Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Christie Unbound

If the thought of Chris Christie being reelected makes you feel woozy, then imagine him reelected and with a Republican majority in the Senate, if not the state legislature. My apologies if you've re-tasted your breakfast. The thought of that possibility is just as noxious to me, especially when it comes to education.

Consider: With a majority in both houses, Christie would get a vouchers bill, end seniority in the public workforce, and cut funding to districts that need to make up for low incomes and a dearth of jobs (remember jobs? His first term was supposed to be all bout jobs.).

It's all laid out in this article, and it reads like a right wing wishlist.

Most educators understand that the Governor would love to make public schools into private schools complete with no unions, lower pay and no job security. That private schools can skim the best students from the admissions list, do not have to administer state tests (this makes absolutely no sense), and have endowments from their wealthy alumni/donors does not seem to make a difference to Christie or his minions. They seem to think that if you repeal all of the rules and strip away bargaining rights then schools will miraculously improve, and so will teachers. After all, we love low pay and high-cost benefits that we have to pay for.

Further, with a Republican Senate, Christie can get two more conservative judges on the state Supreme Court where the school funding formula, indeed all spending on education, would be up for revision, rescission and reassignment. Yes, the suburban districts do need to have all of the funding that was taken from them in Christie's first year returned to them with interest, but the government still needs to fully fund the urban districts that desperately need help. More revenue from top wage earners would be out of the question, so a second term would simply exacerbate the already large differences between the well-off and the rest of New Jersey under Christie II.

And just in case you thought that he is a New Jersey brand of Republicans, please think again. Chris Christie wants to be president in the worst way. He's already had his stomach surgery so he can slim down in time for the 2015 money/policy push, and he's become involved in the GOP's foreign policy debates in a big way, opposing what he sees as a misguided attempt by the libertarians to ease our diligent anti-terrorism policies.

You can look for more right-wing promises on domestic issues too, many of which will be field tested in New Jersey for maximum national exposure. He's certainly on the wrong side of the marriage equality issue, but not if you're a conservative. A referendum might get that done in NJ, but it will also give Christie the opportunity to say that the voters took the issue out of his hands.

There's enough to be wary of in a second Christie administration. That's why it's imperative that all progressives come out and vote in November and make sure they vote on the down ticket offices too. The man is serious about implementing his hard right agenda; it's high time we played serious too.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Endgame

Here's what's clear: the success of President Obama's second term will come down to the next few months of 2013 and early 2014 in the form of immigration reform, the success of the health care law, and the rising economy. There probably will be no grand bargain on the debt (thank heavens), tax reform is a long way off, and the Republicans don't believe enough in real science to have a discussion about energy and the environment. So we'll have to be happy from small victories.

The health care law is the most important. The GOP has staked its past, present and future on the law's failure, (and has threatened to shut down the government rather than accept it) but that's probably not going to happen. Will there be problems? You bet, and the right wing will loudly report each and every example of someone who has to pay more, or accept coverage that they don't need or want, or how doctors and hospitals are suffering, but in the end, the law will cover more people and result in a healthier society.

It might even result in more people finding less costly insurance through the exchanges than through their employers. That would be a tremendous coup because then businesses will be relieved of the pressure of covering their employees and people will not have to stay in terrible jobs simply for the benefits. I don't see this happening quickly, but if the market (you remember the market. This is a law all about the market.) makes it less expensive to buy from the exchanges, then that's what people will do. betting against health insurance is a losing proposition.

Immigration reform will probably not pass the House in its Senate version, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that a more comprehensive bill than the House purports to disdain will come out of the legislature. The Republicans can talk tough, but I do think that they see the electoral graffiti on the wall and understand that passing nothing will do them great harm. Perhaps the gerrymandered districts will allow them to keep the House, but that's a flimsy wall to hide behind for a party that's lost the popular vote in all but one national election since 1992.

The Republican Party is clueless, but it's not, you know, clueless.

During the past presidential election cycle, I wrote repeatedly that the conservative wave was crashing and that the GOP would become dangerously radical. I hate to say that I was right, but we are now living in the extremist bubble and it's not going to pop for another two or four years. During that time we can look forward to more attempts at voter suppression, curbs on reproductive rights and a call to eliminate or severely cut back on social programs such as food stamps, unemployment compensation and Medicare. If the Democrats can hold the line against the tide, they can slowly turn the country back in a less dangerous direction. Then we can truly address the problems we have in a pragmatic, sensible manner.

Until then, we'll be playing defense.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

So Much Done. So Much More To Do.

If you follow the news every minute (used to be every day), you'd think that Obama's presidency has been a grand failure. After all, he didn't save the world, or make friends with the terrorists and turn them into democrats or make the economy zoom along at a 5% growth rate or clean the air or any number of things that he either promised to do or was expected to do when he took office in 2009.

Instead, he faced some of the most extreme opposition of any president and really only accomplished most of his agenda when he Democrats controlled both houses of Congress by filibuster-proof (in the Senate) majorities. I'd also like to take this opportunity to remind people that many other presidents faced concerted opposition including Theodore Roosevelt (from his own party), Woodrow Wilson, FDR (from the Supreme Court and Congress), JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. That any president can get things done under our constitution is a monumental accomplishment, but somehow we as a country manage to move forward.

So it is today. The Senate has thawed some over the past two months and recently avoided internal chaos with the approval of a good number of Obama appointments. Of course, the GOP is now facing buyers remorse on that compromise, but only because they got, well, nothing out of the deal. And it looks like the stars might not align on immigration reform because the House, always extreme on the right or left, will not consider a comprehensive bill. In fact, the House is so busy voting to repeal the health care law that there's precious little time for anything else.

In this environment, it's useful to remind everyone just how much Barack Obama has accomplished in just over a term. Those accomplishments are listed in this article, and should be required reading of anyone who says we've done nothing since 2008.

We've had financial and bank reform, health care reform, the saving of the automobile industry, and avoided a depression. But there's more and any thinking American should know that. So take a look and understand that our government was built to act slowly. That works both for and against us, but it is how the framers constructed the system. We will have more landmark legislation over the next three and a half years. Some of it will be incomplete and need revision in a few years. Some of it will become part of the fabric of American life.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 14, 2013


A young African-American man is dead. He was armed only with Skittles and a hoodie, which now qualifies as being dangerous. He reacted when a self-styled and armed neighborhood watchman bothered him for little reason other than he seemed to be threatened that an African-American male was walking the gated premises. The laws of Florida allow armed people to shoot first and ask questions later.

This was the recipe for travesty, and I'm sure it won't be the last time it happens.

For all of the talk about having an African-American president, we are not a post-racial society. Race plays an important, and in this case an explosive, role in our civic culture. President Obama has shied away from invoking race where it is an issue and, in my mind, he hasn't done enough to focus Americans on the continuing injustice that colors our system. He should be speaking out more and letting America know that we have much work to do to achieve equality in society and fairness under the law.

Now there's talk that the Department of Justice ought to file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman. Perhaps, like OJ Simpson, that will provide the family with closure and provide for some kind of punishment. There's also talk of plots against Mr. Zimmerman and I hope that he remains safe. Violence should not beget more violence.

What truly needs to happen is that laws like Florida's that allow people to legally acquire firearms and use them preemptively must be stricken from the books. How many innocent people need to die before we do that?

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Monday, July 8, 2013

Visiting Scholar

I have a violet lanyard, and attached to it is a violet ID card from New York University. At the bottom, under my picture, it says, "Visiting Scholar." Yes, friends, it's summer and time for all good teachers, at some point in their careers, to be called a Visiting Scholar.

My entree to this august realm is courtesy of a Great Society law that created the National Endowment for the Humanities, a publicly-funded entity whose sole mission is to encourage and support the study and research of the...well, humanities. You know the humanities. They were the subjects in high school and college that promised never to get you a job or a girl/boyfriend or a terrific pile of money. You took them because the education system said that you had to. Languages, literature, philosophy, religion, music, history. They were good for the soul and nourishment for the brain. The Bran Flakes of the curriculum. The subjects that are now threatened because of budget cuts and low enrollment. The basis of our civilization and the cornerstone of our national political and cultural life.

Those Humanities. You remember them.

Anyway, I am a Visiting Scholar (because my lanyard says so) in a seminar called, Eastern Europe in Modern European History at NYU which runs for three weeks and is lead by a fact and analysis machine named Dr. Larry Wolff. There are 15 other Visiting Scholars from across the country and we're here because of a competitive process that the NEH used to choose us.

It's terrific. I've been there a week and I'm already a better teacher than I was at the end of June. I have materials I can share with my students. I have more knowledge for myself. I have perspective. But I also have the intangibles that come from being among other teachers; judgement, support and camaraderie. A representative came from the NEH to observe us this past week and I engaged him in conversation about how wonderful this seminar is so far. He remarked that he understood what many politicians are pushing and that he supported us as scholars and teachers and leaders and educators and all of the things we'd love to hear from politicians, but we don't because they don't understand. It's nice to know that we have people like him on our side.

I've read the bunkum from right wing think tanks that say that these kinds of programs don't make teachers better or that they cost too much and there's no objective way of measuring how much students actually gain from having teachers participate. This shows just how anti-intellectual the non-reformers are and it further exposes their agenda that wants to further cut outstanding programs like this so that we can save money and give a buck and a quarter back to every taxpayer.

Don't you believe any of that. This is what education should be and I'm proud to be a part of a government program that recognizes how important all of us Visiting Scholars are to our students. I'm looking forward to the rest of the seminar.

And I'm going to hang my violet ID badge up in my classroom this fall. My students should know that their teacher is a scholar.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest