Sunday, November 22, 2015

Refugees From Reality

Leave it to the GOP (and some uninformed Democrats) to make a frightening situation something to panic over. The Paris attacks were terrible. The threat of more terrorist attacks on Europe is very real. But if you want to stop terrorists from coming into the United States, tampering with the refugee system is exactly the wrong place to start.

The United States has accepted about 70,00 refugees into this country since 2009.  And there's a lengthy process. One-third of them were from countries that, on first glance, might supply potential terrorists. How many of these refugees turned out to be terrorists or involved in potential terrorist plots? None.  Further, if ISIS or any other group wanted to send potential terrorists to the United States, why would they choose a process that could take up to two years? It makes no sense. Which is why, I'm sure, the Republicans are pursuing legislation that would affect the refugee program.

It would be far easier for a potential bomber to come in as a tourist. Or as a worker who doesn't need a visa. Or as a student.  But of course, no politician wants to shut down tourism or interfere with students who want to come to the U.S. to study or with someone who will do a job that an American won't or can't (including high tech jobs that require math, which seems to be another GOP weakness). That would be an economic catastrophe. So instead, they're going after the one program that vets all applicants over a specified period of time as their target.

Even better, Donald Trump leads the GOP with a policy of building a very high wall on the Mexican border to stop the hordes who are coming to the United States. The truth is that more people are leaving the US for Mexico than are trying to come to this country.  The people who really want to come in, the drug smugglers, have built sophisticated tunnels. A wall won't stop them.

President Obama is exactly right to veto any legislation that is built on fear, xenophobia and ignorance, which the right seems to think will win it an election next year. Hillary Clinton has proposed a specific, pragmatic policy for dealing with ISIS that goes beyond mere rhetoric and fearful slogans. It's a policy that even conservatives view as thoughtful and worth considering.

Fear has been the coin of the realm for the Republican Party since 2001. They've run on a platform that says only they can keep us safe and I'm sure they'll plug that exhausted line until November. What they need to do is to detail a plan for actually fighting ISIS both militarily and diplomatically with our allies. It will take thought and political will rather than blame. So far, I haven't heard anything that gives me confidence in their ability to confront the threat.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Does This Mean War?

I'm being a bit of a coward by posing my title as a question, but I do firmly believe that the western world is headed towards a much larger, more coordinated and, ultimately, more deadly military conflict. If it sounds like war, smells like war, destroys like war, breeds intolerance like war, then it must be a war.

And we're in one.

I fear that there are more attacks coming in places that think they're prepared, but are not. After all, Vladimir Putin thought he was going to help Assad is Syria and escape the fate that has befallen the United States, France and Great Britain. He was wrong, and 224 Russians savagely and tragically lost their lives. The French have been attacked twice this year. Israel is under constant threat.Who's next?

I went on Facebook on Friday night after reading about the attacks and saw many people who had attached the peace sign with the Eiffel Tower in it, the French flag, and pictures of the people I know from their Paris vacations. But I also saw some vitriolic hatred directed towards all Muslim, and I mean ALL Muslims, even though they are not terrorists, and I saw the requisite number of posts calling President Obama a Muslim and blaming him for this, and seemingly every other, attack, whether it was on US soil or not. It's still gauche, evidently, to blame GW Bush for September 11, but blaming Obama for an attack on Paris is de rigueur, at least among a certain segment of the population.

Foreign policy will be a key factor in the upcoming presidential election and the GOP field had better begin focusing on policies other than building a very high wall on the Mexican border, throwing people out of the country and reestablishing the fortress America that served us so badly from 1924 to 1965. It also means that Bernie Sanders had better come up with a foreign policy plank that offers Democrats a choice between him and Hillary Clinton. Obviously, she has the most experience in the field by a wide margin. She's got to make Americans believe that she can keep us safe, but engaged in the world. We need to stay strong.

My heart goes out to those who lost a loved one or who was injured in the attacks. The world has now shifted. 

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mrs. MacDowell 1 Exxon 0: Why I Knew in 1970 What Big Oil Still Denies

OK, let's go back to the halcyon days of the 1969-70 school year when I was in fourth grade. My teacher was one of those cool, hip, young people who knew how to reach children, to excite them to learn, and to inject a bit of reality and responsibility into them as they began to navigate the world. She was the kind of teacher that every child has, I hope, at least once during their schooling. I was lucky enough to have her as a teacher twice.

One of the great activities I clearly remember from that school year was a unit we studied on pollution that included not only classwork on the issue but an assembly in front of the school. We made posters. We wrote skits. We listened to CCR's Who'll Stop the Rain  (lyrics).

And we wrote songs.

One of them was based on the Pepsi Cola jingle, "You've Got a Lot to Give." Sing along with me:

It's the pollution generation
Comin' at ya, goin' strong.
Put yourself behind pollution
If you're livin'
You won't for long.

I also seem to remember a pollution song based on the Marseillaise, but I can't seem to recall the words.

We were a cheeky group. She was a great teacher.

And Mrs. MacDowell also knew a heck of a lot more than Exxon did, if contemporary news reports are believable. How is that possible? Because Exxon and other energy companies are not telling the truth about what their scientists were telling them about air pollution and the environment. Even in 1970, as a ten year old, I had heard about the "Greenhouse Effect" and how pollutants in the air were being trapped and were causing the planet to heat up.

But Exxon? They say they didn't know. I don't blame the scientists who work(ed) for the company. I'm going to assume that they stuck to science and dutifully reported what they knew to the best of their ability. To believe otherwise would call into question their credibility and morality. I'm going to blame the company because it has shown time and time again to be on the wrong side of propriety, from the Valdez tragedy to employee protections to today's allegations about covering up what it knew about the effects of fossil fuels on climate.

 I certainly understand that institutions will do whatever they need to do to survive, and the oil and gas industry is no exception. After all, this is the group that came up with the oxymoronic term "clean coal" to try and make the world's greatest pollutant and killer of far too many miners sound acceptable. It's also an industry that probably sees low gas prices as a short-to-medium-term good for its survival since many Americans have moved away from hybrid cars in response to lower prices. We even seem to be acting irrationally by taking the savings we're seeing in low prices and buying slightly pricier premium fuel.

And then there's the political angle. President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline project became a formality because of the low price of oil, the glut in the very refineries and storage tanks that the Canadian oil was supposed to occupy, and the plain fact that the promised jobs from the pipeline project were not going to approach the economy-saving levels that many conservatives, and labor unions, envisioned. Plus, the Canadian oil is actually getting to the United States through other means, so destroying the Midwestern landscape for a pipeline was not necessary. Obama rightly measured the impact on the environment and cannily waited until a great Labor Department employment report materialized, then mercifully killed the proposal.

As for the Republicans running for president, their views on the environment, climate and energy policy are, to be kind, ignorant. They see no reason to act on what is clearly happening to the earth, preferring to stick their heads in the sand and wait for the Montana banana industry to flourish (catchy as the jingle would be). Forget about Carson and Trump, who will not be elected president in 2016. Certainly, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have seen the devastation wrought by climate change on eco-sensitive Florida, and Chris Christie, who used to be somewhat reliable on the issue, certainly saw what happened during Sandy and the October snowstorm of the previous year. All of them are in favor of more drilling, more oil company benefits and, most tragically, more United States involvement in the Middle East, which is rapidly coming undone by climate, politics and religion. For these reasons alone they are unelectable.

So thank you Mrs. MacDowell for being one of the early few who knew about the climate problem and doing what terrific teachers do: Telling your students, waking them up, getting them to act.

If only Exxon, other energy companies and the Republican party were as smart as you are.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest