Sunday, September 28, 2014

Senate Sense

I have gone on record as saying that the Democrats will somehow come out of the midterm elections still controlling the Senate, if only because Vice president Joe Biden will be the deciding vote in a 50-50 chamber.

That was last week. And a new spate of polls has the left in a bit of a tizzy, since they seem to show the GOP potentially picking up 7 seats, which would give them clear control. Let's take a look.

RealClearPolitics shows nine tossup races on their election map, but new polls last week also show Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado and Georgia moving to the right. One notable poll, from Qinnipiac, is clearly and outlier, but especially in Colorado, the trend is towards the Republican. Electoral-vote also shows the same trends, although a mouse-over some of the more contested states shows razor-thin majorities in Colorado, Arkansas and Iowa. And over at the Princeton Election Consortium, the Meta-margin is currently at R+0.9 using a polls-only model.

So what does this mean?

That the races are still too close to call and that we need many more polls to make some sense of where we stand. No candidate in any of the contentious states has 50% in any poll or poll average, making it difficult to gauge anything other than movement towards one candidate or the other. In the end, the Senate race will be one of bragging rights since President Obama will veto anything he doesn't like. The big repercussions will have to do with judicial and other nominees, where the Senate will most likely advise, but not consent. And in 2016 the GOP will be at the disadvantage, having to defend 23 seats.

The best news for the left, though, is the news that the GOP is still moving farther to the right, as evidenced by this past weeks Values Voter Summit.  As long as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Perry are the faces of the Republicans, they will continue to lose national races.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Go Home

I came across this article by Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard because I happened to be trolling around right wing sites and thought he had a provocative, interesting idea. I also found a site that castigated Progressives for Palin Derangement Syndrome. You know, that knee-jerk negative reaction the left has whenever Palins's name comes up. The author seemed to suggest that those on the left were offended by Palin's obvious feminism and suggested that the left loved women's rights and opinions, but not Palin's. Especially when she was shown shooting a gun. What the author missed is that Sarah Palin just sounds uninformed whenever she speaks. I have plenty of respect for her as a woman, as a mother, as someone who wanted to serve the people of Alaska. I just happen to disagree with every single word she utters. Nothing more, nothing less.

But I digress.

Fred Barnes wants the GOP to Go Big or Go Home, hence the title of my response. He says that if only the Republicans would advocate abolishing the IRS and a stronger, more muscular foreign policy, then they would win the hearts and minds of the American people. He does say that these positions might not win the GOP the Senate this fall, but would provide a template for action that the party could run on in 2016.

The problem is that most Americans do not want to get rid of the IRS, even though they hate its very guts. Deep down, they understand that if the United States is going to make good on its mission to protect the homeland and the common good, then it will need funds and a means by which to collect them. That's what the IRS does. What Mr. Barnes should really be advocating is that all the companies that evade U.S. corporate taxes should actually pay up. That might lessen the burden on the overburdened middle class and it might provide more funds for, you know, schools, roads, bridges, job programs and Medicare.

Barnes is not at all specific when he talks about why the country needs a more muscular foreign policy, or even what that looks like. I have a suspicion that it looks like a foreign policy that throws bombs and bullets on people who are either innocent or who already hate us to the point that more bombs and bullets will help their recruiting efforts. But he doesn't say, so this is all conjecture.

The article is instructive because these positions are precisely why the GOP has only won one big election since 2008, when they took over the House in 2010. Every other election has gone to the Democrats despite the baying from the right that Obama is abusing his power and is wrong on every issue. Clearly, America does not agree with that.

And that's why the Republicans will not win a majority in the Senate this fall, nor will they win the presidency in 2016.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

ALICE In Christie-Land

Governor coy-about-running-for-president-when-it's-clear-that-both-he-and-Hillary Clinton-are-definitely-in-the-race now has another problem.

Its name is ALICE. This is not a shouting person, as the name and all-CAPS might suggest, but an acronym for New Jersey's still-struggling middle class during the governor's tenure.

It stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and along with the other economic fundamentals that are presently working against the governor, this measure be difficult for him to overcome. The data comes from a study conducted by the United Way of Northern New Jersey and the results are depressing. From the article:
Data compiled by the group show that 38 percent of New Jersey households are struggling to meet basic needs. These households are just scraping by, one lost job or medical emergency away from potential fiscal ruin.

While 11 percent of state residents fall below the Federal Poverty Line, which stands at an annual income of $22,811 for a family of four, the report found that when adjusted for cost of living the same family needs nearly triple that -- $61,200 – just to meet a basic survival budget.

In one of the wealthiest states in the country, 1.2 million households fall below this threshold. And while the state’s economy has shown signs of recovery in the wake of the Great Recession, the number of households struggling by the United Way measure increased by about 24 percent from 2007 to 2012, the most recent data available. 
Yes, I understand that this is not just a New Jersey problem, but it is, well...a New Jersey problem. And it has persisted under the Christie administration that only a few months ago was talking about a Jersey Comeback and proposing a tax cut that would have further devastated the economy and the middle and working classes. Christie has also vetoed a law that would have earned revenue from those wealthy residents who are doing very well because of the stock market rally and continues to threaten vetoes whenever such a law reaches his desk.

Take a moment and consider the components of the acronym. These are struggling New Jerseyans who have limited assets because they don't have a lot of paper or real investments, their incomes are constrained because wages have not kept up with either inflation or the value of the jobs they do, yet these residents are employed. They work a full day so they don't count under other government statistics, but they struggle mightily to make their bills and expand their, and their family's, horizons.

It's one thing if  the unemployed struggle. We expect that to happen and there are some programs that can help. But when people are working and struggling, then that's an added tragedy made worse by the governor's refusal to search for solutions that haven't been written by ALEC or vetted by the conservatives whose support he will desperately need in 2016. Public workers are now seeing an erosion of their take-home pay as they are required to contribute more for their pensions and benefits, and the governor wants them to pay more. Property taxes, long the main issue in statewide races, are still going up and will rise more as housing prices recover.

It all adds up to a mathematics that reduces New Jersey's middle class to treadmill animals running just to stay in place. The rest of the country needs to beware.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

From Summer to Serious

I've always found it interesting when the calendar changes to the day after Labor Day and the country gets serious. The rest of the world doesn't know from this holiday and I'm sure there's a great deal of literature on how the calendar affects world affairs. Thus, here we are.

The world continues to be on fire. ISIS, Syria, Israel, Palestine, West Africa, and English towns that breed terrorists are mainstays of the 24-hour news cycle. The president is excoriated for suggesting that we are at a loss over what to do about increasing threats overseas. Texas is on alert for possible infiltration across the Mexican border. But don't worry about that too much because Chris Christie was just in Mexico and I'm sure he'll scare off the militants. Of course, he hasn't a clue about foreign policy, but at least he didn't pull a Romney on his first foreign trip.

On the domestic political front, the big issue is that Congress is going to meet for a few days, adjourn, and go home to run for those all-important safe seats that 96% of the members occupy. Excepting, of course, those few Senate seats that are up for grabs. It's interesting to note that except for 2010, a big exception, I know, the Republican moon-bayers have been unable to defeat Obama and the Democrats and scare the country into giving the conservatives the control they will never, ever have. Yes, the House has been able to wreak havoc on the country and, by the by, their own party, but they have not been successful at implementing their agenda. They've only stymied the Democrats but for the 2009-2011 Congressional session.

Oh, and that ACA law thing? It's working fairly well. You know, millions of people now have health insurance, doctors are able to give elderly people more care, poor people can get Medicaid, except in states that don't take free money but say they are fiscally responsible. But no worries on that because those states that deny the money are actually paying so that the states that did take free Medicaid money can cover their populations. I live in one of those states. My governor wants to be president. Scared yet?

But if the Senate goes to the GOP, then both houses of Congress will vote to repeal the ACA, right? Well, possibly, but right now the GOP isn't taking the Senate. And chances are good that they won't. You heard it here third.

Did we even have a summer?

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest  

Monday, September 1, 2014

In Education, Teachers Must Lead the Way

Aside from the December holiday season, the back-to-school late August and early September rush has the most profound effects on the United States. Shopping patterns change, traffic gets worse, and the general tenor of every community shifts to accommodate the children and adults who work in education.

Welcome to this year's edition. Some things have changed, and other have stayed the same.

In most polls, a majority of Americans say that they respect their school's teachers and consider them, aside from parents, to be the most influential voices their children will encounter every day. The problem is that the evaluation systems that most states have set up do not accurately measure how effective the teachers are. Standardized tests have not proven to be reliable and systems that use Value Added measures, such as in California, are notoriously unstable. In addition, most Americans don't like the tenure system as it is applied to teachers and we've had one court weigh in and declare the California system to be unconstitutional. In Wisconsin, Indiana and a host of other states, teachers, and other public employees, have lost significant contract negotiation rights that impact their pay, benefits and work rules. Add all of these up and you get a picture of an education system that wants to change, but is ignoring or minimizing the very people who can affect that change most specifically. Teacher morale is low nationally. That's not good.

Most Americans also value education and consider education to be the major stepping stone to a better economic, social and democratic life. But the truth is that just below that surface, a roiling debate is under way about how much money schools should spend and on what materials, and what should schools actually teach anyway. This year is no different.

Along with going back to school, September is also when the Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, is released. This year is the 46th such poll, and it's being released in two parts; now and in October.

The most pressing issue in the poll is the reaction to the Common Core Curriculum Standards which is opposed by most of the respondents. A good deal of that opposition is related to the idea that Americans are wary about a national curriculum, especially one that seems to be prescriptive about what teachers can teach, and that local communities will have little say in what their children will learn. The Common Core is also the basis for national tests, which are anathema to many parents and strike most teachers as a waste of good instructional time.

While the standards are new, they are not as dangerous as many people would make them out to be. They do focus more on having students read nonfiction and analyzing in greater depth what they read, but otherwise, they give schools and teachers the leeway to choose reading materials and to tailor instruction to address local concerns. They ask that all students be conversant in research tools and to determine the reliability of sources, an especially important skill in the electronic era.

The mathematics standards are proving to be especially vexing since they ask students to explain their answers in both numbers and words. My experience with younger students is that they have a difficult time explaining how they came to an answer. Some do the calculations in their heads and others are not as articulate with explanations. This has lead to some famous YouTube videos of parents excoriating school board members for turning their child off to school and making homework time a tear-filled exercise in screaming and running away from the table.

As with anything new in education, and there have been many new programs in the thirty years that I've been teaching, the Common Core Standards will need some alterations, but in the long run, they will provide a useful map for student progress. The other advantage is that as students move from one town to the other, the standards will remain the same. That hasn't happened in the United States, and it's a major step forward.

Another interesting finding from the poll includes the (erroneous) idea that Charter Schools perform better than traditional public schools. The data does not support this. In fact, many charters are performing worse that local public schools.

We'll have to wait until October for more polling answers on questions relating to teacher evaluation and spending.

I've said this before, but it's worth saying again: The United States succeeds because its teachers succeed in educating generations of children with the resources we have available. Where schools do not have the resources or community support or high levels of social dysfunction, the job becomes that much more difficult. If we can equalize the curriculum, we should be able to equalize the educational opportunities for every child in this country.

And so to my teaching colleagues I say, have a wonderful school year. You do one of the most important paid jobs in this country and you deserve respect and appreciation.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest