The heartbreaking news on Friday night managed to be both shocking and numbingly familiar at the same time: a massive terrorist attack in the streets and against public venues in Paris, carried out by seven or eight vile thugs from the terrorist group ISIS, armed with automatic weapons and twisted ideas about God and humankind. Their tactics vary from New York to Madrid to London and elsewhere, and the casualty numbers rise or fall, but this Paris attack, with 129 dead and many more wounded, was especially barbaric. The 21st century rituals of terror, however, from the candlelight vigils to our leaders’ immediate but vague promises of revenge, always remain the same, painfully so.
In the initial fog of savagery, it’s hard to know what to say, other than to express our deep, deep sorrow for all those who lost loved ones, and our limitless love for, and solidarity with, the people of Paris. In the darkness of such a moment, we have to unleash the light of the billions who love humanity and who abhor the use of violence, the forces that affirm life.
The scenes that were disrupted on Friday by these thugs – watching a rock concert, entering a big soccer game or just dining out in an ethnic restaurant – could have been happening here in Philadelphia or Bangkok or Peoria. It’s why we say Nous Sommes Tous Les Parisiens – “today we are all Parisians,” bonded in the universal blood of hope and fear.
As noted above, it’s hard to know what else to say. But that didn’t stop many from spouting off before the ambulances could even cart away the dead – using the Paris attacks to justify their own narrow political beliefs or specific cause. Frank Bruni had an excellent analysis in the New York Times this weekend:
“On Saturday morning I read that Paris was going to be good for Republicans. I read that Paris was going to be good for Democrats. I felt sick. For a few hours, even a few days, I’d like to focus on the pain of Parisians and how that magnificent city reclaims any sense of order, any semblance of safety. I’d like not to wonder if Hillary Clinton’s odds of election just ticked upward or downward or if Donald Trump’s chest-thumping bluster suddenly became more seductive. I’d like not to be told, fewer than 18 hours after the shots rang out, how they demonstrate that Americans must crack down on illegal immigration to our own country. I read that and was galled, and not because of my feelings about immigration, but because of my feelings about the automatic, indiscriminate politicization of tragedy.”
I can only add to that my concern that knee-jerk, politically expedient reactions to the attack will be used to justify harsh measures restricting the movement of the migrants fleeing the ongoing – and all too routine – bloodshed in Syria. These poorly thought-out proposals to clamp down on these refugees risks a humanitarian crisis, a new tragedy on top of all the other tragedies. Let us remember that the vast majority of refugees are fleeing the barbarism of ISIS (or from the also diabolical Assad regime).
Indeed, elsewhere in today’s paper I’ve written about a 21-year-old Syrian who escaped to Philadelphia and is now seeking asylum from the United States; the son of a doctor and an academic from an ethnically Christian family, he made it across the border probably just days, if not hours, before he was rounded up by Assad’s goons. This is the kind of person who we’re now going to take our revenge against? I hope not.
Yesterday, as many as 13 American governors – the list continued to grow as I wrote this – gave into repulsive political expediency and encouraged small-minded xenophobia by declaring that their states, from Texas to New Hampshire, would not accept Syrian refugees. Not only are these announcements legally meaningless – the arrival of refugees is controlled by the federal government and not the states – but feckless politicians like Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson or New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan are doing exactly what the terrorists want them to do.
“What seems almost certain is that the Islamic State wants you to equate refugees with terrorists”’ wrote Adam Taylor on the Washington Post website. “In turn, it wants refugees to equate the West with prejudice against Muslims and foreigners.”
Are we going to do the terrorists’ bidding again? Will we ever learn? Pennsylvania’s Gov. Wolf, who bucked the trend and announced that the Keystone State would continue to accept refugees, deserves an enormous amount of credit.
Ridding the world of the cancer that is ISIS is a lot like ridding the world of actual cancer – it will require precision, remarkable intelligence and probably patience. And also like real cancer, we don’t have the cure, not yet. So be extremely wary of anyone who tells you he or she has all the answers. Stopping a threat like ISIS while retaining our own humanity is the challenge of the 21st century.
_ The Philadelphia Daily News
LAST CALL ON LIQUOR: THIS BUDGET MUST END GOVERNMENT’S MONOPOLY, Nov. 18
It’s hard to tell how much progress has been made behind closed doors in the nine days since Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican leaders announced their agreement on a budget framework. This seems certain, though: They have a long way to go before completing any deal.
For one thing, the Senate on Tuesday postponed a vote on a different proposal, legislation that would replace $14 billion in school property taxes with money collected from higher state sales and income taxes. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, a Republican, said it was so staff could verify that the bill would generate enough revenue to eliminate the school tax.
That plan would raise the personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 4.34 percent, raise the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and expand the list of goods and services subject to the sales tax. A broad-based coalition, PennCOST, warned Tuesday that broadening the tax base would make the tax more regressive and hurt the state’s economy. It could also throttle the industries suddenly hit by the tax. The new items to be taxed would include: child care, nursing home services, cable TV service, certain legal work, nonprescription medicine, caskets, personal hygiene products and, yes, even newspapers.
Amid all the budget uncertainty, a positive development occurred Monday. A House committee passed, along party lines, a liquor privatization bill. While similar to the plan by House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, that was vetoed by Mr. Wolf earlier this year, the bill should not be seen as a final proposal but as a vehicle for a bipartisan agreement. Rep. Chris Ross, R-Chester, who chairs the Liquor Control Committee, said, “We are really far closer to a settlement on this subject than we have been in the past.”
That’s good news for a reform that has eluded Pennsylvania since the end of Prohibition. Mr. Wolf and the Legislature must get this one right, along with overhauling the public pension system, if they expect to pass a meaningful budget. Government has no role in selling prescription drugs, tobacco or firearms. There is no reason for it to be in the liquor business either.
_ The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
FIREARMS CHECKS WORK IN PA, Nov. 17
A man walks into a sporting goods store to buy a gun.
No, it’s not the opening line of a joke. It’s a true story. And it happens thousands of times a day in Pennsylvania.
Only this time, the man trying to buy a gun from the Ebensburg Fishing and Hunting store lied about his criminal record.
So, too, did a customer who attempted to purchase a firearm at Sporting Goods Discounters in Richland Township.
James Michael McIntyre of Altoona was the alleged buyer in July at the Ebensburg location.
According to state police, McIntyre did not disclose on his Pennsylvania Instant Check Systems that he had been convicted in 1995 for a burglary in Blair County and receiving stolen property in Cambria County.
Robert A. Daniels of the Coopersdale Homes in Johns-town attempted to purchase a gun in August from Sporting Goods Discounters in Richland Township.
He, also, was untruthful on his firearm application, failing to admit to convictions in 1994 and 1995 of receiving stolen property, a criminal complaint reads.
Lying to law enforcement authorities on a firearms application is a felony offense in Pennsylvania.
And compounding both men’s problems is that they will be charged with making false statements and disorderly conduct.
Gun laws in the Keystone State work. In 1998, the instant check system was implemented. It provides background information on anyone attempting to acquire a firearm. In 60 percent of the instances, approval of qualified buyers is granted within minutes.
According to a 2012 study by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Pennsylvania is the 10th strictest state in the country regarding tough gun laws. California tops the nation as the strictest state when it comes to purchasing a firearm.
The cooperation between law enforcement agencies and the sharing of information helps make the system work.
The background checks are serving Pennsylvania.
_ The (Johnstown) Tribune Democrat
YOU ARE TO BLAME FOR PA CORRUPTION, Nov. 16
People who were surprised to learn that Pennsylvania got an F for government integrity in a recent national report card by the Center for Public Integrity are like clueless parents whose kids play hooky half the year.
They’re just not paying attention. They are bad PArents to their state government.
Think about it.
Two former state House speakers went to jail as a result of the Bonusgate probe a few years ago (along with an embarrassing bevy of other state lawmakers and officials, including Rep. Stephen Stetler of York). Those two former House speakers even shared a cell for a while.
A former state Supreme Court justice was on House arrest for using state resources to campaign. Another resigned after questionable (to put it mildly) content was found in his email. Yet another high court justice is under fire for embarrassing email.
We’ve had corruption scandals at the Turnpike Commission and the Liquor Control Board.
We have an attorney general facing criminal charges – and her law license has been suspended.
We could go on.
But what’s the point? Pennsylvania citizens apparently just don’t care that they have a corruption-soaked state government. If they did, they would do something about it. They would act like PArents and hold their “public servants” accountable.
Well, they could demand systemic reforms that at least make it a little harder for officials to cheat the system for their own benefit.
When he took office, Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a gift ban on members of his administration. No freebies. No lunches or dinners. No Steelers tickets. No junkets to the tropics.
That’s good. But it’s not law. When Mr. Wolf is gone, so might be this good government policy. It’s also not applicable to the General Assembly. It should be law for all elected and appointed officials.
Another no-duh reform: Campaign finance limits and enhanced transPArency on lobbying.
Pennsylvania has no limits on donations. Lobbying reporting rules are a joke.
Our state lawmakers simply don’t hold themselves to very high standards of integrity. Think about this: In a recent USA Today story, pundit Terry Madonna noted that some 40 members or top aides of our Legislature have been found guilty or pleaded guilty to corruption charges over the last four decades. “Not one has ever been censured or reprimanded by an ethics committee of their chamber,” Mr. Madonna said.
Who’s to blame?
Well, lawmakers, of course. But, ultimately, you are to blame.
You are to blame if you don’t know what’s going on. You are to blame if you don’t demand that your elected representatives pass more stringent ethics laws – and that they police their own ranks with active ethics committees.
If you don’t demand such action, it will never happen.
Our area lawmakers are generally a frugal and ethical bunch, but they have not done enough to impose accountability upon their colleagues. They talk a good ethics game, but they don’t back it up with action.
Example: In a recent story, state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon and parts of northern York County, said that as chairman of the State Government Committee he plans to bring up five bills that deal with banning gifts.
But he cautioned that such reforms can’t be rushed.
Can’t be rushed? Is he kidding? Has he been playing hooky? We’ve been talking about such common-sense reforms for decades.
And we’ll still be talking about them four decades from now unless you – yes, YOU – wake up, assume your PArental responsibility and demand immediate action from your elected officials.
_ The York Daily Record