- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:


So it came to this: The Republican-controlled Senate, under Mitch McConnell’s leadership, sought to solve the nation’s most intimate and consequential policy dilemma - accessible, affordable health care for Americans - through a secretive, rushed legislative process the name of which calls to mind a rickety carnival ride: the “vote-o-rama.”

That is unacceptable.

McConnell on Tuesday corralled enough votes to open debate aimed toward repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. All three options on the table were projected to deprive millions more Americans of coverage and drive premiums higher.

The first, crafted to appeal to both poles of the Republican Party, failed on Tuesday. A measure to repeal the ACA and postpone replacement was rejected Wednesday, setting the stage for what some called the GOP’s Hail Mary. That was a vote on legislation confoundingly not meant to be enacted, but to keep the process open to further tweaking from the House.

The so-called “skinny repeal” would have rolled back the ACA’s individual and employer mandates, driving up premiums by 20 percent and stripping coverage from 16 million Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Some Republicans harshly criticized it, with Lindsey Graham memorably panning it as “the dumbest thing in history,” before he and 49 others voted yes.

The recklessness of the approach was clear: The House could have passed the dangerous “skinny” repeal with no further work, regardless of assurances from House Speaker Paul Ryan to the contrary. Yet 49 took the risk, for what? Bragging rights?

In what will go down as a legacy-sealing vote, John McCain of Arizona early Friday joined GOP moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to stop the legislative malpractice.

President Donald Trump’s tweeted that his preferred course is to let the nation’s health care system “implode,” never mind the harm to vulnerable Americans seeking healing within that system. Trump seeks only leverage to, as he tweeted, “deal,” as if legislating health care was akin to a bare-knuckled boardroom showdown.

That would be an outrageous failure of leadership.

The path forward is clear, including to more than 70 percent of Americans who want a bipartisan solution. McCain is right. The Republicans should stop trying to repeat the divisive mistake the Democrats made when they passed the ACA with no Republican support.

Congress, McCain said, must return to “the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of the nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.”

That is governing. Get on with it.

—Erie Times News

Online: https://bit.ly/2uZi3M3



They came, like other immigrants, seeking freedom from persecution and a new start in the United States. And, like immigrants before them, their transition into a new culture is a bumpy one.

PennLive reporter Steve Marroni’s story about the fractious relations between roughly 100 Romanian immigrants, members of a minority group called the Roma, and residents of California, Pennsylvania, a tiny borough southwest of Pittsburgh, is a reminder that, while American history is relatively long, our collective memory can sometimes be painfully short.

Residents complain that the newcomers to this community of about 6,700 souls, sometimes referred to as “gypsies,” are responsible for an uptick in crime; fill the streets with garbage and have made no attempt to assimilate with the already present population.

The Roma say they’re seeking asylum from persecution in their home country.

U.S. immigration officials, citing privacy requirements, could not confirm their story.

But they did say the Roma are in what’s known as the “Alternative to Detention Program,” which allows them to remain in the community as they await court hearings and final orders to stay or to be deported back to Romania.

If the Roma’s claim to asylum-seeking is true - and based on interviews with some Roma, there’s every indication that’s the case - then it places them in a grand and proud tradition of those who fled to this nation’s open arms.

“In my country, no help for kids,” a Roma woman who identified herself as Dochia, told Marroni. “I want to make good life in America with kids.”

Some of those who live in California are descended from Italian immigrants who came to the borough generations ago, facing assimilation problems of their own.

But the Roma, some borough residents insist, are somehow different.

“Since they’ve been here, it’s nothing but pure havoc,” resident Pam Duricic told Marroni.

That’s the oldest story there is. There’s nothing new under the sun about bumpy relations between newcomers and already established communities.

Consider this:

“These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are to us a pest without mitigation. Our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they … Lynch law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans to stay the issue of a new license to the Mafia to continue its bloody practices.”

That’s from a New York Times editorial in 1899, written in response to the lynchings of all five Italians who then lived in the small town of Tallulah, Louisiana. They lost their lives in a dispute over a goat.

It’s difficult - if not impossible - to imagine such words being written now, generations after those Italian immigrants became a cornerstone of American culture.

Rosemary Capanna, a Democratic candidate for mayor in California, is among those who have tried to reach out to the Roma. It’s a task made difficult by religious and cultural differences, and the fact that the newcomers largely keep to themselves.

Capanna, who is descended from Italian immigrants who faced similar assimilation problems, say her neighbors need to be patient.

“They weren’t refugees, but they faced something similar,” Capanna said of her grandparents. “Assimilation does not happen overnight.”

No, it doesn’t. Sometimes it takes generations.

But it does happen. And American society is always the richer for it.


Online: https://bit.ly/2f9kTtJ



We have become a nation of bad drivers. Young and old alike ignore the basic rules of the road.

How did we get to this point? Why do motorists suddenly turn rude and ignorant when they climb behind the wheels of vehicles?

We can debate if the younger drivers are learning their horrible habits from their elders or the older drivers are taking their cues from the younger generation.

Are people taking more risks because they know that the odds of being stopped by the police are slim. Many law-enforcement departments are undermanned, and traffic stops seemed to have been pushed to the background as officers deal with other pressing issues, such as illegal drug activity, assaults and much more.

Without police keeping watch over our roads, driving regulations seem to have taken on new interpretations, such as:

- Obeying posted speed limits is for wimps.

- Turn signals? The devices must be optional equipment on many makes and models of cars and trucks.

It’s better to keep the other drivers guessing. This also helps sharpen the reflexes of motorists who are following the mindless drivers who don’t use signals.

- Motorists who are to yield to oncoming traffic take it upon themselves to pull right onto the highway, causing those who have the right of way to jam on their brakes. How chain-reaction accidents are avoided is a miracle.

- Rolling stops have become the norm. Some drivers don’t even pretend to stop - their foot never touches the brake pedal.

The few seconds gained by not coming to a full stop presumably will come in handy sometime during the day.

Right outside The Tribune-Democrat offices is Locust Street and Gazebo Place. There is a stop sign for motorists who are attempting to turn right onto Gazebo Place.

Although its eight-sided form has been altered by several large trucks making the turn too sharply, the sign still is visible. During any given lunch hour, drivers who actually stop at the sign can be counted on one hand.

We have observed lawyers, Johnstown city employees in marked vehicles and even a drivers-education car proceed unabated through that intersection. Drivers may erroneously believe that right turns at that intersection take preference. They don’t.

To counteract our bad driving, Pennsylvania has started its third Aggressive Driving Wave for 2017.

During this enforcement period, which ends Aug. 27, municipal police departments and the state police will focus on red-light running, tailgating, steer-clear violations and speeding, according to the website www.patrafficsafety.org, the Pennsylvania Traffic Safety Enforcement Resource Center.

Police also will target other unsafe driving practices, such as driving too fast for conditions, texting, careless driving and work zone violations, the website states.

During the second wave, which took place March 20 to April 30, more than 16,000 citations were issued or arrests made. Of those, 10,546 were speeding-related citations.

Hopefully, commonwealth drivers soon get the message.

Perhaps Pennsylvania should retest drivers at set intervals - say every five or 10 years - just as a refresher.

The exams would reintroduce motorists to the rules and regulations of driving on Pennsylvania highways.

It certainly couldn’t hurt.

—The Tribune-Democrat

Online: https://bit.ly/2ukz3u9



The eight-year anniversary of Congress raising the minimum wage from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour slipped by quietly July 24. It was best that way. There is nothing to celebrate. What we should be celebrating is a hike to something closer to a living wage. And that’s not impossible. In the past 5 years, many states have elevated the minimum wage, some with stepped increases over the next few years.

Grassroots activism, prompted in part by a successful movement by fast food workers starting in 2013, have convinced 29 states to raise wages. That includes at least eight states with minimum wages at or above $10 per hour. Pennsylvania, still at $7.25, is among the 21 laggards who have held the line. Bills to raise the wage are routinely introduced in Pennsylvania but die of neglect.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that today’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has lost 12.5 percent of its purchasing power since 2009. To make up the difference, consumers are digging themselves into debt to cover basic expenses.

Or, they rely on the social safety net: For example, about a third of food stamp recipients live in households whose residents work. Many of them also participate in the federal food stamp program, whose budget has swelled from $33 billion to $70 billion since 2007.

It’s clear that we are all paying for the consequences of low wages.

And it’s not just food stamps. According to the institute, about half of low-wage earners get some government aid, totaling $45 billion, from Medicaid and other programs. EPI says if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10, 1.7 million would no longer need such programs.

At the same time, low-wage workers have lost serious buying power. If wages grew with the economy and worker productivity, the minimum wage would be worth $19.93 an hour today, EPI reports. The productivity calculation is the amount of money a worker can generate for a company in an hour.

But businesses in recent decades have profited from greater productivity, leaving workers far behind - many in poverty.

The federal minimum wage works out to $15,080 a year. But the poverty line for a family of four is $24,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Some businesses argue that raising the minimum wage costs too much, but that’s too narrow a view. More disposable income translates into higher consumption and a healthier economy.

This is widely known even in the halls of Congress, whose members have just come off a battle over repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Fortunately, the forces that wanted to toss millions of Americans out of the health care system lost. But Congress will soon take up President Trump’s budget, which not only is unlikely to raise wages but will undoubtedly further eviscerate social programs.

It’s up to workers, the same people whose voices fueled the public outcry over health care cuts, to call their state and federal legislators and tell them it’s time for a raise.

—The Philadelphia Inquirer

Online: https://bit.ly/2hoqKvV



Concerned that the satellites Americans and our military depend on are in jeopardy, the top Republican and top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces are pushing a proposal to create a new branch of the armed services: the United States Space Corps.

In a Space News op-ed, Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, and Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, said space is not getting enough military attention. Americans communicate through satellites and navigate by them. China has proved that it can destroy a satellite by taking out one of its own. Were an enemy to attack U.S. satellites, it “would crush our economy and paralyze our military.”

Yet the Air Force prioritizes air over space financially, they argued. Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said most military communications satellites are vulnerable to jamming. Mr. Rogers said the Air Force bureaucracy slows the launching of new equipment.

The proposal, which has already passed the House of Representatives as part of defense authorization, would put the Space Corps under the Air Force, much as the Marines are under the Navy. It faces an uphill battle. The secretary of the Air Force says it would make military bureaucracy more complex at a time when “we are trying to simplify it.”

But sometimes, new bureaucracy is worth building. We rely on satellites, so they must be protected.

Bureaucracies tend to advance their own interests; that’s common sense. The Space Corps’ interest would be the security of U.S. interests in space, including the ability to win wars there. That means it would need to promote systems, human and technological, for achieving victory in orbit, and perhaps someday beyond.

That’s important for the reasons Congressmen Rogers and Cooper lay out: We rely on satellites, so we must protect them.

But it’s important for another reason, too. Military development can lead to technological progress. The GPS system was created for the military. The internet was born from Defense Department research. And then there’s the Jeep. It’s too soon to tell what technologies a Space Corps might foster. But it’s not too soon to look forward to seeing how they’ll contribute to civilian life.

And while a Space Corps dedicated to protecting satellites is a long way from a Starfleet that could help colonize other planets or protect those colonies, it may be the germ of one - and with Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson all working on commercial space flight, Americans alive today may live to need a military branch that can protect them in orbit and beyond.

It all comes down to three words, really: “Make it so.”

—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Online: https://bit.ly/2wmkaJg



We are mystified by the state Department of Health’s decision to put decisions regarding public information in the hands of companies applying for licenses to grow and dispense medical marijuana.

Under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, state agencies are tasked with determining what is and is not public information. But in the licensing process for growing and dispensing medicinal marijuana, the Department of Health permitted applicants to submit two applications: one for the evaluation committee and a second, self-redacted version for the public.

The result, predictably, has been wildly inconsistent interpretations of what information should be made available to the public. In one case, a Philadelphia company kept almost its entire 186-page application hidden, including the instructions. That company, Healing II LLC, was awarded one of the coveted state contracts.

It is understandable and acceptable that some information in an application would be kept secret. The Right-to-Know Law permits omitting proprietary, security and confidential information. A state official, preferably one with strong knowledge of the law, should be the one determining which material meets those criteria for redaction. That’s true in any case, especially when the issue at hand is as controversial as medical marijuana.

Instead, the public has access to self-redacted documents that leave out a bewildering mix of items such as applicant signatures; application page numbers; business name and address; proximity to health care facilities where marijuana subscriptions ostensibly would be written; and the business impact on the community. It’s troubling that some applicants wouldn’t even allow the public to read the community impact statement.

State officials said the redaction process used for the marijuana dispensary was designed to balance the requirement for transparency with the need to get the new system set up quickly so patients can get relief from the drug soon. In other states, material made public in applications was used as fodder for litigation that slowed down the process.

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf was unapologetic about the process, arguing that the Department of Health was right to put patients’ needs first. We have enormous sympathy for those who expect to benefit from access to medical marijuana. That’s why we favored the law allowing it in Pennsylvania. But we cannot accept the notion that the people should be deprived of information they have the right to know in the name of expediency.

The Right-to-Know Law is intended to keep the public informed about and involved in governmental actions that impact them. In Pennsylvania, records are presumed public. The state performs all kinds of vital functions with the understanding that information about its work will be made public under the terms of the law regarding open records. This should be no different.

It’s particularly discouraging that since we brought this issue to light July 10, the Department of Health has declined to take responsibility for the issue, either denying Right-to-Know requests or referring back to the documents that were redacted by the applicants.

We urge lawmakers to address this issue soon as they look to make improvements in the marijuana law. There is no reason why patients’ right to treatment and the public’s right to know cannot coexist.

—Reading Eagle

Online: https://bit.ly/2vpEmN7

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