Editorials from around Pennsylvania

  • Editorial
  • 20/04/2017
Britain's Prince Harry did himself a world of good by seeking professional help for psychological problems stemming from the 1997 death of his mother, Princess Diana. He did the world a favor by talking publicly about his struggles a step that may help people on both sides of the Atlantic come to a better understanding of mental illness and encourage those who need help to seek it.

Harry told his story Sunday in a podcast on the website of The Telegraph, Britain's leading broadsheet. In an interview lasting nearly 30 minutes, he spoke of the rage he felt for years after his mother's tragic death in a crash in a Paris traffic tunnel and his struggle to understand his feelings. "I just didn't know what was wrong with me," he said.

The prince was 12 at the time of his mother's death, which came about a year after Diana's ugly divorce from Prince Charles. It was followed by years of speculation about whether the fatal crash which also killed her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul was anything more sinister than an accident.

Harry said he tried to cope by "shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years." Despite the "total chaos" he sometimes felt and his fear of imminent breakdowns, he said, "I've spent most of my life saying I'm fine."

When he finally did start talking about his mother, the 32-year-old said, "all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront." With the encouragement of his brother, Prince William, he sought professional help about four years ago.

Harry was the first guest on a 10-episode podcast, "Mad World," that will explore mental illness through the eyes of prominent people. The interviewer, Telegraph correspondent Bryony Gordon, has struggled with mental illness herself and wants listeners to know that it's common.

The interview showed a different side of a royal with a party-boy reputation. If Harry can struggle with mental illness, everyone else can, too. There is no shame in seeking treatment, and relatives should do as William did in encouraging a loved one to seek professional help.

Last year, Harry, William and Williams' wife, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, founded Heads Together, a charity dedicated to addressing the stigma of mental illness, and Harry hinted at his troubles. But his interview was a remarkable step for a member of a family known for stoicism.

Then again, Diana spent her life in the trenches, leveraging her celebrity for various causes, and she was candid about her own bulimia, depression and alienation from Charles' family. Harry may be very much his mother's son.

FREE THOUGHT ON CAMPUS MEANS FREE THOUGHT FOR ALL NO MATTER HOW OBJECTIONABLE, April 17

It's not often we get to look askance at both the left and right for the same reason: Passions are being used as an excuse to ignore free speech and conscience.

The latest flash points have erupted at two Pennsylvania universities and there is plenty of shame to go around in the reaction to those incidents.

Let's start with students at Duquesne University. Last week, the University denied a student-led request to stop an upcoming opening of a Chick-fil-A in the campus food court.

Student "leaders" state unequivocally that Chick-fil-A's presence in the food court prevents it from being a "safe place" for LGBT students. One member of the Student Senate criticized the business for having a "questionable history on civil rights and human rights."

It is true that Chick-fil-A was established and is still run by the Cathy family. Chick-fil-A's statement of purpose includes "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us." ...

But a danger? Short of cows parachuting out of their TV commercials and onto the quad, we don't see it. There is no record of Chick-fil-A discriminating as a matter of policy.

There is a foundation that the Cathys have started that supports married couples.

Straight, married couples. True enough. But that's personal, not business.

We support the idea of voting with one's wallet: If you don't care for what the ownership family stands for, don't eat there. What we don't support is excluding them from the marketplace because you don't like how they think or worship.

In this case, the Duquesne students need to be reminded that the last place we subjugate freedom of thought, speech and expression to personal validation is a college campus.

Donald Trump Jr. and local radio host Ken Matthews, among others, have taken to mocking the college crowd in this and other instances as "snowflakes." We will be impressed should they refer to Pennsylvania GOP senators Joe Scarnati, John Rafferty and Ryan Aument as "Senator Safe Space" for a similar reason.

All three have recently called upon Drexel University to ignore principles of tenure and free speech and fire professor George Ciccariello-Maher for a tweet stating that he wanted to "vomit or yell about Mosul" when he saw a passenger give up a first-class airline seat to a uniformed member of the military.

We completely disagree with the sentiment to the point of outrage.

The only thing the professor gets right is that an individual in uniform is indeed a symbol of all of those who serve. It is doubtful that the solider planned the strategy in Mosul or helped former President Bush declare war there, and there is no reason to believe that a soldier in uniform is less than honorable simply by wearing it.

Being overtly rude to soldiers is so 1974. And like mullets and leisure suits, it should be part of the past. There is no humor in a holiday-themed tweet regarding white genocide, either.

Professor Ciccariello-Maher is boorish, ungrateful and the worst thing a college professor of global history can be: emotionally immature and intellectually lazy.

We are better than that.

We are also better than calling for the termination of a professor because of what he thinks.

Yes, we understand the exasperation of Scarnati, Rafferty and especially Aument, who we thank for his service in Iraq, where he was awarded a bronze star. We respect their outrage, but not the proposed removal of "the nutty professor."

Protection of speech, especially of unpopular speech, exists for a reason. Government officials calling for the loss a job over speech is no better than college kids excluding a business over the owner's religion.

A college campus is the last place to forget that.

TRUSTEE'S EMAIL GOES TO HEART OF PENN STATE UNIVERSITY'S SANDUSKY PROBLEM, April 13

Like far too many who have wasted both energy and breath defending Penn State's indefensible fumbling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, Lord has either lost perspective or lacked it from the start.

Lord, a Penn State trustee, recently vented his discontent at a guilty verdict delivered in March to dismissed university President Graham Spanier, whom a jury convicted on one count of child endangerment for his part in punting the pre-scandal Sandusky complaints.

"Running out of sympathy for 35 yr old, so-called victims with 7 digit net worth," Lord emailed The Chronicle of Higher Education. "Do not understand why they were so prominent in trial. As you learned, Graham Spanier never knew Sandusky abused anyone."

As you'd suspect, Lord's missive mortified Penn State board Chairman Ira M. Lubert, who scurried from Lord's words like a fox from a hound.

"Al Lord's comments are personal and do not represent the opinions of the board or the university," Lubert wrote in a statement to The Chronicle.

"The sentiments of the board and university leadership were expressed in the very first line of the statement released by Penn State: First and foremost, our thoughts remain with the victims of Jerry Sandusky."

The board's two highest-ranking members apparently as aware as we are of the difficulty in parsing the board's opinion from that of one of its members have since pushed for Lord to leave. He has refused.

A former chief executive of student loan company Sallie Mae, Lord tried, sort of, to say he was sorry in a statement to Penn State's Daily Collegian.

"I apologize for any pain the comment may have caused actual victims," Lord wrote.

He continued: "Though quoted accurately it was too flippant and caustic; the comment conflates many deeply held sentiments in a sentence too short to reflect accurately my views about victims in this case. This quote was directed specifically at 'so-called victims.' It was certainly not intended to offend real victims."

Real victims? Are those who suffered Sandusky's atrocities but who now have a "7 digit net worth" due to settlements to help lessen a lifetime of anguish no longer real victims? Who, then, are the real victims? And who is Lord, so detached from such people's pain in so many ways, to discern the answer?

The only thing that is so-called here is Lord's apology, a woeful walk-back of a woeful remark.

The entire episode was telling. It betrayed a skewed sentiment too prevalent in the Penn State-Sandusky saga: that the university, its football program and the once-holy name of Joe Paterno were somehow also "real," if accidental, victims.

They were not.

While it's true Penn State's students and staff may have been unfairly stigmatized, lumped together with the scandal's scurrilous core of main players, it's equally and unequivocally true that the university was institutionally culpable due to its administration's cover-ups and inactions.

The courts have since confirmed it. Over, and over, and with Spanier's conviction over again.

Lord's cluelessness is all too representative of the roots of this tragic tale, and of the corrupted priorities it has come to symbolize.

Fewer people died in Pennsylvania traffic crashes in 2016 than in any year since record-keeping began in 1928. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, 1,088 fatal crashes claimed 1,188 lives last year, down from 1,200 deaths in 1,102 fatal crashes in 2015.

There are many reasons for the improvement, from less driving under the influence to improving vehicle and highway safety engineering.

PennDOT itself deserves a share of the credit for its consistent investment in greater safety through major and minor projects, ranging from reconstructed intersections to simple signage and roadway improvements.

The degree to which low-cost improvements can make a difference is remarkable. For example, the number of deaths in head-on crashes has declined by 47 percent since 2000, at least partly because PennDOT has installed more than 5,000 miles of center-line rumble strips to help prevent vehicle crossovers. Likewise, the agency has installed about 206 miles of post-and-cable barriers in medians to stop crossovers.

Those and other low-cost measures, such as enhanced signage warning of curves and slippery pavement, all add up to greater safety. PennDOT spends about $10 million each year on those improvements.

Drivers, of course, remain the wild card. A texting driver on even the safest road exponentially increases the chances for a crash. And driver and pedestrian distraction by electronic devices is believed to be a principal cause in an increase in pedestrian deaths, to 172 in 2016 from 153 in 2015.

To maintain the safety momentum, the state Legislature should add Pennsylvania to the ranks of surrounding states that ban drivers' use of hand-held devices.

A new program in Pennsylvania called Achieving a Better Life Experience or PA ABLE allows residents with disabilities to save up to $14,000 a year without losing government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance or Medicaid. They can then use the money for qualified expenses, including education, housing and transportation.

Gridlock and partisan bickering get the lion's share of attention these days, so when both major political parties work to produce common-sense legislation, that should be recognized and lauded.

The PA ABLE Act designed to support greater independence for people with disabilities is one such law.

"It is a major game-changer," Maureen Westcott, executive director of The Arc of Lancaster County, a nonprofit that advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, told LNP Newspapers.

In the past, any savings in excess of $2,000 would jeopardize benefits for people like her daughter, who has an intellectual disability, Westcott said.

With the new program, that limit is now $14,000 annually.

Westcott told LNP that her 31-year-old daughter, Elise, will be able to use her account to pay for assistive technologies, including the iPhone she relies on for text-to-speech capabilities and which was not covered by her government benefits.

Westcott said she previously helped her daughter with those kinds of expenses, allowing her to pay her back over time. "But what about when I'm not here to do that?"

With PA ABLE, Westcott has one fewer worry.

In addition to housing, education, transportation and assistive technology expenses, PA ABLE accounts cover employment support, health and wellness costs, and a miscellaneous category that can include home modifications, legal fees and funeral expenses.

The PA ABLE Act comes on the heels of Congress' authorizing states to create ABLE programs; Ohio, Nebraska, Tennessee and Florida were the first four states to do so.

The federal law, the Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support and was the first major piece of legislation concerning disability since the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Modeled after college savings accounts, PA ABLE accounts feature seven savings and investment choices. Six are asset-allocation options with varying blends of stocks, bonds and cash; the seventh is a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.-insured interest-bearing checking account with a debit card.

Earnings grow tax free, and withdrawals are tax free, too. The entire account is exempt from Pennsylvania inheritance tax as well.

To qualify, the owner of the account must have had a disability before age 26.

The program is the kind of smart, practical initiative that government ought to deliver, and we hope it will be well-administered by the state Treasury Department.

"It was incredibly empowering to be a part of this," Melissa Hawkins, a member of the advisory committee that developed PA ABLE, said in an email message to LNP.

Hawkins, who is deaf and serves as executive director of the Disability Empowerment Center in Lancaster, said the center's clients have a lot of questions about the program and want to make sure they don't jeopardize what they already receive.

"It's a tough system to navigate to even get assistance for people with disabilities," she wrote. "The fear of losing these services could be enough to prevent those who would benefit from an account to open one.

"Therefore, we need to really educate and reassure the community and our consumers this is a good and positive thing."

And the more people who know about this program the better, because PA ABLE is a major step forward for persons with disabilities.
  
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