The Whisper Network, Continued

In the wake of both John Conyers and Al Franken being forced to resign from Congress over their “inappropriate sexual behavior”, there does indeed seem to be a backlash against the #metoo anti-harassment movement, although not from the Right. Dahlia Lithwick in Slate says,  “Is this the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve. ”

It’s often pointed out that Franken’s main accuser, Leann Tweeden is a conservative Fox (Sports) alumna and allegedly an associate of Trump family members. Celebrity Tom Arnold accused her of being coached by a “Roger Stone pal” at her radio station. And some Democrats have gone much further in bemoaning their party’s policy toward one of their own. In the Washington Post, feminist author Kate Harding said “I don’t believe (that Franken) resigning from his position is the only possible consequence, or the one that’s best for American women.” But she elaborates: “When you combine these things — an awareness that the Democratic Party is no more or less than best of two, and an understanding that men in power frequently exploit women — it becomes difficult to believe that Franken is the only sitting Democrat with a history of harassment, abuse or assault… Isn’t that hypocritical? I hear you asking, Because Republicans won’t do the right thing, we shouldn’t, either? But if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing.”

So Democrats should go back to saying “it’s okay when it’s our guy?” That would indeed solve the double standard problem. If both parties are going to roast the enemy for the same thing that they forgive on their side, there’s one standard that is being applied equally.

The problem is that the Democratic liberal base won’t go for it anymore. More specifically, the women in the Democratic hierarchy won’t go for it anymore. It was Democratic women Senators who led the demand that Franken resign. Recall that whatever one thinks of Donald Trump, this whole #metoo thing erupted after the first allegations came out concerning Harvey Weinstein. Snap quiz, who was a bigger fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, Harvey Weinstein or Charles Koch? It’s Franken who’s expected to fall on his sword for the good of the Party, not the feminist contingent of the Party that’s expected to put up with him for the sake of not letting Republicans “get” one.

What all this proves to me is that liberals need to find a happy medium between retroactively crucifying Al Franken – who was never accused of adultery, let alone rape – for sleazy behavior that occurred before he ever ran for office, versus “it’s not perjury if it was over a blowjob, and even if it was, it’s just a Republican witch hunt.” Maybe we should acknowledge that if “believe the women” is not as bad an extreme as “always believe the accused”, it is still an extreme. Maybe rather than uncritically dismissing or believing the accuser, we should take the accuser seriously, seriously enough to give the claims proper investigation.

Because even in the olden days, it was sometimes more likely that allegations of sexual misbehavior from a politician would be taken seriously, and a politician’s career could be destroyed over allegations that were both less substantial and more substantial than the charges against Franken. In 1988, Democrat Gary Hart was preparing a run for the presidency until the press started covering his relationship with a young woman named Donna Rice, a relationship that both Rice and Hart have maintained to this day was not sexual. Then after the 1992 campaign, Republican Senator Bob Packwood was shadowed by continuing allegations of sexual assault, allegations which intensified after the Senate Ethics Committee requested his diary and found out that he had altered the diary passages. Eventually Packwood resigned in 1995.  Incidentally, the Wikipedia article on this points out that the head of the Committee at the time was Senator Mitch McConnell, who had said afterward in regard to President Clinton’s impeachment: “As most of you will recall, the Senate faced a similar choice just a few short years ago. It was one of our own who had clearly crossed the line. It was one of our own who had engaged in sexual misconduct and obstruction of justice… During the Packwood debate, we made the tough choice. And, I have to say, that decision was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my career in public service. To recommend expelling from the United States Senate a colleague, a member of my own party, and most importantly, a friend with whom I had served in the Senate for over a decade. We sent a clear message to the nation that no man is above the law.”

What caused the standard to change all of a sudden?

What happened was that a certain politician in the duopoly decided that winning was more important than shame. Packwood and Hart could be shamed out of the system. Bill Clinton could not. And while I’m sure Hillary Clinton didn’t plan on things turning out this way, the fact that she was First Enabler in 1998 meant that in 2016 she was the only person in either major party who was not in position to take on Donald Trump over his history of sexism. It’s not as though she didn’t get some good licks in, especially with invoking Alicia Machado in a debate, but the fact that Trump got as many white female voters as he did indicated that Clinton had a critical problem with her core audience.

