I didn’t have a fully-automatic machine gun with me that day so I did the best I could with what I had at the time.
Running with the empty pump-action riot shotgun in my hands, I fumbled to load the weapon. Taking aim I fired and the target exploded. Charging for cover I ducked behind a wooden door and pulled the .357-caliber Magnum handgun from my hand-made holster crafted from elephant hide by Vietnamese Montagnards and given to me by a Green Beret combat veteran buddy.
I opened fire with the pistol.
Then we went to laugh and drink beer.
I was training with the Wilkes-Barre SWAT team that day, learning and bonding with police officers, most of whom I got along with at the time. One of those cops is now an ex-convict, after pleading guilty and getting locked up in the aftermath of the ongoing federal public corruption scandal. Another officer, a sniper, lost his job with a Luzerne County judge after the judge went to prison for his role in the continuing public corruption.
So does our interpretation of the Constitution. A living, breathing document is what helps keep America strong. Living, breathing people help democracy as well. Without both, America the beautiful will cease to exist.
The U.S. Supreme Court justices have made it clear over many years that interpretation is everything in this land of the free. They add and subtract. They nurture and guide. They interpret law to fit the needs of themselves and others. Even the most conservative justices sometimes see the need to tweak the original principles that the Founding Fathers put forward when they produced and implemented the sacred document that shapes our lives.
Nothing is immune to change in America. Nothing in the Constitution cannot be interpreted and reinterpreted differently if need be. Nothing stands alone in this nation of law.
This means you, Second Amendment. This means you, gun owners. This means you, National Rifle Association despots.
The tyranny for which so many gun fanatics claim to prepare is already here – in the hands of NRA executives who profit handsomely from the death and bloodshed caused by the weapons of mass destruction they hawk and handle without care.
Unless such recklessness is controlled, and I absolutely do mean controlled, guns will continue to help slaughter more men, women and children in this, my land and your land, where justice is promised to all.
I’m talking gun control, of course. We can call it regulation if you like, but control is the point. Strong and disciplined community leaders must do everything in their power to control the shooting massacres that occur daily from sea to shining sea – even if we fail. To do otherwise is to endorse a society that runs amok and is out of control. To welcome anarchy sanctions the very tyranny that gun fanatics claim to abhor.
Hard-working, decent, law-abiding people – particularly gun owners - must publicly support efforts to take back our country from an army of out-of-control profiteers with their itchy fingers on the triggers of the gun lobby.
Too many innocent people have died in our insane embrace of so-called rights that are trivial in the big picture of democracy – that supposedly safe place where we are free to embrace life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But the NRA brainwashers and their zombie cult members are dead set against progress. They want the pioneer days when frontier justice left bodies stacked outside the saloons and marked the American Way, a free-fire zone of national savagery.
Sane, disciplined thinkers must fight to put those terrible days behind us.
Indeed, we should ban semi-automatic assault rifles. We should take action against the under-the-radar insanity of fully-automatic machine guns as well.
My understanding is that even though possession of full-auto machine guns by civilians was banned in 1986, approximately 200,000 such killing machines are still legally owned by American citizens through the United States. These guns are taxed, approved and regulated by the federal government. But they’re still out there in the hands of people who have no real need to possess such armaments and cannot justify their possession.
Two local machine gun owners called the show yesterday. One man identified himself as a police officer. Both men said they passed detailed background checks in order to gain possession of their machine guns. Even though the guns were outlawed in 1986, the men agreed that those in existence at the time are still in circulation and can be sold to other people through licensed gun dealers. The machine guns are expensive, the men said, and are in great demand.
One machine gun owner said his gun can fire thirty high-velocity rounds in a second. The magazine holds 30 rounds, he said, and he can unload the whole package in a single second. Experts suggest learning to shoot a fully-automatic machine gun like his in two or three bursts, he said, because the gun has a tendency to rise when the shooter unleashes the barrage all at once.
Should a responsible citizen, even a cop, be allowed to own such a machine gun?
Not in a sane society. But we’re not sane. We’re America.
And that should mean something far better than the burning smell of machine gun grease and funeral flowers in the morning.
Flames licked the summer sky like devils’ tongues ravishing the innocent, the vulnerable and the unprotected. Hooded robed men and women circled the burning cross that hot July 4 night outside Jim Thorpe to pledge allegiance to a ferocious hatred that divides the country and to this day keeps freedom from ringing throughout our land.
In front of the cross, a long-haired bearded man squared broad shoulders as fire warmed his face. With combat boots digging into the soft earth and looking like a outlaw biker in a cut-off denim jacket and faded blue jeans, he clenched and unclenched his fists, staring back into the eyes of what looked like hot coals burning behind the Klan members’ hoods.
That wild man was me.
Undercover at the holiday cross-burning, I made my way through the crowd of aging Ku Klux Klan members and wiry young skinheads dressed in their chains, jackboots and white pride regalia.
Then I stopped dead.
A Klan baby toddled by.
Dressed in a baby robe and hood, the child held the hands of two hooded and robed KKK members as they made their way to the stage where a Neo-Nazi band thrashed raw chords and heavy metal screams of white power.
When a television reporter recognized me and gave me a big smile then started making his way to my side – a friendly face in an unfriendly crowd – I quickly turned away. I saw the surprised look on his face but I worried that he might blow my cover and put me in danger.
No matter how tough you are, it’s easy to get stomped at a KKK/skinhead cross burning in the summertime.
I picked up my pace and headed toward the massive wooden cross wrapped in burlap and doused in gasoline that stood high on the hill. Standing alone, I watched as Klan members held high their flaming torches and a few stepped forward to add fire to the explosive fuel, an immediately blazing symbol that would soon be visible across the mountain ridges from many miles away.
A grand dragon stepped forward and asked who among us would come with him to take the oath to join the Klan. Joined by a few other big men, I started forward, moving toward a farm house where the induction ceremony would take place behind closed doors
Heading into the darkness from the light, I suddenly stopped.
I was indeed alone. Maybe somebody did see the TV reporter acknowledge me. Maybe one of the skinheads I had talked with earlier had spotted the exchange. If so, I might be in trouble. Some of the men wore guns on their hips. So I turned into the shadows that danced like demons against the night sky, and walked a long, lonely walk across a corn field to my car.
About a mile away I pulled off the road. Stepping from my car I stood in the soft air and watched the burning cross in the distance. I must have stood there for ten minutes, watching g and thinking and locking the sight into my mind.
To this day I remember that ominous sight from 20 years ago as if it were yesterday. I actually thought about that burning cross yesterday and the long heartfelt column I wrote about my risky undercover adventure when I got back to the Wilkes-Bare newspaper where I worked.
A woman had called the show identifying herself as “an African-American woman” with a “Ph.D.” She called to attack me for criticizing Barack Obama. I had commented about the president dramatically chewing gum on TV while digging his inaugural parade and how undignified he looked.
I also had offered strong support for every proposal he had put forward in his inaugural address which I labeled a good but not great speech. But I wished him well in putting forward his plans for immigration reform, gun control and human rights for women and gay people, positions with which I heartily agree.
The professor, who said she taught part-time at Luzerne County Community College, called me “anti-black.” And when she told me to “shut up,” my mind drifted back to that huge cross ablaze on a hill not far from where she and I live today. I started to tell her that she was welcome to come along the next time I went undercover to a Klan rally. But I stopped in mid-word because I realized that as a black woman she could likely not come along with me without putting herself in danger.
I felt bad, though, that she seemingly had no idea that I, as a white person, sometimes could and would step risk my safety on behalf of the humanity we share. I was willing to do that then. I’m willing to do that now. Yet, in her eyes, I’m anti-black because I dare criticize America’s first black president.
I would rather be a loving critic of my country – and my president – than an uncritical lover. Cheerleaders impede progress and the dangerous stories must still be told. I doubt that Obama or the professor ever saw what I saw the way I saw it. Hopefully I’ll never see such real racism again.
The first public test for rookie U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright came fast.
Almost innocent in its requirement, the challenge pitted the new congressman against the simplest cornerstone of public service - conscience.
Would Cartwright do the right thing?
He would not.
Larger responsibilities apparently loomed in Washington. The combat death of a young Army sergeant in Afghanistan would have to be pushed aside for another day when Cartwright vowed to honor 26-year-old Jan Argonish.
Thanks for nothing, congressman.
All we asked was his help in stripping the name of a gangster from a public park, a wondrous green open space where Argonish played as a child that was named for an admitted political criminal who betrayed the public trust and is headed to federal prison for his crimes.
But Cartwright refused. He would not tell local politicians – his constituents whom he likely needs for re-election – what to do, he said when we spoke last week on the air.
He would not take a risk that honorable men and women will readily embrace.
Cartwright would not do the right thing.
We can now add him to the list of self-absorbed and opportunistic elected officials who perpetuate the poison of public disservice. We can add him to the list of powerful men who have turned away from brave public service and the courage to lead. We can add him to the landfill of local political hacks that do exactly as they’re told because they fear standing alone because they fear loss.
Although Cartwright doesn’t know it, he has already lost. So have we. And, no matter how many political campaigns Cartwright wins or helps win in the future, the loss of this fine soldier will forever shadow the history of this nation and this region.
Cartwright’s egotistic timidity helps the loss continue.
Ego can kill the public spirit. Ego can destroy the public trust. Ego can kill community hope and the truest sense of honorable tradition.
Yet the restoration of the public trust in Northeastern Pennsylvania remains the mission for which we must continue to enlist
For that reason, good citizens will continue to fight to rename Robert Mellow Park in the Peckville section of Blakely Borough after Argonish and other fallen warriors who died defending this nation of law that Mellow and his supporters defiled.
Cartwright, who danced and skated and rambled on and on, even trying to distance himself from Mellow, relating how he only ever man him once and that Mellow didn’t seem to know who he was, needs to join us.
Instead of standing with the spirit of the fallen who fell with honor, Cartwright stands with the spirit of a brother Democrat, a man who disgraced himself, his family, his community and fell with dishonor.
In life, we sometimes must take sides.
This is one of those times.
Strip the name of the gangster from the park. Replace it with the name of a true hero. Do the right thing.
But Cartwright abandoned us when we asked for his help.
That pathetic failure so far defines his public service career and, unless he has a change of heart, will set the tone for future decision he must make on behalf of constituents in Peckville and elsewhere.
I’m disappointed in my new Congressman, a smart lawyer whom I supported during a long-shot campaign when other Democrats turned their backs on him, instead standing with a long-time congressional company man.
When Cartwright upset Tim Holden in the primary, the same Democrats flocked to his side.
Now Cartwright chooses them and their connections over the legacy of a young man and his comrades at arms who stand for more in death than all these political warlords stand for in life.
As the weather turns soft and warm, I hope that the news of this truly American betrayal spreads far and wide. I hope that television networks and national columnists with the power to sense right from wrong come to Peckville to visit the park. Mostly, though, I hope that combat veterans who fought in Iraq, where Argonish also served, and Afghanistan come to Peckville to pay their respects and volunteer for one last patrol.
Maybe Cartwright can offer them a dull resolution from the floor of the House of Representatives. Maybe he’ll send them a flag for their park encampment that once flew over the U.S. Capitol. Maybe he’ll send finger sandwiches from a catered brunch with lobbyists.
Better yet, maybe he’ll do the right thing – maybe Cartwright will change his mind and help us restore honor in a community pillaged with corruption and abandoned by those public servants in whom we are duty-bound to place great faith.
Had Elvis left the drugs alone, he might have celebrated turning 78 today.
Drugs, maybe more than fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, took him away even before he fell off the toilet at Graceland and left that big hole in the heart of American music lovers.
But Elvis was about much more than music.
In a changing time when superstardom meant more than Michael Jackson ever did – Michael, who married and divorced Elvis’ precious daughter Lisa Marie (a relationship that Elvis, had he lived, would have no doubt stopped hard before it started) – Elvis rose above the crowd for several reasons.
The sneer hijacked countless black leather jacket-wearing hoods smoking non-filter cigarettes on street corners and wiping greasy hands on white T-shirts their mothers washed by hand. Elvis’ soft skin and dark eyes easily made teenage girls cry, their lives forever changing because of him, his hair and his heart that they knew held a place for them.
My father even liked Elvis. And Shamus was not easily impressed. He eventually hated the Beatles and anybody else who came from England to play rock and roll. He hated native-born American rockers as well. When I mentioned Jimi Hendrix at the dinner table one night Shamus looked me long in the eye, slowly pushed his chair from the table and silently walked away.
Years passed before I figured out the animosity. Shamus was from another time. But so was Elvis. What made the difference? What sent us regularly to one of our few family outings at the drive-in where “Kid Galahad” played into the early morning hours?
Shamus loved Elvis because Elvis loved his mother. Elvis took care of his mother, bought Graceland for her and did anything and everything to please her. Elvis was a good boy who, like Shamus, knew that your mother matters most.
Shamus loved his mother as well. And when my grandmother died, the loss took so much out of my father than he turned away from a promising career as a professional heavyweight boxer to instead enlist in the state police.
When somebody once spotted me hitchhiking past our town when I was in college and told my father, my father the cop laid down the law.
“Don’t you ever come through here without stopping to see your mother,” he said.
He didn’t have to warn me again.
I once accidently let a foul word slip that my mother heard. Shamus stopped the party, got his coat and took my mother by the arm and, despite my tearful protestations, escorted her from my new apartment.
Yes, Elvis was good to his mother and I doubt that he ever once cursed in front of her.
Yet, had she known what he was up to half the time on the road, she, too, would have likely laid down the law. But Elvis kept his secrets to himself and to the small team of bodyguards known as the Memphis Mafia, a group Elvis eventually disappointed as well.
To Elvis, TCB meant “taking care of business” and said it all. But Elvis eventually did not take care of the deeply personal business that might have kept him alive to celebrate with us today.
Unlike John Lennon, who fell with four bullets in his back, Elvis did it to himself.
“Elvis, What Happened” is a book worth reading that was written by longtime Elvis confidant and bodyguard Red West, a man whose legendary karate skills and mental discipline still could not protect Elvis from himself. West left the failed relationship broken-hearted when Elvis cast him aside. If only Elvis had stayed close to West, he might have lived.
But Elvis was never much the same after his mother died.
Elvis stopped caring.
Elvis needed to hide.
A scared little boy inside, he had no mother to run to. As handsome and talented and downright nice to people as he was, Elvis was insecure, weak, drug-crazy and lost.
Elvis no longer had the will to try.
I stopped at Graceland in 2002 on my way to California. The day was wet and gray and the paint on the private jet named after Lisa Maria was chipping. The last bus tour to the house had left and the grass on the once great lawn had turned brown. Colorful graffiti marred the once perfectly clean wall by the famous sculpted metal musical note double gate that led to the driveway that led to the front door of the mansion.
We had planned to stay the night at the Heartbreak Hotel but the dismal scene helped us decide against it.
When we drove away, I felt bad about Elvis and all that had happened to him and to America.
But I took solace in the young Elvis and what he seemed to be at the time, what he seemed excited to share with a nation that was fast losing innocence and getting more and more complicated every day.
That’s what Tom Dubas, former Blakely police chief, said when he called the show yesterday. The 60-year-old who worked as chief for 22 years knows the difference between right and wrong.
And he knows that former state Sen. Bob Mellow is as wrong as wrong can be.
That’s why Dubas wants to strip Mellow’s name from the Blakely park that bears it and rename the park for somebody truly deserving.
Nobody is more deserving than the late Army Sgt. Jan Argonish, killed in action in August, 2007, while serving in Afghanistan.
Argonish was 26 when he died.
At that time lawmaker Mellow was busy wielding power, manipulating democracy to suit himself and breaking the law of the land. Argonish was patrolling enemy territory and defending the law of the land.
Mellow had the park and other public places named after him.
Argonish got his name carved into a tombstone.
Now is the time to right that terrible wrong.
Mellow is scheduled to report to prison Jan. 15, where he is expected to serve 18 months after pleading guilty to crimes of political corruption. Mellow knowingly and willing betrayed the public trust.
Argonish knowing and willingly died while serving his country.
Yet I expect opposition to Dumas’ idea that we rename the park in honor of Argonish. Some Mellow enablers and lackeys will likely oppose the idea either through fear, loyalty, stupidity or a combination of all three. They must be persuaded to change their minds or step aside.
That’s where we come in.
Dumas got the movement going with a Facebook page. He emailed me and I asked him to call the show yesterday, which, of course, he did. Argonish’s fiancee’s father also called the show to lend support to the movement. His daughter emailed me this morning to endorse the project.
Each year hundreds of bikers come together for a rally to pay tribute to Argonish and his fallen brothers and sisters at arms. Each year more and more people witness the difficult aftermath of war for more and more veterans and work to strengthen this nation of law in its treatment of those deserving men and women.
And, each year, more and more corrupt politicians wait to see if they, like Mellow, will get busted and one day report to prison.
Sadly, Mellow’s supporters still wield significant power throughout in Northeastern Pennsylvania. More than 200 of these criminal associates tried to influence the federal judge who presided over Mellow’s sentencing by writing letters asking him to go easy on Mellow. Mellow and his lawyers even played a pathetic sympathy card by using his adult daughter’s illness to try to slither under the wire of the federal penitentiary.
To an extent they succeeded. Mellow should have received a lengthier sentence. Still, he’s going to jail. And the name of his park should go with him.
But officials, including a Sept. 11 “hero” of the Pentagon and president of Lackawanna College, refuse to change the name of the college theater that bears Mellow’s name. Even well-heeled and respected trustees, including Lackawanna County Judge Margaret Bisignani Moyle grew fearful and refused to speak out publicly to endorse a name change.
As a result, the Mellow Theater, where class after class of new local police officers take the oath of public service, stands as disgraceful testimony to lawbreakers and crooked politics in hard coal country.
We need no better reason to take back the park.
In upcoming weeks I plan to encourage and influence politicians and business people with the same zeal that Mellow’s supporters encouraged and influenced the judge. I urge you to join me as we pester and persuade the “powerful” to agree with our desire to rename Mellow Park.
If necessary we’ll bring a couple thousand cops, firefighters, soldiers, prosecutors, veterans, bikers, children, senior citizens and others together in that park for a weekend encampment. We’ll get national news coverage. We’ll march in the streets of Blakely. We’ll shame and embarrass and raise hell. But it really shouldn’t have to come to that, should it? The politicians who have the power to change the park’s name should easily agree with us. If they disagree, however, they do so at their own political risk.
Looks like we learned something good from degenerate gangster Mellow after all.