Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking Forward

It seems to be the season of making predictions for the next year, and I certainly don't want to be the only self-appointed chronicler of the age to miss that boat, so herewith is my take on what we can expect for 2014.

The year will be unpredictable. A bold assertion, I know, but look at where we were a year ago. Obama had just been resoundingly reelected and the right was on the run. They gave in on taxes and spending and agreed to extend unemployment benefits for another year. They were talking about immigration reform and a bargain on spending. It seemed that the left had the right ideas and, led by the president, it would be a year of progress.

How did that work out? We know. Immigration passed the Senate. Sequestration clawed its way through all of the doomsday scenarios and became the budget template for the year. The House became the place where all good ideas went to die. The website was doomed to failure because nobody thought or had the money to test it. The right shut down the government. Unemployment payments have not been renewed. Our privacy either being stolen from Target or abused by the NSA.

So why am I so optimistic about the upcoming year? Because there are some terrific trends in American life that are trending in the right direction. Marriage equality is close to becoming the law of all the land. The Supreme Court will probably slow it down and rule at some point that states do have the power to prohibit it through their constitutions, but that will just be a temporary delay.  State barriers to marriage, and by extension to rights for all LGBTIH and GSD and other capital letters, is in our near future. This is a profound change and one that we need to be thankful, thoughtful and diligent about enforcing.

The next year will also see health care for all. Think about that one and smile. Health care for all. The United States will join the rest of the industrialized world, and some of the less industrialized, in making sure that sickness or injury doesn't mean bankruptcy or worse. There will be more bumps next year related to insurance company payments and recalcitrant GOP obstruction, but this law is here to stay. And the better part is that the law will be strengthened in the next few years. It has problems that need attention and we are looking at the possibility that more employers will begin moving employees to the exchanges rather than covering them through company plans. As one of my conservative friends says, if you thought the fuss over six million people being told their insurance didn't measure up to the ACA and had their coverage canceled, wait until sixty million people who have insurance through work lose it. This is your only warning.

There are other hopeful trends to watch in 2014. The move towards a livable minimum wage is not going away and will probably gather steam next year. The criminal justice system is recognizing that mandatory sentences were a fevered reaction to inner city crime related to drugs and has done more to create a new economy based on prisons, especially in rural areas. President Obama's sentence commutations are a first step towards making sentencing more flexible without going back to the instability of the 1960s and 70s. The Dodd-Frank bill will force financial institutions to curb or make transparent some of the practices that led to the financial crisis. Wall Street will kick and scream, but they will need to abide by the new rules.

And immigration reform will, I think find some success in the coming year. The Senate bill will not be passed by the House, and a path to citizenship might not survive the political process, but this is an idea whose time has come. It might take four or six more years before it comes to fruition, but it will.

The House will stay Republican in November and the Senate will stay Democratic, if only by 51-49 or by a Vice-President Biden Tie-Breaking Constitution Special 50-50. Someone you never considered will announce, by year's end, that they will be a candidate for president in 2016. Someone you thought was a no-brainer will say that they will not run.

And no, it will not snow on Super Bowl Sunday.

Have a very Happy New Year and continue to work to make the United States, and the world, a better, more humane, just place to hang out in.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Imagining the Schools We Need

Wondering why American students are not performing at their best? Or why we struggle to solve the problems of children getting adequate resources so they can compete in the global race for knowledge, opportunity and equity?

No need. The answer's right here and it doesn't take much to figure it out. We've made education a commodity to be traded, cut, neglected and manipulated for the better part of the economic downturn, and even before, and the policy is catching up to us. School districts all over the country had to cut back on teachers, other staff, educational resources and worse, a commitment to enable all children to take part in what should be the world's premier public school system.

It shouldn't have worked out that way.

The corporate know-nothings who have wheedled their way into the public policy debate and, worse, have been elected to offices where they've had direct experience slashing budgets, blaming public employees and pulling money out of the system because they think it spends too much. Now we've reached the crisis point where schools are packing in too many students into classrooms without proper staffing and educational materials. The results are disappointing at best.

But they point to something that's been underreported, and that is that America's public school teachers are doing a fabulous job keeping the system afloat and educating our students to the best of their abilities. The shame is imagining just how much better the country would be if we committed to funding and supporting the people who do one of the most important paid jobs in the economy.

Imagine what we could do with class sizes that allow for debate, discussion and hands-on learning in every class. Imagine having enough staff to enable struggling students and those with classifiable learning problems to get the support they both need and are entitled to by law. Imagine having enough money to take students on more than one outside academic trip per year so that they could apply their knowledge to real-world situations.

Imagine a teaching staff that is respected, emboldened and confident that the culture supported its efforts. Imagine governors making full pension payments so the system doesn't become a political battleground and an excuse to blame teachers and other public employees from being blamed for shortfalls. Remember that the only people making reliable pension contributions are the teachers; every paycheck. Imagine a system where teachers have input into curricular implementation, and where tests are not the end result of every learning task. Imagine a collaborative, supportive environment where veteran educators are respected for their knowledge, not blamed for being too expensive.

If you can imagine such a system, then we have our work cut out for us because if we keep going as we have for the past 10 years, then we will sink further behind countries that don't need to imagine those school systems--they already have them.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Political See-Thaw

Yes, that sound you heard out of Washington was not just John Boehner's rant against his conservative brethren, it might have been the long-awaited thaw in relations between the two parties in the Congress over the budget.

And you probably thought that Republicans didn't believe in warming.

Well, don't get too excited. After all, 94 House members voted against the bill and it looks like the Senate will manage only four GOP supporters when the bill lands on their desks. And this is a bill that I might have voted against because it basically sacrifices the long-term unemployed on the alter of perceived laziness and blame-the-victim politics that's the hallmark of the Republican Party (though Patty Murray must be terrific at selling unpopular ideas). The bill does modify and correct some of the most egregious sequestration cuts, but this budget deal was played on the Republican side of the field.

Is this a thaw? Possibly, though there are significant snowstorms ahead. The immigration bill is stalled in the House and it would be a monumental achievement for a law that includes a path to citizenship to pass in that chamber. Then again, Boehner is not a dumb politician and understands that the Republicans need to begin courting the Hispanic vote, so maybe he can shepherd a modified version of the bill through his caucus. Of course, Democrats will jump all over any perceived weakness int he GOP approach and will run with it in 2014 and 2016.

The Senate provides another ice sheet for progress. Although the two sides came to an agreement to pause the confirm-a-thon until Monday, the Republicans are still smarting from having the filibuster rug pulled from under their Gucci-shoed feet. Two of the president's DC Circuit nominees have been approved at the EPA Chief is up next. I see this as great progress and a future bulwark against Republican mischief via the courts in the years to come. "Young Democratic Judges" is a phrase I love hearing over and over.

So I'm not looking for a grand love-in on the floor of the legislative bodies over the course of the next year, but I do see a grudging push in the direction of getting things done, especially on the right. They can run against the health care law and probably keep the House and make inroads in the Senate in 2014. Their main concern, and a shiver up the spine, has to be the prospect of a Tea Party presidential candidate and the thought of defending 24 Senate seats in 2016. They won't win the former contest and could do serious damage to themselves in the latter if they persist with the nonsense they've been peddling since 2010.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Teaching, Unions and Social Justice

Giving of course my humble opinion, I believe we are at the high water mark of the anti-union, pro-market-force, evaluation-by-testing mania that's gripped education. Or I could be seriously deluded and education is going through a profound change that will see radically different protocols for years to come.

Monday is the National Day of Action, where schools and community organizations are rallying to focus public attention on how to improve schools and promote social justice. There is a set of principles behind this, and it represents a concerted effort to fight back against the corporitization of schools that started on the far right, but has been moving to the center for a few years. Even President Obama supports the principle of more testing and teacher evaluation models that erroneously support it.

But a larger issue is also part of this debate, and that's the role of unions and associations in public education. Perhaps it is true that teachers unions are facing a moment of truth and that they will need to adapt to the changing landscape rather that being able to pull the country back to a position that supports the idea of collective rights. Many people who should be supporting unions and what they've won for workers are in fact opposing them on the grounds that everyone should suffer in a free-agent world, not that they should demand the rights that unionized workers have. Employers have gained the upper hand in salary negotiations and with the coming of the new health care landscape, will most likely be able to stop offering insurance and tell employees to buy on the exchanges. Teachers generally have better protections because they have representation, but that's led mostly to resentment, not mobilization by other industries.

Another challenge, and perhaps the biggest, is that the teaching staff population is getting younger. Far younger. Most teachers have been on the job for less than ten years. More importantly, they grew up in a nation that didn't value unions. Yes, Ronald Reagan did say that he supported unions, but his actions in firing the air traffic controllers in 1981 is a far more potent reminder of the power of the president to shape the national agenda through actions rather than words. Most of the newest teachers were young during the 1980s and 90s when the anti-union rhetoric became louder and there were fewer steel workers, miners, and automobile workers to remind them what unions could do. The technology economy rendered union protections less important when the ethos was that you could create your own wealth. It's still a powerful message. The problem is that it only applies to a few workers. Evidence is showing that many of these younger teachers are not as committed to unions or at least want them to change in ways that unions might not want to. The NEA and AFT will need to adapt, and at the moment it's unclear what direction they will take.

The infusion of right wing money into the privatization and testing movement has also undermined effective education because it essentially said that teachers were to blame and that unions were anti-reform because they stood in the way of change. Yes they did, and for good reason; using tests to evaluate teachers and students is a terrible strategy. It saps energy from the system because teachers are tethered even more closely to a curriculum that defines what's important to learn, what's on the test, and discards everything else.

My subject, history (not social studies by the way; HISTORY) has been left in the educational dust for years as math and language arts skills have become the de facto national curriculum. Then science was added. I have no problem with this. But we are raising a nation of students who have limited historical knowledge because they have limited access to ideas because history is not a tested subject, therefore it must be less important. The same goes for the practical, industrial, visual and performing arts. This is the legacy of the corporate influence in education. Will the Common Core Standards help? We'll see, but if they don't, we'll have wasted time that could have been better utilized.

Monday's National Day of Action should be a day that reminds us of what effect the power of people can have when it's channeled for social justice and education. These are the bedrocks of solid citizenship and point to a return of a society where all people, not just those who can pay for SAT Preparation classes, have access to a quality education and control over their own lives. The promise of corporatization and testing is a false hope that will leave students on the sidelines and teachers in a system that rejects the basic premise of effective schools that have a collegial staff and a collective ethic meant to educate every child.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Race to the Bottom

The know-nothings who decided that market-based reforms were just what the public schools needed can look to New Jersey for proof that what they have wrought is having its intended terrible effect on education. The corporate takeover is going according to plan. The worst victims are the students themselves.

One of the warnings that veteran educators tried to sound was that the growth of charter schools would create two levels of opportunity: one for parents who were proactive and worked to get their children into top charter schools, and the rest of the population that either couldn't compete or was shut out and stuck in the now-depleted public system. That seems to be happening in Newark, if this article is accurate. Yes, there are some significant successes if you count the students who are thriving in schools that can skim the best off the top and can generally avoid recruiting the poorest and least-able students. Test scores are up. There are fewer disruptions.

But it's a false success if it means that other students are denied that quality of education. Free market principles are great for businesses, stock markets, and competitions for talent and ability. It can be deadly, however, when it comes to education.

Public schools by law must educate all children. Think about that: all children. Not one exception. And they need to educate them so they will be productive members of society. What the know-nothings have done is to criticize the public schools as unwieldy, rife with union activism, and failing our children. What they've created are academies that are exempt from the public school's rules and worse, have created winners and losers. That's not what education is about. As a matter of fact, it runs against every rational, reasonable and moral imperative that undergirds an education system in a compassionate society. It's wonderful that more students are doing well and are thriving in these new schools. For the losers, though, it's a life sentence.

As for the teachers, the know-nothings created a new evaluation system  that is supposed to weed out the less effective educators from the classroom. What they're created in reality is a time-wasting, money-sucking, mathematically-skewed nightmare that is taking money from school programs and budgets that can best be used in the classroom, and not on software that shows faculty members what an effective lesson looks like. We already know that.  

With the Common Core Standards breathing down our necks, educators need more resources that students can use to learn, such as technology that works, interactive readings and mathematics lessons, and more time to plan collaboratively with teachers of other disciplines, grades, and expertise.

What we're getting is a system that requires teachers to spend hours writing or rewriting lesson plans to meet the new guidelines, to meet with administrators to coordinate scoring rubrics, and to defend what we've always done in every other year, but now have to write down. If the goal was to create evaluations that mimicked the business world, then congratulations; it's just as ineffective as your average corporate annual review.

Again, it's the students who will really pay for the damage in time, in money and in lost resources. I give this new teacher ratings system about five years before the corporate world and the Koch brothers move on to something else they can try to ruin. Until then, the race to the bottom will be quick.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Wages Are Sinful

You've heard about the healthcare website. You've heard about Iran. You've heard about the fiscal negotiations. You've eaten, shopped, dozed, decorated and lit candles.

Get ready for the wage fight, which could be the most important issue we'll face in the next few months. On Thursday, fast food workers in 100 cities plan to strike at fast food outlets across the country to publicize the fight for a livable minimum wage. Right now, that wage is $7.25 per hour and hasn't kept pace with the cost of living or the rate of inflation...ever. To give you some perspective, and to show just how old I am, I remember my first job at Korvettes making $2.50 per hour in 1977. The present wage isn't even three times that much and over 35 years have passed.

The protests now are asking for a wage of $15 dollars per hour, which still isn't much, but would allow some people to actually live a middle class existence without having to get more than one job. Consider these statistics from this article about one such person who is trying to survive on the minimum wage:
According to a study released in October, only 13 percent of fast-food workers get health-insurance benefits at work. In New York State, three in five have received some form of government assistance in the last five years. Meanwhile, executive pay and profits in the industry are on the rise. Last winter, Bloomberg News determined that it would take a Chicago McDonald’s worker who earns $8.25 an hour more than a century on the clock to match the $8.75 million that the company’s chief executive made in 2011.

The classic image of the high-school student flipping Big Macs after class is sorely out of date. Because of lingering unemployment and a relative abundance of fast-food jobs, older workers are increasingly entering the industry. These days, according to the National Employment Law Project, the average age of fast-food workers is 29. Forty percent are 25 or older; 31 percent have at least attempted college; more than 26 percent are parents raising children. Union organizers say that one-third to one-half of them have more than one job — like Mr. Shoy, who is 58 and supports a wife and children.

The argument against a rise on the minimum wage has always centered around the notion that raising the wage would force small businesses to lay off workers because labor costs would eat into profits. I can see this happening to a certain extent to local businesses and independent stores, but there's simply not a lot of evidence to suggest that this would be an issue for large retail outlets, fast-food restaurants or national chain stores. In fact, the data suggests that raising the wage would even help the economy and lift spending, which would then allow companies to hire more workers to meet demand.

The other problem is that this is a moral issue that is reaching far beyond what many people consider to be a teenage, burger-flipping concern. More and more families rely on the minimum wage to get by and more adults, whose higher paying jobs have fled or disappeared, are now working the lower paying jobs. Children are now in danger of living below the poverty line. That's a huge concern.

We are living in a country where the top wage earners have seen a fabulous rise in their incomes, and for the most part they have earned that. But if we don't help those who struggle at the bottom--people who are working--then what does that say about our country?

There's an argument about what might happen if we raise the wage, but we know what will happen if we don't raise it. Make this a personal issue. Respect the fast food strike on Thursday. Make sure that all people get their shot at the American Dream.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Obama Rebound Begins

Things were hairy there for a couple of months, what with the government shutdown (Republicans' fault) and the still incomprehensible fail of the healthcare website (all you, Democrats), but slowly and surely, things seem to be turning around, just in time for the holidays.

For example, House Speaker John Boehner did a nice job showing that the healthcare website wasn't such a bad experience after all. In fact, a health insurance representative tried to call him, but hung up after Boehner kept him on hold for 35 minutes. Even better, the ACA is changing the way that hospitals are treating patients, cutting down on procedures that might not be necessary, and generally becoming more efficient. And part-time workers will have more choices come January, which will replace the spare options they have now for more robust policies.

The best part, though, is that thousands of people are effectively signing up for health insurance through state exchanges and Medicaid, and will soon have a much better experience on I went on the site and breezed through the process here in New Jersey. In late October, that didn't happen.

On the foreign front, the president and John Kerry have been working with the leaders of five other nations and have come up with what they think is a plausible plan to monitor Iran's nuclear capacity and loosen some of the sanctions that have squeezed a good deal of pulp out of Teheran's economy. This is not only a pivot for Obama away from confrontation and war toward a more diplomatic-centered policy, but it reinforces the notion that he's at heart a man of peace who can finally see his vision of a more engaged Middle East come to fruition. And so far, Americans seem to support his efforts.

Of course, this will be a long, messy process. The Saudis and Israelis are wary and nervous about a reinvigorated Iran, and for good reason. Iran threatens the Saudi near-monopoly on oil in the region and their Sunni government is a natural enemy for the Iranian Shiite mullahs who really run the country. Israel is, of course, afraid that Iran will ignore any limits placed on it by a treaty and once their economy improves, will go ahead and build nuclear weapons and use them on Jerusalem.

If you thought it was difficult to solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, then this will be well-nigh impossible, but it has to work. Iran once had a vibrant economy and the people are committed to a free-market system. The religious leaders might have to make more concessions to the business sector, as the Chinese Communist Party has done in the name of capitalism, and my sense is that a rising middle class will not look kindly on a regime that would threaten that prosperity with a risky and suicidal strike on Israel. And really, do you think Iran would nuke the Old City, with its timeless Muslim shrines? I might be naive, but I don't.

As for the Saudis, they have been fed on American weapons and support, while suppressing any free speech or political movements that could give women the right to drive, much less tolerate a free press or alternative political parties. Yet we see them as an ally and the somewhat more free Iranians as the third leg of the axis of evil. Never forget that 15 of the 19 September 11 conspirators were radicalized Saudis. That says something about the level of repression inside that country. I suspect that their bigger fear is what their society will need to undergo in order to compete in a world where Iran and Iraq have freer economies.

Clearly, we are at the beginning of the process and Obama and Kerry have to make sure that Israel is protected from any mischief, nuclear or otherwise. But Israel also has to solve its own problem with settlements and a two state solution to the Palestinian problem. Interesting times indeed.

The Republicans, and some influential Democrats such as Charles Schumer of New York, have lined up against the Iran agreement and the Republicans continue to hope and pray that people don't sign up for health care. In addition, the House has said that they won't be voting on the immigration bill this year (though most Americans support a path to citizenship), and this while Chris Christie is considering supporting a Dreamer bill in New Jersey (or at least the idea of one). As long as the GOP hard right continues to play hardball, the Democrats will begin to look better and better as we move towards November. Something to be thankful for?

You bet.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Common Core: At Least the Website Works

I am nothing if not a good sport and an optimist by temperament, so when I read this NJ Spotlight article about a website full of great information and resources for teaching the Common Core Curriculum Standards, I took a look. The site,, is well-designed, if a bit busy, and you can sign up to post resources.

If you teach Language Arts and Mathematics, there are probably some good resources for the effective teacher, but as a high school history teacher, there was nothing on the site. Nada. Zilch. Not even a pretense that teaching history is in any way important or even part of the curriculum. Perhaps more will be added later, but at this point, the state has no interest in engaging anyone who doesn't teach the tested subjects. And that's to be expected because it's been clear for a couple of years that the NJ Department of Education is focused on testing to the exclusion of a rich, varied, integrative curriculum..

Clearly this is still a work in progress and there's a distinct possibility that it will grow into a valued resource. It has a good deal of competition from other, more established sites and its success will be determined by how well it meets teachers' needs. The comments on the NJ Spotlight article are negative so far, with this being the most telling:
So, I click on the link in the article, then I click on NJMC, I choose Mathematics, then Kindergarten, I click on Unit 1, then I click on SLO 1 Count by ones up to 10.
Then I click on the 3 lesson plans, choose the first one listed called "Subitizing " (huh???) and Lesson Seed 7.EE.A.2.

It's a lesson on area using the expression 25(x+10)-13a.

For Kindergarten?

Another lesson says there are 18 cookies in each batch requiring 2 cups of flower. How much flower for 12 dozen?


Stay tuned.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Good News for Obama: The Right Will Rise Again

Don't get me wrong. What's happened over the past five weeks has been a colossal, epic failure on President Obama's part. All he needed to say about the health care law was that you could keep your insurance if it met minimum standards, and then he needed to repeat those standards. He also needed to repeat the benefits of the law, from covering preexisting conditions to free physicals, checkups and flu shots. But Obama thought that passage of the law was enough and that the government didn't need to publicize what was on public record. Big mistake. Now he's gotten caught in a web that the right wing has been spinning since 2010. It's ugly. It's sobering. It's a mess. And it hurts.

And now for the good news. Obama's opponents are still the same gang that shut down the government, opposes marriage equality, wants to voucherize Medicare and cut $40 billion from the food stamp program, denies global warming, thinks transvaginal ultrasounds are effective public policy, supports testing public school students at the expense of a real curriculum, opposes immigration reform and continues to want to deport large numbers of Hispanics.

In the 1990s, my father used to say that Newt Gingrich was the best thing that ever happened to Bill Clinton. The Tea Party and John Boehner are the best things to happen to Barack Obama. His approval ratings are down now, but they''ll rebound because the right wing hasn't changed.

Their main vulnerability is their belief that the health care law has imperiled every part of Obama's agenda. What they forget is that prior to the shutdown, the GOP's ideas were extreme and unpopular. My sense is that they'll get even more extreme because they see Obama at a critical point in his presidency. will not make the Republicans look any better on women, Hispanics, social programs and, yes, health care.

The health care mess will also leave the front pages soon because the website will be fixed and more people will successfully sign up for care. Also, fiscal negotiations are just around the corner and the right has left itself vulnerable because they've pretty much promised not to shut the government down again and they'd be crazier than even I think they are to not raise the debt ceiling. Plus, the press will get tired of this story and move on to other things.

In the end, though, the real advantage is that we're talking about trying to insure people against catastrophic expenses by providing them with health insurance. Never forget that.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The President Lied About Health Care (GW Bush, I Mean)

President Obama has certainly got himself into a pickle over his health care law, but that really shouldn't surprise anyone who's been paying attention to the issue since 2009 when the law was first formulated. Throughout its life, the ACA has been the bastard child of this administration. They haven't explained it well from the outset, let it meander all over the map when it was being debated (remember the special Nebraska amendment to the law?), didn't publicize the law's benefits, allowed the rabid opposition to define quaint terms such as "death panels" when referring to it, and now is struggling to fix a flawed website and clarify why the president would say that you could keep your insurance if you liked it when, in fact, you cannot.

Other than that, it's been smooooooth sailing.

But then I accessed my memory banks and remembered that our old pal GW Bush also had a health care rollout that was rocky from the start and involved the same kind of Congressional contretemps, but a more damnable set of lies and threats than the Obama Administration ever considered.

To start, here's a lovely, and angry, Forbes story from 2009 that not only criticizes the Obama health care law, but reserves special venom for the Bush Medicare Prescription Plan of 2003. The article is mainly about the deficit, but is instructive as it relates to our current debate:

Recall the situation in 2003. The Bush administration was already projecting the largest deficit in American history–$475 billion in fiscal year 2004, according to the July 2003 mid-session budget review. But a big election was coming up that Bush and his party were desperately fearful of losing. So they decided to win it by buying the votes of America’s seniors by giving them an expensive new program to pay for their prescription drugs.

Recall, too, that Medicare was already broke in every meaningful sense of the term. According to the 2003 Medicare trustees report, spending for Medicare was projected to rise much more rapidly than the payroll tax as the baby boomers retired. Consequently, the rational thing for Congress to do would have been to find ways of cutting its costs. Instead, Republicans voted to vastly increase them–and the federal deficit–by $395 billion between 2004 and 2013.

However, the Bush administration knew this figure was not accurate because Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, had concluded, well before passage, that the more likely cost would be $534 billion. Tom Scully, a Republican political appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services, threatened to fire him if he dared to make that information public before the vote. (See this report by the HHS inspector general and this article by Foster.)

That last paragraph is the most relevant. The Bush Administration knew that it was blatantly lying to the American public about the cost of the program, and its famous donut hole which forced seniors to pay thousands in out-of-pocket expenses (and which Obama's ACA gets rid of), and threatened to fire the hard-working, and correct, public servant who dared to make the lies public. An inquiry later in 2004 confirmed that Scully had indeed been threatened with his job.

The rollout of the Medicare Prescription Plan was similarly troubled, and of course there were calls to scrap it, but Representative John Boehner thankfully saw the benefits of the bill and asked the public for patience. Oh, how times have changed.

It's important for Democrats and other supporters of the ACA to see the long term benefits of the law and that it's working very well in states that have set up their own exchanges. If more states had done this, without the right wing hissy fits that are causing myriad problems, we would not be talking about a mammoth political problem. We would be talking about how seamlessly the program is working and how people were now getting insurance for less than they were paying, or were getting it for the first time, ever.

And if other governors were not callous, mean, thick-headed and, in some cases, not very bright, and took the Medicaid money that the federal government was offering, then even more poor people would be getting care. Because they aren't taking the money, many hospitals are finding that they can't take care of people who need their services. This is why the law will succeed and it will result in people asking for their coverage from the politicains who can't seem to do the right thing.

The lesson here is patience. The website will be fixed and the law will begin to help the very people it was meant to help. Like all laws, though, it will not help everyone, and there will be winners and losers. Right now, the losers have the spotlight. The winners will emerge later, but they will emerge.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Health of the State

If nothing else, the press is having a field day, or a month anyway, with the government shutdown and now the contretemps over the health care website and law. I'm sure you've read the articles and have seen the overblown videos from from both sides of the political divide. There aren't more for me to add.

What's been lost in the tree-to-tree debate is the forest of actual health care and the health of United States citizens. Yes, President Obama should have said that those people whose insurance policies do not meet the minimum standards set by the ACA would indeed need to upgrade them. That inattention to detail is exactly what can derail a noble point, especially given the rabid opposition he faces in Congress. But the larger point is that more people will have better health plans, and, presumably, better health.

The other issue that's been buried is the relative success of the exchanges in states that have functioning representative democracies and not one-party GOP monopolies who don't seem to care whether their poorest residents get Medicaid relief or, in the case of New Jersey, a governor who aspires to national office. In states such as New York, Oregon, Kentucky and California, people are signing up for health care and, for the most part, are finding it both easy and cost-effective to do so (OK,'s a link).

Which proves that the law is working and that it's here to stay and that ultimately it will do what it set out to do and the GOP knows it. That's why they only have the political issue to focus on. By next October, the ACA will be a net plus for the Democrats. The website will be fixed and more people will be demanding that all states fully cover their Medicaid populations.

There will be no place to hide for those who believe that it's an American right to be sick and have other people pay for it, or for those who perversely call it freedom when people are denied access to a government entitlement like Medicaid, or who say it's un-American for the government to provide access to checkups, physicals, reproductive health or to have insurance companies cover people with preexisting conditions.

I've always believed that if you do the right thing, eventually the people in your orbit will notice and reward you for it, even if at times you are punished for your good deeds. The health care law and the sentiment behind it is worthy, moral, ethical and in the best sense of the word, healthy. This, in the end, is what will ensure its success.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Uh Oh: Christie Shows His True Color

If you haven't seen the picture, here it is:

This is Governor Christie scolding a teacher on Saturday for questioning his education policies. A full accounting of the event can be found on Jersey Jazzman's site. But as always with this governor, the picture really tells the story.

Here is a man who wants to be president, who wants to be a role model, and who wants to brook no opposition. He's only succeeded at the latter. This is what we get when we elect former prosecutors to public office. Prosecutors, remember, are true believers who are always, always, always right. Even when they're wrong. But they never are wrong, so the point is proven. Challenging them is a challenge to the natural order of things.

Remember when New Jersey missed out on some wonderful federal Race to the Top dollars because Christie nixed the application that included some concessions to the New Jersey Education Association? That couldn't be Christie's fault, even though it was, so he fired Education Commissioner Brett Schundler.

And when Christie's budget numbers didn't add up and the state economist, David Rosen, called him on it? And it turned out that Rosen was right? The governor never admitted he was wrong on the numbers because, well... Christie is never wrong.

So now we have an example of a teacher asking the governor why he's against teachers, and his response is clearly venomous. Does he really think that teachers are supposed to like what he's said and done over the past four years? Has he convinced himself that trying to tear down the NJEA, overtly accusing teachers of bringing pro-union sentiment into their classrooms, and saying that the public schools in New Jersey are failing would be popular among the education set? If this is his response to a teacher when his reelection is looking promising, just imagine his response in a national race when the press won't let a story go just because the governor wants it to.

As for being a role model, Christie said in the first debate that he didn't think his style was anything but telling people the truth and that New Jerseyans appreciated his candor. Now we know what that really means: I'm right, you're wrong and I'm going to bully you into believing me. This man is no role model, and he never will be.

But there is a remedy to all of this. On Tuesday, vote for Barbara Buono. She knows how to speak to people, but more importantly, she knows how to listen to people. She will make us proud as our governor. And she will do right by families, workers, the environment and our long-term future.

Remember this on November 5.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Inflation: Letting The Air Out Of Teacher Pay

As if being a teacher isn't enough of a financial challenge, here's some worse news, compliments of a front-page article in Sunday's New York Times about the Federal Reserve possibly injecting some inflation into the economy. Right now it's an intellectual argument, and if you've ever studied the Great Depression of the 1930s, you know that the real danger to the economy would be deflation. In an effort to combat that, the Fed would look kindly on an inflationary course for these reasons:

The Fed has worked for decades to suppress inflation, but economists, including Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Fed starting next year, have long argued that a little inflation is particularly valuable when the economy is weak. Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly. 

The next paragraph, though, shows that not all people would benefit from such an economic course. Read it and weep.

The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, for example, is counting on inflation to keep a lid on teachers’ wages.

But wait; there's more.

Rising inflation also punishes people living on fixed incomes.

So there you have it. The very same people who caused the financial meltdown, destroyed the pension system, and enacted laws that capped what municipalities and states could pay for social services now want an economic policy that would punish teachers and other public workers while they're working, and it would keep on giving after they retire and are on a fixed pension and Social Security. Is that the way to continue to attract the best and brightest people to teaching, and to show them how much society respects their contributions? Absolutely not.

(As a side note, I completely reject the notion that we have not already attracted some of our best people to become teachers. America's teachers put in an extraordinary amount of hours into their jobs and genuinely care about their chosen field. We've attended some of the best universities in the land and have studied with world class professors and professionals. So, it bothers me a great deal when others say that we need to get the best and brightest into our classrooms. We're already there. Pay us what we're worth, give us the tools to do our jobs and stop nickle and diming the schools in the name of an ideology that disrespects and ultimately wants to destroy a system that gives us the right to bargain collectively, set acceptable work rules and protect our due process rights.)

(Which leads to another side note. The right wing doesn't know what it's talking about on education.)

The politicians and think-tank lackeys who are presently influencing the education debate in this country have done a fine job singling out teachers, telling the public that their schools are failing, and blaming us for having pensions and benefits. Now the economists want to manipulate the economy so that it punishes us more. The contradiction is that if you continue to squeeze America's public workers, then we won't be able to spend and otherwise contribute to the economy. We won't be able to afford to send our children to college. And we won't be able to continue to do what we love.

Yes, I know there's an old myth in this country that says that teachers don't teach for money, they teach because they're committed to their craft. As with most myths, this is not only false, but dangerous, and society is playing with fire if it believes it can continue to treat us poorly.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sixteen Days, Thirteen Nights

What a waste of time, effort and money. During the sixteen days that the government was shut down, the United States could have been funding scientific research, analyzing economic data and providing needed services to people who need them. It could also have begun work earlier on the health care website that will obviously need almost a complete overhaul, while fending off calls to delay or scrap it by members of both parties. The shutdown only delayed the solutions, and the hope, on this side of the political spectrum at least, is that the site will be up and running more effectively by the middle of November. In the meantime, the federal government should allow the states in which it runs the exchanges to post their choices and prices so that people can simply log on and sign up when the site's fixed.

Remember, the rollout of the Medicare Prescription Plan in 2005 was also extremely buggy. Wait, you mean that you don't remember? That's because it works plenty fine now. We shall get through this as well. In the meantime, we've wasted time.

And speaking of wasted time, there are only thirteen nights left until New Jersey voters trudge to the polls to choose between the evil we know and the better candidate we don't know. It's been an odd week for the governor as he's had to face this news...

Despite those marks, the poll shows voters disapprove of the way Christie has handled two issues they cite as among the most important in the state: the economy and taxes. Only 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy and jobs, while 38 percent approve of his performance on taxes.

while also gaining an endorsement from the Newark Star-Ledger that was one of the least enthusiastic in recent memory. It seems as thought the Ledger was just following other left-leaning voices in not wanting to offend the great offender and pull punches rather than be called stupid in a YouTube video.

It really is a terrible state of affairs that Democratic candidate Barbara Buono, who actually has a positive plan to run the state and will stay in Trenton for the next four years, has had such trouble getting her message out. She's compassionate, tough, and respectful, things the present governor is not so much of. Now that the Senate special election is over, the Buono-Christie race has a clear field ahead of it. With negatives in the two areas that most New Jerseyans care the most about, Buono has a chance to score some points and gain in the polls. That the state and national Democratic Party will sacrifice her to the gods of money and opportunity is one of the great sell-outs of all time.

It's the season of scary, and the thought of more GOP power in the statehouse and nation fits it very well. This year, though, the cry will not be boo, but boo-hoo. Oh, what could have been.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Let's Fake A Deal

In the end, we got a terrible economic deal, but a nice political gift. Congress essentially kicked the problem down the road and ensured that early January would mark the beginning of other round of hostage-taking on the part of the right, more attacks on the health care law, and an intransigence on raising revenue in a fiscal deal that will raise hypocrisy to a new level, after they lambasted the president for not negotiating on the debt. Which he did. Anyway.

Even worse is listening to chastened Republicans talk about the importance of bipartisanship and how they hope that Democrats learn the lesson that they shouldn't do this when they're in the GOP's position. Remember: Only the right can shut down the government and scare the world into thinking we'd default on our loans.

The good news is that this deal was worse for the Republicans than even I thought it would be. It was clear that this gambit was not going to help them, and Ted Cruz made it even better for the left because he was convinced that everyone outside of the major cities agreed that the ACA was from the devil and needed to be exorcised. The president stood his ground and public opinion shifted severely away from the GOP. It will take quite a bit of work on their part just to maintain their ranks in the Congress next year. They can kiss the Senate goodbye and might even lose the House, gerrymandered or not.

That this all occurred at the same time that the ACA rollout produced disastrous results makes the episode even sweeter, and is the political equivalent of rubbing salt in right wing eyes. If they had played it straight, they could have earned two years of political capital and would have had the Democrats on the run. But the right made sure that the computer problems will be mostly fixed by the time they're ready to renew their attacks, and most people won't pay attention anyway.

The only positive redemption I can see is if the GOP makes the debt and deficit an issue that only they can solve. The public is on their side on that argument, but that would also include cuts to Medicare and Social Security that will not go down well. The shutdown showed that Americans were upset because national parks were closed. Does the GOP think we'd also like to privatize entitlements? I think not.

Let's hope that Barack Obama keeps his spine straight and forces the right to accept a deficit deal mostly on his terms and without significant consequences for the health care bill. He can also push the immigration bill while the right is down and hope that enough of them see fit to change their minds. Probably not, but it's fun to dream.

In any case, enjoy the next six weeks. Then it all starts again.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I've used the tsunami wave metaphor in other posts about the decline of the Republican Party and  its associated havoc-wreaking on the country over the past two years.

Today we talk about the complete meltdown of the party. The debacle over the debt ceiling and the as-we-speak collapse of any kind of deal shows us the final truth about the right: This is not an entity that can be a partner in governing.

Here we are on the brink of a default that many conservatives believe will not be "that bad," despite the warnings from banks, foreign governments and ratings agencies, most of whom could not remotely be labeled liberal, and they are still trying to knock off the Affordable Care Act. Yes, I understand how important it is to settle the issue of whether congressional aides can qualify for subsidies on the health insurance exchanges, but is is worth embarrassing the United States and inviting the wrath of the financial markets?

Clearly, it is. And that's the problem with the GOP as is exists today. The extremism knows no bounds and the disdain of the president is ugly. They accuse Obama of not negotiating when that has been their strategy since he was elected. They want to stall, delay, overturn and defund anything he's signed. They want no revenue increases in any fiscal bill. They want the Consumer Protection Board gone and they want the EPA to stop telling factories they can't pollute. These are non-negotiable items, yet it's Obama's willingness to stand his ground that has them so incensed (I would be worse, though. Open the government and increase the debt ceiling for a whole year, says I).

It's a sad state of affairs that only the party muckymucks can address. John Boehner doesn't know which way to go, because all paths lead to The Tenth Circle of Hell (the one that Donald Trump bought and developed). He either has to continue giving in to the Tea Party or he has to sacrifice his speakership and get Democrats and moderates to get us out of this mess.

Some people who know more than I say that the American voters will probably forget all this by next November. I don't think so. The next wave will be a Democratic takeover of the House.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Damn the Teachers, Full Testing Ahead!

So let's see where we stand at this moment with the brand spanking new teacher evaluation system in New Jersey. This is the law that is going to revolutionize teaching and learning by making sure that students are mastering content and skills and teachers are doing their jobs to ensure learning in the classroom. For those of us not covered by a standardized assessment, the key is the SGO, or Student Growth Objectives, that is supposed to measure student growth (duh).

How are we doing this? By taking the measure of our students at the beginning of the year. Then we'll evaluate them again in a few months to see how much they've learned. In other words, welcome to testing-mania.

The overwhelming majority of teachers in New Jersey have already given an assessment to their students, usually in the form of a test. Most of these tests ask for knowledge and skills that students haven't been taught yet. The assumption, then, is that when we re-give these tests again in February or March, the students will have learned the information because they've been, well, taught it. Students learn, teachers have done their jobs, numbers go up, salaries are paid.

So what's the problem? Plenty. Most of these tests are low stakes and mean virtually nothing to the students, while meaning everything for the teachers. In addition, there is no measurable data that says that this is a viable method for objectively evaluating teachers. And districts are getting mucho creative with SGOs in ways that even the Christie Administration didn't envision.

For example, many teachers who plan on taking leaves for maternity or other family concerns, have been told to administer both a pre-and post-assessment in as little as 6 weeks, so the district has a record of their progress. This flies in the face of everything we know about education and assessment, and is using time as the relevant factor and not learning. Why don't I just do a Monday-Friday assessment cycle and be done with it. I can teach anyone how to write an effective thesis in a week if that's all I'm going to measure.

It's also becoming clear, as I speak to colleagues and monitor the news, that administrators and school boards are tying bonuses to the percentage of staff that has an SGO. The law says that classroom teachers must have them, but leaves it up to the district as to whether nurses, guidance counselors and other support staff must have them. Tying SGOs to a bonus virtually guarantees that all staff will be responsible for an SGO, and it's up to the district to develop one.

Are we connecting student health rates to nurses? How many students come to see them over a three month period? Do we want more students to visit the nurse or fewer? What's the difference between taking blood pressure and earning a 4 under the Danielson model and earning a 3?

For guidance counselors, are we tying failure rates to counselors? College acceptances? If a child is crying on the way in to the counselor's office but smiling on the way out, is that an effective SGO?

The dirty truth is that there's really no way to know. It's the same for teachers. Once we administer the test/evaluation, then that becomes the default assessment that we're going to focus on for three months. The tests rule. And it will get even worse come the spring when teachers covered by a state test enter the maelstrom and sweat out their number through the summer.

This evaluation system is taking money, time and resources away from education. It's not scientifically valid. It wastes time. It's a step backwards, and it insults teachers everywhere by assuming that they are not effective.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Monday, October 7, 2013

Chris and Steve's Excellent Campaigns

Let's just make this clear from the outset: Steve Lonegan is not going to defeat Cory Booker in the New Jersey Senate election next week. Yes, I know that only having a 13 point lead puts Booker in the endangered category, and his wealthy, powerful allies are worried about hum not winning by 20 points, but they need to get real.

He's winning and he will win, but in the meantime he's not running a stellar campaign and there's something about Steve Lonegan that makes you want to watch him for a while. Like a really bad car accident or a singer who's so off key you smile while listening to them or someone who reminds you of a character out of 1984. After a time, though, you realize that he wants to be taken seriously and that's when you disengage. That will happen next week.

Lonegan probably isn't saying it now, but he's got to be unhappy with Chris Christie's choice to schedule this election separately from the gubernatorial election in November. Christie's original argument was that having the Senate election on the same date would pull in more Democrats, who would support Booker, to also vote for Barbara Buono. The real loser, though, will be Lonegan, who would otherwise gain some supporters who are showing up to vote for the governor. Or maybe Christie really doesn't like Lonegan and cares not whether he wins. In any case, this openly helps Christie, who has made a Trenton career by making sure that his needs are taken care of.

This will be the last election that Christie will win, so in the end, he and Lonegan will end their elective political careers the same way. Meanwhile, Cory Booker will have six years to sharpen his running skills before he too considers a national campaign.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Orange Alert

Here's a surprise: the shutdown was planned months ago. So the pleadings and forthright looks we've been getting from Ted Cruz and the orange-tinged scoldings from John Boehner and the laments of the lack of compromise by Republicans everywhere have been fakes. Falsehoods. Frauds. Wait for it...Lies.

What the Republican Cadre, because it's no longer a viable political party, has done is reprehensible. From the beginning, and I mean 2009, they have tried to obstruct President Obama's agenda and wait out the electoral clock for four, and now eight years while they plot their way back to power. Thank heavens that they don't, in fact, know how to do that effectively on the national stage. They will continue to win House seats, though a new poll suggests otherwise, but they've fallen farther behind when it comes to women and Hispanics, and we know how viable you are when that happens. In the meantime, all they have is obstruction.

Any talk of compromise or negotiation is not to be trusted. They don't want to delay the health care bill, they want it gone. They also want Dodd-Frank repealed and for the XL pipeline to be built and they want no new taxes in any economic or tax bill they'd support. And who won the 2012 elections?

But, oddly, they seem to love Medicare and are falling over themselves to fund some parts of the federal government if they believe it will help them. Wait long enough, and they'll CR themselves into opening the whole thing in a week or so.

Just to make things worse, Boehner is now disavowing his comments from last week that suggested some compromise. He and the far right will now take us to default if the president won't do as he says. The  crash is coming, it won't be pretty and the GOP will take the fall.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 29, 2013


The answer is no.

There should be no compromise over the Affordable Care Act. It is a duly passed law of the land that will make positive changes in the lives of millions of Americans. It will give them financial and wellness security. It will change, for the better, the way in which health care is delivered in this country. It's already led to far-reaching changes in the way that hospitals, health care organizations, doctors and pharmaceutical companies operate.

Checkups and physicals are now free.
Children can stay on thei parents' policies until age 26.
You cannot be denied insurance if you have a preexisting condition.

And for all of this, a minority in the government and in states where the greatest number of uninsured citizens live, who have convinced themselves that this law will lead to the untimely, government-sponsored deaths of grandmothers throughout the country, want to tie it to  a devastating shutdown of the federal government.

The answer has to be no.

They tried to kill the bill altogether last week, using parliamentary shenanigans that went nowhere and incurred the wrath of Republicans who normally would go along with whatever the party wanted. Now all they want is to delay the Medical Devices tax, which supposedly Democrats fear will lead to higher costs and more backlash.


Because it's clear that the Republican extremists will not stop there. They tried a full kill. Now they want a delay? Does anybody think that they'll stop at the Medical Devices tax? Is that the endgame? Will John Boehner, Ted Cruz and Eric Cantor stand side-by-side on a podium in triumphal mode because the Medical Device tax will be delayed? Oh, that's in addition to approving the XL Pipeline and defunding the Consumer Protection Board and lowering taxes on the wealthy and everything else the Republican Party ran on and LOST in 2012? Will this make the GOP happy and go away?


They want to whole thing gone, and if the Democrats fold on this they will rue that day because the rest of the bill will get flushed away later in October when the GOP decides to throw it in as a condition for raising the debt ceiling. That's the danger.

So my message to the president and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Dick Durban is to borrow another Republican idea from the halcyon days of bipartisanship of the 1980s:

Just say no.

If you don't, you will have lost me and millions of others who feel the same way that I do.

You have been warned.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cruz Missal

It's not enough for Ted Cruz to be wrong, because he is. It's not enough that he's offensive, because he is. And it's not enough that he's a hypocrite, because he is. The worst part is that he has the whole package, and he's terribly difficult to listen to. But Ted Cruz represents much more in our era of divided, extremist, conservative government: It's the end of the line. When people like Ted Cruz make speeches that reference Nazi Germany and compare the present administration to it, you know that the GOP has gone gonzo overboard. This is not a governing party anymore--it's a collection of conspiracy theorists who happened to win votes in gerrymandered districts and in states where the majority of uninsured people in the United States live, but who have convinced themselves that getting health insurance amounts to treason.

The conservative movement has reached its apogee and is now in its slow, painful, destructive decline. It will bring a good part of the country down with it, but the good news is that at its worst, it only controls the House of Representatives. If it shuts down the government next week, it will lose that in 2014 and if it runs an ultra-conservative in 2016, it will lose that election too.

I've heard many pundits and political science professors say that we live in a center-right leaning country, and at this time I'm inclined to believe it. The problem for the Republicans is that they are not center-right: They are far right and represent a minority of the country. Most people don't want radical change of the sort that the far right is promoting. Many people oppose the health care law for good reason, but to say that it will drag down the economy and that it's the death knell of our way of life is irresponsible and hyperbolic.

But I guess Ted Cruz had to happen. Even members of his own party are abandoning him. If the shutdown is to be avoided, Democrats in the House will need a bill to support. This is not good for John Boehner or any of the farther rightists.

But it's the best thing to happen to the country in a while. Perhaps things are finally looking up.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Governor Disaster: Why Christie Could Lose Now and Will Lose in 2016

In case you missed it, there's a terrific piece on Governor Christie in the New Jersey media. Written by columnist Tom Moran, it lays bare the basic fact that although Christie has benefited from disaster, he's actually been a disaster as governor.

The basics:

Essentially, New Jersey has experienced failure at almost every level by which a politician is measured. And the one area where Christie got help from Democrats, on  a pension and benefits bill that weakened collective bargaining and will eventually force public workers from their jobs, the economic effects will be devastating. In fact, many teachers will be bringing home less money three years from now than they are today. I've done the calculations: My take-home income will be going down over the next three years despite my actually getting a small raise. If you're a teacher and you want very bad news, input your salary and insurance premiums on this site. Do not have anything breakable nearby when you do.

But the issues go beyond the eventual devastation of a few hundred thousand people. There are millions of people in this state who cannot find jobs because of the governor's lack of leadership and the property taxes he promised to lower have actually gone up. Why? In the leafy suburbs where I live and work (for now), the governor slashed aid to schools and municipalities. More money has come from Trenton in the past two years, but the rest of the missing money had to be made up by a rise in local property taxes. For this past year, the district in which I work received one dollar ($1) more in state aid than last year. Meanwhile, salaries, supplies, state mandated testing, public safety and public accommodations still had to be paid for, not to mention basic municipal services.

The net effect of all of this is that people are making less money, costs are rising, jobs are not forthcoming and the governor is against common sense items such as raising the minimum wage, recognizing marriage equality, but he is in favor of protecting the wealthy by not asking them to contribute a little more to alleviate the pain.

And for this, Christie has a 20 point lead in the polls.

That's because many Democrats in New Jersey have sold their souls for the primary reason that they see Christie as their gravy train. Not for state money, mind you, but for personal gain and power. How else to measure the utter lack of support for Democratic candidate, Senator Barbara Buono?

Here is a terrific, personable, dynamic, focused, humanistic candidate who is on the right side of the issues that New Jersey cares about. She stands up for women's health in the face of Christie's cuts to Planned Parenthood, supports marriage equality and has a plan to get the economy moving again. I saw Buono and her running mate, Milly Silva, speak at an event last week and I can say from personal experience that these are two highly intelligent, articulate people who act the opposite of the volatile, bullying, inappropriate antics of the present occupant in Trenton.

But the Democrats are split and President Obama is nowhere to be found. Still, Christie is only polling at 50%. Yes, he's ahead, but if the left can get its act together and highlight what Moran has written, this race could get closer.

Which then brings us to Christie's dream of a 2016 presidential run. If he wins with  close to 50% of the vote, he can't claim a mandate as a crossover candidate. Further, he won't get much anything else done with a Democratic legislature. Where does that leave him? To bloviate and fuss about what he would do if he had the means, and that will force him to move farther to the right. The problem is that any right wing opponent will only have to play the video of Obama and Christie at the shore after Sandy and the magic will seep out of his campaign. Along the way, he'll also hurt himself by saying things that sound great to his supporters when you see them on YouTube, but will not play well at all with those who want a responsible adult as their leader.

Mark my words: Chris Christie will never be President of the United States. Let's also try to make sure he isn't reelected. We can't afford even two more years of his misrule.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Diplomacy Gets Syrias

One of the criticisms of President Obama's plan to strike Syria was that once a country unleashes weapons on another, the consequences are unpredictable and uncontrollable.

The same could be said for diplomacy.

Obama's speech last night was certainly different from the one he planned to give when he announced his intention to speak to the nation late last week. He now confronts an offer by the Russians to mediate a deal whereby Syria would put its chemical weapons program under international control in exchange for a promise not to employ military measures. The president is doing exactly what he should be doing in response to this offer. His plan faced almost certain defeat in Congress and now he's found a diplomatice way out.

Many news outlets are saying that the president and John Kerry have bungled this issue and seem to be lurching from one bad plan to another. I disagree. Obama has always said that his main issue is with Assad's chemical weapons program, whose existence, by the way, the Syrians didn't acknowledge until the past two days. That's enough to convince me that they actually launched the attack.

So without doing much but issuing a threat, the president has won an important victory. That the Russians leapt on Kerry's offer of international oversight is more evidence that they were concerned that American missile strikes would be devastating to their standing in the world and would unmask them as supporting Assad's August chemical attack. The Security Council, stuck between doing the wrong thing and doing nothing, has sprung to life. And all because the American president did what American presidents are supposed to do: lead.

It's clear to me that this diplomatic plan will bear fruit because the other option is unacceptable to most everyone else. The US, though, will not give up the right to use their military and honestly, I think the Russians know this. The best deal they can get is to forestall strikes while international monitors take control of Assad's previously phantom chemical stockpiles.

Done well, this will be another example of American-led diplomacy. And it should put to rest any talk about America's decline in the world. We still have the power to force other regimes to change their behavior.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Strike Syria

I know that this is not the popular choice, given our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the record, I supported strikes in Afghanistan as necessary to weaken terrorists, and certainly opposed the Iraq War as based on faulty intelligence and a desire by President Bush to avenge Saddam's attempt to assassinate his father.

Syria, however, is different. Here we have a dictator who, as far as we know (key), has unleashed chemical weapons on his people. This is unacceptable, and to stand by and do nothing is also unacceptable. History has taught us that if you give rulers an inch they will take many kilometers. So it is with Assad. If we do nothing it will strengthen the hands of Iran and Russia, and will embolden other rulers who are threatened by insurgencies to use chemical and biological weapons should they want to.

I understand both the reticence and frothy opposition: It's expensive at a time when we should be spending money on our problems here at home. We should not be involved in nation building or getting involved in other countries' civil wars. Syria is not a threat to the United States. Pinpoint strikes will do nothing to ally Assad from doing more. Missile strikes would only be the beginning, with boots on the ground to follow. The United States should not have to solve all of the world's problems. Once you use the military, you can't control the consequences.

There are remedies to this. Congress can pass a resolution that limits the president to using missiles only and does not authorize any combat troops. This can be a one-time event. We can get the UN to support those things too. As for the more philosophical objections, if we don't know what the effects of a missile strike will be, do we really know what the effects of not calling out Assad on chemical weapons will be? Do we really know that strikes will have little effect? And by the way, Syria is potentially a threat to the United States because a victory by Assad strengthens the extremists who have struck us before. Let's try to think long-term for a change. Assad uses chemical weapons today. Do terrorists use them tomorrow?

Contrast this with what we do know if we don't strike. Assad will use chemical weapons again, perhaps on Israel, as will other dictators. The United States will look weak and ineffectual, as will the UN and the president. Those consequences are not acceptable.

The Allies ignored the Armenian genocide, decided to do little but stand in their legislative chambers in response to the Holocaust, allowed Cambodia to degenerate into chaos and killing, virtually ignored Rwanda, and only got itself unstuck in the Balkans out of shame. Now we are confronted by another catastrophe, and it is within our power to at least do something rather than shrug our shoulders.

We need to strike Syria.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Obama Will Outfox Congress on Syria

As a political matter, the president's asking Congress for authorization is a gamble, but it's not the miscalculation that this article notes. If Obama had ordered strikes without Congressional approval, he would have been lambasted in DC and on the airwaves, and would have given the GOP extremists an excuse to introduce articles of impeachment for violation the war powers clause of the constitution. By asking Congress, he risks them saying no, but he can then blame them for having no moral backbone, then wait for another opportunity (and Assad will provide him one), say, "I told you so," and order strikes then.

My sense is that Congress will approve a very narrow resolution that allows a limited number of missile strikes over a few days. I don't think they'll reject the idea completely.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Uniquely Unqualified

In case you missed it because it's the end of August and you're on a news embargo, Governor Christie has appointed a new Superintendent for the Camden City schools. The governor says that his new appointee, Paymon Rouhanifard, 34, has "a proven track record" in educational administration. I don't mean to knock someone who's trying to be a successful educator, having spent the last 30 years doing it myself, but a look at Mr. Rouhanifard's resume yields the following information:
Paymon Rouhanifard's Experience

Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer
Educational Institution; 5001-10,000 employees; Primary/Secondary Education industry
November 2012 – Present (10 months) Newark, NJ

Chief Executive Officer, Office of Portfolio Management
Government Agency; 10,001+ employees; Education Management industry
June 2010 – Present (3 years 3 months)

Chief of Staff to Deputy Chancellor
Government Agency; 10,001+ employees; Education Management industry
August 2009 – June 2010 (11 months)

Privately Held; 51-200 employees; Venture Capital & Private Equity industry
July 2007 – August 2009 (2 years 2 months)

Public Company; 10,001+ employees; GS; Investment Banking industry
July 2005 – July 2007 (2 years 1 month)

6th Grade Teacher
Nonprofit; 1001-5000 employees; Education Management industry
July 2003 – July 2005 (2 years 1 month)

Paymon Rouhanifard's Education
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
BAEconomics & Political Science
1999 – 2003 
So let's see. He has two years and one month of experience in the classroom, which is not even enough to know whether you're an effective teacher and to refine your craft, and then he takes the Teach for America "out," meaning that he put in his noble time and left to make more money. Now, with his BA (!) he's going to lead one of the most challenging, political, dysfunctional and poor school districts in the country? This is not a proven track record. Don't get me wrong; he might succeed brilliantly, in which case I will apologize profusely and sing his praises. But for Governor Christie to believe that this is the right person for the job is just one more example of his utter disdain for experienced educators and the public schools in general.

And if Christie gets reelected, he will have free reign to cause more mischief for schools as he tries to build a national portfolio of his own.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest