The restoration of the public trust remains the biggest obstacle to progress in Northeastern Pennsylvania. As far as hurdles to a better future are concerned, this one might be insurmountable.
Neither President Barack Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden ventured anywhere near addressing our toxic political corruption when they grinned their way through flat speeches last Friday at Lackawanna College.
Biden didn’t even seem to realize that he wasn’t at a real “community college,” but at a college in the community – a two year football factory whose benefactors and “leaders” are as mired in political patronage, cronyism and corruption as you can get.
Former state Sen. Bob Mellow, the honorary father of the college and mentor to the former and current college president, is currently in federal prison awaiting trial on new state charges that could lock him away for life.
Other than the organized crime of illegal sports betting, political power among the connected remains the cornerstone industry in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and all the little one-time coal patch towns in between. As smart as Obama and Biden are presumed to be, they either don’t know or choose to ignore the ongoing attacks that corrupt business and political armies launch against our future.
The Mafia, violent labor unions and crooked congressmen shaped our destiny. In the “good old days,” when the Italians, Irish and Polish openly hated each other and factories offered oppressive jobs that at least paid the bills, we united in our common dislike of foreigners, blacks, “Japs”, hippies and anybody else who didn’t welcome the Blessed Mother as the only acceptable female CEO - as long as she knew her place and didn’t try to sneak into the male-only Lackawanna County Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s dinner.
For the record, Biden once attended.
Yet, hope reared its ugly head in 2011 when “liberal” congressional candidate Matt Cartwright announced his intent to face off against the conservative Democratic status quo that divided and ruled our lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
In a stunning upset, Cartwright toppled a longtime incumbent.
Then, almost overnight, Cartwright turned company man.
In a simple, yet crucial request for his help, we asked Cartwright to stand with us in stripping Mellow’s name from a public park. The Democratic Party warlord is still feared and held in high esteem by many of those he betrayed, people who understood how Mellow controlled politics in the coal fields and beyond for decades. To this day, nobody more than Mellow embodies the spreading poison that defines hard coal country politics.
But Cartwright turned down our simple and noble request. All we wanted was for him to publicly stand with us and say that the restoration of the public trust matters immensely, that removal of the offensive name of a gangster from a park where children play is the right thing to do.
But Cartwright is a hustler lawyer who clearly understands that if he expects to be re-elected he will need cash campaign contributions from the very same powerful business and political “leaders” who backed his opponent and opposed him in the primary, people Cartwright now considers his friends, mind you.
They matter more than us - perhaps an unforgivable sin.
Even Mary might have a tough time swallowing Cartwright’s weak-kneed stunt.
Us vs. them remains the name of the game.
Yet, after more than 30 pillar-of-the-community-model-citizen-elected-and-apppointed-public officials either pleaded guilty or were convicted after federal jury trials, people tell me they are worried about more of the same.
Peter Smith, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, has seemingly abandoned us. OK, maybe future indictments are in the works. But it’s very difficult if not impossible to obtain simple updates when we ask about cases, the task force probe or offer tips for future inquiries.
People tell me that they once again feel lost, forsaken and used, there for the taking by a new generation of thieves and political cartel members. The public trust, rather than coming back to life with a vengeance, is dying a slow death,
Expect multi-millionaire real estate developer and admitted federal felon Rob Mericle to take a VIP seat at the funeral.
Four years have passed since Mericle pleaded guilty to political corruption for his role in the internationally infamous “Kids for Cash” scandal in which Mericle’s county judge friends sold children into slavery for profit.
Federal prosecutors claim they need Mericle to testify against Ray Musto, another allegedly corrupt former state senator who is, of course, charged with political corruption, and argues that he is innocent, wants his day in court but is too old and sick to go to trial.
As hard as it might be to believe, Mericle’s reputation in powerful political and business circles remains golden. Mericle has yet to be sentenced and remains a bigger wheeler and dealer than he was before he got busted.
The message is clear that crime pays and indictment is just the cost of doing business in our rough little part of America. Most of our political gangsters don’t get caught. Those who do,
even with a prison sentence, get canonized by locals who believe that if they stole they stole for us.
Assuming that Mericle one day does get sentenced, don’t be surprised if he asks the Blessed Mother to write a letter to the judge on his behalf.
Will she comply?
As the late legendary local Mafia boss Russell Bufalino once said, “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate me.”
We in Northeastern Pennsylvania have been treated - or mistreated if you like - to more than our share of appearances by Barack Obama and his faithful goofy sidekick, Joe Biden.
We who live in Scranton – five generations on my father’s side of the family walking the streets – are even more fortunate – or unfortunate, if you like.
I’m tired of this deceptive dynamic duo coming to town. Obama and Biden are more dangerous than zombies at an Irish wake, more boring than a Lackawanna County commissioners’ meeting and far more expensive than a roomful of hookers in the old Central City red light district.
No madam ever had the regal comforts of Air Force One and Air Force Two waiting on the tarmac after a full day of tricks. But our celebrity tricksters will fly off into the sunset after whatever damage they inflict on our common sense.
Still, duplicity can be fun.
You’ll survive tomorrow’s visit by this pair as long as you understand what Obama and Biden are doing to us and not for us.
They’re here for themselves and not for us. They’re here to use, abuse, manipulate and wield power for a select few who will likely flank them on the stage -fellow Democrats such as rookie U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (up for re-election) and whatever gaggle of local pathological Democrats the party faithful can line up.
All will curtsy at the appropriate moment and kiss the ring that is offered, making this reunion a cross between meeting the Queen and the Pope. Some Scranton Democrats consider Obama and native son Biden more lavish than royalty and papal authority put together.
I, too, consider them royalty all right – a royal pain in the arse.
And I’m a Democrat.
Not all of us fall for the sad road show that has played here time and again – a staged appearance by professional hucksters who have more in common with the robber barons of old than with the people whose ancestors toiled in industrial era factories, worked sweltering iron furnaces and dug coal in the black hell holes.
Obama and Biden are masters at playing the middle and working-class for suckers, lining up gullible union officials and other pasties who believe with all their heart that they can find the pea after Obama shuffles the shells.
I’ve seen it all before.
After I became progressively more critical of Obama during the 2008 primary, his handlers kept me out of a campaign rally at a local factory. They could have easily let me in but told me I was a few minutes late. Then they let the guy delivering sandwiches through the press gate.
But Biden’s unforgivable behavior put me over the top.
After the 2011 hurricane, he embarrassed a flood victim in his own Duryea home, ordering the man to rebuild his home after the man made one of the most difficult decisions in his life. Jimmy Pliska decided to walk away from the family homestead because he had rebuilt before and the money wasn’t there and his family had already been through too much.
Noticing my glare, Biden told me it was OK to smile and called me “Dr. Death” because of the grimace I wore that paled in comparison to his capped toothy trademark grin and his delusional sense of reality.
The local scene remains no laughing matter.
Northeastern Pennsylvania maintains the highest unemployment rate in the state. Our colleges and universities – including private two-year Lackawanna College a political nest of patronage and other ethics breaches where Obama and Biden will appear - are graduating students who are not equipped to even comprehend the road map on their way out of town to find work that will take them and pay a living wage.
Biden’s father even fled the area after failing to find work in the years following World War II.
When it comes to wages and opportunity, life has become worse for too many people in the ensuing 60 or so years after the war to end all wars.
But Scranton is supposed to welcome Barack and Biden with laughter and a humble peasant smile that displays great appreciation for their thinking enough of us to come and use us once again for their own nefarious purposes, groveling before the rulers in exchange for whatever moldy crumb of hope and change they might provide.
By the way, I believe Biden still owes my cash-strapped city that is on the brink of financial ruin money for the extra security the city police provided when he showed up to ruin the July 4 fireworks last year.
Biden didn’t even stay for the display.
That’s gratitude for you.
So don’t expect a welcome home from this lad, whose grandfather immigrated to Scranton from Ireland to mine coal. I’m still waiting for Biden’s apology for lying about having family members who worked in the coal mines.
As for Barack, I’m concerned that his ego might motivate him to order a drone strike on the college.
If he does, he knows that some Scranton Democrats will applaud his vision in wiping out potential delinquent college loans.
The latest alcohol-related incident at Lakeland High School in Jermyn is nothing to cheer about.
But, unlike the game-changing teenage beer party back in November of 2001, when Lakeland football players, cheerleaders, a color guard member and a musician in the band got nailed at an underage drinking party that resulted in a play-off loss for the “team,” this case is adults only.
“Cheer moms,” and other supporters of the high school cheerleading squad came up with a plan to raffle off $400 worth of beer as a way to raise funds for the children. A caller to the show yesterday said the original idea involved raffling off a pallet of beer – 60 cases – but their favorite, friendly neighborhood beer distributor said that would be illegal.
So they changed the raffle to a gift certificate that would allow the big winner to buy anything at the distributor - water, chips, pretzels, beef snacks or, of course, beer.
Looks like an end-around, to use underage football jargon. You call a beer distributor a beer distributor for a reason. A beer distributor is where you go to buy beer.
Supporters argue that the teenagers will not sell tickets and that tickets can only be purchased by those over 21 years of age.
Whatever happened to hoagie sales? Whatever happened to common sense. Whatever happened to innocence?
I truly hope that the Lakeland High School cheer-for-beer crowd comes to their senses.
In Jermyn and other places throughout hard coal country, beer is often a first choice problem-solver. In this case, supposedly well-meaning adults are reinforcing bad decision-making in their children, who, unfortunately are, indeed turning into “beerleaders,” as they defend the beer raffle and become increasingly disrespectful in the process.
Lakeland superintendent R. Scott Jeffrey told me off the air yesterday (he declined to speak with me on the air), that the beer raffle is “… a bad idea.”
Jeffrey, who’s new to the job and has been quoted in newspaper accounts as saying he wants only the best for the children, said the high school principal has also not signed off on the beer raffle.
But the cheerleader advisor apparently has done just that.
Jeffrey also said the Lakeland school board has no official oversight policy that gives them any control over outside fund-raising activities.
That must change.
When I broke the beer raffle news on the air Friday, I didn’t name the school because I had not yet confirmed the plan through official channels. After speaking with Jeffrey yesterday, though, I decided to identify the school district.
To do otherwise might tarnish other schools where cheerleading squads and other groups work very hard to conscientiously raise whatever money they can to support their respective public and private school activities. As news of the beer raffle controversy spread, some Lakeland parents and other misguided supporters went wild about anybody questioning the way they raise their children.
But, by mounting their dull defense, they, not I, created the fever pitch that cast their children as members of the “beerleading squad.” They, not I, created the idea that they are “basket of cheer moms.” They, not I, turned a booster club into a “boozeter club.”
A teenage girl who identified herself as the captain of the cheerleaders called yesterday to argue and defend the decision. Then she demanded to know just why I cared so much about what went on at her school anyway.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Seventeen,” she said.
That’s why, I said.
She and her teenage cheerleader friends are bouncing on the dangerous cusp of young adulthood, a dangerous place where bad choices lurk around many corners. For this and other reasons, the ramifications of the beer raffle must command the attention of all responsible adults and teens.
Alcohol use and abuse shapes too much of our lives. Responsible drinking for many adults is enjoyable and acceptable. But when then times get tough and all else fails, too many people let alcohol control them. Alcohol is their savior, their gateway to misery and even death.
To endorse alcohol as an acceptable way to raise funds for high school cheerleaders is wrong.
Republican Scranton mayoral candidate Jim Mulligan is on the campaign trail.
Mulligan better look out for mines and I’m not talking bootleg coal holes in Minooka.
As I write this I’m listening to my colleague Sue Henry interview Mulligan on the air. He’s soft-spoken and professional, a lawyer who says things like “kick the can down the road:” and “tweak” and “rolling out various initiatives during the course of this campaign.”
Sounding acceptably dull yet competent, Mulligan can be viewed as a good old boy with deep political connections during his career as a city solicitor and party insider. Still, as a Republican, he’s the underdog in a Democrat-ridden town where candidates are always ready to fight.
Some are even armed and dangerous.
“We need to be one Scranton,” Mulligan told Sue.
“I want to unite rather than divide the city,” he said.
Three cheers for Mulligan – if he lasts through the campaign. Frankly I’m not sure he has the street-fighting instinct that makes or breaks Scranton politics.
Democrat nominee Bill Courtright is actually a karate “master“ who runs a dojo in rough and tumble West Side where his students flock to his side like he’s Chuck Norris.
“It’s time to see what the people of Scranton want,” Mulligan said this morning when announcing his “listening tour.”
Mulligan calls his strategy “The Mulligan Plan.”
If he up to the fight.
Despite our notoriously short attention span and terrible willingness to accept less than what we deserve, the latest batch of Scranton mayoral candidates have had their share of problems. And, with the financial crisis that stands to send us all over the fiscal edge and into the storm sewers, what remains standing is not something about which to boast.
Liz Randol, who could have come to the rescue with her relative youth, advanced academic degree and hipness was just too hip for her own good.
A transplant from Texas and elsewhere, gun owner Randol said she loaned her handgun to a friend and forgot about the transaction. The friend claimed that he lost her gun – said he couldn’t figure out how – and Randol didn’t even know the weapon was gone until a good citizen found the loaded handgun on a city sidewalk a few blocks from an elementary school and police returned it to her.
Randol’s story got muddled and more questions remained than she provided answers.
So long Liz.
Courtright beat her with his advanced degree in “nunchucks,” or numbchuks, as they’re known in local saloon fighting circles
Enter the West Sider.
Then Courtright blew it when he learned that he owned several years’ worth of rental fees to City Hall for not paying money he owed the fiscally demented city he vowed to serve and turn around financially. Courtright embarrassed himself by trying to spin his irresponsibility as if the unpaid bill wasn’t his fault and that he didn’t even know he owed the money.
That excuse fell flat because Courtright actually voted for the fee when he was a member of Scranton City Council.
The Republican nominee, Gary Lewis, simply got scared when he won and quit in a cold sweat.
