Sunday, May 21, 2017

Witch Hunting for Nuts

The good thing, and perhaps the only good thing, about the Trump (shudder) Administration is that you never really have to wait very long before the real story becomes apparent. This is decidedly not a regular presidency or White House where the shrouds of secrecy and intrigue hide covert actions for months or years at a time. They do try, the people with some political experience, to navigate Trump through what should be safe political harbors, but then he slams his foot on the speedboat's gas and heads towards the bathers. And the bathers are the ones who voted for him.

Such has been the previous, tumultuous week in a fast-moving storm that seems to have no sunshine behind it, only darker clouds.

It's clear that the president dismissed James Comey for delving too deeply into the matter of Russian interference in the election and the extent to which Trump campaign/ administration workers involved themselves in that contretemps. Trump also clearly believe(s)(d) that firing Comey would lessen the pressure the FBI guy was putting on the administration. Calling Comey "nuts" was just Trump projecting his fears and insecurities.

Which he does a lot.

In fact, I've come to believe that when Trump uses words like nuts and witch hunt, he's actually referring to himself because that's the type of behavior he's exhibiting and the type of management style he's using in the White House. Further, the country seems to be turning a corner on the president and his credibility. People like Trump, who think that they're always right and are bolstered by people who are loyal to him, tend to believe that those who disagree with them must have something wrong with them. It's difficult to run an administration on that, as we're learning. And the worst part is that it's getting even more difficult to see anything the president says as having the weight of probity or thought (if it ever did).

He's also making it difficult for the Republicans to project a unified message on their agenda because Trump's tweets keep getting in the way. And besides, the conservative agenda is not widely popular anyway, as the fight against the ACA repeal proves. Add in the other components such as huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and you have a real problem. And when James Comey makes his public testimony, the country will stop and listen.

Trump will not be impeached, and I would urge those who are calling his behavior and words treasonous to redirect their energies to 2018 and to confronting legislators who support his agenda. Let the Mueller investigation run its course and see where it leads. In the meantime, Trump will continue to hurt himself by trying to explain his actions and contradicting his aides, and his aides will leave because it's really the president who can't be trusted.

And just remember what types of people invoke witch hunts.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Comey Storm

The editorial boards of these reliable conservative newspapers were geniuses in the fall, and they're geniuses now because they saw what other Republicans refused to see: that Donald Trump was, and is, not fit to be president. I'm not psychoanalyzing him. I'll leave that to the professionals. He doesn't have the personal skills or ideas or knowledge to be an effective president, and the entirety of his tenure has proven that.  What he does is not presidential, what he says is not presidential and what he sees as his role in the national conversation is not presidential.

In and of itself, Trump's firing of James Comey should not have been big news. Comey's been living on borrowed time since the inaugural, and would have been roundly sacked at 12:02 pm on January 20 had Hillary won. But the Trump White House looks like a rat's nest with people peeking their heads out to see if there's a trap. Good public servants have dutifully explained what the talking points said and have gone about their business. Legislators have responded appropriate to their party.

Then the president (shudder) weighs in. And by now it should be crystal clear that he has little sense of protocol or how to shape a message, nor, it's clear, does he want to acquire those skills. It's all personal. Venomous. Vindictive. Vile. Accusatory. Threatening.  This is not presidential and it never will be. There is no normal here.

As for the actual content, clearly, Comey has something on Trump, or Trump has something on Trump, and Comey should just come right out and say what he has and see if Trump releases any tapes. If they exist. This is how you confront a bully. I think one of Hillary's big mistakes in the debates was not taking Trump's offer to release his tax returns if she would release her deleted emails. As soon as he proposed it, she should have extended her hand and said, "Deal. We'll release them on the same day."  Comey needs to do the same thing in response to Trump's threats. The country is bigger than one person's personality.

As I said before, my life has become much easier now that I reject anything that comes out of Trump's mouth, twitter feed or pen. And now that he's essentially said that his administration will say anything or even cancel press briefings, my life is getting even more relaxing. The problem is that we still live in a democratic republic that demands an active press. Shutting down the process is dangerous.

And finally, let's not overplay Trump's dysfunction. He has done nothing impeachable nor can people who oppose him gain anything by demonizing those who voted for him. What we need is a responsible opposition that focuses on the issues such as health care, taxes, immigration and jobs and makes clear what we think the country should do about these things. That's what voters will eventually use to make their choices. There is plenty of time to identify quality candidates and to begin the process of making a case. 

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, May 7, 2017

You Think This Is About Health Care? Sucka.

This is not about health care, and as a matter of fact, the Republican self-immolation this past week has never been about health care. Or health insurance. Or health. Or care.

It's the taxes, stupid.

That's what the Republicans care about. That's what they think will make them healthy and insure their political future. Taxes. as in lower taxes. As in lower taxes than Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush would ever consider because as repellent as their political and economic philosophies were, they were rooted in real-world and real-economy assumptions. Those assumptions turned out to be wrong, as is amply evidenced by the deficits they created and the fact that economic growth never reached the heights it would need in order to pay back the Treasury for their rashness.

And Reagan even raised taxes over the course of his term in office to cover part of the shortfall. W's dad gave up his political career when he raised taxes and set the stage for the Clinton boom in the 90s that was further fueled by the tax hikes in Bill's budgets.

But now we have the ultra-right wing sycophants who forget or, my assumption, never learned those lessons. They've wanted to cut taxes for the past eight years and now they have the ultimate know-nothing in the White House who's going to make their dreams come true.

In order to do that, though, they need to claim the money that President Obama used to revolutionize the health care system. To make sure that uninsured Americans can get affordable health insurance, which they are getting thanks to government subsidies, and to make sure that those people who have pre-existing conditions or are women or are elderly and should not be denied or price-gouged, taxes went up for the wealthy. And corporations. That's obviously too much for the GOP to handle, so repeal became the rallying cry.

Well, when you're goal is to repeal, not make people healthier, then repeal is what you get. Except, the bill the House passed last week is not repeal. It just guts the best parts of the ACA while making the most vulnerable and sick people in this country subject to paying far more for health care.

Like they used to. When America was great. We're going to make it great again by making health insurance more expensive, less comprehensive, unfairly discriminatory, and less job-friendly.

But at least taxes will go down, way down, for the already wealthy and to pay for the cuts Donald Trump will sell our intellectual and cultural soul. Because in the end, Trump only wants victories. He knows nothing about health insurance, or about how to be president for that matter, and only counts wins and losses. He considers the vote last week a win. It was not.

Let's hope that the Senate proposes an actual health care bill that benefits real people. Otherwise, 2018 will not be kind to the Republicans.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 30, 2017

100 Days of Ineptitude

With sincere apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. After all, Marquez knew it wasn't easy to write a book, which is more than we can say about how easy Donald Trump thought (?) being president was going to be. It's really a stunning admission given that, well, almost everyone else in the country over the age of 12 has an inkling that being president is a terrifically difficult job. If you want to do it well, which clearly Trump has no interest in.

What's not so easy is realizing that Trump has only been in the White House for 100 days. Maybe that's because the first two weeks of bumbling and blathering seemed like a year in Roosevelt time. And only three years and change to go.

If this past week solidified anything, it's that President Trump (shudder) is on course to be one of the least effective, least visionary and least truthful presidents in, um, a long time. There isn't an issue he's given little thought to including health care, taxes, deficits, infrastructure, foreign relations and the environment. On the unthinking agenda of the future is surely human rights, disaster relief, an economic downturn and a full-blown foreign crisis. Note to the president: these are not easy eventualities.

It's clear by now that the president also has little idea about how health care works or what kind of plan might be helpful to the greatest number of people. The conservatives in the GOP just want to help the insurance companies and make the plan as cheap as they can, and let the states cover what they can afford. Which isn't going to be much. Plus, a law like that will have no chance of passing the Senate, so it doesn't look like Trump is going to get the extra billions he needs to fund a tax cut.

Which now doesn't seem to be a problem because the new tax plan plows through every assumption that makes a functioning, rational economy work. It's a giant sop to the already wealth and it comes with the promise that history has never justified; that we can make up the budget shortfall through...growth. As if Donald Trump's crack team of Goldman Sachsers and Paul Ryan can guarantee us 3% economic growth for...ever? And this is going to get done despite the fact that Trump's insular trade policy and his hounding of immigrant laborers will likely lead to a backlash against American goods and services. Add in the global competition from other low-wage countries, and how exactly are we growing so fast?

But again, the whole plan comes from the mind (?) of someone who hasn't really thought about much since he became president. And given that he hasn't released his tax returns so we can learn how this new plan will benefit him, it's unlikely that he'll get anywhere near what his original proposal calls for. That's a good thing, because this plan will hurt the very people who voted for him. It's irresponsible at best and destructive at worst.

Now that Trump is unshackled from the 100 day expectation, it will be interesting to see how he approaches the long slog that is the presidency. The tweets will continue, as will the bragging and misdirection that has already buried the Russia hacking from the news headlines. Some in the media have reported that Trump started out as horrible, but that he's become a rather predictable Republican president. Honestly, I don't see the difference.

But I did make a decision a few weeks back that has made my life infinitely easier I'm just not going to take anything Trump says at face value. If he says it, I immediately disbelieve it and look to find independent, verifiable information. Which I do in the responsible press.

You know, the one Donald Trump doesn't believe.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wrong Way Flows The Don(ald)

I imagine that to a Trump supporter, the president's moves seem like a new direction for the country.

For me, we are taking giant steps backwards.

It's not just the denial of climate science or the reversal of protections for LGBTQ citizens or the hounding of Muslims or threatening North Korea with a ship that was going...the wrong way or any of the other executive orders undoing any number of worthwhile things like protecting consumers from financial advisers who might value commissions over investors or net neutrality or allowing cable television companies to continue to monopolize set-top boxes or trying to repeal a health care law and replace it so that 24 million fewer people are covered by insurance.

No, despite all of those gems, and more, I see the country going back to a time when it was fine to say terrible things to women and minorities and to create groups that deserve protection and those that do not and the ones that do not are usually weaker or vulnerable.

But then there's the light that illuminated the swamp that is FOX News, resulting in the toppling of Chairman O'Reilly and, perhaps, more executives who tolerated his abuse. And there's the energy in Georgia and Montana and the other places where Democrats will be challenging Republicans on their own turf. After all, Trump went into the Midwest and won the election. Surely, Democrats can go into the South and the Plains and win some races there.

The big plus, though, is that Republicans are actually in charge and they are proving the point that it's very difficult to run a government when you want that government to disappear. Yes, the GOP is making noise about reviving the health care bill, but the problem of cost and coverage, especially for those who voted for Trump but still need Obamacare, will doom any attempt to gut the bill, which is really what the rank and file want. They will rue the day.

And tax reform? Show us your returns, Mr. President, so we know how you benefit from the system. Then maybe we'll support an overhaul that actually helps the middle class, but I don't see that being a priority for the right. Get rid of the mortgage and state tax deductions? Slap an import tariff on my Kohl's clothes sprees? Get into a trade war with Canada over milk? Good luck with that.

So maybe things are looking up? A monosyllabic chief executive can only say "great" so many times before he actually has to do something, or get Congress to pass some actual laws. In the meantime, the country will continue to slip backwards, harking back to a time that might have been great for some, but not for all.

It's a shame that we'll have to wait to move forward.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Who Knew It Could Get So Dangerous?

On the (months ago) heels of a 40 watt light bulb going off in the president's head about how complicated health care could be comes another revelation, unstated, about how dangerous the world could be.

Perhaps Donald Trump believed that throwing 59 missiles at Syria would startle Presidents Assad and Putin to the point that they would give up the fight and flee to be replaced by...what. Or maybe Trump giving his generals the green light to MOAB the Afghani desert would cause ISIS to run a white flag up a flagpole like the Vietcong did (not) when Richard Nixon decided that we had too many leftover bombs in our arsenal and thought that Christmas would be a fabulous time to send a message of peace war.

In any case, this is now getting dangerous.

