Editorials from around Pennsylvania
Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
TRUMP IS A CHAMPION FOR STEEL, March 7
President Donald Trump’s affirmation last week that he will indeed attempt to place U.S. workers and industry first and that he does, in fact, believe in trade protection for American workers and their jobs, has caused near apoplexy within New York-Washington commentariat.
We are told that tariffs would set off a trade war we would lose; that tariffs will destroy, not protect, American jobs (150,000 would be lost!); and that tariffs will crash the current American economic boom.
All this is nonsense. Tariffs have been advocated for years by a wide spectrum of politicians, from Chuck Schumer, to Bernie Sanders, to Paul Ryan and fellow Republicans in their “Better Way” agenda. They have been often employed. Indeed, American pharmaceuticals are protected by U.S. trade law and agreements.
Tariffs have long been a part of the political equation, almost since the beginning of our nation. To pretend that they are suddenly beyond the pale and that only the economically ignorant would favor them is disingenuous in the extreme.
The proposition before us is not whether the U.S. should launch a trade war, but whether the U.S. ought to defend itself in trade as it would in the case of military aggression. Fair trade, and roughly parity in trade, is not a retreat from the global economy. It is an insistence that when another player engages in foul or unfair play, we will respond.
Why should Americans pay a much higher tariff on a British or German car than a Brit or German pays on Ford, for example? How is insistence on reciprocity an act of war?
In the case of steel, the Chinese government has been subsidizing the overproduction of steel, and then flooding the world, particularly the U.S. market, for years. It has been doing so for no other purpose than to put American steel makers — and, thus, workers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana — out of business. That is the act of aggression. The trade war did not start here.
Now, what kind of tariffs, and under what circumstances, and with what concessions they might be negotiated, is a different question. That is the question to be debated now.
But Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, speaks to this point with some clarity: First, it is important to act — to do something about other nations destroying our jobs. We can refine the policy as we move forward. Second, during the last year, while the president’s own aides tried to dissuade him from following his own instincts and promises, the Chinese have actually increased their “dumping” of steel. Sen. Bob Casey, the Pennsylvania Democrat, joined in with clear support for the tariffs: “I have repeatedly called on this and previous administrations to aggressively enforce our trade laws.”
We still do not know what the precise nature of the Trump tariffs will be. But this is no time to go wobbly. The president must stick to his guns on steel tariffs.
The president was elected to defend American workers. He ran on this issue. It would be ludicrous if he reneged on his promise to act decisively on trade. Mr. Trump understands that, if Paul Ryan does not.
The politics of Trump tariffs is irrefutable. So is the morality. For many, in eastern Ohio and in western Pennsylvania, the announcement by the president that he would fight to protect, and to help reinvent, the steel industry, was a vindication — a belated and bittersweet one, but a glorious one.
America, and the United States government, abandoned the steel industry 30-odd years ago. And what happened? Human devastation followed economic devastation — poverty, alcoholism, depression, even suicide. Lives were destroyed.
“Free trade” brought a choice for many working people — either a life of poverty and broken dreams or dislocation. That is a desperate choice to have to make. In both ways, lives were lost.
Will some targeted tariffs bring steel back to what it once was? They will not. Nor will they change the fundamental nature of the global economy. Fords are made in Mexico these days. Subarus are made in Indiana.
But if we change the incentive systems we already know, new Ford plants can be built in America and Jeeps can be sold in Europe.
The idea is to tip the incentives, just a little, toward American workers. That was the doctrine of Walter Reuther and I.W. Abel, long before it was articulated by Mr. Trump.
Last week, a president stood up for Pittsburgh, and for the Mon Valley, and Weirton, and Youngstown, and all the small American towns that felt the ripple effect of unfettered trade and abandonment of a primary American industry. It was Donald Trump’s finest hour.
GOOD SAMARITAN LAW GETS A LIFE-SAVING SHOT, March 4
Pennsylvania’s “Good Samaritan” law has been credited with saving the lives of people who overdose on drugs. It’s an important part of the effort to contain an opioid epidemic, along with equipping police and paramedics with naloxone, addiction counseling, and getting people into drug courts in lieu of prosecuting them for low-level drug offenses.
The law grants immunity from prosecution to victims of suspected overdoses and the people who call 911 on their behalf. Pennsylvania, New Jersey and 38 other states have recognized the urgency of getting people to act responsibly in these situations.
The statistics are staggering. The Centers for Disease Control reported 63,600 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in 2016, a 21 percent increase over the year before. That number covers all drugs, but prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl make up most of the cases, accounting for the surge in fatalities.
Pennsylvania had the fifth-highest rate of opioid-related deaths in 2016 — 38 deaths per 100,000 residents, a total of 4,844.
Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state. In Pennsylvania, drug users who dial 911 can expect immunity from minor drug charges, but not from more serious crimes, such as drug trafficking or firearms offenses. Nor can anyone use a “free card” to thwart an ongoing investigation, such as calling for medical help when police are at the door with a search warrant. Also, the person reporting an overdose must have a reasonable belief a person’s life is in danger.
Despite these balances, Pennsylvania’s law had a glaring deficiency. While it offered immunity to the suspected victim and the reporter, it didn’t specifically extend that protection when those are one and the same person — when someone calls 911 to self-report an overdose.
The flaw was exposed in a case in Dauphin County. Sheila Marie Lewis called 911, thinking she was overdosing, and was subsequently charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. She sought to have the charge dropped, seeking immunity under the Good Samaritan law, but was convicted in county court. The judge said the law does not apply to self-reporters, nor to people who are found not have needed immediate medical attention. She appealed to state Superior Court.
That interpretation violates the legislative intent of the law, a panel of three Superior Court judges ruled last week, in overturning the conviction. The opinion, written by Judge Jack Panella of Palmer Township, noted “the act is designed to save lives by sacrificing the enforcement of minor narcotics penalties” — including possession of drug paraphernalia.
“Furthermore, excluding self-reporters from the immunity granted by the act would lead to absurd results,” Panella wrote.
The judges also rejected the idea that immunity from minor drug charges disappears if it turns out that a person wasn’t in mortal danger — as long as there was a reasonable expectation of medical need.
This is just one beachhead in an addiction battle claiming thousands of American lives each year and devastating communities. But it needed to be addressed and clarified. If necessary, the Legislature should revisit its Good Samaritan law and incorporate the court’s findings.
REUNITING ERIE COUNTY CHANGES POLITICAL CALCULUS, March 7
While the outcome of the legal fight over the congressional redistricting imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court remains unclear, a new development illustrates why it matters to Erie and the region.
Word came Tuesday that Erie lawyer Ron DiNicola is a considering a run for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 3rd District, which would be the 16th District if the state Supreme Court map stands. DiNicola’s interest comes after the court issued that map, which would reunite Erie County in a single district.
Three other Democratic candidates — Chris Rieger, of Butler County, Brian Skibo, of Hermitage, and Robert Multari, of Farrell — previously announced their candidacies. Incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Kelly, of Butler, has announced he will seek a fifth term.
After the 2010 census, the Republican state legislative majorities and then-Gov. Tom Corbett developed what was widely considered to be among the most gerrymandered congressional maps in the nation. The mischief included splitting Erie County between the 3rd District and the 5th District, represented by Republican Rep. Glenn Thompson, of Centre County.
It worked as designed, diluting the Erie region’s political clout, discouraging competition and making it unlikely that candidates from Erie and environs, the biggest population center in either district, would have a real shot. The results were apparent in the 2016 3rd District race in which Kelly ran unopposed.
Republicans have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the new congressional map, imposed by the state Supreme Court after GOP legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf couldn’t agree on an alternative. A subsequent Cook Political Report analysis of the realigned map reclassified the 3rd District, including all of Erie County, from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.”
Likely Republican was an apt description of the Erie region’s congressional seat before the 2011 gerrymander. Except for a single term served by Erie Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper before Erie County was split, the seat had been controlled by Erie Republicans for decades.
But DiNicola’s interest suggests that he believes the new map creates enough of a window for a credible run from Erie. He’s been in that position before.
DiNicola challenged then-incumbent Republican Rep. Phil English in 1996. He lost by just two percentage points.
The brazenness of the 2011 GOP gerrymander and the state Supreme Court’s intervention, which came after Democrats swept three court seats and a majority in the 2015 election, combine to add to Pennsylvania’s political dysfunction. That’s a sadly familiar tale.
We’re not equipped to parse any constitutional issues now before the U.S. Supreme Court, but it’s been clear since 2011 that splitting Erie County was an injustice. As DiNicola’s interest illustrates, reuniting it makes it relevant again.
—Erie Times News
HEARINGS ON GUN BILLS A START, BUT LAWMAKERS ACTUALLY NEED TO PASS SOMETHING, March 7
Three weeks after a murderous rampage at a Florida high school, it once again appears that gun-control efforts on Capitol Hill have become bogged down while lawmakers wait for a clear sign from America’s most mercurial president on what he might - or might not - be willing to sign into law.
So it’s encouraging to learn that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, has scheduled a series of public hearings next month on the various gun-related bills now making the rounds of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
The hearings, which will run from April 9-12, primarily in the House Majority Caucus Room on the first floor of the state Capitol, are intended to “help (House) members and the public focus” on public safety, violence and firearms issues, Marsico said in a statement.
We don’t know if Mr. Marsico, who will call it a career at the end of 2018, has been paying attention, but it’s not the public’s focus he needs to worry about.
Discussions about how to tackle America’s murderous cycle of mass shootings has been the topic of dinner table, classroom and water cooler discussions for years, even before a lone gunman mowed down teachers and students in the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day.
In this case, America’s children are leading while adults can only follow.
Next week, students across the country will walk out of class to protest the lack of legislative action to end - or even prevent - more incidents such as those at Parkland. Students at Carlisle High School plan to hold their own rally Sunday on the square in that Cumberland County college town.
Students at Cumberland Valley High School, who spoke eloquently to PennLive last week about their own fears and frustration over how the adults who are charged with protecting them have failed to act, are similarly planning a rally of their own.
Like the GOP-majority Congress, Republicans who control the Pennsylvania House and Senate have been frustratingly unwilling to take up even the most modest of gun-control measures.
But Republicans had no problem pushing through an 11th hour bill that gave the NRA legal standing to sue municipalities over their local gun ordinances. That bill was declared unconstitutional. Undeterred, lawmakers moved to revive the measure last spring.
Granted, Republicans are only part of the problem. In a state with a proud tradition of hunting and outdoorsmanship, some blue dog Democrats have also been reluctant to throw their support to gun-control bills.
So it’s good to see Marsico acknowledging that “with the recent tragedies in Parkland, Orlando and Las Vegas, as well other school shootings that have occurred over the last year, it is clear we need to act to prevent these situations from happening in the future.”
While those incidents are the latest in a string of deadly shootings, the phenomenon is hardly new. And a battery of experts is already working on ways to prevent the next tragedy. It’s worthy of the committee’s attention.
In his statement, Marsico says he plans to hold a public comment period when the hearings conclude and then hold another as-yet-unscheduled hearing after that.
Marsico says he’s doing that as “a way to build bipartisan consensus for an effective legislative strategy to keep Pennsylvania students and residents safe.”
Pro-gun control Democrats say they’re looking forward to “robust, honest and fair discussion about the specific actions we will take to turn the tide against gun violence and deliver on our promise as elected officials to keep Pennsylvanians safe.”
This is all good to hear. But hearings, like thoughts and prayers, are meaningless without the votes and deeds to make such protections a reality. And this year, voters are watching.
We’d urge Mr. Marsico and his colleagues to keep that in mind as well.
WAGNER TALKS TOUGH, SAYS NOTHING, March 5
Scott Wagner’s confrontational style was on full display during a testy GOP gubernatorial debate in Harrisburg last week, but a “bold message” he delivered just a few days earlier was conspicuously absent.
During a Feb. 26 appearance at the Pennsylvania Press Club, the state senator from Spring Garden Township added his 2 cents to the national debate on gun control stoked by the latest school massacre:
He said he would introduce a bill mandating the death penalty for any school shooters who kill others.
“I have a very bold message for any coward who is deranged enough to consider attacking our children at school: when I am governor, these cowards will pay the ultimate price,” Wagner said.
Just to be clear, in case anyone missed his point:
“If someone kills one of our children, we will kill them. . No plea bargains, no life sentences and no mercy.”
Now, that certainly is bold and might even sound good to some people, coming on the heels of yet another mass shooting of school children.
Why didn’t anyone ever suggest that before?
Because it’s unconstitutional and has been for more than 40 years.
Robert Dunham, of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, said the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled it unconstitutional for any system to impose the death penalty without allowing the jury to consider any factors that might call for mercy.
Wagner might as well suggest lining up suspects in front of a firing squad even before the niceties of a trial.
Our justice system doesn’t work that way, for good reason, and we’re not going to throw due process out the window just because Wagner and his supporters might like the sound of it.
Suggesting a mandatory death sentence is just as helpful to the epidemic of mass shootings as Wagner’s famous earth-moving-closer-to-the-sun assertion is to the climate change crisis.
Neither is based in reality and both imply nothing can be done to prevent the problems.
It’s worth noting Wagner made his pledge as President Trump and other Republicans were finally showing a willingness to buck the National Rifle Association and at least consider commonsense proactive gun-control measures.
Those measures include raising the minimum age to buy weapons and banning accessories like so called “bump stocks” — which allow semi-automatic weapons to function like machine guns — and high-capacity magazines.
There also is a growing number of major corporations that decided not to wait on lawmakers, taking it upon themselves to stop selling weapons or to raise the minimum wage to purchase one.
Even more businesses are severing ties with the NRA, which has come to be seen as the main roadblock to stronger gun laws in America.
At the gubernatorial candidates debate Feb. 28 neither the senator nor health care systems consultant Paul Mango — dubbed “lying Paul” by Wagner — would pledge not to accept NRA campaign contributions.
Only attorney Laura Ellsworth had the courage to make that promise.
Yet none of the candidates advocated for stronger gun control.
While there wasn’t a peep from Wagner on his “bold” message during the debate (someone must have told him about the Constitution), he did repeat his pledge to put armed, trained officers in every school.
If Wagner is serious, he is suggesting creating a police force of about 3,000 officers, comparable to the Pennsylvania State Police’s 4,719 troopers.
And just how would he pay for such a massive undertaking?
Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for Wagner’s campaign, said his boss “believes that when he takes office and institutes zero-based budgeting, he will find the savings necessary.”
Since we’re familiar with some of the other things Wagner claims to believe, count us skeptical.
It seems to us he has nothing of substance to offer to this deadly serious debate.