Sunday, July 23, 2017

Beg Your Pardon? I Can't Fear You.

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

Are you surprised?

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

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

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

Strike three, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

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

I'm curious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

America's Educators Lead the Way

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

America's educators have got your back.

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Christie's Last Stand: Bankrupt Bluster

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Worst is the New Normal

Let me get this straight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That'll learn ya.

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

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

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

It's the only way.

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



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

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

I will resume breathless screeds next week.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hail Caesar!

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

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

Same reason, different day.

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

But wait, there's more.

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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


He is murdered soon after.

Exeunt.

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




Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Snowflake Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, June 4, 2017

We'll Always Have Paris

Of all the things that Donald Trump has done to make us weaker over the past 5 months, his withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord is the one that feels most like a betrayal.

Because it is.

His decision betrays common sense. The only reason to withdraw is because Trump and the rest of the conservative know-nothings simply don't believe that human activity has led to a rise in greenhouse gases and a dangerous warming of the planet. All of the discussion about whether Trump believes in climate change is moot. He doesn't have to say anything more about the subject. By throwing his lot with the deniers and hopelessly believing that coal and oil are the future of the country (and the world), he is overtly saying that we can continue to burn fossil fuels and nothing will happen to us. I guess he's chosen not to recall the terrible air and water pollution that plagued the country until the EPA and the Clean Air and water Acts were passed.

Yes, there are some small business owners who believe that climate regulations will hit them harder than the large corporations that oppose the president's (shudder) decision, But the Paris accord didn't force anybody to impose strict regulations on anyone. Of course, that's one of the main points of opposition from the right: if other countries could set their environmental bar low, it would mean that most of the regulations and sacrifices would have to be made by the major industrialized countries. And since the United States is the world's number 1 polluter (are you tired of winning yet?), we would need to regulate ourselves more. Of course, this is hogwash, and not a reason to pull the country out of the agreement.

The real damage in all of this is that by leaving the pact, the United States gives up a great deal of credibility and power. When the US signs an agreement, we need to abide by it, especially when every other country in the world, save for Nicaragua and Syria, is a signatory. Pulling out sends the message that we are no longer to be trusted.  Of course, most of the negative reactions by the rest of the world have been aimed at Trump himself. Most of the rest of the world knows that the majority of the country supports the science behind global climate change and sees Trump's decision as representing a minority view meant to appeal to his limited, and shrinking, support base.

And really, if you're another country, why would you renegotiate an accord that took years to come to fruition with a president who could step back from it at any time? And if Trump is only going to agree to deals that are advantageous to the US, why would any country agree to negotiate with him?

In the end, America First and isolation will only serve to highlight the selfish and short-sighted nature of the Trump administration. The United States needs to be a leader and a role model in this world. We need to call out dictators and leaders who abuse press freedoms and commit human rights abuses. Trump has sent the message that we will not be doing that to the extent that we have in the past. His is a transactional administration, which basically means that if you give us money, we'll pay attention to you, but if you don't, we won't honor our commitments as robustly as before.

This is terribly dangerous and can only lead to other powers, such as China and Russia, filling in the space that we should be occupying. And as China and India confront their pollution crises, which they will absolutely need to do, they will find that wind, solar and even nuclear power will be cheaper and healthier for their billions of people. Meanwhile, the administration is asking the country to go back to the 1950s when workplace safety requirements were few and polluted air and water was everywhere. Especially in Pittsburgh.

We've just taken two steps backward and none forward.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hey! New Jersey's Electing A Governor! Pass It On.

And you probably thought that Chris Christie had appointed himself governor-for-life. Of course, I wouldn't put it past him, but his approval ratings are even lower than Trump's, so he'll need to leave next January. And with all of the fun and excitement going on in DC these days, I can't really blame you if you haven't been paying attention to the election here in the Garden State. The primary elections are on June 6, though, so it's time to wake up.

Remember that just last year at this time we were considering the idea that Governor Christie might be the Republican vice-presidential nominee or some other important appointment in case (never happen) Donald Trump got elected president (shudder). Now the governor is scuffling toward the exit with little more than a final-year push to address opioid addiction. You know, the kind of help that people desperately need but that won't necessarily be covered in a Trumpcare health plan. It's a remarkable fall for such a large personality and for someone who craves the attention, affirmation and fealty from those around him.

As usual, though, there is no shortage of contenders, And the Republicans and Democrats do differ sharply on the issues. Christie's Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guagdano, has the unenviable task of hoisting the successor's flag, all the while running away from Christie and towards Trump. Sort of. Guadagno can't run as an outsider because she's been an insider for 8 years, and over that time she really hasn't made much of a public impact. On the Democratic side, the race will likely come down to one between Phil Murphy and John Wisniewski, although Jim Johnson was impressive in the debate earlier this month.

The big issues are property taxes, which continue to increase despite Christie's cap on municipal spending, and the increasing difficulty of getting from one place to another in the state dues to a crisis in infrastructure. All of the candidates are suggesting that the school aid formula needs to be addressed, with the Republicans saying that public workers need to pay more for their health insurance benefits and that schools in the suburbs should get more state aid at the expense of urban districts. The Democrats, especially Murphy, are trying to protect benefits, and all of them support cleaner energy and higher taxes on high earners. The Democrats also favor legalizing marijuana and taxing it to get more money for the state.

The most immediate need, though is money to improve the state's roads and rails because both systems are at their breaking points. Traffic in the Garden State has always been terrible, but road repairs are needed to keep what's moving moving. The trains are going to be a nightmare this summer as Amtrak shuts down tracks in New York's Penn Station after the derailments of the last few months. This will cost billions and will remind people that Christie vetoed the plan for a new tunnel to Manhattan early in his term because, as a potential national Republican candidate, he couldn't be seen as raising taxes or spending on anything that's necessary.

The train problem is also likely to make the car problem worse because people still need to get to work, so they'll get into their cars if mass transit is spotty. And it will be. The other answer is to take the bus, but that would mean more buses, more gridlock and more traffic. It doesn't look as though federal help will be arriving anytime soon as health care, taxes and defending oneself against legal attacks will be keeping Washington busy until at least the beginning of next year.

As for the schools and property taxes, the divide in New Jersey pretty much mirrors the divide in Washington. The Republicans want more money for school choice programs and Charter Schools, and they want public workers to pay more for their pensions and benefits because, well, they have better benefits than everyone else. Of course, the real benefit would be to get every worker the type of benefits that public workers have, rather than taking a livable retirement away from them. But you know Republicans; they think that unions are destructive and that management knows best.

Of course, Democrats were not much better, especially those who sided with Christie in the benefits reform bill of 2011 which resulted in a massive reduction in take-home pay for public workers who were already employed when the bill was passed. This is a main reason why middle class recovery has been slower in New Jersey than in other states. The Democratic candidates running now say they will protect worker's benefits and improve the pension system, but I'll believe it when I see it.

New Jersey should be a Democratic pickup come the fall, but I'll also hedge that bet a little until I see who wins the primaries.

Get out and vote on June 6.

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











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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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.

Oopsy.

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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest