SATURDAY MAILBOX

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Prisoner abuse puts our nation on wrong road

The Bush administration has crossed the moral and ethical line time and again in its so-called war on terror.

You cannot stop terrorism by engaging in it. And that, I'm afraid, is exactly what our government is doing in its prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, as well as in undisclosed locations throughout the world where "ghost prisoners" are secretly held.

We now know that U.S. personnel have tortured detainees around the world in the most barbaric ways. It didn't just happen at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. That just happens to be where someone took pictures of it.

We know that our government is shipping prisoners to countries known for horrific torture techniques, a process known as "extraordinary rendition."

And, as The Sun's editorial "Prisoners, now and forever" (Jan. 17) points out, we also know that the Defense Department is planning to build one or more special detention facilities where suspected terrorists (that's suspected, not confirmed) may be held for the rest of their lives, without benefit of either a civil trial or a military tribunal.

These practices are illegal under domestic and international law, not to mention immoral and counterproductive.

Our nation is sliding down a slippery slope into a very dangerous place.

Joanne Heisel

Columbia

Social Security plan a high-risk venture

For years prior to 9/11 the Bush administration's ideologues were all fired up about the threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. After 9/11, they used fear and clever manipulation of selected intelligence information to sell Congress and many of the American people on an unjust war.

Although we've finally stopped looking for the nonexistent Iraqi weapons, the tab in Iraq is still running and U.S. taxpayers will be paying for the costs of this debacle for decades.

Now President Bush is trying to sell his radical reform of Social Security ("Majority in U.S. poll express hope about Bush's second term," Jan. 17). You have only to look at the costs of his proposal as opposed to the cost of fixing the system in other ways to see that Mr. Bush's plan is a high-cost, high-risk venture at best.

At worst it's another costly debacle waiting in the wings.

In evaluating this plan to end Social Security as we know it, Congress and the American people need to look at the administration's track record on truth in advertising and heed the old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Joan Burke

Baltimore

Give church to those who made it flourish

I have followed the efforts of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church Museum Inc. to purchase the church from the Franciscan order of priests, and I am saddened that their efforts have failed ("Museum group loses bid for St. Stanislaus," Jan. 14).

My maternal grandparents left Poland in the 1880s, came to America and settled in Fells Point. As was true of all the Polish immigrants in this community, the St. Stanislaus parish became the center of their spiritual and social lives.

It was the selfless contributions of hard-earned dollars, nickels and even pennies by these immigrants that built the church and its convent, rectory, school and hall.

My grandfather, along with his relatives and friends, built the first courtyard behind the church, and my grandparents donated a stained-glass window in the new church. I am certain other families have similar stories to tell.

I think the Franciscan order should make a complete turnaround and, in a spirit of true generosity and appreciation, donate this church to be used as a museum to honor the Polish people who did so much for this church and the Fells Point community.

Gerry F. Jackson

Baltimore

Expanding school invests in the future

The decision of the Franciscan friars to sell the former St. Stanislaus Church to Mother Seton Academy offers the Catholic Church the opportunity to continue its evangelizing mission through education in the Fells Point neighborhood ("Museum group loses bid for St. Stanislaus," Jan. 14).

A museum celebrates the past. A school plants the seeds of the future.

Since 1993, Mother Seton Academy has been offering a Catholic middle-school education to children whose families cannot afford a parochial school education.

All qualify for the federal free lunch program. They study in single-gender classrooms, wear attractive uniforms, leave for home after 5 p.m., are involved in a summer program and are supported academically and financially during their years in local Catholic high schools.

A high percentage of Mother Seton's graduates are attending college and earning their degrees. Mother Seton Academy is offering them a means to break out of the cycle of poverty through education.

For 11 years, Mother Seton Academy has been housed in the former convent of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish.

It will now be able to expand its facilities and increase its service to the future civic and religious leaders of Baltimore.

The Rev. John J. Podsiadlo

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Nativity Educational Centers Network.

Health plans leave doctors little power

The editorial "Truth and taxes" (Jan. 13) got it mostly right: Overriding the veto on the malpractice reform bill will have an overall benefit to HMO consumers.

However, it contains one fundamental error that cuts to the heart of why health providers are finding it harder to keep the shingle hanging, and are dropping out of insurance plans left and right: "The more malpractice insurance rates are kept down, the less HMOs will be forced to reimburse physicians, whose own costs will be lowered."

This trickle-down theory is voodoo economics.

