Editorials from around Pennsylvania

February 7, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Despite the efforts of parents and educators, sexting remains a recurring problem in school districts, most recently in Butler County, where five juveniles in the Karns City Area School District face summary offenses for the transmission of sexually explicit images by minors.

Allegedly two girls, ages 14 and 12, sent nude pictures of themselves to two teen boys. Those pictures subsequently were sent to a 13-year-old boy and other children, authorities said.

Aside from the legal consequences — which are, themselves, debatable — there’s the grim reality that once those digital images hit the internet, they can end up anywhere — in perpetuity.

This recurring problem in school districts near and far is perpetuated by the considerable pressure on many teenage girls to expose themselves on their cellphone cameras, according to a recent Northwestern University study. Based on 450 accounts from girls ages 12 to 18, two-thirds said they were asked for nude photos.

“While many young women took on the responsibility of negotiating these pressures, they were also confused and didn’t have the tools to cope,” writes study author Sara Thomas. Many feel it is their burden alone to manage. Meanwhile they may not necessarily be thinking about what ultimately can happen with those images.

Parents cannot conceivably monitor everything their children do with their cellphones. But they can emphasize to them the ramifications of what happens to an inappropriate selfie once it’s sent from a cellphone.

—Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Online: http://bit.ly/2Ec13Wk



Despite not being worthy of much sympathy, the five Pennsylvania death row inmates who are suing prison officials over the issue of solitary confinement have, in that federal court action, made a point that many people don’t dispute.

That is that solitary confinement can expose prisoners to possible physical, mental and emotional harm.

In the view of some law-abiding people, as well as the prisoners in question, the fact that Pennsylvania death row prisoners are locked up alone for 22 to 24 hours each day, and that their small cells are kept illuminated at all hours, represents cruel and unusual punishment — although cruelty, violence and disregard for their victims’ lives are what relegated the prisoners to their current existence.

The consolation for those on death row is that they’re still alive, and even permitted to have visitors, unlike the “solitary confinement” in which their victims’ remains exist.

In the five death row inmates’ lawsuit, which names as defendants the state Corrections secretary and the wardens at Greene and Graterford state prisons, the inmates complain that they’re kept segregated inside cells the size of a parking space and that they are permitted to exercise only in small, outdoor enclosures for no more than two hours during weekdays.

On weekends, the lawsuit says, they’re kept in their cells around the clock, unless they have a visitor.

Despite stated concerns, those conditions are appropriate for someone guilty of first-degree murder and supposedly awaiting execution.

If those inmates still value their own lives, they should feel a sense of relief that they committed their horrific crimes in the Keystone State, rather than in one of the states — like Texas — that have for years been aggressive in carrying out the death penalty.

It’s been about 18 years since Pennsylvania last executed a person for murder.

The five inmates’ lawsuit is seeking class-action status as well as a declaration that solitary confinement is inhumane, degrading and violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, and violates the guarantee of due process.

They are contending that the state hasn’t provided a meaningful way for them to challenge the conditions of their incarceration.

Reasonable, law-abiding people aren’t necessarily wrong in arguing that no avenues for challenges should be available to them.

Meanwhile, some opponents of the death penalty — and even some supporters of it — reasonably contend that the virtual “life sentence” Pennsylvania currently extends to death row inmates actually is a more effective punishment than lethal injection or any other method of execution, because the inmates continue living the sentence that was meted out to them.

Death row isn’t meant to be like a country club or recreation center.

Prisoners confined there shouldn’t feel that they’re worthy of any semblance of a cushy existence.

That includes the five inmates at the center of the lawsuit.

—Altoona Mirror

Online: http://bit.ly/2E9Nqr3



Last week, the Dauphin County commissioners filed suit against 11 drug manufacturers and three doctors for ignoring the effects of prescription opioids and pursuing profits over patients. We support that litigation.

We acknowledge that the solution to the opioid crisis is complicated, and a lawsuit alone will not solve the crisis locally.

But it does help address an important question: “Did pharmaceutical companies knowingly disregard and actively downplay the addictive nature of prescription drugs in order to increase sales?”

The inclusion of specific doctors from Utah and California in this suit suggest an additional question: “Did influential doctors acting as complicit agents of the pharmaceutical companies help guide physicians to believe that prescribing higher doses of painkillers was the best course of treatment for patients showing signs of addiction?”

The goal of the lawsuit is twofold, says Commissioner Jeff Haste. First, “to save lives,” and secondly, to plow any financial proceeds to off-setting the high cost of treatment and prevention programs.

Dauphin County spent $19.6 million to help over 2,500 people suffering from addiction in 2017.

But there is another welcome outcome: We’re beginning to understand how primary care physicians freely prescribed these drugs. That is why doctors from the western United States are named in this suit.

Two of them, Drs. Perry Fine and Lynn Webster of Utah, are not named as defendants filed by the Ohio attorney general (as well as a suit by the city of Chicago), but are cited as being members of a “small circle of doctors” who supported chronic opioid therapy in a series of published books, speeches and seminars.

Both are past presidents of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Both were supported by the industry financially because of their public views.

Both are known as “thought leaders” in pain management.

Dr. Webster is “credited” with a concept known as “pseudo-addiction.” In essence, the concept he put forth is that if a patient being treated for pain with opioids starts asking for higher doses or showing signs of addiction, the most likely cause is that they are really in severe pain.

The first course of action, wrote Dr. Webster ... was to increase dosage.

Let that sink in.

A leading expert in pain management, supported by the industry, guided primary-care physicians to prescribe more addictive drugs to patients showing signs of addiction.

If the lawsuit filed by the commissioners can draw a straight line from Big Pharma to over-prescribing, this is a connector. It’s as simple as the Watergate-era phrase “follow the money.”

In fairness, it is one thing to observe a pattern and another thing to prove it (Dr. Webster has repeatedly stated he only had the welfare of patients in mind).

If we ever get there, it will only be after every party has their day in court: The companies deserve their day in court and the doctors deserve their day in court.

Dauphin County residents deserve their day in court — as do the citizens of every community ravaged by this epidemic.

Admittedly, this epidemic is as complex as are the solutions for mitigating it. There is no one simple, solitary solution, nor it there one single cause. But understanding the root causes as specifically as possible leads to answers.

And if along the way it leads to accountability then so much the better.

The Dauphin County Commissioners were right to file this litigation. And we support their actions.


Online: http://bit.ly/2FUN6fX



On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito rejected a request from top Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers to put on hold an order from the state Supreme Court that the commonwealth’s congressional districts be redrawn. Last month, the Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the current map of 18 districts violated the state constitution “clearly, plainly and palpably,” and ordered the boundaries to be redrawn immediately. The justices gave the Republican-controlled state Legislature until Feb. 9 — Friday — to pass a redrawn map, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. “Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track,” The Associated Press reported.

A memo to state lawmakers: You’re supposed to conduct your business in those elegantly appointed legislative chambers that have been provided to you.

Not in the courts.

Alas, the debate over redistricting in Pennsylvania is being played out in lawyers’ offices and courtrooms rather than in the General Assembly.

To wit: After Republicans lost on redistricting in the state Supreme Court dominated by Democrats, they asked for a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Alito, a conservative, rejected their plea. The “fact that Alito did not refer the request to the full court ... strongly suggests that he did not view the case as an even remotely close call,” noted SCOTUSblog, a reliable source on matters pertaining to the nation’s highest court.

Nevertheless, the legal maneuverings persist. State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai issued a joint statement Monday saying they “will do our best to comply with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s (Jan. 22) order, but may be compelled to pursue further legal action in federal court.”

Scarnati and Turzai would like to sideline Democratic state Supreme Court justices David Wecht and Christine Donohue. (Republicans and Democrats have exchanged fire over campaign contributions made to members of the state’s highest court, according to Philly.com). Scarnati also has defied a state Supreme Court order to hand over congressional district data.

A rank-and-file Republican lawmaker has gone a different route, circulating a memo calling for the impeachment of the Democratic justices who ruled the GOP-drawn map unconstitutional. His effort may be intended to garner headlines, but at least it’s a legislative one.

The sound and fury over the state Supreme Court ruling is a measure of just how much the Republican Party has to lose if the state’s congressional map is redrawn.

With the 2018 midterm elections — and the threat of a “blue wave” — looming, the state GOP wants to maintain the congressional map drawn after the 2010 census. It has, after all, enabled Pennsylvania Republicans to win 13 of 18 congressional seats — despite being outnumbered by registered Democrats in the commonwealth by a margin of more than 808,000.

But in life, as in football, complaining about the refs is a mug’s game. (Feel free to complain, however, about Cris Collinsworth’s color commentary during Super Bowl LII, when — have we mentioned it yet? — the Philadelphia Eagles prevailed over the New England Patriots.)

The reality is that because Republicans were in power after the 2010 census, they rigged the game in their favor; that’s the wont of whichever party is in power. But now the jig is up.

Voters on both sides of the political aisle have come to recognize just how ridiculously gerrymandered Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are. Even Lancaster County GOP Chair Dave Dumeyer told The New York Times that he’s not in love with the way the current map splits this county; he’d like to see the county made whole again.

In the last redistricting, seven very red municipalities in eastern Lancaster County previously in the 16th District became part of the 7th, to make it safer for Republicans.

The 7th is now represented by the beleaguered GOP Rep. Pat Meehan, who, after revelations that he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim, has announced he won’t seek re-election.

That is the district that virtually makes the case against gerrymandering by itself.

Described as looking like Goofy kicking Donald Duck’s derriere, it doesn’t just divide municipalities, it slices and dices neighborhoods as if they were carved up with a Ginsu knife.

So it’s not a matter of whether Pennsylvania was unfairly gerrymandered to one political party’s advantage. It’s a matter of when sanity will be restored to redistricting.

We prefer that a citizens commission, like one proposed by the nonpartisan group Fair Districts PA, be charged with the task of drawing legislative districts.

But time is of the essence here. And while we think Rep. Cris Dush’s call for impeaching the Democratic justices is silly, we certainly don’t want to see the congressional map drawn by the state Supreme Court.

So lawmakers need to get the job done.

Yes, Friday is a tight deadline. But it’s not as if the royal cartographer has to be summoned to the palace with his compasses and triangles and quills. We’re guessing computer-generated maps already exist. The chosen map just needs to pass the fairness test.

If that stands a chance of happening, lawmakers are going to need to put aside partisan political interests and choose a map that best advances democracy and the power of the individual vote.

No more packing one party’s voters into fewer districts to minimize their power. And no more cracking apart districts, divvying up municipalities and communities, for political advantage. Voters choose lawmakers; lawmakers shouldn’t choose their voters.

So select a map that enables Pennsylvania voters to cast meaningful votes. And instead of relying on a gerrymandered map, make your best case to voters — and let the chips fall where they may.

—LNP newspaper

Online: http://bit.ly/2FUBslw



The government of Poland is in the process of passing ugly legislation that makes it a crime to refer to any Polish role in the Holocaust or in any other anti-Jewish actions that took place in Poland during World War II.

Every country that exists almost certainly has ugly actions as part of its history. The question then becomes, how does a country deal with whatever occurred?

It is generally not disputed that Germany, Italy and Japan started World War II, which ended up claiming an estimated 61 million dead. Each of those countries has sought and more or less found some means of getting past that bad streak of history. Germany is the model for reckoning with the past, through decades of unflinching recognition of the Holocaust. In the migrant crisis of recent years, Germany has bent over backward to extend a welcoming hand to people fleeing war and persecution. There have been political consequences from such a level of immigration, as Chancellor Angela Merkel is finding, but Germany took refugee resettlement as a moral imperative.

Italy has pretty much succeeded in just getting the rest of Europe and the world to forget about its fascist period under Benito Mussolini, when it invaded Ethiopia and was allied with Hitler’s Germany and Japan in that epoch’s axis of evil. Japan has had a harder time, finding itself still dealing with the issue of “comfort women” with South Korea and whether or not its prime ministers should visit the Yasukuni shrine, which honors military leaders who are considered by some to have been war criminals.

No one is saying that the Poles agreed with Nazi German atrocities that took place in Poland. At the same time, history shows clearly that there was anti-Semitism, the cooperation of some Poles in German racial crimes in Poland, and even pogroms in Poland during and before the war.

Americans cannot be exactly proud of some of what we have done during our history. One example is slavery and subsequent foot-dragging and general national acquiescence in racial discrimination in this country, to this day. Another is America’s generally abominable treatment of Native Americans. Would we wish to put into place legislation forbidding discussion and scholarship dealing with the slaughter by the U.S. military at Wounded Knee or behavior toward the Osage people in Oklahoma?

What the Poles need to do at this point is accept what happened, look at it with their eyes wide open, write and talk about it, acknowledge its shamefulness and take steps to see that it never happens again, and that whatever traces of it remain in vogue now are labeled for what they are and eliminated from national culture.

By the way, if they don’t, and the European Union acts to reflect prevailing European views on such subjects, the EU will be absolutely in order in punishing the Polish government by reducing aid and its status and respect within the EU. Denying or hushing up history cannot be tolerated or rewarded, particularly this kind of history. Populism cannot be allowed to become racism.

—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Online: http://bit.ly/2EquhnL

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