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January Rants
by Ronald Bruce Meyer
A collection of opinionated thoughts not deserving of a separate page or a full essay




January 29, 2002 Axis of Political Correctness
tattered flagThe State of the Union is strong, according to our court-appointed president in his speech tonight. I was particularly amused by his coining the term "Axis of Evil" in describing three states with only marginal menace to the United States: North Korea, Iran, Iraq.

It was another George, George Orwell, who wrote in his 1948 novel 1984 that if you keep people in a constant state-of-war mentality, you can get them to accept anything: any privation, any restriction on liberty, even atrocities against human rights. In other words, we can freely violate everything the United States stands for, in order to preserve what the United States stands for. I can't be the only one who sees the irony in burning the Constitution in order to save it. But the "Axis of Evil" was a bit much to accept: there you have a country blighted by Islamic theocracy, and one marginally Islamic, lumped together with an Asian country that can't even feed its people. Am I the only one who sees this as an attempt to be politically correct about Islam? After all, if Mr. Bush had named only Islamic countries -- most of whom can't even educate 3/4 of their female population and many of whom outlaw political parties -- he might appear religiously prejudiced.

That would be too bad, I know. But since these Islamic theocracies in the Middle East stand against everything we stand for -- capitalism, equal rights for women, individual rights, great art, literature, music, republican government, rule of law, religious pluralism, technological and scientific progress (Islam teaches creationism) -- and don't shy away from trying to convert us, I'm not the least bit worried about appearances.


January 23, 2002 What Does Government Do??
My take on the article by M.W. Guzy ("Feel No Remorse - The Corporate Creed") published in the online liberal commentary site TomPaine.com, is that he speaks an obvious truth. Corporations, like The Terminator, are designed for one purpose only: the Terminator's is to kill people, the corporation's is to generate profits. Everything else is secondary. Guzy, a columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, pointed out that asking a corporation to display ethics and conscience in its operation is futile. It's like asking a fundamentalist to stop proselytizing

But here is where government should come in. Unlike most conservatives, who want government restricted to its traditional roles of defending our shores from invasion and our citizens from violent (if not corporate) crime, I think government has a vital role that cannot otherwise be filled. The marketplace won't do it; private watchdogs can only throw a tantrum -- they don't have power against countervailing corporate cash. The role government can, and must, fill, is that of leveler: government can equalize unequal powers, unequal interests.

In its role of leveling the playing field, government can make sure corporations play fair with each other by setting minimum standards of conduct, in business and ethics; government can also act as citizen-advocate, using its power (as Guzy pointed out) to make corporate behavior ethical by making corporate misbehavior too expensive. Money is something a corporation understands. The upside of government meddling in corporate ethics is this: Corporations freed of concerns that their competition can beat them in a race to the ethical lowest common denominator, can better serve their customers, and multiply their profits, by pursuing them both in ethical ways. Only government can assure that end.


January 11, 2002 My letter in print!
Oh, boy! I finally got my letter printed in the Chicago Sun-Times! Too bad it took so long -- I had moved from Chicago to the Washington, DC, area almost a week earlier. And I don't think the Washington Post has ever published one of my pugnacious letters, or paid me to print one of my op-ed commentaries. But there is a certain thrill in seeing your name in print (or, as in this case, on the Internet, which has a wider circulation). I wrote a more detailed rant on this subject on December 28, but here is the letter as it appeared in the Sun-Times today:

One concluding note: The Sun-Times treats me better than the snooty Tribune, which has never published one of my letters in the 26 months I lived in town.


January 7, 2002 When in Rome...
tattered flagI like to think of myself as a feminist -- inasmuch as a man can be one and still be politically incorrect enough to enjoy printed and video erotica. That said, I found the story in today's Washington Post, about Lt. Col. Martha McSally, particularly compelling. Air Force fighter pilot McSally is a classic over-achiever, realizing that to make it as a female in the male-dominated military, she has to be better than her colleagues. And by many measures she is. In addition, she has the standing to take issue with the policy affecting only Air Force women stationed in Saudi Arabia (74.2% literacy rate for female subjects). She doesn't think it's fair, or even good policy, to be required to wear the customary head-to-toe gown, the abaya and its matching head scarf, similar to the Afghan burqa. She also objects to having to ride in the back seat of cars driven by men she outranks and to be accompanied by a male soldier at all times off base.

