A Question of Policy
Jacob Sullum's "Gun-Shy Judges" (May) does both me and the ACLU a disservice by quoting my remarks out of context and therefore misrepresenting what I told him in an interview several months ago. Mr. Sullum also incorrectly suggested that my views contradicted the ACLU policy on the subject of the Second Amendment.
Our views on the Second Amendment, and how it bears upon pending or proposed legislation, are as follows:
Second Amendment advocates often suggest that the purpose of constitutionally protecting the right to bear arms is that it would provide citizens the means to resist a tyrannical government. But if that is the purpose, surely handguns are not enough. If one believes that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to bear arms sufficient to resist a modem government, then it must protect not only the right to possess handguns, but also the right to possess bazookas, torpedoes, rocket-launchers, tanks, missiles, and the like. And indeed, the Second Amendment draws no distinctions among types of weapons. But most advocates of the right to bear arms concede that the Second Amendment does not prohibit the government from banning private ownership of such weapons.
Once we concede the constitutionality of government bans on some weapons, we are not talking any longer about whether the government may restrict weapons but rather what constitutes a reasonable restriction. If the Second Amendment provides no basis for such distinctions, as it does not, then it is up to the legislature.
The ACLU does not believe that the Second Amendment provides individuals with an unlimited constitutional right to possess any and all weapons; we therefore believe that legislatures may adopt reasonable restrictions. The question is, What is reasonable? An absolute ban on all handguns under all conditions might well be unreasonable. So would licensing and registration schemes that invaded privacy or enforcement methods that resulted in illegal searches.
The ACLU would likely support challenges to any such unreasonable restrictions. But the Brady Bill raises no such issues, which is why the ACLU has not objected to it on constitutional grounds.
I have not strayed from this position in anything I have written or in any interview I have given, including the one with Mr. Sullum. And the position is consistent with, indeed, is an implementation of, ACLU policy.
American Civil Liberties Union
New York, NY
There were two considerations skipped over by Thomas Donlan's article on HDTV ("The Sharper Image," June).
First, HDTV as currently developed is a very short-range interim technology. It would be a serious error to encourage a lot of capital investment in such a system. Digital information transmission, including digital television, is (or should be) very close to implementation.
We seem to be stuck with a limited spectrum. Digital technology seems to offer the best shot at data-compression schemes and will fit admirably with direct laser transmission and the coming fiber-optic information channels. We should get moving in this direction rapidly. A good libertarian question is, Who or what will control these new information carriers? I suspect another government agency is in the offing.
As to Mr. Donlan's concerns about the bureaucracy slowing down Japan's entry, I say good for them! That's precisely what the Japanese have been doing to U.S. imports there for many years.
Thomas Donlan's otherwise fine article contains a few technical errors I hope his book does not have.
First, the NTSC television picture is encoded via amplitude modulation (varying signal strength) but the sound is, in fact, frequency-modulated (varying signal frequency). Second, TV stations do not broadcast at 6 Megahertz (MHz) as Mr. Donlan implies. They are allotted a channel which has a width of 6 MHz, but they transmit at much higher frequency (for instance, channel 17 is the band 488 MHz to 494 MHz).
One other note: The American electronics industry, when left to its own devices, has done a pretty good job of setting expansive, future-oriented standards. I seriously doubt that Japan's MUSE would ever be adopted here, as the author seems to wish. Digital transmission is the best choice, even if it takes longer to develop, because it makes a clean break from the outdated NTSC system and can provide unmatched overall quality.
The FCC's Approach to high-definition television is the old 10 pounds of stuff in a one-pound bag. HDTV will ideally have twice the scan lines and twice the horizontal resolution of the current NTSC TV; this means broadcasting four times the information on the original four-by-three aspect ratio. A wide aspect would require half again as much information. To do things right, let's allow the color resolution to equal the luminance resolution, and let's broadcast uncompressed stereo sound. A 40–50-megahertz bandwidth is needed.
Such bandwidth is available via either satellite or cable. Fiber-optic cable adds an embarrassment of bandwidth riches. Yet nothing currently in design takes advantage of these resources. The NHK system at 30 megahertz is not the answer—it's late '70s technology. Using it as an intermediate system would surely kill HDTV; remember what competing formats did to quadraphonic hi-fi and stereo AM radio? American entrepreneurs, who continue to lead the world in high-end audio, could also in high-end video, if they were allowed to build the highest quality system possible. No, the problem isn't the medium, it's the message.
HDTV's real market is pay TV. A truly high-quality wide-aspect picture would enhance premium movies, sports events, travelogues, and nature documentaries. It would find many customers in cable and satellite viewers who have already demonstrated their willingness to invest in good video. HDTV is not going to wow consumers, however, into spending kilobucks on hardware to watch game shows, talk shows, sitcoms, or news and weather in wide aspect.
The answer seems simple: a dual television system, each serving different programming needs. AM radio remains healthy despite FM. It offers talk shows, news, and golden oldies while FM handles high-fidelity stereo music. Likewise, premium HDTV channels would not interfere with the market for the majority of NTSC terrestrial programming. The masses could still watch network and local broadcasts on inexpensive hardware while videophiles could watch premium programming on the best television system in the world.
A one-size-fits-all approach to HDTV will lead to such a technically and artistically compromised system that none will want to watch it, at least in this country. If the Europeans develop a satellite-broadcast HDTV system, wanna bet East Coast dish owners will buy European hardware to receive the programming? Better yet, what's to stop Europe or Japan from launching direct-broadcast satellites near the United States to broadcast higher quality pictures than the crippled American system could? Let's forget about NTSC or NHK compatibility and allow U.S. designers to do their best, then use that system only for appropriate programming.
Donald R. Loose
Beaver Creek, OH
Martin Morse Wooster demonstrates remarkable disregard for both facts and reasonable interpretations in his June column ("Eco-Logic"), in which he holds me up as a purported example of an anti-capitalist environmental extremist. In actuality, I am the author of a book, Freedom Comes From Human Beings, which advocates free-enterprise solutions for many environmental problems. I advanced the same arguments in the 1981 Environmental Action symposium on the direction environmentalism should take during the 1980s; spent much of 1975–77 ghostwriting a major treatise on capitalism for a former adviser to Ronald Reagan; and was Canadian correspondent to the now defunct Libertarian Press Service, 1977–1980. Over the past decade, my articles for both environmental publications and general circulation magazines and newspapers have repeatedly spotlighted successful private initiatives to clean up pollution, protect animals, and safeguard habitat. Far from "reaching eco-Armageddon," one of my most important recurring themes has been refuting doomsday scenarios, pointing out that we are not "killing" our habitat so much as changing it with frequently reckless disregard of the long-term consequences, including economic consequences.
Facts are facts, regardless of economic philosophy, and one fact of modern politics is that campaigns with at least twice the spending power of their opponents usually win. One scarcely needs to be searching "for capitalist plots with a misguided vigor similar to that of an earlier generation of fanatics who hunted for communist plots," to observe that the huge financial contributions of pesticide manufacturers and related interest groups were an obvious major factor in defeating California's Big Green initiative last fall.
Likewise, one needn't be searching for plots of any kind to note that the Telluride, Colorado antifur referendum pitted a 20-year-old student, unsupported by national groups, against fur trade organizations who outspent her by a ratio of roughly 5,000 to 1. The fur trade didn't spend all that money just for exercise; they spent it to ensure a political victory that might economically help their struggling business (which has depended, from inception, upon massive public subsidies, currently ranging from trappers' access to national wildlife refuges to the USDA's Mink Export Assistance Program).
Also Warren T. Brookes, whom Wooster quoted, seriously misrepresented at least two of his supposed examples of "scientific inaccuracy" on the part of environmentalists.
First, U.S. forest acreage has increased since 1952 primarily because former farms in New England have reverted to woodland after being converted to housing. The new forests are largely contiguous wooded back yards, which provide limited animal habitat and are never likely to become part of the American timber supply. Further, clear-cut government acreage is still included in the forest land inventory, even though new trees of timber size won't have grown back until midway through the next century.
Second, the salmon catch in Prince William Sound increased the year after the Exxon Valdez oil spill because the spill had killed or driven away virtually all the major salmon predators, including bears, eagles, seals, sea otters, and osprey. This scarcely suggests a healthy or recovering ecosystem.
Editor, The Animals' Agenda
Paul Craig Roberts's otherwise fine article ("Privileged Privatization," July) is marred by his concluding comment that the privileged privatization of the Soviet economy "is not an outcome that should…distress libertarians." The heritage of classical liberalism is an opposition to privilege—the special rights granted de facto or de jure by government. An economy of privilege, with the form but not the substance of capitalism, is mercantilism. The fruits of mercantilism are unearned wealth, poverty, tyranny, and the smearing of the name of true laissez-faire.
For Roberts to argue that libertarians should not be distressed by Soviet developments is to suggest our forebears should not have been distressed by the tyranny of English mercantilism and that modern libertarians should not be distressed by the web of subsidies, licenses, and regulations that make up the modern American mercantilist state.
Free markets depend upon private property, to be sure; but this does not mean a system of private property based on privilege will result in free markets. To the contrary, privilege is always and everywhere the enemy of free markets and individual liberty.
D. Allen Dalton
Director, Center for the Study of Market Alternatives
Dr. Roberts replies: If the Soviet economy were moving from laissez-faire to mercantilism, I would agree with Allen Dalton. But as it is moving from communism to mercantilism, I do not, for this too shall pass. After all, we got to private property through the enclosures, a privilege-based laissez-faire for the powerful that had the effect of creating labor markets.
Democrat or Dictator?
William D. Eggers's glowing account of Levon Ter-Petrosian, president of the Armenian republic ("The New Opposition," July), seems greatly at variance with his most recent activities, as recounted by The American Foundation for Resistance International:
Prior to Ter-Petrosian's rise to political prominence, the leading democracy activist in Armenia was Paruyr Hayrikyan, chairman of the Union for Armenian National Self-Determination, who was forcibly exiled (in handcuffs) from the Soviet Union in July 1988. Hayrikyan continued his activism in the West and succeeded in being elected to the Armenian parliament in May of 1990, while still in exile. In the interim, Ter-Petrosian had assumed the office of president and was personally on hand to escort Hayrikyan to his seat in parliament when Hayrikyan returned to Armenia on November 12,1990.
This would seem a generous act of welcome, were it not for the fact that, in the early morning hours of March 19, 1991, several hundred Interior Ministry troops in armored personnel carriers—accompanied by Ter-Petrosian's armed militia of the Armenian National Movement—surrounded a building in Yerevan where the Union for National Self-Determination was conducting a meeting. All 50 attendees were arrested for "curfew violation" (a strange charge, inasmuch as they were all within a building at the time), including Hayrikyan, 13 board members of the union, and Susanna Avakian, director of the Armenian Earthquake Orphans Fund. Upon hearing of this crackdown, Ruzanna Gorgisian, whose husband had earlier been assassinated by the KGB, went to the police station to make inquiry and was also arrested. By morning, a crowd of thousands had gathered to demand release of the democracy activists. Only Hayrikyan and Avakian were released, presumably because of their repute in the West, the rest being held.
Later that day, in an interview with TASS, Ter-Petrosian criticized Hayrikyan for "favoring the restoration of Armenia's independence and immediate secession from the Soviet Union." Subsequently, Ter-Petrosian's assistant, Vano Siradeghian, announced on March 24 that the Armenian government "is clamping down on organizations favoring the restoration of Armenia's independence and immediate secession from the USSR because parliament should take steps toward dictatorship."
A fine thing, for a supposed "pro-democracy activist" to countenance the suppression of his compatriots and to endorse dictatorship! It appears, instead, that Ter-Petrosian is simply acting the part of a collaborator with the Gorbachev regime, favoring the preservation of his personal political power over any adherence to principles. This account is a lesson that we should not uncritically accept characterizations of Soviet politicians as being pro-democracy, without in-depth scrutiny. The opportunity for a charlatan is now enormous, as the captive republics may eventually discover.
Michael J. Dunn
Who Shot R.R.?
Thomas Szasz has long been an effective gadfly of and for the mental-health community. His one-page screed, "Hinckley and Son" (July), however, demonstrates how any surviving effectiveness can be undercut in an explosion of sarcasm, misstatement, unsupported assertion, misleading premise, unexamined implication, and demagogic illogic. Among the explicit remarks in this piece are the following: Schizophrenia is not a disease, and if it were it is not treatable; Hinckley should have been executed, or allowed to kill himself; the only symptoms of Hinckley's disorder were discovered in the attempted assassination; and the mere act of making an appointment to see a psychiatrist automatically stigmatized Hinckley for life.
Among its implications are these: There is something wrong with the labels given to the Brady Bill and the neuroleptic drugs; there is something wrong with a father seeking treatment for his son and then trying to keep him alive; it is intelligent for people whose lives may be described as "parasitic and pathetic" to kill themselves; and any psychiatrist must necessarily diagnose anyone who seeks help as having a serious mental illness. There are many problems in the whole Hinckley case, to be sure, and there seem to be problems at St. Elizabeth's as well. But to, trot these out in apparent service of a conviction that "patient," "illness," and "doctors" are somehow ersatz terms to be used for a schizophrenic and psychiatrists is irrational.
Neil D. Isaacs
The American Way
In his review of The Power and the Glitter, ("Reelpolitik," June), Joseph Farah included a very short and uncomplimentary reference to Norman Lear's organization People for the American Way. In the interests of balance, I would like to point out one wonderfully good thing that PAW recently did for the citizens of my home state, Texas, and for America as a whole.
For many years, Texas selected its high school biology textbooks favoring the views of, shall we say, nonscientists, through unremitting pressures applied by biblical literalists, who faithfully lobbied the selection hearings so that no mention of hominid fossils or other such godless malarkey should affect the religious sensibilities of their otherwise pious children. PAW recently took them on and won (or at least played a very significant part in winning) the day for scientific integrity in the classroom. I hope that pleases you. It certainly pleases me.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".