The hard truth is that our “experts” aren’t all that expert.
Too many Northeastern Pennsylvania professionals are political animals, partisan players rather than cutting-edge pros capable of getting the job done. When it comes to decreasing the number of teenage suicides in our community too many of our “professionals” lack real expertise.
Political posturing ruled the night last night at the public “forum” to address the tragic loss of four teenagers to suicide in a week. I don’t doubt the panel members’ intentions. I challenge their ability to solve our problems. They’re just not up to the job.
But, what do you expect in a community where public service jobs in school districts sometimes go unadvertised, where applications are not taken and where political cronies get hired without an interview?
Pittston Area School District has been one of the region’s stellar offenders. So has Luzerne County government. Both have contributed to the increase of federal convicts snared in an ongoing criminal investigation into the destruction of the public trust.
Children are not fools. They watch. They develop the bad habits of poor role models. And sometimes they give up and choose death over continuing despair. A stacked deck among insiders – adults and children – makes it abundantly clear that equal opportunity does not exist, that hope fairness does not exist for them, that no matter how hard they try they will never get ahead – now or ever.
Last night’s meeting produced a dull panel of the same old faces – people who have ingratiated themselves to a rigged system that takes care of its own and, distasteful as it is to say, eats its young.
Never forget the “Kids for Cash” for-profit business that sold children – including some from Pittston Area – into penal slavery for money and put former Luzerne County President Judge Mark Ciavarella behind bars for 28 years.
Never forget former Pittston Area Superintendant Ross Scarantino who wielded political power like the wild outlaw he was, a “well-respected” man who ran amok until prosecutors caught him and he admitted that he was a gangster public servant who only served himself and his friends.
The children saw this happen. They struggled and watched their parents struggle. They lost and lost again. Then they gave up.
Last night our “experts” offered a task force to the living. The panel’s privileged lives have been one big task force designed to benefit themselves and people like them. They preen and posture and provide shallow consolation while most of the people they supposedly serve continue to lose.
You lose if you’re not politically or economically connected. You lose if you don’t have a patronage hook. You lose if you’re not strong enough or smart enough or crooked enough to grab some spoils for you and yours.
That includes the kids. Kids are part of the hierarchy. Some children simply get treated better because of who they are and who they know. Other kids stumble, fall and some times die as a result.
County drug and alcohol boss Carmen Ambrosino, a darling of the political in-crowd, last night made the most superficial statements. The children are our future, he said, as his pinkie ring shined in the overhead lights of the huge school auditorium, where working-class people sat stunned with despair. Ambrosino, rippping off the words of a famous civil rights activist, said he was sick and tired of being sick and tired. After 40 years of repeating himself, he still needed written notes to convey his tired message.
The rumbling in the audience told me that parents and children saw right through this ruse. That’s when some people started to leave. They had heard it all before. They came for help and got blinded by an insider’s pinkie ring.
The new school superintendent seemed dazed. Young District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis looked overwhelmed. And four women from Children’s Services sat quietly nearby while another woman from the Victim s Resources Center also sat in silence.
Public service is supposed to be a privilege – not for the privileged.
We are a seriously dysfunctional community.
Yesterday on the air I described our situation to a professor of psychiatry at Columbia Medial School who heads up a free and successful program designed to help communities address teen suicide and depression. I told him about our recent suicides and the massive placement of local public officials in federal prison for public corruption.
The psychiatrist responded in soft tones, saying that we sound like a serious and strange place. I told him that children and adults alike don’t know who to trust. That poses a concern, he said.
We need a new panel of real experts. .
Politicians helping themselves at our expense has grown far too costly.
Even on the brightest day, William Prescott Elementary School stands dark and foreboding in the Hill Section of Scranton. Mold has attacked walls, ceilings and who knows what else in the neighborhood public school, threatening to sicken and harm countless children whose futures are shaped in the hallowed halls of the building.
I have unofficially renamed the school.
From now until resolution – assuming such remedy occurs - we will call the city institution “Toxic Elementary School.”
At Toxic Elementary School, dreams become nightmares, sickness overcomes health and safety is cast into the wind like so many mold spores taking flight into the atmosphere to be inhaled by little lungs that bleed easily.
At Toxic Elementary, your children are at risk. At Toxic Elementary danger lurks around every corner. At Toxic Elementary even two apples a day might not keep the doctor away.
But how many of the nine “directors” at the Scranton School District admit any knowledge of the March report that notified officials of the clear and present danger to health?
Their silence is deafening.
District Superintendant William “Billy” King says he didn’t know about the March report until September 11. Parents who got their hands on the report gave a copy to Principal Al O’Donnell about two weeks ago.
No school district official has taken public responsibility for ordering the report, paying for the report or even reading the report. And, even though the school district is under state investigation for alleged cheating, nobody stands accused of copying the report and handing it out to colleagues to help head off scandal and worse.
The answers were all there in the March report. Mold threatened anybody and everybody who set foot in the school and took a breath. But everybody in any position of responsibility failed to do anything about it.
Children stood on a cliff and adults pushed them off.
Once the news broke, damage control began. But, instead of closing the school until specialists fixed the problem, the children were expected to stay. They are inside Toxic Elementary School at this very moment that I write these words, breathing the mold and awaiting whatever result comes their way.
Maybe nothing bad will happen. Maybe somebody will get sick. Maybe somebody will develop lung damage. Maybe some child will hemorrhage and die.
Scientific evidence documents that those risks are real.
All this could have been prevented. Yet, even when experts found evidence and issued a written report, school officials did nothing. They sat on the March report. A whole summer passed without mold repair work at the school. School district officials allowed the mold to grow more toxic. Even when district officials permanently closed another city school because of mold, they packed those vulnerable children off to join their new classmates for a brand new school year at Toxic Elementary.
With their parents’ permission, two wonderful fourth-grade students at Toxic Elementary called my show last Friday to talk about their concerns. Both are worried about the mold. Brave and smart as they are, they’re scared.
One of the girls said she is more concerned about her four-year-old sister who attends pre-school at Toxic Elementary than she is for herself. Still, she said is allergic to mold and itches when she comes into contact with the live danger to her health. She also said she has a skin condition and worries about itching when she goes to school.
No matter what elected or appointed school officials do to try to distance themselves from this terrible matter, somebody knew about the mold. No matter how hard they try to shirk responsibility, somebody must take the blame.
But first children must be protected and the mold must be removed. Or, is it already too late? Is Toxic Elementary School beyond repair? Have little lungs already been damaged? Will grieving parents file lawsuits? Will police arrive at the school district offices downtown to investigate if school officials purposely recklessly endangered the lives of adults and children? Will parents show up by the hundreds at “Back to School Night” this Thursday at 7:00 p.m.?
Why 100 parents have not already massed in front of the school is beyond me.
If I had children who attended the school I’d be on the street with a clipboard and a petition demanding signatures and answers.
The public inaction of most parents is baffling. Maybe they’re suffering some kind of shock. Maybe the early, yet dire, consequences of Toxic Elementary School have already stricken them silent.
Mafia Ice Cream Man Billy D’Elia answered the pay phone at the Scranton half-way house in a soft, low growl.
“Billy?” I asked Tuesday afternoon.
“Yeah,” said the reputed don of the Bufalino La Cosa Nostra organized crime family.
“It’s Steve Corbett, “I said. “Welcome home. How you feeling?”
“I’m good,” he said.
“You going to be working at the ice cream place this afternoon?” I asked.
That’s when it suddenly dawned on him who was on the other end of the line. I’ve been busting Billy’s chops for more than 20 years, including the time I tried unsuccessfully to get law enforcement officials to pull his official Pennsylvania concealed weapons permit.
Billy abruptly hung up the phone.
I recognized his voice because I once called and reached him at his favorite Plains Township nightclub and asked if he wanted a sit-down to talk about FBI wiretaps detailed in a book about his offer to dig graves for Philly mobsters to drop bodies when need be.
Billy refused my invitation but wanted to know why I had a problem with him when he had no problem with me.
Here’s why: When decent people struggled for decades to pay their bills, the rent, their mortgage and provide for their families, Billy was cruising in his big Lincoln, leaning on parking meters in Pittston, scaring good people and hanging with mob trigger men.
Then his world collapsed.
I watched him cry at his federal court sentencing when he blubbered and pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his nose and signal surrender after finally getting busted for the first time then pleading guilty to drug money laundering and threatening to kill a witness.
Now Billy’s back on the street – living in a federally-funded Catholic Social Services facility in my hometown and working at M.D. Pit BBQ & Ice Cream Parlor, an “old-fashioned” sundae, shake and ribs joint in Exeter.
I found out Billy’s whereabouts from mob insiders who have no time for Billy.
My guess is that neither do the Philly mob killers he used to call his friends who must be somewhat concerned that Billy, who cooperated with government prosecutors in several cases to get time off for rat behavior, might one day turn against them,.
That’s why Uncle Sam has put the public at risk by placing Billy in an open public facility that is easy to find. That’s why U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Peter Smith and the Bureau of Prisons has little regard for law-abiding people who might one day get caught in the crossfire if a couple of bad fellows take a ride to Northeastern Pennsylvania to get even.
The feds should never have approved Billy’s release and job.
What’s Mafia Ice Cream Man do at work, anyway?
When I reached Pit “owner” Joe Bradigan Tuesday he at first said he had no comment about his new employee. But then he agreed to answer some questions as a way to try to control the rumors that would soon sweep the region.
Bradigan said he never met Billy until he came in for the job interview – an interview Bradigan said his “girlfriend” Nicole Ciali arranged because she knows D’Elia. Ciali has no ownership in the business, Bradigan said, even though a newspaper story published in the Pittston Dispatch calls her a co-owner.
Ciali did not return a detailed message I left for her Tuesday at her job as a Luzerne County juvenile probation officer, a position for which she is paid more than $60,000-per-year and was hired in 2004.
On Wednesday I officially requested Ciali’s county employment application. I don’t yet know who Ciali used as personal references when she applied for the job or even if she filled out a job application. Since her position falls under the courts, I also don’t know which judge signed the order to hire her.
I’m not sure if gangster judges Michael Conahan or Mark Ciavarella – who are serving federal prison sentences of 28 years and 17 ½ years respectively – signed off on her hiring during that time when the culture of corruption ruled Luzerne County and D’Elia met regularly with Conahan for breakfast meetings and sent sealed envelops to Conahan in his chamber through a county security guard.
Taxpayers also need to know if county officials agree that Ciali behaved ethically when she, as a juvenile probation officer, acted as a personal job reference for an admitted gangster and reputed Mafia don.
Billy, by the way, is engaged in “maintenance and custodial work,” according to Bradigan.
Let’s hope the feds wise up and the Billy D’Elia finds work elsewhere – like a remote secret location where his presence does not even remotely endanger the public.
Nobody needs the Mafia Ice Cream Man’s enemies to offer to make him a Rocky Road sundae he can’t refuse.
For good citizens in civilized nations, parading enemy corpses is bad form, bad politics and bad karma.
Elsewhere in the ghoulish globe, hanging dead soldiers from bridges, dragging their smoldering remains through the streets and otherwise showing off the kill like trophy bucks at hunting camp is simply another day at war and acceptable savagery for the masses.
We have now become them.
At the recent Democratic National Convention, party leaders made it perfectly clear that rubbing the faces of our enemies into pools of blood like puppies being housebroken and trained to fear their masters has become the main plank of the official party platform.
But the strategy has backfired.
More and more Americans will now likely be forced to walk that plank.
Rest in peace Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Although no hard evidence yet exists to link the ambassador’s killing Tuesday, the eleventh anniversary of the 911 terror attacks in the United States, to Democratic gloating, countless Muslims no doubt felt the deadly insults hurled their way by American leaders who crowed about the hit on Osama Bin Laden.
Democratic speaker after Democratic speaker mocked the late terrorist leader and holy man to many who was engaged in a religious war against the enemies of Islam. Democratic Speaker after Democratic speaker paid tribute to America’s warrior King Obama, the man who brought back the madman’s head.
For all I know Osamas’s head rests in a velvet-lined lock box on a shelf somewhere in the Oval Office. And, as Election Day gets closer and Obama’s campaign worries that victory might be slipping from their reach, the president might hold a press conference, reach into that box and pull out the madman’s head like a rabbit from a top hat.
If so, I expect the same chants that broke out among liberals, progressives and otherwise supposedly civilized people to erupt. “USAUSAUSAUSA,” the crowd will scream as gladiators assemble from sea to shining sea to bow to their snarling leader.
Who next do we “bring to justice? What next do we hunt down?
How about our national sanity or whatever is left of it.
American honor cannot be bolstered by dishonoring the proud tradition of our own revolution against an occupying army from another land. Instead of firing drones that too often kill innocent civilians in their own nations, creating a new generation of revolutionaries who will fight us to the death, we should stand up to our worst war mongers who bypass morality to get even with people who believe they are getting even with us.
That goes for Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. John Kerry, the failed presidential candidate and founder of Vietnam Veterans Against The War who takes comfort in windsurfing, his wife’s wealth and playing Rambo with other people’s children.
And then we wonder why mobs attacked our embassy in Cairo, Egypt and our consulate in Benghazi, Libya?
“Is Osama Bin Laden better off today than he was four years ago,” Kerry wondered aloud at the convention.
Kerry’s smug ghoulishness made me want to take to the streets.
Osama lived and died as a soldier. Perhaps the same can be said of Ambassador Stevens, a good man by all accounts who wielded diplomacy rather than a rocket-propelled grenade.
Che Guevara once said that men die but ideas don’t. The best and the worst ideas take root in the minds of the young to one day erupt for better or worse. Brains now explode literally because of bad ideas put forth by the political gods of American politics.
Mocking Osama was as bad an idea as it gets. Gloating at his demise will get more people killed. Making fun of his prophet will produce more mayhem.
Glorifying SEAL Team 6 only sets the stage for some insurgent Middle Eastern version of a special operations unit from their side, a team willing to board planes, wear suicide vets or even one day blow the fence outside the White House and storm the Oval Office with a highly trained assault unit armed far better than the box cutter brigade that took down the World Trade Center towers and sent Yankee-hating crowds dancing in the streets throughout the world.
We can boogie, too, says Obama. The Democrats so much dug their leaders during the convention that they played oldies music, leaped from their seats and took to frenzied dancing in the arena aisles.
I got an oldies song by the Temptations that Obama and the Democrats should hear.
On this somber morning in the stillness of my private Zen garden, I opened my arms to the deep blue sky and breathed in abundant life. Stretching and sensing my lungs expand, I knew I was alive.
And I don’t need a Zen master to tell me I’m enlightened.
I smell and taste and feel and see and hear. My heart beats when I’m asleep or unconscious. The magic of countless universes pulses through every cell in my body. I am the sea, the sky, the earth and beyond.
I imagine that Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed would understand.
If given the chance, I wonder if any of them would fly a jet plane into a skyscraper.
I don’t know.
I do know, however, that their followers day after day for thousands of years have erupted in the wanton violence that kills and kills and kills some more. That’s our human dilemma, of course. Will we ever stop destroying each other in their names and the names of other supermen whose message is embraced by good and bad people, alike?
We will only stop the murder when we are united, like the bumper stickers read in the frenzied American aftermath of 911. And that likely means never.
But more people should try to disarm the destruction and train the world’s troops of young people to practice non-violence as a courageous priority that is so very necessary for evolution of the species as well as for the cultivation of ideas that can free the population of any nation no matter how large or small.
That’s my personal dream and commitment on this 11th anniversary of the 2001 attack on America. I’ve been trying my best to work for peace ever since that first plane slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center and erupted in flames that will likely never be extinguished.
I was meditating that morning, sitting in what Buddhist practitioners call zazen, the conscious seated posture of stillness and breath that helps us experience the life that is so very easy to take for granted.
I will sit this morning as well.
For me, thankfully, breathing has not changed for the worse. If anything, my blessed breath is as strong if not stronger than it was that fateful day of death and destruction and I am at peace with myself.
That might be part of the problem. If you go to war with yourself you might be more willing to go to war with others. Self-defense is understandable, yet the emotional reaction that welcomes any response and calls it self-defense can be risky, reckless and fatal.
More innocent, decent people – ours and theirs - died needlessly in the aftermath of 911.
America blamed Iraq and went to war even though we now know that Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks.
America’s ally Saudi Arabia and its madmen had everything to do with the attacks. They were the attacks. But American officials have yet to respond appropriately to them because we need their jet-setting royalty to be our best oily friends in the world.
Our soldiers and veterans still suffer and die, sometimes penniless. Their princes laugh all the way to the World Bank. And too many shallow Americans scream their USAUSAUSA chants to packed football stadiums and cult-like political arenas as an egotistical war cry for tomorrow.
But we are not united. We are not even close. I am convinced that most Americans don’t even like each other. Loving thy neighbor has more in common with suburban adultery than with the sweet purpose of goodness.
If you paused for a moment of silence this morning, I suggest that you pause for another one tomorrow.
Feel your breath. Slow your life. Appreciate the goodness and work to share. Increase your awareness. Pay attention.
With those simple practices, you will honor the dead and help the living more than any engraved stone memorial can ever do.
Truly living the legacy of those who died on 911 and in related subsequent deaths takes work. But that hard work pays off. That measure of the American Dream does not show up in your tax refund or in your stock market portfolio if you have one. That dividend pays off in conscience and intellect, in community and equality, in liberty and justice for all.
Caring will help us close the gap that prevents us from being united.
Love, not war, is the best tribute to the 911 dead we can muster.
Almost 25 years ago I sat in the cheap seats of an Atlanta arena listening to then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton give a seemingly endless speech.
The speech continued last night in Charlotte as the former president reported for duty far better than John Kerry did in 2004 to help his party win another term in the White House.
Barack Obama knows he can’t win re-election without Clinton. That’s why the current president swallowed more pride than any human should possess and invited Clinton to help him.
But I have to wonder if Obama sensed how badly Clinton overshadowed him, reminding American voters of the “good times,” what they wanted to remember about the disgraced president who left office after impeachment and abusing the public trust in ways never before entered into the official public record.
Most Democrats seem to forgive Clinton for his terrible transgressions.
Do I? I’m not sure. Do I forget? Never. To forget invites a repeat.
Has Clinton redeemed himself?
Has he rehabilitated his reputation and restored personal honor to his family?
I believe he has.
But none of what I think about Clinton matters in the big picture. I’m just one voice who matters little even though I’m on the radio every day and can have some impact in shaping the public opinion that Obama needs on his side if he is to win another chance to try and be better than Clinton.
Clinton shapes far more public opinion that I could ever hope to mold. And the people behind those numbers matter far more in the long run than my personal disappointment and mystery at what must motivate a political super hero who more people seem to like than dislike.
That’s why he’s Clinton. There’s nobody like him, even Obama, whose luster dims when Clinton walks into the arena. Nope. There’s nobody even remotely like Clinton – except Clinton.
Hillary, I mean, whose cameo video appearance during the convention to highlight the presence and importance of women in the Democratic Party indicated her powerful presence even through she could not show up in person.
Hillary was working. Everybody else, including the presidents, was campaigning. Hillary was earning her paycheck and actively accomplishing foreign policy – something that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney knows nothing about.
Hillary knows. Hillary also knows more about what makes all these men tick than any other elected or appointed American public official.
Hillary knows more about sneaky Bill than sneaky Bill. Because she faced off with sneaky Barack, she knows more about his underhanded capabilities than his own wife. And Hillary knows Mitt because, except for his secret tax returns, he’s pretty much an open checkbook.
Put them all together and they’re still relatively readable men – albeit powerful, ruthless men who ooze charm and panache - and, Hillary can hold her own with all three.
That’s why the Oval Office is hers for the asking and for the taking.
Bill Clinton’s speech last night on behalf of “Little Brother Barack” makes America’s first black president deeply and forever in Bill – and Hillary’s - debt. Even if Mitt wins, the party’s over when Hillary announces her intention to become America’s first woman president.
No matter what happens, Bill has his foundation and his global good work. Barack can write books, shoot hoops and sell wolf tickets (boast) about taking out Osama. Mitt has his offshore bank accounts to keep him warm.
Hillary can do whatever she pleases. But let’s hope she does what pleases a nation in perpetual need, no matter how good life gets in the next four years for the middle class. Let’s hope that Hillary has not stopped thinking about a tomorrow unlike any tomorrow that we or she has ever experienced.
Unlike Barack, Hillary does not need Bill or anybody else to do her talking for her.
Hillary Rodham Clinton can, does and will speak for herself.