Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Real Rankings: Trump, Putin, Xi. Then America.

It's tough having a president who's ready, at the drop of a hat, to throw the country under the bus. President Trump likes to say that he will put America first, but he has a strange way of showing it.

For decades, the United States lead the world economically, militarily and morally. Sometimes we did some extremely bad things and we've made our share of mistakes, but most of the world knew where we stood and we remained a place that other people wanted to come to, and they were generally welcomed.

Not any more.

By supposedly putting America first, the president has done great damage to our reputation and what we stand for. When the Russians clearly tried to influence the 2016 election, the president never spoke out about foreign interference, and instead worried obsessively about how it would make him, and only him, look bad.

Now we find that the president, perhaps the most gullible man in the political world, believes Vladimir Putin when he said that Russia did not interfere with the election. And he's siding with the Russian leader over his own CIA and members of Congress from both parties.

You know, Americans.

How did Trump come to this conclusion? By asking Putin if his country interfered, of course. Isn't that what international power politics is all about? Everyone tells the truth, right?

As Bugs would say, "What a maroon."

The president's trip to Asia was also a me-first excursion as the president essentially said that he, and only he, knew what America's best interests were and that he was going to make sure that any future deals benefited this country.  He's already shown the folly of that statement by withdrawing us from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accords. Both of those agreements would have enabled the United States to have major influence over trade, intellectual property laws, and economic policies that would help guide the world toward a more environmentally responsible future.  We've now lost a good deal of that influence and China has immediately stepped into that power vacuum and is ready to fill it, as President Xi said in his remarks immediately after Trump finished speaking on Friday.

And what did our president say to that? He essentially threw every previous president under his smog-belching bus by saying that America's past leaders were to blame for our terrible trade deals. We can certainly blame previous leaders for today's problems, but the rule is that you defend your own in public while excoriating them in private. For Trump, though, there is only one person he will protect: himself.

But the president is not only hurting America abroad. His support of the health care repeal that would throw about 20 million people off their health insurance was reprehensible. And his support of a tax bill that would raise taxes on millions of people in the middle class while allowing hedge fund managers to continue to pay a lower rate on their incomes, and for other wealthy people and corporations to get a huge cut is immoral. The president would also benefit immensely from this tax bill, but since he won't release his tax returns, we don't know by how much.

The real evidence, though, is that the president is not putting America first because he continues to deliberately divide this country. He's made no real effort to include his opponents or those who voted against him. He's content to throw twitter bombs and to blame everyone else (women, immigrants, Muslims, Democrats, NFL players) for our problems without recognizing that he is the president of all the people.

Effective presidents are ones who recognize that they might not bring their opponents over to their side, but that for the greater good of the country, they need to make an effort at unity and conciliation. I have little hope that President Trump will do this because his first priority is himself.  Not the country, and certainly not anyone who deigns to point out when he is wrong, or illustrates his disdain for, and lack of understanding of, our constitution.

We will always be second.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tired of Russia and Taxes? Here's The New Jersey Election Special!

For the moment, I'm going to put aside the frenzy over the Mueller investigation and how the Russian hacking and fake Facebook posts were all Hillary's fault even though GOP campaign operatives lied through their collective teeth about their contacts with said Russians, and I'm going to postpone any comments on the new GOP Let's Give a Sop to the Wealthy and Corporations Act of 2017, which, at first glance, will have me paying more in taxes, because I believe that the Senate will correct many, but not all, of the egregiously disgraceful ways in which the GOP wants the middle class to pay for the corporate tax cuts and blow up the deficit.

So no comment at all on those two issues.

What's instead?

New Jersey is going to elect a new Governor on Tuesday!

Yes, I know you're going to miss Chris Christie, who has sunk so low in the ratings lake that divers are rooting around the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald looking for Christie's poll numbers. It's gotten so bad that even a great public program to combat opioid addiction, which Christie proposed, couldn't pry any money out of a president who supposedly is still considering Christie for a replacement part in his administration, on the off chance that someone will leave it soon. Which they will. And Christie will remain in Mendham where he belongs.

So who will win the election on Tuesday? Democrat Phil Murphy has a big lead in the polls, but of course we know about poll numbers. After all, it was only last year that Hillary was supposed to win the national vote by a couple of percentage points. Which she did. So all polls must be wrong, right? Not when you have a 14 point lead. Which Murphy has. If Democrats go out and actually vote, he'll win.

But what of Republican Kim Guadagno? She served as Christie's Lieutenant Governor for a glorious eight years, and that's exactly why she will not win. She's run a decent campaign, but she just can't get out of Christie's shadow on any issue, even the ones where she differs from him. He's that unpopular.

Not that Murphy has been a dream candidate. He's gotten tripped up over immigration and making New Jersey a sanctuary state. He's also promised to fully fund public schools without being specific about how he's going to pay for them, and he's promised the teachers that he will fully fund their pension without, again, saying how hes going to pay for it. But he's a Goldman Sachs guy and we know all about their fiscal acumen. Not really.

And I'm not really enthralled with his choice of Lieutenant Governor, former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. You remember her. She's the Democrat who shepherded the Pension and Benefits bill through the Assembly in 2011. That's the bill that reduced teacher take home pay for four years and stripped away our collective bargaining rights when it comes to health insurance.

Yes, THAT Sheila Oliver.

She only ran the Assembly. What of the State Senate? Glad you asked.

The New Jersey Education Association is currently committing political hari-kiri by supporting the opponent of Steve Sweeney, the Senate President who got enough Democratic votes to pass the pension bill in his chamber. The problem is that his opponent, Fran Grenier, is a Trump-and-Christie-supporting far right Republican who really dislikes almost everything the NJEA stands for.

But since Sweeney also committed the political sin of  not posting a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the state would fully fund the pension system, reading the public, correctly in my view, as being opposed to it, the NJEA wants him gone. Which won't happen on Tuesday or any other day this week. Which means that the NJEA, which I support on most other issues, will now have an adversary instead of a friend just when Democratic control of the entire state government is probably going to be a reality.

In this case, gun control measures would have stopped the NJEA from shooting itself in the foot.

Nice job.

I expect that Sweeney and the NJEA will make nice up to a point, but I wouldn't be surprised if he took something out on the organization sometime in the next four years.

But of course, the main thing to do this Tuesday, no matter where you live, is to vote.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest


Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Weeks Ahead: Pressure, Not Panic

Hoping for something special on Monday when Robert Mueller has promised to unseal the first legal action relating to his probe of Russia's involvement in the election? Speculation is rampant and the Republicans must be nervous or they wouldn't be dredging up Hillary stories. My favorites are the ones that say the Democrats are the ones who colluded with Russia. That's going to be a tough sell when it was members of the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign whose emails were hacked.

But by now we know that facts are not the GOP's, or the White House's, stock in trade. And this was the week that the Republicans paved the way for a tax cut bill that the rest of the country hasn't seen and doesn't allow for much debate because that might open it up to scrutiny. Or debate. Or criticism. Or the very real possibility that many middle class taxpayers will pay more taxes just so corporations can pay much less.

But the Democrats had better be very careful about what they wish for. President Trump will not be impeached, and by calling for such action the left is courting a very serious backlash. After all; it's one thing to vehemently disagree with the president. It's quite another to threaten legal action based on what he's done so far, which is monumentally bad and retrograde and backwards and the opposite of making our country the envy of the world. In fact, the Republicans are already running their 2018 campaign on the premise that a Democratic Congress will seek to impeach the president,which most people do not support.

In short, calm down and let the legal process work itself out. Robert Mueller has the respect of most of the country. Let the news drip for a while. Oppose the policies and keep a sharp eye on what the White House does, rather than on what it says.

On the tax bill, point out where the middle and lower middle classes will lose because of this bill. Remind people that corporations will pay less, but they won't because someone has to pay for the tax cuts. Talk about fairness, because in  the end, that's what this bill is all about, and that's where it ultimately will fail.

And of course, agitate, agitate, agitate.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Reality to US: My Condolences

I'm still trying to figure out how you actually mess up a condolence call to a soldier's family and turn it into a national nightmare when the White House Chief of Staff has to lie to cover up for the president's lies. And just to make it worse, the White House Press Secretary then questions an American's right to ask questions simply because the Chief of Staff is a Four Star General.

I'm all for respecting the military and the soldiers who serve for what they do for our country. What I strenuously object to is the idea that we need to glorify the military and hold it in higher regard than  the rights they fight to protect, among which are the right to freedom of speech and of the press.

Saying that its inappropriate to criticize John Kelly simply because he's a general shows me how utterly ignorant the present administration is of our history and jurisprudence. It also shows me how dangerous they are when it come to what people say. Would it not also be inappropriate to question John McCain's service to our country? The president did not hesitate to question McCain's heroism and commitment.

Perhaps Trump's tax returns have a line for moral bankruptcy to go along with his likely other manipulations.

Is there not going to be day when something that used to be predictable, normal, mundane or life-affirming is turned into a sloppy, incompetent, truthless, egomaniacal, psychological endurance test? How much more will the president's actions cause good, honest people to lose their way and wobble because their moral gyroscopes have been knocked off their axes by his insipid need to be the story? Wasn't John Kelly the man who was going to bring order to the White House? To stop the internecine bleeding and feuding that was tearing the country apart?

This is not going well, especially because Kelly is now looking a lot less like a pillar of moral strength  and more like a man who is wading into the tide of turpitude that threatens to become a tsunami. None of this is making America look like a worthy ally, governing entity or negotiating partner.

All of this comes at the end of a week that saw the president flip-flop on whether he supports a bipartisan fix for the Affordable Health Care Act that would go a long way towards meeting goals that he's enunciated, which are to provide comprehensive health insurance to people at an affordable price and to stabilize the insurance markets. Of course, that's what Trump has said. What he really wants to do is disrupt the law and have the country blame the Democrats, but that's not going to happen. There are too many people in states that Trump won that rely on the ACA. Does he think that Democrats won't remind those voters next November that it's his actions that caused their plight if they lose coverage?

This is also a week that saw the president also try to kill two deals that are not nearly as bad as he says they are: NAFTA and the Iran nuclear agreement. The NAFTA negotiations are not going well, and you can't really blame Mexico and Canada for wanting to hold the line on the deal because their economies have done well under the pact. Why would they want to renegotiate, especially since this administration has shown that it will destroy any agreement they don't like. And while NAFTA has done serious damage to many parts of the United States, it has also done some wonderful things to other parts. Scrapping the deal will lead to significantly higher prices, an there's no guarantee that it will lead to the job growth that Trump has promised.

The Europeans, in addition to the Iranians, are also wary of this administration's negotiating tactics and are saying that Iran is abiding by the nuclear deal. That Iran is supporting terrorist groups in the Middle East is terrible, but let's address that separately. The last thing anybody wants is for Iran to support terrorists and have a nuclear program.

Which brings us to tax reform, in which the middle class is going to be asked to give up deductions for mortgage interest and state taxes and, as of yesterday, possibly a severe restriction on how much its members can contribute to 401(k) retirement plans. All because the president wants to give businesses a massive tax break, from 35% to 20%, under the illusion that corporations will use that money to create jobs.

And not to help their stock price.
Which is what investors want.
And is tied to executive compensation.
See where I'm going with this?

If these corporations were so moral, why not use the money they have parked away now, bring it back to the US, and create more jobs. You know the answer.

We are very quickly losing our moral authority as a beacon of democracy, tolerance, openness and responsibility. It will take us years to get those back.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest


Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Retreat Becomes a Rout

And, no; I'm not talking about Democratic failures in the face of the Republican onslaught. What's being routed is common sense, practicality, reason, and stability.

The president has ultimately decided that if Congress is not going to strip health insurance from millions of people, essentially box them into buying policies that have unconscionably sky-high deductibles (because they'll be the cheapest ones) or do not cover essential services such as addiction, mental health or family planning, then he is going to do that unilaterally.

By executive order.
Which Republicans hated when Obama issued them.
But we know what that was all about.
Don't we.

And he's planning on having the Democrats take the blame for it. That's a retreat from reality, but then again, President Trump lives on the banks of denial, and he'll continue to blame everyone except himself for the carnage that will follow. Of course, I do agree with the president that insurance companies should not get a payoff or have their profits subsidized with taxpayer money, but that begs the question of why he doesn't really work with Democrats to construct a public option to compete with them.

Yes, I know the answer lies in a maelstrom of contradiction, ignorance, bombast and cruelty, but still.

This, though, is just the domestic bomb. The one that could get us all killed is in his actions on North Korea and Iran. By backing away from the Iran deal, and again leaving it to Congress to follow behind him and scoop up the mess, he makes a deal with North Korea that much more remote. After all, why would any dictator look at how we treated Saddam Hussain, Muammar Gaddafi and now Iran, and want to enter into any deal with us, knowing that at any time the president could abrogate or ignore its provisions? Further, Hussain and Gaddafi were killed after giving up their weapons of mass destruction. Kim and the mullahs are smarter than that.

Any astute reader of US foreign policy would also see that what the president says is not always what the policy turns out to be. Many of Trump's secretaries have had to clarify, which means contradict, what he's said because what he's said would start a war. Cooler heads have prevailed, but cooler heads have also been seen rolling on the floor after a combustible president decided that they weren't showing enough fealty. or at least got caught doing something stupid.

The real problem is that the United States is losing its credibility and its influence in the name of empty nationalism and the belief among Trump's supporters that he somehow has the country's best interests at heart. I don't think he has our best interests and I'm rethinking the notion that he has a heart. What the president has is an insatiable desire to be the story, all day every day. And as we know from the media, that requires ever-expanding story lines, exaggerations and shock.

The system will eventually react. It will not be a pretty sight.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shooting Policy Blanks

We learned this week that the Republican Party is so concerned about religious rights that they'll compromise women's health and allow people who are supposedly committed to love and compassion to discriminate against fellow human beings who love differently than they do.

We also learned that the only suggestion they can come up with when scores of people are killed by altered weapons is to get rid of the alteration, thereby condemning the country to another mass shooting massacre, which I predict will happen sometime in the next 18 months. A bold prediction, no? Kind of like predicting the sunrise tomorrow.

And then of course there's the ongoing dismissal of African-American concerns regarding police actions, employment discrimination and voter suppression.

OK, you're right. We didn't really learn these things. We already knew them to be true, but having to actually live their reality is a reminder that the party truly does want to undo 60 years of progress for those people in society who have consistently felt the sting of discrimination and hate.

I certainly understand that the Republican Party favors the free market, lower taxes, less government and, shall we say, traditional morality, but under the present administration, those polices have become meaner and less fair than ever before. Add in the gerrymandering that keeps the GOP in power even in states where they are a minority only compounds the problem and the inequity. We can only hope that the Supreme Court rules favorably in the Wisconsin gerrymandering case it heard this past week. Courts have been good at preventing the administration from completely fouling the environment,

There's word that the president has reached out to Chuck Schumer about fixing the health care law, but that won't pass the House, so it looks like we're stuck with the stalling tactics that have made the health insurance market skittish and more expensive. The silver lining is that millions of people will not lose their insurance, but we're clearly not going in the right direction.

It's disheartening to know that this administration will not do the right thing when the opportunity presents itself.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Tax Cut Pizza Math: How Many Slices Will You Get?

Raise your hand if you thought the Trump tax plan would favor the middle class and the poor.

I see no hands.

Democrats in the House and Senate can fulminate all they want and the responsible media, and you know who they are, can put banner headlines about economic inequality on their sites and publications, but in the end, cutting taxes for the upper class will always be the GOP's number one priority.

What's different this time around is that the deficit hawks who haunted President Obama for his supposed wasteful spending that saved the auto industry and basically the entire economy are...silent. Actually, they've been defending the multi-trillion black hole that TrumpTax will blow in the deficit, with the otherworldly assumption that economic growth will pay for the tax cuts.

It will not. Yes, economic growth will likely rise in the first few months after the cuts are passed, but at some point the Federal Reserve, with or without Janet Yellin, will raise interest rates enough to cool off the resultant inflation. That will result in some more fulminating from the president who knows less about actual economics than he does about health insurance.

This assumes that the bill is passed as presented today, which also is not going to happen. There are too many moving parts and too many corporate interests that stand to lose for the law to stand. The home building industry is concerned about the mortgage interest deduction. People like me who live  in states where state and local taxes are high will put pressure on legislators to put back the deduction for those taxes. The new proposed 25% tax rate for pass through entities could result in many people listing themselves as pass through entities, which would mean they'd pay a lower tax rate.

And, of course, there are other parts of the proposal (still only 9 pages long) that will come out soon that will benefit other groups. Tax bills run into the thousands of pages. I can't wait to see who gets the breaks and who gets the shaft.

The real impact, though, will mean the most when the bill is written and the true measure of what each group in this country will get out of it is measured in pizzas.

That's right, pizzas, as in, "the average person will see a $1,600 tax cut, which comes out to $31 per week, or about 2 pizzas." Right now, the average middle class worker will get about a $660 tax break per year which comes out to $12.70 per week, which is...one pizza. Are you ready to create a multi-trillion dollar addition to the deficit for your pizza? If we need to, we can pool our money together and add pepperoni. Or an anchovy. After the bill passes in its final form, I would not be surprised to see the middle class share fall from a whole pie to slices. And not fat Sicilian slices either.

No matter how you slice it, though, it ain't gonna to be much for the voters who thought Donald Trump was on their side or that the swamp would be drained. This bill is already fueling the lobbyists who are anticipating a windfall. And the president will still not show us his tax return, so any of his claims that tax reform will not help him are specious at best.

But this is par for the course for our golfing executive. You know: the one who's currently blaming Puerto Rico for its devastation.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Dotard Wants War and Concussions

Take that, you John McCain you.

And NFL players who kneel for the national anthem? You need to speak the way we want you to speak. And hit harder, man! Be like Aaron Hernandez.

But what's happening with Stephen Curry you ask? We don't want your NBA Championship demeanor and terrific play and ambassador-like personality anywhere near the White House. You're not invited!

Kim Jong-un should not, in any way, feel singled out, but I certainly understand how hurt he must be that the old man in the White House is yelling at him for having a nuclear program and firing missiles into the air above our allies' heads. Rocket Man is a good song. He should see it as a compliment.

In other words, international diplomacy has been reduced to name calling and 6th grade playground theatrics. Remind me again; who thought it was a good idea to elect Donald Trump? Yes, I'm sure the base loves the muscular response, which they see as a refreshing change from those pantywaist presidents named Clinton, Bush and Obama. Threatening a scurrilous, dangerous, immoral dictator will get us what we want because, after all, we're the United States and all dictators cower when the president tells them he is unhappy.

Just look at Iran. They can certainly see that Donald Trump is going to decertify the nuclear agreement we signed with them two years ago. What the president doesn't see is that this is going to make him an unreliable deal-making partner with Iran, North Korea and any other country who might have an interest n United States' affairs and trade. The simple, elegant "No" will be this year's most diplomatic response, and one that will not make the White House happy. Not that the past 30 years of State Department public and private efforts have done much about North Korea. They've ignored agreements, broken them and generally thumbed their noses at us. But we could always say that we acted in an adult, dignified, internationally-approved manner while it was happening. In short, we were a role model for the democracies we represented. This administration has spent all of that political capital in nine months. Pregnancies should go better than this.

Just to show that a lack of diplomacy should not be limited to the world stage, the president has now picked a fight with Senator McCain for rightly opposing a disastrous bill that's not really related to health care, but to the tax savings it can generate for the $1.5 trillion dollar giveaway to the rich that the GOP has been salivating over since January.

Our federal system is a wonderful creation, but health insurance should not be subject to the whims of governors and state legislators who have, shall we say, a spotty record when it comes to science, women's health care, birth control, budget-balancing tricks and recognizing that religious belief will not cure all of our ills. All Americans should receive health care that takes into account their basic needs and doesn't allow anyone to charge them more for pre-existing conditions, maternity care, mental health or addiction services. What's worse is that this bill would penalize those states that expanded Medicaid to cover their most vulnerable citizens and give more money to those that shunned Obamacare. 

Which means, in our contradictory world, that those states that despise federal involvement in their affairs will be the largest beneficiaries of...federal largess.

And really, some people, like the president, should just stay away from sports. Yes, the man plays golf. Oh, does he play golf! But in every other way, he misunderstands the professional sports culture in the same way that he misunderstands larger American culture. The athletes and teams that have decided not to visit the White House are doing so because of the president's words and actions, rather than as a result of some media cabal his supporters blame for his low poll numbers. Because, really, will professional football become a better game by having more players suffer concussions and brain damage and CTE?

As for the national anthem? Until 2009, NFL players used to stay in their locker rooms when the national anthem was played. You'd think the players had stood on the sidelines since 1814, when the song was written, but in fact that is not the case. You'd also think that they were the first athletes to cause controversy around the anthem, but that isn't true either, if you take Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and a host of other athletes into account. The opposition to the president's words have come from players, coaches and NFL owners, many of whom are staunchly Republican. They get it. The president does not.

I understand that Trump is angry because it looks like the health scare law will lose, North Korea will not back down and his preferred candidate in the Alabama Republican Senate primary is behind in the polls. He's not the first president to face multiple crises.

But he's not helping himself or the country with his shameful responses.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest





Sunday, September 17, 2017

The New Normal Is Still Not Normal

Is it just me or is the political circus breaking for an intermission?

Yes, I know that the president watched FOX News, then tweeted that the British knew who the suspects were in Friday's terrorist attack. And he also reiterate his position that civil rights agitators are just as bad as Nazis and Klan members.

But somehow, it feels different.

Maybe it's that the president struck a deal with Democrats about the debt ceiling and agreed with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi that we shouldn't deport 800,000 people who were brought here by their parents, have generally led fine American lives, and now risk having their worlds upended because, well, why? There was some speculation that the president was concerned that his poll numbers were just too low or that throwing hard working people out of the country was too egregious even for the right wing media, who generally opposed his proposed policies.

Or it could be that John F. Kelly is actually doing a decent job as White House Chief of Staff and was able to get through the haze and appeal to the president on a level that Trump's children, spouse, past advisers, conscience, sense of decency and humanity, and presidential behavior have not. Or maybe he was just havin' fun, and next week he'll go back to savaging the truth, reacting and tweeting about news stories he hears and calling for the wall to be built.

In the end, it won't matter. Another eruption is always just around the corner. But, again, it just feels different.

And this week, the diplomats come calling for the annual opening of the United Nations. The president is scheduled to give a speech and of course anything goes, and will, when he takes the podium. Then he and his staffers must give some kind of explanation as to what his foreign policy will look like, but when you have no clue or knowledge about that it's difficult to be...cogent.

The great fear among those who oppose the president's agenda is that his behavior and utterances will become normalized. Perhaps we are seeing that. That's why this new feeling can be dangerous. This is no normal Republican administration.

And I don't think it ever will be.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It's Just the Weather. Nothing to See Here, Citizens. Move Along.

No, it's not the Apocalypse. That happened last November. This is just weather.

Just weather. And the earth. How quaint.

Three hurricanes, and a major earthquake that very few people outside of Mexico are paying attention to, are taking their physical and psychic toll on a country that does not need any more bad news. Add in a cleanup that will be expensive, daunting and political, and you'll see more partisan bickering in addition to the usual American disaster response which will include astounding stories of bravery, generosity, and poignancy.

Coming on the heels of the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the earthly events of the past few weeks are instructive and worthy of reflection. For as a much as we consider ourselves as the vanguard of technology, knowledge, wealth, sophistication and freedom, we need to remind ourselves that nature ultimately holds us to account. There's just no way to stop a hurricane or to predict an earthquake in time to safely evacuate residents. We are really at the mercy of our own limitations and our uncanny hubris when it comes to assessing risk. Just as we overestimated our safety 16 years ago, and unconscionably put the New York disaster assessment agency in the World Trade Center, so have Houston and, I'm reasonably certain we will find out, South Florida, will find that they were unprepared for events that stretched the vocabulary of every weatherista in the media.

And the political lessons? Please. Just ask anybody in New Jersey who remembers the Texas Congressional delegation's incomprehensible opposition to federal relief for Superstorm Sandy in 2012, how they view the Ted Cruz FEMA telethon and screechy request for funds to rebuild, and they'll tell you quite a story. Just don't stand too close. And I hope you're not offended by salty language. There's also more money to be spent on Florida, and in the end I expect that both states will get what they need.

What these storms ultimately should tell us is that we are pretty good at reacting to disasters (right, Brownie?), but we are terrible at planning, execution, building codes and, yes, infrastructure. We simply cannot continue this way. Other countries, such as the European low countries and Great Britain, have made adjustments and not simply rebuilt up the affected areas. Dunes on the New Jersey shore will help, but building more houses on stilts will just set up homes as field goal attempts the next time we are pummeled with a 100-year storm that comes 95 years too soon.

The last piece to all of this is how we react, long-term, to these challenges, and the main component is the effect our activity is having on our atmosphere. Climate change is real. It is being influenced by choices and actions that humans have made since the industrial age. You can't believe in meteorology and astronomy and physics, but deny the atmospheric chemistry that is making the earth warmer and holding more moisture. It's time that we realized that we need to make adjustments and to not put people in danger that is avoidable.

That will require leadership that, at present, we just don't have.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The New School Year: History Will Guide the Future

New school years always bring new challenges for children, parents and teachers. This school year, though, promises to be much trickier, because we are now debating United States History.

Remember history? That's the class that isn't tested at the end of the year by the great national testing monopoly, Pearson. The PARCC tests focus on non-fiction readings, which allows for more use of historical documents on the test, but there's no real history or context that a student has to master in order to answer the questions.

For decades we've focused on language arts and mathematics as the key components of K-12 education, relentlessly testing students in those subjects. And what has your school district likely spent a good deal of money on over the last few years? STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) or STEAM (ibid., but add Arts). Coding classes are now part of the curriculum in many states as are required business and personal finance courses. They get lots of press. And, yes, United States History is required in all states, but far too many of them require only one year of it. And with no summary test, save for a final exam at the end of the class, history has lost a good deal of influence in the curriculum.

We are now paying the price.

As this new school year begins, teachers will be asked to address the explosive issues that are daily in the media concerning our history and what it means. How should we treat Confederate statues and monuments? What place do hate groups such as the KKK and the American Nazi Party have in a country with a strong First Amendment? What should we do about immigration and children who were brought here by undocumented parents? And of course, we seem to be debating President Trump's behavior, tweets and spur-of-the-moment policy declarations on a minute-by-minute basis, not to mention his speculative knowledge of historical events.

This is the environment in which America's school teachers must operate this academic year. We are the ones who will be the first point of contact for many children who are feeling the anxiety and divisiveness that has taken hold in our society. Remember that as much as any adult is trying to make sense of what's happening in our society, children experience these events on a magnified scale. They have less of the emotional regulation necessary to confront explosive debates that adults have and they have little context by which to weigh the consequences of what they're learning. Great teachers recognize these deficits and conduct their classes so as to support students, to teach them civil behavior, to make sure students respect differences, and to calmly appeal to their students' intelligence, humanity, and sense of justice.

Of course, some would argue that if teachers had done this in the past, then we wouldn't be at this place in our history where there is so much disagreement and division. This would be a tragic conclusion. Did any of your teachers teach you to hate? To insult your classmates? To steal? To plagiarize? Of course not.

The simple truth is that teachers can only be as effective as the communities in which we teach, and if a community, or the country, is dysfunctional, then that will be reflected in the schools. We see students for only a portion of the day. The media, social and otherwise, takes over from there. Together with parents, teachers can only plant the seeds of knowledge; society and common sense have to do the rest.

That's why this school year will be more of a challenge than most years, but I have no doubt that America's school teachers will do their best, keep their emotions in check, teach from the heart and the head, advocate for every one of their students, and proudly represent themselves as doing one of the most important and difficult jobs in this country.

I wish all of my fellow teachers a happy new school year full of joy and wonder. May we learn as much about our students as they learn from us.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pardon Our Appearance While We Crash and Burn

In the Trump Administration's best approximation of Friday Night Lights, the president (shudder) treated two of his main constituencies to a Shabbat treat, first by throwing civil rights and equal opportunity to the floor by banning transgender Americans from serving their country in the armed forces, and then by sending a solid message to those who believe that medieval treatment of prisoners is not just for the 14th century set by pardoning Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt for not following the law.

His defense? That he was following the law.

The silver lining is that in order to receive a pardon, the person has to admit that they committed a crime. So Arpaio is now an admitted crook. Just the kind of guy that Trump admires.

These actions would be bad in any administration, but for one that is committed to really turning the clock back to 1946, before the armed forces were desegregated, these new twists are simply the method by which this country, ruled by white men, informed by white men, and acculturated by white sensibilities, will be...returned to white men.

Pardon my confusion as we slowly twist in the wind.

While the media focuses on the president's foibles and twitter follies, he and his minions have done real and present damage to the country. They have sent the message that it's fine to exclude people from participating in and benefiting from our democracy, opened up public land for economic exploitation, set us back at least 75 years as far as pollution and the environment are concerned, rolled back civil rights protections, and essentially made us a non-player in world affairs. And they've shown that they have no shame in perpetrating these policies. In fact, if it's what the ultra-conservative base of the Republican Party wants, then Trump is eager to give it to them.

I would expect more pardons, more executive orders and more erratic and unpresidential behavior in the weeks and months to come. President Trump's approval ratings are low enough that he doesn't have to care about what the opposition thinks. After all, how much worse can things get?

Exactly my point.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why Are We Debating Hate?

Finally, the president has united much of the country. Unfortunately for him, most of the country opposes what he stands for.

Yes, there are still many people who support the president and believe that his equating violence on both sides was appropriate, but a larger majority sees the danger in his saying that the Nazis and the counter-protesters in Charlottesville were morally similar. That the opposition to his words came from around the world and across the political spectrum tells you that this was no victory for Trump. And his decision to stay away from the Kennedy Center Honors program this year is not just a tactical retreat; it's a rout. He's not the first president to skip the ceremony, but the reason is different from why other presidents didn't go: because his appearance would be a major distraction.

At this point, the president has been rebuked by corporate leaders, members of his arts council, and even James Murdoch, who is so afraid that American Jews, and even Israel, will see the president's words as doing major damage, that he threw a million dollars at the Anti-Defamation League to stanch the bleeding. And where is Benjamin Netanyahu? The right-wing protector of Israeli and Jewish values has been remarkably silent on Trump's atrocious choice of words. The company you keep, you know.

The point is that Charlottesville will likely be one of those turning points in our history. It will lead to major changes across the political spectrum and in the way that ordinary people view and talk about race. They will have to do this without moral leadership from the White House unless Trump decides that he needs to be more magnanimous and makes a prime-time speech calling for a more united country. OK, I'll wait until you stop laughing. But I do really wish it would happen.

It is clear that we cannot expect President Trump to act presidential or to stand up and defend all of the citizens of this great country. In such a leadership vacuum, we run the risk that other noxious voices will try to fill the silence. And we also run the risk that violence will be seen as the tactic of choice.

Don't let that happen. Be the moral voice that says the right words, the courageous words, the words that embrace instead of repel. Do not equivocate. And of course, agitate, agitate, agitate.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Our President: The Hate That Keeps on Hating

With all that Charlottesville means now and will mean in the future, this much is clear: Donald Trump is probably the most genuine president we've ever had.

He is a genuine racist.
He is genuinely ignorant of United States History.
He genuinely believes that there is a moral equivalency between those who hate and those who want to stop the hate.
He is genuinely a terrible businessman.
He genuinely thinks that he, and only he, can have a correct opinion on an issue.
He has genuinely done damage to the office of the president of the United States.

But we should have known, shouldn't we? After all, Trump ran on a white nationalist platform that blamed the country's troubles on President Obama, immigrants, foreign countries, multiculturalism, political correctness and amorphous values that it's clear Trump does not value. The far right wing groups that include members of the KKK and Nazis are lauding his remarks from Saturday and Tuesday that placed equal blame for the violence on civil rights, justice and anti-hate groups. He claims to have seen footage and watched it closer than anybody else (I'm not sure how you do that), then determined that it showed an equivalence that ignored reality.

Because people walking down a street chanting "Jews will not replace us" is that same as...people walking down the street in 1935 saying the same thing. In German.

And that brings up another trope of the Trump catastrophe. He says that he's not racist or anti-Semitic because his daughter married Jared Kushner, who is Jewish and Orthodox, and then she converted. This is, and please pardon the disconnection, hogwash. I married into a Catholic family and while both parents seem(ed) to like me, they both harbor(ed) terrifically ugly anti-Semitic attitudes. They both deny(ied) their prejudice, but it was there just below the pleasant surface. So when Trump talks about his bona-fides, I don't believe him for a second. And clearly, he has little regard for Kushner's feelings as evidenced by his refusal to paint racist hate group violence for what it is.

As for history, the president seems to think that Robert E. Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest and Stonewall Jackson are morally equal to George Washington because, after all, they all owned slaves. Never mind that the first three allied themselves, as treason, with a government that wanted to break up the United States, enshrine slavery as a constitutional right, and to rip up the laws that George Washington fought to establish and then helped to create. And after the Civil War was over, Forrest and others decided that they could not live in a country where the freed slaves had the same rights as white men. They then created a legal system that ignored the constitution and brutally killed African-Americans for more than a century.

The consequences are already unfolding. CEOs, you know, the people Trump said would help him rebuild the economy, have already left the Manufacturing Council and the Policy Forum as a protest over his remarks. And I'm sure more will follow.

But the real damage he's done is that he has emboldened some frightening sociopaths who want to do damage to me, my relatives, and my friends and acquaintances, who encompass a multitude of races, religions, ethnicities, genders and sexual choices. He's said that Nazi ideology is equivalent to civil rights activists.

The President of the United States believes all of this. Think about that.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest




Friday, August 11, 2017

The Trump Doctrine: Shoot Off Mouth, Then Foot

At this point, the main difference between President Trump's (shudder) relationship with Kim Jong-un and Mitch McConnell is that Trump has asked only McConnell to resign. Kim just gets the bluster treatment. Of the two, McConnell is in the biggest trouble.

Here in New Jersey, and only about 10 miles from the president's retreat in Bedminster, there is calm. The area is primarily Republican, so most of the population either supports Trump or would never think of voting Democratic, no matter who's on the ballot. In fact, Bedminster, one of the horsiest places in the state, is fast becoming more Democratic due to the building of a huge condominium development, the Hills, back in the 1980s. Prior to that, the area was solidly GOP, when the party was sensible. The Hills included the demon seed of New Jersey politics, affordable housing, which brought in moderate income people like me, and just like that, Democrats began being elected in the land of Malcolm Forbes.

There's a reason that wealthy towns in New Jersey fight tooth and nail not to have to build affordable housing, or prefer to sell their housing credits to more, ahem, modest towns. Of course, you'll never hear Trump talk about affordable housing or how the neighborhood surrounding his golf club is changing. That's for losers. Not winners like him who've signed major legislation to...to...so sad!

It is in this context that our chief executive has taken to his Twitter account, threatening fiery death, destruction, ruin and an eternity in hell to...Mitch McConnell, whom the president blames for not getting a terrible, horrible, hellfire health care bill through a Congress that finally saw the political peril of throwing 22 million people off their policies. That's not good enough for our once and future dear leader. He was absolutely no help in the process, mainly because he knows nothing about health care policy, and focused on threatening Senators who have stouter backbones than he does and who do not fear his empty suit.

Now Trump wants tax reform and infrastructure, but these will fail for the same reasons that repeal and replace failed; because the president doesn't know enough to lead on these issues and can't speak in more than 140 character bursts. Tax reform is also looking more and more like reform to make wealthier people even more wealthy, while here in New Jersey we might lose the state tax deduction, which will result in the savaging of the middle class taxpayer.

Infrastructure will also go badly because the plan is for the government to spend $200 billion and private industry to spend $800 billion, but if there's no profit, why would private concerns pony up that kind of money? It's pretty obvious that we, the people, will end up paying more in fees and tolls to reimburse the private concerns, who might cut corners if their projects turn out to be too costly. Say what you will about public works projects; most of them last if you maintain them.

All this will be moot if we get into a nuclear war with North Korea, which we won't, and without a coherent policy, or an actual diplomat in South Korea to carry our messages, which we don't actually have, this will remain a war of words which we can't win. And our allies and China should now be convinced that our man in the White House cannot be trusted to confer with them or to behave diplomatically. Trump figures he can yell at them like he did the plumbers and spackle guys in his towers when they didn't do the job as he expected. Then he stiffed them.

What Trump did with North Korea is the diplomatic equivalent of stiffing a contractor. We, the people, unfortunately, will get stuck paying the invoice with our souls.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sometimes, America, It Takes a Leak

Thank goodness for government leaks and the leakers who leak them.

From the Pentagon Papers to the transcripts of President Trump's (shudder) conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia, leaks of government information have overwhelmingly benefited the country. They serve the interests of democracy. They uncover that which the ruling class would like to keep covered. They embarrass those who, on balance, should be embarrassed. And they lay bare the conceit that the public cannot handle certain information.

After all, think of what we've learned about Michael Flynn and Russia and Jared Kushner and Mike Pence and James Comey and Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump. We've learned that each and every one of these people had something to hide. We learned that they lied, sometimes under oath. We learned that they did not follow the letter of the law or treat all examples of wrongdoing equally. And we learned that the president simply is not prepared intellectually or temperamentally for his job.

So now the president has a new Chief of Staff, John Kelly, who is renowned for not smiling much and for being military guy who will bring order and discipline to the White House. He got rid of Anthony Scaramucci, which was not just a low-hanging-fruit moment, it was Kelly picking up a rotten apple and flinging it into the Potomac. Next up will be investigations, extreme vetting of current and potential executive branch hirings, and firings of those who are ajudged as insufficiently kowtowish.

What he, or any other White House employee, will not stop are the leaks. The simple truth is that there are just too many people in government who see the danger that Trump represents. It's one thing to oppose policy, whether it's about Vietnam, the Cold War, missile defenses, Israel, bugging, or a military man who sets up a shadow government in the bowels of the White House. It's quite another to have a president who doesn't know the limits the constitution puts on his power. We've already seen cabinet members express their personal fealty to Donald Trump, not to the constitution or the American people. We've heard the president complain that Jeff Sessions did not have his personal back when Sessions correctly recused himself from the Russia investigation. We've also heard him talk about other government officials who don't support him personally.

Under these circumstances, it is incumbent upon those who can uncover circumspect, illegal and immoral actions to uncover them. To publish them. To post them. To shout them.

So leakers, please keep taking leaks. Especially with this crew in the White House.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Trump Cycle: Blather, Reince, Repeal

American Heroes Week is firmly in the rear-view mirror, but as we celebrate our heroes--Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, every Senate Democrat--it's important to remember that every American can be a hero every day simply by living a positive, moral, thinking, compassionate, empathetic, reflective life and acting on those values every day. Even a child knows that these behaviors are in everybody's interests.

And then there's the current administration in Washington. They talk about those values, but much of the time they fail to live up to them. This past week is a prime example.

The Republican health care crash and burn (or maybe not) should not surprise anyone who understand how insurance works and how much having health coverage affects other life decisions. A bill that would take coverage away from upwards of 22 million people or that would allow states to let insurance companies sell cut-rate policies that cover, well, nothing or have sky-high deductibles is not a bill that should even be written down, much less voted on.

And yet.

The clear, unequivocal truth is that after 7 years of bleating and babbling, the Republican Party still had no idea how to solve or improve the health insurance issue in this country. And the president (shudder) showed that he doesn't have any political or persuasive skills he can call on to get legislation done. All he knows is to threaten and tweet-shame and complain to Boy Scouts that it's everybody else's fault except his. His ignorance of policy and his drive to get anything passed simply to say it's been passed is dangerous, as last week showed. His leadership skills are likewise impotent and very few, if any, legislators fear his wrath.

But that's what happens when a minority of people elect an unqualified outsider who doesn't know how to do his job to be this country's leader.

That would be a full week for most presidents, but the palace intrigue that resulted in both Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus exiting the administration because of Anthony Scaramucci's appointment is the stuff of farce. I have some respect for Spice now because after reading Scaramucci's rant against Priebus it looks like old Sean has a good grasp of Scaramucci's character.  We will see more people exiting the administration on;y to be replaced by sycophants and fringe know-nothings whose only qualification is that they're loyal to Trump.

Of course, the irony of Trump speaking in front of the Boy Scouts and appointing a foul, vile, self-obsessed capo in the same week is rather tasty. Scaramucci threatening to kill leakers adds another merit badge to the mix, yes?

None of this is a real surprise given that I've lived in Chris Christie's New Jersey for the past 8 years. He's set the tone for Trump and his ilk by demonizing the people and groups who oppose him and flaunting laws that should apply to everyone, but not to him. Beach photos anyone?

At some point, and we might have reached it, the Republican Party will need to make critical decision: Do they keep supporting the president or do they barrel forward on their own. For Democrats, this is not an appealing choice, but for the good of the country the Congress will need to make sure that basic American institutions will survive a man who has clearly not read the Constitution and has no interest in doing so.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Beg Your Pardon? I Can't Fear You.

If the past six months is any guide, then most politicians, corporate executives and foreign leaders have little to fear from Donald Trump. He has turned out to be a wildly ineffective manager, deal maker and communicator, and with turnover in his administration expected to be high over the coming months (Sean Spicer is just the beginning), the president (shudder) will find it even more difficult to project an image of competence and efficiency.

Are you surprised?

You shouldn't be. Despite running, and being perceived, as the great business executive who would bring a corporate approach to the sprawling wildness of government, Donald Trump has turned out to be a terrible administrator. Yes, he does tweet on a regular basis and I'm sure his fans find it reassuring that the country is deporting millions of undocumented people, undermining environmental laws and generally blaming the free press for his troubles, but this is no way to get any of the big things we need accomplished in a timely manner.

Even if the health care bill comes back from the dead this week, I really can't see enough GOP support for a measure that has a 32-million-people-losing-insurance-price-tag on it passing, although I have underestimates the cruelty and blind ignorance of the Republican Party before.

The bigger problem is that Donald Trump doesn't know how to sell policy or to focus his administration's message on passing a solid piece of legislation. Of course, it's very difficult to sell a law that you probably haven't read and even if you did you don't really understand it, which likely describes Trump's role in this process. Add in the fact that it contradicts his campaign promise that he would get a bill that covers everybody cheaply and get it fast.

Strike three, no?

But the real issue is that not a lot of stakeholders in Washington or otherwise actually fear Donald Trump, and with good reason. He was leading from the rear on health care, entering the fray only in the last couple of days when it was clear that most Americans hated the new law and many GOP Senators could not bring themselves to vote for it. He has removed the United States from any meaningful leadership position on climate, and by extension, jobs, by taking us out of the Paris Climate Accords. He nixed the Pacific Trade Agreement and his threats to Mexico and Canada about renegotiating NAFTA are meeting the reality that those other countries actually have national interests of their own that Trump cannot just dismiss.

And, you know, there is the very sensitive issue of the fact that Donald Trump did not receive a majority of popular votes in the 2016 election. If most people don't vote for you, it's difficult to rally the will of the American people around your agenda when your agenda is basically...Donald Trump and his interests. The investigation into potential, OK, nonexistent voter fraud in the election has led to a severe backlash from Republican and Democratic state officials who are rightly balking at handing over voter rolls and Social Security numbers to Trump's crack(pot) investigator who believes that voter fraud is rampant.

In fact, the only fear I have this week is that Trump or one of his minions will fire Robert Mueller because he's edging a bit closer to saying that the president has to turn over his tax returns which, I am convinced, is the real motivating factor behind Trump trying to forestall the Russia investigation. I'm sure he's been told that if the Benghazi investigation can lead to the discovery of Hillary Clinton's home email server, then there's no reason why Mueller can't go a little far afield of Russia and focus on Trump's financial dealings.

Now the president is also talking about issuing pardons to those people who are under investigation, and is even asking if he can pardon himself.

Does Trump understand that in order to receive a pardon, the person must admit to having committed a crime? My sense is that he doesn't. And I really can't see Trump admitting to obstruction of justice or any other high crime or misdemeanor. What he really wants is to end the investigations, but pardons won't do that. This is going to get as ugly as most other issues have since January 20.

In the meantime, we have a blustery executive with no real policy knowledge and even less intellectual discipline trying to tell all of the Republicans in Congress that he'll crack the whip if they don't vote for bills he wants. This is folly. I'm more than happy to have the country do nothing than to do something awful in the name of party discipline.

And I think that's exactly what will happen. What a waste.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Kill (the Trumpcare) Bill, Part I: And the Magic Number Is...?

I'm curious.

Just how many people have to lose their health insurance before the Republicans in Congress shout, "Eureka! We have done it?"

Obviously 22 million people is too many. But what happens if the Congressional Budget Office comes back this week and says that the new, not-really-improved Trumpcare bill will only result in 19 million or 15 million or 11 million people losing their health insurance? Is that number small enough for the GOP to claim success in their quest to not-really-repeal-but-just-do-something-so-the-base-thinks-that-Obamacare-is-dead?

It speaks volumes about the state of the right wing in this country that they will sacrifice so many Americans in the name of...what? Fiscal prudence, as if saving some money off the deficit will make up for the ruined lives? The promise to repeal the ACA even though the GOP STILL hasn't quite thought through the ramification of their actions? The misguided, indeed immoral, view that many conservatives have of the poor as undeserving couch potatoes who have no innate responsibility and are addicted to government programs? Never mind that millions of the people who will lose insurance voted for the president (shudder) and/or live in states where the opioid epidemic is raging through both city and farm. Cutting Medicaid would be a disaster for those people.

And if you think it's just the poor who will lose, then please think again. If you plan on growing old, then you need to read all of the articles by Ron Lieber about how the Medicaid debate will affect you later in life. Medicaid is not just for those we generally think of when we think of the poor. It also pays for elderly people who, oddly enough, don't believe they will suffer from dementia, or contract a debilitating illness, or fall and break their hip or just plain run out of money because they didn't save quite enough through a retirement plan.

Add this to the fact that Medicaid also covers millions of children who will lose their coverage if this Senate bill passes. And even without the Trumpcare cuts, the president's budget proposal would reduce health insurance coverage for CHIP. These are children that we see in our public schools who need far more support than just learning how to read. They come to school without the guarantee that if something happens to them, they'll be covered. Further cuts to school lunch and nutrition programs will complete this cruel turn the GOP thinks will help the country.

The Republican dream of turning Medicaid into a state grant program is also seriously and fatally misguided. States will likely use the money to shore up finances in other programs since, unlike the federal government, they must balance their budgets. And the GOP plan forces states to make choices that they should not have to make concerning who gets aid and who doesn't. Medicaid was created to cover all people who qualified for it. Changing that will produce winners and losers, which of course means those who live and those who don't.

In the end, the Senate and House plans will create lower cost health insurance pl;ans, but what people will get for their money will cost them far more when they actually need care. Sky-high deductibles will negate the low premiums as people will be forced to pay full price until their deductible kicks in. And allowing insurance companies to sell policies that don't include maternity care, mental health insurance or drug treatment coverage will make the cost of those options go up for those that do need it.

As business savvy as the Republican Party, and the president, think they are, they still haven't learned that insurance is all about spreading the risk so that those who don't make many claims pay for those who do, which evens out the cost. Having an a la carte health care system is a recipe for higher costs and lower outcomes as those who can pay will, and those who can't, won't get care.

The GOP seems oblivious to this, but they do have a number. This week we'll learn what that is.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 9, 2017

America's Educators Lead the Way

If you care deeply about social and racial justice, value equal opportunity, detest discrimination and believe that this country needs to focus on its core values of tolerance, compromise, equality and democracy, then fear not.

America's educators have got your back.

I returned from the National Education Association (NEA) convention in Boston last week feeling a great deal better about this country's direction than I get from watching or reading the news these days. The 7,000 strong NEA Representative Assembly, made up of educators, and the largest deliberative democratic body in the world when it meets, voted decisively in favor of making sure that if nowhere else, this country's teachers, educational support personnel, children and young adults would be valued, protected, empowered and educated in America's public schools. We also plan to use the power of solidarity and numbers to move what we consider to be the country's vital interests forward through the political process, protests and community action.

It was interesting to listen to colleagues who described their states and school districts in glowing terms, but also with a sense that the new administration in Washington is not looking out for our children. Some described ICE raids on their schools and workplaces that create fear and suspicion in their communities. They also described the dire effects that poverty, hunger, disease and psychological issues have on our students. The RA also learned about the deleterious effects of state and national budget cuts on our schools and on our ability to solve the pressing problems that schools and students face today.

By the end of the RA, though, I felt a bit brighter. As a democratic body, we affirmed the NEA's place in our society as a beacon of justice and a protector for those who desperately need it. We approved policies that will use the voice of millions of educational professionals across the country to pressure states and local governments to address educational equity, reduce the time that children spend on taking standardized tests, to gather and disseminate information on racial, gender, sexual and economic inequality, to publicize educational programs that work in schools and to reaffirm the power of a unified association in a country that seems to have lost its sense that unions are a vital, pulsating, guiding force for now and for our future.

Education must continue to be a bulwark against the high tide of intolerance and ignorance that can negatively affect children. We are here to lead that fight and to defend our country's values.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Christie's Last Stand: Bankrupt Bluster

Governor Christie is obviously not content with 15% approval ratings. He must want them to go lower. And he's doing a great job, drawing a line in closed beach sand about the state budget that was supposed to be approved by June 30. The problem is that Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto refused to include Christie's proposed grab of $300 million dollars from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. That money was supposed to fund the governor's opioid addiction program, which has been the part and parcel of his entire second term agenda.

Even a proposed compromise, where the bill would allow the next governor to take none, some or all of the $300 million didn't move Prieto who saw it as the power move that it was. And it lit up the previously dark, ugly, cobwebbed closet that modern Republicans would rather that voters not see because it contains the hypocrisy that has driven their bankrupt agenda for decades. They won't dare raise taxes, and they pretend that businesses should make their own decisions without government regulations. But when it comes to funding that the state desperately needs, they will put their meaty fists on any company they believe makes too much money or does big business with public workers.

Hence, Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the state's largest public worker health insurer. It's not enough that many public workers, including hundreds of thousands of public school teachers, have had their take home pay reduced because of rising health insurance payments which, by the by, Chrtistie forced by taking away their collective negotiating rights (with some Democratic help. Thanks a bunch.) It's now gotten to the point that Christie wants to weaken BSBC by taking away some of its surplus.

This is not all Christie, though. Senate President Steve Sweeney was able to get enough Democratic votes last week in that body, but the bill hit a wall in Prieto's Assembly. The result is a nasty political fight that has real consequences for the public and for state workers. This is the kind of fake leadership that Christie has demonstrated for almost 8 years and it's now spread to Washington. I'm assuming that Christie is just waiting for Trump to fire Jeff Sessions so he can move to Justice.

Which, in the present political atmosphere, really means just us.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Worst is the New Normal

Let me get this straight.

The president (shudder) lies in hinting that he might have tapes of his conversations with James Comey in order to make sure that Comey tells the truth when he testifies under oath in front of Congress. Comey says that this spurred him to have a friend leak information he hoped would result in the appointment of a Special Prosecutor because Comey believed that the president might have obstructed justice. The president now says that no tapes exist, but that his threat was enough to keep Comey honest, which proves that what Trump was saying was the truth.

That conclusion makes no sense. If anything, what Comey said was incredibly damaging and he actually hoped, prayed, that there were tapes to back up his testimony.  Trump says that he never asked Comey to stop investigating Micheal Flynn. Comey said he did. So how can Trump say that his threat about tapes kept Comey honest? If that's so, then Comey being honest means big trouble for Trump.

And the worst part is that Trump created his own fake news.

But in an administration where truth is the second option, this story will go through many more twists and turns. In fact, it's already becoming the cover story so the administration can continue to do other things like weaken consumer protections, cut taxes on the wealthy and generally cut back public services in the name of personal responsibility.

And speaking of person responsibility, the Senate's absolutely awful TrumpCare bill not only will result in millions of people either losing their insurance or being priced out of any meaningful health care because the deductibles will be astronomically high, but assumes that if you took responsibility for your life then  you wouldn't need a government subsidy or help with your whiny preexisting condition. Conservative orthodoxy has generally held that anyone who depends on public help must be scamming the system, so the new health care law will punish you by making you face a choice of high premiums or high deductibles.

Conservative orthodoxy apparently also holds that being a woman of child bearing age is a liability and an expense, so the new bill is essentially going to make you pay for your contraception or your pregnancy, then make you pay even more for private child care because, well, it's your fault your a woman.

That'll learn ya.

It would be great if the economy was growing fast enough to create well-paying jobs with health insurance attached, but the Trump administration is doing virtually nothing to help other than to threaten companies that move jobs overseas. Trump was able to cow Carrier into keeping jobs in the United States, but now word comes that most of those people will be laid off by the end of the year. And Ford just announced that they would be building a plant in China, partly because the Chinese are committing their resources to electric cars.

The world, and the world of commerce, seems to be ignoring the president and his nonsensical isolationist, protectionist policies that have led to the United States leaving the Paris Climate Accords and generally disengaging from global politics except, of course, when it comes to supporting dictatorial regimes around the world who create terrorists, like Saudi Arabia, or suppress human rights, like Turkey. Then we're best buds. And don't forget that many American businesses are facing worker shortages because, oddly, Americans don't want to do the dirty jobs that immigrants used to do before they became public enemies. Wages are going up, which is good, but shortages can lead to inflation, which is not good.

Could things get better? Not before they get a little worse. The health care bill will pass in some lousy form, even with some push-back by moderates, which will result in some terrible consequences. Democrats need to run on this issue hard for the next 18 months and remind people that what Trump promised his base is not what he's delivering. Don't fret about Georgia or South Carolina or any of the other unattainable special elections we've had. Be methodical. Win in VA and NJ in the fall. Then cultivate those who don't vote in Congressional elections.

It's the only way.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

I'm taking the day to be with my family and to eat ribs.

I will resume breathless screeds next week.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hail Caesar!

I go back and forth about whether their is such a thing as fate. This is one of those weeks where I believe.

The shooting of the congressional baseball team in Alexandria is terrible enough, and predictably, the right wing scream machine is in full blather blaming the Democrats and their anti-Trump rhetoric for setting a nasty tone. Of course, the conservative media treated Obama with kid gloves and honey for eight years and were really only kidding about his being a Muslim or not a citizen or being in league with his Arab buddies whenever oil prices shot higher. Or plunged lower.

Same reason, different day.

What was arguably worse than Alexandria was the Greek Chorus made up of cabinet members expressing their undying love and personal fortunes for the honor of serving the least qualified president we've ever had in the White House. This display undermined every philosophical and practical underpinning of our democracy. These people don't work personally for the president; they work for the American people. You know, the ones who pay their salaries and upon whose behalf they serve. Remember serve? This is a government based on service. By turning their fealty over to one man, they have greased the slippery slope that the president (shudder) sits atop.

But wait, there's more.

The Fickle Finger of Fate also pointed north of DC, aiming its digit squarely at Central Park, where the Public Theater is presenting "Julius Caesar" with a Caesar who looks remarkably like the president. Of course, this has caused controversy when Caesar is sliced and diced at the play's ides, and has led Delta Airlines, you know, the airline that kicks families off of flights, and Bank of America, you know, the bank that never learned from a financial crisis, to cancel their support for the theater. Reason enough to abandon Delta and BOA.

As any high schooler can tell you, though, the killing of Caesar doesn't solve Rome's problems and leads to wars starring Mark Antony, Cassius and Brutus. The killing is the essence of the tragedy for all involved, but the scream machine sees it as a death wish for Democrats and a scurrilous depiction of gratuitous violence.

Wrong.

It's art, and art sometimes has to challenge and outrage us because it shows us a side of humanity that we don't think about. Or want to see. Or recognize in us, but is too painful to say out loud. Worse is that Trump's budget cuts spending on the arts and humanities so we can all get dumber and singularly praise him for being more effective than anyone except FDR.

But these are the lies that Trump thinks he can continue to tell and get away with. Praise he believes he's earned for...700 jobs in Indiana? A health care plan that he's said was both "great" and "mean?" And now, an investigation into whether he obstructed justice.

As usual, though, it's the Bard who gives us the fitting end, the speech that Caesar gives extolling his own virtue as the only one who can save Rome:

I could be well moved, if I were as you.
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.
But I am constant as the Northern Star,
Of whose true fixed and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks;
They are all fire and every one doth shine.
But there's but one in all doth hold his place.
So in the world: 'tis furnished well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive.
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion; and that I am he
Let me a little show it, even in this:
That I was constant Cimber should be banished,
And constant do remain to keep him so. (3.1.64-79)


He is murdered soon after.

Exeunt.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest




Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Snowflake Presidency

When are Americans going to wake up and realize that Donald Trump is like any other guy in a bar with an opinion and limited facts? That he's essentially a guy who went into dad's business, concentrated on spreading his money around to anyone who would spell his name correctly in big neon letters, and that he knows virtually nothing about how the American political system works or the ideas on which it is based? As for his defensiveness and inability to take blame, that makes Trump not just the first snowflake president; it makes him a virtual blizzard.

Realizing this makes it quite a bit easier to dismiss 95% of articles that are written about him that register shock--shock!--at the things he says and the things he does.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Trump asked, indeed demanded, that James Comey stop the investigation into Micheal Flynn. I have no doubt that Trump knew virtually nothing about how his travel ban violated basic American values and legal norms. I have no doubt that he is unschooled in any of the vital public issues that confront our nation at this moment including, but not limited to health care, the environment, taxes, job creation, roads, bridges, airports, technology information systems, the Internet, immigration or foreign relations.

He, and I assume many of his shrinking support base, sees himself as the great disruptor, when in fact he is clueless about how his words and actions damage him, much less how they damage the country. Just in the past two days Trump has finally affirmed that the US stands firmly behind our NATO allies and that we will defend them under every circumstance. And he's said that he will address the issue of whether there are Oval Office tapes of his conversations with Comey and others.

But why wait? In the first case, Trump's waffling and non-commitment in Italy only served to heighten mistrust of the US as a staunch ally. In the second, if you or I had said such a thing we might immediately be accused of withholding evidence in a criminal investigation. This is not disruption or draining liquids or statecraft.

It's an ignorant guy in a bar watching cable news and spewing his uninformed opinion.

And it's not going to stop. The White House staff was able to keep Trump occupied throughout Comey's televised testimony, which, if you have any experience with children who have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, you know is a Herculean task, and he generally stayed off Twitter for the day. But he came roaring back with venom, calling Comey a liar and offering to testify himself under oath with nothing more than...himself. And he's his own worst enemy. Comey has witnesses and written notes. Trump has...beer and pretzels.

As I've said, my life has become lighter and less fraught since I committed to the obvious and judged Trump, correctly, to be nothing more than an uninformed blowhard.  The real problem with my assumption, though, is that the other people in the White House and in Congress must step up and make sure that Trump's worst excesses do not become law. What happens when Rex Tillerson and others with some modicum of knowledge resign because Trump has contradicted them one too many times? What happens if Senate moderates can't defeat the ruinous Trumpcare bill now in front of them? What happens if Paul Ryan continues to excuse Trump's behavior because, essentially, he doesn't know any better?

Obviously, the first thing is that I will become heavier and more fraught, but it will also mean that the country will be in spectacular danger. That's why those who oppose the administration's direction must organize and coalesce around candidates that will take back the House and/or Senate in 2018. That's got to be the one indivisible goal for those of us who see the danger that's plainly in front of us.

Otherwise, we will continue to be buried under the billions of snowflakes yet to descend upon us.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest