Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
HOW TO SPOT VOLDEMORTS: FREEDOM OF FOUL SPEECH IS PROTECTED, TOO, May 31
In the seven volumes of “Harry Potter,” J.K. Rowling told millions of readers a story about the power and triumph of love. Earlier this month, accepting an award at the PEN American Center gala, she issued a reminder about dealing with hatred.
When Rowling mentioned the half-million online signatures a petition to ban Donald Trump from visiting Britain had gleaned in January, a few in the audience applauded. Rowling had referred to “tides of populism and nationalism currently sweeping many developed countries … accompanied by demands that unwelcome and inconvenient voices be removed from public discourse,” and perhaps these audience members expected her to side with those who signed the petition to Parliament.
That would hardly have been a shock: Rowling has compared Trump to Voldemort, the murderous bigot who is Harry Potter’s nemesis.
But when the applause broke out, Rowling said, “Just a moment.”
Only when those who offend are free to speak, she said, are their opponents free to speak against them. “If my offended feelings can justify a travel ban on Donald Trump, I have no moral grounds on which to argue that those offended by feminism or the fight for transgender rights or universal suffrage should not oppress campaigners for those causes.”
There are, of course, those who would argue that there is a difference between silencing good causes and silencing bad ones.
But as Rowling concluded: “If you seek the removal of freedoms from an opponent simply on the ground that they have offended you, you have crossed a line to stand alongside tyrants who imprison, torture and kill on exactly the same justification.” This means that everyone— and especially anyone who expects to be in the minority on any issue —has a vital interest in a culture of free speech.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
TRANSPARENCY GETS A DESERVED WIN IN COURT, May 31
The Public Utility Commission owes the people of Pennsylvania even greater transparency than is demanded by the Right-to-Know Law.
That’s what the Office of Open Records said after the PUC reached a $60,000 settlement with PPL over allegations that the company broke its own rules in restoring power after an October 2011 snowstorm knocked out power to more than 388,000 customers. And that’s what the Supreme Court ruled in a 4-2 decision handed down Thursday.
The Public Utility Code, the high court said, includes “a public disclosure law that evinces the General Assembly’s desire to effectuate transparency, above and beyond that which is required by the (Right-to-Know Law), in the government’s dealings with public utilities.”
The investigation started over an anonymous tip— believed to have been from a PPL employee —that PPL violated its own policy regarding the prioritizing of power restoration following the October 2011 snowstorm. About 1,300 customers went without power for hours longer than called for by PPL’s own policy.
After the settlement was reached, newspaper reporters asked to see the documents that led to the settlement, including the anonymous tip. The PUC at first said the tip was so short as to make it impractical to redact the names of the accuser and the accused. When the Office of Open Records didn’t buy that argument, the PUC and PPL shifted their case for nondisclosure when the case went to Commonwealth Court. The new argument was that the only documents that must be disclosed were those considered by PUC commissioners, not those used by the investigators whose work informed their decision. The Commonwealth Court agreed.
At that point, a coalition of 10 news organizations, led by the Allentown Morning Call and Wilkes-Barre Times Leader and including the Reading Eagle, appealed to the state Supreme Court.
And that court took the side of transparency in no uncertain terms, explaining both that the General Assembly clearly wanted that to be the case, and lawmakers’ reasoning for enhanced transparency in such cases. “Governmental transparency is of paramount significance,” the court ruled, “when the PUC enters into settlement agreements with public utilities, as such agreements are negotiated behind doors closed to the public.”
The case is not about winning one against PPL or the PUC. The PUC’s concerns in this case were valid. As the overseer of the state’s public utilities, it has an interest in protecting whistleblowers, an interest easily overcome in this case by redacting the tipster’s name. And it also wants to be able to encourage utilities to come into line through settlements such as this one— while admitting no wrongdoing, PPL agreed to adopt safeguards against something similar happening again.
The case was about something more important: the public’s right to monitor public utilities and the public entity charged with overseeing them. A $60,000 settlement is significant— as was the loss of power to nearly 400,000 customers that led to it —and the public has a right to see as much of what led to its resolution as possible.
The importance of transparency in the oversight of a public resource such as electric power is what this case was about. And the Supreme Court got it right by straightforwardly interpreting the General Assembly’s demand for it in the Public Utility Code.
— Reading Eagle
STATE DEPT. EMAIL AUDIT RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT HILLARY CLINTON’S JUDGEMENT, May 26
It’s plain to see that Democrat Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a private email server while she served as the Obama administration’s top diplomat from 2009 to 2013 was a horrendous error of judgment.
But Clinton’s decision to never ask for guidance or permission about using such a system, as revealed by a new State Department report, opens a disquieting window on the former First Lady’s personality.
Despite clear warnings that her setup broke federal standards and could leave sensitive material vulnerable to hackers, Clinton and her senior aides ignored that advice, apparently deciding that rules that applied to every other State Department employee, simply did not apply to them.
The 78-page report says Clinton ignored clear directives, never sought approval to conduct government business over private email, and never demonstrated the server or the Blackberry she used while in office “met minimum information security requirements, according to The Associated Press.
As the AP also reports, Clinton’s aides twice brushed aside such concerns, even telling technical staff that “the matter was not to be discussed further.”
It’s an attitude that, while sadly unsurprising, is nonetheless breathtaking in its arrogance.
And Clinton paid the price for it.
According to a review by the agency’s Inspector General’s Office, hacker attacks actually forced Clinton off her email system in 2011— despite claims by the former secretary that her server was never compromised.
As The Associated Press further notes, Clinton and several of her senior staffers declined to be interviewed for the investigation— which flies in the face of earlier public declarations that she was willing to “talk to anybody, anytime” about the issue and that she had encouraged her staff to follow suit.
The report also concludes that the agency’s handling of electronic records and communications stretched beyond Clinton’s tenure at the agency.
“Longstanding, systemic weaknesses related to electronic records and communications have existed within the Office of the Secretary that go well beyond the tenure of any one Secretary of State,” the report said.
And while it’s demonstrably true that government often struggles to keep pace with technology, it does not excuse Clinton’s behavior nor does it provide cover for her campaign’s weak justifications that she was behaving in the mold of her predecessors.
And as juvenile as some of his jibes have been, the revelations about Clinton’s willful disregard of federal rules will only fuel accusations by Republican front-runner Donald Trump (who also has a glancing relationship with the truth) that Clinton lacks the qualifications and judgment to serve as the nation’s chief executive.
And it is a problem that is not going away. Clinton still faces an FBI investigation, a civil lawsuit by a conservative group and investigations led by congressional Republicans.
Hopefully, those probes will be concluded soon so that Americans will have all information available to them as they make up their minds in a critical election year.
Americans expect a certain bravado and self-confidence from their leaders. But they also expect them to play by the same set of rules that apply to all citizens.
And voters should remember Clinton’s willful disregard for those rules when they enter the polling place.
NEW LABELS HEALTHY CHOICE, May 31
The American Diabetes Association and 43 other health groups endorsed new guidelines last week calling for far greater use of gastric bypass surgery to treat Type 2 diabetes, a disease already afflicting 26 million Americans that is likely to be the greatest health care challenge of the century.
Such heroic and costly measures— the surgery alone typically costs about $25,000 —are all the more remarkable because the disease often is preventable and treatable through lifestyle modifications, particularly regarding diet.
That’s why it is important and good news that the Food and Drug Administration has finalized new nutritional labels for food products— not only regarding diabetes, but any aspect of health that is affected by diet.
The new labels, which will be mandatory by July 2018, are more realistic regarding portions and far more informational. For example, a serving of ice cream will be defined as two-thirds of a cup rather than the current half-cup. And a 20-ounce beverage will be defined as a single serving rather than two or more.
Most important is that calories per serving will be in much larger type and there will be a category for added sugars.
The new information and better format will be a good tool for consumers who choose to use it. And, because consumers will have the data, the new labeling might serve as an incentive for manufacturers to produce healthier products.
— The (Scranton) Times-Tribune
IT’S COMPLICATED, May 29
In a move hailed by many, including Gov. Tom Wolf, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board this past week permitted nine gas stations to sell six packs of beer.
“Freeing the six pack will make the commonwealth more inviting for customers and businesses,” said the governor in a written statement released within minutes of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s decision.
However, before Wolf or any other six-pack beer lover starts heading for the nearest gas station, there’s some sobering news about the decision. As usual, nothing ever comes easy in Pennsylvania, even when it comes to selling six packs of beer.
For starters, the decision only pertains to the nine gas stations. One is in Canonsburg and another in the Gibsonia area of Allegheny County. The rest are located in central and eastern Pennsylvania.
The decision, though, is expected to pave the way for other gas stations to sell six packs. It could have major ramifications for Sheetz and GetGo who have been urging the LCB for years to allow the sale of beer in their stores.
“Our Pennsylvania customers have overwhelmingly told us loud and clear that they want to be afforded the right to purchase beer at convenience stores and other business locations,” said a spokesperson for Sheetz. “We are committed to helping achieve beer reform in Pennsylvania.”
“We applaud all efforts made by the state to increase consumer convenience,” said Dick Roberts, a spokesman for Giant Eagle, which owns GetGo.
But there are some important requirements that must be met before the LCB approves any more sales of six-pack beers, said Elizabeth Brassell, a spokesperson for the LCB. She noted that the ruling doesn’t give the green light to every gas station in Pennsylvania, pointing out the LCB will still evaluate requests on a “case-by-case basis.”
For one, she said, gas stations that want to sell beer must have “separate entrances, separate registers and some sort of physical barrier” between where customers buy gas and where they buy beer.
But more importantly she noted the gas stations wanting to sell beer must get a liquor license, which are not easy to come by since Pennsylvania clearly stipulates the number of liquor licenses that are available in each county. That means any new or existing business that wants to sell beer must wait for a liquor license to become available, either by transfer from another business or by permission from the state.
Good luck with that. A spokesman for the LCB said there’s only one liquor license currently available in all of the commonwealth, that being in Juniata County.
In addition, there are still some legal hurdles that must be cleared for the sales to take place. In 2014, the LCB approved the sale of beer at a Sheetz store in Shippensburg. The Malt Beverage Distributors Association, which represents the owners of beer distributors, filed suit, claiming such sales were against the law.
A Commonwealth Court judge sided with the PLCB, but the association filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, which hasn’t heard the case yet.
So, it’s possible all this could become moot if the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules that the sales are illegal. But even if the court gives its OK to the sales, it’s extremely doubtful that many local gas stations will be selling six packs of beer anytime soon. Of course that could change down the road.
In the meantime, though, lovers of six-pack beer will have to be content with the status quo, which so often seems to be the case in Pennsylvania.
— The (Uniontown) Herald-Standard