo—from its African roots to the 21st century. It’s a collaboration between Emmy-winning writer-producer Marc Fields and banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka (the Project’s Music Director), one of the most acclaimed acoustic musicians of his generation.

The Banjo Project television documentary brings together contemporary players in all styles—Earl Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Bela Fleck, Taj Mahal, Don Vappie, Cynthia Sayer, Steve Martin, among many others—with folklorists, historians, instrument makers and passionate amateurs to tell the story of America’s instrument in all its richness and diversity.

I can’t wait.

Without the Census, How Would We Plan?

Watch this ad for the 2010 Census. Apparently the Census is doing some Super Bowl activities, including TV spots. Here’s a quote:

If we don’t know how many kids there are, how do we know how many classrooms we need? The Census helps us know exactly what we need, so everyone can get their fair share of funding. We can’t move forward until you mail it back.

First of all, helping the feds apportion education funding is not the purpose of the Census. A decennial enumeration of persons in the U.S. is in the Constitution; federalized education funding is not. But that’s not even the weird thing about the ad.

It’s the assumption that without the Census, local school administrators would be completely unable to plan for the future. It’s as if they’d make a (possibly educated) guess about how many kids will show up and then pray and wring their hands until they get an accurate count on the first day. If they don’t buy enough buns on the first day, will some kid have to go without a sloppy joe? Reminds me of an old Simpsons bit about the dangers of inflexible planning:

Marge: Homer, we have a perfectly good bookcase.

Homer: Yeah, but this is what they’re doing on campus. Besides, it isn’t costing us: I swiped the cinder blocks from a construction site.

[At the “Future site of children’s hospital”, a worker walks forlorn up to his boss]

Worker: Sir, six cinder blocks are missing.

Boss: There’ll be no hospital, then. I’ll tell the children.

Why is that auto manufacturers, homebuilders, retailers, food producers, clothing producers and others who must compete for customers are somehow able to not only plan for changes in population, but also plan for the customers who may or may not voluntarily choose to patronize them? Those companies are in turn serviced by the firms and people that somehow manage to supply just the right amount of steel, lumber, labor, food, textiles and everything else to provide for often competing needs. I realize that the Census can help all these actors at one point or another, but that count tells us precious little about the dynamic preferences of hundreds of millions of people, preferences that are readily accommodated in the marketplace.

Why is a once-a-decade count of people so critical for school planning? Shouldn’t it be easier for public schools to plan for a relatively captive group of “customers”? Beyond that, even if school administrators had perfect information about demographics and the desires of parents and were fully empowered to act on them, would they be more accommodating?

Crime Stats Charged with Fraud

Criminologists are questioning the value of some crime statistics in New York:

In interviews with the criminologists, other retired senior officers cited examples of what the researchers believe was a periodic practice among some precinct commanders and supervisors: checking eBay, other Web sites, catalogs or other sources to find prices for items that had been reported stolen that were lower than the value provided by the crime victim. They would then use the lower values to reduce reported grand larcenies — felony thefts valued at more than $1,000, which are recorded as index crimes under CompStat — to misdemeanors, which are not, the researchers said.

Just last week Elinor Ostrom (Nobel 2009) spoke at the Mercatus Center. In her chat, she stressed that stats sometimes lie. And they sometimes lie in predictable ways. Her example (video is here, though the audio is of poor quality):

… we eventually, again by field work, decided that FBI crime data was not reliable. That happened when I was sitting in a [police] department in Wisconsin on a related project and I was doing archival work. So I was back in the back corner and no one was paying attention to me. …

A sergeant called in a cadet and, I won’t use the bad language that the sergeant used, but he bawled out that cadet … “You’ve just reported a $54 bicycle thefts! In this department, we don’t have $54 bicycle thefts! No bicycle theft is more than $49!”

Why? In those days grand larceny was a theft of more than $50. You observe that and you realize that crime statistics may not always be the most accurate way to measure performance. For those of us who want to do good empirical work, we’ve got to ask, “What are the incentives of those filling out the forms?”

My transcription is not perfect here, but you get the idea.

Ostrom’s comments remind me that the early reports on “jobs saved or created” with stimulus funds were famously awful. Part of the problem was that people filling out forms (and everyone else) had no idea how to measure a job “saved or created.” But even that error wasn’t truly random. The Obama Administration, from the start, designed the very term “saved or created” to tilt the error toward making the jobs numbers higher than they should have been. The executive branch ultimately had to temper its numbers with reality.

A Few Good Nugs

“Why did Hollywood have such a jones for Roberto Benigini for like a year? In retrospect, it’s like everyone in Tinseltown lost their minds over Benny Hill or something.” – The 10 Worst Scifi Snubs In Oscar History

“[Rand] Paul is the scourge of the Republican establishment, especially the home-grown Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is backing Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the primary.” – Running for Senate, Rand Paul lights a fire under Kentucky GOP

Film Industry to Iowa: Make Our Corrupt Tax Credit Bigger: “… film industry leaders suggested capping the credit at $75 million per year instead of the current $50 million, which film production companies went through all too quickly on purchases such as a Mercedes and a Land Rober that film producers kept for themselves.”

Admission: I probably would have already bought this vest to carry all my gizmos and stuff were it not for the men modeling them. I already carry around too much stuff. The vest would, I fear, merely transfer to me the opportunity to carry more junk, not carry the junk I have more efficiently.