Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Reading Eagle. Nov. 30, 2021.

Editorial: Sondheim’s legacy will live on

When one of the greats in any field of endeavor passes away, it’s only natural to focus much of our attention on the accomplishments that made them famous.

That’s entirely appropriate. But often there are other aspects of the person’s life that should be noted, especially when there are lessons to be learned that apply to the rest of us who lack the extraordinary gifts of the departed individual.

Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who died Friday at 91, offers a sterling example of this.

Of course the conversation has to begin with his monumental achievements in the world of musical theater.

Those who don’t know Sondheim’s name likely are familiar with his work. He wrote the lyrics for the beloved “West Side Story” and composed the hit song “Send in the Clowns.” Major movies were made from his “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods.” Sondheim’s musicals won numerous Tony Awards along with a Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar for best song.

Sondheim was famous for ingenious wordplay in his lyrics and great originality and complexity in his music. His canon is filled with songs that are witty, heartbreaking and deeply thought-provoking.

He played a crucial role in steering the Broadway musical from the golden age that ended in the early 1960s to a new era. Sondheim reached his peak in the 1970s with a series of inventive musicals. Among them were “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music” and “Sweeney Todd.” His most popular work as a composer and lyricist, “Into the Woods,” is still performed on countless school and community theater stages. Like so many of his other works, it’s a show that’s enormously entertaining but challenging as well, and full of surprises.

But the work Sondheim left behind is just part of his legacy.

Sondheim’s remarkable story began during time he spent as a teenager in Bucks County, where he met Doylestown-area resident Oscar Hammerstein II, a lyricist, playwright and theatrical legend. Hammerstein played a key role in turning the Broadway musical into a serious vehicle for storytelling with landmark works such as “Show Boat” and “Oklahoma.” He took the young Sondheim under his wing and tutored him in the art of creating original, meaningful and entertaining musical theater. Sondheim would write, and Hammerstein would critique.

Sondheim was forever grateful for this remarkable opportunity, and he devoted himself to doing the same for other up-and-coming theater artists throughout his life.

The new Netflix movie “Tick, Tick … BOOM!” makes much of Sondheim’s role in supporting the work of the late Jonathan Larson, who struggled for years before writing the modern Broadway classic “Rent.” “Hamilton” mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda, who directed the movie, is another artist who benefited from Sondheim’s tutelage. Miranda shared a message he sent to the legendary composer after hearing the theater community’s reaction to the film’s release:

“I wrote him to say his ears must be burning from the countless Sondheim kindnesses being shared from the generations of writers he mentored. Steve, you repaid your debt to Oscar 1,000 times over.” Sondheim replied: “It’s an aspect of my life I’m proud of. I feel as if I’ve repaid (partially at least) what I owe Oscar.”

Any of us who were fortunate enough to have great mentors in our lives should be able to relate to this. It’s vital that we take the idea of “paying it forward” beyond just a nice sentiment and put it into action. You don’t have to be a great artist to follow Sondheim’s excellent example in some manner.

We can also learn from Sond­heim’s extraordinary zest for life in old age. He was still developing new work in his final years. In the days preceding his death he sat for an interview with The New York Times and attended new productions of two of his works in New York.

Yes, audiences are still enjoying his work and that of the artists he influenced. Though the world has lost a great genius and an admirable individual, it’s clear that his legacy will endure in so many ways.

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Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. Nov. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t redact anything from ‘audit’

More than a year after President Joe Biden carried Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes in the most highly scrutinized and repeatedly verified election in state history, state Senate Republicans plan to spend at least $270,000 of public money on a partisan rehash.

That money will go to Envoy Sage, a risk-management company from Dubuque, Iowa, with a thin résumé because the firm itself is just more than one year old. But the contract covers just six months and can be extended.

Senate proponents of this exercise call it a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election, but have not produced any evidence that it would meet the high standards that attend that definition. Ostensibly, it is an “investigation” of the 2020 election with an eye on recommending improvements to election law. But its main purpose is keeping alive the fiction that the 2020 election somehow was tainted, as a serving of red meat for the far-right conservative base heading into the 2022 midterm elections, which also will feature U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, and state legislative races.

State Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, Republican from Westmoreland County, recently signed the contract, which has not yet been released.

Her spokeswoman subsequently said that it would be released with “redactions,” which is unacceptable for a public contract, especially this one.

Pennsylvanians, who have withstood repeated challengers to their own integrity and that of their local election officials and other representatives for more than a year, deserve to know in detail every aspect of the hired gun’s investigation. That includes not just the cost, but the identity and qualifications of the people doing the work, the exact scope of the work, the methodology, and the means by which the contractor plans to maintain the security of individual voter data that might be included in the process.

The Republican leadership agreed to the contract even though the courts have not yet adjudicated challenges to subpoenas that a Senate Republican committee has issued to the administration.

It should not follow that up redacting any aspect of a contract about which voters deserve to know chapter and verse.

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York Dispatch. Nov. 30, 2021.

Editorial: Universities need to remember their core mission is to educate, not win football games

Joe Paterno’s salary in his final year as head coach of the Penn State football team in 2011 was just a shade more than $1 million.

Now, just 10 years later, the current PSU head football coach, James Franklin, is guaranteed to make $7.5 million per year through base salary, supplemental pay and an annual retention bonus under the terms of a new 10-year contract that was recently announced.

Franklin is also in line to make considerably more if he reaches certain incentives in his new contract.

So, given those numbers, you would expect Franklin to be a significant upgrade over Paterno in terms of on-field performance.

There just one problem with that line of thinking — it’s not true.

Not as successful as Paterno: In fact, Franklin, under any barometer, has not been nearly as successful as Paterno.

Paterno has the edge in winning percentage (75% to 67%), undefeated seasons (five to zero) and national championships (two to none).

Yet, Franklin will make 7.5 times more than Paterno made 10 years ago.

Yes, inflation can account for some of that increase. You will need about $1.23 to buy what a 2011 dollar purchased. That’s a 23% increase. Franklin’s salary, however, will be about 750% higher than Paterno’s final salary.

How can the powers-that-be at PSU argue that Franklin’s is deserving of such an exorbitant paycheck?

The going rate? Well, they are sure to say that it’s just the going rate for a major college football head coach. And they would be right — to a degree.

Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, a coach with a relatively limited resume, just agreed to a 10-year, $95 million extension after one very successful season. Southern Cal just hired Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma, and Louisiana State just plucked Brian Kelly from Notre Dame. Although financial details haven’t been released for the Riley or Kelly deals, it’s almost certain that both men will make significantly more than either Franklin or Tucker.

No one can blame Franklin, Tucker, Riley or Kelly. They are simply doing what most anyone in their position would do — getting every dollar they can.

When will the madness stop? Still, it begs the question: When will this monetary madness stop?

The people who run our nation’s major universities are constantly complaining that they are dealing with declining enrollments and severe financial pressures, yet they can always find the money to pay millions of dollars to their head football coaches.

Just who is running the colleges — the football coaches or the presidents?

Well, based on the salaries, you would have to say it’s the coaches. PSU’s president, Eric Barron, makes less than $1 million per year.

So, what is the answer to the problem?

Time to say enough is enough: It’s relatively simple. The administrators and the controlling boards at our major universities must muster up the gumption to say enough is enough.

Yes, there will be raucous complaining from the school’s football fans and big-money boosters, who don’t care about tuition rates, only winning rates. Those folks will also claim many university athletic budgets are self-sustaining, requiring no money from other university sources.

That may be true in some cases, but certainly not all.

It also doesn’t see the bigger picture. No matter where the money comes from, it’s simply a bad look when the university president’s salary pales in comparison to the football coach. After all, these are supposed to be institutions of higher academic learning.

At some point, the folks who run our universities must reassert their authority over the athletic programs, especially football.

They need to remember that the core mission of our colleges is to educate our young people, not win football games and fill stadiums.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. Nov. 30, 2021.

Editorial: Coal plants’ free ride about to end

Fossil-fuel advocates often lament that government subsidies for renewable fuels put more traditional power sources at a competitive disadvantage.

But subsidies take many forms. Now, as the biggest subsidy of all is about to expire, coal-fired power generation plants have admitted that they can’t compete in the modern market without it.

For well more than a century, coal-fueled power generators have been allowed to pollute with near impunity. The failure to make them pay for massive amounts of air and water pollution is a subsidy so large that it can’t be calculated.

The subsidy has not gone directly to those generators, but taxpayers have been left to pay for untold billions of dollars in environmental remediation costs that should have been the responsibility of the polluters.

Now a new federal rule requires coal-fueled plants to remove toxic heavy metals from their wastewater before dumping it into streams. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that will prevent the annual release of about 386 million pounds of arsenic, mercury, selenium and other deadly poisons into the nation’s waterways.

Generators had until the end of October to notify state environmental agencies of how they planned to comply with the rule, which affects 75 big power plants nationwide. Of those, 21 plants — including Pennsylvania’s two largest, both near Pittsburgh — said they will close by the end of 2028, and five others said they would switch to burning natural gas.

The other plants that will close are in Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

The closings are particularly good news for Northeast Pennsylvania. Not only will the shutdowns produce cleaner water locally, they vastly will reduce the amount of airborne pollutants that the wind carries from the South and Midwest to the Northeast.

Energy markets clearly are in transition. Even now, before the pending closures of the two big coal plants near Pittsburgh, the amount of electricity in Pennsylvania generated with coal has declined to just 10% of the total from more than 30% a decade ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That transition includes a shift in public subsidies from ignoring pollution to reducing it.

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Harrisburg Patriot News. Nov. 28, 2021.

Editorial: We must find the money to stop raw sewage from flowing into the Susquehanna River

Ted Evgeniadis and Justin Mando have done a great service to the people of the Harrisburg region. They have sounded a very loud alarm about millions of gallons of raw sewage being dumped into the Susquehanna River whenever it rains.

Evgeniadis is the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, and Mando is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association. In a recent Op-Ed published on PennLive, they warned the city’s ancient water infrastructure is allowing E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria to contaminate the river “where boaters fish, kayakers paddle, and children splash just downstream from sewage outfall pipes leading from the Governor’s Residence.”

They are not only raising the alarm, but they’re acting. They’ve gone to court to demand state and federal agencies force Capital Region Water, the agency charged with safeguarding the city’s water, to stop allowing raw sewage into the Susquehanna River.

The Riverkeeper and his association are right to do so. We join them in demanding local and state officials treat this matter with the urgency it deserves and insist Capital Region Water solve the problem. Raw sewage in the river that provides drinking water to 49,000 people is nothing short of a public health crisis that can no longer be ignored.

We know the disastrous impact of official negligence in places like Flint, Michigan, where thousands of people drank lead and possibly bacteria contaminated water for years. We know thousands of children suffered irreparable damage to their minds and bodies because of the bad decisions of people elected to keep their communities safe. And we know most of the people impacted in Flint water disaster were Black.

The parallels to Harrisburg couldn’t be clearer. Here, two thirds of the residents are Black or Latino and more than a quarter of them live in poverty. And in the middle of a pandemic, they’re drinking from a river regularly contaminated with fecal bacteria, although officials say all of that is filtered out by the time it reaches to tap.

Evgeniadis and Mando still think it’s an intolerable situation, and they note this problem dates back years. In 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued Capital Region Water for violations of the federal Clean Water Act. They entered a consent decree that has not solved the problem. In fact, the situation is even worse. As beautiful as the river is, no one should swim, splash, or boat in it anywhere near Harrisburg.

Capital Region Water knows there’s a problem, and they note in their Op-Ed response they’ve been trying to do something about it for years. The problem, of course, is money. Who’s going to pay the millions upon millions it will take to bring Harrisburg’s water infrastructure into the 21st century?

“If,” we want to do something about it, their officials said, “we need a partnership that unites local, state, and federal governments with local property owners and ratepayers.”

They are right, but our message to Capital Region Water is simple. There should be no “if.” Everyone in any position of authority in the city and state should want to solve this problem, now.

We agree this is an expensive proposition that Harrisburg’s residents can’t bear alone. Capital Region Water rightly points to the millions of federal dollars that are flowing into the region under President Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Act” to fund infrastructure repairs.

A lot of people want a say in how the federal dollars will be spent, but we can think of no better way to spend them than to stop raw sewage from being dumped into the river.

Let’s get the “if’s, ands and buts” out of the equation. Let’s get everyone at the local, county, state and federal levels working on an urgent plan to clean up the Susquehanna River. We think Capital Region Water is the right agency to lead the effort. And we urge the Riverkeeper to pursue all efforts to keep the public informed and to hold the agency accountable.

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