Lessons from Brownsville Tragedy
Editor: Your Jan. 19 edition carried on the front page a story about babies in Brownsville, Texas, born without brains. This is almost surely the tragic result of pollution from industry in Matamoros, Brownsville's sister city in Mexico, where industrial growth has boomed over the last three decades.
That growth is dominated by U.S.-owned companies, which moved there to exploit the cheap labor, favorable trade rules and lax enforcement of environmental laws.
The Brownsville tragedy is not an isolated incident. It is a symptom of a serious defect in current trade policies.
Trade agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) subordinate important considerations such as environmental damage, health and safety standards and human rights issues. They force "normalization" of enforcement of environmental, health, safety and human-rights legislation.
This means that the laws of the country with the least effective laws on environmental protection, health, safety and human rights must prevail internationally. This seriously threatens the global environment.
Leveling the playing field at the lowest level leads inevitably to tragedies like the one in Brownsville.
Mexico protested, to the GATT Dispute Resolution Panel, that the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which forbids import of tuna from countries whose fishing fleets kill large numbers of dolphin while harvesting tuna, was actually a trade barrier and that the U.S. in any case could not regulate activities of other nations on the high seas. The GATT panel upheld the protest and ordered the U.S. to either amend its law or face punitive duties on exports to Mexico. The panel ruled that a nation may protect only resources within its borders, leaving the global commons open to exploitation.
Going even further, the panel stated that any restriction on how products are produced or harvested is a trade barrier. This means that even human life may not be protected; a nation cannot exclude pesticide-laden food imports or products produced by child or slave labor.
Under this ruling the U.S. is powerless to impose any sanctions on Mexico to force cleanup of the Matamoros pollution so babies in the poorer section of Brownsville, and in Matamoros, must continue to be born without brains. This is free-market capitalism gone completely insane.
The U.S. must immediately reject the GATT ruling on Mexico's protest of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and pledge in very clear, unambiguous terms to reject any future GATT ruling which threatens human rights, health, safety or environmental standards.
Such misguided actions of the GATT cannot be tolerated. A trade agreement panel cannot be allowed to dictate that environmental destruction may not be curbed in any way and that even such abuses as human slavery may not be punished.
Comprehensive revision of the GATT is urgently needed. The founding principles, written in 1948 now grossly out of date, must be rewritten to reflect current realities. The U.S. should withdraw from GATT unless the marine mammal ruling is repudiated.
Ann Pollitt. Baltimore.
Shameful State Lottery
Editor: Although I do not consider myself a strident moralist, I can no longer accept the state lottery as a generator of revenue when I try to answer my six-year-old's question about how to get $1,000 dollars by working hard and saving your money, he responds by stating he will win the lottery.
Is it right for the state to create a false sense of hope in so many of the poorer sectors of our society by supporting a numbers game in every convenience store; or developing an unrealistic distribution of wealth?
I thought in a free enterprise system the state was suppose to institute and support programs that encouraged the individual to work and reach his or her fullest potential.
I think the state should evaluate whether the revenues gained from the lottery game are worth the message being sent to society at large -- especially the young.
% Stephen L. Devon. Baltimore.
Editor: The governor and legislature should keep in mind that all state and local taxes are not the same.
State, local and property taxes may be deducted from federal income taxes. Sales and excise taxes and user fees are not deductible.
Thus, when a Marylander pays a dollar in state or local income or property tax it costs him no more than 72 cents ($1 minus the 28 cents he saves on federal income taxes).
A dollar spent in state and local sales and excise taxes and fees costs a full dollar.
% Roy H. Millenson. Bethesda.
Editor: Once again, The Sun, like Mayor Schmoke, is suggesting an unclear quick-fix proposal to alleviate the financial problems of Baltimore City.
What the proposal about a required city residency for municipal employees fails to take into account are the many personal decisions that an individual city employee must make when deciding where to live.
Some examples: a young couple starting a family may move closer to relatives who they know will provide secure child-care (especially in those times that firefighters are required to work past their shift during various emergencies). Or a spouse may work for the government of a neighboring jurisdiction.
If that county retaliates with a similar residency requirement, will the couple be forced to buy two homes?
In his management-by-crisis style, Mayor Schmoke has again suggested a plan that is half thought-out and clearly unworkable.
( Robert J. Sledgeski. Baltimore.
Editor: Forgive those of us who love the ocean and want to see everything possible done to preserve our fine beach in Ocean City. I wish we could be guaranteed that our vast ongoing efforts would be totally successful. I also wish all the money we are spending on research would buy guarantees for curing cancer, heart disease and AIDS. It is part of the human condition to strive to improve deplorable conditions that make our lives difficult.
I hope that continuing efforts will be made to thwart the ravages of storms at the beach as well as ravages of disease. We haven't solved the problems yet but maybe tomorrow.
& Margaret Milleker. Baltimore.
Zero Based Budget
Editor: The current legislative session in Annapolis is presenting our elected officials a unique opportunity and responsibility to downsize the state bureaucracy and the bloated level of services it provides.
The ever-increasing rallying cry of "No more taxes" is being heard throughout the state.
Where to cut? A few suggestions:
1. In deliberating the budget, begin with zero increase in expenditures, not the 8 percent increase assumed by the governor.
2. Make further reductions from the zero base in the many areas which still cry out for reduction or elimination.
3. Avoid the verbal trap of "untouchable" mandated programs. Most can be un-mandated.
& H. Calvin Huether. Phoenix.
Editor: We have heard so much of Japanese competition for the American market in cars, television sets, etc., that we tend to forget that competition is not a one-way street.
Before we condemn the Japanese as devils, let's look at some of the ways in which Americans compete successfully.
The Japanese aluminum industry is down to 40 percent of capacity because of imports of cheaper American metal used in Japanese cars. The petrochemical industry is in deep trouble because of unfair American imports, as the controlled price of natural gas in this country lowers American costs considerably.
American luxury cars are in demand by Japanese gangsters and millionaires. And to top it all, the bodyguard of the emperor is mounted on Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
So American industry can compete if it tries harder.
$ Howard H. Green. Baltimore.
Kudos, Not Wrath
It was fascinating to read that they were chastised by the House leadership for actually reading a spending bill they were to vote on, voting against it, then with audacity stating they were voting the way they believed their constituents felt.
A hearty well done and a giant nose-thumb to those on the taxing and spending side of the establishment.
& Robert S. Lindsay. Towson.
Editor: City Council President Mary Pat Clarke should be commended for placing on the public agenda the question of electing members to the city school board.
Objections to the concept are entertaining political rhetoric: feared takeover by ruthless interest groups of one or more of the six elected seats proposed (meaning some might actually assemble at least a plurality and elect people who agree with them) and -- goodness knows -- politicization of the board (read: the electorate gets direct political input into selection of those who are to set educational policy rather than entrusting it to the luck of a stale and demonstrably ineffective appointment process).
Other political motives aside, Ms. Clarke's idea deserves a serious hearing.
$ Anthony D. Cobb. Baltimore.
The writer was Ms. Clarke's Republican opponent last year.