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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

October 3, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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GANNON SIDES WITH VICTIMS, Oct. 2

The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. noted. And when it does, that bend in history throws past wrongs into harsh, high relief. Icons topple.

The scrubbing of Erie Catholic Bishop Emeritus Donald W. Trautman’s legacy from Gannon University on Friday occurred in the spirit of the Catholic Diocese of Erie trying to come to terms with a dense, sinful past and take a stand on the right side of history. As reporter Ed Palattella detailed, Gannon’s Board of Trustees on Friday removed Trautman’s name from a building and lecture series and stripped him of an honorary degree.

We have had our differences with Trautman and his prickly resistance to our efforts well more than a decade ago to reveal the truth about local clergy sexual abuse. Even now, he, in contrast to his successor, Bishop Lawrence Persico, does not believe the public has a right to know the names of clergy and laity credibly accused of abuse.

But even we found Gannon’s move to erase Trautman’s legacy jarring. The forceful break with the past testifies to the enormity of the reckoning that’s confronting Roman Catholic institutions across Pennsylvania.

Gannon cited state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s grand jury investigation of clergy sexual abuse in announcing its decision to remove “all awards and honors bestowed” on Trautman, but did not cite what specific details precipitated the move. Instead, the university’s board said it wanted to affirm its commitment to the well-being of students and the Catholic tradition, which “compels us to give voice to victims and to provide for the protection of children and vulnerable adults.”

Trautman responded indignantly and yes, it was a harsh repudiation. The bishop was never accused of abuse and, as Persico has said, Trautman did more than his predecessors to root out abusive clergy. He led the effort to defrock 16 abusive priests.

The grand jury report, of course, took a different view. Shapiro pointedly singled out Trautman for failing to act aggressively enough in two cases.

No longer is clergy sexual abuse the stuff of isolated arrests or appalling findings about one diocese or another. Shapiro’s investigation of six dioceses, including the Catholic Diocese of Erie, revealed such sweeping and calculated failures of leadership that the question of how to move forward with moral authority begs for an answer.

More than 300 clergy abused more than 1,000 children in part because leaders put the institution above the protection of the most vulnerable. How to make it right?

Gannon’s actions are a start — a declaration of loyalty not to errant church hierarchy but to church as essence — the tradition that cares for the least, above itself.

— Erie Times-News

— Online: https://bit.ly/2ICTuek

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THE GUBERNATORIAL DEBATE WAS A DEBACLE, Oct. 3

We don’t want to pull a Trebek here and take one side. But we agree with Wagner that Monday’s debate was a debacle and that Pennsylvanians deserve a do-over.

Maybe moderated by an individual with some skill at guiding candidates through a focused exploration of the issues.

To his credit, Trebek admitted that his attempt at leading a conversation rather than a traditional debate was an abject failure.

In an interview with WHP, the CBS affiliate in Harrisburg, Trebek acknowledged that he was “too naive going into this.”

“I thought a conversation would work a lot better,” Trebek said. “It didn’t.”

It really, really didn’t.

We had low expectations for a 45-minute debate during a dinner of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

As it turned out, our low expectations were too high.

Trebek started off OK, noting that, “This is not a game show tonight. This is serious stuff.”

That he then waxed on pointlessly for a couple more minutes about his angst over agreeing to moderate the debate should have tipped off those watching to what was to come.

Trebek said he accepted the gig on the condition that he could do it his way. But he also said, “This evening’s not about me.”

If only he had clung to that thought.

Trebek said he hoped we would “discover something new” during the course of the conversation. And we did. We discovered that Alex Trebek can’t moderate a political debate.

The man whom The Atlantic magazine once called “blisteringly intelligent” kept trying to be too clever by half. He managed, almost by accident, to facilitate a few minutes of discussion here and there on the death penalty, business regulation and a few other issues on which the candidates depart.

But, for the most part, this was The Alex Trebek Show.

He prefaced nearly every question with meandering anecdotes: a question about gerrymandering began with his reflections on a trip he made from Lansdale to Wilmington; before asking a question about the nature of modern-day politics, he referred to a “famous Californian filmmaker” who made “some very nasty films about a politician running for office” — in a California gubernatorial election.

Perhaps the most head-scratching moment came when Trebek said he would try to find “areas of agreement” on redistricting, then veered off into his memories of having attended a Catholic boarding school — run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (a detail we apparently needed to know) — during high school. Not once in three years, while “sharing the same accommodations” with 44 priests (there were so many details in this story) did he or any of the 250 other students (seriously — another detail?) ever encounter any “sexual misbehavior” on the part of those priests.

He pointed out that sexual abuse takes place in college sports, politics and show business, too. Then, perhaps realizing — too late — he’d wandered off into the wilderness, Trebek said, “So enough about that. Let’s get back to the Legislature.”

At that point, Wolf felt moved to interject: “I don’t think you quite finished on the redistricting.”

“Oh, yes,” Trebek said.

Even he had lost the thread.

Trebek said it occurred to him that, if he resided in Pennsylvania, he could not vote in primaries because he’s registered as an independent. He made an ardent case for a severance tax on natural gas — even though, as far as we know, he’s not running for governor of Pennsylvania.

He pontificated on the importance of fully funding education — a point on which we agree, but could have lived without knowing Alex Trebek’s thoughts on the issue.

At one point, Trebek chided Wagner for either worrying too much or too little — we’re honestly not sure — about Pennsylvania’s unfunded public pension liabilities.

“It’s an obligation! ... It’s an obligation! And you have to recognize that and, you have to satisfy that obligation,” Trebek told Wagner.

When Wagner tried to talk about how Pennsylvania might better address the pension problem, Trebek cut him off, asking him to answer how he’d pay for his education plan.

For a while, it seemed as if Trebek had decided he’d just play the part of the incumbent Democratic governor. It was weird. And uncomfortable — for both the candidates and the audience.

Trebek wouldn’t even let the candidates give their closing statements without delivering his own final riff. He suggested that the people of Pennsylvania call the candidates running in the Nov. 6 election, ask them where they stand on the severance tax, and then disregard whether they’re Democrats or Republicans — just vote for the candidate who agrees with them.

We didn’t understand it, either.

Look, we admit that it’s fun to join the pile-on of Trebek. It’s easier to write about the failings of a game show host than about the intricacies of public policy.

But Pennsylvania is facing some serious issues: the opioid crisis, the child sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, that pension problem the candidates were permitted to address in a glancing way, an economy that will lag if we don’t have the skilled workers that employers seek, an education system that is unfairly funded, senior citizens being crushed by property taxes.

Forty-five minutes — or even the 60 minutes or so this debate ended up being because of Trebek’s windiness — were never going to be enough to address the extent of Pennsylvania’s challenges.

This wasn’t the fault of either of the candidates. But Wolf has the power to remedy the situation by agreeing to a second debate.

We’d encourage the governor to do this. Roughly five weeks remain before the election. Participating in another debate would be the right thing to do for Pennsylvania voters.

And our universities are packed with knowledgeable political science professors who could moderate another debate. No more game show hosts, please. We’ve had our fill.

— The LNP

https://bit.ly/2P4KGRa

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HIDDEN PROFITS: PENSION FUNDS MUST BE TRANSPARENT ON COSTS, Oct. 2

Over the past 10 years, hundreds of money managers have reaped $3.8 billion in profit-sharing from the state’s two big pension funds, without anyone disclosing that information to the state auditor general or the public.

This was on top of the $2.2 billion the firms raked in for management fees that were publicly disclosed.

It’s time to derail the gravy train. The State Employees’ Retirement System and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System must be held to a new level of transparency that includes an annual public accounting of every penny received by a manager.

Some officials, including Treasurer Joe Torsella and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, had been complaining about the over-the-top $2.2 billion in management fees before they knew about the firms’ profit-sharing. Mr. Torsella’s office said the pension funds don’t consider all investment contract information to be public record, and Mr. DePasquale’s office said the firms’ profit-sharing wasn’t detected on audits that did result in criticism about the management fees.

The sums taken by the firms are offensive partly because the funds themselves continue to struggle, valued at only about 60 percent of what is needed to meet long-term financial obligations to hundred of thousands of retired teachers, state troopers, corrections officers and other government workers.

In May, before details of the firms’ profit-sharing surfaced, Mr. Torsella told a conference of local government officials that among the 63 U.S. public pension plans with $10 billion or more in assets, SERS had the third-worst performance and 13th-highest fees paid over 10 years while PSERS had the eighth-worst performance and fifth-highest management fees over the same period. He based the comment on a Boston College database of plan performance.

The firms’ profit-sharing came to light through the work of a Public Pension Management and Asset Investment Review Commission, created by the Legislature to study pension fund performance and costs.

SERS and PSERS disclose management fees but traditionally have not tracked or reported profit sharing. Both say that is about to change. SERS says it will determine whether the information can be made public; PSERS said it will publicly disclose the information. If a change in the right-to-know law is needed to compel public disclosure of such data, the Legislature should make it.

Officials also should revisit the profit-sharing arrangement with management firms. Money generated by the funds should stay with the funds, not flow quietly into the hands of third parties who operate without public scrutiny.

— The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

— Online: https://bit.ly/2yaLhta

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SCHOOL THREATS: USE TOUGH PENALTIES, MAKE IDENTITIES PUBLIC, Oct. 3

Add Greater Johnstown to the list of local school districts that have been forced to respond to a threat of violence.

A student was arrested Sunday after posting a threatening message on Snapchat, school officials said. The post featured a teenager holding a gun.

Community members saw the social media post and alerted school district officials, and the student was quickly placed in the custody of Johnstown Police Department officers.

“Our district community deserves a lot of credit,” Greater Johnstown Assistant Superintendent Amy Arcurio said. “People picked up the phone and reached out to us right away.”

Arcurio told reporter David Hurst: ”‘If you see something, say something’ proved true today and, again, we are appreciative of the immediate response by the Johnstown Police Department and the school community.”

That’s the good news.

The bad news is how frequently this type of crime is committed. And yes, posting a message that threatens violence is a crime.

Arcurio said police told her the student’s Snapchat video was “meant as a joke.”

Fortunately, school officials, the police and local residents didn’t laugh off the post.

“We can’t and don’t take this kind of thing lightly,” Arcurio added. “When something like this happens ... it’s treated as a serious threat to school safety.”

School safety is certainly not a humorous subject.

— Not after Columbine; Sandy Hook; Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania; Parkland, Florida — and so many other scenes of tragedy.

— Not after a threat — fabricated by a student — caused chaos at a dance two weeks ago in Bedford.

— Not after 11 separate threats at 10 area school districts in February — including a student’s pledge of a mass shooting at Shade-Central City High School’s 2018 graduation ceremony.

— Not after a pair of threats closed Westmont Hilltop School District in December.

And on and on.

We urge school officials to press charges in all cases and seek maximum penalties.

And we recommend that the identities of students who make threats of violence be made public regardless of the juvenile status of the offenders.

While the community has gotten the message that a threat such as the one Sunday at Greater Johnstown is not a joke, some students apparently still need a somber reminder.

— The Tribune-Democrat

— Online: https://bit.ly/2PbM6cJ

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RESTRICT BETTING, Oct. 1

There is no surer bet than that legal gambling on sports will grow exponentially over the next several years following the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that a federal law barring it was unconstitutional.

The vast expansion of gambling pose risks to the integrity of college and professional sports, and raise the question of how such gambling will be marketed, especially to kids who spend a great deal of time online.

Sports gambling regulation so far has fallen to the various state agencies that regulate other types of gambling within their borders. In Pennsylvania it is the state Gaming Control Board.

Recently, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on whether federal regulation is needed to oversee sports gambling, which inevitably is conducted across state and even international borders.

Professional sports leagues are concerned. They want 1 percent of the take to ensure the integrity of their games, which is ridiculous. They bear that burden regardless of whether gambling is legal, illegal or both. Ensuring the integrity of games is part of their cost of doing business at all times.

The biggest question, and the one that Congress should tackle, is marketing to kids. Gambling is highly addictive, like tobacco and drugs, and Congress should approach the matter accordingly — establishing strict rules and penalties that preclude use of the internet to market sports gambling to anyone younger than 21.

Congress should strive to confine sports gambling to adults.

— The Times-Tribune

— Online: https://bit.ly/2P5aUmt

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