SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Columbia finally creates a dialogue

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger was right to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak ("Iranian president gets hot reception," Sept. 25).

As a Jew, I think, of course, that Mr. Ahmadinejad is either ignorant or belligerent when he denies the Holocaust and calls for Israel's destruction; as an American, of course, I am skeptical and anxious about Mr. Ahmadinejad's claim that his country's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

In that light, when he said that Iran "love[s] all nations" and is "friends with the Jewish people," I can only smile wryly and shake my head.

However, these statements and possible falsehoods in no way lead me to condemn Columbia University, as many in New York and across the country have done, for giving this controversial figure a platform.

I would hope that our imbroglio in Iraq demonstrates the folly of rushing headlong toward reliance on military options and that North Korea's impending disarmament would show the success diplomatic initiatives can have.

In this light, the Bush administration's refusal to open a real dialogue with Iran, and its advocacy of sanctions against that country without such a dialogue, is alarming and morally irresponsible.

With American troops already overcommitted in Iraq and Afghanistan, we cannot afford to avoid diplomatic overtures to Iran the way we did in Iraq.

I, for one, am thankful that Mr. Bollinger and Columbia were insightful enough to start doing the diplomatic legwork President Bush is either unwilling or unable to do.

Michael Chapper

Baltimore

Burns underscores the ravages of war

I hope everyone in the United States over age 13 has been watching Ken Burns' series on World War II on PBS this week ("Moments of quiet storytelling hold real drama," Sept. 23). This television series will make you feel patriotic, and it may also make you furious.

One veteran noted at the beginning of the documentary that he felt there were no really good wars but there were necessary wars. He said he still believes World War II was a necessary war.

The way this series makes the participants in World War II come alive, even as some die and never come home, underscores the incredible waste of youth and life we are enduring now in the war in Iraq.

The war we are in now was never a necessary war.

It began with an arrogant and ignorant president and vice president, who lied again and again to the American public about the reasons to go to war.

We have helped create millions of refugees in Iraq. Under our watch, the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison occurred.

We spend about $1.3 billion a day on defense, while our children are worse off than those in any other industrialized country except Great Britain and our president is about to veto a bill that would provide health care to uninsured children because he says it costs too much.

The thousands of American lives lost and the tens of thousands of lives lost by Iraqis as a result of this war, the children growing up without their fathers and mothers, the failed marriages, the horribly injured whose lives have been shattered - all of these things may clearly be laid at our president's doorstep.

It's time to focus our collective fury upon this president and the people in Congress who keep him in control - mostly Republicans but some Democrats, too.

It's too late to impeach Mr. Bush.

But it's not too late to throw everyone who has supported him out in the next election.

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell

Towson

Repairing Rosewood really is essential

Keeping the Rosewood Center open is essential ("Legislators tour Rosewood Center," Sept. 26).

It may not be essential to the powers-that-be in Maryland; nevertheless, it is essential to those who are residents and those who call the center's residents "my daughter," "my son," "my niece," "my nephew," "my cousin" or "my friend."

For my family, the resident has been living at Rosewood for 33 years. She is profoundly retarded.

If the state closes Rosewood instead of making the necessary repairs, what would happen to such residents?

Has anyone in the politically driven world of money and power thought for one split-second about the families of the residents some political leaders appear to want simply to put someplace else?

Many of Maryland's residents lack the financial resources to place their disabled children in private facilities. They have no choice but to rely on the state.

And they should not have to be put through the state's periodic toying with the lives and locations of their children in its debates over the future of Rosewood.

If my visits to Rosewood to see my cousin have taught me one thing that has carried over to my own life, it is how blessed I am to have a healthy mind and body and how even more blessed I was to have four healthy children of my own and one healthy grandson.

Although mental disabilities cannot be fixed, the Rosewood Center can.

Shame on Maryland for even considering closing the facility and for failing to ensure that it meets the standards each and every one of us would want for our children or ourselves.

Alicia Knothe

Kissimmee, Fla.

Constitution blocks D.C. representative

I have to think that everyone who wants to grant Washington a voting member in the House of Representatives must not have read the Constitution ("Politics vs. principle," editorial, Sept. 20).

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution specifically states that "the House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states." Members must also "be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen."

The 14th Amendment also notes that "representatives shall be apportioned among the several states."

Do advocates of a representative for Washington not understand the word "state"?

For Washington to get voting rights in Congress would require an amendment to the Constitution.

To give it a representative by simple statute would violate the Constitution, and anyone who votes for such a proposal is violating his or her oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution.

David K. Kyle

Pasadena

Ugly racial symbols still with us today

Sherrilyn A. Ifill did a public service by educating us about the meaning of the hanging noose and the symbolic power it holds when it appears on school grounds in College Park or in Jena, La. ("Disempowering an ugly symbol," Opinion

Commentary, Sept. 20).

Ms. Ifill is absolutely correct when she calls on educators to teach this nation's history of lynching.

Few of my law students were ever taught about the post-Reconstruction apartheid system under which nearly 5,000 victims were claimed by white lynch mobs that had virtual immunity from criminal prosecution.

Including this chapter of our nation's history in our high school, college and law school curricula is essential.

If students had a deeper understanding of our history, they would also be able to see the legacy of race and class bias in today's criminal justice system.

They would need to look no further than state sentencing policies to appreciate the continuing harsh punishment that often awaits African-Americans and people without financial resources who are convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Or, better yet, they could examine the overwhelming population, mostly of people of color, who await trial in jail because they cannot afford bail.

Many of those defendants never see a lawyer for a month or more after their arrest.

The community must be taught to understand these continuing racial symbols, too.

Doug Colbert

Baltimore

The writer is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.

Keep religion out of civil marriage

The donnybrook over same-sex marriage throws into stark relief the damage done when we allow religion to become entangled in government affairs ("Same-sex marriage: Issue too hot to be taken on faith," Sept. 23).

Marriage is a sacrament often performed by a religious leader. But the act also has huge legal consequences.

This unfortunate brew of religion and government, which plainly violates the First Amendment, has been accepted, virtually without a second thought, for centuries.

Consider, for example, the lack of outrage when our president stated that he would work for laws that preserve the "sanctity" of marriage.

Preserving "sanctity" is the job of your church, synagogue or mosque, not the government - which should be preserving constitutionality instead.

The egregious result of this entanglement is that we allow religious precepts to creep into the process of legislating, so marriage law has come to favor some religious dogmas while doing violence to others.

One person's sanctity is another's spiritual abomination.

It is time to regard civil marriage as the appropriate legal situation for all loving couples, gay or straight, who are of age and cognitively capable of consenting to matrimony.

Religious marriage should be solely the province of one's religious congregation.

Laurie S. Coltri

Columbia

Excuses for inaction on warming run out

Was I surprised to see that President Bush wouldn't be participating in the United Nations' talks on global warming ("Bush to skip climate session," Sept. 24)?

Well, considering his record with the United Nations and his tendency to shirk his responsibilities, that definitely did not surprise me.

What I am surprised about, however, is this administration's continuing refusal to sit down and lay out some well-defined guidelines about how we are going to grapple with the impact of global warming.

I don't necessarily think the Kyoto Protocol is the end-all and be-all of protocols.

And I am even willing to support Mr. Bush's decision to break away and set different goals for countries that are big polluters. I believe these countries should be developing different standards and strategies because they are the ones whose economies have the biggest impacts.

But what bothers me is that Mr. Bush keeps making excuses for inaction and pushing for voluntary emissions controls.

He does so even though our country's greenhouse gas emissions increased by 16 percent from 1990 to 2005, and we are still leading the world, by far, in global warming emissions.

Something needs to be done about global warming now, and I can only hope Mr. Bush has some creative solutions.

But even though it would help reduce my carbon footprint, please forgive me if I don't hold my breath.

Katie Bergfeld

Washington

The writer is a graduate student in the natural resources and sustainable development program at American University.

Faith can inspire reverence for planet

Catholics and other people of faith bring a needed sense of moral urgency to addressing the realities of global climate change ("Religiously green," editorial, Sept. 17).

For religious leaders and the broader faith community, environmental stewardship is not a trendy thing to do now that movie stars and politicians are taking notice of the Earth but a sacred trust rooted in a biblical understanding that the air we breathe and the water we drink are fragile gifts from God.

In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi taught us to see all of nature as a mystical reflection of the divine.

Today, Pope Benedict XVI challenges us to realize that building a culture where the dignity of life is respected requires each of us to do our part in leaving a healthy planet for generations to come.

Sister Sharon Dillon

Washington

The writer is a former executive director of the Franciscan Federation of the Third Order.

Exaggerating blight of the city's housing

The Sun's editorial "Still a blight" (Sept. 10) mischaracterizes two basic issues and thus comes to fundamentally flawed conclusions.

First, The Sun confuses the housing vacancy issue by applying the U.S. Census Bureau's definition of vacancy, which counts all unoccupied housing units regardless of the reason they may be vacant. Under this definition, every new condominium or home yet to be sold is considered vacant.

Baltimore's Housing Department operates instead under the city's municipal code, which defines vacant properties as only those units unfit for human habitation.

We believe this definition provides a far more accurate understanding of a city's vacant housing situation. And under this definition, the number of vacant houses in the city is approximately 16,000, not the 40,000 The Sun's editorial cites.

While that figure is still far too high, The Sun's figure overstates the problem by approximately 150 percent.

Second, The Sun misunderstands the intent of Project 5000, our nationally recognized property acquisition program.

Project 5000 was a dramatic call to action intended to shift the paradigm and recognize that a passive local government could not reverse 50 years of abandonment and disinvestment in the city.

The project yielded remarkable results, including a six-fold increase in the city's annual rate of property acquisition from about 200 properties to more than 1,300 per year.

Indeed, Project 5000 exceeded its acquisition goal by more than one-third, acquiring more than 6,700 properties.

But the project was never intended or portrayed as a magic bullet.

When the project was launched, both then-Mayor Martin O'Malley and then-City Council President Sheila Dixon recognized that it was only part of the solution.

Having said that, it is remarkable that more than half the properties acquired through Project 5000 have either been sold or are specifically designated for imminent revitalization efforts both large and small.

Paul Graziano

Baltimore

The writer is Baltimore's housing commissioner.

Not voting is an act of moral protest

The writer of the letter "Voting shows faith in our community" (Sept. 16) argues that voting is a moral act. I would argue that not voting is also a moral act.

People don't vote for many reasons. Some people are just too lazy or apathetic to get out to the polls. Others abstain from voting because they don't believe it makes a difference.

Among that second camp, a large majority of those who abstain are educated people who make a conscious decision not to support the lesser of evils. Why vote when you hate all the candidates? Why vote when it seems more and more clear that our electoral system has failed us?

When we vote, we endorse the system and its leadership. But what if we morally oppose that system?

On Sept. 11, I made a conscious choice not to vote. It's not because I'm lazy, ill-informed or apathetic; in fact, I'm a political activist.

But I chose not to vote because none of the candidates represented my values or me.

In a city full of poverty, crime and hopelessness, you'd think there would be some candidate genuinely interested in stopping all that.

But there wasn't. So why should I have voted?

Paul Day

Baltimore

Schools need scores for HSAs in summer

I could not agree more with Harford County schools Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas' suggestions about how to improve the High School Assessment tests ("Baltimore area residents show split on HSAs," Sept. 20).

It is imperative that the turnaround time for grading the test be reduced and that, as Ms. Haas noted, students receive details "on specific portions of the test where they scored poorly so they know what to concentrate on."

The Sun's article underlines the many roadblocks students face on this all-important test. But one roadblock that should not exist is the Maryland State Department of Education itself.

This year, HSA scores were not released until after students were already engaged in their scheduled classes.

When MSDE finally reported the scores, many schedules had to be changed to allow students who failed the exams to take the classes they need to pass the exams, and two weeks of instruction were wasted.

Also the grading of the exams did not reveal students' specific mistakes and weaknesses. So students can't really receive well-targeted help.

Students deserve an effort from MSDE to release the scores during the summer so appropriate schedules can be created for each student in the fall.

Gary Ambridge

Bel Air

The writer has been a teacher in Baltimore's public schools for 40 years.

Are droopy pants a pressing problem?

As an area student, I am deeply offended by City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton's attempt to control baggy pants ("Pants proposition," Sept. 19).

Of all the problems to attempt to solve in Baltimore, why choose the fit of people's pants?

Maybe Ms. Holton should be focusing on the city's homicide total, which is well on its way to hitting 300 for the year.

People are dying, and the thing she is trying to fix is pants? This shows the warped ways of our current government.

And if our government starts controlling our attire, what's next?

Controlling what we eat, what we do, what we buy?

If laws such as this are put in place, we will be on our way to becoming a generation under government control. Every move we make will be restricted and watched.

People should be able to wear what they want to wear.

In five years, baggy pants will be out of style, and the ban Ms. Holton is trying to put in place will be outdated and unnecessary.

Why not focus instead on something that could improve the future of our city?

Sophia Adams

Catonsville

The writer is a student at Catonsville High School.

Restoring blue crabs to the bay

While I commend The Sun for calling attention to the desperate condition of blue crabs in our Chesapeake Bay, the article "State issues crab warning" (Sept. 22) seems to put more of the blame for the problem on the crabbers than they deserve.

It is not just the crabs that are in trouble - it is the entire bay. Overfishing plays its role in the decreasing crab population, but it is not the only factor.

For more than two decades, we have been aware of the devastating effects pollution has on the bay. But the state has yet to take serious action to protect Maryland's most valuable natural resource.

In 1984, after a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first outlined the extent to which pollution harms the bay, Maryland passed the Critical Areas Act.

The legislation was meant to drastically cut the pollution flowing into the bay by creating a 1,000-foot buffer around the bay and its tributaries where development would be closely monitored and controlled.

But more than 20 years later, we are still seeing heavy development in these vulnerable areas and a continual increase in the pollution entering our waterways.

Countless loopholes and a lack of enforcement have made the Critical Areas Act largely ineffective.

Developers maneuver around the regulations (both legally and illegally) without fear of repercussions.

If the Critical Areas Act is ever to fulfill its goal of protecting the bay from pollution and overdevelopment, its language must be strengthened and there must be serious consequences for violators.

Josh Bell

Baltimore

The writer is a policy associate for Environment Maryland.

The problem causing the bay's declining crab population is simple: State law allows crabbers to keep mature female crabs of any size they can catch.

This needs to be changed so that these female crabs may spawn more fully.

Research has shown that Chesapeake Bay female crabs are capable of spawning five or more times. But most of them will not produce more than one or two broods of eggs because of their short life span, which is typically just one to two years (their life span is so short because most are harvested before they can grow old).

Female crabs may release between 750,000 and 8 million eggs per spawn, depending on the size of the crab; these figures clearly indicate the need to protect the females from harvest until later in their life cycle so that more crab eggs can be released into the bay.

I realize that a moratorium on catching female crabs might be a hardship for watermen.

But the eventual benefits of a rebounding crab population would more than make up for the loss.

Edward Myers

Glen Burnie

As someone who grew up on the bay and has crabbed recreationally my entire life, I have seen the bay go through more than a few cycles.

But one thing that has struck me every fall since we realized we had a problem with a declining crab population is the fact that no one has demanded that the state impose a fall moratorium on harvesting female crabs.

Year after year, I have witnessed commercial and recreational crabbers alike following female crabs as they march down the bay toward Virginia.

Most of these crabs, many of which are pregnant, end up in the picking houses for crabmeat. They are an easy catch for trotliners (like myself), as they seem to have insatiable appetites.

While I'm not trying to single out trotliners, it is much easier for them to follow the migration of the female crabs because, unlike some watermen, they don't have to pick up and move hundreds of crab pots to do so.

Yes, a moratorium on catching female crabs would require sacrifices. But didn't we prove through the rockfish restoration program that the results of such a moratorium could be worth the sacrifice?

Scott Schools

Catonsville

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