Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania's newspapers:
Latest mass shooting hits home
The Altoona Mirror
Residents of this part of Pennsylvania have been watching and grieving, along with other people across the nation, as mass shootings have grown both in frequency and in the toll of death, injury, profound sadness and psychological wounds they have inflicted.
However, unlike the tragedies that this region has witnessed from afar, Sunday's mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, hit close to home — specifically, Saint Francis University in Loretto.
Nicholas Cumer, 25, a Saint Francis graduate student who was a week away from completing an internship at the Maple Tree Cancer Alliance in Dayton, was one of the nine people gunned down by a person identified as Connor Betts, 24, who was wielding a rifle with magazines capable of holding at least 100 rounds of ammunition.
Regarding Cumer, whose family resides in Washington, Pa., Betts snuffed out the life of someone destined for a caring, compassionate, productive future. A week ago, Maple Tree had offered him a full-time position to run one of its new offices.
In a Facebook post and on its website, Maple Tree said, "Nick is remembered for his hard work and dedication to Maple Tree. He loved his patients and served them well, with a loving and caring spirit. He continuously went above and beyond our expectations and worked with a high level of excellence. He was well-liked and respected by everyone on our team."
Those thoughts were mirrored by SFU President Father Malachi Van Tassell, who on Sunday praised Cumer's "dedication to caring for others."
Van Tassell noted that Cumer was recognized at the 2019 Community Engagement Awards among students who had completed 100-plus hours of service.
"We join the nation in mourning Nicholas, alongside all of the victims of this tragedy," Van Tassell continued. "Our thoughts and prayers are with their family and friends during this most difficult time."
A Mass in Cumer's memory will be held on the SFU tonight. Meanwhile, the university is offering counseling for community members; the counseling office can be reached by calling 472-3211.
Amid the reactions that have poured forth since news of the Dayton incident sprung forth, just hours after gunfire in El Paso, Texas, where the death toll has risen to 22, hovers the question "When will it all end and by what decisions, what courage and what actions?"
If the future is like the past, however, after a few days or weeks, Dayton and El Paso will simply be two additional places added to the roster of such horrific events.
Perhaps this region likewise would turn its attention quickly to other issues, choosing not to reflect on the hard questions at the root of this problem.
However, the fact that this problem has crossed the threshold of this region hopefully will make central Pennsylvania determined to keep it in the forefront, going forward. The problem won't be minimized — it probably won't ever be totally solved — unless it remains out front in public discussion, with elected officials present.
Let such an effort be cemented in place here.
Nicholas Cumer and his talents at helping people are gone, but hopefully he will be able to live on in inspiring others to understand that merely hoping there won't be a next time is not enough.
All-out effort needed to combat spotted lanternfly in Pa.
Pennsylvania's status as the epicenter of a spotted lanternfly invasion — a hungry pest that found its way here from Asia — is much more than a backyard annoyance or an extra spraying chore for farmers. It has developed into a serious economic threat to vineyards, orchards, nurseries and hardwood trees in southeast and central Pennsylvania, including Lehigh, Northampton, Bucks and Monroe counties.The discovery of the non-native insect in Berks County in 2014 was cause for alarm. Its spread since then has generated a call to arms by the state Department of Agriculture, Penn State Extension and business owners, as it defies quarantines and other tactics to prevent its expansion.
The lanternfly is particularly damaging to grape vines, having all but wiped out some vineyards in affected counties. The vivid red, black and white-colored fly is most harmful in its immature stages. That's when it attacks grape vines, fruit trees and hardwood trees, sucking out fluids and secreting a substance that leads to mold growth, also a threat to plants.
Homeowners can join the fight — by killing adult flies and removing egg masses that show up in autumn months. They should also take care not to transport flies or eggs in vehicles, by moving grills, lawnmowers, firewood, landscaping tools, bicycles and other things that could be infested. Sticky traps can be placed around tree trunks. Simply swatting the flies to kill them is encouraged, too, along with reporting sightings to 1-888-4BAD-FLY. The state Agriculture Department and Penn State Extension are good sources of information on techniques, sprays and other methods of defense.
At the state level, Gov. Tom Wolf has approved spending $3 million this year to try to contain the bug. The infestation is perceived as a potentially existential threat to producers in the $20.5 million-plus grape, nearly $134 million apple and more than $24 million stone fruit industries, as well to a hardwood industry that accounts for $12 billion in sales, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
The state has initiated a free permitting system for businesses, to prevent the spread of the lanternfly through commerce in the quarantined areas, which includes the Lehigh Valley.
There is hope that science, government and people working together can turn the tide. The battle against the once-prevalent gypsy moth caterpillar is still being fought, but it isn't the threat it once was. Continued spraying for black flies has made outdoor activities more bearable for people who live near wetlands and waterways.
Experts are working to develop counter-measures. Researchers at Cornell University recently reported some progress in using native fungal pathogens against the spotted lanternfly.
Still, we shouldn't be content to leave this battle to the experts. Pennsylvanians in infested areas need to get educated and get involved.
Short odds on addiction
The Scranton Times-Tribune
Gamblers lost $3.3 billion to Pennsylvania casinos from July 1, 2018, through June 30. That period was the state government's 2019 fiscal year, during which its vigorish in the form of gambling tax revenue was a record $1.39 billion.
Pennsylvania's casino business is the second largest in the nation in terms of total revenue, behind only Nevada, and it is first in state revenue because its rates are higher than Nevada's.
And that revenue is very likely to grow. Under yet another gambling expansion passed in 2017, state-sanctioned sports betting has begun, and 10 more applications are pending. That same expansion authorized online interactive gambling, satellite casinos, and other means to make it easier for Pennsylvanians to give their money to casinos and the state government.
The expansion was not limited to casinos. It allowed the state lottery to expand; it also reported a record year in 2018, $4.5 billion in revenue fueled by online access and new games.
State legislators love gambling because it has enabled them to increase state revenue without directly taxing gamblers, even though that tax is built into the money that they lose at casinos.
And the reflection from all of that money blinds them to the dark side of the enterprise, which was illuminated recently by the arrest of two Dunmore women, the mother and sister of a man who had suffered a permanent brain injury. One of them allegedly used proceeds from a public fundraising drive for him to pay off thousands of dollars she owed to the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino. She joined hundreds of people statewide who have been charged with stealing from their employers, families, Little Leagues, volunteer fire companies and other civic organizations to cover gambling debts.
Many state legislators opposed state-sanctioned gambling on moral grounds when the law was debated in 2004, often citing the dysfunction that attends gambling addiction. They dropped their reticence once the money started rolling in, however, and have failed to expand already minimal safeguards against addiction as they relentlessly have expanded gambling.
Gambling is among the worst of addictions because addicted gamblers believe that they can win their way out of the hole, a delusion that only grows as the state gives them more false hope and more opportunities to lose.
The state government should vastly expand its disproportionately small anti-gambling-addiction effort, establish tight rules for casino-issued credit, and recognize that what they view as free money often entails a terrible price.
On mass shootings, put up or shut up
The York Dispatch
Four mass shootings.
And no words.
Recent mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton, Brooklyn and Gilroy, Calif., have followed a depressingly similar script. Aggrieved gunmen, innocent victims, devastated survivors and do-nothing lawmakers.
Let's correct that: Do-nothing Republican lawmakers.
Democrats, from former President Barack Obama on down, have called repeatedly over the years for sensible restrictions to help reduce the unending series of mass-casualty attacks terrorizing the nation. The Democratic-led House has passed several gun-safety measures just this term, including the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. They've gone nowhere in the Senate, blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Kentucky Republican exemplifies his party, which, with very few exceptions (Pennsylvania's Sen. Pat Toomey among them), has largely toed the NRA-financed line that any gun-related legislation somehow "infringes" on Second Amendment rights.
So much like another equal-opportunity threat to the American people, climate change, gun violence is becoming a partisan issue.
And the killing continues.
The most recent attack, as of this writing, in Dayton was the nation's 251st mass shooting this year. Yes, four or more people are wounded or killed by a single shooter more than once a day in this nation.
And it was the 32nd mass shooting, as defined by the Justice Department, in which there were three or more fatalities.
Meanwhile, emerging patterns are ignored.
Easily accessible semi-automatic assault rifles were used in at least three of the four most recent attacks. In Dayton, police were on the scene and took down the gunman less than one minute into his murderous spree. He still managed to kill nine people and wound more than two dozen others. Gunmen at an El Paso Walmart and a garlic festival in Gilroy likewise used high-powered weapons to spray crowds.
Yet President Trump, speaking from the White House on Monday, proposed no new gun laws, despite a Twitter message earlier in the day calling for "strong background checks." He instead blamed the week-long spree of carnage on everything from violent video games to mental illness.
The president, at least, denounced the rising tide of white nationalism in no uncertain terms — something he has been reticent to do in the past. "In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy," he said.
One can only hope he saw his own reflection in the TelePrompter as he read those words. Because, characteristically, the president took no responsibility for how the angry rhetoric he routinely employs on social media and at his rabble-rousing campaign rallies — particularly against immigrants — may incite racial tensions.
At least one of the recent attackers — the gunman in El Paso — was motivated by hatred of immigrants, as he made clear in a statement he posted online just minutes before opening fire. "(T)his attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas," he wrote, paraphrasing the president's description of asylum seekers.
So at this time of national crisis, far more is needed from President Trump than a stiffly read statement that dodges both responsibility and response.
If the president believes, as he told the nation Monday, that "hatred has no place in America," he must demonstrate that by word and deed.
He must refrain from hateful, racially divisive rhetoric online and onstage.
He must continue to denounce racism and bigotry - forcefully, clearly and often.
And most importantly, he must push McConnell and the Senate's Republican majority to either take up the sorely needed gun-safety measures passed by the House or propose something better.
Because when it comes to the epidemic of mass-casualty gun violence in America, there are no words - action is the only thing that matters now.
Pa. shows progress in opioid fight
The Erie Times-News
Loved ones of those killed by opioid overdoses first raised the alarm here in 2014 in social media posts and grassroots activism: Heroin, a bliss-inducing, savagely addictive and dangerous drug had made a return and was felling victims, too many of them young and full of promise.
Erie County leaders were quick to respond, forming a task force to fight the epidemic. Amid the rapidly mounting death toll statewide, Gov. Tom Wolf's administration, aided by the Legislature, took aim at the crisis on every relevant front.
They made widely available the overdose-reversal drug naloxone; reformed opioid prescribing practices; and established a command center to coordinate state agencies' responses. They beefed up resources for and access to treatment, and offered support to families shattered by the dysfunction addiction breeds.
For years, despite the mobilization, thousands continued to die in an epidemic that fueled not just crime and death, but child neglect and economic loss. But at last comes good news.
Wolf announced Aug. 1 that drug deaths in Pennsylvania dropped 18 percent between 2017 and 2018 from 5,377 to 4,413. That is no reason to declare victory, but the decline in drug deaths, the first in at least five years statewide, is worthy of celebration, especially given that deaths from 2016 to 2017 had increased by 17 percent.
The statewide decline in overdose deaths is mirrored in Erie County, which saw its first decrease in years in 2018 when drug overdose deaths dropped from a historic high of 124 in 2017 to 83 in 2018. As reporter Madeleine O'Neill detailed in July, the county is on track in 2019 to witness another steep decline.
As of July 17, Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook had seen 34 drug-related deaths in 2019, compared with 43 drug-related deaths that had occurred in 2018 by July 2, 2018. He said most are linked to the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Divided government in this state impedes effective action on a host of pressing issues. Gains made in the opioid fight reflect the Wolf administration's nimble, proactive leadership and represent a welcome triumph of effective bipartisan cooperation that citizens deserve.
As Wolf noted, this is no time to declare "mission accomplished." His administration and allies in this fight must press forward and continue to identify new tools. For example, the state is now offering student loan debt coverage to medical professionals who work with those with addiction. More distributions of free naloxone are scheduled in September.
Even as the opioid scourge beats a welcome retreat, other familiar illegal drugs capable of sowing violence, addiction and death — stimulants, especially methamphetamine — are making a return, something reflected here in both police reports and Cook's records.
Don't stand down.