Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Health of the Nation

Years from now, will you remember where you were and what you were doing when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Affordable Care case? It was that important and it seemed as though just about everybody was following it like a World Series game. Participatory democracy gets no better than that.

Of course there were the obvious glitches, such as CNN and FOX getting the story wrong at first. You'd think that after waiting three months for the decision, they could have waited an extra 3 minutes for their experts to parse the details. Then there's the story that talks about a "jaw-dropping switch," meaning Chief Justice John Robert's joining the four liberals on the court to uphold the law. This completely unexpected move is only unexpected if you happened to buy into the narrative that the law, or at least the mandate, was toast because, well, the media and the Intrade market said it was.

Even better was the comeuppance of the ultra-smug conservative media that was absolutely sure that they had this case sewn up as soon as Don Verilli was done speaking. That he's been vindicated (need free registration to read this link) in both the health care and immigration cases speaks volumes about what people don't know about what passes muster in court arguments.

The big questions, though, are obviously political. In terms of policy, Obama has his base-energizing victory and a policy he now has to defend with gusto, something that's been missing since the bill was passed. Polls have shown that the mandate is still unpopular, but other aspects of the bill have support. It's time for the administration to start selling this hard and in earnest. More Americans will have health insurance, seniors will no longer have to tolerate the doughnut hole in their Medicare prescription coverage, and those with preexisting conditions will now be covered. Many changes have already taken effect. More states will also need to set up exchanges to help people find insurance.

As for Mitt Romney, he's already addressed the court's decision with a full-throated call for repeal, calling the law a violation of our freedoms and bad for the economy. His problem is that today the court also indirectly validated the Massachusetts health care law that Romney championed as governor. And remember that the mandate was originally a Republican idea meant to provide an alternative to the Clinton health care plan of the early '90. So for Mitt, this decision means that he has to run even harder against one of the signature accomplishments of his political career. The good news for him is that his base is also fired up because of today's decision. The bad news is that he's going to run against the whole law, even the parts that people like, and he doesn't have an alternative to the clear problem of the uninsured and the very sick except to say that the magic of the marketplace will cure their ills. That's a tough sell.

The other political issue is the election horse race. Obama's poll numbers have been improving for the past week, both nationally and in several swing states. There are some states that Obama needs to win that are now considered tossups, which is better news for Romney, but the trend is toward Obama. The Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls will give us some idea of the effect of today's ruling, so I'll check back in with that early next week, and I'll have a full polling report on July 6.

In the end, Barack Obama rolled a huge set of dice by asking the Supreme Court to rule on this issue in the middle of an election campaign, and he won a huge victory. He's also staked his positions on marriage equality and immigration reform for the children of illegals that speak to fairness and equality. Mitt Romney is now in a position where he has to disagree, and that puts him at odds with basic American values. June was always going to be a pivotal month. It has not let us down.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

If You Can't Stand The Heat

Do you remember the pundits and knobheads who, only a few short months ago, compared Barack Obama to LeBron James? Their major point was that both of them were overhyped, overpriced, underperforming, middling losers who were somehow primed to disappoint their fans and constituents. These know-nothings were sure that neither man would ever rise to greatness.

Look how that turned out.

I can understand disagreeing with a politician over issues or policy or implementation and not liking an athlete because of his style, team or relations with the public. But the comparison of these two obviously talented men moves beyond these fair points and veers off into, well, what? Jealousy? Contempt? Disdain? Outright hatred? Where's the respect for what they've accomplished? Obama's rivals give some grudging admission that he's a political force, but then dismiss him as a guy with a pretty voice. LeBron's detractors focus on his subpar performance in last year's NBA finals without regard to his place as the game's number one attraction and performer (on both ends of the court).

It's disturbing, and now that LeBron has forever earned his place in NBA history and Obama his obvious place in the political realm, it's time to expose the naysayers as the bad losers they are. Clearly they underestimate these two exceptional men who are at the pinnacle of their fields. It's true that Obama might lose, but I'm not going to bet against him. He has more skill than Mitt Romney and right now we're in the equivalent of the early playoffs in the presidential race. In September, you'll see a different Obama; confident and pugnacious against an opponent who's never played in the big leagues before. That's a mismatch.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Obama Is Back

This guy is a political genius, and the right wing just can't stand it when Obama acts presidential or outmaneuvers them on policies and public opinion. They pilloried him for evidently making gas prices go sky high, prompting Mitt Romney to blame his for economic pain, then he gets them to plummet by 30c at the pump, and magically, the issue goes away.

Obama's move on immigration was an election year masterstroke. It was a blatant political move meant to shore up the Latino base and it had the intended effect of highlighting the split in the Republican Party between radical fence builders and the more moderate wing that see that demographic fleeing from the GOP. And Romney again has nowhere to go on this issue because, while he might have been sympathetic during his sensible years, he's since staked out a claim in Santorumville that requires drivers only to make hard right turns.

The president is also beginning to hammer home the differences between his economic plan and Romney's. It might be true that independent voters see Obama's policies as hindering economic growth, but it's still early in the campaign. Once he highlights the effects of Romney's cut first plan and a more pragmatic vision that includes cuts and investment, those voters will come back in sufficient numbers to win him the election.

And the horse race numbers? Yes, they are close, but Obama is ahead in enough states now to capture 270+ electoral votes. Michigan is not going red and neither are Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin nor Virginia unless we get terrible economic news over the summer. In fact, the economies in the swing states are outperforming the national economy. That favors the president.

The Supreme Court's decision later this month will shape the race, but it will also emphasize Romney's opposition to protections for people with pre-existing conditions and will force him to move farther right on health care. Most Americans do still oppose the individual mandate, but they also need affordable coverage. Obama offers that; Mitt doesn't.

And there's one final reason why we know Obama is turning his campaign around: Rush Limbaugh says that the president is panicking.  The right must be very nervous.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tenure Agonistes

I understand at this point that Governor Christie is competing only against himself, but how many misleading, incomplete ideas can one person have? If he had more than his ALEC talking points we might be able to have a conversation, but his comments yesterday were truly, amazingly wrong. In case you missed them:
The Christie push came at one of his town hall meetings, this one before more than 600 people in a Haddonfield middle school. He again invoked the example of just 17 teachers facing tenure charges as ineffective in the past decade, out of more than 100,000 in the classroom. "Do we really believe there are only 17 ineffective teachers in New Jersey?" he asked the receptive audience.
No, we don't, and that includes those of us in education. What the governor misses is that hundreds of potentially ineffective tenured teachers are weeded out in the first three years of employment. More leave the profession by the end of their 5th year. And maybe there are only 17 tenure cases because the administrators haven't kept accurate records or gave the teachers a pass because they didn't want to make waves or didn't want to believe that someone they actually hired could be ineffective.

Perhaps the 17 cases are the result of political interference or vendettas against union agitators or are witch hunts. We don't know, and here's the key, neither does the governor. If these 17 teachers deserve to lose their jobs because they are ineffective, I say mazel tov! The system works. But again, all Christie has are the numbers.

As for today's hearings on the Diegnan (D-Middlesex) bill, I am cautiously optimistic. Here are the key provisions of the bill:
  • Tenure would be provided after four years employment in a school district; 
  • A new teacher would spend their first year in a mentorship program during which the new teacher will be partnered with a highly effective teacher for assistance, support and guidance;
  • Each school district would have to annually submit to the education commissioner the evaluation plan it will use to test the effectiveness of teachers and administrators

  • Any teacher or administrator who receives an ineffective rating on two consecutive annual evaluations may face tenure charges;
  • Any teacher or administrator who receives an ineffective rating on three consecutive annual evaluations must face tenure charges;
  • Binding arbitration would be required for any contested tenure cases, with the arbitrator's decision becoming binding and not subject to appeal;
  • The Public Employees Relations Commission would choose the arbitrator from a permanent list of 20, eight of which will be designated by the New Jersey Education Association, eight by the New Jersey School Boards Association and four by the New Jersey Principal and Supervisors Association through mutual agreement.
  • Contested cases would no longer be referred to Administrative Law Judges, and the final determination would no longer be made by the education commissioner;
  • The hearing before the arbitrator must be held within 60 days of the case being assigned, and the arbitrator would have 30 days to render a decision.
As someone who's taught Alternate Route courses, I have always been an advocate for a mentoring year for new teachers. For too long we've assumed that all new teachers have the tools and skills to manage their classrooms and guide students through the curriculum. Many do, but not all. New teachers should learn from the best.

I also welcome the provisions that speed the tenure charge process and move it to arbitration. That the New Jersey School Boards Association is concerned only with who gets to pick the arbitrators is a positive step that should be remedied easily.

My concerns center on who gets to decide if a teacher faces tenure charges after two ineffective evaluations. The bill says that a teacher may face them. What does that mean? Also, requiring a decision in a tenure case in 30 days might lead to rushed judgements. Evidence is not always so cooperative.

I am heartened by Senator Ruiz's reaction to what transpired today. She altered her bill to allow for more seniority rights, after initially wanting to end them.

The key to any tenure reform plan must be the continued due process protection that lies at its heart. Adjusting years or determining who hears a case amount to so much window dressing compared to the constitutional rights inherent in fair dismissal cases. Ruiz and Diegnan recognize this. The Governor doesn't.

For more, please visit and on Twitter @rigrundfest 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Panic! At the Campaign

Did you know that the Democrats are panicking? It's true. I know it because I read it in the media. Obama's campaign is panicking. FOX News says that Obama's panicking. Even Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager (and I'm pretty sure the other half of Loggins and Messina) worries about Democrats panicking.

Why the panic? Jobs numbers, dumb comments about the private economy being fine and a general sense that Obama just isn't on his game obviously have the progressive left in a panic about the president's chances in November. A closer look at what's actually happening with the campaign shows that there is no need for panic, and, indeed, there is reason for optimism.

The conventional wisdom, until last week that is, was that Obama's ads attacking Romney's record at Bain Capital were doing more damage to Obama than to Mitt. Surprise! That's not the case. In fact, the attacks have had their intended effect. More people have a negative view of private equity firms according to the latest polls. Imagine that; negative ads that produce negative responses towards your opponent. Perhaps the Republicans should try that.

The real wonder is that Democrats would entertain the idea that a negative ad aimed at Romney highlighting his past actions would somehow be off limits (do you hear me Bill?). This is the point in the campaign where you'd better define your opponent or they will define themselves. It's exactly what the Romney campaign is trying to do on the economy and it's what Obama needs to continue to do until the conventions.

The blabbering media narrative from last week also focused on the effects the dismal job numbers and Scott Walker's win in Wisconsin would have on the president. What's the reality? The latest polls show Obama holding on to his lead, though it is reduced from a month ago. Obama's approval ratings? Gallup has him +4 and Rasmussen at -4, which are pretty much where Obama was a couple of days after the economic reports were released. Conclusion? The president is in decent shape. Even the folks at Intrade have Obama with a more than 52% chance of reelection. That is hardly a reason to panic.

The latest state polls also provide good news for Obama. He's +6 in Pennsylvania, and a poll on Wednesday showing Romney ahead in North Carolina by 2 was really good news for the president because it also showed him inexplicably with only 78% of the African-American vote. Really? Anybody who believes that Mitt Romney is going to rack up 20+% of the African-American vote in November is either dreaming or on bath salts.

Ultimately, this race will be about the economy and jobs, and right now Obama has a jobs plan and Mitt doesn't. Obama has a pragmatic foreign policy record and Mitt just wants to throw bombs at the world. Energy prices are down, marriage equality is up, and even Obama's gaffe might help him in the long run.

I'm not panicking. This was always going to be a close race for a variety of reasons, and for all of the problems the president is currently having this month (with the health care ruling still to come), Obama is in good shape entering the summer. Romney has yet to tell us what he'd do as president and most polls say the public sides with Obama when it comes to balancing cuts with revenue and long-term investment in America.

Still, we all have those nervous moments. If you feel a panic attack coming on, let me soothe you at: and on Twitter @rigrundfest 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Polling Report: June 6, 2012

This is getting real. Bad economic numbers last Friday. Bad revised economic numbers last Friday. Bad economic numbers from Europe last week and this. Bad, bad, bad. But bad news is good news for Mitt Romney and his rolling marshmallow review. Mitt has been gaining in the polls for the past month and he shows no sign of slowing down. Is this the end for Obama and Joe? Will they fall victim to a slow economy and a political opposition that will just do nothing but wait out the year at the expense of working people everywhere?

We have five months to find out. And at some point during those five months, Mitt Romney will slip and stumble and Barack Obama will soar and inspire. On to the numbers.

As of today, the national race looks like this: Obama has 47.2% and Romney 45.2 % in the latest RCP average. Considering how bad (bad) Friday's jobs numbers were, it's truly remarkable that Obama's numbers have stayed the same. Even Rasmussen's poll showed the president rebounding from -5 over the weekend to -1 on Tuesday. Obama's job approval has taken a hit, but seems to have settled down to a tie in Gallup and -5 (down from -8) on Rasmussen.

These numbers have shifted from last month as Romney has solidified his position as nominee and he got a nice bounce after the far righties left the race. Democrats who wistfully remember all of the gaffes and outrageous comments from Santorum, Cain and Gingrich are wondering where the momentum went?

I'll tell you.

It went away because Mitt is, in essence a near-right conservative and closet moderate who is not as scary to voters as his Republican compatriots were. Wondering why he's doing better with women? It's because he hasn't had to answer every anti-female utterance from the other nominees. The economy? Never interrupt your opponent when things are going bad for him. Solyndra? Ahh, Solyndra. Just say Solyndra 127 times a day and the world will beat a path to your door. In short, it's been easy for Mitt over the past 30 days.

Obama, to be honest, has not looked at the top of his game, and the newly energetic conservative media has let him have it. Unemployment up, Solyndra, Bain attacks attacked by Democrats, Solyndra, manufacturing down, Solyndra. The lefty media isn't helping and fundraising is down.

Through all of this, though, Obama's numbers are not bad, and if he can weather this storm, he can come back in fine position by the convention.

The state polls are still showing Obama leading the electoral college voting with leads of 237-170 (RCP), 257-181, (Pollster), 303-235 (Election Projection), and 276-243 ( North Carolina has tightened, as have Wisconsin (though exit polls Tuesday showed Obama with a lead over Romney) and Virginia, two states that Obama needs to win, but Missouri and Iowa are still in play which has to make the Romney campaign a bit nervous. A new PPP poll of Florida, taken during and after the jobs numbers were released, shows Obama with a 50-46 lead. Imagine: Obama at 50%! And PPP even overpolled Republicans (FL actual: D=41 R=36 PPP Poll D=41 R=40).

There have been a number of recent articles that discuss which previous year we can compare this election to, such as 1980, 1992 or 2004. The answer? Don't know. We could have a Romney/Republican blowout if people decide that they just can't give Obama another four years. We could have a Democratic Senate if polls continue to show their candidates making inroads in Virginia, Massachusetts and Missouri and, if expected, Angus King of Maine wins and caucuses to his left. As of now, the Generic Ballot favors the Republcians, but that will change.

What won't change?

Attacks, money, Bill Clinton saying silly things. and on Twitter @rigrundfest