Saturday, December 30, 2017

Why 2018 Will Be Worse Than 2017

There's no way to sugarcoat this: The presidency of Donald Trump has cast a pall over everything. His demeaning of the media by calling it fake news is a threat to the very notion of a free and independent press. The way he and his supporters have attacked the integrity of Robert Mueller and the FBI reveals a flagrant contempt for authority and the rule of law that we see only in banana republics headed by dictators. The manner in which he has systematically decimated departments and agencies like State, Justice and the EPA will take years to repair. The provocative rhetoric he has used with respect to North Korea has made a tense situation considerably more precarious and pushed the world closer to the brink of nuclear war. Add in the child-like Twitter rants at all hours of the day and night and you have a pretty convincing case for 2017 being the worst year for the country since the days of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

And while the optimist in me would like to believe that we've reached the bottom of the trough and that happier days are just around the corner, the sad truth is that I don't think we're anywhere near the bottom yet. As bad as 2017 was, 2018 promises to be considerably worse. Here's why.

The so-called "fake news" has done an incredible job uncovering links between the Trump campaign and Russia for over a year, and as those stories continue to get published, this president will ratchet up his attacks. The "alternative" media - which includes everything from Fox News to practically the entire AM radio dial - will fabricate false narratives to counteract the main-stream media's stories. The result will be a completely fractured nation where one part believes the truth, while the other will hunker down in its bubble and cling to an alternative reality. In such a scenario, truth is often divorced from facts and becomes subjective. That's how Democracies become dictatorships, and it's exactly what Trump wants for America.

I am deeply concerned about the Russia investigation; not its integrity, mind you, but the constant barrage of attacks from this White House and Congressional Republicans are starting to gain traction with Trump's supporters. Many people have speculated that this president will attempt to fire Mueller. In fact, just before Christmas I wrote that Trump might take advantage of the Holiday recess to pull the trigger. It now seems more likely that, rather than fire him, Trump and his pack of syncopates will attempt to discredit him so that if he comes back in a few months with evidence of collusion and / or obstruction of justice he will be so weakened by the barrage of attacks, that any attempt to bring impeachment charges will fail. The fact that House Republicans are thinking about "wrapping up" their investigations is very troubling.

When Steve Bannon said the goal of the Trump Administration was to "deconstruct" the administrative state, most had no idea what he meant. Many Republicans took it to mean undoing the regulations of the Obama Administration and, naturally, slashing taxes. That was certainly part of it. But after looking at what's happened at the State Department, Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, it is now all too clear what the real goal is. These departments and agencies are being gutted of career employees and thus rendered almost virtually useless for the sole purpose of eliminating any check on executive overreach.

The unwillingness to fill key positions at State has severely hampered our ability to reach diplomatic solutions and has jeopardized long-standing relationships among our allies. Over at the DOJ, the firing of 46 attorneys in March, including Preet Bharara, and the appointment of partisan hacks sent a signal loud and clear that justice was for sale. With the mass exodus of over two hundred scientists, the EPA has become little more than a rubber stamp for virtually every polluter in the country. And the undermining by this president of our intelligence community has made the United States the laughing stock of the world and left it vulnerable to an attack.

This deconstruction of the administrative state shows no sign of abating in 2018. If anything, it's likely to intensify. Trump seems perfectly willing and able to go to any length to get rid of anyone that challenges his authority. And if he can't eliminate them, he'll settle for destroying their reputations. Small wonder he's infatuated with Putin. These two deserve a private room together.

But that's not the thing that makes me most worried about 2018. If you haven't already read Trump's most recent New York Times interview by Michael Schmidt, you should. But be forewarned, it's the sort of interview that could cause a rapid evacuation of your bowels.. That's because der Fuhrer picked a rather inopportune time to REALLY let his hair down and get a few things off his chest. It wasn't just his rather unusual and unique take on the limits of executive authority, which in Trump's universe is an oxymoron, that was alarming. Nor was it his flirtation with the truth, which occurs about as often as a solar eclipse. It was his complete incoherence. In short, the man was totally off his rocker. Witness these chilling excerpts.
But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

Yeah, China. … China’s been. … I like very much President Xi. He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China. You know that. The presentations. … One of the great two days of anybody’s life and memory having to do with China. He’s a friend of mine, he likes me, I like him, we have a great chemistry together. He’s [inaudible] of the United States. …[Inaudible.] China’s hurting us very badly on trade, but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. O.K.?

We’re going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and we’re being respected again. But another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, “Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.” O.K.
In those three paragraphs we have the essence of Trump: 1. He's the most knowledgeable person in the room; 2. He's desperate for approval; and 3. He's convinced that without him everything would fall apart. He's the consummate narcissist, an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, as a friend of mine put it.

And this narcissist with the impulse control of a six-year old is the commander in chief with access to the nuclear launch codes. The paranoia of Richard Nixon, the intellectual curiosity of George W. Bush and the moral turpitude of Andrew Jackson all rolled into one. Humility is as far from him as Pluto is from the Sun. There is no one - not his daughter, not John Kelly, not anyone - who can speak truth to him. He's a Freudian's wet dream and our worst nightmare. And we're stuck with him for the next three years.

So, buckle up. 2017 is in the books and 2018 is on deck. I wish I had better news, but the cynic in me can't deny the obvious: we're fucked!

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Dems Should Proceed With Caution Regarding New Tax Law

I remember a particular episode early in my sales career that has stuck with me to this day. I had written a very large and, more to the point, lucrative sale – computer, printer, accessories, service contract – on a Thursday night right before I went home for the day. I had Friday off and didn’t have to go back in till noon on Saturday.

When I arrived, one of the senior salesmen took me aside and informed me that the sale I made Thursday had been returned Friday at another store. He could see I was deeply disturbed, so he gave me some very good advice: go downstairs to the warehouse, scream, punch the wall, whatever. Just get it out of my system, because there was nothing I could do about it. What’s done is done, he said. No sense bemoaning it.

So I went downstairs and sulked a bit. No, I didn’t punch the wall; my luck, I’d have broken my hand. But I did get it out of my system, as it were. Then I went back upstairs and had one of the best days of the month. Not only did I overcome the return I had, but I more than doubled what I normally did on a Saturday. That salesman did me a huge favor by taking me aside. He’d been down that road before and wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake he had.

So, in the spirit of paying it forward, let me offer up a few pearls of wisdom for Democrats as they attempt to grapple with this new tax law (e.g., scam) that President Shitenstein just signed.

First, don’t compare this law with Obamacare. The two are totally different animals. While both were very unpopular when they were passed, the ACA wasn’t fully implemented for another two years. Most of the negative press it received was from conservative media outlets who just made up shit about it, and it only directly impacted a relatively small percentage of the population. This tax law will be felt almost immediately by the vast majority of working people.

Second, don’t underestimate the value an extra $40 can make in people’s lives. Already there are some Democrats that are poo-pooing the idea that some people will only get an extra forty bucks in their paychecks. This would be a colossal mistake. Like it or not, forty bucks is forty bucks. To some, it’s no big deal; to others, it’s the difference between a vacation or no vacation, buying some new clothes or making do with what they have, going out to dinner with the family once a month or having Chinese takeout. Democrats got bitch-slapped by the electorate in 2016 because of their arrogance; this is the sort of thing that can only reinforce that perception.

Even though the bulk of the individual tax-cut benefits go to the very wealthy, tax cuts are historically popular and almost always impossible to take away. Witness what happened to Democrats in the '94 midterms when Bill Clinton raised the rates on just the top two brackets. They lost their majority in both Houses of Congress.

Third, concentrate on the corporate tax cuts, which are completely indefensible. This is the one area where Democrats have an advantage over Republicans. They can and should make the case that the economy is doing quite well; profits are through the roof and we’ve had the longest stretch of sustained growth since the end of the Second World War. 

The problem is that wages haven’t kept pace with profits. There’s nothing in this tax law that compels businesses to invest in new factories, hire more people or give those in their employ pay raises. In fact, most experts agree that on balance the only thing these cuts will do is make investors’ portfolios a lot fatter. But so far as the average Joe or Jane are concerned, they get bupkis.

And lastly, don’t sit idly by and do nothing. Democrats can’t just criticize this law, they have to come up with one of their own and then they have to present it to voters. It doesn't matter that they don't have the ability to pass it; they must make the case that their vision is better than the Republicans. If they don’t or can’t, Democrats will find themselves in the same position Republicans were in trying to repeal a healthcare law they had no replacement for. And we all know how well that worked out.

Bottom line: Dems should proceed with caution regarding this new tax law, lest they end up making the GOP’s case for them. Even with the political headwinds at their backs, Democrats have had a history of fumbling the ball at the one-yard line. It would be inexcusable if they let this opportunity of a lifetime slip through their fingers because they sat on their asses and threw up their hands.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Will Trump Pull A Saturday Night Massacre of His Own?

It was on Saturday, October 20, 1973, that then President Richard Nixon, rather than comply with a subpoena by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox to turn over the Watergate tapes, ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire him. Richardson refused and promptly resigned. Nixon then directed Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Like Richardson, Ruckelshaus refused the order and also resigned. Nixon finally turned to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who carried out his order. And that became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

Forty-four years later, we could be looking at a repeat performance. In fact, if I were a betting man, I'd say the odds are looking good that Donald Trump will try something very much akin to what Nixon did in '73. It must be painfully obvious to this White House that, far from wrapping up his investigation, Robert Mueller is just beginning to ramp it up. The way the far Right is howling at the moon means even they know that things aren't looking good and they're freaking out. With the help of some very gullible Republicans in Congress, they're doing everything possible to undermine the integrity of the FBI and Mueller's team.

The fear is that Trump, who has the impulse control of a toddler, might take advantage of Congress being in recess during the Holidays and order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosensten to fire Mueller. Rosenstein has already stated under oath that he has found no cause for dismissing Mueller, so the likelihood is that he would either have to resign or be fired. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already recused himself from the Russian investigation, the task of firing Mueller would fall to Rachel Brand, the Associate Attorney General. If she decides she doesn't want to go down in history as the next Robert Bork, we could be looking at a low-level Justice Department employee firing a sitting prosecutor.

We are at a precarious moment as a Republic. Trump has already shown contempt for the rule of law; the idea that he could do something so brazen not only isn't far fetched, given what we know of him, it's highly probable. I pray I'm wrong; I pray that his legal team will be able to prevail upon him to not act rashly.

If they can't stop Trump, though, the nation will enter the worst Constitutional crisis of its history with the entire legislative branch out of town. And even when they return, the prospects that anything will happen don't look all that promising. Unlike in '73, this Republican Party has shown no ability to stand up to this president. Where Nixon was thwarted by his own party, Trump might well succeed with the blessing of his.

To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is how democracy ends; not with a bang but a whimper.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Don't Call It Tax Reform

Barring a last-minute miracle - zombie apocalypse, asteroid hitting the Gulf of Mexico, the mothership beaming up the entire city of Washington D.C. - the Republican tax scam will become law. You can forget about Bob Corker or Marco Rubio taking a stand. Corker sold out for nothing and Rubio managed to squeeze a few extra dollars of child tax credit that, when you factor in the new requirements for actually qualifying for it, still excludes up to 10 million children from getting it. Susan Collins and Jeff Flake both folded up like a used tent. So much for the "moderates" in the Senate. Well, at least his colleagues were spared the indignity of having to wheel in John McCain from his death bed to cast the deciding vote, so what's left of his reputation will still remain intact.

The GOP is calling this fiasco tax reform. It is anything but. What it is is nothing more than a gigantic Christmas gift for corporate America that millions of middle-class families and working poor will have to pay for in the form of higher taxes and reduced services. One of those reduced services will be affordable health insurance because the bill eliminates the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Without it, rates will skyrocket and as many as 13 million people will lose coverage. Undaunted in their attempts to repeal the law outright, the GOP will instead direct their efforts at slowly crippling it.

While the bill does double the standard deduction on both single and married filers, it caps the amount you can deduct on state and local taxes and also reduces the amount of interest you can deduct. If you live in the Northeast (Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) or the west coast (California, Oregon and Washington state) and you have a mortgage on a home, I would strongly suggest you go on Amazon and buy a lifetime supply of K-Y Jelly, because you're about to get fucked in the ass.

And if you're a pastor of a small church or the director of an animal shelter or other charitable foundation, now would be a good time to get on your knees and pray that your parishioners and donors don't forget where they put their checkbooks, because by doubling the standard deduction, the new law actually de-incentivizes many people from being generous with their money. Some, I suspect, will still do the right thing and keep on giving, but others will likely do the opposite.

If you're part of the working poor or among the many blue-collar workers who voted for Donald Trump last year, some of you will be okay, but the rest of you, especially those who were depending on access to affordable healthcare, will find out what the rest of us already knew: that he's nothing more than a con artist who wanted to get elected so he could give himself and his crony friends the biggest tax break they've gotten since the days of Reagan. What can I say? We warned you and you didn't listen.

And if you think the damage ends there, guess again. To pay for this tax scam, Republicans are planning on going after entitlements. On the agenda to be picked apart are Medicare and Medicaid. Paul Ryan has made it his life's mission to ostensibly end both programs and judging by that ridiculous smirk he's had on his face of late, it would surprise me if we didn't see legislation out of the House regarding vouchers and block grants by the Spring. The only silver lining for Dems is that, thanks to their Alabama win, Mitch McConnell now only has 51 seats in the Senate.

This was not a reform bill; it was a mugging. It's Reaganomics on steroids, and if you want to see how bad this will be, google "Kansas budget crisis." They are still digging out from Sam Brownback's reckless slashing of corporate taxes. The crisis was so bad that at one point the state ran out of money and had to close its schools early. And while it is comforting to know that, unlike Kansas and other states, the federal government can borrow money to cover its expenses, at some point the so-called fiscal hawks will demand a tightening of the belt. Translation, no tax increases, just spending cuts; and those cuts will affect those who can least afford it.

All this to drop the corporate tax rate down to 21 percent from 35 percent. Forget for a moment that no half-way decent sized company with accountants on the payroll who have half a brain pays even close to 35 percent. The actual effective corporate tax rate in this country, when you take into account all the deductions allowed under the law, is closer to 18 percent, with some companies paying nothing. Now, without so much a single deduction subtracted from the mix, these companies will now pay way less than they were paying; some might actually get a rebate, as crazy as that might sound.

And they get all these breaks without any requirement to higher more employees or invest in new plants or office space. In fact, there's nothing here that would prevent these corporations from parking  the extra money in the same place they've parked the other $2.3 trillion that's out there: overseas. In fact, the biggest winners in this tax scam are investors who will likely see their portfolios double or triple over the next decade. If you're looking for a new career move, try hedge funds. I'm guessing there will be a large number of job openings in the not too distant future.

I hope your favorite color is red, because with these corporate tax cuts about to be made permanent, we will be seeing a lot of it. The GOP estimates their plan will add approximately one trillion dollars to the debt over the next ten years. It wouldn't surprise me if that amount doesn't get tripled. And for a party that supposedly ran on fiscal responsibility and balancing the budget that isn't just hypocritical; it's obscene.

Bob Novak was right when he said, "God put the Republican Party on Earth to cut taxes. If they don’t do that, they have no useful function." At least they aren't shy about their mission.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Doug Jones Gives Dems Some Hope

Let's not mince words, what happened in Alabama Tuesday was stunning. A Democrat won a U.S. Senate election for the first time in 25 years. Let me repeat that in case you missed it. A Democrat won a U.S. Senate election for the first time in 25 years.

This isn't Virginia. This is one of the reddest states in the country, surpassed only by Wyoming, Montana, Mississippi and the Dakotas. There are more black people in Vermont than there are Democrats in Alabama. Okay, I'm being facetious but you get the point. Nobody saw this coming. Based on the recent polling - the Fox News poll notwithstanding - it was shaping up as your typical, run of the mill win for Republican Roy Moore.

But Doug Jones had other plans and, for the second time in just over a month, Democrats had a good outcome in an important election. Unlike Ralph Northam's win in Virginia, however, this victory will have a profound impact on the balance of power in Washington for at least the next three years.

So how did this Jones pull this off? Well, first off, he had a little help. Moore wasn't just a flawed candidate, he was radioactive. Exit polling showed Republican turnout was down from previous elections. Apparently even in a state that could give the Beverly Hillbillies a run for their money, people had a problem voting for a pedophile. But while it was a bad night for Moore, it was a devastating night for Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. Both gave full-throated endorsements to the former judge and now both have a ton of egg on their faces.

