Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania's newspapers:
FREEDOM WINS WORLD CUP FOR AMERICA
The Erie Times-News, July 9
Megan Rapinoe's strength lies in her fierce athletic prowess, of course, and also in her oh-so-American ability to speak clear-eyed truth, especially to power.
In response to questions about what she wanted after leading the U.S. women's soccer team to its second consecutive and fourth overall Women's World Cup title Sunday in France, she said, "It's to stop having the conversation about equal pay and are we worth it," she said.
Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence we Americans just celebrated with spectacular displays of exploding color and light, music, shared food and fellowship, called this truth self-evident, that all men are created equal. But for long years that has been neither true nor self-evident for Americans of so many stripes, especially women.
They, instead, in a long, difficult history of witness, struggle and displays of excellence have had to make the case on the streets, in homes, schools, factory floors, courtrooms, offices and playing fields for equal access, authority, agency and voice — all so as to pursue their lives, liberties and happiness in freedom.
With the centennial of women's suffrage upon us, we've been celebrating Erie women who were among the first in the state to march more than 100 years ago for women's right to cast a vote and shape the government that shaped their lives.
Rapinoe and her teammates — who danced across the field nimbly in play that seemed both elegant and effortless but was doubtless more a display of fierce endurance, intelligence and agility — are new members of that lineage of progress for women.
Separate from any political or legal consideration, they, in their sheer excellence, ability and teamwork, set examples for young women athletes for generations to come. In the four-week tournament run-up to the 2-0 final match win over the Netherlands, they scored 26 goals and gave up only three.
But their fine play came amid and mightily bolstered a forthright ask for fair-dealing from their bosses, the U.S. Soccer Federation: pay and working conditions that are equal to the U.S. men who play soccer — less winningly, by the way, than them.
That request, made in a lawsuit claiming gender discrimination filed three months before the World Cup, should be honored, World Cup win or no. The women should not have to ask. But a glance at headlines crowding news of their win — powerful men accused of base abuses against women and girls, court decisions and new laws that seek to relitigate what rights women have to privacy and their own bodies — tells us women's work is not done and in answer to Rapinoe's wish, yes, they are worth it.
___MISGUIDED MOVE ON VOTING MACHINE FUNDING
The Reading Eagle, July 8
Gov. Tom Wolf's veto of legislation that would have made good on his promise to help counties purchase new voting machines is unfortunate. And it's troubling that one of the two reasons he gave for doing so borders between hard to believe and hyperpartisan.
One of his objections to a measure that would have provided $90 million to cover a projected 60% of counties' costs for new voting machines with verifiable results was the GOP bill's elimination of straight-party voting.
"(A)s we approach an election with anticipated large turnout and new voting technology, I'm concerned the isolated removal of a convenient voting option would increase waiting times and could discourage participation," the governor said in his veto message.
Straight-party voting allows a voter — with the check of a box or the push of a button — to vote for all Republicans or all Democrats on a given ballot. According the National Conference of State Legislatures, Pennsylvania is one of only nine states with this option. Is the governor saying that 41 of the 50 states are engaged in voter suppression by failing to let people vote a straight ticket with ease?
Granted, Republican leaders in the General Assembly see straight-ticket voting as an advantage for Democrats. And that's why they wanted to get rid of it. But the governor's argument seems to be driven by a similar motive.
It's very hard to believe the two fears the governor cites for defending straight-ticket voting: that voters will be so perplexed at not being able to vote for all their parties' nominees with a single action that they might not go out to vote; or that the time they spend voting in individual races will so lengthen lines that others will give up and walk away.
An argument Republicans often make — that voting should not be made too easy because it's a civic duty worthy of effort — does not even apply here. Requiring voters to make decisions on individual races is a burden hardly worth mentioning. And if anything, in our partisan era, voting straight party with the push of a button should be discouraged.
Wolf's other complaint about the bill has more merit.
Language in the bill that would require the Department of State to get legislative review before it can decertify Pennsylvania's voting machines en masse could, as the governor noted, weaken "the ability of the commonwealth and counties to quickly respond to security needs of voting systems in the future, creating unnecessary bureaucracy and potentially harmful delays."
Although it is hard to believe that lawmakers could not be persuaded to address the kind of statewide breakdown of security cited in the governor's veto message, lawmakers' effort to so fully insert themselves into the Department of State's duty to oversee elections seems unwise.
The governor and lawmakers should get back to work on this issue.
For the sake of counties such as Berks, which in good faith committed $4.5 million to get new voting machines in time for the 2020 election, the funding should be found for the state to do its fair share to ensure election security.
It's too bad straight-party voting became such an issue in this debate given that it's hardly worth a fraction of the $90 million it's costing counties. Restoring that funding should be high on the priority list when lawmakers return to session in September.
___FAMILIES ARE BEING TORN APART, CHILDREN ARE BEING HELD IN SQUALID CONDITIONS. DEMAND REFORM.
LPN, July 7Nearly two decades after doing it the wrong way, Jesus Palacios Herrera was trying to do it the right way. He had built a life here. He married a Lancaster County native and worked hard. He and his wife have two children: ages 3 and 16 months. Herrera also has an 8-year-old son with another woman.
In February 2018, he received a waiver from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that allows undocumented immigrants to seek permanent residency if deportation would cause extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen — in Herrera's case, his wife Tiffany. But a U.S. consular official in Mexico ruled that Herrera wasn't eligible for permanent residency because he might end up using public benefits — a ruling that immigration experts say has become increasingly common during the Trump administration.
In April, Herrera's attorney sent to the consulate tax records, pay stubs, a letter from Herrera's employer confirming that he still has a job, and a letter from Herrera's mother-in-law stating that she would help the family financially if it became necessary. The conclusion: Herrera wasn't likely to burden taxpayers after all. But his provisional waiver had been revoked, so he'll need to apply for a new one — a process that's likely to take at least six months.
Tiffany Herrera told LNP that her children don't understand why their daddy doesn't come home. "The situation we're going through isn't fair, and it's ripping families apart," she said.
Mess of a system
Ripping families apart.
It's a phrase that's getting a lot of usage these days, as families seeking asylum are separated at our nation's southern border, and as parents here for decades illegally are deported, devastating their American-born kids.
Our immigration system is a mess.
"Dreamers," young people who were brought here illegally as children and now are American in every way but legal status, remain in limbo, uncertain about the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in the U.S. Supreme Court. "I lived here for more than half my life, so this is my home," Adan Cabrera-Perez, an Elizabethtown High School graduate and soccer player at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown, told LNP's Gillian McGoldrick recently. "I don't really remember Mexico." He tries not to be preoccupied by the politics that might determine his fate.
In Lancaster County — dubbed "the refugee capital of the United States" by the BBC — resettlement agencies such as Church World Service deal with a flow of refugees that's been curtailed since the Trump administration announced it would accept just 30,000 this year, the lowest number since the creation in 1980 of the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program.
There are not fewer people seeking refuge from war, persecution, violence and poverty. It's just that the United States has slammed its doors shut to most of them.
'Ticking time bomb'
Consider, too, what's happening at our southern border.
It's not a crime to seek asylum here but those doing so are being treated like criminals. Worse than criminals.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General issued a report calling on the DHS to "take immediate steps to alleviate dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults" in Border Patrol detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. The accompanying photos showed adults standing cheek by jowl — or lying on floors beneath stiff Mylar blankets — in jam-packed cells. Children had no access to showers, only limited access to changes of clothes and, in some facilities, weren't getting hot meals. Adults were being fed only bologna sandwiches and hadn't been allowed to shower for weeks, the report said. Expressing concern about the health and safety of employees and detainees alike, one facility's senior manager called the situation "a ticking time bomb."
Suffer the children
Conditions for children in one detention center near El Paso, Texas, were so appalling that the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection resigned amid a public outcry.
Under federal law, children may be detained in a Border Patrol facility for only 72 hours, but many are being kept in these centers for weeks, in appalling, shameful conditions.
As Atlantic magazine recounted last week, pediatrician Dolly Lucio Sevier visited a Border Patrol warehouse in south Texas and "saw a baby who'd been fed from the same unwashed bottle for days." She saw children showing signs of malnutrition, sleep deprivation and dehydration, and some "exhibiting clear evidence of psychological trauma." When she asked the 38 children she was permitted to examine about sanitation, they all told her they hadn't been allowed to wash their hands or brush their teeth. This was "tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease," she wrote in a medical declaration.
Children being held in icy cold cells where the lights are on 24 hours a day. Children crying out for their parents, children silenced and numbed by trauma — babies suffering on our watch.
We can try to ease our conscience by blaming their parents for seeking refuge in the United States, but that response shows a shocking lack of empathy. What would we do if our children were being faced with conscription into murderous gangs, searing poverty, violence, persecution? We'd go to the ends of the earth to save them.
The American tradition
Likewise, we can blame Jesus Palacios Herrera for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2001. He made a mistake, to be sure. But should his children be punished by being deprived of their father?
We need to stop making excuses for our government's failures to live up to the American tradition of welcoming the "tempest-tossed," the poor, the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Borders are necessary. But cruelty is unconscionable.
We implore you to contact your representatives in Congress. Demand comprehensive immigration reform, which has been put off repeatedly, and don't let them tell you that such reform is impossible as a presidential election year nears.
And tell them, please, to demand an end to family separation and better care for the children being detained. Ask them to think of their beloved children — who might judge them someday should they fail to act, as our own children might judge us if we fail to act, too.
RECLAIM WAR AUTHORITY
The Citizens' Voice, July 3
With a revolving door suddenly on the secretary of defense's office and anti-Iran warmonger John Bolton firmly ensconced at the president's ear as national security adviser, Congress must assert itself at the front end of any potential military conflict with Iran.
President Donald Trump recently headed off a military strike against Iranian targets in response to alleged Iranian attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and a confirmed Iranian attack on a U.S. Navy surveillance drone. The Constitution designates Congress as the decision-maker regarding war and the president as the commander in chief of the armed forces.
But, partially due to the increasing speed of modern military conflict, the executive branch's growing reach and lawmakers' own reluctance to accept responsibility for war, Congress has ceded to the president much of that constitutional authority.
Its failure to safeguard that authority contributed to the descent into chaos in Vietnam and, 40 years later and lessons unlearned, to the Iraq War fiasco that has rendered the Middle East even more unstable. Friday, in the longest vote in U.S. Senate history, a process that lasted more than 10 hours, senators voted 50-40 in favor of a resolution that would have required specific congressional approval for military action against Iran, but 60 votes were needed for passage.
So, as of now, the administration would base any action on authorization for military force that Congress passed in 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in which Iran had no role. The House will take up a resolution and should pass it. If so, the Senate should follow suit. This is not a partisan matter, but a constitutional one.
___Pa. LAWMAKERS KILL GENERAL ASSISTANCE, BUT KEEP THEIR OWN WELFARE PROGRAM
The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 9
Charges of hypocrisy rarely hit their intended targets — mainly because hypocrites are blind to their own role in irony or injustice.
The elected state lawmakers who voted last month to eliminate a general assistance program that helped the most desperate and needy of people in the state have this blindness. Currently, about 10,000 people get grants of $200 per month — $2,400 per year — to help cover basic needs.
This has been a popular target; general assistance was eliminated in 2012 but the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional. At that time, the program served 60,000 of the neediest Pennsylvanians.
The issue went viral last month when, during a hearing on the topic, State Senator Katie Muth tried to read a letter from John Boyd, a general assistance recipient, explaining what a huge difference this small amount of money made to his life. Muth's reading was shouted down by Republican Majority Leader Jake Corman. The exchange generated outraged attention by presidential candidates and other national figures.
Corman has called the general assistance program flawed because of the lack of monitoring of how the money is spent by participants.
Like many of his colleagues in the General Assembly, Corman is a recipient of a generous public welfare program that gives lawmakers who live outside a 50-mile radius of Harrisburg an allowance of about $187 per day to cover food, lodging, dry cleaning, and other incidentals not covered by their $88,610 base salaries. The allowance doesn't require receipts. No questions asked. No monitoring of how the money is spent. No chance at all for fraud, waste, or abuse.
In 2015, Corman collected $9,861 in per diems, and about half that in 2016. In all, taxpayers spent $2.5 million on per diems, covering about 250 legislators. According to a report by pennlive.com, a top recipient was Pat Browne, who collected $23,574 in 2016. (Per diems are based on the number of days spent in Harrisburg, and vary with each lawmaker.)
The $24 million budget for general assistance covers about 10,000 recipients, the majority of whom have disabilities and are unable to work. Some are waiting for rulings on Social Security disability payments. In those cases, the money they get from general assistance is ultimately reimbursed.
Gov. Tom Wolf, who did not veto the general assistance bill, has earmarked $15 million in his budget for affordable housing. While well-meaning, that doesn't buy bus fare for someone trying to get to a medical or drug treatment appointment. While this assistance is called "general," it's very specific in the population it serves — people who need urgent assistance like the disabled, or those in drug or alcohol treatment.
It is also a temporary program. According to an analysis by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network and Community Legal Services, 63 percent of recipients received the benefit for less than one year — unlike those other welfare recipients, our state lawmakers, who reap the benefits of per diems every year they are in office. Outraged voters should make sure those years are severely curtailed.