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