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.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

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.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest