SATURDAY'S MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Council acts to ease access to treatment

The City Council took a very positive step toward improving the health and safety of our communities when it gave preliminary approval to a bill that would amend city zoning laws that make it difficult, if not impossible, to open or expand outpatient drug treatment programs in Baltimore ("More drug treatment centers," editorial, Oct. 26).

Current city zoning laws compel all drug treatment programs - even those with long histories of success in Baltimore - to get legislation enacted in order to open an office, move or expand.

This process can take up to 12 months, and in many cases results in the denial of a zoning request.

Other medical services have a right, as they should, to open in any appropriate business area of the city. This bill would level the playing field and allow drug treatment programs to locate as other medical service providers do in business zones.

Opponents of the bill argue that it will enable drug treatment programs to open in residential neighborhoods under a zoning exception for professional doctors' offices.

But the fact is that most drug treatment providers would not meet the requirements for such an exception. And there would be few benefits for treatment providers if they were to locate on residential streets.

The bill really allows programs to locate where they are needed and can be most effective - in business areas of the city where they can be easily reached by citizens.

Terry Brown

Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the Baltimore Substance Abuse Directorate and vice chairman of the board of Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc.

Renewal is coming to Reservoir Hill

I applaud Eric Siegel's column that echoed our community's frustrations and concerns with the failure of many buyers of Project SCOPE (for Selling City-Owned Properties Efficiently) properties to complete their renovations in Reservoir Hill in a timely manner ("Slow pace of renovations hurts house-selling program," Oct. 19).

However, the article may have left some readers with the impression that our neighborhood's renaissance has stalled and that this is a community filled with crime and trash.

To the contrary, in addition to the SCOPE properties, there are more than 100 private investor or homeowner renovations in progress in Reservoir Hill. There is hardly a single block where there isn't some renovation or rehab being performed.

While small pockets within the neighborhoods have problems (such as those on Newington Avenue cited in the column), those conditions are not typical of Reservoir Hill.

If you look across Reservoir Hill, you see other things.

You see community gardens. You see parks and vacant lots being cleaned up. You see houses once vacant and deteriorated being occupied.

Reservoir Hill shares the same problems of many city communities, where much of the land fell into the hands of absentee landowners and the neighborhoods suffered from decades of disinvestment by private landowners and the city.

I have lived in Reservoir Hill since 1958 and witnessed several abortive neighborhood revitalizations. However, this latest revitalization has given me renewed hope.

And the reason change has happened is that residents organized to make sure that it happened.

Some of this we have done on our own - restoring yards and lots, cleaning alleys. But we have also pressed the city to take action and bring more resources to our community.

I hope future articles do not just depict our neighborhood's problems and negatives but offer a balance and acknowledge how far we've come.

Harry Peaker

Baltimore

The writer is a member of the board of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council.

Voting machines don't protect privacy

I want to thank Michael Hill for his article that pointed out that the lack of a "ker-chunk" from a lever on a voting machine may be what disturbs Maryland voters unhappy with the new touch-screen voting system ("Is voting all about the 'ker-chunk'?" Oct. 22).

Furthermore, each lever machine was outfitted with a curtain. Every voter knew that when he or she closed that curtain, no one standing outside could determine by listening to the audible clicks of the small levers which candidates were being selected.

When voting machines with levers were first introduced, in some states they ran afoul of laws that required paper ballots for voting.

In many of these states, the highest courts decreed that the use of lever machines was satisfactory because they preserved privacy. And this, the courts suggested, was the essential requirement for public elections, even in the absence of paper ballots.

Now, the new electronic machines are clustered together and have no curtains. A voter walking to or from a vacant machine or sitting in front of a machine often can clearly see how another voter is voting.

I hope that the clear violations of privacy that I, and others, saw on primary day will not happen again in the General Election.

I will closely observe the conditions at my precinct, and I will not stand idly by.

Roy G. Saltman

Columbia

Give all candidates a chance to debate

The writer of the letter "Boyd's exclusion dimmed debate" (Oct. 18) never addressed the real problem of exclusionary debates and why they are wrong because he focused on only one third-party candidate, Ed Boyd, and ignored the other third-party candidate, Christopher Driscoll, the Populist Party's gubernatorial candidate.

Both Mr. Boyd and Mr. Driscoll should have been included in all gubernatorial debates. The governor's race is a four-way race, and all candidates should have been in every debate.

That is the principle behind truly inclusionary debates. And that principle is of paramount importance.

Third-party candidates face enormous barriers: The corporate media do their best to ignore them and not cover them; ballot access laws are arbitrary, unfair and designed to keep third parties off the ballot; the requirements for a party to remain on the ballot, even after overcoming the initial hurdles, are equally onerous, arbitrary and unjust; and the sponsors of debates, usually corporate entities, often deliberately keep them out of debates with the Democrat and Republican candidates so that they are not seen by the public and their positions are not heard.

With all of these handicaps, it's no surprise that third-party candidates have so much difficulty getting their messages out.

Kay Dellinger

Baltimore

The writer is the treasurer of Christopher Driscoll's gubernatorial campaign.

Changing the rules to help foster kids

A recent editorial on "foster children receiving federal assistance" calls for changes to "rules tied to a public assistance program that no longer exists and that are based on outdated and complex income-eligibility requirements" ("Shortchanging the needy," Oct. 9).

I agree with that recommendation; indeed, for the last three years, the Bush administration has proposed legislation that would do just that.

Like The Sun, the administration recognizes the need to fix a broken system by providing states with greater flexibility on how child welfare money can be spent.

That's why President Bush submitted a proposal to Congress that would increase states' flexibility by eliminating the rigidity of the current funding structure for child welfare.

Under the proposal, states could use federal foster care funds not only for supporting children in out-of-home care but also for child abuse prevention, reunification efforts and post-adoption services.

We agree it is time to move away from "sporadic lip service" when it comes to reforming the child welfare system.

The Bush administration's plan addresses the problem with a forward-looking solution for children and families.

Wade F. Horn

Washington

The writer is an assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Catch-22 keeps care from saving seniors

Both Isabella Firth's column "Maryland must not turn its back on its senior citizens" (Opinion * Commentary, Oct. 3) and John R. Graham's column "Fight Medicaid monster, not Wal-Mart" (Opinion * Commentary, Oct. 9) raise interesting points regarding Medicaid generally and long-term care in particular.

However, the grim reality of aging in America in the early 21st century is that it comes with an unaffordable price tag. The cost of nursing care for an Alzheimer's patient can easily exceed $100,000 a year.

Almost no one can afford that.

Medicaid's long-term care program pays for almost three-quarters of nursing home care. But perversely, Medicaid eligibility rules require that the patient be completely bankrupt before aid can be given, and Maryland, in particular, has adopted a medical eligibility standard that bars assistance until a patient is so sick that he or she is near death.

Thus for most seniors who need long-term care, Medicaid is out of reach because they either have just a bit too much money or aren't sick enough to qualify, even if they are in assisted-living or a nursing home.

The "Catch-22" is that long-term care insurance is also out of reach for most seniors because they don't have enough money to pay for it or they are too sick to qualify.

When public and private insurance is out of reach, all you've got are empty hands and empty pockets - and no help.

Families are sandwiched in the middle, trying to pay for their parents' needs and those of their children along with their own expenses.

As Ms. Firth correctly states, there is a possible answer already in place.

Maryland's Home and Community-based Services for Older Adults Waiver program offers a rational solution to the problem. It can provide long-term care where people want it, in the community, at a cost far lower than the cost of nursing home care.

Sadly, the waiver program was a victim of the 2003 fight between Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the General Assembly over slot machines.

While the program was supposed to expand at the rate of 1,000 new slots per year, it was frozen when the governor and Assembly failed to agree on the other kind of slots. Thus the program now has a waiting list of about 7,500 people, many of whom will wait for years for their names to come up.

The waiver program, along with all other long-term care programs, needs to revise its medical eligibility standard to allow dementia sufferers and others who need help with the basic activities of daily living to qualify for assistance sooner, not later.

Maryland should not wait to help people until after they have gone into nursing homes and spent all their money.

This policy simply creates other needs for a family and stresses other parts of the state budget.

Jason A. Frank

Lutherville

The writer is vice chairman of the elder law section of the Maryland Bar Association and legal counsel for the Baltimore County Department of Aging.

Bush is blaming Iraqis for failed war

Since the beginning of the Iraq war, some people have complained that the country is not on a war footing, and that there is little sense of sacrifice beyond that being made by the military.

This assessment is correct. Unfortunately, it is precisely those who called for the sacrifice, namely those in the Bush administration and those who voted for the war, who have been careful to make sure the war does not affect most of our everyday lives.

After all, the current president is the one who told us to go shopping after the 9/11 attacks. This is not a man who wants you to think about suffering very much.

Given that the basis for going to war was so weak, the Bush administration knew that an all-out war, which would have involved many more troops (and thus more casualties), a renewal of the military draft and higher taxes to pay for the war, would be untenable to the American public.

So the Bush administration has done its utmost to shield most Americans from the effects of the war.

The worst of it is that thousands of troops (and many more thousands of Iraqis) have died because they were all put in a situation in which they were doomed to fail from the beginning.

And now one can sense the "exit strategy" of the Bush administration, as it tries to avoid responsibility for creating a scenario in which our soldiers and many others have died in vain ("Bush willing to shift tactics to win in Iraq," Oct. 21).

Republicans and Democrats are starting to blame the Iraqis for the mess that we put them in.

Politicians are suggesting that Iraq's civil war resulted from Iraqis' stupidity: We offered them democracy and they wouldn't accept it; their government is weak and ineffective; Iraqis argue constantly while their country burns.

When the war becomes too unpopular here, I guess we'll just tell the Iraqis it was really their fault they couldn't get their act together, and then we'll leave.

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell

Towson

Civil War was also an act of aggression

I would like to take issue with the writer of the recent letter who stated, "The Civil War began after a deadly military attack by the South on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, a federal military base" ("Critics serious about Bush's foolish war," letters, Oct. 21).

Although the artillery bombardment of Fort Sumter could be considered deadly, the writer fails to point out that there were no causalities among the federal forces occupying the fort and that Maj. Robert Anderson, the fort's commander, was allowed to honor his flag and leave unmolested.

He also fails to mention that President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate States of America made numerous efforts to peacefully negotiate their independence, including the payment of compensation for all federal facilities, including Fort Sumter, located in the new Confederate nation.

The writer further states that "our nation was fired upon and threatened with disunion. President Abraham Lincoln fought to defend the United States and preserve the Union."

This is false. President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate States asked only to be allowed to go in peace and be left alone.

The United States would have continued to exist if the South had been allowed to secede - merely with fewer states.

I agree with the letter writer that President Bush's invasion of Iraq was an "unnecessary military adventure."

But so was President Lincoln's "War of Northern Aggression" against the South.

G. Elliott Cummings

Baltimore

Residents trapped by Race for Cure

I applaud the participants who raised awareness and money to fight breast cancer at the Race for the Cure on Oct. 21 ("Compassion and hope prevail in race for cure," Oct. 22). However, I have nothing but jeers for the planners of the event.

The 5-kilometer course was laid out as a wide loop around Federal Hill.

With thousands of people taking part in the run and walk, it was almost impossible for residents of a substantial portion of South Baltimore to leave their neighborhood by car for hours.

Desperately seeking a way out of the area, I spoke with numerous police officers who were assigned to block traffic. More than one of them said that when they saw a map of the route of the race, they knew that residents would be stuck until the race was over.

Yet such a thought seems never to have entered the minds of those planning the race.

To make matters worse, no effort was made to inform residents that they would be trapped in their neighborhood.

The city government is seeking to entice prospective residents to make Baltimore home.

But I question the sincerity of this marketing effort when such a complete lack of consideration is shown to people who live here.

David Horowitz

Baltimore

Gun owners, others must limit access

As a legal, law-abiding gun owner, I take exception to The Sun's repeated allegations that I am at least partially responsible for the gun violence in this country ("Guns R Us," editorial, Oct. 15).

I take particular offense at the statement that "gun violence is so high in this country at least in part because there are so many guns so easily available."

If you think guns are so easily available, then try, as a law-abiding citizen, following all the rules, regulations and procedures currently in place, to purchase a rifle or handgun in the state of Maryland.

These guns are not "so easily available."

With every right and privilege comes responsibility.

If you are not a gun owner, you have a responsibility to support beefed-up security, improved access to mental health care and, most important, better parenting to offset the proximity of these weapons.

You must also demand, and fight for, better enforcement of the laws on the books.

If you are a gun owner, you need to support beefed-up security, improved access to mental health care and, most important, better parenting to deal with the proximity of these weapons.

You must also demand, and fight for, better enforcement of the laws on the books - those that apply to dealers and owners alike.

Gun owners must also keep their weapons secured, by whatever means necessary - gun safes, chain locks, trigger locks, dismantling, etc.

And if they have kids, they must educate them in what a firearm can and will do, in the wrong hands. And remind them that their hands are the wrong hands.

Lee J. Kaufmann

Baltimore

Not a 'dwarf planet' but first 'plutoid'

I believe teaching that Pluto is a "dwarf planet" is a mistake ("Pluto's status offers a new lesson to teach," Oct. 22).

Pluto is a 1,484-mile-wide ice ball that is considerably smaller than our moon.

Except that it is round and orbits the sun, it shares hardly any of the characteristics of the planetary bodies closer than it to the sun. (If Pluto were a cherry, would anyone call it a dwarf grapefruit just because it is round and grows on a tree?)

However, Pluto shares many characteristics with the growing list of ice balls found beyond it, such as Quaoar (found in 1992) and Eris (2003).

Since they are a distinct species in a region of the solar system known as the Kuiper Belt, I think Pluto and its icy relatives should be called "plutoids."

There is good precedent for such a relabeling.

When it was discovered in 1801 orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, tiny Ceres (594 miles wide) was excitedly greeted as a new planet.

Subsequently, with the discovery of more and more Ceres-like bodies between Mars and Jupiter, they were all collectively demoted to asteroid status, assigned numbers for the order of their discovery, and their region named the asteroid belt.

Like Ceres, Pluto was excitedly greeted as a new planet, but 76 years later, it is time to call it what it really is - the first discovered plutoid.

Herman M. Heyn

Baltimore

The writer has worked as Baltimore's street-corner astronomer for 20 years.

Smoking sullies city's charm

I find nothing charming about the fact that Charm City still allows smoking in our bars and restaurants ("Eat, drink and be ready to put out the cigarette," Oct. 25).

Secondhand smoke kills.

Classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a known carcinogen, it contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic, including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic ammonia and hydrogen cyanide, according to the American Lung Association.

Yet Baltimore still refuses to protect the health of a large segment of its work force, as well as the public, by banning smoking in restaurants and bars.

That is complete failure of leadership on the part of our elected officials.

Why have our elected officials failed to do this?

My only explanation is the pressure (and possibly money) they receive from special-interest groups.

I have heard some of my elected officials say that they need to show small-business owners that a smoking ban will not harm businesses before they can support a ban.

But my question is, why are my elected officials putting their weight behind small-business owners instead of doing their jobs and protecting the health of their constituents?

If there were a clear way to reduce the number of homicides in Baltimore and our elected officials refused to do it, citizens would storm City Hall in protest.

By some estimates, secondhand smoke kills almost as many people in the city as homicide does. And given that we know we can reduce these deaths by banning smoking in bars and restaurants - and City Hall has refused to take action - we should hold our elected leaders accountable.

It is time for Charm City to pass smoke-free legislation.

Kara Hanson

Baltimore

The writer is a volunteer for Smoke-free Charm City.

I support a ban on smoking in all restaurants and bars in Baltimore.

I live in Baltimore County and work in the city, and hope that Baltimore County will also impose such a smoking ban.

I do not go out to many bars because when I do so, I come home reeking of cigarette smoke, and it is disgusting.

I would frequent more bars and restaurants if they were all nonsmoking.

Linda Ashauer

Dundalk

Some years ago, I spent many Friday nights Irish dancing in the former Gandy Dancer pub on South Carey Street.

Although the bar area was separate from the dance room, clouds of smoke still wafted in.

Every Friday night, we dancers (none of whom smoked) went home with smoke in our nostrils and a blackened nasal discharge.

We called this "Gandy Nose."

To this day, I live in fear that I may contract lung cancer because of the smoke I inhaled in the bar. I'm sure that many dancers and musicians have had experiences similar to mine.

I implore the City Council to pass smoke-free legislation.

Dena Snyder

Baltimore

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