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SATURDAY MAILBOX

State control could destroy Head Start

Head Start is an enormously effective, federally run program that has provided comprehensive services for 38 years to at-risk children across America. So why are Congress and the president talking about giving the responsibility for running this program to cash-strapped state governments ("House narrowly approves GOP plan for Head Start," July 25)?

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As a pediatrician in a working-class neighborhood in Baltimore, I have the privilege of caring for many children in the Head Start program. I see the "school readiness" and "life readiness" it provides.

Recently, a 3-year-old student of Head Start asked me if she needed any shots. This is a question I don't often get from a patient so young. She said her Head Start teacher taught her about staying healthy and how shots help fight infection.

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Another time, a 4-year-old Head Start student asked me if I knew how to cook healthy foods to feed my own family. He told me that his mom was a good cook and she knew what foods were "rich in vitamins."

Four years old and this child is focused on eating nutritiously. Wow.

Head Start is not just about learning numbers and letters. It has evolved to meet the unique needs of low-income families. Head Start provides referral services for a wide range of child and family needs, and many centers provide medical, dental and emotional screening services.

The program empowers parents to take an active role in their children's education. It teaches parents to be advocates for their kids and themselves. Many parents in Head Start further their own education, and this helps increase their economic security.

Federal accountability for Head Start is the key that ensures this program continues to serve the most needy children at the high standards that have existed for four decades.

Is it realistic to believe that state governments, many of which are experiencing severe deficits (including Maryland), will be able to maintain the high quality and comprehensiveness of Head Start? No.

If America is sincere about "leaving no child behind," we should ask Congress and the president to expand funding for the existing Head Start program so that all eligible children can participate.

Dr. Diana Fertsch

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Baltimore

Bullying of Bereano won't deter clients

Given the big to-do created by The Sun regarding Bruce C. Bereano, it seems to me that the other side needs to be heard.

I have known Mr. Bereano since I was a legislator and he was working for the Maryland Senate. I have found him to be honest, caring, trustful and most charitable. Yes, he has made two mistakes, but they were not that horrible. He did not steal, there was no bribery involved and, indeed, no meaningful crime.

Yet The Sun continues to hound a decent person. Even if he was totally guilty, when does this stop?

What Mr. Bereano did this time was invite legislators to a boat ride, which The Sun itself said was not illegal. Yet he actually made headlines ("Bereano books cruise to host Md. legislators," July 16). How ridiculous was that? Aren't there more important front-page stories for The Sun to print?

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Yes, Mr. Bereano invited legislators for an afternoon boat ride. The legislators were not forced to go. Did The Sun do any research to determine how many legislators were invited to go on afternoon excursions by companies in the past? I would say hundreds.

Legislative conferences have always been known to involve lobbyists wining and dining the legislators. So why pick on Mr. Bereano?

The Sun apparently will not stop until it can pour earth on Mr. Bereano's grave.

Well, he won't die all that easily. People love Mr. Bereano, and most of his clients will not let themselves be bullied by The Sun. They will stand up for what is right.

Richard Rynd

Baltimore

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The writer is a former Democratic member of the Maryland legislature.

Speaker Busch takes right path on slots

Several elements of the recent letter critical of House Speaker Michael E. Busch cry out for clarification ("Fiscal discipline for UM system is long overdue," letters, July 25).

First, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s "revenue-generating plan for Maryland" consisted of a last-minute, poorly drafted slots bill that heavily favored already-rich special interests. Mr. Busch and the General Assembly rightly defeated this measure in the closing days of the 2003 General Assembly.

Second, the letter-writer conveniently overlooked the fact that the governor increased our property taxes while vetoing a bill that would have equitably and fairly increased taxes on corporate shells operating with Delaware addresses.

Mr. Ehrlich has instead embarked on a "my way or the highway" approach that slashes funding for agencies and programs, including the University of Maryland, that benefit hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.

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Perhaps it's time for the executive and legislative branches to stop pointing fingers and start working together on thoughtful, well-crafted legislation that benefits all citizens.

And Mr. Busch is doing just that in championing an ongoing Ways and Means Committee study of slots options for possible consideration in the 2004 Assembly session.

Kevin Miller

Chestertown

Stop the demolition in Old Town area

Proposed changes to the city's urban renewal plan for Old Town Mall would enable the city to acquire one-third of the area properties that remain in private hands, including two grocery and fresh food outlets, on the assumption that developers need more space for a 60,000-square-foot supermarket ("Old Town Mall waits for rescue after years of decline, neglect," July 21).

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Such a strategy has repeatedly failed in the past. The plan also lacks accountability: It contains no solid mandate to reopen the street running through the mall to automobile traffic, and long-neglected public works commitments can continue to be ignored.

While the viability of area businesses is seriously threatened by the city's ongoing neglect, if the new amendments are approved by City Council, properties that are simply "unoccupied" (but not abandoned) will also be targeted for city acquisition.

One grocery chain has expressed interest to me in building a smaller supermarket; it is eager to review a proposal, but this potential lead still awaits consideration, even though it wouldn't require additional demolition to accommodate potential parking needs.

This neighborhood contains an unusually large number of handicapped people. The Monument East elder community residents must drive wheelchairs halfway up the hill to Johns Hopkins to shop; they don't need yuppie condos.

Old Town property owners have overwhelmingly endorsed the idea of historic district designation to preserve and rehabilitate the mall's remaining buildings.

The mayor and City Council should honor their commitment to encourage minority-owned businesses by ending the eviction of local entrepreneurs and the unnecessary demolition of properties in pursuit of purely speculative development ideas.

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Kim L. Sanders-Fisher

Baltimore

The writer is vice president of Gay Street's Oldtown Coalition.

A future in which the nuns reign?

I've spent a portion of this summer day in a utopian fantasy world.

American President Sister Ardeth Platte is conducting a meeting, sitting on the lawn of the White House with her vice president, Sister Carol Gilbert, and Sister Jackie Hudson, the head of the United Nations ("Nuns sentenced to prison for vandalizing missile silo," July 26).

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They laugh and invite the tourists to tear down the iron fence and give their opinions on the issues at hand.

War has been abolished on this Earth. Producing anything designed to kill -- guns, missiles, warplanes, battleships -- is a crime against humanity.

All resources and personnel formerly allocated to war are now dedicated to helping all citizens of the globe live healthier, happier, more secure lives.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin L. Powell have been pardoned after their convictions for war crimes, and have happily rejoined their families.

A new global holiday is being celebrated today, in honor of the many individuals who have sacrificed their freedom so the rest of us can live in peace.

The heroes most often mentioned are Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson.

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I pray my utopia becomes a reality.

Kirk S. Nevin

White Hall

Death toll in city is real tragedy

Our greatest tragedy is not that a significant number of servicemen and women have died while liberating Iraq, although all their deaths are tragedies. At least these brave souls left behind a legacy that their families and citizens loyal to America can respect and be proud of. Their sacrifice has not been in vain.

Yet we dwell on the deaths of these noble volunteers, as if we somehow ignore that these brave souls went into harm's way knowing the risks that they ran.

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Instead, it might do all those who appear outraged by their noble sacrifices good to dwell a bit more on the more than 160 murders this year in Baltimore alone, a figure disturbingly close to our losses in Iraq.

For most of these innocent souls, there was no awareness of the risk of death, no thought about volunteering for a noble cause. They were simply going about their daily lives when brutal murderers selfishly snuffed out their lives.

There lies the scandal and the shame.

Our servicepeople died embracing honor. Our city's innocent citizens died while having theirs ripped from them along with their lives.

Douglas B. Hermann

Baltimore

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Opposition to war is futile gesture

Amazing -- all that indignation expressed under the banner of the Question of the Month ("Little enthusiasm for long-term occupation of Iraq," letters, July 26).

Every president must have his war. After President Bush's war in Iraq, we will see some other futile exercise.

Government is a failed concept. That is especially clear when the agenda is to change the nastier aspects of human behavior, at home or abroad.

The human race cannot be reformed. That is why the peace movement is absurd.

Killing each other is one thing humans do efficiently and naturally. We can love them or reject them. But change them? Never.

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Put all that indignation to a practical use. Go outdoors and pull weeds. This year, there are enough for everyone.

Georgia Burch Benson

Timonium

Cute cliches distort plight of the Roma

I turn to the inside of The Sun's front page eager to discover what interesting, unusual, informative lens on the world awaits me in the Sun Journal. The Associated Press piece on the Roma failed on all counts ("For Gypsies, end of the road," July 21).

Not until the sixth paragraph did the article even acknowledge this culture's real name -- Roma or Rroma. This is minor, though, compared to the sentimental stereotypes perpetuated by the whole piece, which belittle and trivialize the true story of the beleaguered Roma.

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This "Aw, gee, ain't these strange people cute?" piece makes passing reference to the plight of the Roma under the dictatorial rule of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania, but the reality has been much more complicated and tragic for hundreds of years.

In our own times, the European Romani population was decimated by a percentage estimated to be greater than that of Jews in the Holocaust.

Across Europe, the Roma have 70 percent to 100 percent unemployment, live in substandard housing and face systemic hostility. Romani children are still identified in great numbers as mentally retarded and placed in boarding schools away from their families. In the recent past, Romani children were frequently stolen from their families and placed in orphanages, turning the old taunt about little children being stolen by the Gypsies on its head.

The vast majority of Romani lives are neither romantic nor picturesque. They are perhaps the most disenfranchised ethnic group of Europe.

When I spent a year teaching in Eastern Hungary in 1993 and 1994 and inquired about the Roma, people young and old frequently made comments such as, "We should do with them what you did with your Indians and put them on reservations" and "We have the same problem with them that you have with blacks."

These Hungarians' intuitive grasp of the historical violence and segregation perpetrated on the most disenfranchised minorities in America and those evils' current manifestations was a justification for their own racism and inequity.

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For us to gloss over, in turn, mainstream Europe's distillation of our own most odious injustices is to shrug at literally fatal racism. The Roma have a life expectancy 10 years shorter than other Europeans.

This article reduces an entire culture to a charming and melancholy piece of trivia, as do the accompanying photos of stereotypical laughing, philosophical and traveling "Gypsies."

It ignored a disaster of epic racism, ethnic cleansing and endemic poverty.

Abigail Breiseth

Baltimore

Finding faster way to cross the bay

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Last Saturday morning, I was traveling west from the Eastern Shore to Baltimore. The traffic eastbound was backed up on U.S. 50 much farther from the Bay Bridge than where Interstate 97 joins U.S. 50.

The thousands of cars waiting represented tens of thousands of passengers during a period of many hours each Saturday in the summer.

What a waste of gasoline and time, and what a way to start a visit to the ocean or the Delmarva Peninsula.

But the technology now exists to simply photograph license plates as cars pass through the toll plaza on the bridge, without the cars stopping -- just as high-speed cameras catch speeders and red-light runners in many cities.

These pictures could be fed into a computer that matches the license plate to the owner's address. A bill for $4 or even $5 could be mailed to the owner. Those who do not pay could be required to do so (with a late fee added) before their driver's license is renewed or before their tags are renewed.

I'm sure most people would pay a little more to eliminate the miserable delay during peak times at the bridge.

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Edgar C. Ludwig

Denton

Hope helped heal hurricane's wrath

Bob Hope's most significant connection with Baltimore took place on the evening of July 22, 1972 ("Legendary entertainer gave fans 8 decades of memories," July 29).

Hurricane Agnes had cut a swath from Florida through Maryland and into New York state, leaving flooding and devastation in its wake. The Red Cross and its chapters in the affected states were faced with a massive, costly recovery effort.

I was WBAL-TV's community liaison person in those days, and station manager Brent Gunts suggested I contact the National Red Cross in Washington to explore the possibility of a telethon to raise support for the effort. Although the Red Cross had never before undertaken such a venture, it enthusiastically accepted the offer and we set about lining up guest stars.

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It turned out that about all we needed to do after that was get in touch with Mr. Hope. From there on he took charge, lining up a charter planeload of more than 50 Hollywood stars, including Jimmy Stewart, Steve Allen, Eva Gabor and the Woody Herman band.

The Mechanic Theatre canceled its scheduled shows, and on July 22, Mr. Hope hosted a six-hour fund raiser carried by 10 other TV stations in communities struck by Hurricane Agnes. During that short period, pledges totaled $1.2 million, which was a great deal of money in those days.

Only Mr. Hope could have carried this off. He was a great admirer of the Red Cross, and he faced this challenge in his usual selfless and gracious manner.

Sydney King

Baltimore

City Council needs ethics lesson

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I'm sure the actual codes and laws covering ethics and conflict of interest are difficult to understand (after all, lawyers wrote them). However, the concept of ethical actions and situations are generally well understood by the average citizen. Apparently, though, the City Council members are not average and can't figure these things out for themselves ("Practices, perks of council members raise ethics issues," July 27).

The city's Board of Ethics is supposed to help them deal with such questions. Too bad the Ethics Board seems to be missing in action.

But the main problem is that the City Council members want to parse the rules to find any loophole that will give them cover.

Nepotism is wrong. Accepting gifts from those who may benefit from your decisions is wrong. The appearance of conflict of interest is wrong.

Most citizens know these things. Why don't the council members?

Why don't the members of the Ethics Board run interference for citizens, instead of wringing their hands about how confusing these issues are?

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They are only confusing to those who find it convenient and potentially profitable not to understand them.

Mel Barnhart

Randallstown

Business as usual is obvious in The Sun's article "Practices, perks of council members raise ethics issues" (July 27). And how many of the City Council members who hired relatives really work as full-time council members? Very few, I'm sure.

At a time when city employees are being laid off and services cut, we are paying part-time council staff more than many full-time city employees earn.

Maybe when an election is held and the new (and old) council members take their seats in the council chamber, they should be given a booklet letting them know that nepotism and freebies just don't go with the overpaid positions to which they were elected.

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I just feel sorry for the city employees who really deserve the salaries given to council members' family members and the pay raises council members have received at a time when this city is in such dire need of funds.

Lois Raimondi Munchel

Baltimore

While city agencies have been storm-trooping mom-and-pop establishments (such as Cafe Hon and the Swallow at the Hollow), it seems the real lawbreaking has been going on right at City Hall.

Next time the new police commissioner wants to make the news, he should direct his nifty task force to break in the doors at the City Council chambers.

And don't forget to tell them to take the Ethics Board and the bulk trash with them.

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N. R. Beveridge

Baltimore

It is apparent that the new appointees to the city's Board of Ethics have their work cut out for them. Their reputations, as individuals and as a group, will depend on how they handle the latest revelations about City Council members and their relatives.

It is appalling that any member of the City Council would claim that he or she was not aware of the laws or ethics rules pertaining to the position. This is an insult to the voters of this city.

Using past performances as an excuse to justify their wrongdoing does not get them off the hook, nor does crying race relieve them of their responsibilities.

The members of the council seem to have forgotten the reason they were voted into those seats - which was not to be self-serving, but to represent the people.

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Since some council members appear to have forgotten their oaths of office, it will be up to the citizens to make the needed corrections by removing those found unworthy in the coming elections.

I hope that their replacements will have learned a lesson in honesty, dedication and humility.

Ornat Erby

Baltimore

Nepotism in the Baltimore City Council appears to be the accepted norm. As Councilwoman Pamela V. Carter stated, "It's about who can you trust to have your back. Everybody has family working down here."

Trust lies at the heart of the considerations one may entertain when casting a vote for a candidate. If, once elected, an official can only find trust through nepotism, then something is very wrong.

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Maybe in the future, during the campaign, candidates should mention that, once elected, they will do their best to hire their family, friends, associates and members of special interest groups.

There appears to be a pervasive mentality of us vs. them throughout this council. I challenge Baltimore taxpayers to demand an abrupt end to all gifts, special considerations and perks of any kind for council members.

Trust me, now is an excellent time for voters to decide who is worthy of their trust and to vote accordingly.

Geraldine Wright-Bey

Baltimore

Baltimore hasn't got a chance when a guy running for mayor doesn't seem to know the law about posting advertisements and its City Council doesn't seem to know what the ethics laws are.

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C. M. Corbett

Pikesville


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