06 June 2011

Is it time for the 28th Amendment?

Here it is: the 8th Amendment to our U.S. Constitution - Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

From this article, we get this quote: Monday, overcrowding-related hazards were deemed so egregious that the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that these prisons violate the Eight Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment, and ordered California cut 30,000 inmates over the next two years. "Overcrowding has overtaken the limited resources of prison staff; imposed demands well beyond the capacity of medical and mental health facilities; and created unsanitary and unsafe conditions that make progress in the provision of care difficult or impossible to achieve," wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy for the majority.    emphasis mine

From this article, we get this quote: In a decision closely watched by other states, the court concluded by 5-4 that the prison overcrowding violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Pointedly, the court rejected California's bid for more time and leeway. "The violations have persisted for years," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "They remain uncorrected." The court agreed that a prisoner-release plan devised by a three-judge panel is necessary to alleviate the overcrowding. The court also upheld the two-year deadline imposed by the panel. "For years, the medical and mental health care provided by California's prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners' basic health needs," Kennedy wrote.    emphasis mine

From this article, we get this quote from Justice Anthony Kennedy: "To incarcerate, society takes from prisoners the means to provide for their own needs. Prisoners are dependent on the State for food, clothing, and necessary medical care. A prison's failure to provide sustenance for inmates 'may actually produce physical 'torture or a lingering death'.'. . . Just as a prisoner may starve if not fed, he or she may suffer or die if not provided adequate medical care. A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society. . . [i]f the government fails to fulfill this obligation, the courts have a responsibility to remedy the resulting Eighth Amendment violation."    emphasis mine

This article, from the Cornell University, explains the Supreme Court's reasoning for its decision.

Here is the reaction from the ACLU, which is as expected.

Here is California Govenor Jerry Brown's reaction, which is also as expected. Here is more information about AB 109, referred in Brown's reaction.

Here are some reactions to the Supreme Court's ruling from elected and/or appointed Californians, as well as some citizens:


And here are some articles about the consequences of the Supreme Court's ruling:


And this article proposes an alternative to prison.

So now we have the ruling, Kennedy's (and the 5-4 majority) rationale for the ruling, reactions, and consequences.

The ruling is fait accompli.

The reactions and consequences are opinions, and they abound.

Let's look at Kennedy's rationale. In his majority opinion, he wrote: "Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons."   (emphasis mine) &bsp; While that statement may be (arguably) true, it completely ignores the human dignity of the crime victim(s). Do crime victims have rights? Cannot they also invoke the 8th Amendment? Anbd since when do criminals have any human dignity? Do criminals give up human dignity when they commit a crime?

Upon re-reading our U.S. Constitution I can find nothing specifically guaranteeing crime victim rights. That is why I propose a 28th Amendment, one that both spells out victim rights and limits/forfeits rights of people convicted of a crime.

But what about victimless or non-violent crime, such as drug possession? There is no such thing a victimless crime. Let's take drug possession, for example. There are only two reasons for the possession of drugs - sale or ingestion. In either case the ultimate user (the ingestor) is no longer a responsible, contributing member of society. If he/she kills or injures someone because he/she is intoxicated, he/she is a criminal. What about alcohol? you ask. Society has enough problems with alcohol. Why cause more problems? And the ultimate user of drugs often requires assets that can better be spent on others who need them.

Besides, he/she knew what he/she was doing was against the law. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime!

Why, you ask, do I propose a 28th Amendment? Right now (31 May 11) our constitution has 27 amendments.

UPDATE! I just read about Houston police officer Kevin Will at Flopping Aces. So now this proposal is even MORE timely.

UPDATE! The ACLU sues South Carolina, wants porn in jail.

But that's just my opinion.


23 May 2011

Corporations DO NOT pay taxes!

Corporate Taxes

We have heard quite a bit lately about how big corporations avoid/do not pay taxes. The dustup over General Electric comes to mind.

As (the late) Paul Harvey said, "Corporations don't pay taxes." Neither do businesses of any size. All "tax" costs are passed along to the consumer. Taxes are part of the cost of doing business. The same can be said for all fringe benefits employees receive.

The current oil price "crisis" is a good example. As the demand (worldwide) for oil increases, prices rise. The nationwide average price (whatever that is) is currently at $3.55. Part of that price increase is an increase in taxes passed on to the consumer. Did ANY federal, state, or local government propose a tax break for consumers. To quote (also the late) John Belushi, Noooooooooooooo. They (the governments) just kept on collecting taxes.

The above fact about taxes is inescapable. Yet politicians (of both parties) and (most) consumers somehow think that corporations and businesses just dip into a big bag of money to pay taxes. When will politicians and consumers ever learn?

But that's just my opinion.


20 May 2011

There is NO free lunch!

My father taught me very early in my life, and I tried to teach my children as well that there is NO free lunch!

Sooner or later (usually sooner) the person (or company) providing the "free lunch" will ask for a quid pro quo, something in return for the "free lunch."

