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