Empower CommunitiesYour Feb. 3 editorial ("From Public...

Empower Communities

Your Feb. 3 editorial ("From Public Safety to Rent-a-Cops?") misses the most important element in the proposed South Charles Village Community Benefits District -- the unified will of an economically and ethnically diverse neighborhood in North Baltimore. For almost two years, residents, businesses and non-profit groups in the area of Charles Village between 20th and 26th streets have worked together as the 25th Street Task Force.


This resourceful group systematically analyzed the urgent problems of a neighborhood in transition with vacant houses and businesses steadily increasing.

In addition, the area lacked sufficient identity as a definable neighborhood despite its architectural and historic fabric.


Rather than run from a depressing situation, i.e. leave the city, this group dug in its heels and looked for solutions to improve their community's quality of life.

Determined to get beyond the usual hand-wringing and carping about insufficient police resources, the group concluded that it needed to create a vehicle to empower this community and ensure its future.

The South Charles Village Community Benefits District borrows its basic concept from the Downtown Partnership, but breaks new ground in bringing residents and businesses together for a formalized structure. The task force volunteers were the first to realize that voluntary contributions would never sustain the security and clean-up efforts needed on a daily basis.

A surcharge on all business and residential property taxes would generate a predictable fund sufficient to carry out operations for a three-year trial period under the control of a community-based Authority Board for the benefit of all.

Rather than take cheap shots at voluntary citizen efforts, The Sun should recognize that this self-imposed taxing mechanism is a new brand of community initiative with broad grass roots appeal.

This is no mere fad. The people who live and work in South Charles Village are serious about dealing with their urban problems.

Sandra R. Sparks



The writer is executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp. Inc.

No More City Aid

Your Feb. 6 editorial, "Can Baltimore Use Clinton's Aid?," hit the nail on the head for me.

Giving Baltimore more aid now will perpetuate the status quo -- an environment that instead of attracting responsible residents and business owners, repels and frightens them.

Billions of dollars have flowed to Baltimore from the federal government to deal with the problems of the poor, the disadvantaged, the drug-addicted and the deprived. It has not flowed to make the city a nicer place to live and do business for those more fortunate. Meanwhile, as the dollars have poured in, whole sections of Baltimore have been abandoned by the middle class and the working poor.

The easy availability of federal aid for urban problems following the declaration of the War on Poverty gave city governments a dangerous independence from the citizen taxpayer.


What did it really matter that businesses and taxpayers left the cities in droves?

What did it really matter that quality public schooling and protection from crime became only quaint memories and political rhetoric?

The poor and powerless have been a good source of income for city governments, for the armies of unionized city workers who provide services, and for the politically well-connected, who get their chance at the gravy train.

In retrospect, government aid should have gone to the cities with the least disadvantaged and the most educated and skilled populations. Maybe then Baltimore would have a good public school system for prosperous and poor alike. Maybe if government aid went to cities with the lowest crime rate, Baltimore's police department would have figured out how best to keep citizens safe.

I shudder to imagine, for example, the consequences of giving Baltimore more money to expand public and subsidized housing. The public high rises have blighted every part of Baltimore they touch. And the high rises are only the most notorious of the many other subsidized housing projects bestowed upon Baltimore.

It's been obvious for years that the whole concept of giving housing to someone regardless of how they treat it or their neighbors is the problem, not who happens to run the Baltimore Housing Authority.


But who cares whether the policy fails or not? The aid increases in proportion to how bad things get.

Baltimore must change if it is to have a future as anything but a vast poorhouse and a killing ground for the potential of generations yet unborn. Use that aid money to balance the budget, save the Somalis, put a woman on the moon, just don't give it to us.

Financial hardship might actually force Baltimore to become a better place to live -- if only because that is the only way to build and maintain a viable tax base. That would benefit those least able to help themselves.

Elizabeth Worthington Philip


Medical Malpractice


The recent article by James J. Kilpatrick on medical malpractice (Opinion * Commentary, Feb. 4) was correct as far as it went.

However, because of its failure to point out a number of pertinent facts, it fails to highlight an obvious conclusion -- that much of medical malpractice as codified in present law is a terribly costly item to the patient, who ultimately pays for it, and an enormous stimulus to the practice of bad medicine.

While Mr. Kilpatrick does indicate that many of the cases which are filed never come to trial, he fails to acknowledge that every case requires extensive and costly study by both lawyers for the insurance company and peer review physicians to evaluate their merit.

At one time most insurance carriers would settle many of these as "nuisance complaints," maintaining that it was less costly to pay the "alleged victim" a relatively small amount than to engage in a costly defense. Lawyers soon learned this and filed vast numbers of these unwarranted claims.

Despite the fact that carriers have learned it is overall less costly to defend against claims of no merit, they are yet involved in many borderline situations where the major incentives are a poor therapeutic outcome and avarice.

Consideration of a case having some merit may only rest on the fact that an unfortunate result has occurred, and the physician's records fail to reflect fully things done properly.


Failure to document is equivalent to failure to do when presented in court. The costs of these out-of-court settlements were also not emphasized.

Also a major cost of medical care is the practice of defensive medicine. When each patient is being considered as a potential adversary instead of a partner in the physician's attempt to heal, all kinds of tests to rule out rare possibilities are performed at the initial visit.

The need for radical changes in our medical tort system is still urgent. A few changes which would help alleviate our present ailing system would be:

* The costs of the litigation should be borne by the litigant when the jury determines there is no reason to award damages.

* There should be limitations on how much of the award the lawyer representing the aggrieved can retain.

* Patients need to be educated to alert their physicians when they have failed to respond to therapy and that in many conditions only a portion of patients respond favorably to treatment.


* Physicians need to improve their rapport with their patients. Those who feel that their doctors were honestly interested in them and have provided compassionate care rarely sue, even when they feel that an error in judgment has been made.

Finally, "standards of care" need to be developed. (This is slowly occurring.) It would thus be generally acknowledged that, given various symptoms and complaints, only certain limited procedures or therapies are initially indicated.

Physicians then would be freed from ordering costly and usually unnecessary and often dangerous procedures unless the patient did not respond to the more conservative approach.

Marion Friedman, M.D.


Forcing the Military to Accept Gays


A scout helicopter with a pilot and observer is flying low and slow over a hostile area. Suddenly it comes under fire. A round pierces the Plexiglas bubble. Small fragments of Plexiglas strike the pilot in the face, causing several small cuts, but he is otherwise unhurt.

The observer, however, is struck in the throat by the bullet and bleeding profusely. The wash of air from the rotor blades swirls the blood around the cockpit, coating the windscreen, instruments and pilot with a film of red.

Two helicopters take off on a low-level combat mission. Ten minutes into the mission, still fully fueled, they come under enemy fire. One chopper is shot down. The second immediately circles and lands in an attempt to resue the crew.

The three crew members of the downed craft have been thrown out. All are still alive, but the pilot is trapped with a skid of the downed craft on one of his legs.

Frantically they try to shift the weight of the chopper and pull the pilot free, but it can't be done.

There is no time to call for help, no time to think or hesitate; the craft is starting to burn. They have to get him free now or he'll burn to death.


A belt is quickly tied around his thigh and the second pilot amputates the man's trapped leg at the knee with a combat knife and flies him out to an aid station.

The pilot not only survives, he eventually returns to flight status with an artificial leg.

Combat is brutal, ugly and invariable bloody. Both stories are true, just two of many my husband experienced in two tours of duty in Vietnam as a scout pilot. Yes, he amputated his friend's leg.

The point, however, is that when under fire, soldiers are fighting for their own survival and the survival of those in their unit. Often the first help a wounded soldier receives is from a fellow soldier, who may be wounded himself.

Life is reduced to basics. There is no time for great social, moral or philosophical questions or debate -- you are just trying to stay alive through that moment.

Now the pressure is on to lift the ban on gays in the military. AIDS is endemic in the homosexual population. Once openly allowed into the services, how long before the activists scream that HIV testing is discriminatory?


Most soldiers in combat have, in the past, willingly and without hesitation risked their own lives to help or save a fellow soldier. Think about what is now going to be asked of them.

You know the soldier next to you is gay, you have no way of knowing if he is HIV positive.

The soldier is being placed in the position of risking not only his own life but also the lives of his family if he becomes infected and takes it home.

In the first story there is no way to avoid the risk. In the second story there is a terrible way: risk yourself and your spouse -- or let him burn.

Think about it before forcing the military to accept gays.

Barbara Eileen Chole


! Butzbach, Germany


Okay, it's time to join the debate.

After two years in the Army, where I held a top secret clearance, graduated first in my class in two highly skilled specialties and served with distinction, I was "removed" from the service with an "undesirable" discharge not because of any behavior on my part but because, when asked if I was gay, I said yes.

I was forced to disclose a complete written history of my homosexuality and at the end of a month of excruciating invasion of my privacy, was stripped of my rank, literally torn from the sleeves of my uniform, and escorted to the gates of the military post by a special MP detail which advised that if I ever came back on a military reservation again, I would be arrested.

That was 34 years ago, but the memory of the shame I felt then for only being who I was is vivid still.


And the stigma of an undesirable discharge followed me for years until I reached a position in my career and a place in my mind where it became safe to acknowledge my sexual orientation to my family, my friends and my fellow employees.

No one should have to suffer from such discrimination and disgrace because of something he can't help, not Gen. Colin Powell for being black, not me for being gay.

Those who would discriminate against the members of any group only for who they are, gays or Bosnians, Jews or blacks, the handicapped or homeless, should all experience the new Wiesenthal museum in Los Angeles.

There, where visitors are made to feel like victims of prejudice in dramatic and visceral ways, where they can be reminded of where such prejudice can "ultimately" lead, is where Colin Powell and Senators Sam Nunn, Robert Dole and Strom Thurmond should deliberate their position on gays in the military. The debate about this issue is not really about making someone uncomfortable in the shower. And it's not about unwanted sexual aggression, for no profession, much less the Tailhooked military, is free of that.

It's not even about the much-touted cohesiveness of fighting units, for military gays have not so far prevented cohesion nor will they in the future. That's all just smoke and mirrors.

What this debate is really about is right and wrong, good and evil; whether homosexuality is morally wrong and whether it is perversely chosen by those who want to be evil. In a strident and stirring confrontation I shall never forget, even my own father insisted that my gayness was chosen behavior; how perverse I was to have offended and shamed him so!


Were he alive today, I could only respond by asking him in turn how I could possibly voluntarily choose a way of life that has brought me such pain and unhappiness, how I would elect to be an outcast.

We who are gay cannot choose to be so any more than we can choose to be born to our parents. We simply are.

The other real issue posited by the more self-righteous right is that homosexuality is wrong in the eyes of God. To them I would say, then why, if God created everything, did He create us?

A once-close friend of mine, among many now long gone from AIDS, suggested what seems to me a beautifully spiritual answer to that one.

Like the plant's main job is to produce seeds to perpetuate its species, so the heterosexual world's main energy must be channelled toward coupling, birthing and nurturing, to perpetuate the race, to keep the evolutionary process going.

The reason so much of the gay world is involved in aesthetic professions is that we, by creation/design, have a different responsibility, to use our energy to make the world more beautiful for those who, by creation/design, don't have the time. We serve our function in the scheme of things, just as they do.


Being homosexual is not chosen and not wrong. And it is time for a leader to do the right thing, to integrate us into those parts of society over which he has some control.

Colin Powell and Robert Dole and Sam Nunn and even Strom Thurmond should end their own spiritual gridlock and get behind President Clinton's initiative and help, not hinder, the process.

That's what leadership is all about. That's what we selected them for. This country cannot afford to waste any of its energy; we need all the help we can get.

And by the way, your paper doesn't help when you publish a column by Germond and Witcover (Jan. 30) headlined, "With 9 million out of work, who cares about the gays?" Why can't we all care about both?

Phil Cooper