Tag Archives: debt ceiling

Counting down the days to the Great Transformation

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The world as we know it has been coming to end for years now. We haven’t had to look far to perceive the portents of impending doom: in the entrails of Wall Street corpses; in the tea leaves of governments that no longer work; in the uromancy that predicts widening income gaps between the rich and the rest.

We just haven’t been able to reliably nail down a year for the Great Transformation. Until now.

A researcher at the University of Hawaii, who used to work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., thinks he knows. The point of no return will arrive. . .wait for it. . .in 2047. . .give or take.

Camillo Mora, who studies numbers for a living, tells the Globe and Mail’s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk that, overall, this is the year in which climate change will become a permanent feature of life on Earth. . .more or less.

According to the article, “The turning point arrives. . .as a worldwide average, if fossil fuel consumption continues unabated; as late as 2069 if carbon emissions are curbed. City by city, the numbers are a bit more revealing. In Montreal, for example, the new normal will arrive in 2046, and for Vancouver not until 2056. But the real spotlight of Dr. Mora’s study is the tropics, where profound changes could be entrenched in little more than a decade.”

As the good doctor says, “Today, when people talk about climate change, the images that come to mind are melting ice and polar bears. People might infer from this that the tropics will be less affected.”

People would be wrong.

But, then, there’s nothing new about that.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that economic globalization would insert several chickens in pots from Beijing to Kalamazoo – that gross domestic products around the world would rise like juggernauts, heedless of any and all counterforces they may encounter.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that democratically elected governments served the best, common interests of the majority of voters – that reason and circumspection would effectively quell fanatical and reactionary figures intent on reshaping the public sphere in their own ideologically pinched and impoverished image.

Now comes word from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that, generally speaking, the world’s got itself in an economic ringer – one from which it is not likely to emerge any time soon. Welcome to the age of slow growth.

“Emerging economies have cooled off,” an item in The New York Times reveals. “Europe remains in the doldrums. The United States is facing fiscal uncertainty, and its powerful central bank is contemplating easing up on its extraordinary stimulus efforts, with potentially global ramifications.”

As things stand, the IMF “foresees the world economy increasing by about 2.9 per cent in 2013 and 3.6 per cent in 2014. That is down from 5.4 per cent in 2007, before the global recession hit.”

If its predictions pan out, a few will be spared, thanks to their impenetrable cocoons of wealth and privilege. But most can expect lower standards of living, fewer good jobs, higher costs and increasing poverty and homelessness.

Meanwhile, over in Washington, D.C., legislators are twiddling their thumbs.

“The federal government shutdown and looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling have merged into one major problem on Capitol Hill, though neither issue has a resolution in sight as the government shutdown heads into its second week,” CBS News reports. “Democrats and Republicans (have) dug further into their respective positions: Republicans are calling on Democrats to negotiate over a short-term spending bill and a debt-ceiling increase, and President Obama says he is ready to negotiate over any topic – once the Republicans pass legislation to re-open the government and raise the U.S. borrowing limit without any conditions.”

All of which prompted Laurence Booth of the University of Toronto’s esteemed Rotman School of Management to tell the Toronto Star, “Any sane person obviously believes the U.S. isn’t going to default. That would cause an earthquake in financial markets around the globe.”

Of course, once upon a time, any sane person obviously believed that climate change could very well spell the end of the world – at least, as we know it.

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Counting down the days to the Great Transformation

DSC_0074

The world as we know it has been coming to end for years now. We haven’t had to look far to perceive the portents of impending doom: in the entrails of Wall Street corpses; in the tea leaves of governments that no longer work; in the uromancy that predicts widening income gaps between the rich and the rest.

We just haven’t been able to reliably nail down a year for the Great Transformation. Until now.

A researcher at the University of Hawaii, who used to work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., thinks he knows. The point of no return will arrive. . .wait for it. . .in 2047. . .give or take.

Camillo Mora, who studies numbers for a living, tells the Globe and Mail’s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk that, overall, this is the year in which climate change will become a permanent feature of life on Earth. . .more or less.

According to the article, “The turning point arrives. . .as a worldwide average, if fossil fuel consumption continues unabated; as late as 2069 if carbon emissions are curbed. City by city, the numbers are a bit more revealing. In Montreal, for example, the new normal will arrive in 2046, and for Vancouver not until 2056. But the real spotlight of Dr. Mora’s study is the tropics, where profound changes could be entrenched in little more than a decade.”

As the good doctor says, “Today, when people talk about climate change, the images that come to mind are melting ice and polar bears. People might infer from this that the tropics will be less affected.”

People would be wrong.

But, then, there’s nothing new about that.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that economic globalization would insert several chickens in pots from Beijing to Kalamazoo – that gross domestic products around the world would rise like juggernauts, heedless of any and all counterforces they may encounter.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that democratically elected governments served the best, common interests of the majority of voters – that reason and circumspection would effectively quell fanatical and reactionary figures intent on reshaping the public sphere in their own ideologically pinched and impoverished image.

Now comes word from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that, generally speaking, the world’s got itself in an economic ringer – one from which it is not likely to emerge any time soon. Welcome to the age of slow growth.

“Emerging economies have cooled off,” an item in The New York Times reveals. “Europe remains in the doldrums. The United States is facing fiscal uncertainty, and its powerful central bank is contemplating easing up on its extraordinary stimulus efforts, with potentially global ramifications.”

As things stand, the IMF “foresees the world economy increasing by about 2.9 per cent in 2013 and 3.6 per cent in 2014. That is down from 5.4 per cent in 2007, before the global recession hit.”

If its predictions pan out, a few will be spared, thanks to their impenetrable cocoons of wealth and privilege. But most can expect lower standards of living, fewer good jobs, higher costs and increasing poverty and homelessness.

Meanwhile, over in Washington, D.C., legislators are twiddling their thumbs.

“The federal government shutdown and looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling have merged into one major problem on Capitol Hill, though neither issue has a resolution in sight as the government shutdown heads into its second week,” CBS News reports. “Democrats and Republicans (have) dug further into their respective positions: Republicans are calling on Democrats to negotiate over a short-term spending bill and a debt-ceiling increase, and President Obama says he is ready to negotiate over any topic – once the Republicans pass legislation to re-open the government and raise the U.S. borrowing limit without any conditions.”

All of which prompted Laurence Booth of the University of Toronto’s esteemed Rotman School of Management to tell the Toronto Star, “Any sane person obviously believes the U.S. isn’t going to default. That would cause an earthquake in financial markets around the globe.”

Of course, once upon a time, any sane person obviously believed that climate change could very well spell the end of the world – at least, as we know it.

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From less government to no government

Fences make good neighbours and poor legislators

Fences make good neighbours and poor legislators

The Commander-in-Chief was in no mood to dance when he declared, on Monday, “One faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election.”

Indeed, he roared, “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job.”

The observation was, at once, brilliantly conceived and utterly incorrect.

At the stroke of midnight, despite Barack Obama’s imprecations, the U.S. government did shut down (everything but essential services, such as the army, energy grid and air traffic control) because a mewling bunch of far-right-wing crybabies in the Republican Party can’t take no for an answer.

Even so, the journey to ignominy is not yet over.

On October 17, Congress faces another battle, the consequences of which could be far worse than this present contretemps over the government’s spending authority: whether or not to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Not doing so would inevitably lead to the United States defaulting, for the first time in its history, on its financial obligations.

Canadians might be amused to imagine that this begins and ends with health care reform, also known as “Obamacare”. Simply put, Republican tea party Representatives despise it and will do everything in their power to “defund” it.

They don’t have a chance, as the most important bits of the new law have already passed in Congress and been endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court. But that’s not stopping this bunch – the most bloody-minded cohort of rank politicians in modern times. As Michael Gerson, an opinion writer for The Washington Post, observes, “Few believe any longer that Republicans will be able to defund Obamacare in this session of Congress; it is the fight that counts. This is a word that crops up frequently in tea-party discourse. Not winning. Not strategy. Not consequences. The fight.”

In fact, this is where the rubber truly hits the road, and where Canadians will want to stifle their giggles. The conflict is only titularly about Obamacare. At its roots is a fundamentally radical conception of government, itself – one that’s counterpoised to mainstream Democratic and Republican political values; one that actually finds little purchase on most main streets of America.

Teaparty.org articulates its “15 non-negotiable core beliefs” thusly:

“Illegal aliens are here illegally; pro-domestic employment is indispensable; a strong military is essential; special interests must be eliminated; gun ownership is sacred; government must be downsized; the national budget must be balanced; deficit spending must end; bailout and stimulus plans are illegal; reducing personal income taxes is a must; reducing business income taxes is mandatory; political offices must be available to average citizens; intrusive government must be stopped; english as our core language is required; and traditional family values are encouraged.”

There’s nothing especially alarming to a “liberal” mind about most of this creed. But, it is in the practice of it – the widely varied interpretation of it – when trouble brews.

As often as not, tea partiers view capitalism not as an economic system, but as an ethical imperative and to justify their position they love quoting Ayn Rand, who wrote, in 1962, “The world crisis of today is a moral crisis – and nothing less than a moral revolution can resolve it: a moral revolution to sanction and complete the political achievement of the American revolution. We must fight for capitalism, not as a practical issue, not as an economic issue, but, with the most righteous pride, as a moral issue. That is what capitalism deserves, and nothing less will save it.”

In this conception of the cosmos, government – which, by its function, takes and distributes wealth to provide for the common interest – is a dangerously corruptible institution and must be stripped of most of its power to do harm (i.e. spending).

Such hardline thinking precludes any possibility of negotiating with mainstream or traditional politicians. It also suggests that a dysfunctional Congress will only hinder the administration of foreign diplomacy and economic policy.

Ultimately, when the U.S. pays a ransom to the tea party, at least some of the cost will be born by its trading partners, including Canada.

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