Sunday, December 31, 2017

Are You Better Off Now Than You Were Forty Years Ago?

I keep coming back to something that Rutgers University Professor W. Carey McWilliams said once at a meeting I attended at the Eagleton Institute of Politics in the 1980s. He quoted Ronald Reagan's famous campaign line from 1980 and 1984: "Are you better off now that you were four years ago?" Of course, in 1980, after Jimmy Cater's term, the answer was supposed to be no, and in 1984, after four years of Reagan's supply-side trickle down policies, the answer was supposed to be yes. But McWilliams had a different interpretation of what Reagan was doing, and he was not happy about it.

Said McWilliams, "Reagan has boiled down more than two hundred years of constitutional government to a question that appeals only to the citizen's craven self-interest. It is as far from democracy as one can get."


Forty years later, we are living the ultimate manifestation of Reagan's transactional politics and for most people, we are decidedly not better off than we were in 1980. Despite repeated tax cuts, the wealthy are doing just fine while the middle and lower classes have fallen farther behind with every passing decade. Buying power has declined, and it's now absolutely necessary for everyone in a family to work in order to pay for monthly living expenses and to save for big ticket items such as cars, appliances and college educations. Many Americans love the myth that women should stay home and take care of the children, but the reality is very different. Economically, despite the explosion of wealth tied to technology and the rising stock market, it's difficult to make the case that the people, however we define that, are better off than they were when the conservatives took power.

In addition, the social policies of the party that supposedly supports family values have not led to stronger families, in large part because the religious conservative's definition of the family is rooted in a gone-forever past. Regressive policies regarding women's health, family planning and welfare programs have resulted in more families living on the margins, and the prospects are that 2018 could see major cuts in social programs in order to pay for the trillion dollar tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. The fight to reverse gay marriage and abortion rights is one conservative-to-replace-Anthony-Kennedy-away from reality. The right of religious people to use their beliefs to discriminate could be ratified by the Supreme Court this June.

The same is true regarding foreign policy. The West's victory in the Cold War was supposed to usher in a period of peace and prosperity led by liberal democratic values and the respect for human rights. We've seen glimpses of this, but since the September 11 attacks, we've been involved in unnecessary and unwinnable wars against foes who don't play by World War II rules. We've spent trillions trying to fight or buy off countries that will never be true allies, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we've seen a resurgence of Chinese and Russian nationalism and power rise to the point that we are now in a second Cold War being fought over economic issues rather than ideological ones. North Korea reminds us that we always one step away from disaster.

Both parties can take blame for these developments. The difference now is that we have a regime in the White House that doesn't understand that American power is tied to its moral commitments, not just to whether a country has paid its bills. Republicans since Reagan have tried to question and undermine the role the United Nations should play in the world, and I have no doubt that they would pull us out if the right scenario presented itself. The Trump Administration is fine with right wing strong men (and it always seems to be men), and has said nothing about dictatorial actions in the Philippines and Myanmar, where a Rohingya genocide is unfolding right before the world's Ray-Ban'd eyes.

Of course, there have been victories, and anyone who was over the age of 12 in 1970 can tell you that, this past year notwithstanding, the country does feel better about itself. Crime is down. Most of our major metropolitan areas have thriving cultural lives. Music, television and movies are far better than what was being produced from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Inflation has been tamed, for now. Disco is dead.

I am of the humble opinion that we are at the end of the conservative movement and soon will be entering a period where the political pendulum will begin swinging back to the left. Perhaps the congressional elections will be the beginning of this trend. Will conservatives still win elections and continue to influence policies? Of course. And president Trump will continue to remind the majority of this country that opposes him that his view of how this country ought to operate in an outlier, in the same way that many moderates saw the counterculture of the 1960s as an outlier.

But the excesses of the conservative movement will begin to receded. The unending focus on money and competition and winning will give way to a more tempered view of what's important in life and  our place in the world. Taxes on the wealthy will go up. We will be less divided.

Am I an optimist? You bet. Am I confident about the future of our country? Yes indeed. Will the short term be a trying, difficult, maddening, stressful period? Afraid so.

Another year dawns. See the best. Be the best. Do your best.

Happy New Year.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 24, 2017

An Immigration Policy Based on Ignorance and Hate

I was actually looking for an uplifting article to post close to the holiday that might provide some confidence and hope. Then I came upon this posting that discussed the president's thinking on immigration policy and how he reacted to court rulings that postponed the travel restrictions and immigration bans he tried to implement this year.

Appalling doesn't really do justice to my reaction. According to six officials who were in the room with him, the president read a document that listed how many immigrants had received visas in 2017. Some of his responses:

More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained. 
Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They “all have AIDS,” he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there. 
Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa, recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.

Terrorists. AIDS victims. Hut dwellers.

This is the President of the United States deciding policy.

His thought process? Bigoted. Uninformed. Under-educated. Judgmental. Ignorant.

What's worse is that he is dragging down the reputation of the United States with him.

It's clear that the president is not just protecting the United States from predatory foreign companies or workers who come here and take jobs that American citizens want. He believes, according to the article, that immigration is bad for the country and that foreign ideas are inferior to American ones. His nationalism is small because it rests on the incorrect assumption that our culture is superior to all others.

It's president Archie Bunker at your service.

I suppose the good news is that much of the rest of the world ignores this nativist babble for the racism that it is, and that an interconnected, sharing world is a safer one both economically and militarily. Even allowing Internet service providers the ability to block, throttle or slow down sites will not stop people from blurring borders and searching for the best price, the highest wage, and people they can work with. A minority of voters in the United sates voted for fear, suspicion and moral relativity. I am optimistic that the majority sees through his blather and negativity.

And with that, I wish you a happy holiday, a Happy New Year and all of the other happiness that all humans so richly deserve.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Define Your Own Reality: The New Seven Dirty Words

What began earlier this year as an assault on climate science continues the week with a directive by CDC officials to have employees avoid seven particular words in their funding proposals. These words, which clearly rankle conservatives even more than George Carlin's famously dirty seven words, would presumably raise red flags among the more conservative legislators in Washington. From this article in the Washington Post,
Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
The charitable explanation for this change would be that Betsy DeVos called the president and said that these words were too big for her to understand and could the president please change them to more monosyllabic terms.

The reality, though, is far scarier. This is not a change on the order of Ronald Reagan saying that ketchup and mustard should be classified as vegetables for school lunch programs. This is censorship and doublespeak. As for what should replace these terms?
In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.
Which means that every community in America can define its own reality. Your community doesn't like climate change? Then it doesn't exist. You oppose diversity? Why, feel free to discriminate. Or marginalize transgender citizens. Want to write a curriculum for your school district? No need to make it either evidence or science-based.

Can you say America Last in education and First in dirty air?

For all of their talk about allowing the invisible hand of the market a free reign, the Republicans certainly are afraid that Americans might make decisions based on science or any other information available to them. Fortunately, most Americans do not approve of the president or his policies, including this massive tax cut for the wealthy. And most Alabamans saw through the ridiculous argument that the state needed a fanatical pedophile to represent it rather than a former prosecutor who has worked tirelessly for all state residents.

The first casualty in any war, be it with weapons or policy, is language. The GOP is trying to redefine the basic elements of democracy and knowledge with a president who speaks on a fifth grade level.

Let's define a new reality for them next November.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Do Not Let Us Fall Into Temptation

Usually I skip over stories that have to do with the Pope, but I've been reading more of them since Francis took the rather large yarmulke a few years ago because he seems to get the part about treating people like humans. He still has work to do with women and the Rohingya, but his proposed new change to the Lord's Prayer (which I have as a 45 rock version from 1973) comes at a most perfect time.

Temptation seems to be all the rage these days and I have to agree with Francis that the problem is not with a deity leading us there, but with us as functioning people resisting the lure. And we do have problems with that.

From national and state politicians, media moguls, entertainers, business executives and, yes, the President of the United States, men have been tempted to use their power and influence to harass, rape, threaten, bully and terrorize both women and men for...what? Sex? Influence? Power? Babies? There's a pathology here because rolling the dice and hoping you don't get caught must be part of the demonic thrill involved in the chase. And sometimes, even an apology does not substitute for tears.

But there are other temptations that are weakening us too. The Republican Party, tempted by power, is shutting out any reasonable attempt at bipartisanship on health care and taxes, and I imagine that they'll extend their terrible ideas to infrastructure, government spending and immigration.

The Democratic Party is similarly tempted by the thought of overreaching in their opposition to the president by becoming, at times, irrational baying wolves, calling for impeachment or overturning the election results. Neither of these will lead to the path to power, nor do I believe that they will become a force that compromises or ends the partisan war being fought throughout this country.

For all of this, I am not a religious person, but occasionally religious leaders do tap into the zeitgeist, intentionally or not. We could all use a little humility, and if it won't come from the president or his inner circle of sycophants, then it must come from us because only the American people can put an end to tolerance of lies, misdeeds and obstinate behavior.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 3, 2017

How the Republicans Broke Congress

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, used the filibuster to stymie initiatives by President Barack Obama. CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times
In the past three days, Republican leaders in the Senate scrambled to corral votes for a tax bill that the Joint Committee on Taxation said would add $1 trillion to the deficit — without holding any meaningful committee hearings. Worse, Republican leaders have been blunt about their motivation: to deliver on their promises to wealthy donors, and down the road, to use the leverage of huge deficits to cut and privatize Medicare and Social Security.
Congress no longer works the way it’s supposed to. But we’ve said that before.
Eleven years ago, we published a book called “The Broken Branch,” which we subtitled “How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.” Embedded in that subtitle were two assumptions: first, that Congress as an institution — which is to say, both parties, equally — is at fault; and second, that the solution is readily at hand. In 2017, the Republicans’ scandalous tax bill is only the latest proof that both assumptions are wrong.
Which is not to say that we were totally off base in 2006. We stand by our assessment of the political scene at the time. What is astounding, and still largely unappreciated, is the unexpected and rapid nature of the decline in American national politics, and how one-sided its cause. If in 2006 one could cast aspersions on both parties, over the past decade it has become clear that it is the Republican Party — as an institution, as a movement, as a collection of politicians — that has done unique, extensive and possibly irreparable damage to the American political system.
Even today, many people like to imagine that the damage has all been President Trump’s doing — that he took the Republican Party hostage. But the problem goes much deeper.
We do not come at this issue as political partisans; though we are registered Democrats, we have supported Republicans, consider ourselves moderates and have worked with key figures in both parties to improve political processes. Still, we can’t help seeing the Republican Party as the root cause of today’s political instability. Three major developments in the party required us to change our view.
Continue reading the main stor
First, beginning in the 1990s, the Republicans strategically demonized Congress and government more broadly and flouted the norms of lawmaking, fueling a significant decline of trust in government that began well before the financial collapse in 2008, though it has sped up since. House Republicans showed their colors when they first blocked passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Plan, despite the urgent pleas of their own president, George W. Bush, and the speaker of the House, John Boehner. The seeds of a (largely phony) populist reaction were planted.
Second, there was the “Obama effect.” When Mr. Bush became president, Democrats worked with him to enact sweeping education reform early on and provided the key votes to pass his top priority, tax cuts. With President Barack Obama, it was different. While many argued that the problem was that Mr. Obama failed to schmooze enough with Republicans in Congress, we saw a deliberate Republican strategy to oppose all of his initiatives and frame his attempts to compromise as weak or inauthentic. The Senate under the majority leader Mitch McConnell weaponized the filibuster to obstruct legislation, block judges and upend the policy process. The Obama effect had an ominous twist, an undercurrent of racism that was itself embodied in the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump.
House leaders continued to inflame the populist anger of their base to win enormous midterm victories in 2010 and 2014. They repeatedly promised the impossible under divided party government: that if they won, Mr. Obama would be forced to his knees, his policies obliterated and government as we knew it demolished. Their subsequent failures to do so spurred even more rage, this time directed at establishment Republican leaders. But most pundits still clung to the belief that pragmatism would win out and Republicans would nominate an establishment insider in 2016.
Third, we have seen the impact of significant changes in the news media, which had a far greater importance on the right than on the left. The development of the modern conservative media echo chamber began with the rise of Rush Limbaugh and talk radio in the late 1980s and ramped up with the birth of Fox News. Matt Drudge, his protégé Andrew Breitbart and Breitbart’s successor Steve Bannon leveraged the power of the internet to espouse their far-right views. And with the advent of social media, we saw the emergence of a radical “alt-right” media ecosystem able to create its own “facts” and build an audience around hostility to the establishment, anti-immigration sentiment and racial resentment. Nothing even close to comparable exists on the left.
Mr. Trump’s election and behavior during his first 10 months in office represent not a break with the past but an extreme acceleration of a process that was long underway in conservative politics. The Republican Party is now rationalizing and enabling Mr. Trump’s autocratic, kleptocratic, dangerous and downright embarrassing behavior in hopes of salvaging key elements of its ideological agenda: cutting taxes for the wealthy (as part of possibly the worst tax bill in American history), hobbling the regulatory regime, gutting core government functions and repealing Obamacare without any reasonable plan to replace it.
This is a far cry from the aspirations of Republican presidential giants like Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, as well as legions of former Republican senators and representatives who identified critical roles for government and worked tirelessly to make them succeed. It’s an agenda bereft of any serious efforts to remedy the problems that trouble vast segments of the American public, including the disaffected voters who flocked to Mr. Trump.
The failure of Republican members of Congress to resist the anti-democratic behavior of President Trump — including holding not a single hearing on his and his team’s kleptocracy — is cringe-worthy. A few Republican senators have spoken up, but occasional words have not been matched by any meaningful deeds. Only conservative intellectuals have acknowledged the bankruptcy of the Republican Party.
We have never suggested that Democrats are angels and Republicans devils. Parties exist to win elections and organize government, and they are shaped by the interests, ideas and donors that constitute their coalitions. Neither party is immune from a pull to the extreme.
But the imbalance today is striking, and frightening. Our democracy requires vigorous competition between two serious and ideologically distinct parties, both of which operate in the realm of truth, see governing as an essential and ennobling responsibility, and believe that the acceptance of republican institutions and democratic values define what it is to be an American. The Republican Party must reclaim its purpose.

