- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Secret Service serves with distinction

In her commentary (“The air marshals’ mess,” Saturday), Michelle Malkin implies that Federal Air Marshal Service Director Thomas Quinn’s former career as a Secret Service special agent is a liability to the mission of the federal air marshals.

Apparently Mrs. Malkin knows very little about the U.S. Secret Service, referring to “dangerous fashion taste for the ‘Men in Black’ uniforms … guarding high-profile politicians and celebrities …”

Throughout their career, special agents of the Secret Service participate in numerous and varied criminal investigations and executive protection assignments.

Many assignments require agents to work undercover, conduct surveillance or otherwise blend into their surroundings. The Hollywood stereotypical team of agents in suits and sunglasses depicts only a fraction of the function, versatility and capability of the Secret Service.

By law the service protects the president, vice president and their families; visiting foreign heads of state or government; and major candidates for president.

Some family members of these protectees, who also receive Secret Service protection, would hardly be considered high-profile politicians. Agents aren’t bodyguards, they don’t protect celebrities. They do however, often provide executive protection aboard commercial aircraft.

Mrs. Malkin may not agree with the air marshals’ current dress code, but she shouldn’t disparage the men and women of the Secret Service and marginalize their expertise based upon her uninformed perception.

MIKE VINDAUGA

Millersville, Md.

California insurance regulation

I must respectfully disagree with Robert Redding Jr.’s article, “California tort model receives mixed reviews” (Metropolitan, Dec. 10).

The reason that California’s insurance rates have risen at a slower rate than elsewhere in the country is not the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which is a cruel restriction on compensation for the most severely injured victims of medical malpractice.

The reason is that California has the strongest insurance regulation in the country — Proposition 103, enacted by voter initiative in 1988. As a result of Prop 103, which requires public hearings whenever an insurer files a rate hike greater than 15 percent, rates have been knocked way down in that state, saving California doctors millions of dollars.

It has been repeatedly proven that damage caps are not an effective tool for controlling premiums. California is the only state that has such comprehensive insurance regulation, and it is this type of insurance reform that should be the model for Maryland and the rest of the country.

LAURIE BEACHAM

Communications director

Center for Justice and Democracy

New York

Environmentalists not the problem

In “Green with bigotry” (Commentary, Sunday), Thomas Sowell rants against environmental groups and asserts that one is unlikely to get any hard evidence from such groups. How ironic, from one who seems to know virtually nothing of the issues he raises.

Referring to my organization, International Rivers Network, though not by name, he states: “A hydroelectric dam in Uganda would bring electricity to millions of Africans, but it would annoy the delicate sensibilities of Berkeley environmentalists who like waterfalls.”

To set the record straight: The Bujagali dam controversy to which Mr. Sowell refers was initiated by Ugandan nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and academics, not “Berkeley environmentalists.” A waterfall is indeed involved — Bujagali Falls is Uganda’s most revered spiritual site — but local NGO networks and parliamentarians opposed the project primarily because of its high cost, corruption, political arm-twisting and secrecy.

The assertion that Bujagali would provide power for “millions” is a gross exaggeration. The Ugandan government does not have the resources to expand the grid to the point where millions would benefit from this project. Fewer than 5 percent of Ugandans are currently connected to the national power grid, and most could not afford electricity even if they were provided free connections to the grid.

Rather than addressing the energy needs of the poor, the Bujagali dam would saddle Uganda with an unaffordable debt burden. The issues of this debate — corruption, affordable infrastructure services and debt — are not imposed by northern NGOs; they are at the core of Uganda’s development debate. Bashing NGOs will not solve Uganda’s energy needs. Nor will championing projects beset by serious problems and internal contradictions from the outset.

LORI POTTINGER

Director, Africa program

International Rivers Network

Berkeley, Calif.

Doubts about Hillary

At first glance, I also was impressed with the strong words of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants—”(“God Bless Hillary Clinton?!” Op-Ed, Dec. 15). However, a quick check of her voting record left me open-mouthed; she has an F- from BetterImmigration.com.

Sen. Clinton has co-sponsored legislation for amnesty for illegal aliens, been silent in the face of runaway legal immigration that the Census Bureau projects will drive our population to that of China and India by the end of the century and a little more than a week ago voted for the September 11 commission legislation void of the critical driver’s license verification section.

I can think of the word God and Clinton in the same sentence, but it is not the one Tony Blankley has constructed in his Op-Ed column.

TIM AARONSON

El Cerrito, Calif.

Praise for N.J. mayor

Thank God for Mayor Steve Lonegan of Bogota, N.J., (“Night of caroling won’t be silenced,” Page 1, Monday). We need to follow him in singing and playing our Christmas carols. After all, what is this holiday (holy day) if not Christmas? There’s no denying that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. We should all rejoice for that miracle.

It doesn’t bother me if people celebrate Hanukkah; I sometimes celebrate that miracle with friends. It’s fine with me if others hold Ramadan as special. As for Kwaanza — OK, let them have it. Why then, do so many people want to steal Christmas and take away its true meaning? Are they jealous of something I hold in my heart?

JOANNE E. DUMENE

Alexandria

Thanks, but no thanks

In response to Sgt. Shafts’ column (“Wounded welcome phone cards,” Nation, Monday), I called both Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval hospitals to ascertain their need for prepaid calling cards.

Representatives of both facilities advise me that they are not accepting any additional cards at the present. I was advised that both facilities have adequate cards to last them for several years. The representative at Bethesda stated that they had received several thousand cards in recent days. As much as the facilities appreciate everyone’s thoughtfulness, they do not need cards for some time. What is being created is a paperwork nightmare.

I called John Fales, author of Sgt. Shaft and advised him of this situation. He admitted that he had become aware of this situation.

HENRY SHEFFIELD

Arlington

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