Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
TARIFFS ON IMPORTED NEWSPRINT ARE A POTENTIALLY CRUSHING BLOW TO LOCAL NEWSPAPERS AND THEIR COMMUNITIES, Jun. 10
Tariffs on Canadian paper pose an existential threat to community newspapers, including LNP.
And of course this worries those of us who are employed by LNP. But it also should worry you.
Without local newspapers, elected officials would be free to spend your tax money behind closed doors, use their positions for self-enrichment and run roughshod over your interests and those of your fellow citizens without worry of exposure.
The voice of citizens is amplified by local newspapers; your concerns are our concerns. We're not being lofty when we say we are serious about our Fourth Estate role as watchdogs. Whether the issue is a school board's machinations in the dark, or a state lawmaker's alleged history of sexual harassment and assault, newspaper journalists are committed to bringing to light the actions of those charged with doing the public's business.
Local newspapers tell the stories, too, that knit a community together — stories of the obstacles people are facing, the joys they are celebrating. They tell stories about human connection, about the challenges and triumphs of individuals, schools, businesses, organizations. They cover local sports, the local arts scene, the local economy, local industry. The national newspaper you read on your smartphone won't deliver any of that coverage.
Newspapers including LNP have made critical changes in an effort to remain a part of the lives of the communities they serve for a long time. But these tariffs have the potential to be crushing.
As the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial page editor, John Diaz, wrote in May, "Newsprint is the second-largest expense for American newspapers, surpassed only by payroll. The price jumps have been immediate and severe — as has the loss of jobs. The Tampa Bay Times of St. Petersburg (Florida) announced (in April) that it would be laying off about 50 workers as a direct result of a $3.4 million annual increase in newsprint costs."
That newspaper's CEO, Paul Tash, warned readers in a letter: "Make no mistake: These tariffs will cause layoffs across American newspapers."
NORPAC has about 300 employees. These tariffs put at risk an estimated 600,000 other American jobs in newspaper and book publishing and commercial printing.
So we laud Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey for co-sponsoring legislation aimed at suspending these potentially devastating tariffs.
A news release on Toomey's website explains: "The bipartisan Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018 (PRINT Act) calls on the U.S. Department of Commerce to suspend the collection of duties and to conduct a study into the economic health of the U.S. newspaper and publishing industries. Following the completion of this study, the president would be required to review the study and certify that such a tax on imported UGW paper is in the best interest of the country."
Said Toomey: "American companies must be allowed to adequately and fairly source materials, especially when those items are not produced domestically. The newspaper and publishing industries are facing unprecedented challenges and the tax on UGW paper could spell the end of numerous publishers across Pennsylvania. As the Commerce Department and ITC continue their investigation, we want to ensure that this tax is actually warranted and necessary before imposing such a detrimental financial burden on downstream industries."
Sixteen other senators — Democratic, Republican and independent — have joined Toomey as co-sponsors of the PRINT Act; Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is the bill's prime sponsor.
We urge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey to join the effort. And we hope to see Congressman Lloyd Smucker push similar legislation in the U.S. House.
As Mark Cohen, president of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, wrote in an op-ed published in LNP on April 6, the United States "does not produce enough newsprint for the U.S. market to survive." Affordable Canadian paper has been the most viable option to keep "printed news alive and flourishing," he noted.
These tariffs may prove to be not just a game-changer but a game-ender.
And they won't just hurt newspapers, causing some of them to print on fewer days or to make their publications completely digital. They are likely to affect the prices of books and magazines, and put still more publishers out of business. For what reason?
So that one paper company, and its private equity firm owners, might profit.
"Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter," Thomas Jefferson famously wrote.
The Trump administration now appears to be OK with the prospect of putting some newspapers out of business. We should wonder why. And for the sake of the long-term health of our communities, we shouldn't allow it.
LAKE ERIE CLEANUP KEEPS PAYING DIVIDENDS, Jun. 12
It was just a year ago that the region celebrated the 10th and final Bay Swim. The annual event celebrated the transformation of Presque Isle Bay from a toxic pool filled with human and industrial waste into a natural resource pure enough to plant your face in and swim. Each year participants would stroke across the more than 1-mile stretch from a parking lot at Presque Isle State Park to the Erie Yacht Club.
Organizers called off the event, in essence, because clean bay water had become old news.
This week brought a fresh — and delicious — reminder of the lasting payoff of the decades-long fight to clean up our waterways. The venerable Field & Stream magazine named Lake Erie to top "new" fishing spot in Pennsylvania and cited Erie as the hub specifically for hosting "healthy populations of numerous freshwater species, including panfish, walleyes, smallmouths, and steelhead."
It credited the bounty to environmental initiatives. "Lake Erie has been more historically known for pollution than quality fishing. Slowly but surely, that has been changing, and Erie is currently firing on all cylinders. ... The flourishing fishery is a direct result of better water quality, which boosted the forage base," it said.
Field & Stream drew up its list based on input from biologists, conservation officers, guides and professional and amateur anglers. Local experts, including Chuck Murray, the Lake Erie biologist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and charter boat operator Steve Small, affirmed the magazine's findings, as detailed by Erie Times-News reporter Mike Copper. Small memorably described lake fish so plentiful this season as to be "fighting for the bait."
This is news to celebrate and embrace. We know what they say about the relative merits of a bad day of fishing. What then does a good day of angling do for friendship and relaxation and the distinct pleasure of fried fresh walleye? Not just fun, sport fishing opportunities in Erie, including the steelhead fishery, generate millions for the local economy.
This is no time to let down our guard. Dangerous algal blooms fueled by fertilizer runoffs in the western Lake Erie basin continue. This month there have been worrisome blooms closer to home that have been deemed unsafe for pets. A 2017 joint U.S.-Canadian report said Lake Erie's ecosystem is in "poor" condition and continues to deteriorate.
"Beach closures, habitat loss and degradation, and beach fouling in the eastern basin continue to be major concerns,? it said.
Erie's federal lawmakers have consistently in bipartisan fashion supported funding for vital Lake Erie research and monitoring. The recognition of Lake Erie's strengthening fishery validates those efforts. Keep up the good work.
WITH GOP COMPLICITY, TRUMP TRAMPLES CONSTITUTION, Jun. 8
"As president, I, Donald J. Trump, in order to end once and for all this ridiculous witch hunt of a Russian investigation, do hereby grant complete and total pardons to any and all persons named in the investigation, including myself. It is now time to move forward with the important work that the American people sent me to Washington to do."
You might think a statement to that effect is out of the question. Unfortunately, it's not entirely clear the president agrees.
So began a Dispatch editorial from July 27, 2017, that questioned the president's intended use of pardons. He has revealed, since then, that he perceives that powerful presidential prerogative as a tool to reward friends and punish enemies — and perhaps to absolve himself and others close to him from legal peril.
With nary a peep from Republican office-holders, President Trump, in the 10-plus months since that editorial was published, has:
Granted pardons — without traditional input from the Department of Justice — to undeserving partisans including former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza.
Granted a pardon to early 20th century boxer Jack Johnson at the behest of celebrity friend Sylvester Stallone — a move that became even more suspicious after the latter formed a production company to make a movie about the presidential pardon.
Dangled the possibility pardoning friends like lifestyle maven Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — both of whom took part in the president's "Celebrity Apprentice" TV show.
This misuse of presidential power in the service of friends, allies and, potentially, self is not only nauseatingly self-serving, it tramples upon the rule of law and places the president and his circle above the law.
It also threatens the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election — sending a signal to targets that the presidential pen may reward them if they remain loyal.
All of this would not be possible, of course, without consistent complicity from congressional Republicans.
As the party in power, the GOP could, at the very least, push back against the legally unfounded position that a president can pardon himself. (In fact, as several reports have noted, the Department of Justice website explicitly states a president cannot pardon himself.) But congressional leaders like Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas dance around the issue with assertions that the question is academic or a distraction — as if the suggestion were raised by a law school student's thesis and not by the president of the United States.
Maddeningly, if not surprisingly, Republican senators like Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey have been content to sit idly by as Trump runs roughshod over the Constitution. They gleefully allow the president's daily tantrums and tweets to provide cover for morally if not legally questionable maneuvers like Toomey's effort to rewrite decades-old laws by redefining them as requiring congressional review.
As for minority Democrats, they have proven unequal to the task of building any kind of bipartisan support for defending the institutions of the federal government against a president who puts his own interests ahead of those of the nation. The best Democrats can do is offer up public petitions against the president's abuse of pardoning powers. Well intended but ultimately toothless.
History will judge both parties for their actions during a presidency that has shredded precedent, probity and principled governance.
Congressional Republicans will already come up sorely wanting for turning a blind eye to presidential misuse of office. Their refusal to confront further efforts to abuse the power of the pardon — particularly if it is wielded by Trump in self-defense — would make them grievously complicit in the wholesale destruction of the Constitution.
SHOOTINGS ARE UP IN PHILLY. WHEN WILL ELECTED LEADERS ACT? Jun. 12
More than 500 shootings in Philadelphia so far this year — with another four just this weekend- represents an increase of nearly 8 percent compared with the same period in 2017. Many of the shootings go largely unnoticed by the public, but each incident takes a devastating toll on families, friends and neighborhoods as the murder last fall of two South Philadelphia teens illustrates.
At a court hearing last week for the alleged killer, Brandon Olivieri, 17, more than a dozen police officers and sheriff's deputies were called to stop the pushing, cursing, and yelling among friends and relatives of the accused and the victims, Salvatore DiNubile and Caleer Miller, both 16.
The judge had to limit access to the courtroom after the scuffle erupted. Olivieri's relatives said they were forced to move out of the city after receiving threats. DiNubile's father was arrested in March and charged with threatening a friend of Olivieri's, as the raw emotions continue to reverberate.
In a victim impact statement, DiNubile's sister described dark days and silent meals at home. Similar sadness and torment plays out in homes across the city and beyond directly impacted by shootings.
Another shooting victim, Lariq Byrd, 17, needed the help of a wheelchair accessible van provided by Magee Rehabilitation Hospital to attend the senior prom at Simon Gratz High School.
Byrd was shot and paralyzed the day after Christmas in 2015. He has been largely confined to his bed for months underscoring the lifetime of health challenges stemming from the shooting three years ago. Byrd is just one example of the untold emotional and financial burdens that shootings victims and their families must confront daily.
Sadly, the daily shootings in Philadelphia and elsewhere are largely taken in stride. Even mass shootings in schools and elsewhere come and go with just a brief flurry of attention. Elected officials at the city, state and local level pay lip service but do very little to try to curb the daily gun violence.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a Senate committee last week that the federal commission on school safety that was established after massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla., will not focus on the role guns play in school violence. That's akin to creating a commission to examine lung cancer but not looking considering the role cigarettes play.
Since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High, more than 150,000 children have experienced a shooting at at least 170 primary or secondary schools, according to an analysis by the Washington Post that does not include suicides, accidents, or after-school assaults.
A majority of American teens and parents say they are worried about a shooting happening at their school, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
Such fears prompted one parent at St. Cornelius School in Chadds Ford to give away a unique graduation gift to the eighth graders: a bulletproof shield for their backpacks.
Good luck in high school next year, kids. Sending thoughts, prayers and bulletproof shields. Meanwhile, elected officials remain absent from any effort to curb the gun epidemic that is destroying families.
BILLS PROVIDING FREE, REDUCED-PRICE COLLEGE FOR PA. STUDENTS DESERVE A LOOK, Jun. 6
When it comes to the commitment the commonwealth makes to all its students, the language in the Pennsylvania Constitution is as unambiguous as it gets:
"The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth," Section 14 of the state's foundational document reads.
But for some Pennsylvania students attending the commonwealth's 14 state-owned universities, its community colleges and state-related universities, that promise of a thorough and efficient education remains frustratingly out of reach - even if their tax dollars are being used to fund them.
A trio of Philadelphia lawmakers stepped forward this week with a plan that they hope will help narrow the breach by providing a free, or nearly free, college education to tens of thousands of students across Pennsylvania.
The "PAPromise" would:
Cover up to four years of tuition and fees for any recent high school graduate with a family income less than or equal to $110,000 per year at one of the 14 universities in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education or a state-related university.
Cover room and board for any recent high school graduate with a family income less than or equal to $48,000 per year at a community college, state-owned or state-related institution.
Provide additional funding to increase access to adults seeking in-demand skills and industry-recognized credentials, as well as college credit.
Provide additional funding to increase access to apprenticeship programs.
Finally, provide additional funding to supplement federal work study money.
The need is indeed real.
Despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer support, the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University topped a list of the nation's most expensive public universities.
It's no surprise, then, to find that, at $34,798, Pennsylvania students have the nation's second-highest student debt in the country, according to a 2017 rankings list by the financial literacy site WalletHub.
The state ranked third for the percentage of students with college loans (71 percent). That debt devoured 41 percent of their income.
"I had to rely on my friends to help feed me," Annie Reynolds, a senior at Penn State-Harrisburg, said during a Capitol news conference formally unveiling the companion House and Senate bills behind the plan.
The lawmakers sponsoring the bills, Democratic Reps. James Roebuck and Jordan Harris along with Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, acknowledged Wednesday that they had yet to find a funding source for their ambitious, $800 million proposal.
So it's tempting to dismiss these bills as a bit of election year posturing from a minority party looking to maximize its gains in November. And while a community college education should be free, the $110,000 threshold for the state schools seems optimistically high.
Even so, as Roebuck observed, it is on the state to make sure it turns out workers who have the skills and education that will attract high-end employers to Pennsylvania. And if those graduates aren't saddled with crushing debt, all the better.
"Graduates should be able to concentrate on getting good jobs and starting families, not be concerned with drowning in debt for years to come," Roebuck, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said.
And as Hughes correctly noted, the General Assembly often manages to find the cash for favored programs when the need is real and urgent enough.
Harris, a Millersville University graduate, who obtained a master's degree and is now pursuing a doctoral degree, added that the bill "would make getting a quality education a reality and the economic possibilities for our state endless. The Pennsylvania Promise is just one of many steps we need to take in order to build an inclusive and equal society."
In a Republican-controlled Legislature that is nearly pathologically averse to raising spending or taxes, getting this plan ushered into law is a heavy lift on the best of days.
But as Hughes, Roebuck and Harris correctly noted, their bills are at least a starting point for an important discussion. Pennsylvania lawmakers often talk a big game about producing an educated and skilled workforce.
But as is so often the case, there aren't the through lines between the talk and the actual policy.
These bills give lawmakers a chance to walk their talk. They should take it.