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.

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.

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.