- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Another Labor Day passed, the presidential election shifts into high gear. Two months from Thursday, the nation will elect a new president, either Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

And while the candidates hurl epithets laced with generalities and discount credible questions of veracity, respectively, perhaps the biggest issue of the election largely goes unaddressed.

The Federal Reserve continues to do the nation a great disservice - as it gives the government fiction business a great boost - as it claims the United States is at or near “full employment.” But, in a word, that’s daft.

As Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, reminds, “During the past half-century, work rates for U.S. males spiraled relentlessly downward.

“America now is home to a vast army of jobless men who are no longer even looking for work - roughly 7 million of them age 25 to 54, the traditional prime working life,” Mr. Eberstadt writes in his forthcoming book “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis.”

Mr. Trump waves his hand as if it’s a magic wand, vowing to put America to work again. Mrs. Clinton appears to think that installing a gazillion solar panels in her first term will solve all our ills, if not remove crow’s feet.

These members of the “Idle Army” are the “detached men” of America, Eberstadt says. And their detachment, and their numbers, are growing. No nation can survive such a pandemic.

- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review



Despite the pleas, warnings and penalties, motorists continue to text while driving.

In fact, police say the number of infractions is increasing. In New York, drivers who received tickets for texting skyrocketed from about 8,000 in 2011 to 85,000 four years later. The same holds true in California, where traffic citations were handed out to about 3,000 motorists guilty of texting in 2009, but 31,000 in 2015.

Worse yet, law enforcement admits it is basically powerless to stop the bad habit. However, some police departments across the United States are getting creative in trying to combat the dangerous practice.

State troopers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, are cruising the highways in big rigs, relying on the increased height afforded by the trucks to look down on drivers and nab those who are texting.

In Bethesda, Maryland, a policeman dressed up as a homeless man and stood at a busy intersection, radioing ahead to fellow officers the make and model of vehicles in which the drivers were texting. In just two hours, a police detail wrote 65 tickets.

And in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, a uniformed officer patrols on a bicycle, handing out $105 tickets to guilty parties at stoplights.

Why does the cellphone hold so many of us hostage, powerless to ignore its bings, dings and rings?

Surveys show that most drivers know how horribly dangerous texting and driving can be, but they persist, probably thinking something terrible will happen to someone else but never them.

According to an Associated Press story published on Saturday in The Tribune-Democrat, Jay Winsten, director of the Center for Health Communication at Harvard University, is developing a media campaign aimed at distracted drivers. It will encourage defensive driving and also warn motorists to be on the lookout for distracted motorists.

“We’re trying to get the attention of people by not talking to them as the villain,” Winsten said, “but rather as the other guy.”

The center helped to develop the 1980 campaign that urged the use of designated drivers to get drunken drivers from behind steering wheels.

Meanwhile, police will have to deal with the hazards created by distracted drivers.

“We’ve seen cars in trees,” West Bridgewater police Chief Victor Flaherty told the AP. “We’ve had two houses hit within three weeks. We had a car off the road 100 yards before it hit a parking lot.”

New York tried a legal approach, equipping officers with a Textalyzer, which they could use to check a cell phone’s activity before a wreck. The idea was scuttled after objections were raised.

Louisiana and other states have hiked the fines for first-time offenders to $500 from $175, hoping the large levies will force the motorists to become better drivers.

In the meantime, police departments will have to keep coming up with inventive ways to find and remove from our highways drivers who are more interested in their cellphones than the road ahead and the safety of others.

- The (Johnstown) Tribune Democrat



It doesn’t count as a full pants size, but Pennsylvania has begun to lose a bit of weight after decades of getting fatter. According to the new State of Obesity Report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health, 30 percent of Pennsylvania adults were obese in 2015. That’s down from 30.2 percent in 2014, so the state has the 24th-highest rather than 20th-highest obesity rate among the states.

The state adult obesity rate was 13.7 percent in 1990 and 20.3 percent in 2000.

Obesity remains a huge health problem. According to the report, obesity-related diseases cost up to $210 billion a year to treat.

Better news is that public policy has had a positive impact. For example, the number of high school students who drink one or more sodas a day has declined by 40 percent since 2007, which reflects the elimination of school promotional contracts with soft drink companies.

Sound policy could help further. Pennsylvania is a major agricultural state, for example, yet some populations lack ready access to affordable whole food. The state obesity rate for African-Americans is 35.7 percent and for Latinos, 39 percent. Those populations live primarily in cities. The state government could serve those people, reduce its long-term health care bill, expand agricultural markets and improve overall health with programs to connect the target populations with fresh food.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune



Deana Weaver lives in Carroll Township. She’s an Army veteran and a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve. She volunteers time to remove litter from local roads and waterways, and she helped establish two libraries for U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq. Since 2009, she has coordinated Dillsburg’s New Year’s Eve Pickle Drop as well as other street fairs and activities for nonprofits.

She also identifies as a freethinker, one who forms opinions about religion based on reason. She doesn’t believe in God, and she believes people can be good and moral without believing in a higher power,

On April 15, 2015, Weaver gave the invocation for the Pennsylvania Senate, which included this thought: “Let us pray for open minds and for the strength to overcome preconceived judgment.”

Weaver is part of a group of nonbelievers suing the state House for the right to give an invocation to open a session. The House rules stipulate that the invocation be given by a member of the House or by a member of “a regularly established church or religious organization.”

Weaver and her fellow nonbelievers have repeatedly asked to be allowed to give the invocation, and they have been repeatedly turned down by the House leadership. The lawsuit, filed last month, names five individuals and three groups of atheists who would like to call on the members of the House to begin their work with fairness, thought and good judgment.

The fact that these people want to participate in state government so badly that they will file a lawsuit to do so should be more than enough reason to allow them to speak.

One of the principles this country was founded on is religious freedom, which also means freedom from religion. Courts have found time and again that governmental bodies cannot discriminate against religion either by withholding the right to practice a belief or by insisting that one belief take precedence over any other.

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece (New York) v. Galloway that governmental bodies can open meetings with an invocation as long as there was no discrimination against any belief. The opinion specifically cited that the town’s leaders maintained “a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation.”

The House seems to think that as long as their rules no not discriminate against members of any faith, the rules can stand.

But that’s not right. Nondiscrimination must apply to members of all faiths and also people with no faith. There has never been a religious test for participation in government in this country, and it is our duty to ensure that there never is such as test.

Deana Weaver has given much to her community, state and country, and she wants to give more. There is no reason why she should not speak to the House and ask the members to give their work the thought and care it deserves.

- York Dispatch



A deadlocked Pennsylvania Supreme Court has unfortunately left intact an 11th-hour change in the wording of a ballot question that will determine when state judges must retire.

The court’s inability to reach a decision Friday means the misleading wording will be left on the upcoming November ballot. It will be up to voters to figure out that the ballot question is designed to extend the employment of judges, not curtail it.

Initially, the ballot question was more straightforward in asking voters if the retirement age for judges should be raised from 70 to 75. But the Republican-controlled legislature apparently feared that making the wording too clear might result in the measure’s defeat.

So the Republicans passed legislation that changed the wording to make it harder to follow. The new version asks voters whether judges should be required to retire at age 75, but does not mention that they currently must retire at 70.

As it stands, the reworded ballot question may mislead voters into thinking they are voting to implement a mandatory retirement age when in fact they would be voting to increase the current age of retirement.

Of course, misleading voters is too often the legislature’s preferred method of doing business. A fair and open democracy just gets in the way of the usual backroom business in Harrisburg.

Naturally, there is a method to the legislature’s madness. Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, the Supreme Court’s lone Republican, will turn 70 in December. Under current rules, he would be required to retire. To prevent that, the Republicans are doing what they can to keep one of their own on the court.

Saylor recused himself from the court decision that resulted in the 3-3 tie. The deadlock let stand a lower court ruling that said the legislature was within its rights to change the ballot question’s wording and to delay a vote on the measure, which was initially included on the April primary ballot.

Some counties had already printed ballots with the retirement question for the April election. Tallying those votes showed that the effort to make the retirement age 75 would have been rejected.

That invalid vote was good practice for the one in November that will count. This time the ballot question won’t be as clear. So voters need to remember that voting “no” when asked whether state judges should have to retire at age 75 means they will continue to retire at 70.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer


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