June 15—Remember healthcare? Remember how it was all anyone could talk about in the summer of 2017, when the Republican Congress, aided and abetted by the Accidental President, attempted to "repeal and replace?" As many feared, the failure of that effort did not end right-wing attempts to dismantle this fledging pillar of social democratic healthcare in America. Instead, Republicans throughout the country and in Washington are turning to the courts, while Trump is doing everything possible through executive action and inaction to weaken the law. In the latest such development, Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions has filed a brief joining Texas and 17 other states who are seeking to declare the Affordable Care Act's protections for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditons invalid. The 17 state plaintiffs seek to once again give insurers the right to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and to apply exorbitant rates to older customers.
June 4—Even in the deeply red south, social democrat ferment is not utterly lacking. Municipal employees in Greensboro, North Carolina recently militated, successfully, for a $15 minimum, and are now pushing for stepped raises in future.
June 2—Italy is the latest Western nation to see populist political forces disrupt long-established patterns of governing. Elections in March favored two outsider parties, the Five Star Movement and the Northern League, with little in common except an opposition to easy immigration and identities as change-makers. After two months of wrangling the two parties have formed a coalition government. While the Five Star Movement promises help for working people, they are also promoting tax cuts which will strain government capacity to provide services; and knowlegeable observers suspect that the neo-liberal free-marketeers who dominate the Northen League will set the tone.
June 1—The Obama recovery continues apace, with the U.S. economy adding 223,000 new jobs in May, bringing the number of those seeking work down to 3.8% of the workforce. Social democrats can applaud the increased opportunity for employment, though many millions are still unemployed or underemployed, and tens of millions of Americans are working at substandard wages. Classical economic theory suggests that unemployment figures this low should be raising wages, as demand for employees runs up against a shrinking supply of available labor, but as Jared Berstein, advisor to former VP Joe Biden explains in the Washington Post, this is not happening. The Social Democrat advocates a more direct approach to assuring U.S. citizens employment at living wages: guarantee both through our laws.
May 24—The Accidental President today signed legislation which exempts all but the nation's thirteen largest banks from the stricter federal oversight requirements legislated by Congress in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. Thirty-four House Democrats had joined a nearly unamimous Republican caucus in approving the legislation, which also offers regulatory relief to small, local banks. The bill did not include, however, a controversial proposal, pushed by the White House, to eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
May 31, 2018—The Accidental President's ill-considered flailings have put trade much in the news of late, with on-again, off-again metals tariffs (now back on); the threatened shuttering of a Chinese telecom giant rescinded after His Accidentalness fretted via tweet about "too many Chinese jobs lost" (we thought the whole program was about getting "our" jobs back from China); incensed allies and confusion throughout the U.S. and global business and farming communities. While informed observers across the political spectrum seem to agree that China has, since its admission to the World Trade Organization in 2001, made a fine art of gaming the world trading system, commentators are nearly as universally agreed that the measures the Trump administration is adopting—fixating on the trade deficit, lashing out at friend and foe alike—are unlikely to help the average American and will likely do considerable damage to the place of the U.S. in the world. Others perceptive observers point out that the best response to globalized manufacturing would be to roll up our sleeves and invest in human capital the way Germany has done for decades: train our young adults to participate competitively in the high tech industries in which the U.S. enjoys a comparative advantage.
April 28, 2018—It started in West Virginia, where a nine-day walkout gained striking teachers a $5,000 pay increase in early March. Since then, other teachers on the wrong end of red state legislatures in the hands of tax cutting/ budget slashing/ the devil take the hindmost idealogues have taken notice: teacher walkouts have been repeated in Kentucky, Oklahoma and now Arizona. With unions weakened by hostile Republican governments, one New York Times article suggests that the West Virginia strike—which relied more on crowd funding than official union action—points to a new form of worker activism. NPR offers a state-by-state guide.
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.