Monday, April 30, 2012

Surf's Up! The Right Wing's Gnarly Ride to a Wipeout

It was easy for me to say that the conservative movement would come crashing down this year not once but twice. After all, the GOP primaries were a virtual orgy of anti-women, anti-gay, anti-immigrant and anti-responsible economic policies, so saying that the far right would implode was like shooting fish in a barrel of domestic oil.

Now that we're in the general election, you'd think the Republicans would want to moderate their stances. Not a chance. Over the past few days the GOP has managed to crystallize their reactionary agenda against women and college students by questioning President Obama's commitment to lowering student loan interest rates as a campaign ploy, and then by tying the rate reduction to cuts in health programs that especially benefit women. What a curious move by a party, and nominee, that's already losing the female vote by a score or more.

With that kind of thinking, you can kind of see the Republicans passing a burka law, then loosening it and claiming to be pro-women.

The party also continues to bash the health care law that is allowing families to cover their children through age 23 and is forcing insurance companies not to drop people with preexisting conditions.Their argument? That the law is causing health costs to rise. Well, wrong again GOP. Health care spending seem to be slowing,

Mitt Romney is certainly doing his part to lose the race by alienating Latino voters in Florida during the primaries, and then trying to woo them back for the general election. As a famous Republican once said, "How's that workin' out for ya?" Not well at all, it seems, due to a combination of the recession, changing health industry habits, and the law itself.

And in case you thought the Republicans were ignorant of history, along comes  Florida GOP Representative Alan West, who famously said that there were between 78 and 81 (curious set of numbers) Communists in the Democratic Party. Obviously, this is intended to lock up the elderly white male vote that's the only reliable voting population the GOP has left, and to remind us that McCarthyite tactics will never go out of style.

What does this show? That the GOP is moving to the fringe at an alarming rate and is taking a great deal of accepted American values with it. The problem is not with both parties. It's with an increasingly reactionary Republican Party that will oppose anything Obama says, even if it means opposing its own interests.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Speaking Truth to Power on Teacher Tenure

Are we really going to have to go through this every time a so-called education reformer gets kicked in the head by politics? Evidently so.

Case in point? The Passion of Perth Amboy Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey as related by the Gospel of Tom Moran in Sunday's Newark Star-Ledger. When we last left the story, Moran was singing Caffrey's praises as someone who was trying to get rid of ineffective teachers in her district. The problem was that through either ineptitude or poor management, the principals in Perth Amboy were giving satisfactory evaluations to people who should not have been in the classroom. Then, when these teachers showed their true colors, there was no paper trail of their ineffectiveness. My take on this is in Lies, Damn Lies, and the Truth About Teacher Tenure.

Moran continues his epistle because the Perth Amboy Board of Education has voted to put Caffrey on leave with the presumed intent of firing her from her job. I feel bad for her and for the hard-working parents, teachers and children in the district because Caffrey seems to be trying her best under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

Moran, though, doesn't quite get it. From the article:

But none of that matters much. Because Caffrey is not a great politician. Her first sin was to tell the truth about tenure — that it protects horrendously bad teachers in her district and hurts kids. Then she refused to make the patronage hires she says board members pressed on her. And then she bucked the all-powerful teachers union by trying to change ancient customs on evaluations, job placements and student suspensions.

He also says:  

Teachers unions, for example, generally want sturdy raises every year and no accountability.

There are four things wrong here.

First of all, tenure only protects bad teachers if those teachers are not given truthful evaluations by administrators. When principals lie or are horrendously bad themselves, then it will come back and hurt the district years later. This seems to be an ongoing problem in many districts, not just Perth Amboy.

Second, tenure protects effective teachers from the kind of patronage pressure that the Perth Amboy Board of Education is exacting on Caffrey. Getting rid of tenure would render Caffrey a mere figurehead when it comes to hiring. The parents, children and teachers are far better off with an effective tenure system than without it.

Third, the teacher's union is far from all-powerful. Local teacher's associations sign contracts with districts that spell out exactly what each body is required to do and what it is prohibited from doing.

Moarn's last point is more than wrong: It's a disgrace.

Teachers absolutely want accountability and are, in fact, accountable to the evaluation system in place in every school district in the state. Every effective teacher in New Jersey wants an effective teacher in the room next door and in every school in their district. Teachers want to know that the students they get every year have the knowledge and skills to succeed in their classroom. Teachers, unlike journalists, can't just say what they want under the assumption that it's their opinion, and not have facts and research behind their assertions.

It's a shame that Caffrey has to go through this, but my experience is that being a superintendent required some political savvy or at least the assumption that you were going to need to work with the local politicians to get things done. One person alone can't fight an entrenched political culture. But if we are going to make schools as effective as they can be, we need at least to tell the truth about what goes on once the bell rings. Moran's article does not do that.

For more, please visit me at and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Primaries In CT, NY, PA, RI, DE: Five Things to Watch Tonight

With the Republican nomination race all but sewn up, here are 5 things to watch tonight.

1. Cougar Town (8:30 ABC)

Why watch: If you love nature shows, this is one for you. Cougars are sleek cats with keen eyes and a devastating first bite. They also run very fast. In their natural habitats they...oh wait, wrong cougars.

2. American Experience: The Crash of 1929 (8:00 PBS)

Why watch: Why indeed? Nothing to see here. Move along citizens.

3. Frontline: Money, Power and Wall Street (9:00 PBS)

Why watch: Really PBS? A double bill? Are you just baiting the Republicans to cut all of your funding when they take power next year? What's next; Bert and Ernie Occupy Sesame Street?

4. Frozen Planet: The Ends of the Earth ( 9:00 Animal Planet DVR Alert!)

Why watch: Here is the ultimate relaxation program for the GOPer who's come home after voting. The  show talks about changing habitats, polar extremes and the warming trends that are affecting wildlife without mentioning the causes! It's guilt free climate change! When Vanessa Berlowitz, the series producer, said in an interview. that scientific theories “would have undermined the strength of an objective documentary, and would then have become utilized by people with political agendas,” you know that Animal Planet is going to get a zillion dollars in the next budget go-round.

5.  Edge of War: Saddam vs. The Ayatollah (10:00 Military Channel)

Why watch: Are you kidding? We love wrestling matches. Especially ones that incite 8-year wars between really bad guys. In this oldie but goodie, the US supports Saddam, but only so we can beat the crap out of him in 20 years. Ahhh, the Reagan-Bush-(Blank)-Bush years.

Or you could visit me at and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's All About, Like, Like.

Remember when liking something had to do with ice cream or 8th grade crushes? Now the word is everywhere: Facebook, teenage (and increasingly adult) conversations, and now presidential politics.

The latest CNN/ORC International poll shows that President Obama leads Mitt Romney in large part because Americans like the president more, and more American women like Obama a lot more.

The same is true for the Washington Post/ABC News poll and the CBS News/New York Times poll. Nate Silver writes a more expansive article about what likeability/favorability means in the political context and concludes that the issue is cloudy about predicting a winner in the fall. What's clear, though, is that it's better to be the person more people like and trust than not.

The polls do serve as warnings for Obama because despite being liked, more Americans are still not pleased with the way he's handled the economy. The April and May jobs numbers will be key for his reelection prospects because they will either signal an ongoing positive trend of (sluggish) job creation or they'll show a slowdown or reversal.

If the news is positive, that could create a feeling that we're finally on the right track out of Recession Terminal and on our way to Job Construction Junction. It would also give Obama a couple of months of leeway if the numbers dip a bit during the summer. If both month's figures are very weak or negative, that could cement in people's minds the image that Obama just isn't going to get it done and that maybe we should give Mitt another chance. Yes, the fall numbers will be important, but both sides would like a head start with their economic arguments before the conventions.

Other measures of the economy are turning positive and lower unemployment in the swing states could trump any negative national news. After all, if there are more jobs in Ohio, Michigan and Florida, those people will not be so concerned about what's happening in Nevada or Arizona.

Mitt will have the more difficult road because lurking deep within his mind is a collection of embarrassing rich guy things that will surely come out of his (or his wife's) mouth. He'll also be in the unenviable position of endorsing lower taxes on the wealthy and cuts to social programs that even Republicans want to stick around, like Medicare, Social Security, public and higher education and health care. And Mr Businessman will need to answer for why he would have allowed tens of thousands of workers to lose their jobs rather than save General Motors, and why any president should have the power to make gas prices go up or down.

Like, wow.

And, like, like me at and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Friday, April 13, 2012

News Flash! FOX News Poll is Biased!

Stunning news, I'm sure.

On the heels of the ABCNews/Washington Post poll that showed Obama with a 7 point lead over Mitt Romney, some analysts were correct to note that the poll oversampled Democrats, which led to a skewing of the numbers. 

The poll breakdown was: 34% Democrats 23% Republicans 34% Independents, which should have shown Obama with a much larger lead given the +11 advantage his party had.

The same can be said for the FOX News Poll which was released yesterday showing Mitt Romney with a 46%-44% lead over Obama, and a -9% deficit for Obama's job approval rating. The problem for Romney is that he should have been farther ahead given the breakdown of the poll.

FOX used a 40% Democrat 39% Republican 19% Independent population. With a far greater Republican representation in the poll (16% more than ABC/WaPo), Romney should have a much greater lead over Obama. They also under-represented Independents, who are usually around 30-33% of the electorate, at a time when other polls are showing Obama with a lead over Romney with those voters.

Given this, the top line number of Romney ahead +2 is good news for the president.

Oh, and be careful with FOX News. They can sometimes lean a bit to the right.

For more, please go to and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We Have A Winner

It's been a long time coming, but we finally have incontrovertible evidence that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for president in 2012. Of course, forward-thinking readers of the Farmer Blog know that this was a foregone conclusion because they read it here, here, here, here, and, oh yeah, here.

Just sayin'

Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich put up a heck of a fight and did more to dent, ding, derail and at times demoralize Romney and his supporters, and for that Obama voters can be eternally grateful. Romney's comments about trees in Michigan or how many Cadillacs he has also hurt him and planted in people's minds just how wealthy he is, but I suspect that those independents who will decide the race will forgive him if the economy stalls or he's able to make the case that Obama doesn't deserve a second term. The president is already running a spot that highlights Romney's conservatism in anticipation of Mitt coming back to the center for the general campaign.

For his part, Romney will have difficulty running away from some of the harder right positions he took in the primaries, especially support of the contraception and abortion legislation that has alienated women from the GOP. Winning them back is possible, but it's always more difficult to do that if women's attitudes have already hardened. Look for Romney to try to be warmer and fuzzier, but that's not playing to his strength. Right now he's about as warm as the Titanic's iceberg and as fuzzy as a Brillo Pad. And if he says any more rich-guy stuff he'll be in real trouble.

As challenger, Romney is in a position where he'll need to remind Americans that times are still bad and he'll need to hope that they don't improve or improve so slowly that he can label Obama as inept on the economy. Job growth slowed in March, but as the economy improves, and it is improving, Romney will need to accentuate the negative at a time when he'll need to project a positive image. Tough to do.

Gas prices are another issue that he'll use against Obama, but there are signs that prices are peaking at the pumps. Plus, the media is finally catching on to the fact that we are now a net exporter of fuel and are finding sources of energy in places unimaginable 10 years ago. This is also tricky for Romney because he's essential saying that Obama should fiddle with the free market to lower prices, which is something that runs exactly opposite to the GOP's free market ideology.

The President has his work cut out for him as well. The right wing PACs have much more money than his left wing supporters, and Romney was tremendously successful at using that money, and his, to beat back a zesty challenge from Gingrich and then Santorum, both of whom were running shoestring campaigns. Romney's message will find some sympathetic ears in the battleground states, and although polls show Obama ahead nationally, that support will weaken somewhat under an onslaught of advertisements and right wing media messages.

Here are links to analyses of what both Romney and Obama need to do to win. We'll look at more as the race proceeds.

The latest polls show Obama's job approval in positive territory and he's presently in command of the Electoral College. I would certainly expect these numbers to change, but it's always nice to be in the lead when the campaign starts.

For more, please go to and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Polling and Jobs Report: April 6, 2012

Only seven months to go before the election, but these promise to be a long, expensive, sometimes painful seven months. With Mitt's win in Wisconsin last week, the last vestiges of doubt drained away from the GOP race. It will be Romney and Obama for the presidency.

On to the numbers.

Obama Job Approval

These have been volatile numbers over the past few months, but they seem to be steadying for the president. The RealClearPolitics average is here. Obama's approval now stands at 48.2%, a slight increase over the 48.1% from last month. His disapproval numbers have decreased from 48% to 47%. The Rasmussen Daily Tracking poll would seem to be an outlier at -7, with Gallup and all of the other polls showing Obama in positive territory.

Head-To-Head Match-Ups

As of yesterday, the Rasmussen Tracking Poll had Romney ahead of Obama by 46% to 44%, but again, that seems to be the outlier. When the other polls are tallied, the president leads Romney by 47.7% to 43.6%.

These numbers will obviously be close throughout the spring if only because the country is so closely divided by party. The election will ultimately be decided by a sliver of the electorate that somehow has remained uncommitted throughout the campaign. But the overall match-up numbers mean little in a very close election because the action is in the states. Whoever can squeeze out a victory in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, or a combination of those states that delivers 270 electoral votes could also lose the popular vote.

The Ballots

Another state, Nevada, has been moved into Obama's column, giving him a 233 to 181 lead in projected electoral votes. The latest USA Today Swing State Poll shows Obama leading Romney in those states by 51%-42% mostly because women have moved to the president in great numbers since February. Quinnipiac Polls in late March show Obama defeating Romney in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Romney simply can't win if he loses all of those states in the fall.

Meanwhile, Republicans have moved into the lead in the Congressional Ballot by 1.4%.

Today's jobs report show a slowdown from previous months, but probably not enough to have an appreciable effect on the presidential race. The economy added 120,000 new jobs and the expectation was 200,000 or more. It's still growth, but we'll wait for April's numbers to proclaim a trend.

That's it for this month. Have a very Happy Passover and/or Easter.

For more, please go to and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What Do Wisconsin, Maryland and DC Have in Common?

They are examples of places where Mitt Romney will win primaries, but will lose to President Obama in the fall.

For people who follow politics, there's a certain heaviness to the Republican race for delegates. Most prominent Republicans, including such conservatives as Marco Rubio, have endorsed Romney, and the trading markets are assuming that he'll win the nomination. Is this news? No. But we have to write something every few hours, so why not make it interesting?

Even Mitt has turned his attention to Obama and is basically ignoring Santorum. Newt's so far out of it that the press isn't even making a big deal out of the fact that he hasn't made a formal announcement. It's very tidy. Just like the GOP wanted it in the first place.

But once again, some of the biggest states will have little influence on the contest. The story might have been different if California, New York, Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had voted much earlier in the process. As it is, they're afterthoughts. Too bad for the runners-up.

After tomorrow, all eyes will be on the two man race most of us envisioned months ago. Mitt will try to reinvent himself into a likeable everyman and President Obama will continue the Passion Offensive he launched last September. Their success will largely determine which one of them wins in November.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Christie Review: New SAT Words From Trenton

We all know just how much Governor Christie values education, but if you thought that numbnuts, idiot and drug mule stretched the governor's vocabulary, then take heart. Over the past week, Chris Christie has added valuable new terms to his, and New Jersey's, political dictionary. Below is a guide to new terms, and old standbys, that the governor has brought back through sheer will, repetition and exasperation.


Use this word when the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services says that the state will generate $537 million dollars less than you said it would, endangering the income tax cut you've pegged to higher growth. The definition also allows you to make up numbers as you go along and ignore the realities of an economic recovery still in its infancy. And hey, if worse comes to worse, you can rely on a bailout from cash reserves, right? Oops


This is a tricky term, because what you really want is for the Executive Branch of the state government to bypass the legislature and enact your reorganization of higher education all by its lonesome, without having to answer bogus questions from the press.

You've proposed splitting the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and giving a medical school and a cancer institute to Rutgers University in New Brunswick and Piscataway. The Camden campus of Rutgers would become part of Rowan University, a plan opposed by many at Rutgers.

Use this term liberally (sorry) when you know you can't get what you want from the Democrats but you really want to be president in a few years and you're not going to let minor issues like separation of powers get in your way.

Pigs at the Trough

A handy phrase with many all-purpose uses. It applies well when you're in the unlikely position where Democrats are highly suspicious of your plan (see above) to gut the state university's South Jersey campus in a sweetheart deal with someone named, say, George Norcross and merge it with Rowan University.  After all, Rutgers, Rowan, what's the difference? These Democrats want money for North Jersey college campuses so they can also benefit from the reorganization. If their request for money is pig, is your request for $40 million for Rowan bull?


Be careful here. After all, one governor's copying is another's agenda, and oh do we know your agenda. Fear not, governor: ALEC will help write the speech you'll give at the Republican Convention in Tampa this summer that will make you sound acceptable to the far right wingers that Mitt will need on board in the fall.

Partisan Hack

Not to be confused with your pugnacious endorsement of Mitt Romney or your unalloyed disdain for President Obama, which of course would be labeled "honest disagreement" in your more gentle political lexicon. Use this term against the 88 year-old senior Senator from New Jersey when he has the audacity to criticize your plan to make Rowan University famous without saying how exactly you would do it or how much it would cost. If the above term is not enough, you can also pile on bizarre and vengeful.

That's it for now, but I'm sure that the good guv'nor will be adding more terms as the year moves forward. Citizens should practice these terms at their place of employment and see how long they remain on the job. As they're being escorted out of the office, they should thank Chris Christie for once again being a role model of whom we can all be proud.

For more, please go to and Twitter @rigrundfest