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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Power of Power

Funny you should ask, but yes, I am sitting in my local public library charging all of my devices because yet again, north central New Jersey is without power. I really thought we had escaped this because the snowstorm hit on Wednesday and we kept our power throughout the driving snow and falling branches. But on Saturday morning we heard a bang, and then the lights went out. And the heat. And the (well) water. At least we can still cook on the gas stove. A large pork shoulder butt for pulling. What else would you expect a nice Jewish boy to be cooking on a Sunday afternoon?

But that's not what I came to talk about. Came to talk about power. So while we wait for more snow on Monday night and Tuesday, let's muse about the power shift that is on its way.

Young people are ticked off and they want the power over their lives that previous hordes of young people have fought for. The power to be safe. The power to shake the status quo, as in the power of the NRA to dictate their view of the Second Amendment, which is that it's inviolable and any slight change in gun laws is an egregious violation of American rights. Enter Florida. Raising the minimum age to purchase a gun is a good step. Worked with alcohol; why not guns? The NRA's argument is that denying a 19 year old a gun is akin to taking away guns, which, as we know, is the argument that all far-right gunsters use to beat back any regulation. If Florida can pass gun control laws, then most any state can. The question is whether they will.

Related to that is the proposed student walkout on Wednesday in response to the Parkland shooting. Under normal circumstances, schools in the leafy NJ suburbs would balk at letting students lead a disruption in the school day. This time, though, administrators are bending to the will of the vocal majority and are making accommodations so that both students and teachers can express their concerns and rights and fears and hopes that the country will finally make some common-sense changes. Students are leading this, and that's the beauty of it because they need to be heard. So much for this being an uninvolved, frightened, self-centered group of young men and women. That the right wing media wants to paint them as dupes and fakes tells you all you already knew about the credibility of the right wing media.

And what about the teachers? In West Virginia they didn't make the mistake that Senator Susan Collins made when she voted to keep the government funded in return for a scheduled vote on Dreamers, only to be sold out by Mitch McConnell. No, the teachers didn't go back to school after the promise of a wage gain; they waited until the legislature actually gave them one before ending their protest, defying their state and local union leadership.

In short, enough is enough. Destroying public worker unions has resulted in the most heinous abrogations of the commitment that a progressive, democratic republic is supposed to make to the workers that ensure that students are educated and that government services are delivered effectively and equally. We are truly at the point where Ronald Reagan's warning that the government is the problem is having its most noxious effect.

I have to laugh, and cry, at the gazillion gigabytes of words and pictures devoted to the idea that our present government is somehow run by populists. It is not. It is run by know-nothings who are shifting even more money to themselves and hoping that the poor rubes who voted for them won't notice or will be bought off by $40 or $50 dollars more per week in their paychecks. Meanwhile, government workers are vilified for not getting things done with the reduced resources that those in power would like to reduce and defund even more.

The backlash is already here and it's being lead by people who are supposed to do as they are told. Clearly, that's not happening anymore.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, March 4, 2018

If the Children Are to Lead, They Have to Vote

You'll excuse me if I'm somewhat skeptical, but all this talk about how the young people of this country are going to lead us into a new era where the adults have failed seems vaguely familiar. Many older Americans had the same feelings when the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971 and they braced themselves for a new generation of activists who would change the way this country was run.

Instead, they gave us the Reagan Revolution which, by the by, coincides with a precipitous decline in the fortunes of the middle class, an explosion of money at the top of the income scale, and racial, economic and educational inequality that has resulted in a lost generation of African-American men and a coarsening of public discourse as a direct result of the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987.

In other words, the mythical bar in on the floor, ready for anyone with a half-considered idea to walk confidently over it.

Ok, Ok, maybe that wasn't fair or was a bit dark. After all, the baby boom cohort has given us technology that was only a dream 40 short years ago, which has revolutionized work, entertainment, grammar and the speed at which society hurtles forward. We have better food, more of it, and at lwer prices than we;ve ever had it. Is it any wonder that we're gaining weight? We also have more breweries in this country than at any time since the 1880s. So we got that going for us.

And here comes the new youth. Hello and welcome. While the rest of us boomers get older, and I am shockingly aging at the rate of one year per year, the country seems to be getting younger and younger. This is natural. This is good. This works for me.

But I am not yet convinced that it will mean that meaningful change is close at hand.

First, the new young people will need to register to vote on or before their 18th birthday depending on their state's law. Then they will need, and this is the big one, to vote. In every election. Every one. Without fail. I haven't missed an election...ever. Not ever. I voted in person, by absentee ballot and by mail-in ballot. They can too. It's easy. And fun.

And not just voting in presidential elections. Young people need to vote in local state and Congressional elections as well. This is how to transfer the energy and emotion into policy and representation. It's a lesson in civics. Which we don't require much in schools these days? Connection? Anyone? Anyone?

It will be difficult to maintain the present energy until November, but that's natural. The initial awakening will settle down into organizing and spreading the message. Then the real slog comes in the fall when people will need to go door-to-door and get out the vote. But we have a good start. The energy is building and so is the outrage over the senseless violence that has now invaded schools.

To make a change, though, young people must register and vote. No Excuses.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 25, 2018

NRA? Forever. NEA? Not Ever. The Destruction of Public Education

West Virginia Teachers are on strike.

Students are being shot in schools.

The Secretary of Education self-assesses herself a B+ or A- on her first year of work.

Boston University is the latest college to forgive students who are disciplined if they walk out of school on March 14 to demonstrate for school safety.

The president and the NRA want teachers to carry a gun in school.

This is the state of education today.

In a way, this doesn't surprise me. After all, I lived through 8 years of Chris Christie and the Know-Nothings bashing teachers, ridiculing our concerns and generally creating a toxic environment for all public workers. Now that we're living with the greatest worst president in the history of our country, it would make sense that we have the best anti-education leaders in our history making decisions that make little common sense and absolutely no education sense.

West Virginia is just another example of anti-union states paying teachers so little that they have to get second jobs just to maintain a middle class existence. This is what happens when ideologues take away the power of workers to bargain collectively or to have a say in their work environments. It speaks volumes that teachers believe they have to strike because it goes against everything that effective educators believe, which is that we need to be in the classroom educating children. To decide that you have to be out of the classroom with a picket sign is a sign that the state government has gone too far.

And it could, and likely will, get worse. On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could severely cripple unions that represent public workers. The Janus case  would allow people to opt out of, or not join, a union, and thus not pay a dime, but would require the union to still bargain on behalf of that employee. This would place an undue financial burden on unions, but the real effect, and what the right wing has wanted for decades, is the end of public worker unions. The right believes that management is always right and that they should make all decisions regarding financial and employment matters.

Which then brings us to the Secretary of Education. Her self-assessment is the reason why educators don't allow or encourage...self-assessment when it comes to grades. I have no doubt that Secretary DeVos believes she's doing a fabulous job when in fact she is not. She wants to have all education decisions revert to the states, but that will only bring us back to the wildly different standards and achievement levels that led us to A Nation at Risk. Allowing 50 different sets of education standards is a terrible idea because it does not guarantee every child a quality education.

And a quality education seems to have missed those politicians, from public and private schools, who recommend arming teachers and vilify students as actors who are in thrall to Democrats when the GOP is in thrall to the NRA. The president, in fact, has adopted all of the NRA talking points, but none of the National Education Association. Need I say more?

It's clear that proponents of arming teachers have not really thought through the ramifications of such a move. How would the guns be stored? What about liability? What happens if a gun goers off accidentally or doesn't go of at all? What if a students gets possession of a teacher's gun? What kind of environment are you creating when guns saturate schools?

But all of those questions pale in the presence of the fact that public money, and lots of it, would be going to something that has nothing to do with education. If there's money available for weapons training, why not use it for curriculum, professional development, or paying teachers a livable wage so they don't have to go to their second job after school?

There is no way that students can adequately learn in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, but that's exactly what would happen if we introduce more guns into schools. Armed security guards? That would be fine, but not teachers. That would lead to tragedy.

This administration has shown that American cultural norms are subject to the whims of lobbyists, piles of cash and fealty to the president. The result will not help children, education or the nation.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 18, 2018

President's Day: What We Have. What We Need.

