Jennifer D. Wade Journal

Welcome to my online diary, enjoy your stay!

Blog posts : "General"

Point to Ponder

I found out through Facebook last night that Ray Koons had died. Who, you ask? Only one of the most respected and popular teachers to ever grace the halls of Lehighton Area High School. His popularity made him an invited guest at many class reunions, including the 20 year reunion of the LAHS Class of '84.

I don't know specifically how long Mr. Koons taught, but I think it's fair to say that anyone who went to LAHS in the 70s, 80s or 90s knew Mr. Koons. Some students knew him through the classes he taught; others may have had him as a coach; still others may have just met him in the hallway, probably as he was telling them to stop screwing around and get to class. Whatever the circumstances, when Mr. Koons talked, you listened.

For my part, I can only remember having one class with Mr. Koons - Federal Government during my junior year. One of my favorite memories of the class was listening to everyone (me included) sing the Schoolhouse Rock song as we wrote down the words to the Preamble to the Constitution.

The other memory that stands out is of the recurring "Point to Ponder" assignments. Every week or so, Mr. Koons would require us to write a few paragraphs concerning a thought-provoking phrase. I don't remember anything specific, but they would have been along the lines of this quote from Plato: "Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber." Your job was then to write four or five paragraphs about what the statement or thought meant to you. In other words, it was an exercise in critical thinking (and in writing).

I'm sure there were students who didn't like that kind of assignment. And, maybe there were even a few who didn't like Mr. Koons. But, I did, and I hope those other people learned to appreciate Mr. Koons as a teacher and as a man.

Go Back

Bring Me Some Higher Ed

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of representing my alma mater, JUNIATA COLLEGE, at the installation of WILKES UNIVERSITY's new president, DR. PATRICK LEAHY. I put on a cap and gown for the first time since my own graduation nearly 25 years ago. The ceremony featured much pomp and circumstance, including speeches and original musical compositions which reflected the theme of "Looking back with pride, looking forward with confidence." The official news release is HERE.

THIS page includes links to videos of the entire ceremony, but here's Dr. Leahy's speech if you'd like to see it.

Dr. Leahy's own educational background includes a Bachelor's in English Literature and post-graduate degrees in business and, of course, education. In short, he knows the value of a liberal arts education (his speech contained multiple references to Shakespeare!), but he also has the skills to look at higher education as a business. It's a business which he believes needs a new model.

Dr. Leahy mentioned that the cost of a higher education has risen at a higher rate over the past 25 years or so than the cost of anything else, including gasoline and health care. He says that model of ever-increasing tuition cannot be sustained in today's economic climate. Translation: many colleges and universities are in danger of pricing themselves out of existence.

He's also aware of another challenge that Wilkes faces. The university draws a good portion of its students from northeast Pennsylvania, and the region's population is shrinking. So, he says, the university must expand its recruiting base. That means that Wilkes will likely start competing for students from, for example, the same areas in western and central PA targeted by Juniata. And, don't forget, that Pennsylvania has a lot of liberal arts colleges already competing for students in overlapping areas.

Before coming to Wilkes, Dr. Leahy made a name for himself at the University of Scranton, where he spearheaded a major fundraising campaign that surpassed its goal about two years ahead of schedule. I don't think it was any accident that that achievement was pretty much the first thing the Trustee representative mentioned in her welcoming speech during the installation ceremony.

But, Dr. Leahy also emphasized his plan to promote the unique aspects of Wilkes as a way of attracting students. And, he wants to, as mentioned before, expand the university's reach - not only in terms of recruiting, but in terms of access - i.e. potential branch campuses and online courses. I recall him saying that if Harvard is offering online courses for free (I think he must have meant THIS), what does that mean for the rest of (colleges and universities)?

Overall, my big takeaway from the installation was the impression that similar institutions, including Juniata, better up their game because here comes Pat Leahy and Wilkes.

Go Back

Still Sandusky

I'm still here! Longer than usual between posts, but I'm back.

There has been some Sandusky news lately, so let's just get that out of the way, shall we?

Earlier today, September 21, transcripts from Sandusky's trial were posted online, along with the transcript of a motion to withdraw filed by Sandusky's attorneys just before jury selection began. You can read the documents (there are 16 of them) HERE. Just look for the ones dated 9/21/12. I haven't read them, but MEDIA REPORTS indicate that Sandusky's attorneys were counting on Sandusky to testify in his own defense. But, after Sandusky's adopted son, Matt, came forward and said he was prepared to testify that Sandusky had abused him, Sandusky opted not to take the stand and his lawyers were left, basically, defenseless.

Earlier this week, the judge set Sandusky's sentencing for Tuesday, October 9, in Centre County Court. Immediately before sentencing, there will be a hearing to determine whether Sandusky should be classified as a Sexually Violent Predator. I'm guessing the determination will be "yes." Then, after that, he'll be sentenced. Word is that several of the victims will read statements, and that Sandusky will also read a statement. I think he could face a maximum of 400+ years in prison. Don't know if the judge will give him the max, but even a sentence of 20 -30 years will pretty much guarantee that Sandusky spends the rest of his life behind bars.

The most recent issue of THE NEW YORKER features an article about Sandusky by MALCOLM GLADWELL. You can read the article HERE. The gist of it is that Sandusky was a sly and calculating pedophile who fooled a lot of people by cultivating his goofball image. The article cites the Freeh Report, but generally views Paterno, Curley, Schultz and Spanier with more sympathy than they received in the report.

And then there's THIS story which appeared just this week in the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS. The article cites an email from a self-described former child prostitute who links Sandusky to an alleged pedophile ring that operated in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The (now) man said he met Sandusky at a Second Mile fundraiser in 1979. He says he was supposed to have sex with Sandusky, but the schedule prevented that from happening, Instead, he says, he had sex with another man at the fundraiser, the coach at a NY prep school.

As far as I know, this is the first time Sandusky has been linked to any kind of a pedophile ring. Up until now, it appeared that he had operated on his own.

(Update 9/22/12 at 9:30am)

I neglected to mention a couple of other Sandusky-related updates from the past week. One is that Victim#1, the teenager from Clinton County who went to authorities and got the investigative ball rolling, has written a BOOK. It's due out sometime in October, most likely after Sandusky's sentencing. As part of the publicity for the book, he'll do an interview with ABC News. Details of the interview, including the air date, are still being worked out.

And, finally, (I think), Penn State has lawyered up. According to THIS article from Reuters, the university has hired a top law firm to negotiate settlements with Sandusky's victims - by the end of the year, if possible. The news release from Penn State is HERE.

Go Back

Collateral Damage

So, I've been wanting to write my latest Sandusky/Penn State-related post for a while. But, stuff kept happening that would impact what I wrote. And, by "stuff," I mean the release of the Freeh Report, the taking down of the statue, and the NCAA issuing sanctions against PSU athletics. Oh, and the new Batman movie came out!

I went to see The Dark Knight Rises the first day it came out. Not a midnight showing, but an early afternoon showing. You can read my review HERE, but the gist of it is that, in my opinion, it's good but not as good as The Dark Knight.

As I was watching Batman save Gotham yet again, I was struck by how much damage he does along the way. Sure, the city and millions of people survive, but the rebuilding process will take even longer because Batman takes out quite a few buildings along the way. We never saw people in those buildings, but I assume there were some, so now they're gone, too. Collateral damage in the name of the greater good.

The collateral damage is also extensive in Batman Begins, the first film in the trilogy from director Christopher Nolan. In one sequence, Batman drives the Batmobile over and through anything he wants. He's racing back to the Batcave because it's his only chance to save his childhood love, Rachel Dawes. If the streets of Gotham are left in shambles, so be it. Collateral damage in the name of the greater good. Of course, with Batman continually treating Gotham as his own personal proving ground, it's no wonder the police hate him.

Anyway, with all this collateral damage fresh in my mind, I couldn't help but make a comparison when the NCAA lowered the boom on Penn State and its football program.

To backtrack slightly, the NCAA announced its sanctions on July 23, less than two weeks after the release of the so-called FREEH REPORT. The report, compiled by a team led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, basically says that the leaders of Penn State, including head football coach Joe Paterno, knew Jerry Sandusky had problems, but put the interests of the university and the football program ahead of the children. The report also criticizes the Board of Trustees for rubber-stamping whatever those leaders wanted. The Board of Trustees, which had commissioned the Freeh Report, quickly bowed to the report's findings and vowed to make changes.

The report itself is 267 pages. There's also a seven-page document of the prepared remarks Freeh made at the news conference. Those remarks are a good summary, but it's the exhibits in the complete report that provide the damning evidence. Those exhibits include emails which make it clear that Paterno knew what was going on from the time Sandusky was first investigated in 1998.

Of course, there are people who don't want to believe the findings in the report or who feel that the report doesn't tell the whole story. The Paterno family, for instance, put out a statement saying that Sandusky fooled a lot of people and that the family has now commissioned its own investigation. I say OK, but be careful what you wish for.

As for the NCAA, it apparently doesn't need any other investigations. It took one look at the Freeh Report and decided that Penn State had to be punished and that the punishment must be swift and hard. So, 11 days after the Freeh Report, the NCAA announced HARSH PENALTIES for PSU: A $60 million fine; no postseason football play for four years; a reduction in football scholarships for four years; five years probation for the athletic department; and, all wins from 1998-2011 are vacated.

It's the vacating of those more than 100 wins, I think, that has the most people upset. Paterno is no longer the winningest coach in Division I college football. The punishment is directed at Penn State and Paterno's legacy, but what about all those players who won all those games? Well, no you didn't, even though you have the T-shirts and stuff that say you did. Talk about collateral damage.

The other thing that has many people riled up is the way Penn State handled the removal of Paterno's statue from outside Beaver Stadium. The statue was removed one day before the NCAA sanctions were announced. Clearly, PSU - or at least Pres. Rodney Erickson - knew what was coming. In fact, a few days after the sanctions, the Trustees expressed displeasure that Erickson didn't consult them before agreeing to the sanctions. The trustees backed down after Erickson told them it was either those sanctions or a four-year death penalty, which would have meant no football at all.

The statue was removed early on a Sunday morning. Despite Penn State's promise of a new era of openness, crews put up a tarp-covered fence around the site. Onlookers did not have a clear view of the work. On the other hand, I assume the tarp also stopped pieces of concrete from flying into the crowd. At any rate, as the statue was covered by a tarp carried away to an "undisclosed location," the only visible part of the statue was Paterno's raised arm and a finger pointing as if to say, "We're #1!" (The photo is courtesy of Christopher Weddle and the Centre Daily Times)

Penn State President Rodney Erickson has said that the statue had to go because it became a painful symbol for victims of abuse. I can't speculate as to why charges were not filed against Sandusky in 1998. But when reports of abuse surfaced again in 2001, university leaders seemingly did little about it. How many children might have been spared had these people done their due diligence and reported the allegations to law enforcement?

Those children, I think, are the real collateral damage of a culture that viewed protecting the Penn State brand as the greater good.

Go Back

Sandusky: A Simple Case

Marcia Clark rose to fame by complicating the OJ Simpson case so much that when the jury heard the defense say, "If the glove don't fit, you must acquit," they did. But, she got it exactly right in her analysis of the child sex case against Jerry Sandusky: Simple.

I have to admit, I really hadn't thought of it that way. Maybe because I was following too closely and knew about all the motions and affidavits and subpoenas; or maybe because the case involved 10 alleged victims and nearly 50 separate charges. Somehow, it seemed complicated. Based on what I'd read and heard, I thought his guilt was obvious. Still, it seemed like the jury would have a lot to sort through and I expected a split verdict with Sandusky guilty on maybe 30 of the 48 counts.

After two days of deliberation, on the night of Friday, June 22, a jury in Centre County did, in fact, deliver a split verdict - guilty on 45 counts, not guilty on 3. Simple.

Clark made her comments on CNN (I think) on the first night of deliberations (I think). Her point was that the case was simple because it came down to this: either the jury believed the alleged victims or they didn't. The jurors didn't have much physical evidence to sort through. There was no DNA evidence. Just a few creepy letters written by Sandusky and audio recordings of Sandusky's creepy phone interview with NBC. While that evidence didn't put Sandusky in a good light, I don't think it would have been enough to sway any jurors who might have had doubts about his guilt.

Either the jurors believed the alleged victims or they didn't. At 45-3, clearly they did. The only counts Sandusky was acquitted on were ones where no one saw - or could remember seeing - a specific act. If an alleged victim said it happened and could remember it happening, guilty. Simple.

So, Sandusky is now behind bars awaiting sentencing, probably sometime in September. The maximum is somewhere in the neighborhood of 440 years. Given Sandusky's age of 68, even a minimum of 25 years will amount to a life sentence, but you know the minimum is going to be a lot more than that.

On tape, Sandusky's son Matt talks of sex abuse

After sentencing, Sandusky's lawyers have said they will file appeals. Based on post-conviction comments from Joe Amendola and Karl Rominger, their bases for appeal would seem to be a) we weren't prepared, and b) we didn't do a very good job. Neither man has said anything that indicates they have proof that any of the alleged victims lied or that they have evidence which could cast doubt on Sandusky's guilt.

Given that Amendola chose to waive the preliminary hearing, which would have provided an opportunity for the defense to hear testimony from at least some of the alleged victims and other prosecution witnesses before the trial, I don't see the "we weren't prepared" appeal going very far. The ineffective counsel appeal may have a slightly better chance since it seems like Amendola took a pretty big gamble by passing on the prelim - and lost.

My personal opinion is that Amendola waived the prelim in the hopes that the judge would grant several delays, thus keeping Sandusky out of jail as long as possible. But, this judge wouldn't play. He gave the defense one delay (from May to June) and that was it. And, when the defense tried to quit just before the trial with claims they weren't prepared, the judge said no way.

I think that Amendola and his team knew exactly what they were doing and tried everything they could to keep the trial from happening so quickly. Their gambles didn't pay off, but I don't believe that a few extra months would have made much of a difference.

As ONE WRITER put it, Sandusky is "Guilty. Guilty. Damn, Damn Guilty." Simple.

Go Back

Two days into the start of testimony at Jerry Sandusky's trial and, from someone watching/reading coverage from home, things are not looking good for the defense. If the defense strategy is to make prosecution witnesses, including alleged victims, look like liars, they don't appear to be succeeding.

After opening statements yesterday, the prosecution called alleged Victim #4 as its first witness. He's now in his late 20s, but described being showered with gifts and molested by Sandusky some 15 years ago. There were even love letters and a sort of contract written by Sandusky to the alleged victim. He testified that he didn't tell anyone about the abuse because he liked the attention, which included trips to at least one Penn State bowl game. He said another reason he didn't come forward is because he thought he was the only one. The man held up under cross-examination, denying any profit motive for coming forward now.

Today, on Day 2 of testimony, the teenager known as Victim #1 was the first to testify. He's the young man from Clinton County who finally got the attention of law enforcement when he reported his claims against Sandusky. His allegations are what started the whole investigation that has now led to charges against Sandusky and to great upheaval at Penn State.

Whereas Victim #4 was solid and steady on the stand, the younger Victim #1 reportedly sobbed during most of it, pausing often to gather the courage to go on. He described how Sandusky started with kisses and worked up to oral sex, even saying to the boy one time, "Now it's your turn." The boy described how, after a while, he tried to hide from Sandusky. He said when he told a high school official what was going on, that person didn't believe him because Sandusky had "a heart of gold." The boy and his mother went to the county, and that's when the ball started rolling.

On cross, the defense didn't score any points when the boy tearfully said that testifying was very difficult and asked Joe Amendola why he kept asking the same questions over and over.

The next witness brought the surprise of the day. The prosecution called former Penn State Quarterbacks coach Mike McQueary.

He's the one who claims to have seen Victim #2 (who has yet to be identified) being molested by Sandusky in 2001 in a building on the Penn State campus. It's McQueary's story that led to the charges against two Penn State officials and the firing of Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier. McQueary was scheduled to testify but wasn't expected to do so until later in the week.

McQueary confidently told his story of what he saw and explained any discrepancies (i.e. the initial grand jury report said the incident happened in 2002; that has now been changed to 2001). He also stated that he wants to coach football at Penn State when the defense asked him why he filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the university.

McQueary may have been the witness the defense had the best chance to discredit, but it doesn't seem like they made any significant dents in the prosecution's case. Even if they had damaged McQueary, I'm not sure how much it would matter, at least not to the overall case against Sandusky. We've already had compelling testimony from two alleged victims with six more waiting in the wings. If those six are anything like the first two, Sandusky is going to have a hard time mounting any kind of credible defense. So far, Amendola still says there's a chance that Sandusky could testify in his own defense but, based on earlier interviews Sandusky did, putting him on the stand doesn't seem like a good move. Star defense attorney Alan Dershowitz is not impressed.

So, we're back to the question of will the defense cut a deal and, if so, when will they do it? The longer this goes on, obviously, the less likely there is to be a plea. My belief is that a plea is Sandusky's only chance to get out of prison before he dies. On the other hand, a plea doesn't guarantee that, so maybe, as the defense, you just play it out until the very end. I think it's a tough call for Sandusky's attorneys. They have to know that they're losing, but Sandusky himself doesn't seem to think he did anything wrong. If compelling testimony from two (or more) alleged victims doesn't change Sandusky's mind, what chance do his attorneys have?

Go Back

Running Out of Options

In just four days from now, jury selection is scheduled to begin in Centre County at the trial of Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky faces more than 50 charges related to his alleged sexual abuse of 10 boys.

This week has brought a flurry of legal activity, most of it involving efforts by Sandusky's attorneys to get somebody - anybody - to keep jury selection from starting on June 5. The senior judge handling the case had already scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, May 30 to hear arguments on pre-trial motions. Those motions would include efforts by the defense to have charges involving three of the alleged victims dismissed. Sandusky was not scheduled to attend.

The week's first surprise happened the day before, on Tuesday. The judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys and Sandusky met in Bellefonte for an unannounced meeting. When they came out, no one said what it was about. Naturally, much speculation involved whether they might be discussing a plea deal. One legal expert thought that maybe the judge was making sure that Sandusky understood what could happen if he didn't take a plea.

The answer turned out to be none of the above. A couple hours before the start of Wednesday's hearing, a court document posted online solved the mystery (two mysteries, really). The document revealed that a sealed motion filed a few days earlier was a request by the defense to delay jury selection. The motion was sealed because it made references to secret grand jury testimony. The hearing on Tuesday turned out to be all about that motion to delay, and on Wednesday morning, the judge said no.

Wednesday's hearing proceeded with little drama. Sandusky did not show up and the whole affair lasted only an hour or so. Later that afternoon, attorneys for victims rights groups and for several of the alleged victims filed motions asking that the alleged victims be allowed to keep their real names secret. We are still waiting for the judge to rule on those motions and on the defense motions to dismiss the charges involving three of the alleged victims.

While we wait, the defense has been busy continuing its efforts to delay the start of the trial. On Thursday, it asked the state Superior Court to step in and review the judge's denial of the motion to delay. Shortly after noon on Friday (today), the Superior Court said no. By Friday afternoon, the defense had gone up the ladder and asked the state Supreme Court to intervene. So far, no response.

So, here's what I think. I think that Sandusky's defense is getting desperate. I think they waived the preliminary hearing in February December and counted on getting a few delays as the trial date approached. This judge gave them one delay - and that's it. Now the trial date is just days away and the defense is doing anything and everything it can think of in an effort to get another delay. Superior Court has already refused to get involved at this stage and, quite honestly, I can't imaging the state Supreme Court intervening now, either. Appeals courts seem to work best when the appeals are made after the trial, not before. A no-nonsense judge and some potential legal miscalculations seem to have backed the defense into a corner.

As I've written here before, I believe that the goal of Sandusky's attorneys has been to keep him out of prison as long as possible. Now that a trial appears imminent, "as long as possible" could turn out to be a lot shorter than they  had hoped.

Therefore, given that higher court intervention seems unlikely at this stage, what's "Plan B" if I'm one of Sandusky's attorneys? Do I cut a deal with prosecutors and push hard for Sandusky to have a chance to get out of prison before he dies (he's 68 now)? If I decide to cut a deal, when should I pull the trigger on it - at the start of jury selection? Before opening statements? Maybe after testimony from someone who's not an alleged victim (assuming the prosecution doesn't call an alleged victim as witness #1)? Or, do I risk going through the trial to the end and take my chances with the jury?

Personally, I understand that Sandusky maintains his innocence. And, he's innocent until proven guilty. But, I have to believe that detailed and emotional testimony from at least seven alleged victims (assuming the judge grants the defense motion and dismisses charges involving three victims - and I'm not sure he'll actually do that) will not work in Sandusky's favor when it comes time for the jury to deliberate and, possibly, for the judge to sentence. My opinion: It's in the best interest of Sandusky and his attorneys to work out a plea deal even though that might severely hamper any chance of an appeal.

A co-worker made a good point that the prosecution may also be motivated to work out a deal in order to spare the alleged victims the pain of testifying. Also, some of their evidence/testimony may not be as reliable or as credible as they might like. But, any terms of a deal would have to be tough enough to satisfy the alleged victims, their families and the community.

Either way - plea or no plea - this case continues to fascinate.    

Go Back

The Trial is Imminent

The judge handling the Jerry Sandusky case warned attorneys on both sides at a hearing a few weeks ago: "The trial is imminent." Prosecutors and attorneys for Sandusky were in court to argue several motions. The defense had already made a motion to have the trial delayed from the June 5 start date the judge set when he did grant a previous defense request for a delay. The "trial is imminent" line provided a clue that a second delay might not be forthcoming. And, a week or so after that motions hearing, the judge got around to ruling on the delay request: "Motion denied" is all it said. You can read that ruling, along with all the other motions and rulings, HERE if you are so inclined.

JUDGE JOHN CLELAND is proving to be the kind of judge who doesn't mess around. He's a senior judge from McKean County assigned to the case because every judge in Centre County has some sort of tie to Penn State. Sandusky was arrested in early November and the presumptive trial date of June 5 is just seven months later. That's the definition of a speedy trial especially when you consider that Hugo Selenski, who was charged with several counts of murder in Luzerne County in 2003, is STILL waiting to go to trial on two of those counts.

So far, Cleland seems to be pretty even-handed in his rulings, perhaps giving the defense a little more than he's given the prosecution. But, the consensus seems to be that his refusal to delay the trial will not provide solid grounds for appeal (should Sandusky be convicted and then appeal that conviction). The next hearing in the case is set for May 30 to clean up any outstanding issues before the start of the trial.  So far, Sandusky's attorney, Joe Amendola, has brushed aside any talk of a plea bargain. So, unless he changes his mind, or unless the judge changes his mind, it looks as though Jerry Sandusky will stand trial on child sex abuse charges starting June 5, 2012.

Go Back

In and Out

Yesterday's primary election turned out to be a little more exciting than I thought. Sure, Rick Santorum took away some of the fun by dropping out of the race about two weeks ago, and MITT ROMNEY celebrated his five-state sweep by giving a speech from a sixth state. Even so, there was plenty to talk about, especially since some who were in ended up being out.

Election night coverage by my station focused on a couple of races in which the campaign ads started off positive but went negative pretty quickly.

One of those races was in the reconfigured 17th Congressional District. Democrat Rep. Tim Holden wanted an 11th term in Congress. But, to get that, he would have to fend off a primary challenge from attorney MATT CARTWRIGHT. The newly redrawn district still includes Holden's home county of Schuylkill, but it now runs through the Democratic strongholds of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, places where Cartwright is a familiar name because of all those commercials his law firm runs.

I thought this could get messy for Holden, and it did. He had some positive ads on the air for about a week, then quickly went negative by trying to link the lawyer and his previous campaign contributions to Luzerne County's so-called "Kids for Cash" scandal. Cartwright countered those ads and fought back with his own negative spots that tried to associate Holden, a "Blue Dog" Democrat with the Republicans.

Given Cartwright's name recognition in the revamped district and the overall friendlier tone of his ads, I thought he had a chance to defeat Holden. So, I wasn't surprised when, on Election Night, Cartwright won. What did surprise me was by how much. Cartwright won by close to 10,000 votes - a 14% margin. Holden never really got close. So, Holden is out, and Cartwright is in - if he can defeat Republican challenger LAUREEN CUMMINGS in November.

Another race we followed closely was the GOP race in the 29th state senate district, which is concentrated in Schuylkill County. Dave Argall, a former state rep who made the jump to the senate by winning a special election in 2009, is running for his first full term. He faced a primary challenge from coal company owner Brian Rich. This race also got a lot of air play with Rich trying to paint Argall as a Harrisburg insider and Argall trying to paint Rich as unethical. There were some positive ads, too. Rich used the buzzwords "job creator" while Argall promised he would support legislation to repeal property taxes (which sounds great until you start to wonder what the lawmakers will come up with to replace them).

Anyway, Argall v Rich looked to be another close one, but Argall got an early lead and never gave it up. He won by almost 2,000 votes, a margin of 53%-47%. Closer than Holden/Cartwright, but not as close as I thought. So, Argall is still in, but in November, he'll have to fend off a challenge from Democrat TIM SEIP, a former state rep. I guess I give the early edge to Argall, if for no other reason than that the district has been held by a Republican forever. But, I expect Seip to be a worthy opponent, so, you never know.

Entries on the "out" list include two current state reps from the Scranton area. In the 112th District, Democrat Ken Smith lost by about 300 votes to KEVIN HAGGERTY. 300 votes may not seem like a lot, but it translates to about three percentage points. Smith's financial problems have been well-publicized (including by the news organization that I work for), but he ran a positive ad for a few days leading up to the election and made the race close. He's talked of asking for a recount, but I think 300 votes is a lot to overcome. There were no Republicans on the ballot, so, for all intents and purposes, Smith is out and Haggerty is in. (Update on 4/28: A count of the write-in votes showed that Ray Nearhood won a spot on the GOP ballot. So it will be Haggerty v. Nearhood in November)

In the neighboring 113th, the lone candidates on the ballot were again two Democrats. Incumbent Kevin Murphy and county prison employee MARTY FLYNN. For largely logistical reasons, I didn't pay a lot of attention to this race in my election coverage planning, but I admit I didn't really think it was one I needed to plan for. Well, surprise! At the end of the night, Flynn had won by, again, a margin of roughly 300 votes.

Neither candidate did any TV advertising (at least not that I noticed). But, Murphy took a hit the weekend before Election Day when the local paper revealed (after checking out a tip from a Flynn supporter) that Murphy did not actually have the college degree he claimed he did. In the article, Murphy admitted that he didn't actually have a diploma in his possession, but he said he thought he had earned his degree because the school keeps sending him letters asking for money. He called his claims that he had his degree an honest mistake and went on to say that he expected to have the matter cleared up quickly. Did the oversight cost Murphy the election? No idea, but it probably didn't help. So now, again for all intents and purposes, Murphy is is out and Marty is in like Flynn (sorry, couldn't resist).

In the race for another state house seat based in Lackawanna County, a politico who tried to get back in the game is out. I'm talking the 115th District, where former county commissioner Randy Castellani squared off against landscaper FRANK FARINA. Castellani had the backing of outgoing State Rep. Ed Staback, who's held the seat for more than three decades. But, Farina seems to have pulled off the upset, winning by just over 100 votes. What made the difference? A co-worker seems to think that people haven't forgotten that Castellani quit as a commissioner to take a job with the state. Is it a coincidence that the home page of Farina's website contains the promise, "I'll never quit working for you." I haven't heard anything definite about a recount here, but I won't be surprised if there is one. At any rate, at this point, it appears as though Farina is in and will move on to November, where he'll face Republican THERESA KANE.

Another Kane, this one a Democrat, has managed to make it into November. In what I think is a somewhat surprising victory, KATHLEEN KANE of Lackawanna County, defeated Patrick Murphy in the race for PA Attorney General. Kane will now face DAVID FREED, a DA from the Harrisburg area, in November.

This was another tough one to figure. Conventional wisdom had Murphy winning. But, Kane got her name out there last fall when she appeared on various national newscasts to provide some expert insight into the Jerry Sandusky case. Kane specialized in handling child abuse and sexual assault cases when she worked for the Lackawanna County DA's office. She touted that experience in her TV ads. Murphy, on the other hand, emphasized his military service and his experience as a military prosecutor. Both camps kept things positive. In the end, Kane won by around 40,000 votes, a margin that she said surprised even her. So, Murphy is out and Kane is still in with a chance to be Pennsylvania's first elected female Attorney General.

One more race worth mentioning is the GOP contest for US Senate. Incumbent Democrat BOB CASEY had a primary opponent but dispatched him easily. Casey didn't even hang around his hometown of Scranton after voting in the morning. He went right back to Washington, DC. The Republican side featured five candidates, but played out as a three-man race. Steve Welch had a fair amount of money and the endorsement of Governor Corbett; TOM SMITH had a lot of money; and Sam Rohrer had a familiar name a good ground game. Rohrer never did any TV advertising, but Welch and Smith were always on - mostly fighting over which of these former Democrats had turned into the most conservative conservative. The final results: Smith, Rohrer, Welch. So, Corbett's candidate is out, Smith is in, and Casey will have an opponent in the fall who's not afraid to spend money - even if it's his own.

Take those races, mix in a race for president, and the general election in November should be a good one.

Go Back

Games People Play

Yesterday, April 5, was a big news day. The leading GOP presidential contender, MITT ROMNEY, paid a visit to Wyoming County; the SWB YANKEES opened their season against the LEHIGH VALLEY IRON PIGS; the PHILADELPHIA PHILLES opened their season against the Pittsburgh Pirates; and, last but not least, JERRY SANDUSKY had a pretrial hearing in Centre County court (you didn't think this would be a Sandusky-less post, did you?).

I missed a good bit of all that news because I was busy getting things organized for our coverage of the upcoming primary election. But, on the face of it, the thing that seemed as though it would be the most exciting turned out to be the least exciting. And, I'm not talking about Mitt Romney.

No, Thursday's hearing in the Sandusky case proved to be the very definition of anticlimactic. At first, it seemed like there could be some key developments in the case. The judge was expected to hear arguments and possibly rule on several motions - including one to dismiss the charges - and Sandusky was expected to be there. The hearing was supposed to last into the afternoon. With so much going on, what could a news station do but send two reporters and order satellite time?

But, the hearing ended almost as soon as it started. Sure, Sandusky showed up, but that was about the only thing that went as planned. Sandusky's lawyer withdrew most of the motions, so there really wasn't much for anyone to do after that except go home and wait for more motions to be filed sometime later.

Later will actually have to be pretty soon, though, because the judge seems to be holding to the recently revised trial date of June 5. The original trial date was May 14, but I never thought that would happen. Despite what this judge says now, I'm also not convinced that the trial will start on June 5. In fact, I'm still not convinced that there's even going to be a trial. What I am sure of is that Sandusky's lawyer is continuing his strategy of doing whatever it takes to keep Sandusky out of jail for as long as possible.

With the hearing out of the way, I went back to focusing on election preps. One of the most interesting primary races looks to be in the 17th Congressional District where incumbent Democrat TIM HOLDEN is facing a strong challenge from attorney MATT CARTWRIGHT. Holden, a "blue dog" from Schuylkill County, has been in office for 20 years. In 2002, after redistricting, he went up against another incumbent, Republican George Gekas, and surprised a lot of people, I think, by winning. Now, the lines have been redrawn again, and Holden again finds himself in unfamiliar territory. Schuylkill County is still in the 17th, but now the district includes large chunks of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, where Cartwright has some name recognition.

Both candidates started advertising a couple weeks ago. Cartwright showed some humor when he used his initial ad to introduce himself and his family. Holden stood around with guys in hard hats and touted his accomplishments. But, Holden has now gone negative and, as some other bloggers have pointed out, that's often a sign that a candidate is in trouble. On the other hand, candidates wouldn't "go negative" if it didn't work. I think it will be interesting to see if it works this time. In November, the winner will face the GOP candidate, LAUREEN CUMMINGS of Old Forge.

Another interesting race looks to be in the 112th State House district in Lackawanna County. Incumbent Democrat KEN SMITH is being challenged for a second time by KEVIN HAGGERTY. Smith won two years ago. Since then, his family-owned restaurant, which had already been sold to a bank at a sheriff's sale, has now reopened under new ownership, and Smith has been criticized for failing to pay back loans. The money issues didn't hurt Smith in 2010. It will be interesting to see if 2012 will be different.

2012 will be different in NEPA due to the fact that it won't have a AAA baseball team. The SWB Yankees will play all of their games on the road while PNC Field gets renovated. A lot of those games will be played in upstate New York, which prompted the temporary rebranding of the team as the Empire State Yankees. That name change only served to increase speculation that the team would never come back to the area. But, just today, Lackawanna County officials announced they are close to finalizing a deal that will keep the team in NEPA for at least the next 30 years.

Finally, the Phillies opened the season with a win at Pittsburgh. A win is a win, and it's always nice to start the season with a W. But, I'm a little concerned that it took Roy Halladay pitching a two-hitter over 8 innings to get the win. The Phils offense managed to push just one run across the plate. The Phils pitching was good last year and, if the first game is any indication, it may have to be even better this year. I think they have a good shot at topping 100 wins again, but they're going to have to score more than 100 runs to get them.

Go Back

In the month or so since I last posted, there have been several developments in the child sex abuse case involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

The status of the case thus far is that a) the trial is scheduled to start May 14 in Centre County Court; b) a jury from Centre County will hear the case; c) the conditions of Sandusky's house arrest have been relaxed; d) the prosecution filed PAPERS containing more information about Sandusky's alleged assaults; and e) the defense wants even MORE information revealed.

Developments a, b and c came about following a hearing on February 10. The hearing didn't take all that long, and the judge made his rulings a few days later. Basically, he gave the defense pretty much everything they wanted - although he did stipulate that he would revisit the idea of bringing in a jury from outside Centre County if it proves too difficult to pick one from Centre County.

I also don't think the judge granted Sandusky everything he wanted in terms of easing the conditions of his house arrest. But, the judge is allowing Sandusky to have supervised contact with his grandchildren, a limited number of people can visit him at his house, and Sandusky is allowed to leave his house to meet with his lawyer. Considering what he's accused of, I think the fact that he's not in jail already is a pretty big bonus. But, maybe that's just me.

As far as the date of the trial is concerned, the judge set a date of May 14. That seems rather soon, so I wasn't surprised when the defense requested that it be pushed back until July. I was surprised, however, when the judge refused the request. Clearly this judge is not messing around.

So far, the defense seems willing to play this thing out as long as it can. For example, Sandusky gave up his right to a preliminary hearing, but he did so at the last minute, when lawyers, potential witnesses and media from all over were already in place and prepared for the hearing to proceed. I still believe that, in the end, Sandusky will cut a deal with prosecutors. But, so far, both sides are denying any talk of a plea bargain, so I don't expect one to come until just before - or maybe even during - the trial.

I guess what really fascinates me about the case is this: if the defense really does plan to take the case to trial, just what kind of defense are they trying to set up? After the hearing in February, Sandusky spoke for about five minutes outside the courthouse. It was a rather rambling statement dealing partly with his displeasure about being under house arrest. Sandusky expressed how unfair he felt it was that he couldn't go outside and throw biscuits to his dog.

The bizarre nature of the statement is in line with other ODD THINGS that Sandusky said in earlier interviews. The things he has said have been so strange and so poorly spoken that I - and, I'm sure, others - have wondered if Sandusky has some kind of mental issue. His lawyer, however, says no. He admits that Sandusky is taking medication but says that it's not for any kind of mental problem. (Of course, I suppose Sandusky could have a mental condition that he's "not" taking medication for.)

So, then, what is going on here? We have what appears to be a paradox: a man who spent his life surrounded by academia, yet who, on the face of it, at least, seems to have no comprehension of the trouble he is in. Can his denial be that deep, or did he manage to fool a lot of people for a lot of years about just how smart (or not) he really is?

The Patriot-News in Harrisburg recently published THIS article which asks that very question. The prevailing theory seems to be that Sandusky is a smart guy who, for some reason, believes that it's OK to shower with boys. And, when he says stuff that most people find outrageous, well, that's just Jerry being Jerry.

Unfortunately for Sandusky, "Jerry being Jerry" isn't likely to work as a defense strategy during a trial where alleged victim after alleged victim will come forward to tell their stories.

We're now back to where we started. What, exactly, is the defense strategy here? If you, as Sandusky's attorney, really do plan to take the case to trial, why do you keep letting him speak - especially if you're going to admit that he doesn't have any mental issues? Conversely, if you intend to plead out the case, why not just do it as quietly as possible?

The only thing that makes sense here, I think, is that the defense is doing everything it can to keep Sandusky out of prison for as long as possible. The more Sandusky talks, the more difficult it probably becomes to find jurors who either haven't heard what he's said or who can remain objective about it. So, perhaps the trial gets delayed if a jury can't be found in Centre County.

(I should point out that at the hearing on Feb. 10, it was the prosecution that initially asked for the change of venire. The defense countered with an argument in favor of having a jury from Centre County hear the case. Usually, those roles are reversed and it's the defense that pushes for an outside jury if it believes a local jury can't be fair. As I said earlier, the judge ruled for the defense and said every effort would be made to get a jury from Centre County. If the defense secretly suspects that won't be possible, then you can count asking for it as a delaying tactic)

Or, perhaps regardless of the medication issue, the defense will use Sandusky's statements as evidence that he's not mentally competent. In which case he might end up in an institution of some sort instead of a correctional facility.

In either case, whatever happens, it looks as though Sandusky's lawyer is determined to let Jerry be Jerry for as long as he possibly can.

Go Back

Too Much News!

It's been about six weeks since my last entry, and I blame the news. There's been too much of it lately, and it doesn't seem likely to stop anytime soon.

First, I should note that I was right on the money with my prediction that "occupy" would be the American Dialect Society's "Word of the Year" for 2011. It really was a no-brainer. No other word came close to rising to the level of wide-spread prominence that "occupy" enjoyed month after month. But, now, I get the feeling that "occupy" and its corresponding movement are losing their luster. The fascination has worn off. Once you've been named WOTY, there's no place to go but down. It's too early to tell what word might occupy the top spot in 2012, but I'll keep my eyes and ears open for likely contenders.

Secondly, in some personal news, I've (finally) started going to the gym again. I decided that I needed someone to kick my ass into shape, so I joined NEPA CROSSFIT in Wilkes-Barre. The workouts are tough, but the toughest part may be getting up at 4:45AM in order to attend a 6AM class. I'm still the new kid on the block, but I'm already feeling better.

As for the actual news that has occupied so much of my time of late, the bulk of it has concerned the sex abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University. In early December, both Sandusky and two Penn State officials had preliminary hearings. Then, Joe Paterno announced he had lung cancer. Then, just last week, Paterno died, which triggered almost a full week of team coverage.

One of the most bizarre reactions to Paterno's death came from Sandusky (and his lawyer, Joe Amendola). On the day Paterno died, Sandusky put out a statement through Amendola which began with the words, "It's a sad day!" First off, it was totally inappropriate for Sandusky to put out a statement of any kind. But, then, to issue one that included an exclamation point? What the hell?!?

Anyway, back to the news. The week of Paterno death coverage concluded this past Thursday with "A Memorial for Joe," the public memorial held at the Bryce Jordan Center. My station was among those that aired it live, starting at 2PM. The whole week had been grueling, and I think everyone in the newsroom looked at this memorial as one last push. Get through this, and then we can take a breather.

But, no.

About 2:30 on Thursday afternoon came word that another local icon had died. Dr. Joseph Mattioli, the founder of Pocono Raceway, passed away. While not as well-known as Paterno, Mattioli certainly made his mark and his death required coverage, too. That coverage extended over the weekend and into today, when funeral services were held.

The funeral for Doc Mattioli might have been the top story except that today was also the day that two former Lackawanna County commissioners were sentenced on federal corruption charges. Their sentencings (Robert Cordaro, 11 years; AJ Munchak, 7 years) involved live cut-ins during the early afternoon and team coverage during the newscasts.

Dare I say, the next week or so looks kind of slow. At least until February 10, when Sandusky may be back in court for a hearing on his bail conditions. Seems he's not happy with the terms of his house arrest. Considering the charges against him, I think he's fortunate to be in his own house at all.

Go Back

Occupy This!

I feel like I'm a little behind schedule with this post, but time marches on, and on January 6, 2012, the fine members of the AMERICAN DIALECT SOCIETY will meet in Portland, Oregon to choose the 2011 Word of the Year (WOTY). You can read the complete schedule HERE.

You may recall that I correctly PREDICTED (OK, I flat-out guessed) that the 2010 WOTY would be "app." You couldn't turn around without hearing the phrase "there's an app for that." The word was everywhere. If only there had been an app to make it go away ...

Anyway, since I'm on a one-year hot streak, I'll have a go at picking the 2011 Word of the Year. I don't have a lot of thoughts about it, but I think there's one obvious choice: the word "occupy." The movement to Occupy Wall Street as a protest against corporate power and greed spread to cities all across the US. There is even a small group of people that has occupied Scranton by camping out for months on Courthouse Square. As far as I know, however, no one has tried to Occupy Wilkes-Barre. (insert joke here)

The movement itself has gotten a lot of media attention as the longevity of the protests has increased and as attempts to move protesters have sometimes become violent. Because the Occupy movement is so high-profile, the word "occupy" has naturally been adapted for use in areas that have nothing to do with the movement itself. For example, when the company I work for installed a computer program called Opus, signs reading "Occupy Opus" appeared in the newsroom during the training process.

So, I feel that "occupy" has a good chance of occupying the top spot in the WOTY contest. Nothing else is really coming to mind.

If you want to submit a nomination for the 2011 Word of the Year, you can do so by emailing, tweeting to the Twitter user name @americandialect or using the hashtag #woty11, or they can be posted on our FACEBOOK PAGE.

May the best word win!

Go Back

Shut Up Already!

Jerry Sandusky isn't doing himself any favors. Neither is his lawyer.

Sandusky is the former Penn State defensive coordinator accused of sexually molesting young boys. The grand jury presentment outlines 40 counts involving eight boys (now adults). A ninth boy (now an adult) claims he was also molested by Sandusky and is filing a civil suit. News reports today indicated a 10th accuser was ready to come forward. My guess is he won't be the last.

Next week, Sandusky is scheduled for his preliminary hearing at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte. So many media plan to attend that the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters is helping to arrange parking for satellite trucks and a lottery is being held to determine which reporters get to sit in the courtroom and which ones will be relegated to an "overflow room." Indications are that all eight accusers mentioned in the presentment are prepared to testify and face cross-examination by Sandusky's attorney, JOSEPH AMENDOLA. The hearing has the potential to last for several days.

Now, if I were Amendola, my strategy would be to keep Sandusky as out of sight as possible. I, Amendola, would speak for him. But, I'm not Joe Amendola, and he doesn't seem to share my thinking. No. He allowed Jerry Sandusky to do a phone interview with Bob Costas - in fact, he offered Costas the chance to talk with Sandusky - and allowed that interview to be broadcast nationally. Then, incredibly, he recently allowed Sandusky to sit down with a reporter from the New York Times and he allowed that interview to be videotaped.

In the interview with Bob Costas, Sandusky said he regretted showering with young boys. Then, he was asked directly if he is sexually attracted to young boys. Instead of quickly and emphatically answering, "No!" Sandusky paused, repeated the question and then said that he enjoyed being around young boys but wasn't sexually attracted to them." Not exactly a convincing denial.

Sandusky flubbed the answer again when the NYT interviewer asked almost the exact same question. This time, Sandusky elaborated further by saying that he is attracted to young people and old people - at which point his lawyer can be heard off-camera saying, "but not sexually attracted." Sandusky then said no, he was not sexually attracted to young people, but he enjoyed being around them. Again, not exactly a resounding denial. You can watch the interview below.

I think what came through clearly in the NYT interview is that Jerry Sandusky is not a well-spoken man. He does not express himself well verbally. I guess X's and O's are his thing, not words. My suspicion is that his vocabulary isn't very large and, after listening to the interview, I can see where he would relate best to the young and the old as they are likely less intellectually challenging than someone in their prime years. In fact, after hearing Sandusky speak, I wonder how he survived for so many years on a college campus. You would think that he would have at least picked up some of the academic verbage and speech patterns along the way.

Sandusky and his lawyer must have had hours of conversation before that first interview with Bob Costas. I can't believe his lawyer thought it was a good defense strategy to let a man with Sandusky's speaking skills (or lack thereof) do an interview on national TV. And, then, after seeing how that went over, I can't believe he let Sandusky do another high-profile interview!

If I'm Sandusky's lawyer, there's no way I let him do a third interview. But, I'm not Sandusky's lawyer.

Go Back

First off, let me say that I am not a graduate of Penn State University. However, that doesn't mean that I'm not aware of what "Penn State" means.

I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania and have rooted for Penn State football since as far back as I can remember. When the Nittany Lions won the national championship in 1982, I think I received a commemorative mug and T-shirt as Christmas presents. Once, when I went to softball camp there during high school, I was on the same indoor practice field where Joe Paterno was leading the Nittany Lions through practice. For a time, I considered going to college at Penn State. In my professional career, I've always worked at television stations that provided a lot of coverage to Penn State football. And, recently, I've been a guest speaker for some journalism classes at the main campus.

So, even though I'm not a Penn State graduate, I've always been aware of the university and what it - and the football program, the school's crown jewel - stand for: class, pride, and a reputation beyond reproach.

Those qualities are just some of the reasons why the scandal that has exploded in the wake of the child sex abuse charges against former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is so shocking. Every single element of this story is horrible. For a university with, basically, a lily-white reputation, this is as black as it can get.

The GRAND JURY PRESENTMENT is simply awful to read. The allegations against Sandusky are terrible in their own right. Just as awful, however, is the inaction of people who were in a position to act in a way that perhaps could have prevented some of these crimes from happening. The saying is that the cover up is worse than the crime. In this case, however, they are both absolutely horrible.

In the days since the scandal broke, many questions have been asked. Why didn't anyone call the authorities? Should the university have fired Joe Paterno? There are other questions, and there will be more, but these seem to be the main ones. How could so many people in authority have had at least some inkling that something wrong was happening and have responded by doing little more than nothing?

These questions are why the university's Board of Trustees had no choice but to fire Joe Paterno (of course, they handled it all wrong, but that's a separate issue). Any number of people could have - and should have - notified the authorities about the suspected child sexual abuse by Sandusky. But, Paterno is the one who definitely needed to do it. He notified folks up the chain at the university. But, when they did nothing of consequence, Paterno apparently let the matter drop. It doesn't seem as though he followed up at all. Paterno may have fulfilled his legal responsibility, but he failed in his moral responsibility.

Penn State is a university known around the world for its football program. Joe Paterno is the face of that program and, therefore, the face of the university. In his time as head coach, Penn State never had an NCAA violation. He coached players who then sent their sons and grandsons to play for him. But, when it came time to speak up against one of his coaches, to speak up for the alleged victims, he failed. Joe Paterno is Penn State. And, he failed to live up to the values that he and the school represent. And, that why Joe had to go.

I'll conclude by saying that, even though Paterno and president Graham Spanier are gone, and two other PSU officials face charges, I don't believe for one minute that this scandal is anywhere close to being over. The Penn State community may have tried to start healing, but I think there are still more band-aids to be ripped off.

Go Back

Catching Up

When last we spoke, the Phillies were finished, the Eagles were terrible and the Flyers were off to a good start. One month later, the team that sent the Phillies packing is the World Series champion, the Eagles are still terrible (witness today's come from ahead loss) and the Flyers aren't as good as those first three games led me to believe. I think pitchers and catchers report in about three months, so I'm looking forward to that.

A lot of other stuff has happened, too.

Election night came and went on November 8th. We reported results from 145 races around the viewing area and around the state. Our live efforts were focused on Luzerne and Lackawanna counties as there weren't that many contested races of note outside the metro. Of the races we highlighted, the most interesting one proved to be the race for District Attorney in Luzerne County. It went down to the wire, but upstart Republican newcomer Stefanie Salavantis scored a narrow victory over incumbent Democrat Jackie Musto Carroll. Salavantis won despite the fact that she's not quite 30 years old and despite the fact that she has never come close to prosecuting a case. Salavantis had money behind her (I received at least two fliers which were paid for the the state GOP) and I think Musto Carroll was hurt by the so-called "Kids for Cash" scandal that has left many voters feeling the need to clean house at the courthouse. The Salavantis campaign took full advantage of this sentiment.

The repercussions of the outcome in the DA's race are already being felt. Notorious murder suspect Hugo Selenski was FINALLY scheduled to go on trial the week after the election (which would be this week) for the murders of a pharmacist and his girlfriend. They disappeared in, I think, 2000, and their remains were among those found in Selenski's backyard in 2003. Musto Carroll planned to prosecute the case herself and Selenski planned to act as his own attorney. But, the day after the Salavantis victory, Selenski asked for a delay so he could hire an attorney to represent him. Now the trial is delayed until sometime next year - at the earliest.

Another race of note took place in Northumberland County, where the three commissioners (two Democrats and a Republican) were on the ballot. Also running were a second Republican and an Independent. What made this race interesting is that the two Democrats do not get along and their battles have been well publicized. Consequently, they did not run as a team. Neither did the two GOP candidates. In this race, it was every man for himself. In the end, one of the incumbent Democrats won re-election, the Republican newcomer won a seat, and the Independent candidate also won a seat. It's the first time in the county (and maybe in the state) that there are no majority commissioners. It will be interesting to see if the configuration can restore civility and be effective.

Friday night, I went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra with my mother and sister. My sister has seen them several times before, but it was a first for my mother and me. I think my mother got it right when she summed up the performance by saying that the technical aspects of the show - and there were many - were better than the music.

Of course, the election and just about everything else that happened this past week or so has been overshadowed by the child sex abuse scandal surrounding Penn State University and its former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. It's so big and so far-reaching that it deserves a separate post. So, that's what I'll give it.

Go Back

Sports Rap

It's a Saturday afternoon in mid-October and, right about now, I should be getting ready to watch the Phillies continue their post-season run. Except that they're not in the playoffs anymore, so I'm not watching anymore.

The Phils were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs in Round 1 by the St. Louis Cardinals. Yes, the same Cardinals that only got into the playoffs because the Phillies ended the regular season by sweeping the Atlanta Braves. If the Braves had managed to win just one of those final games against the Phillies, the Braves would have been in, the Cardinals would have been out, and maybe the Phillies' playoff fate would have turned out differently. I guess we'll never know.

As it stands now, the Cardinals have a good shot at winning the NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers and moving on to the World Series. Since neither of those teams is the Phillies, I don't really care.

The Phils had an outstanding regular season. You may recall THIS post from back in April. I predicted that the Phillies would win 104 games during the regular season. They ended up winning 102, the most of any Phillies team in history. They could easily have had more than 102 wins - more than 104, in fact - if they hadn't gone on an eight-game losing streak in the final couple of weeks. No matter. The record-setting season did not end with a World Series championship, so how many games the 2011 Phillies won doesn't really matter because they didn't win when it counted.

Why didn't they win? For one thing, they didn't hit when it counted. The bottom third of the lineup managed just a few (and by "few" I mean two or three) collective hits during the five-game series with the Cardinals. Placido Polanco, the #7 hitter, left several runners stranded during the series. I know he was hurt, but he wasn't even making productive outs. Neither was the #8 hitter, Carlos Ruiz. Hunter Pence, who was hailed as the "missing piece" when he was brought over in a trade in late July, managed only a few hits during the series. He also missed opportunities to drive in runs. And, lest we forget Ryan Howard. He had a big home run in the first game, then struck out almost every at bat after that. So, no, the Phillies didn't hit when it counted.

They also didn't pitch well enough when it counted. Cliff Lee blew a 4-0 lead in Game 2, and Roy Oswalt couldn't hold up his end of the deal in Game 4. Roy Halladay won Game 1 and limited the Cardinals to just one run in Game 5, but the Phillies couldn't score any runs for him. The Doc was in, but even he couldn't cure the Phillies' hitting woes.

Normally, now that (my) baseball season is over, I would turn my attention to football and the Philadelphia Eagles. Over the summer, a series of high-profile free-agent signings led to the Eagles being dubbed a "dream team." But, five games into the season, the Eagles are 1-4 and the dream has turned into a nightmare. The offense is generally OK, but the defense can't tackle anyone and they can barely stop anyone from scoring, especially in the fourth quarter.

So, since the Phillies are finished and the Eagles aren't worth watching right now, I am moving on to hockey. The Philadelphia Flyers made some controversial moves during the off-season, namely, trading away their captain and another top offensive player. But, they also made some key signings, including a top goalie and veteran Jaromir Jagr. Three games in, the Flyboys are 3-0 and looking good. I think the Flyers may turn out to be Philadelphia's REAL dream team.

Go Back

A few more thoughts on the September floods, the ones caused by rain from Lee; the ones that brought flooding to communities all along the north branch and the west branch of the Susquehanna River; the ones that would have wiped out much of Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and Forty Fort had it not been for a levee that was higher than generally known.

To recap: The levee at Wilkes-Barre is widely known to protect up to 41', which is just slightly higher than the level the river reached during the Agnes flood of 1972. In reality, there are a few extra feet on top of that, so the levee really offers protection up to 44'.

During Lee, the original projected crest of 30' at Wilkes-Barre suddenly jumped to a projected crest of 38'. After that, it rose in smaller increments, settling at a projected crest of 40.9' and prompting the evacuation of areas affected by Agnes.

On the evening of Thursday, September 8, the river level at W-B seemed to level off at approx. 38.5'. Officials, however, held off on declaring that the river had crested. Early Friday morning, they finally announced a crest of 38.8'.

Later that afternoon, however, they announced that that initial crest figure was inaccurate. The river at W-B actually crested, they said, at 42.66', a figure higher than Agnes. So, Lee was now a storm of historic proportions.

Why the misinformation? At first, the officials said that the river gauge had malfunctioned due to all the water pressure. Only later did they learn - along with the rest of us - that the gauge worked properly, but it just wasn't capable of measuring anything much beyond 38'. The plan now is to replace that gauge with one that will read up to 48 or 49'. God help us if we ever have a flood where the water gets THAT high.

Let's leave aside the question of why no one in authority in Luzerne County seemed to know that the gauge wouldn't measure a river level much higher than 38'. Installing a gauge like that in an area where the water has already risen well above that level once before doesn't seem to make much sense. But, that's not the issue I want to address right now.

Rather, I want to know what would have happened if there HAD been a river gauge capable of higher readings. What would have happened HAD people in Luzerne County (and, I suppose, in other communities) realized just how high the river was? What if they HAD known from the beginning that this was going to be worse than Agnes?

As it was, with people believing that 40.9' was as high as the river would get, evacuations seemed to go mainly without incident (other than the traffic jams you might expect). Maybe most people, like me, believed the river would actually crest lower than that 40.9' projection. Anyway, I didn't get a sense of widespread panic, at least not from people in communities protected by the levee.

But, what if the river gauge had been capable of accurately measuring river levels? When people checked the river levels on the web, they would have seen a crest well above projections, rather than one that seemed to level off below projections. Under that scenario, what would have happened? Would people have tried to rush home to save more of their possessions? Would more people have tried to leave, perhaps going on to roads that would suddenly be swamped by rising water? Would there have been general panic and civil unrest?

I don't know. But, with a new river gauge on the way, if something like Lee (or worse) ever comes along, I guess we'll find out. 

Go Back

After what has happened in Northeast and central PA over the past couple of weeks, this could have been my house. It's not. But, it very easily could have been.

To backtrack a little, first came Irene, which dumped copious amounts of rain in our area in late August. Irene also came with a lot of wind, that blew down a lot of trees, that caused a lot of people to lose power. Ten days after the storm ended, there were STILL people in rural parts of Luzerne County that hadn't had their power restored.

We (and by "we" I mean the TV station where I work) might still have been talking about Irene on Day 11, except that's when Lee arrived with not so much wind, but with even more copious amounts of rain to our area and to New York State.

We knew from the start that Lee would cause problems. The original scenario called for central PA to get the brunt of it, with the west branch of the Susquehanna going above flood stage. It looked, at least initially, as though the north branch, which runs directly behind my house, would crest around 30' at Wilkes-Barre. A crest of that height means flooding in some of the low-lying areas - Shickshinny, West Pittston, West Nanticoke, Plainsville - but poses no danger to communities protected by the levee - Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, Forty Fort. The levee also runs directly behind my house, so I felt safe.

At first, that scenario appeared to be correct. On Wednesday, there was rain and the threat of flooding. We focused our coverage on how communities such as Bloomsburg, Danville and Lewisburg would prepare for possible flooding.

Then came the first bullet: the projected crest at Wilkes-Barre was raised from 30' to 38'. In one shot! Holy crap! That meant more flooding in more communities along the river and, it came dangerously close to the 41' of protection offered by the levee. Suddenly, I didn't feel so safe. However, the last time a crest that high was predicted was 2006. That time, officials made people in areas affected by Agnes in 1972 (me) get out, but the crest fell below projections at 34'. I was hoping for a similar result this time. They might say 38', but the actual crest would be 36' or something. So, even though I was worried, I wasn't WORRIED.

But, the rain kept falling and the projected crest kept rising. By the time I woke up Thursday morning, an evacuation order was in place. A guy from work called to offer assistance in moving my belongings to higher ground. At first, I refused. Then, the crest was raised to almost 40'. Now I was WORRIED! I called him right back.

By the time I got to work a little after noon on Thursday, we were in non-stop coverage. There was already severe flooding along the west branch and in communities north of Wilkes-Barre which had no levee protection. The projected crest was now 40.8' sometime early Friday morning. But, as Thursday night progressed, it seemed that the river wasn't going to go that high. It's rapid rise seemed to level off slightly below 39'. Although there had not been an official announcement that the river had crested, the rain had stopped and the worst appeared to be over. I went to the hotel for the night feeling confident that my house was safe. That feeling was confirmed in the morning when I woke up to word that the river at WB had crested a few hours earlier at approx. 38.8'.

Then came the second bullet: That first number was wrong. Oh, the river had crested all right - at 42.66' - higher than Agnes! This was no longer just a bad flood. This was an historic flood!

The announcement from Luzerne County officials came at 1 p.m. Friday. By that time, we had ended our round-the-clock coverage. But, we had just wrapped up the noon newscast and planned hourly updates until the next news cycle began at 4 p.m.

We took the news conference live at the beginning of our 1 p.m. cut-in. The cut-in was supposed to last 5-10 minutes. I think it lasted 45. We were all just stunned. Officials said a river gauge had malfunctioned*, probably because of all the water pressure, and the river had crested four feet higher than originally thought! Officials quickly added that the levee actually protects up to 44', not the 41' that many people (including me) believe. So, the crest had happened, it was just a lot higher than anyone thought.

I went to the news director and asked if we should resume wall-to-wall coverage based on this new information. I said I thought we should. He countered with an analogy, saying that learning about the higher crest after the fact was rather like being shot at one day and learning the next day how close the bullet really came. But, it doesn't change the fact that the bullet was fired the day before and that it missed. So, we held off on going wall-to-wall again, but certainly used the new information to emphasize the seriousness of the situation. If nothing else, it meant that there would be worse-than-expected flooding in many communities, and it meant that people affected by the evacuation order (me) would be out of their homes longer.

The devastation caused by Lee is massive. The house pictured above is in Bloomsburg. The house is not along the Susquehanna. It's in another part of town where Fishing Creek overflowed its banks. Many of the creeks in the area also flooded because the river was so high that the creek water had no where to go. Bloomsburg is a mess, Danville took a hit, communities in Sullivan, Bradford, Susquehanna, Lycoming, Wyoming, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties are devastated. For the most part, only the Poconos, which took a big hit from Irene, were spared.

So, anyway, back to the picture at the top. It's not my house, but it's a lot of people's houses. And, if the levee hadn't held, and if the crest had been maybe even a foot higher, it could have been my house, too.

Agnes was supposed to be a "once in a lifetime" event. I and a lot of other people who were around when Agnes hit, can now say we were around when Lee came calling. So, is that two "once in a lifetime" storms during my lifetime?

The bullet may not have hit me - this time - but now that I know how close it came, I'm a little freaked out about what could happen next time some storm decides to stick around for a while. The third time may not be so lucky.

*Update on 9/18/11: As it turns out, the river gauge didn't malfunction. It simply was unable to read anything higher than 38.8'. Apparently, no one in Luzerne County knew this. They believed it would measure up to 41'.

Go Back

Locker Room Radio

***I wrote the following a few days ago for BTE BACKSTAGE, which was soliciting submissions from people concerning where they were on September 11, 2001. They titled my post "The Locker Room Radio." I've made a few tweaks, but this is basically what I wrote.***

It’s funny what you remember about "big" events. Often, it's not the event itself that sticks with you. Rather, it's the surrounding circumstances that leave the most lasting impression – what you were doing, where you were, the song playing on the radio. Oh, and the irony. That sticks with you, too.

Maybe that’s why when I think of September 11, 2001, I think of the weather. Because, as I walked out the door to head for my regular Tuesday morning racquetball game on Harrisburg’s west shore, I couldn’t help but notice the brilliant blue sky. A few clouds floated above, but they were white and puffy, the friendly clouds that never hurt anyone.

I don’t recall exactly what time I left, but it must have been about 8:45 since we usually met around 9:00. I believe I had the TV tuned to one of the morning news shows before I left the house and certainly had the radio on in the car. Still, by the time I got to the gym and put my purse and cell phone in the locker, this Tuesday still seemed like any other.

The first indication that something was not normal came as we took a break between games. We sat on the benches outside the racquetball courts and that’s where I heard the song "When You're Falling" by Afro Celt Sound System with Peter Gabriel. A radio station had been piped in over the PA system. The gym didn't usually do that. But, all I heard was music, so I played another game or two of racquetball without thinking any more about it.

Not until we returned to the locker room, maybe around 11 a.m., did I realize what was going on. Once again, the radio was my first clue. It had been piped into the locker room, but this time, there was no music. Instead, a reporter was talking about hospitals in lower Manhattan preparing for mass casualties. I remarked out loud that something big must have happened. At that point, another woman in the locker room said something like, "Don't you know what happened? Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center and both towers are down."

The image that formed in my head was of a small, private plane and a pilot who obviously didn't know what he was doing. But, as I rushed to the TV in the lobby, then rushed to find a phone (I think my cell phone was dead), the reality of the situation became clear. This was a tragedy and I, a veteran broadcast journalist, didn't know about it until at least two hours after the fact.

The rest of the day is something of a blur. I rushed home to shower then drove to work in Harrisburg, dropping off my dog at a friend's house along the way. By the time I arrived at the TV station, coverage plans were already well underway. We frequently broke into the non-stop network coverage to provide updates on the local situation: where people could donate blood, steps being taken to secure state and federal buildings in the city, responders from central PA gearing up to head to New York. There was no shortage of stories, and we were so busy covering them that, at least for me, there really wasn’t time to immediately absorb the emotional impact of what had happened.

By 11:30 p.m., things had settled down. We had a crew on the way to the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, but with no more local newscasts scheduled until the morning, there wasn’t much else to do. On a normal night, the newsroom would be empty until 5:00 a.m. But, this wasn't a normal night – there could be another attack, right? - and I didn't feel that the newsroom should be unattended. So, I stayed at work through the night, alone in an eerily quiet newsroom, monitoring the TV networks, which showed constant pictures of Ground Zero illuminated by flood lights, just waiting for the next shoe to drop - and really, really hoping that it didn't. I finally left sometime in the morning once coverage plans for the day after were in motion.

So, that's how I remember September 11, 2001. A terrorist attack on a beautiful day. A broadcast journalist who didn't find out what happened until hours after the fact. A work day that started late but ended up being one of the longest of my career.

And, one final instance of irony. In the weeks and days before September 11, I and several others at the TV station had been preparing for a station-sponsored event that involved a series of functions centered around wine. In fact, one of our reporters was scheduled to shoot a preview story on September 11. The name of the event? Très Bonne Année, which translates to "very good year."

Go Back

20 blog posts