As abrupt and nasty as those words sound, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is delivering that exact message to same-sex couples who want to marry.
A Casey spokesman said in a pitiable statement yesterday – in response to my inquiry as to why our powerful Pennsylvania senator opposes marriage equality – that Casey has supported civil unions and will be watching carefully the proceedings as U.S. Supreme Court justices decide whether to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states and allow federal benefits for legally married same sex couples.
Dancing around the issue continues to trivialize the continuing fight for civil rights and hurts countless people who are otherwise good citizens in good standing in America.
Some states put more restrictions on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people than others. Pennsylvania, for example, allows gay couples to adopt children. Ohio does not. New York allows gay couples to legally marry. Pennsylvania does not.
When it comes to consistency, the United States is a confederacy of dunces where “Stonewall” Casey and his socially awkward colleagues in oppression tell us that, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Be gay – just not too gay.
In many ways, bigotry is the Northeastern Pennsylvania norm, a tribal custom where gay people join women as one of the last acceptable targets of allowable discrimination.
Come to think of it, some Jews in our community likely still feel the coal field sting. Ethnic slurs have not disappeared, either. Coloreds also know the feeling.
How’s that word sound, by the way?
People who mean well still call my radio show and call African-Americans “coloreds.” Benevolent racism rules and they truly don’t understand why complimenting “the nice colored fellow at work” solidifies the simple ignorance that allows the wall to climb higher rather than being torn down.
Some people around here also see no problem calling mixed race people mulatto – as in “The president has done all right for a mulatto.”
And, in many ways, Democrat Casey is to blame. As one of two senior senator role models in Pennsylvania, he helps set the standard high or low. That’s why his continued tuxedoed presence at the annual segregationist Lackawanna County Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner shows the world that 1,200 smiling men can’t be wrong when it comes to barring certain people from certain places where the elite gather to crow (Jim?) and congratulate each other on their success.
After more than 100 years of dinners, except for servers (waitresses, as the lads call them) women - even female political candidates - are still banned from the gala event. Yet Casey’s cold Irish eyes keep smiling even though they’re blind to the harm he does by continuing to support such blatant discrimination.
The same goes for Democrat rookie Congressman Matt Cartwright. Although he says he supports marriage equality, he attended not one but three male-only St. Patrick’s Day dinners this year. That means a nice gay couple of kiss-me-I’m-Irish gay men can show up and maybe even share a table with our “liberal” congressman but a couple of lesbians right off the boat are banned the way their ancestors were banned in America with “No Irish Need Apply” or “Irish And Dogs Keep Out” signs hanging on doors where jobs and hope for the future was offered to others.
Like scarlet fever, discrimination is catching and can be deadly. The legacy of Matthew Shepard and others who felt the fatal blows of bigotry turned to hatred gone wild cries out for justice thus far denied.
Casey and Cartwright will no doubt reject my analysis of the damage they do to some of the people they represent in this supposed land of the free.
But, maybe, just maybe, somebody each man loves will one day come their way and ask why they persist in helping to deprive good people the unalienable rights guaranteed under the banner of decency under which honorable leaders march.
I hope it is not too late for Casey and Cartwright. I hope they never lose the love of a friend or relative they coldly and cavalierly turn away. I hope love one day turns to respect and respect turns to liberty and justice for all. I hope that maybe we will one day hear strong, loving words coming from their hearts that will truly help take America to the next level of power.
We love you. We care for you. We accept you. We respect you - equally.
Amy called the show yesterday and said, “Wear red.”
That crimson flag, the color of passion and even anger, will fly at tonight’s rally on Courthouse Square in Scranton where who knows how many people are expected to show up to call attention to marriage equality, discrimination and civil rights violations against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Same sex couples will have priority at tonight’s historic gathering.
Please tell me if I’m wrong but I doubt that anywhere in the thick annals of Scranton history has anyone organized and held a gay rights rally.
Even gay coal miners stayed in the closet back then.
Yes, there were gay coal miners - and gay priests and nuns and elected officials and your sister and cousin and aunt and uncle and brother and you know where I’m heading here.
But you rarely heard about them. They stayed inside the bubble, scorned yet loved at the same time – kept from playing any central role in politics, business, faith or family even when they lived with a loyal, caring partner who never really got welcomed into the family.
In the old days, you simply had to go along to get along and welcomed into the family cause. Coal region tribes have always had problems with outsiders. Catholics didn’t dare think about marrying Protestants – until they did, of course. Ethnic barriers remained in full force for generations, climbing higher and higher until younger less fearful descendants decided that Irish could marry Italian and Polish could marry Irish and even English could find their way into the mix.
But gay people were insiders.
And they still got scorned and ignored and exiled into secret areas of the community until they came home for Thanksgiving, usually leaving loving, faithful partners to head into their own lonely homes where the best they could be were favorite uncles and aunts.
Of course families protected them as best they could – as long as they didn’t get too gay.
Now is the time to be as gay as you want to be. That means see you at the altar. That means equality and civil rights and getting married if you choose. That means a sweet dream, an American Dream to be sure, that rivals any hope grandma and grandpa or those who came before them brought with them from the old country.
This means you.
Gay or straight, we now have the chance – even in Scranton and throughout the hard coal country of Northeastern Pennsylvania – to stand with liberty and justice for all, supposedly unassailable cornerstones of American freedom.
That means tonight’s rally on Courthouse Square is not just a symbolic statement, but a challenge to all elected and appointed public officials who swear that they stand on the terra firma of democracy as they pick up their paychecks for upholding the public trust.
But don’t expect too many political candidates to take the microphone or even lurk in the shadows of tonight’s party. Their status quo political party will likely take precedence over their sense of right and wrong.
Political expediency still riles and rules. And election or re-election for our milquetoast “leaders” depends more on the way things are than the way things should – and must – be. Mainstream politics in Scranton and elsewhere in the coal fields and across the nation still depend on the mainstream rules of engagement - knowing your place and not doing anything to really rock the establishment.
But the meaning of engagement has changed. I’m talking rainbow-colored rings that sparkle with a sense of justice, symbols of fairness and equal opportunity, vestiges of the best of what America offers those who trust in its promise.
I’m talking love, too.
Marriage can be a rough venture. About 50 percent of heterosexual marriages fail. Maybe gay people who crave respect and acceptance will be stronger and able to do better. Maybe they’ll bring up the percentages and the sanctity of marriage crowd will take time to thank them for their trouble.
I doubt it but it’s a nice thought to believe that we in this great nation of equal protection under the law might finally get it right. American maturity and the fight for freedom – often literally - finally helped free the slaves, give women the right to vote and present us with a 21st Century plan of action.
Marriage is a contract. Marriage is a law. And America is a nation of law.
Turn your back on the right to single sex marriage and turn your back on America.
What flag-waving Yankee patriot wants that on his or her conscience?
I put it off as long as I felt comfortable with putting it off but I finally got my income taxes filed this past weekend.
I use a popular tax program you've probably heard of, TurboTax.
It's the one our former Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner claimed tripped him up on filing his taxes in a timely fashion.
Call me wacky but I think a former Treasury Secretary and president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York would have a better handle on a hold-your-hand, fill-in-the-blank tax program but that's not important now.
I've been using TurboTax for about ten years and the nice thing about it is, each year the program takes your pertinent information from the previous year's file and fills in a lot of blanks for you. That's a time saver when it comes to things like 'Dependents Social Security #'.
My wife and I file a joint return and the bank where she works has provided online access to the TurboTax program so that all the information on her W-2 is also automatically loaded into the program and all I have to do is doublecheck for accuracy. Maybe we'll get that next year.
Anyway, so the taxes are done and e-filed and that's a relief to have that behind me for another year even with the program doing most of the heavy lifting.
I was a little bit disappointed with the outcome though.
Two years ago I got back $3600. Last year it was a $600 refund. This year I owed the federal government 72 bucks.
In the grand scheme of things, what's $72, right? That's about what it takes to fill my gas tank when it's on empty. Still, I'd feel a lot better if I thought the money wasn't just going to be tossed along with the rest of our taxpayer dollars into a gaping maw; that pitchblack bottomless abyss of federal overspending and unaccountablity.
I would have gotten a bigger kick out of putting a match to the $72..