Like I said, Scranton’s a tough town.
AIn’t no political party like a Scranton political party ‘cause a Scranton political party don’t think.
Enter the Mulligan.
Republican political bosses anointed and appointed him to run for the city’s top job.
Listening this morning to Sue Henry talk with Mulligan, who actually visited the WILK News radio studio, I wondered if Mulligan would call me this afternoon. When we spoke off the air yesterday, I invited him to talk with us on the air yesterday for about 10 minutes. Mulligan said he had just held a morning press conference, planned to meet with his political consultants, gather with his volunteer campaign workers and go door to door.
What about our 10 minutes, I asked.
Sorry, Mulligan, said, no can do.
A real Scranton candidate, even a street-savvy knuckleball thrower with liquor on his breath, would do 10 minutes standing on his or her head. A real Scranton candidate would have to be dragged off the phone when given the chance to address new voters in a public forum known for political discussion.
As nice as I was yesterday, I was frank with Mulligan and told him he didn’t have to come to the studio and that the press needs to have a politely antagonistic relationship with politicians.
“Our job is to make sure you do your job,” I said.
Mulligan agreed, although I sensed a trace of fear in his voice.
My forum also is known as a political gladiator’s arena where better candidates than Mulligan and Courtright put together have crashed and burned,.
Ifs Mulligan scared?
We shall see.
As a Scranton home owner and voter, I have a couple of serious questions for the new lad.
Let’s see if he’s worthy of the public trust.
Let’s see how he holds up under a little Scranton pressure.
Let’s say I know a guy who owns fully-automatic weapons.
And I do.
And let’s say I stop by his house and tell him that I’m thinking about starting an armed militia and want to practice and can he loan me his fully-automatic, federally registered, U.S. government tax stamped machine gun to use for the weekend.
My buddy says, “Here you go, you little American patriot, you.”
With my finger itching with all the urgency of a Klansman waiting to touch a match to a cross, off I go, headed to the strippings to open fire.
Sound legal to you?
Not on your life, said a federal agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) with whom I spoke this morning.
From what I understand, you cannot take possession of a federally regulated machine gun unless you are the person to whom a federally-regulated machine gun is registered.
News reports say that Gilberton police Chief Mark Kessler bought an undetermined number of machine guns with his own money and donated them to the Gilberton Police Department – where he is the only officer. Borough council approved the deal, press reports say.
If that’s true, I have to wonder if the tiny town has the expensive liability insurance policy a reasonable person would expect them to have.
Good question, huh?
Is Kessler still the registered owner of the guns?
Another good question.
But since borough officials last night suspended the chief for the unauthorized use of the guns – making crazy videos off-duty – it is fair to conclude that he does not own the guns. How can they suspend him for using his own firearms to make an off-duty home movie in which he stars in “Say Hello To My Little Friend” the way Al Pacino stars in Scarface?
If Kessler doesn’t own the machine guns, used them without the owner’s permission and got suspended for doing so, I have to wonder if his actions are allowable by law.
Remember what the ATF agent told me.
That’s why real cops – federal or otherwise – must investigate Kessler’s actions. We can only hope that good cops who understand the meaning of protect and serve are already looking for answers to the questions I am posing in this column.
Come to think of it, police, real police, also should be investigating the circumstances of Kessler’s alleged donation of the guns to the borough. Does all the proper paper work exist to confirm the transaction?
If not, why not? We’re talking machine guns here. Federal law regulates these dangerously powerful weapons for a reason.
But Gilberton seems to be a raw no-man’s land, a rogue land with a toxic skull and crossbones local government that already operates like a militia, an inferno of ignorance where inciting violence is excused as well as applauded in some flaming circles of hell.
Yet some good people in Gilberton, a tribe of about 800 people, live in fear of a maniac cop who told me that the government – federal, state or local - has no right to regulate any firearm.
The Second Amendment is all he needs, said the maniac cop during a telephone interview with me last week. And that includes the right to carry a concealed weapon, he said. I recently learned that police and retired officers are authorized by federal law to carry concealed weapons anywhere in the nation. Still, they must qualify each year with their weapons to meet the relatively low standard to bear hidden arms.
Has Kessler qualified?
Police must check into that detail as well.
I’m still worried that somebody might die in Gilberto before this is all sorted out.
Some of Kessler’s supporters who showed up at last night’s meeting are poor, powerless and perturbed. They are ripe for the picking by Klan and skinhead recruiters. Now they have Kessler, who is clearly enjoying the biggest moment of his isolated life as Schuylkill County mountain men swarm to his side, “protecting” him from the press with openly carried tactical shotguns and semi-automatic rifles.
We’re in hair-trigger territory here, a sad, lost place where nobody is safe, a night cave where the maniac cop is king.