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SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Coast Guard cases protect the public

The Sun's article "Justice capsized?" (June 24) and the editorial "A listing court" (June 26) emphasize statistics that may leave readers with an erroneous impression.

In an industry with more than 200,000 mariners, few violations are serious enough to reach administrative law judges. The Coast Guard initiates action only when failing to do so might endanger the public or the environment.

More than half of the more than 6,300 charges against mariners cited in The Sun's article resulted from a positive drug test or from drug- or alcohol-related convictions.

Most of the remaining charges involved refusal to submit to mandatory drug tests, or false or incomplete statements in applications for credentials, mostly involving failure to reveal criminal convictions and other misconduct, usually involving drug or alcohol use, including operating a vessel while intoxicated.

All of these cases directly affect safety or security.

While all mariners are entitled to due process, federal law appropriately allows little discretion for activities in any mode of transportation that may endanger public safety.

Nevertheless, the process is remedial, not criminal.

The vast majority of mariners charged with drug and alcohol offenses take advantage of rehabilitation programs we have established.

As a result, few cases are contested and fully adjudicated by administrative law judges.

More than 2,400 of the 6,300 charges were administratively withdrawn, were uncontested or have not yet been assigned to an administrative law judge.

Approximately 2,800 charges were settled voluntarily prior with little input from an administrative law judge.

The Sun's reporting incorrectly suggested that almost all of these 6,300 charges - many of which involved little or no involvement by a Coast Guard judge - were victories for the Coast Guard.

Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry

Washington

The writer is director of governmental and public affairs for the U.S. Coast Guard.

New Germany Lake remains a refuge

I am concerned about the perception that the title may convey to readers of Abigail Tucker's otherwise excellent feature about sediment infill at New Germany Lake ("Sick lakes," June 24).

The lake's problem is the result of a natural process, as the article well explains. It is not the result of a "sickness." I would not want people to look at the title and decide not to come to the lake to fish, swim or camp because they think it is sick.

The lake is spring-fed and clean and deep enough for swimming. In recent years, the park's staff has begun assiduously raking out the vegetation that begins to grow in the lake in late July.

More than 30,000 people a year use the lake.

The lake spurs the economy of the local region and provides a respite to local people and visitors who seek the serenity of its surroundings.

The basic question here is this: Do we Marylanders, who are not blessed with natural lakes, wish to experience the joys of freshwater lakes?

If we do, we must intervene to devise a plan and allocate our resources to take care of our man-made ones.

Kathy Tunney

Grantsville

The writer is president of Friends of New Germany State Park Inc., a volunteer group that works to improve New Germany Lake.

Budget poses threat to intercity rail

The editorial "Fuel-sipping trains" (June 11) was on target, notwithstanding Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman's letter "Amtrak must boost service, efficiency" (June 22).

Indeed, there is less than meets the eye to his claim that "nearly 550 million people board trains each year in this country, yet fewer than one in 20 of them chooses Amtrak."

Most of the train riders not "choosing" Amtrak's intercity trains are daily commuters.

Even if intercity and commuter trains were as excellent in this country as the train service is in other countries, or if Amtrak were perfect, commuters still would vastly outnumber intercity travelers.

And, indeed, many U.S. commuters, including those using MARC's Penn Line, ride trains Amtrak runs under contract to transit agencies or which use Amtrak-owned tracks.

Mr. Boardman also ignores the main obstacle to ridership growth on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and on its overnight trains - two categories of service important to Baltimore and widely regarded as federal responsibilities because of the many state lines these trains cross: The failure of the Amtrak board appointed by President Bush to press vigorously for the additional cars and locomotives such growth requires.

I support Mr. Boardman's call for federal matching funds for state intercity passenger rail investment.

But the approach of the Bush administration's 2008 budget would kill intercity passenger rail and much of our commuter service.

This budget includes $100 million for that federal match but cuts Amtrak funding by $500 million - from $1.3 billion this year to $800 million.

However, Congress is likely to reject this destructive approach, if concerned citizens speak up.

Ross B. Capon

Washington

The writer is executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Better fuel economy can promote peace

I want to add my support to The Sun's editorial demanding that America's carmakers increase the miles per gallon of the cars they produce ("A federal standard," editorial, June 24).

There is no technological reason that this could not be done.

I'm old enough to remember the not-so-distant time when the federal government reluctantly ordered American automakers to install seat belts as standard gear on all vehicles.

The automakers resisted, and implementation deadlines were pushed back. But seatbelts finally became standard equipment, saving countless lives.

But perhaps the best reason to vastly increase the miles per gallon of U.S.-built vehicles is patriotism.

If every car and truck sold here used less fuel, the amount of oil we import from unstable, greedy regimes could be cut and eventually eliminated.

Wouldn't it be great to tell President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to take a hike and the Saudi princes to go make sand castles?

By increasing fuel efficiency, we have the power to do this - without invading any more countries.

Yes, there are trade-offs in providing American consumers with the fuel-efficient products that they now crave.

But it could also mean a more secure and peaceful world.

Stephen G. Gunnulfsen

Laytonsville

Workers must adapt to global economy

I have long suspected that columnist Jay Hancock was a closet socialist and his column "Globalization victims need assistance, not 'sorry'" (June 24) did nothing to dispel that thought.

Mr. Hancock laments the plight of the workers at FMC Corp. who have had their jobs displaced by globalization and feels the government should do something to bail them out.

Hello. We are living in a new age in which the manufacturing-based economy has been largely replaced with an economy driven by cyber-technology and the service industry.

Had Mr. Hancock been around in the early 20th century, he might have wept for the plight of the blacksmiths and those who worked for the buggy-whip industry when their jobs were displaced by those in the new factories.

But those who had earned their living working on farms quickly adapted to life based on employment at factories and either took pay cuts or sought training so they could provide for their families by working in manufacturing jobs.

Now manufacturing jobs have largely been replaced by jobs involving computers, and most of us have had to adapt to this new environment.

You either adapt to changing technology or you will be left out in the cold.

Why should enterprises such as FMC Corp. continue to use overpaid workers with expanding fringe benefits to make their products when they can cut their costs dramatically by going offshore?

And, pray tell, why is it the government's responsibility to bail out these obsolete workers who should have seen the changes coming and trained themselves to do new jobs more compatible with current trends in industry?

Old dogs can learn new tricks.

I never even learned to use a computer until I was 56 years old, and I am still employable at the ripe old age of 69 because I saw changes coming and prepared for them.

Other people could do the same thing if they were willing to retrain and face the possibility that to stay employed, they might have to take a smaller salary at another firm.

Gary Ballard

Bel Air

Cautious parents keep kids safe

L. J. Williamson's column "Parents' paranoia takes toll on kids' health, happiness" (Opinion

Commentary, June 18) irks me because she seems to be blaming cautious parents for ruining all the fun for today's children.

I see some flaws in her argument.

First, she calls out a neighbor for not allowing a child to ride his bike around the block alone because of the dangers of lurking strangers, yet the scene she offers in contrast is how she and her son "cheerfully ignore the restriction" from her son's school as they ride together to school each day on their bikes.

Would she allow her son to make that same ride alone? If so, I think that could be considered negligent parenting.

Ms. Williamson argues that "although statistics show that rates of child abduction and sexual abuse have marched steadily downward since the early 1990s, fear of these crimes is at an all-time high."

But might it not be this very increased parental awareness and vigilance that has pushed the number of abuse cases down?

I do think the Internet has created more and more opportunities for exploitation and abuse.

But it also makes more information on preventing abuse available.

Thus parents today should be more aware than ever of the dangers out there, and also of how to avoid them.

There is no reasonable excuse for not protecting children in the best way possible.

I have often heard people say things like, "Well I never did X (wore a bike helmet, rode in a car seat, etc.) as a child, and I turned out just fine."

That always makes me think: But now that that protection is easily available, and works, why take chances and deny your child that extra measure of safety?

Courtney McGee

Towson

Surgeon general is nation's doctor

Michael Tanner's column "Can't we eliminate surgeon general's job?" (Opinion

Commentary, June 19) appears to advocate eliminating the position of U.S. surgeon general.

I think eliminating the position would be exactly the wrong action to take, since it could be deleterious to the health, safety and security of our citizens, the nation and people around the world.

