Taxpayers' dollars for Bosnia were not lost...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Taxpayers' dollars for Bosnia were not lost or stolen

On Aug. 17, The Sun carried a report from the New York Times indicating that up to $1 billion in local money and international aid had been stolen or lost in Bosnia ("Bosnian corruption cost as much as $1 billion"). Some news organizations even reported that all $1 billion allegedly lost or stolen was international aid -- some of it from U.S. taxpayers.

These reports are false and, if left unchallenged, could have a pernicious effect on American foreign policy.

Make no mistake, corruption is a serious problem in Bosnia that poses an impediment to its transition to economic and political stability.

Combating corruption in Bosnia is a high priority for the United States, which is why we have sought to draw international attention to the problem.

It is also worth noting that the examples of corruption the article described were actually uncovered by Bosnian federal investigators, who shared their findings with the international community.

It is important for The Sun's readers to understand that, particularly in countries wracked by corruption, the U.S. government carefully monitors how taxpayer dollars are spent overseas.

More than half our aid to Bosnia goes to help small-and-medium-sized private enterprises stand on their feet in an atmosphere in which communist-era practices and corruption remain widespread.

We know and follow where this money goes, and we believe it is a sound investment in promoting a Bosnia that will not return to civil strife and again endanger our security interests in the Balkans.

The New York Times' correction noted that the foreign assistance potentially lost is not $1 billion, but rather around $20 million invested in a failed bank.

In fact, we have less than $1 million invested in that bank, and we fully expect to recover the full amount through litigation or attachment of the bank's assets.

The bottom line is that U.S. tax dollars have not been stolen or lost in Bosnia.

James B. Foley, Washington

The writer is deputy spokesman for the U.S. Department of State.

Endorsements in uniform send the wrong message

I am dismayed by City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III's unseemly exploitation of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police's endorsement.

I am concerned about a mayor having so dependent a relationship with a group of city employees. If Mr. Bell is elected, the same people who helped put him into office may end up sitting across the bargaining table, negotiating with him.

Will Mr. Bell's allegiance lie with the citizens who pay the taxes (and city employees' salaries) or the FOP members who helped get him elected?

I am also concerned with the use of uniformed police personnel in Mr. Bell's campaign ads. As a federal employee, I am encouraged by my superiors to get involved in the election process, but admonished not to allow my involvement appear as if it were official agency support.

Officer Gary McLhinney has crossed this line through his appearance in uniform. It seems as if he is speaking for the entire police force.

Presumably, it would be inappropriate for officers in uniform to hand out Mr. Bell's campaign literature, or to place "Bell for Mayor" signs in their patrol cars.

What then, makes it appropriate for the officers in the ad to use their uniforms to further Mr. Bell's candidacy?

Joseph Myers, Baltimore

All city firefighters aren't backing Bell

Citizens of Baltimore should know that not all members of the Baltimore City Fire Department support the firefighters union's endorsement of City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III for mayor.

That decision was made by a small fraction of the union membership. At no time was the entire membership of our local polled or asked their opinions.

I caution people not to rely on any union endorsement to determine their choice for mayor. Voters must think for themselves and not blindly follow someone else's recommendation.

Barry B. Smith, Baltimore

The writer is a member of the Baltimore City Fire Department and Local 734 of the International Association of Firefighters.

Campaign profile offered skewed view of O'Malley

The Sun's "Talking the Talk" article on Councilman Martin O'Malley by Laura Lippman (Aug. 26) offended me with its heavy-handed sarcasm. Using terms such as "frat boy" and "smart-alecky grin" indicates a lack of objectivity unworthy of even a feature writer.

In the years that I, as a community activist, have worked with Councilman O'Malley, I have found him to be a serious-minded, hardworking public servant.

I have never heard him use phrases such as "bitchin" or "bummer" and I don't appreciate The Sun giving the impression that he's frivolous or a lightweight.

If The Sun, which has endorsed Mr. O'Malley's rival, Carl Stokes, can't dig up any legitimate dirt on the candidate -- or, better yet, address real issues -- it should at least avoid stereotyping and sarcasm as an alternative.

Christine Muldowney, Baltimore

Fee for TV debate poll caused viewer to tune out

Perhaps the most striking thing about Monday night's mayoral debate was that WBAL wanted to charge viewers 60 cents per call to voice their opinion.

In a city where many people live at the poverty level, it was particularly obnoxious for the TV station to gouge constituents this way.

My husband and I were so annoyed that we changed the station.

Jennifer Strasbaugh, Baltimore

It's about time guns got smarter

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has taken a huge step forward by pushing for childproof guns -- and should be both praised and supported. ("Maryland will be first in fight for smart guns," Aug. 27).

It is about time that the much touted cyber-age actually improved our quality of life, rather than just providing increasingly expensive entertainment.

As for the 20th Century Luddites who oppose the safer guns, I can only assume that they are victims of their own knee-jerk reactions.

Unless they are actually in favor of children and burglars using their guns, this plan can only benefit them.

Safer guns mean fewer restrictions on the sale and storage of guns -- two issues gun advocates are certainly vocal about.

A gun that doesn't kill people by accident is a new idea. But how can anyone doubt that it is a good one?

T. J. O'Grady, Westminster

Safety expert violated basic gun-handling rules

Reading The Sun's article on the governor's proposal that all firearms be "smart," I could not help noticing the picture of Stephen P. Teret, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, holding one of these "smart guns."

The problem with the picture is that the way he is holding the gun is not smart. In fact, Dr. Teret violates two of three commandments of safe gun handling.

For the uninitiated, the three cardinal rules are: Keep your finger off the trigger at all times unless ready to fire (note Dr. Teret's firm grip on the trigger); keep the action open and empty (the cylinder of the revolver is closed); and keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

Given the emotional debate regarding firearms, it is distressing to see a "safety expert" mishandle a firearm this way. Perhaps Mr. Teret should take a firearm safety class before he sits for any more photos.

Firearms safety is not difficult to learn. Perhaps The Sun could help the debate by publishing the rules of gun safety.

Educating the public on safe firearms handling might do more to help prevent needless tragedies than all the rhetoric we will hear from both sides of the gun control debate over the coming year.

And I'd like to add my own fourth gun-safety rule: If you are not familiar with the firearm and cannot make it safe, leave it alone until you find someone who can.

Lars Kristiansen, Annapolis

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