Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania's newspapers:
No matter who stops the raw sewage, it's going to cost Harrisburg residents
Harrisburg Patriot News/Pennlive.com
For several decades, the clock has been ticking, and leaders in Harrisburg have been kicking the clock down the road.
They knew the hundred-year-old infrastructure to manage the city's water and sewage was decaying, but they were less inclined to spend money on underground pipes and retrofitting than on flashy new buildings and eye-popping projects that would feed egos and woe voters.
Not only is managing raw sewage and dirty water not sexy, it is expensive. Who wouldn't just put it off for the next generation or two to manage . . . like we're doing with global warming.
But back to Harrisburg's raw sewage. The clock has stopped ticking, and we can't kick the clock down the road anymore. The oldest parts of the water treatment infrastructure date as far back as 1839, and it's time for an upgrade. The Susquehanna River is being polluted with our filth and the pipes that are supposed to direct it to the right places are worn out.
It's been more than a hundred years, folks. Harrisburg has got to deal with this now or face significant federal fines for threatening the health and safety of the entire region.
In its current form, Harrisburg has one set of pipes to manage toilet water, so to speak, as well as stormwater. But these aged pipes can only take so much, and at times, they overflow, sending nasty stuff into the Susquehanna River and Paxton Creek. This is a really unhealthy situation, and the federal government says it can't continue.
Last year, there were a total of 150 days with at least one combined sewer overflow. That sent about 1.4 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water spewing into local waterways.
For at least a year now, Capital Region Water has been trying to get the word out that the City of Harrisburg is going to have to come up with a plan to deal with the problem of stormwater drainage and the impact it's having in sending raw sewage into the Susquehanna River.
They have held public meetings imploring people to attend. They have sent out press releases, asking for resident input. They have gone to speak to neighborhood associations and churches to explain why the water bill everyone receives will have to go up to pay for improvements to the water management infrastructure that has been disintegrating over the past century.
Sadly, a lot of people have not paid any attention whatsoever to this issue.
And whether a plan is instituted by CRW or another entity that the City of Harrisburg deems more capable, we have to face the facts - someone will have to foot the bill.
CRW is suggesting it will take $315 million over the next 20 years to begin to improve the city's ability to handle stormwater drainage. But it's a piecemeal solution and won't really solve the problem. It'll take care of about 60 percent of it.
That means water bills will go up about $75 per year for the average property owner, and possibly a whole lot more for commercial buildings, nonprofits and large churches, synagogues and mosques. But we'll still have the threat of sewage seeping into the Susquehanna, with all of the potential health impact that has on fishing and swimming.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse is not too happy with the piecemeal approach, and we can understand why. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also has rejected CRW's plan. The question is, can anyone else do any better? It's at least worth investigating.
The bottom line is this: everyone is going to have to brace for higher water bills. It's inevitable.
Residents would do well to go to the CRW website and learn about the proposal. And they have until Sept. 25 to make public comments on the proposed implementation of a stormwater fee.
We urge city officials and CRW, or whoever ends up spearheading the project, to consider the burden rate increases will mean for Harrisburg residents, many of whom live below the poverty level. A fund must be established to help the neediest Harrisburg residents who will simply not be able to pay the higher bills.
Property owners in other areas of our region have already gone through this process and are now paying stormwater management fees to upgrade their systems. Harrisburg is coming late to the party.
But it must eventually party like the rest of the region. There's no where left to kick the clock. We've come to the end of the road.
Trump, Congress must avoid another shutdown
A federal government shutdown anytime before the 2020 presidential election would be an act of immense bad faith. With the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year looming, few appropriations bills have passed the Senate, making another such drama all too possible.
"The worst of all worlds, however, would be a government shutdown," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The New York Times. "I don't know of anyone who thinks that is a good idea."
Collins is right. A second government shutdown in 12 months — following the longest in U.S. history that ended at 35 days in late January — is a terrible idea. And it would be a betrayal of a deal made in July to avoid just such a mess.
The two-year budget deal between President Donald Trump and congressional leaders — an agreement not yet two months old — came at a high price. It set a pace of $1 trillion-per-year deficit spending for the coming fiscal year and into the foreseeable future. It was a fiscal truce aimed at avoiding another shutdown at least through the 2020 elections. And, given that its overspending is unlikely to end before then, the budget peace it promised should be kept at least that long.
The ceasefire in the two-year, $2.7 trillion budget deal was a handshake agreement between Republican and Democratic leaders. Trump allowed $320 billion more in domestic spending in exchange for an end to "poison pills" in spending legislation during the term of the deal.
"Poison pills" are provisions that make an appropriations bill distasteful to the president or key voting blocs in Congress.
Some Democrats want to withhold funds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol. Others want to use the appropriations process to reverse a Trump administration policy forbidding federally funded family planning providers from making referrals to doctors who perform abortions — Planned Parenthood calls it a "gag rule."
Another disagreement on Capitol Hill involves Pentagon projects from which the president diverted funds to build portions of his border wall. Democrats understandably are resisting White House calls to restore that money.
"We will strongly oppose any request by this administration to provide additional money for the projects it has decided to defund," Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee said in a written statement. "The funds already appropriated should be used as Congress intended."
And the president wants funding for immigration-enforcement barriers along the southwest border included in the spending bills for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Such policy disputes — even a spending-related one such as Democrats' desire to guarantee funding for gun violence research — should not threaten the day-to-day operation of the federal government. They should be settled either in Congress or, barring that, settled by the voters in the 2020 elections.
For now, the goal of administration and congressional leaders seems to be a short-term spending package that will, like last year, keep the government operating into mid-December.
On the plus side, a temporary spending bill would at least give Congress a chance to raise the debt ceiling and thus prevent a default on our nation's debt. With foreign economies already shaky, allowing such disruption would be especially dangerous right now.
The president, for his part, should resist the urge to do what he did last year. Shutting down the government over funding for border barriers that he was unable to get through a Republican-controlled Congress was bad policy and bad politics.
The Democratic-controlled House is simply not going to pass spending for the president's border wall. Trump has made his point on the issue. No voter can be in any doubt that he is serious about his strategy for strengthening the nation's borders against illegal immigration. There is no excuse for shutting down the government over it again.
And Democrats should likewise not allow policy disputes with Trump to get in the way of doing their duty on funding the government. When the federal government shuts down, federal workers go without pay temporarily; citizens are denied government services for which they pay taxes; and taxpayers pay again to reimburse federal workers' lost wages. In the current political environment, no other outcome seems possible.
Both sides should avoid the waste of time and money that another government shutdown would cause.
Lamentably, selfie culture takes hold even among some Amish young people
Lancaster Online (LNP)
It says something about the insidious power of social media and smartphones that they have infiltrated even the lives of some Amish teens and young adults.
These are young people who were reared in a deeply religious community that works hard to keep much of the modern world, and its conveniences, at a distance.
Donald Kraybill, senior fellow emeritus at Elizabethtown College's Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, told LNP that while some Amish church districts have strict rules against cellphones, others allow cellphones for business purposes.
According to King's reporting, some young Amish women are using Instagram to promote the products they sell, even though that social media and e-commerce platform contrasts "greatly against the Amish community and its values of simplicity and frugality."
"Selfies and self-promotion," King noted, "also seem to clash with humility, another value of the Amish."
Some Amish young people aren't just using Instagram for marketing. That social media platform is popular with some Amish teens and young adults for sharing videos and photos — even selfies, King found.
That's despite the Amish belief that posed photographs violate the biblical commandment, "Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image."
The lure of the selfie, it seems, is strong. And more universal than we imagined.
How have we gotten here?
Only one member of the LNP Editorial Board is a millennial. Most of us came of age well before selfies and social media were things. While we may take an occasional selfie, we find the constant sharing of oneself — the posing, the framing, the editing, the cropping out of reality — to be exhausting.
And we find it disheartening that some Amish teens — like their English (that is, non-Amish) counterparts — are embracing selfie culture.
The captions on Amish Instagram posts may include Bible verses. And the backdrops of Amish selfies may differ — picturesque and plowed Lancaster County fields, as opposed to bubble tea and coffee shops — but the aim seems to us to be the same: to depict life as shiny and bright.
There is little authenticity to be found on Instagram. It's a curated version of our lives, not as they are, but how we want them to be seen.
Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar, senior lecturer at Sapir College in Israel, conducted a study of Old Order Amish and ultra-Orthodox women and their responses to cellphone and smartphone use. The Amish women in Shahar's study considered smartphones to be "the most dangerous device" — even more so than radio or television.
We would agree. They're perilously addictive for adults as well as teens.
Our smartphones have taken over our lives. Too often we are viewing important moments through the camera lenses on our phones, eager to capture them so we can post them. Instead of simply living them.
And those curated lives we share on social media? It's hard not to compare them to the curated lives of others. This rarely leads to contentment.
As for Amish teens and young adults, the fear is that social media will lead them astray.
During rumspringa — a period of relative freedom before adulthood, marriage and baptism into the Amish church — teens may join "gangs," or youth groups. As King reported, smartphones may be accepted in "fancy," or progressive, gangs, but not in "plain" (conservative) ones.
One formerly Amish man, Steven Stoltzfus of Berks County, told LNP that social media "definitely makes it easier" for "uncertain, unsatisfied and struggling (Amish) individuals" to be tempted to leave their community behind and join the English.
Meanwhile, non-Amish parents also worry that social media will lead their kids to embrace values that differ from their own. That their kids will embrace the superficial instead of the substantive. That all that posing will replace authentic living.
"The Amish have been amazingly resilient," Jantzi said. "But I just feel like the world of the internet is a power like nothing we've ever seen."
"And can you really shut the door on that?"
He thinks "if anybody can do it, it's the Amish."
Given our own experience, we have our doubts.
The internet is an amazing resource, a portal to the universe. But once you've unlocked it with your smartphone, it's hard not to be consumed by it.
In a thoughtful column published in the Sept. 1 Sunday LNP, a California high school and college teacher named Jeremy Adams lamented the sad reality that his students no longer read books because they're always on their smartphones. "Today's teenagers certainly read all day — memes, posts, tweets — but it is all of a transitory, casual nature," he wrote. "Reading books has been sacrificed to the tyranny of texting and the dizzying array of social media platforms."
So much else has been sacrificed, too: family time, sleeping time, time to reflect, time to recharge mentally and emotionally.
Adams recalled asking a class of high school seniors what advice they would give their freshman selves. The class valedictorian responded, "I would find a cliff and throw my phone off of it."
We hold our smartphones, but their grip on us is tighter. The Amish will find this to be true soon enough.
No separation of church and cyclist needed
Friction over people parking in bike lanes to attend weekend worship services while cyclists struggle to safely navigate the same streets is a good reminder of the unprecedented, competing, and growing demands on Center City's constrained and finite transportation infrastructure. And like other street fights, this one can't be resolved in a vacuum.
It's also a good reminder of the need for wider-ranging conversations — among constituencies, the City Council, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority — to make a good-faith cooperative effort to tackle the many mobility challenges in the heart of Philadelphia, where fiscal and geographical limitations force us to make the most of what we've already got.
The Inquirer's Jason Laughlin reported last week that a courtesy arrangement has for decades enabled permit-holding worshipers to override most parking restrictions on designated blocks near downtown synagogues and churches on Saturdays and Sundays. This civilized, even gracious, practice applies to portions of Spruce, Pine, and other busy streets with single lanes for vehicular traffic — and where delivery trucks or other vehicles illegally park in the bike lanes, which began to be carved out of the existing streetscape a decade ago.
Habitual bike-lane incursions by vehicles of all sorts create a safety hazard for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers alike, particularly during weekday business hours. Within Center City's grid of mostly one-way, narrow streets, illegally parked vehicles cumulatively add to more frequent and costly congestion, which in turn delays SEPTA buses and contributes to the dramatic ridership decline recorded since 2012. All of which is to say that no mode of transportation — from walking and biking to buses — can be isolated from any other; each is part of an interconnected system.
The city has recognized this, as evidenced from the breadth of its CONNECT: Philadelphia's Strategic Transportation Plan. The plan highlights key targets that include making streets safer and more efficient as well as improving bus service.
Earlier this month, the city announced a six-month pilot project to create loading zones to accommodate delivery and ride-sharing vehicles during certain hours along a 14-block Center City portion of Chestnut Street. And a tech start-up firm developed a system that has created a digital map of all fire hydrants, loading zones, parking spots, and other elements of 100 miles of the Philly street network; such a tool could prove useful in traffic management.
Capitol capacity can't contain protests
Pennsylvania invites its citizens to engage in lively and personal protest at the seat of government.
As long as it's done in small enough groups.
As reported by PennLive.com, if you want to marshal your forces and show up at the state Capitol with a contingent of like-minded individuals to tell your state representative how you feel about a bill or your senator what you think about a proposal or the governor what you believe about the budget, you better count everyone before you show up.
The General Services Department is now allowing only 450 people or fewer to rally in the Capitol Rotunda.
There is an element of this that does make perfectly logical, perfectly logistical sense. The restriction allows for a corridor to get people back and forth. Hundreds of people work in the Capitol and surrounding state offices that require a lot of coming and going.
There is the safety aspect, too. Hey, every building has to deal with fire code, regardless of politics.
At the same time, it could be a bucket of cold water thrown on the hot passions of protest. It smacks of "free speech zones," created to allow a protest in a designated area during a parade or other gathering. That might fulfill a nod at constitutional protections but does so in a way that pulls all of the teeth from its bite.
But protest, by its very nature, breaks down fences and oozes over lines drawn in the sand. It refuses to be contained, like water in a downpour. You might be able to funnel it away from one area, but you can't predict where it will rise up again.
It will not take long for a rally or a protest or a march to make its way to the Capitol with more than 450 people in tow. Maybe those first 450 will be the only ones allowed in the Rotunda. The others will not simply melt away.
The protest that is capped in one place will simply spread to others, because the people have a tendency to disagree with the government they have elected and really like to get together with others and say so.
And if they can't show up at the Rotunda, there's a good chance they will show up at the ballot box.