- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

PENNSYLVANIA POLITICOS SHOULDN’T TRAVEL TO N.Y. TO CELEBRATE

Last December, as a tough Democratic gubernatorial primary was heating up, Tom Wolf decided to not to hold a cocktail party in Manhattan during the annual Pennsylvania Society political hobnobbing weekend.

That seemed like a missed opportunity for the then still little-known candidate to raise funds and gather support.

Instead of hosting a lavish fundraiser, he decided to donate money to nonprofits that help feed needy Pennsylvanians.

That was a different approach - giving money to help the hungry rather than blow it in New York.

Some cynics sneered that it was just a gimmick, that he was a rich guy spending a bunch of his own money to get elected, so he was trying to counter that image by helping the poor.

Well, those cynics didn’t know him very well, because he’s always been a generous benefactor to local charitable efforts in his home county of York.

His decision to feed the hungry rather than swill booze with the swells wasn’t surprising.

And neither was the latest news that he’s not planning to hold a party in New York this weekend to celebrate his big victory over Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

He’s planning to make his feed-the-needy effort an annual tradition.

Here’s what he wrote in a letter to the Pennsylvania Society:

“This year, I will again contribute the cost of a fundraising reception to Pennsylvania food banks and volunteer with Frances at a local soup kitchen. My staff throughout the state will volunteer for local efforts, and we invite others to join us.

“Our contributions will be made to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Philabundance, and Our Daily Bread in York. We encourage others to join us to help give those less fortunate than us a brighter holiday season.”

Three cheers to that.

It’s a much more positive thing to do than partying in New York.

-The (Pottstown) Mercury.

___

TORTURE? CRIMINAL SANCTIONS? POLITICAL POSTURING? OPINIONS RUN THE GAMUT ON SENATE’S CIA REPORT

Even though many of the brutal interrogation techniques used by the CIA in secret prisons were known before the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report this week, the 500-page summary is still an eye-opener. The findings remove any doubt that the United States government carried out methods of torture against terror suspects involved in the 9/11 attacks and other plots — and some people who were involved marginally or not at all.

The report details waterboarding, sleep deprivation, ice water baths — and a form of “rectal feeding” that makes you wonder: Who thought up these things? And approved them?

Yet the graphic depictions of physical and mental abuse give way to questions of legality, morality and effectiveness: Why wasn’t Congress better informed of what was going on? Where was the accountability to judge whether extreme tactics were yielding valuable information about our enemies and their operations? Should the people responsible be charged criminally?

The last question was answered when President Obama ended the CIA program in 2009, releasing details about waterboarding but declining to go much further. The Justice Department conducted a limited review of the secret operations. This week Obama reiterated his opposition to the CIA program, but otherwise was noncommittal on any action in response to the Senate Committee report.

Reaction in Congress was predictably mixed. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the next Intelligence Committee chairman, said, “The only motive here could be to embarrass George W. Bush. I don’t think that’s the role of the intelligence committee.”

Sen. John McCain, a victim of torture as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, said the CIA had “stained our national honor” and “damaged our security interests as well as our reputation for being a force for good in the world.”

And in the end, it didn’t work. …

-The (Easton) Express-Times.

___

KANE’S STAND ON THE NRA IS THE RIGHT ONE

A blatant case of legislative pandering earlier this year to the National Rifle Association by Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly could well prove a futile exercise after the state’s chief law enforcement officer has declined to defend it in court.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office on Friday said she won’t represent the state in court defenses of the law. Lancaster, Philadelphia and several lawmakers so far have filed court challenges.

The law, passed by the Legislature and signed by Corbett in October, would give the NRA “standing” in court if and when municipalities are sued by individuals or groups for enacting gun laws more restrictive than state law or regulations.

Kane’s decision means any court defense of the law would pass to the governor’s Office of General Counsel, which by mid-January passes from Corbett’s control to that of Gov.-elect Tom Wolf.

When the amendment passed the Senate in October, we disagreed with Republican state Sen. Rich Alloway’s claims that it protects the “Second Amendment and the rights of law-abiding citizens of Pennsylvania.”

The legislation remains a shameful legislative abrogation of the power and right of the state’s municipalities - and of their voters and elected officials - to enact public safety laws and regulations free of the threat of special-interest litigation.

Kane’s decision not to defend the law follows her refusal in 2013 to represent the commonwealth in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s same-sex marriage ban, which later was struck down. Corbett’s counsel attempted to defend the law in that instance, and Corbett last May decided not to appeal the court’s decision.

Both the NRA-court standing law and the same-sex marriage ban were examples of bad legislation that begged invalidation.

Kane, the first woman and Democrat elected Pennsylvania attorney general, has since her 2012 election been a political lightning rod operating under heavy criticism from both the GOP-dominated Legislature and a Republican administration.

While several of her decisions regarding prosecutions and other matters remain controversial, her decision to forgo defense of the NRA in-court surrogacy standing - and her choice not to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban - was the right one.

-The (Carlisle) Sentinel.

____

NO POWER TO THE PEOPLE

In Philadelphia, our past is always at war with the future, proven by the recent failure of the deal to sell the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works for $1.86 billion.

The deal with the New Haven, Connecticut, utility UIL Holdings would have been a win-win-win for the city. Now it simply offers proof, as if more were needed, that the old world of petty politics still rules in this town.

There were many merits to the deal negotiated by the Nutter administration, but the merits were never debated or even considered by City Council. No one would even introduce a bill dealing with the sale, and it finally died when UIL withdrew its bid.

Council’s record in handling this deal has been consistent: one of duplicity and deceit.

All summer long, it delayed consideration of the sale while officially doing “due diligence” by hiring independent experts (with $522,000 in taxpayer money) to do a neutral analysis of the sale. The experts came back with a report that said, in so many words, that it was a good deal.

Hiring that expert was simply a delaying tactic to assure that the study would not be done until after the original deadline for the sale. The evidence is that most Council members never read the report.

When UIL said that it would extend the deadline, Council at last had to reveal its true hand: President Darrell Clarke said that Council members had “no appetite” for selling PGW.

Members groused about Nutter not “consulting” with Council before advancing on the sale, portraying themselves as the city’s board of directors and the mayor as their CEO, whose job was to implement their policy.

That is a fundamentally wrong - not to mention boneheaded - view of the chief executive’s role, not only in Philadelphia but in state and federal government as well.

President Obama doesn’t have to “consult” with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner to get their pre-approval of his ideas. He proposes, Congress disposes. It can hold hearings, it can amend the administration’s plans, it then votes “yea” or “nay.” That’s called the separation of powers. You can read all about it in the Constitution.

In Philadelphia, our Council would not even consider the deal. It brushed it aside without a hearing on the merits, without any discussion of amending it, though UIL said that it was willing to change aspects of the plan to deal with Council’s concerns.

Without any public discussion, we will never know for sure about Council’s real reasons for ditching the deal. Was it simply driven by Council’s almost pathological hostility toward Nutter? Was it Council’s desire to hold onto PGW as a political pie so it can influence decisions on contracts and hiring now and in the future?

We’ll never know for sure. Clarke never reveals his true motives and rarely speaks candidly. When the deal failed, he released a statement that, of course, slammed Nutter for having the audacity to advance the idea of the sale.

“Once again,” Clarke said, “the Nutter administration has learned that the birthplace of American freedom has little tolerance for sweeping policy decisions made unilaterally with no input from the public.”

In other words, Clarke was accusing Nutter of doing exactly what Council did - making a unilateral decision to kill the PGW deal with no input from the public.

We don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

-Philadelphia Daily News.


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