Housing Fixer-Upper?

After reading "Revolution in the Projects" (July), I feel some clarification is necessary. Ms. McWilliams states that the Morrison amendment to the tenant management bill "seemed to bind tenant managers to union contracts negotiated by public housing authorities." There is nothing in the amendment I supported that imposes any provision of a housing authority's collective bargaining agreement on a tenant management corporation. As I said on the House floor in 1987 during the debate of the housing bill, "[the] tenant management organization will be fully free to set its own terms and conditions, just as a private management company would be it if came in and received…a management contract with the public housing authority."

The language was chosen specifically to avoid binding tenant managers to existing union contracts. It simply requires housing authorities to keep their promises to existing workers regarding such issues as displacement and layoffs when tenant management corporations take over management of a project. Union busters do not like this provision because it doesn't allow housing authorities to break their promises to existing workers when making new promises to tenant managers. Attempts to set current housing authority employees and tenants against each other, as the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and the Heritage Foundation did during debate on this issue, does nothing to advance the cause of tenant management.

Bruce A. Morrison
Member of Congress
Third District, CT

Rita McWilliams replies: Rep. Morrison's letter only obscures the issue—which is whether tenant managers will be able to put an end to the shoddy work done at many public housing projects. It is true, as I pointed out in my article, that so far his amendment has not been a problem. Public housing authorities have been able to find jobs elsewhere for union members unwilling to meet the standards of the tenant managers. What Mr. Morrison doesn't say is that his amendment forces the housing authorities to find these workers jobs in housing complexes not yet managed by tenants. The congressman seems to imply that all the to-do about his amendment is coming from the Heritage Foundation and the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, two groups that supported the tenants in their battle to wrest control of their homes from the bureaucrats. In fact, my sources for the complaints about his legislative handiwork are the same ones I quoted in the article—the tenants themselves.

Ego Booster

I read with interest your report "Battered Ego Brown" (Aug./Sept.). As someone who has experienced homelessness, I am disgusted with the ridiculous 1904 District of Columbia law which prevents Mr. Brown from helping the homeless. Mr. Brown deserves kudos and applause for his providing employment to the homeless. At least Mr. Brown can feel that whereas he's doing something about homelessness in D.C., lots of government officials are doing little more than tapping their feet on the backs of the destitute.

Micheal Flessas
Cambridge, MA

That's Ramo, Not Rambo

T.A. Heppenheimer ("Keeping the Peace," Aug./Sept.) is quite correct that strategic defense and arms control can aid each other. However, a majority of the American public has strong objections to the Reagan administration's particular way of combining the two.

Defense expert Simon Ramo has a plan that could sell much better in this country. Ramo would have the two superpowers enter into a treaty in which they would cut long-range missiles deeply, say to 10 percent of the present levels, and then each build a modest missile defense system that could handle the limited number of weapons that would be left, including possible illicit, concealed ones.

Such an arrangement would protect us against cheating, which is not a real threat until missiles are cut to low levels. Since only a relatively small number of warheads would have to be defended against, the missile system on each side could be small and use ground-based interceptors. This would be far less expensive than SDI. Ground-based technology is already rather well developed, so we could build the system far sooner than a space-based laser one and also be much more certain it would work. And since this would be done under treaty, it would not be destabilizing.

The Soviets might accept this plan, since it avoids the features of SDI they have stated they find unacceptable. If they rejected it, we would have lost nothing, and in fact such a rejection would show their objections to space-based defenses to be insincere. Ramo's plan might break the present stalemate in strategic arms control, and it deserves to be given serious attention.

Les Brunswick
Pittsburgh, PA

Mr. Heppenheimer replies: Dr. Ramo's views are well taken. He, like I, asserts that a combination of deep strategic cutbacks and limited strategic defenses represents the path the superpowers should follow during the coming decades. Our task is not to assert that any one proposal of this type is the answer, however. Our task is to kindle a debate in which many such proposals may be examined so that some policy of this type may ultimately emerge and shape the search for peace and security.

Ghost of JFK

After reading the August/September issue of REASON I am reassessing the theory of reincarnation, for certainly the self-righteous ghost of John Kennedy liberalism has reappeared in the editorial voice of Virginia I. Postrel ("Let's Reassess the Reagan Doctrine," Editorials).

If we just find the right cause, and give them the right kind of aid (money/weapons, not advice), and are clear about why we're doing this, then things will probably work out. The problem is that every administration that has ever supported intervening in another country's affairs has thought they were meeting at least two, if not all, of those criteria.

One of the cornerstones of the libertarian position is a noninterventionist foreign policy. Not only does interventionism exceed the boundaries of a limited government and rely on taxpayer subsidization, it also assumes that we are knowledgeable enough to make the right decisions about where to intervene and restrained enough to keep our advice, direction, and opinions to ourselves.

Greg Pinelli
San Jose, CA

Just Say No to Government Meddling

I cannot believe the response (Letters, Aug./Sept.) to Virginia I. Postrel's editorial "Thugs and Drugs" (June). Are these readers not students of history? Do they not remember the fiasco of Prohibition? Of McCarthyism? Have they not read about the tragedies caused by overzealous police in local communities? What about the California family that had part of its house blown in by police in a 3:00 A.M. drug raid and was hauled off to the police station, only to discover that the police had the wrong house? Or the Oregon family that was held at gunpoint by agents of the law looking for a marijuana plant—one plant, mind you—that turned out to be an exotic fern?

What happened to the idea that most ordinary, responsible individuals are capable of deciding for themselves what to eat, drink, or otherwise take into their bodies in the privacy of their own homes? Are some of your readers so blind to the follies of past government meddling in our private lives that they're willing to grant them license to do more of the same bungling at the expense of even more of our freedoms? Could some of your readers be unwilling to look beyond the media, which generally trip (no pun intended) all over themselves to convince listeners and viewers of their concern for drug abuse and which publish the government's propaganda without seriously dissecting it or examining the facts? (For instance, how many media organizations other than REASON were responsible enough to inform their readers or listeners that fewer people die each year from overdoses of illegal drugs than from drowning?)

It's about time we saw the great "War on Drugs" for what it is: more excuse for government to take away our freedom, control our lives, and use our hard-earned money to do it. The problem never gets any better, but politicians get fat telling us it will. Think about it, America! Our future depends on it.

Francis A. DeBartolomeo
Tracy's Landing, MD

Chinese Emperor, the Sequel

There is an interesting sequel to the events of the Chin dynasty, described in Jean Levi's novel reviewed by Steven Mosher (July). Soon after the death of the totalitarian Chin Emperor in 210 B.C., Liu Chi, soon to found the Han Dynasty, advanced with his army and took possession of Kuanchung, the Chin capital. Addressing his new subjects, he made one of the most brilliant libertarian speeches of all recorded history:

"I am now king of this territory of Kuanchung. I hereby promise you a code of laws consisting of three articles only.

1. He who kills anyone shall suffer death.

2. He who injures another or steals shall be punished according to the gravity of the offense.

3. For the rest, I abolish all the laws of Chin."

Where is this guy, now that the world needs him?

John McClaughry
Kirby, VT