- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



May 8

Area school districts should set aside time this summer to deal with the issue of electronic cigarettes.

For those districts that already have implemented policies and actions, the summertime task should consist of evaluating what’s been done so far and the success of those efforts, plus ascertaining what further steps might be helpful for the future.

For school systems that haven’t had to give serious attention to the issue, school boards and administrators should look toward what other districts have witnessed and how they’ve responded and determine how those districts’ responses might be helpful to theirs someday.

It’s clear that electronic cigarettes aren’t going to be a brief fad. Beyond attracting adults who laudably are trying to give up smoking, they’ve become a temptation to young people - some well under the age of 18 - who shouldn’t have access to them.

For many young people, the e-cigarettes have become a status symbol, without regard to what negative health impacts might be lurking as a result of their use.

Electronic-cigarette usage among young people is described as “exploding” - sweeping through high schools and middle schools across America - despite federal regulations that prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing the devices.

School officials must work to keep the devices out of their facilities, just like those officials prohibit and do battle against tobacco use.

An article in the April 23 Mirror focusing on the e-cigarette issue quoted Judy Rosser, executive director of the Blair County Drug and Alcohol Partnerships, who urged teachers to “be aware of these things that look like flash drives.”

“We encourage schools to review their drug policies so that they don’t include new vaping culture,” Rosser said.

Unfortunately, it’s a safe bet that many parents are oblivious to what’s happening on the e-cigarette front in the schools and in their community and don’t have a clue as to whether their own children have obtained and started using the devices.

Although the e-cigarette industry argues otherwise, Rosser maintains that “the whole e-cigarette industry is targeted to kids in that the nicotine is flavored and the way they are designed.”

But there’s more to the e-cigarette issue than the devices getting into the hands and mouths of individuals too young to legally smoke cigarettes. Research is incomplete as to how vaping might affect users’ long-term health, especially young people.

Likewise, knowledge is lacking about how repeated secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes might eventually impact non-users’ health.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Office has concluded that, besides exposing users to nicotine, users are exposed to harmful chemicals such as carbonyl compounds and volatile organic compounds.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have noted that drinking or injecting e-liquids can be fatal, and that exposure to skin or eyes can cause seizures and other serious problems.

For adults trying to quit smoking, e-cigarettes are a temporary, acceptable remedy; evidence suggests that e-cigarette aerosol contains fewer toxic substances and lower levels of them than smoke from conventional cigarettes.

But for young people, the devices carry the potential for addiction, “moving up” to conventional cigarettes, and possible ill-health effects that the science community has yet to determine.

School systems must use the summer months to plot the best strategy for addressing those troubling potentials.

- Altoona Mirror

Online: https://bit.ly/2I5kWop



May 8

Kanye West made the heads of a lot of people explode a few days ago when he said he admired President Donald Trump.

Mr. West next doubled down, saying that he “loved” the president. They both, he explained, have “dragon energy.”

That might have been a good moment for Mr. West to rest and for the press to encourage him to do so. But the best (worst) was yet to come, including saying about 400 years of slavery for black men and women: “… That sounds like a choice.”

What in the world was he trying to say? Was there a thought behind the utterance or was this just another over-covered celebrity hypnotized by his own hype and PR: If I say it, it must mean something.

The rapper has perhaps found out otherwise.

Fans gave up. Corporate sponsors furrowed collective brows. And the PC police went crazy.

If Mr. West had stopped at Trump Iteration No. 1, he would have looked like an individualist, though wrong in the minds of many.

At Stop No 2. he could have been seen as someone who would not back down. It is hard for all but the hardest hard-core Trumpistas to praise the president out loud, and that is unhealthy in a free society. The anti-bully would have been a good role for Kanye.

But by Stop 3, Mr. West just seemed like an ignorant fool.

So can we learn anything here?

There are (at least) three possibilities:

One: Free speech means nothing if it only applies to the wise.

Free speech applies to everyone. Not only Jordan Peterson and Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell and Robert Reich. But also Kanye West, Michael Moore, all the Kardashians and conspiracy theorists, left and right.

And, yes, racists and anti-Semites, provided they do not yell the moral and practical equivalent of “fire” in a crowded theater and present a clear and present physical danger.

That line is not to easy to draw.

There is a practical reason that fools get the same rights as wise men: Time sometimes reveals those formerly thought wise to be foolish and those formerly thought foolish to be wise.

Moreover, time itself can transform a wise man into a fool and a fool into a sage.

Two: Free speech means nothing if it is not permitted to offend.

Truth, like wisdom, is mutable. Its essence may be unchanging, but human understanding of truth is forever incomplete and evolutionary.

So Lenny Bruce is a hero of free expression because he was not afraid to offend. The same is true of George Orwell, who was not afraid to offend, or change.

Here is how the freedom to offend works: It leaves the seeker free to follow his own thoughts, and not the crowd and its fads.

It is interesting to see Chris Rock, for example, tell his audiences in his most recent shows: Don’t cheat on your husbands and wives. Don’t get divorces if you can help it. Men, have some courage, some rigor, and be men - be responsible.

Chris Rock as a cultural conservative? It can happen with free thought and expression. Russell Brand has discovered sobriety, fatherhood and God.

Three: Freedom of speech also means nothing if it is exercised only by the ill- or uninformed.

And it means little if it mostly exercised by ignorant gasbags.

This is the condition of the United States today: Almost everyone has an opinion on almost everything. And almost no one says, on any given issue or controversy: I don’t know enough to have a thought on that.

Note the word: a thought. Not sounds and verbiage, but thoughts, formed by reading, research, reflection and conversation.

Americans love their rights, and we are ever expanding them.

The greatest right in this country, granted by the First Amendment, is the right to freedom of speech and religion, and by extension, thought and conscience.

But we forget that a great right brings with it a solemn duty.

With freedom of expression comes the obligation to think things through before speaking and to speak, or write, with as much care and precision as possible. We have the right to offend, but not by simply being offensive - that is a misuse of the right.

Like a lot of us in America today, Kanye West used his right to free speech carelessly. It is his to squander.

But he diminished himself and, more important, he diminished the right. Free speech comes with the corresponding obligation to be serious.

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Online: https://bit.ly/2K7ZjjE



May 9

A Bon Air man accused of firing an AR-15 rifle at police officers at his home late Saturday should face full criminal prosecution - even if, as a friend believes, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the military.

Aaron Joseph Ometz, 36, was arrested late Saturday after, police allege, being involved in two vehicle accidents before a standoff at his home on Saratoga Street in Conemaugh Township, Cambria County.

A jury will determine his level of guilt on charges including two counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement official, two counts of aggravated assault, four counts of felony-level criminal mischief and two counts of recklessly endangering another person.

Former neighbor Ronald Yasko told The Tribune-Democrat he believes Ometz suffers from PTSD as a result of combat experiences in Iraq.

Yasko, a veteran who served in Korea, said he and Ometz spoke often, but his friend was not open about his military experiences.

“I’m glad nobody was killed,” Yasko said. “I don’t know what happened that night … but he’ll be in my prayers.”

It is truly fortunate that no one was struck by a bullet from Ometz’s gun.

Conemaugh Township officer Paul Deffenbaugh described approaching Ometz’s house along with East Conemaugh officer Joe Sefcik, and both policemen leaping from the porch as a gun was displayed, just before shots were fired.

Police say $10,000 in damage was done to two police vehicles that were struck by bullets. A four-hour standoff preceded Ometz’s arrest late Saturday night.

A nearby house was also hit by gunfire that put anyone in range at great risk of becoming a victim.

At minimum, Ometz should be banned permanently from owning a firearm.

We hope he gets proper treatment for whatever emotional issues caused his behaviors Saturday.

But a jury should ultimately determine his fate on criminal charges.

- The Tribune-Democrat

Online: https://bit.ly/2Iu0vRh



May 8

One of the many downfalls of Pennsylvania having too many units of local government is needlessly convoluted and redundant tax collection. Millions of dollars that could go to services or back to taxpayers go instead to the cost of collection.

The state government partially resolved that nine years ago by consolidating local wage tax collection, reducing the number of collectors statewide from more than 500 to just 69 in districts based mostly on 67 county borders with consideration for overlapping school districts. That has saved millions of dollars a year.

Last week Gov. Tom Wolf signed a new law designed to fully standardize wage tax collection statewide, which will create uniform procedures and standards while helping many taxpayers by eliminating the prospect of double taxation where some municipal and school district jurisdictions overlap.

Unfortunately, the state government has not yet extended that uniformity to property tax collection, which remains subject to a wide array of money-wasting redundancy across the state.

In the computer age there is no need for the redundancy and excessive costs inherent in hyper-local property tax collection.

Lawmakers should draw on the experience of less costly wage tax collection and apply it to property tax collection.

- The Times-Tribune

Online: https://bit.ly/2KMCyD6



May 7

After a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia thoughtlessly brought about the arrests of two young black men recently, those men gave the matter some thought. The result was counterintuitive - true progress.

Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, both 23, were arrested April 12 as they waited for an associate in a downtown Starbucks to discuss a real estate venture, without ordering anything. Videos of their arrest went viral online, prompting protests against Starbucks and Philadelphia police.

Starbucks dismissed the manager and announced that it will close its stores on the afternoon of May 29 for system wide mandatory training. It quickly reached an undisclosed settlement with Nelson and Robinson, and offered them free tuition to complete their bachelor’s degrees through an online program that Starbucks established for its employees four years ago with Arizona State University.

The two men also approached the city government with a settlement proposal - $1 each plus a $200,000 city commitment to start an entrepreneurship program in city schools.

“Rather than spending time, money, and resources to engage in a potentially adversarial process, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson approached the city and invited us to partner with them in an attempt to make something positive come of this,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “This agreement is the result of those conversations, and I look forward to seeing the fruits of this effort in the coming months and years.”

“We thought long and hard about it, and we feel like this is the best way to see that change that we want to see,” Robinson told The Associated Press.

Thus, what could have been another dispiriting story about unresolved racial tension became a unified effort by the parties to foster economic and social progress. Ideally, it will help diminish the number of future incidents. But with any luck at all, it at least will be a template for approaching such incidents.

- The Citizens’ Voice

Online: https://bit.ly/2ruBpI2

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