Project Muni

The Thinker by Rodin

I have a new project of sorts: convince our city to construct a municipal network.

What’s a municipal network? “Munis” as they are sometimes called are publicly controlled Internet Service Providers. So rather than get Internet from Comcast or Time Warner, you might get it from your town or city instead, or more likely some legal entity chartered by your town or city.

Munis seem to be catching on. They tend to spring up in places that don’t have high-speed Internet, which means they are mostly more in rural areas. Some years back across the Connecticut River from us in Leverett, Massachusetts the citizens decided they were done with dialup. So they created LeverettNet. For $73.89 a month subscribers get a 1 gigabit per second true fiber Internet access to the home out in what is arguably the middle of nowhere. In my city across the river we already have high-speed Internet, and it’s called Comcast. For about $75/month you can get “up to” 60 megabits per second Internet to the home. (Comcast offers a good deal for the first year you would expect.) But there’s no true fiber to the home here; it’s stepped down to coaxial cable. Comcast doesn’t offer a 1-gigabit per second service like Leverett does, but you can buy 2 gigabits per second in some places of our city … for $299.99 a month. Ouch!

Like in most communities, Comcast is the only game in our community. There are plenty of communities mostly in the hill towns around here that are largely left to fend for themselves. Comcast doesn’t go there because it’s not profitable. There are fewer subscribers and the houses are further apart. The town of Leverett has only 1900 residents so they had to figure out how to do it themselves. In one sense though they were lucky. Amherst, Massachusetts is not too far away. They could get service there and extend it across the telephone polls to the town.

It’s too early to know if we will be successful in getting our city of 30,000 to build a muni. We haven’t formally petitioned the City Council yet. It seems kind of redundant since Comcast is available everywhere. But it’s the only game in town. Leverett across the river with a much more spread out population though has figured out it can deliver a service nearly seventeen times faster than Comcast’s for about the same price. That sounds … appealing!

So a group of us are organizing. Right now this involves mostly reaching out and research. On the face of it though there is a business case to be made for a city muni. Perhaps the best-known muni and one of the most controversial is one built for the City of Chattanooga, Tennessee against the strong wishes of Comcast. Its most popular service is the 100 megabits per second service, priced at $57.99 a month. This suggests that a muni should cost about a third less for similar service compared with Comcast.

It turns out that saving money is just one of the many reasons for communities to build munis. In our research we’ve uncovered a whole lot of other reasons. Here are just some:

  • Comcast is responsible to shareholders, so they have every incentive to bilk customers for all they can get. It’s not too hard since they are the sole provider. A public board though would oversee a muni. It would be not-for-profit and presumably accountable to its subscribers and our city government.
  • Comcast is “innovating” by doing away with Net Neutrality, although it claims it won’t slow down services for websites. But it certainly could, particularly if they think they could make a buck doing so. A muni would probably require Net Neutrality.
  • Comcast has no competition and thus no reason to lower prices but plenty of reasons to raise them. Verizon did introduce its FiOS service in a few neighborhoods but quickly learned it wasn’t profitable to do it citywide. They will make money in services that have fewer competitors, so they are concentrating on wireless access.
  • Comcast isn’t improving their network. Many of the telephone polls have their optical fiber on them, but not all of them and less so along stretches of road that are less populated. It’s all stepped down to coaxial cable at some point, but in places there is a lot of coaxial cable between your home and a fiber drop. There’s no reason for Comcast to improve their network because there’s no competition and doing so would lower profits anyhow.

I believe that high-speed Internet access is a requirement today. It is really a new utility, the same way power, gas and sewage are. To meet the needs of citizens in these communities, Internet service should be managed by some sort of governmental body. The private sector model is largely a failure. It has failed in the hill towns around here because the private sector won’t serve that market. It’s a failure also because you only have one choice in most markets.

It’s time. The Tennessee Valley Authority was created to bring electricity to Appalachia because the private sector wouldn’t. Massachusetts is making half-hearted efforts to subsidize high speed internet for the hill towns via a Wired West initiative, but it’s underfunded and mostly languishing.

One of the reasons Trump won the presidency in 2016 was because of the frustration of people in more rural communities. I’m sort of in this boat now. Here the economy has grown little if at all since the Great Recession. That’s is part of its charm to me. (I can actually see the stars at night again.) But it’s not too hard to see that a good part of the reason these communities are suffering is that they suffer from an unequal playing field. Cities with their natural higher densities are going to be profitable to serve so they will get robust high-speed Internet and maybe residents can choose from multiple providers.

In most cases these hill towns around here don’t have the money to create their own munis. Towns like Leverett found ways to do it through issuing bonds, and that’s probably how it will get built where I live if we can convince the City to sanction one. By having robust high-speed Internet out here in the more rural parts of the country at an affordable price, communities like mine can begin to seriously address the rural vs. urban divide, much the way the Tennessee Valley Authority brought Appalachia into the 20th century.

For the foreseeable future though not much in the way of resources will come from the federal government. So mostly we must roll our own, if we can figure out a way to do so. In the case of my small city I think it will encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to move here, where the cost of living is lower anyhow and where many natural beauties are literally just outside your door.

You can learn more about municipal networks at muninetworks.org. If like me you are frustrated by the lack or high cost of high-speed Internet maybe you should do what I am doing and rise up and demand it.

Raise our taxes!

The Thinker by Rodin

Merry Christmas everyone! And it’s a merry one here as we had actual snow for Christmas, about five inches locally. So yes, we have a white Christmas, which was a rarity but now that I live in New England maybe not so much. It still seems kind of magical.

Can it be a downer to get money for Christmas? We don’t collect on this money for a while, but as part of my 2018 planning I have been trying to figure out our budget. Trump promised Americans a big fat tax cut for Christmas. Now that this tax bill has become law, I decided I needed to crunch the numbers. The bill is still being digested but based on one online calculator I figure that our federal taxes will be $3352 less than what it would be had Congress not passed the law.

And yet it is a downer. It is true that I could take that $3352 and write a check to the U.S. Treasury and they would be happy to take the extra money. If I did this I would be in the top .01% … of taxpayers who actually send money to the U.S. Treasury in excess of what they owe. (Hmm, maybe not, considering how many undocumented send in payroll taxes from which they will never derive any benefits.) Unfortunately, it wouldn’t patch the nation’s roof.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about spending tax money to fix what’s desperately in need of repair. We could start with our crumbling infrastructure, something even Republicans in the age of so-called “fake news” cannot deny. Where I live they recently closed yet another bridge over the Mill River because it was too dangerous to actually use. Another one across the Connecticut River went down to one lane for more than a year while it was slowly repaired. With the tax bill now law Trump wants to make a “deal” with Democrats to spend on infrastructure. We know two things about this: it will be paid for with borrowed money if it happens at all and it will go to enrich Trump’s friends, if not Trump himself. So as desperate as the need is, maybe Democrats should take a pass for now.

Our lack of political will has resulted in crazy solutions. In Northern Virginia where we used to live the solution to the traffic problems is not quite to actually solve it, but to add HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes to the capital beltway and other places. Those with the money can escape a lot of the crushing traffic. Since the pricing is usually dynamic, it depends on supply and demand. Recently I-66 between the beltway and D.C. was opened for HOT traffic. It got so crazy that recently a one-way toll reached $44 dollars. That works out to more than $4 a mile.

Even in the rich D.C. suburbs, that’s a lot of dough. In most cases these HOT lanes don’t feed the government’s coffers. Instead, they go to private companies given very long-term leases to construct these extra lanes. So they may make traffic flow for those who few that can afford it. But they don’t really solve the problem of crumbling highways and bridges elsewhere.

Needless to say, the Trump Administration’s infrastructure “solution” involves a lot of what they are doing in Northern Virginia. In short, driving is becoming a privilege for the wealthy. As for the rest of us, we don’t get to eat cake: we get to sit in more traffic and get stuck in more potholes.

I really don’t think the United States qualifies as a first world country anymore. Perhaps I can say it’s true about certain things we elect to fund adequately, which is basically only the military. We’re the best at waging high tech wars and blowing stuff up. It’s pretty much all the other stuff that we won’t pay the freight on. I recently finished teaching another dispiriting class at a local community college. My students were incurious, clearly didn’t study and usually didn’t seek me out when they were having problems. Granted that these are students who probably got by with C’s in high school, but it’s clear we have huge problems with our educational system. The general problem though is we won’t make the investment required for education. We pay teachers scandalously low wages while overworking them. And now teachers can’t even claim a deduction for school supplies. Yep, that’s part of the $3352 extra we expect from the tax bill: basically we’ve taking money out of the pockets of teachers!

I wish the federal government operated a lot more like New England towns. Here towns practice real democracy. Across the river in Hadley, Massachusetts there were a number of town meetings to debate issues like construction of a new senior center and a new fire engine purchase. Basically the issues are publicly debated and if you show up you can vote. These tax overrides are not trivial. It means citizens pay extra property taxes. Both issues though won.

Not in our current Congress. The tax bill’s process was just shameful. There were at best cursory hearings. Leadership behind closed doors wrote most of the bill. There was no attempt to even consider ideas from Democrats. It was narrowly tailored to technically qualify under Senate budget reconciliation rules, which required only 51 votes. Hand written amendments were inserted into the bill from lobbyists sitting outside the Senate chambers. It was the complete opposite of a New England town meeting. The process could not have been any more opaque, less democratic, or less republican either for that matter.

Republicans are hoping that taxpayers will be bought off by temporary tax cuts in the bill. Our share looks to be $3352. In reality, it buys us nothing. However, it makes the debt worse, makes our infrastructure worse and gives money to those who need it least. And we are on that list. For goodness sakes, we’re retirees with a very comfortable income! $3352 a year means nothing to my standard of living. We can’t give it to our employees as bonuses; we don’t any of them. It’s not enough money to coax us to buy a private jet or even a fancy car. The truth is there is really nothing more for us to buy that we want or crave. We have a paid off house, two cars, free electricity from solar panels and good pension plus plenty of savings and investments. We take a couple of really nice vacations every year too.

If we can afford to contribute more, certainly those that make more money that we do can too, and they likely wouldn’t notice it either. And it’s not like there aren’t lots of things that would make productive use of our tax money.

But it only works if it is done nationally. The .01% of us who might give extra to the U.S. Treasury can’t fix this problem. It must be done nationally and it really can only be done if richer people give proportionately more, and the even richer people give even more. And the truth is they won’t notice the extra taxes either. And that’s because (a) they’re rich (duh!) and (b) the rich don’t trickle down anything of consequence. Trickle down is a lie. Putting money into things like a crumbling infrastructure, education and allowing poor people to just get buy though buys a whole lot and improves everyone’s lots.

Raise our taxes!

Boy, Republicans passed one really nasty tax bill!

The Thinker by Rodin

I mentioned recently about the audaciousness of the new tax bill expected to become law soon. Some years back I also mentioned that Republicans are basically sadists. This newest version of the bill that passed Congress this week proves Republicans have doubled down on both their bill’s audacity and its egregious sadism. I really hope they don’t believe their own rhetoric that this will actually grow the economy and make the middle class prosperous, since all previous attempts have proven trickle down simply doesn’t work. So I prefer to believe they are simply mendacious.

Apparently the House-Senate conferees decided to go through the bill and look for ways to make their tax bill even more in their favor and to screw the working classes even more. Now there are new tax break for real estate investors. It’s hard to believe Trump and his cronies didn’t phone this one in, not that Trump was not going to profit handsomely even before the addition of these provisions.

This bill has all the hallmarks of legalized bribery. Basically it’s a scheme to foist $1.5T in new debt on the American taxpayer and redirect the vast majority of this debt directly into their pockets. It’s like going to the Federal Reserve, taking $1.5T out of their vaults and doling out $1.4T of it to rich people and corporations over the next ten years.

Ah, but not for us little people. They have dangled some candy in front of us, but those who taste it are going to discover its initial sweet state will soon turn bitter. Consider:

  • You may pay a few hundred dollars less in taxes per year over the next ten years. But by getting rid of the individual mandate, the rising cost of health insurance premiums are going to quickly negate any of this extra money. After all, it’s not how much you are taxed; it’s how much you keep. Those who figure they can’t afford health insurance will opt out now that the penalty for not having insurance has gone away. These are illusory savings. Medical debt is likely to wipe out any savings they accrue by dropping health insurance. As for the rest of us with health insurance our costs will go up and up until we too decide we can’t afford it either, leading to ever-higher levels of working class impoverishment. This makes a lot of sense though if you are sadistic, and Republicans are sadists.
  • As a Disney heiress points out because of “pass through” provisions in the bill her income (none of it earned) will be taxed at a rate lower than most you saps who must work for a living. This is not entirely new. Those living off of capital gains and dividends have been tax-advantaged over those most of us who earn wages for a long time while doing nothing to earn it other than occasionally discussing their portfolios with their financial adviser. This just widens the hole. Remember how Trump was going to drain the swamp? He’s making it deeper. However, this makes a lot of sense though if you are sadistic, and Republicans are sadists.
  • Remember that Alternative Minimum Tax that made sure that many of these loopholes for the rich were mitigated by requiring them to pay at least some reasonable tax? It’s gone. Oh, and fewer wealthy people will have to bother their executors with the duty of paying estate taxes. The estate tax limit has been doubled meaning more money will go to their kids who earned none of it. Leona Helmsley once famously said only the little people pay taxes. Republicans are proving her right. This makes a lot of sense though if you are sadistic, and Republicans are sadists.
  • Why do Republicans hate charities? The charitable deduction is effectively gone for most of us, because they have doubled the standard deduction. This dries up any incentive other than pure kindness and a philanthropic nature for anyone but the richest to give any money to charity. If I had to guess we’ll see a lot more money going to Koch-funded charities and a lot less to the American Red Cross. It’s a likely red alert for charities across the country, who can almost certainly count on fewer donations in 2018 and basically forever. But this makes a lot of sense if you are sadistic, and Republicans are sadists.
  • Republicans don’t like blue states. How dare they vote for people they don’t like! Now to add insult to injury by capping deductions for property taxes they are effectively screwing the bluest of the blue states. States where property values are high (predominantly blue states) charge the most in property taxes. Since most states base state income taxes on the adjusted gross income on your federal return, this effectively cuts revenue for these states, which means fewer state services like money to public schools, police and food stamps. Blue states already send more federal revenue to red states than they receive. This actually makes it worse, and makes it permanent. This makes a lot of sense thought if you are sadistic, and Republicans are sadists.
  • Who doesn’t like teachers? Republicans don’t, perhaps because they suspect them of teaching subversive liberal ideology. Anyhow, our teachers who are already vastly overworked and vastly underpaid while serving an incredibly vital role in our nation’s future prosperity and going to be screwed some more. The expenses they paid out of their own pocked for school supplies for their own students that their own school districts were too chintzy to pay are no longer deductible. Apparently, Republicans loathe teachers and look forward to future generations of even stupider Americans. This makes a lot of sense thought if you are sadistic, and Republicans are sadists.
  • Apparently Republicans also hate people with business expenses. It used to be that you could deduct these expenses in excess of 2% of your AGI. That deduction is gone with the wind too. So if your employer does not reimburse your business expenses, essentially Republicans in Congress have reduced your salary. This makes a lot of sense thought if you are sadistic, and Republicans are sadists.

There are also indirect ways the bill will further screw over the rest of us. Republicans are already making noises about how the $1.5T deficit that’s part of their tax reform means we need more austerity because … omigosh, the deficit’s so high! They obviously won’t repeal their tax cuts or defense spending so they are talking about “entitlement reform” instead. First out the gate will be automatic cuts to Medicare that will start in 2019. These would start on January 1, 2018 but Trump will wait until January 1 to sign the bill so these cuts start in 2019, conveniently after the midterms. Update: reports are that Trump signed the bill today so presumably that means Medicare cuts would begin in 2018, not 2019.

Thankfully, Americans aren’t nearly as stupid as Republicans think that we are. This is borne out by polls that show the law is deeply unpopular, in spite of the fact that most people will initially pay fewer federal taxes. It’s the most unpopular bill polled in the last forty year.

They will get their comeuppance next November 6.

The coming blue wave

The Thinker by Rodin

To my surprise, Roy Moore lost his bid to be Alabama’s next senator last Tuesday to Democrat Doug Jones. Jones won, but not decisively, by a 1.5% margin over Moore. One of the more curious aspects of the election was that 1.7% of the votes were cast as write-ins. It’s reasonable to assume that virtually all of these were from people who would normally vote Republican, but couldn’t stomach Moore but could not vote for a Democrat.

This is the first example I’ve seen of a “reverse Green Party effect”. It’s usually Democrats that shoot themselves in the foot. We do this by being so principled that we get the exact opposite result instead. In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three states that swung for Trump last year, had Jill Stein’s (Green Party) votes gone for Hillary Clinton instead then Hillary Clinton would now be president of the United States.

What’s appalling in Alabama is that apparently almost all Republicans voted for the pedophile Moore anyhow. Those who voted for a write-in plus those who stayed home apparently gave Jones the edge. Huge kudos goes to blacks and women in Alabama that showed up to vote, which was the edge Jones needed. I can see why both would have incentive to vote. After all, Moore said he’d like to get rid of constitutional amendments after the 10th amendment. This would make slavery legal again and take away women’s right to vote.

When a Democrat can win a statewide office in Alabama again, that’s pretty much all you need to know about which way the political winds in this country are blowing. Granted that Jones’s victory pretty much is a fluke. There was literally no one worse in the whole state of Alabama that Republicans could have nominated. As one Republican wag put it, Republicans could have picked any other name out of the phone book and have won the election by at least 10%.

Unfortunately for Republicans, Steve Bannon seems serious about fielding a Trump Republican in every Republican primary next year. Moreover, Trump plans to aggressively campaign for Republican candidates. Given Trump’s track record recently promoting Ed Gillespie in Virginia, Luther Strange in Alabama and then Roy Moore, all who lost, it’s clear his endorsement is toxic. These tactics enflame Democrats, which is likely to have them coming out to vote in droves. A Trump endorsement also keeps establishment Republicans lukewarm about voting for any Trump Republican that survives the primaries and caucuses.

In short the 2018 elections are likely to be a blowout, ending eight years of Republican control of Congress. The House should flip. One scenario suggests that when the dust settles Democrats could take the chamber 255 seats to 177 Republican seats. Retaking the Senate no longer seems improbable, particularly if Trump Republicans run against Democrats. Democrats should not take this for granted. It depends on maintaining their enthusiasm, a skill at which Trump will predictably excel.

Moreover there are so many issues beyond Trump that will encourage not just Democrats to come out, but to lean independents toward Democratic candidates and even pull away many Republicans. Last week’s vote to end net neutrality is one example. Support for net neutrality is overwhelmingly bipartisan but changing it clearly won’t happen with Republicans in charge. Republicans’ tax bill that looks likely to pass is another animus as it clearly shifts yet more income toward the rich. Rank and file Republicans don’t like it either. On so many issues voting Republicans tend to side with Democrats but even where they don’t, independents do. Some of these include addressing climate change, shrinking our national monuments and the rank incompetence in the people that Trump is nominating. This included a recent judicial nominee who had never tried a case. Even Congressional Republicans seem to be blanching at this.

It’s unknown where the Mueller investigation will be come November. Rumors abound that Trump is about to fire Mueller, although he cannot without firing a whole lot of other people and putting in place sycophants to do the deed. In any event, when Richard Nixon tried this approach it was hugely counterproductive and led to his eventual resignation. It certainly would inflame voters even more and make Washington even more chaotic than it currently is.

So it’s not hard at all to predict that the political heat will continue to rise in our nation’s pressure cooker. Next November the pent up frustration should be overwhelming. So I for one hope that Trump keeps endorsing Republican candidates, as he is now toxic. Please proceed.

Want to be rich? Earn more money and work to unrig the system

The Thinker by Rodin

Dave Ramsey is an American businessman and motivational speaker trying to get people rich by motivating them to get rid of their debt. There is certainly nothing wrong with being debt free. It’s a state that I happen to be in at the moment, which gives me a leg up on some surprising people, like Donald Trump. Trump owes at least hundreds of millions of dollars to Russian banks and likely lots more to others. Who knows for sure? It’s not like he’s telling us but it likely clouds his judgment and explains why he is so friendly toward the Russian government. Trump seems to celebrate debt in a way that Ramsey does not. He proudly called himself the King of Debt during the campaign.

However, I am quite convinced that if I hadn’t incurred strategically good debts over the years I wouldn’t be as comfortable as I am today. It turned out that for me the real key to wealth was earning more money than most people over a longer period of time. If you can do that and you invest your money wisely at some point you should exit a reasonably wealthy person and with no debts too.

So it turns out that garnering real wealth, unless you are lucky enough to inherit a bundle of it, is about using an effective strategy. Many of us do this without really thinking it through. For example, most of us live near or within cities. Do most of us prefer this sort of existence, which is much more costly than living in a trailer park somewhere in southern Alabama? It’s hard to say but it is clear that living in or around cities expands our possibilities for acquiring wealth. It puts us closer to a variety of different jobs. It makes it easier to expand our educational credentials should we need to do so because there are colleges and universities nearby. Better employers prefer to locate in cities because the talent pool is richer.

Obviously there are downsides to living in cities. I experienced them by spending over 35 years in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. The downsides are probably too numerous to mention but among them were a higher cost of living in general, housing prices that were frightening and barely attainable even at a higher salary, crushing and frequent traffic jams and long days that began before sunup and lasted past sundown. I was glad to cash in my chips in retirement and move somewhere without these issues. By doing so not only do these downsides go away but also I get much more value for the money I have. Having wealth doesn’t mean much if you can’t enjoy it before you die.

So there was that but there was also the trick of making more money than most people. This was made possible in my case by some combination of talent, passion, circumstance, risk, luck, strategy and privilege. When I made the decision twenty years ago to get a graduate degree, I didn’t have to look far. George Mason University was not far away and they had a top-notch software engineering school plus I got some employer subsidies for the tuition and a lower in-state tuition rate. Moreover, it was a great field to get credentials in as it distinguished me over many other candidates for higher paying positions.

About the time I got the degree I used the degree to successfully get a higher-earning position. I used the higher income to reduce debt, as Ramsey would advise. I also used it to squirrel away as much money as I could toward retirement. And I used a lot more of it than I would have liked doing sensible things like replacing the windows and roof of our house. I didn’t pay for this out of pocket. I paid for it using a home equity loan. Some debt is both good and useful.

One way to build wealth turned out to be allowing our house to appreciate in value. We paid $191,000 for it in 1993, mostly with borrowed money. We sold it for $505,000 in 2015. Not only did we get a place to live for 22 years, thanks to the crazy real estate market (made possible by so many people wanting to live in our neighborhood) we also made nearly $500,000 by occupying it, paying off the mortgage and maintaining it so we could sell it for a good price. If you are so debt-phobic that you live in a trailer park instead then unless you are very savvy with your extra money you probably aren’t going to get that sort of return on your investment. And even if you do, you will have spent thirty plus years living a cramped and challenged life. Is this a price worth paying to be debt free?

I mentioned that being a white male helped. I’ll never be able to attach a monetary value to this, but it was huge. I was always implicitly one of the guys. Cultural factors made it easy for me to fit in. Mostly it was other white males that promoted me. I knew what they were looking for and mirrored those behaviors.

And so today I am properly retired. And while I have no doubt that Dave Ramsey is wealthy, he’s still out there selling stuff. Me: I’m retired. I can enjoy the rest of my life. Maybe Ramsey takes joy in his work and it’s what he’d be doing for free otherwise. From all the marketing material he sells and the seminars he puts on I suspect his life is not quite as rosy as it seems. As for the quality of his advice, I for one take it with a grain of salt. Certainly it’s a good strategy to work toward being debt free, but it’s one of many strategies needed to acquire wealth. It begins with a clear-eyed assessment of your strengths, the labor market, current economic forces and figuring out how to optimize your assets to fit these forces.

Ramsey also peddles what I think is the false Republican notion that any man (or woman) can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. False! False! False! Some people through circumstance and by being blessed with nurturing parents can do so. There are lots of minefields to acquiring wealth and there are many institutional forces out there working actively to reduce your odds. Much of the wealth generated from recovering from the Great Recession came from something Republicans seem to loath more than anything else: Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act). People mostly lose wealth when unexpected medical costs balloon into crushing debt. By extending the health insurance franchise to more Americans, it cushioned these impacts. That plus a recovering economy created wealth, which allowed many to invest that wealth in places like the stock market that is soaring today.

So I firmly believe that it’s a combination of talent, drive, strategy and smart governance that brings real wealth. The only issue is who gets the wealth and right now it’s clear that most of it is going to those who are already rich. No combination of talent and drive can fix a rigged system. Bernie Sanders understands this, which is why his message resonated in the last campaign and is likely to resonate even more in 2020.

Fiddling while the USA burns

The Thinker by Rodin

Reputedly Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Republicans pretty much reenacted this event this week when the Senate passed its version of a “tax reform” bill in the wee hours yesterday. As if Americans were not sufficiently appalled by the House’s version of the bill, the Senate’s version turned out to be even more of a looting spree. It got totally crazy in the generally gentlemanly Senate.

It turned out that cutting taxes was kind of incidental in this “tax reform” bill. Lots of taxes will get cut if you are wealthy. There is the illusion that middle and lower classes will have their taxes cut but at best it’s a temporary tax cut to make the budget math work. As for budgeting, apparently there is none because at least $1.5T in new debt will get authorized and most of that will go into the pockets of the rich who already can’t find enough ways to spend their existing windfalls. The permanent tax cuts the rich will get apparently aren’t good enough for the rest of us, but then again our current Congress is proof that not all the animals on the farm are equal. Even Republicans seemed less than enthusiastic about tax reform, but their donors were pretty explicit: cut our taxes or we stop funding your reelection campaigns.

Apparently regular order in Congress is now so 20th century. When asked when senators were supposed to find the time to read the tax bill, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said there would be plenty of time after the bill was passed. Amendments to amendments that were hand scrawled in the margins were submitted to the bill at the last hours of debate. No one had time to actually read the 400+ page bill chock full of new amendments. Lobbyists sitting outside the Senate chambers actually dictated the wording of many of these last minute amendments. There was one committee meeting that turned out to be a farce. Protestors were dragged out of the committee room as the discussion was going on.

A so-called budget reconciliation bill morphed into a social engineering bill. It tries to do lots of things that Republicans want to do. To kill the Affordable Care Act, it essentially lets people opt out of the requirement to get health insurance by removing any penalties for doing so. Last I checked, the bill sort of defined a person as not just a fetus in utero, but as potential human beings you might have at some future date, because it allows you to set up college trust funds for children not yet conceived. If all this were not crazy enough, the bill will require automatic Medicare cuts to kick in to save money because of the $1.5T in additional borrowing. We know this will effectively take away cancer treatment for many senior citizens because that’s what happened in the past when these cuts kicked in. Since senior citizens form the base of the Republican Party, senators effectively are giving the middle finger to their own base. Seniors had best hope they not get cancer. If they do, they better hope they can fund their treatment out of pocket. If not, well the Party of Life apparently wishes you a happy and premature entrance into eternal life because it’s far more important to give tax cuts to the rich than to keep you alive.

So the Senate bill now goes to conference with the House bill. It will be interesting to see what happens now, but something will likely get signed into law pretty soon. Trump will apparently sign anything Republicans put on his desk. He’s obviously not someone who pays attention to details. Whatever form of bill is signed into law it will take aim not just at Democrats, minorities and the poor, but Trump’s base and the Republican Party’s base too. Republicans think their base is the oligarchy. While they provide the money to keep them in office, these legislators actually stay in charge to the extent they can hoodwink the rest of their voters.

PT Barnum famously said that no one went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. So I can’t predict that come 2018 Republican voters will not stupidly continue to vote against their own interests. One clue may be next Tuesday’s special election in Alabama to replace Jeff Sessions’ senate seat. If Alabama voters are stupid enough to vote for Roy Moore, twice thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court and a documented pedophile, it might well predict modest Democratic gains at best in 2018. At best Democrats have a 50/50 chance of flipping the Senate.

I like to think though that Republicans will get their comeuppance next year. It sure looks that way with Trump’s approval rating at 34% and Congress’s less than half of that. Elections last month in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere showed Democrats very energized. The House should flip; the Senate looks more problematic. While the energy level from frustrated voters is very high, there are many unknowns. These include how gerrymandered districts will affect the outcome and continued voter disenfranchisement. An expected Supreme Court ruling next year may clarify the former issue.

Meanwhile, the circus continues. Trump is a terrible president but he continues to excel in one area: distracting us from stuff that matters. When Trump makes some crazy or inane tweet, it gets Washington all a Twitter, literally, while conveniently distracting us from the real issues at hand. Even for Trump though Trump is looking wholly unhinged. There seems to be a direct correlation between the Mueller investigation’s closing in him and the level of weirdness coming out of his Twitter feed. If it were a fire, it would be four-alarm.

Reality is slowly catching up with Donald Trump though. I expect he’s about to go Richard Nixon in a Saturday Night Massacre kind of way. When he senses Robert Mueller is too close, he’ll find a way to fire him, which will probably involve firing the Deputy Attorney General supervising Mueller and installing an acting sycophant who will fire him. That’s when the crazy gets even crazier. Like the fictional band Spinal Tap, the amplifier will then be set at 11.

Let’s hope voters can stay focused amongst the painful noise and vote rationally next November 6.

The Republican tax bill is really quite breathtaking in its audacity

The Thinker by Rodin

Those of us of sufficient age will remember when W’s father, George H. W. Bush was running for president. The elder Bush’s famous words during the campaign were: “Read my lips: no new taxes.” It was infamous because after he won election in 1988 he made a deal with Democrats that modestly raised taxes.

Since that time it’s been anathema for any Republican to even think about raising taxes.

Next week the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on its version of a tax bill that will raise taxes, just like the House bill. To make this worse, they are dramatically cutting taxes on the wealthy and making the already stretched middle and lower classes generally pay more in taxes.

And it doesn’t seem to be bothering Republicans at all, which is perhaps the most amazing part. Since Ronald Reagan declared government and taxes evil, never raising taxes has been the nonstop diatribe from Republicans. Now although trying to paint their legislation as a tax cut, no one actually believes it is one. Virtually every analysis shows that it will increase the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion plus add taxes for most middle and lower income people. It’s also likely the resulting exploding deficit will give them reason to cut social services back even further.

The Republicans think that if they can get through this through Congress and into law, it’s one point for their side in an otherwise miserable legislative year when they have controlled all levers of power. They think their voters will be thrilled. Any objective person though looking at this turd of legislation will see it as an abdication of nearly forty years of Republican bedrock orthodoxy. Any Republican rank-and-file who actually believed this stuff should be dumfounded.

Just last year when Obama was still president Republicans were threatening to shut down the government if proposed spending bills were not revenue neutral. “We can’t leave our grandchildren with a mountain of debt”, we heard in many variations ad nauseum. Now, adding another $1.5T to the debt? No problemo.

It’s not news to Democrats that Republicans were not sincere about debt reduction, at least not when they were in charge. It exploded under Reagan, and again under Bush II. When Bush II’s Medicare Part D bill was voted into law, it was done at 3 AM in the House chambers so it would be less obvious how hypocritical Republicans were being. Maybe they felt a little ashamed. They might try the same strategy this time but I don’t think it will work and I doubt feeling ashamed about what they plan to do has even entered their minds.

Still, it takes amazing audacity to give huge tax cuts and inheritance windfalls to the very richest while bleeding the working class even more. This is explainable: all Republicans really care about is the moneyed class and making them even more so. They got control of the Executive and Congress. Now is the time to squeeze the system for themselves and their special moneyed interests. It’s the culmination of decades of strategy to convince Americans to act against their own self-interest. That $1.5T deficit? The only reason that’s there is because they have to get this bill through the Senate using budget reconciliation rules, i.e. Republicans-only so it could only add so much to the deficit, at least officially. Without the rule maybe there would have been no lower and middle class tax increases. To give the rich this tax windfall though and keep the deficit spending to $1.5T, they had to squeeze someone. Couldn’t be them of course, so lower and middle classes it has to be.

And Trump? The guy who ran as an outsider and promised to help the working class? To make America great again? The candidate who during one of the first debates openly admitted he traded money for favor from politicians? The charlatan that Americans elected who ran promising he’d do exactly the opposite? Why he’s all in on this tax bill, of course! His family will reap at least $1B in estate tax relief alone from its passage in its current form. What’s not to like about that? It’s pretty clear what Trump is all about. He’s about bleeding the government dry mainly to enrich himself and his empire. He goes golfing pretty much every weekend at one of his resorts to make sure the Secret Service has to pay usury rates to rent his golf carts and stay in his hotels. Much of the rest of his administration is looking out for either themselves and/or their sponsors. Education Secretary DeVos is trying to move tax dollars toward charter schools. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is downsizing national monuments so private interests can mine and frack gas on nearby lands including possibly the Grand Canyon. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin when not posing holding sheets of dollar bills with his wife is trying to loosen regulations on Wall Street, the same regulations that caused the Great Recession.

In short Trump’s voters — but really the vast majority of Americans — are being played for suckers. It’s time for Republicans to give America that high colonic of their dreams. With the oligarchy in charge, it’s time to fleece the sheep just as winter approaches instead of afterward.

Or so they think. I think a wave is building and come November 2018 Republicans are going to discover the wrath of the American voter. It’s quite similar to the late 19th century when homeless urchins roamed the streets while the Carnegies and Rockefellers lived the life of Gatsby. Back then the voters spoke and a true progressive called Teddy Roosevelt won office, along with a massive wave of Republicans (who were the modern day Democrats of their time). Too big to fail corporations were broken up. National Parks multiplied. Government represented the people again.

Granted the challenge will be harder in 2018. In the late 19th century the art of gerrymandering had not yet been perfected. Blacks and women were disenfranchised but that was the status quo; however there were enough regular folk out there with voting rights to sweep the oligarchy out of power. I’m anticipating that’s what we’ll see in 2018. It’s not really Republican vs. Democrat anymore, it’s big business against the rest of us. It will be mostly Republicans but also a lot of corporate Democrats that will pay the price this time.

No time like the present holiday season for Republicans to play the part of the Grinch. In 2018 though Republicans and their ilk are likely to find their game is over.

Get ready to be a guerrilla activist for net neutrality

The Thinker by Rodin

These regulations to end net neutrality the FCC are likely to pass next month makes no sense. Okay, it does make sense if you want to free Internet Service Providers to discriminate the delivery of content over the web or if you think it makes sense for them to prohibit some content from being delivered at all. That’s clearly how it could end up affecting us customers. What doesn’t make any sense is the rationale that FCC commissioner Ajit Pai is using to end net neutrality.

Pai argues that free of the burden of net neutrality, ISPs will want to invest in their infrastructure instead, presumably delivering us more and greater broadband and more services. No, really! This is truly so laughable it’s amazing if Pai can say this with a straight face. Free of the “burden” ISPs like Comcast – if they think they can get away with it – will work hard to figure out how to pad their bottom line in new and creative ways and spending money to build higher speed networks won’t do that. It’s not you they care about; it’s their stockholders but also how much money they can make off their monopoly in bonuses and stock options.

With a few exceptions, ISPs have monopolies. With net neutrality though they can’t discriminate on what content is delivered and how quickly it is delivered. We still have to pay their ridiculous usury fees but at least we don’t have to pay extra for the privilege of streaming Stranger Things or worry that if we want to wax our carrots on pornhub.com we need to chip in an extra $10 a month for an “all adult access pass”. We don’t have to worry that Time Warner will cut off our access to washingtonpost.com because they don’t like its liberal content or force our browsers to show news clips from Fox News.

It’s hard to know now which of these scenarios will actually happen if net neutrality rules go away. We do know that in Portugal the mobile carrier Meo “innovated” by letting you decide what sort of content packages you want. Want access to social networks this month? Meo will charge you €4.99 a month for the privilege and if not, well no Facebook or Twitter for you. I strongly suspect that given the “magic” of the free market here in the USA things will get much more creative than this.

And it’s not like you are likely to have a choice, certainly not here in Western Massachusetts where I live as Comcast has the lock on high speed internet. You choices are to maybe get a dial up service if there is still a phone company out there doing landlines and your house is suitably wired, which is what I was doing until 1999. Or you could stick a huge satellite antenna in your yard (if you have a yard and the HOA allows it) and point to a Hughes satellite, and pay handsomely for the privilege of really crappy Internet service. You can also try to run your Internet through your cell phone on a network like Verizon although 4G speeds are mediocre at best compared to broadband and wireless Internet tends to be pricey. Or I suppose you could exercise your freedom by disconnecting from the Internet and maybe going once a week to use a computer at your public library to check your email.

Comcast says it supports net neutrality but it wants to be free of its rules anyhow, which is a polite way of saying it doesn’t support them and will see how much it can get away with once the cops go away. If you are lucky enough to have a choice of high-speed Internet providers maybe you will get some competition and relief from these rules. When we lived in Northern Virginia we could choose between Cox and Verizon FiOS. We paid about $25 less per month for better service than we get here.

But really, what incentive will Comcast and other ISPs have to improve their network? What usually drives these improvements is competition, something they don’t have to worry about any more than Ma Bell had to worry about it in the 1960s in most communities. Ma Bell did have to worry about Public Service Commissions, but with the FCC going to a hands-off mode there will be virtually none of that at the FCC. Supposedly the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will take up the slack, according to Pai. There are two problems with this approach. First, the FTC is understaffed so it won’t have much ability to take action, a situation the Trump administration is likely to make worse. Second, since they have no rule making authority they can only say that in this instance an ISP is acting against trade rules.

