Random walk on Court rulings, Congress, Iran, Iraq, prostitution taxes, etc.

Posted: Jul 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Picking up some pieces left by the past weeks' news.

The Supreme Court has ruled on affirmative action, after a fashion. Hardly definitive, the 5-4 ruling will lead only to more confusion and more rulings. The best court thinking on the law school case came principally in the dissents. CLARENCE THOMAS: "I believe blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators." ANTONIN SCALIA: "The 'educational benefit' the University of Michigan seeks to achieve by racial discrimination . is a lesson of life rather than law.."

In a concurring opinion, even Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted the evanescent, non-law aspects of the ruling: "One may hope . that over the next generation's span, progress toward nondiscrimination and genuinely equal opportunity will make it safe to sunset affirmative action." Yet, of course, the fundamental problem inhering in affirmative action is that it robs its "beneficiaries" of self-esteem. In an affirmative-action hour, no member of a minority, however good, can know whether he (or she) has attained any height because he is good or because he was born into a minority class.

Then there was the Supreme Court's ruling in the Texas sodomy case. In a blistering dissent, Scalia once again demonstrated why many would like to see him as the next chief justice: With its ruling, he said, the Court has "taken sides in the culture war," has "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda," and has made constitutional sanction of same-sex marriage the prospective next step. However defensible the Court's sodomy ruling may be in terms of privacy, federal sanction of same-sex marriage - thereby institutionalizing abnormal behavior as a statutory norm - would be profoundly wrong. A constitutional proscription against it may prove the only way to go.

And speaking of the law, maybe you saw that Norma McCorvey, the "Jane Roe" of the Roe v. Wade case, persists in her 10-year tergiversation against precisely the abortion the Roe ruling defends. Ms. McCorvey now adamantly argues abortion is a hurtful practice that hurts, largely, women.

In Congress, (1) the Senate has passed (and the House likely soon will) legislation giving federal employees (including members of Congress) better prescription drug benefits than those proposed in House and Senate proposals for the everyday rest of us. QUESTION: If, as President Bush and certain members of Congress broadly contend, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) is a model for Medicare, then why are the FEHBP's prescription drug benefits NOT a model for mere mortals who don't happen to be federal employees (or Congresspersons)?

(2) Opening Senate debate on a House-approved measure to impose caps on jury awards in medical malpractice cases, Majority Leader Bill Frist (a physician), noted: "We are in desperate need of medical liability reform." Yet the Democrats disagree, and their opposition seems likely to kill the bill. Evidently it's Democratic payback time for the hefty contributions trial lawyers tend to make to Democratic political candidates - including Democratic senators.

What's more (3), the Senate seems destined to kill a House-approved bill to end the estate tax - forever. Right now, the untaxable amount of an estate is rising sharply, with a reversion to the $600,000 range set for 2011. The House wants to make the higher untaxable amounts - in the millions - permanent, ending the tax in nearly all instances. To end the estate (or death) tax, the Senate will require a stronger Republican majority instead of the current circumstance, with the Democrats just barely out of power.

Abroad, two points: First, not Iraq but Iran. (a) Despite the growing number of American casualties in Iraq, most Americans favor American military action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. (b) Iran has just tested successfully a Shahab-3 missile, probably derived from North Korea's Rodong-1, that could deliver a nuclear warhead 900 miles away (in e.g. Israel or Saudi Arabia). (c) Teheran is the seat of mass demonstrations against the Iranian regime. So (d) maybe the time is approaching when the United States will have to take action - with apparent support from not only the American but Iranian peoples.

Second, regarding Iraq itself, where President Bush has said of Saddam loyalists targeting American troops, "Bring 'em on!" - this question: As for instance the Palestinians are bleeding Israel and the Irish Republican Army is bleeding Britain, so are Iraqi Saddamites now seeking to bleed - and thereby drive out - the United States?

Lighter notes: (1) Hormel Foods Corp. is suing a Seattle software company (Spam Arrest LLC) for trademark infringement of its canned meat product Spam (6 billion cans sold since 1937). (2) About 120 trial lawyers, consumer advocates and public health officials recently met in Boston to plot litigation against restaurants, food companies and fast-food chains selling fatty foods - a la suits against tobacco and gun manufacturers.

And (3) seeking to close its $1 billion budget gap, and facing state prohibitions against income, business, payroll and banking taxes, Nevada legislators are seriously contemplating a 10 percent "entertainment" tax on, yes, prostitution.