- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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HILLARY CLINTON FAILED (MISERABLY) TO MAINTAIN A FIREWALL BETWEEN THE CLINTON FOUNDATION AND HER STATE DEPARTMENT, Aug. 31

On its website, the Clinton Foundation says it “builds partnerships between businesses, NGOs, governments, and individuals everywhere” to find lasting solutions and to “transform lives and communities.” It’s focused on global health, climate change, economic development, health and wellness, and improving opportunities for women and girls. Recently released emails suggest a potentially troubling relationship between the foundation and Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

We don’t subscribe to the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire school of thinking.

In this election season in particular, there’s smoke everywhere.

Still, there’s a rule of journalistic ethics that we think ought to apply to government officials, too: Avoid not just conflicts of interest, but the appearance of conflicts of interest. Because in the public’s eye, they’re all the same.

That’s certainly the case with the Clinton Foundation and the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

When she took the position, Clinton promised to establish a firewall between the foundation and the State Department. She signed an agreement pledging that she would not participate “personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which The William J. Clinton Foundation (or the Clinton Global Initiative) is a party or represents a party.”

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week, the Clinton Foundation also “signed a memorandum of understanding promising to disclose donors regularly. But it violated that provision on several occasions, including when it failed to report a $500,000 donation from the Algerian government in 2010.”

Recently released emails requested by conservative organizations show that Clinton Foundation officials sought access for donors to Hillary Clinton and other State Department officials.

So far, there’s no evidence of any significant favors being granted in exchange for donations - no hard evidence of any pay-to-play arrangement - but donors did get access to Clinton and her top aides, including Huma Abedin.

An Associated Press report last week found that “more than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money - either personally or through companies or group - to the Clinton Foundation.”

The AP excluded from its analysis meetings with federal government employees and foreign diplomats; its analysis covered roughly half of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

Clinton supporters attacked the AP report, saying it focused on a narrow subset of people the secretary of state met, and said it had unearthed no evidence of any quid pro quo.

It didn’t need to.

The appearance of it is bad enough; one can make an argument that the access itself is the payoff.

And if there is a special favor we don’t know about, consider this: Even the Clintons wouldn’t be brazen enough to put it in writing in an email.

We know that people with money and influence often are granted meetings with leaders in power. But the United States shouldn’t be viewed as one of those countries where money will buy you influence with the government.

And the Clinton Foundation - and more importantly, Secretary of State Clinton - shouldn’t have permitted the perception to take hold that foundation donors would be granted access.

It wasn’t exactly “Press 1 to make a donation, then press 2 if you wish to leave a message for Huma Abedin,” but it may as well have been.

The Clinton Foundation has done important work - notably, its affiliate, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, has negotiated lower prices for HIV/AIDS medications across the globe. As the Chronicle pointed out, even Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has acknowledged the foundation’s good work.

But that’s not the issue. The issue here is that the former secretary of state failed to maintain the promised firewall between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department.

It was more akin to a revolving door.

Clinton should cut all ties with the foundation immediately, and make it crystal-clear to her aides that foundation donors should not expect any special treatment from her should she become president.

But even that won’t do much to erase the perception that once again, Hillary Clinton ventured too far down an unethical path for her to be trusted.

There’s no adequate explanation or defense of the unholy alliance between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department. It’s the sort of oblivious, above-the-law attitude the American people have come to expect from the Clintons.

We expect it, but we deserve a lot better.

- LNP

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ISIS RECRUITING CUBS OF THE CALIPHATE, Aug. 29

Except for the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the tragic events of 9/11 that launched the War on Terror, Americans have not had to experience war on a massive scale in their home land.

The Middle East, meanwhile, is a place of constant turmoil where death and destruction occur daily.

After an airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo a few weeks ago, a video surfaced on social media reminding us how innocent children are among the most vulnerable victims of war.

In the video, a young Syrian boy sits silently in an ambulance awaiting help. Bloodied, dazed and covered with dust, he wipes blood from the left side of his head, looks at his hand for a second, and then wipes it on his seat.

The boy, identified as Omran Daqneesh, was treated and released from the hospital. The doctor who treated him said his injury was light compared with the others wounded in the bombing which destroyed his home. Omran’s 10-year-old brother, Ali, who was playing in the street when the bomb struck the neighborhood, was among the dead.

The cameraman who took the heart-wrenching video told one reporter that this kind of scene is repeated every day in Aleppo.

Syria is now in its fifth year of civil war, and countless lives - like Omran’s - are being shattered both physically and emotionally. The Syrian Center for Policy Research estimates the death toll at a staggering 470,000, including 4,500 innocent children caught in the crossfire of war.

While Omran is a survivor, there are thousands of youngsters in the Middle East whose chances at life are minimal. Despicably, militants are using the children to replace losses and preserve adult fighters.

Dubbed “Cubs of the Caliphate,” they are being recruited or forcibly abducted to become suicide bombers by the ISIS warlords.

Children have even been seized from schools to re-educate and radicalize children to follow the group’s extreme interpretation of Islam.

The child bombers often catch security forces off-guard. They have already been used to attack civilians in Israel, Afghanistan and Turkey and military experts fear the child jihadists are being trained to attack civilians across Europe.

In the city of Gaziantep in western Turkey just over a week ago, a teen suicide bomber murdered more than 50 guests at a Kurdish wedding party in the southern city of Gaziantep. As many as 22 of the dead were under the age of 14.

In terror training camps, jihadi children wearing suicide belts are brainwashed and taught ISIS nursery rhymes. In some instances, young boys have been forced to witness ISIS militants shoot fellow recruits who stopped participating in drills.

Child recruits who have escaped from an ISIS base in Raqaa described how they were taught to handle weapons, and how to detonate suicide belts.

One recent ISIS video shows a boy battalion of would-be killers made up of young Asian boys, some looking as young as 4 years old, training with AK-47s.

Terror tactics involving children are known among lawmakers and human rights organizations.

Human Rights Watch, an international nongovernmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, has said that ISIS and other extremist groups “have specifically recruited children through free schooling campaigns that include weapons training and have given them dangerous tasks, including suicide bombing missions.”

It’s one thing to be aware of this atrocity against children, it’s another thing to have the resolve and take action to stop it.

Col. Richard Kemp, former head of British forces in Afghanistan, said, “There is nothing more despicable than hiding behind human shields of women and children and forcing children to fight for you.”

This should be a top concern of every leader in the civilized world.

- Lehighton Times-News

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COLIN KAEPERNICK IS NO LESS AMERICAN FOR SITTING OUT THE NATIONAL ANTHEM, Aug. 29

You don’t need to agree with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down during the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” during a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers last week.

But you should understand and respect it because it was an act of protest as fundamentally American as Muhammad Ali’s refusal in 1967 to be inducted into the Army for service in Vietnam or runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their arms in a black power salute at the Mexico Olympics in 1968.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media after last Friday’s game.

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” he said.

One of those bodies last weekend was that of Nykea Aldridge, a cousin of Chicago Bulls star Dwyane Wade, who was gunned down last Friday on Chicago’s South Side. Two brothers have been charged in connection with her death, CNN reported.

Her death came just weeks after Wade, joined by fellow NBAers, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony opened the 2016 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles with a comparably well-received call to end gun violence.

How, in the face of that carnage, or, for that matter, anywhere else in America, could Kaepernick, who is of mixed-race descent, be expected to stay silent? Black Americans are justifiably shouting from the rooftops about the violence wracking their communities.

Given that context, Kaepernick didn’t just have the right to protest, he had an obligation to protest. And in so doing, it placed him the tradition of Ali, Smith and Carlos.

Still, there’s a school of thought that holds that famous people, whether they be film stars, rock musicians or professional athletes, should stay silent about politics.

Do your job, the argument goes; act, play guitar or hurl a football, but don’t burden us with your opinion on the issues of the day.

As if a professional football player surrenders his right to free expression at the edge of the field. Or as if those opinions are somehow less informed or less valid than the guy on the next diner stool.

Kaepernick’s kind of protest is one America needs more of - not less.

- PennLive

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DRUG COMPANIES MUST ANSWER FOR PRICE HIKES, Aug. 26

Mylan Pharmaceuticals has responded to heavy pressure for its alleged price-gouging in a way that does not resolve the problem.

The company has a monopoly on the EpiPen, which delivers a dose of lifesaving epinephrine to people experiencing severe allergic reactions - most often children.

Since 2009, the company has increased the price of the product from about $100 per two-dose pack to as much as $600.

Tuesday, after several members of Congress joined untold numbers of consumers in protesting the increases, the company announced a discount program to help consumers cover the copay not covered by their insurance.

That will help in some cases, but it doesn’t answer the question of why Mylan exponentially increased prices. And even with discounted copays, the increases inevitably will contribute to higher premiums for the insurance plans.

The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission should investigate the price increases, and the congressional committee responsible for commerce oversight should conduct hearings regarding not just EpiPen pricing, but substantial increases for an array of prescription drugs. Mylan has raised the prices not just for EpiPens, but by more than 20 percent on 24 other products, and more than 100 percent on seven products.

It’s a delicate issue for some senators because Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is the daughter of one of their colleagues, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

But their concern should be more about the daughter of another senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has a nut allergy and must have an EpiPen on hand.

Mylan and all drug producers should be made to answer for exponential price increases.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice

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A SEX CHANGE IN EVERY POT!, Aug. 25

Maybe one of the worst things to ever happen to the public discourse in this country was the proliferation of AM talk radio.

It specializes in creating controversies where none exist and in cobbling together conspiracy theories from evidence that’s supermodel thin.

While it’s perfectly fine for radio personalities and their listeners to engage in such discussions - the First Amendment and all - it is unfortunate when that brand of discourse influences the people who are supposed to make rational decisions about our democracy.

Such was the case when state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, issued a statement blaming Gov. Tom Wolf for taxpayer money being used for sex-change operations. His statement, in case the argument wasn’t subtle enough, was headlined, “Wolf wants taxpayer-funded sex changes.”

The horror!

The statement went further, stating that “hidden in the 2016-17 budget” - one that, Rep. Grove points out, the governor allowed to become law without signing - “is money to expand Medicaid to cover taxpayer-funded sex change operations.”

Gosh darn that tricky governor!

But on closer examination, there are a few problems with Rep. Grove’s statement.

It is true that Medicaid was expanded to cover sex-change operations - operations deemed medically necessary by medical professionals.

But that’s about it.

The biggest problem with blaming Gov. Wolf for this expansion of Medicaid is that he had nothing to do with it and can’t do anything about it - even if he felt so inclined, which he doesn’t.

The expansion of Medicaid is a federal mandate, covered under federal law, the kind of law that’s made and voted upon in Washington, D.C., not in Harrisburg.

Another problem is that Rep. Grove tries to make it sound as if the governor was trying to pull a fast one by hiding the Medicaid funding in the state budget. If it was hidden, it apparently wasn’t hidden very well.

Rep. Grove argues that it’s “hidden” in the budget, but in his statement he questions whether it even exists and then says later that it “wasn’t in any budget document.”

It’s kind of a Mobius strip of an argument, twisting back upon itself.

All of this, again, assumes that the governor had anything to do with it.

And yet another problem is that Medicaid expansion was included, or maybe not, in a budget that Gov. Wolf did not sign. Now, the conspiracy theorists among us would say that was part of the plan, that the governor declined to sign the budget to maintain plausible deniability should his nefarious scheme be exposed - not because he thought it was a lousy budget.

The entire thing was a textbook AM talk radio argument - short on fact and heavy on the innuendo and pandering to the lowest-common denominator.

Rep. Grove did say one thing that’s undeniably true: Gov. Wolf has shown support for nondiscriminatory health care for transgender people since he campaigned for governor in 2014.

True. He also appointed a transgender woman to serve as Pennsylvania’s physician general.

And the governor supports extending basic civil rights to transgender people and expanding the state’s anti-discrimination laws to protect gay and transgender people from unjust treatment.

Now, if Rep. Grove wants to talk about an issue that the state House of Representatives can actually do something about, there it is.

It is long past time that the Legislature expand the state’s nondiscrimination law to cover gay and transgender people.

- York Daily Record

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