Mere mention of the word sends waves of excitement rushing into the brain.
And that’s from here – at home in the good old U.S.A.
Wait until you get there.
Mystique drawn from a deep Afro-Cuban strain of emotion and expression. A time warp of American cars from the 50s. Salsa music and dancing to the conga beat. Delicious recipes from the land and the sea. Havana Club rum. Legendary cigars.
Santeria, Che, Fidel, baseball, beaches, raw politics and historic revolution all come together in a safe haven where Americans are absolutely welcome.
I’ve been there.
As I plan my return, I’m inviting you to come along.
More than 30 years ago, my wife, Stephanie, and I traveled to this fascinating island nation that American law then forbid most Americans from visiting.
But, as a rookie journalist and a Ph.D. candidate, we were permitted. All these years later, with our journalism and scholarship careers well established, we set out on a new Cuban adventure to this extraordinary destination so close but so far away.
With the official ban against Cuban travel lifted and new business and cultural opportunity for both Cubans and Americans rising on the horizon, we will see and experience this new dawn of détente between people who can finally learn and benefit from each other.
This summer, in conjunction with AAA North Penn, from August 18-26 we will join “Colette’s Rediscover Cuba” tour, “a cultural exploration.”
As ambassadors of discovery, we will go where few Americans have gone.
Patrick “Cheese” O’Malley wants to stay put as a Lackawanna County commissioner.
He has already served as a do-nothing minority Republican commissioner, switched to Democrat where he served as a do-nothing commission and now is on the ballot with another do-nothing Democratic.
Neither man has a college degree.
But O’Malley thinks he’s a shoo-in for the job.
And he probably is.
But that doesn’t mean the people should make it easy for him to pull another fast one and slide into another cushy, over-paid job loaded with perks and benefits that the overwhelming number of taxpayers never receive.
But, because O’Malley worked for about 15 years as a county prison guard, we can at least ask to see his job performance evaluations.
We hereby demand to see any disciplinary write-ups or reprimands he might have received for poor job performance. If they exist, we need to see what he did to get reprimanded. If they do not exist, we will at least know that he walked the cell block line to the point that he never got a write-up.
Some thick deadwood public employees never receive reprimands, anyway. But some just can’t keep out of their own way. I’d like to know and want voters to know if O’Malley stumbled his way through a prison career, has a file thick with scolding or a clean card.
Show us your personnel file, O’Malley.
We paid your way so we have a right to know how you did before you jumped on a speedier public gravy train and raced into another public service job where you performed like a fourth-grader.
We know that the Lackawanna County Prison has been a political nest of smirking partisan cronies and those with family or other connections to the corrupt business and political machines that have historically run county government.
And we demand to know where you fit in that nest.
Who were your references, by the way? Who vouched for you when you went hat in hand looking for a job in a hard luck community where you qualified for few jobs of skill?
Who held your hand at the interview? You had an interview didn’t you? If so, can we see the results? Promotions? You get any? Tests? You take any promotional exams? If so, how’d you do? What were your scores?
If so, please provide the paperwork so we can see what your supervisors said about you when you weren’t smiling and glad-handing your way around town looking for your next political hand-out.
Many political candidates do not come from public service jobs where such information is available. We’re fortunate that you did.
And, yeah, we know that your personnel file is not public record – unless you make it public record.
It’s a fair request.
So I hope you agree that the people who already pay your salary have a right to know how you did in your old public payroll job before they decide whether to vote you into a new public payroll job.
We need to know that you’re not just some political hack with no track record of achievement in your former job.
You’re still a political hack, Pat, whose only skill is posing for pictures and sending hundreds of congratulation letters at taxpayer expense to members of the community (you’d send them to dogs and cats if only you had thought of it) to firm up your position as a see-through politician desperate to cling to the public payroll.
The toothy smile, the trademark hair, the fashionable outfit all came together as Kathleen Kane modeled, preened and posed for the people on Scranton’s Courthouse Square.
A full symphony even played patriotic music as backdrop for her public appearance on that soft evening before the gala July 4 fireworks display.
Surrounded by statues signifying glory in battle, Pennsylvania’s embattled attorney general stood her ground in her hometown, seemingly immune to persecution and prosecution.
If she has truly been targeted by Mexican drug cartel gunmen – or gunwomen – as her press spokesman says she is - evidence seemed slim and none that she is in the crosshairs of the banditos.
When you’re attorney general, evidence is everything.
Other than her dour-looking co-worker and twin sister, Ellen, Kane’s only other back-up was a young woman who smiled and stood to the side - maybe a cop, maybe not a cop.
But even if she hid a Glock somewhere beneath her summer outfit, and even if Kathleen and Ellen were packing as well, they would have been no match for grim cartel assassins.
Maybe unseen snipers had her well protected from rooftops and windows. Maybe laser death drones looked out for her from above. Maybe her driver, special agent Pat “Rocco” Reese who is now under arrest himself was disguised as an M80.
As ludicrous as that sounds, the recent explanation for Kane’s Michael Jackson-like security detail at her recent arraignment on criminal charges is even more unbelievable.
I quickly questioned any justification of burly celebrity bodyguards as soon as I saw photos of the plainclothes gang leading her through a crowd of reporters. I brought up the matter on the radio as soon as I could. And I addressed the issue via email to seasoned press spokesman Chuck Ardo, who once worked for a powerful governor and now – for whatever the reason – works for accused criminal Kane.
Ardo responded that she appeared that day with five agents – one local and four from the Philadelphia area who accompanied her in and out of the building but did not attend the arraignment.
Subsequent news reports detailed the detail with news that they were all salaried and did not receive overtime. But they’re still on the public payroll and some people believe Kane should have paid for her own guards.
Either way, big men on alert does not explain Ardo’s recent statement to a Pittsburgh reporter about the Mexicans. If what he says is true, why didn’t Kane show up in her hometown with a similar team? What better place than Scranton during a patriotic July 4 celebration for cartel hit men – or hit women – to take out our Kathleen?
The disconnect is too close for comfort.
Again, we have classic Kathleen spitting out a pathologically easy and hopefully acceptable answer to a legitimate question about whether she abused her office – the ongoing story of her public service.
During Kane’s 20 minute-or-so appearance on Courthouse Square, she stood in one place, shook a few hands and did not greet nearly as many people as I expected - one big hug from a woman from her old West Side neighborhood and some pest of a guy hanging around who real security would have walked off to the side and marginalized and that was about it.
But when somebody did point a 21st Century weapon at her – a sleek video camera – she quickly fled, unscathed and unruffled.
Finding solace in a fashionable Scranton restaurant, she took refuge in the cocktail lounge where no sinister senor slurping tequila sours was present.
The only cartel Kane has to worry about is the group of unnamed alleged evil-doers she now blames for her arrest – the gang of masters who have successfully plotted her downfall to protect their own foul behavior.
According to Kane, these gangsters are more sinister and ruthless than cartel boss El Chapo and his Sinaloa cholos put together.
And, she alone, stands firm while protecting us from evil.
Yes, she really said that.
Please excuse me for not buying the lie. I’ve been to Mexico, Sinaloa, in fact, and realize that almost nobody there ever heard of Kane. They have their own major problems and Kane is not one of them.
Kane’s next case is to provide evidence that shows how she single-handedly brought pressure on the cartel members and prove that they’re miffed.
Don’t expect facts.
What we can anticipate is Kane trotting out yet another bizarre public statement like the excruciatingly weird explanation she laid on us Wednesday in Harrisburg, where she blamed anybody and everybody but herself for her problems.
Fireworks or no fireworks, in America, it’s always easier to blame the Mexicans.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Tom Kelly calls the racial slur he wrote on Facebook “an old joke.”
But some people aren’t laughing.
On February 9, in response to a post on a friend’s Facebook page about a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation winter warning, Kelly wrote, “I fell on ice the other day, got up and my wallet was gone! Must have been black ice……:)”
The woman on whose Facebook page the comment appeared responded, “Lmao….Tk you are tooooo MUCH!!!!”
Another woman also responded.
“That is horrible!!!I can’t believe you would post it,” she wrote.
“Unless I am not understanding that post is highly offensive.”
“It’s a wisecrack,” wrote the woman on whose Facebook page Kelly’s comment appeared. “It’s funny chill.”
The exchange ended when the outraged woman wrote, “Backward PA humor I guess… it’s racist to those who know better.”
The Facebook host eventually deleted Kelly’s black ice comment.
“I’m not a racist,” Kelly said in a telephone interview last week.
The Wyoming Barracks Troop P community services/public information officer posted the comment from the Facebook page he set up and uses with an alias because he said he wants to be able to live “my own life.”
Kelly said he agrees his words would be inappropriate had he posted the comment as “Trooper Tom Kelly.”
But, Kelly - who also serves as director of Camp Cadet – a PSP summer camp for Pennsylvania boys and girls between 12 and 15 founded to “establish a positive relationship with law enforcement personnel” - said he should not be reprimanded because “it is private.”
Still, Kelly said he “absolutely” expects an internal PSP investigation into his behavior if his superiors receive a complaint.
“I’d be embarrassed if it got out,” he said.
Kelly grew defensive during the interview.
“You can’t live a life?” he asked. “I want to enjoy Facebook as well.”
“No offensive words. Like a stand-up comedy routine. Not black humor. Not white humor. Not official humor,” Kelly said.
So why isn’t everybody laughing?
“It was a joke in bad taste,” Kelly said.
When asked to explain the joke to people who might not get his sense of humor, Kelly said, “I don’t know. It’s a joke.”
Either you get it or you don’t, Kelly said, adding that he did not know how a black child at Camp Cadet or a black state trooper would react if he told them the joke. He said black children do attend the camp and that he jokes with black officers.
“This is what the world is coming to,” Kelly said, comparing his predicament to the lowering of the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina. Kelly said he does not have an opinion on officials’ decision to lower the rebel symbol of racial hatred.
Kelly said he recently saw a well-known black comedian perform a skit on “Saturday Night Live” that spoofed “killing white people.”
“I was offended,” Kelly said.
Conversely, he said “if somebody takes offense (at what he wrote), I’m sorry I offended you.”
“It’s kind of a crazy world,” Kelly continued. “Everybody thought race relations would improve with Obama. I believe he set it back.”
“If a white person mentions the word ‘black,’ it’s taboo. I don’t get that. Blacks can make comments about whites but whites can’t make comments about blacks,” Kelly said. “You can still pick on the Irish. St. Pat’s day you go into Walmart and (see) drunken Irish cards.”
As for his Facebook post, Kelly said “I meant no real harm.”
“It was just a joke. You know. Ha ha.”
Looking back, Kelly admits his bad judgement.
“It was a bad error,” he said. “When you read it to me, it’s like holy shit.”
Kelly declined an invitation to talk about the controversy on WILK News Radio.
“No, I just can’t go on the air and talk,” he said. “It’s kind of like a no-win situation.”
The woman who criticized Kelly’s black ice comment said she did not know the poster’s identity until I told her.
From where she stood in the golden sunshine of a brilliant New York morning, Hillary Rodham, Clinton made a solemn promise - to make America better for everyday Americans.
We all stand to share in that promise simply because we will finally have a chance, an equal opportunity for everyday people to make the most of who and what we are and hope to be in a nation free of want and fear – just like the powerful vow of the man after whom the park where we gathered is named.
Free to express ourselves and worship if we choose.
Free to be.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was our grand champion then.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is our grand champion now.
Saturday’s rally marked her presidential campaign’s official public beginning with a speech, a fitting plan to return America to its heritage and take us into the future stronger and better equipped to face the many challenges of tomorrow.
Tomorrow, not yesterday as Hillary’s bitter critics cry, a new day, not the bad old days of yesteryear’s trickle-down democracy, but a truly American day that marks the beginning and not the end of a dream that is on the ropes.
Hillary promises to be a champion, somebody who has been down but never out, a fighter who perseveres and never quits. She told the overwhelmingly young crowd in the park that she has been called many names, but “quitter” is not one of them.
Looking confident and calm, Hillary spoke amid the boisterous cheers from the crowd that erupted accompanied by a wave of countless small flags that flew in homage to new glory, not old glory, but new glory baptized with all the fanfare and resilience of an old-fashioned Scranton christening.
Trust has survived some bad times for too many people, young and old, good people who ask for little and get as much – good people in this great place where liberty and justice has too often withered in abandoned corners of our county.
Trusting is sometimes terrifying, but the willingness to stay in the fight, to pick yourself up when you’re down is always worth the effort.
And, as Hillary vowed to lead that effort, the crowd once again roared its approval and willingness to join the cause. These people will now face the haters and reject their hatred. They will welcome the attacks as gifts, informing the arbiters of injustice that their days are numbered, that common sense and decency will nurture our national public policy from now on.
Science, human and civil rights, economic justice and wisdom will rule the day.
Pride will prevail.
As Hillary stood strong and spoke from a small stage in the park, a cool breeze blew across the East River, sending small ripples across the water as signs of bigger waves to come – a movement for fairness, for a change. Slowly but surely, her honorable ideas will become the land of the land – your land, my land, from California to this New York island.
And, again, Roosevelt Island erupted with the beautiful noise of expectation. With hard work, training, support and guidance, we will make it together. With a chance to which we must all be entitled, the good people of this nation will do and be better than ever.
Standing her ground and inviting everyone to join her, Hillary promised the world to take action against unfairness that has stripped too many people of their dignity, holding them back and holding them down – women and men, straight and gay, people who deserve better and rarely complain.
But, even in our terribly jaded world, the people who listened to her, who support and work for her election, were willing to enlist in the sacred mission to change the world because they know the world needs them.
This is America’s authentic promise in all its’ sweetest splendor.
This is the best of our respectful and decent people, one great American family that will finally stand together for what is right.
This is the Hillary Rodham Clinton who will become president.
Tuesday, June 02, 2015
If honor is everything, Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright is nothing.
Deceit frames his tenure as a public servant. Dishonesty characterizes the temple of city services he rules like a villain in a cheap martial arts movie.
“Enter the Phony.”
Without honor, neither government nor martial arts stands for anything good.
A few months ago, Courtright hired David Weidow Sr. for a newly created Department of Public Works (DPW) job cutting grass and weeds in a flood prone area, a job Courtright neither advertised nor accepted applications from anybody but Weidow. The job pays $29,000-a-year, more than the median Scranton salary, and comes with a full benefits package.
Weidow does, however, likely have more grass and weed experience than anybody on the city payroll.
In 2009 he pleaded guilty to growing marijuana and possessing nine pounds of pot with the intent to distribute. A judge sentenced him to serve up to seven years in a state prison for his connection to a ring that police say travelled from Lackawanna County to Philadelphia and trafficked in cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy
During the campaign for mayor, Courtright, who runs a for-profit West Side karate dojo as a self-proclaimed 8th degree black belt, accepted a $10,000 campaign donation from David’s brother, Edward. Scranton punchers and kickers say that Edward Weido was a whirlwind karate practitioner when he and his close friend the mayor were young.
And, now, city taxpayers are paying 58-year-old David to attack grass and weeds with the ferocity of one nasty ninja.
Maybe David found enlightenment, straightened out and cleaned up his act. What he didn’t do was take his city job application seriously enough to fill out the required responses.
If yes, please explain.
David didn’t even list a telephone number where he could be reached.
At least he mentioned in scribbly handwriting that he attended some kind of college named “Park” at some undisclosed location where he received what appears to be an associate degree that he seems to have misspelled and finished one “degree” short.
More serious questions remain.
The mayor claims he knew nothing about David’s previous gardening experience. But the mayor also claims that 8th dan black belt, rivaling only Chuck Norris for two-fisted bravado. For the record, Courtright still refuses to prove his karate rank by naming the teacher or teachers who promoted him along the way, disrespecting the people he is paid to serve that he is in fact the honorable “master” he claims to be.
The mayor says he will ask David Weidow to fill in the blanks on his job application. That should prove interesting. Is there anything else about David Weidow’s past that the people who pay his salary and pick up the cost of his health insurance should know about?
Any other crimes?
Any other prison sentence?
I don’t know if David holds any karate rank.
All I know is that this whole mess arranged and carried out by Courtright is rank enough to fill all the garbage trucks at the DPW garage.
The man appeared suddenly at my front screen door last night.
“Corbett!’ yelled the big man. “Corbett!”
Then he rang the bell. I didn’t recognize him at first and wasn’t sure if he was friend or foe. I opened the door, stepped onto the front porch and made sure to keep him at arms-length.
“I didn’t know who else to talk to,” he said.
I recognized him as a man I knew from a work crew in the neighborhood last summer. We had talked a few times and he said he grew up in the Hill Section of Scranton where I live. In his 60s he’s still a man you’d want in your corner in a pinch.
“You don’t know what happened,” he said.
A small gathering of past and present public officials had gathered earlier on Courthouse Square with a few military veterans to unveil plans to pay tribute to the 52 Lackawanna County residents who died during the Vietnam War.
The man on my porch said he was a Vietnam combat veteran.
But the event earlier in the day had seemed to upset him more than comfort him. He called it a flop as his eyes filled. He said he saw nothing of the announcement on the 6 o’clock news.
Anxiety is too mysterious for its own good. It sneaks into your mind like a thief and steals confidence from even the most steadfast person. A little panic can go a long way – too far, in fact, when you feel lost and worry that stability might never be found again.
That’s why a friend in need is a friend indeed. We all need somebody sometime to help us through the haze – especially when the years start to blur and aging takes over against our will.
Although I’m still not sure what exactly upset the man who came to my home last night, I am sure that he – and countless other Vietnam veterans, particularly combat veterans - needs some well-earned reassurance that we have not forgotten the tours of duty, draft and death that defined a troublesome time in our personal and national history.
Although their patrols stopped a long time ago, time marches on. Growing older is an often lonely post. After all those years since Saigon fell in 1975, the memorial is the least we can do. The real mission of compassion and honor comes when the memorial is finally dedicated, the names read and the politicians go home.
Poor health remains an enemy for too many of our region’s military veterans. So do high taxes and service charges for unassuming men and women whose income never gets higher as the cost of food skyrockets and other expenses inflict invisible wounds on those who have already sacrificed too much. Depression also waits in dark ambush, ready, willing and able to claim its next victim. So does despair.
Of course, other veterans from other wars have experienced similar torment. The death camps left their marks on liberators, Korean vets still revisit the bitter years and the ongoing inner turmoil brought home from Afghanistan and Iraq continues to take lives by suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.
But the man at my door last night was a Vietnam veteran asking for help.
Money, power, kindness, training, treatment and more shape the litany of offerings we must continue to provide. Civilians are duty bound in our connection to those who fought and fight the wars. Not everyone puts on the uniform and picks up the gun in service to the nation. Not everyone should. But everyone must provide constructive service to the nation and our individual communities in one way or another.
I opened the door to my friend last night. Now we must open our hearts and minds to him and others who need our help. Because by helping them we also are helping ourselves.
When my father Shamus was growing up in Scranton during the Depression, maybe he swam below the “cut” in the Lackawanna River where his dad dug bootleg coal. If so, I doubt that my father or his nine brothers and sisters had real bathing suits. Shamus probably wore a pair of older brother Gene’s hand-me-down shorts or just his knickers.
If city swimming pools existed in the 30s, Shamus never told me about them.
We’ve come a long way in 21st Century Scranton.
Or have we?
City taxpayers foot the bill for several swimming pools, including the big outdoor pool equipped with a brightly-colored plastic winding sliding board at Nay Aug Park, a place that should be packed each summer day with squealing, laughing children.
But several pools will remain closed this summer for a variety of reason – capped by the overall incompetence of city officials who can’t figure out how to open them and provide city kids a much-deserved respite from sweltering summer heat and humidity.
Nay Aug will only offer “free swimming for kids” to those 12 years of age and under.
The rest can either come up with the price of a ticket or go swim in the river. Some will likely find their way to the dangerous nearby gorge and risk their young lives showing adults just what kind of recklessness they can find if abandoned without guidance, encouragement and support.
That’s why the rallying cry “free swimming for kids” must be heard far and wide loud and clear.
A neighborhood group raised enough money last summer to cover the cost of the kids. In previous years no such thing as free swimming for kids existed at Nay Aug. This year, official “action” is a compromise that’s not a compromise at all.
That’s why I’m putting city officials on notice.
“Free swimming for kids” is non-negotiable.
The city simply must pay.
Officials from this recreation board and that city council and this mayor’s office and that bureaucratic sewer authority claim that the money is simply not available, that the cash does not exist.
Yes it does. Find it. Take it from somewhere else – the mayor’s salary, conferences or the coffee fund. Make New Jersey consultant Henry Amoroso pay. City officials helped him grab a fat raise for his “expertise” in urban planning. So tell him that “free swimming for kids” is part of our overall progressive approach to improving the quality of life in the city he’s taking for a ride in his luxury consulting machine.
Henry can either find the money in an existing bank account or get it somewhere else. Scranton residents already pay high enough taxes and service rates to cover the cost – and add free popsicles for kids once a week as well.
One neighborhood organizer accused city officials of discriminating against poor kids. So what else is new? Poor kids always pay for the free ride self-absorbed politicians give themselves, their families and friends.
Go to any of the slew of campaign fundraisers and observe the amount of beer guzzled by campaign workers and supporters, paid for by candidates who claim to support the bright future of the city – a once bustling place now on the verge of collapse led by a mayor who can’t see the forest or the trees. At the most popular political fundraisers the cost of beer alone could pay for free swimming for kids.
If you ostracize the young and make them feel as if they don’t matter because they don’t, you tempt fate by marginalizing the simplest of their dreams.
Innocence lost can turn rabid.
In a dog-eat-dog political world, the bites resulting from such cruel attacks will only fester and get worse.
Free swimming for kids! Free swimming for kids! Free swimming for kids!
Daddy Kane and Mommy Kane worked very hard over the years to raise Baby Kane. As a result, Baby Kane – also known as Jared Martin Kane – raised quite a bit of Caine of his own.
Back in 2010 Baby Kane told police he had been drinking, “was driving and hit a few things,” according to a press account of his night out. Then Wilkes-Barre councilwoman Mommy Kane and magisterial district judge Daddy Kane could at least tell friends that boozy Baby Kane was honest.
That kind of loopy open book mentality shapes Baby Kane’s current bid to replace Daddy Kane when he retires.
A meat cutter by trade at a Wilkes-Barre supermarket, Baby Kane can campaign on a platform of cutting the pork from the political wheeling and dealing that sometimes shapes a slick magistrate’s career.
And, a considerable amount of hard work and hard liquor goes into scoring 0.267 on your blood alcohol content test. That’s impressive, even for Wilkes-Barre, where district judges often work overtime handling drunken driving cases.
If elected, Baby Kane, 33, will bring real experience to the bench. Police charged Baby Kane with not one but two counts of driving under the influence because he struck two legally parked cars.
The cars were parked a block apart!
And that takes practice!
Baby Kane says he made a mistake and has grown.
“Do you still drink? I asked when we spoke briefly by phone Tuesday.
“No,” he said.
“Not at all?” I asked.
“Not like I used to,” he said.
I explained that he had just given me two entirely different answers to the same question.
Baby Kane admitted his deception.
“Yea,” he said. “I jumped the gun on that one.”
Like I said, if nothing else, Baby Kane is honest.
But getting elected might not be as easy as former sheet metal worker judge Daddy Kane and current city controller Mommy Kane Baby Kane might think.
Critics accuse the Kane campaign brain trust of being deceptive. Baby Kane’s first name does not even appear on his campaign yard signs. All the signs say is “Kane for Magisterial District Judge.”
His Facebook page also just says “elect Kane Magisterial District Judge.”
Because no mention of Baby Kane’s first name appears anywhere in the literature, some people in Wilkes-Barre might think that Daddy Kane is up for re-election, as he has been regularly for almost three decades. They’ll think they’re voting for the same old hustler judge rather than voting for his new hustler judge son.
So why no first name, Jared?
Baby Kane provided some convoluted explanation about first names not being clearly visible on campaign signs and then in almost the same breath said he’s got new signs ordered that will include his first name.
He also said he passed his magistrate certification test with flying colors – considerable progress from when he spent four years at Kutztown University from 2000 to 2004 when he finished six credits short of graduation.
Baby Kane said he’s still thinking about going back to college.
And he denied, contrary to published reports, ever having worked for legendary Luzerne County gangster judge Michael Conahan when he “finished” college. He said he worked in the jury room and that his name mistakenly got included in an anonymous letter that went to the Judicial
Conduct Board before Conahan got indicted, pleaded guilty and headed to prison for 17 ½ years for his part in selling kids for cash.