Sunday, September 17, 2017

The New Normal Is Still Not Normal

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

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

But somehow, it feels different.

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

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

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

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

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

And I don't think it ever will be.

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

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

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

Just weather. And the earth. How quaint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The New School Year: History Will Guide the Future

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

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

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

We are now paying the price.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pardon Our Appearance While We Crash and Burn

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

His defense? That he was following the law.

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

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

Pardon my confusion as we slowly twist in the wind.

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

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

Exactly my point.

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why Are We Debating Hate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Our President: The Hate That Keeps on Hating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Friday, August 11, 2017

The Trump Doctrine: Shoot Off Mouth, Then Foot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sometimes, America, It Takes a Leak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Trump Cycle: Blather, Reince, Repeal

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

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

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

And yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Beg Your Pardon? I Can't Fear You.

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

Are you surprised?

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

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

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

Strike three, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

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

I'm curious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

America's Educators Lead the Way

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

America's educators have got your back.

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Christie's Last Stand: Bankrupt Bluster

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Worst is the New Normal

Let me get this straight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That'll learn ya.

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

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

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

It's the only way.

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



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

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

I will resume breathless screeds next week.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hail Caesar!

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

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

Same reason, different day.

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

But wait, there's more.

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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


He is murdered soon after.

Exeunt.

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




Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Snowflake Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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