From time to time I like to go back and revisit political issues that I've written about in this weekly column. Today I'd like to follow up on recent columns concerning the appointment of John Roberts to head the U.S. Supreme Court, the annual Burning Man drugfest and the future of Lake Tahoe. Here we go.
A couple of weeks ago I endorsed President Bush's nomination of former federal Appeals Judge John Roberts to succeed the late William Rehnquist as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court on grounds that Roberts was a well qualified and moderate choice to head the High Court for the next 20 or 30 years.
The U.S. Senate agreed when the Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to approve Roberts and the full Senate confirmed him on a bipartisan 78-22 vote. Roberts assumed his new duties last Monday, promising to base his decisions on the law rather than on a political ideology. He's off to a good start.
Although I criticized Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada for voting against Roberts in order to placate the Howard Dean wing of the Democratic Party, our senator quickly redeemed himself in my eyes by endorsing White House Counsel Harriet Miers, the president's moderately conservative nominee to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as the Court's so-called "swing vote."
"The Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer," Reid said, adding that she was "a trailblazer for women" as managing partner of a major Dallas law firm and as president of the Texas State Bar Association. I agree. The president has made an excellent choice to replace the highly respected Justice O'Connor.
Republican right-wingers have accused the president of going soft on them in order to assure confirmation of his Supreme Court nominees. Maybe so, but both Roberts and Miers seem to be in the mainstream of judicial philosophy and political ideology, and that's a good thing for the American people.
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My friend and Appeal colleague Sam Bauman and I have differing opinions in regard to the annual Burning Man drugfest. Sam thinks it's a harmless enough event out there in the vast expanse of the Black Rock Desert while I believe it's inappropriate to hold an X-rated drug festival on public lands, especially with young children in attendance. We have agreed to disagree, but let's look at a couple of opinions from writers for publications that are generally sympathetic to "alternative lifestyles."
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, who attended Burning Man last month, concluded that the festival is nothing more than "an excuse for stressed-out yuppies to get naked and take a lot of drugs." He described Burning Man as "a ghost of the Sixties kept like a castrated zoo animal wallowing in its own muck," and declared that "for all the talk about community, the only shared value of Burning Man is a collective dedication to self-indulgence."
"To say anything negative at all about Burning Man ... is to invite frightened stares and immediate calls to change the subject," Taibbi wrote. Which is pretty much what I've been writing for the past nine years.
And Reno's "alternative weekly," the News & Review, questioned why local media mostly ignore the serial lawbreaking that goes on at Burning Man. Good question. Could it be because so many folks are heavily invested in the festival?
For example, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management collected more than $700,000 in "user fees" from the Burners this year while the Reno Gazette-Journal published an expensive eight-page Burning Man supplement, inviting everyone to attend the annual "family event." Some family!
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And finally, it appears that wealthy Las Vegas liquor distributor Larry Ruvo (he of the famous Larry Ruvo Stateroom) and high-powered lobbyist/developer Harvey Whittemore have finally succeeded in their single-minded campaign to build a 300-foot-long private pier at the upscale Tahoe retirement and resort community of Glenbrook, against the wishes of the vast majority of the community's property owners.
They got their way when three judges from the San Francisco-based 9th Circus (excuse me, Circuit) Court of Appeals upheld a decision by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to grant a construction permit for the pier, which will turn the historic retreat into a veritable "Lobbyland." The Glenbrook Preservation Association has appealed the decision to the full 11-member court.
It would be an understatement to say that Ruvo and Whittemore are able to exert considerable influence over elected officials - some of whom serve on the TRPA - by means of very generous campaign contributions. I wonder how much money they've contributed to the officials who approved their huge pier.
At the same time, Gov. Guinn has just appointed Las Vegas real estate developer Chuck Ruthe to the TRPA. One question: What does Ruthe know about protecting the clarity of Lake Tahoe and the quality of life at the Lake? - the main purposes of the TRPA. Or am I missing something in this debate? You tell me.
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P.S. Kudos to Max Baer, Jr., for allowing the old Wal-Mart building to be used for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Although I still oppose Baer's tacky hillbilly hotel project, I commend him for supporting a worthy humanitarian project. Attaboy Max!
n Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former diplomat, has been a resident of Carson City for more than 40 years.