Archive for the ‘President Obama’ Category

Well it’s been a while, but something occurred this weekend where I live that compelled me back to my blog. If I tell you that I moved from London to Toronto a while back, I’m sure you’ll guess what I’m referring to (if the headline hasn’t given it away already). Firstly I want to talk about my own personal experience. I went to participate in the major rally and march from Queen’s Park (the provincial legislature) on Saturday. I’m not currently officially part of any political grouping or organisation, although I do lean left, as I’m sure you’ve gathered from previous posts. I arrived a little apprehensively on a wet day and fell in with the Amnesty International group – it seemed a safe place to be and I have been an Amnesty member previously.

After a number of speeches we headed off south along University Avenue, a vast mass of many thousands seeking to have our voices heard. The first moment of tension occurred as we passed the US consulate, which was barricaded off with crush barriers and surrounded by police in full riot gear, but I guess that was to be expected. Upon seeing a camera on the roof, one protestor jokingly said “smile for the CIA database”. At Queen Street, we started heading west, and were suddenly accompanied by a lone bagpiper. We passed police cordons blocking all southbound streets but moved on without incident. At one point two women sitting at their apartment windows starting banging frying pans in support, to great cheers.

We continued north on Spadina to College and then returned to Queen’s Park, at which point I left, happy that the march had passed off incident-free and that, at the very least, so many people had turned out in inclement weather in Canada, where people don’t protest like those in countries like France, to raise their voice against the impending economic attacks on those who didn’t cause the financial crisis, as deficit reduction becomes the name of the game. And then I got home and saw what had happened after I had left…I’m sure by now you have all viewed the images of burning cars, broken windows, riot police, black-clad rioters and mass arrests as Toronto lost an element of its innocence. The finger-pointing will probably start immediately but to my mind there’s plenty of blame to go around…

Firstly to the “Anarchists” who just smash stuff up: STOP IT, JUST STOP IT!!! You are not expressing political outrage, you are just indulging vainglorious revolutionary fantasies and are not helping in the slightest. This was a chance for the good people of Canada to lay out their desires for a better world and maybe start to build something significant, even if we couldn’t get to the fence, and you ruined it as you always do. And by the way, you’re not anarchists – anarchism is a group of complicated theories of how to organise society’s resources. For you, it merely means smashing windows.

Next, to the rest of the protest movement – it’s time to cut these groups off completely – they harm your causes constantly. No longer should they be tacitly welcomed at protest marches – only those totally committed to peaceful means should be allowed.

It’s probably too early to comment on much of the incidents involving police actions but there are a couple of things I would like to say to Bill Blair and the boys in blue: firstly when you say that you want to facilitate the right of people to protest peacefully, you are being incredibly disingenuous. When you put up a huge security fence around an event and then keep protestors miles from it you render that protest utterly impotent. When you line the route with police in full riot gear, you intimidate away many.  And when you put a line of police at the point when the march turned onto Queen Street, you prevented the troublemakers from breaking away from the main march, a tactic that could have led to disaster. And at times, the assembled force has looked like it was getting ready for an invading army, not a rag-tag group of punks who, at worst, were going to smash a few windows…but hey, I guess you have to justify that Billion-dollar security budget.

To the media, I know you totally get off on the scenes of violence, but could you not have shown even a few decent shots of the vastness of the main march, rather than that burning police car from the umpteenth angle? FFS, we walked right outside CP24’s studios on Queen Street West – you didn’t even have to go anywhere-just stick a camera on the balcony. Although by the end of the weekend, poor Lisa LaFlamme looked so drained and frustrated (especially when her cameraman was arrested) that I thought she was ready to go all John Pilger (look him up) on us.

And finally to the World Leaders, for whose benefit this all unfolded, it would have been nice if you at least acknowledged our existence – maybe even explained why you are not going to implement the policies we called for…


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…

 

Democracy is sometimes described as an inherently European and American ideal, that can’t work in places like the Middle East. This view is peddled mainly two groups – firstly by those who believe in inherent Western superiority over a supposedly inherently backwards East; secondly by those in the Mid-East who gain from maintaining the status quo of Religious Theocracy or Absolute Monarchy. However a brief look at history shows that the idea that Democracy is inherent to and only applicable to Europe and North America is a myth and this provides hope for the spread of Democracy to places where it doesn’t exist.

Firstly, Democracy in the Western World is still a relatively recent development. A little over twenty years ago, all of Eastern Europe was under the yoke of Totalitarian Communism, whereas since the fall of the Berlin Wall, eight of these countries have progressed enough to join the European Union, while another handful have functioning democracies, waiting to accede. In the early ’70s, Spain and Portugal were Fascist Dictatorships and of course the Fascism of Hitler and Mussolini removed democracy all over Europe in the 30s and 40s.

Even in countries who would be seen as having a long unbroken history of democracy, the Universal Suffrage we take for granted nowadays only came in gradually: Universal Male Suffrage only occurred widely in the late nineteenth century; Female Suffrage followed in first half of the twentieth; and of course African-American Suffrage was shamefully delayed until 1964.

