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Cheap shot at Catholic schoolsI take great...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Cheap shot at Catholic schools

I take great exception to Neil Herrmanns comments about Catholic education in his letter on public funding for Catholic schools (". . . but offends citizens who dont support religion," Feb. 3).

Religion is not a dead subject, as the writer states, but a living part of a human being.

We dont teach dogma, but values and ethics and how to live a good life, no matter what ones beliefs.

We produce students who fight hatred and intolerance.

Our science courses are up-to-date, relevant and teach modern methods and scientific reasoning.

We present the new as well as the old, and we open our students minds to all that is available.

We are proud of what we teach and the well-rounded lives we model for our students.

I am a product of Catholic education, a parent who provided the same for her children and a teacher and administrator in the Catholic system.

I experience every day the positive contributions Catholic schools make for the children of Maryland.

Diana M. Franz, Baltimore

The writer is academic vice-principal of the Institute of Notre Dame .

In his recent letter, Neil Herrmann decries the use of public money for private schools.

He then decries the "hatred and intolerance" of Catholic doctrine.

Yet he has no trouble calling Catholicism a dead religion which teaches non-scientific absurdities.

Will we see an outcry for Mr. Herrmann to attend sensitivity training, or perhaps undergo psychiatric evaluation?

No, of course not: I forgot its open season on Catholics.

Teresa Wilkins, Millersville

The recent letter to the editor entitled " . . .. but offends citizens who dont support religion" (Feb. 3) offended at least this reader. I would take to task both The Sun and the letter writer.

The writer for his wholly gratuitous attack on Catholicism and references to it as a dead religion.

The Sun for choosing to publish such a letter, instead of one with less inflammatory content.

Allow me to agree with the writer at least in part, however.

In no way, shape, manner or form do I wish to see state, federal, or any other government money flowing into Catholic education

None of that money comes without strings. Those are strings which we can certainly do without.

Glenn E. Redding, Baltimore

While we may take exception to the notion that Roman Catholicism is a "dead religion," many Marylanders heartily support Neil Hermanns position that the state should not provide any taxpayer funding to parochial schools.

Year after year, the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Maryland Catholic Conference are instrumental in defeating legislation before the General Assembly that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

To require lesbian and gay citizens to make even a modest tax contribution to an institution that promotes discrimination against them flies in the face of fairness -- never mind breaching the wall the separating church and state.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has been a great champion of both education and equality.

I hope he will reconsider his plan to fund parochial schools, and rechannel the money into the public school system that so desperately needs it.

James R. Moody

Catonsville

Few paying heirs tax?

Until recently, The Sun has provided thorough and balanced coverage of the General Assemblys deliberations on repeal of the states inheritance tax.

But I take exception to the misleading article "State likely to repeal inheritance tax" (Feb. 1), which attempted to minimize the consequences of this tax.

If the headline proclaiming "few would benefit" from repeal of the tax is correct, then who are the thousands of people who pay the estimated $50 million a year the state collects from this tax?

The chart accompanying the article, which depicted the tax savings for $500,000 and $1 million estates, was deceptive. Using these estate classifications as examples implies that individuals who inherit sizable estates would be the largest group of beneficiaries of repealing the tax.

The truth, according to a 1995 study conducted by the Maryland Department of Fiscal Services, is that 47 percent of all Maryland estates subject to the states inheritance tax were valued at $100,000 or less, 68 percent of affected estates were worth less than $200,000 and 79 percent less than $300,000.

Only 8.8 percent of affected estates were valued between $500,000 and $1 million.

Quotes throughout the article maintain that the inheritance tax has virtually no economic impact or effect on small businesses.

If this is true, why are at least 35 leading business organizations actively working for its repeal? And why did the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, in its fiscal analysis of the inheritance tax repeal bill, specifically note that the small business effect is meaningful?

It is by no means, "a stretch to see how this [repeal] would be good for business."

The only businesses for whom repeal might not bode well are those of estate and tax attorneys and accountants.

The Annapolis lawyer who contends that "the 0.9 percent tax on spouses and children is too small to affect business," must cater to wealthy clients.

Many individuals and families have difficulty paying the first $1. Beneficiaries may acquire assets, but they are often cash-poor.

The article did get one very important point right.

Those who stand to gain the most from inheritance tax repeal are beneficiaries of small to mid-size estates who are mostly non-direct descendants and collateral heirs.

They account for 58 percent of inheritance tax revenues.

This is all the more reason the General Assembly must resist the temptation, outlined in competing bills, to merely eliminate the tax for direct descendants or other specific individuals.

Not only is it discriminatory to exempt certain individuals, but anything less than full repeal will not help many of the people for whom repeal legislation is intended.

The justification for eliminating Marylands inheritance tax is deeply rooted in sound economic and tax policy principles.

It is the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do and the state can afford to do it.

Steven S. Lakin, Annapolis

Misleading facts about homeowners

The Suns Real Estate section misleadingly reported that the nations unprecedented number of homeowners are making "important strides" forward ("66.8 percent of Americans own their homes," Feb. 6).

Trends in urban centers such as Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles indicate that increased home purchases in these areas have to do with a pervasive practice of "reverse redlining" that targets mostly working-poor and minority individuals to purchase dilapidated houses at inflated prices.

The purchases are often financed with above-market interests rates that buyers can't afford.

The practice of "flipping" properties that The Suns John ODonnell has comprehensively reported in recent months is but one type of this "reverse redlining."

Many of these transactions feature falsified loan applications and settlement sheets that suggest a first-time home-buyer can afford a purchase when he or she cannot. These transactions benefit the unscrupulous sellers, mortgage brokers and settlement officers, who are paid at settlement and have a financial interest in any and every deal, even ones that are unconscionable.

The lenders in this "sub-prime" market often violate sound underwriting practices, but sell the rights to the loan soon after settlement, relying on the loans inflated interest rate as a marketing tool.

For government-insured loans, the lender can rely on the government (with taxpayers money) to bail them out when purchasers default on loans they shouldnt have qualified for in the first place.

But the homeowner is often stuck with a house not worth the outstanding balance of the loan, and a monthly mortgage payment he or she cannot meet.

The number of foreclosure petitions is on the increase in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City because of such transactions.

The buyer characteristically ends up in bankruptcy, ruining his or her credit and condemned to the "sub-prime" market if they try to purchase a home again.

The foreclosed house often ends up vacant, an abandoned blight in its community.

The house is then characteristically purchased at foreclosure sale by a non-occupying unscrupulous investor, to be cosmetically touched up and re-marketed to the next unwary homebuyer

For U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew M. Cuomo to rave about homeownership [as] the American dream in markets such as Baltimores, ignores the experience of many working poor and minority purchasers, who are being victimized daily by these housing scams..

David Walsh-Little, Baltimore

The writer is managing attorney at Saint Ambrose Housing Aid Center.

Lighten up on freak dancing

Susan Reimers recent column on freak dancing was completely biased to the adult point of view (No dancing around this responsibility, Jan. 25).

Nowhere in the column did I see a teen-ager asked about freak dancing. The article was full of facts adults had just supposed.

"Freak dancing must be incredibly confusing to sixth graders attending their first mixer. I bet they are afraid and embarrassed and all shook up," Ms. Reimer wrote.

But if you go to any middle school mixer or are acquainted with any middle school students, you will realize that they are hesitant to have any contact at all, let alone "grinding genitals."

Freak dancing takes place mostly in high schools. High school students do not look at it as a meaningless sexual act; they look at it simply as a way to dance.

While freak dancing may appear suggestive, it is not even close to sex. Clothes are always kept on.

If The Sun wants to concentrate on teen-agers committing meaningless sexual acts, it should focus on the raging keg parties that occur every weekend.

Teen-agers these days are much more comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality than they were in earlier generations. Friends of the opposite sex are much more touchy-feely.

Physical contact between friends, including freak dancing, is not looked at as an act of sex; it is seen as an act of friendship.

It is perfectly normal and in no way does it leave teen-agers feeling that their "soul is empty."

If a girl is uncomfortable dancing with a guy, she will tell him to go away. She will not feel violated. This is how todays teen-agers act.

Of course some parents will disapprove, as their parents disapproved of them, but this is just something that parents must accept and realize is harmless.

Ali Boecker Timonium

The writer is a student at Dulaney High School.

A sad acceptance of family rat race

The Sun's article about Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend trying to balance motherhood and working full time sounded like the experience of so many of us -- caught in a rat race of trying to balance too many demands on our time ("Balancing act," Jan. 30.)

The sad part is that we have come to accept this as normal.

We're constantly rushing, missing valuable hours of our children's lives. We're too tired to see the irony of it all: That by investing so much energy in our jobs we are sacrificing our family life.

A family gains its strength and identity by spending time together -- especially unhurried time, such as that spent at the dinner table.

Having dinner as a family creates strong bonds. The conversation that takes place teaches our children how to think, how to defend a point of view and what values are important in the family.

But, for too many of us, having dinner together is a rarity and stress levels are high. Children carry this stress with them.

We all need to examine how much (or how little) time we spend actually enjoying our family.

Our children deserve to know they're important enough that we are willing to make them a priority.

Cindy Lemieux, Lutherville

Every few months The Sun seems to feel compelled to print a hagiographic profile of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. The latest one was written by Susan Reimer ("Balancing act," Jan. 30).

As in previous articles, the lieutenant governor was portrayed as carrying the public service mantle of her late father and as the epitome of the working mother.

In the interest of balance, I would like to make two points.

First, the office of lieutenant governor is an unnecessary position and a waste of taxpayers' money.

If Ms. Townsend were a true public servant, she would resign and call for the position's abolition.

Second, I wish a reporter would point out that, unlike most working mothers, Ms. Townsend has the benefit of a multi-million-dollar family fortune.

Russell Burton, New Freedom, Pa.

Bold response to terrorism

I commend The Sun for its bold and thought-provoking editorial "Dealing with Pakistan after the hijacking," (Jan. 28). The editorial rightly outlined two critical actions President Clinton can take immediately.

First, as the Cold War is over (and had been for some time), the president must reevaluate U.S. foreign policy. Let us do what is in our long-term interest, and form a closer alliance with India.

The second step would be to list Pakistan among the countries sponsoring terrorism.

The United States and India are the worlds two largest democracies and this country is Indias leading trading partner.

Indias trained, English-speaking workers create most of America's computer software. Indias cash-rich middle-class (the size of the entire U.S. population) potentially is a huge market for U.S. goods and services. Trade between the nations can and must thrive.

For its part, India must further remove controls on trade and investment, reduce government red tape and regulation, create transparency in its dealings with investors and improve its image as a business-friendly nation.

A tilt toward India would send a strong signal about U.S. intentions to uphold democracy and bring more prosperity to the world.

If the U.S. lists Pakistan among the nations sponsoring terrorism, and the president refuses to visit that nation during his trip to the sub-continent in March, that will send another unequivocal message: That the U.S. does not deal with nations that sponsor or harbor terrorists

It will also suggest that we value democracy and freedom of speech. Both are in jeopardy in Pakistan.

The mock trial of that countrys former (elected) prime minister and the bullying of its judiciary by military rulers pose grave dangers for that nation and for the region.

But, as The Sun noted, Washington cannot impose democracy on Pakistan, and should not try. It can, however, deter Pakistan from sponsoring terrorism, and should try very hard to do so.

The time to do this is now -- before the next bomb explodes or the next airplane is hijacked and innocent lives are lost.

We need to stand tall against terrorism. We need to uphold democratic institutions.

The United States has clear choices. It is time for the president to take a stand.

Pradeep Ganguly, Ellicott City

Peacekeeping not militarys mission

As a former newsman and a retired Air Force officer, my credulity is regularly strained by opinions such as those expressed in Chris Lombardis column "U.S. military trained to kill, not keep peace," (Opinion Commentary, Jan. 26).

The constitutional function of the U.S. armed forces is two-fold: to defend this country against attack and, when appropriate, to project our power against potential adversaries.

The military's raison d'etre has nothing to do with keeping the peace; it's about fighting this nations wars -- nothing else.

The current administrations insistence on using large numbers of our military personnel in such places as Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo (among others )has had two results: These mission-less deployments have degraded the military's readiness and basically killed recruiting.

I know infantrymen who havent fired weapons they would use in combat and pilots who have not flown enough training hours to remain proficient with complicated weapons systems.

The reason given for limited training is lack of funding for necessities like jet fuel and practice ammunition. The money has been diverted to faraway places to pay for "peacekeeping."

The military's recruiting problem is related to these missions. What talented young man or woman is going to subject him or herself to an endless string of short-notice, interminable deployments which accomplish nothing?

Having a father away from his family, sleeping in a "hooch" (a temporary tent-covered shelter) nine months of every year is death to families.

And it is worse if a mother is deployed. That harms children beyond belief.

Chuck Frainie, Woodlawn

Question of the Month

Should parochial schools receive taxpayer support?

We are looking for 300 words or less; the deadline is Feb. 21. Letters become the property of The Sun, which reserves the right to edit them. By submitting a letter, the author grants The Sun an irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use and republish the letter, in whole or in part, in all media and to authorize others to reprint it. Letters should include your name and address, along with a day and evening telephone number. E-mail us: letters@baltsun.com; write us: Letters to the Editor, The Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278-0001; fax us: 410-332-6977.

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