June 2007

At the Supreme Court, a term to the right

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

tice.jpgThe always excellent Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times provides this thorough and thoughtful summary of the Supreme Court term just completed. (registration required).

The basic story line, of course, is that the court has changed — as expected, if not a bit morescotus.jpg than expected — with Justice Samuel Alito replacing retired Justice Sandra Day O’Conner. It’s no surprise that Alito has turned out to be more reliably conservative than O’Connor was. But new Chief Justice John Roberts was expected by some to be more of a swing vote than he now appears.

The net effect is a court that has swung noticeably in a conservative direction, in particular by reversing direction on several key issues. Among the most striking:

  • Greatly limiting school districts’ use of race in assigning students to achieve integration.
  • Loosening restrictions on election season “issue ads” by unions, corporations and advocacy groups.
  • Upholding a ban on “partial-birth abortions.”

    These and other changes in the court’s interpretation of the constitution are deeply distressing or brightly encouraging, depending on your point of view. The whole situation brings quickly to the surface the essential, central, eternal “big question” about courts and how they do their work:


  • If you want the plain truth, ask grandma. If you want something foolish done, ask a young male

    Saturday, June 30th, 2007

    One man in a million may shout a bit…
    Now and then there’s one with slight defects…
    One perhaps whose truthfulness you doubt a bit…
    But, by and large, we are a marvelous sex…

    – A Hymn to Him, from “My Fair Lady”

    tice.jpgA story in Thursday’s Star Tribune described a classic of what I call grandma research.

    I mean elaborate social science studies to prove what everybody’s grandmother knew. Very often, grandma research has to do with the startling discovery — startling, that is, to the modern world — that there are differences between men and women.

    Yesterday’s stunner: Young males are more likely to buy booze for underage strangers than older males — while women hardly ever agree to do it.

    I’ll bet most underage drinkers (in addition to most grandmas) could have told you this without consulting a single statistical table. Still, it’s good to have empirical confirmation of a central grandma principle. The grandma version might be stated thusly:

    “Wherever two or more young males are gathered together, there could be trouble.”

    A lapse in civility and substance

    Friday, June 29th, 2007

    tice.jpgI have taken down a number of comments in a recent thread that in my judgment crossed the line separating free-wheeling debate from abusive invective and personal defamation.

    I do this reluctantly. The Big Question exists in no small part to encourage free and fearless expression. But I am also determined that this blog will be a place for a spirited but civilized exchange of ideas. And to that end some boundaries will be enforced.

    I implore commenters once again to refrain from name-calling, reckless accusations and personal disparagement of those they disagree with. These inflict grave wounds, not so much on your antagonist, but on the very ideas you hold dear and are trying to convey to others. You are an ambassador for your ideas. Try to leave a good impression.

    Guestposters Jake Sherman and Kevin Diaz on Rep. Keith Ellison signing on to impeach-Cheney bill

    Friday, June 29th, 2007

    DFL Rep. Keith Ellison signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill calling for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney Thursday,ellison.jpg according to the Library of Congress Web page.

    The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, calls on Congress to impeach Cheney for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

    Ellison joins Reps. William Clay (Mo.), Janice Schakowsky (Ill.), Albert Russell Wynn (Md.), Yvette Clark (N.Y.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Hank Johnson (Ga.).

    Rick Jauert, a spokesman for Ellison, said the congressman “has no illusions that this is going anywhere, and that’s fine. We’ve got more important things to do that affect people’s daily lives.”

    Jauert said Ellison joined the impeachment effort largely to send a message.

    “He basically signed on out of principle, as an expression of the importance of the rule of law – that nobody is above the law, not even the vice president.”

    Jake Sherman, Kevin Diaz

    Guestposter Bob von Sternberg on Obama’s stop in Minneapolis today and his army of small donors

    Thursday, June 28th, 2007

    Good Friday morning. Political reporter von Sternberg, with some help from the Associated Press, finds that the Obama fundraising effort is specializing in $25-a-person rallies like the one in Minneapolis this evening:

    vonste.jpgSen. Barack Obama brings his presidential campaign to Minneapolis today for a rally intended to sign up supporters and raise some dollars.

    It’s his first trip to Minnesota as a presidential candidate and itobama.jpg comes at the tail end of the second-quarter campaign cash reporting deadline.

    As of Thursday, tickets sold to the public rally raised as much as $50,000 for the campaign. A $1,000-a ticket private fundraiser will follow.

    By any measure, Obama’s fundraising strategy has been stunningly successful. His campaign reported Thursday that it was closing in on its goal of raising money from 250,000 people in the first six months of the year.

    Guestposter Jake Sherman’s full report on Wednesday’s dust up over pols’ high times years ago

    Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

    Washington reporter Sherman has now filed a complete story on the youthful drug use of leading Senate candidates Norm Coleman, Al Franken and Mike Ciresi. Here it is.

    Coleman’s press secretary responds to marijuana open letter

    Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

    LeRoy Coleman, Press Secretary for Senator Norm Coleman, has issued the following statement in response to an open letter on a website criticizing Coleman’s position on marijuana policy in light of his own use of the drug while in college:

    “There’s nothing normal about NORML, but, that’s really not the point. It is a well known fact that years ago, as a college student, he smoked marijuana. Years later, with the hindsight of maturity, he realizes that it was a dangerous time in his life and could well have had seriously negative consequences on his health and on those around him.

    “The impact of drugs today — the level of poisons in marijuana on the streets today — and drugs like crack and meth — are killing our children and destroying communities. The adults who lead NORML today should be joining the Senator, and those who now know the dangers of drugs, to do the responsible thing to prevent legalization of drugs of any kind that could harm the lives and future of our children.”

    Guestposter Jake Sherman on allegations Sen. Norm Coleman smoked pot in college

    Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

    A college friend of Minnesota’s Republican Sen. Norm Coleman is trying to force the senator to revisit his drug policy position by exposing his alleged marijuana use in the 1960s.coleman.jpg

    Norm Kent, who claims to have been a classmate of Coleman’s decades ago at Hofstra University in New York, wrote an “open letter” to Coleman that was posted on a marijuana Web site. The letter said that Coleman and his friends had to “tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows” when they smoked marijuana in the 1960s.

    Coleman defeated Kent to win the presidency of the student senate in the late 1960s, Kent said. Kent, who is on the board of directors at the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws, said he went to Coleman’s inauguration as mayor of St. Paul and to the U.S. Senate.

    “Norm and I, when we’ve talked, have reflected about the fact at Hofstra, I was considered a moderate,” Kent said. “He was considered the radical student leader who defeated me in a race for student senate president. I was the calm moderate liberal. He was a radical.”

    The Big Question has contacted Coleman’s office for a response and will post it as soon as it is provided. .

    Jake Sherman

    What’s the perfect disguise for an anarchist?

    Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

    tice.jpgA story in Tuesday’s Star Tribune gives additional information about self-styled anarchist groups planning to disrupt the 2008 Republican convention in the Twin Cities by blockading freeways and causing other trouble.

    The Big Question reported their plans and linked to their websites Monday.

    Sources in today’s story, and a couple of commenters on the blog, have made a seemingly sensible observation — that seriously dangerous people probably wouldn’t advertise their plans on chesterton.jpgwebsites, or anywhere else.

    That sounds right. But I can’t help recalling, at least for the fun of it, another view of this question in G.K. Chesterton’s madcap masterpiece The Man Who Was Thursday.

    The novel, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is about the European anarchist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Anyhow, it’s sort of about that. No reader has ever been completely sure exactly what the book is about. They’re only sure it is a delight.

    For what it’s worth, the anarchists in The Man Who Was Thursday elaborately disguise themselves — as anarchists.

    Guestposter Mark Brunswick on a blitz of campaign cash from the Wilf family

    Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

    With momentum appearing to build in some quarters for public funding of a Vikings stadium, state capitol reporter Brunswick did some checking and found a flurry of political contributions last fall by the family of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf:

    Right before Halloween last year was a busy time for the Wilfzygi.jpg family of suburban New Jersey – and it wasn’t just getting the Milky Ways and Tootsie Rolls ready for trick-or-treaters.

    In the last couple of weeks of October, the Wilf family, owners of the Minnesota Vikings, cut at least $36,000 in checks to various Minnesota political candidates and House and Senate caucuses.

    October 26th was a Thursday last year and members of the Wilf family wrote at least 10 checks worth $8,500.

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