Sunday, September 6, 2015

Supporting the First Amendment and Dumping on the Down and Out

Back after a week's vacation!  This Saturday the Leader Times posted two  editorials.  The first involved the recent US District Court decision by judge Terrence McVerry that ruled the monument of the Ten Commandments on the property of a Connellsville Area School District junior high school unconstitutional but allowed the monument to remain on the property because the complainant no longer attends the school.   The editors call this decision a non sequitur and complain that it leaves the taxpayers of the district exposed to the costs of another lawsuit to have the monument removed.   They point out that the judge should have ordered the monument removed on the grounds that its presence is unconstitutional, regardless if anyone comes forward to complain about it or not.  In this the editors are entirely correct.   The editors could have urged the school district to remove the monument anyway, but since Connellsville is in Fayette County, they may have felt that's somebody else's job.  Fine with me.

The second editorial comments on a recent action by the PA Ethics Commission threatening fines against Department of Human Services caseworkers who have failed to submit the required annual financial disclosure statement.   The editorial is a follow-up on a recent news article that appeared on the TribLive website.   (If that article also appeared in the Leader Times, I missed it.)   The editors approve of the Ethics Commission's action, as it protects the interests of PA taxpayers against possible malfeasance the delinquent caseworkers may be trying to hide.  As a matter of prudence, I have no problem with the financial disclosure requirement.  But I have to wonder why this is a matter worthy of comment in an editorial?  First, has there ever been sufficient evidence of widespread corruption on the part of DHS caseworkers to warrant annual financial disclosures?  As it turns out, caseworkers were not required to submit annual disclosures because of a change in the law resulting from discoveries of corruption, but because of legal advice offered by the state Ethics Commission to Gov. Rendell's office in 2008.  Since the caseworkers decide whether taxpayer dollars go to welfare recipients, they should submit financial disclosures, the advice said. So, there was no scandal or evidence of widespread DHS caseworker corruption that led to the change; it was simply a matter of being consistently transparent.

I bring this up not to excuse the delinquent caseworkers.  Since the job requires it, they should have submitted their disclosures.  Rather, I sense here is an underlying animosity toward the entire concept of public assistance.  The linked article above quotes Rep. Darryl Metcalfe questioning what the delinquent caseworkers are trying to hide and reports that he is pressing for severer penalties for caseworkers who don't comply.  Why am I not surprised that Metcalfe, of all people, has a bee under his bonnet about 273 DHS caseworkers?  It is true that the department with the largest number of delinquents is DHS.  Of course he could instigate an investigation, but since he is likely not to find enough evidence of corruption to justify the time and expense of investigating, he can score cheap political points with his rabid anti-welfare constituents (see the comments section of the linked article above for a sampling) by attempting to ratchet up the penalties.  What about the other 483 state employees who failed to submit financial disclosures in 2015?   I'll bet plenty of them are responsible for much larger sums of taxpayer money than DHS caseworkers and that corruption on their part could cost the state a lot more money.  Why isn't Metcalfe making public statements about them?  And why is the Leader Times bothering to comment about this in the first place?

I call it exploiting readers.  Humans have an innate tendency to suspect that we are being cheated and get especially incensed when the cheaters are considered peers.    Readers of the Leader Times are largely working-class rural folk, who are more likely to be incensed about alleged cheating by a poorly-paid DHS caseworker supplying welfare benefits to the ineligible (aka "lazy") than, for example, a more highly-paid DEP regulator taking bribes to overlook violations of environmental law at natural gas wellsites or a Department of Banking regulator accepting bribes to look the other way at safety and soundness shortcuts made by a state bank to increase its profit margins.  Dishing up a piece of red meat regarding welfare increases the chances that target readers will continue buying the Leader Times.

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