Letters to the editor

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Bats, not cavers, appear to be spreading fungus

I am writing regarding your March 7 article "Fungus Is Killing Bats at an Alarming Rate," discussing the mass die-off of bats through what is known as White-nose Syndrome (WNS).

The article states "Despite strong evidence that human caving activity spreads the fungus," yet offers only speculation to support this. Fact: No proof exists that demonstrates cavers spread the WNS fungus. The article fails to mention a large body of research has demonstrated the primary vector of this infection is bat to bat. It is unproven that cavers may be a minor secondary vector.

The article suggests that large geographic jumps made by the disease are a result of cavers. For this hypothesis to work WNS would have to spread in all directions cavers travel. It does not. From its origin in New York, WNS has spread south-southwest along the known bat migratory flyway as visible on the map accompanying the article. It is not found in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio or Kentucky caves as would be expected if cavers were responsible. Large geographic gaps can be explained by a lack of caves there, or no one looking there.

Hellhole Cave in West Virginia is closed to cavers and monitored electronically to prevent intrusion. WNS was recently discovered there and electronic data loggers evidenced no caver visitation since a September 2007 bat count. Bats spread it there themselves.

For up-to-date information on WNS, visit the National Speleological Society homepage at caves.org and click on the WNS link.

BILL LIEBMAN
Cass, W.Va.

The writer is a director on the board of governors of the National Speleological Society.


Protects victims

The Post-Gazette may find a new state police policy that withholds victim and witness identifying information on nontraffic summary offense citations "misguided" ("Closed Record," March 2 editorial), but those of us who work with victims applaud the state police's commitment to protecting their confidentiality and safety.

Knowing that their names will appear in public documents could deter some victims and witnesses from reporting crimes. We see firsthand the fear and dread that many victims and witnesses experience in the aftermath of crime and the lengths to which some criminals will go to harass and intimidate those who come forward.

In an era when stalking and identity theft are all too common, the state police's policy makes perfect sense. No law or regulation requires police to include victim or witness names, addresses and other identifying information on nontraffic citations. This new policy affirms the state's commitment to protect crime victims and witnesses and to facilitate justice.

PEG DIERKERS
Executive Director
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Harrisburg

The letter also was signed by Delilah Rumburg, executive director, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, and Mary Walsh, executive director, Coalition of Pennsylvania Crime Victim Organizations.


The wrong conflict

I greatly enjoyed Gideon Rachman's March 7 Forum piece ("Ronald Reagan Ruined Conservatism") and hate to detract from Mr. Rachman's otherwise excellent essay. However, I must point out a rather disconcerting error.

The author quotes the book "Game Change" in mentioning the foreign policy history lesson given to candidate Sarah Palin starting with the "Spanish Civil War" then moving to World War I (1914-1919). Obviously the reference should be to the "Spanish-American War" of 1898, because otherwise the chronology would not make sense, since the Spanish Civil War was fought from 1936 to 1939 (a localized conflict that would appear to have little direct influence on U.S. foreign policy). Also, the Spanish-American War era is when most historians would begin modern American foreign policy.

Ironically, this is the sort of faux pas "dummies" like Ms. Palin would make.

CHARLES WIEBE
Ohio Township

The writer is on the humanities faculty of the University of Phoenix, Pittsburgh.


Pension toughness

Len Boselovic ("Lawmakers Didn't Budget for Pensions," Feb. 21 Business column) and Brian O'Neill ("Pension Woes Drive Shaky Parking Idea," Feb. 21 column) clearly explain the huge unfunded pension problem facing all taxpayers. The promise for all government employees and our public school teachers is bigger than the bankroll to fulfill that promise.

That pension promise needs to be modified.

In simplest terms, a defined benefit pension guarantees the retiree benefits regardless of cost whereas a defined contribution plan sets the employer's cost. The employee shares in the risk of the pension performance. Most defined contribution plans provide for employee choice in the funds and encourage employee contributions.

Private industry changed their pension plans from defined benefits (the promise) to defined contributions (the bankroll) over the past decade due to simple math. More retirees, less investment income and a tough economy equals cutbacks to remain profitable. The decisions, not easy and not always embraced well by employees, were executed in favor of financial solvency. If private industry had the luxury of taxing its customers to cover shortfalls, that change would not have been necessary.

The Pew Center included retiree health benefits and discovered a $1 trillion shortfall between the promise and available funds. Taxpayers will cover the difference.

It is shameful that these same private industry employees are the exact employees who will be taxed to pay for the richer pension plans of our public employees.

As long as we accept the increase in taxes there is no problem ... for them. It takes true leadership to execute the tough decisions, and isn't that what we voted for in the first place?

ROBIN ELLIOTT
McCandless

The writer owns an employee benefits brokerage.


A caveat on love

I read with chagrin Sally Kalson's column about Archbishop Donald Wuerl's withdrawal of the church's involvement in the foster care program in Washington, D.C., because he would be forced to comply with the new nondiscrimination of same-sex couples ("For Better and for Worse," March 7).

How ironic that a church that preaches equality and love should now put a caveat on that idea. No wonder many of us in the Catholic Church are disillusioned with our leadership. We should be in the forefront in the fight for equality, not kicking and screaming against it.

CATHY WISNIEWSKI
Marshall


The nation needs big investment that truly benefits every American

In reference to the Feb. 28 article "The Bumpy Bottom Line: Battle Looms Over Which City Streets Get Repaved First": I want to remark on our current global recession and how it directly affects our daily lives, from the perspective of a local official and professor who deals with such development issues both in theory and in practice.

Americans across the political spectrum have grown increasingly wary and angry with mainstream Democrats and Republicans, as evidenced by the Tea Party movement and Green and Anarchist strands -- all of whom share the desire for some real change. There is good reason for this: Those who have driven the system into the ground and have profited all along are the only ones who get "bailed out," and the rest of us pay with no recourse and no change in the faulty structures that have brought us to this point.

Much critique exists about not only the bipartisan Troubled Asset Relief Program and bailout packages, but also the stimulus program. And though the stimulus program has arguably benefited state and local governments, it has fallen well short of the country's needs.

The article speaks of Pittsburgh's "decade of neglect" and that there simply isn't the money to maintain and repair roads, let alone build new infrastructure. Our boroughs and townships also grapple with out-of-control health insurance premiums and pension costs that have us deciding between neglect, layoffs or tax increases. This is an unsustainable situation.

I propose that we -- the U.S. government -- move forward with a major investment that dwarfs the previous stimulus, targeting roads, infrastructure and mass transit that would create real, long-term jobs; improve transportation; keep the money in America; and improve the daily lives of our citizens. I am on board with those who have the guts to support big, real investment. Everyone -- rich and poor -- is affected by this, and we all have a stake in doing this right.

MIKE-FRANK G. EPITROPOULOS
Councilman
Swissvale


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We welcome your letters. Please include your name, address and phone number, and send to Letters to the Editor, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222. E-mail letters to letters@post-gazette.com or fax to 412-263-2014. Letters should be 250 words or less, original and exclusive to the Post-Gazette. All letters are subject to editing for length, clarity and accuracy and will be verified before being published.



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