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Readers Write: Supreme Court, responses to events in Ukraine, clearing the sidewalks

Readers Write: Supreme Court, responses to events in Ukraine, clearing the sidewalks

The day of my admission to the U.S. Supreme Court Bar was one of the proudest days of my life. Agree or disagree, I read and honored each opinion of the court as one of the greatest contributions of the founders to democracy. However, the conduct of the current majority of the court leaves me embarrassed and ashamed.

Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife actively sought to overturn a democratic election, as shown by e-mails the justice sought to keep from discovery (“Justice’s spouse pressed case to overturn election,” March 25). Justice Neil Gorsuch speaks as a headliner at right-wing political events. This week, the majority used its shadow docket to summarily reverse Wisconsin’s congressional map at the behest of Republicans without so much as an argument. They did so after reversing Alabama’s un-gerrymandered map a month earlier because it was too close to the election.

It is patently clear that the current majority is not interpreting the law, but acting as a partisan body motivated solely by political loyalty and personal religious beliefs. What was once the least dangerous but most revered branch of government is really not an independent branch at all. The current majority has rendered it a mere appendage of a political party.

There is no valid reason to refrain from changing the size of the court at this point. Perhaps one day it will be what it once was, rather than a small group using unelected power to undermine democracy to impose minority rule.

Kelly Dahl, Linden Grove Township, St. Louis County


“U.S. offers refuge to 100,000 Ukrainians” (front page, March 25). I am glad. For me they are among Emma Lazarus’ “homeless” and “tempest-tossed.” I am just wondering if we would lift the same “golden lamp” if those fleeing similar carnage were Black, Muslim or non-European.

Gene Friesen, Maple Grove


Despite many U.S. cities breaking ties, I urge Minneapolis to continue its sister city relationship with Novosibirsk, Russia.

In 1990, I worked on Design USA, the last U.S.-sponsored exhibit featuring American culture around the then USSR. We bilingual guides chatted with hundreds of thousands of visitors, and in particular, I recall many deep discussions with young people around the American concept of “my freedom ends where yours begins.” Even years later in Novosibirsk, I’d see the red, white and blue exhibit bags we gave out.

Back in the U.S., I’ve participated in many international youth and adult exchange programs involving Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. Each experience carries the thrill of taking part in human beings discovering one another’s realities through active, truthful conversations.

As I monitor both English- and Russian-language news, I’ve seen 30 years of post-Soviet dialogue reduced to one-way portrayals of brutality and hatred. Yet wars don’t start from popular initiatives; instead, to quote a Russian proverb, “The fish starts going bad at the head.”

As we support Ukrainians in crisis, let’s also continue every effort to keep active dialogue with the citizenry of Russia and of all other countries where political interests do not correspond with our own. Our lives as people, as sister cities and as a nation are far richer as we meet the challenge of living as the human beings and the democracy toward which we aspire.

Elizabeth L. Sammons, Columbus, Ohio


In a democratic society, people have a right to express their opinion. Something is wrong when they are punished for speaking their mind even if they go against conventional thinking. People certainly shouldn’t be forced out of their jobs because they don’t have the “correct” opinion or even if they do. Concerning Russia’s horrible invasion and killings in Ukraine, some of the most well-known Russian artists and sports figures are facing discrimination and losing their jobs both in Russia and the West for simply saying nothing or even criticizing the war.

Olga Smirnova, a leading dancer in the Bolshoi Ballet, felt she had to quit Russia’s leading company and move to the Dutch National Ballet because of her criticism of Vladimir Putin and the war. Who knows what pressures she and others expressing similar sentiments would have faced if they had remained in Russia, where they may well have family and friends.

The most pre-eminent Russian conductor of the last 30 years and a Putin supporter, Valery Gergiev, was forced out of prominent positions in Munich, Rotterdam, Milan, Edinburgh and New York because of his silence on Putin and the invasion. New York’s Metropolitan Opera forced out star soprano Anna Netrebko even though she opposed what she called “this senseless war of aggression” but failed to criticize Putin. Young, highly regarded Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev had concerts canceled in Montreal and Vancouver, even though he publicly condemned the invasion. The Polish National Opera even dropped performances of Mussorgsky’s legendary opera “Boris Godunov.” England’s Royal Ballet canceled a residency from the Bolshoi Ballet.

This has even impacted the sports world. Russians were prevented from participating in the Paralympics. Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, kicked out all Russian teams from international competition. Russian skaters were banned from all international hockey competitions. The National Hockey League’s most well-known Russian and a Putin supporter, Alexander Ovechkin, was roundly booed when his Washington Capitals played in Edmonton, home to some 160,000 people of Ukrainian descent.

One would think and hope that arts and sports would be beyond the interference of politics. How ironic that Russians in both spheres face a similar condemnation from a Russian totalitarian state and Western democracies for simply existing or having their own opinions about the war. Plus, it is a slippery slope when certain people get penalized for nothing more than performing their expertise while others do not. Where do you draw the line? There should never be a need for this.

Bob Epstein, Minneapolis


Our humanitarian instincts are being challenged by the overwhelming needs of the people of Ukraine in this time of crisis. An opportunity to learn more and contribute to relief efforts is being offered at 2 p.m. Sunday (March 27) at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, 410 Oak Grove St., 55403. This free fundraiser and concert will include music by Ukrainian composers performed by the Isles Ensemble and remarks by former ambassador to Bulgaria and American Foreign Service Association President Eric Rubin. Checks made out to ELCA Eastern Europe Crisis Response can be mailed to the Woman’s Club.

Michael Wilson, Taos, N.M.


Another approach to the Minneapolis problem of unshoveled sidewalks would be to have a winter jobs program that hired city youths to shovel snow. Disabled seniors unable to clear their own walks could register with the city, and teenagers could be assigned to do it for them. This would do some good in the community and cost less than $20 million.

Keith Bogut, Lake Elmo


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Planning Commission starts to write new rules for Sonoma County winery events

The crowd celebrates as the Avett Brothers perform during the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival at B.R. Cohn Winery in 2018. Whether or not such music events are ’agricultural’ in nature is one of the issues addressed in the draft winery event guidelines. (Photo by Darryl Bush / For The Press Democrat)

The Sonoma County Planning Commission on Thursday made progress in drafting new rules to fully regulate winery events, a yearslong debate that has pitted local neighborhood activists against the wine industry.

The panel revisited the same draft that it initially considered last June, but then delayed further action. This time, however, the commission began rewriting the draft in the virtual Zoom forum with the goal to ultimately pass the ordinance and send it to the Board of Supervisors.

They will continue the drafting at the next meeting.

The proposal would establish regulations for winery events, providing rules for such things as parking and traffic management, food service, coordination with neighbors and noise limits for those outside city limits.

It would apply only to new or modified permit applications.

The draft spells out such terms as “industrywide event” and “agricultural promotion events.” Those definitions would dictate the set of rules of governing the timing, food service and other activities of such events.

New members have joined the commission since last June, and they signaled a strong desire to move the issue along despite long-standing disagreements given that the Board of Supervisors first directed county staff to come up with a plan in October 2016. It has been kicked around since then without any formal action.

“The one thing I hope we won’t do is put this off for more stakeholder input,” said Commissioner Gregg Carr, who represents Sonoma Valley.

“I’ll be the first to admit that after six to seven years of sitting in stakeholder meetings, industry seminars, neighborhood meetings and stuff that there is not ever going to be any reasonable consensus on the standards.”

The disputes have been centered over rural areas where there is a high concentration of wineries. Neighbors have complained about traffic and noise among wine tourists. In contrast, the wineries contend they need visitors because they are reliant on more on direct-to-consumer sales as it is more difficult to get placement on retail shelves.

There are about 300 winery event and tasting room permits that have been issued in the county with more than half given from 2005-2015, according to county staff.

The issue is further complicated as two areas ― the Sonoma Valley and the Dry Creek Valley ― have their own community advisory councils and guidelines. They are designed to first consider event applications to address potential problems early in the process before formal hearings with county government. The Westside Road area does not have such a group.

The Sonoma Valley guidelines, for example, define a “winery event” as a gathering of 30 or more people at a pre-scheduled date and time. But some commissioners on Thursday said they did not want a specific number for guests in the countywide draft, and it was not included in the revision.

The commissioners also scrapped language detailing traditional business activities permitted by a winery. They instead will later spell out the specifics of what would be fall under the definition of an agricultural promotion event at their next hearing.