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The Voting Game

Posted 9/2/1998

It's the ruling class, stupid! The ruling class is the ruling class, not the dutiful politicians. Is Gaetano Mosca's book about politicians or rulers? Does anyone see the difference?

Perhaps Van Smith's article ("Power Players," 8/12) would have delivered the promise of its headline if it had extended the Hollywood Squares metaphor of the cover cartoon by including the "credits," identifying the producers, directors, and sponsors of the game. Or was that information edited out?

Vincent Gugliuzza
Towson

In his informative article "Power Players," Van Smith attributes the ongoing control of "the political ruling class in Baltimore" to low voter turnout. "Less than one-fifth of voting-age residents" voted in the last gubernatorial primary, he points out. Statistics are similar for mayoral elections.

One reason why the majority of Baltimoreans do not vote is they so seldom see any candidate offer viable solutions to their greatest concerns: education, crime, drugs, poverty, health, and auto insurance. Another is, as Smith implies, the average Baltimorean cannot put any trust in candidates whose campaigns are financed by the same heavy rollers who will be awarded hugely profitable city contracts at taxpayers' expense! Most average Baltimoreans are smart enough to know that these politicians can't (and don't) serve two masters.

Until the evolution of a truly democratic political movement, incorruptible candidates who serve only the people, not the corporations, are unable to raise sufficient cash for The Sun to treat as "viable" candidates, regardless of the viability of his or her solutions.

I have some suggestions that will help solve such dilemmas. If Baltimore expanded the number of residents who were eligible to vote, it would be harder for the political ruling class to control the situation. I can think of four such categories: felons, immigrants, 16- and 17-year-olds, and independent voters.

The prohibition of felons from voting was brought about by those very same Southern racists who establisHed2 the poll tax and the grandfather clause, and for the very same reason: to cripple the black vote. What with the "war on drugs" charade, a significant portion of black and low-income citizens are banned for life by state and local law from exercising their democratic rights.

Until the post—World War I "Red scare," immigrant residents could vote in Baltimore. The growing number of Hispanics, Asians, Russian Jews, and others now living in Baltimore would greatly increase the reservoir of independent, thinking voters.

Lowering the voting age to 16 and integrating election campaigns with the educational process would not only stimulate the learning incentive in our schools, but would probably result (through interviews with candidates and other classroom activities) in the most informed bloc of voters in town.

There are some 20,000 registered independents in Baltimore. I used to be one of them. Now, having realized that the Democratic primary in Baltimore is more relevant than the general election, I am a registered Democrat--supporting one of the two ruling-class parties the way a rope supports a hanged man.

I believe we should do away with primary elections altogether. Candidates' names should appear on the general-election ballot along with whatever designation they choose: Democrat, Republican, Socialist, Nazi, etc.

If the two ruling-class parties wish to hold primary elections, let them--but at their expense, not the public's. Until then, primary elections should be open to independents.

A political movement to enfranchise these sectors of the population would be one worth fighting for.

A. Robert Kaufman
Baltimore

Starr Gazing

Journalists were responsible for reporting on Watergate and presenting the facts to the American public. It is, therefore, sad to see the column "The End of the Tether" (Urban Rhythms, 8/19) wherein Wiley Hall announces he will abdicate his responsibility to follow the Clinton sex scandal.

Let's review the facts. First, Clinton said he never had a relationship with Gennifer Flowers. Then, years later in a deposition, he admitted he had had a relationship with Flowers.

Recently he professed categorically he had no relations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Now he televises his admission he had had an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky.

Clinton has demonstrated this repeated pattern of deception, denial, and deliberate behavior. At no time during his microaddress did he use the words to express sorrow or an apology concerning his actions.

Amazingly, the media and comics have savaged Kenneth Starr for performing his duty to investigate all possible transgressions, which is why Hall's column strikes a chord. The new tactic is to say, "OK, he admitted he did it. Let's close the books."

Our Constitution is the law of the land, and the president swears an oath to uphold it. He is not above the law; he must obey the law. The Starr investigation report is pending and its findings are important to every American. Hall may not care whether Clinton perjured himself or obstructed justice, but I do--and not just because I'm a Republican.

This investigation is not about the president's private life. It is about trust and honesty--his word as a bond with the American people as our president. If impeachment proceedings are recommended by the grand jury, Clinton's trial will become the next story of the century.

Timothy Lloyd Tilghman
Baltimore

I commend Wiley Hall for treating the inane Clinton-Starr clown show, the tawdry tale of Clinton and Lewinsky, and the corporate media that created this charade with all of the contempt they so richly deserve.

Clinton's shallow mea culpa and the persistence of Starr's meanspirited mission does not alter my view in the least. It is a farce, as Hall notes, which the media treats "with the solemnity you'd expect to see reserved for issues of life and death." It's also a diversion from essential issues, a kind of electronic bread and circuses; and the less bread there is, the more circus we receive.

But with 10 million people homeless in America, with millions of children going to bed hungry in the world's richest nation, with health conditions and national standards of literacy rapidly approaching Third World levels, with racial and class polarization threatening the very life of the republic, and with the ever increasing concentration of wealth portending the utter demise of democracy, anyone who is greatly concerned with the president's adolescent peccadilloes ought to deeply examine his own character, his own reason, and his own impoverisHed2 social conscience.

Robert Birt

Professor of philosophy, Morgan State University

Baltimore

Guitar Pickin'

This is a rebuttal to the "Guitar Wars" article by Larry Nichols (No Cover, 8/26). Just where is Nichols from? Shouldn't there be some requirement for an article about local music stores being done by someone involved in the local music scene? He says both new stores (Mars and Guitar Center) make a good first impression. Sure they do, if you like malls and used-car lots.

Gordon Miller Music in Towson has been the only game in northern Baltimore for some time. I know of no music stores on Edmondson Avenue (perhaps Nichols can let me know where they are), but there are several on Frederick Road in Catonsville. Bill's Music has always been as well-stocked as Gordon Miller. Nichols also seems to forget (or not know of) the two stores focusing on acoustic guitars--Baltimore Bluegrass and Appalachian Bluegrass--or Ted's, or any of the smaller shops around town.

As for Aileen Miller's comments quoted in the article, perhaps Nichols quoted her out of context. From what I have seen there has always been healthy competition and cooperation between the local shops. If Gordon Miller was out of something, they would help you find it. I have heard salespeople at Guitar Center make comments that Gordon Miller will be out of business within two years. This is healthy competition?

There is an abundance of ass-kissing at the new stores, but not of knowledge of the instruments or of servicing them. A question as to the construction of a certain guitar brought a wrong answer at Guitar Center. I listened (somewhat disgustedly) to a friend's story about how he got a good price on something at Mars and then went to Baltimore Bluegrass to get it installed because it was beyond the capabilities of the service department at Mars. We have got to realize that these low prices are a gimmick which will put the old-time locals out of business and leave us without a competent place to go.

I was not "puddle of drool" impressed and I am not on crack. Both stores are flashy and have a bunch of stuff. In more than 25 years of shopping at local shops, I rarely remember not finding what I wanted.

Nichols also commented on the chains and signs at Gordon Miller. I guess they have gotten tired of noodlers (me included) coming in and smudging and scratching up $1,000 instruments. As I see it, the existing local shops pretty well had the local scene scoped out as far as what would sell and who was buying.

There is a chance that as a result of the "megastore Cold War," the consumer will benefit. So far, I don't see it. We will get short-lived low prices, no service, no future. Well, I guess that is the crux of the modern American economic system. God bless it!

Edward Edelenbos
Baltimore

Larry Nichols responds: On top of playing drums and guitar for close to 10 years, I have been involved in and writing about the local music scene for more than five years. I didn't focus on smaller stores because I don't consider them peers of stores like the three I talked about in the story. Not to say that the smaller stores aren't great; Baltimore Bluegrass and Appalachian Bluegrass may be fine stores, but they do me no good if I'm a DJ looking for some turntables or a metalhead looking for an Ibanez seven-string. From a broad musical perspective, Gordon Miller was the only game in northern Baltimore. And I'm sorry that your friends got some bum service at Mars, but I never wrote than any of these stores were flawless.

Swinging and Missing

I was so very glad to see Chris Barrett's glowing review of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys (Music, 8/26). However (yeah, I know, here come the eye-rolls and the doesn't-she-have-anything-better-to-think-about quips), there is one very big mistake here that anyone who is familiar with the band will catch immediately: Lee Jeffries does not (repeat, does not) play a pedal steel guitar, which is implied repeatedly by Barrett. He plays a nonpedal steel guitar, and that's no small deal.

It is my belief that nonpedal steel guitars are more difficult to play than pedals, for which you have all of those cheat devices such as, well, pedals. I know that I take this more seriously than most, but jeez, for a music reviewer not to know the difference here--especially with Big Sandy et al. --is really inexcusable.

It's a different instrument we're talking about; it would be like waxing poetic about the beauties of the banjo when the article is about Bob Wills. I won't go on, but since Barrett was talking about the influence of Western swing (oh yeah, land of the nonpedal steel, with mind-dazzling innovators and musicians such as Bob Dunn, Leon McAuliffe, Noel Boggs, Billy Briggs, Tom Morrell, etc.), what does he mean by "the swing of the Texas coast"?

Western swing sprang up in the Fort Worth area. Sure, there were eventually guys playing it on the Gulf Coast (as well as everywhere else in Texas), such as Cliff Bruner and His Texas Wanderers in Beaumont and the Blue Ridge Playboys out of Houston, but I would hardly call it the music of the Texas coast. Perhaps what is meant is the West Coast. I know that Lee Jeffries, for one, likes a lot of those West Coast swing guys, and Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys are definitely more a California than a Texas band.

I know, I know, you all don't think this is a big deal, but I really like the band in question and I love Western swing (I moved to Texas to meet a lot of those Western-swing guys, so I know what I'm talking about), so I truly think that an official correction is in order. It's not a pedal steel--and if you don't know the difference, just listen. It's not music of the Texas coast. Authors should do their homework if they claim to love so much the music they write about. Once Barrett investigates this music more, then he will thank me for it, believe you me.

Bililynn Savage
Baltimore

Music editor Lee Gardner responds: Chris Barrett's original copy referred to "steel guitar"; the consequent change to "pedal steel" was a regrettable editing error, as was the reference to music shops on Edmondson Avenue in Larry Nichols' piece. The stores do indeed line Frederick Road, as Larry originally wrote.

Build a Bettor World

For the governor of a state where the third-largest source of revenue is the lottery to be morally opposed to the evils of slot-machine gambling is somewhat oxymoronic ("Slots o' Luck," 8/19).

If we are to have casinos, let's not repeat the failures of Atlantic City: glitzy buildings that should shame a trailer park surrounded by urban blight, and owners who take their profits out of state. Let's be more farsighted and use as a model Monaco: architectural gems are owned by the principality, thus enabling it to give its citizens one of the lowest tax rates in the world.

Instead of using a hotel built with hamburger-bun money for an Inner Harbor casino, the President Street sewage-treatment building should be used. Then gamblers can say, with justification, that they flusHed2 their money down the drain.

Gary Suggars
Baltimore

In your Aug. 19 issue, we got to hear once again about slots in Maryland. OK, I still don't understand the problem, governor.

Slots are bad. They are bad because they will subsidize the horse-racing industry that provides so many jobs here in Maryland. It's better that we use state tax dollars to prop it up.

Slots are bad. Poor people will gamble. They can't afford it. So we'll protect them. Let's really protect them by cutting out the lottery games, Keno, horse racing, and bingo. Poor people play these games, governor. Come to Dundalk sometime and I'll show you. Are you going on record to eliminate Lotto?

Slots are bad. They attract the shady element. Not like your friends in the General Assembly. The shady element is already here and doing a booming business, governor! If you think former state Sen. Larry Young and former Delegate Gerald Curran were the only ethically deficient representatives in Annapolis, you really don't deserve reelection after all. They were arrogant and got caught. The rest of them will be back in Annapolis in January. I promise.

Ed Rothstein
Dundalk

The First Degree

I can't help but write after reading the letter "Horse Latitudes" (The Mail, 8/12), which found fault with "Dial Tome" (Charmed Life, 7/22).

The longitude for Baltimore would be 76 degrees 38 minutes west. If using decimal degrees rather than degrees and minutes, it should be 76.63 degrees west. The north direction is used for latitude, not longitude.

Winnie Nissley
Baldwin

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