Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tea Party Politics as Public Policy?

So I am moving away from state politics today to address the Tea Party...

In a recent discussion concerning the future of the Tea Party movement, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, SC) stated, “The problem with the Tea Party, I think it’s just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.” The Tea Party's response to this was the typical (this time directed) rage. Calls for apologies have been made from a variety of tea Party organizations in SC as well as NY and other states. Their rebuke to Graham is that the Tea Party's vision for the country is fiscal restraint, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets. Putting aside the fact that these positions are not visions for the country - rather they amount to broad policy vision statements - I would like to entertain the Tea Bagger's notions that, as Public Policy these broad positions will indeed serve the country well.

In the interest of time I will only address one issue today, Fiscal Restraint. Ironically it is the issue which they appear to be most vehement about because they believe they understand it. Using a simple example I think it is easy to see that their lack of understanding is mind-boggling. On the surface it seems like a sensible argument, do not spend any more than one takes in. Leaving aside the social programs to which these Neo-cons would be opposed regardless of positive or negative impact (simply because it does not suit their world view) I will address the impact of their proposed fiscal policies on the two areas to which the Baggers are not opposed: Constitutional Offices and Military Spending. Whether they realize it or not, defense spending is not simply maintenance of effort - it is also involved in Capital Projects. In budget terms this is allocated under Discretionary Defense Spending. An example of this is the Navy and Air Force new ship/jet building efforts to replace its aging infrastructure. Congress allocated $530 Billion, however CBO estimates are that the plan will cost $570 Billion and increase in subsequent years (CBO Director's Report, 6/11/2010). Now the obvious statement from the Tea Baggers is "well if we didn't spend so much on [insert social welfare program here] then we would be able to afford this." Not so much...

If you were to immediately eliminate every Social Welfare, Unemployment, and Future Cost program associated with the Federal Budget you would cost out roughly 26.5% of the Federal Budget. That still leaves the Dept. of Energy, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Treasury, etc. Now you may say, but those don't deal with national defense... And you would be wrong. The military needs fuel, additionally our energy agreements are tantamount to maintenance of national ties with states which serve to advance our interests, or at least serve as buffers against otherwise hostile states. Homeland Security - that should be obvious. Agriculture - not going with the obvious DCSP Vendor bidding process(by companies who are beholden to farmers); our aid policies in the form of food aid are important factors in our maintenance of relationships with poor states. This is important because in today's "flat" world, they are becoming increasingly viable as breeding grounds for extremist groups. Treasury - let me just make one statement on this which should make any question of the role of Treasury in National Defense a moot point. The price of oil is tagged to (and can only be purchased with) US Dollars.

The greater point of this is that National Defense in reality is not simply having a standing army, but the maintenance of relationships to avoid conflict and facilitate partnerships. While the Tea Baggers are excellent at platitudes and providing wonderful fodder for debates on the role of government, as far as Public Policy goes, they have their heads in the sand. Either that or they really believe that wars are fought campaign style in an open field, without the use of advanced technologies, sophisticated intelligence equipment, or some of the best training on the planet. Is it truly conceivable that the things which make National Defense possible simpely occur ad hoc. There is a reason that the government is as large as it is. I am well aware of the arguments that Organizations beget more Organizations, and it is true - however the primary cause of this is the increased call for accountability by those opposed to the organization in the first place so in that respect it is a self fulfilling prophecy (Hood, 1991). Be that as it may, the lack of understanding as to what the Tea Baggers say they want and what is actually involved in even running a government is mind boggling. There is a reason that Universities have Graduate Degrees in Public Administration, Public Policy, Defense Policy, Intelligence Policy, Food Policy, etc. I will give you a hint, it is certainly not to entertain themselves by laughing at how they got one over on a bunch of overzealous right wingers with an agenda.

Friday, July 9, 2010

It wasn't fraud folks... probably

So with all the stuff going on with Alvin Greene, dolls and all, I am not sure whether people are so upset that this guy actually won or that he is actually taking himself seriously as a candidate. We all know the FEC and SLED are investigating where he got the money, which is interesting enough in and of itself; but I am curious as to where all of these other conspiracy theories are coming from: he is a Republican Plant and the like. Seriously folks, lets consider this for a minute.

What is the purpose of planting anyone to run against DeMint. He has one of the safest seats in the country. No Republican running for Congress has won by less than 7% in the past 6 years (and that is Joe Wilson on the low end). It simply makes no sense to run a plant in the Dem. Primary unless their is a concerted effort at expanding Political Theatre in South Carolina - unless DeMint has some form of Larry Craig-esque secret in his closet he will win regardless of his opponent.

Allow me to propose another alternative, well a combined alternative really: the voters are simply not that informed coupled with the fact that Rawl was targeting the wrong set of Dem backers. We already know that the median voter's choice is based primarily upon party identification. We also know that the median voter is not well informed on policy specifics. Couple this with the fact that Rawl was spending his time and efforts, betting on a Primary Coronation, with the Dem elites and you have a recipe for disaster if anyone is on the ticket ahead of you.

This may sound like conjecture but I have looked at the data. Greene’s victory does not associate well with any of the traditionally tested impacts on voter choice. The margin of victory was not well correlated to voter turnout, so there was no precint flooding going on. There was, however, a significant correlation between the down-ticket races that people normally do not care about and Greene's victory. Bottom line, people did not know much about either candidate so they simply voted for the first name they saw.

Now I know that everyone likes to think of themselves as well informed and likes to believe that their opinion is not only valid but accurate - if that were truly the case, Alvin Greene would not have won a single precint, let alone over 95% of all the counties in the state. Sorry to say folks, but when stuff like this happens it is obvious that there needs to be less debating platitudes about Healthcare, Immigration, etc. and mre debating the merits of one candidate or another... but seriously is anyone going to buy the first edition Alvin Greene action figure?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup...WTF!!!

Okay, so I am one of the two people in South Carolina who love soccer, and I have to say that is World Cup is on of the best I can recall. Aside from the hoopla about the ball - which even the winnign sides are complaining about, the games are just nuts. First of all, I am pulling for Germany, there I said it. But seriously, how in the hell does the best team in the world lose to a bottom seeded team... yeah, I'm looking at you Spain. Then the US ties England - again the whole ball thing but I can suspend disbelief for a while so that's that. Italy, I can't even talk about; and Brazil, not really showing up.. so what dos this have to do with politics - well absolutely nothing... so on to vetoes.

Would a rational person cut further budgets to agencies in a time when agency staffs are being cut and furloughed to the point that they are unable to accomplish their missions. Platitudes aside, these agencies provide not only constitutionally mandated services, but also provide a social saftey net which actually saves money. -- I say this in the sense that, for some uninelligible reason our state issued a property tax/sales tax swap four years ago. If revenues go down under a system with such elastic tax policies then there are by default a high number of individuals who are out of work and therefore paying less in sales taxes, e.g. they are in greater need of the social safety net, not to mention that in states without a major industrial tax base these types of tax policies result in a vicious cycle, but I digress. -- Getting back on track, of course there is redudancy - yes too much - but unsystematic cuts do not cut out redundancy, they simply decrease the effectiveess of each redundant agency while doing nothign for operational efficiency.

Additionally, how can one possibly consider cutting cultural strongholds such as the museum and Educational Television? I will leave the arguments for social and cultural responsibility to a later date. Other than that I will say that this is one of the most socially, let alone culturally, irresponsible Governors for any state in recent memory. I would remind him that their is more to social and governmental responsibility than simply finances. That being said... GO GERMANY!!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The "right" kind of scandal...

So the news over the past couple of weeks in SC has been nothing but elections and scandals surrounding elections. Unless you have been living under a rock you know that I am talking about Nikki Haley and her two alleged paramours.

Of course the allegations of adultery have been denied by the Haley camp, with her accusers going to entertaining but entirely circumstancial lengths to prove their cases. This got me thinking. Rhambo has already stated his belief that one should never let a good scandal go to waste... or something like that. Anyway, does the right type of scandal serve as boom rather than a bust for a candidate. Consider if you will the idea that Nikki Haley got unprecedented free advertising out of this. Granted this is in a state that was already embarassed by one sex scandal in the past year, but more embarassing was the seemingly endless rambling of our soon-to-be former Governor. This thing really had the other Republican nominees fighting for air time and spending money like no tomorrow to maintain some semblance of relevance in the wake of the Haley:Folks:Marchant story.

Next consider the "way" she won. She lost Greenville which could have been expected given the fact that G-Vegas is Barret's home turf as well as the fact that it is a breeding ground for the "family values conservatives." (Bob Jones anyone? How about Berea - more churches per capita than anywhere else in the US). So she lost Greenville, but cleaned up in Columbia, Lexington and Charleston. As any good SC political observer will tell you, no Republican wins anything without winning in Charleston. One would think that a sex scandal would have hurt Nikki, at least that is the common Conservative Calculus - however (and this is pure conjecture) perhaps the Right wing Christian Values Cons are giving way to the uber fiscally conservative Cons. If this is the case then perhaps my notion of this being the right kind of crisis isn't so crazy. So either Haley and team are a group of political geniuses, or Barret and company took a risky gamblle that didn't pan out.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Education... tax credit or not to tax credit

Several years ago when I was interning with a certain association at the SC State House I was made keenly aware of the lengths to which people will go to get a vote to go their way. I had initially decided to put off the stereotypes about politics - about 2 minutes into moinitoring my first committee meeting I was jarred back to reality. So a few years have passed and my naivite is well diminished. It is in this spirit that begin this blog, taking a hard look at the realities of state and local politics and considering issues that others only toss platitudes at. So lets jump right in and look at something that has been much abuzz in SC State politics over the past few years, education tax credits.

There are those who believe that SC schools truly are the worst in the country. Now not getting into issues of measuring the difficulty of tests as a defense, I say we look at this in terms of who gets what. First off, education tax credits are not in and of themselves a bad idea - but when applying them will in effect create legal barriers to something guaranteed in the state constitution, a (minimally adequate - don't get me started) education, then I have a problem. How would tax crdits do this? Glad you asked.

South Carolina, unlike its neighbors to the north and south have pockets of industry with a majority of the state still in rural or recently urban (by population density) areas. NC has an industrial triangle, Georgia's industrial centers, Savannah, Atlanta, etc. has spawned innovation networks throughout the state. In South Carolina, we have the Greenville area and the industry which radiates from that, although it does not expand much past Simpsonville; Columbia, which is a college and government town with a few key industries in the Northeast and Lexington but no major innovation corridors around it; and finally Charleston, which quite frankly speaks for itself. Why am I describing all this? Well the tax base and the educated population tends to follow the industry (and vice versa for my fellow Political Science/Public Policy nerds this is an extension of Tiebout) but there is nothing earth shattering in that statement. The problem is, this is where the tax base and subsequently the money for the best schools goes. A natural progression of this is that the private schools follow, creating a vacuum - and subsequently a market - in poor areas. A market? Really?

Well yes, but not one that these schools would normally move in to. So we have a situation where, if education tax credits are passed, people in areas with extant private schools stand to win big and those rural poor, who the proponents of tax credits claim to be so concerned about wind up with nothing... enter the real estate developers, many of whom are pumping many thousands of dollars into statewide races to get pro-tax credit legislators elected. I am sure many people are familiar with The State's and Post and Courier's limited coverage of Howard Rich. You see, tax credits will essentially create a market for these developers where there was none before. Meanwhile, the $1,000 dollars or so that the rural poor will get - which is not enough to pay for semester at most private schools are now in a situation where they not only can not afford this private school, but the funding for their current school is dramatically cut - this is the operational side of you caring conservatives' ideas on education. Now conjecture, and in deed I am writing a polemic here, but we can look to examples in Arizona and Utah to see how this has played out before. But I will leave that to your own endeavors to explore. More next time... and maybe not so long winded.