Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Taxing Tax Law

I have a foolproof way of figuring out if someone has done their income tax calculations.

If they walk around with a smile and still believe that that tax cut bill and those who supported it are on the side of the middle class, then they have not done their taxes yet.

If they walk around with a dazed, angry, frustrated, my-God-what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this look, then they have done their taxes and have realized that they are getting a far lower refund than they expected or will owe money to the IRS come April 15.

Only the conservative crew in DC could mess up a tax cut this badly.

Yes, you probably did pay less income tax last year on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis, and I'm sure the money came in handy. What most people didn't do, though, was to adjust their W-4 to reflect the cut and perhaps to have more money taken out of their check. Then came the absolute worst parts of the whole bill: Those of us who live in states where property and income taxes tend to be high are capped regarding the amount of money we can deduct on our returns at $10,000. Please raise your hand if you live in New Jersey and pay more than $10,000 in property taxes. Keep your hand up if you took out a home equity loan or line of credit and used the money exclusively to pay down debt such as credit card bills.

I thought so. Your arm must be tired. You can lower it now.

The result is that you can't take as many deductions, so you'll probably have to take the new, higher-but-not-as-high-as-it-would-be-if-I-could-deduct-what-I-deducted-lat-year Standard Deduction, which is $24,000.


The new tax law eliminates the $4,050 exemption you could take for each of your dependents. For a family of four, that's $16,200. That means that you will be paying taxes on $16,200 more in income without being able to deduct as much tax and interest as you had been.

That's why it feels like Guiliani time when you sit down.

But don't feel bad. Corporations got a whopping 15% tax cut and probably used that money to raise your pay buy back millions or billions in company stock, which enriched the pay of top executives and enabled it to pay higher dividends to stock holders. Which might help you a little, but not as much as before the tax cut.

There's a reason why the GOP didn't run on the bill last November, deciding that it would be wiser to paint ragged, scared, hungry women and children as terrorists and invaders ready to cross the border and wreak havoc on our country.

They knew how bad it would be. And for once, they were right.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Real Emergencies

Decline of the public schools and the country's commitment to equitable education.

The threat to our world because of the warming climate.

Continued poverty.

The fact that people go hungry in America.



Anti-anything related to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Massive inequality in wealth between the wealthy and not so wealthy, whites and non-whites, industrialized, technologically advanced nations and those that are still trying to move themselves into the 19th century, much less the 21st.

Drug and opioid addiction.

Inequalities in the level of health care.

Shooting at schools, malls, bars, schools, places of work, concerts, ballparks, houses of worship, schools, houses, back yards, elevators, city streets, schools, country lanes, sports arenas, and schools.

The care and treatment of the mentally ill.

Alcoholism rates on Native American reservations and towns.

Our eroding, collapsing, dangerous infrastructure.

I'm sure there are some I've missed some, but these are the emergencies the president should be concerned about and these are the issues he should be funding through the constitutionally mandated process that Republicans have sworn to uphold. Oh, and if you want to build a wall or a fence or a barrier and support it with other border control initiatives that have some basis in reality, I am all for that. People should enter and stay in this country legally. Children who were brought by their parents and have led legal, productive lives should be able to stay. Pass an immigration law. Use the power of the executive to persuade Congress and the American people that what you want to do is necessary.

But don't do it like this.

The president had his chance when he had a Republican Congress, but because of his own ineptitude when it came to actually getting things done, he didn't have a plan, a structure, a staff, a coherent message or a negotiating strategy to get what he wanted. And if there was a real emergency at the border, then why not declare it two years ago and be done with it?

Because this isn't really about anything related to policy. It's a campaign stunt to galvanize the base. It's his fear that he won't be reelected because he didn't make good on his central promise; that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Oh, wait. That's not what's happening. You and I are paying for the wall. And we'll pay for the lawsuits that will wend their way through the local, state and federal courts in response to property takings, environmental concerns and, of course, the Constitution of the United States.

Remember the Constitution? This is a song about the Constitution.

I have zero confidence that the Trump Administration or the GOP will do anything except foul this up in their attempts to circumvent the laws and create a double-secret precedent that future presidents will use to declare emergencies, including more from Trump if he happens to win this gambit.

After all, why stop at the border wall? Why not an emergency over abortion? Arming teachers in schools? Kneeling during the anthem?

The biggest emergency? This presidency.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 10, 2019

I Will Never Be Governor

I slept with you (and you know who you are) and it was consensual.

I once dressed as Sandra Day O'Connor for Halloween. I understand that this is misappropriation on  a number of levels:

1. I am not a woman
2. I am not a Republican (one of my best features)
3. I have never sat on the Supreme Court
4. I would have ruled differently in Bush v. Gore, but I would concur in the other cases.
5. I never would have given up my seat if I knew it would go to Samuel Alito.

I occasionally adopted African-American idioms when in high school.

I have used the word "fag," but only in the context of  Tom Brown's Schooldays.

I have a Soviet flag on my desk and have since 1978. I also have several sets of Russian nesting dolls.

I have a friend who is African-American and he dressed up as Generic Man in college where he wore white-face. The party proceeded without incident.

I'm sure there are other examples and please remind me of them if you have a recollection

None of these keeps me up at night the way too much barbecue sauce does these days, but the issue is obviously a national social concern. Clearly, there are lines that no adult should cross and we should not tolerate reprehensible behavior related to harassment, assault, sexism, racism and other obnoxiousness.

But I am also a great fan of redemption, personal growth, reckonings, sincere apologies and, of course, context. And I also look at the direction a person's life has taken. Doing something offensive early in life, but growing and learning and making up for it with words and/or deeds will, in my mind, earn you some redemption. Continuing to be offensive throughout your life shows you to be the unrepentant, ignorant person that you really are.

Which is why, and I'm really a broken record here (and obviously old because I'm using that reference), nobody should resign until the president does. He has shown himself to be growing as a racist, sexist, misogynist, Islamophobe, xenophobe, and homophobe rather than recognizing that his words and actions are harmful for this country's reputation. When he is held accountable, then we will have made progress. But as long as he can spew his hatred and vitriol, then we can't have justice.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The NFL Has Its Day.

I remember when the Super Bowl was played at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday. Some people remember the game when it didn't have a number attached to it. Others don't care at all.

I think I might be moving into that third group.

The National Football League has become what our other national pastime, baseball, never really attempted: to be everything all at once. A sport, an institution, a media empire, a repository for the nation's values, and an unquestioned source of correctness that has come back to cause serious trouble for its credibility. Baseball had a long, lazy season with plenty of games and no time limit. Football has a frenzied limit. George Carlin did a bit on that. Go watch it.

The Super Bowl is now, of course, an informal national holiday with all the trappings and fixin's, and for the past 20 or so years the game has actually been pretty close near the end, as opposed to many of the games in the 80s and 90s that were over before halftime, instilling cold fear into the advertisers who paid exorbitant rates to reach drunk men. Don't worry; we still watched.

But the NFL's real-world problems, which it always had but decided to minimize or ignore, are now morbidly apparent.

Players trying to live day-to-day with the pain from their playing days are addicted to opioids.

CTE ravaging the brains of former players.

Ensuring that all players, not just the Hall of Famers, have health insurance, pensions, and benefits.

I know that unionized, highly paid professional athletes in all sports don't elicit a great deal of sympathy from many Americans who earn less and live a productive, local life, but most athletes have a short professional existence and in the NFL's case, play a brutally violent sport. And you simply can't ignore the visuals that show an extraordinarily wealthy owner elite making billions, collectively, and a collective of players, many of whom are minorities, getting paid well while they play, but being ignored when they're done.

The NFL needs to make a dramatic gesture concerning these players. The league is wealthy enough to afford it and the players have earned it.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest