Thursday, April 25, 2013
Finally, thankfully, we now have a group of well-connected citizens who represent an institution of higher learning that actually learned something.
If the news is true, Lackawanna College trustees will rename its’ beautiful and expensive Mellow Theater, dropping the name Mellow and restoring some sense of honor to the hopefully hallowed halls of education.
I’m pleased to say that I take some credit for applying pressure to the former friends of Bob Mellow who control the school, mostly powerful, political men who call the shots at the college that is known more for its menacing football team and players’ off-field shenanigans than for its’ academic excellence.
The school is lacking in leadership as well.
The top position as president has been filled with Mellow men and Mellow men only.
Then bold namesake, former longtime state senator and fierce Democratic political warlord Bob Mellow got busted for political corruption. Then he admitted his crimes and his guilt. Then he cried in court and headed off to a federal prison in South Carolina where he pines for days gone by.
But the Mellow men refused to budge. Steadfast in their loyalty to this degenerate gangster, they stood unflinching in their defense of a man who disgraced the community, himself, his family and the college he controlled.
Their pious approval of his “mistakes” became a treacherous and defamatory attack on the character of the school they claimed to serve. They made fools of themselves. They tried to make fools of us, trying to drag us down into the gutter of dirty politics in which their hero wallowed for decades.
And they actually expected good people to support them in their duplicity.
Good people refused.
Day after day, week after week, month after month we railed against the masters and their bad example. I questioned how they could willfully damage the reputation of a school where young people matriculated with hope of a decent, honest future fueled by the sweet knowledge they culled from classes on the architecturally majestic Scranton campus.
But the bitter friends of Bob Mellow stood firm in their ignorance.
Their names now matter little. They are still and will forever remain nothing more than mealy-mouthed friends of Bob Mellow.
The former college president whom Mellow appointed to the state gambling commission who stood by a felon friend accused of associating with organized crime is now and will always be just another friend of Bob Mellow. The current college president whom Bob Mellow appointed to the state ethics commission of all places and who served with honor at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 attack is now and will always be just another weak-kneed friend of Bob Mellow. The state senator who replaced Bob Mellow and serves in his shadow while refusing to say a bad word about the criminal is now and will always be just another friend of Bob Mellow.
Like their weak spirits, their power will eventually wane.
What will remain is the legacy of strength and honor that characterized those of us who are not friends of Bob Mellow.
I also remain terribly skeptical as to the truth and the motive to drop Mellow’s name from the theater. I applaud no one on the board of trustees. They are a day late and a dollar short, which, I believe, shapes the real reason they decided to throw Bob Mellow under the stage.
Money is behind this decision.
Just as money and power drove Bob Mellow, money and power drive this decision.
Had the college directors been truly concerned about the school’s reputation and truly acted in the best interests of students and staff, they would have moved on this decision the day after Bob Mellow pleaded guilty. Not only did they refuse to change the theater name, they issued a press release putting the world on notice that they would no longer even answer questions or further discuss the matter.
Such pompous power posture is pure Bob Mellow.
Months later, they suddenly changed their minds.
Am I suspicious?
Is Bob Mellow a despicable con man?
The Lackawanna College administration and trustees do not lead. They follow whenever opportunity arises. They do for themselves and their friends and cronies. They play a pathetic political game that is slowly but surely beginning to lose power over the lives of decent people.
Yes, the Lackawanna College gang that couldn’t think straight seems to have finally learned something.
But do not trust this gang.
Trust your instincts.
Do not be known as a friend of Bob Mellow, defined as a person whose sole motivating characteristic for progress is the profit margin.
From last Monday until yesterday, I spent hour after hour, day after day thinking and talking about the bombs and the terrorists and the aftermath of a Patriots Day event at the Boston Marathon.
The nation paused for a moment of silence yesterday and then once again it was, “Play ball.”
Actually the Red Sox played Saturday to a packed park that included a big screen video tribute to first responders and victims and survivors, some of whom sat in the stands trying to put reality back in place where life was safe as a bunt and a cold beer at a baseball game.
They also listened to a loud-mouth foul-mouthed Red Sox icon named Papi Ortiz who defamed the memory of all that was good when he tossed out he first F-bomb of the season, declaring thet “This is our *&^%$ city.”
Boston belongs to everybody.
New Americans and old have a stake in what happens next on Boylston Street. We can build it up or blow it up. We can make it better or worse. We can rise or fall on retribution or true liberty. We can become more disciplined and smart or fall into the backwater of ignorance and revenge, rallying our bloodlust with shallow chants of “USAUSSA “ and a willingness to sign on to the madness militia that eats away at the promise that America has always offered to us all.
Sign me up for another tour with the Statue of Liberty.
The huddled masses need us more than the mobs gathered on Watertown street corners, high-fiving and fist-bumping, cheering cops who lose some of their own dignity by slapping each other on the back and cheering themselves while bombing victims still fight for life in hospitals and colleagues heal and the remains of one young cop is prepared for the first night of eternity in a cold spring grave.
Give me the immigrant dream, the American Dream that drew and draws countless seekers to our shores, some better than others, of course, who desire freedom and opportunity, something so many of our own ancestors desired as they landed at Ellis Island and elsewhere..
Give me the risk-takers, the hopeful wanderers who flee oppression and war in the lands of their birth. Give me those who want to make America better than we are. Give me allies, because, sad to say, we need help.
We are not America the beautiful.
We are a land where descendants of the immigrants of old are quick to turn against people with whom they actually have more in common than they do with the rich and powerful politicians they support. Descendants of Irish and Italian coal miners now scorn farm workers and meat packing factory laborers, instead choosing to applaud the political posers and business special interests that finance the political campaigners.
But, by hating the immigrants, they are hating themselves.
And we all risk going down together.
When I was a kid, a Russian leader named Nikita banged his shoe on the table and predicted that we Americans would destroy ourselves from within. You don’t need a bomb to help along the destruction. All you need is raw emotion and a willingness to arm yourself with enough reckless cruelty to trigger collateral damage throughout the land.
I mourn the loss of lives in Boston.
But I also mourn the loss of common decency and dignity that has often defined the best of this nation, this place where peasants always struggled yet held high their heads as they did the rough work that the privileged always shun.
Give me the huddled masses who came ashore with a simple, yet firm, courage that helped shape this place they now called home, this foreign land of opportunity where they took risks that paid off more often than not.
Not all of them were good citizens. Murderous mobsters found their way into our lives. Irish, Italian, Jewish and others – now Russians – defamed the honorable legacy of their own ancestors.
But they, like other terrorists, were in the minority.
So, too, are the fanatics of Islam.
Would you blame all Christianity for the acts of a fundamentalist Christian abortion clinic bomber?
Of course you wouldn’t.
So how can you attack all Islam for the gruesome actions of a few fundamentalist extremists who wage war against those with whom they disagree and hold accountable for perceived attacks - both real and imaginary - against their faith?
In good conscience, you can’t.
Cease and desist from blaming without evidence. Stop insulting all followers of Islam. Stop railing against immigrants – documented and otherwise - who one day might do more to improve this country, this America, than you and all your born-in-the-USA ancestors put together.
Beautiful and spacious skies exist for us all.
Our goal must forever be brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.
You’re a judge, Mike Vough, in Luzerne County where people don’t trust judges for good reason. Two, count ’em, Mike, two former presidents judges are currently serving mind-numbing sentences in federal prisons for public corruption.
Mark Ciavarella is doing 28 years.
Mike Conahan is doing 17 ½.
Their bunks are a long walk from the condo they once shared in Florida where at least one other county judge and a former county cocaine trafficker shared drinks and good times with the women in their lives.
So, in the aftermath of this disaster, you decided to run for the bench, in part, hopefully, to help restore the public trust in a cash-strapped and skeptical place where crooked politicians crawl out from every rock at every church picnic, breed and then inflict their children on the same public institutions we are supposed to trust.
Donning the black robe, you raised your hand and made a solemn vow to uphold the law, to set a good example, to live by a higher standard under uncommon public scrutiny that is highlighted very prominently in the state judicial code of conduct. Even the mere appearance of impropriety is enough to get you slapped with an ethics charge.
You don’t have to break the law to act unethically, either, Mike.
Maybe your gavel-wielding peers will argue that you absolutely did not act unethically when you and your wife failed to pay about 10 grand in last year’s school taxes. Maybe they’ll come to your defense against the ravages of a free press that tries to hold judges accountable. Maybe they’ll take up a collection for you.
“I got a little behind,” you told me when we spoke yesterday and I asked about your lapse in responsibility.
I felt bad when you told me that your West Pittston home got hammered in the 2011 flood. And I felt bad when you said that you had no flood insurance.
So why didn’t you just go stay at the Harvey’s Lake house that’s assessed at $425,000 while you saved enough money from your well-paid county judge (about $170 grand a year) job to pay for repairs?
I don’t know the status of the lake house. Maybe it’s a vacation home. Maybe you let poor people stay there for free. Maybe you hold judicial conferences there so you and your pals on the bench can better improve justice for the poor slobs in the county who pay their taxes before they buy anything else. Or maybe you just played the system the way so many other know-it-all lawyers and hack public officials play the system for their own benefit.
I read in the paper this morning that at the same time the flood hit you were busy loaning yourself about a year’s judicial salary to pump into your campaign. Smart move, Mike, since even failing campaigns cost a lot of money.
Then, instead of paying your taxes, money that our schools depend on to help raise a new generation of lawyers and judges, if nothing else, you told me that you decided to sink your cash into your West Pittston home.
Lots of your neighbors in town are still scrimping and saving to repair their ravaged homes as well. But most of them paid their taxes, Mike. Most of them understand civic responsibility. And they’re not even judges.
You wondered on the phone yesterday if I was going to use this information on my show. I told you I had to. I even invited you to come on the show and explain in your own well-chosen words your personal and public predicament. But you declined, I believe, because you knew that nothing you said would make you look good. If anything, even your good excuse would make you look worse.
You’re a judge, Mike, in a county known for being one of the worst judicial systems in the civilized world, a county where judges sold kids for cash and few people in power did anything to stop them.
Ciavarella had some problems understanding tax responsibility, too, if my memory serves me well. He flagrantly broke the law and eventually admitted on the stand to his tax fraud.
You broke no law, Mike. You just made a slick decision – pay whatever late charges that might arise and write off your tardiness as the cost of doing business. Most lawyers can do that, Mike.
But you’re a judge doing the people’s business. So coughing up every penny due Uncle Sam is an absolute prerequisite for the job – if your word really is good and you truly do want to help restore the public trust that Ciavarella, Conahan and so many others did everything to decimate.
Pay up, Mike.
Then go back to the bench and start all over again.
As a man who says he once served in the United States Marines, state Rep. Kevin Haggerty deserves the benefit of the doubt. But Haggerty’s military service does not give him a pass to refuse to answer questions about that military service.
For years now, Haggerty has ducked answering a simple and specific question about his time with the Marines: What are the circumstances of his military discharge from the Corps?
Since Haggerty was quick to use the Marines as part of his elections campaigns – going so far as to post color photographs of himself standing at attention with a huge group of banner-carrying and uniformed Marines - the question is fair.
Now that Haggerty serves as a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, the question carries all the more relevance to the voters and taxpayers he serves in the 112th Legislative District, particularly to military veterans in the district and in the Commonwealth.
Because Haggerty wields power to help shape public policy regarding those veterans, he owes them and us an explanation.
Yet Haggerty still refuses to answer the question.
I invited him in an email yesterday to come on the air and talk about the military mystery.
Haggerty failed to respond.
During his first unsuccessful campaign for legislative office as well as during his last campaign, I asked Haggerty to explain the mystery. People were talking and he could put the rumors to rest. Haggerty not only refused, he got defensive and somewhat threatening when he mentioned in several emails what I took to be the possibility of legal action against anyone who questioned his military past.
Despite his bluster, though, he never answered my question.
What exactly are the circumstances of Haggerty’s military discharge? What kind of discharge does he possess? What does his DD 214 form say about his military service? How long was Haggerty in the Marines? Why did he leave?
Most military veterans never encounter these questions. Unlike Haggerty, many vets never talk about their service and most do not post photos of themselves on the World Wide Web for the whole wide world to see.
But Haggerty wanted the whole wide world to know that he served in the Marines. Serving in the Marines is an honor that a political candidate can use to his or her benefit. Calling yourself a Marine carries with it an air of distinction. Marines are known as a brave, unique bunch of men and women.
So what’s Haggerty the Marine afraid of?
I’m told that Haggerty did not apply for the position on the veterans’ affairs committee, that he was tapped by the Democratic leadership for whatever their reasons.
And, since Haggerty has ignored my inquiries, I have now sought help from other members of the committee – both Democrats and majority Republicans - in finding out the facts behind Haggerty’s Marine Corps service.
The House Committee on Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness ought to be able to help. If anybody should be prepared to help the people answer hard questions about veterans’ affairs committee members should.
I left a detailed message for committee Chairman Stephen Barrar, a Republican serving parts of Chester and Delaware counties. Barrar lists in his official House of Representatives biography military service in the U.S. Navy from 1973 through 1975. Today I plan to call committee member and Ph.D. Rick Saccone, a Republican serving parts of Allegheny and Washington counties, whose official House biography describes him as being retired from the U.S. Air Force.
Haggerty’s official House biography does not list his military service.
Most committee members are not military veterans so those who are hold a particular position of responsibility. They can and should provide an inside look into the hearts and minds of veterans who often need help.
Haggerty once needed help himself.
A Jan. 20, 2010 newspaper article in the Scranton Times-Tribune headlined, “State House candidate has record of drunken driving, bad checks,” provided a detailed look at a reckless and troubled young man whose record highlights serious issues with alcohol, responsibility and judgment. Haggerty served a work release jail sentence and even wore an anklet bracelet – something that is usually reserved for some state lawmakers only after they serve in the House of Representatives.
Former Pennsylvania Speaker of House Bill DeWeese, who also served in the Marines, is in prison right now.
Public service is as messy as democracy. That’s why transparency and truth must be required from all elected public officials who take an oath to uphold the public trust.
Semper Fi means something special to Marines.
That sacred motto of eternal faith should mean something special to the rest of us as well.
After not talking with Tony George for about a decade, all of a sudden there he was yesterday on the phone. Not only was the former Wilkes-Barre police chief and current vice chair of the city council on the line, he was on the air.
Time passes and some things change. Some stay the same. Wilkes-Barre simply got worse.
In the old days I was a newspaper columnist talking with Tony about crime and politics – which in Northeastern Pennsylvania hard coal country is often the same.
Now once again we were talking about crime and politics.
Yes, Tony said, federal law enforcement agents had given him a courtesy heads-up about an ongoing criminal investigation into the relationship between city officials and the beleaguered tow truck operator who pays $50,000-a-year for the contract. Tony said he would say or do nothing to jeopardize the investigation. That means we’re at a standstill and have nothing to cheer about.
Wilkes-Barre politics is headed by Mayor Tom Leighton, a Democratic political boss whose words rival the sound of a Whoopee cushion for clarity, intelligence and meaning.
Leighton says he’s investigating the tow truck operator after countless complaints and accusations about everything from price gouging to worse. One so-called community activist has made enough slanderous ands defamatory accusations that he’s all but accused the tower of being on the grassy knoll during the Kennedy assassination. Such recklessness under the guise of “activism” does far more harm than good.
As always, what we need is the truth – not your truth and my truth and their truth – but the truth. And, anybody smarter than a Whoopie cushion understands exactly what that means.
My worry about whether the truth will emerge is that the longtime family and neighborhood network that exists between police and politics will somehow sink the investigation.
The best example I can provide of a basic conflict of interest is that Luzerne County District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis is supposedly investigating accusations surround missing gasoline from a city pump. Her chief county detective is Mike Dessoye – brother to city police chief Gerry Dessoye who works at the whim of his boss Mayor Leighton to whom Gerry Dessoye is related by marriage.
In some ways, Wilkes-Barre is worse than anything that West Virginia mountain kin can offer to the Hatfields and McCoys.
In some ways we’re worse.
Police and politics have always overlapped in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Cops find power and wield it to do more than arrest criminals. In some cases cops are criminals. In other situations police use what might be called discretion that elsewhere would be called cover-up and set-up. Rarely are these officers disciplined or charged. Usually they get promoted. And their colleagues circle the wagons whenever questions are raised or when complaints are filed.
I know this because I have personally filed a formal complaint against an officer. That is not, by the way, the formal complaint I filed the other day against a state trooper who stopped me for no reason I could understand and then accused me of talking on a cell phone that I can prove through records was not taking or making calls.
Based on information I had received and passed on the federal officials, I once filed a formal federal complaint against a Wilkes-Barre police officer. The feds said they investigated – although nobody officially interviewed me - and said they found no evidence to verify information I had told them a witness provided me.
Federal officials say she told investigators a completely different story.
Then she contacted me and said how afraid she was.
“I can’t fight everybody,” she said.
Yes, fear rules.
I recently spoke to another federal official about a Scranton case that seemed loaded with evidence. The agent said he was interested. Then U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Peter Smith wrote a letter to one of the potential witnesses and said no investigation would follow.
I later informed Smith about another matter allegedly involving a crooked cop that he refused to discuss with me or follow up.
No wonder people lose faith.
But I refuse to stop engaging the system that serves us – even when the system serves us poorly or not at all.