Democratic ambivalence on this issue is precisely because Republicans have embraced Bill Clinton’s approach more thoroughly than they have. Not only that, this allowed Trump to disarm the whole premise of enforcing moral standards. He has also shown right-wingers the path to counter left-wing virtue signaling: Don’t let them shame you. Don’t let them crybully you. Don’t apologize for what you are. The problem occurs when what you are is not just objectively evil but belligerently stupid.

The other day, (Dec. 6) Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic wrote a piece called “Embracing Depravity,” which is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a pretty good analysis of where the Republican groupthink is now. It explains why the “conservative” movement, in all its contradictions, has one consistent factor: what Friedersdorf calls ressentiment.

“Culture-war conflict now dominates their political identity.

“And to watch them embrace the label ‘deplorable’ even as they elevate a man like (Roy) Moore is to suspect (Julian) Sanchez was right in seeing ressentiment as ‘a resignation to impotence on the cultural front where the real conflict lies. It effectively says: We cede to the bogeyman cultural elites the power of stereotypical definition, so becoming the stereotype more fully and grotesquely is our only means of empowerment.”

This is why it doesn’t do good to whine that it’s not fair that Democrats are being held to a standard that Republicans don’t respect. When you’re a Democrat, you find excuses for why you can’t win elections. It’s what you do. But more importantly, liberals, you are never going to be more punk rock than the Republicans. You are never going to be more transgressive. You are always going to be under the self-imposed double standard, if only because you have any standards at all. Because unlike Republicans, who have discarded all standards except winning, you are still under the delusion that you have morals. That your political calculus is based on a higher standard. That you’re here to fight for something.

So here’s a radical Communist idea, liberals: Why not FIGHT for something?

If the game of moral superiority is, if not a wash, ultimately meaningless in winning elections, if it ultimately comes down to voter turnout, and if Republican tax “reform” is doing more to cement their Snidely Whiplash image than anything leftists could imagine, then Democrats ought to spend this next year concentrating on the very “flyover” counties that won Trump the election in 2016, the very places that will be hardest hit by Republican policy, and convince those voters that their party is able to help them out. But that would require having both a message and a plan.

…Naahh, that’s too hard, isn’t it?

We Are So Screwed

When the Republican Senate passed its tax “reform” bill just after midnight on December 2, journalist Kurt Eichenwald sent this tweet: “America died tonight. Economic suicide adopted to feed the insatiable greed of donors, who have been refusing to dole out $ to GOP until they got their tax cuts. Voters fooled by propaganda and tribal hatred. Millenials: move away if you can. USA is over. We killed it.”

I wouldn’t be quite THAT pessimistic, but we are seriously running out of options, given that one ruling party (the Democrats) are not currently in power and doesn’t have any ideas for how to turn things around if they were, while the current majority (Republicans) are not merely mistaken but outright destructive.

The actual tax reform bill as passed by the Senate still included several points amended on the copies with markers. This is going to come back and bite Republicans in the ass when they find out the (“) symbol means inches and not feet.

What we have is being passed off by liberals as “economic libertarianism.” Which is BS. Of course I’m going to say that because I’m a Libertarian. But assume that economic libertarianism is based on the axiom “taxation is theft.” (Not like liberals have given a better definition of it.) You can say that that attitude is blinkered and just plain wrong. But even taking it at face value, it would mean that we should tax as few people as possible, and as little as possible. What this bill is is a scheme to have as few people as possible pay as little as possible while in many areas, we are maintaining or even expanding government spending on the backs of the other income levels by removing the exemptions and services that will be given to the upper income levels. In other words, it would be a tax increase on many of us. Hardly libertarian.

The thing that neither the Left or the Right are willing to admit is that if you already have wealth and power, you don’t need the government to give you more. That is not why a (classically) liberal democratic republic exists. In fact, the Founders created this country to rebel against the previous paradigm where a government was set up specifically to take the resources of the majority and use them solely for the benefit of the hereditary elite. This idea may stick in the craw of America’s “conservatives”, but then the idea that “all men are created equal” offended a lot of people, too.

But if it’s easy for liberals to say that libertarianism (whether of the Republican or Libertarian Party variety) is just a giveaway to the rich, and if the rest of the country more or less accepts that, that’s because the primary promotion of an economically libertarian or “fiscally conservative” platform is that of Paul Ryan and his ilk. And the result does more to promote socialism than anything the Left could come up with on their own merits.

What’s really sad is that the reason for pushing so hard on a bill that practically nobody wants is that the Republicans care more about their wealthy donor class than voters (given how much they gin the election system to keep safe seats, and how little Republicans care about what their own party does to them). There’s just one problem. The “fiscally conservative” Republicans were so eager to stick it to blue states with their plan that they alienated wealthy donors in those states, since the tax “reform” eliminates a lot of the previous deductions that were given to residents of high-tax states like New York, where a lot the richest Republicans live. So according to the Washington Examiner: “I think checkbooks stay closed until they see how it plays out,” said Eric R. Levine, a Manhattan attorney and Republican donor who bundled contributions for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in 2016. “I’m not even trying to raise money in the fourth quarter.” Because donors “foresee higher personal taxes under a plan that axes deductions for state and local taxes without offering what they consider compensatory reductions in marginal income rates, even with the repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax that hits many upper-middle-class Americans. They resent that the bill excludes their white-collar service professions — think law, finance, and consulting — from the bill’s lower small-business rate, even as it shrinks the corporate levy to 20 percent from 35 percent. ”

Oh, and it gets even gooder. Just today (Dec. 4) nymag.com had an article from Eric Levitz clarifying just one case of how Republican hastiness on the tax scam is already biting them in the ass. In order to get all the cuts the Senate bill needed while still adding only so much (just $1.5 trillion) to the deficit, McConnell had to scramble for other means of making up revenue. At present, the country has a corporate tax of 35 percent- which is subject to modification by various deductions, down to a minimum tax of 20 percent. The alternative minimum tax was supposed to have been removed in the first Senate bill, but in order to help make up the gap, they put it back in as part of the last round of wheeler-dealing. However, they forgot to lower the absolute minimum below 20% – which is where the base corporate tax rate is in the new bill. This makes all the various deductions and investments hitherto used to lower corporate taxes useless. Levitz quotes a Wall Street Journal article (paywall) in which the head of Murray Energy Corp spoke: ““What the Senate did, in their befuddled mess, is drove me out of business and then bragged about the fact that they got some tax reform passed,” Mr. Murray said in an interview Sunday. “This is not job creation. This is not stimulating income. This is driving a whole sector of our community into nonexistence.” Murray Energy, by the way, is a coal company.

All of which means that, given that Big Money is all that Republicans have going for them, dissension in the ranks makes it that much harder for Republicans to maintain the support they need going into the 2018 midterms. Midterms usually are a hostile environment for the ruling party, but Republicans made things that much worse for themselves with their legislation this year. Of course they felt the need to pass all the things on their agenda now that they finally had the opportunity to do so. Because they finally had a Republican president in the White House who would sign their dream bills and help them make America great again.

Yeah, about that.

On Friday December 1, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn – who had already left his joint defense agreement with Donald Trump’s legal team – pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to the FBI in regard to communications made with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration. And as predicted, later in the day it was stated that Flynn was in agreement to testify about his knowledge of communications between “senior administration officials” on this matter, the current rumor being that the main “senior official” being implicated was Trump’s son-in-law and Schmuck Without Portfolio Jared Kushner.

And in response, on Saturday December 3, Trump tweeted:

I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

9:14 AM – 2 Dec 2017

Raising, among other questions, how did he know Flynn had lied to the FBI at that time?

To paraphrase Dr. King’s Bible quote, the arc of the moral universe is long, but Trump won’t shut his fucking mouth.

But later that day, the Trump team announced that Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, was the one who drafted the tweet.  Oh, so that wasn’t Trump that posted that incriminating tweet, now that he realizes what he did. It was his lawyer. His PROFESSIONAL LAWYER. Who posted something that would tie Trump to the Flynn case. In Trump’s name.

Well, I guess that completely exonerates Trump. I mean, if this is what the White House sends out after consulting with a lawyer, imagine what Trump would have revealed if he’d just shot his mouth off.

(Dowd, by the way, was noted in Wikipedia as a Trump staffer who forwarded an email from a conspiracy theorist to conservative media saying that Black Lives Matter was infiltrated by terrorists and that there was no difference between George Washington and Robert E. Lee.)

I sincerely doubt that Trump’s lawyer posted that tweet. If only because a real lawyer, when asked to vet that statement, would respond by yanking Trump’s smartphone out of his hand, throwing it against the wall and then stomping it to a million bits while Trump watched, as a professional opinion on why that statement should not be made on Twitter.

In any case, this would beg the question, “just how fucking stupid do you have to be to believe this slimy criminal?” but this is the Republican Party we’re dealing with. Ultimately I have to attribute Trump’s motive in making that post to one of two thoughts:

“I can admit to anything because Paul ‘Paulie Numbnuts’ Ryan and Mitch ‘the Bitch’ McConnell will always be there to protect me”

or

“Somebody stop me. Somebody please stop me.”

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. A lot of Republicans might be willing to toss Trump to get Vice President Pence to take over, since he’s a more sincerely conservative Republican than Trump and would be less likely to incriminate himself on Twitter. However it may already be too late. See, the stated reason that Trump fired Flynn was because Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence (who was running the pre-inaugural transition) about contacts with Russia. If Flynn lied to Congress about this, and this lie was the same thing he told Pence (according to big-mouth Trump) then if Trump knew it was a lie at the time and this incriminates him it is hard to see how it doesn’t incriminate Mike Pence. Thus, any charge that is substantial enough to incriminate Trump could also incriminate Pence for the same reason. If the President is removed from office and the Vice President is also not able to serve, the law states that succession falls to the Speaker of the House.

Which means that the acting president would be Paul Ryan. AKA “Paulie Numbnuts.”

Unless of course Mueller is allowed to drag this thing out past the point of the 2018 midterms, and in the perhaps 50-50 chance that Democrats can actually capitalize on Republicans’ unpopularity, then the third in line after Pence would most likely be House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

You know, the liberal feminist who at first defended John Conyers against sexual harassment charges and called him an icon of Congress.

Nancy “we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it” Pelosi.

We really are screwed, aren’t we?

The Whisper Network

“I wish to argue that none of you possibly have enough evidence to jump to this conclusion, but experience has taught me that only guarantees it to be the case.”

-Vaarsuvius, Order of the Stick #1106

I had almost thought the issue of powerful men getting taken down by a history of sexual harassment was starting to lose currency. But last week the big news was that Today show lead anchor Matt Lauer was “suddenly” fired after NBC News recieved a detailed complaint, NBC News chairman Andrew Lack saying “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.” As it turned out, both Variety and the New York Times had been investigating an extensive history of misbehavior on Lauer’s part.  Less publicized that week was the news that hip-hop mogul and producer Russell Simmons was stepping down from his companies after he was accused of sexual assault.

This phenomenon is in fact so widespread and happening so fast that a lot of observers are worried about it. For one thing, the idea that we should believe all women who accuse men of abuse is getting challenged. Professional feminist Lena Dunham defended a writer from her show Girls after he was accused of rape by actress Aurora Perrineau, saying he was one of the just “3% of assault cases that are misrepresented every year.” More relevant to politics, Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken was accused of groping one woman on a USO tour, and then another. Now it’s up to six. Not only that, veteran Congressman John Conyers (D.-Michigan) was accused of a long history of improper sexual behavior. Yet another Congressman, Ruben Kihuen (D.-Nevada) was just accused of repeated sexual advances and improper touching by an aide.  But it wasn’t until fairly recently that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called upon Conyers to resign. (Perhaps for that reason, she was a lot quicker to go after Kihuen.)

So what? The story now is, we “believe all women” unless the accused is a friend of ours? Or if it’s politically inconvenient?

To their credit, a lot of liberals are saying politics be damned, such men need to be out of Congress, even if they’re Democrats. But it’s not that simple. Conyers’ seat (in the Detroit area) is safe, and in any case he’s very old and may need to retire anyway. However, if Kihuen resigns, the Governor of Nevada (who would appoint his replacement) is a Republican. And Franken has been a serious asset to the Democrats in the Senate, and even if Minnesota’s Democratic governor replaced him, that party needs all the seats it can get.

Not that Republicans are any more pure. As more documented stories of Roy Moore’s predilection for younger girls came up in Alabama, that just increased the desire of Alabama Republicans to get him elected Senator. But that’s what they are. All that matters to them is winning. “Conservatives” would vote for Bill Clinton himself if he said he was a Republican. But as I keep telling Republicans, they kinda did.

In large part, a lot of liberals are worried that there’s going to be some sort of right-wing backlash once somebody gets the idea that they can make a false claim. When Rolling Stone published a “searing expose'” on a gang rape at the University of Virginia campus, the story turned out to be unverifiable and was later retracted.  This critically undermined Rolling Stone’s journalistic reputation (to the extent that it had one) and set back feminist attempts to target “rape culture.”

More recently, Bari Weiss in the New York Times worried that the current ascendancy of #metoo feminism is going to set up its own downfall, citing the Teen Vogue writer Emily Linden who had to shut down her Twitter account after posting ““If some innocent men’s reputations have to take a hit in the process of undoing the patriarchy, that is a price I am absolutely willing to pay.” Weiss says that while she sympathizes with that attitude, “I think that ‘believing all women’ can rapidly be transmogrified into an ideological orthodoxy that will not serve women at all. ”

There is of course a danger of backlash with all the sexual harassment stories, but the reason that hasn’t happened yet in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein case is because when an individual is accused of sexual abuse, it’s not just one case that can’t be verified. There always turns out to be more behind it.

When Anthony Rapp made his accusation against Kevin Spacey, at the time I thought it was just an isolated case of Spacey being drunk quite a few years ago. (Though it still reflected badly on him that he would let himself get so out of control.) But according to producers on House of Cards, Spacey had been engaging in harassment fairly recently, and often enough to where it was brought up as a problem. When an accusation gets in the news, it stays in the news if it turns out to be a pattern.

There is now actually a term for how this works. Feminists Valerie Aurora and Leigh Blackwood came up with an observation they call “the Al Capone Theory.” The basis is that Al Capone had a major organized crime ring going with alcohol smuggling, but the Federal government couldn’t get him on those grounds, but they could trace his income and prosecute him for tax evasion on his assets. Aurora and Blackwood said: “We noticed a similar pattern in reports of sexual harassment and assault: often people who engage in sexually predatory behavior also faked expense reports, plagiarized writing, or stole credit for other people’s work.” In other words, even where (say) sexual harassment is hard to prove or prosecute, it may be possible to prosecute an offender for other more easily-established criminal offenses – because the kind of person who engages in sexual harassment is the kind of person who is likely to commit other crimes. “Ask around about the person who gets handsy with the receptionist, or makes sex jokes when they get drunk, and you’ll often find out that they also violated the company expense policy, or exaggerated on their résumé, or took credit for a colleague’s project.” Whether companies know the “Al Capone Theory” term or not, they are becoming more cognizant of this pattern in order to guard against it, given that such personality types can cost money for reasons other than public harrassment suits.

More directly, a lot of these sexual harassment cases gain traction because they’re not isolated incidents. When the first accusations came out against Harvey Weinstein, they destroyed his reputation, but they couldn’t be prosecuted because they were past the statute of limitations for assault. But recently the NYPD announced that it has at least one rape case that is recent enough to investigate.

The approach taken by the authors of the Al Capone Theory points towards a critical standard that addresses the serious possibility of treating men unfairly. One of the concerns of men is that the “whisper network” has the potential to destroy men over isolated, consensual encounters when there is no legal standard such as presumption of innocence. But one thing that’s overlooked with that position is that the abuses themselves are a case where men (usually men) are taking advantage of grey areas in the law and in company human resources policies, and in the reaction of the culture to women’s claims. Until recently, when women did try to work within the system, their claims were disregarded by superiors, for example in the case of Lauer. The Variety article said: “Several women told Variety they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears given the lucrative advertising surrounding ‘Today.’ NBC declined to comment. For most of Lauer’s tenure at ‘Today,’ the morning news show was No. 1 in the ratings, and executives were eager to keep him happy.” Whereas the standard that Aurora and Blackwood are endorsing obliges companies to review a person’s overall performance record to corroborate accusations of bad behavior, including accusations against women.

It seems as though liberals in the media and politics are taking a look at where politics have gone and then taking a look at the “sophisticated” culture they did so much to enable, at least when Bill Clinton was president. And whether they admit it or not, they’re making a connection.

Consider that however self-conscious and hypocritical liberals might seem about sexual harassment, they are at least taking a look in the mirror and cleaning up their own house.

But then consider that Donald Trump is still president.

And that Roy Moore, at least initially, was leading in the polls after the Washington Post story came out.

And it seems to me that “conservatives” are looking at self-flagellating liberals, and they’ve decided that if it looks embarrassing or hypocritical to develop a conscience too late, then clearly the best course of action is to never develop a conscience at all.