- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania



Across the country this past weekend, thousands of people marched in protest of police actions against Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others, adding to a steady drumbeat of protest that was ignited weeks ago when two separate grand juries refused to indict police in the deaths of the two black men.

For many, this calls to mind a level of protest that this country hasn’t seen in at least 50 years … and many would say that the issues are the same: lack of fair treatment of blacks and other minorities by predominantly white police forces (and by extension, white society). Will anything turn out differently this time around?

Hard to tell. Judging from a few local police reactions to elements of the protest, it’s hard to be optimistic.

Last week, a cartoon in a Bucks County newspaper depicting a group of black children asking Santa for protection from police drew the rage of Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby, who leveled some choice words at the paper for running the cartoon and demanded an apology.

“There is a special place in hell for miserable parasites in our media who seek to exploit violence and hatred to sell advertisements,” McNesby said. He wished the newspaper a “bankrupt New Year.”

And University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann drew the ire of campus police when she joined protesters at a “die-in” lying on the floor.

“I am appalled that the president of this fine university would give in to the pressures of the uninformed mob mentality surrounding the Michael Brown case and participate in a’die-in’ … ” said Eric Rohrback, president of the 116-member Penn police officers’ union. “It is a slap in the face to every person that wears this uniform and serves this university.”

Such thin-skinned reaction to criticism is surprising - and not a little disturbing - but it tends to underscore how disconnected some police are to the communities they serve. Yes, police put themselves in harm’s way by strapping on a gun and patrolling the streets of the lawless city. And we believe the best of them dedicate their lives to protecting and serving us.

But police also need to be reminded that in addition to the risks they take, they wield extraordinary authority and power over people’s lives. They have the state-sanctioned power to stop, arrest, jail us … and shoot and kill us. Their extraordinary powers are necessary to keep the peace and enforce lawful behavior. And most cops take that authority seriously. But that authority doesn’t make police officers less immune from all the prejudices and imperfections that comes with being human - imperfections that can include racism, or even bad judgment.

The relationship between police and black communities is fraught, a situation not helped by the fact that 75 percent of the nation’s police are white, according to 2007 survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

To improve those relationships, police will have to respond more thoughtfully toward criticism and protest than Philadelphia’s or Penn’s police have. They should remember the long history of police scandals, particularly in this city, that have eroded the trust in the department. Repeated calls for more objective oversight have also gone unheeded.

In many ways, the recent protests across the country have been a long time in coming. Fifty years ago, civil-rights protests made a mark and changed much in the country. This time around, the goal is narrower: civil rights at the hands of police. Surely that’s not too lofty a goal.

- Philadelphia Daily News



So far, the 48,000-pound armored vehicle owned by the Center Township Police Department hasn’t been needed for law and order on the streets of Beaver County.

Let’s hope it stays that way.

In a story Saturday, Post-Gazette reporter Jonathan D. Silver outlined a Defense Department program through which municipal and state police departments can help themselves to surplus Pentagon gear.

The Center police is one of three local law enforcement agencies to have snagged mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, which officers could use to shield themselves when under fire. Local police departments also have obtained items such as an armored personnel carrier, rifles and infrared aiming lights.

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, show the need for police to exercise caution in using military-style equipment and tactics. Protests that followed a Ferguson officer’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown were met with a military-style police response that’s been widely, and appropriately, condemned.

Pittsburgh got its own glimpse of a militarized police response during the G-20 protests here in 2009. On Monday, Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced legislation that would keep the city out of the surplus equipment program.

For good reason, the military generally is not used for domestic law enforcement. The armed forces and police departments serve different functions requiring different arsenals and protocols. The mindset and materiel of the former are not neatly transferable to the latter.

That’s why local police, when faced with unusual threats to public safety, should rely on assistance from county SWAT units and state police. In too many communities, police and citizens already view each other with distrust. They don’t need armored vehicles driving them further apart.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



A major policy question that government leaders often are reluctant to answer is whether the public gets a fair return on the hundreds of millions of tax dollars it contributes to private-sector development projects through tax breaks, grants, loans and services.

They are in a tough spot because of the way the game is played. They know that if they don’t come up with packages sought by developers, the business will find a deal somewhere else.

Too often, as this region has seen on several major development projects, the public makes the investment and the company pulls up stakes a few years later, in search of a better deal.

State law gradually has evolved to tie job creation to most public grants and tax breaks for private development. A new performance audit of state economic development grant programs shows that companies do not always generate the promised jobs.

The auditor general’s office examined Department of Community and Economic Development records for 600 businesses that received $212.9 million in grants and loans from 2007 through 2010 and were monitored for compliance by DCED from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2013. Auditors looked at the Opportunity Grant, Customized Job Training, Industrial Development and Small Business First programs and deals arranged by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority.

According to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, the DCED inflated job numbers by including projections of new jobs and estimates of “retained” jobs due to public investment. The department should comply with his recommendation to use actual payroll data in calculating job creation and retention.

Overall, the audit revealed that only 56 percent of the companies receiving the state money had created or retained the number of jobs they had promised in their applications. The DCED raised interest rates on some financing for 46 businesses as a penalty in some of those cases, and assessed $10.9 million in fines against 72 others, of which $4.5 million has been collected.

The lesson from the audit is that policymakers should be skeptical and demanding when doling out public money for businesses. Such programs are necessary to keep the state in the game, but that does not preclude lawmakers and regulators from separating solid projects from others that do not fulfill their promises.

The (Hazleton) Standard-Speaker



Most American Catholics were bewildered six years ago by the Vatican’s harsh approach to several orders of nuns here, and dismayed when Pope Benedict XVI authorized an “apostolic visitation” - an investigation - of the sisters.

Rank-and-file Catholics, after all, know the sisters as educators, nurses, clothiers of the naked and feeders of the poor. That the nuns somehow had fallen out of favor with the Vatican seemed inconceivable.

Yet Cardinal Franc Rode, head of the Vatican’s office for religious orders, said in 2008 that he was concerned about “a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain feminist spirit.”

As it turns out, not so much.

The Vatican, now under new management in the person of Pope Francis, released a report Tuesday recognizing the invaluable contributions of the sisters and noting the challenges they face in modern American society.

It is not a coincidence that the report reflects Pope Francis’ emphasis on social justice as the work of the church. In the United States and in much of the world, nuns are the church’s embodiment of that priority. Their schools, hospitals, shelters and unlimited work for the poor are the church’s best foot forward in societies around the world. That’s why 60,000 U.S. Catholics sent a petition to the Vatican speaking up for nuns and protesting the investigation.

In its U.S. inquiry, the Vatican reached roughly the same conclusion after asking 350 communities of nuns about their missions, prayer schedules, living arrangements finances and property. About 80 Vatican investigators visited 90 communities of sisters - some of whom did not fully cooperate.

But the biggest problem involving American nuns is that there are not enough of them. There are only about 50,000 sisters nationwide, roughly 40 percent of the number 50 years ago, and their median age is in the mid-70s.

Rather than investigating the sisters, the Vatican should examine ways to generate more vocations, perhaps by more fully incorporating them into the leadership of the church.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice



The GOP-controlled state Legislature must make Pennsylvania’s biggest financial woe - $50-billion-plus in unfunded pension liabilities - its top 2015 priority. And it must do so without linking pension reform to Democrat Gov.-elect Tom Wolf’s proposed natural gas severance tax.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, (during a Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association forum at last weekend’s Pennsylvania Society gathering in New York) said he’s willing to consider the severance tax if Wolf will negotiate on pensions. Going beyond compromise, that sets up GOP lawmakers to capitulate to Wolf’s taxing agenda.

Allegheny Institute scholar Frank Gamrat reminds that the extraction tax would have to compensate for the state-mandated elimination of the impact fee, a levy that has brought counties and municipalities nearly $130 million over the past three years. And for the tax to yield the Wolf-estimated $1 billion-plus at current gas prices, “production would have to rise by more than 50 percent.” It’s a quite iffy proposition given current market trends.

A too-high severance tax “could have adverse consequences for Pennsylvania,” says Gamrat. GOP leaders must take heed when he urges that the Legislature not spend “a great deal of (its) time and political capital” on a severance tax and focus instead on “pension reform” to address “the principal cause of the commonwealth’s budget problem.”

- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review



Pennsylvania politicians and guests mingled last weekend at the annual Pennsylvania Society bash in New York City. Some events were by invitation only. Others, including receptions for elected officials from both parties, were open to anyone with enough money for admission.

The gala event dates to 1899, when James Barr Ferree, a Pennsylvanian who lived in New York, invited 55 Pennsylvania friends for dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, according to www.pasociety.com. “In the more than 100 years that have passed since that first gathering, the society has sponsored scores of historical and social functions, bringing together its members and friends to remind them of Pennsylvania’s vital and long-standing leadership in the economic and industrial life of the nation,” the website says.

Times have changed since the society was formally incorporated in 1903, and so has Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh gets well-deserved press about how the region has reinvented itself from a steelmaking center into a high-tech hub. Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia in 2015 and Philly could host the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Why not pump dollars into Pennsylvania’s economy by alternating the Pennsylvania Society’s December weekend between those cities?

- Erie Times-News

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