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Podesta’s Push for Executive Power Raises Stakes on Obama Agenda – Bloomberg

Podesta’s Push for Executive Power Raises Stakes on Obama Agenda – Bloomberg.

When the Republican victory in the 2010 midterm election raised the prospect of political gridlock, John Podesta was ready with an answer: The president should bypass Congress and wield the executive powers of his office.

Less than two weeks after the returns came in, Podesta had compiled 47 pages of proposals for unilateral action on issues from immigration to solar energy. PresidentBarack Obama’s ability to “accomplish important change through these powers should not be underestimated,” he wrote.

Now, Podesta’s appointment as counselor to Obama adds a strong promoter of that strategy to the president’s inner circle as Republicans stand in the way of the White House agenda.

The activist vision of the 64-year-old former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton could play out across the economy, encompassing matters such as greenhouse gas emission standards forpower plants, food safety and border enforcement.

“John will be an advocate for forceful executive action, either for its own sake or to force congressional action,” said Jake Siewert, a former Clinton White House press secretary who is now a managing director at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Among the proposals Podesta forwarded to Obama three years ago as head of the Center for American Progress, a research group with close ties to the administration, were a $2-per-barrel fee on imported oil to finance clean-energy projects, solar panels for Air Force hangars and curbs on detention of undocumented immigrants without criminal records.

Forcing Confrontation

Greater use of executive power would raise the stakes in Washington, provoking a clash with Republicans that could lead to a wave of congressional hearings, lawsuits from aggrieved parties and more tense negotiations over spending and taxes. It would also add to Republican bitterness already fueled by Senate Democrats’ move to limit filibusters of Obama appointees.

Podesta may find a receptive audience in the White House.

“He’ll be preaching to the choir in this administration,” said Bruce Reed, who worked with Podesta as Clinton’s chief domestic policy adviser and until recently was Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff.

Under the theme “We Can’t Wait,” the White House started a series of executive actions before the 2012 election, including an order to stop deporting undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, if they have no criminal record. Unable to win passage of a gun-control bill, Obama announced moves on firearms using his presidential authority earlier this year.

Sinking Polls

Podesta joins a White House at a low ebb in public standing after Obama’s inability to win passage of a revamp of immigration policy, a 16-day government shutdown and the botched rollout of the federal online insurance exchanges at the core of his signature health-care law.

After starting his second term with an inaugural address calling for a more activist government — he vowed to come up with executive moves to fight climate change “if Congress won’t act soon” — Obama has little to show for it.

His 42 percent job approval in the Gallup Poll for the week ended Dec. 15 is down 10 percentage points from the same week a year earlier and comparable to the 41 percent approval at this point in the administration of George W. Bush, who left office as one of the most unpopular presidents in recent history.

At the end of the fifth year of an administration, when attention shifts to the next election, a president has “a sense that the sand is running out of the hourglass,” said Stephen Hess, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Your time is short and you want to do as much as you can,” said Hess, who has studied the presidency since serving in Dwight Eisenhower’s administration. “You then want to do things by executive orders and executive regulations.”

Crucial Year

Because government regulations take so much time to complete if they are to withstand legal challenges, the coming year will be crucial in setting the administration’s final initiatives, said Carol Browner, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under Clinton.

“It takes you a minimum two years to get a rule done, start to finish,” said Browner, who’s also a former Obama White House aide. “They’ve got to have a clear agenda now. What are the 10 or 20 things that are most important that they want to get done before he leaves office using existing authority?”

While Podesta recused himself from involvement in the administration’s consideration of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline because of his public opposition to the project, his portfolio will include environmental and energy issues.

Reassuring Presence

His presence in the White House will reassure environmentalists that administration regulations on cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants will be as “effective as possible,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, where Podesta has been on the board of the group’s political arm.

“Beyond that, he’ll be looking at all the tools that he can use to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change,” Goldston said.

Podesta didn’t respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.

As chief of staff during the final years of Clinton’s presidency, he oversaw a frenzy of rule-making, executive orders and land-preservation edicts. He was so closely identified with the burst of activity that some aides dubbed it “Project Podesta,” according to a National Journal report at the time.

The regulations in the administration’s final months included protection of 59 million acres of forest from roads and logging; work-safety rules on repetitive stress injuries that required millions of offices and factories to be redesigned; and more stringent standards for arsenic in drinking water.

Clearing Way

Clinton designated more land protected in the lower 48 U.S. states than any president sinceTheodore Roosevelt. He made five of the national monument designations on Jan. 17, 2001, with only three days left in his term.

Podesta “cleared the way” for conservation regulations, particularly a rule prohibiting virtually all road-building, logging, or coal, gas, oil and other mineral leasing in designated roadless areas of national forests, said Bruce Babbitt, who served as Clinton’s Interior secretary.

That rule, issued eight days before Clinton left office, survived legal challenges that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.

“The roadless rule was a huge achievement and a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Babbitt.

Thwarting Rule

During Clinton’s last year in office, Republican lawmakers tried to thwart an EPA regulation in the final stages of review. They tacked a rider onto a bill funding military construction and disaster assistance that would have barred the use of government money to complete the rule which set stricter pollution standards for watersheds.

The president couldn’t afford to veto the legislation, and after a series of meetings led by Podesta, his aides came up with their own gambit: stall on signing the legislation while they rushed the rule through the review, said Chuck Fox, then the EPA’s assistant administrator for water.

That culminated in a 90-minute meeting in Podesta’s office in which Browner and then budget director Jack Lew personally negotiated the rule’s final wording line by line, Fox said.

Once Browner signed the regulation, Fox jumped in a taxi to get the document to the printers to beat an end-of-day deadline to publish the regulation in the Federal Register, as required.

Though Republicans were furious over the end run, the rule survived, said Fox, now program director at Oceans 5, a conservation group.

Podesta “was very bold on it,” Fox said.

 

Bubonic plague outbreak kills 32 in Madagascar | World news | theguardian.com

Bubonic plague outbreak kills 32 in Madagascar | World news | theguardian.com.

Eighty-four suspected cases of disease reported in five districts in past month
Bubonic plague

Bubonic plague bacteria. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Bubonic plague, which wiped out a third of Europe’s population in the Middle Ages, has reared its ugly head in the African island state ofMadagascar where 32 people have died in a fresh outbreak, according to health authorities.

Some 84 suspected cases of bubonic plague – 60 of them suspected of being pneumonic or pulmonary plague, a more virulent strain of the disease – have been reported in five of the island’s 112 districts in the past month.

Pneumonic plague is caused by the same bacteria that occur in bubonic plague but, while bubonic plague is usually transmitted by bites from rat-borne fleas and can be treated with antibiotics, pneumonic plague can be inhaled and transmitted between humans without involvement of animals or fleas and, if untreated, has a very high fatality rate, experts say. It can kill within 24 hours.

Last year, Madagascar reported 60 deaths from bubonic plague. Poor hygiene and declining living standards as a result of a protracted political crisis since a coup in 2009 are cited as the primary causes of the spread of the disease.

 

Crash on Demand: David Holmgren updates his Future Scenarios: Review

Crash on Demand: David Holmgren updates his Future Scenarios: Review.

Crash on Demand: David Holmgren updates his Future Scenarios: Review

by David MacLeod, originally published by Integral Permaculture  | DEC 18, 2013

Future ScenariosDavid Holmgren, co-originator of the Permaculture concept, published Future Scenarios in 2007, originally as a website, and then published by Chelsea Green in 2008 as a small book (126 pages). He explores four possible human futures as the two great crises of Peak Oil and Climate Change converge into what he has coined ourenergy descent future. In my view, this is essential reading. Adam Grubb, founder of Energy Bulletin, characterized it like this:

These aren’t two-dimensional nightmarish scenarios designed to scare people into environmental action. They are compellingly fleshed-out visions of quite plausible alternative futures, which delve into energy, politics, agriculture, social, and even spiritual trends. What they do help make clear are the best strategies for preparing for and adapting to these possible futures.

Three years later, in 2010, Holmgren contributed an additional important essay,Money Vs. Fossil Energy: The Battle for Control of the World. Holmgren describes this essay as “a framework for understanding the ideological roots of the current global crisis that I believe is more useful than the now tired Left Right political spectrum.” Like all of his work, it is based on a profound energetic literacy, and is quite startling and original, and “challenges much of the strategic logic behind current mainstream climate change activism.”

A year ago, in a December 2012 interview, Holmgren was asked:

What do you see as the biggest challenges in our struggle to control our resources today?

His Answer:

After a lifetime of focusing on the biological basis for existence, and then the energetic basis, I’ve now become more and more interested in money, ironically, after ignoring it for most of my life. On the downside of the energy peak, it’s actually the bubble economies that can unravel so fast, that become almost the most important thing in shaping the immediate future. That bubble economy is, of course, actually falling apart right now. So a lot of the mainstream sustainability strategies assume we have a growing and steady economy. Permaculture works from the basis that we can adapt and do these adaptions in an ad-hoc way from the bottom up, and we’ve been doing that essentially for 30 years without the support of government and corporations. I’m not saying that we’ve got all the answers, but there’s a lot of people out there who are modeling and have been modeling how creative responses are going to happen.

David Holmgren

The 2013 Update

And now a year later, as 2013 draws to a close, David Holmgren has published a new essay (a 24 page pdf download), which is an update of Future Scenarios, builds on Money Vs. Fossil Fuels, and expands his new focus on money and economy. The essay is titled Crash on Demand: Welcome to the Brown Tech Future.

energy_descent_scenarios-300x207

Six years on, of the four scenarios outlined in Future Scenarios, Holmgren is seeing the Brown Tech scenario as the one currently in play, where the decline of fossil fuels unfolds slowly, “but the severity of global warming symptoms is at the extreme end of current mainstream scientific predictions.” The political system is Corporatist, and emphasis is placed on replacing declining conventional fossil fuels with lower grade fossil fuels, which are both more expensive and also release more GGE (Greenhouse Gas Emissions), which exacerbates Climate Change even further. The introduction to this essay states:

David’s argument is essentially that radical, but achievable, behaviour change from dependent consumers to responsible self-reliant producers (by some relatively small minority of the global middle class) has a chance of stopping the juggernaut of consumer capitalism from driving the world over the climate change cliff. It maybe a slim chance, but a better bet than current herculean efforts to get the elites to pull the right policy levers; whether by sweet promises of green tech profits or alternatively threats from mass movements shouting for less consumption.

browntech_logosmlw_bt

In the extensive discussions about money and economy, the influence of systems analyst Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh -The Automatic Earth) and economist Steve Keen (Debt Deflation) are strong and freely acknowledged. Holmgren believes that deflationary economics is the most powerful factor shaping our immediate future.

The basic recommendation (as noted in the quote above) is not much different from what David Holmgren has been recommending for 30 years: to engage in a shift away from being a dependent c0nsumer, and toward being a responsible self-reliant producer for your household and community, and to shift a significant portion of assets out of the mainstream economy and move them into building household and community resilience. These actions not only put us in a more secure position, they also, if engaged by perhaps 10% of the population of affluent countries, might be just enough to shift our economies out of the perpetual growth paradigm we’ve been inhabiting since at least the industrial revolution, and is now only hanging on via a rising debt bubble. The collapse of the current bubble economy will be painful. However, given that current growth is only being made possible by rising debt, we are not doing ourselves any favors by perpetuating it. As he had previously pointed out in Future Scenarios:

…without radical behavioral and organizational change that would threaten the foundations of our growth economy, greenhouse gas emissions along with other environmental impacts will not decline. Economic recession is the only proven mechanism for a rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and may now be the only real hope for maintaining the earth in a habitable state.

Holmgren makes the case that while it may be too late for the Green Tech scenario to materialize, it may still be possible to avoid the worst effects of the Brown Tech scenario (a 4 to 6 degree “Climate Cooker” Lifeboats scenario). A severe global economic collapse could switch off enough GGE to begin reversing climate change, so that the Earth Steward scenario of bioregional economies based on frugal rural agrarian living, assisted by resources salvaged from the collapsed global economy and the defunct national governments, might emerge in the long term future.

It’s not a picture of a bright and shiny future, granted. The last 10 pages or so, however, I found to be quite stimulating, and opened up more possibilities for positive engagement. Topics discussed are Nested Scenarios (different scenarios co-existing at different scales); Investment and Divestment; Formal and Informal Economies; Alternative and Non-monetary Economies; Labor and Skill Vs Fossil Fuel and Technology; Brown Tech Possibilities; Actors at the Fringe; and Not Financial Terrorists (but Terra-ists with hands in the soil). There are also many great footnotes/links worth following up on.

This is a highly recommended essay – essential reading for those trying to make sense of our long term future and how we can best make a positive difference.

Like this?  

 

Consumer debt will hit record $28,853, TransUnion says – Business – CBC News

Consumer debt will hit record $28,853, TransUnion says – Business – CBC News.

Credit-monitoring agency TransUnion says the non-mortgage debt of Canadians is likely to set a record next year.

In its first such annual forecast, TransUnion predicts the average consumer’s total non-mortgage debt will hit an all-time high of $28,853 by the end of 2014.

That would be about $1,100 more than the $27,743 of debt consumers are expected to have at the end of this year.

TransUnion says car loans are expected to drive the increase in such debt, which also includes credit card debt, lines of credit, student loans and the like.

On the plus side, the credit-monitoring agency says it expects loan delinquency rates to continue to decline in the coming year, falling to 1.66 per cent at the end of 2014 compared with 1.76 per cent forecast for the fourth quarter of this year

Both figures are down from 1.93 per cent in 2012 and 2.87 per cent in 2009.

“The average Canadian consumer’s total debt is expected to rise by four per cent in 2014, which would be more than $4,500 higher than what we had observed five years earlier in 2009,” Thomas Higgins, TransUnion’s vice-president of analytics and decision services, said in the report.

Higgins noted that while the 2014 increase is much greater than the expected one per cent rise in 2013, it is in line with consumer debt growth of recent years.

“In recent years, the increase in auto sales has helped propel the total debt number and we believe auto captive loans will once again be a driver of this increase in 2014,” he said.

“Instalment loans also have played a major role and we don’t expect there to be a material change in this trend,” he added.

While TransUnion expects delinquency levels to drop next year and remain significantly lower than just a few years ago, “there is a slight concern that delinquencies could rise once interest rates increase,” Higgins said.

However, he added that at this time “we do not believe interest rates will rise enough to materially impact delinquency levels.”

 

Mainstream Economists Finally Admit that Runaway Inequality Is Hurting the Economy Washington’s Blog

Mainstream Economists Finally Admit that Runaway Inequality Is Hurting the Economy Washington’s Blog.

But Bad Government Policies Are Making Inequality Worse By the Day

AP reported Tuesday:

The growing gap between the richest Americans and everyone else isn’t bad just for individuals.

It’s hurting the U.S. economy.

***

“What you want is a broader spending base,” says Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James, a financial advisory firm. “You want more people spending money.”

***

“The broader the improvement, the more likely it will be sustained,” said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.

***

Economists appear to be increasingly concerned about the effects of inequality on growth. Brown, the Raymond James economist, says that marks a shift from a few years ago, when many analysts were divided over whether pay inequality was worsening.

Now, he says, “there’s not much denial of that … and you’re starting to see some research saying, yes, it does slow the economy.”

As one example, Paul Krugman used to doubt that inequality harmed the economy.  As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote in 2010:

Krugman says that he used to dismiss talk that inequality contributed to crises, but then we reached Great Depression-era levels of inequality in 2007 and promptly had a crisis, so now he takes it a bit more seriously.

Krugman writes this week in the New York Times:

The discussion has shifted enough to produce a backlash from pundits arguing that inequality isn’t that big a deal.

They’re wrong.

The best argument for putting inequality on the back burner is the depressed state of the economy. Isn’t it more important to restore economic growth than to worry about how the gains from growth are distributed?

Well, no. First of all, even if you look only at the direct impact of rising inequality on middle-class Americans, it is indeed a very big deal. Beyond that, inequality probably played an important role in creating our economic mess, and has played a crucial role in our failure to clean it up.

Start with the numbers. On average, Americans remain a lot poorer today than they were before the economic crisis. For the bottom 90 percent of families, this impoverishment reflects both a shrinking economic pie and a declining share of that pie. Which mattered more? The answer, amazingly, is that they’re more or less comparable — that is, inequality is rising so fast that over the past six years it has been as big a drag on ordinary American incomes as poor economic performance, even though those years include the worst economic slump since the 1930s.

And if you take a longer perspective, rising inequality becomes by far the most important single factor behind lagging middle-class incomes.

Beyond that, when you try to understand both the Great Recession and the not-so-great recovery that followed, the economic and above all political impacts of inequality loom large.

***

Inequality is linked to both the economic crisis and the weakness of the recovery that followed.

Indeed – as we noted in September – a who’s-who of prominent economists in government and academia have now said that runaway inequality harms economic growth, including:

  • Former U.S. Secretary of Labor and UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich
  • Global economy and development division director at Brookings and former economy minister for Turkey, Kemal Dervi
  • Societe Generale investment strategist and former economist for the Bank of England, Albert Edwards
  • Deputy Division Chief of the Modeling Unit in the Research Department of the IMF, Michael Kumhof
  • Former executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, senior policy analyst in the White House Office of Policy Development, and deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department,  Bruce Bartlett

Even the father of free market economics – Adam Smith – didn’t believe that inequality should be a taboo subject.

Numerous investors and entrepreneurs agree that runaway inequality hurts the economy, including:

Indeed, extreme inequality helped cause the Great Depression, the current financial crisis … and the fall of the Roman Empire .  And inequality in America today is twice as bad as in ancient Rome, worse than it was in Tsarist RussiaGilded Age America, modern Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, many banana republicsin Latin America, and worse than experienced by slaves in 1774 colonial America. (More stunning facts.)

Bad government policy – which favors the fatcats at the expense of the average American – is largely responsible for our runaway inequality.

And yet the powers-that-be in Washington and Wall Street are accelerating the redistribution of wealthfrom the lower, middle and more modest members of the upper classes to the super-elite.

 

S&P cuts EU rating over tense budget talks – Europe – Al Jazeera English

S&P cuts EU rating over tense budget talks – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

S&P said that cohesion among EU members had lessened [GETTY]
Standard & Poor’s has downgraded the European Union’s long-term credit rating, stripping the bloc of the highest grade of AAA to AA+, citing rising tensions on budget negotiations.The move follows cuts to the ratings of EU member states in recent months.

The credit rating agency said on Friday that a bitter battle over the EU budget and worsening creditworthiness of its members are behind the decision to decrease the bloc’s long-term issuer credit rating by one grade.

“In our opinion, the overall creditworthiness of the now 28 EU member states has declined,” S&P said in a statement.

“In our view, EU budgetary negotiations have become more contentious, signaling what we consider to be rising risks to the support of the EU from some member states.”

S&P said cohesion among EU members had lessened and that some might baulk at funding the EU budget on a pro-rata basis.

Average rating of contributors dropped

The average rating of net contributors to the EU budget has fallen to AA+ from AA since January 2012, when S&P revised its outlook on the long-term EU rating to negative, the company said.

S&P has had a negative outlook on the EU since that date and has since cut its ratings on members France, Italy, Spain, Malta, Slovenia, Cyprus and the Netherlands.

The EU is not a sovereign but it can borrow in its own name. As of this month, it had outstanding loans of 56 billion euros ($76.5 billion), according to S&P.

The credit-rating agency said its downgrade of The Netherlands last month left the EU with six AAA-rated members. Since 2007, revenues contributed by AAA-rated sovereigns as a proportion of total EU revenues nearly halved to 31.6 percent, it added.

 

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