SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Spending cuts pose a threat to citizens

While all citizens should support efforts to increase government efficiency, The Sun's editorial calling for deeper cuts in current programs ("Not deep enough," July 12) seems to ignore a critically important fact: According to the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, Maryland ranked 48th among the 50 states in total state and local government revenues as a percentage of income in 2004.

We may be a wealthy state (Maryland is No. 2 in the nation in median household income, according to the most recent figures) but we are also a relatively low-tax, small-government state.

And some of the specific cuts proposed by The Sun would clearly move Maryland backward instead of forward.

Legislative scholarships may be a bad idea, but eliminating them to save $11 million rather than transferring the funds to other student aid programs may deprive 1,000 or more young people of the opportunity to go to college.

And would freezing low state salaries make it easier or harder for agencies to attract and retain the talent required to deliver needed services efficiently and effectively?

Plus The Sun proposes cutting aid to local governments, which is a recipe for cost-shifting rather than cost-cutting.

The real lesson of The Sun's editorial is that it is increasingly difficult to cut state spending without doing real harm to ourselves and our fellow citizens.

In the end, solving the state fiscal crisis may come down to one simple question: Do we love Maryland more than we hate taxes?

Matthew Weinstein

Baltimore

The writer is Baltimore region director for Progressive Maryland.

Lust for Iraq's oil created quagmire

Have you ever wondered how a group of intelligent, accomplished people, all of whom have college degrees, wear expensive clothes, ride to their offices in chauffeur-driven limousines, live in big houses in nice neighborhoods, fly on jets at taxpayers' expense, etc., could have led this nation into the morass known as the Iraq war ("The long, hard haul from Iraq," July 15)?

Of course, I'm thinking of people named George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, Donald H. Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, George J. Tenet and their friends in Congress and the Pentagon.

My own wondering has led me to conclude that they were driven into this war by an over-the-top lust for Iraqi oil that took over their collective minds.

There was Saddam Hussein, sitting atop the world's second-largest oil reserve, and too weak to protect it from a frontal assault by the U.S. military establishment, which the above-named individuals controlled.

Hiding their real motive from the American people by conjuring up images of weapons of mass destruction and mushroom clouds, falsely linking Mr. Hussein to the 9/11 attacks and playing up Mr. Hussein's real transgressions against his own people, they conspired to try to grab Iraq's oil for the United States, specifically for their corporate oil giant friends.

The United States, Iraq and the world will be suffering the consequences of these people's unconstrained lust for oil for many decades.

Herman M. Heyn

Baltimore

Fundamentalism imperils the peace

Cal Thomas treads on shaky ground when he attacks Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid for the presidency on the basis of her interpretation of the Bible ("Clinton rewrites the Good Book," Opinion

Commentary, July 11).

In putting her on the spot for speaking of her faith, Mr. Thomas reveals the deeply fundamentalist Christian belief system to which he subscribes.

Is it possible that Mr. Thomas is somehow blind to the reality that it is a similar fundamentalist brand of religion that has produced suicide bombers in nations dominated by a basically peaceful Islamic religion, as well as terrorist attacks throughout the whole world?

To America's shame, the Bush administration has demonstrated what can happen when fundamentalist leadership of any stripe imposes its religious beliefs on the people of a free nation, crossing the line that separates church and state and trampling upon freedom of religion along with other constitutional rights of a true democracy.

Elizabeth W. Goldsborough

Owings Mills

Literalists respect Scripture's message

From the letters that appeared in The Sun on Tuesday ("Thomas' theology distorts Good Book" and "Free to heed God in different ways," letters, July 17) in response to Cal Thomas' column "Clinton rewrites the Good Book" (Opinion

Commentary, July 11), it is obvious to me that many people have not grasped the ideals of a true fundamentalist.

Even though the term "fundamentalist" generally appears in the media as a negative reference to Christian fundamentalists or Islamic fundamentalists, the term itself focuses on individuals who take a very strict view of the basic tenets of a faith.

A fundamentalist will take the expression by Jesus, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me," and believe Jesus is specifically stating that there is no other means to heaven except by faith in Him.

Tolerance for other beliefs should be advocated in our democratic society. But an individual intent on doing a work of faith, as Mr. Thomas is in his column, should also be understood and tolerated.

Works-based salvation is an erroneous teaching as it treats salvation (getting to heaven) as a result of human efforts (works).

As Christians, we are told in the Book of James that "faith without works is dead."

This does not mean that our salvation comes from good intentions, but that our faith will be brought alive by living out its tenets through efforts (works) that back it up.

I believe Mr. Thomas' column was an example of living out that faith.

Phillip A. Kinney

Catonsville

Anti-Hindu protest rooted in ignorance

The article "Hindu clergyman offers Senate prayer; 3 protesters are arrested" (July 14) described how Rajan Zed from the Hindu temple in Reno, Nev., responding to an invitation from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, made history by being the first Hindu to pray at one of the Senate's opening sessions.

But before Mr. Zed started to say his prayer, three protesters - "Christians and patriots," as one of them said - shouted in outrage that Mr. Zed's presence in the Senate was an "abomination." They were arrested for disrupting Congress and taken away.

Apparently, the Mississippi-based American Family Association, disturbed that Mr. Zed would be invoking a non-monotheistic god, had urged its members to protest.

Apart from being utterly ridiculous, the whole matter is an example of the appalling ignorance about world religions that pervades the American populace.

This ignorance is often punctuated by arrogance and religious intolerance.

Hinduism is as old as Indian civilization itself.

The Hindus, like monotheistic Christians and Muslims, acknowledge only one all-powerful, omniscient God.

But for Hindus, there are many paths to this all-encompassing creator. Worshiping stones, stars, the sun and the moon are acceptable ways, because, after all, in every part of nature - in rocks, streams and even in man-made statues - an ecstatic devotee can sense the omnipresence of the Supreme God.

Indeed, of all the world's religions, Hinduism comes closest to the American way of thinking and being.

Americans hate authoritarianism. Hinduism doesn't assert itself through authoritarian rules and regulations.

Americans love choices. In Hinduism, there are many ways to attain salvation: through transcendental mediation, yoga, worship of a higher spirit without face or form, or loving and humble submission of oneself to a stone, clay or brass statue of Shiva or Vishnu.

A student of Hinduism who understands the Upanishads and the Vedas can comfortably remain a Hindu and accept Jesus as another avatar of God.

Judging by the Senate protesters, apparently some Christians are not allowed to think the same way about the Hindu pantheon of gods.

This same mindset recently induced the pope to declare the Catholic Church the only true church ("Pontiff asserts Catholic primacy," July 11).

What a pity. If the Jesus Christ who mingled with prostitutes and commoners were around today, he would probably be astonished that a religion in His name is a refuge for the dogmatic.

Usha Nellore

Bel Air

Lousy train service is a national shame

Thank you for covering the plight of MARC commuters ("Commuters, on your MARC, get set - go, stop," July 12).

I was on the 8:10 a.m. MARC train that day, and I think this incident - which caused it to take me four hours to get from my home in Baltimore to my office in Washington - is unforgivable.

And the explanations offered by MARC officials make no sense.

As someone who has traveled on trains throughout Europe, I can assure you the trains there don't stop running when the wind blows.

MARC trains are chronically late, they take too long (an hourlong trip from Washington to Baltimore is MARC's idea of "express service") and they break down with shocking regularity. And that's on a good week.

I can't imagine the chaos that would ensue if, God forbid, those trains were ever the target of the kind of terrorist attack that occurred in Madrid.

We often can't run competent and reliable train service when the wind blows or when it rains or when it's hot - imagine the effect of a bomb.

Our train service should be a matter of national shame and embarrassment.

With the endless billions of dollars this government has wasted in Iraq, we could have built maglev (magnetic levitation) train service up and down the East Coast.

If you think things are bad now, wait until the region gets the 40,000 new jobs coming to Maryland under the military's base realignment and closure plan.

We are long overdue for a real investment in U.S. infrastructure.

Until that happens, suckers like me who try to do the right thing by taking mass transit will continue to suffer.

Kevin Naff

Baltimore

Coast Guard abuses rights of mariners

Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry's letter "Coast Guard cases protect the public" (June 30), which challenged The Sun's article "Justice capsized" (June 24), missed an essential point.

Admiral Landry defends the Coast Guard's administrative law system against the allegations in the article simply by citing an array of statistics. But she neglected to mention a principle fundamental of American society - justice.

America's merchant mariners have long served with our armed forces.

Today, merchant mariners serve in the conflict in the Middle East. They also quickly mobilized to evacuate thousands from Manhattan following the attack on the World Trade Center. They provided relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Like all other Americans, our nation's merchant mariners expect that public officials will respect their rights.

By pointing out that the Coast Guard has ruined the careers of numerous mariners through an arrogant abuse of authority, the article raises serious ethical and legal questions.

When an administrative law judge, writing in a sworn affidavit, can say that the "hearing didn't make any difference ... the Coast Guard was going to win," the service's respect for the constitutional rights all Americans enjoy is called into question.

I strongly encourage Rep. Elijah E. Cummings to conduct a thorough investigation into the abuses The Sun described and hold those responsible to account ("Cummings questions maritime fairness," June 25).

Our mariners have earned it. Our nation deserves no less.

Timothy A. Brown

Linthicum Heights

The writer is president of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots.

Helmets aren't key to cyclists' safety

Michael Dresser's column "Motorcycle safety isn't just the car's obligation" (July 9) questions the credentials of ABATE (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments) of Maryland to speak about motorcycle safety.

The column implies that ABATE is concerned only with repeal of the state's mandatory helmet use law. It cherry-picks a statistic that backs the writer's position (ignoring a wealth of other available data) and throws out the old bone "society bears the cost" of caring for these inconsiderate louts once they've cracked their skulls on the pavement. As if that weren't enough, Mr. Dresser essentially accuses ABATE of encouraging drunken driving because of the locations of our chapters' meeting places.

However, although motorcycle fatalities have increased over the past decade, the number of new registrations and the number of motorcycle miles driven have by far outpaced that increase.

Further, those states experiencing the biggest increases tend to be those that have enacted (or re-enacted) mandatory helmet use for all riders.

And the largest cause of those fatalities is collisions with cars when the motorcyclist is not at fault.

Practically every week, someone driving a car fails to see me on my bike and encroaches on my lane.

It's only my awareness of their inattention that keeps me out of trouble.

Yet despite being presented with overwhelming evidence of the carnage these drivers are inflicting on the legal motorcycling population of this state, the General Assembly has refused to enact legislation that would increase the maximum fine for a right of way violation beyond $75.

Steve Cripps

Sharpsburg

The writer is a member of ABATE of Maryland.

The hot dog wrap began at Ballow's

Laura Vozzella (one of my favorite columnists) seems to be suggesting in her column "It's meat on the outside AND meat on the inside" (July 15) that the hot dog wrapped in bologna on a roll was the creation of Attman's Deli (one of my favorite delis).

It's a nice sentiment, given Attman's place in the romantic history of Jewish delis - only it's not true.

Barry Kessler, former curator of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, in his study of Jewish delicatessens, wrote in 1993 in the magazine of the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland, Generations, that it was Nathan Ballow who can take credit for the heady concoction:

"Nathan Ballow's hot dog and bologna combination entered the world of the Baltimore delicatessen by the mid-1930s. Joe Mandell, Ballow's son-in-law, remembered how it happened: In the mornings, the counterman would cut off a few slices of bologna to make the end look fresh, and once someone threw some of the slices on the griddle with some hot dogs and tried the combination, and it was an enormous success."

"It remains a deli staple to this day."

You bet.

Gilbert Sandler

Baltimore

The writer is an author and local historian.

A media-created crime fixation?

How shocking is it to any Sun reader that Baltimore citizens are "obsessed" with crime ("City seems 'obsessed' with crime," July 15)? Why wouldn't we be, considering the beating the city has taken from the media in recent months?

I think it's wholly irresponsible of both the TV news and the print media to sensationalize the city's murder rate the way it has been doing.

I have lived in Baltimore now for 20 years and often have lived in less-than-desirable neighborhoods.

We in the city absolutely have problems that need to be dealt with - the homicide rate is one of them, and elected officials who seem out of ideas are another.

But is it possible that The Sun adds fuel to the fire with headlines such as "The battle for Baltimore's future" and other grim portraits of small slices of the city?

The Sun had it right last month when it published an editorial that broke down the homicide rate with respect to how many of them involved the drug trade and others ("Deadlier for whom?" June 10).

Clearly, the problem here is drugs and drug-dealing - and how ineffectively the city has dealt with those issues.

But The Sun's sensationalistic headlines are causing additional stress on average citizens while doing little to change their daily lives or develop ideas to solve the problems reported.

Steven Parke

Baltimore

The Sun's article "City seems 'obsessed' with crime" provided some really valuable information, especially in the charts that ran with it.

According to these graphics, only 21 percent of city residents thought crime was a very serious problem in their neighborhood. Only 28 percent had thought about leaving the city because of crime. Yet it seemed that it was mostly those who held less common viewpoints who were quoted in the article.

However, the constant barrage of scary media reports about crime in the city is taking its toll.

According to the poll's results, 46 percent of respondents have changed the way they go about their daily lives because of fear of crime, and 82 percent are concerned that crime is hurting the city economically.

I used to get a thrill from the looks of horror I would get when I told people I lived in Charles North, only half a block from North Avenue.

Now people react as if I live in an up-and-coming neighborhood that they themselves frequent to see a movie or a play and to dine at a trendy restaurant.

I don't think there is anything wrong with my neighborhood that won't be helped by the planned construction of condos, shops, restaurants, offices and parking structures and the tax revenue and concerned citizens with their eyes on our streets that they will bring.

But count me among the 82 percent concerned that the constant media reports about the crime rate are hurting the city economically.

Michael Deets

Baltimore

The writer is secretary of the Charles North Community Association and chairman of the Midtown Community Benefits District.

I was somewhat amazed at the tone of Sunday's article on crime in Baltimore - which seemed to imply that concern about crime in the city is higher than it should be because only a minority of people know someone who was the victim of a violent crime.

I happen to be in the "minority" after one of my neighbors was held up at gunpoint outside her home a couple of months ago.

And what troubles me most is that there are only so many times that you can hear of neighbors being held up, or have your car vandalized, or have someone enter your house to steal your TV or your backyard to take the barbecue, or have a friend see a group of youths throwing stones at and taunting an elderly woman at a bus stop, or witness a group of youths sticking their fingers in the food of outdoor diners as they walk past, etc., before you have to ask yourself: What am I doing living among people who have so little respect for other people and property?

As a city homeowner, with many friends in the city, the answer I am beginning to hear is: It is time to leave the city.

Much of the crime I am seeing and hearing about may be nonviolent, but that does not mean it won't drive those who can leave out of the city - and that would include many of the property-tax-paying, higher-earning folks the city desperately needs.

Would the City Council and the mayor please wake up and get a handle on what is going on in the city?

Alison Wakelin

Baltimore

When The Sun suggests that the "City seems 'obsessed' with crime," what exactly is it referring to as the city?

Are people who reside in Pikesville or Towson, for example, feeling smug, happy or uninvolved because they live a few feet from the survey area?

It is time for The Sun to stop treating Baltimore, its residents and its problems as if the city were a separate colony - and start recognizing the city's true position as the core of a metropolitan area.

It is a little hypocritical and paradoxical that in this global world economy, we still find it important to segment ourselves locally.

This false idea may help to sell newspapers, but it really does nothing to solve the crime problem, which does not stop at the city line.

If people in the city do not feel safe, the whole metropolitan area is not safe, either.

Carl Hyman

Baltimore

The writer is a former president of the Tuscany-Canterbury Neighborhood Association.

I'm tired of receiving frantic phone calls from my mother in Alabama who is worried that her daughter will be abducted, robbed and shot. But as much as I view her fears as unrealistic and unwarranted, I completely understand why she harbors them.

Reading "City seems 'obsessed' with crime" reminded me of why I think the media's reporting about crime is responsible for creating the unrealistic view of crime in our city.

After all, one must see the irony of the same publication responsible for putting the city's murder toll on the front page of the daily Maryland section writing an article which suggests to readers that they have a vastly exaggerated view of crime in Baltimore.

And when it seems as if nearly every late-night news show starts with a murder and goes on to talk about neighborhood fires and municipal corruption, it's no wonder Baltimore residents feel unsafe.

I would never presume to say crime in our city isn't a problem. But why should anyone be surprised that city residents - and the rest of the world - see crime in Baltimore as an even worse problem than it is?

After all, they hardly ever hear about anything else.

So much air time and print is devoted to informing us of crimes that have happened that no one ever has a chance to hear about the good things that are happening nearby.

And, believe it or not, good things actually are happening every day.

At least, I assume that they are - based on the news, I'd never know.

Lauren Glenn Manfuso

Baltimore

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