The Education Money Trap

And you thought I might have something scathing, sarcastic and scary to say about the terrible tax bill that the party of the deficit (which they now own) passed Friday evening. But since the horrible House tax bill will need to be reconciled with the even more horribler Senate bill, I figured I would wait a bit.

Then I saw this article about education and money and how our focus on college has become even more skewed than our focus on money and how money influences our money decisions and how money has become the overwhelming money focus of our money lives to the money extent that a college education is all

The crux of the article is that it's currently illegal for colleges to collect and publish information on how much money each of their graduates is earning, what kinds of jobs they have and other information related Which bothers me a great deal because I am truly concerned about our present preoccupation with money and how students typically see a college as a four year job training program, with beer.

And that got me thinking. About me.

Because if you included information about me and my work experience, it might not lead to the type of information that might be helpful or that accurately reflects what some consider to be a typical college experience.

For example, I graduated from Syracuse University with a BA degree in two majors. One was in Television/Radio Management from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the other was in History from the Maxwell School in the College of Arts and Sciences. Both of these colleges are at or near the top of the rankings in their respective fields and I am duly proud of my accomplishments. Many of the graduates from these programs are thriving and are making valuable contributions to their fields.

Consider, though, that almost half of all college graduates are not directly using their major in their employment, including me. I'm a public school teacher and, yes, I do use my history degree every day, but I didn't attend a school of education and I'm probably bringing down the income average of those classmates who are making more money in communications and media. Any prospective student would then look at my information and come away with financial information that doesn't match my academic experience.

This is the problem

And this is also the problem when we, and I mean teachers, parents, guidance counselors, test preparation companies and society in general, focus on the financial aspects of a college education at the expense of its real purpose.

What we really need colleges and universities to publish is a happiness index or a satisfaction index or the ways in which a degree has made us more educated, more reflective, more compassionate, more inquisitive and more consequential, because those are the characteristics that we want people to come away with after spending four years at an institution of higher learning.

And we can use more people like that these days.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Making a Losing Wager on Wages

I think the first paragraph of this story pretty much says it all about the Republican tax plan.

Corporate executives love the plan because they will make gazillions. But they don't expect wages to rise. Which I think is a funny way of expressing that idea since it's the corporate executives who are the ones in charge of making wages rise. So if they're saying that wages will not rise, then not rise they will.

And wage earners in the middle and working classes can take that to the bank, where the bankers will likely laugh at them for trying to deposit empty promises. The silver lining is that interest rates are about to go up again, so the return on those empty promises is about to get larger.


Yes, there will be those who will see some more money in their paychecks next year, but the cost will be extraordinary. A black hole in the budget where trillions will be sucked into another dimension. Accounting gimmicks that will need to rely on millions of people giving up their health benefits so the rest of us insured folks can pay higher premiums when the uninsured get sick. And, now, the admission that wages are not likely to go up.

And through it all, the president remains broadly unpopular because Americans are far smarter than he is and they can see right through the hokum he and the Republicans are peddling. It starts with the contradictory argument whereby the president says that the stock market is at record highs, unemployment is at a 17-year low (thank you Barack Obama), and corporate profits are healthy and growing.

Why, then, do we need to mortgage our future and borrow on the backs of people without health insurance? Things seem to be going well without killing the economy. But since the GOP needs a win, even if it's really a loss for the people, they will move ahead and hope that we won't notice.

Too late.

Polls show that a majority of Americans don't believe that tax cuts, especially to corporations and the wealthy, should be a priority. In fact, two-thirds of American voters say that cutting the deficit is more important than cutting taxes. But the GOP needs a win because their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed miserably for the understandable reason that taking health insurance away from 20 million people was a terrible idea. A tax cut bill that balloons the deficit and makes middle class taxpayers pay more is an equally terrible idea.

We also need to remember that aside from tax cuts, conservative orthodoxy says that the federal government is too large and that social programs, you know, the ones that are keeping many people alive in distressed areas, need to be eliminated or have their funding cut back. What are the odds that the GOP discovers the huge hole in the deficit next year and says that Social Security must be privatized and that Medicare and Medicaid need serious revision? I'm thinking the odds are pretty good.

The Republicans have been waiting for this moment, when they control all three branches of the government to undo the New Deal and Great Society programs, cut taxes and services, favor corporations and business interests over consumers, and turn the clock back to a more intolerant era.

Democrats have a year to remind voters what a great country looks like, how it acts on the world stage, and the costs of furthering income and legal inequality.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Immoral Minority

Why couldn't we have this as our president?

Yes, I know her views on Israel would not be popular, but at this moment in time, don't we need someone who has some, say, morals?

As far as I'm concerned, all of the men who've been caught, have admitted, or have been credibly accused of inappropriate and/or criminal sexual activity should not be eligible for elective office. That's Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, agree or disagree, religious or secular. It's only when we have a zero-tolerance policy backed up by real and convincing action will people take this seriously.

The problem now is that we have a president who has no moral authority on this issue. Of course, that hasn't stopped him from saying nothing about Roy Moore, but a lot about Al Franken. I stopped taking the president seriously about most issues last winter, but this one resonates because his supporters have created unique pinholes by which they are trying to weave their moral needles through with arguments that use very slippery thread. What it all comes down to with them is that Trump didn't act on what he said about women.

To which I say, read what he said. It was not theoretical.

The same is true for Roy Moore, but since he's the darling of the religious right, they need to twist a moral ideology so his behavior is OK. Like hanging around 14-year-olds. When he was 32.

The right likes to bring up Bill Clinton, and they should, because his behavior was reprehensible and probably cost two people--Al Gore and Hillary--their chances to be president. The big difference between Clinton and some of the others is that he was punished. He was impeached, although not convicted by the Senate, and he was disbarred. Meanwhile, many of these other predators are walking around unscathed and still either elected or eligible for office.

But harassment of women is not the only moral issue floating around these days. The tax cut bill, because it's not really reform, is another example of retrograde Gilded Age thinking being gussied up as something new.

This bill is a moral disaster on a number of levels, but the key is that some middle class and even lower income people will actually pay more in taxes under the bill, either now or by 2026, in order to pay for the massive tax cuts that corporations and the already wealthy will see. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone who makes under $150,000 to see anything but a robust, healthy, consequential tax cut and a promise that the tax cut will last into the future.

Instead, what we seem to have in Congress is a bill that takes some of the most immoral and questionable stances we've ever seen. For example, teachers can now take a $250 deduction for items they buy for their classroom. The GOP wants to get rid of that so it can pay for the cuts to the wealthy. Imagine that. We already know that teachers mean nothing to this administration other than as a mostly unionized special interest, and that their goal is to destroy the public schools and make teachers into an even lower paid work force. But taking a paltry deduction away is beyond insulting--it's immoral because it hurts students and communities. It sends a message that even that small amount of money is too much for public workers.

Further, the Senate wants to drop the personal mandate that everyone have health insurance, meaning that many people who should have it, but won't because of the cost, will drop insurance, leaving themselves vulnerable to a financial catastrophe, and would use that money to further cut taxes.

The egregious immorality of this move is that in order to save money, the GOP is actually hoping that people will drop their coverage. And who will end up picking up the tab? Why, taxpayers like you and me in the form of higher premiums. And if you think that a further tax cut will make up for an insurance rate increase, then you haven't been paying attention, unless you believe that you'll be getting more than a 10% increase on top of what the GOP is offering now, because that's at least how much your insurance will be increasing.

And the president thinks that wages will go up because of this tax cut. Um, not if insurance rates go up, they won't because your employer will have to pay more to cover you if sick people can't or won't buy health insurance.

Have I also mentioned that taxpayers in high property and income tax states, like NY, NJ, and CA, will also lose in this bill because they will no longer be able to deduct those expenses? Not a problem for the GOP, though: Those states don't vote Republican.

The only hope I have is that the GOP Senators who seem to get the danger of Trump--Corker, Flake, McCain, Murkowski and Collins--will sink this bill and ask for time, negotiations, hearings and analysis.

You know, democracy.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 or Twitter @rigrundfest