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Hope on display in Texas

The first thing I noticed when I recently flew into Texas is the flags at half-staff. The second thing I noticed is churches with open doors. In Dallas, where I happened to be a few days after the Sunday shooting in Sutherland Springs, a funeral was going on when I walked through the doors of St. Catherine of Siena Church, looking for a midday Mass. It was holy business as usual, as it continues to be in churches throughout the country, many of them united in prayer with their brothers and sisters in Christ, who suffered the largest mass shooting in a church in United States history.

Listening to Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of First Baptist, the site of the shootings, we seem to see the antidote to evil: The witness of people of hope. Because they've encountered redemption, they have a freedom from fear, even as they confront some of the greatest of human fears. In the hours after the shooting, which included the murder of his youngest child, Pomeroy declared an act of faith in his most vulnerable state, still leading his church with example of trusting in God's providence, telling reporters: "I don't understand, but I know my God does."

Speaking of that Christian hope on display in Pomeroy, the now pope emeritus Benedict said in 2007: "It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love — a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free."

On Thursday morning at St. Dominic's in San Francisco (I was moving around a bit this week), the priest celebrating the 8 a.m. Mass said: "This is a safe place, where you can commune with God." Days after the massacre in Texas, to anyone who just happened to be walking in without context, it may have sounded like an act of defiance or a tempting of fate. His homily explained the significance of the day on the church calendar, marking the dedication of the basilica of John Lateran in Rome, the official seat of the bishop of Rome — the pope. This year, it seemed to have so much more added meaning — about why we have such sacred spaces and what they're meant for: a strengthening of mission, to show the world why faith is important and what it's all about.

Pope Francis visited Colombia this summer, and one night while in Bogota, a group of children and teenagers waited for him as he returned to where he was staying. One girl named Maria said to him: "We want a world where vulnerability is recognized as essential in the human. That far from weakening us, strengthens and dignifies us. A place of mutual encounter that humanizes us."

"Vulnerability is the essence of the human person," he responded to her, visibly moved. "We are all vulnerable," he said, "all of us. Inside, in our feelings, there are many things that do not work inside us, but no one sees them. And others we see, all of them. And this vulnerability needs to be respected, caressed, healed as far as possible, so that it bears fruit for others. We are all vulnerable."

Faith and hope mean seeing the world as it is and the human person as it was created, and wanting to love people while helping them reach that same understanding. We're all united with the people of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in our vulnerability, and don't we pray to display the same kind of hope in the face of all evil?

Mass shootings and domestic violence

The mass murder in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was a horrific crime. It was also horrifically predictable, and emblematic of the systemic problem we have with guns and violence in the United States. Devin Patrick Kelley was the white, 26-year-old former active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force who is believed to have killed 26 people and injured 20 on Sunday before killing himself. The massacre serves as yet another lethal example of the link between domestic violence and mass shootings.

While he was in the Air Force, Kelley was convicted of assaulting his wife and fracturing the skull of his 18-month-old stepson. The Air Force court-martialed him and confined him for a year, but failed to report his conviction to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. He had numerous other red flags, from the violent abuse of animals to issuing death threats against his superiors in the Air Force. He reportedly had been sending threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, who attended the church where he committed mass murder.

"The majority of mass shootings are connected to domestic violence or family violence in some way," Sarah Tofte, research director at Everytown for Gun Safety, told us on the "Democracy Now!" news hour. Tofte's team has just published a new report. They found that from 2009 to 2016, in more than half of mass shootings, the shooters killed intimate partners or other family members. Domestic violence is more than just a red flag; it is a crime in itself. Their report reads:

• "The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed."

• "Women in the U.S. are 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries, making this country the most dangerous in the developed world when it comes to gun violence against women. Every year American women suffer from 5.3 million incidents of intimate partner violence."

• "Fifty American women are shot to death by intimate partners monthly, and many more are injured. Nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner."

"We see this pattern over and over again," Soraya Chemaly, director of the Women's Media Center Speech Project, said on "Democracy Now!." "There's absolutely no doubt that the practice of violence within a home, in an intimate setting, with people that theoretically the aggressor loves, opens the floodgates to public violence."

Mariame Kaba is an organizer and educator who works on anti-domestic-violence programs. She added: "We get too caught up in trying to label forms of violence as terrorism. The thing that we need to do is to end violence against women, gender-nonconforming people and children at the root of these forms of gun violence and mass shootings. Let's focus on trying to end those other forms of violence, which are themselves forms of mass violence."

Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Sutherland Springs to meet with family members of the massacre victims. Pence is a longtime National Rifle Association member with an "A" rating. While in Congress, he voted for gun lobby legislation to block individuals from suing gun manufacturers and loosened rules on interstate gun purchases. Pence blamed this week's shooting on "bureaucratic failures" and mental illness.

Trump was in Japan at the time of the Texas massacre, attempting to sell billions of dollars' worth of weapons to regional allies as he continued with his bellicose rhetoric against North Korea. He should learn from the countries he visits; in Japan, a nation of 127 million people, there are less than 10 gun deaths in a typical year, primarily due to strict gun control. Compare that with over 33,000 annual gun deaths in the United States.

New York state editorial roundup: Casino revenues fall short; U.S. military blues; Manafort case concerning

Even before New York officials got sensible and went with the legal route to expand casino operations, they were basing their financial expectations on rosy projections. At one point, in fact, they were pitching as many as three casinos for the Catskills alone. And, to get there, they outrageously tried to skirt the state Constitution, which prohibited casino operations to expand beyond sovereign Native American land.

Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state has at least gone through the legislature and then voters to amend the Constitution to make such expansions perfectly legal. But the question of where the casinos should be located — and how many of them ultimately there should be — continues to vex New York.

With three new upstate casinos failing to meet revenue projections, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is rightly being asked to do a hard analysis of the situation. The three casinos could end their first year with about $220 million less in total revenue than they projected when they won the bids for their gaming licenses in 2014, according to a review by the USA Today's Albany Bureau.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, who heads the state Assembly's Racing Committee, is seeking the financial assessment, saying he is concerned the new facilities in the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes and Albany area may ultimately seek state help to improve their bottom lines.

This, of course, should concern all New Yorkers; the lion's share of the tax money coming from these facilities has been designated for the state's education system. And it also impacts local governments that get a piece of the revenue to help pay for programs and services.

Amid this backdrop, Empire Resorts also is set to open a $1.3 billion casino and destination resort next year on the grounds of the old Concord Hotel in Sullivan County. That site is now identified as Resorts World Catskills and is expected to open in March 2018. Resorts World Catskills will be the only casino in this region and, with its close proximity to the New York City market, there is reasonable expectation it will fare well. But these latest casino figures also show why the state selection board made a wise choice not to locate two casinos in the Hudson Valley to add to the competition.

The governor's office and state Gaming Commission are downplaying any concerns, pointing out the state's overall gambling revenue has increased with the new casinos - and that it's too early to make judgements on how new venues will perform.

Perhaps. But the state will have to continue to make these assessments. Voters have authorized New York to allow the creation of three more casinos, in addition to the four designated for upstate through this change in the Constitution.

— The Poughkeepsie Journal

The military is one of the few institutions that Americans still hold in high esteem, but that should never be taken for granted. Two events late last week suggest that even the military's culture of high performance can be eroded without constant attention.

The first was a military judge's decision to let off U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with a slap on the wrist for desertion in Afghanistan in 2009. After a court martial, Army Colonel Jeffery Nance recommended that Bergdahl be dishonorably discharged, demoted to private and forfeit $10,000 in pay. Prosecutors had sought 14 years in prison.

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held prisoner for nearly five years, a terrible ordeal to be sure. But those most outraged by the wrist slap are other members of the armed services who fear the damage to military discipline. Bergdahl deserted on the battlefield in a forward post — the worst betrayal you can make against your fellow soldiers save for fragging them with friendly fire.

Members of Bergdahl's unit were killed or maimed when they were sent to search for him, not knowing that he had been preparing to walk away for weeks and had even dispatched personal effects to the U.S. before he walked off the forward base. The court-martial sentence must be demoralizing to those who do their duty and risk their lives without fanfare.

Even more distressing is the Navy's report on its investigation into the collisions with civilian vessels this year in the Pacific theater by the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain. The collisions — off the coast of Japan, and in the Singapore Strait, respectively — resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors.

The 71-page report, which says both collisions were "avoidable," is damning about the Navy's training practices and makes for dispiriting reading if you are a civilian who thinks the U.S. Navy is the best in the world. The report says watch team members on the Fitzgerald "were not familiar with basic radar fundamentals." And it cites a failure to plan for safety, adhere to sound navigation practices, properly use available navigation tools, and respond effectively in a crisis.

As for the McCain, the Navy cited a loss of situational awareness in response to mistakes in operating the ship's steering and propulsion system. It also cited the failure to follow the International Nautical Rules of the Road that govern maneuvering vessels amid high-density maritime traffic. These are mistakes of basic seamanship that suggest inadequate training, or shifts that are too long and cause a loss of concentration and crew cohesion.

The Navy had already relieved the ship captains and even the commander of the Pacific Fleet. This accountability is a credit to the Navy and will be a lesson to other commanders. But it should also be a warning that Congress needs to allocate enough money to adequately train sailors so they can fulfill their missions. Collisions with civilian ships in peacetime are awful, but seamanship failures during wartime would be disastrous.

— The Wall Street Journal

Criminal charges against Paul Manafort and a business associate are not linked to President Donald Trump's campaign last year, but they still should be of great concern.

Manafort was a top aide to Trump during part of the election campaign. But he was fired last August, quite possibly because Trump was upset about Manafort's other activities.

A federal grand jury indicted Manafort and a former business associate, Rick Gates, last week. They are accused of a variety of offenses, including money laundering and acting as agents for a foreign government without registering as such.

The two reaped millions of dollars from their work for Ukraine and its former president. Manafort alone is accused of laundering more than $18 million in payments from the Ukrainian government.

It appears the two were hired to influence politics in Ukraine and in the United States. Officials of that government, locked in a sometimes violent confrontation with Russia, needed and still require all the friends they can get — or, apparently, buy — in the international community.

Among the most disturbing aspects of the charges is the appearance that Manafort and Gates put personal profit ahead of allegiance to the United States. They were hired guns, in effect.

So, regardless of Manafort's onetime link to Trump, if the charges are proven, he and Gates should be punished as severely as the law allows.

— The Post-Journal, Jamestown