Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

A year after Barack Obama’s historic election, one of his most contentious programs has been the $700 billion stimulus package. Here’s a clip of Lewis Black explaining John Maynard Keynes’ theory of how public works projects can stimulate the economy in his own inimitable (and be warned, very foul-mouthed way):

Now, just in case you’re thinking “that’s just crazy comedian talk and has no basis in proper economics” here’s the view of Keynes himself from “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”:

“If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.” (p. 129)

So while Barack Obama may not have been thrilled about having to spend such a huge amount of money getting the American economy going and saddling the American taxpayer with such a large debt (yes, I said it), is was absolutely the correct thing to do. In this instance, to compromise the spending aspects of the package to appease Republicans (the people who, to a large extent, created this mess) in the name of bipartisanship could have led to the Great Recession becoming the second Great Depression and may have left future generations with an even more unmanageable National Debt. The world is now in the thankful state of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, just over a year after we faced economic catastrophe, as the recession ends (at least technically) in many countries and hopefully we can get back to job creation in the new year…

 

Seven months ago, we had the historic and exciting American Presidential Election; last week the slightly less exciting and historic European Parliamentary (yawn) Elections were held…I did vote, incidentally. And tomorrow another pivotal vote takes place…the vote to elect a president in Iran. As the media coverage of the run-up to the polls has been somewhat less than wall-to-wall here in the West, my opinions will be slightly less informed than those I expressed before the November vote in the US. However, this is the blogosphere so I’m going to throw in my two cents worth regardless, based on a few minutes of browsing the Press TV and Newsweek sites (and my hopes for the future of the world).

The Iranian Election seems to be, like the American election, an opportunity for the people of Iran to send out a clear message as to whether they wish to engage with the rest of the world or retreat to a state of fear and distrust. The incumbent President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been portrayed as some sort of bogeyman by the Western media. And whether or not this has been exaggerated, it’s often his own actions that have led to this view, with his call for the destruction of the State of Israel, his game-playing over the issue of the Iranian Nuclear Program and, most ridiculously of all, his claim that there are no gay people in Iran (yeah, and no Irish person has EVER had sex before marriage). In fact, with his bombastic, arrogant posturing, his jingoistic nationalism and a look that sometimes makes him appear out of his depth, he makes me think that he may be a distant cousin of George W Bush.

Ahmadinejad’s main opposition comes from Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who has been presented as the main hope of the reformists. A Newsweek article about his candidacy (http://www.newsweek.com/id/199150) gives a more complex view of his political history and views. However, I feel that he does appear to be a more rational candidate and that a vote for him would be an indication by Iranians that they wish to respond positively to the election of Barack Obama and the diplomatic overtures he has made to the Muslim World in general, and Iran in particular. So that is why I hope that the people of Iran go out tomorrow and vote for Mir-Hossein Mousavi as their next President – of course I am assuming that the people of Iran still have access to WordPress (and if none of them read this post, I’m sure it’s only because WordPress has been cut off!)

What an ordeal – twelve hours standing in Arctic temperatures amongst a mass of people half a mile away from the main event…lucky I was watching the inauguration on television in London. Actually it was at work and I only heard the swearing-in clearly live but that elicited a cheer in my office. The TV was on throughout the day with the sound down but the pictures I saw were awe-inspiring – the millions on the mall in such cold weather, like the election itself, signalled a renewal of democracy after years of waning public interest (although it might be an idea to have both election and inauguration at warmer times of the year – either that or make Orlando the capital – something for the kids). And of course it was impossible not to be moved by the historic nature of the swearing-in of the first African-American President, and the massive symbolism of the day, even if President Obama (hurray!) himself made little of it.

And the whole day itself itself was a wonderful example of American democracy in action, mixing an appropriate amount of pomp and circumstance with a terrific sense of inclusiveness. I think it’s great that the first act of a newly inaugurated President is to lay out their vision and plans to hundreds of thousands of ordinary voters. And I felt President Obama (hurray!) did that brilliantly. Some have complained that his inaugural speech wasn’t as inspiring as others he has made, but I saw the speech in full later on the BBC, and I thought it was as good as any he gave on the campaign trail as he made a call for a renewal of the responsibilities of citizenship so that America can face the challenges of today and retake it’s place as a genuine beacon of hope and shining light of democracy.  He also gave a pledge to act in a thoughtful and forward-thinking manner and celebrated the ideals and inclusiveness of America (although Tom Cruise must be gutted that Atheists got a shout-out but Scientologists didn’t get mentioned as part of the “patchwork heritage” that shaped America)

