Call for backup

Since when is the absolute guarantee of a conviction the basis for deciding whether to charge an individual with a crime ("Close read shows the Ferguson grand jury got it right," Dec. 7)? That would seem to be Currents columnist Michael Smerconish's conclusion in defending the prosecutor's decision not to bring charges against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, but it skirts the very issue Smerconish portends to address. Where the grand jury and Smerconish got it wrong was in the moment Brown reportedly fled and Wilson gave chase. That's the point when Wilson's actions become reckless and overzealous, as there was no longer imminent danger: enough ground for an indictment, considering the outcome of Wilson's decision.

|Christopher J. Dean, Wyncote,


Cut school losses

If a charter school cannot produce significant results in five years, it should be defunded ("Pitch for new charter schools," Dec. 9). Nonperforming charters are draining millions in badly needed dollars away from traditional public schools. They are parasites on the system. The goal should be to improve public education, not privatize and outsource failure.

|Joe Markham, Abington,


Legacy needs work

As mayor, Wilson Goode ended the building-height limit, Ed Rendell saved the city from bankruptcy, and John Street focused on neighborhoods, built two stadiums, and left the city a surplus. But Mayor Nutter's legacy seems to be what he isn't, not what he is ("Benchmarks for mayoral candidates," Dec. 4).

It took Nutter seven years to get labor contracts. He proposed library cutbacks, has no relationship with City Council, and caused violations of civil liberties through his stop-and-frisk policies. Nutter says he has "carefully managed city resources." But I hope he uses 2015 to refocus on what he has left undone. His administration is in danger of being one that history and time forgot.

|T. Milton Street Sr., Philadelphia


Focus on job skills, then adjust pay levels

Before hiking the minimum wage yet again, we should understand that the true minimum wage is always zero - the amount made by those whose job skills are not yet sufficient to make them worth paying the legal minimum wage ("Stop hunger with minimum-wage hike," Nov. 30). Successful businesses won't hire people who can't produce more than the cost of hiring them. Those who lose jobs or don't get hired when the minimum wage rises will be those without job skills, the same people commentator Andrew L. Yarrow understandably wants to help. The best way to help them isn't by making it harder to be employed; rather, it is to make sure they have the skills needed to be employable.

|Andrew Terhune, Philadelphia,


Kane to the rescue of local gun-safety efforts

Score one for state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane for her stance on the pathetic new state law gutting local gun-control efforts ("Kane will not back new gun law," Dec. 5). Gov. Corbett's spokesman Jay Pagni claims Kane's action is a dereliction of duty, but her stance actually is much more in tune with the public interest. Like an earlier attempt to deprive localities of the ability to zone in their own interest on behalf of gas producers, the gun law Kane will not defend is just another grubby sale of local rights to outside activists with deep pockets.

|Dave Kalkstein, Philadelphia,


For struggling smokers, help in quitting

The Inquirer reports that the city cigarette tax may create financial challenges for low-income smokers ("Tax is a drag and a boon," Dec. 7). In fact, low-income smokers are those most likely to quit due to the $2 per pack tax. Moreover, the city Health Department and its partners are promoting a variety of free or low-cost options for quitting.

By calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW, smokers can get free coaching and four weeks of free nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges. One in three people who use this service are still smoke-free six months later.

With a prescription from a doctor, Philadelphia Medicaid beneficiaries also can get any of seven different federally approved smoking cessation medications for no more than $3 per month, and sometimes at no cost. The Health Department also is working with primary-care doctors, specialists, and behavioral health providers to make sure they are offering evidence-based tobacco dependence treatment to their patients who smoke. Additional resources can be found at

|James W. Buehler, M.D., health commissioner, Philadelphia


Knows his government

Thanks for printing Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne's views ("Evidence-based government," Dec. 9). I find him to be concise, clear, and honest in his commentary. I am an avid fan.

|Faith Silverman, Philadelphia