Never mind that North Korea's attempts to rattle us ended in a failure that can be traced back to President Obama's program to disrupt Kim Jong-un's military through cyber-warfare. President Trump (shudder) will try to take credit for waking up in the morning and thinking that his actions will solve any and all real world problems. This is the kind of diplomacy we've seen before from politicians who believe that sending a military message without any diplomatic follow-up will yield meaningful fruit. It will not. Add the yeasty smell of a candidate who questioned the validity of NATO, and you have the makings of a loaf of something that makes matzah seem like a 7 layer cake.

For three months we saw Donald Trump's attempts at domestic policy and the utter failure that resulted from his ineptitude. Foreign policy is much trickier and, as we've seen, can kill far more people than repealing the ACA. Rex Tillerson has his work cut out for him.

Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have a president with some foreign policy and diplomatic experience? Like...

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Trump Has a Good Week: The World and Country Suffer

Some in the media are hailing this past week as Trump's best as president, so let's take a look at the highlights:
  1. The chair of the House committee looking into the Russia scandal had to recuse himself.
  2. The Republicans had to alter Senate rules to get their Supreme Court nominee into a seat that was wrongfully denied to President Obama.
  3. The number of new jobs dipped substantially in what could be considered the first real Labor Department report of the Trump Administration.
  4. The president and House negotiators tried to revive their failed health care bill by adding provisions for states to deny people insurance who have pre-existing conditions and raising rates for the elderly.
  5. The president threw some missiles into Syria after a dastardly and cowardly attack by President Assad. The endgame? Like much of Trump policy, it depends on what's on FOX News tonight.
Compared to the utter helplessness of the first few weeks of the Trump presidency, last week was fairly orderly. And yet...

To be fair, I thought that President Obama should have backed up his red line comment with a military response in 2013, because that's when it could have had more of an impact on the Syrian Civil War, and Trump was justified in responding last week. The issue is what will happen now? Will it take more attacks on children for Trump to respond? If only adults are hit, will we stay silent? And what about the Russians, who I believe are responding disingenuously to something they should have seen coming.

Is Donald Trump having his George W. "No Nation-Building" Bush moment?

As for the other events of the best week of Trump's presidency, it's really par for the overused course. Representative Devon Nunes used information given to him by executive branch sources and then ran and told the president rather than sharing said information with his House colleagues. So now we are in the unique position where only the Senate has the moral authority to investigate the Russia allegations.

On the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch's confirmation won't mean too much for the balance of the court as it replaces one conservative with another, but that seat should have belonged to President Obama's nominee. Changing the filibuster rules will eventually favor Democrats, but by that time the real damage could be more conservatives replacing more liberal voices on the Court. Somehow I think the republic will survive, but Congress will need to step in and pass laws to mitigate some of the legal damage.

And the health care bill? Right now it's pretty dead, but you know how much the GOP loves science. They will try to revive it and make it worse, even though the data suggests that the ACA is healthy enough to keep the insurance companies in green for the foreseeable future. The simple fact is that the GOP needs the money from a health care repeal to pay for their tax cuts, otherwise, it won't have the splash they're looking for, but it's looking more and more like they won't get it. I guess they'll have to soak the middle class even worse than they thought they might.

The Trump presidency is fast approaching its 100th day, the usual, if outdated, benchmark of presidential accomplishment, and it hasn't done much in the way of legislation. Most of the action has been done via formerly-hated-by-conservatives executive orders, and there don't seem to be any grand laws in the sausage grinder at the moment. The believable media has made a great deal about Trump's unpredictability and his penchant for reacting when personally affronted or moved, as evidenced by the Syria gambit. It's really only a matter of time before this manifests itself in something far more dangerous, and darker.

If you can fathom it.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Emperor Has No...Power

Remember the good old Obama Administration, the one the Republicans accused of treason and fascism and abuse of power because the president had the audacity to use...executive orders? That's when America was great, right? Congress obstructed the president from improving people's lives so he leaned on the only legal authority he had to run the country.

Now we have a president (shudder) who can only use executive orders to get things done, and the GOP naysayer whistle-blowers are blowing smoke. They all-of-a-sudden love Trump's use of orders to undo what they consider to be outrageous acts of governmental control like net neutrality or protecting consumer privacy or allowing states and local governments to set up retirement accounts for people who don't have them at work or clamping down on pollution and coal-belching plants that spew noxious fumes into the atmosphere.

Imagine what this president could do with a Republican majority Congress.

And that's exactly the point. He obviously does have a majority. The problem is that he has no power base. This is why Trump will be hard pressed to get much done during the catastrophe that will be the next three years and nine months.

Power comes from influence, fear, a united group that sees a way forward and leadership that uses its moral, ethical and electoral mandates to move legislation through the congress. Donald Trump has very little of any of this. And he's no LBJ. Trump was opposed by the party regulars and the conservative wing that actually had some ideas written down. He was opposed by right-leaning news outlets, many of which wrote that he didn't have the personality or character to be an effective president. And of course, he was opposed by a majority of voters on election day, which makes it extraordinarily difficult for him to claim any kind of mandate for his platform.

We were told that he was a master negotiator and a strong personality who could persuade legislators and world leaders if only he could get them into a room to negotiate with him. We were told that he would be pragmatic and try to get the best deal possible. We were told that he would strong arm recalcitrant lawmakers into seeing that if they didn't support him they would face some unlovely music at the ballot box come 2018.

You can stop laughing now.

What we have instead, and the Republicans in Congress now know this, is a president who lacks the knowledge of policy necessary to make deals. In the health care debacle, Trump was throwing ideas and promises around simply to appease the conservatives. The law he was fighting for was a disaster by any measure. He made threats; the GOP stalwarts ignored them. He fulminated on Twitter, then caved. The country is better off. For now.

