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Ways we can make Baltimore cleanerAs a...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ways we can make Baltimore cleaner

As a person who has become almost obsessed with eliminating trash and blight in my Charles Village neighborhood, I sympathize with the Aisquith Street residents featured in The Sun's article "Weary homeowners yearn for action on city cleanup" (Aug. 23).

My years of picking up after others has taught me that this issue crosses all ages, races and classes. Selfishness, laziness, ignorance and lack of respect are the root of the problem.

The answer does not lie exclusively in a reorganization of the Bureau of Solid Waste. Here are some other suggestions:

1. A print, radio and television ad campaign against litter must be launched. Mayor Martin O'Malley and other prominent individuals must give the simple message that I recall so well from my childhood: "Don't be a litterbug."

The campaign should show (or tell) how simple it would be to reduce trash and rats (by knowing your trash days and use a trash can with a tight-fitting lid). It should also show how litter hurts Baltimore, the harbor and the bay and how the simple act of planting flowers vastly improves a block.

2. Parents must teach their children and teen-agers not to litter and to keep candy wrappers and soda bottles until they can dispose of them properly. Schools can reinforce this message.

3. The city's campaign should not only fight litter and trash, but encourage beautification. Businesses and residents should be encouraged to plant flowers, trees and shrubs.

They don't have to do it alone; community associations are often willing to work with those interested in improving their community. Publicizing these efforts would be good for businesses who take the initiative. And maybe the possibility of a personal visit from the mayor would motivate residents to beautify their blocks.

4. Don't patronize businesses that contribute to blight and trash and tell them why you aren't giving them your business.

5. Take a plastic bag with you when you go out for a walk and pick up trash along the way. I hate to think what the median strip in front of my house would look like if my neighbors and I waited for the city to clean it up.

6. Consider a non-confrontational approach to someone who has littered in front of you.

If I see someone drop something, I will pick it up and nicely say: "Did you know you dropped something?" Most people are mortified and take it back from me.

7. Let's have a "Big Help" day in Baltimore where kids come out to clean up their city and then are honored at a city-wide celebration. Kids need to take ownership in their city.

8. Residents should care for trees and tree wells. A tree well in reasonable condition can be weeded and planted in a couple hours. It's been my experience that when an area looks good, people are less likely to disrespect it by littering.

9. Let's set high expectations for Baltimore. Let's not only clean it up; let's plant trees and flowers all over town.

Dawna M. Cobb, Baltimore

Small acts can aid homeless

Each of us is familiar with Dan Rodricks' description of the dread of the unasked question about the panhandler ("Panhandlers gives kids a lesson on poverty," Aug. 14), for it is the question that remains unanswered and continues to haunt us until it is addressed.

The averted eyes, the quickening of the pulse, and the helplessness come instantly whenever we come face to face with a homeless person. We scramble to arrive at some conclusion, ranging from feigned apathy to harsh judgment.

Mr. Rodricks was right on target when he said that this is a complicated issue. And he was also correct to steer us in the direction of introspection.

We humans tend to be quite merciful in judging our own actions, but harsh, exacting and simplistic in thinking about the actions of others.

My daughter recently told me that in a recent classroom discussion with a few seventh and eighth-graders in a Philadelphia inner-city summer school session she asked her students, "What would be one issue that you would address if you were president?"

A 16-year-old boy said, "the homeless." My daughter had seen this boy give his lunch to a homeless man he saw on the way to school.

Giving the man his own lunch wasn't such a complicated response.

I guess maybe his judgments weren't clouding his judgment.

Cheryl Hoopes, Chestertown

Proposal could hurt debtors and kids

I strongly disagree with Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper's assertions regarding the bankruptcy bill before Congress and its potential impact on single parents attempting to collect child support ("Congress must help ensure child support payments," Opinion * Commentary, Aug. 7).

Debtors would be treated very harshly under the legislation Mr. Carper advocates and their children would often take the brunt, whether they live in the same household or with a former spouse.

Under the banner of reform, the proposed bankruptcy legislation would make far less of a debtor's commercial debt dischargable. Thus, credit card companies and many other creditors could go after debtors while they are in bankruptcy and sometimes even after bankruptcy.

This effectively puts commercial collection agencies in competition with those unsecured creditors who are protected under our present bankruptcy laws -- including children to whom the debtor owes child support.

It doesn't take a calculator to figure out how much of the debtor's meager resources are likely to be available to pay child support under these circumstances.

Maryland's child support agency is currently successful in collecting all or part of a child support award only 44 percent of the time -- this despite all the tools available under the federal child-support enforcement laws and the present bankruptcy law, which avoids competition with credit card collection departments.

These disappointing results could only deteriorate if the bankruptcy bill Mr. Carper advocates becomes law.

The portion of that bill that could improve bankruptcy procedures related to child support does little if anything to offset the negative impact this legislation would have on the amount of child support available for collection.

True bankruptcy reform should concentrate on those debtors guilty of abuse and fraud. This bankruptcy bill would instead have a severe impact on families who cannot make ends meet.

The harshness of the proposal promises to undermine the premise of bankruptcy law: That we should provide a mechanism to give a family or individual overwhelmed by debt hope for something more than lifelong poverty.

We can and we must do much better.

Denise Davis, Towson

The writer is executive director of the Women's Law Center of Maryland Inc.

Let price of power reflect the demand

The Sun's editorial "Uncertainties of deregulation" (Aug. 15) described the present electricity shortages and price spikes in California, but misinterpreted their relevance for Maryland.

Electricity deregulation has not been more "foresighted" here in Maryland; the six-year transition period will only delay consumers' adjustment to market prices and discourage them from changing their behavior.

The state does participate in the Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland Interconnection power pool (PJM), but all utilities in the PJM are trying to catch up to increasing demand after years of slow increases in generation capacity.

In 1998, Maryland utilities imported more than 12 percent of the electricity consumed in the state. This deficit still exists, at a time when citizens everywhere are hostile to new power plant construction in their backyards.

Between now and 2003 utilities plan to add new generating capacity totaling less than four percent of present supply, but the demand for electricity is arguably increasing much faster. In California, for instance, demand has now reached levels utility planners did not expect until 2015.

Relying on friendly neighboring states to issue all the permits for new power plants is not sound public policy for Maryland.

If fuel prices continue to rise worldwide, driven by economic growth in the United States and elsewhere, there is good reason to project continued increases in electricity costs.

Before the end of the state's prolonged transition to deregulated electricity, the regulated part of BGE could even be selling power at a loss under the present deregulation agreement. Meanwhile, Maryland consumers will still be inefficient in using electricity.

When the transition period is over, consumers could see large price hikes, as the market re-establishes a balance between supply and demand. Judging by California's experience, blackouts and brownouts could become a part of daily life.

If consumers were exposed to true market prices now, they would buy and install energy-efficient equipment.

Most commercial and industrial electricity users can save five to ten percent in the short term with inexpensive changes in their facilities. That saving would reduce their long-term costs and reduce air pollution for all of us.

Market-based prices would also give electricity suppliers price incentives to build more generating capacity, thus balancing supply and demand.

Maryland consumers would be better served if the Public Service Commission would eliminate the transition period and go to an open market right now. Low-income households could be protected from the worst effects of early market swings by state programs.

The state's 6.5 percent rate cut is an artificial distortion of the market and says to residential consumers: "Use all you want, we'll make more."

Until electricity suppliers can charge a market price, there will be no more.

Patrick L. Huddie, Crownsville

The writer is a principal of Anderson, Huddie and Associates, an energy policy consulting firm.

MTA must do more than fire one driver

While it is good that the Mass Transit Administration has reviewed its drug policy, perhaps it should also ponder some larger questions ("MTA proposal intends to stop drivers on drugs," Aug. 17).

It appears that the problem with the light rail's Baltimore-Washington International Airport extension has nothing to do with cars, rails, signals, platforms or end barriers. The problem lies in the incompetence of a few operators.

But the MTA should review other problems with the light rail, such as the amount of time it takes to pass through downtown.

That trip would take much less time if downtown traffic lights were coordinated so that the light rail never had to stop for red lights. Coordination would also help motorists, who currently have to wait at stoplights for the light rail even when no train is present.

The light rail is planning a double-tracking project. But its ridership would increase much more if the system instead spends the $150 million on a new line that would serve more neighborhoods and more destinations.

Finally, the bus system should be set up to more effectively compliment the light rail and subway. The system needs better coordination of timing and routes, as well as better markings of bus lines at the rail stations.

Unless it makes the light rail system more efficient, faster and able to server more destinations, the MTA may as well shut down the light-rail system.

Shane Gerson, Baltimore

The Mass Transit Agency (MTA) has fired driver Dentis Thomas, blaming him for the Aug. 15 light rail accident at Baltimore-Washington International Airport ("Train driver in crash is fired," Aug. 22).

But conspicuous by its absence in the reports on that accident was any reference to deficiencies in the design or the control system of the light-rail system itself.

Across this country there are subways, light-rail systems, cross-airport people-movers and other high and moderate speed systems which operate automatically or semi-automatically, with a human operator as the backup -- not as the primary means of control.

Those systems' safety records do not seem to be in dispute.

How did such a progressive operation as BWI end up with such an antiquated system?

Instead of frantically searching for ways to affix blame to the little guy, and scapegoating to cover system design deficiencies, maybe it is time to point the finger toward the truly responsible figures.

State Transportation Secretary John Porcari and MTA Administrator Ron Freeland, along with the state House of Delegates' Appropriations Committee, hold primary responsibility for the condition of our light rail system -- and therefore for the accidents.

Mr. Thomas was simply an unlucky victim of circumstance -- along with the 22 unfortunate persons injured in the accident.

Larry Dickens, Baltimore

Working people have cause for anger

With regard to The Sun's article "Curbing the urge to rage" (Aug. 20), I think that sometimes the personal is indeed political -- and economic.

We are constantly bombarded with the idea that America is prospering in the most sustained economic boom in history.

What this news doesn't tell us is that many working Americans are getting a smaller cut of the pie and that makes a lot of us feel crazy -- and angry.

We rarely hear about what happens to the people who got downsized from decent-paying jobs with health insurance and pensions -- cases where NAFTA makes it more cost-efficient to move a factory to Mexico or a mega-merger approved by the Justice Department allows for more "economies of scale" -- i.e. layoffs of now redundant workers.

Yes, in this economy most of them get hired again, but often at a lower pay level and with fewer benefits. And those who remain must often work forced overtime and only get to see their kids on the weekend -- this was a major issue in the recent Verizon strike.

Census Bureau figures show that more Americans than ever are now without health insurance and that real wages for working families have been stagnant since the 1970s.

Many wives have no choice but to work, where 30 years ago one income could have done the job.

So working Americans have a lot to be angry about. I don't think that therapeutic solutions for road rage will get us out of this mess.

David Lavine, Baltimore

Leadership blocks teachers union reform

Recent articles on the rift in the Baltimore Teachers Union between Loretta Johnson, president of the aides chapter, and Sharon Blake, president of its teacher chapter, captured the essence of a union fraught with dissension ("Leadership dispute creates division in city teachers union" Aug 18).

Six years ago I joined a splinter group, Teachers for a New Direction, which was dedicated to reforming the union by proposing our own slate of candidates in the election held every two years.

Our major concerns were separating the teacher chapter from the aides chapter and stopping the commingling of their funds.

We ran Marcia Brown for president against incumbent Irene Dandridge, who had the firm backing of Ms. Johnson.

Ms. Brown won by a slim majority. However, the executive board, which was made up of teachers and teacher aides, was still controlled by Ms. Johnson and she stifled every attempt at reform.

Ms. Brown soon resigned in frustration. Teachers for a New Direction won the battle, but lost the war.

Now Ms. Blake is attempting to reform the BTU. Her work is cut out for her. Ms. Johnson is a shrewd, intelligent woman with strong backing from the national union, the American Federation of Teachers, of which she is a vice president.

She is not going to sit idly by and watch the union she has controlled with a firm hand for years be in any way altered.

However, the true core of the problem lies neither with Ms. Johnson nor Ms. Blake.

It lies with teachers like Bobby Marinelli, who I'm sure spoke for the vast majority of BTU members when she said, "There is little I can do, if anything, to change things, so I don't do anything."

Arthur Laupus, Columbia

The writer is a retired teacher in the Baltimore public schools.

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