Thursday, August 19, 2010

On Jon Runyan

I saw a TV spot for for Jon Runyan today. It was cute in a generic sort of way, so went to his website to look at his issues. Surely a rookie candidate with over 3300 Facebook fans has a platform that's really going to turn Washington around...

Or will it? A cursory glance looks pretty good, but if you're paying attention, Jon Runyan's platform is actually pretty cookie-cutter. Here is the review of his Issues (not in order).

1. Cutting Taxes and Creating Jobs

Mr. Runyan has eight tax-cutting recommendations. They all sound pretty good in a better-than-nothing sort of way (like increasing the child tax credit from $1000 to $1250). I'm especially a fan of permanently repealing the grave injustice that is the Death Tax. But while I'm always in favor of cutting taxes for whatever reason, lowering taxes is a plank in every politician's platform. They're just words- especially without corresponding cuts in spending. Which brings us to...

2. Balancing the Federal Budget

Runyan talks about the debt, and wants a balanced budget. Everyone wants a balanced budget. The problem is that there are many things currently that are not counted in the official federal budget, such as advance appropriation (which "spends" in the future), delayed payments (putting off costs until the following fiscal year), and emergency and supplemental spending. There's no cap on these things, and none appear on official budgets. Oh, and neither does funding for Social Security, Medicare, the Post Office, or mortgage lending by Freddie and Fannie.

So talk of a balanced budget is largely meaningless so long as there are loopholes. The problem is the power to spend, not the spending itself. But in any case, to balance the budget (even to fake-balance a budget), some things need to be cut. In Runyan's Issues section, I can't find any specific cuts he wants to make. He does mention things he wants to spend on, though. Things like...

3. Beach Replenishment & Shore Tourism


Federal legislators, as a rule, should stay out of state business. But this is why they don't: it's a classic ploy to buy votes. "Vote for me and I'll give you federal money." This is where corruption comes from. It's why people get elected and stay in office. I'm not saying Mr. Runyan is corrupt, but he should use his power to work towards ending this this practice.

4. Military & Veterans Affairs

A sentence in this section reads: "I will ensure that our active military fighting to defend freedom around the world have all the tools necessary to defeat our enemies and return home safely to their family and friends."

This one is straight out of the Republican handbook. The United States has little legitimate business "defending freedom around the world." I want my own freedoms defended and the troops brought home. There are many people who believe war is necessary, and that the same government which has failed to secure the freedoms of its own citizens can effectively police the world. I just happen to disagree, and would rather the troops be brought home immediately. The government's job is to keep us out of war.

5. Seniors, Social Security & Medicare

Here, Runyan talks about keeping Social Security and Medicare solvent (impossible), as well as steering money towards (buying votes from) Burlington and Ocean counties (not federal business), and funding medical research he wants to fund. With our money. Whether we like it or not. We do need to honor the commitments made to the seniors who are helpless without their promised government handouts, but work needs to be done to free future generations as quickly as possible from these corrupt and wasteful programs. We need them gone, not done differently.

6. Energy

Runyan is rightfully critical of the Cap-and-Trade scam, and is in favor of letting states deal with their offshore energy production. These are both positives, but then he goes on about promoting both nuclear energy and the green agenda. And then there's the classic bit about the energy independence fairytale at the end.

I don't believe Congress can write respectable laws, much less determine energy policy. The federal government already subsidizes everything under the sun, which only politicizes the economy. The mere 535 people in congress need to back off of doing what they think is right, and let the other some 300 million people determine our energy policy.

7. Affordable, High Quality Healthcare

While rightly opposing Obamacare, Runyan wants to "start over with a more incremental approach." Wrong answer. There are at least half a dozen things that could be done to legitimately lower the cost of insurance and improve the quality of care, none of which involve the federal government calling the shots. Keep the incremental approach and stay out of it, please. Even among conservatives, this one should be a letdown.

8. Israel

The webpage says it best: As a member of Congress, I will strongly support continued foreign aid to Israel to ensure they have the tools necessary to stand strong in the face of hostilities by their enemies.

Just because it's called Foreign Aid doesn't mean it's not destructive and wasteful. If you want to help Israel or any other foreign country, send your own money and your own children. Our taking sides in foreign conflicts is a cause of our problems, not a solution.

9. Immigration

Taxes, war, education, and our welfare state are much bigger issues than immigration, so Runyan's conservative stance on immigration doesn't bother me as much as it probably should. Rather than go on the offensive, I'd like to see an easing of the path to citizenship (whatever that means exactly), but I'm willing to pick my battles on this one.

10. Congressional Term Limits

The real problem is political power, not the person who wields it. So I have serious doubts as to whether term limits are a real solution to anything. But until Congress gets under control, I do support Jon Runyan's call for term limits.

