Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Storm Before the Storm

For a man who demands loyalty, the steady drip of betrayals and plea bargains have to be driving the president wacky. And by the tone of his recent tweets, I'd say that I'm not saying anything new.

But loyalty is as loyalty does, and President Trump has repeatedly shown that he is not terribly loyal, even to those who have supported him. He's burned through more cabinet members than other recent presidents as well as staff members and advisors, and every person who's left has been the subject of a personal and public attack that demonstrates the personal nature of which the president sees these relationships. Of course, when everything has to be about him, then everything has to be either against him or for him.

The real problem for the president is what Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen have told prosecutors about what he knew and when he knew it, and this can't be good for him. We already know that Trump lied about his sexual liaisons with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and generally speaking, when people lie about their affairs, there's usually much more skulduggery in their closets.

The president can call Robert Mueller's investigation whatever he wants, but it looks like Mueller is conducting a sober, thorough, evidence-based inquiry that probably bothers the president because none of those three words describes how he approaches problems. It's usually true that when you don't have the ideas to support you, then you go after the person. That's exactly what's happening here. And if Mueller releases his findings close to the November elections, you'll be able to see the fireworks no matter where you look in the sky.

The storms of September will pass and the country will unite to help people who have lost their homes and their property, and we will mourn those who have died. But there are more storms yet to come before November's election and these will be of consequence for everyone.

If you haven't registered to vote and you still can in your state, then please do. And make sure you vote.

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


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Teachers Need Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Most of the nation's schools are now open and running, but what of education?

Here in New Jersey, and in much of the New York suburbs, the opening week was an exercise in damage control. Most school districts, including mine, that do not have air-conditioning suffered through a terrible four days that saw students and teachers getting sick from the heat and school districts that changed their school's schedules to single session days (there's no such thing as a half-day).

As the climate warms, and it is, these days will become as frequent as snow days are in the winter, and will force all schools to have air conditioning as default equipment. This will cost money that the public will need to contribute in taxes, and with property taxes already high in these states, something else might need to be cut to pay for it.

And just wait until next spring when those of us living in states, where the new tax law limits our ability to deduct some mortgage and home equity loan interest and property taxes, complete our returns and realize that the GOP is fleecing the middle class so that corporations can get their 15% tax cut.

Through all of this, and more, teachers are doing their jobs with tremendous help from...exactly. There is simply no national agenda to improve education other than to cut back on regulations, destroy public unions, promote charter and for-profit schools, private school vouchers, and policies that question the value of what really made America exceptional and great: the public schools. With the GOP in charge, the federal government is abandoning its oversight role and giving the power back to the states to set their own academic requirements, student evaluations and equity policies. While it is true that states should have a great deal of power over their public schools, some states have notoriously low standards, are starving their budgets in order to lower taxes, and are falling short of ensuring that all students are protected by the laws and are provided with an effective education.

And if you thought that last school year's teacher walkouts in Oklahoma and West Virginia were isolated events, then you are in for a shock. I have no doubt that this year will bring more walkouts, more labor disputes, and more civil disobedience. I, for one, am in the mood and I work in a state where the teacher's union is strong and salaries allow for a middle class life.

Which makes this week's weather folly all that much more galling for both students and teachers. Many students, including not only my high schoolers, but children as young as five years old, were in classrooms for hours that registered temperatures in the 90s. If we left these same students in cars with the window cracked a half inch for 15 minutes while we ran into Starbucks we'd be arrested for child endangerment. Our administrators sent us messages thanking us and complimenting us all on being "troopers" and "toughing it out," words that have no place in a school.

I'm a teacher, not a soldier. I don't operate on the front lines, I teach in a classroom. And it's my job to prepare today's students to be tomorrow's leaders. Respect, or get out of the way.

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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Back-To-School Special: What You Know Beats How You Feel. Every Time.

My school district thought that it would just a fabulous idea to have the faculty report at the end of August, rather than to wait until September as they had for, say, the past 110 years, and to try and mollify us, in addition to giving us something to think about, they contracted with Dr. Robert Brooks and had him deliver a lecture about why it's key that educators create an atmosphere of trust, respect and comfort for our students.

My, what a long sentence that was.

But I digress.

Dr. Brooks's main point was that in order for students to reach their potential as learners, teachers need to provide a supportive, engaging, safe environment in their classrooms. Students should feel welcomed and respected, and they should know that the teacher is going to provide them with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, to work through problems, and to fail, as long as we also provide them with opportunities to correct their mistakes. He also spoke at length about creating resilient children who can use their life experiences, temperament and previous knowledge so they can feel successful and confident in their abilities. Much of what he said reflected what many educators learned in the 1980s and 90s through the Madeline Hunter Instructional Theory Into Practice model. Hunter spoke of "feeling tone'" which was a method of making one's classroom into, you got it, a supportive, engaging, safe environment.

This all sounds reasonable, but then Dr. Brooks lost me completely.

On two occasions during his lecture, he stated that "teachers do not teach math, history, science, 2nd grade or 3rd grade." His point was that we should be focusing on how students feel in the classroom and making them feel comfortable and welcomed in school.

I could not disagree more.

From the time I began teaching 35 years ago, I have called myself a "History Teacher." Not Social Studies--History. There's a difference. My view is that students need to know the subject, and through the subject they learn the disciplines inherent in that subject, the different strategies and learning modalities necessary to succeed in that subject, and the facts, arguments and research that informs the subject. It's through the subject that a student finds their level of engagement and interest, and it's up to the teacher to make that subject as relevant to the student as they can. The subject must drive the teacher's approach to education and to their classroom management. In sum, the subject comes first, then comes the environment.

I do agree with every educational theorist on the merits of creating a classroom environment where students feel welcome and safe, and where children know that the teacher can be trusted to provide them with worthwhile activities and information that will allow them to succeed. But we need to do that through our subjects, not first or separate. I want resilient students who can evaluate their own work against a rubric and edit, rewrite or change their minds to make a more cogent historical argument, and I will create a classroom environment that values those approaches.

What Dr. Brooks did not mention was that learning in and of itself is stressful. It's difficult to fit contradictory or seemingly unfathomable facts into your worldview. I will challenge students and ask difficult questions and, at times, make students uncomfortable because that's how you can assess learning. Many times students leave the classroom, and not just mine, without a resolution or with more questions that need answers. And it's all driven by the subject.

What's happened in education over the past 15 years is that educators have been told to focus more on mindsets, resilience and students' emotional concerns at the expense of actually teaching them a body of knowledge. Academic skills have become more important than facts because, after all, if you can learn how to analyze a source, you can do that in every subject, right? The Common Core gets some of the blame because it was a list of skills that students needed to learn. I thought that was great, but the problem was that the skills ate the content. The other problem is the assumption that we are living in a post-fact world because, after all, you can just look it up on the Internet. As a response to that folly, I am actually planning more lessons that don't require students to open their computers.

Teachers must teach their subjects first and foremost and use that subject to create an inviting classroom where students know they can succeed. To my colleagues around the country, I hope that you and your students have a successful year, and that by the end you have students who are both knowledgeable and happy.

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


Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Silly Season Gets Ominous

Gee. It turns out that the president actually lied. Not that this is a total surprise given his history of being a liar, telling untruths, exaggerating facts, creating alternative facts, being 100% wrong, saying one thing and contradicting another, making stuff up, fibbing, retweeting fake news stories, lying to his wife, and getting his American History facts absolutely wrong.

Now he got caught. And this is not going to go away so easily.

It was always clear that Donald Trump had affairs, as anyone who read about him during his days as a New York personality in the 1980s and 90s. And I'm sure he paid off a number of women to stay silent or to simply go away. He also convinced himself that he could control his message and make sure that anything too embarrassing would get squashed before it hit the papers.

The problem is that he brought these personality traits to the White House, and we know what happens to people who convince themselves of their own importance. Every president has flaws that become magnified once they are in the White House. Clinton had affairs, Nixon believed he could explain himself out of his own lies, GW Bush needed to please his dad, Obama was too detached. And on and on.

Now we have Michael Cohen admitting in court that the president knew about the payments to silence Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal before the 2016 election, and that the president intended these payments to influence the election's outcome. To the president, these are not crimes. To the rest of the legal, political and social world, these are serious enough that President Trump will have to answer for them.

This is not anything to celebrate. If Cohen is telling the truth, then the president is lying, and all of Trump's talk about a rigged election turns out to be accurate. The problem is that it was his campaign that was trying to influence it. Democrats running in close elections need to be careful about making too much of this issue too quickly. The news is damning enough, but the real concerns are health care, taxes, and local concerns.

And if this is all happening in August, imagine the fun we can look forward to in the fall.

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

Sunday, August 19, 2018

What Party? Some Democrats Aren't Helping the Cause.

Remember when the two worst words you could post on your Facebook feed was when a group of friends were talking about a party that you weren't invited to and you plaintively asked, "What party?"

I'm starting to feel that way about my party, the Democrats. I'm a registered Democrat and have been since I started voting at age 18. I've supported its mission and values, and even agreed when Democrats and Republicans would agree on something important, even if neither party got everything they asked for in the deal. I've worked the polls as the representative Democrat and even spent 14 hours side-by-side with a Reagan Republican and we had a lovely day chatting and cross-checking voter rolls.

But lately, some Democrats have not represented the party well. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's statement last week that America was never that great is a prime example. I understand what he means; that we have a higher standard of ethical and moral behavior to live up to and we're still working on that. And if he truly believes that, then the good governor should express that sentiment and urge Americans to do better at home and abroad. Instead, he gave a nice gift to the most demagogic person to sit in the White House, and the president took great advantage of it.

What Cuomo should have said was that the present administration was not going to make America great if it continued to allow polluters to pollute more, to relax clean air and water standards, to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans who want to join the military, to give massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, and to subvert American ideals as they relate to immigration and the treatment of children. In short, the focus needs to be on the behavior that he doesn't want to see. Once you start labeling and questioning what on the surface is a broad claim, you're going to get yourself into trouble. And he did.

It's the same with those Democratic representatives and candidates who are calling for President Trump's impeachment. Perhaps the Mueller investigation will uncover an impeachable offense, but to date the president has done nothing that is likely to lead to a broad swath of the electorate to support legal action against him. Democrats are only giving Republicans and Independent voters a reason to see this as more of a partisan issue than one that deserves their support. Plus, it makes Democrats look desperate and churlish.

Donald Trump has tweeted his little heart out, rampaged against immigrants, labeled the press as enemies and has questioned the country's commitment to security in Europe. Despite all of that, a majority of people still do not support him or his agenda, support immigration and believe that we should be solid as a rock when it comes to NATO. Why, then, muddy the waters with impertinent and provocative statements that only give him something to fight against?

Democrats need to channel this anger and frustration into a message that resonates with voters on the issues above and affordable health care. But if the party runs on impeachment and other divisive issues, they will blunt their message and suppress some support that would otherwise come from moderates and independents.

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

I Know! Let's Allow Businesses to Take Advantage of Consumers!

What a fun game this is. The country elects Republicans who oppose government involvement in our lives, except for our private parts, favors businesses over people, and makes it easier for businesses to take advantage of us when we try to fight back. The game then continues when we elect Democrats to fix all of that.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in the aftermath of the Great Economic Blowup of 2008, was supposed to monitor companies that wanted to take advantage of consumers and separate us from our money, which, if you want to be technical, is what every company wants to do. The issue is that most companies sell a product that, when used correctly, helps us with a task, meets a financial, social or emotional need, or tastes pretty darn good. Those that sell products that just separate us from our money, make fraudulent claims or prey on unsuspecting consumers with questionable claims or practices need to be thrown out of the market place.

Until last year, the Bureau, which was still run by Obama appointees, was responsible for reclaiming billions of dollars from companies that did bad things, including credit card companies, pay-day lenders, regular banks, student loan purveyors, and other swamp creatures.

Now it's not run by anyone remotely interested in overseeing consumer protection. In fact, many of the original rules have been neutered or rescinded, and the CFB is run by Mick Mulvaney, also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Guess which job demands more of his time?

The results have been significant. The CFB is now looking to suspend examinations of lenders for violations of the Military Lending Act, which is supposed to protect military families from fraud and stuff.

And Betsy DeVos now wants to scrap rules that forced for-profit colleges to substantiate their claims about being able to get their students jobs that pay money and stuff. You remember the for-profit colleges like Trump University an Corinthian College, right? They were forced out of business because they took money and didn't do...stuff...like give people the skills and knowledge to get jobs.
Now, I know that not-for-profit institutions of higher education couldn't guarantee anyone a job, but that's because their job is to...wait for it...educate their students, which most colleges do pretty well. But if your reason for existing is to get someone a job, then you'd better do quite well at that.

And this is just the beginning. Consumers and employees are already at a disadvantage because we have to agree to arbitration if we have a dispute with a company rather than being able to file class-action suits. Arbitration is stacked in favor of corporations simply because they run the system. It will likely not surprise you to know that this spring, the Supreme Court said that arbitration was constitutional because it would avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. As if costly and time-consuming were both so bad that they simply can not hold up under judicial or legislative scrutiny.

There's also the repeal of the Fiduciary Rule, which said that financial companies had to put the interests of consumers ahead of commissions and sales goals. Imagine a company that fights against putting consumers first. Can you say, Wells Fargo?

As for pay-day lending, why that industry even exists is a tragedy. Workers should not have to get a loan that uses a paycheck as collateral. Employers need to pay their employees a livable wage and not make it necessary for them to saddle themselves with loans that have exorbitant interest rates. It's outrageous that the alternatives in this list do not include demanding a wage that allows someone to live a decent life, or to be able to go to a regular bank and open a no-fee savings or checking account.

It is certainly incumbent upon all consumers to educate themselves and to spend their money wisely. But when unscrupulous businesses can continue to operate in a market economy without government oversight, that's a recipe for disaster.

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

Sunday, August 5, 2018

What A Great Idea! Let's Pollute More!

I agree that any talk of restoring this country's greatness must include a return to the smoke-belching, less-regulated, gas-guzzling, backroom-deal-making era that characterized the United States during its hegemonic, paternalistic, condescending, arrogant post-World War II to 1991 past. If I've argued anything in my life, it's that smog and respiratory distress are about as American as politicians who haven't a clue as to how to effectively run the country.

We seem to have hit the jackpot these days.

I suppose when you don't believe in science, or that people have an effect on the climate, then enacting policies that roll back environmental laws and that encourage automobile manufacturers to build cars and trucks that will pollute more makes perfect sense. After all, the companies that produce cars have been absolutely correct in the past when they opposed seat belts, harnesses, catalytic converters, cleaner fuel standards and designs that allowed vehicles to crumple around the edges rather than on people. And I'm all about forgiving Volkswagen and others when they faked pollution data to make their cars appear cleaner. It's perfectly reasonable to cut back on regulations because, hey, we can trust Detroit, Tokyo and Wolfsburg to make the right decisions for us.

And there's absolutely no hypocrisy in the new policy when it comes to federalism, because allowing states, such as California, to follow their own pollution protocols is just too much for the know-nothing conservatives who on every other issue argue that states should absolutely be able to follow their own paths. Environmental concerns, they are arguing, must be dictated by Washington or else some states might have cleaner air than other states, which would violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Birthright citizenship means that everyone should have dirty lungs.

The good news is that many Americans did go to science class pretty regularly and understand that there's no going back to the coughing, wheezing past. And I suspect that many Democrats, who are already making inroads by running on health care that actually saves lives, will use this assault on our environment to further the argument that this administration simply doesn't make a sensible argument on, well,...anything.

So get ready for those fun September temperature inversions. And dirtier rain. And more unhealthy air and water. I'm feeling greater already.

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

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Think the Supreme Court is Non-Political? Think Again.

I just spent a week doing what all teachers should have the option of doing in the summer if they didn't need a second job to make ends meet. I attended a seminar on a content topic that was both fascinating, useful, and timely. It was sponsored by the Gilder Lehman Institute of American History and took place at Lafayette College, which has a very nice campus and facilities, and included 32 other educators from around the country And the topic? The Bill of Rights. Can't get more current events than that.

After a one-week immersion, my general conclusion is this: The Supreme Court just makes stuff up.

Honestly.

They come up with a rule about how they're going to treat cases having to do with privacy or searches or speech or due process or religion and then for the next case, they change the rules, so if you're looking for consistency, look at a nice thick bowl of pudding instead. For example, in 1977 the court ruled that public union agency fees were perfectly legal, and even preferable. This year, the court struck them down as a violation of the free speech rights of people who don't agree with the union's political leanings. Never mind that money that unions use for political action are separate from those used for internal contract defense. The result is that starting now, anyone can stop paying union dues, but still be covered by the contract.

Likewise with privacy. With the probable addition of Brett Kavanaugh, the court looks primed to declare that abortion, marriage equality and the rights of LGBTQ Americans are not guaranteed by the constitution and that the states could regulate such behavior. This has been the conservative strategy concerning choice since the Roe decision in 1973, but since that decision was based on other cases that recognized a generalized right to privacy, many other rights would fall if the court decides that the states retain the power to regulate their citizens. It might not mean that abortion would become illegal everywhere, but it would allow states, probably around 20 at this point, to make it a crime. And those states could also likely limit contraceptives and even the morning after pill if they so desired.

And you thought that conservatives wanted the government out of people's lives. Please rethink this. Conservatives love to tell the federal government to go away, but they have no problems allowing restrictions that their states want, and most of those have to do with what they call moral behavior. As if any Trump supporter has any claim to moral behavior or recognizing just what the heck it is. The court could also expand religious rights and give them precedence over civil rights laws as long as your faith is real, substantial and committed. As for corporations? Not only are they people, they are strong, wealthy, powerful people whose rights will overshadow the average American's simply because they have the money to get their message into the marketplace more frequently and with more visibility.

In the end, it's very difficult to predict what might happen once someone gets on the court, but I think we have a pretty good idea of the direction of this court. I can't say that I'm optimistic.

Need a reason to vote in November? Start here.

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


Sunday, July 22, 2018

You Want Change? Eyes Forward

I'm sure you've heard about the latest outrage. Of course you have. It was about foreign affairs or the economy or immigration or something that will make the country weak or less democratic or dirtier or something. You reacted to it on social media. Maybe you organized something or gave money to someone or just shook your head.

Eyes forward lefty. The day-to-day is simply a distraction. The point is to say how you will fix this or make it less important or make it go away. Perhaps, yes perhaps, you might even want to ignore it next time. I know, that's a tough one, but it might lower your blood pressure or clear your mind so you can think and not just react.

Feel better? OK, this will take time.

Keep your eyes forward. The message has to be that if you want a change from what's been happening, then you have to register to vote, and then vote. Then you have to make sure that the correct message gets out. You want a foreign policy that has a point, that safeguards democratic values, that honors and supports out allies, that makes China think twice before stealing intellectual property and that sends a message to Russia that what they're doing is completely unacceptable?

Then you have to vote for the people who will send that message.

Do you want an economy where wages actually rise for workers, where workplace safety is a prominent concern, where unionized workers can bring positive change, where products are safe, where pollution is punished, where the gap between the highest earners and the lowest stops widening, and where all people have affordable, meaningful health care?

Then you have to vote for the people who will send that message.

Do you want a society were all people are valued and where all Americans have access to the ideas that will enable them to prosper intellectually? Do you want leaders who will recognize that we are strong because we are diverse, and that we ask questions of each other because that's what helps us figure out what we need to do to improve?

Never forget that that the president was elected with a minority of the popular vote and that he is still not popular with a majority of Americans. We are the majority. Eyes forward.

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




Monday, July 16, 2018

The Issues That Will Win the Day

Have you noticed that Congress hasn't passed any laws lately? Yes, I know they've probably snuck in some measures having to do with the awfulness of the government being able to help poor people or possibly allowing people to cite religious beliefs as a way to discriminate, but other than that, nothing.

I've already written about the lack of an infrastructure bill, despite the desperate need we have for a new electrical grid that utilizes non-fossil fuels, better roads and airports, and safer bridges. I certainly understand that undermining our NATO allies and embracing Vladimir Putin takes precedence in the president's schedule, but could Congress actually solve some problems?

This needs to be the focus of the Democratic message going into the fall election campaign. Candidates need to stay away from impeachment and even the Russia investigation and remind voters that the swamp has indeed been repopulated with people who want to dismantle the supports that have allowed people social and economic mobility. The party must reach out to moderates who are unhappy or wary of what the Republicans say they'll do with a larger majority and a Supreme Court that will uphold their program. The surprises we've seen in Alabama, Pennsylvania and New York have all come from candidates who knew their constituents and ran campaigns that appealed to those local realities. That will bring more success, but only if more candidates forego the anger that repels moderate voters.

Health care, higher wages, a tax bill that supports all middle class Americans. These are the issues that will bring more votes than anger and blame and talk of removing the president. The biggest mistake the Democrats can make is to move too far to the left. That can, and will, come later. For now, move incrementally and build a larger support base.

Never forget that the president was elected with a minority of the popular vote. More people support the Democratic vision of this country than the conservative's view. If Democrats stick to the issues, they can win.

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

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Whither Infrastructure?

What a great word. Infrastructure. People of all stripes and models use it earnestly despite its awkwardness. It means so much and is so difficult to romanticize.

I'll stop.

Remember when infrastructure was going to be first on the new president's agenda? It was going to be the issue that Democrats and Republicans could rally behind because, really, roads, bridges, the power grid, airports, public transportation systems, etc., in this country are dreck and need a massive infusion of money and attention at every level of government.

So what happened? My sense is that the issue is far too big and unsexy for a president who loves controversy and chaos and attention, but is short on policy knowledge. And it would take a whole bag of dough to get all of these projects going and the tax bill put a major hole in the federal budget. Add in the ideological opposition that Republicans have to spending taxpayer money in urban areas that voted Democratic and you have the kind of political blindness and ignorance that comes around once in a great while. Forget North Korea and dismantling the health care system. Neglecting infrastructure will cost lives if we don't get going soon.

To be fair, the president did talk about infrastructure early in his administration and said that it would be great and that we would do it, but we haven't. Meanwhile, the trains get worse, the roads get worse, airports get worse, bridges get worse, power outages get worse, and we don't seem to be interested in moving forward on securing our economic lifeblood, roads and airports, or repairing and upgrading them anytime soon.

Wouldn't this create jobs? Ensure safety? Allow us to compete more broadly with countries around the world that have functioning and improved infrastructure? Make us...you know, great? Of course it would, which is why it's so low on the list of things this administration wants to do. My fear is that it's going to take a great tragedy to get this administration to commit political capital to rebuilding these facilities. And even then, I can see them blaming everyone before they settle on a plan that will likely be less than what's absolutely necessary.

They haven't a plan, and they really haven't a clue.

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

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Don't Get Mad: Get Going

You knew there was going to be a point at which it gets worse. We might have reached it. The Supreme Court ruled that the president can order the borders closed to certain people because of their religion and that you should be protected by a union contract without having to pay for it. Of course, these were once ideas that were the stuff of bad dreams, mediocre comedy, and cranky uncles. Now rule the day.

And, yes, Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement will almost certainly, no, certainly, result in a more conservative court that will likely return more power to the states when it comes to abortion, marriage equality, and civil and religious rights. That is, when they're not outlawing some of those things and other cherished rights that we thought were fundamental, constitutional and just plain good ideas.

But I also think that we'll be surprised that other events will conspire to frustrate and thwart the conservative minority government. Perhaps the new justice is not as conservative as everybody thinks. Or turns out to be another David Souter. Yes, I know, maybe I'm just being hopeful, but the real mistake most of us make is thinking that things will not change and that once set in motion, the ball will always roll in one direction.

Good things are happening in some states. California remains a hotbed of resistance to the outlandish requests of the federal government. New Jersey will pass a budget that raises revenue from people who can afford to pay more and who should be asked to pay more for the services they receive. But they should also contribute more so that other citizens can reap the benefit of excellent schools, safe neighborhoods, health care and a job that pays them enough on which to live. And in New York, the Democratic machine just received a gut punch in the form of a first-time candidate who had a positive message, a terrific organization, and the energy to carry a progressive message to a majority of the party's voters.

When the Republicans were rebuked in 1964, they began to build an organization that reflected their message carried by their people. The Democrats have begun to do the same. It will take time. It will take money. It will take patience. It must be done non-violently.

But it will be done.

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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

And You Thought Immigration Was Bad. Just Wait.

The pictures, dismissive commentary, rationalizations and policy contradictions (if there really is a policy) surrounding immigration have shown that the RepubliTrump party is morally and ethically bankrupt.

But that's not really the worst of it. In fact, all of this immigration horror might be a sideshow to what the party really wants to do to the country. And it's all here.

That's right, my fellow Americans; the conservative firebrands who have hidden behind the president's coattails are finally in a position to undo the social safety net programs that have cushioned the middle class, protected the elderly, and given those who were neglected, left behind or just poor a fighting chance to be an integral part of American society.

Forget about the president's dream of returning to 1984. We're on our way back to 1884.

The tax cut that was passed last year was the first step. It created a huge budget deficit that the Republicans have no intention of addressing in any other way than with massive cutbacks in government spending to social programs. Combine the Labor and Education Departments? Great. Stop federal spending on research and development? All the better. Eviscerate the EPA? Already being done. And quite effectively, I might add.

The goal, of course, is to restore the government back to the role that conservatives view as the intended place of the federal government according to the Constitution and the debates of the 1780s. They also want to give big business free reign to run their affairs with minimal government oversight. Remember the last time that happened? It was called the Gilded Age and it resulted in the most massive redistribution of wealth and resources the country had ever seen until..today. And welfare was something you received at church.

Welcome to the restart. We've already seen regulations being rolled back, voting restrictions being implemented, crackdowns on immigration, Supreme Court decisions that treat corporations like people, and a tax cut that is providing a huge windfall to businesses while making many middle class earners pay more. The president says that he'll never make cuts to Medicare and Social Security because those elderly voters elected him, but I can't really trust that the GOP won't try something to include those programs in their reorganization.

It is true that there are many programs that need to be pared back or cut. The problem is that the present administration has no nuance. All regulations are job-killers, all people on public assistance are lazy scheming trough-suppers, all immigrants are criminals, all Democrats are unpatriotic. All, all, all.

So get ready for the real work of the conservatives. It will be done as quietly as they can. It's our job to yell it from the rooftops.

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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Rooting for the World

I understand that the reason the United States is not in the World Cup tournament is because of poor play, suspect coaching and stubborn woodwork, but there is a bit of poetry involved in that the present administration wants to isolate us and have us not play nice with the rest of the world.

So we're not.

Of course, I would certainly want the United States to be in the World Cup and to represent us on the world stage, but we'll have to wait until at least 2022 in Qatar. We are of course shoo-ins for 2026 because the Cup will be played here and Canada and Mexico. Call it the NAFTA Cup. If NAFTA is still around.

The international situation is, as always, dire. Right-wing, nationalist, isolationist, anti-immigrant despots are rising the world over, repudiating the post-World War II consensus that the way to avoid another world war is to cooperate, integrate and communicate. That this consensus is breaking down, and is indeed being led by the President of the United States, is troubling and potentially dangerous. The Chinese have essentially called President Trump's tariff bluff and the ensuing escalation could mean higher costs, prices and tensions. And don't forget that the only person to have left Shanghai last week with one less international chip was...President Trump. And this was after he excoriated and denigrated our allies while complimenting one of the world's most savage political beasts.

The antidote for me is the World Cup. It's greatness lies in its competition and how the players represent it. Many of them play on club teams together, and while they are not always friends, they do have respect for what their opponents can do. Sometimes they hug each other, help each other up, apologize for an inadvertent hit, or, get this one, smile. It's a joy to watch. The closest thing we have in this country is the NBA, where the players have become noticeably more conversational and cooperative with each other, even while elevating the level of competition.

It's also fun to watch because many of the country's teams represent what many of the demagogues in power don't want to see: integrated teams that include players of different races, religions and immigrant backgrounds proudly representing their nations. It's the ultimate rebuttal to closing borders, sending desperate refugees back across the sea, separating children from parents, or imprisoning, beating, harassing or killing those who are different. It is the ultimate reminder that every life is precious because you don't know what talents someone might contribute to their nation if you only see the threat that most of them will not become.

I can also root for another nation's team and not think twice about it.

For the next month, then, I will be reveling in the beautiful game. Join me.

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


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Donny Dictator Defines Deviancy Down

I'm always amused when there's a president in the White House with whom you don't agree, and friends or others ask, "But you want the president to succeed, don't you?" And I suppose, in the abstract, the answer always has to be yes because the success of the president is tied to the success of the country. If the president fails or does things that are detrimental to the country, then it hurts everyone, right? We all want prosperity for all and justice and equality and excellent education and affordable, comprehensive health care and clean air and water and for people to respect each others' differences in the name of democracy and decency and humanity.

But now we have a president who does not represent those values or those hopes.  Over the past week he's supported a lawsuit by 19 states that would allow health insurance companies to charge more for people with pre-existing conditions who want coverage.

He's called law-abiding citizens who want to send a protest message to the country unpatriotic, and has raised the citizen soldiers who serve and protect the United States above others by giving them near-exclusive possession of the national anthem, as if the only ideas they were fighting for are to obey the president and be quiet in the face of injustice and racism. Last I knew, our military has been fighting to protect the rights we have and the democratic values that are attached to them, which include the right to protest publicly and unashamedly.

And just this weekend, the president has called for his good friends in Russia to be readmitted to the G-7 and has embraced his other good friend, Kim Jong-un, in advance of Tuesday's summit meeting, while simultaneously slapping tariffs on our allies and engaging in a trade war that will seriously harm American farmers. And he's doing this under the delusion that the main sin a country can commit is to have a trade surplus with the United States.

Good thing we elected a businessman who has little clue about how international business and trade works.

But the biggest threat the president poses is that he just doesn't seem to understand that he has a responsibility to the law and that presidents are not above it. Saying that he can end any investigation and that he can pardon himself might, according to some legal experts, be constitutional. The problem is that a responsible president wouldn't even broach the subjects. They would allow the justice system to do its job without interference or threats. They would not see this as a personal attack, but a system that only survives when it seeks justice for all.

What the president is doing is defining deviancy down, making what should be outlandish, outrageous, immoral and illegal perfectly normal for him.

Our allies are the enemy and the undemocratic dictators of the world are great men.

Treaties are not binding, but can be changed on a whim.

Insults, bragging and lies are the stuff of official policy.

To oppose the man (not the office) is treason.

To reform Washington, appoint selfish, greedy, anti-science, anti-education know-nothings in every corner of government.

So do I want the president to succeed? Not if he is going to pursue an isolationist, obstructionist, reactionary, unjust, petty course while in office. These make him, and the country, seem small. It's deviance from what we as a country have tried to accomplish up to this point.

That's what we'll get with Donny Dictator from now on.

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




Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Absolute Power Grab: Ignorance of the Law Becomes Trendy

There's nothing like studying the Watergate scandal to remind you of what can happen when one person gets more power than they can handle. President Nixon thought he was above the law, but the Supreme Court said otherwise.

Now we have Nixon redux or, more likely, Trump acid reflux, in the form of a president who believes that he too can ignore the law because he has "unfettered authority over all federal investigations." If you're not frightened by this statement, then you are either are too young to have lived through Watergate, and I'm sorry but learning about it in school, if you ever did, is not the same, or you don't really understand the fragile balance of power between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government.

For the president to acquiesce in this power grab doesn't surprise me, but it is disturbing. As Indiana Representative Samuel B. Pettingill said of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the debate on the court packing plan of 1937:

"This is more power than a good man should want and a bad man should have."

Of course, President Trump came into office and was immediately frustrated by how much he could not do simply because he was president, but now that he has advisers who share his disdain of constitutional limits on the executive, he's feeling untouchable and more secure. And while it is true that the president can terminate the investigation by firing the Special Prosecutor, that does not mean that Congress can't step in and prosecute the president for any crimes or misdemeanors that the prosecutor has uncovered. Then there's public opinion, which, in Nixon's case, was the undoing of his administration after he ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, precipitating the Saturday Night Massacre.

Yes, President Trump could fire Robert Mueller, but that wouldn't mean the end of the drama. If nothing else, the American people understand the importance of concluding an investigation and publicizing the results. Firing Mueller would necessitate suppressing the evidence, which would result in more lawsuits. And more suspicion. Because the more the president talks about how unfair the investigation is, the more guilty he looks.

What this all comes down to is the fact that the president believes that he is untouchable and that he can control the news cycle with his juvenile tweets, empty threats and folksy phrases, all served up with a 6th grade vocabulary and lots of !!!!. The courts will have the final say, and based on past decisions, and the constitution, the president will likely lose.

For the sake of the republic, I certainly hope so.

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


Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Last Vestige of Scoundrels

Great statements are considered great for a reason, and this one by Samuel Johnson about false patriotism certainly stands the test of time. Scoundrels will use patriotism for their own ends.

If it wasn't apparent when Donald Trump began his run for president, it is crystal clear now; that his brand of patriotism is noxious, uncompromising, divisive and exclusionary. It is not a patriotism that demands respect or a knowledge of American history.

It requires obsequiousness to the ruler.

It demands slander of anyone who is different, either by skin, sex, love or political belief.

It encourages ignorance, hatred and small-mindedness.

As we commemorate those who have fought for our freedom to challenge, to protest, to take to task, to account for the behavior and actions of those we elect, to disagree, to resist, and to just be a terrific nuisance to those who want something different from us, we must remember that change only comes when we make it inconvenient and painful for those in power to continue in power.

Have a great holiday.

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


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Trumpflation! Are You Ready to Get Your Pocket Picked?

Yes, it's here. Trumpflation: that combination of rising wages, rising interest rates, a border that's closed to low wage labor, a trade war with China, tensions with our European allies over economic sanctions, and a dropping fertility rate. 

What's it all add up to?

Well, it doesn't really add up, but the result will be rising prices, and wages that won't quite keep pace. Add in the nice gotcha that will hit many people's tax bills next April and you have a problem.
Of course, this is what can happen when you govern by chaos, ignorance and a commitment to making the wealthy wealthier.

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for a rising, healthy economy where anyone who wants a job can get one, and I believe that the economic expansion that began under Obama will continue to provide more employment and more money in the economy. Corporations have lots of cash on hand and many have committed to either building factories here or bringing production home from overseas. In and of itself, these would be positive developments and a wise president would leave this all alone, especially one who's told us repeatedly that he's a fan of laissez-faire economics.

The problems creep in when you poison the well with ideology. Isolating the country, threatening a trade war, slapping tariffs on goods that will harm American businesses and stoking a labor shortage because of short-sighted immigration policies will, I fear, stomp on this growth and lead to unintended, but decidedly visible, consequences.

Which we are already seeing. Gas prices are up. Food prices are up, even at my local warehouse store. Of course, the convenience of all of this is that when the government calculates inflation they exclude, you got it, gas an food prices. So while these are the components that affect people more directly, the real inflation rate will likely remain low while people scratch their heads about why goods cost so much more.

As for wages, I am glad to see that wages are rising somewhat, but they are not rising enough to cover the rising prices. The promise of the tax cut was that American corporations would create more high wage jobs and invest in new infrastructure. The reality is that most of the tax cut money is going into stock buybacks that do very little for workers.  The federal minimum wage has not moved, and this Congress will probably not raise it. Now add in rising interest rates and cars, homes and debt will cost that much more. Unless workers are going to get 4-5% increases, at some point they will start losing money.

With fewer people coming to the United States either because they've been barred or scared off by the administrations intolerance and hatred, the labor supply is in real jeopardy. Quite simply, our economy has grown over the years because of new workers who come to this country. The birthrate has slowed, and even has revered in the past year, and countries that cannot replace their populations run the real and documented risk of stifling economic growth.

But at least we'll get to test that old adage that immigrants are taking low wage jobs from Americans. With fewer immigrants, both legal and undocumented, we'll finally see if Americans flock to the fields to pick our fruits and vegetables and to the meat packing plants. If wages stay low, then I don't see this happening. If farm and meat producers begin to pay higher wages, guess who else will pay more at the store?

If we had a real populist in charge, then perhaps we could look forward to working people getting ahead and a tax cut that didn't penalize regular people who live in states that voted against him. But we don't have a real populist in charge. We have a president who would rather rule chaotically and unpredictably, although his unpredictability is becoming far more predictable, which creates uncertainly, volatility, and inequality.

Which is exactly what this country can look forward to.

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

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Mother's Day

Remember not to post anything on the Internet you wouldn't want your mother to see.

Of course, that would exclude 99% of what's on the Internet.

Happy Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Common Among Celebrities and People of Wealth

Any claims that Donald Trump makes about being a populist are heretofore to be considered fraudulent.

This man is no populist.

He's barely popular.

And his policies will not help his constituents as much as they think.

The economic numbers that came out Friday were encouraging, and at this point it's Trump's economy. Unemployment is down for most every demographic group and wages are starting to edge upwards. But there are also fewer people in the work force and his aggressive anti-immigrant screeds are causing labor shortages that could spread from less attractive positions to jobs that make the economy work.

Then there's the trade policy that focuses obsessively on trade deficits, which are not necessarily the big problem we have with other countries. Many of those countries, including China, provide us with less expensive goods that wage-challenged Americans need in their daily lives. Plus, many American companies, such as Boeing, are worried that steel and aluminum will cost more and the Export-Import Bank, a real bugaboo for conservative Republicans, won't be around to help them weather foreign competition.

Add to that the inflation that is already showing itself in gasoline and food, and the tax bill that will be a very great surprise to filers come next April, especially in states like New Jersey and New York, and you have a mixture of economic news that is decidedly, well...mixed.

But the real outrage should be directed at the president's remarks regarding the deepening scandal over the payments he authorized to Stormy Daniels, authorizations he denied just a few months ago.  His defense is that using Non Disclosure Agreements is a useful tool for the wealthy to fend off and otherwise manipulate less fortunate people is the height of unrestrained privilege.

President Trump is just as removed from anything populist as the next oligarch. He's spent his whole professional life trying to escape Queens, not trying to understand the middle and working class people who live there, including the immigrants that have made it the most multicultural borough in New York. Of course, those of us who've been subjected to his tabloid escapades since the 1980s already knew this. His best sell job was convincing the slim majorities of midwesterners that he was on their side.

And he misused the word role in his tweets, using roll instead. Nails on the blackboard to this teacher.

In the end it's the women and the cover-up that will sink him. Ain't it always so?

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



Sunday, April 29, 2018

Beware of Smiling Dictators

It's on. The Kim Jong-un Redemption Tour is officially under way and like any other one-party, all-powerful, illberal, murderous dictator, he is smiling all the way.

Hello. I had my uncle shot. (Smile)

Hello. I had my half-brother killed in one of the most unique, sinister plots I could think of. (Smile)

Hello. I'm going to make nice-nice with our brothers and sisters in South Korea and meet with President Trump, who thinks I'm going to give up all of my nuclear weapons in return for some food and maybe some cultural artifacts. (Smile)

I'll believe it when I see it.

And here's the funny thing: Kim has a far more experienced foreign policy team than the United States does at present. The president, I fear, knows very little other than what's in his gut, which at any given moment has come from McDonald's. The new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has been on the job for a little over two days and is more infamous for his dislike of Muslims than what he knows about global politics.

OK, you're right. Not funny at all.

Plus, I'm a bit unsure as to what "denuclearization" means. Are both Koreas supposed to give up their nuclear arsenals? Are the Chinese and the Russians supposed to give up anything? After all, North and South can't sign a peace agreement to end the war without the US and other countries that were involved in the fighting. And what about the Japanese? Will we be asked to stop supporting Japan with our nuclear weapons?

Or is this like my kitchen? I won't bomb my neighbor, but please don't ask me to give up my microwave.

So many questions.

And then there's that smiling Comrade Kim, knowing that he can go on killing, starving, harassing, jailing, intimidating, propagandizing, bankrupting and misleading his people because he probably watches FOX News and understands that the Trump Administration will not only turn a blind eye to human rights abuses, they'll go all Oedipus on us and take a stick to their remaining oculars.

That's the real payoff and Kim knows it. He will not be held to account for the truly terrible things he's done to his people and he'll extract something of value for his regime. The South might get a peace treaty, repatriation for citizens who were kidnapped by the North, reunification meetings for families, and a promise from Kim not to invade, which will help the government of President Moon Jae-in maintain its economy and security. The North will get pretty much everything else, including some food aid, which is great, but it certainly won't be enough to turn around an economy that's hovering about three inches above dirt level.

As for the United States? Kim will want something in return for his denuclearization, such as a promise that the US won't invade, but it also might involve us weakening our alliance with Japan and South Korea. And I'm sure that Chinese President Xi will be involved as well. Many of the news reports talk about how China has been sidelined or marginalized as Kim goes directly to the South and then will meet with President Trump. I don't buy a word of it. President Xi, unlike the other bombasts who've taken to the world stage in the past two years, knows the value of silence. And loyalty. Kim is not acting alone.

When all is said and done, though, the smiling dictator will go back to his country and dictate. Everything. Nothing of any value will change.

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Bullet Stops Here

I believe we have a winner.

The award for the most misguided person in the United States has to go to Micheal D. Cohen, Donald Trump's attorney and scheissmeister, who is quoted as saying that he would take a bullet for the president.

Now don't get me wrong. I would certainly take a bullet for anyone in my immediate family or a close friend, but I most certainly would not take anything for a person, much less a president, who denigrates, insults and forsakes me as a human being. Misplaced loyalty is a failure of character. Cleaning up other people's infidelities, financial irregularities and lapses of judgement that a child could explain as wrong is no way to make a living. It's no wonder that the president and those who know him are more worried about what the FBI will find out by sifting through Cohen's records than they are about Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the election. What Trump has done domestically is far more noxious and damaging to his presidency.

But just when this story should be blooming in springtime glory, the Democrats stepped into some scheiss of their own by filing a lawsuit alleging criminal activity against it by the Russians, the Trump campaign and Wikileaks. Further, the DNC filed the suit without letting important people like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi know they were doing this. Honestly, it makes the party look like a bunch of crybabies. Let Mueller do his job, keep the pressure on Cohen and focus on the ill effects of the president's policies on the economy, the environment, families, and the safety of their children.

Is that too difficult to ask? Or do the Democrats simply need to create fissures and schisms to feel alive?

The Republicans are already running the fall campaign by warning their donors and voters that if the Democrats win either or both legislative houses in November, then they will open impeachment proceedings as soon as their members are sworn in. Why give this issue back to the GOP? It's not like they have a stellar record to run on. The tax cuts are exciting noone except the companies that are using their windfall to buy up stock, and the rise in gas prices will soon negate most of the money that the middle and working classes are finding in their checks. Health care also seems to be a real worry to many middle class families because premiums and drug prices are rising at the same time that coverage and deductibles are making it difficult to get adequate care.

With all of the other distractions in Washington, running a campaign on middle class concerns would be a fun idea, yes? Perhaps the DNC could be persuaded to fund such a campaign for the fall instead of playing the president's game and making everything a matter of resentment and blame.

Instead of taking a bullet, why don't we bite the bullet and do what's right for the American people who deserve better than what they're presently getting from their representatives. I'd sacrifice a lot for that.

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


Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Second Time As Farce

Can someone please tell me what's the plan for this country? Yes, I understand that giving it over to corporate interests by cutting taxes, repealing legislation that keeps the air and water clean, and allowing certain industries to both police and investigate themselves, is just what Republicans do when they gain power, but where are we going? Is this it?

These thoughts came to me after last week's big-time fail by Republicans when they tried to muster a two-thirds majority for a balanced budget amendment. Not that this would have gone anywhere because there aren't 67 votes in the Senate to send such an amendment to the states, but it seems as though the GOP has given up on getting anything useful done.

And now that Paul Ryan has decided not to run for reelection, the truth about Republican governance has been exposed for the lie that it's always been. I'm tired of hearing that politicians want to spend more time with his family. The time to do that is when children are young and impressionable, not when they're older and don't want to listen anyway. I'm not just pointing this out because Ryan's a Republican. Anybody who says they want to spend more time with their family after being away from them for ten years is simply ignorant of the effect their behavior has had on the children. You can never get that time back.

Politically, though, this is significant. It's quite clear that the GOP sees the writing on the wall and it's in bright Day-Glo colors: You are going to lose many seats, and perhaps even your majority, so if you want to live under Democratic rule, then run again. Otherwise, move on. It also shows that many Republicans believe that the president is doing severe damage to the party and that the investigations into his and is associates' behavior will uncover real crimes with real potential punishments.

We've been here before in previous administrations. Sex scandals. Investigations. Ethically questionable behavior. An executive seething with resentment and frustration over the press and day-to-day workings of the government. Money. Everywhere there is money. Follow the money. And Mission Accomplished? Really?

Bombing Syria will change the news for a day or so, but eventually we'll go back to the domestic issues, and that's where we need some forward looking and thinking leadership. We need a plan, not just empty slogans. We need a direction.

I'm just a bit skeptical about where that's all going to come from.

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

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Fierce Resistance: Public Workers Have Had Enough

I'm sure you remember this old saw: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I'm sure that there are some reaction deniers out there, but for the most part this is settled science. And that's exactly why those who see the end of public unions, or indeed unions in general, in their rear view mirrors had better watch the road in front of them.

For the uninitiated, or for those unlucky enough to be represented by a labor union, the conversation wherein truth speaks to power will get very loud, most likely during the final week in June when the Supreme Court will render its decision in the Janus case, which centers on fees that are charged to people who don't join the union, but get the benefit of having it represent them during collective bargaining. For example, if you are a teacher in a public school in New Jersey and you don't want to join NJEA, you will still pay anywhere up to 85% of the association dues because the local NJEA affiliate will bargain on your behalf and, well, that costs money.

The Janus case, which is being pushed by right wing groups, is challenging those agency fees as unconstitutional because they say that workers are being forced to support speech they don't like, what with most associations being fairly liberal and contributing to Democratic candidates. The odds-makers are betting that the present Supreme Court will throw out 40 years of settled law and rule that unions cannot force anyone to contribute for their bargaining. The thinking among those right wing groups is that the public unions will then fall apart, go bankrupt, lead to the demise of public...everything and put the Democratic Party at a dangerous disadvantage because it would be robbed of union support.

A decision against agency fees would be terrible for working people, but let's go back to the equal and, more important, opposite reaction that's likely to take place.

If the right thinks that this will be the end of public unions, then they haven't been paying attention to West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, where teachers in these decidedly union-bashing states are walking out over pay, benefits and the lack of respect they're getting from know-nothings who think that just about anybody can be a public school teacher or worker. Years of Republican rule have sacrificed budgets on the altar of tax cuts and anti-government free-market gobbledygook about school choice and the money it robs from public education. Teachers have always noticed the effects and now parents are too. The results are not encouraging.

And if the GOP doesn't watch out, this movement will spread to other states that, until now, have been all quiet on the union front. In fact, a look at that list will illustrate just how much the GOP has to lose in a labor war, since the states with the least effective unions traditionally vote Republican. You can only push people so far, and the truth is that many teachers in these states need to also get second jobs in order to pay the bills. That's not an effective social contract.

But it doesn't end with teachers. Public workers throughout the country are being stigmatized because budget cuts have rendered local and state governments less effective and less able to respond to the needs of their citizens. This has been a major aim of the Republicans going back to Reagan, that is, to cut government spending so that people would attack its credibility, and the process has been disgracefully effective. State and federal workers have been furloughed and caught in battles between legislators resulting in government shutdowns to the point that many good people have left the field.

This cannot continue, and the reaction has already begun. Public unions will not go away. They will adapt and continue because they represent worker who do vital jobs. And all of the talk about how the president is on the side of workers has been exposed for the empty nonsense it's always been.

As a public school teacher in New Jersey, and an association president, I am represented by, and represent, an organization that has my interests at heart. But I was thinking the other day about how far I would go if those rights and benefits were in danger.

Would I walk out? Yes I would.
Would I strike, which is illegal for teachers in New Jersey? Yes I would.
Would I go to jail? Yes I would.

And I work in a state where public worker salaries and benefits are comparatively high.

Anger and frustration have a funny way of altering people's behaviors. We are seeing the beginning of that.

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


Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Strangers In Your Midst and the Fools Who Fear Them

An interesting year, no? The calendar has created a confluence of Passover, Easter and April Fool's Day, which pretty much covers everyone who lives...everywhere. Which is humbling because this weekend should remind us that we are only as big and smart and compassionate and humane as the weakest among us. The ones with the smallest voices, the vulnerable, the unloved. And that's why the words of the Seder concerning the stranger are incredibly prescient.

In short, they say, "You shall not oppress a stranger since you yourselves know the feeling of the stranger, for you were also strangers in the land of Egypt."

Pretty straightforward, I think. Treat all the people living in your land with respect, acceptance and love. The liturgy is full of these sentiments. And then some. But of course, we live in a land that has developed complicated feelings about the strangers who live here. We fear them and blame them for ills that are not supported by objective data. And then there's the president, who seems contradict himself over who should be able to stay in this country, and who gets himself in hot water over his language.

The real problem, though, is that people who call themselves religious, and a great number of those who don't, not only support the restrictionist policies of the president, they do so in direct violation of the religious values they so proudly promote. This creates a climate of fear that is dividing the country and is leading the government to sue states and cities that say they will harbor immigrants, both documented and undocumented, rather than submit to policies that break up families and sow fears in largely immigrant communities.

And adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census will only make things worse. If the purpose of the census is to get an accurate count of who's in this country, then why ask a question that will lead to a dramatic undercount of the population? After all, it's crystal clear that the reason behind the question is not benign. What the president ultimately wants is to prove his contention that he lost the popular vote count in 2016 because illegal immigrants rushed to the polls and voted against him. Secondarily, he wants to know who's a citizen so his administration can harass, deport and threaten both immigrants and the states in which they reside, most of which voted against him.

Talk about oppression. And fear.

We do need sensible immigration reform, but that does not include a wall or mass deportations or disruptions in the lives of people who have lived here productively. It does include compassion and respect, which seem to be in short supply in Washington.



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






Sunday, March 25, 2018

After the Nor'easters: Trump Caves on the Budget While the Real Storm(y) is on the Horizon

For all of the talk about President Trump almost vetoing the Congressional spending bill, what's lost is that his presidency will likely turn out to be a textbook case of an outsider with no natural political constituency unable to reorder the bureaucracy or scare enough legislators to bend to his will. After all, here is a politician who did not garner a majority of popular votes and is proving unable and unwilling to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats, who in many cases would be able to provide him with votes on legislation he'd like to pass.

Yes, he got his military spending increase, but on most other measures, including the ridiculous wall on the Mexican border, he earned the political equivalent of the Golden Sombrero, whiffing on cuts he proposed in funding for the arts, the EPA, housing and transportation, each of which received an increase in government support or the same level of funding as the year before. In effect, Congress ignored the president's request, then essentially told him to sign the bill or he'd get a worse one in return.

So much for Trump the dealmaker or politician who would come in and clean house. In fact, the only house he's cleaned is the White House by firing and replacing his staff at a rate unseen in...forever.

Congress has learned that the president cannot rally Americans behind his agenda mainly because his agenda is supported by a minority of people and his behavior has so eroded his support that Republican members of Congress are running for the doors in anticipation of a Democratic wave election in November. Trump has also shown a notable lack of policy knowledge and engagement, so trying to make an actual argument other than a particular policy is "great" or "the best" seems to be beyond his grasp. Add in the tweets that come in flurries after he's watched some outrage on FOX and you have a political environment that is unstable, ignorant and rudderless.

Just what the Founders envisioned, right?

What should make Republicans quake that much more is that they and the president should be at the height of their power and influence. One-party governance has a short shelf life as Democrats can confirm from 2009-2011. You get two years to prove your worth and Republicans understand that they have not unified the country and that the president is not going to have a coat, much less coattails in the upcoming election. For the president to be snubbed on his major priorities at this point is a major rebuke. Neither they nor he are going to regain influence. The tax cuts are in the system. If all Trump has left is to bar transgender Americans from serving in the military, then it's going to be a difficult environment for them for the rest of the year.

And that's just the domestic side. A rejection of the diplomatic order that's kept the peace since 1945 in the form of higher tariffs, a foreign policy team full of hawks, and a confrontational attitude towards China and North Korea are all causing some concern in the United States and abroad. It's one thing to shake up a moribund system. It's quite another to cause other countries to question the commitment of the United States to protocols that keep the world safe.

The president finally has a foreign policy and security team he's comfortable with, but he still sees the world as a series of personal relationships that determine who gets punished and who doesn't. Congratulating Vladimir Putin while applying tariffs to Japan makes for a contradictory signal. Gutting the State Department, leaving embassies short staffed and trusting your gut on Kim Jong-un is downright dangerous. The lone bright spot is holding China accountable for the theft of intellectual property, which has been going on since the 1990s. But that's hardly something to run on.

It's a bit too early to call President Trump a lame duck, but he's getting close. Congress passed the tax cuts, but the ACA remains, as does an un-walled border. The issue that could unite the country, an infrastructure bill that provides both jobs and desperate repairs, is nowhere to be found. And, of course, the Stormy clouds are gathering.

Donald Trump will not be a transformative leader because his worldview and policy knowledge are far too limited, and he had done nothing to unify the country. Congress just reminded him of that. The people will remind him again in November.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Wasn't Trump Supposed to be Good at...Something?

I would think that the president might be more inclined to support some gun control measures, seeing as how he loves to shoot himself in the foot.

How does President Trump think that firing Andrew McCabe or Rod Rosenstein or James Comey or Rex Tillerson is going to make anybody forget the main issues in a White House saga starring incompetence, venality and revenge (a great name for a law firm, no?)? I understand the president's fascination with the media and keeping his name at the top of the websites, but doesn't he understand that he would be there anyway simply because of his position?

For all of the talk about his being a master media manipulator and a genius at getting people to talk about him, Trump is a terrible public relations guy. He wants to remake the country in his image, but he has no plan and constantly gets in his own way. He also says mean things, attacks the very institutions that can get him the programs and policies he wants, and seems to lack even the basic knowledge of trade or business that was supposed to be his strength.

And what of his signature accomplishment? Conor Lamb's election was extraordinary not just because he won in a Trump-dominated district, but despite the fact that almost every worker in that district received a tax cut and should have been thankful to the president and his party. That, more than any other reason says to me that the Republicans are in deep trouble come the fall. The old argument was that the president was a savvy businessman who would bring some fiscal sense to the country and reorder the government so it responded when it was needed, but otherwise stayed out of the way. We now know that this argument is showing some serious cracks and the new tariffs could end up costing Americans more money and some jobs in the name of economic nationalism.

President Trump would do himself, and the country, a favor by simply ignoring Robert Mueller's investigation and Stormy Daniels and just getting on with the business of governing. True, it wouldn't make those problems go away, but to gloat that you've fired an FBI employee so close to retirement because he's tied to James Comey is simply terrible, terrible policy. And trying to silence a woman the president said he never slept with is just plain silly. If she's lying, let her and expose her. What complicates this is the $130,000 payment to buy her silence. And the $20 million threat if she breaks the agreement.

That's terrible public relations, business practice and support of American values. What else has the president got?

Not much.

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