LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Baltimore’s bankrupted budgetary solutions

Unfortunately, it came as no surprise to me after reading the latest Sun article outlining a costly crime plan that cost the citizens of Baltimore City close to $300,000 for a document that articulates the very legislative initiatives many of its state legislators have already spearheaded; and City Council President Bernard ‘Jack’ Young had every right to be upset, if not livid. (Unhappy with Baltimore police plan, Nov. 25, 2013)

Even though I’m sure most residents would point to Young’s vote on the Board of Estimates approving the costly expenditure, I am certain that he believed it would move us past what we already knew, giving the BCPD a more detailed blueprint for success.

Groups like the ACLU, the NAACP and their Criminal Justice committee, Safe Streets and others have already outlined many of the proposed ‘changes’ detailed in the latest ‘crime plan.’ In fact, one of the suggestions— to support placing cameras on the uniforms of police officers— is already legislation [that] I have drafted for the upcoming legislative session, making this document the most expensive piece of non-essential wording since the unfunded mandate known as Thornton. And, while my colleagues and I are busy focusing on writing good laws that protect the people of this city, year after year; it would benefit all who are concerned to consult their local resources from within the city.

Del. Frank M. Conaway Jr.

D-District 40, Baltimore City

Baltimore. MD

Bill Gates: Where to put the smart money to end AIDS

A decade ago, over 1 million people in Zambia were living with HIV.

Only 143 of them were receiving treatment. The average cost of that treatment was more than $10,000 per year. Being infected with HIV in Zambia was akin to a death sentence.

When I visited Zambia in 2012, the picture had changed. Eighty percent of Zambians living with HIV now had access to treatment. I met Florence Daka, a mother of four, who received anti-retroviral treatment five years ago to prevent her from passing the virus to her baby while she was pregnant. Florence now takes medicine that allows her to work full time and care for her children. It costs about 50 cents per day.

On World AIDS Day, December 1, we have an opportunity to make Florence’s story a reality for more families by supporting an organization that is helping developing countries respond to three of the world’s biggest health challenges — the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Since it was founded in 2002, the Global Fund has been a leader in the world’s successful response to HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. All told, its efforts have saved nearly 9 million lives.

The Global Fund also plays a key role in helping developing countries change the course of these three epidemics.

For example, when people have early access to HIV testing and treatment, they not only save their own lives but they dramatically reduce their chances of infecting others. Moreover, a simple preventive procedure like voluntary medical male circumcision lowers a man’s chance of acquiring HIV — and potentially transmitting it to his partner — by about 60%. Overall, effective prevention and treatment programs have helped reduce new HIV infections by a third since 2001.

That last number is crucial, because preventing new HIV infections is absolutely essential to ending AIDS. Developing a vaccine to prevent HIV remains critical, and scientific researchers are achieving exciting breakthroughs. In the meantime, we need to develop new technologies that women can use to protect themselves. Condoms are a great way to prevent the spread of HIV, but they require the cooperation of both partners.

Even if a vaccine or a revolutionary new prevention method were discovered tomorrow, our work wouldn’t be over — because they won’t end AIDS if they don’t reach people at risk. That is what the Global Fund has been so successful at doing for the past decade: delivering the best tools available to the people who need them most.

The Global Fund doesn’t just provide money for pills and other health products. It channels its resources into training new generations of doctors, nurses, and health care workers. It helps developing countries build stronger health systems. This approach guarantees that the money donors invest in the Global Fund has a long-term impact on overall health and quality of life in dozens of countries.

Put simply: The Global Fund isn’t just one of the kindest things people have ever done for each other — it’s also one of the smartest investments the world has ever made.

On Monday and Tuesday, leaders from around the world will meet in Washington for the Global Fund’s fourth pledge conference, called the Global Fund Replenishment, to raise the necessary funding for the next three years.

The gathering is a reminder that the Global Fund was founded by the world to address an urgent need. We still need the entire world’s support to continue the incredible progress we’ve made.

This World AIDS Day, we need governments, private donors, NGOs, activists and leaders to reaffirm their commitment to an organization that has helped change the course of three epidemics.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bill Gates.

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, is co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It’s time for an intervention

The American public has lost patience with Washington. The question is, now what?


Courtesy photo

Lee H. Hamilton

Congress is unable to do its job. It displays neither competence nor responsibility. It lurches— reeling from crisis to crisis, each one self-manufactured in an effort to postpone the reckoning from some earlier crisis. It shut the government down over a temporary budget. Now it’s threatening the financial credibility of the U.S. government and the security and safety of the American people. Three years of last-minute spending decisions have culminated in a television standoff with no actual negotiations.

Too many members of Congress reject the notion that accommodation and time-honored procedures allow them to fulfill their responsibilities to the American people. They use their legislative skill to engage in brinksmanship rather than address the country’s fundamental problems. Economic growth? Creating jobs? Putting the federal budget on a sustainable path? Don’t look to Congress. They’re too busy coming up with the next short-term tactic to confront the other side. Every day they dither, they keep the government from addressing the nation’s real problems.

Even worse, they’ve managed to raise real questions in this country and abroad about whether our system of government can work. Are we saddled with a national legislature paralyzed by unending conflict? Are we capable of tackling our major problems? We are on the road to a government that cannot plan, a country shackled by perpetual uncertainty, and a loss of faith in our institutions both at home and abroad.

We do not have to continue down that road, but we do have to confront a core problem. The political center in Congress has weakened to the point of ineffectiveness, if not near-irrelevance.

That’s fine with some people in Washington, who are comfortable with gridlock and don’t think its consequences will be dire. Our government’s inability to deal with problems, they argue, is good— a government that’s able to act, they believe, creates more problems than it solves.

Likewise, some people acknowledge polarization as a problem, but blame it on an electorate that prefers a divided government, split between the parties. All I can say is that divided government in the past— think Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill— didn’t keep Congress from creatively addressing national challenges. Divided government is not easy, but it is not unusual and it can work.

Politicians don’t deserve all the blame. Voters share responsibility: more people have to turn out to vote. The more people who vote, the better the chances to strengthen the political center— that is, moderates and pragmatists. That’s because low turnout brings out the most ideologically intense voters, who in turn reward the most polarizing candidates. A Congress more representative of the American people rests on expanding efforts to convince people to vote, and beating back the barriers to voting.

The second solution lies with members of Congress. Contemplating a government shutdown, a Kentucky congressman recently explained his stance by saying, “All that really matters is what my district wants.” This is not an uncommon view, but it’s a distressingly limited one. Our system depends on members who believe it’s also their responsibility to lead and inform voters, who are willing to weigh the national interest as well as parochial concerns and who have confidence in our system to resolve political differences.

In other words, we need members of Congress devoted to making the system work. We need men and women in office who understand that when the voters give us a divided government, they have no choice but to accept the distribution of power and work with it, regardless of what they wish were the case. We need legislators who realize that those on the other side feel just as passionately and deserve their respect, and who are committed to finding a solution to our problems.

We change laws in our democracy and solve our most difficult issues in this country not by bringing government to a halt, but by fighting out the issues before the voters in an election. At the end of the day, we have to move the country forward— and we need to elect members of Congress who are willing and able to do that.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Keep guns out of dangerous hands

— We are still learning key details about Aaron Alexis, the man named as the shooter in this week’s horrific mass killing at the Washington Navy Yard.

So far there is a record of at least two prior incidents in which Alexis fired a gun under circumstances that should have brought criminal charges. His time as a Navy reservist was checkered with accounts of insubordination and disorderly conduct. He was reportedly seeking treatment for mental illness (he was hearing voices and having problems sleeping). More importantly from the perspective of risk for violence, a former roommate reported that Alexis was a heavy drinker.

While much of the focus has been on how a person with this background obtained clearance to work at a military facility, a similar question could be asked about how he could legally buy a firearm in Virginia and allegedly obtain a permit to carry loaded firearms in Texas.

The gun lobby and other opponents to stronger gun laws like to talk about the rights of “law-abiding gun owners,” but the policies in place in most states allow individuals with backgrounds far worse than that of Alexis to own legally as many firearms as they can afford and carry loaded firearms most anywhere.

To appease the gun lobby, lawmakers have created an environment where individuals with numerous convictions for misdemeanor crimes involving violence, firearm misuse, illegal drugs and alcohol abuse, and who have previously been subject to restraining orders for domestic violence, can legally arm themselves to the teeth.

Several states have stricter standards for legal possession of handguns than federal law, and states such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts give law enforcement some discretion in determining who should legally be able to buy and carry handguns.

My colleagues and I published a study last year where we found that in states with the weakest standards (similar to federal standards), nearly one-third of state prison inmates incarcerated for crimes committed with guns would have been prohibited from possessing firearms when committing their most recent offense if their states had standards for legal gun possession similar to those in place in high-standards states. With reasonable regulations such as background checks for all gun sales and proper regulation of gun dealers, many of these inmates would not have had guns to use in crime.

In order to reduce significantly the gun violence that occurs every day in communities across the United States, we must focus on the issues that matter the most where there is broad consensus. Public opinion surveys show large majorities of gun owners support stronger standards for legal gun ownership and policies designed to keep guns from prohibited persons, including universal background checks and stronger regulation and oversight of gun dealers.

We can’t say for sure whether such policies would have prevented the recent mass shootings that have gripped our nation, but they would reduce a significant number of shootings that don’t receive national news attention, though they are no less devastating to the individuals, families and communities.

Unfortunately, the gun debate in the United States has been just that — a debate. Instead of engaging in the all too familiar, polarizing discussions that have characterized gun policy, let’s act upon the things we all agree upon — keeping guns from people who shouldn’t have them.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel W. Webster.


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History can move in two directions at once

In my time as an organizer, I have been guided by the words of many people— activists and authors, colleagues and friends. But the most powerful lesson I ever received about the struggle for civil and human rights came in 1993, when my grandmother taught me that history could move in two directions at once.

I was in college, celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday. A round of toasts went up. One friend raised his glass to honor the memory of all those we knew who had been killed or sent to prison before they reached the age of 21. Another friend lifted his cup to toast to the fact that one more of us had lived long enough to reach the quintessential age of adulthood.

I could not raise my glass on that last toast. In fact, it felt as if the motion cut me like a knife.

The notion that a man of any race, of any age, in the world’s greatest and wealthiest democracy, could think it an accomplishment to simply breathe past the age of 21— it cut me to the core.

After so many historic civil rights victories, how could it be that my generation had grown up just in time to find itself the most murdered generation in the country and the most incarcerated generation on the planet?

So I did what I always did when I am stuck. I went to my grandmother’s table and I laid my burdens down.

I said, “Grandma, you told me that my generation was supposed to be the first generation to be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. Not because of what we are or where we come from— but because of who we are and where we are headed. What happened?”

My grandma got real quiet. She looked at me with sad eyes and then she said, “Son, it’s sad but it’s simple. We got what we fought for, but we lost what we had.” Those are wise words to remember in times like this.

We got the right to be police officers, but we lost the right to live in safe communities. In Chicago, a culture of poverty-fueled gang violence has reinforced the notion that living until 21 is an accomplishment.

We got the right to send our children to any school, but we lost the right to assume that they would receive a good education at whatever school they attend. In Philadelphia, the school system is facing a $300 million budget gap that already delayed the start of the school year and threatens to devastate support staff at schools in the most underserved communities.

We got the right to live in any community but we lost the right to know that our children would be protected by the police or the community watch volunteers, who are supposed to serve them. In 2011, before New York City passed a racial profiling ban with teeth, the New York Police Department made more stops of young black men between the ages of 14 and 24 than there were young black men between 14 and 24 in the city.

In her simple way, my grandmother spoke volumes about our history and issued a subtle admonition for the path forward. She reminded me that we must be clear about both what we are fighting for, and how we will protect what we already have.

What are we fighting for? First and foremost, we are fighting for our children: for their futures to be robust, their equality to be affirmed and their lives to be protected. That is why the civil rights community lifts up education over incarceration, and economic liberation over discrimination.

What do we need to protect? If each of us has anything— even those of us who don’t have a house, or a car, or a family to feed, or any earthly possessions at all— as soon as we turn 18, we have the right to vote. This is the right that has been won and expanded through the American Revolution, Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement because we have always understood that we are ultimately rendered defenseless when our access to the ballot box is diminished. So while voting rights may not be the most important issue to any one of us, it needs to be the most important fight for all of us.

My grandma’s words have guided me over the years and they will continue to guide me throughout my career. We should heed her important reminder that history can, and often does, move in two directions at once.

Benjamin Todd Jealous is the president and CEO of the national NAACP. This column was first published in USA TODAY.

Race fatigue

Help me, I’m suffering from acute race fatigue!

After gavel-to-gavel coverage of the George Zimmerman trial, I need a break. After all the post-verdict anger, lamentations and inane discussions about what it is to be a black man in America, I’m exhausted.


Courtesy photo

Derryck Green

After watching President Obama liken himself to Trayvon Martin, I’ve had enough.

All this talk about race seems intentionally shortsighted and disingenuous. It simply implicates whites and infantilizes the black man. And those needing to hear straight talk the most are shortchanged by the soulless profiteers of the racial grievance industry.

I’m tired of Trayvon Martin being compared to Emmett Till— which, by extension, projects a racial ethos similar to that of 1955 upon contemporary America. Martin was no Till, period.

Martin was not some kind of martyr. Please, already.

I’m tired of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being photo shopped into a hoodie. This is nothing short of repulsive, and it denigrates the memory of Dr. King’s contribution to racial justice.

Our nation shall forever be in debt to Dr. King. The same cannot and should not be said nor insinuated about Trayvon Martin. There is no comparison.

I’m especially exhausted of hearing condescending white progressives encouraging blacks to maintain a false narrative of victimization.

The embarrassing demonstrations increased racial fatigue because those engaging in them did so at the expense of their dignity and credibility. These people— willfully or through neglect— ignored the facts and evidence of the case in a grandstanding attempt to make whites feel responsible and guilty for perpetuating racial discrimination. At the same time, whites feel obligated to perform penance of indeterminate length— defined by the racial grievance industry— without assurance of absolution.

Meanwhile, black-on-black crime is much more destructive and prevalent than a “white Hispanic” killing a black male. The charade is disgusting, and I’m tired of it.

The Zimmerman trial wasn’t about race. The FBI’s investigation found absolutely no evidence of racial bias.

Martin was criminally profiled. In the 14 months prior to the fatal Martin-Zimmerman confrontation, the Retreat at Twin Lakes apartment complex was burglarized eight times— with all suspects being roughly the same height, build and color as Martin.

Thus, Martin wasn’t stalked or “hunted down like a rabid dog” because he was black. As noted during the trial, suspicion was raised because of Martin’s behavior and because he fit a very specific criminal profile.

Blacks aren’t helpless victims abused by “the system.” The facts prove it. The reason that blacks— specifically black males— are disproportionally represented in the criminal justice system is because we commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime. Period.

According to FBI statistics, of the 2,938 murder offenders counted in 2011, 1,803 offenders were black. The total number of black murders in 2011, regardless of age, was 2,695. Of that number, 2,447 had black offenders.

Blacks are complicit in their own demise. The system that blacks fear, which they claim is out to get them, is— in reality— blacks themselves.

In other words, there are too many black and progressive fingers pointed outward and not enough pointed inward. This is because there’s no political capital to be gained by doing this— no emotions to be exploited and no one to morally indict as racist.

Does racism exist? Yes, of course. However, no one race is responsible for all— or even most— of it.

Does racial discrimination exist? Yes, again. And there always will be on this side of heaven.

For blacks and their enablers to continue to foment this notion that racism is America’s number one problem, however, is self-defeating, immoral and perpetuates a lie.

Too many blacks have no idea how irresponsible and embarrassing they look in all of this. And I fear, very soon, they will be called on their Dream-killing commodification and idolization of race.

By then, I hope I’ve recovered from my race fatigue.

Derryck Green is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.

Sleep with my Fathers

On turning 60, George Washington wrote in letters to friends: “The time is not far distant when I must sleep with my Fathers.” I was a history student reading those words. My professors told me that Washington lacked Thomas Jefferson’s “peculiar felicity of expression.” Even though I was studying at Mr. Jefferson’s university, I found it hard not to feel the beauty of Washington’s words.

“Sleeping with my Fathers” was Washington’s poetic way of describing his own impending death. I read them rather more literally. They reminded me of my own father coming home day after day from his carpenter’s job. He would sit with me in our family’s TV room and tell me wonderful stories of his seagoing days. He had sailed to 47 countries before, during, and after World War II and he was a fount of knowledge about the wider world.

Sometimes, our story hour would turn into wrestling on the TV room floor. Pop would then tell me about the need to defend myself from neighborhood bullies and teach me some self-defense moves.

Not infrequently, we would fall asleep on that floor. We would only awaken when my mother would come in and yell, “Les, take a bath and come to supper.” My father always smelled of sweat and sawdust. It was an honest, sweet scent.

Pop was proud of his work. He could drive nails faster and more accurately than any man I’ve ever known. And he often worked high atop construction sites, as sure-footed as a Mohawk. His hammer would tap out a steady rhythm: “pop, POP, pop.” It was rare that a nail required more than three swings of his hammer.

Pop would only intervene in coming-of-age fights if the toughs ganged up on me, or if one of them threatened me with a knife. Then, he would march over to the gang leader’s house and tell his old man to come out. Pop would tell that father that if his son used a weapon or ganged up, he would “knock his block off.” He never had to back up his words with his fists. In those happy days, even the toughs had fathers in the home.

It’s painful for me to read every weekend the reports of murders in our inner cities. Emergency Rooms in our major cities see too much of the “rod and gun club” casualties. More than two-thirds of the teen murderers in our prisons are fatherless young men.

Liberal politicians and press lords focus on race, poverty, education, or other indicators, the so-called “root causes” of urban homicides. They want to target more federal programs to those mean streets. As if those streets don’t have targets enough.

Rarely do the polls and pundits acknowledge “fatherlessness.” My blue-collar neighborhood was no garden. I often had to fight. But there was a limit to the violence. Fathers like mine enforced that limit.

There’s another factor to consider when dealing with the sources of violence: religion. In their now classic study, “Who Escapes? The Relation of Church-Going and Other Background Factors to the Socio-Economic Performance of Black Male Youths from Inner-City Poverty Tracts,” Richard B. Freeman and Harry J. Holzer showed how some young men avoided entrapment in a host of destructive behaviors and attitudes. Church-going was then seen (1985) as a protection for vulnerable youth. The work of Family Research Council’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute (marri.org) powerfully reinforces the Freeman and Holzer’s conclusions.

When I first read those words of George Washington, that sweet reference to sleeping with his Fathers, my professors did not point out that those words were taken straight from Scripture. “So David slept with his Fathers and was buried in the City of David” (1 Kings 2:10, KJV). Washington’s readers would instantly have recognized the reference. For some years, it eluded me. Did that Bible reference also escape my learned teachers?

We are coming to the point— and may already have passed it— when Americans will no longer recognize what it means to sleep, or to wake, with our fathers. As Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker acerbically writes, Father may be the new F-word.

The French understand what is at issue in the new laws abolishing mother and father in their legal code. “Everyone needs the love of a mother and a father,” said a 10-year-old marcher in one of their recent, massive Paris street demonstrations. As if he had uttered an obscenity, the YouTube video of the boy’s comments has since been removed.

Now that I have passed that meridian that George Washington called “the grand climacteric,” 60 years, I can affirm his words. I can appreciate what it means to sleep with our Fathers. I’m grateful for my own father, and for our country’s Founding Father. In speaking thus from Scripture, Washington was a model father and protector, a good and wise Grounding Father.

Robert Morrison is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council.