Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Weeks Ahead: Pressure, Not Panic

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

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

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

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

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

And of course, agitate, agitate, agitate.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Reality to US: My Condolences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Retreat Becomes a Rout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shooting Policy Blanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 1, 2017

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

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

I see no hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest