Do your part to help make ’19 positive, Jan. 1
On the subject of New Year’s resolutions, central Pennsylvania is like anywhere else in America. Many people will make resolutions — some of them frivolous, but some very meaningful.
Some of those resolutions will fall by the wayside quickly, others will remain intact for several months before being abandoned, while only a few, by comparison, still will be untarnished 365 days from today.
But like anywhere else, people here can dream — dream about a year unmarked by sadness, tragedy and anxiety about the future. People here can take steps to make 2019 better than 2018, by trying to be a leader on things that are right, not only for themselves but for others in their family, relationships and community.
Never underestimate how far acts of kindness can go toward making one’s life better, as well as a stronger barometer for hope.
In Blair County there’s much about which to be optimistic for the year ahead — and beyond.
The county’s economy is strong, and there are good people throughout Blair working to make it better, including many young adults who already have started to make their mark — who already have begun making what eventually will be a deep positive imprint, ensuring that the county will continue moving in the right direction.
It’s to be hoped that many, in whatever part of this county’s life they’re involved, will go on to achieve successes like two longtime Altoona retail giants, the late Donald Brett and Joel Cohen, in keeping Downtown Altoona alive and welcoming to people from near and far.
Brett, who died April 28 at age 76, owned and operated the women’s clothing retailer Meyer Jonasson, for many years a pillar of the downtown. Cohen, who died Dec. 4, operated the popular downtown Young Men’s Shop, which exuded confidence in the city business district even as other businesses were moving to suburban shopping areas.
It can be said that the positive spirit always exhibited by Brett and Cohen probably is helping to guide the downtown rebirth that is destined to make additional inroads during the 12 months ahead.
Meanwhile, Blair County’s future is deeply rooted in this county’s strong educational system that continues to prepare young people for the challenges ahead in this changing world.
Come spring, a new crop of future leaders will emerge with high energy and lofty goals.
Routine recommendations for the new year have a place, such as: Drive safely, work to better your community rather than undermine it, base your daily life on kindness to others rather than mean-spiritedness, be a source of positive guidance rather than the opposite, work hard, avoid dangerous temptations such as drugs.
Meanwhile, living and emphasizing courtesy, conscience and responsibility will go far in ensuring a positive year to remember decades from now.
Back in June, when Janet Mowery, owner of the Small Engine Shop along Juniata Gap Road, was being interviewed by Mirror reporter Walt Frank in connection with Small Engine’s 50th anniversary in business, Mowery attributed the company’s success and longevity to the main emphasis of her late father, who started the business: “Put our customers first.”
To respect and help others while otherwise trying to live a good, productive life might be the best resolution anyone can make this New Year’s.
Dioceses’ answers hard to believe, Jan. 1
When Greensburg Bishop Edward Malesic and an assortment of aides, including two monsignors and a lawyer, came to the Tribune-Review in November, there was surprise that anyone would think the various Pennsylvania dioceses had been coordinating their responses to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
Oh, no, they said. There was no coordinaton. There was no playbook for how the various bishops should respond. They were not making sure they were all on the same page — exactly the kind of thing that would make it easy to hide 70 years or so of abuse with nondisclosure agreements and “secret archives.”
But on that same day, all of the dioceses released information within an hour or so about a victim conpensation fund.
Now it is happening again as seven of the eight dioceses — including Pittsburgh and Greensburg — and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have announced they are all using the same Washington-based firm to handle the payouts to victims .
Let’s be fair. Kenneth Feinberg’s firm is the gold standard of these kind of funds, with a track record in both how long the work has been done and the recognizable atrocities that have been handled. They sorted through the victims of Sept. 11, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Boston Marathon bombing and, closer to home, Penn State’s payouts in the wake of Jerry Sandusky’s child sex trial.
This is not the kind of firm you find in the phone book next to someone advertising an affordable uncontested divorce.
But as people continue to struggle with the bishops’ believability, it is hard to reconcile these actions, even when understandable, with diocesan statements.
To make it clear, people just want to be told the truth, even if it doesn’t sound great. But they could try.
“Yes, we talk to each other,” they could say. “Yes, we are horrified by what happened, and we all just want to try and do what is right, and sometimes that means we have to talk to each other, and we have tried to plan a solution that makes sense. Yes, we know that sounds bad, and we are sorry, but we just want to be honest.”
Maybe it would be believed. Maybe it wouldn’t. It couldn’t sound less believable than the answers so far, though.
The worst of 2018? Men behaving badly, Dec. 31
Most years, “best and worst” roundups follow a certain pattern. They identify unconnected events on both sides of the ledger — volcanoes and shark attacks!; stock market rallies and Gritty memes!
What’s striking about 2018 is that despite devastating natural disasters (wildfires, volcanoes, tsunamis) all the truly “worst” moments of the year have a single thing in common.
Those moments include: another tragic mass shooting, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. And in a Pittsburgh synagogue. And in a Thousand Oaks, Calif., bar. And in countless locations around the country.
The worst of 2018 includes a horrifying priest abuse grand jury report released by Attorney General Josh Shapiro that detailed accounts of 300 predator priests accused of abusing at least 1,000 Pennsylvania victims.
The worst also includes further accounts of sexual assault and/or harassment: Entertainer Bill Cosby was found guilty of sexual assault; in September, he was sentenced to jail. CBS chief Les Moonves lost his job, and his severance package, amid allegations of abuse and harassment.
And the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings included gripping testimony from a woman who claimed he sexually assaulted her, prompting not just déjà vu to the Clarence Thomas hearings, but a window into the mind of beer-loving bros and the senators who love them.
So what’s the common thread in all these events?
They all center on men behaving badly.
Of course, bad behavior isn’t limited to men. For example, four of the six state lawmakers convicted of bribery in recent years were women. Kate McClure was complicit in a plot to scam GoFundMe donors in the name of Johnny Bobbitt. Still, women generally don’t wreak the kind of lasting and widespread damage — or death — that men do, and did last year.
As we look back on 2018, we have to wonder: What is wrong with men?
The armchair diagnosis is that the assumed dominance of (mostly white) men in society has been threatened like never before: Their earning power, their political power, their very value is being threatened. The problem is they still have plenty of power to hurt and damage.
It’s up to men themselves to recognize that the systems they inhabit — government, military, society itself — don’t work anymore. They don’t work for women, they don’t work for people of color, they don’t work for children. And frankly, the systems don’t work for men, either.
A mass shooter is the very definition of someone who doesn’t fit. Priests abusing the children left in their spiritual care don’t fit into the system built around them. Executives assaulting underlings don’t fit either.
While it’s true that the system still favors men — no matter how badly they behave — , all you have to do is watch the tortured sighing and angry Brett Kavanaugh as a Senate panel had the temerity to question him. He got confirmed, but he had to work for it. The next time, someone like him might not succeed.
It’s up to men to acknowledge something is very wrong and recognize the solution is not to destroy women or children or other men, but to question and dismantle the systems into which they no longer fit.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
A ‘to do’ list for PA Legislature in 2019, Dec. 28
The “to-do” list for the Pennsylvania Legislature in the coming session is long and already contentious. Here’s our compilation of law-making priorities for the New Year.
First, a preamble: Unless the Republican leadership in the House and Senate loosens up the rules for debate and votes at the committee and floor levels — opening the process to the rank and file in both parties — the law-making process will continue to be commandeered by a cabal of leaders and committee chairs. The current system allows them to suppress hearings, debate and analysis, and bring preferred bills to the floor at the last minute, robbing members of the time needed to read and absorb them.
Without rules changes, other attempts at reform will be knee-capped. We’ll be treated to another four years of stalemates between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and his GOP adversaries on the big issues.
1. Redistricting reform. This is at the top because, like rules changes, it speaks to the manipulation of the democratic process by the party in power. Democrats indulge in it too, when given the chance, but majority Republicans perfected the art of gerrymandering in the last decade. This year the Legislature missed the deadline to amend the state Constitution in time for the 2021 remapping, but there’s still a pressing need to switch to a less partisan citizens commission.
2. Pension reform would go a long way toward another goal — getting the state budget on a more solid, year-to-year footing without resorting to debt, gimmicks and vice taxes. The unwieldy future demands of state and municipal pension funds threaten to make huge tax demands on every Pennsylvanian.
3. Continuing the fight against opioid abuse. Wolf has made a promising start. Addiction treatment, education and prevention programs, attacking the sources of supply. Pennsylvania led the nation on overdose deaths in 2017. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charity recently donated $10 million to help the state reduce opioid deaths.
4. Education funding reform and property tax reform go hand-in-hand. Pennsylvania’s funding of school districts creates wide disparities in programs and opportunity. Previous attempts to lessen the school tax burden on low-income homeowners have been half-hearted and ineffectual.
5. Prison and criminal justice reform, building upon newly enacted federal legislation, would put common sense back into sentencing laws and reduce the taxpayer bill for incarceration.
6. Electronic voting machines should be upgraded to ensure the 2020 election will be hack-proof. Make voter registration and early voting easier.
7. Let’s shrink the size of the Legislature and its support staff. Two hundred and three House members? Unfortunately, a bill to cut that number to 151 was thwarted in September by a bipartisan group in the House that insisted on an amendment to shrink the 50-member Senate. The poison pill is alive and well.
8. Infrastructure. Pennsylvania’s roads, bridges and public transit systems were bolstered by successive fuel tax hikes approved by former Gov. Tom Corbett and the GOP-led Legislature. But one look around the Lehigh Valley tells you that commercial, housing and traffic growth is constantly raising the stakes.
9. Campaign finance. The system is still broken, with no limits on contributions and easy evasion of disclosure of the sources of big special-interest money.
That’s it. If you’re wondering why privatization of state liquor stores didn’t make the cut, well, Pennsylvanians seem to be mollified by the “freedom” to buy beer and wine at supermarkets and convenience stores. And it makes the dysfunction in Harrisburg a bit easier to swallow.
Trump should rescind tariffs, Jan. 2
Despite President Trump’s frequent assertions that China is paying billions of dollars in tariffs to the United States, the truth is that his tariffs on foreign products are taxes on U.S. consumers. And the retaliatory tariffs imposed on U.S. goods by China and other countries are taxes on their consumers, who generally are less capable of paying them.
The results are telling. According to the pro-trade group the Trade Partnership, which analyzed U.S. tariff data, foreign imported goods subject to U.S. tariffs declined by just 0.6 percent in October, while U.S. exports subject to foreign tariffs decreased by 37 percent.
Under Section 301 tariffs, covering technology transfers and intellectual property such as software, Chinese imports subject to those levies increased by 2 percent in October while U.S. exports subject to China’s retaliatory tariffs decreased by 42 percent.
Meanwhile, U.S. tariffs on imported stell and aluminum have cost U.S. companies at least $2.3 billion in 2018.
In Pennsylvania, businesses paid $95 million in new tariffs in October alone, nearly 10 times what they paid in October 2017. And, exports of Pennsylvania-made goods subject to retaliatory tariffs declined by 20 percent in October.
Trump claimed that the tariffs would shrink the overall trade deficit, which had grown by 1.7 percent through October as foreign imports increased and U.S. exports declined.
The problem is that Trump views tariffs as a strategy unto themselves rather than aspect of a comprehensive trade strategy, which he has not proposed. He should rescind the tariffs, or Congress should do it for him.
—Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice