SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Incomplete data discredit tax report

A recent report from the state comptroller's office reviewed tax payments by the state's largest corporations ("Taxes avoided by many Md. firms," July 24). But the report is misleading because it lacks important disclaimers and attempts to draw conclusions based on data from an incomplete tax year.

When the state comptroller's office similarly divulged the names and tax information of Maryland businesses in 2004 and 2005 for the 2001-2003 tax years, the office stated in cover letters to those reports that it was unable to match related corporate entities from their data system and, therefore, "this information most likely does not provide a full picture of the corporate income taxes paid by many 'businesses' as they are commonly perceived."

No such disclaimer was included with this year's report.

Even more troubling is the fact that this year's report was based on preliminary data for tax year 2005, even though the report's cover page acknowledges that "tax year 2005 information remains incomplete, as returns for many corporations whose tax year begins after July 1 are not yet due."

What facts do we know?

We know that Maryland has collected record amounts of corporate income taxes in recent years, with the $820 million received in fiscal year 2006 more than double the receipts from just three years earlier.

We also know that Maryland's corporate income tax system is consistent with that used by most other states.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce supports state Comptroller Peter Franchot's rigorous enforcement of Maryland's tax laws.

But before we change those laws, let's base tax policy on facts, not conjecture.

Kathy Snyder

Annapolis

The writer is president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Indifferent citizens trash our waterways

It was fitting that on the same day The Sun ran an article about how plastic bottle recycling has dropped off, I chose to take a run along the Gwynns Falls bike trail ("Recycling of plastic bottles flags," July 29).

An afternoon shower forced me to seek shelter under a covered bridge along the trail near Leon Day Park, as the Gwynns Falls swelled quickly because of a surge of storm run-off from Northwest Baltimore and Northwest Baltimore County.

I watched in dismay as thousands (and I do mean thousands) of plastic bottles, styrofoam cups and containers, along with a couple of basketballs and tons of detritus swept down toward the Middle Branch and Inner Harbor.

I am a reporter (for WYPR) and therefore it is unsavory for me to advocate any particular remedy to this ecological nightmare playing itself out whenever the heavens open up.

But a sign along the trail led me to understand a simple point: It noted that one out of 20 Marylanders lives along the Gwynns Falls drainage basin.

Clearly, far too many of those 280,000 or so people don't give a damn about the waterway or the harbor or Chesapeake Bay.

Bob Constantini

Baltimore

City's death toll is a shocking failure

Anne E. Brodsky's column "Lessons in a king's death" (Opinion

Commentary, July 29) cited a report from the Associated Press that as of the end of June, 178 civilians had been killed by insurgents this year in Afghanistan.

The Maryland section of The Sun also reported that as of July 29 there had been 181 homicides in Baltimore this year.

Does this statistic shock the citizens of our city? It should.

It is shamefully amazing that the number of deaths in the city is on par with the number of deaths caused by the insurgents in a war-torn nation.

The mayor and the city police department should be ashamed of themselves for their lack of success in preventing this tragic death toll.

If these figures are not a wake-up call to Mayor Sheila Dixon and our new police chief, then they should both offer their resignations and let someone who has the wherewithal, ideas and leadership ability to drive these numbers down take over.

And until and unless the "no-snitching" culture which dominates some city communities is changed, these neighborhoods will continue to suffer high crime rates (including high homicides rates) in spite of the best efforts of the city and the police.

This problem is the community's responsibility as well as that of the city government.

Rich Scanlan

Baltimore

Focus on education to really curb crime

There is a glaring disparity between what Baltimoreans say they want most for the city and what the city really needs.

The Sun poll reported in "City seems 'obsessed' with crime" (July 15) found that 68 percent of residents surveyed feel crime "is the most important issue or challenge facing the city today," compared with only 16 percent who voiced the same concern over education.

These findings demand an awakening.

Fighting crime has become our consuming focus.

Mayor Sheila Dixon has emphasized public exposure of those who commit gun crimes. ("Shining a light on gun offenses," July 23) But wouldn't this only further glamorize gun violence?

And as we focus on violence, especially gun violence, often even holding it up as entertainment, we often ignore a more grievous social ill -- our failure to create the education and recreation opportunities children need.

Because of this failure, we are, in effect, promoting crime.

When educating and nurturing our children comes first, violence and crime will decrease.

We must allow our children and youth to experience the excitement of life through state-of-the-art schools and recreation centers.

Let's put the bright and beautiful faces of our children in the spotlight and report their successes, their triumphs, their achievements.

Then we'll see a new face for the city of Baltimore.

Theresa Reuter

Fallston

The writer is a former city resident and former vice president of the Penn-Lucy Community Association.

Mentoring puts kids on right path

For more than 15 years, the Maryland Mentoring Partnership has been promoting high-quality, sustainable mentoring programs ("Alonso sees need for mentors," July 21).

We know first-hand how mentoring can change the trajectory of a young person's life.

Indeed, we have volumes of stories that suggest that mentoring has contributed to the success of countless celebrities, government officials, athletes, scholars and community leaders.

And we have not only good stories but research to back up this claim.

A 2000 study of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program published by Public/Private Ventures found that youths who were mentored were 52 percent less likely to skip school, 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs and more confident about their school work.

Local mentoring programs also demonstrate this effect.

Legg Mason Inc. started a mentoring program with 25 eighth graders in 1998; 23 of them graduated high school and continued on to college.

Since 2001, Community Law In Action has worked with 500 young students who were matched with employees of the law firm -- and 97 percent of them have graduated from high school.

And the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has been a driving force for nurturing scores of future health care professionals through long-standing mentoring programs with Dunbar High School and other East Baltimore schools.

The potential impact of mentoring in Baltimore is even more important when we consider that approximately 40,000 city students are in danger of dropping out of school, as Andres Alonso, the new CEO of Baltimore's public schools, recently testified on Capitol Hill.

The Maryland Mentoring Partnership joins Mr. Alonso in calling for greater funding and resources for mentoring.

While we know mentoring is not a panacea, research shows that it contributes to the healthy development of our young people and will ultimately bring about a better Baltimore.

Stuart O. Simms Anna L. Smith Baltimore

The writers are co-chairs of the board of the Maryland Mentoring Partnership.

Turn 'green anchor' into Rouse Field

The planned renovation of Baltimore's Rash Field is long overdue ("Inner Harbor to get new 'green anchor'," July 28).

In developing the Inner Harbor as the city's centerpiece, an earlier generation of planners failed to devise a fitting or effective plan to use the valuable open space on its south perimeter.

The Dixon administration is to be commended for recognizing the need for its complete physical overhaul.

But Rash Field should also be renamed as part of this improvement.

The field was named in the 1970s to honor Joseph A. Rash, regional vice president of the Food Fair/Pantry Pride grocery chain and patron of many area politicians.

However, Mr. Rash's lasting claim to fame is his involvement in the sorry story of Spiro T. Agnew, a former Maryland governor and subsequently Richard Nixon's vice president, before the fall of both Mr. Agnew and Mr. Nixon.

As the press widely reported when Agnew's case was prepared for the grand jury in September 1973, the numerous bribes routinely accepted by Mr. Agnew included free groceries from Food Fair.

Mr. Agnew's plea of nolo contendere and abrupt resignation as vice president in October 1973 spared Mr. Rash the ignominy of making an appearance in federal court to attempt to justify these gifts.

But it is shameful that for more than 30 years one of Baltimore's most visible and valuable public places has borne the name of this malefactor.

If the name of the space is to be used to commemorate the name and contributions of any deserving individual, perhaps Rouse Field would be a more fitting designation.

Michael A. Prattle

Salisbury

Trashing OxyContin hurts pain patients

It seems as if everyone is out to rid the world of the "evils" of OxyContin ("OxyContin maker is fined $634.5 million," July 21).

But while drug abuse makes for splashy headlines, we must not lose sight of the fact that, for the overwhelming majority of patients suffering chronic pain, medications such as OxyContin help make life bearable.

Drug abuse is against the law -- whether with drugs purchased on the street or stolen from medicine cabinets.

And if a pharmaceutical company makes serious manufacturing or marketing mistakes, then that company should be held responsible.

However, in this case, a small number of people tangled illegally with OxyContin and, tragically, some paid with their lives.

But I fear that the negative publicity over these deaths may lead to the withdrawal of the entire subclass of medications OxyContin represents (modified release opioids) -- medications which provide relief for many of the estimated 76.2 million Americans who live with chronic pain.

The Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates opioids, including the newer long-acting formulations, and regards them as safe and effective when used as directed.

Highly-visible labels on the pill bottles and packaging clearly discloses their significant risks.

When not taken as directed, many medications carry the risk of deadly side-effects.

But it makes me shudder to think that a small population of people who have abused, misused or sold their pain medications might deprive the rest of us of the pain relief we so desperately need.

Andrea Cooper

Phoenix

The writer is a national co-chair of the Pain Community Advisory Council to the American Pain Foundation.

Police should notify families of victims

The Sun's article "After accident who alerts kin?" (July 30) raises a very important question.

Hospitals ought not be expected to be the first to inform the family when a victim of a serious automobile accident or other mishap has been seriously injured.

There are two reasons for this: first, it could be a violation of federal medical privacy laws for a hospital to disclose such information and, second, the top priority of hospital personnel must be to make every attempt to save the injured person's life and that takes time and concentration.

Instead I would suggest that, since there are usually multiple police cars at the scene of a life-threatening injury, the officers in one car could use the vehicle's license tag to get information from the Department of Motor Vehicles which would identify the name and address of the vehicle's owner.

With this information in hand, the officer could immediately go to the residence and inform the victim's family of the situation. That officer should then take the victim's family members directly to the hospital.

Even with the assistance of good ambulance service and, when required, the assistance of the State Police helicopters, it takes time to get from the accident scene to Shock Trauma or other appropriate place of treatment.

During that time, family members could be well on their way to the hospital and might be able to hold the injured person's hand one last time.

That's called compassionate caring.

Clyde R. Shallenberger

Baltimore

The writer is chaplain emeritus at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Meat-heavy diets help heat up planet

The writer of the letter "Vegetarianism isn't cure-all for warming" (July 28) is right about one thing -- he's certainly no crusader against global warming.

In fact his employer, the Center for Consumer Freedom, is funded by fast-food chains and the meat industry, which is desperate to prevent consumers from learning that meat-heavy diets are playing a key role in heating up our planet.

And, contrary to what the writer suggests, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is an independent, nonprofit research and advocacy organization financed mainly by donations from our membership, which includes more than 6,000 physicians.

PCRM often cooperates with other organizations, from major universities to animal protection groups, but none of them, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has ever provided a major part of PCRM's budget.

And if the recent United Nations' report linking animal agriculture to global warming wasn't enough, consider that a Japanese study recently reported in The New Scientist found that producing a kilogram of beef creates more greenhouse gas than driving for three hours and leaving all the lights on at home

Such inconvenient truths may not please the letter-writer. But Americans deserve to know that meatless meals can help slow global warming.

Patrick Sullivan

Washington

The writer is communications director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Teachers are best curriculum source

As a former English teacher and department chair in the Baltimore County schools, I was dismayed to learn that the school system's new chief academic officer, Sonia Diaz, had announced the hiring of Kaplan K12 Learning Services Division from New York to "develop and execute curriculum" at a cost of $7.4 million ("Firm tapped to aid schools," July 22).

And I completely agree with sentiments some of my former colleagues expressed in the letters titled "Why outsource school curriculum?" (July 28).

For many years Baltimore County paid its own teachers to write curriculum that received national recognition for excellence and provided a wealth of outstanding material in every subject area.

By investing in its own employees, the county not only produced home-grown curriculum written by those who knew the students best but also provided hands-on staff development through the very act of researching and creating the best educational materials possible.

Furthermore, the process automatically provided the school system with a cadre of curriculum experts and advocates who could go back to their respective schools to assist in the implementation of the new curriculum guides.

I am sad to read that now we must spend millions to hire others to do the work that has been taken away from our own professionals.

Elden Schneider

Baltimore

Clinton did bring attackers to justice

The writer of the letter "At least this president responded to attacks" (July 26) asked what the Clinton administration did in eight years in office in response to the attacks against our nation.

That's an odd question since the terrorists involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center were brought to justice by the Justice Department under President Clinton.

In contrast, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida attacked us in 2001 and yet Mr. Bin Laden remains free and intelligence reports say that al-Qaida is regaining its strength ("Report warns of rebuilt al-Qaida," July 18).

Why? Because President Bush failed to destroy al-Qaida in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

Instead Mr. Bush manipulated this country into attacking Iraq, where al Qaida did not exist at the time (it does exist there now, but it is only a minor part of the insurgency against our troops).

More than 3,600 American troops have died and thousands more have been horribly wounded in the war that resulted.

Thus thousands of American families have been destroyed, and researchers for a respected medical journal have estimated that more than 600,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war Mr. Bush unleashed.

It's long past time to truly support our troops by announcing that we will bring them home within one year.

G. Byron Stover

Baltimore

Death penalty truly is form of torture

I would just like to add this to Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column "Just imagine: You're innocent, facing execution" (Opinion

Commentary, July 22): The death penatly is a violation of the fundamental human right to life and has no place in a civilized and humane society.

Mr. Pitts does not mention the word "torture." Yet the death penalty is one of the worst imaginable tortures.

When a person has a terminal illness or is in an advanced old age, he or she still has hope that death is not near -- that he or she will have another month, another year.

Even a soldier in battle hopes not to be killed.

None of us knows the exact time when we are slated to die -- with one exception, the death row prisoner.

For a person to tknow that he or she will die at a certain date and time -- this is the ultimated torture.

Is this the sort of "cruel and unusual punishment" the U.S. Constitution forbids?

You bet.

Gerald Shargel

Baltimore

Speaking for Baltimore's trees

Thanks to The Sun for Alia Malik's article "Trees fall; city hears" (July 25).

It was reassuring to see that the city did "hear" when some 20 trees were cut down or mutilated in the Marble Hall Gardens apartments in Northwood -- especially considering the city's history of not responding after so many other fine city trees have met gratuitous deaths.

Baltimore generally has a poor record for maintaining its trees.

Last winter, I wrote a column for The Sun that focused on the mutilation of 18 Japanese Zelcovas by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. in the 3800 block of Roland Avenue ("City's trees get no respect," Opinion

Commentary, Jan. 10).

I also pointed out how two city trees, one in Roland Park, the other in Guilford, were at risk because rotting limbs had not been cut back to the trunk. Today, six months later, nothing has been done to help these trees.

The city recently lost more than 100 mature trees in the Stony Run Restoration Project -- in Roland Park, no less ("Bulldozing a creek in order to help save it," Aug. 18, 2006).

Some of these were healthy trees which were removed, in part, because they were considered "non-native" and "invasive" species. (Other trees were sacrificed to build a temporary access road between Wyndhurst and Cold Spring Lane.)

What kind of bad thinking led to this arboreal slaughter?

At the corner of Belvedere Avenue and Loch Raven Boulevard, diagonally across from Good Samaritan Hospital, what used to be an apartment complex now stands shuttered, awaiting re-development.

Dozens of magnificent, healthy white oaks, some surely a century old, attest to a degree of devotion to trees we no longer have.

Would the guardians of our city's trees step up and make sure that what happened at Marble Hall Gardens does not happen here?

Please?

Rene J. Muller

Baltimore

The Herring Run Watershed Association is committed to helping Baltimore achieve its recently enacted urban tree canopy goal by maintaining existing trees and planting new ones.

So it was quite disheartening to read about the removal of the beautiful mature trees in the Marble Hall Gardens apartment complex, which is in our watershed.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, large, healthy trees greater than 30 inches in diameter remove approximately 70 times more pollution from the air annually than small, newly planted trees do.

Big trees also slow down contaminated runoff during storm events and lessen the urban heat island effect (which boosts city temperatures), which reduces the need for air conditioning as they soften and beautify the landscape.

To meet Baltimore's ambitious tree canopy goal, the city will need to implement the kind of additional protections for existing trees that are proposed in the city's draft Urban Forest Management Plan.

The Herring Run Watershed Association supports the plan's recommendations and favors its expedited approval and implementation so that tragedies such as the removal of the trees at Marble Hall Gardens can be avoided.

Mary Sloan Roby

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Herring Run Watershed Association.

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