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.
December 21, 2017—Despite efforts by the Trump administration and a hostile Congress to undermine the Affordable Care Act, close to 9 million Americans, mostly low-income, have signed up for plans so far this year, roughly on par with 2017 figures. The national enrollment, cut in half by the Trump administration, ends with the calendar year, but several states, including California, have extended enrollment through January.
December 16, 2017—Since abandoning their effort to repeal Obamacare in September, congressional Republicans have been focused on legislating a significant reduction in taxes, especially for corporations and the wealthy. With the two houses of Congress having reconciled their separate bills, the deed is done. In essence, the bill forgoes revenues that otherwise would flow into the federal treasury, by most accounts adding $1.5 trillion to the existing $20 trillion federal debt over the next ten years. This piece in the Chicago Tribune nicely lays out the major provisions.
December 8, 2017—Just-released jobs and growth figures indicate that the U.S. economy continues the expansion begun in 2009. Employers added jobs for the 86th consecutive month, with 228,000 new positions filled in November. Wages for the average worker, however, have not seen gains above inflation. Astute observers question the wisdom of cutting taxes with labor markets already near technical full employment.
November 29, 2017—Senate Republicans tax plan squeaked through the chamber's Finance Committee yesterday on a party-line vote, increasing the odds that the measure will become law. The Guardian article nicely sums up the extent to which the bill represents an assault (not surprisingly) on social democratic principles and programs. The Denver Post piece reports on COB findings that show low-income households losing ground under the plan, while Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman calls the plan out for the incoherent scam that it is.
November 23, 2017—Up until now the Internet has been treated like a public road, where no one can be excluded and none given special privileges. If Trump FCC appointee Ajit Pai's plans withstand court challenges, Internet service providers will be able to block access to competitors, charge higher rates to smaller companies doing less volume and scrap privacy and other consumer protections that have regulated the information superhighway in recent years. Of a piece with the rest of the Trumpian agenda, moneyed interests will run roughshod over every other consideration. The Guardian article looks at the probable effects on one rural area in the Northwest.
November 22, 2017—The 23rd global conference on climate change (COP23) concluded in Bonn this week, where the focus was on implementing a "rule book" to reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to keep warming under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). This Deustche Welle article sums up the proceedings.
November 21, 2017—The U.S. Department of Justice has announced that it will bring a suit in federal courts to block AT&T's $85 billion purchase of Time Warner Corporation, which owns CNN, HBO and other media companies along with Warner Brothers Pictures. At issue is whether AT&T's control of both distribution, through its DirecTV satellite service, as well as content providers it would gain through the merger, would reduce competition and lead to higher prices for consumers. A federal court will decide. Some see a tougher stance on monopoly power, others Trumpian pique over CNN's coverage of his administration.
November 21, 2017—Since German parliamentary elections in September, German chancellor Angela Merkel, whose CDU party did not gain enough seats to form a government alone, has been in negotiations with the Green and Free Democratic parties looking to a governing coalition. It was announced yesterday that those negotiations have collapsed over disagreements on immigration policy and the environment, with the Free Democrats, a center-right party, playing the spoiler. Merkel's way forward—as well as her survival as chancellor—is now unclear.