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Chimes' record of service stands up to scrutiny

It's outrageous. The Sun has published several articles, two editorials ("No questions asked," July 9, and "For whom the Chimes toll," Oct. 23) and several letters to the editor attacking The Chimes Inc., one of Maryland's most cost-efficient, effective service organizations. If the Chimes were a failure it wouldn't get this amount of coverage.

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The Sun seems affronted that an entrepreneurial nonprofit group should pay its executive management team for building an organization that leads the nation in meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities.

But The Sun's attacks cannot alter the Chimes' outstanding performance record or the facts. The Chimes serves nearly 6,000 individuals who face barriers to independent living -- in six states, the District of Columbia and Israel -- through a variety of entrepreneurial programs and services.

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In Maryland, the Chimes provides jobs for 1,250 people and maintains a payroll exceeding $29 million. The Chimes' total revenue exceeds $130 million.

The Sun clearly doesn't approve of the Chimes' executive compensation philosophy. But its compensation for a CEO who has led the organization's growth for 33 years is just a small fraction of its revenue.

The Sun doesn't approve of a few board members providing essential services to the organization through contracts awarded after competitive bidding.

The Sun doesn't approve of the fact that Maryland's Board of Public Works recently awarded the Chimes a contract to provide janitorial services at Baltimore-Washington International Airport ("Chimes' airport contract approved," July 8), a contract that results in jobs and dignity for 259 Marylanders with disabilities and saves taxpayers $2 million per year over the previous contract.

After The Sun published the editorial "For whom the Chimes toll," which called on the group to be "more publicly accountable," the Chimes responded by taking unprecedented steps to do exactly that. The Chimes management and board launched an organization wide overhaul because we believe it was the right thing to do.

No law, no regulation required Chimes to launch the process of self-correction it undertook to create a 21st century model for nonprofit governance and operations.

But as board chairman of the Chimes, I am very proud of our recent changes.

Stephen S. Kramer

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Baltimore

Condo-mania costs Ocean City its charm

It is indeed sad to see what has become of this wonderful resort town of yesteryear ("Wrecking ball ushers the 'lifers' out of O. C.," July 9). Condo-mania has taken over to the point that life-long residents of Ocean City, including the former mayor, are being ushered out.

Here is a town that once boasted fine boardwalk hotels with broad porches and rocking chairs, lovely lobbies, large dining rooms serving the finest in Eastern Shore cuisine and rooms with high ceilings, large windows and door louvers allowing a constant flow of sought-after "salt air" to waft through. The environment in these old hotels allowed vacationers to know each other and look forward to renewing friendships each year.

Life was easy, relaxing and rehabilitating. But now the dank, cramped and hermetically sealed cells of condos and motels have taken their place.

Ocean City should have addressed this issue decades ago by going the route of Cape May, N. J., which prizes its heritage.

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You might as well stay at home these days for what you get in Ocean City. It is a real shame.

Joseph Clisham

Baltimore

Ruling against Israel a blot on world court

The 14-1 ruling issued by the International Court of Justice against Israel's right to create a barrier to protect its civilians against terrorist attacks reveals that institution's lack of legitimacy ("Opinion goes against Israel on building of wall," July 10).

To even hear a case involving Israel's right to defend itself against terrorists is clearly beyond the jurisdiction of the court. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled on the issue as well, and Israel will honor that ruling.

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This world court's ruling also reveals something else about the world community: America is in the minority. The sole dissenting judge in The Hague case was the American judge, who recognized Israel's right to defend its existence.

Throughout America, people are beginning to feel fear and anger over the international community's lack of respect for justice as they realize that, despite our power, when it comes to the international justice system, our power is reduced to one dissenting voice.

Sarah David

Baltimore

The writer is a student at the Johns Hopkins University.

Lesbian couple seeks only to live in peace

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In recent weeks, our governor has denounced the quest for equality in Maryland as being against "common sense" ("Lawsuit challenges state law barring same-sex marriage," July 8). And our president continues to fan the flames of division by calling for a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage to save families and the very institution of marriage ("Bush backs constitutional amendment on marriage," July 11).

Last August, my partner of 13 years and I were forced to leave the land of our birth and travel to Toronto, Ontario, to be married in a civil ceremony at the city hall there.

In the last year, we have continued working to support ourselves and care for my 80-year-old mother-in-law.

We paid our taxes -- indeed we paid more than other married couples because the federal Defense of Marriage law prohibits us from filing as a married couple. Like other couples, we tend to the yard, play with our two cocker spaniels, go to the store and pretty much lead a normal, law-abiding life together.

How in the world is our marriage going to undermine the fabric of the United States?

We're not a sleeper cell of lesbians looking to topple the government. We don't want to force mandatory homosexual relations on all Americans. We simply want to live in peace, receiving the same benefits and rights of American citizenship that heterosexual couples not only expect but demand.

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Marriage can be a religious sacrament, but it must be a state-sanctioned institution. No one seeks to force churches to perform marriages not approved by their faith. They have the right to turn people away, and that will not change.

Granting gay and lesbian citizens equal rights would only strengthen marriage. People don't want to destroy an institution they want to join.

Victoria Jewell

Baltimore

Yes, civil marriage is a secular matter

Contrary to the claims in the letter "Marriage predates civil institutions" (July 12), civil marriage, as defined and regulated by the government, is a secular institution. This is distinct from religious marriages as defined and regulated by churches. The two categories overlap but do not exactly coincide.

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For example, in secular marriage, divorced people and priests are allowed to marry. In Catholic religious marriage, they are not.

And it is not true that "discrimination only applies to people who are treated differently because of something they have no control over, such as the color of their skin." If that were true, it would be OK to discriminate against fundamentalist Christians based on their chosen faith -- after all, it's a lot easier for a Christian to become a Jew or a Muslim than for a gay person to become straight.

You have full control over your religious choices -- but that does not mean I can deny you your right to practice your faith because I dislike your personal choice.

The same is true of your choice of spouse.

Catherine Birzer

Burke, Va.

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Community effort led to Belvedere's revival

I was delighted to read the uplifting article about Belvedere Square ("Revival of shops brings hope," July 5). But I would like to emphasize that had it not been for the residents of the neighboring communities, and the commitment of our elected officials, we would not be experiencing the renaissance of today.

As an area resident and officer of the Belvedere Improvement Association (BIA), I witnessed firsthand the challenges that a neighborhood faces when its character and integrity are defamed because of greed masked as business development. We persevered, nonetheless, as a community, to fight for what we believed in. Our elected officials listened and worked to make the right things happen.

The BIA earned a reputation for being hard-nosed, resisting others' beliefs that when the square was "a retail ghost town," anything was better than the nothing.

The success of my neighborhood has been about how hard a community must fight, how long the bureaucracy takes, how powerful money can be and how the strength of one neighborhood is dependent on the support of neighboring communities.

Now what you will see and feel at Belvedere Square is hope for the future, respect for the past and appreciation for the present.

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Thanks to all who made that happen.

LaVerne Nicholson Sykes

Baltimore

The writer is a vice president of the Belvedere Improvement Association.

Jones Falls flooding is not inevitable

I was one of the lucky Baltimoreans who was fortunate to lose a car in last week's flood, but not the life or limb of my next of kin ("As damage is surveyed, recovery starts," July 9).

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Most people are willing to sit back and say that the major flooding we experienced was an act of nature that cannot be remedied. But if flooding were impossible to control, there would be no Amsterdam, Venice, Antwerp or St. Petersburg.

The fact is that no flood control measures have been undertaken in the Western Run or the Jones Falls for at least 10 years. Both of these water channels are extremely overgrown. In addition, the channels are now silted over with rocks and debris, and many areas are extremely shallow.

Street sweepers are no longer evident in many Baltimore neighborhoods, and storm drains receive little attention.

Flood control is the responsibility of federal, state and local jurisdictions. It should be an ongoing process, and it requires serious attention and adequate funding.

How long will we be duped into believing that flooding along Western Run and the Jones Falls is inevitable?

Marcia Kargon

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Baltimore

State budget review good for taxpayers

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce applauds Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s order for state agencies to review and cut unnecessary programs from their budgets. This is a refreshing jolt of fiscal discipline that has been absent far too long in state government.

The state's structural budget deficit resulted from mandated spending increases that were not supported by revenues. Yet despite the robust revenue growth that the state is experiencing, spending is projected to grow even faster than revenue in future years. It always does.

The solution lies in taking a hard look at the existing programs that comprise the state's $23 billion budget and consolidating and eliminating the programs that are the lowest priorities.

We owe this to Maryland's taxpayers.

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Kathy Snyder

Annapolis

The writer is president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

MTBE adds costs but not benefits

Reporter Timothy Wheeler's article about the problems Santa Monica, Calif., and Maryland are having with MTBE in groundwater left out what I believe is the most absurd aspect of this entire environmental disaster ("Microbes fight gas additive," July 12).

From my long experience of having to buy more of this oxygenated gas every winter to get the same distances I once went with the allegedly less-clean gas, it is clear that the supposed benefit of this "cleaner" product (made "cleaner" by adding a carcinogen?) is negated by drivers having to use about 15 percent more gas while supposedly reducing pollution by that same 15 percent.

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This gives us zero gain -- even if you don't count MTBE poisoning our wells.

Yet the environmentalists who originally promoted this MTBE gaffe haven't come out of hiding to apologize. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists also refuse to admit they were wrong to force major cities down this polluted highway.

And a few years from now, as Mr. Wheeler pointed out, taxpayers will probably begin paying billions to clean up groundwater in every area where this MTBE additive was mandated thanks to environmental activists and irresponsible government scientists.

Cain Slade

Pasadena

Funding does foster success of schools

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Cal Thomas' column "Debunking the big myth on education" (Opinion Commentary, July 7) rants against a supposed "big myth," but in fact what he does is repeat a "big lie."

Parroting a Cato Institute report, Mr. Thomas complains that education funding has skyrocketed over the years with nothing to show for it, that evil federal bureaucrats are usurping local authority and micromanaging our schools, that the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) is an unmitigated disaster, etc.

First, some facts:

Indeed, education funding has increased many-fold since 1965, but much of the increase (about 40 percent) has gone to special-needs students and things such as transportation. Real increases in general education classroom resources have been much smaller.

Test scores and graduation rates overall indeed have been flat. But at a time when outside pressures (e.g., increases in childhood poverty and the number of single-parent households) might have led one to anticipate declining test scores and graduation rates for minority and low-income children, those indicators have instead shown marked improvement.

NCLB indeed sets standards and includes funding "hooks," but it has only been in place for two years so it is too soon to pass judgment on it as a policy (I'm not a big fan myself).

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The federal share of funding for public education (kindergarten to Grade 12) is but a tiny share of the total (on the order of 8 percent), with most federal money targeted to high-poverty schools and school systems.

Probably the biggest lie in all this is the claim that money for education doesn't matter. Conservatives have repeated this claim time and again, in remarkable resistance to the facts. But money buys things such as more highly qualified teachers and smaller classes, both of which have been found in study after study to be educationally effective. And their effects tend to be largest for poor and minority children whose learning is most dependent on public resources.

Conservatives such as Mr. Thomas love the free market. But when parents of means freely choose, look what they do -- they pay a premium to buy into expensive neighborhoods, where per-pupil school expenditures average well above the level of other areas.

And what does that extra money buy? Well-qualified teachers, well-equipped libraries and science labs, modern computer equipment and people who know how to use it, well-rounded extracurricular programs, spacious playing fields and well-maintained facilities.

Mr. Thomas sees socialism in efforts to more nearly equalize funding for public education so that "the poor get their fair share."

The written words reek of disdain. But a "fair share" for all is what public education is supposed to be about, and if we collectively don't reach out to help those who are neediest, who will?

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Karl Alexander

Baltimore

The writer is a professor of sociology at the Johns Hopkins University.

A mass of cyclists takes to city streets

In an article about Baltimore's monthly Critical Mass bicycle event, David Brown, a spokesman for the city Department of Transportation, states that many people see Baltimore as bike-friendly ("Bicyclists instigate a traffic jam with a purpose," July 12).

As a bicycle commuter and local taxpayer, I frequently participate in Critical Mass events because I have formed the opposite opinion about Baltimore's regard for bicycles. Many streets (e.g., St. Paul Street) are extremely treacherous to navigate on two wheels at any time.

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In addition, while the author paraphrases Mr. Brown as affirming that Baltimore has "19 miles of bike lanes already established or designated," these bike lanes are not seen where they are most needed.

Another reason that I ride with Critical Mass is to make the statement that local merchants in Baltimore could experience an economic windfall if the city would only increase access to public streets for pedal and foot traffic at the expense of automobiles.

Foot traffic is vastly more desirable for local merchants than maximizing Baltimore's potential as a highway to get out of town.

Critical Mass is a moving festival using bicycles that has the best interests of Baltimore in mind.

Scott Loughrey

Baltimore

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I wanted to offer an alternative view to that of the members of Critical Mass, the cyclists who block city traffic lanes to "remind drivers that they have a right to be on the road, too."

Bicycle traffic has indeed increased on city streets in recent months. And I happily share the road with cyclists traveling downtown on Falls Road, which seems to be a popular route for them. Unlike hostile SUV drivers, I am so afraid that an unexpected pothole or other hazard will throw the cyclist into my path that I slow down and give cyclists as wide a berth as possible.

But I have also been dodging more and more cyclists on main thoroughfares and on downtown sidewalks.

I recently watched a cyclist sail through a red light on Martin Luther King Boulevard with nary a glance at the oncoming traffic. A colleague of mine, two months' pregnant, was hit by a man on a bicycle who ignored the right of way. She broke her wrist in the fall.

And bicycle messengers speeding to make deliveries take numerous chances with both pedestrians and auto traffic, jumping on and off sidewalks to avoid red lights and tie-ups.

The members of Critical Mass are to be commended for proposing a means of transportation that offers such tremendous fitness and environmental benefits. However, there are just as many meatheads on bikes as in cars.

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I strongly believe that if bicyclists are to share the roads with automobiles, they should be licensed, carry liability insurance and be ticketed when they violate traffic laws.

If they want to share city streets, I suggest they go to City Hall and petition for bike lanes and thoroughfares where they can travel safely without jeopardizing the majority of travelers, who have enough headaches navigating trucks, buses, ambulances, delivery vans, light-rail trains, pedestrians and other cars.

Vickie J. Gray

Baltimore

I would like to express my outrage over Critical Mass and its biking activities. To ride bikes in Baltimore simply to tie up traffic is a selfish endeavor.

Apparently the group's members do not have experience sitting in Baltimore rush-hour traffic.

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If they did, they would realize that making the traffic more congested will not encourage a favorable dialogue about issues related to cycling.

Jay Wells

Baltimore

I have ridden a bike in Baltimore for 40 years - and survived. For a long time, I was a daily commuter; now I mostly do errands downtown by bicycle.

I have been sideswiped, run off the road and front-ended (by a cab driver who came to a dead stop in front of me, causing me to crash into him; he never looked up before or after the crash.)

One day a van driver sideswiped me twice. I caught up to him, leaned into his open window and defined for him the meaning of a public street. His response: "You should be in an insane asylum!"

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But I definitely have mixed feelings about Critical Mass.

Automobile drivers are angry enough already, especially at rush hour. I think the best way to make your case as a bicyclist is to stay to the right, obey the rules of the road and ride, baby, ride.

If gas prices keep climbing, drivers will get the message.

James D. Dilts

Baltimore

Riding bicycles defiantly in rush-hour traffic without helmets is more a demonstration for organ donation than for sharing the road.

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Local cycling clubs always urge members to wear safety gear such as helmets and bright or reflective clothing and follow the rules of the road - allowing cars to pass and using hand signals to communicate turns.

Critical Mass will dwindle as its members end up in critical care.

Ride to the side, please.

Ellen Eisenstadt

Owings Mills


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