But the real story here wasn't Trump or Bannon, it was Jones. In short, he ran a perfect campaign. He didn't just play to his base, like so many Democrats tend to do, he made a concerted effort to reach out to voters in the most conservative parts of the state. Like Northam in Virginia, Jones sliced into the margins in those districts that Republicans need in order to prevail and that, more than anything else, was what pushed him over the top.

The lesson here for Democrats is that it's possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. You don't have to compromise on your core principles to win an election. Not once, despite mounting pressure, did Jones ever abandon his stance on a woman's right to choose. But while Jones stood his ground, he made an appeal to moderate Republicans in the state that, if he were elected, he would work with both parties to find common ground. The result was that he won independents by nine points.

Compare and contrast how Jones and Northam beat their Republican opponents with how Hillary Clinton lost to her's. Clinton did the exact opposite. She rarely, if ever, ventured out of her comfort zone. Her campaign focused almost all its energy on turnout in traditionally blue areas of the country, hoping to replicate what Barack Obama had done in both his election victories. So arrogant were they that they didn't even bother to visit Wisconsin.

We all know what ended up happening. Clinton was unable to duplicate Obama's margins and she lost the election. Yes, she still won the popular vote, but her unwillingness to at least make an appeal to rural voters was what allowed Trump to run up the score in those areas. That's how Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania went red. A visit here, a visit there and Hillary might've been in the White House, James Comey or no James Comey.

If Democrats are smart - I'll give you a couple of minutes to stop chuckling ... okay, done? - they'll take a long, hard look at what happened in Alabama and Virginia and commit it to memory. Good candidates, like good sales people, make their pitch to as many people as possible, because in the end it's about expanding your market or, as was the case with Jones and Northam, your pool of potential voters. Jones didn't turn a single red county blue, but he did enough damage in those counties to deprive Moore of a victory.

If Democrats have any hope of retaking the Senate in 2018, they will have to do it by not only holding serve in ten states that Trump won, but also by flipping two states where there are a lot of moderate Republican voters: Arizona and Nevada. Identity politics may have given them two huge electoral wins in 2008 and 2012, but it came at a terrible cost. Today the Democratic Party is more isolated politically than at any time since the Reconstruction era. Republicans control two thirds of the governorships and state legislatures, as well as both houses of Congress and the White House.

Turning that around will not be an easy task, but, thanks to Doug Jones and Ralph Northam, Democrats now at least have a road map that they can use to take them back to the promise land.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Masochistic Media

Patient says to the doctor, "Doc, it hurts when I do this."
Doctor replies, "Then stop doing that."

 - Henny Youngman

Oh, if only somebody could convey the simplicity of that old joke to every media outlet and newspaper in the country, maybe then we'd stop having incidents like the one that occurred in the White House briefing room where Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on Donald Trump's assertion that the media is fake.

"There's a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people, something that happens regularly. You can't say that it's an honest mistake when you're purposefully putting out information that you know to be false. Or when you're taking information that hasn't been validated, that hasn't been offered any credibility, and that has been continually denied by a number of people, including people with direct knowledge of an instance."

This line of attack from this administration is one they've repeatedly employed since the campaign started more than two years ago. This latest assertion has to do with two incidents in which errors in a story were uncovered and corrections were made, which, in spite of what some might believe, happens from time to time in journalism. But Trump has made it his life's mission to claim that these aren't just errors; they're deliberate attempts by a biased and malicious media to destroy him. Apparently reporting on the outrageous things that come both from his mouth and his twitter account is biased.

Twice this year I have implored the media to "pull the plug" on this president; to stop showing up at his press briefings and rallies. Back in July I wrote, "Nowhere is it written that the press and the media have an obligation to be this president's megaphone to the world."

Throughout his disgusting and deplorable career, Trump has been a media whore. He loves being in the spotlight. Good press, bad press, it’s all the same to him. So long as his name is in circulation that’s all that matters to him. The one thing he can’t deal with is being ignored. It drives him nuts.

