April 20, 2009

Smith didn't stop tax bills from rising

Every year for the past six years, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has submitted a budget that spends more than the previous year ("Balto. County avoids budget blues," April 15). And every year, Mr. Smith claims, and the media dutifully report, that his budget holds the line on property taxes.

What Mr. Smith refuses to acknowledge and the media often fail to report is that although the property tax rate has remained the same, the amount of tax that many homeowners pay has increased 4 percent a year each year Mr. Smith has been in office.

That's because every year, the county is allowed to increase by 4 percent the portion of the value of the property that is subject to the property tax.

In 2002, the year Mr. Smith took office, I paid $2,600 in property taxes on my Towson home. In 2008, I paid $3,300 on the same property. By the time he leaves office, I will be paying $3,570 a year in property taxes.

Thank goodness for term limits.

I can't afford to have Mr. Smith fighting to protect me from the tax man.

Steve Bailey, Towson

Foie gras punishes only the animals

It is understandable that the owners of Iron Bridge Wine Company are frustrated over the recent acts of vandalism ("Howard restaurant targeted by anti-foie gras vandals is hit again," April 14). But serving more foie gras only hurts animals, not the vandals.

Ducks used for foie gras routinely have pipes shoved down their throats and are force-fed until their livers swell up to 12 times their normal healthy size and can barely walk or breathe. As a result, they often die from ruptured esophagi and heart failure and choke on their own vomit.

The Iron Bridge Wine Company should be ashamed of serving products that cause so much suffering.

Aaron Ross, Pikesville

The writer is director of the Humane League of Baltimore, which is conducting a campaign against foie gras in Baltimore.

Pirates always just extortionists

I was glad to see The Baltimore Sun's coverage of the fifth annual Privateer Day in Fells Point ("Sea Change," April 16). However, I was surprised by the continued characterization of pirates as swashbuckling funsters and snarky rogues.

The article's subtitle suggests as much: "Fells Point's Privateer Day brings back the original definition of pirate."

But the image of pirates as romantic, honorable men is a myth. Although privateers did have a tincture of legitimacy because of government sponsorship, they were often just brutal, bloodthirsty, thieving pirates.

The assertion that today's gun-toting Somali hijackers are "tarnishing the image of the pirate" because they carry automatic weapons and are "just thugs on the water" is especially striking; there's no question that any pirate who had access to small arms before the 20th century would have enthusiastically used them.

Real pirates are not now, nor have they ever been, much more than extortionists who were unafraid to terrorize and kill their captives.

Evan Balkan, Lutherville

The writer is coordinator of English for the Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville and author of a book on maritime adventures and disasters.

Promoting pirates tests limits of taste

Who wins the exceptionally poor taste prize - the organizers of the Fells Point pirate festival or The Baltimore Sun for splashing the story across the front of the You section ("Sea Change," April 16)?

Perhaps in light of very recent (and ongoing) real and dangerous pirate incidents, the cartoonish depictions of pirates should be put aside.

Mary Skeen, Baltimore

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