But the die has been cast. Trump does not have the negotiating skills or the knowledge or the leverage necessary to get difficult laws through this Congress. He's decided to move on to tax reform, which makes repealing the ACA akin to the niceties of a PTA meeting. The health care debate didn't affect a vast majority of Americans, but taxes will. And each tax and each deduction has an interest group and lobbyists behind it. Plus, the windfall the GOP thought they would have from the ACA repeal is nowhere to be found. Congressional leaders have little to fear from a man who's going to make a habit of leading from behind. The fight over tax reform will take longer, and we know that Trump has no attention span beyond the next news cycle. What will he do with all that time?

At some point in the near future, Republicans running in 2018 will need to make the critical decision about whether they will continue to follow Trump through the maze he's created, or whether they're going to go their own way and render him even more superfluous. If they don't fear him, I can say with reasonable certainly that there will be a further split in the party. The result will not be pretty.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Madness Will Last Beyond March

This is what happens when you've hitched your political wagon to a semi that has "Government Sucks" written on the side in patriotic colors. And when the driver of that semi has no political skill, cogent philosophy or sense enough to know that he's being led by the nose by unrelenting, uncompromising, unapologetic  conservative ideologues while his wingman looks like the deer in the headlights, then you are heading for a monumental crash.

And the GOP did. Big time. The Seven Year Obamacare Itch could not be scratched with a made-in-China plastic backscratcher. Or any of the GOP's well-manicured fingernails. It was stunning and messy and terrible for the country, except for the fact that millions will keep their health insurance. And it's only the beginning.

This was supposed to be the easy first step towards a better, Republican-led future, but it exposed the House as a hotbed of contradictions and competing constituencies. You know...the way the framers envisioned government when they created it. They even built in the idea that democratic ideas need to take time, to marinate in the bowl of public consumption, to gain a consensus, to be debated by the populace over the course of months to make sure that the terrible parts are squeezed out. None of that happened with the health care bill. President Know-Nothing, especially about his knowledge of how the constitution works, thought this would be quick, and since he has no attention span to speak of, he approved of the leadership's idea that the bill needed to be introduced one week and voted on in the next.


But the worst was the spectacle of Trump and Ryan throwing the provisions the public approves of overboard with no thought about how a final bill with no protections for those with preexisting conditions, or guaranteed maternity care or no-cost preventive care would play in, well, Peoria and the areas where Trump won the election. There simply was no health and little care in any of it. No wonder only 17% of respondents in the latest poll approved of it.

The other issue with the health care bill, though, is more far-reaching. The money saved in this bill was supposed to fund the giant tax-cut-for-the-wealthy that the GOP was going to tackle next. Now there's no cash in the till, which means that there will need to be more spending cuts because if the ultra-conservatives didn't like government spending for health care, they sure as heck aren't going to vote for a tax cut or a trillion dollar infrastructure bill that might explode the deficit. And fund Planned Parenthood. The ultras have the power now and they are immune to Trump's lame threats and simpering appeals for American greatness.

And, of course, there's the issue of the Republicans actually funding and running a United States that has an Affordable Care Act. If they were smart, they would regroup and find an alternative that would shore up the insurance markets or make sure that elderly people don't have to pay more for less care or to make insurance portable so that no American would have to worry about losing their insurance simply because they lost their job or had to leave a job to move or to take care of a family member. You remember family. The Republicans are the family party. Doing any of this would require Democratic acquiescence, which is doable. The question is whether the GOP will actually ask.

Of course, this won't happen because the president has already said that the law will fail and the insurance markets will tank because...he will make sure that this happens. Then he thinks he's going to blame the Democrats. The GOP owns health care now, and if the law fails it will be because of their actions.

Do keep in mind that it's still only March. But the madness will last far longer.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Reality Sinks In

Really now: What did you expect?

The great know-nothing Donald Trump is president, having run on an incoherent mixture of lies, half-truths, innuendo, sexism, nationalism, xeno- and Islamophobia and promises about jobs that he couldn't possible keep. Add in an ultra right wing Congress that's committed itself to acting first and thinking about consequences later. And what do get get?

Our present reality.

Yes, I know that the Trump budget will never pass as it is currently constructed, but it still does provide a framework from which the Republicans can build their cuts and aggressively apply their ideology, which assumes that the best budget Congress ever passed was in 1790 when the federal government was appropriately small and anyone who wanted a gun could have one (and abortion, by the way, was still legal up to about 15-20 weeks of pregnancy). Many of the programs on the chopping block are ones used by, indeed relied upon, by Trump voters who are struggling economically and need some government support to stay alive or to keep their jobs.

And the proposed cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will devastate many state and educational arts programs for people who live outside areas that have museums or universities that promote the arts. Many teachers also use the endowments for educational purposes in K-12 classrooms and for their own academic enrichment throughout the school year and in the summer. To say that there is no place anywhere in the federal budget for these programs is a capitulation to ignorance. The arts and humanities, and public television and radio, provide services that are vital and should be insulated from the ravages of competition because they promote ideas that sometimes aren't prized by the market until they are introduced, viewed or broadcast.

Are there programs that could and should be cut? Yes. Many federal programs overlap or have outlived their usefulness, but many have not and even if they serve a small population, if that population depends on that program, it's up to the government to provide an alternative or a path forward for those people. Otherwise, citizens will lose their jobs, their education, their heat, their health insurance, or their lives. All in the name of increased military spending.

But the true moral bankruptcy of the GOP is their proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Their argument seems to be that it's OK for 24 million fewer people to have health insurance as long as the wealthy get their tax break and we can save over $300 billion over ten years to fund it. And the extra bonus is that by 2026 (!) health insurance premiums will be approximately 10% cheaper.

Where do I sign up?

I can certainly understand an appreciate that there are conservative voters who voted for this, want these cuts, and believe that the federal government has grown too large. Those who voted for Trump based on his promises, though, should be extremely wary at this point. Many of them are going to get much less than they bargained for domestically and in lost international trade because of this budget and his actions.

A shrinking America is not, and never will be, a great America.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, March 12, 2017

To Hell With the Health of the State

I really do try to see the intellectual arguments behind the politicians that utter them and I really do try to keep my judgements closely aligned to the agree/disagree axis, as opposed to the anger/unreasonably mean axis that seems to be in vogue these day.

But on both health care and the environment, I just can't help but think that the Republican Party is using its treasured Second Amendment rights to shoot itself in multiple locations on its body politic. I understand that the voters who installed this regime thought terribly of President Obama and wanted the ACA repealed, and I also understand that many farmers and ranchers and manufacturers detest Environment Protection Agency rules on land use and cleanup, and many more deny the science behind the changing climate, but did these voters truly want what's ambling down the lane? Do they really want to lose health insurance coverage and to make the air and water dirtier? Because that's what's going to happen.

It's no secret that the Trump administration wants to take us back to some mythical past where the country was greater than it is now, but that invariably means that we'll go back to a time when air and water pollution was at its height, lead paint sickened children, DDT killed eagles, sludge in rivers forced any kind of wildlife to flee or die and people died because they did not have adequate health insurance or access to medicine. Is this what people voted for?

On health care, the GOP is so bent on repealing the ACA quickly that they've created a program that will strip away insurance from millions of people, cut taxes for the wealthy, and only the wealthy, cut back on assurances that certain medical procedures, especially those that relate to women and the elderly, would continue, and increase the budget deficit. Their plan will also make insurance cost more for those unable to qualify for Medicaid and to cut money for Medicaid recipients to the point where they won't be able to get the full coverage they would under present rules. And all of this is being done because the GOP believes that insurance companies, who will still have to cover people with pre-existing conditions, will magically cut their premiums in the name of competition.

I certainly appreciate that premiums have risen under the ACA, but at least people still retain their insurance and most are shielded from the cost because they qualify for subsidies. Rather than fixing the problems so people can retain coverage, the GOP plan ensures that many insured citizens will lose their plans. And all in the name of ideology.

As for the environment, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt's statement last week that he doesn't believe that human activity has anything to do with any climate change is beyond ignorant, and is a danger to life on this planet. His position, then, is that we should be able to freely pollute the air and water because, really, who are we hurting? Has someone ever shown him the pictures from the 1960s and 70s that show the haze and pollution over both urban and rural areas? It's astounding.

Fortunately, I live in New Jersey, where the air is clean, the water is crystal clear and fresh, the traffic is minimal and there are, thankfully, no toxic waste sites. None. Because if I lived in a state that had a great deal of pollution or an abundance of carbon monoxide-spewing cars or terrible traffic or long-ago-but-obvious-today violations of industrial laws because let's say chemical and manufacturing companies illegally dumped ungodly amounts of toxins in the water or in leaky rusting drums and left them beside some chain link fenced in area near a stinky, foul river and then claimed that they didn't have to clean it up or vented smelly fumes without cleaning the smokestacks near the, well, let's call it a Turnpike for want of a better word, then I would be outraged that the new head of the governmental agency responsible for ensuring that the country is as clean as can be recently denied that humans have anything to do with why the climate is changing.

So when I take my giant SUV out to drive along this great flat earth of ours, I can do so with a clear conscience and the freedom to pollute at will because not only is carbon monoxide not responsible for climate change, it's also non-polluting. Because if it polluted the air, then it would be a contributing factor in the climate. But it doesn't. So it doesn't. Scott Pruitt told me so. So shut up.

The Republican agenda is danger to the country. A government that purposefully ignores the health of its citizens and actively works to undermine it deserves to be opposed at every turn. 

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Beware the Idiocies of March

Yes, my friends, this is getting frighteningly Shakespearean. And we have a wide variety of dysfunctional, murderous, illegal and psychologically damaged examples to choose from. Is the Trump White House Macbeth? Hamlet (soon to be starring Jared Kushner as the prince)? Othello? Any of the histories? We know there's no Falstaff because this really isn't funny. The field is wide open.

As for reality, we have a mucking mess. President Trump (shudder) gave what many distracted and fooled pundits called a presidential speech last week where he created false realities and set himself up as the only person who could solve them.
  • Mexicans swarming the border? False, but let's build a wall. 
  • Public education failing? False, so let's funnel money to private, religious and charter schools. 
  • Unvetted radical Muslims crashing our shores? False, so let's forget that we vet asylum seekers for two years and claim that our porous borders are swarming with terrorists.
  • Health care law failing? False, so let's make sure that everybody has the freedom to have to pay for their care, whether they can afford it or not.
  •  Foreign policy failures from the Obama Administration? False, so let's cut money to the State Department because, really, the only policy we need is what Trump tweets in the morning.
  • Anti-Semitism? True, though wait 6 months before tepidly denouncing the longest hatred, but only after you dress down an Orthodox Jewish press reporter who's actually on your side at your head-scratching press conference.
Trump might have delivered his speech without devolving into a red-faced, spitting mess, but is that really our expectation from the leader of the free world? He then followed up for a few days with policy-laden tweets and pronouncements that sounded rather...normal. But that's what this presidency is all about, has been all about and will be all about: Vacuous pronouncements and personality-driven drivel. The words of the speech came out well; the words themselves were hateful, deceitful,  and troubling.

And then came Jeff Sessions and the Trump Administration Two-Step: Lie at your hearings and hope the real media doesn't pick up on it or hope that the leakers have taken a public sector job sick day. Looks like that's not going to happen so much. When the Attorney General shades the truth (benefit of the doubt) or baldly lies (probably the truth), then your administration is in trouble. And the Russia stories just keep on coming, like bottomless cups of coffee at the diner. Served with a smile, but hyper-inducing nonetheless.

But the week couldn't end without the president reverting to form, accusing President Obama of tapping his phones. Which is ludicrous. And not based on reality. And even more troubling because if Trump is basing his information on some security briefing, then he's compromising national security. There's always a source for his anger, and in this case it's likely a Breitbart story he read. And now he's calling for a Congressional investigation as part of the Russia probe to show what a fair-minded person he really is. Trump is going to do these types of things for the rest of his term, and they are decidedly not normal. He just can't help himself.

Or the country.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Alien and Sedition Acts Redux

When you really think about it, conservatives have wanted to take this country back to the beginning of the republic ever since Reagan was elected in 1980. After all, Antonin Scalia and the Originalists (which is a great name for a rock band, yes?) made their political and philosophical careers on interpreting the constitution according to what they believed to be the framer's intent. And as long as Scalia and Thomas and the far right were on the fringe, it looked like the country might avoid the embarrassment of living in the 1790s.

That's all changed, hasn't it?

If the first month of the Trump administration was a bit of an organizational mess, the second month is proving to be a full court press on the nation's values and mission. What was once a pair of bedrock beliefs--that anyone who could make a contribution to society was welcome here, and that a free press was the major check on executive and congressional power--seem to be under assault by the president (shudder) and his minions in the White House. They are now committed to actually breeding hatred, suspicion, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-intellectualism and undermining news organizations and journalists who dare to cover them critically.

Gone are the days, if they ever existed, where Americans could take some solace in the idea that Donald Trump was more moderate than his campaign words and that he would try to unify the country around change that would benefit the working and middle class. His screed in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference was a call to arms against fellow Americans who understand that fear and suspicion are the enemies of representative democracy, and Sean Spicer's press wall against those news organizations that the administration blames for negative coverage is a dangerous admission that the Trump White House has little regard for facts or interpretation.

It makes sense, then, to think that we might be on the verge of new Alien and Sedition Acts (and reading the first paragraph of this entry made me laugh. The Soviet Union is gone, so just substitute Trump's America). Far-fetched, you say? Banning immigrants is on the check list. Muzzling the press and making it illegal to criticize the president? Former, yes, the latter, not out of the realm of the possible. These laws were terrible enough in the 1790s, but they would be a catastrophe today. The president and Steve Bannon seem to be in agreement on challenging every mainstream media organization and demonizing their reporters and executives. They champion their own press that has, shall we say, a spotty record when it comes to reporting actual facts. They want to plug press leaks too. Anybody seen G. Gordon Liddy around?

Of course, this all a great big Hypocrisy Woodstock love-in. When the press was using Russian leaks about Hillary Clinton, Trump encouraged more. When James Comey bombshelled the election 10 days before the vote, Trump was exultant. Now he's blaming the FBI for being against him. And there will be more verbal attacks on other agencies as they inevitably will need to come into conflict with the White House, because it's clear that Trump cannot be wrong. But don't worry; he'll tweet what's correct.

None of this is normal. None of this has a precedent. None of this conforms to any notion of responsible presidential behavior. None of it. We are moving in reverse. Time to dig our heels in.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Make America Great? Promote the Arts and Culture.

Had enough yet? Of course not. And it's still February.

If the press conference wasn't proof enough that the president still doesn't have a handle on his facts, then let's move on to those things that do not lie: the numbers.

Yes, it's almost time for the president to issue a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, that starts in October, and word is that it's going to include the GOP's greatest hits. That means that social programs will of course be on the chopping or reforming block, such as Medicare and Medicaid, programs that actually do a great deal of great for their intended beneficiaries, while we are in for a massive infusion of money to the military because, well, we need a huge amount of new weapons to fight, well, ISIS? Russia? China? I'm not quite sure. I guess maybe after being at war for 16 years, many of our weapons have been used and we need new ones? We'll come back to that one.

Some of the other cuts on the Republican wish list are oldies but goodies from the 1980s Reagan Revolution.  They include drug treatment programs and the Export-Import Bank, but the program cuts that really show where the right's priorities are will fall on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. That these programs account for maybe a few hundred million dollars in a $4 trillion dollar budget doesn't seem to matter. They will be on the chopping block no matter what that says about the ruling party's priorities.

The CPB, the NEA and the NEH, quite simply, bring a certain level of calm, thoughtfulness, pragmatism, knowledge, intelligence and, yes, democracy, to the country. So naturally you can see why the right would want to get rid of them. Chaos and unpredictability are in. Sober-minded analysis is definitely out. But ever since Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano and "Tales of the City" made their way into the consciousness of the party of morality, they have tried to demonize publicly funded culture as elitist and leftist, arguing that if television programs and art exhibits can't pay their own way, then they should be thrown onto the bonfire of the inanities.

A country that loses its culture is in more trouble than one that loses a war. And some culture will always need public support. Artists cannot always get exhibition space on their own and some television programs are worth seeing even if they can't attract sponsors. The public benefits from programming and exhibits that supports new and vibrant artistic voices in areas of the country that might want or need to see different perspectives. This is what makes our country great. Democratizing culture serves everyone. And if you don't like it, turn it off.

Even more damaging would be cuts to or elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is where the United States shows its commitment to learning, academic research, and school programs that encourage people to read poetry and great literature, and to involve themselves in timeless and timely ideas that might not see the light of day without this support.

The NEH sponsors educational institutes for school and college teachers in areas that allow for significant pedagogical growth across the education establishment. Thousands of teachers, including me, have spent wonderful summers researching, studying, arguing, observing and learning something that they never would have learned without these programs. The NEH provides a lifeline to teachers and students and makes our schools richer in every way. Why would anyone want to cut that?

It would be terrible for this country to lose its creative could in order to save a pittance. We can't afford not no have these programs. And once they're gone, they're gone for good.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hey You! Wanna be Governor of NJ? We Need One.

Chris Christie will go down in New Jersey history as one of the most unpopular, least effective, self-serving governors this state has ever had. And given our history, that's saying a lot. But for someone with the political skills he has and the ability to connect with everyday people, having a 17% approval rating is shocking. He spent all of his political capital on Hurricane Sandy and thought that he would be the big mouth with the righteous anger in 2016, but that didn't work out either.

And now he seems to have disappeared. OK, not entirely. He is spending his last few months highlighting the problems of drug addiction and is stumping for more money for treatment programs, but otherwise, he doesn't have much else. His school spending plan is pretty much dead on arrival and Trump has taken all of the available space and oxygen in the politician realm. Christie was passed over for a cabinet position, but I can see him taking over after one of Trump's originals flames out, which will happen sooner rather than later. Heck, if Christie can hang on, he could become VP if Trump does something high-crimish or misdemeanorlike in the next two years, which is also looking somewhat possible given that he can't stand criticism and thinks that everything that goes against his family is unfair.

Even Christie's Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guagdano, is fleeing Trenton and is running to succeed her boss. It will be interesting to see how she's going to separate herself from him since we didn't see much of her leadership style for, well, eight years. And that includes the time when the state got smacked with a blizzard when Christie was on vacation and Guagdano was the acting Governor. Not a peep. And the state ground to a halt. Talk about laissez-faire.

The Democrats are in much better shape in this state than nationally, but they are still going to have to round up votes in the traditionally Democratic urban and suburban areas. Right now Phil Murphy is the front-runner and has already been endorsed by party bigwigs and some unions. John Wisniewski is also running and he actually has state-level governing experience as a member of the State Assembly for the past 20 years. He's trying to run as an outsider, but if Trump is any guide to how an outsider runs a government, Wisniewski might want to run as the trusted, sure hand who can actually govern.

But this is all for the future as we're in the money grubbing phase of the election until springtime, and the primaries aren't until June. Another election. Fun.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Readin', Writin' and 'Ridiculous

There's a certain perverse pride public educators should feel due to the fact that Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education, is, of all the Trump cabinet picks, the object of the most phone calls and other communications objecting to her confirmation. She's also the only nominee that some Republican Senators will oppose. At last, education is at the top of the priority list. Feel better?

The corporatization of public education has been gaining strength since A Nation at Risk was released in 1983, warning the United States that students were not learning the content and skills they needed in order for our country to compete in the economic and political world. Despite efforts to reform the curriculum, incorporate technology, and change teaching practice to include cooperative learning, Back to Basics learning and the upside down classroom, schools are being shortchanged in state budgets and students are being tested over the course of multiple days which could be used for more quality instruction.

The solution? Betsy DeVos.

Yes, what this country needs is a Secretary of Education with no public school...anything. Not attendance, not school board, not having children attend public school, and not any knowledge of laws that govern the public schools. She is the perfect manifestation of the ideology that puts money, competition and strict, top-down management above all else. She represents the conservative view that, really, anyone can be in education because, well, teaching is easy and the schedule is cake and, honestly, if you were so smart, you would have gone into a field where you were respected and could earn piles of cash.

Stupid teachers.

But just public school teachers. Conservative ideology says that private school teachers are just fine because they understand the private nature of capitalism and that skimming the best students off the top is the American way. And Charter School teachers? You are even better because you are directly challenging the public schools and those nasty unions in your districts. Cynical? You bet. True? No.

But that seems to be where Betsy Devos is on the educational continuum. She is highly unqualified,  regal in her detachment from all things public school, blithely ignorant of what she doesn't know, and dismissive of what really works in education. She is also a reflection of the president's (shudder) own uncaring attitude towards anything that requires thoughtfulness and academic rigor. What do you expect from someone who doesn't read books?

The silver lining is that conservatives don't want a federal presence in education, preferring to keep the major issues at the state level. The problem is that DeVos will champion vouchers and the growth of non-public schools. How much of an impact she'll have will depend on how much power she can carve out of the department.

The responsibility of all public school educators is to oppose her at every turn and to do what's right for our students.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, January 29, 2017

It's Chauncey Gardiner On Crystal Meth

Something is telling me that this immigration ban isn't working out the way the president (shudder) thought it would. He probably thought that since he's, you know, Donald Trump and that, you know, Steve Bannon told him that Muslims are terrible, and that, you know, his rabid fan base voted for this craziness, that he could just, you know, do this immigration ban thing. Never mind that zero terrorists have come from the countries we're banning people from. And make sure that we don't include countries where Trump has businesses. Appearances matter, you know.

This is a nightmare. And it's only been 10 days. All I can say is thank heavens for the Federal court system and the judges who understand the Constitution and our way of life, because clearly Donald Trump is the biggest Know-Nothing this country, or at least a minority of voters, has ever elected president. And it's up to the majority who oppose him, a majority that's getting more major every day, to stop him.

Consider what else we've learned since January 20.

We have a president who doesn't read. He only likes to watch television and and then regurgitweet what he's seen and heard.  Using the same language as the news shows.

He engages in conspiracy theories about illegal immigrants, 3.5 million strong, who came out to vote in November for Hillary Clinton. They didn't vote for anybody else--not Senate, not House, not Dog Catcher--only for Hillary. And she got almost every one of their votes. That's amazing.

And that's why its a conspiracy theory. Because to an average, thinking, reading, analyzing, overworked, underpaid, patriotic American, it makes no sense. But to the leader of the free world? A perfect explanation for why he simply couldn't, ever, lose the popular vote.

I shudder to think of what Trump would have done had he lost the election and made good on his promise to not concede. Here he won the election and he still can't let go of the fact that he's not more popular than he's convinced himself that he is.

And all of this has nothing to do with actual policy. Remember the fuss the GOP made about Obama's use of Executive Orders? That's all Trump has used since his inauguration and not a peep out of the purring, moist right wing. What about the deficit, you say? Hey, $20 billion on a superfluous, irrelevant, showy wall is a fine use of taxpayers pesos, I mean, dollars. We might not get Mitch McConnell to go along with funds for highways, bridges, roads, hospitals, airports, water systems and other extras that we really don't need, but a wall that will immediately become cover for tunnels? I can see him sidling up to Paul Ryan, with a handful of bills and in a low, conspiratorial voice say, "Don't tell your father I gave you this."

The Trump administration is making good on its campaign promises, and now we are seeing why more people voted against them. They are creating chaos, uncertainty and unnecessary hardship for many Americans, and they contradict this country's values of tolerance and equality before the law.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Oppose and Replace

I completely understand how you felt Friday at around 12:20, after President Donald Trump (shudder) delivered the last of his vapid, sloganeering, frighteningly insipid and angry remarks after he was sworn in. You don't recognize the country or its values or the office of the presidency or how the constitution fits into his plans and you wonder how anybody who calls themselves a patriotic, thinking American can vote for...that. Perhaps the best we can say is that James Buchanan, William Henry Harrison and Richard Nixon no longer occupy the bottom spot on any of the presidential rankings. It's Trump's spot all alone. And he owns it.

But it's vitally important to understand that reasoned arguments, references to facts, visits and links to mainstream news sites or paper-based articles dogeared, cut out or copied for relatives will not do any good to win arguments in the political present and the near future. Statistics mean nothing. The fight will be won on emotion and righteousness, patience and repetition, repetition, repetition.

The Women's Marches on Saturday were an excellent start. More people showed up to the one in Washington than attended the inauguration. Add in the number of marchers in other cities in the United States and around the world and you have a supermajority of people who will not stand to go backwards on civil rights for all people. We will need more of these types of mobilizations and actions to show the Republican administration and Congress that they must pay attention to the words and tone they use, and the laws they attempt to pass.

The rest of this is going to be up to our use of language and messaging. As much as Trump is described as unpredictable, he really won't be. We already know that he's concerned with winning every battle. He hates to be criticized. He has no coherent policies. The press needs to ask questions repeatedly and not let Trump or Sean Spicer off the hook. Yes, their antics might play well in precincts where Trump won, but even there, the people want action and they want details about what he's going to do.  In short, question and oppose everything and let Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan complain about obstruction. Do not apologize. Do not outwardly cooperate. It seems to be the only strategy that works, but with our country at stake, it's what we need to do.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, January 15, 2017

On the Transition, There is No Comparison

It is inevitable that United States Presidents are compared not only to who served before them, but to those who came after them. If these past few weeks are any guide to the next four years, if Trump can avoid impeachment and conviction, then we can start making room for Barack Obama on Mount Rushmore.

It's not just the sheer grace, intelligence, humanity, empathy, joy and focus that Obama brought to the office. It's the way he conducted himself and the way he presented the image of the United States to visitors, other heads of state, and anyone else who still believed that this country can be, and must be, a force for good in the world.

Yes, there were times when I wanted President Obama to be full of righteous anger and to show it. To get a little sweaty under the collar. To yell a little more. To get carried away, But at the end of a speech or press conference, I would usually marvel at how he could make a point forcefully without resorting to histrionics or contrived media moments. And there were no scandals, personal or otherwise, and no need to follow the money or worry about a wiretap. He served as a president we could be proud to have lived under. Anyone who is turning 20 this year can honestly say that they lived their formative years under a president who was a political, moral, and family role model.

And compared to what's next in our future, Obama will go down in history as one of the great ones. Perhaps he will be remembered as the last of the presidential presidents, who understood that the Commander-In-Chief and head of the Executive Branch had a responsibility to act like a role model and to be aware that others were watching him, and not just as someone commanding a media audience. He might also be remembered as the last president to actually have a plan as to how to run the country, rather than repealing first and worrying about what happens later. Or who used social media to further a positive agenda, not to denigrate, bully, lie, obfuscate or brag.

I will miss Barack Obama as President of the United States. He broke a major barrier and made this country greater. I hope that we can hold on to that greatness in the face of someone who doesn't recognize that we are great, and have been great for a very long time.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Post Hack, Ergo Propter Hack

News that the Russians, which means Vladimir Putin, wanted Donald Trump to win the election shouldn't surprise anyone. They've clearly sized him up and see him as the friend that he will turn out to be. They also are taking him seriously when he says that he will support torture and doesn't care much for getting the United States involved in other country's affairs. That Trump will help the Russians in Syria is merely icing on the babka. Trump hasn't a clue as to how to conduct foreign policy and Putin knows that.

But I'm not willing to follow others who say that the Russian effort turned the election. After all, if the point was to get more people to vote for Trump, then the Russians failed miserably, as Hillary Clinton's 2.7 million vote majority will attest. And it would be a real stretch to conclude that the Russian hackers focused on blue collar, high-school-educated, former Obama voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania because that's where Trump won the election. Were those voters especially susceptible to fake news? Perhaps some of them went into the last week of the election and weighed the candidate's positions on jobs and, with the Comey letter, concluded that Hillary was not the person to solve the problem. Let's not forget that Clinton ran a bad campaign, taking Michigan for granted in the final weeks when the lesson of Bernie Sanders' shocking performance (or maybe not really shocking) in the primaries should have alerted her team to the potential for an upset.

The real problem with the hacking is that Donald Trump encouraged it as a candidate, and then dismissed it and the professionals who will be advising him once it threatened his fragile hold on his self-esteem. We are now going to be led for the next four years by a classic bully, one who is unsure of himself so he couches his responses in anger, dismissal, disparagement and unthinking emotional outbursts rather than reason and analysis. He's already shown that when he's attacked, he goes into survival mode and lives on twitter. As someone who lived through Chris Christie for eight years, I can tell you that this isn't going to end well.

This strategy has worked to a limited degree when Trump goes after companies that make plans to build plants in Mexico, but it failed miserably with the hacking issue, and it probably won't serve him as well as he thinks once he takes office (shudder). Eventually, Trump is going to realize that Americans want their president to act a certain way, and tweeting your fears every morning won't substitute for policy.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year.

The new year always begins with so much hope, and this year is no different. I hope that my friends will be healthy and happy. I hope that we can solve some of the country's big problems and more of the little ones. I hope that we can come together as a nation and a world and finally realize that we're all in this together and that the deaths and atrocities are a stain on the human race. I hope that I can be a better person, a better friend, a better spouse, a better parent, and a better teacher.

But hope can only get you so far. At some point, you have to fight for what you believe in and for what you want done. On that point, this will be a year of fighting. For justice. For the right of everyone to have a healthy body, a healthy mind, and a full stomach. For the right to exercise the vote. For the right to free speech. For a free, quality education. For economic growth that begins to close the gap between wealth and not-so-wealthy. For clean air and water. For facts.

There is more, but you get the point.

There will be challenges as soon as this week because Congress will begin moving towards legislation that will ultimately strip 20 million people of their health insurance. The assaults on Medicare and Social Security are sure to follow as will the foreign policy meanderings that will be endemic to an administration that only sees raw power as worthy of respect.

The good news? That we will turn our attention and energies to fighting for what we believe in.  That's what this year will be about. More people voted against the agenda than for it. Never forget that.

And have a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest