Dixon isn't alone in facing ethics woes
As a critic of both parties and former field director for City Council President Sheila Dixon's 2003 re-election campaign, I question the ethics and motives of some Sun reporters and their sources.
For instance, the writers of the article "Political baggage grows heavier" (Feb. 12), as well as of others on the subject, seem to forget that The Sun reported in July 2003 that 10 of 19 members of the City Council at that time had hired relatives as paid assistants and that all had accepted free parking passes and entry to movies and events at 1st Mariner Arena ("Practices, perks of council members raise ethics issues," July 27, 2003).
They also seem to forget that ethics officials ruled in October 2003 that all council members violated ethics rules, not just Ms. Dixon ("Ethics Board finds council violated law with passes," Oct. 16, 2003).
While Ms. Dixon's votes on the Board of Estimates on contracts that benefited her sister's employer (not her sister directly), may be questionable and possibly unethical, let's not forget her continued support of critical issues that empower communities and benefit the younger generation.
And let's also not forget that an overwhelming majority of voters in both the primary and general elections cast ballots for Ms. Dixon knowing very well they might be choosing her as the next mayor of this great city.
The writer is political director of the Youth Empowerment Movement.
Stop tolerating Schaefer's behavior
If state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer's behaviors had occurred in any other workplace environment, he would have been terminated immediately ("Schaefer raises eyebrows," Feb. 16).
It is time for Maryland voters and legislators to step up and put an end to what has become acceptable inappropriate behavior and comments from the comptroller.
Frankly, I am embarrassed for the citizens of Maryland - not because we have a former governor and current comptroller who objectifies female coworkers and speaks out against our non-English-speaking residents and residents living with AIDS, but because we have all tolerated his discriminatory behavior for far too long.
Port Administration runs region's port
The Sun's headline "UAE firm to run 6 U.S. ports" (Feb. 12) is misleading with regard to the purchase of a British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., commonly referred to as P&O; Ports, which did become the property of Dubai Ports World (DPW) of the United Arab Emirates on Feb. 13.
The story states that P&O; "runs Baltimore's public terminals." That's not true.
P&O; Ports is a stevedoring company that has competitively bid contracts with the Maryland Port Commission to perform certain duties at its public terminals in the port of Baltimore.
A stevedore company is one that hires longshoremen to load and unload cargo from ships.
Therefore, that corporate transaction means that UAE's Dubai Ports World will be the firm bidding competitively for contracts to handle the containers and other cargoes coming off or loading on to ships in the six ports where P&O; Ports has contracts. Baltimore is one of these ports.
The Maryland Port Administration will continue to "run" the port of Baltimore's public terminals and be the spokesman for the port in general.
The private terminal operators will continue to run their terminals.
Helen Delich Bentley
The writer is a former member of Congress and a consultant to the Port of Baltimore.
Work Steele opposes could stop suffering
I read with dismay about Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's remarks to Baltimore's Jewish leaders, for which he has rightly apologized ("Steele apologizes for stem cell remarks," Feb. 11).
In addition to the insensitive remarks Mr. Steele made, however, I have another source of worry: The Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate is clearly against expansive stem cell research that could save many lives or ease the suffering of people who have Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and other devastating diseases.
Mr. Steele's position is worrisome because it is based on the limited view of reality that he and his more extreme supporters on the religious right hold about stem cell research.
However, his views on the issue are even more troubling because they stem from the moral superiority he and his ultraconservative religious supporters feel toward those who do not share their beliefs and values.
My message to Mr. Steele and his extremist supporters is simply this: Citizens such as myself who favor moving ahead with stem cell research love our children and our parents, believe in goodness and righteousness, and truly care about our fellow citizens and this country, whether we are members of a church or not.
We have a host of values that Mr. Steele and his supporters all too willingly dismiss as immoral or selfish.
And one more thing Mr. Steele should realize: We vote.
Congress must curb power of president
If, as the president suggests, he is entitled to do anything he deems necessary and proper, and disregard any law or constitutional provision in the process, to "protect the nation" during a time of war, that would mean that he is effectively empowered to do anything at all for the foreseeable future, without any oversight or check on whatever actions he claims will "protect the nation" ("Bush defends spy program in speech at GOP meeting," Feb. 11).
Our Founding Fathers were wise enough to build checks and balances into the fabric of our Constitution, and it beggars the imagination to suggest that they intended the executive branch to have such sweeping power.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) gives the president a breathtakingly broad set of tools to go after terrorists, including the ability to get a warrant up to three days after a wiretap has begun.
If more power is needed to address any perceived shortcomings of FISA, there would surely be broad bipartisan support for making needed amendments to the law.
On the other hand, there is strong bipartisan opposition to the administration's naked and secret power grab.
Congress must hold the president accountable, and if he continues to stonewall on this matter, impeachment must be considered.
If warrantless wiretapping of uncounted American citizens in blatant violation of the terms of the FISA law is not a "high crime and misdemeanor," then what is?
Steven G. Tyler
Community colleges too long overlooked
As a community college instructor, it might be self-serving for me to comment on The Sun's editorial on funding for community colleges ("Front-line colleges," editorial, Feb. 8). But I congratulate you, anyway, because the editorial drew attention to a part of the education system that has generally gone ignored and been undersupported by the state's political officials.
Community colleges occupy an unusual political niche.
The K-12 system is well publicized and - supposedly - well supported by the Thornton formula.
Public universities are highly visible, and many elected officials are loyal graduates.
But in the annual scramble for dollars, community colleges have been left out.
Community college students not only show up in great numbers, as the editorial notes, but often face great educational difficulties: A large percentage must take developmental courses because their K-12 work did not prepare them for college-level courses.
Developmental courses are expensive and very difficult for the students.
Many of our students are displaced workers - victims of the disappearing manufacturing economy across the country who are picking up new skills and new attitudes so they can maintain their families in the global economy.
Thus the vocational courses community colleges offer are essential.
The colleges have tried to cut corners by hiring more part-time teachers and by deferring plant maintenance, but this can affect the success of the students.
While the General Assembly is considering a funding formula, here's a radical thought: Why not provide free tuition for community college students, just as we do for students in the K-12 system?
The writer is a teacher at the Community Colleges of Baltimore County.
Nothing novel in Towson's role
About 20 years ago, when I was chancellor of the University of Illinois, Chicago, I joined with colleagues at similar institutions to found a voluntary national coalition of "metropolitan universities" ("New role for Towson would be redundant," letters, Feb. 10).
We wrote a charter defining that term, basing it on the concept of universities that engage in research, education and public service (e.g., health care) focusing on the needs of the great metropolitan regions where they are located.
Towson University, under the leadership of President Hoke L. Smith, was an early member of the coalition.
That coalition remains active today, under the name "Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities." It sponsors conferences and publishes a journal called Metropolitan Universities.
Towson University is its administrative home, and Towson's president, Robert L. Caret, is vice president of the coalition.
Thus, Towson's identity and role as a metropolitan university are hardly new.
And, as one of its creators, I can assure Sun readers that the concept of the "metropolitan university" is not the same as that of the "urban university," as the letter writer from Morgan State University asserted.
Donald N. Langenberg
The writer is chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland.
Clarifying purpose of the AP exams
I have taught an Advanced Placement English literature and composition course for more than 20 years. I have been a college counselor, and I have graded the exam for the College Board.
I applaud the College Board for providing a rigorous curricular guide and exam.
I also applaud the College Board for implementing an audit, which will keep high schools from using the AP designation on their transcripts unless the course is deemed to qualify for this designation ("Push for Advanced Placement questioned," Feb. 13).
Too many high schools across this country have fallen prey to using the AP designator as a way to improve their ranking without making sure the curriculum is appropriately focused, rigorous or even in a subject for which an AP exam is given.
As an exam grader, I often saw writing that was clearly subpar, indicating that there were students taking the exam who were not qualified to be in an AP course.
And this is where the real question arises: What is the purpose of the AP program?
Originally, it was designed for advanced students to be able, in their senior year of high school, to gain college credit when they enrolled as college freshmen.
Unfortunately, this purpose changed in the past decade or so, as colleges told prospective students in information sessions that having an AP exam on their transcript would strengthen their record. This mantra soon became an expectation rather than a suggestion.
High schools also learned that offering more AP exams and having more students taking the exam would lead to a higher ranking for the school.
Interestingly enough, whether or not those same students earned a qualifying grade on the exam was not considered in the rankings.
The problems arise from the muddy waters of what the AP has come to mean in different venues. Is it a qualifier for college credit? Is it a college admissions tool? Is it a way to rank public high schools? Is it a way to increase academic challenge in public high schools? Frankly, what is it?
The College Board, I believe, is trying to clean up these muddy waters with its impending audit system.
The audit system will force high schools to be honest on their transcripts and in their classrooms.
It will not stop those high schools that want to challenge their students from offering the AP challenge.
It will simply make sure that the challenge is of high quality.
Anne Macleod Weeks
The writer is dean of academic life for the Oldfields School.
How many bites is a dog allowed?
The writer of the letter "Treat other species with greater respect" (Feb. 10) believes that "the fact that [the jogger] turned and kicked the dog twice shows the viciousness of his act."
One could say instead that it shows that the dog, despite being kicked once, was not deterred and attacked the jogger a second time. (And even a third time, if we are to believe poodle owner Janice Tippett, who has said that the jogger kicked her dog three times.)
I love animals and would never willingly hurt a dog.
But I hope someone - particularly the Anne Arundel County state's attorney, who inexplicably declined to cite Ms. Tippett for violating the county leash law - will let me know exactly how many free lunges or "nips" I'm required to allow an attacking dog.
As for it being "inconceivable" to the letter writer that the jogger could have been in any danger, it's probably true that he was not at risk of life-threatening injury.
But a bite from even a mere 4-pound dog would likely require at least a trip to the emergency room and a tetanus shot, and possibly a rabies vaccination.
Just no excuse for punting a pet
I was appalled by the callous nature of the letter "Dog owner bears much of the blame" (Feb. 10).
While I sympathize with joggers "being accosted by tiny dogs with high-pitched barks," I do not sympathize with joggers who lash out at an innocent tiny dog, kicking it three times and paralyzing it in the process.
Dogs are living, breathing creatures and, to many people, they really are their "children."
A "real" child could have done the same thing to a jogger by jumping out from behind a hedge and giving a high-pitched scream. But if the jogger did the same thing to a child that he did to this poodle, he could have been arrested for assault or abuse.
Unfortunately, innocent animals do not receive the same protection.
What happened to this helpless pet is wrong, and there is no excuse for the violent behavior of the jogger.
Majority can't deny right to marriage
Criticizing Maryland legislators as "elitists" for their preference to allow the appeals process to run its course on gay marriage instead of rushing to amend the state constitution, a letter writer asks, "Shouldn't the people decide what kind of society they want to live in?" ("The Democrats deny the people a voice," Feb. 7).
But this matter was decided more than 200 years ago. The American people decided they wanted to live in a society in which individuals were free to live as they choose.
They enacted a marvelous system (the U.S. Constitution) to provide, in part, that this freedom could not be trampled by rote majority rule. And they insisted that people be treated equally under the law.
In my book, legislating who can and can't live together as a married couple is un-American.
Gay marriages do not endanger the state or its citizens, and we cannot allow the majority to dictate the lives of the minority simply because the majority finds such unions distasteful.
Those who feel otherwise need to get reacquainted with the Constitution.
Olmert's priorities grossly misplaced
The Sun's article "Israeli leader offers views on borders" (Feb. 8) states that interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "has been given generally high marks for taking over [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's duties with grace and authority."
I take strong exception to the use of these descriptive words, "grace" and "authority."
Surely, "grace" by the acting prime minister would imply acting with diplomacy and serving as a statesman, which Mr. Olmert has not done.
Surely, with "authority," should come responsibility and accountability, both of which Mr. Olmert has shunned.
It certainly was not "grace" when Mr. Olmert refused to listen to the advice of his defense minister and attorney general who recommended a peaceful compromise with the settlers that would have prevented more than 250 injuries in the recent demolition of nine homes in the West Bank settlement of Amona ("Israeli forces battle settlers," Feb. 2).
It certainly was not "grace" when he gave the orders to the soldiers and police officers to mount horses and use truncheons to strike blows at the heads of youngsters, most of whom were sitting or standing passively.
A responsible and accountable acting prime minister could have placed his priorities in far more important areas.
The overwhelming Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections should have taken precedence. Assertively responding to the continued attacks by Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists should have taken priority over Jews fighting Jews.
Mr. Olmert has acted purely as a politician, looking only at what he thinks will serve him best at election time on March 28.
Novel for teenagers isn't very graphic
I must take issue with some quotations in "The Censorship Challenge" (Feb. 12), specifically those concerning Carolyn Mackler's novel The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.
I am concerned that this book has unfairly earned a reputation as the poster child for gratuitous teenage sex and profanity. But it seems clear that the book's detractors, quoted in this and in previous articles regarding this novel, did not actually read the book before deciding that it offended them.
I can only recall profanity being used two or three times in its 244 pages. I would hardly categorize that as "peppered with profanity."
And Joel Ready's accusation that the plot encourages premarital sex is absolutely ridiculous. The 16-year-old first-person narrator is a virgin and clearly plans to remain one. If anything, the plot shows the disastrous consequences of premarital sex.
In fact, the "graphic sexual content" of the novel, mentioned again and again in The Sun's articles, is far tamer than what teenagers see in the American Pie movies or even on The O.C., a popular prime-time network TV show.
I'm worried that busy parents who subscribe to The Sun are making decisions about appropriate reading material based on misconceptions.
And I hate to think that Ms. Mackler's funny, wonderful, thought-provoking novel will be something parents don't allow their teenagers to read because they think it's full of sex and profanity, when that is simply not the case.
Act to ease the burden of rising energy costs
Let me make sure I understand the situation correctly: The merger of Constellation Energy Group and FPL Group Inc. will result in huge profits for shareholders and executives as well as for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. ("The battle over your energy bill," Feb. 12).
Customers, however, can look forward to the possibility of a 60 percent increase in charges when the energy rate caps are lifted in July.
Add to this the nearly overnight 50 percent increase in energy costs a few months back as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (and the validity of these rate increases are still very unclear) and the result is, in a word, gouging.
Unfortunately, given the lack of competition, BGE holds its customers in Maryland hostage.
If customers don't want to pay outrageous rates for cable TV, for instance, they have the option of discontinuing service. The same goes for telephone rates.
But with gas and electricity service, customers don't really have that luxury, thereby shackling them to whatever the supplying company does.
I can't speak for any other BGE customers, but I'm not sure I'll be able or willing to absorb another inexcusable rate increase while profits continue to roll in.
Perhaps I should begin a committed search for alternative power so I can get "off the grid" or consider moving to another area where living off the grid would be relatively hassle-free.
All members of the General Assembly should have to answer to their constituents if they don't pass a law in this session to continue the cap on energy rates, or at least allow the cost of energy to rise in only small periodic increments.
Any legislator who disagrees with such a move should become a former legislator after the November elections.
Harry E. Bennett Jr.
The Sun's article "The battle over your energy bill" brought to light the coming deregulation of residential electricity bills.
The deregulation of commercial energy accounts has already happened, and the resulting confusion and rate increases experienced in that process do not bode well for the residential customers.
Commercial accounts had not experienced an energy rate increase for years. But at the time of deregulation, the market cost of energy was extremely unstable and the price of oil was skyrocketing.
Businesses soon experienced big cost increases for electricity.
Our chamber has already received a multitude of calls from residential customers asking what they should do about deregulation.
The issue is huge, and so is the potential impact.
And it threatens to put an unfair burden on residential customers who are already struggling to pay their electric bills.
I urge our legislators to carefully study this issue and work with Constellation Energy to come up with a plan, before July 1, that eases customers into this changed marketplace.
The writer is executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce.