Louis CK liked (and surely still likes) to expose himself to women, often it would seem, with zero consent on the part of the unlucky and harassed co-workers. So did Harvey Weinstein. Remember Anthony “The Messenger” Weiner? He almost seems like a long lost innocent fool compared to what’s being brought to light every day, lately courtesy of Roy Moore of course.

So, as far as Giant of the Senate Al Franken (I never really found him that funny years and years ago on SNL but maybe I missed some of his puns if you will) is concerned, does his requesting an ethics probe of himself over his own harassment of LeeAnn Tweeden qualify as ethical wanking? That’s getting so far out in front of the story that you’re naked.

It’s absurd and who knows how this will work out for Senator Franken or what other stories may emerge, but the underlying event – his groping of Tweeden on a USO tour with the excuse of “rehearsing” a kiss for a skit – is not funny. Nor is the foto that she produced. You can see it everywhere on the net. Look at the expression on Franken’s face. More creepy than funny.

About a decade or so back I recall Franken cracking a joke (was it on Conan O’Brien’s show?) about how a woman had to be at least as old as his daughter for him to stare at her backside. The audience laughed, I may have laughed a little. Never really was funny, especially if you’re being stalked by an older creep. Not at all funny now.

Scientology-worshiping actors. Film Producers. Bible-thumping Alabama politicians. Wheelchair-bound ex-presidents. Wall Street financiers. Ex presidents whose wives would have been president. IMF heads who were part of the D.C. and NYC sex-swapping scene – that case involving the very French Dominique Strauss-Kahn. There’s a long, long line up of women who have a story to tell. And they’re not being intimidated anymore. I feel sorry for a freshman who says a slightly tart comment on campus and ends up being hounded out of his chosen university. My heart goes out to the children whose fathers’ actions have disgraced their lives.

I do not feel sorry for Franken or Roy Moore, or any of the others being named.

So if Senator Franken wants to wank his way through a self-referential ethics probe by rending his garments and beating his chest, go for it Al. Maybe you’ll convince us you’re truly sorry. But I can only feel sorry for you.

Authoritarian International is a term now being used to describe how China – and Russia – use their influence, and economic power in China’s case, to support other authoritarian regimes around the world, from Venezuela to Turkey, from the Philippines to Ethiopia. Many of these regimes may have had some form of communist or socialist government or may currently have some form as in Venezuela’s case, but the glue that holds them together is not really marxist economics and ideology but rather strongman rule. A rule that China abstains from condemning on the international stage and a rule which China along with Russia provide military and economic aide to as well as trade ties. Real Clear Politics has a great read on this by Richard Bernstein.

It’s a repudiation of the optimism of the 90’s where it was thought that economic freedom would lead naturally and inevitably, guided by the invisible hand of enlightened self-interest, towards political openness and eventually full democracy. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked out, especially in China’s case where strict one-party rule has accompanied astonishing growth. Yes, at some point the corruption and state-subsidized spending should produce the long-awaited downturn or even crash. But people have been predicting China’s economic collapse for about a decade now.

Which brings us to a rather ugly little episode being followed in the Washington Free Beacon concerning Chinese dissident billionaire Guo Wengui (who has been exposing the very corruption that is undercutting China’s economy) and an interview he gave some time ago to Voice of America’s Chinese language broadcasts. The live interview was cut off in mid stream by senior VOA management and the Chinese VOA journalists (who appear to have been working out of of NYC where Guo is currently living) were suspended and now they have been fired for “insubordination.”

VOA Director Amanda Bennett refused to comment on the matter citing “privacy” concerns. Guess who Bennett is married to? Donald E. Graham, chairman of Graham Holdings which runs an educational publishing business which does a fair bit of business in … China. The fired Chinese VOA ex-employees also claim that VOA has hired James McGregor, a former journalist with close ties to Chinese Politburo heavyweight Wang Qishan.

Look. Everyone and his brother, sister, aunt, and cousin have or are falling over each other to suck up to China and try to actually profit from doing business in that authoritarian state’s enormous consumer market. Some have even made money. But frickin’ Voice of America?! Do they have to join Eric Schmidt, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and all the rest in kneeling before the Grand Dragon?

It appears that the key event at the start of the 90’s was actually not the fall of the Wall in Berlin. Rather it was a few months earlier in June of 1989 with the Tiananmen Square massacre by army units loyal to China’s ruling communist party, the cardboard mock ups of the Statue of Liberty and the candles crushed under the military might of authoritarianism. So China’s population made a deal with their leaders: they got stunning growth in exchange for the shackles on free expression that were firmly maintained, even as those shackles grew in the sophistication of their methodology.

Those shackles now extend to Voice of America. Rex Tillerson, do you have anything to say? Apparently not. When pressed by Senator Rubio to explain a $4.5 million cut to the semi-official Radio Free Asia’s Mandarin language broadcast, Tillerson said:

I can confirm that to my knowledge, it had nothing to do with our relations with China.

From Alaska to Texas, they’re saying Roy step down. If the stories are even half-true. That is, GOP senators from across America are clearly demanding that Roy Moore step aside from his run to be elected in Jeff Sessions’ seat in Alabama, if the stories of sexual harassment are true.

Roy Moore himself has produced a defiant email refusing to step down and essentially claiming that this is a political witch hunt courtesy of the Washington Post. Of course, that defiant email was a fund raising email sent to supporters. What will he be saying in a week’s time? What will he be saying tomorrow?

This all depends on the veracity of several women, starting with Leigh Corfman who has come forward to talk about some clearly abusive groping and fondling on the part of Moore in the late 70’s when she was barely a teenager. Right now one has to take her words very seriously. Yes, Roy Moore is innocent until proven guilty but if more women step forward with what appear to be legitimate claim, it seems impossible for him to continue. Even if the Corfman story is surely the result of frantic oppo research that could have been funded just as easily by Mitch McConnell’s backers as by Democrats.

Roy Moore was 32 when the incidents with Corfman took place in 1979. He was an assistant DA by then, 2 years out of law school and 5 years out of the military as a captain in the military police. Unfortunately, there have been times when such behavior – if it is indeed true – was disgustingly easy to get away with for even minor officials, as well as theatrical agents, film industry folks, managers, etc. etc. etc. Have been? It’s still happening, and there’s a flood of stories coming out about harassment which means those days finally seem to be coming to an end thanks to liberals turning on their own rich, powerful and lecherous icons like Weinstein.

It’s long past time that abusive or harassing behavior be called out and punished wherever and whenever it occurs. When it really occurs, that is. University campuses have been plagued by false accusations and kangaroo courts, but the way to solve that is by due process. Whether on the one hand it’s mattress girl’s victim, or whether on the other, it’s Roy Moore’s accusers or Kevin Spacey’s victims. Due process applied carefully but forcefully, where evidence is given without shame and considered without hysteria.

But of course we need to be sure Moore did indeed do what he has been accused of. Because that is impossible to do without a full trial, which means possibly years of lawyers battling it out in court in a he-said she-said situation, we therefore don’t have that sort of time. Moore has to be honest with himself and decide what kind of a man he wants to be, despite what kind of a man he may very well have been.

And finally, what if Moore refuses to step aside, the accusations remain but somehow he gets elected? Or, on the other hand, if he does step aside and his rushed replacement loses the election, or if Moore stays in the race and loses? Then we essentially have a split Senate.

In other words, is Roy Moore merely the byproduct of the messy dismembering of the GOP as we know it? In which case, politically, it doesn’t really matter what sort of a man he is.

Yes, the officials at Holloman Air Force Base made a grave error when they forgot to place Devin Patrick Kelly’s name and criminal history with the FBI’s database. How many files do they have responsibility for at that one base? How possible is it that hundreds of similar oversights are out there in cyber no mans land waiting to be filed correctly? Hundreds? Thousands? This one was the wrong one to overlook. True. But if you rely on filing and data entry procedures to feel safe, you will be disappointed.

But at the same time, perhaps had they filed that data correctly, Kelly would have had a harder time purchasing weapons. Would he have bought weapons (perhaps even more powerful automatic weapons) on the black market instead? There is no way of knowing. Yes, you can point to statistics, but we are talking about individual, unique profiles if you will. On average, proper enforcement of a reasonable rule might help. On average.

Mass shooters are not average, however. That’s the whole point about them. So constructing a system of rules and regs designed to stop them will likely fail and cause a lot of problems and stress for law-abiding owners. And yes, a mass shooter – unlike Kelly – might be law-abiding until he (always a he) starts shooting. This is not like trying to lower the risk of car crash fatalities from DUI accidents.

So any rule or regulation or law should start from that premise. But even that would bring howls from those who want gun rights severely restricted.

So it seems that no shooting will bring some limited, reasonable compromise within the framework of the 2nd Amendment, precisely because the gulf is too wide between those who want to limit – if not outright ban – the overwhelming majority of gun ownership in America, and those who believe that any rule, regulation, or law will prove insufficient at stopping a massacre under certain conditions. And that an acceptance of the fact that there is evil in this world and that a faith strong enough to prevail despite such evil is all that matters.

In other words, there is no reasonable ground for compromise. If you try to gather up most people’s guns – the way they did in Australia – you would surely meet resistance of a very stubborn and yes, lethal kind. Because people truly believe in the power of the 2nd amendment as a way to securing their freedoms from the very government that the Constitution created.

So we have an impasse. As Ben Domenech put it in The Transom: one side says your laws are B.S. The other side says your faith is B.S. And the impasse deepens and hardens with every shooting.

Maybe gun rights should devolve completely to the state level. That’s already happened to a certain extent. Yes, local 2nd probably scares some in the beltway. As well as gun owners in liberal/progressive states. But is there any other way for America’s great variety of local communities and state governments to deal with how to best handle and defend against the possibility of a unique, one-in-tens-of-millions chance of a mass shooter?

How Will Non-Fossil-Fuel Cars Pay Their Way?

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Federal and state gasoline taxes provide a very substantial amount of revenue. In fiscal 2014, the Federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents/gallon delivered over $25 billion dollars to Federal coffers. State gasoline taxes vary from a low of 12.25 cents/gal in AK to 43.88 cents/gal in NY and a whopping 58.20/gal in PA and are balanced as part of the overall state tax ‘pie’ against that state’s property, income, sales and excise taxes. Regardless, the states’ gasoline tax represents a substantial portion of every state budget. Revenues from these local fuel taxes are supposedly earmarked for road/bridge/infrastructure maintenance and improvements, although like all taxes—Federal or local— they simply go into the General Fund, to be dispersed as the Federal or local lawmakers see fit.

No one likes paying taxes, but the gasoline tax was a relatively straightforward, uncomplicated affair from the time state gasoline tax was instituted in 1919 in Oregon and in the Federal 1932 Revenue Act right through the present day. Cars ran on gasoline; taxes were imposed on gasoline to bring in revenue. Unpopular, perhaps, but straightforward and understandable in its implementation.

Now the United States is on the cusp of a revolutionary change in the means of personal and commercial ground-based transportation. In the near-term (25-50 years, at most, according to most experts), cars and trucks not powered by fossil fuels will become a very significant portion of the transportation fleet of the country.

As that happens, the obvious, most oft-discussed effects will be a paradigm shift in the way the United States conducts its foreign policy (no longer beholden to unstable, hostile foreign entities simply as a way to preserve our unfettered access to their crude oil reserves) and the manner in which the absence of oil-derived environmental damage and pollution no longer affect domestic American environmental policies and historical political alliances to anywhere near the same degree as they do now.

Less discussed—if discussed at all—is the dramatic structural change to the mechanism by which both Federal and state governments collect a very major portion of their respective revenue. With no change to the current system of tax collection, oil-based tax revenues will fall precipitously as fossil fuel-powered cars comprise an ever-smaller percentage of the nation’s fleet.

One vague proposal afoot in some states is an unspecified “user” tax, a way of charging drivers for the miles they’ve actually driven, as opposed to the amount of fossil fuel they consume. Currently, drivers of fossil fuel cars subsidize the upkeep of roads and bridges completely for non-fossil-fuel drivers. Those cars use no gasoline; hence their drivers pay no gasoline tax and get a figurative “free ride.”

But how would a miles-based user tax be implemented? Would it be a Federal tax, a State tax or some combination of both? How would the percentages/proportion of user tax vs. gasoline tax be determined? Ostensibly, the total tax on motor vehicles would need to be kept at least equal to what it is now, so states could develop a dependable budget with known revenue sources. What would be the timeframe for bringing mileage user taxes on line and could taxpayers be assured of a commensurate rolling back of gasoline taxes as non-fossil-fuel cars began to dominate?

From a logistical/practical standpoint, how would a mileage user tax be implemented? Would it be similar to the current “Easy Pass” system whereby electronic sensors read a specific car’s transponder and assess the correct fee? Would road tolls be separate from electric fuel-based “road use” taxes or all rolled into one? Would a given car’s transponder indicate that it was a gasoline or non-fossil-fuel vehicle and the toll sensor would automatically dole out the correct fee? An extraordinary increase in the number and location of sensors would be required in order to capture the actual mileage driven by all drivers, even on back roads and side streets. One can only imagine the complexity of such widespread sensor deployment and the opportunity for fraud, unfairness and outright inaccuracy.

What about the relationship between Federal and state “user” fees? Right now, gasoline has a very specific, easily-determined amount of Federal and state taxation: 18.4 cents/gal Federal and whatever amount that particular State charges its motorists. Would a mileage-based user fee work the same way?

Other questions remain: If each state and the federal Government implemented the sensors at a different pace—complete coverage in some states, spotty in others, a highly likely scenario in the short run—how could there be an accurate fee assessment from one state to another as motorists embark on inter-state excursions? If sensor-based fees are tied into credit or debit cards, and are not cash-based, how does such a system allow for delinquent payers, poor credit, and individuals who eschew the use of credit/debit cards altogether?

This entire situation poses huge legislative challenges, many of which are simply unknowable in advance. If a per-mile use tax is deemed to be the way to go, design and installation of that sensor network needs to be put into place now, as opposed to waiting until non-fossil-fuel cars become numerically significant. Given our government’s propensity for being after-the-fact reactive instead of proactively preventative, the probability is extremely high that a huge bureaucratic revenue boondoggle awaits, one that will make the otherwise agreeable transition to non-fossil-fuel-powered transportation quite painful indeed. One thing is for sure: The gasoline tax is soon going to be the wrong way to raise revenue for infrastructure maintenance.

New York City is gripped by an evil fear apparently. Their heroic mayor Bill de Blasio is doing his best to ensure that this evil does not overcome their virtuous defenses. But the evil is apparently not an Uzbek immigrant driving a truck into innocent pedestrians on the Lower East Side, while screaming “alluah akhbar” out the window, just in case anyone on the planet could possibly ever be confused as to his motives for the terror attack.

No. The evil apparently is islamophobia, which all New Yorkers must now be vigilant about. They must bond together against anyone demanding tighter immigration policies. They must not just bond together, they must seek out anyone who is saying anything they deem offensive. Nothing like a terrorist attack to bring out the thought police in full force on social media. Oh, by the way, extreme vetting is fine, according to Mayor de Blasio: But as he says:

We support very thorough vetting – not of groups of people just because they belong to a group.

Ok. So that condition would eliminate any process of rigorous vetting from discriminating against anyone based on what country they come from, or what religion they espouse. For example. Or even what terrorist group they belong to: ISIS, al Qaeda, etc. That’s a mighty big exemption that the mayor is demanding, isn’t it?

But this is what happens when identity politics confronts the reality of extremism based on an ideology – or a virulent interpretation of what a specific faith – Islam – means, in this case. The sanctity of diversity must be maintained. Not necessarily the real diversity that has been flowing and pulsing through America’s daily life for many, many generations. No, this is about an official story, a narrative that must be maintained at all costs. With white-oppressor villains and a glorious rainbow of heroes on the other side, of course. Never mind that the gender-bending diversity of that rainbow gets you thrown off buildings in regions where Sayfullo Saipov’s worldview predominates. Never mind that this worldview is a threat to almost every corner of American political, intellectual, and cultural life. The narrative must be maintained at all costs.

And the most vile of those costs is the death of innocent civilians, caught up by the murderous hatred of terrorism. So NYC Mayor de Blasio has to try and get out in front of President Trump’s demands for extreme vetting. We couldn’t possibly have someone denied entry to America because of their fanatical beliefs. That’s unconstitutional right?

Wrong. The First Amendment and the rest of the constitution applies to American citizens and America herself, as universal as they should be. But those freedoms are not universal. Saipov’s Uzbekistan, for example, is an authoritarian state that denies it’s citizens the very freedoms that allowed him to plan and purchase and carry out the attack on American soil. So how to protect America from these kinds of attacks while respecting the constitution? It can be a tricky balance, but one in which careful vetting has a perfectly legitimate role.

And that’s why extreme vetting is so important. Foreign terrorists are by law treated differently than American terrorists. And the first line of defense is making sure someone from abroad with a questionable background from a country with poor record-keeping, perhaps undercut by corruption, is made to jump through a lot of hoops before gaining his or her first crucial right: the right to legally live and work and study in America.

Islamophobia already has a whole array of institutions lined up to guard against it in Western Democracies and especially in America. How about half of that zeal being put into being reasonably prudent about who is being let into the country?