Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published 10-17-2018

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Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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DJ'S DON'T DESERVE ADVANTAGE, Oct. 17

Pennsylvania lawmakers were wrong in approving a bill giving incumbent district judges an unfair advantage when seeking re-election.

As with challengers, an incumbent should be required to collect voter signatures on petitions for the right to have his or her name appear on ballots.

When the state Senate erred in voting unanimously in June to exempt the incumbents from the signature requirement, it was hoped that members of the House of Representatives would exercise better judgment. Instead, the House voted 128-65 on Oct. 10 to concur with the upper chamber's action, sending the approved measure to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.

Following the House action, the governor's office said Wolf planned to review it before deciding whether to affix his signature or veto it.

Because of the proverbial slippery slope that the measure would create, Wolf should ref

Following the House action, the governor's office said Wolf planned to review it before deciding whether to affix his signature or veto it.

Because of the proverbial slippery slope that the measure would create, Wolf should refuse to endorse it.

"What kind of slippery slope?" some state residents might ask.

Allowing incumbents to escape the requirement to file petitions with at least the required minimum number of voter signatures - 100 signatures are required for the office of district judge - the measure could open a window for exempting eventually all judicial incumbents from filing signature petitions.

That might be followed by a similar misguided break for incumbent lawmakers.

The result would be an unfair advantage, again, to incumbents, violating the state constitution's requirement that elections be fair.

State lawmakers, Democrats as well as Republicans, should have been putting their energy to work on behalf of productive measures, not a measure aime

"What kind of slippery slope?" some state residents might ask.

Allowing incumbents to escape the requirement to file petitions with at least the required minimum number of voter signatures - 100 signatures are required for the office of district judge - the measure could open a window for exempting eventually all judicial incumbents from filing signature petitions.

That might be followed by a similar misguided break for incumbent lawmakers.

The result would be an unfair advantage, again, to incumbents, violating the state constitution's requirement that elections be fair.

State lawmakers, Democrats as well as Republicans, should have been putting their energy to work on behalf of productive measures, not a measure aimed at undermining the election-fairness principle.

Lawmakers' excuse for passing the bill is flimsy - that incumbents face the risk of hostility when seeking petition signatures.

It's hard to fathom that any incumbent would not know enough people from whom to gather 100 signatures before needing to go door-to-door to seek signatures from people whom he or she might not be familiar.

That's not the view of lawmakers like Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery, who said many judges have reported "hostile, frightening behavior" and some physical harm when they've sought petition support.

"It can be dangerous, in contrast to what some people have suggested," McCarter said.

However, those who characterize such opinions as overblown are more in tune with reality. Instances such as those to which McCarter alludes haven't been dominating news coverage. It's hard to recall when they've prompted even a public whisper.

But suddenly, in Pennsylvania, legislative action has been forthcoming that raises questions about whether it could withstand a challenge in the state's courts.

"This (the approved measure) is subverting the election process in favor of incumbents," said Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny.

He's right.

Meanwhile, if Rep. Dom Costa, R-Allegheny, is correct that incumbent district judge candidates "need our protection," then that same "protection" should be accorded to the other district judge hopefuls vying to unseat them.

But that would no doubt create a number of problems, especially in preparing ballots for the primary elections - like numerous "candidates" supported by one person, the "candidate" himself or herself.

Elimination of filing fees for incumbents or challengers could have the same effect.

The old adage "don't try to fix something that isn't broken" applies regarding the signatures issue.

__ The Altoona Mirror

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2pVXnme

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SEARS, KMART CLOSINGS SHOW CHANGING PRIORITIES, Oct. 16

Sears and Kmart are joining a club with an illustrious membership.

It's the ranks of businesses that felt like bedrock but are washing away under our feet.

This week, Sears Holdings Corp. announced another long list of closings across the country. Of those, 13 are in Pennsylvania, and three are Kmarts in the Greater Pittsburgh area: New Kensington, Pleasant Hills and Shaler. Sears and Kmart became Sears Holdings in 2004, part of an $11 billion deal with the discount big box store absorbing the legacy catalog and mall anchor store giant. The company has now filed for bankruptcy.

If this feels familiar, it's because we have been over this ground before.

We have become accustomed to the giant white elephants of retail dying by inches, leaving behind their bones surrounded by parking spots. While there are few Sears and Kmart stores left, we stood vigil while others traveled this road, and not just the recent casualties like Toys 'R Us and Circuit City. We laid to rest Hills and Ames, Gimbels and Kaufmann's.

There are plenty of reasons. Progress and change have consequences. Is there room for Kmart in a world where Walmart and Target carve up the marketplace and shopping malls become ghost towns? Sears built the mail-order business, and Amazon has become its next evolution.

But we have to take responsibility for our part in the demise, too. We have to own that, as consumers, we gravitate toward cheap and convenient on one hand and trendy on the other.

Sears was known for stability, like the Craftsman tools guaranteed for a lifetime and boys' pants that were sturdy enough to be hand-me-downs for a whole generation of rough-and-tumble bike riders. Today, we buy what will do for now, expecting to replace it.

The internet has made convenience as close as the front porch rather than the corner store, and we have embraced two-day shipping with breathless ease.

We aren't wrong for it. We have just made a choice about our priorities, and the price of that choice is a series of long, slow goodbyes to the stores that were cornerstones for communities.

__ The Tribune-Review

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2CN9k68

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AD RULE WON'T REDUCE COSTS, Oct. 17

The Trump administration has announced a proposed rule to force pharmaceutical companies to prominently display the list price of drugs that they feature in television ads, but don't expect to see it soon.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that the rule would require ads to prominently display the list price of any drug that costs more than $35 a month.

He earlier had rejected an industry proposal for voluntary guidelines on disclosing prices, saying correctly that there is no reason to believe that the industry will reform itself.

Unfortunately, there also is no reason to believe that Azar's proposal would produce reform or lower drug prices.

The rule itself has no enforcement mechanism. So, while rejecting voluntary industry guidelines, Azar's agency would rely on voluntary compliance with a government rule. The HHS simply would publish a list of companies that do not comply.

Further, the rule does not recognize the realities of drug pricing. The list price rarely is what consumers actually pay. Insurers and pharmacy benefit managers usually negotiate lower prices for their customers and the companies themselves often enroll new patients in discount programs for expensive drugs. Advertising the list price, which most often is higher than what consumers actually pay, could have the perverse effect of dissuading patients from discussing the drug with their physicians because of the artificially high advertised price.

Meanwhile, major pharmaceutical companies have agreed to participate in an online "patient affordability platform" designed to help patients search for actual drug costs, discounts and coverage options.

Rather than meaningless advertising disclosures, the HHS should pursue a mechanism that would enable consumers to assess actual prices, and an online device that would help them secure the best possible deal for specific drugs.

__ The Times-Tribune

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2OyITrr

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POSTAL SERVICE ESSENTIAL TO THE ECONOMY, Oct. 15

Local postal workers delivered an important message recently when they protested against a budding Trump administrative initiative to privatize the United States Postal Service. Members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation should hear that message and join a broad, bipartisan effort in Congress to fix, rather than kill, the postal service.

Wednesday, the postal service proposed a record 10 percent increase in the price of a stamp for a 1-ounce letter, from 50 cents to 55 cents. The price for each additional ounce would decline slightly.

As more correspondence, bill-paying and advertising has gone digital, the postal service's revenue from first class mail steadily has declined. Most recently, it fell from $28.4 billion in fiscal year 2015 to $25.6 billion in 2017.

Like other delivery enterprises, the post office has profited from the rise in e-commerce. Package revenues were $19.5 billion in 2017, up from $15 billion in 2015 - directly contradicting President Donald Trump's claim that the service services from a contract with Amazon under which it handles the final leg of many of the retailing giant's deliveries.

In addition to the proposed letter-rate increase, the Postal Service Board of Governors also asked for a package rate increase of 5.9 percent, which increase the cost of delivering it's standard small box from $7.20 to $7.90.

