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SATURDAY MAILBOX

Time for Oken to pay the price for his killing

With appeals reaching their end, lawyers for Steven Oken -- the murderer of my sister -- may now be on the verge of offering nonsensical filings concerning his last gasps ("Lethal injections spur new debate," Dec. 29).

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Death by lethal injection is a benign and clinical method to dispatch convicted murderers. Claims by defense lawyers about the cruelty of using the chemical Pavulon as the second drug in the three-injection cocktail are without merit.

The inmate is rendered into deep unconsciousness by the massive overdose injection of sodium thiopental.

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This is a commonly used hospital anaesthetic, but executed inmates receive 10 times the quantity that would be applied in the operating room. They are incapable of perceiving anything that follows.

It is time for Mr. Oken, who has never contested his guilt, to step forward and accept the punishment assessed by a Maryland jury 13 years ago, rather than continuing to cowardly dodge his fate through filing random legal challenges.

Frederick Anthony Romano

Belcamp

The writer is the brother of Dawn Marie Garvin, the woman Steven Oken was convicted of murdering.

Carry out executions of the condemned

Enough is enough. Those who believe Steven Oken and the other nine men on death row don't deserve to have their sentences carried out are at it again -- making even more excuses about cruel and unusual punishment ("Lethal injections spur new debate," Dec. 29).

Get over it. What these animals did to get where they are should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Putting these so-called poor souls out of our misery should be our top priority.

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Let's show them that Maryland is serious about making them pay for their crimes, and get busy emptying out death row.

Harry Owings

Edgewood

Assault-weapon ban must be renewed

The daily barrage of news regarding violence and gunfire in our city, along with the sniper trials in Virginia, ought to remind us to be mindful of ensuring the continuation and strengthening of gun laws.

The federal assault-weapon ban will expire on Sept. 13 unless Congress and the president act. Protecting our communities from assault weapons is a vital safety issue.

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According to FBI data, one out of five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty from 1998 through 2001 was killed with an assault weapon.

Since the 1994 federal ban was enacted, the gun industry has worked tirelessly to evade it. It markets "post-ban" assault weapons that are identical in function to banned weapons. One example is the Bushmaster rifle used by the Washington-area snipers. It is a "post-ban" version of the AR-15 assault rifle banned by name in 1994.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy have introduced legislation to renew and strengthen the current ban. Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes and all of our congressional representatives in Maryland should insist that Congress take up this important bill before the law expires.

President Bush must also exert leadership to ensure this vital public safety measure is passed and signed into law.

Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk

Baltimore

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The writer is rabbi of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

New roads in Alaska will ruin rainforest

"Understated" is the kindest word I can find for the Bush administration's suggestion that its decision to exempt Alaska's Tongass National Forest from the rule that had put it off-limits to road-building impacts only 3 percent of the rainforest ("National forest opened to logging," Dec. 24).

Using the same statistical shell game, a decision to pave and clear-cut all of Yellowstone National Park could be described as impacting just 3 percent of America's National Park System because development would be limited to only 2.2 million acres.

This sounds ridiculous because as a nation we recognize that our national parks contain some of the best of our country's natural treasures and deserve protection.

But, sadly, the Bush administration has chosen to revoke protections from the best of America's rainforests.

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Just 4 percent of the Tongass contained the biggest and most productive old-growth stands -- the ecological heart of the rainforest. More than half this area already has been clear-cut and scarred by logging roads.

And now the Bush administration and its allies in the timber industry have targeted 300,000 acres of the biggest trees and the best wildlife habitat for logging.

This will leave an industrial-scale footprint of clear-cuts and road-building across 2.6 million acres of the rainforest.

Brenta L. Gardner

Salisbury

City ignores rules for protecting trees

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Concerning the study on Baltimore's shrinking forests, it should be noted that part of the problem is that city foresters remove healthy trees at citizens' whims without regard for rules and regulations ("Study shows a shrinking urban forest," Dec. 15). They also ignore protests of these actions.

Also, the city's Department of Public Works does not follow rules regarding replacement of footways near trees by continually cutting roots and destabilizing trees, sometimes killing them.

Regulations from the 1980s stipulate that new footways should be placed around roots in order to protect trees.

Mayor Martin O'Malley has been made aware of these and other abuses on countless occasions and has shown only apathy.

Joseph Clisham

Baltimore

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The writer is a former chairman of the Baltimore City Forestry Board.

It's not windmills that menace birds

I find it shocking that Ajax Eastman compared clean-energy windmills to DDT as a threat to birds ("Wind as new avian villain," Dec. 14).

Careful national statistics show that, on average, windmills kill barely two birds per year per turbine. At that rate, America could get half its electricity from windmills and the bird fatalities would be less than 1 percent of the number of birds U.S. housecats kill each year.

Ms. Eastman doesn't mention the real menace to birds. Over the next 10 years, blasting the tops off Appalachian Mountains for coal-mining will destroy 380,000 acres of prime forest and 20 percent of the world's threatened cerulean warblers.

Acid rain caused by burning coal has devastated many bird species. And according to climate scientists, global warming will soon wreak havoc on forests and wildlife everywhere.

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For these reasons, the American Bird Conservancy, unlike Ms. Eastman, wholeheartedly endorses properly sited wind farms in the Appalachians.

Building a few windmills in Maryland would not by itself stop all of these horrors. But we cannot get to a full clean energy economy without taking the first step now.

Mike Tidwell

Takoma Park

The writer is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Embargo blockades progress for Cuba

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Regarding The Sun's comparison of Cuba and China, the main difference between what has happened in the two countries is that we have had a policy of engagement with China since the Nixon administration, which has resulted in liberal reforms and an increasingly capitalist system ("A tale of two communisms," Dec. 26).

In contrast, Republican and conservative politicians have toadied to the Cuban M-imigrM-i population of Florida to secure their political support. Thus we have continued our stupid embargo on Cuba and prevented that poor country from moving forward into progressive modernization.

Far from advancing such development, President Bush has canceled even heretofore-limited travel and cultural exchanges to Cuba in a monumentally hypocritical effort to obtain Florida's electoral votes in the next election.

Edward Leslie Ansel

Owings Mills

Palestinian terror raised 'Sharon's Wall'

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Mike Lane's Dec. 22 editorial cartoon inverts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It portrays the Three Wise Men blocked by "Sharon's Wall" from following the star of the Christmas story to the birthplace of the Prince of Peace. In doing so it misleadingly crosses New Testament imagery with Israel's struggle against terrorism.

Israel's security fence today keeps out not wise men but suicidal terrorists bent on murdering Jews. The person prevented from getting to Bethlehem was Yasser Arafat, who was confined by Israel to what's left of his headquarters in Ramallah.

"Sharon's Wall" obstructs Mr. Arafat because he and his Palestinian Authority have repeatedly reneged on their commitments. These pledges -- from the 1993 Oslo Accords to last summer's U.S.-sponsored "road map" -- were to eradicate Palestinian terrorism as the first step toward peace with Israel.

The Palestinian Authority's failure to do so -- not the hostility of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to seekers of peace that the cartoon implied -- forced construction of the barrier.

Eric Rozenman

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Washington

The writer is Washington director for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

Public service ads cut campaign costs

A recent letter concludes that "we should welcome McCain-Feingold, then move on to other reforms that allow politicians to compete without depending on the super-rich" ("Financing law closes loopholes aiding the rich," Dec. 23). I absolutely agree.

Clearly, the principal problem with our campaign system is the direct financing of our public officials by private interests. The recently established public financing systems in Arizona and Maine contain some reforms to this system, but they leave out a component of huge consequence that I think should be added.

The airwaves belong to the public, and public service announcements are something all TV and radio outlets are supposed to be doing.

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The major campaign expense is television time for political advertisements, Town Hall meetings and so on.

The American public should drop this core expense to nearly nothing by having these TV and radio campaign events be done through public service messages.

The quality, quantity and variety of these public forums would increase once the cost was nearly eliminated.

Michael Selmanoff

Stevenson

Cuts can devastate state universities

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Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his conservative friends in the state legislature are talking about capping tuition increases at the University of Maryland.

Cuts in higher education funding under Mr. Ehrlich have forced the university to push tuition higher and higher. State conservatives say these rate increases are unnecessary. It seems that they haven't learned anything from our neighbors in Virginia.

In Virginia, students at the College of William and Mary approved a $5 student fee increase to provide salary supplements to professors to stop the school's brain drain.

You see, for several years now, Republican conservatives in Virginia have cut taxes to get elected and re-elected.

To deal with decreasing state revenue, the college's budget has been cut 28 percent in the past two years and the college has sunk to the 23rd percentile in faculty salaries, compared with similar colleges nationwide. Thirteen professors from William and Mary have left for higher-paying jobs in the past year.

If the governor of Maryland and many of his conservative friends have their way, the University of Maryland will soon be heading in the same downward direction. With a cap of tuition and cuts in state funding, Maryland will begin to see its best professors and staff leave, and will be unable to compete for the best and brightest staff or students.

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This will mean that the state will become less attractive to businesses, research firms and medical facilities that depend on the talents and resources of a first-class university system.

The United States has the strongest military in the world because we spend whatever is necessary to achieve that goal -- no questions asked.

Unfortunately, funding for education in our nation is no longer a priority, and great schools such as William and Mary and the University of Maryland are at risk from budget cuts that only serve to make the rich richer.

Thomas J. Zirpoli

Westminster

The writer is a professor at McDaniel College.

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Economics explains rehiring of teachers

In response to The Sun's articles on the retire-rehire issue, I would ask it to re-examine the reason the retirement code was amended four years ago ("School rehires get new scrutiny," Dec. 21).

The real issue is economics -- supply and demand economics.

In the early 1990s, Baltimore County was offering incentives to entice veteran teachers to retire early. Its board of education was willing to give teachers credit for 30 years of service for benefits even if they had only been on the job for 25 years.

Why did they do this? Economics. The supply of teachers was greater than the demand, and rather than reducing class sizes, the board reduced teaching staffs.

The issue now is also economic. The demand for teachers is greater than the supply in many curriculum areas.

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Granted, new people are showing interest in entering teaching, but the vast majority of these candidates are not certified to teach. And the turnover rate of new hires is very high.

The retirees who are willing to be rehired as teachers have demonstrated their dedication to students for a minimum of 30 years. The cost of recruiting, training and retaining the rehires is minimal. When the supply and demand curve normalizes, the retire-rehire teachers can be dismissed with less economic impact than laying off young teachers would have.

Instead of restricting the placement of retire-rehire teachers, let's expand the program to cover all teachers eligible to retire.

This will ensure their continued commitment to students, ease the teacher shortage and ensure that classrooms are staffed by certified, fully qualified professionals who meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

John L. Lindberg

Baltimore

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The writer is a teacher at Loch Raven High School.

Don't believe hype about rain 'record'

All of the hoopla over the fact that Baltimore has received a record amount of rainfall this year is somewhat fraudulent since rainfall measurements have for some time been taken at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI), not in Baltimore ("Remember the drought," editorial, Dec. 26).

The old record was set in 1889 in Baltimore, since BWI did not then exist. Everyone knows that the amount of rainfall one receives can vary from city block to city block, let alone community to community. Therefore, it is somewhat foolish to say that since BWI received more rainfall this year than Baltimore did in 1889, a new record has been set for Baltimore.

To compound the foolishness, the amounts are reported in two decimal places, as though recording rainfall in hundredths of inches makes sense.

To hear the weather reporters say something like, "We need only another 0.45 inches to set a new record," is quite comical.

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The reality is that to get a true sense of the amount of rainfall the Baltimore region receives there should be perhaps five or more monitoring stations throughout the area.

The amounts from these should be averaged to provide a meaningful estimate of the rainfall for the region, and this should be reported in no more detail than full inches, instead of hundredths of inches.

John S. White

Stewartstown, Pa.

Past time to fix deadly crossing

I'm writing to address the dangers lurking at the intersection of Butler Road and Belmont Avenue in Glyndon.

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In November, a young lady lost her life when a truck collided with her vehicle as she tired to turn left off of Belmont onto Butler.

Only eight days earlier, my wife could have been killed in a similar accident. Having stopped at the stop sign on Belmont she eased out, trying to make the same left turn she had made without incident hundreds of times. Suddenly she was hit in the driver's door by an oncoming vehicle.

The force of the collision spun her out of control into a ravine and snapped a nearby utility pole. By the grace of God -- as well as a buckled seat belt and a deploying air bag -- she walked away shaken, but unhurt. Her car was a total loss.

Cars approaching the intersection northbound on Butler cannot see traffic -- or the stop sign on their right at Belmont Avenue. Motorists headed west on Belmont reach Butler at a terrible angle and cannot see oncoming northbound traffic without first pulling into its path. One literally has to take one's life into one's hands trying to make that left turn.

Isn't it time -- in fact, well past time, considering the recent accidents and loss of life -- for Baltimore County to take much-needed corrective measures to fix the problems that make the meeting of these roads an obvious hazard?

How many more people will have to die needlessly before caution lights, additional signs or a redesign of the intersection make it safe to travel?

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George M. Durrett

Glyndon

More mad cows may remain

Government officials and agricultural experts reassure us that one case of mad cow disease poses a minuscule risk to human health ("U.S. widens recall of beef," Dec. 29).

Perhaps so - but we almost certainly have more than a single case of the disease.

We need to understand the math of meat inspection in the United States. Annually, we slaughter 40 million cattle in this country, and we do a test for mad cow disease on only about 20,000 of these cattle as a statistical sample of the entire population.

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If our sample is a representative one, then one case of mad cow for every 20,000 head of cattle translates into 2,000 infected animals currently in the meat supply.

If we want to know when a single case of the disease is really a single case, we would have to test all cattle going to slaughter.

And the problem has nothing to do with restricting the use of "downer" cows - those cows already ill enough to be disabled. Cows can carry the disease and not yet be disabled by the time they arrive at the slaughterhouse.

The real issue is that cattle raisers feed their cattle animal parts to fatten them up more than their natural vegetable diet can do.

Cattle blood is added to feed as a filler, and although we now ban the direct addition to cattle feed of the brain and spinal cord matter of rendered cattle, producers can still sell these waste products to those who raise other animals such as pigs - who include them in their animal feed. And there is no ban on adding the slaughterhouse waste of pigs or other non-ruminants to cattle feed.

So the virus can work its way back into the cattle food chain through indirect means.

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If we want to protect ourselves from mad cow, then the simplest way to do this is to ban entirely the unsavory practice of turning our animals into cannibals.

Larry DeWitt

Baltimore

After the recent discovery of a cow with mad cow disease, federal and Maryland agriculture officials proudly labeled the discovery as evidence that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) surveillance system works. This is a fallacy.

The focus on this one case fails to consider cases of the disease that have not been found, but should have been. Finding one case does not prove that the surveillance was 100 percent sensitive.

We now know that the surveillance system is not a 100 percent failure - and of that the USDA can be proud. Of course, federal and state officials are unwilling to consider whether the system is a 99.9 percent failure.

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The system cannot be sensitive when USDA only tests 20,526 cows while the European Union tested 2.5 million in the first three months of 2003.

The USDA knows that a poorly designed search isn't likely to find the target, so the USDA was able to claim (until recently) that a search was being conducted, had found nothing, and thus all was fine.

And the much-touted FDA ban on cow parts in feed only applies to feed intended for cows; cow parts can still be used in feed for chickens and other non-ruminants, which can then, in turn, be used in feed for cows.

Thus the feed ban delays, but does not prevent, the consumption of cow parts by cows.

Numerous violations of the feed ban have already been documented among feed companies, and the Food and Drug Administration admits that it can't properly inspect all the feed plants. So, the hyped feed ban is in reality misleading, deceptive and ineffective.

But we can still be proud: At least the USDA is fulfilling its prime mandate to promote the sale of American agricultural products at all costs.

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Mark E. Rifkin

Baltimore


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