THE MICHAEL SMERCONISH EXPLAINER: Wiping The Smirk Off Mr. Clean With The Dirty Rag Of Truth


BY JONATHAN VALANIA Michael Smerconish looks like Mr. Clean, or, as he is known to Russian housewives, Mr. Proper. Michael Smerconish is also a country club Republican, a talk-radio host and, as of late, a regular fixture of the Inquirer’s Sunday Op-Ed page. Bully for him, we’re all for equal time and open debate even if we think he has his head up his ass most of the time. Sadly, because of guys like Smerconish — Machiavellian media climbers that will say ANYTHING to ensure their butt space in the game of musical chairs that is the talking head punditocracy — people don’t even expect to hear the truth anymore, let alone demand it. We’re here to change that. Mr. Smerconish is a cunning fellow who likes to pass himself off as too guileless and gee-whiz earnest to have an agenda. It’s a little cat & mouse game he likes to play with the reader. But two can play that game. Which is why we have launched the MICHAEL SMERCONISH EXPLAINER, wherein we will attempt to explain, line by line and in bold, why Michael Smerconish is wrong to, well, Michael Smerconish. Ready? OK, let’s dig into this past Sunday’s column:

‘Illegal’ key problem with immigrants

By Michael Smerconish

Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta and I are almost related. His Uncle Joe dated my Aunt Melane. You could say we came close to being a butter knife away at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

FYI, there is no almost-related — you are either blood or you ain’t blood. There is no second place. Like Ricky Bobby’s daddy said: If you ain’t first, you’re last.

Barletta is now being vilified in certain quarters for combating illegal immigration. He deserves praise, not scorn. His city is a place with which I am well familiar. My parents both grew up there.

My father grew up one town over in Wilkes Barre. I am well-acquainted with the area. Frankly, I think we should turn it over to the Mexicans. I fail to see how they could fuck it up any worse than your people and my people did.

My mother is one of the “Grovich girls” from Green Street. There were eight of them, plus three brothers.

My dad was one of the Valania boys, from Nanticoke. There were five of them — they all slept in one big bed in the attic. There was hole in the roof and in the winter they would wake up covered in snow. They would all share the same piece of gum, too. At the end of the day, you stuck it on the bed post and in the morning it would be gone.

Her parents were immigrants from Yugoslavia who settled in the 1920s, drawn by mining jobs. Mom was once Miss West Hazleton High. Mr. West Hazleton High was a guy named Moose Denesevich. Names like that (or Smerconish) used to be as common in Hazleton as Smith or Jones.

My dad’s parents came over from Eastern Europe and settled in the 1920s, drawn by mining jobs. Somewhere along the way — perhaps Ellis Island — some Xs, Zs and possibly even an umlaut were shaved off the family name for ease of pronunciation and American-ness. As a result, I am habitually mistaken for Italian. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

My dad’s family came from Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 1800s. My dad grew up outside of Hazleton, in a tiny mining town called Audenried. His father was a mine inspector, responsible for 300 men, having risen from the ranks of laborer. Both of my grandfathers had black lung. That often came with the territory.

My dad grew up on the side of a cold mountain, not far from the black hole in the ground that my grandfather climbed into day in and day out until Black Lung forced him onto disability and left him withered and bitter at the age of 52. He prayed to God on his knees that his sons would never have to crawl on their knees in the dark of the mines to put bread on the table. Get an education, and get the hell out of here, he said.

With so many cousins to visit, I spent many weekends in my youth traveling to Hazleton. So I know the town well, but visit so intermittently that I notice changes in a way different from the locals. The Hazleton of my parents’ upbringing has vanished. It’s no longer a hardscrabble, Rockwellian community anchored by churches, social clubs and close-knit neighborhoods.

Truth be told, these communities never evolved beyond those basic settler amenities, neither culturally nor economically. On the grand scale of human evolution, these folks never made it past the Department Store phase.

King coal is long gone, and today’s new arrivals aren’t from Eastern Europe. They are often illegal immigrants from Mexico.

Who the hell would leave Europe to come live in Hazleton? I can only imagine how much Mexico must suck if people see Hazleton as a step up worth risking your life for.

Not too long ago I visited my great-grandfather’s grave. On his tombstone it says “Cmepnkahnyb.” Believe it or not, “Smerconish” was a way of Americanizing the name.

The point is, my forefathers realized that the way to succeed was to adapt, to learn the language, to stay out of trouble with the law. And, yes, even to change one’s name. Today, these points are ignored.

If I were your professor in college, Michael, I would cite you for sophistry. If this were a court of law I would object on the grounds of hearsay. This is a gross and quasi-racist over-generalization: let’s see, everything was hunky-dory when white people came over at the turn of the century, but when the brown people started showing up at the tail end of the century, everything went to shit. Sorry, but it’s a tad more complicated than that, Michael. There is more to heaven and earth than is dreamt of beneath Pat Buchanan’s comb-over.

And not just in Hazleton. This city is facing many of the same crises described by Patrick Buchanan in State of Emergency. Consider: There are at least as many illegal aliens now in the United States as all English, Irish and Jewish immigrants who came to America in 400 years. Every month, the border patrol apprehends about 150,000 illegal aliens, more than the number of troops in Iraq. And one in every 12 people breaking into the United States illegally has a criminal record.

Simply put, Pat Buchanan has ZERO credibility on immigration issues. He consorts with white supremacists and anti-Semites. That’s like citing Charles Manson in an essay about the dangers of overpopulation. Besides, where’s the sourcing on any of these claims? Again, hearsay, counselor.

The key word here is “illegal.” Mayor Barletta knows this. He told me that he was pushed into action after a May 2006 killing, for which four illegal immigrants await trial.

Translation: The brown people are coming to kill the white people. It’s all they do.

His plan is to stem the illegal influx by punishing landlords who rent to illegals and employers who hire them, and by making English the official language. A trial is under way in Scranton because of a challenge brought by the ACLU. Vic Walczak is the ACLU’s state legal director, and in his opening statement, he said something significant: “Law regarding immigration can and must be passed only by Congress.” Well, therein lies the problem. Congress has abdicated its responsibility, heaping problems on local officials like Mayor Barletta.

Maybe you should point out that your Republican butt buddies have been in charge of Congress for the better part of the last 10 years. And why have they done nothing about illegal immigration in all that time? Because their Republican butt buddies in charge of the corporations can’t maintain their obscene profit margins without suppressing wages in certain sectors of the economy to the degree that only the desperate and the illegal will work for so little.

We’re not talking about New Mexico, Texas or Arizona. We don’t live in a border state. And yet, look what is going on all around us, thousands of miles from the nearest Mexican border. In Allentown, the city council is considering a referendum that would enable the training of police officers to enforce federal immigration laws. In Morristown, N.J., there is a similar effort. In Elsmere, Del., where registering a vehicle requires a Social Security number, the City Council adopted an ordinance to combat illegal immigrants’ driving cars with out-of-state tags. And of course, in South Philadelphia, Joe Vento, proprietor of Geno’s Steaks, is on the receiving end of a discrimination complaint over his “speak English” notice.

Your efforts to whip up some kind of mid-Atlantic anti-immigration frenzy are pedestrian at best. What, you cite four specious examples of at-best overreaction and at worst overstepping jurisdiction. Allentown City Council is considering a referendum, so is Morristown, N.J. — big deal, podunk city councils consider all kinds of bad ideas. And Elsmere, Delaware, really stuck it to those goddamned sneaky meskins with their outta state plates! Hooray for white people! And Joey Vento? See here. Again, no credibility.

Talk about a sign of the times. Our borders are porous, and Congress won’t act.

Joey Vento’s rowhouse Philly racism is the sign o’ the times? Yo, Prince you’re makin’ my dove cry. (Frankly, I can’t believe Satullo is printing this drivel without a gun to his head.)

The closest they’ve come was to approve 700 miles of fencing, but without funding. Meanwhile, the quality of life in Hazleton declines.

Simple solution: Build a fence around Hazleton. Nobody gets in, nobody gets out. Everybody’s happy. The question you have to ask yourself, Michael, is: Are you in or are you out?

“The bigger picture is we need people in Washington who will fight this on the federal level in the way that we think it should be fought,” Barletta told me. “That is: If you’re not here legally, you need to get to the back of the line and do it the same way everyone else has.” He means people like my grandparents, who realized all of their dreams in Hazleton.

And they all lived happily ever after with a little old lady in a big shoe. Love that story.

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