And as regards the belief that Democracy is solely a European or American construct, this can be dismissed simply by answering the question: which country is the largest democracy in the world? The answer is, of course, India. And there are numerous other non-Western countries with solid democracies – Japan and South Korea to name two. South America has made a reasonably successful transition from the Military Juntas of the seventies to multi-party elections. Africa’s experience has been more difficult, yet even here there is hope, notably in Liberia where the inspirational Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has overseen her country’s transition from war-torn nation to burgeoning democracy.

I believe that Democracy is a universal ideal, which should be spread across the globe. It gives people the right to choose their own destiny and the opportunity to dismiss leaders who let them down. I feel that we, who live in democratic countries, should support its spread. However, I would warn that the military imposition of “democracy” such as what happened in Iraq, where it is carried out for selfish geo-strategic reasons rather than genuine support for the spread of democratic values, can in the long-term lead to devastating consequences (even here I was moved and encouraged by the Iraqi people’s enthusiasm for voting). The movement towards democracy must originate within a country, if it is to take hold.

And so to today: the next significant battle for democracy is being waged in the Iranian presidential election taking place on June 12th, where the government has removed Facebook from the internet there, after reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi set up his own page there. So it’s now up to the people of Iran to send a message to their theocratic leaders that this is not acceptable. I hope that you, he good people of Iran (if any of you happen upon this blog, assuming WordPress hasn’t also been removed) to reciprocate America’s choice of a leader willing to talk by electing a president wishing to do likewise, so that the world can move well away from the brink of self-destruction.

P.S.: For anybody who thinks an Irishman living in the UK has no right to tell Iranians how to vote please read my earlier post: Why Election ’08 Matters to Non-Americans as my reasons are similar

OK, everybody else has being doing their reviews of the first 100 days of Obama’s presidency, so why can’t I? No responses to that question please, it’s rhetorical and I’m going to do this anyway. So here goes…

Overall I think Obama has done well, with important steps being taken on a number of fronts. However, there have also been a number of dumb (albeit ultimately inconsequential) missteps:

Important Step#1: The economy – as the banking crisis developed in late last year, Obama must have thought to himself “Damn, why didn’t I wait until 2012/2016 to run?”. But he’s handled the crisis admirably with the passage of his stimulus package. I know Paul Krugman believes that it should have been larger and I understand where he’s coming from but I also acknowledge that quick passage of the bill was an important factor and to get bogged down by trenchant Republican opposition could have been more disastrous for the economy than the package’s imperfections and omissions. So he compromised just enough to appease just enough Republican senators to pass it. As regards Republicans who say there was no compromise, well there’s a significant proportion of tax cuts, which is enough compromise to those who lost and lost badly. The likely Republican solution, 100% tax cuts focused on the rich (If Plan A fails, fall back on Plan A), would have condemned us to years of Depression.

Dumb Misstep #1: Whoever chooses gifts for foreign dignitaries really needs to do better. Seriously, Gordon Brown gives Obama a pen-holder carved from the wood of a nineteenth-century anti-slavery ship and Obama responds by giving him a selection of DVDs! Come on, a little thought please – Gordon Brown could have ordered them to 10 Downing Street from Amazon.com! There is no ban on American movies in the UK! And then Hillary Clinton gives her Russian counterpart a cheap button with the Russian word for “Reset” on it. Could it BE any more embarrassing…Oh yeah, it didn’t actually have the word for “Reset” on it, it had the Russian word for “Overcharge”!

Important Step #2: Repairing America’s relationship with the rest of the world: Obama has worked overtime to signal a change from the arrogance of the Bush Era. He played his part, but wasn’t overbearing at the G20 conference, he explicitly said that America was not at war with the Muslim World in Turkey, he signalled a willingness to use negotiation to deal with Iran, the Taliban, Cuba, Venezuela (not getting fazed by Chavez’ grandstanding) and, possibly most significantly, went over the heads of Iran’s leaders to appeal directly to it’s people. (note-Iranian election coming up on June 12th – come on bloggers – it’s a chance to get rid of Ahmadinejad)

Dumb Misstep #2: Bowing to the Saudi King – The Leader of The Free World should not be seen to be grovelling to an oppressive, unelected absolute monarch. If he wants to show respect for other people’s customs, that’s normally a good thing – for example, a quick bow to the Japanese PM, who in turn bows as a show of mutual respect, is fine. However, this deep bow while King Abdullah looks all smug  was a craven and unnecessary act of deference.

Important Step #3: Signalling the beginning of the end of the worst abuses of the Bush Administration: explicitly saying that America will no longer torture, arranging the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and setting a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq – I’m a little disappointed that it’s slower than he had pledged, but if he sticks to it I won’t be too unhappy.

Dumb Misstep #3: The low-flying “Photo Op” over New York – that was incredibly stupid and insensitive and whoever came up with it should immediately own up and resign.

There are many other aspects of Obama’s first 100 that I could go into because a)the results won’t be known for a while (eg response to Swine Flu outbreak and b) to do so would upset the symmetry of this blog and make it interminable. But overall based on what we’ve seen, I still think there’s plenty of reason to believe that Barack Obama will be a very good, possibly even a great, president. And I’m sure as hell glad we’re not facing this time of crises with John McCain and Sarah Palin leading us.


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.