BTW, here a definition of "quid pro quo" from Merriam-Webster: something given or received for something else; also: a deal arranging a quid pro quo

I never cease to be amazed by TV commercials that offer "free" things if only the viewer will call (usually a toll-free number). TV (actually, ALL) commercials are broadcast for only one reason: to separate callers from their money.

Besides, the word "free" is a misnomer. Nothing is free. Everything costs something, costs somebody time and/or resources. A service and/or product may be offered to the caller at no charge to the caller, but the thing offered is not free. Yet the commercals stlll use the word "free."

There is no free lunch

But that's just my opinion.


18 May 2011

Alternative Energy?

Yesterday, (13 Oct 08) I watched "CoolFuel USA Roadtrip" on the Science Channel. Yes, it was a waste of time. They tried hard to promote electric powered vehicles. They featured a battery powered Pontiac Fiero and a battery powered motorcycle. Both had a whopping range of 40 to 65 miles. Then they featured a battery powered scooter with a range of 15 miles. They even showed us some windmills. But they never even once mentioned the costs involved to build/convert these vehicles, nor did they ever talk about the RV they used for backup, or its fuel costs.

Alternative Energy?

First, we are still waiting for an affordable alternative fuel that Democrats say we must have. And we will be waiting for a long time.

Second, as my father used to say, "You can have anything you want - all it takes is money." There are currently two car commercials (in 08) that tout only water as exhaust (Honda and BMW). What they do NOT say is these cars cost over one million dollars each. They both run on fuel cells. And fuel cell technology has been around since the late 50's. NASA has had them for a number of years in order to power space capsules. We are still waiting for affordable fuel cells.

Alternative fuels and technology are here today. Affordable alternative fuels and technology will take a few more years.

And nowhere is anything mentioned about the rise in the cost of corn resulting from the production of ethanol. But what about ethanol from switch grass? This link will take you to a site touting sitch grass, saying it's five times more efficient than ethanol from corn. Yet, this article will tell you about subsities and loans from taxpayers to produce ethanol.

And where does it say that government must provide alternative fuels and technology? Whatever happened to the "free market?" Or is government afraid that the free market will make a profit after expending money on R&D?

Politicians (and TV commercials) are making a big deal about IRL and NASCAR cars currently racing on ethanol. But what they will NOT tell you is that IRL cars (or Indy cars, or Champ cars, or whatever you want to call them) have been racing on ethanol for over 50 years.

But that's just my opinion.


15 May 2011

Gambling (putting money at risk?)

As a professor of Statistics (and Information) I often got comments from students, fellow professors, and the general public that I was pretty good at gaming (gambling), implying that (a) I gambled, and (b) that I could figure and therefore manipulate the odds to my favor. Well, yes, I do have knowledge of how odds are set, and of how "gaming" works. Believe me, it's NOT gambling to the casinos, the horse and/or dog tracks, and the states who sponsor lotteries. For them, it's a SURE THING. And also believe me, there is no way to (legally) manipulate the odds. The people who set the odds are also smart and they know what they are doing.

First, most forms of gaming (gambling) require some form of device, such as dice or decks of cards or roulette wheels. All of these devices have been around for quite a few years. All of them have been shown, through repeated use and study, to produce "random," or fair results. By fair or random we mean that what will occur next cannot be predicted. Not producing fair or random results can mean that you can take advantage of what is coming and bet that way. The famous scene from "Casablanca," where Ric tells the young bride where to place a bet, and to let it ride, comes to mind. Ric's roulette wheel was not fair. So what does all of this mean? In the "long run" (over a very large number of trials or uses) the device had better produce fair or random results. That (BTW) is how computer gaming devices are evaluated.

Second, casinos (or other forms of gaming establishments) must have the capital necessary to withstand short-term winners. Casinos will, in the long-run (on average), win and make money. Let's take the example of roulette again. I like roulette because it is easiest to visualise. Roulette pays 35-1 to win, but there are 38 spaces on the wheel (1-36, and 0 and 00). So with a fair, random wheel the "house" (the people backing the wheel with capital) will win, in the long-run, 3 of 38 times (38 - 35 = 3). These "odds" are immutable. But what about the person who bets less than 35 times and, through luck, wins? That is where capital necessary to withstand short-term winners comes in.

Third, it's not gambling when:

  • Casinos have a built-in winning percentage, often called odds. EVERY device in a casino is there for one reason - to make money. The odds for every device is calculated. As the device is used (money fed in and/or bet) it returns a large portion of what is fed in. It keeps a small portion of the money fed in. From that small portion kept the casino must pay its expenses and make, for the owners, a profit. Casinos set the proportion kept low so as to give the appearance of winning and to keep customers returning. Speaking of profits, where do you think the money for hotels/buildings/parking/pools/dining rooms and kitchens, as well as operating capital comes from? It sure isn't from the meals they serve!
  • State sponsored lotteries typically take half of the income brought in from selling tickets before a cent is paid to winners. The chances of winning the lottery are much longer than being struck by lightning! Lotteries are an indirect tax on the poor who make up the largest percentage of regular players. And I have to laugh when politicians (of both parties) try to justify them as helping education. While it is true that most of the money from lotteries goes to fund education, what politicians will not say is that other sources of educational funding are being cut off. The net result is that the lotteries have no effect on education.
  • Paramutual betting (horses or dogs) is no different. The track owners takes a fixed percentage off the top (usually set by politicians), then returns what is left in the total bet pool to the betters. This is how odds are set. A summing of all the odds for any single race will not be 100%. It will sum to the percentage total less what the track will keep. Again, the track owners must have the capital necessary to pay the short-term winner.
  • Sports pool gaming, regardless of sport, does not rely upon a specific gaming device. But it requires much studying and information. Most people, who get emotionally involved, will not do the work of studying or availing themselves of information. So in the long run (the average) the people who will do the work (that's their job) to study will win.

The only winner at gaming (gambling) is the person who avoids it or treats it as a form of intertainment.

And if you have a system and enough money, casinos will send a car for you.

I am reminded of the scene in "Paint Your Wagon" (1969 movie - the only musical worth watching IMHO) where Ben Rumson (played by Lee Marvin) is showing Horton Fenty (played by Tom Ligon) around "No Name City." Ben sees Rotten Luck Willie (played by Harve Presnell) and asks how he's doing. Rotten Luck Willie responds, "I haven't won a hand in three weeks!" Ben warns Horton to stay out of Willie's casino. Horton responds that he doesn't gamble. "Neither does he" (Willie), says Ben.

But that's just my opinion.


02 May 2011

Budgets and Economic Assumptions

Today we hear about deficit reduction budgets from both sides of the aisle. But what is never discussed are the economic assumptions that accompany deficit reductions. Here is a very good article by James Pethokoukis about economic assumptions and their affects on projections. This opinion draws heavily upon his article.

About Obama's budget speech he gave last week (13 Apr 11): "When he made his big budget speech last week, it wasn't at all clear from where his numbers were coming - nor in what direction they were heading. A "fact sheet" on his "Framework for Shared Prosperity and Shared Fiscal Responsibility" gave a few more specifics, but little or no context to make real sense of them. Even for seasoned budget experts, it was a puzzlement."

Budget experts think Obama used his own more optimistic forecast numbers. From 2012-2015, Obama sees the economy growing at a pace of 3.6 percent, 4.4 percent, 4.3 percent and 3.8 percent. The CBO sees slower growth, 3.1 percent, 3.1 percent, 3.5 percent, 3.8 percent. For the rest of the decade, Obama assumes GDP growth an average of 0.2 percentage point faster than the CBO. When CBO ran Obama's numbers with its own growth forecast, it found that Obama raised $1.7 trillion less than his OMB had predicted. Obama also assumes those higher growth rates would be possible despite the heavier tax burden. When Goldman Sachs looked at the numbers and they think Obama was measuring his savings against the CBO's estimate of what it considers the most likely budget path. Over ten years, Obama's plan saves about $2.2 trillion less than Ryan's - and that's still giving Obama his rosy economic forecast from above. But Obama's assumptions were based on no tax increase impact. Obama reiterated his pledge to let $1 trillion worth of top-end Bush tax cuts expire. That means Obama is actually calling for $2 trillion worth of tax hikes, not $1 trillion.

Finally, Obama's budget calls for a 12-year budget instead of a customary 10-year plan. Former Bush II economic adviser Keith Hennessey said: "He wanted to claim that he was "matching" the Ryan plan in deficit reduction, but was just achieving that same goal in a better way. Matching Republican deficit reduction is a lynchpin of the President's fiscal argument. He was short by a trillion dollars or more, so he and his team decided to measure his proposal over a different timeframe and hope no one would notice."

So there you have it. The Obama deficit reduction plan makes some unrealistic (?) assumptions and tries to sneak in a time-line change.

As Thomas Sowell points out in this article, "Anyone who says that we don't have the money to pay what was promised is accused of trying to destroy Social Security, Medicare or ObamaCare - or whatever other unfunded promises have been made. It is like blaming the bank for saying the check bounced."

And, he continues, states are not doing much better. He offers the state of Florida as an example. Florida's own estimate of its pension fund's shortfall is based on assuming that they will receive a rate of return of 7.75%. But what if it turns out that they don't get that high a return? A 6% rate of return would more than triple the size of Florida's unfunded liability for its employees' pension. The actual rate of return that Florida has received over the past decade has been only 2.6%. In other words, by simply assuming a far higher future rate of return on their investments than they have received in the past, Florida politicians can deceive the public as to how deep a hole the state's finances are in. (emphasis mine)

So what does all of this mean? The next time you see a projection, ask (specifically) on what assumptions was the projection made. Then ask yourself: "Are those assumptions realistic?"

But that's just my opinion.