March 14, 2018—The United Nations has issued its World Happiness Report for 2018. Once again, committed social democracies monopolize the top spots, with the Scandinavian nations of Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland leading the charge. The United States, meanwhile, slipped from the 14th to the 18th spot. According to one of the report's authors, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, the U.S. ranking is "being systematically undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases, notably obesity, substance abuse . . . and depression."
March 8—The Accidental President has announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum of 25 and 10 percent, respectively. The tariffs, essentially a tax on imports, will protect steel and aluminum producers from cheaper foreign products, while adding to the costs of manufacturers who use steel and aluminum in the products they make. These costs will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for everything from canned goods to automobiles and appliances. Most economists consider such tariffs to be counterproductive, moreso when applied to our friend and allies, though some on the left favor protectionism for American manufacturers. The effect of the measure is rapidly being diluted, however, as the Acciental President announces one exemption after another: Canada and Mexico top exporters of metals to the U.S., have already been exempted, and other friendly nations are lined up for the same treatment. China, the bete noir of Trump's unfair trade narrative, accounts for only 3 percent of imported U.S. steel. The measure is looking more and more like standard Trump fare: an ill thought out gesture, capturing media attention, the chief purpose of which is to present the illusion (and what an illusion it is!) that the Accidental President is doing something purposeful.
March 6—The Senate this week takes up legislation to weaken the safeguards put in place after the financial meltdown of 2008. The law, if implemented, will reduce capital requirements for banks, permit riskier investments and relax the regime of stress tests designed to gauge the health of financial institutions. The bill's sponsors claim that banks, especially smaller, local institutions, are suffering under restrictions that are unnecessarily harsh, while Dodd Frank supporters argue that the original bill's safeguards are needed to protect the American public from another costly disaster. Surprisingly, 10 Democratic senators have co-sponsored the bill, which has been roundly criticised by Senator Elizbeth Warren.
March 5, 2018—Just as Germany ends months of uncertainty about that country's national leadership, last weekend's polling in Italy promises chaos on Europe's southern flank. In a pattern that we have seen played out across Europe, and also in the United States, centrist parties, including Italy's social democratic Democrats, lost ground to two fringe groups peddling nationalism and distrust of governing institutions. A good deal of horse-trading among the leading vote-getters lies ahead, but some species of right-leaning, populist-pandering government is almost a certainty. The challenge for social democrats remains to find a message that will resonate with electoral majorities.
March 4, 2018—Nearly six months after the German electorate went to the polls to select a new national government, the German Social Democratic Party has agreed to enter in coalition with Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party. The CDU was the top vote-getter in the September elections, but without a majority of seats in the German Bundestag, it needed the support of some other party or parties in order to form a government. After talks with the center-right Freedom Party and the Greens broke down in the fall, hopes turned toward the Social Democrats, who had partnered with Merkel's CDU in the two previous governments. The Social Democrat's leader, Martin Schultz, had vowed that the SPD would not enter another coaltion with Merkel's government, concerned that its further-left voice was being submerged in an amorphous middle-ground to which many attribute the decline of the party's fortunes (once dominant in German politics, they took 20 percent of votes in the September tally, a 5 percent reduction from their former strength). The decision was finally put before the SPD's 464,000 members, who agreed to again join Merkel's party in government Germany. Key to the decision was an agreement giving several ministerial posts—especially the finance ministry, key to setting budget priorities—to the SPD. The party's left wing is determined to see its priorities in the areas of better wages and safety net provisions addressed in the new government.
February 10, 2018—A little less than two months after congressional Republicans passed a tax bill which will add $1.5 trillion to the federal debt over the next ten years, the same legislators approved a spending bill which over the next few years will take the federal government's annual deficits from $500 billion in 2015 to over $1 trillion. The irony in all of this deficit spending by the party which has decried federal budget deficits for decades, frequently threatening to shut down government operations over red ink and calling for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, has not been lost on observers. It appears that for Republican lawmakers, deficits are only a bad thing when a Democrat is in the White House.
January 31, 2018—This spring the Supreme Court will decide whether Wisconsin's Republican-controlled legislature drew the state's congressional legislative districts in such a way as to dilute the votes of Democrats. Also under review are districting plans in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Maryland. This New York Times sums up what's at stake and where things stand.
January 5, 2018—2017 witnessed 987 fatal shootings by police, according to a database project being undertaken by the Washington Post, essentially matching the record number of police shootings reported in both 2015 and 2016. 68 of those killed were unarmed. 19 of the unarmed victims were of African-American ancestry, the other 49 unarmed victims were members of other ethnic groups.
January 5, 2018—Accidental Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions has announced that the federal Department of Justice, reversing Obama administration policy, will vigorously enforce marijuana prohibition, even in those states which have legalized the intoxicant's use. Federal lawmakers from both parties have strongly criticized the decision: what actions they plan to take to block the DOJ from carrying out the plan remain uncertain.
January 4, 2018—One of the most egregious affronts to democracy in the United States is gerrymandering: the practice whereby state legislatures adjust congressional voting districts to insure continuing domination by the majority party. The Supreme Court heard arguments, last fall, on a Wisconsin case challenging the practice, though no ruling has yet been issued. The Court has now announced that it will also hear a case brought by a Maryland plaintiff against that state's Democrat-controlled legislature. New York Times legal reporter Linda Greenhouse looks at the issues involved.
January 4, 2017—The Trump administration has announced that it will open nearly all coastal waters of the United States to oil drilling leases, reversing an Obama policy which had barred petroleum extraction from most of the nation's shores. The governors of 9 coastal states have vowed to oppose the plan, which cannot, in any case, take effect for 18 months.
January 3, 2018—In another "nevermind" moment, the Accidental President has quietly disbanded the voter "fraud" commission that he promised supporters would prove that massive numbers of illegal and unregistered voters were responsible for Hillary Clinton's 2 million-plus lead over the national embarrassment in 2016's popular vote count. The administration cited a lack of cooperation among Democrat states as the reason for scuttling the commission. More likely: upon examination, the only apparent fraud was the one sitting in the White House.
December 30, 2017—A common distinction between us social democrats and advocates of laissez-faire capitalism is that, as Benoit Hamon put it last year while campaigning for the French presidency, social democrats "believe in the public function." Following a standard right-wing playbook, only with less coherence, the Accidental President has significantly reduced personnel—and effectiveness—at many federal agencies. This end-of-year piece in the Washington Post surveys the damage.
December 29, 2017—If it has seemed that sexual harrassment and assault allegations are coming at us on a daily basis, it's because . . . they have been. The Los Angeles Times reports that since allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein surfaced on October 5, similar accusations against 100 "powerful" men have occurred at an average rate of one every 20 hours. The Times offers a rogues gallery of all 100 alleged offenders, if you can stomach it.