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



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

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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 www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives 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.

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

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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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Secretariat Was a Stable Genius Too

Can someone please tell me what the fuss is all about? Didn't we know that a minority of people didn't elect a statesman or someone with a deep and abiding knowledge of public affairs? Wasn't it clear that Donald Trump was just a real estate guy with a TV show that glorified...himself and...his accomplishments based on...his ego? Is it not apparent that a minority of voters decided that they wanted a regular person who knew as much about the constitution as every other regular person and wanted someone who is as angry as they are about the what's-so-complicated policies regarding immigration, taxes, health care, foreign affairs and the separation of powers?

Didn't one of your parents ever say to you that big people talk about big ideas, while small people talk about...themselves?

The events of the past three days surprise me not. They are disturbing. They are frightening. And they were eminently avoidable. But Democrats have to be very careful about what accusations they make and what stories they gather themselves behind. Enough with the mental health updates or the talk of impeachment. These just make the left seem unhinged, screechy, petty and uninformed. And can someone please tell the New York Times that they don't have to include a recap of every wrong thing the president has said over the past year in every story. I can't even read the paper anymore.

The only objective is to win enough seats to take over the House and/or the Senate and to stop the GOP's reactionary agenda before it can do any more damage to the country. That's why the 2018 midterm elections are key. The Democrats need to mobilize their voters and those Trump voters who didn't like Hillary, but would vote for a sensible Democrat who would protect their health care, truly lower their taxes, safeguard the environment, respect and improve international agreements and support reproductive rights.

It's clear that the Republicans are not going to challenge the president on his behavior as long as he supports their program. But even that is beginning to fray. The order opening up the entire US coastline to drilling is such an outrageously terrible idea that even Governor Rick Scott, no friend to moderation, is against it, as is Chris Christie, who would be able to see the derricks from his beach chair.

There is also resistance to Jeff Sessions' announcing that the Justice Department would begin acting against states that voted to legalize marijuana. Not that I'm a big fan of balancing state budgets on alcohol, tobacco, gambling and pot, but returning us to GiulianiTime.  The absolute last thing we need is for our criminal justice system to begin arresting low level drug users in states that have legalized weed. That would be a travesty. And here I thought the GOP was the party of states rights.

Democrats need to capitalize on these issues and get out their voters and those Democrats who sat out the 2016 election. And they'd better come up with an economic argument too because that will also be the key issue in November, as it usually is. That most people see the GOP tax cut as a sop to the wealthy will help, but seeing more money in your paycheck is a powerful argument to stay the course. Then again, cuts to social programs, as the Republicans promise, will certainly wake people up to the danger.

So cut the garbage about psychiatric evaluations and see this election through the correct lens: It's politics, and all politics is local.

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