Sunday, July 29, 2018

Think the Supreme Court is Non-Political? Think Again.

I just spent a week doing what all teachers should have the option of doing in the summer if they didn't need a second job to make ends meet. I attended a seminar on a content topic that was both fascinating, useful, and timely. It was sponsored by the Gilder Lehman Institute of American History and took place at Lafayette College, which has a very nice campus and facilities, and included 32 other educators from around the country And the topic? The Bill of Rights. Can't get more current events than that.

After a one-week immersion, my general conclusion is this: The Supreme Court just makes stuff up.


They come up with a rule about how they're going to treat cases having to do with privacy or searches or speech or due process or religion and then for the next case, they change the rules, so if you're looking for consistency, look at a nice thick bowl of pudding instead. For example, in 1977 the court ruled that public union agency fees were perfectly legal, and even preferable. This year, the court struck them down as a violation of the free speech rights of people who don't agree with the union's political leanings. Never mind that money that unions use for political action are separate from those used for internal contract defense. The result is that starting now, anyone can stop paying union dues, but still be covered by the contract.

Likewise with privacy. With the probable addition of Brett Kavanaugh, the court looks primed to declare that abortion, marriage equality and the rights of LGBTQ Americans are not guaranteed by the constitution and that the states could regulate such behavior. This has been the conservative strategy concerning choice since the Roe decision in 1973, but since that decision was based on other cases that recognized a generalized right to privacy, many other rights would fall if the court decides that the states retain the power to regulate their citizens. It might not mean that abortion would become illegal everywhere, but it would allow states, probably around 20 at this point, to make it a crime. And those states could also likely limit contraceptives and even the morning after pill if they so desired.

And you thought that conservatives wanted the government out of people's lives. Please rethink this. Conservatives love to tell the federal government to go away, but they have no problems allowing restrictions that their states want, and most of those have to do with what they call moral behavior. As if any Trump supporter has any claim to moral behavior or recognizing just what the heck it is. The court could also expand religious rights and give them precedence over civil rights laws as long as your faith is real, substantial and committed. As for corporations? Not only are they people, they are strong, wealthy, powerful people whose rights will overshadow the average American's simply because they have the money to get their message into the marketplace more frequently and with more visibility.

In the end, it's very difficult to predict what might happen once someone gets on the court, but I think we have a pretty good idea of the direction of this court. I can't say that I'm optimistic.

Need a reason to vote in November? Start here.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 22, 2018

You Want Change? Eyes Forward

I'm sure you've heard about the latest outrage. Of course you have. It was about foreign affairs or the economy or immigration or something that will make the country weak or less democratic or dirtier or something. You reacted to it on social media. Maybe you organized something or gave money to someone or just shook your head.

Eyes forward lefty. The day-to-day is simply a distraction. The point is to say how you will fix this or make it less important or make it go away. Perhaps, yes perhaps, you might even want to ignore it next time. I know, that's a tough one, but it might lower your blood pressure or clear your mind so you can think and not just react.

Feel better? OK, this will take time.

Keep your eyes forward. The message has to be that if you want a change from what's been happening, then you have to register to vote, and then vote. Then you have to make sure that the correct message gets out. You want a foreign policy that has a point, that safeguards democratic values, that honors and supports out allies, that makes China think twice before stealing intellectual property and that sends a message to Russia that what they're doing is completely unacceptable?

Then you have to vote for the people who will send that message.

Do you want an economy where wages actually rise for workers, where workplace safety is a prominent concern, where unionized workers can bring positive change, where products are safe, where pollution is punished, where the gap between the highest earners and the lowest stops widening, and where all people have affordable, meaningful health care?

Then you have to vote for the people who will send that message.

Do you want a society were all people are valued and where all Americans have access to the ideas that will enable them to prosper intellectually? Do you want leaders who will recognize that we are strong because we are diverse, and that we ask questions of each other because that's what helps us figure out what we need to do to improve?

Never forget that that the president was elected with a minority of the popular vote and that he is still not popular with a majority of Americans. We are the majority. Eyes forward.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

The Issues That Will Win the Day

Have you noticed that Congress hasn't passed any laws lately? Yes, I know they've probably snuck in some measures having to do with the awfulness of the government being able to help poor people or possibly allowing people to cite religious beliefs as a way to discriminate, but other than that, nothing.

I've already written about the lack of an infrastructure bill, despite the desperate need we have for a new electrical grid that utilizes non-fossil fuels, better roads and airports, and safer bridges. I certainly understand that undermining our NATO allies and embracing Vladimir Putin takes precedence in the president's schedule, but could Congress actually solve some problems?

This needs to be the focus of the Democratic message going into the fall election campaign. Candidates need to stay away from impeachment and even the Russia investigation and remind voters that the swamp has indeed been repopulated with people who want to dismantle the supports that have allowed people social and economic mobility. The party must reach out to moderates who are unhappy or wary of what the Republicans say they'll do with a larger majority and a Supreme Court that will uphold their program. The surprises we've seen in Alabama, Pennsylvania and New York have all come from candidates who knew their constituents and ran campaigns that appealed to those local realities. That will bring more success, but only if more candidates forego the anger that repels moderate voters.

Health care, higher wages, a tax bill that supports all middle class Americans. These are the issues that will bring more votes than anger and blame and talk of removing the president. The biggest mistake the Democrats can make is to move too far to the left. That can, and will, come later. For now, move incrementally and build a larger support base.

Never forget that the president was elected with a minority of the popular vote. More people support the Democratic vision of this country than the conservative's view. If Democrats stick to the issues, they can win.

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Whither Infrastructure?

What a great word. Infrastructure. People of all stripes and models use it earnestly despite its awkwardness. It means so much and is so difficult to romanticize.

I'll stop.

Remember when infrastructure was going to be first on the new president's agenda? It was going to be the issue that Democrats and Republicans could rally behind because, really, roads, bridges, the power grid, airports, public transportation systems, etc., in this country are dreck and need a massive infusion of money and attention at every level of government.

So what happened? My sense is that the issue is far too big and unsexy for a president who loves controversy and chaos and attention, but is short on policy knowledge. And it would take a whole bag of dough to get all of these projects going and the tax bill put a major hole in the federal budget. Add in the ideological opposition that Republicans have to spending taxpayer money in urban areas that voted Democratic and you have the kind of political blindness and ignorance that comes around once in a great while. Forget North Korea and dismantling the health care system. Neglecting infrastructure will cost lives if we don't get going soon.

To be fair, the president did talk about infrastructure early in his administration and said that it would be great and that we would do it, but we haven't. Meanwhile, the trains get worse, the roads get worse, airports get worse, bridges get worse, power outages get worse, and we don't seem to be interested in moving forward on securing our economic lifeblood, roads and airports, or repairing and upgrading them anytime soon.

Wouldn't this create jobs? Ensure safety? Allow us to compete more broadly with countries around the world that have functioning and improved infrastructure? Make know, great? Of course it would, which is why it's so low on the list of things this administration wants to do. My fear is that it's going to take a great tragedy to get this administration to commit political capital to rebuilding these facilities. And even then, I can see them blaming everyone before they settle on a plan that will likely be less than what's absolutely necessary.

They haven't a plan, and they really haven't a clue.

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Don't Get Mad: Get Going

You knew there was going to be a point at which it gets worse. We might have reached it. The Supreme Court ruled that the president can order the borders closed to certain people because of their religion and that you should be protected by a union contract without having to pay for it. Of course, these were once ideas that were the stuff of bad dreams, mediocre comedy, and cranky uncles. Now rule the day.

And, yes, Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement will almost certainly, no, certainly, result in a more conservative court that will likely return more power to the states when it comes to abortion, marriage equality, and civil and religious rights. That is, when they're not outlawing some of those things and other cherished rights that we thought were fundamental, constitutional and just plain good ideas.

But I also think that we'll be surprised that other events will conspire to frustrate and thwart the conservative minority government. Perhaps the new justice is not as conservative as everybody thinks. Or turns out to be another David Souter. Yes, I know, maybe I'm just being hopeful, but the real mistake most of us make is thinking that things will not change and that once set in motion, the ball will always roll in one direction.

Good things are happening in some states. California remains a hotbed of resistance to the outlandish requests of the federal government. New Jersey will pass a budget that raises revenue from people who can afford to pay more and who should be asked to pay more for the services they receive. But they should also contribute more so that other citizens can reap the benefit of excellent schools, safe neighborhoods, health care and a job that pays them enough on which to live. And in New York, the Democratic machine just received a gut punch in the form of a first-time candidate who had a positive message, a terrific organization, and the energy to carry a progressive message to a majority of the party's voters.

When the Republicans were rebuked in 1964, they began to build an organization that reflected their message carried by their people. The Democrats have begun to do the same. It will take time. It will take money. It will take patience. It must be done non-violently.

But it will be done.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest