Progress in Iraq will prove fleeting
Reports of "progress" in Iraq - and really, the claim is about progress in one province - deserve our skepticism ("'Uneven' progress in Iraq," Sept. 11).
Here's what some of the approximately $3 billion per week the United States is spending on the war in Iraq is doing:
We are now giving money and military aid to Sunni militias who were insurgents. In return, they have done two things: First, they have forced many of the Shiites out of Anbar province, and second, they are fighting al-Qaida.
Many of the Shiites are living in refugee camps without clean water or other necessities.
U.S. soldiers are safer in this one province. But many Iraqis are not.
On the first day of Gen. David Petraeus' congressional testimony, ABC News released a poll of 2,212 Iraqis.
Here are some of the results:
70 percent of Iraqis believe the U.S. increase in the number of its forces in Baghdad and surrounding provinces in the past six months has made "security in areas where these forces have been sent" worse; 18 percent say the situation is better.
47 percent of Iraqis say U.S. and other coalition forces should "leave now" from Iraq; 34 percent say they should "remain until security is restored"; 10 percent say they should "remain until the Iraqi government is stronger."
Twenty years ago, we were allied with Saddam Hussein because he was the enemy of our enemy - Iran.
Twenty-five years ago, we were allied with Osama bin Laden and other mujahedeen because they were the enemies of our enemy - the Soviet Union.
Perhaps in a few years, one of the sheiks we are "reconciling" with in Anbar province today will be blowing up our cities or beheading little girls who want to attend school.
If Congress truly represents the interests of U.S. citizens, it will provide further funds only to withdraw our troops, not to continue this war.
Bottles a burden to state waterways
Congratulations to St. Paul's School for Girls for its "Green School" status and its efforts to limit the purchase and use of plastic water bottles ("Green is now routine at Brooklandville school," Sept. 8).
People would be surprised to see how many plastic bottles make their way into our rivers and streams and then out into the bay and the ocean.
Plastic bottles last for hundreds of years in the environment without degrading, and once discarded, they can leach toxic chemicals or injure or kill marine animals.
The bottles thrown away instead of recycled clog up our landfills.
With Americans so concerned about oil and gas prices, we should remember that one ton of recycled plastic can save 685 gallons of oil - so recycling bottles does good all around.
I hope Maryland will soon join the states that require deposits on plastic bottles as a means of preventing them from being thrown away - and they are being thrown onto our streets.
Last September, in a one-day event sponsored by the International Coastal Cleanup, more than 6,000 bottles were picked up in Maryland alone.
And I'm sure there will be lots of bottles to clean up this year.
Geri Jaron Schlenoff
The writer is Maryland coordinator for the International Coastal Cleanup.
Some students just don't care to learn
I was an assistant principal at Loch Raven High School with more than 30 years' experience in the Baltimore County public schools when the ill-conceived High School Assessment testing program was born.
I said immediately that the tests would never be required for graduation in their original form.
Over the years, the tests have been watered down in an attempt to help more students pass them.
Yet recent costly studies by the Maryland State Department of Education have indicated (as anyone with a clue could have predicted 10 years ago) that many minority students still do poorly on the tests ("Blacks in suburbs failing Md. exams," Sept. 6).
This is not a racial issue per se.
There are numerous factors that influence academic success, including genetics, in-utero health issues, early childhood environment and (most of all) culture.
However, the words of two students from New Town High School quoted in the article sum up the problem best.
As one 15-year-old put it, teachers provide opportunities but, as The Sun paraphrased his position, "students don't take them seriously."
Another 16-year-old hit the nail directly on the head when he stated: "Some kids just don't care."
Selective schools have built-in edge
One problem with reporting the High School Assessment test data to the public is that people such as the writer of the letter "Technical schools shine on the exams" (Sept. 9) may use that data to make ill-founded arguments.
The writer praises the test results of the technical schools in Baltimore County and implies that the reason other schools do not do as well is that the faculty at the technical schools is superior and uses better teaching methods.
What she and others may not know is that admission into the technical schools is by a competitive admission process that involves entrance exams and essays.
The students who are invited to attend those select high schools are already motivated, successful students.
Other public high schools in Baltimore County do not have that luxury - they must accept all students regardless of test scores, previous academic success, discipline issues or motivation.
It is unfair to criticize teachers and their teaching methods based on test scores that do not reveal anything about the many excellent, creative and highly successful teachers throughout Baltimore County.
The writer is a teacher in the Baltimore County public schools.
History can't justify giving slots to tracks
While the facts stated in the well-crafted letter "Slots give racing a chance to compete" (Sept. 8) are indisputable, the conclusions the writer draws from such facts are not.
It is rather ironic that the writer suggested Sun editors do not possess the fundamental understandings of the horse racing business, when in fact the newspaper business and the horse racing business face similar challenges.
While it is true that there is tremendous competition for the gambling and entertainment dollar, it is also true that there has never been greater competition for the printed word.
And it is true that horse racing and breeding have been an integral part of the social, historic and economic part of this great state for more than a century. But so has the tobacco industry. So have the watermen. So has The Sun.
So why racing's history should entitle track owners to get valuable slot machine licenses is beyond this writer's understanding.
The writer is a former chief financial officer for the Maryland Jockey Club.
Let taxpayers see spending proposals
When he was leaving office, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich was hailed for turning a $1 billion deficit into a $1 billion surplus. So how can it be that just after Martin O'Malley took his seat behind the governor's desk, the state faced a $1.5 billion "structural" deficit ("Sales tax solution," Sept. 7)?
The key word here is "structural."
Unlike a deficit in which you have a negative balance in your bank account, with a structural deficit you might have a positive number in your account. However, if you keep spending the way you have been, you will soon begin bouncing checks.
Our legislators are our employees. But many have the spending habits of children. It's about time we started asking our legislators where they are spending our money before they spend it.
For instance, can we afford to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities, something so many people oppose, when we can't afford to pay the bills we currently have and when many legal immigrants can't afford tuition?
Do we need to throw more money at failing public schools? Would you fix a car that breaks down year after year?
We need our legislators to pass a funding accountability and transparency bill.
Such a law would require the state to post online any proposed expenditures greater than $10,000 before they are approved by the legislature so taxpayers could easily learn about them and knowledgeably participate in the dialogue on the expenditure of their money and the administration of their government.
The writer is chairman of the Harbour League, a conservative think tank that promotes free-market values.
Closing 'loophole' creates a tax
Revising tax policy is never easy, and the temptation to look for the quick fix is strong.
Politics being what it is, one is prepared to make allowances when elected officials succumb to that temptation, and resort to emotion-laden but intellectually empty phrases such as "closing loopholes," "tax evasion" and "fair share," or suggest that greedy commercial property owners are allowed to "dodge taxes" and to "pocket millions" at the expense of "average taxpayers."
But when the editors of The Sun speak in this same vein, they cheapen the public discourse on a matter of great public policy ("Close that loophole," editorial, Sept. 6).
For many years, Maryland and its counties have imposed recordation and transfer taxes for the privilege of recording deeds in the land records offices. Today, the aggregate of these taxes can amount to 3 percent of the sales price of a property, which gives us one of the highest transfer taxes in the nation.
But not every recorded deed is taxable. Many exemptions exist, and these exemptions benefit individuals as well as corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies and other legal entities.
Many businesses structure transactions in such a way that no deed is required to be recorded so that no transfer and recordation taxes are paid.
But contrary to the implication in the editorial, there is nothing new about this; the concept has existed for decades.
What is novel, and pernicious, is the notion, to which the editors of The Sun apparently subscribe, that any commercial transaction that involves real estate and that does not involve the recording of a deed is somehow a fraud upon taxpayers of the state.
To see the true silliness of this notion, consider a simple analogy.
If the editors of The Sun decided to take a trip to New York by car along certain routes, they would pay road and bridge tolls the whole way up. This is only fair: The tolls are imposed on the users of the roads for their support and maintenance.
But suppose they took the train instead, and did not use the roads and bridges at all and therefore did not pay the tolls.
Would anyone seriously argue that the editors have arranged their travel plans as a "loophole" or "dodge" in order to "evade taxes" at the expense of the rest of us?
And would anyone seriously claim that the editors should pay their "fair share" of the tolls for use of the roads and bridges, whether they used them or not?
Let there be no mistake: Taxing transfers of controlling interests in real estate enterprises is not a mere technical fix; it is not the simple correction of a "loophole" in the recordation and transfer tax laws that was inadvertently and recently created by the legislature.
It would represent a new tax.
No one questions the power of the governor and legislature to create this tax - only the wisdom of doing so.
Lawrence F. Haislip
The writer is vice chairman of the real estate practice group of a law firm.
Property taxes push people out of city
I am writing to express my concern over the high property taxes in Baltimore.
My fiance and I moved to Baltimore less than a year ago to escape the oppressive housing market in Washington and found a great community in our Federal Hill neighborhood.
We were advised that our property taxes would increase within one year when the house was reassessed, and we felt that we were prepared for that.
However, we recently got our new assessment and we were outraged. As we pay our taxes in escrow, we are short for the next installment and we must pay an additional $400 per month to make up the difference in our mortgage payment.
We are young professionals who do not make a lot of money. Our property taxes now exceed $5,000 per year for our modest two-bedroom home.
I sincerely believe the high property tax costs will deter people from moving into the city.
The city's ever-increasing crime rate is deterrent enough. But when you couple that with our huge tax bill, well, I don't know if we would make the same decision again to move here that we made a year ago.
I hope that the City Council and the mayor will take the property tax rate into account when considering the future development of this city.
Lives may be lost during animal tests
News that microwave popcorn butter flavoring can be deadly may have shocked consumers recently, but the danger has been well-documented for years ("ConAgra to drop popcorn flavoring," Sept. 6).
An ingredient in microwave popcorn, diacetyl, can cause "popcorn workers' lung disease" - a sometimes fatal deterioration of the lungs.
But instead of banning the ingredient, government agencies have called for more animal tests - even though diacetyl doesn't affect animals the same way it affects humans.
More human lives may be lost while government scientists try to cause this disease in animals.
Representatives of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals witnessed the government's convoluted thinking on this issue firsthand when we testified at the National Toxicology Program's Board of Scientific Counselors meeting in June.
When we specifically pointed out that animals exposed to butter flavoring don't show the same effects as humans, one scientist acknowledged that, yes, "it's not clear how one would extrapolate findings from the animal studies to humans," but then inexplicably went on to state, "but that doesn't lessen my enthusiasm for this study."
While PETA initially became involved in this issue to protect animals from cruel, useless experiments, the fact that these animal tests are used to delay protecting public health or the environment should be of the utmost concern to everyone.
The writer is director of the regulatory testing division of PETA.
Center will bring War of 1812 to life
I was so delighted to read about the plans for a new Fort McHenry Visitors Center ("A new look emerges for Fort McHenry," Sept. 7).
Every September, my students learn about the writing of Francis Scott Key's immortal poem, which would eventually become the lyrics of our National Anthem.
While my younger students listen to our anthem, read some of the words and begin to sing along - right hands firmly placed over their hearts - my older ones sing the first stanza of the anthem (and are aware that there are three additional stanzas).
The children understand lyrics that would probably baffle many adults and can explain the importance of "the rockets' red glare" and "bombs bursting in air" as Key's observations during a stormy night.
They know about our star-shaped fort's ramparts, over which Key desperately searched for a glimpse of our flag, a huge banner sewn right here in Baltimore by Mary Pickersgill.
With its 15 stars and 15 stripes, the flag was so big the British could see it a mile away from the fort.
The children are understandably impressed and awed by this historical information.
How thrilling it will be for future students to visit Fort McHenry, with its new visitors center, in 2010.
They will have the virtual experience of "witnessing" the Battle of Baltimore through Key's eyes and will feel as if they are getting a firsthand glimpse of this important historical event.
The insights gained through such an experience will certainly be significant and boost patriotic pride for our children for generations to come.
The writer is a music teacher at Hernwood Elementary School.
Give Taiwan a voice in United Nations
As Americans fight to sow democracy in the Middle East, the United States retains key allies in the fight to promote the natural rights of all humans worldwide. However, one of these allies, Taiwan, is consistently foiled in its efforts to spread democratic and humanitarian values abroad.
As a sovereign nation, Taiwan is a flourishing, open society with a strong market economy and an active interest in uplifting the world's less fortunate through means of foreign aid. Yet this latent energy cannot be fully liberated if Taiwan is not allowed to participate in the United Nations.
As Tuesday's opening of the 62nd session of the General Assembly approaches, Taiwan is making its 15th attempt to rejoin the United Nations.
Taiwan's re-entry into the U.N. would help preserve the basic human rights of Taiwan's 23 million people and enhance the stability of the Asia-Pacific region.
Furthermore, it would reflect and reinforce the fundamental spirit of equality enshrined in the U.N. Charter.
For Taiwan, the United States and the world, U.N. membership for Taiwan would be a win-win-win situation.
The writer is director of the press division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.
Too soon to forget 9/11 attacks
I awoke to my sixth Sept. 11 since the attacks in 2001 on Tuesday and immediately checked The Sun to see what tributes, photos and reminders it contained about that pivotal day in our recent history.
Front page: Nothing.
Page 2: Nothing.
Page 3: A small photo with the caption "Overlooking Ground Zero" (Sept. 11).
Is this what that day of six years ago has been reduced to? A postcard-size tribute?
Big trucks received more attention ("Heavy trucks, hefty concerns," Sept. 11).
I am not singling out The Sun as a media outlet here. One local TV station I watched only mentioned 9/11 on Tuesday morning after a story about Baltimore's primary elections and one about a body found in a hotel.
This kind of forgetfulness is an unfortunate American trend.
How many empty poles with tattered flag scraps still wait on overpasses for a fresh replacement of our colors?
Are the gas station hawkers selling window-mount flags again or only Ravens jerseys?
I do agree that we, as a nation, must heal and move on. But to forget?
Perhaps because I wear an Air Force uniform nearly every day of the work week I am more attuned to days of national remembrance than others are.
But I implore the media to help reverse this national habit of forgetfulness.
Kevin C. Drost
The writer is a master sergeant in the Maryland Air National Guard.
On Tuesday, our nation remembered the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mourning rituals were planned around the country as people remembered and reflected on that day.
At least out of respect for the families and friends who lost love ones because of the terrorist attacks, The Sun should have published an article that day on the anniversary, or at least mentioned it on the front page.
The 9/11 anniversary is more important than the articles on the front page on Tuesday about Vitamin D ("Vitamin D might be factor in longer life," Sept. 11), about home sales ("Home sales drop, prices steady," Sept. 11) and about asking the Army to pay for road and transit upgrades ("Army urged to share cost of local BRAC upgrades," Sept. 11).
In the future on the anniversary of 9/11, I hope The Sun will mention the event and write an article about our nation remembering this important day.
When I got to work at my firehouse on Tuesday morning, I brought in our station's copy of The Sun. I unfolded it, and was surprised to find no mention of the 9/11 anniversary on the front page.
I found the photo and brief caption on Page 3 describing that day's memorial ceremony in New York. But I looked in vain for any more articles on the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
I even read through the editorial pages looking for something, and I came to a shocking conclusion: The Sun devoted more print space to a letter on insufficient public toilets in the United States that day than to the anniversary of the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor.
Our firehouse has a large framed poster of an American flag printed with the names of those who were murdered on 9/11. Mixed in are the names of hundreds of emergency services personnel.
Sept. 11, 2001, was a dark, dark day for the fire, EMS and police services in the United States.
That's why the slogan "We Will Never Forget" is so frequently seen among emergency services folks. I've seen it on hats, shirts, posters, fire helmets, even tattoos. We won't forget.
But we in the fire service knew that despite the speeches, ceremonies and public support, eventually the horror and the heroics of 9/11 would no longer be considered newsworthy.
Maybe we just didn't think it would happen so soon.