So how do you fight this, particularly when the FCC appears so tone deaf that it will ignore 20 million comments filed, mostly in support of net neutrality? Since these rules seem likely to pass, we have to hit ISPs where it hurts: in the pocketbook. Here are my suggestions:

  • Municipalities should build their own broadband networks. No one in Chattanooga, Tennessee is complaining about their municipal network but you can bet Comcast doesn’t like it and has been working state legislators to get rid of it. Their rationale: it’s not competitive but nearby communities that aren’t on the municipal network pay Comcast a lot more than city residents do for inferior service. Such innovation!
  • Boycott ISPs to the extent possible if they don’t practice strict net neutrality. ISPs usually provide cable services. Cut your cable to a basic plan or get rid of it altogether and use a HD TV antenna instead. Let them know why you are doing it and that you won’t come back until they practice strict net neutrality again.
  • Use a VPN service while you can. I wrote about this back in April. With these new rules, ISPs will be free to track your usage and sell the information to the highest bidder. Until they block VPN ports or degrade service, this at least allows you to get the full Internet, perhaps with some degradation of service as content will have to go through a proxy. Most likely though ISPs will either block or degrade VPN services, but it may work for a little while.
  • Protest regularly outside local, regional and national ISP office. Be noisy and in their faces. If you own stock in these companies, go to their annual meetings and raise holy hell.
  • Petition Congress. The FCC is clearly planning to stay tone deaf while the Trump Administration survives. You can complain to your representative and senator and pledge to vote against them if they don’t support net neutrality.
  • Vote for candidates who support of net neutrality. Democrats are not necessarily supporters of net neutrality. It took a major campaign in 2013 to get the Obama Administration to favor rules in this area. Expect Congress and the Trump Administration to stay tone deaf, but definitely support candidates that promise to bring back net neutrality. By and large they will be Democrats. If you can, do more than vote for these candidates, but use your friends and social networks (to the extent ISPs will allow you to!) to campaign for them as well.

I bet these new rules likely to pass next month probably won’t last long. But it will take major activism from many engaged Americans to roll these back. Plenty of energy is there already if 20 million comments were filed, but apparently we need more. So be prepared to take action and not to roll over on this. Complain to your ISP and cut back your use of their services if they discriminate based on content origin. And protest, protest, protest! This should be an issue that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on.

Should Bill Clinton have resigned?

The Thinker by Rodin

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said last week that because Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinski, he should have resigned.

Gillibrand appears to be applying the new emerging conduct standards some twenty years after Clinton’s tawdry oral affair with the then White House intern. Her complaint does not appear to be that there was sexual harassment involved, but that the relationship was inappropriate. By that standard though Donald Trump should have never taken the oath of office, although as best we can tell so far Trump has not overtly sexually harassed any women since assuming office. Given his track record though, I’d not be taking bets he makes it through his term unscathed in this area.

Bill Clinton was impeached by the Republican-controlled House not for having an affair but for lying about it under oath. In truth, Republicans wholly loathed Clinton as would have impeached him for pretty much anything they figured they could get away with however spurious and minor. The Senate refused to convict him. That Clinton had the affair was not in doubt and was confirmed by the infamous blue dress that Lewinski kept with his semen stains on it.

Clinton tried to use legal semantics to dodge an allegation of perjury, claiming that in his mind “sex” meant intercourse. It was a dodge worthy of the weasel that many saw him to be. Ultimately it was an unsuccessful defense. Clinton was only the second president in history to be impeached, so in some sense he will always carry that mark of shame. Apparently that would be insufficient for Gillibrand now. (In any event Clinton left office at the end of his term with record high approval ratings, so it doesn’t appear the American people saw him as an ineffective president or were particularly upset with the consensual conduct.)

It’s highly debatable whether Clinton’s affair with Lewinski constituted sexual harassment. Exactly what sexual harassment was in the mid 1990s was very murky. I should know because I was a federal employee at the time and we were still trying to puzzle it out. The standard was quite murky and subjective. Much of the murkiness had to do with how the conduct was perceived. Basically you were sexually harassed if you felt you were sexually harassed. There was a clear rule that someone who had power of you should never harass you: a boss or someone in your chain of command. Coworkers were also not supposed to harass each other, and harassment could be in three forms: physical, sexual or emotional. Penalties were not criminal but civil. Most involved discipline like letters of reprimand but in extreme cases could have resulted in being fired. What I took away from the training was that I should be professional at work and if I were to have an affair I should do it with someone outside the office.

Part of the standard (and what made it so murky) was that the conduct had to be unwelcome. I don’t think that standard ever applied in the Clinton-Lewinski affair. It’s hard to know for sure but what we do know about it appears to show that Lewinski initiated the affair, so it was not conduct that she spurned. So while Clinton may have dropped his pants from time to time for various women, it does not appear that the conduct was unwelcome when it got that far.

This can be readily contrasted with more than a dozen women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual assault. Even Trump seems to have qualified his conquests, looking for women in his social circles as opposed to within his organization. So it’s not clear based on what we know that Trump has engaged in any sexual harassment as it is legally defined. His conduct might still be illegal, because sexual assault is a different crime than sexual harassment and one with much harsher penalties. There is no evidence that Bill Clinton ever sexually assaulted anyone. There are women (like Paula Jones) who say that his advances were unwelcome but because there was not a power relationship involved it was not sexual harassment.

Clinton was in a power relationship with Lewinski, but with some caveats. Lewinski was a White House intern that received no salary. Implicit in being an intern is the ephemeral nature of the work. She could have been dismissed at any time for any reason and there was no real damage in doing so. Lewinski was there to learn about the mechanics of governing and likely to make connections to further a political career. It’s unsurprising that given the opportunity to be closer to Clinton that she would take it. Lewinski was also not a minor and was at least 23 when the affair began. The same cannot be said about many of the women accusing Roy Moore of sexual assault and pedophilia.

There is also the problem of trying to hold someone to a standard that was murky at best two decades ago. As a lawyer Clinton was well aware of what conduct was legal, murky and illegal and was careful not to engage in conduct that went beyond the murky stage. Sexual harassment at the time definitely fit into the murky category. Lewinski herself never reported sexual harassment. Her heart was broken when the affair proved ephemeral and Clinton would not move into a closer relationship, which is understandable given his marital status. It took Lewinski’s friend Linda Tripp who secretly (and illegally) recorded her conversations with Lewinski in which she disclosed the affair for it to see the light of day. So Lewinski was disappointed and probably heartbroken but never felt sexually harassed. Since much of the definition of sexual harassment depends on how it is perceived by the victim this standard simply doesn’t apply.

Obviously it was stupid conduct, both by Clinton and Lewinski, and that’s basically Gillibrand’s complaint. Stupid conduct like this in her mind is not excusable or could be remedied by a president except apparently through resignation. In short, in Gillibrand’s mind if the conduct makes you feel ashamed or should make you feel ashamed you should resign.

By that standard Trump would never resign. He is clearly unrepentant for his past sexual misconduct. This misconduct was well known to voters, who voted him into office anyhow. It does not appear to bother Republicans enough to initiate impeachment proceedings against him and in any event it occurred before he took office. It’s well within the purview of Congress to impeach and remove a president for such conduct, as impeachment is a political act. Impeachment and removal implies no illegal conduct. Such conduct may be prosecutable, which happened to Clinton, but only for incidents outside of his presidency. In his case he was sued for his conduct and settled out of court. He also lost his law license, not a matter of breaking the law but one of privilege and which had no effect on his standard of living.

Gillibrand’s look backward about what Clinton should have done is aspirational at best. Perhaps someday this sort of conduct will rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Even with this Year of the Woman though it looks like we are quite far from reaching that standard.

It’s time for men to evolve into real men

The Thinker by Rodin

In case you hadn’t noticed there are a whole lot of women complaining about sexual harassment all of a sudden. Those accused of harassment, including lots of politicians and celebrities, are feeling more than a little like someone dragged in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy. In some cases before they have a chance to offer a rebuttal their careers appear to be over; movie contracts pulled and gigs canceled.

In the past women who squawked usually found out why it was a good idea to shut up. In Hollywood their contracts and bookings tended to dry up. A lot has changed in the last year or two, but things have really picked up in the last couple of months. Lots of powerful men have been brought down starting with a number of people at Fox News including Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Men with Democratic Party inclinations have been no less immune. There is Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, of course, with decades of harassing women who sought his favor. Weinstein also gave heavily to liberal causes but seemed incapable of demonstrating these principles where it mattered: in the workplace. Scores of women and likely many more scores we don’t know about have come forward to complain about Weinstein’s harassment, which included crude and obscene behavior that wholly appalls me.

It sure feels like the tables have turned at last. I can’t blame women for not having the courage to come forward but the penalties for doing so seem to have lessened. Women (and in some cases men; last night a man reported being harassed by George Takei of all people in 1981) are fed up. Rules for explicit and implicit workplace and social conduct are being rewritten.

Speaking as a man though it does feel kind of dangerous simply because it becomes a matter of she said vs. he said. It feels like once accused the man is guilty until proven innocent, which is usually impossible. In some cases like Harvey Weinstein his guilt is beyond reasonable doubt. Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Alabama Senate candidate and egregious Bible-thumper Roy Moore back in 1979 initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl. He was age 32 at the time and an assistant district attorney in Alabama, probably a position of some status in the community. Three other women also came forward indicating they were minors when Moore initiated romantic relationships with them too.

To me this is beyond reasonable doubt too, as none of these women knew each other, but all came forward to Washington Post reporters when they were tracked down. Having said that I would not be surprised if Alabamans elect Roy Moore anyhow. It didn’t stop them from voting for Donald Trump, whose own extremely checkered past in this area is also beyond reasonable dispute. It sure appears that tribalism these days can excuse pretty much anything, including pedophilia. In any event where there are other witnesses that can report these women told them about these incidents at the time, that’s pretty damning.

Far more men have power over women than the other way around. That’s just the way it is at the moment but perhaps not how things will remain. Having not walked in a woman’s shoes, I can’t empathize. I do have an idea how it feels. I have a gay cousin that either has a crush on me or is pulling an elaborate prank. It makes our relationship uncomfortable, but there is no power relationship to deal with and there’s zero chance that I would sleep with him. So I have just one quasi-relatable experience in my lifetime and certainly nothing I have to deal with on a daily basis. Women don’t pursue me most likely because I have the wedding ring on my finger. But even if I didn’t I’m confident they still would not pursue me. I have been fortunate enough to have a couple of female bosses in my life. They were all positive experiences. I grew to prefer women as my bosses.

Women though can’t help being female. They can’t hide the fact that they have breasts or that their ass is perceived as cute. But really men aren’t that particular. Heterosexual men would put out for pretty much any woman who put the move on them, at least if they worked at them long enough. We do sense though that women don’t want to be harassed in general and so almost instinctively we stay away.

But of course there are plenty of men like Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore and Louis C.K. who don’t have these constraints on their behavior. There must be something about having power that eggs them on to cross the line. Or perhaps they were boors all along but power makes them believe they will get away with it. Men do like to win, which is why sports appeal to most men. Power distinguishes you from other seemingly lesser men. It generally brings perks and privileges. And it does attract some women. Perhaps they think that since it attracts some women, all women that knock on their door to some measure must want them too.

I mostly speculate because I don’t understand these men. To act like them I would first have to see women as objects instead of people, or at least give myself permission to treat women’s feelings as if they didn’t matter. Even if I could get past these feelings, I still don’t understand why these men would harass women, especially with obscene behavior. I assume I am like normal men in that when women are attracted to me because of whom I authentically am, that’s a big turn on. It’s hard for me to think of a bigger turn off than to force myself on a woman that doesn’t want me. I would want women to think highly of me, not the worst of me. What woman really wants to see you masturbate into a plant?

The shrinks tell us that for these men the real aphrodisiac is not sex, but power. Forcing people to do things they don’t want to do — particularly something as intimate as having sex with you — is a violation not to mention in many cases a criminal offense. If you get sex, it’s likely to be bad because it’s not really consensual. It certainly won’t feel healthy. Perhaps it’s like being an opioid addict and that for many men if you try it once, you can’t quit.

Should we shed a tear for men? In the past this sort of behavior, reprehensible as most saw it, still had some legal or societal sanction. It wasn’t that long ago that women couldn’t vote and husbands couldn’t legally rape their wives. The rules of conduct are both explicitly and implicitly changing. Meanwhile, many men feel at some sort of genetic level they are programmed to be this way. They are supposed to strive to be top dog, and being top dog means privileges the other dogs don’t get. To me, this certainly seems to explain our president. I’m speculating that for these men these new rules are all unnatural. Never mind that there are all sorts of laws that seems unnatural but is nonetheless necessary.

Men need to grow up. I’m glad that women are speaking out against those who harass them, and though it still brings some danger to them personally I hope they will continue to do so. We need to evolve, especially those in positions of power. Such men (and women) don’t deserve the privileges of power if they can’t also handle its responsibilities.