In all, the USPS total accumulated deficit is $58.7 billion.

Led by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, 26 senators and more than 190 House members of both parties have joined in opposition to privatizing the postal service. They are correct that privatization likely would leave rural areas with limited or no service.

They also are correct that the postal service's problems do not flow solely from operations and cite increasing revenue from package delivery to prove the point.

Rather, they point to a 2006 law that requires the service to pre-fund employees' health care benefits, unlike every other federal agency and private company, which pay premiums as they come due.

A Senate bill introduced by McCaskill and several other senators would phase out the pre-payment over four years and, beginning in the fifth year, save the postal service nearly $6 billion every year.

The postal service remains essential to the economy. Rather than killing it, Congress should take up the measure to eliminate the unreasonable up-front health care payments and put the service on stable footing.

__ The Citizens' Voice

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2q5rRm5

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U.S. LEADERS FIDDLE WHILE PLANET BURNS, Oct. 16

The warning bells don't get much louder.

The red lights don't flash much brighter.

The planet is on a doomsday course with self-destruction thanks to an overheating climate. The time for action was yesterday - many, many yesterdays, actually. And the action itself is increasingly daunting. It is also unquestionably necessary.

That's pretty much what the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said last week when it issued a report on climate change that spelled out in exhaustive if depressing detail the challenges, health risks, costs and downfalls of not realistically addressing our hotter planet.

And unless drastic steps are taken - "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society," in the stark language of the 728-page report - the door will close for good on any real chance to lessen, let along halt the effects.

And those effects are many, varied and frightening. Higher rates of illness and deaths from heat-related illnesses, increased smog, and infectious diseases; widespread incidents of diminished mental health; less access to drinking water; rising sea levels increasingly flooding coastal cities; diminished habitats for various animal species; a loss of farmable land; increased instances of drought in some areas; and stronger and more-frequent storms in other areas.

An example of that last item was on display last week, as Hurricane Michael exploded from a tropical storm to a Category-4 monster in just two days, fueled by well-above-normal-temperature waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, scientists warn that no single weather event can be definitively tied to climate change. But it is worth noting that, like Michael, all four Category-4 or -5 hurricanes in 2017 underwent similar rapid intensification - exactly the type of pattern scientists predict we can expect as the climate continues to warm.

If you think either the report or the imminent approach of a massive hurricane got President Donald Trump's attention, you're not on Twitter (or, arguably, the planet).

After ignoring the dire document for a day, Trump, when finally asked about the report, was dismissive, saying he'd have to see who wrote it. Not that it matters, because Trump is about as likely to read something 728 pages long as your family pet is to cook dinner, but the report was amassed by more than 90 scientists and is based on some 6,000 peer reviews.

It was ordered as part of the 2015 Paris Accords - the global climate agreement from which Trump is seeking to remove the United States (a climate-averse decision the pig-headedness of which is rivaled only by the president's efforts to dismantle the 2015 Clean Power Plan, which targeted domestic coal and other power plant emissions).

It should come as no surprise, then, that the day after the new report was released, Trump . removed restrictions on ethanol in gasoline. (Really.)

So add "global climate" to the list of things the president thinks he is smarter than. While you're at it, add "global climate" to the endangered species list - with the rest of the planet to follow.

As the UN report makes clear, unless herculean efforts are made immediately to slow the rise in global temperatures to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial levels, the point of no return may come as soon as 2030. (And don't forget, the temperature has already rise nearly 2 degrees, so there's precious little wiggle room left.)

Still, the president, his so-called Environmental Protection Agency, congressional Republicans (who just approved a climate change skeptic to lead the Department of Justice's environment division), and the oil industry barons (who, laughably, are imploring the federal government to build oceanfront barriers to protect coastal refineries), among others, have no interest in acknowledging the problem, much less addressing it.

Ignoring troves of scientific evidence, they continue to turn back environmental protections, ratchet up the use of fossil fuels, and churn out man-made carbon emissions like there's no tomorrow. On that last count, at least, they may be right.

__ The York Dispatch

__ Online: https://bit.ly/2yn7WDp

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