Friday, June 29, 2007

School Desegregation Cases - Prognostication: One for Three

With the Court's decision yesterday in the school desegregation cases (Meredith v. Jefferson County Bd. of Educ. (Louisville) and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No.1) , I'm one for three in my September 2006 guesses for which way the Court would decide in three key cases in the just-concluded 2006-07 term. (The others were the Philip Morris USA v. Williams decision handed down in February (predicted correctly) and the Gonzales v. Carhart decision handed down in April (predicted incorrectly).)

An average of .333 is pretty good in baseball, but not so good in prognosticating, I'm afraid. In these two later cases I wrongly-guessed the Court would respect the doctrine of stare decisis (adhering to precedent), whereas instead the newly-branded conservative majority overcame precedent that would seem to have suggested another outcome. This is surprising (or maybe not), in light of Chief Justice Roberts' and Justice Alito's pledges during their confirmation hearings to respect stare decisis, and in light of the fact that "judicial activism" of this sort is anathema to judicial conservatives (at least in theory).

The Justices' willingness to overcome precedent so easily and so quickly is troubling (and don't be fooled by the majority's position that this latest Parents Involved in Community Schools decision is mandated by Brown v. Board of Education - it's not (more later on this)). Don't get me wrong - I don't object to the Court overturning earlier decisions when they've been wrongly-decided, despite stare decisis. But to do so while loudly proclaiming a judicial philosophy where judges should not be "active," and should move cautiously and incrementally in addressing changes to binding precedent, is simply... hypocritical.

On the horizon: abortion. Even after the confirmations of Roberts and Alito, and as recently as a few months ago, I'd been confident that the underlying principle of Roe v. Wade - i.e., a woman has an individual right to choose to have an early-stage abortion free of government interference - would not be overcome. That confidence was based on a belief of Roberts' and Alito's (supposed) firm commitment to the credo of the (supposed) judicial conservative to respect stare decisis. After their performance this term, I'm not so sure - that firm commitment is looking more and more like nothing more than lip service all the time, and Roe is in the cross-hairs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Campaign Finance Case - Money in Politics is a Problem

Houston, we've got a problem. Our democratic Republic is being threatened by money in politics.

And the Supreme Court is enabling this problem, most recently in its FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life decision yesterday, where the Court held that certain restrictions on corporate and union spending in the weeks before an election are unconstitutional. (By contrast, the Court upheld such advertising restrictions when the McCain-Feingold Campaign Spending law first came before the Court four years ago.)

Normally I'm all for an expansive reading of the Bill of Rights and of other individual rights, privileges, liberties and immunities - but there are no absolutes; on this, as with most things in life, there are limits. The First Amendment "Money-as-Speech" doctrine, as first enunciated by the Court in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case, has run amok, and threatens our very democracy by elevating the power of money in politics.

The fact is that to have any hope of being elected to office in America today, a person must either be rich or know people who are rich - or know someone who can raise a ton of money (who all-too-often use questionable tactics - Jack Abramoff). The ordinary citizen simply does not qualify on any of these counts.

When our representatives are so beholden to "special interests" - corporations, unions, lobbyists, ... whomever - their independence and ability to represent our interests are compromised. I don't care what you say - if a politician's main goal is to be re-elected (and don't kid yourself - that's the main goal of most politicians), and x dollars are needed in order to re-elected, and there's a campaign contributor who can provide a major portion of x dollars, there's a very real danger that the politician is going to be unduly influenced by that contributor, to the detriment of other constituents. Other constituents' voices are unfairly diminished - only if the constituents have money, and are willing to spend it on the politician, do they effectively have their voices heard.

I read somewhere recently a couple (imperfect) analogies: if we were to offer the decisionmaker in a court case - the judge - $100 beforehand to attempt to influence her decision, we call it a bribe; if we were to offer the decisionmaker in a baseball game - the umpire - $100 beforehand to attempt to influence his decision, we call it a bribe; whereas if we offer $100 (or more likely, $10,000 or $100,000) beforehand to the decisionmaker in politics - the elected representative - we call it a campaign contribution.

Does anyone smell a rat? Something ain't right here....

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bonnaroo 2007 From the Inside: The White Stripes

More from inside Bonnaroo 2007:

Well, Jack and Meg White tore the place up last night with Jack's mind-bending instrumentals/vocals and Meg's thumping rhythms on the drumkit. The Which stage crowd was huge - and pretty frenzied toward the front with as many as 10-15 bodies being passed at a time through much of the first half of the show....

Coming as it did at sundown of the last of four Bonnaroo days, the White Stripes were the perfect band to complement the dust, heat, and exhilaration of four days of great music and vibes.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bonnaroo 2007 From the Inside - Sunday afternoon

Back.... (& check out the Bonnaroo smoke-ring in this pic):

Overheard at the water line at 9am this morning from inside Bonnaroo 2007 (even though you're up until 2-3am for all the late acts, there's no sleeping once the sun starts heating up the tent at 8am....) after the Police's 1-3/4 hour set last night:

"I don't know about closing down everything else for the Police - Warren Haynes could wipe him up.... 'hey-o, hey, hey-o' - we get it already...."

They did sound great though - and "Roxanne" met the test laid down by the Roots on Friday.
More highlights since last time:
-I forgot to mention guitarist James Blood Ullmer, France's 2006 "Jazzman of the Year," first thing on Friday - no doubt the blues;
-Didjeridooist (sp??) and one-man-band Xavier Rudd - complete with Aussie flags and kangaroos in the pit;
-Keller Williams and the WMD's - not in HIS one-man-band mode, disappointingly, but still rocking, complete with stuffed dogs (including a 6-foot Scoobie who came unstuffed in the pit after awhile) in honor of "I can be your dog, and you can be my master."

-Everybody's raving about the Flaming Lips' midnight show last night with the band emerging from a descending spaceship, confetti, dancing female Santas, etc., etc., but my impression in seeing part of this show (I left after 30 minutes) was that it was lots of bells and whistles covering up pretty mediocre music. Performance art is all well and good, and I know lots of people like the spectacle.... but circus acts just aren't my cup of tea.

More later.... just heard the request to limit time at 15 minutes, and also I'm hearing something promising, The Slip, just outside at the Sonic Stage....

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bonnaroo 2007 From the Inside - Saturday

Here in the DLink-wired tent working up toward the third of four nights from inside the 80,000 person tent-city at the alternate reality that is Bonnaroo 2007, the annual mid-June music festival of music festivals on a farm southeast of Nashville.....

Tonight the Police play a stop on their reunion tour; other big acts during week are The White Stripes, Tool, The Flaming Lips, Ben Harper , Wilco, Ziggy Marley, Widespread Panic, and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. A highlight so far was the Superjam at midnight on Friday - Ben Harper with bassist John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame and drummer ?uestlove of Roots. Unbelievable jams with Zep's Dazed and Confused morphing into Immigrant Song and Stevie Wonder's Very Superstitious....

Most enjoyable acts so far:
-a real surprise on night one, first act of the Festival Thursday in the "The Other Tent" as most were still coming in from their 4-5 hour waits at the gate, was gospel singer Ryan Shaw - check him out.... the guy is incredible;
-also on night one at midnight, Rodrigo y Gabriela, a guitar duo from Mexico City working some tight acoustics;
-kicking off Day Two, Richard Thompson, one of Rolling Stones' top 20 all-time guitarists;
-Michael Franti with his band Spearhead, joining the front-rail crowd at the Which Stage in some uniquely-Bonnaroo festivities;
-the Roots at the What Stage Friday, laying down the gauntlet with a great cover of "Roxanne";
-Latin-alternative rocker/activist Manu Chao - I had to see him after the strong trusted recommendations of a student, and the guy is impressive;
-the first great unexpected find, Brandy Robinson at the non-descript Solar Stage, then at the Blue Room cafe earlier this afternoon - this girl ROCKS (at least that's when she's at her best).... And you know musicians are hungry when they're selling their latest and earlier 1-2 discs onsite for $15-$20 for the set. I picked up all of hers....
-So far today, Day Three, an early disappointment with Hot Tuna - these Jefferson-Airplane mates and early 70s collaborists are legendary, but they lacked energy today.... they've been playing together fifty-years, though, so they can be excused....;
-an incredible unexpected find just an hour or so ago, though, at the Sonic acoustic stage with NYC Club player and Bonnaroo and recent South-by-Southwest first-timer organist and singer Jonah Smith, winner of a Relix magazine jam-off - check THIS guy out.... I also picked up his CDs.
-The Allman Bros.'s and Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes acoustic set at the Sonic Stage just before now - from the roots....

More later....

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

No Place Like Home

Back now in Michigan from 3 weeks in Mexico for the MSU Summer Law Program, and it's good to be back. As stimulating and interesting as travel may be - and I do love it - in Dorothy's words there's no place like home. There's something about the comfort of one's own surroundings and routines that nurtures the instinctual human need for security - at least it does for this one.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Barack Obama Campaign Records Call

I admit I was a bit put off by the telephone solicitor for Barack Obama’s campaign who advised me the call was being taped.

“Taped?” I asked.

“Yes, but only for quality purposes,” she replied.

After telling her I wasn’t interested, asking her to remove me from the list and hanging up, I wondered about the call.

Why should Barack Obama’s organization want to tape a conversation with me? This feels very intrusive.... I know, I know - I can "just say No," and I did, but it's still irritating to have Obama's campaign soliciting me in my own home, telling me "this call may be recorded for quality purposes."


Immigration Bill

I’ve been a frequent and harsh critic of George W. Bush in these pages, but to give credit where credit is due, the president is getting it right on the current immigration debate.

As Julie Mason of the Houston Chronicle reports, Bush said, in addressing critics of the bipartisan plan that would grant citizenship upon passage of a certain amount of time and payment of fees, "If you want to scare the American people, what you say is the bill's an amnesty bill.... That's empty political rhetoric, trying to frighten our citizens."

"People shouldn't fear our capacity to uphold our motto, E Pluribus Unum," Bush told McClatchy Newspapers. This was Bush's "harshest public backhand yet to the conservative bloggers, commentators, politicians and CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, all gassing about how the bill amounts to amnesty," Mason reports.

The compromise Senate bill is also drawing fire from Democrats, who criticize the high fees and penalties for illegal immigrations, or the change in philosophy in deciding who gets in away from reuniting families and toward valuing education and skills.

Bush explained, “I feel passionate about the issue. It's something I have felt strongly about ever since I was the governor of Texas.... Texas is a very diverse state, Houston is a very diverse city, and through that diversity, if you're open-minded, you get a great sense of how it invigorates the society."

"You recognize, [growing up in Texas,] the decency and hard work and humanity of Hispanics," Bush continued. "And the truth of the matter is a lot of this immigration debate is driven as a result of Latinos being in our country."

My goodness. This is the sort of humanity we can only wish this president would have demonstrated on a day-in and day-out basis throughout the last six and a half years. If he had, the world would be a lot better place today.