SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Time for cease-fire in failed drug war

Every bit of data about the drug war indicates that it is a colossal failure ("Data show war on drugs failing as cocaine gets cheaper, purer," May 5).

From 1995 to 2005, the federal drug war budget rose 79 percent.

During that time, the number of people in the United States who had used drugs in the past year rose 55 percent, drug-induced mortality went up 116 percent, drug arrests went up 25 percent and drug rehab admissions went up 22 percent.

It's time to stop persecuting people over their choice of intoxicant, legalize all these drugs and sell them through a regulated market.

We have absolutely no chance of ever achieving a "drug-free" America for one simple reason: "Just say no" didn't even work in the Garden of Eden.

All that Prohibition II has done is make the drug problem in this country far worse than it otherwise would have been, which is just what happened in the case of alcohol prohibition.

It is a sign of intelligence to learn from experience, and a sign of insanity to repeat the same activity over and over and expect a different result.

So on the drug war, are we stupid or crazy?

Brian C. Bennett

North Garden, Va.

The writer is a statistical analyst and researcher for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Legalization is key to curbing crime

The war on drugs was lost before it began ("Data show war on drugs failing as cocaine gets cheaper, purer," May 5).

No matter how much money we throw down the drug war rat hole, we will never be able to nullify the immutable law of supply and demand.

As long as people want recreational drugs and are willing to pay a substantial price for them, somebody will produce these drugs and somebody will get them to the willing buyers.

This we can guarantee.

And almost all of our so-called drug-related crime is caused by our drug prohibition policies - not the drugs themselves.

If we legalized all our illegal drugs so that they could be sold by licensed and regulated businesses for pennies per dose, would this eliminate our drug problems? No.

However, doing so would substantially reduce the crime rate and increase public safety.

Will we ever be able to eliminate our drug problems? No.

However, we can substantially reduce the harm caused by our illegal drugs.

Regulated and controlled drugs would be of known purity, known potency and known quality - which would make them very different from today's black-market drugs.

But what message would we send to children if we legalized all illegal drugs so they could be sold in licensed, regulated and taxed business establishments?

The same message we send to children today when we allow products such as alcohol and tobacco to be sold in licensed, regulated and taxed business establishments.

A free country's government cannot protect its adult citizens from themselves.

A free country's government has no right to attempt to do so.

Kirk Muse

Mesa, Ariz.

Big-screen smoking is a threat to kids

Maryland Attorney General Doug F. Gansler is right to take Hollywood to task for depicting the use of tobacco products in movies ("Gansler fights smoking in films," May 4).

For too long, Hollywood has glamorized smoking, even as the general public has become more aware of the death and disease associated with it.

Yet the tobacco industry continues to try to lure potential customers by promoting smoking on the big screen before the millions of children who see the movies each year that depict smoking.

Because most smokers try their first cigarette before age 18, it is imperative that we protect children from the predatory advertising practices of the tobacco industry.

With cooperation from motion picture studios and their trade association, we can put more safeguards in place to prevent teenagers from engaging in this destructive habit.

Mr. Gansler's leadership in protecting the health of our children is to be commended.

Stephen Peregoy

Hunt Valley

The writer is president and CEO of the American Lung Association of Maryland.

An individual right to gun ownership

The Sun's article "U.S. gun-rights theory evolving" (May 5) only perpetuates the idea that the Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees not an individual but a collective right of "the people" to "keep and bear arms."

However, in all other instances where rights of "the people" are mentioned in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, it is almost universally accepted that "the people" refers to individual citizens.

It would be torturing logic to assert that in this one instance - the arms clause of the Second Amendment - such language refers to a collective right.

It is obvious, at least to this student of the Constitution, that if the intent of the Founding Fathers had been solely to guarantee the provisioning of a militia, there would be no need to mention "the people" in the Second Amendment at all; in fact, the arms clause would have been unnecessary.

The argument that the Founding Fathers intended to create an organized militia also flies in the face of their opposition to the idea of a standing army, which an organized militia would certainly become.

The "people" are mentioned in the Second Amendment simply because the Founding Fathers intended to guarantee to individuals the right to possess and use the means to protect themselves.

Robert L. Di Stefano

Abingdon

Citizens are always outgunned by state

The frequently heard notion, which was repeated in the letter "Gun rights shield us against tyranny" (May 1), that the right of the people to "keep and bear arms" somehow protects us against a potentially tyrannical government is, on the face of it, pure nonsense.

The reason is simple: Any government, tyrannical or not, will always have more, bigger and meaner weapons than the citizens do.

Pity us if our country is ever so weak that we would need to rely on private arms to defend it.

This never did and never can work. Even in the American Revolution, when those embattled farmers stood up and fired the "shot heard round the world," these rebels, inspiring as they were, never could have withstood the tyrannical government of King George for long on their own.

It was our burgeoning army, with the help of other armies and a lot of good luck, that did so - and by the skin of its teeth at that.

There are good arguments for private ownership of weapons of self-defense.

But defense against one's own government is not one of them.

Robert E. Wolfe

Phoenix

Build new dorms in heart of Towson

I was disappointed to read that Towson University is planning to build its new dormitories near Towsontown Boulevard and Osler Drive ("Towson to start 2 new dorms," May 1).

As an alumnus of Towson University, I am extremely proud of the education I received. However, campus life left a bit to be desired, and I always felt students were too cut off from the community.

On a recent Friday, I found myself working in downtown Towson. As I walked for approximately 15 minutes, at 5:30 p.m., between the courthouse and the library, I did not encounter one other pedestrian on arguably the prettiest day of the year. Towson was a ghost town.

The new dorms should be built either to replace Towson Commons or in the parking lots between Joppa Road and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Before the residents of Towson attack my position, let me express my empathy toward their concerns about students in the neighborhood.

I now live across from the Johns Hopkins University. My neighbors had similar reservations as we watched the university jump over Charles Street and expand into Charles Village.

However, since that expansion, the neighborhood has vastly improved, with new amenities offered and more pedestrians on our sidewalks.

And since Charles Commons opened, providing a new housing option for students, there are fewer students living unsupervised in the neighborhood.

Ken Brown

Baltimore

Edwards' populism defies the pollsters

Leonard Pitts Jr.'s claim that John Edwards' expensive haircuts are evidence of "fake authenticity" for his populist credentials is ludicrous ("The populist's $400 haircuts point to fake authenticity," Opinion

Commentary, April 29).

Mr. Pitts charges that "his pricey coif sends a message jarringly at odds with the populist theme of Mr. Edwards' campaign."

Later, Mr. Pitts laments the rise of "blow-dried, focus-grouped, stage-managed, photo-opped, sloganeering, false-smiling, hand-clasping, back-slapping would-be leaders," of which Mr. Edwards is presumably an example.

But if indeed Mr. Edwards is simply another blow-dried, stage-managed would-be leader, that would mean he has coldly calculated that a campaign that seeks to reach out to the nation's underclass - the poor, the hungry and the dispossessed - as its core constituency is likely to pay political dividends and maximize support for his candidacy.

However, recent American political history clearly shows that these themes are precisely the opposite of those one should expect to find in a campaign driven by public opinion polls and focus groups - as such campaigns generally focus intensively on the necessity of building support among suburban, middle-class voters.

In other words, the very fact that Mr. Edwards continues to speak to the problems of poor people in this country, expensive haircuts aside, illustrates that his campaign is not following the Pied Piper of public opinion in charting its course.

Leonard C. Robinson

Delmar

Book exaggerates threat to menhaden

Tom Pelton's review of the book The Most Important Fish in the Sea misses the boat: He overlooks the fact that the book is based more on hearsay than science ("Menhaden matter, and they're in trouble," May 6).

The author of the book, H. Bruce Franklin, focuses on menhaden, a small fish that provides a livelihood for hundreds of commercial fishermen in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The author - a historian, not a scientist - criticizes fishing for menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay based on "evidence" he gathered as an angler in the bay and stories he heard from fishing buddies.

This is not science, or a sound foundation for banning commercial menhaden fishing.

Indeed, some scientists, including those who work at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, disagree with Mr. Franklin's assertions that the bay is being overfished.

The governors of Maryland and Virginia recently announced a plan to protect the menhaden - a plan embraced by mainstream environmentalists such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation ("Commercial fishing of menhaden capped," Aug. 17, 2006).

Yet the book's author rejects the plan, swallowing the arguments of radical groups hook, line and sinker.

We all should be smarter than that.

Joseph L. von Rosenberg III

Houston

The writer is president and CEO of Omega Protein, the largest menhaden fishing company in the United States.

New governor shows respect for Earth

The writer of the letter "Green isn't the color of O'Malley's record" (May 8) is way off base in claiming that the Maryland League of Conservation Voters endorsed Martin O'Malley for governor because of his party affiliation.

In fact, the nonpartisan organization has helped elect both Republicans and Democrats.

In our "100 Days Report," we analyzed the O'Malley administration's environmental record. Its excellent nominations to state agencies, its support for the clean-cars law, its full funding for land conservation and its good collaboration with environmental leaders are just some of the reasons we see great promise for the O'Malley administration when it comes to protecting our air, land and water.

Of course, there are areas where improvement is needed - namely, on the administration's support for the Intercounty Connector and its role in fighting global warming.

But in stark contrast to the previous administration, environmentalists now have a seat at the table in discussions about the future of Maryland.

From what we've seen so far, we feel that we, like the majority of Marylanders, made the right decision in November.

J. Charles Fox

Annapolis

The writer is board chairman of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and a former secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Illinois leads way in fighting infection

During the last two sessions of the General Assembly, lawmakers were presented with bills that would have required the only known effective approach to controlling the two most out-of-control drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals and nursing homes.

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus, or VRE, injure and kill hundreds of thousands of hospitalized patients every year.

They are always acquired through contact, and the primary modes of transmission are the contaminated hands of health care workers and contaminated hospital equipment.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, VRE emerged in Baltimore in the early 1990s. Because it was not controlled at that time, it spread throughout Maryland and across the nation.

Before 1980, MRSA accounted for about 2 percent of all staphylococcal infections. Now, the prevalence of MRSA, according to some estimates, is as high as 80 percent.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the approach outlined in the Maryland legislation (which called for identification and contact-isolation of the carriers of MRSA and VRE to control their spread) and supporting testimony by national and internationally celebrated experts, the bills, drafted by the Coalition for Patients' Rights, were voted down in committee.

But Maryland lawmakers are not to blame for the 30-year failure to confront this deadly epidemic. Nor are they solely to blame for the failure of the Maryland legislation.

The bills were subjected to aggressive opposition from the Maryland Hospital Association, the Maryland Patient Safety Center, the Maryland Healthcare Commission, nursing home representatives and other local health care leaders.

However, since these bills were introduced, several hospitals in Maryland, including Johns Hopkins Hospital, Franklin Square Hospital and the University of Maryland Hospital, have begun to implement just the approach that would have been required by the legislation. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement recently recommended the same practices for all U.S. hospitals.

Health care leaders should have done this years ago. Now they don't want to be told what to do.

However, the decades-long failure of the health care system on this issue and the fact that most institutions still refrain from doing the right thing to protect patients prove that a mandate is still needed.

As was highlighted in "Illinois considers program to fight drug-resistant bacteria" (May 6), Illinois is now poised to be the first state to pass lifesaving legislation to control such infections.

I congratulate the Illinois legislature for moving this bill forward and the Illinois Hospital Association for demonstrating true leadership in aggressively supporting it.

Michael Bennett

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Coalition for Patients' Rights.

Taiwan deserves seat at WHO table

The World Health Organization is constitutionally committed to protecting the health of "all people." Yet for years, Taiwan has been denied the right to participate in the WHO.

Taiwan may seem a long way from Baltimore, but the health rights it is fighting for affect everyone, everywhere.

Because disease knows no boundaries, denying Taiwan the right to join WHO not only flies in the face of that organization's noble ideals but also opens a dangerous hole in the international health network that detects and treats lethal diseases such as avian influenza. The right to good public health is universal, and the world has the responsibility to speak out wherever this right is threatened.

Communicative diseases such as bird flu may only be "over there" for now, but without the full cooperation of the international community, we may find that they have suddenly spread "over here."

That is why it is especially important for the international community to support Taiwan's bid to join WHO at next week's meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Eddy Tsai

Washington

The writer is director of the press division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.

Eisenhower blazed a bipartisan path

As the nation again stands at a stark partisan chasm regarding the future conduct of the war in Iraq and the broader "war on terrorism" ("GOP leader backs benchmarks," May 7), I cannot but think back to a time when a Republican president and a Democratic-led Congress were able to lift statesmanship above petty partisan politics for the national good.

This Republican president was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

As he stated in his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961, "Our people expect their president and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the nation."

Mr. Eisenhower did not speak about negotiation and compromise between the branches of government as if they were the actions of the weak and vacillating.

He understood that "a vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction."

Yet he also understood the inherent dangers associated with the rise of the so-called military-industrial complex.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," Mr. Eisenhower warned. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."

Mr. Eisenhower also understood that "America's leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment."

It is a loss to our nation that Mr. Eisenhower's brand of conservatism and good sense has all but disappeared from the political landscape.

And unfortunately, the neoconservatives who dominate this administration are in the process of bringing to fruition many of the very threats to our democracy Mr. Eisenhower foresaw.

Michael Caughlin Sr.

Parkville

Extending hate crimes laws to gays

It is appalling and ironic that "a coalition of evangelical, fundamentalist and black religious leaders" staunchly opposes the expansion of hate crimes laws to cover crimes based on sexual orientation ("Christian leaders oppose bill on hate," May 4).

The bill passed in the House of Representatives on a bipartisan vote of 237-180, with all Maryland representatives except Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett voting for the measure.

Among the arguments cited to explain the opposition to the legislation was the fact that the bill didn't include such groups as U.S. soldiers and rich kids, and therefore should not cover victims of hate crimes motivated by the victims' sexual orientation.

That is a ridiculous red herring. The opposition to the bill is really all about the obvious homophobia of its foes.

The latest FBI statistics, for 2005, indicate that hate crimes based on sexual orientation ranked third among all categories of hate crimes, behind only crimes motivated by the race and the religion of the victims.

The fact that one out of six victims of hate crimes is victimized because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity clearly demonstrates that hate crimes laws need to be expanded to cover such crimes.

Nobody has been able to point to any documented message from Jesus Christ in which he condemned homosexuality.

Instead, Jesus promoted tolerance and acceptance of all mankind.

What would Jesus say to these Christian leaders' opposition to the hate crimes bill?

Steve Charing

Clarksville

So "a coalition of evangelical, fundamentalist and black religious leaders" opposes categorizing as hate crimes attacks on people motivated by their sexual orientation?

And their reason is that doing so would infringe on constitutional free speech rights?

That's strange. Why didn't people raise the issue of free speech when the original hate crimes bills were passed concerning violence based on race and religion?

I don't recall any such objection back then.

Could it be that these groups simply want the right to go on openly hating gays, lesbians and transgender people, but because it would be impolitic to give that as the reason they oppose this bill, they have chosen to cloak themselves in the First Amendment?

Another objection is that the bill would create "a two-tiered justice system," protecting some groups more than others.

This masterpiece of illogic ignores the need that called for the bill in the first place: that it is far more commonplace in American society to victimize these groups than others.

And trying to cite the Virginia Tech murders as an example (i.e., rich kids need protection too) is a despicable use of that recent tragedy and its still-raw emotions.

What hypocrisy.

If people want the right to hate, at least they should be honest about it.

Stephen D. Fox

Baltimore

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