- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



There are reasons British people have a reputation for keeping stiff upper lips in times of crisis.

And today, we feel compelled to laud their tried-and-true tradition of keeping calm and carrying on (a slogan created by the British government on the eve of World War II, though not popularized until decades later).

Britain not only gave this country of ours its name. It’s now providing a master class in how to persevere in the face of terror.

Americans have some experience in this, of course, having pulled together after 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, like that at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida (the one-year anniversary of which will be marked next week).

But the British, sadly, have a longer history of attacks on their soil. During the Blitz of 1940-41, their cities were bombed nightly by the German Luftwaffe for months. Their fortitude is hard-won.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” wasn’t the only wartime motto created by Britain’s Ministry of Information. There was also this one: “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.”

It’s never a good idea to generalize about an entire country of people, but these slogans do seem to capture something of the British character. Stoicism was then, and remains, a British national aspiration.

So when The New York Times tweeted early Sunday that “The London attacks hit a nation still reeling from the shock of the bombing in Manchester almost 2 weeks ago,” Britons begged to differ.

A Londoner who tweets under the tag Andy L posted a black-and-white photo of an Englishwoman calmly sipping from a cup of tea as she’s perched on a pile of rubble in the aftermath of an air raid in 1940. “This is what ‘reeling’ means in British English,” he tweeted at The New York Times.

A British National Health Service scientist named Alan tweeted: “You really don’t understand us Brits do you?” Alluding to the British national football (or soccer) team, he continued: “The only thing that leaves us reeling is a penalty shoot-out against Germany!”

A novelist named Nick Harkaway tweeted, more seriously: “We’re an old, scarred country and we know how to take a punch.”

“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling tweeted: “The thugs who mowed down innocent people would love to think of the UK ‘reeling’ but it isn’t. Don’t confuse grief with lack of courage.”

And countless people shared an Associated Press video of an Englishman strolling from the area where Saturday night’s attacks took place - while holding a nearly full pint glass from the pub from which he’d just been evacuated.

A London woman who calls herself Pearly Queen on Twitter - Pearly Kings and Queens are working-class Londoners who wear pearl-studded garments and raise money for charity - tweeted the photo and this observation: “Why ISIS will never win. Attack just taken place but fella on right refuses to spill his pint. Nazis, IRA tried. Didn’t win.”

The Independent newspaper interviewed Londoners on Sunday as they went about their usual routines. “Terrified?” asked Chris Charlton, 39. “That’s a bit strong. We’re probably going to go shopping . Very mundane. Sorry.”

On Sunday evening, more than 50,000 people turned out to Manchester’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground, where Ariana Grande headlined an emotional benefit concert, “One Love Manchester.” The event raised millions for the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund.

Grande was joined by other pop stars, including Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, Miley Cyrus, Coldplay and Manchester native son Liam Gallagher, formerly of Oasis.

Among those in attendance were survivors of the May 22 concert attack - some were members of a local school choir that performed onstage Sunday night with Grande, delivering a poignant rendition of her song “My Everything.” Footage of a Manchester police officer - holding hands and dancing joyfully in a circle with children, as Justin Bieber performed on stage - went viral. It perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the night, and of Manchester.

Britain will hold its general election Thursday. As of Monday afternoon, there were no plans to delay it. The British know the best response to terrorism is to defiantly practice democracy.

As ever, they will keep calm and carry on, as we watch from across the pond, cheering them.


Online: https://bit.ly/2s4BhRM



What could $50 million in taxpayer money buy?

In Philadelphia, it could cover homeless services in the city budget, or the bulk of the funding for the Parks and Recreation Department, or underwrite the budgets for libraries, procurement, and records.

Instead, the city spent $50 million to partially renovate a 90-year old white elephant of a building at 46th and Market Streets. Former Mayor Michael Nutter wanted to turn the building into a new headquarters for police, but his successor, Mayor Kenney, does not. Either way, taxpayers are footing the bill.

It doesn’t make sense, but that has been the story of the building ever since Provident Mutual Life left it in 1983. So, it sits - a 325,000-square-foot hulk on 15 acres just off the Market-Frankford line - like a monument to quiescence.

The building failed as a satellite campus for Lincoln and Cheyney universities, as a location for Family Court, and as a home for non-profits. There was even talk of turning it into a new West Philadelphia High School. Fortunately for it, the School District didn’t take on that expensive rehab project.

Kenney is only the latest to walk away from the building. He says police would be better served by having a headquarters closer to Center City, which does make sense. He has chosen the former Inquirer and Daily News Building at 400 N. Broad St.

The administration says the 18-story building with a distinctive clock tower could not only accommodate the police headquarters staff but also fire communications personnel and the Sixth and Ninth police districts.

The new project will cost about $288 million, which is what the city says it would have to spend to make the West Philadelphia site work. But that’s not counting the $50 million already spent on the Market Street site.

Without question, the police need a more habitable and efficient work environment than the old Roundhouse at Eighth and Race Streets. It’s also senseless to scatter bits and pieces of central police operations around town. But space and location considerations should have been resolved before the city sunk $50 million into the Market Street site.

That was a costly decision, but perhaps it’s best that the city pull out of the project before spending more taxpayer funds on a building that won’t suit its purposes.

The about-face by Kenney stings like 50 million scorpions. But the pain won’t last as long if Kenney’s office is right in saying the work done on the building at 4601 Market has made it more attractive to potential buyers. Maybe taxpayers can at least recoup the cost to polish the building’s gold dome and clean its limestone facade.

One sure winner in the building swap is developer Bart Blatstein, who bought the former newspaper building for $22.6 million in 2012. The turnkey project calls for the city to pay Blatstein’s company $42 million to acquire the building plus the cost to design and renovate the headquarters before handing it over to the city.

Taxpayers are left to trust city officials not to make the same mistake twice. Philadelphia has too many critical needs to waste precious revenue trying to turn a building into police headquarters if it isn’t right for the job.

__The Philadelphia Inquirer

Online: https://bit.ly/2sDVlY2



With a pension reform bill seemingly on the fast track to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, it appears the Republican legislative leaders and the Democratic administration may be on the verge of cracking a two-decade-old problem.

If only they had solved it all the way.

Yes, the Senate-approved bill scheduled for a House vote on Thursday reduces future pension cost spikes by creating a new retirement system for state workers and public school teachers hired after 2019. That’s because taxpayer contributions to a proposed 401(k)-style retirement account can be predictably budgeted each year.

Yes, it would, as supporters argue, increase projected savings from the bill if future investment results from the pension systems failed to meet targeted averages.

And yes, the bill the Senate approved on a 40-9 vote on Monday shifts the risks away from taxpayers and onto state and school employees (who are also taxpayers, we’d add) in the event of future financial market downturns. A Pew Charitable Trust analysis indicates it is the largest shift in taxpayer risk of any state’s pension reform enacted to date.

But - and this is a big and important but - critics are also correct that the bill does little to shave much off the unfunded liability have caused state government and school district pension contributions rates to rise.

Those increases, in turn, have diverted money away from such initiatives as smaller class sizes, tax cuts, or more funding for social services.

To an extent, state government has no one but itself to blame in this instance. The pension mess was created during an incomprehensible moment of greed under former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge and then exacerbated under Democrat Ed Rendell, who short-changed pension contributions to fund his own pet programs.

At this writing, the unfunded liability carried by the State Employees Retirement System and Public School Employees Retirement System is a staggering $70 billion. That’s a time bomb in the middle of the state’s finances simply waiting to go off.

As an analysis by the conservative Commonwealth Foundation notes, the state has enough assets to carry 60 percent of that liability. Only four states have pension plans with a worse funding ratio, the analysis notes.

According to an analysis by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office, the Senate-approved bill shaves just under $1.4 billion from the combined, taxpayer-funded portion of the pension costs through 2050.

Put another way, that’s a savings of less than one-fourth of the pension tab for the current budget year, spread out over the next generation, as PennLive’s Charles Thompson reported.

And costs would actually increase slightly over current projections through the next 15 years. Still, in terms of total projected costs, the taxpayer-funded part of the bill would drop by about two-thirds of one percentage point through 2048.

The savings are so small because the policy-makers are trying to wring savings out of a group of employees that aren’t causing the current problem - future hires.

It’s an imperfect solution, to be sure. But it’s better than the current solution, which has been to wrestle unsuccessfully with the issue without reaching any resolution at all.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, called the reform bill, which give most future state and school employees three choices for retirement savings (including that 401(k)-style plan) “the medicine that will move us forward in a way that future Legislatures will be proud of.”

We wouldn’t go that far. But it is a good start. And it’s one that lawmakers can always try to build upon in the future.


Online: https://bit.ly/2s4OzxG



President Donald Trump does not hide the fact that believes himself to be the smartest person in the room. Last month, he tried to hold himself up as the smartest person in the world, turning his back on virtually the entire planet - both figuratively and literally - as he announced plans to remove the United States from the global Paris Climate Accord.

The decision was as disappointing as it was reckless, but it need not spell the end of desperately needed responsiveness to the increasingly evident challenges of man-made climate change.

Many states, cities and companies have already pledged to continue efforts to reduce emissions of carbon and other gases that are contributing to the climatic calamity. Happily, Pennsylvania is among them:

Gov. Tom Wolf said Trump’s decision “hurts our economy and PA residents,” and declared Pennsylvania’s efforts to curb methane emissions - a known greenhouse gas - would continue unabated.

State officials including Western Pennsylvania state Sens. Wayne Fontaine and Jay Cost, both Democrats, have vowed that Pennsylvania will hold fast to its carbon reduction targets.

And the mayors of cities including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh - which Trump cited in his Thursday announcement - have rejected the president’s argument and say they will keep their sites on greenhouse gas reductions.

Unfortunately, not all state lawmakers have been beacons of light on this issue:

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, supported the withdrawal, arguing it would hurt the state’s economy and jobs.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, complained that the treaty should have been ratified by the U.S. Senate, but instead of urging such ratification, argued - head-scratchingly - that abandoning the accord was “a solid first step in reasserting the role of the U.S. Constitution in international affairs and domestic issues.”

And as for state Sen. Scott Wagner, his comments on the issue that body heat and the earth moving closer to the sun are behind any warming - were ridiculed Sunday by comedian John Oliver on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

Trump, in withdrawing from the historic international effort to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, proclaimed, “I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Thanks but no thanks, said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, tweeting in response, “I can assure you that we will follow the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy and future.”

Opposition to Trump and his lug-headed decision is the only appropriate response. Remember, the only other two countries that have not signed onto the accord are Nicaragua (which - defensibly - thought the agreement didn’t go far enough) and Syria (which is currently a country in name only).

The president’s assertion that the U.S. will somehow negotiate a better deal (with 190-some other nations) and/or rejoin the agreement under better terms is ludicrous, and reflects how little the president understands (or, more like, cares about) not only the agreement, but the nation’s and world’s future.

So it is left to leaders on the state, city and local levels to do what Trump has thus far shown himself incapable of on any number of fronts: to lead.

The governors of California, New York and Washington formed an alliance to push for continued adherence to the Paris accord just hours after Trump’s announcement last week. That those Democratic lawmakers were joined by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts over the weekend is a welcome harbinger of the bipartisan effort that will be needed to reduce greenhouse emissions in the face of dwindling but still persistent conservative opposition.

Countering climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t even be a political issue. Alternative energy research and production holds the promise of new jobs even as it delays or diminishes the worst effects of an increasingly hotter planet.

Absent federal leadership on this front, lawmakers at all other levels must step up and take action. And Pennsylvania’s leaders must continue to ensure the Keystone State is at the forefront of this much-needed effort.

__The York Dispatch

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



As the opioid crisis continues, officials here and in other cities are trying new strategies for targeting suppliers and protecting victims. That’s what has to be done - keep trying until we find the combination of tools that works the best.

In Washington County, where officials were early leaders in giving a reversal drug to police departments, the latest effort targets jail inmates. Those thought to be at risk for opioids after release will receive counseling and Vivitrol, a drug that blunts the cravings for drugs and alcohol for about 30 days. In addition, they will get help with scheduling post-release substance abuse counseling and, if necessary, with arranging Medicaid coverage to cover future Vivitrol shots.

Vivitrol for prisoners is not entirely new.

Under a pilot project, the state Department of Corrections began giving Vivitrol to female inmates at SCI Muncy in Lycoming County and arranged for them to have five more injections after their release. Last June, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel reported the program was successful and had been expanded to include male inmates at four prisons. The department last year also awarded $1.5 million to 13 counties for Vivitrol programs. Washington County was not among them.

As the new program for inmates kicks off this week, the Washington County Opioid Overdose Coalition also is working to obtain an app that would allow better collection of overdose data from first responders. That is important, especially in light of a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that analyzed deaths in Minnesota and found that many likely related to opioids instead had been attributed to other causes such as pneumonia.

A growing number of government bodies are taking aim at drug manufacturers and distributors thought to be flooding communities with painkillers. Ohio last week sued five manufacturers and their subsidiaries, but that didn’t satisfy the city of Dayton, which filed its own suit targeting manufacturers and subsidiaries as well as distributors and physicians accused of inappropriate prescribing practices. Another city, Lorain, also plans to file its own suit. Pennsylvania should do so as well.

Reversal drugs for police departments, Vivitrol for inmates and other policies, such as a Pennsylvania law limiting the prescribing of opioids to children and in emergency departments, all have roles to play in combating the opioid epidemic.

Those responsible for the epidemic aren’t giving up. Among more than two dozen drug-related arrests Tuesday in Harrisburg, the state attorney general’s office announced charges against a ring of 13 people for using a prescription pad stolen from an orthopedic practice to obtain $54,000 worth of oxycodone, which they allegedly sold in the Lehigh Valley.

That case underscores how far the battle is from being won. New ideas and new tools will be needed for the foreseeable future.

__Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Online: https://bit.ly/2rVX3pJ


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