Monthly Archives: November 2017

Of Harassment and Hysteria

Recently, there has been a tidal wave of sexual harassment, abuse and rape allegations, leveled against a myriad of powerful political figures and entertainers. The endless accusations against Harvey Weinstein, for a long time one of the most powerful moguls in Hollywood, really appear to have opened the floodgates.

For the most part, I think this is a good thing. Exposing the dark deeds of elitists to the light of day is something any free society should benefit from. While it’s no surprise to many of us that men, especially, who wield great power choose to abuse it, I think everyone has been astonished at the breadth and extent of the problem.

While the whole #me too campaign undoubtedly empowered large numbers of victims to feel courageous enough to step forward, it almost certainly also enabled some to climb aboard the victimization bandwagon and gain not only sympathy, but perhaps a taste of notoriety. And the allegations varied wildly in severity; from the hopelessly nebulous “unwanted attention” to forcible rape. My hope is that the accusations will be sorted out rationally, and that everyone will agree that “unwanted attention” is not the equal of rape or any real assault.

Already, the responses to this epic scandal have been predictable. The House of Representatives, in their usual wisdom, is introducing legislation to mandate anti- harassment and anti-discrimination training. As almost certainly will happen, the corporate world will follow suit. In that case, the message will become; all males, regardless of their position in life and relative grasp of power, must learn not to harass or bring that “unwanted attention” to others.

What is lost here is that just as there is a huge difference, both legally and morally, between “unwanted attention” and sexual assault; there is just as wide a gulf between a congressman harassing a staffer and a mail room clerk trying to display romantic interest in a female co-worker. I detect, however, an inability on the part of many to make these important distinctions, and mandatory “sensitivity” style training smacks of the broad brush approach so beloved by our government and corporate leaders.

The emphasis here should be on how power corrupts, and in the case of too many powerful men, that corruption is of a sexual nature. As all the endless allegations against Hollywood figures demonstrate, those of us who have long maintained that there must be a literal casting couch in tinsel town were correct. But it’s the abuse of power that is the problem, not any freshly coined “toxic masculinity.” The power to force women into sex at the risk of losing their job is a far cry from socially unsophisticated males “creeping out” females by awkwardly asking them to dance or to lunch.

If the broad brush approach is used here, and if the past is any indicator it will be, then the result will be even more friction between the sexes, and eventually perhaps even a moratorium on “creepy” guys even talking to women. Taken to its logical extreme, “unwanted attention” can be something as innocuous as “good morning.” In all reality, virtually any “small talk” can be construed as sexual harassment. Why do males go to bars or to parties? Is asking someone to dance “harassment?” How far will this go, before it further erodes the relationships between men and women?

Congress has been filled with sexual predators for a very long time. I delineated numerous examples of this in Survival of the Richest. What these predators share in common, along with their plentiful celebrity brethren, is an above the law immunity. They aren’t penalized, and have never been penalized, in the same way that non- celebrity offenders have always been for the same transgressions. I don’t expect to hear any talk about this, but we will be saturated with feminist quotes about “male privilege” and the like, and the usual “left” and “right” paradigm perspectives.

To all the folks who worked with him on Saturday Night Live, Al Franken was an angelic progressive figure, someone who always respected women and fought for their rights. To the evangelicals who support Roy Moore, he was always a paragon of virtue. The random construction worker who is accused of some kind of sexual harassment doesn’t have this kind of perk; to have co-workers publicly quoted as expressing disbelief and singing his praises. That’s the way it works in America; if you’re wealthy and especially if you’re famous, sexual harassment is a life lesson you learn from and perhaps even lecture others about. If you’re a member of the common riff-raff, you are a sick pervert who needs to be locked behind bars.

This whole Harvey Weinstein-fueled phenomenon tends to provide smokescreen to the truly diabolical scandals involving children. I covered many of these in Hidden History, and the Pizzagate revelations- which despite the pleas of establishment puppets like Snopes have not been discredited- sent many of us even deeper down the rabbit hole. Corey Feldman is probably lucky to be alive, and hopefully will be releasing his list of high profile pedophiles soon. If pedophilia in high places is as prevalent as it appears, obviously the authorities have strong motives to keep it suppressed.

I truly hope that most women keep a level head about this. I refuse to believe that a majority of men are sexual predators of some kind. However, I understand how the trappings of power corrupt, and therefore can believe almost anyone with real power is a sexual predator.

We must also draw a clear distinction between cads who are serial adulterers, and those who threaten and/or blackmail others into sexual relationships. I’ve always used the examples of John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton in this regard. While JFK was accused of having sex with the most desirable movie stars of the day (Marilyn Monroe and others), Bill Clinton went after low-level underlings like Paula Jones. JFK didn’t use the power of the presidency to get sex. It is undeniable that as governor of Arkansas, and then in the Oval Office, that Bill Clinton did.

Our culture sexualizes everyone and everything, including children. Attractive women, especially, are used to sell everything. How many comedies don’t revolve around sex? And yet in this sexually charged atmosphere, an increasing number of unsophisticated forty year old virgin-types are asked to navigate smoothly, and somehow meet the woman of their dreams, without offending them in some way. Considering how the list of offensive remarks and actions has grown in recent years, this cannot be an easy task.

Exactly how are males supposed to acceptably approach females at this point? Is  “picking up” someone now impossible, or even illegal? All that small talk in obvious places is the only way most males know how to express interest in someone. If all this becomes frowned upon and defined as “harassment,” then how will anyone meet anyone else? Unless the female initiates things (which doesn’t seem to be frowned upon in the same way), how can any relationship be established?

I believe the furor over sexual harassment in high places will eventually subside. But will it subside before it drags virtually every man down with it? Or will sanity prevail, and those in positions of authority recognize that the problem is not about “creeping out” someone, but the simple timeworn abuse of power.

 

 

 

 

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The Stupid Party’s Tax Plan

In 1986, big gubmint tax and spending slasher Ronald Reagan unveiled a tax “reform” plan that continued the massive transfer of wealth from the poor and working classes upwards to the very wealthy. Reagan’s plan eliminated essential deductions for consumer loans (auto, credit card, personal) and overhauled the deduction for medical expenses, so that they had to have amounted to 10% of an individual or married couple’s income.

Donald Trump, as always dominated by the disastrous neocon thinking of Republican leaders like Paul Ryan, has released a new tax “reform” plan. The plan is huge- nearly 500 pages long- and thus, like most important recent legislation, will almost certainly not be read in depth by those voting on it or the mainstream “journalists” tasked to report on it. What we do know so far about the plan hardly inspires confidence or optimism.

Perhaps the most inexplicable aspect of this plan is its attack- and there is no other word to describe it- on home ownership. As a long time licensed realtor myself, I can attest to how stagnant the real estate industry is, especially for first-time home buyers, upon whom the industry has always relied. It is already difficult to find buyers who can afford starter homes, but this plan will make it even harder.

Homeowners will no longer be able to deduct the property taxes they pay on their home under this plan. Mortgage interest deduction, while salvaged, has been slashed so that only mortgages up to $500,000 can be deducted. That may seem like a lot, but the cost of housing in many areas of America is such that many upper middle-class homeowners will lose a valued tax benefit. It is also unclear if this $500,000 cap applies to each mortgage a person or couple receive, or if it is a total amount for that individual or couple, in which case real estate investors would lose most of their incentive to invest.

National Association of Realtors President William Brown stated, “We are currently reviewing the details of the tax proposal released today, but at first glance it appears to confirm many of our biggest concerns about the Unified Framework. Eliminating or nullifying the tax incentives for home ownership puts home values and middle-class homeowners at risk, and from a cursory examination this legislation appears to do just that.” Jerry Howard, CEO of the National Association of Homebuilders, agreed, declaring, “The details that are coming out show that the House Republicans are picking large corporations and wealthy Americans over small businesses and middle-class American homeowners.”

This attack on the real estate industry and the attractiveness of home ownership in general makes no sense from any perspective. No one appears to gain from it. Trump is a real estate magnate- what is he thinking here? Why would big business like it? If realtors can’t point out the tax advantages of home ownership, and if indeed investors can’t benefit from them, it takes away one of the largest selling points of home ownership, and a primary reason for real estate investment.

The Republican tax plan also eliminates some of the remaining deductions that poor and working class Americans still benefit from. Student loans will no longer be deductible. The medical expense deduction that Reagan slashed dramatically will be eliminated. There will no longer be deductions for alimony expenses or moving expenses. As perhaps the most laughable aspect of the entire plan, it leaves the dreaded Obamacare mandate intact, which means Americans can still be penalized for not having health insurance.

Trump will benefit directly to an enormous degree from the elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which served to force the very wealthy with numerous loopholes and deductions to at least pay some tax. And the centerpiece of the plan is a huge cut in the corporate tax rate, from 35% to 20%. Making a mockery of Trump’s rhetoric about forcing companies to move their industry back home, the plan permits companies to keep their profits offshore. The estate tax is also being eliminated, a benefit which will only apply to the absolute One Percent.

There will only be three tax brackets under the new plan. On the surface, it looks as if some lower-wage earners will get a tax break, but this must be juxtaposed against the elimination of most of the deductions they once benefited from. For most of us, there will be a minimal difference, if any at all. Any slight lowering of the tax rate will at least be countered by the loss of deductions. The only real winner here is corporate America.

The last thing a real populist would be concerned about, in a country where the bottom half of the population has less than 1% of the collective wealth, is slashing the corporate tax rate and eliminating the estate tax. The Stupid Party mantra regarding the lower corporate tax rate is that this will “create jobs” and an incentive to give pay raises to employees. While most employees desperately need a pay raise, it takes something beyond simple naivete to expect business leaders to pass anything meaningful along to those at the bottom, instead of further lining their overflowing pockets as usual.

Huey Long’s Share the Wealth tax plan would have exempted the first million dollars of income from taxation. Remember, this was in the mid-1930s, which would be close to $18 million today. His tax plan was populism exemplified- the entire burden would be placed on the most upper tier of the One Percent, and everyone else would benefit to at least some degree. Those at the bottom would enjoy the greatest benefits.

As I have stated many times before, every American could receive at least a 33% tax cut by simply eliminating the massive waste, fraud and abuse in government. The Grace Commission came up with those figures during a 1980 investigation, but predictably Reagan and the Stupid Party completely ignored their conclusions.

True tax reform would start with auditing and abolishing the Federal Reserve, and adopting an honest money system that isn’t based on fractional lending, or more bluntly counterfeiting. “Our” debt belongs to the bankers, and isn’t our responsibility. It should be repudiated. Our spending should reflect American interests, as candidate Trump stressed repeatedly, but President Trump has ignored. Rebuild the infrastructure. Bring all the troops home and stop starting pointless wars. Guard the borders and deport illegal immigrants. End the foreign visa work programs. America First and all that.

This tax plan will negatively impact a struggling real estate market, offer little if any tax relief to anyone except corporations, and eliminate the remaining deductions that the poor and middle-class most benefit from. It isn’t populist, won’t help the economy, and it certainly won’t make things any better for the majority of citizens.