- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Skeptics of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 warned that it would open the door to a handful of mega-wealthy donors to buy national elections. The consequences have been worse than anyone imagined.

Next year’s presidential contest is expected to cost up to $5 billion - more than twice that of the 2012 campaign. That’s enough to pay for a year of food stamps for 3 million poor Americans, or award $5,000 college grants to a million students.

Presidential candidates collected $400 million in contributions in the first half of this year, most of it from super-political action committees that can raise unlimited sums, according to a New York Times analysis. That’s 10 times the amount raised by super-PACs by this time in the last presidential cycle.

Citizens United gave corporations and individuals the right to spend unlimited sums to influence elections through groups such as super-PACs. So-called social welfare organizations can raise unlimited donations without disclosing their donors, as long as their primary activity is not election campaigning. In reality, these independent organizations function as fundraising arms for candidates, raising many times more than their campaigns are legally permitted to do.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a top Republican contender, has raised more than $120 million, far more than any other candidate, most of it through super-PACs. Democrat Hillary Clinton has collected $20 million through her super-PAC and other “independent” organizations.

Polls suggest Americans favor getting big money out of politics, but reform will come only when voters demand it. They must show they are willing to reward candidates who challenge the anti-democratic status quo in Washington, and reject those who don’t.

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Two years ago, an unmanned train pulling 72 tank cars of crude oil, its brakes unable to hold, began rolling downhill into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, reaching a speed of 65 mph.

It steamed into the center of the resort town, where it derailed, caught fire and exploded, leveling a large portion of the downtown and killing 47 residents.

Six months ago, a 109-car train hauling more than 3 million gallons of crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota was rumbling through Mount Carbon, West Virginia, when 27 tankers jumped the tracks. Several of the cars caught fire, forcing more than 100 residents of the tiny community from their homes.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said that similar horrors could unfold in Pennsylvania because oversight of railroad bridges that cross highways is lax.

Casey noted that hundreds of trains hauling crude oil from the Bakkens rumble through the Keystone State weekly.

And he said that the Federal Railroad Administration, which is in charge of inspecting the spans, has but one inspector assigned to check those structures.

The agency has mandated that railroad companies also must check the bridges at least once a year or face a $100,000 fine.

But the rule is mostly toothless because the rail agency is short-staffed, Casey said.

“This lack of oversight could cause gaps in our rail safety system and create an environment where hundreds of unsafe bridges could be in daily use without proper federal oversight,” he wrote in a statement.

The largest union representing firefighters in North America also has reservations regarding a lack of rail safety.

It is upset by a Department of Transportation ruling that requires railroads to provide “a point of contact for information related to the routing of hazardous materials through their jurisdictions.”

The union said the language is counterproductive because that contact may not be immediately available.

“Firefighters depend on all available information to launch an effective response to emergencies,” union president Harold Schaitberger wrote in an email to the railroad administration. He noted that firefighters need information right away, and that they would be wasting valuable minutes tracking down a point of contact.

Before the oil boom in the Bakken region, only about 9,500 tankers of crude oil rolled the rails per year, said the American Association of Railroads. This year, the group predicts that number could top 500,000.

At least 60 to 70 million gallons of crude oil moves across Pennsylvania weekly on rails.

Casey outlined his concerns to the railroad administration.

“It’s time to put more cops on the beat by hiring more rail inspectors,” Casey wrote.

But the group lobbed the ball back to the Capitol.

“When and if Congress dedicates funding for a more robust bridge program,” countered administration spokesman Michael Booth, “we would be able to increase the number of bridge specialists.”

In the meantime, residents in communities along railroads that carry crude oil tankers hold their breath every time they hear the train a comin’.

- The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat



People who live in urban areas have a big advantage over rural areas when it comes to transportation.

They may take a bus or, in some areas, a subway to work, doctors’ appointments, stores or wherever else they need to travel.

Rural areas don’t have that luxury.

Somerset County has a van service through the Community Action Partnership, known as Tableland Services Inc. But only people who qualify under various funding programs, such as those for low income, age or disabilities, may ride. There are other vans available in parts of the county, including the Koot Kart and Somerset Area Ministries, that have their own requirements.

If a transportation system van has picked up someone who qualifies under the funding program’s guidelines, it may not stop and pick up another person who does not qualify, even if that trip is along the same route.

That is what the federal transportation agency should change. Katherine Freund, founder of the national nonprofit ITNAmerica, said she will attempt to talk to federal officials about such a pilot program for Somerset County. But she said that is only a slight possibility.

The programming that would be needed for a ride-sharing effort in Somerset County would be extensive. That is why the county should be part of an already existing program.

If riders would be able to go on the county system by paying a small fee, that would benefit many who need to travel. If a nonprofit wing could be added that would supplement the van system, that would be ideal.

Talking about it is a good first step. Now more needs to be done, especially on the federal level, to help people who either can’t afford their own car or who can’t drive for medical reasons.

- The (Somerset) Daily American



When congress comes back to session from its August recess, members are expected to deliberate on a bill that would strip Medicare and Medicaid of provisions covering prostate- and colon-cancer screening, Viagra prescriptions and vasectomies.

This follows word this week that the FDA is working on regulations that would put condoms behind locked cases, requiring a prescription from a doctor or a parental permission slip.

Vasectomies would be subject to greater scrutiny in general health coverage plans, as well, and a new series of conditions will be imposed on those men wishing to get them. Those conditions include whether or not a man’s life is at risk or whether he practices a religion opposed to contraception.

The paragraphs above are obviously ludicrous, and will likely never be written again, except possibly in some dystopian piece of fiction - one that features a predominantly female U.S. Congress.

And yet the distaff version of these words relating to women’s health and contraception are written every day without batting an eye.

Why isn’t the relentless chipping away of women’s health care, contraceptive and birth choices not considered equally ludicrous? The current controversy over Planned Parenthood is only the most current iteration of that battle.

After a gotcha video made by anti-abortion activists portrayed Planned Parenthood’s strategy for selling fetal tissue, the battle over who controls women’s health was reignited. An angry mob began crying for stripping Planned Parenthood of its $500 million in federal funds - funds used for women’s health, cancer screenings and contraception. No federal funds are used to provide abortions, a procedure that represents 3 percent of the organization’s activities. That defunding move failed last month, but some lawmakers are vowing to keep their pitchforks sharpened.

Without that funding, many women, many of them low income, would lose a source of low-cost health care.

Is it shocking that in 2015 the organization, as well as the term “Planned Parenthood” remains threatening enough to shut it down? Let’s not gloss over the fact that many of those threatened are men - which by the way make up 84 percent of Congress. It’s not a coincidence that the threat rises in proportion to the amount of power, influence and earnings women bring to the world. The last bastion of control is the control over women’s bodies and the choices they make for those bodies, including whether to have children.

Such reality might also explain how we can inhabit the 21st century and have a so-called serious presidential contender able to make statements referring to the hormonal balances of debate moderator Megyn Kelly after she asked him as series of tough questions. (And we took no comfort from conservative Erick Erickson’s Victorian comment that he didn’t “want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady” and responds the way Trump did.)

Women’s health and choices about their bodies are women’s business. Just as men’s health and the choices men make about their bodies are their business. Maybe we should we start to demonize vasectomies so they see how ludicrous such control really is?

- Philadelphia Daily News



So it wasn’t some Harrisburg “old boys network” after all. At least not the one Kathleen Kane initially suggested.

It was a little more coarse than that.

Turns out the blowback against the state’s top law enforcement officer — the first woman and first Democrat elected as Pennsylvania attorney general - was all about porn.

At least that’s what Kane would have us believe.

The embattled attorney general strode to the microphones this week and sought to tell the “whole story” behind why she now faces criminal charges, and calls from no less than the state’s Democratic governor that she step down.

In a moment of high Harrisburg drama, Kane suggested her problems were not rooted in unflattering newspaper stories, nor any ‘war’ on her part to get back at those who painted her in such an unfavorable light.

Instead, Kane suggested all of her troubles stem from the cache of “pornographic, racially offensive, and religiously offensive emails” that were routinely passed among a group of prosecutors and judges. The A.G. uncovered the emails while fulfilling one of the primary campaign pledges that vaulted her into office and one of the bright, rising stars on the Pennsylvania political landscape. That would be her often-stated promise to investigate how her predecessor, Attorney General (and then Governor) Tom Corbett handled the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal that rocked the Penn State community.

Kane maintains she became the target of this group of men intent on insuring that this “filthy” trove of emails - and their attachment to it - “never see the light of day.”

She alleged these prosecutors and judges used the grand jury system to shut her up. They didn’t do that, as this week’s high-profile press conference proves. What that grand jury process did do, however, is recommend that criminal charges be brought against the attorney general for what they perceived as a vendetta, retribution against those who made her look bad. Kane was indicted on charges that she leaked grand jury information, lied to a grand jury about it, then actively took part in a plot to cover it up.

That’s where Kane finds herself today, facing a preliminary hearing on charges of perjury, official oppression and obstruction of justice.

And fending off a growing chorus that she resign her post. In lieu of that, there is talk of impeachment, or a legal move to strip her of her law license, which would make it impossible for her to do her job.

Kane is having none of it.

“I am innocent of any wrongdoing,” Kane said before wading into the sleazy emails that she says were common practice in the office of her predecessor. “I neither conspired with anyone nor did I ask or direct anyone to do anything improper or unlawful. My defense will be not that I am the victim of some old boys network, it will be that I broke no laws of the commonwealth. Period.”

Well, it’s good that she is letting go of that “old boys network out to get her” canard. The fact that the decision to bring charges against her was made by Montgomery County District Risa Vetri Ferman pretty much nullifies that.

But there was another problem with the spotlight-hogging performance by Citizen Kane.

Other than that proclamation that “I am innocent of any wrongdoing,” Kane never addressed the serious charges filed against her, including perjury.

Instead she spent all her efforts laying out a new version of the back story, rife with prosecutors and judges hip deep in a “filthy email chain.”

She pointed specifically to the man who is overseeing the grand jury that indicted her, Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter, as allowing this cabal of powerful men to manipulate the system to be sure those emails never become public. If they get rid of her, they can bury the emails and their involvement in it forever.

She called on the judge to release all the pornographic emails, as well as lifting an order that bars retaliation against any witnesses, something she believes also is being used to keep her silent.

But there are already problem with that proclamation. Questions are being raised as to whether the pornographic emails cited by Kane are even covered under the edict, and the belief by some that she could release them herself under the state’s Right to Know laws.

For his part, Carpenter on Thursday said he had received no filing from Kane to release any materials and thus won’t take action at this time.

None of which will change the essence of why Kane now faces criminal charges.

This email saga already has claimed its share of victims. Several members of the attorney general’s office, as well as one Supreme Court justice, lost their jobs after being tied to the emails. In total there have been six firings, 23 reprimands and two resignations, including Justice Seamus McCaffery. To hear Kane talk about it, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And her legal troubles are the result of a concerted effort to insure that those emails never see the light of day.

But none of that addresses her primary legal hurdle, her decision to release information concerning an old grand jury investigation in what appears to be an effort to make a rival look bad. And most important, that she may have perjured herself while testifying about it before a grand jury.

Those actions were not the result of some old boys network, nor any men looking to deep-six a trove of pornographic emails.

This week Kane looked to change the focus of the case. And she may have done that.

What she did not do is change the nature of the charges against her.

We anxiously await that side of the “whole story.”

Unfortunately, it looks like that side will play out in a courtroom, not a press conference.

- The Delaware County Daily Times


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