Rate hikes will hit poor most severely
I'm afraid the grim effect that any material increase in energy costs will have on the poor in Maryland may be lost in the debate over the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. rate increases ("Hearing supports Ehrlich's opinion," June 21).
Maryland is the third-most-affluent state in the country. Yet even in the midst of this prosperity, more than 50,000 families live below the poverty line, which, for a family of three, was just slightly more than $16,000 in 2004. Another 145,000 low-income families in Maryland earn less than $32,000 annually.
So while well-intended politicians work to develop a compromise that will benefit the majority and BGE spends enormous amounts on ads to explain why the rate increase is necessary, the poor, who are mostly without a voice, are poised to suffer the consequences even more than the rest of us.
By this time last year, the city had processed 27,514 energy assistance applications. By this week, with winter over and increased rates not yet a reality, the number for this year had increased by 15 percent - as 31,683 families and individuals had applied for assistance.
We expect these applications to increase dramatically as higher home energy bills actually reach mailboxes.
Not surprisingly, we do not expect the funding for energy assistance to increase proportionately, nor do we expect the income of the poor or of those on fixed incomes to increase dramatically.
While everyone tries to find a solution to the problem, let's not forget that the solution needs to include the poor.
Dale R. McArdle
The writer is a member of Baltimore's Human Services Commission.
Abusive war creates tragedy on all sides
The brutal torture and murder of two young U.S. servicemen leaves me seething ("Bodies of 2 abducted soldiers are found," June 21).
Sen. John McCain warned our leadership a year ago about the potential tragedy and suffering American soldiers might endure as a result of the U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib. But the response from President Bush and the current Republican leadership has only further inflamed the insurgency and condemned the United States in the court of world opinion.
And still the Republican administration is working to eliminate American adherence to widely respected human rights laws such as some of the rules of the Geneva Conventions that govern fair and humane treatment of POWs.
Inexcusable lapses in leadership and confusion have resulted in breakdowns in command that have led to the killing of innocent Iraqi civilians, including women and children.
Daily killings as a result of an insurgency spawned by an unwarranted and unwise U.S. invasion of a sovereign nation are breaking the spirit and heart of decent Iraqis - who were traumatized first by Saddam Hussein and now by a misguided American military intervention.
The American people are screaming for an end to this bloodshed and ashamed of our country's behavior. But President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have made clear that they don't pay attention to polls.
A great weight of sadness has fallen over the American people. Unfortunately, we put this leadership into office. Now every Iraqi child left broken and bleeding in the street is our responsibility.
Every mutilated body blown to pieces by our explosives or the insurgency is our responsibility. Every American soldier tortured and mutilated is our responsibility.
I pray that Americans everywhere will stand up and resolutely condemn a leadership that has turned America into a brutal nation and in the end will put us all at risk.
Robert J. Latham
Preserve principles as we fight terror
The American loss of the moral high ground in the "war on terror" is embodied in letters such as "Let the detainees kill themselves" (June 15).
The writer asserts that if he were in charge of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he would assist suicidal prisoners by providing them "rope to hang themselves."
His blanket demonization of the prisoners is appalling.
None of the men at Guantanamo prison has been convicted in a court of law; fewer than 1 percent of them have even been charged with a crime. Yet many of them have been locked away for four years.
Punishing someone as "the enemy" without any proof is a tactic many of our foes (including Saddam Hussein) have used, and one that has, unfortunately, been embraced by many Americans, including President Bush.
America will never succeed in the war on terror by abandoning its ethical standards.
If we cannot claim the moral high ground through our actions, we cannot win hearts and minds.
If we cannot win hearts and minds, we cannot expect other people to cooperate with us.
If we cannot get cooperation, we cannot win.
Our actions must be based on the highest ethical standard, not the lowest common excuse. Anything less is unworthy of American ideals.
The fight to uphold our ethics is the real battlefield in the war on terror.
Let Congress protect the symbol of state
I am a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II and a member of the American Legion. And I take exception to the editorial "Old Glory days" (June 14).
Since 1989, the American Legion has worked to restore to Congress the right to protect the U.S. flag. We do this because we believe Old Glory is much more than a red, white and blue piece of cloth.
When we served our country throughout the world, the flag reminded us why we were there. The flag gave us hope.
When we returned home from our service, the flag reminded us of that service and of those who paid the ultimate price while serving, and of the principles of freedom and democracy that make the United States so great.
For 17 years, the legion has worked to reverse the Supreme Court's decision that flag desecration is protected speech.
Why do we fight to protect Old Glory? We do it for the veterans who have died serving our country.
A symbol worthy of being draped over their coffins is worthy of being free from acts of desecration.
Terrible death toll afflicts Colombia
The column "Unearthing Colombia's disappeared" (Opinion
Commentary, June 16) was very helpful in explaining the nature of and causes behind the violence in Colombia.
Colombia has about 2 million internally displaced citizens, the highest number in this hemisphere, and one of the highest in the world.
Approximately 10 Colombian citizens - labor and municipal leaders, human rights workers, peasants and religious workers - are killed each day, which comes to about 3,000 deaths a year.
While this death toll is far less than civilian death toll in Iraq, it is unfortunately the highest in this hemisphere.
Those brave souls in Colombia who are working to unearth the truth behind the violence are to be congratulated.
We in the United States must do more to shed light on the role of policies promoted by our government in the violence and repression there.
By doing so, perhaps we, along with those in Colombia, can establish a political atmosphere where those responsible for crimes will be brought to justice, as we help will build a more just, nonviolent and responsive society.
Not ready to raze block of basilica
Recent articles concerning the plans by the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the Rochambeau apartment building have described a plan to raze all the buildings in the block and create a visitor center for the basilica ("Rochambeau has to go, mayor says," June 10).
Apparently, this proposal surfaced some years ago, but to the best of my knowledge, this suggestion was always just that - a suggested approach.
The fact is that Catholic Charities has a major plan to expand and develop the current Our Daily Bread site as a resource center for women and children, which will be called Sister's Place Women's Center.
Approximately $2 million to $3 million in funding for this center was included in our recently completed capital campaign, and renovation work will begin as soon as Our Daily Bread moves to its new location on the Fallsway.
Catholic Charities views this site as integral to our commitment to the disadvantaged. This site housed the original headquarters for Catholic Charities and has been a symbol of our service and work for more than 80 years.
In the years to come, we will reaffirm this commitment to those in need with an expanded women's center.
Harold A. Smith
The writer is executive director of Catholic Charities.
Anti-gay remarks can't be accepted
In the controversy surrounding former Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board member Robert J. Smith's comments equating homosexuality and "sexually deviancy," I applaud Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for stepping in to make a point that no one is unaccountable for offensive beliefs ("Ehrlich appointee fired over remark," June 16).
Mr. Smith, upon being asked by openly gay board colleague Jim Graham if he would apologize for remarks critical of gays, reportedly stated that he did not consider the way Mr. Graham lives his life to be appropriate.
To this I must respond by asking: What right does Mr. Smith have to level such a judgment?
Mr. Smith cited his Roman Catholic faith. But I must also ask for clarity on which of Christ's teachings he relied on: Did Jesus suggest that we should "Love thy neighbor as thyself" or that we should "Judge thy neighbor as thyself"?
Mr. Smith has every right to live his life in whatever way suits his socially conservative fancies.
But the place of the government should not be to regulate a person's freedom of lifestyle (ignoring the fact that sexuality is not a lifestyle), unless that individual is directly trying to prevent another from living out his or her freedoms.
Mr. Smith cannot be free to offend and slander while maintaining a political position that demands neutrality.
To justify prejudice and hatred through the freedom of religion is not permissible in our contemporary society.
Matthew J. Viator
The writer is director of administration for the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance at the Johns Hopkins University.
Ehrlich intolerant of official's faith
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s decision to remove Robert J. Smith from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board was a disappointment to me and many others in Maryland ("Ehrlich appointee fired over remark," June 16).
How does this man's opinion on the topic of homosexuality affect his ability to do the job he has been doing since 2003?
Did he suggest that homosexuals be relegated to the back of trains or buses? Did he suggest they be made to pay extra?
Then, to add insult to injury, the governor had the nerve to say that "Robert Smith's comments" were "in direct conflict to my administration's commitment to ... tolerance."
Tolerance? Tolerance of what? Certainly not tolerance of opinion.
Mr. Smith thinks homosexual behavior is deviant; board member Jim Graham does not.
Maintaining order can work for police
Blake Trettien's column on the maintenance-of-order style employed by the Baltimore police was critical of the methodology used and the results ("City policing strategy carries a heavy price," Opinion
Commentary, June 15).
While Mr. Trettien is dismissive of the "Broken Windows" theory of James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, my own work in the Anne Arundel County Police Department has replicated some of their observations.
After the theory was written up in The Atlantic, I conducted a foot-patrol experiment.
The results replicated the theory's observation that individual police officers can establish a "norm" of behavior that is accepted by people in the area.
I tested the next piece of the "Broken Windows" theory through an attack on disorderly and criminal behavior in a targeted community.
The community I chose was a predominantly African-American and Asian community of 1,000 rental townhouses. After three years, we demonstrated that we could positively impact criminal activity while reducing complaints against police.
So we verified two parts of the theory: Officers can work with a community to establish behavioral norms while maintaining individual rights, and crime can be impacted through concentrated enforcement in cooperation with the citizenry.
What else did we learn?
That the long-term assignment of an officer to a community establishes trust, that everyone supported the philosophy of "targeting only the guilty" and that time spent establishing and supporting community norms had value.
Communities don't start out as havens for drugs and crime. Armed robbers rarely start out armed. Both can and do occur in part because there is no glory, political or otherwise, in preserving prosperity, only in the fight to stabilize the chaos.
The "Broken Windows" approach fights these phenomena by 1) an early interdiction of disorder and 2) an emphasis on constitutional and statutory protections.
These actions are critical to preserve the prosperity of or reclaim neighborhoods.
If the police focus on "response times" or arrest numbers, we will remain stuck in a downward spiral into chaos, albeit a gradual one, until finally we accept disorder as order.
The "Broken Windows" theory is not wrong, but procedures must be in sync with goals.
If Baltimore's arrests are frivolous, that does not mean that the theory needs to be tossed.
However, an assessment of police policies must occur.
The writer is a captain in the Anne Arundel County Police Department.
Foam containers trash waterfront
A chemical engineer recently criticized Baltimore City Councilman James B. Kraft's proposal to ban foam containers in the city ("Foam isn't cause of our waste woes," letters, June 17).
The engineer commented that Mr. Kraft showed a lack of knowledge regarding Baltimore's solid-waste management practices. I hope readers will see that this plastic-recycling expert missed a key point.
While it may be that collected solid wastes can be incinerated to reduce volume in landfills, what about all the uncollected stuff that winds up on our streets and out in the harbor? One does not need to be an engineer or rocket scientist to see on any given day how much plastic junk is littering our sidewalks, streets, alleys and parks.
Furthermore, because of our stormwater drainage system, a good deal of the loose trash in these places winds up down in the harbor.
Consequently, our showcase waterfronts in Canton, Fells Point and the Inner Harbor are frequently a disgrace and an eyesore because of garbage.
Flotsam and jetsam litter the shoreline. In addition, refuse is prone to washing up over the promenade when the water level rises.
A quick glance reveals the truth: The majority of that refuse is some form of plastic.
That's bad for wildlife, residential life and the tourist trade.
Mr. Kraft should be praised for his efforts to clean up Baltimore.
Are the CEOs worth millions?
Plastering the faces of local CEOs with large salary numbers under their names - without the appropriate corresponding stock chart (the chief executive officer's ultimate report card) or an account of the change in profits at their respective companies - was disingenuous ("Earning power," June 18).
That the pay scale for CEOs is larger than what you and I earn does not inherently mean that it is inappropriate for the value they generate.
For example, as was noted in the article, Raymond A. "Chip" Mason, CEO of Legg Mason, orchestrated a transaction with Citigroup in 2005 that sent its stock soaring more than 60 percent in 2005 and increased Legg Mason's market value by 88 percent, or $7 billion.
So what do you pay someone who generates $7 billion in value for shareholders?
Legg Mason's board of directors determined that the value creation was worth in excess of $40 million (or less than 1 percent of the value the deal created).
Yes, the numbers are large, and the discrepancy between the pay of CEOs and that of rank-and-file employees is sometimes hard to digest.
But the process in general is fair and independent, and more often that not, these CEOs earn every dollar they collect.
The writer is a portfolio manager for an insurance and financial services company.
The Sun's article on the compensation provided to executives was devastating. By any measure of worth, these salaries, bonuses and perks are appalling.
I hope The Sun will now look at the other side of this coin. How many of these companies give back generously to the community? How many create an atmosphere of fear or mind-numbing work? How many have laid off dozens or hundreds of workers to improve the bottom line, causing those who remain to work 50, 60 or more hours a week to take up the slack?
The men and women profiled stand on the backs of thousands of employees who make the companies what they are but are compensated significantly less - often thousands of times less.
Bravo for the exposure, and here's to the rest of the story: those who work for the overpaid executives.
The Sun's article on executive compensation provides convincing evidence that the economic system in our democracy has been good to the leaders of many of the top corporations in our area.
At the same time, our communities continue to benefit from the leadership and economic activity that these CEOs and their companies provide.
However, the article leaves several questions unanswered.
For example, to what extent have the CEOs in the article served their country through military service or through organizations such as the Teacher Corps or Peace Corps?
How much have these individuals paid in federal, state and local taxes to support our security systems and the education system and infrastructure that support economic growth?
To what extent have these individuals supported the charitable organizations that help individuals and families in our communities who are less fortunate than they are?
I hope future articles will tell us "the rest of the story."
E. Niel Carey
The second paragraph of the article "Earning power" gives a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the way we pay top executives of publicly held corporations.
It turns out that Martine A. Rothblatt, chairman and chief executive officer of United Therapeutics Corp., became the best-paid CEO in Maryland "partly" because the board of directors revalued stock options that had become worthless.
This is just another example of the prevailing philosophy of executive compensation: heads, top management wins; tails, the stockholders lose.
Stock options become worthless only when the stock's market price falls below the exercise price from the options. In this case, her options were redeemable at $90 per share, while the stock was trading at around $50 per share.
The whole point of stock options is to reward executives who manage the company so that its market value increases. The rule is supposed to be: no increase, no reward.
But the practice of revaluing worthless options completely invalidates that incentive, and CEOs are handsomely rewarded regardless of how the company's stock performs.
If the self-appointed payout police want to go after "excessive compensation," I suggest they start with people such as Paris Hilton, who earned almost as much as Constellation Energy CEO Mayo A. Shattuck III did last year without making any meaningful contribution to the economy or to society.
Capitalism rewards risk-takers who serve the needs of the consumer.
This system has provided average people with the highest standard of living enjoyed at any time or place in history.
The alternatives have all failed because they had one thing in common: someone other than the consumer deciding what was "fair."