The month of the summer solstice began on a surreal note, when the Accidental President withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord, thereby officially solidifying our status as a rogue nation. A coalition of states and municipalities led by California, New York and Washington State immediately announced plans to uphold the accord’s principles within their jurisdictions, attesting to the reservoir of sanity still residing in key regions of the country. The congressional probe into Russian influence in the Trump campaign occupied much of the news space at the beginning of the month, yielding an obstruction investigation aimed at His Accidentalness but nothing more concrete. (More disturbing, newly disclosed information revealed that the election systems of 39 U.S. states were targeted by Russian hacking during the 2016 cycle.) Adding to Trump’s legal woes, first the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia and then 200 congresspersons brought suit under the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, claiming that profits made by Trump’s business interests around the globe violate the Clause’s prohibitions against federal officials receiving benefits from foreign nations.
Debate on the Senate’s rewrite of the House’s healthcare revamp took up much of the month’s political energy. After huddling in secret for weeks, Senate Republicans released a bill on the 20th that possessed most of the same flaws as the House version (meet the new bill, same as the old bill): the Congressional Budget Office analysis predicted 22 million losing coverage as opposed to 23 million under the House version. Particularly hard hit under the Senate bill would be seniors, whose premiums would spike radically, and low-income clients of Medicaid, which would face sharp cutbacks. Facing defections from moderate members of its own caucus, the Senate leadership has delayed a vote on the bill until after the July 4 holiday. With Congress intent on reducing access and Obamacare exchanges struggling in an environment of regulatory uncertainty, Democrat-controlled states are stepping forward to craft their own solutions. New York Governor Mario Cuomo on the 6th threatened insurers with loss of government funds should they exit the state’s exchanges, while state-level single-payer legislation in California and Nevada, though failing to pass this year, remains an option for the next legislative session.
The Accidental President demonstrated his flair for making lemons from lemonade in two media-event announcements. The long-promised investment in infrastructure turns out to be a plan to turn over much of our commons to private individuals, while a push for more apprenticeships, a laudable goal, comes down to a pep talk to industry—with funds for real training programs axed from the federal budget.
Reproductive rights issues were much in the news as a Trump rule change gave states leeway to restrict contraceptive coverage under the ACA. Several states are responding with their own legislation requiring birth control coverage. Several states are likewise preemptively moving to protect access to abortion in light of likely anti-abortion developments to come in both Congress and the Supreme Court.
As the Court wrapped up its current session, the effects of the new conservative balance are already clear, with rulings allowing public funds for religious schools and trademark protection for racial slurs. The Court agreed to hear, but did not tackle this session, a case challenging Wisconsin’s current redistricting plan, which plaintiffs argue unfairly favors Republicans. This closely watched case will be the first time the Court has ruled on whether legislative districts can be drawn expressly to favor one political party over another.
Battles raged in several states between conservative governors and Democratic—or merely less-conservative—legislatures. Kansas’s moderate-Republican assembly passed tax increases over the veto of conservative governor Sam Brownback, whose supply-side strategy has run the state into a sea of red ink; Maine’s right-wing governor refused to sign-off on a budget including a voter-approved tax increase on the wealthy, leading to a partial shutdown; and Illinois faced its third consecutive year without a regular budget, as multi-millionaire governor Bruce Rauner plays hardball with Illinois’ Democrat assembly: insisting on tax freezes and cuts to social services. In Ohio the protagonists are reversed, where moderate Republican governor John Kasich vetoed the conservative assembly’s exit from Medicaid expansion.
Jon Ossof, whose bid to gain the Georgia House seat vacated when Tom Price joined the Trump administration resulted in the most heavily funded congressional race in history, was unable to overcome deeply entrenched Republican sensibilities in a highly conservative district. But Democrat gubernatorial primaries in Virginia and New Jersey put candidates on the ballot who both augur Democrat wins in the fall. On the municipal level, the election of leftist Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who has promised as mayor to make Jackson, Mississippi, the capital and largest urban center of one of the nation’s most conservative states, the “most radical city in the world,” reminded us that we live in a very complex nation, where the daily tweets of the Accidental President represent only one small sliver of the country’s political activity.
The U.S. economy continues to benefit from the Obama expansion, though with tens of millions of Americans working for less than living wage incomes and many millions without jobs at all, much remains to be done. With unemployment reaching a new low of 4.3 % (euphemistically considered “full” employment by policy makers) the Federal Reserve is slowly raising interest rates, threatening to choke off further job creation and wage increases. Also on the economic front, Amazon raised eyebrows with its acquisition of healthy grocery chain Whole Foods. With the online behemoth already controlling 43% of online sales in the U.S., some are calling for anti-trust action by the federal government.
Union labor saw a win in the West when 17,000 striking AT&T workers gained pay raises, increased job security, retirement bennies and affordable healthcare in a new settlement. Unions will have to fight harder than ever to maintain their already precarious position, with a Trump administration bent on eradicating organized labor from the American system. This month the Supreme Court, newly moved to the right with the seating of Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch, agreed to hear a suit brought by so-called “right to work” groups, challenging public sector unions’ right to collect contributions toward bargaining activities from all covered employees.
Police continue to be a danger to American citizens. Early in the month Las Vegas officer Kenneth Lopera was charged with involuntary manslaughter after killing an unarmed suspect with an unauthorized chokehold maneuver; and in Omaha, schizophrenia sufferer Zachary Bearhills died after being beaten, dragged across the ground by his ponytail and tasered 12 times while handcuffed. A Stanford University study of police interactions during traffic stops (not surprisingly) found Oakland officers to be “significantly less respectful and consistently ruder toward black motorists.” The Social Democrat calls for a rigorous re-examination of Terry v. Ohio (the 1968 Supreme Court decision which authorizes casual police detentions) and an end to intrusive policing practices.
The Trump administration’s multi-faceted attack on social democracy (and human decency) obscured alarming developments on the military front. A New York Times analysis finds civilian deaths in the Syrian conflict rising to “astounding rates” since Trump’s inauguration, with at least 484 and possibly as many as 4,000 deaths of innocent bystanders. The downing of a Syrian jet, the first hostile attack by an American warplane in a decade, along with 4,000 new troops sent to Afghanistan, suggests a possible return to the “perpetual war state” that President Obama labored patiently to end.
Elections in both Britain and France brought mitigated solace to social democrats fretting over the U.S.’s current right-wing ascendancy. The resounding victory of social democrat centrist Emmanuel Macron’s Republique En March party in French parliamentary elections promises a possible template for building a center-left electoral majority as well as a strong France-Germany core to bolster the EU, though we will remain skeptical about party’s largely inexperienced delegates’ capacity to manage the tricky cross-currents of French politics. Across the Channel, Theresa May’s conservative block ran into more than she bargained for in calling special elections: instead of the increased right-wing majority she had hoped to gain, she now confronts an enlarged Labor opposition led by the bête noir of British politics, Jeremy Corbyn. It remains to be seen whether Labor’s impressive showing represents a real tilt toward more left social policies, or whether the main driver in Corbyn’s surge was a backlash against Brexit.
We end with a couple of unmitigated bits of heartening news. The Illinois legislature joined a handful of other states (California, DC) who have put plans in place to raise the minimum wage to $15. Meanwhile two stories reminded us of the reservoir of fellow feeling that still resides throughout the country. Early in the month, 39-year-old Randy Tompkins leapt into and successfully stopped the moving car of a fellow motorist experiencing a seizure. Displaying a similar commitment to the well-being of their fellow human beings, on the 26th 47-year-old Matthew Howard and his 21-year-old daughter Leean Winchel acted as human shields to cushion the fall of a 14-year-old girl from a Six Flags gondola ride in Upstate New York. All escaped with only minor injuries.
Current Unemployment: 4.4%
Unemployment January, 2017: 4.8%
Unemployment January, 2009: 7.8%
Current Employment in Manufacturing: 12,396,000
Employment in Manufacturing January, 2017: 12,355,000
Employment in Manufacturing January, 2009: 12,561,000