The Obama Landslide and the Future of Fiscal Conservatives

Obama’s landslide victory yesterday is a strong rebuke for the last 8 years of mostly Republican rule. One has to wonder where the GOP will go from here.

I am hopeful that the fiscal conservative wing of the Republican Party will find a way to reassert itself. The dominance of the social conservatives and neocons led to growth in spending that made Bill Clinton look prudent.

My fear is that Republicans in the Senate and House will go along with the Democratic majority in order to get their earmarks and bacon for their districts.

Sadly I think the latter scenario is more likely. What are fiscal conservatives to do now?

On the one hand we may find some hope in the Democrats. Here in New York State, Governor David Paterson has shown promising signs about the state budget. But it is far from clear that the state legislature will work with him to keep spending in line.

On the national level, Barack Obama seems pretty sharp. He should look back to Bill Clinton’s first two years in office. With the Democrats in control of both houses and the White House, they ran amok. Republicans stormed both houses in 1994 on Gingrich’s Contract With America.

If Obama and the congressional Democrats are wise, they will make sure they don’t give ammo for another 1994. To do that, they have to avoid the excesses we saw from the Dems in 1993-1994 and from the Republicans from 2002-2006.

But what if the Democrats blow it and spend our money as recklessly as the Republicans have? What do fiscal conservatives do then? If we can’t trust the Republicans on this – and they’ve shown us we can’t – and we can’t trust the Dems, then we may have to look somewhere else.

I’d like to say we turn to the Libertarian Party. But that route is fraught with problems. The LP, at least in NY, has had trouble keeping a focus on a central theme. I’m optimistic about the current leadership though. Maybe that’s the next step.

For now I’m crossing my fingers about Paterson and Obama.

Fred Ex and the Problem with John McCain

The Wall Street Journal has a great article this morning about Fred Smith of FedEx, the economy, and John McCain. Smith supports McCain because of four key issues: trade, taxes, energy and health care. I don’t trust McCain on the biggest issue — spending.

Fred Smith is one of the great heroes of the modern US economy. He founded and still runs Federal Express, a company that underpins everything that makes our economy work. I like the post office, and especially our mail carrier, but when my office has to get something somewhere fast, we FedEx it.

In the article Smith makes some great points about how current US economic policies hurt business and stop them from creating more jobs. Taxes on capital discourage companies from investing. More investment makes labor more productive, and that allows companies to pay their employees more – and yes, to make more profits too.

But when Smith turns this to say that it makes McCain the better candidate for president, I disagree. Obama and McCain will both be bad for the economy. Republican stumpers insist that Democrats will spend too much money and raise taxes too much, increase trade barriers, etc.

Excuse me? Republicans had control under George W. Bush. We had the President, the Senate and the House. And we blew it!

Clinton’s last budget (for fiscal year 2001) had spending of $1.8 trillion. Bush’s last budget (for 2009) will have $3.2 billion in spending – and that doesn’t include the bailout spending. He may very well have doubled federal spending in only 8 years. That’s an average increase of 9% a year (1.09^8 for you math geeks). How many of you out there are seeing your income/spending going up 9% a year? Thanks a lot W!

Bush imposed tariffs on steel – so much for Republicans and free trade. I didn’t see the Republican-controlled Congress – or John McCain – doing anything to overturn that.

So let’s get real. Democrats spend our money and tax us now. Republicans spend our money and borrow so that either we’ll pay for it later or our kids will. Neither party is fiscally responsible.

The real problem is not taxes – it’s spending. Every voter should challenge every candidate they meet with this. Stop asking them to spend money on your project and start insisting that they cut spending. And demand that they tell you where they’ll cut.

If voters took on this mindset – that the biggest questions for candidates should be about where they’ll cut spending – then candidates would learn that cutting spending is important.

Cutting spending shouldn’t be all that difficult. You can start with my favorite – stop wasting money overseas. Bring the troops home – not just from Iraq but from all over. Let Europe, Japan and South Korea defend themselves. Wealthy countries can take care of themselves. We should defend our borders and that wouldn’t cost much if we focus on what’s important. Dropping this, these days, will save us close to a trillion dollars a year. That’s $3000 per person in America – man, woman and child (including illegal immigrants); or $10,000 per family per year. That’s a lot of money folks! While we’re at it, let’s dump foreign aid. It never goes to the right places anyway. Decades of throwing money at this and – gee whiz – kids are still starving in Africa.

Then you’ve got immigration and our borders. We should focus on stopping terrorists and criminals from entering. And we should let in people who want to work. That’s good for the economy. Not letting workers in hurts US businesses and shifts jobs overseas. Building a 700 mile long fence is one of the dumbest wastes of money ever. We could easily save $100 billion a year plus more immigration would boost our economy.

Then there’s agriculture. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars to help farmers. Farmers? Farmers are people who own large amounts of land. They are rich. Sure they dress in overalls and drive beat-up looking pickups for work. But they own hundreds of acres of land. So we are taxing middle-class workers (and rich ones) and borrowing money from our kids so we can give money to rich people. I need a Carlos Mencia sound effect here.

Then you’ve got the war on drugs. Look … most people have figured out by now that prohibition ain’t working so good. How many people think that a million marijuana arrests a year are good for the economy or doing anything for society? It does make me money, as a criminal defense lawyer. And sure it creates lots of work for cops, judges and jail guards and such. But maybe if we dropped the dumb drug war the cops would have time to focus on domestic violence, child predators (the real ones, not the 19 year olds hitting on 16 year olds, okay?), and burglars. You know they don’t even investigate burglaries any more.

So I’ll believe in John McCain when he tells me how he’s going to get the budget back under $2 trillion, and when he gets the Republican candidates for Congress and the Senate on board. In the meantime I’ll figure they’re just as good at wasting our money as Obama and the Democrats, and I’ll keep voting for libertarians at every opportunity. Now how do we get John Stossel to run for president in 2012?

Politics Needs You!

A friend of mine just said this to me:

Politics is too dirty and I’m not sure I’m willing to jump into that sort of mess.

There’s a lot of jerks in politics. The jerks make it unpleasant. So good people stay out of politics because of the unpleasantness.

That creates one rather big problem. If the jerks drive the good people out of politics, then who is left in charge?

So to all the people who stay out of politics because it’s too dirty, messy, nasty, unpleasant, etc., I say this:

It’s your fault.

We live in a democracy. Citizens in a democracy have a duty to get involved, to be a part of the political process.

If you get involved, and get your friends involved, then the good people will eventually drive out the jerks. Don’t let them drive you out by being nasty.

The Lives of Others

We watched a great film tonight — The Lives of Others. It’s a film about life in East Germany before the wall fell, focusing on the secret police and their surveillance of the artists community.

For starters, the film is so well done. The main actor, Ulrich Mühe, does a phenomenal job as the Stasi (secret police) agent.

What stands out for me, and prompted this post, is the concern I have about our country. We don’t really know the extent to which our government is watching us. It certainly doesn’t intrude on our lives to the extent that it did in East Germany. But the consistent push by government to monitor our lives more and more is so disturbing.

It is most extreme in the drug war, and in the prison-police-industrial complex. Most of us don’t see it. There are, on the streets of our country – and yes in Albany – drug task force police who are watching houses with cameras. I’m sure the watch for terrorists involves more of this. Then there’s the crackdown on immigrants. Inevitably, innocent people get ripped apart by these efforts.

People should think about all of this more. I talk to my clients and their families about it: “When you hear a politician saying we have to be tough on crime, just remember they’re talking about [you, your son, your daughter].”

We’ve always been tough on murderers, rapists and thieves. That’s not what the politicians are talking about. They’re really talking about protecting cops who abuse people and about allowing further invasions of our privacy. As a criminal defense lawyer, I get to see inside the system more than most. The idea that they are making us safe is laughable. Government cannot make us safe and secure.

The sky is falling. Most of the time it falls slowly. It might take centuries, or maybe just decades, but we are descending. It’s fallen quite a bit, economically, in the past few weeks.

Even when I talk to the strongest supporters of freedom in the major parties (libertarians are an exception), they are afraid to reduce the size of government. A Republican gets into power and they are scared about what would happen if they eliminated jobs that are truly unnecessary. Look at Bush – he nearly doubled federal spending in 8 years. Is that what Republicans are about? How can Republicans push for a takeover of the banking industry? What happened to capitalism? Democrats voted or the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act; further back they enacted the crack/powder disparity. Were they ever really liberal?

