- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2000

Drug certification process is not all politics

Helle Bering's column on drug certification condemns the so-called "pantomime" in which the White House "pretends" to evaluate the performance of various countries simply because the process is "political" ("The drug certification dance," Op-Ed, March 1).

The term politics often has been defined insightfully as the art of the possible, and practical considerations especially in the arena of drug control are more important than idealized measurement or eschatological speculation. Politics need not be a dirty word when it implies making decisions that can improve certain conditions. With regard to drug abuse, it probably is better to "do right" than "be right" to borrow Plato's way of thinking. Taking action that will decrease drug trafficking is a wiser choice than striving for precise assessment irrespective of consequences.

The tension between justice and mercy is evident every time a report card is filled out whether in grammar school or college. While accuracy is important, the difference between a C- and a D+ is a judgment call on a number of levels. Sometimes teachers also factor in whether a devastating grade will discourage a pupil and thus inhibit improvement. Marks in all areas of life, not just academics and government, reflect intangible elements such as initiative and enthusiasm along with numbers and statistics. Consequently, the law on certification uses the word "effort" and not just "outcome" to determine which countries should be certified for annual attempts to reduce the drug trade.

Should Mexico be "certified" for its efforts against drug dealers? Rewarding good people who have tried hard is a fine reason for certification. Even when an enormous amount of work remains to be done? Particularly when much must be done. That's the time when people need to join hands and confront a formidable challenge.

When all is said and done, most folks prefer systems that balance precision with compassion because "humanism" of this sort has salutary results. In architecture, the Greeks and Romans tempered mathematical accuracy with subjective concerns. Under some circumstances, bent lines appear straighter to the eye than ones that are perfectly even. Likewise, spacing columns unequally creates the illusion of regularity when the sky shines through only some of the posts supporting a building. Making allowance for human imperfection has a long and honored tradition in art, philosophy and religion. Insofar as man is made in the image of God, "humanizing" policy is commendable.

Whether in classical art or modern diplomacy, humanized policy gives an edge or softens a blow so somebody will feel validated and strive to do better. Humanizing or politicizing decisions doesn't imply "selling out" when the best interests of individuals and nations are at the heart of the judgment. The spring certification process does a good job of evaluating counterdrug performance in a way that promotes international cooperation.

LINDA BAYER

Washington

Free association, not apartheid

Nat Hentoff's Feb. 28 column talks about race relations in the United States as a serious problem ("Using race to divide, not unify," Sweet Land of Liberty, Op-Ed).

In most areas, I agree that we need to do more to stop being hyphenated Americans (e.g. African-American, Irish-American, etc.) and just be Americans.

I disagree with him when he says it is unfortunate that like groups tend to socialize. He implies that this is a form of apartheid. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is the right of free association. As long as people can choose their friends, rather than being forbidden to "cross lines," that is freedom of choice. That is one of the cornerstones of the Constitution.

MICHAEL MOORE

Newport Beach, Calif.

Cheapening the presidency is a brilliant move for Clinton

Your editorial "congratulating" President Clinton for ranking 21st among our 42 presidents in a C-SPAN poll failed to grasp the brilliant nature of his scheme for historical greatness ("Congratulations, Mr. Clinton," Feb. 27).

True, he rates a middling standing at the moment. But by lowering the standards for the presidency, he has all but ensured that his relative ranking will improve as even worse candidates find their way to the White House over time.

Hard to believe? I offer two pieces of evidence in support of this theory.

First, 20 years ago, I was convinced I would never live to see a worse president than Richard Nixon. The thought seems laughable now. Second, I need only point out Mr. Clinton's chosen successor.

D.A. RIDGELY

Arlington

Americans should take a U-turn on air bags

I agree with your Feb. 11 editorial ("Air bags and hot air") and Eric Peters' related Feb. 14 commentary ("Those not-so-smart air bags"), which suggest that the air-bag mandate for automobiles be reconsidered.

Yet, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency responsible for air bags, appears determined to continue mandating an auto "safety" device that actually can kill people (146 thus far, according to your editorial). In short, the agency intends to continue ramming air bags down our throats, quite literally as well as figuratively, including more complex "smarter" bags that will, in my estimation, merely succeed in multiplying the various ways in which the maleficent bags can malfunction, with resultant mayhem. (I understand that the gas that inflates the bags also can cause burns.)

But, frankly, what is really annoying, even more than the mandate itself, is NHTSA's refusal to routinely permit the simple liberty of a deactivation switch for the air bag in the steering column, allowing the device to be turned off. Given the record of this flawed technology, this should be the least that could reasonably be expected.

I resent and recoil at the thought of an explosive devise installed in the steering column of an automobile that could blow up in my face. I wish the powers that be would please stop trying to be so good to me. I am glad that I have a car that predates the air-bag mandate.

RUSSELL A. BERGER

Wheaton

Apology for slavery cannot heal today's racial problems

Perhaps Maryland Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. should reassess his public office duties as well as those of being a pastor ("Lawmakers urge Glendening to apologize for slavery in state," Metropolitan, March 1).

To introduce a resolution asking for an apology for Maryland's history of slavery shows not only his lack of historical knowledge Africans sold their countrymen into slavery) but his total lack of Christian teachings (one being forgiveness and another being "love thy neighbor"). Being a pastor, he should know these teachings, but it is apparent he was absent during that part of his pastoral education.

How dare he waste time and taxpayer money on events that occurred hundreds of years ago and upon which the current Maryland administration (nor any current living being) has no control.

I shudder to think of what is being taught to Mr. Burns' congregation if the main focus of his political life is to glean an apology from the governor for Maryland's history of slavery. Were those atrocities any less deplorable than the ones committed against Japanese Americans during World War II. The list could go on and on. Where does it end?

If the wrongs done to humanity so long ago are still of such prime concern to him as a delegate and a pastor, is there any wonder why race relations in Maryland remain in their present condition?

Mr. Burns should set his personal feelings aside and get on with the duties of his office. Healing comes from forgiveness. Until he realizes this Christian and moral teaching, no amount of apologizing will help him to begin his own healing process so that he can get on with matters of state.

SANDRA WENSEL

Severn, Md.

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