Sunday, December 30, 2018

Predictions For 2019: Nothing Will Happen

That's right. Nothing meaningful will happen on the national political stage for an entire 12 months.  And just to make sure I cover all of my bases, nothing meaningful will happen in most other areas of American life in 2019

Of course I'll be wrong, but maybe you get the sense of why I'm saying these things. I'm not a pessimist. In fact, I'm one of the great all-time optimists presently trodding the soil. It's just that I don't see the split Congress and the far right White House making much headway towards solving some of our most pressing problems.

Could we get an infrastructure bill? Possibly, but that would mean that the president would have to give up his dream of a wall on the southern border, or the Democrats would have to up the amount of money they want to spend on the border to end the shutdown. At this point, I would think that the Democrats hold the better cards, if only because Trump is a minority president (oh, the irony) and holds a minority position that is supported by a minority of the population.

I understand that he's trying to hold on to his core supporters for 2020, but they won't be enough to give him a second term, since many people who voted for him simply despised Hillary Clinton and could vote for a more palatable Democrat. And speaking of, we'll get an early indication of who will be entering the 2020 contest in a matter of weeks. I"m fairly sure that New Jersey's own Senator Cory Booker will run, as will Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Bernie Sanders will also explore an encore and Joe Biden will give it some serious thought. Honestly, none of them jump out at me as a clear winner, and it's possible that the nominee will not be one of this group.

Combine a divided government with epic fundraising and a president who doesn't know much about policy or how policy gets made into law or how the law works or whether he has to follow the law or whether he can just say what the law is and you get a year where not much is going to happen legislatively unless you consider investigations and calls for Trump's tax returns significant legal accomplishments.

Will there be fireworks? You bet. But precious little will get done that will actually improve the country.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Shutdown and Foreign 'ffairs Follies: Just Another Brick In the Wall

Let's look at the latest destruction of American norms this way: Which countries seem to be the happiest with President Trump's assault on the institutions that won the Cold War and have kept the peace since 1945?

China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and although not countries, let's add Hezbollah and ISIS just because.

Could anyone think of a more motley collection of autocrats, dictators, murderers, liars, usurpers, and authoritarians who flout what pass for laws, constitutions, respect for human rights and the dignity of having your own opinion? Vladimir Putin loves the idea of the US pulling out of Syria. So dies Recep Erdogan. They couldn't comment quickly enough.

And let's also look at who was angriest at him for even suggesting that he would sign a budget bill without money for the worst policy idea of the past 80 years: FOX, Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, Sean Hannity and the rest of the far right who did not then and do not now represent the majority view of how this country should comport itself domestically and in foreign affairs.

So naturally, Mr. 46% Small Hands, upon settling down in his bathrobe for the evening, sees that the TV is yelling at him and since the TV knows everything, he needs to shut down the government, deny workers their pay, deny everyone else the opportunity to visit national parks, and generally throw the country into an unsettling funk during the holiday season.

Of course, let's not forget that the president is also stomping on his own economic record by engaging in a silly trade war and being unpredictable enough that the business class, which should be reveling in the shower of money raining down on them, are flop-sweat nervous every weekday morning at 9:30, when the bell to open the stock market shouts its arrival.

The interesting turn in all of this is that I do not altogether disagree with pulling American troops out of quagmires in Afghanistan, Syria, and other nations where for 17 years we've been doing relatively little to solve problems. though we have, in some cases, prevented the political and social problems from getting worse. I supported President Obama's troop withdrawals and I would support President Trump's if I believed that he could do it the right way.

He proved that he could not. And my evidence:

Whither Bibi?

That's right, for all of the congratulations Trump received from the Killing Klass, we've heard not a peep out of Benjamin Netanyahu, who stands to lose a great deal, as does Israel, by an American withdrawal from the Middle East. Because the president, in one fell swoop, did more to strengthen Bashar al-Assad, the mullahs in Iran, Vladimir Putin and Hezbollah than anything they could have done on their own. And they all hate Israel. So the president who says that he loves Israel turns out not to really know what he's doing when it comes to our ally.

The same is true for our European and Asian allies as well. The president is talking about pulling back troops from Japan and South Korea because he doesn't see them contributing enough to their own defense. Making them pay more does make sense, but lessening our influence in a fit of FOX pique is irresponsible and dangerous. China is expanding in that area even with our troops present. Imagine what will happen if we leave.

Of course, Trump's real fear is that he will realistically lose his shot at history by losing the 2020 election, which is becoming more and more a probability. That's why he's focusing more and more on the far right elements of the electorate who supported him in 2016. 

The problem is that by shivving the economy with his unpredictable trade policies, advocating unconditionally for a wall that won't stop the ladders and tunnels (and private property lawsuits) that will inevitably breach it, and playing sandbox politics by telling the country that it's his government and if he doesn't like what's happening then he's going to shut it down, he is narrowing his supporters into only those elements and he will lose more of the moderate conservatives who couldn't stand Hillary Clinton and who then turned on the GOP last month. If he couldn't get a wall through a Republican Congress over the past two years, he's not getting it through Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senators who have their eyes on the party's nomination.

Perhaps cooler heads will resolve the shutdown this weekend. The long-term problems, though, will live on with the bathrobe.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Did the GOP Just Lose the 2020 Election?

Health care.


Do the Republicans, and conservatives in general, really not get the fact that most Americans need reliable health insurance that covers the checkups,  basic procedures, and tests they need to stay healthy? Do they really not understand that, yes, you can lower the cost of health insurance, but past a certain point it becomes prohibitively expensive to actually use the plan because deductibles and co-insurance rates are sky high? Are they really that ignorant of the idea that reliable, comprehensive health insurance coverage is in itself a safety net that allows Americans to work productively and plan for their financial and physical future?

I guess not. 

Health care was the number one issue ion the 2018 elections, and the overwhelming majority of Americans said that they disapproved of taking away, or making more expensive, coverage for pre-existing conditions. They like that physicals require no co-payment and that contraceptives are covered by most employers. So what seems to be the GOP position on health care?

You're on your own, and if you have a pre-existing condition...stop it.

Of course, the Federal Court ruling last week is only the first step in the process of appeals that will likely culminate in a Supreme Court ruling in the middle of another presidential election. And we certainly know that Donald "Nobody Knew Health Care Could Be So Complicated" Trump is going to be absolutely useless on this issue. His response to the judicial ruling was to say that we're going to fix the system and get everybody great health care.

Except that he spent the first 8 months of his presidency trying to repeal the law that put us on that course, then supported a GOP bill that would have thrown 20 million people off their plans. And he had a Republican majority in both houses of Congress to help him, but they couldn't get it done. His opportunity to get a bill that actually fixes the deficiencies of the ACA is gone.

The GOP isn't getting any help from the states either. Soon to be ex-Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, just signed a bill that prohibits the state from leaving a suit that challenges the ACA. I'm sure that more conservatives, even the ones who lost in November, will continue to try and get rid of the law. And people's health insurance. Without a workable alternative. Refill the swamp, no?

Now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives, the chances are they they will propose a bill more to the liking of most Americans who struggle with paying their bills and maintaining their health, which is mostly everyone with a middle class income or less. They should make necessary changes to the ACA and make sure that every American knows that the consequences of the Republican assault on their ability to buy insurance will mean a drop in their quality of life, not just a huge bill for services that are too expensive to be rendered.

And it's not just health care that will ultimately spell doom for the Republicans. The climate, pollution, indictments, the trade war, unconscionable treatment of refugees and those who are trying to flee political and personal terror, a tax law that will explode the deficit and help the wealthy, the stock market, overt racism and sexism and, ultimately, a president who knows no boundaries when it comes to disrespecting the constitution, will all combine to remind voters that the United States is better than those who are presently running it.

It was immigration that likely won the election for Trump in 2016. Health care will be his, and the GOP's undoing in 2020.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Gadzooks! It Looks Like There Really ARE Witches!

I'm finally convinced that President Trump is absolutely correct when he tweets that Robert Mueller's investigation into the alleged malfeasance of the Trump campaign and his possible obstruction of justice is, indeed, a witch hunt.

Because we've discovered that there are witches.

Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort have told demonstrable lies about their roles and the actions of others during their time as Trump servants. Manafort has made an art of his lying by first getting a deal on immunity, then breaking it by lying some more. This guy is a machine. Impressive. Cohen's testimony, which implicates the president directly in authorizing payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in return for their silence about their affairs with him, is even more damaging because it essentially calls Trump a liar since he denies having affairs with either of them. The weight of the evidence is not in the president's favor.

And if you thought the witches only came out in the Mueller investigation, then you haven't been paying attention. The other witches were found in North Carolina engaged in...wait for it...voter fraud.  The best part is that they're Republicans. You know, the ones who enacted all of the voter ID and intimidation laws that have been suppressing minority voters for the past two national election cycles. The ones who claimed that illegal immigrants were voting in huge numbers against the president. The ones who said that Democrats were stealing elections.


Yes, they engaged in some fraudulent activities that blatantly affected the vote in a congressional race in North Carolina. And the even bester part is that the GOP contender is an evangelical preacher who says he has no idea that this was happening in his campaign. What a disgrace.

So there you have it, my friends. Real witches doing really witchful things.

The president is right. And it could turn out to haunt him. Eye of newt indeed.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Thousand Points of Light Beats One Dim Bulb

I didn't really care for George H.W. Bush as president, but as history shows us, he certainly looks a great deal better in light of, shall we say, current realities.

At the time, Bush was seen as inheriting Ronald Reagan's conservative mantle, but Bush was more moderate and came from the old blue blood wing of the Republican Party. You know, the wealthy, business-oriented, somewhat squishy on civil rights cadre that also nominated Richard Nixon. Bush had labeled Reagan's economic policy as "voodoo economics," which turned out not only to be prescient, but a fair warning to the conservatives who didn't know how to balance a checkbook because, well, daddy would always clean up the mess.

Bush played daddy to the extent that he could, but he still gave in to the disgraceful instincts that were becoming part of campaigning in the modern era. The Willie Horton ad (I won't even justify it with a link, though of course you could look it up) became part of the lexicon of scurrilous political advertisements because it played directly to the racist practices that were embedded in conservative circles. The ad was said to use dog whistle tactics, but that's big fat lie. The ad screamed and generated sirens and flashing lights. And it worked.

Which of course made Bush's appeal for a kinder, gentler America seem suspect to say the least, but he soon pivoted to his strengths, which were his close personal relationships in Washington and diplomatic circles, and his economic policies, which ultimately sunk him. During the 1988 campaign he said that the Democrats would need to read his lips; that he was not going to raise taxes. Then he did the responsible thing and raised taxes to put the economy on firmer footing and to close the budget deficit. For the conservatives, though, that was heresy. He lost in 1992 because conservatives didn't come out for him and moderates thought he wasn't engaged enough in domestic affairs.

But Bush did have some successes. He ordered invasions of Panama and Iraq to stop their leaders, Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, from expanding their roles as very bad guys. And he also navigated the country through the end of the Cold War from 1989 to 1991, and did so with a steady hand. Reagan gets credit for ending the conflict, but it was Bush who helped make it an orderly reality. Looking back, it's amazing to remember that for all of the talk about the Cold War ending with a mushroom cloud, it really ended with hammers slamming away at the Berlin Wall. Bush's support for Boris Yeltsin's coup was a masterstroke of realpolitik. He could have stuck with Mikhail Gorbachev, but Bush saw that Yeltsin was the future. And he was right.

Bush also had a successful post-presidency, burying the hatchet with Bill Clinton and generally living the life of an elder statesman with restraint and credibility. He was, though, the last of the old conservative breed, and it was his son who led us into the political world we unfortunately inhabit now. I won't recap. You know this.

And yet it says something about the disaster that sits in the White House today when he says he doesn't understand what the thousand points of light was supposed to represent, or even what it meant. That's because you need to look beyond yourself  and see the country as an interconnected community of people who are willing to help each other through volunteerism and a shared vision of what it takes to continue to improve. George H.W. Bush, indeed, most every other president, understood what this meant and encouraged us to give back to the United States. His death leaves one less light shining. Let's make sure the present occupant doesn't shut them all off.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Climate Change Is Real. The Hoax Sits in the White House

Contradiction? Who's to say.

The federal government released a report based on the judgement of 13 agencies that unequivocally warned of the dangers, both economic and biological, of the coming present global warming crisis. The report was mandated by Congress and points out in stark detail why we need to address climate change, carbon dioxide, and everything else that is contributing to major changes in the United States and the world. It hands the Democrats a potent line of attack for the next election, and should make every American stand up and realize the danger we face.

Then, of course, there's the guy in the White House. You know, the guy who says it's all a Chinese hoax meant to destroy the US economy. The guy who has issued several executive orders that will enable the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries to pollute more, destroy sensitive ecosystems, and foul the air and water in the name and a misplaced, OK, warped, sense of history.

Yes, it's true that the United States grew wealthy on US Steel and Exxon and Dow Chemical, but those days are over and gone and killing more people who mine and work around dangerous materials will not bring it back. Neither will fouling the air and water, but that seems to be the policy of choice among the sycophants who worry about the latest tweet or the mercurial nature of the man who holds the future of the country in his small hands.

Yes, I am worried too.

At least with the Democrats in control of the House of Representatives we can have an honest debate about the role and influence of actual science, rather than some warped accounting of the world that has no basis in rational thought. The White House thought it could bury this report in the frenzy of  the holiday shopping season. It cannot, nor can it hide the facts that undergird the research.

A president whose approval ratings have never seen the sunlight that shines above 50% will have a tremendously difficult time running on a platform of denial and pollution.

He certainly has his fans.

The rest of us are in the majority.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 18, 2018

We Spoke. Now It's Up to the Constitution

Do you get the idea that Donald Trump started reading the United States Constitution, got to "We," decided it didn't apply to him, and never went back to it? Of course, that assumes that you are giving him the benefit of actually starting to read the document. Or read.

Appointing an Attorney General without the consent of the Senate seems to me to be outside the realm of the president's duties. Never mind that the person he appointed, Matthew G. Whitaker, doesn't understand the sometimes fragile system of checks and balances upon which our government rests, having said that the judiciary is supposed to be the weakest branch. He also doesn't like it when the Supreme Court weighs in on the legality of laws. I suppose he thinks that's his job.

Of course, the real reason Mr. Whitaker was chosen was to try and shut down the Robert Mueller investigation into whether the president obstructed justice when he fired James Comey as FBI Director. I know that the press and the president are fixated on Russian interference in the election and the extent to which the Trump campaign played along, or worse, but the real issue is the obstruction. And the president knows that, which I think is why he keeps focusing on collusion.

Then there's the tale of Jim Acosta, the CNN reporter the president threw out of the press pool for asking too many difficult questions. Does anybody remember due process rights? (Does anybody remember laughter?) At least the hated federal judiciary is reading the constitution and ordered the White House to restore Mr. Acosta's press credentials.

And the elections? Immediately reaching into his vocabulary bag and finding the phrase, "voter fraud," (the only other words in that bag are witch, hunt, collusion, not, fair, I, me, I, me, and I) to describe the achingly close results in Florida and Georgia, demonstrates that the president has no real respect for the electoral system, nor can he even be respectful, call for a calm, judicious process, and work on a winning issue, such as repairing railroads and airports.

Clearly, the non-stop confrontational attitude is wearing thin as the other results of the election prove. The Democrats are poised to win more than 40 seats that Republicans held in the House, and it's possible that the Senate will be just as close as it was before. The president and his advisers will now need to answer for their actions in front of less friendly legislators. They'll put up a fight, but they'll also show how disdainful they are about the law.

In any event, the next two years will be difficult ones for the president unless he decides that he needs to get something done and works with the Democrats. If not, he will have a difficult time convincing people that he needs a Republican majority in order to succeed.

We've been there. And all we got was chaos.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 11, 2018

After the Elections: Moving Forward

Not bad. Could have been a little better, and will be if Florida and/or Georgia recounts change those races, but overall, a good result on Tuesday.

And yet, when all is counted, it looks like maybe 48% of eligible voters went to the polls. That's terrible. Here we are, the world's greatest democracy and we can't even muster a majority of voters exercising their precious right. I honestly have no patience for people who complain or say they want to make this country better, or are seriously upset at the people who are already serving in office, yet do not bother to register, vote and make their voices heard. It's our duty and our responsibility as citizens.

Moving on.

Democrats garnered more overall votes for both the House and Senate races nationally, which is good news for the party and the country. Midterm elections have traditionally been excuses for the left to be ignorant and stay home while the angry right takes over the Congress and statehouses. I hope this happens no more. And I also hope that, especially in New Jersey, these same voters come out next year when we elect the state legislature and senate, offices that have far more power over our day-to-day existence than federal representatives and senators. Traditionally, only about 25% of voters turn out for those elections. Then they have the temerity to complain about property taxes, school funding, the state of the beaches, and transportation. Again; no patience.

There was a great deal of discussion about what this past election means. There were a number of Democratic Socialists and other far left candidates who won elections, but the real story is that the party is (and must) moving towards the center. This is how the process usually works. The American people are not ready to support Medicare for all or free college tuition or a more liberal immigration policy.


These ideas will eventually become part of mainstream discussion in the same way that far right policies that seemed fringe 30 years ago have now become mainstream, such as anti-environmental and pro-business deregulation, and tax cuts that funneled billion of dollars to those who were already wealthy.

But for now, Democrats have to return to the issues that they have traditionally championed; a fairer tax system, being more responsive to the middle and working classes, affordable health care and housing, protecting the rights of all people to vote, to gain a livable wage, and to protect children from exploitation and poverty, not to mention a fairer immigration system. If the Democrats focus on these issues, which most exit polls said were voters' key concerns, then the party can regain voters who defected to the Republicans in 2016 and build a base of support for future national and state elections.

The party also needs to stay away from talk of impeachment or appearing to be burying the administration under a blizzard of subpoenas in order to satisfy the far left flank that sees the president as illegitimate. Make sure that any actions are defensible, reasonable, pointed, and specific. Fight fire with fire, not a flamethrower. Present an argument for people who should be voting for Democrats to do so. Getting caught up in the minute-to-minute rantings of the president will not show the broader population that it is a party that will get things they want done.

Even with Congressional majorities and the White House, the Republicans were still only able to pass one major piece of legislation, which was a tax cut that didn't help them a bit on election day, and neither did an economy that continues to create jobs. That's extraordinary and it demonstrates the extent to which the president's rantings have muddied, diluted, and just plain blocked what should have been a winning issue. Democrats can build a better tax cut and an economic program that helps the majority of Americans who earn a paycheck but are still struggling.

Let's rebuild the trust with the American people, fight the groups that espouse hatred and bile, and show that we can truly be a model for the rest of the world.

It starts now.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Change Is In Our Hands: Vote!

Rules? We don't need no stinkin' rules.

Political rules?

My choice in the New Jersey Senate race is either the incumbent, Democrat Bob Menendez, or the Republican challenger, Bob Hugin.

Senator Menendez was charged with all sorts of nasty political-insider-corruption-fraud-bad-bad-things, when through the process, and it all resulted in a mistrial. Meanwhile, he's been an effective Senator and has been a terrific friend to teachers and public education in general. He's also fought hard to get the current administration in Washington to commit some money to rebuild the transportation infrastructure in New Jersey, which has been in terrible shape for years.

Bob Hugin is a businessman and a Republican. If he wins, whatever centrism that exists in his agenda will be swallowed Jonah-like by Mitch McConnell and the ultra-right-wing Know-Nothings who currently run the Senate. And that's not to mention that he will be obligated to support the most odious, malodorous politician in, well, ever, that being the president of the country who never met a fact he could ignore or turn into a falsehood.

Politics has always attracted people with, shall we say, malleable ethics, but under President Trump, the rules are gone. He has no moral standing, and neither does the Republican Party that supports him while he attempts to trash the constitution and make a mockery of the inclusive values that we've tried to practice as a nation. He has nothing but fear and the now-scary title of Commander-In-Chief, which means that he can order soldiers to the border to possibly shoot women and children if they make the mistake of...throwing a rock.

At this point, it is imperative that we as a country put the brakes on Republican one-party rule, as the Republicans did to Democrats in 2010. The House presents the best opportunity for that, because I think the Senate will remain Republican, which has to make the right very happy since they can continue to pack the courts with young judges who think that meaningful constitutional interpretation means living in 1789. In fact, I think the main Republican strategy since the beginning for October is to save the Senate, which explains the president's continued screeds against immigrants and the media, even when he should be taking a more measured tone in the aftermath of pipe bombs and antisemitic attacks.

And don't forget that the only meaningful legislation the Republicans have passed is a giant, whopping tax break for the wealthy that has exploded the deficit so completely, it makes the Reagan deficit seem like a rounding error.

Make sure you vote on Tuesday, and in the interests of returning some balance to the country, please vote Democratic. Just think of what two more years of Republican rule will mean for this country.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I Love America. Trumpian Nationalism Scares Me

This was a bad week.

