Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania's newspapers:
Altoona Mirror on allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy
Trust that Roman Catholic Church officials will do the right thing about allegations of sexual misconduct by members of the clergy is in question in many countries, not just the United States. What Pope Francis and others in the Catholic hierarchy do about the matter is watched closely throughout the world.
An announcement by the Vatican that its ambassador to France no longer enjoys diplomatic immunity is welcome, then.
As a diplomat, Archbishop Luigi Ventura normally would have enjoyed immunity from investigation or prosecution involving many crimes. Several men have accused him of touching them inappropriately. Ventura denies the allegations.
But French authorities had said the archbishop's diplomatic immunity had stalled their investigation into the men's accusations.
That ended Monday, with the Vatican's announcement. Now, Ventura can be investigated — and, if appropriate, charged — just like any other visitor to France. Let us hope the matter is cleared up, one way or the other, expeditiously.
Sexual predation by members of the clergy is bad enough. Adding to the outrage over Roman Catholic church handling of such crimes has been a pattern over decades of protecting predators. Instead of reporting them to law enforcement authorities, church officials often transferred guilty priests away from locales where they had abused both children and adults, and to new locations where they sometimes committed the same crimes.
Outrage over that practice led to reforms in which many bishops and archbishops have said their first call after hearing of a predator in the clergy is to the police.
Good. Concern lingers, however, over whether that policy will apply everywhere, to everyone. The Vatican's decision on Ventura — and let us be clear, it must have involved Pope Francis — is reassuring. It should be the template used in all similar situations.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on President Trump's controversial tweets to four congresswomen
President Donald Trump is on the defensive for a tweet he wrote Sunday.
He said, in part:
"So interesting to see 'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly ... and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run . Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how ... it is done.
Of course, the congresswomen he was referring to, Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, are all U.S. citizens, and only one, Ms. Omar, was born outside the United States.
But the president doubled down, and made it worse for everyone, especially himself, tweeting out yesterday afternoon the following message, among others:
"We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of Communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own Country, they're calling the guards along our Border (the Border Patrol Agents) Concentration Camp Guards, they accuse people who support Israel as doing it for the Benjamin's ...."
In separate remarks, the president said the four were definitely socialists and possibly communists.
It has been a long time since Americans called each other communists, or a person in power called fellow Americans communists. It is a term of malice, and it is libel per se, when said about someone who is not a communist. And none of these women is a communist.
It is as wrong to call a person a communist for disagreeing with you as it is to call that person a racist for disagreeing with you. And many, many people have abused that word, until, at last it is implied that even Joe Biden is racist.
We need to stop the labeling and name-calling in this country.
And we don't get to question each other's patriotism or love of country just because we disagree, either.
We don't get to judge each other's hearts.
Disagree? Yes, we may disagree, and vehemently.
But stop the name-calling.
As for the president, he might want to consider hiring a tweetmeister to screen his spelling and form and to slow down his Twitter trigger finger. He is the commander-in-chief and can always choose to hit send anyway.
But because he is commander-in-chief, many, if not most, Americans expect a degree of dignity and decorum. They want more Ronald Reagan and less Howard Stern. And many who approve of Mr. Trump's policies and deplore the drift of the Democratic Party to the cultural and socialist left, are dismayed that he keeps lowering the bar of presidential behavior.
Core Trump voters may not mind vulgarity and name-calling in their president, but many Americans on the right and in the middle do. And if the economy goes south, they will find it all too easy to abandon a president who embarrasses them and demeans his office, conservative court nominees notwithstanding.
The Citizen's Voice on protection of consumer data
Government agencies have taken intrusiveness to new heights and privacy to a new low by using databases to conduct facial recognition searches without the knowledge, much less consent, of individuals, Congress or state legislatures.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have conducted hundreds of thousands of searches using data generated by states for drivers' licenses and other state business.
The FBI alone has conducted 390,000 searches since 2011, of databases containing information on citizens who never have been charged with a crime and against whom the agency has no probable cause for suspicion of wrongdoing.
"They've just given access to that to the FBI," said Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. "No individual signed off on that when they renewed their driver's license, got their driver's licenses. They didn't sign any waiver saying, 'Oh, it's OK to turn my information, my photo, over to the FBI.' No elected officials voted for that to happen."
"Law enforcement's access of state databases is often done in the shadows with no consent," added Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee chairman.
Congress should ensure that the agencies end the practice of lifting the information of innocent Americans without their consent, regardless of whether it's through a database.
The Reading Eagle on schools in Pennsylvania school districts facing fiscal distress
Property tax bills have arrived in homeowners' mailboxes, and for many, this year's sticker shock has gone up despite an increase in state funding for schools and despite local school boards weighing program cuts. Some area districts avoided tax increases by depleting reserve funds. That squeeze — weighing students' needs against taxpayer resources — is about to get worse with a divide that threatens more than half the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania with financial crisis in five years.
In the next five years, 60% or more of school districts in Pennsylvania will be in fiscal distress, according to a June 30 report by MediaNews Group staff writer Evan Brandt. His report detailed the findings of a study, "A Tale of Haves and Have-Nots," by the Temple University Center on Regional Politics. Study authors William Hartman and Timothy J. Shrom illustrate how unfunded mandated costs — retirement and charter school tuition in particular — soon will exceed the amount of state aid many districts receive.
Districts are left with no choice but to raise local property taxes to balance their budgets. With state law capping such increases, it may still not be enough, and many will have to resort to cutting programs to balance their budgets, Brandt reported.
The study authors wrote: "The 'Have-Nots' will have lower expenditures, fewer educational resources, lower levels of staffing, and limited other opportunities for students. (The) 'Haves' will have higher levels of expenditures, appropriate educational resources, including advanced technology, adequate levels and types of staff, and additional educational opportunities for their students."
A sampling of 10 Berks, Chester and Montgomery school districts analyzed by Brandt, using the report's calculations and Pennsylvania Department of Education data, show five districts weathering deficits of more than $12 million, while five amass combined surpluses of more than $23 million. It works out to a school funding gap of more than $35.7 million among just 10 districts.
The culprits are mandated costs that local school districts can't control. Those costs threaten to force even some wealthier districts into the have-not's column.
The mandated costs of pensions, special education and charter school payments grew by $293 million in Montgomery County districts alone since 2010, according to Public Citizens for Children and Youth.
Thus, the annual budget season dance in which local school boards debate cutting things not mandated by the state, such as athletics, art, music and foreign language instruction. When all else fails, that property tax bill climbs.
Legislators refuse to raise taxes on the state level, and efforts to reform charter school reimbursements and pension plans fall short. Without drastic changes in mandates or substantially increased funding, the study authors said, their predictions will become reality. They said their study shocked Senate staffers, prompting talk of a task force to examine school funding.
We strongly urge that examination, beginning with the recommendation to reduce mandates and increase the state share of funding. Charter school reform is near the top of that list. This fiscal crisis has been edging closer to reality through years of bad decisions in Harrisburg. It's time to stop the slide before hundreds of districts — and thousands of children and taxpayers — suffer the consequences.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on prison gerrymandering in Philadelphia
It is surprising — and encouraging — how two decidedly wonky subjects like the U.S. Census and political redistricting have become such hotly debated topics among the public in the last year or so.
The attempts of Pennsylvania lawmakers to retain control of drawing lopsided congressional districts last year ended when the State Supreme Court intervened and issued a new congressional map; that ruling was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Ironically, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that courts could no longer intervene in redistricting battles.)
The debate over adding a citizenship question to the U.S. Census has not been definitively settled, despite a separate Supreme Court ruling barring the inclusion of the question. But both of these issues sit at the crux of our democracy: that everyone counts, and every person gets a vote.
The new focus on gerrymandering bodes well for an important subset of the issue: "prison gerrymandering," the impact of a huge prison population that advocates fear is compromising fair representation and apportionment of political power.
The fact that most states prohibit those in prison from voting, combined with the standard practice of the U.S. Census to count a prisoner's residence as the prison where they're serving time rather than their original home address, has sparked new attention on how this can distort democracy.
The method of counting prisoners creates false counts of populations based on locations of prisons, and as a result, can unfairly favor white rural voters — where many prisons are located — at the expense of urban voters.
According to an Inquirer report by Jonathan Lai, a new study by two Villanova researchers suggests prison gerrymandering is a particular problem for Philadelphia. The authors, Brianna Remster and Rory Kramer, found that if prisoners were counted based on their home addresses rather than prisons, the city could gain at least one, if not two majority-minority state House districts.
The implications go well beyond Philadelphia. A mass incarceration movement over the last few decades had put a disproportionate number of African Americans behind bars.
Many of the prisons holding these people are in rural areas with low populations. When prisoners are counted as residents of the towns where they are serving time — not the communities they come from — those numbers have a direct impact on political power and resources. The Villanova researchers also point out that the practice harms the communities from which prisoners come whose populations (and needs) end up being undercounted.
This is a problem that is easily fixed — logistically if not politically. For example, the state of Washington recently followed the example of New York, Maryland, Delaware, and California by requiring prisoners to be counted at their pre-incarceration address. In Pennsylvania, state Rep. Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) has introduced a bill to have prisoners counted at their home addresses for redistricting purposes. Governor Wolf has signaled his support for making that change. Rural areas have too much to lose to have this be an easy consensus, but this city and others have too much to gain that makes the fight worthwhile.