- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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CLINTON SKATES, TRUMP HATES FBI EMAIL DECISION, July 6

Discretion within reason is acceptable in law enforcement. But while few complain when leniency is afforded ordinary people accused of minor crimes, there will be many critics of the FBI’s decision Tuesday not to recommend prosecution of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for carelessly handling top-secret emails when she was secretary of state.

Using his favorite medium for mass communication, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted, “FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow!” An earlier tweet by Trump said, “The system is rigged. General Petraeus got in trouble for far less. Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment.”

In bringing up retired Gen. David Petraeus, however, Trump actually lent credibility to FBI Director James B. Comey’s explanation of the Clinton decision. Petraeus pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor for sharing classified information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he was having an affair while serving as director of the CIA. Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation and fined $100,000.

Comey said Clinton was not recommended for prosecution because a yearlong investigation, including a review of more than 30,000 emails stored on several servers, had provided no clear evidence that Clinton “or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information.” Comey said Clinton had been “extremely careless” and, were she simply a government employee, would likely deserve some disciplinary action.

The FBI decision came less than a week after questions were raised about the investigation’s impartiality when former President Bill Clinton crossed a Phoenix airport tarmac to get to Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s plane, where they had a 30-minute conversation. They said they never talked about emails. Nevertheless, Comey stressed that the FBI investigation “was done competently, honestly, and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.”

Lynch, in attempting to deflect criticism of her airplane tête-à-tête, said Friday that she would accept the recommendations of the FBI and career prosecutors. But the public should expect to hear more about Clinton’s emails.

The scandal rose from a Republican investigation of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The recently completed Benghazi probe didn’t lead to charges against Clinton either.

Trump is unlikely to remove Benghazi or emails from his lexicon of Hillary topics, which is fine. A candidate’s history, including Trump’s, is fair game in a campaign. But voters should spend as much time considering each candidate’s plans for America’s future.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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SUMMER OF DISCONTENT ON REGIONAL RAILS, July 5

Give SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel credit. He didn’t try to sugarcoat things.

Reeling from losing a third of its regional rail fleet to a serious structural defect, Knueppel was blunt.

The Tuesday commute “will be rough.”

Welcome to the summer of your discontent, regional rail riders.

The transit giant did not blink in the face of a grim discovery during an inspection of their new Silverliner V rail cars. Out of 100 inspected, only five did not show traces of a serious crack in a key stabilizer bar.

Knueppel knew what SEPTA had to do. Only in the job since last fall, he knew that federal rail policies meant shelving 120 rail cars. He didn’t try to skirt the issue. Nor did he underestimate the challenge ahead.

He went public immediately with an announcement late Friday, then followed up with press briefings all weekend, emphasizing the magnitude of the situation and urging regional rail riders to begin making contingency plans.

Here’s what SEPTA faced. On a normal weekday, the transit agency ferries 65,000 passengers into the city each morning, then repeats the process during the evening rush. With a third of their fleet now out of service, SEPTA estimated their peak capacity at between 35,000 to 40,000 riders. That leaves more than 20,000 riders unaccounted for.

SEPTA, expecting delays and crowded train cars, urged riders to try to utilize other mass transit options, including the Market-Frankford line, or bus and trolley routes. The fear was people would simply abandon the regional rails in favor of driving into the city, clogging the already jammed major routes such as I-95 and the Schuylkill Expressway. And that might be the easy part. The morning commute involves people arriving in staggered times from points all over the suburbs. The evening crush is a wall of people all trying to get out of the city at roughly the same time in just a couple of sure-to-be-mobbed stations.

SEPTA immediately moved to a weekend schedule. They stressed parking at outlying areas such as the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia, where commuters could then jump on the subway to get downtown.

All of them stems from a major structural problem first hinted at during a visual inspection when a SEPTA worker discovered a rail car sitting at an odd angle. The subsequent follow-up inspection uncovered a 10-inch crack in the Silverliner V car. Checks on the rest of the fleet found problems and cracks, albeit most of them smaller, in all but five of 100 cars checked.

Early Saturday SEPTA pulled all of its Silverliner V rail cars from service, as required by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Still to be answered is what caused the cracks, and what can be done about it. SEPTA awarded the contract for the fleet back in 2006, raising some eyebrows when they picked United Transit Systems, a consortium of Hyundai-Rotem Co. of South Korea and Sojitz Corp. of America. United Transit was the low bidder, and they assembled the train cars here in Philly.

Also still to be answered is how long this is going to last. The early line? Get used to it, the diminished capacity could plague commuters all summer.

For many Delaware County riders, it’s the second major disruption already this summer. Riders on the Media-Elwyn line now are dealing with shuttle buses to get anywhere west of Swarthmore Station. That’s because SEPTA is doing a summer-long renovation project on the Crum Creek Viaduct. Service to Nether Providence, Rose Valley, Media, and Elwyn stations has been discontinued.

Patience, something not often associated with Philly commuters, will be at a premium. So far SEPTA gets credit for transparency about the problem and honesty in dealing with the fallout.

We’ll see how it goes from here.

One thing seems certain.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

- (Primos) Delaware County Daily Times

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DO WE REALLY NEED ANOTHER STUDY OF SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION?, July 3

The state House of Representatives has commissioned a new study to determine whether school mergers would save money.

That’s the equivalent of research into whether smoking can have detrimental effects on your health, and whether eating fatty foods without exercising can lead to weight gain.

We all recognize that school mergers would save money - through reduced administrative costs, streamlined functions such as payroll and purchasing, having fewer buildings needing heat, lights, air conditioning, water and sewer.

The question without an answer is: How do you convince school district officials, parents and taxpayers that this needs to happen?

Another legislative study a decade ago identified 88 school districts - some in our region - that would benefit from merging or consolidating.

That study resulted in no mergers, no breaks for overburdened taxpayers.

“It’s frustrating,” said state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont. “Everyone wants to go to heaven. But no one wants to die.”

Pennsylvania has been holding steady at 500 school districts - all with their own superintendents and business offices and sports, music, theater and academic programs.

Many current districts are the products of past consolidations, which prove that it can be done.

The Cambria/Somerset region has long been the poster child for school (and municipal) consolidation.

As John Finnerty, our Harrisburg reporter, showed in stories published June 26, Cambria County has 12 school districts for its 17,000 students, while Somerset County has 11 districts and fewer than 10,000 students.

Across the state, districts by county vary widely, from one in the case of Cameron, Mifflin and seven others, to 43 individual districts in Allegheny County outside Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania districts enroll on average 3,200 students, Finnerty reported, but 79 districts have fewer than 1,000.

Wozniak correctly points out that the state will need to intervene and push - perhaps even mandate - school mergers.

Rather than studying whether mergers make sense, a good use of state money would be to research how many districts the state ought to have to provide quality education and sufficient extra-curricular activities without making buses travel excessive distances - which might bring safety concerns and offset other savings with higher transportation costs.

“Education has been left to local school boards because local communities should have a say in how they educate their children,” Rep. Tedd Nesbit, a Mercer County Republican, told Finnerty. “But we’re expected to find new revenue, we need to know that money is being spent efficiently.”

Some local residents recognize the opportunity for budget relief from consolidation of schools.

Portage High School alum Tom Myers told Tribune-Democrat reporter Randy Griffith that while he loves his Mustangs, population decline has brought concerns about school efficiency and expenses.

“I graduated with 176 in the class,” Myers said. “When my daughter graduated, there were 50. You have the same facilities and twice the manpower.”

“School districts have no choice,” added Portage resident Bill Fetsko Sr. “Cambria County is losing population. They can’t continue with school districts putting in new schools. There is nobody moving in here.”

James Toth of Nanty Glo urged a countywide school district under one superintendent and central office. He said such a setup - in places elsewhere, including across Maryland - would free up resources for student-related activities.

“There will be more money for the kids - to bring back more of the arts and music,” he said. “I’ve seen studies where people who are involved in sports and music and the arts have more communication skills and make it farther in life. But those are the programs that have been hit the hardest.”

Central City resident Lori Klink said consolidation would improve education while bring together a greater diversity of students.

“They would be more rounded, because it would expose them to more kids,” she said.

Other residents in both counties oppose consolidation, with reasons ranging from loss of identity to a preference for small classrooms.

We recognize that people cherish their schools, where great memories are made. Schools are connecting points for our communities.

But the bottom line is we have too many districts costing too much money. Education funding is a sticking point in every state budget battle.

We don’t need another study to tell us what we already know.

Let’s work hard in Harrisburg and across the state to find ways to make those important and difficult decisions about which districts to merge and start the process - even if that involves pressure from Harrisburg.

- The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat

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TWO WOMEN CAN APPEAR ATOP A POLITICAL PARTY’S TICKET IN THIS DAY AND AGE; CAN’T THEY?, June 30

Raising the issue of whether the White House has room for two powerful women, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell recently stated the obvious.

Some voters in a presidential election won’t support an all-female ticket.

Either out of gender bias or 240 years of conditioning, certain Americans apparently want a Y chromosome somewhere in the Executive Office mix. Rendell alluded to that mindset as a drawback to a potential Hillary Clinton-Elizabeth Warren pairing as the Democratic Party’s No. 1 and No. 2 in this year’s race. “Does it make a difference? I don’t think so, but some people might,” he told an MSNBC interviewer Monday.

A few commentators pounced on Rendell’s statement, and one earlier in the month by U.S. Sen Jon Tester of Montana, suggesting these Democratic men were sabotaging their party’s presidential front-runner. In a recorded interview, Tester had asked rhetorically: “Is the country ready for two women? I don’t know.”

Tester later backtracked, issuing a statement that read: “I shouldn’t have said that, and it doesn’t reflect my values. I have always believed that we need more women in leadership positions, not fewer.”

For much of the summer, at least until Clinton’s vice-presidential choice is announced, power brokers in the Democratic Party might find themselves tiptoeing around this sensitive topic.

We, on the other hand, aren’t under any political or diplomatic constraints. So we’ll just ask the question at the root of the matter: Why is it still expected that the nation’s top elected duo wear neckties and pants?

For the record, this isn’t an endorsement of any contender, merely an observation about - or maybe a rebuke of - unchanging attitudes.

Since the nation’s founding, 47 people have held the office of vice president. Make that, 47 men. From John Adams to Joe Biden, voting majorities have opened the vice-presidential door to most every Tom (Jefferson, Hendricks and Marshall), Dick (Cheney, Nixon and Johnson) and Harry (Truman).

Consequently, the nation has been guided at various times by George and Dan, Jimmy and Walter, Benjamin and Levi, and even John and John.

But never by a woman, much less two.

Are we to believe women lack the necessary communication skills? Judgment? Temperament? Leadership ability?

Or is something else at play?

Interestingly, young women vying for another coveted national title - Miss Teen USA - learned this week of a change to that contest. The pageant has dropped its swimsuit portion, meaning teens will not be judged based on how they look in bikinis, but rather in athletic wear. (A win for feminism?)

Presumably these beautiful and sporty role models will inspire young American girls to realize they, too, can do anything to which they aspire, including run for the highest office in the land - as long as they do so with a man.

- (Williamsport) Times Leader

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HOUSE GAMBLING BILL ISN’T SURE BET, July 1

Like it or not, gambling and human civilization go hand in hand.

It’s an activity that’s likely existed since the very dawn of man. In fact, the earliest evidence of gambling dates to 2,300 B.C. in ancient China. Now, 4,500 years later, gambling is more popular than ever.

It should come as no surprise, however, that government has long tried to regulate - and sometimes profit from - the activity.

After all, some view gambling as a wicked vice, while others look at it as a harmless diversion. As a result, our legislators are perpetually walking a tight rope in an effort to please both constituencies.

Here in Pennsylvania, over the past few decades, the pro-gambling supporters seem to be winning.

Our state now permits a wide array of wagering opportunities. There are lotteries, horse racing, casinos and games of chance at social clubs and some bars.

If you want to gamble around here, it’s easy to find a nearby outlet.

If a recent bill passed by state House eventually becomes law, however, it will be even easier to fulfill your gambling fix.

By a vote of 114-85, the House moved legislation to the Senate that would:

- Regulate sports fantasy companies, such as FanDuel and DraftKings, that operate within the state.

- Allow licensed commercial casinos to offer gambling on websites and mobile applications.

- Permit slot machines at state airports.

- Give off-track-betting parlors the opportunity to operate slot machines.

- Allow casinos to offer sports betting, should it get the legal OK from federal courts or under federal law.

In all of the above cases, the government would profit from the expanded gambling opportunities, either through taxes or licensing fees.

Those taxes and fees, in some cases, would be quite high. For example, the fee to operate a gambling website would be $8 million, while the fee to install slot machines at airports or OTW sites would be as high as $5 million. The tax rate exacted by the state would be as high as 34 percent.

It’s fairly obvious that the state legislators view this bill as a way to raise revenue without raising income or sales taxes.

This is nothing new. It’s known as a sin tax. It’s seen as a way to discourage participation in activities that some view as unsavory - such as smoking, drinking and gambling - while also profiting from those same activities.

At first blush, the latest bill, like most legislation, features both good and bad aspects.

The booming online fantasy sports industry definitely needs to be regulated and taxed, just like any other gambling activity that operates in the state.

And offering slot machines at OTW parlors seems harmless enough. After all, it’s already a gambling facility. People are going there for one reason only - to gamble.

However, allowing casinos to offer online gambling and putting slot machines at airports seems like an unnecessary expansion of gambling. Unfortunately, there are a large number of addicted gamblers here in Pennsylvania. Offering them new temptations - either online or in airports - seems needless. Recovering addicted gamblers can avoid casinos, OTW parlors or social clubs. It’s much harder to avoid an airport, a computer or a cell phone.

The idea of sports betting meanwhile, is probably best left to Las Vegas. Going in that direction could easily lead to point shaving or the outright throwing of games.

In addition, the legislation must be transparent about where the money will go. Will the cash go into the general fund budget, or it will be earmarked for specific projects or agencies? Also, it would be a good idea if at least a small fraction of the money raised would go to help addicted gamblers.

The bottom line, however, is this - the legislators should proceed cautiously and with serious thought. Previous laws that expanded gambling have not produced the projected revenue. In addition, expanding gambling into new venues will almost certainly hurt existing gambling operations.

One thing is clear. New gambling taxes and fees will not be an easy fix for the state’s revenue problems.

Everyone knows gambling is not going to disappear. It’s been around for thousands of years. We just need to proceed with great care when determining the proper role for the state government.

- The York Dispatch

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