- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Water quality has been in the news quite a bit recently, but the quality of something you take into your body every moment of every day - the air we all breathe - doesn’t seem to make waves very often.

Except this month every year. The results of the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report are in and - relatively speaking - are good. Relatively, because it appears we’re on the right track and because we have a long, long way yet to go.

The ALA’s report says the country is on the right track thanks in large part to the federal Clean Air Act of 1970, but also points out that just four American metropolitan areas - and one of those is in Hawaii - have had regular access to healthy air in recent years.

Put another way, more than one in two people had “unhealthy air quality” in their communities last year, according to the report.

That includes people in southwestern Pennsylvania, where the Pittsburgh metro area ranked among the most polluted cities in the country for particle pollution and high ozone days.

Ozone, one of the most widespread and dangerous pollutants in the U.S., can cause breathing and cardiovascular problems, damage the central nervous system and shorten a person’s life span. Particle pollution - that sooty smoke billowing out of a vehicle’s tailpipe is an example - can do similar things.

Both types of pollution are of particular concern to the young, the old, and people who have preexisting respiratory or medical conditions like heart disease.

In Butler County … well, we don’t know exactly how Butler County measures up when it comes to air quality. There’s no data in the ALA report for here or 30 other counties in Pennsylvania. That’s more than 46 percent of the state that either doesn’t monitor air quality at all, or hasn’t collected enough data to be useful.

Perhaps we can extrapolate from the letter grades the report gives to our neighbors that actually do have monitors: Allegheny County - F; Armstrong County - F; Beaver County - F; Westmoreland County - F; Lawrence County - F; Mercer County - F.

A lack of air quality data isn’t uncommon. In fact, more than two-thirds of the 3,068 counties nationwide don’t monitor it - and some entire states were left out of this year’s ALA report altogether. Florida and Illinois don’t have any data in the report at all, meaning information on air quality in major cities like Chicago, St. Louis and Miami, where millions of people live, isn’t available. Data from most of Tennessee is missing as well.

A least people facing a crisis of potable water have some recourse - whether it’s forming a water bank, buying bottled water from a store or - in the case of Flint - criminal charges against the people responsible for the pollution. At this point there isn’t exactly a short-term way to replace your dirty, hazardous air with a more breathable substitute.

Everyone likes to say that nature is one of Pennsylvania’s greatest assets - our hiking and biking trails, state parks, game lands, etc.

But it’s pretty difficult to enjoy those things if the air you breathe is harming your body, shortening your life, and exacerbating medical conditions you already have - with you non-the-wiser and incapable of making informed decisions that might positively impact your health.

It seems like the least we can do is tell people how polluted their air actually is.

- Butler Eagle



Despite unaddressed concerns from his administration about this year’s influx of Syrian refugees, President Obama has decided to cut their screening time from 18-24 months to three months. This, reportedly because of a “spike” in Middle Eastern refugees in need of placement.

Obama’s goal is to resettle 10,000 Syrians refugees by Sept. 30. But that’s “a floor and not a ceiling, and it is possible to increase the number,” said Gina Kassem, regional refugee coordinator at the U.S. embassy in Amman.

Since last year, authorities have warned of cracks in the refugee-vetting system. Among them, Michael Steinbach, executive assistant director for the FBI’s National Security Branch. He told a House committee that the refugee situation is “not even close to being under control.” Yet a year later, the administration still is telling Americans to “trust us.”

Then there’s a new British survey on Muslim “integration” by ICM Research. It found 100,000 British Muslims sympathize with suicide bombers. And only 34 percent would contact police if they suspected someone had become involved with a jihadist, according to a PJ Media report. Naturally that survey is attacked as being flawed.

Given the stark reality of terror attacks in Brussels and France, America’s security is no matter for presumption. Refugees from the strongholds of terrorism demand heightened attention, not less.

- The Tribune-Review



Believe it or not, the Republican Party significantly reformed its primary election system this year to avoid pitfalls that arose in 2012. It authorized fewer debates, altered some delegate rules and moved up the convention date. Now, with Donald Trump adding a few more cars Tuesday to the rolling train wreck of the 2016 campaign, party leaders probably are wishing for the good old days of 2012.

One certain result of the campaign, unless Trump further defies expectations and actually wins the presidency, is that the Republican Party’s 2020 selection process will be altered substantially to forestall the rise of another Trump-like candidate.

But Republicans are not alone. The entire primary process raises the question of whether this is the best way available to select nominees for the world’s most powerful office. And the fundamental problem is that a nomination does not arise from a process, but a series of processes that often are ill-suited to the purpose. The parties need to work on a cohesive, national nominating process with rules that come within hailing distance of democracy.

Consider Pennsylvania. Trump crushed Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but is guaranteed only 17 of 71 candidates. While forming an alliance with Kasich to try to keep Trump from getting enough delegates for a first-ballot nomination at the convention, Cruz is conducting a highly sophisticated second campaign aimed only at delegates. If he eventually gets the nomination, the primaries will have had little to do with it.

For the sake of tradition, both parties continue to give undue influence to small states. In practice, that often enables marginal candidates to gain momentum by playing to the fringes. The first four primary/caucus states - Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina - have a combined population of about 12 million. That’s slightly less than Pennsylvania’s population and about a third that of California, where the primary is scheduled June 7.

The parties could resolve many of the problems of the current mish-mash - massive costs, undue influence of small states, Byzantine rules for delegate commitments, incessant “reality” shows posing as debates, and candidates catering to the fringe - by agreeing to a series of five or six big regional primaries on a relatively tight schedule.

Today’s primaries and caucuses partially of the result of trying to democratize the nominating process by wresting it from the hands of party bosses and power brokers. That’s to the good but the effort is far from complete. Party leaders should work on a far more coherent, logical, democratic system for 2020.

- (Hazleton) Standard-Speaker



Last week’s news that Pennsylvania motorcycle deaths hit their lowest point last year in more than a decade was nearly as surprising as it is encouraging.

There were 179 motorcycle crash deaths last year, down from 186 in 2014 and 238 in 2008.

Pennsylvania changed its motorcycle helmet law in 2003, allowing experienced motorcyclists to ride without head gear. But all riders under age 21 are required to wear safety helmets. About half of the people killed in 2015 motorcycle wrecks in Pennsylvania were not wearing a helmet.

Many people view motorcycle helmet laws as a matter of individual freedom and motorcyclists clearly take responsibility for their decisions.

But as a new motorcycle riding season begins and the more than 860,000 licensed motorcyclists across Pennsylvania return to the roads, it just as important for the rest of us behind the wheels of cars and trucks to review our safety responsibilities as well.

In their safety flyer, “Ten Things All Car and Truck Drivers Should Know About Motorcycles,” the Motorcycle Safety Foundation notes that more than half of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle and in the majority of those crashes, it is the other driver who is at fault.

The foundation reminds drivers that because of their narrow profile, motorcycles can be easily hidden in blind spots. “Take an extra moment to look for motorcycles whether you’re changing lanes or turning at intersections,” the Foundation advises.

Because of their small size, a motorcycle may look farther away than it is, and it may be difficult to judge a motorcycle’s speed, so be extra careful when pulling from intersections.

Motorcyclists often slow down by easing off the throttle so there may not always be a brake light. Keep following distances at a minimum of 3 or 4 seconds.

Turn signals on a motorcycle don’t always turn off after making a turn as they do in cars or trucks, so some riders may forget to turn them off. Never assume this is the case. Consider every signal to be real.

One of best general reminders is Number 9 on Foundation’s safety tip list. Let’s all remember this one all summer long.

“When a motorcycle is in motion, see more than the motorcycle - see the person under the helmet, who could be your friend, neighbor or relative.”

- The (Sunbury) Daily Item



In an open letter, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman will grace the new $20 bill. Andrew Jackson will be moved to the bill’s reverse, which also will feature an image of the White House. It will be created after the new $10 bill, which will continue to feature on its front the image of Founding Father and first-ever Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. The back of the $10 bill “will honor the story and the heroes of the women’s suffrage movement against the backdrop of the Treasury building,” Lew said. The back of the new $5 bill will depict historic events that have taken place at the Lincoln Memorial: opera singer Marian Anderson’s groundbreaking performance in 1939, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. President Abraham Lincoln will continue to be featured on the front of the new $5 bill.

Finally, a woman - and indeed, a woman of color - will be honored on the front of American paper currency, and only 240 years after our nation’s founding!

Well, 240-plus however many years it takes for the new $20 bill to be created and put into circulation.

Lew says he has “directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to work closely with the Federal Reserve to accelerate work on the new $20 and $5 notes. Our goal is to have all three new notes go into circulation as quickly as possible.”

The aim is to unveil the new designs of the bills by 2020, when the United States will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

Of course, because we live in the land of the free to have one’s say, this hasn’t been an easy process.

When Lew first suggested that a woman should go on the $10 bill, because that’s the next bill due for a security upgrade, the reaction was decidedly mixed.

Some, not wanting to wait for the redesign of the $20 bill, welcomed the idea.

The Women on 20s online campaign saw it as yet one more devaluing of women’s contributions to American history.

And Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Pulitzer-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton,” worried that Alexander Hamilton would be relegated to a lesser spot on the $10 bill.

“But Jackson stays? The MURDEROUS Andrew Jackson is still money?” Miranda tweeted last June, referring to Jackson’s ignominious history as a slaveholder and the signer of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which enabled the horrors of the Trail of Tears.

But now the debate has been resolved.

Tubman deserves her place on the $20 bill. She was courageous and righteous. After her own escape from slavery in 1849, she returned to Maryland - the very state where she had been enslaved - to rescue members of her family.

Because she freed so many slaves via the Underground Railroad, she became known as Moses.

During the Civil War, she “worked as a scout, as a spy, as really a liberator,” Tubman biographer Catherine Clinton told The Washington Post. “One night during the Combahee River raid, she led Union gunboats up river to liberate over 750 slaves, deep in the heart of Confederate territory.”

She did all of that while suffering seizures and other lingering effects of an injury, sustained when an overseer threw a heavy metal weight at her head.

She was audacious, indomitable. According to one story related by Clinton, Tubman had a sore tooth while on the road, “and she was worried it might prevent her from taking people to safety, so she pulled out her pistol and knocked out her front tooth, so the infection wouldn’t spread.”

She was undeterred by fear, even as slave owners posted rewards for her capture.

“I would fight for liberty so long as my strength lasted,” she said, in a quote that Lew included in his open letter.

And she did fight for liberty as long as her strength endured, joining the fight for women’s suffrage later in life, despite the fact that, as a black woman, she wasn’t permitted to stay in the same hotels as her fellow suffragists.

On NBC’s “Today” show Thursday morning, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called Tubman “fantastic,” but said her replacement of Jackson on the front of the $20 bill was “pure political correctness.” He suggested that she be honored on the $2 bill.

The $2 bill is still in circulation, but it’s not all that common because, as the U.S. Treasury website explains, the Federal Reserve System does not request “the printing of that denomination as often as the others.”

In our view, Tubman’s heroism, her tenacity in the cause of freedom, earned her the predominant place on the $20 bill - and, we hope, the admiration of all Americans.



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