SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Demolitions didn't cause crime to spike

We all want to stop the killing on Baltimore's streets. But effective crimefighting strategies must be grounded in sound data about city neighborhoods, not urban myths, stereotypes or scapegoats.

It was distressing, therefore, to read that city Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm is devising crimefighting strategies based on one of the biggest urban myths of the past decade ("Conversations with two prominent officials about crime in Baltimore," July 1).

"Clearly when we imploded the [public housing] high-rises on east side/west side, they [public housing tenants] went to Northeast Baltimore," Mr. Hamm is quoted as saying. "And clearly we have more calls for service in Northeast Baltimore, because that's where those people went."

But a check of the relocation data would show that only a very small number of the displaced families relocated to Northeast Baltimore when the high-rises were demolished.

Roughly two-thirds were simply transferred to other public housing projects.

Only one-third received vouchers to move to other neighborhoods, and most of these were used in the areas where poor families were already living - in East and West Baltimore, Patterson Park and Cherry Hill.

Moreover, the last of the high-rises was imploded in winter 2001. Therefore, the connection of those demolitions to today's crime statistics is remote.

Mr. Hamm is on the mark when he points to more recent events, including the infiltration of gangs into the city, to explain the spike in shootings.

But we also need to focus on the fundamental unchanged reality of crushing joblessness, poverty and despair in "the other Baltimore" if we want to get a handle on the unacceptable level of violence on our streets.

And stigmatizing and scapegoating a group of citizens already vulnerable to bias and stereotypes does not help.

Barbara Samuels

Baltimore

The writer is managing attorney for fair housing issues for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Razing apartments leaves poor in lurch

For the sixth time in 10 years, Baltimore County is demonstrating its preference for new development and parks over low-income housing ("Balto. Co. seeks to condemn Dundalk apartment buildings," June 27).

The county's attempt to condemn the nine buildings in Dundalk's Yorkway neighborhood is merely the latest act in what appears to be a campaign to eliminate low-income housing from the eastern part of the county.

While this may address the blight and crime in one area, it also increases homelessness and forces individuals and families who need affordable housing to relocate - often to shelters.

In 1996, Baltimore County razed the Village of Tall Trees and began the process of turning it into a public park.

Next was Riverdale Village, a privately owned complex of 1,140 units. The Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on 540 of these units, and the complex was torn down and - with the county's help - sold to a developer, who then built 175 single-family homes on the land.

Tidewater Village, in nearby Middle River, was next to go - it is now Eastern Regional Park.

Then came the 18-acre Kingsley Park, which had been the site of 315 low-income apartments. It was acquired by the county for $2.2 million in 2004 and razed in 2005.

Where did the people who lived in there complexes go?

While there is no clear way to track those who used to occupy these complexes, we can see indicators of a persistent affordable-housing crisis in Baltimore County.

The Maryland Office of Transitional Services reports that the county's bed-nights (i.e., the number of nights a shelter bed is filled by a person) has been steadily increasing.

In fiscal year 2004, Baltimore County had 65,933 bed-nights.

By fiscal 2005, that number had climbed to 104,374. And for fiscal year 2006, the county had 149,526 bed-nights.

It is true that much of the destroyed housing was antiquated, World War II-era buildings in need of repair.

Still, the razing of these buildings amounts to hundreds of low-income housing units lost to development, with not one penny invested in replacement units.

Lauren Siegel

Baltimore

The writer is a social worker and a longtime housing activist.

Signs make choices on fish less murky

While the wealth of information on the pros and cons of eating seafood complicated Rob Kasper's ability to come to a clear conclusion ("Murky waters," June 27), most consumers are faced with the opposite problem at the grocery store: a lack of information.

This can be particularly dangerous because of the potential health risks posed by mercury contamination.

Mercury is a toxic chemical that can cause neurological damage to a developing fetus or young child.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advised women of childbearing age and kids to avoid eating swordfish, tilefish, shark and king mackerel because of the high mercury content in these fish and to limit consumption of albacore tuna and tuna steaks to 6 ounces per week.

Unfortunately, most people are still unaware of the risks of fish with high levels of mercury and may purchase them without a second thought.

One way to raise public awareness about seafood contamination is for grocery stores to post the FDA's advice at their seafood counters.

This would give seafood consumers the information they need where they most need it: at the point of purchase.

Many stores have made the posting of such signs a company policy, but others, such as Giant Food Inc., have refused to take this step to protect customers.

Posting signs is easy and inexpensive, and it can help consumers make informed choices and avoid mercury risks.

Jackie Savitz

Washington

The writer is director of the Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination for Oceana, a nonprofit group working to conserve the oceans.

Taxing gas-guzzlers raises funds fairly

What a refreshing change to read the editorial summarizing Atwood Collins III's proposal to deal with the impending budget crisis ("Getting there: A regional challenge," June 24).

And what could be the least popular of Mr. Collins' proposals could also have the greatest benefit.

Raising the state's gasoline tax would rankle voters, especially after the recent round of gas price increases.

But what we drive and where we drive are matters of some choice.

And if Maryland were to tax the owners of expensive gas-guzzlers the most, a significant increase in gas taxes might put the burden of funding our state's budget shortfall on those who can most afford it (unlike an increased sales tax, which would put an unfair burden on those least able to bear it - the poor and the elderly).

It might also encourage more Marylanders to dump the gas-guzzlers and thereby decrease demand for gas and carbon emissions at the same time.

Increasing the auto sales tax is another creative idea - one that would boost oil conservation and other ecological concerns.

Why not take the next logical step - and link the state titling tax to EPA estimates of the vehicle's city gas mileage rate?

Vehicles rated above 50 miles per gallon might be taxed at the current 5 percent; those in a 40 mpg class might pay a 6 percent titling fee; 30 mpg might pay 7 percent; and so on.

This tax structure would further discourage the purchase of gas-guzzlers and reward responsible consumer choices.

And finally, here's one more idea we haven't heard enough about: Why not build an efficient and dependable train system instead of the Intercounty Connector, a road that will increase pollution, gas consumption, road rage and traffic jams?

It's time for some creative thinking in Annapolis.

David Dougherty

Timonium

Border bill backers truly 'unreasonable'

The Sun's editorial "Resentment wins, again" (June 29) accuses opponents of immigration "reform" of having "unreasonable expectations."

I disagree. I believe that our senators - Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin - and other proponents of the bill were the ones with unreasonable expectations.

They expected the public to support a massive bill that was written in back rooms, was given no hearings where it would have been subjected to questions and analysis and was provided to members of the Senate only hours before they were supposed to start debate on it and only days before they were to vote on it.

We were asked to support a bill that would have added a huge bureaucracy to manage such tasks as documentation, background-checking, database generation and document verification for 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens.

And we were asked to trust that our bureaucrats could accomplish all of this in spite of the fact that the record is replete with the failures of our government agencies, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response to Hurricane Katrina to the care of veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the passport processing fiasco, huge backlogs in processing legal immigrants, etc.

We were asked to support a bill that would have legalized an unknown number of illegal immigrants at a completely unknown cost, short-term and long-term.

And, after decades of our government's failure to enforce existing immigration laws, which has created the current crisis, we were asked to trust that this time, the government would really get serious about enforcing the law.

I would call these "unreasonable expectations."

John F. Billing

Ocean Pines

Delaware leads way in punishing abuse

Recently, the Delaware legislature sent a message to victims of child sexual abuse: "We understand your pain and anguish, and we support you in your attempt to seek retribution."

A bill was approved that eliminates the two-year civil statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse and provides a two-year window during which claims previously barred by the statute of limitations can be filed - opening the courthouse door to victims unable to seek justice because the statute of limitations had expired.

Institutions that allowed the abuse to occur through gross negligence could also be sued.

This bill passed both houses unanimously. Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner has indicated that she will sign it.

This bill also sends a message to perpetrators of abuse and to those who hide them: "Your behavior is unacceptable, and you will pay a high price for your crime - even if you thought you had gotten away with it by intimidating your victim."

I applaud the Delaware legislature for understanding the issue and taking a stand to protect the state's children.

It is time for Maryland also to take a stand for our children and enact similar legislation.

We need to do so to protect our children, and we owe it to victims of earlier acts of abuse who could not come forward in the past.

David Lorenz

Bowie

The writer is a member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Investing in young pays big dividends

Kudos to Gregory Kane for highlighting the importance of high-quality early child care and education ("Preschool lessons are leg up on life," June 23).

Research in economics and education confirms the long-term benefits of investing in the very young.

Children who attend high-quality programs are likely to experience many gains - e.g., higher rates of high school graduation, college attendance and income.

And society benefits, too, as these children are less likely to require special education, to commit crimes and to need social services that cost the state millions each year.

The business community, concerned about access to a skilled work force and robust customer base, is also aware of the importance of high-quality programs.

James J. Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, speaks in terms the business community understands when he says that returns on human capital investments are greatest for the young.

Mr. Heckman bases this statement on the findings of numerous studies that confirm the long-term benefits of high-quality early care and education. For instance, one respected study followed disadvantaged children in a Michigan program from the time they were in preschool to age 40. Researchers found that for every dollar invested in this high-quality preschool program, there was a return of $17.

Mr. Heckman concludes that for policymakers looking for the best use of resources, the answer is to invest in the very young.

We couldn't agree more, and are proud that Maryland is in the forefront of supporting and expanding high-quality programs for young children.

Sandra J. Skolnik J. Michael Riley Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, the executive director and the board president of the Maryland Committee for Children.

Escalating violence won't end Iraq war

In her column "Quick pullout from Iraq, however tempting, would spell disaster" (Opinion

Commentary, June 26), Trudy Rubin asks urgently, "What do we do now?"

What we shouldn't do is continue the bloodshed that has resulted from the Bush administration's occupation of Iraq.

Ms. Rubin states that we should give the new U.S. military strategy a chance. But a military solution has not worked - indeed, for more than four years, it has only exacerbated an explosive situation. Moreover, the "new strategy" of a troop surge - i.e., escalating the violence in this unfortunate region - will only continue to destabilize the region and undermine any hopes for peace and reconciliation.

What is needed instead is intensive diplomacy and U.S. participation in a regional peace process involving talks with all of Iraq's neighbors, as well as U.S. financial support and other work to stabilize and rebuild this shattered country.

Thanks to our Congress and the "war president," there are now billions available to support the continuation of the war in Iraq.

Surely, there must be the money to provide body armor and other support to protect the troops and begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from this bloody civil war.

Lee Lears

Annapolis

Stem cell research isn't enemy of life

The writer of the letter "President protects rights of the unborn" (June 29) admonishes us to not waste energy on anti-life rhetoric and rancor, while expressing thanks for the president's moral courage.

In this regard, one must weigh the morality of the president's war in Iraq, which has killed tens of thousands of humans, against the ethical use of in vitro fertilized embryos - which are destined for disposal - to further our understanding of human embryonic stem cells for regenerative medicine.

The moral issue and choice at hand is not whether to protect the rights of the unborn or embryonic stem cell research. Rather, it is whether to continue to discard frozen embryos or to use them for research.

And it is incorrect to claim, as the letter writer does, that scientists "have successfully converted adult mice skin cells into cells identical to embryonic stem cells," particularly since one of the papers on artificial embryonic stem cells recently published in the journal Nature clearly warned that the artificial creation of such stem cells with the current approach has triggered cancer in mice generated from these cells.

Let's open the door for the ethical use of in vitro fertilized embryos, rather than standing in the way of waiting patients while using rhetoric about life to create and propagate confusion.

Chi V. Dang

Baltimore

The writer is vice dean for research at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Uninsured millions also await health care

Grace-Marie Turner's enthusiastic defense of the American medical system was misleading on many points ("Look at health data, not propaganda," Opinion

Commentary, June 29).

She claimed that in government-run health systems, unlike in this country, the bureaucrats and politicians decide which new procedures and medicines will be available.

In fact, the U.S. government has review panels that determine which new procedures and medicines will be covered by Medicare.

For the most part, private insurers follow those Medicare coverage decisions in determining what procedures they will cover. The end result is very much the same as in government-run systems.

She claims that more than 800,000 Canadians are in the queue for medical procedures.

Do we not have many people waiting for transplants? And when I have had necessary but not critical medical procedures, I have had to wait several months for the procedure, as do most people.

Are we not "in the queue" for care?

Ms. Turner notes that from 1997 to 1999, 100 drugs were introduced in America and only 43 became available in Canada.

But how many of these were not new drugs but only slightly revised formularies created only to allow the drug company to maintain its patent longer?

She claims that budget shortages force the British health system to cancel as many as 100,000 operations a year.

But most, if not nearly all, of these are elective surgeries. No critical surgery is postponed.

Anyone who wants an elective surgery is free to go outside the system and pay to have it done.

And most such elective surgeries are not covered by insurers in this country either.

Don Forgione

Ellicott City

The writer is a program analyst for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Grace-Marie Turner has an interesting take on Michael Moore's criticisms of the U.S. health care industry.

If I may paraphrase her argument, it would go something like this: "On the Titanic, lifeboats made by free-market sources were shown to be much more effective than those made by socialized, government-run industries."

Of course that ignores the fact that in the case of the U.S. health care system, for some of the passengers, the choice is limited to no lifeboat at all.

And that is the underlying flaw in her argument: All of her assertions about the quality of U.S. health care should include the phrase "for those who can afford health care."

But beyond a casual, almost flippant note that more should be done to improve access to health care, she ignores this problem.

Sure, if you can afford care, short waiting periods and high survival rates are good. But if you can't afford care, what difference do they make?

And if you can't afford to get care, what difference does it make what the survival rate for various treatments is?

Your survival rate will be zero percent.

John Robinson

Baltimore

Grace-Marie Turner cites some data to show that the U.S. health care system offers more speedy service and better access to innovative care and better cancer care than government-run health systems do. However, there are some other facts readers should consider.

What she calls "speedy" access to care in this country does not benefit the 44 million uninsured people in this country.

Often the uninsured must wait until they are so sick that they require emergency treatment before they get any care.

And "speedy" service is one thing, but getting insurers to pay for the service is another.

Numerous studies have documented insurance companies' denials of payment for medically necessary services.

Some years ago, I worked with health ministers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the United States to compare how patients fared from 17 different medical conditions, including several types of cancer.

We found that each of the five countries did the best on at least one of the 17 indicators and worst on at least one indicator, and none of the five countries was consistently the best or the worst.

For me, this was quite surprising, given that the United States spends approximately twice as much on health care per capita as these other countries.

Gerard F. Anderson

Baltimore

The writer is a professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Grace-Marie Turner defends the American health care system largely by repeating the insurance industry line that patients must wait for necessary medical services in other systems such as the Canadian single-payer system, while Americans need not wait.

However, there is no empirical evidence that Canadians wait an unreasonably long period of time for necessary medical services.

More fundamentally, Ms. Turner fails to note that the reason Americans get in to see the doctor more quickly for elective services is that the line for those services in the United States is shorter than it is in Canada, precisely because those who cannot afford to pay often can't get in line in the first place.

All societies allocate health care.

Progressive societies such as Canada, Britain, France and, yes, Cuba allocate it by guaranteeing a certain basic level of care to all residents, with the cost of such a system being that sometimes people need to wait to receive elective services if demand exceeds supply.

The United States avoids that problem by allocating health care according to ability to pay rather than by severity of medical condition - if you can pay, you can get your sprained ankle treated today; if you can't pay, your cancer often goes untreated.

Ms. Turner fails to note that the United States, no less than any other society, makes choices about the allocation of health care.

But unlike societies that care about the health of their people, the United States does so in a blatantly inequitable and inhumane manner.

Sheldon H. Laskin

Baltimore

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