Also it was entirely appropriate that President Obama’s (hurray!) speech strike a more sombre tone, given the difficulties facing America and, by extension, the world. People are tired of being told that things are great when, quite plainly, they are not and it is a relief to know that there is now an American President willing to acknowledge problems and address them rather than trying to spin them and breed false confidence. I do acknowledge that we shouldn’t expect President Obama (hurray!) to usher in an era of Universal Peace and Prosperity-the challenges facing America are enormous and there is only so much he can do, even if he gets everything right (sometimes there may not even be a right option, just a bunch of bad ones). However, I do believe that he will be, at the very least, a solid, dependable leader and I hold out the hope that he will prove to be a great President, possibly the best since Roosevelt-in the end only time will tell.

PS – I am glad to learn that Teddy Kennedy has left hospital and is reported to be in good spirits and that Robert Byrd did not fall seriously ill at the inauguration lunch. I’m certain everybody watching shared the concern and fear I felt at the time that this momentous day would be marred by tragedy. I actually found it moving, seeing the pictures of John Kerry, Chris Dodds and Orrin Hatch standing outside the ambulance looking after their friend and colleague. Politicians take a lot of flak (often well-deserved) but this was an example of the kinship amongst American senators that Joe Biden had alluded to during his Vice-Presidential debate and it was nice to see.

The Bank of England dropped interest rates another half a percent, bringing it to a record low of 1.5%, causing City Workers to wet themselves with excitement. Because of course, as they all knew, that pathetic 1.5% drop in November followed by a wimpy 1% cut in December would obviously not be enough to kick-start the economy, but that this historic 0.5% adjustment will obviously send the economy rocketing upwards. At the risk of repeating myself, it’s really looking like we’re pushing on a piece of string, as Keynes would say. I could be wrong, maybe somewhere around 1%, everybody will get the mother lode of money from their banks and go on a crazy spending spree. Maybe those of you in US can clear that up and let me know if a 0% rate has brought about a new economic paradise.

Meantime Obama is forced to twiddle his thumbs in a hotel room and come up with economic plans that may be of no use by the time he even gets into office. Hey, reality show idea, why don’t we allow Obama into the White House early and force George Bush, John Howard and Tony Blair to stay in the Big Brother House with a volatile mix of Iraqis and shoes.

Three quick reasons why Obama supporters in North Dakota should go all out for victory in their state tomorrow:

1. In a McCain comeback scenario, your three electoral college votes might allow Obama to hold on for victory.

2. In an Obama landslide scenario, North Dakota may have the honour of being the state that pushes him over the line.

3. Most importantly, you’re my predicted surprise for the night and I want to be proven right! Back in early October, I noticed on http://www.pollster.com that there had been no post-convention, post-Palin polls from your state (as well as Montana and South Dakota) and commented that the state of play in the area may be closer than shown (all three states were “safe McCain” at the time). Sure enough a few days later a poll came out for North Dakota showing a statistical tie and has been followed by several similar polls. Montana and South Dakota also showed tightening races but not quite ties. North Dakota is up for grabs.

So come on, ND Obamaniacs, let’s Get Out The Vote!

If you’re still undecided, firstly make up your freakin’ mind!!! There’s less than forty-eight hours left!!! After 20 months, countless debates, numerous interviews and millions of ads, what more needs to be said?? Anyway, hopefully this list, compiled with my wife Meri (http://merihayden.wordpress.com) will swing it for you – if it doesn’t nothing will.  

1. Obama’s awesome jumpshot

2. Joe Biden has the whitest teeth on the planet

3. Neither one is Sarah Palin

4. Obama would never mix up a French-Canadian radio host with Nicolas Sarkozy

5. Obama looks like a GQ model (settle down Meri! – Sam)

6. Wardrobe budget will be considerably less

7. Between Obama’s booming voice and Biden’s intense eyes, they’ll scare the crap out of Bin Laden

8. Frees up Palin and McCain to pursue their own successful careers in TV and radio sketch shows

9. Keynesian plans to grow the economy from the bottom up (lighten up Sam!-Meri)

10. It’ll be a complete lurvefest