Although I often agree with Garry Wills, I was enraged by his Feb. 28 anti-death penalty column where he discussed a recent opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun.
This rage is not based on disagreement as much as it is on pride.
As an attorney, I take pride in my profession. I am not so elitist as to contend that a layman is unfit to write about matters pertaining to law. However, I am elitist enough to contend that those who do write about law ought to research the law with care.
Mr. Wills does not understand the meaning of the words "due process." It does not mean that every person will obtain the exact same sympathy, treatment and results.
Nonetheless, this is exactly what Mr. Wills believes it to mean. This is evident in his comparing the Menendez brothers to other people who have faced the electric chair.
Due process means that every individual will be given a "hearing" and "opportunity to be heard." To contend that a death penalty defendant is not given due process belies this notion.
Unless the defendant waives appellate rights, the defendant is given countless appeals. Indeed, the execution often takes place some 10 years after the sentence is imposed.
Due process also means fundamental fairness. This is a more abstract concept. In essence, it asks whether there is anything about the case that although not expressly forbidden by the Constitution is still an affront to the basic cannons of decency.
If a death row inmate has an argument as to the violation of this concept, there are more than adequate safeguards to assure the inmate can be heard.
Either Mr. Wills misread Justice Blackmun's opinion or Justice Blackmun is degenerating into becoming another William O. Douglas, a former justice not known for legal scholarship. In any event, Mr. Wills has not demonstrated that he has the competence to write about law.
He may want to talk to Lyle Denniston or James J. Kilpatrick before he tries to do it again.
Dennis G. Olver
When The Sun reported the defeat of the balanced budget amendment (S-41), I called the Washington offices of Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., to learn why they had voted against it.
Senator Sarbanes provided no summary of his reasons. His staff can send the statement he delivered on the Senate floor. It is 11 pages long.
Senator Mikulski did explain her vote. Passage of S-41, she wrote, would have led to job losses and tax increases. She supports the president's "deficit reduction package" passed last summer which, she said, will reduce foreign aid, cut 252,000 federal jobs and (wow) eliminate subsidies for honey and wool.
The 1994 budget, while socking us with a retroactive tax hike for the whole previous year, did not reduce the deficit, but only the rate at which it will rise. Eighty percent of the spending cuts won't even happen until 1996.
Our government's debt is $4.4 trillion and climbing. Interest payments alone will take 57 cents of every income tax dollar we send this spring. Another 33 cents will go for wasteful projects. The balanced budget amendment could have wrung out some of that waste.
The United States is going broke, and those most directly responsible are the president and members of Congress, the new ruling class.
But citizens, too, are to blame -- for blinding ourselves to their failures and for turning over more and more of our sovereignty to Big Government whose handouts, when they benefit us or our personal causes, we shamelessly accept.
Mignon A. B. Cameron
House Stood Up
Contrary to the headline on Karen Hosler's article March 5 ("House collapses instead of standing up"), the House did stand up. The House members stood up for the people they were elected to represent.
The language of H.R. 6 (the "education bill" cited in the article) clearly made provision for private and home schools to come under government control for teacher certification in Section 2124(e), 9101(11), 9101(20).
Fortunately, many parents of private- and home-schooled children were alerted to this possibility, and these parents responded to their elected officials that they do not want the government telling them how to educate their children.
If Ms. Hosler believes this to be detrimental, she should review statistics that prove private- and home-schooled students far excel academically their public-schooled peers.
Julia A. Hamilton
Cut Pay, Perks
One final word on Theo Lippman's comments on congressional term limitations (Perspective, Feb. 20): There is absolutely no need to pass term limits for members of Congress.
All we really have to do is figure out a way to trim congressional salaries to $50,000 a year, scale back congressional staffs to two or three aides, cut congressional budgets to $250,000 a year and make congressmen pay the full value for such perks as lunches, haircuts, health clubs and junkets.
Do that and I guarantee there would be a mass exodus out of Washington after one term.
As long as we make it profitable to be a professional politician, we'll be stuck with professional politicians.
John F. Kelly
Let's settle the "banging halyards" issue in Rock Hall.
The fact is, Rock Hall already has an extensive noise ordinance on the books. This ordinance already prohibits the noise that might come from a banging halyard, along with any other noise that falls within the stated guidelines of what is considered "noise."
To specifically mention banging halyards was a purely political move. The effort not to specifically mention banging halyards was a move to prevent political pettiness from entering our
Thelma "Lori" Campbell
E9 The writer is a Town Council member and marina owner.
Blacks in the Confederacy
I read Les Kinsolving's expansive and tendentious riposte (letter, March 5) germane to Marjorie Ashe's Opinion * Commentary article of Feb. 22, relative to the status of blacks during the Civil War and the nature of their service in the military in support of the Confederate states.
I do not believe, based upon what she wrote and the historical record, that Mrs. Ashe sought to be meretricious or mendacious as suggested by Mr. Kinsolving. . . .
There is general agreement among historians that there were blacks, who, too, owned slaves or engaged the services of indentured servants, black and white, prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.
In point of fact, Anthony Johnson, a black indentured servant from England in 1621 satisfied the terms of his indenture and imported five indentured servants, black and white, in 1651 (according to Lerone Bennett's "Before the Mayflower").
It is a matter of historical record that slavery was officially begun in the American colonies in 1661 when the Virginia legislature approved it. Maryland followed Virginia in 1664 in legalizing slavery and it spread throughout the remaining colonies.
Slavery, too, long antedated the American experience, having occurred in ancient Greece, Rome, Africa and other civilizations.
The distinguishing facts of slavery in other civilizations or areas the world were that, generally, slaves were permitted to marry and there was not a deliberate and systematic destruction of the family unit in a chattel arrangement.
Mr. Kinsolving fails to provide evidence of which Census report he consulted in affirming that more than 3,000 free blacks in the United States were slave owners prior to 1865. At the apogee of the black population in 1861, according to Census data of 1860, there were 4 million slaves and 500,000 free blacks. At what point do 3,000 free blacks own slaves and where? Mr. Kinsolving's research and historical exegesis do not invalidate the point of Mrs. Ashe that blacks were not in combat for the Confederacy.
To be sure, blacks were used by the Confederacy to build fortifications, transport material and perform the hard, grubby, dirty and back-breaking work regarded as unfit for white recruits.
Then, too, even the so-called "free blacks" in the antebellum South were not, in fact, accorded citizenship rights. This reality is made abundantly clear in John Hope Franklin's "From Slavery to Freedom," Benjamin Quarles' "The Negro in the Making of America," Kenneth Stamp's "The Peculiar Institution," Winthrop Jordan's "White Over Black" and C. Vann Woodward's "The Strange Career of Jim Crow."
In short, the case cannot be made that black persons viewed as chattel or a suborder of life without basic citizenship rights supported the Confederate cause as combatants.
The central aim of the Confederate states, in a state of official rebellion, utilizing the battle cry of states' rights, was to institutionalize that "peculiar institution" (i.e., slavery) and to maintain 4 million blacks in the South in 1861 in a state of peonage, degradation and without any rights white people were obligated to respect.
Unfortunately, Les Kinsolving does not address this diaphanous, painful and unmistakable historical fact.
Samuel L. Banks
The Maryland chapter of the American Jewish Congress strongly condemns the cowardly criminal massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Goldstein, a physician and supposedly ultra-Orthodox Jew, profaned his profession, his religion and his people by his despicable terrorist act.
As Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has stated, Goldstein and his supporters in the terrorist settler organization, Kach, have put themselves outside the Jewish people and outside the Zionist tradition by this mass murder and by Kach's praise of Goldstein's actions.
The government of Israel has begun to take measures against the fanatics whose philosophy of hatred led to this abomination. More stringent measures may be in order.
If so, we are confident the Israeli government will do what is necessary to protect the security of all inhabitants of the territories, both Israeli and Palestinian, and to prevent such a crime from occurring again.
Israelis and Palestinians of goodwill must now deny Goldstein the goal he and other terrorists on both sides have sought, the dismantling of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Kach and its soul-mate in racist hatred, Hamas, must not be allowed to prevail.
It is incumbent upon the Israeli government and the PLO to redouble their efforts to find a just and lasting peace for both peoples. A century of death and mourning on both sides is far too much.
The American Jewish Congress extends its deepest sympathies Ato the families of the victims. May their deaths not be in vain.
The writers are president and vice president, respectively, of the Maryland chapter of the American Jewish Congress.
The massacre in Hebron and the subsequent insensitive statements by the Kach leadership were a source of pain and outrage to Jews here and abroad.
These extremists, obviously, do not represent the sentiments of the people of Israel, nor are they spokesmen for any significant segment of the Jewish community.
Nineteen hundred years ago, a similar band of zealots brushed aside the counsel of their elders and religious leaders and persisted in a conflict that led to almost 2,000 years of wandering and suffering.
One can only pray that the government of Israel will rein in this lunatic fringe before it produces its own set of tragic consequences.
Mentally Ill Need More Than Insurance
Very few thoughtful readers could disagree with the statement in Paul Lavin's letter "Psycho-babble and Mental Illness" (Feb. 26) that said, "These youngsters, their parents, and the institutions that work with them need the help of well-qualified mental health professionals."
However, mandating parity of insurance coverage for mental illness by itself does not even come close to guaranteeing the fulfillment of Mr. Lavin's hope.
As in every human endeavor, the content of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (currently DSM-III-R) is far from perfect.
Some listings are invalid as a result, at least in part, of politics, pressure from within the professional community, flawed or inadequate research, and because they reflect society's current perceptions of its problems.
Diagnostic tools are not, in every case, clearly defined.
It is not surprising, then, that treatment for a specific disorder can be a topic of serious debate within the mental health community, and that treatment is not always based on what is known from valid research.
Even if the preceding were corrected, the State of Maryland still could not guarantee uniformly good mental health services to its citizens unless providers were certified to be competent in their respective fields and were required to be licensed to practice in specific competencies.
There are surely many highly professional people in the mental health field who, like Mr. Lavin, see the need for affordable, appropriate, and available treatment within the health care system.
But by itself parity insurance coverage does nothing, absolutely nothing, to insure that the system is meeting Mr. Lavin's standards.
There is no requirement in Maryland law that mental health counselors be either certified or licensed.
In other words, Marylanders are engaged in a highly dangerous game of mental health roulette.
Several bills before the current General Assembly -- H.B. 1176, H.B. 1314 and S.B. 655 -- address the issue of regulation. These fTC proposals need thoughtful input from both professionals and citizens.
It appears that we are all going to be paying the price of mental health treatment.
It will be our collective fault if part of that price is treatment that is, in too many cases, poor, misguided or just plain bad -- delivered by practitioners who are unqualified or who, though qualified, ignore accepted wisdom based on valid research.
Carol M. Ricketts
Psychiatric Disorders Are Real
Richard E. Vatz and Lee S. Weinberg, in their Feb. 13 article, "Making Maryland the Therapeutic State," appear to have missed the fundamental intent of the Mental Health Insurance Parity Act, so caught up are they in their contempt for psychiatry and the mental health professions.
This legislation concerns equity and discrimination. For years, insurance companies have gotten away with the most blatant discrimination against the mentally ill.
Mentally ill people are often not good at standing up for their own rights. The prejudices, or timidity, of the rest of us have prevented us from going to their defense -- until recently.
Now, an unprecedented effort from a very wide coalition of groups, including the mentally ill, their families, their health care providers and other mental health advocates has succeeded in establishing that it is unfair to discriminate against certain sick people on grounds of diagnosis.
State legislators such as Senators Howard Denis, R-Montgomery, and Patricia Sher, D-Montgomery, have responded courageously. They resisted enormous pressure from the insurance industry lobby and sponsored this historic legislation in defense of the disabled and vulnerable.
Insurance policies have commonly provided very extensive coverage for people with advanced kidney disease, cancer or heart disease, polio or epilepsy, tuberculosis or leukemia, or any other physical disorder, acute or chronic.
If, however, the diagnosis was schizophrenia, or a crippling obsessional disorder, or life-threatening depression, or anorexia nervosa, coverage has been restricted, with higher co-payments and much stricter limits on length of hospital stay. This is unjust.
Psychiatric disorders are real. Not even the insurance companies dispute that. It is the sufferers, and their families who can most clearly attest to the reality of their suffering and the degree of disability psychiatric disorders can impose.
The disability and lost productivity produced by depression is second only to that produced by heart disease. There are sound economic reasons for enabling mentally ill people to get access to mental health care, if humanitarian reasons are not enough.
These authors ridicule the notion that "mental illness is just like any other illness," but their argument is specious.
Of course mental illnesses, by their nature, are not just like any other illness. AIDS is not just like any other illness, nor is breast cancer. They all, however, cause great suffering, they all may be fatal, they all respond to treatment and they should all be covered equally by health insurance policies. In these respects, mental illnesses are just like any other illnesses.
If it is true, as these authors imply, that anti-depressants, such as Prozac, are being over-prescribed by physicians, this may, indeed, be a byproduct of the present system of health insurance coverage, which discourages patients from consulting psychiatrists.
Most prescriptions for anti-depressants are written by non-psychiatric physicians. Were it easier for depressed patients consult psychiatrists or other mental health professionals, there might be less resort to medication and more appropriate use of other approaches.
Mr. Vatz and Mr. Weinberg suggest that because the existence of a mental illness can not be demonstrated by an objective lab test, it does not exist.
This is ridiculous.
Did we not believe in fractures before we had X-rays?
Did we not believe in malaria before we could see the parasite in a blood film?
They also assail psychiatry and psychology for failure to define clearly the boundaries of their field, and for failure to define clearly the syndromes and disorders we deal with.
This criticism is valid, but it is an old and tired criticism, one which is widely accepted within the mental health professions.
Do not take us for fools. The entities we deal with are, by their nature, abstract, elusive and difficult to objectify. It is precisely for this reason that the American Psychiatric Association has devoted great energy and resources over recent decades in developing Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals (DSM-IV will be published this year).
We know that we have problems with definitions in our field, but these technical issues do not in the slightest degree reduce the suffering of people with psychiatric disorders, or in any way diminish their right to the same consideration and access to treatment as people who suffer from other types of illness.
Finally, they accuse us of over-treating people. In this we have been guilty -- in some cases.
In addition to the natural tendency of all helping professions to try to do more, rather than less, this problem is to some extent a product of our fee-for-service health care financing system.
It also results, in some situations, from fear of accusations of malpractice if less treatment is offered. This same criticism is leveled at obstetricians and cardiac surgeons, among others.
But this is no reason to discriminate against the mentally ill in insurance coverage. A depressed person is entitled to coverage for appropriate treatment every bit as much as a woman in labor or a man with coronary occlusion.
If treatment is being provided inappropriately, that is a matter for utilization review, a procedure universally employed by insurance companies anyhow.
William R. Breakey
The writer is deputy director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.