Free speech, hate speech and IUP

Chalk Walk, IUP Oak Grove, May 3, 2018. Photo by David Loomis.

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – A month after the August 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., IUP’s social-equity office invited faculty members to propose public discussions about issues related to the deadly confrontation near the U.Va. campus. There was a local angle, too.

On Sept. 4, soon after the fall semester started, a racist Snapchat photo sent by an IUP student – the second in as many years —  had disrupted the campus again.

I volunteered to lead a discussion group about the local angle. The university accepted my pitch. I also planned to add First Amendment elements of free speech, free press, free assembly and the rest to my talking points.

On a Tuesday evening in early November, the classroom assigned for my discussion overflowed. A dean scouted a larger room elsewhere in the building. The crowd migrated. I began.

I recited lecture notes from a media law and ethics course I taught. I described U.S. Supreme Court rulings that, beginning 100 years ago today, built the jurisprudence of free speech and free press in America.

The free-speech rulings were capped in 1969 in a case involving a Ku Klux Klan leader charged under Ohio law with exhorting a mob to violence against Jews, blacks and the government during a cross-burning. The mob took no action.

In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court  established the “imminent lawless action” test for inflammatory speech: Government – including IUP, a public university supported by government funds — cannot punish such speech unless it poses a “true threat” – speech that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

 

IT’S BASIC FACT in First Amendment law. But some students in my audience weren’t buying it.

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More plastics and petrochemicals for regional progress

The Pennsylvania Shell ethylene cracker plant under construction in Beaver County. Pittsburgh Post-Ga­zette photo.

An opinion

By Byron G. Stauffer Jr.

(and by eight other regional economic-development administrators)

INDIANA — Last week, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto made a very public statement that he opposes any further development of the region’s petrochemical industry.

While my professional colleagues and I respect the mayor’s view and his right to set policy for the city of Pittsburgh, he does not speak for this region.

We, as members of the region’s economic development community, would offer a different perspective.

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Reconciling Indiana County’s economic-development duality

Urban Outfitters Indiana, Pa., “fulfillment center,” eastern section, Oct. 21, 2019. Photo by David Loomis.

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – An economic-development conference here last month quietly framed two different approaches to development in Indiana County. The approaches are not necessarily in conflict. But the county’s economic future may depend on whether and how they cooperate.

The two approaches can be labeled “sustainable” and “traditional.” Those are the terms used by county Commissioner Sherene Hess, an advocate of local sustainability, the newer of the two.

Traditional economic developers tend to favor big plays, in Ms. Hess’s framing. Case in point: the new, $30 million Urban Outfitters warehouse recently opened south of town.

A million-square-foot business is a trophy. It’s not Amazon HQ2. But for a rural community, URBN is a catch that its recruiters say could draw other economic development to its Windy Ridge business park address.

Citizens should hope so. But they might also recall the county’s history of economic development as a “Groundhog Day” loop of boom and bust.

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Deep-state case study, reality-based

President Trump signs the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill, October 2018. Then-U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., is third from left. Official White House photo.

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – An impeachable president declares a “deep state” conspiracy is out to get him. As usual, he has it bass-ackward.

The career bureaucrats whom he views as a fifth column bent on undermining his sovereign presidency are patriots sworn to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic, not the president against his domestic political rivals.

Exhibit A: last week’s reported closed-door testimony of the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, a respected career civil servant, before the U.S. House impeachment inquiry in Washington. The president promptly trashed him.

The irony is lost on the president. What he calls the deep state is the Civil Service, established more than a century ago by President Teddy Roosevelt, a reformer who fought public corruption by professionalizing and elevating the administration of governance.

 

MEANWHILE, Sunday’s New York Times reported an actual example of public servants subverting public interests, serving private interests and pursuing personal gain.

The case has a local angle.

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Cell phone service at Blue Spruce Park?

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA — Good news: Cell-phone service is coming to Blue Spruce Park, a digital dead zone in Indiana County.

On Wednesday, county supervisors announced that the new service by the new year will permit park visitors to contact the county courthouse five miles east. That’s a gift to commissioner Rodney D. Ruddock, who discovered he couldn’t do that last May when he tried to text an invitation to his commissioner colleagues to join him in the park for a student activity.

In August, Ruddock returned to the park for a state-legislative hearing on expanding high-speed broadband internet. His anecdote humanized the issue and drew appreciative remarks – mostly hollow.

“It was a lot of rhetoric,” said Ruddock, who will retire in December after decades of public service. “I’ve heard it many times.”

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The enrollment decline at IUP, the local election of 2019

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – About that 26 percent enrollment decline at IUP since its peak enrollment seven years ago? It’s actually a 31 percent decline, reports the state system that manages IUP and 13 other campuses.

Last week, PASSHE reported headcount declines at most campuses and a systemwide enrollment drop of 2.6 percent since last year. But IUP’s one-year drop – down 8 percent — was the biggest of the bunch by far.

IUP and its sister campuses are not alone. Enrollments are falling nationwide as the ranks of high-school graduates fall, family sensitivity to college costs increases, questions about the value of a college education grow and the process of applying to multiple colleges eases.

In Pennsylvania, the marketplace for higher ed is challenging. The state hosts more than 90 private nonprofit colleges and universities and three public research universities, plus 13 other PASSHE schools. The populations in counties from which IUP draws many of its students continue to age and to slide. State investment in higher ed ranks near the bottom nationally, contributing to subsidized college tuition as a 2020 presidential campaign issue.

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Rep. Thompson: legislating in Washington …

A legislative analysis: Part I of II

Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson Jr., R-15th Congressional District

By David Loomis

INDIANA — U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson Jr., R-15th District, spent part of his fall break from legislative gridlock in Congress to receive the gratitude of friends at the Chamber of Commerce and S&T Bank here. They thanked the congressman for his business-friendly support “on all the traditional issues – taxes, regulatory reform,” said the president of the Chamber’s Southwestern Pennsylvania regional office in Pittsburgh.

In Washington, the U.S. Chamber — the largest lobby group in the nation — rates members of Congress every year, and its ratings give Rep. Thompson straight A’s. In the past five years his Chamber grades have ranged from 92 percent to 100 percent. (His ratings from labor groups generally fall on the far opposite end of the scale.)

In his remarks here on Tuesday, Mr. Thompson raised the issue of presidential impeachment as he addressed one of the Chamber’s highest legislative priorities – a United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ratified by all three countries in 1993.

Impeachment has gummed up the legislative works“on a lot of issues,” Thompson said, including the trade deal. And he laid the responsibility on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “and what she’s trying to do to the president.”

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Rep. Thompson: cleaning up back home

Acid mine drainage from an underground mine near Portage, Pa. Photo: Dylan Brown/E&E News.

A legislative analysis: Part II of II 

By David Loomis

When I’m dead and the ages shall roll

My body will blacken and turn into coal.

I’ll look from the door of my heavenly home

And pity the miner a-diggin’ my bones.

            — “Dark As a Dungeon,” by Merle Travis, 1946

INDIANA — The danger and drudgery of coal mining, it turns out, is not eternal. It’s not so much for lack of supply as it is for lack of demand that the region’s mother lode will remain in the ground.

Since its peak in 2008, U.S. coal production has declined by about one-third as electric utilities switch  to solar, wind and natural gas, all in spite of President Trump’s attempts to boost the industry.

Here in Appalachia, a century-old football rivalry between Indiana and California universities of Pennsylvania has been sponsored since 2009 by a coal industry trade group. But Saturday’s Coal Bowl is an anachronism.

IUP recently established an environmental engineering program whose graduates will  use “science and math … to protect public health and the climate.” Those grads can address coal’s economic and environmental legacy in the abandoned mines that tar the region.

One-third of the nation’s abandoned mine lands are in Pennsylvania, according to the director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation. Thousands of hazardous mine sites await remediation. Every year, the agency receives about 800 requests for help with the sites.

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A change in the weather

Michael E. Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, Eberly Auditorium, IUP, Sept. 19, 2019. Photo by David Loomis.

An analysis 

By David Loomis

INDIANA – When it comes to translating science for the rest of us, Michael E. Mann follows in the footsteps of Carl Sagan, Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson — exceptional scientists who convert complexity into clarity.

On Sept. 19, Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, worked that magic for more than an hour before a 450-seat capacity crowd in IUP’s Eberly Auditorium.  (As students pressed in, one event sponsor worried, “Maybe we should have reserved Fisher,” the 1,450-seat auditorium across campus.)

Mann is something of a science celebrity. His pioneering climate research – including the “hockey-stick graph” – contributed to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize he won jointly with other scientists, with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and with Al Gore.

Despite his talk’s subtitle, “Climate Change Denial in the Age of Trump,”  Mann soft-pedaled the politics. In a brief interview after his talk, he recounted nasty spats he’s had with Sarah Palin and other like-minded public figures willfully blind to the evidence that Mann and his colleagues have amassed.

But he did single out one Democratic candidate for president – Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – for her detailed grasp of policy on display in a recent CNN town hall debate over the single issue of climate.

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Election year 2019: Whose agenda?

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – Six weeks until Pennsylvania’s next general election. That’s right, local elections are Nov. 5, with a year to go until 2020’s presidential election. Citizens might be forgiven if national news has eclipsed representative democracy closest to home.

That eclipse may be especially distracting this autumn. The national legislative agenda (such as it is in a largely deadlocked Congress) is likely to be dogged, if not derailed, by presidential impeachment.

Thus, a depressing effect on 2019 voter turnout may be more pronounced than usual. On the other hand, Pennsylvania voter turnout in the November 2018 midterm elections registered a half-century high in all 67 counties.

In such a political atmosphere, local elections should be a turn-on. It’s where the governors are closest to the governed. And local politics has delivered change – has made a difference here.

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