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Verse Versa

Posted 5/4/2005

In the City Paper of April 20, a panel of poets was assembled to discuss “the state of poetry as seen by Baltimore poets” (“Words’ Worth”). As an aging poet I found the discussion lamentable—dreadful, even—in several ways: 1) Everybody seemed to be talking about their process of presenting poetry or how they are perceived as poets vis-à-vis the marketplace or peers without any talk about poetry itself. 2) There seemed to be not a jot of awareness of Baltimore poetry history—when did these folks arrive, besides yesterday? 3) One of the guys said of one of the greatest—and dare I say, most youthful—living poets writing in America, Gary Snyder, “fuck Gary Snyder.”

Just to show that, although in my 60s, I am still quite “hip” (or “down”), I found this comment, given the general tenor of the discussion, the most poetic statement in the piece. It had a hard, jewel-like feeling, and was quite dynamic.

Dave Eberhardt

Editor Lee Gardner responds: In regard to No. 1, it’s only fair to the participants to point out that the discussion that we printed in the paper was edited down from a much longer and wider-ranging discussion that included ample discussion of poetry itself.

Throw the Tax Out

Allow me to weigh in on the angry letters to The Mail (April 20) on property tax assessment. If there were no property taxes, there would be no property tax assessments.

Residential property taxes should be replaced in their entirety with a progressive income tax, supplemented by a progressive commuter tax. By so doing, a myriad of problems would be solved.

Firstly, most of the money made in Baltimore City is made by people who do not live in Baltimore and pay neither property tax nor income tax to Baltimore. They should. We should make them. With courageous political leadership we could make them.

A progressive commuter tax might start with a few hundred dollars tax on Baltimore—obtained income of, say, $50,000 or so. Lawyers, doctors, and bankers with yearly income of hundreds of thousands to million and tens of millions or more would be taxed 1, 2, 3, or more percent. What are they going to do—move the city hospitals, universities, and banks to Towson?

The expense of reassessing each residential property every three years could be eliminated. The bureaucracy, the time, the expense, the temptation of corruption, and the class discrimination of property tax appeals would be eliminated. Perhaps best of all, since the federal government already exacts an income tax, Baltimore and Maryland could merely piggyback on the federal income tax form. And if anyone cheats on their federal income tax, they would be cheating on the feds as well as our state and city, so we could let the feds do the policing, prosecution, and imprisonment—at its expense.

Baltimore and Maryland could collect the exact same amount of tax money from expanding the currently ridiculously low local income tax as it presently does through its property tax, but with far less expense to the city or state and far less pain to the homeowner.

Middle-income earners who lose their jobs or go broke on the stock exchange wouldn’t necessarily lose their homes to boot. Owners of middle-income rental properties wouldn’t be under pressure to gentrify and raise rents on modest rental units. People would be more likely to move to Baltimore when the fear of high properly taxes is removed—and less likely to leave.

Anyone want to form a pressure group to make our mayor and City Council do the right thing?

A. Robert Kaufman

The author is a candidate for U.S. Senate.

The Imposing Right

While I normally find myself in disagreement with Russ Smith’s position regarding this White House’s policies, I don’t usually feel a need to remark upon it. But his latest column (Right Field, April 20) contains an absurd misinterpretation that I find demands comment.

Mr. Smith appears to be outraged by a New York Times editorial stating that “right-wing Christian groups and the Republican politicians they bankroll have done much since the last election to impose their particular religious views on all Americans.” Mr. Smith then follows with the claim that “right-wing Christian groups haven’t had a dash of influence on this American’s religious views.” This clearly misses what the Times piece said, which was that the religious right wishes to impose its religious views on all Americans, not that this faction has influenced his or any other American’s religious views. There is a difference.

Beyond Republicans’ overt and admitted pandering to the Christian right in the recent Terri Schiavo debacle, surely Mr. Smith knows of the Christian right’s efforts to impose its views of marriage by promoting constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in 11 states. This could affect hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially since it now appears that some amendments are having unintended consequences for straight, unmarried couples (Ohio domestic-violence charges are now not applicable to unmarried couples).

Surely, Mr. Smith is aware that restrictions on federally funded stem cell research are the direct result of the Republican Party catering to the Christian right’s draconian views regarding this vital medical research. Does Mr. Smith think this overt imposition of fundamentalist views upon the field of medical research will not have consequences for Americans?

Surely, Mr. Smith knows of the Christian zealots who threaten, bomb, and kill abortion-clinic workers and patients. Does he think these “Christians,” energized by their fanatical convictions, have not been actively imposing their views upon Americans?

Surely, Mr. Smith is aware that biblical literalists wish to see evolution stricken from school curricula and replaced by creationism or at least taught as an alternative “theory,” something it clearly is not; that our own president thinks that the word is “still out” on evolution; and that Republican lawmakers in Kansas and elsewhere have slapped warning labels on textbooks that instruct this alchemy. The pathological insistence that biblical scripture is science and should be taught as such is a direct imposition of Christian views upon Americans. Can Mr. Smith be unaware of the potential consequences of this anti-intellectualism? This country’s intellectual capital could slowly dissipate as a result of the Christian right’s absurd creationist agenda. And this will have been abetted by Republicans.

No, Mr. Smith, the Times editorial was exactly right. It did not claim that your religious views were influenced by the Christian right. The Christian right’s agenda is being brought to the public realm by a Republican party willing to employ that fanatical base to maintain and possibly strengthen its congressional majority.

Surely that is now clear to you.

Ken Anderson

Do You Want the Person Who Takes Care of You Paid Less Than Minimum Wage?

The lives of our state-contracted home health-care providers can really stink (Mobtown Beat, April 20), and I’m not referring to the bedpans that at least a few of them handle on the job. As your article makes clear, those workers’ long overdue wage increases are a pivot in the right direction but far from being enough. They must still deal with substandard pay, not to mention a paucity of health-care coverage and other reasonable quality-of-life benefits.

We should all be driven to do much more to make their work situation equitable, not just out of simple decency but also due to demographic realities. Our nation’s work force is projected to shrink dramatically in the decades ahead, even as the number of aged and infirm individuals mushrooms in size. It will therefore become all the more challenging to recruit and retain home health-care providers who are skilled and motivated. That is why we need to start putting even more money where our priorities should be, and better compensate those who labor in that low-prestige profession. After all, many of us might very well need their help someday.

Bob Cullen

Project redlight

City Paper’s recent article about Project RESTART (“Prisoners of Bureaucracy,” April 13) suggests that we must choose between safe prisons and preparing inmates to effectively re-enter society. We can’t afford to make such a choice. We must have both.

Approximately 15,000 inmates return each year from state correctional facilities to communities across Maryland, with about 9,000 returning annually to Baltimore City alone. The barriers that they face to successful reintegration in their communities are high: Seventy-five percent of Maryland inmates are high school dropouts, 20 percent read at or below a third-grade level when they entered prison, most have little or no mainstream work experience, and many leave prison with health problems. Compounding these difficulties is the stigma of a criminal record, which can hinder even the most ready, willing, and able former prisoners from finding a job and moving up in the work force.

Without intervention, the outlook for these Marylanders is bleak. Over half of them return to prison within three years, perpetuating a cycle of broken lives, broken families, and broken communities.

Last year, Maryland took a major step to addressing ex-offender issues by creating Project RESTART. It was disheartening to read City Paper’s critique of this new program. The article did not include any data, instead relying on its own “analysis” of other researchers’ work. And yet, when we contacted Professor Edward Latessa, one of the researchers whose work was used by City Paper to attack RESTART, Professor Latessa said, “He has clearly misinterpreted the research, and while I am not all that familiar with the RESTART initiative, I am impressed that Maryland is offering inmates programs and services that can assist with their rehabilitative efforts.”

In the current political and economic climate, it is very difficult to gain support for programs like Project RESTART and equally difficult to maintain them. That’s why an article like City Paper’s can be so destructive. Clearly, Maryland needs to do something to prepare the thousands of inmates who are released each year to become productive members of society. We don’t know yet if Project RESTART is going to work, but let’s not unfairly rip it apart before it has a chance to succeed.

The question of correctional officers’ safety concerns and the need for strong inmate programs should not be an either-or proposition. As a state, we must maintain prison safety and prepare inmates for their return to mainstream life, thus reducing recidivism and prison overcrowding.

Jason Perkins-Cohen
Executive director, Job Opportunities Task Force

The Job Opportunities Task Force is an independent, nonprofit organization that advocates policies and programs to improve skills, jobs, wages, and economic opportunities for low-income workers and job seekers in Maryland.

Edward Ericson Jr. responds: I did contact Latessa (by e-mail) and I read several of his studies in their entirety. As Latessa readily admits in his own talks to industry insiders, cognitive restructuring programs, which form the bedrock of RESTART and other current prison reform practices, require more research and are not “proven effective.” Until they are, a certain amount of skepticism serves the taxpayers, and the inmates, better than cheerleading.

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