Looking down from the bench, Judge Harold Kane took a stern approach with the defendant. After cutting Kevin Murphy a break by allowing him to enter a program for first offenders, the former Philadelphia judge warned the former state lawmaker from North Scranton.
Fail to abide by the conditions of probation, Kane said, and you will again find yourself standing before me, Kane said.
Murphy looked like he’d rather be golfing.
And that was that.
But how do we know Murphy is abiding by the rules that require 90 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 90 days? How do we know he attends? How do we know whether he’s allowed to miss a meeting here or there? How do we know whether he’s allowed to take the weekend to play golf out of state if he wants?
We don’t know.
The people charged with watching lawmaker turned lawbreaker Murphy won’t tell us.
I should qualify that last statement. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to call Murphy a lawbreaker because nobody in an official capacity will confirm if entry into the program is an acknowledgement of guilt or reflects conviction.
We’d know Murphy’s status – or lack thereof - had he gone to trial the way he claimed he wanted to. But a last minute agreement between the state attorney general’s prosecutors, the judge and Murphy’s lawyer cut the deal that benefitted Murphy, who was charged with attacking his wife and her friend and beating them mercilessly.
Had a jury convicted Murphy, we would know for sure that we could call him a lawbreaker. Now we don’t know. The system that Murphy once served and then disgraced seems to be working more for him than for the good citizens and taxpayers who pay for his coddling.
The other day I called the Lackawanna County probation office to see if they are overseeing Murphy and making sure he is abiding by the rules. I wanted to know the conditions of Murphy’s probation and ask specific questions about oversight so we the people can rest assured knowing that a once run amok Murphy is now under control.
I left a detailed message for the boss and asked him to return my call.
The boss did not return my call.
Instead, he passed along my concerns to a county commissioner press officer, a public relations type with no hands-on experience with the criminal justice system. With my three years working in a state prison, I have more experience. But a PR flack who is likely more knowledgeable about marketing underarm deodorant than probation issues was assigned to deal with me.
The county spokesman left a message on my voice mail. The probation boss passed along my inquiry, he said. Murphy is abiding by the conditions of his probation, he said. We will have no further comment, he said.
For that, he pulls in a nice fat county salary and benefits. For that, people call him a public servant. For that, he is considered a gatekeeper to the public trust. For that, he has joined the ranks of the idiot elite who truly believe they have no duty to openly and honestly answer relevant questions about a man who once got arrested for being a raving maniac who allegedly assaulted two people and, according to witnesses, then jumped behind the wheel of his car and fled in a drunken rage.
For that, people lose faith in the system.
So I tried to call Judge Kane.
An assistant to the president judge in Philadelphia told me that Kane had retired “months and months” ago. Yeah, I know, I said, but he recently presided over a high profile case in my hometown and I needed to talk with him about it. How do I reach him?
The woman told me Kane works for the Administrative Office for Pennsylvania Courts in Harrisburg.
“They pay him,” she said.
So I called and left a message for the AOPC press flack, who has a history of not returning my calls concerning other judicial matters. I politely explained the importance of the matter and asked him to please call me back even if he can’t – or won’t - help me.
I’d like to think that keeping track of a man accused of battering his estranged wife and mother of his four children might qualify as a priority. The PR flack did not return my call.
For starters I plan to file an open records law request with the county commissioners asking to see any and all public documents relating to Murphy’s probation. Then I’ll ask for the probation boss’ job application so I can see his background. I might even ask for the PR flack’s job application.
I’m also thinking about filing a complaint with the AOPC against the press officer who can’t be bothered with the press. Too much rides on government public accountability – especially in the courts - for even a Scranton radio talk show host to get blown off by the privileged ego of a working press officer.
Maybe I’ll get nowhere. But at least I’ll know I tried. That’s what I keep telling you and myself – I don’t expect to win these battles against government waste, abuse and political corruption.
But I refuse to lose.
You simply fight when something’s worth fighting for.
One after another, car after car pulled into the snowy parking lot last night at the Blakely Borough building.
The people came to speak.
And the power of the people prevailed.
In a unanimous vote, all seven council members voted to strip the name of their longtime patron and, in some cases, friend, from the public park that honors him. For months they hesitated, even after former state senator and Democratic political warlord Bob Mellow pleaded guilty to crimes of political corruption.
Blakely’s elected officials stood by their man after he used his disabled daughter in court in a disgraceful ploy to escape prison. They even defended their boy after he went to federal prison, where he remains serving a 16-month sentence, whining about all the “good” he did.
But Mellow’s bad far outweighed his good.
That didn’t stop two council members from coming on the air with me and making fools of themselves. Council chairman Joe Quinn even hung up on me when I called to ask about his duty to uphold the public trust. Needless to say, Quinn did not appear on the radio. The mayor never returned my calls.
But last night council members saw the light. For whatever their reasons, they did what was right. Even if they acted for all the wrong reasons, they did what was right. In the political wasteland that is the Lackawanna County Mid-Valley, that is asking a lot.
Mellow’s name will go from the sign and the big rock that essentially announces that Mellow built the park. Mellow this and Mellow that adorns building after building through Scranton and the spreading hills and valleys that surround this politically septic town. Good people will target them next.
I joked this morning that council members also voted to hire Mellow to remove his name from the park and send letters to prison officials asking that he be work-released back to his home in the Peckville section of the borough. A clambake is planned for Saturday to welcome him home and tickets are available simply by calling area state lawmakers, I said.
Yes, I was kidding – I think.
Mellow continues to not only hold sway through fear in this community – founded or otherwise - but throughout the state as well. Since his recent indictment on state political corruption charges for turning the Turnpike Commission into a “cash cow” loaded with contracts and jobs in exchange for political contributions, Mellow’s future looks far bleaker than it already is.
Mellow, 70, if convicted, could spend the rest of his life cowering in the exercise yard, trying to hold onto his commissary potato chips and hiding Chips Ahoy bags under his bunk so the other inmates don’t take them. Mellow was always the guy who stole the poor kids’ lunch money. Now he’s on the other end of the baloney sandwich.
For that reason, people are understandably worried that he’ll turn into one of the biggest rats in state history.
No matter what his lackeys tell you in Peckville, Mellow is not a stand-up guy. Pampered and privileged, he got where he was through intimidation and the raw exercise of power. Although his biggest flaw was himself, too many people saw him as a holy benefactor when, in fact, he was a backroom godfather who used ballots the way hit men use bullets.
Mellow regularly opened fire, severely wounding honor, dignity, faith and trust in the system, doing his best to kill the public trust to benefit himself. And when the war got too big, he folded, caught in a trap he set for himself, sniveling in court and losing whatever was left of his good-guy image.
But last night in his hometown, the public trust found its second wind. In a standing-room-only meeting room, good people, law-abiding, decent, hard-working people came together to make clear their power. Timid council members saw it coming because for weeks the airways and newspapers teemed with promises of action against this pack of excuse-makers if they dared act incorrectly.
Good people everywhere finally had enough of Mellow’s bad behavior.
And we are on the move.
Sometimes simple victories are the most significant victories. The symbolic power of such a win carries with it energy that cannot be matched. The life or death of a community is often measured by such success or failure.
Peckville took a deep breath last night.
Life began again.
But the fight is not over.
A heavy metal plaque remains bolted to an outside wall of the borough building. The plaque honors Mellow. We don’t need to know who put up the plaque or how it came to be. All we need to know is that the plaque, like the name on the park, will disappear.
The feds already got him. You say the state wants a piece of the action on public corruption charges, too? Bob Mellow?
That degenerate former state senator and Democratic political warlord who for decades wielded power like a shining rapier? That Bob Mellow? The admitted criminal and federal gangster who pleaded guilty and is now serving a 16-month sentence in a South Carolina prison camp?
That Bob Mellow.
One and the same.
They got him again.
Or at least they got him thus far. The presumption of innocence hangs heavily on all Americans because it’s only fair. Due process must follow and Mellow is, whether we like it or not, innocent until proven guilty.
Or maybe the jury will hang up the way we’ve seen happen in hard coal country in the past.
The good news is that if our favorite convict pleads not guilty on the state rap and asks for a jury trial of his peers the trial will not be held here in Northeastern Pennsylvania where, despite yesterday’s announced grand jury indictment, too many people would have chosen our Bob Mellow over Francis for pope.
A trial will not surprise me if only because Mellow is a world-class dice tosser who usually won. The odds might still be in his favor that he can cajole and finagle and talk his way out of a conviction.
But he might be convicted.
And Mellow definitely does not want to do state prison time.
A federal camp is a serious inconvenience but state time is a living hell for a man like Mellow. He’ll actually have to do yard and shower time with very difficult men who are not at all impressed with a now frail senior citizen whose large color portrait hangs in the hall at the state Capitol.
So Mellow might plead guilty - again.
This time, law enforcement better make him cough up what he knows. Last time the feds let him off easy. If he ratted out friends we have no way of knowing. I’d say he didn’t only because he likely would have ratted out this pack who joined him in having their photos posted on a piece of cardboard at yesterday’s state attorney general’s press conference.
That appearance was far more serious for AG Kathleen Granahan Kane – Kathleen G. Kane, as the poster read – than her upcoming appearance Saturday night at the Society of Irish Women dinner. And, it’s actually good for her that her gender bans her from the Lackawanna County Friendly Sons of St. Patrick that same night. God knows how many mid-valley Mellow loyalists will be in attendance to hiss and boo the “girl” who charged their boy.
If Mellow pleads and cooperates, this same pack of political and business powerbrokers might soon be booking one-way tickets to the old sod or whatever other country of ancestral origin might hide them. If Mellow sings, other indictments will follow. In our big corrupt neighborhood, that could include almost anybody.
I’m looking for a deal here – one that will nonetheless include prison time.
Either way, we’re on the healing path.
That’s why no time exists like the present to strip Mellow’s name from the Blakely Borough park bears it. The same goes for the Mellow Theater at Lackawanna College, where the dull school president sits on the state ethics commission as a Mellow appointment.
The Mellow building at Misericordia University and wherever else Mellow found his way by hook and by crook into the hearts and minds of the faithful should also follow suit.
Bob Mellow is an outlaw and a disgrace.
We must once and for all change direction on the road to degradation by shunning and shaming the guilty – not regaling their legacy by further disgracing ourselves.
A grandfather was an enigma to me as a young child. It wasn't a part of my vocabulary and certainly not a part of my life. While my kids today have three grandmothers and two grandfathers, I only had one grandparent due to some tragic circumstances in my parents' lives. My mother had lost both her mom and dad when she was only 8. They died of separate health issues within months of each other, leaving her in the custody of her sister who was 12 years older. There could be a book written about that heartbreaking story, rather than a blog. I'll deal with that on another day.
My father was 19 years old working in the kitchen at the Scranton Dry Goods when his father was killed in the mine. The story surrounding his death has always been hazy. There was talk about another miner to blame, not able to operate the equipment properly. It just wasn't something the family talked about. How hard it must have been for my grandmother, and my Dad, the oldest of 5 children who soon became the man of the family. I remember sitting with my beloved grandmother shortly before her death in 1980. We were having tea, and I broached the subject of the grandpa I didn't know. I didn't have the heart to ask her about his death, but she smiled and laughed as she talked about his life. When my grandma laughed, her cherub cheeks would turn bright red. That day when she turned her head, the light reflected the streak of tears on her face. How she must have loved and missed him.
In recent years, I have become much more curious about the grandparents I didn't know. Just the other day I thought of my Grandpa Kman, and how dangerous it was to work in the mines. I have often thought of searching through newspaper archives to read about what happened. All I had heard was that my dad felt compelled to talk to his Dad that morning, and that his father was nervous about working with a miner who he didn't feel was experienced enough.
Later that day the call came in that my grandfather was killed on the job.
Last week, someone out of the blue sent a link to Pa. anthracite coal records on the injuries and fatalities in the mines. I knew that my grandfather Stanley Kman had been killed in 1951, one of the last fatalities from Pa's scarred mining history. I searched and quickly found the curt details. Stanley Kman was a laborer in the mines, having worked there 21 years. He was an American citizen who struggled everyday in a dangerous job to raise his 5 kids. The details confirmed that the fault was laid at a miner. Here is the one line sentence included to describe the incident surrounding his tragic death:
fall roof shoveling coal face chamber
That's it. More than two decades of back breaking, dirty, dangerous work, gone in a flash, described in 6 words. 60 plus years later I thought something more should be said about him.