Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:

Rally sets bad example for public health

Reading Eagle

Nov. 5

In a normal year, we would have been celebrating President Donald Trump’s decision to hold a campaign rally in Berks County.

Our area is routinely overlooked by our nation’s top politicians. Pennsylvania has been the focus of inordinate attention over the last few election cycles, with national candidates crisscrossing the state. Yet we rarely see presidential candidates here. The most recent were a Bernie Sanders appearance in 2016 and visits by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008. We’ve had visits from the vice president and campaign surrogates as well. Those were nice, but there’s something special about a presidential visit.

While we did take some satisfaction in getting the national spotlight for a little while on Oct. 31, our enthusiasm was dampened considerably by the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the event.

In the midst of a deadly pandemic that is getting much worse here and across Pennsylvania and the country, there were thousands of people gathered in close quarters, and many of them were not wearing masks.

We were particularly troubled by the participation of Berks County commissioners Christian Y. Leinbach and Michael Rivera, who have been leading the effort to encourage public compliance with measures meant to safeguard public health in this challenging time.

County leaders have done a good job of spreading the word in their “Do Your Part-Stop the Spread” campaign. Here are some key pieces of advice they have shared with the people of Berks: Keep at least 6 feet between yourself and others; do not attend or host large gatherings; wear a mask when going out in public. To put it mildly, those rules were widely disregarded during Saturday’s event at Reading Regional Airport.

Leinbach said he was happy to do his part to help support Trump’s reelection effort and defended his participation in the rally by saying: “I understand that someone who is not a Trump supporter can find all the things that are wrong with the timing of this event because of the coronavirus cases we are seeing. But this is historical and there’s no other way to do this so you do what you can.”

That is a most disappointing answer. Being concerned about events that pose a danger of spreading the virus does not necessarily have anything to do with supporting or not supporting the president. After all, the health guidelines we’re talking about come from Trump’s own administration. The county under Leinbach’s leadership has done a good job of emphasizing the urgency of the health danger rather than getting the message mixed up in politics. It’s a shame to undermine that effort at this particularly dangerous moment.

Of course we’re well aware that the president’s appearance was a very big deal, and that Republican office holders such as Leinbach and Rivera would feel obligated to attend and put aside any possible objections to the format. The president put many such officials in a difficult position with his insistence on conducting rallies that flout social distancing rules.

We reject the notion that there was “no other way to do this.” It’s quite possible to conduct a campaign without holding big events with large crowds in close proximity. Trump just decided he was going to do it anyway.

Republicans were right to criticize Gov. Tom Wolf for participating in a protest march back in June while much of the state was still living under major restrictions he had imposed. It was wrong to put politics ahead of public health then, and it’s wrong now.

When our political leaders set poor examples in this regard, it is a slap in the face to so many of us who have had to cancel or reconfigure important activities in our own lives over these long months.

In the coming weeks people will be faced with agonizing decisions about how to observe Thanksgiving and Christmas. The right thing to do is to seek alternatives to large, in-person gatherings for the sake of everyone’s health. We urge people to follow that advice and not let the hypocrisy of some of our leaders lead them astray.

Online: ___

The man and the record

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Oct. 31

“He’s unpresidential.”

“He’s crude and unkind.”

“He’s just not a good man.”

These things, and much worse, are commonly said of President Donald Trump. His personality totally eclipses his record.

So we, seemingly, have him on the dunk tank, ready for a very cold bath.

Let’s play dump the lout.

But is this really what it’s about?

Isn’t the real question whether he has been taking the country, and the economy of this region, in the right direction these last four years?

Can we separate the man from the record?

We share the embarrassment of millions of Americans who are disturbed by the president’s unpresidential manners and character — his rudeness and put-downs and bragging and bending of the truth.

None of this can be justified. The president’s behavior often has diminished his presidency, and the presidency. Most Americans want a president who makes them proud.

We too prefer the first-class temperament and demeanor of a Winston Churchill, a Dwight Eisenhower, a Franklin Roosevelt, a Ronald Reagan, or a Barack Obama (whom this newspaper enthusiastically supported in 2008 and 2012). None of them are on the ballot this year.

Let’s look at the Trump record:

Under Donald Trump the economy, pre-COVID, boomed, like no time since the 1950s. Look at your 401(k) over the past three years.

Unemployment for Black Americans is lower than it has ever been, under any president of either party.

Under Mr. Trump, our trade relationships have vastly improved and our trade deals have been rewritten. Thanks to him, middle America is on the map again and the Appalachian and hourly worker has some hope.

Has Mr. Trump done enough for these struggling fellow citizens? No. But he recognized them. Maybe he was not articulate, but he recognized their pain.

No one ever asked the American people, or the people in “flyover,” country, if they wanted to send their jobs abroad — until Mr. Trump. He has moved the debate, in both parties, from free trade, totally unfettered, to managed, or fair, trade. He has put America first, just as he said he would.

He also kept his promise to appoint originalists to the Supreme Court of the United States. His third appointment, Amy Coney Barrett, is the best of all — a jurist whose mind and character and scholarship ARE first class. We hope she stands against both judicial and executive excess.

Finally, let’s talk about one of the most important concerns in this region — energy. Under Mr. Trump the United States achieved energy independence for the first time in the lifetimes of most of us. Where would Western Pennsylvania be without the Shell Petrochemical Complex (the “cracker plant”)?

Donald Trump is not Churchill, to be sure, but he gets things done.

He is not a unifier. He often acts like the president of his base, not the whole country. He has done nothing to lessen our divisions and has, in fact, often deepened them. The convictions and intellect of all Americans should be respected by ALL Americans, especially the president.

Has Mr. Trump handled the pandemic perfectly? No. But no one masters a pandemic. And the president was and is right that we must not cower before the disease and we have to keep America open and working.

He has not listened well to people who could have helped him. He has not learned government, or shown interest in doing so.

But the Biden-Harris ticket offers us higher taxes and a nanny state that will bow to the bullies and the woke who would tear down history rather than learning from history and building up the country.

It offers an end to fracking and other Cuckoo California dreams that will cost the economy and the people who most need work right now. “Good-paying green jobs” are probably not jobs for Pittsburgh, or Cleveland, or Toledo, or Youngstown.

It offers softness on China, which Mr. Trump understands is our enemy.

Mr. Biden is too old for the job, and fragile. There is a very real chance he will not make it through the term. Mr. Trump is also too old but seemingly robust. But in Mike Pence, Mr. Trump has a vice president ready to take over, if need be. He is a safe pair of hands. Sen. Kamala Harris gives no evidence of being ready to be president.

This newspaper has not supported a Republican for president since 1972. But we believe Mr. Trump, for all his faults, is the better choice this year. We respect and understand those who feel otherwise. We wish that we could be more enthusiastic and we hope the president can become more dignified and statesmanlike. Each American must make up his or her own mind and do what he or she thinks is best for the community and the republic. Vote your conscience. And, whatever happens, believe in the country.



FirstEnergy shell switch should be explored

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Nov. 4

Big companies can be like Russian nesting dolls with layers upon layers of organization and ownership.

The bigger the parent company, often the more companies are contained within other companies.

Pennsylvania electric consumers could deal with a new middleman company in 2022.

That’s when Keystone Appalachian Transmission Co. takes over West Penn Power for Southwestern Pennsylvania clients and Potomac Edison in West Virginia and Maryland.

Never heard of Keystone Appalachian Transmission Co.? Unsurprising. It’s a new shell company FirstEnergy Corp. has created to take over the assets.

A shell company is the perfect description for the situation. It’s a hollow legal vessel meant to contain another company — just like a bigger nesting doll encloses a smaller one.

Sometimes a shell company is meant to obscure ownership. That seems unlikely in this case, as FirstEnergy talked about it on a call with analysts Monday.

It can also be about changing the rules of the game, which seems like FirstEnergy’s play.

Akron-based FirstEnergy created the company under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rather than the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. According to Pennsylvania acting consumer advocate Tanya McCloskey, that means FirstEnergy — sorry, Keystone Appalachian — will be able to use formula rates that move faster than the PUC’s.

To translate: Electric rates can go up more easily.

Is this a done deal? No. There is still a lot of paperwork to shuffle. There are documents to file with the PUC and then the advocate can review, but the whole process definitely is flowing in a certain direction.

So is this necessarily a bad thing, or just a business thing?

Hard to say. Every business wants to make money, and utility stocks are the kind of thing that usually are considered a pretty good investment. Look at any Monopoly board for confirmation. One person’s increased electric bill is another person’s bumped-up 401(k).

But FirstEnergy has done this recently elsewhere. In Ohio, a FirstEnergy corporate spinoff was part of the $1.3 billion bribery scandal that has so far seen charges against the former Speaker of the House Larry Householder, plea deals from two of his associates, and the firing of FirstEnergy’s CEO and two executives.

There was more to that case than a simple shell game. There was an attempt to get the state to subsidize the company’s nuclear power plants. That’s something that was already tried and rejected in Pennsylvania — albeit without any indictments.

The PUC and the consumer advocate should be ready to scrutinize all of the shells and how they nest together to make sure Pennsylvania customers don’t lose the game.



Vote on Tuesday -- and be patient as they count the millions of mail-ins

Harrisburg Patriot News/

Nov. 1

Republican and Democratic campaign stalwarts are emphasizing one unified message – take nothing for granted this election. Get out the vote.

The many local and national polls may point in one direction or the other, but polls have been both right and wrong before. And every single vote will count this election.

We join Republicans and Democrats in urging you to vote, if you haven’t done so already. We add our voices to national leaders such as Chuck Hagel, a Republican and former U.S. Secretary of Defense and recipient of two Purple Hearts, who appeared on “Live On PennLive With Joyce Davis” last week to reassure Pennsylva

nia voters they can have full confidence in the election process.

Hagel spoke directly to his Republican colleagues in calling for peaceful elections, as well as in urging voters to be patient as the results are tabulated.

Leon Panetta, also a former U.S. Secretary of Defense, director of the CIA and Chief of Staff under President Bill Clinton, echoed Hagel’s call and acknowledged concerns among Democrats about potential voter intimidation. But both Hagel and Panetta said police throughout the country are ready to deal immediately with any problems affecting your right to cast your vote in person or by mail.

It’s an understatement to say these elections are critical to the nation’s future. PennLive’s Editorial Board has endorsed Joe Biden as the best candidate to lead us out of two pandemics – COVID-19 and racial inequality. And we have told you why in our recent editorial. We believe Biden is the best candidate to bridge the political divides and help heal the wounds that are now festering sores in too many of the country’s cities and towns.

But it’s up to you to make the final determination on whom you deem best suited to become president, congressman, auditor general, state senator, representatives or attorney general. Don’t let others speak for you. Speak for yourself.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar has assured voters in the commonwealth the highest precautions are being taken to ensure polling places are clean and safe.

Voters can bring their own pens, but those at polling station will be disinfected to prevent the virus’s spread.

Polling officials will wear masks and surfaces will be cleaned regularly. And law enforcement officials are reassuring the public they will not tolerate any attempts to interfere, intimidate or threaten anyone at the polls.

And once the polls have closed and the last ballot has been cast, we will probably not know the ultimate victors for several days, or possibly weeks. Here’s where Americans will be called to have faith in the electoral system and to be patient as the votes are counted.

Good Republicans and good Democrats are standing together in urging all good Americans to demand peaceful elections and the right of every single citizen to cast his vote.

We call on all of the candidates to model the highest standards of the post-election civility Americans want to see in our leaders.

Most of all, we call on everyone, candidates and voters alike, to respect whatever the final tallies show -- for the good of our communities and for the survival of our nation.



Police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. shows Kenney administration learned little from summer protests

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Oct. 30

In the days after police fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr. ten times, Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw have offered little to suggest that they have learned or changed much since late May when protests broke out following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Facing concerns about the way Philadelphia police handled the protests, they made claims about protesters being from out of town and said the tear gas on I-676 was in response to an assault on a state trooper. The former was never confirmed and the latter was disproven by dash camera footage — a fact both later apologized for.

On Wednesday, in a press conference about protest response, Kenney and Outlaw made similar claims. Kenney talked about anecdotal reports of “New Jersey and New York plates in places that were hit that were close to bridges.” Outlaw mentioned reports of Molotov cocktails and “something that appears to be blood intentionally thrown” on officers. None of this has been confirmed.

Outlaw also claimed she hadn’t heard about a video of a mob of cops shattering the windows of a car, dragging out and hitting the driver with batons, while a child was removed from the backseat — nor did she provide clear answers of what may have justified such action.

In May, Outlaw and Kenney vowed a quick review of use of force and swift changes to policies. The killing of Wallace shows that neither the review or the changes were sufficient. In addition, the incident shed light on a shortage of 2,000 Tasers in the department, despite a 2016 plan to equip all officers with Tasers, and the fact that, unlike other cities’ police agencies, Philadelphia’s doesn’t have a behavioral health unit.

Outlaw has been in the police department for less than a year, but Kenney have overseen it for nearly five years. A 2015 Department of Justice study recommended to equip all patrol officers with Tasers. A 2016 Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency study noted that in police incidents that involve a mental health crisis, mental health workers were “rarely on scene or contacted from the scene.”

Now that 10 bullets struck and killed a man in the midst of a mental health crisis, will any of these issues be addressed?

City Council has shown responsiveness to the city’s demand for change. Council held hearings on police response to the protest (Kenney did not testify) and passed multiple bills to reform policing, and placed two police reform charter amendments on the ballot. (They were supported by Kenney.)

Meanwhile, aside from hiring consultants to conduct months-long investigations into the city’s protest response, not much seems to be happening on the administration side.

None of this excuses the unacceptable violence against police officers, or vandalism and theft from stores, that harms local business owners in commercial corridors. But while the outlet of the anger might be misguided, the anger itself is not.

At this moment, leadership means taking responsibility for the state of policing in our city. Philadelphians deserve to know: who controls the Philadelphia Police Department? And who will make it better?