Lady lectures

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jun 27, 2003 12:00 AM

They've sat together on the bench for almost nine years, the longest period of togetherness since James Monroe occupied the White House.

Now, Washington is abuzz over when Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will retire, if ever. Perhaps only one will step down. Others anticipate a joint retirement announcement. Nobody knows.

What we do know is the Library of Congress has just concluded a conference on women, history and law. Justice O'Connor, the first female justice in the court's history, addressed participants, as did Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court's second female justice.

It was revealed at the conference that Justice O'Connor, 73, is donating all of her professional and personal papers to the library, which signaled more proof that she's about to retire.

But then it was disclosed that Justice Ginsburg, 70, is similarly donating her written volumes to the library for historians and scholars to peruse in future generations. The last we heard, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native - an appointee of President Clinton - isn't ready for knitting in the Hamptons.

What was confirmed at the women's conference is that men still rule the world. Participants needed to look no further than the height of the lectern - few of which, the ladies pointed out, suit their frames.

Just ask the diminutive Justice Ginsburg, seen only when standing atop a suitcase-size platform.

AHOY, OSAMA - CONT.

"Osama bin Laden isn't going to check in after coming ashore" - or so was the argument of a Florida congressman who wants the Department of Homeland Security to rewrite restrictions for recreational boaters who, upon returning from a foreign port, can clear customs by dialing a hot-line number.

Now, reader M. Burke writes to say that she and her husband returned from Mexico aboard their sailboat and "due to engine troubles and lack of wind for sailing we drifted northward into the Gulf of Mexico for days before winding up in Fort Myers, Fla., late at night.

"After anchoring, we rowed our dinghy ashore and walked several miles to the nearest pay phone to check in with the nearest Customs office as required by law. No one answered the phone. The next morning, we repeated the trek to the pay phone and eventually managed to get through to a Customs official.

"After telling him that our previous stop had been Cozumel, Mexico, he asked two questions: 'Are you both American citizens?' and 'Do you have any avocados on board?' Avocados? If Osama (or anyone else) wanting to enter the country illegally sailed a nice-looking pleasure boat flying the American flag ... I doubt he'd have difficulty entering the United States.

"Terrifying, isn't it?"

BEER BIAS

The chairman of the congressional Homeland Security Committee, when not worrying about Osama bin Laden, is trying to end a "luxury" tax on beer.

In a letter to colleagues, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) writes that Uncle Sam has classified beer a luxury item and thus imposed a "crushing" tax on consumers and brewers alike.

And the cheaper the beer, the higher the tax rate. Which means, according to a recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers study, that households earning less than $10,000 spend nine times more proportionally on beer taxes than households earning more than $70,000.

The congressman, who's tried for 10 years to repeal the tax, says that ending it would strengthen the economy and create jobs (an estimated 26,634 per year), partly through increased consumer spending. An estimated 90 million Americans regularly buy beer.

PEOPLE CANDIDATES

It's dubbed "The Choosing an Independent President 2004," a process created by a national conference of independents held in January when 800 activists from 35 states met to strategize their role in the next presidential election.

While the conference was sponsored by the independent movement's major think-tank, the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, you don't have to be an independent candidate to get the support of the party's voters. In fact, we see where two Democratic presidential candidates -- North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Al Sharpton -- have already taken steps to connect their campaigns to independent voters nationwide.

The so-called "CHIP 2004" process begins with presidential candidates filling out a questionnaire on issues of concern to what's been described as a "maverick and unpredictable voting bloc" comprising 35 percent of the electorate, according to one recent poll.

"People feel like American politics is broken and they're right," Edwards wrote in response to one question. "My campaign will be about bringing people together across partisan lines." Sharpton pledged in one answer, "I am not Party managed, but I am People managed."

REM AS BACKUP

Given the two-year term in the House side of Congress, a congressman barely gets elected and already he's running for re-election.

Thus, eyes already are on Georgia's 12th congressional district where Democrats seek to take back a seat won only last November by freshman Republican Rep. Max Burns. Leading the Democratic pack thus far is Clarke County Commissioner and liberal trial lawyer Jonathon Barrow. And for good reason.

He's got one of this country's leading rock bands behind him.

Barrow has raised just more than $200,000 in the first Federal Election Commission reporting period this year, with a good chunk of donations coming from two communities: fellow trial lawyers and, interestingly enough, members of the popular band REM, who hail from Athens.

In fact, with their $18,000 in contributions thus far, REM is Barrow's leading financial backer, forking over 10 percent of the candidate's total contributions.

THEATER OF ABSURD

Are you one of millions of Americans upset because Uncle Sam contributes far more dollars than other countries to a United Nations Security Council that often rises against him?

Well, legislation has been introduced by Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) that would reduce the U.S. contribution to the U.N. budget by more than $240 million annually - down from $341 million in 2003. "The current dues arrangement is particularly objectionable when you consider that each of the other permanent members of the (U.N.) Security Council regularly vote against U.S. proposals," Hayworth tells us. "Equal power should be matched by equal dues."

"Our veto power should cost no more than that of the other permanent members - China, France, Russia, or the United Kingdom," says Hayworth. "Even though their combined Gross Domestic Product nearly equals that of the U.S., we contribute about $115 million more to the U.N. regular budget than those four countries combined.

"That doesn't make sense and Congress should put a stop to it," he says. "There must be reforms if the United Nations is to avoid being reduced to an irrelevant international theater of the absurd."

MAKING LIGHTER OF 9/11

John Hall is a Washington lawyer whose office is a few steps from the White House. His acquaintance is a State Department diplomat, currently posted on the Horn of Africa.

"I am also a New Yorker," he says, "which is why this caught my attention," referring to a "September 11" commemorative lighter, stamped made in China, and sold throughout the Middle East and Africa, among other continents. The diplomat picked up one of the butane lighters and shipped it home.

Upon examining the high-quality silver lighter, Hall was furious.

The lower corner depicts the face of Osama bin Laden in relief. Above his turban is an etched airplane, about to crash into the twin World Trade Towers in New York. One of the towers has a giant hole in its side.

"When you flip open the lighter, the hole in the tower glows red," says the lawyer. "Someone went to great effort to produce this lighter. Now, everybody who lights up a cigarette can celebrate the plane flying into the towers.

"Why is China," he asks, "manufacturing lighters for sale in ... countries that celebrate the destruction caused by bin Laden on 9/11?"

KEYSTONE KOPS?

Did it ever occur to anybody who will be in charge during the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil, which Uncle Sam says is inevitable?

For the time being, consider yourself in charge.

Before passing the $29.4 billion homeland security bill this week - which Democrats complain is not enough for the nation's first-responders, borders, ports and airports - Democratic Rep. Robert E. Andrews of New Jersey questioned the "chain of command" and allocation of responsibility when a terrorist attack is imminent or ongoing.

"There is chaos and dysfunction in this area," Andrews pointed out. "Because everyone is in charge of an ongoing attack, no one is in charge of defending against an ongoing attack."

The congressman says the Select Committee on Homeland Security, on which he sits, the Armed Services Committee, and other relevant congressional panels need to think about "who would be in charge in America this morning if, God forbid, our president received word that a terrorist attack was happening right now - who reports to whom, who is in charge of whom, and who is responsible for what."