Mr. Tanner expresses frustration at the alleged ineffectiveness and relative anonymity of the U.S. surgeons general. However, if this were a criterion for eliminating a government position, I dare say that most elected and appointed positions would be in jeopardy.

The fact is that the position of surgeon general, and usually not the individual serving in that post, is widely recognized and respected nationally and internationally.

And U.S. surgeons general have occupied increasingly embattled positions as they strive to address scientifically the health issues of the nation and the world in the context of increasingly partisan, ideologically and/or theologically driven political agendas.

The real solution here would be to ensure future surgeons general are nominated by the president from the ranks of the career commissioned officers corps of the U.S. Public Health Service - based on merit, not on political, ideological or theological filters.

This is just the way the surgeons general of the Army, Navy and Air Force are selected and how the U.S. surgeon general was selected - until the position became increasingly politicized and "civilian" political appointees were selected.

This is crucial because the U.S. surgeon general is the doctor of the nation, not the surgeon general of the Democratic Party or Republican Party or the representative of any ideological or theological group.

Hence, just as in the case of U.S. attorneys and other high-level national officials, it is critical that, once he or she is confirmed, the surgeon general must be free of political manipulation, marginalization and attempts to silence that official if his or her scientifically grounded discussions of the nation's health issues conflict with any political agenda.

Dr. Richard Carmona

Tucson, Ariz.

The writer is a former U.S. surgeon general.

Pro-lifers can back war and executions

I never cease to be amazed at the pro-abortionists who suggest that a pro-life stand is at odds with a pro-capital punishment stand ("Pro-life president is just a hypocrite," letters, June 25).

These two positions are completely compatible.

To abort a baby is a deliberate act that takes an innocent human life. This baby has not harmed anyone and does not have the ability to harm anyone.

This is indeed murder.

A criminal sentenced to death has been found guilty, in our courts of law, of an offense that merits the death penalty. He or she has had the benefit of the best defense the defendant can afford and been found guilty by an impartial jury.

The aborted baby is a victim of callous disregard for human life.

The convicted criminal is put to death because his actions merit the death penalty.

The letter writer also suggested that being pro-life and being pro-war are at odds. Again, the writer is trying to compare apples to oranges.

As president, George W. Bush has the responsibility to defend our country.

Every president knows that when he sends men into battle there can be a great loss of life. But he must not shrink from his sworn duty.

I'm glad President Franklin Roosevelt sent our troops to defend our country in World War II, although almost half a million of them gave their lives.

I'm glad President Harry Truman sent troops to defend our way of life in Korea, although I lost a younger brother in that war.

Today, we live in a free country because of such sacrifices.

The cost is high, but we must not shrink back from paying that cost when our freedom is threatened.

So being pro-life and pro-defending our country are totally compatible

James R. Cook

Joppa

Palestinians chose to take path of war

The real choice for the Palestinians was to make peace or to make war ("The Palestinians' choice," Opinion

Commentary, June 22).

Since 1948, their choice has been to make war and stage some of the most despicable acts of terrorism in history.

Today, little Israel is faced with an increasingly hostile and irrational Muslim world.

The Palestinians are on the front line in this conflict, but this conflict must be viewed in a global perspective.

This conflict is entirely the fault of the Muslim world, especially the Palestinians.

For instance, one of the requirements for a peace process to begin has been for the Palestinians to stop terrorism against Israel.

However, since Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza, it has been pounded by hundreds of rockets that have killed and injured its people.

Israel compromised its security and safety by making a gesture of peace toward the Palestinians in Gaza. Now, Gaza has become a giant launching pad and hotbed for Islamic terrorists.

Trusting the Palestinians to do the right thing - what a mistake.

The Palestinians voted in a Hamas-led government in Gaza because they want war. They want the destruction of Israel.

They have never wanted a peaceful solution. They have always made this clear. No spin-doctoring can alter the historical facts.

We need to stop making excuses for the Palestinians.

Their primary targets are Israeli civilians. Whatever weapons they can lay their hands on, some Palestinians will use to murder Israeli civilians.

If they had bigger and more powerful weapons, they would gleefully use them on Israeli men, women and children.

Israel is here to stay, and it is time for the Islamic world - especially the Palestinians - to make peace.

Until such an ideological transformation occurs, there can be no chance for peace.

Gary J. Kaplowitz

Pikesville

Diplomacy is choice needed for peace

Sun readers should be grateful to Saree Makdisi ("The Palestinians' choice," Opinion

Commentary," June 22) and Raphael Israeli for telling it as it is ("Ascent of Hamas may be a blessing," Opinion

Commentary, June 22).

Both of these views need to be heard and debated.

But imagine this: What if the Bush administration had followed up on the hard work of President Bill Clinton and, with robust diplomacy, had spent its years in office working to finally bring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that has plagued the Middle East for more than 50 years to an end?

And what if, again building on the work of the previous administration, it had moved to resolve outstanding grievances with Iran?

Instead, the Bush administration chose to ignore diplomacy and embarked on the ignorant, incompetent Middle East policy its neoconservative supporters craved - one based on the ideology of "creative destruction."

The result has been immeasurable damage to the national security interests of both the United States and Israel.

So is it any wonder that today's Middle East is engulfed in violence, hopelessness and helplessness?

Only with a total reversal of these policies and total commitment to diplomacy by the Bush administration, including unconditional talks with all parties, will there be any hope for an end to further death and destruction.

Fariborz S. Fatemi

McLean, Va.

The writer is a former staff member for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

How can we secure future of Maryland horse racing?

In response to The Sun's front-page article on the decline of horse racing throughout the region ("Slots fail to keep bettors at track," June 24), I would note that it is important to understand that the lifeblood of the entire racing industry - from the horse breeders and the farmlands they sustain, to the owners and trainers and the horse businesses they maintain, to the tracks where racing is conducted, to all the citizens who are employed by and provide services to these entities - is the "handle": i.e., the money wagered on a horse race.

Ever-advancing technology (as well as the expansion of other forms of gaming) has dramatically changed the origin of, and competition for, the handle.

No longer does it come only from patrons who, in days gone by, crowded into the racetrack with their fedoras and double-breasted suits to watch and bet on live racing.

Instead, today, 85 percent or more of the handle comes from those who wager on races simulcast from a multitude of racetracks around the country and the world, as well as those who wager on Maryland races from a multitude of locations around the country and the world; e.g., at another race track, an off-track betting facility or from a telephone or personal computer.

Accordingly, in today's world, it is naive to treat the number of people watching and betting on live racing at a track as a barometer of the benefits that legalizing slot machines would bring to Maryland racing.

Certainly, the history, tradition and impact of horse racing in Maryland are far more storied, far richer and far more entwined with our lives than is the case with racing in Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Yet, as a result of a portion of the slots handle in those states being allocated to racing purses and to awards based upon the jurisdiction in which a horse is conceived or foaled, breeders, owners and trainers are now, quite naturally, following the money.

Thus begins the downward spiral for Maryland racing - as breeders move their operation from a Maryland farm to one of these contiguous states, or send their sires or mares to breed there; owners and trainers race their horses in these states instead of in Maryland for perhaps twice the prize money available here; and the resulting smaller racing fields in Maryland yield a smaller handle here.

The effect is that Maryland racing is being denied a level playing field.

It is self-evident that a level playing field would put Maryland racing where it has been and where it should be - in the first tier of horse racing in the country.

John P. McDaniel

Columbia

The writer is chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission.

As someone who grew up around the great tracks in New York City, I find it is depressing to read the articles on the state of the horse racing industry.

It is clear that creativity is needed. It is clear that, in all aspects of the racing business, the people in charge are making decisions and failing.

I think the only way to improve the racing industry is simple - to challenge its culture.

The state racing commission must withhold all racing dates from the current racetracks and their current owners.

A new racetrack has to be built in a preferred location. The track should be like the Meadowlands in New Jersey, with races run at night and with half or more of the year devoted to thoroughbreds and half of the year (or less) to standardbreds (harness horses).

We should say goodbye to the days when track owners and management wait around for a huge payout while the state subsidizes everything.

Stuart Tiegel

Havre de Grace

The writer is former supervisor of the Maryland Horsemen's Counseling Program.

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