Most providers have contracts with health insurance companies to provide patient care. The contracted rates are set by the insurance companies -- take it or leave it -- and are supposed to take into account the overhead spent on malpractice insurance.

Guess what? Many of these rates have not changed in 15 years. Some have even gone down. But the cost of malpractice insurance, and the cost of staff salaries, rent and supplies, marches upward.

Do the math, and you see why doctors are complaining.

And insurance companies have all the control; it is illegal for physicians to get together as a group and say, "Raise your reimbursement rates or we won't see your patients." Nor is this fair to consumers, who often pay premiums only to not be able to find a doctor who takes the insurance.

The system is rigged to benefit the insurance companies. One solution: Restore the balance. Let health care providers get together and negotiate rates that can increase as costs increase.

This wouldn't stop the lawsuit abuse that leads to some of the increased costs in the first place. But it would provide more fairness, and make it easier to find doctors who take the insurance.

Otherwise, we will continue to be at the mercy of the insurance companies, and the voodoo that they do.

Dr. Steven R. Daviss

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Maryland Psychiatric Society.

St. Mary's land price tied to market value

In a Jan. 9 article dealing with various environmental issues, several errors and misleading or misleadingly incomplete statements appeared concerning the proposed St. Mary's County land transaction about which much has been said and written ("Environmental issues a rising concern among Md. voters").

In particular, the article unfairly and wrongly states that "the Ehrlich administration negotiated a no-bid arrangement to sell a forest in Southern Maryland to politically connected contracting company owner Willard J. Hackerman at a below-market price."

As documents establish, and my letter to the editor ("Preservation was purpose of land transfer," Dec. 9) and public statement from a month ago confirmed, the proposed transaction contemplated the state conveying the parcel to me immediately after it was bought by the state -- for precisely the same price as that paid by the state, plus any miscellaneous costs incurred by the state.

"Market value" is, of course, best established by the sale of comparable parcels by willing sellers to willing buyers. There is no better comparison of market-value than the very recent sale of the same parcel being valued.

So the "negotiated arrangement" did not contemplate a below-market sale.

When the state (not me) delayed the resale to me for its own reasons, and the delay turned into one of nine months, the state then undertook to conduct further appraisals of the property, and I was advised last fall that I would have to pay more to the extent that those further appraisals drew into question the original purchase resale price.

Finally, as I have tried to point out before, I have no middle initial, and The Sun's repeated inclusion of the initial "J" cannot change that fact.

Willard Hackerman

Baltimore

Poverty stereotypes hurt working poor

The letters responding to the recent public housing ruling indicate that many people, especially suburbanites, still believe that poverty is a culture of choice and that this stereotype of the people living in poverty is strongly subscribed to ("On breaking up Baltimore's pool of poor," letters, Jan. 15).

Several writers suggested that those living in poverty should take classes on how to live in the suburbs and that the working poor have a different set of values. Do these people really believe some type of cultural exam should be passed before the poor are eligible to live in the suburbs?

Another line of reasoning in these letters was that the people in these poor neighborhoods should stay where they are and deal with the problems themselves.

I've lived in the Baltimore area for more than 50 years, and remember my parents and later my church moving to the suburbs in the late 1950s because real estate companies (many owned and operated by new suburbanites) were using scare tactics and block-busting neighborhoods.

They were warning that the poor Negroes were coming and that they would cause our property values to drop. But the only ones who caused property values to drop were those who fled the city in panic. Funny, no one stayed to "fix the problems" then.

Section 8 housing is, as one writer noted, in "some of the most violent areas in the country" because of such reasoning. No one wants to allow Section 8 housing anywhere else. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And once a neighborhood is engulfed in poverty, its political power is eliminated as well.

The holier-than-thou attitudes displayed in the majority of these letters certainly sheds a bright light on the problem with Section 8 housing. We have met the enemies and they are us.

The stereotype of those living in Section 8 housing must be struck down before any meaningful progress can be made for many of these working poor and elderly people.

Mary P. Remington

Cockeysville

City's group homes do pose a threat

I was shocked to learn there are no statistics on the number of group homes for ex-addicts in Baltimore ("For former addicts, a place to call home," Jan. 17). Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson estimates that the number is between 700 and 2,500. That's a huge spread.

While the folks advocating homes for ex-convicts and recovering substance abusers scream "NIMBY" every time a community fights a group home, I fully support combating their placement "in my back yard."

Ex-convicts and substance abusers come with considerable, dangerous baggage attached.

While everyone supports folks who want to turn their lives around, it is not right to inflict recovery facilities on communities without legal, mandated supervision.

If I ever suspected a group home for ex-convicts or substance abusers was slated for my neighborhood, I would fight it tooth and nail.

If the city doesn't care about our protection, then we have a right to do so.

Rosalind Ellis

Baltimore

Adding residences will do Towson good

I was born in Towson and have practiced law here for more than 40 years. And I find it tiresome to read letters from people living in White Hall, carping about county officials endorsing the project to develop dormitories for Towson University students in central Towson ("Project in Towson will add to gridlock," Jan. 7).

Towson, as the hometown of Towson University and Goucher College, should be a bustling college town, like Georgetown or Chapel Hill, N.C., teeming with students, their visiting parents, faculty members, college employees and their families. Central Towson should also have pharmacies, groceries and upscale shops.

I congratulate the enlightened county authorities who have approved the proposal to put a dormitory in central Towson.

These students will not leave Towson deserted promptly at 5 p.m. each working day and every weekend, as is now the case; instead, they will need to shop in central Towson, within walking distance of their dormitories, their apartments and their university.

The county should proceed with residential development in central Towson and ignore those county residents who apparently don't care that Towson has degenerated into a decaying eyesore of empty storefronts and a conglomeration of restaurants and luncheonettes, each cannibalizing the same limited office market.

Harris James George

Timonium

Benefits of medicines can't be guaranteed

I like Ellen Goodman's columns for the same reason most of us have favorite writers: They generally reflect our own opinions. But I would like, gently, to point out that she uses questionable reasoning in "Medical muddle" (Opinion

Commentary," Jan. 13).

It's absolutely true that the public is constantly bombarded with new information about positive and negative effects of some of the medicines we use. But it shouldn't surprise us to learn that substances have more effects than merely the one they were designed to have.

The apparent flip-flopping of medical wisdom is the result of the media reporting every new bit of evidence researchers find and their insistence on labeling each bit of news as an indication that a given thing is "bad" or "good" for us.

It seems that we want everything either black or white -- either a diet supplement or medicine is wholly good or wholly bad. This will never be so, about medicines or anything else, for that matter.

The more medical professionals know about how substances affect us, the better judgments can be made about whether, when and how to use them.

However, nothing can ever be guaranteed.

Marie Armstrong

Pasadena

Extending the right to marry

Forty-five years ago, my husband and I announced our marriage. Because we are an interracial couple, biblical quotes were immediately thrown at us to suggest that God was against interracial marriage.

We were also told that it was bad enough we wanted to marry, but that by no means should we have any children (we had four children, all of whom are successful today).

Today, we see numerous religious leaders decrying the concept of same-sex marriage, and once again quoting the Bible ("Session to revisit debate on gay unions," Jan. 16).

But the books in the Christian Scriptures were written before 100 A.D. (according to most conservative Christians) or 150 A.D. (according to most liberal Christians). The idea of homosexuality as a sexual orientation that could lead to a committed, long-term relationship was not developed until the late 19th century. Thus, one cannot expect to find biblical references to same-sex marriage.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage must realize that gays and lesbians are not asking for religious approval, but to be allowed to participate in civil marriage, which would confer upon them all the many marital benefits open to heterosexual couples.

For the most part, marriage is the subject of state law. And Maryland has always been supportive of diversity. Today, I trust that people will look for fairness and equality for all of this state's citizens.

It is time that marital rights are extended to same-sex couples so they can enjoy the many emotional, financial and social benefits of legal marriage.

Colette Roberts

Columbia

The writer is the chairwoman of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of Howard County.

To be reminded on the weekend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday that the "African-American clergy have been among the primary organizers of the marriage protection rally" as well as similar pro-discrimination movements was discouraging.

Clearly, this is a great diversion from the frustration of a horribly stalled civil rights movement in America that has left so many African-Americans trapped in a cycle of poverty and inequalities of opportunity.

The waste of vital advocacy energies on assembling and publicly advancing an intellectually precarious biblical justification for the purpose of engaging in the systematic civil segregation of gays and lesbians is one of the great ironies of our times.

I suppose these intolerant proponents of prejudice learned the technique of selectively quoting the Bible while ignoring the greater message from other oppressors who have used similar arguments to support slavery, injustice and segregation and oppose interracial marriage.

Tim Ingles

Baltimore

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