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Posts from August 2012

Cough It Up, Joe Biden
Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Show us the money, you scrappy kid from Scranton, you.

Because we in your “hometown” are strapped for cash and need every measly penny we can scrape together.

You don’t stick your own.

Stick somebody else, if you must, but not us – not after all the mileage you get out of this old coal town that allowed you to make up a story about your relatives working in the mines so you could ingratiate yourself to voters in 2008.

Show us the miners, you scrappy kid from Scranton.

No, Joey.

We’re not buying what you’re selling.

We’re billing.

I saw this one coming a mile away when you announced that you were headed our way on July 3 with that bogus story about showing your granddaughter the old homestead and staying for the fireworks. But when you blew into town with your entourage, tied up holiday traffic on the interstate and finally showed up for the festivities, you left the kid behind and snuck out before the fireworks even started.

This baby had campaign appearance written all over it.

And for that you must pay the piper.

A weary Mayor Chris Doherty is on the last legs of his political career and is visibly embarrassed that our city might one day go belly up because of politics, cronyism, corruption, bad financial planning and a general state of severe Scrantonitis – a gnarly social disease that is not discussed in polite circles. That’s the only reason he responded to a reporter’s question about all the extra money your trip cost our city in police overtime and whatever else might have gone into accommodating you and your pack of political partiers.

That’s why Doherty said the extra cost will be billed to the campaign.

Obama/Biden owes us $2,126 in police overtime, according to city Business Administrator Ryan McGowan.

Frankly I would think far more money than that went into Biden’s frolic among the peasants. It usually costs more than that for Saturday night security guards for happy hour at the local university watering holes. That’s why I requested an itemized bill from McGowan’s office when I called this morning.

McGowan said that he had the itemized bill on his desk and was planning to send it the campaign as soon as possible. He said he’s been busy. I know I know. Scranton is on financial life support and McGowan is busy finding money to pay the bills.

One good place to start is the Obama/Biden campaign.

Doherty has been to the White House for breakfast – or shall we call it Barackfast? So he should call whoever invited him down for bacon and eggs and ask for Joe’s cell phone number.

Then give that scrappy kid a call and tell him to cough it up.

I also told McGowan bad news.

I’ve already communicated with the Obama/Biden campaign. A campaign source who asked not to be named basically told the city to stick it. She referred all concerns about money owed to the city to the Secret Service, as if they’re going to pick up Biden’s tab. I have a feeling that agents on that elite detail aren’t all that thrilled with the idea of jumping in front of a past due bill for the vice president.

McGowan didn’t seem surprised.

Me neither.

So I’m volunteering to go after the money. I always wanted to be a bounty hunter. And you don’t need Dog when you got “Doctor Death,” the nickname Biden gave me when he publicly made a fool out of himself during a trip to flood-ravaged Duryea last October.

I let it slide when he busted my chops back then.

But I’ll get even through real public service by hounding Biden like the ghosts of real coal miners who died underground in those black hell holes and don’t take kindly to a lace curtain imposter using their sacrifice and legacy for his own benefit.

Doherty likely won’t press it.  McGowan likely won’t press it.  So I’ll press it.

We’ve got enough trouble in Scranton without Biden running out on the bill like a fraternity drunk running out on a dozen Coney Island wieners. If all else fails, maybe Biden can send his granddaughter up here to work off the overdue balance by working as a breaker girl.

As of now, the vice president is a wiener.


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Believe In The System As Long As You Can
Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I silently cheered when the FBI and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania raided the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority.

I felt good because sources there had tipped me to a crime. I reported the details on WILK News Radio, we talked about the violation of the public trust on the air and the feds were listening.

A woman who stole money – a former magistrate – ultimately pleaded guilty to a crime that WVSA board members helped cover up.

But the case seemed to end there.  Nobody got busted for failing to report a federal crime. Nobody else got charged. Nobody else pleaded guilty or fought the charges in court. Powerful, politically-connected people seemed to walk away without being held accountable.

Federal officials seemingly closed the case even though evidence seemed to exist that pointed to additional public service crimes.

Despite the ongoing public corruption investigation in Northeastern Pennsylvania that has so far netted more than 30 corrupt elected and appointed public officials and their business associates, the Department of Justice once again let us down.

Still, they tell us they depend on us. They tell us to trust them, that they have the power to level the battle field of public corruption.

I believed them.

Notice that I speak in the past tense. I’m not really a believer anymore. I probably never was. My faith is severely damaged. My public trust will likely not be restored because my expectations are too high. I truly want to believe that law enforcement and other government officials will one day mostly restore public trust in public service. But I’m probably fooling myself. I’ll still fight for good government. But I don’t expect to win. And I won’t dwell on losing. If I do that, I’ll likely feel overwhelmed and give up. But I refuse to do that.

You might give up, though. So I’m offering a little pep talk here to keep you in the ring.

The fight is what we share in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a common arena that we call community, the place that we call home. The fight is really all we have together.

Sure, we share much else, much of which is good.

Last weekend I ate clams and drank beer at a church picnic up the street from my home. The streets pulsed with laughter and people shared the goodness of a neighborhood where old and young alike depend on each other in little ways that knit the fabric of generations.

Still, the hint of corruption abounds even there.

So many little things matter, of course. Without the simple pleasures of life and an appreciation for family and friends, we’d be lost. But many people, for good reason, feel lost despite the little things.

They know that big things matter as well. They know that the big things get lost in the shuffle because leadership is losing on our common ground. Politics interferes even in the fight for justice. And when people give up believing, they give up the fight. The other side wins. Around here the other side usually seems to win.

Yeah, I’ll keep fighting. But I don’t expect to win. I’ll fight you on principle, just to fight. I’ll fight you because it’s in my spirit. I’ll fight you because somebody has to fight you. And I’ll likely lose. But at least I’ll go down fighting, something I can live – and die – with.

I recently learned about a closed, under-the-radar federal investigation. New evidence exists that tells me the investigation should be re-opened. But I don’t expect that to happen. Accusations about a second, different case also swirl in my head. The law enforcement official with whom I spoke said he passed my concerns along to the proper investigators. Two weeks later, nobody has yet gotten back to me about these serious claims about a potential federal crime.

The public is frustrated. Even some police are frustrated. The crooks are frustrated, too. They don’t have it as easy as they did in the past. But they don’t have it as hard as they should. They still win more than they lose.

Admitted Luzerne County gangster and multi-millionaire Rob Mericle currently faces sentencing for his role in the “Kids for Cash” scandal. In the meantime, he remains a terribly powerful man about town, a developer who still receives new tax breaks, a community leader, a role model and visionary who is still welcomed by respected and polished business pillars of the community.  Mericle is even welcomed by federal prosecutors with whom he cooperates in their case against former state Sen. Ray Musto, another accused corrupt public official.

The most powerful people in our community consider Mericle to be a man who helps more than he ever hurt.

At least one “Kids For Cash” victim killed himself. Who helped him? Who will help the next powerless victim?

I pray that somebody does, because, as of now, Mericle and his enablers seem only willing to help themselves.

Tags :  
Topics: Law_Crime
Locations: Luzerne CountyPennsylvania
People: Ray MustoRob Mericle

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Once A Rat Always A Rat
Thursday, August 16, 2012

Speaking of sewer rats, three admitted criminals and former Wilkes-Barre Area School District board members – including former board president and King Rat Frank Pizzella – might still be able to help.

In recent years, that little crime-infested gang of stoolies pleaded guilty to public corruption charges in the ongoing federal public corruption investigation that has so far netted about 40 elected and appointed public officials as well as a smattering of free market, private enterprise criminals.

Not only did this unholy trio admit guilt, they cooperated with the government. They willingly ratted to save themselves. And judges went easier on them for their effort.

Even though their ratting days are apparently over, let’s hope they soon return to “public service” and live to rat again. Let’s hope they voluntarily contact the feds and offer their expertise as degenerate criminals so authorities might again strike the school board nest of members, family and friends.

If our school board rats don’t step up as acts of conscience, let’s hope federal officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the IRS, the Secret Service and others step to them.

Lean on them a little. Rats are not known for courage. Rats fold. Rats are rats. And, once a rat, always a rat.

Hard-working, taxpaying, honest law-abiding citizens of the school district now have all the more reason to hope for additional indictments, arrests, imprisonment and inquiry.

At last night’s board meeting, two Secret Service agents showed up like super heroes at the meeting, served subpoenas and then sat politely for the discussion, taking in the attempted public service that went on in the room. No one knows just how much true public service occurred but it’s fair to say that less rather than more occurred.

What really happened last night likely involved board members nonchalantly trying to cover their posteriors as they started to sweat under the collar and wonder if one day they, too, might have to turn rat.

Potential rats abounded in the room.

Scurrying and shuffling papers, outgoing Superintendant Jeff Namey seemed flustered when interviewed on television news and played dumb for the masses - not hard for Namey since he went to college in his pajamas, obtaining his doctorate degree during the pioneer days of online “education,” an experiment that allowed him to work in Wilkes-Barre while receiving credit in Philadelphia. And a once-respected school helped inflict “Dr. Namey” on the people of his hometown, by and large good citizens who really deserve better.

But no matter how hard Namey tried, if he ever tried at all, he never crawled out from beneath the legacy of his convict father, a crooked union official who served his federal prison sentence in his pajamas, since some lackey partisan judge allowed the seasoned criminal and Mafia associate to serve his leisurely sentence with a comfortable dash of home confinement.

Now junior is retiring.

His own legacy will be his ability to express shock and surprise at his former colleagues’ crimes.

Namey even complimented Pizzella, a former Plain s Twp. Police officer and township commissioner, who should never been elected to the school board let alone the presidency. Pizzella, if you recall, had been accused of spousal abuse, punching his father and threatening to kill his daughter. In 1980, according to the Citizens Voice, police accused Pizzella and a friend of hiring a hit man to break the legs of a political rival.

Where’s King Rat Pizzella when we need him? He might easily offer insight into the remaining board members as well as into Namey’s behavior, whose every move as Superintendent must be scrutinized if we ever hope to find our way from the underground networks and back into the light.

Notorious Wilkes-Barre tow truck operator and community agitator Bob Kadluboski peered last night from behind his ever present sunglasses and told board members that they leave a lot to be desired.

“Youse are worse than sewer rats,” he snapped.

When the meeting ended they scampered for the exit holes and into the darkness where corruption thrives.

Like Winston Churchill said, “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.”

Let’s hear it for the rodents.


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Come Home To Ireland
Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Now a magic memory, July’s “Mystical Ireland” tour rests softly in our minds, offering reminiscence and reflection for many years to come.

Ask Tom from Wilkes-Barre, whose homecoming to a place he had never before visited made him feel as if he never left.

Some of his Irish relatives never did.

Generation after generation of Tom’s family sunk their native roots deeper and deeper into the soft emerald soil, raising families and becoming more and more Irish in the process.

At home in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Tom dreamed of one day making contact, of discovering more about his past and connecting with the flesh and blood life of his proud Gaelic heritage.

Tom kept his dream alive for decades. Day after day at work in the prison, he sometimes allowed himself to ponder the land where it all began for his family. Was Ireland as green as everybody says? Are the people really friendly? Would his relatives embrace him with those thousand welcomes you always hear so much about?

Not that long ago Tom managed to connect over the Internet. Pursuing genealogy is easier nowadays. And with the help of a Website here and an email there, Tom found a cousin in Westport.

Now retired, Tom took a deep breath and booked passage on his trip of a lifetime.

Excited to tell me about his discoveries and his dreams, Tom sat at the introductory meeting at AAA North Penn headquarters in Scranton and spoke of the land of his forbearers. Even as a seasoned traveler to the old country, I felt his excitement and wanted badly for him to see the Ireland of which he dreamed.

But, in tourism as in love, nothing is guaranteed.

Truth be told, I worried.

Connecting with family can be wonderful when it happens. But hurdles sometimes abound and sometimes life isn’t what you want it to be. Still, the risk of travel and adventure is always worth the effort.

My own father had put off his own pilgrimage for decades because of one reason and one reason only.

“Why,” I asked Shamus. “After all my trips and after all these years, why have you never come along?”

Shamus looked me in the eye with that two-fisted police detective look I knew so well.

“I worry that Ireland won’t be what I always imagined it to be,” he said.

I gave him my biggest grin.

“It will, dad,” I said. “It will.”

And it was.

Nervous about his own mission, Tom had no idea what to expect.

Nor did I.

Day after day in Ireland I’d watch Tom and his wife enjoy the itinerary – Dublin old and new, St. Patrick’s grave and the splendor of the lush countryside, Belfast’s troubles turned to hope and Derry’s strong people fighting courageously for their share of freedom drew Tom deeper into the Celtic spell. The new Titanic exhibition brought home the stark reality of fate and the majestic Giant’s Causeway overwhelmed us with nature’s power.

Then we arrived at Tom’s family’s hometown.

On our first day there, I spotted Tom across the lobby in the Hotel Westport and sensed that something was wrong. He looked a wee bit dazed, a wee bit wobbly and his face seemed flushed.

But nothing was wrong.

Everything was right.

Tom said that the young woman working the desk had listened attentively as Tom volunteered his story about looking for the past that would hopefully blend into the present with all the intricate connection of fine linen hand-spun on an antique loom.

She listened attentively, as she must have done countless times with countless Irish-American tourists. Then she politely told Tom and his wife that her shift was ending and asked if she might drive them to the old Westport church where many of Tom’s family members are buried.

Stunned by her gentle kindness, Tom and his wife joined the young woman who above and beyond the call of duty took them under her wing and guided them even closer to home.

At the young woman’s urging, the priest came out of the church, Tom said, and showed them family records and graves and the ancient hospitality that cemented the sacred bond that shapes the cultural core of traditional Ireland.

That night, I watched across the dining room as Tom and his wife – joined by his Westport relatives – sat hunched over the dinner dishes sharing stories from here and from there.

The difference between here and there is slimmer now.

Ireland was all that Tom thought it would be - and then some. Call it the luck of the Irish or just call it goodness. Call it what you will, because a little piece of mystical Ireland lives in us all – if only we give it room enough to breathe.

Tags :  
Locations: BelfastDerryDublinWestport
People: Tom

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The Public Trust Needs Protection From Abuse
Tuesday, August 07, 2012

State Rep. Kevin Murphy’s wife has changed her mind.

Denise Murphy no longer believes that she needs to be protected from her husband. Since she withdrew the protection from abuse (PFA) order she asked for and received, Kevin can even have his rifle back.

Denise could change her mind again. She might decide that it’s best for her and her children if she doesn’t testify against her husband in court. She might tell herself that what happened to her was her fault.

Denise Murphy would not be the first woman to back out of a domestic violence attack that police say turned the Murphy family’s world upside down. She would not be the first woman to blame herself. She would not be the first woman to lose her self-worth in the shadow of a man who once vowed to cherish her.

But even if that happens, police must push the prosecution of the wild lawmaker from North Scranton who deluded voters and himself for too many years. Prosecutors must take all the evidence they say they had from day one and put it on the table in a court of law even if Kevin Murphy’s wife shows up with weeping children holding his hand. Police describe a scene that nobody should ignore.

And I mean nobody.

In the days before losing the Democratic nomination in the April 24 primary election, when Kevin and I were still talking, I asked him if he was getting divorced. He said he was. The rumor mill was working overtime and people were talking disparagingly about the two-term member of the House of Representatives and his personal life.

But Kevin assured me that his wife was supporting his re-election campaign and that they were still friends.

What police describe in the criminal complaint against the lawmaker is terrifying. Police accuse Kevin Murphy of driving to his wife’s house “highly intoxicated.” He slapped her in the face, manhandled her by the neck and forced her head into the floor of the car in which she was a passenger. He punched his wife’s friend in the face and attacked him with a chokehold. Then he fled drunk in his car and hid out until the next day when he turned himself in to police.

Kevin Murphy easily made bail.

The PFA application describes him as a stalker and a maniac who once screamed so loudly into his wife’s ear that he perforated her ear drum. He threw groceries at her, she wrote. He had a gun and had allegedly been involved in an altercation in East Scranton before attacking her in front of her home and neighbors.

Those neighbors must have the courage to show up in court, too.

The criminal hearing has been postponed until August 28. I plan to attend to offer moral support to anybody and everybody, including Kevin Murphy’s wife, assuming she goes forward with her case. But even if she doesn’t, I’ll be there to show support, if for nothing else, the system that must remain strong and aggressive and protect women from marauding men who can and do kill.

Kevin Murphy is accused of being a wife beater. Put that on your resume, Murph, alongside the B.S. degree from the University of Scranton that you finally have after decades of lying about it. That lie came back to haunt him as lies often do. And losing the primary sent him hurtling over the edge.

Because Kevin Murphy wasn’t the man we thought he was or he wanted to be, Kevin Murphy lost far more than an election.

To Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola’s credit, he asked the state attorney general’s office to handle the case. Jarbola grew up with an adjoining backyard to that of the Murphy family and knows that even the mere appearance of impropriety can create more trouble than it’s worth.

So a Democratic state representative will face a Republican state prosecutor.

Everything is partisan politics in Scranton – even allegedly attacking your wife.

Even if Murphy arrives fresh from rehab and vows to never use alcohol even that contained in his “manly” cologne, he must pay for his crimes if he is convicted. A short county prison sentence is not too much to ask.

But maybe Denise will refuse to testify. Maybe her friend will refuse as well. Maybe the neighbors will go back inside their houses and pull the blinds. Maybe the magistrate will toss the case.

Maybe Murphy will run for mayor.

Had Kevin Murphy learned the value of honesty when he was growing up as a kid with a future DA in his backyard, he would have saved himself, his wife, his family and his constituents a whole lot of trouble.

Instead, Kevin Murphy lied and failed and crashed and burned.

Now he stands accused of trying to take everybody down with him.

We cannot let that happen.

Tags :  
Topics: Law_Crime
People: Andy JarbolaDenise MurphyKevin Murphy

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Storm The "Non-Profit" Barricades
Thursday, August 02, 2012

Most Scranton residents don’t live like lords and ladies of the manor.

Most people in my city get by the best they can, many struggling to pay rent and property taxes and otherwise surviving on a day-to-day basis without many frills.

Butt we do, indeed, have our lords and ladies of the manor.

Stop by the University of Scranton and ask to talk to the president about the way he lives. Stop by Lackawanna College and ask to talk with the new president about the way he lives. Stop by the majestic Commonwealth Medical College and ask to talk to the president about the way she, or he or whoever the newest president in a line of washed-out has-beens happens to be, and ask about the luxurious lifestyle that likely still provides a presidential membership to the hoity-toity Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre.

All the presidents are like chief executives living at the top of the heap, tossing crumbs to the peasants below.

And, if you stop by, you’ll be lucky to get past the presidential secretary before she calls security.

The University of Scranton president won’t talk to me, and I’m a long-time member of the press. The president of Lackawanna College has stopped returning my phone calls. The Medical College is more like Frankenstein’s Castle than a welcoming part of my community, where five generations of my family has walked long before any of these college presidents were born.

Yet they behave like royalty.

I’ll give them that. These pompous posers are, indeed, a royal pain in the bottom - the bottom line, that is. And the bottom of the barrel for the people of Scranton is that we are in deep, deep trouble that will take wisdom, vision and, above all, money to see us through.

These major city institutions, as well as others, including the big hospital on the hill once known as CMC that has been taken over by Geisinger, pay no property tax. They are exempt, immune, a no-go area for city leaders to go for help. I’m talking about real assistance, not a cheese sandwich like we’re ragged paupers looking for white glove charity. The existence of this city depends on far more than lace-curtain hand-outs. We need major infusions of cash in exchange for the power and the glory these institutions enjoy in this place.

Frankly, most of us had no say in their coming here in the first place. They decided for themselves – through the great intellect of board members such as millionaire ex-felon Louis DeNaples, his brother and their powerful political pals – people like former state senator and disgraced admitted criminal Bob Mellow - to put down roots right here in Scranton .

So don’t expect the good people of Scranton to pick up the slack for privilege that makes all these executives more like robber barons than Robin Hoods. We do have our share of hoods in that gang of community pillars, by the way.

Wait and see how many of these esteemed concerned citizens write letters of reference to the federal judge on behalf of Mellow when he gets sentenced. See how many of them overlook this gangster’s major crimes and his pillaging of the very public trust they piously claim to represent.

Despite their clout, these wealthy institutional leaders now find themselves in a fix.

Warring Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and City Council President Janet Evans have finally agreed to come looking for money from these institutions – more money in some cases and first money in the case of Lackawanna College – a school that just threw a huge and costly coronation for their politically-connected president who Mellow personally appointed to the state ethics commission.

Most of these joints make a PILOT, a payment in lieu of taxes. But they don’t nearly give enough or pay their fair share for what they receive in exchange for doing business in Scranton.

Yeah, yeah, I know.

We’re supposed to give thanks every day that these lords and ladies walk in our midst

I give thanks for feral cats, too, because they keep the rats away.

But quality of life depends on more than rodent control.

The non-profit “U” even allowed for-profit companies such as the homophobic “Chick-fil-A” to set up shop in the campus food court. University officials agree with the poultry company CEO’s much-publicized bigotry against gay people because the Church also takes great pride in discriminating against gay people.

But the for-profit foray should nullify the “U’s” non-profit status. And for that reason the city should take them to court and sue the feathers off them. I’ll testify as a character witness - for my town, not for the corporate “non-profit” hucksters.

The free lunch is over.

We peasants are tired of picking up the tab.

The palace rallying cry of “Let them eat chicken nuggets” is over.

Time to storm the barricades.

Up against the wall, chicken plucker.


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