- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

___

SAFEGUARDING THE ELECTION: THE WRONG REMEDY, Sept. 18

The security of U.S. elections are sacrosanct. That’s precisely why talk of the federal government stepping in to “protect” election systems deserves no vote of public confidence.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said he’s considering designating election systems as “critical infrastructure” after reports of hacked voter registration information, possibly by Russians, in Arizona and Illinois. But the rationale for this intrusion is meritless.

The USA Patriot Act and Homeland Security Act define “critical infrastructure” as “systems and assets . so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.”

A hacked election, in one state or more, would be bad enough. But it wouldn’t prevent the U.S. from functioning, reminds Brad Smith, a Capital University law professor.

By shoving its “nose under the tent,” the federal government would introduce far more problems than it would solve. Security against voting machine hacking is reinforced by the fact that U.S. election systems are decentralized. They’re not in a network. Rather, there are about 9,000 different election jurisdictions, says Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.

In era of increasing cyber threats, opening a door to federal intrusion in state election systems would be an especially perilous move.

- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

___

TIME WASTED AMID CRISIS, Sept. 20

Pennsylvania’s allegedly full-time state legislators have returned to the Capitol after a typically overly generous seven-week summer vacation, which they took despite an unfolding opioid epidemic that claims the lives of nearly 10 state residents every day.

They have left themselves just a handful of voting days not only to act further on the deadly epidemic, but to deal with massive funding holes that they left in the state government budget before heading to the beach in July. After their seven-week vacation, they plan to take at least another month to campaign in advance of the Nov. 8 election, in which the full House and half of the Senate seats are on the ballot.

To their credit, lawmakers and the administration have enacted some good responses to the opioid epidemic, including a statewide prescription cross-check system meant to deter addicts and dealers from “prescription shopping,” and increased funding for drug courts that focus on rehabilitation.

But the compressed schedule limits lawmakers in their remaining sessions - 12 in the House and nine in the Senate - to picking the low-hanging fruit.

In June, Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders pondered a special session on the opioid epidemic. If they had scheduled one for the summer, lawmakers could have taken a deeper dive into the crisis. For example, while they deserve credit for expanding access to the opioid antidote naloxone, they only went halfway. First responders and others have used the drug to save hundreds of lives, but the state has not mandated follow-up treatment for those addicts who were rescued.

Mr. Wolf now plans to address a joint session of the Legislature on the opioid crisis. Ideally, lawmakers will pass the pending bills that have languished over the summer, dealing with continuing education for opioid prescribers and uniform reporting standards of opioid deaths.

He and lawmakers should open the next session of the Legislature with a concurrent special session, during which they can take that deep dive and move the state from response to long-term prevention.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

___

TRUMP’S ‘BIRTHER’ CHARADE WENT ON FAR TOO LONG, Sept. 16

Donald Trump has finally acknowledged that President Barack Obama was born in the United States.

Congratulations.

But the Republican nominee, while apparently ending his repugnant practice of casting doubt on the 44th President’s citizenship, nonetheless managed to falsely blame Democrat Hillary Clinton for stoking the controversy in the first place.

“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it, you know what I mean,” Trump said Friday, according to The Washington Post. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”

That’s a lie - and Trump knows it.

The claim that Clinton or her campaign was responsible in 2008 for the rise of the so-called “birther movement” has long since been debunked, and no credible person subscribes to that specious yarn.

And it is equally true that no serious person hangs onto the false belief that Obama was born anywhere other than Hawaii in August of 1961.

Thus it’s clear that Trump is hanging onto the Clinton claim for one reason and one reason only:

Political advantage.

In the past week, Clinton’s lead in national polls has evaporated and some voter canvasses now show Trump either running even with, or ahead of, Clinton in such key battleground states as Ohio and Florida.

Clinton was sharply criticized last week for inartfully saying that half of Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables,” because they were racist, xenophobic homophobic, or worse.

Clinton has said she regrets her remarks. But that does not mean she was incorrect.

It’s incontestable that Trump’s rise has been partially fueled by the angriest and most nativist elements of the American far-right.

It’s in that shadowy and fetid netherworld, given voice by Breitbart News (whose former executive, Steve Bannon, Trump now employs) that frankly racist speculation about Obama’s parentage, citizenship and religious beliefs rose and flourished.

Thus, there is zero incentive for Trump, who has profited by playing into his supporters’ worst fears about Muslims, immigrants and others, to stop blowing that particular dog whistle by falsely blaming Clinton for starting such hateful rumors.

We would remind Trump that he is running for president of the entire United States - not that just that aging, largely white population that makes up the broadest part of his base.

So, Mr. Trump, if you would presume to lead an entire nation, drop this unseemly charade.

- PennLive.com

___

AG INVESTIGATION WARRANTED, Sept. 20

In an August editorial about a list of 15 priests accused of sexual abuse who had served in the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, we wondered whether that list represented “just the steeple of a massive cathedral of corruption and exploitation.”

That, sadly, is what was found in the Altoona-Johnstown when the state attorney general’s office conducted an investigation.

Do we have a similar situation in our region?

It’s impossible to say from the outside.

And the Harrisburg Diocese has not been transparent or forthcoming.

Diocese officials grudgingly confirmed the names of 15 priests accused of sexual abuse who had served in this region in response to YDR’s inquiries.

But we knew from previous news reports that 24 accused priests had served in the diocese.

Who were the others not included in the 15? Church officials refused to say.

Later, three more accused priests were confirmed by the diocese.

But the numbers still don’t add up. We know 18 names. But clearly there are more.

How many more?

Why not provide that information to the public?

Doing so shows survivors of clergy sexual abuse that the church is truly committed to full transparency about this horrible problem - and to making amends to those who have been wronged. Naming abusers validates victims’ suffering. And in some cases, it prompts other victims to come forward and tell their stories to law enforcement and church officials.

Confession, church officials should know well, is a necessary step toward redemption.

So why has the Harrisburg diocese been so opaque?

Is that short list just the tip of the iceberg, the steeple of a cathedral of corruption?

The only way to truly find out is for law-enforcement officials to investigate and make the results of that inquiry public - as happened in Altoona-Johnstown.

In August, we said the state attorney general’s official should launch an investigation.

Subpoena the Harrisburg diocese.

Look at the records.

Determine whether the church has acted properly in protecting parishioners from abusive priests.

Have officials engaged in the appalling practice of shuffling abusers around, which has led to criminal charges against high-ranking officials in Philadelphia and elsewhere?

We need to know.

Victims need to know.

Well, such an investigation is underway.

Last week, news broke that the AG’s office is conducting a grand jury investigation into the Harrisburg Diocese, as well the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.

Good.

It’s about time.

After what we’ve seen in Philadelphia, Boston, Altoona and elsewhere, this investigation is well warranted.

Although the AG’s office has not commented on the inquiry, it appears to be a broad look at what’s been going on behind parish walls in Pennsylvania.

In the wake of the grand jury news, the Harrisburg diocese has simply confirmed it had been subpoenaed and reiterated that it wants to help victims of clergy sex abuse - urging them to come forward.

Amen to that.

But those words would be more convincing if the diocese had been more forthcoming all along.

- York Daily Record

___

INSIDE JOB AT WELLS FARGO UNDERSCORES THE NEED FOR STRONG OVERSIGHT OF BANKS, Sept. 19

Banks go to great lengths to guard against cybercriminals hacking customers’ accounts. Now customers must worry about getting robbed by their own bank.

That’s just one takeaway from an investigation that found employees at Wells Fargo opened more than 2 million fake checking, credit, and debit card accounts for customers in order to meet sales targets and earn bonuses.

The scheme resulted in customers getting hit with unexpected fees or receiving credit and debit cards they did not request. Debt collectors went after some customers for charges on accounts they did not authorize.

Talk about an inside job.

Wells Fargo agreed to refund about $2.6 million in fees and pay $185 million in fines. That’s a wrist slap considering the scam involved at least 5,300 Wells Fargo workers who have since been fired.

The breadth of the swindle raises questions as to whether Wells Fargo - one of the largest banks in the country - learned anything from the 2008 financial meltdown that led to the $700 billion bailout of financial institutions.

That thousands of its employees bilked customers points to a broader ethical rot at Wells Fargo. Indeed, its employees were incentivized and rewarded for ripping off customers.

Such widespread fraud usually happens when bosses push employees to do whatever it takes to hit sales targets. The best way to root out such bad behavior would be to fire the top brass and recover any ill-gotten bonuses.

But don’t hold your breath.

A Wells Fargo executive who oversaw the bank unit that created the 2 million unauthorized customer accounts is scheduled to retire at the end of the year and walk away with a $125 million golden parachute.

Carrie Tolstedt, 56, oversaw Wells Fargo’s retail banking and credit card divisions where much of the fraud occurred. When Tolstedt’s departure was announced in July, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf called her “a standard-bearer of our culture, a champion for our customers, and a role model for responsible, principled, and inclusive leadership.”

Tolstedt was not named specifically as a wrongdoer, and it is unclear what she knew about the scheme. But rest assured, a chunk of her bonus was tied to the bank’s profit growth.

Credit the embattled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for leading the investigation and levying the fine against Wells Fargo. The CFPB was created by President Obama, despite continuing Republican opposition, in response to the financial crisis.

The crackdown on Wells Fargo underscores the need for strong regulations and oversight of the financial industry. Only the threat of an aggressive watchdog, combined with hefty fines, criminal penalties, and the recovery of undeserved bonuses will serve as a check to the profit-driven greed that still exists at too many financial institutions.

Congressional Republicans and financial industry lobbyists keep trying to kill the CFPB. In fact, Donald Trump has vowed to dismantle the law that created the agency if he is elected. That would leave average bank customers to fend for themselves.

If anything, the CFPB needs more resources. The banks have demonstrated they can’t be trusted to police themselves.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer

___

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide