- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



State Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, has introduced a bill that would throw a dark blanket over public accountability for police officers.

Her bill would forbid the release to the public of names of police officers involved in shootings or use of force unless criminal charges are filed against the officers.

Rep. White referenced recent high-profile cases in which police officers have been targeted by criminals to bolster her argument.

Her proposal seems well-intentioned. The vast majority of police officers do an honorable and dangerous job to protect and serve citizens. It’s upsetting to think they could be targeted by angry citizens or mobs if they’re involved in a line-of-duty shooting or some other use of force.

So, why not withhold their names unless they are criminally charged?

Because police act on citizens’ behalf, they wield considerable power and authority, and there must be accountability.

It would be naïve to believe that all officers who inappropriately use force are held accountable by the criminal justice system. Such prosecutions are quite rare - locally and across the state and nation.

Obviously, there are many righteous police uses of force. But there are enough that are questionable (some of which we’ve seen locally, caught on video) that Rep. White’s proposed law would degrade public accountability overall.

Police unions, predictably, favor the bill.

But a recent PA Independent piece included statistics showing that, despite the recent highly publicized cases, police are actually much less likely to be killed or assaulted than they were in 1980.

This is a well-intentioned but bad idea, and York County’s lawmakers should reject this legislation.

- The York Daily Record



During a Monday morning press conference NASA announced that, using spectral analysis, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected what scientists believe to be definitive signs of liquid water on Mars.

No, the orbiter didn’t detect water flowing through mythical “canals” once thought to be crisscrossing the red planet’s surface. The announcement sounds borderline unsexy when laid out scientifically.

NASA now believes that what it calls “recurring slope lineae,” the dark streaks that run downhill on the sides of craters and other vertical topography during the Martian summer, are evidence that liquid water exists just beneath the planet’s surface.

This is a big deal because the presence of liquid water is arguably the most necessary element for the evolution of life as we know it. The water on Mars is believed to be briny and far saltier than any on Earth. It isn’t drinkable and would be toxic to bacterial life from Earth, but it may have harbored Martian single cell life at one time. It may currently be the home of life that has adapted to its harsh chemistry.

NASA’s scientists are confident that what they’re describing as seepage on the surface is evidence of subsurface reservoirs and rivers. Theories are already starting to circulate about what Mars may have been like 3.5 billion years ago and when it was covered with oceans.

There’s a hope that where rivers and oceans once existed on Mars, there may be evidence of long dead bacterial life as well.

The presence of water beneath the surface could also mean we’re on the verge of discovering life on another planet.

This tantalizing possibility is all the more reason for NASA to proceed with more robotic missions to Mars in preparation for manned missions in the 2020s and 2030s. This is the most exciting news about Mars in a very long time.

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



We have an amazing patchwork of gambling laws in this country from state to state, made only more complicated by the potential for online gaming.

Pennsylvania needs to be at the forefront of making its laws on gambling clear and then benefitting in any way possible from its popularity.

The newest nationwide craze is weekly fantasy football leagues. If you’ve watched just about any sporting event, you are bombarded with ads for DraftKings and FanDuel.

This takes the yearlong NFL fantasy leagues to the next level by condensing it down to a week at a time. There are no commitments to week after week of keeping up with your team of players. And the money is big. If you believe the commercials, these games are making people millionaires.

The kicker is, this isn’t considered gambling. There is skill involved in picking these football players, so it is legal in almost every state to win money by playing. (The DraftKings website, for example, says that “Legal residents physically located in any of the 50 states and Washington DC, excluding Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, and Washington are eligible to open an account and participate in contests offered by the Website.”) Yahoo is also planning to host daily and weekly fantasy leagues.

Not only do pro leagues condone these “games of skill.” They are in bed with them. The New York Times reported that the NBA owns a piece of FanDuel, as does NBC Sports, and Major League Baseball has a stake in DraftKings.

We could go off on the hypocrisy of some leagues, like the NFL, who benefit from the leagues’ popularity, but won’t allow its players to attend events at casinos. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo found that out when he tried to attend a National Fantasy Football Convention scheduled in Las Vegas in July, according to ESPN. The NFL reminded him through the NFL Players Association that he can’t do that because “players and NFL personnel may not participate in promotional activities or other appearances in connection with events that are held at or sponsored by casinos.” Romo pointed out a sponsorship agreement between the MGM Grand Detroit and the Detroit Lions for a field-level club area at Ford Field. It was clear that the NFL just wants to control its players and its profits. There was no harm if Romo had attended the event. It’s just that the league wouldn’t’ have benefitted financially.

We’ve come a long way from decades ago, we had baseball geeks playing in rotisserie leagues because they loved it. Now we have multimillion dollar enterprises.

When money is being made, the government is sure to follow. And in this case, we are all for it.

Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland County, has put forth legislation so that casinos can run fantasy sports leagues if they so desire. He said they are not banned from doing so now, but his legislation would make it “codified.” He pointed to The Rivers Casino, which is near Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and said such fantasy football events could help it draw in people on game days.

We have previously said that Pennsylvania legislators should pass an online gaming bill, both because the state needs the money to close the budget gap and, simply, because it can.

We are past the times when “gaming” (the new-and-improved term to try to take away the stigma of gambling) was done with dice in back alleys. State lotteries are government-backed gaming. Casinos are legal. We can bet the ponies if we want. We have passed the discussion about the morality of whether it should be codified. It is.

So if casinos can benefit from being nudged toward daily or weekly fantasy sports leagues, and more revenue and then tax dollars returned to Pennsylvanians, so be it.

- The (Harrisburg) Patriot News



Pope Francis’ weeklong visit to the Atlantic Coast should leave a lasting impression on Americans, although it’s too early to determine what the extent of that impression will be.

Francis’ whirlwind tour came to an end Sunday with an open-air Mass in Philadelphia, where hundreds of thousands of the faithful attended. Under unprecedented tight security, the pontiff received a six-day adoring welcome usually reserved for a rock star.

As with most rock music, the lyrics don’t matter as much as the way they’re delivered.

Likewise, Francis’ words weren’t fancy. He delivered messages of hope to the homeless and prison inmates, of love and unbridled joy to children, of exhortation to religious leaders, of faith and truth to families and of justice to political leaders.

His speech before Congress was spoken in English with his Argentinian accent so thick the lawmakers strained to understand him. Even so, his words moved one prominent politician, House Speaker John Boehner, to resign abruptly after 21 years in the Capitol.

“The Holy Father’s visit is surely a blessing for all of us,” Boehner wrote on his blog shortly after Francis spoke to Congress. “With great blessings, of course, come great responsibility. Let us all go forth with gratitude and reflect on how we can better serve one another. Let us all go forth and live up to the words, God bless America.”

The pontiff’s tour of Washington, New York and Philadelphia did not include any bombshell changes in Vatican policy or Catholic tradition. There were no radical challenges to the United Nations or to America’s bishops. There was no evidence of any agenda to dramatically redirect the church.

Instead, the pope affirmed and defended fundamental teachings of the church and scripture. Even his anticipated ventures into new territory - his calls for a response to global climate change and runaway materialism - were couched in the commonsense stewardship that would have appealed to shepherds, farmers and fishermen thousands of years ago.

Francis reminds us of the story once told by the man he serves - Jesus Christ - about a farmer sowing a crop.

Some of the farmer’s seeds fell on the path, the story goes. Birds ate it. Some fell on shallow, rocky soil. They sprouted but withered. Some fell among thorns. The thorns choked the plants. But some fell on good soil and produced a bumper crop - 100, 60 or 30 times what was sown.

Francis personified this story. He sowed simple messages of love, faith and justice - and he did so with the unflinching love and care of Christ himself.

Did his seeds of wisdom fall on good soil? That remains to be seen.

But even in that speculation Francis expressed a sense of hope. On his flight home Sunday night, Francis said the warmth of the welcome he received in the U.S. surprised him. He compared his three host cities: “In Washington, it was a warm welcome, but a bit more formal,” Francis said. “In New York, a bit ‘beyond all limits.’”

“In Philadelphia, very expressive. Different ways, but the same welcome.”

He said he was also impressed by the piety of Americans and gave thanks there were no incidents during the trip.

“No provocations, no challenges,” he said. “They were all well-behaved, normal. No insults, nothing bad.”

As Jesus explained to his followers the story of the farmer sowing seed: “The good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Americans by the hundreds of thousands expressed their love and admiration for this spiritual leader. They welcomed and embraced him, and they received the seeds of his messages.

A bumper crop is a reasonable expectation.

- The Butler Eagle



No one in Pennsylvania’s government routinely would destroy paper correspondence about important public business just a few days after receiving it. Yet that happens all the time when the documents are digital, emails, rather than paper.

There is a great deal of justifiable fury over the use of publicly funded computers and email systems by some law enforcement personnel and others to distribute pornography along with misogynist and racist commentary - a scandal that might soon get even worse.

It’s worth remembering, though, that those emails were discovered only under extraordinary circumstances. Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane commissioned forensic searches of computer drives in the course of reviewing the office’s investigation of infamous pedophile Jerry Sandusky, which uncovered the deleted correspondence.

Unfortunately, state officials legally may delete data on legitimate business after only five days, and they regularly do so.

The state Commonwealth Court recently ordered the Department of Labor Industry to search hard drives for deleted emails relative to its purchasing.

The Department of Education has stonewalled the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s efforts to obtain emails of former secretaries Carolyn Dumaresq and Ron Tomalis, which are of public interest relative to a number of matters, including the conduct of the Penn State board of trustees relative to the Sandusky scandal.

Gov. Tom Wolf should scrap the current policy for executive agencies, under which emails regularly are purged, and mandate that they be treated like paper records.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune


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