“Scary monsters, super creeps / Keep me running, running scared” — “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps” by David Bowie
I know it’s Halloween season. Usually this means that by now I’ve been to three different horror films and invested a full paycheck in motion-activated mannequins at the seasonal pop-up Halloween store.
This year, however, I’m teaching public school, so I figure I have enough to be afraid of without augmenting it any.
Now you probably think when I say that that I’m referring to my students, but I assure you that I’m not. There’s nothing scary about them. I’d rather work with teenagers any day than adults. I have always found that the morals and values of teenagers far exceed those of their elders as a general rule.
That’s not true of every teenager, of course, nor is it true of every adult, but statistically it’s rather like men having more upper body strength than women. There are women who have far more upper body strength than the average man and men who have less than the average woman, but if you take a random sample size of 1,000, controlling for other factors, you can reliably say that men in general have more upper body strength than women in general.
And, as a general population, I’ll take people who are trying to get away with sneaking a cigarette in the boys’ restroom over people who are trying to get away with embezzlement any day.
Which brings me, unfortunately, to the Kentucky State Legislature, which is not to accuse anyone of embezzlement, per se because I shouldn’t care to slander anyone in the press.
The Cornell School of Law, which is a pretty good law school I take it, defines embezzlement as follows: “Fraudulent taking of personal property by someone to whom it was entrusted. Most often associated with the misappropriation of money. Embezzlement can occur regardless of whether the defendant keeps the personal property or transfers it to a third party.”
Just to clarify things further, here’s Cornell’s definition of of “misappropriation of funds”: “The intentional, illegal use of the property or funds of another person for one's own use or other unauthorized purpose, particularly by a public official, a trustee of a trust, an executor or administrator of a deceased person's estate, or by any person with a responsibility to care for and protect another's assets.”
Now one thing we are certain of is that neither of these things took place with regard to the Teacher’s Retirement System in the years between 2003 and 2016 because those are felonies, and if those things happened someone would obviously be going to jail.
These are, after all, our elected representatives, and I shouldn’t like to call any of them dishonourable. They are all very honourable people, every last one.
After all, in spite of the fact that, to quote “The Courier Journal,” “The systems’ actuary listed the amount of money needed to pay benefits while controlling debts,” the fact is lawmakers just voted not to do that.
And there’s nothing illegal about that because, after all, the legislature, by definition, makes the laws, so if they agree by majority to do something, it is, by definition, legal, right? This is pretty much also the case with Kentucky Retirement System’s disastrous decision to invest heavily in hedge funds.
You can say the money was mishandled or mismanaged or even misplaced, but it was not misappropriated. And we know this because no one is being carted off to the pokey and their assets seized and redistributed as was done to, say, Bernie Madoff.
No, what happened here was clearly a case of the Kentucky State Legislature failing to understand the difference between a defined contribution retirement plan (in which the employee assumes all of the risk) and a defined benefit retirement plan (in which the employer assumes all the risk but also can’t be asked to pay more than the defined benefit, even if the chosen investments overperform).
This is extremely complicated stuff. I mean, I understand it myself, but I’m a public school teacher, which means I have to have a Master’s Degree and a teaching certificate and 24 hours of professional development a year in order to do my job. Those things are not necessary if your method for acquiring your job is the large scale equivalent of being crowned homecoming queen.
To be fair, they don’t have time to learn these things. Trying to get people to vote for you is hard work. Just ask the contestants on “American Idol.” Of course, those folks on “American Idol” are slightly outperforming the Kentucky State Legislature in their popularity contest. In 2012, 132 million votes were cast for American Idol. Fewer than a million voted in Kentucky’s last gubernatorial election; that’s fewer than a third of registered voters in the state.
Of course, you can’t blame people really. Those American Idol contestants really bring it. It’s fun to watch them do their job.
Watching the legislature try to do theirs these days is, well, pretty scary.
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