Whenever I’m asked to describe the political landscape of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I tell people to think of Turkmenistan. Think of a place where political corruption is so common, that its accepted by the people as the norm.
Local and County politicians are usually corrupt, and almost always incompetent. The judicial branch is not immune either, and sometimes judges work in partnership with the corrupt county politicians. The classic example is where a company built a private juvenile detention facility under no contract with the government. A corrupt judge ruled that the existing county run facility was unlivable, and surprise, they had a brand new private facility ready for the county to sign a long term contract. The county pays more per person on juvenile delinquents, than it costs to get a suite at the Waldorf.
Now some may ask, where is the media in this situation? Shouldn’t the media act as a watchdog? Northeastern Pennsylvania has one of the highest per capita newspaper readership rates in the county. Simply put, there are a lot of old people, and old people tend to read the newspaper. The Wilkes-Barre area is dominated by a paper called the “Times Leader,” which is run by a political hack named Richard Conner. Need some proof? Conner’s editorial on Sunday commended president Bush for showing “leadership and loyalty” by commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence. The local media, is very selective about what they report. They will put on a big show, and go really hard on some people, while often protecting others.
The state of Pennsylvania recently had a budget fiasco, which resulted in the shutdown of non-essential government services for a day, thanks to a political hack on the democratic side, Edward Rendell. When the budget was passed in Harrisburg it included money to “study” a proposed cargo airport in Hazleton. Some of the same corrupt players who brought you the juvenile detention center, are now pushing this cargo airport.
As a pilot, I love it when new airports are built, because it doesn’t happen that often. The number of airports in this country is dropping dramatically. However; in the case of the Hazleton cargo airport, I cannot approve of such a miscarriage of government.
The strategy for the cargo airport is taken right from the Field of Dreams play book. “If you build it, they will come.” The idea is that because of operating expenses and congestion outside the NYC metro area, we can use a boatload of government funds to build an airport for cargo planes setup by private developers, with no experience. Magically, after spending a billion+ dollars in public funds, with no major contracts before ground breaking, 747’s are going to start landing in Hazleton, bringing thousands of crappy low wage jobs to work the warehouses and move the cargo.
The cargo airport is simply a pipe dream. The developers don’t have any major carrier under contract, and the numbers floating around for the potential economic benefits are simply ludicrous. I don’t know how this story will end, but given the track record for Northeastern Pennsylvania state and county government, chances are that I will have a vacant 12,000ft runway to land on five years from now.