Not Pawn Shops
I have followed with interest The Sun's recent articles detailing the failure of several antique dealers to report the purchase of items that turned out to be stolen.
I regret that the responses of some antique dealers have included denial of any responsibility. They offer as justification the fact that they are not "pawnbrokers" and therefore not liable.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of antique dealers are honest and reputable, but so are Baltimore's pawnbrokers.
My family has been in the pawn shop industry in Baltimore at Northwestern Loan Co. for 76 years.
Baltimore pawn shops have long supported state and local regulations that require our businesses to provide to the police detailed daily reports describing the identification of persons pawning items and very specific descriptions of each item taken in pawn.
In addition, pawn shops hold each item for a prescribed period to enable the police to make sure the items are not stolen.
Baltimore pawn shop owners were instrumental in last year's comprehensive restructuring of pawn shop regulations that included several penalties for violating the reporting requirements.
Any business owner can sometimes be fooled into acquiring property that does not belong to the person selling it. It can happen in a pawn shop or an antique shop or any other type of business that acquires property from the public.
The 1995 Bell Atlantic Yellow Pages for Baltimore lists 51 classifications of business other than pawn shops that also buy property from the public. There are more than 1,400 such businesses listed, of which only 49 are pawnbrokers.
It makes no sense that only pawn shops are required to report their transactions while most other types of business are exempt.
Police officials have often told me that if their personal property were to be stolen, they would wish for it to be taken to a pawn shop where, due to the industry's detailed reporting procedures, they would probably recover their property.
Perhaps the quoted antique dealers could find a better way to address their displeasure with The Sun's recent reporting of events than to condemn the entire pawn shop industry.
The writer is president of the Maryland Pawnbrokers Association.
Rights for All
I read Rabbi Manuel M. Poliakoff's letter June 13 with great dismay. It attacks both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association, two groups which, although at different ends of the political spectrum, both stand for supporting the freedoms of the individual citizen.
Rabbi Poliakoff's statement that "no one has absolute rights. A person's rights cease when they become detrimental to others" is completely in error.
We, as Americans, have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (not to mention rights and freedoms affirmed by the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution).
If we misuse our freedom, for example, by yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, we should and must be punished. However, we should not be deprived our freedom in a vain attempt to keep people from harming others.
This affirmation of individual freedoms and liberty (which both the ACLU and the NRA represent), underscores the moral and political philosophy of freedom combined with individual responsibility.
Theo Lippman Jr. is a rare bird. He is a lone voice in local media, in his proposal (March 27) to alleviate all the well-known urban troubles of Baltimore City by merging it with Baltimore County (again). The whole metro area is one big socio-economic unit -- and should be one political unit.
I would go further than Lippman and merge all the nearby urban areas into one city: Baltimore City, Baltimore, Howard, Harford and Anne Arundel counties. The present arrangement is illogical, costly, foolish and simply wrong.
The whole idea behind the current hodgepodge is to isolate the poor and minorities into their own ghetto -- and it's working in doing just that. And the whole world knows it, making it Maryland's shame.
But, obviously, it can't continue. The city itself is going down the drain. It'll take far more tourism than we now have to save it.
History, and true conservatism, is on the side of expansion and merger. Now.
Walton W. Windsor
The Rev. John K. Mount, of Easton, was not "deposed," as you reported June 10, but "inhibited" or "suspended," which are lesser disciplinary actions.
Having been a friend and associate of Father Mount for a half century, I testify that he is a fine priest, with greater wisdom and compassion than some of his peers and superiors. He is not noted for blessing of motor cars, boats, toys, hound dogs and such.
Thank God he is spared the fate of other Anglican reformers: he is not to be burned at the stake.
William M. Plummer
The writer is a retired priest.
The Voters of Orange County
Your July 5 editorial castigates the voters of Orange County as deadbeats. By voting against a sales tax increase, you imply, they are welshing on the county's lenders.
Was there some moral obligation for the citizens to increase their taxes? Of course not, and the nearly two-to-one rejection shows the issue is not as clear-cut as you make it out to be.
Consider the arguments you raise as reasons why Orange County taxpayers should have increased their tax burden.
* Government services may have to disappear. But this is exactly what should happen.
If the government can't afford to offer the services because the citizens don't want to pay for them, it's time to cut back.
If the voters decide that they or their predecessors have made wrong, overly expensive decisions in the past, they have a moral obligation to change them.
In this case, the opportunity was presented in the form of a tax increase rather than a program reduction. The voters decided that civic responsibility required a decisive statement.
Of course they know that programs will be cut back. They are probably counting on it.
* Governments across the country might suffer; municipal bonds will become more expensive; governments with shaky credit ratings may not be able to borrow at all.
The last argument is preposterous. Orange County voters should be thanked if even one government with shaky credit is now unable to grow shakier.
So now municipal bonds will begin to reflect what you call the "new economics." This is another good thing. Bond prices will begin to reflect the fact that not all municipalities will let themselves be taxed at New York City rates.
A limit has been reached. Investors, underwriters, politicians, bureaucrats and citizens all need to know it.
* Orange County citizens have a moral obligation to increase their taxes because it was their elected representatives who created the mess.
Their representative engaged in aggressive -- some would say foolish -- investment practices, practices too esoteric for some specialists, let alone the average voter.
Assume that a Sun employee absconded with most of the paper's liquid assets, leaving it unable to pay its creditors. How much would you be willing to contribute? Remember, you hired the thief.
Sure, you'd feel bad about it. If it were a small amount, maybe you would take up a collection. But most likely you'd shrug it off, realizing that the creditors knew no investment is risk-free.
Your editorial implicitly considers a bond issue to be a sacred contract. It's not.
When the voter enters the booth, he or she is not entering into a contract but is committing to a political agenda.
This agenda is good until the next election. That's why there's a risk premium built into the bonds.
Then there's the fact that the only option available to the Orange County voters was an increase in the local sales tax. This is the most regressive tax possible. It falls hardest on those least able to pay.
A tax-increase vote by Orange County would have been a vote for business as usual, a vote to enable further debt and apparently unwanted services, largely at the expense of the poor.
Instead, as you note, the voters taught municipal bondholders a very salutary lesson. I suspect we will all look a little closer at that row of bond issue levers next time we're in the voting booth.