Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Inquirer. Sept. 6, 2021.

Editorial: 20 years after 9/11, reflecting on grief, justice, and vengeance

By the time the sun set on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, a wounded, grieving nation wept. The full magnitude of the loss of life wasn’t yet known, but this much was certain: The United States had suffered an unprecedented attack on our own soil, with civilians, service members, and political leaders alike all targeted by a foreign enemy.

Soon, many Americans began demanding retribution — or, as the Philadelphia Daily News put it the day after the attacks, “Blood for blood.”

“Revenge,” began a Daily News editorial on Sept. 12. “Hold on to that thought. Go to bed thinking it. Wake up chanting it. Because nothing less than revenge is called for today.”

The Daily News editorial board, which has since merged with The Inquirer’s, clearly tapped into a common sentiment. The opinion and letters pages of both newspapers during the days and weeks after the attacks illustrate a pervasive sense of vengeance — “Let us flex our muscles,” “give war a chance,” “punishment without mercy,” “I don’t know why we just don’t retaliate now.”

If there was ever a time for collective outrage, it was certainly after the deaths of 2,753 people in the Twin Towers, of 184 people at the Pentagon, and of the 40 passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93, who sacrificed their lives to avert another attack.

But 20 years later, there are lessons to be learned about where an open-ended call for blood can lead — and about the role of the military, politicians, and the media in creating the conditions for a forever war.

With images of last month’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan top of mind, it’s critical for every institution — including this board — to reflect on its own role in shaping the events of the last 20 years.

Both The Inquirer and Daily News editorial boards supported the war in Afghanistan — as did eight out of ten Americans at the time and all but one member of Congress.

After American forces occupied Kabul in November 2001, an Inquirer editorial read: “The taking of Kabul presents new challenges — but the aims remain the same.” A forever war was brewing.

The temperature of editorials was lower on Iraq, but the conclusion was the same: approval of war.

We have the privilege of hindsight that our colleagues in the past didn’t have. We now know that the Bush administration misled the country about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We also know that the Pentagon misled both the American public and the White House about the progress that it said was being made in Afghanistan.

In 2008, members of The Inquirer’s board reflected on their position about the Iraq War, writing that the White House claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction persuaded them that the “invasion was the right thing to do” but that in retrospect “it looks incredibly foolish to have believed” those claims.

Those beliefs also shaped policy and changed lives. The experience of Muslims, Sikhs, and people of Middle Eastern origin in America has never been the same after the attacks and the American immigration system became more exclusionary and enforcement-driven.

It is not lost on this board that many institutions, including newspapers, have a role in that.

Surely, there are steps that can provide a measure of justice for victims of Sept. 11 that don’t require a declaration of war — and that officials have not yet taken. Dennis Baxter, the brother of Jasper Baxter — a Philadelphian who was killed in the South Tower — said that he and his family have not stopped seeking answers about the potential extent of the Saudi government’s role in the attacks. “They’re still trying to figure out who to really blame,” Baxter told this board recently, alluding to official resistance to releasing additional details about those connections.

Perhaps one lesson from 9/11 may be a collective recalibration between our competing impulses for justice and vengeance — and the importance of not conflating demands for blood with the pursuit of full accountability.

“Even after 20 years, you still feel the pain,” Baxter said. “Who knows what the next 20 years will bring?”

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Harrisburg Patriot News/PennLive. Sept. 5, 2021.

Editorial: You can’t put a price on the human suffering drug companies unleashed pushing opioids

Pennsylvania has an opportunity to extract a modicum of justice from drug companies that brought untold death and suffering to vulnerable people in what has been dubbed the opioid epidemic.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office is recommending state officials sign on to a $26 billion settlement with four companies, including Johnson & Johnson and three major distributors of opioids – McKesson, Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, based in southeastern Pennsylvania. The commonwealth would not get all of that money. But we could get as much as $1.06 billion over a period of 18 years, with $232 million coming by April.

It’s impossible to put a price on human suffering. Millions of families have coped with immeasurable agony as a result of drug companies pushing opioids, with the help of compliant doctors. No amount of money can ever bring back the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who were among this epidemic’s victims. No amount of money can erase the pain of losing sons and daughters in the prime of their lives.

But the billions coming from this settlement might help prevent more people from dying, and it might provide some relief to families still reeling from an epidemic that has only grown worse amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Attorney General’s office is recommending Pennsylvania sign on to the settlement and use the money to provide treatment services and relief to people struggling now to overcome substance abuse. The AG’s office makes a strong case for taking the money now rather than waiting for years of court trials and appeals that may not result in much more than what’s on the table now.

There is a catch to all of this. Every “government entity” representing more than 10,000 people that has filed suit against these four companies has to agree to settle. That would seem almost impossible, but David Wade, senior advisor to the Attorney General, and Jim Donahue, executive deputy Attorney General don’t think so. They think there’s a very good chance everyone will come on board to help people who need it now.

It’s important to note even if everyone signs on to the settlement, it only involves four companies. And it doesn’t include Purdue Pharma, which unleashed OxyContin on the world. That company was dissolved last week in a bankruptcy settlement, but the Sackler family that owns it will have to pay out billions. Don’t worry about them, though. They’re still filthy rich and won’t have to face any personal responsibility for the disaster they helped to cause.

The judge who oversaw that settlement called it a “bitter” result. Bitter because the Sacklers, who pocketed billions from pushing poisons, are getting off light. Same could be said of Johnson & Johnson and the three companies that distributed death. The billions they will pay represents only a modicum of justice for victims of the opioid crisis that has affected every state in the nation for decades.

But we have to agree with the AG’s office. Waiting while cases work their way through the courts only to end up with less money or companies going bankrupt would be worse than accepting an admittedly bitter settlement.

We should take the billions offered now and insist that it be used to help people and their loved ones in the throes of an epidemic as deadly as COVID-19.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Sept. 5, 2021.

Editorial: It’s about time: Mask mandate is necessary in Pennsylvania

It’s about time.

The timorous chief executive of Pennsylvania has decided to step into the fray and do what should have been done weeks ago: mandate masks in K-12 schools and child care centers.

As the delta variant has raged, as parents and school officials have faced off against each other over a health issue turned political, as unvaccinated students prepared for a return to school — a congregate setting with the potential to be a virus incubator — Gov. Tom Wolf summoned only enough courage to recommend masks.

It was ridiculous.

It was a sidestep of a hot-button issue that he feared would burn him one way or another.

Nonetheless, the only right thing — the only safe thing — was to mandate masks.

Now it has happened, and, for this, we are relieved.

Anyone questioning whether the state’s chief executive is within in his rights should get a grip. Yes, the voters stripped the governor of some of his emergency declaration powers. But, the authority for this mandate emanates from the state Department of Health.

Top priority now is to get commonwealth residents vaccinated. Everybody.

But, that can’t happen yet for young people. Vaccinations are not yet deemed safe for them.

And that’s why it is so blatantly obvious that other precautions must be taken to prevent a school-based pandemic.

Without a mask mandate, it is a near certainty that children will be once again forced into remote learning situations — far from the ideal. Especially if this model of learning can be shelved by simply slipping on a mask.

It is predictable that some lawmakers, playing to their crazy constituents, would condemn the mandate.

But, Mr. Wolf is on the right side of history, albeit as a Johnny-come-lately.

Again, the situation is crystal clear. The ultra-contagious delta variant is going to sicken kids if precautions aren’t taken. Those kids will be in quarantine and out of the classroom. And they could even end up in the hospital, their lives in peril. The mind does not want to stray to the ultimate potential consequence.

The state Department of Health order regarding masks takes effect Tuesday, Sept. 7. It will remain in effect indefinitely.

It should remain in effect until science dictates that it is no longer needed.

As things stand, districts are not allowed to “restrain, use force or physically remove” those who refuse to comply with wearing a mask.

That’s a mistake. Anyone who defies the order should be sent home. Many school districts do this for violations of dress codes. The stakes in this situation are much higher.

Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said the mask mandate will “result in government control of our daily lives.” She said the matter should be left to local officials. She and many of her fellow Republicans with similar attitudes are cowards, dancing to the tune of some citizens who just don’t get it. This is not a political issue. This is a public health issue.

Yes, some Republican lawmakers are calling out the governor for his turnabout. They say that if Mr. Wolf had believed he had the authority to mandate masks, he would have mandated them earlier — when he was simply advising their use. This is a specious argument. The governor was simply cowering a week ago, and everyone knows it. Now he’s grown a spine. It should have happened sooner, but we’ll take it when we get it.

Meanwhile, the no-win battles continue. Litigation is sure to follow. It is actually and literally sickening.

This is why Pennsylvania’s leaders need to set aside rancor and pronounce with a unified voice that we must be reasonable and safe.

Shame, shame and more shame on any and every politician who continues to politicize this issue. If ever there were a time when lawmakers should stand shoulder-to-shoulder, this is that time. A public health crisis isn’t just on our doorsteps. It has crossed the threshold. And the only question before us at this moment is whether we will let this crisis grip the throats of our children. How sick will they get? Will they die? Or will the calamity be limited only (only?) to their learning? We shouldn’t even be asking these questions. We shouldn’t be willing to tolerate circumstances that lead to these questions.

Here are the facts: According to state data released last week, in mid-July there were fewer than 300 new COVID-19 cases a day; that has climbed to more than 3,000. There were 245 in the hospital as of mid-July; that number climbed to 1,850 in the hospital. And the number of deaths has increased, as well. When it comes to kids, the number of cases among children ages 17 and younger rose by 277% between mid-July and Aug. 28. Since schools began to reopen, more than 5,000 students have tested positive.

What more is needed for reason to prevail? Hospitals overflowing with child-patients? A death march of pint-sized caskets? A return to remote learning, detrimental to students and parents alike?

The Education Law Center, a group of nearly 50 education advocacy groups, has pleaded for a universal mask mandate. The Pennsylvania State Education Association has supported it. All public health officials have wanted it.

The experts have spoken. The public must listen. The battles must end. Mask up.

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York Dispatch. Sept. 5, 2021.

Editorial: Central York teachers must be free to teach students about race and history

An Oscar-nominated documentary on James Baldwin. A letter from the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. A coloring book of African Adrinkra symbols. Materials from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Teachers in Central York School District aren’t allowed to introduce any of these to their students, along with four pages of other books, videos, websites and articles.

These are materials the district’s diversity committee reportedly recommended in 2020 to help teachers dealing with questions about race while the committee was working on new social studies curriculum looking at the role race plays in our culture.

It appears the school board turned that list into a ban — and now teachers are afraid to teach children in the second most diverse district in the county about the history that Black people and other people of color have lived in this country.

“This is disgusting,” said one Central York teacher, who requested anonymity to protect his job, said. “Let’s just call it what it is — every author on that list is a Black voice.”

The ban on these materials is part of the continued fallout from last summer’s Central York school board debacle that saw the board reject social studies curriculum produced by the district that was designed to examine diversity and racism in society after two members decided it was too focused on white privilege and didn’t acknowledge the value of police.

That discussion continued for several months at board meetings, ending with the ban on these materials.

These were not materials that were in the curriculum, by the way. These were articles and websites, among other things, that teachers were given to help them with potentially difficult questions from students.

And even without a new social studies curriculum, students will continue to ask difficult questions, especially as we as a country work to sort out the systemic racism that has created our society.

These are not problems that are going away. If anything, they are becoming more pronounced as the United States produces its first trillionaires, all white men, while people of color have been the hardest hit by the pandemic and thousands of families face eviction. They become more pronounced every time a Black person is pulled over for a minor traffic infraction and ends up in handcuffs and every time a Latino person has to explain that they were born in this country, too.

Children notice and they question. It’s the duty of parents and educators to inform them, give them facts and be truthful, even if that truth is uncomfortable.

The Central York school board is making it harder for its teachers to be truthful with their students by taking away materials that can help explain the history that has shaped their world.

Lauri Lebo, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said she wondered if the Central York school board members knew exactly what the books and videos that were banned had to say.

“We are concerned that the ban on these materials without offering any credible alternatives will create a chilling effect on teachers being able to teach anything about race — the history of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement or Brown v. Board of Education,” Lebo said in an email.

One teacher at Central York High School, who requested to remain anonymous, shared similar concerns.

“You have Black children who want to learn about themselves, and now teachers who live in fear of presenting that information to them,” the teacher said. “This targets Black people, and now my concern is you have teachers afraid to teach.”

No district should put teachers in that position. It’s time for Central York to revisit and reverse this decision.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. Sept. 7, 2021.

Editorial: Clean air, strong economy can coexist

As soon as Pennsylvania’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday to approve the state’s participation in a market-based carbon-reduction project, a House committee adopted a resolution opposing it.

The vote clears the way for Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state effort to reduce carbon emissions by setting a market price on pollution. The other members are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.

Pennsylvania is the only major fossil fuel-producing state in the group.

RGGI is a cap-and-trade program, under which the participating states set a price that power producers must pay for each ton of carbon pollution that they produce. That will make dirtier sources of power less competitive and help increase generation by cleaner sources.

Pennsylvania is a major power producer, including for export to other states in the region. Because of that, opponents of RGGI argue that it will adversely affect communities tied to coal production and fossil-fuel power generation.

But a cleaner environment, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a strong economy need not be mutually exclusive concepts. Rather than continuing to subsidize dirty power generators by continuing to allow them to pollute for free, the Legislature should work on ways to integrate the cleaner power while assisting the communities adversely affected by the transition.

The Wolf administration estimates that the carbon credits under RGGI will generate between $137 million and $185 million a year. For example, lawmakers should mandate that the revenue be used to foster economic development, including of clean power projects, in the affected areas.

Pennsylvania is unusual within the context of the RGGI members not only because it is a major fossil-fuel power generator, but because it has a constitution that requires the state government to ensure a healthy environment and to act as a trustee for the preservation of environmental resources.

RGGI is an instrument to help meet that constitutional mandate. The Legislature should help to make it work.

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