Social Democracy Outlook:
August 01, 2017

At this column’s last iteration, at the end of June, Senate Republicans had postponed until after the July 4th holiday a vote on repealing and replacing Obamacare. We had hoped that Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s decision to pull the bill on the 19th, facing certain defeat, would be the end of the matter, but we had underestimated Republicans’ obsession with the issue—and over-estimated their common sense. Like a ghastly specter from your worst nightmares, Repeal and Replace kept emerging from the grave to stalk the halls of Congress, looking uglier each time. The collapse of McConnell’s most recent effort to revive the crusade fractured on three Republican turncoats—Collins, Murkowski, and McCain—but the razor-thin margin of victory suggests that the most signal advance of U.S. social democracy in many decades is skating on thin ice. A report, early in the month, from the Department of Health and Human Services, found that the ACA system is working very much as intended: extending coverage, moderating risks for insurers and premiums for insured. To the extent that Obamacare is “imploding,” as cry the White House and Republicans in Congress, it is an issue confined to deep Red States which have refused to fully participate in its programs. The Trump administration is meanwhile doing what it can to weaken the law’s effectiveness: lax enforcement of the individual mandate; paltry marketing and outreach for the exchanges and invitations to states to apply for waivers which will reduce Medicaid access. Most disruptive, Trump’s threats to withhold the subsidies which constitute a critical linchpin in the system has spooked insurance carriers, who must put together 2018 offerings by September. Regulatory and legal turmoil are already causing insurers to raise rates preemptively: the likely reason a current Gallup poll found two million more uninsured than on January 1. The Accidental President has promised a decision on supporting the subsidies this week—The Social Democrat­ can only hope that calculations of self-interest, the only kind of which HIs Accidentalness seems capable, result in a decision to support the law. A fair in rural southern Virginia early in the month, whose offer of free care from participating practitioners drew thousands who cannot afford treatment, illustrated the serious stakes involved.

The Obama expansion continues, with the economy adding jobs at a brisk pace. Unfortunately, most of the new jobs continue to be in the low-wage service sector. Stagnant wages at the lower end of the income scale are linked to the U.S. (and all other OECD nations) economy’s ongoing failure to generate productivity gains: a situation that some economists convincingly suggest may be the new normal. Both developments demonstrate the need for living wage laws, so that all working Americans can participate fully in our national life, regardless of macroeconomic trends outside of their control. Scheduled talks to renegotiate NAFTA, despite flamboyant campaign rhetoric, will do little to revive well-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S.; farmers along with the many companies who profit from trade and supply lines with our southern neighbor are lobbying against major changes. Similarly, the many American businesses which rely on imported steel—including retailers, with their millions of miles of steel shelving—are militating against the administration’s threatened steel tariffs. With the U.S. off on a protectionist sulk, the European Union and Japan worked out an historic trade pact which will regulate trade in 40% of the world economy—without U.S. input. Meanwhile Carrier, who after being showered with millions in goodies from Indiana agreed to keep 800 employees at its Indianapolis plant, has proceeded to ship another 590 jobs to Mexico. It will use much of the state tax breaks and grants it received to automate out of existence many of the remaining 800 jobs “saved” by Trump’s highly publicized intervention in January. And all that campaign hoopla about immigrants taking away jobs from Americans? On the 20th the Trump administration issued a further 15,000 H-2B visas, admitting seasonal workers into the country to work in farming, fisheries—and in Trump and others’ hospitality businesses. The Accidental President will likely soon learn about trade, as he did about healthcare, that “nobody knew it was so complicated.”

As the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that the earth is undergoing its sixth mass extinction (brought to you by homo sapiens) our environment and public spaces remain under dire threat, with climate-denying free-marketeers helming both the EPA and the Department of Interior. Over at EPA, Environmental Destruction Secretary Pruitt continues to wield a regulatory “wrecking ball,” weakening protections for everything from clean water to wildlife; while at Interior Ryan Zinke is itching to open federal forests, offshore seas and majestic national monuments to extraction activities. On a more positive note, Volvo announced that it will cease to manufacture all-gasoline or diesel cars in 2019, and the UK joined France in setting 2040 as the end of the line for internal combustion engines in the British Isles. (Norway has already committed to phasing out the polluting vehicles by 2025, India by 2030.) Also stepping up to the climate challenge, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law an extension of the state’s five-year cap-and-trade program to 2030. Another example of how we might begin to move into the post-carbon age also came out of the Golden State: Los Angeles has ordered 95 electric buses to service the city’s commuters.

The “resistance” continues: former Democratic congressperson (and unsuccessful primary candidate for this fall’s Virginia governor race) Tom Perriello announced a new PAC early in the month dedicated to electing a Democratic majority to that pivotal swing state’s legislature. Perriello is hopeful that the equation can be changed in the Virginia Assembly, and with it the gerrymandered electoral map that keeps congressional seats safe for Republicans. The importance of turning right-wing state houses was highlighted when St. Louis’s recently enacted $15 minimum wage law was nixed by the state’s Republican legislature. Seattle has been more fortunate. Two news items illustrate why the city on Puget Sound is earning a name as a seedbed of bold, social democratic ideas: a special tax on incomes over $250,000, and a campaign fund voucher program which empowers the city’s voters to direct public funds to the municipal candidates of their choice. Go Seattle!  National Democrats announced their own game plan for the 2018 campaign season, focusing on creating 10 million jobs through infrastructure spending, training and apprenticeship programs, a $15 minimum wage and a plan to rein in exorbitant drug prices: all great social democracy initiatives. Democrats should keep honing their plans for 2018: the Accidental President’s approval ratings continue to visit regions not witnessed for decades, indicating that many Americans who took a flyer on a mean-spirited, lying mysogynist may be realizing that they goofed. A Gallup poll conducted on the 25th indicates that, were the 2016 election held today, Trump would achieve only 99 Electoral College votes.

Seemingly unable to learn from its mistakes, America continues to be the land of death-by-police: figures for the first half of the year put us on target to again reach 1,000 annual killings. (By comparison, German police kill about 10 people per year.) The issue was brought to glaring attention early in the month when peacable yoga instructor Justine Diamond was gunned down by a trigger happy Minnesapolis officer after he and his partner responded to Diamond’s report of a sexual assault behind her home. Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges received Police Chief Janeé Harteau’s resignation, and Minnapolis uniforms were directed to activate body cameras for all interactions with the public. Good enough measures, but it is the opinion of The Social Democrat that it will take far bolder measures to reign in excessive use of force by those hired to serve and protect. Accidental Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ directives to double down on the ludicrous drug war, along with this month’s directive expanding the unconstitutional seizing of citizens’ property by police is only likely to increase the mayhem. A shocking item from early in the month illustrates the dangerous, gun-saturated world in which police officers must frequently operate: over the 4th of July weekend, one hundred persons were shot in the City of Chicago alone.

In France, the newly elected Macron-Philippe government begins to make policy. Macron’s commitment to France’s European Union obligation of a budget deficit under 3% of GDP has translated to controversial departmental cuts and minor reductions in France’s housing allowance program, neither of which has been universally supported. Equally controversial is the government’s initiative to rewrite France’s employment code, whose requirements on employers are held responsible by many for France’s inability to generate an adequate number of jobs. Like many mature social democracies across Europe, where the right of government to intervene in the economy is a long-accepted principle, the new French leadership is seeking that sweet spot between government regulation and private enterprise dynamism that best serves the interests of all citizens. The Social Democrat wishes them luck. Also from across the Atlantic: the German parliament has granted homosexual couples equal marriage rights, taking a necessary step toward inclusion of this important cohort. The mood was especially festive at Berlin’s annual pride festival, which took place July 22.

The month ended with a couple of ominous developments emerging from the White House. First the Accidental President tweeted a new policy disallowing transgendered citizens from serving in the U.S. armed forces. The matter will be fought in the courts, possibly in Congress, and elsewhere: Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft has announced his intention to “keep faith” with transgendered subordinates who have faithfully served their nation. Days later, at a Long Island gathering of police officers, the Bully in Chief openly condoned the commission of battery against citizens taken into custody. Police chiefs across the nation—as well as Chuck Rosenberg, the administration’s own DEA head—strongly condemned the remarks. Word.