Draftees can't meet the Army's needs
William Pfaff's column on reinstating the draft reflects an abysmal understanding of why the draft was created, of the nature of military culture and of the demands of contemporary warfare ("Both parties in denial on need for draft," Opinion
Commentary, Aug. 20).
War in the 20th century became chiefly a matter of a nation's capacity to bring its industrial might to bear against its opponent.
The draft was the military equivalent to the assembly line - offering mass-produced soldiers quickly trained, equipped and sent into the fight in, the combatants hoped, numbers and effectiveness greater than those drafted by the enemy.
In World War II, for instance, despite the quality of the German army, the sheer weight of the numbers of machines and men (raised by the draft) opposing it over six years of war produced total German defeat.
Today, the Army needs highly trained, intelligent, adaptable and thoughtful soldiers.
It takes at least a year to train a soldier to meet the demands of modern war, and especially of a form of war as complicated and trying as counter-insurgency.
With an army raised by a draft, the troops would either be inadequately trained or only available to serve overseas for a matter of months before reaching the end of their tour of duty - unless troops were drafted for at least three-year tours of duty.
But, given the political unpopularity of a draft, there is no way in the world the United States would institute a three-year draft.
This constraint would make the military units composed of draftees almost useless in a counterinsurgency situation in which it takes a soldier at least six or seven months to learn the culture of the region and the nature of the enemy.
The writer is a retired U.S. Army officer and a defense consultant.
Draft encourages endless warfare
In the 1960s, anti-war activists asked a question: "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?"
The point was, of course, that without the endless supply of bodies provided by a draft, U.S. presidents could not fight endless wars like the Vietnam War.
The draft allowed U.S. presidents to keep U.S. forces in Vietnam for two decades.
By the war's end, official figures counted 57,690 Americans killed and 163,329 wounded.
William Pfaff and others now propose that we restore the draft, which would provide an endless supply of bodies so that President Bush could continue to fight his war in Iraq and possibly move on to destabilize the area further by starting a war with Iran ("Both parties in denial on need for draft," Opinion
Commentary, Aug. 20).
But the draft was ended precisely to cut off such an endless supply of bodies. And the lack of a draft will ultimately force us out of Iraq ("Surge forces to start leaving next April," Aug. 18).
And that, as someone might explain to Mr. Pfaff, was - and is - the point of eliminating the draft.
Cadet just wasn't fit to be a firefighter
While the death of fire cadet Racheal M. Wilson was tragic, it underscores another issue that has remained untouched by those investigating the Fire Department's negligence ("Deadly neglect at Fire Academy," Aug. 21).
The basic truth ignored by their report is that Ms. Wilson should never have been hired as a firefighter or paramedic to begin with because of her limited physical capability.
She was 5 feet 4 inches tall and 192 pounds.
The fire service is a physically demanding job that requires not only strength but also muscular endurance and good cardio-pulmonary stamina.
It is a task-oriented career that can be very difficult for those in prime physical condition, let alone for someone so overweight.
But across the nation fire departments are being pressured to hire recruits to satisfy concerns about gender and cultural diversity, regardless of whether the person hired is physically capable of doing the job.
Federal guidelines dictate nationwide hiring practices and departments struggle to meet diversity requirements.
The issue of compromised standards is discussed at fire stations around the country every week, as departments continue to hire firefighters who do not meet agility standards.
This issue is not about race or gender as much as it is about the quality of service when the emergency call comes in.
Brother and sister firefighters and paramedics do not care about age, skin color, hair length or political affiliations as long as the person riding next to them on the fire engine can do the required job.
Unfortunately, not everyone is gifted with adequate size and strength to be a firefighter and no amount of training can alter that fact very much.
And Ms. Wilson no more belonged in fire gear than she would have belonged in shoulder pads and an NFL jersey.
All of this does not excuse the mistakes made by the Fire Academy during the live-burn exercise.
However, as the report on the incident notes, Ms. Wilson was unable even to hold a hose line.
A medic or firefighter incapable of doing the job for any reason is a liability to other members of the fire department as well as to the public that firefighter is supposed to serve.
It is past time to look into the larger issue of hiring practices which are intended to satisfy concerns of political correctness rather than to meet the practical needs of the fire service.
The writer is a Baltimore County firefighter who has worked in the Baltimore and Baltimore County fire departments for 26 years.
Illegal immigrants pose a real threat
The writer of the letter "Bad drivers come in all nationalities" (Aug. 20) is of the opinion that The Sun's recent article on the death of two highway workers, which was caused by an illegal immigrant driver, smacked of xenophobia ("Guatemalan arrested in crash," Aug. 15).
But the article did not have what the letter-writer calls a "veneer of xenophobia." The article was an accurate portrayal of an event.
Xenophobia requires an unreasonable or irrational fear of foreigners. The article was characterized by neither sentiment.
And, believe it or not, many of us do not like having illegal immigrants in our country.
Many of us do like legal immigrants. But we want our governments - local, state and federal - to inquire as to the immigration status of foreigners when they seek licenses or permits of any kind.
There is a good possibility that the two highway workers killed by the illegal immigrant would be alive today if that immigrant hadn't come to this country in the first place.
Similarly, in September 2006 an illegal immigrant murdered Houston Police Officer Rodney Johnson after the officer arrested him during a routine traffic stop.
Mr. Johnson was a dedicated police officer, a husband and a father.
He probably would be alive today if more attention had been paid to our southern border by our federal and state governments.
Only lobbyists link racing with slots
Horse racing and slot machines are as different as night and day ("Two distinct questions," editorial, Aug. 16). Only through the repeated and constant efforts of horse racing lobbyists have the two issues been linked.
Indeed, few legislators understand the difference between pari-mutuel wagering and wagering on slot machines. But the patrons of the two forms of gambling have little or no commonality and the crossover from one form of gambling to the other is virtually nil.
Race tracks granted slot licenses must immediately hire slot machine managers because slots are a totally different business from operating a race track.
There would be as much logic in granting slots licenses to Maryland watermen or steelworkers to aid people in those failing industries as in granting slots licenses to race tracks.
Gambling is inevitable and fun. It is an activity enjoyed by a substantial number of Marylanders, this writer among them.
However, it is a very poor fiscal policy. And what's even more damaging is that the political process of granting valuable gambling licenses often corrupts legislative bodies.
If we want to increase revenues to the state and help the failing racing industry, the state should simply grant one license for 20,000 slot machines to be housed in one large slots palace in the most demographically favorable place in the state.
The license, of course, would be granted to the highest bidder and the state should tax its proceeds at a 50 percent rate.
From the state's share of revenues, a given number of dollars could then be used to support racing purses.
The writer is a former chief financial officer for the Maryland Jockey Club and a former acting chief financial officer for a race track owned by Magna Entertainment Corp.
State shouldn't wait to act on climate
The Sun's article "Protesters demand greenhouse gas cut" (Aug. 16) cites the Maryland Chamber of Commerce's criticism of legislation that would reduce carbon emissions in Maryland.
The little more than one-page legislative advocacy statement the chamber released on the Global Warming Solutions Act proposed in last year's legislative session reflects much of the chamber's negative thinking about that bill.
For example, the chamber notes that "Maryland's man-made greenhouse gas emissions comprise approximately 1.5 percent of the United States' emissions."
It's interesting, isn't it, how numbers can be used to make a problem seem almost not worth bothering with?
However, since U.S. energy consumption is between 20 percent and 25 percent of the world's total consumption, the portion used in our state is far from a trivial part of the overall problem.
The chamber then tells us that, "Since GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions disperse globally and Maryland's emissions are a very small percentage of the total global problem, this issue needs to be addressed on a national level in concert with international efforts."
This is a partial truth - as emissions do spread out over the globe - being used to justify a much broader conclusion: That Maryland should await international action before acting to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
But whether with air, water or other toxic pollution, we in Maryland normally haven't delayed cleaning up our own environment while we await international action.
The chamber's conclusion - that we should further study the greenhouse gas emissions issue - is not entirely wrong.
But I think we have to do this in a pro-active fashion, having made up our mind to face this challenge squarely and soon.
The writer is a member of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
New TVs won't aid special needs kids
I would like to make two points about The Sun's article about a loan from the city to support kitchen and cafeteria improvements at the William S. Baer School, a school that serves several hundred of the city's most severely disabled students ("City loan to Baer school raises concern," Aug. 15).
First, I would thank the concerned parents and others who volunteered their energy, time and money to raise money to make the facility more useful and modern. They found a way to avoid having to wait years in the long line for projects to improve Baltimore's schools.
Students at the Baer School and other special needs children should have the best that money can buy so that they can get the most beneficial education experience possible.
A no-interest loan from the city to support such improvement until the already-pledged funds actually arrive from the donors is not too much to ask.
In fact, this kind of support from the city sets a great example for parents in other schools.
However, my second point is that installing televisions in the cafeteria is no way to improve the education experience of these children.
Research has shown time and again that it is unhealthy for anyone, especially a child, to eat while watching television.
And these children, in particular, should spend their lunch time focusing on eating and socializing and working to improve their communication skills and living skills such as scooping up food and using a napkin.
I am afraid that the school staff - which should be interacting with students and teaching them these skills - will end up watching the TVs.
The writer is a former therapeutic recreation specialist for the Maryland School for the Blind.
Taney upheld tenets of our Constitution
Chief Justice Roger Taney's character is repeatedly assassinated by those who attribute to him the 1787 brand of racism that he resolutely ascribed 70 years later to the Framers of our Constitution.
However, Abraham Lincoln himself manifested no more compassion for America's slaves than did Mr. Taney. But in 1857 the somber duty of applying the Constitution to the Dred Scott case fell to the latter.
In upholding that duty, Mr. Taney held before the American people a mirror that reflected a completely valid image of the society their Constitution had intentionally created.
For all those whose opposition to slavery transcended mere verbiage, Mr. Taney's majority opinion trumpeted, four full years before the attack on Fort Sumter, the unmistakable message that an amendment to the Constitution to free the slaves was imperative - even if it meant that the financial consequences of liberating the slaves must be shared by both of the two regions that had long been adversaries in a struggle to control slave-grown cotton, the vast commodity that sustained the economies of the North and the South.
But not even in the aftermath of the Dred Scott ruling did anyone undertake to accomplish an amendment that could both have freed the slaves and prevented the South's secession.
Not politicians like Mass. Sen. Charles Sumner, a radical Republican who steadfastly ignored the complicity in slavery of the textile makers who powered the whole institution with their demand for cotton.
And not political candidates like Mr. Lincoln, who clearly saw that vastly more votes could be harvested by foregoing all talk of an amendment than by asking Northerners to confront the dynamics behind a federal tariff that inflated the profits wrung from slave-grown cotton by the North's own textile industry while subjecting Southern exporters of cotton to onerous retaliatory tariffs abroad.
And not even the abolitionists: They opposed all compensation for Southerners who, in its absence, faced financial ruin if the slaves were freed.
Mr. Taney was a noble American with the fortitude to meet a thankless but solemn Constitutional duty, while others now venerated sought to gratify their own self-interest.
Dennis G. Saunders
Lou Reed inspired the next generation
The Sun's article about the music of 1967 lists the author's top 10 "most important" albums of that year and argues that the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced? "may well have the most lasting influence" among them ("1967: It was the year that rock came of age," Aug. 19).
While I agree that this was a groundbreaking record, I have to disagree that it was the most influential.
That designation rightly belongs to an album which sold a much smaller number of copies at the time - The Velvet Underground and Nico.
This album set the stage for the punk and indie rock movements which were to come years later.
The look, attitude and unstudied musical style embodied by the "Velvets" can still be seen and heard from many of today's bands.
While very few people picking up a guitar for the first time would imagine being able to play like Jimi Hendrix, many more have been inspired to learn three or four chords after hearing Lou Reed sing "Sunday Morning."
U.S. consumers push production overseas
I read with great interest the two letters in Sunday's paper that chastised American companies for moving production to China to maximize profits ("Recall production to U.S. factories," Aug. 19 and "Cheap labor carries costs to our health," Aug. 19).
The letters seemed to suggest that outsourcing is all corporate America's fault. And some of the blame absolutely is. But outsourcing is also the fault of U.S. consumers.
Having worked for two U.S. manufacturers, I know that sourcing and manufacturing decisions are determined largely by the fact that American consumers always seem to want the cheapest possible price.
And, since American consumers seek out the cheapest thing they can find, the U.S. companies selling to these consumers are always in a race to seek the cheapest manufacturing source because, yes, they do want to make a profit.
You don't get to sell your products in Wal-Mart or Home Depot unless they are the lowest-cost products (unless, of course, you have a unique product with no competitors).
If consumers really wanted to support U.S.-produced products, they would check the labels and boxes to see where the products they buy come from.
For most companies, the consumer is king.
If "Made in America" mattered to more consumers, it would matter to the companies selling products in America.
Expanding Medicaid, helping addicts
We at the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative commend Gov. Martin O'Malley for endorsing expanding eligibility for Medicaid in Maryland ("Helping more addicts," editorial, Aug. 20).
Although Maryland is one of the best states in the nation in providing health care for children, we are one of the worst in the country when it comes to making Medicaid available to lower-income adults.
This is bad not only for many thousands of lower-income, uninsured Marylanders but also for those of us who pay health insurance premiums.
According to a study by Families USA, families of four spend at least $1,000 per year of their health insurance premiums paying for the hospitalization of the uninsured.
This hidden health care tax can be alleviated if we fund Medicaid expansion in a responsible way.
The Maryland House of Delegates passed a plan that would have done just that during its last session.
That plan would have funded expanded Medicaid eligibility for adults through a $1-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax.
In addition to saving 50,000 kids from smoking, such a tobacco tax increase would leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in federal matching funds and create savings in other state programs which would help fund the Medicaid expansion.
And, as The Sun recognized in Monday's editorial, this plan to expand care would also provide critically needed drug treatment services for thousands of Marylanders.
We hope that the next time the General Assembly meets it will work with the governor to expand Medicaid and put Maryland back in the forefront of health care reform.
The writer is president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.
Expanding eligibility for Medicaid is just the first step in providing affordable, accessible and adequate health care for the hundreds of thousands of uninsured Maryland residents.
Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the nation.
It is capable of providing access to care for the less fortunate by providing Medicaid coverage for more of those who can least afford the skyrocketing cost of private health insurance.
The governor's support for Medicaid expansion is a good start in solving this growing health care crisis.
Being uninsured reduces access to health care and contributes to poor health.
And indeed winning the fight against cancer will require us to improve access to quality health care.
Unfortunately, uninsured cancer patients and their families (and even many insured ones) are often at great financial risk as a result of the huge expense of long-term care and prolonged treatment.
The catastrophic financial burdens associated with cancer care should not be placed on cancer patients, survivors and their families.
And when the uninsured are hospitalized, all Marylanders end up paying some of the cost for their treatment, which usually ends up being provided in the most expensive kind of hospital settings which provide the worst continuity of care.
Thus it only makes sense to expand Medicaid coverage to help provide some of the uninsured with proper medical attention.
The writer is chairperson of the board of directors of the American Cancer Society.
The Sun's editorial "Helping more addicts" highlights one of the critically important and often-overlooked benefits of the expansion of eligibility for Medicaid - the fact that doing so would give more addicts access to certain kinds of drug treatment.
The problem of addiction to heroin, cocaine, alcohol and other drugs represents a substantial challenge for Baltimore and other jurisdictions.
But despite significant expansions in drug treatment over the past decade, demand still greatly exceeds available funding for treatment.
Expanding eligibility for Medicaid could support drug treatment for thousands more Marylanders every day.
This treatment would save lives, reduce crime, increase employment and tax revenues and support community revitalization efforts.
And because of the way Medicaid is financed, the federal government would pick up half of the cost.
There is no better investment the governor and legislature could make this year for the health of our city and state.
Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein
The writer is Baltimore's health commissioner.