Letters from our readers.
May 29 1998 3:30 AM

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A Nation Divided

In addition to reading the inner workings of my heart as it relates to tax rates for married couples, Rob McIntyre ("E-Mail to the Editors," May 7) takes issue with my arithmetic. While he is sadly mistaken in the former instance--all marriage penalties are, like God's children, equally dear to my heart--he may be right for all I know in the latter. I do know, however, that my numbers have a source that has nothing to do with my admittedly arthritic arithmetic skills. If McIntyre has a problem, he should consult the December 2, 1996, "Taxing Issues" column in Barron's titled "Marry in Haste," by the noted tax lawyer Joseph Gelband. In other words, consider it fact checked.

As for Andrew Sullivan's and Katha Pollitt's comments ("The Breakfast Table"), given Sullivan's tenure at TNR, including but not limited to his brilliant editing there of Stephen Glass, I will take his comments as a compliment. I will resist the urge to reply to my Nation colleague Katha Pollitt's comments about me and the mother of my daughter, whom she so knowledgeably characterizes without ever having been introduced. Slate is not the place to air intra-Nation feuds, despite Katha's verbal incontinence. I find it sad, moreover, to read the same tired tripe over and over from the pen of a writer who once appeared on her way to being a great poet and gave it all up to write a single column, over and over, for the past 15 years.

--Eric Alterman


Tale of the Tape

Regarding the May 21 "Today's Papers": If Richard Nixon's "but it would be wrong" is really the classic example of what Safire calls "tickling the wire," how do you explain the fact that no hush money was raised or paid as a result of the March 1973 Watergate-era tape to which you refer? Nixon detractors say the desultory comments about raising money were the operative (as they used to say) part of the conversation; Nixon defenders (of which I, as director of the Nixon library, of course am one) stress that the president said it would be wrong and that (if memory serves) "the White House can't do it." Seems that the only way to resolve such ambiguity is to see what actually happened as a result of the taped conversation. Ditto, one imagines, with Hubbell.

--John Taylor

Affirmative Track-tion


As a former track wannabe and somebody with several postgraduate degrees, I took exception to this egregious statement in the May 21 Today's Papers:

Letting slower white American runners into races just because they're white Americans is precisely analogous to letting blacks and Latinos with poor SATs and low grades into colleges just because they're blacks or Latinos.

There is only one criterion on which to judge road racing: time posted. You cannot argue about home field advantage, equipment differences, or help from teammates. You are arguing there is only one criterion (because it is precisely analogous) for determining a good college student: SAT scores. In a road race you look to see who finished first, and in determining who is eligible for race entry, you go by the unbiased clock.

--Clay Craighead



I have this overwhelming need to respond to a remark you made in the May 20 edition of Today's Papers. The remark was in response to the Washington Post front-page story about a possible bias by insurance companies with regard to payment for Viagra vs. oral contraceptives. You state that, since the second paragraph "says that more than half of Viagra prescriptions are being subsidized by health plans, and the sixth paragraph says that slightly more than half of all birth control pills are," there isn't really any bias, and "why do we need this story?"

I submit to you that you are overlooking a key fact in this statistic and that is the amount of time it took to get each of those plans to subsidize the drug in question. How long have birth control pills been available by prescription? 20 years? 25 years? Yet only slightly more than half of all birth control pills are subsidized by health plans, according to the Post. By comparison, how long has Viagra been available--a month? How wonderful for impotent men that in that short space of time, it has already reached approximately the same level of subsidization by health plans.

--Michele HarveyCentreville, Va.


Antitrust and the Law

In his piece "Microsuits," Jacob Weisberg shows he knows more about current politics than about legal history. He states, "The question whether regulation of commerce is a state or national affair was supposed to have been settled in 1789."

Of course, this question was by no means "settled" with either the Constitution (1787) or the Bill of Rights (1789). As there were few firms large enough to cross state lines into federal jurisdiction in the 18th century, the nation's founders generally assumed the states would govern the economy. Nineteenth century common law restraint-of-trade prosecutions fell to the state courts, as did the earliest antitrust cases. Federal antitrust suits could not exist until Congress enacted a federal antitrust law in 1890 and, even after, the question of jurisdiction remained. Since the Constitution only permitted the national government to regulate "commerce," whole areas of economic life were outside federal jurisdiction. This was the essence of the 1905 E.C. Knight case, which held manufacturing beyond the authority of federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court did not enable wholesale federal intervention by defining "commerce" more broadly until the New Deal cases such as NLRB vs. Jones and Laughlin (1937).

Of course, the fact that state prosecutions have a long history does not mean they are desirable. On the other hand, on the basis of Weisberg's article, I'm not certain why he finds diverse legal climates so disturbing. Are we to discount such antitrust prosecutions because the attorneys general are ambitious? This seems a mighty high standard for any policy. Though it may be inefficient, I think it reasonable that each locality can set the legal conditions of its own economic life, as American states do with regard to taxation, infrastructure, and a thousand other economic issues.

--Andrew Wender CohenLegal history fellowUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison

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