The Las Vegas shooting massacre that opened October stunned even a nation inured to gun violence, but did little to convince the gun lobby and its Republican allies in the White House and Congress that ready access to weapons of mass destruction is not a good thing. After taking a few days to absorb this latest escalation of randomized mayhem, the press and the nation moved on to other issues—until the next grudge-soaked crazy decides to unleash his stockpiled ammunition on unsuspecting innocents.
Contention over the Affordable Care Act focused on cost-sharing subsidies that permit insurers to cover low-income beneficiaries. The Accidental President announced on the 13th that he would no longer authorize the payments, claiming erroneously that the subsidies had created a windfall for insurers. A bi-partisan legislative fix to save the payments gained steam in the Senate, but majority leader Mitch McConnell announced that he would not bring up the measure for consideration until the president signaled a willingness to sign an eventual bill. We are still waiting. Meanwhile a federal district court refused to force the administration to make the payments, as requested in a lawsuit being brought by the attorneys general of 18 states.
The Obama economy hummed along, continuing to create new jobs, though many of them at wages that do not afford for the basic necessities of life. Negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, held by some to be responsible for declining wages and lost manufacturing jobs, stalled as both Canada and Mexico resisted U.S. efforts to force more American content in manufactured goods. Rather than focus on restoring hard-goods manufacturing to its former position in the U.S. economy, others favor a more direct approach to improving the lives of American workers in low-skill jobs: raising wages. Target called into the question the oft-heard complaint of the right that higher wages will impede business functioning when it announced that it will raise its wage floor to $15. Target’s lowest paid employees, now making $10 per hour, will see an immediate raise to $11, with the remainder of the increase to $15 being phased in by 2020.
With the UN reporting that global carbon dioxide levels experienced their greatest increase on record last year, the Trump administration continued to fight to expand the burning of fossil fuels, scrapping the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and authorizing expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. For hopeful news we look to pockets of sanity, like Paris, which announced a ban on gasoline engines by 2030, and Denver, where an initiative requiring green roofs would win voters’ approval in November balloting.
Eyes were on Congress as Republicans in both houses worked on budgets. The so-called tax reform which emerged from the House contained few surprises: with its steep corporate rate plunge, rate reduction for incomes over $500,000 and its scrapping of the estate tax, it is a windfall for the wealthy paid for by $1.5 trillion in additional federal indebtedness. The plan will be subject to much massaging over the next month or more, and is unlikely to emerge from the House in anything like its current form. The measure will face rough-going in the Senate, where 48 Democrats can block any proposal that adds more than $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit and will be fighting Republican efforts to scale back government services.
In Europe, Austrian elections confirmed a now familiar trend, with large gains going to the nationalist “Freedom” Party, while Social Democrats, with 27 percent of the vote, lost ground. The center-right, low-tax People’s Party, which polled 32 percent, will take the nationalists as coalition partners to form a new government.
We’ll end on a positive note: in the days following the Las Vegas massacre, local residents motivated by concern for their fellow human beings waited for hours in blocks-long lines to give, literally, of themselves at area blood banks. As long as that spirit survives, we remain hopeful that social democracy’s goal of establishing a society both more just and more humane is well within reach.
W. E. Smith, November, 2017