Sunday, February 25, 2018

NRA? Forever. NEA? Not Ever. The Destruction of Public Education

West Virginia Teachers are on strike.

Students are being shot in schools.

The Secretary of Education self-assesses herself a B+ or A- on her first year of work.

Boston University is the latest college to forgive students who are disciplined if they walk out of school on March 14 to demonstrate for school safety.

The president and the NRA want teachers to carry a gun in school.

This is the state of education today.

In a way, this doesn't surprise me. After all, I lived through 8 years of Chris Christie and the Know-Nothings bashing teachers, ridiculing our concerns and generally creating a toxic environment for all public workers. Now that we're living with the greatest worst president in the history of our country, it would make sense that we have the best anti-education leaders in our history making decisions that make little common sense and absolutely no education sense.

West Virginia is just another example of anti-union states paying teachers so little that they have to get second jobs just to maintain a middle class existence. This is what happens when ideologues take away the power of workers to bargain collectively or to have a say in their work environments. It speaks volumes that teachers believe they have to strike because it goes against everything that effective educators believe, which is that we need to be in the classroom educating children. To decide that you have to be out of the classroom with a picket sign is a sign that the state government has gone too far.

And it could, and likely will, get worse. On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could severely cripple unions that represent public workers. The Janus case  would allow people to opt out of, or not join, a union, and thus not pay a dime, but would require the union to still bargain on behalf of that employee. This would place an undue financial burden on unions, but the real effect, and what the right wing has wanted for decades, is the end of public worker unions. The right believes that management is always right and that they should make all decisions regarding financial and employment matters.

Which then brings us to the Secretary of Education. Her self-assessment is the reason why educators don't allow or encourage...self-assessment when it comes to grades. I have no doubt that Secretary DeVos believes she's doing a fabulous job when in fact she is not. She wants to have all education decisions revert to the states, but that will only bring us back to the wildly different standards and achievement levels that led us to A Nation at Risk. Allowing 50 different sets of education standards is a terrible idea because it does not guarantee every child a quality education.

And a quality education seems to have missed those politicians, from public and private schools, who recommend arming teachers and vilify students as actors who are in thrall to Democrats when the GOP is in thrall to the NRA. The president, in fact, has adopted all of the NRA talking points, but none of the National Education Association. Need I say more?

It's clear that proponents of arming teachers have not really thought through the ramifications of such a move. How would the guns be stored? What about liability? What happens if a gun goers off accidentally or doesn't go of at all? What if a students gets possession of a teacher's gun? What kind of environment are you creating when guns saturate schools?

But all of those questions pale in the presence of the fact that public money, and lots of it, would be going to something that has nothing to do with education. If there's money available for weapons training, why not use it for curriculum, professional development, or paying teachers a livable wage so they don't have to go to their second job after school?

There is no way that students can adequately learn in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, but that's exactly what would happen if we introduce more guns into schools. Armed security guards? That would be fine, but not teachers. That would lead to tragedy.

This administration has shown that American cultural norms are subject to the whims of lobbyists, piles of cash and fealty to the president. The result will not help children, education or the nation.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 18, 2018

President's Day: What We Have. What We Need.

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt 
“My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy
"No collusion!" Donald Trump (2017-)
You get the idea.
This President's Day, which by the way has to be the most terrible use of a Monday as a holiday, my thoughts turn to leadership and what a president--any president-- contributes to the intellectual, moral, educational, and spiritual life of this country. We've had some great presidents who've led us through terrible times and we've had good, mediocre and ineffective presidents who, for whatever reason, fell short of greatness. We've also had presidents who split the bill, most notably Nixon and LBJ, who did some things that great presidents do, and other things that severely damaged the country for decades.
I don't think we'll need to worry about whether Donald Trump will ever rise to greatness as a president. He is clearly unable to unite the country because he only sees politics and governing as a zero-sum game, and in order for him to win, someone else has to lose. And if he can win at the expense of common sense or unity or nationalism or rising above partisan politics, then all the better. So rather than rallying the country against a Russia that clearly tried to influence the 2016 election, the president has turned it into a referendum on his personal brand. Saying that he's against domestic violence, much less saying it one week after allegations with pictures emerged about one of his staff members, is both laughable and tragic. I can't think of any other modern president that would need to say such a thing. It was obvious. Not with this president.
It's the same with the tragedy in Florida. Mental health is certainly an issue, but when the president has tried for more than a year to repeal a law that mandated mental health coverage for all health insurance policies, then his words are simply words. Add that to his fealty to the NRA and their laughable/tragic commitment to having everyone in the country armed and you have a president who will not compete with the best of our executives. He is simply to divisive, too ignorant of policy and too devoid of compassion.
As for the tax cuts. Yes, I did receive more money in my last paycheck, but my best financial strategy is to now put it in an interest-bearing account because I'll need it to pay back taxes next April because I won't be able to deduct enough taxes and interest to keep my cut. Imagine a tax cut bill that makes teachers pay more. Unfathomable.
This President's Day, let's reflect on what a great president would do to help solve our problems, unite the country and move us forward towards a greater future. Then let's elect someone like that in 2020.
For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Bigger Deficit Is Intellectual

Donald Trump might be the first president to step on his own tax cuts. With February 15 in sight, and most companies ready to use the new tax tables for that payday, the resident philanderer, sexual braggart, pussy-grabber-in-chief has decided that the #MeToo movement might be getting too close to the Oval Office for his comfort. Not only will this dilute the message that many Republicans want to send, that the president is finding his footing and is acting--here we go--presidential, but it will remind many voters that although they will be getting a bump in their pay, there is a steep price to pay for the pizzas they'll be able to pay for.

And don't think for a minute that the president is actually worried about Rob Porter or Roy Moore or Al Franken or Bill O'Reilly. He's worried about the one and only person who matters to him in all matters--himself. He knows that the Stormy Daniels affair was real, and so does his wife. He knows that he was speaking a truth to Billy Bush when he was talking about what rich Neanderthals can do to women when they want to assert their power. He knows that allegations about other members of his staff reflect poorly on him, so naturally he decides that rather than lead the country through this important societal upheaval, his best shot at saving himself is to belittle the women who are leading it and making credible, provable accusations.

Plus, the president's newfound respect for due process is about as sincere and his handshake with Hillary Clinton during the debates. He's not trying to right a wrong here. He's trying to dismiss the issue because ultimately it leads to his front door. Due process meant nothing when he was painting NFL players as un-American or in crafting legislation that would allow Dreamers to stay in this country, or in judging the Central Park Five as guilty despite the fact that they were, in fact, completely innocent.

Don't the victims deserve due process too?

I guess that when you're on the other side of due process, like, say, when you're being investigated by someone who actually knows what the phrase means and how to apply it, or you've been accused by dozens of women of committing sexual crimes against them, then I can imagine it would be uncomfortable to know that you could actually be held liable, lose your job or go to jail because of your actions.

As for those tax cuts, Democrats have to be careful because in the short term they will be a real boon to many wage earners who might decide that they can tolerate the president's behavior if it means an extra $100 per month. Yes, the stock market has gyrated wildly, but the key is real wages and jobs.  Inflation is about to erode much of the wage gains that many Americans are counting on, and a good part of those wage gains will be in the form of bonuses. Trade wars will make goods that much more expensive. And our foreign policy is a mess. These are winnable issues for November. The president's outbursts are but extra sauce.

Remember, and I mean always remember, that more people voted for Hillary Clinton's vision of America's future than Donald Trump's. "The country" does not support his policies and "the American people" did not speak in favor of his agenda in 2016.

The president has said some terrible things about minorities. He's forgetting that he is one himself.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Panic in Memo Park: The Vindication of Robert Mueller

The good news is that, finally, the president and I agree: The release of the Nunes memo represents a national disgrace and shows that the investigation into the Trump campaign's relationship with Russian intelligence remains a troubling and possibly illegal action that necessitates Robert Mueller's continued action. Further, the president and I agree that the memo does vindicate the actions of the Special Prosecutor because it clearly demonstrates that members of the campaign, the president's family and possibly the president himself might have broken United States law and obstructed justice.

Well, OK, maybe we don't agree on all the facts, but this does represent a national disgrace and a vindication of the investigation's existence. It also clearly shows that the president is in a panic as the investigation swirls closer to the Oval Office and his reasons for firing FBI Director James B. Comey.

And as a public relations event, this couldn't be more of a disaster for the president. After weeks of puffing up this Potemkin memo, the House released it on Friday night, which is a dead zone for news, and there's no, well, smoking gun. The argument that this whole investigation is rotten because the Democrats paid for a dossier of information that purportedly has damaging information about Donald Trump is not convincing. It doesn't tell the whole story, and the real issue is that the investigation of Trump's campaign actions began before the dossier's release and the request to follow Carter Page because of his interactions with the Russian, which were, in fact, rather extensive. And then there's the information we already know about Micheal Flynn, Jared Kushner and others who have lied about their contact with the Russians. So the whole argument that this is a Democratic Kampaign Kaper falls off the bone like a good barbecue rib.

As with most scandals, it's what's missing that's the most important. The GOP memo leaves out a great deal of other information that would provide counterpoint, context and nuance, things that the GOP doesn't seem to care about. It also leaves out the possibility that the salacious material contained in the Steele Dossier might be...gasp...accurate. or accurate enough to show what we already know: That the president is an immoral womanizer, a suspect businessperson, a liar and susceptible to flattery and blackmail.

That's why there's clearly panic underneath the talk of exoneration. The president knows that this doesn't exonerate him. It's an attempt to shut down the investigation and to win the public's support in anticipation of his trying to again fire Robert Mueller. That's not going to happen. If the president clearly knows that he and his campaign are innocent, then his best approach would be to praise the search for truth, support the FBI and condemn all Russian interference in any campaigns. I know, I know, you can stop laughing now.

As this investigation gets closer to the president, there will be more, and more forceful actions that attempt to sully Mueller's reputation and blame the Clintons. That's how we know we're getting close to the truth.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest