Archive for the ‘Republicans’ 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…

 

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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.


Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi was sentenced to three years in prison today for throwing his shoes at George W Bush on the 15th of December. This to my mind is a disgracefully harsh sentence. If Iraq wants to be seen as a mature democracy, this overreaction to a very mildly violent political protest is not going to help its cause. Protests in this vein happen regularly in democratic societies: in the 1970s Richard Nixon was egged in Ireland by an anti-war protestor; a few years back here in the UK,  John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister at the time, had an egg thrown at him by a farmer. His response? He punched the protestor and got into a scuffle. Prescott also got soaked by a jug of iced water thrown over him by a member of the band Chumbawumba, in support of striking Liverpool dockers, at the 1998 Brit Awards; only last week an environmental protestor threw green custard over Peter Mandelson, the Business Secretary, to express opposition to his support for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

Now I understand that it’s open to debate whether this type of action is effective or appropriate, however I cannot see of any argument that could justify a prison sentence of three years, in what is likely to be a very harsh environment, being doled out to a journalist, who had been a law-abiding citizen up to this point. He has even been a victim of kidnapping himself and family members were arrested under Saddam Hussein’s regime. His weapon of choice, his shoes, show that his primary intent was to deliver an Iraqi insult, not to seriously injure Bush. Even if he had connected, he would have done no more damage to Bush than the President had done to himself with a pretzel. Bush himself was able to joke about the “attack” in the immediate aftermath and we have all had a good laugh since.

But the joke is now over – al-Zaidi’s lawyer’s plan to appeal and I hope they succeed in getting his sentence reduced significantly. In truth the time he has already served has been too harsh. In genuinely free societies, which Bush has claimed Iraq is now, people must feel free to express political opinion in a sometimes fiery manner, without fearing disproportionate reprisals from the authorities. Otherwise the country starts to look more like a police state.

PS – do you know of an incident of something non-lethal being thrown at a politician? Leave a comment and we can build a dossier.

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.

Is Nouri Al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, the coolest customer alive? I noticed on a second look at the clip of the Iraqi journalist throwing his shoes at Still President Bush his reaction, or lack thereof:

It made me think of the following incident from last year when Ban Ki Moon visited Baghdad – again watch Al-Maliki closely and listen to the announcer carefully (I know he pops out of picture momentarily):

Yes, you heard it correctly, he blinked!!! Does nothing faze this man at all??!! If being cool under pressure was the only qualification for running a country, Iraq would be in great hands.

And by the way, wouldn’t it be great if this incident led to a spate of similar attacks so that Bush (and Cheney et al) gets pelted with (non-lethal) objects wherever he goes.

I know what you’re thinking – Obama hasn’t even taken office yet – how is it possible to judge whether voters chose the right president already. Well let’s take a quick look at events from the last few days:

– President-Elect Obama has gathered some of the top economic minds in the country to come up with ideas as to how to stimulate the country out of recession. He has received messages from Chavez, Ahmedinejad and the leader of Hamas, indicating that they are willing to talk.

– The Republicans have continued name-calling, only now they’re insulting each other, with McCain aides calling Palin a “diva” and Palin responding by calling them “jerks”

So I may be proven wrong yet but it certainly looks like yes, America made the right choice