One of my favorite Republicans, a local guy in the outer Capital Region, describes the growth of government as a ratchet. It can grow, but it never gets smaller. Once the government gets its hands on something, you never get it out of that. The perception is that if you cut something, you’re taking away someone’s job. No one seems to see that all these jobs that have been created are destroying the private sector, and that’s where all the money comes from. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created by the government and they are at the heart of the current economic problems.

The solution is not more government. It’s less. We aren’t going to make things better by having government spend more of our money. We have to stop wasting money. The McCain-Obama debates are pathetic. Neither of these sclerotic partisans is going to do what needs to be done. Obama is not “change” and McCain is not a maverick. They are both more of the same.

How are we going to get out of this vicious cycle? I’d like to see John Stossel run for President in 2012 as a Republican, following up on Ron Paul’s effort. It’d probably only be a blip, but it might be start.

Republicans After McCain

Well it looks like even John McCain thinks he’s going to lose. How did we get here? How can Republicans go forward?

One thing that stands out to me is the contrast between Obama and McCain in the debates. Barack Obama exudes confidence. He knows he can fix our problems. Obama is the epitome of the modern socialist. Just give us control of the government, and we will make everything better. He is a charismatic salesman for the further destruction of capitalism in America. This is easy for him because socialists have an appealing message that is based on a set of solid principles. They’re fundamentally flawed, but it’s a story that sells.

Compare John McCain. He’s lost. He keeps trying new answers to the latest news and nothing works. He is the opposite of charisma. If you look back to Nixon vs. Kennedy, you see the same contrast – Obama looks good. McCain looks old. 72? He looks ten years older.

The problem for Republicans is that we’ve lost our way as a party. The Democrats have that consistent socialist message. Our party ditched capitalism a while ago, all the more so once we got into power. Does anyone remember when Republicans stood for small government? That was before the earmark explosion, the bridge to nowhere, Jack Abramoff, and No Child Left Behind. Fiscal conservatives? In Bill Clinton’s last budget (2001) the feds spent about $1.9 trillion. 2009 is Bush’s last budget and we’re going to $3.1 trillion – not counting the bailouts. So Republicans have managed to increase spending by well over 60% in just 8 years.

I hope the GOP can find its way forward in the next few years. We have to get back to our roots. We’re supposed to spend less money, remember? Cutting taxes while increasing spending is phony. Ronald Reagan didn’t deliver on this, but he faked it a lot better than McCain is doing. At least he stayed on message about capitalism. We need our own charismatic leader who can sell the message of capitalism and smaller government, and who sticks to the story after getting elected. Right now it looks like it’s going to be a long eight years.

Thank You America: Democracy and the Bailout

I’m so excited that Congress rejected the Wall Street bailout. I was kinda stunned watching the whole thing as it was going on.

It seemed surreal. The Bush administration and the mainstream media kept tossing around the word “crisis.” This reminded me of the fog in which the Patriot Act was passed. The language these guys were using … it was as if the world would fall off a cliff if the bill didn’t pass.

But America was speaking up. Regular people from the left, right, and center were sickened by the idea that we would be paying to bail out these fat cats who have been playing fast and loose with our economy.

There was this great moment for me. I was watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN (the situation had actually gotten me off of ESPN). Wolf and his analysts were all talking about why Congress had failed to pass the bill. It was implicit, and sometimes explicit, in everything they said that the bill should have passed. The mainstream media has been sipping the Washington/Wall Street Kool-Aid. But Main Street just isn’t buying it.

At the end of Blitzer’s show (The Situation Room), he spoke briefly with Lou Dobbs to introduce Dobbs as the next show. Dobbs was grinning ear to ear, joyous over the victory. Blitzer seemed stunned, as if he had no idea Dobbs was opposed to the bailout and couldn’t understand how anyone would oppose it.

Now I don’t like Lou Dobbs. His anti-immigration, anti-free-trade attitudes are part of what’s wrong with our economy. But he gets the common man. He knew regular people would have a problem writing a blank check to Wall Street. He played to the same attitudes. In this case I had to agree with him.

Two things from Blitzer’s show stood out to me. First, one of the talking heads discussed an analysis of the congressional vote. Congressmen who were facing a tough reelection fight (or who had faced tough ones in the recent past) voted against the bill. Members who were not facing a tough race (and who had not faced one in a while) voted for it.

Locally we have a good example of this. McNulty, who is retiring, voted with the Washington elite and for the bill. He doesn’t have to worry about the voters. Meanwhile, Kirsten Gillibrand is facing a tough battle. Her district is 2-1 Republican and Sandy Treadwell has plenty of money. And unlike John Sweeney, he has no frat-party/wife-beating/DWI background holding him back. Gillibrand voted against the bill.

So in other words, members of Congress who are worried about what the voters think voted no. That means Democracy worked! And that’s why the Washington/Wall-Street elite are worried. America woke up.

The other thing from Blitzer’s show was a quote from one man on the street. Not sure this is dead on, but: “The same guys who sold us a bottle of snake oil are telling us they can fix the problems if we just buy another bottle.”

That really nails it. We can’t expect Bush to resign over this “crisis.” But it’s time for other heads to roll. Paulson and Bernanke should resign. These idiots engaged in a fear-mongering campaign to intimidate America into voting for a really bad plan. And they lost.

This is a Democracy, and America just said no to your plan. You are the ones who got us into this mess. You’re not the ones to get us out. We don’t trust a gajillionaire investment banker (Paulson) who tells us we’ve got to bail out his old buddies on Wall Street by giving him a check for $700 billion to do with as he pleases. How about you get 100 of your fat cat buddies together and you guys can bail out Wall Street?

My own take on this has little to do with Wall Street. Washington is the real problem. It’s the spending. You want to spend $700B? Where’s the money coming from? Every time the Washington elite wants to spend an outrageous chunk of our money, they use the word crisis.

The 9/11 “crisis” cost us a trillion dollars in endless wars. We’re wasting hundreds of billions on the immigration crisis and the drug crisis. Then you’ve got your education crisis. All of these crises keep going. And of course we have the global climate crisis. I’m sure the Washington elite will find ways to spend a trillion more of our money on that one.

If your “crisis” has been going on for a long time, and if it has no foreseeable end, then it’s not a crisis. It’s a problem. Crisis decision making leads to bad decisions. These are long-term problems. We should think about the best way to deal with them.

The question every voter should ask every politician is this:

You want to spend $X Billion on your policy agenda. What spending are you willing to cut in order to fund this?

I’ve seen the opposite side of this problem as a candidate (and now as an elected official on the Guilderland Town Board). Many voters, when meeting a candidate, tell the candidate what they want money spent on. Few voters tell the candidate where to cut spending, or ask the candidate where he/she would cut.

The other day I was talking to a friend in Guilderland about playground equipment. I hope to get some new equipment for our main park. My friend mentioned the need for new equipment in one of our smaller parks. I asked her where we should get the money. Should we raise your taxes? She didn’t like that idea. How about eliminating a police officer position (roughly 1/3 of the town budget). She didn’t like that either.

The answers are tougher politically at the local level, but at the federal level there is at least one easy answer. Bringing the troops home from Europe, Japan and South Korea is politically popular. The Washington elite loves keeping troops overseas. I have no idea why and I don’t think they even know why they like it. But it’s an easy sell to regular people. We spend hundreds of billions a year defending rich countries who don’t even want us there.

I read that the US navy is currently shadowing a ship off Somalia. The ship, carrying Russian military equipment, was taken over by pirates. So we’re watching them. I guess we’re trying to make sure the equipment doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

But the Russians are the bad guys, remember? The weapons are already in the wrong hands. Why are we protecting a Russian arms shipment?

How about we bring our troops home and defend our borders? There are two key benefits to this approach. First, the rest of the world would have less reason to hate us if we weren’t mucking around in their countries. So terrorists would be less motivated to attack us. Second, if we have our best troops at home, we will be more ready to deal with another 9/11 situation if it does come up. 9/11 blindsided us here because we had no military readiness for that situation. And we still don’t.

Immigration: Our Prejudices

In the past few months I’ve heard a few friends and family complain about immigration. There is this overwhelming prejudice in America (and elsewhere) that immigration is a bad thing. I’ve never bought into that.

But instead of me ranting again, I just want to point out a book I read about (and will be reading soon). It’s Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them. The book has had some excellent reviews. It’s a tome – nearly 400 pages.

Today one friend was going on about how immigration costs the US $800 billion a year. I have no idea where he got that number, and suspect he doesn’t know either. It’s baloney. But don’t take my word for it. Read the book. Philippe Legrain explains and probably does it way better than I could.

One other thing – I always challenge people on the fact that our parents or grandparents immigrated. A very common response: “When my parents came it was legal.” That is not an argument for why it should be illegal now. Also, your parents probably didn’t read the US statutes before coming. Today’s immigrants aren’t reading them either.

Buhrmaster for Congress

Well, the primary’s over. I’m really pleased with Steven Vasquez and his effort. He took Ron Paul’s 7% in this area and turned it into 31%.

But that’s over. It’s time to congratulate the winner, Jim Buhrmaster. He won the primary fair and square. He and his team fought hard, but were always cordial.

On the policy side, Buhrmaster is saying all the right things. The biggest thing I like about him is he talks about how government should spend less, and how Congress wastes money. This the biggest flaw of the GOP – it’s not the taxes. It’s the spending stupid. Jim Buhrmaster gets it. Now we’ve got to put him in Washington where he can do something about it.

Then we’ve got to hold him to it. This is the stop wasting money blog. If you talk about how we’ve got to stop wasting money, I’ll give you credit for that. But you better honor that when you get in.

Go Jim! It’s a whole new ballgame and the odds are so much better than in the past. Buhrmaster has one of the third party lines and his Democrat opponent only has the Working Families line which is few votes. On the issues as a whole, his opponent is pretty far left. Once the mainstream voters figure that out, I think we may well have our first Republican congressman in a long time – Jim Buhrmaster.

Steven Vasquez: The Ron Paul Revolution Grows

Kudos to Steven Vasquez and the Vasquez Volunteers for running a great race. On the one hand I’m disappointed that he didn’t win. But on the other hand, his vote totals were impressive.

Vasquez was outspent in the primary by more than 10-1. He ran on the Ron Paul agenda. Paul got about 7% of the vote in the 21st district in the presidential primary. Vasquez got 30% in today’s primary. He quadrupled the size of the Ron Paul Revolution in the Capital Region. Now we’ll see if we can keep it growing.

Predictions for NY-21

Update: My prediction for the Democratic side looks pretty accurate. Brooks actually won Albany and Rensselaer counties, but Tonko crushed in Schoharie County — 632 out of 925 votes, around 70%. Brooks was next with 124 votes, or 1/5 of what Tonko had. Tonko got 3342 votes in Schenectady out of 5625 total, or 60%. Brooks was 2nd with 969, or less than 20%. Montgomery and Fulton do not appear to have live numbers. I’ll bet Tonko did even better in Montgomery. And Tonko ran a strong second in Albany and Rensselaer. Geography won it for Tonko.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make some predictions.

First, I’m hopelessly biased so I predict Steven Vasquez will win Tuesday’s Republican primary.

Second, and with little or no bias, I predict Paul Tonko wins the Democratic primary. Tonko has a geographic advantage. There are four Albany Democrats in the race. Phil Steck and Tracey Brooks have the backing of some party types and unions. Darius Shahinfar has pulled together a pretty strong campaign without much of the union/party backing. Joe Sullivan is a wild card. So these four Albany Democrats will split the Albany vote with Tonko, who is also known here.

But in the western part of the district, Tonko will romp. He is so well known and well liked in Schenectady and Montgomery counties, which he represented in the Assembly. He is also known and not hated in Fulton and Schoharie counties. Even I like the guy, even though he’s a flaming liberal Democrat who spends our money with abandon. By contrast, the four Albany Dems are barely known in the western parts. A few TV commercials and lawn signs don’t compare to Tonko’s 20+ years of doing the polka at community events.

So I’m guessing Albany County splits so that no one gets more than 30% of the vote. Tonko might get 20%, maybe better. But in the four western counties, Tonko will easily clear 50% of the vote, and maybe he’ll get 70% or more.

And I’m looking down the road a bit, but I predict Sandy Treadwell will beat Kirsten Gillibrand in the 20th district general election. The 20th is 2-1 Republican. Unlike John Sweeney, Treadwell hasn’t had any DWI arrests, hasn’t been caught at a frat party, and has no wife-beating accusations against him. He’s running a good campaign too. Gillibrand is desperate for money, but even if she gets it, it won’t matter. The gerrymandering is too heavy against her. Treadwell will win and hold the seat for 20 years or more. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Just reality in politics.