Saudi Arabia

Megyn Kelly

Pipe Bombs

Murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue

The Stock Market

We have these kinds of weeks occasionally and they serve to remind us that we have deep and serious problems both at home and in the world that require our thoughtful, serious, sober attention. The bigger problem, though, is that we do not have a thoughtful, serious, sober president who has the skills to lead us effectively through this rough patch. In fact, the president is in some ways is creating the atmosphere in which these events can flourish.

Please don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying that President Trump is the cause of these terrible events. What I am saying is that he has a hand in setting the tone under which they can develop and grow.

It's time to retire "politically correct" from our lexicon because all it does is give cover to those people who blame it for repressing free speech, when what they want to say are vile, hateful things to anyone they want, and it's usually used by whites who don't quite understand that what they might want to say shows that they have no sense of decorum or justice. Blackface is, and always has been, racist. So has dressing up like a cartoon of someone's ethnic background.

The president has not helped with this because he ran on a firm rejection of respectful speech, using racial, ethnic and sexist slurs against anyone, even military personnel, members of congress, judges and foreign dignitaries who opposed him or questioned his questionable judgement. Is it any wonder that we have people like Megyn Kelly uttering spectacularly racist statements? Or that we have a company such as Google protecting male executives who committed heinous acts of sexism and harassment at work?

Which of course brings us to our latest example of violence and hate, American style. The president has said, repeatedly, that the media is the enemy of the people. It looks like some people have received that message loud and clear. And what's worse is that after a few comforting words, the president went right back on the campaign rally trail and continued to vilify the media after more pipe bombs were discovered. The mainstream media is not the problem; continuing to blame and create scapegoats is the problem.

But what made this week even worse when the president referred to himself as a nationalist, and then taunted those who really understand what his brand of nationalism means.

It's not inclusive.

It's not positive.

It's not helpful.

It creates victims.

And you'll please excuse me for bringing up the past, but as  Jewish American, I cannot ignore what historical nationalism has meant to my people. It's been used to define us as not: not part of the country, not part of the group, not part of the culture, not part of society. That the president apologized for using nationalism as he does says to me that he understands, albeit in a limited way, what nationalism has meant to minorities and those people who have traditionally been excluded from the nation. At the same time, though, he has excused the actions and words of the very right wing hate groups that promote antisemitism, racism and xenophobia.

All you have to do is listen as he and his followers describe the women and children trying to make a better life for themselves in this country as an invasion force worthy of evoking a military response on our southern border to know that this is the language of hatred, fear and loathing. Presidents are role models and they have traditionally been careful about what they say. This president has discarded that, to the detriment of the nation.

At the same time, without investigating, he nurtured the theory that the Saudi government had little to do with the death of Jamil Khashoggi, even going so far as asking the Saudi Crown Prince if his government was involved. Trump took the Prince at his word. That word was a lie.

I have all but given up on the president changing his tone to one that includes all Americans and exhorts us to use our common wisdom, our vitality and our common sense to solve our problems. As long as he sees this country as one in which there are people for him and people against him, then he will continue to divide us.

It's up to us to change that. Make sure you vote on November 6 for candidates that will form a bulwark against policies that will enrich the few, blame the other and venerate the narrow at the expense of the many.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Dictator See, Dictator Do. And the Lies Cost Lives

I know it's tough to be Saudi Prince Muhammed bin Salman. After all, you're only 33, which is not enough time to know...anything about how the world really works. You're fabulously wealthy. You head a government that brooks no opposition and you believe it derives its power from the consent of the governed God and your own assumption that you and only you and your family, although not your brothers and cousins, are fit to rule the country.

You also must contemplate a future for which your country is ill-prepared: a future where oil and gas are in decline and the climate, including the E-Z Bake Oven you call your country, is warming past bake and into broil territory. You've done some prior planning in response to this and you're encouraging wealthy business people and other countries to invest in your future so you can keep your mandate, your power, and the billions of dollars to which you've become accustomed.

Oh, and then there's that devastating war you've pursued in Yemen. You know, the one that's been labeled the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. And you continue the fighting Iranians are your worst enemy and they're arming Houthi rebels in Yemen and this as a gigantic threat to your well-being. meanwhile, there's no end in sight mainly because the rest of the world doesn't see what's happening.

So the last thing you need now is for the world to focus on the torture, killing and dismemberment of a journalist--a journalist!--who lives in Virginia and wrote scathing critiques of you and your government for the Washington Post. You thought that you could slip this one past the world. After all, what's a journalist's life worth in Putin/Trump/Dutarte land? Journalists write stuff that makes us all feel bad and besides, it's not very patriotic to critique your country and your dictator leader better government.

At least Donald Trump gets it. He called you and you lied to him about the Khashoggi case and he defended you on the principles of Western jurisprudence, which you don't really give a darn hoot about, but the point is that he believed you and with all of this representative democracy that threatens to break out here in SA it's nice to know that you can lie to the President of the United States and he will still be your friend. Of course, buying a few hundred billion dollars of weapons that can be used against Houthi rebels in Yemen helps your relationship with Trump, but those other Republicans are heaving religious morals at you which really, really hurts.

What really hurts the most, though, is that the world doesn't believe your excuses. You are being questioned. You are being exposed. You have little moral authority. And we didn't even mention that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens, or that your father tolerated the extreme Wahhabism that has fueled the terrorist ideologies that are presently wreaking havoc in the world.

There is blood on your hands. And there isn't enough water in the oceans to wash it off.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 14, 2018

You Want Change? Vote.

Are you angry? I mean, really angry? Angry about Brett Kavanaugh? Angry about the administration's refusal to consult science about...anything? Angry about the weather? NFL players kneeling? Liberals calling for impeaching the president? Conservatives actually taking the president seriously? The president?

This is not healthy for the country or for you. And heading into the midterm elections, it's not helping the country have anything close to a reasoned debate about the issues.

Time to breathe.

I hate to say it, but it doesn't look like the Democrats are going to win back the Senate, and the House is going to be closer that many political analysts thought in the summer. If you're on the left, that means total GOP control of the Congress for two more years. More deregulation, more pollution, less health care, more tax cuts for the wealthy, and more men making decisions for women.

What to do?

I know. Vote. Register to vote if you haven't done that, but if you have, vote. I don't understand why you wouldn't want to register and vote, especially if you want to back up your complaints with action. Don't let older voters, who supported Donald Trump and vote in large numbers, outvote you.

Have you seen this video?

Yes? Then if you haven't registered, what are you waiting for?

No? Then take it as a challenge and register and vote.

That's the surefire strategy for effecting change. Otherwise, politicians will dismiss your concerns and see you as irrelevant. Because, in a sense, you are.

It bothers me greatly that many Americans will tip their hats to both active duty and veteran soldiers, thank them for their service and defense of this country, and then not follow-up with the one single best way to show your pride and commitment to their efforts.


Make yourself relevant.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Farce Continues: Wake Me Up When Brumaire Ends

Yes, I've been reading Karl Marx while listening to Green Day.

Yes, I'll explain.

You've heard the phrase: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

Marx wrote that in an essay in 1852, comparing the rise to dictator of Napoleon's nephew Louis Napoleon to a farce when compared to Napoleon's rise in 1799, which occurred--you guessed it--on 18 Brumaire according to the French Revolutionary calendar.

