Editorials from around Pennsylvania
Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
MCCAIN’S ENDURING LEGACY, Aug. 28
All that’s been said about U.S. Sen. John McCain since his death on Saturday should cause Americans to reflect deeply and in an open-minded way on the great service to this country that was the hallmark of his life.
It’s safe to say that the federal government would be more of a body of civility, bipartisanship and accomplishment if the elements and dedication at the heart of McCain’s service were embraced by many more in the Nation’s Capital.
Washington is a quagmire of partisanship, not because of the late Arizona senator, but because of the many lawmakers whose signature “achievement” is refusal to cooperate with the other side of the legislative isle. Both sides of the aisle must share that blame.
McCain recognized the value of bipartisanship. That’s why he didn’t hesitate to criticize his own Republican Party when he felt that it was necessary.
It can be said that America is better because of his efforts — central Pennsylvania, as well.
His loyalty to this country never could be questioned, and his dedication on behalf of making the right decisions, even when it meant butting heads with lawmakers and presidents of his own party, ought to inspire new lawmakers who will be elected in November, as well as the incumbents whose service will continue.
As the focus on McCain’s life is at the forefront this week during the preparation for his being laid to rest, Americans’ reflection shouldn’t fail to note the positive words spoken about him since last week’s news that he had halted further treatment for his brain cancer — about how those with whom he served valued the opportunity to have had him as one of their colleagues dedicated to America’s well-being.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called McCain a fascinating personality who “made every tense moment come out better,” and former President George W. Bush, who defeated McCain for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination, described his one-time political rival as a “man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order.”
Respectful comments and descriptions flowed from many Democrats also, including former President Barack Obama, who said McCain and he, despite their differences, shared a “fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.”
Joe Biden, vice president under Obama, observed that “the spirit that drove him (McCain) was never extinguished.”
A further tribute came from Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who said that he would push for renaming of the building that housed McCain’s Senate office after the Arizona senator.
McCain, when asked how he wanted to be remembered, said simply “that I made a major contribution to the defense of the nation.”
Only the uninformed might think otherwise.
McCain’s farewell message, read to the nation on Monday, was fitting testimony to all that he meant to Congress and the nation, despite not having served in America’s highest office.
Americans this week are being reminded of the many aspects of McCain’s life. During his service to the nation, he made some mistakes; he freely acknowledged that.
Most important, though, was how much he loved this nation and was willing to work unceasingly on its behalf — even amid the battle against cancer that ultimately claimed his life.
No more could have been asked of him.
ZUBIK’S SIN OF OMISSION IN DELAY REMOVING WUERL’S NAME, Aug. 25
Red spray paint covers Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s name at North Catholic High School.
His name also won’t grace the church where he first served.
The former Pittsburgh bishop — now archbishop of Washington — will no longer be lauded in stone for his service to the area, not after a grand jury report that notes Wuerl’s failing to protect children who were sexually victimized by priests on his watch.
It is a step in the right direction, and follows on similar paths broken in the Harrisburg diocese. The difference is that the Harrisburg bishop made that decision himself before the report was issued, stripping from his buildings the names of any bishops who participated in hiding the shameful crimes.
Why did Pittsburgh’s diocese wait? Why did Bishop David Zubik delay, not only until the report was released, but until both the high school’s board and Wuerl himself requested it?
“My concern is first, foremost and always for the students, that nothing overshadows their Catholic education,” Zubik said in a release.
But the church in general and bishops in particular must grasp the two things that made the whole sordid outrage of the grand jury report and its broader worldwide problem the tragedy that it is: darkness and delay.
Transparency casts no shadow. When you do what is right, you have nothing to hide.
And don’t wait to do what is right. The grand jury report proves nothing more than the adage of justice delayed being justice denied. For 1,000 incidents included in that report, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced only two prosecutions.
Those together amount to what the Catholic church calls a sin of omission versus commission. Where commission is the act of doing evil, omisison is the act of seeing what good could be done and choosing not to do it.
—The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
STATE SHOULD STUDY RED-LIGHT CAMERAS, Aug. 29
Like many states, Pennsylvania has authorized the use of automated camera systems at intersections to record and fine drivers who don’t stop for red lights.
A major new study of red-light camera use in Texas, however, indicates that the camera systems are better at generating fine revenue than they are at reducing accident numbers or improving public safety.
Economists Justin Gallagher and Paul J. Fisher examined every reported traffic crash in three large Texas cities over 12 years, several hundred thousand incidents. They found “no evidence that red-light cameras improve public safety. They don’t reduce the total number of vehicle accidents, the total number of individuals injured in accidents or the total number of incapacitating injuries that involve ambulance transport to a hospital.”
That substantiates the argument that red-light camera critics have made in Pennsylvania — that intersection safety isn’t improved by red-light cameras. They contend that the best way to improve intersection safety is through better road design and, especially, through longer times for the yellow light between green and red lights.
The study authors said the cameras do not improve safety even while reducing the number of red-light violations. In Virginia, they noted, an earlier study found that cameras reduced the total number of red-light incursions by 67 percent. But the Texas authors found that the reduced red-light running has a “contradictory effect” on safety. Many drivers who normally would go through an intersection on a yellow light slam on their brakes at camera-equipped intersections, they said, often resulting in rear-end collisions.
Their report focused primarily on 66 camera-equipped intersections in Houston. They were able to compare data for a period when cameras were in place, and after they were removed due to a referendum in which Houston voters banished them.
Some types of crashes in the intersections increased after the cameras were removed whereas other types decreased.
“This suggests,” Gallagher wrote, “that the program’s drawbacks canceled out its benefits.”
Given the Texas results, the Pennsylvania Legislature should commission a study to determine if red-light cameras improve public safety or just improve revenue collection, and they should adjust the law accordingly.
—Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice
STOP SELFISH ABUSE OF PRESIDENTIAL POWERS, Aug. 27
President Donald Trump’s cavalier misuse of his office’s many powers and privileges is troubling, self-serving and unseemly — perhaps nowhere more starkly than in his abuse of presidential pardons and, conversely, the ability to revoke individuals’ security clearances.
But these abuses have moved into the realm of the dangerous now that two of the president’s former close associates are facing prison terms.
The conviction of onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort last week for financial misdeeds, coupled with the near simultaneous guilty plea of Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to campaign violations and other crimes, raise the stakes in terms of the president’s ability to undermine our system of justice through self-serving pardons.
The submissive Republicans who lead Congress must rile themselves from their partisan stupor and take action to head off what could easily turn into a constitutional crisis.
That Trump cares not a whit for the traditional parameters of his office, including the casual parceling out of pardons, has long been established.
Unlike his predecessors, the president dispenses with Department of Justice consultations. The legal particulars of a case have no bearing on his decision-making.
Rather, pardons are seen as favors to friends, as was the astoundingly inappropriate legal pass given to former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Trump has also altered the course of justice at the behest of celebrity friends such as Sylvester Stallone (who secured a pardon for early 20th century boxer Jack Johnson) and Kim Kardashian (who lobbied successfully for clemency for a 63-year-old Tennessee woman).
And his pardon of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby seemed to have more to do with poking a stick in the eye of former FBI Director James Comey (who, as then-deputy attorney general, appointed the special counsel in Libby’s case) than with any righteous indignation regarding Libby himself.
But Trump took the wielding of presidential power to settle personal scores to new heights this month when he revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.
Trump justified the move by claiming Brennan had made “a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations — wild outbursts on the internet and on television — about this administration.”
That certainly describes someone’s recent behavior, but it’s not Brennan’s.
What the former CIA director is guilty of is being a fierce critic of the president. Brennan, for instance, dubbed Trump’s actions as “treasonous” following the president’s subservient performance at a Helsinki press conference last month with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
In case other Trump critics were slow to get the hint, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders named other former officials whose security clearances were being reconsidered. It was basically a hit list of Trump critics, including, as it did, Comey; Sally Yates, a former acting attorney general; Susan Rice, a former national security adviser; Andrew McCabe, a former deputy FBI director; and Peter Strzok, a former FBI agent.
There have even been reports that Trump has considered revoking the security clearance of former President Barrack Obama and other members of his administration because, according to the New York Post, “the White House believed former Obama administration officials were a threat to the president.”
This shouldn’t need to be said, but decisions about pardons and security clearances ought not to be made to settle scores, to discourage criticism or as favors to friends. With singular exceptions — President Bill Clinton’s pardon of fundraiser Marc Rich leaps to mind — they have been made to right historic wrongs (in the case of pardons) or protect the national interest (in the case of pulling security privileges).
As more serious criminal charges and convictions come ever closer to Trump and his White House, Congress must act quickly to constrain the president’s ability to abuse these powers to hinder ongoing investigations or subvert the rule of law.
TOO MANY PHILLY LANDLORDS SHUTTING THE DOOR ON FAIR HOUSING, Aug. 28
The lack of affordable housing is one of the city’s thorniest problems. In recent years, City Council established a land bank, debated an inclusionary zoning bill, and passed a construction tax that is waiting to be signed on Mayor Kenney’s desk that would provide funds for affordable housing. A new study suggests that as difficult as it is, many landlords are making the situation even worse.
A new Urban Institute study, published last week, tested whether landlords in five cities including Philadelphia are willing to accept recipients of the Housing Choice Voucher program, also known as “Section 8,” as tenants. Through the program, eligible families pay only 30 percent of their annual income on rent — the definition of “affordability” — and the federal government supplements the rest. Researchers called landlords to see whether they accept vouchers; two-thirds refused.
Housing vouchers allow low-income households to choose where to live - at least theoretically. It can be an effective way to ensure diversity in neighborhoods and allow low-income families to take advantage of higher-quality education options that richer neighborhoods provide.
However, the reality is another story: In cities all over the country, voucher holders find themselves clustered in poor areas, known as “voucher submarkets.” That’s the result, in part, of landlords discriminating against voucher holders, which is illegal under Philadelphia’s fair housing ordinance. The city’s law on discrimination in rental markets is enforced by the Philadelphia Fair Housing Commission. However, the process of enforcement is dependent on tenants complaining.
There are reasons for landlords to not want to rent to voucher holders. When renting to a voucher holder, landlords enter into contract also with the Philadelphia Housing Authority and subject themselves to housing code inspections.
In 2016, Philadelphia was one of the first localities in the country to release an assessment of its fair housing efforts as required by the Obama-era Affirmatively Further Fair Housing rule. Under the AFFH rule municipalities that don’t follow a fair housing plan would risk losing funding. The future of the rule is unclear. In his first month in office, HUD Secretary Ben Carson delayed the implementation of the rule beyond 2020.
The new study is an important reminder that regardless to implementation of federal rules, Philadelphia must be vigilant about enforcing fair housing law.
According to the Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative, in 84 percent of neighborhoods in Philadelphia, one racial group has an absolute majority. The gap in median income between the richest and poorest zip codes in the city is more than $80,000. These gaps also translate to a life expectancy gap of more than 20 years between neighborhoods. Multiple studies have shown that moving children from growing up in high poverty neighborhoods to neighborhoods with low poverty is a game changer — contributing to their lifelong health, education, and economic success.
Discriminating landlords should not have the power to prevent mobility in our city. Vigilance in enforcement of fair housing laws and ensuring that all units are up to code so that landlords won’t have an excuse to discriminate against voucher holders should be an integral part of any plan for affordable housing in the city.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer