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SATURDAY MAILBOX

U.S. must enforce immigration laws

I must be one of the "confused white European descendants" the Rev. J. L. Carter referred to at a protest of the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Act of 2005 ("Immigration bill draws criticism," March 20).

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I am certainly confused by Pastor Carter's logic.

It seems to me that the special role the United States has played in promoting democracy and welcoming the poor and under-privileged of the world has had a quite unexpected outcome.

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It seems that some people now believe that the United States no longer has the right to decide, through its elected representatives, who can enter the country and in what numbers. And that it can no longer enforce its own laws.

And, yes, I am confused when otherwise well-meaning citizens claim it is not illegal to be an "illegal immigrant." Maybe the meaning of "illegal" has changed and no one told me.

I am confused when these same citizens claim it is OK, even a moral imperative, to assist those who have entered the U.S. illegally.

In my world, knowingly assisting anyone to break the law of the land is also illegal.

Of course, what do I know? I'm just one of the millions of U.S. citizens who choose not to break the law for any reason, much less because it simply gets in the way of what we want.

I am also one of millions of descendants of immigrants who entered the country legally.

Many other people still enter legally every day. But if you can come in illegally without repercussions, why bother with the paperwork to do it legally?

And if you can assist individuals to break immigration laws without repercussions, why can't you assist any other lawbreaker?

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Donald S. Smith

Baltimore

Nation of hypocrites on immigration rules

America is a nation of hypocrites - not always, and not on every issue. But when it comes to our immigration policy, there is no fairer way to describe us.

The truth is that we want the millions of illegal immigrants who are here, because we want their cheap labor and the cheap goods it helps make possible.

But we don't want to openly embrace the illegal workers or to admit that they are here because we asked them to come.

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But the employers who give them jobs, in effect, asked them to come, and our unwillingness to sanction those employers means we asked them to come as well.

We are not really a nation of laws so much as a nation of scofflaws - and we seem to prefer it that way.

But if we want to reform our immigration laws, we should not let the hardcore hypocrites among us make our policy - because then we get bills like the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

This bill panders to the worst angels of our nature.

It would place the bulk of the burden of immigration enforcement on the workers; it would break up healthy, intact families; it would criminalize the work of clergy, medical care providers and educators; and it would cultivate fear and distrust.

If this is the best we can do, we should just go back to our comfortable hypocrisy - after all, we seem to prefer it that way.

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Larry DeWitt

Baltimore

Port transfer posed threat to our pride

Terrence Guay just doesn't get it ("A setback for free trade," Opinion

Commentary, March 14). Even though the port deal fell through because of huge political pressure, the real reasons the deal collapsed are just under the surface and apparently undetected by Mr. Guay as well as the Bush administration.

However, Americans, after constantly being reminded of 9/11, terrorists, evildoers, etc., by President Bush, now fear anything Arab or Muslim.

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And after watching almost daily broadcasts showing anti-American demonstrations and hatred for anything Western in the Arab world - from the Danish cartoon episode to the rantings of the Iranian president - many Americans found the idea of allowing an Arab country to buy operations at our ports a slap in the face.

The economic benefits this deal offered are irrelevant to most Americans.

Believe it or not, sometimes there are more important factors than money - such as our pride.

Leslie Levine

Owings Mills

New policies needed for Latin America

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The Sun's March 15 editorial regarding Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's foray to Chile might have been more properly entitled "Offensive charm" instead of "Charm offensive."

When Ms. Rice says that the United States has no trouble in dealing with countries from either side of the political spectrum, is she forgetting how the administration she represents helped try to overthrow the elected government of President Hugo Chavez in March 2002 and was involved in the overthrow of popularly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti?

In the case of Venezuela, the people rose up and literally shook the gates of the presidential palace, which caused the coup-makers to recognize that their power grab was a failure.

And supporting democracy and change in Latin America does not mean resuming military assistance, as The Sun's editorial seems to suggest.

Many of the new Latin American leaders are responding to the will of their people, who have suffered from the long-term injustices and inequalities that came with the Spanish conquest, military coups backed by Washington and the near-term privations of the neo-liberal economic model.

It's time for our government to recognize that different economic, social and military policies are needed.

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And Ms. Rice's saying one thing while pushing contradictory policies is not going to improve Latin America or bolster U.S. influence in the region.

Dave Schott

Baltimore

Fighting a tax hike aids all homebuyers

There is no conflict of interest in state Sen Larry E. Haines' opposition to a Carroll County property transfer tax ("Haines defends second career," March 18).

Let me disclose up front that I am a real estate agent. But I am speaking as a property owner in Carroll County.

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We live in a state that has some of the highest closing costs for homebuyers in the country, and Carroll County has among the highest in the state.

Our county recordation tax rate of $10 per $1,000 of the sales price is the highest in the state. And our county property tax rate is one of the highest in the state.

Mr. Haines' opposition to a county transfer tax will help all home-sellers and homebuyers by not adding to their exorbitant closing costs.

The county commissioners want this new tax under the theory that newcomers to the county should help offset the costs of building roads, schools and other needs related to growth.

But this transfer tax would not be paid only by newcomers to the county. It would be paid by everyone who buys and sells real estate in the county.

Isn't this the same theory that drove the commissioners to impose impact fees on every new home and addition built in Carroll County? Where has that money gone? To the county's general fund instead of to make growth pay for growth.

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We have heard this song before, and I am not ready to dance to that same tune again.

In most transfers of existing homes, the buyer and seller split the recordation and transfer taxes.

Based on a sale price of $400,000, the buyer and seller would each pay $1,000 for the current state transfer tax and $2,000 for the county recordation tax.

Adding a 1 percent county transfer tax would add another $2,000 to both the buyer's and the seller's closing costs.

Baltimore County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire calls that tax "innocuous."

Tell that to first-time homebuyers and people with limited cash.

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Brian Lipsky

Hampstead

Restoring basilica, ruining a landmark

The Sun's article on the restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption was good news for historic preservationists ("With reopening of basilica near, its message is alive," March 16).

But there is serious irony in Michael J. Ruck Sr., the chairman of the basilica historic trust, stating, "At a time when sacred mosques, are being destroyed by explosives, and riots are engulfing basilicas in distant lands this cathedral deserves to be preserved, protected and, yes, showcased."

It is ironic that while Mr. Ruck was making his statement, the Catholic Church was obtaining a demolition permit to destroy much of St. Stanislaus Kostka in historic Fells Point ("Developer gets nod on plan," Feb. 1). This action will destroy several historic buildings and bring irrevocable damage to the church.

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Such destruction will mean that future generations will not have the opportunity to see and experience this wonderful historic church and the birthplace of the Polish community in Baltimore.

The Polish community and the 500,000 tourists who come each year to visit Baltimore's oldest National Register Historic District will be the big losers in this needless demolition.

It is not only ironic but tragic that the archdiocese has chosen to ignore those who gave so much to the church in the past and their pleas to save the heart and soul of their culture.

Jack Trautwein

Baltimore

Consumers will pay for rising fuel costs

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I have been reading with interest the many letters The Sun has published on the looming energy cost increases in Central Maryland. One letter seemed to portray Constellation Energy Group and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. as hatching a scheme to rip off rate-payers by transferring plants that were owned and operated by BGE to the parent company, Constellation Energy ("Why are energy costs rising?" letters, March 18). This is not accurate.

Deregulation was the driving force for this action.

To compete in a deregulated energy market, Constellation had to have the energy available to sell in other markets so that it could stay in business and compete effectively.

BGE is now a distributor; Constellation Generation is the unregulated arm of Constellation Energy Group that generates the electricity.

BGE now gets its supply of electricity from the competitive market at the lowest price available and through other contracts and via Constellation. But there is only so much cheap energy available and the cost of generating a kilowatt of electricity varies from one power plant to another.

Because of the prospects of cheap, abundant energy in 1999, deregulation was considered a good thing, especially when Constellation and BGE agreed to a rate cap to forestall any immediate adverse impact on ratepayers.

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But while the way electricity is sold hasn't changed, its cost has risen dramatically. And now, at some point, there has to be a day of reckoning.

And it isn't just BGE that is caught in this mess. Many other utilities have kept up with the price increases, resulting in gradual increases in the bills. BGE, on the other hand, has held its rates constant for six years.

The impact of hurricanes and unstable energy supply situations (e.g., in Venezuela, Nigeria, just to mention a few) has caused energy prices to soar.

Everyone is in the same situation - we're all going to pay, and BGE ratepayers should not expect to be different.

Kenneth G. Tietjen

Erie, Pa.

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The writer is retired employee of Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant Inc.

Show leadership on saving energy

Many Maryland consumers stare in horror at the proposed 70-plus percent increase in electric bills, while defenders of energy deregulation remind us of the importance of the free market.

Economics 101, they tell us, says that competition is good for consumers, and that the poor energy companies must pass on their increasing costs to consumers or go bankrupt.

But I recall Economics 101 saying quite a bit about supply and demand. And if the rapidly increasing cost of electricity, not to mention natural gas and gasoline, is the result of our ever-increasing demand and volatile supply (rather than corporate greed), obviously the only long-term solution is to reduce demand ("Reducing the juice," March 19).

Thus public officials should be urging us to conserve, and leading by example.

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But how many compact fluorescent bulbs do they use in the governor's mansion? What is the thermostat set at in City Hall and in the Public Service Commission offices? How many legislators are driving energy-efficient hybrid cars?

We can all do our part. And the politicians who are scrambling to build their reputations as consumer champions could champion further incentives and grants to homeowners to help install solar and wind power systems. Perhaps some of the much-touted state surplus could be used to help low-income homeowners to install such systems.

Legislators could also follow the lead of other states by allowing consumers to receive a credit if they generate more electricity than they use.

Consumers then could not only use renewable energy sources to lower their electric bills but also sell any extra electricity back to the utility companies.

Think about it. We could charge them.

John Monahan

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Baltimore

Politicians created our energy mess

Its a wonderful thing to see our politicians pulling their hair and tearing their clothes over Maryland's coming 72 percent electricity rate increase.

They point their fingers at Public Service Commission, at Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the energy gods but, of course, not at themselves.

But why, a rational person might ask, are Marylanders going to experience this obnoxious rate increase in a few months? Maybe, just maybe, the boys in Annapolis are the real culprits.

If our brilliant legislators hadn't started to muck around with our utility prices seven years ago, we wouldn't be in the fix we're in today.

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Marylanders need to make these folks in Annapolis accountable for their actions and not let them pass the buck.

Irvin Cohen

Phoenix

Nothing sinister in voting reforms

The General Assembly recently overrode Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. veto of bills that allow no-excuse absentee voting and establish early voting.

Mr. Ehrlich has called these measures "an invitation to fraud." The governor's comments are odd, given the Republican Party's enthusiastic use and endorsement of such laws in other states.

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Take Minnesota, for example, where no-excuse absentee voting and early voting have been law for some time.

In 2004, the Bush-Cheney campaign launched an expensive direct mail appeal to persuade Minnesota Republicans to vote early and use absentee ballots.

Why did the GOP encourage early voting? Because the unexpected can and does happen on Election Day. In every election, people fail to vote because of personal emergencies, bad weather, etc. Or they simply change their mind. But an early vote is locked in, sealed until it is counted.

Early and absentee voting increase turnout, which can benefit either party depending on the circumstances. But there's nothing sinister about such measures, and states with similar laws have no special problems with fraud.

It's absurd for the governor to make alarmist comments about a common-sense political measure routinely used by his own party.

Henry Barru

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Glen Burnie

Sound systems can boost learning

The purpose of a classroom sound-enhancement system is to help children (whose auditory capabilities are not as developed as adults') detect, discriminate and comprehend sounds for the purpose of learning ("Volume rises in debate on classroom acoustics," March 13). This is basic to phonics and literacy, which lay the groundwork for higher-level learning.

A sound-enhancement system only slightly increases the volume of the teacher's voice. Its main benefit is that it distributes sound equally around the room, giving every child an equal opportunity to hear and learn.

Children with normal hearing need the teacher's voice to be 15 decibels louder than the background noise in the room for the teacher to be intelligible.

And direct speech (i.e., a teacher's voice) drops 6 decibels every time the distance doubles. So a teacher speaking at 65 decibels, when heard from 3 feet away from the front of room, will be heard at 53 decibels 12 feet from the front, and so on.

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But background noise remains fairly constant around the room. This explains why children not seated close to the teacher can miss out on up to one-third of the information.

Acoustics experts recommend making acoustical modifications to the classroom to cut down on reverberation and background noise. But acoustical modifications will not correct the problem of the volume of the teacher's voice dropping over distance.

Only a sound-enhancement system with speakers evenly distributing the sound can ensure that all children will hear the teacher's voice at 15 decibels above the background noise.

I am not aware of any studies that show benefits from making just acoustical modifications to buildings. However, I have read 50-plus studies that show improved academic performance, improved behavior, improved classroom management, improved literacy, reduced teacher absenteeism, and reduced special-education referrals and other benefits from the use of a classroom sound-enhancement system.

This research supports making a small investment in sound-enhancement systems to boost our children's education.

Suzanne DeMallie

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Towson

The writer lobbied for the state board of education for funding for sound-enhancement systems.

Save school for young mothers

The plan to close the Laurence G. Paquin Middle/High School further reveals a Baltimore schools administration that is inept and totally out of touch with the needs of city students and the community ("Teaching teen mothers," March 20).

By providing education and support services to pregnant students, the Paquin School serves a vital function in breaking the cycle of poverty and welfare for the mothers as well as in striving to provide prenatal and postnatal care for the babies.

Many young women in Baltimore would not even attend school if not for Paquin. The result would often be an uneducated mother living in poverty with little or no support for her child.

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Thus the destructive cycle of children raising children would continue.

In essence, for each mother enrolled at Paquin, two (or more) youngsters benefit.

As a former educator, I can't think of any more important school in the city than Paquin.

But the narrow-minded schools administration apparently doesn't see it that way.

Dennis Sirman

Long Neck, Del.

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The article on the Paquin School highlighted the thinking of those who have concluded that its mission is no longer in vogue. Yet it also revealed that the physical appearance of the school was immaculate, and order prevailed.

The taxpayers are inundated with news of failures in the academic offerings and physical conditions of Baltimore's schools.

The administrators of the school system appear to be guilty of accepting the poor housekeeping and other shortcomings seen at many other schools as the norm.

Shifting students and closing schools will not solve the basic issues that confront school administrators.

What looms is another entry on the list of their failures.

And the children will be the ones who lose.

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Geraldine Wright-Bey

Baltimore

I am appalled at the projected closing of the Laurence G. Paquin Middle/High School, the city's high school for unwed teenage mothers.

How many of the school system's personnel have actually walked into that school and seen what a remarkable place it is?

A friend and I took some books to the school. We came in, unannounced, and were given a tour of the school.

It was quiet and clean, and there was learning going on. Each of the teachers and staff members we met was so involved in what that school does.

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The school has a wonderful library, a computer center, a sewing class, etc.

The girls we saw were either in the clinic for check-ups, walking to class or in class. In the day care center, small children were being read to and obviously having a nurturing, learning experience.

Why on Earth would anyone close down what is without a doubt one of the premier high schools in the city?

I truly wonder if the comment that teenage pregnancy has "become more socially acceptable" is true. Who did that research?

There has been a drop in teenage pregnancy, but does the school system really believe that by having a safe place for teen mothers and babies, it is "endorsing teen sex"? Get a grip.

Placing these girls into the Lake Clifton High School complex might mean that some of them would just opt out of going to school.

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Can Lake Clifton duplicate Paquin's concern about how to take care of yourself as a pregnant child and then how to care for the baby when it is born?

These young mothers are getting good care and sage advice about themselves and their babies at Paquin. There are supportive adults in the school to talk to about any of the teen's concerns.

I question the comment by Alexandra Hughes, an assistant to city schools CEO Bonnie S. Copeland, that teen pregnancy "is not a taboo thing anymore" and that therefore these girls want to go to their local high schools. Some may, but many may not. And, again, where is the research?

Just because the Paquin School is underused (for now), why must it be closed? It is a vital resource for our city.

We can spend money on huge stadiums but not on a great school?

Paquin needs to stay open.

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Joan Cantori

Baltimore

The writer is a volunteer tutor in Baltimore's public schools.


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