Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Chris Lehmann discusses the destructive impetus behind the ever-present austerity scolds:
In their new book The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, Stuckler and Basu show distressingly consistent increases in such key public-health indicators as suicides, heart disease, alcoholism and HIV infection in societies embarking on steep reductions in social spending. Correspondingly, societies (such as Iceland, Sweden and Finland) that have refused to pare back their welfare states in hard times exhibit steady—and, in some case, increasing—signs of public health. Oh, and more straightforward economic indicators, such as low unemployment and broad middle-class prosperity, also strangely adhere to political economies that continue to spend robustly on social services and healthcare—again, contrary to every single theory in the austerity playbook.

Yet when a practiced faux-contrarian pundit like The New Republic’s Michael Kinsley alighted on Stuckler and Basu’s findings, he stepped forward bravely to report that they were all part of a “misguided moral crusade against austerity” captained by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Sure, Kinsley writes, the life chances of ordinary working citizens diminish steeply under conditions of austerity: They “get depressed and commit suicide. They drink and ruin their livers. They don’t buy their prescription drugs or see their doctor when they should in order to save money. They lose their jobs, come home, and murder their spouses.”

But that, you see, is just the iron law of economic comeuppance, as Kinsley divines it. “I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins,” he writes, “and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be. …[T]he austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert.”

Where to begin? There is, first off, something delusional, and indeed vicious, in shifting the costs of the particular “past sins” of our Great Recession—which were the exclusive handiwork of the stupendously overcompensated investment class—onto the vulnerable subjects of Stuckler and Basu’s research. More fundamentally, however, Kinsley has conceded that mass suffering is the confirmed and predictable outcome of hardline austerity policies—and he thinks they are somehow better for us, anyway. People of the Kinsleyan persuasion seem to sincerely believe that there is, in fact, no organized bloc of financiers, policymakers and intellectuals that benefits from the four-decadeslong-and-counting war on the public sphere—that the reluctant prophets of austerity are, like him, only doling out hard paternal truths about the way the real world works for the touchingly “misguided” citizen-children who clamor for dessert after dessert, all day long.
- And Paul Krugman notes that even as many of the original backers of slash-and-burn have come to recognize that the end result tends to be counterproductive, the Bank for International Settlements is pretending that years of needless suffering never happened.

- Philip Caper looks longingly at Canada's universal public health care system from a U.S. perspective.

- Bruce Cheadle reports on the Cons' ever-growing publicly-funded communications staff, with the number meaning anything but more transparency:
Sandborn suggested that it requires extra bodies to send communications staff to scientific conferences to shadow government researchers and run interference on media interviews — a practice that was documented as part of his group's complaint.

Their report also detailed how 11 different civil servants exchanged 50 emails to determine whether a reporter inquiring about a snow study was friendly or not before granting an interview.

"Sometimes it takes a whole lot more people to make sure information doesn't get out than to get it out," said Sandborn.
- And Shannon Rupp comments on the Harper PMO's misuse of public money to play news editor.

- Finally, leftdog writes about the forces exerting the most pressure on Canadian politics - and the need for progressives to push back rather than merely hoping to ride out the wave of corporate-funded attacks:
(C)orporate interests, primarily those of the oil and financial industries, have decided that they simply are not prepared to compromise their positions of power within the Canadian economy and they will open their wallets to ensure that political victory goes only to those who serve their vested interests.

To achieve this, Stephen Harper has nearly perfected an approach that is intended to bring ‘perpetual Conservative government' to the nation ... a model for Canada based on the Alberta Conservative Party's 42 year hold on provincial power. That's the goal. Wake up and realize it.

The oil industry is simply not prepared to listen to anyone who will diminish their ability to make profit from the tar sands by even one dollar. They have no interest in the environment. They have no interest in the plight of working Canadians and their families. They are going to maximize the profit potential of their resource holdings and they are prepared to bankroll any political party that will advance this cause. 

Harper's Conservatives have demonstrated that they are prepared to cheat electorally in order to win. Robcalls, illegal expenditures and donations ... they will do whatever they have to in order to win. When challenged, they deny and delay. Their war chest allows them to afford the best legal distraction and defence that money can buy. The rule of thumb for the Right in Canada has become ‘delay delay delay' as well as ‘deny deny deny'.
 [Edit: fixed attribution on Cheadle story.]

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