SATURDAY MAILBOX

THE BALTIMORE SUN

City Council lost in a haze on smoking bill

Sadly, it seems that many City Council members have fallen prey to the tobacco cartel's misinformation campaign ("Council fails to back anti-smoking bill," Feb. 12).

Last year, this very body, as The Sun points out, "overwhelmingly approved" a resolution backing a statewide smoke-free public places bill pending in Annapolis. This time, however, perhaps a smoky haze prevented the nine council members voting against the same resolution from clearly seeing the issue.

But the facts are simple, and needn't be debated under the guise of a hearing aimed at ferreting out the economic facts of smoke-free policies. All independent studies looking at facts such as sales tax data, not opinion, show that smoke-free policies have either no effect or a positive impact on the hospitality industry.

Just look at New York City, which went smoke-free last year. Zagat, the leading national restaurant review and polling organization, found that nearly one in four (23 percent) customers are eating out more often as a result of the smoking ban and three-quarters of patrons said the smoking ban has not affected their patronage decisions.

Similar stories can be found in Delaware, which is enjoying increased business from families and individuals who had been Ocean City visitors but now frequent the smoke-free environs of the First State.

Councilman Robert W. Curran should be commended for standing up for this issue, and for the health and well-being of Baltimore residents, employees and visitors. I hope his colleagues will soon see through the smoky haze and come aboard.

Michael Schwartzberg

Baltimore

HHS is working to fight obesity

As the leader in the fight against obesity, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the goal of supporting the strongest possible resolution and strategy on diet, nutrition and physical activity at the World Health Organization (WHO) General Assembly in May.

And under the leadership of Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, HHS has successfully raised the issue of obesity to the top of the domestic agenda by speaking the truth and calling on all those with a stake in the issue to do their part to fight obesity in America.

This means individuals and families need to be more active and make better and healthier choices. Industry needs to provide and promote healthier choices for customers and include better information about their products. The government needs to make sure the public has the accurate, science-based information needed to help make good choices.

We also need our scientists to help us better understand the causes of obesity, and provide more information about what we can do to decrease its prevalence.

We are making progress on all these fronts. And just last week, the WHO Executive Board, with the support of 32 nations, unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the passage of a global strategy on diet, nutrition and physical activity.

As the strategy is finalized, the United States will continue to work with the WHO and member states to ensure that the document contains the most scientifically accurate information in guide policy to help consumers.

William R. Steiger

Washington

The writer is special assistant to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for International Affairs.

High time to bring slots to Maryland

I think it's high time our legislators get their act together and pass slots legislation ("States in region seen competing for slots money," Feb. 16). Maryland is not holier than thou; we are in financial straits just like every other state.

I get sick and tired of hearing legislators say that they do not think it's right to fund education from revenues from gambling. What is the Maryland lottery? Gambling. What does the money fund?

I don't see the logic of the claim that slots would take more of a toll on low-income residents than the state lottery does. I'll bet that a large number of those on welfare are buying lottery tickets today.

People are going to do what they are going to do, and the government might as well benefit from it. Why should Marylanders fund the Delaware State Police? We have our own state police to fund.

Maryland is the "Tax It State." If you dream it up, we will tax it. I and every other taxpaying Marylander pay enough taxes to the state through the sales, income and property taxes and other fees that we must pay to live here.

If our legislators feel that slots are not going to happen and have to raise taxes, let the legislators who voted no on slots pay the taxes.

Shannon Travers

Abingdon

Teachers have given everything they can

As a teacher in the Baltimore public schools, I have been caught in the midst of a tempest which neither I nor my underpaid colleagues had any part in creating.

I have followed the media circus, and read with interest and alternating gratitude and fury the letters in this column. For those of you offering your support and solidarity I say, "Thank you." I have been overwhelmed by your show of support and your understanding of the difficult job we do every day, for very little money.

For those of you who feel we should "do our part" to fix the budget woes, allow me to set the record straight.

I routinely reach into my own pocket to buy books and supplies for my students. I am often searching for money to give to students for lunch. I have purchased everything from school supplies to shoes and clothing and coats for students. I have paid for students to attend field trips.

As far as I'm concerned, I already have taken a pay cut. It is time for those responsible for the crisis in this system to stand up and accept responsibility. It is time for a thorough audit of the school system's budget to determine why this crisis occurred.

Enough is enough. My colleagues and I did nothing to cause this mess. If anything, we saved it from being even worse by constantly reaching into our own pockets to buy things for our students and classes. If anything, we deserve thanks, not punishment.

I am sure I speak for the majority of my colleagues when I say, "No more."

Brenda Payne

Catonsville

The writer is a teacher at Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School.

Unfunded school bill wreaks budget havoc

The havoc the Thornton plan is playing with the governor's budget and the General Assembly is the result of irresponsibility of our executive and legislative branches in 2002.

The then-General Assembly had enacted the $1.3 billion-a-year Thornton plan for six years to equalize and strengthen kindergarten through 12th-grade education without an accompanying tax to fund it. The then-governor could have submitted a supplemental appropriation bill to finance the plan but instead simply signed the bill without a funding source.

The result is an impasse, with the current governor refusing to submit to a tax source to fund the plan and opting instead for slots revenue, while the Speaker of the House of Delegates advocates a 1 percent increase in the sales tax.

When I was in the House of Delegates (1955 to 1958), I proposed that either the General Assembly rules be changed or a law enacted to require that no spending proposal be submitted to the Assembly or signed by the governor without being accompanied by a funding source.

The Maryland Constitution requires the governor to submit a balanced budget. The Assembly ought to be prohibited from lawfully unbalancing the budget -- even with the governor's connivance.

Samuel A. Culotta

Baltimore

Redmer offers little to Isabel's victims

In his recent letter, Commissioner of the Maryland Insurance Administration Alfred W. Redmer Jr. tells the people about the efforts his department has made to address the horrible problems many Marylanders, myself included, have suffered in their attempts to receive fair compensation from their flood insurance companies ("Working to make flood insurance aid Marylanders," letters, Feb. 14).

For the overwhelming majority of those who experienced the catastrophic results of Isabel, dealing with the insurance companies has been an excursion into the twilight zone with a stopover in hell. Everyone I know and have spoken to is still waiting for an equitable settlement five months after disaster.

Mr. Redmer made five points. But he made absolutely no mention of any results that he or his office has achieved to help those citizens who continue to despair.

He does inform us of the inability of his office to do anything to require the flood insurance companies to honor their obligations -- something that is way overdue. And further, that the flood insurance problems the people of Maryland are having are an issue for the federal government not the state.

If after all this time, this is all Mr. Redmer has to offer, isn't it long past the time that his office should have directed the people it serves to those who could end their suffering instead of writing a letter that offers nothing of value?

Leonard J. Popa

Pasadena

Malpractice reform is key to good care

As lawmakers in Annapolis enter their second month of the three-month session, it is encouraging that all parties concerned with health care in Maryland have decided to look objectively at the crisis posed by the skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums doctors and hospitals are charged.

Gone are the presession proclamations that the issue is "dead on arrival" and the misconceptions that physicians and hospitals can just raise their fees to offset insurance premiums that have almost doubled in the last year or two.

The Jan. 21 rally demonstrated that all doctors are being affected across the state and that patients' access to care is already suffering. And it is evident that the immediate problem is indeed monetary and must be addressed this session to prevent more physicians from restricting their practice, retiring early or leaving the state.

With continued hard work by lawmakers who are willing to put patients' needs first, the prognosis for meaningful malpractice reform is "good."

Without it, the condition of Maryland's entire health care system will surely be downgraded to "critical."

Dr. Scott E. Maizel

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Maryland chapter of the American College of Surgeons.

Reforming welfare is no cure for poverty

Star Parker asserts that welfare has enslaved African Americans, and that the past 40 years have seen a deterioration in the lives of black Americans largely because of misguided government programs that have resulted in dependence and destroyed two-parent families ("Righting a wrong turn," Opinion Commentary, Feb. 10).

What she doesn't mention is the growing income gap between the rich and the rest of society, and the fact that many families have to work two or more jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table. This leaves little time for family-oriented activities.

Welfare has always been meager and demeaning. Welfare reform may push people off the welfare rolls, but the jobs available often pay subsistence-level wages and offer no benefits. Welfare does not solve poverty.

Providing the working poor with decent compensation, through wages or, if their employers can't or won't pay a living wage, an earned income tax credit to make up the difference, would save the government and taxpayers money by eliminating the costly welfare reform bureaucracy. This would pose no threat to the "free market or the lifestyle of the wealthy CEOs who run it.

Ms. Parker maintains that personal responsibility should become a fundamental value in our society. Amen -- but so should compassion, fairness and justice.

Lee Lears

Annapolis

Institutional racism mars grant process

I just read the article "Feeding a need to know real Harriet Tubman" (Feb. 15), and I see in it the makings of a repetition of the patterns of institutional racism that operate consistently in the nonprofit world in which I work as a consultant.

People of color often struggle persistently -- with few to no resources beyond their own energy and passion -- to solve problems, serve their community or preserve their history and culture. Then, for any number of reasons, the spotlight of white philanthropy gets turned on their cause.

With resources, especially money, now available, established, white-led organizations rally to the cause with grant proposals, budgets, audits and IRS nonprofit status documentation in hand.

Foundations, government agencies and others interested in funding the cause believe they have a "fair" process for evaluating competing proposals. They never think about or take into account how the history of racism in this country has skewed their "fair" process to favor those (usually white) grant-seekers who have had generations of privilege and access to the education and training, awareness of the culture of philanthropy and (especially) personal contacts that grease the grant application process.

They have no understanding of how the obstacle course of jargon, timelines and sometimes mountainous forms and requirements excludes those with the most knowledge and expertise in achieving the very goals the funders claim to support.

This doesn't happen because individuals involved are mean-spirited or bigoted or intentionally unjust. Most are sincere in their efforts to support worthy causes.

It happens because this is how institutional racism is perpetuated even by those who despise injustice and think of themselves as working for the public good.

All we have to do to support institutional racism is to keep doing things the way we always have. To stop the cycle we have to develop a whole new way of seeing and evaluating who can best accomplish the goals we claim to support.

I hope foundations and agencies in Maryland interested in funding the development of Tubman-related projects will heed the warnings and concerns of Louis Fields and Joseph Morse and not repeat the patterns that are all too familiar to African-Americans and other communities of color and to the low-income communities who are pushed aside when the money shows up.

Dottye Burt-Markowitz

Baltimore

The writer is a consultant on organizational development and diversity.

Religious extremists aren't conservatives

The religious extremists who seek to impose their personal religious positions on everyone through the power of the federal government -- whether it be on gay marriage, abortion, school prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance -- are minions of the Republican power base but they are self-evidently neither conservatives nor Christians.

Thus Steve Chapman's characterization of "conservatives" seeking a constitutional amendment on marriage is erroneous ("Let each state decide for itself on gay marriage," Opinion

Commentary, Feb. 10). Republicans are seeking such an amendment. Conservatives are extremely chary of tampering with the Constitution.

The Republican Party has begged and pleaded with us throughout my entire life for the reins of government so that conservatism could restore balance. The party now controls the majority of both houses of the legislature, the executive branch and most of the federal judiciary. But we are undergoing an expansion of federal power unmatched since President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The ideological reality of Republican power and its abandonment of states' rights was made clear in the party's use of the federal judiciary to help settle the 2000 election. The party has continued in the unabated wielding of federal power through the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Drug Enforcement Administration, to name just the most obvious and flagrant sources of abuse, of late, of states' and individual rights.

Mr. Chapman needs to keep in mind that there are profound differences between conservatives, Christians and Republican partisans.

The Republican Party's efforts to manipulate and rally its followers to back constitutional amendments have nothing in common with conservatism or Christianity.

Michael Wild

Millersville

Criticism of Della has little foundation

Disgraceful is the kindest characterization I can conjure up to describe the outrageous, unfounded attack on native South Baltimorean and State Sen. George W. Della Jr. by reporter Walter F. Roche Jr. ("Della received $80,000 from sale of parcel," Feb. 14).

Even taken at face value, does a story which through inference suggests that there is something inherently illegal about making a profit on a real estate investment rate front-page exposure?

If so, I and most of my neighbors and acquaintances should have been subject to multiple prosecutions for same offense over the course of a lifetime.

In fact, for at least the last 25 years, Mr. Della has selflessly served the interests of his constituents. Mr. Roche's statement that Senator Della "has consistently opposed new commercial development in his South Baltimore district" is a slanderous misstatement of the facts.

This assertion is all the more laughable when one stops to consider that some years ago The Sun was critical of Mr. Della's sponsorship of a bill that appeared to favor developer Richard A. Swirnow, whose ill-conceived, pink HarborView Tower now gracelessly hulks over Key Highway ("$2 million tax cut to aid HarborView City would drop taxes on unsold condo units," Feb. 26, 1997).

Like all of the residents of his district, I have known Mr. Della to always favor responsible development of the Inner Harbor South area.

And as far as most of us are concerned, Mr. Della is beyond reproach.

Paul W. Robinson

Baltimore

Kerry comes clean on Vietnam

The Sun's article "Kerry went from soldier to anti-war protester" (Feb. 14) provides an overview of Sen. John Kerry's stand against the Vietnam conflict after his return from serving in that war with valor. His toughest critics object to his comments about atrocities committed by U.S. troops and his pointed concern about the U.S. foreign policy that directed our actions.

Mr. Kerry didn't say anything that wasn't well known. However, his remarks crystallized the focus of a festering national psyche.

I was an Army physical therapist stationed at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington from 1967 to 1969 and treated Vietnam returnees exclusively.

Several returning patients told me that while they were on rest and recreation in Japan or Thailand they either purchased or knew of a platoon buddy who purchased a machete which was carried in the field when they returned to action. They told me that it was used to sever ears from dead Viet Cong soldiers, apparently to avenge earlier ambushes on U.S. troops.

No one can excuse war atrocities of any kind. But the few soldiers who committed atrocities did so out of severe fear and misdirected anger. These young men were fighting an unconventional action, not able to easily determine friend or foe, not sure why they were there and questioning an ill-designed foreign policy and political rationale for the war and its course.

All of us have the responsibility and obligation to speak out and right wrongs, and some do so regardless of personal consequences.

Mr. Kerry did just that.

The last line of the article states the matter well, "Veterans who are for or against the war ... they at least fought for the right to have that opinion."

A presidential candidate needs to be square with voters. Mr. Kerry is.

Stefan N. Miller

Baltimore

I was incredulous as I read of Vietnam veterans feeling "betrayed" by Sen. John Kerry's anti-war activities after he returned from a distinguished tour of duty in that misbegotten war and testified about widespread atrocities.

As a Vietnam combat veteran myself, I know war crimes were perpetrated routinely, with the full knowledge of superiors.

Those who feel betrayed by Mr. Kerry's statements revealing that reality must either have been guilty of such actions, be in pathological denial or be under the sway of neoconservative propaganda.

Joe Roman

Baltimore

The Sun's article about Sen. John Kerry's conduct during the Vietnam War and his admissions about participating in atrocities was alarming.

Mr. Kerry was then a U.S. military officer, not the poor guy at the bottom taking orders.

Shouldn't he be charged with war crimes as has been done with the leader in what was Yugoslavia?

Richard L. Lelonek

Baltimore

Although I am a registered Republican, I have nothing but respect for Sen. John Kerry's war record and anti-war record.

I foresee a tough decision on Election Day.

Jim Henry

Finksburg

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