The Air Force claims that the policy is for her own protection, presumably from terrorist attacks (as if American soldiers would actually blend in in Saudi Arabia!), but also so as not to offend the Islamic sensibilities of the host government, where separation of church and state is as much of an outrage as mutilation of thieves is here. Lt. Col. McSally's objections are, like her, well reasoned and respectfully articulated. Her supporters, both conservative and liberal, have added their own to a growing list:

 First, that the policy is unconstitutional because it discriminates against women and violates their religious freedom by forcing them to adopt the dress code of another faith.

 Second, "It is unconscionable," says Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), "that our own U.S. government should uphold this institutionalized disrespect of women by requiring that Americans conform to these standards."

 Third, says Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.), "What makes this particularly bizarre... is that we are waging a war in Afghanistan to remove those abayas, and the very soldiers who are conducting that war have to cover up."

 Fourth, the State Department, which is presumably just as concerned about not offending its host, does not require its female employees to wear the abaya. Also, wives of military personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia do not have to wear the garment, either. The host government has not officially complained. Indeed, they forbid US military men from wearing traditional Islamic costume.

 Fifth, and this is of particular concern for McSally, the different (inferior) treatment of women off base cannot have a good effect on the treatment of women on base.

 Sixth, isn't it just hypocritical? As McSally pointed out in a recent discussion at National Cathedral School, before an audience of about 200 girls of the upper school, "If it were in our national security to deploy to South Africa under apartheid, would we have found it acceptable or customary to segregate African American soldiers from other American soldiers, and say, `It's just a cultural thing?'"
Before I add my "hear hear," I'd like to remind McSally's detractors (and she has some) that, in exchange for bailing out Osama bin Laden's homeland in the Gulf War -- a land which the State Department admits has a human rights record that is "generally poor," according to a report last February -- and who wants a confrontation with the mutawaeen? (the stick-wielding religious "police" who roam Saudi streets to enforce Islamic codes) -- the Saudis might cut us a little slack on the dress for our own female military personnel. I mean, aren't we damaging the effectiveness of our female soldiers in the service of their country? (The treatment of women there by Pizza Hut, Starbucks and McDonald's is another matter.) This isn't a question of "When in Rome..." Not only do I think our servicewomen can kick the Saudi's butts... let's face it... we are Rome!

January 2, 2002 Tribunals and Tribulations
tattered flagSenator Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), whose motto appears to be "I am more moral than you are," has argued today in the Washington Post that, "Properly constituted, military tribunals can provide now what they provided in the past: a fair, impartial means of trying and, if appropriate, punishing those who violate the laws of war." I guess this means there really isn't a loyal opposition, or a two-party system, in the United States.

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV; I can't even come close to St. Joseph on the morality scale, although at least I don't sound dyspeptic every time I speak. But I do know enough about the issue to make one niggling little problem with military tribunals. In fact, I'm surprised the good Senator has failed to point this out himself, since it's part of his job: wouldn't it be a necessary condition for military tribunals to be effected, that Congress officially declare war? Our Congress has opened the public purse in the pursuit of (as Molly Ivins calls it) our war on a noun -- so why haven't we gone to the trouble of declaring war?

Yes, I know... declaring war is just a formality. But if we're going to spend unlimited and never-ending sums of public money, put the bill of rights in a lockbox, and short-circuit the judicial process, couldn't we at least put Congress on record? I hear you, Senator Lieberman: "[M]ilitary tribunals have a long-settled and appropriate role to play in wartime, and the focus on whether to have military tribunals has obscured the far more important questions of what procedures those tribunals should follow and who should be subjected to them." They seem like a fait accompli, but I think there is an inherent problem with an official declaration of war on terrorism: in the past, war has been declared on another sovereign state (or states), and in this case we seem to be warring against, uh, What? A tactic?

I mean, if the United States is going to go down the road to authoritarian government, as every great civilization does when it loses its bearings and its perspective, I think we out at least to help out future historians by naming the day the United States sold out 200 years of freedom in exchange for 3,000 lives. Doesn't that make sense? Senator Lieberman's tone, throughout the op-ed piece, is that while he disagrees with the way the president is approaching military tribunals, he doesn't oppose them per se. When all is said and done, however -- and in this case I prefer much more of the former and much less of the latter -- this is a distinction without a difference.

Function creep is the creepiest part of government function, and it has a long and well documented history. My chief fear is this: does anyone truly believe military tribunals, once instituted by our leaders and accepted by the public, will always and forever be restricted to non-citizens? The last bombing of the World Trade Center was in 1993: Must we declare a permanent state of emergency when the "emergencies" occur once every eight years? Or are we over-reacting? I'd like to send the dyspeptic senator a bottle of antacid and a reminder that we have been attacked, but we are not under attack.

Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.

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