Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Thomas Frank discusses the corporate takeover of U.S. politics - and how even nominally left-oriented parties are willing to go along with the corporate position even as voters regularly demand something else:
One of the reasons the phrase appealed to me, 17 years ago, was my belief back then that there was something essentially brutal about raw capitalism; if the nation was to suppress the regulations and the workers’ organizations that had tamed the beast over the years—even if we did so with the best of intentions—the economy would return quite naturally to its savage, Gilded Age habits. Mainstream opinion of the 1990s held the exact opposite, however: That those regulations and those workers’ organizations were no longer needed because we had entered a “New Economy” in which the old rules no longer applied. Perfect information was building perfect markets wherever you turned. The Dow and the NASDAQ were mounting toward unbelievable highs, and our leaders assured us that it was all because history had turned a corner and the common people had been financially enlightened in some miraculous way.

Has there ever been an episode of economic mania so delusional and, ultimately, so destructive? In those days, CEO salaries were smashing every precedent in living memory and yet here were our thought leaders, telling us that what was really happening was a consummation of the nation’s democratic promise. For me, meanwhile, Mark Twain’s phrase seemed exact, almost clinical: What everyone thought to be a golden age was in fact merely gilded.
In 1992, one might conclude, the nation chose to reverse the plutocratizing effects of neoliberalism. What we got was something else—a soft Reaganism that admitted, “the era of big government is over.” And that’s why, in the months and years to come, we will see Clinton loyalists do all they can to delete that New Gilded Age from memory even as they rail against the current New Gilded Age. Were we to judge Bill Clinton by the standards of 1992, his presidency was something of a failure, eight years of deregulation and New Economy platitudes. If we judge him by the rich rewards that his booming stock market showered on the wealthy, however, his term in the White House was a towering success.

The original Gilded Age ended when Democrats and Republicans came together around the old populist program of financial regulation, antitrust enforcement, income tax, and legitimacy for organized labor. This time around there is no end in sight, because Republicans and Democrats have come together on a program that is almost the opposite—dismantling the regulatory state at the behest of the One Percent while assuring an ever angrier public that they feel our pain, that they’re Putting People First, that they’d be great to have a beer with, that Yes We Can. The heart sickens at the thought of these many long years of fake populism, and the stomach turns to imagine how little time there is before we are swept up in it all over again.
- Alan Pyke notes that greater unemployment benefits - of the type so often slashed in the name of forcing workers to lower their expectations - work wonders in reducing suicide rates, while the CBC points out that social assistance in Canada falls far short of what people need to meet even basic nutritional requirements. And the Broadbent Institute expands on the idea of a youth job guarantee to give young workers a fair chance to build a career.

- Roxanne Dubois discusses the move toward community unionism designed to make sure workers can be engaged with the labour movement - and protected by some collective strength - even without working in certified workplaces.

- Alison highlights how the Cons are continuing to encourage the use of temporary foreign workers to fill the few jobs promised as the result of the pipeline construction they so consistently demand. And Dan Leger skewers the Cons' wilful blindness to the costs of a single-minded obsession with resource extraction.

- Shorter Naomi Lakritz: In Peter MacKay's defence, isn't he at least as factually wrong as he is sexist?

- The Star calls for a functional access-to-information regime to replace the Cons' tendency toward total secrecy. But Michael Harris observes that the Cons seem perfectly happy to spend hundreds of millions of dollars fabricating an ad-based reality, while making no effort to inform either themselves or the public of what's actually happening.

- Finally, Will Hutton looks at the UK's National Health Service as another highly-valued public service which is being undermined in preparation for a fire sale:
Over the last six months, I've got to know the interior workings of UCH's leukaemia wards better than I, or any reader, would ever want. You just offer thanks that there is such a system on hand for the crisis my family and others are going through. And that the leukaemia wards are embedded in a general hospital with such depth of expertise and range of resource. Whatever cruel side-effects that emerge, there are experts and teams on hand to take charge as the needs arise. It is integrated 21st-century healthcare. It saves lives.

It is also value-driven, as is the case with all great organisations. Curing leukaemia often culminates in a bone marrow transplant, with the molecular structure of the donor's bone marrow carefully matched with that of the recipient. Only healthy new bone marrow will prevent the cancer from reappearing. But that needs donors. The Anthony Nolan Trust has more than half-a-million volunteers who give their bone marrow and blood for free; the bigger the pool, the better the chance of a match, and thus of survival. They are unsung heroes and heroines, the best of humanity.

These donors are animated by the same value system as the NHS. The nurses who inspect stools and the consultants who mastermind the cocktail of drugs are united by the drive to cure, to give health and life. They are givers and sharers. They know humanity demands solidarity, empathy and looking out for each other – or else, who are you?

Of course they are imperfect and sometimes make mistakes. The sums have to add up, as they do in any organisation, but they add up to serve this larger purpose. You give your bone marrow for free to a service that provides health for free, funded by commonly created resources. Life-threatening disease is a lottery. Before this existential truth we stand together. Profit maximisation cannot be the value system at the heart of our healthcare system.

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