Sunday, December 29, 2019


The end of another year is at hand, but not another decade. They end with zero and begin with one.

Yes, I am one of those kinds of people.

In 2020 I will try to contribute more positive solutions to the issues of the day, which means that I will be writing less and doing more.

I will, of course, be involved in the campaign on a local and national basis, and I will do all that I can to counteract those who are propagating lies, propaganda, hatred, discrimination, and blame.

I will try to provide reasonable arguments at a time when too many people in this country and around the world seem to believe that reason is suspect.

I will try my best to me more loving, more kind, more caring, more supportive, more practical, more pragmatic, and more funny. These are values I have tried to live by. Sometimes I've been successful and sometimes not, but I will be especially mindful of how my actions affect others.

I will do my best on the job, with my family and friends, and will be more helpful to those in need.

If I can accomplish all of that, I think I can make my own corner of the world a bit brighter, a bit more informed, a bit more civilized, a bit more hopeful, and a place where those who come in contact with me can be more secure, more comfortable challenging themselves, more daring in their actions to promote love and peace, and happier, on balance, than they were before.

And if I can lose weight along the way, then victory will be mine.

These I resolve.


Happy New Year.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A Nation? No Thank You.

With all due respect, and honestly, I don't believe I will ever have any respect for the president or his family, I would like to be left out of any schemes to force people to respect Jews or Israel. I have been a victim of antisemitism and all of its hateful, noxious ignorance, but the last thing I ever want to be is part of any law that identifies Judaism as a nationality. It will open the door to even worse, as this article illustrates.

I have spent the better part of my educational career teaching students that Judaism is a religion with beliefs and rituals that are tied to the monotheistic God of the Torah, and not an "other" or separate nation or culture that is different from the countries in which Jews live. The historical record is full of rulers and nations who took great care in isolating and targeting Jews as a means of propping up their rule and blaming Jews for every misfortune suffered by the ruling or cultural majority.

Naturally, this designation would appeal to an ignorant nationalist who wants to score political points and make antisemitic remarks while hiding behind the fact that his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish. The president has made it clear that he believes that the right wing hate groups who are notoriously antisemitic are equal to other groups who are fighting for civil rights and equal treatment. And of course this is the man who said that Jews who vote Democratic are being disloyal.

I don't want to be a separate nation. I don't want to be associated with either the right wing nationalists here or in Netanyahu's Likud Party. I don't want to be a protected minority in Donald Trump's America. I've seen how that works out.

They way to defeat antisemitism and BDS and anti-Israel sentiment is to actually have a foreign policy that respects Palestinian demands for its own state. Otherwise, there will be no peace, only  suppression and denial of rights, such as the right to speak out against issues in the press, on college campuses, and in capital cities around the world. Like everyone else, I would like to live in a world where people respect each others views and can speak to others intelligently, but I know that this is not reality. The best way to fight speech is with speech, not denigration and denial of justice.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Common Core, Common Sense

I like the Common Core Curriculum Standards. And you should too. Because they make sense. After all, how can you argue with teaching students how to:

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.

Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.

Apply properties of operations as strategies to add and subtract rational numbers.

These are all standards that students should meet, and should be able to meet given a classroom with a qualified, committed teacher and learning resources supplied by a school district. Teachers should be able to incorporate the standards into their lesson plans and evaluate the extent that students have learned them using authentic assessments.

What's the problem? According to this article, plenty. The more you delve into the details, though, the more these problems become solvable. They require change and a shift in thinking, but they are solvable.

I've been using a curriculum that relies on the Common Core Standards for about five years. It's a sensible combination of content and academic skills, and it requires that students analyze texts, account for variations in interpretation, tone, use of sources, point-of-view, and emphasis, and asks students to write cogent, articulate responses and essays in response to sophisticated prompts. That's exactly what the United States education system should want from its students.

What happened? The Common Core got caught up in the debate over local vs. federal control of education standards. The conservatives don't like the standards because they say that they trample on the right of states and local communities to set standards, since education is not a federal constitutional responsibility. The liberals didn't like it because it created standardized tests that forced school districts to cast aside instruction in all but language arts and math. Parents couldn't help their children with their homework because it relied on new strategies. Publishers and school districts didn't release new materials or train teachers in how to adapt to the new standards.


The good news is that the Common Core Standards are slowly making their way into the classroom, and are taking hold. Most states have renamed the standards and now have access to classroom materials that explain to students and parents how they work. The standards are also part of the Advanced Placement courses. More students are being exposed to the standards from the beginning of their education rather than having to shift to them in the middle of their schooling.

It will take time, but if states and districts continue to commit resources and energy to the standards, then we should see more improvement in student assessments in the coming years. We know we can do this because when teachers are given the right training and support, then students will achieve. Even in Mississippi.  Yes, Mississippi.

Of course, the bigger issue in education is that achievement is tied to the relative wealth of the community in which a family lives. And while Mississippi has made great strides, there is simply no reason why wealth and money should determine the quality of a child's education. This is why the Common Core is so valuable; it virtually eliminates local standards that might be less rigorous than what students need to meet in order to become educated citizens. 

The next step is to ensure that all schools across the country have the resources they need and teachers who are trained and supported, both economically and technically. 

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Elected to Break the Law?

I've heard many commentators make the point that Donald Trump was elected to shake up the system or to challenges the establishment or, in his words, to drain the swamp.

This opinion piece is just one more example whereby his apologists attempt to tell the majority of voters in this country, you know, the ones who voted against him, that Trump should be given the benefit of his victory to enact whatever policies he wants. Please don't impeach him; he's only doing what he was elected to do.

This is an argument?

I will say from the outset that I do agree with some of the premises of the article because we have elected a class of officials who have enacted policies that enrich themselves and their businesses, foundations, universities, and foreign cronies. Hunter Biden should never have gotten the position with Burisma. We have reenacted the Gilded Age and defended it by elevating money to the point that it's become the point of the discussion. Box office receipts lead the Monday morning news. Salaries for athletes, performers, CEOs and hedge fund managers are defended as what the market will bear, or that their talents are so specialized, that they are worth the (m)(b)illions Stock market programs lead the ratings. And we have, to use a timely phrase, bought the goods. Literally. We are in an unending war in Iraq because George W. Bush decided to lie about the threat it posed to the country. It poses a threat now, but only because of his policies. President Obama never confronted Syria over its use of chemical weapons. The middle of the country was left to rot and ruin while international trade took jobs from the working class.

Donald Trump was elected to clean all this up, and in some ways he's tried to do that. The problem is that his methods and policies are informed by conspiracy theories, FOX News hosts who know he's watching and feed him a steady diet of fear for him to tweet to the general public, and his own wide, bloated, unending ignorance of the law, the constitution, and basic manners. So when I read the article above, I saw the point that Mr. McCarthy was trying to make. The problem is that the course Donald Trump has followed has been disastrous for the country, and now for him.

To address a few of McCarthy's points, Mr. Trump is more than crude. He uses vile, divisive language that attacks people and calls them unfit, traitorous and dangerous simply for disagreeing with him.

He is being impeached not for doing something analogous to Vice President Biden's asking the Ukrainian President to investigate corruption in his own administration, but because Trump believed in a debunked conspiracy theory and wanted Biden investigated to help Trump get elected.

There might not be direct evidence of Trump working with Vladimir Putin, but the effect of Trump's policies and pronouncements have benefited Putin handsomely, from taking his word that Russia didn't interfere in the 2016 election to denying Ukraine aid to fight the Russians.

Donald Trump might have been elected to transform America's foreign policy, but he has done nothing of the sort, except to make it worse. Our allies don't trust us, he's made decisions in a moment based on faulty information, and refuses to think about the long-term effects of his actions. When Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, Racep Tayyip Erdogan, and Xi Jinping have all played you, you're not making anything better. Remember that we sold out the Kurds so we could keep the oil, at a time when the last thing the world needs is more oil. Isn't that where our foreign policy went awry in the first place? In 1919?

And now the president is putting himself in the middle of the military justice system, going beyond his powers as Commander-in-Chief to act as both judge and jury. Please tell me how that helps the country.

If a minority of the country's voters want a president who bathes in conspiracy and wants to bend the law to his own benefit, then they should vote for that. It doesn't mean that it's the right thing or the moral thing or the legal thing. Because its isn't.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Conspiracy of One

It began with conspiracy theories and it might well end because of conspiracy theories.

Not that I needed any other reason to oppose Donald Trump before he became president, because he was a publicity-addicted real estate developer who lied, cheated, withheld payments from people who did work from him, declared bankruptcy six times, and was (is) a vile, prejudiced, sexist, but the main reason I disqualified him was his belief in the conspiracy theory that president Obama was not born in this country. That sort of lazy, disjointed intellect is a sign that you are susceptible to other manipulators who can seize on your confusion to sow doubt, fear, and chaos.

Pretty much the Trump presidency so far, no?

Now it's a conspiracy theory that has Ukraine, not Russia, hacking into, and apparently harboring, the Democrats' computer server that led to Hillary Clinton's defeat in 2016. The president has been told that this is, in fact, a conspiracy theory and that his own intelligence services know that it was Russia that hacked the computers, but he either doesn't learn good or doesn't care. Ether way, his failure to analyze is why he's on the brink of impeachment.

And that doesn't even take into account his denial of climate change, labeling it a Chinese hoax, or his saying that millions of illegal immigrant's votes were the reasons why Hillary had more popular votes than he did. 

It's no wonder, then, that he reacts to verified facts in the way he does, lashing out with language that would appall any American, much less the not-ever-again moral Republican party.

Also, for someone who demands blind loyalty in his appointees and employees, the president is remarkably eager to undermine, attack and intimidate anybody who even seems to disagree with him. He's churned through appointees and cabinet members and doesn't even bother to fill vacancies he's not interested in. He doesn't seem to read briefing books or to be interested in policy nuances. What we're left with is being governed by the gut instincts of someone who is ill-informed about how the United States government works, constitutional laws and norms, and plain old decent behavior. 

It's beyond absurd.

Which is why it's imperative that the Democrats nominate a candidate who can stand up to him, expose his ignorance, and attract wavering Republicans and Independents who voted for him last time. I believe that candidate is already in the field and that neither Mike Bloomberg nor Deval Patrick will turn out to be anything other than late entrants who make headlines, but nothing else.

The election in less than one year away. Please register to vote if you are eligible, and help to register people who will vote for common sense and decency.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 10, 2019

I Like Mike

And Pete, Joe, Elizabeth, Bernie, Amy and all the rest. As in more presidential election years, I would like to take the best policies of all the candidates and roll them into one person. perhaps in a few years we'll be able to do that, but for now we are limited by scientific laws, or at least the ones that rational people still adhere to. And truth be told, I will likely vote for a rusty nail if the Democrats nominate one, rather than vote for a president who uses vile language and is more comfortable with fear, blame, and fiction than he is with actually running the country.

But back to the nominees. I am at the point now where I don't believe the Democrats should nominate Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. If last week's elections told us anything (again), it's that the vast middle of American voters truly wants a president who will reflect policies that will make their lives easier or more productive. They don't want fear and attacks from the right, so why would they want them from the left? I understand what Sanders and Warren are saying, and in I completely agree that our culture has been too tolerant of social and economic inequality and that we need to fix the problems that are associated with them. Moving too far to the left will not attract the people the Democrats need to win in November.

What about Mike? I think he has some very strong strengths in terms of his style, his ideas, his record, and the fact that he used to be a moderate Republican and is now a moderate Democrat. He certainly has his weaknesses: Stop and Frisk, being a billionaire, being a technocrat, and his policy on guns, which will not be popular with people he'll need to win over. The key will be how he communicates his message and how he will address those on the left who are suspicious of his moderation and his wealth. It would be a great sign if he were to actually and forcefully come out against the carried interest rule, which would send the message that the very wealthy need to pay their fair share. It's a better message than soaking the rich, and it would raise needed revenue to pay for health care and education.

It took 40 years for the country to move as far to the right as we are now. Moving back to the far left will not happen in this one election and nominating a candidate who promises to do that will, I think, be a great mistake. Change occurs slowly and Democrats need to respect the fact that many people like the Republican stances on immigration and foreign policy, but they don't like the way Donald Trump is conducting those policies. The Democratic nominee has to be one who addresses those concerns and offers a more respectable, more responsible, more thoughtful response, as opposed to the disjointed, fearful, emotional screeds we hear daily from the White House.

Nominate a moderate who can talk about the day-to-day issues that concern most Americans in a way that assures them that Democrats will run the country in a fair, equitable manner. Run a hard-fought campaign and don't be afraid to confront the president on his lies and his ignorance.

That's the path to victory.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 3, 2019

November's Debate Will Be Decisive

We are at the point now where the Democratic candidates for president need to break out or go home. It looks like we will lose some key voices, such as Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, and Beto O'Rourke has already left the building. The November debate could also be the turning point for Andrew Yang and Julian Castro, though the latter had a late surge in fundraising which allowed him to qualify for the show.

Then there was the Iowa poll that showed Elizabeth Warren leading the pack, and a new national poll that shows Biden with a lead not just among Democrats, but a 12 point lead over the president. And it's got FOX News written all over it. Another poll puts Biden in the lead, but with a smaller margin and some caveats about his policy positions and performance on the campaign trail.

This week also saw Warren give some details about what will likely be a $20 trillion dollar plan to pay for her Medicare for all health policy. Other estimates put the cost at $34 trillion because she seems to be overestimating just how efficient the government can run the program, but you get the idea. It's going to be expensive and it redistributes the tax system so that the ultra wealthy pay a lot more.

Many people have criticized the plan because they say it will ultimately require middle class taxpayers to pay more too, but I'd like to see how much the middle class will save in health insurance premiums in return for tax increases. I'm thinking that those will turn out to be far less than the premiums, making it a net gain for most earners. Warren, and the press, need to publicize that aspect of her plan.

Pete Buttigieg is also rising in these polls and is fourth in both Iowa and nationally. He and Amy Klubichar are hoping they can build on their more moderate positions in the November debate and attract those who are wary of the Warren?Sanders left and the more jittery Biden supporters who are unsure that he can rise above his other debate performances.

November's debate will be key because there are no debates in December, and then only a month before the voting begins, so each candidate will be looking for that signature moment, or to quell any concerns from past debates.  In the end, this election will come down to the Midwestern states that the president won in 2016, and possibly North Carolina. Texas is still a long-shot.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 27, 2019

At a Time of Less, Schools Need More

I realize that the country is going to get precious little in terms of public education out of the know-nothings who are presently in charge, and the chief of that group, Betsy DeVos, has unfortunately stayed on while other cabinet members have fallen away due to having some common sense or scandals that in previous administrations wouldn't allow them to be unattended in Lafayette Park, much less have an office in the White House.

And honestly, I can't say that I supported President Obama's approach to education because it relied far too heavily on punishing teachers for student test scores that might be influenced by some minor inconveniences like poverty, divorce, disease, hunger, or emotional problems. At least, though, Obama had some understanding of the importance of the public school system. DeVos and Trump are happy to let the system atrophy on the alter of private enterprise and competition, without seeing that every school, no matter where it is located, must provide a thorough, excellent, modern education for the children who attend.

With the budget deficit reaching $1 trillion dollars, I can't imagine that there will be any new federal spending on education, and the states are constrained by their requirements to balance their budgets. Yes teachers education professionals continue to strike, not just over pay, but over the health of their students. This article details many of the demands that these professionals are making, and in many cases they're not about salary.

One of the most troubling facts is that only 39% of schools employs a full-time nurse. That's shockingly low, even if there's a part-time person or a nurse on call. All schools should have a full-time nurse because you never know when a child will need one, and any delay can result in a tragedy. The same is true for school psychologists and an adequate number of guidance counselors. More and more children now rely on these vital resources, yet districts are not providing them in numbers to meet the demand.

The political winds have shifted back to the states on education after a robust era that began with George W. Bush. The result is less federal influence and more local control. This is generally how we've run education for most of our history, but with local control come local constraints, and most of those are fiscal. This means that school districts that struggle to raise funds will continue to do so and will not be able to adapt to the changing needs of their constituents.

Remember that we're talking about children. We must meet our obligations.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Just When You Think It Can't Get Worse

Given what we know about the president's ability to sink lower and lower as the weeks pass, I am hesitant to say that we've reached rock bottom in his swampy, immoral, ill-informed, and ignorant administration, but we're getting close. This, of course, is not a soothing thought, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Republicans are rebuking him over his unconscionable sell-out of the Kurds, and every day there's a new revelation in the tar pit of his Ukrainian outrage. Mick Mulvaney admitted that the president tied American military support to Ukrainian acquiescence to investigating Joe Biden and the wayward computer server that the president believes holds the key to Democratic malfeasance in the 2016 election. Mick took back his words later in the day, but we can always roll the tape. And we have.

The president is going to be impeached. There's no doubt about that. And there will be a trial in the Senate that even Mitch McConnell can't ignore, simply because a majority of Americans believe there is evidence that the president did something wrong. As the weeks pass, there will be more evidence, and the old evidence is not going to go away because it's been verified. So it can only get worse. How much worse is the key detail.

That Trump believes he's doing a great job will be his undoing, because he obviously believes that he can do no wrong, make no wrong decision, or be held accountable for his actions because he believes that it's all a plot by the Democrats, or those government employees who don't agree with him. Change American foreign policy with an off-hand comment? Write a letter that a high school junior would be embarrassed to send (and they've told me how embarrassed they would be to send such a letter)? Curse your way through a campaign rally? Ignore the Constitution?  Just another day at the White House.

And this business of holding the 2020 G7 summit meeting at Trump's Doral Hotel in Miami? Tone deaf doesn't even begin to tell the story, but he doesn't care and probably doesn't even see what the fuss might be. It's Chris Christie on a closed beach. No conflict of interest here, my fellow Americans. It's terrible.

Our allies are incredulous and are concerned about our trustworthiness and commitment to the stability of the world. We can sign as many bilateral trade agreements as the president wants, but that's not going to solve the issue of our foreign policy. In fact, I see that as disadvantageous. Our strength, and the strength of democracy in the face of dictators and theocrats, is in our numbers and our alliances. These are under threat.

And have I mentioned that next year is an election? Get registered. Vote.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 13, 2019

But Now for Something Completely Different - Sport.

With great thanks to Monty Python. I had no idea that you could read all of the episodes online.

But back to sport. I was thinking the other day, after China rolled its collective ankle over a pro-Hong Kong tweet by a Houston Rockets executive, about the time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when athletes adopted Islamic names. I know, I know; how quaint, right? An athlete changing their name to match their religion today would yield precious little backlash on the social media.


I also remembered Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. And having the Australian who won the bronze sympathize with them. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And Ahmad Rashad. And the others. There was a significant backlash, but on the end, sports enthusiasts generally accepted the changes.

Money changes everything. Remember when Micheal Jordan refused to get involved in the political debates of the 1980s and 90s? Or the relative peace within the Olympic movement after the fall of apartheid and the Soviet Union? Those days are now gone. Sports is a huge business, and having the Chinese buy stuff is every sports marketer's dream. That's why the tweet was a wake up call. The temperature lowered a bit at the end of the week, but this episode will not go away.

The athletes who now represent their sports grew up in the same political and social milieu as the rest of us, and they see themselves as more than just paid athletes. They are role models, ambassadors, social media stars and, yes, political animals. They speak out against police actions, injustice, sexism, economic inequality, and now, international affairs. Well, at least the team executives do. I also remember when American athletes protested the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq. They were not labeled traitors. Carlos Delgado, who played for the Mets, and is not an American citizen, came under criticism for not coming out of the dugout for the national anthem. Sports radio provided lame attacks, but in the end, he didn't change his behavior. Lebron James tweets back when the president attacks him.

And honestly, someone has to stand up to the Chinese. They have had an outsized influence on the world economy because sellers want to sell to a billion people. But when we are, I believe, on the brink of a Chinese incursion into Hong Kong, someone also has to stand up for justice and democracy. It's not going to come from the White House, so it might as well come from more famous people who have morals. I understand that some of the athletes want to keep their noses out of the fray. Self-preservation, higher salaries and all that.

If you want to stand up to a bully, though, you need to have the right argument. And we do.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Smoking Cannon

So much evidence, so little time.

It seems like every time the president speaks, he says something that could be construed as abuse of power or something that the founders clearly meant to protect us from. Trump calls these things, "perfect."

Now comes the unraveling. The president is obviously not going to get contrite. He's getting angrier and angrier and his communications are getting more and more abusive, personal and vile. He's clearly angry because Rudy and his other sycophants probably told him that what he was asking of foreign leaders was perfectly fine, and that in their opinion, the president cannot be the subject of a criminal complaint while in office. Of course, that's just conjecture and will have to be tested before a judge, but I'm thinking that once somebody tells the president something he wants to hear, then the president takes this as an iron-clad guarantee of correctness.

Uh oh.

There's that darned United States Constitution in the way again.

And the real issue is that most of the other people who work in government know what the rules are and that what the president has either asked them to do or what he's done under the impression that everything a president does is legal, is actually not. The next phase of this drama has already begun. It's where the civil servants and the credentialed professionals, as opposed to the aforementioned sycophants, begin to talk, release documents, ask for whistle-blower status, hire attorneys, or seek bargains. They will not give up their humanity or morals for a president who seems to have left his in Queens, exactly at the spot where Trump and his father decided to build apartments, but not rent them to African-Americans.

We are almost at the "my kingdom for a horse" moment. But first, the president has to repeat conspiracy theories while accusing Joe Biden of something for which there is no evidence. He must curse and sputter and offer excuse after contradicting excuse to cover his behavior. Then he will ask the last of his sycophants to fall on their professional and person swords. And some will.

In the end, though, his behavior makes the country less secure, more divided, and sullied by the mud he's slinging.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Calling the Impeachment Bluff

Well. That was predictable.

And given that the administration has also moved phone calls to Russian and Saudi leaders into a classifies computer shows you just how common it is for the president to embarrass, at the least, and be criminally liable, at the worst, when performing his presidential duties. This president, though, has always been woefully unprepared to be president, both temperamentally and intellectually, and clearly believes that anything goes in foreign policy because, well, he has advisers who who have supported that view.

And this was not just Trump's interpretation. The powers, both real and perceived, have grown exponentially since the end of World War II, and were greatly enhanced in the Nixon White House because of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Until now, though, we've had presidents who understood the constitution and the basic ideas of democratic republicanism. Now we have an executive who thinks he has unlimited powers and doesn't understand how to use the system to get his agenda passed.

Which also makes Trump's lament that an impeachment inquiry will bring his legislative program to a halt the howler he doesn't recognize it to be. He had two years of Republican rule and barely got a terrible tax cut bill passed. He could have started with infrastructure and had a bipartisan agreement  on something that would help the whole country. When you rule through your base, you don't go very far.

So here we are, facing months of investigation because the president put us here. And I'm sure there are more revelations to be learned, more finger-pointing, more resignations and more vile, unrepentant, personal attacks from a graceless man who considers himself history's greatest victim. I don't know what else he expected when he released the transcripts of his phone call with the Ukrainian president and essentially confirmed everything the whistle-blower's report contained. The president is the perpetrator, not the victim, and thankfully we have people in the government who see his actions as undemocratic and dangerous. Add in the fact that Rudy Giuliani was acting as a de facto Secretary of State, and you can see why this scandal is so grave.

Unlike the Mueller Report, which showed the president trying his best to cover up and ask people to do illegal things, and his people delaying, stonewalling and denying his requests, we have a clarifying situation here where the president has been caught red-handed perpetrating an offense that he doesn't see as a problem.

That's a problem. And like Nixon, but unlike Clinton, there is far more below the surface of his actions that will reveal him to be the unfit leader we always suspected he was.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Pollution Politics

If Bill de Blasio quits a presidential race that nobody knew he was in, does his dropping out count as news? It's not like there will be one less person on the debate stage, because he missed this month's event due to no poll numbers.

So we move on.

If this week's news didn't raise the usual alarms about four more years of Donald Trump, then I don't know what will. Climate change denial, suing California because it had the audacity to vote against him and run a surplus on liberal policies and economics, a whistle-blower's complaint about the president seeming to withhold aid to Ukraine because that country's president didn't investigate Joe Biden and/or his son.

Seems to be part of the playbook.

Perhaps I'm especially naive, but I can't understand why anyone would want to allow more industries to pollute the air and water. The automobile industry is even against the rollbacks on gas mileage that the president wants to implement. The coal industry is all but dead. Companies can look forward to massive lawsuits and significant responses on social media if they try to foul the country. Yet, the president plows on for no greater reason than to undo President Obama's policies not because they are bad policies, but because they are Obama's. In the end, history will not reward the polluter. And once Trump is out of office, the final push to cleaner fuels, air and water, will benefit the country.

The young people who protested this past Friday represent the future in more ways than just political. I hope they will vote in numbers that compare with the people who showed up to protest, although if the past is any guide, it will take them a few years to get into the ballot box. In the meantime, governments around the country and the world will have to contend with the new climate realities: wetter storms, warmer days, less colder days, (which will lead to more insects), floods and erosion. And these negatives will outweigh any positives that might come from warming, such as longer growing seasons and new crops in new latitudes. We will need new leaders who will make the difficult choices and count on our neighbors to do the right things.

We won't get this leadership from the crew that's presently in Washington. They want policies that will make things worse. Democrats will need to continue to press for the new ideas that will hold companies accountable and set reasonable standards for pollution and emissions. This should clearly be the main focus of the next Democratic debate.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Debating the Future

Fourteen million people can't be wrong. That's how many people watched Thursday's Democratic Presidential debate. This live TV thing might have some legs after all.

It was interesting to see all of those candidates on one stage, and the moderators were good about making sure that everyone had enough time to answer questions. It's certainly time to winnow down the field even more, but the rules is the rules and as long as Andrew Yang gets his two percent, he'll be in the mix.

I still think that seriously entertaining the demise of the private health insurance industry is folly and will harm any Democratic nominee more than help them, but at least they are discussing it seriously. Much has been written about president Trump's abilities in debates and his baked-in advantage among Midwestern whites, but in a one-on-one debate about health care, he's got...nothing. Any of the Democrats should be able to pummel him about trying to take health care away from people with pre-existing conditions and for having not a clue about how to solve the problem despite his rantings about announcing a plan after the election. Real people care about this issue because it's something we live with on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps the Democratic nominee can agree on a public option as a start, with a goal of Medicare for all down the road.

The debate was notable for what it didn't do: Anoint Joe Biden as the undisputed front-runner. I would have thought that he and his advisers would have come up with some one-liners or retorts more catchy than something about record players. Biden's brain seemed to be two blocks ahead of his mouth at times and he had difficulty clarifying many of his points. At other times, it was difficult to follow his logic. Elizabeth Warren, by contrast, was assured and specific, and she spoke clearly. Amy Klobuchar also had some terrific points and I believe she would make a fine nominee, but the party is not moving in her direction. And Kamala Harris seemed a bit hesitant at times, speaking in a monotone with an inflection that clouded her positions. She's still in the top tier, but next month is her last chance to seize the day.

As long as Democrats are talking about issues that motivated people to vote for them in 2018, then they have a chance to win.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Democratic Wind is Shifting

Maybe not Joe.

The Democratic presidential field has narrowed to a one-day debate later this month, and that will do wonders for the candidates who will take the stage. We will finally see Biden, Warren, Harris, Sanders and the rest question each other and put their best policy faces on display. But the winds have shifted a bit since the midsummer debates and although Joe Biden leads most polls, Elizabeth Warren has the heart of a significant percentage of the Democratic Party.

Biden has been running on his ability to defeat the president, and he is leading most head-to-head polls, but the question remains whether he can put together some policy proposals that will gain headlines and minds. Warren has a policy proposal for every issue and she is connecting with more crowds the more she speaks and campaigns, especially this weekend in New Hampshire. The question surrounding her, though, at least as posed by the punditry, is whether she can win because she's being too specific, too left wing, or too female.

It's telling that in the era of the sharpie debate we are skeptical about a candidate because she is too focused on policy. As if the president actually has any. Or anything other than a racial slur against her, age jokes about Biden and accusations of socialism against anyone else who sees that we should not be encouraging the use of fossil fuels, allowing more air pollution, or giving corporations the ability to police their own industries. I'm thinking that appealing to the majority of the voting population, you know, the ones that didn't vote for Donald Trump, who will want a cleaner, safer, more forward-thinking United States for their children is a smart campaign strategy.

And know this: if the economy declines further or enters into a recession before the election, then Elizabeth Warren immediately becomes the front-runner. She's talking about reigning in big banks and giving people with mortgages and bills the power to demand and win concessions from the people who run the economy. Two of Barack Obama's great weaknesses were that he didn't run against the banks and provide enough bailout money for homeowners who lost everything while the financiers and CEO made billions. And still do. I'm thinking that Warren won't repeat those mistakes.

Joe Biden might regain his footing. One of the other candidates might break out during the debates. It's still early, but it's getting later quickly. All of the Democrats need to keep their eyes on the issues and not get distracted by Mr. Sharpie. Make the argument that addresses health care, child care, education, and housing. We have a president who is supported by a minority of voters, Never forget that.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Monday, September 2, 2019

The New School Year

Oh, the power of education.

An entire regime is afraid of students learning about how to implement, live, and protect democracy. It is fearful of teachers and students and, most of all, ideas that dare to invite debate, disagreement and division.

Welcome to the new school year.

Most of the country is already back at school and we here in the northeast will follow them next week. Time, though, has not changed the issues that face teachers as we return to our classrooms. We are still confronted with a funding crisis that does not seem to be ebbing. Safety, standardized testing, technology in the classroom, inequalities based on race, class, and ability levels, teacher salaries, bullying, and class size continue to be compelling challenges to our system of education. It is incumbent upon all educators to keep the public informed about these issue and how we intend to address them, but we also need to make sure the public knows how they can help us with our task.

Gone are some of the attacks on teachers that were part of the political discussion under governors such as Chris Christie, and now teachers in states where pay is abysmal, unions are illegal, and educators' responsibilities grow exponentially are becoming more politically active and are flexing their collective muscles. As the economy improves and people are finding work, questions about teacher pay and benefits seem to have moderated. It's nice not to be an enemy.

But the challenges remain. Schools are not quite as welcoming as they used to be as a response to concerns over safety. Money is always an issue. And students come to school in ever more fragile states, whether from hunger, anxiety, classified learning disabilities, and depression. They also have been the recipients of a curriculum that seems to favor skills and well-being at the expense of facts, subject matter and intellectual debate.

As always, our job as educators is to ensure that this generation of children gets as thorough and interesting and relevant an education as we can provide given our resources, and to ask that the pool of resources expand to meet our tasks.

May you have a terrific year.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 25, 2019


Sometimes the best strategy is to do nothing at all. President Trump hasn't learned that lesson, and it's going to cost him and us.

The president is ordering (ordering!) Americans to stop buying from China and for our companies to leave the Chinese market and build products in other countries or the United States. And he's ordered (ordered!) package carriers to search all packages for drugs. Not only is this farcical from a political angle, it makes little economic sense. China does need to follow trade rules and stop pirating intellectual property, but clearly, and it was clear years ago, that getting into a trade war with them was not going to change their behavior. President Xi is just as much of a nationalist dictator as Trump would like to be, but Xi really can unilaterally make demands that President Trump cannot, so ordering citizens and companies via Twitter is just another sign that the president doesn't really know how our system of government works.

Economically, the Chinese market is far too big and powerful for the United States to ignore or abandon it and I think the president knows that, though I can't be too sure about what he actually knows. Further, the way to force China to change is through sustained economic pressure, but since the president withdrew us from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was designed to do just that, we are. Yes, the TPP did need a review and updating, but now we got...nothing except another example of the president misreading his own power and ignorance of what the economic numbers really mean.

But of course the president could follow his own advice and just say, "fine" to the Chinese action. After all, that's what he called for the Danish Prime Minister to say, rather that to paint his absurd plan to buy Greenland as "absurd." Because most sober-minded people saw it as an absurd gambit to buy a huge swath of land for its oil at a time when we should not be investing heavily in resources that are fossil-based.

My take is that he was insulted, and maybe embarrassed because a powerful woman, and a white woman at that!, dismissed his perceived manhood by calling his proposal what it was. But since he can't call for her to be jailed or sent back to the place where she came from, he had to throw an international hissy fit and cancel his visit. And after what he's called fellow Americans, such as calling Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell an "enemy," who have opposed him for good reasons, and people in his own cabinet, his saying that nobody talks to Americans like that is just too laughable to be taken as anything but the  disconnected rantings of someone who doesn't read his own words.

And as a disloyal Jewish-American who votes Democratic and believes that peace will only return to the Middle East if Palestinian demands are taken seriously, I am beyond incensed that this president can rake the killing field and give oxygen to the most noxious anti-Semitic language and images for his own political gain. Bad people will take bad actions because of this. It's happened before; it will happen again.

Reality shows thrive on the chaos of what could happen next. Real reality needs order and trust and unity. The president is doing real and sustained damage to the country by undercutting our allies, labeling our citizens as threats, and making pronouncements that make little sense in any context.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 11, 2019

We're the New Jews

Welcome to the club.

And there's more to come.

This is all being driven by the sworn enemies of functioning democracy: Fear, suspicion, accusations of being an "other" or anti-whatever the fear-mongers want to define as their normal, anxiety, and loss of a way of life. Immigration might be behind much of the problem, but there's more. We are two or three generations removed from the horrors of World War Two and worlds removed from the Great War of a hundred years ago. People forget, then the new students never learn, or don't learn well enough of the dangers that led to those catastrophes. Nationalism. Imperialism. Militarism. Shifting alliances with weak or no oversight.

We are living is similar, but also vastly different times. Nationalism is rising and many countries have drawn sharp lines between who is acceptable and who is not. International tensions are rising because leaders like Xi, Kim, Duterte, Orban, Modi, Putin and Trump are feeding the fear and the uncertainty rather than trying to find common ground and common solutions.

I would be surprised if the Congress votes on, and passes, meaningful gun legislation that would require background checks and taking guns away from those who are deemed dangerous to themselves or society. I hope it happens, but we've all seen this before. There's a great outrage, then the defenders of unlimited gun rights turn to their favorite causes; mental illness and video games.

I've read the posts on social media and they make sense. Why is it that the vast majority of mass shootings are done by white males? Don't video games affect other ethnic groups. If so, why aren't they as affected as whites? If not, what the heck is wrong with white males? And why aren't we looking at the mental health of suspected foreign terrorists? Why just throw them is Guantanamo if the real problem is much deeper than that they simply hate America?

And, of course, there's the old standby: None of the proposed legislation would have prevented whatever massacre has just occurred. So let's do nothing. That's the trick.

Meanwhile, Hispanics are feeling targeted, and with good reason. The president's rhetoric since he started his campaign has labeled them as everything negative, from dealing drugs to joining gangs to fomenting crime to taking our jobs to marrying our women. He can't escape that and he certainly can't deny that his words have created an atmosphere that allows and encourages those people who can't process the nuances to take action.

This is what happens when politically correct speech is stripped away. People can say what they truly believe and, unfortunately, we've realized that there are a whole lot of racists out there who've been holding their words. In a way, it's good to know who they are. In a worse way, it's terrible to know that they are our neighbors, our friends, and our elected leaders.

If you want this to change, then the change begins with us. Speak out. March. Post. Get involved with a community group. Vote. For different people.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Message That Wins

I didn't watch any of the Democratic debates this past week, preferring not to be pandered, lied or appealed to in electronic form. I do read the electronic versions of newspapers and periodicals, but I mostly skip the videos. Spare me the TV moments. I want substance. But that's hard to come by these days.

Yes, that Triceratops skull was mine.

So as the President's security helicopters fly over my house (he's in NJ this weekend), I am reminded that he really needs to be defeated in 2020. The problem so far is that the Democrats need to solidify their message so it attracts the widest possible public support. As much as I like what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are saying about how to narrow the wealth gap and that the ability to pay should not determine whether you are able to get a quality education or health care that cares for your health, I think that their ideas are akin to what many reactionary Republicans were running on in 1980. They appeal to the farther reaches of the party, but will take time before they become popular and palatable ideas for mainstream audiences.

Please do not get me wrong. The ideas that reactionary Republicans were running on beginning in 1980 were noxious, odoriferous, racist, pro-corporate, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, pro-fossil fuel and all of the policies that are now, you got it, mainstream in the party. It took a good long while for many people to come around to the idea that corporate taxes should be slashed and that unions should be deligitimized.

And that's where we are with the most radical of the Democrats' ideas. Perhaps in ten years we will have fully funded college tuition, a health care system where people can get effective care at a low cost, an orderly, humane immigration system, and climate policy that promotes clean energy, but right now I would say that those are aspirational policies, not ones that will get a Democrat elected. The more moderate voters Democrats need to keep or pry away from the GOP are not all in on scrapping the health coverage they get at work or paying significantly higher taxes in return for tuition guarantees, nor do they agree that people should be able to cross the border without penalties.

What I would suggest is that the Democrats start answering every question by questioning the president's actions on the issues because the president's actions are unpopular and so is he. Talk about pollution that will result from burning more oil, his denial of climate change, the tariffs that we (not the Chinese) will be paying for in higher prices, his coddling of dictators, and the extent he and his advisers went to legitimize Russian influence in our democracy. Talk about decency and equality and the rank racism that infects every corner of his administration. Provide a stark contrast.

At this point, I think that Joe Biden is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump. Democrats might be weighing his performance in the two debates, but most other people aren't paying attention yet, so he still has time to refine his message and his performance. If he proves otherwise, I will reassess my position.

Never forget that Donald Trump was elected as a minority candidate by the slimmest of margins, and he's done more to alienate than to unite. Most people do not agree with him.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Monday, July 29, 2019

This Ain't Populism

Language is indeed the first casualty of war. Or social movements.

Take Populism. Please. When people feel that elites and government operatives are disregarding their concerns, they will turn to politicians who promise to restore the power rightfully to them. It sounds so romantic and democratic and in some cases can right the wrongs and re-balance the power structure in society. Populism as it's being practiced now, though, is getting frightening.

In Brazil, populism is being used as an excuse to cut down more of the Amazon rain forest in the name of economic growth and jobs. In Poland, it's being used as an excuse to demonize the LGBTQ community and to paint them as unpatriotic and a danger to the morals of society. In England, Boris Johnson was elected Prime Minister on a platform that will result in that country leaving the European Union, whether there is a deal with the resat of Europe or not. There are more examples, with Hungary, the Philippines, and India being the more relevant. In every case, the people have elected, or given their consent to, governments that are far more nationalistic, restrictive, phobic, and strident than we've seen since World War II.

President Trump continues to call himself a populist and a nationalist, but his appeal is narrow and much of his message clashes with the reality of what's happening in the country. The economy is producing jobs, but he's had to bail out the farmers to the tune of $16 billion in order to safeguard them from destructive tariffs that are severely hurting their trade with China. But corporations are gaining more powers by the month as his administration peels back regulations that served to protect ordinary Americans from pollution, faulty products, predatory lenders, health care protections, and safety protocols.

As in other countries, though, the president has sided not with the majority of the people, but with the narrow group that elected him, labeling anyone who opposes him as less than patriotic and a danger to society. He seems to believe that demonizing groups who have traditionally had less power in this country will bolster his credentials as the champion of real America, whatever that is. And of course, he's said that if you don't agree with his vision of the country, then you should leave. Or go to Baltimore.

What I would really like to see is the president proposing some solutions. How can we fix the problems that plague both rural and urban areas of our country? More specifically, what happened with this great infrastructure initiative that the president was supposed to propose, fund, and lead? Last I heard, he met with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer for five minutes, then bounded out of the Oval Office and began complaining about the two of them.

This is an issue that has appeal across party and geographical lines, but there is no leadership from the federal government. We need upgrades to airports, highways, trains and bridges that would put more people to work and would increase productivity because people would be able to get to their jobs more efficiently and with reduced delays. Perhaps other countries would invest further if they knew we were investing in ourselves. The president should be leading this, but he is not.

Democrats should take up this issue, along with health care, as the leading issues in the campaign. Every candidate needs to be talking about these every day and reminding the country that the White House is not doing anything to help. Drop the impeachment talk. Stop being baited so easily every time the president decides he wants to play the race card. Turn the discussion around: Ask the president what he's doing to solve the problem. Remind the country about what he's not done. Perhaps I'm more naive than most, but I can't help but think that his attacks on Americans who are minorities or women will backfire with the majority of American voters.

In the end, this election will turn on whether people believe that their lives are better than they were before the previous election. That's the case that Democrats need to make. I'm not saying that they should ignore the noxious things the president says about his opponents or offenses he might have committed. Just don't let them define the campaign. Keep the focus on the issues that a majority of people care about.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 21, 2019

No Steps Forward, Four Steps Back

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

It struck me that telling people with whom you don't agree should leave the country is both one of the most anti-American and, well, American phrases we have in our political lexicon.

It also struck me that here we have a president who bathes in conspiracy theories, was elected on a platform that pointed out how terrible everything was in the country under Presidents Obama and Bush, and made an inauguration speech that talked about carnage in the cities, but nobody told him to go back to...wherever.

Because telling someone to leave the United States is also the last refuge of those who have trouble with the idea that we actually live in a representative democracy, and that it's a messy form of government. That you have to tolerate offensive speech. That as a leader, you must be responsible for your actions and the actions other take in response to your leadership. Telling someone to leave is intellectually lazy because then you don't have to engage that person in a debate or take ownership of your ideas in a discussion or an argument.

What truly bothers me the most, though, is the number of people who see that asking someone to leave the country because they are criticizing it is a legitimate response. It is not. And as I've said before, I don't hear the president asking white Democrats or undocumented people from Russia, Poland or any other European country to leave.

In the end, though, Democrats have to rise above this and not get into a fight on the president's terms. He's not going to run for reelection on issues that might make this country better. He's going to fight the small fight against people, not for ideas. Democrats have to run on how they are going to make this country better, and how most people's lives will become more productive, less stressful, and more focused on improving ourselves, our environment, and our culture.

Remember that 54% of the voters in 2016 voted against Donald Trump. They need to be reminded why. And those who voted for him but see him for the divider that he is must be reminded why they should vote for a Democrat in 2020. That's the goal. The only goal.

Lose sight of it at your peril.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Raids on Common Sense

When all you have is fear, then that's how you live. The president has set today as the day that I.C.E. raids on undocumented immigrants will begin. As policy, this is terrible. As an expression of a governing philosophy, it is unconscionable. But it makes sense when you consider that the president sees no difference between undocumented people and those from immigrant families who serve in Congress. They are both threats, illegitimate, the "other."

I will not go as far as some of the Democrats running for president and say that crossing the border should be decriminalized, or even say that undocumented immigrants who cross the border and don't abide by the laws or skip their hearings or commit crimes should be allowed to stay in this country. After all, Barack Obama's administration deported more people than any other president in our history. What I am saying is that we need laws and procedures to make sure that people who have contributed to this country are treated with some respect, and that their children, whether they are citizens or not, should be given every opportunity to stay in the United States rather than to be sent back to a country that is dysfunctional and/or dangerous.

The key, though, is to reform the immigration system. It is interesting to note that the most hostile, anti-immigrant, xenophobic president we've had in a long time is the one who presides over a border that is in chaos. In large part that's because he is all talk and precious little action, and he has no idea how to garner the public and political support he needs from all segments of the country in order to get Congress to act. This is obviously a shortcoming that spans all issues, but since this is the one that got him elected, you'd think that he'd work more assiduously on it. He seems to think that executive orders and heated racist rhetoric will solve the problem.

It's made it worse.

Therefore, the raids. When in doubt, use the power of the militia. That's the manner in which he's run the country as president. It's made us more rigid, more divided, less compassionate, and decidedly not great.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Income Gap and Education

We talk so much about the differences between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else that sometimes we miss the smaller, but far more potent, differences within the middle class. And when those differences affect young children, the ramifications become far more discriminatory. An article today shows this in glaring fashion.

It concerns prekindergarten programs that cater to lower and middle income residents in states and districts that don't have universal instruction. Wealthier families who can afford all-day prekindergarten can take advantage of what many child psychologists and educators already know; that play-based programs that give children the opportunity to interact with their peers, teachers, and a challenging curriculum are more prepared for kindergarten and further learning. Those families that cannot afford these programs now have other options, including an online program that requires a child to use the program for a short time each day. There's no interaction with other children, but students do get a fun, game-based introduction to letters and numbers.

The verdict? It's better than nothing.

Is that really the standard we want to use for American children? The extent to which American society tolerates the gross inequalities in education is scandalous. Money and property values determine the quality of instruction a child is eligible for, and states have to make other choices about education, health care, elderly care, roads, hospitals and other expenditures that are vital to other citizens. For a family to have to settle for an online experience because they lack $164 dollar per week for the more inclusive and educationally sound experience treats children unequally and sends that child to a school system that might not have the resources that will allow them to catch up.

The Trump Administration will certainly do nothing to bridge this gap, save for relying on the same market forces that have created the problem in the first place. More jobs and higher wages will help, but that should not be the deciding factor in whether any child gets a quality education.

Democrats need to support universal prekindergarten programs, and most of the presidential candidates do, and also need to make sure that all children have access to the technology they need in order to compete. This all starts with closing the income gap and ensuring that all school districts have the personnel and programs they need to serve their communities. That also includes smartphones, though, apparently, that can lead to other problems.

The learning gap is already wide. We don't need the income and technology gaps to make it insurmountable.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Democrats Need a Lane Departure Warning: Stay in the Middle.

Yes, I watched enough of the multi-podium press conferences last week to reaffirm my basic belief that this is no way to pick a candidate. For either party. It just so happens that this go-round belongs to the Democrats and they are making good on Will Rogers' observation that this is not an organized political party.

I am heartened by the television ratings--15 million the first night and 18 million the second night--because they are indicators that more Americans are engaged in the electoral process and, I'm guessing, more than a few Trump supporters are looking to the Democrats in 2020. And given that gerrymandering is here to stay, as it always has been, it's imperative that Democrats come out to vote for their local and state races too. That's why it's critical that the party pick a nominee who can excite the broader electorate.

After this past week, though, I didn't see such a candidate.

The newsmakers, Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, helped their causes, and the perceived big loser, Joe Biden will still be leading the polls next week. But the format didn't really allow for any expansive discussion and the sheer number of candidates precluded anyone the public isn't familiar with from breaking out.

The exercise was useful as an introduction to the many candidates. I had not seen Marianne Williamson, Michael Bennet or Mr. Castro speak on the issues, so it was instructive to be able to hear then weigh in. Bernie Sanders didn't disappoint if you're a Bernie Sanders fan, and Bill de Blasio, well, he's not going to be president.

Joe Biden did not do well in his debate. He didn't really finish his thoughts and didn't point to specific legislation that an average voter could point to as one of his major accomplishments. At times, he seemed disengaged, and he set himself up for a television moment when he said that his time had run out. Harris then delivered a not-unfair story of how she was personally affected by busing, but painting Biden as a segregationist-accommodationist because he had to work with southern Democrats in the 1970s defies reality. If you wanted to get anything done in the Senate until the mid-1980s, you had to go through Democratic racists from the south. From that point forward, they became Republican racists.

What any serious student of history will know is that compromise and trading were the orders of the day during that era, and some of the most consequential legislation ever passed by the Congress came out of the 1960s and 70s, including civil rights laws, Medicare and Medicaid, public television, environmental acts, and many anti-poverty bills that have reshaped the country. To get those done, everybody had to give something up, and that's the fatal flaw in the present legislature; compromise is seen as selling out, so very little gets done. Worse, if a politician does dare to attract attention from the other side of the aisle, then they are deemed a heretic to the cause and publicly burned.

Racists voted for civil rights bills. Richard Nixon, an anti-Semite, signed bills to protect Israel. Liberals who would make today's Progressive Caucus seem like Rockefeller Republicans voted to continue the war in Vietnam. And they all did this in the name of compromise. They got something for their constituents out of their deals, whether it was money for farms, mass transit, or social legislation. If Joe Biden had to work with malodorous types, then that's what he had to do. If Kamala Harris is saying that she won't work with people she disagrees with, then she will be another in a long line of ineffective presidents.

The same goes for those who would shut down the private health care system in favor of a government-run program. Slow down. Most Americans do not want that and it's too big a leap to have any success in 2021. Add a public option to the ACA. Allow people to form cooperatives that cross state lines. The key is access. We can do it incrementally, and we should.

The Democrats need to focus on what Americans need to live more productive lives. It includes health care and tuition and economic equality and accepting people of all stripes and giving Dreamers a path to citizenship. It might not include punishing banks and making the 11 million undocumented people in this country citizens. Or even legal. Or providing them with health insurance. The party, and their candidate, needs to run on what the majority of voters see as what we need to solve our most pressing problems. Getting too far ahead of them in the name of making the Democratic base happy will not win the election. In addition, focusing on the young voters is not a winning strategy. Young voters do not come out to vote in the same numbers as other demographic groups, or in the numbers that the media experts think will come out.

Don't let this election become 1964, 1972 or 1984, where the party out-of-power reached too far to the right or left. The president has a minority of the people behind him and he's never been at 50% approval, much less above it. There are reasons for that. Focus on those.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Future is Now for Social Security

Have you thought about Social Security lately? Perhaps it's time.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being told that working, lower and middle class Americans who have worked hard and done right by this country will have to temper their expectations or expect less in Social Security benefits. Or pensions. Or Medicare. This must stop, and we have the power to stop it.

Ever since the Reagan-era adjustment to Social Security, we've seen a long list of proposals that seem to focus on privatizing the system, turning it into a 401(k) retirement program, or simply having it pay out less based on a raised retirement age. Most Americans are living longer, and many are working longer, but the simple truth is that elderly Americans need Social Security to survive, because at some point, you have to stop working, but you still need food and shelter.

What seems to be the main barrier to any meaningful reform is this idea that raising taxes will only hurt the economy. What we've seen over the past 40 years are tax cuts that have blanketed the wealthy with new money and the promise that you too can get wealthy, so why fight against your own self-interest? Usually this is the realm of Republicans, but Democrats too bought into the myth that the stock market and other investments, over time, will enable you to live your golden years in prosperity, and with Social Security as an extra bonus as opposed to a necessity.

This was always a false promise, and those who had the money to support, or run as, politicians who would maintain this dream have done very well for themselves. The result has been an expectation that the middle class will just have to make do with less.

Here in New Jersey, we had Governor Chris Christie tell us that public workers were the actual problem, and that our benefits were too generous, but that raising taxes was a non-starter because that would force wealthier residents to leave the state. We now have a Democratic Senate President, Steve Sweeney, who carried Christie's bucket, refusing to post a millionaire's tax for next year's state budget, insisting instead that public workers need to pay more for their health insurance and pensions.

It's perverse, and it's had a real impact on people's lives. Raises are being wiped away by increasing medical costs, while pensions for both public and private workers are being slashed, cut or canceled.

For Social Security (remember Social Security? This is a post about Social Security), the first action should be for Congress to raise the income limit on the Social Security tax. Right now, all Americans pay Social Security tax up to $132,900 of their income. Obliterate that. Make all Americans pay the tax no matter their income. Why should a high school principal pay the same amount as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, especially when Social Security will mean everything to that worker, but bus fare for the titans of industry?

Or there is this proposal that would not only raise the income level, after a doughnut hole between $132,900 and $400,000 (why?), it would also raise the Social Security tax rate. The payoff, though, is it would increase benefits. The problem is that although it has support in Congress, it doesn't have enough support to overcome the structural obstructionism that is currently in vogue in the legislature. This is reason enough to ask candidates who run for office in 2020 their opinion on this particular bill.

And that's exactly what I will be doing this week. I'll be calling my representative, Tom Malinowski, and the offices of Corey Booker and Robert Menendez, to begin putting pressure on them to support a fix that will put the program on a path to sustainability for the long term. Please try to do the same with your federal representatives.

It's our future, right?

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Going the Wrong Way on Cars and Climate

Serves me right for reading. I come across this article on the automobile industry in my favorite rag and it makes me really stop and think. Not that I think about the auto industry on a regular basis, but here we are at a turning point that has both national and global ramifications.

I had no idea that China was so influential when it comes to car sales in the world. From the article:
China increasingly rules the global auto market and determines its course. In recent years, China’s voracious appetite for vehicles has accounted for almost all of the growth in global sales. Chinese consumers bought 24 million cars last year, far more than any other nation. Americans were a distant second with 17 million cars. General Motors sells far more cars in Asia — 947,000 in the first three months of this year — than it does in the United States.
That's impressive. And it also points out the scary math that I'm sure people think about, but that hasn't been given its due. The United States has about 330 million people and Chin has almost two billion. India has another billion plus. Our birthrate has been dropping for a few years and our chief executive is not fond of growth through immigration. How, then, are we to compete? Tariffs will only go so far and, it seems, will do more harm than good for the workers and suppliers that are making the engines go. Tariffs will also raise prices and cut profit margins. Moreover, young people are moving out of rural and suburban areas into more urban settings, where a car is not a necessity and is even seen as a liability that costs too much, pollutes, and makes life more difficult in a city.

And then, of course, there's the environment.

Except for those Know Nothings who are running the government, the general consensus and facts as we know them clearly show that the climate is warming, and that's having a profound effect on our planet. We love our cars in the United States, and they have done a great deal of good for our growth, our economy, and our national pride. Those days, though, are on their way out. Americans are buying fewer cars and auto manufacturing is done mostly in Mexico. Cars pollute. They need parking lots and roads and gas stations and gas and insurance and money to buy all of those extras, and increasingly that money is going to other places in the economy.

It would be nice if our national policy was not moving in the exact opposite direction that it needs to on cars and energy. A push for electric cars would help. A push for more mass transit systems would help even more. China is not going to go away, or even lose, whatever that means, a trade war. They simply have too many people and too much government that is willing to step in and ensure that their key industries have the leverage they need to succeed.

The United States, though, does have strategies it can follow to ensure its continued economic advance, but they should not include more fossil fuels and larger SUVs and trucks. Many businesses are taking it upon themselves to commit to a greener, cleaner future, and perhaps American ingenuity and creativity will enable us to shift away from the old model and into the new one. The rest of the world sees the danger. We seem to see only threats to our way of life, which in many ways needs a serious upgrade.

We need leaders who will realize this and enact policies that will help us get there.

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