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt 
“My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy
"No collusion!" Donald Trump (2017-)
You get the idea.
This President's Day, which by the way has to be the most terrible use of a Monday as a holiday, my thoughts turn to leadership and what a president--any president-- contributes to the intellectual, moral, educational, and spiritual life of this country. We've had some great presidents who've led us through terrible times and we've had good, mediocre and ineffective presidents who, for whatever reason, fell short of greatness. We've also had presidents who split the bill, most notably Nixon and LBJ, who did some things that great presidents do, and other things that severely damaged the country for decades.
I don't think we'll need to worry about whether Donald Trump will ever rise to greatness as a president. He is clearly unable to unite the country because he only sees politics and governing as a zero-sum game, and in order for him to win, someone else has to lose. And if he can win at the expense of common sense or unity or nationalism or rising above partisan politics, then all the better. So rather than rallying the country against a Russia that clearly tried to influence the 2016 election, the president has turned it into a referendum on his personal brand. Saying that he's against domestic violence, much less saying it one week after allegations with pictures emerged about one of his staff members, is both laughable and tragic. I can't think of any other modern president that would need to say such a thing. It was obvious. Not with this president.
It's the same with the tragedy in Florida. Mental health is certainly an issue, but when the president has tried for more than a year to repeal a law that mandated mental health coverage for all health insurance policies, then his words are simply words. Add that to his fealty to the NRA and their laughable/tragic commitment to having everyone in the country armed and you have a president who will not compete with the best of our executives. He is simply to divisive, too ignorant of policy and too devoid of compassion.
As for the tax cuts. Yes, I did receive more money in my last paycheck, but my best financial strategy is to now put it in an interest-bearing account because I'll need it to pay back taxes next April because I won't be able to deduct enough taxes and interest to keep my cut. Imagine a tax cut bill that makes teachers pay more. Unfathomable.
This President's Day, let's reflect on what a great president would do to help solve our problems, unite the country and move us forward towards a greater future. Then let's elect someone like that in 2020.
For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Bigger Deficit Is Intellectual

Donald Trump might be the first president to step on his own tax cuts. With February 15 in sight, and most companies ready to use the new tax tables for that payday, the resident philanderer, sexual braggart, pussy-grabber-in-chief has decided that the #MeToo movement might be getting too close to the Oval Office for his comfort. Not only will this dilute the message that many Republicans want to send, that the president is finding his footing and is acting--here we go--presidential, but it will remind many voters that although they will be getting a bump in their pay, there is a steep price to pay for the pizzas they'll be able to pay for.

And don't think for a minute that the president is actually worried about Rob Porter or Roy Moore or Al Franken or Bill O'Reilly. He's worried about the one and only person who matters to him in all matters--himself. He knows that the Stormy Daniels affair was real, and so does his wife. He knows that he was speaking a truth to Billy Bush when he was talking about what rich Neanderthals can do to women when they want to assert their power. He knows that allegations about other members of his staff reflect poorly on him, so naturally he decides that rather than lead the country through this important societal upheaval, his best shot at saving himself is to belittle the women who are leading it and making credible, provable accusations.

Plus, the president's newfound respect for due process is about as sincere and his handshake with Hillary Clinton during the debates. He's not trying to right a wrong here. He's trying to dismiss the issue because ultimately it leads to his front door. Due process meant nothing when he was painting NFL players as un-American or in crafting legislation that would allow Dreamers to stay in this country, or in judging the Central Park Five as guilty despite the fact that they were, in fact, completely innocent.

Don't the victims deserve due process too?

I guess that when you're on the other side of due process, like, say, when you're being investigated by someone who actually knows what the phrase means and how to apply it, or you've been accused by dozens of women of committing sexual crimes against them, then I can imagine it would be uncomfortable to know that you could actually be held liable, lose your job or go to jail because of your actions.

As for those tax cuts, Democrats have to be careful because in the short term they will be a real boon to many wage earners who might decide that they can tolerate the president's behavior if it means an extra $100 per month. Yes, the stock market has gyrated wildly, but the key is real wages and jobs.  Inflation is about to erode much of the wage gains that many Americans are counting on, and a good part of those wage gains will be in the form of bonuses. Trade wars will make goods that much more expensive. And our foreign policy is a mess. These are winnable issues for November. The president's outbursts are but extra sauce.

Remember, and I mean always remember, that more people voted for Hillary Clinton's vision of America's future than Donald Trump's. "The country" does not support his policies and "the American people" did not speak in favor of his agenda in 2016.

The president has said some terrible things about minorities. He's forgetting that he is one himself.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Panic in Memo Park: The Vindication of Robert Mueller

The good news is that, finally, the president and I agree: The release of the Nunes memo represents a national disgrace and shows that the investigation into the Trump campaign's relationship with Russian intelligence remains a troubling and possibly illegal action that necessitates Robert Mueller's continued action. Further, the president and I agree that the memo does vindicate the actions of the Special Prosecutor because it clearly demonstrates that members of the campaign, the president's family and possibly the president himself might have broken United States law and obstructed justice.

Well, OK, maybe we don't agree on all the facts, but this does represent a national disgrace and a vindication of the investigation's existence. It also clearly shows that the president is in a panic as the investigation swirls closer to the Oval Office and his reasons for firing FBI Director James B. Comey.

And as a public relations event, this couldn't be more of a disaster for the president. After weeks of puffing up this Potemkin memo, the House released it on Friday night, which is a dead zone for news, and there's no, well, smoking gun. The argument that this whole investigation is rotten because the Democrats paid for a dossier of information that purportedly has damaging information about Donald Trump is not convincing. It doesn't tell the whole story, and the real issue is that the investigation of Trump's campaign actions began before the dossier's release and the request to follow Carter Page because of his interactions with the Russian, which were, in fact, rather extensive. And then there's the information we already know about Micheal Flynn, Jared Kushner and others who have lied about their contact with the Russians. So the whole argument that this is a Democratic Kampaign Kaper falls off the bone like a good barbecue rib.

As with most scandals, it's what's missing that's the most important. The GOP memo leaves out a great deal of other information that would provide counterpoint, context and nuance, things that the GOP doesn't seem to care about. It also leaves out the possibility that the salacious material contained in the Steele Dossier might be...gasp...accurate. or accurate enough to show what we already know: That the president is an immoral womanizer, a suspect businessperson, a liar and susceptible to flattery and blackmail.

That's why there's clearly panic underneath the talk of exoneration. The president knows that this doesn't exonerate him. It's an attempt to shut down the investigation and to win the public's support in anticipation of his trying to again fire Robert Mueller. That's not going to happen. If the president clearly knows that he and his campaign are innocent, then his best approach would be to praise the search for truth, support the FBI and condemn all Russian interference in any campaigns. I know, I know, you can stop laughing now.

As this investigation gets closer to the president, there will be more, and more forceful actions that attempt to sully Mueller's reputation and blame the Clintons. That's how we know we're getting close to the truth.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Chris Who? New Jersey Turns Left

Chris Christie said that we would miss him once he's gone, but I just took that as the final ramblings of someone who, like the president, can't stand to be out of the public's eye for even a second and can't stand the thought that someone else might get credit for...anything.

Phil Murphy has now been governor of New Jersey for about two weeks. It's as thought there never was a Chris Christie.

Gone are the self-centered press conferences and town hall meetings that bashed public workers and unions and painted anyone who disagreed with Christie as a cretin or as intellectually-challenged.

Gone is the utterly and completely inappropriate language and disrespect that fouled public discourse and actually made it acceptable to question the motives and incomes of our dedicated public servants.

Gone is the ambition to be president, which ruined Christie's entire second term and stalled any progress New Jersey might have made in areas where we desperately needed government help, such as in transportation, infrastructure and public services.

Gone, and forgotten, is Chris Christie.

Almost immediately, Governor Phil Murphy has set a different tone. He's positive, energetic, full of smiles and positive words. He's serving as a representative of all the people and has yet to paint his opponents as anything other than people who simply disagree with him There's no moral ardor or contrived anger. There are no enemies.

There's simply...a governor trying to do his job.

Of course, over the past 10 days, Murphy has taken decidedly more progressive and liberal stands on the issues. He's for the legalization of marijuana and already there are towns lining up against him. He's reversed Christie's easing of gun laws and is supporting efforts to stop immigration officials from arresting people who are fleeing persecution, and is joining with Governors Cuomo and Molloy to fight against the federal tax cut which will do great damage to the state's economy. He has also signaled his support for public school teachers and aid to districts that saw their funding drastically cut during the Christie years.

It doesn't mean that all of these proposals will bear fruit. New Jersey is a costly place in which to live and conduct business and it will be difficult to raise revenue for new programs. But there is a sense of the possible in the state that suffered under a lagging economy and a governor who didn't seem interested in running the government until he lost badly in 2016.

The Democrats now control all of the levels of state government. My hope is that Governor Murphy will be able to use his optimistic, forward-looking personality to lead the state and address its most pressing problems. He's off to a good start.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Shutdown Follies: Business As Usual

Wait a minute. I thought the point of the conservative movement was to shrink the federal government down to the size where it would "drown in the bathtub." Why are the Republicans so worried about keeping the government open and fear the public's backlash?

Perhaps because, despite their disdain for government services and their blatant disregard for how many Americans interact with their government, they know deep down that blame for this shutdown cannot be placed on a Senator from New York whose name means nothing to most people.

In short, the Republicans and Donald Trump own this shutdown and they know it. Well, I can't really be sure what the president actually knows, but I imagine that in the quiet of a commercial break while watching FOX News, someone has told the president that this doesn't look good for him and that his reputation as a deal maker is what's actually drowning in the bathtub.

Was this avoidable? Of course. All shutdowns are avoidable if both parties are willing to give something up. And it certainly looked like the discussions between the president and Senator Chuck Schumer were gathering some momentum yesterday afternoon with Schumer willing to say yes to some funding for the wall that I thought Mexico was supposed to pay for. In return, the president was willing to agree to a deal for the Dreamers.

What I imagined happened was that the immigration hard liners then spoke to the president and convinced him of the apparent folly of treating children who were brought here by there parents as nothing less than scoundrels and criminals. Especially the ones who went to college, have respectable lives and love this country every bit as much as an ignorant nativist like Steve King. Whom most people have never heard of. See what I mean?

Most people want a deal that allows the Dreamers to stay and most people do not want to spend $18 billion dollars on a wall that will do nothing to stop people from coming to this country illegally. Most people want responsible border security. Most people want the government to fully fund the Children's Health Insurance Program. Most people want a strong military.

In a Congress where a $1.5 trillion dollar hole in the budget is not a problem, haggling over these programs amounts to a Mt. Washington of hypocrisy, full of violent winds, plunging temperatures and dangerous precipices. Add to that a blizzard of Republican accusations that shutting down the government amounts to a repudiation of the mandate of the people as demonstrated in the 2016 election, you know, the one where over 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton, and you have a situation where the GOP looks a bit hypocritical.

I have no doubt that there will be a deal soon, but it won't solve any long term problems. That's the problem with swamps. The mosquitoes will always find more blood and stagnant water.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Race to the Bottom on Race

At this point, Dr. Martin Luther King's spinning in his grave could be used as wind power to light up the western hemisphere.

President Trump's comments at a meeting with Congressional leaders about immigration on Friday smashed through the moral floor that this administration has set ten stories below the White House and established yet another embarrassing standard in ugliness for an administration that struggles to betray any semblance of normality.

Those defending the president like to point out that he's just saying things that people say around their dinner table, or that he's giving a truthful version of events or that he's not a racist because he contributed to African-American causes or has socialized with African-Americans.

This is hogwash. People are complicated and can present different faces to different crowds. I know anti-Semitic people, some of whom are relatives, who hug me when we meet and can share a meal with me without saying anything offensive. But when it comes to their true views, they are not shy about believing that what they say about the most vile stereotypes is absolutely true. They're still ant-Semites, and it informs their worldview.

In addition, I attended Franklin High School, which was, and still is, one of the most integrated schools in New Jersey. I saw genuine tolerance, friendship and love in the hallways, classrooms and homes.  But I also saw racist stereotyping and denigration at events where one group, either whites or African-Americans, dominated. I saw racial violence that was caused by the same social problems we have today. I experienced Antisemitism.

Many people who harbor racist ideas and attitudes can hide them, but when they get angry or frustrated, as the president does every hour, then the emotional turmoil that lies beneath the skin bubbles up and you find out what a person truly believes. Plus, if people are speaking this way around their dinner tables--denigrating other countries and labeling their people--then we need to do a better job educating our citizens about respecting other cultures and people.

So it is with President Trump. He says racist things. Over and over. That leads me to believe that he is a racist in that he sees whiteness as a virtue, as superior, and the standard by which all other races should be measured. He has equated the tactics and motivations of white supremacists and those groups these white supremacists would like to obliterate. He has questioned the fairness of a Federal Judge based on the fact that the judge was a Mexican-American. He questioned whether the sitting president of the United States was, in fact, a citizen.

These are disgraceful, racist views and none of them is defensible if taken separately. Taken in the aggregate, they are an indictment of the president's character and his ability to lead this country on this issue.

But as with most eruptions associated with this president, there is even more ignorance below the surface. His characterization of Haiti and African countries betrays the uninformed, but largely prevalent idea, that immigrants bring their former country's culture and attitudes with them when they come to the United States. He's saying that they must like the poverty and political dysfunction or economic stagnation or effects of past imperialism that infects their countries. That they cannot possibly become good Americans. That they take American jobs, marry American women, suckle at the American taxpayer's teat.

This is a conversation we've had before. It was discriminatory then and it's discriminatory now.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the offending countries were Italy, Russia, Greece and other European nations who were sending us Anarchists, Socialists, Jews and revolutionaries who were supposedly unsuited for life in a democracy. Before that, in the 1840s, Ireland sent us their starving people, who were referred to, incongruously, yet reflecting true native ignorance, as White Niggers. Miraculously, those tired, poor un-Americans were able to contribute mightily to the nation and enable it to become a beacon of hope and freedom.

The president's ignorance betrays an unfortunately all-American, and increasingly all-Western world attitude that reinforces stereotypes and leads to more hatred. He long ago gave up any promise that he would be a leader who would unify the country and present a positive, forward message that we could rally behind. Instead, we are going backwards.

This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, please make sure that you remind the world that we are a great people being led by a small man.

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