- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates aren’t required by law to release their tax returns, but candidates for the commonwealth’s highest office have done so for at least six campaigns dating back to the 1990s.

The practice of releasing returns began as an extension of what started on the federal level about four decades ago. Since then, until the 2016 presidential election campaign, all major party presidential nominees opted to make public their returns in a commendable display of transparency.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump broke the string of access by refusing to release his, which didn’t deter him from being elected as commander-in-chief. However, many Americans still wonder what his refusal has kept hidden from public scrutiny.

Now, building upon Trump’s decision, the three announced Republican candidates vying for their party’s Keystone State gubernatorial nod have made it known that they too won’t release their returns.

According to the Associated Press, state Sen. Scott Wagner, who is described as prominent in the south-central Pennsylvania waste-hauling industry, has refused to say why he won’t release his tax return. Likewise, the campaign of Paul Mango, a former health care systems consultant, has said that he would comply only with what is required of him - and, again, Pennsylvania law doesn’t require gubernatorial candidates to release their returns.

The other candidate, Laura Ellsworth, a commercial litigation lawyer, expressed the opinion that it’s “unreasonably intrusive” to be expected to release a tax return. An Ellsworth campaign spokeswoman said Ellsworth believes that the expectation that tax returns be released “creates a disincentive” to run for office.

But that opinion runs counter to the legitimate belief that voters should have more than a name, campaign signs and campaign speeches, and interviews as a basis for judging a candidate.

Incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf, who is running for a second term this year, has said through his campaign that he will release the first two pages of his 2017 return and make available the rest of the return for inspection by reporters.

The three Republicans who will do battle against one another in the May 17 primary election balloting should follow his lead.

Despite Trump’s refusal, his running mate, then-Indiana governor and now Vice President Mike Pence, released 10 years of his tax returns in a laudable display of respecting voters’ right to know.

In Pennsylvania, candidates are required to file “statements of financial interest” with the state Ethics Commission. Those statements list sources of income and enterprises in which a financial stake exists or to which the candidate owes money.

However, the statements don’t reveal how much income a candidate reports to the government and pays in taxes, nor how much he or she receives from each income source.

The AP also noted that tax returns reveal the effective tax rate that a person pays, whether the candidate has avoided paying taxes, how much the candidate has written off, and how much he or she gave to charities.

Ethics-in-government organizations back the idea of gubernatorial candidates releasing their returns, and a spokesman for one of those organizations stated correctly that the more powerful an office, the more scrutiny that a candidate should expect.

Despite no requirement, Pennsylvania’s three GOP gubernatorial hopefuls should rethink their current - unflattering - tax-return stances.

-Altoona Mirror

Online: http://bit.ly/2pu38Yp



They sure aren’t settling for thoughts and prayers.

High schoolers who walked out of class around the country last Wednesday to protest gun violence were demanding action.

Thousands of young people - because while it is tempting to see them as children, these were not the actions of children - organized and inspired each other to make a powerful statement to the older generations: You have failed us. You have not protected us.

Many observers have noted in the month since a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida high school that this time things seem different. Unlike the aftermath of so many other school shootings, this time the schoolchildren are leading the charge for change, inspired by the student leaders of a movement at that Florida school.

They stood together - for 17 minutes, representing the 17 deaths - demanding action. Yet the young protesters are not all on the same page about what action they want to see. Some want stricter gun laws, some want armed teachers, and some want other reforms. But they are unified in the core belief that they must stand up together now because their parents’ and grandparents’ generations have let them down.

As one sign put it, “Sorry for the inconvenience, we’re trying to change the world.”

“Children are dying and being shot and having to practice what to do when a person comes in with a gun to their school,” said Christina Campbell, 12, a student at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school. “We’re sick and tired of it. We’re not doing this anymore. We’re going to fight back.” CAPA students marched to Market Square. At other schools, the students did not walk out but held events in school. At Oakland Catholic, students gave presentations on gun violence and the entire school gathered for a 17-minute prayer service. Students and faculty sat in 17 chairs representing each victim of the Florida shooting, holding a candle. One by one they blew out the candles and left the chair empty. The memory of that image is going to remain with those students for a lifetime.

Adults should be able to assure children that school is a safe place to be. Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, an entire generation of children has always gone to school without that assurance of safety. They are fed up with living with fear.

Many teachers were standing with their students Wednesday, some even moved to tears to see their pupils coming into their own.

The protesters want adults to know that this is not a teenage whim. They might be young, but this is not a frivolous notion or a passing phase. They will be voters soon. And they will remember how adults responded to their demands.

The nation’s leaders must not dismiss Wednesday’s walkout as a stunt or naive youthful folly. This is a call to conscience. Those on the other side of the generations should honor it with action.

-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Online: http://bit.ly/2pvhXdz



When it comes to ethics reform in Pennsylvania politics, state Capitol dwellers are content to talk about it like most talk about the weather: They’ll complain some and make noises about wanting to clean up state government’s act.

But when the political scandal equivalent to a blizzard or Category 4 hurricane finally hits, they’ll inevitably do some token cleanup. Say, shoveling just a bit of the front walk or half-heartedly straightening a broken shutter, then declaring victory and going back inside.

We are talking, after all, about an institution that can’t even vote to reduce its own size without inserting a poison pill guaranteed to kill its own attempts at reform.

So it’s tempting to regard the ethics reform package that Gov. Tom Wolf rolled out last week in the same jaundiced light, a bit of election-year posturing by an incumbent governor who’s likely to face a bruising re-election campaign this fall.

The proposals in Wolf’s “Citizens First” are hardly new.

In fact, they’re the good-government equivalent of a repackaged greatest hits collection, put together by some hoary 1970s classic rock band that insists on touring even though it’s down to one original member who’s bought the naming rights from his old bandmates.

Let’s review: A gift ban for public officials. Campaign finance reform. Receipts for expenses. Pay-to-play protections. A No-Budget, No-Pay bill.

Dream big, governor.

They’re the same tunes, the same tired refrains, the only difference being an unreleased demo of the lead singer recording the one hit single from 1982 into his answering machine.

But they deserve serious discussion - and, wait for it - actual votes that would make them law.

Wolf’s already instituted a gift ban for the executive branch and has made some progress - but not enough - on government accountability.

The Legislature, meanwhile, parties like its 1999, taking trips, accepting sports tickets and all sorts of goodies; all entirely legal as long as it’s reported to the state Ethics Commission.

Campaign finance reform? That’s a proposal that’s been floating around the halls of power in Pennsylvania since William Penn made his first treaty with the Lenape tribe in 1682.

Pennsylvania imposes no limits on how much a state lawmaker can raise or spend. The only ban is on direct corporate contributions.

Meanwhile, some states impose reasonable limits on the influence of money on their politics. Others are moving to ban fundraising altogether while their Legislatures are in session.

And at least once a budget cycle, some well-meaning lawmaker, as the budget deadline speeds toward the Earth like the comet in “Deep Impact,” will float a no-budget/no-pay bill.

Yes, there will be equally well-meaning editorials, but the legislation will generate a collective eyeroll and then go back to ignoring the coming apocalypse.

And all of this is too bad, since the ultimate losers here are the taxpayers, who end up with a largely unaccountable institution that’s repeatedly riddled by corruption and scandal and padded by perks and pensions, one that remains profoundly uninterested in fixing its ways.

There is a reason that Pennsylvania received an “F” in 2015 from the Center for Public Integrity, finishing 45th nationwide for ethics and transparency.

Lawmakers and Wolf talk a big game about making Pennsylvania a leader among states, a home to Amazon’s HQ2, and a welcoming place to live for younger Americans who want to settle down somewhere both inexpensive and quite livable.

“We’ve been managing a decline since (Republican Dick) Thornburgh was governor,” Robert C. Wonderling, the CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, told PennLive’s editorial board not long ago. He said he’s pushing for Pennsylvania to finally master the fundamentals albeit with limited success.

“We were supposed to pivot from a post-industrial world, but I don’t think we’ve ever fully pivoted,” he continued. “We used to be the global headquarters for (large) companies, now we have regional outposts.”

But until, or unless, Pennsylvania’s political class gets the fundamentals right, the good stuff that Wonderling wants to see happen just won’t happen.

And policymakers only will have themselves to blame.


Online: http://bit.ly/2GbDj95



Rep. Miccarelli appears to be living in a universe in which up is down, down is up and a court hearing that concludes with a three-year protection from abuse order being issued against him somehow leaves him feeling “vindicated.”

That’s the word he actually used after a judge affirmed Republican state Rep. Tarah Toohil’s request for a long-term protection order against him.

For the record, Merriam-Webster defines “vindicated” as freed “from allegation or blame.”

Echoing Miccarelli, his spokesman Frank Keel said the protection order “affirms his innocence.”

It seems apt here to quote Mandy Patinkin’s character Inigo Montoya in the film, “The Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word - I do not think it means what you think it means.”

In similar fashion, Miccarelli lawyer Joseph Podraza told reporters Thursday that the assertion the House believed the two women was “false.”

“There was no such determination along that line,” Podraza said.

Wrong again.

As The Caucus and the Inquirer reported, the House investigative counsel determined that the statements made by both Toohil and a second woman alleging harm by Miccarelli were “credible.”

Let’s consult Merriam-Webster again. That dictionary defines “credible” as “offering reasonable grounds for being believed.” Synonyms include “believable,” ”probable” and “plausible.”

Toohil told the House lawyers who interviewed her that Miccarelli had kicked, pinched and “verbally berated” her for talking. She also told investigators that he once held her by the neck against the wall of her Capitol office.

In her petition for the protection from abuse order, Toohil wrote that Miccarelli blackmailed her with photographs that she said he released after she ended their relationship. In 2012, Miccarelli pointed a gun at her head and drove his car at high speed, she wrote, “threatening to kill us both.”

Miccarelli has been stalking her, staring at her and “finding ways to physically intimidate” her on the House floor, Toohil wrote, noting that she now fears “for my safety at work.”

The second woman, a political consultant whose name has not been made public, alleges that when she tried to end her relationship with Miccarelli in late 2014, he forced her to have sex with him.

The two women dated Miccarelli at different times between 2012 and 2014.

The House’s investigative counsel found not only that both women’s statements had been corroborated by sources who were “contemporaneously aware” of the alleged instances of abuse, but that those sources - like the women themselves - were “credible.”

House Republican leaders have called on Miccarelli to resign - as have House Democrats and Gov. Tom Wolf - but he’s shown no signs of acquiescing.

After the protection from abuse hearing Thursday, he said he looked “forward to going back to the Capitol.” (The temporary protection from abuse order obtained by Toohil had barred him from the Capitol; that restriction wasn’t included in the three-year order negotiated by lawyers for Toohil and Miccarelli.)

He added, “I’m just happy to be going back to work.”

Well, as long as he’s happy.

Never mind the fact that Toohil now faces the prospect of encountering on the House floor the man she says threatened and stalked her after she ended their dating relationship.

We urge the Republican House leadership to consider expelling Miccarelli. It would be a difficult process, and rightly so, because it shouldn’t be easy to unseat an elected official. But the House’s own investigative counsel has found the allegations of abuse and assault against Miccarelli to be credible. The House should take every measure to protect Rep. Toohil and other women working in the Capitol from a man who not only hasn’t showed any remorse, but has vowed to seek a sixth term.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence issued a joint statement urging “all Pennsylvanians to demand that their elected officials uphold the laws” of this state.

“Victims of harassment, stalking and physical and sexual violence, and all people in the Commonwealth, must trust our leaders not only to promote public policies that protect victims, hold offenders accountable and enhance community safety, but also to conduct themselves in ways that demonstrate those values and commitments.”

The statement continued: “As long as domestic violence and sexual assault are allowed to continue, and those who have perpetrated those acts are allowed to serve, we send a clear message to victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, and exploitation that they will not be taken seriously.”

We hope House leaders think carefully about what it will signify if Miccarelli continues to be allowed the dignity of his office, and about how it will look if he continues to cast votes in the same chamber as Toohil.

If he is allowed to remain in the House, Miccarelli indeed will have reason to feel “vindicated.”

And victims, not just the ones alleged to be his, but others, too, will feel further victimized by the seeming lack of concern of the people they send to Harrisburg to represent them. We’d define that as a disgrace.


Online: http://bit.ly/2puPQLx



Even in the Wild West of online marketing, legitimate enterprises ask consumers to opt in or out of sharing their data.

But now, reporting by the Guardian and The New York Times reveals how online social media enterprises like Facebook leave open yawning back doors for marketers to obtain consumers’ personal data without their permission for its collection or use.

Cambridge Analytica, a British company, used data from an app developed by a Cambridge University researcher to glean the personal information and online habits of about 50 million U.S. consumers. It refined the data and sold it for political purposes, including to the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.

This hijacking of consumers’ data came after Facebook opened its platform to app developers in 2011. That same year it signed a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission over misleading statements to users about app developers’ access to their data, and other matters.

Facebook says it instructed Cambridge Analytica in 2015 to destroy all of the data it had gathered via the app, calling it a serious breach of the company’s rules. But that follows a pattern of Facebook reacting after the fact to use of its platform for unauthorized purposes.

The objective must be to shield consumers from misuse of their data. The FTC is investigating the latest episode, but it relies on laws crafted for other consumer-related issues.

Congress should recognize that Facebook and similar platforms will not protect consumer data as long as there are no specific penalties for not doing so. It should make those sites accountable when they are used as a wide-open back door to consumers’ data.

-The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

Online: http://bit.ly/2G9akmz

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