The annual Rod of Iron Freedom Festival in rural Pike County is expected to draw a record crowd this weekend. Officials for the pro-gun and pro-Trump event say they plan to hand out masks (but not require they be worn) and encourage social distancing (but ignore the governor’s limits on indoor crowd sizes). We’ll see how it will work out health-wise for attendees.
There’s a symmetry to former Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright beginning his seven-year federal sentence for corruption at roughly the same time that former Lackawanna County Commissioner Bob Cordaro is wrapping up his 11-year stint. The two men’s crimes share various qualities — self-dealing, pay-to-play, shakedowns, etc. — that unfortunately are emblematic of the county’s and city’s political culture.
Trump’s bizarre and reckless (not the first time those adjectives have applied to him, I know) return to the White House following a three-day stay at Walter Reed Military National Military Medical Center for treatment of COVID-19 was one for the books. His steroid-enhanced expressions of his own invulnerability, obliviousness to the dangers presented by the disease, and willingness to further spread it White House staff and employees call into question his mental state and fitness for office.
Pennsylvania’s junior senator, Pat Toomey, plans to call it quits when his second term expires in 2022. The conservative Republican says he won’t run for reelection or for governor, as many political observers expected. Given his low approval ratings, and his slim margin of victory in 2016, his decision to call it a day really isn’t all that surprising. I’m sure we’ll all be sad to see him go.
At last week’s “debate,” Trump once again managed to suck all the oxygen out of the room, rudely bulldozing over his opponent, the moderator, and any cogent discussion of policies and issues that matter to Americans.
Former Scranton Schools Superintendent Alexis Kirijan and two others face a raft of felony and misdemeanor endangerment charges. A state grand jury determined they knew the extent of lead and asbestos contamination in district school buildings, but concealed it from parents, students and employees.
Trump and his foot soldiers insist that mail-in ballots are rife with fraud and cannot be trusted. It’s a baseless claim, but one that Trump clings to in an effort to delegitimize the general election results before the fact. So when a handful of overseas absentee ballots showed up in the trash near the Luzerne County courthouse, his White House sprang into action, claiming (incorrectly as we now know) that this was evidence of vote tampering and demanding a full federal investigation of the scandal. It was especially remarkable that the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania David Freed — a Trump appointee — broke with this office’s tight-lipped standard operating procedure and publicly announced the investigation.
As it happened, the ballots were opened by mistake (their envelopes closely resemble those for absentee ballot applications) and improperly discarded by a private contractor. So as is often the case in our region, this is a story of incompetence rather than corruption. Corrupt claims of voter fraud by Trump will almost certainly continue, though.
The Trump cult is a tough nut to crack. It has stayed true to Dear Leader through thick and thin, whether he shakes down foreign leaders for domestic political purposes, soaks taxpayers for golf trips to his properties, acts like a sexual predator, reportedly calls our war dead “losers” and “suckers,” tear-gases peaceful protesters, or hopelessly bungles the nation’s response to a pandemic. It’s therefore unlikely that the New York Times’ blockbuster detailing his failure to pay federal income taxes for much of the past decade-and-a-half will move the needle in some meaningful way.
Still, the Times’ story does reveal some of the reasons why Trump doesn’t want the world to see inside his financial house of cards. Chief among these are potential foreign entanglements with lenders, which itself presents massive conflicts of interest for Trump and security threats to the nation. That small matter of $421 million coming due in four years needs to be understood prior to election day.
Pennsylvania’s junior senator has fallen in line with the rest of his Republican colleagues and pulled a one-eighty on the idea of installing a supreme court justice during a presidential election year. Such a thing was unthinkable in 2016, when Obama had nearly a year left in his term. Fast-forward to 2020 and, with only 36 days until the general election, Pat Toomey, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of their fellow hypocrites plan to ram through an ultra-conservative replacement for the recently deceased Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Democrats who sat out the 2016 election because A) they were sure there was no way Donald Trump could be elected, which B) freed them from having to vote for Hillary Clinton, are as much to blame for the unfolding Supreme Court fiasco following the death of Justice Bader Ginsburg as Mitch McConnell and the Republican-controlled Senate. They knew (or should have known) who and what McConnell is, but essentially have allowed him continue to run roughshod over decorum and precedent. One result will be a Trump-stacked ideologically conservative federal court system that will be here when our kids reach middle age.
Scranton Police Department’s “Operation Grabbing Straws” resulted in charges against numerous individuals allegedly engaged in making straw purchases of firearms. Meanwhile, the state legislature continues to do little or nothing regarding laws that would make such transactions more difficult.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left us.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court split along partisan lines last week and handed a pair of victories to Democrat Joe Biden when it OK’ed a three-day deadline extension for mail-in ballots and the use of drop boxes for ballots. Republicans predictably were less than pleased. Even our junior senator played the “Trump card” by arguing the ruling is “lawless” and will cast the election’s legitimacy into doubt.
From where I sit, this looks like another example of the GOP attempting to reduce voter participation by restricting where, when and how folks can cast their votes during the pandemic. And it’s rich to hear the party of voter I.D., racial/partisan gerrymandering, and shuttered polling sites accuse anyone else of trying to rig an election.