Yes, I know, great way to ruin a pithy historical reference.

I digress.

The farce seems to be upon us, but this time it's the second time around of the Reagan Revolution and it's being perpetrated by a clownish president, the High Holiness of Hypocrisy, Mitch McConnell, and the tragic figure who smiles while having her reputation ripped off of her like a cheap bodice, Senator Susan Collins of Maine. There are, of course, other actors, including the nominee himself, Brett "Keg" Kavanaugh, Joe "DINO" Manchin, and Senator Lindsay Graham, the Frddie Blassie Award winner for his lack of decorum or of saying anything that someone should want to listen to, and the media machine that kept it in front of us for the past two weeks.

But farce it is, and my sense is that Ronald Reagan is spinning so fast in his grave we could tap him as a power source. Yes, the main ideas of smaller government, increased recognition of religious rights, tax cuts, and increased military spending are still in the GOP jukebox, but now they've added the overt racism that comes with opposing social programs and housing opportunity, a tax cut bill that punishes vast swaths of the middle class and will result in their paying more in April that what they received in their checks, anti-unionism, voter suppression, tolerance and, in some cases, acceptance, of white supremacist groups, unchecked sexism, and the vile, uncompromising, inappropriate, dangerous, misogynistic, insulting blather that comes from the president's mouth and phone on a moment-by-moment basis.

And you know what? The GOP doesn't care. The president doesn't care. The right wing media doesn't care. The Senate clearly doesn't care, and the House hasn't cared since 1994.

That's the farce. But we can rebuild this country. We have the technology. And the effort has to come from both left and right. We start by electing Democrats to the Congress, but more importantly, to the statehouses. If you have a state legislative or Gubernatorial election this November, it's key that you keep or elect Democrats to office because they will have the responsibility to remap state districts in 2021, after the next census. It's also important because state legislators become seasoned at that level and then become attractive candidates for federal office. The GOP has dome this masterfully for the past 30 years, and look at where they are now.

And when you consider that of the 7 presidential elections held since 1992, the GOP has one a popular majority...once--that's right, once, in 2004--then  you can see the effects of a state strategy that pays off. You can also see how farcical the GOP claim is of being the majority party or of garnering support from the American people.

It's crucial to come out and vote.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 30, 2018

How Do You Say Justice? Just Us.

You want to know how much of the Kavanaugh-Ford confrontation I watched?

None of it. Not even a video news summary or story afterward. Sure, I read about it, but I was not going to buy in to a spectacle that was more thermal heat than pinprick of light from a distant star. And I was not going to justify the breathless coverage, titillating details and abject outrage that both sides were peddling in the run-up to Thursday's hearing.

But as spectacle, it was, well, spectacular. Here we had a woman who clearly believes she was sexually molested and feared for her safety and virtue, and a man who said that it never ever happened. What are we supposed to take away from this? In short, the only thing we can take from this, which is that two people disagree about what happened. There were no verifiable facts. There were no corroborating witnesses. There was just emotion. 

Perhaps now with an FBI investigation, something approaching evidence might appear. Maybe there are witnesses, who have so far remained silent, who will come forward. But if not, what this process has shown us is that we as a country are as divided as ever and are more than willing to take our opinions down to the village square. 

But what really bothers me is the assumption that the system is broken and that if this is the way that Supreme Court nominees are going to be treated, then how will we get anyone on the court? And the reason it bothers me is because it puts women like Dr. Ford and Professor Anita Hill in the position of liars who should be quiet because the nominees somehow deserve to win confirmation. 

"If only you hadn't brought your petty trauma to the village square," we say. 

"If only you had learned early on that men can and will act like, what, men? boys? and that you need to be quiet and let them get it out of their systems."

"If only you had thought about someone other than yourself and your hurt and pain and put the national interest before your petty concerns."

"If only you had reported this assault as soon as it happened. Then we would believe you." 

Because we all remember the scores of gymnasts and other female college athletes who went en masse to the police at Michigan State and USC after being repeatedly violated over at least a decade. It didn't happen and it's likely not to happen in the future if this is the way we're going to treat victims of sexual assault.

The remedy to all of this is oh so simple:

Nominate people who haven't tried to sexually assault other people.

How about we do that? Did Samuel Alito assault anyone? John Roberts? Neil Gorsuch? No, they did not. You might not want any of them on the court for political reasons, but they seem to be worthy of their appointments. How about the female justices? No problem either.

We also learned quite a bit about Brett Kavanaugh from his defense. Going defensive and angry and obstinate was not the best strategy, but when the template is in the White House, I suppose you give it your best shot. What we saw, though, was a judge who is supposed to rule dispassionately lose his cool at the worst possible moment. I certainly understand his feelings, but what good did it do? It would have been far better for him to simply answer the questions and to tell the Senators who thought they were helping him by being outraged to stop the histrionics. I suppose that when everybody tells you that you were born for the court, you might get testy when it turns out you're not. 

In then end, though, the real travesty about this nomination fight is not necessarily the accusations against Kavanaugh, which are being investigated and he's been called to account for, but the nomination process itself. Like other nominees before him, Brett Kavanaugh dissembled, deflected, obfuscated and made opaque his judicial views and any sense of what kind of justice he might be. Of course, we all know what his judicial philosophy is, but can someone please answer a question?

And the biggest lie is the one he told when he said that certain cases, Roe being the most contentious, represented settled law. This is serious hogwash and Kavanaugh and the Senators and the Congress know this. After all, Roe upended settled law in most states by legalizing a procedure that was illegal, in the same way that Brown overturned segregation, and other settled law decisions such as Lochner, Gobitis (overturned three years later), Korematsu (June), Abood (June)  and many others were also summarily overturned. And previous rights that were not specifically enumerated were then found to be constitutional, such as corporate speech in Citizen's United, personal gun ownership in Heller, and gay marriage rights in Obergefell.

So don't tell me that any previous case decided by the court is settled and therefore could not be overturned. That's why you were nominated, Brett; to be the deciding vote to deny people the right to vote, or to an attorney, to be treated legally by the police, or to have control over one's own body.

It took Nixon and Reagan three tries before they found their justices in 1969 and 1987, respectively. Perhaps Brett Kavanaugh is not the best choice for this position and that we need to look elsewhere. 

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Men Will Be Boys. And That's the Problem.

And boys, you know, can be clueless about some things, like sexual harassment and thinking that they can do anything to a girl or woman if they feel like doing it. They also sometimes have trouble understanding just how offensive they are by dismissing a woman's claim that she's been the victim of any kind of unwanted action.

So here we are again.

Of course, how you see the Kavanagh-Blasey Ford issue depends on what side of the political spectrum you inhabit, and I tend to agree with these sentiments about how careful we all need to be in the absence of a thorough investigation.

And that's the point. We need the legal authorities to conduct a thorough investigation before we rush to judgement, even though that train left on the hour, and now it's proverbially ten past. Forcing Dr. Blasey Ford to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee will only create a he said-she said moment that does not serve the interests of justice.

Which leads directly to the next point;  that the Republicans on the committee, and in the Senate, have very little interest in the actual, factual, verifiable story. Senator Charles Grassley has already telegraphed (what a quaint saying, no?) his intentions by saying that Dr. Blasey Ford must appear this week, or the committee will go forward with their vote to send Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the whole Senate. Thursday seems to be good for everybody, but that still doesn't allow for an investigation.

In truth, Grassley's argument is not one of facts, but one of time. We don't have time to weigh your arguments, little lady, because if this gets drawn out past the elections and we lose the Senate, then we might never be able to strike down legal protections and precedents regarding your womb, your medicine cabinet, your pantry, your LGBTQ children/relatives/acquaintances, your water, your air, your employer's right to pay you less, your right to overcome corporate-based arbitration if you get hurt by one of our products, your privacy, your medical care, your education, and your vote.

To rush the process would undermine the justice system and everything Judge Kavanaugh has said during his hearings about weighing evidence and rendering a fair, just verdict. At least that's what I think he meant behind all of the obfuscation and non-answering. There's still plenty of time to conduct an investigation, get the facts, listen to the two individuals involved, and come to some kind of conclusion before November's election.

Or maybe Senator Grassley wants to rush so that the president and other GOP guys can't continue to say foolish things about why Dr. Blasey Ford didn't rush to the police at age 15 or come forward earlier. All you have to do is witness the abuse she's endured in the past week to answer those charges. And if you think it's just women who fall silent in the face of abuse, then think again. Certainly, more women are sexually abused, but the stigma attached to it affects all people.

Justice delayed is justice denied. But so it justice rushed.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Storm Before the Storm

For a man who demands loyalty, the steady drip of betrayals and plea bargains have to be driving the president wacky. And by the tone of his recent tweets, I'd say that I'm not saying anything new.

But loyalty is as loyalty does, and President Trump has repeatedly shown that he is not terribly loyal, even to those who have supported him. He's burned through more cabinet members than other recent presidents as well as staff members and advisors, and every person who's left has been the subject of a personal and public attack that demonstrates the personal nature of which the president sees these relationships. Of course, when everything has to be about him, then everything has to be either against him or for him.

The real problem for the president is what Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen have told prosecutors about what he knew and when he knew it, and this can't be good for him. We already know that Trump lied about his sexual liaisons with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and generally speaking, when people lie about their affairs, there's usually much more skulduggery in their closets.

The president can call Robert Mueller's investigation whatever he wants, but it looks like Mueller is conducting a sober, thorough, evidence-based inquiry that probably bothers the president because none of those three words describes how he approaches problems. It's usually true that when you don't have the ideas to support you, then you go after the person. That's exactly what's happening here. And if Mueller releases his findings close to the November elections, you'll be able to see the fireworks no matter where you look in the sky.

The storms of September will pass and the country will unite to help people who have lost their homes and their property, and we will mourn those who have died. But there are more storms yet to come before November's election and these will be of consequence for everyone.

If you haven't registered to vote and you still can in your state, then please do. And make sure you vote.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Teachers Need Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Most of the nation's schools are now open and running, but what of education?

Here in New Jersey, and in much of the New York suburbs, the opening week was an exercise in damage control. Most school districts, including mine, that do not have air-conditioning suffered through a terrible four days that saw students and teachers getting sick from the heat and school districts that changed their school's schedules to single session days (there's no such thing as a half-day).

As the climate warms, and it is, these days will become as frequent as snow days are in the winter, and will force all schools to have air conditioning as default equipment. This will cost money that the public will need to contribute in taxes, and with property taxes already high in these states, something else might need to be cut to pay for it.

And just wait until next spring when those of us living in states, where the new tax law limits our ability to deduct some mortgage and home equity loan interest and property taxes, complete our returns and realize that the GOP is fleecing the middle class so that corporations can get their 15% tax cut.

Through all of this, and more, teachers are doing their jobs with tremendous help from...exactly. There is simply no national agenda to improve education other than to cut back on regulations, destroy public unions, promote charter and for-profit schools, private school vouchers, and policies that question the value of what really made America exceptional and great: the public schools. With the GOP in charge, the federal government is abandoning its oversight role and giving the power back to the states to set their own academic requirements, student evaluations and equity policies. While it is true that states should have a great deal of power over their public schools, some states have notoriously low standards, are starving their budgets in order to lower taxes, and are falling short of ensuring that all students are protected by the laws and are provided with an effective education.

And if you thought that last school year's teacher walkouts in Oklahoma and West Virginia were isolated events, then you are in for a shock. I have no doubt that this year will bring more walkouts, more labor disputes, and more civil disobedience. I, for one, am in the mood and I work in a state where the teacher's union is strong and salaries allow for a middle class life.

Which makes this week's weather folly all that much more galling for both students and teachers. Many students, including not only my high schoolers, but children as young as five years old, were in classrooms for hours that registered temperatures in the 90s. If we left these same students in cars with the window cracked a half inch for 15 minutes while we ran into Starbucks we'd be arrested for child endangerment. Our administrators sent us messages thanking us and complimenting us all on being "troopers" and "toughing it out," words that have no place in a school.

I'm a teacher, not a soldier. I don't operate on the front lines, I teach in a classroom. And it's my job to prepare today's students to be tomorrow's leaders. Respect, or get out of the way.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Back-To-School Special: What You Know Beats How You Feel. Every Time.

My school district thought that it would just a fabulous idea to have the faculty report at the end of August, rather than to wait until September as they had for, say, the past 110 years, and to try and mollify us, in addition to giving us something to think about, they contracted with Dr. Robert Brooks and had him deliver a lecture about why it's key that educators create an atmosphere of trust, respect and comfort for our students.

My, what a long sentence that was.

But I digress.

Dr. Brooks's main point was that in order for students to reach their potential as learners, teachers need to provide a supportive, engaging, safe environment in their classrooms. Students should feel welcomed and respected, and they should know that the teacher is going to provide them with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, to work through problems, and to fail, as long as we also provide them with opportunities to correct their mistakes. He also spoke at length about creating resilient children who can use their life experiences, temperament and previous knowledge so they can feel successful and confident in their abilities. Much of what he said reflected what many educators learned in the 1980s and 90s through the Madeline Hunter Instructional Theory Into Practice model. Hunter spoke of "feeling tone'" which was a method of making one's classroom into, you got it, a supportive, engaging, safe environment.

This all sounds reasonable, but then Dr. Brooks lost me completely.

On two occasions during his lecture, he stated that "teachers do not teach math, history, science, 2nd grade or 3rd grade." His point was that we should be focusing on how students feel in the classroom and making them feel comfortable and welcomed in school.

I could not disagree more.

From the time I began teaching 35 years ago, I have called myself a "History Teacher." Not Social Studies--History. There's a difference. My view is that students need to know the subject, and through the subject they learn the disciplines inherent in that subject, the different strategies and learning modalities necessary to succeed in that subject, and the facts, arguments and research that informs the subject. It's through the subject that a student finds their level of engagement and interest, and it's up to the teacher to make that subject as relevant to the student as they can. The subject must drive the teacher's approach to education and to their classroom management. In sum, the subject comes first, then comes the environment.

I do agree with every educational theorist on the merits of creating a classroom environment where students feel welcome and safe, and where children know that the teacher can be trusted to provide them with worthwhile activities and information that will allow them to succeed. But we need to do that through our subjects, not first or separate. I want resilient students who can evaluate their own work against a rubric and edit, rewrite or change their minds to make a more cogent historical argument, and I will create a classroom environment that values those approaches.

What Dr. Brooks did not mention was that learning in and of itself is stressful. It's difficult to fit contradictory or seemingly unfathomable facts into your worldview. I will challenge students and ask difficult questions and, at times, make students uncomfortable because that's how you can assess learning. Many times students leave the classroom, and not just mine, without a resolution or with more questions that need answers. And it's all driven by the subject.

What's happened in education over the past 15 years is that educators have been told to focus more on mindsets, resilience and students' emotional concerns at the expense of actually teaching them a body of knowledge. Academic skills have become more important than facts because, after all, if you can learn how to analyze a source, you can do that in every subject, right? The Common Core gets some of the blame because it was a list of skills that students needed to learn. I thought that was great, but the problem was that the skills ate the content. The other problem is the assumption that we are living in a post-fact world because, after all, you can just look it up on the Internet. As a response to that folly, I am actually planning more lessons that don't require students to open their computers.

Teachers must teach their subjects first and foremost and use that subject to create an inviting classroom where students know they can succeed. To my colleagues around the country, I hope that you and your students have a successful year, and that by the end you have students who are both knowledgeable and happy.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Silly Season Gets Ominous

Gee. It turns out that the president actually lied. Not that this is a total surprise given his history of being a liar, telling untruths, exaggerating facts, creating alternative facts, being 100% wrong, saying one thing and contradicting another, making stuff up, fibbing, retweeting fake news stories, lying to his wife, and getting his American History facts absolutely wrong.

Now he got caught. And this is not going to go away so easily.

It was always clear that Donald Trump had affairs, as anyone who read about him during his days as a New York personality in the 1980s and 90s. And I'm sure he paid off a number of women to stay silent or to simply go away. He also convinced himself that he could control his message and make sure that anything too embarrassing would get squashed before it hit the papers.

The problem is that he brought these personality traits to the White House, and we know what happens to people who convince themselves of their own importance. Every president has flaws that become magnified once they are in the White House. Clinton had affairs, Nixon believed he could explain himself out of his own lies, GW Bush needed to please his dad, Obama was too detached. And on and on.

Now we have Michael Cohen admitting in court that the president knew about the payments to silence Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal before the 2016 election, and that the president intended these payments to influence the election's outcome. To the president, these are not crimes. To the rest of the legal, political and social world, these are serious enough that President Trump will have to answer for them.

This is not anything to celebrate. If Cohen is telling the truth, then the president is lying, and all of Trump's talk about a rigged election turns out to be accurate. The problem is that it was his campaign that was trying to influence it. Democrats running in close elections need to be careful about making too much of this issue too quickly. The news is damning enough, but the real concerns are health care, taxes, and local concerns.

And if this is all happening in August, imagine the fun we can look forward to in the fall.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 19, 2018

What Party? Some Democrats Aren't Helping the Cause.

Remember when the two worst words you could post on your Facebook feed was when a group of friends were talking about a party that you weren't invited to and you plaintively asked, "What party?"

I'm starting to feel that way about my party, the Democrats. I'm a registered Democrat and have been since I started voting at age 18. I've supported its mission and values, and even agreed when Democrats and Republicans would agree on something important, even if neither party got everything they asked for in the deal. I've worked the polls as the representative Democrat and even spent 14 hours side-by-side with a Reagan Republican and we had a lovely day chatting and cross-checking voter rolls.

But lately, some Democrats have not represented the party well. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's statement last week that America was never that great is a prime example. I understand what he means; that we have a higher standard of ethical and moral behavior to live up to and we're still working on that. And if he truly believes that, then the good governor should express that sentiment and urge Americans to do better at home and abroad. Instead, he gave a nice gift to the most demagogic person to sit in the White House, and the president took great advantage of it.

What Cuomo should have said was that the present administration was not going to make America great if it continued to allow polluters to pollute more, to relax clean air and water standards, to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans who want to join the military, to give massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, and to subvert American ideals as they relate to immigration and the treatment of children. In short, the focus needs to be on the behavior that he doesn't want to see. Once you start labeling and questioning what on the surface is a broad claim, you're going to get yourself into trouble. And he did.

It's the same with those Democratic representatives and candidates who are calling for President Trump's impeachment. Perhaps the Mueller investigation will uncover an impeachable offense, but to date the president has done nothing that is likely to lead to a broad swath of the electorate to support legal action against him. Democrats are only giving Republicans and Independent voters a reason to see this as more of a partisan issue than one that deserves their support. Plus, it makes Democrats look desperate and churlish.

Donald Trump has tweeted his little heart out, rampaged against immigrants, labeled the press as enemies and has questioned the country's commitment to security in Europe. Despite all of that, a majority of people still do not support him or his agenda, support immigration and believe that we should be solid as a rock when it comes to NATO. Why, then, muddy the waters with impertinent and provocative statements that only give him something to fight against?

Democrats need to channel this anger and frustration into a message that resonates with voters on the issues above and affordable health care. But if the party runs on impeachment and other divisive issues, they will blunt their message and suppress some support that would otherwise come from moderates and independents.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 12, 2018

I Know! Let's Allow Businesses to Take Advantage of Consumers!

What a fun game this is. The country elects Republicans who oppose government involvement in our lives, except for our private parts, favors businesses over people, and makes it easier for businesses to take advantage of us when we try to fight back. The game then continues when we elect Democrats to fix all of that.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in the aftermath of the Great Economic Blowup of 2008, was supposed to monitor companies that wanted to take advantage of consumers and separate us from our money, which, if you want to be technical, is what every company wants to do. The issue is that most companies sell a product that, when used correctly, helps us with a task, meets a financial, social or emotional need, or tastes pretty darn good. Those that sell products that just separate us from our money, make fraudulent claims or prey on unsuspecting consumers with questionable claims or practices need to be thrown out of the market place.

Until last year, the Bureau, which was still run by Obama appointees, was responsible for reclaiming billions of dollars from companies that did bad things, including credit card companies, pay-day lenders, regular banks, student loan purveyors, and other swamp creatures.

Now it's not run by anyone remotely interested in overseeing consumer protection. In fact, many of the original rules have been neutered or rescinded, and the CFB is run by Mick Mulvaney, also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Guess which job demands more of his time?

The results have been significant. The CFB is now looking to suspend examinations of lenders for violations of the Military Lending Act, which is supposed to protect military families from fraud and stuff.

And Betsy DeVos now wants to scrap rules that forced for-profit colleges to substantiate their claims about being able to get their students jobs that pay money and stuff. You remember the for-profit colleges like Trump University an Corinthian College, right? They were forced out of business because they took money and didn't give people the skills and knowledge to get jobs.
Now, I know that not-for-profit institutions of higher education couldn't guarantee anyone a job, but that's because their job is to...wait for it...educate their students, which most colleges do pretty well. But if your reason for existing is to get someone a job, then you'd better do quite well at that.

And this is just the beginning. Consumers and employees are already at a disadvantage because we have to agree to arbitration if we have a dispute with a company rather than being able to file class-action suits. Arbitration is stacked in favor of corporations simply because they run the system. It will likely not surprise you to know that this spring, the Supreme Court said that arbitration was constitutional because it would avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. As if costly and time-consuming were both so bad that they simply can not hold up under judicial or legislative scrutiny.

There's also the repeal of the Fiduciary Rule, which said that financial companies had to put the interests of consumers ahead of commissions and sales goals. Imagine a company that fights against putting consumers first. Can you say, Wells Fargo?

As for pay-day lending, why that industry even exists is a tragedy. Workers should not have to get a loan that uses a paycheck as collateral. Employers need to pay their employees a livable wage and not make it necessary for them to saddle themselves with loans that have exorbitant interest rates. It's outrageous that the alternatives in this list do not include demanding a wage that allows someone to live a decent life, or to be able to go to a regular bank and open a no-fee savings or checking account.

It is certainly incumbent upon all consumers to educate themselves and to spend their money wisely. But when unscrupulous businesses can continue to operate in a market economy without government oversight, that's a recipe for disaster.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 5, 2018

What A Great Idea! Let's Pollute More!

I agree that any talk of restoring this country's greatness must include a return to the smoke-belching, less-regulated, gas-guzzling, backroom-deal-making era that characterized the United States during its hegemonic, paternalistic, condescending, arrogant post-World War II to 1991 past. If I've argued anything in my life, it's that smog and respiratory distress are about as American as politicians who haven't a clue as to how to effectively run the country.

We seem to have hit the jackpot these days.

I suppose when you don't believe in science, or that people have an effect on the climate, then enacting policies that roll back environmental laws and that encourage automobile manufacturers to build cars and trucks that will pollute more makes perfect sense. After all, the companies that produce cars have been absolutely correct in the past when they opposed seat belts, harnesses, catalytic converters, cleaner fuel standards and designs that allowed vehicles to crumple around the edges rather than on people. And I'm all about forgiving Volkswagen and others when they faked pollution data to make their cars appear cleaner. It's perfectly reasonable to cut back on regulations because, hey, we can trust Detroit, Tokyo and Wolfsburg to make the right decisions for us.

And there's absolutely no hypocrisy in the new policy when it comes to federalism, because allowing states, such as California, to follow their own pollution protocols is just too much for the know-nothing conservatives who on every other issue argue that states should absolutely be able to follow their own paths. Environmental concerns, they are arguing, must be dictated by Washington or else some states might have cleaner air than other states, which would violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Birthright citizenship means that everyone should have dirty lungs.

The good news is that many Americans did go to science class pretty regularly and understand that there's no going back to the coughing, wheezing past. And I suspect that many Democrats, who are already making inroads by running on health care that actually saves lives, will use this assault on our environment to further the argument that this administration simply doesn't make a sensible argument on, well,...anything.

So get ready for those fun September temperature inversions. And dirtier rain. And more unhealthy air and water. I'm feeling greater already.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Think the Supreme Court is Non-Political? Think Again.

I just spent a week doing what all teachers should have the option of doing in the summer if they didn't need a second job to make ends meet. I attended a seminar on a content topic that was both fascinating, useful, and timely. It was sponsored by the Gilder Lehman Institute of American History and took place at Lafayette College, which has a very nice campus and facilities, and included 32 other educators from around the country And the topic? The Bill of Rights. Can't get more current events than that.

After a one-week immersion, my general conclusion is this: The Supreme Court just makes stuff up.


They come up with a rule about how they're going to treat cases having to do with privacy or searches or speech or due process or religion and then for the next case, they change the rules, so if you're looking for consistency, look at a nice thick bowl of pudding instead. For example, in 1977 the court ruled that public union agency fees were perfectly legal, and even preferable. This year, the court struck them down as a violation of the free speech rights of people who don't agree with the union's political leanings. Never mind that money that unions use for political action are separate from those used for internal contract defense. The result is that starting now, anyone can stop paying union dues, but still be covered by the contract.

Likewise with privacy. With the probable addition of Brett Kavanaugh, the court looks primed to declare that abortion, marriage equality and the rights of LGBTQ Americans are not guaranteed by the constitution and that the states could regulate such behavior. This has been the conservative strategy concerning choice since the Roe decision in 1973, but since that decision was based on other cases that recognized a generalized right to privacy, many other rights would fall if the court decides that the states retain the power to regulate their citizens. It might not mean that abortion would become illegal everywhere, but it would allow states, probably around 20 at this point, to make it a crime. And those states could also likely limit contraceptives and even the morning after pill if they so desired.

And you thought that conservatives wanted the government out of people's lives. Please rethink this. Conservatives love to tell the federal government to go away, but they have no problems allowing restrictions that their states want, and most of those have to do with what they call moral behavior. As if any Trump supporter has any claim to moral behavior or recognizing just what the heck it is. The court could also expand religious rights and give them precedence over civil rights laws as long as your faith is real, substantial and committed. As for corporations? Not only are they people, they are strong, wealthy, powerful people whose rights will overshadow the average American's simply because they have the money to get their message into the marketplace more frequently and with more visibility.

In the end, it's very difficult to predict what might happen once someone gets on the court, but I think we have a pretty good idea of the direction of this court. I can't say that I'm optimistic.

Need a reason to vote in November? Start here.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 22, 2018

You Want Change? Eyes Forward

I'm sure you've heard about the latest outrage. Of course you have. It was about foreign affairs or the economy or immigration or something that will make the country weak or less democratic or dirtier or something. You reacted to it on social media. Maybe you organized something or gave money to someone or just shook your head.

Eyes forward lefty. The day-to-day is simply a distraction. The point is to say how you will fix this or make it less important or make it go away. Perhaps, yes perhaps, you might even want to ignore it next time. I know, that's a tough one, but it might lower your blood pressure or clear your mind so you can think and not just react.

Feel better? OK, this will take time.

Keep your eyes forward. The message has to be that if you want a change from what's been happening, then you have to register to vote, and then vote. Then you have to make sure that the correct message gets out. You want a foreign policy that has a point, that safeguards democratic values, that honors and supports out allies, that makes China think twice before stealing intellectual property and that sends a message to Russia that what they're doing is completely unacceptable?

Then you have to vote for the people who will send that message.

Do you want an economy where wages actually rise for workers, where workplace safety is a prominent concern, where unionized workers can bring positive change, where products are safe, where pollution is punished, where the gap between the highest earners and the lowest stops widening, and where all people have affordable, meaningful health care?

Then you have to vote for the people who will send that message.

Do you want a society were all people are valued and where all Americans have access to the ideas that will enable them to prosper intellectually? Do you want leaders who will recognize that we are strong because we are diverse, and that we ask questions of each other because that's what helps us figure out what we need to do to improve?

Never forget that that the president was elected with a minority of the popular vote and that he is still not popular with a majority of Americans. We are the majority. Eyes forward.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest