- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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SECOND CASINO A BAD BET FOR A CITY STRUGGLING WITH POVERTY, Nov. 30

The long-delayed casino near the sports stadium complex in South Philadelphia received another extension from the often-acquiescent Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

This casino has gone through changes in names, locations, and owners since the license was awarded in 2006 to Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia, which failed to get financing. The latest developer - who has close ties to President Trump and has been accused of racial discrimination - now says the Live! Hotel & Casino Philadelphia will open in 2020.

But this is one can we would be happy to see continually kicked down the road.

The reason is simple: More gambling in the poorest big city in America is no way to grow a sustainable economy. The addition of a couple of hundred casino jobs in a city of 1.5 million is not worth the hundreds of millions of dollars in wealth that will be stripped from customers annually.

Americans lost $107 billion last year at casinos, lotteries, and offshore regulated betting, according to H2 Gambling Capital. They are projected to lose more than $1 trillion in wealth to government-sanctioned gambling over the next eight years, the head of Stop Predatory Gambling told a House subcommittee in September. Gamblers in Pennsylvania casinos have gone home more than $30 billion poorer since gambling was legalized in 2006.

Supporters tout casinos as just another form of entertainment, and never dare utter the word gambling. The industry term is gaming, as if casinos are just fun and games. But this is hardly a benign business.

Casinos aggressively market to gamblers. Studies show anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of casino revenues comes from problem or pathological gamblers. And many casinos get 90 percent of their revenue from 10 percent of customers.

A SugarHouse official once boasted that a large percentage of their customers come “three, four, five times a week.” A Harrah’s casino official in Chester said a segment of its customers come nearly six times a week.

Today’s sophisticated slot machines are designed to addict gamblers. Sadly, the state lawmakers who enabled casinos and continue to expand gambling - including a new law that allows betting at truck stops, airports, and online - are just as addicted to the tax revenue generated from citizens they are sworn to protect.

Adding a casino within a stone’s throw of the stadium complex is a particularly bad idea. The recent legalization of sports betting will make it easier for fans to bet on their way into games, spurring further losses and addiction.

It also threatens to damage the integrity of sports. Imagine if a casino was in the Vet Stadium parking lot when Pete Rose played for the Phillies. But the sports leagues that once opposed betting on games now want in on the action. Major League Baseball just named MGM Resorts International its official “gaming” partner.

Having a casino operating round the clock next to the parking lot where thousands of Eagles fans party for hours before and after games is also asking for trouble. Same goes for concert fans and other sports fans.

The state and city should stop betting against residents and enact polices that help build wealth.

-The Philadelphia Inquirer

-Online: https://bit.ly/2Qz7SL7

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PRISONERS NEED ACCESS TO LAWYERS, FAMILY - AND BOOKS, Nov. 30

When employees handling mail in Pennsylvania state prisons began getting sick last summer, officials traced the problem to drug smuggling. Pages of letters, books and greeting cards had been soaked with contraband, particularly synthetic marijuana.

It was clear something had to be done. Inmate mail was soon being scanned by a company in Florida, then transmitted to printers in prisons, then copied there. Yet that created a secondary set of problems.

The company has had some trouble keeping up with the flow, and there’s a cost to taxpayers - from $4 million to $15 million a year, depending on whose estimate you use.

Still, the paramount concern is the health of prison staffers. The rerouting system succeeded in reducing the flow of drugs, according John Wetzel, secretary of the state Department of Corrections. The number of mysterious illnesses dropped. Drug overdoses among prisoners fell. The incidence of visitors caught with drugs went up. In that sense, the program was working.

The copying program depersonalizes things such as photos, kids’ drawings, handwritten notes and birthday cards - connections to home and family important to those on the inside. Sometimes those items were illegible. Sometimes they never showed up.

Initially, in September, prison officials also ended book donation programs and the shipping of mail-order books and publications to inmates. That prohibition was relaxed after a public outcry.

Some delay in mail delivery is a justified trade-off - but it shouldn’t interfere with inmates’ constitutional rights, limited as those are during incarceration.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has sued over the handling of legal mail, saying the new rules interfere with privileged communications between inmates and their lawyers. In some cases, mail delays caused court dates to be missed, according to relatives of inmates who complained to Wetzel.

Correspondence between lawyers and inmates is held to a higher standard of confidentiality than ordinary mail. Prisoners have a right to communicate with legal counsel without having to worry that someone is reading their mail or eavesdropping.

Under the new security measures, prison employees open correspondence from lawyers in the presence of an inmate and inspect it for contraband. But instead of getting the letter, inmates get a photocopy; the prison retains the original for 45 days.

The ACLU says there’s no evidence that legal mail is being used for smuggling. The more important point, though, is that institutional copying of a legal document compromises confidentiality. Some defense attorneys say legal papers have been left out where they can be read by unauthorized persons, or been discarded. Some worry that documents could be diverted to those with an opposing interest in a criminal case - perhaps the prison itself or staffers.

The security of prisons is the primary issue. No one’s arguing that.

The Founding Fathers saw fit to extend specific rights to those accused by the state. Part of that is an expectation of fairness and legal representation in the criminal justice system.

That shouldn’t be a matter of contention, either.

Beyond the issue of legal mail: Reading, writing and staying connected to family and friends is fundamental to helping prisoners serve their time. If education, rehabilitation and job training are to be more than buzzwords in the corrections process, connections to the outside world and reading materials must be respected. Wetzel has been a leader in the corrections community in recognizing this.

There’s more officials can do. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is installing the types of body scanners used in airports to combat the flow of contraband.

After the ban on delivering books directly to prisoners went into effect, officials came up with alternatives, such as allowing book donation organizations to interact with inmates at a centralized screening center. Family members and others were again allowed to have books shipped from dealers or publishers, going through the processing center.

That’s progress.

Infringing on the rights of prisoners - possibly snooping on the one privileged relationship to which they are entitled - is not.

-The Easton Express-Times

-Online: https://bit.ly/2FWRrnK

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STAND WITH UKRAINE: THE U.S. MUST RESPOND TO RUSSIA’S NAVAL ATTACK, Dec. 4

Russia’s military attack on Ukrainian ships last month is new evidence that Russia is bent on territorial expansion and Ukraine is next in line.

There is no longer a pretense that Russia is not engaged in an aggressor war against Ukraine. Russia attacked three Ukrainian naval vessels on Nov. 25 in the Kerch Strait into the Azov Sea, which Ukraine depends on for its shipping, and seized the vessels and crew.

Russia claimed the Ukrainian vessels entered waters that Russia controls. Russia has shown no valid claim to control of the waters where Ukraine was operating. This is aggression against a peaceful country, and the United States should join the countries of Europe in a forceful response.

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, then declared martial law for much of the country, raising concerns that he seeks political advantage in the situation.

Making strong statements and imposing sanctions on Russia are proving to have no effect whatsoever.

Stronger steps are called for. Sanctions on Russian banks that are in any way associated with the attacks on Crimea and Ukraine should be implemented. NATO should send its naval forces into the Kerch Strait to test Russia’s resolve and to show support for Ukraine.

Russia did not launch this attack on Ukraine on a whim. There is a plan to ramp up the war against Ukraine. Russia in 2014 seized Crimea from Ukraine. Since that invasion Russia has engaged in a kind of stealth war against Ukraine, using espionage, provocateurs, mercenaries and its own forces to undermine the independence and stability of Ukraine.

Without a strong response, Russia will follow these steps with an outright invasion of Ukraine and attribute its move, following the model set by Adolf Hitler when he invaded Poland in 1939, to some falsified provocation by Ukraine.

President Donald Trump should not just strongly condemn Russia’s threat to the freedom of the seas. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has already called it an “arrogant” and “outlaw” act.

The U.S., despite Mr. Trump’s disagreements with NATO, is a member of an organization that was created to stand strong against Russian aggression. The United States should show that it stands with NATO and opposes military expansion in Europe.

-The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

-Online: https://bit.ly/2E1R0pW

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ERIE BUDGET WOES DEMAND HARD CHOICES, Dec. 2

Even as so much is percolating that portends a brighter future for Erie - energized leadership, unprecedented private investment, Opportunity Zones and the like - city government finds itself mired in an ugly budget deficit with limited options for closing it.

Mayor Joe Schember projects an $11 million shortfall for 2019, in part because the bill for operating with borrowed money in the past has come due. Schember has proposed increasing the city’s income tax, refinancing its long-term debt again and increasing sewer and garbage fees, among other measures, to close the gap.

During Erie City Council’s first deliberations over the budget on Thursday night, members eyed the cost side for savings. Councilwoman Liz Allen proposed freezing the pay of the city’s non-union employees for 2019. Raises for the city’s union workers are locked in by labor contracts, but City Council has the authority to freeze the pay of non-union staff.

Schember’s budget proposes a 3 percent pay increase for non-union employees, matching the raises to be received by union workers. Eliminating those increases would save the city $140,000.

That seems like a prudent step in light of a budget process in which residents figure to take a substantial financial hit one way or another. We trust that council members will scour Schember’s proposed budget for other savings as well.

Whatever the mayor and City Council come up with between now and the Dec. 31 budget deadline, it won’t resolve the challenges posed by the city’s long-term budget trends, which are not sustainable. That’s why we support Schember’s request for assistance from state government’s Early Intervention Program, which provides grants to hire outside experts to help municipalities develop long-range plans for their finances and operations.

The city has sought proposals from consultants. The cost would largely be covered by the state, Schember said.

This wouldn’t be the first time the city has sought Early Intervention guidance. City Hall worked with the program in 2006 and 2007 during former Mayor Joe Sinnott’s administration, when it faced cumulative budget deficits of more than $10 million.

It’s important that the city work closely with the experts to examine every possible avenue for cutting costs and increasing efficiency. It’s crucial also that Schember and City Council follow through on the resulting recommendations even if, perhaps especially if, they upend long-accepted ways of doing things.

The city did implement some of the Early Intervention recommendations a decade ago. In at least one case, however, city officials did the opposite of what was proposed.

Working with the Early Intervention Program only makes sense if city officials have the stomach to make hard choices. That’s certainly what they’ll be facing in the years ahead.

-Erie Times News

-Online: https://bit.ly/2E34ba9

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HONORING 41: A PRESIDENT, THE FATHER OF A PRESIDENT, A PATRIOT AND A DECENT MAN, Dec. 4

President George Herbert Walker Bush died Friday at his Houston home at age 94. The late president will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol rotunda until 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. A state funeral will be held that day at the Washington National Cathedral. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and, of course, George W. Bush are expected to attend, as is President Donald Trump. The 41st president will be interred at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M; University.

Everyone who’s old enough remembers the “read my lips - no new taxes” line offered by George H.W. Bush in his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention.

But this is the line we like the best, as it perfectly describes the country we love: “We are a nation of communities … a brilliant diversity, spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”

Bush would return repeatedly to his vision of generous and compassionate Americans as a “thousand points of light” - and be mocked for it by the likes of comedian Dana Carvey (it says something about Bush that he was able to laugh at Carvey’s impression of him, as he reportedly did when he visited Strasburg in October 2000).

Despite the mockery it drew, it was a genuinely wonderful thought. In times of darkness, what could be more important than light? Who could be more important than those who create and maintain it?

Read the story of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, which is being celebrated now.

Bush could credibly ask Americans to serve because he was a public servant for much of his life. He was just 20 when, as a Navy pilot in World War II, his plane was seriously damaged by enemy fire - and he still managed to complete his bombing mission.

He later was a member of Congress, a diplomat, the director of the CIA, vice president to Ronald Reagan and finally, president.

In 1989, in the only inaugural address he would give, he spoke of an America that is “wholly herself” when “engaged in high moral principle.”

“We as a people have such a purpose today,” he said. “It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”

He extolled “duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.”

He spoke of the need to be loyal friends, loving parents and citizens who leave their homes, neighborhoods and towns better than they found them. “What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we’re no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”

That speech summed up, in our view, the essence of the 41st president. He was a good and decent man who loved his country deeply - and his family, too. We wonder if, when he mentioned the theoretical “sick child” in his inaugural address, he was thinking of Robin, the 3-year-old daughter he and his wife, Barbara, lost to leukemia in 1953.

Bush wasn’t perfect, of course. He and Reagan failed utterly to address the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. And when running for president against Democrat Michael Dukakis, Bush’s campaign ran an ad that was infamous for its blatantly racist appeal to white Americans’ fears. It featured Willie Horton - a black man and convicted murderer who raped a woman and stabbed her fiance while on weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison - and blamed then-Gov. Dukakis for enabling Horton’s crimes.

But Bush scored real achievements as president. He successfully championed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which continues to make better the lives of many of our fellow citizens.

At the law’s signing in 1990, Bush noted that it would “ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”

Among other things, the ADA afforded people with disabilities protection against workplace discrimination, and mandated access to businesses and other spaces open to the public.

On that act, and the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, Bush worked with both Democrats and Republicans.

But perhaps his greatest gesture of bipartisanship came after he left the Oval Office, when he formed a lasting friendship with Clinton, the man who ousted him from the presidency.

On the day Clinton was inaugurated, Bush left a note for him in the Oval Office that illustrated the elder man’s deep love of country and generous spirit. “You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. … Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

A decade or so later, President George W. Bush asked his father and Clinton to work together on relief efforts for victims of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. They came together again in 2005 to do the same for victims of Hurricane Katrina. And their friendship deepened in the years that followed.

Another Democratic president - Barack Obama - awarded Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Rivers of tributes to Bush have flowed from both sides of the political aisle. The undercurrent carries this question: Does Bush’s death mark the end of an era when patriotism and public service, rather than self-interest, fueled our politics?

This doesn’t have to be the case, if we - all of us, elected officials and ordinary citizens alike - seek out points of light, rather than points of contention. We can work together if we see America, as Bush did, as “a brilliant diversity, spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”

-LNP

-Online: https://bit.ly/2QaMHzH

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