11. 2nd Amendment

His 2nd Amendment stance is out of the Republican playbook. I'd like to know what he means by "cracking down in illegal guns," but aside from that, this one's a keeper.

12. Marriage

When asked about marriage, all federal legislators should say, "No comment." Marriage should be totally done by contract- it shouldn't be a government issue at all, let alone a federal one.

* * * *

This is pretty typical political fluff that you're likely to hear from any Republican. It's great if you agree with all of it, but this isn't someone who strikes me as a candidate that people who want limited government would rally around. I see Jon Runyan as a guy who wants to go to Washington on his name recognition in order to do what he wants to do. Isn't that why most people run for office? To do what they want to do?

I like that his tax cut ideas are specific, but where are the others? What about the drug war? The spending? Education? The current overseas occupations? Trade? The welfare state? Whether he has Tea Party support or not, I can't get behind a guy who is so generic with his platform. When the best slogan you have is "The other guy is worse," what's that really say about you?

It says to get ready for the continuation of politics as usual. While Jon Runyan's election probably won't kill us, it doesn't look like it will significantly change the course we're on, either.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Last Night's Education Payoff

When the recession hit, the administration where I work (private school) confronted the whole staff and warned that we may be getting pay cuts- either those, or layoffs. It wasn't because someone messed up and ran the school into the ground financially, and it wasn't a result of mismanagement on our part. It was the result of forces beyond our control, and it was very simple: We're in trouble and if the money's not there, this is what will happen. No running to the government for favors. It's called living in reality.

Last night, a bankrupt Senate that can't balance a checkbook gave $26 billion to state governments that also can't balance a checkbook, $10 billion of which went for "teacher retention." Where did the money come from? They did what they always do; they kicked the can down the road. The money is supposedly coming from closing some corporate tax loophole and will, it is said, be paid back over ten years. This is called living in a fantasy, and it should bother a whole lot of people.

It is true that the money will prevent teacher layoffs, but that's only because public school wages do not operate in a market. They're mandated by contract between unions and government. This is where the corruption starts. The politicians join the unions in maintaining the Three Great Fictions: that American education is the best in the world, that student performance is a function of how much money is thrown at it, and that we would all be doomed without a government monopoly over the school system.

The Politicians

The primary skill of a politician is to get elected, and the primary skill of an incumbent is to get reelected. They like to have blocs of people they can count on for votes, so they steer money towards schools. It's a nice exchange; votes for money. Last night's bill was nothing more than a political bribe.

The Unions

The primary goal of the unions is their own survival. They get politicians votes in exchange for tax money, which they use to lavish teachers with good pay and unbelievable benefits. If the money stops coming, however, the house of cards collapses. To make sure that doesn't happen, they can get always get more funding in one of two ways: 1) Threatening politicians to withdraw their support for upcoming elections, and 2) selling the public their fake sob story about how, without wage hikes, the kids will suffer. Union bosses also get to look like the heroes when they distribute the cash to the teachers.

The Teachers

The teachers are the pawns in the unions' political game, and many of them know it. The ones who don't, however, seem to be under the impression that the union looks out for their best interests, and are happy to sell their vote for pay hikes. Those same teachers are the ones who believe their compensation is unfair. But the politics of union negotiations keeps teacher compensation above market (whether they recognize it or not), and many teachers will raise hell at the slightest hint of their earnings possibly getting pared back to something more in touch with fiscal reality.

The Public

In spite of how increased spending has produced little more than higher taxes and test scores that have been flatlining for the last forty years, somehow the public still believes The Three Fictions. There's probably nothing for which the average taxpayer is willing to open his wallet than education. There's almost no recognition of the fact that teaching is a highly political job and the fact that the public school system is little more than a perpetual motion machine of politics. The students graduate knowing exactly what the government wants them to know.

So what happens when the federal government, which has no idea whatsoever about how to deal with its own problems, showers the states with billions of dollars? If history is any indication, test scores will remain unaffected, the political grip on the system will be once more tightened, and taxes will go up (that bit about getting the money by closing a corporate tax loophole is an illusion- when taxes on businesses go up, the businesses simply raise their prices accordingly and we pay for it anyway). But the money will come from somewhere- if not from the municipalities, then from the state. If not from the state, then from the feds. If not from from the feds, then people start losing reelection. And nobody wants that.

Much of this sickens me. I'm angry at the democrats for passing the bill, I'm angry at the republicans for faking their outrage over something they would have favored if Bush were in the White House, and I'm angry that the people being taken advantage of have no idea what's going on and probably wouldn't believe it no matter how clearly it were spelled out to them. It bothers me when the bad guys win.

The solution is to dispel The Three Fictions and shake our faith in the government's ability to serve our interests through education. Hopefully, at least some of us will remember the true cost of last night's bill/payoff come November.