2008

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A graph of US government revenue and spending vs. President since 1964—click for a larger view.

In my previous Why Does Anyone Vote Republican Any More? post, I exploded the commonly held myth that the Republicans are more fiscally responsible than the Democrats: indeed, with the rise of neo-conservatism since Reagan, they have been by far the most fiscally irresponsible governments in US history. Perhaps even more remarkable though is the fact that the Clinton administration was actually very fiscally responsible: by the end of his term, he had brought increases in debt down to almost zero (0.32%), and if the Democrats were elected for another term, we very likely would have seen the first decrease in national debt since 1961. But instead of course we got George W. Bush, who has brought debt up to such an astronomical level, that 10% of the US budget is now devoted to servicing it—one can only imagine what will happen if and when interest rates go up significantly.

In spite of these facts however, there is still a hard core of Republicans who will continue to vote for them, no matter what. I doubt there is anything anyone could do or say to turn these people around, but fortunately, they will not decide the outcome of the November 4 election. Nor for that matter will hard core Democrats. The people who will decide it are those in the middle: the swinging voters, and those who might vote independent or for a minor party. Amongst these, perhaps the most significant group are Libertarians. It seems they are basically made up of two types of people: disenchanted Republicans who are not happy with the extreme fiscal irresponsibility the neo-conservatives, and idealists looking for an alternative to the major parties, as they are disenchanted with both of them. Read the rest of this entry »

A graph of US national debt vs. President since World War II—click for a larger view.

In the final few days before the US Presidential election, I thought it might be prudent to ask the question: why does anyone vote Republican? After all, from an outsider’s point of view, the crimes against humanity, the US constitution and the economy by the Bush administration are just so outrageous, it is hard for any sane person to imagine why Americans would even consider voting Republican! So I thought I should take a look at the common answers to this important question.

One thing people keep saying is that Obama’s tax changes will bankrupt the US economy. It’s as if he has some kind of radical tax plan, the likes of which America has never seen before. But really, all he’s actually proposing is to restore the same kind of tax distribution we had under the previous Democrat (Clinton) administration. But hang on! We all know that Republicans are far more fiscally responsible than Democrats, right? So we can’t go back to the tax system we had under Clinton, right? In that case, I suggest you take a very good, long hard look at the image above—a graph of US national debt vs. President. And what better way to judge a government’s fiscal responsibility? Read the rest of this entry »

In an attempt to counter pervasive and disturbing religious advertising, writer for guardian.co.uk Ariane Sherine proposed an interesting idea: running the slogan “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” on the sides of London buses. She chose the phrase “probably” to try and ensure the ads don’t run afoul of the Advertising Standards Authority (never mind the fact that Christians can run whatever Biblical quote they want!). After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response to the idea, the atheist bus campaign was launched on October 21. And it raised £83,000 in only two days! Apparently the donation web site, JustGiving, had never received so much support for a campaign before! It just goes to show that atheists do have money to spend, and can organise themselves to counter the religious juggernaut if they want to. We really need to see more of this!

It is also interesting that the slogan picks up on the fact that atheists are usually happier and more content then theists, contrary to what most people think or expect. There is great happiness in the freedom that not having a God looking over your shoulder (and especially the threat of hell) brings!

Thankyou to Joe Miller for bringing this story to my attention!

Before I do a flurry of election related posts in the run up to November 4th, I just wanted to do one more post in relation to the stock market, and the financial crisis they have created. In my previous Financial Crisis Raises Fundamental Questions post, I wrote about how we have to change the rules governing public companies, to give business executives more personal liability for the companies they run, so they are encouraged to follow the same common sense rules of business that private companies have to follow. However, as I also pointed out in that article, the reason so many public companies are so irresponsibly run nowadays is because they have to pander to the stock market. And these days, most stock traders tend not to buy and sell shares on the basis of sound business fundamentals (such as sustainable profits), but rather just on the basis of growth—even if it means running up huge debt (which fundamentally, is what has led to the current financial crisis, as well as previous “bubbles”). Even worse, speculators often deliberately manipulate the market to generate profit just for themselves, with disastrous results not only for the companies they’re supposed to be “investing” in, but even the community at large: witness the California electricity crisis for example. Read the rest of this entry »

Check out this Republican attack ad on the Democratic senate candidate for North Carolina, Kay Hagan (to me, it comes across more as a promo for a better, more sensible America that really does separate church and state!). All secular Americans really ought to show their support for Godless Americans PAC, and let Kay Hagan know that her support of them means she has your support as well. You can make your voice heard by donating to Kay Hagan’s campaign, and letting her know that you’re doing so because of her support of Godless Americans PAC. Otherwise, American politicians may be even more reluctant to associate themselves with the secularist agenda than they are now.

So what did everyone think of the final Presidential debate? I see McCain is still desperately trying to whip up a controversy over Obama’s “relationship” with William Ayers, even though (as this video shows) he has a perfectly good explanation for it. It’s just so typical of the Republicans to base their campaign on negative mud slinging, while at the same time their own Vice Presidential candidate is actually convicted of breaking her state’s law by violating the public trust. I’ve been impressed that Obama hasn’t stooped to slinging mud back, even though Palin would have made it very easy for him to do. And even better, the American public seems to be responding very positively to his approach.

In other news, we’ve taken the opportunity today to do some upgrades to the navigation of my blog, which have become necessary as it’s grown. We now list my tags in the lefthand column, so you can more easily find articles on the particular topics that interest you. We’ve also upgraded the archives listing, so you can now go straight to a particular article. Plus we’ve added a related posts feature to each entry, so you can easily go to other articles like the one you’re reading. On top of that, we’ve started using excerpts of the longer posts on the home and archive pages, to make it easier to go through everything and get to what you want to read.

October 28 Update: We have now added an extra “Comments” section in the lefthand column, where you can go to the last 40 comments and subscribe to a comments feed for the entire blog, instead of just individual posts. Of course, you can still subscribe only to specific posts if you want to as well!

As with most people I guess, the financial crisis is still foremost in my mind. I have already written about the responsibility public companies have for this, but I’m also working on another post about the other side of the equation (stock traders). In the mean time though, there’s a related issue that’s been on my mind since before the financial crisis even started, as it relates directly to what I do: the stock market’s evaluation of web 2.0 companies.

As I mentioned in my previous article, the original “dot.com bubble” took place because the stock market invested heavily in IT companies, as the internet had so much potential for growth—and all the stock market seems to care about these days is growth, not sustainable profitability. Never mind the fact that most of these companies were actually losing money! And the amazing thing is, exactly the same thing seems to be happening with web 2.0 companies now. Google is still trying to figure out how to make money out of YouTube, even though they paid $1.6 billion for it. News Corp bought MySpace for $580 million, and they haven’t figured out how to make money out of it either. And the market evaluations of Facebook have just been ridiculous. How can anyone not see that this isn’t potentially another dot.com bubble all over again? Plus of course, the stock market is in a far weaker position now than it was at the time of the first dot.com bubble, so if this bubble were to burst now, the results could be even more disastrous. Read the rest of this entry »

Well I think it’s definitely time for a little comic relief, so in recognition of the opening of Bill Maher’s Religulous, here he is with a very topical discussion of Sarah Palin.

As regular readers will know, I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time now. One of the reasons it has taken me so long is that I’ve had a lot of difficulty forming an opinion on the merits or otherwise of the Wall Street bailout. On the one hand, I can understand the outrage of the average American taxpayer, in as much as they are in a sense footing the bill for Wall Street’s excesses. On the other hand, I understand the desire to prevent a “freezing up” of the credit market, which would have disastrous knock-on effects for the entire economy—not just in the US, but in the rest of the world too. If the bailout package does in fact achieve this, then I guess it is a necessary evil. But it remains an open question as to whether it actually will help things anyway—indeed, it is possible it may even make things worse. Considering the continued volatility in the stock market since the bill was passed, it certainly doesn’t seem to have had any beneficial effect in the short term. Indeed, the announcement of this package and its bumpy ride through the US house of representatives seems only to have made the stock market even more nervous so far. Perhaps the mere fact that such a bill was announced and considered necessary by the US government has really only served to fuel investor nervousness, whereas if it hadn’t been announced, perhaps the stock market might have recovered on its own. However, the reality of the situation is that we really don’t know—the extreme unpredictability of the stock market is such that we can never be certain what the best course of action is in these matters. And herein lies the problem: the stock market does not seem to obey any sound and consistent rules of logic in its movements, which I think is the crux of the matter here. Read the rest of this entry »

It is an essential part of American folklore that “anyone can be President of the United States”. This idea goes back to the establishment of the US constitution and its rejection of monarchy, along with the idea that only people in a position of privilege (usually by birthright) can lead the country. Of course, this is also a fundamental principle of democracy as a whole, but is it really true in practice? After all, we very nearly had a situation where the last four Presidents of the USA would have been Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton. The realities of the party political system mean that you have to have the right connections to have a real chance of becoming President of the USA, and you also need to have enough financial support to gain pre-selection as your party’s Presidential nominee. However, in light of the current Presidential election, perhaps an even more important question to ask is this: should just anyone be President of the United States?

Of course, I’m not questioning the fundamental democratic principle here. What I mean to ask is this: is the average person qualified to be President of the USA? Given the way many people vote (particularly on the conservative side), it would seem that many people consider the answer to this question to be an unqualified “yes”. Bush gained some points in the last Presidential election by asking voters the question “who would you like to have a beer with?”. And in this election, John McCain has chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate primarily on the basis of her “folksy appeal”. The conservative media have indulged in an orgy of reverse snobbery to support her, dismissing anyone who criticises her as a “stuck-up elitist”. They keep trying to play up the idea that she’s “one of us”, even taking it to the point of describing any criticism of her as an insult to average American people. The problem with this idea though is that she isn’t being judged as an average person—she is being judged as a potential President. Read the rest of this entry »

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