Have you ever wondered why, despite his vocal condemnation of the so-called liberal media, Trump gives so many interviews to The New York Times? Or what about his obsession with being Time magazine's Man of the Year? Do you think he gives a shit about whether he's Breitbart's Man of the Year? He may love Steve Bannon but, apart from giving him lip service, he seems ostensibly unaffected by anything that gets written in that rag.

Yes, he may publicly proclaim "Fox and Friends" the best cable show on the air, and he's dry-humped Sean Hannity's leg so many times, it's a wonder Hannity doesn't have a limp. But take a closer look at his tweets and the fact is he spends most of his time fixating on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, The Washington Post and the aforementioned Times. He behaves more like a jilted lover who's trying to get back at his ex-girlfrind than an aggrieved party that has been wronged. This president hates being rejected and the more he hears the word no, the more it gets under his skin.

So maybe it's time for the ex-girlfriend to stop returning his calls. Perhaps change phone numbers or even addresses. Maybe the only way he gets the message is if the media stops playing along with his sick and twisted game. Jesus, even masochists know when to cry uncle.

There is nothing to be gained from continuing to give this man a platform. Indeed, just the opposite. By going along for the ride and engaging in a senseless back and forth banter with his propaganda minister, the risk becomes even greater that more and more people may decide this is nothing more than a he said / he said pissing contest. And once that gets engrained into enough people's heads, it's over.

The secret to Trump's success has always been his ability to bring people down to his level. He has done that brilliantly all his life. The reason he's in the White House is because he dragged both the GOP and the Clinton campaign through the mud and they willingly obliged him every step of the way. And now with the Mueller investigation closing in on him, this master manipulator is setting the stage for what will be the biggest heist of his adult life: the capture of the American republic.

Think about it. He already owns the Republican Party; his minions believe everything he says; and he has systematically decimated every agency and department in the federal government. All of it by design. The only thing standing in his way is the Fourth Estate. If you want to know what can happen to a "free"press that is unable to say no to power, take a good look at Russia. In that country, the press is little more than Putin's puppet.

The media cannot allow that to happen here. So, again, I say, enough is enough. Trump loves walls, so put one up between you and him. Starve this beast before he gets too big. Pull the plug on his ass while the plug still belongs to you. Do it now while you still can; while there's still a country left.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Wake Up Call for All Men

Al Franken and John Conyers did the right thing by resigning, as did every Democrat who called for both men's resignations. I realize Franken comes from a blue state and Conyers from a blue district, so this wasn't exactly a profile in political courage. The real test will come when a senator or congressman from a red or purple state or district is forced out. And, trust me, that moment is coming. It's only a matter of time.

But that's not the point here. If the only lesson that comes out of the resignations of Franken and Conyers is that Democrats do the right thing only when it's in their best interests, then they are missing the bigger picture. Holding people accountable for their actions shouldn't be a partisan issue; it should be axiomatic. And given how pathetic the GOP's response has been towards both Donald Trump and Roy Moore, it is crucial. If Democrats want to make the case for why they should be trusted with the reigns of power in 2018, they need to have what Kirsten Gillibrand rightly calls a "zero tolerance" for such behavior.

I have read Ruth Marcus's piece in The Washington Post and, I'll concede, she raises a valid concern. There certainly could be a "rush to judgment" and "one size fits all" punishment for these offenders. Indeed, Franken addressed that concern on the Senate floor when he said it was ironic that he was stepping down while Trump was still in the White House and Moore was running for the Senate with the support of his party. But with all due respect to Franken and his supporters, you don't get brownie points for only being a PG-13 sex offender, any more than someone charged with manslaughter can argue he isn't Charles Manson and expect to get off. You do the crime, you do the time. Period!

But let's put politics aside for the moment and acknowledge that what we are witnessing is truly historic and unprecedented. In my 56 years on this planet - 38 of them as an adult - I've never seen anything remotely like it. This isn't just about a few women who were violated having the courage to come forward and tell their stories; it's much bigger than that. Don't get me wrong, their stories are genuine and heart wrenching and need to be told. But they pale in comparison to the cultural shift that is going on in the country.

Let's be honest. This male-dominated society that we live in has for too long enabled the sort of behavior that allowed men like Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer to flourish. It wasn't just that they were predators who preyed on women; it's that for years they operated with impunity while the very system that coddled them turned a blind eye. Imagine the audacity of a man thinking it was appropriate for him to parade around naked or in his shorts in front of a female employee; or forcing a female intern to have sex with him or carry his child; or sticking his tongue into a woman's mouth; or groping a teenager in his car; or referring to a female co-worker as sweetie or honey; or commenting on how sexy she looks in a particular outfit and thinking he's only paying her a compliment. Imagine the depravity of such men who not only think such behavior and language is acceptable, but count on the complicity of an institution that shields them from any sort of accountability.

Well that institution appears to be crumbling before our very eyes. The old-boy network that for too long ignored the deviants within its ranks is being shaken to its very core, and I say "Amen." It's about time someone had the courage to take a pick axe to this misogynistic fellowship of misbegotten Neanderthals. For Christ's sake, we are in the last couple of years of the second decade of the twenty-first century, not the middle of fifth decade of the twentieth. Mad Men was supposed to be a show about how men treated women in the 1950s; it wasn't supposed to be an instruction manual for how they should be treated today.

This is a time for all of us, as men, to look in the mirror and examine our own actions and pre-conceived notions about women. The problem I have with Marcus's analysis is that it lets too many of us off the hook. Few men ever graduate to the level of a Weinstein, a Trump or a Moore, but there are plenty of us who have pushed the envelope in other ways. Maybe we didn't manipulate a woman into having sex with us, but how many times have we laughed at an off-color comment or joke and thought, "What's the big deal?" The inherent flaw in a sliding scale metric is that it ignores a basic fact that the Weinsteins of the world in all likelihood started off as a "What's the big deal?" offender. No doubt Franken still thinks the picture of him with his hands over Leeann Tweeden's breasts was a just a joke gone wrong. For a 13 year-old, maybe, but not for a grown man.

The fact that Franken, or any man, could find humor in such a photo is the real problem here. Misogyny isn't just confined to those men who commit sexual assaults or brag about grabbing a woman's "pussy" in an interview. Those are the easy ones to spot. It's the cultural morass that we must look at. Because until we begin to change our way of thinking as men, we will continue to foster the development of future Roy Moores and John Conyers.

I know a thing or two about this. I have made no secret of the fact that for years I was a drunk. Today I am sober and I attend meetings to make sure I stay that way. Addiction has all kinds of levels from casual to chronic. The term gateway drug refers to a substance that while not necessarily addictive on its own, often leads to other substances that are. Sexism is no different. If we don't nip bad behaviors in the bud at the onset, they can lead to other, far-more destructive ones. At some point in their earlier lives these predators got the message that what they were doing was harmless, nothing more than men being men. If only there had been someone in their lives who had the courage to say "No, this is not harmless, it's not ok, it's wrong to objectify women," I suspect the lives of many a victim would've been vastly different.

So to Ruth Marcus, I say, thanks, but no thanks. I'm going with Kirsten Gillibrand on this one. Zero tolerance is the only way. It's time for all us as men to own who we are and what we may have done. The time for rationalization and enabling is over. No more excuses, no more mulligans. Enough women have been scarred by our collective ignorance. These predators grew up in our ranks; we must do everything within our power to ensure they are not replaced by future ones.

It will be difficult, but then nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished easily. Years ago we laughed at jokes about race and homosexuality, and now such humor is considered off limits. And that is a good thing. If we can change with respect to those topics, then we can certainly change with respect to this one.

It starts right now with me, with you, with the guy at work or friend at a ballgame. Being a man means more than just being born with a particular set of genitalia; it means having the maturity and self-awareness to treat people as human beings and NOT as objects.

Look, none of us are angels. In my faith, we are taught that all fall short of the glory of God. But that does not give us license to disrespect one another or willfully ignore the sins of another man. There will be an accounting for those of us who do such things, believe me.

For my part, I consider the events of the last few weeks to be a wakeup call of sorts. I have done some serious soul searching and found areas of my life that I am not satisfied with. The lust that I have carried in my heart has clouded my judgment considerably. And while I am grateful that I am no Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump, I am painfully reminded of that famous phrase, "But for the grace of God go I."

My prayer is that all men, whoever and wherever they may be, might take this time to reflect on their lives and pledge to be better husbands, boyfriends, bosses, coworkers, associates, etc... The women in their lives deserve nothing less.