Sunday, November 26, 2017

Making a Losing Wager on Wages

I think the first paragraph of this story pretty much says it all about the Republican tax plan.

Corporate executives love the plan because they will make gazillions. But they don't expect wages to rise. Which I think is a funny way of expressing that idea since it's the corporate executives who are the ones in charge of making wages rise. So if they're saying that wages will not rise, then not rise they will.

And wage earners in the middle and working classes can take that to the bank, where the bankers will likely laugh at them for trying to deposit empty promises. The silver lining is that interest rates are about to go up again, so the return on those empty promises is about to get larger.


Yes, there will be those who will see some more money in their paychecks next year, but the cost will be extraordinary. A black hole in the budget where trillions will be sucked into another dimension. Accounting gimmicks that will need to rely on millions of people giving up their health benefits so the rest of us insured folks can pay higher premiums when the uninsured get sick. And, now, the admission that wages are not likely to go up.

And through it all, the president remains broadly unpopular because Americans are far smarter than he is and they can see right through the hokum he and the Republicans are peddling. It starts with the contradictory argument whereby the president says that the stock market is at record highs, unemployment is at a 17-year low (thank you Barack Obama), and corporate profits are healthy and growing.

Why, then, do we need to mortgage our future and borrow on the backs of people without health insurance? Things seem to be going well without killing the economy. But since the GOP needs a win, even if it's really a loss for the people, they will move ahead and hope that we won't notice.

Too late.

Polls show that a majority of Americans don't believe that tax cuts, especially to corporations and the wealthy, should be a priority. In fact, two-thirds of American voters say that cutting the deficit is more important than cutting taxes. But the GOP needs a win because their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed miserably for the understandable reason that taking health insurance away from 20 million people was a terrible idea. A tax cut bill that balloons the deficit and makes middle class taxpayers pay more is an equally terrible idea.

We also need to remember that aside from tax cuts, conservative orthodoxy says that the federal government is too large and that social programs, you know, the ones that are keeping many people alive in distressed areas, need to be eliminated or have their funding cut back. What are the odds that the GOP discovers the huge hole in the deficit next year and says that Social Security must be privatized and that Medicare and Medicaid need serious revision? I'm thinking the odds are pretty good.

The Republicans have been waiting for this moment, when they control all three branches of the government to undo the New Deal and Great Society programs, cut taxes and services, favor corporations and business interests over consumers, and turn the clock back to a more intolerant era.

Democrats have a year to remind voters what a great country looks like, how it acts on the world stage, and the costs of furthering income and legal inequality.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Immoral Minority

Why couldn't we have this as our president?

Yes, I know her views on Israel would not be popular, but at this moment in time, don't we need someone who has some, say, morals?

As far as I'm concerned, all of the men who've been caught, have admitted, or have been credibly accused of inappropriate and/or criminal sexual activity should not be eligible for elective office. That's Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, agree or disagree, religious or secular. It's only when we have a zero-tolerance policy backed up by real and convincing action will people take this seriously.

The problem now is that we have a president who has no moral authority on this issue. Of course, that hasn't stopped him from saying nothing about Roy Moore, but a lot about Al Franken. I stopped taking the president seriously about most issues last winter, but this one resonates because his supporters have created unique pinholes by which they are trying to weave their moral needles through with arguments that use very slippery thread. What it all comes down to with them is that Trump didn't act on what he said about women.

To which I say, read what he said. It was not theoretical.

The same is true for Roy Moore, but since he's the darling of the religious right, they need to twist a moral ideology so his behavior is OK. Like hanging around 14-year-olds. When he was 32.

The right likes to bring up Bill Clinton, and they should, because his behavior was reprehensible and probably cost two people--Al Gore and Hillary--their chances to be president. The big difference between Clinton and some of the others is that he was punished. He was impeached, although not convicted by the Senate, and he was disbarred. Meanwhile, many of these other predators are walking around unscathed and still either elected or eligible for office.

But harassment of women is not the only moral issue floating around these days. The tax cut bill, because it's not really reform, is another example of retrograde Gilded Age thinking being gussied up as something new.

This bill is a moral disaster on a number of levels, but the key is that some middle class and even lower income people will actually pay more in taxes under the bill, either now or by 2026, in order to pay for the massive tax cuts that corporations and the already wealthy will see. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone who makes under $150,000 to see anything but a robust, healthy, consequential tax cut and a promise that the tax cut will last into the future.

Instead, what we seem to have in Congress is a bill that takes some of the most immoral and questionable stances we've ever seen. For example, teachers can now take a $250 deduction for items they buy for their classroom. The GOP wants to get rid of that so it can pay for the cuts to the wealthy. Imagine that. We already know that teachers mean nothing to this administration other than as a mostly unionized special interest, and that their goal is to destroy the public schools and make teachers into an even lower paid work force. But taking a paltry deduction away is beyond insulting--it's immoral because it hurts students and communities. It sends a message that even that small amount of money is too much for public workers.

Further, the Senate wants to drop the personal mandate that everyone have health insurance, meaning that many people who should have it, but won't because of the cost, will drop insurance, leaving themselves vulnerable to a financial catastrophe, and would use that money to further cut taxes.

The egregious immorality of this move is that in order to save money, the GOP is actually hoping that people will drop their coverage. And who will end up picking up the tab? Why, taxpayers like you and me in the form of higher premiums. And if you think that a further tax cut will make up for an insurance rate increase, then you haven't been paying attention, unless you believe that you'll be getting more than a 10% increase on top of what the GOP is offering now, because that's at least how much your insurance will be increasing.

And the president thinks that wages will go up because of this tax cut. Um, not if insurance rates go up, they won't because your employer will have to pay more to cover you if sick people can't or won't buy health insurance.

Have I also mentioned that taxpayers in high property and income tax states, like NY, NJ, and CA, will also lose in this bill because they will no longer be able to deduct those expenses? Not a problem for the GOP, though: Those states don't vote Republican.

The only hope I have is that the GOP Senators who seem to get the danger of Trump--Corker, Flake, McCain, Murkowski and Collins--will sink this bill and ask for time, negotiations, hearings and analysis.

You know, democracy.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Real Rankings: Trump, Putin, Xi. Then America.

It's tough having a president who's ready, at the drop of a hat, to throw the country under the bus. President Trump likes to say that he will put America first, but he has a strange way of showing it.

For decades, the United States lead the world economically, militarily and morally. Sometimes we did some extremely bad things and we've made our share of mistakes, but most of the world knew where we stood and we remained a place that other people wanted to come to, and they were generally welcomed.

Not any more.

By supposedly putting America first, the president has done great damage to our reputation and what we stand for. When the Russians clearly tried to influence the 2016 election, the president never spoke out about foreign interference, and instead worried obsessively about how it would make him, and only him, look bad.

Now we find that the president, perhaps the most gullible man in the political world, believes Vladimir Putin when he said that Russia did not interfere with the election. And he's siding with the Russian leader over his own CIA and members of Congress from both parties.

You know, Americans.

How did Trump come to this conclusion? By asking Putin if his country interfered, of course. Isn't that what international power politics is all about? Everyone tells the truth, right?

As Bugs would say, "What a maroon."

The president's trip to Asia was also a me-first excursion as the president essentially said that he, and only he, knew what America's best interests were and that he was going to make sure that any future deals benefited this country.  He's already shown the folly of that statement by withdrawing us from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accords. Both of those agreements would have enabled the United States to have major influence over trade, intellectual property laws, and economic policies that would help guide the world toward a more environmentally responsible future.  We've now lost a good deal of that influence and China has immediately stepped into that power vacuum and is ready to fill it, as President Xi said in his remarks immediately after Trump finished speaking on Friday.

And what did our president say to that? He essentially threw every previous president under his smog-belching bus by saying that America's past leaders were to blame for our terrible trade deals. We can certainly blame previous leaders for today's problems, but the rule is that you defend your own in public while excoriating them in private. For Trump, though, there is only one person he will protect: himself.

But the president is not only hurting America abroad. His support of the health care repeal that would throw about 20 million people off their health insurance was reprehensible. And his support of a tax bill that would raise taxes on millions of people in the middle class while allowing hedge fund managers to continue to pay a lower rate on their incomes, and for other wealthy people and corporations to get a huge cut is immoral. The president would also benefit immensely from this tax bill, but since he won't release his tax returns, we don't know by how much.

The real evidence, though, is that the president is not putting America first because he continues to deliberately divide this country. He's made no real effort to include his opponents or those who voted against him. He's content to throw twitter bombs and to blame everyone else (women, immigrants, Muslims, Democrats, NFL players) for our problems without recognizing that he is the president of all the people.

Effective presidents are ones who recognize that they might not bring their opponents over to their side, but that for the greater good of the country, they need to make an effort at unity and conciliation. I have little hope that President Trump will do this because his first priority is himself.  Not the country, and certainly not anyone who deigns to point out when he is wrong, or illustrates his disdain for, and lack of understanding of, our constitution.

We will always be second.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tired of Russia and Taxes? Here's The New Jersey Election Special!

For the moment, I'm going to put aside the frenzy over the Mueller investigation and how the Russian hacking and fake Facebook posts were all Hillary's fault even though GOP campaign operatives lied through their collective teeth about their contacts with said Russians, and I'm going to postpone any comments on the new GOP Let's Give a Sop to the Wealthy and Corporations Act of 2017, which, at first glance, will have me paying more in taxes, because I believe that the Senate will correct many, but not all, of the egregiously disgraceful ways in which the GOP wants the middle class to pay for the corporate tax cuts and blow up the deficit.

So no comment at all on those two issues.

What's instead?

New Jersey is going to elect a new Governor on Tuesday!

Yes, I know you're going to miss Chris Christie, who has sunk so low in the ratings lake that divers are rooting around the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald looking for Christie's poll numbers. It's gotten so bad that even a great public program to combat opioid addiction, which Christie proposed, couldn't pry any money out of a president who supposedly is still considering Christie for a replacement part in his administration, on the off chance that someone will leave it soon. Which they will. And Christie will remain in Mendham where he belongs.

So who will win the election on Tuesday? Democrat Phil Murphy has a big lead in the polls, but of course we know about poll numbers. After all, it was only last year that Hillary was supposed to win the national vote by a couple of percentage points. Which she did. So all polls must be wrong, right? Not when you have a 14 point lead. Which Murphy has. If Democrats go out and actually vote, he'll win.

But what of Republican Kim Guadagno? She served as Christie's Lieutenant Governor for a glorious eight years, and that's exactly why she will not win. She's run a decent campaign, but she just can't get out of Christie's shadow on any issue, even the ones where she differs from him. He's that unpopular.

Not that Murphy has been a dream candidate. He's gotten tripped up over immigration and making New Jersey a sanctuary state. He's also promised to fully fund public schools without being specific about how he's going to pay for them, and he's promised the teachers that he will fully fund their pension without, again, saying how hes going to pay for it. But he's a Goldman Sachs guy and we know all about their fiscal acumen. Not really.

And I'm not really enthralled with his choice of Lieutenant Governor, former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. You remember her. She's the Democrat who shepherded the Pension and Benefits bill through the Assembly in 2011. That's the bill that reduced teacher take home pay for four years and stripped away our collective bargaining rights when it comes to health insurance.

Yes, THAT Sheila Oliver.

She only ran the Assembly. What of the State Senate? Glad you asked.

The New Jersey Education Association is currently committing political hari-kiri by supporting the opponent of Steve Sweeney, the Senate President who got enough Democratic votes to pass the pension bill in his chamber. The problem is that his opponent, Fran Grenier, is a Trump-and-Christie-supporting far right Republican who really dislikes almost everything the NJEA stands for.

But since Sweeney also committed the political sin of  not posting a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the state would fully fund the pension system, reading the public, correctly in my view, as being opposed to it, the NJEA wants him gone. Which won't happen on Tuesday or any other day this week. Which means that the NJEA, which I support on most other issues, will now have an adversary instead of a friend just when Democratic control of the entire state government is probably going to be a reality.

In this case, gun control measures would have stopped the NJEA from shooting itself in the foot.

Nice job.

I expect that Sweeney and the NJEA will make nice up to a point, but I wouldn't be surprised if he took something out on the organization sometime in the next four years.

But of course, the main thing to do this Tuesday, no matter where you live, is to vote.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest