Those doing a victory dance at the election of Doug Jones to U.S. Senate from Alabama should remember that 650,000 voted for a child molester

While anyone who believes in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIPS, food stamps, public schools, cheap public universities, abortion rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants should rejoice in the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over the truly deplorable Roy Moore for the U.S. Senator from Alabama, we should only do so with caution.

Trump and the Republicans are still in charge. The GOP is still upsetting decades of Congressional protocols pushing through a tax bill that represents the largest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy in U.S. history, a tax bill opposed by more than 70% of all Americans. The current administration is still overturning regulations that address climate change and protect Americans on the job site and in the marketplace. The appointment of a young generation of ultra-right, pro-corporate judges continues.

Moreover, democracy in America is still threatened, not just by the Republicans in Congress and the White House, but by the voters themselves. Only 32% of registered voters participated in the Alabama special election, a total that all the news media is labelling as high or heavy. A majority of voters stayed home and that’s a good turnout? No wonder Congress so often thwarts the will of the people and acts against the best interests of most Americans to favor a wealthy few. The people often don’t speak loudly enough.

More dangerous to American democracy than the lack of voter participation is the fact that more than 650,000 voted for a child molester. Even if every one of the Alabama voters who stayed home had voted against Moore on the principle that a child molester should not represent a state in the U.S. Senate, that doesn’t mitigate the fact that more than 15% of the total electorate either didn’t care or took the word of a man over a large number of very credible women and supporting witnesses. Either these voters are morally bankrupt or irredeemably misogynist. The low turnout magnifies the power of this 15%, just as it did in the 2016 Republican primary races in which Donald Trump never exceeded 25% of the total of eligible Republican voters. When voters stay home, a motivated minority can turn the country in an ugly direction—in this case, almost electing a child molester.

Which brings us to Senator Al Franken, a good guy and leading liberal light. On the scale of sexual offenses that men can perpetrate against women, Franken’s is much less offensive than Roy Moore’s. But still not acceptable. And they occurred multiple times. He made at least eight women feel uncomfortable with his frat boy antics. Why didn’t he learn from his mistakes?

I’m fairly certain that someone said something to him about the inappropriateness of his behavior at least once over the years. Back in 1973 when I was teaching my first university-level French course at the University of Washington—Introduction to French Literature—I was prone to making salacious puns and sexual innuendos in my lectures. I was just a 22-year-old doofus trying to be funny and clever—I was and am an incorrigible punster with a vivid imagination and a love of jokes about sex. After about three weeks, one of my female students took me out for a coffee and told me the jokes made the women feel uncomfortable. I was as embarrassed as I have ever been, completely humiliated. I stopped the sexual joking immediately. I never had another complaint. I am still grateful that my student sent me in the right direction so early in my career and adulthood.

That was 45 frigging years ago!!! Don’t you think that along the way some outspoken woman would have done the same favor for Franken, who as a liberal must have hung out with a number of sensitive, sensible and assertive women? Keep in mind, too, that some of Franken’s antics took place in public “on the job,” typically working for large organizations. Every large organization has had a sexual harassment policy in effect and given training to supervisors on identifying and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace since about the mid-1990s. Many seem routinely to ignore the policy especially as it applies to powerful men, but that doesn’t let the liberal feminist Franken off the hook.

It therefore shocks me to see so many comments on Facebook asking Franken to remain a Senator, petitions pleading he reconsider and nasty notes to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, leader of those demanding Franken resign. These well-meaning liberals and progressives risk giving up their ideals for political expediency—exactly what we accuse the other side of doing. If being accused of molesting a 14-year-old, assaulting a 16-year-old and pestering a bunch of young girls when he was in his thirties disqualifies Roy Moore from elected office, how can we exempt Al Franken for his overly aggressive and sexual touching and feeling? The case of Trump is even more apt. If we disqualify Trump for his 18 instances of harassment, we must qualify Franken for his eight. When it comes to the discomfort it could cause a woman or the assertion of a prerogative of power over a woman, I can’t see much difference between touching a woman’s breast and slipping fingers underneath her panties. Both equally heinous.

Franken has to go. Otherwise there is no moral ground on which to accuse Trump, Moore and other Republicans. Otherwise, we send a message that in certain cases it is alright to harass women, and even perpetrate a mild, good-natured, we’re all-just-having-a-good-time sexual assault.

What is the relationship between domestic & foreign policy in the current administration? Is it an incoherent stew or is there a grand strategy?

That the incendiary announcement that the United States was moving its embassy to Jerusalem comes in the wake of the Senate’s passage of the Trump GOP tax giveaway to the wealthy begs the question: Does any relationship exist between domestic and foreign policy in the Trump years? Can we connect the current administration’s domestic policy to shift wealth to the wealthiest and permanently entrench the wealthiest as a ruling elite to our bellicose, go-it-alone, anti-Muslim foreign policy? Is there a grand design? Or is it just an incoherent stew of bad ideas?

To a great degree, domestic and foreign policy always work hand and glove in the United States. For the most part, both have always served the interests of the ultra-wealthy and a coterie of large companies in industries long used to mixing in politics such as energy, metals extraction, telecommunications and defense.

The current foreign policy abandons attempts to solve world problems collectively and replaces it with an angry isolationism that tries to bully or bluster to get its way. It appears to represent a radical turn from the approach of at least the last three administrations, but if you scratch the surface…la plus sa change, as the French say. We seem always to have a ton of troops and advisors in a number of foreign countries. We still employ a large number of private companies to perform military functions. We still seem to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia and therefore demonize Iran. Diplomacy may be gone. We may be courting authoritarians and snubbing allies. But we’re still flexing our military muscle, still fighting several senseless wars. We still employ a large number of private companies to perform military functions. We still seem to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia and therefore demonize Iran. Diplomacy may be gone. We may be courting authoritarians and snubbing allies. But we’re still flexing our military muscle, still fighting several senseless wars.

But what does our foreign policy—both what continues and what is new—have to do with domestic issues?

As it turns out, our continued military misadventures that transcend regimes have four profound connections to domestic affairs, all of which have both political and policy implications.

First and most obvious, the defense industry plays a large role in our politics. No candidate from either party has strayed very far from espousing the central tenets of our foreign policy since the end of World War II, which of course call for tremendous annual expenditures for the military. Our sainted President Obama, for example, was a leading proponent of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons and raised no objections to robot weapons that decide on their kill without human intervention. The acquiescence to or support of the defense industries by all leading politicians results in a greater likelihood that we will use the weapons.

For the most part, politicians from both parties also buy into the long-time U.S. policy of being the arms master to the world, selling more military weaponry to other countries than the rest of the nations of the world combined. Often these sales, by private military corporations, take place only because of U.S. loans to the purchasing government.Thus our federal budget is stretched and our politics distorted by the influence of military contractors.

Besides draining our treasury of funds that could be used to help people, both in the United States and throughout the world, our large military expenditures and our long-time policy of being the arms master of the world contribute to the overall “culture of guns” that exists in America. We are armed to the teeth and have armed the world to the teeth. The political and policy dynamics of selling guns abroad and guns in the United States reinforce each other: America, armed to the teeth, land of freedom and defender of freedom.

In other regions of the world, our arms mongering causes disruptions. In the United States, it leads to a slaughter unseen in any other nation of the world. Then again, no other nation in the world has so many guns in active circulation. Every study shows that the more guns a society has, the more people will die and be injured by guns. Our elected officials seem to accept the casualties in the United States in the name of a single freedom proclaimed as inviolable through a gross misinterpretation of an amendment to the constitution ratified more than 200 years ago, long before the invention of automatic weapons and bump stocks.

Our foreign policy also helps to justify our domestic police state apparatus, and has done so since the end of World War II when we decided we were better off with the Soviet Union as an enemy than as a friend. When we don’t have an enemy, we manufacture one, or expand a minor threat such as ISIS into a major one. Government uses international affairs as the rationale and justification for all manner of intrusion into our lives, such as eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens, executing secret searches, tracking library card use, seizures of private property, classifying millions of documents as top secret and cracking down on undocumented immigrants.

Finally, foreign affairs serves as a distraction from domestic issues. Traditionally, people come together in a war. They’re ready to make sacrifices for the good of the country.They forget or are willing to postpone consideration of pressing domestic issues such as healthcare, minimum wage and growing inequality. The common enemy—be it real or imagined—takes our mind off domestic concerns. Think North Korea and the fear of nuclear attack.

Defense industry influence, the gun culture, the excuse for creating a security state, a distraction from domestic problems. These four links between domestic affairs and foreign policy transcend administrations and have existed since at least the Truman Administration. Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, getting into a name-calling contest with an erratic lunatic with a finger on the bomb, escalating the war in Afghanistan again and trying to wiggle out of the Iran nuclear deal may make us quake from fear that our foreign policy has gone rogue, but the main outlines of the post-war bipartisan consensus to be both the world’s bully and its arms dealer persist, as does the pernicious interaction between foreign policy and domestic affairs that is the necessary outcome of that overarching strategy.

My mistake: Trump didn’t have private meeting w/David Koch & friends the day after Senate passed tax reform. It was another Park Avenue billionaire, Stephen A. Schwarzman

It turns out that my guess as to who hosted the private meeting Donald Trump had at 740 Park Avenue the day after the Senate passed the Trump GOP massive tax cut for the wealthy was wrong.

I said it was probably David Koch, and that Trumpty-Dumpty no doubt has his hand out for a little sugar from the windfall Trump’s Republican Party was giving the Koch family and their pals.

But the New York Times is reporting—six days after the meeting—that the host was Stephen A, Schwarzman, the billionaire founder of private equity behemoth Blackstone Group, another trust fund baby who has turned his head start into an estimated $11.2 billion in net worth. The Times report claims that the group included old New York friends and real estate colleagues, a tip-off that at least part of the article is spun from air or that almost no one attended, as Trump doesn’t have many if any New York friends or real estate colleagues after his buffoonish public behavior before and during “The Apprentice,” thousands of lawsuits involving legitimate New York businesses he stiffed and his six bankruptcies that cost plenty of New York real estate interests lots of money. New York’s wealthy and powerful elite have considered The Donald a joke since before one of his ex-wives first called him The Donald.

Supposedly many in the group who met with Trump at Schwarzman’s luxury apartment, urged Trump to pressure the Republicans in Congress to roll back plans to end the tax deduction for state and local taxes. Ending the deduction is expected to cost high-tax, high-benefit states like New York, California and New Jersey billions of dollars—part of the way Republicans are planning to pay for the enormous tax break they are giving to everybody assembled in Schwarzman’s apartment except for the servers and security.

My bad guess as to whom Trump visited matters not to the points I was trying to make when I—alone among news reporters and pundits—reported the meeting earlier this week. Whatever else was discussed, we can be sure that Trump had his hand out. We can also rest certain that whoever else was in the plush environs of the Schwarzman residence with Stephen A. and the Donald, they were multi-millionaires or billionaires aligned with conservative causes. The self-seeking and self-satisfied moneyed elite whose opinion matters more to Republicans and many Democrats than the will of the people.

And we can rest assured that self-interest was in the minds and on the lips of everyone present. Remember that it was Schwarzman who in 2010 compared President Obama’s proposal to increase taxation on “carried interest” profits to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. I guess he needs all that money to indulge his well-documented hobby of collecting expensive antiques and fine art furniture.

The question remains as to who was riled enough about my OpEdge article and had the juice to force a “correction” at the head of a front-page Times article. The article was about the fact that Trump is going against many other New York moneybags in wanting to end the state deduction. The fairly lengthy piece never returns to the meeting, or even to Schwarzman. The mention of the meeting was a factoid throwaway that was entirely unnecessary for the article and a fairly weak beginning to it.

So who wanted the record corrected? Was it Koch, who doesn’t seem to want to have any public association with the erratic and ignorant leader of the current administration? Or was it Schwarzman, who in the past has embraced his connection to Trump and his role as a Trump advisor? I doubt it was Trump himself, who would have no reason to correct a small inaccuracy in a blog reaching 40,000 people, and every reason in the world to pretend to the American people that he doesn’t spend a lot of time trawling for dollars amongst the ultra-wealthy. Although I have strong circumstantial evidence that the Times has ripped off my OpEdge and Jampole Communications ideas before, I doubt it was the Times that started the ball rolling after seeing my article, because the Times always knew Trump was headed to the Big Apple to beg for cash. It published two photos that referenced Trump’s day-after-the-tax-heist trip in the Sunday paper without explaining the reason for the visit. Of course maybe after seeing the OpEdge article, the Times editors realized they had an interesting little factoid they could use to flesh out a broader story.

We’ll never know, just as we’ll never know what was really said at the meeting. I doubt, however, the conversation veered anywhere close to discussing government actions that would help the vast majority of Americans not worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.

Behind Trump GOP grand plan to reduce deficit by cutting spending on social welfare, healthcare & Social Security is idea that the poor are inferior & undeserving

As many others have pointed out, the Republican Party hasn’t wasted any time letting the other shoe drop. They’re dancing their standard two-step of first creating a deficit by cutting taxes on the wealthy and then wailing that the deficit is hurting the economy; of course, the only way to fix it by cutting government spending on social welfare programs.

Reagan pulled this swindle in the 1980’s. Bush did it in the first decade of the 21st century.

And now the Republicans are about to take the first step of the same old swindle by giving the ultra-wealthy the largest tax cut in American history. Most everyone knows that the Trump GOP plan is to pay for this new federal largesse to our least needy in three ways: 1) Cutting spending; 2) Raising taxes on the middle class; 3) Creating a deficit.

Typically, the GOP waits a few years before calling for slashing federal spending, but this crass and brazen new Trump-led GOP has already begun to call for deep cuts to close the large and soon to get larger deficit. Both Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have explicitly said that the next step is to radically shrink Medicare and Social Security.

Yes, Social Security. Remember, Reagan tried to go after the government run insurance program into which employees pay 6.25% of their earnings (up to a very low $118,500 annually) for the promise of a steady check once they retire. Social Security provides the bulk of retirement income for most Americans. The best Reagan could do was raise the tax, trim benefits and enable the federal government to borrow money from the Social Security Trust Fund. Since then, Republicans routinely treat Social Security as if it were part of the budget, and not a separate Trust Fund.

Bush II went after Social Security literally the day after his second inauguration and it backfired. Obama’s Simpson-Bowles Commission wanted to lower Social Security benefits as a way to pay for the great tax cut to the wealthy it was proposing. That went nowhere fast.

Now the Republicans are ready for another assault on Social Security as part of a broader plan to get the federal government out of the business of helping anyone except those who don’t need the help. There’s little chance they’ll succeed in doing much more than raising the retirement age or trimming the benefit. Too many people depend upon on Social Security, so like any head-on assault against the Affordable Care Act, an attempt to end or radically change Social Security will fail. Little nibbles at its edges, however, have succeeded before, so even as the GOP fire-bombers ask for a radical change such as privatization, the so-called moderates will be pushing to nip and tuck the program—lowering annual increases, raising the retirement age, increasing the tax, anything but raising the cap on income assessed the Social Security tax, which would of course hurt rich folk.

One reason that Social Security is so hard for the GOP to attack is that everyone uses it, and so it is impossible for the GOP to pretend that only the undeserving receive Social Security benefits, like they do with welfare, food stamps and Medicaid.

For those unhip to the language of racial coding, when the Republicans label a group like food stamp recipients as underserving, they mean “of color,” and more recently also “immigrant.” They revel in assuming that most recipients of aid from the government are minorities, and then playing on the racism that many whites still harbor—the secret feeling that whites are superior and, the not-so-secret fear that minorities are taking away the good jobs, the promotions and the college acceptances, deserving none of it. In fact, whites born and raised in the good ole U-S-of-A make up the overwhelming majority of the recipients of virtually all social welfare programs. But if the GOP can convince their base that only minorities—the undeserving—receive the benefit, they have a good chance of keeping their support.

We can already see the GOP begin to demonize the poor. Many news and opinion articles are repeating some of the odious things Republicans have been saying to justify cutting social welfare programs. Comments by Senators Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch that blamed the poor for their predicament have rightfully received widespread condemnation. Grassley said that poor folk would be rich if they spent less on booze, women and movies. Hatch chided poor children without healthcare for “not lifting a finger” to help themselves.

Behind the racism of these comments is a secondary code that the news media does not pick up on, and in fact often enables. To a much smaller, but much richer base than the uneducated white wage-working class, goes this secondary message: It’s not just minorities and immigrants who are inferior, undeserving and responsible for their own dire condition—it is anyone who isn’t rich. The rich got that way through their hard work, deserve what they have and don’t deserve to have it taken away from them—no matter what.

The idea of the deserving rich and the underserving poor predates Ronald Reagan’s politics of selfishness. It is a mutation of what sociologists call the “Protestant ethic.” The Protestant ethic starts with the idea that it’s not prayer or ritual or even faith that gets you into heaven, but good works in the real world. But one form of Protestantism, Calvinism, added the concept of “predestination” that those deserving god’s grace and a glorious afterlife were predetermined. As early as the Dutch Golden Age—decades before social thinkers were using Darwin’s theories to justify letting the wealthy prey on everyone else in a deregulated, laissez-faire market economy—the Protestant ethic underwent a secular inversion, at least in business circles and among the clericals feeding at their trough. The idea arose that becoming a success, and specifically a financial success, was a sign of goodness and god’s grace. Conversely, the poor manifested their inferiority by virtue of being poor. In a sense, everyone becomes self-made, untethered from their social background and wealth and the vagaries of chance. We know you’re inherently good because you’re rich. We assume that the poor remain so because they are inherently bad. The virtue of the “self-made multimillionaire,” as the right-looking-center publication The Economist once described Mitt Romney.

Of course the real world is far different, full of virtuous teachers, professors, nurses, home health aides and other educators and care-givers who make less money than they would as corporate attorneys or investment bankers. It’s also full of virtuous bus drivers, security guards, construction workers, janitors, telemarketers, cashiers, burger flippers and other low-paid jobs who work just as hard as corporate CEOs, hedge fund managers, advertising executives and professional athletes, but make much less money.

The wealthy have been playing one form or another of the “we deserve it” card since the emergence of modern democracy. Racism makes it easier to play because a racial inferior is by definition undeserving. But the ultra-wealthy merely use racism to divide and conquer. Believe me, they—and by “they” I mean the Trumps, Kochs, DeVoses, Mnuchins, Mercers, Anschutzes, Scaifes and their ilk—have just as much disdain for all poor people as the poor uneducated cracker cruising white power websites has for minorities.

Trump doesn’t waste any time cashing in on tax victory to ask wealthy and ultra- wealthy investors for his cut. His meeting with David Koch is ignored by news media, of course.

There wasn’t anything in the news about what Donald Trump did the day after the Senate gave the current Administration an enormous win by passing a tax bill which will produce the greatest shifting of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy in American history.

You might assume that like on most days, Trumpty-Dumpty played a little golf and tweeted inanities. But if you check his schedule posted online you’ll see that he jetted to New York for three fundraisers. The narcissistic ignoramus to whom the Electoral College gave the most votes last year took a victory lap with both tiny-fingered hands outstretched palms up for cash.

At 11:20 am on December 2, The Donald delivered remarks at a Trump campaign breakfast, raising money for his reelection, a slush fund that will no doubt end up feeding Trump businesses. Next at 12:35 pm came a speech at a National Republican Committee fundraiser. We can assume that the money raised at that event will fund Republican Party operations and races.

The last fundraiser, at 1:50 pm, is the most intriguing of all. All the schedule says is that Trump “speaks to a smaller group of RNC donors.”

Wonder who that smaller group was and where they met? By luck of the draw, I can give you that information.

They met in the apartment building next to the one in which my wife and I live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The reason I know this fact is that our street was blocked off for a few hours by sand trucks and was swarming with local police and Secret Service agents, one of whom told us it was Trump who was coming. A special receiving tent was erected at the side entrance to the building where the overgrown orange infant was headed. No one was allowed to walk on the street, and when we left, we were told that to get back into our building, we would have to supply identification. Just as we were leaving for the afternoon, we saw a procession of limousines arrive. At the end of the article you can find two photos that suggest how elaborately authorities cordoned off the area for Trump’s visit.

The building in question is 740 Park Avenue, a long-time New York symbol of ultra-wealth. 740 Park has its own Wikipedia page and a book has been written about it, 740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building by Michael Gross. Some of the current or former inhabitants of 740 include Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (whose grandfather built it), John D. Rockefeller, Saul Steinberg, Steve Schwarzman, Ronald Lauder, Ronald Perelman, Vera Wang, John Thain and Steve Ross, most of whom are certified billionaires.

While the Donald may have been visiting any of the thirty odd ultra-wealthy tenants in this venerable Art Deco building, I will state with extreme confidence he was there to see David Koch, of the infamous Koch brothers, the main organizers of the juggernaut of rightwing money that has funded conservative think tanks, backed conservative politicians and advocated for lower taxes and deregulation for the past few decades.

As Jane Mayer’s Dark Money details, the Koch brothers, sons of an original founder of the John Birch Society, are the primary organizers of the 40-year campaign of a small coterie of billionaires to change the American political agenda for their own selfish ends. Her book explains the process by which our country has reached the point at which it is overwhelmingly centrist-looking-left but controlled by right-wingers, especially at the state level. It explains how the Democrats could outvote the Republicans by millions and still not have a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. It explains why the mass media focuses on inessential issues such as the deficit or promulgates ridiculous myths such as the social value of lowering taxes and the idea that science is unsure about global warming.

In her update of Dark Money that includes what happened in 2016, Mayer reports that the Kochs kept a billion dollars in their and their associates’ pockets during the last election cycle that they had planned to spend to sway the 2016 presidential election for just about any Republican candidate other than Donald Trump. Yet even though the Kochs sat on their hands in the 2016 election, they are now deeply embedded in the Trump Administration. Mayer reports that the Trump administration is crawling with Koch operatives and lobbyists. Mike Pence was the Koch’s first choice for president in 2012 and has received significant financial support from the Kochs in the past. The Kochs set new CIA Director Mike Pompeo up in business and have provided him with financial support throughout his political career. Then there’s the cabinet, that skewers towards the kind of anti-regulation, pro-oil, climate deniers that the Koch Bro’s love to love. Did Trump say he would “drain the swamp” or “join the swamp?”

In the meeting with Koch and friends, we can only imagine the self-serving bombast with which Trump overstated his role in getting the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (AKA the “Despoiling of the Middle Class by the Wealthy Act”) passed. He certainly didn’t turn any Democrats, and I doubt that he was the reason that the hypocrites John McCain and Jeff Flake decided to vote for the tax heist. I doubt it was Trump who convinced Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins that 13 million was an acceptable number of Americans to lose their healthcare to fund vast tax giveaways to millionaires, multimillionaires and billionaires. And he certainly didn’t influence the public or businesses, since every survey showed that the vast majority of Americans and American business owners and operators were vehemently opposed to the bill. In retrospect, his main role in force feeding this dangerous legislation through Congress was to keep embarrassing himself with tweets about his various feuds that dominated the top of the news, pushing the awful details of the tax bill to less prominent coverage.

It could be a coincidence that Trump paid homage to Koch and pals the day after the Senate passed the bill, since the signs that there would be no parking on Saturday December 2 had been up on Park Avenue all week. On the other hand, the timing was convenient. Not even waiting 24 hours to beg for money seems completely in character for the crass, tone-deaf Trump.

Trump wants money from David and Charles Koch and their ultra-wealthy cronies, to be sure—for his reelection, for his various business ventures that can profit from campaign expenditures and for the dozens of lawyers he is employing related to the Mueller investigation into Trump’s probable collusion with the Russians during the election and his ham-handed attempts to cover it up. I imagine he would also like Koch to support candidates least likely to vote for impeachment.

I doubt that the erratic, pompous, crude and ignorant Trump mixed all that well with the patrician and hardheaded Koch crowd. I see so many funny ways the meeting played out—Did Koch serve fast food hamburgers because he knows that’s what the Donald likes to eat? Or did Trump take one look at a spread of various tapas, sushi or crudities and dig into his pocket for a candy bar? What comparison to his own garish nouveau riche home and hotels did he make upon seeing the Koch’s furnishings? How crude was he in asking for the bucks? How many overblown guarantees did he make?

The Kochs already have just about everything they wanted from the 2016 election. The tax law will save them tens of millions of dollars right away, and billions more for their heirs at their deaths. The current administration is rapidly undoing a generation of regulations that protect the environment and level the playing field between large corporations and everyone else. The federal government is turning its back on climate change policies. The Department of Education is focusing its energies on privatization. There can be no doubt that the Koch crew would feel more comfortable with Mike Pence as president, or Paul Ryan if Pence has to resign because he helped to collude or cover-up. They’ll be less happy if the Democrats sweep in 2018 and Nancy Pelosi ends up in the White House. My guess then is that once Mueller has presented his evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” Republicans will abandon Trumpty-Dumpty, impeach and convict if Trump does not resign first.

Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, or the current occupant of the Oval Office—whoever is officially in charge by the summer of 2018, the Kochs and their fellow billionaires will continue to pull the strings. And one way or another, the 2018 election—like that of 2000, 2010 and 2016—will be one of the most important in U.S. history. Times are desperate for America, and certainly for the left. The side that wants a polluted, poorly educated nation of rich and poor has the money and the structural advantage they gained from gerrymandering after the 2010 election and creating a multitude of state laws that make it harder to register and to vote. All the American people have is the vote itself.

The social policy behind Trump GOP tax plan is to turn America into a polluted military camp of rich and poor in which ignorance reigns

Government taxation of its citizens goes back at least six thousand years, and at least as far back as the Greeks, the purpose of taxes have always been twofold: To raise revenues for the government and to guide public policy. In the case of Athens, the social policy was to go to war with other nations, as Athens would raise taxes on a temporary basis to finance war-making. But Athens also taxed every inhabitant who did not have an Athenian mother and father, which certainly advanced a public policy that has recently gained adherents in many western nations: limit immigration.

Societies and governments are much more complex than they used to be. Most industry sectors and most of the utilities that define modern life like electricity and natural gas service didn’t even exist 200 years ago. Tax policy can’t help but favor certain industries and individuals, and typically the hand-up—be it in the form of tax credits or deductions—is a conscious attempt by our leaders to make people and industries do something, or stop doing something.

The overall dynamic of the current Trump GOP tax plans is to give most people a tax break today, but heavily weigh the benefits to top wage earners, especially in the financial industry, and those whose income comes mostly from investments; the tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy are permanent, while most of the breaks for everyone else are temporary. In either of its forms, the proposed new tax system will not be revenue neutral, but raise the budget by 1.5 trillion dollars. Despite this enormous increase in the deficit, the Trump GOP tax plan still needs to raise taxes on many people and cut government programs and services to pay for what can most accurately be described as an enormous tax break for the wealthy.

Within this broad outline are the details, most of which assert a public or social policy, and they certainly are devilish. Let’s then, take a look at the public policy implicit in both the overall thrust of the plan and in its minutiae.

On the macro level, the tax plan suggests that its developers do not believe that people have any responsibility to society and that society should be a cold and inhumane place in which everyone essentially is on their own, sink or swim, with no help to the poor or disadvantaged to level the playing field of a market economy of private actors.

I understand full well the Republican line on tax cuts for the wealthy dating back to before the Great Depression, nonsense that the wealthy and corporations will reinvest their tax savings to create new jobs and that high rates of taxation harm society’s producers. But all historical evidence going back at least to the 16th century in Spain demonstrates that in the real world raising taxes on the wealthy and lowering taxes on everyone else generally produces economic growth, whereas lowering taxes on the wealthy generally causes stagnation or economic decline, especially when accompanied by raising taxes on everyone else. An analysis of the cash flow when rich folk, everyone else and the government get more money demonstrates the almost offensive illogic in believing that lowering taxes on the wealthy creates wealth that flows down to everyone else. Governments spend all the money in their coffers, sooner or later, and for most modern governments, it’s sooner. That spending becomes jobs, government contracts and benefits to the poor and middle class, which then get spent. When everyone but the rich get more money, they spend most of it and save only a little, again putting money into the economy. The rich, by contrast, will stick most of the extra money into dead assets, that is, assets that do not create wealth such as collectibles, real estate and stocks that are bought on the secondary market and not directly from companies.

Except for the stupid and the fanatical, most elected officials and certainly most of the right-wing’s well-paid horde of think-tankers know that the idea that cutting taxes on the wealthy will unleash growth is a ridiculous myth. We must therefore look behind their overheated rhetoric to understand the true public policy in the Trump GOP plan. If we judge the plan by past history and the outcomes predicted by virtually all mainstream economists, it’s clear that the public policy goes beyond laissez faire to create a society that favors the already wealthy and provides no helping hand to anyone else.

The provisions of the plan involve some radical truly social thinking. In the case of education, Ted Mitchell, President of the American Council on Education, put it best when he called the Trump GOP tax plan “a reverse GI Bill.” The GI Bill put millions of veterans of World War II through college free or at a very low cost, through government support of public higher education. By contrast, the Trump GOP plan removes many of the tax breaks that help people pay for their college education, making college even less affordable than it already is in the 21st century:

  • Repeals the interest deduction for student loans, which is taken by more than 12 million people.
  • Repeals the $2,500 tax credit that middle-class parents can take for having children in college.
  • Forces graduate students to pay taxes on the tuition waivers they receive, which will make many leave school.
  • Places a 1.4 percent excise tax on college endowments that exceed a specific limit, which will affect over 150 colleges and reduce the funds these institutions have for scholarships to needy students. Thus, in the same bill that gives corporations a tax break and continues the carried income tax break for hedge fund managers, most major universities will pay a new tax.

It’s clear that the Trump GOP do not see the benefit in providing or facilitating the educational aspirations of its citizens and see no benefit to society to educating the next generation of managers, engineers, physicians and other medical professionals, technicians, communicators, software developers, translators, urban planners, human resource professionals, teachers and the myriad other professions that require higher education. Nor do the Republicans place any value on the pursuit of knowledge or research and development.

Let’s move on to healthcare. From its many failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act we already know the GOP has no interest in providing low-cost universal healthcare, a birthright enjoyed by the citizens of virtually every other industrialized country of the world. Again, the GOP espouses the false idea that the marketplace will provide less expensive, higher quality healthcare, and again the facts belie this nonsense. The citizens in our private sector healthcare system pay more than those in other industrial nations and we get less, as our infant mortality and life expectancy rates are much worse. In truth, the rightwing that controls today’s Republican Party does not believe that healthcare is a birthright and questions the idea that it is in the best interests of society to keep its citizens heathy at an affordable price.

The Senate version of the tax bill reinforces the Trump GOP notion that it’s every person for himself when it comes to healthcare by ending the individual mandate that makes those who don’t buy healthcare pay a special tax. Most experts agree that ending the individual mandate will leave 13 million more people uninsured and raise premiums for everyone else by 10%. Both bills end the deduction for unusually high medical expenses. It’s clear that Trump and the GOP do not really care about the health of Americans—at least not as much as they care about giving the ultra-wealthy more money.

For decades, the federal government has encouraged support of charities and religious institutions by allowing deductions for charitable contributions. But to take the deduction, the tax filer has had to itemize deductions. By raising the standard deduction (which cuts taxes) and lowering the maximum that can be deducted, the Trump GOP plan provides less incentive to give to charities and will likely result in charities receiving less funding. Moreover, ending the estate tax will likely lead to fewer and less generous major gifts, as the wealthiest one-fifth of one percent—the lucky few whose estates are large enough to be assessed estate taxes—will no longer feel the need to give to charities to reduce their tax burden. Thus, where once the public policy of our tax system encouraged charitable giving, the public policy advanced by the Trump GOP tax bill encourages selfishness.

The GOP tax plans rescind a number of tax credits, each of which was instituted to support a public policy deemed beneficial to American society as a whole. The credits up for repeal include the adoption tax credit, the credit for the elderly and the totally and permanently disabled, the credit associated with mortgage credit certificates, and the credit for plug-in electric vehicles. The GOP prefers lining the pockets of the already privileged over encouraging adoption, helping the elderly and disabled, supporting home ownership and building the market for non-polluting vehicles. To those who argue that the temporary (!) tax cuts partially or entirely offset the loss of credits and deductions miss the point: The changes collectively replace the use of tax policy to implement public policy with a kind of brutish and brutal lack of concern for the direction of the country.

The tax plan, of course, fits together with the budget. Proposed budget cuts to keep the deficit increase under $1.5 trillion also reflect public policy. The example of our foreign policy expenditures truly represents a turn that will be dangerous to both the United States and the rest of the world. The Trump budget calls for slashing the State Department by more than 30% while adding more than a 100 billion to the already bloated defense budget, including for the development of robot weapons and more sophisticated nuclear weapons. The social policy behind this shift is easy enough to see: We now prefer to go to war or oversee wars others fight for us than to achieve diplomatic solutions to world problems and disagreements with adversaries.

Other proposed budget cuts show a disregard for the importance of research and development, public education and environmental protection.

The tax plan provides more benefits to the ultra-wealthy than to the wealthy. It favors those whose income derives from investments over those who work for a living and get paid well for it—the Trumps and Mnuchins over LeBron James and Giancarlo Stanton. What’s the social policy there? To reward capital over labor, even high-priced labor.

We could go on, but let’s take a look at the vision of the future created by these different strands of public policy: A society of rich and poor in which most people are less educated and less healthy and live in a more polluted world than now and drive on crumbling roads and bridges to crumbling schools and shoddy public spaces, a world in which the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged are left to pretty much fend for themselves and in which no one will ever know peace as we fight or support dozens of regional and civil wars around the globe. Dystopia.

The overriding policy of Trump and the Republicans is to push the country into dystopia to satisfy the greed of a handful of billionaires. Among those ultra-wealthy are the members of the Trump family, who stand to gain tens of millions from the tax breaks right away. Upon the death of Trumpty Dumpty, that amount would increase to the value of his estate, which could be anywhere from $400 million to $4 billion or more, depending on whose estimate of his net worth you use.

In the future, when most American are living from hand to mouth trying to navigate their way along potholed roads and in broken down mass transit, the air foul with particles and carbon dioxide, their tap water undrinkable, most people in debt all their lives paying off their college degrees, the entire country running on obsolete and ramshackle early 21st century technology, the billionaires won’t care. They’ll have their own computer servers, servants, concierge medical service, security staff, airplanes and real estate in the more civilized locations of Paris, Berlin and Shanghai. It’s the ultimate end game of the politics of selfishness.

GOP trifecta of inequality: increase deficit, cut programs & raise middle class taxes to fund tax cut for wealthy

Imagine stand-up comic Henny Youngman, king of the one-liners, describing the Trump GOP tax proposals with one of his classic bits:

 So how big is the tax break for the wealthy in the new tax bill?

Why it’s so big that raising the deficit by trillions of dollars won’t cover it…

Why it’s so big that raising taxes on the middle class won’t cover it…

Why it’s so big that gutting Medicare, Medicaid, the State Department and other government programs won’t cover it…

That’s right folks, the Republicans have hit the trifecta of inequality. Raising taxes on the middle class, increasing the deficit and gutting important programs that help every American so that the wealthy can get another tax break. Each represents a wealth exchange in which the ultra-rich get richer and someone else gets poorer. Any of these three wealth exchanges would in and of itself injure the economy while creating greater inequality of wealth. Making all three is likely to send the country into a deep recession or a real depression.

The Trump GOP plans are perfectly crafted to offend all democratic principles: The richer the person, the bigger the tax break. The larger the corporation, the bigger the tax break. The more someone’s wealth is in capital such as financial assets and real estate—as opposed to salary—the bigger the tax break.

The GOP says that when you lower taxes, rich folk and corporations invest in creating more jobs and in paying better salaries. That’s not what history says. History tells us that rich folk pocket the money and then invest it in the secondary stock market (meaning it doesn’t help the company whose stock you bought although it helps the senior executives with lots of stock options; the company only benefits from the initial sale of the stock); buy government bonds to fund the deficit that their tax break created; and dump it into other assets like fine art, yachts, apartments in Manhattan and beach front properties. Meanwhile, money will have been taken out of the economy, as all the spending done by laid off government workers, recipients of government aid and the middle class before tax hikes will be gone. Within a few years of passage of either the House or the Senate version of “The Great Heist of 2017,” a new asset bubble will form then burst after which the economy will go into a rapid tailspin. Just like 1929, 1987 and 2008.

The wealthy pay historically low rates on their income in the United States, even after two mild tax increases during the Obama years. In the 1950’s, when the economy mostly boomed and there was less inequality of wealth than at any other time in American history, rich folk paid 91% of incremental income in federal income tax. Remember that means that they only paid 91% on the income over a certain amount, maybe a million dollars, truly a lot of money in those days. With all progressive income tax systems, everyone pays the same amount within income levels. The top rate always applies only to income above that limit. Everyone pays the lowest rate on their income up to that limit.

Studies by Thomas Piketty and others have established that the economy actually grows when we raise taxes on the wealthy—that is, until we raise them too much and it begins really to cut into spending and investment in job growth. And what’s the point when raising taxes on high tax brackets begins to hurt the economy? Piketty computed it to be a taxation rate of 70%, or roughly twice what the current maximum tax on income is.

In other words, instead of decreasing taxes on the wealthy, Congress should be raising them—and then investing the money in the kind of things that we did with our tax money in the 1950’s and 1960’s: pure scientific research, infrastructure improvement (focusing more on mass transit and less on roads and airports this time), public school and university education, energy development (solar and wind instead of nuclear), healthcare and helping the disadvantaged.

Many of the Republicans know that, if passed, their tax bill will sink the economy and increase inequality of wealth in the United States. Most don’t care because they serve as mere factotums to the ultra-wealthy who finance their campaigns and provide them with cushy sinecures after they retire from elected office. Today Republican candidates and elected officials—and many Democrats, too–count dollars not votes and represent a narrow constituency consisting of a handful of selfish multi-billionaires.

If FCC drops net neutrality, get used to higher prices, slower service & more political censorship on Internet

Talk about the other shoe dropping. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wasted no time after changing one regulation that will decrease access to news and freedom of the press to change another that does the same thing. Less than a week after announcing it would allow companies to own both broadcast stations and newspapers in the same town, the FCC is proposing to end net neutrality.

Yes, you read right.

The Trump FCC is on the verge of overthrowing net neutrality, the policy that Internet service providers (ISP) and governments must treat all data the same way. Net neutrality prevents ISPs from discriminating or charging different rates because of the user, content, website, platform, application or type of attached equipment.

Current net neutrality rules prohibit ISPs from slowing down, blocking or charging more for the delivery of Internet content. Without net neutrality, ISPs like Spectrum, Verizon and Comcast could create different levels of service, sending the content of big corporations that can afford the higher rates at faster speeds and slowing down other content. You could experience slowdowns in receiving and in sending content. As the New York Times points out in the first story it did on the new FCC plan, Verizon could slow down delivery of movies from Netflix because Netflix competes with Verizon’s FiOs.

The most profoundly disruptive part of the FCC plan—constructed by telecom henchman and FCC chair Ajit Pai—is the reversal of an Obama administration decision to consider Internet broadband service to be a utility. Because utilities such as electricity, landline phone service, home natural gas service and water, are considered essential to the participation in modern life and the economy, they are allowed to be heavily regulated—not just by the federal government, but by states as well. Governments regulate many aspects of a utility’s business—for example, what it can charge, how it can charge, the level of service it must provide, when it must provide free or subsidized rates, how it can advertise, where and how it can extend service, and standards and procedures for beginning and shutting off service.

There is currently little regulation of broadband service, but the Internet is still relatively new. Considering broadband to be a utility will make it easier in the future to institute those regulations that will make high-quality broadband service available to everyone at reasonable rates, like water and electricity. The FCC decision to take the “utility” label off broadband service is short-sighted and will eventually lead to more expensive or lower quality Internet connections for many, if not most people. It will be the equivalent of suddenly turning off the water tap or limiting electricity service to certain hours of the day.

Just as with the FCC decision to allow companies to own both broadcast and print media properties in one locale, Pai’s rationale for ending net neutrality is to enable telecoms to compete with Google and Amazon. And once again, the reasoning makes no sense. Google, Amazon and other Internet portals are not ISPs. They neither provide nor enable electrons to pass over wires or radio wave impulses to travel through air according to strict and highly detailed engineering specifications. All Amazon and Google do is provide content—a whole heck of a lot of it, to be sure.

If the FCC or the federal government have a problem with Facebook or Google, they should go after these companies, not create new regulations that threaten access to the Internet and freedom of speech. It’s increasingly clear that both Facebook and Amazon control vast amounts of information and business. For Amazon, the answer is simple—break the company up, like the government broke up Standard Oil and AT&T. The case of Facebook is less simple, because as a social media site it has become something of a utility. We could declare Facebook a utility and then break the profit-making part of the business—selling ads on Facebook—into several businesses, perhaps based on territory, which was the basis for the AT&T breakup. But when the FCC blames Facebook and Amazon as the excuse for ending net neutrality or allowing companies to own more local media outlets, it’s creating more large and problematic business behemoths instead of addressing the concerns about the existing behemoths.

Note, too, that this primary rational involves the impact on businesses, not the greater good of consumers or society. As usual, a right-winger is making the argument that if we help the already powerful, they will have the tools to help all of us. As with lowering taxes on the wealthy, it’s faulty logic that fails in real world conditions.

According to the Times short article, the FCC will vote on ending net neutrality in its December meeting, with the tally likely to be along party lines, 3-2 in favor of the proposal.

That means we don’t have much time to protest. Write to the FCC, to Donald Trump, and to your Senators and Congressional representatives. Attend any rallies or marches organized to uphold net neutrality. Spread the word via social media.

I imagine those who want to preserve net neutrality will be getting a lot of help from the large content-providing corporations that funded the protests in 2015 when the Obama FCC was considering the net neutrality issue. Those who naturally feel squeamish supporting anything that big corporations are behind, keep in mind that it was the support of big corporations that helped win the fight for gay marriage and transgender equality. Big corporations also helped to preserve the Affordable Care Act. Many are lining up against the GOP’s awful proposal to cut taxes on the wealthy and pay for it by raising taxes on the middle class, increasing deficits and cutting programs. Sometime you don’t get to choose who your trench mates are. You join hands and fight the common enemy, knowing you may be fighting your fellow soldier in another battle once this one is over.

Like so many of the battles being fought against the current administration, a lot is at stake. If we want to continue to have an open society with an easy flow and equal access to information and commerce, we must preserve net neutrality and the concept that broadband Internet is a utility.

FCC enables more media consolidation. The result will be less real news.

We typically blame the decline of the news media in the 21st century on one of two factors: the growth of the Internet as a 24/7 source of news and the proliferation of fake and false news.

But given much less attention is the consolidation of news media and news-gathering operations. It used to be that the federal government had strict regulations about the number of radio and television stations any company could own and forbade ownership of both newspapers and broadcast stations in the same town. Even when single newspapers came to dominate many towns, there were typically many different organizations searching for and presenting the local and national news. A series of laws and new regulations over the past 35 years—aka the Reagan Era—has consolidated media ownership.

The key law was the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which enabled companies to own more stations. Larger companies bought smaller ones and suddenly instead of hundreds of owners of TV and radio stations across the country, there were only dozens.  We saw the impact on radio as Clear Channel, and recently Sinclair Broadcasting, and other companies owned by right-wingers gained control of the editorial policies of more and more stations.  Pretty soon the range of opinion on radio narrowed and moved extremely right. While Rush Limbaugh began making a name for himself before 1996, it was the consolidation of media ownership that led to the domination of talk radio by Rush and his clones—Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, ad nauseum.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a major step in making the problem worse by voting to allow a single company to own both print and broadcast media in the same town. The FCC also voted to increase the number of TV stations one company can own in any given market. It was a close vote, 3-2, on party lines. Don’t be embarrassed if OpEdge is the first you’ve heard of this awful decision. It received very little coverage; the New York Times buried the news on page two of the business section.

The Obama Administration FCC also announced its intentions to end the restriction on ownership of both print and broadcast media in 2011, but eventually backed down. This time, under its brand new Trump-blessed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, an Obama appointee to the FCC known for his pro-broadcasting industry views, the FCC has made good on the threat.

The rationales today and in 2017 are similar: That local media needs to consolidate to be able to compete against the giants of Facebook and Google. Pai, for example, has argued that local media companies would have a better chance to compete against Internet behemoths by combining local market resources.

The argument is completely specious for two reasons. First of all, most broadcast stations and daily/weekly newspapers are already owned by large chains. It’s not the case that the various media in Cincinnati will join forces to do one great job on local news. Instead, one national giant that also controls Toledo, Ohio, Syracuse, New York and four dozen other localities will end up owning all the media in Cincinnati. The new rule will surely lead to ever greater concentration of media outlets in the hands of fewer companies.

The second problem with Pai’s argument is the confusion of news-gathering with news media. Despite the alarming decrease in the number of daily newspapers over the past few decades, the number of absolute media outlets has increased: Internet news sites, cable news and specialty weekly and monthly pubs have more than made up for the decline in newspapers.

The problem is that while media outlets have increased, news-gathering on both the local and national level has decreased, as recent studies by the Pew Foundation and the FCC . And consolidation of media outlets is a major cause. When a company buys more than one newspaper, it can use the same news-gathering staff for all the news, except for the news that pertains to each newspaper’s particular readership, something most often defined by locality. All the newspapers in the Gannet or Tribune chains get the same national and international news and columnists. But each local paper has to find its own local news, typically in competition with the three or four local TV stations, the local business paper and the local alternative weekly.

Now that a single company is allowed to own all of these local properties, the company will be stronger, but primarily because it is able to cut costs through using the same news room to cover stories. The impact on overall news production will be horrific: Instead or more editorial boards deciding what is newsworthy, one will. Instead of three or more points of view on a story, there will be only one. Instead of three or more sets of reporters trying to dig deeper, only one will—that is, on those stories that the editors and business sides decide is worthy of delving. Instead of three or more sets of opinions on local issues, only one. Finally, instead of three or more organizations with ties to differing networks of national and international news gathering, there will be but one. The result will be less reporting.

Instead of actual reporting, what we’ll see once large media companies start buying up local properties is more of the same filler that has been replacing real news for the past 15 years or so, including more opinion pieces like this blog; more coverage of celebrities and sports; more repackaged how-to’s and advice columns; more part-and-parcel use of news release, fact sheets and “articles” produced by the government, rightwing think tanks, large companies and public relations firms; and more “sponsored” news reports, which are advertisements pretending to be news.

If the FCC and the current administration really cared about freedom of the press and creating a stronger marketplace of ideas, instead of allowing companies to buy more media properties, it would implement regulations and put pressure on Congressional leaders to break up the media industry oligarchy and stop the pilfering of free content that occurs on Facebook and Google News that denies news-producing media outlets needed revenues. Unfortunately, it would take Congressional action to do most of what I’m recommending:

  • Limit ownership of media properties to a total of 10 properties, including television and radio stations, newspapers, news magazines, cable networks and websites, and push for expedited divestiture by the current media giants.
  • Prohibit companies from owning more than three cable networks, and make all cable networks provide at least two hours of news coverage a day.
  • Prohibit companies owning ISPs from also owning media outlets.
  • Reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine, which used to make every broadcast television and radio outlet to devote some airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. The Fairness Doctrine was the law of the land from 1949 until 1987, when the Reagan FCC voted to end it.
  • Allocate billions of dollars in aid to nonprofit or small for-profit media outlets to produce original reporting and fund it at least partially by taxing social media services and Internet service providers (ISPs) like Spectrum and FIOS for their “free use” of news.
  • Legalize strict principles of journalistic ethics and start to prosecute journalists and media company executives for knowingly disseminating fake and false news. I propose to walk a fine line between censorship and responsible reporting. But by focusing exclusively on the reporting of facts and not the spouting of opinions, I think we can protect true freedom of the press.

I am not very optimistic about any of my recommendations being pursued by either a Republican or Democratic administration and Congress. Politicians of both parties have cozy relationships with the mainstream news media and conservative ones seem not to mind that so much in the rightwing media is false or fake news. Thus we face an ironic future in which there are many ways to access the same limited and somewhat flawed set of facts and conjectures about current events, society and government activity.

We like to conceive of history as a steady progress of human ingenuity solving problems and bringing an ever higher standard and quality of life to more and more people. But our 10,000 years of recorded history has seen many eras in which people were far worse off economically than the decades and centuries before, for example, during the 300 year transition from medieval times to the industrial revolution during which the world experienced the “Little Ice Age.”

In the same way, we have not seen steady progress in the spread of knowledge. After the death of Charlemagne, for example, Europe entered a centuries-long epoch in which scientific knowledge and literacy declined and intellectual activity retreated into monasteries.

It seems to me that America is are entering another intellectual dark age, in which people in general will know less, be able to reason less effectively and have less access to the gamut of human knowledge, from science to the arts. It’s not just the consolidation of the media and the decline in the number of news-gathering operations that is driving the drift towards ignorance. The large number of ideologically inclined think tanks churning out false research. The gradual starving of public schools. The increased involvement of for-profit corporations both in operating schools and in supplying material such as learning guides to public and private schools. The blurring of the distinction between the entertainment and news divisions of media companies and between advertising and news. The politicization of text books. The denial of basic scientific facts by one of our two major parties. The continued glorification of celebrity and mocking of intellectual achievement in the mass media. Virtually every trend in the marketplace of ideas is making Americans less educated, less informed and less capable of sifting through assertions and understanding which are reliably factual information and which are sheer nonsense.

Sexualizing young girls while condemning adult-child relations: Outing Roy Moore highlights historical flip-flop

Society has made an historical flip-flop in two paired values we hold about teenaged girls, especially aged 12-16.

In the old days, there was little wrong with a 32 year old man courting a 14 or 16 year old girl. As a citizen of the 21st century, I personally find it both distasteful and weird, a signal of an immature male adult. But in the old patriarchal days, the age difference didn’t matter that much. As recently as the late 1940’s, my Syrian grandfather—born and weaned in Aleppo—married off my 16 year old aunt to a man in his late twenties.

In those days, however, the sexuality of young girls was deemphasized, especially in middle and upper class families. Their dress was more modest. In some cultures, girls were educated separately or isolated from males of all ages. In some cultures, dates were chaperoned. For the most part, only bad girls manifested their sexuality.

Our attitudes about the normalization of adult-child marriage and the sexualization of young girls have both done a complete 180 over the course of the past century, not a sharp turn, but a slowly accelerating curve. Nowadays, we rightfully frown on sexual and romantic relationships between children and adults. From at least the 1970’s onward, there might exist some relationships between girls under 16 and boys between 18-24, but no gap as wide as 32 and 14, or 32 and 17 for that matter.

Yet American mass media sexualizes young women on a daily basis. No, change that to on a nanosecond-by-nanosecond basis. By the time a girl attains 14, she has been introduced to a wide array of clothes, cosmetics, toys, books, electronic games, advertisements and movies that reduce her and other young girls to sexual objects. Sexualization begins as early as four and five for girls participating in youth beauty pageants. Fulfilling or enhancing your sexual being unleashes a literal cornucopia of needs that products and services can provide, so it is a powerful tool for marketers and advertisers. As our consumer society has advanced, so has the sexualization of women—and men to a lesser extent—of all ages.

Through much of human history, the distinction between childhood and adulthood was not as stark as it has been in the 20th and the 21st century industrialized societies. Many children worked in prior centuries and there were few if any organized groups of or for children. Society in general was much less child-centered than today, for two reasons (if my memory of reading books on the subject has not failed me): Firstly, many children died in childbirth, which hardened people to death and caused them to invest less emotional energy in their children’s lives. Just as important, however, were the more constrained economic circumstances before the industrial revolution and then the great redistribution of wealth downward in the first two-thirds of the 20th century. As people have had more disposable income, they have gradually focused more of their expenditures on their children. A contemporary Thorsten Veblen would say that we are engaging in conspicuous consumption to demonstrate how much we love our children and how well-off we are. Children have joined—and perhaps started to replace—women on the fetishized pedestal of consumerism.

Today’s society has it three-quarters right. There should be a separation between childhood and adulthood. Societies in which children are protected and adults are expected to be responsible and independent corresponds to our developmental needs as primates with a long maturation process for our progeny.

In addition, open attitudes about sex, sexuality and sexual identity lead to healthier individuals and a healthier society. But while our advances towards a society accepting of everyone’s sexuality is positive, the market-driven sexualization of young girls is not. It forces young girls to be overly concerned with their bodies at a time of life when the body is rapidly changing and before their brains have developed enough to address the multiple sophistications of sexual relations in our complex society.

Additionally, we are seeing the lines between childhood and adulthood blurring over the past twenty years. Instead of adulthood being thrust prematurely on adolescence as in pre-industrial times, youth and adolescence have been extended into the twenties and the thirties, as more and more adults retain their entertainments and predilections of childhood. I’ve recited the litany of adult infantilization many times over the past few years, most recently a few weeks back.

Every year, more adults read Harry Potter and other adult fiction, watch movies about super heroes and fantasy worlds or about adult men—and now women—remaining adolescents, wear Halloween costumes to work, collect My Little Ponies and Legos, enjoy cosplay and participate in sleepovers in museums. Every year, more children remain at home or move back to live with their parents, often for economic reasons, but often also a sign of immaturity. All of these and many other cultural phenomena suggest that adults are thinking and acting more like children and that childhood is expanding to engulf part if not all an individual’s adult life.

The most telling sign that American society is becoming infantilized is that enough Americans voted for a 70-year-old infant with a child’s emotions, emotional needs, thought processes and level of education that a majority of Electoral College members could feel free to vote for him. Again, the dictates of consumer capitalism are to blame: it’s easier to convince a child to buy some shiny new, but useless, bauble than it is to convince an adult.

To be sure, our society has advanced to the point that victims feel they can come forward and identify their abusers. Coming forward of course discourages these creeps because they know in their hearts what they are doing is wrong and that, if made public, their actions will ruin their careers. Coming forward also prevents predators from becoming repeat offenders. The fall of Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey and all the other recently-outed prominent dirtbags gives us hope that we will soon have a society that is both non-sexist and non-sexually exploitive. That it came so soon after the election of an avowed sexual harasser and abuser only shows how much Americans were shaken by the results of the 2016 presidential election. All good.

But at the end of the day, the advances we have made in our mores through creating certain barriers between childhood and adulthood, having a more open society in sexual matters and now openly confronting sexual predators are corrupted and partial offset by our consumer-driven economy of conspicuous consumption that reduces all human experience to the buying of goods and services.