Honor the Flag
The American flag stands for the right to burn it. What a wonderful symbol of our nation's democracy.
So why is it that some members of Congress want to pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning?
As the adage goes: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"
It is more in sorrow than in anger that I write to protest thobsessive preoccupation of your religion editor with issues of sex in the church.
There are countless stories about wonderful things that are happening in Baltimore's religious community that go largely untold while Frank P. L. Somerville records every instance of clergy sexual misconduct or controversy over homosexuality he can find.
In his front-page article on June 10, he even dredged up a three-year old story about the blessing of a same-sex union in a Baltimore church, which is hardly news anymore.
For a newspaper that is constantly bemoaning the flight of institutions from the city, you have some very strange priorities.
Last summer, historic St. James Episcopal Church on Lafayette and Arlington Avenues was hit by lightning. The resulting fire did severe damage to the sanctuary.
The congregation is mostly middle-class African-American; many no longer live in the neighborhood of the church. They considered rebuilding further out but decided that they had an important ministry to the community, which is now much poorer than when the church was built.
They run many outreach programs, including St. James Academy, a nationally recognized before-and-after school program for neighborhood children. They are exploring building a community center across the street from the church.
On June 11, after two years of reconstruction, St. James Church was rededicated with great celebration and appropriate ceremony. Now that is a story that might have gone on your front page.
Dale E. Balfour
Real Highway Tolls
James J. Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, sent out a press release regarding the most comprehensive study done on speed limits in over 30 years.
This study was made under the supervision of the Federal Highway Administration, and as Mr. Baxter states in the release:
"The study clearly proves that speed limits, as employed in the U.S., have virtually no influence on driver behavior. Raise the limit, lower the limit or remove the signs altogether, and traffic speeds do not materially change.
"Furthermore, raising or lowering speed limits has no meaningful influence on traffic safety. This research effort was completed over two years ago, submitted for rigorous peer review, and sent off to the Transportation Research Board to be forgotten and ignored.
"These were not the kind of results that the safety establishment, insurance industry or enforcement agencies wanted publicized. They fly in the face of 40 years of 'speed kills' propaganda and call serious question to traffic enforcement priorities."
Now that Congress has passed a bill removing the national speed limit, the editorials and the opinion page are once again filling up with the bleak assessments of carnage on our highways.
I have just reread some of your recent editorials, and you have really been sucked in by the deliberate falsities of the insurance and safety "experts" propaganda.
You would do us all a favor by getting the FHA study and doing a comprehensive article before following the propaganda lines of vested interests on either side of the controversy.
Richard L. Anderson
A Poor Welcome
I think it is disgraceful that there is not a safe place to pull into on Charles Street to pick up or discharge passengers at Penn Station during the reconstruction.
It is crowded, dirty and confusing. What a welcome to the city of Baltimore! Surely something could be done to provide a better temporary entrance.
Stealths Cost Less
The Sun's editorial of June 14, "Stealth Attack on the Budget," argues that "the Air Force doesn't need 20 more B-2 Stealth bombers at $1.5 billion each." That is not a hard call to make, because the actual cost of a new B-2 is about half the amount you cite.
The Air Force calculates that if it buys 20 more B-2s, each one will cost $633 million to $787 million (in 1995 dollars), depending on whether spare parts, support equipment, facilities and other items are included. That is four to five times what a Boeing 747 airliner costs.
The only way you can derive a cost of $1.5 billion is to add the procurement price to the "life-cycle cost" of operating the plane for many years, and then express the total in inflated dollars. Using that method, a 1955 Chevrolet would cost well over $50,000.
The high cost of each B-2 is explained at least partly by the very uneconomical rate at which it is being procured.
You should be aware that the alternatives the administration is planning, in place of more B-2s, are likely to cost a similar &L; amount, particularly if the nation actually has to fight a war.
You should also be aware that every living secretary of defense who has served in the last 20 years, except the present incumbent, supports the purchase of additional B-2s.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Alexis de Tocqueville
The CIA with Blood on its Hands
In The Sun's Honduras series, starting with the June 13 segment on the torturers' confessions, it is difficult to fathom why CIA staffers would ignore and, more importantly, fail to report senseless acts of torture by their trainees in Battalion 316 in Honduras during the 1980s.
There are wartime circumstances that might justify the use of extreme measures to penetrate a terrorist network. Honduras in the 1980s does not seem to one of them.
A film used in CIA training in the 1960s was "Battle for Algiers," based on Col. Roger Tringuier's book, "Modern Warfare," describing his effective effort to break up the "clandestine warfare organization" or Algerian nationalist terrorists in the 1950s.
An essential ingredient of this effort was the expeditious use of interrogation in which "violence is an unavoidable necessity" (torture) to get the name and plans of the next level up the hierarchy before there is time for escape or reaction.
Tringuier's book says that interrogations should be conducted by specialists perfectly versed in the techniques to be employed and emphasizes the counter-productiveness of brutality. This training film was clearly aimed at the wartime context of Vietnam. American policy-makers and especially the CIA were to face the problem of how to deal with allies who became infamous as torturers in Latin America throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The problem was never simple.
The experience of Brazil and Argentina in the 1960s and 1970s is illustrative of how the U.S. chose a policy of consistent and sometimes public criticism of systematic torture and execution.
In both Brazil and Argentina, U.S. interests were the target of nationalist liberation (Marxist-Leninist) terrorist attack. The U.S. ambassador to Brazil was kidnapped in 1968.
Yet American embassies and decisive CIA station chiefs reported and discouraged the excesses of government anti-terrorist units that systematically tortured and killed subversive guerrilla suspects.
As one chief of station in Brazil put it in 1970, "How can we overlook the senseless torture of a university student who has no likely connection to any subversive conspiracy? If the U.S. goal is the long-range success of this Brazilian administration, we are doing them a favor by calling [reporting] them on this."
Underscoring the complexity of the issue, however, this same chief accepted with thanks a Brazilian military report forewarning of a terrorist act aimed at an American business executive in Rio de Janeiro.
The report clearly came from the interrogation of a terrorist. But the policy remained firm that the embassy and the agency would have no supportive role and actively discourage death squads.
In stark contrast is the experience in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala during the Reagan administration, when Oliver North, Elliot Abrams and CIA chief William Casey were orchestrating a secret war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government and fellow travelers in neighboring republics.
This was a spare-no-expense, no-holds-barred effort to marshal clandestine and overt resources to stop the spread of Cuban-style communism in the hemisphere. As one CIA staffer whose task was to intercept arms sent from Nicaragua to El Salvador militants said in 1985, "Building a force that will seek out enemy contact and put themselves at risk requires training, assured reward and sometimes a blind eye to excesses.
"Don't kid yourself. This is a real war, with a real body count, and these guys are on the front line."
In this atmosphere of real danger and American anti-communist fervor, it is easy for a clandestine service officer -- perhaps hardened by Vietnam experience -- to say: This is war, the goal is to defeat communism in all its forms, Battalion 316 is breaking up the subversive infrastructure in Honduras, a few lives may be lost to save the security of the hemisphere.
It is harder to understand why a chief of station or an ambassador, hearing of the excesses, would not call them into question or, at least, report them in channels.
These excesses did not fit the model of the Battle of Algiers and were much more like the Brazilian and Argentine models. One suspects that the tacit, or express, message from Washington was to get the job done and don't ask questions.
The CIA with blood on its hands -- count one more victory for Bill Casey and Ollie North.
Reality, not Racism, in Belair-Edison
In response to Vincent Quayle's letter of June 28, "Erase the Tapes," I beg to differ.
I wonder what year Mr. Quayle became a part of the Belair-Edison community for him to say that deterioration of these neighborhoods has not occurred as in other neighborhoods he mentioned, i.e., Lochearn, Northwood and Randallstown.
I was born and raised in Belair-Edison, and when I had children I raised the two of them in that neighborhood also.
My children went to the Little Flower School and I was very active in the community. Many a night we walked to Herring Run Park to watch a ballgame, or rode our bikes through the trails.
I wonder how many residents feel safe enough to do that today? Now that my children are grown up and have children of their own, the notion of them living in the Belair-Edison community and raising their children is not even a remote thought.
Back in the early 1980s this neighborhood was declining. All you had to do was walk on Belair Road starting at Erdman Avenue onto Chesterfield Avenue to see the decline.
Years ago you might have seen one or two run-down properties in the neighborhood. But take a close look now: It is much more than one or two.
Ask the small merchants that used to be on every corner when I was living there. Where are they now? Do they still give credit to families who reside there? If they are still there, are their stores protected by bars? Are they scared to death of burglary or of customers being robbed, or of store theft putting them out of business?
Mr. Quayle's letter sounded sincere, and I am sure that the old-timers still living in the Belair-Edison area are thankful for someone like him who has a vision.
But don't try and change the facts: people like me and my family who were fortunate enough to be able to move did so, and for those who are not as fortunate, it is a shame. Because what was back in the '50s, '60s and '70s is gone, and never to return.
It breaks the heart of every person who ever lived in this area. It was a great place to raise children, it was a safe place to live.
You did not fear walking anywhere, whether to the Vilma movie theater, or to the LaPores Sub Stop or to the Blue Bowl Bakery. Where are these today? How many mothers feel safe in that community to let their little girls and boys walk to the park?
It is a real shame that Mr. Quayle was not part of the Belair-Edison Community back then, because he would be heart-broken just like the rest of us when we venture down into the city and look at the areas such as Belair-Edison, Sinclair Lane to Moravia Avenue, upward to Frankford and Belair. These areas sure have changed . . . a lot.
And please note that I have not mentioned racial barriers as he often did, because no matter what you feel or say, they do exist because of the above.
So forget "erasing the tapes" as he mentioned and let's try and educate people on taking pride in their homes, pride in raising decent children into productive adults and making the parents responsible for the actions of their children.
Race becomes the issue when one group of people witnesses the decline of its neighborhood, when a certain race comes into a neighborhood and within a few months stores are boarded up and merchants start leaving.
Can you blame the hard-working individuals who watch this happen? Isn't it only human nature to place the blame on the ones who created the problem?
Everyone's excuse today is to scream "racism" when hard-working people get angry over seeing their neighborhoods decline.
But in reality, the problem is not racial, the problem is the way so many people in today's inner city live -- little supervision and guidance given to their children; lack of pride in their homes and blocks; nonproductive lives, not giving anything back to the community.
For far too many, this is a choice they have taken and the path of destruction will always follow these people. It should not make a person a racist or a bigot to state the truth.
You can hide your head in the sand and say all the right political things to keep certain groups of people content and happy, but this will never solve the problems facing the inner neighborhoods today.
Only when people start talking about the problems out in public and dealing with them, without feeling that they are going to be accused of being a racist, will things start to get better.
Linda M. Hess
Get Proper Perspective on Affirmative Action
With all the knee-jerk conservatism concerning affirmative action, it seems a proper perspective is needed to fully examine the issue.
Whites had an affirmative action plan for over 200 years. Their plan represented them in the work force to a far greater extent than their representation in the general population.
That is still the case, particularly in management and administrative positions. Current affirmative action has sought merely to represent blacks in proportion to their representation in the general population.
As part of the plan for whites, there was a quota system whereby only whites could be hired for any position of power or authority. Zero blacks could be hired for those positions.
That policy was ironclad and foolproof. Current affirmative action for blacks is ridiculously mild in comparison. Quotas are a goal, not an absolute. There's nothing ironclad or foolproof about it.
Whites were chosen for jobs because of their color. They never had to compete directly against equally or more qualified blacks.
Blacks were immediately rejected solely because of their color. Under current affirmative action, whites have an opportunity to apply and compete for any job.
It is agonizing to think what damage has been done to the progress of this great nation due to the hiring and promotion of unqualified whites based purely on the color of their skin.
If a white person cannot make it in this white-favoring society, he has only himself to blame. It has nothing to do with blacks.
It seems that whites prefer to blame someone or something else for their failures instead of taking responsibility for their own ineptitude.
I have never heard of or read about a black person getting a job over a more qualified white person. I have many times heard of, read about and seen a white person getting a job over a more qualified black person. The only blacks I have known about getting hired or promoted ahead of whites were much more qualified than the whites they competed against. What reputable figures are there to show if any qualified white person has been denied a job due to current affirmative policies? (If there are any such figures, they should be balanced against those that show how many qualified blacks have been denied jobs due to their color.)
Racism against blacks is still rampant in this country. Innumerable studies have shown that blacks are still widely discriminated against by every measure, whether in looking for a job, buying a car, finding an apartment, buying a house, etc.
It seems that whites are the first to cry racism when they feel the tables are being turned even a little bit to make up for the inequities of the past. Where were their cries of racism when they were the beneficiaries of it? I really do not see what whites have to complain about. They think that the past should be swept under a rug and forgotten while conducting business as usual. Where is the justice in that? Where is the compensation, the reparation such as that given to Japanese-Americans who were wrongfully detained during World War II? What it really is about is that certain whites feel their dominance being threatened.
The only way to level the playing field would be to hire only blacks for all positions of power and authority for, let us say, the next 200 years. But as that is not going to happen in a million years, than affirmative action is the only way.
What needs to be remembered about affirmative action is that it exists not just to redress the wrongs of the past but to also prevent the wrongs of the present.
As long as whites continue to hire and promote whites and do business with whites because they are white. at the expense of equally or more qualified blacks, then this country still needs affirmative action.
If you doubt that still happens, then visit many of the companies located in Baltimore. There you will find an almost entirely white work force. The only blacks you will find are in menial positions.
If you ask those companies why they do not have any blacks in higher positions, they will tell you it is because they can't find any that are qualified -- in a city with over 300,000 blacks!
Affirmative action means equal opportunity. Without affirmative action, what little access blacks have to good jobs will be closed for good as the good old white-boy network continues to hire and promote its own.
If we return to the practices of old, then racial polarization will continue. That is exactly what the racists want. That is exactly what the Republican party is playing to, to score imagined political points, to the detriment of our nation.
If we do not have affirmative action to provide equal opportunity for all Americans, then what do the knee-jerk conservatives propose to take its place, if anything? Surely they can't claim that racism is no longer a problem.
Affirmative action and equal opportunity are based on noble ideals. Let us continue to support those ideals.
If the way they are implemented needs improvement to be more effective, let us do it. But let us not abandon those ideals because of racist political opportunists.
Lee Wells Williamson