5-29-2006 What's next?

According to the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street: “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” I know your common sense has told you NOT to believe in the future of Wilkes-Barre because you have been slighted, misled and disappointed in the past.

I have heard comments that there have been “far too many announcements over the past ten years” and many have said that a miracle needs to happen to bring back the City.

Now is a new time for Wilkes-Barre.--Mayor Tom Leighton, excerpted from his much-maligned “I believe” speech of June 9, 2005. More will follow.

Far too many announcements. I hear that. Announcements concerning Wilkes-Barre, or as I used to call them--useless press releases--have been a dime a dozen for quite a few years now. Not so long ago, the announcements had to do with high-profile projects that either never came about, or did come about and quickly turned into a nightmare of some sort. All too often, the rapid-fire announcements had to do with when we could get to piling junk on our sidewalks, when we could expect to receive our commingled schedule printed on a calendar, or how the city would pay for damage to vehicles in lieu of fixing potholes. Looking back, it’s maddening when you consider just how little we had to look forward to and how little we expected of our local elected officials.

At the beginning of my term, the perception in Wilkes-Barre was that the City was DEAD and had no future. Upon taking office, I encountered: $10.8 million dollars of unpaid bills, streets that needed immediate paving, countless stalled projects, like the infamous hole in the ground, crime and drugs, low morale throughout the City workforce, residents and visitors, unsuitable equipment and city owned buildings in poor condition

No hope could be found in our City. No one believed in our future.

These days, announcements actually mean things when you consider that this current bunch of elected folks of ours announce things and then they actually happen. Crazy, I know.

And they’re not droning on about calendars, recyclables, or why we should be thankful for the right to pile our junk out front twice a year. They have been announcing some high-profile, big ticket projects for all of two years now. And if that’s not enough, everything they announced is finally coming to fruition.

In the past, we merely had hopes for success. Now, WE ARE SUCCESSFUL. Look around. The theater project. The Intermodal Transportation Center. The Hotel Sterling. The street lights. The Riverfront Park. The Pine Ridge Development. Look around… NO ONE BELIEVED that those projects had life… NOW, BELIEVE IT!

While some of us have come to expect failure and can see little more than future failures in the making, is it not obvious by this point that all sorts of good things are happening in this city? How many more tens of millions of dollars in economic investments do we need before we sit up, take notice and start getting excited about our chances as a community?

Name for me another city in Pennsylvania that has so much going on--that is so busy retooling itself. You can’t. In any other third-class city, the arrival of one new building or one new merchant is cause for celebration and the murdering of some innocent ribbon. In our city, site after site after site after friggin’ site is being leveled, remodeled, acquired or is currently being built upon. But, correct me if I’m wrong, everyone I hear commenting on Wilkes-Barre seems to be dwelling on the negatives. Well, guess what. There’s always going to be some negatives thrown into this urban mix, no matter who the hell we elect. If you want a Beaver Cleaver existence, take route 81 south and drive until you hit an ocean or some such immovable thing.

Now, the biggest obstacle that we must overcome is the negative attitude of a small, but pervasive, segment of our population. These people who are petty, jealous, constantly complaining and always negative do not share the dreams and goals of the people standing here with me today. Our future is bright and we cannot let the lack of enthusiasm of a few darken the future for us all.

If we embrace this negative attitude, we are not only failing the City, but we are failing ourselves.

We can erect ten new shiny buildings and there’s still going to be that one eyesore that has yet to be dealt with. We can hire ten more new cops, but there’s still going to be upsetting incidents going down. We can pave twenty streets this year alone, but we’re still going to encounter a few potholes. You can strive for the utmost in perfection, but to expect it is foolhardy at best.

Wilkes-Barre has warts, Wilkes-Barre has always had warts, and near as I can predict with any certainty at all, Wilkes-Barre will continue to fashion some warts. So what? If you dwell on the negative, the laundry list of positive undertakings will never help to change any outsider’s perception of this city. If we can’t promote our own city, who will?

As for myself, I’m particularly excited about our future prospects. I’m not going to plow through the growing itemized list of progress again, but there’s a heck of a lot of positive developments happening in this city right now. And don’t take this exercise as yet another endorsement of Mayor Tom Leighton. Putting the credit aside, just take a long look at this city, because you might not recognize it two short years from now. Although, I do have a question I’d like to ask of our mayor.

What’s next?

There it is. What’s next? He’s gotten the downtown revitalization going and then some, so…what’s next?

The Coal Street project is set to happen, in which it’ll become a direct conduit from 81 right into the center of the downtown. Plus, something big is in the works for Coal Street’s park in conjunction with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. What, exactly, I know not. But, Tom Leighton has repeatedly demonstrated that his promises are not empty by any means.

Not that whatever might be next has to include pallet-loads of bricks and mortar. Maybe it’ll be the hiring of another platoon of new police officers. Maybe it’ll be some very targeted infrastructure improvements in our neighborhoods. Maybe it’ll be free Spanish lessons for every resident of the city that can not find the Rio Grande on a map. I dunno.

All I do know is, I’m excited about our prospects and I can’t wait to hear what else might be on the drawing board.

Am I alone in that respect?

Dam the poop, now!

More often than not, when I’m reading the putrid editorials penned by the Citizens’ Voice staff I am also making with that back-and-forth motion with my right hand, which is commonly referred to as “tossing off.”

Spike in crime calls for wide response

The rate of violent crime — murders, rapes and robberies — hit at least a 30-year high last year, according to an in-depth series of articles this past week in The Citizens’ Voice.

But compared to cities of similar size throughout the Mid-Atlantic states, both Wilkes-Barre and Scranton are far from under siege. Our city has seen a fraction of the number of murders committed in Reading, Harrisburg or York.

Still, the amount of crime in Wilkes-Barre is significant enough to call for a thorough look at the causes of the increased number of incidents and what can be done about them.

A thorough look at the causes? What the fu>k!?!

Um…does Times-Shamrock provide free stupid pills for all of it’s employees? Try poverty. Try idiocy. Try a lack of opportunity due to illiteracy and a lack of employable skills. Why not abject stupidity? How about poor parenting? How about the permanent sub-class doing exactly what we want them to do--supply us with illegal drugs. Pick one.

Look, you can greatly improve the housing stock, replace all of the broken windows, pave every single street, open new businesses and hire a few more cops, but…if the demand for illicit narcotics remains high, the once-shocking crimes associated with the drug trade are going to continue to happen in our neighborhoods.

You want a thorough look at the underlying causes of violent crime? How about if we institute random drug testing at the Citizens’ Voice and find out just how many of it’s employees are inviting violent crime into this city? No rocket science, federal grants, or exhaustive research papers are long overdue, or even necessary in these respects. You want the worst of the violent felons to go away? Stop buying their products. Duh!

Nothing makes me angrier than to hear some middle-aged drug user sitting in his insulated little “white flight” of a place like Harveys Lake stating that he’d never live in Wilkes-Barre. Nah, too dangerous and such. Yeah, but he will make his bi-weekly trek to the Heights to visit his narcotics supplier. Sorry, champ. But businesses (legal and otherwise) tend to remain open until their sales dry up and blow away. He’s the supplier. And you demand the use of his products, while simultaneously demanding that Wilkes-Barre do something dramatic to rid itself of the drug suppliers who get to committing felonies at an astonishingly high rate.

This would be the same guy who regularly opines that those caught simply possessing illegal drugs should not be incarcerated. No, we wouldn’t want to stick the white folk from Harveys Lake in prison for being precisely one half of the supply-and-demand part of the illegal narcotics equation. No, we wouldn’t want to do that. His solution to the drug problem would be to lock away all of those black folks he really can’t stand to be near. And then, in the very next breath, he’ll wonder aloud why so many of those black folks seem so hostile towards the white folk. He just can’t figure it out.

Underlying causes? Cut me a major break!

How about if we dispense with the disability checks provided to alcoholics now that the Americans with Disabilities Act has been totally perverted, and provide a free and clear path to the nearest community college to the children of our poorest citizens? How about if we dispense with the foolishness that is pretending that we’re all provided with a level playing field at birth? Rich people get caught cheating on their taxes, or get in deep, deep trouble with the Security and Exchange Commission. Poor people don’t leave complicated paper trails for the cops to follow. Their criminality tends to be far less thought-out, but of the highly publicized variety. The CEO of Enron might ruin your life, but he would never club you over the head and take your wallet.

As I have pointed out many times, I was on welfare from the age of 12 through 17-years-old. To put it very bluntly, while I remember those formative years of mine very fondly, I also remember the self-inflicted stigma of feeling like I was as low on the societal pole as low could go. Trust me, your self-esteem takes a major dive when you’re too embarrassed to accompany your partially-disabled mother to the free cheese giveaway line at the nearby Salvation Army, while knowing full-well that she really, really needed your help to carry the assorted and much-appreciated substandard freebies all the way home. There are those times when I absolutely hate myself for not putting her needs before mine. I think they call that guilt. She did the best she could. I know as much now.

Yeah, she did the best she could. She demanded that I work after school rather than hanging out with the other kids who had their fair share of scrapes with the law. And she absolutely demanded that I should give up on my wild-eyed, almost romantic vision of joining the Marines and running half-crazed through some jungle somewhere over there. In her mind, attending college was the only way I could get from where I was to where she figured I’d want to be someday. And while I was not very enthused with the idea of going to college, and was a complete slacker in every respect, it opened doors for me that would have never been opened otherwise.

The thing is, my mom could not afford to send me or any other of her children to a darn summer camp, let alone a college. The only reason I ended up studying Anything 101 was because, back in those days, poor kids on public assistance went to college absolutely free. It didn’t cost my mom or myself a plug nickel.

I could have been a homeless ‘Nam vet. I could have been a drug dealer. I could have ended up being a violent felon rotting away in a jail cell somewhere. But, instead, I was empowered. I was provided with a free education at the local community college. I was provided with unlimited opportunities. I was given the chance to crawl up out of that now-debilitating safety net and make something… something less than spectacular of myself, but still productive in a societal sense and somewhat self-satisfying

Do we really want to reduce violent crime and suchlike?

Well, then stop throwing good money after bad after the fact and start providing people who were dealt a really sh*tty hand in life with real opportunities. Send them to the local community college with a blank check in hand. And think of the cost as an investment in your own future.

Sez me.

The lowly welfare boy gone all legit like.

Mold is good, right?

From the e-mail inbox I agree with you position that President Bush did not lie since he believed what he was saying to be true. I am, however, mad as hell that someone spoon-fed our government such a pack of mis-information on Iraq. We now know that, not only did they possess no WMD, but they had only a ragtag army unable to direct traffic and their intrastructure was in danger of collapse.

Some groups have profitted mightly by this war including weapons builders and oil companies. I also wonder if Iran might have been involved since it took the spotlight off their evil plans. Too many times America, with the best of intentions, has been plunged into a bad situation due to faulty intelligence.

Every intelligence agency worth it’s weight in high-tech gadgetry thought Saddam had WMDs, and there is satellite imagery that suggests he not only had them when we invaded, but spirited them away at the very last second. Fact is, he not only had them at one time, but used them on both the Kurds and the Iranians. In addition, he didn’t help his cause by claiming he had them on numerous occasions and threatened to use them if provoked. In retrospect, why was it again that our invading troops twice geared up for chemical warfare attacks?

The only reason their armies appeared to be of the ragtag variety is because our M1/A1s and air superiority rolled on in there on two separate occasions and put some high-velocity rounds right through their supposed state-of-the-art Soviet-built T-54 and T-72 main battle tanks. And if you’re going to conduct WWII-styled ground battles, any army lacking both armor and air cover amounts to a sitting duck just asking for some buckshot. The fact of the matter is, when Operation Desert Storm began back in ‘91, Iraq had the fourth largest military on this planet. But, as we all know, if you fu>k with the bull you get the horns.

As far as “groups” profiting mightily by this war is concerned, what else is new? Arms manufacturers are no different than any other providers of disposable goods. Be it ketchup, index cards, diapers or depleted uranium rounds, they want us to buy lots of their products, use them up real quick and then buy some more. They’re enterprising capitalists just like everybody else who isn’t a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party.

Truth be told, when my kids were still locked-down at Coughlin High School, one of my daughter’s teachers wanted the kids to pick ten stocks and then see who had the biggest return on their make believe investments at the end of the semester. She sought out my advice and was questioning my sanity when I told her which companies would make her seem smart. Turns out, she had never even heard of Raytheon, or any other defense contractor for that matter. But, after Saddam got to launching Scud missiles at all of his neighbors and most of them were intercepted by Patriot missile batteries…guess who’s daughter ended up looking like the next insider trader sure to generate headlines one day.

Halliburton has been unnecessarily painted as villains by the oft-apoplectic left. Yet, a simple Google search and some required reading (Scary, I know) will clearly demonstrate for any dimwit that Halliburton is not only good at what they do, they have been doing it for a long, long time and party affiliation has mattered not when commanders-in-chief have given the order to fire a few expensive shots in anger.

More often than not, there’s much more going on than meets the eye, so we ought not get to quickly repeating or believing what any politician or political pundit has to tell us, while they, themselves, are card-carrying members of one particular political camp or another.

Consider the brief Falkland Islands skirmish that broke out in 1982. Some tin horned fool from Argentina thought he could easily deflect the well-deserved criticisms of his abject ineptitude as a leader by whipping up nationalistic pride as he gave the order to invade and occupy the British-held Falkland Islands.

Now, at the time, us regular folk that paid attention to such things thought nothing of this seemingly insignificant invasion. The Falklands? Where? Honey, grab that globe thingy and bring it on over here. The British would likely complain to the United Nations and then get chastised for being too white, right? Well, guess again.

The British quickly assembled a naval armada the likes of which were not seen since WWII was still raging on. It included two aircraft carriers and steamed south at breakneck speeds. Almost immediately, but behind the scenes, the U.S. offered not only logistical support, but satellite intelligence to the British. Meanwhile, the French shipped the latest technology upgrades to Argentina for the Exocet missiles they had sold to them. This was not a showdown over two islands populated by sheep and their herders. This was to be a military hardware testing ground. This was the place where, finally, full-scale, high-tech warfare would be conducted for the first time in well over thirty years.

Would the Aegis Class technology provided to the British by the U.S. rule the day by keeping the British surface ships afloat? Or would the French-built Exocets, anti-ship, air-to-surface, sea-skimming missiles blow the British armada out of the frigid waters?

As it played out, the Aegis radar systems jammed when presented with more than one incoming, sea-skimming target to track, and some British destroyers were either crippled, or sunk altogether. That flaw has long-since been corrected. The British killed scores of Argentines on land, as well as at sea. The most crushing blow came when the General Belgrano, a surplus WWII-era U.S. battle cruiser, was torpedoed and sent to the bottom by the HMS Conquerer. Over 300 went down with her, but that incident marked the first time that a surface ship was destroyed by a nuclear-powered submarine.

My point is, if we got to arguing about all of this at that time, we’d be limited to debating who wronged who and suchlike. Did the Argentines really have a claim to those nowhere islands, or did fifty years of British rule make the sovereignty of those islands a done deal? You say Toyota, and I say rice burner.

Meanwhile, politicians, military planners and weapons manufacturers alike were eagerly awaiting the results of the no-sh*t testing of their most expensive high-tech toys to date. The Exocet air-to-surface missiles killed ships as was promised. The ship-based Aegis air defense systems needed some immediate rethinking. Submarine countermeasures became a hot topic all over again. And near about 1,000 people lost their lives as a direct result. All in the name of real-time weapons testing.

Look, there’s just about always more going on that we’d care to believe when geopolitics gets people to shooting at one another. Why is it again that we invaded Iraq? I’m not completely sure, but Saddam Hussein was the only oligarch sitting on top of significant oil reserves and demanding that OPEC drop the dollar in favor of the euro as the world’s oil trading currency of choice.

As far as I’m concerned, “Bush lied and people died” just won’t cut it. There’s probably more to this picture than meets the eye. And often times, the big picture totally escapes the likes of you and I. Faulty intelligence? Only the passage of time will ultimately tell the tale on all of that. It’s early yet.

Grab some Junior Mints and find me after the intermission.

Nice. Who‘s first in?