Lessons from Brownsville Tragedy
Editor: Your Jan. 19 edition carried on the front page a story about babies in Brownsville, Texas, born without brains. This is almost surely the tragic result of pollution from industry in Matamoros, Brownsville's sister city in Mexico, where industrial growth has boomed over the last three decades.
That growth is dominated by U.S.-owned companies, which moved there to exploit the cheap labor, favorable trade rules and lax enforcement of environmental laws.
The Brownsville tragedy is not an isolated incident. It is a symptom of a serious defect in current trade policies.
Trade agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) subordinate important considerations such as environmental damage, health and safety standards and human rights issues. They force "normalization" of enforcement of environmental, health, safety and human-rights legislation.
This means that the laws of the country with the least effective laws on environmental protection, health, safety and human rights must prevail internationally. This seriously threatens the global environment.
Leveling the playing field at the lowest level leads inevitably to tragedies like the one in Brownsville.
Mexico protested, to the GATT Dispute Resolution Panel, that the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which forbids import of tuna from countries whose fishing fleets kill large numbers of dolphin while harvesting tuna, was actually a trade barrier and that the U.S. in any case could not regulate activities of other nations on the high seas. The GATT panel upheld the protest and ordered the U.S. to either amend its law or face punitive duties on exports to Mexico. The panel ruled that a nation may protect only resources within its borders, leaving the global commons open to exploitation.
Going even further, the panel stated that any restriction on how products are produced or harvested is a trade barrier. This means that even human life may not be protected; a nation cannot exclude pesticide-laden food imports or products produced by child or slave labor.
Under this ruling the U.S. is powerless to impose any sanctions on Mexico to force cleanup of the Matamoros pollution so babies in the poorer section of Brownsville, and in Matamoros, must continue to be born without brains. This is free-market capitalism gone completely insane.
The U.S. must immediately reject the GATT ruling on Mexico's protest of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and pledge in very clear, unambiguous terms to reject any future GATT ruling which threatens human rights, health, safety or environmental standards.
Such misguided actions of the GATT cannot be tolerated. A trade agreement panel cannot be allowed to dictate that environmental destruction may not be curbed in any way and that even such abuses as human slavery may not be punished.
Comprehensive revision of the GATT is urgently needed. The founding principles, written in 1948 now grossly out of date, must be rewritten to reflect current realities. The U.S. should withdraw from GATT unless the marine mammal ruling is repudiated.
Ann Pollitt. Baltimore.
Shameful State Lottery
Editor: Although I do not consider myself a strident moralist, I can no longer accept the state lottery as a generator of revenue when I try to answer my six-year-old's question about how to get $1,000 dollars by working hard and saving your money, he responds by stating he will win the lottery.
Is it right for the state to create a false sense of hope in so many of the poorer sectors of our society by supporting a numbers game in every convenience store; or developing an unrealistic distribution of wealth?
I thought in a free enterprise system the state was suppose to institute and support programs that encouraged the individual to work and reach his or her fullest potential.
I think the state should evaluate whether the revenues gained from the lottery game are worth the message being sent to society at large -- especially the young.
% Stephen L. Devon. Baltimore.
Editor: The governor and legislature should keep in mind that all state and local taxes are not the same.
State, local and property taxes may be deducted from federal income taxes. Sales and excise taxes and user fees are not deductible.
Thus, when a Marylander pays a dollar in state or local income or property tax it costs him no more than 72 cents ($1 minus the 28 cents he saves on federal income taxes).
A dollar spent in state and local sales and excise taxes and fees costs a full dollar.
% Roy H. Millenson. Bethesda.
Editor: Once again, The Sun, like Mayor Schmoke, is suggesting an unclear quick-fix proposal to alleviate the financial problems of Baltimore City.
What the proposal about a required city residency for municipal employees fails to take into account are the many personal decisions that an individual city employee must make when deciding where to live.